Showing posts with label Mission Work. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mission Work. Show all posts

Monday, March 29, 2010

Scripture, Missiology, and Trying Too Hard

Sometimes, I try too hard. Like right now. I've been trying to think of something to write for Pillar on the Rock for the last two hours. Tried a few things... they did not work. I took a break, read my Bible for an hour, studied Titus in serious detail.

There are depths and profundities and riches in every book of the Bible, but I certainly gravitate toward the New Testament. I like words, and I like digging at the way they are layered together to form coherent arguments. The Epistles normally attract people because they are the most eminently practical aspect of the Bible, apart from Proverbs (another perennial favorite). Not me. They attract me because of the depths buried in the flow of authorial thought. I tend toward the gospels and the prophets when I am hungry for longer passages to read, but when I want to dig in on a text, I tend to sit down with an epistle and try to get in as close to the author's thought process as possible.

It is good for me to read the long narrative sections of the Old Testament on a regular basis (as it is good for all of us: that is why God included it). I see glimpses of God in the narratives that are not present in the same ways in the tightly constructed argument of Romans or the sermonic structure of Hebrews. Narratives and numberings are just as important as epistles and gospels. When I read through all of the Bible last year, I was incredibly challenged and blessed. Seeing the entire flow of history laid out in the biblical narratives, complemented by the proclamations of the prophets and the explications of the epistles, was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. That said, I am glad to be able to sit down and study Titus!

Last week, Jaimie and I were discussing missions, contextualization, and the importance of narrative and storytelling in many cultures. Many missiologists have suggested that missionaries need to shift the focus away from the western preoccupation with argument and toward the broader interest in story—not least since the Scriptures are filled with narratives. I think they have a good point; western Christianity has certainly been overly preoccupied with argument. However, I also think it is entirely possible to overcorrect, and I fear many missiologists are doing precisely that. Though we should certainly not emphasize reasoned argument more than Scripture does, neither should we emphasize it less. Certainly, when engaging other cultures, we ought to look for the God-built openings for the gospel already present. Sometimes those will be narrative; other times they will be argument; yet other times they will be poetry.

What is important is that the gospel is clearly communicated, and that the people do not stay where their culture is comfortable. Just as westerners often need to grow in understanding of the importance of story in Scripture—and not merely as analogy for our lives!—so people in other cultures may need to grow in understanding of the importance of argument, or poetry, or prophecy. These may not come naturally. Certainly I don't think that the prophets or Leviticus naturally seem immediately helpful to most American Christians, and so we must learn to think in the ways that the Bible thinks. The same is true in every culture.

And now I'm trying too hard again. Part of the challenge of writing for Pillar on the Rock is that I tend not to let my thoughts move naturally anymore: I am constantly looking for ways to tie the package up neatly. This is not entirely a bad thing—but then, a blog post is not exactly an article, and it should not be treated as such. Somewhere along the way is a balance, a clear expression of my voice. I will find it eventually—but like reading the Old Testament, it may require some work. It does not come naturally.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Go and tell

The first command Jesus spoke after his resurrection was to Mary Magdalene. Standing outside the tomb, weeping for loss and confusion, Mary asked the man she thought had moved Jesus' body where it had been put. The Man answered her by calling her name, and when she awestruck moved to cling to Him, He told her it was not yet time, and then spoke his first command as the Risen One: "go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God'" (John 20.17). His very first command as the one who had made purification for sins (Hebrews 1.3) was sending Mary to tell the good news.

We see the same pattern in Matthew's account. Jesus appeared later to the other women who had come to the tomb, but who had not returned with Mary Magdalene, and told them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me" () His command was to go and tell. Tell what? That his brothers would see him, risen from the dead. These were his first words to his own mother!

Jesus' final words spoken to his disciples on this earth are recorded in Matthew 28 and Acts 1.
Then Jesus came to them and said, "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 in the name of the Son and in the name of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to do all I have commanded you. Behold, I am with you to the end of the age." (Matthew 28.18-20))
"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." And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.(Acts 1.8-9)

Jesus' resurrection carried with it immense consequence for the lives of those who believe in him. No true belief in Christ can but proclaim the good news at every opportunity. He is risen! We must grasp, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, the magnitude of that news.

Imagine the women who went to the tomb that early Sunday morning, Jesus' own mother among them, sorrowful and yet still seeking to serve the one they loved by taking care of his body. They arrived to find the stone rolled away, the linens neatly folded, and angels inside telling them that Jesus had risen from the dead. They ran and told the disciples, all but two of whom dismissed the tale as rubbish (Luke 24:10-12). And then Jesus appeared to them. He was not dead anymore.

Read that sentence again. He was not dead anymore.

For anyone we love to be no longer dead but alive would fill us with joy incommunicable, would so overpower us that we would tell everyone we could find. Death overcome? A person who was undoubtedly gone now returned? This would warrant much attention in any individual.

But this was not just any man. This was Jesus Christ, the Messiah. This was the one of whom the Hebrew Bible spoke, the Man of prophecy, the Second Adam, the Deliverer, the Kinsman Redeemer. This was the reality of which there had been so echoes and shadows through history. This was the one in whom they had placed all their hopes and dreams, the one they believed would set them free.

He had died. He had been scourged within an inch of his life and then hung on a cross until he died. He was laid in a tomb, dark and cold.

And now... now he was alive.

This was news of incredible value, infinite import.

He told them to go and tell others.

They went.

So shoudl we.

Do we grasp the immensity of this news? Do we taste even the slightest bit the greatness of the proclamation for which we are trusted to be ambassadors? Do we live as though we really believe that Jesus Christ, for the joy set before him, humbled himself to take on a human form, to be marred beyond human semblance, and then rose again to life, conquering and sitting at the right hand of God? Do we?

Do you really believe that what you believe is really real? Do you live it?

Faith without works is dead. Those who love Christ keep his commandments.

He said go and tell.

Go and tell!

Monday, March 31, 2008

Humility in sharing the Gospel

Last week I was in Glorieta, New Mexico, at the Dying to Live conference, organized by the University of Oklahoma Baptist Student Union and University of Southern California Christian Challenge (BCM). The week, praise God, changed a lot of lives.

Our speaker and his wife are well-traveled missionaries who have spent much of their sharing the gospel in countries where it is dangerous to do so, and dangerous to convert to Christianity. Over the course of the week, they painted a picture for us of lives lived in service of the advancement of the Gospel - with humility, willing to get out of the way of all that God is doing. His points were so important that I'd like to highlight and comment on a few of them. (It's not quite as good as liveblogging the conference, but it's something, at least!)

His wife opened the week with the observation, "Serving God is not a matter of location but of obedience," and this was a continual theme throughout the week. Whether in North Africa or East Asia or Midwest America, the key factor in the advance of the Gospel is our obedience to Christ - not where we are. God longs to bring salvation to this world. He died to bring salvation to the lost. While we were certainly encouraged to consider where God might call us to serve (and rightfully so!), he and others were faithful to remind us that all of us are called to serve. Some may be more particularly gifted to the task of evangelism and "missions," of course, but all of us - without exception - are called to go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing in the name of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit, and teaching them all that Christ commanded.

I was glad when he pointed out that this meant that many are called to go where the gospel has not been. He told an amusing story of his own discussion with a missions sending board. When they asked him expectantly about his own "call to missions" - some personal experience in which he felt God was telling him to particularly pursue overseas missions - he simply recounted reading Matthew 28:18-20 and realizing that all are called to share the gospel. The anecdote highlighted just how foreign some of our ideas are to a simple reading of the Bible.

Indeed, one of the primary themes of the week was realizing that there are many things we do - many good things, even - which are not necessary. While the structures we have built in the West - our denominations and seminaries and institutions and printing houses - are in many ways good things, they are not necessary things for the gospel. (That is not to say we ought not value them: for without them we could not have the blessing of rich teachers like John Piper available to any American anywhere. These are good things. But not necessary.) When we strap our conventions to the Gospel, we hinder it, and we can get in the way of all that God is doing. We can, through our good intentions, bring increased persecution to our brethren in nations less secularly free.

The contrast between secular and true, spiritual freedom was highlighted effectively at numerous points. Not least were his examples of the true stories of people he has known that have undergone extraordinary persecution - years in jail, beatings, and so on - who have nonetheless considered themselves perfectly free to share the gospel. This was a stunning contrast to our state here in America where most Christians are in bondage to fear of misunderstanding, fear of ridicule, fear of man, to share the gospel on a regular basis. We who are freest in the world, from a secular perspective, are often less free in reality than our brethren who, from the world's eyes, are far less free.

He asked us to consider the fundamental question: "Is Jesus worth it?" Is he worth my life? My wife's? My children's? My friends'? It is far easier to declare Christ worth our own lives, I think, than it is to declare Him worth those closest to us. Could you watch your loved one die for your actions of declaring Christ?

He asked us to be mindful of how we evangelize - both here and abroad. He asked us to understand that our actions, however well-intended, have consequences. Many of the believers he has seen undergo persecution did so not for knowing Christ, but for having a non-transferable, culturally structured Christianity.

At the same time, he noted that persecution is normal for Christ-followers, however much we may believe the contrary here in America. The primary cause of persecution in the world is people coming to Christ. We are not to pray for there to be no persecution: we are to pray for those in persecution to be faithful witnesses. He argued - and I agree - that the measure of the move of Christ and His good news is the amount of resistance. (Indeed, as I was discussing later with a friend, we might even take the stance that persecution is normative, based on the evidence from the world at large and from history.) This, of course, poses the question: just how much is the kingdom of God advancing here in America?

He encouraged us to understand the importance of oral transmission of truth. 80% or more of those in the unreached peoples of the world are illiterate. If we are to reach them, we must know Scripture. We must hide it in our heart. We must memorize it - specific passages, and entire stories. And how much more able will we be to share truth, even here in our own cultural context, if we know the truths of Scripture by heart, rather than always having to open our Bibles?

The needs of the lost always exceed the needs of the witnesser.

He shared with us a number of stories of how God is moving in supernatural ways among our brethren across the world - and how He is adding more to our number. The miracles of healing God is doing among Hindus in India, the dreams and visions He is giving to Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa, and the ways in which He unites seekers with missionaries are incredible. God is not hindered even by our lack of initiative: He is bringing salvation the world over. He is accomplishing His purposes for the Gospel. (The two questions this raises, of course, are, "Will we be involved in accomplishing those purposes or not?" and "Why is our faith so dim that our first tendency on hearing these stories is often doubt?")

Humbling were the reasons that Christian-background believers gave for their unwillingness to reach out to those around them.
  1. "They are too lost. They cannot be saved.

  2. "We don't want them to be saved."

  3. "Converts have fooled us in the past."

  4. "It is not cost-effective to reach them."

  5. "The persecutors will destroy our church."

  6. "They will marry our daughters." (Yes, this really is the racism it sounds like.

  7. "We will lose our leadership position." (Big deal in a country where this is often the only leadership they can have.)

  8. "Pay us to reach our neighbors."

  9. The heartache of betrayal.
All of these ought to break our hearts to pray for our brethren in persecuted places - but it also ought to make us stop and ask whether we are perhaps guilty of these same kinds of sinful thoughts and behaviors.

One of the significant issues he raised was baptism, as relates to practice overseas (rather than as relates to doctrine). He suggested that examination of the New Testament and realization of the consequences of missionaries baptizing local believers should perhaps lead to a reevaluation of our behavior. Every baptism recorded in the New Testament was administered within and witnessed by the local community; all but one were within a local believing community (the exceptional case of the Ethiopian eunuch). For a number of reasons, including the perceived superiority of the missionary's baptizing, he argued that it is far better that local believers do the baptizing. They do it on a different timetable, after faith has been proven. They do it in the context of the evangelization of the family. They do it in ways that are less likely to cause persecution for the outsider: if persecution comes it will be for Christ and not for the missionary.

Your call is not to a place, but to lost people.

God's will is not a safe place - all clich├ęs to the contrary - but rather the good and right place to be. (Aslan is not a safe lion... but he is good.)

There is a challenge to those called to missionary work - whether abroad or in the US - to remain among the lost, rather than shifting to "pastor" mode and getting caught ministering only to the saved. There is thus a necessity for teams such that those called to evangelism can pass on those they have brought to Christ to others to disciple them. This is best accomplished within the setting of local believers if possible, so that their reliance is on Christ and their own community rather than on outsiders. Moreover, once a missionary has won a few hearts to Christ - or discovered those already won - it is his or her job to act more as "bait," drawing in possible new believers and getting them in contact with in-culture believers. We must decrease so that Christ may increase!

Two fundamental questions to ask in the cause of the gospel:
  • How does truth travel in your culture?

  • What would you do for Jesus if you were not afraid?
The single consistent theme, hammered home again and again, was that we must have utter humility in sharing the gospel. We must recognize our own expendable nature. We must be willing to get out of the way and let God move how He wants, not how brings us the most credit or glory. We must let the glory of Christ, the advancing of His kingdom, and the salvation of the lost be our only goals - never our own gain.

"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." (Acts 1:8)

- Chris

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Gospel need

In doing some reading (specifically, in John Piper's excellent Desiring God) I came across some excellent resources for praying for world missions and for increasing awareness. These sites may be familiar to some of you, but I hope they are blessing and encouragement to all.

First is the Joshua Project. It is a listing of all the unreached people groups in the world. It is sobering to realize how unreached much of the world is - and it should compel us to prayer. The state of missions to unreached people groups is something that should bring both deep conviction to our hearts and great excitement. We are quickly closing the gap on reaching every "nation, tribe, and tongue" with the gospel. The task of evangelization will go on after the time when we have penetrated every people group, but there is a desperate need among these people who have never heard, never even had the chance to hear, the gospel. Most of these are in the 10/40 window across Africa and especially Asia, though there are others in the jungles of South America, as well. The Unreached People of the Day on the left side of the blogger version of this post is drawn from the Joshua Project.

Also worth looking at is Mission Frontiers, which has a newsletter with updates on the status of "frontier missions" - that is, missions to those selfsame unreached people. Most statistics agree that less tan 2% of all Christian giving is dedicated to these missions; most of the missionaries in the world today are working in already evangelized people groups. There is great need in those groups, of course - but how much greater a need in the peoples who have never heard the gospel in the least.

These situations ought to break our hearts, motivate us to give, to go, to reach out to those who are deady, dying, lost and without hope. Please at the very least pray for these people... but as a friend recently blogged, don't stop there. Prayerfully consider what you can do, and there are many options. For those who cannot go - because of circumstances, finances, and calling - you can give. There are good organizations out there to give to, organizations dedicated to reaching the unreached. I personally ask you to consider Wycliffe Bible Translators, who are working on translating the gospel into every tongue - and who are dreadfully understaffed and under-resourced.

God be with you all. May His truth go forth in power!

- Chris

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

And the gospel goes forth in power!

The Boundless Line today has been provoking a lot of thought for me today, but one post by Ted Slater particularly caught my attention. The gospel is spreading like wildfire in the Middle East, including in some of the countries most hostile to Christianity - and in some miraculous ways. This is, for me at least, very much an encouragement, as I've been praying for revival in the Middle East for several years now.

I was encouraged to read lately that there's revival taking place among Muslims in the Middle East.


SVM News quotes author and Middle East expert Joel C. Rosenberg:


"More Muslims converted to faith in Jesus Christ over the past decade than at any other time in human history. A spiritual revolution is underway throughout North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia."



You can find the blog entry here, and the full text of the original article here.

I pray you're all encouraged and edified by this. Keep praying for our brethren there; keep giving - yes, even sacrificially - for the cause of the advancement of the gospel; and keep seeking the Lord's will as to whether you should go. I certainly am.

- Chris