In the last few weeks, I’ve gone to two different training sessions, and heard the same message, told in different ways. The first came a few weeks ago, when writer, theologian, and public intellectual Dr. Os Guinness came to Metrowest. He spoke at Medway Village church in the evening, but earlier in the day he spoke at a luncheon that Dan, Bill, and I were able to attend. He spoke about how we live in an Augustinian moment, a period very similar to the end of the Roman Empire, where the old age is passing away, and the direction of culture turns, and a new cultural reality arises. After a 500 year era of Christian western domination, the old age is breaking down, and something new is arising. We know this, every day we are being reminded that the ground of culture is changing. We feel it all the time and we’ve talked about this as a church. Dr. Guinness went on to argue that we need to be teaching Christians how to wrestle with the big questions, the abstract questions of “how then shall we live”, and raising up followers of Christ who can speak to the great questions and think through how we should think about these new cultural realities as Christians. And we need to be raising up Christians who can move to the centers of culture and be leaders who create networks that impact the world, while at the same time approaching things as Christians who remember that God works in His own ways, leads through the Spirit, works through surprising reversals (such as the one we see in the life of Paul), and works as we aim for His glory (The glory of God is always our goal). He said much, much more, but this was the key thing that stuck with me. By and large, I think he’s right.
The next meeting came a week and a half later, with Glynis LaBarre, the coordinator of the Missional Church Learning Experience (MCLE) that our church has been invited to take part in. She too spoke about the fact that the world is going through change, rapid change. She got at things differently than Dr. Guinness. She looked at things through more of a technological lens to explain why it has happened. She spoke about the fact that we have seen more technological innovation since 1900 than in all of recorded history before, and all of this has changed the way that we think and live and interact as a society. Coupled with changes in societal changes, it’s been a potent mix of culture shock for many, and certainly for the church. And she pointed out, it’s speeding up, the rate of change is increasing. She gave many examples, including the rise of nanotechnology and the exponential advances in medicine (for example we can take stem cells, and grow back lost organs). The rate is increasing. She said other things, but you see the point, considering that we now have cars that stop themselves to keep you out of an accident.
Just as the world shifted in the period of Augustine with the fall of the Roman Empire, the world is shifting and changing, and no one knows what will be birthed. But in some ways, it doesn’t matter. That’s for the historians to sort out. Our duty is to be at work for God in this time and in this place. I’ve been thinking about the Esther story lately. If you look in the book of Esther, you see a series of chaotic events lead to this unknown woman getting made queen, at the same time that Haman (a man who hates her uncle and all the Jews), comes to power. And as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that all along God was preparing her for “such a time as this" He orchestrated things so that she might work for His aims and His glory. And it’s not easy. She flinches as she faces the challenge, because of its immense risk; she’s risking her very life for this. But in the end, she dives in, saying “if I perish, I perish”. Behind that is a resolution to face the —> challenge, and do what she has to do, laying every-thing on the line and taking the risks that she needs to take so that God’s will may be done. The result is something completely beyond her own power; through her, her people are saved.
The same call lays before us. If God truly governs the affairs of men, and if God is truly sovereign, it is fair and right to say that God is behind this massive shift, and that He is working in and through it, and therefore it is also fair to say that this means something truly profound for us. We are not here by accident. Just as God called Esther for such a time as this, He has called us for such a time as this.
Now what does that mean for us, residents of New England, the Boston Metropolitan area, and Medfield? First, it means that we need to stop lamenting the good old days, embrace this reality, hug it tight and truly rejoice in the fact that He put us here and called us for this great and glorious moment. Glynis took time during her workshop, and had all of us say “congratulations you have been chosen to live during the most accelerated rate of change in human history”. We need to do more than pay lip service to this, we need to do it. Yes the numbers are ugly. Yes, less than 2% of new Englanders are evangelical, Bible believing Christians, people whose life and doctrine line up with what we see in the Bible. Yes, the ground is hard. But those He calls, He equips. And those He equips, He uses. He has called you, me, First Baptist, to risk all and live for the glory of God in “such a time as this”. He has called us to love and serve our community and those around us. He has called us to lovingly share our faith, to call men and women to Christ, to repentance, to faith in his saving work, in (such a time as this,) even if it means risking our standing and credibility with our non-Christians friends and family members, and even when it brings disdain or reproach from them. He has called us to be people who use our funds to further the kingdom, even though times are tight. He has called us to live holy lives in the midst of a secular culture, and to speak the truth in love. He has called us to wrestle with big ideas, and live in such a distinctly Christian way that the world is attracted even as it is put off. He has called us to engage our minds, to be thinking most clearly about the good of the world around us, rather than our interests, because that is how Christ acted towards us.
But second, it means that we need to see that God has called us not only for this time, but this place. We need to look around and recognize the unique opportunity that God has given us to make a disproportionate impact for the kingdom of God. We live in one of the most strategic places in the world. There are few places on the globe that are more strategic for the kingdom of God. When you look at the country, there are 5 or 6 cities, depending on how you count, that disproportionately affect the culture of America: San Francisco- Silicon Valley [Technology], New York [Money], LA [Film and Art], Miami [fashion], Washington [political power], and Boston [education]. Which one disproportionately affects the others? Which one could lead to a slow transformation of all the others as student come then go home? God has called us here, to this town filled with driven type A professionals, who, if they come to Christ, could have a huge impact across the region, and therefore, across the world.
How awesome is this? In moments like these things are harder. But they are also are more glorious. Heroes are forged in the fire of hardship and battle, and saints are remembered for standing up when the fires get hot. But most importantly, God’s name is made most glorious when things are harder, because His power is made perfect in our weakness. As we come to the holiday season, let’s rejoice in the hope of the gospel. Let’s rejoice that God has called us in this time and place. The challenge is great. We live in a turbulent moment, and many churches, including ours, are struggling and weak. But we have a God who likes to take the weak things of the world, and use them for His glory, because His glory shines out all the brighter when it’s clear that it was all His work. God is not done with us yet. He has called us, you and I, the fallible people that make up First Baptist, to Medfield, to Boston Metrowest, in such a time as this, to proclaim the gospel, to spread the word of God, to help people connect to the gospel, grow in the gospel, serve from the gospel, share the gospel, and be changed by the gospel, so that they, and we, might live for his glory as He calls people out of darkness and into His marvelous light.