Written by Bob Ekblad. Bob and his wife, Gracie, are the founders of Tierra Nueva an ecumenical Christian community in Washington State, that seeks to share the good news of God’s freedom in Jesus Christ with people on the margins (immigrant, inmates, ex-offenders, the homeless) and mainstream people. Bob is also one of Servants’ Elders.
Recent news has me reeling between outrage and grief: 84 people killed in Nice; police shootings of black men and subsequent killings of police in the USA; war and starvation in Nigeria; attacks in Orlando, Bagdad, Mogadishu, Istanbul, Ankara, Brussels, Paris, Los Angeles and so many other places. Insecurity and fear are on the rise, and apathy, anger and cynicism lurk. Now is the time for followers of Jesus to stay focused and remember who we are and what we’re about.
Those who receive Jesus and believe in his name are given authority to become children of God. New birth into God’s family does not happen through natural bloodline (race, ethnicity, nationality), human desire or decision (ideology, religion or democracy) but by grace through adoption by the Father (John 1:12-13). These words of Jesus’ prayer to the Father for his disciples ring deeply relevant now: “that they may be one even as we are”…“The world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world”… “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” “As you sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (John 17:11, 14, 16-17).
In today’s world hatred and division are rampant. Nationalist and movements are on the rise in Europe, North America and beyond, offering the promise of heightened security and well-being for limited beneficiaries through increasing defense, law-enforcement and controls: borders, surveillance, prison sentences, deportations and the like. The UK’s recent 52 to 48% vote to leave rather than stay in the EU and the United States’ current near fifty-fifty Democrat versus Republican split reveal some dangerous polarizations that Christians must avoid falling into. Rather we must clear about our identity and agenda as Christ followers.
Jesus warned his disciples that lawlessness would increase and most people’s love would grow cold.” Jesus himself stated “the one who endures to the end will be saved. And this Gospel of the Kingdom must be preached for a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (see Matthew 24:12-14). So how do we rightly endure the increasing lawlessness and proclaim Jesus’ Kingdom in these turbulent times?
God calls people to not put their own homeland, family and individual interests first. God calls Abraham and his spiritual descendents to be a blessing to every family on the earth (Genesis 12:1-4). This call continues from Genesis to Revelation, with Jesus embodying God’s sacrificial love for the whole world (John 3:16).
Now is the time to connect with God’s perfect love that drives out all fear. Now we must deliberately receive—not a spirit of fear “but of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim. 1:7). Now is the time to head Paul’s call to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
Gracie and I and our Tierra Nueva staff are seeing signs of hope and transformed life in the Skagit Valley and beyond. Every time we minister in jails or prisons we encounter people hungry for God and eager for change. We see people longing to step into their heavenly identity as God’s beloved sons and daughters. We often celebrate the surrender of the old identity for the new in baptism.
This past Sunday we baptized five people coming out of lives marked by lawlessness. People went under the waters of baptism in the frigid Skagit River, trading old identities for new life in Christ. Further training of new Christians and future missional workers regarding identity and mission are our highest priority in this season.
This past six months we have completed our first three 9-12-month-long Certificates in Transformational Ministry at the Margins (CTMM) cohorts in Burlington, London and Seoul. Over 70 people finished our training, geared to strengthen existing ministry workers and prepare new ones for pioneer efforts to share the good news of God’s transforming love in Jesus (the Gospel of the Kingdom) to under-reached and unreached people.
Our CTMMs gather people hungry for deeper reflection and fellowship with like-minded people. In these trainings we seek to deliberately bring together Bible study and theological reflection, empowerment and gifts of the Holy Spirit and social justice/advocacy on behalf of the poor and marginalized.
The training consists of five strands, which are woven together over 9-12 months including three 3-4 day gatherings with distance-learning in between. These strands include: God’s identity and mission and ours; healing & holistic liberation: Biblical foundations and practices; the place of advocacy, justice & peace-making in mission; Word on the street: preparing & leading transformational bible studies; and practical reflections on how this works in our lives and ministries.
In January we launched a new CTMM in Zimbabwe with 115 pastors and church leaders. This Fall we are starting four more cohorts, in London, Glasgow, Burlington and in Western Kenya. If you are interested in being further equipped to announce and live out the Good News of Jesus’ Kingdom in the face of today’s big challenges we encourage you consider joining one of these cohorts closest to you. Click on the links for more information and applications.