Guest Author

Learning to Pray (Issue 32)

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By a friend serving in the Middle East

As I write I hear the familiar voice of our local ‘spinach lady’ in animated conversation on the street outside. Hearing her prompts me to ask God to have mercy on her and let her come to know him.

Earlier today I sat with a new neighbour for an hour and heard her tragic story. She’s not a believer but I prayed that God would speak to her heart as I shared about a current dilemma I’m facing and how God was helping me through it. As I left I told her I’d be praying for her.

Yesterday I met with two friends and we spent time praying for each other’s needs. One woman wept silently as we brought her needs before the throne of grace.

At church on Sunday the preacher asked, “Should we pray for Daesh?” Following a general murmured consensus one man said, “With God all things are possible.” Some of those sitting there were refugees whose lives had literally been turned upside-down by Daesh. I prayed that God would help them to forgive, and yes, to pray for their enemies.

Last weekend we attended a wedding. It was a lovely wedding held in a Catholic church and as the priest spoke his message to the happy couple I prayed that the truth of his words would penetrate hearts and minds despite the distractions of flashing camera lights, glamorous gowns, and adorable bridesmaids and pageboys.

Flossing, Eating, Breathing

Why pray? Prayer opens the way for God’s power to work. How sad is it when we so often go through our days forgetting the awesome privilege we have as believers in a God who hears and answers prayer. That’s why at different times in my life I’ve used prompts to remind me to pray throughout the day – maybe hearing a phone ring, or going into a particular room, or walking up and down stairs. Lord, help us to pray.

Maybe for some of us prayer is a bit like flossing – undoubtedly beneficial but easily postponed till the next day if time is pressing. For others prayer may be like a good meal – a nourishing and anticipated part of our daily routine. For yet others prayer is like breathing – the frequent expression of a deep and abiding, though not always conscious, dependence on God.

During my years of serving overseas I’ve experienced prayer in all of these ways. Yet I confess that sometimes my prayer life has not been what I wished it to be. It’s opportunity that’s now lost. Prayer is the heart of our relationship with God. It’s the life-line that holds us to our Lord and is an essential element in our service for him.

I’ve always been captivated by the thought expressed in 2 Corinthians 4:7, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” The amazing treasure that each of us ‘clay pots’ carry is the Gospel, the power of God for salvation and transformation through Jesus Christ. Part of the secret of the clay pot is its porous nature which allows it to absorb water and remain saturated with it. This enables it to keep the liquid it holds refreshingly cool. The pot becomes permeated by what it contains. As we spend time in the Word and in the presence of the Lord in prayer and worship, our lives become permeated by his life. The more permeated our lives are with him, the more we will overflow with his love and goodness. This is surely the prayer of our hearts – more of him, less of me.

Praying for Missionaries

Maybe you’re wondering how to pray effectively for missionaries when you don’t have a real feel for their situations and don’t know what their specific needs are. Rather than just asking for general blessings – which is certainly not a bad thing to pray – perhaps you could begin by praying for their prayer-lives to be enriched. Pray that they will be deeply rooted in God’s Word and for their lives to be permeated with the life of Christ.

We don’t usually need to be reminded that we’re clay pots as we’re often all too aware of it, but pray that they will remember that they are carrying a treasure. Pray that they will have opportunities to share that treasure with those around them. And pray that whatever difficulties or battles they are facing, they will be reminded of the power of God to hold them and his strength to sustain them, and that they will be given new hope in believing.

Of course, there are many more things you could pray. The Apostle Paul has some wonderful prayers in his epistles for example. The most important thing is to simply pray, and as you do, be assured that prayer opens the way for God’s power to work. There have certainly been times when I’ve known we were being prayed for and have literally felt buoyed up by the prayers of the saints! Workers who have people committed to faithfully praying for them are truly blessed.

This article has offered insights into how invaluable and essential prayer is for mission. NZCMS produces resources to guide you in praying for our Mission Partners around the world. To sign up for our monthly Prayer Fuel pamphlet or to receive our email newsletter Interchange, please contact the NZCMS office (office@nzcms.org.nz).

For discussion

In your life, how have you experienced prayer as flossing, eating and breathing? Are you in a season of flossing, eating or breathing at the moment?

What can you and your group do to grow in your prayer support for Mission Partners around the world?

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email office@nzcms.org.nz. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission.

The Moment I realized I couldn’t be a Monk (Issue 32)

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By Rev Joshua Taylor (Vicar at St John’s in Timaru)

Just over four years ago my life took a dramatic turn. My wife Jo and I entered the unknown territory of parenthood. We now have two lovely girls, Phoebe (4) and Esther (1).

I think it would be fair to say that I underestimated the impact having kids would have on my prayer life. It’s not like I was undertaking great vigils of prayer or had an amazing set of disciplined rhythms in the first place. Yet when we had kids, any rhythms that I did have in place took the backseat in the hustle and bustle of family life. I’ve heard all the romantic claptrap about wonderful times of prayerful cuddles and encountering God in the midst of changing nappies, but frankly it just seemed more like sleepless nights and a juggling act just to keep the balance of life at home and work.

I remember a friend of mine with teenage children who had just left home saying to me that he finally felt as if he was reconnecting with the passion he had for his faith in his early adulthood. He admitted he hadn’t prayed much or engaged in any kind of mission while his kids were at home and he described parenthood as like ‘being on a treadmill.’ I did the math and thought, if we had 3 kids and they left home at 18 (unlikely) with a couple of years between each, that would be around 22 years of my life on that treadmill. So, when I found myself staring down the barrel of nappies, kindy runs, teenage hormones and all of the responsibilities of parenting, I wondered if God really intended for us to get on the treadmill and largely ignore prayer and mission at home for two decades.

So I did my best to set up some personal rhythms of prayer, committing to taking time to read my Bible, spend time in silence, and morning and evening prayer. I treated prayer as a private exercise and added it to my long list of things to do on top of our busy home and work life.

As a Pastor this was simpler for me than most, since the flexibility of my working day gave me ample time to do this. A year down the track I realized I my family and I were more stressed and stretched than ever. What was my problem? I had somehow decided it was a good idea to compartmentalise my life and go on my own heroic journey of prayer. It doesn’t help that most of the so-called heroes of prayer seem to have been single and celibate. It should have been obvious, but living like a monk isn’t feasible when you have a family. Something had to change.

It Begins with Baby Steps

For the past two years, I’ve served as the Vicar at St John’s in Timaru. My family and I moved to Timaru from Christchurch and it meant a personal cost for all of us. We left family and friends behind to go out on a mission, Jo left her job teaching, and we left our support networks to venture out. This was the moment God chose to shake me out of my individualistic complacency. We had to do this together or we wouldn’t last.

First, it started with some honest conversations with Jo. How could we keep the fires of a vibrant prayer life burning in our household? What would it look like? What would it mean to do ministry together and involve our kids? We started talking over coffee together, then we committed to rhythms that we could sustain in our little household. To begin with we carved out space for evening prayer together once the kids were in bed and before we crashed. We introduced times of eating together and prayer with our family around the table, lighting a candle over dinner, saying grace and having meaningful conversation about our day. We introduced a rhythm of reading devotions with our kids before bed and we created space where each of us could take quiet time aside to read the Bible daily.

What we’ve discovered as we’ve done this is that God has drawn us closer together as a family through prayer. We have a growing sense of shared mission and ministry and have begun to invite other families with young children into our home to share our lives and work out how to cultivate a culture of shared prayer and ministry as families. Prayer together is helping form us as a family-on-mission and is creating an extended family of other parents and children on the journey!

Being a Mum or Dad is busy, having a young family is hectic. Too often we can separate our family life from our vocation to be disciples of Jesus. During this busy stage of life many of us might struggle just make it to church, let alone a Bible study or to volunteer our time for a ministry programme of some kind. We often feel guilty as a result. But what if instead we simply looked for the small opportunities to pray, play and do mission together in the complexities of everyday life as a family?

For discussion

What does prayer look like for you in this stage of life? How is it different to previous stages?

Do you relate to Joshua’s experience of seeing prayer as a private exercise?

Are there baby steps you can be taking to grow as a prayerful (extended) family-on-mission?

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email office@nzcms.org.nz. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission.

Learning to Breathe (Issue 32)

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By Jeremy Harris (Grace Collective Auckland)

Prayer is a beautiful thing. When we pray we’re participating in Jesus’ relationship with the Father through the Holy Spirit. We enter the Triune dance between Father, Son and Spirit of God through Jesus who is our Great High Priest, sitting at the right hand of the Father and making a way for humanity to come back to a relationship with God.

There’s so much going on in a conversation with God that we don’t always have the capacity to acknowledge it all at once, but I want to remind us of two elements in this transcendent and yet very grounded practice at the heart of our faith. Spirituality and mission are intrinsically connected, and for today’s cold, anxious and groaning world, the slowness, silence and solitude of the contemplative spiritual practices of the monastics is good news.

Resting in a busy world

I’m an anxious person. The first thought I have as I wake up is worry. I’m not alone in this. There’s a well-known and often ignored trend of growing mental illness in New Zealand. Ever increasing demands – whether financial, work related or self-imposed – are getting to the fabric of our hearts and damaging our souls. We have leaders who spread suspicion towards the most vulnerable in our world and anxiety about what refugees might do if we let them in. Meanwhile thousands displaced by war, violence and climate change are desperately anxious for a place to stay and food that’s regular. Anxious war-lords hoard wealth and fight for power at the expense of their own people, and single parents working three-jobs worry about what will happen to their kids if they can’t keep living off adrenaline from one thing to the next. The world is oftentimes an anxious place.

When I wake up, I’m often cold now days too. I’m flatting in a kind of accidental community of friends in an old uninsulated villa in Central Auckland. But as with my anxiety, the cold is reflective of the world we live in. It’s a reminder of the experience of the homeless on Queen Street who are passed by and given the cold shoulder by the public. It’s a reminder of the empty seats on the bus next to each of us just so that we don’t have to talk to someone we don’t know. It’s a reminder of the concrete floors of garages that families inhabit, or the winter winds beginning to blow against vans of homeless families in South Auckland. It is reminiscent of the colder winters and conversely the hotter summers of climate change, and likewise the West’s ignorance of the rising sea on Pacific Islands.

And like most of you, when I wake up I’m groaning – particularly on Mondays. But unlike my superficial groan of “not todaaaay,” the earth we’re slowly eating away at is crying out from deep within its belly. Our fast paced, over-consumptive and unsustainable life-styles are slowly but surely causing the rocks to cry out how glorious God is… and how fallen we’ve become.

Our world is moving at a pace faster than ever before, the earth’s resources are being used quicker than it can sustain, and we’re drawing borders between ourselves more than ever – whether national borders, picket fences, gated communities or smart phones. The earth is crying out for a spirituality that warms it, that slows it, that gives it solace and rest. We’re in desperate need of rest for our souls. But even though the Creator of the universe took time away to pray when he took on flesh, we are continuing to live like we don’t need to.

But the gift of the monastic traditions is a spirituality that speaks missionally right to the heart of the human condition: it offers community, connection with God by the Spirit through Jesus and his Body, and provides a stillness and slowness that our ever-accelerating world craves like the groaning of the earth.

Learning to breathe

Mother Teresa said that breathing is to the body what prayer is to the soul. Bill McKibben, the author and climate activist, says that when he feels down, the only healing is action. They are both right. We need both spirituality and mission. It’s the ancient art of breathing. Monastic spirituality offers a vehicle for these two to come together.

Two days before any march, Martin Luther King Jr would gather with others to pray. When the Waihopai Three were on trial for getting in the way of government sanctioned violence, they made a camp in a Wellington park and prayed all night for their enemies and the victims of war. They were joined by street kids and security guards, who later returned without uniform to keep praying with the kids. Nuns have prayerfully broken into a nuclear weapons facility and literally beat weapons of war into ploughshares with hammers. John the Baptist retreated and ended up being followed by his community to receive baptism. And Jesus died on the cross crying the words of a Psalm, and through it saved the world.

Mission. Spirituality. They go hand in hand. And the world is crying out from deep within itself for a spirituality that spills out of church walls to offer healing.

Before I leave each morning I sit with a copy of the Book of Common Prayer and the Scriptures, and with a friend or by myself, I sit in silence and pray the Jesus Prayer. I follow the words of those gone before me, prayed around the world and throughout history. I’m sent out by God into the world to participate in his Missio Dei. My anxieties are more and more stilled by the Word of God, and my heart is strangely warmed by his presence.

The world is over-stimulated and over-entertained. We don’t need more parties to help us forget all that we have to do. We need more stillness in the presence of God, like those silent times looking into the eyes of a loved one, to find happiness and rest once again.

My prayer is that we rediscover the ancient art of breathing. Spirituality and mission are intrinsically connected, and for today’s cold, anxious, groaning world, the slowness, silence and solitude of the contemplative spiritual practices of the monastics is good news.

For discussion

How does the pace of today’s world affect you?

Have you typically been stronger when it comes to ‘breathing in’ (spirituality) or ‘breathing out’ (mission)? How might you create more of a balance between the two?

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email office@nzcms.org.nz. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission.

A Rocha’s Rich Living

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Last year’s Intermission on sustainable living and mission mentioned that A Rocha would be producing a resource for churches and Christian groups. It’s finally here! They’ve made it available for free online, so we encourage you to check it out and consider how your church can engage with the material.

It’s important to remember that this isn’t merely about caring for the environment or creation, but is actually about evangelism as well. Many younger people believe – rightly or wrongly – that Christians don’t care much for the environment, and as a result they have no interest in hearing what we have to say. If we want our witness to mean something in today’s world, we need to take seriously our original commission to steward God’s creation!

Evidence that contemporary human consumption habits are unsustainable and that existing Western ‘lifestyles’ have a detrimental affect on ecosystems, thus negatively affecting the lives of our neighbours (both human and non-human), is overwhelming. However, rather than believing that nothing can change, Christians are to be agents of hope. We believe that Christian faith communities have the potential to offer a glimpse of what true “rich living” entails. A Rocha has partnered with Tear Fund NZ to create the Rich Living series – to assist faith communities to reflect upon how they live and offers practical steps to make sustainability integral to lives of faith.

The first of the Rich Living series, Climate Change is available now, with four other booklets (Water, Food, Transportation, Stuff & Waste) soon to follow. To download your copy click here.

 

10 Ways to Care for Creation

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In light of last week’s article about rubbish, here’s something from the Lausanne Movement that captures the growing concern among global evangelicals regarding our responsibility as God’s image bearers to steward the creation he has blessed us with. To receive a free bimonthly publication from the Lausanne Movement, subscribe online at lausanne.org/analysis

 

The Lausanne Global Consultation on Creation Care and the Gospel met from 29 Oct – 2 Nov 2012 in St. Ann, Jamaica to build on the creation care components of the Cape Town Commitment.  We were a gathering of theologians, church leaders, scientists and creation care practitioners, fifty-seven men and women from twenty-six countries from the Caribbean, Africa, Asia, Latin America, Oceania, North America and Europe.  We met under the auspices of the Lausanne Movement in collaboration with the World Evangelical Alliance, hosted by a country and region of outstanding natural beauty, where we enjoyed, celebrated and reflected on the wonder of God’s good creation. Many biblical passages, including reflections on Genesis 1 – 3, Psalm 8 and Romans 8, informed our prayers, discussions and deliberations on the themes of God’s World, God’s Word and God’s Work.  Our consultation immediately followed Hurricane Sandy’s devastation of the Caribbean and coincided with that storm’s arrival in North America; the destruction and loss of life was a startling reminder as to the urgency, timeliness and importance of this Consultation. 

Two major convictions

Our discussion, study and prayer together led us to two primary conclusions:

Creation Care is indeed a “gospel issue within the lordship of Christ”  (CTC I.7.A).  Informed and inspired by our study of the scripture – the original intent, plan, and command to care for creation, the resurrection narratives and the profound truth that in Christ all things have been reconciled to God – we reaffirm that creation care is an issue that must be included in our response to the gospel, proclaiming and acting upon the good news of what God has done and will complete for the salvation of the world. This is not only biblically justified, but an integral part of our mission and an expression of our worship to God for his wonderful plan of redemption through Jesus Christ. Therefore, our ministry of reconciliation is a matter of great joy and hope and we would care for creation even if it were not in crisis.

We are faced with a crisis that is pressing, urgent, and that must be resolved in our generation.  Many of the world’s poorest people, ecosystems, and species of flora and fauna are being devastated by violence against the environment in multiple ways, of which global climate change, deforestation, biodiversity loss, water stress, and pollution are but a part. We can no longer afford complacency and endless debate.  Love for God, our neighbors and the wider creation, as well as our passion for justice, compel us to “urgent and prophetic ecological responsibility” (CTC I.7.A).

Our call to action

Based on these two convictions, we therefore call the whole church, in dependence on the Holy Spirit, to respond radically and faithfully to care for God’s creation, demonstrating our belief and hope in the transforming power of Christ.  We call on the Lausanne Movement, evangelical leaders, national evangelical organizations, and all local churches to respond urgently at the personal, community, national and international levels.

Specifically, we call for:

1. A new commitment to a simple lifestyle. Recognizing that much of our crisis is due to billions of lives lived carelessly, we reaffirm the Lausanne commitment to simple lifestyle (Lausanne Occasional Paper #20), and call on the global evangelical community to take steps, personally and collectively, to live within the proper boundaries of God’s good gift in creation, to engage further in its restoration and conservation, and to equitably share its bounty with each other.

2. New and robust theological work.  In particular, we need guidance in four areas:

An integrated theology of creation care that can engage seminaries, Bible colleges and others to equip pastors to disciple their congregations. A theology that examines humanity’s identity as both embedded in creation and yet possessing a special role toward creation. A theology that challenges current prevailing economic ideologies in relation to our biblical stewardship of creation. A theology of hope in Christ and his Second Coming that properly informs and inspires creation care.

3. Leadership from the church in the Global South.  As the Global South represents those most affected in the current ecological crisis, it possesses a particular need to speak up, engage issues of creation care, and act upon them.  We the members of the Consultation further request that the church of the Global South exercise leadership among us, helping to set the agenda for the advance of the gospel and the care of creation.

4. Mobilization of the whole church and engagement of all of society.  Mobilization must occur at the congregational level and include those who are often over-looked, utilizing the gifts of women, children, youth, and indigenous people as well as professionals and other resource people who possess experience and expertise.  Engagement must be equally widespread, including formal, urgent and creative conversations with responsible leaders in government, business, civil society, and academia.

5. Environmental missions among unreached people groups.  We participate in Lausanne’s historic call to world evangelization, and believe that environmental issues represent one of the greatest opportunities to demonstrate the love of Christ and plant churches among unreached and unengaged people groups in our generation (CTC II.D.1.B).  We encourage the church to promote “environmental missions” as a new category within mission work (akin in function to medical missions).

6. Radical action to confront climate change.  Affirming the Cape Town Commitment’s declaration of the “serious and urgent challenge of climate change” which will “disproportionately affect those in poorer countries”, (CTC II.B.6), we call for action in radically reducing greenhouse gas emissions and building resilient communities.  We understand these actions to be an application of the command to deny ourselves, take up the cross and follow Christ.

7. Sustainable principles in food production.  In gratitude to God who provides sustenance, and flowing from our conviction to become excellent stewards of creation, we urge the application of environmentally and generationally sustainable principles in agriculture (field crops and livestock, fisheries and all other forms of food production), with particular attention to the use of methodologies such as conservation agriculture.

8. An economy that works in harmony with God’s creation.   We call for an approach to economic well-being and development, energy production, natural resource management (including mining and forestry), water management and use, transportation, health care, rural and urban design and living, and personal and corporate consumption patterns that maintain the ecological integrity of creation.

9. Local expressions of creation care, which preserve and enhance biodiversity.  We commend such projects, along with any action that might be characterized as the “small step” or the “symbolic act,” to the worldwide church as ways to powerfully witness to Christ’s Lordship over all creation.

10. Prophetic advocacy and healing reconciliation.  We call for individual Christians and the church as a whole to prophetically “speak the truth to power” through advocacy and legal action so that public policies and private practice may change to better promote the care of creation and better support devastated communities and habitats.  Additionally, we call the church to “speak the peace of Christ” into communities torn apart by environmental disputes, mobilizing those who are skilled at conflict resolution, and maintaining our own convictions with humility.

Our call to prayer

Each of our calls to action rest on an even more urgent call to prayer, intentional and fervent, soberly aware that this is a spiritual struggle.   Many of us must begin our praying with lamentation and repentance for our failure to care for creation, and for our failure to lead in transformation at a personal and corporate level.   And then, having tasted of the grace and mercies of God in Christ Jesus and through the Holy Spirit, and with hope in the fullness of our redemption, we pray with confidence that the Triune God can and will heal our land and all who dwell in it, for the glory of his matchless name.

Christian witness in today’s post-truth society

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This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of the Lausanne Global Analysis and is published here with permission. To receive this free bimonthly publication from the Lausanne Movement, subscribe online at lausanne.org/analysis

By Tony Watkins.

 

‘Truth has perished; it is banished from the lips’ (Jer 7:28).

We now live in a ‘post-truth’ society. The adjective ‘post-truth’ was Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year for 2016. It relates to ‘circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than emotional appeals’. This perfectly describes the 2016 political campaigns leading to the ‘Brexit’ vote in the UK and the US presidential election.[1]

Casper Grathwohl, President of Oxford Dictionaries, said that the term’s rocketing popularity is ‘fuelled by the rise of social media as a news source and a growing distrust of facts offered up by the establishment.’ He suggests that it will become ‘one of the defining words of our time.’[2]

As Grathwohl implies, the term ‘post-truth’ is closely connected with the deluge of ‘fake news’ we have experienced. Jonathan Freedland writes, ‘In this era of post-truth politics, an unhesitating liar can be king. The more brazen his dishonesty, the less he minds being caught with his pants on fire, the more he can prosper. And those pedants still hung up on facts and evidence and all that boring stuff are left for dust, their boots barely laced while the lie has spread halfway around the world’. [3]

The changing news landscape

Why do fake news wildfires spread so quickly across the media landscape? One key factor fanning the flames is, of course, political agendas. Fake news affects far more than politics, but it has recently characterised that sphere of public life to a frightening degree. There have always been lying politicians desperate to promote themselves, and propaganda is a vital tool for any totalitarian state. Yet it does feel that there is something very different about the current political landscape, at least in the West.

Two things are different in particular:

First, social media allow anybody to communicate anything at any time to a vast audience. Donald Trump exemplified this during his 2016 election campaign when he tweeted things that were inflammatory or blatantly untrue, but which resonated well with his target audience. Second, social media have become the main way we access news; so the incomes of established news media are plummeting. They desperately need more clicks on their content to bring in more advertising revenue. The Guardian’s editor-in-chief Katharine Viner laments that ‘the new measure of value for too many news organisations is virality rather than truth or quality.’[4]

‘All are greedy for gain . . . all practice deceit’ (Jer 6:13; 8:10).

Fake news is also driven by greed. A great deal of it is dreamed up by teenagers in Veles, Macedonia.[5] Having discovered that they could attract vast traffic to bogus websites by publishing sensationalist stories, they are becoming rich by selling advertising. These teenagers have become masters at click-bait headlines. Interestingly, most fake news stories from Macedonia have been pro-Trump; the hoaxers found during the US election campaign that pro-Clinton stories did not bring in anything like the same traffic.

Macedonia is not the only fake-news factory:

The Czech government now has a unit confronting the flow of potentially destabilising fake news in the lead-up to the general election in October 2017. The false stories (mostly about migrants) come from websites which, the Czech authorities claim, are supported by the Russian government.[6] In Burundi, journalists accuse President Pierre Nkurunziza of using fake news to re-ignite ethnic tensions while simultaneously dismissing UNHCR and EU reports of human rights abuses as lies.[7]

However, fake news is not always created with an obvious agenda. Often on social media, especially following an atrocity or disaster, it is merely careless, unverified reporting which quickly spreads. Anyone who was on Twitter after recent terrorist incidents in Western Europe will know just how much conflicting ‘information’ was circulating.

Information cascades and filter bubbles

Whatever its origin, fake news relies on social media to spread widely and rapidly. A survey by the Pew Research Center in 2016 suggests that 23 percent of US adults have shared fake news, knowingly or not.[8] We need to look at sociological and psychological reasons to understand why people share it with others at all.

The key way social media platforms persuade us to share content is by social proof. The more ‘likes’ or ‘shares’ a post has, the more likely we are to like or share it ourselves. And so it spreads in ever-widening circles, accumulating more likes and shares as it goes. It does not take much for an unstoppable ‘information cascade’ to develop.

We also share posts that push our emotional buttons: if something makes us laugh or cry, or angers us, we will share it. We may share something just because the headline or image has stimulated the pleasure centres in the brain—even though we have not engaged with the actual content. If we later see something revealing that what we have shared is false, that affects us less. A rebuttal does not stimulate the brain’s pleasure centres; so we do not bother sharing it. In other words, our response to much of what we see within social media is primal, not rational.

Then there is the problem of confirmation bias. We all have a strong psychological tendency to latch on to information that confirms ideas we already have. Conversely, we tend to avoid or reject anything that challenges us. So we readily believe anything that meshes with our existing worldview or values, and dismiss anything that threatens them.

Even without all these factors, social media platforms would still be ‘filter bubbles’. When we like and click on things in Facebook’s news feed, its algorithm delivers us more of those kinds of things, and less of the content with which we do not engage. Day by day, our timelines become increasingly filled with things that reinforce our perspectives—whether or not they are true.

Truth stumbles in the street

When ‘alternative facts’ take over from truth, a culture is in big trouble. Katharine Viner says, ‘This does not mean that there are no truths. It simply means . . . that we cannot agree on what those truths are, and when there is no consensus about the truth and no way to achieve it, chaos soon follows.’[9]

Isaiah’s assessment of his society is startlingly relevant: ‘So justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey’ (Isa 59:14–15; see also Jer 9:3–6).

The implications for the church are sobering. When public discourse becomes nothing but competing viewpoints claiming to be ‘facts’, debate over the truth of the gospel becomes much harder. Those insisting on the existence of ‘true truth’ are swiftly dismissed as bigots, and their message is ignored. Any appeal to a source of authority, such as the Bible, is neutralised by writing it off as just ancient ‘fake news’.

Where do we go from here?

Paul follows Isaiah in insisting that suppressing the truth brings God’s wrath (Rom 1:18). Will God ‘give us over’ to our pursuit of feelings over truth, so that the West totally loses its bearings and collapses in chaos? Or will we embrace truth and wisdom once more and turn away from the relativistic mess into which we are sliding? We must pray that the West takes this second route and that the majority world does not also become infected by the post-truth disease.

I see some signs that people and even media companies are increasingly troubled by the present state of our society. Mark Zuckerberg has committed to tackling fake news on Facebook[10] and The New York Times has promised a ‘renewed focus on truth and transparency’,[11] for example. Are people realising afresh how vital truth is to society? Or is it just a momentary slow-down in the decline? The role Christians play in society could well be the deciding factor.

Responding to fake news

Christians should be passionate about truth because we follow the One who is the Truth (John 14:6). However, it is inconvenient and uncomfortable to do so; it makes us unpopular and requires courage. Yet we must not flinch from it. That means not only holding to truth intellectually, but living it out day by day.

 ‘The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy’ (Prov 12:22).

It is tempting to share something which fits comfortably with our views, whether or not we are sure of its truthfulness. However, we must never become like those Paul warns against, who ‘gather around them . . . teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear’ (2 Tim 4:3). Instead, we must resist our confirmation bias, questioning the assertions that come streaming our way. We must not assume that ‘social proof’ proves anything. We must commit to discovering the truth, which includes doing our best to be sure of the sources of the information which comes our way.

Our commitment to truth must take us beyond simply reporting and sharing things that are true. We must be prepared to challenge false assertions and spin, to present alternative viewpoints, and to share fresh perspectives. If the church is to have a prophetic role within society, we must dare to speak precisely those biblical truths which most challenge and discomfort society (Jer 7:27–28; John 16:7–11). Let us pray for courage to do so.

 

 

Tony helps Christian leaders develop a better understanding of how the Bible (especially the prophets) relates to today’s media. He partners with several organisations, including Damaris Norway and the Lausanne Media Engagement Network, for which he is the Network Coordinator. He is a visiting lecturer at the Norwegian School of Theology and Gimlekollen School of Journalism and Communications, Norway. Tony is the author of Focus: The Art and Soul of Cinema and Dark Matter: A Thinking Fan’s Guide to Philip Pullman, and co-author of seven other books. Visit tonywatkins.uk for free resources on media and the Bible.

 

 Endnotes

[1] Editor’s Note: See article by Darrell Jackson entitled ‘BREXIT and Its Impact on European Mission’ in September 2016 issue of Lausanne Global Analysis. See also article by Thomas Harvey entitled, “Trump’s First Hundred Days” in this issue.

[2] ‘Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016 is . . . Post-truth’, Oxford Dictionaries, 16 November 2016.

[3] Jonathan Freedland, ‘Post-truth politicians such as Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are no joke’, The Guardian, 13 May 2016. Mark Twain is credited (falsely, ironically) with saying ‘A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on’ (or lacing its boots). The Victorian preacher C.H. Spurgeon quoted the saying in Gems from Spurgeon (1859), referring to it as ‘an old proverb’.

[4] Katharine Viner, ‘How technology disrupted the truth’, The Guardian, 12 July 2016.

[5] Emma Jane Kirby, ’The city getting rich from fake news’, BBC Magazine, 5 December 2016; Samanth Subramanian, ‘The Macedonian Teens Who Mastered Fake News’, Wired, 15 February 2017.

[6] Robert Tait, ‘Czech Republic to fight “fake news” with specialist unit’, The Guardian, 28 December 2016.

[7] Rossalyn Warren, ‘”Fake news” fuelled civil war in Burundi. Now it’s being used again’, The Guardian, 4 March 2017.

[8] Michael Barthel, Amy Mitchell and Jesse Holcomb, ‘Many Americans Believe Fake News Is Sowing Confusion’, Pew Research Centre, 15 December 2016.

[9] Katharine Viner, ‘How technology disrupted the truth’.

[10] Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook note, 13 November 2016.

[11] Minda Smiley, ‘”We are preparing for the story of a generation”: New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet discusses covering President Trump’, The Drum, 12 March 2017.

Lausanne’s first ever open-concept gathering

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On the 500th anniversary year of the Protestant Reformation, the Lausanne Movement invited 90 global mission leaders to Wittenberg, Germany, to participate in a gathering entirely dependent on the guidance of the Holy Spirit. New partnerships, collaborative ideas, and exciting initiatives have been formed as a result of the gathering, all of which have the potential to significantly impact global mission over the next 3-5 years.

The room was buzzing with excitement as Lausanne’s first-of-its-kind gathering came to an end on Wednesday in Wittenberg, Germany. During the three days of the gathering, 90 of the most influential men and women in global mission, representing all regions of the world and different age groups, sought to hear from God regarding the first two parts of the four-fold Lausanne vision: to see the gospel for every person and an evangelical church for every people.

’These past three days, we wanted to seek new and innovative ways to work together, in order to see a significant acceleration in the spread of the gospel,’ says Dr David Bennett, Lausanne’s Global Associate Director for Collaboration and Content. ’Because of the high birth rate among Hindus, Muslims, and Buddhists, the rate of population growth is overtaking the growth of the church in many parts of world, despite the hard work of church planting, evangelism, discipleship, and other areas of mission.’

In preparation for the gathering, Lausanne had asked the participating leaders to identify what they saw as the most critical factors for seeing breakthroughs in global mission, especially from their own perspectives as leaders of various ministries. Through three rounds of research surveys, we arrived at the 12 clusterings of topics that would be discussed and prayed about at the gathering. The participants themselves were then subdivided into 12 corresponding table working groups, based on their individual passions and interests identified in the survey process. These working group topics included clusters of priority areas for mission such as evangelism, church planting, and intentional discipleship.

The gathering’s schedule was unique in that it was designed to depend entirely on the Holy Spirit’s guidance. There were no plenary speakers other than morning Bible expositions, and participants spent most of their time in table working groups, listening to each other as they spent time praying, dialoguing, and brainstorming about the topic of their working groups.

’Coming into the gathering, we didn’t exactly know what to expect, but we were hoping that it would result in action plans that can start to be implemented in the next months and bear fruit in three to five years,’ says Dr Bennett, in summarizing the Wittenberg 2017 gathering. ’As an incredible answer to prayer, all of the 12 table working groups came up with significant initiatives, ideas, and commitments. These plans are more realistic than we first imagined, not pie-in-the-sky dreams, but big enough steps to significantly accelerate the spread of the gospel in five years.’

One table working group, for example, decided to research ways to provide need-based training tailored specifically for different kinds of evangelists. Another group centered on partnership and collaboration sought to catalyze more partnership for global mission by launching an annual partnership award to highlight the remarkable examples of missional collaboration as a way of inspiring further partnerships, and initial funding for the award has already been committed. Detailed plans and next steps are now being worked out by the 12 table working groups, and Lausanne looks forward to sharing stories of what takes place in the days ahead. Other strategic directions from these initiatives include: making prayer a practical priority in missions; repositioning disciple-making as the church’s primary call; facilitating the continued formation of a local church culture with a kingdom mindset; and encouraging the 2% who are in professional ministry to prepare the 98% (laity) for ministry.

Besides the initiatives and research projects from specific groups, there were overall trends that emerged throughout the conversations among many groups, with the urgency of prayer and partnership topping the list. ’A prophetic call is going out from this place to the global church, reminding us that our first action point is prayer, and the second is to partner more closely together,’ says Dr Michael Oh, Global Executive Director and CEO of the Lausanne Movement, reflecting on the early outcomes of the gathering.

He continues, ’There isn’t a bigger barrier to global mission than the attitude of “I don’t need you.” We know of over half a thousand networks formed to advance global mission. What could happen if these networks partnered deliberately, with a laser-sharp focus for global mission?’

The deliberate partnership and collaboration of diverse peoples across many nations is exactly what happened at this Wittenberg gathering—and it is our prayer that its outcomes will ripple across the world.

’Lausanne’s role was to convene the influencers, set the table, and make space through this unique agenda for God to speak,’ concludes Dr Bennett. ’The participants are now responsible for moving these plans ahead as they made their commitments to each other and to the Lord. We will follow-up with the table working groups to support and encourage progress on the plans launched here in Wittenberg. Mission is ultimately about God, and he’s the one we’re trusting to complete his work on earth.’

Executive Director for AsiaCMS

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AsiaCMS is seeking to appoint an Executive Director who will take on the leadership role of an expanding missions agency.

AsiaCMS is part of a global network of organisations who obey the call of God to proclaim the Gospel in all places and to draw all peoples into fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ. They equip, train and send mission leaders to various people groups, cultures and countries in the Asian region.

They currently have a vacancy for an individual who can demonstrate the appropriate skill, experience and passion to lead AsiaCMS into its next phase of operations. In particular, they are looking for applicants with the following qualities:

Strategically lead and implement the mission and vision of AsiaCMS Build and lead a team of office-based and regional staff with individual specialisations; this includes direct oversight and annual performance reviews Build relations with wider CMS network, church partners and other stakeholders Identify, develop and implement a fundraising strategy for AsiaCMS

Please pass on the information to any relevant individuals or parties who you feel would be a good fit and benefit from this opportunity. If you would like more information please contact office@nzcms.org.nz. And please pray that God will bring the right person along for this very significant and strategic role.

Who’s telling the story anyway? (Issue 31)

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By Kate Dugdale (Bishopdale Theological College).

My sisters and I are fairly rambunctious, and talk over each other a lot (to my parents’ frustration!). We also do it to our parents, and I can recall a number of times when Dad would turn to the person who had interrupted and ask, “Who’s telling this story!?”

When we think about the mission of God, this is an excellent question to ask. Every culture – and in the age of globalism, every sub-culture or social tribe – tells a different story which shapes the way we look at the world. For example, Western society tells a story where success is measured in money or fame, and yet, Jesus teaches us not to seek after these things (Matthew 6:33). Sometimes the same event can be interpreted in radically different ways – is it terrorism or holy jihad? For Christians, it’s vital to reflect upon which voices we listen to, and therefore, which story we participate in. We can’t live out of two different realities without risking our own wholeness as individuals.

Your story or God’s?

This question of story becomes even more pressing when we begin to think about the mission of God, because the Gospel, by its very nature, is an invitation to individuals to step out of their own story and into God’s. 

There are two key points that need to be made here. The first is the importance of familiarity with the metanarrative of Scripture (that’s a fancy word that makes you sound smart – it just means ‘the big story’), because it’s an unfinished story which find ourselves in the midst of. Jesus is the centre of Scripture. The Old Testament anticipates Jesus, by telling the story of creation, the consequences of human disobedience, and the history of the people of Israel who God set apart as his witnesses. Israel turns their back on God time and time again, and yet no matter how many times they flip the proverbial bird at God, God continues to remind them of their calling to be a witness to the nations. Even when there are consequences for their sin, God reassures Israel that they belong to him.

At the end of the Old Testament we find Israel waiting for God to send them a leader who would free them from being subject to foreign rule. However, when their Messiah comes, he doesn’t meet their expectations. Instead of coming as a strong man of war, a military conqueror and astute political ruler, Jesus becomes a carpenter in a backwater town, before beginning his public ministry at the age of 30. At the moment when his popularity is exploding and he could ride the wave, he talks about the cost of following him in a way that makes the crowds leave. Instead of destroying the Romans, he’s crucified by them. Nevertheless, Jesus’ resurrection changes everything, and we see Jesus’ disciples preach about who Jesus is, the way that he has reconciled humans to God and about his promise to return again.

The difference this makes

This biblical story is probably familiar, but it’s worth revisiting in order to reorient ourselves in the midst of God’s story. This is the second point that needs to be made: as believers in the twenty first century, we should pay close attention to the example of the apostles, for just as they were called to proclaim the Gospel, so are we. The apostles didn’t attempt to build their own international ministry, or develop a website, or release a line of books… Instead they shared the story of God, both by simply teaching about Jesus and through demonstrating it in signs and wonders.

Living from God’s story frees me from the pressure of achievement. I no longer need to be the hero of my own story, because as the one who sets me free, Jesus is the hero of my story. Even more astounding is that God invites me into his story, to participate in what he is already doing and has been doing throughout history. The biblical story reminds us time and time again that it’s God who’s at work – creating, redeeming, and bringing us to the day when the Kingdom will be fully revealed. Even though in the here-and-now, the world is marred by sin, God is in the process of restoring all things. And so, whatever we do – whether we teach theology, or work in retail, or raise our children fulltime, or build houses – knowing the story of God allows us to understand how what we do can fit into that story. We may not be famous or rich, but we can actively point to God through our whole lives and can seek to bring his loving rule to everything we touch.

Understanding the story of God gives us a much richer understanding of what Scripture means when it talks about all the cool stuff God is doing – recreating, reconciling, redeeming, saving, healing. If the Gospel is simply about my salvation, then the story we’re part of is that Jesus died for my sins so I get to spend eternity in heaven in a mansion (or so some of us seem to think.) But when we get this sense that Jesus is the central axis of a much larger story that God is writing, and which we are invited to be part of, it’s like we’re invited to leave a 2D cinema to move into a 3D one instead. The story is the same, but it is a much deeper experience – one which is big enough to encompass the whole of creation. And it’s a story I get to participate in.

Recommended resources

The Bible Project captures the story of Scripture through brilliant videos, graphics and an integrated Bible reading plan. Learn more at thebibleproject.com 

Regent College’s ReFrame Series is a video course for home groups which explores how the story of God impacts all of life. Find out more at reframecourse.com 

Two of the best books that explore the story of God and its implications are The Drama of Scripture and Living at the Crossroads by Michael Goheen and Craig Bartholomew.

For discussion

What are some of the ‘stories’ our culture pressures us to live out of? 

If you’re honest, to what extent have you been shaped by the stories of your culture instead of the story of God?

Exploring today’s missional issues from a variety of angles, each edition of the Intermission magazine will equip you and your group to engage with God in your community and beyond. To signup to receive the Intermission in the post, email office@nzcms.org.nz. Intermission articles can also be found online at nzcms.org.nz/intermission.

“You filled cemeteries with our children”

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With the current focus on Ramadan and prayer for the Muslim world, we thought it would be good to highlight a recent music video that has come from the Middle East. In western media – and particularly in the minds of many Christians – Muslims are seen and portrayed as being violent, angry terrorists. But the plain reality is the vast (vast, vast!) majority of Muslims are nothing like that. In fact, they despise the way the minority of Muslims practice their faith.

This video in Arabic calls for the worship of Allah “with love, not terror” has gone viral on YouTube, with over two million views in just a few days. It was released at the start of Ramadan and slams terrorists for “filling cemeteries with children.”

Staring Hussain Al Jassmi, an Arabic-language singer from the United Arab Emirates, was released by Kuwaiti mobile telecommunications company Zain on Friday. Amazingly, the video bluntly speaks against terrorism and terrorists, denouncing the way they understand and portray Allah, and contrasting Allah – the giver of life – with terrorists who deal in death. 

The video starts with impassioned lines from a child who addresses terrorists: “I will tell God everything. That you’ve filled the cemeteries with our children and emptied our school desks…”

So in this season of Ramadan, let’s make sure we know something about the vast majority of the people who are seeking God this month. Let’s pray that many will truly find the peace they seek in the God revealed in Isa al Masih (Jesus the Messiah).