God is gracious for cross-cultural missionaries

I recently ran a short preparation course for people about to go out as cross-cultural missionaries. We looked at some standard material on culture and contextualization. But half the course was based on a conversation with a missionary we have sent to the Middle-East. As we talked about what people need to know as they approach cross-cultural ministry it became clear that it added up to the ‘four Gs’ in You Can Change [available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk]. Here is the material I put together. First, God is gracious.

God is gracious

What gives you a sense of achievement?

All the normal things from which we gain a sense of worth, success, achievement, competence are stripped away when you move to another culture.

  • You will be unable to communicate because of your lack of language ability
  • You will be unable to relate because of your lack of cultural understanding.
  • You will be unable to do ministry or contribute to church life.
  • You will not achieve much because your work life is on hold for language learning.
  • You will feel incompetent to manage ordinary life. (Where do you buy glue? What do you say at a road block? How do you get your washing machine mended?)
  • Your self-justification framework is taken away. Your behaviour will be weird and your productivity will be low.

It is not wrong to feel a sense of achievement in these areas as long as your ultimate identity in found in Christ. The test of that is when the sense of achievement is taken away. What remains? Where does your sense of worth reside? You’re about to face that test.

Your true self will be revealed and exposed:

  • by the exhaustion of your routine
  • by the worry of ‘dramas’ in your life
  • by the pressure of ‘crises’ in church life and ministry
  • by the exhaustion of continually relating cross-culturally
  • Your marriage may come under pressure because you will have to cope with a different version of your partner and your self. The pressures of cross-cultural life will reveal new attitudes and behaviours.

Look at Luke 10:17-20. We are not to rejoice in success or in ministry. Nor need we be downcast by the lack of success and our inabilities in ministry. We rejoice that our names are written in heaven.

Look at Luke 10:21-24. We rejoice in God’s grace. We rejoice that we are God’s children.

Look at Luke 10:25-37. Why does Jesus tell this story? See verse 29. The lawyer wanted to justify himself. He wanted a checklist that he could tick off so he knew he had proved himself. But we cannot justify ourselves for the task is without limit.

Look at Luke 10:38-42. Martha wants to justify herself through her service. But the necessary thing is to sit at the feet of Jesus and to listen to his teaching – to hear his word of grace.

Expect less productivity. Expect cultural mistakes. Expect your sinful heart to be exposed. But when this happens find refuge in God.

The Russian tennis player Vera Zvonareva was a finalist at Wimbledon in 2010. She had previously had a reputation for cracking on court. She would often be in tears and her game would disintegrate. One of the techniques she used to turn her career around was to put a towel over her head during games. She would block out the world around her and focus on what mattered.

I want to suggest you do the gospel equivalent. When you feel the pressure, block out the world. Stop listening to its voice. Block out your own heart. Stop listening to its doubts and desires. Instead listen to the word of Jesus. Think of God’s word as a towel you can put over your head for a few moments. Keep telling your heart that God is gracious. This is the truth that will set your free and get you through. Say to yourself:

  • ‘Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’  (Romans 8:1)
  • ‘How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!’ (1 John 3:1)
  • ‘The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.’ (Zephaniah 3:17)

What behaviour and emotions might follow from not embracing the truth that God is gracious?

What do you want other people to see in you? When you’re struggling, when you’re having marriage difficulties, when you make mistakes, when you mess up – will you want to hide this from people – from your team, from your unbelieving neighbours?

What do you want other people to see in you? That you are a great person or that you have a great Saviour?

Rewrite Psalm 103, either as a version adapted to your context or as a negative Psalm which says the opposite of the original.

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Reaching the Unreached II

On Saturday I attended the second Reaching the Unreached conference in Barnsley with a focus on developing mission on council estates [the UK equivalent of social housing] and in deprived areas in the UK. It was a great day and very encouraging. I was particularly struck by the thought that here were many godly people faithfully proclaiming the good news in difficult areas. These were people who had chosen fidelity over fame. Inspiring. I’m going to post my notes from the day over the next few weeks.

Two Conversations: the Unthinkable Reach of the Gospel Part One

These notes are from a talk by Steve Casey. They are my notes from a talk so they may not accurately represent what Steve intended. Steve pastors a church in Speke, Liverpool.

I once had the experience of going to an AA meeting with a friend. I felt tearful because as people spoke I wanted to hug them and tell that Jesus loved them. But my overwhelming experience was not knowing what to say and being unable to identify with their experience. What does the gospel mean for people who are different from me?

I wish I had the confidence in the gospel that I have now.

Acts 10 is about how the gospel speaks to people who are different to us.

1. Cornelius Converted: What the Gospel Is

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ (Acts 1:8) Jesus says his unstoppable gospel will go to the ends of the world (which is Speke!). But in Acts 10 they have hit a brick wall. They had got to Samaria, a Jewish influenced area. But the next move was going to the Gentiles and this was a massive barrier. If you were a Jew and you met a Gentile then they would want to jump in the shower! Jesus called a Gentile woman a ‘dog’ – a typical Jewish term for Gentiles. So, although Cornelius was a good man, he was still an outsider. He would have been tackled by well-meaning deacons in suits if he came to church. But the angelic representative of God addresses him by name.

The angel says his good works do not cut it. He needs a message from outside. His good works are insufficient. But God has heard his prayers and God will provide an answer: a preacher. Being a nice bloke is not enough; you need to be a new bloke. You need God to do a work for you that you cannot do on your own Continue reading

Thursday Review: The Prodigal DVD by Tim Keller

A review of Tim Keller, The Prodigal God: Finding Your Place at the Table DVD purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US and Discussion Guide purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US, Zondervan, 2009.

I can’t praise this resource too much – it’s magnificent. The presentation of the DVD is beautiful and the content is dynamite. Even though I was familiar with the material from sermon mp3s and the book, I cried as I watched – twice!

The heart of this resource is a 40-minute DVD presentation. In effect it’s the movie version of Tim Keller’s book, The Prodigal God purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US. Keller stands on a stage with an empty auditorium. His only props are a table and two chairs. The layout of the table and the location of the chairs change as the talks unfolds. It’s all very simple, but beautifully done. The production values are superb. Imagine the best of a Keller sermon combined with a Nooma video and you’ll have a good idea what it’s like.

The DVD works very well as a stand alone resource. But there’s also six-session discussion guide that accompanies the DVD and book. Session one is the 40-minute DVD with a few response questions. After that the discussion guide is based on the book supplemented by short extracts for the DVD. There are 6-10 questions in each session, many inviting people to comment on a quote from the book.

It’s a resource for everyone. The 40-minute presentation is as good a one-off evangelical presentation as any I know. I’m salivating at the prospect of using it with unbelievers. But the material is also of vital importance for Christians, especially those with a legalistic bent (and I suspect that’s all of us). And it is so powerfully presented. I would also recommend pastors to watch it. We shouldn’t try to copy Keller – we must be ourselves – but we can learn a huge amount from him for our preaching, both in terms of content and style.

I know many pastors who’ve been hugely impacted by Keller’s ministry. This is your chance to share Keller with the non-reading members of your congregation!

It’s my top resource from 2009.

Click on the appropriate flag to purchase the DVD purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US, book purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US or discussion guide purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US.

Here’s a sample …

For more resources go to theprodigalgod.com.

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4Gs in F – a New Song

Here’s a new song that I wrote ages ago, but I’ve just realised I’ve never posted it on the blog. It’s an attempt to express in song something of the pastoral significance of the 4Gs that I’ve talked on the blog before.

Weary of striving to make it alone,
fearful of failure or trying to atone,
I hear ‘It is finished’, Christ sits on the throne:
Jesus, I rest in you.

2. Weary of fearing what others may say,
needing approval to feel I’m okay,
when Jesus alone is the Lord I obey:
Jesus, I rest in you.

3. Weary of chasing the lies of this world,
finding its treasures an empty reward:
my beautiful Saviour, most glorious Lord,
Jesus, I rest in you.

4. Weary of needing to be in control,
brooding on worries, disturbing my soul:
the Stiller of storms who alone can console,
Jesus, I rest in you.

5. Weary of memories recalled with dismay,
burdened with guilt that I can’t sweep away,
when Jesus has cancelled what I could not pay:
Jesus, I rest in you.

Here’s the music: Weary of Striving (Jesus I Rest in You). You can also sing it to the tune of ‘Just As I Am’.

The astute among you will notice there are five verses. One of the Gs gets two verses. I’ll leave you to work out which. But here’s a clue. Both my daughters are named after this ‘G’. It’s the second name of one and the other’s first name is the Hebrew word for it.

Tim Chester © 2007 c/o http://www.thecrowdedhouse.org. May be copied and used freely for non-profit personal and congregational use.

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The 4Gs – truths to set you free

In my book You Can Change I identified four liberating truths about God. I suggested that underlying  all our sinful behaviour and negative emotions is a failure to believe one of these truths at a functional level. Embracing, believing, trusting, delighting in the appropriate liberating truth therefore has the power to set us free from sin – though we need to recognize that this typically involves a daily struggle – the fight of faith. These four liberating truths offer a great diagnostic tool for addressing sin in our lives and in the lives of others. The four truths are:

1. God is great – so we don’t have to be in control

2. God is glorious – so we don’t have to fear others

3. God is good – so we don’t have to look elsewhere

4. God is gracious – so we don’t have to prove ourselves

Last year I visited Soma Communities with whom The Crowded House have a strong partnership. Readers of this blog will know Soma have been a strong influence on us.

Soma Communities have been using the four liberating truths a lot. They have coined the term ‘the 4 Gs’ as a short description for them. Caesar Kalinowski emailed me today saying, ‘We continue to be absolutely rocked by the 4 Gs … We now do them each time at Soma School due to the overwhelming response to the material.’ They have four free audio messages on each of the 4 Gs based on talks they gave in Estonia.

You Can Change purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US is available in the UK from IVP and is being published by Crossway in the US in March 2010. I notice Crossway already have You Can Change on their website with a cover design (below). In the meantime you can buy the UK edition from Amazon.com.

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Review: Caught Off Guard

William P. Smith, Caught Off Guard: Encounters with the Unexpected God, New Growth Press, 2007 purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US

This book is from the CCEF stable and very much fits the pastoral approach to the Bible and the biblical approach to pastoral issue we have come to expect from CCEF.

Smith’s premise is that too often people can have a knowledge of God that is orthodox, but which fails to connects with real life. ‘Many people … know what is true, but for some reason the truths they know and love don’t find their way into their daily life. Instead, their faith exists in a separate sphere from their daily grind of daipers and deadlines … Sometimes people know things about God more than they actually know him. They have correct information, but they know them in a Trivial Pursuit kind of way, as interesting factoids with little relevance to daily life … Whenever knowledge outstrips experience, it is useless in the face of life’s difficulties.’ (xii-xiii)

This is an excellent ambition, one that resonates very strongly with my own sense of calling. I’m conscious that I’m not a great or original theologian and neither am I a great practitioner of anything in particular! If I have any contribution to the wider church it is in bridging the gap between theology and life. But enough about me.

Smith tells us some facts about a friend called Ron. It’s all quite interesting. But would you call Ron for help if you have a flat tyre in the middle of the night? Probably not. Then Smith tells the story of how Ron came to his aid in just such a situation. Would you now call Ron? Still, probably not. But if you heard several more stories, including stories of how Ron had happily helped strangers, than maybe you might.

That’s one of the things the Bible is up to. It tells us information about God, but it does more than that: it is full of stories of God helping people, forgiving people, accepting people, providing for people.

This provides the basis for Caught Off Guard. ‘I want to tell you stories about God that show you his heart for people in distress. I want you to see his concern for people in trouble – including those who have brought their problems on themselves … My goal in this book is to flesh out our knowledge of God in the midst of daily struggles … As you see how God responds to difficult people, I hope you will understand how he will connect with you when you’re in trouble.’ (xiv-xv)

So what we get is a series of Bible stories as pastoral case studies. We get to see how we can apply the stories in the Bible to our lives and to the lives of others in pastoral situations. This is well done  – successfully avoiding the danger of moralism into which applied expositions of Bible stories can so easily descend. It’s a good model – genuinely helpful. Another way of looking at Caught Off Guard is that it is an applied exposition of the doctrines of God’s grace and sovereignty.

I was, however, somewhat disappointed with the book. There are few ‘aha’ moments when you realise something you’d not seen before or see something in a new light. I think this is because the book assumes you understand your problem. The chapters titles give it away. ‘Do you think God is out to get you?’ ‘Do you doubt that Jesus would ever want to be your friend?’ If these kind of questions describe you then the book will provide answers. The problem is that the tricky bit in pastoral care or personal growth is recognising that you think God is out to get you or that you doubt Jesus would ever want to be your friend. People rarely articulate their problems in these terms.  Finding biblical truth that offers good news when you think God is out to get you is fairly easy. The difficult thing is to recognise that this is the thinking that underlies your behaviour.

But don’t be too put off. This is a good book and a good model of the use of Scripture in pastoral care and personal growth. My disappointment may well have been a product of my high expectations.

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Struggling with fatigue and busyness

busyness.JPGThe latest edition of LICC’s magazine EG is available to download from their website. It includes the results of a survey of UK Christians. Asked what issues have affected your personal spiritual life, the top two responses were fatigue (55%) and time pressures (also 55%).

Reading the Bible, prayer, guidance, witnessing, conflict, ethical issues all came after those two top issues. It reinforces the reason why I wrote The Busy Christians’s Guide to Busyness AmazonUK . In The Busy Christian I said:

Our Christian lives can be full of good intentions to do more for God, but time and again those good intentions are sapped by the pace of our lives. Sermons, conferences, talks, books all urge us to spend more time praying, studying the Bible, sharing the gospel, building community, caring for the needy, campaigning for justice – and on it goes. But most Christians feel their lives are already over-full. Some Christians, because of ill-health or unemployment, struggle with the opposite problem. They wish they had more to do. But everywhere you look in the church today there are busy Christians …  There are many challenges facing the church today. But alongside all of them is this problem of time and busyness. Whatever new ideas we come up with for church or mission, we need to find the time to do them! In his book, The Tyranny of Time, Robert Banks (1983) says: ‘Our attitude to time is not an extra commitment or idea. It is the medium in which everything else is done. It affects everything.’ There’s so much we want to do; so many issues; so many opportunities. But so little time. We could argue about what the most crucial concerns are facing Christians today. But unless we sort out a Christian view of busyness, we might not find time to debate them, let alone do anything.

In the same survey people were asked which context they found most challenging. The top response was the workplace (43%) followed by their neighbourhood (34%).

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Marilynne Robinson, God and Calvin

I loved Gilead purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US, the novel by Marilynne Robinson. Robinson wrote her first novel, Housekeeping
purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US, in 1980. It became a huge hit and was made into a film by Bill Forsyth. Yet it was 24 years before she published a second novel, Gilead. It won the Pulitzer Prize. Four years on and her third novel, Home purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US, has just won the Orange Prize. Not a bad record!

Andrew Brown of The Guardian has a very interesting post on an interview with Robinson in which she talks about how the thought of Calvin has shaped her writing. Here’s a quote:

“One of the things that has really struck me, reading Calvin,” she said then, “is what a strong sense he has that the aesthetic is the signature of the divine. If someone in some sense lives a life that we can perceive as beautiful in its own way, that is something that suggests grace, even if by a strict moral standard … they might seem to fail.”

Now this is just about the opposite of the kind of rule-bound and wholly unforgiving religion which most people associate with Calvinism, but in her mind it was linked with predestination, in a most unexpected way. Because predestination implies God’s untramelled freedom, he can choose to save those whom the world and its rules – even the church with its rules – might condemn. The prodigal in these two books, Jack Boughton, has done some very terrible things, and all through the book goes on hurting everyone who loves him. Yet it is almost impossible not to suffer with him.

Here’s the interview with Marilynne Robinson in last Saturday’s Guardian and click here for an interview  Claire Armitstead interview Marilynne Robinson about Home …

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Sin and grace and the limits of psychiatry

Here’s a great quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s excellent little book Life Together (purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US):

The most experienced psychologist or observer of human nature knows infinitely less of the human heart than the simplest Christian who lives beneath the Cross of Jesus.

The greatest psychological insight, ability, and experience cannot grasp this one thing: what sin is.

Worldly wisdom knows what distress and weakness and failure are, but it does not know the godlessness of man. And so it does not know that man is destroyed only by his sin and can be healed only by forgiveness. Only the Christian knows this.

In the presence of a psychiatrist I can only be a sick man; in the presence of a Christian brother I can dare to be a sinner.

The psychiatrist must first search my heart and yet he never plumbs its ultimate depth. The Christian brother knows when I come to him: here is a sinner like myself, a godless man who wants to confess and yearns for God’s forgiveness.

The psychiatrist views me as if there were no God. The brother views me as I am before the judging and merciful God in the Cross of Jesus Christ. (118-119)

HT: David Powlison via JT.

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Satan does not mind family values and social justice as long as …

Here’s a helpful quote from Russell Moore (via Justin Taylor) reflecting on Satan’s third temptation of Jesus:

Satan ultimately has a power that is not found most importantly in moral decay or in cultural chaos. His power is in the authority to accuse. The power of accusation. The power of holding humanity captive through the fear of death and the certainty of judgment …

Satan is not fearful of external conformity to rule. Not even to the external conformity of the rule of Christ – provided there is no cross. Satan does not mind family values – as long as what you ultimately value is the family. Satan does not mind social justice – as long as you see justice as most importantly social. Satan does not tremble at a Christian worldview. He will let you have a Christian worldview as long as your ultimate goal is viewing the world …

He will let you get what it is that you want, no matter what it is – sanctity of marriage, environmental protection, orphan care, all of these good and wonderful things – he will allow you to gain those things provided you do not preach and proclaim and live through the power of a cross that cancels his power of condemnation.