Across Cultures

The World Has Changed

©kentoh | 123rf stock photos Saying the world has changed may seem an understatement, an obvious one. But Paul Borthwick is a world-renown teacher and consultant on world missions, and this statement is the recurring theme of his book. He isn't referring to technology, nor culture per se. It's a declaration about global missions. And he ought to know, he has much experience to back it up .

While reading through his most recent book, Western Christians in Global Mission, I was both challenged and refreshed by his writing, research, and dialogue to western Christians involved in global mission, such as myself. As a cross-cultural missionary, I had a vested interest in reading this book and I was not disappointed.

I've already recommended it to others, and wrote a review on Amazon. But I wanted to make a recommendation here on my blog. The subtitle alone challenges the reader with a question too often unconsidered— What's the Role of the North American Church (in Global Mission)?Western_Mission_cover

Having been a church planter in the US and trainer of church planters and leaders in SE Asia, this is a vital question to be answered. Mr Borthwick does this well in several ways.

He begins with broad views of the church in North America and the Majority World, and how they fit into the state of the world. He sees Nine Great changes in the world that are Great Challenges for the church worldwide (pages 33-60).

  • The Great Transition— the worldwide church is primarily non-white, non-Western, and non-wealthy
  • The Great Migration— there are vast movements of people from nation to nation
  • 2 Great Divides— an Economic Divide and a Theological Divide
  • 2 Great Walls— the first being a wall between the gospel "haves" and the gospel "have-nots," the second is the effect of environmental impacts on the poor.
  • The Great Commission— the church has not done a good job making disciples, either in North America or the Majority World (making converts is not the same as making disciples).
  • The Great Compassion— seeing beyond the need of salvation to see people in their need of many things for daily life (yet without causing a dependency).
  • The Great Salvation— a personal worldview that serves as a reminder and motivation for going out into the world with the gospel.
  • The Great Celebration— having vision for the celebration in heaven of every tribe, tongue, and nation worshipping Jesus.

The author goes on to give "An Appraisal of the North American Church." It is one I found to be both confirming and challenging. Then "An Appraisal of the Majority World Church." This was both refreshing and disconcerting, and it confirmed my thoughts that the great need in the Majority World (I call it MOTROW) is the need for sound equipping of leaders.

A good portion of the book is dedicated to seeing how to move forward to meet these changes and challenges. There are plenty of open-ended questions and penetrating insights given by Majority World leaders to foster discussion and consideration. The author adds stories of his own that give vivid insight into the learning curve presented in this book.

His extensive experience in many countries and continents with various leaders and people groups qualifies him to not only make statements, but pose important questions. He gets into specifics and provides practical queries and guidance.

I found myself agreeing over and over again with the points made and the challenges posed. Not only does Paul Borthwick make his case well and graciously, it lines up with my own observations from experience on the mission field for the past 20+ years, including 15 years as a resident in the Philippines.

I don't just recommend this book, I believe it is a must read for anyone in North America who wants to keep in step with God's plan for His Great Commission, especially western-culture missionaries.

A continuing theme throughout the book is, "The world has changed." So has the church worldwide, and the world mission movement.

America has a role, but it's not out in front taking charge, directing, and funding everything. It's in a partnership alongside Majority World missionary leaders.

I hope you'll take time to read and thoughtfully consider all that's presented in this book. The world has changed and it's waiting for us to catch up with it.

Fruit

The value of long-term missions, especially cross-cultural missions, is the fruit it can produce. Time and investment are key. Not just marking time, nor the investment of money. These things produce their own fruit, but they are not spiritual, nor do they always further God's kingdom. I'm talking about the time it takes to invest in people and God's mission, which will always extend God's kingdom. It's not rocket-science, as they say, it's obvious. It's what Jesus did when establishing the Kingdom of God on earth. He invested His time in people—twelve men in particular, three men more deeply (Mark 1:14-20; 3:13-19). This same model works today, but is not always followed. Why? Because it requires commitment, faithfulness, persistence, and other such qualities and disciplines not so popular in our current age.

It is the cure, if you will, for discipling the present distracted generation. It is time-tested on the world's mission field. So, it is just as relevant now as it was in the time of Jesus. Relevant for local (home) missions and world (international) missions.

The past few weeks have reminded me of this. I had the privilege of preaching in a local church of a couple I've mentored for many years. Pastor Randy was one of my students and then one of my teaching staff at the Bible school. By his own admission, he was not an easy student. Manju, his wife, was the classmate of my oldest daughter, Becky, and on my administrative staff for several years. She calls herself a Filipina trapped in an Indian body.

They are one of several couples who are the continuing fruit (John 15:5, 8, 16) of the Bible college, or as some called it, the Bridal College. So be it. I see no shame in finding your life partner in a school of ministry of any level, especilly when the couple continues on in ministry.

I see no problem encouraging couples in marriage who have a commitment to God and His kingdom. Often, their families don't see it that way, nor their friends, nor the prevailing culture. Randy and Manju are a good example. They are from two very different cultures and socio-economic backgrounds. They are two very different personalities. And they fit together as true disciples of Jesus, bearing fruit that lasts.

This past year they resigned from their stable positions on the Training Center staff to pastor a small church full-time. The church is in a residential area adjacent to the (at times very noisy) airport. They have stepped out in faith and God has honored their faith. In that alone, they have been an example of faith for their church that encourages the people to follow the same Jesus they follow.

Time investment is not for those who look to whatever is expedient for the moment, or whatever is popular and trending. It requires vision from God and the grace of God to persevere in His calling. It is an investment in people and their lives. A building of relationships that requires commitment, faithfulness and lots of acceptance and mercy. The things we see in Jesus.

When others see this in us, whether as recognized leaders or simple followers of Jesus, they are more able to see Jesus in us. This is how God intends for His kingdom to be built, in any geographic location and within any culture.

Are you a follower of Jesus? How do people see your life as an example of His? How do they see you at work, at play, at home, or wherever you may be? Another way of saying it is, what is your influence on people?

We will produce some kind of fruit in our lives and in the lives we connect with, but what kind of fruit is it? Is it fruit that encourages others to walk in faith? Is it fruit that produces others who follow Jesus as we follow Him?

Extended Family

Extended family living under the same roof is common in many cultures. It hasn't been so common in America the past few decades, but that's changing because of present economic realities. At Rainbow  we have an extended family on one compound under a few roofs. On special occasions (Christmas, weddings, despididas [farewell parties], we see other members of Rainbow's extended family join us.

Susan and I feel at home when we travel to the Philippines to rejoin our extended Rainbow family. It's a community of young and old (we're the old ones now). Each person has a place within this community, this family. This is what God intends for His family, the church, the Body of Christ [1 Cor 12:12, 14, 18, 25-26]. Seeing God's extended family, the church worldwide, is a great blessing for cross-cultural missionaries. When we are here in Dumaguete City, we rejoin our church family at CCD. It's been our home church for two decades. This past Sunday I had the privilege of sharing a message at another local church, pastored by my good friend, Oscar, who's also a good artist, and a skilled teacher and trainer of leaders.

I've enjoyed the privilege of worshiping with many church families over the years, in many different geographic locations and cultures. Several times I've been the only white face present, yet I felt connected with God's extended family.

I appreciate my experiences in these church families. Not because I get to travel or serve cross-culturally, which I love to do, but it gives me a better perspective of God's church. It is a worldwide community, one large extended family.

Living in America, in our very fragmented and isolated culture, we're myopic. We have a very narrow, near-sighted view of life and the world. Our news media is so controlled by popular interest, it's hard to find out what's going on in the rest of the world. It doesn't matter what network. It's frustrating when you know there's much more going on in the world, but it seems closed off.

This is how church can be anywhere. In America, we've refined this myopic focus of attention on ourselves, and it's sad. It's also very selfish and self-centered, and something we need to guard our hearts against.

When we're in the Philippines we get a much wider view of world news, and a better sense of the church international. At a small missions conference this past week, I heard my pastor friend John share about the underground church and Bible school where he visited and taught. This stirs my heart, it always does.

A great need exists throughout much of the world for training and equipping leaders within the church. This need has burdened my heart for many years. It's not that they need me, if anything I need them. But they do need what I and many other western leaders have to offer— experience and expertise.

In America, we (the church) have been blessed, and abundantly so. A lot of talk has gone on about redistributing wealth. The church worldwide doesn't need the material wealth of American churches, that would ruin them. What they need is our wealth of spiritual resources— training, expertise, mentoring, and the like.

We need to see the church as an extended family that shares what God has blessed us with, not keeping it for ourselves. There are millions, no billions, of souls who are waiting for us to do so. The idea of sharing and being a community, an extended family, is what we see with the first church [Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37].

This was the Lord's design and direction for His church. Why has it changed? Was it God who changed it or us? If you're not sure, just ask Him.

Killing of the Innocents

Last week I saw a clip from a movie about the life of Jesus, one of the many shown each Christmas and Easter season. It is a disturbing part of the life of Jesus (Matthew 2:16-18) where King Herod orders the murder of all boys two years and younger. It is a prophetic echo from the prophet Jeremiah when he foresaw the destruction of Jerusalem hundreds of years prior to Herod (Jer 31:15). Herod orders the killing of these innocent children out of his own self-absorbed anger and jealousy. It was pure evil.

Reflecting on the recent evil killing of innocent children in Newtown, CT, I'm reminded how often such killing takes place unnoticed by the general population of the world. But it doesn't go unnoticed. Not by those parents, children, and communities who witness these atrocious and evil acts. Neither does it go unnoticed by God.

The Fix
I addressed this a bit in another post (Broken), but I have some further thoughts on the aftermath of the killings. A lot of debate developed over how to fix whatever problem caused it all. How to prevent such tragedies. I heard three general themes or issues through all the rhetoric—gun control, violence in the media, and mental and moral health management.

Gun control will be debated over and over, and some good points can be made. Two thoughts come to mind. Gun ownership is a right according to the Bill of Rights, and once a right is eroded in some way (like the current assault on religious freedom, ie: Christianity), it is a slippery slope for more erosion. Okay, I get that. 

But the 2nd thought is this—guns are instruments of destruction, pure and simple. That's their purpose, whether it's a target, an animal, or a human being. Yes, they can be a deterrent and means of protection (self-defense). Yes, others with evil intent must be restrained, whether individuals or people groups (nations). But, the ultimate question is how much is enough, and will it really be enough?

We do live in a violent culture. I see this obsessive fascination in the many forms of media that inundate our culture—movies, TV series, digital games, cartoons, etcetera and so on. It isn't normal and it isn't healthy, just ask the many men and women of the military returning from active war environments, to whom we owe a debt of gratitude.

This also can become another so-called freedom issue. But is it really? Do we really need all this violent input involving zombies, vampires, and people who take the law into their own hands. We (our culture) glorify violence, plain and simple. And if we think it doesn't have a lasting and impactful influence on our psyche, then we are in serious denial at best, or simple self-inflicted delusion.

Deeper down
The third general theme of discussion formed around people with mental health issues and the general moral compass of our culture. This gets much closer to the core issue. But alas, morality cannot be legislated. Well, it can be put into law, but it won't just happen because of a law, no matter how well enforced.

How about the prevention of violence by the mentally ill? First of all, who determines which people are at risk for violence? How does one go about doing this? It's a rather impossible task to accomplish. Too many variables and factors are involved, and the bigger issue would be those in contact with whoever could be considered potentially dangerous. Dr M Scott Peck looked into this issue in his book, "People of the Lie."

Determining who is bent towards violent, evil action is not easily discerned. Ultimately, it's a people problem. All of us have a certain capacity for doing terrible things. It's called selfish human nature. When self-indulgence and self-exaltation (and other self absorbed characteristics) go unchecked anyone can be self-destructive, and this can spin off into violence towards others.

A cursory view of un-rewritten history (think– non-politically-corrected) brings the reality of human evil into sharp focus. It is easy to blame tyrants such as Hitler, but what about the many people who played a part in his spectacle of evil? The problem of evil is an internal one. Whether we choose it or not, it coexists in our world with good—moral, ethical and spiritual goodness. 

External restrictions and controls will never fix this problem. It might slow it down a bit, for a while, but it won't solve the problem. It requires a change in human nature. An internal change. One impossible for humans to bring about on their own.

Can we fully understand the power and nature of evil? Perhaps not. Even so, it's real. When innocents are killed it is incomprehensible, regardless if it takes place at an elementary school, an island retreat (Norway), or the region surrounding Bethlehem.

The truly innocent One
The story of King Herod's senseless, brutal massacre stems from jealous insecurity, after hearing of a newborn king of the Jews (Jesus). But this innocent child escaped his terror. Later, willingly, Jesus submitted Himself to the murderous plot of Jewish leaders and the complicity of a Roman ruler. Even at 33 years old, Jesus was still innocent—sinless.

His innocence (sinlessness) was sacrificed for man's lack of innocence (sinful nature). This is the only solution for evil—an internal change, a change of inner nature. Only by trusting in Him and His work of redemption upon the cross can we hope to escape the power of evil. Will it remove the presence of evil in the world? Not until people's hearts are changed and they receive a new nature.

I look forward to the day when God will end evil's reign for good (Rev 21:1-4). Until then, I must continue resisting evil in my own life, and spread the message of the only solution I know. I choose to look beyond the killing of innocents to the only One I know to be truly innocent. He is the judge, not me. He is the One who will resolve all things in His time (Eccl 3:1-8, 11).

How will you process senseless violence? What will you, and can you, do about it? It is your choice, each of us, and it is a daily choice to be made.

Broken

Once again, hearts are broken with news of the shooting tragedy in Newtown, CT. The senselessness of it. The inevitable question why? The conflicted feelings of hate, love, outrage, compassion, hurt, and compassion.

How does one make sense of it? We can't, not really. The brokenness and emptiness that gnaws at the heart of families who lost children outstrips words and attempts to console or explain. Sadly, some will seize the event as a platform to clamor for change, seek blame, pontificate, or sensationalize. But tragedies such as this bring opportunity for reflection and compassion.

As with previous shooting tragedies, many Christian believers and leaders mobilize to pray and bring comfort to the victims and families of the community, and the students and staff of the school. This outreach of love and empathy will be overlooked by the media for the most part. This is a good thing, so it will not be spotlighted and sensationalized. The families and community will know and that's what matters.

Opportunity
Words fall woefully short in tragic times, so actions and presence must take their place. As a young pastor, I learned early on that the most valuable thing I could offer was practical assistance and a commitment to be present as needed, often in silence.

I saw how valuable those simple things were, as I watched family and friends and people in the church move into action with meals, practical help and silent comfort. My role was to assist with needed arrangements, pray, and console with silent presence, and a simple touch of compassion when appropriate.

Being at the side of parents who lose children in tragic accidents and events brings a helpless feeling, even though we want to sooth their ache. Time doesn't heal all hurts, but as time passes the ache can become endurable.

My wife and I have been on the receiving end of compassion after a senseless loss of life. We went through the shock, the sadness, the questions, and vacuous sense of loss. Yet we experienced immense consolation from God and the many who reached out to us with compassion.

Reflection
Whenever I have the responsibility and privilege of leading a funeral or memorial service, I see it as a time of reflection and assessment. Not just for those attending the service, but for myself as well.

Life is fragile, very fragile. Death is an enemy, a cruel indifferent enemy. Hope is a necessity in times of tragedy and needs to be genuine. Memories aren't what's left over, but treasures to be valued. Our whole life is a dynamic collection of memories, experiences, and relationships.

Those who were killed, especially the young children, were precious living beings cut off from life in a violent manner. No words remove the sting or explain the tragedy. We are at a loss, and as our president expressed, "Our hearts are broken."

This event may indeed be indicative of a cultural sickness of our nation's brokenness and lostness. But it's more of a worldwide human reality. Horrific tragedies take place throughout the world every day, but go unnoticed except by those immediately affected.

Hope
What hope is there to heal this brokenness? Is there a resolution to this vast lostness? Yes indeed, but it requires humility and trust to embrace it.

Is God just standing by watching it all take place while we struggle with such tragedies? No. He also has known the loss of a Son who was murdered unjustly, and He is able to relate to each of us personally (Hebrews 2:9-10, 14-18). God is love (1 John 4:16). God is merciful and compassionate (Heb 4:15-16).

God has made a way to escape the madness of a world that seems bent on destruction (Matthew 11:28-30). And He has and will resolve all the senseless tragedies and questions of life on this earth for those who trust in Him. One day it will make sense, until then we move forward by faith—our trust in His faithfulness.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Now God’s presence is with people, and he will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them and will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death, sadness, crying, or pain, because all the old ways are gone.” The One who was sitting on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this, because these words are true and can be trusted.” (Revelation 21:3-5 NCV)

Small Biz Missions


Last weekend—in between huge shopping days, Black Friday and Cyber Monday—small businesses were spotlighted on Small Business Saturday. That's pretty tough competition. How do you compete with a stampede of "blowout deals" and stay-at-home shoppers who don't have to pay sales tax?


Last Sunday I visited a good-sized local church who were featuring a well-known, multi-million dollar international mission. From what I know, this mission is a good organization doing a good work in the name of Jesus. I laud the church and pastor for their enthusiasm and commitment in support of this kind of ministry.

My wife and I listened to the impassioned reasoning to support this ministry related to the Scripture text for the morning's message. An appeal was made for people to commit (ie: sponsor a child). As I listened, I couldn't help see a comparison (on the same weekend) to Small Business Saturday sandwiched between Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and the myriad of small missions and not-so-well known (even unknown) missionaries and national pastors throughout the world.

Small businesses can't compete with WalMart-type (or Amazon, etc.) big businesses. Neither can smaller ministries and missions compete with larger, more corporate-style ministries—nor should they compete with them. You might wonder why use the word compete in relation to ministries? It's reality. I know this from the perspective as a pastor and missionary, but that's another issue.

This kind of comparison is an apple-oranges thing. They're really not comparable. Just as small businesses are more locally connected and relational (at least have the potential to be), so also with smaller ministries. Each has their place and purpose.

Most missionaries and ministries don't have the budget nor time available for getting better known. They're too busy and committed to what God has called them to do.

So here's a sampling of a few ministries I know and appreciate that represent the tens of thousands of other faithful and fruitful ministries that are often unknown or unnoticed by most of us. Of course, God knows them because He called them and stands with them day by day.

I'll include some links below (where possible) and a brief description of their ministries (who, what, where). Check them out and pray for them, they'll appreciate it. Acknowledge them (maybe on social media if they are ok with it) and even consider helping them out with some support.

I'm thankful for Shepherd's Staff Mission Facilitators for the way they help many smaller ministries, and for our being part of this ministry for several years. Visit their site to see the many missionaries and missions they assist, including ours (we're in the list and at the bottom of the page as Rainbow Village Ministries).

Missionaries and Ministries (their names have embedded links to click on)—
Patrick and Shari Bailey— ministry among indigenous people of the Philippines and beyond
Eric and MJ Johansen— working with indigenous people in Thailand and beyond
Brian and Betty Vander Kodde— church planting and discipling in Peru
Jeff and Lilia Roenspie— church planting, discipling and literacy work in Mexico
Jonathan and Adrienne Ferguson— pastoring and discipling in Kenya
Bruce Sonnenberg— established an educational support ministry for those affected by HIV/AIDS with missions throughout the world

These are but a handful of the many thousands, including national pastors and leaders in every nation in the world, who serve the Lord faithfully. Blessings upon them all!



Thankful?

What are you thankful for? Are you thankful? I know, Thanksgiving is past, but I thought I'd ask after all the hoopla of the weekend. Sadly, a holiday set aside for national gratitude and reflection has been usurped. It's typically referred to as T-Day or Turkey-Day and has become an excuse for excessive eating and spending, with a lot of football watching and beer drinking. 


It's easy to become cynical and pessimistic about the state of the world around us, which inevitably breeds the same in our heart and mind. It leaks out through our words and permeates our thinking. The only solution and resolve is choosing to be thankful—grateful for what is good in our life. This was the intent of the first national observance by President George Washington, and the later proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. [For more historical insight, check out Wikipedia's Thanksgiving link.]

Perhaps it's my 60's-era perception of it, but it seems like the whole weekend has become way too focused on materialistic pursuits. Black Friday used to start at 5:00 am, but now it's midnight. Sadly, I must admit that I'm not immune to it, but it still bothers me to be so pre-occupied and seduced by it all.

Sad or glad? It's a choice. I'll choose to be glad through gratefulness. One of my favorite verses in the Bible on thankfulness is found in Colossians 3:15-17. It intrigues me that in each admonition of all three verses (in most versions) is the exhortation to be thankful. The other practical element of these verses speaks to how we are made.

In the margin of my Bible(s) I wrote three words— heart, mind and body. The encouragement of verse 15 is to let the Lord's peace rule (like a football ref) in our heart— and be thankful. The next verse admonishes us to let God's Word dwell—live in and permeate—our thoughts in a full and deep way. And don't forget—with thankfulness! And finally, whatever you do (word or deed-wise) do it so that God is honored in your life example. Again, do it with thankfulness.

This isn't a self-help formula or DIY plan. It says "let...." That is, allow this attitude to govern and prevail in your heart, mind and actions. It's a choice. Have a Happy Thanksgiving every day!

What input do you choose for what rules your heart, mind and actions? The kingdom of the world around you, or God's kingdom? Cynicism or thankfulness?

I know what I choose, especially when I find myself drifting into the prison of pessimism. I choose the prism of praise. It's healthier and much more fun.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col 3:15-17 NIV84)

At the Feet of Jesus

Last week someone wrote to call me out about a phrase I used, saying it seemed like Christianese. It was, but I did give a simple simile as explanation. But I thought it might be good to explain it a bit further. I said that if there's something you (anyone) is struggling with, "Lay it at the feet of Jesus."

As I mentioned in my book, The Mystery of the Gospel, Christian believers tend to use a set of words and phrases laden with meaning, but not understood by others. Even believers who use these expressions don't understand all that is said. Christianese is a general term describing words, cliches, and expressions used by people in the Christian faith. The use of Christianese isn't bad, it's just puzzling for those uninitiated to it. One of my favorite takes on Christianese is the short video produced by B.A.D.D. If you haven't seen it, it's worth the watch, funny and makes the point. Another good resource for understanding Christianese is a site called Dictionary of Christianese. If you click on the link, it will take you to a site where you can download a 30-page sample.

As I said, using it isn't bad as long as the words and expressions are explained for those who don't understand. These expressions are a form of figurative language, the use of figures of speech. All of us use figurative language in one form or another. Why? Because it paints a picture and becomes an abbreviated way of saying things. In fact, a figure of speech can make a point more clear than a lengthy (often tedious) explanation (think—listing off statistics versus illustrations of comparison).

A couple of stories So, back to the expression of "lay it at the feet of Jesus"—what does this mean? The best way to describe it is found in a couple of stories that illustrate it. Many stories could be used, but two stand out to me.

In Luke's gospel (Luke 7:36-50), Jesus goes to the home of a Pharisee (religious leader) to eat. While He's there a "woman of the city, who was a sinner," comes and anoints Jesus' feet with oil, and washes them with her tears and hair while kissing them.

Jesus is reclining at a table with His feet extended out, and she comes to express her appreciation and devotion to Jesus—at His feet. This, of course, causes the Pharisee to judge Jesus, which leads Jesus to tell the man a parable about forgiveness. Do you see the picture? Reading the whole story may help the picture come into focus better.

A second story involves two sisters well known to Jesus, Martha and Mary, and is found in Luke 10:38-42. Martha is busy with the work of the household (as to be expected), but Mary "sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching." The place of women in that day was to serve in the household. The place of men was to listen to the teacher. It's as if Mary has forgotten her place.

Martha complains to Jesus, but He doesn't give the response she expected. Instead He tells her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her."

Coming to Jesus isn't just about laying our needs before Him, but of being with Him, listening to Him, worshipping Him. It is an expression of trust, of implicit faith in Him. Sometimes we may need to bring whatever it is we struggle with to lay it at His feet, to entrust it to Him. But our trust and confidence to bring our needs to Him this way is built up as we spend time at His feet.

And so, the more we are like Mary than Martha, and more like the woman of the city, the more confident we will be to entrust our life, our needs, our heart to Jesus. Then we will also find Him stepping in on our behalf when others accuse us, including the enemy of our soul (the devil). The illustration (above) from one of Dore's woodcuts gives us a picture of the Lord's intercession. It depicts Jesus' forgiveness for the woman caught in adultery (see John 8:1-11). He defends her against her accusers and extends mercy to her.

Jesus shows us great mercy and blesses us with immeasurable grace, especially when we learn to trust in Him in greater and greater ways—as we learn to sit at Jesus' feet and to lay our lives at His feet.

Stop It! But How?

I'm a product of the Jesus Movement of the early 70's. This movement was characterized by the common saying, "It's not about religion, but relationship." It is a relationship based on trust, trust in Jesus. Trust, an implicit, all-encompassing trust, is another way of expressing the idea of faith (see Hebrews 11:6).

A couple weeks ago I looked at the dilemma many Christian believers have with trying to be good Christians.

It requires a lot of self-effort to do so, but is counter productive to walking by faith, that is, trusting in God. And so, there is a struggle with how a believer can grow in faith and spiritual maturity without a good measure of self-effort.

Self-effort is often mistaken for self-discipline. They're different, at least in a spiritual sense. The first puts great emphasis on external actions and behaviors, while the other focuses on internal strength.

Where does this internal strength come from? It is only with this internal strength that a believer can overcome the struggle the apostle Paul spoke of—

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. (Romans 7:15)

Many personal struggles in life can be both disturbing and difficult. This is abundantly clear from working with abandoned and abused children and young women. It is what every pastor contends with in caring for people within the church. Many painful and unjust wounds are complex and resist simple solutions.

But not all personal struggles are complex. Most are simple and are tied to our universal, and inherent selfish nature as humans. They can be more readily resolved, but as Shakespeare said—"Aye, there's the rub!"

Overcoming struggle with sin, selfishness, laziness, greed, lust, and so on, requires a willingness. A willingness to not be pulled into the same paths of deliberate or mindless behavior, and the internal attitudes and mindset that propel them.

Human will is powerful. I am, however, not a believer in the "you can do anything you put your mind to" pop psychology. In the end, it is a set up for failure. I believe God is more sovereign than my own free will. And yet, I know God honors the free will He created in me.

On the other hand, God is sovereign enough to bring even the most powerful to their knees, as the great emperor Nebuchadnezzar found out (for a great story see Daniel 4).

Now, back to the question of how to "stop it." How can a person move forward towards spiritual growth and maturity, yet without relying on self-effort? Let me go back to the scripture mentioned a couple blogs ago [Stop It!]—Hebrews 12:1-3 GW.

At first glance it would seem the focus needs to be on what we might call self-effort—

We must get rid of everything that slows us down, especially sin that distracts us. We must run the race that lies ahead of us and never give up. (Heb 12:1 GW)

And that is what we as humans tend to do, especially within a culture that prides itself on self-determination and built an industry around doing it yourself (DIY). That's how we are wired.

But further reading and observation reveal the key—

We must focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith. He saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross and ignored the disgrace it brought him. Then he received the highest position in heaven, the one next to the throne of God. Think about Jesus, who endured opposition from sinners, so that you don’t become tired and give up. (Heb 12:2-3 GW)

To overcome daily personal struggles, the focus needs to be on Jesus. This is where faith comes in. Again, the basic element of faith is trust. Trust requires the surrender and submission of our will to God. "Aye, there's the rub," that is our dilemma.

However, Jesus has shown us the way in the garden of Gethsemane when He asked the Father if He could avoid going to the Cross (Matthew 26:36-46). Jesus also struggled with His self-will, but after three requests He submitted Himself—His self-will—to the Father.

Even with the most complex struggles and personal issues, this is what's needed. It is the only true solution to "stopping it"—to be set free from the things that entangle us and seem to hold on to us.

It's easy to over think all of this. But it is relatively simple. It is also a daily struggle every believer will live with until we see Jesus face to face (in heaven). The struggle with self-will is the struggle of life, even a life of faith. Will we give in, or resist? Will we remain a victim, or be an overcomer?

What are you struggling with on a daily basis? Is it something recent or something that has plagued you for years? Whatever it is, entrust it to Jesus. Lay it at His feet, so to speak, as a dog might drop a ball at his master's feet. This is what Jesus spoke of in Matthew 11:28-30 GW—

“Come to me, all who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Place my yoke over your shoulders, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble. Then you will find rest for yourselves because my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Faithfulness and the Future

This past month I had the privilege of teaching several young people in two courses at a Bible college. The study and work the students do is quite demanding. I helped one group learn how to study parables, and we studied the Book of Daniel in the other course. Daniel was a man whom God showed the future, and I was reminded that students like these are the future of the church.

I also enjoyed visiting with many alumni during the school's annual Founder's Day conference, and several others in a second meeting before I left. They naturally look to me for guidance as their former teacher, but it's they who encourage me when I see their faithfulness and vision for ministry.

One man especially encouraged me as he shared all God was showing him to do, and what he was doing. Pastor Elmer has quite a story. While he was working as a carpenter in the early days of building at Rainbow Village, he went back to night school to complete his high school degree while improving his English. He wanted to enroll in the Bible college I established in 1995, which required a high school degree and some English proficiency. I was also blessed to officiate his marriage held on Rainbow's compound.

Even while working as a carpenter, I saw his vision and commitment for ministry. He held devotions with the work crew each Friday morning. He went on to Bible college and worked a year in an internship program following graduation. Plenty of challenges came his way, but he endured and completed his assignment under a national pastor.


After taking it over, he established a new church plant in the mountains above the school and Rainbow, later, he came on staff at the Bible college. He was instrumental in helping me establish a curriculum taught in the local dialect (language), a long-held vision of mine. A few years later he wanted to strike out on his own to establish a church-planting school. 

The curriculum would be similar, but simpler and more condensed. His goal was simple—equip leaders to plant churches. At first he was hesitant to tell me his vision, since other church leaders had laughed at him. I rejoiced when he shared it with me. It was another phase of vision God had shown me many years before.

More and more, I've realized that vision from God is not something given for us to bring to pass, but to be shared with others. We may or may not be part of its fulfillment. Perhaps our involvement is simply to share it with others without direct involvement.

For many years, even a couple decades, I've believed the Philippines to be a reservoir of missionaries. I even compiled a list of reasons* I believe this. In the past year or two, my brother, Pastor Elmer, has begun moving forward with his own vision for sending out missionaries.

He has a contact in Hong Kong who helps provide employment, sponsorship and plane fare. Elmer's part is getting candidates prepared to go. This includes equipping them to do ministry. He's able to draw on his own experience and training as a church planter and pastor, and as a certified trainer for Biblical storying (Simply the Story).

But getting candidates prepared involves acquiring the necessary legal documents, including a passport and visa. This is a cost most Filipinos cannot  afford. Where does the money come from? Initially, he used profit from harvesting a field of rice (another interesting story!) from funds he loaned to poor rice farmers. But he has a sustainable plan to develop a missionary sending agency, another great story in itself.

I believe this is the future of world missions. Men and women such as Pastor Elmer exist throughout the rest of the world (MOTROW). They have vision, ingenuity and dedication. An important question to ask in light of this is—What is the role of the American church and of western missionaries?

Pastor Elmer and I have a partnership similar to what Paul and Barnabas had in Acts 11. My role is not like Paul's, but Barnabas'. When Barnabas saw the revival taking place in Antioch (Acts 11:10-26), he went to Tarsus for Paul (then called Saul). Elmer doesn't need me to direct him, but to work alongside him. He's not looking to me for financial help (although I do help support him in a small way). He's asking me to partner with him in what God has given him vision to do.

In the past several decades, western missionaries and churches have unwittingly hindered national-led churches by creating a dependency on foreign support and methods. The dependency develops, among other reasons, because of strings-attached to giving support—the expectations of how ministry will be done.

Will we, the American church and western missionary, make way for a new wave of missionaries and world missions outreach? It will move forward with or without us. After all, it's God's work, not ours.

*If you'd like a copy of my list of reasons for Filipinos being World Class Missionaries, send me an email—livingwordstudy@gmail.com

Home?

It's always with a bit of sadness that I go from one home back to the other, especially when traveling solo. After 3 weeks in the Philippines, it's time to return to my family in Florda. I miss my wife, children and grandkids, but I will be leaving our extended family at Rainbow.


I return to my family but I also return to my job at a small manufacturing company. I'm thankful for my job. In the current economic climate everyone who has a job should be thankful. But it isn't the quite work I've done for most of my life, not what I'm known for within the Philippines.

Walking the path of faith requires trust—implicit trust in God—a confidence that the current circumstances of life are preparation for whatever is next in life.

It has been said that a cross-cultural missionary only feels "at home" while traveling in-between their home on the field and their home of origin. I'm not so sure that's true. Perhaps it's just a reminder that those of us who are believers, citizens of God's Kingdom, don't have a permanent home in this world—Hebrews 11:13-16.


Where's your permanent home? What anchors your heart? What is the strongest pull on your heart? If home is where the heart is—what fills your heart?

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:21)

These photo collages contain some of the treasure of my heart that I leave behind in our home on the field.


Community

Last night I enjoyed a great evening with some good friends whom I've known for more than 20 years. They are part of the community of believers I've been connected to in Dumaguete City (the central Visayan region of the Philippines), our home of 15 years. Food is usually found in almost every gathering of Filipino's, but it's the people gathered who are most important. It's one of the many things I love about Filipino culture and why this place (Dumaguete City) remains home to my wife, Susan, and I, along with our two daughters who spent 18 years here.
We have been part of the community at our church (Calvary Chapel Dumaguete City), the community within the ministry we founded and still oversee (Rainbow Village Ministries), and the greater community of Dumaguete City. This includes another ministry established in 1995 (CCTC) that I continue to be a part of, which extends beyond Dumaguete throughout the Philippines and into Thailand through the students I had the privilege of teaching over the years. The church, God's church, is not a building or institution, but an extended family—it's a community of believers.

I say all of this as an introduction to the following excerpt from my soon-to-be-available book (hopefully next month!). It's now at the printer, and I'll announce when it's available to the public! Thanks for reading, as always!

The practicality of Christianity is by design—God’s design—not an institution or spiritual leader. It is similar to God’s purpose for the natural world around us. The apostle Paul says all of us are able to know God, “For the truth about God is known to them instinctively. God has put this knowledge in their hearts. From the time the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky and all that God made. They can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse whatsoever for not knowing God” (Rom 1:19-20 NLT).
How are people a vector? God has chosen to put His presence and power within believers, who become living declarations of Him—His agents, His personal emissaries. He began with one man, Abraham, and his descendants who became the nation of Israel. He sent His Son so all people could be included within His family. God’s purpose for His church is to be a worldwide community of believers, as expressed by the apostle Peter in 1 Peter 2:4-5, 9-10 GW.
The gist of what Peter says is simple—as a person is personally related to Jesus, he or she becomes part of a larger community of believers. Jesus is the core of this community. He transforms lives from darkness into rays of light within the darkness of this world. Though the world may reject God and His Son, this community of believers become a people special to God and treasured by Him.
God builds His kingdom within each believer, and within the community of believers. It is a kingdom of light. This light penetrates the surrounding darkness. The light of God shines through this community as they live to honor the One who accepts them as His own treasured people.
But howdoes this take place? The first step is to knowGod—develop a personal relationship with God by faith. If a person believes God exists, and that He responds to us as we seek Him—God will honor that faith.[i]It’s also important to learn who Jesus is—the Son of God who came into this world. The four Gospels are the best place to start—they contain the very words and works of Jesus.[ii]
The Christian faith is not to be lived alone, but in community with other believers. Community begins by connection with God and His people, the church family. Each believer needs to be part of a greater community of believers. This brings an identity and belonging with others who have the same Father. It is an interdependent relationship as demonstrated by the early believers, which is seen in Acts 2:42-47 GW.
Which church community should you join? The important thing is joining other believers who choose to live in humility and genuineness while honoring God—people with whom you can build healthy relationships. The Holy Spirit who lives in you and in them will give you an inner witness (by His Spirit) where you belong, and confirm it in your heart. Each person needs to intentionally seek this out.
Are you part of God's family, God's community? It's an extended family that reaches around the world and beyond.

[i]Reference— Heb 11:6
[ii]Reference— John 1:14, 18, 29; Matt 11:28-30; John 5:39-40

Challenge and Opportunity

This week I was blessed with the opportunity to teach in a cross cultural setting while here in the Philippines. Although most of the students were Filipino, I also had a few So Korean students. The Koreans want to learn English as a Second Language (ESL), as well as the Bible. A couple of my Filipino students are from the province (more rural areas), so their English skills are not as well developed as other students.

Once again I was reminded how communicating and teaching in a foreign (cross-cultural) setting is both a challenge and an opportunity. It's a challenge because words carry meanings and ideas, but these meanings and ideas don't travel well across different languages within their own cultures. This is the reality all cross-cultural missionaries face day in and day out. But it's also an opportunity to grow and develop, and hopefully be fruitful.

The question is, how well do we (missionaries) handle this challenge and opportunity? Those who learn the language of those they serve among are better equipped to meet this challenge—always. But what about those of us who travel to many different nations and aren't immersed in language learning and cultural adaptation before we do ministry? What about those who are on short-term mission teams?

I began writing this post while sitting on the porch of our home in Dumaguete City, in the Visayan region of the Philippines. My wife and I lived here with our family for 15 years while establishing two different ongoing ministries. Now we continue overseeing one of those ministries from the States and during extended visits [http://www.rainbowvm.org/]. We've enjoyed the partnership of many missionaries over the course of 22 years. Those who learned the local dialect, at least at some level, seemed to adapt best to the challenges and opportunities of cross-cultural ministry.

What about those who haven't learned the local language or have a limited grasp of it? Here are some guidelines that can help, which were developed over several years of experience on the field and working with short-term teams and my staff.

  • Speak slowly in simple and plain words
  • Explain common Christian words and terms
  • Explain words that are more conceptual, abstract, and theoretical
  • Use wording from more readable, easier to understand Bible translations
  • When working with an interpreter be gracious and considerate, following all the guidelines above.

These guidelines will help whether you're travelling to another country or just across town. Nowadays, in many urban areas great opportunities exist for cross-cultural interaction and ministry. These are perfect places to try out these guidelines, whether it's an ongoing ministry outreach or as preparation for a short-term mission.

Cross-cultural missions is most fruitful when good relationships are built and nurtured. Good communication along with clear and useful teaching are also essential for fruitful ministry within cross-cultural settings.

The guidelines above are a summary of a more complete version that is available in a PDF document. If you'd like a copy, send me a request at LivingWordStudy@gmail.com — allow me a few days to respond since my internet connection is a bit limited for now. 

What the World Needs Now

A popular song in the mid-sixties went, "What the world needs now—is love, sweet love..." sung by Jackie DeShannon [http://tw.gs/Way9d for more info see– http://tw.gs/Way9g]. It's still one of my favorite songs from the sixties and the YouTube video (first link) captures the innocent hope of the sixties for a universal love. Another one of my favorites songs was by the Youngbloods called, "Get Together" [http://tw.gs/Wayba], which became somewhat of an anthem for the peace movement of the sixties. The sixties were a tumultuous time of expectant hope and altruistic (at first) belief in the goodness of humanity, with a divergent mix of protests and campus unrest, a war overseas, economic change, and a moral and spiritual vacuum.

The sixties came and went, and a certain naive hope seemed to die with the close of the decade and the beginning of the "Me Generation", the seventies. We seem to be in a time of another divergent clash of expectations, but without innocence. In fact, there's a whole lot of mud-slinging and name-calling, but it's not just the fury of another divisive election. It seems what the world needs now is humility. At least some civility.

When you look into the heart of God, who is love (1 John 4:7-8, 16), the nature of His love is humility. Out of His great love He gave His Son—for the whole world (John 3:16). And looking to the Son we see humility. The apostle Paul points this out as he exhorts the church in Philippi to be unified (Philippians 2:1-4) through humility towards one another. Then he points them to Jesus for an example (Phil 2:5-8 GWT)—

Have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Although he was in the form of God and equal with God, he did not take advantage of this equality.Instead, he emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant, by becoming like other humans, by having a human appearance. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, death on a cross.

Jesus, the personification of God's love, said this about Himself in Matthew 11:29 (GWT)

Place my yoke t over your shoulders, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble. Then you will find rest for yourselves

We in the American church, including all evangelicals whatever their distinctives, are too often caught up in being "right" (and I don't mean politically). The focus of teaching and practice (how we are to live) is more on upholding moral standards and protecting our rights and freedoms. Having good moral standards is honorable, and it is the great privilege of living in America to enjoy certain rights and freedoms (see US Constitution for more details– http://www.usconstitution.net/const.html). But with privilege and freedom comes responsibility. And morality is based not on human goodness, but the nature of God.

I fear we (the church) are moving faster and faster in the direction of becoming modern-day Pharisees— self-righteous and hypocritical, and lacking in mercy, grace and humility. The Jewish leaders who longed for their messiah to come deliver Israel missed Him when He did come. They condemned Him and found a way of putting Him to death. They were to caught up in themselves and maintaining their sense of rightness.

How can this be reversed? Can it be? If it can't be we are hopeless. Ah, but a solution exists. Change comes one life at a time, one heart at a time. Then, and only then, will lasting significant change take place in our churches, our nation, and the world.

Jesus said, "Come learn of Me..." and He also called all believers, all true followers, to deny themselves (selfish ambitions, pride, self-centeredness, etc.), die to themselves (take up their cross), and then follow Him (Matt 16:24)—simple, relational, intentional, and personal discipleship. This has always been the Lord's "solution" to world peace.

It requires no degree or certificate or special training. It's a matter of sharing the life we have in Jesus with others. Really, it's that simple. But, it's an investment. It requires discipline and commitment. And it requires humility. Are you ready for a change?

A Startling Event

On my first solo journey to Thailand I experienced a genuine sense of isolation. I traveled to other countries before and lived in the Philippines for many years, so being in a new environment didn’t bring this isolation. My family and I resided in the Philippines where English is spoken often, but I didn’t understand the Thai language. I moved through the Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports smoothly because many signs were in English and most of the staff spoke broken English. But the airport was an international island within Thailand.

Arriving in the city where I resided for the week, I stayed in a local hotel and ate my meals at the restaurant downstairs. Virtually no one spoke English in this hotel. The desk clerks spoke some broken English, but it was hard to understand. I survived the week and carried on with the teaching ministry I came to do. But the isolation brought a strange depression and disorientation. Impromptu sign language doesn’t convey conceptual truth, and a simple gesture is easily misunderstood.

The Thai language has five distinct tones and each one varies the meaning of words. So, one word has a certain meaning with one tone, but the same word may convey a different meaning with another tone. I watched an American missionary friend, fluent in Thai, struggle while he interpreted for a visiting American pastor. I asked him why it was so hard and he told me, “he’s using theological words we don’t have in the Thai language!” Many words in English have no Thai equivalent, as is true in most languages.

When I traveled to Ethiopia and moved about the capital city of Addis Ababa, I felt little isolation as I had in my Thailand experience. But then we traveled a day and a half to a remote village in southern Ethiopia—once again I felt isolated. I was the only white face in the entire village, probably the region since it was so remote. The food was very different, but good. We stayed in fairly primitive rooms with no private toilet, air-conditioning, English television, Internet connection, or telephone available. We were hundreds of miles across desert lands from the airport I had flown into and from where I would depart. But I had Ayele who proved to be a great help. He was far more than my interpreter and guide—he became a good friend.

My friend Ayele is well educated and articulate in English. He is a bright and capable young man, and was a great partner in the ministry there. Ayele had grown up in the village where we traveled to, but they spoke a completely different dialect than the national language, Amharic. The teaching materials I sent over were translated into Amharic for Ayele, while I spoke in English. In the first teaching session it became apparent Ayele needed to translate things into the local dialect. It was difficult for him at first, since he had not spoken in it for many years.

Since the materials were not in the local dialect, I also needed to adjust. How could I have them refer to the workbook more suited to a western mindset, if I didn’t adjust? It would be a waste of time—theirs, Ayele’s, and mine. I used stories from the Bible to explain certain truths, and interpreted the workbook’s lessons into simple wording. Ayele interpreted my English into Amharic in his mind, then into the local dialect. God helped us through the process and the people were blessed. It was one of the most memorable and favorite teaching experiences I’ve had.

The book of Acts opens where the Gospel of Luke leaves off—Jesus gives His apostles important instructions and exhortations before He is taken up into Heaven. His final command is to wait in Jerusalem for “the Promise of the Father.” This Promise was the indwelling presence and power of God’s Spirit—the Holy Spirit. He would enable and empower the disciples as the Lord’s personal representatives on earth—His emissaries, if you will, of the Kingdom of God.[i]

Growing up in a traditional church with centuries old traditions and liturgies (forms of service), the church seemed like a great institution. A person could become part of this impressive organization, but there were certain guidelines for behaving within it. When I became of age (twelve years old), I endured many Saturday mornings of formal training to be confirmed as a member of the church. After the training, a formal church service publicly confirmed those who completed the training. The Vicar laid his hands upon each of us to receive the Holy Spirit.[ii]

Unfortunately, I went through the training and laying on of hands without understanding what took place. I was immature and ignorant of the meaning and value of the training. What takes place in Acts 2—the outpouring of the Holy Spirit—the giving of “the Promise of the Father,” was what I was to experience through the Vicar’s prayer. Years later, when I experienced this outpouring in a genuine way, I understood the value of that public ceremony. I finally realized the great privilege and blessing of God’s presence and power living inside me.

The birth of the church happens in Acts 2:1–4. The 120 believers, who experienced this outpouring of the Holy Spirit, began to function as the Lord’s living witnesses on earth from this day forward.[iii] This supernatural event takes place during one of Israel’s great feasts, the Feast of Pentecost. It was a celebration of the nation’s harvest time in early autumn, seven weeks after the Feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits—when the Lord Jesus was crucified and resurrected.[iv]

The event in this upper room with one hundred twenty believers caused quite a stir. Many visitors crowded into Jerusalem to attend the Feast of Pentecost, men from many nations who spoke various languages. The rushing sound of the mighty wind and the believers speaking in various “tongues” or languages caught their attention. But they didn’t understand what went on, as verses 11–12 tell us, “We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

What took place had never occurred before. Picture the simultaneous confusion and amazement these “men from every nation under heaven” experienced. It startled and unsettled them. Many people have this same unsettling experience when they first encounter Christian believers or attend a church. The Christianese (Bible phrases and cliches Christians use) can baffle nonbelievers or the uninitiated new believer, sounding like a foreign dialect of English.

Spiritual truth must be understood in a spiritual frame of reference. This won't come from intellectual reasoning and analysis, it must be the work of God's Spirit, the Holy Spirit. As the story of Acts 2:1-40 unfolds, Peter addresses the men gathered from many nations and explains what took place (in Acts 2:1-4). Because Peter was filled with the presence and power of God's Spirit he could explain things in a simple clear way.

This is the responsibility every Christian believer has whether professionally trained or not. How is this possible? Knowing God personally and having His Spirit dwell in you. Knowing God's story and being familiar with the truth in His written word (the Bible). It doesn't need to be complicated, it just needs to be real. People long for what is genuine.

Is your faith genuine? Is your relationship with God visible to others? When you relate to others unfamiliar with God's kingdom do you relate spiritual truth to them in words they can understand and that don't sound foreign? These are honest questions all true believers need to ask and answer for themselves—if we are going to be a genuine reflection of God's love and kindness.

[Here's another excerpt of my book, "The Mystery of the Gospel"]


[i]Reference– Acts 1:4, 8– This Promise (the Holy Spirit) was spoken of in John and Luke’s gospels. The promise speaks of an abiding or continuing presence of God’s Spirit within a believer.
[ii]Initially I was raised in the Episcopal Church (of America) with a similar catechism as its sister denomination, the Anglican Church of England.
[iii]In Acts 1:15, it speaks of 120 believers gathered for regular prayer from the time of Jesus’ ascension (going up into heaven) until ten days later at the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). This is seen as the “birth of the church” because the Holy Spirit stayed in the believers, and 3,000 believers were added after Peter’s message and exhortation (Ac 2: 41).
[iv]In that specific year, those three feasts (Passover, Unleavened Bread and First Fruits) fell together on consecutive days corresponding to the Lord’s death, burial and resurrection (see Leviticus 23 for a list of feasts).

Planting or Transplanting?

This past week I shared a couple of posts I saw in Missions Frontiers on social media (http://www.missionfrontiers.org/). The first article speaks of 5 lessons American churches can learn from the Church Planting Movement (CPM) in the rest of the world (http://tw.gs/VbSa0). The second is how these things can be adapted to work in American churches (http://tw.gs/VbSaC). One addresses a need in typical American churches across the board (denominational and non-denominational), while the other gives examples and insights how these changes can be implemented. Most church plants in No America tend to draw from the existing pool of believers. However, many studies show that new pioneering church plants are more effective in reaching nonbelievers with the gospel (re: evangelism) than established churches. Yet, a fair amount of the people involved with new church plants are "transplants" from another church. Much has been said about the right and wrong of all this, but most of it is philosophical rhetoric (imho).

I've viewed the church planting experience from two perspectives, that of a church planting pastor, and as a member of a new church plant (currently). In the (hot) summer of 1978, my wife and I planted a church in the high desert area of So California. Brilliant timing, huh?! We survived the initial startup, which is another story in itself, and the church is flourishing to this day (thankfully). My original vision and heart for the church was reaching the unreached and unchurched. I'm thankful God graciously brought that about then and now.

Currently, Susan and I are involved with a new church plant in our present home town. Most of those attending are younger than us, a lot younger. We are the old folks in the back now. The church vision is similar and reminds me of the early days we experienced in the Jesus Movement of the early 70's. And BTW, the music is loud (lol)!

Here's my observation—the vision for reaching the unchurched and de-churched is essentially the same, but many who attend (including us) are transplanted from another existing church. This is not a bad thing—it's necessary—good experience is valuable.

But here's the challenge—How do we (the church) keep from falling into the same rut as so many churches. A lot of work is put into getting people to come into the church, and even more effort to keep them in it. Then the command of Jesus to go out to the world is set aside, except for those specially trained to go. But things are different now, or are they?

My heart to reach the unreached and equip those who desperately need training remains. I'm not a senior pastor, nor a missionary serving on the field full-time. Yet, I'm not absolved of my responsibility in God's kingdom. This is perhaps the most difficult hump to get over—removing the separation between clergy (ministry professionals) and laity (people in the congregation).

Lots of reasons exist for this separation, but that's another tangent. What's needed is training (discipling) for the believers in the church to go out to reach the nonbelievers. This requires intentional, relational discipleship—the method Jesus used to establish His church at the beginning. The very thing I experienced as a young believer.

This is why I appreciate these articles. They bring us (the church) back to our roots. In the early years of the Jesus Movement, discipleship was a natural part of the Christian life. There was little specialized training or organizational leadership. It was organic. Was it messy? Yes. Did it bear fruit? Yes. Has the church in America improved on it? No.

If this sparks any interest at all, please take time to read those articles. If you have a longing for discipleship in your own life or to disciple someone, these articles are well worth the investment of your time. Finally, what is your personal experience with discipleship? If you were discipled,  pass it on. That's how Jesus did it.

God Came to Earth

A few years ago I flew into the modern airport of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I had never met Ayele, the young man who would become my friend and partner over the next couple weeks, as my guide and assistant in ministry. Though we had written back and forth many times, we hadn’t worked out our meeting at the airport. I knew he would greet me as I came out of the terminal, but how would I recognize him? No worries, he would recognize me—I would stand out as a lone Caucasian among the noble and handsome Ethiopians!

Several years before this, two young Filipino women, MJ and Ruchell, were sent out from our school in the Philippines to Thailand. They fit right in among the Thais, often mistaken as being Thai. People would speak to them, but they couldn’t understand the Thai language. They looked like the Thais because they were of a nearby culture and people, unlike me in Ethiopia or Asia.
If God were to come down to earth, what would you expect Him to look like? You’ve probably seen pictures portraying Jesus. I’ve seen paintings of Jesus from China and Japan, and He looked very Asian in them. In western countries, He looks more Scandinavian than of Semitic descent. When we imagine another place or person, we draw on what is familiar to us. When visiting another place or meeting a person for the first time, the real experience is different than we imagined.
What do you think God would look like as a human? How do you think he would live His life, or even do things like eat and drink and sleep? Everyone has some perception of what God is like. The Bible reveals who God is by nature, and the Gospels give a personal account of when God came to earth as a human. He was not recognized for who He was, in fact, His own people rejected Him. After three years of public ministry among the people, Jesus was pointed out from a crowd with a kiss from His betrayer. Apparently, He didn’t stand out enough to be recognized, and didn’t meet the expectations of the people He visited.
The passage of John 1:1-18, the beginning of the Gospel of John, is the beginning of the Gospel story, a true story. God, the Creator, the One who spoke and brought everything into existence, came and lived among people on the earth. He, the Word of Life—the very light and life of all humanity—entered the world He created. A man named John was sent to announce His arrival into the world, but most people paid no attention to this message or to the Light Himself. Still, all the darkness of the world could not hide or stifle the Light. Even though those created as His own unique people rejected Him, some accepted and trusted in Him. He brought them into the family of God through a spiritual birth unlike that of this world.
The Word of Life revealed the very nature of God, through a life full of grace and truth. He made a way for man to have relationship with God, because He came into the world as a man. He was announced as the One who was eternal. The world only knew God through a relationship of laws presented through the man named Moses. When the Word of Life came, now in the place of authority beside God the Father, He revealed a new way of relationship governed by God’s kindness and truth. The Word of Life, the Light of all mankind, has revealed God who is invisible.

Here's another excerpt from my upcoming book. I just finished rewriting it all and it's resubmitted to the publisher for review. Hopefully it will be available in a few months.

The Core of the Gospel

MJ_sharing
MJ_sharing

Culture has an amazing impact upon people. It subtly shapes their worldview of everything in life, from birth through adulthood.

This impact is strong and resistant to change, but it will change given sufficient cause. The change can be either good or bad depending on one’s worldview, values, or beliefs.

For example, the enslavement of Africans, abducted and traded as if they were cattle, was culturally acceptable in European countries and America. Now, it is illegal and immoral. But that change did not come easily.

A major culture change

A British Member of Parliament named William Wilberforce challenged his prevailing culture in the late eighteenth century. He proposed legislative measures at great cost to his reputation, wealth, and health for more than forty years.

But change came in 1833 when slavery was made illegal in England. It had a ripple effect felt across the oceans of the world, which included the newly established United States of America, the former colonial territory of Great Britain. [1]

Religion and culture

In many countries around the world, religious conviction is tied to the intrinsic culture.

The Philippines is predominantly Roman Catholic, with a strong contingent of Evangelical (Protestant) Christianity, a significant Muslim minority, and ancient folk traditions. Many Filipinos struggle with becoming born again, [2] because of the strong influence of Roman Catholicism—it’s rituals, traditions, and longevity.

Thailand is primarily Buddhist. Many Thais find it difficult to distinguish their national identity from their religion. Likewise in Indonesia and Malaysia, where the world’s largest population of Muslims reside. In many countries, it is illegal to proselytize someone of Islamic faith towards another faith.

The impact of culture

In the early 2000's, our Bible school in the Philippines sent out two young Filipinas as missionaries to Thailand.

MJ and Ruchell learned the Thai language quickly, and made friendships with ease. They lived out their Christianity with genuineness and simplicity, and were well received by their neighbors, including the landlord of the simple apartment they rented in Chiang Mai.

As they built relationships, they offered prayer for their new friends. Prayer was accepted with gratefulness. But when it came to accepting the Gospel and Jesus, who was unknown to them, there was resistance.

They were Thai. They were Buddhists. They were afraid of changing their religion and no longer being true Thais.

American culture and Christianity

America’s culture  is known for its respect for individual rights. As a result, Christianity in America is often self-focused and personalized.

Based on versions of the gospel, as given by popular preachers, many people regard Jesus as their best friend, someone personally interested in them, but not as their sovereign Lord. It is such a prevalent view it’s been categorized as a religious belief of its own—Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. [3]

A popular worship song about the Lord’s death on the cross goes,

“You took the fall and thought of me, above all....” [4]

The Father’s purpose for Jesus going to the Cross was, indeed, to bring redemption for all people. But a self-focused bias is not reflected in the biblical version of the gospel, but is in a plethora of popular songs, teachings, and various Christian self-help books.

Culture bias

This cultural bias is exported around the world, reflecting an American, self-absorbed view of Jesus and the Gospel, which adulterates the gospel message. This has a crippling, often tragic effect.

The Gospel can be minimized and reduced into brief terms. When this happens, its importance and significance is overlooked. Biblical truth may be talked about and discussed without being passed on to those who need to hear it.

Ministries in America can focus more on getting people into the church than caring for the physical and spiritual needs of the people. Worship services can be more focused on presentation and performance than the Lord Himself, whom it is all intended to exalt.

A distorted focus

Are believers in churches being discipled unto the Lord Himself, or trained for doing certain tasks? The need to accomplish a list of spiritual activities can take the place of spending personal and intimate time with the Lord.

Things like spending time in prayer, devotions, reading the Scripture, serving in various ministries, and so on, are good things, but not an end in themselves.

The Lord desires His people to give themselves to Him.

These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. (Matthew 15:8-9 NKJV)

I want you to be merciful; I don't want your sacrifices. I want you to know God; that's more important than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6 NLT)

It's all about Him, not us

Christian activity can look past what is most important—the personal element. The Christian life is far more than the sum of all Christian activities to be done.

What the Lord considers most important is revealed in the story of Matthew 16:13–28. It’s not complicated or theoretical, but simple and essential.

It is the core of the Essential Gospel and the Christian life. It runs counter to the culture of the day—the culture then and now.

Whether the culture is primitive or sophisticated, the Gospel and the call to follow Jesus is not “...all about me,” nor any individual. It’s all about Jesus.

Do you see your own culture's influence in how you view Christianity?

This is an excerpt from my book, The Mystery of the Gospel, Unraveling the Mystery

Footnotes for this excerpt are below

[1] Reference for William Wilberforce— http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Wilberforce

[2] Born again is a term Jesus used in John 3:3-8 when talking to Nicodemus, a Jewish Pharisee. It has become synonymous with a personal faith conversion to orthodox Christianity, especially within evangelical circles.

[3] Here are a couple links to articles about Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD)—

http://goo.gl/RvllH | https://goo.gl/fxIwRm

[4] The lyrics are from the song, “Above All,” by Lenny LeBlanc

Is it Just Me?

Is it just me or is there an inordinate amount of overreaction nowadays? Last week I read (in our local sports section) that the wife of a LA Lakers player received a tweet that he hoped their family would be murdered. Why? Because her husband had missed a shot at the end of the game...a basketball game. It's not like the Lakers were doing that well any way, but this kind of reaction is way over the top.

Then there's all the political hype, hyperbole, and party rhetoric, all of which is commented on ad nauseum (that's means way too much, like it's never ending) by the media, pundits (people who make a lot of puns? just kidding), and a vast array of blog posts. I don't even want to go there...is it November yet?


How about driving? It amazes me how easily people get ticked off because you get in their way or don't do what they think you should do. I've seen people gesture (inappropriate kinds) because I or someone else didn't run a red light...because the person behind wanted to get through the intersection! Or then there's showing courtesy and people thinking you're nuts for doing so and getting irritated, like "what's wrong with you, just be rude!" I'm thankful for the considerate drivers, even if they are going kinda slow in my lane ;-)


I don't want to go on with an open-ended rant about all this, but there is a point so let me get there. There are some really serious issues in life that are a whole lot more important than basketball games and opinions. LIfe and death issues. Making it from month to month challenges. Relationships. And, oh yeah, there's your eternal destiny to consider also.


Now I like sports, especially baseball— I'm a die-hard LA Dodgers fan (NL) and also a Tampa Rays fan (AL). I'm a Jaguars fan because I live in Jacksonville now. I like watching the NBA playoffs and NCAA tournament, and have a great appreciation for what the world calls football...soccer. But they're all just games...entertainment...a break in the daily routine, and so on. They're not life and death issues. I like Tim Tebow and other Christian athletes who don't take themselves or their profession too seriously—competitive, yes—life and death, no.


What's going on in your life that stresses you out?
What's so important in your life that you lose your cool, get robbed of peace, or just feel kind of angry or depressed all the time?
What will it take to get you to just "chill out!"?


I realize not all issues and situations in life are simply a matter of "chilling out," but God is there in it all, and He's always available. Many years ago I remember hearing of the value and importance of being thankful, and I've tried to practice it daily and throughout a day. I don't mean quoting corny cliches (actually puns) like, "attitude of gratitude," I mean genuine, heart-felt thanks. Here's one of King David's expressions of thanks—

I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless youand praise your name forever and ever. Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,and his greatness is unsearchable. (Ps 145:1-3 ESV)

I find when I discipline my mind to be thankful, my heart follows quite willingly. It's a choice I need to make, and those who know me know I can be quick to react (and overreact!) and have strong opinions. As I said, it's a conscious choice I need to make. 


Sometimes I need to just go for a walk or bike ride. I'm blessed to live by the beach, and blessed to have so many of my immediate family nearby. Many times I need to take a break and be thankful, get things back into perspective from God's point of view (prayer and worship music help a lot, and reading the Psalms).


What are you thankful for?
What helps you to unwind, chill out, take a break?
If you're not sure or nothing comes to mind, it's time for a change.

Christian Language and Gospel Ignorance

A growing number of people in North America and Europe have no background or understanding of Christianity. One reason could be the great influx of immigrants from many nations. But an increasing segment of Western society has grown unengaged and uninterested in Christianity, the result of a shift in culture.

America’s culture is becoming both post-modern and post-Christian. Many sources discuss this at length, but I won’t here.[i] Europe and Canada have preceded the US in this cultural shift, but America is not far behind.

The church cannot stop this cultural shift, nor can they ignore it. Some will argue this point, but denying or resisting this shift will only bring insulation and isolation from people the church wants to reach. Christian believers need to understand this and make the necessary adjustments for addressing this major change in culture.

More and more new believers, responding to the gospel and God’s invitation into His Kingdom, come into churches with a limited understanding of Christianity—its beliefs, practices, terminology, and expected lifestyle.

How can Christian believers communicate to people so they hear the truth and respond to Jesus? Billions of people in the world—yes, billions![ii]have never heard the gospel or even the name of Jesus once in their lives, or in their own language. A rapidly growing Muslim population throughout the world appears closed to the gospel, even though the Koran speaks of Isa al Masih (Jesus the Messiah) as a prophet.[iii]Again I ask, how can believers convey the gospel so they can hear it?

Many people lack a frame of reference for understanding the words, terms, and biblical references used by Christian believers. Collectively, they become a foreign language to nonbelievers and new believers. It’s called Christianese—a specialized dialect of English.[iv]

Special words and terms are common in most fields of study and called field-dependent terms—words and phrases with specific meanings. Various branches of the sciences, academics and education, politics, and even subcultures like street gangs, have their own lingo—a language specific to their field of reference. Christianity, with its field of study called theology, is no different.

Christians often use specific words and terms with meanings understood within the church—at least it appears that way. My experience as a pastor and cross-cultural missionary tells me differently. Many Christian believers cannot explain these specialized words and terms in plain English so a nonbeliever could understand. This helps make the gospel a mystery to people.

When Christian clichés, and what I call Bible talk,[v]are used outside their field of reference (the church) people unfamiliar with these words and terms will not understand them. Having traveled many places in Asia, Latin America, and Africa, I know the feeling of hearing a foreign language and not understanding what’s being said. It’s similar to being in a movie with subtitles, but you can’t see and read the subtitles because you’re one of the characters in the movie!

In some conversations and settings, I am expected to respond, and though wanting to, I can’t. This is the predicament Christians often put nonbelievers in, and even new believers uninitiated to Christianese. To be fair, most believers don’t realize they do this.

Two issues are at work here. One is the lack of understanding on the part of the nonbeliever or new believer, who doesn’t understand what is being said. The second issue is with the believer who uses Christianese, and doesn’t understand the terms they themselves use. This is revealed when a person attempts to explain what they say in non-Christian words and can’t.

Experience—the Great Teacher

Over the years I stumbled upon a simple test of someone’s understanding of Christian terms and theology. Can a person put Christian and Biblical words in his or her own words? It’s a simple way of communicating Christianese to unbelievers and new believers alike. I use the acronym IYOW—In Your Own Words—to describe the process. It seems simple, but is not as easy as it sounds.

I didn’t discover this through extensive research, but in much humbler ways. As a pastor, I’m responsible to feed the sheep, that is, teach the Bible—its doctrine and practice—to help God’s people grow spiritually.

I founded a church in Southern California’s high desert in 1978, with my wife and three children, ages newborn to five years. Our fourth child came a few years after the church started. My older children would hear things in Sunday school and church services and have questions, and ask dad these questions at inopportune times.

It seemed much easier to teach adults than children, so I thought. With adults I could use all the Christian theological terms without explaining them. But when my children asked me to explain these same things, I found myself fumbling to explain things in simple, clear words. Apparently, I hadn’t learned my lesson with the Sunday school class well enough.

More than a few times my oldest daughter, Becky, would ask simple, heartfelt questions on our way to a church service. “Dad, how can God be one and still be the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?” As a pastor, my mind was filled with things to do before the service began, as well as my message. I was not prepared to explain the doctrine of the Trinity to my sweet, elementary-aged daughter in a simple, clear manner. The reality is, it challenged me, and brought a change in my whole approach to teaching.

My experience in the Philippines, as a teacher of pastors, leaders, and Bible School students, confirmed the importance of this while teaching in an environment where English was a second language, but Christianity was familiar.

The Philippines is often proclaimed as the only Christian nation in Asia, so students used Christian terms frequently. But I realized many of the students didn’t have a full understanding of these words and phrases.

I got a partial clue early on, getting settled into Philippine culture. We were part of a little barrio church with many small children, and where some of the worship songs were sung in English. One Sunday morning, during greeting time, I started speaking to one of the children whom I’d seen singing. My wife said, “They don’t understand what you’re saying.” I replied, “But they’re singing the songs in English, aren’t they?”

Because I was a bit slow on the uptake, my wife explained they sang in English because that’s how they learned the songs. The children didn’t know what the words meant. Similarly, I could speak a little of the dialect, but didn’t understand the language beyond a few familiar words and phrases.

When people use certain words and terms, and quote Scripture texts, this does not mean they have a clear grasp of what they are saying. It may seem clear to the speaker, but can the person explain these same things in simple words? If not, what’s spoken sounds like a secret code language to the uninitiated unless someone explains it to them.

This is another excerpt from my upcoming book. I'm in the final stages of rewriting it, but the last couple weeks have been sneak peeks. I appreciate any feedback—constructive, please ;-)...


[i]There are many books and articles written on post-modern, post-Christian trends, here are some ones I’ve read and recommend— The End of the World as We Know It, C Smith Jr. (2001 WaterBrook Press); Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church, by DA Carson (2005 Zondervan). Online articles— http://goo.gl/emWyu | http://goo.gl/yVFBo
[ii]With the world population hitting seven (7) billion at the end of 2011, statistics fluctuate for numbering the billions of unreached and least reached peoples in the world. However, there are organizations dedicated to researching this (see the following links). Joshua Project— http://www.joshuaproject.net/index.php| Operation World— http://www.operationworld.org/| US Center for World Mission— http://www.uscwm.org/
[iii]Isa al Masih is the anglicized term for the Arab name/title of Jesus the Messiah or Jesus (the) Christ. The Koran (the anglicized spelling for Quran or Qur’an) is Islam’s book of sacred writings. Muslims are followers of Islam and the prophet, Mohammed.
[iv]Here are some websites devoted to Christianese— http://dictionaryofchristianese.com/ | http://goo.gl/nssqu| http://goo.gl/aKFDV| http://www.internetevangelismday.com/jargon.php| http://goo.gl/2Y1Bp(also see “Common Christianese Terms” in the Glossary)

[v]Christianese can come in many forms—common clichés, Bible references or words from familiar Bible texts, and theological terms (more academic). I call these Bible talk because they are based on words and phrases in the Bible or in reference to texts in the Bible.