The international church is the realization of God’s original plan for humanity, and as such being a part of them enhances our refinement process.
God’s desire was always that humanity would fill the earth (Genesis 1:28-30). He gave us a head start by planting a Garden for us, and then instead of expanding the Garden (Genesis 2:15), we rejected what God had given us and opted to try and do everything ourselves. This proved much more difficult, as we had to deal with thorns (Genesis 3:18), disease, and parasites, but nevertheless, by the grace of God we expanded…a little. But then instead of continuing to expand, we just started to fight over what each other had, leading quickly to murder (Genesis 4:8), so God decided to start over (Genesis 6:7-8).
He chooses the best option available – a man named Noah, who seemed to have a penchant for drink but not for murder at least, and he loved God. God took Noah and his family, undeserving as they were, and gave them a fresh start.
They multiply, build up their civilization, but quickly decide they would rather stick together than see what treasures God had waiting for them in the rest of the world. Even worse, they became so proud of what they had accomplished, they felt that they could reach God on their own and no longer needed His help.
God agreed…in a way. He knew that He had created them in His image and that they were capable of great things, but He also knew that while they might be temporarily successful on their own, they were eternally lost without Him. So, out of love and grace, He mixed up their languages and sent them spreading out across the world with the desire that in their desperation they would reach out to Him again (Acts 17:26-27).
Over the centuries civilizations rose and fell; some people trusted in God; many did not. But at the same time, this division that God had created led to wars, slavery, and other abuses – what we might call crimes against humanity. But God always had a plan, and it was still the same as it was back when He created, for He has no need to change or come up with new ideas, because His ideas are perfect the first time around. His desire was for us to fill the earth, enjoy all He had provided us, and enjoy Him forever!
So He sent His Son to seek and to save, to heal and to mend, to love and unite. When asked where people should worship, Jesus told them to worship in their hearts. For God is everywhere and desires His people to enjoy all of creation, so He does not want worship to happen in just one place or even on just one day or at one time! (John 4:23-24)
When Peter saw Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah, he had the incredible gall to interrupt his Lord and Master’s conversation (Matt. 17:3-4). He did it for a “good” reason…you see, he thought Jesus was lucky to have him there (Matt. 17:4). He could build shelters for the three of them – Moses, Elijah, and the Messiah Himself – but again, Jesus did not want that mountain to become the center of worship, nor did the Law or prophets deserve the same treatment as Him, the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. Instead of focusing on what he could do for Jesus, God literally interrupted Peter to basically tell him to stop talking about his ideas and instead listen to Jesus (again and again from the first sin in the Garden we want to have our own knowledge and do things our own way; we have many good intentions, but they are not always God’s intentions). Wherever we are it is not our sacrifices that God is so concerned about but our hearts (Psalm 51:6).
After Jesus leaves for heaven, Peter, at the clear prompting of the Holy Spirit, has a fire lit under him (er, over him) and heads out to hold the first ever evangelistic crusade! It is held in Jerusalem, but they have translation for every language group in attendance! It is truly an international crusade, and the message is cross-cultural and results in the first ever church, which is by nature and necessity an international one!
While we had had the chance to live around the world in love and harmony, it had proven to be a seemingly simple yet entirely impossible task for us to do. So God intervened and gave us His Spirit empowering us to do what we could not do before, so that in Him there is no Jew, no Gentile, no race, no class, just Christ and us unified (Galatians 3:28).
Yet even with the help of the Holy Spirit, our flesh continued to get in the way. Church after church became nationalistic, racially homogeneous, and socioeconomically stagnated, but in these last days Jesus is raising up a new, or really old and original…let’s just call it a reboot, kind of church. An international church that bridges all gaps, all differences, and is focused not on earthly agendas but on a Kingdom mandate.
These international churches exist as shelters, not just in one place on a mount in Israel where Peter wanted to build them, but all over the world where the Law and Prophets are taught, but where, most importantly and just like on that mount of transfiguration 2000 years ago, the Messiah is glorified!
Through these international churches, we are better able to accomplish the basic commands of God. But let us not mistake basic as being less important or elementary. For the basic commands are the foundational ones on which all others are based. Every church and Christian is called to the following, and I believe that international churches help us take each of them to the next level!
I encourage you to take time to consider how being part of an international church (IC) has helped you to do each of the following better:
Love your neighbor (Mark 12:31)
In an international church and setting, our neighbors are not all like us. True love is shown when it is not based in “like” or other attraction but flows from the love of God coming to us, through us, and toward others who are as undeserving as we are. And some of those who are difficult to love are right there in our churches! Did you have anyone you struggled to love when first adapting to being in an IC? How was this overcome?
Work for good of city you are in (Jeremiah 29:7)
Our history is not with our city, so we are working for the good of others, for the legacy of others. We all have a tendency to desire to make a great name for ourselves, just like our ancestors at Babel. So when we can work for the good of our home city, we get some of the glory in that, but when we work for the good of a foreign city, then the glory does not come to us, and it is truly sacrificial, us being bond-servants of all as Christ has called us. But it is also a challenge, as we are often tempted to retreat into the safety of our church community instead of our church community encountering the culture. What have you done lately, individually or corporately, to bless your city?
Marks of a Christian (Romans 12:9-21)
9 The international setting causes us to reevaluate what is evil and what is good. Ultimately, we know good is that which glorifies God and evil is that which leads people away from Him, but sometimes in a new setting we begin to see cracks in our former worldviews and are confronted with new ideas and practices that we are not yet sure how to categorize. International churches give us a chance to get a better picture of the variety of good there is in the Church and the abundance of evil there is in the world. What sorts of good and evil have you become aware of as a result of being in an IC?
10 Often when confronted with the unknown, our knee-jerk reaction is to build a wall around ourselves and the “known” and keep the unknown at bay. Yet in the international church we must not only open ourselves to the unknown, but we are commanded to actually outdo each other in showing honor to one another. When was the last time you actually tried to outdo someone in showing honor? How could you do this?
11 Some people who are removed from home find themselves feeling depressed and struggling to be zealous, yet being in an IC is often a gift from God as He opens up new, fresh ways to serve Him that will help to rekindle your fire. What new ways have you found to serve God as a result of being in an IC?
12 We need hope because life is not the way we want (we experience tribulations) and hope requires faith and faith requires prayer. Being in an IC often brings new tribulations into our lives, but these lead us to greater faith in God and to a deeper joy in the hope He gives us. What tribulations have you encountered as a result of being in an IC and how has God used it to strengthen your faith and the hope that He has planted in you?
13 Living in transient communities gives us ample opportunities to show hospitality, whether it is to the new parents who have no blood relatives nearby but only their church family or the refugees who have nowhere to sleep or the teenager who has everything yet cannot find herself. How has being in an IC given you a unique chance to show hospitality or in other ways contribute to the needs of the saints?
14 Blessing and praying for those who persecute us is never easy, but when we are the outsider facing persecution sometimes it seems just for existing, it gets even more difficult. It is so easy to confuse those who persecute us for our enemy, but let us always remember that people are never the enemy but always the harvest. Those who persecute us are prisoners of war; prisoners to the true enemy. How has being in an IC given you the chance to experience persecution that you might not have in a home church? How have you uniquely been able to bless those who persecute you?
15 In an international church there are so many different people at different places in life with different worldviews and different expectations, that there is almost always someone to weep with and someone to rejoice with, yet sometimes we may not truly understand why they are so distraught or so elated in a given circumstance. So being in an IC helps us to realize it is not about ourselves. What is a situation where you found yourself trying to rejoice or mourn with someone where you did not fully understand the situation (or maybe even felt differently about it!)?
16 A teenager seems to think they have all the answers until at some point (sadly often it is not until they are into their first job as a young adult) they realize just how much they do not know, but they did not know how much there was to know. They had unconscious incompetence. Upon making a few mistakes or meeting people who clearly outwit them, they develop conscious incompetence – realizing they have a lot yet to learn. Some of us as we age begin to again think we have arrived and know it all, or at least have a pretty good handle on what is worth knowing. Then God moves us into an international church, and we are confronted with problems we did not know existed, ideas we have never contemplated, and experiences we have never imagined! Was there a time you can remember when being in an international church helped you to be less wise in your own site?
17 Doing what is honorable “in the sight of all” sometimes takes on new meaning in a new culture where what is honorable can be the exact opposite of what was honorable in your last cultural context. Do you have any funny stories about discovering this for yourself and your own efforts to do what is honorable to “all”? ICs help their people navigate these tricky waters, so their presence in a society is beneficial and not detrimental to the Kingdom of God.
18-21 Living peaceably with all is only made more difficult when you are living as a foreigner. Have you had any unique struggles at living at peace with others due to being in an international setting? International churches help us accomplish this as God has called us.
Walk humbly before God (Micah 6:6-8)
What makes it easier for us to walk humbly than to find ourselves in a position where we are out of our comfort zone, where we realize we do not have all the answers, may not understand the local language and customs, and find ourselves dependent on God and others that He puts in our lives to be able to get our lives in order?
Equipped for Impact (Eph. 4:12)
With the transient nature of the IC comes opportunities for growth through service that often would not be available in an indigenous church, but many of the skills gained are transferable back into indigenous ministry. What equipping have you had from being in an IC that you might not otherwise have gained?
Love the Lord your God (Mark 12:30)
Ultimately, as we are more connected to God’s heart for the nations and the mind of Christ, we cannot help but love the Lord even more! And as we love Him more, then we love the nations more, and on and on the cycle goes. Did you know it is nearly impossible to read five chapters in a row anywhere in the Bible without coming across something that speaks to God’s heart for the nations? Try it and see for yourself! Has your love for God increased from being a part of an international church?
As I hope you can see, being in an IC is a bit like being in a pressure cooker…we are developing as God desires of all His people but often at a faster rate. This can be difficult, but it is rewarding. As C.S. Lewis writes of Aslan in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe:
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Our God calls us to adventure, and the international church is a great adventure!