The Worst Brand Ever

By Rev. Brady Wisehart

Dying to live

I was greeted this morning as I sifted through my inbox with an email titled “We can HELP your Church’s brand” sent from a church branding company. I had not solicited help form this company and I was about to move the email to the trash folder when I paused and was captivated by the following thoughts… 
What is the brand of the church? Not just my local church but the Church of Jesus Christ. Is there a difference between the brand of the broader Church of Jesus Christ and my local church? Have we in western culture elevated our local church brands above the core brand of Christianity? 

My thoughts were not debating denominational distinctions, or dumping on marketing or branding as tools. My thoughts were quite the opposite. I believe denominations are helpful to the Body of Christ, and I believe that the greatest news in the world, the gospel, is worthy of our best efforts to communicate as effectively as we can. 

Marketing consultants tell us that your brand is very important. It’s what tells the story of the core of your message. It’s what you present to the marketplace as who you are, what you are all about, and what you have to offer. 

For centuries, the brand of the Church of Jesus Christ was embodied by the cross. Atop of a cathedral or a country church the branding was consistent, a cross. For centuries, the image of the cross has been universal. Not limited to one culture but around the world the cross communicates the message of Christianity.

But think about that with me for a moment. The core branding image of Christianity is an execution device. Can you imagine a marketing consultant encouraging your institutional identity to be an electric chair? Welcome to our Church, the church of death! Yet this is the message! When Paul says “I did not come to you with persuasive words of wisdom but…I preached Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2-4) The message of the cross is one of death to sin and life in Christ (Eph. 2:16; Heb. 12:2; 1Cor. 1:17-18; Gal.511-14; Phil. 3:18).

It is in the death of Christ that we find freedom from sin and life in Him. This brand of the cross is not just a symbol of what Christ did for us. Jesus clarifies the message when He says “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35) Jesus calls us to choose. When I choose to accept Christ by grace and faith alone I walk with Him as a new creation. The old has gone and the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17).

The Apostle Paul writes, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.” (Galatians 5:24) “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:20-21).

That’s a lot of death talk for a core brand. I can see how some may be tempted to “refresh” the brand and give a lighter spin on the message. But Paul helps us in Galatians 2:21 see that if righteousness could be gained some other way other than Jesus, then Christ died for nothing.

In short, a “refreshed” or “touched up” brand, sanitizing the uncomfortable parts of the message and replacing them with a more “crowd friendly” narrative is not only dangerous but completely undermines the entire gospel. Leaving us with a “product” that is powerless. 

I came across this graphic today depicting how the Apostles died. Suddenly it hit me, they lived the brand! They all gave up their life for Christ. This was not just a testament to their devotion to the brand, but more so… they “lived” the brand in their deaths. 

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While I’m not suggesting God is calling each of us to be physically martyred for our faith in Christ, I do believe the core brand is clear. Through the cross I find life in Christ. When I am in Christ the old has gone and the new has come. Truly following Jesus leads us to a dying out to self and sin. To the point… If you are not ready to die, you are not ready to truly live. 

Are you a Christian? Are you a true follower of Jesus Christ? If yes, are you living the brand of the cross of Christ? Or have you drifted into a fixation with your own unique niche articulation of your preferred “idea” of Christianity? Has your faith become more focused on your preferences, your interests, your agenda? Has there been an erosion of the call Christ gives to love Him so much that by comparison it’s like you hate everything else? (Luke 14:26)

I have amazing news for you friend! There is no better way to live than to die! When we allow Christ to save us from our sinful selves, when we allow the power of His spirit to lead us to crucify our desires so we can embrace the desires of God… We start TRULY LIVING! The old has gone and the NEW HAS COME! 

Stop Just Going To Church

By Jeff Vanderstelt

It all began in a boat on a lake with a few fishing poles. It was there, surrounded by the lazy water, my dad and I would have a key conversation that would change the trajectory of my life. My dad was giving me a simple update on his life and shared that his church was hiring a discipleship pastor.

After I pushed past my internal dialog about how hiring a pastor for discipleship betrayed that the church didn’t see everything they did as discipleship, I heard my father say he was excited to learn how to make disciples—finally.

I was thankful for my father’s surge of energy toward Jesus’ commission but also a bit troubled. My dad didn’t seemed to realize he raised me in a home where daily life was engaged as intentional ministry. He owned several small businesses and believed his business was meant to be a blessing to people and the city we lived in. As a result, we joined our parents in countless acts of kindness, generosity, and hospitality.

It was not uncommon for one of us four boys to give up our room for a season to make room for a young man getting a fresh start, a broken husband whose marriage was on the rocks, or a runaway teen who needed some stability. My dad would love and mentor these men during the day at one of his businesses while my mom would nurture and care for them like one of her own.

I watched young and old come to know the love of Jesus and receive very informal but effective training in how to become responsible, hard-working, loving men. Because of my parents’ ministry at home and at work, many men still call our family “their own.”

However, the church never called this “ministry.” They didn’t see that my mother’s gracious hospitality and my father’s mentoring through work created both the environment and means for discipleship to happen.

I was not saddened simply because my parents’ ministry was never legitimized; Jesus was working through it all along, and God the Father was pleased to watch His children at work. What saddened me was that many churches (and many in the church) don’t view their homes as one of the best contexts for ministry, and their workplaces are some of the most overlooked places for mentoring and mission.

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Most people will spend one third of their lives at work and at least another third in or around their homes; that means that more than two-thirds of our lives are considered non-ministry space. In addition, most still believe church is a place you go for one-to-four hours a week where most of the discipleship happens. This means a very large majority of Christians see only a very small percentage of their lives dedicated to the mission of making disciples. It’s no wonder so few believers are fruitful in ministry.

What if we could help everyday people live with gospel intentionality in everyday life, both at work and at home, to make disciples? What if every workplace, school, neighborhood, and café were filled with Spirit-filled, Jesus-loving, disciple-makers every day? We might just see cities and towns saturated with the presence, power, and love of Jesus through everyday people like my mom and dad.

Pastors and church leaders were not called by God to do the ministry for the many. They are given to the church to equip the many for the ministry in the marketplace and the home. It’s time to equip and mobilize Jesus’ church out of the building and into life.

Let’s stop just going to church and start being the church every day and everywhere!

This article was originally posted at: Verge Network

 

Creator God

By Emily Armstrong

He came into the room and handed me a little box and said “Merry Christmas, I hope you like it.”

I took the little square box into my hands.  I felt around the edges and shook it a little, just to see if I could figure out what was hidden inside before I actually lifted off the top.

“Go on…open it!” my husband urged me.  

As I lifted off the small cover, I knew immediately what it was.  It was a necklace.  But not just any necklace – it was the necklace that I had wanted for the past year.  It was a necklace that had to be designed just for me.  The four unique charms caught my eye instantly, the first of which being a small silver moon with the words “To the moon and back” stamped on it.  The second was a small circle with the words “Elijah” and “Sydney” stamped on it.  The last two were small, plastic, circular charms – one the color of an emerald and the other the color of an amethyst.  

It was the “mother” necklace that always caught my eye when I saw it.  I had dreamed of wearing it every single day, thinking about my children every time I put it on.  It was the perfect complement for jeans and a t-shirt or my Sunday dress.  “To the moon and back” was the phrase from a children’s book that we read over and over again when they were no taller than my waist.  There was nothing more perfect in my mind.

“So, do you like it?” my husband asked me with expectation in his eyes.  He knew he had hit a home run with this gift and was anxiously awaiting my nod of confirmation, and maybe even a few tears of joy to run down my cheeks.

“I love it,” I replied.  “It’s exactly what I’ve always wanted – in fact, it surpassed what I even knew I wanted.  You chose the perfect charms!  You remembered the book we read together when they were young and you chose colors that match their birth months.  It’s beautiful.”

Taking the exquisite necklace into my hands, I thanked my husband and then quickly threw the precious gift into the trashcan. 

Wait.  What?

That doesn’t make sense.  Is this real life? What in the world would possess someone to trash a precious gift that was designed just for him or her?  My honest answer is, I don’t know, but it happens everyday.

The first handful of words in the Bible introduces us to our God, the Creator.  Laced throughout the poetic writings of the Psalms we see the praises of the Creator being proclaimed.  This Creator, OUR God, lovingly designed everything with purpose.  He knew what we wanted before we knew what we wanted.  Creation wasn’t just utilitarian; it was aesthetically pleasing.  God the Creator handed humanity – a part of God’s creation – a gift.

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The world he created was a perfect ecosystem that was picture-perfect when it all worked together – that is the picture of the Garden of Eden in the beginning chapters of Genesis.  The earth was watered by the rains that fell and the streams that rushed through it.  The sun, moon and stars governed the seasons so that the perfect amounts of rain would fall, producing lush vegetation that in turn would nourish forever the animals and the people. People and animals eating the fruits of the earth would create a natural pruning process, which provoked more abundant harvests in the future.  Man needed nature just as much as nature needed man. It was flawless.

However, perfection comes to a screeching halt when Adam and Eve sin.  Genesis 3:21 says, “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.”  Death has come to natural creation, and now shame needs to be “covered” by the killing of the same animals that had previously been in perfect harmony with man. Nature is “exploited” and the flawless relationship that the divine Creator had set in motion is marred. 

One of my favorite parts of being a Nazarene is that we are optimistic.  We believe that God is restoring perfect relationship between the Creator and his creation.  And because God is actively restoring the relationship with us, it compels us to restore perfect relationship as well.  Could this possibly mean that we should be seeking a flawless relationship with nature? Obviously so. 

Remember the necklace that I threw away?  Even after my husband had so carefully and thoughtfully created it for me? I didn’t really throw it away – I cherished it.  I wear it almost every single day, and think about the blessing that my family is to me.  I have had to replace the chain twice.  I have had to buy a special polishing cloth for it.  I go out of the way to appreciate it.  

Could it be, that restoring perfect relationship with nature is not an optional part of Christianity?  I propose that we don’t get to choose if we should care for God’s natural creation or not – it’s part of the covenant we make when we ask him to be our Savior.  

Maybe you think that recycling is about politics, that putting trash in the trash can is an inconvenience, or growing your own vegetables is a little over the top.  Maybe you’ve never even thought about why a Christian should prioritize caring for God’s creation.  Well, now you know.  We should care.  God shared his special creation with us, as a perfect gift – and it’s because of this that we will honor our Creator by taking care of it. 

Three Things Muslims Can Teach Christians About Prayer

By Sofya Shahab

Just because we believe differently doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pay attention

I knew I would love Afghanistan before I even arrived. As a student of arts, it is easy to romanticize the Middle East, drawn to its exotic mysticism, history and culture.

My first nights in Kabul were spent sleeplessly listening to the helicopters passing overhead, wondering what was happening and where they were going. At 4 a.m., the city would receive its wakeup, every Mosque sounding out the call to prayer, rousing Afghans and expat alike.

In each country, the call to prayer is slightly different, and while Afghanistan is far from the worst, I certainly didn’t welcome the local Muezzin intruding on my sleep.

But it didn’t take long for my body to tune out the nightly chorus of Kabul, much as those living near railways learn to adjust to the noise of passing trains. Ten months later, I now appreciate the intrusion of prayer time throughout my day as I have realized how much there is to learn about my own faith from my Muslim colleagues.

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Christians and Muslims obviously have very different beliefs. As Christians, we need to be firm on that, and not compromise what we know to be true from the Bible. But there has to be a dedication to learning from our neighbor while holding true to our faith.

Think of Malala Yousafzai’s recent statements to Jon Stewart on the importance of turning the other cheek. Or of Eboo Patel’s tremendous work in the area of creating interfaith dialogue. These are Muslims who have lived out something that is beautifully true. And, as is often said, all truth is God’s truth.

In that interest, I’ve seen three things Christians can learn from Muslims about Prayer:

Discipline

A majority of the Christians I know will spend the first part of their day in morning devotions, rising perhaps 30 minutes before the rush to get ready begins in order to spend time with God. But I’m not sure I know many how would wake at dawn, no matter how early it falls, in order to pray.

To me, to get up with the sun each day demonstrates an uncontainable excitement for God. There are far too many mornings where it is all too easy to hit the snooze button and simply relegate God to later in the day.

Utilizing the call to prayer as a reminder to take time out and invest in a relationship with God teaches a discipline that can often be lacking. No matter where you are or what you are doing, you must stop in order to read, worship or reflect. It puts God at the center of your life and physically demonstrates that He is more important than any other concerns you may have as they come second to Him.

Reverence

Seeing the preparations for prayer that Muslims go through can change the way in which we approach God. Removing their shoes and washing their hands, face and feet; they are making themselves clean.

While the blood of Christ has already done that for us, it is a poignant reminder that our God is a Holy God who we should come before with reverence. He may be our Father who loves us, but that does not mean we should come before Him lightly.

One of the beautiful things about the cross is it has removed the barriers between us and God, so that we can raise our voice to Him, sharing our needs and joy whenever it strikes us. But maybe we should also picture who God truly is when we talk to Him. He is the God of Moses who said “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5) And the God of Revelation 4, who shines out from His throne like precious stones.

Community

Praying five times a day, whether at the Mosque, in the office or in the home creates a sense of unity amongst Muslims, whether they are literally together or spread throughout the world.

I was raised in an evangelical Baptist church, so it was not until I came to Afghanistan that I first experienced the liturgy. I was surprised by how much I enjoy it.

One friend who has recently been working her way through The Divine Hours explained how praying a prayer that you know someone else somewhere else will be taking up after you feeds into a community that represents the true body of Christ, regardless of denomination or location, creating “a cascade of praise before the throne of God,” as Phyllis Tickle says in her book The Divine Hours.

In some ways, it is easier to be a Christian in Afghanistan than it is in England. There is a value and worth placed on religion that is often dismissed within secular cultures. Although Christians and Muslims obviously disagree about a lot of aspects of who God is and how we relate to Him, there is much we can learn from each other.

 

This article was originally posted at: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/worldview/3-things-muslims-can-teach-christians-about-prayer

An Essential Sign

By Rev. Ken Childress

1 Corinthians 15:17, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”

The Resurrection validates everything we believe in. Without it, the Bible is bold enough to say, our faith is worthless. Those who think Christianity is worthwhile for life in this world alone are disagreeing with Paul; he thought we were pitiful creatures indeed if our faith is only a this-world faith (See verse 19).

No, God gave us the Resurrection – Jesus’ and ours – for a reason. It’s a PROMISE, a PLEDGE, a VALIDATION that our life on this fallen planet is but a tiny fraction of the life we were meant to live. While the rest of the world goes about living for the here and now, we live for eternity. While they make investments hoping for good returns in a matter of years or decades, we make investments hoping for good returns in a matter of timeless “ages.” While they interpret their trials as things that will make or break the quality of their lives, we interpret out trials as events that are shaping us to understand God and inherit His riches. The Resurrection makes all the difference in the world. And beyond.

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This, in fact, was the point of creation from day one. Genesis is the account of God’s creation, but the cross of Christ and the empty tomb are the account of the recreation. The early church was suddenly aware that they were living in the regenesis, the fulfillment of all God had promised, the Kingdom that does not pass away. And that knowledge guided everything they did.

We often think of the Resurrection as an Eastertime phenomenon – a past miracle that gives us faint hope for the future. It is SO MUCH MORE.

The Resurrection validates our faith in the redeeming work of our High Priest, who has taken away our sins. It allows us to live with a sense of risk and adventure, because it makes us part of a new order of creation that ultimately cannot fail. Our lives are grounded in Someone who regins in eternal VICTORY!

He is Risen…He is Risen Indeed. No Resurrection, no Christianity!