Thursday, August 19, 2010

World Missions: A New Era

William Carey, missionary to India, and the “father of modern day missions” first had the idea of coordinating and hosting a World Missionary Conference. He had this idea in 1810. 100 years later, this idea was realized as many Protestant denominations and missionary societies sent 1,200 delegates to the “1910 World Missionary Conference” in Edinburgh, the first world missions conference of its kind.

This conference was driven by the goal of “evangelizing the world in this generation”, a noble and stretching cause for the world of missions in that day. This goal, indeed, is as noble and stretching for our day as well. Christianity Today states, “Edinburgh 1910 marked the culmination of a century of missionary passion, drew attention to Christians outside Europe and North America, and gave birth to the ecumenical movement and the World Council of Churches.”

In 1974, the First International Congress on World Evangelization was held in Lausanne, Switzerland. 2,700 Evangelical leaders participated in that conference with the theme of “Let the earth hear His voice”. This conference is most known for producing the “Lausanne Covenant”, one of the most influential documents in modern Evangelical history. This Covenant included many aspects of what is regarded as Evangelical doctrine, and also included specific statements concerning holistic mission, specifically through social justice/action (section 5). Initially, before the formation of this particular document, the proponents of this understanding of integrated mission were marginalized and branded “liberals” by their more conservative counterparts. They paid a severe cost. At Urbana 2009, the largest North American Missions Conference, 17,000+ people got to hear the stories of Escobar and Padilla (the main spearheads of holistic mission who were marginalized). The point was driven home – we were the fruit of their toil and labor, as the entire 5-day Conference revolved around issues of incarnation and social justice/action in mission.

It’s hard to believe that just 30-40 years ago, Evangelical leaders were being marginalized for their commitment to social justice/action in mission. But now “God is doing a new work” as one Urbana speaker stated.

This past June, in Edinburgh, Christian leaders gathered to discuss world missions once again…100 years removed from the first World Conference in 1910. The future of mission described by this conference - “deconstructing boundaries” in the church, including ecclesiological, political, economic, and so on. “Disturbed by the asymmetries and imbalances of power that divide and trouble us in church and world, we are called to repentance, to critical reflections on systems of power, and to accountable use of power structures.” (from “Common Call”).

In Cape Town in October of this year will be the next Lausanne Conference on World Evangelization. 4,500 Evangelical leaders, from various backgrounds (i.e. 10% had to be under the age of 30, 35% had to be women, etc.) will gather to discuss missions. The future of mission – mobilizing Christians for “global solutions” to HIV/AIDS, poverty, globalization, and other global issues.

Not all that long ago my brothers and sisters in Christ were taking a stand (and getting buried) against the notion that mission was only about “vertical” relationship with God (with limited horizontal implications) and that evangelism and social concern were “mutually exclusive” endeavors. Now, in 2010, the leaders, yes indeed the followers, of the current missions movement are integrating mission with social justice/action. I, for one, am thankful and feel blessed that God has called and convicted myself and my family to serve in this time, for “such a time as this”.

Monday, August 09, 2010

The Cost: The Story of Those in Afghanistan

Every time I read about Christians being killed in Afghanistan, which has been often, my heart drops. It always comes in the blink of an eye. I open up Yahoo and the headline is inevitably on the top. It always says something like this, “Christian aid worker(s) killed in Afghanistan”. Its right at this moment my heart gets anxious and nervous. The expat community in the country is very close, very family like. And having lived there I can attest that we are all brothers and sisters. And I know one of my family has been impacted.

Since I left Afghanistan in 2007, several aid workers have been killed there. I still have pictures on my office wall of the Koreans murdered by the Taliban in late July 2007. Gayle Williams’ picture, murdered in October 2008, is next to the Koreans. I was never friends with these people, but nevertheless were impacted like a friend would be with their untimely deaths. All died with purpose. All died with Hope. All are with Jesus.

This weekend I opened up Yahoo to this headline, “8 Aid Workers Killed in Afghanistan.” Like the other headlines I have read since 2007, I immediately became anxious. I read the story of these workers who calculated risk and moved out in Call and love. I knew what they were doing and why they were doing it. Love. I then read a subsequent article that released names. Then my worst nightmare came true….

Martyrdom is no longer an abstract reality. I actually know and have interacted on a meaningful level with one of those killed a few days ago. When I read the name…my heart sank…and it sinks still…I knew in the depths of my heart that someday this could happen to a friend in Afghanistan. But I wasn’t really prepared for the reality of it.

God can turn every evil into good. I believe that. I affirm that. That is not just an abstract reality to me or thought I have. I know it’s true. I believe God will work out the blood of these servants for His glory…somehow..someway…and truth be told, I have already experienced the tiniest fraction of what He is doing with this. I am moved. I am compelled even the more for Him.

My heart mourns. But we are not a people without Hope. My prayer is that what God is showing me through this, He will show others. And that is this: The world needs to see our love, and that love needs to be moved out in real and meaningful ways. Amen.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Reclaiming the (Whole) Gospel

The Gospel according to Luke has always been a book that I have traditionally paid less attention to. The Gospel according to Matthew has always been where I tend to read about Jesus' life, mostly because of the Sermon on the Mount…Luke’s account of miracles, healings, etc. really hadn’t moved me all that much…until recently.

Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church, made an intriguing statement that has stayed with me for a long time. We as Christians are constantly asking each other, “How is your spiritual life?” While this is commonplace in Evangelical Christianity, it is a question and concept rarely, if ever, found in the Canon (look up how many times the word "spiritual" shows up in the Bible). Bell goes on to state that if you or I lived in the 1st century and walked up to Jesus and asked Him, “How His spiritual life was”, we would likely get a confused look back. This is because in the Hebrew mind and worldview, there is no separation between physical and spiritual. There is no compartmentalizing. There is flesh/Spirit, but those passages are dealing with a whole different topic. So Jesus would likely respond, “Well, what do you mean by “spiritual”? We would reply, “You know…your devotions…prayer life…church…etc.” But the problem with that line of thought is that Scripture views life as a cohesive, non-compartmental effort. Your “non-spiritual” life, what we sometimes call work, rest, play, TV watching, working out, eating, vacationing, the way you drive, what you spend your money on, etc. are in fact very spiritual endeavors. The whole life is spiritual. That is why Scripture commands us, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do it unto the Lord.” (Col. 3)

Back to the Gospel according to Luke. With this framework that, in fact, everything is spiritual, we can begin to appreciate the beauty of Luke’s Gospel. Jesus is healing. Jesus is reaching out to the marginalized. He is spending time with children. He is attending to the WHOLE person. And when one reads Luke’s account, it becomes quickly apparent that the whole book hinges on Luke 4:18-19. The whole person as it ought to be, the whole being, the whole world, is indeed this idea of the “Kingdom of God.” Jesus, therefore, sums His whole life and presence as this:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because He has anointed me
To proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
And recovery of sight for the blind,
To set the oppressed free,
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

All of this was fulfilled in Jesus, and His ushering in of the Kingdom. With these verses in mind as you read the rest of Luke, you begin to see that Jesus is not only fulfilling these verses spiritually (figuratively), but physically (literally). He is literally meeting the felt needs of those He encounters, and the brokenness of this world. Go ahead and try it…read Luke with these verses in mind…you will likely find, as I did, that all of what Jesus does points back to these verses.

We need to reclaim the “Kingdom of God” as our thrust in mission. To attend to one’s soul without care for the body (person) is neglecting what Jesus fulfilled, and now has called us to do. To only attend to one’s body without care for the soul is equally as unproductive and useless. It is the WHOLE Gospel we must seek and preach to the world. Because in fact, everything is spiritual.