Reaching Our Cities for Christ

Christopher Wright said it well, “We argue about what can legitimately be included in the mission God expects from the church, when we should ask what kind of church God expects for his mission in all its comprehensive fullness.” (Wright, 534) Alongside this line of thinking, another way to look at this is “I may wonder what kind of mission God has for me, when I should ask what kind of me God wants for his mission.” (Wright, 534) To find any “success” in ministry, that thought is very important. To be effective, we have to allow the Holy Spirit to shape, mold, and transform us into the instruments and vessels he wants us to be. Otherwise, we are doing ministry for our sake instead of for the sake of the Kingdom of God. When looking at cross-cultural urban ministry, Wright’s questions help us put into, better, context what the Apostle Paul writes, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22 NIV)

So what does this look like? Is there a way to be effective in the way Paul was? Yes. Whenever Paul went to a new area, he made sure he went to the city centers. “[Paul] concentrates on the district or provincial capitals, each of which stands for a whole region…These ‘metropolises’ are the main centers as far as communication, culture, commerce, politics, and religion are concerned…Paul thinks regionally, not ethnically; he chooses cities that have a representative character.” (Bosch, loc. 3259-3274) Why did he do this? Because this is where Paul knew the most effective way to communicate to the regions was located. When he did this, he was able to “shift” his speeches and explanations of Christ to show the people he understood them and was willing to do life with them and guide them to come to faith in Jesus Christ. Paul knew how to be the kind of person the people needed, without giving up on who God created him to be. All of this helped to equip the people to carry on the ministry after Paul left and continued on his missionary trek. 

At the same time, Paul knew he was not doing his own work but, rather, the work of Jesus Christ in the world, empowered by the Holy Spirit. He practiced incarnational ministry and did it well. “The significance of incarnational ministry is that ministry belongs to God and His work, first and foremost.” (Buckman, 181-82) This is one of the reasons Paul was successful, he knew he was doing the work begun and continued by the Holy Spirit. He was confident in his calling and did not waiver in the message he proclaimed. So it should be with us. Do we know and have the confidence Christ has called us and given us purpose in this life? It is because of this confidence that we can handle what we go through. “The pastor…who enters a new culture, no matter how hard he or she tries to identify with the people, must expect to suffer, both out of longing for what is left behind and because of resistance to what the people are being called to accept or become.” (Wingeier, 38)

One of the interesting things about cross-cultural ministry is the opportunity to learn more about another culture. “Since most multicultural communities in the United States consist of the dominant (powerful) culture plus at least one other less-powerful culture, justice issues need to be paramount in any cross-cultural ministry, not relief, not charity, but what the New Testament calls righteousness.” (McConnell, 592) This means that opportunities are available if we take the time to learn about different cultures and how people live. “Henri Nouwen teaches us that a powerful ministry occurs with people of a powerless culture when we demonstrate a capacity to learn from them and a willingness to show our gratitude for the gift they thus offer.”( McConnell, 593) The gratitude we experience comes from the knowledge of the blessings God has bestowed upon us. As the cliché goes, “we are blessed to be a blessing.” “’Be a blessing’ thus entails a purpose and goal that stretches into the future. It is, in short, missional.” (Wright, 211) This brings us to contextualization.

Contextualizing the Gospel message to any culture is important. “Contextualization begins in those areas where the biblical context overlaps with the contemporary cultural context. One often talks about certain parts of culture in abstract terms like ‘collectivism,’ ‘honor/shame,’ ‘patronage,’ or cyclical vs. linear views of time. After all, no one today existed in the time Scripture was written. That distance creates an unavoidable degree of abstraction. The critical point at this stage becomes finding how we move from abstract categories to their concrete modern expressions.” (Wu, loc. 1686) There are ways of communicating, here in the United States, that would not fly overseas, like and area such as Saudi Arabia. What is the goal of the missionary? “We desire for people to see all that is good in the gospel. However, this takes time. Thus, we must take steps so that people can see, as much as is possible, what is good in this news. By drawing from the entire Bible, not simply our favorite texts, we gain a balanced perspective on salvation. By not developing a ‘canon within a canon,’ one identifies the major themes or motifs that God uses to explain salvation.” (Wu, loc. 1530) When we do this we communicate the full scope of the Gospel. Jackson Wu says it well, “In a word, the gospel is the message by which sinners are saved. Naturally, evangelism in its fullest sense requires we talk about sin in some form or fashion. This story is not complete without making clear God’s reaction to sin.” (Wu, loc. 1514) He also reminds us “judgment has a positive side. In judging his enemies, God brings salvation to his people and righteousness to the earth.” (Wu, loc. 1522) What about the cities?

Cities, urban areas, are very important. As we have seen, the Apostle Paul utilized the cities to spread the Christian message of Jesus Christ to the outlying areas. He was strategic in where he went and who he spoke to. We should do the same and realize how quickly the landscape is changing within the cities. “The rapid growth of urban populations is well known and has been well documented. In 1800, for example, less than three percent of the world’s population lived in towns of more than 5,000 people. By the year 2000, half of the world’s population lived in cities of more than 100,000 people. As cities have grown, they have become more diverse with respect to culture and class, as well as professional and residential differences, and almost endlessly multifaceted.” (Buckman, 183) Allan Buckman goes on to say, “Moreover, the City has enjoyed a reputation for being welcoming and hospitable toward immigrants and refugees…In other words, the considerable flow of New Americans into the City will almost certainly continue into the foreseeable future.” (Buckman, 183) What does this have to do with contextualization? For starters, this means there is a diverse group of people all in one place. 

Different groups (cultures) may live in certain pockets within the city limits, but they are still gathered and lives intersect with others. As Jesus says, “the harvest is plentiful…” (Matthew 9:37 NIV) so there is an incredible opportunity to reach different people. “In the city can be found pockets of small village-like communities where people live as much as they did before they migrated to the city. Within that community they shop at family-owned stores where personal ties are important. They discussed choices with their neighbors. Outside the neighborhood, however, they learn to make decisions as city folk do, and this begins to change their community.“ (Hiebert, 179) This makes strategic movements within the city very important. We cannot just go in and start something new, we have to take time and follow any “chain of command” there is, whether it is stated or not. “When attempting to develop a ministry or program among members of these communities, one must always receive some kind of approval of one or more of the community leaders. If a ministry is to be developed in a manner meaningful to the ethnic community you are trying to reach, it is obligatory.” (Buckman, 186)

One of the challenges with cities we should be aware of is migration. People come from all over the area just to live in the city, but refugees also come from other countries to live in the cities. As ministers/missionaries we have opportunities to reach these people as well. “According to the United Nations Population Fund, there are 214 million displaced people in the world, which is 3% of the total population.” (Wingeier-Rayo, 19) How we live our life affects this group of people also. We may even have to step out of our comfort zone to aid and support and minister to any person that is displaced. “Jesus has crossed geographic, linguistic, cultural, ethnic, gender, religious, and socio-economic borders.” (Wingeier-Rayo, 30) To illustrate this point further, Philip Wingeier-Rayo goes on to say, “[Jesus] left his comfort zone in Galilee…He identifies with the people of his region and shows solidarity with them…” (Wingeier-Rayo, 31) Ready to leave the comfort zone? To do this, we need to make sure we are sensitive to the culture and background of the people. Urban areas provide opportunities to come in contact with a diverse group of people. “This increased cultural and ethnic diversity demands that we attend to and respect the gifts of the various groups now represented in our society, church, and institutions. It also requires us to develop intercultural sensitivity and skill. Most importantly, it asks us to reexamine our understanding of ministry, which can be seen as a way of bridging different ‘cultures.’” (Wingeier, 35) How we communicate the Gospel matters.

Dr. Hiebert writes, “Communication of the gospel across the chasms of cultural differences rests upon the quality of interpersonal relationships between human beings—between missionaries and the people they serve.” (Hiebert, 147) As we communicate, we have to know how to speak to the people. This is where it is important to live a life free of reproach so the message we proclaim is heard from words and actions. “[T]he mission in the church, according to Peter, includes both vertical proclamation and ethical living, and the impact of his tight argument is that both are utterly essential.” (Wright, 390) The context in which people live is important. Context really is king, especially when proclaiming the gospel. “We face a very practical question. When it comes to preaching the gospel, which context is king? The ancient biblical world? Literary context? The interpreter’s culture (or subculture)? How about the cultural context of our listeners? If we are honest, finding an answer is far more difficult and sobering than one might expect.” (Wu, loc. 266) Taking time to understand the meaning of the scriptures and how to communicate them, in any setting is essential. This creates a unique challenge within urban settings. You have to know who you are talking with, and at least some of their background, to be able to understand how to communicate with them the core of the Gospel: Jesus Christ is King. Proclaiming this fact can be done in any setting. “Contextualization, if done well, keeps in perspective for us the fact that Jesus is King of every context.” (Wu, loc. 671)

Before continuing, we have to realize we may not be called, by God to try and reach “everyone.” But we are called to go to different people. It is these people, and this culture, we can immerse ourselves in and learn how God is speaking to them today. This will help us to be flexible in the manner in which we proclaim the Gospel yet remain firm in the core message. “Christians need a contextualization method that has both flexibility and firmness…The gospel does not change. On the other hand, biblical writers clearly present the gospel in contrasting ways. Even within the Bible, there is no single prescribed way of preaching the gospel. In addition, the world’s cultures are diverse and ever changing.” (Wu, loc, 1363) For example, a person in China is more likely to respond to communication about honor and shame versus guilt and punishment. “A person in America may not use words like gaining or losing ‘face,’ but they might talk about ‘people pleasing’ or ‘trying to look good in front of others.’” (Wu, loc. 1391)

Now no matter what context we serve, there will always be the truth God “desires all people to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4) In urban areas, there are multiple places and venues and ways to find “a truth” that fits the individuals, even what will fulfill the desires each person faces. This raises the reality of other “false gospels” that people will buy into to be justified in the lifestyle they have chosen. “A culture’s false gospels also answer the four questions mentioned above. Thus, we first could ask, ‘Functionally, who is the savior-king in the culture?’ Personally, one asks, ‘Functionally, who is the savior-king figure in my life?’ Second, ‘What has this savior-king done in the past?’ Again, the answer to this second question clarifies both what kind of a person the “savior” is as well as his significance. Therefore, it matters that one knows about this savior-king’s character and power.” (Wu, loc. 2944) In Acts 2, Peter was speaking to a large crowd. They were in the city of Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost. It is possible some people were searching for a relationship with Jesus Christ. Then, when Peter got up to speak, they found what they’ve been looking for, in the mighty works of God through Jesus Christ Peter spoke about. The same is true today. To help people see why God is vital and is enough, we speak about what he has done. We do not have to be fancy with the language we use, we just speak about God. “When talking about God, we need to highlight his works in history in order to explain what God is like. We do not merely want to say he is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent. This is how systematic theology describes God. Rather, we seek to emphasize how God demonstrates his character and attributes.” (Wu, loc. 1245) This is a great undertaking but well worth it. The works of God include the person of Jesus Christ and his atonement for the sin of the world, as well as the personal sin of the individual.

When we present the Gospel, especially to people who can find their pleasures fulfilled on a whim and find purpose in their jobs and people they hang around, there are going to be some questions that will need to be answered when giving a Gospel presentation. “The biblical gospel answers four key questions. I’ll review them briefly. There is a clear logic to the order of the questions. (1) ‘Who is Jesus Christ?’…(2) ‘What has Christ done?’ This question aims to show what kind of a person he is. (3) ‘Why does Christ matter?’ In other words, why is Jesus significant to us? This point largely deals with salvation. Traditionally, evangelicals have laid the greatest stress on this aspect of the gospel message. (4) ‘How should we respond?’” (Wu, loc. 2925)

Now, the challenge will be avoiding syncretism, especially when a concept sounds close to one the person has known before. In the urban areas, even cross-cultural settings, it is possible to keep certain traditions, customs, and way of life and still think they are living as a Christian. One of the ways to combat this is to fully immerse ourselves in the setting. Many call this “incarnational” ministry. The point is to become involved enough in the culture and community to gain the respect of the people. Relationships matter. “If the success of missions depends largely upon the quality of the relationships between missionaries and the people to whom they go, the parent/child relationship model is not biblical. The biblical model is that of incarnation. To bridge the cultural gap between heaven and sinful earth, God became human and dwelt among us, eating our food, speaking our language, and suffering our sorrows, yet without giving up his divine nature. Incarnation is identification, but it does not deny who we originally are. It is, in fact, a bicultural or by personal state. Just as God became one with us in order to save us, we must become one with the people to whom we go in order to bring them to message of salvation.” (Hiebert, 158) Only when living life, on some level, with the people will trust begins to develop and the mission and proclamation of Jesus Christ will be heard and lived out by the people we serve.

This is truly only possible with the presence and person of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who guides as he did for the Apostle Paul by sending him to Macedonia (Acts 16:9). Following the leading and guidance of the Spirit prevents us from proclaiming our own culture and ideas. The Spirit helps us proclaim the full gospel. This is what is important in urban centers and any kind of cross-cultural ministry.

Bibliography

Beale, G. K. (2014). God Dwells Among Us : Expanding Eden to the Ends of the Earth: Vol. North American Edition. IVP Books.

Bosch, D. J. (2011). Transforming mission : paradigm shifts in theology of mission (20th anniversary ed. / with a new concluding chapter by Darrel Guder and Martin Reppenhagen.). Orbis. Kindle Edition

Buckman, A. R. (2012). Contextualization in an urban setting. Missio Apostolica20(2), 181–189.

Martin, M. (2011). Cross-cultural perspectives on the call to ministry. Vision (Winnipeg, Man.)12(2), 70–78.

McConnell, T., & McConnell, J. (1991). Cross-cultural ministry with church and family: the final report of a research project. Religious Education86(4), 581–596.

Wingeier, D. E. (1992). Emptying-for-filling: an approach to cross-cultural ministry. Quarterly Review12(2), 33–56.

Wingeier-Rayo, P. (2015). Jesus as migrant: biblical understand of immigration as a cross-cultural model for ministry. Apuntes35(1), 19–32.

Wright, C. J. H. (2006). The mission of God : unlocking the Bible’s grand narrative. InterVarsity Press.

Wu, J. (2015). One gospel for all nations : a practical approach to biblical contextualization. William Carey Library.

Why Study the Old Testament?

Does the Old Testament have any authority for the Christian believer today? Why should we even try to study the Old Testament?

This is actually something I have dealt with in a couple of my contexts. Some of the people say they only want to talk about that God is love and this is all you need to know. Others say they are “Red Letter Christians” meaning they only hold to and pay attention to the words of Jesus (red words) and this is what shapes their faith. We do have to pay attention to the “red letters” but we also have to understand the context they are written in.

One of the helpful things I have come to learn is the Old Testament is actually our story. When we read through the Old Testament, even the difficult passages, we can see how God related to the people, which is the same way God would relate to us today. God, especially through Jesus, is the same yesterday, today, and forever. So, as Christians we have to understand what it looks like to live out our lives in faithfulness.

Jesus says many times, “You have heard it said…but I say…” What does this mean unless we go back to see what he was talking about? Eye for an eye, as an example, is not just a saying in our culture; but it is a phrase that was used, for a specific reason, in the Old Testament. In essence, Jesus is giving more meaning to the words the people have heard and lived by all their lives, and therefore making them go deeper in their meaning to help the people see the seriousness of sin. In other words, Jesus is trying to show we do not have to be legalistic about our faith, just live it out of the heart—this, after all, is where our true motivations come from anyway.

Jesus gave the teachings and writings of the Old Testament authority, because he is God incarnate and therefore said the words. This is the first thing we have to pay attention to. Because of this, we see the apostles and early church give authority back to the Old Testament. Paul said that all scripture is God-breathed, God-inspired and he was talking about the Old Testament. But, without the Old Testament, we miss out on seeing the bigger picture God has in mind for being sent out to all the nations.

Through the Old Testament, we understand that Yahweh is the God who created the universe, and therefore is completely “other” from the universe, yet is also constantly active and personal in all of creation, especially through the lives of the people. We see how Yahweh has been set above the other “gods” of the world Because God is active in the world, we can better understand the mission Jesus sent his followers on by looking back at the calling of Abraham, even look back further to see how the world was set in order and how people were supposed to live with each other from the very beginning.

Back to the Old Testament is our story. Many people say that “our lives are the only Bible people will read.” This is true. I can also see how our lives tell the story the Bible tells. We are created out of love (whether or not this is true from a human perspective, we are created from the love of God). Because we are created out of love, we have been set to live this life in this particular time, this particular culture, with this particular personality, and gifts/talents/motivations, etc. We have been placed here to tend to and cultivate what God has given us, and go into the world. We have been created for a purpose.

We also see how we have been given teacher, preachers, books, other people to guide us and teach us the “rules of life” so we can learn what it means to be a “good/decent person”. The Lord did this with Israel with the Sinai Covenant. God gave the people the law to show what it means to live a holy/set apart people. But, we learn we still have this desire to do what we want and disregard what God said (blessing and curse of free will). This helps us understand there is something in us we cannot take out or get rid of on our own—something that seems to be ingrained in us to do things we know we shouldn’t do. We see this through the continual living faithfully and calling of Israel to repent by the Prophets.

There comes a time when God says the people have done their own thing for so long before stepping in to take over. God has always been present in our lives and there comes a point when we realize we need God to be the One leading us and changing us. We need God to step in to the world/our world, and show us how we are being transformed and make us into something even more than we could have ever imagined. This is where Jesus comes in.

Jesus comes, and we finally realize we need only him, he is the only One who can do what we need. Now, because of the Old Testament, we can better see how God has been working in the world to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven. The Savior we have been hoping for has come, is changing our lives, and taking us to a place where we can work with him to change the world and see the world redeemed because of his grace. Because of Jesus (Yahweh in flesh), we can go from the chaos of our world (the world) and move into a life of order, peace, and true faithfulness.

Why study the Old Testament? A scholarly answer would be so we can understand the entire message of the Bible and to understand what is really going on. A theological answer would be so we can understand what the New Testament is actually saying and how it is applied to our lives. A personal answer, at least to me, would be so we can better understand our purpose and how we are supposed to live. More importantly, so we can better understand our lives and see how we sin and fall short of God, we constantly go back and forth from doing what we are supposed to do/not do, we see God (through Jesus Christ) coming to change our lives, and we see us moving toward a future with a hope because God has it already in the palm of his hands and has an ultimate plan for the future.

We study the Old Testament because it is our story. It is the story God tells so we can understand our mission to be in a holy community, and to be lights to the world to take the message of salvation to all the nations. If we can take this time to study and understand the importance of the Old Testament, we can better see how God through Jesus Christ is reshaping the world back the original intent.

Because people, by fallen nature, are self-absorbed, bringing us to a place to see we are also in the story of ancient Israel could make it seem like reading about your own family history and given better understanding to why we live like we live. This could also give people the motivation to learn more, on their own and in groups, to study the complexity, yet simplicity, of the message of the Old Testament and see more clearly how Jesus is really fulfilling (not obliterating) the law and words in the Old Testament which should give greater clarity and purpose to our lives and reason for living as a mission community to the rest of the world so God’s plan is completed.

Experience the Power of the Holy Spirit

Live,Laugh and Love

Do you have your copy of the daily devotional on the Book of Acts?

Get your copy here. Paperback version. Kindle version.

The Book of Acts tells the historical events that shaped the early church through the powerful, dynamic movement of the Holy Spirit. This power is still available and working today all over the world. As we encounter the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we have the great opportunity to watch God do incredible work in and through us. This daily devotional walks us through the book of Acts so we can experience a personal revival and help us experience a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit in our own lives.

FOR ALL ORDERS DURING THE MONTH OF DECEMBER, I WILL BE DONATING ALL OF THE PROCEEDS.

More Than A Christmas Story

Last week, we began a series on the life of Jesus Christ. We talked about how important it is how we answer the question, “who do you say Jesus is?”. This week, we talk about Jesus is God in flesh.

I’m sure most of us know the story of Jesus’ birth. This is the story we tell every year at Christmas time. But, God descending to earth in the form of Jesus Christ is more than a story to listen to one day a year. This is a reality that has huge implications for how we live our lives and how we realize God is working in our world.

What are some aspects of the Christmas story we like? Well, we like to see children dressed as angels, sheep, Mary, Joseph, and the whole realm of characters we read about. We like the cuteness and quietness the story provides. We like to hear God became flesh and that gives us a warm heart. We’ll even end by singing “Silent Night, Holy Night.”

But, on the night Jesus was born, I bet it was not a silent night. There would have been creatures calling in the middle of the night, the animals moving around, stirrings within the city, strangers coming to pay homage to the newborn baby. I bet Mary and Joseph did not get much sleep that night because of all that was going on, especially after giving birth.

Jesus’ birth is much more than a Christmas story. It is much more than the cute things we like to have portrayed so we have a warm, fuzzy feeling within our hearts. The noisy world Jesus entered is still as rough, dark, dangerous, as it was back then. The only difference is that Jesus is God in flesh, Emmanuel, “God with us.” This. Changes. Everything. Now, the world has glimpses of the true light, hope, peace, and joy of the world. All because God walked among us.

READ LUKE 1:26-33 and JOHN 1:1-5,14

26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Because God came down to earth to live as humans, one of the important things we need to hear is the same thing the angel told Mary:

BE NOT AFRAID.

This is something that is easier said than done. We live in a world that says to be afraid of many things. All we have to do is pay attention to what the media is telling us and we become afraid. We end up listening to the voice of fear more than the Voice of God who is speaking life, love, joy, grace into our lives, into our world.

What is something you’re afraid of? Me? I have a few fears. (I really don’t want to tell you because someone would make them happen, especially when I walk into my office one day J). But, we all have fears, things that make us anxious. Because of the falling, sinful, broken state of humanity we live in, fear drives us and fills our minds.

We are fearful of terrorism. We are fearful of child abductions. We are fearful of job security. There are so many things we are afraid of. On some level, fear helps us to live safely. If we allow the fear to consume us, we will find we will isolate ourselves so we can try to keep everything safe. But this doesn’t help because we lose the relational aspect of community we all crave.

365 times in scripture, God’s messengers, and God Himself say, “don’t be afraid.” We can think about this as one for every day of the year. Now, this is not saying to blow off concerns and live recklessly. Instead, “don’t be afraid” means to not allow the concern to stop us from hearing what God has to say or do what God would have us do.

We can live as courageous people because we worship and follow God, who knows what we go through in this life. God not only came down to be with His people, He lived the life we humans live. He knows, through Jesus Christ, exactly what it is like to be human. So, we do not need to be fearful to live our lives. Instead, we can live with courage, still be concerned, and offer the light of Christ into the dark places of the world. How? God is already working where we go.

The incarnation of Jesus Christ was not a one and done event. His presence, his life on earth continues and is with us today. This is why the promise of Jesus as he ascended is so important for us to remember:  “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”[1] Because of this, we can live in hope!

Christianity is the only religion where God comes to dwell with His people. There are stories of gods who visit people, but not other world religion has their god live as a human and experience life as a human. No other religion can claim their god knows what humans experience.

Through the incarnation

GOD SHOWS HE’S WILLING TO DO WHAT IT TAKES

to bring people into salvation. Even if that means personally entering into this world…our world.

Through Jesus Christ, God came into a world that is His already. He came to reclaim, redeem, and repurpose humanity. “He came and lived in this world, our world, which was evil and dangerous then as it is now.”[2]

I think this is something we all, no matter where we are in our walk of faith, need to be continually reminded of. God came down to this earth. God came down and lived in a dangerous place. He knows the kinds of things humans do to themselves, each other, and the environment. Why would God descend from his place in heaven to come to earth? Scripture says, “Heaven is [God’s] throne, and the earth is [his] footstool.”[3]

But this is what God did. He came to earth to be among the people and bring salvation with him. God could have come as a full-grown adult. He could have come as a member of a ruling, or rich, family to make change happen at the governmental level. He could have come as any person who has the credibility to make a change in the world. But he chose to experience the fullness of life we experience. God came to earth and started out as a human baby from a poor, unknown family.

J.I. Packer explains, “It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas that the profoundest and most unfathomable depths of the Christian revelation lie. ‘The Word was made flesh’; God became man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child…The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is as fantastic as is this truth of the incarnation.”[4]

Every time I think about this truth, I am amazed at the love God has for people who do everything they can to turn away from him. God’s love never fails. To me, this shows us what is really important in this life. It is not being the best at everything, earning the most money, achieving all of our goals. The most important thing in this life is relationships because without relationships everything else is wasted.

Jesus Christ, God in flesh, desires to be in a relationship with all people. His presence is, now, within grasp of all people; but many do not know, or even try to hear his voice and know him. The Apostle Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2:4, “[God] wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” It is about the relationship with God. This is how the world changes. When heaven enters in and fills the heart and life of a person, their world is changed forever. Then, the changed, heaven-filled, person goes out to share the love of God with another person and their world is changed. This creates a rippled effect and we can begin to slowing, yet fully, see the world being transformed to look and act more like the Kingdom of Heaven. When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, this is what we’re praying for, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

God is so into being in relationship with his people and being known and glorified throughout the world that he has done something incredible. Through Jesus Christ,

GOD HAS BROUGHT HEAVEN TO EARTH.

The Book of Revelation even paints the picture of the City of New Jerusalem coming down to earth so God can dwell with his people in life everlasting. C.S. Lewis describes it as the “lower reality being drawn into the higher reality and becomes part of it.”[5]The whole point of life is to witness the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven all around us so we can see and experience what really matters, what really changes people’s lives.

Jesus walking on the earth changes everything. Now, we can experience the awesomeness that is heaven and seek to live into the light of the world. We also get to share and shine the light of Christ wherever we go and in whatever we do. Remember where we go, God is already working there.

For a few years, I was able to go with the University of Texas campus ministries to South Padre Island during Spring Break. If you ever want to see what 100,000 people on an island looks like, this is your chance. Traffic. Drinking. Drugs. Injuries. One-night stands. You name it. It seems as if there is nothing but darkness prevailing, especially at night.

But among the 100,000 people (mainly college-age people) on the island, there are around 500-1,200 other college students to present to share Christ. How do they do this? By giving free van rides to anywhere the people want to go so they don’t have to walk or get into a car drunk. By giving free pancakes for breakfast and free pancakes at midnight so the stomach has something to soak up whatever is in their system.

This is done, not to condone or say the behavior is okay. This is a time when people seeking to share Christ enter into the world of the life of partying and seek a relationship with people to help them see and experience the Kingdom of Heaven. Many conversations, prayers, lives transformed. All because the light was brought into the darkness and people had the opportunity to hear something other than, “drink this…buy this…do this…and THEN you’ll be somebody special.”

One day, Brendan, a young but rising DJ in New York, was coming home to his Brooklyn apartment when a homeless woman asked him for money. He said, honestly, that he had no money. By the end of the week, she asked two more times, and each no he answered “no.” Finally she frankly replied, “you better not, because every day you say no.” Inserting some rational thinking into an otherwise awkward conversation, he proposed, “I am on my way to a job interview. If I get the job, I will take you out for Chinese food.” This promise yielded a friendship that neither were prepared for — that changed the trajectory of their lives, both forwards toward each other.

Brendan got the job. But their friendship didn’t just end with Chinese food. They built a friendship of mutual support, spending their birthdays, holidays and tough times together, over a period of eight years. When Brendan’s heater broke, she made him a blanket. Two days later when he told her that he had lost his job, she disappeared, returning minutes later, bringing him groceries, and which continued to do throughout the winter. Even with so little, she never hesitated to give back. 

Over these years, Jackie moved from the streets and subway stations, into a halfway house, YMCA, and is now moving into an apartment. To celebrate this occasion, Brendan wanted to do something special for Jackie. He went with her to Target, and helped her to pick out everything she’d need for an apartment, starting a registry. Then, he set up a campaign to raise the money to pay for the registry (now closed), along with an awesome video telling their story. While their original goal was to raise $500, the campaign went viral and they’ve raised more than $6,000, and are now looking to use the extra funding to support other women in need.[6]

We can easily think that we have to be the light of Christ to those on lower social scales than we are. But, how many times have we missed someone being the light of Christ to us and still looked down on the person because they were not in our class, not our race, not from our same country, not our gender?

Christ did not come into the world just so we can choose who we want to help or be in relationship with. Christ came into the world to “seek and to save the lost.”[7] Jesus gives his followers this same command to go into the world and make disciples and teach everything he taught.[8]

God in flesh, Emmanuel, Jesus Christ, is still with us today. He is in the lives of those who seek to help. He is in the lives of those who need the help. He is working in and through medical personnel and caregivers. He is working in and through the lives of missionaries and truck drivers.

Every time we have an opportunity to share and show the love of God through our actions and words, we show people that Christ is still alive and working in this world. His promise is true! He has never left us nor forsaken us.

Because of the incarnation, we can know what God is like. We can know God on a personal level. And, we have many opportunities to walk with others, live life with the “lost” and show a God who is real, who is alive, who is still speaking and working in the world today.

This is much bigger than a simple story we hear at Christmas time.

 

Works Cited

[1]Matthew 28:20 NASB

[2]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”, page 30

[3]Isaiah 66:1 CEB

[4]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”, page 30

[5]Seamands, Stephen. “Give Them Christ”. Page 53

[6]https://www.huffingtonpost.com/frank-fredericks/love-your-neighbor-inspiring-story-of-two-friends_b_2127070.html

[7]Luke 19:10

[8]Matthew 28:19-20

The Most Important​ Question

Today, we begin a new six-week series on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. Yes, we preach, teach, talk about Jesus all year long, but we have to be careful that we are not just filling our heads with knowledge. Our goal will be to answer this question with confidence, “WHO DO YOU SAY JESUS IS?”

Too often we come to hear a sermon and we are seeking information. We like to know things. We like to learn new things. We all can and should keep growing in our knowledge of who Jesus is and what he has done, is doing, and will continue to do.

But we cannot stop at simply “knowing” Jesus, or knowing about Jesus.

Do you know what two objects have the furthest distance? It’s not the 5,500.3 miles of the Great Wall of China. It’s not the 9,175 miles from Texas to Australia. Not even the 238,900 miles from the earth to the moon or the 92.96 million miles from the earth to the sun.

THE GREATEST DISTANCE BETWEEN TWO OBJECTS IS BETWEEN OUR HEAD TO OUR HEART.

Why? It takes a lot of work, effort, and energy to allow the knowledge we gain to fully come into our lives to transform us and recreate us. We tend to like who we are and what we’re doing. We often do not like the idea of changing because we can think it is scary and the future is unknown.

But, when we fill our heads with the knowledge of God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit works his way to the heart so we can fill our entire being with the love, grace, mercy of God who is working to recreate us into the likeness of his Son – Jesus Christ.

So, we are going to begin this series with the most important question we can ever answer:

“WHO DO YOU SAY JESUS IS?”

This is the most important question we have to answer because who we say Jesus is shaping how we will live our lives. If we say Jesus is a good teacher, then we can still reject some of his teachings when they don’t correspond with how we want to live? If we say he is our healer, then how do we treat him when we are healthy? If we say he is our rock, then how do we treat him when our life is going well?

Answering the question “who do you say Jesus is” shows who we truly believe to be Lord and Ruler of our life: his will be done or my will be done.

Luke 9 tells the story of when Jesus asked the disciples who they said he was. If we have spent time reading our scriptures then we know Peter said “You are God’s Messiah” which means “you are the one who has come to save and redeem the world.

Let’s read and hear this passage from Luke. Pay attention and see if anything stands out to you:

READ LUKE 9:18-20

18 Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?”

19 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”

20 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.”

I love the translation the Common English Bible uses: “The Christ sent from God.” Peter was the one who was bold enough to speak the words the Holy Spirit gave him. Jesus, in Matthew 16, even tells Peter

“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.”[1]

Then, Jesus goes on to rename Simon to Peter saying, “on this rock I will build my church.”[2]

THE CHURCH’S FOUNDATION IS JESUS IS THE MESSIAH GOD SENT

This is why we exist. We are working with God to build and usher in the Kingdom of Heaven on the strong foundation that JESUS IS THE MESSIAH SENT FROM GOD. Nothing else matters or is as strong as this truth. The church is still in existence today because of the reality of Jesus being the One God sent.

How does this impact us today? (This is where we can step on toes 🙂 )

Since the Church is built upon this truth, then we are also part of the mission Jesus came to earth to do. His earthly work was done on the cross and we all can experience grace, forgiveness, and eternal life (the full presence of God here and now AND in the life to come). But his work in the world is still not complete. There is still redemptive work to be done, souls to know Jesus is the Christ.

Hate, violence, war, racism, you name it, still seems to be more powerful because this is what people love to talk about. Many people build their lives around trying to eradicate these injustices, and that is a good cause. But, if we go into the world knowing and living as Jesus is the true Ruler and Lord of the world, then everything we do works toward breaking down all injustices and seeks to help people see and live in the light of God’s presence and live in peace with one another. We make working with God to help people see the reality and truth of the Kingdom of Heaven all around us a priority.

Too often, because of our fallen and sinful human nature, we end up putting everything else before and above Jesus and the mission we are about. We will focus more on decorations, our “traditions”, anything that brings us comfort, and there is so much more we place in front of Jesus.

Taking the time to answer who Jesus is really showing where our priorities lie. If we’re not careful, we can end up putting ourselves in the place of Jesus Christ and mold Jesus into who we are instead of being molded into the likeness and image of Jesus Christ – the image we were originally created to be.

If the truth about who Jesus is stays in our head and do not fully transform our lives, we have missed it. The information/knowledge about who Jesus is must dwell and live in our hearts because he desires to transform our lives.

OUR LIVES ARE TRANSFORMED BECAUSE OF GOD’S LOVE

Coming to worship, Bible study, praying, going on mission trips, etc. is so much more than simply making people be “good.” All of this is important because of how Jesus Christ works through these “tasks”, these opportunities and changes our lives because of his great love for us. Through the great love he has for us, we get to watch Jesus work through us to change the lives of the people we get to help, we get to serve, we get to listen to, we get to provide basic needs.

And how we answer “who do you say Jesus is” determines our approach and heart as we step out and serve in our community, in our world.

Over the next several weeks, we are going to dive into certain aspects of who Jesus is. I’m going to invite us all to be on this journey through prayer and careful consideration of who we say Jesus is. As we go through this series, continue to think about Jesus and all he has done, is doing, and will continue to do in the world, and also in our lives.

Now, I want you to take a brief moment and write down, who you say Jesus is. In other words, who is Jesus Christ to you?

We have just started Confirmation classes. I know some people have negative connotations with confirmation and think it’s a time to be preached at what we should believe, but there is so much more to it. It is about coming to a place where we can wrestle with ideas, questions, and answers so we can understand deeper what it is we say we believe. It is a time to help us come to a place of belief. My understanding of God and his work in the world is greatly enhanced when leading Confirmation. This is why we open it up to middle schoolers and adults. So we can all learn and grow with each other.

This past week, the Confirmation class began by asking “Who is God?” and “What is God like?” So often, we do not realize we don’t know how to answer these questions, especially when other people ask us. If we really want to know who God is and what God is like, we have to look no further than Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Paul records a hymn in his letter to the Colossians about who Jesus is:

15 The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 

16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 

17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 

18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 

20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.[3]

Who we profess Jesus to be shapes how and why we do everything. We get to go into the world with greater purpose and greater power to see transformation really happen.

Professing Jesus as the Messiah, the One sent to save the world, reminds us of God’s great love for the world that he sent his only Son that whoever believes in him will have eternal life.[4]As we step out in faith, and profess Jesus as the Christ, the One who is Lord and Ruler of all the earth and universe, we allow him to come into our lives so we are transformed. Then we understand, as the Apostle Paul wrote, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. And the life I now live in my body, I live by faith, indeed by the faithfulness of God’s Son who loved me and gave himself for me.”[5] 

Isn’t that beautiful? Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Creator of the Universe, lives is you and I because of his love for us.

Look, we all mess up. We all place other minor things above Christ which turn out to be other idols (lesser gods) we end up worshipping (finding more value in at times). But God loves you and me so much that we have Jesus Christ. We are loved so much that he has given us his power and heart to go into the world so others can know of his love for them and find their true value and worth.

This is so much more than simply knowing this, or coming forward to accept Jesus as our Savior, though that is very important for our lives. It is all about how Jesus is working within us, because of his love for us, to transform our lives into his likeness and image so we can be his agents, his vessels who go into the world to transform the world and bring the Kingdom of Heaven with us.

 

[1]Matthew 16:17 NIV

[2]Matthew 16:18 NIV

[3]Colossians 1:15-20 NIV

[4]John 3:16 (paraphrase)

[5]Galatians 2:20 CEB

BREAKTHROUGH: When the Holy Spirit Moves

I am excited to announce this NEW daily devotional:

BREAKTHROUGH: When the Holy Spirit Moves

You can order your Kindle or paperback option from Amazon: Click here to order.

The Book of Acts tells the historical events that shaped the early church through the powerful, dynamic movement of the Holy Spirit. This power is still available and working today all over the world.
As we encounter the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we have the great kopportunity to watch God do incredible work in and through us.
This daily devotional walks us through the book of Acts so we can experience a personal revival and help us experience a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit in our own lives.

You can order your Kindle or paperback option from Amazon: Click here to order.

Loving to Life Pt 1

You’re in a new organization, work, church, community. You have studied the demographics and have learned about the history of the area. You are excited about the possibilities.

Maybe you move to an area that you are not as keen on living in. You see a bleak future, or maybe one that seeks to keep things as the status quo. You moved there because you sensed you needed to, so you went where you were sent.

No matter where you are, take time to discern whether the people are trying to survive so their community, organization, etc. doesn’t die; or are if they trying to live. There is a difference between the two. One simply wants to maintain by not losing anyone or anything; the other wants to ensure their sustainability for the future and to still make an impact in the world.

Whatever situation you’re in, there are some things that should be done ahead of time, and during your first few months. Over the next few weeks, I’ll share some thoughts on working with people who “want to live.”

I’m already reminded of the words of Jesus, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John‬ ‭10:10‬b ‭NIV‬‬) Even if it seems the organization simply does not want to die, there is incredible hope because of the promise of Christ to give the fullest life possible.

The first step:

What is the first thing we should do may seem obvious. This is something we say we should do before everything. It is so obvious that we can easily overlook it.

Pray.

Prayer should be the first thing we do. Right now, I wonder how many people are going, “duh! Of course prayer is first!” I would also believe there are people reading this now who are thinking they haven’t taking the time to pray.

I love this quote, “When we pray it does not nudge God to move more; it instead opens our eyes to God’s activity around us.” This is what we do when we communicate with our Creator, we pay attention to His work and activity all around us so we can join right in.

When we pray, it is very easy to fall into the trap that when we say “amen” that they prayer is over. Remember the Apostle Paul writes, “pray continually.” This is not just about finding ways to talk with God what’s going on with our world. It is also about being in tune with the voice of the Creator that is speaking constantly. Prayer is a communication where we should be listening to God more than always just talking to God.

Prayer opens our eyes to the work that God is doing all around us. Several years ago, I heard a story about people praying for their food in a restaurant. The prayer kept getting interrupted because another person was not doing well. They were visibly upset and sitting alone. The people praying kept their eyes closed, finished the prayer, and enjoyed their food. All the while, the person sho was upset just sat their nursing an almost empty cup of coffee.

Paying attention to the voice of God, even during our prayers, is important. God maybe speaking to us to go and tend to the hurt of another. We may be the answer to another person’s prayer. We can miss so much if we do not pay attention to what is going on around us – to what God is doing in the midst of the situations of the people around us.

Blessing Work

As we take time to pray, it is easy to ask God to “bless our work.” God is always working and is asking us to join Him in the work. This is a great chance to seek to bless the work God is doing by joining is and show His glory through your and my life.

In the community, organization, church you are in, or moving to, how many times have we assessed the situation and have said, “I know what needs to happen. Let’s just get to work!” I am completely guilty of doing this many times.

See, when we walk in and “get to work” we tend to focus on our own agendas and seek to make everything the way it should be. Yes, there is always work to be done; but what if God has sent us to where we are for something greater, something more important that just restructuring? What is God sent you there to simply be a reminder of His presence?

Yes, we are all reminders of God’s presence in the world; but what if God is simply wanting us to work on loving the people where they are exactly? If we begin by focusing on the organizational structure or focus on what’s wrong, we can easily miss the people there.

Prayer is the most important thing we do. It is what guides our steps, helps us understand and see where God is working. Prayer helps us see our mission, especially when we are actively listening.

Remember these words from Hebrews 3, “Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

I pray your new venture is filled with the power of the Holy Spirit working within you. I pray the people around you are seeking to live life to the fullest and seek the Kingdom of Heaven each day.

Journey to Revival Week 5

REVIVAL GLORY

2 Corinthians 3:11-12: “And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold.”

We are on week 5 of a 12 week time of prayer and study for revival and awakening.

 

This week, we’re talking about allowing God’s glory to shine though our lives. Below the video link is a historical example of revival.

You are invited to go through this time of study and prayer either individually (i.e. journal), or gather a group together to pray and discuss each week’s topic. Our guide for this time will be the scriptures, prayer, and the book “Revival Rising.” You can get this book at www.seedbed.com

 

Feel free to share this video study with your friends.

 

From the book Revival Rising:

EXTRAORDINARY EFFECTS

Revival love pours out on Jonathan Edwards’ church in 1742. This revival under the ministry of Mr. Buell exceeds the one eight years before. A visit by George Whitfield some months earlier triggers events leading to the revival.

In the month of May, 1741, a sermon was preached to a company, at a private house. Near the conclusion of the discourse, one or two persons that were professors, were so greatly affected with a sense of the greatness and glory of divine thing they were not able to conceal it—the affections of their minds overcoming their strength, and having visible effect upon their bodies. . . .

About the beginning of February, 1742, Mr. Buell came to this town. . . . There were very extraordinary effects of Mr. Buell’s labors; the people were exceedingly moved, crying out in great numbers in the meeting-house, and a great part of the congregation commonly staying in the house of God for hours after the public service. . . .

Mr. Buell continued here a fortnight or three weeks after I returned: there being still great appearances attending his labors; many in their religious affections being raised far beyond what they had ever been before: and there were some instances of persons lying in a sort of trance, remaining perhaps for a whole twenty-four hours motionless. . . .

The Journey Continues

Click here to read Acts 28.

Paul makes it to Rome.

His journey to Rome was full of turmoil, danger, unrest, and more. Yet through all of this, Paul kept his faith. That’s remarkable!

Paul believed God when He said Paul would make it to Rome. I wonder how many times Paul had to remind himself of that? After all, the shipwreck would have been enough for many to give up and lose hope. But Paul does not lose his faith. He keeps encouraging the soldiers to keep going. He keeps sharing about God every chance he gets. Paul is the one person who seems to be holding it all together.

Think about your life journey. How many hardships have you lived through? How many times did you consider giving up? It would be easy when things just got too hard for us; but we should keep pressing forward, especially if God has truly called us to do what we’re doing.

It would be so nice to be able to say that our life is going to be easy. But that would not be accurate. Our life will be filled with more hope, more peace, more joy, more love all because of Jesus Christ. Oh, we will falter at times; but He is always with us. Jesus guides us and we get to bring people to Him in every circumstance.

What I love about the book of Acts is the movement of the Holy Spirit in the lives of ordinary people. Ordinary people who have answered the call of God on their lives and went out to do incredible things because of the power of the Holy Spirit within them.

Paul’s life is remarkable, to me, because he seems to keep his faith (most of the time) in all situations. His is a story that inspires me, not to be just like Paul but to be able to continue proclaiming Jesus Christ wherever I am and through whatever I’m doing.

This may be the end of the book of Acts, but the story is not complete. We get to carry on what the Holy Spirit began in us and continue to spread the good news of Jesus Christ to the ends of the world. How will you live out the calling God has placed on your life?

Acts 1:8

Rather, you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Matthew 28:19-20

Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”