Tag Archives: Christianity

Prayer – Is God asleep?

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GodAs we continue our prayer journey towards finding the right perspective of God, let’s move on to Luke 11. Again, Jesus is teaching on prayer and comes up with another striking little story. Like our first story this one is designed to expose the hidden views we have concerning God’s character especially in relation to prayer. Essentially we have a man in need coming to “his friend”, to ask for three loaves of bread. He is the archetype of all who come to God with their needs. However, in spite of his being a friend he gets a rather shocking reception !

“Don’t bother me.”

Deep down, do we sometimes harbour the image of God being like some high-powered business executive, rushing around running the world with no real-time for my prayers and concerns and my three little loaves of life!

“The door is already locked,”

Do you sometimes think that a “no entry” sign has been put up specifically over heaven for you ? Have sin, rejection and unbelief put barricades before heaven’s generosity? Has someone told you that you’ve no right to pray, as that is only the job of priests, holy men and the super spiritual ?

“..and my children are with me in bed.”

Well, here we have it. God is asleep in bed while the world hungers for bread !

How many have not sometimes found themselves pondering such thoughts. Communists and humanists load their guns with such ammunition. The famous communist playwright, Bertolt Brecht, wrote:

“Food is the first thing, morals follow on!”

God seems strangely absent from the world scene. Often we may have cried out to God and felt, perhaps, His absence. An absence that may well have wounded us deeply and left the way open for Satan’s bitter lies.wecantgetup

“I can’t get up and give you anything.”

Is God really as pathetic as this !

Better find some rich businessman to get things done or some mafia warlord as God, it seems,  is powerless !

The above is the exact opposite of who God is and a direct antithesis to the whole ethic and promise of prayer !

If you’ve ever believed this lie about Him you almost deserve to be breadless ! Such a blasphemous view of God and prayer is a pretty serious sin that needs repenting of. Jesus gently rebuked the father of the demonized boy in Mark 9: 23, when he weakly said,

” If you can ? “

We need to remember that he was speaking to the all-powerful Son of God ! ” If you can ? “ is just not good enough ! Jesus reminded him of the level of faith filled asking he was looking for.

“If you can ?” said Jesus.

” Everything is possible for him who believes “

Let us repent deeply of all the wrong views of God that are exposed in Jesus’ simple story. Like our concerned father, struggling with past failure and demonic lies, let us cry out :

” I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief ! “

Let us persevere, and be bold enough to walk through apparent contradictions by faith. Learn to laugh at Satan’s lies and attacks and hold firm on God’s generous giving nature. This is the ” persistence “ mentioned in the text. A persistence for a right perspective of God, not a superstitious persistence in dead works of unbelief.

The “boldness” and perseverance here is not to change God’s mind or somehow win Him over through good works or penance. It is simply our own inner perseverance and boldness needed to overcome the lies of the enemy which continually blaspheme God’s character to us. We must daily and boldly overcome such persistent demonic propaganda!

The original Greek word used for “boldness” here is anaideia, which literally means  “without shame”. When we think of the strong hospitality and shame culture present in these times we also get the same unimaginable image that we found in the evil father giving a stone. In Jesus’ culture it would have been just as unthinkable and horrendously impossible for someone to show such a lack of mutual support and hospitality to an asking friend.

As much as you needJesus, having exposed the lie and blasphemy of the enemy within, takes us firmly back into the truth of prayer and promise.

“I tell you..”

“So I say to you..”

“..he will get up and give him as much as he needs.”

“Ask and it will be given to you;”

In this world where God’s image is constantly being blasphemed by the enemy’s works of death and destruction, aided and abetted by the our own passivity and feeble prayer doctrine, we need a bold generation who will hold firm in prayer, striving daily to maintain their high view of God and getting answer from heaven to meet the needs of  mankind.

The prayer of faith will always meet God’s provision. God is longing to find faith that receives as much as we need and hearts that dare to ask.

So…..how much do you need ?

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Bud or Branch?

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“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” John 15:1-2

We all get the chop sometime!grapeVines

This well-known passage begins with very good news, and then adds some less encouraging truth.

The good news is that every unfruitful piece of your life, your unbelief, pride, fear, rejection, and sinfulness will all be “cut off” in Christ’s vicarious death on the cross.

The less than exciting news is that your good fruitful works will also be cut back to prepare a new season of fruitfulness.

Many people never get beyond the first phase. Christian life for them revolves around a never-ending, sin centred ritual of personal survival, where they are constantly confessing and committing sin. Both inner and outer fruitfulness is sadly lacking in such a life which hangs on to a minimum level of grace but never actually produces Christ honouring fruit. It is a dangerous place to be as the longevity of such a faith is always in doubt and, as John the Baptist said in Luke 3:9:

“The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

We are all called to bear fruit

Fruit in handThe normal Christian experience must be to cultivate the inner, Christ like fruit of the Spirit as well as to impact the world around us with fruitful ministry.

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last.” John 15:16

How is this working out in your own life? Perhaps you are at the beginning of your Christian life, the sap is rising and there is great promise for future fruit. Or you may be in the midst of a fruitful time of gathering and growing. Whatever your age, you must have a testimony of fruit. If you’ve read this and feel convicted by a lack of fruit in your life…don’t despair! The very conviction you feel is a sign that the sap is still in you. Make a decision to turn away from every barren thing in your life and get back into the Word of God and worship. Nurture the soil of your heart and fill it afresh with the living seed of Christ. Fruit will follow…

Seasons of pruning

For many, you will have produced fruit in the past but may be feeling the hard cut of the blade as years of fruitful ministry seem to be swept away leaving you with nothing to show. Perhaps after a dynamic start you have encountered a “dark night of the soul”, and find it hard to get close to God. Trials and testings may have eaten away at the fabric of faith while relational breakdown may also have cut in on the fruit of forgiveness.

The works of many years may need to be passed over to others. Solomon, in Ecclesiastes 2:21, found this a grievous thing:

“For a man may do his work with wisdom knowledge and skill, and then he must leave all he owns to someone who has not worked for it.”

Persecution and trouble may also have ended the fruitful work of years in an instant.

As I said at the beginning, pruning will come to us all. How do you survive a season of pruning?pruning close up

The main thing is getting your perspective right. Let me explain.

I lived for many years in the South of France so had the first hand experience of living amongst vineyards. When the vine is pruned, its gangling branches, which have borne the grapes, are cut right back to the vulnerable infant bud which is so near the original gnarled vine.

So what is your perspective? Are you a branch or a bud? In our success orientated world we are so used to comparing our branches and grapes. No-one seems interested in a little bud.

Do you see your personal identity in the branch or the bud?

bud_breakThe branches are our works but the bud is our intimacy with Christ. Cultivate intimacy and you will come through the pruning with a renewed energy to grow again. Stay close to the True Vine and find your value and identity in the simple love relation with Jesus.

Someone once said:

“I am successful because I am loved by Christ and can love Him in return.”

He must have been a “bud” to say that!

 

Tears and dryness

When a vine is cut back it “bleeds” profusely. Sugary saps leaks out from the broken branches for days. When the “tears” stop, a desert time begins when the branch will “dry back” to the bud.

In the same way, leave time for the bereavement, the seasons of tears followed by the times of dryness. This natural process is preparing the way for a new season.

Indeed, may we all end up, “even more fruitful” bringing glory to our Father.

“This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” John 15:8

I’ve seen de light…

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Here is a rough guide for breaking into the Old Testament in your Bible. Let’s begin at the place of beginnings…Genesis. Why not make Genesis 3:16 a prayer for this year?

“Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

DelightEve is the first bride taken from the side of the first Adam. A greater Bride, the Bride of Christ was created from the blood and water that poured from Christ’s side on the cross. May your desire for Christ grow this year and may his Kingdom come more fully in your heart.

Now we move onto the Psalm for the day….Oh what a surprise, Psalm 1. Speak to me Lord from Psalm 1

“His delight is in the law of the Lord…Whatever he does prospers…”

Do you want a truly prosperous life? Delight is the key to prosperity!

Learn to savour the Lord’s presence. Enjoy Christ. Delight in Him!

“Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”  Ps 37:4

“They feast on the abundance of your house, you give them to drink from your river of delights.” Ps 36:8

Whenever a relation begins to break down we lose our “delight” in the other. Religion and duty can take the place of the passion and delight in our walk with the Lord.

When was the last time you took real delight in reading the Bible? Or praying? Or in meeting other people?prayer duty or delight

The devil hates delight!

He longs to steal our happiness in the Lord. Being renewed in innocence and purity will bring us back to a fresh delight in the Lord. Delighting in the Lord is also the way to satisfaction and success in 2013.

Delight will encourage us to spend more time praying.

Prayer has been one of the foundational values of Christianity. I sometimes wonder what has ever been achieved by so many hours spent “praying for nations”. I can well remember whole 40 day periods of continuous prayer and fasting during our early days of our ministry. Does being shut in with the Lord really achieve anything? Why not just get on with the evangelism so essential for effective church planting?

I was recently reading about some of the great praying personalities of French history and a phrase spoke strongly to me. It said that such praying people were exercising,

“une secrète fécondité apostolique – a secret apostolic fecundity.”

Vision 50Without this “secret fruitfulness” a life, a church or a mission loses its ability to sparkle and bless a world. As we step into responsibility for a small church (15 members) – a lone evangelical witness nestled in an area where 300,000 people live in small towns and villages, pray that we will know something of this missionary fruitfulness. Add your secret prayer as we are believing for 50 new people to be added to the church family this year…

I wish you and yours every success and fruitfulness in your own projects.

May you see the light in delight…..It will bring its own reward.

 “I delight to do your will, O my God; Your law is within my heart.” Psalm 40:8

 

“Then will I go to the altar of God, to God my joy and my delight…” Psalm 43:4

Easter every day…

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“I wish it could be Christmas Easter everyday…”

Kids – up to the age of 99, it seems! – enjoy an Easter egg hunt. Even if it only lasts a few minutes, the competitive excitement of Chocolate easter egg finding colourfully wrapped chocolate goodies that someone has thoughtfully hidden round the house or in the garden (or even in the snow drifts this year…) appeals to us all. Especially if we get more eggs than anyone else.

It’s all good fun, and we will no doubt enjoy the glut of chocolate for the next week. But that was Easter Sunday; you won’t find anyone out in their gardens looking for hidden chocolates now. (Well, you might in our garden as one chocolate bunny refused to be found and is still hiding somewhere…) We only go out looking because we know there is something there.

Easter isn’t really about chocolate eggs, we all know that too. It’s a reminder of that day in history almost 2,000 years ago when Jesus Christ came back to life –not the sort of thing that happens every day. Easter is that particular time in the Christian calendar that allows us to focus unreservedly on the real historical events that are the foundation for our faith. Jesus did live, did die outside Jerusalem executed by the Romans as a criminal and did come back to life three days later. It’s not some religious doctrine, super-spiritual theological theory or made-up fairy tale – all this really happened!

resurrection.lifeAnd it’s good to remind ourselves of this. Faith can become a very ethereal thing, a bit woolly at times, and we can forget how it all started. We can get bogged down in our own thoughts and hopes and dreams and issues… and after a while we find ourselves living a faith that is more to do with what we think or what we are capable of than anything else.

But it isn’t. Christian faith is not a self-help programme under a thin veneer of religiosity. Far from it! Christian faith is the unashamed recognition of our own human inadequacy, and the celebration of God’s solution for us in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

There may be many a day when you think “I’m just not up to scratch”, “A bit more prayer, a bit more Bible reading, and I reckon I’ll be doing OK”, or even “I can’t do this by myself”. Of course you’re not up to scratch, of course you’re not there yet, of course you can’t do it by yourself – you’re not supposed to! That would be a poor imitation of Christian faith, a model for living that tries to make us experience the fruit of Christian life, but without Christ.

On the cross, Jesus carried all of our frailty, our accidental failings, our deliberate sin – everything that in any way is not what we should be. His death takes it all and when God looks on us now, he sees us without any of this. If you are forgiven in Christ, you need never again worry about what God thinks of you, for you are perfect in his sight. Amazing. Totally amazing.forgiven_0810

But there is more. Jesus’ resurrection is the demonstration of God’s power over that junk. Jesus took the lot, but it had no hold on him. When Jesus came back to life, he left it all behind. Instead, he offers us the opportunity to share in the power of his resurrection, to experience that same inner well of life that brought him back from the dead.

Easter is the time when we remember that event and celebrate the power of God over sin, Satan and death. All this really happened, but please don’t treat it as only history. It is God’s power for you, today. It really can be Easter every day.

Guest post from Neil Rees       

http://eatingwithsinners.wordpress.com/about/

neil_rees4Neil lived in Spain from 1985 till 2012, church planting, leading teams and then in his role as International Director for World Horizons. He moved back to the UK in September 2012 to take on the position of minister at CLM church, Ormskirk.
Picture Credit “Forgiven” Wordtrace© John Jumbi

Good to go…

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How do you handle space? Empty Spaces

Absence always poses a challenge to us, and mostly we try to avoid it or fill it up with any rubbish to hand. The promise of twelve more “spaces” every New Year rings out over the world…Resolutions are made, and agendas filled…but do we really know how to deal correctly with such opportunity?

Jesus final words to his disciples in John 16 are all about preparing his people to accept absence and space in the right way.

“But I tell you the truth: it is for your good that I am going away.” v.7

Parting is indeed, “such sweet sorrow”. But where is the sweetness in absence? What do I fill the gaps with?

“Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”v.7

Like the disciples, we must learn the art of waiting on the Counselor, our friend of truth, the Holy Spirit. When He comes, He will fill up 2 major spaces – one in me and the other in the environment around and before me. He brings both personal illumination and general conviction.

Presence of Holy SpiritJesus explained the external work by talking about how the Holy Spirit of truth would work as an ally to our endeavours, convicting the world of “sin”, “righteousness” and “judgement.” We never have to fill all the “ministry space” ourselves. We simply need to recognise the opportunities He has prepared. Do you indeed have faith that He has gone ahead into your own very situation and environment? Do you expect Him to work and are you waiting on the spaces to seize the amazing opportunity?

Theologians have rightly debated and studied the conviction statements and come to a vast array of insightful conclusions. However, the key is not just in the correctness of interpretation but in the revelation of the fact that we have a Holy Counselor who goes ahead of us into the world to prepare the scenario for our lives, and in the practical experience of this. We also need to vastly expand the horizon of “sin”, righteousness” and “judgement” to see far more involved than just religious doctrine. He goes ahead, in true “misseo dei”, to prepare a way, build the scenery and guarantee answer. His vibrant life is pulsating through history, infusing the future and preparing the answer to our divine dreams, both in the humble stables and glittering palaces of this world. Holiness wins!

He is also filling my inner space…there are at least three consequences of such filling.

1.      “…he will guide you into all truth.”v.13

Without question this includes revealed knowledge from the Scriptures, but “all” seems to promise a journey into the fullest realm of veracity. Honest relationships, encountering the Creator in the truth and beauty of His works, discerning the creative cries of truth in art, literature and the world’s cultures.

Jesus, the way, the life and the truth, is waiting to be discovered.

2.      “I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” v.23

The very best thing we can do with space is to fill it with prayer. Space is the womb of prayer.praying_man

Prayer is the gift of the Counselor to us. His indwelling presence expresses Himself in the glorious groaning that words cannot always encompass. Prayer is unlimited influence with God. It is the confidence of provision, a key to heaven which unlocks the door to a smiling Father ever willing to give good gifts to His children.

A group of people engaging the possibilities of their corporate space together in prayer may be another way of seeing the beauty of the Bride as she makes herself ready.

And last but not least…

3.      “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name.”

God is longing to enlarge the space of our inner tent. He wants to give us “heart enlargement” so that we can indeed capture a large enough vision of what He is willing and able to do in the world.

His law of faithful provision already covers most of our “tiny” prayers, and He is almost daring us to come up with a prayer that is worthy of an all-powerful, all loving God. Can we expand our vision and expectancy to encompass the generous immensity of our King? Or will we, like Israel in Isaiah 49:6, frustrate Him with our “too small things.”?

“Ask of me!” pleads God, “And I will give you nations!” (Psalm 2:8)

In my early innocent days of mission, our young team would be encouraged to pray “Wild prayers!” Big, crazy, God sized prayers, beyond all we could hope or imagine. (Ephesians 3:20) Years have cast the insipid shadow of reason over that chaste simplicity, but I am longing that as I start a new season in 2013 the Counselor will woo me back to a walk on the wild side. I think I should be asking for 50 people to be added to our new little church endeavour in our first year – will you join me in this “crazy” prayer?

Wildness brings joy!

“Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” v.24

“We are straightened in our own hearts, not in God.” A.B. Bruce

So expect an illumination of truth, prevailing prayer and enlarged vision for all your spaces…and your joy will be complete.

D.O.E.R

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“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what  it says.” James 1:22

 James instructs us to be more than passive listeners. He wants action. He wants doers! There is a time when the talking has to stop and the concrete action begins.

How can we become successful doers of the word? Here’s, I hope, an inspired acrostic.

Dreams

We must work from our dreams and not simply from duty. “Tell me your dreams” said Joseph in Genesis 40:8. It seems that the Holy Spirit may be asking us the same question. So many times we are overwhelmed by our problems which grow into mountains that fill our vision and suck away our strength. We need to make these mountains of problems shrink to dots and see our dreams and visions taking their place on our inner horizons. Click the following for more on dreams.

Origins

Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” Acts 5:38

We must spend quality time in discerning the origins of our actions. Anything manufactured out of man’s money or ingenuity will ultimately fail. The wreckage of so many wasted efforts, frustrations and “burnouts” fills the history of church and missions. If we do not take the time to pray and seek out God’s word and ways we will pay a greater price later trying to shore up man initiated work against the eventual tide of God’s judgment. So many aggressive appeals for finance are based on this “failure” to truly discern God’s work.

When we get our origins right we are on to a winner! Work from God is unstoppable. This gives us hope to launch out into some of the most dangerous and inhospitable places on the earth. God himself will defend and fight for his purposes. The apostle John in 3:6 puts this principle into other terms.

 “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.”

 Ekballo

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out (ekballo) workers into his harvest field.” Luke 10:1-2

Jesus was so overwhelmed by the spectacle of the harassed and helpless crowds milling about lost, without leadership that he urgently summoned the use of the gift of prayer to see workers “thrust out” into the harvest fields. The word Jesus used here, “ekballo”, is very strong. It is the same word that is used to “cast out” demons or “chase out” the thieves from the temple. Jesus is not being a nice English gentleman here and politely hinting “Would you mind being sent?” Welling up from of his desperate compassion he is saying, “Get out of your comfort zone!”

So many folks have lost their passion for souls because they have got stuck in a rut of comfort and habit.  Even ministers and missionaries can get caught in the habits of going through the motions of Christian work without really engaging with the crisis of the crowds. If this is the case we need to stir ourselves up again and take on the uncomfortable challenge of connecting with the crowds again. Dare we allow ourselves to be kicked out of our complacency and mind sets to be re-engaged with the uncomfortable reality of the world? True “doers” need the kick of “ekballo”.

Peter needed an “ekballo” vision of a reptile filled table-cloth to take him out of his cultural prejudice and be thrust out into the home of Cornelius. Ananias needed an “exballo” from the Lord to take him through his fear barrier and lay hands on his so-called “enemy” Saul of Tarsus. In Acts 8:1 the whole church needed the “ekballo” of persecution in order to fulfill the command to be thrust out to the nations.

What kind of “ekballo” will it take for us?

Refreshment and restoration

Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you–even Jesus. He must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.” Acts 3: 19-21

If you are going to be a long-term “doer” you will need times of refreshing and restoration. Keep yourself God centered through the gift of repentance. Don’t be like Samson who didn’t even realize that his strength was gone until it was too late. Keep turning to God in prayer and worship. A long distance runner often needs a “second wind” in his race. The rare Greek word used here for refreshment Anapsuxis, means recovery of breath (second wind), cooling, or reviving with fresh air.

Doing will also involve losing sometimes. Our actions and lives will often encounter a cross on the highway. Sometimes the thief does indeed come to kill, destroy and to steal. In such times we need to remember that our “doing” is only a pale reflection of God’s ultimate working to put the world back in place after its dislocation from the effects of sin and rebellion.

In our action we can look ahead to God’s final victory when, through Jesus, He will restore everything. In another rare Greek word, Apokatastasis, which denotes complete restoration of health (the restoring to its place of a dislocated joint), God is encouraging us to believe and work for the healing of the world.

We are certain that this will be fully achieved at Christ’s return, but as it says in Hebrews 6:5, we can already taste the “powers of the coming age” breaking into our world as we believe for restoration and healing in our own personal and national situations.

May you be truly refreshed and restored as you read these lines so as to be able to persevere in your doing of good works for the Lord and His Kingdom.

So, enough talking, enough meetings, enough conferences…

Just do it!

 

 

Re think

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“Christendom has done away with Christianity without being quite aware of it”                 Soren Kierkegaard

Ever since the cross was painted on a shield – held about one yard from the heart, Christendom, in its Constantinian political power, began to lose its true identity modelled on the humble servant/king Jesus.

Money and power have never been far away from the cloistered chambers of prayer, and even today, when we survey the blighted history of the Church we come to the sad conclusion that we didn’t do a particularly brilliant job.  While many are hunting down the “speck” of homosexual marriage it seems that we might do well to take the great plank out of our own eyes first. Weeping is a good way to dissolve planks!

Of course, God is the master of history and, as the famous parable says, has allowed the good seed to grow with the weeds. There have always been the bright periods when pioneers, often perceived and persecuted as heretics, and missionaries opened their hearts and the Word of God to the world.

The fastest growing church in the world today is those who are leaving it!

I celebrate my thirty years as a missionary this month. I remember back to those inspiring moments when God called me to follow Him in “triumphal procession” amongst the nations and to share something of the perfume of Christ. It has to rate as life’s greatest privilege. However, I am still mindful of the pain that the word “mission” can conjure up for many. Let’s hear what Mark Twain had to say:

I bring you the stately matron named Christendom, returning bedraggled, besmirched, and dishonoured, from pirate raids in Kiaochow, Manchuria, South Africa, and the Philippines, with her soul full of meanness, her pocket full of boodle, and her mouth full of pious hypocrisies. Give her soap and towel, but hide the looking glass.” A Salutation from the 19th to the 20th Century,” December 31, 1900

In the wake of an often chequered colonial past, Western mission needs to heed the new voices. Lesslie Newbigin has long been such a prophet:

“We are forced to do something that the Western churches have never had to do since the days of their own birth – to discover the form and substance of a missionary church in terms that are valid in a world that has rejected the power and influence of the Western nations.  Missions will no longer work along the stream of expanding Western power.  They have to learn to go against the stream.”  The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission

So, mission needs to learn about going against prevailing currents.

We are going deeper and deeper into crisis it seems.

Listen to what Roman Catholic theologian José Camblin has to say:

“There has never, since the origins of Christianity, been such a radical change in the world as the one that is now taking place. For the church, this transformation is more radical than the transition from Israel to the Gentiles, more important than the establishment of the institutional church under Constantine or the Protestant Reformation: the present transformation forces it to a more radical reappraisal of itself and challenges many more aspects of it than have been challenged hitherto.” The Holy Spirit and Liberation

How will we face up to the challenge? We could avoid the difficult questions by retreating into self centred hedonistic spirituality and simply, like the good old British films of the past, “Carry on Singing”. Another approach might be to batten up the hatches, get into defensive mode, and preserve the dwindling flock with endless Bible study.

It is time to think…and hopefully do differently.

Building on the radical voice of Michael Frost’s teaching, let me offer three ways of renewing our intelligence at this time.

1.      It is time to think about God differently

For many, God is “up there”, hidden away in distant omnipotence. He seems to be a static God, carved into the rocks and doctrines of time, erecting static churches which need their roofs repairing.

There is nothing static about God! He is ever on the move breathing his creative life over chaotic waters and into human clay. He sent out the Lamb that was in His heart, sent passion and purpose into the world at Pentecost and sends us, his wounded, vulnerable church, into the dung and dough of this world.

“Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”   John 20:21-22

The very nature of God is to send and be creatively involved and committed. The key attribute of God is mission.

Theologians put it another way and in 1934, Karl Hartenstein, a German missiologist, coined the phrase “Missio Dei” (Latin for Mission of God) in response to Karl Barth and his emphasis on “Actio Dei” (Latin for “the action of God”).

According to David J. Bosch, “mission is not primarily an activity of the church, but an attribute of God. God is a missionary God.” Jurgen Moltmann says, “It is not the church that has a mission of salvation to fulfill in the world; it is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the church.”

Mission was understood as being derived from the very nature of God. It was thus put in the context of the doctrine of the Trinity, not of ecclesiology or soteriology. The classical doctrine on the Missio Dei as God the Father sending the Son, and God the Father and the Son sending the Spirit was expanded to include yet another “movement”: The Father, Son and the Holy Spirit sending the church into the world.

We need to encounter the Missio Dei in a fresh wave of intimacy.

Jesus said that he could do nothing without the Father.

“I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”  John 5:19

Jesus worked by revelation rather than perspiration! No redundant, ambitious energy here. He took the time to “see”, and worked out of divine relationship with the Father. There was no forced tension or difficulty in this. Divine flowed into Divine.

Intimacy with the Father is the foundation for our collaboration with the Missio Dei.

There is a danger that the marvellous revelation of God’s Fatherhood to us may be perverted into some introspective Freudian passivity. This is so wrong! We have boxed the Father into a psychological, pastorally weighted paradigm instead of releasing Him into His transformational missional identity. Look again at the intimate words of Jesus in Chapter 5 of John and see what other word is associated with the revelation of “Father”:

“He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him.”

“…whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me.”

“I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.”

“For the very work that the Father has given me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent me.”

“And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me.”

You cannot separate the Father from his “sending”!

Jesus is totally impregnated with the notion and character of a missionary Father – the closer you get to such a Father, the more “sent” you become. The intimacy of such a Fatherly revelation is not limited to your own personal “inner healing” but it spreads like a magnificent tree for the “healing of the nations.”

So think differently and get sent!

“The primary purpose of the “missions ecclesiae” can therefore not simply be the planting of churches or the saving of souls; rather, it has to be service to the missio dei, representing God in and over against the world, pointing to God, holding up the God-child before the eyes of the world in a ceaseless celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany…In its mission the Church witnesses to the fullness of the promise of God’s reign and participates in the ongoing struggle between that reign and the powers of darkness and evil…Thus, in its missionary activity, the church encounters a humanity and a world in which God’s salvation has been operative secretly, through the Spirit.” Vatican 11 Gaudium et Spes 26

2.      It is time to think about the Church differently

The church is not a building! It is a collection of relationships propelled out into the cultural context the Holy Spirit has prepared for us.

Your context is your mission field…and ongoing church.

Many know that the Greek word the bible uses for church is “ekklesia” – “called out ones” or “gathered ones”.

Paul in Acts 17:17 “…reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace (agora) day by day with those who happened to be there.”

Both “synagogue” and “agora” also have the same notion of a gathering place. It seems that the thrust of Paul was to use any structure necessary get the word of God to as many folk as possible. He could cater for the “in crowd” Jews but also for “those who happened to be there”

I think that the Holy Spirit may be calling us to think more widely about the nature of church so that it can be available for those crowds around us who caused Jesus such compassion.

I sometimes wonder what Jesus was thinking about when he said in Matthew 16:18:

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

He links church (good) with gates (bad). Now Jesus, with his Jewish background, would have known all about gates. It was the place of authority where the wise would sit and judge for the benefit of their community. When Jesus later talks about “keys”, (are they not for gates?), he is no doubt continuing the parallel of church (good gate) versus the Satanic kingdom (bad gate).

He would have known how Moses put blood on the doorposts to protect from the destroying angel, and would have cherished the memory of Nehemiah restoring the glory of Jerusalem by repairing the gates that were burnt with fire.

Perhaps he may have been thinking of the wife of value whose husband was “respected at the city gate where he takes his seat among the elders of the land” (Proverbs 31:23) or even thinking of the wonderful blessing Rebekah’s family prayed over the future bride:

“Our sister, may you increase to thousands; may your offspring possess the gates of their enemies.” Genesis 24:60

Where is your “gate”, the place of authority that the Lord wants you to serve in with wisdom and love? It may be family, or in society – business, education or government. Where is your “agora?”

We need to review the “attractional” paradigm of church, which sees everything drawn into it, and move to a more “incarnational” one which sees us sitting as servants within our society.

Can we begin to think about church as the “called out” wise ones, given as God’s gift to our villages, towns and neighbourhoods – salt and light bringing protection and restoration within the heart of our communities?

3.      It is time to make mission the organisational principle of Church

From a study of Acts 2:42-47, most people would conclude that there are four basic functions of Church.

Worship, Fellowship, Teaching & Mission.

Over the years it seems that worship has emerged as the dominant or organisational principle of most churches. There are many ways to worship and share the sacrament, but essentially people go to a building to take communion and sing. We would usually enjoy “something from the word,” biscuit and a cup of tea followed by a kind of guilty numbness about the “lost.” Passionate evangelists, or guest speakers try to give ease to the guilt with the occasional “outreach programme” which mobilizes the more noble amongst us.

While asking you to forgive my simplistic generalisations, can I also assure you that I think very highly of all these functions and do not want to dismiss any. However, I’m making a plea for mission to become the organising principle and not just the last resort.

Once people grasped a clear missional goal together the fellowship and teaching would get done “on the job”. Instead of teaching being like theoretical school homework it would become vital information for getting the job done. Instead of forced fellowship over a polite “How are you?” we would truly become a “Band of Brothers” on a mission.

The worship would go beyond the building and the singing (although I still think we need a gathering point for robust corporate celebration) and into the living sacrifice of lives laid down in service in the midst of a community. Such validation of worship would no doubt engender a deeper reality at the communion table – wherever that was held.

I’ll share a few quotations to help underpin the paradigm of mission as the organisational principle of church.

“The Church, wherever it is, is not only Christ’s witness to its own people and nation, but also the home base for a mission to the ends of the earth.” Lesslie Newbigin, A Word in Season.

“The Church exists in being sent and in building up itself for the sake of its mission.” Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics 4/IV/1.

“I think that the deepest motive for mission is simply the desire to be with Jesus where he is, on the frontier between the reign of God and the usurped dominion of the devil.”  Lesslie Newbigin, A Word in Season.

Mission may take us to the ends of the earth and an unreached tribe in northern India, but it may also take us into the world of business, entertainment or sport. While writing this article I have been involved in developing the concept and practise of Business as Mission. Hardly a new concept…and yet coming back to the centre stage of church life.

As well as encouraging you, like Newbiggin, to have a deeper “desire to be with Jesus where he is,” let me finish with a quotation from the matured wisdom of Kenneth Scott Latourette as he traces the role of the “ordinary man and woman” in the greatest adventure life has to offer – sharing the life of Jesus with the world!

“The chief agents in the expansion of Christianity appear not to have been those who made it a profession or a major part of their occupation, but men and women who earned their livelihood in some purely secular manner and spoke of their faith to those whom they met in this natural fashion. Thus when Celsus denounces a religion which spreads through workers in wool and leather and fullers and uneducated persons who get hold of children privately and of ignorant women and teach them, Origen does not deny that this occurs. [see Contra Cels., III, 55]  In the commerce and the travel which were so marked a feature of the Roman Empire, the faith must have made many new contacts through Christian merchants and tradesmen. …  Involuntary travelers such as slaves and Christians deported for their faith were also agents.”  Kenneth Scott Latourette, The First Five Centuries.

Be you a slave, a traveler, a merchant, tradesman, missionary or pastor…There’s a world to win…and the world awaits…