Tag Archives: church

The stalled car

Recently a friend shared this story with me. He emigrated to the USA from Norway as a young man. One day he was driving along a busy road in the Seattle area and his car broke down.

This occurred on a Sunday morning. He stood by his car, not knowing what else to do, and watched as car after car whizzed past him.  He could tell that many of those passing him by were on their way to church.

Finally, a car slowed down and pulled over. The driver got out. He was dressed in shirt and tie. His wife and three children, were also dressed for church.

That family spent several hours helping my needy friend. They missed church that day.

They WERE the church that day.

My friend and the family are still good friends after many years.

Love that is worthy of Christ is often inconvenient.

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Rewind – Transformation of mind and heart

Catch up on the back story…

Something very significant had recently happened. The Holy Spirit was changing the rules of the game, and the lesson came most strongly to the person who, if he changed, everyone could change. He was the sanctified godfather of the early church. His was the vote that broke any tie, or the veto that canned any plan. He was Peter, the pillar of the Jewish church.

But over the course of 24 hours, this devout Jew, comfortable in his own skin, his own culture and beliefs, the top leader of a new Jewish sect, uncontaminated by fellowship with any non-Jews, went through a metamorphosis from God, and was transformed. He emerged as orth jewa leader persuading his fellow Jewish elders that God had cleansed all food, and that anyone who believed in Christ could be saved, regardless of culture, color, or class.

What had happened?  What cracked this cultural Rock of Gibraltar? How did the Holy Spirit lead Peter, a bull-headed leader through such a revolutionary process? Whatever it was, it gave the whole church the freedom to cross boundaries; it emboldened certain men in Antioch to talk to Hellenists.

And whatever it was, it is the very thing we need today if we are to get off Pause and push the Play button. It is what we need to line up our default preferences for our own kind and culture, and align with God’s call to reach out and include those who are different.

Peter was staying with a friend in the coastal town of Joppa. About three in the afternoon Peter goes up on the roof to pray, and of all things he falls into a trance.
Heaven opens, and a huge sheet is let down, filled with a smorgasbord of foods that good Jews were forbidden by the O.T. to eat. Then a voice from heaven, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat.” “No Lord, I’ve never eaten anything common or unclean.” This was the right answer, the one that passed the test, that got the A+, that kept the Jewish universe on its axis.

But the voice came back a second time: “What God has cleansed you must not call common.” We cannot imagine how revolting this must have seemed to Peter…how revolutionary. This was a 180 degree change that reversed 2000 years of instruction and obedience. Even Jesus normally cooperated with the Law.

What does the Spirit of Jesus do to empower a multi-cultural transformation? He gives a new vision. He speaks from heaven with a new command.

Have you seen the vision? John 17:20-21 “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.” Jesus longs for a new thing, a unity tying together all His diverse followers.

Have you seen the vision? Eph 2:14-18 “For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off, and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” Jesus is the great peace-maker between former enemies. He is the divine wall-breaker, removing obstacles, giving access to everyone, equally.

Have you seen the vision? Mark 11:17 Jesus said, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations’” But you have made it a ‘den of thieves’”. The cross is a huge doorway for all to enter. It isn’t shaped for white folk, or tall folk, or menfolk. It is for all folk!

Have you seen the vision?  1 Cor 12:20-22  “But now indeed there are  many members, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.”

Woe to us, if we have been content with a body that looks just like us! If we are content to worship in our comfortable sanctuary, with our customary rituals, without the messiness and the hassle of the weaker parts of the body, without the ethnic peoples that are unrepresented here, without the poor who feel out of place here. They are the weak, the unpresentable parts that belong to the body.

Woe to us, for thinking we have no need of them, for in fact they are more necessary. For without them, the graces of Christ dry on the vine. The love and forgiveness and mercy and deference that give off the cologne of Jesus are kept safely in the bottle, unable to woo the skeptic with its aroma.

Have you seen the vision?   Rev 7:9,10  “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”

 I don’t know what your vision of heaven is, but I know the one Jesus longs to see. The heaven Jesus anticipates isn’t a bunch of white folk, or black folk, or brown folk. It is going to be one multi-colored gathering. And we best start rehearsing for the mother of all gospel choirs, because that is what we are going to join. And we better start searching for an answer to why—as one of my friends puts it—why, if heaven isn’t going to be segregated, why on earth is the church?!

A fresh vision from God is imperative. But if we learn anything from Peter’s transformation, it is just the beginning of a great adventure. As Peter reflected on the vision he had seen, a knock came on the door downstairs. The visitors — two house servants and a soldier — had been sent by, of all people, a Roman centurion. A Roman, one in command of 100 men. What more despicable delegation could possibly be received? Romans were the occupiers, even more despised than the Greeks!

But the Spirit of Jesus whispered to Peter to get up, go with the men to see their master, because God had sent them. To his infinite credit, Peter went down to greet the visitors. They told him that their master and commander, Cornelius,  had been praying to the God of heaven, and was told by an angel to send for you, Peter, to come. (By the way, take note: God heard the prayers of unsaved Cornelius: “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God” Acts 10:4.  That rather shatters the notion that God does not hear the prayers of an unsaved person!)

And then Peter did something so cataclysmic, so revolutionary, that it is unimaginable to us. He took the first step in a journey that changed the history of the church, a first step that can change a family or even an entire church. He invited the strangers into the house. And the next day He went with them to the home of Cornelius, the Roman.

photocredit: fineartamerica.com-don-wolf.jpg
And for the rest of the story, click here.







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“Play” – Jump cultural hurdles for Christ


So, would you care to know how the Antioch church hit the “Play” button?

Acts 11:20 says, “But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus.”

Who were these “men from Cyprus and Cyrene”? They were (likely) Jews who had come to believe in the Messiah; they were on the move, scattered. Members of the huge Christian diaspora of those days. And they had courage to speak to people who were different…specifically the Hellenists.

Who were the “Hellenists” (or in the NIV, “Greeks”)? Before the Roman Empire, there was the Greek Empire which, thanks to the exploits of Alexander the Great, spread from Italy to present-day Iran. With the kingdom came a Greek, or Hellenistic culture and language that tied the people together (hence the NT is written in Greek).

There were certain cities that were chosen as colonies, or strongholds of Greek culture and learning. Antioch was one of those cities. To the Jews, Hellenists were those people who were hard to figure out.

Language – Jews spoke an eastern language that flowed from the back of the book to the front, from the right side of the page to the left. Hellenists spoke a western language that flowed from the front of the book to the back, from the left side of the page to the right.

Beliefs – Jews believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Hellenists believed in Zeus, Hermes, and Artemis. Jews believed in one God.  Hellenists had a “coatrack” of gods; always room for one more mythological character with wings.

Worldviews – Jews thought in cyclical, existential terms; they sought after signs, the “Wow factor.” Hellenists thought in linear terms; they sought after wisdom, the “Sensible factor.”

Authority – The Jews were the refugees on the run; everything they owned was portable. The Hellenists were settled, comfortable in their culture. But both were under the rule of the Romans, so they had that in common.

It was only a matter of time before they would get into a tussle of confusion over customs, beliefs, and words. In other words, this was a huge hurdle to cross. This would be like me trying to preach Jesus to a Buddhist King from Cambodia who happened to know some English.

But something impelled a few courageous believers to jump the cultural and class hurdle; something empowered them to keep the story unfolding such that an intercultural church with a mission-vision could sprout up in the heart of that Greek colonial city ruled by Romans.

home groupWhat gave them the initiative to do that? Or to relate it practically, what could motivate and strengthen us to do the same? I mean, we are wired to prefer our own kind of music, food and dress. We like our schedules, our politics, our entertainment. And we prefer being around people who share our likes and dislike our dislikes! What reasons could be strong enough to push “Play” in our lives, and in our church, to keep the story rolling?

 Up next:   Rewind – Transformation of mind and heart

Read the full story here.

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A church that only the Spirit could imagine

Interesting thing about the elder board at Antioch church: it was ethnically and economically diverse.

  • Barnabas; (Acts 4:36) “son of encouragement”; priestly tribe,  Cyprus; landowner
  • Simeon who was called Niger; Jewish name, apparently with nickname (Latin) meaning “black.” Child of mixed marriage? (Jewish father, African mother?)
  • Lucius of Cyrene; Roman name (upbringing) from city in Libya (No.African)
  • Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch; possibly foster-brother; Jewish name; associated with a despised, despotic ruling family; exposed to wealth.
  • Saul; well educated Jewish lawyer. Vicious persecutor of the church; excellent teacher

In other words, the Antioch church became a church that only the Spirit of God could have imagined!  For the whole story and what we can learn from it, click here.

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Intercultural unity, good for church health

Intercultural unity — when people of different cultures fellowship deeply together in unity — is good for the health of the Christian community. Let me share some of my thinking:

  • Intercultural unity can expose unhealthy ways in which our culture can become one and the same with our faith — as if there is no other valid way of worship that pleases God other than our way.
  • Intercultural unity can expose ethnocentrism, a cultural arrogance that assumes our way is the right way.
  • Intercultural unity can expose syncretism, the merging of absolute truth with optional cultural practices.

This is what the Jerusalem Council (in Acts 15) accomplished. The Jewish leaders, under direction of the Holy Spirit an at the uncomfortable assistance of those ministering to Gentiles, realized that their customs were not essential for pleasing God.

When you think of all that the Jewish leaders laid down at the foot of the cross, and what little they retained, you have to admire their sacrificial obedience. But what a benefit for the kingdom of God! Their gracious conclusion (Acts 15:28-29) unleashed exponential growth among the Gentiles for centuries to come.

jerusalem councilBut the tipping point had to come. The weight of Gentile acceptance of the gospel had to, at some point, overpower culturally Jewish dominance of the Way. So it was to their credit that the pillars of the Jerusalem church saw the inevitability of change and cooperated with the Spirit’s new wine skins.

Such changes have continually happened ever since, and in our day the rising tide of immigration is pressuring the dominant church to yield. If leaders will take a lesson from Peter and James, we will see what the Spirit is doing in our generation, one in which no ethnic group will hold a majority, one in which people from all nations now call the U.S. home.festival

Like the founding Jewish apostles, we can view this as an opportunity to be seized. Rather than retrenching in the fortress of cultural Christianity, we can take an honest look at our syncretism and take gradual but courageous steps to pare down the things that are “essential” and welcome into the fold a broad spectrum of expressions of following Jesus.





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Diaspora Consultation in South Carolina

I was privileged to speak recently at a Diaspora Mission Consultation in Columbia, South Carolina.  “What in the world is that?”  The idea was to encourage unity among Christians across cultural and denominational lines. For what purpose?  To encourage all of us to reach out beyond our own cultural groups to share the love of Christ with all others.

It was a great time, and included stories from different ethnic communities about how God is at work.  It is a great encouragement to see the breadth of the body of Christ, and be reminded that God is at work among all the nations of the earth, including those whom He is bringing here to America.

diaspora group

Mehari Korcho, who gathered the planning team that organized the event, will serve as our intern staff this year. It is a privilege to have him on our staff. Mehari challenged leaders to repent of only looking after their own group, based on his own journey in which God led him to repent of only ministering to Ethiopians. What a strong word for us today!

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It was thrilling to see our refugee family!

A friend of our ministry had her first experience welcoming a refugee family at the airport. It’s cool to feel her excitement! Another #NearFrontiersTREK. Read on!

refugee welcome
[Photo credit: Foxnews.com]

“Yesterday I had one of the most meaningful and moving evenings ever. Some friends and I are part of a “Welcome Team”  at our church that has begun to welcome people who have lost everything and are coming to LA to start their lives over. “Our” first family arrived last night. They are Kurdish refugees from northern Syria. We had to wait about three hours after the plane landed as they went through customs. Some of our group members had made a sign with their names on it in English and Arabic. When the family came up the ramp from the customs area, bewildered and exhausted, they saw the sign. They were confused and stunned. We had brought some flowers for the mom and little toiletry bags for all of them, and gifts for the kids (five of them, ages 15 to 5).

“It was incredible. They were so thankful to be greeted warmly. Some in our group speak Arabic, and the mother kept telling them, “I was so afraid, I was so afraid of what we would find when the plane landed.”

“They do not have an easy life ahead of them. They are receiving limited assistance from a non-profit organization for 90 days. They will receive government assistance for a limited time as well. Our goal is to help them attain independence as quickly as possible – help them find jobs, enroll their kids in school, figure out public transportation, get library cards, things like that. We also hope to become friends by sharing meals, going to parks together, and exploring their new home in Los Angeles with them.

“It is so hard to describe the beautiful connections and the hope that were created right there in the airport. I cannot imagine the losses they have experienced, nor the overwhelming task of starting over in a completely foreign country. They were in a refugee camp for three years, I think, as they went through the screening process to enter the US. One of the teen boys had shaved a star into his hair — for the USA, like the American flag, he explained.

“I understand that not all of my friends think that the US should welcome refugees. I also understand that there are many Americans who need help too. But I am so grateful that I got to be part of such a profound act of love and grace. Tweet This We got to live out the words on the Statue of Liberty, and it was amazing.

There may be organizations in your area who assist with refugee resettlement.  Check out: 
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7 Reasons your Christian community needs a mission focus

By “mission focus” I simply mean an intentional and continual emphasis on bringing the message and life of Jesus to those who do not yet know Him.

  1. A mission focus keeps you connected to God’s heart of love for all people.
  2. A mission focus raises awareness of people around you who need Christ.
  3. A mission focus connects you to brothers and sisters worldwide who need your prayers.
  4. A mission focus prevents your group from becoming overly focused on members’ needs.
  5. A mission focus expands your prayer life to include God’s plan for the nations.
  6. A mission focus enables your group to see current events through the lens of the Great Commission (Mt. 28)
  7. A mission focus enlivens your own faith and appreciation for your salvation.

Tweet This  7 Reasons your Christian community needs a mission focus.

Here is a written prayer you may want to use in praying about the immigrant crisis today.

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