Monthly Archives: May 2007

The First Major Translation Project in History –
the Challenge of Cultural Change

It was the beginning of the third century before Christ. Alexander the Great had died and his empire divided among four generals. Greek language and culture swept through the lands of the Eastern Mediterranean, including Palestine. Large numbers of Jewish people were relocating to the emerging metropolis of Alexandria in Egypt. Caught up in all of this change and ferment Jewish people living in Egypt adopted the Greek language and were losing their ability to read and understand Hebrew, the language in which their sacred scriptures were written. Alexandria was an intellectual centre, containing one of the great libraries in antiquity. The king of Egypt at that time desired to include every major writing in this collection. When he heard about the Hebrew scriptures, he wanted a copy (at least this is how the story emerges in later writers) and mandated the librarian to have a translation made and placed in his collection.

Probably the convergence of various factors stimulated the first major translation project in human history – the translation of the five books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) from Hebrew into Greek. The impact of this project still affects us today because the names we use to describe these books in our Bibles reflect the Greek names, not the Hebrew names.

This translation project has had influence far beyond the imagination of those who initiated it and actually did it. For example, this translation or later revisions of it was used by the New Testament writers as the biblical text they tended to quote in their letters and Gospels. As the Apostles led the church to implement the Great Commission beyond the borders of Palestine, they used the Greek translation of the Old Testament as their primary scriptures. When Paul talks to Timothy about the scriptures he has known “from infancy” (2 Timothy 3:15), he is probably referring to the Greek translation of the Old Testament because Timothy was a product of the Jewish dispersion in Asia Minor.

When Christians today find themselves living in new cultural situations, translation of the scriptures into the language of that culture becomes a primary means, if not a necessity, for establishing a living church.

One of the more significant decisions made by the translators was the selection of the word LORD to translate God’s proper name Yahweh (Jehovah). In the New Testament Jesus is also described by this same term, i.e. the Lord Jesus Christ. On several occasions where the New Testament writer is quoting from an Old Testament text that describes Yahweh’s (the LORD’s) activity, the context makes it clear that the “Lord Jesus Christ” is in fact being identified as Yahweh. Paul’s message in Romans 10:9-13 blends references from Isaiah 28:16 and Joel 2:32 with the confession that “Jesus is Lord.” However, the “LORD” in Isaiah 28 and Joel 2 is Yahweh, but the “Lord” in Romans 10 is Jesus. The implications for the deity of Jesus are considerable.

When Christians today find themselves living in new cultural situations, translation of the scriptures into the language of that culture becomes a primary means, if not a necessity, for establishing a living church. The initiative taken three centuries before Jesus came continues to serve as a model for contemporary Bible translation. The issues those Jewish translators encountered remain the same issues modern Christians face as they seek to contextualize the Gospel without changing it.

The Septuagint Institute at ACTS Seminaries (Septuagint is the technical name given to the Greek Translation of the Old Testament) seeks to enable research into this translation and its continuing influence within the Christian world today.

How do people belong?

How do people belong? This is an important issue in missions, particularly for a church planting mission such as Fellowship International Ministries: What does it mean to belong to a church? There are many different ways to express and value belonging, and these vary from culture to culture. A college student from Azerbaijan informed me recently that “Canadians are very friendly, but they don’t want to be friends!” In other words, the level of belonging and the expressions of that belonging she was used to in her own culture, were very different in Canada. She expected friendliness to lead to a more intimate relationship, but quickly realized that she was imposing on boundaries they wanted to maintain.

While in Pakistan my wife, Karen, and I had similar experiences. Our concept of ‘friendship’ was different from the expectations in Pakistan. To be invited into a home as a couple to sit with both men and women indicates a level of ongoing commitment that we, as Canadians, reserve for our immediate families!

So what about church relationships? When planting a church, what is the expectation of commitment? One person may view the community in terms of family loyalty, while another may see this particular interaction with other believers as only one avenue of relationships among many, without the need for deeper commitment. Some may consider the church activities as central to their Christian development. Others may be content to participate at one level (e.g., attendance at worship, small group, worship team), while finding fulfillment for other needs (e.g., teaching, guidance, fellowship) in venues outside of one local church.

Should church planters seek to bring all people to a particular level of commitment that fits with one cultural model of church, or should they adjust their expectations to the realities of the connections that people prefer for themselves? If the goal is to help people develop their commitment to Christ within the level of commitment and relationships that they believe are important, then what will Christian community look like?

Read more of Mark’s articles at Cross-Cultural Impact in the 21st Century

Thank You Father for a Grandson!

Last week I held my grandson in my arms for the first time. My heart was lifted up to my heavenly Father in adoration and praise as I gazed down on that tiny, frail, absolutely dependent, but intricately and beautifully formed bit of humanity. I could not help but ponder the fact that in this small child was another reminder of how the Eternal God gave us His ultimate revelation of Himself. This was how Jesus came. What incredible humility, what awesome condescension, what amazing love – that He, the creator and sustainer of all should have taken on this humanity, this utter dependence. My mind struggled with the incomprehensibility of the truths ascribed to Him in the accolade of Colossians 1:15-20.

And He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created by Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. [NASB]

Did He, the One who holds all things together, constrain Himself to the confines of the likes of this newborn infant, who was so totally dependent on my capability to hold him safely? I gazed down at my grandson and watched as his miniature hands and feet flailed and his tiny fingers grasped my thumb reflexively but with no ability to do anything other than to convey the sense of utter helplessness. What wonder is wrapped up in the mystery of the incarnation! Did Jesus come like this? Only a mighty, loving and gracious God could have planned this!

Holding that babe in my arms and pondering the next few words of that glorious hymn from the pen of the Apostle Paul created strong stirrings of adoration and thanksgiving in my heart.

He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from the dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. [NASB]

Thank you Eternal Father for sending your Son, Jesus. Thank you Loving Father for sending this little grandson! Through him you have reminded me of your awesome love and compassion – of your audacious plan for our redemption.

It’s Not About Bob – It’s all About God

Several weeks ago, I used my assigned blog entry to muse over the death of my mentor and friend, Robert Webber. The way he prepared for death has taught me a lesson on how to prepare for life with an addition to my daily prayer: thank you, Lord, for the healing of yesterday, and I ask your healing power for today.

. . . as someone who has written a multitude of pages and taught innumerable students about worship, Bob insisted that his service focus on the great saving acts of God.

This week, I received a note from one the editors at Christianity Today, David Neff, who participated in Dr. Webber’s funeral. I’ll let his note speak for itself:

Last night I attended (and played the organ for) Bob Webber’s memorial service. The memorial service was wonderful in many ways, but I want to point to one thing in particular. It wasn’t about Bob.

Well, yes, it was about Bob, it couldn’t help being about Bob, but as someone who has written a multitude of pages and taught innumerable students about worship, Bob insisted that his service focus on the great saving acts of God.

Here is part of what he wrote for the worship leaflet:

As a Christian I have always believed in Christ as the Victor over sin and death. I believe that Christ was the Second Adam, sent to this earth as God Incarnate, suffered death, was buried and rose from the dead to restore the entire creation. I believe that it is God who narrates the entire world and creation, from start to finish. Consequently I have no fear of death although I do fear the process.

Today, there are literally hundreds of different styles one can follow … for a funeral. However, historic Christian funerals were always about God. I … truly want [my own funeral] to be about God who created this world, defeated Satan at the cross and rose victorious over death and the grave.

Today we begin with several eulogies, then when those are done, the real funeral begins and it’s all about God. I want my funeral to be a testimony to the God who raises us from hopelessness and blesses us with new life in Him. …

And that is the way it was last night. As a large crowd of mourners packed into Christ Church of Oak Brook, we heard the eulogies first, and then we focused on God, remembering Christ’s death and resurrection and looking forward to the marriage supper of the Lamb.

This is the way it should be, because there is no greater comfort than the gospel. Too often funerals play down the reality of death with sentimental poetry such as these lines from Shelley: he is not dead, he doth not sleep -/ He hath awakened from the dream of life. We don’t need romanticism, but redemption, especially at funerals.

There’s a whole lot more here than an insight on how to design a meaningful funeral. Once again, the preparation for death has stimulated thoughts on how to prepare for life. I’ve taken that one simple turn of phrase We don’t need romanticism, but redemption to heart. It’s a convicting exercise, especially as I participate in Sunday morning worship [we really don’t need romanticism as much as we need redemption], or as I prepare a Sunday morning sermon [I really shouldn’t aim for romanticism as much as I should redemption], or as I mentor students [they really don’t need romanticism as much as they do redemption.] In essence, it’s NOT about me, it’s not about us, it’s not even about Bob. It’s all about God.

Read Lyle’s Northwest Centre for Leadership Development newsletters

Top Ten Reasons Why You Should Read Theology – #6

Reason #6.

Simply put, liturgy lives from its theology and dies for lack of it. With out a solid grounding in theology those who perform and participate in the church’s worship neither are capable of bringing the church fully into the presence of God, nor make participants fully realize the eternal weight of Glory that grounds proper liturgy. As the church, and its participants, learn and recite the church’s theology in song, creed and ordinance it gains a proper sense of the enormous proportions of its witness to the reality of God. Indeed, without theology we worship a mere phantom of our ourselves, unaware!

Tan or Burn

My wife, youngest daughter and I are nearing the end of what has been a delightfully restful holiday in Hawaii. Of course the chief reason for this holiday choice has been the consistently glorious sunshine. We’ve enjoyed it during our stay, but one does have to be very careful. That golden orb above our heads has the potential to be either a healthful friend or a hellish enemy. BeachIn moderate doses, the ultraviolet B radiation of the sun is a significant factor in our bodies’ production of vitamin D which is crucial to the formation and maintenance of healthy bones. Moreover, research has shown that people who spend some time in the sun each day have a reduced risk of certain kinds of cancers. And besides, the sun’s warmth feels so good! But it’s also the case that too much sun can burn the surface of the skin, damage the blood vessels deeper down, affect the skin’s elasticity, and, with repeated damage, alter our DNA so that there’s a risk to life from various kinds of cancer. The double-edged quality of that heat and light is how the prophet Malachi describes the great and final day that he calls “the day of the Lord” which will distinguish between the righteous and the wicked. Malachi writes that for some, that day will burn like a furnace. “All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and that day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the LORD Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them.” (Malachi 4:1) That sounds to me like the ultimate sunburn.

“There’s no sun block for that day in the sun … or none needed!”

Malachi goes on to say, however, that the same heat and light of that day will be enthusiastically welcomed by the righteous: “for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings. And you will go out and leap like calves released from the stall.” (Malachi 4:2) It’s frolicking in the rays of a warming sunshine after being cooped up through a long wintry darkness. It’s an eternal holiday tan. Scripture says we’re all bound for that day in the sun. It’s the same sun for us all and the same heat. There’s no sun block for it or none needed, depending upon how that day in the sun finds you and me.

Can Preachers Have Friends in the Congregation?

I had another interesting conversation with one of our Doctor of Ministry students last week. Robert Campbell is a pastor from Corona, California and is working on the question of whether or not a pastor can have friends in the congregation.

Campbell contends that spiritual formation happens within community and that the pastor needs to be growing as much as anyone else.

Traditionalists would say not, given that a pastor can never escape the pastoral role within the life of the congregation. Playing favorites within the church can be a real problem for the overall health of a church.

But what about the pastor’s own spiritual growth? Campbell contends that spiritual formation happens within community and that the pastor needs to be growing as much as anyone else. If the pastor is not allowed to engage the community in the same way as others, then how is he or she supposed to grow?

It is a problem because the truth is a pastor can never really have the same kind of relationship with other people in the congregation because it is true that he or she can never leave behind the pastoral role. However, is this really all that different from anyone else? Everyone brings their personal identity into relationship. Gender, social standing, race, education, and a myriad of other factors all play into the way that we relate to one another. The pastoral role is just one of those factors that shape the way that people relate.

The answer that Robert and I are coming to is that yes, pastors, need to engage people as friends within the congregation so that the community can do its thing to help in the spiritual formation of the pastor alongside everyone else. At the same time, we understand that the pastor’s relationship with people is always going to be colored and shaped by the fact that she or he is in that role.

This is okay. It is to be celebrated, even. The community of God’s people is a rich tapestry of relationships as we grow together in Christ.

See Robert Campbell’s blog at The Postmodern Pop Pastor.

The Blame Game

In a recent Macleans article (April 16, 2007) Brian Bethune reviews recent writings by several atheists who “blame God for every social problem from Darfur to child abuse.” Strong voices – Hitchens, Onfray, Dawkins, Harris – argue the case for atheism afresh, claiming that religion is purely and only a human creation – toxic in all its forms. The tragic circumstances of 9/11 have generated a new, virulent attack upon all religious expression.

…religion is toxic, because religion cannot and does not deal with human sin. The result is that religion becomes merely another context in which human sinfulness manifests itself.

Christianity comes in for its share of criticism, much of it quite abusive, caustic, and contemptuous. Of course, history offers numerous examples of evil done in the name of Christianity, as well as other religions. Given their location within Western Culture, these apologists for atheism level their most virulent attacks against Christianity, particularly its American versions. Fear that religiously-committed individuals will gain political power and enforce their ideology on all and sundry seems to motivate their stridency.

What does a sincere Christian say in response to such vocal and public attacks? I think one thing that must be said repeatedly is that they conveniently forget the horrors that atheistic systems such as communism perpetrated upon those under its power. The gulags remain constant reminders of terrible abuse – all in the name of atheism. So atheism has no claim to be the answer for a productive human future. Further the claim that we should praise the French Revolution because it turned churches into hospitals is rather naïve in that it conveniently forgets the terrible injustices and murder that this revolution perpetrated, all in its attempt to be free from religion.

Religious hypocrisy still remains the fundamental stumbling-block preventing people from truly hearing the Good News about Jesus.

Further, I would suggest that followers of Jesus would tend to agree that religion is toxic, because religion cannot and does not deal with human sin. The result is that religion becomes merely another context in which human sinfulness manifests itself. Christians are not surprised by this. What humanity needs is not more religion, but rather a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. God gets blamed for a lot of things that Satan does. Probably this is a devilish stratagem.

Finally, if atheism is the best way for humans to live, where do we see this demonstrated in any human society in the world today? Many religious persons would claim that the secularists are in charge now in most Western countries, but fail to see how society has improved or is any better for it. How is the abortion of millions of children annually beneficial? How has atheism helped those trapped in addictions or sexual oppression? It seems strange that so few human beings seem to have seen the light of atheism! Is this all due to the ability of religious organizations to dupe human beings, as the atheists claim? What does this say about human ability and intelligence?

What humanity needs is not more religion, but rather a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Perhaps, however, these voices do help us see how important it is for followers of Jesus to walk carefully in the power of God’s Spirit so that God’s name does not get sullied because of our sinful actions. Religious hypocrisy still remains the fundamental stumbling-block preventing people from truly hearing the Good News about Jesus.

In Jesus we discover true freedom from chains of sinful thinking and doctrinaire foolishness of human thinking.

Musings on belonging

Is it just me or has the concept of “belonging” to a church become more fluid lately? I remember growing up in a churched context and it was very obvious who was “in” and who was “out”. Membership was an important concept and there was a sense that unless a person became a “member,” their relationship with God and other believers was not as it should be. Each local church, even if its building was located across the street from another similar church, encouraged a deep level of commitment to their particular communal expression of “church”. Of course, I grew up in a church planter’s home, so that understanding may not reflect the perspective of the average person in the pew.

…it seems that belonging for evangelical believers today has more to do with significant connections with other Christians, than with a commitment or loyalty to one specific expression of Christian community.

However, today, unless it is only my own perception, that view seems to have morphed into a more flexible and complex understanding of belonging. Perhaps it is partly due to the western emphasis on individual rights and responsibilities. Perhaps there is greater tolerance of diverse theological views. Perhaps the perceived need of “a church experience” has changed. Perhaps it is due to the many opportunities that people have to belong to a variety of expressions of Christian community through the radio, TV, small groups, “parachurch” organizations, missions teams, concerts, etc. Whatever the reason, or combination of reasons, it seems that belonging for evangelical believers today has more to do with significant connections with other Christians, than with a commitment or loyalty to one specific expression of Christian community.

As someone who has a missionary mindset, I seek to understand and conform to cultural trends in order to present faith in Christ in a relevant way. Such a change (if I am correct) is neither to be rejected nor unquestioningly embraced. Instead, the question is, what does relevant and impacting Christian community look like in such an environment?

Read more of Mark’s articles at Cross-Cultural Impact in the 21st Century

The Surprise of a First-Time Grandpa

I thought I was beyond the emotion of surprises. Then on Tuesday night God surprised me yet again and enlarged my heart some more.

Thirty one years ago this past Tuesday I became a husband when I married my beloved Becky. At the time I felt that the joy and delight I experienced that day could never be surpassed. But the years have taught me that God has many delightful surprises for us and that He enlarges our capacity for love, joy and delight with each new peek around the corner of His benevolence. Thirty one wonderful anniversaries later along with the births of a son (I became a dad) and two daughters, many-many birthday parties, Christmas eves, Valentines’ days (to say nothing of innumerable hilarious mealtimes and those very special moments when my children each confessed their faith in Christ), a wedding, a very special daughter-in-law — I thought I was beyond the emotion of surprises. Then on Tuesday night God surprised me yet again and enlarged my heart some more. I became a grandpa. Little Benjamin Matthew came into the world at 7:25 in the evening of Becky’s and my thirty first wedding anniversary.On the phone my son told me that he had experienced a bit of a difficult time with tears as he held his son for the first time. I understood! Those were tears of joy and delight. I had been there before (28 years before) and so had he — our roles had been a little different, however. I can remember my holding him and being entirely captivated by his tiny form. The tears had surprised me then. Now it was my son’s turn. But emotions were stirring in this new grandpa’s heart too. God had delivered another of His delights – a grandson. Even though I knew this day was coming, I was not prepared for the sensation that came with it. For two days my phone had never been far away as I waited for the news. Now Benjamin was here and my heart was singing, and I hadn’t even met him yet.

As I ponder these experiences 1 Corinthians 2:9,10 takes on special meaning. “But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’– these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.”[ESV] Love seems to be at the centre of all of this. God’s love for us, our love in response to His and the enlarged capacity for love that He graciously grants to families. I am certain that His loving Father’s heart also delights in the birth of a human grandson. I would like to think that He even gets a little emotional. Didn’t His own dearly beloved Son look like this once? (Gal. 4:4)

I know I am not the first grandpa in the world (nor will I be the last) but this was a first for me and I am entirely delighted in the moment. Thank you Father for your great love and thank you for this grandson.

PS: I got to hold my grandson for the first time last night. What a delight!

Why I Hate Meetings

As one whose life is defined by Meetings, it’s no surprise that I found today’s headline article in Inc.com’s Daily Resource for Entrepreneurs so compelling. The title: New Study Reveals Why Meetings Are SO Unbearable. [I added the boldface to the word SO!] The article presented research gathered by Opinion Research USA meant to measure the annoying meeting behaviors that push people past the tolerance threshold at business meetings. While there weren’t any remedies presented in the article, I have to admit the findings were very interesting … and convicting: “…27% ranked disorganized, rambling meetings as their top frustration, followed by 17% who said they were annoyed by peers who interrupt and try to dominate meetings.” There were other fascinating results:“…respondents over the age of 55 considered meetings without a bathroom break a significant issue, and for respondents ages 18 to 24, serving food is a priority at meetings…” hmmm, I just happen to be 55 this year. Interesting, indeed! If anything, the study just reinforced some of the basic principles I’ve been collecting for the Best Practices for Church Boards: “if you are someone calling the meeting, organize it, control everyone during the meeting, and make sure the people there aren’t wasting their time…” Read the whole post here: http://www.inc.com/news/articles/200705/meetings.html

Top Ten Reasons Why You Should Read Theology – #7

Reason #7.

Evangelism: Properly understood and carefully learned theology enables you to be more articulate when expressing your faith. The scriptures tell us to ‘always be ready to give a reason for our faith.’ In the long run theology is precisely this; I believe Christ is my savior because… . It is critical to be clear, concise and reasonable when answering this and all the related questions that go along with it. To be sure, witnessing to Christ is more than having a set of organized beliefs. Genuine witness requires actions as well as words, and actions that are congruent with words. But words are still and will always be necessary. Why not have them ready to hand and clearly understood. Good theology equips us to do this.

Marriages That Go The Distance

Two weekends ago, I had the privilege of officiating at the wedding of my nephew Russell and his wife Danielle. They’re a great couple! I shared with them that the secret of a fulfilling marriage that goes the distance depends upon the direction in which a couple leans.In marriages that grow, a husband and wife will lean toward one another for support and encouragement through good times and bad. In marriages that become progressively more distressed and unstable, couples will lean away and apart from one another. I base this little piece of wisdom on Ecclesiastes 4:7-12.Russell and Danielle The first two verses of this passage describe a man who leans away. He has no son and no brother. He has a 24/7 commitment to get ahead. It’s a small wonder that he’s asking himself, “For whom am I toiling…and why am I depriving myself of enjoyment?” Obviously couples do need to work hard nowadays; but in a marriage that goes the distance, you have to work hard together and for one another. That’s leaning in.Ecclesiastes praises the merits of leaning in at verses 9 to 12. Two are better than one he says. Togetherness brings a better profit (“a good return”), greater resilience (“If one falls down, his friend can pick him up”), mutual comfort on the road of life (“if two lie down together, they will keep warm”), and a stronger defense against external threats (“one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves”). Ecclesiastes concludes his reflection with the observation that “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” So, what’s the third strand? Some say it is the arrival of children. That makes good sense as the arrival of children will typically add both joy and a greater family strength as they grow and take their place.

In marriages that grow—whether there are good times or bad—a husband and wife will lean toward one another for support and encouragement.

Others, however, are inclined to see that third strand as a reference to God himself. Even if one can’t clinch the argument from the text, the wisdom is compelling. God designed marriage in the first place and He both witnesses and seals a marriage’s creation (Matt. 19:6). If His presence adds wisdom, guidance, purpose and a host of other graces, giving marriages a peculiar strength that those without Him do not have, then why not welcome the golden strand into the weave? As life offers all that it will, remember; “Lean in toward your spouse and not away. And never forget the third golden strand!”

Alternatives for Change

…churches are institutional in the way that they operate, because they are venues for the organization of corporate worship, outreach, and discipling among people. No matter how loose, structures eventually harden and at that point a church has to make some difficult decisions about its long-term validity and relevance.

I had a conversation over lunch with Ken Castor, one of my Doctor of Ministry students, and a pastor at Brentview Baptist Church in Calgary, Alberta. Ken is beginning work on his dissertation project, trying to think about how to stimulate new directions in an existing, traditional congregation. His frustration is that many emerging young leaders like himself have given up on the traditional church, opting instead to create fresh new expressions of church, in essence writing off these older churches as unredeemable relics of the modern world. The problem with this kind of thinking, Ken suggested, was that these emerging churches were sowing the seeds of their eventual destruction in their way of thinking from the start. No matter what we want to say, churches are institutional in the way that they operate, because they are venues for the organization of corporate worship, outreach, and discipling among people. No matter how loose, structures eventually harden and at that point a church has to make some difficult decisions about its long-term validity and relevance. Ken is looking for ways to frame a church that can reinvent itself over time. The mission of the church would never change, but the way that the vision is expressed and enacted can and ought to vary and adapt. The usual way we deal with this is to establish a new worship service targeted at young people. This approach often creates conflict as the older folks feel threatened, and the younger ones feel patronized. There is no doubt that younger people are going to be more open to change, in general terms, than older people because they have been immersed in a different kind of world than their forebears. Yet, that doesn’t mean that some young people don’t want tradition and that some older people don’t want change. Perhaps it is a mistake to view this as a generational issue. Ken and I talked about the possibility of creating opportunities for young people to contribute to the unleashing of some fresh and alternative ways of pursuing the mission of the church and then opening up those alternatives to people of every age. The challenge would be to nurture something within the traditional church that could eventually flourish and offer a relevant future for the congregation over time. If this kind of thinking could prosper in a church, then we could see a culture of adaptation that would allow for the perpetuation of mission and the stewardship of resources that a local congregation represents. It will be exciting to see how this project develops. Read Ken’s blog at kencastor.com.

The Promise of Matthew 24:14
(en holēi tēi oikoumenēi = in all the Roman Empire)

In his final segment of extended teaching to his disciples in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus outlined their mission beyond the cross and urges them to be faithful to the end. In response to his prophesy that the temple and Jerusalem would be destroyed, his disciples asked “When will these things be and what will be the sign of your coming and end of the age?” (24:3). What follows in the remainder of Matthew 24-25 is Jesus’ response to their questions.Matthew 24:14 in some sense contains the answer to their second question about “the end of the age” as Jesus declares “and then the end will come.” Until the kingdom mission is completed, i.e. “this Gospel of the kingdom shall be proclaimed …for a witness to all the ethnesin (nations? or people groups? or Gentiles?)”, the end will not come. Jesus assures his followers that the forces of evil cannot derail or cut short God’s program. Until all the diverse, non-Jewish1 peoples observe the Gospel proclaimed, the end will not occur. Of course, we strive to discern what this proclaiming activity entails and because of this prophesy some urge the church forward in the Great Commission program as a means of hastening the return of the Lord Jesus. However, Jesus probably was not placing in human hands a mechanism to bring about the second coming. In this context Matthew uses the term oikomenos to represent another limitation that Jesus provides in this answer. The Gospel will be proclaimed “en holÄ“i tÄ“i oikoumenÄ“i”, usually translated “in the whole world”. This is the only place in Matthew’s Gospel where this word occurs. Mark does not record it in the parallel passage (Mark 13:10). Even though Luke uses this term eight times in Luke-Acts, he does not use it in the parallel passage (Luke 21:13). So Matthew seems to use this expression for some emphasis within Jesus’ teaching. Before we explore this question, however, we should note that apart from its occurrence in Luke-Acts, this term also is used in Revelation (3:10; 12:9; 16:14), Hebrew (1:6; 2:5) and in a quote from the Old Testament (Psalm 19:5) by Paul in Romans (10:18). It generally refers to the ‘inhabited world’. For example, in Luke 4:5 Satan shows Jesus “all the kingdoms of the inhabited world (tÄ“s oikoumenÄ“s).” In Athens Paul proclaimed that God had appointed a day when He would “judge the inhabited world (tÄ“n oikoumenÄ“n)” (Acts 17:31). In Revelation 3:10 John reports that he saw in his vision Jesus promising the church in Philadelphia that he would preserve them “from the hour of trial that is going to come upon the whole inhabited world (epi tÄ“s oikoumenÄ“s holÄ“s).” It can also have a more limited sense and refer to the Roman Empire. We probably find this sense in Luke 2:1 where the writer reports Caesar’s command that “a census should be taken of the entire Roman world (pasan tÄ“n oikoumenÄ“n).” Perhaps this is also the sense in Acts 24:5 where Paul is accused of being a troublemaker, “stirring up riots among the Jews all over the Roman world (tois kata tÄ“n oikoumenÄ“n).” When we come to Matthew 24:14, we have to ask whether Jesus meant that the Gospel would be proclaimed “in all the Roman world” or “in all the inhabited world.” Jesus also said in this verse that this Gospel would be “for a witness to all the Gentiles.” . . > . . > . . >

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  • 1. There remains a Jewish mission, but normally in Matthew’s Gospel the term ethnÄ“ refers to Gentiles.

Defining the role of a church missions team

Just what is a church missions team expected to do? Because of the way church missions has developed in recent years this question has become increasingly important for those who desire to be effective mission mobilizers. In some churches the missions committee’s primary role consists of passing on the prayer letters of missionaries to the congregation. However, other church missions teams are playing a far more complex and influential role. This is evident in the “Design your Impact” workshops1, in which the role of the missions team is presented as shaping and overseeing the overall missions purpose and strategy of the church, both locally and globally. In addition, the rise of short term missions can make the duties of missions teams quite demanding, often requiring the services of a full time missions pastor.

… the role of the missions team and the parameters within which it is called to function must be clearly defined. Unfulfilled expectations and a lack of clarity concerning the vision and responsibilities of the missions team quickly undermines its effectiveness.

During my interviews with pastors and key missions committee personnel for the purpose of discovering ways church missions can be improved, one pastor shared the parameters that he uses to define the role of the missions team within his church: The missions team is responsible to facilitate all outreach partnerships outside of the local church’s programs. In this perspective short term mission teams or local evangelistic efforts – intra-cultural or cross-cultural – are not the responsibility of the missions committee. Instead, their role is to monitor and facilitate the partnerships of the church with those missionaries and other workers who have a primary responsibility to another organization (such as a missions agency). Whether or not this is the position taken by a church is of secondary concern. What is obvious is that the role of the missions team and the parameters within which it is called to function must be clearly defined. Unfulfilled expectations and a lack of clarity concerning the vision and responsibilities of the missions team quickly undermines its effectiveness. Coming this fall a “Best Practices for Church Missions” workshop will be offered to assist church missions committees as they define their role and purpose within the broader vision of the church. Let me know if you are interested. Have you discovered some creative ways to highlight missions in your church? Send those ideas to me via the form below so that they can be shared with other churches. Visit the Best Practices for Church Missions webpage and evaluate your church’s missions team.

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Missions and the Heart of a Dad

I said goodbye to my baby girl this week. Becky and I, along with a number of other friends and relatives saw her off from the Seattle airport in the wee hours of Monday morning as she and her team of 7 began their missions odyssey to Thailand. She is only 23 and from this dad’s perspective “far too young” to have committed herself to a three-year stint involving a year of language study and two years of church related ministry in the Golden Triangle area of Northern Thailand.

Ever since she returned from that first journey to Thailand we knew this day was coming. We had seen it in her eyes, heard it in virtually every conversation. My daughter had lost her heart to her God and to the people of Thailand – and we were delighted. But that did not change the things that were happening to my heart on Monday.

The drive home from the airport was a blur. Fortunately my friend Jon had been tasked with the responsibility of keeping me awake so that I would get us home safely – at which he did a superb job. After an all-too-short sleep, morning came, and with it an odd mixture of thoughts and emotions. I found myself thinking that she was just in the other room. I would walk into the kitchen and half expect to still see her sitting cross-legged on the floor next to the fire place working on her computer or reading a book. When the front door would open my ears half expected to hear her cheery “Hi! I’m home!” It’s not as though she had never been away from home before. At 19 she did a year in Europe and at 21 she spent 9 months in Thailand. But somehow this was different. She had made a specific commitment of time to serve as a “full-time missionary”. Ever since she returned from that first journey to Thailand we knew this day was coming. We had seen it in her eyes, heard it in virtually every conversation. My daughter had lost her heart to her God and to the people of Thailand – and we were delighted. But that did not change the things that were happening to my heart on Monday. In the intervening year, since she had returned from Thailand, we enjoyed a delightful time of getting to know our youngest as she lived at home while preparing herself for this adventure. The three of us shared many delightful evenings together and both Becky and I felt that we got to know our daughter in a whole new way. We took in movies together. We enjoyed meals together along with many cups of coffee. We debriefed the joys and struggles of our days together. We teased each other and grew in love and respect for one another. Now she was gone and a corner of my heart was gone too – I believe it followed her to Thailand. There is another emotion in my heart – deep gratitude to my Heavenly Father. I remember a time when Becky and I wondered and worried what would ever become of our willful youngest child. But God, in His boundless mercy, got hold of that will (and of her heart) and she surrendered her life to Him. Now she was on an adventure with Him – following her Lord where ever He might lead. So we celebrated her departure. There were no regrets. At some point last week we all had a chuckle together as we realized that we probably would not shed any tears at the airport – that is just not how we do it in our family. We might shed them later, privately! But even those tears are not tears of grief over missed opportunities or unfinished business or unforgiven grievances. We were able to see her off with no regrets! We are just plain and simply going to miss her. As I pondered these conflicting emotions in my heart I paused to ask, “I wonder what happened in the heart of the Father when he sent His Son on the ultimate missions trip?” Is it in any way possible for me as a human dad to comprehend the heart of the Heavenly Father? I took a few moments to considered the depths that lie behind the statement “For God so loved that he gave …” (John 3:16) This experience has made me appreciate Galatians 4:4 a little more. “In the fullness of time, God sent his Son …” There is an unfathomable vastness to those simple words. The Eternal Son, who throughout that eternity had never left the Father’s side (John 1:18), was now stepping into time and space and into the human experience to undertake the greatest missionary adventure of all as He “…came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10) It is comforting to know that my daughter is following in His footsteps.

Visit my daughter’s blog and read of her adventure with Jesus

Robert Webber, Rest in Peace

Robert WebberTwo days ago, I received word that my professor and friend Robert Webber finally succumbed to his long battle with pancreatic cancer late in the evening on April 27. I mourn his death. When I was a young Christian, his classes at Wheaton College taught me to think deeply about issues of faith. As the years passed, his teaching caused me to think deeply about the expression of faith. His studies on worship have served as a rich encouragement that there remains something profound to be discovered in the deep symbols and ancient voices that have been dismissed from our services. His insight, his passion and the warmth of his friendship linger in my heart.Now his death has added to the lessons I carry. In December, I knew that he was suffering tremendously. On December 9th he was told that he had only days, maybe a few weeks to live. As he wrote in an email, he was an invalid, sleeping 16 to 18 hours a day, unable to bathe, dress, or eat without aid.

"It has occurred to both of us that if we were truly spiritually sensitive, we would have prayed that way all of our lives…" Then, remarkably, he experienced improvement. By February, he was living what he called “a practically normal life.” He attributed the improvement to answered prayer, and yet was humble enough to realize that the improvement was for “however long it lasts.” In the last note I received from him, he left a remarkable jewel of insight. Listen to his words:

So, in light of my improvement, how do you pray? I want to ask God to heal me but what if he already has. But, I’m also reluctant to be presumptuous and tell everyone I’ve been healed given the statistical downside of pancreatic cancer and the fact that we are foregoing any definite tests for now, like a MRI, CT scan or PET scan. So, here is how Joanne and I solved our dilemma. We live and pray one day at a time. We pray each day and say, “Thank you God for the healing you gave me today. Please heal me tomorrow.” It has occurred to both of us that if we were truly spiritually sensitive, we would have prayed that way all of our lives but it took the threat of imminent death to bring us to this point.

“Thank you God for the healing you gave me today … please heal me tomorrow…” A hush came over my soul the first time I read that. Ever since, that simple phrase has become an echo in my nightly prayer, and, I suppose, a spiritual discipline that has unfolded a closer discovery of God’s gentle grace. What a wonderful treasure, this final gift from a caring friend. As I mourn his passing, I am learning to pray his prayer … with an added word of thanks to God for resurrection that has brought eternal healing to such a dear man.

It’s Something Else

A number of years ago, I had the privilege of teaching a course on the Book of Acts in Seoul, South Korea. When my teaching was done, a couple of the students were charged by my hosts to show me the sites of the city in the few daylight hours that remained that day. They asked me if there was anything in particular I wanted to see. I asked to see the Yoido Full Gospel Church. The Yoido church’s claim to fame is that it is arguably the largest church in the world, with over 800,000 members.My guides showed me many sites around and outside the city until well past sunset. After that, we went to a restaurant and I was treated to an absolutely sumptuous meal. My impression was that the lateness of the evening meant that the Yoido church had been struck off the schedule of things to see. We arrived at the Yoido church sometime past 10:30 pm. My thought was, “I guess they’ll drive by the building so I can see how big it is.” We pulled into a massive parking area and made our way into the building. A prayer service was underway. One of my guides apologized that the attendance was less than usual—only about 30,000 people or so were there. I was astonished! It put me in mind of a book I read about this church and its pastor Yonggi Cho. At one point the author reflected on North American Christians’ infatuation with methods and programs as the means to church growth. He related how a group of American pastors came to Pastor Cho, asking what method he followed. Cho replied, “All kinds!” Essentially, he was disclaiming that method had led to the growth. The key was…something else. But what was it?

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses.” (Acts 1:8) Jesus was the first to help his followers in the matter of the “something else” by which the witness to him, and the community subsequently established, would grow. He told his disciples, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses” (Acts 1:8). The means of the realization of Jesus’ picture of advance and growth was not human stratagems or schemes; rather, it was the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit. Methods can be quite helpful, but they will not ultimately realize a divine plan—for that to occur it takes God himself!

Appetizing Sermons

One evening my wife offered me a meal that didn’t look familiar to me. Something about the look on my face must have suggested something other than full appreciation. “What’s wrong,” she said. “It’s everything that you like.” True enough, the dish only offered ingredients that I normally enjoyed, but they were offered in a different form than what I was accustomed. Thus my caution.I’ve realized that many people look at preaching just the same. A big part of what makes a sermon appealing to us is not just the content but the form in which it is presented. There are times when we will hear a sermon that has all the elements necessary to nourish us (solid biblical exegesis, authentic human connection, etc.) but which repels us because it comes to us in a form that we don’t recognize. Speaking honestly, I would say I need to be a little more mature in how I respond to my wife’s creative cooking. She’s a great cook and I’m learning to become a little more adventuresome in my response. I’d like to see the same from listeners to our preaching.

"Junk food sermons nourish no one!"

Of course, listeners are going to do what they are going to do. A preacher asking for a different kind of response from the listeners can be a little like King Canute forbidding the tide from coming in. Nevertheless, perhaps over time we can find ways to train listeners to broaden their homiletic palate, encouraging an appreciation of a greater variety in sermon form. Key to this is the need for preachers to make sure that their preaching is, in fact, truly nourishing. I’m thinking here of healthy servings of the human story, a compelling argument, the underlying mystery, and a motivating vision (see Choosing to Preach). In sum, junk food sermons nourish no one.

Smart, Healthy and Disciplined

We are in the midst of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Because the Vancouver Canucks have won the right to participate, our city is appropriately excited. What the fans hope for is a team that is ‘smart, healthy, and disciplined,’ presuming that this formula will bring them success. Of course, flashes of brilliant hockey finesse also will go a long way to securing victory.Jim Brown uses these same words – smart, healthy, disciplined – to describe a board that operates creatively and with excellence.1 He seeks to help corporate and non-profit boards develop the disciplines that enable them to be great. Many church board members are reading Brown’s book and with benefit. Yet, because he is not writing specifically for the spiritual context of a Christian church, we have to consider carefully how to evaluate his advice from a Christian point of view. I am aware that at the conclusion to his book, Brown “gives thanks to God, who gives meaning and purpose to all [my] life. Everything I am and do is dedicated to you.”2 The Imperfect Board MemberSo when we apply these terms “smart, healthy, disciplined” to define the way a church board should operate, what should they mean? Churches expect their leadership teams similarly to function with wisdom, spiritual maturity and good practices. They have given to their boards a significant trust. The word ‘smart’ combines wisdom, creativity, cleverness and savvy. A smart church board understands the spiritual struggle in which the faith community operates. It is not business as usual because we face a strong and clever enemy who seeks to destroy God’s work in and among us. This board hears the words of Jesus that we must be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” when evaluating issues and dealing with community relations. Christian ‘smarts’ will include the ability to see things from God’s perspective – evaluating on the basis of divine values and goals as revealed in the Bible. The missional sense of being engaged with God in “heralding the Good News of the Kingdom to all the nations” will dominate and guide our thinking. A healthy church board will demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit in its internal relationships its treatment of employees. The values of agape-love, humbleness, respect and integrity will envelope the board’s operations. Health will show itself in the care the board takes to develop careful policies that will result in good spiritual care for the congregation, prayerful support and care for the pastoral leadership, and the advancement of the church’s mission. Good minutes, good agendas, good orientation, good chairing all serve to support excellence and enable the board to be healthy. Within Scripture the term ‘discipline’ relates to discipleship – following Jesus in obedient living and being accountable to Him as Lord and Saviour. A church board that is disciplined will keep on task, will expect each member to use the Spirit’s giftedness to advance the vision, and will pursue the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Thus it will work diligently, consult carefully, engage prayerfully, and educate itself deeply. Within the spiritual setting of God’s kingdom, it is the Spirit that enables believers to live and work in a smart, healthy, disciplined way. These things are God’s gifts to us, if we ask for them and sincerely walk together as boards according to the Spirit’s cadence and for the advancement of the church’s mission.

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  • 1. Jim Brown, The Imperfect Board Member (San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006):xv-xvii.
  • 2. Ibid., 201.

Sports as a metaphor for culture.

What is culture? There is a current debate (National Post, March 2-, 2007) about whether fashion should be classified as culture, with implications for government funding. Canada has policies promoting “multiculturalism.” I have read books and heard sermons concerning the need for Christians to remain separate from “the prevailing culture.” These diverse nuances of the term have resulted in confusion concerning the meaning of “culture” for the cross-cultural minister of the gospel. From an anthropological perspective, which is the primary way the term is used in missiology, culture refers to the relationship that the members of a particular ethnic group have with their environment and each other. This includes all aspects of life that provide meaning for that people group such as legends, laws, priorities, structures (material, organizational or conceptual), customs and artifacts. Worldview, on the other hand, refers to the conceptual framework or beliefs about reality from which cultural items gain their significance. There are universals common to all cultures (although there is no agreed upon list of these universals), but it is the differences between cultures that provide cultural identity and are the cause of much perplexity and conflict between people groups. This is the reason why the politically correct program of multiculturalism in Canada is so difficult. As a philosophy of accommodation so that cultures can co-exist while maintaining their separate identities, multiculturalism is predicated upon an assumption that there are sufficient agreed upon commonalities for such a project to succeed. However, not only are there disagreements about the identification of these commonalities, but even when they are identified at a theoretical level, the practical outworking of these values is elusive. For example, western “universals” such as “free speech,” “equal rights,” and the “rule of law” are understood and prioritized in fundamentally different ways in other parts of the world. As a humorous illustration of how cultures conceptualize reality in different ways, consider the following imaginary sports analogy: The country is Canada. The city, Hockeytown – a city in which only one sport, hockey, has ever been played. It is the only sport that has ever been imagined by the residents. To them hockey is not just one of many sports, but is what defines sport. Bobb Yorr has just returned from a visit to another city in which he was introduced to the sport of Tennis. Grett Ski has never been out of his city and so, for him, “sports” is defined by ice rinks, hockey sticks and hockey nets.

  • Grett: Hey, Bobb, long time no see! What have you been up to?
  • Bobb: I’ve just got back and I’ve discovered another sport.
  • Grett: Another sport? What do you mean – another way to play hockey?
  • Bobb: Um, well it’s a sport like hockey is a sport, but totally different.
  • Grett: How can it be like hockey and totally different. That doesn’t make sense. Do the teams line up differently or something?
  • Bobb: Well there are only 2 players.
  • Grett: What! Only two players on the whole team? How do they take shifts?
  • Bobb: No, only two people in the game, one player on each team and they play the whole game.
  • Grett: No way! Who do they pass to? …………………

Read the rest of the article at Cross-Cultural Impact in the 21st Century