• Our hope-filled future is bound up in sharing the story of Jesus, in discipling others, in bringing those disciples together into communities of believers, and in developing and releasing those believers to create other communities... till Jesus the King comes again!

Gotta go all the way

go all the wayOkay, I know that’s not proper English (neither British nor American).  However, my point is simply that learning to talk with others in a language that is not our heart language is a work of perseverance in order to get to the objective of sharing our faith with others in a cross cultural context.

Perseverance calls for several actions or heart attitudes that are not natural to our hearts.

For one, the work of perseverance pushes you to always keep the endpoint in mind.  We should not be satisfied with ‘almost there’.  90% is still 10% short, we could say.  The problem here is that we are good at talking ourselves into accepting ‘half-way’ work.   Other concerns begin to weigh in on us. The main concern in cross cultural life, we believe, is to ‘get out into ministry’.

For another, the work of perseverance presses on the humility quotient.  Coming from ministry experience in our own cultural context, we can feel ‘child-like’ in cross cultural life and ministry when we recognize that it takes a whole lot longer to talk, to get a sentence out then it does in our own culture and language.  Perseverance drives us see our need for grace even in language learning and cultural acquisition.

Finally, the work of perseverance can highlight (regularly) our weaknesses. The problem for me (and most of us) is that I don’t always see the benefits of this ‘highlighting’.  However, the psalmist saw this benefit (Psalm 139:23-24) and maybe his prayer should become our prayer.

It is true that at the 30 kilometer mark in a marathon, one ‘hits the wall’.  The temptation to quit is so strong when one ‘hits that wall’ that it’s hard to resist.  When I ran the Paris marathon, one of my teammates here in France stepped on the course at the 30 kilometer mark and ran with me for two kilometers.  The words of encouragement that teammate shared were just what I needed to ‘go all the way’ to the end of the marathon at 42 kilometers.

Perseverance is hard work, but it is a community work.  Struggling in language and culture?  Tempted to ‘call it quits’ before the language acquisition finish line?  Feeling discouraged at not being able to express yourself like you would want?  Call on a friend. Call on a group of friends.  Call on the community to help because we ‘gotta go all the way’ to learning the language and culture of those God has called us to serve.

Do you understand me?

Happy Reformation Day (one day late)!

Today is Reformation Day on many of our calendars.  One of the crucial elements that the Reformation ushered in was the opportunity for ordinary people to read and understand the Word of God in their own language.  People who had to ‘hear’ the Word through another who served as their translator, could now take the Word in their own hands and speak it out loud in sounds and words that would cause their own hearts to be warmed.

What the Reformers did was, in part, to give validity to the necessity and value of Bible translation.  Even more than that, though, the work of the Reformers created a paradigm shift in the then known world of Christianity.  Cultural understanding and contextual application would become vital to the spread of the Christian faith.

language learningWe as workers in God’s mission must give the time and energy necessary to understand another’s world (language, culture, worldview and context) in order to ‘put the Bible in their hands’ for them to discover, learn and apply for themselves in their culture and context.

The possible pitfalls or detours along this road of working to understand another (and his/her culture) are numerous.  Here are a few that come quickly to mind:

  • Global comprehension is adequate”: in other words, as long as I understand the gist of the conversation, I’ll be okay. Unfortunately, that hasn’t always worked for me when it comes to handyman projects. I need to know each step, each detail along the way.  Otherwise, I might find myself with water spewing all over the kitchen floor rather than the faucet correctly attached to the pipes.
  • They are happy I’m trying”: and the truth is, that many times people from another culture are happy you are trying. However, they also long for you to go farther in your abilities the longer you live among them.  The main reason being, so that you will be able to better understand their hearts and struggles.
  • It’s all about ministry”: our vision together is to see multiplying disciples and communities of believers among the unreached. It is about ministry.  However, here’s the rub with cross cultural ministry. It’s not only about what God is doing through us, but it is equally as much about what God is doing in us.  It’s often the ongoing cultural learning piece where God does a lot of work on our hearts.  Short circuiting the work of cultural learning may get you into ministry ‘faster’, but it might deprive you of Holy Spirit heart work that might provide greater foundation to one’s ongoing cross cultural ministry.

What’s great about our community is that there are many who have ‘walked this road before us’ and created ways and processes to help learn well how to ‘understand others’.  I’m sure that many of them would be open to sharing their ideas with other teams.

In the midst of all this work of cultural understanding stands Jesus; constantly calling us back to Himself so that we might have the strength, the grace and the courage to press in order to bring the Gospel to others.

Do you see Jesus for who he really is?

throw-yourself-cliff-jumpI listen to a lot of messages and sermons.  Sometimes in the midst of all the teaching that you and I receive (or give), we can miss the essential, the very heart of the Christian faith.  And that is Jesus.

One of my colleagues here had sent me awhile back an email with a link to a message given by one of my former lecturers (or professors in American English).  You know how it goes?  You get so many articles and links to read or listen to that you ‘backburner’ or file them for a later time.

Well, yesterday I pulled out that email again and started listening to this message by Sinclair Ferguson: 38 Years Waiting – God’s Word Fulfilled – There is a Hope.

The message of the Gospel for both non-believers and believers rang out clearly.  It reminded me again of how much I need Jesus every day.  In the story in John, chapter 5, everyone was missing the centre?  They were missing Jesus.  They were not really seeing Jesus for who He really is.

I would encourage you to take a few minutes to listen to this message, and as Sinclair challenges us, to ‘throw ourselves in’, into the arms of Christ once again.

Praying in a gospel centred way

Prayer is essential.  As I shared in the last post: “No man or woman can progress in grace if he forsakes prayer.”  We could enlarge that statement to read: “No team or group of workers can progress in grace in ministry to others if they forsake prayer.”

A perennial question that arises is: how should we pray for one another?  We could pray the ‘one another’ commands as a team.  We could pray the promises that God has given in His Word to sustain and encourage us.  We could pray for the perseverance to stay faithful in ministry together.  All of these prayer points are ones you and I have prayed many times for one another.

Gospel-Centered-Discipleship-Jonathan-Dodson-SomaThen another thought came to mind.  How should we pray for one another in a ‘gospel centred way’?  Prayer is one of our guiding principles, and the Gospel is the ultimate guiding principle from which the others flow.  So, what would it ‘look like’ to pray in a way that drives us back to the Gospel and our dependence upon Him?

Take a practical example.  During our World Team Day of Prayer, we might find this prayer point among others: Pray for our team to remain united together around the common vision of multiplying disciples and communities of believers.  During our concert of prayer together, one of our team members might add: Yes Lord, search our hearts and show us how often we create disunity among us because of our willingness to put our own self above others.  Remind us that the Son of God came not to be served, but to serve and that His sacrifice frees us from self-love to be other-centred.  May our hearts be warmed by that grace again today so that we might grow in unity and have the gospel power to be able to see the vision of our team worked out. 

I can so often fall into the trap of thinking I can ‘do’ all that is expected of me as a worker.  That is why the challenge to pray in a ‘gospel centred way’ would help myself, and I expect many others, to keep my eyes upon the One who is the author and perfecter of our faith.

Feel free to share examples of how you might pray a prayer point in a gospel centred way.

Just pray

just-prayThere are many good resources on prayer.  One was the focus of our WT Global community study a few years ago, A Praying Life, by Paul Miller.  However, in the end, all of these resources bring us back to the same conclusion: we just need to pray.

We would all agree that we can spend more time sharing prayer points than actually praying for those requests.

Preachers, pastors, theologians and writers of long ago remind us of the importance and necessity of prayer with words that could have been written in our day:

No man or woman can progress in grace if he forsakes prayer.”

If you may have everything by asking in His name, and nothing without asking,

I beg you to see how absolutely vital prayer is.”

Prayer and praise are the oars by which a man may row his boat into

the deep waters of the knowledge of Christ.”

So, what should we do?

First, we should not hassle one another because of our common tendency to talk more than to pray.  We all fall into the same trap, particularly because a prayer point is a way to share our heartfelt need.  Second, we should lift up Christ before one another more and more.  What that simply means is we need to point one another to the Hearer of our prayers, rather than to the prayers in themselves.  It’s Christ we are ultimately after: to know Him more deeply.  Finally, we just should call one another to prayer by those simple words: “Let’s pray”.  Entering into conversation with our God & Father does not mean that our ‘sharing’ is over with.  We can share further needs and praises in prayer because, in the end, it is He. who listens to our heart groanings, to whom all our hopes are directed.

Drilling down

ArchibaldAlexanderArchibald Alexander was a professor for many years in the mid nineteenth century at Princeton Theological Seminary (USA).  In his work, Thoughts on Religious Experience, he asked ‘why’ we grow so slowly as Christians.  Ray Ortlund records Alexander’s response to his own question in this way:

First, he rounded up the usual suspects: “The influences of worldly relatives and companions, embarking too deeply in business, devoting too much time to amusements, immoderate attachment to a worldly object,” and so forth.  But then he drilled down further and asked why such things even get a hold on us, “why Christians commonly are of so diminutive a stature and of such feeble strength in their religion.”  He proposed the following reasons: 

  1. “There is a defect in our belief in the freeness of divine grace.” Even when the gospel is acknowledged in theory, he wrote, Christians define their okayness according to their moods and performances rather than looking away from themselves to Christ alone.  Then, in our inevitable failure, we become discouraged, and worldliness regains strength in us, with nothing to counteract it.  “The covenant of grace must be more clearly and repeatedly expounded in all its rich plentitude of mercy, and in all its absolute freeness.”

Two things stand out for me in Alexander’s response.  One is the relevancy of his words almost two hundred years later.  How often do you and I determine our ‘okayness’ by our feelings or our actions, as if God’s favor towards us depends on our ‘work’ rather than His work?  So many of the things Alexander describes can still ‘catch us in their web’ and keep us from turning our eyes regularly to Christ.

The other is the importance of ‘speaking the gospel’ to ourselves daily by ‘expounding the (the covenant) of grace in all its rich plenitude of mercy’.  To put it in other words, when we ‘preach the gospel’ to ourselves daily, it is not by a simple repetition of the facts of the Gospel.  Rather, when we ‘speak that gospel’ to one another, we are to search together to know more and more the height, width, depth and breadth of His love for us (Ephesians 3:18)

How might you describe the depth of the richness of His mercy today?  Why not share that in a note or a whatsapp message with a fellow worker in the Gospel?

Prayer is a guiding principle

praying manThe World Team Ministry Framework describes our commitment and calling to prayer this way:

“Prayer is real conversation with God and is vital to a growing relationship with Him and ministry in His name.  Prayer reflects our belonging and submission to Him, our need for direction and provision, and our acknowledgement that we can do nothing without Him.

We believe that personal and corporate prayer manifest obedience and humility, submitting ourselves to God and His agenda, and for His power.  Such dependence nurtures alertness to the spiritual dimensions of our undertakings and equips us with wisdom and knowledge for our calling.  Above all, prayer changes things because it is God’s desire that we ask Him to work.”

We pray because God wants us to talk with Him.  One of the catechisms of the Church puts it this way: “Question: What is prayer?  Answer: Prayer is an offering up of our desires unto God, for things agreeable to His will, in the name of Christ, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgement of His mercies.”

What I like about both the statements above is that there is no sense of an ‘obligation’ to pray, as if it is a work that I must do in order to somehow bend God’s will to mine.  Prayer flows from a heart that recognizes what God has already accomplished in opening the door to relationship with Him.  Prayer is the simple acknowledgement that we need Him in light of all that He has done and continues to do for us.

It’s only natural then that throughout the day, our hearts would turn to Him: when we are working on a project; before we spend time in conversation with others; and when someone is leaving our apartment and we’re standing at the front door.

It’s not a duty.  We’re ‘offering up our desires’ to Him, asking again (and again) that He would work for His glory.