Evangelism and Mission

Who have you been eating with?

Dinner

One day Jesus was having dinner at the home of one of the top Pharisees (the religious leaders of his day). As always, there was some lively and interesting conversation around the dinner table. Near the end of this meal, this happened ...

Luke 14:12-14. Jesus turned to the host. "The next time you put on a dinner, don't just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You'll be — and experience — a blessing. They won't be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returned — oh, how it will be returned! — at the resurrection of God's people."

Who have you been eating with lately? 


A Call to COURAGE

Courage

ANZAC Day

Tomorrow is ANZAC Day, a day when Australians and New Zealanders remember the beginning of World War I. This was Australia’s first major military encounter as a nation with the wider world as we joined Britain’s fight against Germany. Last year was the 100th anniversary of the ANZACs landing at the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey. This was supposed to be a quick knock-out battle but the wildness of the terrain and the fierce resistance of the Turkish defenders led to a stalemate campaign that dragged on for 8 months. Both sides suffered heavy casualties and endured great hardships.

ANZAC Day evokes mixed and strong emotions. Some people feel it glorifies war. Our last ANZAC, Alec Campbell, pleaded on his deathbed: “For God’s sake, don’t glorify Gallipoli - it was a terrible fiasco, a total failure and best forgotten.” War is not a noble enterprise, nor a great source for national identity, or an ideal proof of a person’s coming of age. Only those who have been to war can understand its horror and the trauma it leaves in its wake. Others say it is a fitting tribute to remember those who gave their lives and made such a sacrifice. We should honour the dead not glorify war. Regardless of our personal views of the annual ANZAC Day celebrations, we can find common ground in commending the spirit of the soldiers who went to war. Their commitment, sacrifice, friendship (‘mateship’), endurance and courage in the face of great adversity is admirable. Courage is the attribute we want to focus on today.

Courage

Courage is strength in the face of fear, grief and pain. Afro-American author Maya Angelou once said, “Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently.” Nelson Mandela said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” JRR Tolkien noted, “Courage is often found in unlikely places.”

The Bible has a lot to say about courage and how important it is in our daily lives:

  • “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9
  • “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart.” Psalm 27:14.
  • “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8
  • “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” Acts 4:31
  • “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.” 2 Timothy 1:7.
  • “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” Eph.6:10

As followers of Jesus, we are called to stand strong in the face of adversity – to be courageous! Thankfully, God is with us even in the midst of challenge, suffering and pain. We can draw on God’s strength.

Our Mission

John ‘Jack’ Simpson is one of our ANZAC heroes, as he rescued 300 injured soldiers from the heat of the battle over a period of 24 days, with the help of a donkey he found at ANZAC Cove. Sadly, he was hit in the back with a bullet from a machine gun. He died saving others. This reminds us of the words of Jesus Christ who said, “Greater love has no one than this than to lay down their life for a friend” (John 15:13). Jesus modeled this by leaving the comforts of heaven to risk and eventually lay down his life to rescue us from sin and death. That’s great courage!

It also takes courage for us to pursue our God-given mission today. Many of our World Impact workers and partners are working in some of the poorest, most persecuted and least evangelised parts of our world today. For many, there is a high price tag that includes their lives being endangered. We admire and commend their courage in planting churches, raising up leaders, growing congregations and transforming communities.

A Call to Courage

Here are three ways we can respond to this call to courage, as we draw inspiration from our ANZACs and our mission workers:

  1. Pray … for our mission workers. Adopt a mission work or project and consider joining a support group. Jesus’ desire was for his Father’s house to be a “house of prayer for all nations” (Mark 11:17). Clear the clutter and move out anything that is hindering your heart from being a place of prayer and worship.
  2. Go … to another nation. Consider being part of a short-term team or taking up a medium or long term placement in another nation. You will be a blessing to the people there, an encouragement to our mission workers, and travel enriches you too. Augustine once said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”
  3. Give … financially to the work of World Impact. Yes, there are local church ministry needs and we have building and community projects that need funds, but we never want to lose our heart for global mission. Make a financial donation to your church's mission program. Compared to the rest of the world, we are ‘rich’. As our generosity grows, our capacity as a church does also.

Your Life 

What are you facing right now that is calling forth courage within you? Are you overwhelmed by fear or discouragement? Has criticism or adversity taken its toll? God’s Word to you today is, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go!” God is with you and he will give you the strength to go through whatever you may be facing.

Reflection Questions

  1. What does ANZAC Day mean to you?
  2. Reflect on a time in your personal life when you had to be courageous.
  3. How does courage relate to us engaging in our mission to reach our neighbours and friends with the good news of Jesus?
  4. What story have you heard so far from our mission workers that inspired you the most when it comes to courage?
  5. Spend some time praying for a specific mission worker or project.
  6. Ask someone who has been on a short-term team to share about their experience.
  7. Ask a friend what challenge they facing right now that is requiring courage for them. Pray for them. 

Jesus' Ministry

Ministry-of-jesus

The Gospel of Matthew tells us this about the ministry of Jesus:

Matthew 9:35-37. Jesus traveled through all the towns and villages of that area, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them because they were confused and helpless, like sheep without a d shepherd. He said to his disciples, “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields. NLT

Here are a few insights we can glean from Jesus' approach to ministry:

  • Jesus made a circuit of all the towns and villages in his region. Note the big picture vision and the strategic approach of achieving it step by step. What is your field of mission?
  • Jesus had compassion (to 'feel with') for people. The crowds of people were confused, aimless, without care and leadership. What do you see today when you look at the people around you?
  • Jesus provided ministry to meet their felt and real needs. What needs can you meet, what pains can you help heal?
  • Jesus saw the harvest opportunities as great but the workers as few. Not much has changed in 2,000 years.
  • Jesus prayed for more workers. The need was too great for one or a few people to meet. May we do the same today.

Four Kinds of Churches

Churchmuseum

There are four kinds of churches in the world today:

  1. The Museum Church. They are old and beautiful but empty (like the picture above). No one goes there. They are showpieces of past. Sadly, there is no spiritual vitality within their ancient walls.
  2. The Maintenance Church. These churches are a little better. They are almost empty ... but hanging on. Their mission is to survive, to maintain amidst the many drastic social changes. They refuse to change, members are dying off. Sadly, they too will soon become a Museum Church.
  3. The Ministry Church. These churches pursue Christian ministry to people within their walls. They have a full calendar of activities … Sunday worship (with free coffee and donuts), Bible studies, prayer meetings, good youth group, weekly choir, holiday services, summer camps, fellowship dinners. A quality staff of loving pastors and devoted members deliver its full-service programs. But there is no contact with people outside the church. They would rather stay securely this side of the Jordan than to cross into uncharted territory and engage in conversation.
  4. The Mission Church. These kinds of churches offer full service ministry, caring for their members, AND they reach out to serve their community, their city and other nations - sharing the good news of Jesus and taking his command to GO seriously. They go OUT the church door and INTO the world (locally and globally). They are actively crossing the street and going into the world.

What kind of church is yours?


How's Your Cultural Intelligence?

CQ-word-cloud

The apostle Paul worked hard to relate to a wide variety of people. Have a read of this from his letter to the church at Corinth in the first century:

1 Corinthians 9:19-23. Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose–living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized––whoever. I didn't take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ––but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I've become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God–saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn't just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it. Message Bible

As followers of Christ, we are to the same. This means learning to relate to people of different personalities, background, educational level, religious belief, age, gender and race. When it comes to race and nationality, we now live in a truly 'global village'. Yet people living in different localities still have their unique manners and customs.

Over the last month, for the purpose of both holidays and ministry, I have had the privilege of travelling to Russia (St Petersburg and Moscow), Sweden (Uppsala), Poland, Ethiopia (Addis Ababa) and United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi). What a whirlwind it has been yet what an enjoyable experience visiting different places and meeting different people.

Cultural differences include (noted by David Livermore):

  • Individualistic versus Collectivist.
  • Low verses High Power Distance.
  • Cooperative verses Competitive.
  • Punctuality verses Relationships.
  • Direct verses Indirect.
  • Being verses Doing. 
  • Particularist verses Universalist.
  • Neutral verses Affective.
  • Tight verses Loose.

These differences can be seen across a wide range of cultures, including Anglo, Germanic, Easter European, Asian (with many differences between regions), Latin American, African, and Arab ... just to name a few.

A simple example is my recent experience with Indigenous Australians. When two men from Western descent greet each other, after exchanging names, their next question is always something like, "So what do you do?" We derive our primary identity from our work - our doing. In contrast, when two indigenous men meet, after exchanging names, their next question is more likely to be "Who's your mob?" In other words, tell me about your family. In their culture, your family and tribe are the source of your identity - your being. What a difference this makes in how people from these two different go about their daily lives!

Not everyone will travel, like I have had the opportunity to do, but people from different cultures are everywhere around us - in our neighbourhoods, our schools, our workplaces and our churches. Everyone of us should seek to understand people who are different, so we can better love and appreciate them, do life together with them with appreciation, and share the love of Jesus with them in meaningful ways.

Every time I travel to a new place, I do a few things to prepare myself:

1. Read as much as I can about the history, demographics, and local culture. Wikipedia as well as various travel guides are a good source of up-to-date information.

2. Learn about the people - their values, language, interests, education and well-being.

3. Study various maps to understand the geographical area and it proximity to other places.

4. Read about the state of Christian faith in a particular area, as well as the other local religious beliefs. Operation World is an excellent resource for this.

I am always enriched the more I know and understand about the people I am visiting and connecting with. 

Here's some recommended further reading for those who are interested in learning more:


Mars Hill - The Marketplace

Mars Hill Graphic 1080

Paul at Athens

The apostle Paul gives us an insightful example as to how to engage with our culture during his time in the pagan city of ancient Athens as recorded in Acts 17. He spent time in the synagogue, in the marketplace and then was invited to the Areopagus to engage with the philosophers there. These places can represent three different environments or spaces in our own world today.

  1. The first space is the synagogue, which is where Jews and God-fearing Greeks gathered (vs.16-17). These are people who believe in God and share a common language, experience and belief system. This space can refer to the church community today or to a Christian organisation. It is where we share much in common with the people around us, including similar faith, beliefs, customs and language.
  2. Paul also spent time in the marketplace (vs.17).  This was the area outside the synagogue where people went about their daily life and work. There is less common ground here as there is a range of competing beliefs and insider language doesn't connect. This space can refer to the marketplace today, the places outside of the church community where we work and do life. This is where most Christians spend the majority of their time. The challenge is to connect and bring the good news of Jesus to people in this space in a language they can understand.
  3. The third space Paul went was the Areopagus (also called 'Mars Hill'). The people he had influenced in the marketplace invited him there (vs.18-34). He entered another world because of the interest he had created. Here Paul shared the good news of Jesus but never once quoted an Old Testament text, although his comments were based strongly on a biblical worldview. Despite his initial anger at their idolatry, he chose to build rapport with his audience by commending them for their spirituality and he even quoted some local Greek poets.

The result? Some people sneered or mocked, especially when hearing about the resurrection, others wanted to hear more, while others put their faith in Jesus (vs.32-34). We see these same responses today when people hear the Gospel.

There is much we can learn from Paul in living out his faith in these three very different environments, each of which has relevance for us. Today, we will focus on the marketplace.

The Marketplace

Most people spend over half of their waking hours in the ‘workplace’. Everyone works, whether we get paid or not, including students, stay-at-home parents, and retirees. God himself is a worker (Gen.2:1-3; John 5:17) and we are created in his image to work as his representatives on the earth (Gen.2:15). Work, despite the effects of the curse, is to have dignity, value and meaning. Unfortunately, we have been affected by a dualism that divides between the ‘sacred’ (the synagogue) and the ‘secular’ (the marketplace) when in reality all of life is sacred and part of God’s domain (see Col.3:17). God is just as interested in our Mondays as he is in our Sundays!

A few years ago, in our teaching series entitled Your Work God’s Work, we looked at a theology of work. The purpose of work is to: (1) glorify God, (2) serve people, (3) provide for meaningful contribution, and (4) generate wealth. Of course, work isn’t everything. You are not your job. We need to balance work with the other aspects of our life, including family, church, rest and recreation. However, because of the importance of work, how we work really matters (see Col.3:22 – 4:6). Qualities such as diligence, integrity and love usually lead to opportunities to share our faith in Jesus with ‘outsiders’. Each of us needs to be ready to give an answer (Greek apologia, from which we derive the concept of Christian Apologetics) for the hope we have (1 Peter 3:15).

When speaking to these pagan people, Paul stated that, “God is not far from any one of us” (Acts 17:27). This directly challenges the concept of certain people being “far from God”. The truth is that God is close to each person and we simply need to pray for them to awake to the reality of God’s existence and love for them. This is usually a process and occurs over a period of time. Our part to play is simply to join the work God is already doing in people’s hearts and lives.

The first Christians preached the same Gospel of Jesus Christ (1Cor.15:11) yet they expressed it in significantly different ways depending on their audience. For instance, Matthew emphasises ‘the kingdom’ while John focuses on ‘eternal life’ and Paul on ‘justification’. These are not different gospels. Contextualisation requires us to think about how the good news of Jesus meets the needs of a particular person, as well as how it confronts their idols (things they pursue to meet those needs but that, in the end, don’t truly satisfy).

Reflection Questions

  1. One approach to evangelism is to invite unchurched people into the ‘first space’. What kind of person is this applicable to? What kind of person may never come straight into a ‘first space’ gathering? What ways could we can make the ‘first space’ more welcoming and meaningful to outsiders?
  2. The majority of our church congregation spends a great deal of their time and energy in the ‘second space’. How can the church better equip people to fulfil God’s purpose for them in this space? What are some keys to them receiving more ‘third space’ opportunities?
  3. Reflect on a ‘third space’ experience you may have had? How did it happen and what was it like? What are some practical ways we can become more comfortable in communicating in ‘third space’ environments?
  4. What are some of the biggest challenges you face each week as a Christian in the workplace?
  5. Take the Workaholic Test. How did you score?
  6. In what ways does the Gospel meet the needs and confront the idols of the people in our world? Consider aspects such as the human longing for intimacy, meaning, purpose, belonging, and contribution.
  7. Conversion is sometimes described as an ‘awakening’. Reflect on your own coming to faith: was it an alarm clock conversion (like Paul on the road to Damascus) or a gradual waking up to the reality of God? How can this inform our evangelistic efforts?
  8. Consider the varied response to Paul’s message at Athens (Acts 17:32-34) and the parable Jesus told of the seed and the different soils (Matthew 13:1-23). How can we draw encouragement from this?

Also, check out Halftime Australia.


Mars Hill - Engaging Culture

Mars Hill Graphic 1080

We live in a rapidly changing culture that often seems at odds with the character of God's kingdom. Some Christians choose to reject the surrounding culture, escaping to live separate lives. Others seem to embrace the culture uncritically and end up no different than the world around them. Could it be that a better approach is to engage with the culture - to be in the world but not of it. The apostle Paul modelled this exceptionally well during his time in Athens, especially at Mars Hill - a place full of idols, altars and pagan philosophers. Where is your Mars Hill and how well are you engaging with it? That's what we'll be talking about this month at CityLife.

Here is a summary of week 1 - a message given by Josiah Conner.

Engaging Culture

Change your culture; or your culture will change you (Acts 17:22)

Embrace/Escape: We are often pulled to blindly embrace or escape our culture

There is a tension that we all find ourselves in. It emerges out of this question: What does it mean to be in the world but not of the world?

At times we can be pushed to two extremes. Firstly, we can think the best thing is to escape our world and surround ourselves with safe and good people. The second extreme is to blindly embrace the world uncritically. Neither of these is what Christ has called us to do.

1. What examples have you seen of Christians trying to escape the world? What are some reasons for and against this?

2. What are some examples of Christians trying to embrace the world? What are some reasons for and against this?

3. Consider which of these extremes you find yourself drawn to in this season of life and why.

Bible: The Bible reveals how God plans to reveal His wisdom through the church.

The Bible shows how God created the world good (Gen 1) but humanity took the good things of God and used them outside of His purpose, wreaking havoc on everything (Gen 3). But God set about redeeming the world back to its original purpose by calling humanity to be part of His redemption story. He called Abram to leave His culture and create a counter-culture (Gen 12). He called Israel out of Egypt and made a covenant with them so they would be holy (Ex 19). He called people like Daniel to be an example in a foreign culture (Dan 1).

Jesus steps into the tension (escapist/embrace) and shows us humanity’s purpose. Jesus was in the world but not of the world (John 1:4, Luke 7:34, John 15:18). He also called His followers to do the same (Matt 5:14, John 17:9, Mark 16:15).

4. What does it mean to be in the world but not of the world?

Paul: Paul models a third way of relating to the world: Engagement. Paul shows in Acts 17 a way of relating to the culture without embracing or escaping: Engagement. Paul was in the world but not of the world. Read Acts 17:16-34.

5. What observations do you make from Paul’s sermon?

6. Why did Paul quote one of their poets?

Engage: The Holy Spirit helps us take the good of culture and leave the rest.

We are called to change our culture and not be changed by our culture. Jesus does not call us out of the world but he does call the world out of us. We can engage our culture by using the tools that God has given us to engage our culture with:

     a) Scripture: The scriptures are a light to helps us navigate the culture.

7. Read Ps 119:105: How can we better embed this in our lives?

8. What movies are out that are about the scriptures? Can we use them to point to Jesus?

    b) Reconciliation: The culture has the good waiting for us to call it out

9. Read 2 Cor 5:17-20: What does it mean to be ministers of reconciliation?

10. Many people say there are 7 Spheres of culture: Religion, Family, Government, Media, Arts/Entertainment, Education, Business. How can Christians better engage these areas?

    c) Spirit: We are to be led by the Spirit in engaging our culture

11. Read Gal 5:16-26: What does it mean to be in step with the Spirit? 

[Notes by Josiah Conner - @josiahconner]


Beyond the Walls by Brad Chilcott

Bad C

Who would’ve thought that one photo could cause so much trouble?

It wasn’t the first time I’d been criticized for my friendship and solidarity with the Muslim community, in fact I’d had some threats of violence when I spoke up about Halal certification but this one took it another level. Had I renounced the gospel? Sure, being friends with Muslims, but praying in a mosque? Did I even believe in Jesus anymore? The beard didn’t help any.

Had I taken the instructions “love your neighbour as yourself” and “love your enemy” too literally? Too far?

1 John 3. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.

We know what loves looks like by only one measure. Jesus Christ. We only know what loves looks like because we know Jesus and what it looked like for him.

And if I had a Bible for every time I’ve heard a Christian use their love for everyone as an excuse to be bigoted, hateful, insular, selfish, fear-mongering, greedy and self- interested I’d be the library at the Vatican.

You’ve heard it like I have. This flippant Christianese about loving people for whom we hold our deepest prejudices and ugliest hatreds.

Let me say this -

If it sounds like hate, feels like hate and makes people feel hated then it’s certainly not love.

There’s not some special form of love that only Christians get to know about that looks and feels a lot more like hate for those that it is directed towards, but in some super spiritual secret way is still love.

If it looks like prejudice, feels like prejudice and keeps us as far away from people as prejudice does, then it’s prejudice.

There’s not a special form of Christian love that looks like prejudice, feels like prejudice and distances and dehumanises people like prejudice but in actual fact is some secret kind of love that only Christians know of.

There’s no special kind of love where you get to be horrible to people, or pretend they don’t exist, a kind of love where you stay in your insular and ignorant world, judge people you’ve never met, protect yourself from difference and religiously maintain your privileged way of life and self-righteously sheltered paradigm.

There’s a reason that doesn’t sound a lot like love.

Because it isn’t love. It’s prejudice wrapped up in faith.

It’s ignorance wrapped up in religion.

It’s bigotry masquerading as Christianity.

It’s selfishness appropriating the name of the selfless one to excuse greed and insularity.

It’s our rampant desire for a comfortable, self-interested life using the one who gave up the trappings of heaven to set us free as an excuse not to give a damn about anyone except ourselves, our situation and our perspective.

That’s not love it’s blasphemy.

But seeing as that little rant doesn’t relate to anyone here in this room I want to move on and talk about some things that are a bit more insidious, a bit less overt and obvious but are nevertheless important to reflect upon if we are to apply this wild measure of love to our work in the community and world.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus laid down his life for us.” There’s a CS Lewis quote that I find helpful to explain it in practice

“Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.” ―C.S. Lewis

Another way of putting that could be “good intentions are not the same thing as love”.

Why? Because if we don’t do the hard work of turning good intentions into real outcomes for people then it’s likely that the “good” in “good intentions” is more about how good we feel about what we’re doing.

There’s a danger that we’re in fact congratulating ourselves for the intention to do good deeds, the videos we made to celebrate them and the likes on our Instagram account of ourselves with poor children rather than doing whatever it takes for the good of the people we say we love.

The phrase in CS Lewis’ quote “As far as it can be obtained” is key for us, I think. Love seeks the ultimate good of the loved person “as far as it can be obtained”.

Here are some very practical things that love does when love has the intention to work for the “ultimate good ... as far as it can be obtained”.

1. Love intentionally escapes the echo chamber. In love we realise that it is easy to be surrounded by people, ideas, books and stories that affirm what we believe, the way we think, our theology, missiology and ecclesiology and we end up in a situation where we think anyone who isn’t doing it like us, or with us, must be naive, uneducated or willfully incompetent.

The echo chamber is when we find a bunch of like-minded churches, with similar culture to our own, and so do what they’re doing – it must be the right thing because they had a sick video and their people love it.

Love is not an excuse to be uneducated, or narrowly educated. Love is a steady wish for the loved one’s good as far as it can be obtained. As far as it can be obtained means being aware of the danger of the echo chamber where all our ideas, practices and projects are constantly being affirmed by those who we have become mirrors of.

2. Love is teachable and actively seeks out learning and critique. Love makes sure we’re at the cutting edge of community engagement, aid and development and have made every endeavor to learn from the best practitioners in the world about how to maximize our engagement with the people we say we love.

Love is not an excuse to do things badly. Love is not an excuse to be ten years behind. What I mean by this is that love won’t just send money, people and hours to any foreign aid and development project, or local community development work, driven by an emotional response we call love.

Love will, in seeking the loved one’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained, actively seek to understand what it world’s best practice today and invest in that best practice.

If you don’t know what results-based accountability, asset-based community development or collective impact mean, it’s time to learn.

When we’re still behaving like the white Saviours who can solve all the world’s problems for them the photos look great but It’s not love.

3. Love maximizes outcomes no matter what the cost – because it’s about the recipient and what they get out of our love acting towards them and not about us and our desire to feel like we’re good people.

In a small church community like mine, hundreds of people hours and thousands of dollars are invested in helping the people we love. In larger churches it’d be thousands of hours and tens or hundreds of thousands.

Across this room, across Australia, it’s incredible to think how much human and financial resource flows from our love for others.

Love, seeking the loved one’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained, pays the price of ensuring this investment does the most good it possibly can. That sometimes leads to conflict when we learn that our favorite projects aren’t aligned with good development principles, or that our community engagement isn’t helping but is feeding a dependency mindset.

Love sometimes means educating people that there are better organisations, projects, activities to invest their time and money into, and others that need to be abandoned, or radically re-imagined.

Love is not an excuse to avoid the conflict that comes from assessment, accountability and education. In fact, love makes those things essential because love doesn’t ask, “How does this activity benefit me and my church?” or “How does this keep people in my church happy and comfortable?” love says, “How can I best obtain the ultimate good for these people we say we love?”

This is how we know what love is – Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. What would you give up for love of people?

Changing the way it’s always been done? Escaping the echo chamber and being challenged by new ideas and paradigms? Being willing to take your people on a journey towards world’s best practice despite the uncomfortable changes on the way?

Maybe it’s risking your reputation, like Jesus being seen with sex workers, tax collectors and sinners as we do whatever it takes to make our community engagement about them and not about us and our church-culture measures of success.

This is how we know what love is. Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. Thanks. 

Brad Chilcott

[Source: World Vision's National Church Leader's Summit - February 2015]


Travel

Travel-1z8o7ii

I admire the many Christian mission workers around the world. Many of them work in some of the poorest, least evangelised and most persecuted countries in the world. 

Personally, I believe everyone should have a passport. We encourage everyone in our church to go on a short-term team to another nation sometime in their life time. It opens your eyes, enriches your faith, and makes you grateful for all we have been blessed with. Ever heard of 'first world problems'??

Here are a few quotes about travel that I love:

  • “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” St. Augustine
  • “To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” Aldous Huxley
  • “Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” Maya Angelou
  • “Please be a traveler, not a tourist. Try new things, meet new people, and look beyond what’s right in front of you. Those are the keys to understanding this amazing world we live in.” Andrew Zimmern
  • "Go into all the world and preach the gospel." Jesus
  • "You will be my witnesses ... even to the ends of the earth." Jesus

Once you start to pack your bags, here are 13 travel tips.


Embracing our Sentness

SentHere is a recently published book I'd like to recommend - Sentness: Six Postures of Missional Christians by Kim Hammond and Darren Cronshaw.

From the back cover:

Ever wonder why people fall asleep in church? It happens. We’ve all seen it. We shuffle into rows of seats that grow more comfortable with every new fundraising campaign. We slouch down and settle in for an hour or so, as singers and storytellers and preachers and teachers take their turns filling our ears. And almost without fail, at least one of us nods off while listening to the greatest story ever told. The church was not meant to be like this. The church was meant to be on its feet, in the world, making all things new. The church was meant to be sent. Kim Hammond and Darren Cronshaw want to help us—all of us—rediscover our sentness. Dive into Sentness, and explore the six postures of a church that’s keeping pace with God’s work in the world. Rediscover the gospel that first quickened your pulse and got you up on your feet, ready to go wherever Jesus called you. Get Sentness, and prepare to get sent.

To quote one reviewer:

"The authors begin with the completely re-orienting the basis of all missional thinking: disciples of Jesus are sent vs. consuming. We cannot be receivers of God’s blessings for our own sake, but for the sake of the world. “(Spiritual) formation is not for any other purpose than for mission.” This spins spectators 180°… into missionaries. The shift could not be more radical, from “come and see” to “go and do.”

Dangerous but needed reading for the church in our time!


Indigenous Awareness Trip (October 2013)

IMG_1627In October 2013, my wife and I participated with a number of other church pastors in an Indigenous Awareness Trip, sponsored by the Concilia organisation. 

We began by flying from Melbourne to Alice Springs. It was my first visit to this iconic Australian town. It was not as big as I thought it would be - only 28,000 people. It was 41 degrees when we arrived - a very warm welcome. We began by visiting a number of the 20 Aboriginal camps around the town. Aboriginal people make up about 20% of the local population. We also visited some of the work of Mission Australia. Needless to say, it was quite confronting to see the challenges being faced by Indigenous people in this area. 

The next day, we took a 3 hour chartered flight north to a little town called Kalkarindji. Population - 450 people. Temperature - 43 degrees! We visited a Baptist church there led by Bill and Pauline. God has been at work in this small community. They had baptised 250 people a few months earlier.

After this, we spent some time in a number of other Aboriginal Christian churches and training centres in Brisbane, Logan City and Tweed Heads. 

The entire trip was an educational and moving experience. I realised how ignorant I was and how little I knew about my own country's history. Many stereotypes had been shattered. The needs are huge ... and they are right on our doorstep. It's hard work. These are very hot and isolated communities. The cultural differences are huge. There needs to be a lot of listening and learning.

The United Nations estimates that there are around 300 million indigenous people around the world today. They have a disturbingly similar experience of being swept aside by immigrant majorities, primarily through Western colonisation. Their close relationship to the land has been misunderstood, they have experienced the gradual dispossession of their land (through trickery, broken treaties, and violence), their culture has been decimated resulting in general despair and an ongoing struggle for identity in the midst of an overwhelming immigrant culture. As a result, Indigenous people are often the most socially disadvantaged (when it comes to unemployment, alcoholism, violence and abuse) and marginalised people in their own country. All of this is true in regards to Indigenous Australians.

Should this matter to us? Should we be concerned?

I believe it should!

When speaking to the religious leaders of his day (the Pharisees), Jesus commended them for their pedantic tithing (they even gave a tenth of their spices!) but challenged them not to neglect the more important matters of the law - justice, mercy, faith-fulness (Matthew 23:23). This was nothing new. Jesus was affirming the age-old prophetic tradition that called God's people to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with their God (Micah 6:8).

For Jesus, the 'good news of the kingdom' was not merely about individual salvation (going to heaven when you die) but about the coming of God's rule right here right now. It was and is about God setting things 'right'. His followers, the church, are to be the visible demonstration of God's Kingdom on earth. That means we are to be instruments of justice and mercy. Justice trumps spice!

Moving beyond good intentions requires us to practice justice. This begins with awareness - having our eyes and ears open to the cries of our world. Being 'salt and light' in our world requires a proactive stance. The opposite of good is not always evil; often it is indifference. Jesus saw the multitudes then acted on the compassion he felt. The next step is to allow what we see to influence the choices we make. Knowledge doesn't change the world; action does. It's a call to pray, give, get involved, and lobby. Social action (providing help for those who have fallen off the cliff)  and social justice (challenging structures and systems by building fences at the top of the cliff) are both important. 

Over the last few years at CityLife Church, we have lifted our focus on justice through addressing current issues such as human trafficking, poverty, and consumerism. This year, we are looking at issues facing indigenous Australians. 

Please check out Australians Together.

Let's embrace a deep respect for all people made in the image of God. 

Let's value building relationships over solutions by well-meaning white people

Let's increase our awareness and understanding.

Let's be compassionate.

[Picture: cooking up some kangaroo tail for dinner in Alice Springs]


Max Conlon - Aboriginal Artist

 

Birth-of-Jesus-by-Max-Conlon

Last weekend, as part of our Australians Together focus, we were privileged to host Max and Tracey Conlon at CityLife Church. They are indigenous Australian church leaders who founded Walkabout Ministry. They travel and minister to many of the isolated indigenous communities across our nation.

Max was raised amongst 14 siblings in the Cherbourg Aboriginal settlement in south east Queensland and is a descendant of the Kabi Kabi/Kullali tribes. Max is an established artist and has been painting for 35 years. He has travelled extensively with exhibitions of his work in Dubai, Japan, Korea and a number of European cities.  He has also exhibited extensively throughout the east coast of Australia, collaborating with his brother Robin (Goma) on murals and art projects with cultural community outcomes. His family traditions have inspired a unique body of work which utilises traditional and contemporary symbols to communicate stories of life experiences.

Max is also an award winning artist. Check out the firsthings gallery to see some of his work.

See also: Australians Together


Mission: The Work of God

Slide03Mission is the activity of God himself. It has its source not in the church but in the very nature of God. Mission is not just an activity or a department of the church. It is an attribute or a character quality of God. God is a missionary God.

[The word “mission” is not used in the Bible. It comes from the word “to send”, which in the Greek language is “missio”]

1. God the Father sent the Son into the world. Jesus was the first missionary.

John 3:16-17. … God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

2. The Son sent the Spirit.

 John 16:7. “… It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counsellor (Comforter – the Holy Spirit) will not come to you, but if I go away, I will send him to you.”

3. Together, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit send the church into the world to do the work of mission, spreading the message of good news.

Matthew 10:16. I am sending you out like sheep among wolves.

John 20:21. As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.

4. The Holy Spirit also selects and sends individuals to specific tasks within God’s mission. We are “saved” and “called” (2 Timothy 1:9).

Matthew 9:37-38. Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

When we get involved in mission, we participate in the sending of God. Our mission has no life of it’s own. We simply partner in mission activity, an initiative that comes from God alone.

“It is not the church that has a mission of salvation to fulfil in the world; it is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the church.” [Moltmann]

Mission is to be seen as a movement of God to the world; the church is to be viewed as an instrument for that mission. To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God’s love toward people, since God is a fountain of sending love. Mission has its origin in the heart of God. This is the deepest source of mission. There is mission because God loves people.

Specific examples of God’s mission activity (the book of Acts is really the missionary “acts of the Holy Spirit”, often through people):

1. Philip and the Ethiopian (Acts 8:26-40). God sends Philip to a place where he becomes instrumental in bringing understanding to an influential man who is already spiritual hungry.

2. Saul’s conversion (Acts 9:1-19). Jesus himself appears to Paul to save him and to call him to the work of mission (specific target: Gentiles).

3. Cornelius (Acts 10:1-48). Here is an good man who has not heard of Jesus Christ. God appears to him in a dream and tells him to send for Peter. The very next day, God gives Peter a vision preparing him to preach the gospel to Cornelius and his household.

4. Lydia (Acts 16:11-15). This businesswoman believed in God and followed the teachings of Scripture. God now causes Paul to cross her path (praying on the Sabbath outside the city at a place of prayer) and she believes the gospel message. As a result many people come to Christ and a significant church is born.

We are here because of mission (what’s your story?) and we exist for mission. There is church because there is mission, not visa versa.

Missio Dei – we get to partner with God’s mission in the world.

God is already at work with mission. We can choose to be involved or not. When we do choose to be involved, we are not starting something new. We are simply joining in with what God is already doing.

Worship is ultimate, not mission. Mission has a short life span – it won’t exist in heaven. Worship alone last forever. However, now the focus and priority is mission because time is short.

Let’s make heaven’s priority our first priority.


William Carey, the Father of Modern Missions

William-carey-1-sizedWilliam Carey was one of the main instruments in God’s hand for the restoration of mission into the mainstream of Protestant Christianity through his writing, emphasis on prayer for world evangelisation and promotion of practical structures for mission. He was not the first to preach on missions, but he was the one used by God to lift the lid of the church preventing it overflowing to the world. He was preceded by great preachers and theologians such as Jonathan Edwards, and also a few significant missionaries like David Brainerd.

The month of May 1792 was a pivotal time for church and world history. An impoverished pastor, named William Carey, in rural England was about to impact history. Carey preached a passionate and well-reasoned sermon to fellow ministers meeting in Nottingham, England. His vision was for the evangelisation of the whole world.

Isaiah 53 shows us the Suffering Servant giving his life for our salvation. Most people stop at the end of chapter 53 and fail to read on. Remember that the chapters and verses were put in as a helpful addition but were not part of the original inspiration. We should be grateful for them, but at times they obscure the continuity God intended.

Isaiah 54 moves from the salvation of the Suffering Saviour to the mission of seeing an abundant and joyful harvest. The barren woman (symbolic of the church – God’s people) rejoices at the overwhelming fruitfulness God gives to her. The church is to enlarge its borders and spread out to influence the nations and cities of the world.

The message had a profound effect on those who heard it, but they had neither the faith nor the courage to do anything about it. The meeting broke up with no decision. The immensity of the task seemed overwhelming.

Carey turned to his friend, Andrew Fuller, who was also a pastor, gripped his arm and cried out, “Is there nothing again going to be done?” This sudden outburst broke through and Fuller persuaded the meeting to reconsider their lack of response. That turned the day around. A resolution was passed that “a plan be prepared at the next Minister’s meeting for forming a Baptist Society for propagating the gospel among the heathen.”

Four months later that meeting took place and 12 men committed themselves as the first members of the new missionary society. They contributed the, then, large sum of just 13 pounds – collected in a small snuffbox. So was born the modern missionary movement, which despite its many weaknesses, was to lead to an astonishing and unprecedented expansion and growth of the church over the following 200 years. Over this period the largely isolated, introspective Protestant church in northwest Europe was transformed into a global multi-cultural family of churches in which those of European origin were to be a distinct minority.

Why was William Cary so influential and so effective?

1. His years of pastoral ministry and church planting in rural England.

2. His perception of mission as the heart of God and the message of Scripture.

He passionately believed that the Great Commission was just as valid for modern Christians as for the apostles to whom Christ addressed it. The prevailing attitude for the previous centuries had been that the Great Commission was exclusively for the apostles to whom the words were originally addresses.

There was plenty of room for discouragement. In one minister’s meeting when he raised the issue, his old pastor, John Ryland, retorted: “Young man, sit down, When God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do it without your aid (help) or mine.”

3. His study and understanding of the modern world.

He lived in a time when Europe was discovering the existence of the wider world. Explorers were returning with detailed maps of new worlds and descriptions of peoples and cultures. The published accounts of Captain Cook’s discoveries were a significant contribution to Carey’s thinking.

The trading companies were sending their representatives to every corner of the world for financial gain. The industrial revolution was gathering momentum. Amazingly, this poor rural pastor acquired the reports, books and information to carefully craft a coloured wall map and a personally hand-sewn leather globe reflecting the latest discoveries of his time.

He did the first real statistical global survey ever undertaken and published it in 1792, in his 87 page book Enquiry. It was a masterpiece of factual accuracy, balanced assessments and global comprehensiveness. Patrick Johnstone’s influential book, Operation World, was birthed from Carey’s example.

4. His ability to communicate the vision by word and print.

His book the enquire became the most convincing missionary appeal ever written, and a landmark in which deserves a place alongside Martin Luther’s Ninety-five Theses in its subsequent influence on church history.

5. His proposal of a mechanism for mission work to be initiated and sustained.

He saw the need for practical structures to assist the accomplishment of the task. He created a strategy and a structure for mission work. He actually modelled his mission agency on the big international trading companies that were carving out powerful trading empires across the oceans. He motivated the church to action and provided a simple, but effective framework to channel church planting ministry.

6. His example in going as a missionary himself (to India).

Despite many obstacles with finance, opposition, disease, setbacks, he plodded on with unswerving dedication to become one of the greatest missionary Bible translators and church planters of all time.

7. His faith in God.

He allowed no discouragement from those around him to deflect him and no obstacle to hinder him. He lived the words he preached in his famous sermon, “Expect great things (from God) and attempt great things (for God)”. He was a visionary, researcher, theologian, linguist, writer, preacher and an effective communicator all rolled into one. He claimed to be no genius, just a plodder – but what a plodder! What appeared to Carey’s contemporaries as an impossible dream is becoming an attainable reality. 

Next: Mission - the Work of God

[Gleaned from The Church is Bigger Than You Think by Patrick Johnstone]


Whatever Happened to Mission?

Slide03What Happened to Missions?

D espite the clarity of Jesus' commission to his followers, we have seen a “marginalisation of mission” over the last 2,000 years.

1. Mission has been belittled in the church.

Many Christians have inherited mindset in church that has almost excluded mission altogether or has pushed it to the sideline of what church is all about. For years, mission has had little importance to the average Christian. Our own needs are so great that we easily neglect the mission mandate, leaving it to the few “mission-heads” who feel the call. Mission’s reputation? Boring slide shows from the jungles of Africa. Unfortunately, for too long mission has not been seen as a priority for the church or for every Christian.

2. Mission has been overlooked in the Scripture(s).

Our understanding of Scripture is often viewed through spectacles that filter out mission. We focus so easily on the blessing God as for us (salvation) and miss our mandate to be a blessing to others (mission). Most people, when asked why does the church exist, answer, “To meet my needs”.

God’s promise to Abraham – “… in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed (Gen.12:3).” In the previous chapter, we have the account of the Tower of Babel and the confusion of languages. Ethnicity and cultural diversity became the dominant characteristic of the human race. The very next incident is the calling of Abraham and the very purpose of his called was a promised blessing of every variety of those human cultures. This covenant promise is repeated to Isaac and Jacob and finds fulfilment in the book of Revelation where we see God’s redeemed people – from every race, tribe, people and language gathered around the throne of the Lamb (Revelation 5:9; 7:9-10).

Galatians 3:8. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: "All nations will be blessed through you."

Paul interprets this by saying that God was preaching the gospel to Abraham so that through him it would reach all the peoples in the world. This thread of revelation about the gospel and God’s covenant with Abraham runs through the entire Bible (a huge narrative of mission).

We have tended to focus on salvation to the exclusion of mission. We have been saved because of mission and now we have the awesome responsibility to win others as part of our mission. The doctrine of salvation (soteriology) must not be separated for the doctrine of missions (missiology). Salvation and mission are not to be divorced from each other. What Jesus has done for us must move forward to an embracing of what Jesus wants to do through us.

3. Missions has been sidelined in church history.

Notice the slowness of the disciples to catch the vision for world evangelisation. God’s love for the Gentiles is constantly stated in the Bible, yet the people of Israel failed to see their role as a blessing to the world. This is why Jesus appeared so radical – he reached out to the despised Samaritans, Greeks, traitorous tax-collectors and the hated Romans. Even just before Jesus’ ascension, the disciples wanted to know about when God would restore the kingdom to Israel.

After Pentecost, the disciples were so caught up in the amazing revival and enormous church growth that they failed to move to the wider implementation of the Great Commission. It took a number of years and much persecution to finally get the church to actually move outside of Jerusalem with the intent to bringing others to Christ. In fact, it was through the martyrdom of Stephen and the preaching of Phillip, both deacons, that they finally spread outside Jerusalem. Even then, the apostles stayed in Jerusalem and the ordinary believers went out.

It took the church at Antioch, rather than the Jerusalem church, to finally become a launching pad for world evangelisation. Then the apostles began to go to distant lands and peoples with the gospel. The NT church eventually obeyed the Lord Jesus.

Unfortunately, after the end of the first century, mission almost disappeared from the church for 1700 years. There was little interest in world evangelisation during this long period of time. Mission has been sidelined from the central place it has in God’s heart. The focus was on doctrine, church structures and personal spirituality.

The mainline Reformers and those that followed them assumed that the key Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) had been obeyed and achieved by the apostolic church and that all that remained was to evangelise locally. WHY? This was because of wrong priorities, coldness of heart, blindness, a distorted worldview. There has been missionary effort throughout the history of the church but usually through a FEW, and not through the mainstream of the church. Historians, when writing about church history, had little focus on the importance of missionary advance.

Something significant happened a little over 200 years ago that dramatically affected the history of the church. There has been an incredible escalation in world evangelisation, both local and global. Research has led to mobilisation, goal-setting and staggering growth in numbers of Christians and churches around the world. The good news of Jesus has spread through radio and television ministry, Bible translation, prayer ministries and church planting. After many years of barrenness and retreat, the church started to obey Jesus' commission – at least, in parts.

What happened?

Read part 3 to find out.

[Thoughts gleaned from The Church is Bigger Than You Think by Patrick Johnstone]


The Biblical Basis of World Impact

Slide03The dominant theme of Jesus' last 40 days on earth was world evangelisation and included a Great Commission:

Matthew 24:14. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. NIV

Acts 1:8. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. NIV

This is an incredible global mission given to 11 people!

  • Minister locally in Jerusalem, their city (streets and neighbourhoods where they lived - local community).
  • Minister nationally, in Judea (wider state areas and national borders).
  • Minister to ethnic minorities in their land, like the despised Samaritans (difficult sections of the community, they would normally avoid).
  • Minister to other lands and continents, even to the ends of the earth.

Jesus didn’t emphasis one task over the other. He commissioned his followers to do all of them simultaneously. This was not a range of alternatives, but rather an overall concern. It was a wide-ranging comprehensive task – including all kinds of ministries (church planting, evangelism, community outreach, teaching, training and missions) in all parts of the world.

Whatever happened to mission?

Read part 2 to find out.


Church Greeting Teams - The Search for a Friendly Church

Greeting-at-ChurchWhen in the USA recently, one of our church staff members visited two large, well-known churches. The facilities and church services were first class, but at both churches ... no one spoke to him. Sadly, this is all to commonplace today. Have we become high-tech and low-touch? 

Here is a great article by Will Mancini called Smiling is Not Enough: Top 10 Mistakes of Church Greeting Teams.

The team at Auxano enjoys playing the role of “secret worshipper” when we take a church through our visioning process called the Vision Pathway. We call it a guest perspective evaluation. As I prepare to debrief a church again tomorrow, I want to share some general insights on welcoming ministry and hospitality for guests. Here are the top ten mistakes I see when volunteers are helping me as a first time guest:

#1   Volunteers have not thought in advance about my next step as a guest so they don’t know how to guide the conversation with me.

#2   Volunteers  are talking with friends and don’t notice me.

#3   Volunteers are doing task work and are not available or responsive the moment I show up.

#4   Volunteers generally hesitate when I initiate with a question.

#5   Volunteers don’t know where the most pertinent information is located.

#6   Volunteers  tell me what to do with no information or tools or other people to help me.

#7   Volunteers generally look preoccupied, distracted or unsure of themselves in their non-verbals even when being friendly.

#8   Volunteers are unaware of the basic “how to” questions for checking-in children of every age.

#9   Volunteers don’t introduce me to others at the church.

#10 Volunteers gave me written information that is not important, pertinent or strategic (sending me on a b-line to the trash can).

If you want more resources on welcoming ministry and church guest services, check out VisionRoom.com and follow Bob Adams who works as Auxano’s Vision Room curator and guest services maven. Here is a list of resources on his blog.


Saint Patrick

Saint+Patrick+ShamrockIn about a week's time (17th March), Irish people all around the world will celebrate St. Patrick's day, which has become both a religious and cultural holiday in Ireland. St. Patrick is also highly esteemed highly by the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican and Lutheran Churches. 

Only two letters survive about Patrick's life and mission, although there is a host of other material containing various traditions about him. He was captured by a group of pirates as a 16 year old and taken to Ireland as a slave. He lived there for 6 years before escaping and returning home to Great Britain. During his captivity he had a conversion experience and became a follower of Christ. Eventually, he returned to Ireland as a missionary - by his own choice.

St. Patrick took the Gospel from Britain to the pagan tribes of Ireland (approx 457-492 AD). This was the time of the druids. It is believed that he was instrumental in seeing over 200 churches planted, over 100,000 people becoming followers of Christ, and 1000s of people being baptised.

St. Patrick was a missionary who connected the Gospel to local culture for the purpose of mission. Many refer to this as the “Celtic Way of Evangelism". It was steeped in prayer, humble living, connection with the local community of people, and finding God at work, even in the pagan culture. Patrick baptised many of the pagan symbols with spiritual and Christian meaning, including the shamrock (a lucky charm which he used to speak of the Trinity) and the highly symbolic Celtic cross which he created.

We have much to learn from St. Patrick as we seek to engage in God's mission in our world today.   


International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church

IDOP-2013During the month of November, many churches around the world set aside time to prayer for the persecuted church. Believers in countries such as Egypt, Eritrea, India, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan and Vietnam face violence, imprisonment and even death because of their faith in Jesus Christ. There are other places in the world such as North Korea where acts of persecution take place, but we don’t see or hear of it. Brother Andrew of Open Doors once said: 'Our heroes are not with us simply because they are in prison.'

IDOP is a time set apart for us to remember thousands of our Christian brothers and sisters around the world who suffer persecution, simply because they confess Jesus Christ as Lord.

Gospel for Asia (GFA) reports that more than 14,000 people around the world are martyred for their faith each year, though that number only includes reported cases. Christians who aren't killed are sometimes beaten, deprived of food or imprisoned. Believing children are sometimes rejected by their families or turned away from their schools. In other cases, the homes of believers are burned down by their persecutors.

"Jesus promised his church that there would be persecution and tribulations," GFA Founder and President K.P. Yohannan said in a statement. "Tens of thousands of believers, missionaries and pastors are experiencing the reality of persecution on a daily basis. Yet they recognize the honor it is to suffer for his sake. May the Lord lead us with his burden to intercede for these brothers and sisters."

More than half a million churches in 150 nations participate in the IDOP each year, according to the event's website. Some organizations are encouraging believers to observe the day of prayer on Nov. 3 and others on Nov. 10, but Dykstra says Christians need to also make an effort to pray for persecuted believers year-round. American believers can also offer their support, he says, by speaking up about persecution to their representatives in Washington, by getting involved with campaigns by Open Doors and other like-minded organizations and by becoming more mindful of the global church.

"Become a global Christian…Be informed about the status of Christians wherever they are. When you read, watch or listen to the world news, think about how believers are being attacked," said Dykstra.

Each year Open Doors publishes the World Watch List, which ranks the 50 nations where Christians are most persecuted for their faith. North Korea has held the top spot on the list for the last 11 years, as Christians there are often arrested, tortured, forced into labor camps or executed under the Communist regime. Other nations in the World Watch List's top 10 are Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Maldives, Mali, Iran, Yemen and Eritrea.

Why not explore the variety of resources on the IDOP website or Open Doors One in Prayer and join Christians worldwide in praying for persecuted Christians this November.


30 Ways to be Missional in your Workplace

OfficeMany times it’s difficult to find practical ways to be a blessing in your workplace. Rapid pace, mounting deadlines, or co-worker conflict can often derail even the best of intentions to say and show the love of Jesus at work. Yet, it is important for us to know what it looks like to bring gospel intentionality to our jobs. 

Recently, Josh Reeves posted some very practical ideas for blessing others in the workplace. Hopefully this will help spark a few ideas for connecting with and blessing your coworkers. 

1. Instead of eating lunch alone, intentionally eat with other co-workers and learn their story.

2. Get to work early so you can spend some time praying for your co-workers and the day ahead.

3. Make it a daily priority to speak or write encouragement when someone does good work.

4. Bring extra snacks when you make your lunch to give away to others.

5. Bring breakfast once a month for everyone in your department.

6. Organize a running/walking group in the before or after work.

7. Have your missional community/small group bring lunch to your workplace once a month.

8. Create a regular time to invite co-workers over or out for drinks.

9. Make a list of your co-workers birthdays and find a way to bless everyone on their birthday.

10. Organize and throw office parties as appropriate to your job.

11. Make every effort to avoid gossip in the office. Be a voice of thanksgiving not complaining.

12. Find others that live near you and create a car pool.

13. Offer to throw a party for a co-worker who is having a baby.

14. Offer to cover for a co-worker who needs time off for something.

15. Start a regular lunch out with co-workers (don’t be selective on the invites).

16. Organize a weekly/monthly BBQ to make lunch a bit more exciting.

17. Ask someone who others typically ignore if you can grab them a coffee/drink while you’re out.

18. Be the first person to greet and welcome new people.

19. Make every effort to know the names of co-workers and clients along with their families.

20. Visit co-workers when they are in the hospital.

21. Bring appropriate drinks to work to keep in your break room for co-workers to enjoy. Know what your co-workers like.

22. Go out of your way to talk to your cleaning people who most people overlook.

23. Find out your co-workers favorite music and make a playlist that includes as much as you can (if suitable for work).

24. Invite your co-workers in to the service projects you are already involved in.

25. Start/join a city sports team with your co-workers.

26. Organize a weekly co-working group for local entrepreneurs at a local coffee shop.

27. Start a small business that will bless your community and create space for mission.

28. Work hard to reconcile co-workers who are fighting with one another.

29. Keep small snacks around to offer to others during a long day.

30. Lead the charge in organizing others to help co-workers in need.

Why not pick one of these ideas and act on it this week! 

[Source]


Australian Communities Report

AussieOlive Tree Media recently launched the results from their Australian Communities Report conducted by McCrindle Research to discover what Australians really think of Christian faith, Christians and the Church. Held in Sydney on 4th November, the research was launched by Archbishop Peter Jensen. Mark McCrindle, Principal of McCrindle Research presented the findings to 50 church leaders and business people. Click here to watch excerpts of the presentation and here to download a summary of the research results or purchase a copy of the full report. 

The Research was commissioned in preparation for a new Apologetics Series being produced by Olive Tree Media in 2012 which will tackle the issues arising from the research. 

Some interesting insights from the research include:

  • Overall, 1 in 2 Australians do not identity with a religion. 40% consider themselves Christian. 31% do not identify with a religion or spiritual belief, while another 19% consider themselves spiritual but not religious.
  • Parents and family have a strong influence on people's perceptions of Christians and Christianity.
  • There is significant "warmth" towards Christianity by a large proportion of Australians.
  • The church's views on homosexuality, hell and science were seen as potential faith blockers.
  • There was a surprisingly high awareness of some of the core teachings of Jesus, although 6% of Australians believe that "Such is life" was a statement made by Jesus (actually it was Ned Kelly!). More surprisingly, 28% of those surveyed had no idea when Jesus lived and 27% believed he lived in ancient times (BC).  

We live in a land of great opportunity. Although only 10% of Australians attend church on a weekend, many are open to a real and living faith, especially when modeled by their peers and friends. Let's continue to pray and believe that the Australian church will reach many more Aussies with the good news of Jesus Christ in these next few decades. 

 

 

 


Justice Trumps Spices (Pt.3)

SpicesPracticing Justice

Let's take this first important matter that Jesus mentions: justice. How can we move from believing in justice to actually living it out in practice? It requires as to ACT and that involves three things:

Awareness - Ignorance is not bliss. Sticking our head in the sand until the storm blows over is bot meant to be an option for us as Christ followers. Jesus has called us to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ (Matt.5:12-13) which both involve a proactive positive influence on our world. We now live in a global village and we need to have our eyes andears open to the needs and the cries of those who are hurting (see Prov.31:8-9). Abraham Heschel once said, "The opposite of good is not evil, it is indifference. Indeed, our very humanity depends upon our compassion."

We can do this though simply watching the news, listening to people’s stories, and become involved with ministries that advance the cause of justice such as World Vision, Compassion and our own Everyday Justice ministry. Churches commemorating Abolitionist Sunday is an example of creating awareness.

Jesus saw the multitudes as sheep who were lost and harassed because they had no shepherd … and he then acted, calling his disciples to prayer and sending them out to be the answer to their own prayer. Open your eyes and see the needs in our world. Hear the cries of the poor and oppressed. Feel what God feels.

Continue reading "Justice Trumps Spices (Pt.3)" »


Justice Trumps Spices (Pt.2)

SpicesWeightier Matters

In the Pentateuch, there was as many as 613 different laws or commandments that God’s people were meant to keep - 248 affirmative commands and 365 negative commands. Debates and discussions often occurred as to which were the more important ones. One teacher of the law even asked Jesus this question: “What is the most important commandment?” Jesus selected two: “Love the Lord your God …” and “love your neighbour as yourself.” While not neglecting the others, Jesus made it clear that these are the two most important commands and that if a person does these two things, they essentially encapsulate the rest of God’s requirements for his people.

Unfortunately, the Pharisees had focused on the minute details of tithing but had neglected other commands that were more important in the eyes of God. Jesus mentions three specific priorities: justice, mercy and faithfulness.

In some ways, Jesus was novel in his teaching, bringing new revelation about God and his kingdom. In other ways, Jesus continued in the tradition of the prophets of old. In this teaching, he is simply reinforcing the message that the prophets has preached time and again to God’s people. Here is one example from the prophet Micah … “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah.6:8).”

Continue reading "Justice Trumps Spices (Pt.2)" »


Justice Trumps Spices (Pt.1)

SpicesIn Matthew 23, we have a record of Jesus’ strong condemnation of the religious leaders of his day, who had not led the people faithfully and who had become hypocritical and legalistic. Here is one of the seven “woe’s” he gave them: “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law — justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things (NLT).”

To Tithe or Not to Tithe

The entire Israelite nation ran on a system of tithing, or of giving 10% of one’s income for the support of the Levites who worked at the temple and the needs of the poor (Deut.14:22. Lev.27:30). Being primarily an agrarian society, this mainly included the giving of produce from the farms.  Mint, dill and cumin were herbs (spices) from the kitchen garden and they were only grown in very small quantities and to tithe them would be such a small amount that most people would not have even worried about it. But the Pharisees were pedantic tithers!

Jesus actually commends them for their attention to such detail. Giving is important and we should honour God with our resources.

There has been a lot of debate about tithing over the years ...

Some churches and preachers believe that all of the Old Testament laws of tithing still apply to Christians today. They believe that if Christians don’t tithe they are under a curse and will not receive the blessing of God in their lives (see Mal.3:8-12). I have even heard of one preacher who apparently said that there were people who were sick in his church – because they hadn’t been tithing faithfully! Other churches and preachers believe that the teaching about tithing is no longer relevant for Christians today and that we are no longer under these laws. There are plenty of books and articles out there against tithing.  

So what is the best approach to the matter of tithing? Under the New Covenant, everything (100%!) that we have is to be seen as belonging to God and available for his use at any time. The teaching in the New Testament about giving focuses on “generosity.” No specific percentage is mandated. Zaccheus gave half (50%) of his goods to the poor upon his conversion and Barnabas gave all (100%) of the proceeds of a block of land he sold for the work of the church in Jerusalem. Under grace, we give, not because we have to (out of a sense of duty) OR because we are afraid of being judged if we don’t, but because we want to – voluntarily, willingly, generously and joyfully (see Paul’s teaching in 2 Cor.8-9).

In our church community, we teach that giving 10% of our income to God’s work in the world, is an excellent principle (not a law). It is a regular reminder that all we have comes from God. It teaches us to live by faith, as we have to trust our 90% to go further with God's help than we could make our 100% go without God's assistance. It also helps us keep control of our finances. One of the major causes of financial difficulties today is people spending more then they are earning (whatever level of income they have). Regular giving and saving help to curb the spirit of greed in our culture, because they require us to live within our means, which is the key to financial freedom. Finally, it helps to resource the work of the local church. We are very thankful to our church members who commit to support the work of God through the church by giving 10% of their income. Without them, we could not be able to engage in the level of ministry we are involved in today, both locally and around the world. So for us, tithing is a practice that we as leaders model and one which we encourage all followers of Christ to adopt as part of their financial stewardship before God.

Notice that Jesus commends the Pharisees for handling their giving well. They went the extra mile when it came to their tithing and Jesus affirmed them for this (one of the few times he ever does so). However, there are other more important things …

Click here for part 2.


Known by our Love

Love Jesus’ dream was that his followers would be known by their love (Jn.13:34-35). Think of all the various qualities Jesus could have told us to be known for – truth, justice, holiness, or righteousness. All of these are very important, yet Jesus’ desire was that LOVE be the mark, measure and goal for his new community – the church.

The apostle Paul picked up on this priority of love from Jesus. In a letter to church at Corinth he addressed various groups within the church that had developed a variety of priorities and pursuits (1 Cor.13:1-3). To those pursuing more spiritual experience, he said, “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” To those pursuing more knowledge, he said, “If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge … but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.” To those pursuing more power he said, “If I had such faith that I could move mountains but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.” To those pursuing acts of heroism he said, “If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.” As interesting and as noble as these pursuits may be, Paul was concerned that secondary things had become of primary importance. His shock statements were intended to knock them out of their complacency in order to bring everything back into proper perspective. The core of the Christian life is LOVE. This is what matters most. We all need to be reminded of this every once in a while.

I Want to Know What Love Is

Love is such a misunderstood word and concept today. It can mean anything from friendship to romance to sex. Jesus came to demonstrate a love of another kind – a love that caused him to be willing to lay his life down for us (Jn.15:12-13). It was a self-giving, sacrificial love ... all for the benefit of others. It was a love unparalleled in the world.

In the letter to the Corinthian church mentioned above, Paul paints of portrait of the kind of love God wants us to be known for (1 Cor.13:4-7). This love is patient and kind. It is not jealous or envious of others. It is not boastful or proud. It is not rude or always demanding its own way. It is not easily irritated and it keeps no record of wrongs. It does not rejoice in injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. It never gives up and never loses faith. It is always hopeful and endures through every circumstance.

God offers us this kind of love so that we experience it deeply … then pass it on to other people around about us. We are to pay forward what God has given so freely to us. Love is to be the hallmark of those in whose lives the presence of God is being reflected. For us to be known by our love, our love needs to not only be genuine, it needs to be VISIBLE. People are to SEE the love that we have for each other.

Spheres of Influence

The first sphere where we need to be known by our love is within our local church family. God sets the solitary in families and each follower of Christ needs to part of a community of other people who are also following Christ. The Christian faith is not a solo sport. It is something we do together with others. Our love is demonstrated through our relationships with our natural family (Eph.5:21-6:4), our Christian friends, and our brothers and sisters in Christ (1Pet.3:8). Genuine love involves looking and listening to what is happening in other people’s lives then seeking to respond through encouragement, service, practical support or prayer (1 John 3:11-19; 4:7-21). It is also a love that forgives and that seeks to resolve conflict if it occurs (Eph.4:1-3, 31-32).

The second sphere where we are to be known by our love is within the wider body of Christ. This refers to the Church of Jesus Christ made up of every true believer and local congregation that confesses Jesus as Lord and God (Eph.4:1-6. 1John 4:1-3). Today there are over 38,000 different Christian denominations, each claiming to have the truth. Let us never forget that truth is found in a person (Jesus) and that each of us has only a perspective of the truth. We need to unite around what we share in common (our faith in Jesus Christ) and be willing to accept our differences in secondary matters. Jesus desires that we be united in our love for each other (Jn.17:21).

The third sphere where we are to be known by our love is before the watching world. This was of primary concern to Jesus. He believed that our love for each other would prove to the world that we are truly his followers (Jn.13:34-35). Nothing so astonishes a fractured world as a community in which radical, faithful, genuine love is shared among its members. Sadly, the church is not always known for its love. Sometimes we are more known for what we are against than for what we are for. Yes, zeal for truth is important but God wants more from us than just seeking to have correct doctrine.  Our genuine love for one another, as well as our love for our community, demonstrated by acts of service and compassion, is to be our priority.

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. What do you think Jesus had in mind when he told his followers that they were to be known by their love? What did he see? What did he dream of?
  2. Discuss the shock that Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 would have had on his readers.  What things can subtly become more important than love today?
  3. What does genuine love look like in action? Make a list (then compare it to 1 Cor.13:4-7).
  4. What are some ways we can work towards greater unity in the wider body of Christ?
  5. How would you describe the reputation of the church in our society?
  6. Is the church known as the most loving place in town? If not, what needs to change?
  7. What are some practical ways that our small group could impact our local community with God’s love? 

What is the "Gospel?"

Gospel Have you ever done any street witnessing before? It’s definitely not an activity for the faint of heart! I was involved with some street teams many years ago and we had some good conversations with people. I really admire people who still engage in street evangelism or door-to-door witnessing today and I have heard some amazing stories of people coming to Christ this way. However, it is important that we not see this as the only means of evangelism. Otherwise, we can wrongly think that evangelism is only for the courageous people who are bold enough to start up conversations with strangers in public. Evangelism is intended to be a normal part of the everyday life of all followers of Christ, not a ‘mode’ that a few people go into on a Friday evening or whenever. It is also not necessary to download the entire gospel story in every conversation we have with people. More often than not, we’ll be answering questions (Col.4:5-6. 1 Pet.3:15) and sharing brief ‘sound bites’ more than giving a detailed doctrinal presentation. Sharing our faith involves more than talking too. Prayer, acts of service, and loving actions are also an important part of sharing God’s love with people. Finally, we need to realise that the gospel is much broader than just personal salvation, as important as that is.

A Biblical Understanding of the Gospel

The word “gospel” means “good news.” It was a media term in the ancient world, similar to our idea of a newsflash. It involved the announcement of important events or achievements. Gospel language was already known to God’s people (Israel) centuries before the Roman Empire. The biblical gospel begins in the Old Testament, not in Matthew. For example, during the time of Israel’s exile, they had lost their land, their city, their temple and their hope. They were in desperate need of “good news” and that is what the prophet Isaiah came preaching (see Isaiah 40:9; 41:27; 52:7-10; 61:1).  The good news was that God reigns as King and his kingdom is coming, which meant peace, good things for all creation, and salvation for everyone. God returned to redeem his people and all the nations (Ps.96:1-3).

Far beyond the horizon of the Israelite exiles was the horizon of the greater arrival of God among his people in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The first gospel written opens with, “The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah” (Mark 1:1) and goes on to quote from the prophet Isaiah. Very early in his ministry, Jesus declared himself as the preacher of this good news (Luke 4:16-21). For the Gospel writers, the good news was the long-awaited reign of the true sovereign that Jesus came proclaiming. The call was to repent and believe this good news.

Lee Camp, in his excellent book on discipleship, says, “The good news is not first and foremost a message that gives one hope for the afterlife, a message that one may have inner peace and tranquillity or that one may experience an authentic life. It is first and foremost a proclamation that the long-anticipated rule and reign of God has now come in the midst of human history.”

The apostle Paul offered the Corinthian church a brief summary of the gospel (1Cor.15:1-8). The gospel is not the announcement of a mere idea (God reigns) but how that reign has been revealed to the world through actual deeds of Jesus Christ (his birth, miracles, teaching, death, resurrection and eventual return). The preached gospel is identical with the written Gospels. It is about the life and work of Jesus Christ and it’s significance to a fallen, broken world. It is about both historical events and theological ideas intricately interwoven together. The “gospel” is about Jesus – his entire story from start to finish. The good news of the gospel is that God’s kingdom has arrived with Christ and we are invited to participate in what God is doing.

Recovering the Wholeness of the Gospel

The gospel truly is good news that speaks to and can transform every area of human life that has been touched by sin. It is individual and cosmic (affecting all creation). It is for believing and for living. It is to be proclaimed (words) and demonstrated (actions). Jesus not only preached; he went around “doing good” (Acts 10:38). Evangelism and social action need to work together closely.

New Testament scholar G.E. Ladd once said, “The Gospel must not only offer a personal salvation in the future life to those who believe; it must also transform all of the relationships of life here and now and thus cause the Kingdom of God to prevail in the world.”

N.T. Wright says, “Our task as Christians, in the midst of individual, social, corporate and cultural angst, is to demonstrate the love of God, a self-giving love that trumps suspicion through giving itself away. Our vocation is to tell the story (of the cross and resurrection of Jesus which displays the self-giving love of the God who made the world), to live it out in practice, and to answer the questions in such as way that we become the answer to our own prayers.”

Such good news is not to be hidden but to be announced everywhere – to the whole world. It is a story that needs to be told.

Reflection Questions

  1. When is the first time you heard the word “gospel” and what did you think it meant at the time?
  2. Describe your understanding of the gospel in a few words or a single sentence.
  3. Share some of your experiences in “personal evangelism.” What have you learnt?
  4. What is the danger of focusing only on the gospel as being a ticket to heaven when we die?
  5. How is the gospel “good news” to the average Australian?
  6. Can you see God at work in people around you who do not yet know him? Do you see any evident longings for justice, spirituality, relationships or beauty?
  7. What activities can we engage in in order to BE good news to our world?

Incarnational Mission

Mission The God we serve is a sending God. God sent Jesus and then He sends us (John 20:21). We are a sent people. Mission is who we are not just what we do. It is part of our core identity ... even if we aren't sent very far.

The incarnation of Jesus Christ (God taking on human form) informs us as to how we are sent on mission. AS the father sent the Son into the world SO Jesus sends us. Mission is about going out while incarnation is about going deep

Jesus is the best missionary that ever was ... so let's learn from him. Here are six principles of incarnational mission from the life of Jesus: 

1. Presence.

God was fully present in Jesus. Jesus was full God and fully man. He became one of us. This is identification. Jesus understands us incredibly well. He lived in an ordinary neighborhood for 30 years. He really understood them. No wonder he could connect with them so well.

We need to do the same. Learn about their language, culture, stories, interests, music, and heroes. Don't be too quick to speak. Don't presume to know them. Sit and listen ... a lot. Look and learn. Build relationships and trust. Overseas missionaries get this but we often miss it.

2. Proximity.

Jesus didn't wait for people who come to him. He went to them. He was always on the road, at the marketplaces or synagogue. He got out of the religious zones to be where the people were. 

Where you stand determines what you see. The need is there ... it's just that we are not out there to see. Follow Jesus out into the neighbourhood. Take a step beyond where you are standing now.When we are removed, we are not living out our identity as the people of God. Fear and laziness tend to dominate us. We prefer to be comfortable. However, when we begin to see the need ... our heart breaks and we want to respond. Don't wait for people to come to you. Go to them and connect.

3. Powerlessness.

Our God is humble (Phil.2:1-11). God became a baby - totally dependent and powerless. Jesus didn't start as a man. God emptied himself - the great humiliation. He came a humble servant not as a powerful king or with arrogance. We are to have the same attitude. There is no room for arrogance in those who follow a humble God. 

4. Pre-venience.

Jesus truly believed that the father was already working in the hearts and lives of the people he was reaching out to. We are to do the same.

We don't 'bring' God with us when we go. He is already there. God doesn't limit his presence to baptized Christians. God is at work in every human being's life on the planet, drawing them toward Jesus ... whether we are there or not. When we connect with them, God has already been at work. He has been there way longer than us. People are 'seekers.' They are having 'God moments,' they just don't know it's God ... yet. Watch to see where God is at work. Approach people with this belief - and then help them make sense of what is happening to them. Join with God and see what he is doing in the lives of people - all people (even the most unexpected ones).

5. Passion.

Jesus has suffered and continues to suffer for a lost humanity every single day. We are to participate in the sufferings of Christ (Col.1:24). Struggle is part of the human condition and is central to the entire Christian message.

Passion comes out of identifying with people's pain. Everyone suffers but most have no belief system to make sense of it. It is a mystery for us too but we believe that there is a reason for it and at the heart of the Christian faith is a suffering God who understands and cares. Understand the pain of those you are called to reach. Their pain determines the psychology of who they are. Be real and raw. Feel and understand. Our understanding of pain can be our gift to the world.

6. Proclamation.

Jesus went about speaking the good news of the kingdom of God (Mk.1:14). He used word but he also embodied the message ... he was the gospel.

We too are to speak  to people about the good news. We often start here but it is important that we live the message as well as proclaim it. Learn to be the good news. People want to see how we live our lives. Live the words you speak. St. Francis once said, "Preach the gospel morning, noon and night ... and if necessary, use words!" People are looking for authenticity not just more words, which are such abundant in supply in our culture.

Let's follow Jesus' example in mission. What a different place our world would be if each Christ-followed simply did what Jesus did. 

[These notes were gleaned from a message by Deb Hirsch which is based on chapter 9 of the book Untamed by Alan and Debra Hirsch] 


Reformation Needed

Unknown-1 At last year's Third Lausanne Congress in Cape Town, South Africa, one of the speakers was Christopher Wright. In a stirring address, Wright compared in detail the sate of the church today and the church in the generations before Luther.

"What is the greatest obstacle to God's mission in the world?' Wright asked. "It is not other religions or a resistant culture. Our idolatry is the single biggest obstacle to world mission. We are a scandal, a stumbling block to the mission of God. Reformation is the desperate need of our day, and it must start with us. If we want to change the world, we must first change our world." He called for a new reformation beginning within evangelicalism.

Stirring words!

[Source: Christianity Today magazine, December 2010 - p.38]


Apologetics

Images-8 The apostle Peter wrote the following to some first century followers of Christ ...

"... worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ." [1 Peter 3:15-16. NLT] 

The word translated "explain" in our English language (or "reason" in other translations) is the Greek word apologia, which means to give an account of yourself (in a legal sense) or an explanation and defence of your beliefs. From this thoughts emerges the concept of "apologetics", which refers to the development of a reasoned argument for a belief or set of beliefs.

Our faith as Christians involves a great degree of trust, but it is not faith without reason. There are good reasons for faith and we need to be prepared to share them with others. In helping to equip ourselves to know what we believe and why we believe it, there are a number of excellent resources. Here are a few that I would highly recommend:

  1. www.apologetics.org - a web site sponsored by the C.S. Lewis society.
  2. Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry (CARM) - a web site dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith.
  3. www.apologetics.com - a web site dedicated to challenging believers to think and thinkers to believe.
  4. Ravi Zacharias Ministries - Ravi's ministry has some excellent resources on apologetics.
  5. Lee Strobel - Lee was once a devout atheist but came to faith in Christ after investigating the claims of Jesus. He has produced a variety of very good videos and books, including the best-selling The Case for Christ.
  6. N.T. Wright - Tom Wright is one of today's leading biblical scholars. His writings provide a wealth of material for thinking Christians.
  7. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis - this classic is still one of the best explanations of the Christian faith.

As we share about our faith, God does not desire us to do so in an argumentative manner. After all, it is ultimately the Spirit of God that reveals Christ to the human heart, even though truth is often a part of the process. 


Our Approach in the Marketplace ...


Images-4 Most Christians and churches today have a variety of approaches to presenting Christ and the gospel in the public marketplace. Some go with "Turn or Burn" while others try "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life." It is important to carefully consider what the gospel actually is and what our approach should be to people we are trying to reach.

In Luke 10, Jesus gives detailed instructions to his disciples as they were about to go out into the villages with the good news of the kingdom. In his teaching, Jesus has a clear strategy. First of all he tells them to seek to bring peace (shalom) to the people they are reaching out to. People are already under a curse because of sin and don't need to hear judgment. They need to know the "good" news that there is a God who loves them and has paid the price for their forgiveness (sure, if they reject, they remain under that judgment but that is not the core message of the gospel). Second, he encouraged them to eat together with people in the community, which implies the forming of relationships. Then they were to "heal the sick" which implies the meeting of felt needs. Finally, they were to announce the arrival of God's kingdom.

Notice the order. Jesus was teaching them that pre-evangelism is important. When we bring a blessing to our communities, build relationships with people and meet needs, we often see people's hearts open to the good news of Jesus. How common it is for Christians to start with the final step and ignore the first three! No wonder not many people respond.

I also think its admirable that a non-Christian community leader (the city mayor) said this about Paul, during a riot in Ephesus where many people had turned to Christ ...

"Citizens of Ephesus," he said. "Everyone knows that Ephesus is the official guardian of the temple of the great Artemis, whose image fell down to us from heaven. Since this is an undeniable fact, you should stay calm and not do anything rash. You have brought these men here, but they have stolen nothing from the temple and have not spoken against our goddess." [Acts 19:35-37. NLT]

Isn't it amazing that Paul did not speak against the idols and false gods but rather, obviously, spoke for and about Jesus. In contrast, Christians today often tend to be known for what they are against and can easily get into attacking everything and anything that they don't believe in rather than being know by what they are for ... We have much to learn from Jesus and Paul if we are ever to become more effective in being the kind of influence God desires for us as his people. May their tribe increase!

A final comment from Paul ...

"Live wisely among those who are not believers, and make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be gracious and attractive so that you will have the right response for everyone. [Col.4:5-6. NLT]


The Global Shift

Rick Warren recently said ...

The last 50 years has seen the greatest redistribution of a religion ever in the history of the world. There is nothing even to compare to it. For instance, at the beginning of the 20th century, in 1900, 71% of all, quote, "Christians" lived in Europe. By 2000 only 28% claimed to be Christian, and I'm sure it's far smaller than that who actually even go to a church.

On the other hand, Christianity was exploding in Africa, Asia and Latin America. If you want to know the future of evangelicalism, it is in those continents. To give you an example, in 1900 there were only 10 million Christians in all of Africa -- 10% of the population. Today there are 360 million Christians in Africa, over half the population. That is a complete turnaround on a continent that's never, ever been seen or done in history.

You may be surprised to know that there are more Christians in China than there are in America, by far. There are more Presbyterians in Ghana than there are in Scotland, where they came out of with John Knox. There are more Baptists in Nagaland, a state in India, than there are in the South here in America. There are more Anglicans in either Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Nigeria -- any of these -- than in England. There are 2 million Anglicans in England. There are 17 million Anglicans in Nigeria.

The Church of England is a misnomer. It is now the Church of Africa. I have been involved in the ordination of many of those Anglican leaders. They have spread all over. Last Sunday there were more Christians who went to church in China than all of Europe combined. That is a fundamental shift. If you want to know the future of Christianity, it is the developing world. It's Africa, it's Latin America, and it's Asia.

In fact, there are about 15,000 missionaries now working in England from Brazil, China, Korea, other countries that you used to think, well, those would receive missionaries. In fact, Brazil sends out far more missionaries than either Great Britain or Canada combined. So that's a fundamental shift.

That's all I'm going to say about the future of evangelicalism. It ain't here. Okay?

[To read the complete transcript of this interview with Rick Warren, click here]

I can only agree. The non-West is leading the world in evangelism, church growth and spiritual vitality. We in the West have much to learn from what God is doing in Africa, Asia (including China) and South America.