The Most Convincing Evidence

We have all come in contact with someone who has rejected Christianity primarily because of the unconvincing actions or even blatant hypocrisy of Christians. Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.  Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” That sentiment pains me, and it should sicken any of us who wear the name of Christ and claim to worship him.

At the same time, if lack of spiritual fruit in believers can turn away people from the Church, the opposite is also true: a contagious, authentic faith can prove compelling and irresistible to nonbelievers.

Take the following story as an example:

“One Sunday evening a drunk woman came to our church and was converted.  The co-pastor of the church went to visit her husband the following day and saw he was a very intelligent mechanic, but opposed to religion and very skeptical.  He was disgusted by his wife’s conversion and said he had no doubt that she would soon return to her old life.  

Six months later, the same man came to see the minister of the gospel, and was greatly perplexed by his own spiritual situation. He said, ‘I have read every book about the evidence of Christianity, and I’ve been able to resist every argument.  But in the last six months I’ve had an open book in my home that was impossible to refute in the person of my wife. I’ve come to the conclusion I must be wrong, and there must be a holy and divine power in this religion if it could take a drunk woman and change her into a holy, singing, friendly, patient and pious person like my wife is now.’”

Glory to God! Truly, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: The old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Cor. 5:17)

Jean David Larochelle wrote about this reality in his book The Natural Development of Faith:

“Truly the best books about Christianity have stories of the transformed lives of men and women in communion with Christ.  If we all gave our testimony of the work God has done in our lives, other people near us would also have many simple and some amazing stories of the power of God. More than that, if believers or those of us who profess to be disciples of Jesus would live integrated, transformed lives, it’s very possible there would be fewer doubters” (p. 56).

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It all brings us to the well-known question: If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? In other words, would your colleagues, family members and neighbors say, without a doubt, you live like Jesus Christ?

 

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At Arm’s Length: A Lenten Reflection

In this season of Lent, I have been reflecting on a haunting phrase: “at a distance.” Doesn’t seem too scary or even noteworthy, right? Why would I say it is haunting?

It was the night of Jesus’ betrayal, the night before he would be crucified. Feet have been washed, Passover has been served, and the soldiers have taken Jesus away from the garden. The disciples have fled – well, sort of. All three writers of the synoptic gospels make it a point to tell us that one of Jesus’ chosen three, the man whose preaching would convert 3,000 in a day and who would become the pillar of the early church, followed Jesus “at a distance” (Mt. 26:58; Mk. 14:54; Lk. 22:54).

We often lambaste Peter, especially when he denies his Lord and calls down curses on himself.  Thank goodness we are not like him, right?

On closer examination, during this season of Lent, we realize that our discipleship looks a lot like Maundy Thursday Peter.  Joan Chittister says, “We believe, yes, but often only remotely, only intellectually.  We follow Jesus, of course, but, if truth were known, more likely at arm’s length, at a nice, antiseptic distance.  Imperturbably.  Our commitment is not the kind of commitment that jeopardizes our jobs or our relationships or our social standings.”

Ouch.

If we are honest with ourselves, we love the part of following Jesus that deals with multitudes being fed and blind men receiving sight.  Even the creative sermons and lessons Jesus teaches inspire and challenge us.  But that self-denial part? Not as popular nowadays.

Could it be that we are profoundly terrified of suffering? Chittister maintains that “when we refuse to suffer, we refuse to grow…Suffering is a stepping-stone to maturity. It moves us beyond fantasy to facts.”

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I don’t know about you, but I would many times rather take the shortcut to spiritual maturity instead of slogging painfully through trials and hurts. But that shortcut does not exist. And Lent reminds us of that. In this season we realize, along with Chittister, that we are ascetics. Thus, “we must be prepared to give up some things if we intend to get things that are even more important.”

With Jesus being interrogated, whipped, and nailed to a cross, Peter was still not ready to follow him there. The sacrifice was too great. The suffering too heinous.  It was better to follow Jesus at a distance.

Perhaps in these days being haunted by that phrase is not a bad thing. Perhaps we, too, will examine ourselves and choose growth instead of ease, intimacy instead of distance.

Subject: Schedule Change in the Blogs

To: Loyal “Transform the Globe” Readers

From: Scott Armstrong, Regional Coordinator: GENESIS & Global Missions

Subject: Schedule Change

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Since its inception, the Transform the Globe blog has sought to inform and equip missional leaders in the Church of the Nazarene and around the world.  WordPress statistics tell us that this and our Spanish blog have a combined reach of almost 5,000 people weekly, so we know the content we are posting is scratching an itch of some sort.  All that to say, we thank you and are humbled by your readership and passion for changing the world.

Starting this week you will notice a significant change to this website.  As we have written and curated articles on missions, culture, and so much more, we have almost always offered at least three entries weekly.  As the ministry has grown and our duties have morphed into many exciting areas, we are finding it challenging to continue to produce (or reproduce) valuable content in both languages on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. So we are tweaking our schedule. While you will occasionally see three or more posts every seven days, the normal format will move to two publications weekly.  Our archives of more than 2,000 articles will still be available through the search function or by using the categories links on your right.

We remain as passionate as ever to provide timely, helpful content, and, in fact, feel as if this change will allow us to generate original content of higher quality (as opposed to quantity).  If you have any questions or need clarification, please comment below.

Thanks again for your continued interest in this page. And thanks even more for obeying the call of God to transform the globe!

Real Life Church in Quito, Ecuador

Some of our friends and colleagues in ministry have planted a new church in the heart of Quito, Ecuador. A few weeks ago they described their initial months and their strategies and philosophy in an article published by Ardeo Global. What do you notice about their approach? Can you see this working in your city?

Greetings from Quito, Ecuador! Our team has recently begun our church planting work here with our first church service in September, 2018. The name of our church, Iglesia Real Life, reflects our mission to show how the message of the gospel and the love of Jesus Christ provide real life solutions to real life problems. I think that is the goal of every church, but our focus can get clouded with church logistics and we can begin to focus on the upkeep of a physical church building and its programs. Our team is looking at church planting from a different philosophy. We’ve studied Jesus’ ministry and found that most of His time was spent ministering to non-religious people outside of religious buildings. Our goal is to break free from non-biblical traditions in order to focus on what really matters: loving on people as Jesus did.

So what does that look like? Most noticeably, we don’t meet in a church building. We want our area of influence to be unrestricted by the geographical location of our church, we want to be free of distraction from the work and resources required to maintain a church building, and we want to be welcoming to people who would never feel comfortable entering a church. Our goal is to eventually have various teaching points throughout the whole city so that every new person we meet can attend a worship service and Bible study near where they live.

Currently, we’re meeting at a really neat place near the commercial center of Quito. It’s a food court with a central area for concerts and other events. It also has a playground and separate area where the kids can meet, and the owner is letting us hold our events there for free! So far we’ve had one church service there, and we did our best to make it really feel like a celebration. We had upbeat music and balloons and confetti poppers. At the end of the service, Pastor Josué closed with a prayer but didn’t close his eyes, so people were a little surprised when they realized he was praying. But why not talk to God as though He were standing in the room with us, since we know He is? In the big things and the small things, we want moments like that in our church. We want to get to the root of why we do things and challenge people’s ideas of what the church is. We simply want to be the hands and feet of Christ, loving and serving the people of Quito unconditionally.

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How exactly are we going to serve and meet the needs of the people here? Well, first we have to learn what their needs are, and to do that we have to start by just getting to know them.  Quito is the capital of Ecuador and in many ways is very modern. There is a large downtown area filled with businesses and people living a metropolitan lifestyle. So far we’ve found that many of the issues of people here are pretty similar to those of people in the US: marriages need help, teens need guidance on what to do with their lives, and it’s difficult for families to spend quality time together amidst the many demands of everyday life. However, Ecuador is also a country with a developing economy where many people face underemployment and struggle to simply provide for their families. Problems with drugs and teenage pregnancies are increasing, crime makes it dangerous to be outside after dark, and Venezuelan refugees here face blatant racism every day.

When we first started planning our outreach strategies, we expected that we would be reaching the people in the modern, business-focused, post-Christian part of Quito, and based on the location of our first teaching point we definitely will have opportunities to minister to them. However, in our day-to-day interactions we’ve met people from all walks of life with various needs, both spiritual and physical.

The need for hope and love is universal and does not discriminate across socioeconomic differences, and neither will we in our efforts to reach anyone who is ready to hear of the immense love that God has for them, whether that looks like hosting a marriage seminar or paying for someone to see a medical specialist that they couldn’t afford on their own. Our daily challenge is to stay flexible and open to where and to whom God is leading us.

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This article was originally published at Ardeo Global.

Worth Shouting About

Shout Psalm 66Worth Shouting About

By Scott Armstrong

Christmas Day has come and gone, and the tendency is to forget that we are still in the Christmas season as a worldwide Church.  In fact, I am still reflecting a great deal on many passages in the gospel of Luke that we typically equate with Christmas.  And this year something has grabbed my attention that I am embarrassed to say I had not really noticed in previous years.  To use the lyrics of an old gospel tune:

“Oh what singing, oh what shouting!”

Seemingly everyone in the first chapters of Luke is announcing or proclaiming something, oftentimes through shouts or song!

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look:

  • After proclaiming the message of a miraculous birth to Zechariah (1:11-20), the angel Gabriel does the same to Mary (1:26-38).  Most translations mention that he merely “said” his message, so it appears this was a pretty normal conversation, right? No way! This encounter was extraordinary, and there is a reason we have come to call it “the Annunciation.”
  • Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth, and baby John leaps in her womb.  The natural response? “In a loud voice she exclaimed” her praises (1:42-45).
  • Young Mary then gets in on the act and bursts into her own song (1:46-55).
  • After being mute for nine months, Zechariah presents his son for circumcision and writes on the tablet that his name is John.  “Immediately his mouth was opened, his tongue was loosed, and he began to speak, praising God” (1:64).
  • Part of Zechariah’s speaking and praising ended up expressing itself in a beautiful, prophetic song (1:67-79).
  • An angel appears to shepherds on the night that Jesus was born, and we can surmise that his announcement of “good news of great joy for all the people” was not given in a relaxed, nonchalant manner.  Still, just to make sure we understand this is worth singing and shouting about, a massive angel choir appears around him giving glory to God (2:13-14).
  • The response of the shepherds is to go and see, but then naturally to “spread the word” (2:17) and “glorify and praise God” (2:20).
  • Now it’s Jesus’ turn to be presented in the temple for circumcision, and a devout man named Simeon takes him in his arms and joyfully praises God (2:28-32).  He had been waiting years for this!Child Singing Or Shouting With Happiness
  • That same day, Anna, a very old prophetess whose life exuded worship, gives thanks to God and speaks excitedly about the baby to everyone there (2:38).

That’s a lot of singing, shouting, praising, and proclaiming for sure.  In fact, all of these birth narratives transition in chapter three to an adult John the Baptist who is known as – you guessed it – a “voice of one crying in the desert” (Is. 40:3; Luke 3:4).

Could it be that this whole Christmas message is worth singing and shouting about?

Could it be that we, too, are invited to abandon our typical propriety in order to loudly praise the Lord?

Could it be that God is calling us to also let loose in joy and let the world know that the Savior has come!? After all, we sing every year around this time:

“Go, tell it on the mountain,

Over the hills and everywhere;

Go, tell it on the mountain

That Jesus Christ is born.”

 

How Can I Be Sure?

By Scott Armstrong

We have made our way out of Advent and are now officially in the season of Christmas (that’s right: according to the Christian calendar Christmas is just beginning!).  Our Savior has been born in Bethlehem! What greater joy is there than that?!

Since early December many passages have proven meaningful in my times of devotions and preaching and reflection.  However, there is one odd phrase that keeps resonating in my mind and heart that at first seems to have little to do with Advent or the Christmas story:

“How can I be sure?” (Luke 1:18).

Maybe a little context will help.

Zechariah and Elizabeth are closer to retirement than they would like, and they have all but given up hope of having a baby.  In spite of their unmatched integrity (v. 6), they have remained barren, and the comments of their neighbors and so-called friends have made even them wonder if there is something wrong with them spiritually.  They have prayed and wept and trusted in God time and again only to be disappointed month after month and year after year.  Serving God is still their unwavering commitment, but it used to be their passion and joy.

Why not for us, Lord? Why for everyone else?

A priest (this time, Zechariah) is selected to enter the inner temple and burn incense to the Lord.  Worshipers are outside.  This happens every year.

Except this year the ritual doesn’t go as planned.  An angel appears and almost gives old Zechariah a heart attack.  And his message was more astonishing than his appearance: “Don’t fear.   Your prayer has been heard.  You’ll have a son.  Give him the name John.”

All of Zechariah’s peers were already grandpas, some great-grandpas.  Now he is supposed to believe he will be a first-time dad?! It’s more than any of us could have handled.

And that’s when we hear his gasping, faltering response to the angel:

How. Can. I. Be. Sure.

There was no one more upright in Israel than Zechariah.  No one else had access to the very presence of God like he did (literally, this year).  And for decades no one had had more faith than Zechariah.  And yet the question stammers off his lips in disbelief.  It’s haunting, really.

It’s one thing to believe God is able to do the impossible.  But it’s another thing to believe he will do it.

And it’s one thing to believe God will do the impossible in someone else’s life.  But it’s another thing to know he will break in in the midst of your impossibility.

“I hear your voice, Lord.  I understand the message.  It’s just that, deep-down, I have to be honest: how can I be absolutely certain that you will come through?”

The best cure for a lack of faith that betrays us in moments like these is often silence.  Well, geriatric Zechariah got a heavy dose of that.  During his wife’s pregnancy, he could write down messages, but not everyone could read at that time.  He got pretty decent at charades, but most people lost patience with him or just started laughing at his hand signals.  So he ended up having a whole lot of time to just listen.

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And in those nine months of forced silence, he heard God’s voice clearer than he had ever heard it before.

“Elizabeth has morning sickness. Or did you think it was the bread and figs she ate?”

“Her belly’s growing, Zechariah.  I can tell you’re starting to believe after all…”

“Feel that kick? Haha! This baby will be a world-changer for sure!”

Until, finally…

“Zechariah, this is it!  The baby’s ready!  Elizabeth is pushing.  Are you sure now?”

Listening, listening, listening.

And on the eighth day after the birth, when he scurried to write on the tablet: HIS NAME IS JOHN, his faith had grown as big as the joy he had as he held that little boy.  His tongue was loosed and there was nothing else to do but to belt out praises to the God who had astonishingly done – and was still doing – the impossible.

Now he was sure of it.

You Will not die Before you see Him

By Hiram Vega

Prophets, priests, kings and peasants – they all waited for the signs of the coming Messiah.

Their constant question was, “When will the Messiah come?” He was to be the Anointed One of God who would end the disgrace of the people of God.  Four hundred years had passed since the Prophet Malachi, and God had not spoken.

Well, he did continue to speak, but only to a few chosen people.  It seemed that one in particular, an enigma named Simeon, had a direct line to heaven.  How important of a person must he have been to have God himself share what was going to take place?  Humanly speaking, he was completely unimportant.  He was a common old man with an even more common name. He was unknown on earth, but known and respected in heaven.  His character was of the same caliber as Joseph and Mary’s.  The gospel tells us that he was an upright man.  Not only that, he was a sincere seeker of God. Heaven took note, and God poured his Holy Spirit out on him.  Did you think that the Holy Spirit first came at Pentecost?  God says in Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.

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We know almost nothing about this elderly man except that the Holy Spirit confirmed to him that he would not die until he saw the Anointed One of the Lord.

Today Christians await the return of the Lord, and no one knows the day or the hour of his second coming.  But Simeon was waiting for his first coming.  When the moment arrived, the Holy Spirit guided him to the temple just in time to find a humble carpenter from Bethlehem and his wife presenting a newborn.  On earth there was no fanfare, no great chorus, no royal assembly to commemorate the moment.  Heaven gave this aged worshiper the privilege that kings and prophets longed for: he was the first to recognize the Messiah.

Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace.  For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 

People continue to live in darkness today. Millions have not experienced the salvation of our Lord.  God continues to speak to his Simeons—men and women who long to know God and to make him known.  Their hearts desire for more people to be saved, until the whole earth is filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.