Thursday, April 24, 2014

Who Can You Thank?

by Voltaire Cacal

In John 4, Jesus said to the woman at the well, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

Notice how Jesus connected the woman’s spiritual need with a physical need that they both shared at that moment. This gift of God was bigger than anything she could ever imagine. It was a gift of living water that could cleanse her and refresh her as a result of having a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ! Eventually, she accepted this gift of God.

Yet, this was a gift that the woman did not keep to herself. She knew of its value and understood what it could mean for people around her: a people whom she saw needed this gift just as much as she did! Despite her own personal shame, she went on a self-less journey to go out and tell others about this gift.

Voltaire Cacal, evangelism

At the end of this story, we find that “many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony.” Can you imagine what these people were thinking after they had believed? We don’t see it in scripture, but I’m sure that they had to be thankful toward her for the gift that she shared—the gift of God through Christ Jesus.

This is the same gift that an American missionary shared with my mother’s family back in 1957. This gift was then shared with me by my mother, my youth pastor, teachers from school, and faithful servants at my church in San Francisco.

Back in 2009, our oldest daughter, Charis, made a little drawing with three crosses and a Bible. One of the phrases that she included in this drawing is, “He is Risen!” I am truly grateful for the one who shared the gospel with my mom when she was just a little girl, because that gift is now being handed down to my children, too.

Realizing the incalculable value of the gift that was given to me and is now being shared with my children, I cannot help but thank God for all those whom He has brought into my life to share in this living water that comes through trusting in Jesus.

Who can you thank for sharing the gift of God with you by introducing you to Christ so that you can trust Him as your personal Savior? 

Voltaire Cacal, Camino Global
Voltaire D. Cacal is a first-generation Filipino-American and serves as director of strategic initiatives for Camino Global. He is also director of missions at his local church, Biblical Community Church, and serves as vice chair for the Ethnic America Network.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

This Psalm's for You

by Wendie Connors

Do you ever feel like you need a pep talk? You know, when you have one of those days when you’re like, “Really, God?”

As men and women who devote our lives to sharing Jesus with others, I honestly think we pretty much have THE coolest job on earth!

But sometimes it can be exhausting. And, if I can be so bold to say it, discouraging.

I hope you won’t judge me for saying what I may have felt (maybe you have too?) at least once in my life. We are only human, and while we minister to many, I believe it’s only human for us to ask the question: Who ministers to us in our own times of doubt, frustration, and fatigue?

It's not a selfish question. You see, while many of us are “preaching to the choir,” others are also preaching to the silent ones. The ones not singing His praises. The ones who are hurt, lonely, untrusting, and lost. Even those who already think they have it all, yet don't have Jesus.

I pray that you all have excellent support groups, lifting you up to our gracious Father on a regular basis. I have that myself, and I’m so  grateful for each and every prayer they’ve ever offered up with even a whisper of my name…and yours.

But if you ever find yourself looking for a little encouragement in the midst of a trying time, tuck this post away to pull out when you need a little cheerleader in your pocket to carry you through the battle.

I’ve recently been studying the neatest little portion of the Psalms: The Psalms of the Ascent. Admittedly, I can be a little late to the party, so maybe you are already well-versed in the beauty of these 15 crazy Psalms. But either way, I think you are in for an uplifting moment here with one of those Psalms in particular: Psalm 121.

This Psalm is like the ultimate pep talk! It reminds us where our help comes from, of course. But then it goes into this full-on, energetic stanza of encouragement that we cannot help but start getting all pumped up about!

Watch how the Psalmist begins (some commentaries attribute it to Hezekiah…) by affirming, for himself, that his help truly comes from God:

I look up to the hills,
but where will my help really come from?
My help will come from the Lord,
the Creator of heaven and earth.

Wonderful, right? Words we’ve all heard many times and can agree to with our whole soul!

But then – and this is the “GO TEAM, GO!” part – watch how he turns from speaking in first person (you know - the old “me, myself, and I” stuff) and transitions to a second person narrative (YOU, YOU, YOU).

He spins this on its head from a self-help reminder to a pep talk to YOU, the reader!

He will not let YOU fall.
YOUR Protector will not fall asleep.
Israel’s Protector does not get tired.
He never sleeps.
The Lord is YOUR Protector.
The Lord stands by YOUR side, shading and protecting YOU.
The sun cannot harm YOU during the day,
and the moon cannot harm YOU at night.
The Lord will protect YOU from every danger.
He will protect YOUR soul.
8The Lord will protect YOU as YOU come and go,
both now and forever.

Yes! He is OUR protector. He is OUR strength. OUR SONG IN THE NIGHT.

As we look to Him to pull us out of the mess or the dead end we’ve found ourselves in, we can find massive comfort in this Psalm because  when we raise our eyes up as far as the top of the tallest mountains looking for help, we are not met with false gods and crumbling monuments erected by those who never truly believed in a god like ours.

Instead, Psalm 121 reminds us that we are comforted by OUR God. Abba. Our sweet, protective, loving papa.

When you were a child and had a bad dream, in all likelihood you called for your mom or dad to come soothe you. And likely, they would come into your room and say something like, “It’s okay. I’ll stay here and watch over you. I’m here now! All is as it should be!” Perhaps, like me, you are a parent yourself and you’ve now become the one being called.

Whether you are the comforter or the one in need of comfort, it’s literally a saving grace to know “from where your help comes.”

So for those moments when you are even the slightest bit tempted to pack it in, pull up the covers, and pretend you didn’t see the need because you are too tired and afraid to be rejected, well, today’s YOUR day, sweet friends in Christ.

I’m shouting “Go Team, Go” from my megaphone and waving my hands as far above my head as they will go in support of each and every one of you!

This Psalm’s for you.

Wendie Connors, Stringing Pearls with Wendy
Wendie Connors is founder of Stringing Pearls with Wendie, She is an author, blogger, and speaker, and loves nothing better than learning and teaching about Jesus, and how to weave scripture into each aspect of everyday life. Check out Stringing Pearls on Facebook.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Using the Arts to See the Visage of Restoration

by Bill Drake

Recently, a number of us from the OM Arts Incarnate School went up to a very high place, Vaccara, a viewpoint in the Italian Alps that rewards all those who would venture there with a 360 degree view of some of the most awesome landscape within a thousand miles.

It is a fortuitous moment when you are granted the opportunity to “see” where you have been, and where you are going at the same time. Usually, it is either the “hindsight” of 20/20 or the arduous work of pressing forward against all obstacles that obscures our view of the entire journey.

And while it is very good to learn from the past, and just as good to press on toward the mark, once in a while the best thing to do in the moment is neither, but rather grasp the opportunity when it is presented to you and gain the full perspective of the journey, the task, the ordeal, the walk.

Our students come from eight countries: Finland, Namibia, Germany, Hong Kong, the USA, Canada, Costa Rica, and New Zealand. Five of them are visual artists, three of them are musicians, and two of them are both.

The talent exhibited here is at times overwhelming, as we are treated each week to a smorgasbord of paintings, sketchings, melodies, and rhythms as responses to our teachings, that leave us deeply blessed and wanting more. The local village is eagerly awaiting our Arts Festival and Exhibition, where the work of three months will be publicly displayed.

But the view from 10,000 ft. tells an even greater story: lives are being totally transformed. It started slowly, as lessons were enjoined, questions arose, artwork was produced, obstacles were discovered, and then counseling was sought.

Walking in this kind of fellowship together for eleven weeks will produce an opportunity for incarnational community that many of us never have the chance to really belong to. The Body of Christ is a marvelous thing, living and breathing life, gift, talent, encouragement, admonishment, exhortation, wisdom, understanding, correction, and compassion, all< working together for the edification of the fellowship, for the witness to the world, and for the exaltation of Jesus.

And as people (in this particular case, artists) are set free from the sin that so easily besets us, and are released to run the race that is set before us in the presence of such a great cloud of witnesses, the world is made a more beautiful place, and the inventor of Beauty, and the Author and Finisher of our Faith is glorified.

The view from here is breathtaking – that the God of the Universe who has promised to complete what he started, would invade our place and our lives, and continue the work of expanding our capacity, and effectuate the shape he has created in us by filling it with himself and maximizing the potential that he seeded into us in the first place.

This, of course, was our original inheritance – the bountiful Garden that we were told to keep, name, and nurture. We carelessly traded it for the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life, and were left in the darkness that enshrouds all who trade their holiness for their pride. And certainly no other arena of human activity was more devastated by this dislocation than the field of the arts.

But God… all things that will have a good ending restart here. 

The Prime Mover does not leave things as they are. His creativity must beautify, and his inherent unity must reconcile. Such begins the invasion of earth called the Incarnation. And laced into his theme is not only the reconciliation of God and man, but also the restoration of all things.

Such is the Christian hope, and such is the future that awaits us beyond repentance, conversion, and sanctification.

Here at Incarnate, our artists are learning that all good art does not necessarily shrink back from the brokenness of life and planet, and is allowed to display it in the way God sees it, and in the way the Church should engage it. And some of that art, when appropriate, challenges the viewer to “see” beyond the ugly, the distorted, or the broken, to the visage of restoration that awaits any situation that is submitted back to the Restorer. Such art can also hint at, or point to the threshold of that sacred pathway that will take one on the journey that leads back to God.

Our artists are also learning that there is usually a greater perspective than the proverbial trees that block our view of the greater woods. That the Creator of the Universe is a God who is determined to create capacity, and longs to fill it, engage with it, and transform it for his purposes and his glory.

“Hands of the Shepherd” by Wendy Bartell – used by permission
Photo Credit: Elbie Erasmus & Susana Rodriguez – used by permission
He is the ultimate artisan, the master potter, who provides intentional creative space, the material for the work, and the hands that fashion the space for all his goodness to fill.

Bill Drake is director of OM Arts International, and an international recording artist who has sung in over sixty countries, and has recorded thirteen CDs of original music.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Conversation Launchers

by Samuel Chiang

Recently, I was asked “Are you a Buddhist? Your face looks very different.” I was ready to go to sleep on the plane, but with an opportunity like that in a conversation launcher, sleep was deferred, and I engaged in conversation. In the midst of a rolling dialogue, I discovered that this individual had a pluralistic worldview—a mixture of Hinduism, Catholicism, and some evangelical thoughts. What to do?

It was just a few moons ago that I had thrown out all of my seminary notes and courses from two decades ago. All of them! Oh, I still hold to my beliefs and training, but with a lot of theological stretch-marks. But times have changed, and I need to bring what I have learned into a new world with a renewed vigor towards how to contextualize. So, the notes and course materials were consigned to the dustbin.

In the joyful state of saying a rapid good-bye to those notes, I did slow down enough to look over one or two items. One matter that stuck in my mind was Larry Moyer’s statement which I had copied down faithfully:

Take away their reason for their unbelief, doubts, or misconceptions.

I recalled looking at that and how it “etched” itself indelibly into my mind.

Hence, in this conversation with an individual who had a pluralistic worldview, I looked for openings to take away or dispel false preconceptions of the gospel of Jesus. After a solid 25 minutes we were all talked out. But I was able to gently remove some misconceptions, and gently deposit some new thoughts about the word of God.

As we are coming towards the end of Holy Week, I am continually reminded that people are asking questions. Hollywood has already declared 2014 as the Year of the Bible, with several movies trying to depict characters from the Bible. Although not all of them are necessarily stories from the Bible (e.g., the movie about Noah might be much closer to the Jewish mystic system of Kabbalah, one needs to sort through which messages are actually captured by the viewer.

Holy Week calendaring enables us to talk about our Savior. But, it would appear that this year the movies and media are providing many more opportunities to talk about the Bible, the gospel, and Jesus. Are you willing to seize these opportunities to launch conversations?

Samuel Chiang, international orality network
Samuel Chiang is executive director of the International Orality Network. Born in Taiwan, he grew up and worked in Canada and formerly served as COO of TWR. He has authored book chapters in diverse genres including innovation, orality, and persecution.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Lock and the Door

by anonymous

The young artist looked at the painting she had just completed, and wondered, “How could God ever use this?”

This artist, in a Muslim country with a team of visual artists for a short-term mission trip, had struggled to render the concept that the ministry had asked the team to paint: I am the door, those beautiful words of Jesus that invite us to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

But she had painted a lock—a heavy, massive medieval kind that looked impenetrable and imposing.

Through the keyhole another door was visible, slightly open with light emanating from it. How could this communicate? How could God take that which she had painted and use it for His glory?

The old man strolled slowly through the open-air art gallery that had suddenly appeared in the plaza. He surveyed the beautiful pictures of doors and gates. There was one that captured his attention; it was of a lock. He stood stunned, as the revelation hit him.

Someone had painted his life, his longing, his desperate condition of being locked out from the light.

Light that he just knew was there for him, but had been so elusive in his own religious tradition. He knew the moment he saw the painting that the artist who painted it had the insight and wisdom he had been seeking his entire life.

The young artist approached the old man with a translator, and asked him why he was staring spellbound at her painting. Through tears, the man said to her, “My entire life I have felt locked out from all God had for me. I can see it through the keyhole, but I can’t get to it. Can you please tell me, what is the key that will unlock the door of my life, and let me run into the light of God?”

At that moment the young artist had the privilege of sharing the love of Christ with this man right there in the plaza. The Holy Spirit had used her painting to unravel this man’s heart, and draw him to the Father heart of God.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Waiting for that One Divine Appointment

by Nate Butler

The Chinese unbeliever’s eyes widened in astonishment at my words.

He was staying with friends of mine here in the U.S., and the cozy living room that had been echoing with our energetic evening conversation just moments before now took on a very loud silence. Finally, he spoke.

“I want to look into this more,” he said slowly. “You have taught me something about my own language!” I was thinking how long the incubation period can be between the time the LORD gives you some information which you know is significant and when He allows you to use it for the kingdom, often in a way you don’t expect.

Let me share how the story got to this point.
During my first trip to Japan in 1996, I learned that some Christians in China and Japan believe biblical Genesis stories can be discerned in the honji, the ancient pictographs of the written Chinese language. A missionary there introduced me to a book by C.H. Kang. I was fascinated to read his explanation of how certain written Chinese words appear to relate to the creation of man in the Garden of Eden, the Flood, and other Genesis events.

As I looked into it further, it made sense. I read that a prominent biblical chronologist had placed the dispersion at the Tower of Babel at 2242 B.C. Further, the Xia Dynasty, the first Chinese dynasty to be described in ancient historical records, was founded around 2200 B.C.

If these dates are correct, and we believe the Bible to be true, then it’s clear that the people who started the Chinese civilization were among those who were scattered by the LORD at Babel. These people who headed east towards present-day China would have known of the Creator God of the Bible and the events of Creation, the Garden, and the Fall.

So it seems reasonable to believe that these same people would have referenced some of that spiritual and historical information as they invented their Chinese picture-writing system.

As an artist, I had already found the visual appearance of the Chinese honji captivating. Especially as a comics artist (a visual storytelling artist who teaches about using “a series of pictures to tell a story or make a point”), the realization that each honji itself was actually a combination of images telling a story (and perhaps a biblical one) was just too exciting for words!

My desire since that time has been to communicate this information to the Chinese in some sort of comic or tract. Our ministry has investigated how to do this several times over the past 18 years, working with Chinese comics creators in Hong Kong, Singapore, and the U.S. Although none of those projects developed legs, working with these contacts led me to the book Faith of Our Fathers by Dr. Chan Kei Thong. In addition to the Chinese pictographs, Dr. Thong uses all of Chinese history to show that the ancient Chinese displayed an understanding of a single Creator God (whom they called Shang Di) rather than believing in multiple gods. Dr. Thong’s book also contains illustrations of various pictograms, including the one shown here, which is “chuan” or “big boat.”
Chinese, chuan, evangelism
Fast forward to now, and we’re back in that living room where we started this story. I’m talking with the Chinese unbeliever, sharing about Dr. Thong’s book and my excitement about Chinese pictographs. He wonders aloud what I mean about the honji telling Bible stories, and the only example I can remember off the top of my head is “chuan.”

As Dr. Thong writes in his book, “So the implied meaning of this character is ‘eight people in a boat.’ When the ancient Chinese wanted to come up with a character to represent a big boat, they thought of the biggest boat that existed up to that time—and that was the boat that held eight people…”

So that’s what I tell him: The character “chuan” tells part of the story of Noah’s ark.

And that was the revelation that shocked my new acquaintance into silence. He had never thought about the elements that made up the characters that he penned on a regular basis. They were merely strokes to him. He asked for information about the book in order to read the information for himself.

The encounter blessed me greatly. And while it inspired me to pursue our Chinese tract project idea again, I also had to wonder if perhaps that was the One Divine Appointment for which I had been carrying that information for almost 18 years.

Nate Butler, Comics, Comix25
Nate Butler (@NButlercomix35) is a former Henson/Marvel/DC/Archie writer and artist now coaching and consulting on creative ways to use the visual storytelling medium of comics as a tool for evangelism and discipleship. He is president/CEO of COMIX35.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Why Do We Feel Awkward?

by Tom Burns

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel…” (Rom. 1:16)

Do you ever wonder why over 90% of American Christians did not share their faith with anyone last year? Are they ashamed?

That’s a big question because Jesus says in Luke 9:26, “Whoever is ashamed of me and my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.”

Over the past two years in my role with My Hope With Billy Graham, I have talked to hundreds of believers about sharing their faith. Most have been part of the 90% who haven’t shared in a long time. Yet they have family, friends, co-workers, and neighbors for whom they desperately pray for and long to effectively share the gospel.

A few weeks ago I was with a group of next generation church leaders. Anthony, a last year seminary student, opened our meeting with a devotional from Romans 1:16. He noted that 21st-century American culture doesn’t relate to ‘shame’ the way the ancients did. So his proffered translation was, “For I don’t feel awkward about sharing the gospel.”

We may not be ashamed, but we often feel awkward! What a helpful insight. Allow me to apply this to sharing our faith.

Why do we feel awkward? It’s because we care so much about sharing the gospel effectively, so that our family member, friend, co-worker or neighbor will come to saving belief.

But this awkwardness comes from overreliance on our own power to proclaim and persuade.

Paul has the answer for not being ashamed or awkward in the rest of Romans 1:16: “For I don’t feel awkward about sharing the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”

We feel awkward because we are focused on our lack of power of proclamation or persuasion. Paul, on the other hand, was focused on the power of God, not his own. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:1:
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the mystery of God with lofty speech or wisdom…And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not plausible in words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.”
Paul was a basket case, he says, but in his weakness the power of God brought many to faith!

Jesus’ last words to his disciples as recorded in Acts 1:8 were: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come to you, and you will be my witnesses…” Jesus has promised us that we will be his witnesses under the power of the Holy Spirit, not our own.

It’s not in our power that we witness. It’s always and only in the power of Jesus.

Look with me at Paul’s next verse in Romans 1:17: “For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, for it is written, ‘the righteous shall live by faith.’” What makes our sharing of the gospel effective is the power of God working in our own life. The righteousness of God is revealed first in his faithful pursuit and redemption of us. Then, as we live by faith, God transforms us. This becomes our effective witness of God’s righteousness!

The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. Our belief comes first, and with it the power of God working in us. Our transformed life becomes our testimony. The peace and joy and love others see in our life becomes our effective witness. Then, we will be able to effectively share our faith with others. As we walk by faith, we will believe in the power of God through the gospel, and as Paul says in Romans 1:15, we will be “eager to proclaim the gospel,” no longer feeling awkward.

Tom Burns, evangelism, power of God
Tom Burns is a chaplain at the Chicago O’Hare Airport Chapel, ministering to travelers and the over 40,000 employees working at O'Hare Airport. He is an executive coach and consultant, working with Christian business executives and church/nonprofit leaders.