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.

Loving to Life Pt 4

VISIONING

This is one of my favorite things to do – visioning for the possibilities of the future.

I have said before that I do much better in bigger picture planning and thinking than I do when it comes to the minor details. The details are important. Visioning is not just about long term planning or thinking how an organization/person/church can be in the next generations. Visioning is about taking the plans and putting them into action.

A vision without action is really just a day dream. In this aspect of helping people/organizations/churches live for the future, we are doing a few different things: 1) we are looking where they have been, 2) where they are now, and 3) what is possible with the current resources (and also resources that will become available)?

Visioning has to be covered in prayer from the beginning, during, and execution. I have also learned that listening to the hopes and dreams of the people is another place God is speaking about the future. As we have been listening and learning from the people in our small groups, we have an incredible chance to hear the passions of the people. This is where I think we should continue with the visioning process.

As we have been praying, and seeking God’s direction and focus for our new endeavor, we are also searching for the places God is at work. If we pay attention, we can hear God speaking through the passions of the people.

Visioning is a big picture activity and requires looking at the big picture. Right now, I would ask you to pause and write down what you consider as part of the big picture.

In my experience, we tend to sell short the “big picture” for only what we can see. The challenge here is to look beyond what is seen. Look at the organization, the people involved, the culture in and around, what has been done, what is going on, the resources in the past, the resources in the present, targets and goals for the future.

This is really just a small list, but it does give us some greater things to think about and consider; but it should help us expand our horizons to think about more than just the amount of people and bottom line. Visioning requires us to dream and act toward a goal of how the organization/person could be in the time frame you decide. This helps us with acting upon the vision.

As far as time, we tend to focus more on the next year, five years, or ten years down the road. How would it impact and affect your vision to think about how things could be in the next 50-100 years? Does that seem like too far into the future?

Think about this. Everything we do is either going to last for a short period of time or it will last for a long period of time. When we think more about the next 50-100 years, it helps us focus more on the next generations to help make sure there is something for them. This means we work toward something that may or may not be comfortable to us here and now.

As you spend time in prayer, listening to the people’s passions, and learning about the past to see future potential, praise God for the opportunity to be in the place you are in the time you are.

God has given and will give vision. Pay close attention and continually talk with other people so it is more of a community effort of prayer and work. Watch to see all God will do.

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

  • How have you typically planned for the future in the past? Is there anything written here you haven’t considered before?
  • What are you excited about in the new area/position?
  • What do you think about the idea of planning for the next 50-100 years instead of just a year, 5-10 years, down the road? What is challenging about this? How can you work through the challenges?

Stand Firm in Grace

Click here to read today’s scripture Acts 4:1-22.

Peter and John have been on the move proclaiming the gospel truth of Jesus Christ. There have been many lives who have accepted the message and many more that were infuriated with the message they proclaimed. Is this something you can relate to?

How would you do if you were called in front of a ruling class and had to answer for your faith? What would be your reaction if you were told you would have to stop professing faith in Christ? The truth is, many people around the world are still facing this kind of opposition. Whenever we proclaim the truth of Christ, there will be many who are excited and experience his presence and his grace and their life is transformed from the inside out. Still others, when faced with the truth of Christ, get nervous and hard-hearted because their way of life is being challenged. So, the message will fall on deaf ears and hearts.

There will be times when we do need to speak up about our faith. 1 Peter 3:15 says, “Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it.” So now the question becomes not “how would you react if asked to answer to your faith;” but rather, “what will you say when people ask you about your hope in Jesus Christ?” See the difference? It changes from a reaction to being confident with the message you have been entrusted with.

One thing to be sure of is making sure the message you have to tell aligns with the teachings and life of Jesus Christ. Otherwise it is spoken without grace and causes hostility rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to bring people to faith in Christ.

The first thing we should do is be confident with the message. Your life is a message of grace when it is lived with Jesus Christ. God’s grace has been given to you so we do not have to worry or be afraid to speak. It is not about having just the right words; but rather knowing God and just speaking from your experience. All believers in Christ are called to be ministers of the gospel (1 Peter 2:9-10); and this means we have a great message to tell. We have been entrusted to share this message of grace wherever we are. God has entrusted us so we can be bold and be confident.

We do not do this alone. It is the Holy Spirit guiding us and giving us the words to speak when it is necessary. As stated above, as long as our intention is to be authentic and have a message aligned with the teachings and life of Jesus Christ, there is a good chance the message will be heard more, especially to those who are knowingly hurting. If we simply have to tell what we know and it doesn’t matter to us what the other person thinks. Then we are most likely speaking from our own guidance and not really listening to the Spirit’s guidance. Please let that sink in. We should always speak to exude grace, building people up and leading them to the throne of Christ, rather than tearing them down and saying what they’re doing wrong (Ephesians 4:29-32).

Finally above all, trust God. Believing in and following Christ does not make our life automatically easier; but we do have more joy, peace, and love within us. If we are lead to be in a particular place or speak with a particular person, trust that the Holy Spirit is guiding and will equip you.

Now, I invite you to process this. Ask yourself these questions and speak with God about them.

  1. Where do I rather trust myself and what I want to do instead of leaning on the grace God has given?
  2. What is the story of grace God is telling through my life?
  3. Who do I believe God is leading me to speak with about grace and life transformation?

Confidence in Prayer

Someone just asked their friend to pray in public. The friend felt fear creeping in. “What if I say the wrong words, that other person has much better prayers than I do!” These are thoughts that are not uncommon. It is scary, at times, to speak in front of a group of people. But prayer is different.

Prayer is not about what people are listening; it is more about our God who is listening. God is truly the only audience we have when we pray. It is to him that we bear our heart and soul. No one can take this away from us, unless we begin to focus on the people present and wondering what they are thinking of our prayers.

One way I have found to help with my personal prayer life is to pray the prayers the human fathers of our faith prayed. Saint Augustine, Saint Francis, Tertullian, John Wesley, etc. For our Anglican brothers and sisters in Christ, and something we can utilize, there is the Book of Common Prayer.

The people of our faith tradition have beared their heart and soul communicating with God. We can use those prayers and make them our own. The human heart is always searching for the same thing, purpose through a relationship with God.

So, how can we become more confident in our personal prayers? Several years ago, I was listening to a great friend of mine praying with a group of college students. The time spent in that prayer setting was incredible. What did they do? My friend led the students through the Lord’s Prayer, taking it line by line and encouraging each student to focus on that line.

For example, he would say something like, “Our Father, who art in heaven…God you are the One who created everything in our universe, including us. You are enthroned in the great glory of heaven and we get to talk with you because you are our Father.” WOW! Think of the power this would bring to the live of those praying. Not only are we speaking directly to God, our Creator; but we are recognizing his position, his power, and realizing that because he is our Father, we have a direct source to receive this power from. After each line in the Lord’s Prayer, my friend invited the students to pray on their own; praying for the specific concept of the phrase spoken and prayed.

What this showed me was we need to be able to address God through prayer; but at the same time, we have the opportunity to learn to pray in agreement with God’s plan. This is why I believe Jesus said, “ask anything in my name and you will receive it.” We do need to take heed, though, because when we pray, we get to communicate with our Father in heaven about his will, not necessarily our will. Our hearts become so connected with God that we begin to desire the things he wants, especially when we focus on what it is we are praying.

Taking time to pray daily, for any length of time is what we should be doing. Paul reminds us in 1 Thessalonians 5 to “pray without ceasing.” The way we live our lives is truthfully a direct reflection of our prayer time with God. But what if we feel like our prayers are too shallow, or they are not going beyond the roof of the house? We trust, that somehow God hear each and everyone of our prayers no matter how big or how small.

Over the course of this next year, I am inviting you to take some time to grow in your daily prayer life. Begin with a simple “thank you” to God for everything he has given and has done in your life. The simple act of saying “thanks” is a great mental and emotional reminder that all we have is from God our Father who gives us everything we need (Matthew 6).

Spend a few days with the simple “thank you” prayer and see how your communication with God changes each day. Watch how you’ll begin to experience, as Paul says in Philippians 4, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding.”

I also challenge you to look into prayer books, especially ones from the early church, and pray the prayers the early church fathers prayed. The heart and mind they had in many of the prayers is something we can strive for because the mind of Jesus Christ was being formed in them as it is in us.

Finally, I encourage you to look at the 10 Commandments, Apostle’s Creed, Nicene Creed, or the Lord’s Prayer. These can be found in many church hymnals, online, the Book of Common Prayer, etc. Read through and meditate on the words and take time to pray, line by line, and talk with God through these prayers, creeds, and commandments.

The more we pray, the more we pray with a friend, the more we pray with others, the more confident we will become in our prayer life. We can be assured that God is hearing each one of our prayers, that Jesus Christ is the high priest who is our mediator, and that the Holy Spirit cries out to God what we really need to say (Romans 8:26).

“We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all God’s people— the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven and about which you have already heard in the true message of the gospel that has come to you. In the same way, the gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.” Colossians 1:3-6 NIV

Investing Hours

OFFICE HOURS Ministry in the Marketplace Part 3

This week, we are focusing on how we spend our time at work. Since this is where we end up spending most of our time during the week, how do we relate to those around us?

Yes, our families are the most important relationships; but the amount of time we spend with our co-workers is significant. This is an area of our lives that we can easily miss out on this incredible opportunity to be an influencer for Jesus Christ in the world, especially in the workplace. These are the people that really get us during the best part of our day. We have the chance to show people Jesus Christ everyday.

This week’s scripture focuses on the Apostle Paul and him investing in his coworkers by sharing life together and sharing the love of God through Jesus Christ.

“After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus. He had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome. Paul visited with them. Because they practiced the same trade, he stayed and worked with them. They all worked with leather. Every Sabbath he interacted with people in the synagogue, trying to convince both Jews and Greeks.” ~ Acts of the Apostles 18:1-4 CEB

When you read this scripture, what stands out to you? I invite you to underline or mark the words or phrases that stand out to you either in your Bible or printing this page out.

Paul invested in the work life, which transcended into personal life, of Aquila and Pricilla. Think of how their bond grew over time, especially sharing in gospel message of Jesus Christ. The concept of investing in the work and personal life is convicting for me.

We will spend 40-60+ hours per week in the workplace. In a 168 hour week, this is a huge chunk of time. We invest in our family and significant others in a lesser amount of time. In our day to day work, this is the absolute perfect time to share the gospel message through our words and our actions.

So now, the tough question. How are you and I going to be the example of Jesus Christ transforming our lives with our actions, our words, and our thoughts?

Investing in the lives of our coworkers can change the workplace entirely. The purpose of work will be more evident because just maybe, God has placed you in your workplace to make an impact for the Kingdom of Heaven with the people you work with.

*Note: The concept for this series we first published on http://www.seedbed.com “Sermon Series – Office Hours: Ministry in the Marketplace”

More Than Words

Have you ever been told, “just pray about it?” I have told people this for years, especially when there is something of importance going on whether it be with vocation, relationships, new projects, etc. Prayer is one of the things that we know is important; but a great deal of us don’t really put too much thought into what we’re praying for or words that we’re saying.

Luke 11:1-13 shows Jesus’ disciples asking Him, “teach us to pray.” Yesterday, I asked the congregation, “have you asked Jesus to teach you to pray?” This is a very valuable question to ask; especially because this was a convicting question for me as well. If we can humbly go to Jesus Christ to teach us how to pray and listen for His answer, we can realize more and more the reality is we are communicating with God each and every time we pray.

To prepare for this message this past week, I read several commentaries and one thing stood out. One of the commentators for the United Methodist Church had this to say, “According to a Pew Research report, 55% of American Christians say they pray every day. These persons rely on prayer when making personal decisions, and consider prayer and essential part of their identity.” Isn’t this interesting. What I read in this is that 45% of American Christians do not feel they need to pray daily. My question is, how can someone have a real relationship with God if there is not constant communication. Before we get judgemental, I do believe there are people who do not pray because they do not believe God will answer their prayers.

The first thing to look at when we talk about prayer is Jesus gives us assurance that God not only cares about us, but He hears our prayers and does answer them. Luke 11:11-13 says, “Which father among you would give a snake to your child if the child asked for a fish? If a child asked for an egg, what father would give the child a scorpion? If you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him?”

We all need assurance that God will answer our prayers, that our words do not stop at the ceiling. My guess is that we have all heard about three answers that God gives: Yes, No, Not Yet. These answers we can deal with; but there is a fourth answer we don’t seem to mention very much. That answer is “I have already given you an answer and am waiting for you to act.”

I remember, when I was a child and I would do everything I could do to find a favorable answer to a question. For many of us, it may be the case that we don’t like the answer God has given and we keep trying to get Him to change His mind or at least give us an alternative answer.

No matter what our response to the answers God gives us, we should still be assured that He does answer us. Because we can trust that God will answer our prayers, we should be open to the various ways He answers, oftentimes using other people around us.

The Gospel of Luke passage shows the disciples asking Jesus how to pray. A couple of things stand out when I read what has been called the “Lord’s Prayer.” One is that the normal things we end up focusing on some things and leaving out others. For example we’ll focus on the physical health or a person instead of the spiritual health. This is what I have called “organ prayers.” It is easier to pray for physical healing of body organs than for spiritual or emotional healing to bring a person to completeness and wholeness.

Jesus, on the other hand gives us, not just a script of what to pray, but for us to watch how we are praying and what we pray for. He is showing the disciples, which includes us today, that we should pray with the will of God in mind. Many of us have not taken the time to really think about these words. These are not “magic words” to get God to do our bidding. Instead, when we pray we’ll seek God and His direction.

Father, hallowed be your name: This is important so we remember who we are speaking with and to not use God’s name as something that is common or ordinary.

Your kingdom come: ushering in the kingdom of Heaven here on earth. Does our world look like, right now, how heaven will be? Not yet. There are many things that are still happening. The reality of the Kingdom of Heaven is here; but there is still the culmination of heaven being on earth full time that will eventually take place.

Natural disasters

Devaluing of human life

Distractions from our relationships

More concerned about the individual than the health of the community

not everyone knows Jesus Christ on a personal level

Give us this day our daily bread: completely dependent on God for all we need each day (goes against our individualistic do it by yourself mottos)

Think about Israelites wandering around in the desert and the manna from heaven who did not know where the food was coming from; but they trusted that God would provide each day.

Most of us don’t worry about where our next meal is coming from, or where we are going to get the next thing that we want

Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted (sinned against) to us: As a commentator notes, “Jewish teachings had already linked the necessity of forgiving others to one’s ability to receive forgiveness…the ability to forgive and be forgiven are part of the same gift.”

And do not bring us to the time of trial: “normal trials” for us may include traffic, rude people, sicknesses, anything like this.

  • also think about things that would hinder or harm your relationship with other people (family members included)
  • Consider to seek protection against things that will come between yours and God’s relationship

We pray for healing, for provision, for protection, for our relationships with other people AND with God

As we can see, it really is more than words when we speak to the Living God through prayer who can and will answer our prayers. Praying the Lord’s Prayer is basically praying this way:

“God, we honor you on earth more than we honor our own flesh and blood parents. Please come to rule our lives every day that we l have on this earth. Help us to not worry about the future. We ask only for enough bread to get through this day. Don’t forgive us our sins until we have found a way to forgive every person who has done us wrong. And please God, do not test our faith too much because we know that we are weak and that we will surely fail.”

May we all continue to develop our prayer life and seek the face and Kingdom of God daily.

“Prayer and Praise Week 1”

Give thanks to the Lord because he is good, because his faithful love endures forever.” ~1 Chronicles 16:34 CEB

November is the time that giving thanks, or at least these words, are at the forefront of our conscience. We tend to be thankful for all we have, all we have been blessed with, and the people in our life that we like. These are all great things to be thankful for. God’s presence in our lives is another thing we give thanks for.

This year, we should challenge ourselves to giving thanks for what have have and what we experience beyond our preferences. The season of Advent begins in 29 days. Advent is the time we prepare our hearts for celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, God in flesh, in our lives and within us. To help with this, let’s have 28 days of “Giving Thanks.”

This will be a different way of giving thanks. Instead of pausing each day to say thanks to another person, or to God, we get to give thanks for how we are able to be present in the lives of those around us, even “those people” we don’t like, or think are not good enough. When we do this, we have great opportunities to show the world God working through people. We never know, exactly, how what we do impacts another person.

So this week, we challenged to do the following:

  1. Ask your restaurant server, or cashier, what you can pray for them. Then pray then and there.
  2. When shopping, tell the cashier “thank you for your work.”
  3. Tell a family member how much you appreciate them and what you appreciate about them.
  4. Tell a friend what you appreciate about them.
  5. Write and mail a handwritten note to someone you haven’t seen in awhile.
  6. Invite a friend, or someone you talk to while running errands or at work, to join you in worship to have a chance to experience God through Jesus Christ.
  7. Take time to thank God for being in your life, through the joy, sorrows, frustration, times of plenty and times of lacking

These are much more than simply random acts of kindness. After each day, spend some time thanking God for giving you the opportunities to help and be present in another person’s life. We give God glory and praise when we are present and helping the last, the least, and the lost in the world and thank Him for the blessing in our life, which involves the opportunities to show God in the world.

Will you take this challenge? I pray you do.

“Gaining Sight: Praying the Scripture”

We have been on this journey through Mark chapter 10 this month. Now, we are in the final verses of this chapter. To recap, we have encountered Jesus Christ in several different ways. Hopefully we have all grown closer in our faith in Christ.

This week, we’re going to do something different in our devotional time. We will be praying the scripture (the same scripture) daily and see what God speaks to our hearts. Praying the scriptures is something that helps us see and hear from God in fresh ways.

Today, and tomorrow, we’ll do something called lectio divina. To practice this, find a quiet place without any distractions. If this is your first time to do this exercise, it may be helpful to set a time limit (maybe 15-20 minutes). It may also be helpful to have a journal so you can write down your experience and anything you sense God speaking to your spirit.

The scripture (Mark 10:46-52) is below these four steps to this exercise.

Step 1) READ the passage

Simply read the passage. Don’t try to figure out what it’s saying, yet. Think about the passage for a minute or so, then read it again slowly.

Step 2) MEDITATE on the passage

What do you see in the passage? How do you picture yourself? Do you see yourself as the crowd? on the sidelines watching? as someone like Jesus trying to help? as the blind man crying for help and being ignored? Read the passage again, this time place yourself, intentionally, in the story and see what emotions come up.

Step 3) PRAY.

This is a time to seek God. Take time to ask Him what He is speaking to you. Ask Him to help you understand.

Step 4) CONTEMPLATE on the prayer and passage.

Thank God for this time together. What do you think God may be calling you to do? What are your emotions regarding this? How do you plan to accomplish what God may be leading you to?

Challenge yourself through this exercise. See how God is speaking to you through the scriptures. Read. Meditate. Pray. Respond. Do this for two days, and then we’ll try another exercise with this same scripture.


Mark 10:46-52 (CEB)
Healing of blind Bartimaeus
46 Jesus and his followers came into Jericho. As Jesus was leaving Jericho, together with his disciples and a sizable crowd, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, Timaeus’ son, was sitting beside the road. 47 When he heard that Jesus of Nazareth was there, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, show me mercy!” 48 Many scolded him, telling him to be quiet, but he shouted even louder, “Son of David, show me mercy!” 49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him forward.” They called the blind man, “Be encouraged! Get up! He’s calling you.” 50 Throwing his coat to the side, he jumped up and came to Jesus. 51 Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said, “Teacher, I want to see.” 52 Jesus said, “Go, your faith has healed you.” At once he was able to see, and he began to follow Jesus on the way.

Explaining Reasons

Mark 10:10-12 “Inside the house, the disciples asked him again about this. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if a wife divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

So, this week’s scripture focus from Mark 10:1-16 has been challenging. Possibly because this passage can bring up many feelings from many different people. I know I had some feelings come up as I am studying this passage and praying over this passage before the Sunday I preach on it. But, I think this is part of the point of scripture. We are not meant to be comfortable in our thinking or our lives. We are supposed to be challenged and dig deeper in to understanding so our lives reflect the life of Jesus Christ.

Jesus has said some vary definite statements to answer the Pharisees’ question about divorce. His disciples were with him and did not seem to understand what he said or even why he said what he did. I love how Jesus takes the time to explain to His disciples what he is teaching to the crowds.

I know when I tell my kids something, they may not understand why. It is important to help them understand so they can develop their minds and reasoning skills. Taking time to explain helps because it is something that will help them understand why they are doing what they’re doing.

It is challenging to me when people do not explain to me what’s going on. How do you feel when things are not explained to you?

A challenge we have for today is to look for opportunities to help those around us to understand by explaining. Helping their reasoning skills is important. Jesus did this for His disciples, and we can do the same thing. This is something I am working on daily.