A Swift and Radical Change

In one of the neighborhoods in the city, two missionaries were doing door to door evangelism, knocking on doors to present the gospel using the “Wordless Book.” They knocked on the door insistently, but no one would open. When they were about to leave, a woman about 40 years old leaned out of a small window.  They told her why they were there. Even though the weather was not cold, the woman was wearing a coat; she seemed nervous and concerned, and she was walking from one place to another. She told the missionaries she couldn’t receive them because she was waiting for her therapy session with her psychologist. The missionaries asked for ten minutes to share a Bible story, and so she let them.  At the end, they guided her to accept Christ as her Savior.

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During the prayer, the woman broke down weeping. She told the missionaries that when they prayed she started sweating, feeling really hot and restless at the same time. After giving her some advice, they left, promising her that they would return the next day to give her a discipleship lesson. When they came back, she shared with the missionaries how she had wanted to cancel the appointment with them.  Unable to contact them, though, she began to think that it might be important – even exciting – to receive them again.

At the end of the discipleship lesson, once again the missionaries prayed for her.  But this time the Holy Spirit started to minister to her in a beautiful way, performing a miracle of change in her life. When the missionaries returned for the third time, they were astonished: the woman’s appearance had changed, she looked healthy, and her house was cleaned and organized. She shared that for ten years she had dealt with depression and anxiety; in fact, for the past eight years she hadn’t been able to leave her house. She told them that she kept a lot of resentment in her heart against people that had hurt her, and she had even thought about ending her life to stop the suffering. But on that day, when the missionaries talked to her about Jesus and then prayed for her, she felt a strange heat that invaded her body, and it felt like someone had removed a weight from above. She started to feel joy and shared the news with her parents and brothers whom were disconcerted when listening to her.

After reading the Bible, the missionaries prayed for her once again. This time the woman started crying, asking for God’s healing for her life. By the fourth visit the woman was beaming, and she told them that for the first time in eight years she was able to leave the house and go with her husband to the main square of the city. She told them she was amazed by the joy she felt without medication, any therapy sessions, or even consulting with her psychiatrist at all (who, by the way, had never showed up for the appointment).

The missionaries were joyful to see this swift and radical change. When they were about to pray for her, she asked them to wait.  She ran to the house next door to call her parents, husband and brothers so they could also be a part of the prayer. Her family came and told the missionaries that they couldn’t explain what they were seeing in her life. They said they were religious people, members of the main church in town, but they were amazed by the change in her. They asked the missionaries to pray for them, too, and for other family members. The missionaries prayed for everyone and promised them to continue sharing with them about Jesus. The missionaries are members of a local Nazarene Church, and before this encounter, they had never shared their faith with anyone who did not know Jesus.

Blessed be the name of the Lord!

This information has been provided by Rev. Manuel Molina, and comes from one of many “Project Paul” church planting trips in the north of Mexico.

 

Come, All You Not So Faithful

By Rev. Chris Gilmore

One of my favorite Christmas carols begins with the line, O, come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant. I imagine shepherds and wise men singing these words and asking others to join them as they visit the newborn and long-expected Savior. It is an invitation to gather around Jesus to celebrate his coming.  Come, all you faithful.

But what about the not-so-faithful? Are they invited as well? Can only the joyful and triumphant come to Jesus?

If so the guest list will be remarkably small. Even those who are the most enthusiastic about Jesus are at times unfaithful. We all fail to live up to our own standards, let alone God’s.  We’ve all felt defeated. Honestly, some of us find ourselves here quite often.

As we read the gospels we find that the invitation is much broader than the faithful and joyful. There we see that it is Christ himself who does the inviting. Jesus reveals that his kingdom and his table and his grace are for all people. That he came for the whole world and he invites any and all to come to him. Jesus embodies a love that is for people wherever and whoever they may be.

Sometimes we don’t communicate that message very well. Sometimes we exclude folks who are messy or who sin differently than we do. Sometimes we find it difficult to make room for people who aren’t just like us. Sometimes we act as if we’ve been faithful when we haven’t. Sometimes we pretend to be joyful and triumphant when we are anything but. Sometimes our behavior builds barriers between Jesus and the people he loves.

But Jesus is better than that. And its his party, not ours. And he says you’re invited.

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So yes, come all ye faithful. And come all ye not so faithful too.

Come all you who feel defeated and who feel hopeless.

Come all who are worn out and carry heavy burdens.

Come you who are stressed and at the end of your rope.

Come all who feel dirty and unlovable.

Come you who grieve.

Come wise men with gifts fit for a king.

And come drummer boys with nothing of value to bring.

Come lepers and tax collectors and prostitutes.

Come you who feel overlooked or pushed out or rejected.

Come shepherds and doctors and inn keepers and waitresses.

Come people from every tribe and every tongue. Come young and old.

Come you who feel betrayed. And you have done the betraying.

Come all who blew it this year. And last year.

Come doubters and skeptics. Come with your questions and your intellect.

Come all who hunger and thirst for something more.

Come all of you with baggage.

Come all of you with fear.

Come you with broken hearts and shattered dreams.

Come you have already quit. And those who wish they could.

Come refugees and CEOs.

Come you who are enemies. Come you who are strangers.

Come you anxious and come you hiding behind a mask.

Come you who can barely muster a prayer and you who cry out daily.

Come wanderers and seekers, legalists and charlatans.

Come me. Come you.

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“Come and behold him, born the King of Angels.”

Come and see that the Lord is good.

Come and find hope and help and healing.

Come find rest.

Come and find meaning.

Come and find belonging, find family.

Come find forgiveness and salvation.

Come and find light.

Come find a fresh start.

Come and find grace.

Come and find Jesus. He is Christ the Lord.

When you come you will find that he is better than we have demonstrated and more marvelous than we deserve. He is trustworthy and he is true. He is for us. He is with us.

And you, whoever you are and wherever you’re at or however you feel, are invited. Come.

 This article was originally published at: iamchrisgilmore.com

 

Towards Missional Effectiveness: The Mark of Sentness – Part 5 of 7

By Ed Stetzer

God’s mission involves sending. But what does God send His people to do? 

I’m in a blog series covering the topic missional effectiveness. In the previous post, I started to explain the marks of God’s mission, beginning with the missional mark of community.

Today, I’ll cover the missional mark of sentness.

The Missional Mark of Sentness Explained and Exemplified

God’s mission has a dual movement—it moves centripetally and centrifugally. Thus, God’s mission isn’t static—it’s active.

One of the active characteristics of God’s mission is the notion of sentness. God establishes this pattern early in redemptive history. He goes to Adam and Eve, sends Abraham to the Promised Land, Moses to Egypt, Jonah to the Ninevites, Israel to Babylon, Jesus to the world, the Spirit to the Church, and the Church to the nations.

Clearly, God’s mission involves sending. But what does God send His people to do? Taking into account passages such as Genesis 1–2, Genesis 12:1–3, Jeremiah 29:1–7, Matthew 5:13–16, and Jesus’ sentness, the missional community of God is sent in the world to do at least two things.

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  1. God’s missional community is sent to be faithful in all areas of life.

This point dives deeper into the community’s obedience to the word of God in all areas of life. While I don’t have space to look at all of the verses above, let me note Jeremiah 29:1–7 to explain this idea.

Some may wonder, why use this passage?

Wasn’t Israel taken into captivity because of their sin? Yes, Israel finds themselves in Babylon because of their sin. However, we read in Jeremiah 29:4, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon….”

So, God has intentionally sent them into Babylonian exile. And in the proceeding verses we learn why He sent them.

God sent them to live in Babylon as if they were living in Jerusalem. Israel was to build houses, have families, plant gardens, and to multiply in exile. In other words, they were to live in Babylon as if they were living in Jerusalem. Since faithfulness was to be a mark of the people of God in the Promised Land, faithfulness was also to be a mark of the people of God in the foreign land.

Israel’s faithfulness would display a life that revolved around the glory and life of God. Greg Forster identifies this aspect as the joy of God being displayed through the life of a believer. As a result, Forster writes,

That embedded joy will not consist simply of a changed attitude. Our actions will change. In our families, we will act differently as sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, husbands, wives, fathers, or mothers. In our workplaces and other economic relationships we will act differently as employees, employers, managers, co-workers, students, teachers, clients, customers, or vendors. In our communities, we will act differently as friends, neighbors, members, or participants.

In addition, Israel’s faithfulness would lead them to operate as the city of God within the city of man. I love what Tim Keller says to this point. He writes,

Every city has two cities, the city of God and the city of man. Every city contains a smaller city, the city of God. The city of God is the people of God who forms an alternative city. What does that city look like? The Sermon on the Mount tells us. Christians are to take sex, money, [work], and power and instead of using them the way the city of man uses them, they are to use them the way God intended.

This leads me to my second point.

  1. God’s missional community is sent to bless the city spiritually, socially, and culturally.

As God’s people demonstrated the life of God and lived as the city of God, they were to seek the blessing and flourishing of the city of man.Interestingly, God doesn’t tell them to assimilate, withdraw, or seek the total transformation of the Babylonian culture (the city of man); he simply tells them, in their faithfulness, to seek the prosperity and shalom (human flourishing) of the city and to pray for it to thrive.

Essentially, God sent Israel to Babylon for the sake of His glory and for the good of the city. Keller puts it this way,

[God sends his people] to be used in life giving ways. The way you bear witness of God’s city is to go into the city for the city’s sake. The citizens of the city of God are the very best citizens of the city of man because they do not move in to assimilate, to use the city for their gains, or to move in for their own tribe, but they move in for the sake of the city.

As a reminder, the Babylonians were a polytheistic, pagan, ruthless, and violent people. In other words, they were dead in their trespasses and sins. Yet, God tells His people to live and pray towards their flourishing and peace. But what does that look like? Once again, without being exhaustive,

I believe people like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego function as examples of what it means to live faithfully and bless the city.

These men served the empire civilly. In their service, they demonstrated the tension of living faithfully for the city of God while striving to serve the city of man. From their service, they exhibited at least three ways God’s people can bless the city of man.

First, they blessed the city spiritually by maintaining spiritual fidelity to God in the face of temptation.

In other words, they loved God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. All of these men faced the temptation to bow down to a cultural idol, yet they chose to be faithful to the supremacy of God. As a result, many people were convinced of the truth of YHWH.

God’s people cannot bless the city spiritually by living unfaithful lives. When our words and witness line up, we exhibit an alternative plausibility reality for which the world needs to see.

Second, they blessed the city socially by having a humble and gracious disposition towards those in authority and in the larger culture.

They did not complain, grumble, or react unkindly towards those whom either had spied them out or who had treated them unfairly. Another way to look at it is that they loved others. When we exhibit grace and mercy towards others, we once again put the city of God on display for the world to see.

Third, they blessed the city culturally by doing their job with integrity, excellence, and skill.

They worked vocationally as if they were working for the Lord. The king recognizes their faith, character, integrity, and skill and honors their God and gives them a promotion. As the people of God work in a manner that reflects the glory of God, they exhibit a work ethic that surpasses (or should surpass), the work ethic of the city of man.

By embedding themselves in the larger culture and living faithful lives for the glory of God, they inevitably bless the city in spiritual, social, and cultural ways. As a result of the presence of God’s people and their participation in the culture, the city was better off. This reminds me of the question which many church leaders and churches ask themselves: If they were to one day cease to exist, would their community take notice and miss them?

In sum, the missional mode of sentness speaks of the church (and individuals) having a missional posture. Thus, missional effectiveness requires churches to teach, train, and equip believers towards a faithful presence where planted so that they may be used as God’s temple to reflect His radiant glory in all areas of life as He works through them to bless others spiritually, socially, and culturally.

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In the next post, I’ll talk about the missional mark of multiplication.

 

This article was originally posted at: http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2017/january/towards-missional-effectiveness-mark-of-sentness-part-5.html

The Most Offensive Word in America – Part 2 of 2

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

We don’t always acknowledge it, but many of us subconsciously believe God gives us commandments to force us into a stiff, single-file line. This lie makes God seem like an angry referee obsessed with rigid rules and regulations, as if He bitterly paces back and forth in heaven, waving a red flag and trying to control our every word and step. Who would want to obey a god like that?

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The reality is that God is much more like a loving father trying to keep his children from running into traffic. The more we learn to submit to His commandments, the more we see they are not burdensome rules but rather signposts pointing toward the path of true joy, life and peace. For instance, I always thought King David sounded a bit crazy in Psalm 19 when he said the rules of God are “sweeter than the drippings of the honey comb,” but when I compare the peace of submission to the emptiness of sin, I know he was right.

We may think independence is what we want, but it comes with a hidden cost.

Speaking to an atheist who asked about the difference between heaven and hell, renowned author and pastor Tim Keller once said, “Nobody ever goes to hell unless they want to. People go to hell because they want to be away from a god who will tell them what to do. People in hell would say, ‘It’s pretty miserable here, but I would never want to be in heaven with God, where He is telling people what to do.’”

Our culture tells us true freedom comes in following our desires wherever they lead us. While this sounds nice and provides the plot for most romantic comedies, reality reveals why this is false. For example, I have a number of friends who have overcome extreme substance abuse. When one of my friends recounted his past addiction to pain killers to me, he said, “I had become a complete slave to pills. My desires were killing me.” In many ways, unrestrained pride, lust, greed, fear, control, jealousy and anger have the same effect.

Defiance of God’s commandments may give us a fleeting sense of power and independence, but this actually reveals our weakness and constant need for grace. We have to have the humility to acknowledge our own faults and the trust to follow God’s commands, even when they run contrary to our personal desires. Because something better is on the other side. God offers us abundant life, the fullness of freedom and more love than our minds have the capacity to comprehend.

If we ever hope to experience these things, we have to do the most countercultural, rebellious thing imaginable within our culture: submit to a truth deeper than ourselves.

This article was originally posted at: http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/god-our-generation/most-offensive-word-america