Sunday, May 29, 2011

Caught by God

As I finished up Storying* on Jesus' baptism, I felt a strong sense in my heart that GOD loved this telling. Not so much because I did anything special or dramatic, but simply because the Father made known at Jesus' baptism that Jesus is His Son and He is well pleased with Him. The Father saw fit to authenticate Jesus' ministry in front of a whole host of people crowded on the river banks of the Jordan River to be baptized by John. In a sense, Jesus' baptism was a heavenly family reunion. The Son moving forward in obedience, the Holy Spirit resting upon Jesus in bodily form as a dove and the Father opening the heavens to speak forth His approval. As the words flowed out of my mouth, I felt the hush of heaven's pleasure settle on me. It was at this very moment that I looked out and saw her. Tears were gathering and spilling unashamedly. I made note in my heart that she was new to my class at the Open Door Mission.
As the lesson finished up, she quickly came forward to talk to me. Before words could come forth from her lips, tears gathered again. The words poured out rapidly, "I wanted to know about a certain religious group and in order to learn I had to be baptized. Do I need to be baptized again?"
Without knowing all the details behind this loaded question I asked, "Why do you ask?"
"Well, I realized that they had false teachings, so I left. Does my baptism count?"
Once again, the LORD amazed me with the power of Biblical story. I never know what is happening in the heart or mind of the people I voluntarily serve at the mission, but I do know that if I am faithful to tell well the Bible truths in a way they can understand that God will make sure that the truths will resonate where spiritual growth needs to occur. I did not know that on this day that someone in my group would be struggling with a history of false teaching and the reasons behind why we do baptism. But, I did know confidently that if I told His story hearts would be moved.
I answered my new friend, "Yes, you need to be baptized. But there is a proper order. Baptism demonstrates to those who observe it that this person identifies with Christ's death, burial and resurrection. Jesus died on the cross for your sins. If you were the only person to ever be born He would have died on that cross for you. Have you come to the place in your life that you believe that Jesus died for you? Once you have believed and received His gift of eternal salvation then you follow through with baptism to show all what you have believed."
Her voice cracked as she whispered the words, "I am ready!"
I realized I was not the only one caught by God that day. His story catches us! When was the last time you were caught by the Father ? Who are you telling the story of His Son to so that others may be caught by God?

*Storying: Telling in your own words a Biblical passage. It is not a memorization, but an internalization of a Biblical passage.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Have you ever gotten so tired that brain fuzz takes over your mind and the only thing you can do is rest? On the day that I finalized my teaching notes on this lesson on Acts 10, brain fuzz overtook my mind. I knew that if I did not take a nap my thoughts would be incoherent. My former Pastor John Bisagno used to tell us that sometimes the most holy thing we can do is take a nap. I have been ever so grateful for such a sweet truth. As I rested my head, I prayed, “God, please give me the amount of rest I need so I can get up and finish the lesson.”

In the stillness of my waking moments, I tend to hear the LORD more clearly. Suddenly, I jumped up out of my sleep with a completely different approach to chapter 10 then I had when I lay down. I originally intended to focus the lesson on the truth that God does not play favorites, but it seemed as if in an instant I caught and I saw a new outline as clearly as if I had spent hours writing and studying. I do so love it when this happens. I saw a picture of John, the writer of Revelation, standing outside the door of heaven. A voice called out, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). I realized this passage is about the value of an open door. God open our eyes to let us see the open door, but it is our choice to walk through the door.

When an open door happens…
We can walk through to seek salvation.
We can walk through to hear the truth.
We can walk through to give the truth.
We can walk through to receive the truth.

Ultimately, we must understand that the LORD opens spiritual doors; it is our choice to walk through. As we see the door open, a multitude of temptations will cause us to walk away without entering, but there will also be barriers that we must recognize and honor in order to walk through, too. As I travel on mission trips both locally and internationally, I have learned to ask what the cultural custom is for entering a home. I did not realize how each culture has developed a unique custom for open doors. I learned in Russia that it was considered rude if I walked through a door before an extended hand granted me entrance. While in Brazil, I discovered that in the area we visited, the homes were surrounded by concrete walls with an iron gate. It did not matter if we were in the wealthy area or the poorer section every home had a concrete wall. The poorer sections were built from the broken cinder blocks thrown away by the rich. When we approached a home there was no door to even knock on. The very first house we walked up to I was a little surprised when the interpreters clapped their hands. The clap echoed off the concrete walls to let the family know they had a guest at the gate. In Guatemala, the middle class families drive their car through their front door, so there are actually two doors in front of the house. A larger door opens up for the car with a smaller door for a person to walk through. If a person comes to visit, the owner will open a small door to see who is outside or look through a peep hole. In the villages, there were no doors, so we called out greetings before getting close to the home. Knowing and understanding the cultural customs for entrance made our walking through so much easier. Sometimes cultural customs can become a barrier. The key is to know the cultural customs in order to honor them, but to not allow them to become a barrier, but a bridge.

This week will discover that two doors open on about 33 miles apart. Regardless of the cultural customs of Peter and Cornelius, the LORD used open doors in their lives to meet their spiritual needs. For one Cornelius, it was unto salvation and for Peter to let go of a prejudice that would hinder his ministry. Both walked through when the door opened. Reflect upon how God uses one man’s need for salvation to slay another man’s prejudices. Please notice that both doors open through prayer and the one who answers is the Angel of the LORD.

Taken from Tell It Well, The Ripple Effect Continues, Week 10 Day 1, page 123-124.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Hearing God
By Donna Blum/Cultivating Hearts Media and Marketing Advisor

The night before last, Emma and I were lying on her bed talking before she went to sleep. I said to her, "I like to pray at times like this when everything is still and quiet because that is when I can hear God the best." She said she didn't understand. She asked, "How do you hear God?" I explained that I can't hear His voice really loud like a shout or really soft like a whisper - - in fact, I can't hear Him with my ears at all. I told her I have to listen with my heart and mind. I explained to her how I do it. First, I pray silently "Okay God, I am listening. Is there anything you want to tell me?" and then I lay quietly and wait for His answer. I told her the first thing that pops into my mind is usually a message from Him.

She said, "Okay Mommy, be quiet, I want to try." So, I started praying, "Lord, please speak to Emma's heart now in a way that she will know without a doubt that it is You." Then she said to me a few minutes later, "Mommy, I heard Him." I said "That is great Emma! What did He say?" She said, "He told me to be nice to my brother and obey my parents." Then she said, "I didn't know I could talk to God that way. That was fun! I want to do it again."

So, last night, we were lying in Emma's bed again and I reminded her how much fun we had talking to God the night before and I asked her if she wanted to do it again. She said, "Yes!" and became silent and still for several minutes. Then she said, "Mommy, I heard Him again! He said He wants me to read my Bible more often." I said, "Wonderful! He tells me that too."

*Emma is six years old.

Monday, May 16, 2011

By: Tara Rye

Almost nightly Grant pleads, “Mom, Zeke and Gafar?” This question echoes on the walls of our home nearly every night because our boys love a good story. It became the habit of Grant and Junwoo (our nine-year-old foreign exchange student from Korea) for me to tell a story every night before they went to sleep. Our current tale has lasted well over six months. It is about an American named Zeke that travels to a far and distant land to climb a mountain with Gafar—a native mountain guide. I never know when I sit on the edge of Grant’s bed what might happen to our favorite mountain climbing men. But, one thing is for certain, I always use my tales to weave in truths about God, His character, His Word, His Son, and even how to share the gospel. In our story, it took nearly two and a half months for Gafar to believe in Jesus, but the other night, Zeke, Gafar, and Ed (a seventy-year-old hermit mountain man they found) came upon a village that had never heard of Jesus.

Zeke said, “Our greatest mission field is with the ones we are with. If we are with them, then it is our mission field.” Gafar nodded his head in acceptance of his friend’s simple wisdom.

This became the lesson for the night. I want my boys and daughter to know the importance of telling the stories of the Bible well, so Zeke and Gafar began to chronologically tell the Bible stories to the villagers.

One morning, as Zeke and Gafar arose, the villagers ran up to them and said, “Storyiors! Come! We want another!”

Grant interrupted me, “Mom, what is a “storyior”?”

I just made up the word for the story, so I said, “The villager’s language was very simple. They somehow combined the word for “story” and “warrior” to create “storyior” because it was obvious to them that Zeke and Gafar were God’s story warriors. The boys loved the idea and paused to enjoy the new word. My boys were learning through Zeke and Gafar that the greatest battles enjoy victory through the telling of truths found in God’s Word. At this point, our story took a pause as Grant and Junwoo practiced how to spell “storyior”. For each of us the word "storyior" connected to a deeper truth. This is the power of a word fitly spoken. We want to be "storyiors". God's story warriors!

As I reflect on today’s lesson, tears well up in my eyes because Stephen truly was a “storyior.” Let us join Stephen, as his face brims with Holy Spirit's light and the grace of God, as he tells well the greatest story ever told. He is one of our finest examples of a “Storyior” for Jesus.

Taken from Tell It Well, Week 7 Day 1, page 140

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Capturing the Big Picture
Adapted from a paper by Tara Rye
Submitted to Dr. Octavio Esqueda at SWBTS on Jan. 4, 2009

In high school, I had a driver’s education instructor that told us that the most dangerous drivers were the ones that did not take in the big picture. He said that if a driver focused only ahead and never looked back that he places those behind him at risk as well as himself. Likewise, if a driver is only looking behind then the driver might run into someone in the front. Recently, my teenage daughter has taken to the habit of hitting me in the car when she sees a VW Bug. I never see the VW Bugs because I scan the roads for the bigger picture, not the details of car types. As I pondered these two ‘situations, it occurred to me that when someone takes the time to tell the Bible passage in their own words it provides an opportunity to portray the big picture view for the study. A Bible teller is not as likely to focus in on the details, but will help the learner capture the big picture view. Where as a leader that uses an inductive study method will use questions to help a learner dig into the passage to better understand the details.

The number one choice for teachers and Christian leaders is the inductive method. Are we using these methods with excellence when we rule out other teaching methods? I heard a statistic that made me wonder if we might be missing out by not providing the bigger picture view more often. George Hunter, Beeson Distinguished Professor of Evangelism at Asbury Theological Seminary's School of World Mission and Evangelism, states that America is moving into the third or fourth generation of Biblical illiteracy. Could this be because we no longer teach the big picture?

In a phone interview, with author and Strategic Planning and People Groups Church Planting Coordinator of NAMB, Mark Snowden passionately explained that storying the Biblical narrative provides the Bible in the heart language of the person listening. He said, “Internationally, 70% of all people have an oral learning preference. This combined with the college/postmodern millennia’s and the following generation known as the Gaming Generation that choose not to read, we may not have a Bible in their given language. Are we really teaching in a way that people can understand?

There is a “new wave sweeping across America” steeped in tradition that promises to create the next spiritual awakening. The method is simple and the message is the Truth. Yet, most leading pastors, teachers, and leaders confess the practice of this method is most difficult. The literate trained leader struggles with its application, yet 70% of the hearers receiving the message of the gospel prefer this method. Simply stating the name, “Storying,” invites a passionate response that either leads to ridicule or indignation. In fact, there is almost a palpable arrogance against it until one sits under the power of Truth cloaked in story.

What is Storying? Why do some shoot it down while others sing its praise? International author and storying advocate, Avery Willis, calls it the “next wave.” Why is the art of Biblical storying resurging? For well over a thousand years, storying passed the Biblical Narrative from generation to generation, only to lose its prominent position in communicating Biblical text to the more literate style following Martin Luther’s Reformation. Is it possible that chronological storying is the method of choice for the postmodern and gaming generations? If so, how does one cultivate the Biblical art of storying in a literate group of people to reach the oral hearer of today without losing theological integrity in the telling? Asbury Seminary Professor George Hunter states, “When someone uses storying he or she is on solid and useful ground. The Bible, after all, is not a series of theological abstractions or even a treasure of texts to be memorized. It's framework is the Grand Narrative of God's redemptive involvement with the human race, and most of the episodes in that Narrative are micro-narratives—from the story of Abraham to the parables of Jesus. When we learn and tell the Story and the stories, we more vividly recall the texts, truth-claims, and teachings.” Because Storying allows the hearer to experience the Story for him or herself; the hearer will remember and reproduce the Story of the gospel from their own “heart language.” In order to reach the postmodern generation, Biblical teachers need to incorporate aspects of Storying into the presentation of God’s Word, which creates an atmosphere for spiritual transformation in the individual, as well as the community.

The passion with which our biblical ancestors communicated God’s Story connected souls from generation to generation. Historical tradition reveals that Storying provides the essential building blocks necessary to lay Biblical truth on the most basic level while establishing community through the hearing and telling of God’s truth. The echo of truth becomes a ripple effect reaching far beyond the voice of the initial telling. According to Ann Spangler and Lois Tverberg, authors of Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus, at the age of 10 Jewish boys began their study of the Oral Torah and by the age of thirteen, they began their formal study of the scriptures. Oral stories easily remembered spread. Before one establishes depth of insight on the whole counsel, of the Word of God, one must understand the purpose behind the message. This is the bigger picture! Oral Storying made this possible as communities changed by the telling of God’s presence among His people. Even today, the youngest of Biblical learners learn first through stories. It is no wonder that Jesus used oral tradition to communicate the Word of God to the people. Mark 4:33-34 reminds believers that Jesus did not speak without using a parable. What is a parable? A story! Why stop using this method with adults simply because they are older?

According to Jackson Day, a retired missionary of Brazil, it is no coincidence that a quick glance through the Bible unfolds the truth that 70+% of the Bible is in narrative form. Day states that out of the 39 Old Testament books, 34 contain stories for teaching and all of the New Testament books contain stories. The LORD leaves no detail undone. The very lay-out of His scriptures reveals that He created man to learn through story. Both the Old and New Testament reveal the power of Storying’s influence on community. After all, didn’t the whole nation of Israel stop eating the hip joint after the telling of how Jacobs’s hip was knocked out of socket, as he wrestled all night with the Angel of the LORD at the Jabbok River? Or what about the fear that fell upon the early church after hearing the thud of Ananias and Sapphira’s bodies upon telling a lie to the young impressionable church? Even modern storytellers grasp the value of the bond between stories and community. The Network of Biblical Storytellers International points out that “the sacred act of Biblical Storytelling binds the teller and listeners in community.” Stories not only change individuals and churches, they change nations, too!

Mark Snowden highly recommends that potential storyers follow the Ten Steps to Storying set up by Avery Willis in the Following Jesus Series. Willis’s ten basic steps for storying recommends: 1) Establish the Biblical truth the teller seeks to communicate. 2) Know the worldview issues. 3) Discern the bridges, barriers and gaps. 4) Select the Bible story. 5) Craft the story and session. 6) Story the story. 7) Facilitate the dialog. 8) Obey the Bible truth. 9) Establish accountability. 10) Reproduce and model. These methods have been tested and proven effective on the mission field for years in evangelism, discipleship, and in church planting. Moreover, small group settings are starting to use this method within North America.

Do we really want to miss out on the bigger picture? How can we reach the third and fourth generation of Biblically illiterate? How might we use Bible storying in our own community groups? It is simple as telling the Bible passage in your own words. “Our measure for success is when our people can pass God’s Word on to others, accurately.” Everyone can remember a story! Why not let it be a Bible story!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

By Kim Schiemann
Cultivating Hearts Intercessory Prayer Leader

“Listen! Is everyone listening?” shouted my eight year old, waiting to read the devotion at dinner table. Our home is full of voices that want to be heard. With four children, listening can be a challenge.

Listening is a discipline. It requires great strength and wisdom. Solomon the wisest of all men, said “let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance-for understanding proverbs and parables, the sayings and riddles of the wise.” Prov. 1:5

As I reflect on my years since I began to follow the Lord, I can honestly say listening was not something I did or was taught. My prayer time was more about lists than listening. I didn’t know His voice, because I was the one doing all the talking. I had ears, but never hearing because I was always talking.

My sheep listen to my voice, I know them, and they follow me. John 10:27

Jesus not only used these words, He lived it. Throughout the gospels, when Jesus would begin to teach, he would begin with “listen”. Jesus knew how important listening is to obey and to know him. If we don’t listen, we will not recognize His voice when we hear all the other voices of man and the lies of the enemy. In our culture today, our blessings are our biggest curse. We are over stimulated with noise and can retrieve information at the touch of a button, within seconds. We are entertained with counterfeits and fascinated with the secular world. The enemy has saturated our minds and hearts with distractions, so we are unable to discern His voice.

My relationship with the Lord has matured and I do more listening than talking in my quiet time. There is a reason I call it “quiet time”, it reminds me of the proper position I need to be in. The example the Lord showed us during His years of his ministry, reflect how important it is to withdraw to a quiet place and pray. I imagine He listened more than he talked. How about you?

Monday, May 02, 2011

The Jacob Story
Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome." Genesis 32:28

When I story the Bible in summary, I follow a basic outline of the history of the Bible, but with each group I tell it to, I discovered the LORD will emphasize specific stories and make me tell more about a certain character. I don't plan it. I simply pray the LORD speaks.

In the last month, God has graciously allowed me to story the Bible summary at Lakeside Hospital, Parkview Baptist Church and Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma. I choose to story the summary of the Bible because I cannot make any assumptions that everyone knows the story. In fact, theologians say that we are to the third and fourth generation of Biblical illiteracy in America.

The amazing truth about telling a story is that a story has the ability to connect with the soul at a deeper level without pointing a finger or singling out an individual. As I storied at Tinker Air Force Base, an emphasizes on Jacob happened. As a group of us sat around enjoying the late night quiet at the retreat, one of the ladies asked me, "Tara, do you typically emphasize Jacob so much?" I said, "No, I usually just say that he is known as the one who overcame with God and man. Why do you ask?" She explained that she struggled with miscarriages and at first she did not name her babies, but as she matured in Christ she felt led to name her baby despite the fears. The LORD impressed upon her heart to name him Jacob and she felt that God revealed to her that Jacob would lead thousands to Him. Then another mom said, "As ya'll know, I have three kids, but I had four. One of my twins died at six weeks, his name was Jacob." Then another mom said, "I so want a child, but God has not yet given us children, yet He gave me the name Jacob for our son."

I sat stunned as tears freely flowed in our small group. Honestly, if I had known, I don't know that I would have storied as much about Jacob. The first mom shared with us that as I storied the Bible and she heard over and over how GOD has a plan and He will fulfill His plan and that when God makes a promise He keeps it. It occurred to her that even though her Jacob is in heaven God will use her telling his story to lead others to Him. Silenced by the power of God's story, I listened with awe as healing transpired in the group.

The next day I shared this story to the men and women I teach at the Open Door Mission to point out that God will fulfill His plan and promises. We must simply remain faithful to communicating God's true story. After class, one of the men came up to me and said, "You know how God gives a new name in the Bible after someone surrenders to Him? Well, I asked God about my new name. He gave me Jacob. I am one who has overcome with God and man. I really needed to hear this story!"

Beloved, God's story is powerful and effective. It brings healing and restoration. It helps us overcome. Trust His story to do the work and just watch and be amazed! He is faithful and will complete what He has begun!