Slogans that Awakened the Church: Intensely Missionary

By Howard Culbertson

“The spirit of Christ is the spirit of missions. The nearer we get to Him, the more intensely missionary we become.” –Henry Martyn, missionary to India and Persia.

Henry_Martyn.jpgKnow anyone who views world missions support involvement as being only for those who happen to be really passionate about it? I know people who think that way.

“It’s their thing,” they dismissively say.

If Henry Martyn were still around, he would object. “It is not just their thing,” he would protest, “It is Christ’s thing and it must therefore be a ‘thing’ of every Christ follower.”

Martyn, early 19th century missionary to India ad Persia, saw world evangelism as a central passion of God’s heart. That means, said Martyn, that the more Christ-like we become, the more we will share Christ’s passion for world evangelism.

Paul’s words in Philippians 2:5 call us to “think the way Christ Jesus thought” (Easy to Read Version). Although that exhortation occurs in a passage about Christ’s humility, it appertains to every other context. Being Christ-like to the point of thinking like Christ includes embracing His desire that all the world hear the Good News.

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Pastors sometimes lament that those in their congregation supporting world mission are often the senior citizens. Where that is true –and sometimes it is– it may be because those older people who support world evangelism have walked with Christ over a number of years.  With the passage of time, as they have grown closer to Him, they have become “intensely missionary.” Because Jesus Christ is passionate about world evangelism, it should not surprise us when older, mature believers become passionate about it, too.

So, global passion in those older “saints” validates Henry Martyn’s words: “The nearer we get to [Christ], the more intensely missionary we become.”  On the other hand, Martyn’s statement does not limit mission passion to those who have been believers for decades. He is simply stating something that is clearly a Biblical message: If we get our hearts in tune with Christ’s heart, we will become passionate about proclaiming in all the world the Good News that God has come in Christ Jesus to redeem fallen human beings.

This article was originally published at: nazarene.org

 

Opening the Bible by Thomas Merton

I recently had the privilege of reading a wonderful little book, called Opening the Bible, written by the renowned Trappist monk, Thomas Merton.  His thoughts on reading the Scriptures were written decades ago but remain poignant and relevant as much today as in his time. Just to offer a taste, I will share three quotes.

First, to all of us who have ever approached the sacred text seeking to learn a truth or find out what to teach or preach, Merton demonstrates that we are missing the depth to which the Scriptures invite us to go:

“The Bible raises the question of identity in a way no other book does.  As Barth pointed out: when you begin to question the Bible you find that the Bible is also questioning you. When you ask: ‘What is this book?’ you find that you are also implicitly being asked: ‘Who is this that reads it?’” (p. 27).

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Have you ever experienced that? If not, your reading of the Bible has been woefully superficial! I admit that in my rush and my ministerial demands, many times I have not taken the time to allow the Bible to read me.  But only then will true transformation occur!  In fact, Merton says later that any reader of the Bible must be prepared to be changed drastically:

“We cannot enter into this dynamic of freedom and understanding unless, in reading the Bible, we somehow become aware that we are problems to ourselves.  The Bible is a message of reconciliation and unity, but in order to awaken us to our need for unity it brings out the contradictions within us and makes us aware of a fundamental division” (p. 80).

A lot of us are uncomfortable with those contradictions! We want the Scriptures to encourage and assure us, but when they examine and reproach us, will we invite God into even those most discordant of places?

Merton challenges us even further.  Many of us would agree that it requires great faith to accept God at his word without any backtalk.  But what if dialogue, and even argument, between God and us reveals an even deeper level of faith and intimacy? I leave you with the following quote:

“Any serious reading of the Bible means personal involvement in it, not simply mental agreement with abstract propositions.  And involvement is dangerous, because it lays one open to unforeseen conclusions.  That is why we prefer if possible to remain uninvolved.  In 2 Samuel 12:1-10, we read how David, a man of quick and hot emotional response, listens to a story of Nathan and becomes involved in it to the point of intense and righteous indignation, and then discovers that the malefactor who so angers him is himself!

We all instinctively know that it is dangerous to become involved in the Bible. The book judges us, or seems to judge us, on terms to which at first we could not possibly agree.

The Bible itself, in the Book of Job, gives us a pattern of healthy disagreement. Not only that, but throughout the whole Old Testament in particular we find people (like Abraham) arguing with God and being implicitly praised for it.  The point is, then, that becoming involved in the Bible does not mean simply taking everything it says without the slightest murmur of difficulty.  It means at once being willing to argue and fight back, provided that if we are clearly wrong we will finally admit it. The Bible prefers honest disagreement to a dishonest submission.

One of the basic truths put forward in the Bible as a whole is not merely that God is always right and man is always wrong, but that God and man can face each other in an authentic dialog: one which implies “a true reciprocity between persons, each of whom fully respects the other’s rights and his freedom” (pp. 43-44).

Nazarene World Week of Prayer – 2019

From February 24 to March 2, 2019, Nazarenes will be interceding for different requests! Join us in prayer!

And as you pray throughout this Nazarene World Week of Prayer, remember that God is present and active! Our prayer requests simply encourage us to join Him in His redemptive purposes in the world. Pray faithfully! Pray passionately!

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Too often, when we pass through troubled and challenging times, we forget all that we have enjoyed by God’s good grace, and turn our focus inward, thinking only of our own present trials. When facing our troubled or uncertain times, turn our focus to others who “have no hope, and are without God in this world,” and those who are seeking to bring hope, and point to the God of hope and peace.

Remember our missionaries and the work of the church throughout the year in prayer. Many are often facing challenging times in the places in which they serve. They seek to be peacemakers and agents of transformation. They need your support through intercession.

Throughout this Nazarene World Week of Prayer, we are partners together with God through prayer!

Click the following link to download the prayer guide: Nazarene World Week of Prayer – 2019

 

In the Cities

Greetings from Kansas City, Missouri, USA.  I am attending a Regional Leadership Conference and have been invited to be a part of a panel focused on “Mission to the Cities.” It is such an honor to speak about this topic along with many urban mission leaders and General Superintendents as part of the panel.

Each one of us will be giving a short introduction to our ministry context, and I wanted to share with you what I will be saying at the opening of the panel:

Good morning! ¡Buenos días!

I’m a Nazarene missionary in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.  My family and I have lived in five different countries in the last 15 years, and now we are coordinating an initiative called Genesis. Genesis seeks to bring a new beginning to the big cities of the Mesoamerica Region, which is ironic, because just 8 years ago, I hardly cared about urban mission.

We began our missionary career by living in Guatemala City, Guatemala and San José, Costa Rica: two huge cities with lots and lots of need.  And, of course, as a missionary, I was passionate about winning the world for Christ!  But during that time if you were to have asked me why cities are important to God, I would have stammered and faltered.  Aren’t all places important to God? What’s the big deal about cities?

It wasn’t until 2011 when my family and I moved to Panama City, Panama, that I started to get it.  You see, we went from living in a house to living on the 19th floor of a high-rise. The view was amazing.  Because of a healthy fear of heights, I did not go out on our balcony often, but one night I did.  I thought about all those lights representing one person, or even one family. And in that moment – I don’t know where it came from, but – for the first time I stretched out my arms and I whispered the prayer that now I have prayed a thousand times: Lord, give us the city!

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About that time, our region was researching where we, as a Nazarene Church, were strongest and where we were weakest, geographically-speaking. We found out that 79% of our region lives in an urban context, but only 29% of our Nazarenes are there! In other words, in the most populated places, we have the fewest Nazarenes. We realized that ministry in our region had to be ministry to the urban core.  We have spent the last eight years training urban missionaries and equipping our existing churches to creatively reach their cities.  Maybe later we will explore how urban ministry needs to look different compared to rural and suburban ministry.

Some of you are wondering: “But that’s your region.  What does that have to do with us?” Well, the statistics in the USA and Canada are a bit different.  This region is actually the most urban of any in the world.  Nearly 9 out of every 10 people in these two countries lives in a city of 100,000 or more!

As a Church of the Nazarene in the USA/Canada, we are not quite as rural and suburban as the Mesoamerica Region.  Still, did you know that Nazarene membership is .17% of the total population in our big cities?  In other words, not even 1 of every 500 urban dwellers in Canada and the USA is a Nazarene.

That may be more statistics than you were bargaining for.  So let’s simplify it.

We have a lot of work to do.

And that work must be in the cities.

As author and pastor in New York, Tim Keller, says, “We don’t need churches only in cities. We need them everywhere there are people.  Therefore, we need them especially in cities.”

An Open Letter to the Churches of Mesoamerica

For the past five weeks we have been traveling through our 40 Days of Prayer for the Cities of Mesoamerica.  We have been so encouraged by the responses of many leaders and local churches as they mobilize their people in prayer!  This campaign has become an annual emphasis, and this year especially we are starting to see the vision take hold.  Thanks to all who have daily interceded for the urban settings in our region – it is truly making a difference!

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There are some exciting things happening in the months ahead.  First, the prayer does not need to stop! Please stay tuned to our updates and prayer requests throughout the year on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Our mobile app (available for Android or iOS) will also start to become more and more useful as our missionaries on the ground provide stories as well as personal prayer requests and praises.  And don’t forget that all around the region we have dedicated Tuesday mornings as a time to pray and fast for a genesis to occur in the cities of Mesoamerica.

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Sugey Barrón

Second, did you know that we are developing many new materials and tools to equip the existing churches that are in urban areas? Sugey Barrón, a former Genesis missionary sent from Mexico to Santiago, Dominican Republic, has decided to continue serving as a missionary in the D.R., now focusing on training the thousands of Nazarenes that live in our cities to be missional.  I am so excited about what she is coming up with (you’ll hear more in the months ahead)!

Third, next month we will be training and sending out a new crop of Genesis missionaries who will impact Monterrey, México and Quetzaltenango, Guatemala. These are some really great young people.  Assuredly you will read about them in the coming weeks, but for now I can say that it is a high honor to witness how God keeps calling people to cross-cultural ministry, and how they are still responding in passionate obedience to his voice!

Podcast_English_FinalAll that, and I have not even mentioned the ongoing articles we provide regularly on our website, the “Worthless Servants” podcast episodes we are pumping out biweekly, and much more.  There is a lot going on! The point is: we need you to continue praying for all this. Don’t let the end of a 40-day campaign cause the need for effective urban churches to be “out of sight, out of mind.” In fact, add to that prayer a whole lot of action.  Get involved in some way and help others do the same!

Thanks for your continued collaboration.  God is using you – and thousands of others – to make a difference. What a privilege to be a part of this adventure with you.

Scott Armstrong
Coordinator, Mesoamerica Global Missions and GENESIS
February 8, 2019

Think on These Things

By Carla Sunberg

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9 (NRSV)

To quote John Maxwell, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.” This is often the case, whether in the secular world or in the church. These words from the Apostle Paul are a reminder that those who are in leadership must be careful about their attitude. The way in which leaders look at the world will have an influence on those around them.

I have recently read the book, “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World—and Why Things are Better Than You Think” by Hans Rosling. In this book, and in his TED talk, he begins to challenge our negative notions. Why do I bring this up? Because I find that the church often becomes a breeding ground for negative thinking and conversation. If we were to believe all we hear about Christianity and the church, we might all be ready to throw in the towel and give up. Spending much time on social media or listening to the news, can skew our perspective on the world. We have become addicted to negative news, and it is creating a crisis of anxiety in our world. Paul was trying to give us a prescription for that fear.

Rosling tells us that we have allowed the negativity instinct to kick into high gear, meaning that we focus much more on the negative than we do on the positive. Our instinct is “to notice the bad more than the good.” He gives three reasons for this: 1) “misremembering of the past,” 2) “selective reporting by journalists and activists,” and 3) “the feeling that as long as things are bad, it’s heartless to say they are getting better.”

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Just imagine if we were to put the church into this paradigm. Often we reminisce about the past and the “good old days.” We wish we could go back to those days when the “church was full” and “everything ran so well.” Unfortunately, we fail to remember the struggles the church faced then and that things may not be worse than that now. At the same time, we have a media that is ready to pounce on every negative story about a church leader they can find. As both religious journals and the secular news openly dissect them, we hear the details of major failures. Rarely is there news about the good work the church is doing in a community. Our hearts are stirred with empathy for the bad news we receive on a regular basis, but eventually compassion fatigue begins to settle in, and we become exhausted responding to the latest disaster.

Let us listen again to the words of Paul. “Beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” This is the antidote we all need because it will help us to reframe our lives from a positive perspective. According to Rosling, “The loss of hope is probably the most devastating consequence of the negativity instinct and the ignorance it causes.” Leading people to a place of hope is possible when we pull away from the negativity instinct.

Leaders must intentionally lead the way, helping the church community develop a more positive manner of looking at our world. God is still on the throne. Christ has not changed His mind about His bride, the Church! Remember, Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” The reality is that in many ways the world is getting better. There will still be bad news and difficult times, but overall there is improvement. I believe this is true in the life of the church as well. Is the church in some parts of the world aging? Yes! Is that creating an issue that makes it difficult to show that there is a net positive increase? Yes! However, that does not mean that the church is not reaching out and still leading thousands of people to Christ every year. Did you catch that? Somewhere around 120,000 people made a profession of faith last year through the work of the global Church of the Nazarene. Last year 501 new churches were organized, and over 100 of those were in the United States and Canada.

As I write this article, I am in Mozambique. Yesterday I sat with leaders in this country who are passionate about following Jesus. A few years ago, the district superintendents and other leaders got together to talk about what was happening in their country. They recognized a deep spiritual hunger among the people and an open door to the gospel. Realizing that they had been handed a significant opportunity, they knew they needed to act. The synergy of God and man, working together, resulted in a five-year strategic plan for the expansion of the work of the Kingdom in Mozambique. This included the addition of new districts and centers for discipleship and pastoral development. In the first three years, the church grew by 10 percent, and soon they will be meeting to assess the current effectiveness of the plan. They could have been overcome by poor conditions in parts of this country. They could have made excuses about the lack of funding and the challenging climate. Instead, they chose to focus on the positive and move in a direction where God was leading.

It is time to change our thinking and allow the Holy Spirit to transform our minds. Then we can lead the church in the direction where Christ is going. This will only happen when we intentionally practice truthfulness, focus on what is honorable, do what is just, have pure thoughts, engage in pleasing actions, practice excellence, and spend time praising and commending others. Let us think on these things.

Salt of the Earth

By Charles W. Christian

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?” — Matthew 5:13

Salt has, in some ways, developed a bad reputation these days. It can cause high blood pressure and heart issues when it is over used. Part of the reason salt has developed its reputation is that it is so accessible. That has not always been the case, of course. In ancient times, salt was relatively rare. Salt that could be used for consumption was even rarer.

In ancient times, salt could be a method of payment, and until the invention of canning and refrigeration, salt was the main way in which food was preserved for storage. While the overuse of salt can have ill effects on health, salt is an essential mineral for human life.

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Jesus calls His followers the “salt of the earth.”

This means we are God’s agents of preservation and health for this world. That is a big calling! God actually wishes to use us to help keep the world from rotting. We are agents that prevent the decay of our world by sharing the good news of God’s love and grace. When we choose not to participate in God’s agenda for us and for our world, we “lose our saltiness” and can actually become part of the problem.

As Nazarenes, we define holiness as both an individual experience and as an ongoing experience of participating with all of God’s people in the furthering of God’s ways in the world. In other words, there is both an individual and a social component to holiness.

Individually, we are transformed by God so that together we may be the “salt of the earth.” May we look for Spirit-led ways to be agents of God’s transforming love in the world this week and always.

Prayer for the Week:

Lord, we are Yours. As we surrender to You, may you move us from the ways of darkness to the ways of light. In so doing, may we become your instruments of peace, love, and preservation in the world, so that others can be prepared to receive your Holy Spirit and walk with us in the eternal glory of Your presence. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

*Charles W. Christian is managing editor of Holiness Today.

This article was originally published at Holiness Today.