Face to Face with the Truth

By Hiram Vega

During his ministry on earth, Jesus impacted many lives.  One of them was the most powerful man present before his death: Pontius Pilate, representative of the Roman empire and governor of that region. Jesus was brought before Pilate by the religious authorities, to be judged by him, even though they had already determined the outcome of the trial. Pilate was a hardened ruler, accustomed to crushing rebellions in order to preserve his position and to maintain Roman rule. 

What, then, could be expected from Pilate agreeing to see Jesus? Most likely he would have considered his time too valuable to be spent judging a prisoner offering him little political capital, and he would quickly order him to be executed anyway. However, something remarkable took place: 

Pilate became so convinced of the innocence of Jesus that he declared him not guilty on three different occasions.

On the first occasion, “Pilate said to the chief priests, and to the people: I find no offense in this man” (Lk. 23:4).

On the second occasion, he said to them, “You brought me this man accused of inciting rebellion among the people, but it turns out that I have questioned him before you without finding him guilty of what you accuse him of” (Lk. 23:14-15).

And the third time, just before he was handed over to be crucified, he asked for water and washed his hands in front of the people. “‘I am innocent of this man’s blood,’ he said. It is your responsibility!’” (Mt. 27:24).

He also tried to avoid condemning Jesus in different ways.

  • First, he sent him to Herod for him to be questioned (Lk. 23:5-12).
  • Second, he proposed to flog him instead of crucifying him (Lk. 23:16).
  • Then, in a third attempt to free Jesus, he appealed to the custom that during the Passover a prisoner would be released. It was to no avail since the crowd asked for Barabbas (Lk. 23:17-25).

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It is clear that Pilate knew that Jesus was not a normal prisoner, not even an ordinary person.

Pilate’s final words to Jesus come to us in the form of a question: “What is the truth?” Having asked that, he went out again to see the Jews. But he did not wait to hear the answer! 

Is it not incredible to be face to face with the truth and still not see it? The man who had the last chance to dialogue with the Truth, did not take time to hear Him. 

Today the same thing happens. Many people look forward to Holy Week with eagerness, not so much in order to experience the miracle celebrated during these days, but more so to escape the daily grind and take vacation. However, for each Pilate who chooses not to listen, there is another one who says yes. That is the Victory of the cross! 

Aware of this reality, let us not allow the disbelief or distraction of a few to deviate us from the mission.  Let us carry the message of truth to the multitudes who are longing to hear it and respond.

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Hiram Vega is a member of the Spanish Teaching and Preaching Team of Chase Oaks Church, Plano, TX.

Obedience: The Authority of a Servant Leader

By Gustavo Crocker

Since our childhood, we are predisposed to believe that authority and command are the hallmarks of good leaders. We grow up valuing a leader’s ability to command and control. We learn to reward decisiveness and assertiveness, and we celebrate leaders who stick to their plans and agendas. Exercising authority and direction, we have been told, defines a good leader.

God’s ways, however, are not humanity’s ways. Every time God called someone to lead His people, the first qualification that He demanded was not a person’s skills, charisma, or even ability to lead and to command followership. No! Quite the contrary. Throughout Scripture we find that obedience is the primary qualification for service and leadership.

Obedience is the enabler of the authority of a servant leader.

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When God affirmed the priesthood and royalty (authority) of the people of Israel, His affirmation was conditional to their obedience and faithfulness to the covenant that they had entered. “Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession…you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (from Exodus 19:5-6 NIV).

Jesus Himself chose to be obedient to the Father as a way to model the essence of servanthood. The same Lord who said “all authority is given to me” is the One who, on the eve of His sacrifice on the cross, told the Father, “not my will but yours.” The Apostle Paul writes about such an authority-enabling obedience in his letter to the Philippians:

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who… humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!
 
Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name” (from Philippians 2:5-9 NIV).

Further, John reminds us that just as love is the most sublime manifestation of Christ in us, such love is demonstrated as we walk in obedience to His commands (2 John 1:6). In other words, Christlike leadership that is reflected in our love for Him and for others is enabled by our obedience to Him.

Leadership is preceded by followership. To be servant leaders we must first be obedient followers.

I remember the story of one of my closest friends in the mission field. He tells me of his calling to be a missionary while he was serving as a youth pastor in his home church in the U.S. For years he had been training to be a local pastor and he had attended seminary to fulfill that very purpose, but being a missionary was not part of his plans or training. Being a missionary did not make any sense.

He went to his childhood Sunday school teacher and told her of his dilemma: He didn’t understand why God had prepared him to be a pastor while He was now calling him to be a missionary. Her answer set my friend straight: “God doesn’t demand our understanding; He demands our obedience.”

And on he went. This friend became one of the best missionaries I have met — all because of his obedience.
 
Obedience enables us for the long journey to lead others by serving them.

Comparison is Stealing Your Joy – Part 2 of 2

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

As ministry leaders, the perfection impulse already looms large—resisting the desire to look, preach, lead, and think like other successful people is vital, but also quite difficult. Here are five practical tips for combating comparison in your life and ministry:

  1. Raise your awareness.

Fighting comparison requires having a clear picture of its presence in your life. For many of us, comparing ourselves to others is so second nature as to be practically invisible. Pay attention to your inner dialogue as you go through your routine for a couple of days and keep a simple tally of how often you compare yourself to someone else, whether it’s in person or online. The challenge is even catching yourself doing it! In the season of “perfect” holiday parties, gifts, meals, and experiences, the siren call of comparison is everywhere: “I could never,” “I will never,” “If only I had,” “If I were more,” “If I could do.” Become conscious of your brain’s litany of comparisons and take note of it. You might be surprised by the number of these messages your brain is regularly entertaining!

  1. Take a break from social media.

Fasting from social media requires some honest self-evaluation. You know how much time you spend on social media, and only you know how it affects you. For some of us, a cold turkey fast might be unrealistic, which sets you up for quick failure. Instead, limit yourself to only checking social media at certain times of the day—preferably not first thing in the morning or last thing before going to bed. Replace your phone checking habit with something else if it proves too tempting—read a book or an interesting article, or listen to a song. For many of us, checking our phones has become muscle memory, so this is going to take serious effort. Don’t let that stop you!

  1. Ask for positive reinforcement.

Sit down with someone you are close to, and ask him or her to talk to you about your strengths. This might sound like an odd request, but most of us can very easily list off our weaknesses yet stumble when it comes to listing our strengths. Ask a friend, spouse, or family member to sit down and do this with you, and return the favor—chances are they need to hear it, too. Record their words, or take notes—seriously! This will be a great reminder during times when your focus may be on all the ways you believe you are coming up short. Come back to your list when you find yourself in a comparison rut.

  1. Rethink your perceived weaknesses.

Consider Paul’s reflections: “Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Cor. 12:8–9). The idea of perfection we keep in our minds might be causing us to perceive individual character traits as weaknesses, or fail to see where God can use our actual weaknesses.

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For example, I am a processing thinker, and frequently need time to think things through before I respond. During a meeting, I am usually not the most verbal person when discussing a topic, but will reliably have a very well-considered verdict an hour or two later. In the past, I have considered my “slow” brain to be a flaw, and envied the people in the room who could immediately respond. Over time, however, I came to see that a strong team has both kinds of thinkers, and dearly needs people who will think through things from all angles—not just give first impressions. After meetings, I now send emails beginning with, “After giving this some thought,” and I provide additional points the group may not have considered, which generate further productive conversation. God can use your “less than ideal” to make your teams stronger.

  1. Consider the whole body.

Regularly take some time to meditate on the body of Christ and your place in it. Print out a copy of 1 Corinthians 12. Read through it a couple of times, highlighting verses and phrases that speak to you. Write those verses on a notecard, placing it somewhere you will see it often. I have written verses 18 and 19 out—“God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be?”—and stuck it on the mirror in my room as a reminder.

Kringel tells of a time God spoke to her about not leaning on others in her life. “It’s called the body of Christ and the family of God for a reason. If I would have created you so you didn’t need the gifts that other people have, then I would have put them all in you. But I didn’t, I dispersed them. So in order for you to be all that I called you to be, you have to utilize the gifts of everybody else.” God made us to need each other. If we had all the gifts we wanted, we wouldn’t need anyone!

Ultimately, each of these tips should help us toward the biggest antidote to comparison, which is simply resting in Christ. After Peter asked, “Lord, what about him?” with a nod to John, Jesus replied, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me” (John 21:22). The temptations and opportunities to compare ourselves are everywhere and constant—and still Jesus says to us, “What is that to you? Follow me!”

This article was originally published at: Christianity Today

Comparison is Stealing Your Joy – Part 1 of 2

By Amanda Fowler

There are so many cautionary tales in the Bible about comparison—beginning with the very beginning. The serpent in the garden suggests to Eve that she compare herself to God. If only she will eat fruit from this one tree, it tells her, she could be like God in her knowledge of good and evil. The stories of Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, Saul and David, and so many more illustrate the extremes of what can happen when people compare themselves to others, falling prey to jealousy and envy. Even the disciples were not immune, jockeying for positions at Jesus’ right and left hand. And Peter’s last recorded words to Jesus in the Gospel of John are, “Lord, what about him?” after hearing an unsettling word about his own future.

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Of course, all of the comparisons we read about in Scripture happened in real time. Imagine if King Saul had been able to scroll through David’s Instagram feed—each perfectly staged, tagged, and filtered photo more infuriating than the last. Think of Peter wondering why John posted so many selfies with Jesus, all hash-tagged #beloveddisciple. Envision Martha glancing between the vivid, mouth-watering image at the top of a pinned Pinterest recipe and the not-so-picturesque dish she was about to serve her honored guest.

The internet and social media are wonderful in many respects, connecting us in unparalleled ways. But studies have shown we are growing less content with our own lives as we consume a near constant stream of images, status updates, articles, recipes, party decor suggestions, how-to videos, and self-improvement tips from others. Comparison is one of the signature elements of our fallen humanity—social media didn’t create the problem, but it has certainly amplified its power.

Beyond the visual, relational, and material information in our social media feeds, the most dangerous forms of comparison happen when we look at the gifts of others with longing—and on our own gifts with disdain. This kind of comparison is most insidious, as it takes the beautiful image of the body of Christ, with all its diversity, and turns it into a discontented mass of people, each wishing they were like someone else.

I spoke to Pastor Maria Kringel, who serves and leads at Life Church in Roscoe, Illinois alongside her pastor husband, about the presence of comparison in the roles she plays. A mother of four and a health coach, Kringel acknowledges her fight against comparison is an ongoing journey she will probably always face. Yet, she recently found new strength to push back by refusing to let the idea of perfection rule her. “I finally broke through and got to a point where I don’t care. There’s always a voice saying, what would this person do? How would they handle this situation? Well, who cares? I don’t live for their approval anyway, and if I try to be like them, I don’t get to be me. It shuts down who God made me to be.” Of social media’s role in persisting comparison, Kringel says, “It steals so much. It’s such a strong pull. You think in your head that all these people have it perfectly together, but in truth they really don’t—you’re only seeing the highlights.”

One way Kringel decided to fight against this as a church leader is to intentionally be more authentic, both from the pulpit and in her social media posts. Rather than only posting the positive and perfect, for example, she writes honestly of a hard day with her son Isaiah, who has cerebral palsy. She finds not just acceptance from congregants, but also gratitude. “People are so hungry for real authenticity. In ministry, they can’t identify with a lot of us because we have this image of perfection.”

*This article will continue in the next post.

Taking Care of the Poor: The Most Ignored Command in the Bible?

By Tyler Huckabee

From cover to cover, a few consistent themes arise in the Bible. The idea of a creator God, the Messiah, and the afterlife are just a few of the Bible’s more frequently revisited topics. But any list of the Bible’s most commonly discussed subject must include this: the persistent, passionate, unwavering stance on the poor.

Whatever else the Bible may remain mysterious on — whatever its other intricacies and tensions — it could not be clearer on how to treat those in poverty. God loves the poor and commands us to give to them. It is as simple as that.

This is true of both Testaments.

“If there is a poor man among you, one of your brothers, in any of the towns of the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand to your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks.” (Deut. 15:7-8)

“He who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, and He will repay him for his good deed.” (Prov. 19:17)

“But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.” (Luke 14:13-14)

“If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:17-18)

Here’s the thing. I doubt many people reading this are terribly surprised by this. Chances are, you’re well aware of what the Bible says about the poor. You know the Bible says we should be generous in how we treat them. Very few Christians would argue that God wants us to be stingy around poor people or suspicious of them.

So here’s the question: why don’t we obey?

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EXCUSES, EXCUSES

A study last year by the Kaiser Institute and the Washington Post found that 46 percent of Christians are likely to blame poor people for their own poverty, as compared to just 29 percent of non-Christians. The divide is even stronger when you single out white evangelicals, 53 percent of whom blame poverty on “a lack of effort.”

In contrast, atheists, agnostics and “unaffiliated” persons are more likely to say difficult circumstances are to blame for poverty by a margin of nearly two to one.

So what gives? Why are Christians, whose own Bible is stuffed to the binding with instructions to care for and be gracious to the poor, so much likelier to consider them lazy?

Helen Rhee, a historian who studies wealth and poverty in Christianity, told the Washington Post that she thinks it has something to do with Christian eschatology. That is, as premillennialism — the theology that holds that Jesus could return at any moment — became the dominant end times theory in American evangelicalism, Christians grew less concerned with making the world a better place. From this perspective, Rhee told the Post, “the world is already lost. Things are going to get worse and worse …You’ve got to just focus on what is important – that is, salvation of the soul.”

This has led to an attitude that implicitly ties poverty to morality. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, described this attitude to the Post this way: “There’s a rightful Christian impulse to consider poverty a moral issue …[but] I think conservative Christians often have a very inadequate understanding of the structural dimension of sin.”

In other words, sin is the cause of all poverty, but not all poverty is because of individual sin. There is also communal sin that results in widespread poverty: greed and corruption that leave innocent people poor.

You can see this in the Bible, where the authors – far from condemning the poor — repeatedly identify them as blessed, even Christlike. Beyond Jesus’ famous “Blessed are the poor,” there are verses like Proverbs 19:17, which says, “He who is gracious to a poor man lends to the LORD, and He will repay him for his good deed.”

And then Matthew 25, where Jesus says that “the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”

In these verses and many more, it’s entirely clear that God Himself identifies with the poor. Far from holding them responsible for their current state, He Himself is manifested in them.

GRACE

“They did this to themselves.”

“If I give to them, how do I know they won’t abuse it?”

“I’m going to wait until a better time to give.”

These are the excuses we often use for not being generous with the poor, but the more you look at the Bible, the lamer they sound. What if God dispensed His grace with the same cautious frugality we use in giving our money? “She did this to herself. If I’m gracious to him, how do I know he won’t abuse it?”

No. In God, we have a perfect picture of what generosity looks like, and it’s one we ought to follow. Perhaps there is some wisdom in making sure we’re not using our money to enable unhealthy addictions, but at this point, many of us have poisoned our generous spirit with so much suspicion that we tend to assume anyone who’s poor is just going to misuse whatever money we give instead of being giving to them the way God told us to: as if we were giving to God Himself. Do we really want to spend our lives suspecting God of being someone who will misuse our money on drugs and alcohol?

The Bible is clear. The need is clear. The mission is clear. And it’s also clear that the excuses Christians have invented to protect themselves from financial generosity don’t stand up to the slightest bit of scrutiny. Commands about the poor may not be the most discussed subject in the Bible, but they could very well be the most ignored. It’s time to turn that around.

This article was originally published at: Relevant Magazine

NAZARENE WORLD WEEK OF PRAYER 2018

From February 25 to March 3, 2018, Nazarenes will be interceding for our world! Join us in prayer!

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Click the links below to download the prayer requests for each region: 

Sunday – Africa Region

Monday – Asia Pacific Region

Tuesday – Eurasia Region

Wednesday – Mesoamerica Region

Thursday – South America Region

Friday – USA/Canada Region

Saturday – Where the Church is not yet

 

 

Why Ash Wednesday Matters

By Caryn Rivadeneira

If you want a faith worth celebrating, it has to start here.

This year’s Ash Wednesday presents a bit of a problem—it’s also my son’s sixth birthday. So, somehow, we have to figure out a way to make the imposition of ashes after his birthday dinner a logical (and festive and fun, maybe even) tie-in. And somehow, we have to weasel a way to combine celebrating my son’s birth on a day designed to keep his eyes on his eventual death. Cheers to that!

But of course, even if Ash Wednesday weren’t my son’s birthday this year, it would still present a problem. It always does. If the doldrums of winter haven’t beaten you down by now, Ash Wednesday—with its laser focus on our morbidity and depravity—is bound to do it. For many of us, it doesn’t take a birthday to tempt us to skip right over this troubling first day of the troubling season of Lent and stick to the happier occasions. After all, Easter’s a-comin’ right?

But there’s a very good reason not to skip Ash Wednesday and all its gloom and trouble, tempting through it may be. Even on a birthday—especially on one, maybe. Because as wonderful and joyous as I want to make my son’s birthday and as much as I want him to know we are thrilled he was born into this world and how worth celebrating he is, I also want him to know that taking time to mark ourselves with a sign of our grief and our sin and our suffering isn’t that bad of a way to end a birthday. It’s actually a pretty good gift.

Not that he’ll catch or appreciate any of this. Not at six. In fact, for many of us much older, we still have a hard time drudging through this dark day or grasping why it’s significant at all.

But in time, it’ll sink in. We all grow to understand that, just as the wonders of life are worth blowing up balloons and eating cake for, so are the hardships of life worth noting. Especially if we want to live a life and a faith worth celebrating.

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Of course, this is what Ash Wednesday is all about. Of course, not every one of us will feel much like heading to church on Wednesday or being told that we are dust and to dust we shall return. And not many of us like to spend much time communally acknowledging our sin or our shame or our suffering or our sorrow. Even still, Ash Wednesday reminds us this acknowledgment is central to our faith.

This year, my church, along with many others, invites folks to mark the first day of Lent with a time of music, quiet prayer and the imposition of ashes at an Ash Wednesday service and offers the hope that “this time of worship will help us walk more closely with Jesus through the Lent and Easter season.” With this, we offer the reminder that “ashes are a symbol of our repentance, of our desire to turn back to God; ashes demonstrate our solidarity of with Jesus, and with his journey to the cross and through the grave; and the sign of the cross in ashes is Christ’s own signature on us, that we belong to him.”

Yes, ashes announce an understanding of our mortality and need for repentance, but at the same time, they proclaim our solidarity with Jesus. They declare our faith in a God who not only wipes us free from sin but who takes the offerings of our broken hearts and our fears and turns them into hope and promise.

All this captured in one smudge—one smear of the ashen cross on my forehead that serves as a symbol of a most poignant paradox of our faith: God brings life out of the sin and suffering. It signifies that He did this with every heavy step Jesus took toward the cross and that He does this with us, with every burdened and broken step we take in this life.

On Ash Wednesday and throughout Lent, we’re invited to a time to look at our missteps and our regrets, our longings and our losses, and offer them all to God, who not only accepts them but transforms them.

After all, in sending His Son to suffer with and for us, God declared that our despair and our hope, our sin and our salvation, our suffering and our celebration are intertwined. He declared it’s through one that we get to the other. It’s through confession that we find forgiveness and through lament that we find healing. And Ash Wednesday offers us opportunity to do both—publicly and communally.

And it’s through this—through the smear of the ashen cross on our foreheads—that we ultimately celebrate the most poignant paradox of our faith: God draws our very hope and life—the cross—right out of our very sin and suffering—the ashes.

In the end, it’s this day of grief that leads us into the biggest cause for celebration.

This original article was published on: Relevant Magazine