Dayenu, It Would Have Been Enough!

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

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

To the Praise of His Glorious Grace

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

Life in Christ

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

Gentiles Included in God’s People

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

My! How God has lavished his grace upon us!

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

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

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

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

 

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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.

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.