Global Thing Locally
Global Thing Locally
The gospel of Jesus’ grace leads us into mission. It leads us out into others’ lives and into the world. To begin there, we’re going to begin to see that the gospel of Jesus, the grace of Jesus in our lives, as it changes us, it leads us to begin to seek to do global things in local ways. We want to make global differences locally. Grace leads us to think our locality important.
Let’s hear what Paul had to say to Titus about this very thing.
(Read Titus 1:1–9)
I want to highlight verse 5, “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you”
Value of the Ordinary
If you want to cook food for a large, grand amount of people, you have to walk an aisle at Schnuk’s. You’ve got to go over to Straub’s, push a cart. Even if you’re going to have, let’s say local governing officials come to your table and you’re going to cook food for them. In order for that grand thing to happen, you’ve got to clear the table—your table. You’ve got to get out the Pledge and do a little dusting. You’ve got to get a can opener and open some cans of food and use the washcloth that’s been in your sink you’re not sure how long the last time it was washed, but you’re cleaning off your counter with it.
To do a grand thing you have to do a lot of ordinary stuff. That’s the same with the gospel. To reach the world for Jesus, someone must walk down Lockwood. Ordinary things.
Paul is telling Titus we’re dealing with grand things. A promise that began before any of us were ever born, God is bringing to pass for the sake of the faith, a common hope and godliness for eternity, manifested to the preaching which I’ve been entrusted to by the command of God our Savior. And Titus, you’re my true child in a common faith, grace from God to you, peace from God and the Lord Jesus Christ to you. This is why.
Now, how would you feel in the next part? Eternity, a promise before time began, for the sake of the people of God. What grand thing would Paul give Titus to do? “This is why I left you in Crete.”
Do you know the state of Missouri is double the size of Crete? If you feel like Missouri is too small a place for the gospel, imagine you were Titus. What mighty thing for eternity of a promise before ages past could you do in such a small place? Titus was gifted. He was one of Paul’s posse. He was one of the heavyweights. He’s got his own letter written to him in the Bible. Titus’ résumé is like cream of the crop. Where would you place Titus? Cream of the crop résumé, all this experience one-on-one with the Apostle Paul, gifted, talented. Where’s he going to go? I don’t know if I would think of Crete. It’s such a small, ordinary place. To cook a dinner at your table you’ve got to walk and push a cart down an aisle at Aldi’s. To do a grand global thing, somebody must reach Crete. And Paul leaves him there.
Local Leadership, Towns, Families, and Knowledge
This mission that Titus has for the gospel, the first thing he must do is pay attention to local ordinary leadership. Verse 5 says, “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders.” That means Titus must get to know the local people, begin to discern who might be called to lead, get involved with their local story, and equip them.
The next thing he is going to do is he is going care about the towns in Crete. It would be like saying, “Here’s the grand thing I want you to do for Missouri. I want you to focus on Glendale.” There are people there, there are elders to be equipped and appointed and to care for those towns.
Titus will do it in the light of people who oppose the gospel. For verse 10 says, “There are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party.” Now, Paul is talking about local churches, those of the circumcision party; those are religious people, people who are zealously religious who will oppose what Jesus has to say. That means that Titus must get to know the local politics; he has to know the local region and who the “enemies” are. Who’s going to try to stick it to the Christians in the community. Then he is going to have to do that for the sake of ordinary local families.
Titus 1:11 says, “They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families.” I don’t know what those family names were, just husband, wife, a couple kids, widower, single, no kids. Just those families in those towns. “I want you to do this great thing for America. I want you to go into Shrewsbury.” Uh huh? What about, like, Manhattan? I mean, give me something like, you know, real, like how about LA, man? I want to do something big for the kingdom. “Yeah, alright, I want you to just go to Shrewsbury. There are some families there. God cares about them, and they are being thrown into the throes of conflict because of the religious politics there. Want to do a great work? Go to Shrewsbury.”
Titus will have to gain local knowledge. Verse 12, Paul is quoting one of the poets from Crete. “One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’” That’s exciting. Makes me want to go there. It’s kind of like reading the Webster Kirkwood Times and knowing what local people say. Paul is trying to model for Titus, “Hey, you need to know what the locals talk about and what they think about and what’s going on in that community, and then invest in those local and ordinary lives.”
Titus 2:1 says, “Here is what I want you to do once you get there. Elders, towns, people in politics, local ordinary families, the folk knowledge of the place, and I want you to teach.” What am I supposed to teach? Give me some grand doctrines to teach. “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.” Older women … younger men … Keep reading … younger women. Titus, to do this eternal global thing for the sake of the faith, I want you to teach older men and older women how to do life in Christ. I want you to teach the younger men and the younger women what it’s like to do life Christianly in Crete. You see, the Apostle Paul has this global, large, grand thing but in order to reach the world someone has to reach Crete, and Crete is to be reached by Titus, and these ordinary families in these ordinary towns.
Now, think about this. What if Titus trains those elders in those ordinary towns and then all of them say, “We need to go reach the world.” I wonder what Paul would say. I think he might say, “It would be cool if one or two of you came with me, but you are the world. For you to seek to live out the gospel in your towns with the people who live there is reaching the world.” But I know you’re going to Corinth. We all want to come with you. “The people in Corinth, they’re reaching Corinth. Don’t worry, I’m spending time with them.” See, if all the elders that were appointed by Titus left and went to Corinth, who is going to reach Crete?
Knowing Local Needs
There is a poet and farmer named Wendell Berry. He talks about his own wrestlings as a younger man with himself, and he says there was a time in which he traveled away from home, away from Port Royal, Kentucky, as a lobbyist, as an activist, seeking to make a difference in the larger scheme of things. But over time it occurred to him that while he was away, no one was at home. To leave your house, to go out there, means your house is empty. He began to think a lot about that and reexamined his homeless way of seeking changes in the world, and a settled conviction came into his being. This is what he said in his diary: “If I can’t promote what I hope for in Port Royal, Kentucky,” he asked, “Then why go to Washington to promote it? What succeeds in Port Royal succeeds in the world.” What is he saying? He is saying that the things that must be addressed in the world are right here in my own hometown. If I don’t know how to live out those things in my own hometown, why do I suppose I can do it out there? And while I’m out there, who is reaching my home, my own neighbors?
Titus, if you’re going to reach Crete, you must reach Crete. Its knowledge, its people, its towns. I think of it this way. If I was a conference speaker, which I have been in my past, I can just come into a place, speak, and then leave. If I’m a national blogger/vlogger, I can blog/vlog, not ever see anybody that I’m blogging/vlogging with in my actual day, and then go on the next day to another blog/vlog. I can bypass my own local place and connect with across the country the organizations that I want to be a part of addressing the things I want to address, and never have to deal with the people in front of me because I do it through Facebook, YouTube, email, or things like that. We have gatherings, regional gatherings where none of us live there, but we all come from other places and gather there.
But here’s the thing: If Titus wants to know Crete, its ordinary people, he has to know its local knowledge, its local politics, and everything else. I begin to think about that for us. If I as a pastor, whatever I preach here I’m going to see you at Bristol Elementary picking up your kids, or I’m going to see you at the YMCA Hoopsters, or I’m going to see you over at Straub’s. I mean, we’re going to run into each other. You’re going to see me while I’m driving past you down Elm or getting a ticket from a policeman down Elm as you pass by me. We’re going to see each other. I can’t just blog and move on, right? There’s actual people here.
I was thinking about that for Webster Groves. You know, 63,119 people in this area. If I’m going to address questions about race and racial reconciliation and needs, why go do it out there? It’s right here. Do you know in our small town of Webster Groves, Missouri, we have three organizations dedicated explicitly to racial reconciliation. I’m now a part of all three. Why? Because to address that theological question out there, I have to live it out right here.
Did you know that there’s a history of North Webster? African American history of North Webster is rich. Not just for our community but nationally. There’s a whole history here. If I’m going to deal with that question, I must do so in the context of a community in which Douglas School was closed in our history due to desegregation. A rich history of a school. I can’t talk in theological isolation. I must embody and live it out.
Do you know that if I’m going to address the questions of sexual brokenness in our own community, I must do so in the context of a campus that has a massive LGBTQ community. I must do so in the context of teachers at my kids’ schools who live a homosexual lifestyle and who make a tremendous impact on my kids because of their skill and how good they are at what they do and their passion for teaching. I can’t reach the world as if it’s in isolation and always go somewhere else. To address these questions, I must address them with the neighbors that are right around me. That is what Titus must learn from the apostle Paul.
The St. Louis Bread Company, Llywelyn’s, down at the Train Wreck. This is where the gospel must come and penetrate. If I preach that Jesus is the only way for salvation, I do so as a YMCA coach with a group of families who don’t agree with me, and their kids aren’t being raised in the gospel. What do I do?
If I seek to preach the gospel here in Webster Groves, I do so knowing that if I don’t rake my leaves quick enough, I’m going to get an anonymous letter in my mail letting me know because the people of Webster Groves really care about their leaves in their yard. It’s a part of the heritage of this community with a history of their homes. I have gotten such a letter. So much for making a strong first impression as a pastor in the community.
Titus, there is this grand thing for the sake of the faith and eternity. That means the people of Crete need it. That’s why I’ve left you there. We do a global thing in a local way.
Do you know the Bible is like this? Think about the locality of the Bible. When you open the Bible you’re going to come into contact with some strange sayings. You’re going to read things like this: “Jeremiah was the son of Hilkiah, who was one of the priests at Anathoth.” Or you’re going to hear a poet express his romantic love like this: “Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead.” Try that on, men, with your ladies today. Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down the slope of Rock Hill.
Or John will tell us there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool in Aramaic called Bethesda which has five roofed colonnades. Jesus went out the Judean countryside, or he visited in a town of Samaria called Sychar near a field at the well at the sixth hour. You know, Isaiah did not deny or hide the fact that his dad was Amoz. He didn’t exaggerate his role. He let us know that he was the son of Amoz, that he served in Judah and Jerusalem under the reign of certain local kings and others. It’s kind of like me; I’m not a prophet at all but I would say, I’m Zack, the son of Vern. I’ve served in Webster Groves, Missouri, and other parts of the United States during the reigns of Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, and Obama.
To open the Bible, neighbor love is required. God has set it up this way.
You know how sometimes our friends from Asia come and visit, Hinjen changes her name to Jenna so that we can all say her name. The Bible doesn’t do that for us. Jeremiah was an Anathoth. It doesn’t change the name for me. For me to open the Bible, I have to come to terms with other people’s localities, learn their names, their histories, their local knowledge, in order to have access to the global thing God is doing. Someone had to translate it into English for me to even have a shot at doing that.
The Bible itself requires neighbor love just to read it. If you find yourself, like I do, impatient with sections like that, it’s because I don’t really like entering other people’s stories. I don’t really want to know the details of people’s stories other than my own, and that’s why I skip over some of those passages in the Bible talking about ordinary people. You think, Why is this in the Bible? I’ll tell you why. Because to do a global thing, God does it in local ways. For the world to be reached, local people have to be reached.
Local Is the Mission
Isaiah wasn’t any man from anywhere; he was the son of Amoz in Judah. That’s who he was and that’s who we are here. We have a place; we have a people; we have names. So when we come to the Bible, neighbor love is required. We must enter the local stories of this global thing God is doing. For us to live out the gospel, we must do so not in isolation but in the midst of the neighbors that are right around us.
Why? It’s the same even if we go somewhere else. Let’s say we’re going to do mission work because that’s what grace leads us to do and we are going to move to Japan. Once you get there, what do you do? You learn the people, learn their names, their local culture, local customs, ordinary towns, ordinary families. You learn to read what they say about themselves and what their local knowledge is. It is impossible to do global things without locality, no matter where you go in the world. Even if it is the grand thing of a hut out in the middle of nowhere in Africa, you still must learn those people and that place. And you better learn from them which snakes are venomous and which aren’t. Local knowledge really matters.
This is where we’re starting as a church. Grace leads us to reach the world through our own backyard, right here. What I’m saying is you are already missionaries, so am I. We are a missional church. The reason we are here is to reach 63,119, just like someone in Tokyo is trying to start a church to reach Tokyo. And just like someone in Beijing is doing the same. Just like the pastors in Iran who love Jesus and right now are trying to follow him amid all the stuff going on there. They are trying to care for ordinary towns, ordinary people amid the knowledge and politics of that region for Jesus’ sake.
We can go there, but if we do, someone has to come here. Since we’re already here until the Lord calls us to Tokyo or somewhere else, what about doing mission work right here?
If you want to cook a grand meal for a dignitary, you must push a cart down an aisle at Dierberg’s. If you want to reach the grand world for the gospel, someone has to walk down Lockwood for it. That’s the privilege you and I get to have.
Now, for some of us, we’re deflated because we still think that doing a great thing doesn’t involve locality. We think we’re going to move somewhere else and it will be grand when actually we will have to do the same thing there that we have to do here—get to know a local people and a local place for the gospel. We feel deflated because this is just a new idea and we haven’t caught it yet. But for others of us, it can be really encouraging. You don’t have to be somewhere else, somebody else, doing something else to make a difference in the name of Jesus Christ in your generation. You can learn to do that right here with your neighbors and mine. It’s hard to live out the gospel in a community. If I’m driving down the road, I’m a pastor, I’ve got to watch out. Am I picking my nose, am I speeding, who will see me? It becomes real. All our weaknesses and flaws, all our strengths and hopes in a place.
Zack Eswine serves as Lead Pastor of Riverside Church and as Director of Homiletics, Resident Scholar of the Francis Schaeffer Institute, at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri.