The Centrifugal Mission of the Church

outreachHow should the church live, move, and have its mission?

In him we live and move and have our being
– Acts 17:28 –

 Just before this verse, Paul makes an important point about God’s relationship with the nations. He writes, “He made . . . every nation . . . to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.”

The theological truth Paul posits is that God upholds the universe and directs the ways of history, and he establishes the boundaries of nations. Even with the back-and-forth of disputed territories, God is the determiner of the “allotted periods and boundaries.” Set in the context of redemptive history, this means that God dealt only with Israel for two millennia. Paul calls this “the times of ignorance” (v. 30). It was a time when the nations were without God’s law (Ps 147:19–20) and had to feel their way towards him, if they could.

Such was the wreckage after the fall. Adam’s sin led the human race into disobedience (Rom 5:18–19) and death (Eph 2:1–3). With no natural power to seek God (Rom 3:10–23), the nations were utterly lost, without hope and without God in the world (Eph 2:11–13). Yet, in his love, God initiated a course of action that would bring salvation to the world.

In Genesis 12, God chose Abraham to be the source of blessing for the world. Through God’s promise to him, God would bring an offspring to bless the world (Gal 3:16). Yet, in sending his Son there was and has continued to be confusion about how the nations would come to receive the blessing of God.

Here’s what I mean: In Israel, the confusion was a theological problem—how can an uncircumcised Gentile be saved? Today, it is a methodological problem—should we focus our mission on bringing people to church? Or should we go to them? Continue reading

Five Lessons from an Unlikely Missionary

The first missionary I heard of was not Lottie Moon or Jim Elliot. It was Dr. Dolittle, the man with the curious ability to speak to animals. When I was a boy my parents read to me about his astonishing adventures and the way he traveled over oceans to care for a host of animals.

I admit, most of my memories of that book have faded, but one memory remains: the pushmi-pullyu (pronounced ‘push-me—pull-you’). In Hugh Lofting’s book the bizarre animal was a ‘gazelle-unicorn cross’ with two heads at opposite ends of its body. In the book, Dr. Dolittle first meets a pushmi-pullyu while in Africa, and is eventually awarded one after vaccinating a kingdom of monkeys. Sounds interesting, doesn’t it?!

The gift of this animal sets Dolittle on a tour around England, the proceeds from which enabled him to retire to his home in Puddleby-on-the-Marsh. In all honesty, Lofting’s book is slightly absurd but it succeeded in charming readers young and old with this animal-loving ‘missionary.’ Continue reading

Fifteen Years of Manual Labor: How Much Is Your Bible Worth?

In Genesis, Moses records the way that Jacob spent fourteen years winning (read: paying for) the love of his life, Rachel.  In those days, it cost men a pretty penny to win the hand of their brides.  Yet, because of his love for Rachel, Genesis 29:20 says that the first seven years “seemed to him but a few days.” Likewise, Jacob agreed to the next seven years of manual labor, even after they were deceptively thrown upon him.

How long would you be willing to serve for the love of your life?  Or to turn the question from marriage to God’s mercy, how long would you work in order to have in your hands a copy of God’s word?

The Inestimable Value of God’s Word

This is a question that the English-speaking world cannot even begin to understand.  We pawn off Bibles at Goodwill’s and have no fear or remorse when a Bible is lost or left in the rain.  I know that the Bible in its inscripturated form is not sacrosanct, but I do think the commonality of the Bible blinds us to the ravishing truth of Psalm 19:10-11.

More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

God’s word is priceless.  It is more valuable than the crown jewels; it is an infinite investment whose value never plummets and always promises to deliver. Yet, existentially, we still struggle to feel this value because the pages of God’s word are everywhere. Where can we go for help?

How Missionary History Reappraises Our Value of the Bible

One place we can find help for properly valuing the Bible is church history and the stories of missionaries bringing the Bible into foreign lands who do not have the priceless word of God.  This week I came across such a story in John Paton’s autobiography, John G. Paton: Missionary to the New Hebrides.

I hope you will take the time to read the following anecdote and marvel at the how the people of Aneityum (in the South Pacific) labored fifteen years to raise the necessary funds for the Bible.  Surely, these earnest men and women were spurred on by the same joy and anticipation that gripped Jacob.  In that time, many who endeavored to see the Bible printed in their languaged perished in the pursuit, but oh the joy for those who labored for a decade and a half to get the Bible in their own hands.

These poor Aneityumese, having glimpses of this Word of God, determined to have a Holy Bible in their own mother tongue, wherein before no book or page ever had been written in the history of their race. The consecrated brain and hand of the Missionaries kept toiling day and night in translating the book of God; and the willing hands and feet of the Natives kept toiling through fifteen long but unwearying years, planting and preparing arrowroot to pay the £1,200 required to be laid out in the printing and publishing of the book.

Year after year the arrowroot, too sacred to be used for their daily food, was set apart as the Lord’s portion; the Missionaries sent it to Australia and Scotland, where it was sold by private friends, and the whole proceeds consecrated to this purpose. On the completion of the great undertaking by the Bible Society, it was found that the Natives had earned so much as to pay every penny of the outlay; and their first Bibles went out to them, purchased with the consecrated toils of fifteen years!

Some of our friends may think that the sum was large; but I know, from experience, that if such a difficult job had been carried through the press and so bound by any other printing establishment, the expense would have been greater far. One book of Scripture, printed by me in Melbourne for the Aniwans at a later day, under the auspices of the Bible Society too, cost eight shillings per leaf, and that was the cheapest style; and this the Aniwans also paid for by dedicating their arrowroot to God.

Fifteen years.  Utterly astounding.  It should inspire us to reconsider the value of our Bibles.  Here is Paton’s pastoral charge:

Let those who lightly esteem their Bibles think on those things. Eight shillings for every leaf, or the labour and proceeds of fifteen years for the Bible entire, did not appear to these poor converted Savages too much to pay for that Word of God, which had sent to them the Missionaries, which had revealed to them the grace of God in Christ, and which had opened their eyes to the wonders and glories of redeeming love! (77-78)

Father, may we who are surrounded by your word never forget how priceless each page is.  May we invest our lives in the Scriptures and labor to make them know to the ends of the earth, so that those who do not have them would not have to wait decades before receiving them.  God gives us heart that love your word more than life itself (Ps 63:3).

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Saint Patrick: Separating Missionary Fact from Fictitious Malarkey

What comes to mind when you think of St. Patrick’s Day? 

Leprechauns.  Ireland.  Wearing green.  Or drinking green beer.  If that is it, you may want to re-read the record books.  

A few years back, Russell Moore gave a brief history lesson on the real Patrick that should make every missionally-minded Christian sit up and take notice.  Drawing on the Philip Freeman’s 2007 book, St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography, Moore summarizes Freeman’s work:

Freeman helpfully retells Patrick’s conversion story, one of a mocking young hedonist to a repentant evangelist. The story sounds remarkably similar to that of Augustine—and, in the most significant of ways, both mirror the first-century conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Freeman helpfully reconstructs the context of local religion as a “business relationship” in which sacrifice to pagan gods was seen as a transaction for the material prosperity of the worshippers. Against this, Patrick’s conversion to Christianity was noticed quickly, when his prayers of devotion—then almost always articulated out loud—were overheard by his neighbors.

The rest of the narrative demonstrates the ways in which Patrick carried the Christian mission into the frontiers of the British Isles—confronting a hostile culture and institutionalized heresy along the way. With this the case, the life of Patrick is a testimony to Great Commission fervor, not to the Irish nationalism most often associated with the saint. As a matter of fact, Freeman points out that Patrick’s love for the Irish was an act of obedience to Jesus’ command to love enemies and to pray for persecutors.

Likewise, Kevin DeYoung, also from the archives (ca. 2011), provides a brief missionary biography of Patrick.  He says,

Here’s what most scholars agree on: Patrick–whose adult life falls in the fifth century–was actually British, not Irish. He was born into a Christian family with priests and deacons for relatives, but by his own admission, he was not a good Christian growing up. As a teenager he was carried by Irish raiders into slavery in Ireland. His faith deepened during this six year ordeal. Upon escaping Ireland he went back home to Britain. While with his family he received a dream in which God called him to go back to Ireland to convert the Irish pagans to Christianity.

In his Confessio Patrick writes movingly about his burden to evangelize the Irish. He explicitly links his vocation to the commands of Scripture. Biblical allusions like “the nations will come to you from the ends of the earth” and “I have put you as a light among the nations” and “I shall make you fishers of men” flow from his pen. Seeing his life’s work through the lens of Matthew 28 and Acts 1, Patrick prayed that God would “never allow me to be separated from His people whom He has won in the end of the earth.”  For Patrick, the ends of the earth was Ireland.

According to one historian (again I am citing DeYoung’s research) “[Patrick] was the first person in Christian history to take the scriptural injunctions literally” (Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity86)  meaning that he was the first person to take the Great Commission as a command.  Rightly, Patrick read Matthew 28:19 as a calling for him, and so he left home to take the gospel to pagans of Ireland. 

This literal and personal reading of disciple-making needs to be reissued today, because some still think Jesus’ words are for someone else. Tragically, they relegate Jesus’ missionary imperative to a bygone era or for some special class of people.  Yet, as Patrick’s life and labors show, when men take seriously the call to be a disciple-making disciple, God will bring great blessings.  Fifteen centuries later we have much to learn from Patrick.

I encourage you to read the rest of Moore’s blogpost (What evangelicals can learn from Saint Patrick) and DeYoung’s foray into history (Who was Saint Patrick?).  Together these two brief posts will help you determine fact from fiction.  They will give you many reasons to thank God for the missions-minded Brit who brought the light of the gospel to the whole nation of Ireland.

May Patrick’s brave example spur us on to share the gospel with our own pagan nation and hostile neighbors. 

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

For Your Edification (7.14.12)

For Your Edification is a weekly set of resources on the subjects of Bible, Theology, Ministry, and Family Life.  Let me know what you think or if you have other resources that growing Christians should be aware.

BIBLE & THEOLOGY

The Danger of Pragmatism.  Jared Wilson, “Gospel-centered” blogger, pastor, and author, provides a helpful look at pragmatism and its deletrious effect on biblical truth and faithful ministry.

Pastor Wilson lists six symptoms of pragmatism and seven ways churches and pastors can regain a biblical ministry.

Six Symptoms of Pragmatism

  1. Pastors increasingly hired for their management skills or rhetorical ability over and above their biblical wisdom or their meeting of the biblical qualifications for eldership.
  2. The equation of “worship” with a creative portion of a weekly worship service.
  3. The prevalent eisogesis in classes and small groups.
  4. The vast gulf between the theological academy and the church.
  5. Biblical illiteracy.
  6. A theologically lazy and methodologically consumeristic/sensationalistic approach to the sacraments.

Seven Ways  to Fight Pragmatism

  1. Pastors must study and read, and read and study.
  2. Expository preaching.
  3. Pastors must bridge that gulf between the theological academy and the church.
  4. Churches should identify those with the spiritual gifts of teaching and leadership and make sure they are both discipled and discipling, mentored and mentoring.
  5. Impress upon every minister of the church the need for doctrinal soundness, especially those planning and leading “worship.”
  6. Recapture a vision for truth that makes the goal of theology a deeper relationship with God and greater affection for Christ.
  7. Recover the centrality of the Gospel.

Let me encourage you to read the whole blogpost and ask the question: Are you being shaped more by the pragmatic culture around you, or are you being shaped more by God’s truth?

Continue reading

To Be Eaten By Worms or Cannibals: In the Resurrection It Doesn’t Matter

A number of years ago I was introduced to John Paton through the biographical sermon of John Piper on Paton, “You Will Be Eaten By Cannibals: Life Lessons from John Paton.” In that sermon, Piper records a conversation that Paton has with an elderly man in his church that is at the same time humorous and inspiring.  In response to the concern expressed by Mr. Dickson that Paton, if he leaves his post in Edinburgh, Scotland to go to the South Seas, will be eaten by cannibals, Paton plainly states.

Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my Resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer (From Paton’s biography John G. Paton: Missionary to the New Hebredes,An Autobiography Edited by His Brother [Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1965, orig. 1889, 1891], 56)

Might God grant the same kind of bravado to a younger generations of missionaries, myself included.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss


Five Questions on Discipleship: (5) Why Should You Make Disciples?

Thus far we have asked four questions about discipleship: (1) What Did Jesus Do?  (2)  What is a disciple? (3) Who makes disciples?  And (4) How do you make disciples?

Today we finish by simply asking the question, Why?  Why should you make disciples?  Let me give five answers that will serve as great motivation for stepping out in faith to make disciples.

First, It is disobedient to ignore this command (Matt 28:19).  The Great Commission is for every born-again believer in Jesus Christ. To ignore this command is to ignore the heart of Jesus. Making disciples is not an optional aspect of the Christian life for a select group of Christians.  It is part and parcel of every Christian’s calling.  Some may be more gifted at it than others, but all are called to be participants.

Second, the presence of God is found in it (Matthew 28:20).  The promise of God’s nearness is not found in your daily devotion or in a cabin retreat. It is found in the ministry of making disciples.  While such personal times of reflection are sweet, God’s word promises more emphatically his presence when we are laboring with him in finding, winning, and growing the sheep that Christ has purchased with his own blood.

Third, the promise of success is given in this task. (Matthew 16:18).  Disciple-making is guaranteed to work.  Sure, there will be many who you meet and minister to whom may fall away.  However, there will be others who will have their place marked out in heaven because of your willingness to serve.  You cannot save anyone, but God has chosen to use means (you and me) to build up his church.  And like the Father’s promise to the Son that his death would effect the salvation of his children, so we are given the promise that our labors will not be in vain (1 Cor 15:58).  The word of God never returns void, God has guaranteed that his church will be built, and he has shown us that this building comes through disciple-making.

Fourth, your greatest Christian joy will be had in disciple-making (1 Thess 2:19-20).  Just ask Paul.  His glory and joy were found in the men and women that he won to Christ and established in the faith.  His greatest anxiety was seeing disciples he had invested in turn from Christ.  Truly, if you are a Christian, this will be the source of your greatest joy, too.  The treasure you are to lay up in heaven is people–those whom you lead to the Lord and help along the way will be your greatest joy.

Fifth, churches grow as we make disciples.  The truth is, only disciple-making guarantees church growth.  The one “product” that the church should be producing is disciples.  Just read John 15:1-8.  When the church abides in the Word of God (i. e. the gospel) and the gospel permeates that church, disciples will be born unto the glory of God.

All other activities must be subservient to this main purpose. Therefore, block parties, special events, Power Team performances, and movies may draw a crowd, but they do not make disciples.  Children’s programming, bus ministries, friend days will get people in our building, but they will not make disciples. A cool website, newspaper ads, and yard signs will announce a church’s presence,  but none of these things guarantee disciple-making.  All of these events must be linked up with slower, more intentional process of life-on-life discipleship.

What This Means

If you commit to making disciples, you are committing to doing church in a more simple fashion.  While many programs and activities may be going on at your church, only one thing is necessary–Jesus Christ and the preaching of his gospel in the context of loving relationships that are growing disciples.

Similarly, if you commit to making disciples, you are committing yourself to slow growth.  If you want an instant helper in the home, buy a robot.  Don’t have a baby.  Children take time to rear, but in the end there is great reward in seeing a baby become a boy become a man, one who receives and lives out all the priorities you instill in him.  So it is with making disciple-making.  While it takes time and comes with seasons of pain, slow growth in pouring your life (with the gospel) into the life of another will be impact disciples in ways programs cannot.

Finally, if you commit to making disciples, people may wonder what you are doing to grow the church.  After all, the point of church growth is larger numbers, right?  It is true that numbers do provide a means of measuring the ministry, but perhaps we should find a quotient that divides the number of believers by the time that they stay and grow.  Of course, this sort of metric is impossible, but in our discussions about numbers, we should add to the conversation not only how many converts are won to Christ, but how many of those converts are grown up to be soul-winners themselves.  Or to use more biblical terminology, how many of the disciples made in your ministry are reproducing themselves?

May we continue to let the Great Commission ring in our ears and reverberated in our hearts, so that disciple-making becomes a central feature of our personal lives and church ministries.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Operation World Wednesday: Europe

I have heard it said that the movement of Christianity from Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria to the ends of the earth has been like a ring of fire.  As the gospel moved west to Rome and Continental Europe, new fires blazed as missionaries like Patrick, reformations in Germany, Great Britain, and the Netherlands, and revivals led by the likes of Wesley, Whitefield, Edwards, and others produced abundant fruit.  Today, however, Europe is a shadow of what it once was.  Forms of Christianity remain, and renewal movements in places like Great Britain continue, but on the whole, it seems that the glory has gone out.

Hence, we need to pray for Europe.  With more than 700 million people, there are only around 18 million evangelicals.  Protestant make up less than ten percent of the population,while Catholic and Orthodox comprise  over fifty-five percent of the population.  In recent years, the greatest rate of growth have come in the Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, and Muslim contexts.  While the fires of reformation and revival have smoldered, the Spirit has not left the earth.  There are still many pastors, missionaries, and evangelists who are doing good work, and we need to pray for God to light the fires again.

Here is a little more on the history and current situation in Europe:

After the Muslim invasions of the 8th Century, Christianity was suppressed or wiped out in the lands of the Middle East where the early Church first took root. Fore nearly 1,000 years, Europe was the last bastion of Christendom.  The encircling Muslim lands–and Turkey’s occupation of southeast Europe–effectively prevented any missionary outreach to Africa and Asia [hence, the 10-40 window today].  The emergence of Europe as a colonial power in the the 15th Century and the theological impetus of the Reformation in the 16th Century provided the platform for the Church to become a force for world evangelization.  The last 250 years have been years of worldwide advance for the gospel, but, conversely, decline in Europe.  However, in many countries that have seen secularism and anti-religious social policies have their sway, and upswing of spirituality is also occurring (Operation World, p. 74-75).

Today, there are other sociological factors at work.

Massive cultural shifts are occurring right across the continent as Europe finally reaps the harvest sown from the Enlightenment through WWI up to today.  Christianity was effectively replaced by humanists philosophies and nationalism.  Europe can be regarded not only as postmodern, but also post-rational and certainly post-Christian.  [America should take note, because our culture is following suit].  It is not accident that the regions of the world where relativism, individualism, and existentialism reign supreme are also spiritually the bleakest.  This has several debilitating effects.

  1. Cynicism is not apparently the ‘ism’ of choice, as the younger generation increasingly disengages from traditionalism civic responsibilities, such as politics and community service, and fells alienated from older generations. The elevation of the individual and instant gratification spur on hedonistic, nihilistic lifestyles that often end in dysfunction, emptiness, loneliness, and despair.
  2. Moral uncertainty.  With transcendent authority undermined (and the authority of the Bible dismissed long ago), right and wrong are determined by consensual bureaucracy or individual inclination, leading to a morass of relativism.
  3. Societal disintregation.  Traditional values regarding the family, childbirth, marriage, sexuality, sanctity of life and community are being dismantled not just culturally, but also legally.  These have severe repercussions in the areas of demographic decline, future economic burdens and psychological and social health.  As traditional foundations of healthy societies are deconstructed in Europe, some suggest the term ‘sociocide,’ self-aware civilizational suicide, as an adequate description (p. 77).

There is great need in Europe.  May we pray this week for this continent, that God would send the light.  That those who labor in the darkness would be encouraged by the gospel, and that those who embrace the darkness would have an increasing dissatisfaction with sin, such that they begin turning from the systems of the world, to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

For more information on Europe, see Operation World’s website or pick up a copy of Operation World.

That the nations might glory in the only glorious One, dss

 

Operation World Wednesday: Asia

If you are reading Operation World today, you will land in the continent of Asia this week.  For Westerners, this may be the most distant and unknown of all the continents, but with more than half the world’s population and ninety percent of the people being lost, it needs our attention more than ever.

Here is an introduction by numbers.

  • Over 4.2 Billion People
  • 254 cities of more than 1 million people
  • 11 cities of more than 10 million people
  • 28 of the world’s fifty largest cities are in Asia
  • The two largest countries in the world are in Asia; China and India both have more than one billion people
  • Tokyo, the world’s largest city (37 million), is in Asia
  • 4,860 ethno-linguistic peoples reside in Asia
  • 80% of the world’s least reached people groups reside in Asia
  • The number of evangelical believers is approximately 150 million people.
  • Christian totals, which include Catholic and Orthodox churches, extend to over 350 million.  This is only 8-9 percent of the total population.
For more information on getting the gospel to Asia, see Gospel for Asia.

Pray for Asia today.  Let you imagination ponder the number 4.2 billion people.  All of these are made in God’s image.  Most have never met a Christian; many have never heard the gospel.  Pray that in our generation, God these numbers would see massive changes.  

Lord, send self-less laborers to Asia, those who are willing to take up their cross and follow you for the sake of making Jesus Christ famous among the most unreached people on the globe.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Operation World Wednesday

If you are not familiar with Operation World, you should be!  It is the resource for praying with knowledge for all the peoples of the world.  Last year, our family used this resource to focus our prayer each morning at breakfast.  This year, we will continue to do this at home, but I am hoping to add it to our Wednesday evening prayer group and on this blog each Wednesday.

Here is a five-minute video with Operation World’s founder Patrick Johnstone, and the current leader/editor, Jason Mandryk, chronicling the origins and history of Operation World.  Take ten-minutes to watch this video.  Give thanks to God for this blessed book and its many editions.  And then if you don’t have a copy, go buy one now!

Soli Deo Gloria, dss