Living Stones

By Ken Mitchell

The tour guide introduced herself at the entrance to Linville Caverns and immediately warned us not to touch any of the stones inside. She explained that these were living stones and that the acid from the human touch would cause them to stop growing.

It was Saturday afternoon and Janet and I and our two grandsons were on our annual outing. This year we had been gem mining and now were about to explore the inside of the mountain in Linville, North Carolina. I found the warning interesting, but the concept of living stones didn’t catch my full attention until the following Tuesday morning when I read 1 Peter 2. As I read verses 4 and 5, I was reminded of our Saturday tour. “Coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen by God and precious, you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (NKJV).

I realized that if I am to be a living stone, I should know what a living stone is.

The Holy Spirit took me back to the tour guide. She had indicated that the stones were living because they were growing. As the mineral laden water flows over them it deposits additional minerals. These additional deposits cause slow growth. I believe she said they grow approximately 1 cubic inch every 100 years. This is slow growth to be sure, but it is growth. She defined “living stones” as “growing stones.”

We too must be growing stones if we are to meet the definition of living stones in 1 Peter 2:5.

pexels-photo-1029604.jpeg

The stones in Linville Caverns are nourished by constantly flowing mineral water. I asked myself, How must I be nourished in order to grow and be a living stone?

I found the answer in verse 2: “as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby” (NKJV). I was reminded of Elizabeth, our 7-month-old granddaughter. When she desires milk, everyone nearby knows about it. She will not calm down until her hunger is satisfied. What would happen if we fed Elizabeth only once a week on Sunday morning? Or 3 times a week: Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening? This would obviously not work. First, she would not give us any rest as she expressed her desire for milk, and second, she would not grow.

Is my “desire [for] the pure milk of the word” as strong as Elizabeth’s desire for milk for her stomach? Does my soul cry out for nourishment? This is a challenge to me. Elizabeth cannot feed herself or control her feeding times, but I can. As a mature adult I feed my physical body three times daily. How can I do less for my spiritual self? Thank you Lord for showing me how to become a “living stone”. May others read this and be challenged to, “as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that [they] may grow thereby.”

This article was originally published at: Holiness Today

Teachers and Church Planters

By Scott Armstrong

On several occasions I’ve had the privilege of speaking with someone interested in Genesis, our ministry designed to make an impact in large cities within our region.  Sometimes these candidates have studied to be elementary or high school teachers.  “How can God use my career to plant churches in an urban context?” they ask me.

Recently I published an article that I wrote for the NYI Online Magazine that highlighted how God has used volunteer missionaries from all kinds of “secular” careers for his glory in the Genesis Initiative. In a previous entry, I shared a few more stories that didn’t fit in the limited space of the original article. Today I want to share the stories of three young teachers who are incredibly grateful for their “secular” careers, because they have opened the doors of ministry in surprising ways.

“One of the most important decisions a young person makes is what they will study when they go to college.  It will define them for the rest of their lives.  When I was 18, I had questions about what I should study, and I prayed that God would direct my decision.  I chose to be a teacher.

27797589_1799412403426391_3124110093619712361_o.jpgMy mother told me since I was six years old that I said I wanted to be a teacher, but I had forgotten.  I think that to be a teacher was in God’s plan for me.  It was through my profession that God prepared me for the mission field when I was sent to work far from home.  Now that I am serving in missions, God has used my education, work with children and teaching to open doors.  I know that we cannot separate the secular from ministry; everything that we know and everything we do should honor God.  Only through our work will God open new paths to expand his kingdom.” – Marleidy Sanchez (sent from Mexico to Panama)

e7ce550a-c3e2-49fe-a199-35e34c440165.JPG
“I am a teacher, and I believe it is one of the careers that can get you most involved in the community.  A teacher knows different techniques to help with kids’ homework.  Through that contact, you can meet with parents and share the message of salvation.”
– Ingrid Jochola (sent from Guatemala to Panama)

 

WhatsApp Image 2018-10-17 at 10.11.50.jpeg

 

“My career as a high school social studies teacher goes beyond simply teaching in a classroom.  I believe that within this ministry I have had the chance to develop, plan, improve, and involve people in a different kind of environment, especially children.  Now I am working with the material we use in our Kids’ Club, but I am also available to share what I know with everyone involved in this new stage of service and love in order to share God with our neighbors.” – Maria de los Angeles Romero (sent from Peten, Guatemala to Queretaro, Mexico)

*For more information about Genesis, visit our website and let us know by leaving a comment in the space below.

Our Dwelling Place

By Scott Armstrong

I travel a lot: around 80 days a year actually, not including our home assignment, which is a state of permanent flux anyway.  Being able to visit so many cultures and share with fellow Christians from other nations is an enormous blessing! At the same time, at the end of a trip there is nothing like arriving home.

Sometimes I wonder what it was like for the Israelites to wander in the wilderness those 40 years.  Sure, we know from Numbers 14 that they brought it on themselves with disobedience and lack of faith.  Still, I cannot imagine four decades of life (!) spent without ever feeling at home.

Moses was the leader of that wandering brigade.  And he starts one of his psalms with a profound statement of praise:

“Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations” (Ps. 90:1).

It is likely that he wrote those words during the last forty years of his life. The years without a home, waiting for the Promised Land he would never experience.  So how can he testify to having a “dwelling place”?

A dwelling place is not just a house.  It’s possibly an even more cozy term than “home.” Some versions translate this Hebrew word as “refuge”, and God is certainly that. But for God to be Moses’ dwelling place is to say he feels safe not just with Yahweh, but in Him.  It is to declare that he does not just receive rest from Yahweh, but in Him.

Safe. At rest. In God.

living-room-690174_960_720.jpg

In the Christian tradition I grew up in, we talked a lot more about God, through Christ, living in us.  After all, how could you be a true believer if you had never “asked Jesus into your heart”? While Christ living in us is a biblical concept (Rom. 8:9-11, Eph. 2:22, Col. 1:27, etc.), we frequently neglect the reality also mentioned often in Scripture: us in Him. 

In Colossians 3:3, our lives are described as being “hidden with Christ in God.” God is that secret, safe place where we huddle up with Jesus.  When Paul addressed the Athenians on Mars Hill, he explained that God is not far from any of us, “for in Him we live, and move, and have our being” (Acts 17:28).  God is a home for His people, and it is a spacious place where we can relax and move about with freedom.

We are not invited to be guests of God.  We are not invited to be live-in servants in his palace.  No. The invitation is to make our home in Him.

We can be the recipients of copious and undeserved amounts of hospitality as we travel. But the one place we will feel truly ourselves is at home.

And home is not as much a place as it is a person.

Abba.

From past to present, men and women have been kicking off their shoes, leaning back, and putting up their feet in the cozy living room named Yahweh.  And now my prayer is that for generations to come, my kids and grandkids and great-grandkids would know that they can play and laugh and cry and sing and veg and love and eat and relax in Him.  I want them, too, to dwellin their Lord and find true home in Him.

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”
–Augustine of Hippo

 

Ministry to and with the Poor

By David A. Busic

John Wesley’s emphasis on ministry to the poor is well-documented. However, it is important to stress that Wesley believed working with and among the poor is not merely an act of compassion; it is a necessary aspect of the spiritual formation of every Christian. Thus, Wesley maintained that living with the poor is a work of mercy and a work of piety.

Wesley believed the gospel was good news to the poor. He made a practice of visiting the poor as a spiritual discipline, and encouraged—indeed, insisted—that his Methodists do the same. Even as an elderly man, Wesley risked his own health and well-being in the cold of winter, trudging through ankle-deep snow, to go publicly begging for funds on behalf of the suffering. Theodore Jennings suggests “[E]very aspect of Methodism was subjected to the criterion, how will this benefit the poor?” However, as Jennings points out, it was more than concern for the comfort of the poor that motivated Wesley; it was vitally important to him because he saw no other way to understand or identify with the poor than to be among them. For that reason, Wesley believed it was far better “to carry relief to the poor, than to send it,” because of the spiritual impact that it would have on the one bringing the help.

64c486b3-b01d-4155-b751-e70c8d15176a.jpg
Thus, Wesley’s understanding of ministry to and with the marginalized poor, sick, and imprisoned was more than compassion; as a means of grace for the Christian, it is indispensable to Wesleyan spirituality. These acts of mercy become the ways by which God works to establish the character of holiness in God’s people and to give growth in grace toward the recovery of the divine image.

Emphasis on the poor as a means of grace began to wane after Wesley’s death and as American Methodism matured. The Methodists were no longer the newcomers or a marginalized sect. Methodists had become successful in business, banking, politics, education, etc. Methodist church buildings began to change to accommodate the newly acquired affluence. Pipe organs and stained glass windows were installed in Methodist sanctuaries, soon followed by the practice of pew rentals as a way to raise congregational funds to pay for elaborate facilities, which further segregated the more prestigious Methodist members from other church members. Even the teaching of the doctrine of entire sanctification began to diminish to make room for more progressive ethical concerns.

The changing atmosphere was noticed. Prominent Methodists began to speak out against the injustice. In an effort not to lose this vital connection with the poor, outspoken leaders like Phineas Bresee began to call for a recapturing of the original vision for the poor. Bresee left a distinguished ecclesiastical career to return to his passion of ministry to and with the poor. Nazarene church buildings and formal dress were intentionally less pretentious and more simplified so that the poor would feel welcome and comfortable. Bresee’s passion for the poor was felt so keenly that he wrote to the first Nazarenes, “The evidence of the presence of Jesus in our midst is that we bear the gospel, particularly to the poor.”

Compassionate acts that serve the poor and oppressed are an important part of engaging in Christ’s incarnational ministry and advancing the kingdom of God. Additionally, what God will accomplish in these interactions is a means of grace for every believer. Discipleship in Wesleyan-Holiness ecclesiology depends on the pursuit of Christlikeness and ministry to and with the marginalized. 

God Can Use Every Career in Missions

By Scott Armstrong

Recently I published an article that I wrote for the NYI Online Magazine that highlighted how God has used volunteer missionaries from all kinds of “secular” careers for his glory in the Genesis Initiative.   There wasn’t enough space to share all of the testimonies I received when I asked for help from the 32 missionaries we’ve sent over the years.  That’s why today and in our next entry I want to share more of these powerful stories:

44733965_573786599724861_8443162038938632192_n.jpg“Being a doctor meant that many people were willing to get to know us when they needed some kind of medical attention.  It also allowed us to open a clinic in the community, and in that way the community got to know the church.   The local people knew us well and knew that there was a doctor in the church. They came for help at all hours. We could hold medical outreaches from the church and in other parts of the community where we worked.  I am grateful to God for the opening that my career has given me. Though sometimes it is exhausting, it brings me great joy to know that in some way it helps me to serve God.” – Eunice Zaragoza (sent from Tampico, Mexico to San Pedro Sula, Honduras)

WhatsApp Image 2018-10-17 at 10.22.20.jpeg“I am a social worker. The goal of my profession is to design and implement projects and strategies that assist individuals, groups, communities and societies inpreventing or solving societal needs and problems. The Church is called to show love and compassion in the midst of a vulnerable society. We created a program for teenagers to meet twice a week to play, spend time together, laugh and meditate on Scripture and what God wants from them. We’ve also developed strategies to work with women and children, such as a women’s conference and a Kids’ Club.  My career has helped me to focus on doing what God has called me to: preach his Word through actions and with compassion.” – Jhoselyn Barrios (sent from Guatemala to Queretaro, Mexico)

34064645_10212524871736869_8460218513712218112_n.jpg


“I have an Associates degree in Psychology.  My education has helped me a lot in family counseling.  When I mention that I have a degree in Psychology in a meeting out in the community, it opens doors for people to find me and open their hearts in search of help.  I also have a Bachelor’s Degree in Organizational Management, which has helped in general organization and in the planning for activities that we hold.”
 – Maritza Mendoza (sent from Miami, USA to Queretaro, Mexico)

DR Trip 20.jpg

“I have a degree in Tourism Management that helped a lot in the ministry when I was in Genesis. I used to be very quiet and shy, but my career helped me to lose my fears and be able to talk with people. That is why during my time in Genesis, I always felt confident to talk to people, start a relationship with them, and then be able to share the love of Christ.” – Zabdi Jessica Delgado (sent from Tuxtla-Gutierrez, Mexico to Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic)

* For more information about Genesis, visit our website and let us know by leaving a comment in the space below.

Great Leaders Think Small

By Gustavo Crocker

In a well-known story, D. L. Moody was asked how the night’s evangelistic meeting had gone. His celebrated response was, “We had two and a half conversions.” His interviewer responded, “You mean two adults and one child?” “No,” Moody replied, “two children and one adult. The adult only has half his life left to follow Christ. The children have their entire lives to do so.”

This exchange reminds me of the inclination to think about children as “not-yet participants in the kingdom of God.” This cannot be further from the truth! Great leaders think of children as essential players in God’s kingdom and God’s plan of reconciliation. They see them as central to their mission.

Jesus used children to illustrate some of the greatest truths about the kingdom of God. Jesus reminded the disciples that not only are children a model of faith to enter the Kingdom, but we are required to examine ourselves on how we welcome children in our midst.

What does it mean to put children in the middle?

2e2cfaee-11cf-4256-9a6d-6e4d74380933.jpg

Matthew records the disciples discussing greatness in the kingdom of heaven. Before Jesus responded, He painted a vivid metaphor in leadership: He placed a child in their midst. Putting children in the middle means that we cannot think of children as peripheral. True leadership conversation must start with the perspective that children matter and are at the core of God’s plan of redemption.

Children are a model of faith. Jesus’ bold response to the disciples highlights the damaging power of “growing up” (Matthew 18). “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Child-like faith is absolutely necessary to enjoy the fullness of the riches of His kingdom. A child’s faith is unspoiled, genuine, and unbiased. As children grow older, their faith, already tainted by the Adamic propensity to sin, becomes spoiled by the agnostic, materialistic, self-centered societies that shape and train them. As our faith becomes sophisticated, we begin to question even the most evident truths. To enjoy the rich, unadulterated blessing of God’s kingdom, we must become like children.

Children are the most ripe and ready mission field. Around the world, in any country or culture, more than three-fourths (75 percent) of adults now filling our churches received Christ between the ages of 4 and 18. Missiologists have defined this group age as the 4/14 window, the world’s most ripe yet unreached people group.

Unfortunately, we think of them as “ways to attract their parents,” “a drain on our budgets and programs,” “a distraction to our solemn services,” or even as “non-productive entities who do not vote and who do not give.” The disciples were in the same boat. Matthew 19 narrates another event with Jesus and children. As people brought their children to Jesus for Him to pray and bless them, the disciples rebuked the parents. Jesus’ response was emphatic: “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” Do not hinder children. You were one of them.

Throughout church history, theologians and practitioners have discussed the “reliability of the faith of a child.” Well-intentioned leaders, infected by the “grown-up bug,” question the validity of a child’s conversion. To them, D. L. Moody responded: “It is a masterpiece of the devil to make us believe that children cannot understand religion. Would Christ have made a child the standard of faith if He had known that it was not capable of understanding His words?”

Children are the most prolific mission field. Harvest it!

Children can be agents of God’s mission. We cannot stop at ministering to children and youth only. Great leaders invest in children and youth as agents of the transforming mission of God. Children and youth are capable of sharing the love of Christ to their relatives, friends, and social networks and leading others to join them in their faith.

The Scripture is full of stories of children and youth used by God to accomplish His mission:

…a trafficked child, Joseph, brought hope to his people…

…a shepherd boy, David, defeated a giant and became king of Israel …

…a young minister, Samuel, led God’s people while serving in times of dryness and desperation…

…an anonymous, well-prepared boy provided resources for Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the five thousand…

…and Jesus Himself, while still a young boy, declared His commitment to the Father’s business…

It was said by the prophet Isaiah: “…and a little child shall lead them” (Isaiah 11:6).

Great leaders express their greatness by thinking small. We must focus on the child in our midst.

Pastors, the Church is not our Personal Platform

By Karl Vaters

The church does not exist to give us an audience for our ideas, projects or egos. It exists to fulfill Christ’s purposes.

The church belongs to Jesus.

It is not owned by its denomination, its donors, its members, its staff or its lead pastor.

Jesus said he would build his church – and he’s not about to give up that ownership to us or our ideas.

As a pastor, this is a lesson I need to remind myself of regularly, so I thought I’d share that reminder with you as well.

pexels-photo-64057.jpeg

Why The Church Exists

The church does not exist to give us an audience for our ideas, projects or egos. It exists to fulfill Christ’s purposes. Our role is to equip the church members to enact those purposes, both inside and outside the church walls.

The church exists to make Jesus known, not to make pastors famous.

Yet we keep making the same mistakes over and over again. We (try to) take control because without our strong hand on the wheel (we think) the church will fall to pieces. The budget won’t be met. The membership won’t grow. The ten year vision won’t be realized.

The Pastor’s Role

This happens in churches of every size and type. From the charismatic founding pastor of the high-energy, non-denominational megachurch, to the long-term, patriarchal pastor of the traditional, centuries-old congregation.

We have big ideas. Grand projects. Exciting opportunities. And it’s tempting to use the resources at our disposal – namely the people, building and finances of the church we pastor – to bring those about.

But it’s not our job to get a group of people to agree with us and carry out our vision. No matter how good that vision might be.

As a pastor, it’s our calling to help the church body (re)discover God’s purposes together, then participate in them as the Holy Spirit leads us all.

If we want to build a platform, a project or a ministry based on our ideas, we need to start a parachurch ministry – or a for-profit business. Not use a church body to carry them out for us.

The Pastor’s Focus

The focus should never be on the pastor, but on Jesus.

  • • Not on the preaching, but the equipping.
  • • Not on the presentation, but the discipling.
  • • Not on the music, but the worship.
  • • Not on the building, but the gathering.
  • • Not on the platform, but the people.
  • • Not on the packed (or vacant) seats, but on the empty cross.

Always and only.

This article was originally published at: Christianity Today