Brazil Mission Trip 2007

My wife and I are working on making a mission trip to Uberlandia, Brazil this summer. Our intentions are:

1) Gather information on what job and ministry skills we need to acquire before returning to Brazil.

2) Help the Church in Pacaembu run a Vacation Bible School and conduct an evangelistic outreach.

3) During my the weekend of our stay there, we plan to hold a retreat for the church at which I will be teaching.

You can visit our ChipIn site or click on the ChipIn widget on the right hand sidebar of this blog to contribute.

Please pray that we can get this together and have a safe and fruitful visit there.

Review of “Reimagining Evangelism”

Mr. Rick Richardson, a priest of the Anglican Mission in America and associate national director for evangelism with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA has written a somewhat patchwork book on evangelism, entitled “Reimagining Evangelism.” He begins by denying that Christians need to “close the deal” and lead people to Christ. He emphasizes that we need to see where God is working and join in, leaving the resolution to God. In this he shows the influence of “Experiencing God” very strongly.

Throughout the book he talks about people not knowing exactly when they were saved, people praying a sinners prayer and also about the need to be baptized. This apparently muddled view is further complicated by his insistence that baptism is a public act of commitment, something the Scriptures never explicitly say and which is denied by examples such as that of the Ethiopian eunuch.

A few times the writer provides gratuitous advertising to Einstein Bros. Bakery (never heard of it before) by talking about how he does his writing there. This book of scattered thoughts makes me think he should reconsider his rejection of a private office or quiet corner in a library. It may make for good evangelism to hang around a bagel shop, but when you are trying to write a book, a little concentration makes a big difference.

Finished Nehemiah

Yesterday I finished reading Nehemiah.

Nehemiah demonstrated zealous fidelity to God during a time without any apparent prophetic word. The book concludes with a better explanation than Ezra for why they opposed marriage to Gentile women. This was based not on a commandment from God, but on hard experience, especially in light of the life of Solomon.

Also, importantly, this book shows that though a remnant had returned to the promised land, they did not see this as the glorious return from exile spoken of by the prophets. They were still oppressed in the land by foreign powers and occupiers.

“Here we are, slaves to this day—slaves in the land that you gave to our ancestors to enjoy its fruit and its good gifts” (Nehemiah 9:36 NRSV).

Not Upset

The Discovery Channel is for-profit. Let’s get that straight right now. So, when I learn that they are going to put on a “documentary” about that affluent family’s first century tomb, the one with the very common names of “Jesus,” “Mary” and “Joseph” written on the ossuaries, I don’t get upset.

Oh, it bothers me that Discovery Channel is misrepresenting the Christian faith by suggesting: “If Jesus’ mortal remains have been found, this would contradict the idea of a physical ascension but not the idea of a spiritual ascension. The latter is consistent with Christian theology.”

The latter is not consistent with Christian theology. Anything other than bodily resurrection is a wimpy spiritualization of the victory of Christ over death, offering no similar promise of resurrection for us and leaving us with a warmed-over Gnosticism.

Nope. Not upset. Discovery will make money and get a lot of attention. People weak-minded enough to believe the shoddy “research” of those who produced this program would have already been pre-disposed to not believing anyway. Life will go on, as will God’s mission.

Reconsidering John 17

The Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement, my faith tradition in Christianity, has since its inception held Christian unity and the restoration of New Testament Christianity as its chief goals. When first I counted myself a part of this movement, I saw this in stark terms. Restoration meant a very conservative form of evangelical Protestantism (though at the time I wouldn’t have put it that way) and Christian unity was the abandonment of denominations by followers of Christ in favor of an “undenominational” movement of people and congregations. While I still hold to both ideals, I now see them in very different terms than earlier in my journey with Christ. Right now I’d like to take another look at the concept of Christian unity.

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21 NRSV).

The passage above is often cited by groups working for Christian unity (such as POEM), and is even incorporated into the official symbol of the United Church of Christ. The use of this verse by mainline ecumenical groups has long seemed humorous to me, and now as I read the relevant passages with new eyes I have even greater difficulty in seeing corporate, denominational unity in the prayer of Jesus.

The problem, as I see it, is that we’ve been reading this passage wrong. When it is brought up, people say that the unity of believers, whether in a congregation or across denominations, will convince non-believers that we are the “real thing.” Now, I’m certain that Jesus did not have our modern denominational situation in mind, and I’m further convinced that He was not contemplating a sort of “showcase” Christianity that would persuade a fractured world to find faith through a harmonious worldwide church. Jesus had a missional body of followers in mind, a group to take His good news to all the world.

Jesus was as practical as He was visionary. The purpose of unity is the fulfillment of God’s mission. Where Israel failed to be light to the nations, first by indulging in the sins and idolatry of the nations, and then by becoming obsessed with legalistic purity after the partial return from captivity, Jesus and then His disciples would succeed. Unity’s purpose was not primarily to show the world what unity looks like, but rather to accomplish the work of God on earth.

“As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18 NRSV).

Did you catch that? The Father sent the Son, and the Son sent His disciples, the reborn children of God. The mission finds its origin in the heart of God, is revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Christ and is carried to the world by those set apart by the life-destroying/life giving message.

The purpose of unity is to be able to function, to work well together to complete the holy task set before us.

Odds and Ends on a Saturday

This morning when I awoke I decided to just blog on a few scattered items. So, here goes.

Last night I told one of the leading men with the Brazilian Church of Christ in Newark, NJ that I am willing to start helping out with the worship service again. When we first moved here I helped out, and even preached a couple of times, but I was quite unenthusiastic about it as I struggled through the shattering of my faith and the devastation of ministry plans and dreams. After some unpleasantness I backed out of any active involvement at all. This is what I consider my return to ministry and a renewed commitment to Christ and His mission. Not everything is sorted out, but I can’t deny the call to discipleship.

The church that has been the primary support of Marcelo and the Church of Christ in Pacaembu, in Uberlandia, Brazil sent visitors there in January. Apparently the trip went exceedingly well, and the church in Iowa is excited about increasing support and the leadership is looking to take a more direct role in oversight. These are both good things, in case the way I phrased it makes you wonder. In any event, if Marcelo can count on this one church for his support, then I can look to others for our support in mission.

My wife and I are considering how we can get back into mission work in Brazil. In connection with that, I’ve established a “Chip In” page to help gather funds for an exploratory trip this summer. You can visit it here, and I’ll be updating it from time to time.

Finally, here’s an interesting post from Guitar Priest on the crucifixion and atonement.

As a Hen Gathers Her Brood….

Fire raged in the hay-filled barn. The farmer and his sons gathered buckets and a garden hose and raced to the smoky barnyard. The farmer’s wife gasped as she realized that the hen house was right next to the barn. The hens had been shut in for the night, so she ran to throw open the door of the little shack. Inside she grabbed hens and chicks and threw them out to the relative safety of the chaotic barnyard. In the confusion she lost count, but fairly certain she had gotten them all and almost overwhelmed by the smoke, she went to join the fire-fighting efforts.

The barn was a total loss, and it had gotten the chicken coop as well. The volunteer rural fire department had shown up quickly, but the fire had been faster. The farmer’s wife stepped into the tiny building and gasped. One hen hadn’t made it. There she was, in her smoldering nest. The fire had come through so quickly that her feathers were singed but not entirely burned off. More than likely smoke inhalation had overcome her.

Suddenly, there was movement. What the hen really alive? No. What she saw next brought a tear to the eye of the otherwise very sturdy, practical farm woman. Three chicks, very much alive, crawled out from beneath the ruins of their lost mother. Acting on mere instinct the creature had saved the lives of her offspring.

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’”
(Matthew 23:37-39 NRSV).

Across the centuries a wise and loving Father yearned for His chosen ones, Israel, to assume their proper role as a light to the nations. He had placed His Name and His House in the city of Jerusalem, meaning for it to be a city on a hill, bringing the knowledge and truth of God to a fallen world. Instead, Israel struggled against the Lord and failed to fulfill the divinely ordained role. The Name was blasphemed and the Temple was filled with idolatry and prostitution. Prophets came and were slain by the wicked and ruthless people. Judgment and exile came, but the chosen ones only partly repented. So the Father sent the Son. Surely they would listen to Him.

Contemplating the city of David, Jesus was overcome with emotion. The earnest and intense love of the Father for His people was revealed in the Son. Like the hen in the barnyard, He longed to gather the children of Israel under His wings and suffer the coming wrath for them. They were unwilling. Israel would neither accomplish the purposes of God, nor be gathered to Him, so the true King of Israel would suffer judgment as a foretaste and sign of the wrath to be revealed in full decades later at the destruction of rebellious Jerusalem in 70 AD. In doing so, the Lord Jesus, the Anointed One of God, did for Israel what Israel would not do for itself. He became the Suffering Servant and Redeemer of the Nations, a light to the Gentiles and the salvation of the Jews.

Muslims Miffed and Mega Churches Mixed

Muslims are angry again. Somebody offended them with costumes in a float in Germany. The way they lose their temper over these things while spreading wild lies and conspiracy theories regarding Christianity, Judaism and western civilization only demonstrates the danger of their belief.

On another note, there is a news article out today on how mega churches are becoming more and more mixed racially and ethnically. I’m still not a big fan of mega churches, but what does that matter?

Methods of Church Planting

Once a week we had “chapel” at the Bible college in Missouri. Most of the time our guest speakers were area preachers or professors from the college. Once the head janitor preached (he had a Masters in theology!), and every so often we had a missionary or church planter deliver a message. At the time I was interested in missions only as one aspect of the life of the church, and church planting was interesting but a bit foreign to me. One visiting preacher came from the Kansas City area to tell us about his church planting work, and that was my first brush with an approach to starting churches that seems common in the U.S., but of which I know almost nothing.

This church planter explained how he had raised support from interested churches, organized a mission organization and fund, and began forming a team. They then spent a year or two laying the groundwork for the church plant. When the “big day” came for their first worship service, they didn’t know what to expect. What they got was an overflow crowd. The numbers diminished in the following weeks, levelled off and by the time the preacher was speaking to us the church was beginning to show consistent numeric growth.

This is not at all like any church planting I’ve ever been involved in, and that’s the topic of my post today. A recent post over on Aaron Mont’s blog has gotten me to thinking about how churches are planted, and as I reflect on my time in Brazil, I can’t think of a single plant I witnessed in action or was told about that took place as these I’ve had described to me Stateside.

The Church of Christ in Uberlandia, Brazil began with two Christian women, friends and housemates, who moved to the city. They began evangelizing other women, especially relatives of a woman named Selma who was from Uberlandia and then living in Belo Horizonte, several miles away. One of the women they studied the Bible with and baptized (yes, women baptizing women…get over it ye legalists!) was the woman who is now my wife. They met, women only, in homes to study the Bible. On Sundays they began to have worship services complete with the Lord’s Supper, hymns and preaching, all organized and carried out by the women and for the women. After several months, the downtown church in Belo Horizonte sent over some couples to visit on weekends. A year or so later, a team from Belo Horizonte, including Selma and her husband Marcelo, relocated to Uberlandia and began working with the church.

I, a Johnny-come-lately, showed up over a year into their work with the church, if memory serves. Christiane and I were wed. After I time I began evangelizing in a neighborhood called Aurora, while Marcelo, my brother-in-law, evangelized the neighborhoods of Pacaembu and Roosevelt. He baptized a household, then invited my wife and I and another couple from the original team from Belo Horizonte to join him in the work of the new church. A building was rented and regular worship services began.

These plants were more “missional,” I think, than the event-oriented plants I’ve heard about in the United States. I just can’t figure out how an American church plant works, and maybe it doesn’t matter. One thing I suspect is that most new churches in the United States start with people who have some prior experience in evangelical churches, while in Brazil the new members are actual converts from nominal Catholicism and even Spiritism.

Any thoughts? I’d especially love to hear from people who have been involved in church planting in North America (Canada and U.S.).