Sunday, January 29, 2012

Culture Shock India

I've written a bit on this blog about our time living in India. To sum up: it was quite an adventure. For much of our short stay there we were smack in the midst of culture shock. In a funny way, the following video shows some of the things we experienced. In the end, we realized that Indians don't do things better or worse than we do. They just do many things very differently. Additionally, over one billion of them still need Jesus.

Friday, January 27, 2012

No Time for Organic Church

Life is terribly ironic sometimes.

Over the past couple of years, God has graciously opened my eyes to his plan for a vibrant yet simple church. Of course, this is just the church we see in scripture. It is a church that is a united family. It is a body and a bride. It is organic.

This is the type of church life that I deeply desire to be a part of. I know many other Christians have a similar desire (probably you as well if you bother to read this blog). While some fellow believers struggle to find others who want this sort of church life, God has blessed Alice and me with wonderful friends who hold to similar beliefs about the church.

The irony is that I have no time for organic church. When I resigned from the professional pastorate, I prayed that God would provide me with a regular job. He graciously did that here in Savannah at JCB. However, for the past few months I've been working about 65 hours per week. The job is in a warehouse and requires me to be on my feet for most of the day. Because of this, I'm tired most of the time. I don't mean this to be a complaint; rather, these are the reasons that I have little time for church life.

Many Christians cannot find organic fellowship. I've got the friends, but don't have the time.

Because of this, our Sunday gatherings are extremely special to me. This is about the only time I get to see my friends. This is not by choice. It is a consequence of schedule. When we get together on Sundays, I find the time to be a wonderful, refreshing time of fellowship. I wish this could happen throughout the week, but right now that is not a possibility.

For most of the week I look forward to Sunday. Of course, this week I will probably have to work on Sunday so I may not be able to make it to fellowship. That's going to hurt.

You may be in some sort of life situation that is keeping you from what you hope for as far as church is concerned. I want to encourage you. God's grace is immense. He knows our hearts. He will also provide for fellowship in ways we don't often expect or understand. However, as I'm learning, God's timing is often far different from ours.

As I long for more time with my church family, God gives himself to me all the time no matter what the situation. I believe God at times restricts our church involvement so that we are forced to lean more fully on him. This is our current situation.

Organic church life will have to wait. For now, Sundays will have to be emphasized more than I would like.

Christ is sufficient. He will carry us through this time.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Translation Need

Ever since I learned to read, I've enjoyed searching through the pages of the bible. Since English is my first language (and only fluent one, he said sadly), the scriptures have always been easily accessible. We English speakers have an embarrassing abundance of translations to choose from (click here to see an example of this).

What if I or you had been born with no access to the bible in our heart language? What if this was still the case? What a sad situation that would be! I cannot imagine.

Bible translation is a critical aspect of getting the gospel to all the nations. I thank the Lord for organizations like Wycliffe Bible Translators. I encourage you to look at their website. Two interesting pages caught my eyes. The first is entitled The Worldwide Status of Bible Translation (2010). The Second is called The Areas of Greatest Need.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Missions in John

John 1:14 is the most critical verse for missions in the book of John. It teaches us about God’s mission of salvation that he brings to humanity in his Son, Jesus Christ.

John 1:14 does not primarily inform us in how to carry out missions work; rather, John tells us about God’s amazing, almost unbelievable incarnation to save his people.

In John’s prologue (1:1-18) we immediately learn that Jesus is God. John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John’s first verse shows us that this Word is God. But who is the Word? Verse 14 makes it clear: Jesus the Christ.

John instructs us in three critical aspects of Jesus’ mission to the world. First, Christ “became flesh.” He literally took on humanity. This is stunning. The God of the universe humbled himself to become part of his creation, being born into and residing in a fallen world. This is a sobering reminder to us that missions is service. Paul writes of Jesus’ service in Philippians 2:6-7, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”

I’ll admit it: it’s difficult for me to comprehend how God became as human as I am. He did it with all the trials and temptations we face. And he did it without sin. We’re told in Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

Jesus not only took on flesh, but second he “dwelt among us.” Christ did not hide out away from people, only to foray into town once in a while. Rather, he was with people all the time. He lived with his disciples 24-7. Even when he occasionally tried to get away he didn’t have much success. For example, in Mark 1:35-37 we read this, “And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he (Jesus) departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’”

The literal rendering of “dwelt among us” is fascinating. It means that Jesus “tabernacled” or “pitched his tent” among us. As God’s presence was with the children of Israel in the tabernacle in the OT, Jesus was God’s presence with his people in the NT. Almighty God lived with sinful man.

Third, Jesus shows us the glory of God. Since Jesus is fully God (1:1), and we have seen his glory (1:14), this means that we have seen the glory of God. Part of Christ’s saving mission was to show the world the magnificence of the glory of God himself. Jesus did this through his life of loving service and his death of atoning sacrifice. Jesus came to teach us all we need to know about the Father. John concludes his prologue in 1:18 by telling us that Jesus has “made Him known.”

John 1:14 sums up the incarnation as well as any other single verse in scripture. The incarnation is critical because it makes the crucifixion and resurrection possible. John explains to us that Jesus took on humanity, pitched his tent with us, and showed us the glory of God.

Jesus is the God of missions. He lived it out himself.

Previous Posts in this series:
Missions in...
Missions in Matthew
Missions in Mark
Missions in Luke

Saturday, January 21, 2012

How Big Is Too Big?

Church size is an interesting issue. We’ve had some good discussions about this previously on this blog. I’d like to revisit the issue because of a real-life situation my church family finds itself in.

Last week we had 39 people at our church gathering. That’s a lot of folks to fit in a living room. It was wonderful to spend time with everyone, but I wonder if we’ve gotten too big. In fact, one of my good friends brought up the very issue as we met. We’ve decided to pray about it and not make any hasty decisions. However, we’ve sort of been avoiding the issue for some time. That’s not to say that we have to or even need to multiply/divide/split in some way; rather, we simply haven’t really talked about it.

This question, of course, immediately leads us to scripture and forces us to ask why we even meet in the first place. Ideally, Christians get together throughout the week so that the Sunday gathering is not the epicenter of church life. Despite this, with work schedules being what they are the reality is that the Sunday gathering is very special. That said, why do we meet?

Biblically speaking, followers of Christ normally gather to honor God through mutual edification. This is not to say that every gathering must be for this purpose. Rather, this ought to be the norm.

We’re all familiar with Hebrews 10:24-25, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” I believe the most significant aspect of these verses is that they tie together the assembling with meeting for the purpose of edification.

In order for edification of all by all to take place, everyone must feel free to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit. This usually involves at least talking to others. In fact, edification almost always involves speaking of some type (along with other things).

A body of believers should, therefore, be a size that is conducive to people talking with one another. If the group is too large for this to happen, then “Houston, we have a problem.”

Last week as we gathered, I noticed times of freedom in speech. I also noticed times when only some seemed comfortable talking. Not surprisingly, the differences depended on the structure of what was happening. When we were all sitting together sharing with one another as a full body, the group just felt too big for everyone to share. In fact, although we had solid participation, many of the folks didn’t say anything at all. However, when we were all just hanging out in smaller groups (ranging in size from roughly 2 – 8), everyone appeared comfortable talking.

Our group’s size has also reduced the number of homes we can gather in. For example, our family simply cannot host anymore on Sundays. Because of my current work schedule (65 hrs. per week), it is very difficult to have anyone over during the week. Therefore, we aren’t really hosting anyone right now. I wish that could be different. As for Sundays, only a few families are now able to host; this puts an unfair burden on them.

Have we as a body reached the point of being too big? I’m still not sure. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this issue. Additionally, I’d appreciate hearing about if you have gone through a church division (in the good sense), how it happened, and what the result was.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

World Missions and Church Reform Are Friends

In perusing the Christian blog world, you might get the idea that world missions and church reform are two separate endeavors that somehow work against one another. Some Christians seem to focus all their efforts on reaching the lost with little interest in reforming problems in the body. Others spend so much time in striving for a more biblical church that they focus little on the Great Commission. My desire and hope is to be actively involved in both.

World missions and church reform should not be separated. They go together. Simply put, they are friends.

All we have to do is read the New Testament to see that church reform and world missions go together. In the gospels Jesus instructs us in how to live (reform) and in the importance of taking the gospel around the globe (missions). In the book of Acts we see the church live holy lives in the midst of pagan societies (reform) and preach the good news of Christ in ever expanding areas (missions). In the epistles we read much exhortation to holy living. We also read about what the church is, what it should do, how it should be shaped, and how it should function. The letters are seeking reform among the recipients. The epistles also have missions themes running through them from beginning to end.

Church reform and missions go hand-in-hand today as well. For example, when churches decide to reform the way they spend money to come more in line with scripture, they will likely have much more money to give toward world missions. This is a huge benefit to the cause of taking the gospel overseas. Also, when churches decide to obey all aspects of scripture, they must take the Great Commission seriously. When churches are deliberate about following not only what is commanded but also what is modeled, they will take a simple form of church life to the new converts overseas.

New believers, regardless of where they live, need to unite with other Christians. The best way to do this, especially in countries where Christians face persecution, is the simple way. Simple church concepts, which we see modeled for us in the bible, make forming a church easy (at least as far as the structures and forms are concerned). Most lost people overseas are very poor. They cannot afford big buildings or salaried clergy. If they follow simple church ideas, they won't have to be bothered with these things.

Ultimately, both church reform and world missions honor God by being obedient to what he has shown us in the bible. The two go together. When the church comes more in line here with what we see in scripture, the church can be more effective overseas in spreading the gospel and planting churches.

Let's be a part of both conversations and actions.

Two Good Posts

Interesting Map

As the church, we have the responsibility of taking the gospel to all peoples. I believe maps like this one can help us achieve this task. Always following the lead of the Spirit, we must be wise in how we go about decision making. India and China should be target areas because of the vast numbers of people there. However, we can see that some other countries of smaller populations have a great need for the gospel as well. In fact, India and China have a larger percentage Christian population than many others within the 10/40 Window. Regardless, the sad fact is that millions remain who have never heard of Christ's salvation. This map is a stark reminder of our task.

Click here to see many more fascinating maps from Global Mapping International.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The "10/30 Window"

Danny Akin, president of SEBTS (where I attended), has some insightful and interesting thoughts about reaching the "10/30 Window." He's referring to the millions of people on earth between the ages of 10 and 30. Take a look.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Missions in Luke

It is no surprise that Luke, who at times traveled with Paul, presents us with much information that deals specifically with the importance of missions.

Key passages include the shepherds’ response to the birth of the Messiah (2:15-18), Jesus’ sending out of the twelve (9:1-6), Jesus’ sending out of the seventy-two (10:1-12, 17-20), and the chapter 15 parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son.

Despite the critical nature of the above passages, I believe one other exists that exceeds them all in importance for our understanding of world missions. That passage is 24:44-49. This is Jesus’ “Great Commission” passage from the book of Luke. It supplements nicely the commands of Christ in Matthew’s G.C. in Matthew 28:18-20.

Luke 24:44-49 reads: Then he (Jesus) said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

These verses are full of important truths for us to digest. Seven stand out:

1. Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament promises.

The OT writers speak much about who was to come. They also tell us what was going to happen. Jesus fulfills all the promises. He did not come to invent a new religion; rather, Jesus came to keep the promises of God. I’m reminded of Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

2. Jesus enables his followers to understand the scriptures.

It is only through the supernatural work of God that we can even begin to comprehend the wonderful truths of his word. As Christ opened the minds of the early disciples, so he does with us at salvation. According to Paul in I Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

3. The scriptures teach that the Messiah will be killed but rise the third day.

Jesus does not tell us what OT passages he is talking about, but his point is nonetheless that the OT prophesies that these things will occur (Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 come to mind). Jesus is, of course, the fulfillment of the promises. His death and resurrection are two of the core truths of the gospel; when we read the gospel presented in various ways, these truths are always present.

4. Repentance and forgiveness of sins must be proclaimed in the name of Christ.

Repentance and forgiveness of sins are key components of salvation. If we repent and believe, our trespasses will be forgiven.

From the beginning of his ministry Jesus stressed the need for repentance. In Matthew 4:17 we read Christ preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Jesus desires that those who follow him herald his salvation. It is all to be done in his name because he alone has accomplished it.

5. All the nations need to hear the gospel.

God’s plan is for all nations to follow him. We see this in Revelation 7:9-10, “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”

Luke uses the exact same phrase Matthew uses in 28:19 – “all nations.” The church has a wonderful responsibility to take God’s message of hope to all peoples.

6. The early disciples were eye witnesses to these truths.

The wondrous truths of our faith are attested to by multiple eye witnesses. The early followers of Christ had the great responsibility to make sure that these truths were proclaimed and defended.

The apostle John was certainly present when Jesus said these things in Luke 24. John later wrote in I John 1:1-3, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life - the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us - that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”

7. The Holy Spirit, as the promise of the Father, will come upon all Christians.

Just as understanding the bible is a gift of God, so too is the power to effectively and boldly proclaim the gospel. Christ instructs his followers to wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon them. We later read this occur in Acts chapter 2. Today the Spirit comes upon us at the moment of salvation. We can and should trust him to empower us to do what Christ commands. He will not fail.

This truth corresponds highly with what Jesus promises in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."

God is a God of missions. Luke makes this plain for us to see. How will we respond?

Previous posts in this series:
Missions in...
Missions in Matthew
Missions in Mark

What Scripture Says and How We All Often Act:

What scripture says:

"And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." Hebrews 10:24-25

How we all often act:

"And let us do what we think is wise and good, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but doing what we want and like to do, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near."

Saturday, January 14, 2012

WorldMAP Interactive Mapper

I continue to be amazed by technology, and I'm thrilled that it can be used for much good. In the case of world missions, computerized mapping provides us all with a veritable boatload of information.

One example of this comes from Take a look at their Interactive Mapper. This function allows you to easily search for information on countries, languages, people groups, etc. In particular, I find the "Select Missions Info." and "Identify" functions to be helpful.

At this stage in history we really have no excuse for not taking the gospel where it's not. What a privilege!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Communion and Fellowship

I find it terribly ironic that most churches do not celebrate Communion in their Fellowship Halls. Instead, the sanctuary/worship center is the place.

The irony is that the words "communion" and "fellowship" are nearly synonymous. Additionally, most times in life a supper is held in a room for eating. In light of this, a room designed from free-flowing fellowship and robust eating seems like a perfect spot for Communion.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Choose Your Religion Flow Chart

Let's take this for what it is and not be offended.  We need to be able to laugh once in a while.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Different Views of the Supper

Yesterday Justin Taylor posted a quote by J.I. Packer about the Lord's Supper. He entitled it What Should You Be Thinking About During the Lord's Supper. The quote and most of the comments stem from classic Reformation ecclesiology.

I decided to leave a comment describing what we do as a church family eating the Lord's Supper. One person responded by asking about kids and unbelievers. I then responded to that. The tenor of the conversation is a positive one. I encourage you to read the post and comments, and then leave your own thoughts on the matter.

The Supper is very important to the life of the church. The better we understand God's plan for his meal, the better we can celebrate it in a manner that pleases him.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Missions in Mark

As with all the gospel accounts, we learn much important information about missions in the book of Mark. We see Jesus on the move in this book (the word "immediately" is used frequently). The Lord travels from place to place proclaiming and healing. His example of spreading the gospel permeates this book.

Mark 1:38-39 is significant: And he said to them, "Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out." And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Certainly Jesus' commission in this book instructs us: And he said to them, "Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation." Interestingly, this is somewhat different than what we read in Matthew because proclaiming the gospel is related to but different from making disciples.

However, I believe the most important passage in Mark as it relates to missions is 7:24-30:

And from there he (Jesus) arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And he said to her, "Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." But she answered him, "Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." And he said to her, "For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter." And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.

Why is this text significant for missions? The reason is that we read of the Jewish Messiah leaving the predominantly Jewish region around Capernaum and traveling northwestward to a Gentile area. If his mission was simply to the Jews then he would have remained in Israel. Why go to the Gentiles if they aren't part of God's plan?

Mark recognizes the importance of this woman being a Gentile. He purposefully writes "Now the woman was a Gentile" to ensure that there is no lack of understanding about this.

When the woman asks for help from Christ, he responds with a sort of test. She answers in great faith. We see Jesus respond very positively to her faith, healing her child.

The key is that Jesus accepts her because of her faith. Her ethnicity has nothing to do with it.

What do we learn here? God's plan is for both Jew and Gentile (for which I'm thankful since I'm a Gentile). Christ went out of his way to a Gentile area and accepted a Gentile woman's response of faith.

As part of the church's mission, we must go to all peoples. The gospel is open to any and every people group. All who respond to Jesus Christ in faith will be accepted (saved).

I'm reminded of this familiar passage from Acts 16:30-34. We see Paul and Silas proclaim the gospel to the Gentile Philippian jailer:

Then he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.

Previous posts in this series:
Missions in...
Missions in Matthew

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Why the Map?

I've placed a small map of the eastern hemisphere on the right side of my blog. The purpose is simply to remind all of us about the desperate need for the gospel among those who have little to no access to it.

The rectangle on the map highlights the 10/40 window, the area of the globe with the most lost people and most unreached people groups. If you click on the map it will take you to a Joshua Project page dealing specifically with the 10/40 window.

Our task is before us. May Christ's church work together to take the gospel where it isn't.

Tired but Gathering for Joy

Like many of you, I'm tired from working this week. I'm tempted to stay home and rest this morning, which I do on some Sundays. However, I also want to meet with my church family.

Our church usually gets together on Sundays because this is the day that is easiest on the schedules. We will occasionally see one another during the week, but since we don't all live close together it is almost impossible for everyone to be there.

My point in this short post is this: I'm going because I want to not because I feel I have to.

There is a big difference between those two motivations. We should not get together with other Christians because guilt drives us to do so. God's not angry with us if we stay at home some of the time. Instead, we have the privilege of gathering with brothers and sisters in Christ. It is a joy to do so.

My hope for you is that you are in a situation where you want to spend time with other believers. I'm guessing that you are likely going to meet with them today. What drives you to do so? Is it joy or is it guilt? Regardless of the form or length of your gathering, I hope it is joy you are seeking.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Missions in Matthew

In Matthew’s gospel account the apostle’s focus falls primarily upon the coming of the promised Messiah. This book has a decidedly Jewish flavor. Matthew repeatedly returns to the OT to show how Jesus Christ fulfills its promises.

Because Matthew aims his focus on the coming of the Messiah, the book by its very nature has much to say about missions. Passages that stand out are the genealogy and birth narrative (chapters 1-2), John the Baptist’s proclamation (3), Christ’s sending out of the twelve (10), Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ (16), the Triumphal Entry (21), and of course the crucifixion and resurrection passages (26-28). There are others as well.

One passage in particular strikes me as the most critical for our understanding of and participation in missions. It will not surprise you. I’m referring to Matthew 28:18-20, what is often called the Great Commission.

Matthew writes: And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

These verses are critical because they sit at the conclusion of the book and act as marching orders for Christ’s followers. This does not mean that this is all we are to be doing, but it certainly suggests that at least one of the most important things is to be making disciples.

What do we learn specifically from this passage?

1. Jesus Christ has been given all authority everywhere by God the Father.

Jesus has the authority to tell his followers what to do. In fact, he has authority over all creation. As Thomas said, Jesus is Lord and God. He has the power to carry out this mission. It is our duty and joy to follow him in it.

2. As we go about our lives, we are to make disciples.

This is Jesus’ primary command. We have a great task: disciple making. We do this by proclaiming the gospel liberally, and then helping those who come to Christ continue to mature in Christ. God does the saving. We are his instruments in getting his message out and in assisting others in getting to know him better.

3. We are to make disciples of all the nations.

It is not enough for us all to stay at home and make disciples here. Some of us must go to the parts of the globe where the gospel is not to proclaim the gospel to those with no access to it. We likely won’t all do this, but God will call some to go for months or even years (see Acts 13). We all have a part to play in this venture.

4. Part of disciple making is baptizing and teaching.

Jesus expands on his concept of disciple making by mentioning the importance of baptizing and teaching. We are to baptize in the name of the Trinity. This is the God we serve; we are all baptized into him. The content of the teaching is critical: to obey all Christ has commanded. Teaching is not primarily facts but obedience.

5. Jesus will be with us as we carry out his mission plan.

Jesus uses very forceful language in 28:20 to ensure his followers that he will never fail to be with them as they make disciples. Jesus literally says, “Behold, I with you I am all the days until the completion of the age.” As the one with all authority on heaven and earth, Jesus’ constant presence with us gives great comfort. He is powerful enough to be successful in his mission, and is determined to lead us in doing so.

Matthew teaches us that the Messiah has finally come. We have the commission to take this wonderful news to all the nations and make disciples of all those God saves.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Missions in…

The bible teaches us many things about God. One of the passions of God that we read in his book is his passion for missions. His desire for the nations spreads throughout the pages of scripture.

In light of this, I’m going to write a series entitled “Missions in…” This series will take a while since it’s going to be made up of 27 posts. Why so many? It’s one post for each book of the New Testament.

What I’m going to do is select the passage from each NT book that I believe is most significant for the application of missions to the church. My focus will not mainly be on the content of the gospel but rather upon passages that describe and/or instruct in proclaiming the gospel. For example, I’ll talk less about Christ dying for sins than I will about heralding the fact that Christ died for sins.

This is a somewhat self-serving series. Frankly, I just want to see what I find, share it with you, and discuss it online. I hope it will be beneficial.

Why the New Testament? Why not the Old? For right now my desire is to focus upon the church’s mission, which I believe is described more fully in the pages of the NT. If this series ends up being a positive thing, then I’ll probably eventually write one on the OT books.

I’m going to move in the order of the New Testament canon, with Matthew up first. "Missions in Matthew" will appear (I hope) sometime tomorrow.

You will likely disagree with me some of the time about which text is most critical. Every book, especially the gospels and Acts, has multiple passages that have much to tell us about missions. My purpose is not so much to cheer for a particular passage as it is to look at that passage to see what we can learn together.

Missions is at the heart of our wondrous God. Since this series looks at the NT, I’ll conclude this introductory post with some verses from the OT.

Psalm 96:1-4, “Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth! Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.”

An Interesting Greek Variant in John 1:18

I don't generally spend much time looking at NT Greek variants, but one I recently stumbled across in John 1:18 intrigues me. In this verse some versions use "Son" while others use "God."

A few that use "Son":

"No man hath seen God at any time, the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." (KJV)

"No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him." (NKJV)

"No one has ever seen God. The One and Only Son - the One who is at the Father’s side - He has revealed Him." (HCSB)

"God no one hath ever seen; the only begotten Son, who is on the bosom of the Father - he did declare." (YLT)

A few that use "God":

"No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known." (ESV)

"No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him." (NASB)

"No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us." (NLT)

One that tries to use both (even though the original does not support this):

"No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known." (NIV)

What, then, is going on in John 1:18? It is clearly an important verse, sitting at the conclusion of John's prologue. Why the discrepancy?

The English translations stem, of course, directly from much older Greek manuscripts, some of which use "Son" and others that use "God." There is a good amount of fairly technical, yet important, information about this. I encourage you to look at it if interested (the NET Bible online has good textual notes on this variant), but I'm not going to get into that here.

The great part about this particular issue is that Jesus is both "Son" and "God". John has shown us this in other locations. In John 1:1 the author settles Jesus' divinity for us by making it clear that Jesus is God. John 1:14 shows us that this is obviously who John is referring to in 1:1.

As for Jesus being the Son of God, the author provides us with the eyewitness testimony of John the Baptist in 1:34, "And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God."

We see, then, that regardless of the reading of 1:18, Jesus is both fully God and the Son of God. These truths point us to the beautiful wonder of the Trinity, something which we will never fully comprehend with our limited, fallen minds.

Variants like what we read in 1:18 should not cause us to doubt scripture. Rather, they show us that the bible is a real book of history written and copied by real people. None of the significant truths of scripture are lost or even called into question by variants.

John 1:18 tells us wonderful truths regardless of which word John originally wrote. We can be confident that Jesus is both the Son of God and God himself.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Another Myth About Organic Church

Milt Rodriguez has added a seventh post to his series entitled 10 Myths About Organic Church. In this new entry, Milt addresses what organic church is and what it is not. His creative title is Organic Church is All About Eating Granola and Cage-Free Eggs!

To look at any of Milt's previous six posts, click here.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


I’ll admit it up front: John Piper is one of my favorite authors. I’ve read most of his books. That confessed, I don’t necessarily agree with all he writes. In fact, I disagree with much that he says about pastors and leadership. Simply put, I’m not what some refer to as a “Piper-ite.”

The purpose of my above admission is that I don’t want you to think I am recommending Piper’s book entitled Bloodlines simply because he wrote it. Instead, I think highly of the book because it is well written, needed, and beneficial.

In Bloodlines, Piper addresses the often ignored issues (at least in the church) of racial strife and disharmony. Piper takes the issue head on, admitting that he grew up as a racist in Greenville, SC (in spite of his parents' example). I appreciate the author’s transparency as he discusses his teen years as a motivation for writing this book.

Bloodlines has two distinct halves. We could refer to them as diagnosis and cure. Piper calls the first half “Our World: The Need for the Gospel.” This is where he talks about his early years in the South. He also deals with the history of black-white relations in this country. Although race relationships certainly go far beyond simple black-white, Piper focuses on that particular interaction both because of the stain of slavery on this country and because of his own personal experience. Another interesting topic in the first 50% of the book is that of personal responsibility vs. systemic intervention.

The second half of Bloodlines carries the title “God’s Word: The Power of the Gospel.” I greatly appreciate that Piper suggests only one cure for racial strife. That cure is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The author goes into biblical depth to show that one of the benefits of the gospel is the bringing together of Jew and Gentile into one people for God. The gospel overcomes sinful attitudes and prejudices and allows for healing between the races to occur.

My favorite part of the book comes toward the end; it is a short chapter where Piper deals specifically with interracial marriage. He not only shows that scripture approves of interracial marriage, but also writes about the benefits of it.

This is not a politically correct book. Rather, Piper just deals in a straightforward manner with a real but often ignored issue of the day. He hits the proverbial nail on the head in proposing that the gospel is the one and only solution to racial strife and racism. I recommend it.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Great Commission: To Whom Does It Apply?

Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

To whom do the above verses apply?

Felicity Dale skillfully answered this question in a recent post.

I’d like to throw my thoughts out there on this issue:

The "churchly correct" way to answer the above question is to say that of course the Great Commission, as the verses are frequently called, applies to all of us. This answer usually stems from a loving desire to see as many people saved as possible. However, personal desire does not determine what the bible means. We must look at other places in scripture to correctly understand who Jesus intended to obey his command.

Matthew is generally narrative. Within narrative literature we cannot always apply all commands to ourselves. For example, Jesus does not want us to go into Jerusalem and find him a donkey to ride upon. However, he does seem to want to us to love our enemies. That said, does he expect us to obey Matthew 28:19-20 or was it aimed only at the original disciples?

The epistles can help us a tremendous amount in this. These were letters generally written to churches about what they should believe and how they should live. Because of this, we can more easily make application from epistles than gospels (although they all clearly contain much applicable material). Since Paul wrote the most letters, I’m going to briefly discuss one of his verses that helps us better understand Matthew 28:19-20.

We know that Paul had a personal desire to spread the gospel where it wasn’t. He famously writes in Romans 15:18-21, “For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience - by word and deed, by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God - so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation, but as it is written, ‘Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.’”

That is Paul’s personal ambition. However, what does he expect from the church? Does he think Christ-followers should be spreading the gospel where they live and abroad? Or, is the duty of only a select few in the church?

We find an answer in some of the first words Paul pens to the Thessalonian church. In I Thessalonians 1:8 Paul says, “For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything.”

The word of the Lord (the gospel) has “sounded forth” from them like a trumpet. The NLT renders it, “ringing out from you.” The good news has spread and continues to spread.

The message has gone throughout the surrounding region of Greece. More than that, it has gone everywhere (Paul uses hyperbole to make the point that it has gone great distances).

They have done so well in this that Paul has no admonition for them. They have done what he expects.

While some people naturally heard of the goings-on in Thessalonica simply because of the changed lives within the church, we can safely conclude that the Thessalonian Christians were proactive in advancing the spread of the gospel. It would not sound forth like a trumpet if they were simply going about their lives as usual.

This does not mean that everyone in the church was traveling abroad. It may simply have meant that those in the church were faithfully sharing the gospel where they naturally went. In light of Paul’s knowledge of Christ’s commands, we can surmise that the Thessalonians were not only hearing the gospel but also making disciples.

Paul is pleased that the Thessalonians were sharing the gospel to such great effect. He praises them for this using strong language. They were living as they should be living. A large area around them had heard of Christ because of their witness.

What can we deduce from this? Paul expected the Thessolonian church to spread the gospel. He loves that they did so. This shows us unmistakably that the Great Commission applied to them. Therefore, Jesus intended for Matthew 28:19-20 to apply to all believers, not simply his original disciples.

And if it applies to all believers, it applies to us.

An Utterly Inappropriate and Self-Serving Link

It would be completely and utterly inappropriate to link to someone else's blog post that speaks highly of my blog. Just to be a rebel, I'm going to do it. My friend Alan Knox linked to this blog, referring to a few recent "thought-provoking" posts. Thanks Alan!

Of course, my link is absurd because if you are already here it means that either you came from Alan's blog or directly to mine. Additionally, it goes beyond the bounds of appropriate social behavior to link to something like this. It reminds me of that saying, "Humility and how I attained it."

Monday, January 2, 2012

Semi-Interesting Link

CNN's Belief Blog offers 15 Faith-Based Predictions for 2012 by fifteen folks from varying religious backgrounds. I link to the post not because its all true, but rather because it gives a glimpse into what people are thinking mostly outside of the evangelical bubble.

The quotes I found the most interesting:

"The year will see an increase in the number of people 'coming out' as nonbelievers. Major events like the Reason Rally in March will be a catalyst for more people to publicly declare their secular worldview." -Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association

"There's no question the worldview of most younger Christians already differs from previous generations regarding social justice, cultural engagement and politics. The next issue of probable divergence? The conflict in Israel and Palestine." -Cameron Strang, publisher of RELEVANT magazine

"Significant numbers of millennials (young people born in the 1980s and 1990s) will continue to walk away from socially conservative religious traditions. Bringing them back will be tough, especially for religious organizations deeply invested in brick-and-mortar and bureaucracy." -Joanna Brooks, Mormon author and columnist for Religion Dispatches

"More churches will lose the moat dragon mentality, lower the drawbridge and dispatch members beyond the church service to church SERVICE, applying their faith in the community through volunteerism and outreach." -A. Larry Ross, Christian communications executive representing clients like Billy Graham and Rick Warren

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Jim Elliot on the Church

Christian missionary and martyr Jim Elliot wrote, "The pivot point hangs on whether or not God has revealed a universal pattern for the church in the New Testament. If He has not, then anything will do so long as it works. But I am convinced that nothing so dear to the heart of Christ as His Bride should be left without explicit instructions as to her corporate conduct. I am further convinced that the 20th century has in no way simulated this pattern in its method of 'churching' a community.... it is incumbent upon me, if God has a pattern for the church, to find and establish that pattern, at all costs."

Elisabeth Elliot, Shadow of the Almighty: The Life and Testimony of Jim Elliot

(This is a re-post that seems appropriate for the beginning of a new year.)