Hope in the Midst of Grief

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On May 21, 2018, 
General Superintendent Carla D. Sunberg delivered the message at the morning’s Global Ministry Center chapel service. The Nazarene pastor couples killed in Friday’s plane crash were honored as their names were read aloud, and Dr. Sunberg reminded us of the hope we have in Christ even in the midst of grief.

Praying for Cuba

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 Holguin, Cuba, when it went down about 12 p.m. local time.

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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.

It’s been confirmed that on the flight the following pastoral couples perished:

  1. Mirza Rodriguez Rondón and Juan Luis Vega Velazquez.
  2. Luis Manuel Rojas Perez and Maricela Peña.
  3. Norma Suarez Niles and Jesus Manuel Garcia Oberto.
  4. Maria Virgen Filandez Rojas and Rafael Vega Velazquez.
  5. Ronni Alain Pupo Pupo and Yurisel Milagros Miranda Mulet.
  6. Eloy Ortiz Abad and Elva Maria Mosqueda Legra.
  7. Juan Carlos Nogueras Leyva and Noelbis Hernandez Guerrero.
  8. Gelover Martin Perez Avalo and Yoneisi Cordovez Rodriguez.
  9. Manuel David Aguilar Saavedra and Maria Salome Sanchez Arevalo.
  10. Grisell Filandes Clark and Lorenzo Boch Bring.

As a result of this, 8 children (7 boys and 1 girl) and 2 adolescents were left without their parents, all between 7 and 15 years old.  Many adult children were left without their parents as well.

The president of the Church of the Nazarene in Cuba, Rev. Leonel J. Lopez said: “In this moment of anguish and pain, we ask for all your prayers and help to be able to get through this situation together.”

Nazarene Compassionate Ministries in Mesoamerica Region invites you to be part of the response to the families that have been affected by the plane crash:

  • Praying.
  • Raising offerings in local churches on Sunday, May 27, 2018.

The offerings must be sent by each district to their field office; the field office will send the total received to the regional office for its proper use.

“May all the family of the Church of the Nazarene unite in prayer on behalf of our brothers and sisters,” Dr. Carlos Saenz, Regional Director, said.

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Flags are currently at half-mast across Cuba as part of a nation-wide two days of mourning.

Stay informed through the official regional website: mesoamericaregion.org, and the website of the Church of the Nazarene: nazarene.org; and also through Facebook and Twitter.

– Church of the Nazarene, Mesoamerica Communications.

Still Not Jaded: Part Two of a Plea to Resist Cynicism in Life and Ministry

Scott Armstrong

In the previous post, I shared a story of being a new to the mission field and confronting some hard truths of conflict and politics in the Church. Were the words to me from a trusted veteran missionary correct? Was I eventually going to become jaded like everyone else?

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I determined then and there that I would not let it happen.  I would battle against cynicism and disillusionment.  The following suggestions have helped me enormously in the years of ministry since:

  1. Start to date again. Just as marriages can become dry and passionless after years of routine and the stresses of life, so also our spiritual lives must be tended to intentionally and creatively. What was it like when you first met God or when he first called you? What were the dreams he planted in you? What do you love most about serving God? It may be that you need to get away to dedicate time not just to ministry, but to Christ himself.  “Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love” (Revelation 2:4).
  2. Make sure mission is prominent in everything you do personally and corporally. Becoming “jaded” can many times be attributed to forgetting our mission. This applies to a general lack of remembering the Great Commission, but it also refers to the specific mission that God has given you, your family, and your leadership team.  I remember in college that I read Stephen Covey’s book, First Things First, and then was assigned to write my personal mission statement.  I emphasized renewal in several areas and a dedication to God’s calling and to my family.  Maybe it seems laughable for a 20-year old with high hopes and little experience to chart a missional course toward the future.  And even Covey encourages us to revisit and amend that statement as needed every so often.  However, if we do not do it at 20 years of age, when will we do it? If we do not focus on mission today, we should not be surprised when we are rudderless years later. Revisited often and adjusted occasionally, that statement has provided a foundation for my life and ministry for the last two decades – and will continue to do so going forward.
  3. Call a spade a spade. Many people think that the antidote to becoming jaded is denying or dismissing the awful things that have been done to us and within the Church. It is pretty impressive how we can rationalize others’ sinful actions with biblical or spiritual pretense.  “He was abusive, but he is a revered leader, so it must be me who is at fault.” “She hurt me, but I know all things work together for good…” These mental (and emotional) gymnastics may temporarily mask the issue, and make things run smoothly in spite of the dysfunction. But the real way to remain passionate about life and ministry is to admit that the Church has failed in many ways. Be specific.  Who hurt you? What took away the joy? Have you forgiven? Only when we identify the disease poisoning our joy can we begin to treat it.
  4. Develop spiritual and emotional tenacity. A lot of times we equate tenacity with the physical.  The image in our minds might be a soldier pushed to the brink of exhaustion, dehydration, and pain.  With blood and sweat mixing on his brow, he keeps on going – literally gritting his teeth. The Apostle Paul also uses a physical metaphor of running a race when speaking of spiritual perseverance and even refers to “beating his body” so as to win the prize (1 Cor. 9:24-27).  Images of emotional perseverance are harder to come by, however.  What if we were to develop just as much “stick-to-it-ive-ness” emotionally? What if we were to begin to value a tenacious attitude as much as we do physical striving? Much of spiritual and emotional tenacity has to do with choosing joy in the midst of suffering or focusing on the enormous blessings of God instead of many daily annoyances.  Remember Paul and Silas singing in the Philippian jail? In other words, emotional tenacity is recognizing that “our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17). God needs soldiers who are tenacious: physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
  5. Love the Church. It is the bride of Christ. It is the body of Christ. And yet, if you’re like me, a lot of times I find myself complaining and grumbling about it. A call to love Christ is to love his Church. This relationship is both vertical (with God) and horizontal (with others). We will not be able to fake it too long before people know we are frauds. The Holy Spirit must change our hearts when we’ve been disillusioned or hurt.  “And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:21).  This is not the same, but is certainly closely related to our final suggestion…
  6. View the Church through realistic lenses.After sensing that God called me to join him in his redemptive work, I could hardly contain the excitement. Sure, it was overwhelming, but God wanted to use me to change the world!  Little did I know that the barrier that would most attempt to discourage and dissuade me from that mission through the years would be the lack of vision and general unhealthiness of the Church.  While I have resolved to never lose my optimism, I have also had to be realistic.  Every obstacle will not magically fly away because I have answered God’s call.  I am imperfect, and every other Christian is, too. Pettiness and politics will still remain in the Church at every level because it is made up of humans.  But knowing all the details of conflict and confrontation does not mean that we are forced to allow that reality to disfigure the image of God in us.  The movement behind the curtain does not have to divert us from the masterpiece God is performing on stage right in front of us.

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I am no longer a rookie missionary.  I have seen a lot of filth, and there have been many circumstances that have threatened to leave me frustrated and cynical.  Yet, I remain as passionate as I was that first year of cross-cultural ministry – much more so, in fact.

So, what about you? Would you join me in the war against becoming jaded?

 

7 Common Communication Mistakes to Avoid

By Dan Reiland

Some of us will never have that great God-given talent to “move the masses,” but we can all improve our public communication skills to meet the need where God has placed us.

It doesn’t matter if you speak to a room of fifty people or three thousand people, the foundational elements of good communication are the same. I don’t preach much, but I teach a lot. That doesn’t let me off the hook. There are boring teachers just like there are boring preachers.

As leaders, we all have a responsibility to become better communicators, even if teaching is not central to our role.

Here are 7 of the most common mistakes, avoid them, and you’ll get better!

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1) Speaking too long.

A great rule of thumb is to keep your talk shorter if it’s not your primary gift. Even if you are good, set a time limit and stick to it. People respond better when they know what they can count on. Simply stated, when you get to the end of your notes, stop.

If you “need” to communicate longer in a teaching environment, there are several things you can do to break it up and help keep it more interactive.

2) Not knowing how to close.

How many times have you listened to a speaker who circled the runway seemingly forever? You wanted to call out, “Land the plane!” (Finish!) Patti, my wife, used to have a hand signal that instructed me to land the plane!

When you write your talk, know where you are going. Have a singular purpose in mind and answer these two questions. What do you want them to know? What do you want them to do? End with precision and clarity in your spiritual encouragement or challenge.

Skilled communicators have a singular purpose in mind and know how to close.

3) Seeking approval, rather than change.

Like good leadership, good communication begins with self-awareness. People pleasing and insecurity are big stumbling blocks to good communication. You become too worried about what people think of you to focus on them.

Knowing who you are and being comfortable in your own skin is a major part of great communication.

Communicators that are secure in themselves stay away from things like exaggeration, forcing humor just to get a laugh, and softening the truth.

The ultimate goal of any communicator in the local church is to move people toward change for their good, according to Biblical values and Christ-like living.

4) Too much content, too little application.

We all like to let our Bible knowledge out from time to time, and it’s obviously good to be passionate about scripture. But the point of our communication isn’t information; it’s transformation. That makes application incredibly important.

I remind myself that the epistles are basically half content, half application. Less is more. Candidly, it’s more work to reduce the content. As the communicator, we should do the work, not make the listeners work to understand what we are saying.

Remember, what do you want them to know, and what do you want them to do?

5) Intellectual integrity over spiritual intensity.

Diligent study is a vital part of good communication, but prayer brings the true life-changing power.

Your preparation in study is a required discipline; you can’t communicate a sermon or lesson without it. The truth is that we can communicate a message without prayer. That is scary, and makes the talk nearly worthless in terms of eternity.

One of the attributes I most respect, and have learned from our senior pastor Kevin Myers, is deep commitment and passion for prayer. Prayer is a profoundly integral part of his preparation to communicate anything. The results are obvious.

6) Failing to connect.

Your ability to be real and connect at a heart level creates the most noticeable improvement in your communication.

Stories are one of the best ways to connect, and you can increase your connection by improving your ability to tell a story. Authenticity gains you great trust in the room.

Reading the room is also key to you understanding how well you connect. A “public speaker” talks at the people, a communicator has a conversation with the people. He or she sees and senses the emotional temperature of the room and adjusts the tone of the talk as they go.

7) Underestimating the significance of encouragement.

When change, true transformation is the goal (Romans 12:2; Ephesians 4:11-16), you simply can’t over encourage those you speak to.

A good communicator always gives hope. Help the people believe they can do it, and God will help them with the part they can’t do on their own.

It’s not about fluff, Christianity light, or cheap grace. Encouragement is needed to inspire people to first, want to change, and second, elevate self-confidence enough to try.

This article was originally published at: danreiland.com

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