MY THREE-YEAR-OLD CHARLOTTE WOKE UP AT 4 AM LAST NIGHT.
When the babysitters had put her to bed, they hadn’t flipped on her “night-night light.” A train horn in the blackness startled her to tears. When I plugged in the tiny bulb, soft yellow light engulfed the room. The darkness was gone and she cuddled back to sleep. One of the most impacting facts I’ve ever learned is that physical light always goes into darkness; scientifically, darkness never comes to light. Darkness cannot overcome a candle; it must wait for the flame to flicker out. But when you flip a light switch, beams instantly fill the blackness. If we may spiritualize the image a bit, light goes into—and pushes back—darkness.
Consider Jesus’ familiar words: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Living out our faith in an unbelieving world is one way that God draws people to glorify Him. Conversely then, if we do not live out our faith in the darkness, we remove one way people can glorify God.
A LONG LINE OF LEAVING OUR COMFORT ZONE
Many followers of Jesus have what we’ll call a “low indecency tolerance”: if anything looks like it might, potentially, one day, maybe be sinful, we avoid it. Of course there’s some wisdom in that: it’s right to approach anything that incites our sin with wisdom, accountability and close community. And we’re by no means saying that true mission always includes going to a bar. But alcohol is an easy example of a broader idea: anything God doesn’t label sin, He can use for His mission.
We’re 130 percent certain that hairs are bristling on the back of some reader’s neck right now. But consider a couple other ways God sent people out of their comfort zones for His mission. These may seem normal after 2000 years of hindsight, but each was far more controversial in its day, than crisp cigars and aged bourbon are today.
The apostle Peter grew up believing anyone outside his own race was evil, as was eating certain foods. But in a trio of rooftop visions, God redeems Peter’s legalism: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” God didn’t just expand Peter’s palate; He destroyed racial tension, and for the first time, God’s mission extended to non-Jews: “truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Later, Peter and Barnabas got scared kosher when legalistic Jews arrived at a Gentile feast. And Jesus’ disciples were scolded for not fasting correctly, while Jesus Himself hung out with the “wrong people” in the eyes of religious leaders, and was rebuked for healing, driving out spirits, and feeding on the Sabbath.
WILLING TO BECOME ALL THINGS?
From Sabbath, circumcision, and bacon, to drinking, gambling, and music, history proves legalism as one of religion’s darker sides. Some Christians in Paul’s day tried to force meal restrictions and even circumcision on those to whom they were on mission. But the Apostle took a different path, becoming “all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” First Corinthians 9 shows that Paul didn’t always reject legalism. At times, he gave up freedoms and submitted for the sake of those with tighter rules. We can’t swing the pendulum of selfless discomfort to one extreme and ignore the other.
But as we follow Paul as he follows the example of Christ, we might say, “To those who hang out in bars, I became one who hangs out in bars, in order to win them from their drunkenness. For those who are religious, I became religious, that I might save them from their self-righteousness. For those who get drunk every Saturday, I go to the frat parties—not to get drunk, but that I might bless and care for those who are. For those who add rules to God’s grace, I follow the rules in order to free them from trying to earn their salvation.” And so on. There are hundreds of places God sends us on everyday mission. Many are out of our comfort zone, in the proverbial darkness, and on someone else’s turf. But whoever they are and whatever their turf is, that’s where we go and make disciples.
Ben Connelly, his wife Jess, and their daughters Charlotte and Maggie live in Fort Worth, TX. He started and now co-pastors The City Church, part of the Acts29 network and Soma family of churches. Ben is also co-author of A Field Guide for Everyday Mission (Moody Publishers, 2014). With degrees from Baylor University and Dallas Theological Seminary, Ben teaches public speaking at TCU, writes for various publications, trains folks across the country, and blogs in spurts at benconnelly.net. Twitter: @connellyben.
(Editor’s Note: This is adapted from A Field Guide for Everyday Mission by Ben Connelly & Bob Roberts Jr. available from Moody Publishers starting June 2014. It appears here with the permission of the author and publisher. For free resources and to order, visit everydaymission.net.)