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Being an innovator and change agent can be challenging, especially when it takes time to define, develop, and produce the results of an idea.
Discipleship training is not a program; it’s a command to every believer. The way we have traditionally fulfilled this responsibility has been through formal instruction in a classroom or auditorium setting. We have called those formal gatherings “church.” In time this tradition of gathering and sitting in formal settings became more important than fulfilling the command to “go, make disciples.”
Let’s get back to the command; let’s get back to where we once belonged, making disciples. Let’s let Jesus be our example. Yes, Jesus did have people sit down and listen to him, sometimes in the Temple, sometimes in a field, on a mount, or in the intimate setting of a home. However, we should notice that the setting for his instruction was rarely formal. Instead, he practiced a non-formal and often informal method of making disciples. He said, “Come and follow me.” This was Jesus’ invitation to a life of a disciple.
Let’s “flip” discipleship.
What I am suggesting is that we change things up a bit. Let’s “flip” discipleship. If we were intentional about a reversed teaching model we could deliver instruction on the go, in the regular rhythms of life. If we were to “flip” discipleship, we could follow Jesus’ model and use the education tools of the 21st century.
Everywhere, in nearly every corner of the world of education, learning is going online. Some like it and some don’t. Let’s step back a moment and consider how today’s online learning tools might help us “flip” discipleship training.
Consider a moment how an interactive online learning environment might enhance discipleship of today’s Christ followers. What if we created hundreds of short Youtube videos to deliver content and we made discipleship more personal? What if we moved lectures outside of the classroom and allowed teachers, mentors, and disciplers to spend more 1:1 time with each disciple? What if Christ-followers had the opportunity to ask questions and work through problems with the guidance of a personal mentor/teacher and find the support of others on the same journey? What if we “flipped” church and made it a community learning on the go? What if church became a community on mission, making disciples?
We have developed just such a method with online tools and videos for discipleship training. It’s called the IPO Connection (Internship Placement & Outreach Connection). Through the ipoconnection.org and corresponding online course site, we are matching students (disciples) with field projects through homestays (sharing biblical hospitality), and equipping the students through dozens of short video lessons followed by personal interaction with a mentor (discipler).
What are the advantages of flipping discipleship training?
- Gives teachers/mentors more time to spend 1:1 helping students
- Builds stronger student/teacher relationships
- Offers a way for a collaborative community of students, mentors, project hosts, and donors to move together on mission with Jesus
- Produces the ability for students to “rewind” lessons, review them, and share them with peers. These video lessons are powerful!
Visit ipoconnection.org for more information.
Here’s one for Missionaries & their current (and future) Supporters.
It’s been since the Fall of 1985 that I have been a “faith missionary;” I have depended on the faithfulness of God through his people who give out of their love for God and his mission and their love for me and my family. I can testify, through all the years and many tests and trials, that God IS faithful.
Much of what I have learned has come through our living example of faithfulness, our Ministry Partners. One of our Ministry Partners said it well: “John and Mary, you have a calling to go; I have a calling to send.” It is such a privilege to be in partnership with friends who know their calling and honor the Lord through their obedience to His calling.
I want to share a few of those lessons with you. Whether you are a missionary or a supporter, these lessons are for partners in Christ’s mission:
1. Whether you are a missionary or a supporter, choose a Ministry Partner to pray for. We may not always communicate who we are praying fo or when, but God often stirs our hearts for one or more of our supporters.
2. Communicate regularly. We have sent a prayer-letter every month with only one or two interruptions. And many of our supporters send a monthly note with their support. This communication is an amazing encouragement. Ministry Partners can use email, Skype, Facebook, and even short text messages to stay in touch.
3. Be hospitable. Hospitality literally means “friend of the foreigner.” The result of hospitality is friendship; we become closer. Host your Ministry Partner for a meal or an overnight. If you can, help provide temporary housing or transportation too.
4. Connect your small group or ministry team with your Ministry Partner. Broaden your hospitality, inviting your network of friends to also become Ministry Partners.
5. Invest your vacation. Invite Ministry Partners to visit your ministry site or community. Travel with your partner; its a great way to spend part of your vacation. (Most of our vacations are combined with visits with supporters.)
6. Help create or strengthen a ministry project for your Ministry Partner. My wife and I have volunteered with several churches to help them with outreach preparation, youth ministries, missions and leadership training, consulting and counseling. Virtually all of our short term teams have served the long term work of Ministry Partners on the field. You can offer your time to a special project, outreach, or event. You could take a volunteer job, like weekly administrative tasks, driving shuttles, or kitchen duties.
7. Be generous. For years we sent YWAM Prayer Diaries or other books as gifts to our Ministry Partners. We try to bring gifts from the field, especially when we visit Ministry Partners. We have also received care packages, baskets of food, and surprise gifts. These are acts of generosity displaying the goodness and faithfulness of God. Very often those surprise gifts have been direct answers to prayer, which helped us meet our monthly bills.
We all, both missionaries and supporters, are walking by faith. We all are called to put our faith in God to supply our daily needs. When we, as Ministry Partners in the work of Christ’s kingdom, give our hearts, our time and resources, we cause thankfulness to overflow and bring pleasure to the heart of God.
Special thanks to all our Ministry Partners. We love you!
Be Missional: How can you support and encourage your missionaries or your supporters in their calling?
“We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you. We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand, so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. For we do not want to boast about work already done in someone else’s territory. But, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. 2 Cor. 10:12-18
All young leaders need encouragement, and sometimes correction. Some young leaders are timid, always looking inward, and wanting circumstances to be “right” before they can faithfully fulfill the call of God. Other young leaders seek to do too much too soon. They idolize celebrity preachers seeking to by-pass the growth period and discipline necessary to produce lasting fruit. They repeat what they have heard, the stories of those they idolize, but fail to endure hardships that prove God’s faithfulness in their own lives. In order for “our sphere of activity among you [to] greatly expand,” as Paul the apostle suggests, we need both a clear vision and a work in “regions beyond you.”
In fairness to young leaders, it is also true that too often older leaders- those who ought to be mature, “boast” of their vision to “change the world.” See James Davidson Hunter’s book, To Change the World.) Hunter provides a penetrating appraisal of several approaches of Christian leaders to change the world. He highlights their inherent flaws and the presumption of ministry leaders. What is too often ignored is this: change implies power. Christians seeking to change the world have all eventually embraced strategies of political engagement. Sadly however, few Christians are taught a theology of power or how to engage the world.
In this post, I am offering an important foundational understanding necessary to grow as leaders and ministries as we obey Christ’s command to “make disciples of nations,” to change the world.
There is a tension in any growth. Babies cry when they are teething and small children cry when their bones are growing. There is always a painful maturing process if we are to grow. It is painful for an individual to grow in giftings and calling. It is painful for a ministry to develop leadership teams. And it is painful for families of churches, ministries, and organizations to learn to network and cooperate in their calling to make disciples of nations.
During the past 1500+ years, the Church has been led by people, mostly men, with two primary giftings: pastors and teachers. The tension of growth naturally feels uncomfortable for anyone, but especially painful for pastors and teachers. Both pastors and teachers want to protect and teach their members in a safe environment of learning and growing in the Lord. A safe place to hear and study the Bible is very important. I thank God for the protection and wisdom of leaders who watch and pray in Christian communities. However, putting too much emphasis on safety and a kind of lecture-style learning-without-doing will stifle the growth of leaders and ministries.
We Need Everyone to Help
Have you heard that before? “We all need to help right now!” When we work with a ministry or church, including a Youth With A Mission location, we are challenged to take up the urgent issues that frequently emerge in any growing ministry. YWAM particularly, at its foundation, is a pioneering apostolic organization. There will always be an urgent call to reach into “regions beyond.” This is consistent with YWAM’s global calling. Why? Because there will never be enough people, money, or time to do all we are called to do. Actually, it’s also consistent with the calling of any church community. Jesus did tell all of his followers to “Go into all the world…” (Mk. 16:15) and “Make disciples of every nation.” (Mt. 28:18-19)
When a church or ministry location leader calls his or her staff team or volunteer leaders to help in the urgent issues of the moment, every one of them is under pressure to lay aside their “primary call,” if they know what that is. Their “primary call” may or may not be directly related to the urgent issue at hand. This urgent call is always to action, rebelling against the status quo, and not to the tension-free lecture hall experience of most church experiences. Of course, this tension between individual and corporate callings presents an opportunity to grow and mature in the Lord far more fruitfully than if they remain in a safe, secure, and relatively inactive lecture setting.
It is not only the proactive call to action that creates this tension; it also comes as a reaction to crisis. When times are tough, the natural tendency of any community, including a YWAM community, is to hunker down, to enter into a spiritual warfare mode. It may or may not be readily apparent, but “battle lines” are increasingly drawn, and the whole community is mobilized to meet the urgent challenge of the moment through prayer, sacrificial giving, and long hours of sacrificial service. Making this kind of urgent call is actually proper for pioneering and apostolic leaders and it is proper for the community to rally to help.
However, if this rallying to help is not sufficiently aimed toward the apostolic purposes of reaching new spheres or territories, the community will become in-grown. If the reactive “battle” rages on and on without time for reflection, for creative and re-creative thinking, and without releasing initiatives of pioneering activity, the members of the community will grow weary. (Of course, the community may also become ingrown where there is no “battle cry,” where the members of the community are without direction and focus. We can discuss this in a later post.)
When there is a continual “battle,” the community can take on an “us against the world” cultural ethos. If unchecked, this ethos can result in organizational silos growing taller. Those organizational silos can be departmentalism within an organization, or they can become wider organizational silos between political groups, church denominations, or cultural Christian identities. When it happens in a ministry or church, worldviews shrink, attitudes narrow and positions tighten. Unaware, the increasingly in-grown community will begin to find fault in the leaders and criticize anything that makes them feel uncomfortable. Some members seeking to grow may feel disloyal, and they may be labeled “rebellious” if they raise questions that point out an increasingly ingrown ethos.
About the Apostolic and Prophetic
This tension between the ministry organization or church community and the apostolic visionary impulse to pioneer is normal. This is what Paul is writing about to the Corinthian community about “spheres of activity” greatly expanding into “regions beyond.” However, this expansion of growth does not automatically occur; it requires spiritual leaders with apostolic and prophetic gifts, those with vision to expand ministry outside cultural boundaries, and those who bring a “check” or correction to leaders and communities who cannot see outside their cultural boundaries.
This “check” against organizational silos comes from a prophetic gifting. Prophets are called to “build up,” but they are also called to “tear down.”
See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and teardown, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” Jeremiah 1:10
Perhaps the reason the Church has splintered into hundreds of denominations and local churches split and individuals hop from church community to church community is because their has not been a sufficient understanding and appreciation for the apostolic and prophetic leadership giftings? Perhaps our communities would grow more and more in unity if we appreciated all five of the leadership gifts Christ gave to the Church, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers?
Just a thought. What do you think?
At first I feel Christmas pressure, a negative reaction to the appearance of Santa in shopping malls. Have you noticed he’s earlier every year? What are they going to do, have him sit on pumpkins next year? I react to the World’s Way trying to press me into it’s mold. That first wave of pressure makes me resist shopping. So I put off shopping to the last week or so, until after a careful look at my budget. It’s not that I don’t want to give gifts; I just want to give freely, and without all the commercial expectation.
The Appearing of Christ at Christmas
That early phase of unholy pressure begins to fade as the date draws near. My heart warms to a different expectation. I begin to hope for the appearing of the Christ of Christmas. But then I notice the World’s reaction. Here in Madison, the Freedom from Religion foundation objects to a Christmas tree on public property and so they protest by placing a fake crèche and a baby girl doll and Thomas Jefferson figurine in the Wisconsin State Capitol. Sadly, those who reject Christ are stuck in a world without hope, a Darwinian world where survival of the fittest remains the ultimate value. The hopelessness of a purely materialist worldview will drive people to seek significance and happiness in material things, including saving the planet.
Then, the deep hope of Christ’s appearing takes new root again in my heart. Slowly, subtly, I find the grace to celebrate the birth of Christ. I realize that the expectation of his appearing is not complete in merely remembering that manger scene, where the Son of God was born 2000 years ago. He has come. He is Emanuel, God with us.
The expectation of Christmas, the Advent season, is his appearing AGAIN. He is coming. And all creation is longing for his appearing. That same longing is for the appearance of the sons of God, the Body of Christ. Not only will Christ Jesus come, he will set all things right.
Because we received the free Christmas gift
Meanwhile, the sons of God, those of us who have received the free Christmas gift of faith, are urged to “appear” with Christmas gifts. We’re called to make things right, reconciling relationships of all sorts, in his Name. We’re called to reconcile all relationships, beginning with our relationship with Him.
We “appear” as “Sons” when we love God and our neighbors. The Christmas season is the time to be reconciled with family, with our community, and with our nation (despite political differences), It is the time to be reconciled with our world. It is wrong to reject the world, the world to which Jesus was sent, because he loves the world.
Receive and Give the Free Gifts of Christmas
This Christmas, we can receive again the free gift of our world and we can choose to love it. We can love the amazing creative structure of our world, and we can help reconcile the mis-direction, the way of the World.
This Christmas, may you enjoy the wondrous appearing of Christ again in your family, in your world. Have a blessed Christmas!
Rituals are among several ways we picture and practice our ideals, our vision of a kingdom with human flourishing. For example, the marriage ceremony is the ideal of marriage. The bride is in white, representing purity, and celebrated for her surrendered devotion to one man. The groom is in tuxedo, honoring the bride with his commitment to love and cherish one woman.
In a few months the two will be settling into married life, with daily chores, and other habits. Some habits are not bad at first. However they can grow in their influence, often with ill effects on cherished institutions like marriage. Shopping at the mall or jockeying a recliner in sweats for weekend football games are not harmful if we are attentive to their potentially destructive power.
In his book, Desiring the Kingdom, James Smith outlines how over time our rituals, especially our most cherished practices, help train our desires. Rituals mold and shape our worldview, our precognition of the world. Our daily motions and rhythms, our embodied routines, train our minds and hearts so that we develop habits. Habits are like attitudinal reflexes; they make us tend to act in certain ways toward certain ends.
For example, most of us use a keyboard pretty regularly. So, where is “d” key. Do you know? Not so easy to say where it is, is it? But, your hands “know”, don’t they? How? By practice. rituals, routines, and exercises. It’s not reasoned thought that tells you where to find the “d” key.
Philosopher-scientist Blaise Pascal writes, “The heart has reasons of which reason knows nothing.”
There are different levels of habits according to Smith: thin and thick.
The thin habits are mundane, like brushing teeth; they are the instrumental things we do. Thin habits do not touch our identity, or our fundamental desire, our love.
Thick habits are meaningful, significant to identity. They are representative of our core values. Often, they are religious habits.
Cultural anthropologist Charles Taylor emphasizes that we understand before we “know”. And we love before we know. Ancient Christian ascetic tradition had the axiom: “Desire forms knowledge.”
So James Smith proposes: “We must shape desire in order to know.”
He continues: “What we do (practice) is intimately linked to what we desire (love), so what we do determines whether, how, and what we can know.”
Maximus the Confessor in One Hundred Chapters of Love, writes about the key to directing and increasing one’s desire for God; it’s in the acquisition of virtues.
How are Christian virtues acquired? Through concrete practices like confession, communion, prayer, service, etc.
According to research by Bargh & Chartrand, “the development of most acquired forms of automaticity (habits/virtues/skills) depends on the frequent and consistent pairing of internal responses with external events..over time, conscious choice drops out as it is not needed.”
In my final post on this book, I will ask several questions to help us think through the implications for our lives, particularly as habits and “cultural liturgies” relate to Christ’s mission. Of course, for those of us in university life, the implications are culture forming. Look for that final post very soon.
At Easter I wrote about Holiness, that holiness is intimacy with God. (Here’s that post.) I described how Bernard of Clairvaux’s 14th century hymn, O Sacred Head Now Wounded, was a personal and public pre-Reformation plea for intimate relationship with Christ.
I return to this subject because I did not adequately describe the beauty and purpose of holiness. There’s something else at work here. Holiness is also an outward response to that intimate friendship. To live in holiness, we must walk in holiness. The apostle Paul writes:
I am a prisoner because of the Lord. So I am asking you to live a life worthy of what God chose you for. - Eph. 4:1
Building on the foundation that I laid in the previous post: Holiness is more than intimacy with God. Holiness is both:
- Personal intimacy resulting from relationship in righteousness through faith and
- Public witness of ethical behavior. God’s people are called to represent God’s holiness to a hurting world.
Holiness is not merely intimacy; it is also action and ethical behavior within the community and with all people. Old Testament scholar Christopher Wright‘s book, The Mission of God, expains that holiness is manifest through ethical behavior, works of righteousness. The New Testament narrows it down to loving our neighbors. If you love your neighbor as yourself, you have fulfilled all the law and the prophets. Holiness, in contemporary language, may best be summed up in social justice. Paul writes:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-10
Please understand, you do not earn holiness through any actions of your own. Neither are you holy if you simply do good works of social justice. However, those who have been called to intimate friendship with God have no choice about whether or not they are to love their neighbor, through ethical behavior in and through their community and through acts of mercy and social justice among the nations.
To be sure, holiness literally means to be ‘set apart,’ to be wholly different. God is holy, completely different, other than all other gods. And God in Christ Jesus calls his people to be holy as he is holy. Israel was also called to be holy, unlike any other nation.
In his book The Mission of God, Christopher J.H. Wright outlines the nature of being “set apart”, the election of Israel. Israel’s election is:
- In the context of God’s blessing of “every nation”
- Does not imply rejection of other nations
- Not due to special features of Israel
- Founded only on God’s inexplicable love
- Instrumental, not an end in itself
- Part of the logic of God’s commitment to history
- Fundamentally missional, not just soteriological
When God accepts us and welcomes us into close fellowship with him through the blood of Christ, we are “MADE HOLY.” That holiness calls us to be wholly different:
Finally, brothers and sisters, we taught you how to live in a way that pleases God. In fact, that is how you are living. In the name of the Lord Jesus we ask and beg you to do it more and more.You know the directions we gave you. They were given by the authority of the Lord Jesus. God wants you to be made holy. – I Thes. 4:1-3
This past Sunday I spoke at a local church on the topic of Transition. They are welcoming a new pastor into their midst. The thoughts below are part of what I shared:
For any follower of Jesus Christ, the biggest transition, our most drastic life-change, begins when we have our own personal encounter with Him. The simple response to his loving initiative of grace, of turning our hearts toward him, and believing he rose from the dead, that he is Lord, begins, as the scripture says, our transition “out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of his dear Son.”
The truth is this: all of us experience transition whether we know Jesus or not. If you want to be perceived to be a “prophet,” all you need to do is say, “I see there are some people here who are going through a transition. God is taking you into a new season of life.” People will respond with amazement: “How did you know?”
Everyone is going through transition. Here are a few examples:
Growing up. Welcoming a new baby brother or sister into your family. Your first day of school. Over the summer young people transition from one grade to another. The teen years are one long transition between childhood (dependency) and adulthood (interdependency and responsibility). The process of preparation for your life’s work, the contribution you will make to your generation: Going to college. Getting a new job, Moving to a new city, a new house, meeting new friends.
Sometimes transition comes in the form of a life change. When you or a loved one is arrested, spends time in jail, or lives with a record for a crime. Or perhaps you or someone you know is living with addiction, a life-controlling problem. You may be in the process of recognizing your weakness and failures to yourself and to those who love you.
I was just ten years old when a huge transition began in my life and my four brothers, the day my dad told me he and mom were getting a divorce. Transition is learning to deal with new realities, which may not have been our own fault.
Transition is also the process of healing, which is usually preceded by an event, getting very sick, or rushing to the emergency room after an accident.
In 2nd grade, i was playing in the back yard with a wheelbarrow, a plank of wood, and a picnic bench. I was pushing my “heavy machinery” up on the bridge, picnic bench. But the wheelbarrow tipped, the bench gave way, and I fell over and I broke my arm. I freaked out and grabbed it, “it’s broke!” I yelled as I held it at the break and ran into the house to find my mom. Mom said, “Let’s just run cold water over it.” She couldn’t see the break because I reset the bone when I grabbed it and I wouldn’t let go. Finally, she agreed to take me to the doctor, who said, “your son should be a doctor. He set the bone perfectly.” I did not become a doctor. I wanted to be a builder. Healing was a transition, and the process meant I needed to sit on the bench during recess. Transition may be a time of isolation, a normal process in anyone’s life…especially those of us God is calling into some kind of leadership.
Transition may be emotional healing from childhood abuse, or some other trauma. The process of healing may take years. And during that time you typically have time to stop and consider what is really important in life. But time does not heal, especially the emotional wounds of abuse or any event that allows a bitter root or a lie to embed in your spirit. Healing comes when we encounter Jesus, the Truth, who sets us free from the bondage of lies.
Growing old is also a transition; your body doesn’t work like it used to. Pains in your body become too familiar. Your financial situation may be much worse than you had hoped and planned. Transition may be a forced career change; businesses downsize, and the economy changes.
Transition may be a change in life-style, exercising self-control of your diet, exercise, and the way you manage your money. It may be saying “no” to things you really want, because they are not God’s best for you.
On the other hand, no matter how much we try to control our lives, the world around us is in constant change. We cannot control everything, no matter how much discipline we have. Self-control is not merely the strength of personal will; it is the fruit of the Spirit, which is life-giving.
Love is the only thing that never changes. God is love; he chooses never to change. Some take this notion of immutability too far; they believe God is incapable of changing. They think he would never smile, that he could never respond to us because he is “perfect” and if he responded, he would “change.” Those who believe that become like their “god”; they show no emotion. They are the “frozen chosen.”
But God is not merely the human ideal of unchanging perfection; God is personal and he lovingly created us in his image. God is love. Love is choosing the highest and best for someone, beginning with ourselves. We’re called to love our neighbors as ourselves, which is not very loving if we don’t first love ourselves unselfishly, saying “no” to things that harm us.
TRANSITION IN PREGNANCY
My wife Mary reminded me of another meaning of transition. It’s a phase of pregnancy after the water breaks. It is when the pains of contractions become unpredictable, just before pushing. It is the phase when many birth moms say, “I’m done. I don’t think I can go on.”
As a dad, I have a bit different view. The day I became a father was the day Justin, our first son, was born in Hawaii.
Everything changed for me and everything changed for the rest of human history on that day. Really! My wife gave birth to a little boy who has grown up to be a man, who will make decisions that will affect many others. The world changes when we have kids because our children have their own children, and they have children, and their children have children. The responsibility is HUGE!
I was thinking about all that when Mary was in that little hospital on the Big Island of Hawaii. I was overwhelmed at the joy and the intense pressure I knew Mary was experiencing. I was trying to focus on two things:
- Coach my wife (breathing, speaking words of affection and encouragement, and holding her hand through the contractions) and
- Don’t say it!
What was I trying NOT to say? Well, when Mary began to really push, I offered my hand, my left hand, the one with my wedding ring, and she squeezed so hard she pinched my fingers around the ring. I was tempted to say, “Mary, that hurts.” I didn’t say it.
Transitions can be painful…
The transition of a new leader in a church community should not be mistaken to be the end of transitions, no matter how tired or excited you may be.
We must recognize that transition will continue. We must welcome a new encounter with Jesus. We must accept the fact that we have been in transition since the day we came to Christ. And leaders must accept the fact that transition began the day this church community was born.
A church transition may be painful. During the process, some people must work very hard.
I think it’s important, especially at the key moments in a church community’s life, moments such as the introduction of a new leader, to look back and thank God for the seasons of transition.
For example, it is good to thank God for the day the church community was born. Thank God for the original vision, the message and ministry that drew the people together. That message and the gifted preacher that drew the community together is a gift of God, which should be recognized at key moments in the life of a church.
The trouble is this, we tend to make our leaders into “Rock Stars.” Leadership is a ministry gift, and we can put ungodly pressure on those key people when we set them up as heroes. The pressure hurts the leader, their family, and the community. Could it be that the church, as it is currently organized, puts undue pressure on her leaders, causing break downs in their bodies, their marriages, and their families?
Sadly, I have seen several pastors crushed under the pressure. Their marriages, families, and churches end up paying a huge price. This should not be.
What should we do? We should not sit back and passively wait for a leader to carry our spiritual load; we should not look to them to be the answer to all our problems. We must wake up and we must grow up.
I believe God is looking for his “body,” the Church, to be a community, a family with friends, sharing a life-style of ministering to one another and to their neighbors. We must all become ministers.
Some might said,
“If everyone in the church is called a pastor, then, to a new person, it looks like there’s no leadership. People are used to the idea of a main pastor.”
My previous post, “A New Kind of Church Minister: George Isley,” is an example of a church leader who gave freedom for all to be ministers. I also want to respond to the confusion about church leadership and “being the body” by sharing principles gained from another spiritual father, Loren Cunningham, Founder of Youth With A Mission…I will continue with his story on my next post.(Go to this link if you would prefer to listen to this message, A New Kind of Transition, online.)
There’s no day in my life that has had more impact on the future of this world than the day I became a dad. Really. When my first child was born, everything changed for me and my future, but it also changed for a future I will not see. The day I became a dad changed history. Future generations will be changed, either positively (or negatively), through my children, and their children…and so on.
We were in Hawai’i in a little block-walled clinic on the Big Island the day our first boy, Justin, was born. Yes, Justin is ‘Hawaiian’ and his birth certificate looks just like Obama’s. I will never forget the intense emotion of holding my wife’s hand at the moment she was giving birth. I made the mistake of offering my left hand with my wedding ring. She squeezed very hard and my ring pinched. I was tempted to say, “Mary, that hurts.” But of course, that’s not what you do. (Hint to expecting fathers: Take off your ring or offer your right hand.)
This has me thinking today about what Mom’s already know best: There is no future without the pain of anticipation in the present moment. Every major decision or purposeful act in life, has painful consequence. Living life with purpose is difficult; you must forego easier options, less painful choices. Fearing the pain may lead to the failure to act or decide. But that also has consequence, a delay of living with purpose. A delay of fulfilling a greater purpose, a greater contribution to this life. The future is shaped by those who decide, those who make sacrificial choices, not for themselves, but on behalf of a future generation. Father’s make sacrificial choices in hope that their children will make choices that will please them.
Sadly, there is a deep pain that father’s can carry into the future too. My own dad went through plenty of pain with me when I was a boy, especially my teen years. My mom and dad broke up in the late 60′s and my four brothers and I were, there’s no other word for it, brokenhearted. The result: we all carried the pain. We failed to communicate and I ultimately turned to rebellion.
My choices produced a lifetime of strained relationship with my dad. My utter failure in so many categories when I was younger has made it difficult for my dad to forgive me. I also know I am not the only cause of the pain of those past years. Nonetheless, I know my choices in life, including those choices after I met Jesus, have been different than what my dad would have chosen for me, especially my call to serve as a faith missionary.
Whether I make him proud with my life choices or not, I know my life has been shaped in part by my dad’s commitment to do the right thing. Doing the right thing, as a father or as any leader in any organization or any nation, will require courage and a willingness to be misunderstood. This is why I regularly teach the biblical doctrine of vocation or calling. I will be teaching again this week in our University Discipleship Training School in Madison, Wisconsin. Beginning with the example of Fatherhood and Motherhood, we need to teach calling, which extends into every sphere of society. Understanding God’s calling and leading by example is so urgently needed in our society today.
Leaders must be willing to make the difficult choices on behalf of their community. For example, here in Wisconsin, we have Gov. Walker and the duly elected legislature making difficult budget choices on behalf the community and future generations. The US Congress is facing the same difficult choices, requiring leadership and an understanding of calling that transcends party and politics. Making the decisions required will cause pain in the present; certainly those making the difficult decisions are facing terrible accusations and threats. Like a father and mother paying down a household debt, elected leaders need to balance the State and Federal budgets. Today’s challenges require leadership that chooses to trust and not control those they serve. Like the trust I must now have for my adult sons, Justin and Nathan, our society needs leaders who trust members of the community, other leaders in the private sector, to take risks, create wealth and jobs, and thereby serve their community.
May we all walk worthy of the calling.
As a dad, I know there is probably no more difficult calling on planet earth (probably second to being a mom.) This Father’s Day, I sent my dad a note thanking him again for the many ways, even through the pain of a broken home, he sacrificed and made good memories for me and my brothers. Thanks dad!
“If you work the words into your life you are like a smart carpenter who dug deep and laid a foundation of his house on bedrock. When the river burst its banks and crashed against the house, nothing could shake it; it was built to last.” (Luke 6:48 Message)
Jesus said, “These words I speak to you are not merely additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundation words, words to build a life on.” (Luke 6:47 Message)
Sounds pretty important to me
But what was Jesus referring to exactly? What are we building and why?
Jesus was wrapping up his Sermon on the Mount, including the Beatitudes, the DNA of the Kingdom of God, and the Lord’s Prayer, instruction on how to appeal to God for his help in fulfilling his mission in the earth. Jesus was a carpenter by trade; he used the metaphor of building to get his point across. His sermon was kind of like a builder’s “shop-talk” for the large crowd that gathered to listen to him in Galilee.
Do you find it interesting that the crowds that gathered around Jesus were often too big for the buildings of his day? On one occasion when Jesus did gather people in a house, a few determined men who sought healing for their paralytic friend “removed some tiles” from the roof, and “let him down in the middle of everyone.” (Luke 5:18 Message) Of course, Jesus healed the man because he and his friends had great faith.
The Building Process: Internal and External
Imagine walking through the trailer on the site of a major new building project. On the wall is a chart showing all the various tasks for each of the contractors. Jesus sermon was about all the tasks and tools used to build our lives, our families, our communities, and our nations. He was speaking of how to build a community which would soon be called the “Church.”
Jesus was teaching his audience about the tools of the kingdom, how to love enemies, how to be merciful, giving, forgiving, and not-judging. He said, “Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.” (v.42) He spoke of the organic nature of the kingdom when he spoke about fruit-bearing, “your true being brims over into true words and deeds.” (v.45) It appears the “building” Jesus is referring to is NOT a place of worship; it’s a people of worship.
Who is doing the building?
Neil Cole, in his book “Organic Church” asks: “Do you trust laymen on their own?”
Look again at what Jesus said: “If you work the words into your life you are like a smart carpenter …” Sounds like Jesus intends for “you” to be the builder.
Unfortunately down through the ages spiritual authorities, whether they are Pharisees or modern ministers, have too often failed to trust God’s people to “build”.
Roland Allen‘s important book focuses on the fact that Paul’s missionary activity was church planting and that he quickly turned over leadership to the “builders.” Without exception, all the churches that Paul planted in the gentile world were left alone; and, in every case, God’s people managed to survive and express Christ and His church. Certainly, Paul’s missionary work produced what we call “New Testament churches.”
Paul’s “New Testament churches” seem to be different than ours. Our concept of New Testament Church keeps coming up with a “senior” pastor and a passive and mute laity. Paul’s method was to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry” which is to proclaim Jesus is Lord in every family, every community, sphere of society and every nation.
A Changing World
Today’s world is very different than the Paul’s world, but let’s look at the similarities. The first century was dominated by a single world power, Rome. Today’s world also has a single world power. At the same time, the Roman world was culturally diverse, pluralist. And today, when you visit any major city, university, or shopping mall, you will see and hear people from many cultures. In fact, there has never been a time in history like the first century quite like there is today.
And yet, the world is vastly different from the first century and any other time in history. Within the past few years, the demographic center of the Christian world has shifted from the North and West to the South and East. The new Majority Church is in the Global South. The accessibility to information technologies is rapidly changing the world, including the Arab world and China. It appears the pressures caused by the flow of information among the people in the Arab world will effectively change Middle Eastern nations and their primary business models. OPEC will likely face pressures and break up, releasing a more market-based system. Those nations will likely shift from economies based on a single product, crude oil, to a market-based economy. That change will likely also open the way for alternative energy sources; a change that is too restrictive now due to our dependence on foreign oil.
The emerging generation has more access to information and connection with “friends” than any previous generation. Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat helped frame the significance of these changes. Friedman’s book was out before the emergence of FaceBook. If Facebook were a country, the number of people on that one social media tool would be one of the five most populated nations on earth. It is second nature for most people today to collaborate for social change. This change alone will affect every modern institution including churches. The effect of these major socio-political, economic, and demographic shifts is “like a flood.”
Like no other time in history is it necessary to build on a solid foundation in obedience to Jesus. Building the people of God to do the work of God everywhere. We must trust God’s people to be the priesthood to proclaim the good news by every means, inside the domain of church ministries and outside that domain. If we do follow Jesus’ instruction and Paul’s method, what is built will be “build to last.”
“What language should I borrow, to thank Thee dearest friend, for this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end? O make me Thine forever, And should I fainting be, Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.”
This line comes from “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded,” a 12th century hymn by Bernard of Clairvaux. Bernard was a reformed Benedictine abbot in France during the time of great challenges to the Church. Islamic nations, European kings, and even as many as three simultaneous popes all vied for power in “Christendom,” where the Roman Church was preeminent in the Western culture. I cannot defend all that Bernard did during his thirty years as a minister, however I can safely say that his life’s work elevated personal faith over religious ritual. He called upon his generation to truly know Jesus.
I am moved again today by this personal and public pre-Reformation plea for intimate relationship with Christ.
Nearly every time I teach for a week in a Youth With A Mission training school, I invariably return to the primal call of this hymn to intimacy with Jesus. This call is consistent throughout the Bible and throughout history. God calls us to intimacy.
When God called him by name, Moses replied, “Here I am.” “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exo. 3:5)
How strange. What made that place holy? The Almighty not only introduced Himself to Moses, but He shared the deep things of His own heart with someone he chose to trust. The LORD said,
“I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians.”
What made that place holy was intimacy; God revealed his deepest hurts to Moses. It is the same when I share from my heart the things that cause me pain. These things are not for everyone to know. If I choose to trust someone and share my pain, it is a ‘set apart’ conversation, a holy moment with a trusted friend.
That place of trusting relationship is ‘set apart’ – it is a ‘holy’ place. When God chooses to open His heart to reveal His thoughts, it is a most Holy place because His character is perfect and His abilities are limitless.
God knows all things perfectly. He saw the suffering of the people of Israel in captivity that He chose to represent His name and bring forth the Messiah. They were in chains and cruelly mistreated and He heard their cries. God felt something in His heart that He shared with Moses. God invited Moses to the Holy place of intimacy where He felt that pain.
Centuries later, the apostle Paul went to Athens where he found an altar with the enscription: To the UNKNOWN GOD. This was Mars Hill, the place where people considered ultimate questions of origin, destiny, and value. Plato had taught his students, including Aristotle, to consider the uncaused cause, the wholly unchangeable and ultimate good. Perhaps Plato was a pre-Christian prophet to the Western world?
The difficulty with Plato’s line of thinking is that the ultimate good, the UNKNOWN GOD, cannot change. He cannot experience anything, including pain. This line of thinking became the frame of reference for Western theologians for most of Christian history.
However, the God who is revealed in scripture, Righteous and Holy, is also honest when He says He feels pain. Scripture says in Genesis 6:6:
“The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.”
Some say these ‘human-like’ expressions of God are anthropomorphisms, that God is only using language that we can understand in our frailty and limited understanding. They say God is pretending to be like us so that we may relate to him.
If that is true, the ultimate anthropomorphism is Jesus. The ‘Word’ became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1). He is Immanuel, God with us, offering intimate friendship to all who will come near.
Jesus is ‘the exact representation’ of God’s being (Heb. 1). He represented perfectly the love and justice of His Father. Jesus said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9)
When Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, the Father wept. When Jesus felt the pain of rejection, the Father felt pain too. When Jesus made the atoning sacrifice on the cross, the Father made the sacrifice as well. God knows everything about everyone, including me. He knows every sin act that produces broken relationship and it causes Him pain.
God is all-powerful and all knowing, but He restrains His power and knowledge for the sake of relationship with us. If I had all power and all knowledge, I am sure I would determine to make use of my abilities. The results would be disastrous. However, I am not God. Inasmuch as I chose to break with my conscience and choose to selfishness, I became morally depraved. I was without hope and without God. I was in need of a Savior.
God could judge the earth and all the wickedness, but he waits patiently for you and me to return to our source of life and hope and love. God is restrained from judgment for the sake of relationship. He always chooses the highest and best for everyone.
“For this is what the high and lofty One says–he who lives for ever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” (Isa. 57:15)
His invitation to “Take my yoke … and learn from me” is a call to intimacy with Him, “for (He is) gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:29)
God is patient. He limits His judgment, not his ability or his knowledge, for the sake of relationship.
God stoops down to love you and me, free moral beings, because He is condescendingly gracious. God’s eternal nature is limitless from time eternal past to time eternal future; He is eternal in duration. The Greek notion, representing mankind’s highest thinking, says God is timeless. This sophisticated human invention gave rise to the ultimate ideal, the UNKNOWN GOD, who exercises His power and knowledge without restraint.
There is no point in confusing this issue; we either worship an ideal UNKNOWN who controls all things perfectly and is therefore responsible for all things good and bad, or we worship the God who is all powerful, yet patient, humble, and not responsible for the evil acts of humanity. We either worship a god who could not limit his power or we worship the One Moses met at the burning bush, the all-powerful “I AM” who shows restraint. We either worship a god who absolutely never changes, including no emotional responses to the acts of his human creation, or we worship the God of the Bible who responds to our prayers, is touched by the feelings of our weaknesses, and feels the pain of rejection and the joy of new life. We either worship a god who controls all things, or we worship Jesus who makes us free to choose to love him or reject him. We either worship a god who is created after our own image, or we worship the Suffering Servant of Isa. 53 who went to the cross to die for my sin.
Relationship with an UNKNOWN GOD is impossible. That is how we have true intimate relationship with a wholly blameless Eternal God. And this is why my prayers echo the words of Bernard of Clairvaux:
“Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.”
The noise of the one hundred students moving their metal chairs into circles was deafening. The Nairobi Church auditorium echoed with loud screeching as students from nearby University of Nairobi shuffled to form their groups according to the spheres or domains of society; arts, media, business, education, family, government, etc.
The room was buzzing with excitement. The intensive seminar, “Calling Quest 2001 – Transforming Your Nation Through Your God-given Vocation” is one of a series of seminars I have presented around the world for Youth With A Mission‘s Student Mobilization Centre. At this event, I had the help of three of our YWAM Madison School of the Bible interns. After the first of several presentations, the students were anxious to discuss and search the Scriptures for answers to the hard questions.
Accompanying us was a team of thirteen students from Brown University, Providence College, Rhode Island School of Design, UC San Bernadino, and UVA, all of whom had been prepared to lead the Domains Small Group discussions during our week-long Field Ministry Internships orientation in Switzerland. When we arrived in Kenya, they came with questions too. Ju Rhyu, one of the Brown students, brought these questions:
How can I bring transformation in a world of injustice? What is my place in this world? Though I yearn to see justice in a world with nations rejoicing, the burdens and problems that stand before me seem too daunting, too massive. AIDS, poverty, corruption – how do I even begin to think about these things?
It was the week of July 24-27, 2001. Yes, only a few weeks later the world would be shocked at the events of September 11, 2001. (Several American colleagues and I were still in Nairobi on that day. We were attending an international conference for the University of the Nations. We were stranded in Kenya and then Europe, waiting for the airports to unclog so we could return to our families and friends in the USA, and a very different world.)
Ju’s questions loom even larger in the face of a world terrorized by a few radicals. What could a few Christ followers do in the face of such evil? How could they help end the injustices of the poor? What is God’s good purpose for humankind? What does it mean to be created in the image of God? And are we called to serve the needs of the world?
Actually, we have two calls from God. Enjoying friendship with God, not merely right relationship, is our first call. Adam and Eve, the first inhabitants of the world in our God Story, enjoyed friendship with God. They were called twice. First, they were called to serve in the garden with the words “dress it and keep it” (Gen. 2:15). God made human beings in His image to rule and to be fruitful under His reign with full dependence on Him. Second, after Adam and Eve disobeyed and sin entered the world, God’s call became a cry seeking his lost friends. “Where are you?” (Gen. 3:9).
However, calling changed after the tragic Fall of humankind. Because of the Fall, our first call is not to service, but to restored relationship. St. Augustine expressed the call to restored relationship to God in his Confessions,
“Thou has made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”
When we are lost and outside relationship with God, our first call is to restored relationship through faith.
Calling to do something in the world was not separated from the call of intimate friendship. Both callings are integral to our relationship with God; both are integral to the imprint of God’s image.
Sadly, most of the students I spoke with in Nairobi that summer were not able to see a valid contribution or calling beyond the domain of the church.Though many were students of architecture, business, and communications, they did not understand the God-given calling to be an architect, or business person, or journalist. They thought the call to be a pastor or evangelist was the highest calling.
What do you think?
Our Domains Small Groups continued to press in diligently with their questions. They began to understand the imprint of God, what it means to be created in God’s image. The student groups searched the daily newspapers to see what was happening in their chosen sphere of society. Then they sought the Scriptures to understand God’s ways of governing the world.
Our team of student leaders prayed together with the Nairobi students for the very real and very current needs in the domains of health care, education, business, family, etc. They began to see past the stigma and blindness to the ills of their own society. For example, though there were already ten million AIDS orphans, it was only that summer that the first newspaper article reported that AIDS was the cause of someone’s death.
After the intensive seminar, the students continued to meet weekly to study and pray in their groups. They even took prayer walks around major centers of business, education, media, etc. They became activated in God’s calling to “dress and keep” the world. One group was ushered into the Deputy Mayor’s Office to present some of their findings and discuss the need for a better sewage system.
The students began to understand the high calling of living according to God’s design, offering their gifts, skills, and natural abilities in service to their neighbors and their world. Much of our ministry to the Poor is in helping our them understand their high calling, that they are created in the image of God. This leads us to Key #4.
Key #4: Defend the Image of God in the Poor.
The Nairobi university students at that CallingQuest and other seminars conducted over the summer of 2001 were among the most privileged of Kenyan society. However, they were missing something. We too are “Poor” if we fail to know our identity and vocation, our calling in God.
Those who know God have responsibility to the Poor. We are called to define and defend the image of God in the Poor. Because we know we are created in His image and we know His voice calling us to intimate friendship and purpose in this world, we must be diligent to defend the image of God in the Poor.
The Poor are not lazy or stupid. Jayakumar Christian writes,
“A people so close to the edge cannot afford laziness or stupidity. They have to work and work hard. Most of the lazy and stupid are dead.”
We too should be diligent. Our church life and worship should celebrate our relationship with Jesus Christ, our reconciliation with God. However, we also have the responsibility to minister to the Poor. We must look for ways in which the Poor have been limited in their access to love, justice, or peace.
Ministry to the Poor is not merely about access to material needs; it’s about removing obstacles and giving access to the cultural, social, spiritual, personal, and biological spheres of community.
Our outreach to the Poor should affect the whole system of poverty, the diabolical web to which they are bound. Our ministry is reconciliation. We are called to restore relationships, including relationship with God (religion, philosophy, theology), Community (political science and economics), the Environment (biology, ecology, engineering), the Wider World (sociology, international relations, justice), and Individuals (psychology, health care).
Ju Rhyu expresses her deepest desire that:
Through our time in Nairobi we would be able to teach that God reigns over and in and through all. He is Lord of government, business, science, technology, education, family, the church, arts and communications. The sacred should not be self-contained and relegated to a position of non-influence, but rather, should extend itself to influence holistically.
Goliath (pronounced: “Go-lee-at” in Spanish) was an especially big baby born to a single mom in a four-foot high cardboard box with only a straw mattress on the dirt floor of the Guatemala City garbage dump. Thousands of squatters made their home living on top of the garbage. They made their “homes” out of scraps, tires, boxes, and other discarded items found on the dump.
It was our Field Ministry Internship health care team’s first day at the clinic at the City Dump. The clinic might have closed that summer in 1991 if we had not arrived. The YWAM staff team leading the clinic were all enrolled in the first University of the Nations Introduction to Primary Health Care School for Spanish speakers. They were glad we came. Our FMI team, led by Nurse Bonnie, kept the clinic open and operating.
Our journalism and social work interns took a walk with me through the Dump community. We met a man with bright yellow eyes, a key symptom of an acute and fatal case of hepatitis, probably due to alcohol abuse. He was silent, but his facial expressions betrayed the fact that he was a dangerous man. After we directed him to the clinic, a woman told us the same man regularly beat his wife.
Smoke rose over the mass of garbage burning at the center of the dump. Our eyes began to burn and I wondered how anyone could live in this place. We continued to visit families in their “homes.” One family of twelve seemed very well settled with a larger one-room hut, probably 12×15 feet, which included a large family bed and hammocks for the smaller children.
On our return to the clinic, we almost walked passed the “box.” But we heard the whimpering of a baby inside. I stooped down to look inside. This small box was a woman’s home and she held her oversized baby, Goliath.
We were welcomed “in,” but only one of us could fit on the straw mattress on the ground next to her. I looked in the sad dark face of the woman and joined her. I held her big baby.
I didn’t know whether to choke from the smell, or cry for the conditions this baby was born into. With the help of a translator, I spoke to the woman about her baby and the Child Jesus, who was born in an animal stall.
The woman paid close attention and I sensed the Holy Spirit drawing her as my words were simple and direct. I spoke of a hope that was beyond all hope. I shared Jesus.
Goliath’s mom prayed with me that day. As I opened my eyes I could see something happened; her grin was from ear to ear. The next day, Golaith’s mom was at the clinic asking to help. She became a true follower of Jesus that day.
Key #3: Power from the Throne of God.
The third key to ministry among the poor is “Power from the Throne of God.” The Poor are powerless in many respects. The Poor are most often born into poverty, like a lottery of life. Most of us, certainly most Westerners, would likely not survive in such conditions.
The Poor are denied access; they are held in powerlessness primarily because of broken relationships. All their relationships are working against them. It’s as if they were caught in a spider’s web, a diabolical trap from which there is no escape.
The Bible says there are “principalities and powers,” or rulers of darkness, which keep people in bondage to sin and misery. The evil spirits lock the Poor out of healthy relationships, especially from “seeing” Jesus Christ.
“In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the likeness of God.” 2 Cor. 4:4
The enemy keeps the Poor in the cycle of poverty, a cycle of broken relationships. Relationship is the key dynamic of the throne of God.
What do the Poor need?
They need to be connected in relationship with God and others. They need a right relationship with their family, their community, and the resources of this world.
What is the problem with sin? It separates.
Sin separates us; relationships of all kinds suffer due to sin. The poor are no different from anyone; they need to be connected to others. The connection with others should not be primarily for the sake of provision; providing food, shelter and medicines has often been used as a means of control.
The poor need to be connected with the broader community where they have been restricted from access.
Kingdom-based Responses reflect Power from the Throne of God
A kingdom-based response to poverty will reverse the “process of dis-empowerment.”
A kingdom-based response will confront spiritual powers and principalities, including “god-complexes” that pins one group of people over another.
A kingdom-based response will heal bodies and relationships; it teaches and models a more complete worldview based on Christ’s character and authority to set them free.
A kingdom-based response will challenge the principalities and powers of darkness (including institutions that are instruments of those powers).
A kingdom-based response will establish “truth and righteousness”, and proclaim that “all power belongs to God.”
A kingdom-based response will restore a person’s relationship with himself/herself. As I wrote in the previous post, poverty, ultimately, is the poverty of “being” and of “purpose.” Conversely, abundant life is the abundance of “being” and “purpose”. It is from the vantage point of the throne of God that an individual and a people may find their God-given identity and vocation conferring the essential being and purpose.
My son, Justin, was there at the garbage dump clinic with my wife, Mary. Justin was just 15 months old. I held my son that evening and prayed with him as he went to sleep. We had little to no money, only $25 USD, on the day Justin was born. For many, we would be considered poor. What’s the difference?
Sitting here warming in the sun and listening to the gentle spash of the waves along the jagged lava rock of the Kona Coast of the Big Island of Hawai’i, I find it difficult to believe this is where a tsunami slammed the small shopping center along the shore on March 11, 2011. That contrast is stark, but the story of a young boy named Henry who lived here two hundred years ago details an even more striking contrast. For more than a generation the island was inhabited by a war-like Tahitian tribe that enslaved the more peaceful Polynesians through violence and fear. I wonder what it was like for the first known Westerner, British explorer Captain James Cook, when he arrived in 1778. The inhabitants thought Cook was Lono, the god of fertility and peace. In time, they realized he was merely human, so they killed him. Henry’s is the story of Hawai’i, beginning with violence and fear, but ending in hope and joy.
I’ve been to this island many times over the years. For over 20 years, my work with Youth With A Mission has brought me here over a dozen times. This island is home to University of the Nations-Kona Campus, one of our largest training locations. I made this place home and had offices for our ministries here in Kona two times, once in ’89-’90 and later in ’98. My son, Justin, was born on this island in 1990. The story of this campus is significant; it is found in the book “Is That Really You, Lord?” by Loren Cunningham, the founder of Youth With A Mission. The back story, the story you will not find in Loren’s book, is how the gospel first came to the Kona Coast.
When I first moved to Hawai’i with my wife in 1989, I was surprised by the contrasts. This island is volcanic and hazardous. The barren expanses of jagged black lava fields are contrasted by amazing vegetation and beautiful aromatic flower trees. Amid the harsh surroundings is a rich dark soil producing coffee beans, pineapples, and coconuts. The amazingly diverse climate has several micro-environments with unique weather, plants and animals. When we lived here, we took a few long drives around the island, which took us through tropical rainforests, cool alpine regions, stony deserts and sunny beaches. This is the place Henry grew up about 200 years ago.
When Henry Opukahai’a was just ten years old he saw his parents killed as two warring men fought to show their manhood. Henry took his baby brother on his back and fled. Sadly, Henry’s brother was killed by a spear and he was captured. Orphaned and alone, he was forced to live with his uncle, the man who apparently killed his parents. Henry was being trained to become a pagan priest. Henry saw the emptiness of the rituals and chants. He and a friend Thomas Hopu successfully escaped swimming out to the Triumph, an American tall ship and became cabin boys. Some time later, the ship was anchored off the shore of New Haven, Connecticut. Henry was found weeping on the steps of Yale College. He is quoted: “Someone please teach me the truth.” Timothy Dwight, the president of Yale, took him to his home and Henry began his formal education. He studied Greek and Hebrew and translated parts of the Bible. It is important to note that Timothy Dwight’s daily messages in in the chapel are attributed to have sparked the Second Great Awakening.
Henry and Thomas became the first Hawaiian Christians in 1815. They were befriended by Yale students. Henry was later introduced to and discipled by Samuel Mills, the leader of the Haystack Prayer Meeting in William’s College, Williamstown, MA. (See my previous post about the Haystack.) Henry was very intelligent and his zeal for Christ led him to pray for his homeland, the Islands of Hawai’i. In his memoirs, which sold 500,000 copies, Henry Opukahai’a wrote:
“My poor countrymen who are yet living in the region and shadow of death, without knowledge of the true God, and ignorant of the future world, have no Bible to read, no Sabbath.”
Henry’s faith and courage led him to sign up as an original member of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, the earliest foreign missionaries in the new nation. He intended to return to Hawai’i as a missionary. But Henry died of typhoid fever in 1818. His life and faith inspired Thomas Hopu and Hiram Bingham, and a team of others, to be the first missionaries to Hawaii. The words of this sermon show the influence of this faithful young Hawaiian native who died at the early age of 26 years:
“‘It is the Lord’s doing, and marvelous in our eyes.’ To him it belongs to bring good out of evil and light out of darkness… Ah! Opukahaia cannot go with you. He will not, however, forget you. Perhaps, if you should prove steadfast in the faith, he may look down and smile upon you from heaven. …. From a land of Bibles and Sabbaths and churches, where you have been nurtured and instructed in Christian charity; where you have enjoyed the prayers and counsels of the wise and good; and where some of you hope that you have been made savingly acquainted with the Lord Jesus Christ, you are going back to that land of idols and darkness, from whence you came…”
They landed at the Kona Coast on April 12, 1820. Before they arrived, the ruthless King Kamehameha the Great died. Idolatry and human sacrifice had ended by King Kamehameha II and his Queen mother Ka’ahumanu. The queen soon became a Christian and helped spread the Gospel in the islands.
Revival swept the islands. By 1840, 20,000 Hawaiians had become Christians. Just prior to her death, Queen Ka’ahumanu was presented with the newly completed version of the New Testament in the Hawaiian language. Her last words were: “I am going where the mansions are ready.”
“But if I build up again those things which I tore down, then I prove myself a transgressor.” – Gal 2:18
This phrase penned by the Apostle Paul follows the prophetic impulse of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah:
“Then the LORD reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.” Jeremiah 1:9-11 (NIV)
For those of us with that same prophetic impulse, I hope that you will be fueled with a passion to “build” what God is wanting to build and “tear down” those systems, beliefs, and practices which God does not approve. The apostolic and the prophetic are essential to the laying of foundations of the Church (Eph. 2:20). The “builder” anointing and impulse of the apostolic and prophetic is coupled with the “destroy and overthrow” anointing. The Spirit of God resists the proud. Anything, temples, kingdoms, or belief systems which resist the gentle flow of the Holy Spirit are marked for destruction.
Isa 57:14 And it shall be said, “Build up, build up, prepare the way, remove every obstruction from my people’s way.”
Then, after the destruction, the anointing to build takes the lead. Those whom God has rescued, the poor and the needy, the ones who have humbly sought God for grace, then become the builders.
Isa 61:4 They shall build up the ancient ruins, they shall raise up the former devastations; they shall repair the ruined cities, the devastations of many generations.
The caution Paul offers in the building process is to beware of building systems that will resist the gentle flow of God’s Spirit as He seeks to rescue and restore the poor and needy.
As I develop a new training course on Missional Collaboration for the University of the Nations, I will be unveiling several aspects of the course through this blog. Today’s post originates from one of my papers and in response to an article on the Trinity by Mark Avery, professor of a course on Collaboration at Fuller Theological Seminary. This is the first of a series I will be posting as I develop the course. — John Henry
The Heart of God’s Mission is Relationship
Working together in God’s Mission is not complicated. Accomplishing the Great Commission is an enormous task. But fulfilling this commission from Jesus is through the empowering of the Holy Spirit and the blessing of the Father. The task is not placed completely on our shoulders. We are sharing in the task through our relationship with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God’s Mission flows out of personal, intimate, encouraging, and cooperative relationship.
What is Missional?
The term “missional” is buzzing all over the blogosphere and publishers are happy to sell the many books on the topic. Sadly, the term “missional” has created some confusion. Under the umbrella of “missional” are various descriptions and historical formations of church, discussions of theological and political/justice issues, and questions of equipping/releasing leaders for christian ministry.
Darrell Guder, contributing editor of the book “Missional Church: A Vision for the Sending of the Church in North America” from the The Gospel and Our Culture Series (1998), explains:
“…by adding the suffix ‘al’ to the word ‘mission,’ we hoped to foster an understanding of the church as fundamentally and comprehensively defined by its calling and sending, it’s purpose to serve God’s healing purposes for all the world as God’s witnessing people to all the world.”
We are “Ambassadors of Reconciliation”
“So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor. 5:20 RSV)
Simply put, to be missional is to join God’s Mission (Missio Dei), which is God’s desire to “reconcile to himself all things.” (Col. 1:20 RSV) I think it is important to dismiss the sham argument, the straw man set up to defeat this desire to be missional. For example, those who want to join those who are dismissing Rob Bell’s new book “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived” even before they read it, please take some time to consider first this theological conversation about eternal judgment, whether it is a universalist or an annihilationist position. Theology is an ongoing conversation, which implies relationship, listening/speaking and learning. Theology is humanity’s study to understand God’s desire that “all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” ( 1 Tim. 2:4 RSV)
This emergence of theologians and Christian leaders who desire to see their church communities become “missional” is concurrent with significant global shifts in Global Christianity. For fifteen centuries the “Church” has been affiliated with the political powers of the Western world, beginning with Roman Emperor Constantine. This means we have almost always understood the Christian Church to be established and settled in the West, that the “mission fields” are outside the West. Please understand, the emphasis on reaching the unreached parts of the world is good and right. However, the formation of churches have been with the presumption of power and privilege within Western society, with a tendency to posture themselves paternalistically over the “younger” churches in the less-reached world.
The emergence of theological questioning about our understanding of God’s Mission and the Church’s role came to a point of crisis within the past three decades, when the geographic center of Christianity moved south. Todd Johnson, co-author of the Atlas of Global Christianity (2009) writes,
“Shortly after 1980, Christians in the South outnumbered those in the North for the first time in 1000 years.” (2004) Today over seventy-five per cent of protestant Christians are in the non-Western world.
The shift in the center of gravity of World Christianity came as a surprise to Western Christian leaders. Much of the Western Christian world predicted a decline in Christian numbers in Africa and Asia in the twentieth century. What surprised Western missionaries is how so many Africans and Chinese embraced Christianity, mostly without Western orchestration. To understand this extraordinary growth in World Christianity, Lamin Sanneh calls for a “fresh understanding of the gospel in world history.” (2003)
How does this Global Shift impact our understanding of Mission and Church?
We need to first understand the importance of relationship in a theology of mission. The doctrine of the Trinity informs our understanding of the dynamic relationship between the persons of the Godhead, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God’s relationship with all of creation, especially the dynamic relationship between those created in God’s image, flows from the dynamic relationships within the Trinity.
Before we can work with others effectively, we must know our own identity, our strengths and our weaknesses. There is little point in embracing the missional renaissance if we do not first take an honest assessment of ourselves, our communities and our culture. We must refuse to be conformed to this world, attempting to repackage our churches with a marketing ploy and call it “missional.” We must recognize how the Western Church has failed to be missional, opting for a settled institutional power-based attractional organization. People relate out of identity and their relationships form their identity. Like a child growing within a family, our identities are formed through our interaction and relationship with others. Our identities are shaped through our interaction with our environment, and the groups to which we relate. As individuals we relate to one another, however churches and groups do not effectively relate. Organizations are not typically designed to work together; they measure their success by their growth. Organizations, including churches, attract individuals to participate as members. Organizations need people simply to add to their size, their capacity, their reputation, their influence, and ultimately their power. To be missional we must first repent of thinking too highly of ourselves, our organizations and churches, and our culture. We must change our thinking, admitting how we have been conformed to the powers of this world, and choose to be transformed by the renewing of our minds to the word of God, submitting ourselves to king Jesus and aligning ourselves to God’s mighty word of power. The simple act of repentance, acknowledging that the Church is not the Kingdom of God, will help us to transform into missional communities.
We are all created in God’s image, and therefore our identity and our capacity to relate comes from God. The amazing dynamic of identity and relationships within the Godhead, within the Trinity, is the basis for a theology of relationship and collaboration. As we come to know God better, we will be enabled to work with others better.
The Missional Renaissance is an emerging ambition among thoughtful Christian theologians and leaders to make disciples of all nations (simultaneously engaging our own Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth). To be missional is to form mission shaped leaders and mission shaped churches.
Our table is the center of our home. It’s the place our family comes together, the place we welcome friends, neighbors, and strangers. We invite others into the kitchen where we chop and sauté vegetables, bake bread, stir sauces, pour the fruit of the vine (juice or wine, you choose), and prepare to savor the meal. Rich conversation with others around food is how we live, how we love each other, how we teach our children, and how we learn about others and our world.
We thought everyone enjoyed meals as families. We thought everyone invited people into their homes to share their lives. Sadly, we’ve met a growing number of people who rarely if ever sit at table with their families, let alone anyone else. By sharing our table with international students, young people from various religious and non-religious backgrounds, happy homes and broken homes, we’ve learned how very desperate this generation is for authentic relationships.
But that’s not all. The simplicity of sharing meals and intimate conversation may be more than we thought.
Think about it. Table fellowship was central to early church gatherings. Long before all the complex religious practices, the beautiful sanctuaries and the hierarchy of leaders were added to the simplicity of sharing life in Christ with others, believers shared meals from house to house. Though some gatherings may have been in the synagogue or a rented hall, much of the growth of the church came about in the intimate spaces, especially table fellowship. Without the New Testament scriptures, people gathered to remember the words Jesus spoke. They experienced the power of the Holy Spirit and spoke the simple gospel message and the church rapidly grew. People opened their homes and others brought their appetites, desiring to grow in their relationship with Jesus, which caused the growth of the “spiritual house”, the new temple of worship. It appears Jesus intends, and the early apostles taught, that we should be priests offering spiritual sacrifices from the altar of table fellowship. Peter writes:
“Like newborn babes, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation; for you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. Come to him, to that living stone, rejected by men but in God’s sight chosen and precious; and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” – 1 Peter 2:2-5
There’s more. The New Testament “priesthood” is very different from the Old Testament priesthood and their focus on Temple worship. Before Jesus went to the cross, he prophesied the total destruction of the Temple, which came about before the end of the first century, and which resulted in the end of Temple worship. Jesus instituted a new form of altar worship, table fellowship. He instructed his followers to remember his sacrifice. Paul writes to the Corinthian believers:
“the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 1 Cor. 11:22-24
Jesus instructed us to “remember” and Peter instructed us to “offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God”. Priests offer intercession, prayer for the people, including all nations. The Old Testament priests were born priests; they were from the tribe of Levites. The Levites offered the blood of bulls, goats, and doves for the remission of sin. Some became corrupt, seeking and maintaining power, and failing to intercede for the nations. Of all the words Jesus spoke, he spoke most harshly to those corrupt leaders that failed to be priests and a light to the Gentiles.
The “tribe” of priests in the New Testament are also born to a priesthood; they are born of the Spirit. They are not individually priests with special callings. The priesthood is all those born of the Spirit. New Testament priests do not shed blood, as the Levites did. Instead, they recall the complete and finished work of Jesus’ blood shed on the cross, our high priest:
“The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did this once for all when he offered up himself.” – Heb. 7:23-27
So this priesthood is not for a select few in the Church, not a specialized role that must be earned and not a special class of people within the Church. This priesthood of all believers is the call to intercede, to pray and offer a different kind of “sacrifice” on a different kind of altar.
Table fellowship had become very controversial in the early church. Peter struggled with the issue and Paul confronted him about it:
“But when Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.” – Gal. 2:11-12
Jewish believers needed to learn Christ’s mission. They needed to be free from their cultural and religious systems of power. They needed to recognize how those systems resist Holy Spirit.
Finding freedom in the Spirit will lead us to cooperate with him. He is here to make Jesus known in all the earth. The Holy Spirit is spreading the good news. Our part is to be that priesthood, inviting our neighbors to table fellowship. Preaching is important, but we must not neglect breaking bread with neighbors as part of our intercession for our neighborhood as a kingdom of priests.
I think about words a lot. Bible believers should know how important words are. Unfortunately, we live in an age when words often do not carry the meaning they once did.
To say a leader is “one among equals” must have true meaning in the day to day push-comes-to-shove political moments, when resources are few and opinions are varied. In a church community, a leader who is “one among equals” has a commitment to a value that must be backed up with words that translate into policies and decisions. Those decisions will produce the fruit of the community’s ministry. The “soil” from which this fruitfulness comes is the worldview of the leaders of the community. Without the soil of faithfulness to the Word of God, the fruit of the ministry of the church community will be limited.
To be “one among equals” is to be a team player, committed to the value of team, the value of every individual, the value of the words themselves. I know of a church community that is wrestling with this “promise” to have a “team leadership.” Such a promise represents the possibility of deeper relational and missional commitment to Jesus, to his Church, and to the world. It has promise for a new season of fruitfulness!
The re-formation of a church community is possible! However, in a community words of good intention must be backed by written policies. The power of a leader facilitating a team must be limited in the language of the bylaws of the organization so that “one among equals” is not merely a slogan. Good intentions are not enough. Words must be backed up by a true commitment to the stated values of the community. It is not difficult to operate as a team when roles are defined and power is distributed, checked, and limited.
On a personal note, our visit to China and Hong Kong has ended. We took our daughter Becca (13 years old) to see the foster mom and village where she was cared for before she was adopted. And we took her to the spot on the steps at the government orphanage where she as left in a box. Needless to say this has been an emotional journey. Hard as it has been, it’s been so important for her identity, the story of her life.
I just completed a week-long strategic development process for the Hong Kong Master’s Beauty Ministries staff team. They are learning the beauty of team ministries. Our return to Madison comes after being away for about eight weeks. We depart from Hong Kong in 2 hours.
I read Neil Cole’s book “Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens” last summer. Cole is founder and Executive Director of Church Multiplication Associates, which began in 1990 fostering and serving organic church movements and the network he founded called Awakening Chapels. I found myself in association with Neil in 2006 when he and I were both asked to consult the leaders of the Campus Transformation Network. Neil is also author of Cultivating a Life For God, co-author of Raising Leaders for the Harvest, and Search & Rescue: Becoming a Disciple Who Makes a Difference.
This book is an appeal to Christians to go where life happens to connect with the disaffected people who would not otherwise come to church. Cole presents more than a consistent organic theme as he outlines his story and the story of a movement of simple, reproducible churches, he argues that the very nature of the church is organic and must therefore contain within the smallest grouping the complete DNA for reproduction.
The core of this book is the study of the “DNA of healthy church life and reproduction” (99-140) Cole wisely shows that the practice of Modernity, seeking a universal principle or pattern, such as Thom Wolf’s “New Testament Discipleship Pattern (NTDP),” is not necessarily wrong. Cole shows how the “pattern” must be “easily passed on by both example and teaching.” Wolf called this “napkin theology…if you can’t pass it on by writing it down on a napkin at a restaurant, then it isn’t worth writing down at all.” (110-111) Cole has benefited from Roland Allen’s “Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?” and George Patterson’s thinking about “spontaneous multiplication movements” and “obedience-oriented education” in his journey seeking the simple reproducible church model. (113)
Cole examines the organic nature of the Church in Jesus’ agri-parables and the organic nature of the Kingdom of God through agro-biology and astronomy. Seeking the basic pattern of church multiplication, Cole explains how the organic church goes beyond the popular “cell churches or house churches.” Cole shows how the scriptures consistently affirm the small group of two or three, “the ideal size for effective fellowship and ministry” where reproduction is easiest and community, accountability, confidentiality, flexibility, communication, direction and leadership are strongest. (100-102)
The DNA of Christ’s Body (D-Divine Truth or Faith, N-Nurturing Relationships or Love, and A-Apostolic Mission or Hope), like a seed, which is the “contagion” of the Kingdom of God, “must be whole, intact, and in every cell…complete in its simplicity.” (117-120) Cole warns that many churches have succumbed to Modernity’s tendency to specialize, concentrating on one part of the DNA and eliminating or segmenting out the other parts, such as “excellent preaching on Sundays, which is where we have divine truth.” Those same leaders will argue that they have small groups for nurturing relationships and a mission committee for apostolic mission, however Cole argues, “To separate each part is to destroy the whole thing.” (120)
Cole defends the “beautiful…design and order” of the organic structure of church, which is of “utmost importance.” (124-125) While some church leaders may argue that an organic structure will lead to disorder and chaos, Dee Hock, founder of VISA, author of the book The Birth of the Chaordic Age, writes:
“Purpose and principle, clearly understood and articulated, and commonly shared, are the genetic code of any healthy organization. To the degree that you hold purpose and principles in common among you, you can dispense with command and control.”
Some may think that Cole is arguing for chaos, but he clearly states that, “structures are needed, but they must be simple, reproducible, and internal rather than external.” (124) For internal structure, a structure based on principle and purpose, to work, we must put more faith in the DNA than in organization.
In summary, Cole simply reminds us that, like a seed, “multiplication starts with death” and “there is no resurrection without a death.” (103)
2005. Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens. 1st ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Have you asked this question? What kind of leaders does the church need today?
There is no simple answer, unless you say that it needs more and better leaders. But it takes more than wishing for better leaders. What is needed is better training. Churches and those training church leaders need to clarify their purpose.
Recently, I completed significant training with Fuller Theological Seminary. I now have a Masters in Global Leadership. Yippee!
But seriously, what was emphasized in my training was the basic questions. I was taught to name the “why”, to clarify the purpose for training.
Certainly the purpose for training Christian leaders must be founded on the Great Commission. When training emerging leaders the emphasis needs to be on “obeying,” not just “knowing.” More importantly, our training must be centered on obedience as an overflow of our relationship with God. We obey God because we love Him; we look to Him and follow His lead, His way, and His extraordinary love for everyone.
So let me ask you this: Have you received teaching that has led you to greater obedience or has that teaching just filled up your head?
Every Christian leader is charged with the task of making disciples. We’re directed and empowered by the Holy Spirit to lead people, modeling a life of learning and loving. We’re called to equip them who follow the One who loves them unconditionally. As we personally follow God’s extravagant ways in response to His amazing love, we will equip emerging leaders to do the same.
Those disciples, those learners, will also obey all that Jesus commanded because they will see us doing it as a response to God’s love. Whether you are involved in formal training of emerging leaders or whether you do it informally, every Jesus follower, every lover of God, will be involved in teaching the next generation to obey the Great Commission.
What do you think is the best way to train people to obey?
I think we’ll miss the real importance of this question if we jump right to the questions of technique. We should not be so concerned about how to lecture, what materials to use, or how to create a syllabus. Our primary purpose should be life on life, or live-learn experiences, teaching with the goal of obedience.
The paradigm from which we operate our training is what will determine our results. Have you considered the results of the past century or so of seminary training for church leaders?
From my studies of leadership emergence, the history of the church, and my personal observations in 30 countries and almost 25 years of faith missions, it is obvious that in many cases the paradigm of training has been ineffective.
To be effective in training emerging leaders to obey, we must begin with full on love for God and a passion to know him. We must be whole-hearted followers fully engaged in the Great Commission. As we respond to God’s love through our own obedience, he will give us the understanding of the most appropriate way to teach every individual emerging leader he brings to us.
Too many have been concerned about knowing Jesus as a means to an end. That kind of teaching will never produce life in our churches. Jesus spoke these words in prayer for you and me, “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)
Hi. I’m John Henry. Some say I have a contagious love and passion for Jesus. I say I have a passion to teach Christ’s call to make disciples of all nations. If invited to speak I will inform and challenge your group to re-align your vision and programs toward God’s plan and purposes. I offer high content and inspiration in my presentations. My focus is to help every participant in the sessions I teach to focus on what is really important in life, love, and learning.
Through carefully customized presentations designed to meet your group’s specific needs, I will emphasize God’s calling. I will help people of all ages to discern their gifts, strengths, and callings in the context of God’s purposes.
In addition to being a mission mobilizer, I have been a frequent guest speaker in churches, conferences, seminars and workshops around the world. I am the founder and international director of the University of the Nations’ Student Mobilization Centre. The Centre was first commissioned internationally at the UofN Workshop in Korea in 1997. I serve a growing network of over seventy YWAM university ministries in over thirty countries.
Following the Youth With A Mission foundational value of “first do, then teach,” I bring 25 years experience “doing” what I teach. Since 1985, I have been a faith-missionary with experience in many different aspects of church, missions, and leadership, especially among university students.
Since 1989, I have learned many essentials for spiritual formation and leadership emergence as I have coordinated, equipped, and mobilized seventy-five student teams from over 100 colleges and universities from nine nations to serve and learn alongside long term field projects on short-term internships in over thirty countries.
Through various lecture and activity presentations, I not only show people what to do, I teach and model how to think Christianly and listen to God’s heart. I can honestly say I am a tested witness of God’s faithfulness in Christian ministry and mission. I have personal experience in over 30 countries and I approach learning from an integrated relational perspective. I would be honored if you invited me to come share my life with your group.
My wife, Mary, and I have three children, two boys, and one girl adopted from China. As a Christian parents with active involvement in our family’s education and local congregation, we are also in touch with the daily challenges confronting families, young people, and churches. Mary and I have also taught together. We are able to share through experience what works, what doesn’t, and what makes the difference in your family, your Church, or ministry group.
Part of my experience includes serving on a Pastoral Search Team for a mid-sized evangelical church community. I offer insights from that experience for churches in transition.
My Education: MA Global Leadership, Fuller Theological Seminary. (Graduated: 2009)
Experience: Speaker (Since 1983) Short-term Outreach Leader/Trainer (Since 1987) Church/Mission Consultant (Since 1989).
Keywords of all my messages include: Faith, Calling, Mission, Learning, and Leadership
General Topics include: Careers, Ministerial Training, Education, Culture, and Leadership & Motivation.
Most Requested Topics:
1. Call to Relationship: Hearing and Responding to God
The heart of every relationship is found in four essential elements. Without a working familiarity with these elements, relationships eventually break down. Listening to God is urgently necessary if we are going to understand our value, our identity, and our purpose in life. Until we have that relationship with our Creator, we will struggle in virtually every other relationship. This most vital relationship is not merely for our own benefit, however. It is necessary to have a living relationship with God in order to have a living relationship with our families, our friends, our neighbors, our leaders, our teachers, our church community, and every aspect of our world, including our physical surroundings.
This message will penetrate through the non-essentials to help participants respond to God’s initiative of grace in relationships.
2. A Biblical Christian Worldview
Worldview is more than what we see; it’s how we see. I will surprise your group as I lead you into a worldview learning experience. I will help you discover how learning happens and how to understand worldview and how it influences every area of our lives. I lead my audience into a path of discovery, emphasizing the role of personal relationship in the learning experience. I will explore revelation, paradigms, and the four basic questions of worldview. However, this lecture is not a presentation of a simple reduction of philosophical concepts; it is an exposition of the breadth of worldviews, from materialism to spiritism, in contrast with a Christian worldview. Your group will discover together, through small group discussions, the relational nature of learning and the impact worldview has on every sphere of society.
3. Leadership and Collaboration: State of the Church in the 21st Century
The world has changed. Have you noticed? I bring my experience, travels and ministry in thirty countries in four continents over the past twenty-five years, to messages on Leadership and Collaboration. My studies of culture, theology, and the history of the church will be obvious as I lead your group into a thoroughly engaging discovery of the major waves of mission advance during the past 200 hundred years including global shifts which have occurred during the twentieth century. Your group will examine the implications of the significant shifts of the Western Church and the Church of the Global South. In so doing, I will present the need for a new kind of leadership for the Church, and the need for partnership and collaboration in the 21st century.
4. Being Sure about God’s Calling
Where do you fit in God’s unswerving plan to make disciples of all nations?
God is calling you to do kingdom works that he has planned and prepared for you and your community. The Creator of the universe desires you to work alongside him as he crafts his work on planet earth. In this lecture, I share about finding your place in fulfilling God’s plans for your community and for the nations.
What do you think of a God who creates everything, and then tells his creation to “name” the things he created? Incredible. Adam was not created to serve God; he was created to rule and reign as a co-creator with God.
When we innovate and consider alternative perspectives, we are creating with God. We are encouraging vision. This kind of creativity is what makes the Church a people and a community on mission with God.
The nomenclature we use, naming things, is one of the greatest gifts of God; we’re given the privilege of naming things. It’s not an exclusive task for just a few, to avoid confusion. It’s a task given to all. That shared responsibility of naming things, and the shared creativity that ensues, is the process of creating culture, I believe. It’s happening all around us, and it can’t easily be contained or controlled to avoid confusion.
Confusion may be a temporary, though necessary, part of the process of transition, liminality, and stepping into a future together.
Certainly, the Children of Israel did not know all that was before them when they were delivered from Egypt. They entered into a transition in the wilderness. Nomenclature from the past carried meaning of the past and habits and sins of the past. Finding terms for what God is wanting to do next is an exciting process I would hope we could all embrace and explore with faith and hope and love.
Moses didn’t just say, “Let my people go.” He completed the phrase, “that they may worship God.” Ultimately, we’re on a journey to ascribe greatness to God. He’ll receive glory as we follow him in faith, so long as we don’t hold too tightly to security of the ways we knew.
I have been using this phrase a lot: The Church does not have a mission, God’s mission has a Church.
As we step out into that unknown future, as Abram did, we are the people of faith God called us to be.
Henri Nouwen describes a new kind of leader, one who is the “articulator of interior events” leading people spiritually from the inside out. Are we preparing this generation of leaders in the church? Nouwen writes, “The first and most basic task required of the minister of tomorrow therefore is to clarify the immense confusion which can arise when people enter this new internal world… Most [leaders] are used to thinking in terms of large-scale organization, getting people together in churches, schools and hospitals, and running the show as a circus director. They have become unfamiliar with, and even somewhat afraid of, the deep and significant movements of the spirit.” Will the church be accused of failing “in its most basic task: to offer men and women creative ways to communicate with the source of human life”?
Do you need to find a “happy optimum” between push and pull of being a part of your home church and being your own distinctive person with a calling and experience in your wider community? Does your work or school life look like a mission field to you? Perhaps you have a desire to start a bible study, prayer group, or plant a simple church in your community? Pursuing that desire will likely require that you will have to say “no” to appeals to volunteer in your local church.
Does your hope for your own community, your work, school, and neighborhood, make you feel like that your concern is in opposition to the needs of your local church?
This is the tension many of us are experiencing today. Why? While some mega-churches are still serving the needs of our culture attracting large numbers of evangelicals to a market-based church program, the attractional model of church is no longer effective in our growing post-christian culture. To put it simply: It’s a great time to be THE church, but it is not a good time to be A church.
This presents a tremendous personal challenge to us, and especially to pastors. Many will simply not understand your desire to engage your world and network beyond the local church. Some may find self-esteem and safety within the local church. Some will already find acceptance and significance within the church and therefore not have a strong sense of need to extend their relational group. The more successful and “tight” the church group, the less likely it is that some would sense any need to extend their relationships.
Those of us who reach beyond our church communities are in a dynamic tension called Optimal Distinctiveness. Optimal Distinctiveness is the desire to be identified within a group and distinguish oneself from the group. This is the dynamic tension, this shifting identity, distinguishing oneself from the local church group, is part of the process of a new missional spirit in a post-Christian world. This is a spirit of collaboration.
If you are experiencing this dynamic tension, you need to learn the spirit of collaboration. You must be able to balance your identity within the context of collaboration, working with other groups and ministries outside the local church. To explain, let me share a bit of my own journey.
For 24 years, I have been serving with Youth With A Mission. I have worked with and among many church groups, mission agencies, and student organizations in over 30 nations. All the while I have extended the “fame” of my own spiritual father, my pastor, George Isley. He died a few years ago, but he continues to be my model of pastoral ministries. Over the years, I have come to realize a significant part of my identity was shaped in that local church and with that pastor. Meanwhile I have also found a significant part of my identity in the extended inter-group ministries I founded with Youth With A Mission, the Student Mobilization Centre of the University of the Nations. Though it was often a challenge for me to find the right approach to ministries outside the local church, the spiritual identity of a humble servant-leader modeled by George Isley continues to be my standard. To sum up, I have not followed the model of the popular itinerant preacher with products to sell and a slick appeal for an offering. The spirit of collaboration is not self-serving; it develops trusting personal relationships, freely giving, serving, and loving in the Spirit of Jesus.
As faithful believer in Jesus Christ, our ultimate responsibility and loyalty is to the Great Commission and our Servant King Jesus. We must continue to respect the amazing work that God has done and is doing through our local churches and pastoral leaders. However, our commitment and loyalty to Jesus and his mission must be greater than our commitment and loyalty to our own denomination, local church, and even our pastors. Reaching out in the spirit of collaboration is not a disloyalty to the local church; it is a greater commitment to THE global church.
You could appeal to your pastor for “permission.” Though it is difficult, you could also appeal to your pastor’s own human need to extend relationship beyond the boundaries of the local church. Your appeal to your pastor will reveal something to you; it will reveal your own search for personal balance.
The challenge will come when you are expected to continue to work in your local church and perhaps meet your pastor’s expectations. I want to leave you with a few recommendations:
1. I recommend that you clarify your identity, the identity God has shaped in your life as a committed member of your local church.
2. I also recommend that you take it slow. If you change too fast and too much, you may find yourself ostracized or excommunicated from your home church.
This is the topic of the next several posts. Let me know you are reading and post your questions, suggestions, and testimonies.
Pope Innocent 12th, 1243 AD said, “Universities are rivers of knowledge that feed and fertilize the universal church.” The attitude of the church toward universities, including the UW – Madison, was at one time positive. “We do not want to repeat the errors that have come from not revisiting the theological and biblical underpinnings of our mission.” (Taylor 2001:7) The mission for the Church in Madison is to make disciples of all nations, including the powerful institution of the university.
“The way of the Christian leader,” Henri Nouwen writes, “is not the way of upward mobility in which our world has invested so much, but the way of downward mobility ending on the cross.” (Taylor 2001:9) The challenge of the cross today, is to enter the halls of the universities as reformers. Luther, a professor in a university, never intended to be a reformer. Christian professors at the UW may be unwilling, however these professors may be called to be the leaders in a reformation that is as significant for the university as Luther’s was for the church.
Prophetic engagement with the university is underway through various agencies, such as New College in Madison led by Vern Visick. The challenge is to allow that prophet call to stimulate apostolic response. The apostolic call to the Church in Madison is to engage global issues. With effective church partnership, for example, a challenge could go out to the Church in Madison in response to the global HIV/AIDS crisis: “If you adopt an HIV/AIDS orphan (of which there are over 10 million today), the church in Madison will sponsor that child’s education.” “If the Church of Jesus Christ rises to the challenge of HIV/AIDS it will be the greatest apologetic the world has ever seen,” writes Ravi Zacharias. The Church in Madison’s acceptance of a new apostolic call to engage the university with its influential role in the world, it will present a powerful apologetic of the love of God and the love of our global neighbor.
Ray Bakke points out that an “incarnational servanthood” model presents a “unique and profound combination of Jesus as message and Jesus as model.” (Sider 2004:137) Families opening their homes to students will counteract globalization’s isolating effect, for the host and the student. My wife and I have hosted internationals in one way or another since we were married in 1988. Relationships with students from Japan to Colombia, Ethiopia to Indonesia, and China to Saudi Arabia have been cultivated at our dinner table, living room, and backyard BBQ. This kind of hospitality, friendship with the foreigner, is biblical. It’s loving our global neighbors.
When the church responds to the opportunities for international relationships at the university community, she will find herself more apt to pursue answers to desperate social issues, presenting a more hopeful message.
The growing global need for pure water reveals our interdependency and our call to environmental stewardship. Because the “goal of the church’s holistic outreach is the transformation of people, communities, and society for the glory of God,” water is a primary operating theme for development.
The Au Sable Institute, a biblically based Wisconsin Idea, is pursuing a vision to help develop livable cities, energy-efficiency, and rising standards of living around the world. Au Sable presents a view of God that comes from the revelation of creation. By our faithful stewardship of God’s creation we witness to the world that our faith is real. The church is marginalized in influence in as much as Christians have little revelation of the God of the material world where environmental issues and global poverty are very real.
“The Christian answer to the educational problem must be given in unity with the answer to the problem of personality and community…it must point men (sic) toward such a community as is sufficiently concrete and commanding to claim the hearts of individuals and masses and yet also sufficiently transcendent and universal to embrace all human ideals and possibilities.” (Tillich 1988:18)
Len Sweet has been a prophet to the Church for some time. His voice has been out there in the “wilderness” like John the Baptist. And he’s affirmed other voices too, like Frank Viola and Alan Hirsch.
The word that comes to mind as I read this Jesus Manifesto is the eternal truth that Jesus spoke:
“So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God.” Mt 15:6
It’s a warning to the emerging church, and all new movements of the church. How did the bronze serpent, originally set up to bring healing, turn into an idol? How have we turned our best practices in religion, even house church, into traditions that make the word of God void?
My wife pointed out to me from a book she finished last night that the root meaning of the word religion is to “bind”.
I looked it up and found it has various roots. In addition to ceremony, it is connected with mystery, or superstition, or fear of demons, or to be troubled, clamoring in fear.
Jesus is not religious. As Sweet and Viola have described, it’s not what Jesus “would” do, it’s what he “is” doing in and through us.
So much changed after the first Temple was destroyed and the Israelites were sent into exile. The entire society and leadership changed during the years of captivity and the rebuilding of the Temple under Persian authority. No longer was it a Davidic kingdom. Rather, it had become a Hasmonean kingdom and the Second Temple was expanded and remodeled by Herod the Great. The Second Temple, during Jesus life and ministry, was only a shadow of the original.
Second-temple Judaism was more concerned with purity of kinship bloodline, reinforcing a Patron-Client political and extractive economic system, than it was in fulfilling her vocation and the covenant of Abraham, to be a blessing to all the families of the earth. Second-temple Judaism continued in captivity, a Client-kingdom under Roman rule.
Jesus’ message to Herod and to all of Israel, who was still completing the Temple at the time, was that they were “building their house on the sand.” They had failed to seek God’s rule, which Jesus came to announce. They failed to recognize their deliverer because their social and political system had become self-reinforcing, exclusionary, and corrupt. Those who sought political deliverance for Israel failed to see the extraordinary fulfillment of Israel’s destiny taking place through Jesus.
Understanding González’ paradigms of culture helps us understand Paul, who reconciled his identity as a Mestizos. González’ paradigms help us understand why Paul stood so strongly against those who preached a “different gospel” (Gal. 1:6 NIV) which throughout history has fragmented, marginalized, exiled, and made aliens. These paradigms help us interpret how God is at work among people in the margins or between cultures. The paradigm of solidarity helps us see in the Scriptures and throughout history the need for give-and-take dialog between cultures and the need for proper engagement within culture. As González relates, “The most exciting things have happened, not at the traditional centers of the life of the church, but at the edges.” The disarming of principalities and powers occurs as we participate with God in the example of Pentecost through which God’s Spirit inaugurates the character of openness to outsiders. Interpretation of the New Testament, without attention to the influences of culture, may lead to alienation and distort the message, however the Bible will always affirm the purpose of God, directing the readers’ understanding to the call of the new community of Jesus’ followers to open their hearts to every culture to become One New Humanity.
Paul’s greatest contribution is his defense of the gospel for the Gentiles, most notably leading up to the Council of Jerusalem. Paul’s ethnic and educational background, his nationality, and his religious identity was useful, however he knew they also obstructed his vision and witness of Jesus. (Phil. 3:8) Paul found the center of Judaism in Jesus, who helped him interpret the Scriptures and discern points of dissent with his own and with every other culture. From his Mestizos vantage point he also understood the powerful forces at work dividing cultures and people. He was forthright at pointing out idol worship among the nations, which had also found its way into Judaism. (Acts 17:23, Rom. 1:25, Gal. 3:25) Rather than serve God’s purpose to unite all humanity (Gal. 3:26-28), humankind had erected dividing walls through the influence of invisible forces. Paul’s missionary task and the task he calls the church to undertake is to unmask the principalities and powers, exposing the cultural idols, false teachers, and elementary principles to proclaim in their place the gospel for every people. (Gal. 4:8-9) The Church is challenged to deal with these powerful forces holding people and cultures captive, blinded from seeing the gospel. (Eph. 3:10)
The notion of the “Cosmic Race,” popularized among Latinos by Mexican author Jose Vasconcelos, is a philosophical basis for pride in the mixture of races. González writes, there is “no single perspective or a single clue to ‘reading with Hispanic eyes.’” Therefore a people of varied backgrounds sharing a single identity is dubious. However, this is Paul’s vision and the message he preaches to the Gentiles. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul (or one of his disciples) writes that Jesus’ “purpose was to create in himself one new person.” He (or she) continues with the message of solidarity, “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.” (Eph. 2:15, 19 NIV) This “unity in the faith,” misunderstood by Paul’s contemporaries, has also been misinterpreted in every generation since.
Before meeting Jesus, Saul/Paul’s aim was to eliminate the threat that the new sect of Jesus followers represented to Judaism. Ethnic and religious purity, which was tied to the ultimate conquest of Israel’s Messiah over all nations, defined his worldview. Sadly Spanish missionary endeavors in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries interpreted the Scriptures envisioning a kind of religious purity through coerced conversion in Latin America, which appears to be an amalgamation of the purity ethic of Second Temple Judaism and the conquest ethic of the Roman Empire. Modern Protestant missionary endeavors continued a triumphalist interpretation, albeit separated from military coercion, by expanding into the “frontiers,” which implies redrawing the “borders” of Western civilization. Western individualism, informed by the Protestant Reformation’s doctrine of justification by faith, which possesses an important “supporting role” in Paul’s gospel, became the central understanding the expanding Protestant missionary enterprise. Today, when Westerners read the stories of Moses at the burning bush (Exo. 3:1-10) and the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:5-35), they read how the individual finds God, rather than a calling, “to go back to their people to do the work of God with and among them.” Westerners interpret the purpose of the Church (and of the Bible) to be a functionary agent to meet individual needs, rather than an expression of the gospel itself and a “foretaste of the kingdom.” This misinterpretation of the gospel message has resulted in a new form of “exile,” “a dislocation from the center,” as people are either left out, pushed out, or choose to remain outside the center.
“Mestizos,” a pejorative term used by the powerful and “pure” Spaniard conquerors, was used to convince the “mixed-breeds” that they were inferior. One of Paul’s Hellenist Jewish parents made him a kind of mixed-breed who likely experienced a severe oppression and “double alienation,” which undermined the “barriers of separation that consolidate self-identity and security.” Saul, “also known as Paul,” was a Roman citizen misfit among the Hellenist Jews in Tarsus. It appears he had to overcompensate to assure his fellow Jews that he was a true believer, which produced the “persecutor” of the Jewish Christians with his consent to the death of Stephen. After his conversion, Saul continued to experience this challenge to his identity. Not only did he have to overcome his past as a persecutor of the Church, his Mestizos identity contributed to his need to continually defend his calling as an apostle.
Saul comes to terms with his Mestizaje, allowing himself to be known as Paul, when he turns in anger to defend a Roman official’s faith in Jesus against the lies of Elymas, a Jewish sorcerer. “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right!” Paul rebuked, “You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:6-10) Paul’s use of his Hellenist name at this juncture, setting aside pride in his Benjamite heritage, represented his commitment to stand against forces restricting the pronouncement of the gospel for every culture. Certainly, this event was as significant as his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul understood the gospel message and set out to implement the purpose of God for all humanity which had been completed through Israel’s Messiah.
Two forlorn Jewish disciples met a stranger as they were leaving Jerusalem, the center of their world. After hearing them explain that their teacher, Jesus of Nazareth, had been crucified, the “uninformed” stranger responded, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” (Luke 24:25-26 NIV) The resurrected Jesus explained what was plainly written in the Scriptures concerning himself. Luke’s gospel concludes with Jesus’ statement that, “Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:47 NIV)
How can this message of Jesus be pronounced “to all nations” if the Jewish people, centered within the context of a national expectation of the coming Messiah, failed to recognize him? If his disciples who walked with him and heard his teaching had failed to understand, what were the implications for the apostles who began to preach the gospel to different cultures? How do different contexts, and different centers of cultural understanding, effect the interpretation of the message? What must we therefore understand about the role of culture in the understanding of the New Testament? After feigning a continued journey, Jesus sat to break bread with his fellow travelers. In an instant his identity was revealed and he left those two disciples with hearts ablaze and compelled to go tell somebody.
In his book, Santa Biblia: The Bible through Hispanic Eyes, Justo González offers helpful insights for Biblical interpretation through cultural paradigms of marginality, poverty, mestizaje and mulatez, exile and aliens, and solidarity. Making use of these paradigms, I will argue that the reinterpretation of the apostle Paul’s identity, the misinterpretation of the gospel message across cultures over the centuries, and the challenge Paul presents to the Church to disarm principalities and powers over cultures are all necessary to overcome the temptation to confuse the message of the gospel. Understanding the role of culture is essential to understanding the New Testament and therefore the mission of the Church.
(This is the first of five posts on this topic. Look for the next in a few days.)
Something about that encounter on the Road to Damascus was so “utterly trustworthy” that Paul was convinced that the God of his fathers had appeared to him in the person of Jesus. God had called Israel to fulfill a purpose, which is the future for all people. This has always been the purpose of Israel’s election. Jesus is the ultimate exodus for Israel and the whole world. Israel’s destiny is summed up in the Messiah. Paul is not teaching Christian dualism and he is not launching a new movement. He is not forming a separate people. However, he is preaching a new message, one of the fulfillment of Israel’s promises, one new humanity.
Throughout his life, Paul was committed to Jewish monotheism. What changed was the depth of his understanding of that “fighting doctrine,” which declares “blasphemous” all other gods, all other philosophies, and all other political loyalties. The contrasting changes and consistencies in Paul’s identity within his faith community, his understanding of the Law, and his eschatological vision were clearly the result of his personal encounter with Jesus on the Road to Damascus. Paul realized a vital relationship with the One “true content” of Jewish monotheism, Jesus Christ. Paul became “known” by the God of Israel. (Gal. 4:8-11)
According to the Hebrew scriptures, the Messiah’s coming and Israel’s redemption would result in an in-gathering of all nations. (Isa. 2:3, Mic 4:2) Jewish expectation was that the purposes of God would eventually include the whole world. Paul now understands that Jesus took up Israel’s identity. The good news is that Israel’s representative has succeeded and their true fulfillment is “in Christ.” The embodiment of self-giving love, the self-designated “Son of Man,” gave Saul the task to announce God’s message of reconciliation with sinful humanity. Saul comes to be known as Paul after being sent out with Barnabas on their first missionary journey. As an apostle of Christ Jesus and faithful monotheistic Jew, Paul is chosen as an instrument to fulfill Israel’s mission to all humanity.
Paul met the One who became a human being and a servant, the One who was willing to die for sinners like a criminal and rise as the “firstborn from the dead.” Paul gave up his violent zeal because Jesus made “peace through the blood of his cross.” Paul saw the apocalyptic significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus. Paul’s theology had not changed, however he now understood that the Law, due to human weakness, could not free humankind from the consequences of sin.
Next post: Concluding thoughts on Paul and Judaism
Saul interpreted the Hebrew Scriptures and carefully observed the Torah with increasing zeal. He saw himself as an instrument to bring the fulfillment of Israel’s story. Following the Torah according to Second Temple Judaism meant that God’s people must “mark boundaries of separation” through food laws, circumcision, and the Sabbath. Second Temple Judaism had defined holiness as a relative purity, a relative status before God. Saul’s zeal for the Law, however, should not be interpreted as his attempt to gain personal salvation. Instead, he sought to follow the covenant and increase Israel’s power for deliverance from her captivity through the holiness of God’s people. Therefore Saul determined to put a stop to the emerging community of Jews, members of the Way, who had “thrown open the doors to a new expanded membership,” not based on purity rituals of Second Temple Judaism.
Outside the city of Damascus the sudden appearance of the brightness of God’s holiness had blinded Saul. After falling to the ground, he heard a voice calling his name saying, “Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:3,4) Who could this be other than the One God he sought to honor? “I am Jesus,” came the voice. (Acts 9:5) Saul’s profound and personal encounter with Jesus did not disengage him from Judaism, rather it realigned his wayward zeal with a more complete revelation of the God of Israel. Rather than leaving Jewish monotheism, Saul found the center of Israel’s ancient faith. Having met Jesus, Saul continued to engage in a prophetic critique of Judaism, speaking “to the heart of their tradition.” Israel’s failure is her “relentless pursuit of national, ethnic, and territorial identity.” The “Son of Man” is revealed to Saul as the One who conquered sin and death through the Spirit of Life as Israel’s representative. Therefore, Saul not only found Jesus to be the fulfillment of Israel’s promised deliverance; he understood the purpose of God for all humanity through Israel’s Messiah.
Next post will be about Paul’s Eschatological Vision.
Saul’s self-identity as a member of the “strictest sect” of the Jewish religion has often led to a misinterpretation of Paul, the apostle of Christ Jesus. (Acts 26:5) The Pharisees were a significant social movement of nearly six thousand people at the end of the reign of Herod the Great. These ‘Separate Ones’ proselytized their fellow Jews to the end that a new community of devout followers of God, a sort of priesthood of all Jewish believers, would emerge. Consistent with the messages of John the Baptist and Jesus, many Pharisees sought to reform God’s people.
The Pharisees were not unified in their political and social aspirations, however. While the Pharisees may have all expected an apocalyptic future judgment on all of Israel’s enemies, they were divided, liberal and conservative, with different political and religious emphases. Under the tutorage of Gameliel, Saul originally identified with Hillelites, the liberal Hellenistic Pharisees. Saul evidently had a significant conversion within Pharisaic Judaism, through which he began to identify with Shamaites, the revolutionary Pharisees. This conversion had therefore narrowed Saul’s community of faith to a smaller group of “daggermen.” He was willing to use violence on anyone, even liberal Jewish “traitors”, who would not support the Shamaite’s tri-part myopic agenda for Israel, her people, her land, and her temple. This begins to explain why Saul gave approval of those who killed Stephen. (Acts 8:1, 3)
After six hundred years of captivity, the prophetic promise for Israel’s deliverance was deeply embedded in Saul’s worldview. (Isa. 46:12-13) Contrary to popular opinion, Saul’s identity in Jewish community was not defined by legalism. Instead, it was the belief that Israel was God’s people and that God had a special covenant of grace with them. Saul heard a new spin on the story of Israel’s Messiah when Stephen expounded the Hebrew Scriptures. Stephen’s rendition claimed Israel’s Messiah is Jesus of Nazareth. Then Saul witnessed Stephen looking up saying, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” As he was stoned to death, Stephen said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (Acts 7:56, 60)
Probably enraged by Stephen’s claim that he saw the “Son of Man,” the name reserved for Israel, Saul expanded his persecution seeking permission from the high priest to arrest followers of the “Way” in Damascus. (Acts 9:1-2) Though he was devout in his understanding of the grandeur of Jewish monotheism, Israel’s election, and apocalyptic eschatology, Saul’s radical devotion to Torah had diminished his Judaism to a sect with little evidence of grace. He must have been conflicted knowing that Israel was a covenant people who “responded to God’s gracious initiative in terms set forth in the Torah.” Clearly, Saul witnessed the grace of the Spirit of Israel’s Messiah through the testimony and martyrdom of Stephen. Saul’s longing for the abundant grace of God for the community of Israel was not evident in his life, however this early encounter of grace exhibited in Stephen’s final words had implanted a seed of apocalyptic revelation.
The next post will be about Paul’s changing relationship with the Torah and the Law of the Spirit Life.
Based on his missionary journeys in the Book of Acts, it’s very likely that among Paul’s letters in our Bibles, his letters to the Thessalonians were probably the first. Paul’s main concern for the Thessalonian believers relates to Christ’s second coming. Nothing has changed. For as long as I can remember, Christians have had similar questions about Christ’s second coming. What can we learn from Paul’s letters regarding the second coming? More than I can relate in this short post.
Because Paul’s first letter shows a curiosity among early Christians about Jesus’ return, we should not be surprised when today’s Christians are also curious.
The Thessalonians were despairing over the long delay of Christ’s return. The fame of their church had spread beyond Macedonia, even though there was apparently little formal church organization. It was truly an organic movement of believers radically committed, no matter what the risk, to a new king, Jesus.
Paul writes to assuage the early Christians’ worries about Christ’s delayed return, especially their questions about those who have already died. This is when the letter gets interesting.
Paul writes about what Christian tradition has called the “rapture.”
Paul writes with pastoral compassion. He is particularly intimate in his first letter, as he not only teaches and corrects, he also admonishes with advice regarding behavior. This is not a private letter. He admonishes the one who receives it to read it aloud for the whole community.
In his second letter, Paul addresses the Thessalonians’ anxiety that Christ may have already returned. They thought they had missed it. This was a festering eschatological confusion, which continues today. In this second letter, Paul is comforting those suffering under persecution and uncharacteristically speaks of the coming wrath and judgment.
Again Paul is primarily addressing apocalyptic issues, which are consistent with his background in apocalyptic Judaism. So what does he say about the rapture?
The return of the Messiah will be sudden and the events preceding his coming will be observable. It will be sudden, like a thief, but it will not be a secret. No, you won’t wake up from your nap on a plane and find your neighbor’s underwear “left behind.”
This notion of being “left behind” is the popular view, but it does not stand up to an honest and thorough study of the scriptures. Jesus is coming. But everyone will know when it happens.
More on this in a later post.
Do you ever wonder what Jesus really meant when he spoke of the “law and the prophets”? He was referring to the Scriptures, those that we now identify as the Old Testament and some other apocryphal texts. The law and the prophets refers to the testimony of God’s word to his people and the traditions of those people. These two, testimony and tradition, converge and clash at the time of Jesus.
Jesus represents that clash; he had a high regard for the law and he also challenged the teachers of the law. He said he came to “fulfill” the law, but there are looming questions that arise from his behavior. He obviously broke the Sabbath to provoke the Pharisees and to make a point about how we are to interpret the law.
Jesus announces that the kingdom has come. What did he mean by that? The kingdom is the “place” where God’s rule is evident. God rules all things, but his rule is limited by something. Otherwise, Jesus would not even need to announce “the kingdom has come near you.” What limits God’s rule? Traditions.
Jesus said, “thus making void the word of God through your tradition that you have handed on. And you do many things like this.” (Matt. 7:13) When he makes the announcement that the kingdom is near, we need to see that it is Jesus who is the fulfillment of the law. The rule of God has finally come, not in written code, but in the person of Jesus. Jesus declares that the law is accomplished in him.
By saying “the law is accomplished”, was he implying that the law is actually temporary?
Now that Jesus has come, the law is fulfilled, and the law is accomplished. Do you sense the tension in Matthew’s Gospel regarding obedience to the law? Matthew’s congregation apparently needs some understanding, and so do we. We need help navigating between the amazing liberty we have received in Christ and the dangerous license that has too often resulted.
Jesus did not abolish the law. In fact, he calls for an adherence to the law, which is “greater than the Pharisees.” How do we live free from the law and at the same time under the “rule of God” as citizens of the kingdom of God?
Jesus rules his kingdom. Jesus critique of the Law is not so much about obedience to a strict set of Pharisaic laws, but rather the heart motive behind that obedience. Jesus critiqued the traditions of the Pharisees, which made the Law of “no effect.” Jesus sought to reveal the underlying kingdom values reflected in the law, while also unmasking the dangerous effects of tradition. Jesus calls us to a deeper obedience, a new way of life in the kingdom of God.
When you read the Gospel story, do you try to get to know the author? You might say, “Yes, I want to get to know God.” Good. But the authors of the Gospels were people like you and me who sought to tell the story as they were inspired by God. Can we agree on that? If so, may I ask again? Do you see how the Gospel story, by the way the author developed the narrative, conveys a particular message?
An example, look at the “intratextual” relationship within Matthew’s gospel between two important passages, the story of the Magi (Matt. 2:1-12) and the story of Jesus’ Trial (Matt. 27:11-37). Matthew has left his “thumb print” on his Gospel through this narrative strategy, which shows an interesting parallel between the two stories at the beginning and the end of Jesus life (on earth). Both stories reveal questions of the identity of Jesus the King of the Jews (Magi seek him, Pilate questions him) and both express a form of worship of the King of the Jews (Magi bring gifts, Roman soldiers mock him). Both stories are presented with cautionary dreams (Magi warned to avoid Herod, Pilate is warned by his wife’s dream not to harm Jesus). Both stories revolve around the choosing of a ruler (Herod’s attempt to deceive the Magi about his motive for knowing the location of the new king, and Pilate’s presentation of a choice between Jesus and Barabbas).
We can get to know the author by considering why these two stories in Matthew’s Gospel have this interesting parallel. It is not Jesus who is on trial at the end of his life. Rather, it is Jerusalem (including all her traditions) and Rome (through the authority of Pontius Pilate) that is on trial. It was pagan Magi who worshipped the birth of the king of the Jews, and not Herod or the others who were terrified of this new birth. Rather than choosing Jesus, the king of the Jews, these supposed followers of Jehovah chose Barabbas, a “thug.” The “insiders” reject their king and the day of his appearing, and that king becomes the One who welcomes all the outsiders.
Yes, we do get to know God as we read the Gospel story. And it is by looking deeper that we can discover how God chooses people like you and me to tell the story. Matthew’s narrative strategy is found in his arrangement or “spin” of the two stories, the birth narrative and the narrative of the trial and crucifixion, to make his argument that Jesus is the humble king who welcomes humble followers to worship him. God is humble. He humbly allows the Gospel writers, and all who would tell the story, to use their own “spin” to communicate their message.
What an amazing God! He trusts us.
Have you ever considered the difference between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of God? There’s really no difference. Why the question? Because Matthew’s Gospel writer used “kingdom of heaven” and chose not to use the Name of “God.” This was likely due to the author’s sensibilities as a devout and scholarly Jew. Most of us understand from Scripture that the kingdom of God will include a future new heaven and new earth, however that kingdom is not just a place. The kingdom of heaven is the present reign of God.
To me, the “reign” has always been the “place” where the presence of God is honored. The kingdom is not just the “place” where God is present. God is everywhere. God’s presence in a place should be enough, but without honoring God’s presence with faith, he apparently does not reign in that place. In Mark’s Gospel (Mark 6:5 RSV), it says Jesus “could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” Why? Because the people questioned, doubted, and rejected Jesus, the carpenter’s son.
This tension between the extravagant grace and riches of God’s kingdom on one hand and the earthy, calloused hands, and dusty toes of Jesus the carpenter’s son, is making me think about my own expectations as a citizen of the kingdom. Too often we have equated the kingdom of God with the Church. They are not the same, though we hope God is truly honored in his Church. What is important is to see that God may be honored outside the Church and the kingdom of God may show up in odd places like nightclubs, college classrooms, and tatoo parlors. My understanding of Jesus is changing as I consider the dusty roads, the smells, the difficulties of life in Palestine. Jesus was not only born in an animal stall, he lived without indoor plumbing and refrigeration. God chose the setting to introduce his kingdom. Consider the smell of rotting fish and sweat in the heat of the Judean countryside.
Jesus might have been handsome in the eyes of his mother. However Scripture tells a different story. Isaiah 53 tells of the coming Christ and declares “he was despised and rejected…and we esteemed him not.” The expectations of his own people, those who waited for their Messiah, were far different. Instead of a king who would deliver them from their oppressors, the one who stood before them defiantly disobeyed their traditions and pronounced judgment on their nation. This carpenter’s son is the king. We will likely be surprised in the same way as were the people of Palestine.
This messy incarnation and bodily resurrection of Jesus implies an “earthy” eternity, in which he (and we) have feet, hands, eyes, ears, mouths, and taste buds, perhaps with bodily functions. How Jesus reveals the kingdom, through special grace and common grace, is not going to be recognized by everyone. Some will despise and reject the very witness of his kingdom sent to them. If we love our traditions and our religious expectations of God’s glory and power, we may miss the simple expression of the kingdom in the earthy containers of his servants touching the lives of others. This king and his kingdom is likely still far different from our expectations.
Like N.T. Wright, I admit that I drank the “koolaid” and I’m a “fool for Christ.” I’m in agreement with Wright and Paul that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, Jesus followers are most to be pitied. We’re living in “cuckoo-land.” With that in mind, it’s become increasingly clear to me that postmodern theologians are more true to the first century practice of theology, which we see in the way the Gospels are written, than are those who refuse to engage the truth in their contemporary cultural context.
Frustration has mounted over the years as I have listened to many church sermons and bible teachers who seem to have a disconnectedness from the historical Jesus. We should be concerned about our culture and setting, our local communities as we preach and teach the story of Jesus. However that concern and contextualization of the message should not be at the expense of the story of Jesus who walked the earth in Palestine in the first century.
Mine has been not only a concern for my local church and ministry community; I am also concerned for the global community of Jesus followers. I have been especially concerned about how Western Christians relate to the new Majority Church in the Global South, including China’s 100 million believers. I have been concerned about christian university students from around the world who are trying to find their way in a postmodern world.
Interpreting the Gospels, discerning any differences between the historical Jesus and a community’s own Christ of faith, is necessary to respond to the concerns we have for our communities. We must respond to the extremes of the liberal quest for the historical Jesus as well as the often simplistic conservative reactions to any scholarly quest to understand Jesus of history. For my part, I want to offer the hope of a vital connection with the Jesus of history to a postmodern generation no longer anchored to a Christian tradition.
From my experience, evangelical churches are largely Gnostic, which removes Jesus from much of any daily practical consequence.
Today’s church leaders need to consider the incarnation of Christ. Jesus incarnation is eternal, therefore the practical concerns related to Jesus’ resurrected body (and eventually our own) are eternal. Because he has eyes, ears, and a nose, arms to embrace, and taste-buds to enjoy foods, every facet of our physical existence has an eternal stamp of Jesus incarnation on it. Education, Government, Media, Arts, Sciences, every Social and Cultural concern today will have a fuller appreciation in the resurrection. If trees are for healing nations, as it states in John’s Revelation, perhaps there will still need for some further healing between peoples, such as Palestinians and Israelis.
The question this all raises for liberals and conservatives is this: How then should we live? Should we not engage every facet of our existence on this green earth with respect to the resurrected Christ?
Jesus likely knew that religious protest movements of his day sought “to become ‘political’ by contesting elite control of religious institutions.” (See Palestine in the Time of Jesus: Social Structures and Social Conflicts, by Hanson & Oakman, p. 125) When Jesus drove out all those selling animal sacrifices and the money changers, he was not merely driving out a few opportunists trying to profit off religious pilgrims. He was single-handedly confronting the Temple’s political establishment and redistributive economic system. Amid all that blood sacrifice, Jesus overturned the Temple’s aim of purity in worship, replacing it with the aim of reconciliation with his Father.
Jesus overturned more than tables. He overturned the concern for purity in the Temple, which “attracted and cleansed impurities from the social body.” (p. 135) Jesus presented a new vision and a new Temple (himself), which took God’s purity and forgiveness out of the Temple to touch the people who needed reconciliation with his Father.
When Jesus singled out those who sold doves, saying they have made his “Father’s house” a “marketplace,” he was showing how much he desires to welcome the families of nations. Doves were offered in Temple worship to restore the “postpartum woman to normal life while acknowledging God’s sole authority to establish pure blood relations.” (p. 135) Jesus was appealing for his father’s family, while standing in close proximity to the Temple inscription in the Court of the Gentiles, which restricted those outside the blood line of Abraham.