True Family

By Scott Armstrong

“He replied to him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers.’ For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:48-50).

Teaching, preaching, healing.  Matthew does a good job recording the purpose of Jesus’ time on earth (see 9:35-38).  In Matthew 12, after traveling around a lot, proclaiming many controversial things, and receiving death threats, Jesus withdraws from the hubbub of the crowds (12:15).  Or so he thinks.  Many needy people follow him and Jesus continues to heal, cast out demons, and respond to his critics.  The day is getting hot, the teacher is getting tired.

Jesus needs to recharge his batteries.  So what better way to do that than by spending time relaxing with family? He probably has not seen his mother and brothers in many months.  Imagine his joy, then, when someone tells him that his family is waiting outside and wants to talk with him.  They had surprised him!  Surely he would end his sermon, disperse the crowd, and greet them with open arms!

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But that isn’t what happens at all.  In fact, his response seems a bit harsh.  He seems to say, “Who cares about them? They aren’t my true family.  You are.”  And then chapter 13 says that same day Jesus continues his ministry as if nothing had ever happened.

We need to be careful here.  The point of this passage is not that we need to abandon our families in order to serve God.  The key is found in Jesus’ response (v.50).  Whoever does God’s will is truly part of Christ’s family.  There is something that supersedes even blood relationship here.

My wife and I are missionaries living in Dominican Republic.  Our parents are in the US.  We miss them.  We value our relationship with them almost more than anything.  I say “almost” because there came a point years ago when it became clear to us that God’s will for our lives was to serve him far away from home and family.

That’s never easy.  But we have no regrets!  Following God’s will has brought us closer to Him and closer to our family as well in many ways.  Don’t ever let anyone tell you that following God’s will and being part of Jesus’ family is not worth every sacrifice you make!

My wife and I are missionaries living in Guatemala.  At this very moment, I am writing these words from my parents’ home in the United States.  It has been good to relax and be with family.  I miss them.  I value my relationship with them almost more than anything.  I say “almost” because there came a point years ago when it became clear to us that God’s will for our lives was to serve him far away from home and family.

That’s never easy.  But we have no regrets!  Following God’s will has brought us closer to Him and closer to our family as well in many ways.  Don’t ever let anyone tell you that following God’s will and being part of Jesus’ family is not worth every sacrifice you make!

What do You do With The Robber?

Dr. Donald M. Joy writes in his book, The Holy Spirit and You, about sin being a thief.  His analogy equates the principle of sin to an armed robber in one’s home, an outlaw in the heart.  This is not far-fetched: John 10:10 tells us “the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”

Imagine yourself arriving home late one evening and discovering that an invader was inside your home and holding your child at gunpoint. As you wait in fear outside your home, you have to make a decision.  You must do something. But what?

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Should you simply ignore the problem and hope the criminal would decide to do no harm, quietly exit your home and go away?

Should you slowly enter your home, careful not to frighten the outlaw, and try to negotiate with him? Perhaps he would promise to steal only one item per day if you let him live in your home!

Or, maybe, you should rush into your home, tackle the would-be robber, throw him to the floor and hold him down so he could not use his gun. But then would you sit on him day after day suppressing his evil intent until one day you grew fatigued and he overpowered you?

As Dr. Joy clearly explains, in your own strength you cannot destroy the intruder.  The only real solution is to call for help from someone who has the authority and ability to remove the thief.

Are you catching the parallels? Many of us minimize the destructive capabilities of sin. But it steals our joy, kills our relationships, and destroys our lives.  If we ignore it, the problem grows worse.  Negotiating with it leads us astray as well (remember Adam, Eve, and the serpent?).  Trying to restrain it under our own power leaves us worn out and ultimately defeated.  Is this not the description of many Christians’ sad existence?!

The only way to remove the intruder is to call on a higher, more powerful authority.  Dr. Joy finishes his reflection exclaiming: “Hallelujah! God has made provision in Christ to cleanse our hearts from all sin!”  Hallelujah, indeed!

So, what are you waiting for? The robber has been present long enough!

“What a wretched man I am!  Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7:24-25)

 

My Answer is Still Yes

My name is Freivy Lopez, I’m a member of the 2nd Church of the Nazarene in Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas, Mexico. For two years I served as a Genesis volunteer missionary in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. During that time, I developed many skills for God’s service. But, the best part was to learn to rely on God for everything.

Each day God taught me to rely on Him even in the hardest times, such as the day I had a gun pointed toward me for the first time. I recall hearing so much terrible news day by day, yet in my mind there was only one phrase “God is with you.” When the person left after pointing the gun at me, I cried like never before, and then thanked God because He protected me from what could have been something much worst.

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There weren’t just bad experiences however, as the days passed in San Pedro Sula I fell more in love with the simple smile of a child, and with each transformation that the Holy Spirit worked in the lives of so many people.

I can describe my two years in San Pedro Sula with the words: “Incredible and Blessed.”

January 13th, 2017, I returned home. I was happy to see my family and friends, but deep inside I had a feeling that something was missing.  As days passed by that feeling grew stronger.

People asked me if I was going to be a missionary again, my answer was, “Yes.”

On September 2017, I moved to the city of Monclova, Coahuila in Mexico. The project “Border Initiative” called me to serve as a volunteer missionary with the specific goal of planting new churches over the next 10 years.

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I want to encourage you also to say “yes” to the challenge God is putting in front of you. Don’t worry about anything else. God will make great things happen for you, if you will just trust Him.

And you know what? When you’re doing what God calls you to do, you’ll be a happy person. I can tell you, I am a happy person.

 

Wanted: New Church Methods For New Church People

By Karl Vaters

Changing the world with the Gospel of Jesus is less likely to happen using traditional methods with every passing year.

There’s nothing wrong with traditional methods of doing church. As long as you want to minister to traditional church members. Traditionalists (whatever your tradition may be) need places to worship, learn and be discipled. Too many of them have felt overlooked, even ridiculed, in recent years as many churches have rushed to make changes.

But, the traditional church member is dying out…literally.

If we truly want to change the world with the Gospel of Jesus, that is less likely to be done using traditional church methods with every passing year.

Traditional Church Methods Will Only Attract Traditional Church People

We need new ways of doing church. It’s ironic that I’m the guy saying say this. For at least two reasons.

First, I’m one of the traditional guys. A middle-aged, third generation pastor of a brick-and-mortar church with a mortgage and a full-time salary. Sure, the church I pastor has a slightly younger demographic than the average. And yes, we started dressing casually before most churches did. But if the sight of church members wearing jeans while sipping a coffee as they listen to the sermon feels radical – well, that’s just one evidence of how non-radical we really are.

Second, as a traditional church guy, I have no idea what I’m asking for. None. What would a truly God-breathed, Bible-honoring, life-transforming, people-reaching, radical change in the way we do church look like? I have no idea. But I do know this. We’re not just looking at one idea or one new way to do church. We need to be open to a whole lot of new ideas and new ways to do church. The days of landing on one particular church format, then promoting it as the right way to do church can’t end soon enough.

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Future Church Possibilities

Actually, there are a handful of principles that I think are likely to become more common in the next few years. I think the new, dynamic church is likely to be

  • Meeting in smaller, rather than bigger groups, even in big cities
  • In non-traditional sites
  • Locally grown and less generic
  • More hands-on in mission and outreach
  • More focused on relationship building
  • Highly adaptable, even experimental
  • Passionately focused on the core truths of God’s Word

At least I hope so.

Unfortunately, it’s also very likely that, while these new ways of doing church will be met with joy and relief by some, they will be met with skepticism and anger by many.

Step Up and Stand Out

If you’re crazy in love with Jesus and want to help other people fall crazy in love with Jesus, but you can’t figure out how to do that in a traditional local church setting, here’s my suggestion.

Stop trying to fit in.

Start standing out.

Start ministering the unchangeable truths of Jesus in ways that make sense for the people God is calling you to minister to, even if they’re the kinds of people who won’t come to a traditional church. Don’t worry about all the naysayers who will condemn you just because what you’re doing is different.

The church could use a boatload of different right now.

And I’m not the only old, traditional church guy who will be cheering you on, either. There are a lot of us. We may not know how to do it ourselves, but maybe we can be like Simeon and Anna. Maybe we can recognize Jesus when he shows up at the temple in a way no one else expected.

After all, the only “right” way to do church is any way that reaches people for Jesus.

This article was originally published at: Christianity Today.

 

Mission Briefing: 10/40 Window

By Howard Culbertson

About 30 years ago, missiologist Luis Bush coined the phrase “10/40 Window.” He did that to focus attention on a specific area of the world where millions of people have little or no access to the Gospel.

Bush asked believers to draw an imaginary rectangle on the globe, from 10 degrees north of the equator up to 40 degrees north of the equator, and stretching from western most Africa to just east of Japan. Pointing to that imaginary oblong “window,” Bush pleaded with the Church to mobilize prayer, people and resources to evangelize and disciple people in all of the unreached and least-reached people groups in the northern half of Africa, the Middle East, and the areas once ruled by the ancient Babylonian and Persian empires as well as much of Asia including India and China.

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The statistics from that 10/40 Window can be staggering. Two-thirds of all people on earth live in that rectangular area. Almost all of the world’s 55 least-evangelized countries are in the 10/40 Window. Half of the world’s least-evangelized large cities are in the 10/40 Window. The majority of the world’s Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs live in the 10/40 Window.

Sadly, the 10/40 Window is also home to 8 out of 10 of the poorest of the earth’s poor.

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Many areas in the 10/40 Window are places that Nazarene Global Mission Director Verne Ward describes as “where the Church is not yet.” With just 10 percent of the current global Christian missionary force deployed there, that situation is not changing very rapidly. Unfortunately, almost 9 out of 10 of the people living in the 10/40 Window today remain outside the reach of current evangelistic efforts.

In several 10/40 Window countries, Christians suffer physical persecution and even death for their faith. Due to anti-Christian hostility and stringent government restrictions, many missionaries in the 10/40 Window have become creative in how they evangelize and disciple people. Many of the countries will not give visas to religious workers.  So they have been labeled Creative Access areas. For these and other reasons, Patrick Johnstone, of Operation World, has called this area the “resistant belt.”

Drawing attention to the evangelistic task yet to be done, the visually dramatic 10/40 Window concept has inspired many to offer themselves for missionary service in some of the world’s most difficult and challenging places.

Clearly, the countries of the 10/40 Window are not the only places that need missionaries. So, this is not a call to remove missionaries from other areas of the world and send them all to the 10/40 Window. The 10/40 Window countries are not the only ones in the world with sinners needing missionaries to cross cultural and language barriers to tell them about God’s redeeming grace. However, the 10/40 Window does contain huge blocs of people who, by any definition, are today unreached and unevangelized.

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We must pray that God will call more and more laborers into the countries in the 10/40 Window harvest field!

This article was originally published at: Engage Magazine

 

Lessons From a Tightrope And a Wheelbarrow

By Scott Armstrong

“Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised (Romans 4:20-21).”

(Read Romans 4:13-25)

I have heard the story of a famous tightrope walker who decided to cross Niagara Falls on a rope he had tied from one bank to another. He publicized the huge event and thousands came to watch this impressive feat. Balancing himself high above the raging waters, he inched his way across while the hushed crowd watched in awe.

After he reached the other side, the crowd roared in approval. They had never seen anything like this amazing display of courage and skill. However, the acrobat was not finished.  He put on a blindfold and made his way slowly across again.  Successful, and hearing the crowd’s thunderous applause, the man made his way across another time, except this third time he was wearing the blindfold and pushing a wheelbarrow bit by bit over the thin rope.  The ovation this time was the loudest he had ever heard.

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Now this tightrope walker had never fallen during a public exhibition, and so he shouted down to the throng of onlookers, “Do you believe I can cross this tightrope blindfolded with this wheelbarrow once more?”

“Yes!!  We believe you can do it!!” the audience shouted back.

“If you really believe,” the man on the high wire replied, “then which one of you will get in the wheelbarrow?”

Romans 4:13-25 tells us that Abraham lived a life of faith.  He didn’t just talk the talk; he walked the walk.  He believed against all odds that he would have a kid at the ripe old age of 100, and it happened. He believed in the God who could raise the dead to life, so he nearly sacrificed his own son before God rescued him and commended Abraham for his faith. This is earth-shaking, mind-boggling stuff.  But Abraham remained “fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised” (v.21).

When was the last time you truly stepped out on faith? We serve a God who “gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were” (v.17).  Will you trust him today in spite of the circumstances around you? Is it time to stop only saying you believe in him and time to get in the wheelbarrow and live it?

Taking Forgiveness For Granted

By Scott Armstrong

“Come, let us return to the LordHe has torn us to pieces but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds” (Hosea 6:1).

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(Read Hosea 5:15 – 6:6)

This passage records a conversation between God and his people.  The Lord starts in 5:15 by longing that his rebellious children will seek him.  Israel responds in 6:1-3 in what seems like genuine repentance.  And then God seemingly goes berserk in 6:4-6.  Why does he respond by “cutting them in pieces,” “killing them,” and “flashing lightning upon them” (v.5)? Does any of that make sense?

Let’s look closer.  Israel is treating forgiveness as a given.  God was always so forgiving before; why wouldn’t he be now? “Sure, we’ve sinned, but he’ll still heal us” (v.1).  “Two or three days of good sacrifices and he’ll come around” (v.2).  They take his forgiveness for granted so much that they actually act like they can sin during the night, ask forgiveness, and as surely as the sun will come up the next day (v.3), God will forgive them.

Be careful here.  That kind of attitude is fake and God knows it.  Their love is like the morning dew on the grass that disappears by noon on a hot day (v.4).  The point is clear.  Fake repentance is sickening to God.  He will not forgive those hearts.

In fact, God does not have to forgive anybody.  He longs to; he desires to (Hosea 11:8-9).  But sin is serious.  I think nothing makes God madder than when his own people sin and then ask forgiveness only to cover their bases.  My old youth pastor used to call it “fire insurance”—just lifting up a quick prayer to make sure you’re still going to heaven and not hell.  There is no changed heart and certainly no changed life.  “God will forgive me; I’m going to do what I want and get forgiven later.”

Read these verses again.  Then read 1 John 1:9. The messages are not contradictory.  If we genuinely confess our sins with all our heart, he will forgive us.  Bank on it.  But true confession does not include mouthing a prayer without any plans to change our actions.    

Is there sin in your life and, if so, how do you view it? According to our Lord, it is physically sickening (Rev. 3:16).  He calls us to be holy—a work that only he can do.  What he needs from us is a heart completely turned toward him.  Examine yourself.  Is today the day for genuine repentance?