Over the last couple of years, part of the journey that God has taken me on has been to do with my thinking about salvation.
Which is a lovely, big, religious word that often renders itself relatively meaningless to those we meet in our day to day lives.
But I’ve just had countless cups of tea with a number of my best friends, and what I’ve realised is that there’s a massive group of people going on a similar journey. Friends who God has been speaking to in the same kind of ways. Changing our thinking. Holy Spirit enlarging our thinking. God enlarging our capacity for more of Him. Jesus journeying with us until we can finally start to see with our eyes a little bit more open.
So, let’s talk salvation.
I guess in the simplest form I’m talking about rescue. About being rescued. About being set free. About being saved from things that I couldn’t save myself from, by a God who loved me.
And all of that is completely and 100% true and right and good.
Jesus has completely saved me.
But I’m talking about how I used to always end there. With this personal-about-me-and-what-Jesus-did-for-me-salvation.
I maybe wouldn’t have said so in so many words, but in reality, that’s where my thinking often led me to and where my prayer times often ended.
I guess what I really feel that God has been doing, through so many different ways, is letting me see more of Him.
To just begin to see a little, tiny, bit more.
I feel like what God invites us to all the time is more and more and more revelation of who He is.
And this revelation of who He is… His character, His insight, His fullness, all of that… it actually reflects in how we see others.
You know, the revelation of who He is actually changes the way we see everybody else.
So this God-letting-me-see-more-of-Him-journey has really shifted the way that I see evangelism, and the way that I do community, and the way that I love people, and just, well… Pretty much everything.
Which is a great and exciting (and at-times-uncomfortable) journey to be on.
Because a fresh revelation of God should change everything.
And it’s definitely been changing my thinking about God’s big plan of Salvation as breaking out of the things that are existing, and outside of the religious systems and structures that contain the Gospel, and outside of small spaces, into wide open spaces of freedom that Jesus has always planned to be present in.
Right before I moved to Japan, about this time last year actually, I was in the middle of some of processing this stuff. And on my final weekend in the UK I was involved in leading some parts of a youth workers conference in Scotland, where Danielle Strickland was our main speaker.
And because I still feel like she articulated this really clearly, I’m going to actually quote from one of her main sessions.
She was talking about how we can often live and speak as if Jesus is just like a medicine shot for us personally. Just a personal dose. Just enough Jesus for our personal sin and our individual problems.
But actually, the gospel, the Salvation with a big S, the thing that God’s calling us to, boundless salvation, is this breaking out of just a personal Jesus, into this massive idea that God’s plan and His salvation is so much larger than us.
The image that goes over and over and over in my head is when William Booth called it a boundless salvation, this ocean of love. And the Lord just began to show me, you can have a syringe of salvation, or you can have an ocean of Salvation. You can have this endless, ocean. And William Booth prays in this song, this whole world redeeming, this massive plan, this huge thing going on, that it would come and roll over us, it would consume us and immerse us. This revelation of the salvation of Jesus, this revelation of who He is and His plan for the world, this revelation of the bigness of the Gospel, that it would actually immerse us. We could lose ourselves into that plan.
And I feel like the Lord is really growing His disciples, constantly trying to get them from a syringe of flavoured medicine, and just enough Jesus for what ails you. I think even with our young people, even with the message that we bring, oftentimes we’re just like, yeah you should receive Jesus into your life because Jesus will make you feel good.
We reduce Jesus into this personal saviour.
You know, you can even buy a Bible that instead of for God so loved the world, instead of the world there, you can have your name personalised. We can sing a song, which you know, I actually like the song, it’s beautiful, but we can sing a song that says when Jesus died on the cross, above everything else He was thinking about me. Of course He was. Above all, I mean forget about the salvation of the entire earth and the redemption of all things, the righting of all wrongs, all the justice that’s needed on the planet. Forget about all that. Suspend that for a second. Because we all know that when Jesus died, I don’t know where you were, but when Jesus died on the cross, He was thinking about me. It was me above all else. It was me.
I mean we’ve reduced salvation to this narcissistic, self centred, need haven’t we?
This banana-flavoured syringe level. And what God wants to invite us to, and what He’s been inviting His disciples to since He first revealed His glory on the earth, is to actually enter into a bigger place. To enter into a boundless place. To enter into something larger than just ourselves.
That somehow the Gospel message has been distorted into this self-sufficient, self-feed thing where you should accept Jesus because of what He can do for you.
When really, Jesus when He went to the disciples, even in the beginning, He never said, ‘can I join you in your fishing boat? I’d really like to hang out with you, you’re awesome’. He said to them, ‘hey, I’ve got this plan, it’s gonna bring redemption to the entire earth. It’s gonna cause suffering and pain for you personally. Wanna come?’
That’s the complete opposite message of what we preach today isn’t it?
Yep. That’s the kind of journey I’ve been on. God gradually enlarging my vision and then getting my thinking from just myself.
And it changes everything.
I first started preaching when I was 15 years old. I was mentored in a style of preaching that emphasised raising hands at the end of a meeting and praying this personal prayer of salvation. And there’s nothing wrong with that as part of the story.
But there’s everything wrong with it when it becomes all about the number of hands.
When it reduces salvation to this eyes-shut-hands-raised moment.
When I was a kid I super loved this toy called ‘Polly-Pocket’. It was a tiny doll (called Polly) who you carried around in a tiny house, small enough to fit… Well, in your pocket. She had tiny clothes and tiny toys and tiny friends, and you could take her everywhere with you and pull her out when you were bored or wanted to show her off to people or just wanted to bit of childhood-entertainment.
And I think that when we think of this small salvation, when I make it all about me, and only me, what I can actually end up doing, is treating the Almighty Creator God, Prince of Peace, Lord of lords, and Saviour of the entire cosmos… As a Polly Pocket Jesus.
Small enough to carry about with me wherever I go, and live in my heart, and get pulled out when I’m having a really, really bad day and want to feel good.
And that misses the whole-entire-point.
Because He’s the I-AM. He’s the reason for this whole deal. He runs the show.
And we get to join with Him, in what He’s doing.
I guess, the older I get, the less interested I am in numbers-of-hands-raised, and the more interested I am in doing genuine-community with people, in walking out a long term race with them, and in loving them better.
I’m more interested in Salvation. The way that Jesus did it. Sometimes in the many coming to faith, and sometimes in the few, and sometimes in the none, but always with the people and for the people and loving the people.
As part of my Masters research I spent some time interviewing my pastor about his approach to mission in Japan. And it was so completely inspiring, because he continued to articulate this stuff. One of my favourite quotes from our conversations is again emphasising a larger view of Salvation.
As Christians we have to think of ourselves as bridge builders. People here in Japan, they feel they are cut off from society, even though there’s so many people. They go to school, office, they work together but they don’t feel they are connected…Christians, we connect with God through Christ, so we need to be a bridge builder to connect each other. It doesn’t matter Christian or non-Christian. Just as a human, as a man.
Like when Jesus came from heaven to earth. We need to go out and connect like Jesus did. John 1 verse 14. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
That’s my basic idea about mission. It’s not just a personal evangelism. We live together. We stay together. Through us we connect the person to God. Jesus came to us and through Him we can connect to God’s kingdom. In the same way, we need to do this as His disciples.
So, I’m not trying to collect a gathering of people here in a so called church or church building. Instead we need to go out and try and live together, literally.
The thing is, seeing something of God’s Salvation really changes the way that we engage with the world. It changes the way we disciple others. It changes the way that we approach issues of justice, and ethics, and the environment, and poverty, not as peripheral extras to our own salvation but as central to God’s Salvation plan.
It prevents our salvation from being something that remains passively accepted.
It prevents our salvation from being maintained only within our churches.
It leads us to joining with what the Holy Spirit is already doing in the world.
It’s so incredibly beautiful.
And here are some photos from my final couple of days in the UK and my welcome home to Japan 🙂