Os Guinness presents stirring address at Taylor University

GuinnessDr. Os Guinness received an honorary doctorate at Taylor University today. His speech was one of the most engaging that I’ve ever heard.  So I’m sharing the link for his address at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MUBWwVURjY4

Dr. Guinness began by focusing out attention on some of the great questions of our age:

  1. Will Islam modernize peacefully?
  2. What faith (world view) will replace Marxism in China?
  3. Will the West sever or recover its roots?

Then he challenged us to play our part in addressing the challenges of the 21st century. He spoke briefly about three:

  1. Preparing the Global South where the Church is growing at an unprecedented pace.
  2. Wining back the western world.
  3. Contribute to the future of humanity at this transitional time of major shifts.
    • The shift from pyro (fire based) technology to biotechnology
    • The shift from the industrial era to the information era
    • The shift from a supernatural to a secular perception of reality

He also encouraged us to wrestle with some of the grand distortions of faith such as:

  • The shift from authority to preference (and the resulting lack of commitment)
  • The shift from integration to fragmentation.

Guinness pointed out that progress in these areas will depend upon our

  • Practice Supernatural warfare
  • Having a deep grasp of the history of ideas
  • Engaging in cultural analysis

Can the church be revived again? Guinness firmly believes that the future of humanity depends on the answer.

I was struck by how many of the questions Dr. Guinness raised and the trends that he identified relate to the discipling of nations.  His address brings to mind the Old Testament words about the Sons of Issachar, “who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.”  Unless we understand the times in which we live, we will be ill prepared to deal with the challenges before us.  May Dr. Guinness’ address also  inspire you to critically contemplate what is happening in our world today and your response.

Want to see God at work? Start by praying the Lord’s Prayer today

praySince 2015 I’ve been on a quest to discover how God is at work. You see, I serve with a mission organization, One Challenge. In 2015, we adopted a new strategy statement, which says: “We ask how God is at work, then assist the Body of Christ to bring God’s transformation to individuals, communities and nations.” It seemed logical, then, to ask how is God at work? So the Global Research Team, on which I serve, then spent the better part of a year and a half searching the scriptures to discover how God is at work in the world and applying those insights to our work.

When it was time for us to organize a gathering for all the mission information workers in our organization back in September 2016, we came to the consensus that “Asking how God is at work” should be our conference theme. There I shared a brief presentation on the biblical basis of how God is at work in the world.

Upon returning home from the conference, our pastor asked me to share a twenty minute message on Mission Sunday.  It seemed fitting to share something about God at work.  But my great challenge was to identify one passage that touched upon the many ways that God is at work in the world. After some reflection I was surprised to conclude that the Lord’s Prayer touched on many of these themes. Thus the Lord’s Prayer became the text of my sermon.

A few weeks later I was visiting with a friend at church who is a Bible professor at Taylor University. He remarked:  “I teach a class on the Lord’s Prayer, and  I’ve read a lot of books on the Lord’s Prayer.  So when you said you were speaking on the Lord’s Prayer, I was attent to see if you had any new insights into the Lord’s Prayer. My friend, you did not disappoint.”

I thought I might write a blog series about the Lord’s Prayer, coming at it from the angle of what we discover about how God is at work in the world and how he invites us to join him in what he is doing.  Writing a series is a lot of work, beyond what I have time to do. So here is a summary of seven ways God is at work in the world based on the Lord’s Prayer.

Seven ways we discover God at work in the Lord’s Prayer

  1. “Our Father in Heaven” – God is at work building his Family here on earth
  2. “Hallowed by Your Name” – God is at work bringing glory to his name on earth
  3. “Your Kingdom Come” – God is at work establishing his kingdom on earth
  4. “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” – God is at work bringing the perfections of heaven to earth
  5. “Give us today our daily bread” – God provides us with all we need for living & so much more
  6. “Forgive us our debts” – God is at work restoring relationships
  7. “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.” – God is at work delivering us from temptation and the wile s of the Devil, aka Satan, the Evil One.

The breadth God’s work described in the Lord’s Prayer is quite mind boggling!

I’ve come to view each phrase of the Lord’s Prayer as an iceberg. As we know, the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” points to a huge mass of ice below the water’s surface. So it is with the Lord’s Prayer.  Each phrase points to a greater reality found in the biblical narrative.  This point really struck me back in 2012. As I was reading through the Bible, I started to jot down passages that were related to the seven parts of the Lord’s Prayer in a section in my journal. To date, my list covers 56 hand written pages! Each phrase of the Lord’s Prayer points us to a greater reality of how God is at work in the world. There is much more going on “below the surface” than is immediately apparent.

So what does all this mean for us?

Do you see that God invites us to join him in what he is doing in the world? Simply put, there are many things that God calls us to do, but the first and greatest thing God invites us to do is to pray. That is the whole intent of the Lord’s Prayer, to pray, isn’t it? We pray. God works. So if you want to see God at work, start by praying the Lord’s Prayer today.

Here is a great book on the Lord’s Prayer

I’ve just finished reading  Darrell W. Johnson’s book on the Lord’s Prayer,  Fifty-Seven Words that Change the World: A Journey Through the Lord’s Prayer.   This short book (119 pages) is full of insights into the Lord’s Prayer. I heartily recommend it.

Click here to go to Amazon to take a look inside.

Seven Habits of People who Accomplish Great Things for God

Who does not want to be successful? My tenth grade Bible class is beginning to study the Old Testament book of Joshua. In the first nine verses, we were surprised to discover seven habits that lead to prosperity and success. Considering that these may interest a broader audience, I will outline seven habits, which enable anyone who practices them to be successful. But first, an important perspective on what constitutes success.

A Biblical Perspective on Success

A biblical perspective on success differs significantly from the popular understanding of success, which seems to be associated with fame, fortune and a large social media following. In contrast, let us consider Jesus, the New Testament Joshua. In John 17:4 Jesus prays to his Father, “I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.” Having this in mind, Jesus may have defined success as accomplishing the work that God has given a person to do. This perspective certainly contrasted with how people in Jesus’ day viewed success. In eyes of his generation, Jesus had no fortune; he was infamous – a liar or worse, and most of his followers abandoned him. They would have given Jesus a big “F” for failure. But this is not what God thought. God exalted him and gave him a name above every other name (Philippians 2:9). Why? Because Jesus accomplished the work God gave him to do.  This understanding of success, defined as accomplishing the work God has given a person to do, frames the practice of the seven habits of people who accomplish great things for God.

With this biblical understanding of success in mind, let’s return to Joshua 1:1-9 and look at the first habit of people who accomplish great things for God.

1. Hear what God says. The Book of Joshua begins, “After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant…”, and the next eight verses continue God’s message to Joshua. So we will start our seven habits of people who accomplish great things for God with the observation that anyone who accomplishes great things for God must first hear what God says.

2. Go where God sends you. Verses 2-5 record God’s first instruction to Joshua.

 “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel.  Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses.  From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life.” (ESV)

God’s command to Joshua was “arise, go….”  Reading on we see that God was sending Joshua and the people into the Promised Land, which God was giving to them.  God promised Abraham that he would give this land to his descendants (Genesis 12:7). The time had now come. God was at work fulfilling his promise. We too can accomplish great things for God when we go where God is at work and join Him in what he is doing.

3. Be strong and courageous. Three times in this passage God commands Joshua to be strong and courageous. However this command was preceded by a great promise (v. 5) “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.“ God’s presence was secret of Joshua’s success and it continues to be the secret of the Church’s success (Matthew 28:18-19). Today we might say that God had Joshua’s back. And he continues to be with those who follow his call to make disciples of all nations. We might think of courage as “holy boldness”, inspired by God’s presence and commission. Courage is the choice to act boldly in the face of great risk. Without a doubt, courage is needed to accomplish great things for God.

4. Be careful to obey all God’s Word. Habit Nr. 4 is at the heart of our list and is probably the most essential of them all: “Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you” (v.7a NIV). This same phrase is repeated in verse 8, and I also hear an echo of this verse in the Great Commission. “Make disciples of all nations….teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). People who accomplish great things for God must be careful to obey all of God’s word.

5. Do not turn to the right or left. “Do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go” (v. 7b NIV).  Joshua was to have a singular focus on his mission. Tuning to the right or the left would simply involve pursuing other things outside his calling. Jesus shares a similar comment in the parable of the sower. He notes that some “hear the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:18b,19 NASB). Reflecting on both examples, we learn that maintaining a singular focus leads to success.

6. Memorize God’s word. 8 “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips.” The only way to keep God’s word on your lips is to first memorize it. This sets the stage for the final habit, which is…

7. Meditate on God’s word. Joshua 1:8 is considered the golden verse of the entire book and highlights the final key to success: Meditating on God’s word.

“Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” (v. 8 NIV)

People who accomplish great things for God memorize and meditate on God’s Word.  This is not an end in itself as the intended outcome is to “be careful to do everything written in it.” This leads to success.

Success follows practicing these seven habits

William Carey, the Father of the Modern Missions Movement (1761-1834), exhorted his generation to “Expect great things from God; Attempt great things for God!” Joshua was certainly a person who not only attempted great things for God but accomplished great things for God. The remainder of the book of Joshua tells how he led the people into the Promised Land and possessed it, fulfilling a promise God made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob centuries prior. Throughout his life Joshua practiced the seven habits outlined here, and the people of Israel served the Lord too (cf. Joshua 24:31).  It seems reasonable that those who faithfully practice all seven habits outlined here will accomplish great things for God too. What about you?

Questions for Further Reflection:

  1. How do you view success?
  2. What surprises you about these seven habits?
  3. What challenges you about these habits?
  4. What will you do to practice all seven of these habits?

Fabulous Quotes from the Mission Information Workers Conference

Last week I joined four other colleagues from One Challenge in Texas for the Mission Information Workers Conference. This gathering was sponsored by the Community of Mission Information Workers (CMIW), the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL), Harvest Information System (HIS) and the Seed Company. The program included 14 TED Talks (Technology, Entertainment & Design). A number of the speakers punctuated their TED Talks with insightful quotes. Here are my favorite top five five.

Let’s start with two quotes attributed to Albert Einstein.

Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.

The point made by management expert, Peter F. Drucker, merits some thought.

“What gets measured, gets managed.”

The words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux highlight the motives for seeking knowledge.

Some seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge: that is curiosity; others seek knowledge that they may themselves be known: that is vanity; but there are still others who seek knowledge in order to serve and edify others, and that is charity.

Wow!

And here is a final quote by Lord Kelvin, who champions quantitative research.

“When you can measure what you are speaking about, and express it in numbers, you know something about it, when you cannot express it in numbers, your knowledge is of a meager and unsatisfactory kind; it may be the beginning of knowledge, but you have scarely, in your thoughts advanced to the stage of science.”

So these are my top five quotes from the conference. Do you have any favorite quotes that guide your use of Mission Information? Feel free to share them here.

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

“If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants” – Isaac Newton

For 35 years I’ve intuitively been involved in mission research, first for a local church, then for a whole city, then a whole country, and now for a whole mission & the whole world. Over the years these are some of the questions that have come my way about mission research.

  • Why is research important to Christian missions?
  • Why should we make an effort to count the believers and number the churches?
  • What does a mission information worker do anyway?

Based on my limited experience and understanding, I’ve tried to explain how research is helpful to Christian missions. But in recent years, I’ve discovered that my mission organization, One Challenge, has numerous “research giants” who have greatly helped me understand and articulate the importance of research to Christian mission. In this article I wish to focus on the contribution of two of these research giants, whose complementary insights, though made a generation apart, have greatly shaped my understanding of missionary research and what a mission information worker does. Like Isaac Newton, I can see further by standing on the shoulders of these giants.

Four Categories of Mission Research

Back in 1988, Paul Yaggy, one of the early champions of mission research in our organization, described four categories of mission related research. The following descriptions come from his Position Paper on OC Research.

The first is those who are accumulating factual data only. This includes demographic information regarding both the context and the institutional church. Such information is published or maintained for access and use by others as they desire.

The second category is made up of those who do such analysis to show trends and to define potential places of ministry which are in need of pioneering effort.

The third category consists of those who not only do trend analysis, but seek to discover to a limited degree some of the factors which cause these trends. These organizations publish papers along with their statistical data and analysis to assist whoever is interested in such information.

A fourth category in which OC finds itself is organizations which do all of the above but carry the analysis of the factors to greater depth with the primary purpose of understanding both the institutional church and its context with regard to past and present ministry effectiveness as well as its potential for meeting identified needs in the future. The primary output of such research, as far as OC is concerned, is a basis for decision making for its own ministries in serving the church and for carrying out the other three categories of OC’s basic strategy of motivation, training, and mobilization.

For some time this writer has wrestled with a succinct way to describe Yaggy’s fourth level.  Technically speaking, what information workers do can be classified “applied research.” — but that does not seem to excite much passion nor effectively communicate with church people what we do.  I’m more enthusiastic about “decision making for disciple making” as a mission information worker’s goal is to provide the body of Christ with information to assist decision making for effective disciple making.

To summarize, we might also say that the task of mission information workers at levels one and two is to determine the facts. At level three, mission information workers seek to determine factors shaping the trends.  And the focus of level four can be called decision making for disciple making.

The Mission Information Pyramid

Jumping ahead thirty years or so, our current director of research set Yaggy’s four categories of mission research in the context of an information model known as the “DIKW Pyramid” or the “Knowledge Hierarchy”.  (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DIKW_Pyramid for a general overview and further references.) This model further elaborates what mission information workers seek to discover at each level of research. The acrostic DIKW is short for Data, Information, Knowledge and Wisdom. These four words nicely describe what the mission information worker seeks at each level.  For our purposes we will call this the Mission Information Pyramid.

Mission Information Pyramid

Putting the Mission Information Pyramid into Practice

Let’s use the mission information pyramid to explain the importance of mission research and what a mission information worker does.

At level 1, the mission information workers gather factual data. This may involve collecting new data or finding usable data others have gathered. Because we don’t want to re-invent the wheel, library research will able be done to discover what others have already done in the area under study and to obtain correlative data. To gather new data, online surveys, questionnaires, censuses, participant observation, focus groups, interviews, and ethnographies are some for the various tools information workers may use. At this level, missionary research is not glamorous; it is just plain hard work.

At level 2, the data is organized and analyzed to get usable information.  At the level 2, the mission information workers seeks to answer who, what when and where type questions. As Yaggy said, analysis will show trends and places for potential ministry. The mission information worker’s analysis may show annual or ten year growth rates for conversions or church growth, the percentage of a population that is Christian, or the ratio of churches to population. Charts, graphs, data tables, infographics or maps along with written reports or oral presentations may be used to convey findings.  Aha! Here we have some information that may be useful.

At level 3, mission information workers seek knowledge, insight and understanding of the past and present. Yaggy also pointed out that here we want to discover the factors shaping the trends. I like to say that that at this level we seek answers to the how and why questions. At this level, interviews with insiders are essential. Case studies may be done to show models of effective disciple making, or the case studies may show what is hindering the process of making disciples. Focus groups and participant observation are also useful means to gain insight. The mission information workers will also consider contextual factors that are helping or hindering the disciple making process as factors outside of the institutional church often affect trends. These factors be rooted in historic, religious, or geographic realities or imply social, technological, economic, ethnic, political or environmental factors, to name a just a few. This is where an outsider may have an advantage, as a broader or fresh perspective may enable an outsider to see things that an insider takes for granted. Asking good questions and listening, along with critical reflection, will yield important insights. This is where mission research becomes exciting!

At level 4, the mission information worker seeks wisdom. Again this is a shift of focus. Whereas in the previous levels, we focused on the past and present, now we consider what to do in the future. Here we make applications.  Mission research is applied research after all. Here we need to make wise decisions. As we said earlier, this fourth level can be described as “decision making for disciple making”. This is where “the rubber hits the road.”

Informed Decision Making

There are three broad areas where mission research informs our decision making.

First of all, we will be better informed about how we should pray. This was, after all, Jesus first application of his mission research. (See Luke 10:2.)

Second, because we identified needs in the church and in the target communities, we will seek to send the right people to the right places doing the right things to meet those needs. Let’s draw upon the “five-fold ministry” found in Ephesians 4 as an example. We (hopefully) will make a case for sending evangelists to the areas that are “ripe for harvest” where God is at work or sending apostles (aka missionaries) to places and peoples that still have need of pioneer works where “Christ has not been named” (Romans 15:20). We will send pastors and teachers where the churches need strengthened. And perhaps prophets (or to draw upon an old term “exhorters”) will go and stir up the church to greater love and good deeds where sin, falsehood or love of this world has weakened the witness of the church.

Third, since our case studies likely identified out more and less fruitful approaches to ministry, we will need to evaluate our own ministries and sharpen our ministry practices, abandoning less fruitful or no longer relevant ministries and making fruitful ones evermore so. We need God’s wisdom for all of these (James 1:5). If the information itself has not driven you to your knees in prayer, the challenge of implementing change certainly will!

In conclusion I am indebted to Paul Yaggy and the current director of OC Research. By standing on the shoulders of these “research giants”, I’ve been able to see further. I hope that their insights, and maybe a few of my own, have helped you better understand the importance of research to Christian mission and what a mission information worker does.

Dayenu, It Would Have Been Enough!

DayenuA part of our family Easter tradition is to celebrate a Passover Seder on the Thursday evening of Holy Week. The part I like the most is reciting together the Dayenu poem or song,  that recounts the events of the Exodus. After recounting each event, the refrain dayenu – “it would have been enough” – is repeated.

It so happens that right now I am teaching Paul’s letter to the Ephesians to junior and senior high school students. It struck me as appropriate to sum up the key points of Ephesians 1-2 by imitating the style of the Dayenu song.

To the Praise of His Glorious Grace

  1. If he had forgiven our transgressions and had not loved us, it would have been enough!
  2. If he had loved us and had not adopted us as sons, it would have been enough!
  3. If he had adopted us as sons and had not given us an inheritance, it would have been enough!
  4. If he had given us an inheritance and had not given us the Holy Spirit, it would have been enough!
  5. If he had given us the Holy Spirit and not blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, it would have been enough!

Life in Christ

  1. If he had made known to us the mystery of his will and had not made us alive with Christ, it would have been enough!
  2. If he had made us alive in Christ and had not raised us with Christ, it would have been enough!
  3. If he had raised us with Christ and had not seated us with Christ, it would have been enough!
  4. If he had seated us with Christ and had not created us for good works in Christ Jesus, it would have been enough!
  5. If he had created us for good works and had not purposed to show the surpassing riches of His grace toward us in Christ Jesus in the age to come, it would have been enough!

Gentiles Included in God’s People

  1. If he had brought us, who were far off, near by the blood of Christ and had not established peace, it would have been enough!
  2. If he had established peace and had not made us fellow citizens, members of God’s household, it would have been enough!
  3. If he had made us fellow citizens and had not broken down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile, it would have been enough!
  4. If he had broken down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile and had not given us both access to the Father in the Spirit – who is able to do more than we can ask for or think, it would have been enough!
  5. If he had given us both access to the Father and had not made us a Holy Temple, a dwelling of God in the Spirit, it would have been enough!

My! How God has lavished his grace upon us!

What does all this have to do with discipling all nations? In a word: Everything!

Since all peoples can become a part of God’s household, in which there are no second class citizens, then all peoples need (1) to hear the Gospel of peace (Ephesians 1:13) and (2) to learn” to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1), which Paul succinctly outlines in Ephesians chapters 4-6. Ephesians provides us with an agenda to disciple all the nations.

References to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians for each strophe

  1. Forgiven our Transgressions (Ephesians 1:7)
  2. God loves us (Ephesians 1:4; 2:4)
  3. Adoption (Ephesians 1:5)
  4. Inheritance (Ephesians 1:11, 14, 18)
  5. Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13); every spiritual blessing (1:3)
  6. The mystery of his will (Ephesians 1:9, cf. 3:3-10)
  7. Made alive with Christ (Ephesians 2:5)
  8. Raised with Christ (Ephesians 2:6)
  9. Seated with Christ (Ephesians 2:7)
  10. Created for good works (Ephesians 2:10); the surpassing riches of grace (Ephesians 2:7)
  11. Gentiles brought near (Ephesians 2:13)
  12. Peace (Ephesians 2:14-15,17)
  13. Fellow citizens and members of God’s household (Ephesians 2:19)
  14. Broke down the dividing wall – having in view the wall separating the court of the Gentiles from the Court of the Jews in the Temple in Jerusalem (Ephesians 2:14)
  15. Access to the Father (2:18; cf. 3:20) A holy Temple, a dwelling of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:21-22). Interestingly enough, the Dayenu culminates with God giving the Jews the Temple; Paul culminates Ephesians chapter 2 with the Jews and the Gentiles being a Temple of God.

 

God is Doing Amazing Things around the World through the OC Global Alliance!

3 highlight graph 2015The Global Research Team, on which I serve, recently finished the 2015 Annual Report for the OC Global Alliance. Based on the information submitted by our field teams working in over 40 countries, we took a close look at three areas: personnel, countries impacted and ministry results.  We found surprising outcomes in each of these three areas.

  • With regard to ministry results, over 5,200 churches were started through the ministries of OC workers in 2015, almost double the number of churches started in 2014.
  • With regard to personnel, the number of workers associated with the OC Global Alliance surpassed 1,000 persons for the very first time. The news here is the large increase in the number of ministry volunteers serving alongside our teams outside of the United States. The number of volunteers working in the United States is up too, and it is interesting that our United States Mobilization Center has called 2016 the “Year of the Volunteer.” This link tells more about the “Year of the Volunteer.”
  • In 2015, God opened doors for OC Global Alliance workers to minister in 103 countries – the largest number in history and one more country than last year.

We are in awe of God’s unprecedented work!