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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?
Looking into the hollow eyes of Paulo, I wondered what we could do. Paulo was emaciated and gaunt, but with a bloated belly. His parents asked us to come see him. They worried that he would no longer eat the corn tortillas they had been feeding him. Because he was weak, his mother kept Paulo hidden in the dark corner of the small mud brick house. She feared that the sun and the warm air in the mountains of Guatemala would harm him.
It was 1991 and our university student Field Ministry Internship teams visited this mountain village to serve the Rabinal Achi people, a poor community with little or no access to health care and education.
Bonnie, a nurse and our health care team leader said Paulo was dying; he was at the final stages of starvation.
With the mother’s permission and Bonnie’s recommendation, I picked up the frail boy and held him to pray. He was light as a feather. I carried him into the sun. A member of our team ran to get some 7Up and soda crackers to attempt to rehydrate him, but he would not eat. I fed him the liquid with a tea spoon, which appeared to help him. We prayed earnestly as tears welled up in our eyes for the boy and his family. “Jesus, please heal this one today.”
The clinical name for the condition is called Kwashiorkor. The belly swells due to the lack of protein. The parents did not understand that the diet of tortillas, the only food available for their little boy, was insufficient. Paulo was not getting the nutrients he needed to survive.
We learned the next day that Paulo died. Even as I write this today, I agonize over the loss of this small child that had so little hope of survival. Even now, I want to bring a good report; I want to say, “Jesus healed Paulo!” But that is not what happened.
Paulo’s family is among the poorest of the poor. He is not merely a statistic, but he is among three billion people, almost half the world’s population, who live on less than $2.50 USD a day. Approximately 24,000 children like Paulo die every day due to malnutrition and impure water. (See Facts on Global Poverty.)
That experience, and dozens of others like it in as many countries over the past two decades, shaped my vision and passion for mobilizing university students toward their calling in Christ’s mission to a needy world. I ache to see a generation of university students offer their lives, including their studies and their careers, as living sacrifices in worship of Jesus. I long to see communities of faith, churches, devote more of their resources to mission and less to the one hour event on a Sunday morning. I long to see Christian business leaders, educators, scientists, communicators, food growers, builders, health care specialists, and families connect, conspire and collaborate to serve the world’s poor, starting with one small boy or girl in one small village.
One of the most important books I have read on the subject of ministry to the poor is God of the Empty-Handed: Poverty, Power, and the Kingdom of God by Jayakumar Christian. (Amazingly, this book is not available for less than $200.00. Therefore, I will provide a brief synopsis for my next four blog posts.)
As I read this book I was challenged to understand several keys to ministry among the poor. I’m convinced these key principles are important for any ministry, any Christian desiring to serve Christ’s mission. Additional posts with stories of our ministry among the poor will follow soon.
(Note: The name “Paulo” may not be accurate, but the story is true. I may have confused this boy’s name with another we ministered to some time later.)
Wikipedia strongly espouses verifiability and a neutral point of view, but critics of Wikipedia accuse it of “systemic bias and inconsistencies”. They say “favoring consensus over credentials gives undue weight to popular culture” in its editorial processes.
From a vantage point of a missionary, I see an important similarity here to the argument that laity, those lacking credentials from a church denomination or seminary, have no business leading a church plant or Missional community. The argument goes like this: “Those untrained leaders could lead their people into heresy or false doctrine.” That was a major concern of the early church.
If reliability and accuracy are really the issue, and not the status of “experts,” then it’s worth noting that “an investigation in Nature (scientific journal) found that the science articles they compared came close to the level of accuracy of Encyclopedia Britannica and had a similar rate of “serious errors”.” In this Nature article, Alex Bateman and Darren W. Logan write:
“Ten years ago, it would have been inconceivable that a free collaborative website, written and maintained by volunteers, would dominate the global provision of knowledge.”
So then, should an “untrained” leader draw together a group of Christ’s followers and attempt to demonstrate and declare the gospel of Jesus by making disciples from within their specific people group, their neighborhood, workplace, or school? Could such a group represent an authentic church gathering?
For centuries leadership of churches has been left to “experts”, those with credentials, degrees, and funny hats. Concern for this issue was pronounced during the recent post-colonial period, after WWII, when newly independent nations opened the opportunity for multiplied thousands of new independent churches which resulted in the greatest expansion of christianity in history, especially the Global South (see Inter-Varsity article). Many attempts to train the multitudes of new church leaders in Africa and China, through programs based mostly in the West, such as TEE (Theological Education by Extension), could not keep up the pace of church growth at the end of the 20th century. At issue: what would come of these “younger” churches? Would they slip into heresy and error?
Perhaps a little humility is required as we respond to these questions. The church in the West has not been without error, despite her theological “maturity.” The early church had error, the Medieval church had error, and the Protestant church has had error. Some error is difficult to perceive from a purely Western mindset. What could be wrong with promoting individual choices for Christ, reducing the gospel message to “three steps” or “four laws”? Well, getting “saved” for heaven is not the kingdom message Jesus preached. And it’s not the gospel message Paul preached. Salvation is much more comprehensive, and not just a private decision. The West has exported this erroneous gospel message through the modern missionary enterprise for more than a century.
Examining the laundry list of error in Western theology would require several other posts, so let’s just humble ourselves long enough to accept our brothers and sisters in the now Majority church of the Global South, not as immature “younger” churches, but as full fledged churches.
Like the world of Wikipedia, we now live in a new, “flat” and globalized world (See Thomas Friedman’s popular book, ‘The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century’), where information, correction of error and validation of facts now spread instantaneously around the world. Whether we are ready or not, it is time to consider our ways, to search the Scriptures for understanding the way to reach our new world.
Jesus did not make it complicated and neither should we. It is simple to experience community with those you already have an affinity, a similar culture. People who already share interest and time together are more likely to worship together and work together on a mission of Kingdom expansion.
This is the approach to missions and church planting in India put forth in the 1930s by Donald McGavran, the late missionary statesman who coined “Homogenous Unit Principle“, groups which can be a culture or language, a tribe or caste, a clan or geographical unit. McGavran was studied church growth, proposing a church which is not sending mission so much as it is itself sent. With so many different cultures in India, McGavran saw the need to encourage many cultural expressions of church. The different people groups should not be forced into one church cultural mold, like your neighborhood mega-church. Could it be that McGavran’s approach would also now be appropriate for churches in the Western world?
Lesslie Newbigin, another great missionary statesman, spent over 30 years living as a missionary working with the Church of South India. When he returned to England, Newbigin noticed something: the Western world had become as pluralistic as India, with new “faith” in materialism. (See Newbigin’s book: The Gospel in a Pluralistic Society.) The West, especially Europe with the USA not far behind, had already lost much of its “Christian” heritage. Once vital Church structures in England are now nightclubs with names like “Ministry of Sin.” Newbigin saw the need to not only continue to send missionaries around the world, but also to receive missionaries to re-evangelize the post-Christian West. He suggested the formation and structure of Western churches require a new reformation in order to reach our Western society with the gospel. He and many of the leaders in world missions today, contend that the Church in the West must again become primarily a missions station sponsoring Missional communities among the people groups in our cities. The Anglican Church is championing “Fresh Expressions” of church formation for the communities in which it has been established for many hundreds of years.
What am I proposing? Three things:
- First, I propose we learn humility, perhaps unlike or feeble attempts to humble ourselves in religious services, temporarily weeping at the altar and then returning to our comfortable lives behind our TVs, in our over-sized houses, and compressed lifestyles. We must humble ourselves, relinquishing our supposed rights to power, privilege, and too often prestige.
- Second, like Wikipedia, we should learn to trust every believer to gain access, participate, and contribute to theological conversations. We should trust those with a desire to be a witness to their community.
- Third, we should flatten our church hierarchies, eliminate the exclusivity of church “membership”, and commission believers to “go” into their world to plant simple church communities.
Imagine if Jesus could once again become the main focus of conversations and life in your neighborhood, your workplace, and on a your campus, perhaps it would also be possible for the message and works of Jesus to fill an entire city. No, I am not suggesting we merely “unite” churches (which tend to be organized in a competitive business model anyway). Unity is not something we create, it is something the apostle Paul exhorts us to “preserve”.
This vision for a new church-planting movement in our neighborhoods could only be realized if everyday believers, people like you and me, choose to go on mission in our sphere of influence, planting the church where you are through non-formal gatherings in homes, workplaces, and campus dorms. Of course, those with the status as “experts” may resist this missional movement for various reasons. But I am confident that the leaders whose hearts belong to Jesus will cheer ANY effort to reach our world with the good news.
The hard part is this: We have to renew our thinking, repent of our fixed cultural habits, and begin to walk worthy of this calling. Church is not just something you attend…it’s something you are. Jesus said the Kingdom of God is within you; that’s true of every believer. The good news is within us.
We need break our individualistic mindset in order to see our world is not just one big community of individuals. It is hundreds of people groups, small communities put together to make up your city.
So I am proposing ‘simple churches’ or missional communities to be formed by two or more believers among these people groups. Missional communities are incarnational in that they arise out of and focus on the communities they desire to reach. Imagine multitudes of new small groups of believers in Chicago, LA, and New York, and in university campuses, businesses and suburbs in your area… Leaders need to find courage to once again be the church and release a new generation of churches in their most localized and organic form. This is what I propose: Form simple churches that are “Wiki-Missional.”
Secularism and pluralism present a problem for the notion of progress. The Wisconsin State motto is “Forward,” calling all subjects of the state toward progress, including the university. But how can a society move forward without acknowledging its own history and knowing the core beliefs that produced it. If the core of belief is supplanted by the state itself, it will soon fail to produce the “good” it purports to do. In his book, “The Spiritual Situation in Our Technical Society”, Paul Tillich writes “education without a determining center is impossible. The nation became the ideological center that demanded absolute devotion, though itself was above criticism.” (Tillich 1988:17)
Once the state became the central defining institution, all religious influence was sequestered into the private arena, hidden behind stained glass windows. Os Guinness writes, “Secularization is the process by which religious ideas, institutions, and interpretations have lost their social significance.” How shall Jesus followers in Madison respond? Do they stir up their confidence in Jesus’ victory by redoubling their spiritual exercises, attending to religious duties, and gathering in religious settings? Or should they instead return to the God of their fathers who interpreted the words of the Lord for a public arena?
In that public arena, we no longer find the predominant values of a society informed by Biblical principle. Madison is home to many religious groups with very different values. Pluralism is what exists when there are “a competing number of worldviews available to its members, but no worldview is dominant.”
With no roots or absolutes, people in Madison represent “all religions and no religion;” they are “seeking for a sense of roots, an affirmation that there is something bigger than the existence we know-something of ultimate value.” In his book, “The Soul of The American University,” which traces the history of the secularization of American universities, George Marsden calls for academics of religious faith, including those in Madison, to re-think the connections between their faith and their scholarly endeavors.
Madison is progressive, leaning forward into a vision of the future with little reference to Biblical values. Without that Biblical reference and religious values, what should we expect to be the result of that progressive vision?
Marsden’s challenge is to re-think, and re-interpret a progressive vision of the future by reviewing the vision of those who have gone before us.
Hebrews is an “elegantly polished” text, which is “removed from the world of the Modern reader.” This book serves as a pastoral letter, which exhorts Christian believers, a “pilgrim people,” to “persevere” and to continue to grow. Though the letter is Pauline in content, he is not the author. Instead, the author is likely to have been associated with Paul. This author is an educated Jewish person trained in Greek philosophy and exegesis. This person is clearly an authority in the church with an important word for an increasingly diverse, though clearly the author’s contemporary Jewish audience, probably in Rome. This letter refers to the “tabernacle” more than the “temple”, with references to the “wilderness” through which the “pilgrim” community is venturing and can reach their destination “today.” This treatise, which describes the Hebrew Scriptures as “alive and active”, is clearly describing the realities and promises fulfilled through the finished work of God in Christ. The author outlines three key Christological arguments; Jesus is “superior.” Jesus is superior as the Son, the Pioneer of our Faith, and the High Priest. God has spoken in the past through angels, but now he speaks to us through his Son, the agent of God’s creation and revelation, in these “last days.” He shares our humanity, yet he is the heir of all things, who receives the promise on behalf of all human beings. As a superior pioneer, he has gone ahead of us, blazing a trail for us to follow, doing what we could not do. After the order of the priesthood of Melchizedek, he is a “perfect” high priest, who was made perfect through suffering, and can make our consciences perfect through his perfect offering made once for all.
Jesus’ leadership is demonstrated in the incarnation through his integration of faith and commitment. Jesus warns “beware the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matt. 16:6, 11-12) whose influence, through Israel’s Temple and Torah, had become like pagan allegiance to principalities and powers (cf. Gal. 4:8-11; Rom. 5:20, 7:7-25). John’s audience, living within the Roman Empire, had witnessed idolatry taken to a new level, the deifying of the pagan state. Nero was the “symbol of political power that abuses its God-given authority.” Nero’s approach to leadership was the antithesis of Jesus, which is why he is characterized as the antichrist. Sadly, missionary endeavors at times have practiced variations of the conquest ethic of the Roman Empire, coercing conversion in the Name of Jesus!
What can we learn from Jesus’ leadership example and warnings to the churches in Revelation? While Paul encouraged churches to live in accord with civil law, John warns against becoming too comfortable. John’s churches appear therefore to be negotiating the margins of a corrupt society, seeking to avoid becoming “victims of social ostracism.” Christians today may also be ridiculed for their exclusivism and seduced into compromising their loyalty to Jesus. John’s churches may have been threatened with punishment for failure to participate in pagan idolatry, including sacrifice to Roman gods. The Nicolaitans, a religious sect with “Gnostic” tendencies in Ephesus and Pergamum, were denounced and “hated” for participating in syncretistic practices (cf. Rev. 2:6; 3:14-16; 3:20-24). How then should Christians follow Jesus’ lead in today’s society? Are Christians therefore to withdraw from trade guilds, dinner parties, legal transactions, political rallies, sporting events, and theatrical presentations? Was it openness to the surrounding Greco-Roman culture that Jesus rejected, or was it something else?
Participation, or lack of it, has profound impact on the character of a church’s witness. Perhaps Christians should witness to the servant-leadership of Jesus by demonstrating how it is possible to move with confidence through everyday life? Truth is “revealed supremely” in Jesus who was “obedient to the point of death” without considering his “equality with God something to be exploited” (Phil. 2:8, 6). John’s Revelation of Jesus has made plain the character of God who is willing to become a servant and die as a criminal in self-giving love.
See more at http://johnthenry.wordpress.com
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.
Saul of Tarsus’ dramatic meeting with the risen Lord Jesus radically completed his appreciation for Jewish monotheism. The change of his name to Paul and the dramatic changes in his ministry orientation have sometimes been interpreted as an abandonment of his zeal for the faith of his fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. However Paul’s scathing criticism of the first century practices of Judaism and his message of inclusion to pagan Greeks and Romans into communities of faith alongside Jews is not his final verdict on Judaism, it is rather his interpretation of the sequel to Israel’s story. After more than a century of Biblical scholarship, which has both “used and abused” Paul, some have begun to reevaluate Paul’s relationship to Judaism. With these new studies, we can now better compare and contrast changes in Paul’s story, his identity before and after his encounter with Jesus. In the next several posts, I will look at the changes and consistencies in Paul’s identity within his faith community, his understanding of the Law, and his eschatological vision, which I believe are all best understood through the singular lens of his personal encounter with Jesus on the Road to Damascus.