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.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Social Media Is a Ministry

by Matt Brown

More and more people every day are piling onto social media. Now it’s not just facebook anymore, but increasingly other platforms like twitter, instagram, pinterest, snapchat, and YouTube towering among others.

We used to say that the “mission field was coming to us” as America grew increasingly diverse, but we can now say that the mission field is everywhere online.

I am on a mission to call the Church to the online mission field. I don’t think of social media as a way to get people to a place where they can be ministered to, but as a ministry in and of itself.

You probably already realize social media can be a powerful tool for your church or organization to help you tell your story and stay in front of congregants or partners, but we shouldn’t stop there.

Social media shouldn’t be limited as a way to promote your church or organization. Unfortunately, this is where most people stop. Your personal social media shouldn’t just be tabled as a way to keep in touch with friends or share what you had for lunch.

All of us can use social media to share God’s truth in love.

We don’t have to wait until people get to church, or register for one of our events, or read our book—we can share God’s word with them online. Some of the best discipleship can take place through social media if we allow God to speak to us and show us what to share. Discipleship is more than an hour a week. Thanks to social media, we can minister to people while they are in their home in pajamas.

Some level of discipleship can only happen in person, but social media can go where we can never go, and continue discipling beyond us (as people continue to read our posts and online articles long after we have posted them).

Social media doesn’t just get people to a ministry; social media is a ministry. God is calling a generation to preach … online! Justin Lathrop recently posted about this as well, saying:

For ‪leaders to ignore the technology of our day to reach the world with the Gospel is irresponsible.

Social media is happening, whether the church is on board or not. Sometime, scroll through the hashtags on Twitter and just read what people are saying. The world is on Twitter. Bad language is on Twitter. Culture is on Twitter. Politics are on Twitter. Broken people are on Twitter.

Shouldn’t we bring the picture of Jesus there as well?

I don’t know about you, but I feel a sense of responsibility toward social media. Jesus wanted us to take his message to all corners of the earth, and social media provides me with an important way to do that.

Here are a few principles as you consider how you can use social media as a ministry:

1. The grass is greener where you water it.

When we spend energy and effort towards any area of our ministry, it grows and flourishes over time. We cannot expect to reap if we do not sow.

I remember leaders from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association sharing with me when I worked for them that during every major outreach they will come across leaders who don’t mobilize their people towards the outreach and yet expect a harvest of new believers in their churches following the events. To the degree that you sow is the degree to which you will reap.

My friend Ashley Williams, who oversees social media for Catalyst and Leadercast, shared a post by Thom Rainer this past week calling every church to hire a social media director. Invest in social media for your church. Not just as a way to promote your organization, but as an actual opportunity for your church to minister online. Share your pastor’s sermon notes each week, and allow the Holy Spirit to continue to minister throughout the week and remind people of what you are learning as a community.

2. Share the truth in love.

This is a two-sided coin. Without God’s gospel, we literally have nothing of substance to offer the world. “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor. 15:14).

But the Bible also calls us over and over again to share the truth in love.

Even with all the faith and power in the world, if we share God’s message without love, then we are an annoying, noisy sound and the truth cannot be heard (see 1 Cor. 13:1-3). I see this all the time online. The larger the audience we share with, the more likelihood there is to be “clanging gongs” who are trying to share God’s truth with rudeness. The problem is: rudeness keeps our message from being received. God doesn’t just want us to speak for him, he mainly wants us to love like him.

May you sense God’s blessing on this mission to take God’s truth online. I am praying for you in this. There are many great resources to encourage you, but the main thing is to get started and work hard. 

Online Resources for Social Media & the Church
Books on Social Median & the Church

Matt Brown, emerging evangelists
Matt Brown (@evangelistmatt) is an evangelist, author, and founder of Think Eternity. He and his wife, Michelle, are spreading the gospel through live events, and online. They minister to over 150,000 people on social media on a near-daily basis. He also founded the blogging community Emerging Evangelists.