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.

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.

Advancing Missions Education in the Local Church

globe churchThe Missions Board of our local church is pondering how to better integrate missions education into the church’s children, youth and adult ministries.  As we started to consider what outcomes to pursue, I figured that someone probably has already thought this through. Why reinvent the wheel!  Although I did not find what I was looking for on the internet, I remembered that in my library I have the ACMC Missions Education Handbook, which I purchased back in 1984. Sure enough, it lists these mission education outcomes:

  1. To develop an awareness of the biblical basis of missions in each individual in the congregation
  2. To develop an awareness of the needs of the world in each individual in the congregation.
  3. To create a climate in which God’s leading into missions service can be heard, confirmed and obeyed.
  4. To send motivated and capable persons into missionary service.
  5. To equip believers to support (prayerfully, emotionally, materially, etc.) the cause of mission and missionaries serving on the field.
  6. To develop competent leaders to direct the missions ministry of the local church.

(The Association of Church Mission Committees. Missions Education Handbook. Wheaton IL. 1983: page 19.)

These seem rather comprehensive and lay a good foundation for missions education in the local church. The handbook also includes specific outcomes, objectives and programming ideas for each age level in the local church, which I find helpful.

With these ends in mind, the Mission Board can now enter into dialogue with the Children’s Ministry Board and Adult Ministries Board, as well as the ministry staff, to learn what is already being done to pursue these outcomes and dream together about what else we can do to help all generations in the church to actively “declare His glory among the nations” (Psalm 96:3).

Can you help us out with some creative ideas? What is your church doing to promote the six outcomes mentioned above? Share an example or two here to encourage others.

Great Books on Christian Mission

Mission booksAfter recently browsing our church library’s collection, I stared thinking about great books on Christian mission.

The Joshua Project has a very good list of recommended books on mission at: http://joshuaproject.net/resources/articles. I was pleased to see several of my personal favorites listed under each listed for each of these topics

Biblical Basis of Missions
Children’s Resources
Classic Missionary Works
Involvement Ideas
Mission Committees
Missionary Biographies
Missionary Care
Prayer
Preparation
Reference
Short-Term Missions
Strategy and Trends

This is a great “pool” to draw from for various purposes: personal study, preparing short term teams, materials for church mission committees or leadership teams to read and prayerfully discuss or for church librarians to choose future additions for the church library.

I was pleased to find a rich selection of missionary biographies. I consider missionary biographies to be one of the best vision casting and missionary educational tools.

Youth With A Mission (YWAM) offers several very good series of missionary biographies. The “Christian Heroes” series is geared for young people. They also offer the International Adventure series that focuses on great contemporary missionary stories. Of course they also offer a good selection of mission books. Check out their online store at https://www.ywampublishing.com/

The William Carey Library is the go to source for more technical mission works.  Founded by Ralph Winter, the William Carey Library was one of the first companies to exclusively publish mission resources. The on line store is found at https://missionbooks.org/.

Of course the best missionary book is the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation, the major theme of the Bible is the outworking of God’s eternal purpose to re-establish his Kingdom on earth and provide salvation for all humanity. So the Bible is at the very top of my recommended mission book list. Read it with eyes seeking out God’s heart for all  the nation and your perspective on life will not remain the same.

Next to the Bible, I would place Operation World. This is a country- by-country survey of the world with pertinent prayer points.  Later this year an abridged version of Operation World is to be published: Pray for the World. A friend who is on the editorial team says, “This is the book that should have been written first.” I am looking forward to using it.  For more about Operation World and the available resources visit http://www.operationworld.org/.

From these recommendations,  you can certainly find a good read.

26 Ways – and Counting – to Promote World Missions in Your Local Church

Our church missions committee is pondering how to promote world missions.  To gather ideas, I decided to try a brainstorming experiment using Facebook. I posted:

I’m interested in trying a brainstorming experiment with social media. I’d like to brainstorm ways to promote world missions in a local church. Feel free to submit ANY ideas you have. (That is what brainstorming is all about) Evaluation of ideas will come later.

Five people submitted the following 26 ideas. I think it is a pretty good list.

  1. “Invite people living in your community (Christian or not) but are from other countries to come and speak about where they are from, what they love about their country of origin and what kinds of challenges exist.”
  2. “Go on a trip!!!”
  3. “The Perspectives class seems to be successful at educating Christians about need for missions.”
  4. “Have supported missionaries share their experiences in services and Sunday School.”
  5. Have a mission table visible manned by people who have been on mission short-term trips or to promote future trips, that is assuming the church is already sending teams to do missions.
  6. Make teams visible to the congregations by commissioning them in church services.
  7. Show mission work on video feeds before and after services, church dinners, and other events.
  8. Have mission emphasis weeks and Sundays
  9. Have projects at the church such as packing food or seeds to send overseas.
  10. Have a sewers group that make quilts, blankets, dresses, sweaters, etc to send overseas.
  11. Adopt a foreign mission to support and send teams, develop a partnership with them.
  12. Have a minister or person whose job is to plan, train and promote mission teams and projects.
  13. Start a Kairos course followed by an outreach.
  14. Use bulletin boards and framed artwork to communicate the message
  15. Have slides before & after services,
  16. Have mission projects,
  17. Weave mission in to nearly every teaching opp,
  18. Adopt-a-country or people group.
  19. Pray thru headlines.
  20. Host International meals.
  21. Develop connections between people who are different.
  22. Consider how gratitude can be a motivator.
  23. Biographies.
  24. Maps.
  25. Prayer stations.
  26. Real live missionaries at VBS, events, in Sunday School, in groups, at meals…

I’d like to continue the brainstorming experiment here.

So feel free to contribute all your ideas to promote world missions in a local church.

Our Abundant Resources to do God’s Work: Funding the Great Commission (4)

As our team began to develop our mission work in Romania, we often heard this excuse from Christian workers “Nu avem, de aceea nu putem.” There is a lot packed into this phrase, so let me provide a dynamic equivalent translation.  “Because we don’t have the stuff we think we need to do God’s work, we are excused from the responsibility to participate in God’s mission.”  I’ve since discovered that this kind of thinking shared by many other believers in Jesus Christ. And to be honest, I sometimes  find myself in that group more often than I would like to admit.

After hearing this excuse all too many times, a colleague of mine began teaching about the abundant resources that we have to do God’s work in order to challenge this “poverty mentality”. Since it is never hurts to remind ourselves of the unfathomable riches we have in Christ, here are the primary resources God has given us to do Great Commission work.

Our first and greatest resource is God. What seems impossible with us is possible with God Almighty (Mark 10:27). He is Jehovah Jirah, our provider (Gen 22:14), able to supply all of our needs (Phil 4:19).  Jesus, who is at the right hand of God, intercedes for us (Rom. 8:34), gives the Spirit without measure (John 3:34), and he builds his Church (Matt. 16:18). The Holy Spirit gifts and empowers us for service (Acts 1:8) and guides us into all truth (John 16:13).

A second resource is the Word of God.  God has given many wonderful promises to make us adequate for the work. (2 Peter 1:4-8; 2 Cor. 1:20; Psalm 34:10) A promise that I committed to memory early in my discipleship journey reminds me of this fact: “Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant” (2 Cor. 3:5-6). Another great promise is Matthew 6:33: “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”

A third resource is prayer.  In answer to believing prayer (Mark 11:24) doors are opened (Col. 4:3) – quite literally in the case of Peter (Acts 12:5f) and Paul (Acts 16:25,26) – workers are sent forth (Matt. 9:38), the Gospel spreads rapidly (2 Thes. 3:1) and needed resources are provided (Matt. 6:33 ). Because of this, not only do we devote ourselves to prayer, but we invite others to faithfully pray for God’s work. “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16).

A fourth resource represents our front line co-workers.  God has gifted each believer with spiritual gifts to God good works (Eph. 2:10). Our diverse abilities and giftings work together for God’s glory  (1 Cor. 12; 1 Peter 4:10,11). Combining our diverse experiences, gifting and abilities, we have a greater return for our labor (Eccl. 4:9). Godly and effective workers automatically emerge from the baptismal waters. They have to be equipped for doing good works (Ephesians 4:11-12; Timothy 3:16,17).

Finally, our supporters are a fifth, valued resource. These godly men and women faithfully uphold the work in prayer (1 Thes. 5:25) and give financially (Luke 8:3; Phil. 1:3-5; 4:15-18; 2 Cor. 11:8).  Christian workers cannot go make disciples if they are not sent. (Rom. 10:15).  So those who send are a vital part of Great Commission work. In fact, those who send are as much co workers for the truth as those on the front line (3 John 8).

All these resources, promised and freely given to us by God, should be adequate to “disciple all nations.”

Why then has the Great Commission task not been completed, if the resources are adequate? 

Perhaps the answer lies in our failure to properly utilize the resources God has given us.

Perhaps we’ve come to believe that material “stuff” is essential to do God’s work – stuff that the Apostles did not have  – Peter did say” silver and gold have I none” (Acts 3:6)– and that the “stuff” that the Apostles considered essential to do God’s work, we don’t have- for example it was said of Stephen (Acts 6:5) and Barnabas (11:24) that they were “full of faith and the Holy Spirit.”

Or perhaps we ourselves have become lukewarm, thinking that we are rich but in reality spiritually poor, lax in prayer, doubtful of God’s promises, or have majored on minors while neglecting to make disciples who are passionate about realizing God’s purpose in the world – thus leaving us without the co-workers, prayer and financial means necessary to complete the work. But this need not be.

Not all Christian workers in Romania share the poverty mentality I mentioned in the first paragraph. I’ve heard numerous stories of how Romanians in the interbellic period (between WWI and WWII) and in the Communist era and up to the present have followed God’s command to preach the Gospel —  even though they had little. They traveled from village to village by bicycle, by horse and wagon or on foot to share the good news.  As a result, today there are more evangelicals in Romania than the rest of the countries in Eastern Europe combined.  Their example should inspire us. They may have lacked much of what we consider essential today –salaries, automobiles, cell phones, cameras, computers , church buildings– but what they did have, zeal for the Lord, made up for any lack.

Their example – and the example of those from around the world who are “full of faith and the Holy Spirit”– challenges my own poverty mentality and also challenges me to fully use all the resources God has provided for Great Commission work.

Your Turn

What’s your “take” on why the Great Commission task has not been completed, if the resources are adequate? More importantly, how well are you putting to work the resources God has promised and provide for you?

Serving as Senders: Six types of support every missionary needs

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 

And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”  Romans 10:14-15 NIV

Realistically not every believer is able to cross cultural or geographical boundaries to bring good news. But every true believer can be involved in the process of sending those who can go. In Romans 10 we find two complementary roles: those who go; and those who send. Both roles are necessary to advance God’s purpose to be known, worshiped and obeyed by all nations

soldiersWe can think of these two complimentary roles in terms of soldiers involved in war. There are those on the front line and those who support the soldiers at the front. During WWII, about 15 people supported just one soldier on the front line. Today 50 people support a front line soldier. So the role of the missionary sender is vital. Those who “send” do so by offering encouragement, faithfully praying and by providing financial support and other needed resources. Without these, those on the front line would not be able to serve

A few years ago I wrote a chapter for the Romanian edition of Neil Pirolo’s excellent book, Serving as Senders. Pirolo speaks of six different ways we can serve as senders. Here are six types of support every missionary needs.

1. Moral support. Those who cross cultural, and geographical barriers for the cause of Christ need encouragement, though too often they hear words of discouragement.  Gracious words, a card, a gift, a visit, a warm embrace all strengthen the heart. “Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing” (1 Thes. 5:11).

2. Logistic support. Sometimes those who go need help on the home front. This might involve helping with financial matters storing personal items, , looking after family, or sending care package – especially those items that cannot be obtained overseas.

3. Financial support. By faith missionaries look to God to provide for their personal and ministry needs. One veteran OC missionary says, “I don’t raise support; God lowers it.” Indeed God does provide – through friends, mission-minded individuals, relatives and churches who care for us and who believe in what we are doing.

4. Prayer support. The greatest thing you can do for those who go is to faithfully pray for them. “God…gives the growth” (1 Cor. 3:7). So fruitfulness depends on answered prayer (Jn. 15:16). In answer to prayer doors are opened (Col. 4:3), workers are sent (Mt. 9:38), the Gospel spreads rapidly (2 Thes. 3:1) “The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much” (James 5:16).

5. Communication support. Keep in touch with your missionaries. Read their prayer letters and share your news with them too. “Like cold water to a weary soul, So is good news from a distant land” (Prov. 25:25).

6. Re-entry support. This involves much more than applause when the airplane lands. Home assignment is not a vacation.  There are people to see, churches to visit and support to raise. Missionaries on furlough have logistical needs: housing, transportation, etc. – but have a greater need to be listened to. They spent years abroad for the cause of Christ, but friends, family and churches show little interest in hearing of their successes — let alone their struggles. Each comes home with an “emotional back pack” full of disappointments, strained relationships, stresses, and possibly a wounded soul. Wise churches provide debriefing and pastoral care to restore and strengthen the soul.

Senders are fellow workers with the truth.

Beginning with the Apostle Paul’s words of the about the vital role of the sender, we conclude with the Apostle John’s perspective..

You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth. (3 John 6-8).

By sending missionaries on their way in a manner worthy of God, we become fellow workers. What can you do, what will you do to send out workers for the cause of Christ?