Cross An Ocean – Cross the Street

In the 21st century, individuals and churches seeking to advance the Gospel in an increasingly diverse and cynical society need to intentionally pursue cross-cultural competence to be effective. To be clear, I’m not thinking only of those willing to cross an ocean, but of the many more now willing to cross the street. We must learn to adapt our message to various people in various settings without compromising our theology. Thankfully Scripture provides both incentive and instruction to help us do this.
Paul’s Example in Athens

In Acts 17:16-34, Paul displays a high capacity for overcoming the obstacles of cross-cultural outreach. While waiting for Silas and Timothy in Athens, Paul observes that the city is full of idols. He also observes an altar inscribed, “To AN UNKNOWN God.” Paul then uses these observations to his advantage: “What you worship in ignorance,” he tells the diverse people of Athens-Jews, God-fearers, Epicurean and Stoic philosophers alike-“[is] the God who made the world and all things in it … [the] Lord of heaven and earth, [who] does not dwell in temples made with hands [He] gives to all people life and breath … and He made from one man every nation of mankind. … [Therefore] God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent.”

Note, too, that in his interaction with the Athenians, Paul focuses on shared points of connection and common ground rather than denouncing false, culture-bound, expressions of faith. He also demonstrates understanding and respect for their culture, that is, the fact that they, too, are religious; and he speaks to their belief in an unknown god by leveraging the inscription mentioned above. In so doing, he presents the Gospel incarnationally – that is, through the culture not to the culture, giving no cause for offense. His approach in no way compromised his beliefs. Rather, it provoked increased curiosity among even the most skeptical in Athens and a desire to hear from him again. More significantly, some were saved.

Paul’s Comment to the Corinthians

By his own admission, Paul is intentional in his pursuit of cross-cultural competence for the sake of the Gospel. For as he later writes to the Corinthians: “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; … to those who are without law, as without law, … so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some” (1 Corinthians 9:19-22).

Is it any wonder he was able to share the message of Christ effectively “to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16)? We, too, can reach diverse others when we follow these five principles mined from his example:
1. Be intentional in your pursuit of cross-cultural competence.
2. Make observations and learn what you can about diverse others in advance of personal engagement.
3. Focus your initial interaction on shared points of connection and common ground.
4. Demonstrate understanding and respect for another’s culture.
5. Present the Gospel through a culture, not to a culture

Obsessive Comparison Syndrome

When I compare myself to others who are doing or have done great things for God, I feel inadequate … like I don’t belong and can never measure up. I can feel like a complete failure in spite of all that I have done and am doing for the Lord. Compared to so-and-so it can seem so insignificant. And comparing myself to others kept me from being all that God created me to be. And it will do the same to you.

This also was a huge problem for Jesus’ first disciples. They were always comparing themselves with one another, trying to figure out who was the greatest. Jesus hammered Peter for it (John 21:18-23). After the resurrection, He had just given Peter a not so positive glimpse into his future. Peter immediately asked, “What about John?” His primary concern wasn’t that he would experience difficulties. It was whether John would experience the same difficulties. Think about how Jesus responded: “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow Me.”

I would classify that as an official smack down. The point is clear. Comparison has no place in our lives. God’s will, plans and expectations for each of us are unique. Comparison serves no purpose. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Because it’s so natural for us, (in truth, I still find myself battling with it at times in life and ministry), I’ve found that breaking the tendency to compare myself to others requires understanding its consequences.

Comparing ourselves to others robs us of our own uniqueness and creativity, causing us to lower our leadership, teaching and ministry to a cheap copy. Even worse, we allow the way we do ministry to be boxed into centuries-old formulas. It also robs those God uniquely created us to reach and impact.

It can Lead to perceptions that we’re doing better than we really are. If Peter compared himself to Judas, he could have seen himself as one of the better followers of Christ even after the rooster crowed. Though he denied Jesus three times, he didn’t sell Him out for 30 pieces of silver. If the guy with five talents compared himself to the other servants in the parable, he could have seen himself as an overwhelming success even if he was turning in a sub-par performance. Comparison leads to wrong, very dangerous conclusions.

It can make it appear that we’re doing worse than we really are. What would have happened if David compared himself to Saul to see if he was qualified to take on Goliath? One look in the mirror while wearing Saul’s armor would have told him he wasn’t good enough. But God didn’t create David to wear Saul’s armor. The comparison wouldn’t have been fair. It never is. Too many of God’s people are discouraged for no legitimate reason.

It can get us way off track. Scripture clearly shows us that we all have different callings, talents and experiences. Comparing ourselves with others can lead us to invest ourselves in the wrong ways.

It can cause bitterness toward God and envy toward others. Think of Asaph in Psalm 73. Until he stopped comparing himself to others and remembered God’s truth, he was jealous and “hopeless.” It happens to me, to all of us, when we don’t keep comparison in check.

It creates the wrong standard for our lives and ministries. As Jesus told Peter in John 21, the only standard we should ever measure ourselves by is His standard.

It causes us to miss what God values. As 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Look at the Pharisees. Comparison caused them to ultimately hate and reject the One they should have most loved and accepted. I believe the same thing is happening today. Many pastors and churches are living for and valuing the wrong things because they’re comparing themselves to their traditions or other churches instead of God’s Truth.

It motivates competition, not cooperation. God created His people to walk together and, in so doing, to change the world. Instead, we have a tendency to compete with one another. Just like the first disciples, we’re trying to be better than each other rather than helping to make one another better.

It keeps us from loving one another. Comparison robs us of love. In light of John 13:35, it’s keeping the world from recognizing we’re Christ followers. It’s keeping us from reaching the world and fulfilling our purpose.

Remember that the way God has made and called each of us to accomplish His will is unique. God doesn’t want you to be or to do ministry like anyone else. It’s why He didn’t make you like anyone else. Psalm 139:14 tells us we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.” God’s plan for each of us is different and perfect.

Block the Blog

Many of us spend much time in front of a computer screen. In my case – three… laptop, desk top and iPad. Four if you count a Blackberry. And yes, all four are often set up and in use at the same time. We are a “plugged-in” generation and receive everything from mail to our news and entertainment via the internet via computers and touchscreens. Many even do their devotions on-line or, at least, on screen. I do a lot of shopping on line – books (more and more e-books to be read on my iPad while traveling), clothes, CD’s, and much else. Social networking on-line is also a big absorber of our time and our privacy. It seems as if we are plugged in 24/7 and for some it is more than “seems” as it is reality.

So, let me give you 6 ways to tune things out so you actually own your time once again – and can accomplish some quality time with the Lord – regardless of whether you use a leather Bible or a electronic one for your devotionals.

1> Start your day screen free. If you are in the habit of doing personal devotions in the morning, resolve to not turn on your computer … the internet connected side of things – emails, social networking, news, instant messenger programs, Skype – or look at your cell phone … until you have done your devotions.

2> Set specific times (no more than three a day) for checking Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites. Nielsen reports the average Canadian spends an average of seven hours a month on Facebook.

3> Discover what’s sidetracking you. Ask yourself: Do I respond to emails during time with my family? Are personal texts, posts and emails taking time away from work?

4> Find what dulls. Seek out those things that tend to dull your mind instead of sharpening it. Are there certain websites or media you use only when you are bored?

5> Delete and unsubscribe. Stop visiting particularly wasteful websites or put blocks on them, limiting your use. Unsubscribe from blogs with no redeeming qualities.

6> Take a digital fast. Set aside days for fasting from all digital media: cell phone, television, Xbox, computer. The more difficult it sounds and is to do, the more important it is for you to do it.

As I find myself and my ministry more and more “plugged-in” I have made serious use of the above steps and found that they work and work well. Thanks Tim for the wonderful insights that helped me in this area. Your mentoring is appreciated.

Dig Your Own Grave

The Bible states (Acts 13:47 and Isaiah 49:6) that true disciples are to be light to those who do not know Jesus. It states, “I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” We – you and I – are to have our passports ready and let the Lord know that we are ready to go anywhere and everywhere He asks us to go – even to the ends of the earth – to share the Gospel of the Kingdom with people. Of course, if you are not doing it where you live, work and play it is not likely that you will be doing it anywhere else. This would be mean that you would default on the greatest adventure on the face of the planet as well as be dwelling in outright disobedience and thus in some trouble with the Lord.

Saw a brief video today of young men trained to share the Gospel of the Kingdom in India and countries surrounding that great nation … sent to preach to billions. It commented that when these young men leave to go and share the Gospel – having picked a village to bring the Gospel to (a village can have tens of thousands of people) – this is how they are challenged: “Each one is challenged to dig his own grave outside the village he is called to reach and be ready to sacrifice his life for the sake of the Gospel.” In other words, die for the Gospel of the Kingdom.

This is biblical, of course. Not just because there have been martyrs throughout the history of the Church but because Jesus said to His disciples in Acts 1:8 “…you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will be My witnesses…” The word for “witnesses” there in the Greek is “martyrs.” Jesus is saying that when we are baptized in the Holy Spirit and receive the power of the Spirit and the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4-11) we need to be willing to die for the cause – His cause. That, as we “go into all the world and make disciples…” (Matthew 28:19) it may cost us our life and we must give it willingly.

Makes somewhat of a mockery out of what passes for Christianity in most churches where it is all about comfort, safety and security. When we claim all of the promises of God and assume none of the responsibilities. Where it is all about “me” and not about Him and His cause to “seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). And then we cry out for a visitation, for His glory to be seen, for power, for miracles, signs and wonders. Then we ask Him, each other, and our leaders why there is no “life” in the church and why services are so dry and our spiritual lives seem to be on hold.

The Bible states that the Holy Spirit is given to those who obey Him (Acts 5:32) and until we do just that we will continue to “hold to an outward form of our religion…” and never know or experience the power that is truly ready to be experienced.

Your Best Work

Prayer is everything,” Oswald Chambers wrote. Whatever’s happening in this world for God, prayer is always at the critical center.

Andrew Murray seemed to understand this about as well as anybody, as evidenced in ‘With Christ in the School of Prayer.’ He declared this about prayer: “The powers of the eternal world have been placed at its disposal.” He describes prayer as “the very essence of true religion (faith), the channel of all blessings, the secret of power and life.” Murray looked at the commands and promises Jesus gave us about prayer in Matthew 7:7-8 and called them “the fixed eternal law of the kingdom.” And he added, “Though in its beginnings prayer is so simple that the feeblest child can pray, yet it is at the same time the highest and holiest work to which man can rise.”

Read more

The Mystery of Prayer

When Jesus tells us in Matthew 7 to ask and to seek and to know (previous blogs in this series), it was not the first time in the Sermon on the Mount that He had spoken about prayer. Earlier (in Matthew 6:5-8) He taught us not to pray publicly to impress others and not to pray “vain repetitions” of words to impress God (He doesn’t want mere language from us; He wants real communication). Jesus then went on to give us an outline for prayer’s content (Matthew 6:9-13), an outline we commonly call the Lord’s Prayer. And in that outline we see more of the mystery of prayer… Read more

The Action Trigger

Everywhere you look in the Book of Acts the disciples are praying, and as a result, remarkable things happen. The Book of Acts is like a handbook on prayer and prayer is the trigger that sets God into action.

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God Works Through Prayer

God works in our world primarily through prayer. No doubt He could have selected some other method, but He has chosen to do most of His work through prayer. In certain unexplainable ways, He has made Himself subservient to the prayers of His people. And therefore, from our perspective, we find that prayer is what gets things done.

Read more

Another Opportunity

Last night I was involved for 5 hours in a wedding rehearsal, the BBQ afterwards, and all the activities surrounding the celebration of two people being married. Family and friends have arrived from all over the country to celebrate with the bride and groom on their special day and I have the honor of being in the middle of the activities and the two day party that is taking place. Today – the wedding (outside in 30C weather) with the suits, the dresses, the flowers, the decorations, the dinner, the speeches, the dance and the booze. It will be a long day but one custom designed for a soul winner even as last night was.

Last night there were 25 people at the wedding rehearsal – I got to build some general relationships. Then, at the BBQ supper at the home of one of the wedding party, I had the opportunity to sit and chat with a number of people about the life-changing Gospel of the Kingdom and the love of God as found only in Jesus Christ. That’s why I went and invested the time.

Today, I will present the Gospel to the 125 who are expected at the wedding and do so in such a way that it will hopefully lead to some good conversations in the 90 minute gap between the wedding ceremony and the wedding reception (pictures being taken) and then again with those who are stuck sitting at the same table I will be at during the supper and events immediately after we have eaten. I am going in focused and intentional about why I am there.

This is not a Christian wedding because the couple being married are not Christians. However, over the last few months of regular meetings I have come to know them, their hopes and dreams, and have earned their respect and their trust. They are open to continuing to relate to me after the wedding is all over and everyone has gone home. So, it will be a “secular” wedding ceremony with the Gospel presented during the “Pastor’s Talk.” Always present the Gospel – because many in attendance only ever “go to church” for weddings and funerals. Make the most of every opportunity.

And how did I get involved in all this in the first place? Easy – 15 years ago I was friendly with both of these young people when they were working in the kitchen of a now defunct restaurant here in the city in which I live. The groom’s parents owned the restaurant and I became decent friends with them as well and over time became very involved in the family – even officiating at the wedding of the parents of today’s groom. His parents have since moved to the west coast of this nation but will be back for their son’s wedding – and will again hear the Gospel presented clearly as it was presented at their own wedding so many years ago. So, when he wanted to get married – I was the only pastor or priest that he knew and he had felt accepted and loved when relating in the past so gave me a call.

Your prayers for this young couple and all those at the wedding this afternoon and the reception this evening would be greatly appreciated.

A Way of Life

The Christian faith is more than a set of beliefs – it is a way of life. It was originally called “The Way” simply because meeting and knowing the resurrected Jesus totally changed the way you lived. It should do the same today – however, often it does not. Today, we seem to think that being a Christian is simply believing a number of key truths that the Christian faith preaches. It is that – but really so much more.

When all we have is a set of beliefs and not an alternative life-style then we tend to be critical of our culture but fail to offer an alternative – and so we don’t change culture – we either spend our time critiquing it, condemning it, or consuming it. But, as disciples our task from the Lord is the change culture by offering people an alternative way to live. I have found that one real hurdle to reaching others with the Gospel is our critical spirit and that we are perceived as “anti” something – anti-abortion, anti-gay, anti-war… and the list goes on. People see the Church as condemning what they happen to like and believe is okay. Or, worse still, they don’t see any difference between the way they live and the way born again disciples live as both are consumers of the culture.

I believe, as a disciples of the Lord, that we need to find creative alternatives to the current culture in which we live and in which we are to be witnesses. We need to discover new ways to live out our faith in the culture we find ourselves – living in such a way that we are truly salt and light and thus more than a viable alternative – but actually the better choice when it comes to living life, celebrating life and having life to the fullest.

This will mean putting into practice on a daily basis the truths that we believe. This means not buying into the consumer culture in which we find ourselves. This means questioning everything we simply take for granted here in the west. This means seeing everything we are blessed with as a blessing from God and thus using it to bless others who have so little – both around the world and right here at home.

This will certainly mean a radical shift in the way we “do life” but I believe it will release us to actually “live life” to the fullest. I believe that we have yet to discover the life that the Lord came to give us – The Way – because we have encased ourselves in the culture of the day and thus can’t see or experience what Jesus would have His disciples walking in. We have yet to experience the liberty that comes from abandoning ourselves to Him and living life His way. We have yet to walk in the freedom that is ours because the truth sets us free – or at least should have.

It is time for disciples of Jesus to live a Christian lifestyle which is markedly, even radically, different than the way the culture in which we find ourselves lives. Then we will be able to offer those who don’t know Jesus an alternative way to live – The Way disciples should be living so as to impact their world with the life-changing Gospel. Then we can change culture instead of simply being critical, condemning or a consumer of it.