A Return to Rainy Season

By Scott Armstrong

I need to confess something at the onset of this article.  It’s regarding my spiritual walk and I am not proud of what I’m about to say.

I am very faithful at doing my devotions every day, but I do not always meet with God.

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Your reaction is probably this right now

What?! Doing your devotions is reading the Bible, praying and reflecting, all with the purpose of growing closer to God.  How can you do all those things and not meet with God? It doesn’t make sense!

You are right; it’s insane!  It’s like meeting up at a café with a friend you’ve longed to catch up with, and then spending the entire time on your cellphone.  I’ll go further: it’s like doing THAT and then returning home and contentedly checking “Meet with friend” off your to-do list.

I am faithful every day to read my Bible.  I pray and sometimes listen to Christian music.  But if I am not careful, it is all hurried.  Lost in the assault of appointments to come.  And worst of all, forgotten 5 minutes after I close the Bible.

It needs to change.  And that is why we took yesterday as our office to dedicate to a day-long spiritual retreat: listening to God through silence and his Word, confessing to one another, and praying for individual and ministry requests.  It was a necessary time of renewal that each one of us sorely needed.

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As the rain started to softly fall upon the grass and shrubs in our front yard, God led me to Isaiah 55, especially verses 10-11:

“As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,

so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

I sensed him say:

“Just as the literal rain falling around you replenishes the soil,

allow me to refresh your soul every morning.

Don’t just open your Bible; dwell in my Word and let it dwell in you.

I desire to remake you into my likeness, but that takes time.

Are you willing to enjoy me or do you see me as another task to be completed?”

Ouch.

So I have committed to preparing the soil of my life to receive his nourishment every morning.  That can’t happen in five minutes of express-devotions.  Honestly, it won’t occur in 15 minutes either.  It will require making sacrifices in other areas.  THIS is the most important area.  THIS is the only real area that matters anyway.

If you have no devotional life, creating a habit of 5 minutes a day may be the first step.  God will honor that.  But if you have already developed the habit (or fallen into a rut), you need to take the next step.  Will you commit with me to make the necessary adjustments in order to move from ritual back to relationship?

In other words, let’s make sure we are faithful at “doing our devotions” every day.  But let’s make sure we truly meet with God during those times as well.

“Listen, listen to me…and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.” –Is. 55:2

 

I Learned to Listen to His Voice

I am Marvin Ac, I received Jesus Christ in 2008, after leaders of the church shared with me the Good News. I was baptized as a witness of my new life in Christ and by a public statement of my new faith in Jesus.

I was one of the first to receive a diploma in Youth Ministry offered by the Church of the Nazarene in 2010. It was during this time I received the tools necessary to encourage me to have a more effective ministry and provided me the understanding and need to go into all the nations and make Christ-like disciples.

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To accomplish this, I made the decision to serve as a volunteer missionary with the Genesis Initiative in Veracruz, Mexico from 2014 – 2016. This was a wonderful experience where I saw the glory of God manifested in my life and in the lives of others when they recognized Him as their Lord and Savior. It was during this time, I recognized that I was not only would give, but  receive as well. Genesis helped me to rely completely on God in all areas of my life.

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While with Genesis, I also learned to listen to His voice and to understand more of His faithfulness. I learned to see His presence glow on the faces of those who praised and sought Him in prayer. I can say with certainty today, that being a part of Genesis was the most important decision I’ve made in my life. I will never regret having the opportunity to serve and be a blessing to the people in Veracruz.

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The Lord took what I learned from Genesis and led me to where I am today, serving as missionary pastor in Mission “La Loma.” This is a mission we’ve started from what was once just a concept. We currently have a children’s ministry and a small group of adult teachers and leaders.

The king proclaims the Lord’s decree: “The Lord said to me, ‘You are my son. Today I have become your Father. Only ask, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance, the whole earth as your possession. Psalm 2:7-8

“Enlarge your house; build an addition. Spread out your home, and spare no expense! For you will soon be bursting at the seams. Your descendants will occupy other nations and resettle the ruined cities. Isaiah 54:2-3

Trickle-Down Evangelism

By Jeff Christopherson

Are disciples becoming disciple-makers?

Does trickle-down evangelism work? If we feed the disciple enough, will he or she become a powerhouse warrior for the Kingdom of God?

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Here’s the version you’re most likely to hear: “We have to focus on our people. So many of them are immature and in desperate need of spiritual instruction. If we prioritize the growth and maturity of our people then that will have a trickle-down impact on their passion and ability to live on mission and share the gospel.” And so we design our churches for growth, consciously or unconsciously, through this filter.

This rationale at first seems prudent, but far too often the stated goal never comes to fruition. Rather than passionate, mobilized, mature believers, the church’s efforts end up fostering an inwardly-focused people who are increasingly isolated from the world they are commissioned to reach. Instead of a kingdom warrior, our trickle-down efforts seem only to muster an isolated, insulated, and evangelistically impotent churchman.

In reality, the longer it takes for new disciples to become disciple-makers, the more unlikely it is they will prioritize this work. Over time, the gravitational pull of their new relationships in the church will extract them from their relationships with others who are far from God and his church. The stronger the signal that church sends of ‘come and see’ over ‘go and tell,’ the less likely personal evangelism will ever take place. What’s worse, the more the pastor is observed as a ‘teller’ rather than ‘doer,’ the less likely the flock will be personally engaged in the work of evangelism.

So the trickle-down evangelism theory suffers from two fatal flaws: it creates a busy leadership that in their busyness become largely evangelistically unengaged; and, in our unending efforts to ‘equip,’ we have unintentionally isolated the mission force from the mission field.

New Believers and Evangelism

That’s why it’s vital that we create structures to unleash new believers into the harvest immediately after conversion. Writing to the church in Corinth, Paul reminds believers that all those who have been reconciled to God through Christ have been entrusted with the message of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:16–21). This work isn’t for those who have crossed a certain threshold of sanctification; it is a mission given to all those who’ve trusted in Jesus for their salvation. “God saves and sends” isn’t a trite cliché; rather, it is the two-fold pattern God uses throughout Scripture and history to foster his missionary work in the world.

The temporal link between saving and sending maximizes the potential evangelistic impact and builds life rhythms that foster evangelistic intentionality throughout the new believer’s maturation process.

First, those who have recently come to faith are far more likely to live, learn, work, and play with those who are far from God and his church. Their previous patterns of life were likely infused with those in need of seeing and hearing the gospel. Not only are they in relationship with the lost, but these relationships are the prime context to model the transformation that the gospel brings.

Who better to notice the change of thought and practice that follows conversion than those friends who have seen the fruit of unrighteousness that once defined a person’s life? Since the relational bridge to these relationships is already in place, it is wise to immediately leverage them for the sake of the gospel.

Second, this level of evangelistic intentionality creates rhythms that should define the life of anyone seeking to walk faithfully with Christ. The malaise and apathy toward evangelism that far too often characterizes God’s church is likely attributable to the fact that many new believers internalized their church’s priorities which failed to engage them in evangelism early in their Christian walks.

As a result, in order for evangelistic fervor to mark God’s church once again, they must unlearn all sorts of habits that seem to imply that evangelism is an arbitrary add-on to an otherwise sufficient Christian life. Linking saving and sending allows the church to build healthy practices from the outset, rather than expecting healthy rhythms to mystically emerge after long contradictory patterns have already been forged.

This mindset need not imply that it’s unnecessary to equip and train believers to maturity. What’s at issue isn’t this laudable goal, but the pursuit of discipleship in a way that is disconnected from the work of evangelism. We can’t expect that an extracted disciple’s growth in maturity will trickle-down to a waiting harvest no matter the quality and quantity of the sacred buffet that we offer.

After all, if disciple-making is the assignment that Jesus gave his church, then evangelism really isn’t finished until the evangelized find themselves as evangelists and disciplers.

This article was originally published at: Christianity Today

No Hands, No Feet but Yours

Christmas Day, and now Christmas season, have come and gone.  In this blog, in our podcast, and hopefully in your local church, you have focused on the Incarnation: God with us.  He came to bring joy and hope!  The God of the entire universe has taken on flesh and “borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” (Is. 53:4).  This is great news!

Yet, as we move into a new year, the Incarnation not only comforts us, but also calls to us.  It calls for a deeper commitment on our part. The God who became like us now asks us to become like those around us in order to more effectively share this good news. We are to be the hands and feet of Christ in this world.

Is that concept uncomfortable to you? I heard an author once who said we should retire that phrase.  “We cannot be the hands and feet of Christ to anyone,” he maintained.  “Only Jesus can be Christ to the world and it is heretical to assume we are in his place!” He does have a good point: only Jesus can save, and any language that begins to allude to us as doing any part of that is pretty risky.

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However, I believe the phrase is valuable and theologically sound.  The primary manner that God uses to reach this desperate world is through the Church!  We are his extension.  As the Father sent him, so He sends us (Jn. 20:21)!  In fact, the idea of us being his hands and feet comes not from some modern preacher or writer attempting to creatively inspire us in mission.  Remember 1 Corinthians 12:27? “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.” This is pretty biblical, then, agreed?!

Perhaps the most eloquent expression of this reality was written nearly 500 years ago by a Carmelite nun, St. Teresa of Avila.  As you read it, be thankful not only that God became man for us, but that we, too, have been given the privilege to be his active presence in this world!

“Christ has no body but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

Compassion on this world,

Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,

Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.

Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,

Yours are the eyes, you are his body.

Christ has no body now but yours,

No hands, no feet on earth but yours,

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

compassion on this world.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”

–St. Teresa of Avila

 

Christmas Day 2017

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Here we are.

Christmas.

Lots of waiting for today, and now the hope is realized.

Little kids finally get to open those presents.

Busy workers finally get a day off.

Family members finally get to see each other.

Eat together.

Laugh together.

And each one of these “finallys” is an echo of that first Christmas day.

Estranged and lonely, we find we are – He is – family.

Exhausted and cynical, we find rest in Him.

The Great I Am takes our past, offers us a future, but most of all gives Himself to us as the ultimate present.

Jesus.

We are changed by Your arrival.

We receive You once again.

We need You this day,

this season,

always.

Come.

Advent: Waiting on the Lord’s Coming

By Josue Villatoro

The emphasis during Advent season is on waiting. We are expectant; we are preparing to celebrate Christmas. I like that dynamic. However, Christmas is not an ordinary party: it is not about Santa Claus, the gifts, or even the family. It is good that there are gathered families, gifts under the tree, and a Christmas spirit! But Christmas celebration is more. Christmas is Jesus. In a few days, we will celebrate the God that became human and lived among us. What a wonderful celebration! But we can’t arrive to it all of a sudden, we must prepare ourselves. To celebrate Advent prepares us to commemorate Christmas in the best way possible.

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Each Sunday of this celebration has a value. Last Sunday we emphasized that we are expecting Jesus, because He is our hope. This coming Sunday, and during this week, we are focusing on waiting because we have “faith.” Little word, big significance. We don’t see Him, we haven’t seen Him, but we are sure that someday we will see Him. We prepare ourselves to celebrate Christmas because we have faith in Jesus, because we trust His promises. But we are also waiting on His second coming, because we are sure that He will come. Have faith. May there be no argument, power or human evidence to make you doubt your faith rooted in Jesus, the Christ. We celebrate Him, because we trust Him!

Learning from Mary

By Charles W. Christian

I once heard a Catholic priest tell a joke about a scene in Heaven. Jesus walks up to a Protestant and a Catholic and says to them, “I am glad to see you two getting along so well.” Then Jesus turns to the Protestant and says, “I would like to introduce you to my mother.  I don’t think you two have met!”

We Protestants in the crowd laughed, but it challenged me to take a closer look at what we as Christians – both Protestants and Catholics – can learn from Mary.

Based on the Gospels, here are a few lessons that come to mind:

  • We can be available for the work of God: “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
  • We can allow faith in God to override our fears:  [Elizabeth said to her], “Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her” (Luke 1:45).
  • We can embody thankfulness:  “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Luke 1:46-47).
  • We can allow God to use us to speak prophetically to a world in need of a Savior: “He [God] has performed mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered the proud. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble” (Luke 1:51-52).
  • We can learn to treasure God’s gifts: “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

There are many other lessons we can learn from Mary’s example.  During this season of Advent, may we, like Mary, approach the future with humility, faithfulness, and hope.

God has chosen His Church to be the bearers of the good news of the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Let us adore Him, and let us share this good news by the power of the Holy Spirit as we journey together through Advent.

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Prayer for the week:

Teach us obedience, Lord
In every part of our lives
Ears to hear your word
Hands to do your work
Feet to walk your path
A heart for all your people
A mouth to shout your praise
A childlike faith
Humility
Confidence
That says
To the possible
And the impossible
I am the Lord’s servant
May it be to me as you have said.
Amen

(John Birch at faithandworship.com)

This article was originally published at: Holiness Today