Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Resource Beyond Ourselves

Introduction by: Milfred Minatrea

Curtis Ferrell continues to bless me with the insights He is gleaning through God’s activity at South Memorial Church of God in New Castle, Indiana. This church continues an extensive Missional Journey as a congregation. Here are some of Curt’s most recent insights from Scripture:

I saw something new in scripture recently that gets me excited about where we are at in our Missional journey. Remember the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand? You can find it in several locations in the gospel. (Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:32-44; Luke 9:10-17) In each of these accounts Jesus tells his disciples, "You give them something to eat."

At first this seems like a cruel joke. Jesus knew that the disciples could see the need of the crowd. He knew they had compassion in their hearts for the crowd. He knew the disciples had almost nothing in physical resources. He knew the frustration in their hearts because they knew they couldn't meet the needs that they saw all around them. Why would Jesus tweak His disciples like this?

I believe it was because Jesus saw an even greater need. The disciples thought that they were depleted of resources. The disciples were blind to the REAL source of their resources. They were blind, spiritually, and needed to have their eyes opened.

Jesus could have called quail down from the sky, or prayed for manna, or asked the ravens to feed the people. He could have had a whirlwind pick up fish from the sea and drop them in the people's laps.

Instead, Jesus took what the disciples had (which really came from a child in the crowd), multiplied it and fed thousands of people. The disciples’ eyes were opened. They no longer thought they were their own source of resources. God could take whatever they had and supply answers to the needs that they saw in the world.

Fast-forward to Acts 3:1-10. Peter and John were on their way into the temple through the Beautiful Gate. A beggar cried out to them for money. They saw the need. They didn't have money. But they did have resources; the resources of heaven. The result was better than anyone could have imagined. Instead of giving the beggar a few coins, the beggar regained the use of his legs, God was praised, and a door was opened for the gospel to be shared.

As we become aware of the needs of the community around us, we may be tempted to think the needs are too great and our resources are too small. What we need to do is move from the hillside to the Beautiful Gate. We need to acknowledge the REAL source of our resources. It's time to get Missional!

Monday, October 26, 2009

Glorify Your Father

I’ve been preaching through I Peter, looking for, among other things, the missional elements in this blunt and powerful epistle. From that perspective 2:12 looked like a gimme. How much more missional can you get than to exhort your readers to “live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us?”

With their usual genius for discovering the obvious, the commentaries all note the similarity between Peter and Jesus in the Sermon On the Mount, where our Lord commands his followers to “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). But then I found two difficulties in interpretation. 1) What is the missional point of a life of good deeds if the poor, benighted pagans don’t wake up and recognize their source before the judgment day? And, 2) What kind of good deeds will cause unbelievers to look past the doer in order to praise the Father in heaven?

Fortunately, I was able to dispose of the first difficulty rather quickly. “The reference to glorifying God suggests that the salvation of Gentiles is in view,” writes Thomas Schreiner in the New American Commentary Series (volume 37, page 124). “Typically, in the New Testament people glorify God or give him glory by believing.” In other words, those who see the Christian’s good works and believe in Jesus while still alive will bring glory to God on the judgment day.

But that still left me wondering how to serve in such a way that unbelievers recognize and praise God. After much prayer I decided to look to Jesus as my example and teacher (I can hear the chorus of “duhs” already). Here is what I found.

  • When seeking to serve in such a way that people praise God for it, those whom we serve have to believe that we are serving them only because they are loved. And for that to happen they have to believe that they are loved and accepted as they are. This is not impossible. The gospels tell us that Jesus was a “friend” of “sinners,” using a word that means hardened sinners, people devoted to sin. Yet Jesus found a way to befriend such people. He was good to them because he is good, like God, who “sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45). To be like Jesus we have to learn the indifference of true love. We have to learn to love without the slightest concern for who is being loved, or for what benefits may come back to us. Only then will the world recognize God in us. And by the way, isn’t that Jesus’ main point in the last few verses of Matthew 5?
  • In a related matter, the people we serve must become convinced that only the love of God can explain our commitment (II Cor. 5:14). They need to know, for instance, that we are not looking for their votes. Nor are we trying to get them to attend our church. We must be very clear that we are not trying to sell them anything or make a reputation for ourselves. If the slightest hint of an ulterior motive crops up they may go ahead and accept what we are offering, but they will not glorify the Father in heaven.
  • Our service must be infused with a level of joy, peace, hope and other godly character qualities that can only be explained by a vital relationship with God. No one ever served God without stirring up opposition somewhere. This was especially true for the first generation of Christians who, in the persons of Peter and John, could not even heal a lame man by the temple gate without getting themselves thrown into jail. But at their trial even the priests had to admit that Jesus had made a difference in their lives: “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).
  • Our service must be done from the heart as an act of worship. Worship and service are two sides of the same coin. We worship God as we serve him, and we serve him in worship. This matters because it balances the first point, the one that says we should be true friends with unbelievers. Without the focus on God provided by worshipping him, we risk failing to give a clear call to unbelievers to repent and believe in Jesus as Saviour and Lord. We can easily fall into the trap of serving sinners in such a way as to enable them to maintain their life of sin and rebellion.
  • Our service must have an element of sacrifice about it. (See the second point above.) But let me offer a warning. Here is where Jesus’ admonitions to give in secret and pray in secret (Matt. 6:1-6) become relevant. The moment someone realizes we’re making a great sacrifice we risk losing the ability to point them to God. It’s possible they will remain impressed by what we’re doing for them, but our ultimate purpose may be lost.

I have become convinced that a missional approach is necessary if we are serious about building Christ’s Kingdom in North America. We must commit our very existence to the proposition that all intellectual arguments for faith notwithstanding, people will not believe unless they perceive the presence of God in the work we are doing. Even Jesus was driven to this extremity as he defended his divinity before his own disciples: “Just believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or at least believe because of the work you have seen me do” (John 14:11, NLT).

This must become the goal of our lives; that people would come to believe in Jesus because of the work they see us do. No other form of evangelism will succeed with any degree of consistency.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Paul Baloche: Singing Our Theology

Churches that are on mission with God function out of deep intimacy with Him, otherwise their expressions beyond themselves become exhausting works that drain strength and create spiritual fatigue. Operating in the flesh to accomplish spiritual ends is a recipe for burn-out. One thing that restores our soul is authentic worship.

Paul Baloche speaks of leaning into God in worship. He writes worship music out of deep reflection in the Word of God and time spent with his antennae up for the Spirit’s prompting. For his new album Glorious released by Integrity Music, Baloche did a video testimonial that moved me when I viewed it. I encourage you to listen as this colleague in ministry discusses worship.

Singing in worship is not about producing emotional highs. I have been amazed at the numbers of people who equate the pursuit of a missional posture with a particular type of worship music.

Nothing could be further from the truth. I have experienced missional churches who sing praise and worship songs, others whose worship is characterized by southern Gospel, some experience only classical hymns and these are only an initial introduction to the forms of worship music in missional churches. The big issue is not the form, but the function. Through our music we sing our theology.

Worship music done well, whatever the “brand,” should celebrate the attributes of our great God, provide a platform through which we honor His virtues, and allow a mutual concert of voices bringing sacrifices of praise. In worship we sing our eternal Story, Psalms from the Old Covenant together with praise that generations prior to Christ could never have sung. We experience the mystery of Christ in us. That is part of our theology. God is not only with us, He is in us.

As you worship today personally, this weekend corporately, I hope that you can lose yourself in His presence. Join with brothers and sisters in whom He is also living; praise, express His greatness, sing His worth, surrender again to His reign in your life. Then live His mission, not out of obligation, but adoration. And by the way, should there be those among you in worship who do not yet know Him, be aware that their observation of your worship is a vivid validation of who He is.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Go and Be

Often it is children and youth who lead the way, forging pathways toward a missional culture. Perhaps B.J. Thomas had it right when he sang, “God bless the children everywhere, for they haven’t yet learned not to care.” Caring for the needs of others is a reflection of the heart of God. Allowing His heart to guide actions is basic to authentic Christianity.

I am encouraged when I hear stories of children and youth being pacesetters in pursuit of God’s mission. I thank God for the Christ following adults who are encouraging those children and youth. As an example of how children and youth are showing compassion, consider what is happening at South Memorial Drive Church of God. The congregation’s children recently spent a day putting together gift baskets and delivering them to shut-in and elderly persons in their community. Their ministry has taken the name Servanthood Unwrapped. I love it! I am pretty sure those receiving baskets loved having children in their homes for a brief visit. I am also sure that the actions of these children brought joy to God’s heart.

Not to be left out, the church’s youth commissioned themselves as the Blue Crew. Once a month they are impacting the community in tangible ways; visiting nursing homes, raking leaves, removing trash, etc. Once again, the focus is on meeting needs of others in the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

Another phrase of Thomas’ song captures my imagination every time I hear it. “We must not let time age the soul, may the child stay in us all.” I believe children can be carriers of caring, preventing the soul-aging of adults in their world. Interestingly enough, in the same town where these children and youth are seeking to live out the mission of God in concrete ways, the Four-Square Church recently closed their morning worship service so that their congregation could complete community projects on Sunday morning. “You mean they didn’t have church?” someone might ask. No, these churches are learning a valuable lesson. It is more important to “BE church” than to “HAVE church.” Think about it…Go and Be!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Pumpkin Patch Ministry of Putnam City Baptist Church in Oklahoma City

Last October I spent some time with my friend Jerry McKinney, pastor of Putnam City Baptist Church in Oklahoma City. While many congregations offer some type of Halloween alternative, Putnam City found a way to connect with families in a manner that is less chaotic than the typical one-evening event. People from around the community are coming to Putnam City Baptist Church facilities everyday of the week in the month of October.

They are finding a few minutes of unhurried joy with their children in a place endemic to the fall season, the Pumpkin Patch. Creatively constructed, staffed by church volunteers, with interactive experiences for families and children, Putnam City is inviting the community right up to the front door. And they are coming!

As Jerry tells the story of Pumpkin Patch, now an annual experience at Putnam City, he talks of this community initiative as an entry point where conversations begin. Members speak of families who bring their children, play games, crawl over, in, and around pumpkins, color a pumpkin picture, all the while smiling and laughing in an environment where they feel comfortable and welcomed. The story is worth your consideration. While you may not start your own pumpkin patch, you can find creative ways to bless people who live near you. You can let conversations begin.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Church Prays – God Saves

Missionaries can identify their mission fields. In Christ, every believer is one sent; a missionary for Christ. Members of missional churches routinely define their primary mission fields. They become aware of people in their sphere of influence who have not yet come to know Christ. Then, they pray. They pray for God to reveal Himself to their friends, tearing down strongholds that keep them from seeing the truth of the Gospel. They adopt the passion of Paul saying, “My hearts desire and my prayer to God for my people is that they might be saved.”

The previous paragraph is not theoretical. It is being lived out by youth and adults at Calvary Baptist Church of Oak Cliff in Dallas. Pastor Jerry Barker told me that initially the church’s youth began sharing the names of friends who had no relationship with Jesus. Adults soon began to follow the leadership of their youth.

The church prepared simple cards on which members could record the names of their pre-Christian friends. Completed cards are placed on a prayer wall in a private area where members and staff can pray for those persons by name. Prayer works. Nine months ago the church began praying by name for friends, relatives, teachers, and neighbors. Since then, thirty-three people have been baptized as new followers of Christ. A large majority of those have been older teens and adults. God gets all the glory!

Prayer is a simple concept. Prayer changes the one praying. God hears and answers prayer. You have pre-Christian friends, loved ones, neighbors as well. Will you own your mission field in prayer? My hearts desire and prayer to God for ______ is that they might be saved. Fill in the blank and prayer.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

LN Author’s Forum

Today, I joined more than a dozen other Leadership Network (LN) authors, LN staff, and publishing representatives from Jossey-Bass and Zondervan for an extended dialogue. Greg Ligon of Leadership Network hosted the web-based forum. Each author opened personal shutters to reveal a little about what is going on in their world, their current writing project(s), and “what keeps them awake at night.” Get creative people together and ideas overflow the banks rather quickly. Just a brief window into their worlds of thought and passion was dynamic.

Our publishing cohorts prompted us to consider contemporary changes in the ways people choose to learn. Preferences in how we elect to receive information are already and will increasingly influence “books” and the broader publishing industry. If not already, you will soon be able to read a digital book with embedded video segments and other media formats to augment learning. Where authors previously described an image with words, soon he or she will simply include the image “in the text.”

The whole process of writing changes when the forms of media begin to overlap. What an intriguing era to be a professional wordsmith.

I would be interested to know how many of you prefer a Kindle or other digital “book” format rather than ink on paper. If both formats are available, which do you buy today? On what are your preferences based?

In this season of change, I am reminded that when the Word became flesh, various forms of communication comingled. He pioneered pathways of excellence in communication.