International Student Ministry

Source: http://friendsinternational.uk/

This weekend I was at an event organised by Friends International and was reminded how doing outreach to international students is such a strategic ministry.

Many students come to this country from places it would be hard for us to get mission workers into.  We could spend a lot of time, energy and money recruiting, training and sending mission workers for Creative Access Nations, where they then may have to spend many years learning language and culture before they can be effective in ministry.

Or we can put resources into reaching the students God puts on our very doorsteps, who can be equipped to go back to their home countries and take the gospel quickly and effectively to their own people.  What’s not to like about that?!

There are over 400,000 international students in the UK, many of whom have little opportunity to hear the gospel in their own country.  Yet we have a small window of a few years when it is easy, cost-effective and legal to tell them about Jesus.  If every university in the country had teams seeking to befriend international students and lead them to Christ, this task could be accomplished much quicker.

Unlike overseas ministry which requires a lot of preparation, student outreach is readily accessible to ordinary Christians and churches.  It doesn’t take much special training to make tea at an international student café once a month, help an international student improve their English or cook a meal for a hungry student.  And it’s something that doesn’t require a great commitment of time, just an occasional availability.

So where do you start?

  • Contact an agency working with international students, like Agape, Friends International, Navigators or UCCF and ask how you can get involved.
  • Make a point of welcoming international students to your church and asking how you can help them
  • Download resources from the Friends International website.
  • Pray that God will send international students to your church.

Outreach to international students is an ideal ministry for people who care about world mission but can’t for some reason go abroad themselves.  It’s an opportunity to be part of taking the gospel to the nations – who knows how these students are going to affect their nations by their godly wisdom and actions and by leading their compatriots to Christ.

 

A Gothic horror?

No, not those Goths!

No, not those Goths!

In the spring of 376 AD, thousands of hungry, weary Goths arrived on the northern bank of the Danube, in what is now Romania, and asked the Romans permission to cross the river into safety.  Displaced by war and violence in their homelands further east, they had migrated to what they believed was safer territory behind the Roman frontier.

For Rome, it was a wonderful opportunity.  Thousands of new citizens who could become workers, soldiers, farmers, taxpayers and consumers could breathe life into the old empire.  But it was also a threat.  Such a large influx could disrupt lifestyle, change culture, bring unhelpful new influences and potentially crime and violence.

The Romans prevaricated, and by not being decisive, lost the initiative.  The Goths forced their way in but instead of being settled and absorbed, they remained a separate cultural (and military) identity within the empire.  Within a few years war broke out, the Goths had inflicted on Rome its biggest defeat in centuries and killed an emperor.  For decades they migrated around western Europe looking for a home, and became the first invaders to sack Rome in nearly a millennium.  They destabilised the empire and contributed to the collapse of the western half of the empire.

1640 years later, is Europe now in the same position as the Romans were?  Faced with a massive influx of people from different cultures, desperate for safety, jobs, a home, will we make them into friends or enemies?  How are they going to influence Europe?

This is the background to next month’s EEMA conference on refugees.  Refugees in Europe – a Fence or a Bridge? will consider what the church in Europe will be doing in the face of the current refugee crisis/opportunity.  How do we show we care about refugees?  What changes are going to be forced on the European church as a result of this?  Is it legitimate to take this as an opportunity to evangelise displaced people, and if it is, how do we do it?  What does this mean for mission from, to and in Europe?

For more information on this key conference, which will be held in Bucharest (in Romania, where the Goths arrived) from 21st-24th June, go to the EEMA website.  We’re going – we hope to see you there!

We want to see Jesus

024Most ancient church buildings have a number of plaques of different sorts on their walls – tombstones of the gentry, memorials to famous parishioners, tributes to the war dead or past incumbents – but at Penhurst in Sussex there is one that in my experience is utterly unique: a private message addressed to just one person.

It is not in a prominent position; in fact it is not visible from most parts of the church, yet it is clear and conspicuous to the person about to mount the steps to the pulpit, and it is addressed only to the preacher.  It reads:

Sir, we would see Jesus.

It is a quote from John 12:21, and it is a reminder to preachers of their responsibility to reveal Jesus to their listeners.  Yet this duty (and joy!) is not the preacher’s alone; it falls to all believers – as Jesus told us to go into all the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:20).

Some of us will indeed be called to go to the other side of the world, while others are called to go to the other side of the street.  It is not the ‘where’ that matters, it is the ‘going’ that counts.  In our schools, offices and retirement homes we can all look to ‘show and tell’ to our colleagues.  In our homes we can explain and exhibit Jesus to our families and neighbours.  In gyms and golf clubs we can incarnate the risen Lord to our team-mates and competitors.  There is no-where and no-when that we cannot – and should not – take the opportunity in some way to bring Christ into a sharper perspective, whether for the first time or the umpteenth, to the people around us.

Paul sets us an excellent example.  He writes to the Corinthians “Woe is me if I don’t preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16).  He felt compelled to share the good news.  But as we will see next week when we look at his missions strategy in Europe, he made it clear to the Thessalonians that this was not only standing in the synagogue trying to persuade people that Jesus was the Messiah who was destined to die and rise again (Acts 17:2-3); it also meant publicly demonstrating Christ in his impeccable behaviour (1 Thessalonians 2:10) and privately imploring individuals to believe (1 Thessalonians 2:11).

To help me remind myself of my role in this great sermon which we live and speak every day, I like to start the day with an ancient prayer.  Perhaps you would like to join me in it:

O Lord, grant that my part in the world’s life today may not be to obscure the splendour of thy presence, but rather to make it more plainly visible to the eyes of my fellow humans.

Come and worship!

Source: www.freeimages.com

Source: www.freeimages.com

This week, Christians will celebrate the momentous event in human history when God stepped into his own creation to live and die as one of us.  It matters not one bit that it may not have happened in December (or January if that is your tradition), or whether the inn was really a guest room, or whether there were kings present, or donkeys, or snowmen.  The important thing is that it happened.

It happened because God was so concerned about the plight of selfish, ungodly humanity that he did what only he could to bring us back into relationship with him.  Or as St Paul puts it “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19).  The whole point was to restore the broken relationship so that humanity could live at peace with God.  Jesus came to make that possible.  That is why we celebrate him as “The Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

For this reason he is the ultimate role model for mission workers.  We may follow the examples and tenets of the founding father of our agencies or movements, or other heroes of mission, but only because they point the way to the one who has gone before all of us.  He left his home, learned the language, and adopted the culture and customs of his mission field.  He laid down his life in obedience to his calling, and he raised up followers to continue the spread of the message.

At the end of his letter to the Romans Paul writes “the gospel and preaching of Jesus Christ… has been made known to all the nations” (Romans 16:25-26).  The world has grown bigger than the Roman Empire of Paul’s day and many more tribes and peoples have been located who have not yet heard the good news.  The missionary imperative to tell the great glad tidings still rings out to us.  Many of the carols and readings that we use in our worship at this time of year encourage us, like the magi (Matthew 2:2), to come and worship Jesus.  What better way to do that than to bring others with us to discover the Saviour for themselves?

Come over here and help us

Paul's Macedonian Vision

Paul’s Macedonian Vision

Paul’s vision of a Macedonian man (Acts 16:10) asking him and his co-workers for help initiated Paul’s ministry in Europe.  It is also an excellent paradigm for modern global mission.

It is at the invitation of the local believers, not the instigation of the mission workers.  Today, except in frontier missions where we have no knowledge of local believers, we should be seeking to partner with indigenous churches, agencies or believers.  How often do we go to a local group with a good idea and sell it to them, and they are too polite to say no even though they don’t want it and they know it won’t work?  It is much better for us (and more empowering for them) to go and sit at their feet, and ask them ‘What do you want for your community, and how can we help you achieve it?’  We need to seek their guidance and advice, respect their decisions, submit to their leadership, and be ready to leave when they feel that we’ve done what they need us to do.

We are invited to help, not take over.  It seems that we often marginalise the local believers and do all sorts of things for them, when they may be capable of doing things for themselves.  We turn up with our education, technology, and Biblical understanding, but leave our respect behind.  A genuine partnership asks ‘How can we do this together?’, and seeks to release everyone into the ministry that God has for them.  In many cases we may bring skills and resources which they do not have, but that does not entitle us to take control.

What does genuine cross-cultural partnership in mission look like?

What does genuine cross-cultural partnership in mission look like?

Our work should be inspired by the Holy Spirit.  Paul hadn’t even thought of going to Macedonia.  He and his friends had tried several times to go into different parts of what is now Turkey.  In this vision, God expanded their boundaries.  He took them into something different.  How willing are we to contemplate doing something different rather than doing the same old thing in the same old way?  Let us be open to the Holy Spirit guiding us into God’s appointed ministry for us.

God is already at work and lets us join in.  The spread of the gospel in any country will have started before we get there.  Paul didn’t bring the gospel to Europe; there would have been several small communities of believers which may have traced their roots back to the crowds of Jewish worshippers who had flocked to Jerusalem for the feast of Shavuot (Acts 2:10).  God was already on the move and gave Paul and his friends a chance to join in.  Let us not be so arrogant as to assume we are taking God in with us.

West isn’t necessarily best.  In large parts of the world Christianity is seen as a western faith.  Yet this incident reminds us that the gospel was originally brought to Europe by people from the Near East.  Europeans would still be pagans (and in many respects we still are!) if mission workers from another continent had not come to teach us.  Let’s remain teachable.

Who is today’s Macedonian?  Who today is calling us to go and help them?  We looked at some of the options a few weeks ago – and they include remote unreached tribes, people in the 10/40 window, and urban slum dwellers.  Are we open to the possibility that there are people hungry for the gospel who we haven’t even considered?

Paul’s vibrant and controversial ministry opened up a new mission field right across Mediterranean Europe.  He was driven by the desire to preach the gospel where it had not been preached before (Romans 15:20).  Let’s follow his example and seek out new frontiers for the kingdom!

Story of the month – outreach in Burundi

IMG_1216We have previously featured the remarkable ministry of Great Lakes Outreach and this month we’re happy to bring you their report from their summer outreach for your encouragement.  GLO National Co-ordinator Simon Guillebaud writes:

I asked you to pray for our incredible annual summer outreach for the first two weeks of August and the results are in.  They’re awesome, as ever!

  • We sent out 1010 evangelists in 42 teams around the country (554 from our group, Harvest for Christ, and 456 local church folk who could learn on the job alongside our guys).
  • 11,366 people made professions of faith, including 62 witchdoctors and 55 Muslims.
  • There were119 miraculous signs, including two blind people recovering their sight, two deaf people hearing, 13 paralysed people being healed.
  • 40 separated couples were reunited, 4 people intent on committing suicide were rescued.

A few stories:
Our team found a naked vagrant madman under a tree.  He couldn’t speak at all.  They prayed for him and he was healed, in his right mind now and able to speak.  When his family members heard he was no longer mad and running naked in the streets, they gave our team all the objects of witchcraft they’d used to try to set him free, and made a fire to burn them all, at which point the family gave their lives to Christ as well.

Karenzo, a young child, had lain paralysed in bed for two years.  The evangelists prayed for him and he was healed.  All his family and neighbours immediately gave their lives to Christ, and the miracle opened up the whole village to welcoming the team in to minister to them.

At Giheta, two of our team were arrested as they preached, and thrown into prison.  Whilst in their cell, they preached their hearts out and led four fellow prisoners to Christ.  They got to meet the head of police and other senior dignitaries.  Once it was established they hadn’t committed any crime, they were released and continued to preach further to a large crowd who were all the more impacted by their willingness to suffer for what they believed, and a large number responded.

Praise God, for these and many other stories of Him setting people free!  Thanks so much for your prayers.  Keep praying for the follow up too, that it would be lasting fruit as these new believers are built up into disciples, not just converts.

To see over 11,000 people saved, as well as all the other fruit produced, the outreach (bus tickets into the bush, minimal food, etc) cost us $32,000.  Please help us do it again next year by clicking here to contribute.  Do also check out our beautiful new website in the process – www.greatlakesoutreach.org

Heroes in mission: Robert Thomas

Robert Jermain Thomas (1839-1866)

Robert Jermain Thomas (1839-1866)

On the face of it, Robert Thomas has to be one of the world’s worst missionaries (sorry Jamie!).  He had hardly set foot in the country he was called to before he was martyred, while according to some accounts, pleading with his murderers to accept Christ.

Christianity had come to Korea, been accepted and then harshly suppressed a couple of times before Thomas, a Welsh Presbyterian serving in China felt the call to Korea, then a closed country, and embarked with a consignment of Bibles on the General Sherman, a heavily-armed US trading ship which was hoping to open up trade (by force, if necessary) with the isolationist Korean kingdom.  As the ship sailed up river towards Pyongyang, Thomas apparently threw Bibles ashore to the Koreans.

Accounts differ of what happened next, and who started shooting, but an incident flared up and the US ship was set on fire.  The fleeing crew were fired upon but Thomas stayed on board till the last minute, still throwing Bibles ashore.  Leaving at the last minute, he was killed as soon as he swam ashore, while offering a Bible to his killer.

The Thomas Memorial Church

The Thomas Memorial Church

A local Korean took the Bibles and used them for wallpaper.  Some years later other mission workers brought Christianity once again to Korea, and local believers discovered the wallpaper and flocked to the house to read it.  The church continued to grow steadily and in 1932 Korean Christians built a memorial church on the riverbank near where Thomas died, but it was later destroyed during the communist revolution and the site is now part of the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology.

Today it is not known how many Christians there are in North Korea, but they are the victims of the most anti-Christian government on the planet.  Most of the believers are in labour camps.  South Korea, on the other hand, has embraced Christianity.  Nearly a third of the population are Christians, the highest proportion in Asia, and they are one of the world’s leading missionary sending nations.

What can we learn from Robert Thomas?

  • He was keen to open new frontiers to the gospel.  Even though there were so many unevangelised Chinese, Thomas was led to go to a closed country where he knew the risk.  Today, when there are so many unevangelised countries in the 10/40 window and 41% of people who have not heard the gospel live in the thousands of neglected people groups, many British mission workers go to safe countries which already have strong indigenous churches. (You can read more about this in our blog Is it time to move on?)
  • He was zealous to propagate the gospel even when his own life was threatened.  In our risk-averse world, how many of us would even have gone to Korea, let alone offered a Bible to the soldier about to kill us?
  • There are dangers of being too closely involved with non-Christians.  If Thomas had not gone with armed traders, his reception may have been different.  We need to be wary of joining forces with those who do not share our aims and values.

Today, many thousands of South Korean pilgrims visit Wales to visit the birthplace of Robert Thomas in Rhayadr and the manse which was his childhood home.  The Christians in North Korea cannot, of course, even leave their prison camps leave alone their country.  Please pray for them.

Is it time to move on?

Countries of the 10/40 window, in blue

Countries of the 10/40 window, in blue

Which are the countries which have the smallest proportion of Christians?  Most of the candidates are debatable because it is hard to collect accurate statistics in them, and many believers will be keeping their heads down for fear of persecution.  But the answer is probably:

  • Western Sahara
  • Afghanistan
  • Somalia
  • Yemen
  • Maldives
  • Morocco
  • Mauritania

All of these countries have fewer than 0.5% Christians, and are closely followed by Tunisia, Algeria and Turkey.*  Many other countries in north Africa, central Asia and the middle east have fewer than 1% Christians.  None of these countries are places where it would be easy to be a mission worker, and in many of them, it could be fatal.  As it can be for the believers.

1112138276You might expect the bulk of the church’s mission work to focus on countries like these.  Even if it’s not easy for us to go as mission workers, it’s possible to go and start missional businesses such as teaching English or computing, introduce the nationals to Jesus while they are studying abroad in a more open country, and train locals remotely to witness to their own people.  We can broadcast the gospel into their countries – see the work of TWR Europe, FEBA or Sat 7 for example.  We can pray.  We can go on holiday there and try to be a subtle witness or engage in prayer ministry.  Some agencies, to be sure, are trying to get people into countries like these, but of course we can’t tell you who they are in these pages, though we salute the faith of the few who engage in such a dangerous calling.

Yet a list of the countries to which the UK sends most mission workers tells a different story.  We actually invest most of our missionary effort in countries where Christians are already in the majority.  The top five receiving countries are:

  • Kenya (79% Christian)
  • Brazil (91%)
  • France (68%)
  • Zambia (85%)
  • Spain (68%)

In total there are over 10,000 mission workers in these countries from all over the world.  It is perfectly legal to witness to people and to start a new church in each of these countries (though occasionally very difficult!).  Although many of the ‘Christians’ contained in the statistics may be nominal, with the exception of France and Spain they have strong evangelical churches which are able to shoulder the burden of mission, and in France the church, though still small, is growing strongly.

While there are nearly two billion people living in the 10/40 window who have never heard the gospel, thousands of completely unreached people groups elsewhere, and hundreds of ethnic minorities who have no access to the Bible in their own language, does this seem an appropriate use of our resources?  Ok, perhaps the Christians in those countries do not follow our particular brand of Christianity, but wouldn’t it be better for us to let the local church take over the task of witnessing to the lost?

Is the continuing presence of overseas mission workers in those countries actually preventing the indigenous church taking on more responsibility for evangelising their own people?

Time to move on?

Time to move on?

I know a lot of mission workers reading this will already be angry with this suggestion (thank you for making it this far!) and I recognise that there may be many people working in those countries who will be doing tasks the local church may not currently be equipped to do:

  • providing theological education
  • discipling a young and inexperienced church
  • using those countries as a base for reaching out into other less evangelised ones
  • working with unreached minority people groups
  • providing vital technical support such as bible translation.

There will be other valid reasons for mission workers to be there.  Or are these countries simply ones where we like to be mission workers?  But if 90% of us moved on to minister to an unreached people group or a country in the 10/40 window, that would mean an extra 9000 people freed up to reach the world’s least evangelised people.  That’s over 150 new mission workers in countries like Tajikistan, Laos and Algeria.

Of course it’s risky.  Even today mission workers are being martyred in the 10/40 window.  But that’s part of following Jesus, and despite the western world’s risk-averse policies, Jesus didn’t shrink from paying the ultimate price to show God’s love for the lost, and neither did the early church.

Maybe it’s time for us to move on to somewhere more needy.  Or is that a bit too uncomfortable for us to consider?

* This article has drawn heavily on Operation World for its statistics.  Find out more about this essential guide to prayer for the world at www.operationworld.org

Send in the workers!

Large harvest, few workers

Large harvest, few workers

The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  So ask the Lord of the harvest to send out more workers.

This verse, recorded both by Matthew (9:37-8) and Luke (10:2) will be familiar to most of us involved in cross-cultural mission.  We are only too aware that there is a great need for more people to help with our work and yet so few people come forward.  We frequently use this verse in our prayers and in our appeals.  Yet our familiarity with it may blind us to one obvious point:

Why would the farmer not want to send out more workers?

The verse gives us a glimpse of life in an agrarian economy still relevant to many parts of the world but less so to the west.  In a society dependent on growing its own food a good harvest is of paramount importance, and getting it in quickly before it perishes or gets stolen is a top priority.  So here we’re given a picture of a farmer with a bumper crop in his fields, and not enough workers to reap it… and he doesn’t go out and hire more workers?

Camille Pissarro - the Harvest

Camille Pissarro – the Harvest

This farmer (who represents God in this instance) is not interested in mere hired hands.  He’s not a capitalist who sees labour as an expendable commodity.  He’s looking for partners who will not only work with him but share the rewards.  John’s version of this verse (4:34-38) says “he who is reaping is receiving wages, and is gathering fruit for eternal life.”  In other words, this farmer not only pays wages, he runs a profit-sharing scheme as well!  The result is that everyone is happy.

So it’s not merely a case of spending more money to attract new workers.  It’s about winning hearts and minds so that new workers will join a cause.  The best way to do that is to pray, because in prayer our hearts become aligned to the heart of God.

By encouraging people to pray rather than to go, we are helping them to enlarge their hearts for the lost.  As they buy into God’s mission to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10) they will be equipping themselves to be the answer to their own prayer – and go.

There is a huge multitude of people worldwide who are ready to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.  Of course God wants more workers to spread this news, but God wants them to join in of their own free will and not because they’ve been boxed into a spiritual corner and find themselves forced to go against their own better judgement.

All great moves of God start with prayer – let us redouble our efforts to rekindle another one by being obedient to this commandment.  Join with us in praying at 10:02 every day that the Lord will send more workers!

Who are the real believers?

The Injil (New Testament) is a Holy Book of Islam

The Injil (New Testament) is a Holy Book of Islam

We mentioned previously the conference on contextualisation held last month, and I’d like to follow up by wading into the debate on what happens when muslims find faith in Jesus.

In parts of the world where there is a dominant non-Christian culture, notably but not only Islam, it has become common in recent years for some people who find faith in Jesus to stay within their socio-religious communities.  They may still attend the mosque and call themselves muslims (or muslim followers of Jesus).  This is not necessarily because they fear persecution (they may well get that anyway) but because the community is so tight and hostility to Christianity so strong, that they would lose family, friends, social networks and the ability to earn money or even buy food.  By remaining within their community, even though they hold unorthodox beliefs, they maintain their support structures and, crucially, the opportunity to witness to their families and neighbours.

Some Christians think that these ‘insiders’ cannot possibly be real Christians, and that if they were, they should leave their communities, join a church, call themselves Christians and take the resulting persecution.

Church and mosque - mutually exclusive or is there an overlap?

Church and mosque – mutually exclusive or is there an overlap?

A biblical case study of relevance would be the early Jerusalem church.  While clearly self-identifying as followers of Jesus (or The Way), they still considered themselves Jews, attended temple services and kept the law.  They were, in effect, a Jewish sect.  They didn’t stop being Jewish just because they followed Jesus.  While relationships with other sects like the Pharisees and Sadducees were occasionally violent, mostly they co-existed for nearly forty years.  The split began when the Jesus followers didn’t take part in the war against Rome (68-70 AD) and fled en masse to Pella, so their loyalty to Jewish nationalism was impugned.  Eventually, around 85AD the Jews developed a curse on those who split the faith, which forced the Jesus followers out of the synagogues where it formed part of the liturgy.

In other words, the Jewish believers were happy to remain within Judaism until those who rejected Jesus pushed them out of it.  It was the same in the churches Paul visited – they always started with the synagogue until they were expelled.  It may well be the same with muslim-background believers – only time will tell.

crossRecent research among one particular group of muslim-background believers in Jesus found some startling results.  390 believers in 118 communities (ekklesia) were interviewed.  83.9% met together with other believers at least once a week, mainly in homes.  Most of them are in groups of fewer than ten people and their activities include Bible-reading, prayer, worship and fellowship.  41% of them had come to faith through experiencing dreams or visions of Jesus, or miraculous healings.  57% of them had found faith after being witnessed to by other believers.  Perhaps the most staggering statistic was that 92% of them had shared with non-believers the message of salvation through Jesus alone.

Until the church can match statistics like that, we don’t have the right to claim that they are not ‘proper’ believers.

Focus on Mongolia

mongoliaMongolia is a country which is not often talked about in the west, and the suffering Christians in the least densely populated country in the world seem largely ignored.  Even the respected website www.persecution.org has no current reports on the situation for believers there, yet anecdotal evidence emerges for the suffering of the church.

Although there are fewer than 50,000 believers in Mongolia (precise numbers are not available), the church has an ambitious goal to have 10% of the population as active church members by the year 2020.  In a country dominated by Buddhist and atheist beliefs, where powerful shamans still wield significant influence at all levels of society, this goal is also significantly dangerous.

The Orthodox church of the Holy Trinity in Ulan Bataar

The Orthodox church of the Holy Trinity in Ulan Bataar

Life in Mongolia is hard for many people.  Unemployment is high, and so are the prices of basic commodities.  According to one source, it is one of the most corrupt countries in the world.  The value of its currency has tumbled almost as fast as Syria’s in recent weeks as falling coal exports deprive the country of foreign earnings.  But life is even harder for Christians, who can lack the family support networks to help them survive, and are vulnerable to significant persecution, bureaucratic disinterest and family opposition.

Yet the country does not feature in the top 50 countries where it is hardest to be a Christian, largely because Christianity is officially permitted.  But a recent unpublished report told of how the spy holes in the doors of apartments where Christians live had been painted over with red paint, compromising their security, but not those of their non-Christian neighbours.  Death threats spray-painted in red have been left for them.  Some have had to leave home in fear of their lives.  Despite that, the number of churches in the capital has proliferated and over 400 overseas mission workers now serve there.  Truly remarkable growth for a country which had just a small handful of believers in 1989.

Please pray for our suffering brothers and sisters.  The church faces many challenges as it seeks to reach out.  There is hostility from other faiths, lack of resources, poor access to the Bible in their own language and a resurgence of Buddhism.  Pray that God will make them bold in their proclamation of Jesus, strong in their faith, united in their love and comforted in their grief.

Jesus rescues us from God?

rob-bellOne of the attention-grabbing statements in Rob Bell’s book Love Wins, published a couple of years ago, was the statement that ‘Jesus rescues us from God’.  Bell loves these potentially controversial yet thought-provoking sayings, and while this may on the surface sound ridiculous, put into the context of the surrounding paragraph, it might superficially seem to make sense:

Many have heard the gospel framed in terms of rescue.  God has to punish sinners, because God is holy, but Jesus has paid the price for our sin, and so we can have eternal life.  However true or untrue that is technically or theologically, what it can do is subtly teach us that Jesus rescues us from God.

But in doing so, Bell has revealed his lack of Trinitarian thinking.  Steve Chalke did the same a few years ago, when an evangelical storm in a teacup blew up around his suggestion that God might have been guilty of cosmic child abuse by beating up his own son on the cross.  Neither of them intended to communicate that they really believed what they said, but they both inadvertently ignited some controversy.

Trinitarian or tritheistic?

Trinitarian or tritheistic?

What these two, and countless other Christians in recent years have started to do, is think of the Father (aka God), Jesus and the Holy Spirit as separate people.  This is understandable given that we classically formulate the Trinity as ‘God in three persons’.  But a person today is an individual, whereas 1700 years ago when the word ‘person’ was first used in this context, identity was far more rooted in community, family and relationship than individuality.

That means that the Christian Fathers who thrashed out the orthodox definition of Trinity were thinking more of three ‘persons’ in relationship, in community, together, rather than three individuals.  But in our individualistic culture the imagery of the Trinity is stretched almost to breaking point, as we find it hard to conceive of three ‘persons’ in one being, unless it is evidence of a personality disorder.  The postmodern church has become functionally tritheistic, simply because it is, on the surface, easier to reconcile.

But Bell is wrong: Jesus does not rescue us from God because Jesus is God.  Chalke is wrong: God did not beat up Jesus; God took the beating personally on the cross.

Trinitarian believers need to learn to see God in Jesus as much as we see Jesus in us.  Jesus had a very high Christology: He who has seen me has seen the Father (John 14:9).  I am in the Father and the Father is in me. (John 14:11).  I am the Father are one (John 10:30).  In this latter verse the Greek implies one thing or one substance, rather than the more metaphorical being of one heart and mind.

Jesus handNot only did Jesus self-identify with the Father, he co-acted with the Father  – The Son can do nothing by himself… Whatever the Father does, the Son also does the same (John 5:20) and he co-spoke with the Father – I do not speak on my own initiative… I speak what the Father told me (John 12:49-50).

Even more radically, he then goes on to include to include us in this relationship of being and acting – I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you (John 14:20).  Remain in me, and I will remain in you (John 15:4).

And his missional mandate includes us too: God seeking the lost in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:9) becomes Jesus seeking and saving the lost (Luke 19:10) becomes our mandate in the Father and the Son: As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you (John 20:21), empowered by the Holy Spirit, who abides with you, and will be in you (John 15:17).

When we see ourselves as part of this Trinitarian missio dei – God’s outreach to the world – we will find ourselves truly commissioned, sent, indwelt and inspired by the living God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Contextualisation

Contextualisation?  A 19th century church building in Malawi  (Source: Wikipedia)

Contextualisation? A 19th century church building in Malawi (Source: Wikipedia)

Most of us have heard stories of how mission workers of the past often took their native culture with them in the well-meant but misguided view that it was ‘Christian’ to wear clothes, worship in a certain style or meet in a building whose architecture reflected the mission workers’ culture more than the local one.  Sadly today we often make similar mistakes, although there is generally a greater awareness of the need to contextualise.

Contextualisation is the word we give to how we adapt our presentation of the gospel so that it is culturally relevant to the people we are talking to.  It involves understanding their location and culture so that we don’t say things they won’t understand or even worse be put off by.  So there’s no point in using the verse “Though your sins are scarlet they will be white as snow” in the tropics, where people haven’t seen snow.  Better to replace snow with cotton.  And don’t tell a Buddhist she must be born again – that’s the very thing she’s fed up with doing!

The early apostles – particularly Paul – used contextualisation in preaching the gospel.  When addressing Jews, Paul quoted extensively from Jewish scripture and tradition (e.g. Acts 13:16-41), yet in his famous address to the ruling council in Athens (Acts 17:22-31) he made no mention of either, but argued with them out of their own culture and tradition.  Yet at the same time he was committed to the unadulterated truth of the gospel – “we preach Christ crucified” (1 Corinthians 1:23).

Contextualisation or blasphemy?

Contextualisation or blasphemy?

In recent years there has been an ongoing debate over what is optional and what is non-negotiable, as with the recent high-profile controversy about references to Father and Son when talking to people of a Moslem background.  Contextualisation affects our language, as in the case of one English church which has stopped using the word Father to describe God, since that word has such negative connotions in the minds of local non-christians.  It also affects cultural and self-identification issues: should a Moslem who comes to faith be called a Christian?  Or a Moslem-background believer?  A follower of Isa-al-Massi?  Should he be encouraged to leave the mosque and be part of a church?  Or continue being part of his community as a secret believer?

Challenges such as these affect mission to people of other beliefs, particularly in Asia where we come into contact with people of radically different worldviews, and in post-Christian Europe where many are ignorant of even the most basic Christian terminology like ‘sin’ and ‘redemption’.  Which is why many evangelists now use terms like ‘Do you want God to help you?’ in preference to the less accessible ‘You must repent!’

The European Evangelical Mission Association is holding a conference in September (in Majorca!) to discuss these issues.  Representatives of denominations and mission agencies will be there to debate the limits of contextualisation, the future of the insider movement and the relevance of the C1-C6 model.  The speakers will be renowned exponents on these topics: Rose Dowsett, Beat Jost, and John Travis.  To find out more go to http://www.europeanema.org/conference-2013/.  It promises to be a challenging debate!

They had been with Jesus…

Jesus' last message

Jesus’ last message

In the book of Acts, there’s quite a lengthy story about the trouble that Peter and John get into for preaching the resurrection of Jesus after the healing of a lame man in his name (Acts 3-4).  The ructions go all the way to the top, and they end up being hauled before the authorities to account for themselves, where Peter preaches a bold message.  And then as the national and religious leaders begin to debate what to do with them, Luke adds a delightful little phrase:

They recognised them as having been with Jesus. (Acts 4:13)

Of course, it may just be that realising they were Galileans they remembered seeing Peter and John with Jesus.  But I like to think it was more.  I wonder if they saw something in their boldness, their integrity and eloquence that reminded them of Jesus.  Had Peter and John begun to resemble Jesus?

After three years of living with Jesus, it’s highly likely that some of his mannerisms and expressions had begun to rub off on them.  Even subconsciously, we emulate key authority figures in our lives.  But this could have been so much more.  Having received the gift of the Holy Spirit (as Jesus promised them in John’s gospel) they were beginning to undergo inner transformation.  They were being reminded about what Jesus had told them (John 14:26).  They were doing what he had done, and saying what he had said.  They were becoming like him.  And it showed.

They had been with Jesus

They had been with Jesus

The great mystery of this is that the Father and the Son have set up home with us (John 14:23).  Not merely that they moved into our neighbourhood, or visit our church on a Sunday morning, but that they have settled in.  Most of us fail to actively cooperate with them.  We treat them like lodgers, who live in a room at the back of the house.  We see them occasionally, and sometimes we may have a chat, but effectively they live separately lives while under the same roof.

They want more.  They want to be treated as part of the family.  They want to belong with us.  Jesus says he wants to come in and eat with us (Revelation 3:20).  Note that he says this not in an evangelistic way to unbelievers, but as an offer of deeper fellowship to Christians.  This is an intimate relationship, living together cheek by jowl, talking things over, doing things together, just like Jesus would have done when he was living with his disciples.  And when we cultivate this intimacy, we become more like him.

Do the people you work with see Jesus in you?  Not merely the Christians, who might be looking to see him in us, but the non-Christians.  The policeman at the roadblock, the customs official, the taxi driver or the shop worker.

If they don’t, it’s probably because we haven’t been with Jesus.

Report from the Vocation Zone

68547_10151597577244603_1250709866_nDuring the week following Easter, Syzygy was represented at Spring Harvest by Tim, who was helping out in the Vocation Zone.  This is a project run by Christian Vocations in partnership with Spring Harvest, which aims to help people recognise their God-given abilities and understand where they can exercise them appropriately, whether in the workplace, church or overseas mission.

A steady flow of visitors to Spring Harvest came through the Vocation Zone, many of them looking at vacancies in Christian organisations which were displayed on the jobs wall, taking home resources such as the Short Term Service Directory, or using the computers to do some of the reflective exercises.  All these activities can lead to a discussion with an advisor (Paul, Tim and Rachel) who were available to help people think through issues and gain some focus for finding a way forward.

Many of the visitors to the Vocation Zone came because they were aware of dissatisfaction with their current role.  A lot of them were teachers, frustrated with bureaucracy; others were people in dead-end jobs looking for more fulfilment, and many were facing redundancy.

One such visitor was a man who had been in the same job for 20 years and he didn’t like it.  He wanted a change but didn’t know where to start.  We started him off with some of our diagnostic tools.  Having done a ‘career check up’ he had realised that his job wasn’t as bad as he had thought it was, and following a long conversation he discovered that he actually quite liked his job, but felt unsupported in it.  Added to that, the general level of change and uncertainty in his life had left him emotionally unable to deal with the challenges he faced.  Empowered by this understanding, he was able to develop a plan to engage better with his employers and develop his workplace skills.

527123_10151597525594603_2133469060_nSome of the visitors were people approaching retirement who were looking for ways to use their availability to serve God abroad, and a large number of the visitors were young people looking to do mission during their gap year.  Using the Christian Vocations resources such as the magazine Mission Matters and the mission vacancies listings we were able to point many of them to the mission field, including several who’d never considered going abroad or had thought their circumstances made it impossible.

Vocation Zone is an important part of events like Spring Harvest as it gives a mission-focussed edge in the context of many thousands of Christians coming together.  It is also at New Word Alive and Keswick, so make sure you drop by if you are ever at any of these events.  Our friends at Oscar run a similar Missions Advice Area at New Wine.  If you can’t get to any of these events, most of the resources are available online at www.christianvocations.org, and so are all the job vacancies, both in the UK and overseas.  Please pray for the hundreds of people impacted by Vocation Zone each year.

Immigrants and strangers

In a recent exercise with a group of TCKs, we did a Bible study in which I challenged the young people to name as many characters from Bible who didn’t fit into the culture of the people around them.

From the obvious ones like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who left their homeland in search of an inheritance, and the apostles who went out into the Hellenised world and eventually beyond to take the gospel, to Joseph and  Daniel, the successful Prime Ministers of foreign powers, we came up with a list that completely filled the flip chart.  Rahab, who left her people to throw in her lot with the Israelites, refugees Ruth & Naomi, and David living with his band of outcasts among the Philistines were some of the less likely examples.  In the end, most of the major characters in the Bible were up on the list.  I left them with the challenge: in the light of that list, how do you feel about finding it hard to fit into British culture?

For mission workers adult and juvenile, the challenge is generally seen as how to fit in, whether it’s coping with culture shock when we go to live in a foreign country, or reverse culture shock when we come back home – and remember that Britain isn’t ‘home’ for TCKs who’ve spent most of their lives in another country.  Yet is this really the right approach?

People working with TCKs try to help them fit in and feel at home, to quickly make friends at school and come to grips with the very different culture they’re living in.  If they feel they can fit in, they are generally a lot happier and content to be living here.  But when you take a long, hard look at our materialistic, sensual, consumerist society, why on earth would we want anyone to fit in?  Learn to cope with it, yes, but to feel like you belong?  Surely all Christians should be actively taking steps to make sure we don’t feel we belong in this world!  Isn’t that what John means by telling us that we are not of this world? (John 17:16, 1 John 2:15)

The New Testament summarises this sense of dwelling in but not belonging as being immigrants and strangers (1 Peter 2:11, CEV).  There is a very contemporary ring about these words, yet they were ancient legal categories referring to transient migrant workers and what we now call ‘resident aliens’.  People who weren’t from round here.  People who were different, who didn’t fit in.  Who didn’t have rights.  People who formed an economic underclass, who may actually have been desperate to go ‘home’ but couldn’t find jobs or food there.  The Roman empire, particularly its major cities like Rome, Corinth, Antioch and Alexandria were heaving with this great unwashed mass of migrant humanity, living a hand-to-mouth existence, moving from tenement to tenement, city to city, in a never ceasing effort to find food, work, money.

This colourful picture shows us how Peter expected Christians to feel about their place in the world around us.  Hebrews 11:13-16 picks up on this imagery and suggests that the Old Testament heroes of faith were like foreigners and strangers in the land, looking for a better home, a city given them by God.  Paul resolves this paradox in Ephesians chapter 2, where he says you are no longer strangers and foreigners but co-citizens with the saints and the household of God.

This teaching would have been hugely encouraging to the stateless, illiterate, itinerant workers who made up the bulk of the early church.  Many of them were slaves, most would have owned no property, and few would have been Roman citizens.  To have a sense of community, belonging, enfranchisement and home would have been beyond their wildest dreams, and they found it in the church.  This truly is good news for a broken world.

At this time of year we remember the birth of the ultimate cross-cultural mission worker who brought this good news.  He wasn’t from round here.  He moved into our world and brought a message of hope.  Like those he lived alongside, he wasn’t a citizen; he lived under military occupation.  For a while he was a political refugee.  He had few belongings, and moved from place to place, with nowhere to rest his head.  He was executed as a common criminal and buried in a borrowed grave.  This was someone with whom the urban underclass could identify, even though in his own world he was a King.

How much effort do his followers make today not only to take his message to immigrants and strangers, but to take it in the same way he did?

Why do overseas mission workers need support anyway?

This question might seem to many of us to have a perfectly clear answer, but it is evident from the number of mission workers who are (or feel) unsupported, particularly by their home church, that there is a significant problem.

Paradoxically, the problem often results from the success of local mission.  Many churches are active in their surrounding communities with a whole range of outreach and care programmes about which they are so enthusiastic that they genuinely can’t see why people would want to go off and ‘do their own thing’ while there is so much work to do here.

Add to that situation the success in recent years of getting people to understand that we are all mission workers, that everyone in the church has a part to play in reaching out to their family, friends and workmates, and you create a context in which overseas mission workers are not different or special (which is true), they’re just doing the same work as everyone else, but in a different context.  My friend Terry was quite rightly aggrieved when his church got him up the front to pray for him when he went off to do short-term mission in Thailand, but completely ignored him when he got a job at a spare-parts shop which he saw as an opportunity to reach out to non-Christians.

Terry saw no difference between his two missional roles, and if that is true, there is no need for different support levels.  But the difference in context is crucial: the overseas workers have deliberately moved away from their normal support mechanisms (church, friends, family and familiar culture) into a role which may be emotionally, spiritually and physically challenging, and which probably does not attract a salary.  So they have increased need for support, but less access to it.  This is a recipe for disaster.

To understand how need for support increases, let’s look at a scale of cross-cultural mission which clearly demonstrates why certain roles require more support.  It recognises that all Christians are called to mission, but shows how the context can vary.

1)      Christian has normal job in home town and uses existing family and workplace connections missionally

2)      Christian deliberately selects a job in a company with little Christian representation, OR moves into a different part of town with a view to being an active witness

3)      Christian moves to a completely different part of their home country, OR deliberately changes career in order to be an active witness

4)      Christian moves abroad to be an active witness.

It can be seen that in each progressive stage of mission the Christian is intentionally moving away from his/her natural comfort zone and support network, and therefore requires people to support them in the struggles their new home and/or vocation presents.  Becoming an overseas mission worker not only means setting up a new home in an alien culture and often using a foreign language, but doing all that together with learning a new vocation and being far away from the comforts of friends, family and familiar surroundings.  They may be experiencing significant stress when they are farthest away from those able to alleviate it.  That is why they need more support.  Failure to deliver it can lead to stress, burnout and attrition.

Churches, family and friends need to provide this support in the following ways:

Emotional – caring about the loneliness and isolation of living in a foreign country and taking active steps to help mitigate it and provide comfort

Spiritual – supporting mission workers in prayer, and particularly being aware that they may lack access to books, teaching and worship in their own language

Financial – mission workers may not only be forgoing a salary, they may have increased financial needs which they need help with

Practical – leaving elderly parents behind, renting out property and managing their practical affairs are all simple tasks mission workers need help with.

By ensuring good quality support for overseas mission workers, we are investing in the effectiveness and longevity of their mission.  With our coordinated and focussed help, they will achieve more and be less liable to burnout, which in the long-term is also making life easier for those church leaders who would otherwise have to pick up the pieces.

Jesus in the Port

This consultation was a major blessing and a privilege to be part of.  Participants included the host Robert Calvert (long-time minister of the Scots International Church in Rotterdam) and his PLACE colleagues Stephen Thrall (Paris), Dave Clark (Dundee), Axel Nehlsen (Berlin) and Andrej Madly (Cluj).  They are all heavily impacted by Ray Bakke who was the special guest.  There were about 30 participants who included people working in Dundee, Glasgow, Birmingham, London, Paris, Rotterdam, Groningen, Amsterdam, Berlin, Vienna and Cluj.  Many of the participants were outside their home culture (e.g. Germans working in the Netherlands) and every continent was represented, particularly people from African backgrounds.  There were also several participants working in Rotterdam who dropped in for part of the conference.  The atmosphere was extremely convivial and relaxed, with people quickly striking up good conversations.

There were five discussion sessions in all:

Cities – led by Rogier Bos we considered some of the essential characteristics of major Europeans cities (e.g. old, and centred on an Christian core such as a cathedral though Christianity is a disappearing influence, multicultural, becoming brands in their own right, built on a premise of self-actualisation and having an increasingly ageing population.  We considered the challenges of ministry in these contexts (churches with little sense of mission, stuck in maintenance mode, with much creative innovation on the fringes, and confusion about ecclesiology, missiology, ethics and eschatology).

Change – Robert Calvert talked about the sort of change we need to engage with, change that is radical enough to force us to reconsider our missiology and ecclesiology.  He particularly asked us how we evaluate change.  Traditionally we look at numbers of conversions, but ‘redeeming a community’ does not necessarily result in an increase in headcount though God can still be at work.  He cited as an example a Rotterdam church made up largely of ex-criminals who came to Christ as a result of an urban regeneration project but were unwelcome in traditional churches.

Leadership – Ray Bakke talked about inspiring leaders, people who are prepared to break the mould and engage with homosexual/transgender culture, enter gangland communities, or gain access to muslim schools by completely removing Christian references in their work.  He told several dramatic stories of incarnational mission.  The story which had the strongest impact on me was one of a pastor who deliberately moved with his family into a deprived area, and sent his children to the local school despite other Christians accusing him of ‘abusing’ his children by doing this.  His son became friends with a classmate and regularly invited him back home for meals.  When the family discovered that the boy was homeless, they adopted him.  Some time later the boy became a Christian, saying to the pastor it was easy to understand.  “You sent your son to my school and we became friends, so you adopted me.  God sent his son into the world, and whoever becomes his friend gets to be adopted!”  What a simple but effective image of the gospel!

Networks – Harald Sommerfeld and Axel Nehlsen (leaders of Together for Berlin) did a presentation on effective networking, highlighting the difference between strong ties, which are good for bonding and reciprocity while taking up time and not necessarily introducing you to new contacts and ideas, and weak ties which do the latter but not the former.  Ideal networkers need a blend of both.  Having successfully linked together a number of agencies and churches working in Berlin, their recommendation is not to try to bring everyone into one central network but to ensure that you are connected to at least one key player in each network who can then extend your influence into other circles.  I feel that is exactly what we should do with this network!

Prayer – we had a whole session on prayers for our communities, identifying key issues for each city and praying into them.

Additionally there were visits to the Danish Seafarers’ Mission, an Agape project living and working among immigrants, and an outreach and regeneration project in a poor area of the city.  These people and several others told their stories of radical incarnational mission which often left them unsupported by local churches unable to make an adequate adaption of their ecclesiology/missiology, which ultimately bore fruit for the Kingdon of God.

Several people told their stories and many of them featured successful work in muslim communities and schools, or fruitful projects which were initially too radical to gain support from local churches.  We agreed to keep in contact with each other through social media, and to meet together regularly in future years.  This is a network which is worth participating in if you are active in urban church planting in Europe.

The consultation was organised by Partners Learning and Acting in Cities of Europe (PLACE), a forum which grew out of Hope for Europe.

Stories from Burundi

A couple of years ago Great Lakes Outreach was one of our Featured Ministries.  Its founder, Simon Guillebaud, recently circulated news from a recent outreach they held.  These stories are too good not to retell!

One of our teams went to a hospital to pray for the sick, but unfortunately started with a room where a young girl was in a coma, and presumed to be dying – to such an extent that her family had gone off to buy a coffin for her burial.  A friend said to them: “Listen, if your God is able, then pray for her and heal her, and then we’ll believe; but otherwise, please leave us, we don’t want to waste our time listening to you.”  Our team rose to the challenge, prayed for the girl, and she came back to life fully!  Some said she was resurrected from the dead – who knows, but whatever the case, two days later she was back home with her family.  That provided a massive open door of opportunity at the hospital, with many staff and patients giving their lives to Christ in response to that undeniable miracle.

Another team went to Kirundo prison to share the gospel.  They spent half a day with a group of interested prisoners.  Every single one of them gave their lives to Christ.  The following day, that group of prisoners were all released from jail!  One of them called Misago was blown away.  He said: “I knew as I surrendered to Christ I’d been set free spiritually, but now also literally!”  As a result of their story a number of people living around the prison also became believers.

A student team in Karusi province spent three days washing the sores of child lepers who had been abandoned by their families.  Observers simply couldn’t understand how students could show such love to these rejects of society.  A passer-by said: “We’d heard that true religion is taking care of orphans, but this is the first time we’ve seen it lived out.”  Many of them gave their lives to Christ as a result.

Suzanne had been in bed for two years, and had spent all the family’s wealth on witchdoctors in seeking a cure for her mystery illness.  Our guys came to her, shared with her, prayed for her, and she was healed.  Her whole family became believers.  I met her yesterday, and she was radiant with joy, talking about God’s miracle in her life.

And in terms of the longer-term impact, here’s what has happened in the last few years to one pastor and his church in the second city.  He planted it three years ago and was totally discouraged with the lack of any fruit.  So he asked us to send a team, which we did in 2009 and 2010.  On the back of that, his church is now full, they’re building an extension, and he’s set up a similar team which is resourcing other churches in the area!

What’s in a name?

“What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet”.  So lamented Juliet, reflecting on the fact that Romeo’s surname was a barrier to their relationship.  She felt his name should not be a significant issue.  True, the fragrance of the rose would remain unchanged if we had named it stinking bogweed, but we might not be so fond of it.

Jesus says something very interesting in his prayer recorded in John 17 – “I have shown them Your Name” (John 17:6).  We often overlook it, but which name does he mean?  They already knew the sacred name YHWH even though they might not know how to say it, because it was considered too holy for a human to pronounce.  They used the words ‘King’ and ‘Lord’, which rightly expressed that God was their ruler.  But these are not names, they’re titles, and there were many other titles which they used as well, but not names.  So what does Jesus mean?

There is one word which he used more than any other to talk about God – Father.  Not just our Father, as the Hebrews frequently prayed, sometimes the Father, but usually my Father.  This was utterly unheard of.  There is no record of anyone in the Old Testament being so presumptuous.  Indeed, the phrase only appears once on the lips of a person in reference to God, and that’s in Psalm 89 where it talks of the Messiah using it.  John records that the religious types understood exactly the implications of Jesus using it.  They accused him of blasphemy, for making himself equal with God.  And this would indeed be blasphemy, if it weren’t true.

So how does ‘my Father’ come to be considered a name?  Many of us call one of our parents ‘father’ but we recognise that it is a title and that he has a personal name as well.  But in Hebrew, ‘name’ doesn’t merely mean a label we randomly place on something.  Names are significant.  They are often prophetic, as Jesus made clear when he gave Simon the new name of Peter (Matthew 16:18).  Sometimes they reflect people’s hopes and dreams – just look at the names Leah gave her sons (Genesis 29), showing that she hoped her husband would love and value her because of her fertility.  Names encapsulate the essence of someone – Barnabas, son of encouragement (Acts 4:36), or James and John who were nicknamed ‘Sons of Thunder’ because of their fiery temperaments (Mark 3:17).  So Juliet was wrong – a name is highly significant, whether prophetic or causative in shaping the destiny of an individual.

So when Jesus chooses to say ‘My Father’, he is not merely making a statement about his own divinity – which was not lost on his contemporaries.  He is primarily making a statement about the essential character of God.  He used imagery showing how God is a good father (Matthew 7:11).  His most famous parable is about a father who loves his lost son so much that he breaks all the rules to have him back again (Luke 15).  He asserts the compassionate nature of a God who cares for his children (Mark 10:14).  By applying this name, he emphasises that God wants to be our Dad.

How does he show them God’s name?  This doesn’t really make sense in English until you’ve realised that ‘name’ is more than a label.  He could as easily have said “I’ve shown them your nature”.  And he makes the point that he hasn’t simply told people; he’s demonstrated it.  He has lived out the message, as St Francis encouraged his followers to:

“Preach the Gospel at every opportunity.  If all else fails, use words.”

Jesus encapsulated the message.  He demonstrated in his lifestyle who God is.  John gives evidence of this when he records Jesus saying “He who has seen me, has seen the Father” (John 14:9).  His incarnation, life and death showed the love and holiness of God, and the extent to which God is prepared to go to rescue his lost sheep (Luke 15:7).  What should be our response to this revelation of God’s nature in Jesus?  Go and do the same (Luke 10:37).