The 21st century world—what challenges and opportunities there are for a people of good news!
- First, our 21st century world desperately needs the good news of Jesus Christ;
- Second, the Methodist/Wesleyan movement is ideally suited to respond to the world’s need in a way that can transform persons, families, nations and world.
- Third, as at the beginning of Methodism, Spirit led and anointed use of AVAILABLE “means” or “strategies” will be critical for connecting desperate need with the whole gospel.
First, our 21st century world desperately needs the good news of Jesus Christ. I am not saying it needs Christianity or the church. In fact, some would argue, and they have a point, that Christianity has become part of the problem. No, our world needs the gospel, the whole gospel. Here it is:
For God so loved the world—every person in every place at every moment of every era and by every means possible. God loves the people he made in his own image. God grieves the sinful choices made long before any of us was conceived in our parent’s minds or our mother’s womb, thus long before we ever could have been born. God grieves those human choices that rule out every good thing God wants for us, unless someone does something.
Well, SOMEONE has done something. Jesus, God but also human—a mystery we can’t explain but can experience—Jesus entered the world, loved its peoples, so deeply it led to his death, but this was not a defeat as it appeared and as even his dearest friends thought; rather, it was the only way to defeat the powers of darkness that hate God, good, and the best part of God’s creation, the human person.
Yes, this LOVE sacrificing self to the death turns out to be the surprising way in which evil is undone, people are brought back to God, but more, are filled with God, with God’s love, and are re-created into the likeness of God, so they actually become like Jesus. As a result of meeting Jesus and being filled with Jesus, the Lord Jesus has many sisters and brothers who live everywhere in the world, in just the way Jesus lived.
The whole gospel is this good! Everyone is loved in this extreme way: Everyone may be loved-out-of sin, slavery and slow death, and everyone may be loved-into the likeness of Jesus. Everyone can know that God is at work in their lives in just this way. And everyone can participate in the restoration and renewal of the world through Jesus who is making them a new kind of human being. This is the gospel that brings new creation.
Governments will not change the world; the church in its present forms will not change the world; but Jesus will, by the power of the H.S., as Jesus works in and through people and their connections to draw the world back to God.
I said the church cannot save the world. I said it partly to get your attention, partly to note that much of the church has lost its first love most everywhere and for that reason cannot really be part of Jesus saving work in this way I am describing. I am also saying it to hold out hope that churches will be part of the movement again. This will happen of course, because that is the plan of the Church’s Head. In the middle of the Lord’s world-wide, human by human, comprehensive renovation redemption will be a people who are Church. The only question is whether what we know and are as church will be part of that.
(We need have no doubt about any of this because that is precisely what happened in the beginning of our movement first through the Wesley brothers, and then through our forebears who organized the Free Methodist Church.)
This very gospel has changed the world, again and again, is now changing the world in other places than ours, and will change the world in the future.
Second, the Methodist/Wesleyan movement is ideally suited to respond to the world’s need in a way that can transform persons, families, nations and world. In fact, I believe at no time in history since 18th century England has there been such opportunity as there is now for Wesleyans—true Holiness People to contribute precisely what the world needs.
In 18th century England, most people were poor and the tiny minority that were rich didn’t care about anything but themselves and their own. (I speak in general, of course, for certainly there were many exceptions to this general observation).
Cities were growing wildly, and filled with unthinkable brokenness, immorality, crime, disease. Life was cheap. Prostitution rampant because when all else fails at least there is sex, and cheap sex at that. Babies were aborted, or if birthed orphaned so that later the proved the child labor that fueled an economy that benefited only the rich.
People divided into their own subcultures struggling to survive. More failed than succeeded. It was only a matter of time before the masses would rise up and decry the madness of it all.
This was happening everywhere throughout Europe, while the government of the peoples enjoyed their privilege. Of course, some cared about the poor and needy—some within the government, within social sectors, among the privileged minorities—but they cared in ways that often helped themselves as much as, or more than, the poor and needy. Too often they “helped” in order to become the heroes of their own Messiah-complexes.
A lot of this was going around in the world. The nations of the world each had their hands full with their own people and places. In fact, it was common to believe their own well-being required the nation to preserve its own people, even at the expense of others.
The church usually did not help, and often hurt. And the church did the most harm when it became the tool of those who were wealthy and in power. The church became aligned with the political, industrial and economic powers of the day and lost its ability to be agents of God’s power in God’s way, which is the Jesus way.
If this sounds familiar, you are tracking with me well. It does sound eerily like a world we all know well, at the start of the 21st century. But back to the 18th century for just a bit longer.
For reasons that had nothing to do with anyone trying to change the world, the world did change. Here’s how. John Wesley didn’t want to go to prayer meeting but did anyway. And he heard about God’s grace that could forgive his sins, give him a new life, and fill him with God’s Spirit. He yielded his life to God in this way. His heart was warmed by the fiery presence of God. And the love and passion of God made his heart and his life a ground zero for gracious tsunami like change in the world ever since.
The Wesley’s cared for the poor and introduced them to Jesus. They learned enough about the human body to know how to offer basic health and hygiene and medical support. They championed the protection and education of children and women. They put the sin industries out of work or at least seriously imperiled them. Joined with abolitionists to abolish the slave trade eventually.
You can well imagine that a lot of people were not happy when Wesley did such things and others followed his example. They abused him, harassed him, assaulted him, stoned him, started riots when he showed up in town.
Wesley fed the hungry, taught his friends a simple way of life such that people could save some of what they earned and learn to prosper modestly.
Rather, I should say, Jesus did these things through the Wesley’s and their friends. Remarkably, Jesus did these things without starting a new church but by helping the church find its calling and mission once again. Many believe that it was the Wesleyan movement that helped England avoid the kind of bloody revolution France had.
Third, part of the amazing way all of this happened is so important for us to understand. The movement “worked” through Spirit led and anointed use of AVAILABLE “means” or “strategies” that God used to direct the desperately needy world to the whole gospel, and the God who made it truly good news.
Wesley preached in churches, until they kicked him out. Then:
- He went to the fields.
- He went to the poor houses.
- He went to the prisons.
- He went to the hospitals.
- He went to the mines.
- He wrote constantly and furiously and published what he wrote.
- He trained lay people to evangelize.
- He then discipled them to lead people in ministries to the poor and needy for Jesus.
- He used popular tunes as a medium for praising God and for hymns that invited people to Jesus.
- And so much more …
All of this to tell you, at a time when connectivity literally connects everyone to every place, potentially at every moment of every day, God is in the connectivity. Just as in the first century a common language had taken root connecting multiple cultures throughout the world, and as a system of roads and highways was the boast of the Greco-Roman world, and these connections became the pathways for the beautiful feet of gospel-bearing agents of God’s shalom …
So today the global networking and interconnectivity literally pulsing and moving around us, makes it possible for any particular person to record herself on her phone singing a song that goes viral and makes her a star, the connectivity that also wounds a young person who equates the number of views or likes to the worth of her soul and concludes she’s worthless, and tragically also makes it possible to share digital pictures of some student to his “everlasting shame” that hurts so deeply the only way to make it stop is a bullet in the head …
Yet, the connectivity itself is not the problem and is not the evil. The God who is Triune, who is one but three and three but one, who is love, cannot help but connect and intends all connectivity to be good and holy, life- giving and life-generating, and a means for sharing the best news ever world-wide.
If one remarkable person can go to a prayer meeting against his preferences and wishes, and God can capture and enrapture his heart, forgive him, free him, and set him free to join with others to share the Person whose love they now know, and in service to that love harness whatever capacities and connectivity is already in place to change the world …
Suddenly the 21st century begins to brighten considerably because this Loving One is the same yesterday, today and forever.