As I write this I am above the Atlantic ocean, flying back home from the land of Luther. As I visited the Luther sites at Eisleben, Erfurt, Wartburg, Worms, Wittenberg and others, a number of thoughts were confirmed once again.
What a convergence of things that God put in place for the reformation. There was a vacuum of reading materials, print technology and the ability to read, addressed by Gutenberg’s printing press and Luther stressing education, including girls. There was the vacuum of the gospel and a man to give it voice through Luther. There was the “vacuum” of fear and despair caused by the church’s teachings of works righteousness and buying forgiveness and Luther posted the 95 theses and was willing to take a stand. Talk about defining yourself! What a miracle that God would bring these and more together for the sake of those who are not saved through Jesus Christ who alone can justify!
So fast forward to our day. What is the vacuum of our time? Do we still address the reformation era “vacuums” or is there a different target upon which to focus in the 21st century? It is not in learning how to read, even as the Christian day school provides a wonderful greenhouse within which to baptize children and nurture the faith. This obviously should not be abandoned. We still have our pulpits filled proclaiming the gospel. These likewise ought to continue and with great passion. There is still the vacuum of the gospel! We have the modern day printing press or internet in our pockets on our phones. With these means there is the explosion of information and unfortunately the gospel is either confused or nearly drowned out as we encounter other religions. So where's the vacuum in our day? What can we learn from the reformation for a strategy for our time, while continuing what is good, right and salutary? Are there not other “vacuums” that God wants us to address for the sake of Christ?
In America, the vacuum is an epidemic of loneliness and weak relationships. Even with the "friends" of Facebook and the freedom and ease with which we can text and call and communicate, people are ever more isolated. Studies repeatedly support this as true. Isn’t it also true that there is a selfishness and vitriol and antagonism and people are under suspicion in our times? Single parent households and broken families are also increasingly the norm. Whether it is political or personal, groups or individuals or families, relationships and intimacy are rare. Role models and positive experiences are rare. People wonder of hidden agendas when someone is friendly. So what can the Christian do?
Contemporary service? Youth ministry? Family ministry? Externally focused ministry? While none are wrong per se, none quite hits the bulls-eye…unless… UNLESS…our efforts are done with an intentional effort toward filling this relationship and loneliness vacuum - with Christian love and ultimately with Christ’s love! And this means with those who are not like us! Reaching across ethnic, socio economic and lifestyle lines. This means diving into long term relationships with those who think, talk, look like or love people who are different than ourselves.
In the vacuum of the epidemic of loneliness and the hunger for real relationships the Christian is uniquely equipped. But it will take a commitment to the long game or marathon. It is not a quick fix or a program. It is about investing yourself in a few lives instead of the silver bullet program we think will address the crowd. It is about living out the fruits of the Spirit of Galatians 5 - "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness..." day in and day out even and especially with those who are not deserving of it (from our sinful point of view). It is graciousness and a servant attitude. It is debriefing your motivation with them by sharing the gospel of Jesus…repeatedly, patiently. It is one on one. It isn't a program but a life and the persistent investment into one person at a time. Only then will the lonely and cynical have the wake up call of the gospel and the “aha” that comes from the Spirit working through the Word to break into the darkness with Gospel light.
Sure we should still have church and do our programs. But if they are not the means by which we invest long term in individuals then we'll see our churches turn into museums like in Luther's Wittenberg where you might need to pay 2 Euros just to take a picture. God help us.
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Scott Gress is called by Lutheran Counseling Services and partners with the FL-GA District of the Lutheran Church as an independent contractor. He specializes in Leadership Training, Consulting, Coaching and Coach Training. Contact Scott to continue the conversation or experience a free sample coaching session. 561-542-4472, firstname.lastname@example.org or scottgress.com
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