Missional


As you read these words, my family and I will be in the big middle of our life-changing trip to Vietnam. By this time, barring any hiccups along the way, we will have taken custody of our Esther Noelle, and be finalizing all the details to bring her to her new home, AMERICA!

For many who are reading this Vietnam is a blip on the history channel, a bad memory of a rough time, or the source of some pretty amazing Asian cuisine. I would like to share with you some spiritual points that you can use to make this small corner of the world a part of your daily prayer cycle:

The country is increasingly opening up as economic progress continues. Most of the population was born after the Vietnam War and are more interested in capital gain and the outside world than Communist propaganda. They are proving responsive to the gospel – for reasons good and bad. At the same time, newfound prosperity has opened the door to rampant materialism and other competing ideologies. Pray that the Truth might be clearly and effectively proclaimed, particularly among the growing masses of young professionals.

All open Protestant missionary work ceased in 1975. CMA had laboured for 64 years (for 50 years as the only Protestant mission). Other agencies arrived in the 1950s, notably WEC, IMB, and UWM. In 1974 there were 280 missionaries in South Vietnam from about 20 organizations. Those years of sowing are today reaping an abundant harvest. Current economic development gives opportunity for Christians in business as well as for English teachers. Christian NGOs who propose legitimate aid projects are increasingly invited to work here. Literally hundreds of organizations from both Asia and the West now claim some kind of work in Vietnam. Many of these organizations work in deliberate partnership together. Pray that Vietnam may become fully open to Christian workers, and that many committed and prepared workers may respond. (from Operation World)

At the Name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”  — Philippians 2:10

Advertisements

Usually, teachers ask students to write a “What I Did Last Summer” essay at the beginning of the new school year. Well, here we are at the end of another school year and we have the whole summer laying before us. Let’s start our essay for next fall: “What will I do this summer?”

Here are some suggestions that might be helpful:

  • I will attend church regularly, just like I do the rest of the year.
  • When I take my family vacation, I will find time to worship God, especially if we’re gone over a weekend.
  • I will participate in some kind of mission activity (like Mission Spectacular in Chicago or St. Louis on June 3).
  • I will help with Vacation Bible School.
  • I will bring a friend to church with me.
  • I will get plenty of rest because I know that it is healthy.
  • I will get plenty of exercise because my body needs it.
  • I will find ways to be Christ-like to my friends, family, and neighbors.
  • I will attend (or sponsor) a summer camp for children.
  • I will actively look for a mission trip to grow in my faith.
  • I will start working in one of the on-going ministry efforts of my local church.

Fill your summer with wonderful things to do now and tell about later. Make this the best “What I Did Last Summer” essay you’ve ever written.

“I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.”  —Psalm 86:12

Several years ago a group of young(ish) Southern Baptist pastors/leaders got together to use the new(ish) technology of the blogosphere to voice concerns about the SBC. Certainly they were able to raise the bar on how Christ followers think about affecting our world. That project took some twists and turns that made it become, well, “ish”.

So they moved on, stepping back from the political fray that is the SBC but keeping a presence in the blogosphere. Some of these guys I know personally, and others have become my friends through the electronic medium. All of them have forced me to think about my faith and the practice of it. And now it’s time for their collective missional voice to try to challenge our thinking once again.

I for one will be trying to keep up, and you can too by clicking over to MissioScapes.com. I will not guarantee that you will always agree with what is proposed there. I will not guarantee that you will even want to read what they have to say. I will promise you that you will be forced to think about what you believe. And maybe you’ll be challenged to grow.

©2008 NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO

Theology. Here’s a word that scares most Americans, even those who are generally a part of an established church. After all, we believe that only the clergy and the deep thinkers are truly theologians. But break the word down to its bits and what do you have? The study of God. Who is it that studies God? Simplistically, I would answer everyone. Even those who make it a point to point out that they believe that there is no God have spent time studying to decide that they do not believe in God.

Those of us who have been to institutes of higher learning with the express purpose of studying God have become theological snobs of a sort with the end goal of convincing others that our ideas about God are the right ideas about God, and theirs are not unless they agree with ours. Ed Cyzewski has taken a few pages to try to break through these barriers—both the fear of addressing theology, and the prejudicial version that most people like me practice—and find the relevance of theology in the everyday life of a postmodern world.

Before dismissing the book altogether because Cyzewski gives a level of legitimacy to postmodernism (which would turn hundreds of conservative evangelicals off before breaking open the book at all), set aside your semantic prejudices and take a moment to do what the author suggests: reflect on God.

Cyzewski addresses how postmodern thinkers think about God because, he argues, we are living in a postmodern world. We have moved beyond the modern age which taught us to try to find the definitive answer to all questions by using logic and the scientific method and into the postmodern era (dated at 1970 and beyond) which suggests that you must attack any question from a variety of angles. The ultimate in postmodern thought leads us to the sad conclusion that there is no real truth. The Christian response keeps the ultimate truth of Salvation through Christ in focus while remembering that we as humans cannot assuredly claim to understand all that there is to know about Christ.

In addressing the tricky task of theology, the author suggests that we all approach our own theology within the context where we live—so Americans see God through the eyes of the American culture, Latin Americans see Him through the eyes of their culture, and so on. In order to accomplish our task of knowing God better and making Him known to the world in which we live, we must first understand our own culture. Then we can at least begin to see the strong points and shortfallings brought to the table in our culture.

According to Cyzewski we must consult three theological perspectives in order to arrive at the answers to theological questions that crop up in everyday life. The place to begin as we reflect on God is the Scripture. This is the foundation and the best witness to who God is and how He works in the world. Any other sources that we use to build our theology should be measured by Scripture. Again we should remember that we read the Bible through glasses that are tinted by our culture and should strive to overcome the limitations that our personal preferences build in to the conversation that we have with the Bible as we read.

The other “experts” that we should include as we approach theology are church tradition and the global community of Christians. Church tradition can guide us by keeping us on a stable path, as long as the tradition is not a contradiction to the Bible itself. Consulting with Christian thinkers from other parts of the world from our own will open our eyes to perspectives that we cannot see through our cultural biases.

Coffeehouse Theology at times gets a little heavy as you read, especially in the passages dealing with history and philosophy that brought us to the postmodern age in which we live. Even so, it is a readable volume that basically suggests that in order to be the best theologian (reflector on God) we can be we should expand our horizons and let our theology grow. I would have to agree with that assessment and give this book four out of five reading glasses. Pick up a copy today and discuss it over a cup at your local coffeehouse.

—Benjamin Potter, February 19, 2009

One of the greatest obstacles to overcome when addressing the American culture is the approach that the evangelical church has to amassing her converts. We think that everyone wants the same thing that we want. But perhaps they don’t. Mark Twain picked up on this discrepancy between what the witness wants and what the target wants and recorded it in his boys’ novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Miss Watson would say, “Don’t put your feet up there, Huckleberry;” and “Don’t scrunch up like that, Huckleberry -­ set up straight;” and pretty soon she would say, “Don’t gap and stretch like that, Huckleberry -­ why don’t you try to behave?” Then she told me all about the bad place, and I said I wished I was there. She got mad then, but I didn’t mean no harm. All I wanted was to go somewheres; all I wanted was a change, I warn’t particular. She said it was wicked to say what I said; said she wouldn’t say it for the whole world; she was going to live so as to go to the good place. Well, I couldn’t see no advantage in going where she was going, so I made up my mind I wouldn’t try for it. But I never said so, because it would only make trouble, and wouldn’t do no good.

Now she had got a start, and she went on and told me all about the good place. She said all a body would have to do there was to go around all day long with a harp and sing, forever and ever. So I didn’t think much of it. But I never said so. I asked her if she reckoned Tom Sawyer would go there, and she said not by a considerable sight. I was glad about that, because I wanted him and me to be together.

It seems that Huck didn’t have a full understanding of the concepts of Heaven and Hell, but neither did Miss Watson have a cultural understanding of her pupil. Sadly, we seem to miss the point of culture still today. Just to assume that someone wants to go to Heaven when they die is a misconception. Some people are positive that there is no Heaven and there is no Hell.

If my premise is that salvation is all about getting to Heaven, then my premise is flawed as well. Look at much of the music popular in the church today—you know, that Southern Gospel variety. Here we find songs like “Carried Away” which says, “I’m gonna let the glory roll when the roll is called in Glory,” and “Heavenbound” to name a couple. We probe our friends’ readiness to accept the message of Jesus by asking, “If you were to die tonight and stand before God in heaven, and He asked you, ‘why should I let you into my heaven?’ what do you think you would say?” Our entire focus is on heaven.

I recall a youth minister who was fond of saying (because we as Baptists immerse baptism candidates), “If heaven is all there is to salvation, then the preacher should hold you under when he baptizes you.” The point he wanted to make: there must be more than just an end game involved here.

When I think about all of these things, I come to the conclusion that not only is heaven (or a trip there) not the basic point of salvation but neither should we make it so. Heaven, as wonderful as it is or will be, when seen as the point of salvation is the selfish side of salvation, if any side at all. It becomes the carrot with which we tantalize those who are not of us.

The point of salvation, as I understand it is to draw me into a relationship with the Creator, and so that I can give Him all of who I am—including the glory for who He is. In determining that, I should begin to build relationships with people where they are so that I can glorify God in their presence. In so doing, perhaps they will become a part of Christ’s kingdom for the express purpose of building a relationship with the Creator and giving themselves to Him in the process.

That said, I must then begin to develop relationships outside the church that invite rather than alienate. To do that, I must know the culture outside my own church culture and live my life accordingly.

As a new missionary with the International Mission Board, I spent several weeks training at the center they have for that purpose outside of Richmond, VA. The curriculum and living experience is to provide a bridging step from everyday, normal existence in the life that the new missionary knows and prepare them for what is ahead. Much of what is taught in the coursework portion of the orientation deals with a crazy animal called Culture Shock—that demon that rears its ugly head when a person moves from a familiar surrounding to an entirely different cultural atmosphere. The concern is that those preparing for service in an unusual culture will be crippled by the overwhelming nature of immersion into a new culture. Even with all the emphasis, some still despair and return to life at ease in their home country, home state, home county, home town, home.

With all the emphasis on living in a new culture, one discovers that language is integrally related to a person’s culture. We say what we say because of what it means to say what we say. We use the words we use to mean a specific thing. When crossing cultures, one must discover the right way to say what they are intending to say. Otherwise we find that we are not saying anything near what we thought we were saying. Here are several examples I encountered while serving in a Russian-speaking setting:

1. The story is told of the American preacher on a two-week trip preaching in several places. At one church he and his translator were going well until the American used a Baseball illustration. After a moment or two, the preacher realized that his translator had stopped translating and was starring at his guest. When the preacher looked inquisitively at his translator, the young man said, “Besbol, what is this besbol? We do not know this.”

2. Some of my friends commissioned to the Russian-speaking world warn new missionaries and possible volunteers to avoid talk about their passion for Jesus. The reason is that unless they have a very experienced translator working with them (and sometimes even when they do) their helper will translate that they have a “strong sexual desire” for Jesus. That’s what the only Russian word for passion means.

3. When translators first started working on getting the scripture translated into a certain dialect of one particular Turkish people group who live in the former Soviet Union, the workers began doing a word for word translation. Without properly testing the translation with native speakers, they went to press with a scripture portion complete with pictures. Searching for pictures revealed some beautiful artwork that could be used and depicted the Christ in their gospel portions. When the portion was printed and distributed, the target people would have nothing to do with it. First of all, because the language was not smooth or communicative to the people. But even more, the pictures used were Russian Orthodox icons and represented the “God of our oppressors.” Learning from these mistakes, new teams began working and rather than rushing to print, took sometimes up to two years to field test the language learning the best way to say what they were trying to say so that the message would be clear without cross-cultural baggage. Better yet, an artist from within the people group was commissioned to illustrate the stories, and many of the people not only read the first collection of scripture stories, but accepted the Christ about whom they were written.

My point with these examples is that we need to be aware of the culture in which we are sharing our faith. That is true whether we are crossing the street to a new culture, crossing the tracks to a new culture, crossing the country to a new culture, or crossing the globe to a new culture.

Today’s suggestion: learn two or three (or even four or five) different ways to say what you are trying to say when you are speaking of spiritual matters. Take the time to know your friend, and speak their language. This does not water down the gospel, but it makes it effective on all the levels it is meant to be effective. After all, the message of Christ is one that is for any and all who will hear—not just those who speak my language.

(more to come)

Recently I found in my mailbox a copy of Planting Churches in the Real World by Joel Rainey. I already have a copy, and have reviewed it here. Head on over and checkout the review, then post a comment in the comment section on this post answering the following question —

I once taught English at the high school from which a famous drummer graduated. Name the drummer and his band. (They soared in the 70s.)

The first one to answer correctly will win a copy of the book.

Church Planting in the Real World is an excellent resource for pastors and church planters, by the way.

Next Page »