Knowing your ‘why’ is so important. At the start of Jesus’s public work he said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 3:2l) and then he lived a life of sacrifice and transformation through which he:
- Offered the forgiveness of sin and a new start for absolutely anyone who would embrace him.
- Loved and socially included people who were culturally scorned and written off by the religious right.
- Economically empowered people by healing them of their diseases so they were whole and could work for a living and be saved the indignity of begging.
- Challenged political injustice by doing good on the Sabbath, forgiving the woman who was about to be killed and including lepers who society had segregated.
The kingdom of God that Jesus declared and demonstrated really was good news. Interestingly Jesus didn’t say believe A, B and C and you will go to heaven when you die. In fact Jesus said that heaven was coming to earth (Matthew 6:10 & Luke 17:21) and Revelations vision of a new heaven and a new earth is ‘coming down’ (Revelation 21:2). Sometimes we get the direction of heaven round the wrong way. Following Jesus is not a transaction that gets us into heaven when we die but a heavenly transformation that happens in us and through us in the here and now.
Pastor and theologian Leslie Newbiggin said, “the local church is the hermeneutic of the gospel” meaning that the local church demonstrates Jesus Christ to the wider community. The Message translation of the Bible said of Jesus, “He became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood” (John 1:14), what a beautiful picture of Jesus being alongside people. Later on in the book of John Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21), so in the same way that God sent Jesus into the world Jesus he now sends his church to be alongside people.
The experience of the Cinnamon Network International team in helping thousands of local churches on the journey of community service and transformation is that the church has the greatest impact when it is motivated by Jesus’ unconditional love.
The Bible describes unconditional love when it says, ‘Whilst we were still sinners Christ died for us’ (Romans 5:8). There is nothing we can do to merit or deserve God’s love and acceptance. How God has loved us is how we are encouraged to love other people. When we serve people only because we want to get them to come to Christ and come to church people see the inauthenticity of our motives.
The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby once described the work that Cinnamon Network helps churches do as ‘provision wrapped in love’. Statutory social welfare struggles to deliver ‘provision wrapped in love’ because it is part of a bureaucratic machine in which professionals are specifically trained not to get emotionally involved with people. Some of the most powerful provision is that delivered by people who have themselves experienced the unconditional love of God and they are simply passing in forward.
So let’s love people with no strings attached, regardless of whether they come to Christ or come to Church, let’s love them to bits because that is the extravagant nature of the love of God.
This blog is an extract from the ebook ‘Church-Led Community Transformation’ by Matt Bird which is available for free from the home page of our website