Looking back: Kids’ Soccer Festival

December 27, 2011 in Life, Mark, Church, Mission, Sport

This week we are busy packing up our belongings deciding what to give away, what to leave with friends, and what to fit into the four suitcases that will come with us to the airport on Saturday morning as we head to England, and then on to Tanzania in a couple of weeks!

Much as we are looking forward to arriving in Tanzania, we will be sad to leave friends and family here in the US. One of my enduring memories of our time here over the past year or so is the 4-week “soccer festival” that our church hosted for kids from the local neighbourhood last summer. Here’s a great little video from the festival made by Stephen, which will help to bring back some great memories when we’re on the other side of the world… Read the rest of this entry →

Wise advice for short-term mission

October 17, 2011 in Africa, Mission

Short-term mission is something that is hugely popular here in the US, with millions of dollars spent each year to send people of all ages overseas for anything from a week to a few months. A significant amount of research has been done in recent years into the effectiveness of such trips, generally concluding that they can have a very positive or very negative impact, in large part depending on the extent to which the local church and community is involved in the planning, and how the trip relates to long-term missional engagement in the community.

While the visiting team will almost always benefit from their cross-cultural interaction, this should never be the primary reason for the trip, or the determining factor in planning. These are issues that in Wycliffe UK we have tried to think through in some depth in recent years as we sent summer teams to Africa and Asia, seeking to focus on relationships, visiting existing long-term translation projects, and hopefully building ongoing links. Read the rest of this entry →

The Truth Project, part 2: Actions speak louder than words

September 29, 2011 in Mark, Church, Culture, Mission, Theology

Last night was the second session in our church discussion of The Truth Project, a DVD series that aims to promote a biblical worldview. Following on from last week’s session I was slightly sceptical about the way the DVD series approaches the idea of truth, but was interested to hear what they had to say on the topic of Philosophy and Ethics.

Well, the session was interesting. On one level I agreed with much of the content, about how it is potentially problematic for any philosophical system to explain life and the universe using only what is contained within the universe. However, the session for me was overshadowed by two things, one ironic and the other tragic. Read the rest of this entry →

A missional reading of Matthew 2

August 10, 2011 in Mark, Bible, Mission, Theology

Our Bible study group continued a couple of weeks ago in our study of Matthew, trying to read each chapter as the original hearers would have heard it, in order to understand the missional implications of Matthew’s words for them in their situation, and then for us in ours. Here are some of our thoughts…

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking, 2 “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose,and we have come to worship him.”

3 King Herod was deeply disturbed when he heard this, as was everyone in Jerusalem. 4 He called a meeting of the leading priests and teachers of religious law and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

5 “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they said, “for this is what the prophet wrote:

6 ‘And you, O Bethlehem in the land of Judah,
are not least among the ruling cities of Judah,
for a ruler will come from you
who will be the shepherd for my people Israel.’”

7 Then Herod called for a private meeting with the wise men, and he learned from them the time when the star first appeared. 8 Then he told them, “Go to Bethlehem and search carefully for the child. And when you find him, come back and tell me so that I can go and worship him, too!”

9 After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy! 11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasure chests and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

12 When it was time to leave, they returned to their own country by another route, for God had warned them in a dream not to return to Herod.

The Escape to Egypt

13After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

14 That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, 15 and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”

16 Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. 17 Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18 “A cry was heard in Ramah—
weeping and great mourning.
Rachel weeps for her children,
refusing to be comforted,
for they are dead.”

The Return to Nazareth

19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt. 20“Get up!” the angel said. “Take the child and his mother back to the land of Israel, because those who were trying to kill the child are dead.”

21 So Joseph got up and returned to the land of Israel with Jesus and his mother. 22 But when he learned that the new ruler of Judea was Herod’s son Archelaus, he was afraid to go there. Then, after being warned in a dream, he left for the region of Galilee. 23 So the family went and lived in a town called Nazareth. This fulfilled what the prophets had said: “He will be called a Nazarene.” (Matthew 2)

The wise men are Gentiles coming from the East. They are the first to call Jesus the King of the Jews. This is mirrored by another Gentile, Pilate, calling Jesus the King of the Jews in very different circumstances at the end of the gospel.

The prophecy that Matthew highlights in verse 6 is a combination of Micah 5:2-3, speaking of the return of Israel from exile, together with 2 Samuel 5:2, where the words are spoken of in reference to King David.

So in these first few verses we again have the key themes from chapter one of the kingship of Jesus, the return from exile of Israel, and people of all nations being part of what God is doing.

The theme of kingship also highlights stark contrasts between Jesus and Herod. Herod is the illegitimate king, whereas Jesus is from the true royal ancestral line. Herod has earthly power but no genuine authority. Jesus has complete legitimacy and authority but no worldly power – he is just a baby. Herod isn’t even accepted by his own people, whereas wise men travel from far away to pay their respects to Jesus. Herod rules by power and fear, but Jesus will shepherd his people.

Matthew then goes on to narrate the escape to Egypt of Mary, Joseph and Jesus, and their subsequent return, with many echoes of Moses and the people of Israel escaping from Egypt. It is interesting that in some of these parallels Jesus is identified with Moses, the one who led Israel out of captivity (Jesus escapes being killed by the king as a baby, Jesus is exiled but returns “when those who were tying to kill him were dead”, c.f. Exodus 4:19), while at other times he is identified with the people of Israel themselves, who are being rescued (he is the son who is called out of Egypt, c.f. Hosea 11:1 where Israel is the son). There is a sense in which Matthew is identifying Jesus with both Moses, who led Israel out of captivity, and Israel herself who needed rescuing.

The last two prophecies again are interesting – one from Jeremiah relating again to the return of Israel from exile, and the other… apparently not from anywhere! No one seems quite sure what Matthew had in mind when he “quoted” the prophecy “he will be called a Nazarene”, as there is no such reference in the Old Testament, or in any other known texts. In fact it is thought that Nazareth wasn’t even built until after Old Testament times. To me the most likely explanation derives precisely from the fact that Nazareth was an obscure place that was never mentioned in the Old Testament – it wasn’t somewhere where God’s messiah could be expected to come from (c.f. John 1:46), and hence Matthew is pointing out that Jesus will be rejected, called a nobody, and overlooked due to the apparent insignificance of his birth and upbringing.

What does all this have to do with God’s mission?

We can see God’s mission continue to be worked out through this chapter. Matthew is strongly hinting that the exile (at least in a spiritual and political sense) that is still being experienced is coming to an end and God is rescuing his people, although there are some surprises in how he is doing so. The genuine king has arrived, but it is not just the Jews who will acknowledge and come to him. In fact he may be honoured by those from afar while at the same time being ignored and rejected in large part by his own people. The messiah has come, but he has needed rescuing from Herod, and is identified with Israel being rescued from captivity in Egypt.

As we seek to join in with God’s mission it is vital that we understand what kind of mission it is. This mission involves people returning to God and God returning to his people, but that seems to look different to what might have been expected. It is about enthroning the rightful king, but while this king has ultimate authority he apparently yields no earthly power or force. It is about God’s chosen one putting things right, but he appears to be as vulnerable, if not more so, than those he has come to save. He will lead his people, but as a shepherd, not through power, fear or intimidation. While God’s mission fulfills all the ancient prophecies, it is at the same time surprising, with those who seemed far away from God being the first to recognise what he is doing.

What does it mean for the church to join in with God’s mission as we see it demonstrated here in Matthew 2?

  • We need to expect the unexpected, with God working in and through people we may have considered to be far from him, and through places or situations we might have regarded as insignificant or ungodly.
  • We should understand that while God has ultimate authority in the world, his kingdom is not about exerting power or force to achieve his purposes.
  • The church, like Jesus, should expect to be rejected and misunderstood, to be both ignored and persecuted. God’s mission is good news for all, but is also deeply threatening to those who are clinging insecurely to apparent power, so the church shouldn’t expect God’s good news to be popular with all.
  • As we continue to read Matthew we will follow the theme of Jesus being both the rescuer of God’s people Israel, but at the same time being identified with Israel, the one who needed to be rescued. Maybe the church also needs to be vulnerable, standing in and with those who are hurting and taking on their burdens, while at the same time pointing to the rescuer.
  • Matthew has shown that Jesus is the long-awaited messiah and king, but that there are many surprises now that he has arrived. How can the church creatively communicate to the world that we believe Jesus is king and ruler, but that his rule may be very different to what we might have imagined?

What do you think?

Wise men

A missional reading of Matthew 1

July 26, 2011 in Mark, Bible, Mission, Theology

A couple of weeks ago I was asked by some friends to lead a Bible study (possibly a series) on anything I liked. What would you have chosen? I decided to try to put into practice some of the things I have learnt in my MA in Bible and Mission, to try to guide the group through what it might mean to read the Bible missionally.

I wanted to focus on the life of Jesus, so decided to choose the book of Matthew (probably because I happened to have a book around that related to Matthew…!) My aim was not to get into deep discussions about every verse, but rather to read paragraphs and chapters in the context of the whole book, putting ourselves in the shoes of Matthew’s original audience and trying to understand what he was trying to tell them.

Here’s how chapter 1 went…

The Ancestors of Jesus the Messiah

This is a record of the ancestors of Jesus the Messiah, a descendant of David and of Abraham:

2 Abraham was the father of Isaac.
Isaac was the father of Jacob.
Jacob was the father of Judah and his brothers.
3 Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah (whose mother was Tamar).
Perez was the father of Hezron.
Hezron was the father of Ram.
4 Ram was the father of Amminadab.
Amminadab was the father of Nahshon.
Nahshon was the father of Salmon.
5 Salmon was the father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab).
Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth).
Obed was the father of Jesse.
6 Jesse was the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon (whose mother was Bathsheba, the widow of Uriah).
7 Solomon was the father of Rehoboam.
Rehoboam was the father of Abijah.
Abijah was the father of Asa.
8 Asa was the father of Jehoshaphat.
Jehoshaphat was the father of Jehoram.
Jehoram was the father of Uzziah.
9 Uzziah was the father of Jotham.
Jotham was the father of Ahaz.
Ahaz was the father of Hezekiah.
10 Hezekiah was the father of Manasseh.
Manasseh was the father of Amon.
Amon was the father of Josiah.
11 Josiah was the father of Jehoiachin and his brothers (born at the time of the exile to Babylon).
12 After the Babylonian exile:
Jehoiachin was the father of Shealtiel.
Shealtiel was the father of Zerubbabel.
13 Zerubbabel was the father of Abiud.
Abiud was the father of Eliakim.
Eliakim was the father of Azor.
14 Azor was the father of Zadok.
Zadok was the father of Akim.
Akim was the father of Eliud.
15 Eliud was the father of Eleazar.
Eleazar was the father of Matthan.
Matthan was the father of Jacob.
16 Jacob was the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary.
Mary gave birth to Jesus, who is called the Messiah.

17 All those listed above include fourteen generations from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the Babylonian exile, and fourteen from the Babylonian exile to the Messiah.

The Birth of Jesus the Messiah

18 This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagementquietly.

20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

22 All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:

23 “Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
which means ‘God is with us.’”

24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus. (Matthew 1)

What would stand out to you if you were a first century Jew reading this for the first time? Here are some thoughts we came up with:

  • There are four women in the genealogy – Tamar, Rahab, Ruth and Bathsheba. They are all (probably, although we don’t know for sure about Tamar) from outside of Israel, which seems strange for what is otherwise a very Jewish genealogy. Maybe there’s a hint from the start that this Jewish man, and messiah, is not only for the Jews.
  • Matthew seems to emphasize Abraham, David and the exile. These are key themes for him in understanding Jesus’ identity and vocation as messiah. We should look out for these as we continue to read…
  • The prophecy from Isaiah 7 and 8 comes from passages where the themes of judgment and exile are very prominent, albeit mixed in with the promise of salvation through the child who is born. The “saving people from their sins” in verse 21 would have been seen as very much relating to the plight of the nation and their judgment, rather than simply the private personal issue that we may read it as today.
  • The fact that Joseph named Jesus would have been significant, making him the legal father of the child, hence Jesus is rightfully part of Joseph’s genealogy even though Matthew is clear that Joseph is not the biological father.
  • Throughout the chapter Matthew seems intent on demonstrating that Jesus truly is the messiah people have been waiting for – he is the son of Abraham, the son of David, and he has come to save his people from their spiritual and political (although no longer geographical) exile.

Matthew knows his audience – he knows what they believe is wrong with the world (the Romans are in their promised land, the leaders are corrupt, God seems to have been absent since the exile) and how they are expecting God to put things right (through a messiah, a king like David, coming to save them). In this first chapter he tries to show his audience that Jesus is in fact exactly who they have been waiting for – he is God’s rightful messiah. Although as the book progresses we might find that he is not everything they would have expected from a messiah.

As we relate to people today we might want to ask: What do people see is wrong with the world? What are they waiting for? What do they believe is the solution? How might we, like Matthew, demonstrate that Jesus is actually the fulfillment of all that the world around us is waiting and hoping for?

I’m looking forward to tomorrow as we meet again to see how these themes develop in chapter 2 and beyond…

Men talking