The True Story of St. Nicholas

By Adam Estle

*This article was originally published by Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding (EMEU).

Have you found yourself pondering where the story of Santa Claus originated? You might also be asking yourself, “What does Santa Claus have to do with increasing my understanding of the Middle East?” We’re glad you asked!

To answer the century-old question posed by Virginia O’Hanlon, “Yes, there is a Santa Claus.” The name Santa Claus is an Anglicization of the Germanic ‘Sinterklaas’ which literally means Saint Nicholas. The Dutch and German settlers to America brought their beloved Saint with them to their new, mostly protestant (and non-Saint admiring) neighbors. The tradition became fused with the British Father Christmas (see Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” character “Ghost of Christmas Present”), and voila! Santa Claus was a huge hit!

Saint Nicholas, the man, was indeed a very real person. He was a Christian Bishop of Myra in Lycia, which is in present day Turkey. (Here’s the Middle East connection.) St. Nicholas lived in the 4th Century AD (15 March 270 – 6 December 343). If you don’t know, this was a supremely challenging time to be a Christian as the Roman Emperor Diocletian severely punished anyone affiliated with the new religion. Thankfully, this did not detour Nicholas. He made a name for himself, although not purposefully, as a gift giver – helping anyone he could, and trying to do it anonymously.

One of his most famous exploits involved a poor man who had three daughters but could not afford a proper dowry for them. This meant that they would remain unmarried and probably, in absence of any other possible employment, would have to become prostitutes. Hearing of the girls’ plight, Nicholas decided to help them, but being too modest to help the family in public (or to save them the humiliation of accepting charity), he went to the house under the cover of night three consecutive evenings and threw a purse filled with gold coins through the window opening into the house. The third night the father hid to catch and thank whomever this gift-giver was. Nicholas begged for him to keep
it a secret. As
 you might 
assume, this did 
not happen 
seeing that
 you’re reading
 the story 1,700+ 
years later.

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For all of his
works of charity,
 love, compassion
and kindness he
was imprisoned and beaten under the rule of Diocletian. When Diocletian died, Constantine came to power. Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313 which saw Nicholas released from prison and back to serve his community. In 325 Constantine held the 1st ecumenical meeting of Christians (the Council of Nicaea) which sought to set unity in Christian doctrine. Nicholas was a member of this council and famously punched a man named Arias who claimed that Christ was not divine. He later apologized, but added he could not bear to hear his Lord slandered. Regardless, he was quite instrumental in the formation of all branches of Christianity’s basic belief in the trinity.

While modernity lends itself to focusing more on Santa Claus than Jesus at this time of year, let us be reminded of who Saint Nicholas really was. He was a Middle Eastern Christian, and just like our brothers and sisters in the Middle East today he served Jesus through difficult circumstances.

Let Nicholas of Myra’s example (even if we see him dressed in red and white fur and drinking a Coca-Cola) remind us of how we should strive, despite adversity, to show the love that Jesus modeled. Through all the hype and consumerism that surrounds the contemporary view of Santa Claus, may we all remember who the real St. Nicholas was and how his story amplifies the true meaning of Christmas.

Please remember to pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the Middle East, where Christmas is not a holiday in a majority of their communities. Pray that they would be able to carve out time and opportunities to celebrate Jesus’ coming to earth, not just during this season but throughout the year.

 

An Uncommon Mission

By Ken Childress

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

A cursory reading of this verse might give us the impression that Jesus is saying, “The Father first sent Me; now it’s your turn.” But there is more to this verse than that. He is also saying, “In the very same way that the Father sent Me, that’s how I’m sending you.” The crucial question then becomes: How did God send Jesus?

Philippians 2 gives us a good understanding of the nature of Jesus’ mission. He humbled Himself, He took the form of a servant, and He became obedient to the point of death (Phil. 2:6-11). Jesus went from heavenly riches to earthly rags; from exaltation to humiliation; from authority to obedience; from ultimate significance to ultimate rejection; from comfort to hardship; from safety to danger; from glory to sacrifice; and from life to death. And He calls us to go into the world in exactly the same way!

Read that list again. Every one of those humbling transitions goes against our grain. We try to work our way up, not empty ourselves. We want more more significance, more safety, more authority, more attention, more comfort. But Jesus calls us to die to ourselves, to take up our cross and follow Him. He sends us out as He was sent.

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Does your attitude match that of Jesus? Do you take your mission seriously enough to go into the depths of this world – whether those depths are in another country, your own city, or even your own family – and live the gospel of humility for others to see? Jesus’ mission is to redeem this world, and He intends to shine the light in every vile, dark corner of it – through you and me. He calls His followers into prisons and concentration camps, into opium dens and brothels, and into leper colonies and psychiatric wards. He also calls them into night clubs, corporate conference rooms, university classrooms, and sports arenas. There is no place too uncomfortable, dangerous, or unlikely. Are you willing? As the Father sent Him, so He sends us into our community.

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

 

The Protestant Reformation 500 Years Later

“Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out…At the Lord’s command they encamped, and at the Lord’s command they set out.  They obeyed the Lord’s order, in accordance with his command through Moses” (Numbers 9:21, 23).

October 2017 is a special month. It marks the five-hundredth anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. The end of this month, October 31, will be five hundred years to the day since Martin Luther nailed the Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This was the act that started it all, that started the grand and vast movement of Protestantism, that started the Reformation.

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In the evangelical church – and in the Church of the Nazarene specifically – we have obviously been greatly impacted by the Reformation.  If you have ever asked, “Why do we do this or that in the Church?”, many times the answer comes in large part due to the Protestant Reformation.

During the entirety of this month, we will be focusing on this anniversary. At times we will dive into the lives of the Reformers.  Other times we will focus on the core tenets of the Reformation (keep an eye out for the “5 Solas”). The primary purpose will be to help us learn about and reflect upon this enormously important event and how it has brought us to this moment in history as a Christian Church.

At the same time, a secondary purpose is also at work.  By dedicating a month to this topic, I hope that we will recognize that we are a Church that is always willing to evaluate itself and make adjustments as needed.  We have not always been good at that through history, have we? The Church has often been the last entity in society that is willing to change.

Thus, through this month I pray that we would renew our calling to reform, beginning with ourselves.  Just as the post-Exodus Israelites needed to be ready in any moment to follow the cloud, may we be so attuned to God’s presence that we willingly move and adapt at his prompting.  Lord, begin a reformation in me, and in us!

Jesus in the E.R.

Por Scott Armstrong

“On hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners'” Matthew 9:12-13 NIV.

(Read Matthew 9:9-13)

I have to admit.  The Emergency Room is not my favorite place in the world.  There is need all around you.  Children coughing, tired parents, twisted ankles, even some serious emergencies that waver between life and death.

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What would happen if a completely healthy man walked into the E.R. and demanded to be treated? All the sick people in the waiting room are miserably biding their time until they can be seen.  The hospital rooms are full with injured people in the middle of operations and treatments and care.  And one guy decides he is more important than anybody and has to immediately be seen by a doctor.  No reason, really.  He just wants the attention.

Does it sound ridiculous? It should.  And yet, many Christians—maybe you and I—spend our time focusing on all the healthy people while failing to recognize we’re in the middle of the Emergency Room.

I love the simple passage we read today.  Matthew is writing about his own calling.  He doesn’t spend a long time describing the scene, but you can tell Matthew remembers it well.  He remembers the things said about him, his friends, his Lord.  That day was the day that transformed Matthew.  He went from sick to healthy in a span of hours.  And now his mission is to tell the world that the Doctor has come with a cure.  That’s why he’s writing this in the first place.

If we have come to Christ and have a relationship with him, we are—at least according to these verses—healthy.  Sure, we all need to grow.  Not one of us has outgrown our need for Jesus.  But part of our responsibility after being healed is to leave the hospital and bring more sick people to the Doctor!  The day Matthew met the Doctor he was bringing others to him.  Years later he wrote the words that we just read because he wanted all to know that Jesus spent his entire life—and awful death—saving sinners.

The question is: are you doing the same? Are you really convinced that people are going to hell without Christ? You have been given the cure.  What are you doing to spread that cure to those who are dying without it?

The Challenge is Urban

By Scott Armstrong

Last week I had the privilege of being in Panama where several leaders were gathered to brainstorm solutions for more effective ministry in three areas:

  • Urban Mission
  • Youth
  • Children

These areas have been declared our regional emphases in Mesoamerica for the upcoming Quadrennial.  And rightly so: although great things are currently taking place in each of these ministries, we have a long way to go before we see an explosion of fruit all across the region among children, youth, and our cities.

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I’m sure you have listened to our Worthless Servants podcast recently (if you haven’t, seriously, what are you doing with your life?), and you know we have addressed all three of these issues in various episodes.  However, for the sake of this article, let’s focus on urban mission.

If you have heard my wife and I speak recently in any service or event, you know that we are banging the drum for urban mission.  Our ministry is GENESIS after all, where the mission is to make Christlike disciples in the urban centers of Mesoamerica.  We are sending missionaries to 28 strategic cities so that they may plant churches and impact communities with little or no Nazarene presence.  And it is happening!

Still, I admit that the influence a team of four workers can have in a city of 1 million+ is limited.  And what about the other cities that have not been identified as the 28 strategic, urgent sites that will receive missionaries? It is clear that our whole region needs a genesis and it will not come solely because of a dedicated volunteer missionary force.

This very week while we were in Panama, we received from Dale Jones in Nazarene Research (love them!) a list of all of the cities in the Mesoamerica Region with 100,000 or more in population.  The findings are intriguing and yet staggering:

  1. General statistics show that 72% of Mesoamerica lives in an urban area (this includes several cities of less than 100,000 that are still considered urban). Nearly 3 out of every four of us is an urbanite! When you think of urban, you may think of New York, Beijing, or Tokyo. But we are the region with the highest percentage of urban dwellers.
  2. In just two years we have grown from 169 cities with 100,000 people or more to 182 fitting that description. All over the world people are moving to the big city in droves, and our region is no exception.
  3. Of these 182 metropolises, 115 are in one country: Mexico. One. Five.  Reaching the cities of our region means especially reaching the cities of Mexico, many of which have no Nazarene church.
  4. After Mexico, the four countries that have the most cities with population of 100,000 or more are: Cuba (16), Dominican Republic (9), Haiti (8), and Nicaragua (7). In other words, 155 of the 182 biggest cities in our region are in FIVE countries. Would you pray specifically for urban impact in those five countries?
  5. The total population in Mesoamerica is 223 million. 42 million of us live in cities with greater than 100,000 people.  That’s 54%More of us live in a huge city than don’t.  Shouldn’t this effect the way we equip our leaders for ministry?

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  6. If the majority of our population lives in a big city, then that’s where all our Nazarenes are, too, right? Wrong. Only 32% of our members live in a city of over 100,000 people.  That’s 129,354 out of 406,000 total Nazarenes.

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  7. #5 and #6 above cause me to reflect: I know that we have many Nazarene members in these cities already and I praise the Lord for their witness. However, there is no doubt that in the great majority of these urban settings, we lack a true presence as a Church of the Nazarene.  Having a church building and holding services every week will not cut it.  In order to impact the city, sacrificial, creative, and missional discipleship will be required in the days ahead.
  8. A significant number of these 182 cities have recently been affected adversely by devastating natural disasters. Could it be that our entryway into these cities would come through comforting those who have lost all in hurricanes or earthquakes? Could it be that – even without natural disasters – acting as agents of compassion would be the healthy way to impact our cities anyway?

My intention is not to overwhelm you with statistics.  I recognize that each observation above must be digested thoughtfully for greatest understanding, and I pray you would do so!  Honestly, I share all of this not just to inform, but also to invite you to be a part of this initiative.

Would you pray?

Would you give?

Would you go and impact an urban context right where you are or even far away?

Comment below if God is turning your focus toward the city.  Communicate with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or at MesoamericaGenesis.org.  Listen to our podcast and tell others about it so the conversation about these topics spreads.

We need your help.  The statistics are clear and the call of God is clearer: let’s bring a genesis to the urban centers of Mesoamerica.