A Tribute to one of My Heroes: Chuck Holsinger

Chuck HolsingerOn September 13th, Cathy and I attended the memorial service for Chuck Holsinger, one of the early workers with our mission, OC International.  I don’t believe I’ve been at a memorial service where there has been more laughter as numerous people shared humorous anecdotes about Chuck. He had a great sense of humor; he also had great love for God and his country.

We first met Chuck in 1991 in California when we were checking out OC. I remember what he shared in the seminar about support raising “I don’t raise support. God lowers it.” This piece of wisdom has stuck with me ever since and on several occasions I have passed it on to others.

Chuck was the Europe Area Director who opened Romania as an OC field. The first time he visited Romania Chuck remarked, “Romania reminds me of Taiwan in the 1950s. We should have purchased an office then when property was inexpensive. But we didn’t. Then the economy took off, and we were never able to purchase an office. We aren’t going to make that same mistake again.”

Chuck shared this need with two of his friends in business and received gifts to purchase an apartment for our team to use as an office, which was a tremendous blessing not only to our team but to the many other Christian groups, including a church plant, which used the office for meetings and office space. And Chuck was right! The economy did take off in Romania, and if we had not purchased an office when we did, we would not have been able to so so latter on.  It was an especially lovely moment for us when we hosted a group from Taiwan at our office during a vision trip to Romania.  It was like the Taiwan-Romania connection had come full circle.

Chuck and his wife Betty visited Romania about a week after we first arrived in country. He had connections with a Pastor in a city on the Black Sea. So we all went to visit this Pastor in Braila. This was our first ministry trip, which involved a three hour train trip – cultural experience in itself. I was Chuck’s roommate. As we were getting to know each other, I mentioned that I began my education at Penn State. Chuck mentioned that he had a friend who was on the Board of Trustees at PSU back in the 1970s, who was praying for revival on the campus. Upon hearing this, I became excited to share with Chuck how God had answered his friend’s prayers.

During the 1970s and early 1980s, one of the largest Campus Crusade chapters was at Penn State with about a thousand students involved. Other Christian groups such as InterVarsity and Navigators were also strong on campus. Little known to me when I arrived on campus in the fall of 1979, there was a “revival” going on among the students with strong foreign missions spirit.  In the spring of 1980 Ralph Winter came to Penn State and held one of the early Perspectives Courses. The vision he cast took root among the students. I too caught the mission vision and left Penn State the following year to prepare for missionary service. Those who have closely followed the movement at PSU say that well over 100 students served overseas. One group of students went on to start Caleb Project, which mobilized a generation for missions. I am in touch with several who are still serving today, and I know many more that have a great heart for missions and are serving as senders. So it was a pleasure for me to share “the other half of the story” with Chuck.

In retirement Chuck and his wife Betty settled in Upland, Indiana. That town might sound familiar, because this is where our family also landed five years ago.  Chuck had quite a ministry in our little town. He regularly went to the Circle K gas station in the mornings to get a coffee and a donut – but his real motive was share a word of encouragement and the love of Christ with the people who came into the store. Chuck had a knack of turning fact conversations into faith conversations.

Chuck was also a decorated WWII veteran who served in the Philippines. He wrote a book about his experiences, Above the Cry of Battle. The book is really his testimony of how God protected him in battle and enabled him to forgive the Japanese for the atrocities which he witnessed. When he was at the Circle K, Chuck was known to go to his car, pull out his book from the box he kept in the trunk and give it to a veteran or any other person who needed encouragement.  I’ve heard many other stories of how Chuck was a light in our community.

The Pastor officiating Chuck’s memorial service shared Hebrews 13:7 “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.” This is so true in Chuck’s case. He left us a wonderful Christ-like example of generosity, faith and service that we would do well to emulate.

Advertisements

Pursuing Jesus’ Vision for Ministry

It is well known that Jesus had an itinerant ministry.  A cursory reading of the Gospels reveals that he traveled extensively. As I pondered Jesus’ travels, the question occurred to me, “Was Jesus just wandering around in all these travels or was he pursuing a specific purpose?” Taking a closer look, I found several surprising answers, which I will point out here, as well as how these insights apply today.

Pursuing a God-given Purpose

In the early days of Jesus’ ministry in Capernaum, Mark records a saying of Jesus that gives us great insight into his ministry vision.  But to grasp full significance of his statement, we will need to examine Jesus’ saying in context.

When evening came, after the sun had set, they began bringing to Him all who were ill and those who were demon-possessed. And the whole city had gathered at the door. And He healed many who were ill with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and He was not permitting the demons to speak, because they knew who He was.

In the early morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left {the house,} and went away to a secluded place, and was praying there. Simon and his companions searched for Him; they found Him, and said to Him, “Everyone is looking for you.” He said to them, “Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.” And He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons. (Mark 1:32-39 NASB)

I’m initially shocked that Jesus would leave the interested and needy crowds to preach in places that had not yet heard the Gospel. That seems counter-intuitional.  Would it not make sense to stay and follow up on those who are open and interested? A closer reading of verse 38, though, reveals that Jesus had a clear vision of what he should do.

“Let us go somewhere else to the towns nearby, so that I may preach there also; for that is what I came for.” (Mark 1:38).

Luke provides a complementary perspective on the same event. There Jesus says:

“I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, for I was sent for this purpose.” (Luke 4:43)

This passage is even clearer in showing that Jesus was pursuing a God-given purpose.

Both Mark’s and Luke’s passages taken together give us additional insight into how Jesus’s vision directed his actions. In both passages, Jesus justifies his surprising action by referencing his purpose. So we can conclude Jesus was not just wandering around aimlessly. He was pursuing a clear, God-given purpose.

A further examination of the Gospel accounts of Jesus ministry provides further insight into Jesus’ ministry vision.

A Saturation Vision

Jesus’ Early Ministry in Galilee

Mark 1:39 shows how Jesus acted upon his God-given vision. “And He went into their synagogues throughout all Galilee, preaching and casting out the demons.”

Galilee in the Time of JesusMatthew’s Gospel also accentuates the scope of Jesus’ itinerant ministry. Matthew observes, “Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.” (Matt. 4:23). Latter Matthew in chapter 9 repeats the phrase “Jesus was going through” and then adds additional detail: “Jesus was going through all the cities and villages… proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom.” (Matthew 9:35).

In the time of Jesus, Galilee was an area roughly 40 by 70 kilometers (25 by 44 miles), similar in size to a county.  Josephus, writing during the time of the Jewish revolt against Rome noted that “There are two hundred and forty cities and villages in Galilee…” (Life of Josephus, 45). Estimates for the population of Galilee in Jesus time range, on the low end, from 200,000 – 700,000 upward to 2-3 million inhabitants. If indeed Jesus’ purpose was to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom in each location in Galilee, he had a significant task ahead of him.

Note that in the second reference (9:35) Matthew adds the phrase “all the cities and villages.” This is significant.  Jesus could have established himself in one location, perhaps a major urban center like Jerusalem or Capernaum, and expected people to come to him.  But he did not.  Jesus’ approach was to take the good news of the Kingdom to people where they lived, not to expect them to come to him.

Jesus’ Later Ministry

Jesus’ saturation vision is also evident in the last phase of his ministry and his post resurrection appearances, but here we will see it applied at a new level. Earlier we saw how Jesus pursued his saturation vision regionally in Galilee. In the later phases of Jesus’ ministry we will see how the saturation vision is applied universally. We will start with three passages in Matthew that indicate how Jesus intended his vision for geographical saturation to be carried out universally.

“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14)

“Truly I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what this woman has done will also be spoken of in memory of her.” (Matthew 26:13)

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

Other post resurrection accounts also show Jesus describing the end goal of his saturation vision:

“”Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.” (Mark 16:15). 

Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. “You are witnesses of these things. “And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (Luke 24:45-49)

He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8)

Note prior to the resurrection, Jesus’ spoke descriptively about the Gospel of the Kingdom being preached in the whole world. It is only after the resurrection that Jesus speaks prescriptively, that is to say, he gives commands about communicating the good news to the whole world. Contemplate: prior to the resurrection Jesus shared the good news of the kingdom; post resurrection there is the Great News of salvation.

To summarize, early in Jesus’ ministry we see his saturation vision applied regionally. At the end of his ministry we see it applied universally.

A Multicultural Vision

There is another aspect of Jesus’ ministry that is often overlooked: the cross-cultural aspect. A careful reading of the Gospels shows that Jesus came to be the Messiah, not only of the Jews, but also of the Gentiles. The prophets foretold that the Messiah would be for both Israel and the Gentiles (see for example Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; Luke 2:32; Acts 13:47; 26:23). Is it not surprising, then, to find Jesus ministering not only to Jews, but to Samaritans and Gentiles? Matthew points out that Jesus began his ministry in “Galilee of the Gentiles” (Matthew 4:15). Then Matthew shows Jesus ministering simultaneously to both Jews and Gentiles that came to him in Galilea from Syria, Decapolis and beyond the Jordan (Matthew 4:24-25). On other occasions we see Jesus ministering to non-Jews, for example, a Samaritan, who was one of one of ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19) and the Roman Centurion’s servant (Luke 7:1-10).

Palestine in the Time of JesusJesus did not just minister to non-Jews that occasionally crossed his path (that is to say, people who sought him out), but he also intentionally traveled across geographical barriers to minister to non-Jews.  In John 4 Jesus went to Samaria. (Note John’s interesting comment that Jesus in John 4:4 that “He had to pass through Samaria”.) His ministry to the woman at the well affected the entire village, who exclaimed, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world” (John 4:42). Jesus also traveled to the Gentile regions of Decapolis, Tyre and Sidon and ministered there. Here are a few other examples of Jesus’ ministry among the Gentiles:

  • The exorcism of demoniac in Gerasenes who then preached in Decapolis (Mark 5:1-20);
  • The healing Canaanite woman’s daughter from Tyre and Sidon (Mark 7:24-30);
  • The healing of a deaf man in Decapolis (Mark 7:31-37);
  • The feeding of the 4,000 took place in Decapolis (Mark 8:1-9 cf. 7:31).

Jesus ministered to the Gentiles because he understood that he was the Messiah for all peoples.  Jesus shows this understanding when he declares, “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd” (John 10:16). Jesus came to be the Messiah of all peoples.  Should it not be surprising, then, that he intentionally ministered to both Jew and Gentile?

A Multiplication Vision

Jesus’ vision was larger than he himself could fulfill.  So from the beginning of his ministry he intentionally called others to follow him and sent them forth to preach (Mark 3:13-15– Even earlier See Mk. 1:16-20). These Jesus equipped, empowered and sent forth in ministry (Matthew 10:1,5ff). Jesus did this first with the twelve and then with the 70 (Luke 9:2; 10:1). Finally he charged his apostles to make disciples, following his example (Matthew 28:18-20; John 20:21; 13:15). Comparing our ministry to Jesus’, let us ask: are we trying to do everything ourselves, or are we mobilizing, equipping and sending forth others, multiplying workers for the harvest field? Also, as we follow how Jesus selected, trained, empowered and released the Twelve, there is a process or strategy that we can also follow. (I intend to write more about this Jesus Multiplication Vision in the near future).

Applying Jesus’ Vision for Ministry

Jesus vision for “saturation” and reaching the nations has inspired and guided many kingdom workers. For example in 1836 Robert Moffat, pioneer missionary to South Africa, shared in a meeting in England:

“Many a morning have I stood on the porch of my house, and looking northward, have seen the smoke arise from villages that have never heard of Jesus Christ. I have seen, at different times, the smoke of a thousand villages—villages whose people are without Christ, without God, and without hope in the world.”

I have seen, at different times, the smoke of a thousand villages—villages whose people are without Christ, without God, and without hope in the world." Robert Moffat

In the audience was young David Livingston, whose heart was captured by the vision of taking the Gospel into the interior of Africa.  Moffat’s words “the smoke of a thousand villages… the smoke of a thousand villages…” weighed upon his heart. Livingston would later marry Robert Moffat’s daughter and devote his life to opening the interior of Africa to the Gospel.  Livingston’s God-given vision drove him on. “I determined never to stop until I had come to the end and achieved my purpose.” “I’ll go anywhere as long as it’s forward.” In recognition of his accomplishments, Livingston is buried in Westminster Abby and it is said that his grave is one of the most visited in the Abby. (For other inspiring quotes by David Livingston see: http://www.azquotes.com/author/8949-David_Livingstone).

In more recent times, Jim Montgomery, when he was a missionary with OC International in the Philippines, received from God a vision of how to reach the entire nation by planting an evangelical church in every barangay (roughly translated village). In the 1970s, it was estimated that 50,000 new churches would be needed in the Philippines by the year 2000 to complete this goal. The Philippine Church leaders committed themselves to this process and by the year 2000, they exceeded their church planting goal. (The first part of this story is told in Montgomery’s book, DAWN 2000.) However they did not succeed in planting a church in every barangay. So the process continues on, but now with the vision to also send Filipinos out as workers to other nations and peoples who are least reached.

Montgomery’s vision led to a strategy called DAWN – Discipling A Whole Nation. It has also been called Saturation Church Planting (SCP). Montgomery left OC International to start DAWN Ministries in the 1980s, as there was great interest in establishing national church planting processes in outer countries. The DAWN strategy was also championed by the World Evangelical Alliance and the AD 2000 Movement in the 1990s. As a result National Church Planting Initiatives were birthed in over 100 countries.

With the opening of Eastern Europe after the Fall of Communism in 1989, the Alliance for Saturation Church Planting formed and began works to catalyze Saturation Church Planting Processes in the Post-Communist countries of Eastern Europe and the Former Soviet Union. This is where I got involved on the ground in Romania, when the Romanian Evangelical Alliance invited OC International to assist them in planting churches in more than 10,000 villages. We developed a strong partnership with the Romanian led Alliance for Saturation Church Planting team and many others as we pursued Jesus’ ministry vision.

Although DAWN Ministries and the Alliance for Saturation Church Planting closed their respective ministries about a decade ago, others continue to promote Jesus’ vision, the Global Church Planting Network being one example (www.GCPN.info).  We are encouraged to see a new generation of leaders catching Jesus’ vision for reaching their nation – and beyond.

Currently I am surveying those who have been involved in DAWN, SCP or national initiatives over the last 30 years or so to in order to gathering insights from leaders who have made significant contributions to national church planting processes around the globe. The insights from this survey will be incorporated into in Dr. Murray Moerman’s forthcoming book, National Church Planting Processes: The Next Generation and will be shared in various venues in 2018 and 2019.

From Jesus’ ministry in the Gospels we can conclude that his aim would be to see that the Gospel proclaimed in every city, town and village and to every people. Consider your own area.  How many people within a 10 mile radius of your church have not heard the Good News? How many locations within, say, 10 miles of your church do not have an evangelical church? What might God want your church to do about this?

Jesus would also minister to those outside his own people group. Here lies a great need. In the world today approximately 2 billion people, or 30% of the world’s population, have no opportunity to hear the Gospel because there is neither missionary activity nor a viable church among them. These too need the Gospel. What is your church doing to make disciples of all the nations?

When Jesus commissioned his disciples to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel”, or to “make disciples of all nations”, or to be his “witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, unto the ends of the earth,” Jesus never asked his disciples – or us – to do anything he himself did not do. Jesus was on the go. He made disciples of the Gentiles. He went to all cities and villages in his region to preach the gospel and went beyond his own cultural and geographical boundaries to preach the gospel to other peoples. Thus Jesus left us an example to follow.

How, then, will you and your church follow in Jesus’ footsteps beginning today?

 

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!

Awesome Video: The Spread of the Gospel

I love this 90 second YouTube video that shows the spread of the Gospel from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.

Check it out for yourself at  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Gp-_ZsUagc

The spread of the Gospel from the first to the twenty-first century is a fascinating story.

It is a story of missionaries and martyrs, whose blood, said Tertullian, is the seed of the Church.

It is the story of kings and commoners, who both embraced the Gospel of the Kingdom and shaped the destiny of nations.

It is the story of amazing advances and as well as significant setbacks.

But most of all, the story of the spread of Christianity is God’s story – it is His Story – and of Christ, who promised to build his church and work through his people to take the Good News of the Kingdom to every tribe and every people in every nation.

Now that the Gospel has reached the ends of the earth, the next challenge is to reach the last peoples on the earth. There are just  6,649 to go.* Let’s work together to finish the last chapter of His Story.

*According to www.JoshuaProject.net, accessed on 2/21/2016, there are 6,649 unreached people groups.

How is God at Work in the World Today?

How is God at work in the world today? This is a question that several of us on the Global Research Team of One Challenge are working together to answer.  During the first quarter of 2016 we will gather information about what the 40 plus teams in the OC Global Alliance accomplished in 2015.  In addition to determining what they accomplished, we also want to discover how God is at work in and through these ministries. Indeed this is a more difficult task that requires divine insight.  This has motivated me to “search the scriptures” to discover how God was at work in the New Testament, presupposing that he continues to work in the same ways today.

A few months ago I started a series about how God is at work in the world today which is very much related. (These are the previous blog posts: On The Study of God’s Great Works Discerning How God is at Work God Opens Doors for Effective Ministry.)

I began with the thesis that scripture provide us with a useful framework to discern how God is at work in the world today.  I will mention, by way of review, two key ideas already developed previously, namely that God is at work in conversions and growing churches, and develop two additional points.

Conversions. Acts 2:47 says, “The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” What a good reminder that every person who comes to faith in Christ did so because God’s work!  So when we number those who were saved through the ministries of OCGA workers in 2015, we have in mind that God too was at work.

Churches. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus promised: “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” When we see the Church growing, either in number or fruitfulness or geographical extension, these are a good indication that Jesus is involved.  So we will tally the new churches that OCGA workers helped start in 2015.

This installment will develop two additional areas: God sends workers and open doors for ministry.

Workers Sent. Jesus told his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Luke 10:2 NIV).  Here we find two complementary truths: first, it is God’s business to send out workers; on the other hand, we see that is our responsibility to pray.

A case study of how the Lord of the Harvest sends out workers is found in Acts 13 at the beginning of the first missionary journey of Barnabas and Saul (aka Paul).

Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.  While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.  The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. (Acts 13:1-4 NIV)

Here we observe that the leaders of the church at Antioch were praying; they were doing their part according to Luke 10:2. We also see two ways that God the Holy Spirit was a work. First the Holy Spirit “said” or spoke to the praying leaders at Antioch to set apart Barnabas and Saul for mission work.  Second the text says that the Holy Spirit “sent” Paul and Barnabas on their way. We might say that the “sending” of Barnabas and Saul was more accurately “redirecting” since both were leaders ministering outside of their homelands; God had other fields for them to open.

Thus, if this case study contains universally applicable principles, when workers are mobilized and sent into the harvest, this is evidence of the Holy Spirit at work.

Over the last five years within the OC Global Alliance we’ve been amazed to see God answer this prayer by raising up new workers from outside of the United States. Those countries that have received workers are now sending mission workers, and these now make up the majority of OCGA workers around the world. This trend within the OC Global Alliance is also manifesting itself on a worldwide scale. This is an exciting way that God is at work sending workers into his harvest field in our time!

Opportunities for ministry. Six passages in the New Testament indicate that God opens doors for effective ministry; two passages point out that God does so in response to prayer.

Let’s start by examining the two passages that highlight the importance of prayer.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8 NIV

In Colossians 4:2,3 (NIV) Paul writes: Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.  And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.

Both passages speak to our responsibility to pray for open doors for gospel ministry, and just like the previous section, workers sent, we find complementary truths: God opens doors for ministry – that is his business; it is our responsibility to pray for open doors for gospel ministry.

The next four passages highlight the fact that God opened a door for ministry.  The first passage comes at the conclusion of the first missionary journey of Paul and Barnabas.

From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. Acts 14:26,27  NIV

Paul and Barnabas perceived that God had been at work opening doors during their first missionary journey to the Gentiles.

The next passage comes in the context of Paul’s third missionary journey where he writes the Corinthian church about his ministry at Ephesus. “But I will stay on at Ephesus until Pentecost, because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me” (1 Cor. 16:8,9).

Luke provides an account of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus in Acts 19:1-20. The entire passage merits a close reading for it gives us further insight into how God was at work there. Here are several highlights.  “This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:10), and “In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.” (Acts 19:20).  Luke also points out that “God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul” (Acts 19:11).

Following his ministry in Ephesus, Paul moved on to Troas and perceived God at work opening a door for ministry there. Again writing to the church at Corinth, Paul says “Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me” (2 Cor. 2:12).

The final passage from Revelation gives us Jesus’ words.

“To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open. “I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” Revelation 3:7,8 NIV

This final passage emphasizes that Jesus opens doors for ministry. It is interesting that we started this section with Jesus’ words in Matthew 7 and concluded with Jesus’ words in Revelation.

How does this apply?

First, we need to pray. Our brief survey noted that it is God’s business bring people to faith in Christ, build the church, send out workers and open doors for effective ministry; it is our responsibility to pray earnestly for workers and open doors for ministry.

Second, we need to keep our eyes open and ask, How is God at work? Previously we noted the need to count conversions and number the churches. These are the more obvious fruits or results of God’s work. This particular study leads us to look for and quantify other ways that God is at work, which precede conversions and churches (or results).  We also need to look at who God is raising up workers for the harvest.  We need to look to where God is sending these workers.  We also need to look at how God is opening doors for gospel ministry.

Here’s how we keep our eyes open to discern God-at-work within the OC Global Alliance.

  1. We track the number of people who come to faith in Jesus Christ through the ministry of our workers.
  2. We also track the number of new churches started.
  3. We track workers associated with the OC Global Alliance. As previously mentioned, in the last five years we’ve seen a large increase of non-American workers within the Alliance.
  4. We track the countries where out teams have ministry. In 2014 OC workers were active in 102 countries – the highest number of countries in the history of the organization! Many of these countries have amazing “God stories” of how God opened the door for ministry. We might call the “open country doors”.
  5. We also track how teams are responding to pressing needs. In 2015 we also saw how God open doors for several of our teams to assist victims of natural disasters or women with crisis pregnancies, the poor, prisoners, children, refugees, immigrants and those who are sick. We might call these “opportunities to minister to needy people doors.” As Titus 3:14 says, ”Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order to provide for urgent needs and not live unproductive lives.”

So we look forward to collecting and telling each team’s “God stories” of how He has been at work in 2015.

I have not yet fully answered the question, “How is God at work in the world today?”  as I still have in mind several  points related to this theme that I hope to develop in the future.  Can you think of other ways God is at work in the world today? Feel free to share your insights as they may be helpful to others who are seeking to discern how God is at work in the world today.

Celebrating 150 Years of Protestant Mission Work in Taiwan

Taiwan Infographic2015 commemorates the 150th anniversary of Protestant mission work in Taiwan. This infographic highlights four fruits of Protestant mission work as well as a task that remains to disciple the whole nation.

  1. 4,101 Protestant Churches
  2. 3 Million Church Members
  3. 5.6% of Taiwan’s population is a member of a Protestant Church.
  4. Protestant Church Membership nearly tripled between 1989 and 2013.

These are impressive accomplishments, built upon the foundation of the first pioneer missionaries and the generations of workers who followed. Still there is much to do as 22 million people in Taiwan are not yet members of a Protestant church. So the included map casts vision for the task that remains.

This map shows how many new churches are needed by district to attain a church to population ratio of 1:1,000 or one church for every thousand people. From the perspective of Saturation Church Planting (SCP), attaining this church to population ratio would provide every person in Taiwan with easy geographical access to a Protestant church and is a significant milestone to reach in the process of discipling a whole nation.  For more information about growth of the Protestant church in Taiwan and the task that remains, see the report by the Global Research Team of One Challenge, Taiwan Church Growth Report 2015.

On the Study of God’s Great Works

As this new school year begins, I’ll be teaching New Testament Survey for the Juniors and Seniors at the local Christian High School, The Kings Academy. As I ponder how to motivate these young scholars to dig deep into the New Testament, my thoughts turn to Psalm 111:2, one of my favorite verses:

“Great are the works of the LORD; They are studied by all who delight in them.” NASB

I’ve found this verse useful to introduce just about any class that I teach.  Here’s why.

On the Importance of Studies

I first latched on to this verse because it highlights the word “study.” Granted, I am showing preference for the NASB and ESV translations, which use the term “study”, because my aim is to motivate others to study God’s works. The meaning of the Hebrew word translated “study” has broader meaning than just academic study, as brought out by the NIV, “they are pondered by all who delight in them” or the KJV which says, “sought out”.  The root seems to go deeper than academic study to include meditation and reflection. So to “study,” “ponder” “seek out” God’s great works is first application of this verse.

Where we can Discover God’s Great Works

As I have pondered this verse over the years, I experienced several great “Aha!” moments when I realized where we can discover God’s great works.

The Bible

I’ve taught Old and New Testament survey classes before and have shared Psalm 111:2 with my students to motivate them to study the scriptures, because the Bible records the marvelous works of the Lord. A casual reading of the Bible will notice that it records God’s works.

In particular Jesus claimed to have worked the works of God. These claims are especially prevalent in John’s Gospel. For example:

But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me. John 5:36 ESV

 “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do”
John 17:4 ESV.

So the Bible is our first “go to place” to discover the works of God.

There is a collection of books called The Great Books, about 500 works of literature that have shaped Western Culture and still have contemporary significance. However, the Greatest Book ever written is the Bible. It has been read by more people, translated into the most languages, and has exerted the greatest positive influence on world history than any other literary work. The Bible is the greatest book because it records, the “great …works of the Lord”. And, yes, its author is God Himself (2 Timothy 3:16) – through the agency of human authors (2 Peter 1:20-21). That alone should make it the Greatest Book ever written!

So it is obvious that the Bible is a rich place to study the “great…works of the Lord. “ But there are other places where we can also discover the God’s works.

All Created Things

I once substituted for a natural science class and shared a devotional thought based Psalm 111:2 with the young scholars, motivating the them to study the physical world, because it is God’s creation, the work of his hands (Psalm 8:6). The Bible begins with an account of how God “created the heavens and the earth.” And God’s work was good, yes, very good. Psalm 19, written by David, begins “The heavens are declaring the glory of God.” Paul too refers to God’s revelation of himself though creation when he says “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made…” (Romans 1:20) Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626), who is considered the father of the scientific method, observed “God has, in fact, written two books, not just one. Of course, we are all familiar with the first book he wrote, namely Scripture. But he has written a second book called creation.” No doubt Bacon’s understanding of the Creator motivated him to devise methods to study His creation. So then the study of the natural sciences, astronomy, geology, physics, chemistry, botany and biology, can point to the “great …works of the Lord,” leading us to marvel at his power and wisdom.

Human History Points to His Story

I’ve taught the history of Christian missions on several occasions. Psalm 111:2 is fitting to share with those classes, as a trained mind should be able to discern the “great…works of the LORD” throughout the history of Christian missions. There is a German word that I love: heilsgeschichte – it is fun to say and means :”an interpretation of history emphasizing God’s saving acts and viewing Jesus Christ as central in redemption” (Merriam Webster Dictionary). In my opinion, the person who coined this term got it right. We can discover in history God’s great works. Human history points to His Story!

The Present Day Mission Work

Recently I used Psalm 111:2 to introduce a training seminar on missionary research. The mission organization that I serve with, One Challenge International, says, “We ask how God is at work, then we assist the Body of Christ to being God’s transformation to individuals, communities and nations.” Since we hold that God continues to work in the world today, missionary field research enables us to seek how God is at work today – if we connect the facts with the divine factors causing Church growth (1 Corinthians 3:5ff) – and then join Him in His redemptive purposes.

The mission information worker or researcher is much like a news reporter – relating the story of what God is doing today.

So my second observation from Psalm 111:2 is that God’s works can be found in many places: scripture, the created order, in the history of Christian missions and on the mission field today. We have plenty to study!

Discovering God’s Work is Delightful!

This leads to a final observation: studying the works of God is delightful. Psalm 111:2 concludes on this note: “Great are the works of the LORD; They are studied by all who delight in them.” I’ve found great delight in discovering God’s work.

I remember when I first started to read though the Bible with spiritually open eyes. Wow! What wonderful discoveries I made that I was blind to in previous readings. This was also the same time when I discovered the highlighter. Vast portions of my Bible turned yellow as I marked those marvelous, life transforming passages. I discovered, as David wrote, that the scriptures “are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10).

Over the years as a mission information worker, I’ve spent hundreds of hours entering data into Church and Christian worker databases. Many would consider this mundane work, but I’ve found it exhilarating, after I realized that I’m not just entering data, but I am recording the great works of the Lord. Each baptism represents God’s work in the life of a new believer. Each new church has God’s fingerprints all over it. Every new missionary sent out, every new Christian Worker is evidence of God’s work. I’ve experienced delightful moments of worship when I’ve recognized God’s work in the data of Christian missions.

Motivation for Education

We might view the interaction of God’s works, study and delight as a spiral. The more we study, ponder, reflect on God’s works, the more we delight in them. And the more we delight in God’s work, the more we want to study them.

I hope that you frequently experience the joy of discovering God’s great works – where ever they are found.

Sharing the Great News of God’s Wonderful Works

Another motive for studying the great works of the Lord is to “Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples” (Psalm 96:3 NASB). We cannot share with another what we have first discovered ourselves. As we turn to the New Testament, we realize that the greatest work of the Lord is the atoning death of Jesus Christ and his resurrection from the dead, which provides the basis for the forgiveness of sins. Luke summarizes, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46,47).  This succinct summary points to the greatest news of God’s wonderful works, and our 21st century obligation to share it with all peoples.

My Next Step

The New Testament has quite a bit to say about how God continues to work out his redemptive plan. So I intend to write a brief piece that identifies some of the specific items that a “trained mind” looks for to discover God’s work in history and the present.