Cultivating and Building Community

Someone once said: “None of us is as smart as all of us.” Successful teams are those that have the ability to recognize that their strength is in their diversity, not their uniformity. In a diverse team, members represent a variety of cultures, customs, personalities and abilities. People think differently, and they behave differently. If we see differences as a threat, or if we perceive those who are different from us as inferior, we are well on our way to conflict. But when you look at diversity as a blessing, as something to be valued, you are well on your way to building an effective ministry team.

Valuing diversity in our ministry teams means that we unite spiritually as brothers and sisters in Christ. It means that we love one another, respect and value one another beyond our differences.

Maturity and hard work are necessary to maintain the unity of the Spirit within a diverse body through the bond of peace. As the church, we must cultivate and build unity. We will always be different, but we can love, respect and value one another. That will empower all of us to be and to do our best.

Valuing diversity is also releasing our diversity as we bind our hearts to a passion for souls; as we establish intelligent, spiritual ministerial relationships; and as we communicate our differences before presenting them as opposition. Instead of highlighting our differences, we can celebrate our diverse yet unified identity as the people of God: people from every tribe and language and people and nation (Rev. 5: 9, NIV).

As we value diversity, our Foursquare family could become the following

A church with members who are very different from one another (1 Cor. 12:12-21).

A church with redeemed members from every tribe, language, people and nation (Rev. 5: 8-10).

A church with worshipers of all nations, tribes, peoples and languages (Rev. 7: 9-10).

A church with fruitful ministers of all peoples (Isa. 56: 2-7).

Will you join me in praying for just such a future for our Foursquare family? Together, we can be more and do more for the kingdom.

HOW YOU CAN PRAY

What does unity in the church mean to you? Ask the Lord to give you a spirit of love, respect, and peace, and to build spiritual bridges between the people in your congregation.

— Daniel Prieto

A Community of Believers

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I had three things on my to-do list: (1) buying books for my first semester at Life Pacific College; (2) going to Ikea for furniture; and (3) finding a church to attend. The first two were easy. Finding a church was not.

My dad had always been my pastor, and I wasn’t even sure what I was looking for. I had lots of questions: Am I allowed to have worship preferences? Does preaching style matter? Is it OK for me to wish that someone had said “hi” to me today?

The Lord was gracious during that season and gently reminded me of what the church is really about: loving God, loving people and taking the gospel to the world. The church is a beautiful creation; it is huge, full of imperfect people with different minds and hearts who follow a perfect Jesus.

As I chose a church and began to attend it regularly, I was amazed at what I observed over time. Each week, people who had been at the church for years would join together with people who were there for the first time. They learned, worshiped and grew together.

“Together” is a powerful word; it describes the way the body of Christ incorporates its many diverse members. Paul talked about this body in Romans: “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us” (Romans 12:4-6, NIV). Our diversity and our God-given gifts work together to accomplish amazing things in the kingdom.

I didn’t know it at the time, but when I was looking for a church, what I really wanted to find was a community of believers with whom I could pursue becoming more like Jesus.

Our world faces seemingly endless difficulties and struggles, and it’s easy to allow feelings of hopelessness to creep in. But, through His church, God is enlarging His territory and expanding His reach. We can help our world find grace and hope, one disciple at a time.

Together, growth, diversity, graces—may these words give us inspiration and direction as we minister to a world of people who are looking for purpose and a place to call home.

How You Can Pray

How do you welcome visitors into your church? Pray and ask the Lord to open your eyes to see others, to express His great love for them, and to show you simple ways to welcome and serve them.

Praying with us? Include what you are praying for in a comment below.

— Victoria Goodell

Closing the Gap

When I hear people talking about diversity, the following concepts come to mind: inclusion, closing the gap, myths and power. As we think about our leaders and our churches, we must commit to building a more culturally competent and relevant structure within our denomination and within local churches. Diverse leaders will bring diverse ideas to the table.

Leaders should reflect the communities they serve. If that is not the case, we will drift apart, and we will find that we are in danger of isolating ourselves and, eventually, dying out.

The composition of our churches is changing dramatically, and quickly. Hispanics will account for at least 60 percent of this nation’s population growth between now and 2050 (source: pewhispanic.org). It is imperative that we develop an effective means of ministering in that huge sector of the population.

It is not enough for a non-Hispanic church to install a Hispanic pastor-leader to minister to Hispanics. We cannot rely only on our “brand” to capture the attention of the Hispanic community by having a Latino as leader.

The church must make the experience fulfilling and life-changing within some key cultural and language connection. Otherwise, Hispanics will look elsewhere for that experience. Let me be clear: This is a missional issue. We have the whole gospel, and, with the whole church, we must go to the whole world.

My family had to leave Cuba in the mid-1960s because of the government’s persecution of pastors and Christian leaders. Public meetings were prohibited, and evangelical churches were closed.

My dad was one of those pastors who had to close the church, pack and leave the country in haste. He started a mission work in Spain. I came to the U.S. as an adult, and I planted a church in the early 1980s. Psalm 126, “A Pilgrim Song,” challenges me to dream:

It seemed like a dream, too good to be true, when God returned Zion’s exiles. We laughed, we sang, we couldn’t believe our good fortune. We were the talk of the nations— “God was wonderful to them! “God was wonderful to us;   we are one happy people (Ps. 126:1-3, The Message).

God has indeed been wonderful to us, and we can declare that we are one happy people. I’m thankful that Jesus closed the gap 2,000 years ago. All of the barriers and divisions cease to exist as we embrace unity within the body of Christ. I love the words that Paul penned to the Galatians:

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise (Gal. 3:26-29, NKJV).

I hope that you will join me in committing to constructing a future that emphasizes Christian unity among diverse people groups. We may be different, but we are all part of God’s family through Christ Jesus.

— Alfonso Guevara

Active Expectation

Last week, I was having some quiet time with God, and I just asked Him to show me His heart.  I saw a vision of sorts in which I was praying with my eyes closed, trying my best to focus on God.  While I was praying, a young man came up to me and began to talk to me.  I opened my eyes and started to speak with him when I realized, “I’m supposed to be praying!”  I immediately halted my conversation, closed my eyes, and again took up my prayer, all the while the young man was still standing in front of me.  His face fell, and he slowly began to walk away looking extremely defeated.  When he walked away from me, another version of myself (I know, kind of weird) upon seeing his face, approached him only to find out that he was actually going through a very difficult time and really needed someone to genuinely love him enough to listen to what he had to say.

I prayed about what this meant, and I have a strong sense that this is referring to the religious/legalistic mindset it is so easy to fall into.  We are often so concerned about doing what a “good Christian” does – reading our Bibles for x minutes every day and praying x times a day – that we aren’t open and listening to what Holy Spirit is speaking to us.  A religious mindset would encourage us to be legalistic about the ways we meet with God and how we allow ourselves to hear Him.  But, in reality, God wants to speak to us and grow us in EVERY situation – whether the situation is especially “church-y” or not.

The heart of Christ has always been to love people and to show them grace.  I want my eyes and ears to always be open to opportunities to show the love of Christ.  What better way to learn than to do?!  In school, we were always told that we learn best when we are teaching others.  Who’s to say that doesn’t apply in the realm of the Spiritual, as well?  What better way to learn the love of God than to show it?  We learn by doing – by taking action.

I believe it is of monumental importance for us to be in the Word and to be allowing Holy Spirit to bring revelation through the Scripture.  But, I want for us to be open in EVERY situation to receive revelation, to learn about the love of God, and to show it in the best way that we can.  Let us live our lives in a state of active expectation – where we are expecting great things from God while stepping out in faith and boldness wherever His Spirit leads us.  This is true worship.

– Rachel Carlson

The Tip of the Iceberg

As I was doing my journaling this morning, God was showing me how what he wants to do with prayer in my life and at Grace is somewhat like an iceberg.  Let me explain.
Often when I pray, I am willing to settle for the answer that I can easily see or is most tangible and reasonable to me – like the tip of the iceberg.  How quickly the enemy is to encourage us to accept just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to prayer!  He knows the danger in our diving deeper.
But God is saying that there is so much more you can accomplish in prayer if you just dive deeper.  “There is so much more that I want to do if you’ll just dive deeper.  The real beauty of prayer is below the surface of what you’ve allowed yourself to become accustomed to.  Let me take you deeper.   Take your eyes off the tangible prayer and I’ll show you the beauty, passion, and mystery of my heart for prayer.”
     – Fran Florez

The Power of the Fast

Then I proclaimed a fast there at the river of Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God. Ezra 8:21

The power of the fast is found in the abject humility of people who desire the Lord’s way in their lives more than the bread that sustains their physical bodies. Fasting is an announcement the soul makes that the body will not rule over it, and it declares there will be no relief until the issues set before God are resolved in spirit. Fasting does not signal sincerity but rather humbles the soul with dependence upon God.

During his fast Ezra sought the Lord for direction for the families with him and for protection of both the people and the possessions God had given them. Isaiah 58:6 focuses the fast on loosing “bonds of wickedness,” undoing “heavy burdens,” and freeing “the oppressed.” The hunger and discomfort of the fast are reminders to pray, be in the Word, and demonstrate the living Word of our Savior, that “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).

– Pastor Jack Hayford, former President of the Foursquare denomination

The Kind of a Church I Like

The kind of a church I like is a church that is blood-washed, Spirit-filled, rooted and grounded in the Word of God, scripturally sound in doctrine, and standing firmly for such fundamental truths as:

The inspiration of the Scripture; the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus Christ; the glorious atonement through the shed blood on Calvary’s cross; the resurrection; the present-day power of the Holy Spirit; and the second coming of our Lord.

A church that is filled with the love of Christ, a love that is threefold. First, looking up toward God, with the whole heart and mind and strength. Secondly, that looks with love upon the brethren. Thirdly, that looks down with tender solicitude upon sinful and lost humanity.

A church that is evangelical in message, whose constant cry and slogan is souls.

A church that is interdenominational in spirit, where all men may meet on a common footing at the foot of the cross and satisfy their hungry hearts upon the Word of the Living God.

A church that is evangelical in message, whose constant cry and slogan is “souls.”

A church that is international in project, taking a keen interest in the sending forth and the supporting of foreign missionaries upon the field.

A church with lots of children to train for God and with plenty of young people, who are dedicating their lives for the ministry at home and abroad.

A church that is deeply spiritual, firmly built upon the rock, and yet keeping a warmth of religious fervor.

A church whose members have been thoroughly born again. Who are prayerful, sober, godly soul-winners, living a consistent, Christian life seven days a week.

A church where pastor and people are bound together by the strong cords of love to God and a desire for souls.

A church that is never closed, but does business for God 24 hours every day, and is always open where perplexed and needy humanity may find salvation, comfort and guidance.

 

In a 1924 bulletin, Sister Aimee Semple McPherson detailed to her Angelus Temple congregation what she liked in a church.

The Power of One

“Hey, Dad, how can we ever reach the nations of the world with the gospel when there are simply so many and most are beyond our reach as a local church?” That was the question posed by my teenage son immediately following a missions night presentation.

For him, the issue at stake was his individual role in reaching all people groups in accordance with the Great Commission: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them … and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20, NIV).

Making disciples of all nations is a daunting task for any believer who has taken it seriously. But though fulfilling it may be beyond our natural reach, it is never beyond God’s!

The encounter of Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40, NKJV) gives us a glimpse of one of the many ways in which the Lord opens doors for His gospel to get to places beyond our reach—through witnessing to people of that extended world right in our backyards.

Not unlike the Ethiopian’s experience with Philip was Cornelius’ encounter with Peter. Peter’s statement that he had finally realized that God was interested in having people from every nation follow Him was followed by a strong visitation of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:34-35, 44).

Though the New Testament remains silent about what happened next to either the Ethiopian or the Roman centurion, most likely both went back home with a bubbling new faith in Christ, ready to impact their communities. Again, God expects us to be obedient in doing what we can do. And He will work wonders with that!

The point of this whole scenario is not to focus on the fact that Philip and Peter obeyed the Holy Spirit’s promptings to share the Good News beyond their particular comfort zones. Rather, the focus should be on the many of us who are also born-again disciples. There’s no limit to what the Lord can do in and through each one of us as we follow His leading and direction.

Are we willing to do our part? It strikes me that, in both scriptural passages, the “power of one” is emphasized, i.e., the power of one individual willing to touch another in his path, who may in turn change a nation.

I remember telling my son in response to his question: “Son, just be open to share the gospel with friends and acquaintances you may meet in life who may look ‘different.’ They may seem so to you, but in God’s eyes they are as valuable as you and me.”

This is certainly not earth-shattering advice. Yet, what could be more in line with our Lord’s heart for this world for which He gave His life?

 

By: Raúl Irigoyen, a Foursquare credentialed minister, member of the Foursquare Foundation board and the Foursquare Hispanic Commission, and retired Foursquare senior pastor in Panama.

Welcoming Outsiders

When God decides to reach a nation, He first finds a person. When God wanted to reach every nation on Earth, he found Abraham. When God wanted to reach the Gentiles, he found Cornelius.

When God wanted to reach Europe, he found Lydia. When God wanted to reach the province of Asia, he found Epaenetus (Rom. 16:5).

It is interesting to note that each of the people listed above was an immigrant or a foreigner.

Abraham left his home in Ur. Cornelius was an Italian soldier serving the Roman occupation in Israel.

Lydia was a businesswoman from the province of Asia living and working in Macedonia.

Epaenetus was from Rome but was converted to Christ while living in Asia.

“Foreigners” and “immigrants”: These are politically and emotionally charged words today. Yet, I wonder if God will use these people to speak to us and act as channels through whom we reach nations.

Immigrants, international students and refugees present amazing opportunities to participate in the mission of God in our own cities, towns, neighborhoods and homes. Here are two examples:

Eby lives in Hallsberg, Sweden. He leads a missional community reaching out to immigrants. I visited their Tuesday night meeting and was amazed. People from Iran, Iraq, Egypt and Tunisia were among those gathered; we heard Swedish, English, Arabic and French spoken. Some coffee and a few cookies helped create a welcoming environment for a group of people from different nations, languages, and religions.

Paul and Fran pastor the Foursquare church in Guildford, U.K., an area just outside London that is home to several major universities. Every Sunday, students from several dozen nations gather with Paul and Fran for home-cooked food.

The Sunday I visited them, I met people from China, Afghanistan and a few Middle Eastern nations. Paul and Fran are like Mom and Dad to these students. The students will graduate one day, and most will return home to their own nations, touched by the grace of God while being welcomed to the table in someone’s home. June 20, 2014, is World Refugee Day. Our world has more than 43 million refugees and displaced persons. Each minute, eight people around the world are forced to leave their homes due to war and persecution. These millions of desperate people need places of welcome. The nations are on God’s heart, and He has brought them to our doorsteps. Immigrants, international students and refugees may very well be the keys to unlocking nations. Let’s make room for them and welcome them. We will be amazed when we see what God does.

“Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all the nations!” (Psalm 82:8, ESV).

By: Jeff Roper, area missionary to Europe with Foursquare Missions International

The Cord

Isn’t it beautiful to be reminded and to be prompted by the Holy Spirit to set our eyes and hearts on what matters most before the Lord? Recently, I was praying in my office, where I have a world map. As I prayed for the various nations of the world, I was reminded of a picture the Lord allowed me to see some time ago. I saw a beautiful cord being constructed from strands of many different colors. The various strands were being braided together, but the individual strands never lost their distinctness. I saw that cord as a prophetic picture of how God sees our church: It is stronger and more powerful by being united with its various members and by aligning itself with God and His Word.

As Eccles. 4:12 states, “a threefold cord is not quickly broken” (NKJV). Acts 2 tells us that some interesting things happened when the church was “in one accord” (Acts 2:2-4, 46-47). The Holy Spirit was poured out on the believers who were assembled in Jerusalem, an event that we call Pentecost. And the Lord continued to add new believers to the church. Our being in one accord and in the unity of His Spirit will require that we see beyond ourselves. It will require that we defer to one another. We must get past our default setting of expecting everyone to change to become like we are. We must embrace the beauty of diversity that coexists with the unity of the Spirit within the body of Christ. Paul exhorted believers to “receive one another” as they had been received in Christ (Rom. 15:7, NKJV).

Each city, each village, each nation, each people group uniquely reflects God’s glory—and each has a unique contribution to make to the body of Christ. I am moved by the concern that Paul voiced for first century believers: “I want their hearts to be encouraged and joined together in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery—Christ” (Col. 2:2,).

——-Heidi Chambers (Foursquare Missions International)