Christ-Centered Discipleship

A few months ago, Dr. Rubén Fernández published in the Didache theological resource website an essay on discipleship within the context of the Mesoamerica Region.  I found it to be a bold, insightful rebuke of our current Church leadership and methodology (I include myself in that distinction).  Below I have provided an extract of this article that I hope you’ll find challenging.  The entire document is here.

We need a greater commitment to the life of holiness. As disciples of Christ we need to fight against the desires of the flesh that want to impose themselves on those of the Spirit. Desires that lead us to accommodate ourselves, to avoid situations or confrontations that may cause us harm, to believe that we have the right to ‘enjoy life’ by turning a blind eye to sin and the suffering that surrounds us.

We must practice a biblical and Christ-centered discipleship that mobilizes the Church to serve the world.

Today, for many Christians (both Roman Catholic and Evangelical), the cross is simply an element that is part of their dress code or a sort of protective amulet for their house or vehicle. Jesus died for our sins. That’s true. But it is also equally true that Jesus died because he confronted the corruption of power. The ministry of Jesus, was really transformative, countercultural and revolutionary and, therefore, highly dangerous.

Biblical and Christ-centered discipleship should shake the church out of its comfort zone and out of its ‘heavenly spirituality’ and lead the church to serve people by transforming their communities.

Young people are waiting for a militant, dissenting, reactive church. We are losing the new generations that reject a church interested in keeping things as they are.

How much do we teach people what it would be like to take up the cross today? To be radical will involve denouncing violence, defending those who are attacked unjustly, taking the side of the weakest, children, the elderly, the unprotected, etc.

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What is the price that a person pays for condemning these things? They will not have more money or win friends. More likely, they will probably be ‘in the sight’ of the Central American gangs, drug cartels or human trafficking in Mexico, corrupt police, purchased judges or unscrupulous politicians almost everywhere. If we put ourselves in the place of those brothers and sisters who have been victimized and others who live under threat to their families, it seems difficult to believe that our ‘prophetic voice’ could deal with those issues.

John Wesley said, “The world is my parish.” How can we mobilize each Nazarene to carry their cross with dignity, so that they may respond to their personal call and become actively involved in the transformation of that place in the world where God has sent them to serve?

My observation in Mesoamerica is that the leadership of the evangelical church in general terms is of a conformist type. What we do well is preserve the status quo. We do not develop true discipleship on the road to the cross. We do not carry out real transformational leadership, like that of Jesus; we only put bandages on the wounds (and not that that’s wrong, but is it enough?). There are some of the countries in our region, such as in Central America, where the percentage of evangelicals is high and growing, but with a tiny impact on the change of society.

Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, who was murdered in cold blood at mass in 1980, said in a homily a year before his death: “A sermon that does not point to sin is not a gospel sermon…When the Church hears the weeping of the oppressed it cannot but denounce the social structures that nourish and perpetuate the misery from which the cry comes.”

How do we Nazarenes see the involvement of our church members in political careers? What message are we communicating to our members about the value of investing life in professions related to service and public administration?

How can we change the paradigm that still exists in many churches that the only way to serve God is through the pastoral profession or intra-ecclesial leadership?

How can we change from being trainers of church leaders to being trainers of leaders for our present context and reality?

***Dr. Rubén Fernández is Rector of the Seminario Nazareno de las Américas (SENDAS) in San José, Costa Rica.

Guatemala Volcano Response – You Can Help

On Sunday, 3 June, the Volcán de Fuego in Guatemala erupted, killing more than 69 people, a number that is expected to rise. Fast-moving avalanches of rock and ash tore down the mountain, reaching temperatures as high as 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit. Villages in three provinces — Chimaltenango, Escuintla, and Sacatepéquez — were covered with ash and debris. The full extent of the damage is still unknown as rescue efforts and rehabilitation have been hindered by further eruptions and rain. 

People affected by this disaster need your help. 

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GIVE NOW

Entire communities have been destroyed, and Nazarene brothers and sisters are among those who have lost loved ones. A team of Nazarene volunteers from nearby communities arrived in Escuintla on Monday to visit shelters and distribute emergency medical supplies, but the needs are still great and urgent.

It will be a long time before those affected are able to recover or return to what may seem normal; entire homes and livelihoods were engulfed. The loss will linger for many years. By supporting the Mesoamerica Disaster Relief fund, you are coming alongside local churches to provide for urgent needs now and support long-term recovery efforts into the future. 

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The needs are great and recovery could take years.

GIVE NOW

How You Can Help 

PRAY

Please pray for families and individuals affected by the eruption and subsequent landslides. Pray especially for those who have lost loved ones. Pray for those who have lost their homes and livelihoods. Pray for the energy, resilience, and success of the rescue workers and volunteers. Pray for those experiencing trauma, that they would sense God’s peace and presence. Pray for those who are most vulnerable, especially senior adults, individuals with disabilities, and people living in poverty. Pray for church leaders and churches responding to the needs around them. To send a prayer or note of encouragement, go to ncm.org/pray.

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GIVE

Churches and individuals around the world can provide support through the Mesoamerica Disaster Relief fund. Donations will be used to provide for immediate needs, including food, water, and medical supplies, as well as for long-term rebuilding.

To send donations by mail:

In the U.S., make checks payable to “General Treasurer” and send them to: 

Global Treasury Services
Church of the Nazarene
P.O. Box 843116
Kansas City, MO 64184-3116

Be sure to put 132290 in the Memo area.

In Canada, make checks payable to “Church of the Nazarene Canada” and send them to:

Church of the Nazarene Canada
3657 Ponytrail Drive
Mississauga, ON L4X 1W5

Be sure to put 132290 in the Memo area.

For additional countries, please give through your local church or district, designating your gift to Mesoamerica Disaster Relief: Guatemala Volcano.

This information was distributed by Nazarene Compassionate Ministries. Photo credit: Mesoamerica Communications.

In the Face of Suffering and Social Problems

Written by Rev. Leonel de León, Northcentral Field Strategy Coordinator, Mesoamerica Region

In the face of suffering and the social problems we are going through, I share the following perspective:

Our prayers for the current reality facing us are a plea to the Lord so that He can care, protect, and assist His people. We also pray for a miracle, but we understand that circumstances won’t change as long as we allow the fallen nature of the human race to prevail. 

If we read and understand history, we will discover that such social problems have been a result of the fallen nature of humanity, and it has been God who has changed and mobilized His people in the Old Testament and then His Church to bring about change. 

Sometimes we get frustrated when we don’t see “specific” answers to our prayers.  We expect an “angelical revolution” that brings justice, equality and love, but sadly we don’t see it. Therefore, we ask in prayer for the Church to be strengthened and intervene, not through political or social protests, but with the powerful message of justice and repentance. “The kingdom of heaven has come near…” And this Kingdom is different than any earthly kingdom.

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We feel sorry when we see kids, youth and adults being massacred.  It hurts us to see the social and cultural decay wrought because of vandalism, hatred and retaliation. But our prayers do help, for God continues to touch, heal and intervene as the Church plays its role as the salt and light of the world.

When England attempted to move onward during the devastation of World War II, Winston Churchill invited his people to pray.  The miracle of prayer was seen in people’s changed attitudes, and certain victory was the result. Therefore, pray NOT for missiles to fall from heaven on the wicked.  Pray NOT for evil ones to die.  Rather, let’s PRAY for God to change our attitudes and strategies about the circumstances we are living in.  Let’s allow God to guide us.  Let’s not impose on God our desires or intentions. God’s silence a lot of times is the SELAH of the church. (Selah means being still and reflecting on God’s message.)

Latin America has suffered multiple civil wars, exploitation and plundering, as well as vandalism and the pain of losing thousands of loved ones. Siblings have killed each other simply because they belong to different sides in politics or war. The Church, however, is not a political party, and it doesn’t belong to any side. The Church is the Church of Christ: its message is different from any other extreme ideological message. The Church is immersed in and between cultures, but neither culture nor ideologies should ever come above the Kingdom’s message, nor above the government of Christ. The mission of the Church is to reach both good and bad.  Christ’s message is not discriminatory, and it doesn’t adjust according to politics or ideologies. The message of the Kingdom is JESUS CHRIST, providing the opportunity for the fallen to stand up. That is why we as the Church support peace and justice, and vow to never support any fallen human ideology.

I powerfully believe that the God of history is with us and weeps at these disastrous situations.  Yet, that same God of history also expects that the Church would play its role of salt and light. Together under the flag of Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit, we can and will take action so that our people suffer less.

 This article was originally published at: mesoamericaregion.org

Pray for Guatemala

The Volcano of Fire (Volcán de Fuego), located 50 km from the Guatemalan capital, caused much damage after a powerful eruption yesterday. The most recent report from CONRED, the Guatemalan disaster response organization, said that over 1.7 million people have been affected, 3,265 people have been evacuated, 1,195 people have been left homeless, 20 were injured, and 25 people died as a result of the eruption.

Damaris Kellogg, the Mesoamerica North Central Field Nazarene Compassionate Ministries (NCM) Coordinator, shared that there are currently no reports of damages to Church of the Nazarene buildings or properties. However, members of the Church of the Nazarene have been moved to temporary shelters and are very frightened.

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Field NCM leadership has maintained constant communication with local pastors, who have shared information about current shelters. This morning a team left from the North Central Field Office to visit shelters in the department of Escuintla to bring both physical and spiritual aid. The team is bringing basic supplies, such as water, food, diapers and blankets. Included in the group are NCM Coordinator Damaris Kellogg and Field Strategy Coordinator Rev. Leonel de Leon.

Kellogg said, “There are several families whose loved ones are missing, and others who have family members in the hospital. There are emergency responders who are missing as well. We ask for your prayers for the families who are affected and for the church, that we would see both physical and spiritual needs with the eyes of Jesus. We know that God is in control and that God loves Guatemala!”

Source: Damaris Kellogg, North Central Field NCM Coordinator, Mesoamerica Region, via Mesoamerica Communications

This article was originally published at: mesoamericaregion.org

Let Go and Become New!

By Cathy Spangler

In the last decade, it has become popular on television to see different make-overs.  Sometimes it is a wardrobe, haircut, and make-up that bring a drastic change.  But other times entire homes are transformed from run-down to state-of-the-art in just a few days!

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Anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Cor. 5:17).

In this day of “make-overs”, the verse above seems easy to understand.  God gives us a new look: a better and healthier one for sure!  But the Apostle Paul is not referring to our outward looks, although many times God changes our appearance, too.  This verse talks of a new life: something that requires a deep changeon the inside.  I used to think that was a one-time whammy that comes in the salvation experience.  But now I realize this making of me into a new creation is also a process that is ongoing!

“And I will give you a new heart and I will put a new spirit in you.  I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart” (Ez. 36:26).

When God removes our stubbornness, he does so in order to release us to be all that He created us for.  He empowers us.  He gives us the ability to overcome discouragement and emptiness!  Heenables us to love Him and others like we never could before.  Hehelps us look past difficulties to the victory beyond.  And hefills our hearts with trust and faith!  All this comeswith a flood of peace and contentment!

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Throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception.  Instead let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes.  Put on your new nature, created to be like God-truly righteous and holy” (Eph. 4:22-24).

Did you know that we have a responsibility in this “make-over”? God gives us a new nature, but we have to put it on!  We let the Spirit change our attitudes by paying attention to the Word and applying it as we come to understand it, a little at a time. 

“Forget the former things.  Do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Is. 43:18-19).

Part of becoming this new creation is LETTING GO of the past.  “The old life is gone…” So often we limit ourselves because of fear and failure in the past.  The “what – ifs” keep us from getting out of our boat of safety and comfort and walking to Jesus out there on the water.

Do we want miracles in our lives? Do we want to walk in the glory and fire of God? Of course! So, quit holding on to the past and take a chance on a NEW walk with God, in His light and in His Spirit.  We can access power beyond our wildest dreams.  We can see financial breakthroughs by faith.  We can see our loved ones delivered, saved, healed and protected.  Really!

That’s what it’s going to take in this end-time season.  Let’s expect!  Let’s receive!  Let’s let go and become NEW!

Dejected…and Rejoicing

By Scott Armstrong

As many in the Nazarene world and beyond are aware, a week ago a Boeing 737 airliner with more than 110 passengers and crew crashed Friday near Jose Marti International Airport in Havana, Cuba, shortly after takeoff. The plane, Cubana Flight 972, was on its way to Holguín, Cuba, when it went down about 12 p.m. local time.

On board the aircraft, 10 couples from the East District were on their way back to their home Province of Holguín after being part of a National Conference for pastors from the Church of the Nazarene. In the days after, expressions of grief and solidarity were expressed from the General Superintendents and brothers and sisters around the globe. On May 21, Dr. Carla Sunberg dedicated her message at the Global Ministry Center’s chapel service to the couples who were killed and the family members and Cuban leaders who are picking up the pieces after this tragedy.

In the Dominican Republic the missionaries and National Office leadership met, as we do every week, for devotions and prayer.  This time the mood was somber.  We knew the right theology: God is sovereign.  He has a plan.  He offers eternal life to those who die in Him.  However, the questions remained: why did this happen? Why didn’t God stop this? What about the ten orphaned children who are now weeping and will not see their parents on this side of heaven?

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In the midst of such struggle, the Nazarene Compassionate Ministries’ Coordinator for the Central Field (Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Panama, and Puerto Rico), Paquita Bidó, began to read from Psalm 100.

“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.

Worship the Lord with gladness;

come before him with joyful songs.

Know that the Lord is God.

It is he who made us, and we are his;

we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

 

Enter his gates with thanksgiving

and his courts with praise;

give thanks to him and praise his name.

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;

his faithfulness continues through all generations.”

Worshipping with gladness? Joyful songs? Thanksgiving and praise? Clearly, this is not a lament Psalm!

Paquita acknowledged that we mourn with our Cuban family, and we recognize our bewilderment.  We must not explain away this devastating loss with trite words of affirmation or theological maxims.  At the same time, she explained that she brought this psalm to us as an expression of faith in the very midst of sorrow.  The Lord is God; we are not.  He is Creator, and we are his creation.  As sheep, we enjoy the care of the Shepherd and obey his voice.  What a privilege to serve him for as long as he gives us breath.

Paquita continued.  If we proclaim that God is faithful only in the good times, then what good is that? Our trust would be based merely on circumstances going our way and not on a loving Father who allows pain in our lives because he knows best.  However, we do, in fact, declare that He is good, and His love endures forever, even in – or especially in – this bitter reality confronting us.  And his faithfulness is promised not only to us, but it continues through all generations.

In the light of this reality, and even in the midst of sadness, we shout for joy!  Our tears co-mingle with thanks and praise.  God is good.  Still. Even now.

Our entire region is devastated. We have mobilized to give and pray for Cuba.  And as we weep, we also rejoice that we serve a good and faithful God.  Yes, his love endures forever.

Fear…and Popcorn

By Cathy Spangler

“God has not given you a spirit of fear, but of power and love and a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7).

Fear is a pretty built-in thing.  We teach our kids to “fear” a hot stove or traffic.  Fear protects us from danger sometimes; in other words, it’s quite often healthy to be afraid.

So why does the Bible say, “Fear not” a jillion times?

Moments ago, I let my horse, Popcorn, out to pasture.  When I opened the gate, he looked at me like I was threatening him.  He snorted and backed up.  I realized then that my jacket was flopping in the wind and it was scaring him.  None of the other horses even noticed my jacket…they were just excited at the freedom of getting out.  After I softly encouraged him, my horse finally got the nerve to pass me and gallop away as fast as he could.

Popcorn is a 21-year old quarter horse gelding that I bought about 6 years ago.  He had “trust” issues when I first started riding him; he was always scared of something.  Once when my husband and I were on a trail ride, an automatic sprinkler came on near us – the kind that goes back and forth.  Popcorn was terrified and spun in a circle because I would not let him run away.  He tripped, fell, and pinned my leg under him.

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After an overnight hospital stay, I recovered.  But I realized that now I also had a problem with fear.  When I rode Popcorn and he got scared, I became scared, too.  A year later, Popcorn got spooked and fell down with me again!  I wasn’t hurt this time, but fear was something I had to master to even get on him. 

When I brought this whole issue to the LORD, He pointed out that my fear was not just relegated to riding Popcorn.  In fact, my fear was keeping Him from using me in different areas of my life.

I’m afraid to drive in cities.

I’m afraid I won’t be liked or effective.

I’m afraid to get up in front of people.

I’m afraid of conflict or confrontation.

It seemed like God was saying, “I tell you to ‘fear not’ because fear comes between us.  Your fear needs to be replaced by trust quickly or this spirit of fear will get a foothold.  It is robbing you of your power, your love, and your sound mind!  Get rid of your fear by stirring up your faith!”

Because of his continued fear, I can no longer ride Popcorn.  It is so disappointing!  That horse is a beautiful, sweet, little guy that I cannot use at all.  May it never be said of me that God loves me, but He can’t use me because of my overwhelming fear.  No – I’m repenting and renouncing my fears.  I am replacing fear with faith, and saying to myself every day, “I DO NOT HAVE a spirit of fear, but of POWER, LOVE and a SOUND MIND!”   

How about you?