Ministry and Life Dilemmas

The Christian faith in India is quite complex and there are many “saints” who we will never know.  One man named Talwarji is an example of such a man.

He was a staunch Hindu and through a miraculous encounter with a man on the street who gave him a bible he became a follower of Jesus.  He entered into the local church and was baptized and zealous for his new faith.

As with many churches the lack of depth of spirituality and obedience of man, was revealed.  Younger leaders criticized the senior leader and gossiped behind his back.  Their criticism was never discussed openly with the main leader. 

This non-biblical approach to resolving problems bothered Talwarji, and he refused to enter into this practice.  Instead he went to the leader to share his thoughts.  The leader received this as Talwarji being a trouble maker who concocted false stories about him.  Talwarji was seen as a singular trouble maker in the leadership of the church.  He was not willing to point fingers at who said what and none came forward to admit to their gossip and criticism about the leader.   So he quietly left the church. 

He went on to be successful in ministry.  At numerous points there were occurrences that led to  difficulties, but he refused to enter into troubles and controversies that would publicly tarnish the name of Jesus in the Hindu context, and he submitted to authority.  Some may say he was weak, but because of the complexities of ministry in this context I would say he was very strong in his faith.

In 1 Peter 4: 19 we read:   “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”

Have you been in a situation where you had to do what is right and faced disgrace, criticism, inaccurate opinions of yourself where no one knew the truth except you and God?  If not what will you do if this occurs?

God knows the truth.  It’s easy to say and know this in our hearts, but not always so easy to apply in our circumstances.

Proverbs 3: 5,6 is a verse that can help us if we are ever in this situation:  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.”

In the end we can trust in the Lord, we can do what is right and rely on his knowledge of the truth that can carry us through to give him glory.

Following Jesus – Being a Christian

This week we had a discussion with a missionary about the challenge of peoples’ understandings of “Christianity” in cultures and societies dominated by other faiths.  The context was this worker’s experiences and a discussion of a Hindu background believer, Narayan V. Tilak.   

Tilak was a Hindu and came to receive Jesus as his Lord and Savior.  As a devout follower of Jesus he wrote many beautiful poems and hymns about the wonder of life in Jesus and how it transforms a person.  He became an evangelist and a teacher and revered in his culture.

Unfortunately, in his day those who became Christians were immediately identified with the British, and it was assumed were no longer nationalists.  And converts were encouraged to separate themselves from their Hindu brethren.  Tilak did not believe either of these was right.

He worked tirelessly to show that you can follow Jesus, and still be part of society and be supportive of your country.  Through his writings and his life and ministry to the poor he became revered in India, and to this day is written about in some school textbooks – as a recognized Christian.  A true testimony to Jesus in India.

Tilak’s deep desire to separate following Jesus from the trappings of wrong assumptions lead him to examine what baptism communicated in his day.  This outward act was interpreted as a clear indicator that you renounced India as your country and your connection to Indian culture.   It was divisive and became a huge barrier to his fellow Hindus coming to Jesus.   This led him to start “The Brotherhood of Baptized and Unbaptized Disciples of Jesus”.   A work he never was able to complete, but showed his innovative mind and passion to overcome wrong societal thinking.

In many ways “Christianity” is a label and can be a barrier to Jesus.  Let’s separate being a follower of the person of Jesus Christ from the trappings of politics, being a “Christian”, and going to church every week.   

In your journey with Jesus, how has he showed you who HE is.  What has HE showed you – personally – about what it means to obey him?  And how do you communicate that to those around you?  How do you meet people where they are at?  Walk in their shoes?   And communicate the person of Jesus, his love, patience, compassion, and power to save?

Jesus is radical. Let’s make him known and not put him in a box.

What Does it Mean to Be Global?

The following is from the blogpost “What Does it Mean to be Global?” by Dr Todd M. Johnson, professor of Global Christianity and Mission, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary.

In the children’s book What Does It Mean to Be Global? Rana DiOrio explains that being global means…

  • Being curious about other parts of the world.
  • Recognizing that your language is just one of thousands spoken on earth.
  • Listening to different kinds of music.
  • Trying all types of food.
  • Experiencing other traditions.
  • Learning about other religions.
  • Respecting that others may have different values than you do.
  • Celebrating diversity in people.
  • Understanding how your actions affect another person’s experience.
  • Living respectfully and peaceably with one another.
  • Opening your mind to new possibilities.

When it comes to the essentials of being global, this is great advice for people of all ages.

What about the global Christian family?  Our global Christian family is defined by the interaction and sharing between different local forms of Christianity.  Family tends to emphasize both commonality and difference:

  • We are all related but not the same
  • We are global and also local
  • We are pilgrims in this world but also at home

Tensions between commonality and difference creates a dynamic that allows us to identify as Christians who are both global and local.  Through this we see the beautiful creativity of God expressed differently in different cultures. Different worship, ways to serve, and even different theology.  Yes – theology is different in different cultures.

According to Asbury Theological Seminary president Timothy Tennent, our Western systematic theology textbooks may seem tidy and comprehensive, but when carried overseas they reveal glaring weaknesses, shocking silences, and embarrassing gaps. One danger is that as Western theology continues to be the standard by which all other theologies are measured, emerging indigenous theologies will remain ancillary subsets, or what Catholic missiologist Robert Schreiter refers to as “hyphenated theologies.” Our hope would be that while different cultures emphasize different aspects of theology, there would be a meeting place for all in the global Christian family, a place not dominated by any one culture, particularly not by Western culture.

Challenging to you?  Our God is a global God, he created the world, different people and cultures and is bigger and broader than our western centric thinking, and western theology.

It’s In a Word

Yesterday some from my organization discussed the book: “When Everything is Missions”, with the author Matthew Ellison.  Matt’s premise is that if we don’t understand definitions of words we will lack focus and effectiveness in our ministries.

Here are definitions from Matt’s book:

The Mission of God – “Missio Dei” encompasses all God does in the world to accomplish his objective, the complete exaltation of his name. (See Psalm 46:10).

Mission – a secular word meaning an intentional purpose, a campaign or effort towards an objective. Such as a military or diplomatic “mission”, or Paul’s mission journeys.

Missional – An adjective to describe or distinguish ministries focused on those outside of the four walls of the church, the ministry of the church to those outside of the church.  Distinctively different from ministries which are focused on existing church members.

Missions – Ministries focused on working across cultures, religious, ethnic, and geographic barriers to advance the work of making disciples of all “nations” defined as “people groups”. (See Romans 10:14, 15)  This is the ministry of those that are “sent”.

Here’s an illustrative example: 

We may be “seeker” sensitive by intentionally designing our Sunday service to be comfortable for the non-believer from our neighborhood who attends our church for the first time.  At the same time, our church may not have any programs focused on those far from God and very different from us spiritually or linguistically.  So we will feel good about our “missional” church (service), but have no church “missions” program.

As you examine your church what do you see? 

From Acts 1:8, it can be argued that every mature fellowship should have all aspects: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

God has given us a prophetic charge to go local, Jerusalem, and “to the ends of the earth”.  To those near and similar to us, and those far away and very different than us.

And the good news is he will accomplish his purposes!

This is Revelation 7:9.   “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.”

How has the Lord of the Harvest invited and gifted you to participate in Missio Dei?

Being an “Alongsider”

I recently heard from a kingdom worker who is reaching a people who are hostile to outsiders because they wish to preserve their culture and way of life.  Administrators at his mission agency told him: “if you go there, you must go with full knowledge that you may fail”.  This was not received as negativity, rather he knew they understood how difficult this would be.

This people group is located atop a high mountain range only accessible by hiking for days.  With a burden to reach these people this worker has slowly made great strides to gain their trust to visit and to remain among them.  They had no written language and so they created one together and are translating a book of the bible.  

How did he do this? By building relationships and learning.  He interacted with them and observed them learning not just what they said, but what they were really committed to doing.  He learned their way of life and values.   He also was looking at ways they experience God. 

Here’s an example:  They have a regular festival where they use bow and arrows to shoot items that they have pulled around and through the village. The idea is the items pick up evil spirits and they celebrate shooting the items and killing the collected spirits. Missionaries in the past told them it was not the way to eliminate evil.  Instead, he asked to join in the festivities to which they obliged and a bridge was created. He learned that they are aware of evil and want to eliminate it and sees it as a way they experience God.  Something to work with in the future.  

While developing relationships they asked him: “You ask a lot of questions, we wonder if you’ll be around long enough for us to ask you things”.  Bingo!!  That was the key.  Would he stick around and drink endless cups of tea with them and go at the pace they dictate? 

This is being an “alongsider”.  The idea of entering into people’s lives to walk alongside them on the journey towards the gospel.  To get to know them as people, not projects. 

Sharing the gospel is not a hit and run event.  But an investment in people to build a relationship and be Jesus with people demonstrating his love for them by getting to know them. This is sowing seeds, then reaping the Harvest.

In An Instant

I have both a relatively strong work ethic and moral conscience and I feel it can lead me to trying to do things to save myself.   To feel the more I do for God, the more God will love me which secures my salvation.  I know this is faulty theology, but admittedly I do wrongly ascribe to this at times if I am honest.

The following passage, Isaiah 30: 15, is in the context of a rebuke, but I found peace in this when I came across it today:

“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: In repentance and rest is your salvation in quietness and trust is your strength”

Thank you Lord!  My reaction to this was peace, rest and reassurance.  But then I turned to frustration because of my lack of being able to fully escape my “works” mentality.

Then the Lord again blessed me with words which unbridled his endless peace, grace, and love to me with these words in versus 19-22:

             People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you. Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Then you will desecrate your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, “Away with you!”

God’s word is alive and active and personal.  In reading this passage, the realities of my sinfulness were exposed in the “bread of adversity”. Then I found peace in his “rest”.  But this resulted in guilt for my original sinfulness which birthed frustration with myself.  Then the Lord gave me peace again in versus 19-22.  All this in an instant.

I just wanted to thank and praise God for his personal nature.  For knowing me and the human experience so well and continually bringing us back to him.  His patience and love is so amazing and endless.  His word so real and relevant. 

To Gaze Upon His Beauty

Paintings and our mental depictions of God vary.  At times he looks like Moses coming off the mountain giving us giving us rules to live by.  At times he is portrayed as the soft daddy cuddling his arms around us as his children loving and forgiving us.  Maybe we see him as a wise prophet, “the man upstairs” orchestrating events around the world. 

I remember the first time I drove into the Yosemite Valley.  I parked my car, got out and just stared.  It was so grand, majestic, and beautiful I could not comprehend it, I could not absorb it.  That night the sky was an absolute black background filled with countless stars.  You could actually see a dense line that made up the Milky Way Galaxy.  It was absolutely immense and beautiful.  My mind could not comprehend what my eyes were taking in.

Psalm 27:4 reads:

“One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.”

In the 8th verse it says: “Your face, Lord, I will seek.” 

I have no idea what it will be like to seek the face of God, to “gaze on the beauty of the Lord.” Can you imagine seeing God’s face?  Or gazing upon his beauty?  I don’t think our finite minds can even get close to this.

No matter what our views of the God are, how we see him, one feature to not miss is his beauty.  We can’t limit him to our human definitions or perceptions.  One theologian aptly said: “we can’t comprehend God, we can only apprehend him”.  His beauty and face will be something to gaze at for an eternity.  I suppose it will take that long to come close to absorbing it!

At Just the Right Time

I’ve encountered 7 frustrating weeks of working with our staff of trying to meet a deadline we set 6+ months ago.  Many have not met the deadline and I was just about at the end of my rope when I got an email that took me over the edge.  It was not a kind email and rather rude asking for more time from someone who ignored previous emails.

At a conference a guy shared a devotional from 1 Thessalonians which I remembered and went back to it.  I didn’t remember the details – just that it was encouraging.  It was just what I needed…

We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

For we know, brothers and sisters[b] loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia

This was what I needed….  Applied to my situation, I had to be reminded that my work is produced by faith, and my labor must be prompted by love.  And my endurance must be inspired by my hope in my Lord Jesus Christ.  I had to be reminded that he chose me for this position, and the gospel I have received is not just words.  Rather, it has come to me with power and deep conviction.  And that I am to live a life imitating Christ, life has “suffering”, and I am to be a model for all believers.

It was one of those 11th hour gifts from God that I needed to respond properly in both truth and love.  I would have definitely left off the love part!

This is evidence that our God is living and active today and intimately involved in all aspects of our lives.  Though there are many issues today he is working out his purposes in his way and on his timetable.  Amen ,and thank you Lord that. You are our strong tower in whom we can trust.