Friday, 29 June 2012

Bankers, handshakes and the heart of forgiveness

Whether it's HSBC or Barclays money traders, the Queen and Martin McGuinness, John Terry and Patrice Evra.....
Payday delay chaos, immoral work ethics, empty gesture handshakes, or no handshake at all - it seems the whole world has someone to forgive!

Everyone has all kinds of issues in life. Forgiveness, or the lack of it, is one of the universals we all face. To qualify for forgiveness issues, we simply have to live for long enough - it won't be long before someone hurts you, inadvertently or deliberately.

Like it or not, we will also hurt others in the same way. Mostly we seem to stumble through life oblivious to the trail of damage we leave in our wake - like the old boy who drives the wrong way up the one way street, shaking his fist at all those who seem to be against him, unaware of the carnage that a glance in his rear view mirror would reveal!

What are we to do with the accumulated pile up in our rear view mirror - that done to us and by us? Whatever sweet pill of self actualisation Psychologists would help us swallow, we can't change our past. We're all living with the accumulated consequences of other peoples sin in our lives. The only real choices we have, are to endure it all under the bondage of bitterness, or cut it off through the freedom of forgiveness.

Forgiveness really is that powerful an action, and it is a stark choice for all of us that have been the wrong way up the one way street of life. I deliberately call it a choice, rather than a decision that we make to forgive once we feel like it. Fact : We will never feel ready to forgive, but we can all choose to forgive.

This deep and liberating choice for forgiveness is found ultimately by humbling ourselves before the God who took the forgiving initiative with us. Whilst our backs were turned and we stumbled through life without reference to Him, He offered Himself to cover completely all our wrongs and debts. Before we even knew we needed it, He wrote a cheque to cover a fine greater than even Barclays can pay!

This Christ like attitude can be ours towards others if we will first lay ourselves down at His feet. In His pattern and likeness, a new people emerge on an unforgiving planet - Those who forgive much because they themselves have been forgiven even more!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Two weeks with John Livingstone Nevius

I've had plenty of wonderful two week holidays in far flung places over the years, but if you wrote to the locals today they would not remember me. There is no trace of me having been amongst them, no legacy from my impact.

John Livingstone Nevius spent only two weeks in Korea in 1890, yet the simple advice he gave to missionary leaders on that visit continues to shape the ongoing growth of the Korean church to this day!

Travelling into Korea from his base in China, Nevius was at odds with the normal, colonial missionary approach. He understood that both the gospel and church plants failed to penetrate national culture when they remained in the hands of western missionary leadership. Nevius believed that local leaders could and should be trained. Leaders who could establish their own churches and reach their own people far more effectively.

Thankfully the Korean missionary group who heard Nevius in 1890 were open to his remarks. He left them four principles which continue to underpin the growing work there. These principles were staggering at the time, and even now have a ring of mutuality and pragmatism which we would do well to take note of in the UK, nevermind in our work into other cultures.

1/ Nevius said that Christians should remain in the situation in which they lived, learning to witness to their friends and family within their circle. He stressed the importance of the new church not becoming dependent on ministers or missionaries to do the work - rather, they should release ordinary believers who are equipped through study and prayer.

2/ Structures should only be developed if the local church can take full responsibility for them. No more schools or clinics which are funded by missionaries originally, which later become a huge financial liability for local believers.

3/ The Korean church should select it's own leaders, appoint them, and take responsibility for supporting them. Again, local leaders should not be imposed from outside of the culture, especially those funded by foreigners!

4/ Church buildings should reflect the Korean style, and built from the resources of the local believers rather than being funded from a missionary pot. There was no place in Nevius's thinking for replica Anglican gothic buildings complete with clock towers and gargoyles in downtown Seoul!

In Western Europe today, as the church struggles to connect it's message to rapidly changing culture, Nevius has things to teach us. If he spent two weeks amongst us, would he remark in similar fashion?
What we can't argue with is the stats -in 1900 Korea had a Christian population of 0.1% Today it is nearer to 35% with perhaps as many as half the people in the capital, Seoul now following Christ.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Unreached people groups next door

For those of us who grew up with an old 'missionary' mindset, unreached people groups were exotic tribes in far flung places. Our basic understanding was that these people were totally different from us in every aspect of language, culture, education, and lifestyle. They didn't know the gospel and someone would have to go to them.

In more recent years we became aware of phrases like 'the 10/40 window'; That helpful description of the geographical area of longitude and latitude which covers the least evangelised people on the planet.Stretching across the Arab world, North Africa, through the Middle East, eastwards towards it's extreme end point, Japan.

This truly is unreached territory, and rightly has the focus of mission groups and churches. The most unreached nation on the planet, Tunisia, has a Christian population of 0.21%, of which a sum total of 0% are evangelical believers! Indeed, of the top twenty most unreached nations, 19 of them are Islamic, and one, Israel is not!

However, there is a growing population of unreached peoples on our doorstep. People who are not far from us culturally, people who share the same tribal roots and even aspects of language with us.

In mission terms, populations with less than 2% evangelical believers are rightly classed as unreached with the gospel. In many cases they have a relatively high nominal christian population, and even a state church, but they are unevangelised. These are nations where there is so little dynamic New Testament church life, where the gospel is no longer deeply embedded into culture and national life.

It may surprise you to know that from this unreached list, 15 of the top 20 nations are in Europe - the home of reformed Christianity. Indeed, of the top 40 most unreached, 27 are European. On the list are our French cousins, Italy, Belgium, Spain. Many nations which are nominally Catholic, and some Orthodox as you move into Eastern Europe. Britain is not too far behind. All now, effectively unreached with the gospel. All now with less than 2% of the population that have any meaningful roots in biblical Christianity. All similar to us in culture, with all our shared history.

Our missionary understanding and methodology may be changing, but whilst we continue to send and train cross culturally to the 10/40 window, who will come alongside and work with those small groups of believers in post-Christian Europe, in order to reverse this decline and see authentic Christian community established and spreading again?

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Barking up the wrong worship tree

I've been doing some thinking about worship, creativity and post moderns. For those of us who have grown up in this generation, it is possible for us to be breathtakingly introspective. Our characteristic consumer culture and 'meet my needs' worldview, turning our worship of God into an exercise of naval gazing narcissism.

Whilst we sing,'It's all about You', we actually think,'It's all about me'. This is a dangerous perspective if left unchallenged, which robs God of His rightful place, and leaves us thinking that His role is to serve our needs. The old dog and cat theology lesson says it best:

A dog sees his master return at the end of the working day and thinks: 'This guy looks after me, he plays with me, he feeds me, he gives me somewhere to sleep, he's always there and he cares for me. He keeps me safe and I want for nothing. He must be God!'

A cat sees his master return at the end of the working day and thinks: 'This guy looks after me, he plays with me, he feeds me, he gives me somewhere to sleep, he's always there and he cares for me. He keeps me safe and I want for nothing. I must be God!'

Can you see the problem here? So much of what we may think is worship is misdirected. So many of the songs of our times reflecting our needy self obsession. We may be just barking up the wrong tree altogether. Cats wake up - its a dogs world and we have a master to serve!