Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Our hymns remind us of our calling and missional purpose:

Everyone, Everywhere following Jesus

Frontier mission among every people group. Proclaiming Christ throughout the world. Sometimes I get the impression these are new concepts to Presbyterians! But they're not. Our hymns give abundantly clear and vocal witness to our Presbyterian calling and missional purpose.

Hymns we sing Sunday after Sunday are replete with the Scriptural commission to be witnesses so the whole world might follow Jesus - in short, everyone, everywhere following Jesus.

In today's multicultural, pluralistic world this aim might sound jarring, even offensive. But in most parts of the world, Christianity has never not been a deep challenge to the culture or dominant religion. I would even say we're discovering that following Jesus in our own culture is becoming costlier.

"In the world you face persecution," Jesus says. "But take courage; I have conquered the world!" (John 16.33)

Leading others to follow after Jesus is neither a tame nor non-offensive action. Presbyterian mission leader Rev. Bill Lowrey recently told the Pittsburgh World Mission Initiative conference, "God's mission doesn't change because it's tough for us. We are ambassadors for Christ. The world is on a terminal path; God, however, is on a mission."

The scope of our commission remains, whether easy or difficult: to share the gospel globally until all believe. There's no settling for "some" or "a smattering in scattered places." Our hymns attest that the biblical goal is no lower than for very person and every tribe in every tongue and land to be disciples of Jesus.

Witness these clarion calls for global mission from our Presbyterian Hymnal - with a few comments and implications in brackets:
  • Joy to the world, the Lord is come; let earth [everyone] receive her King [Jesus]; Let every heart [everyone, everywhere] prepare Him room [clear out other gods]... He rules the world [all other faiths are insufficient and idolatrous] with truth and grace, and makes the nations [all ethnicities] prove the glories of His righteousness and wonders of His love [ie, Jesus makes clear to all ethnicities/religions the superiority of Christ to any religious construct]. (40: Joy to the world, the Lord is come)

  • All creation [every person on earth - and beyond!], join in praising God the Father, Spirit, Son [the Christian triune God found in Christianity and no other religion]. (22: Angels, from the Realms of Glory)

  • As stewards of the earth may we give thanks in one accord to God who calls us all [everyone, everywhere] to be Disciples [devoted followers] of the Lord [refering to Jesus Christ]. (434: Today We All Are Called to Be Disciples)

  • Let every kindred, every tribe, on this terrestrial ball [everyone, everywhere following Jesus], to Him [Jesus] all majesty [no other god or lord but him] ascribe, and crown Him Lord of all! (143: All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name!)

  • At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow [everyone, everywhere following Jesus], every tongue confess Him King of glory now. [Every knee bowing means every person on earth should be led to worship Jesus] (148: At the Name of Jesus)

  • Rejoice, the Lord is King [over all]! Your Lord and King adore! ...God's kingdom cannot fail, Christ rules [global sovereignty] o'er earth and heaven. (155: Rejoice the Lord is King)

  • From all that dwell below the skies let the Creator's praise arise, let the Redeemer's name [specifically, Jesus'] be sung through every land [geographic], in every tongue [linguistic]. In every land begin the song, to every land the strains belong [ie, the Church deserves to be born in every culture] (229: From All That Dwell Below the Skies)

  • O God of every nation, of every race and land [everyone, everywhere following Jesus], redeem the whole creation with your almighty hand...Keep bright in us the vision...when peace on earth shall reign and Christ [no other god or religion] shall rule victorious o'er all the world's domain. (289: O God of Every Nation)

  • Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim till all the world [everyone, everywhere] adore His sacred name. (371: Lift High the Cross)

  • ...Till all the world [everyone, everywhere] shall learn Thy [Jesus'] love, and follow where Thy feet have trod. (408: Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life)

  • Jesus shall reign where'er the sun does its successive journeys run...Let every creature rise and bring honors peculiar [sole Lordship] to our King. (423: Jesus Shall Reign Where'er the Sun)

  • My gracious Master and my God, assist me to proclaim, to spread through all the earth abroad [everyone, everywhere] the honors of Thy name. (466: O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing)

  • The name all victorious of Jesus extol; His kingdom is glorious, He rules over all. (477: Ye Servants of God, Your Master Proclaim)

  • [Jesus] opened the life gate that all may go in. Praise the Lord, let the earth [everyone, everywhere] hear His voice! Come to the Father through Jesus the Son [unique salvation through Christ], and give Him the glory, great things He hath done! (485: To God Be the Glory)

  • Let earth's wide circle round [everyone, everywhere] in joyful notes resound: May Jesus Christ be praised! (487: When Morning Guilds the Skies)

  • Praise Him all creatures here below [everyone, everywhere following Jesus]; praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.[All people are called to praise the Christian trune God] (592: Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow - The Doxology)

To which I say, may we Presbyterians sing The Song!

-- Dave Hackett

Friday, March 26, 2004

Yes, we love missionaries. But they are not the object of mission - the mission itself is.

Focus on Human Communities, Not Missionaries

Churches discover that mission involvements are energized and made more attractive and sustainable when the focus is not on the missionary but rather on the targeted human community, or people group, itself. True local church mission happens when we escape that centrifugal force and begin to love and focus on the targeted human community that is beyond ourselves.

A leader of the PCUSA's own mission personnel office once summed it up nicely: "Missionaries aren't the mission -- the mission is the mission."

Yes, the Bible says that blessed are the feet of those who bring good news. We love missionaries. But the truth is that missionaries are only one resource among many that we can deploy to express our love and spiritual hopes for God's work among those peoples and human communities. They are not the mission themselves, nor the best focus of our prayers and concern and relationships.

By focusing on missionaries, local churches rob themselves of the joy of true human connection and the natural interest that comes from interaction with actual members of the human community a church is attempting to express Christian love and witness toward. Very frequently, too, missionaries want the churches that support their work to focus on the people group they are working among, rather than on the missionary and his or her family.

This involves reframing the place and position that missionaries occupy in our concept of mission. They will no longer be the object and aim of our mission interest - they will be co-laborers with us (and other ways that we seek to impact a human community) on Christ's behalf. They are fellow partners with us, peers in the mission task.

In a sense, it comes down to whether we focus on ourselves (and the missionary as an extension of ourselves), or on the truly "other," the cross-cultural group.

I'll put it as directly as this: If we focus only on missionaries, and care only for them, we may only be promoting an ethnocentrist view. Our care and love still will not have escaped the centrifugal force of loving ourselves.

True local church mission happens when we escape that centrifugal force and begin to love and focus on the targeted human community that is beyond ourselves.

Here's a table that summarizes the differences that happen between these two focuses. (Scroll down)

Mission: Just Whom Do We Focus On?

If our focus is on the missionary (a part of "us,") we tend to... If our focus is on "them" (the target group), we tend to...

  • think about the missionary

  • think about the target people group

  • care about missionary trials and hardships

  • care about the people's trials and hardships

  • consider what the missionary is giving up to be there

  • consider about what the target people are gaining

  • think about our own out there

  • think about our Lord out there

  • sense how God is being active through us

  • sense how God is being active in them

  • pray in church for the missionary and the missionary's needs

  • pray in church for the needs of the very people our missionaries hope we would care

  • want to get to know the missionary personally

  • want to get to know the people group personally

  • shift our interest to wherever the missionary goes

  • integrate new personnel and methods into our continuing interest on the target group

Some observations and questions:

  1. CONNECT. When we send a youth on a mission trip down to work with an orphanage in Mexico, for instance, whom do they talk about when they return? The orphanage's leadership, its administration, the missionary contact leader? No, they rave about the Mexican kids who won over their hearts. Our own experience tells us that one people encountering (and loving) another people is the more wonderful aspect of mission involvement. We do better when we focus on that people-to-people connection.

    What does this say about the common hope of churches and mission committees to "get to know the missionary better" as one of their chief aims? Very frequently churches are frustrated over how hard it is to get regular communication from their missionaries, all while believing that a major goal is to help their congregation "get to know the missionary during very brief visits." I suggest another goal: Help your church fall in love with an entire people group. "Adopt" a people group, not a missionary! Watch how much deeper your connection can grow.

  2. PRAY. When we pray for mission in the Sunday prayer, about whom do we pray? For missionaries and their needs, trials? Of course we love, care for and pray for missionaries, but even they desire us to be praying for the people we are working among! Try having a single Sunday mission prayer time when you pray deeply for the peoples and tribes your missionaries and agencies are working among - and this time, don't mention the missionaries or agencies at all. Just dwell your prayer on the people, and sense the different direction that takes your mission concerns.

  3. CONTINUE FOCUS. When one of your supported missionaries transfers fields, shifting from one nation to another, does your interest in the former field simply evaporate to follow the missionary? What does that say about your commitment level to the field, not just the missionary?

    It is an indictment upon us when all interest in a field disappears when the missionary leaves! What does that illustrate about our true interest in the very people we were supporting them to be in ministry and witness to?

    Consider valuing each people group or human community so valuable that when one supported missionary leaves, you will search for another way to continue your devotion to that same mission focus. Make your commitment priority clear: It's to a human community, not to a specific mission worker.

  4. IDENTIFIERS. When your church lists its mission commitments, such as in the bulletin, on a mission bulletin board, or in the budget, does it list missionaries and agencies, or the peoples they are trying to reach or touch with Christ's gospel? Try this discipline: Rewrite your lists, including your budget line items, to indicate not the missionary but the field.

    Instead of "Sam and Marsha Box, Thailand" (a made-up name), put it "The Matsha Tribe of Northern Thailand" (a made-up name). This simple shift will help refocus your community's awareness that your church is committed in some way to the people group in whatever ways the Lord might lead you to express that. One way will be by supporting the ministry of Sam and Marsha. But hopefully you will broaden that commitment as you discover the rich array of other ways to reach out in Christ's love and with his gospel to the Matsha!

-- Dave Hackett

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Jesus: Now more popular than John Lennon

Now that the film "The Passion of the Christ" has achieved international blockbuster status, broad sectors of US society are suddenly getting a wake-up call about global interest in Jesus.

Columnist Jacob Tootalian writes in today's California Aggie that "the film has been so successful that Mike Pasternack of Bongo News has declared that 'Jesus is now more popular than John Lennon.'"

Funny and clever. But still a naive understatement of vast proportions. The anesthetized orthodoxy of the Western Church is not so far gone that we can't be stirred by coming face to face with the spiritual sacrifice and attraction of Jesus as portrayed in The Passion.

To our culture I suggest: If you are moved by the film, try the Savior himself.

And meanwhile, a real passion for the Christ -- sans film -- is truly breaking forth globally: More people have never before been putting their faith in Christ than they're putting it in Christ these days.

Across East Asia, Africa, South Asia, Latin America, Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship is connected with outreach ministries among unreached cultures that are experiencing incredible rates of conversions, 100s and 1000s per month. The Church is exploding with growth in many places araound the world. We in the West have no idea. It catches us by total surprise, like the blockbuster status of "The Passion."

The miracle of real faith, the power and attraction of the real Jesus, sweeping people movements to Christ: How do we reintroduce these realities to a West so sidelined that we're missing the global revival the rest of the world gets to experience "coming soon to a village near you?"

That's a job we need the Spirit to do through us. We've got "The Passion." But we lack the passion. Lord, give it to us.

Link mentioned:

-- Dave

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

The Emerging "Oral Bible Movement"

The frontier mission movement, in its quest to plant gospel movements in unreached people groups, has an important new front opening that we do well to explore and incorporate into our mission, even on the local level.

In fact, as the Website Oral Bible puts it, "Unreached people group mission with an emphasis on oral learning preferences" may well be the "next wave of missions advance."

"Nearly 70% of the world's population - and 50% of the USA's population - desire a non-literate approach to learning and decision-making," the site says. "Orality appeals to more than non-literates, but also to functionally illiterates, post-literates, and even post-moderns."

Look into this Oral Bible Movement a little more and one can find a burgeoning set of data revealing why this is one mission approach worth paying attention to. The Presbyterian Church (USA) Frontier Mission Program and Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship will be exploring ways we can participate in this creative approach to reaching cultures where there is a need to share the gospel for the first time and where there are still people and cultures that have not yet heard the gospel of redemption and new life in Jesus Christ.

A weekly mission update called The FridayFax lists in this week's issue the powerful influences propelling forward this movement (as compiled by Jim Bowman, Director of 'Scriptures in Use'):

1. Over two thirds of the world population receive most of their information orally;
2. For over one third of the world's population (more than 2 billion people), oral communication is the only source of information;
3. Ninety-five percent of women in the Islamic world can only be reached through oral communication;
4. Over 75% of the Bible consists of stories. Adding poetry and proverbs leaves probably less than 10% abstract "intellectual" content;
5. Traditional Western forms of communication only reach the 10% intellectual elite in unreached people groups, storytelling the rest;
6. Storytelling turns discouraged, marginalized, semi-literate believers into powerful evangelists and disciplers with great impact, a sense of fulfillment, personal value and new hope.

The Friday Fax compares critical differences between typically Western "book cultures" and typically non-Western "oral cultures" increasingly influencing the West, in which the story is of major importance.

Take a look at these and ask yourself, which culture, the book or the oral, sounds like it would connect better with younger people we know and work with? And what does this say about how we orient our mission for the next decade?

(Scroll down)

Book Cultures

Oral Cultures

1. Learn by reading, studying, examining, classifying, comparing, and analyzing

1. Learn by observing, imitating, listening, repeating and memorizing. They learn through proverbs, saying,
stories, songs and expressions.

2. Think and talk about concepts and principles.

2. Think and talk about events.

3. Manage knowledge in abstract, complicated, scientific categories.

3. Use stories of human action to store, organize and communicate information.

4. Seek to discover new information.

4. Value and learn information handed down from the past.

5. Value innovative solutions.

5. Value traditional solutions.

6. Understand things abstractly like the pieces of a puzzle.

6. Understand things in their context and according to the people involved.

7. See things in parts.

7. See things as a whole, in their totality.

8. Ask and answer direct questions.

8. Avoid asking and answering direct questions.

9. Feel the need to define words and concepts.

9. Are uninterested in definitions since the context brings the meaning.

10. Do not like repetition - since material missed can be reread.

10. Appreciate repetition in case something was missed the first time.

11. Like brevity (few words can say much)

11. Like to use lots of words (many words to say little).

12. Use charts, diagrams,and lists to explain the message.

12. Use symbols and stories to explain a message.

13. Learn and retain knowledge as general principles.

13. Learn and retain knowledge in relation to real and imagined events of life.

14. Make lists but recite few geneologies.

14. May recite geneologies but make few lists.

15. Speak and write about their own feelings.

15. Think and talk about people and events they know.

16. Arrive at conclusions by logic.

16. Make decisions base on experience.

17. Organize the sermon or oratory with a logical progression of thoughts.

17. Illustrate sermons, exhortations and oratory with events.

18. Tend to communicate one-to-one.

18. Tend to communicate in groups.

19. Learn mostly alone.

19. Learn mostly in interaction with other people.

20. Can think about something for a long time while making notes about it.

20. Cannot think about someting very long without dialogue.

21. Tend to use a subtle verbal style.

21. Have a verbal style that can be dramatic and exagerated.

22. Prefer realistic characters  and the struggle to reach a goal.

22. Tend to use strong or heavy characters and tend to emphasize a struggle against an enemy.

23. Use their hands little since gestures are not written or read.

23. Express themselves with their hands.

24. Use informal, casual, or spontaneous verbal exchange.

24. Use ritual and formal verbal exchange.

25. Value style and clarity of reasoning.

25. Value the style of speech, clarity, and poetic forms of language.

26. Are affected by the content of what they read.

26. Are affected by the sound of what they hear.

27. Have talents in written forms of language and literature.

27. Are talented in oral art for example song and poetry.

28. Do not participate in verbal contests but perhaps write well-worded letters to the newspaper or a

28. Participate in verbal contests excelling in praise, insults, riddles, jokes and flowery language.


Links listed:

-- Dave Hackett

Monday, March 01, 2004

'The Passion of Christ': Lost in Translation?

Last Saturday, a Presbyterian spotted an ironically-arranged marquee outside the Orinda (California) Theater. The marquee listed its movies as


How true. "The Passion of the Christ" is a story told "inside the family." Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald says that Gibson made 'Passion' for a very specific audience, rejecting standard storytelling conventions such as introducing his characters, assuming his audience already knows everything he's about to tell us. Other reviewers note that the film wasn't made for everyone, isn't even understandable by everyone. And the message can get lost in translation.

The crucifixion of Jesus is a story - probably the story that belongs to the followers of Christ. I found the film gripping from start to finish and would recommend that teens and older see it to enrich our comprehension of the agony - and majesty - of the events surrounding Christ's crucifixion. In particular, the scourging scenes opened up for me an aspect of the crucifixion that I have always known was there, but somehow failed to visualize. Yes, it was brutal enough to kill him, and I'm not talking about the nailed-on-the-cross part. The beating, crowning, shoving, whipping, stumbling, cross-hauling extinguishing of Jesus is vividly brought to life, and my faith is the richer for this movie's gift for having brought that home to me.

Faithful Christians may wonder about some odd scenes that we will recognize as non-biblical, Gibson add-ins in most cases meant to help us interpret the unfolding events. Some are portrayed with a reverence so painstakingly detailed that one would think they are well-documented parts of the Bible story - such as the girl offering a cup of water to Jesus when he stumbles while carrying his cross. I would commend to readers Bible scholar Darrell Bock's Scene-by-Scene 'Passion' Reference Guide on, which lists Bible references for each scene's biblical allusions. It also helpfully highlights (in pink) those scenes not drawn from Scripture.

I have hopes that the clarity of this movie - its bold, Christ-centeredness delivered with excellent production to the world in a medium quite dominated by secular culture - will crack open many hardened hearts to reconsider Jesus. And just perhaps it will help us recover from our sanitized and domesticated view of Jesus and what he went through on our behalf.

Links listed:

-- Dave Hackett