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.

Maps Show the Need for Church Planters in Japan

 

Japan is one of the least reached nations in the world. Just 0.43% of the Japanese are church members and about half of these regularly attend church. This means over 126 million people in Japan most likely have not understood the Good News about Jesus Christ.

In October of 2015, the Global Research Team of One Challenge assisted church leaders in Japan by producing maps that show the state of Church in Japan and highlight the work that remains to disciple the whole nation.

Japan No Church PrefectsOne of the more intriguing maps produced by the Global Research Team shows the percentage of cities and towns by prefect that do not have a church. In 29 of Japan’s 47 prefectures at least 50% of the towns do not have a church. Two prefectures have no churches at all. Just one prefecture has a church in every town. Thus we conclude that not only have a large majority of those in Japan never heard the Good News about Jesus Christ, but they have little opportunity to hear the Good News, since there are so many towns that do not have a single Church. This particular map, then, highlights the areas that need workers to preach the Good News. As Paul wrote:

How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!” Romans 10:14,15 NASB

Other maps for Japan can be viewed at the Global Church Planting Network’s website.

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.

Improve the Life of People in Your Community

The first week of November I enjoyed representing One Challenge at Taylor University’s World Opportunities Week. This was a lovely opportunity to interact with students who are seeking to discover God’s plan for their lives.  As I was sharing with a student about how OC uses research to identify needs of communities and countries where we work, she shared something she learned in her public health class, where her professor repeatedly emphasized:

“You can’t solve problems for people living in a place you know nothing about.”

How true. To improve the life of a people, one must first understand the context.

Ed Stetzer points this out in the forward he wrote for Patrick Johnstone’s newest book, Serving God in Today’s Cities. “If you don’t properly understand the context in which you want to minister until after you start ministering there, your ministry will likely be more frustrating than fruitful.”

This week I participated in a webinar with Luis Bush from Transform World 2020, where he shared:

If the Church wants to be relevant and effective in the community, it needs good information that describes the community’s people and need, the condition of the church; and the spiritual forces which influence current reality. The Church must see the city as it truly is; not just what it seems to be. These data will show leaders God’s top priorities and highest leverage (greatest results per effort) ministries that will bring about the most impact and lasting results.
http://www.transform-world.net/article/transform-world-principle

Thinking back to when I assisted a group of church leaders seeking to promote community development in Romania, it was their consensus that community development had to begin with a community needs survey. Only by knowing the people in an area and their needs, can relevant action be taken to improve the lives of those who live there. Or we might say that if we are going to love our neighbors, we must first know our neighbors.

Paul wrote to Titus “Our people must also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing deeds, so that they will not be unfruitful” (3:14). So ask yourself:

  • What pressing needs in your community need addressed?
  • What actions would address these needs?
  • What resources can the Body of Christ muster to improve the life of people in your community?
  • What information is already available about your community? Where can I find it?
  • What other information would be helpful? How can I find this out?
  • Is there anyone who is already studying my community? How could I help? If no one is gathering information, could I start the process? Who could help?
  • How can I share what I’m learning about my community with other like-minded people?

I’ve always found that it insightful to go out and walk the streets of a community, praying about what I see.  Seeing the people and their needs and bringing them before the Father’s throne never fails to stir up love for them.

Perhaps the first step to improve life in your community is to step outside and take a look around.

Persecution: The New Norm for Christians in the USA Today?

The International Days of Prayer for the Persecuted Church are on Sundays, November 1 and 8, this year.   Often Western Christians think of persecution happening “over there” in North Africa, the Middle East, India or Asia. However this year, persecution –and even martyrdom — seems much closer to home.

The “2015 Role of Martyrs” now includes persons from the United States, having in view the shootings in Oregon and South Carolina – interestingly nine persons were shot/martyred in each case and the shooter chose a “lucky one” to tell the world why he did what he did.

The news source I regularly follow draws attention to the persecution of Christians in the United States: hate speech, lawsuits, jail, ridicule, pressure to not publically practice one’s faith. Thinking about this rise of persecution in the USA Today, I came across these words of Jesus.

“The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify about it that its works are evil.” (John 7:7)

“Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also.”( John 15:20)

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when {people} insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:10-12)

I guess we should not take it personally when we are “persecuted for righteousness sake.” This is just a manifestation of people’s hatred of Jesus. They hate us because they first hated Him.

So the International Days of Prayer for the Persecuted Church are not only for our brothers and sisters “over there,” but for us too. Perhaps this will add a bit more passion to our praying. Check out the website for the International Day of Prayer for specific ways to pray.

God Opens Doors for Effective Ministry

Last weekend I was sharing at a missions conference in Kansas about the work of One Challenge. I pointed out that in 2014, OC workers were active in 102 countries –  the highest number of countries in the history of the organization. Since I’ve started writing this blog series about the ways that God is at work in the world, it occurred to me to look at the broadening of OC’s ministry from the God-at-work perspective.

New Testament Teaching

Turning to the New Testament, we find five passages that state God opens doors for effective ministry. The majority of these are about Paul’s ministry.

When they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. Acts 14:27

But I will remain in Ephesus until Pentecost; for a wide door for effective {service} has opened to me, and there are many adversaries. 1 Corinthians 16:8-9

Now when I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ and when a door was opened for me in the Lord. 2 Corinthians 2:12

Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned. Colossians 4:2,3

In Revelation we have the words of Jesus Himself.

“And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write:  He who is holy, who is true, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens, says this: ‘I know your deeds. Behold, I have put before you an open door which no one can shut, because you have a little power, and have kept My word, and have not denied My name.’” (Revelation 3:7-8)

While all these passages point out that God opens doors for effective ministry, the Colossians 4 passage adds the additional point that God opens doors for effective ministry in response to prayer.

Modern Examples of How God Opens Doors through Prayer

As I reflect on how God opens doors for effective ministry through prayer, one striking example comes to mind. In 1982 God led Brother Andrew, the founder of the organization “Open Doors,” to launch a seven-year prayer campaign for the opening of the Communist Bloc. The campaign began in 1983. Seven years later on November 9, 1989 the Berlin Wall came down and rest of Eastern European countries soon came out from under the Communist yoke. As a result, the 1990s witnessed the beginning of religious freedom first in Eastern Europe, then in the former Soviet Union.

I well remember reading Charles Colson’s accounts of the role that people of faith played in the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe in “The Body”. Little did I realize that God would open a door for me and my family to serve in Romania for 15 years, strengthening the churches there.

Paul reminds us that God “is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). In the case of Brother Andrew’s seven year prayer campaign, not only did God “open doors” in Eastern Europe, but God also opened up Central Asia after the collapse of the Soviet Union. At that time Central Asia was an even tougher “no access zone” than Eastern Europe.

God gave me an “open door” to have a short term ministry trip to Mongolia 2013 – where I learned how God opened this closed country with just four believers in 1990, built his church, which numbered at least 41,000 in 2014, and was using Mongolian believers to enter even more difficult “no access zones”.

Yes, God is able to do way more than we can ask or think.

Oh God, now open the 10/40 Window!

As Eastern Europe and Central Asia were breaking free from the Communist yoke, Christian leaders began to focus prayer attention on the world’s toughest “no access zone”, the 10/40 Window. For over two decades now, the month of October has been chosen to “pray through the window.” Although we have yet see an opening of North Africa, the Middle East, Central and Eastern Asia similar to the Communist Bloc, there are signs that God is at work in the region in an unprecedented way. What wonderful testimonies we hear of how God is drawing peoples in this region to himself and how encouraging to see the growing number of church or disciple making movements!   These “first fruits” should encourage us to continually intercede for the opening of the 10/40 Window.

So in response to prayer, God opens doors to for effective and fruitful ministry. This is another way that God is at work in our world today. Since this is the case, how are you praying for God to open doors? And when God opens a door for ministry, he has in mind someone to walk through that door, and you just might be the person! Are you ready to go with God through that open door?