Tear Down Every Barrier!

By Luz Jimenez Avendaño

“In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.  When they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.” Acts 13:1-3 

The Christian church was mature enough to make the biggest of decisions.  They agreed, after deliberation, to take the message of the gospel to the entire world. It was a decision they made under the direction of the Holy Spirit. The men of the early church did not follow their own will, but rather the will of God.

In Acts 13:1-3, the scripture talks about prophets and teachers. These two groups served different functions. The prophets did not belong to a single congregation.  They were itinerant preachers who gave their lives to hear the Word of God and share it with their brothers in the faith. The teachers belonged to an individual local church and their job was to instruct those who had accepted the Christian faith.

This list of prophets symbolizes the universal call of the gospel. Barnabus was a Jew from Cyprus, and Lucius was from Cyrene in North Africa. Simeon was also a Jew, but the passage gives a second name: Niger. Niger is a Roman name meaning black, which indicates that he would have moved in Roman circles. Manean was a man with connections to the aristocracy and at court. Paul himself was a Jewish rabbi from Tarsus in Cilicia. This group is an example of the unifying influence of Christianity.  Men from different lands and with different backgrounds had all discovered the secret of serving together. They discovered unity in Christ.

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God calls all believers to proclaim his word around the world. We are all called to share the good news of salvation. There is much to tell. Nevertheless, our prejudice towards a culture different than our own, along with customs, traditions, legalism and vain excuses, creates a problem.  Anything that inhibits the call of the Lord serves as a barrier to us obeying His command to “go.”

The truth is that we are believers, and in response to a heavenly call, we must share the marvelous love of God so that others can know him. These men accepted the call of the Lord. They were from different cultures, but they joined together in a single team to accomplish a single goal: to preach the message to those who were dead in their sins and needed to be saved.

Now is the time to break down every barrier and preach the good news!

*Luz Jimenez has served for five years as a volunteer missionary.  She is currently serving as the Global Missions and Genesis Coordinator in the Mesoamerica North Central Field, which includes Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua.

The Dual Dangers of Legalism and “Traditionalism”

Our Mesoamerica Genesis office is working diligently on assisting churches that exist in large urban areas to become healthy and missional.  One of the first steps in doing so is to take a church health survey in order to discover strengths and weaknesses.  It’s a brave task to undergo actually.  No one wants to find out they are sick, or even worse, dying.

One of the biggest reasons we have found for lack of health in congregations is a combination of legalism and worship of tradition.  Having order and obeying the laws of God are quite important to be sure.  But if we allow our adherence to rule-following to get in the way of mission and loving the world around us, we’ve missed the mark. Tradition is a wonderful thing, and celebrating our rich heritage is a must as Christians.  But if we think the methods from decades ago are holy in and of themselves, we are in dangerous territory.

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Jean David Larochelle’s book in Spanish, A Natural Development of Faith, has much to say about legalism and “traditionalism,” as he calls it:

“The message of the gospel is not negotiable. We do not doubt it. Every principle is eternal.  Every principle is immutable.  Every principle is spiritual and every principle is divine.  But strategies are not principles or doctrines. Neither are they eternal.  I say again, one of the greatest sins of the church is to try to win a postmodern generation with primitive strategies.”

The Good News is not good if it is not understandable. When we do not update our methods for different generations or cultures, we can be almost certain they will not understand them, let alone respond positively.  Grace is diluted by the importance we place on rules and tradition.

“Doctrinally, legalism and traditionalism can become positions essentially opposed to grace . . . God has given freedom to his church, but many continue tying it to legalism and traditionalism.”

In reference to the Pharisees in John 9 who questioned the blind man who received his sight, Larochelle continues, “It is sad to note that, for them, the day of rest had been given priority over the person. Things, interests and laws were a priority over the human person.  Nevertheless, Jesus also made them see that he was opposed to the foolish traditions and legalism they had invented in respect to the day of rest . . . They did not rejoice with the man. They saw humanity through eyes of judgment.”

In closing, the author invites us to evaluate ourselves. “Consider if you have legalistic, rigid attitudes or thoughts towards others or towards yourself.  In the story we are analyzing, which role would you like to take – that of the Pharisees or of Jesus? Which role have you played? Which would you like to play from now on?

These are essential questions for the whole church and for each Christian who desires to reflect the love of Christ in their society.

Advent: Four Elements of “Wait Training”

In the previous post, we heard from Pastor Rich Villodas as he taught us about how Advent is a season for “Wait Training.” In part two of his article, originally published at Missio Alliance, we now look at four practical ways we can learn to bear fruit in our spiritual lives as we wait during this season.

By Rich Villodas

Four Important Elements of Waiting

1. Reflective Prayer

Henri Nouwen has said, “Active waiting is waiting that pays attention, is fully present to what is really going on, even when to all outward appearances, nothing is going on.”

One of the primary ways of this kind of waiting that pays attention is in reflective prayer. Prayer is not simply articulating our needs before God. It’s also making ourselves available for God to articulate his movements before us.

Advent is a season of waiting in a posture of prayerful attention. It’s often when we get silent that we can finally begin to trace God’s movements in our lives.

2. Friends on the Journey

Waiting is much easier when done in community. This is one of the reasons Jesus asked his disciples to join him as he awaited his death (unfortunately they fell asleep on him!). Advent is a reminder that waiting is a communal act.

Mary and Elizabeth wait together.

Simeon and Anna wait in community.

The people of God expectantly waited together.

Advent is an invitation to seek out friends on the journey who will help us process, discern and sit in silence with us as we discern God’s activity.

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3. The Hearing of the Gospel Preached

As we wait, our souls need to be grounded in hope that comes from the proclamation of the gospel. We each need a word spoken to us regularly that reminds us of God’s faithful coming in Jesus.

Sunday worship is not a time to get religious goodies and head home. It’s an opportunity to open ourselves to God’s creative word, which is to anchor us in a story that is often at odds with the stories we tell ourselves.

4. Waiting is an Active Activity 

To wait on the Lord doesn’t mean inactivity. It doesn’t mean a refusal to take initiative, or to seek and search for opportunities (a new job, a romantic relationship, etc.). Rather, it’s a refusal to move without connecting our lives to God in prayer and reflection, first and often.

Eugene Peterson has said, “Waiting in prayer is a disciplined refusal to act before God acts.”

Sometimes waiting on the Lord means “staying put” in a particular situation until you get further instructions. At other times, it requires us to move forward—but in a way that is grounded in prayer.

Ultimately, to wait on the Lord is a way of life that comes against our tendencies to be impulsive, to be anxiously reactive, and wise in our own eyes.

If decisions are being made that are anxiously reactive and impulsive, chances are we need some practice in waiting on the Lord.

Advent reminds us that God has come, is coming, and will come again. It’s a great opportunity to train our souls in waiting.

This article was originally published at: Missio Alliance.

4 Ways to Involve Everyone in Evangelism

By Ed Stetzer

Many people have slipped into the mindset that evangelism is a gift that some believers have and others do not. The reality is that when someone becomes reconciled to God, He sends them out to reconcile others. That’s not a gift—we all have the responsibility to take Christ to others.

Pastoral leadership can go a long way in shifting those mindsets. Pastors can and should equip the church body to understand their role in evangelization. Among other things, a church can do four things to encourage the spirit and practice of evangelism.

  1. Build Relationships

Only a very few hear the gospel or show up at church without first being in relationship. Most people who come to Christ are invited by a person they know.

God calls us to evangelize, including our family, friends, and neighbors. He invites us to invite others. Personal relationships are the best way to reach out.

Your friends trust you when you talk about restaurants, plumbers, and baby sitters. That same trust gives each believer an open door to introduce their friends to Jesus.

  1. Encourage Engagement

Sometimes the world gets the wrong idea that being a Christian means our lives are perfect. They feel disconnected and unworthy. So whenever we can remind our people and those looking in that we are all in need of a Savior, it breaks down walls that keep people from Christ and the Church.

The church and its people must understand that no one gets through a broken world unbroken. So as they go back out throughout the week, they should connect with broken people as broken people who have met the One who restores. They should offer restoration through Christ. That is evangelism.

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  1. Inclusive Events

Some parts of church are more exclusive. The Lord’s Supper, baptism, even some small groups are just for believers. But a church has the freedom, and really a responsibility, to have gatherings where seekers feel welcome—places where they are ready for company.

One of those low-threshold events is an annual Easter egg hunt. You ramp up by involving the whole church. They bring their friends, neighbors, and families.

Do these events where everyone can be involved. Why? Events can show love for our community and increase visibility to invite people to our church. Multiple relationships can form in these open and inclusive events. These relationships can ultimately lead back to Christ.

  1. Teach Well

The Easter egg event mentioned above is an inroad. But the greater thing happens when we actually preach on the resurrection—we want to bridge relationships from something as simple as a children’s event, to something as important as the gospel.

And, we don’t just preach about the resurrection on one Sunday.

Our people understand that after they bring their friends to the church community event, there will be an intense Gospel thrust in the following weeks. We call each other, and the Life Group leaders make calls. Everyone knows that everyone should invite their friends to hear about Jesus.

We teach the gospel well and over and over.

Holistic Approach

It’s a full-court press. We do all of these things in waves at the same time, but we don’t do them all the time. Spring and fall, summer and winter, on mission to share Jesus.

Everyone is on board. Everyone understands that our church leadership will provide opportunities for their friends to hear the Gospel, but their friends are their responsibility.

I don’t know their friends. They do. I can’t invite their friends. They can. And they must. Evangelism is everyone’s responsibility.

We can complain about the lack of evangelistic activity in our churches, but this goes back to leadership. We as leaders create the culture of evangelism. When the church sees we are intentional and serious about creating a pathway, they will be more likely to engage their friends and invite them on the pathway.

What has your church done to make sure everyone participates in evangelism? Why do you think people often drop the ball in the area of evangelism?

*This article was originally published at: Edstetzer.com

Mission Briefing: Contextualization

By Howard Culbertson

When believers from one culture introduce the “unchanging gospel” to people of another culture, how do they keep the Good News from being dismissed as a foreign import? The short answer is one word: Contextualization.

When Christianity moves from one culture to another, there is danger that it will be thought of as belonging in the first culture, but very much out of place in the second one. The chances of that happening can be lessened if the Gospel will be proclaimed and lived out in culturally understandable ways. That process of meaningfully connecting biblical revelation to a specific culture is called “contextualization.”

Missiologist Darrell Whiteman said it this way: “Contextualization attempts to communicate the Gospel in word and deed and to establish the church in ways that make sense to people within their local cultural context.”

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Having the gospel “make sense” to people of a culture does not, of course, mean everyone will rush to embrace it. People must decide if they are willing to make the changes necessary for Jesus to be their Savior and Lord. That does not mean, of course, that people must abandon their ethnic or cultural identify to follow Jesus. Authentic contextualization is based on the premise that when people allow Christ’s transforming power into their lives, they will be even better Nicaraguans or Japanese or Bulgarians or Navajos than they were before.

Contextualization does not mean robbing the Gospel of its essence or “watering it down” to make it more palatable. On the contrary, good contextualization renders expressions of the “unchanging Gospel” more faithful to Scripture than they would otherwise be. Holy-Sprit-led contextualization allows Scripture to be as powerful and transformative in each cultural context as it can possibly be.

Proper contextualization moves gospel proclamation past a sense of foreignness to allow each people group to hear God say: “This is my design for you.” Contextualization allows people of a culture to see that Yahweh, Creator of the universe who reveals Himself in Jesus Christ, loves them and wants a relationship with them.

In tangible terms, contextualization involves the wording of theological expressions as well as things like sermon illustrations, music styles, artwork, decision-making, lifestyle choices, church programs and schedules, modes of preaching and teaching, the process of discipleship, evangelistic outreach, leadership selection and even architecture.

It must be clear says missions professor Zane Pratt, that the ultimate purpose of contextualization “is not comfort, but clarity.” Thus, authentic contextualization does not involve the softening or white-washing of Jesus’ radical commands. Indeed, contextualization enables the Gospel to be offensive to each culture for exactly the right reasons. Whiteman has said that good contextualization makes sure that the Gospel “engages people at the level of their deepest needs.”

Authentic contextualization must travel on two rails. One rail is an unwavering faithfulness to Scripture. The other rail is that of communicating and living out the Word of the Lord in ways that are familiar to people in a particular cultural context.

This article was originally posted at: Engage Magazine