Waiting Power

By: Dr. Dan Schafer

President, World Gospel Mission

*The following is an extract from the book: Transformational Vision

“Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.” – Psalm 27:14

Mind boggling! Sitting in the sweltering heat of an Ugandan afternoon, I typed up and sent off an important email with several recipients. One of those recipients sat across the table from me, the others were scattered around the world.

“Got it!” was the reply from my colleague seemingly before I lifted my finger from the sent button. How is it possible for that email to travel from my computer in the depths of Africa, across the continent, over the ocean, to the heart of the US, and then repeat the journey back, signaling its arrival into the inbox of my table companion in just a few seconds?

Not only is this possible, but its occurrence is expected. If the email fails to make its appearance within those few acceptable seconds, our impatience grows. What’s wrong?! We should have gotten that email 30 seconds ago.

Like our email, much of life is delivered at ultra-high speed. Many of us have grown accustomed to next day delivery from Amazon, instant downloadable movies, and an Uber “taxi” driver waiting just around the corner for our beckon call. delivery

What a wonderful convenience these ultra-fast services and products bring to our lives. But writer Tim Elmore shares that there is an unexpected consequence of all this high-speed delivery. There is a significant danger that we will conclude that everything slow or that takes time is bad. This results in a practice of avoiding anything that takes time.

Why is this a danger to us? Simply put, we need the resistance that time consuming activities produce in our lives. Without it, we will not develop into the fully healthy persons God intends for us to be. It is these time-consuming activities that build character in our lives. For example, it is only as we practice waiting that we learn to be patient.

Waiting is important! Those that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength. There is something about speeding through life that causes us to miss the power of God that is available to us. Elijah had to slow down from the events of Mount Carmel to hear the still, small voice of God.

Such a voice can only be detected when we are standing still. Remember, God’s voice wasn’t detected in the wind that went rushing by. It’s only when we learn to wait, that we can truly experience the strength of our God.

Again, waiting exercises the muscle of patience. Without the discipline of waiting, we will find ourselves woefully short on patience. Without patience — we will find ourselves short on love.

Love is patient (1 Corinthians 13:4). The mathematical law of equality informs us that we can flip this equation and restate it — patient [or patience] is love. The reality is that it requires a great deal of patience to live with and to love others. We must learn there are times when it is important to go slow because it builds the patience we need to love one another. And without that perseverance-developed patience we will not have what it takes to maintain the relationships with others that are needed to navigate life.

So, go ahead and enjoy the conveniences that bring speed to our lives, but don’t write off everything that requires time and hard work.  Those mental, spiritual, and emotional exercises are important to your mental, spiritual, and emotional health.

My Prayer:

Lord, teach me that some good things only come by waiting. Amen.

 

 

 

A Strong Foundation

By: Scott Armstrong

A while ago I had a conversation with a college student who I see a lot of potential in.  I actually see gifts and graces in him to be a fantastic missionary someday.  He is passionate about issues of justice and helping the world to become a better place.

At the same time, he recognizes that his morality is lacking.  He wants to hold on to some habits and practices that are slowly eroding his effectiveness as a student, a leader, and a Christ-follower.  Sadly, it appears that he is willing to change the world, but he is not willing to change himself.

Stevenson Willis wrote a book chock-full of wisdom and called, The Proverbs of Leadership: Principles for Leading Your People to the Pinnacle of Greatness.  In it he reflects on this issue of character (pp. 110-111).  I hope you find it challenging.  I may send it to my university friend:

“As with all the great cities built to stand for the ages Jerusalem is established on a bedrock of stone.  The outer wall which protects it is likewise constructed, for the footings that support it have been set to such a depth that it cannot be moved. ancient-angkor-wat-antique-1531677.jpg

But what would happen if the plans for its foundation called for stones that were cracked? Or were it constructed with a base inadequate to carry its load? And what of the cities which might copy its design, unaware of the flaws concealed within? As sure as the sun will rise, each would collapse.  Maybe not today nor tomorrow, but the downfall of all would be certain and inevitable.

And so shall it be in the building of your character.  You may rise to a position of leadership based upon charisma or personality – and indeed succeed for a season – but such unstable stones are not sufficient to sustain you.  If you are to endure through the challenges which will come and emerge with a character worthy of replication, your life must be established on a foundation that will last. 

Integrity is the bedrock upon which character must be built; honesty with self, the first stone to set in place.

Do not bargain with life by coasting on talent or relying upon charm to reduce the payment required for success.  Though such gifts have value they are often misused by the short-sighted to avoid sacrifice.  If you are blessed with talent in abundance or skilled in the art of charm, do not deceive yourself and others by hiding behind your gifts to conceal your unwillingness to work.  For, as many have discovered too late, the cost of your discount will be great and soon subtracted from your character.

Anything of lasting value requires that the price be paid in full before its benefit can be savored.  Though talent alone may propel you to the summit, you will not be allowed to remain; for your conscience (and others) will quickly remind you that you did not pay the price which was necessary to get there.

Cheat by avoiding sacrifice and you swindle only yourself.

There are no shortcuts in the construction of character.  Though the price for building it may seem expensive today, to correct its flaws tomorrow following a failure will cost even more.  From this day forth be honest with yourself and pay with gladness whatever price is demanded for success in your endeavors”.

 

 

 

 

 

A Risky Proposition

By Scott Armstrong

I’ve been thinking about the parable of the talents recently.  And it’s making me uneasy.

You know the story, right? Matthew 25 tells us that a man gives one servant five talents, another servant two, and a final servant one.  After a long time away, the master comes back to find that the first two servants had doubled the money (a talent was worth more than a thousand dollars back then; that’s some good investing!). The third worker was cautious. He didn’t waste the money, per se, but he also didn’t invest it.  He buried it, making sure the master got his talent back when he returned; no big deal.

Except it was a big deal!  Judgment came down hard on that guy, including “darkness,” as well as “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

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I have often heard (and even preached) from this passage that we should be good stewards with our money, taking care of it, and using it wisely for the Kingdom. Those are good principles to adhere to, but that’s not exactly what’s going on in the story.

The parable of the talents is less about “using our talents wisely” than it is about risking it all for the Master and his Kingdom.  I mean, what if the investment strategies of the first two workers had tanked? At least the final servant didn’t lose the thousand bucks! We can explain away the gamble in hindsight, but that was truly a radical decision by those two!

The massive increase of talents for those servants who risked everything isn’t a lesson in wise money management.  It is a call to step out beyond the safe and the conventional in order to live by faith. Putting everything in the hands of God is the best investment we can make, but it will also be a white-knuckling thrill ride in the meantime.

When was the last time you took a jaw-dropping, stomach-churning risk? When was the last time you stepped out in faith to such a degree that you knew it would fail if God was not in it?

There is an amazing moment in the book of Exodus, when the nation of Israel finds itself on the banks of the Red Sea.  Pharaoh’s chariots are fast-approaching, and Moses and his people start begging God to rescue them.  God’s answer is pretty blunt: “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward” (Ex. 14:15).  Forward, God? You mean, into the Red Sea?! Do you see any problem with this?

To put it more bluntly, God was saying, “Stop praying and get moving!”

That’s a message I believe a lot of us need to hear…and obey.  Nevertheless, many Christians are some of the most risk averse people I know.  We’re more concerned with our own safety than with changing the world.  We’d rather be comfortable and go to heaven than share with others so they don’t go to hell.

That’s not the gospel Jesus preaches.  Leonard Sweet says in his book, The Well-Played Life, “Jesus does not want his followers, of whatever age, to hunker down and duck their heads.  Disciples are not called to avoid high-stakes risks and genuine challenges.  A disciple of Jesus operates in the world of risk.  Jesus placed himself in the firing line of history.  Sometimes he calls us to place ourselves in the firing line of history as well” (p. 169).

Signing up to go before firing lines goes against basic sanity and all human instinct to preserve ourselves.  But it seems to fit perfectly in the Kingdom: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Mt. 16:25).

Are you with me? Then let’s stop burying our talents and start daringly investing them. Let’s stop complaining about the army behind us and step into the Red Sea in front of us.  Firing lines and a transformed world await.

What to do with Paquito? Part 2 of 2

*This is part two of the article published in the previous post.

2. When ministering to adolescents we must possess a Commitment to Character and Consistency.

This has to do with expectations.

I am amazed to hear how low my friends and colleagues occasionally set the bar for our adolescents.  “The world is so much worse than it was twenty years ago.  How can we expect these kids to do anything of lasting worth?” Some have even said that holiness is not for kids and teens – it is just not possible for them with their immaturity and all that the world throws at them!

Let me suggest something radical here: That “Be holy as I am holy” thing is actually possible in our middle-schoolers!  Virtues like integrity, purity, and – yes – consistency are actually doable for 13-year old Ted and 14-year old Kami.  It is amazing what junior-highers can do when they know that others are truly depending on their character and consistency.  I have seen it in Manolo, a 14-year old from Guatemala who always arrives first to praise team practice and has started leading a Bible study in his house, even though his parents want no part of church.  I have seen it in David, a 14-year old from San José, Costa Rica, who spent his first year in youth group doodling on scrap paper and now is the first one to finish our discipleship and Articles of Faith classes.

Let’s set the bar high and be disappointed every now-and-then instead of setting the bar low and constantly griping about the mediocrity in our youth.

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3. Ministry to adolescents requires a Commitment to Christian ministry.

In Latin America, very few churches have a full-time salaried pastor, let alone a youth pastor of any kind. And more than two-thirds of the population of Mexico and Central America are under the age of 30.  Imagine what kind of local churches this creates!

In most of the churches I have been a part of during the last fifteen years, there are a good number of adolescents teaching Sunday School, serving as ushers or greeters, playing or singing on the praise team, etc.  In several congregations, I am amazed to see twelve- and thirteen-year olds that are allowed to preach! Why is this the case? If you live in a neighborhood of children and youth, your church had better be filled with children and youth and your ministry teams should be filled with children and youth!

This whole phenomenon is not constrained to the church walls.  Our current ministry in Latin America seeks to train missionaries from here in church planting and evangelism.  Part of that is providing them short-term volunteer opportunities where they can do just that as well as test out their calling.  So what happens when junior-highers – even though policy says they are not supposed to be volunteer missionaries due to insurance and other important issues – decide that they want to plant churches as part of one of these teams? Elisa (age 12) and other adolescents have taught me much about mission and passion as they knock on doors and sleep on floors in the hills of rural Mexico.*

*Incidentally, this cannot be explained just by cultural differences.  I could tell of Julie and Jeremy in suburban USA, who as junior-highers had their quirks like anyone, but served on our youth council and testified of their faith at school constantly.  When consistency is expected, lives can be changed from Peoria to Panama.

I am somewhat embarrassed to think back on my days as a youth pastor when we allowed the teens to have their “youth night” where they lead the “big service.”  In reality, it is a great idea, of course, and a fantastic way to train them in ministry.  But who says junior-highers must be relegated to a themed night? What does it say when we have entire ministries to and for them, and yet we do not really allow them to minister with us in the day-to-day life of the church?

As you saw, the title of this article is “What to do with Paquito?” If Paquito is 13-years old and constantly acts like he has just downed 10 cans of Mountain Dew, the question is a dilemma.  But perhaps the answer can be found in a deep commitment to community, character, consistency, and Christian ministry.

As I end this article, I have to clarify that my intention here has not been to criticize anyone.  In reflecting back on my ministry over the last 20 years, I have felt most critical of my own inadequacies and errors. Ministering with adolescents is a wonderful and trying adventure that requires many men and women called by God and passionate about loving and discipling this age group.  My hat goes off to all of you, and I count it a privilege to minister with you, and with them.

 

Blameless? That’s Impossible!

“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.’” (Genesis 17:1-2)

By Emily Armstrong

God is renewing his covenant with Abraham that the promise of a great nation would come from Abraham and Sarah.  Verse 1 says that Abraham is 99 years old when God has this conversation with him.  I can only imagine that he was thinking, “OK, God, I’ll be a first time dad, but only with your help.”  As long as we are talking about doing the impossible, did we miss the small but significant phrase in verse 1 that says, “Walk before me and be blameless”? Again, Abraham has to be thinking, “OK, God, but only with your help.”

Does God really expect Abraham to be a dad at age 99? Yep.  Does God really expect Abraham to walk before him and be blameless? You bet.  And God expects the same from us.  Is it a fair expectation? Yes, but only because we have the Holy Spirit in our lives.  The Holy Spirit helps us to make the right choices, and helps us continually walk before God and be blameless.  It’s not to say that the Holy Spirit makes our decisions for us, but he’s continually guiding us in the correct paths, if we allow him to.

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I remember when I was in college that I really started struggling with the concept of being blameless.  I had been a Christian since I was a little girl, but the Holy Spirit started speaking to me about the kind of music that I listened to.  It wasn’t BAD music, but it certainly wasn’t the best.  I had to really wrestle with the Lord and see if what I was listening to was helping my relationship grow stronger with Him.  I’m sure you aren’t surprised to learn that I realized that the Holy Spirit was right, and I made some changes in my music.  It was hard, and it was a process, but I know that it’s helped me even to this day to walk blamelessly before God.

So, are you up to it?  Have you been feeling like the Holy Spirit’s been talking to you about some of the habits that you have that are keeping you from walking blamelessly before God?  If so, then start evaluating the changes that you need to make, and start making them. You’ll soon learn like I did, that walking blamelessly is possible, with God’s help.

*This reflection is part of a series of devotionals written for youth by Scott and Emily Armstrong.  

 

How the Holy Spirit and Fire Overcome the Negative Winds in your Life

By Rev. Rob Prince

This Little Light of Mine is a beloved children’s song that is known around the world. The anonymous song is an old negro spiritual that has been sung in Sunday schools and in cathedrals. The lyrics simply sing the truth that while we may only have a little candle light, when we don’t hide it, letting it shine and not allowing Satan to blow it out, then the darkness flees!  I can appreciate that truth. Let it shine. Let it shine. Let it shine.

Don’t throw stones at me (or hide me under a bushel? No!), but there’s a problem with little lights. The little candle’s flickering flame is easily blown out. It doesn’t take Satan to “poof” it out.  Any nasty wind will do. I’ve seen enough funniest home videos to know that everyone from grandmas losing their dentures to babies covered in frosting can blow out the little candle lights on a birthday cake. Little candle lights are fragile. They blow out easily.

A booming campfire, on the other hand, the type of campfire that has lots of wood, lots of flames and perfect for s’mores can’t be blown out by grandmas, babies or any other windy happening. In fact, wildfire experts know that forest fires are not reduced by the wind, they actually grow stronger by wind. Wind extinguishes a candle, but it energizes a fire.

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Throughout the Bible, fire represents the power and presence of God. Moses encountered God at the burning bush, and later God appeared in a pillar of fire to lead his people in the wilderness (Exodus 3:2; 13:21). On Pentecost, following the sound of rushing wind, Luke tells that something like tongues of flame rested on each of the disciples gathered. They were immediately filled with the Holy Spirit, and their lives and the world were changed forever. All of this fulfilled John the Baptist’s prophecy that the Messiah would baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11-12). That’s what we need too—to be baptized with the Holy Spirit and fire.

When we are empowered by the Holy Spirit and fire, even the hardiest winds can’t blow us out. Winds are going to come to everyone. Winds of discouragement. Winds of negativity. Winds of temptation. Winds of heartbreak. Winds of grief. Those winds are generated in some cases by the stuff of life, but other times those cold gusts come via the blowhards in our way. Difficult circumstances and negative, carnal people can try to extinguish your little light. But people who are consumed with the Holy Spirit and fire aren’t frail and failing like a little candle when the winds are blowing.  Instead blazing Holy Spirit filled believers look at the wind and those people in our life who are full of hot air and quote Paul, “We will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:14-15).

Don’t simply be a fragile, little light in a dark, dark world; instead be empowered by the all-consuming Holy Spirit and fire! Even tornadoes are no match for the Spirit’s fire. Maybe a change of lyrics is in order. “This BIG light of mine is Jesus and “even the wind and waves obey him.” (Matthew 8:27). It’s not a catchy tune, but it’s true!

This article was originally published at: robprinceblog.wordpress.com.

Wisdom in Contextualization: How Far is too Far?

By Ed Stetzer

How does the word “contextualization” make you feel? Free or fearful?

The $64-million dollar question about innovation and change is this: How far is too far? I can’t think of any question in the church much more controversial than this one. We’ve been asking it for two thousand years and rarely ever seem to agree.

Most of our discussions on these issues center around contextualization. We should change our methodology to better proclaim the unchanging message to a consistently changing world. But not all change is good, even when it is promoted under the guise of contextualization.

I am all for innovation. But it should be used as means to better contextualize the gospel, not simply for its own sake. We need to evaluate where that line is, so that we do not cross it and lose the very reason God has placed us here.

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Measuring contextualization

Contextualization is, obviously enough, all about the context. Walking with my nose in the air could mean I think I’m better than you. Or it might mean I’m trying to protect you from my nosebleed. Context provides meaning to your interpretation.

Gospel contextualization began the moment Christ came teaching in synagogues and preaching the good news of the kingdom (Matthew 4:23). Christ presented words and deeds to His audiences in ways that were meaningful in their language and culture.

The language was Aramaic. The culture was Jewish (with a bit of Roman and Greek tossed in). The reaction of the crowds, especially the religious leaders, makes it clear that Christ’s words and actions were meaningful in His cultural context.

Changing in order to contextualize is not watering down the message of the good news of Jesus. The opposite is true. To contextualize the gospel means removing cultural and linguistic impediments to the gospel presentation so that only the offense of the cross remains.

But when we think about changes and contextualization today, it is easy to think you are the only one who has it right. Everyone to the left of has changed too much and lost the gospel. Everyone to the right is a bunch of legalists who haven’t changed enough and can no longer have a conversation with culture. To overcome this temptation, we need to establish what is unchanging and look for signals that our changes have gone too far.

More art than science

God designed it so the unchanging message of Jesus can fit into changing “cultural containers” in order to reach people where they are, and to take them where they need to go. Contextualization is a skill the missional church in the U.S., like international missionaries, must learn and use.

Contextualization, however, is more of an art form than a science. Clear lines that provide hard and fast boundaries for every language and culture don’t exist, especially as it relates to our orthopraxy (the way we live out the gospel). But there are certain gospel lines that we cannot cross.

What are the signs we’ve crossed un-crossable lines? If we have lost the clear proclamation of the gospel—Jesus’ death on the cross for our sin and in our place—or we downplay repentance and forgiveness, I think we’ve removed the intentional stumbling block of the cross. That would be a first warning sign.

If we teach the message in such a way that excludes or de-emphasizes the Bible, I think that’s a difficulty as well. If I find myself underplaying the role of Jesus in salvation or the necessity to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior, that’s another red flag.

What works today

Some segments of our evangelical churches have adopted some changes and are doing anything they can through advertising, media, social media, coffee houses, movie theaters, music, the arts, and other venues to have a meaningful conversation with the world. Some Christians feel that giving any ground toward what they perceive (often rightly) as compromise with the culture will eventually cross the line into a heresy and pluralism slide.

Obviously, we don’t want to be syncretists with the gospel message. But contextualization means change will occur. We will be looking for new ways to translate the gospel that help others grasp its message. This is not accommodating the culture; it’s building meaningful relationships with people and speaking with them about the gospel (on the gospel’s own terms) in ways that make sense to them.

So when has change gone too far? When the gospel no longer looks or sounds like good news and Jesus no longer looks or sounds like the Jesus found in the pages of Scripture. But if the feet of those who bring the gospel are beautiful upon the hills, it is at least partly because those who hear the gospel are able to understand meaningfully the wonderful person and work of Jesus. The feet can still be beautiful even after you change shoes.

This article was originally published at: Christianity Today.