Knocking Down Obstacles and Building Bridges

By Ramcely Cozar Castro

“Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible…I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” I Corinthians 9:19, 23

“When someone is aware of their cultural foundations, they cease to be obstacles to effective communication.” – Nobleza Asuncion-Lande

The book of First Corinthians is a letter to the church in Corinth by Paul, who was known as Saul of Tarsus before his conversion to Christianity.

Paul, in contrast to the 12 disciples of Jesus, did not meet Jesus before his crucifixion.  He was an educated, religious person who belonged to the tribe of Benjamin.  He did not grow up in Jerusalem, but rather in Tarsus, a Greek city in the province of Cilicia.

This places Paul in a privileged situation since he received his education in Tarsus, a city known for its excellent Greek school and the high cultural level of its inhabitants.  Later he moved to Jerusalem where he studied to be a rabbi.  Taken together, this means the Apostle was an expert in Greek culture, religious Jewish culture, and Roman culture.

The phrase from author Asuncion-Lande says that becoming aware of our cultural foundations will minimize the communication barriers between an individual and people from the same country as well as those from other countries.

Paul is a clear example of the truth of this phrase: he was a great missionary and succeeded in taking the message of Jesus to the entire known world.  Language was no limitation to him, and neither were geographic divisions or cultural differences.

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Paul, a man profoundly grateful for what the Lord had done in his life, did work that required heavenly faith and wisdom. It also required him to evaluate his cultural baggage and paradigms so he could keep the fundamental concepts and jettison the rest. That allowed him to build bridges to connect with other cultures.

Those who want to work in different cultures must be aware of their own ways of seeing and living life.  They must understand themselves and their relationship with the surrounding world. We must ask the Lord, the master of all and the one who sustains us in his hands, to help us be flexible regarding any inconsequential things, and remain steadfast when it comes to that which truly forms the basis of our faith.

*Ramcely Cozar is the pastor of the La Olimpica Church of the Nazarene in Naucalpan, Mexico City.

 

 

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A Voice? What Voice?

“Now those who were with me saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me.” (Acts 22:9 NRSV)

Arrested and standing before a mob ready to lynch him, Paul relates the story of his conversion.  It was the seminal moment of his life; quite literally (as well as metaphorically), he once was blind, but now he sees.  A bright light.  He falls to the ground.  A voice from heaven.  A dialogue that would forever change this terrorist into apostle.

And tucked in the middle of his testimony is the detail we read above.  Apparently, all those with Paul saw the light.  But they didn’t hear anything out of the ordinary.  What was so clear to Paul –enough for him to stake his life on it– was not even audible to anyone else.

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Have you ever been in a service or camp where others are responding in droves to God’s call, while you cross your arms, confused or even skeptical? They are hearing his voice and communing with him, but you casually wonder what the big deal is.

Could it be that God was speaking to everyone (you included)? The only difference is that you weren’t listening for his voice.  In The Message, Acts 22:9 says this: “My companions saw the light, but they didn’t hear the conversation.”

Don’t miss his voice today.  Pay attention to the conversation!

*This mini-devotional was written for the app of Mesoamerica Region Nazarene Youth International (NYI). We encourage you to download and use that app, through which short devotional thoughts like this (written by a variety of leaders) will be shared daily.

 

Mission Briefing: ‘Missionary’

By Howard Culbertson

People today use the word “missionary” in at least four ways:

– As a description for all Christians;

– As a label for people doing any kind of ministry anywhere;

– As a specialized category for anyone with cross-cultural ministry experience, whether that be long-term or for only a few days;

— As a title for those specifically called and gifted for long-term cross-cultural ministry.

So, which option is better? And, is there a reason to prefer one option over another?

I favor the last option. To me, that usage fits best with how believers are described in Romans 12, Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12. Those three passages compare the Church to a living organism.  Like a flesh-and-blood body, Christ’s Church is composed of many different members, each of whom has an important role to play for the organism.

Noting that a body could not function if it were made up only of eyes or ears, Paul wrote that the Church will likewise be dysfunctional if all believers try to do the same job. In this regard, Paul asked some rhetorical questions: “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?”  Paul obviously expected a “no” to those three questions asked in 1 Corinthians 12.

At_SKC_0.jpgTo be sure, the word “missionary” is not found in that passage. One reason is that “missionary” is rooted in Latin, a language that only came to be widely used years and years after New Testament times. Notwithstanding, Paul’s metaphor of a body is very relevant to how we use “missionary.” Beginning with Paul and Barnabas, the Church has recognized that God calls and equips specific people to give their lives crossing geographic, cultural, and language divides in order to foster church-planting movements, people such as Milly and Agnes Ibanda and their family (left), who recently were sent out from the church in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to serve in Madagascar. Those go-ers are the people for whom the word “missionary” was coined in the 1600s.

Broadening the meaning of “missionary” from its original usage is done with good intentions. However, I do not sense it has infused lukewarm believers with urgency and a sense of purpose. On the other hand, staying with the original narrow usage of “missionary” does aid the Church by:

– Reminding us of the need to be intentional about taking the church to “where it is not yet” (as opposed to having people to say, “We’re doing all God expects of us if we are ‘missionaries’ in our own neighborhoods”).

– Embracing the image of the church as a body made up of members with different functions, one of which is following a divine call to take the Gospel across cultural, language and geographic boundaries to “where the church is not yet.”

– Recognizing that God doesn’t expect everyone to pack their bags and grab an international flight. Some will be “go-ers.” Others will be their “senders.” That represents the meaning of the word “missionary” as it was originally coined.

Postscript: Reserving the title “missionary” for those doing a specific kind of ministry rather than applying it more broadly does not excuse any believer from being passionately involved through prayer, giving, mobilizing or going in BOTH near-neighbor outreach AND ends-of-the-earth evangelism.

This article was originally published at: Engage Magazine

Hope in the Shipwreck

By Rev. Ken Childress

“No one had eaten for a long time. Finally, Paul called the crew together and said, Men, you should have listened to me in the first place and not left Crete. You would have avoided all this damage and loss. But take courage! None of you will lose your lives, even though the ship will go down. For last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me, and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul, for you will surely stand trial before Caesar! What’s more, God in His goodness has granted safety to everyone sailing with you.’ So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as He said. But we will be shipwrecked on an island.” (Acts 27:21-26)

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Paul’s response was, “You should have listened to me…BUT.”  Paul was sure enough of what he had heard from God that he was willing to put himself in the position of reminding them of what he said. But he did not dwell on that. Instead, he immediately brought them hope. The same God who told him of the shipwreck was the same God who promised life and safety. The Word is consistent in its message – God is a God of hope. Paul even encourages them to eat in the middle of the storm.

The next point is very interesting to me: “But we will be shipwrecked on an island.” We tend to think because God brings hope everything will be comfortable. Nowhere in His Word do I find that statement. I find promises of provision, comfort, peace, salvation, and forgiveness. But nowhere do I find that we may not end up shipwrecked. God told these men, through Paul, that they would live. He also told them they would be shipwrecked.

I have always believed there to be a price to pay for ignoring the will and direction of God.

When we choose to sin against our body – we get shipwrecked.

When we sin financially – we get shipwrecked.

When we sin in relationships – we get shipwrecked.

There is a price to pay for disobedience. But even then there is HOPE. After the storm the sailors realized they still had life and there was dry land within reach.

God gives us His direction for our lives in His Word. When we ignore those directions, there are some things that follow: darkness, depression, hopelessness. But even in the darkness there is a light. And though we will find ourselves in a shipwreck, His love is big enough to find us, spare our lives and get us to dry land. Once we are on dry land He provides us with sustenance and the hand of others who help us get back on our feet.

Yes, with God we learn the lessons of disobedience and we learn that, no matter how far we roam, His unconditional love is able to reach us and save us.

Mission Briefing: Be a Sender

By Howard Culbertson

Not infrequently, people think the only way they can participate in to-the-ends-of-the-earth evangelism is by flying to another country. They are wrong. “Going” is just one avenue of world mission involvement. Indeed, those who leave home to become career missionaries need a cadre of consecrated and zealous supporters back home.

A few years ago, Steven Hawthorne wrote a chapter in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement about those who support the “Go-ers” (as he called missionaries)Hawthorne, who grew up in a Nazarene parsonage, titled his chapter simply, “Senders.” He noted that the Apostle Paul may have been thinking of human Senders as well as God when he rhetorically asked: “How can they preach unless they are sent?” (Romans 10:15).

The Apostle John was certainly clear in his encouragement to people to become Senders for missionaries.The Amplified Bible renders verse 7 and part of verse 8 in III John as: “For these [traveling missionaries] went out for the sake of the Name [of Christ]. So we ought to support such people.”

How do Senders support and take care of missionaries? Well, the III John passage seems to refer to material support. The same is true of Paul’s words to the Romans about a planned trip to Spain (Romans 15:22-24). To be sure, money – lots of it – is needed in world evangelism. However, Senders can and must do more than give money. As one example, in almost every one of Paul’s letters, he requested prayer for his ministry from his Senders.

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R.A. Torrey, the founding head of Moody Bible Institute, believed that. Torrey once wrote: “The man or woman at home who prays often has as much to do with the effectiveness of the missionary on the field, and consequently with the results of his or her labors, as the missionary.”        

In addition to money and prayer, Senders contribute to Great Commission fulfillment in ways ranging from keeping missions bulletin boards updated to locating and shipping needed equipment and supplies. Indeed, a variety of gifts and talents can be used to facilitate the work of missionaries serving far away.

Here are half a dozen areas in which Senders can support missionaries:

— Emotional support (giving encouragement via emails, cards, Skype conversations, showing up at deputation services and more).

— Mobilization (raising global missions awareness in one’s own local church or district).

— Financial support (giving and encouraging others to give).

— Intercessory prayer for world evangelism (praying and calling others to prayer).

— Logistics help (providing house and transportation for missionaries on home assignment, making arrangements for shipping things, ironing out details for events and more).

— Re-entry assistance (being a “safe” listener, helping returned missionaries find their way around, and more).

Senders have been known to be so passionate about supporting missionaries that they adjust their lifestyles to pray more, serve more and give more.

Be a Sender. Impact the “ends of the Earth” from your own doorstep.

This article was originally posted at: Engage Magazine

 

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! 

Towards Missional Effectiveness: The Mark of Multiplication – Part 6 of 7

By Ed Stetzer

Go where people are, make disciples, plant churches.

I’m in a series covering the topic of missional effectiveness. In the previous two posts, I have explained the marks of God’s mission. What I have sought to do is stress the major foci of each mark in an effort to build a visual of the enactment of the message and movement of mission. Today, I’ll cover the missional mark of multiplication.

The Missional Mark of Multiplication Explained 

Thus far, I have attempted to outline the missional marks of community and sentness when the missio Dei is enacted in a local church. But there is one more missional mark that is enacted when the church embraces the totality of God’s mission, and that mark is multiplication.

Multiplication is used by God to advance His mission throughout the world. While the impulse of multiplication is hinted at in the OT in places like Genesis 1:28 (“be fruitful and multiply”), Genesis 15:5 (Abraham’s infinite number of offspring), and Jeremiah 29:6, it becomes very clear in the New Testament.

The missional mark of multiplication, particularly in the New Testament, rests upon Matthew 28:18–20, Acts 1:8, Acts 9:15, and Romans 15:20. In these passages, it is clear that God’s mission extends outward to the nations—to those who have not heard the gospel.

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The Apostle Paul clearly understood this. In fact, Paul saw God’s global mission connected to an aspect of God’s covenant with Abraham. Paul writes to the churches of Galatia, “Now the Scripture saw in advance that God would justify the Gentiles by faith and told the good news ahead of time to Abraham, saying, all the nations will be blessed through you” (Gal. 3:8). 

By understanding the mission of God as being directed towards the nations, Paul implemented a missions strategy that included targeting populated urban centers, evangelizing the city (micro multiplication), and planting and establishing churches (macro multiplication).

According to Eckhard Schnabel, there are [at least] fifteen phases or locations of Paul’s missionary work that took place in 35 years between his conversion (31/32 AD) and his death in Rome (67 AD). During those years, Paul had three missionary journeys.  As Paul went to the nations, he would go to their cities.

Tim Keller asserts that part of Paul’s mission strategy included going to the largest cities of the region. Very seldom do we see Paul navigating away from cities. It seems Paul believed that cities were where the potential for gospel impact and gospel multiplication would be greatest. Alvin Reid expresses that if churches reach the cities, they’ll reach the world. 

It seems that Paul thought that as well.

Once in the city Paul did at least two things: evangelized people and planted churches. Paul evangelized through preaching at the local synagogues, participating in small group Bible studies, meeting people in the marketplaces, renting halls and lecturing, and engaging people in his profession (tent-making). As he made disciples, he would then plant and establish churches.

Keller summarizes Paul’s missional engagement with the cities in this way:

When Paul began meeting with them [converts], they were called ‘disciples’ (Acts 14:22), but when he left them, they were known as ‘churches’ (see Acts 14:23). To put it simply, the multiplication of churches is as natural in the book of Acts as the multiplication of individuals. 

As seen in the life of Paul, multiplication requires intentionality. It requires going to where people are, sharing the good news of Jesus, and planting and establishing self-supported, self-governing, and self-propagating churches.

The Missional Mark of Multiplication Exemplified

The church in Antioch exemplifies the missional mark of multiplication. They multiplied exponentially in Antioch—reaching both Jews and Gentiles. Not only did they multiply in Antioch, but they also reached beyond their city. Antioch became the first sending church by sending the first missionaries and becoming the first church-planting church (Acts 13:1–3). Simply put, they became a multiplying church.

The missional mark of multiplication is really the missional program of the Early Church. The end result of the missional program of the church is found in Revelation 5:9 and 7:9, where John sees a vision of God’s people being from every tribe and language and people and nation. Thus, for a church to be missionally effective, it must become a multiplying church—going to where people are, making disciples (micro multiplication), and planting churches (macro multiplication).

 

This article was originally posted at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2017/january/towards-missional-effectiveness-mark-of-multiplication-part.html