Evangelism, Typewriter Sales, & Ezekiel.

As Christians we have an amazing message to share with the world. God is love and desires to be reconciled to each and every person no matter where they came from or what they have been like. He has done the heavy lifting necessary for reconciliation through Jesus and offers His Spirit. We share in God’s amazing ministry of reconciliation. Yet it often feels like this amazing message falls on deaf ears. Churches have tried a great many things in order to get the message out, including revamping the experience of church in an effort to get people in. However, many have felt the frustration of trying change after change, and program after program, with limited results. The message seems stuck within our walls, and even when it gets out, it feels like no one is listening. It feels like we are selling typewriters.

Ezekiel had a similar experience of not being heard. For seven years he faithfully spoke messages from the Lord to God’s people in exile. These were, more often than not, messages of judgement, or stated more precisely, messages of opportunity. In Ezekiel 33 we get a glimpse of how successful he was:

As for you, mortal, your people who talk together about you by the walls, and at the doors of the houses, say to one another, each to a neighbor, “Come and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord.” 31 They come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear your words, . . .

So far so good!

. . . but they will not obey them. For flattery is on their lips, but their heart is set on their gain. 32 To them you are like a singer of love songs, one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; they hear what you say, but they will not do it. Ezekiel 33:30-32 (NRSV)

In other words, Ezekiel was not very successful at all! No one was really “getting” the message. Ezekiel may have had more success selling them Latin-script typewriters.

So is there any encouragement for us from Ezekiel’s experience? Yes, there are four points of encouragement:

First, look to the future.

Having been told that his efforts have failed, Ezekiel is pointed to the future:

When the thing takes place — and it is beginning now — they will know that there has been a prophet among them.’ (Ezek. 33:33 NJB)

In this chapter word arrives that Jerusalem and the temple have been destroyed. Now that judgement has come, the truth about Ezekiel is made plain. He is not just a “singer of love songs,” he is a prophet of God, and has been speaking true and truly significant things.

The Church might be thought of as many things to many different people; a curiosity, a museum, a historical footnote, a crutch for the weak, a drug for the masses, a danger to society, a false religion, a source of entertainment, a social opportunity, a collection of nice, but not very bright people, and of course, a bunch of hypocrites. But, when Jesus returns, the truth will come out as to what the Church really is. We are not typewriter salespeople. We have a prophetic role, we speak a message on God’s behalf to the world:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 (NRSV emphasis mine)

We are ambassadors for Christ, we we fulfil a prophetic role by speaking a message on behalf of God; be reconciled to God. That may seem like hogwash to many today, but the day will come when “they will know that there has been a prophet among them.”

Second, Ezekiel had confidence in his calling. He knew he was a prophet.

When this comes—and come it will!—then they shall know that a prophet has been among them. Ezekiel 33:33 (NRSV)

Before the people knew a prophet was among them, Ezekiel had to know it first! Do we as God’s people today have confidence in God’s call upon us? Many things have been tried, and will be tried in efforts to attract people to the Church and Jesus. However, sometimes we confuse our methods with our calling. Our calling is not to attract people, but to call people to reconciliation with God. We will know we have been faithful in our calling if it said of us “the Church has been a prophet among us, those people have been speaking a message of reconciliation on behalf of God.”

Third, Ezekiel had confidence in his message. He knew his message was the correct one.

Just as the message of Ezekiel was not popular, and certainly not as popular as the “happier” messages from the false prophets, so the Christian message is not popular. I am reminder of the hymn lyric “Oh the old rugged cross, so despised by the world, has a wondrous attraction for me.” Despite the unpopularity of the message, we can have confidence that it is the correct message, and the most important message in the world.

In luring John Scully away from Pepsi to work at Apple, Steve Jobs famously asked “Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?” There is no doubt that Apple products like the iPod and iPhone have been transformative. But if Steve Jobs were still alive we could ask him if he wanted to sell circuit boards the rest of his life, or if he wanted to join Jesus and change the world. Even the smallest, most stuck in the mud church, with the most boring preacher ever heard, has a greater and more significant calling than the extraordinary Apple company. The message we have been entrusted with is the most important message in the world. We do know that, right?

Fourth, Ezekiel was faithful despite being ignored for 7 years. 

We need to be faithful for as many years as it takes. When the world does not listen to God’s message, let us remain faithful as God’s messengers.

We Are Not McDonald’s

McDsWe are not McDonald’s. Not that I have anything against McDonald’s. In fact it is because of McDonald’s that I was able to get eat lobster with the eating of a McLobster. The idea of eating an ocean going bug staring back at me from my plate does not appeal to me at all. But back to the point. We are not McDonald’s. That is, we, the Christian Church, are not a franchise. Go into any McDonald’s and you will find something very familiar. The food is the same. The service is hopefully up to the same standards set by head office. Even the decor ends up being the same in most locations. Go into any McDonald’s, or any other like franchise, and you will be able to predict what you experience. Go into any Christian Church, and you can not predict what you will experience. There are differences between the denominations. But even the denominational label does not give you much to go on as there can be, and are, great differences within denominations also. Every church is unique.

Why is every church unique? Is it the failure of some head office somewhere to apply certain standards across the board? No, the Christian Church was never meant to be an experience of franchise. Instead, the Christian Church is to be the experience of family. And just as every family across the globe is unique, so too is every individual Christian family. This diversity is wonderful and to be celebrated, and even enjoyed on those occasions we come together for wider ‘family re-unions,’ such as many of us enjoy here in Cobourg on Good Fridays.

This diversity does not mean there are no standards of course. The central confession of the Church worldwide today is the same as it was in the early days of the Church. The first Christians responded to the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus with the confession “Jesus is Lord.” And when they confessed and proclaimed this, they did not mean it in some symbolic sense. Despite our diversity, this central confession that “Jesus is Lord” still binds us together.

Now some may say, “but Clarke, this goes against the diversity of the Church you have just been celebrating as there are some fine church-going folk today that are not comfortable with the affirmation that Jesus is literally raised from the dead and therefore ‘Lord’.” Indeed some church folk have written off the possibility of miracles and so have thrown the miraculously conceived baby Jesus out with the bath water. But to be a Christian church and be uncomfortable with the miraculous resurrection of Jesus would be like having a restaurant called “the Greasy Burger Pit,” that refuses to have meat on the menu. It leaves us asking that age-old question, “where’s the beef?”

The Church: A wonderfully diverse family of families. Each is unique, yet it is not “anything goes.” We are not McDonald’s, but I’m lovin’ it.

Submitted to our local paper, May, 2014.
photo credit: Thomas Hawk via photopin cc