Religious and Indifferent in Sardis

In this talk we look at the Letter to the Church in Sardis, Revelation 3:1-6. There doesn’t seem to be much good said about the church in this once thriving city. We examine what it means to be truly alive and truly a follower of Jesus. Even thought this message is hard, it contains some fantastic encouragement. We can walk with God into eternity proud of what we have achieved here. For those of us who struggling, maybe even dying spiritually, we can be turned around so that we can live. No-one is ever beyond hope.

Click below to listen to the talk audio

Download the Powerpoint Notes for the talk below

light-in-a-dark-world-the-letter-to-the-church-in-sardis

This podcast was recorded at South Church, Mkushi, Zambia 4th September 2016.

© Copyright, Jon Paul Witt, 2016

© Image Copyright “Hallgrímskirkja, Reykjavik, Iceland.” Jon Paul Witt 2016.

Advertisements

The 10×10 Challenge

A few weeks ago Ethan and myself travelled down to Bernard’s village to make a video for Dignity. Ethan did the filming, I did some scripting and then Bernard and myself took an inordinate amount of time getting it right!

We need to fund a huge expansion in the village work of Digntiy in Zambia. To do this, we need your help!

Please, please watch the video below and share it. We need 100 people to do the 10×10 challenge. Maybe you and your friends could be some of the 100?

Dignity in Pictures

Next week there’s a photography exhibition in Mkushi, Zambia hosted by Dignity. As part of this I’m also exhibiting some photographs that I have taken over the years. There not necessarily my best photographs but they are ones that I think convey something of my work. 

Those that are down and out, desperate, just poor or have fallen on hard times. They are the ones in this world that are valuable and precious. It may raise money to show people suffering, but there is no Dignity in that. These are normal everyday people living normal but amazing everyday lives.  These are the people that God uses to bring love, meaning and comfort to many communities and people across the world. They are His hands and feet, and so very important.

My hope is that you will learn to see “the poor in Africa”, “asylum seekers”, “refugees” with the God given Dignity that they deserve. Only then will we treat people correctly and be open to the fact they they are more capable, more gifted and more precious than this world deserves. 

With Jesus they can do anything. My aim is to help people like this in every community realise who they were created to be and what they were created to do. The potential is amazing!

“But God chose the foolish things of this world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” (1 Corinthians 1:27)

A lone rural zambian pastor studying his bible with one of the resources we use to help people to know God and their responsibility to each other.

Picture of Man Studying

Some of the people I have connected with over the years who work with me and Dignity in many communities in Zambia and beyond. Competition, fun and laughter are all essential ingredients in helping these guys become everything they should.

IMG_7458

This is Augustine, one of our Impact Team members. He exudes dignity.

IMG_6801

Having fun around the fire. Sharing stories of how God is using each other in many communities.

IMG_6784

These are two village volunteers cooking for a training session being held in their village. They don’t get paid for this and they give their time freely. They give as part of the wider work in their community.

IMG_5718

This is Gervas explaining how to meet together in a Life! Group and how to work in a community. This is done most months of the year in multiple locations across Southern Africa.

IMG_5700

An unknown guitarist. And yes, it did sound great! I love the ingenuity!

IMG_3078

These are market traders in Livingstone Victoria falls curio market. These are the guys that harass you to buy their wares. What interested me was the camaraderie and friendship. Africans are fun and you can clearly see that in this picture.

IMG_0965.JPG

This is Hunter, someone we worked with many years ago. You won’t find a more honest, compassionate and lovely man anywhere in the world.

IMG_0716.CR2

These are some people worshipping at a training course we run to teach people how to meet the needs of their community. They learn how to help people to know Jesus and to practically serve those in need in the community.

Group Worshipping

Some exuberant bush worship!

Freda Singing

This is the only non-African picture in my selection for the exhibition. It’s taken in Assam, India, I think in 2008. These are a group of Christian evangelists who worked in a very dangerous situation. Hindu extremists had beaten them, chased them and even killed some of their friends. Yet you would never guess this. You can see a joy and a quiet determination in them.

DSC04774.JPG

Normal life in Angola. The flats are run down, it really did smell and yet people are just hanging about, chatting, doing the types of things that any of us would.

DSC04377.JPG

This is my son Joshua being carried around a village by this lovely woman. There are some of us that believe different races are completely different, even better than one another. I don’t believe that we are that different at all.

DSC03609

This is a lady called Mabel sitting opposite Jude outside our tent, which is our home in villages. I liked the way that their poses almost reflect one another like a mirror. Maybe we are not so different as we believe.

DSC03469

Just a great shot of “poor” kids smiling and having fun.

DSC01925

A scene that could be repeated around the world. A classroom with children learning. Do we think that those who are poor, somehow do not share experiences with us?

DSC01911

I like the adult pose that this boy is taking. The reality is that many of those we would class as uneducated or poor, have faced situations that would cause many of us to disintegrate.

DSC00468

A lovely view of an Angolan girl in a dark doorway.

DSC00251

These Angolan women in Luena are praying that God would move outside the walls of their church and would reach the areas beyond. It’s through people like these, everyday people that God works and moves in power. God thinks small! Millions of people all playing their little part.

DSC00227

Off Message?

We live in a world that is more inter-connected than ever. The internet, instant messaging and communications make it possible for us to envisage a life that is truly international in nature. I’m currently sitting in the hamlet of Cwm Penmachno in North Wales and I’ve just been on the phone to Williams, a translator in Northern Zambia. I’ve also just messaged a friend some 40 miles away. Even a generation ago, this type of communication, at this speed simply wasn’t possible.

As we have understood the world in a more intimate and immediate way, we have questioned the way the world has been portrayed to us and new orthodoxies of belief have emerged. We have become an ever questioning people, the younger we are, the more true this is of us. Beliefs that are seen as older, more ancient are increasingly questioned as valid in this increasingly connected world.

Beliefs that are seen as older, more ancient are increasingly questioned

Within those that are Christian, there has been a shift towards defining who we are in terms of the prevailing ‘spirit of the age’. Christianity becomes about being nice, doing good and personal development. Mission is solely about confronting injustice and practical help alone. I think in some ways we are trying to simply ‘communicate’ well. For me though, there is an issue of losing the distinctive powerful message of Christianity, the message of Jesus himself.

Standing for nothing in particular?

Within the UK I’ve been listening to the election debates that have been broadcast. Of particular note for me has been the performance of Plaid Cymru, the party of Wales. Historically the party stands for and would like independence for Wales and yet on that front, in this election, there has been nothing of the kind said. They seem to agree with everyone else and importantly for me, have lost or are not stating their distinctive position. Not so with the Scottish National Party, they stand for the independence they crave. Not wanting to turn this into a political debate, I believe that Plaid Cymru have faded almost to insignificance, precisely because for whatever reason, they have omitted their central message. Yes people will still vote for them because they are welsh but I believe they could have so much more of a say. Have we in the Church done exactly the same?

The True Message of Jesus

As important as love, acts of righteousness and social justice are, they are not the key part of the Gospel. In fact anything we do is not the key part of the gospel. It is God’s sacrifice f his son to save us that is the key message. Mission in the bible was seen as pretty much exclusively the task of carrying the message of Jesus to the ends of the earth, an evangelistic message. The message was about transformation of individuals, communities and the earth through the acceptance and worship of Jesus in lives everywhere.

Today, mission is simply a ‘helping out’ exercise, dare I say it, one that omits the powerful message of redemption and forgiveness that Jesus brings to us. Have we become so earthly minded to not be of any heavenly use?

Christianity only makes sense if the power of God transforms people and then transforms communities. To try and transform a community without the message of the cross is madness surely? Yet, that is what a lot of mission has become. Why? It simply isn’t ‘done’ to talk of Jesus and so we have retreated in the face of some very real opposition. We often talk and stand for everything Christianity is, except Jesus.

Going Full Tilt…..

Please don’t hear me wrong. It’s important to love people. It is very important to serve them. All of the faceless tasks that Christian’s do from day to day in humility and without boasting are a powerful testament to the power of God working through everyday lives. There are people who without this would be dead, suffering or still in lives wrecked by circumstances beyond their control. That’s powerful stuff.

Yet I believe we need to make sure we go the whole way. We need to be open and share Jesus with everyone that we meet. I’m not saying get out a bible and batter someone with it, but have your life open to everyone so He can be seen and don’t be afraid to speak of him when it is right for you to do so. The ultimate expression of love and respect for someone is to introduce them to the Saviour that we know. To not do so, is surely an incomplete act?

If for the sake of fear we hold back, when the time comes to truly confront injustice we will be afraid to do so. What about the fate of Libyan migrants who are drowning? What about climate change that threatens us all? What about the elderly lady who is ignored by her family and they need to be confronted? In the power and through the message of Jesus, all of these situations come down to the transformation of individuals, groups and communities making decisions and taking actions that affect their fellow people. Some people with God need to initiate that change.

I come across many Christian organisations and people who separate themselves from Jesus to make themselves more palatable. Whether it be personal fear or institutional fear, the effect is the same. We lose our distinctive, we lose who we are. That is needless and such a great shame.

I come across many Christian organisations and people who separate themselves from Jesus to make themselves more palatable…..That is….. such a great shame”.

Will we stand relevantly, passionately for Jesus and the Gospel or will we simply blend into the background like everyone else. The questions of this age, the hunger for justice and love that all of us share, have an answer. We know the answer and yet are afraid to show it.

The question for all of us is will we relevantly present Jesus to this world in ways that people will understand? Will we confront the issues of this world with the love and power of the Cross in a spirit of humility?

Let’s not lose our distinctiveness in the ever more connected and busy world.

A Rural Future?

Glenelg is one of the most remote settlements in mainland UK. Around 150 people live there and it’s connected to the outside world by a 9 mile single track road. It’s a very seasonal place for some. During the summer tourists use the ferry to the Isle of Skye.

I have a small bit of history with Glenelg. 17 years ago on my honeymoon, I ended up speaking at a local Christian Fellowship there. Initially the 20 or so people present thought I was the replacement Pastor from Inverness. That certainly caught me on the hop! Two weeks ago I visited the Church again on a damp and very windy Sunday evening. After a game of pool at the local pub, Jude, I and the kids went back to see what it was like.

I recognised one of the guys as soon as I walked in, a lovely guy with a very broad Scottish accent. I could even tell him what his job used to be, and still was actually! When I was last in the church he had just become a Christian, now he was the leader. How times change. It was great, but a comment he made stuck with me very forcefully.

“Not just Africa, we need mission work here”

The fact is he is correct. I’ve been thinking the same for a year or so myself. In his county and the Isle of Skye there is a population of about 100000 people. Perhaps around a few hundred people go to church, which is 1% or lower of the population. That is incredibly low, and definitely a situation that demands a response of reaching out.

When I am in the UK, I have more recently made Snowdonia my home and I stay in my cottage in the hamlet of Cwm Penmachno. Over 100 years ago, it was a hotbed of the welsh revivals, more preachers came from Cwm Penmachno per head of population than anywhere else in Wales. An interesting point is that in welsh a vicar is called a preacher, pregethyr, a hark back to the revivalist days. Here, the situation is similar. At best in Snowdonia there are small handfuls of people who attend Church, there is one such group up the valley from where we are. However, I can drive 25 miles North West and 17 miles East and not really pass a church of any note at all, save for the one Anglican Church in Betws-y-Coed. Again, the population of the National Park is around 90000 people. Again, I would estimate around 1% or lower attend church actively.

It isn’t simply just about people knowing Jesus as well. There are profound issues in rural society, that the church would normally contribute to, and yet it doesn’t simply because there are no people. No people equal no money. No money and well it’s difficult to do anything. This of course doesn’t just affect rural areas, it can also be said of cities. My observation is that there are many churches trying to change this in the cities and towns, there are hardly any in the rural areas. The situation away from the odd mega church or tourist area is immeasurably worse.

There’s an entire generation of people that are either disenfranchised from the Church or is completely ignorant to what it is.

Historically we hold onto the fact that the church has been strong, and yet our current situation demands a different response. We can’t do “church” and Christianity the way we have done over many years, the landscape has changed completely. This landscape demands mission. I think you could justifiably state that some rural areas are “practically” unreached at this point toward the start of the 21st century.

This to me all sounds very familiar. For years I have worked in Southern Africa, within remote rural areas of Zambia and surrounding countries. Logistically the situation is actually more difficult, but there are many parallels and I think strategies and lessons that we can use from one ‘live’ mission situation to another.

Within Zambia I rightly or wrongly decided that the existing church structures often presented more of a hindrance to the gospel. That sounds incredibly rebellious and maybe even a little arrogant, I’m aware of that. They were either too settled and focused inwards or were power games where different church structures vied for dominance within an area. We sidestepped all of that and in a very simple fashion planted Life! groups of people to teach Christ in their community and provide a forum, a way of reaching their community. Everyday Christians from all church backgrounds met together and those that were disenfranchised came. Together they reached people and were extremely relevant in their community. At the last count there were around 200 groups, around 3500 people meeting and touching thousands more.

In some ways we have forged a new way, a new representation of Christianity for everyday people.

Whether it is more authentic and proper, I’ll leave for you to decide. However, I know it works and I could never go back to using the old ways. The future is not dominated by singular church leaders or even denominational churches. We need to learn to see the church in a village in its’ entirety and work on that basis. Sooner or later we won’t have a choice, we will die out if we don’t change. That sounds tough, but we are one generation away from that reality.

I have a very strong belief that through everyday Christians, people like you and me, God will reach our villages and that 1% could become 10% and maybe even more. Once we take that view it has to shape our modes of operation and activities to embrace that truth. This belief is also pretty universal for most rural areas wherever in the world I have been, whether they are completely unreached or simply “partially unreached”. The key is everyone aligning themselves with the plans that God has for the village and enacting them. For me it comes down to this.

We need a fresh vibrant Christianity right at the heart of the village for everyone. For the sake of places like Glenelg, are we willing to embrace it?

About Issachar

Chronicles 12 in the Bible introduces us to the Men of Issachar, people who could interpret the signs of the times around them and then crucially, also knew what they should do. They were wise men and practical men, which is a powerful combination.

Most of us in the church feel the opportunities and troubles of being a Christian in today’s world. Our public opportunities have become problematic. It is far harder today in Europe to say that Jesus is way to God. People think it far less relevant and even abhorrent. Secularism seems to be taking a hold and we play a poker game with intolerance masquerading as political correctness. We become silent and meek in the face of a difficult public response. Within Africa, the game is different but no less problematic. The church seems distracted by power and tied up in the affairs of state and despite its’ many strengths, seems to collectively lack the will to give away what it has for the sake of others. And yet, the Church is the people that comprise it, not the structure by which it manages people or hierarchy’s of leaders directing people. The people serving God are the very quality the very backbone the Church that Gid requires. A people serving Him.

There’s spirituality in abundance in just about any society, however it seems to be a god-less self serving spirituality. Ultimately it’s centred on our fulfilment. It’s not about us finding peace, or becoming more able, it’s supposed to be about finding rescue and salvation in God. We don’t seem happier for all of the self serving spirituality do we? As a society we generally seem worse off. We are busier, more hassled and we are never satisfied with anything. You could say we were lost…..

Worldwide, globalisation has led to a situation where similar experiences are traded between nations. For example, China’s huge economic growth and standards of living rises also fosters a consumer led self centred generation. Africa is the same. Ultimately it’s about our progression, a a bettering of ourselves, for our own aim. In each of these places, the gap between rich and poor has never been wider, the suffering of many is profound. Something is wrong. For some of us to be winners in this world, there must be resultant losers.

We’ve lost God, His Love and importantly his heart for people other than ourselves. Sin at its’ heart is also spelt ‘selfish’.

Trace the Men of Issachar elsewhere in Chronicles and Numbers and we discover that this tribe were also fighting men, people of capability and expertise. They had taken time to hone their skills and strengthen themselves for the battles that lay ahead. Not only were they able to interpret and understand the times about them, they were able to do something about it. We need to see what is happening around us and just like the Men of Issachar, find ways of doing something about it. That’s what it means to be involved in God’s mission.

Through the actions of everyday people, my aim and the aim of Dignity, the movement I lead is to bring people to Jesus and in doing so, make this world a more loving and generous place to be. In particular we need to commit ourselves to going to those difficult and out of the way places that are easily forgotten. We must make sure that we as a people lift up the lowly and vulnerable. If possible carrying them above ourselves.

We must commit ourselves to pioneering more, teaching more, educating and re-skilling people more, praying more, so that all of this can become a reality. For me, that doesn’t mean going to cities and busy areas where everyone else is, we need to deliberately choose to go to places that are not popular. We must be found on the single track roads not the busy motorways.

Just like the Men of Issachar, see the world around you, interpret it and do something about it. If you want to, get in touch! Seriously we need everyone we can find!

Mission for Everyone

This morning I’ve been for a walk in the what some would call, “the freezing cold wastelands of North Wales”. Yet it has snowed, it is icy and I love it! There’s something about the clarity and deadness of sound that fresh snow brings. You can see for miles and the snow deadens the noise of the world so everything seems pristine and tranquil. I can really think and see clearly!

I’ve been off for a few weeks and as well as getting on with some things other than ministry, I’ve been thinking and praying about what the future holds. I don’t know about you but I need threads, ideas and facts upon which I can base my future actions and movements upon. God understands this too. Faith is often not blind faith, principally it is faith in the one who calls us. He is totally reliable. In my experience faith is often not unrelated from the present either. The God who beckons us forward is the same God who has been preparing us, shaping our circumstances and leading us to the point where we may make a leap of faith or two. We notice the leaps but we seldom notice the quiet movement that the Spirit has been making behind the scenes for years.

There are all kinds of exciting ideas that I have looking at the future of Dignity, most of them are significant upgrades and developments of existing work. Yes there are some new leaps of faith as well. The one concept that we have always been about is that mission is for “everyday people”, wherever you are. We know the poor can be used mightily by God, how about everyone else? Over the years I’ve become experienced in cross cultural, rural and community based mission. Maybe it’s time to use some of these very hard learned lessons in equipping others and reaching others.

I do believe that God is moving anew in his people. Some of the ideas we have worked with for years are gaining traction in wider circles. There’s a revolution coming that doesn’t base itself on superstars in the faith, but on the church, a people, a mission for everyone. Whoever we are, wherever we are, we have a calling to serve, to reach out, to be Jesus to everyone we come across and to seek out those we don’t come across. We need to up our game in the forgotten and rural areas of this world. We need to reach more people and equip more people to reach others also. Simple really 🙂

Dr RT Kendall recently at The Evangelist’s Conference got all prophetic. Of course it was very biblical, he is a renowned theologian. However the sense of now-ness of what God is saying really spoke to me. “God will work through the faceless”. That phrase resonated with me powerfully. You can listen to the whole talk here.

Heidi Baker again not so long ago spoke about similar themes at a conference here in the UK.

Here’s an example of a call to action about mission and what God is doing from the leader of Ivy Church, Anthony Delaney. Ivy are the church that send Jude and I out on the ministry we have. Again, we are all needed and it’s about redoubling and focusing our efforts on the lost, together.

Whatever you think of the prophetic elements there’s one element that speaks to me loud and strong, God will move through ALL of his people. The Spirit will empower us to do this. The future of the church is for everyone to fight together in unity. For those of us who get a little twitchy at the sound of prophetic words and anointing let me remind you of something very rooted in the word. Isn’t that the point of the Body of Christ? We are meant to move together with Christ as our head. At the moment we have limbs all over the place. Arms flail in different directions, parts of the body who don’t know what they should do, everyone thinks they are the head…. it won’t do and I do believe God is calling time on this. What God will do is not new in the sense that we have not seen it before, but it will be in out time, in our generation, because let’s face it, his world needs it.

Are you one of the faceless? A person that has never been a superstar? Never called to the spiritual heights? Well that doesn’t really matter because God has a role for you, in his mission, in his plan to reach this world. That’s the move of the Spirit that’s coming.

If you need a few threads upon which to base your future, there’s some for you.

Don’t we understand? It’s a mission for everyone.

So if all I have said is true I wonder, what will our response be? Answers on a postcard please……