Pressing On

Dear Friends,

Just over a month from today, I hope to be landing in Poland for another round of the mission of FORWORD. The program of Akademia Homiletyczna, under the auspices of our newly minted Foundation IDEO, is helping Christís church in the heart of Europe to rebuild on the foundation of Godís truth in a post-truth generation. We are equipping men and women to become Godís living word in their worlds. We think that what we do is at the very heart of the churchís disciple-making commission. Since calling people to a relationship with God is impossible without communication, helping people to hear from God and to speak for God from his word, the Bible, is the only way to a communion with the living God.

This time around, my mission will extend over five weeks. The first week our Polish faculty will spend in Israel at the invitation of our Jewish counterparts who have invited us to work through the Hebrew background of the New Testament. This is an educational venture where we hope to grasp the Jewish roots of the Scriptures as foundational for our understanding of the biblical texts. We will have opportunities to study the geography and visit some key archeological locations. Above all, the eight of us are hoping to spend some relaxed time together, as most of our work in the past 8 years has been done through email and Skype, with busy sessions of our program where we have little time for personal interaction.

In the following weeks, I hope to travel to Slovakia and the Czech Republic, to continue work on the development of our international program which we would like to commence in January, 2018. After that, we will hold the second and fifth sessions of Akademia Homiletyczna. Then, in keeping with our commitment to continuing education, we will gather at the annual workshop for our graduates. This time around, we will examine the biblical genre of the mashalim, or parables, equipping the participants with enough biblical material for a 3-4 month communication series in their churches. I will then visit some of our graduates in their communities, augmenting their ongoing work with local biblical workshops and consultations with their leaders.

We will conclude this chapter of our program with a symposium at the largest Catholic university in Poland. We will lead a day-long conference presenting the work of Akademia Homiletyczna at the invitation of one of our graduates, a young Polish priest, who is on his way to become one of the key homiletics professor in Poland. This is a tremendous opportunity that God has opened for us, as a great deal of evangelical revival in the country is coming from the Catholic renewal movements, not the evangelical churches themselves. This is a rather unusual event in the context of the Catholic - Protestant divide. Following the symposium, we have been invited by the evangelical churches in the city of Lublin to conduct Bible workshops, and an evening Symphony of Sermons: ďWhatís Love Got to Do with It?Ē

There is still much preparation to do. There are plans to confirm. There are people to call. I would appreciate your prayers for God to open the doors for us, and give us all that we need to help his church be the church. Thank you for your encouragement. Thank you for your financial sacrifice which makes all this possible. I count it a great privilege to partner with you in this mission.

All Godís best to you,

Live

Bi-Focal Vision

Years and years ago, when I was just stepping into my twenties, I drew up a mental list of things I wanted to accomplish. It was a long list. I had a sense of a mission and what seemed like an eternity to accomplish it. As I took my first steps in pursuit of the destinations on my map, I noticed that it took some effort to move forward as the path led mostly uphill. It did not take long for me to face the sobering fact that I was not as fit for this race as I had imagined at first. Like the ageing Apostle, Paul, writhing in the frustration of doing the opposite of what he intended, I also had to admit that I was running with a limp. Then, I took notice of time, or perhaps time took notice of me. Everything took a lot longer than I anticipated. After years of clawing my way forward, looking over the shoulder, I had to admit that I have not gotten far from where I started.

The passage of time revised my lofty list. With each passing year, I had to cross off items in a growing realization that I will never get to them. At first, this seemed like a funeral procession, where each year I had to bury another dream in the cemetery of grandiose ideals. But then, it became apparent that in this race, losses are gains. The passage of time has a way of focusing life on that which matters the most. Since as the poet reminds us, we only have a hundred years to live, awaking to this realization in the second half of lifeís game has been cathartic.

As it turns out, what matters most in the time we have been given is not how many things we manage to accomplish on this side of eternity. What matters is how many of the things we have accomplished will matter on the other side of eternity. Since eternal life is to know God and his son Jesus Christ, as John the Apostle reminds us, bringing people to a relationship with God through Jesus Christ is the only entry that matters on the list of ďThings to Do.Ē This theological truth furnishes us with bi-focal glasses that limit our field of vision to God above and people below. God and people matter eternally. Everything in life then is about erasing the dividing line.

There is no way to know God without hearing from him. There is no way to hear from God without someone daring to speak for him. There is no way to have a relationship with God without communication with him through his word, which came to us through the faithful lips of people who spoke on Godís behalf. Ultimately, God erased the dividing line between heaven and earth when he made himself known to us through the Word becoming flesh. The last word spoken was the word of life spoken from the cross of Calvary. His dying breath has brought us life. Now, itís our turn - with each breath we inhale, to exhale his life-giving words in a world dying for truth.

That original list has shrivelled up to a singular entry - to become Godís living word in the time and space that God has allotted to me, here and now. So many people, so little time. And the list has just grown so much bigger. But then, itís just one breathÖone personÖat a time.

One Word at a Time

It was Saturday evening on the last day of May, I was standing in Taksim Square, at the head of Istiklal Street, one of Istanbul’s busiest arteries.  For a moment, I wondered if I even existed, feeling like a drop of water in the ocean of people around me.  I did not seem to matter.  The chaotic mass of people was churning all around, flawlessly moving up and down the street now lit up with neon lights and the lightbulbs of a thousand store fronts.  Fifteen million people were squished into one of the world’s oldest cities, with its narrow throat choked by West pushing East,  Europe touching Asia.  Bricks lay on rocks soaked with the blood of history.  The crowd of everyman and everywoman, like a melting pot of ethnicities, swirled in constant motion without a beginning or an end.  They were all going somewhere but getting nowhere, coming back for more, day after day, but never getting enough.  Turkish, English, Arabic and a plethora of languages resounded in the throng of pilgrims in search of their tower of Babel. 

The one question that plagued me that evening, and for the next 6 days as I pushed my way up and down Istiklal Street, was the question, how can God reach these people?  

This is the question that marks God’s mission impossible in the world since its inception.  It is the question that is just as overwhelming today as it has been for the past two millenia.  The mission was as inconceivable the day that the church took its first steps into the world as it is today.  It was the question asked by Paul the Apostle, John the Elder, and by every Christian man or woman who was ever cast out into the naked public square.  It is the question that stands at the heart of the Christian mission.  How can God reach the people who have relegated the cross to a church building squished between store fronts, guarded by iron gates and police brandishing machine guns?  How can God reach people who encased his Son in a marble statue hidden in the museum of a once-living religion?  How can God reach people who are so hostile as to become indifferent to him?

I scrambled to conceive of a plan or strategy that could re-order this chaos into conformity with God’s purpose.  But the odds were too great.  There seem no plan or program that could turn this growing tide.  And then it hit me - I was the plan.  I was God’s strategy.  There is no other plan.  We are it.

When the church first faced this question, it seemed as overwhelming to them then as it does to us now.  But then God sent his people, kicking and screaming, into this hostile world saturated with false theologies, flawed economics, corrupt politics - and his people simply told God’s story-with-us.  They told others about Jesus.  The Gospel story back then sounded just as silly and outrageous as it does today.  It met with mockery and derision.  It evoked rage and indifference.  And then, one by one, it claimed the hearts of passers-by.  People going everywhere and getting nowhere, lost in a world without hope, heard the truth of God’s love from the lips of people who dared to tell them about Life.  The story resonated with the deepest longings of their souls.  A short while after, the people who went into a world-without-God awoke to a up-turned world.  God changed the world one person at a time.  The world was changed one word at a time.

And it all happened through ordinary people.  There was no program.  There was no strategy.  The challenges defied the imagination.  But there were ordinary people who, often against their preferences, found themselves in a world where they had to choose to go with the crowd, or to go against it; to learn the language of the land, or teach the people a new language. They simply dared to become God’s living word in the worlds where they never truly belonged, and never could.  Resident aliens.  God reclaimed the world for himself one word, one person at a time.  

How can God reach all these people seemingly beyond his reach?  He can only do this when we dare to take him at his word, and become his living words in our fallen worlds.  It is one word, one person at a time.  We are God’s grand scheme - the only plan he ever had to reclaim the lost world of men and women for himself.

Akademia Homiletyczna

We have just completed the second session of the fourth Akademia Homiletyczna (Academy of Homiletics) in Poland.  While the first session of our program focuses on the person of the communicator, in the second session, we work through the process of extracting biblical ideas from the Bible and forming them into coherent messages.  Since all communication is trading in ideas, extracting biblical concepts and framing them for our audience is the essence of biblical communication.  People can only know God when they first hear from him.  In order to hear from God someone has to dare to speak for him.  This is the heart of biblical communication.  This is the heart of our program.  This is the heart of Jesus’ call for us to make disciples of all people.

On the surface of it, the process seems easy.  In practice, we discover that most people have never reflected on the essentials of communication.  The process proves truly paradigm-changing.  A vast majority of people coming into our program grow up listening to topical sermons.  They learn to come up with their own ideas and then strain to find passages in the Bible that fit them.  The danger of this approach is that too often a text becomes a pretext.  Preaching becomes a survey of passages in search for a prooftext.  The other common practice is to move through the text verse by verse, word by word.  Unfortunately, this view of communication too frequently misses the forest for the trees.  The notion of identifying and surfacing God’s thoughts expressed through biblical ideas is truly transformational.  

It is thrilling to watch what happens when people begin to discover biblical ideas for themselves - when they get the process and then the process gets them.  It is as if they saw something for the first time in their lives.  It is no surprise that the word “idea” comes from the Greek word “ideo” which means, “I see.” What is by far more exciting is to hear people express biblical truths they have discovered for themselves, without the need for someone else to interpret the word of God for them. 

The most remarkable aspect of this homiletic transformation is that the people who put themselves through this process are never the same again.  Bible study becomes the thrill of discovering God’s living word - coming to know God, instead of the usual guessing game.  The competency to hear from God allows people to speak for God with confidence of knowing that what they communicate are God’s thoughts instead of their own opinions.  The end outcome of this process is competency to help others to hear from God and speak for him. 

Since it is impossible to have a relationship without communication, we believe that what we do is at the very heart of our call to make disciples for Jesus Christ…sounds like a call to a relationship!

Hearing is Not Speaking

When our children went through their homeschooling program, one of the educational
requirements was the study of a foreign language. Since I spoke Polish to them since
their birth, they chose to continue with the formal study of Polish as their second language. We purchased the Rosetta Stone program to aid in their efforts. They aced the program. I was impressed how well they did with the exercises based on their comprehension of what they heard or read. What caught me off guard was how little Polish they could speak at the end of the program. Hearing is not speaking. Comprehending is not communicating.

This educational epiphany has transformed my vision of the teaching-learning process. It seems to me that most of what we do in our Christian education teaches people to hear the truth. Surprisingly, this process is largely unhelpful in nurturing our ability to speak the truth. The people in our churches instinctively recognize the syntax and semantics of our church language. But frequently they have no ability to discover and communicate God’s word on their own. They resonate with the truth when they hear it from others. However, they lack competency to speak from God on their own.

Of course, there would be no cause for alarm at this juncture, were it not for the simple fact that our calling to make disciples hinges on our ability to speak God’s truth to others. Relationships are impossible without communication. Consequently, people cannot have a relationship with God unless someone helps them to hear from God. At the very least, people need someone who will help them to know how they can hear from God from the Bible. We cannot make disciples without being able to communicate God’s truth from his word.

Our view of education in the Western tradition has created a world of perpetual learners who seldom if ever become teachers. We are constantly taking in more information, going through another Bible study, engaging in one more lecture or lesson. We read inspirational writings and devotionals of prolific writers telling us what they have heard from the Bible. We listen to communication kings who catch our ears. But we do not seem to graduate biblical communicators in our church communities. Realizing this growing chasm in our own lives, we have decided to make a change. This is what FORWORD does in the world. But we are actually going through the educational transformation in our home church. We have now invited everyone who is part of our church to learn how to speak for God from his word. People work on messages from God’s word. All people. Men and women, young and old. Then, we help them to communicate the truths which they have discovered in God’s word to the rest of us in our services. The process has been transformational for our community. God has been changing our hearts as we hear from him from his word, seek to listen to what we hear, and then try to speak it to one another, in love.

What's in the Name?

Names matter. In our culture we frequently name our children by reference to great men or women of the past, or tie the name to a distinguished member of the family. At times, we find significance for names by their link to a momentous event or a powerful experience in our past. Then, there are names of people we like, so we give them to our children. In one way or another, the names we give and the names we are given have significance for us.

However, while the names in our culture have significance, they seldom have meaning. In the culture of the Bible, names mattered because they were meant to communicate something about the person’s character. Frequently, names were more than something that people were called, they defined their God-given calling. For instance, the name of Elijah, the prophet, derives from two words, El and Yahu. It means, “Yahweh is God.” The name would have had a jarring effect on the evil king Ahab when spoken in the fateful confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Just the introduction of the prophet’s coming would have been a bold declaration defying the convictions of an apostate king. In this sense, names were meant to communicate truth about God and define the true calling of their bearers.

We have just changed our name. From the Biblical Preaching Society we have become FORWORD. The reason for the change is to communicate the essence of our mission with the least potential for confusion or misunderstanding. The new name reflects a growing understanding of our place in the church’s call to make disciples of all people. When we started we thought that we needed to train preachers for the task of Sunday’s sermon delivery. We were convinced that the pastoral calling was the call to preach the Bible. We still believe it. What has changed is our realization that the task of communicating the word of God belongs to all God’s people. Communication of God’s word is indispensable to making disciples. There is no possibility of relationship without communication. In the process of our development, it dawned on us that the calling to speak for God from his word is the calling of all believers. God’s mission of making disciples in the world depends on every one of us becoming God’s living word in our worlds. We are God’s living word in our families, work places, and communities. The re-vision of the vision has made us realize that we are not called to simply equip a select group of people to preach sermons. We are called to equip God’s people to become God’s living word wherever they are. The name change is meant to capture this theological reality.

FORWORD encapsulates two ideas. The first idea derives from our conviction that all that we do derives from God’s word and is defined by God’s word. We stand on the foundation of God’s word standing forever. The second idea borrows from the association of words “forword” and “forward.” In our “misspelling” of the word, we intentionally wanted to capture the notion of the word moving forward. This is what defines the disciple-making process. The word of God lives and dies by our commitment to hear from God and dare to speak for him to others.

FORWORD exists to forward God’s word through people who become God’s

living word in their worlds.

We hope it’s all in the name...