Saturday, August 02, 2008

Singapore reflections

In May I (Brian) had the privilege of attending Nazarene Missions International (NMI) Re-visioning meetings in Singapore. NMI has been a hugely successful way the Nazarene church has emphasized and supported missions over the years. Yet as our times are changing so quickly there has been an increased awareness of NMI’s need to also re-focus for a successful future. I was invited to represent youth, along with a friend from Australia. We met together over three days representing 10 countries across Asia and the Pacific.

We looked at the three times in Matthew (9:1-6; 10:1-7, 17-20; 22:35-37) where Jesus sent out his apostles. As we looked it became evident that in every passage, though the circumstances changed, there were consistent themes: God was with them, they experienced suffering, they were proactive, and ultimately they saw success from their labor. While God has been doing exciting things within Asia-Pacific we could and should be seeing more fruit and doing more. We were told “You are here so that the God who lives in you will splash out on the people around you.” It made me examine my life. Am I intentional in the ways I interact with people, so that they would see Jesus in me and hear Jesus from me? These apostles in Matthew had no church membership or buildings. They went out to share the good news that God has come near in Jesus and real life was offered! The key is that they went out. Jesus sent them out. God’s heart is always ‘out’, out to the communities where we live, out among the people that we pass by, out in the schools we attend. Many times our church buildings lead us to believe that people meet Jesus by coming in, but this is not what we see in scripture. Often, in my life, church has become a bunker, a safe defensive haven in a frightening and sinful world. But this is not salt, this is not light. This is a light hidden under a basket.

Across the Asia-Pacific region there are 2.6 billion people. Roughly 104,000 are Nazarenes, a number which has not changed significantly for the past few years. Half of the region’s population live in cities. There are currently 135 cities with over a million population, 108 of which have less than 3% believers in them. By 2023, including the rise in population, two-thirds to three-fourths of the total Asia and Pacific population will live in cities. The challenge is clear. There is a huge need for missionary-minded believers across the Asia-Pacific. It made me reflect, if we are being who Christ calls us to be in our world, would the Nazarene Church look like it does right now? I do not say this to be critical or to lessen the tremendous commitment on the part of believers, but this is a critical question. We are known by our fruit. What is the fruit of my life? Who is encountering Jesus through me? Is my heart moved by these figures? Is my heart moved by the hundreds of faces I see as I walk through Manila every day? Second Corinthians 5:14 says “The love of Christ compels us.” May I be compelled more. May Christ’s love open my eyes and ears to what He sees in the faces, the lives of these people that surround me every day.

As we began to honestly discuss the challenges to Jesus’ command to make disciples in the nations I was shocked to discover that most of the issues were internal to the church rather than external. Things like busyness, lack of prayer, fear, lack of discipleship, the exodus of young people from churches, these things were derailing churches from their mission from the inside. External factors, such as government opposition, issues of communication (language, culture), and resistant people groups, were not the primary challenges. This was so revealing to me. Yet it was also a word of good news, because we all have the ability to address the internal issues!

Despite our range of ages, differences in language, culture, and country, and our backgrounds we discovered that as we center ourselves in prayer God will give us his heart. The issue was a heart issue, and the solution is a heart-response. As we spend time with Jesus he makes us more into his image. As disciples grow closer to Christ they develop as leaders. As we focus on Christ together, and share His heart the church is united in purpose. This moves us out into our neighborhoods and workplaces with an entirely different mindset. Because Christ’s love compels us we are willing to learn a new language and culture, even if it is with non-believers in our own country. We are willing to be uncomfortable and challenged by the pain of sin in people’s lives.

As I have thought about these few days over the past weeks God has continually been speaking to my heart. These issues are not exclusive to Asia or the Pacific but are experienced in every country because these issues are fundamental heart issues among believers. I have been praying that I would stay alert in all situations, especially when I am ‘out’ for where God is working in the hearts and lives of people around me. I have been praying that God would continually let me see people through his eyes.

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