Worldview

Freedom from Antidiscrimination

Photo credit: unsplash.com_RLopes Anti-discrimination is a big concern nowadays. In a nation that touts “freedom for all” and guarantees equal rights, there should be no discrimination. But there is.

Discrimination has existed as long as humans have lived. It isn’t limited to one nation or people group; in fact, you could say it’s an equal opportunity factor.

In America, we’re most concerned about discrimination in the areas of gender-types, race, religion, and social-economic status. Sadly, the protected rights of one group can infringe on another.

Hearts and minds

Laws can be passed and policies created, but they won’t change people’s hearts and minds. It’s in a person’s thinking and emotions that prejudice and bias reside.

Unless a person is changed internally, any changes on the outside are temporary and often fickle.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”—Galatians 3:28 (NKJV)

The kingdom of God is so different from the world around us. God rules His kingdom with love and love prevails over laws.

When a person encounters God’s grace and is changed spiritually in his heart and mind, he begins to see people differently than before. At least, that’s God’s intent and purpose for His children.

[bctt tweet="God rules His kingdom with love and love prevails over laws" username="tkbeyond"]

God doesn't discriminate

This verse isn’t saying nationalities, status, or gender no longer exist in a physical sense, but within God’s kingdom, in relationship with Jesus Christ, we are all one.

God doesn’t discriminate. After all, He’s doesn’t want anyone to perish (2 Peter 3:9).

We see this through the life of Jesus displayed in the four gospels. Of course, this openness to people of all backgrounds angered those who created barriers against many people.

In the end, Jewish leaders manipulated people to turn against Jesus. They were definitely discriminatory.

[bctt tweet="God doesn’t discriminate—He doesn't want anyone to perish" username="tkbeyond"]

God's worldview

When God’s grace is worked into our hearts and minds, we can look past whatever causes prejudice and bias. The love of Jesus and His call that we follow Him (Luke 9:23) ought to strip us of such things.

So, why does discrimination of any kind exist within the Church? Why do we as believers react in prejudicial ways toward others?

Simple. The prevailing culture of the world too often exerts more influence on us than the radically different culture of God’s kingdom.

[bctt tweet="God’s kingdom is radically different from the world's culture" username="tkbeyond"]

What can be done about it?

Each of us must choose the worldview of Jesus over the worldview of our culture. His worldview is summed up in John 3:16—God’s love prompted His death for all of humanity.

It’s not like wearing blinders or rose-colored glasses, but having a gracious heart and a renewed mind.

[bctt tweet="Choose the worldview of Jesus over the worldview of our culture" username="tkbeyond"]

Some questions and an encouragement—

How do you see prejudice and bias in your own heart and thoughts?

Why do you think any prejudice or bias exists in your life?

Look at who you tend to view in a negative way, how can you pray for them?

Likewise, who do you feel has a negative attitude towards you, and how can you pray for them?

Find ways of building relationships with people who are different from you, and ask the Lord to guide you in doing so.


This was originally posted on Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale's Daily Devo blog, here's the link– Freedom from Antidiscrimination

One Thing You Lack

Photo credit: unsplash.com_CStMerc We all view people and the world around us in different ways. It’s called a worldview. We see through certain filters, and these filters affect how we see things. They reflect our biases and our point of view.

For example, we size people up based on our own perceived status. We see people as richer or poorer than us, skinnier or fatter, more intelligent or less intelligent, and well, you get the idea.

A rich young man

The story of the rich young ruler who questioned Jesus about eternal life has three points of view—Jesus’, the young ruler’s, and ours.

Our view may be similar to that of the disciples or the young man. But it’s nearly impossible for us to see things from Jesus’ point of view.

“Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.’”—Mark 10:21 (NKJV)

In fact, many of us grapple with what Jesus tells this young man. It hits home, especially for us Americans. We are quite wealthy compared to most of the world, and we have a lot of stuff.

Too much stuff!

How much stuff do we have?

So much that it requires more than 2.3 billion square feet in 60,000 self-storage buildings. (These are statistics from 2009.) That’s a lot of stuff!

The average American has a lot in common with the rich young ruler.

Look at what Jesus says first: “One thing you lack . . .” This young man lacked little in worldly possessions, but he didn’t have what he wanted.

So Jesus tells him to sell what he has and give it to the poor, and this would bring him treasure in Heaven.

Couldn't let go

The rich, young ruler went away sad. His possessions were too costly for him to give up.

He couldn’t let go of them—even for the one thing he really wanted—eternal life.

When Jesus looked at the young man, the Bible says He loved him. Jesus knew what He told the man to do would be hard, but He did so out of love for him.

If we believe Jesus loves us, then we need to take this to heart. When we say we’ll follow Jesus as His disciples, are we willing to exchange what we have for what He gives us?

Here are a few questions and a challenge or two—

  • How much “stuff” do you have?
  • Are you willing to part with any of it? If so, how much?
  • Take a simple inventory of what you own and ask yourself how much of it owns you?
  • Try giving something away this week, and see how difficult it is to do.
    • If it’s pretty easy, keep at it. And if it’s hard, keep at it!

This was originally published on the Daily Devo blog of Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale. Here's the original post– One Thing You Lack

Chosen by God's Kindness

Photo credit: lightstock.com So I ask, “Has God rejected his people Israel?” That’s unthinkable! Consider this. I’m an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham from the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he knew long ago.

Don’t you know what Elijah says in the Scripture passage when he complains to God about Israel? He says,

“Lord, they’ve killed your prophets and torn down your altars. I’m the only one left, and they’re trying to take my life.” But what was God’s reply? God said, “I’ve kept 7,000 people for myself who have not knelt to worship Baal.”

So, as there were then, there are now a few left that God has chosen by his kindness. If they were chosen by God’s kindness, they weren’t chosen because of anything they did. Otherwise, God’s kindness wouldn’t be kindness.

So what does all this mean? It means that Israel has never achieved what it has been striving for. However, those whom God has chosen have achieved it. The minds of the rest of Israel were closed, as Scripture says,

“To this day God has given them a spirit of deep sleep. Their eyes don’t see, and their ears don’t hear!” And David says, “Let the table set for them become a trap and a net, a snare and a punishment for them. Let their vision become clouded so that they cannot see. Let them carry back-breaking burdens forever.”

So I ask, “Has Israel stumbled so badly that it can’t get up again?” That’s unthinkable! By Israel’s failure, salvation has come to people who are not Jewish to make the Jewish people jealous.

The fall of the Jewish people made the world spiritually rich. Their failure made people who are not Jewish spiritually rich. So the inclusion of Jewish people will make the world even richer. (‭Romans‬ ‭11:‭1-12‬ (GW)


The concept of being chosen is often misunderstood, mostly because of our human, earthbound worldview. This is understandable in America, since we fixate on beauty and performance, as with celebrities, pop-stars, athletes, and politicians.

But those who are chosen by God's kindness—His grace—are only special because He's chosen them, not anything else. This choosing is for His purposes and according to His timing, which is true for a nation or a person.

But we don't see the whole picture. We don't see things from God's point of view. We see that Elijah was chosen by God, but he was not the only one. God had 7,000 other people reserved for His purposes.

Israel was chosen by God for His purposes, but they did not remain faithful to Him. His plan for redeeming humanity included other peoples (nations), not just the Jews. So, Israel was set aside for a purpose, so that others could be included in God's kingdom.

Be careful of seeing God's choosing as anything else than His kindness shown for His purposes. ©Word-Strong_2016

What Fools Believe

Photo credit: lightstock.com

A small percentage of the world's population are true atheists. The majority of the world believes in God, or at least various gods.

Hinduism claims millions of gods, Buddhism thousands, but the earmark of Judaism, Christianity, and even Islam is the belief in one sovereign God.

Even agnostics and atheists believe someone is supreme—themselves and their worldview. But some of those who claim to believe in God live as if they were atheists.

Scripture

For the director of music. Of David.

Fools say to themselves, “There is no God.” Fools are evil and do terrible things; there is no one who does anything good.

The Lord looked down from heaven on all people to see if anyone understood, if anyone was looking to God for help. But all have turned away. Together, everyone has become evil. There is no one who does anything good, not even one. [vss 1-3]

Don’t the wicked understand? They destroy my people as if they were eating bread. They do not ask the Lord for help. But the wicked are filled with terror, because God is with those who do what is right. The wicked upset the plans of the poor, but the Lord will protect them.

I pray that victory will come to Israel from Mount Zion! May the Lord bring them back. Then the people of Jacob will rejoice, and the people of Israel will be glad. [vss 4-7]

(Psalm 14:1-7 NCV) [Context– Psalm 14]

Key phrase— Fools say to themselves, “There is no God.”

[bctt tweet="Fools say to themselves, “There is no God.”"]

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

What do "fools" say to themselves? How are these people described in this psalm?

What does the Lord see when He looks "down from heaven"? Could this be true of today's world?

What assurance is given regarding what is right and for those who are poor?

How do you think the last two statements about Israel relate to the rest of this psalm?

Reflection...

The term "fool" has a broad meaning, but in the psalms it speaks of people without moral soundness. These are people who lack integrity of character and dismiss the normal boundaries of right and wrong.

We've all seen people who think they can get away with something wrong, yet without experiencing any consequences. In some cases, it may be people who have no conscience—no clear sense of right and wrong, while other people may have a conscience, but choose to ignore its warnings. The "fool" characterized in this psalm could be either one.

The key to understanding this psalm is the heavenly perspective—God's view of things. He sees the wrong that is done and cares for the poor and oppressed. He also knows the end result for the foolish.

What can we do as individuals? If we've been foolish, we need to seek forgiveness and restoration from God. When we are pressed and oppressed, we need to seek the Lord as our refuge.

Make it personal...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

Are there times when you've acted more foolish than wise? If so, have you reconciled with God?

Is your life guided by your conscience or your feelings, wants, and desires?

What guides your life—the culture of the world around you or the truth of God?

How do you keep yourself from being carried along by the current of the culture around you?


Would you like a free study guide for your study of Psalms?

Click Here to get a Free Psalms Study Guide

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.

What gives Words their Meaning?

Nehemiah 8:8 Learning English is difficult. It has a strong emphasis on grammatical structure.

I remember weeks in grade school and middle school diagramming sentences. I don't think that's done anymore. Pity.

It shows in the way people speak and write. And pity because, I think every student should endure the same torture (just kidding).

English!

English words can have different meanings and pronunciations, but the same spelling. Did you read the book? She read the book. The book was red. Imagine how difficult this is for someone learning English as a second language (ESL)!

How about two words that sound the same, spelled differently, mean different things, and used in the same sentence! He read the red book.

Context is important

This week I talked to two different people who used the acronym PT. One spoke of physical therapy, the other referred to physical training. How could I know the difference? The first person described what he meant as he explained what he was studying. The other one is in the military—known for their use of acronyms—who talked about his physical conditioning.

It's the context a word is used in that gives it meaning.

The one speaking (or writing) has something in mind when using a certain word, phrase or acronym. However, those listening or reading may not be familiar with how the person using the word intends for it to be understood. How many times public figures (mostly politicians) say their words were "taken out of context" when what they say stirs controversy. Christian believers, are you getting where I'm going with this?

Disconnect

This past week, someone asked me what my occupation is. My answer was that I'm a writer and teacher. The inevitable next question is, "Of what?" Right now I'm involved with three part-time jobs to pay the bills, but for the majority of my life I've been a teacher and leader. The transition from teacher-leader to writer-occasional teacher, and as an online teacher-writer, has been a steep learning curve.

When asked what I wrote, I told of my recently published book and my current writing project. I explained my concern of many Christian believers not understanding the speech they use, called Christianese, nor did non-believers understand these words.

As we talked about this, I could see it struck a chord in her heart. Although her church background is different from mine, we both saw a major disconnect of young people from church, or Christianity in general.

Why? There are plenty of stats and opinions, but I believe one thing that goes unnoticed is this issue of Christianese. Christian believers need to speak in plain language, not an obscure form of it. If we want people to understand what we're saying, we need to make the meaning of it clear.

What is your experience with hearing Christian terms and Bible-talk?

Have you ever considered the language you use when talking about Christianity?

____________________________________________________________

For a funny look at Christianese check out this video by B.A.D.D.– Christianese

Here are some Scripture references that might help to make the point even clearer— Nehemiah 8:8, 12; Proverbs 1:2; 25:11; Luke 24:27

Men of Faith

It's not the sort of thing that makes headlines, even in Christian circles. But it is the heart of story after story in the Bible. The heartbeat of God's kingdom throughout the world. A simple walk of faith. A commitment to serve the Living God and His Son, Jesus the Messiah, and extend the Kingdom of God on earth. Elmer_guysI want to mention a few more of the men and women of faith—true faith—that make up the Body of Christ worldwide. Echoes of their stories are found in the Bible (as in Hebrews Chapter 11) and scattered in all the continents of the world. I featured two families of pastors I know in the Philippines in some recent posts (Extended Family andFruit). These are men I've mentored over the years. This post is more or less a follow up to those posts.

Once again I had the privilege of meeting with my dear friend Pastor Elmer and a few other pastors. He is church planter, has developed a training school for church planters, trains leaders, has sent out missionaries, and does ministry over the radio and even cell phone conference calls. He is resourceful, visionary and tireless. I'm blessed to have him as a friend.

Last week we met to see how all of us could collaborate in our service in God's kingdom. Elmer shared some of his vision for training leaders to reach oral learners, those referred to as non-literate. He is a certified trainer with a US-based ministry called Simply the Story. He's travelled to the middle-east and hopes to come to the US to share his vision and ministry. But his heart is and always will be in the Philippines.

The men gathered together have experience as pastors and church planters. Each has different gifts and vision. I've been their mentor, teacher, and in some cases their boss (as director of a Bible school). Now I'm more of a partner with them (Phil 1:5). I'm still a mentor in many ways, but more as an encourager.

My role has changed over the years from being a primary leader (in charge) to that of a partner. A partner comes alongside and works with other partners. It is a mutual relationship and I'm learning to become a better partner along the way.

This role of partnership with national leaders is not a concept or paradigm, but it is a developing one. This is laid out and discussed in a newly published book I'm reading through now, Western Christians in Global Mission, by Paul Borthwick. It is a role I began to realize and enjoy at the beginning of the new millenium.

Western_Mission_coverMany western cross-cultural missionaries see the crippling effect of discipling national believers in a traditional or western style of ministry. Instead of leaders and churches discipled to Jesus regardless of culture, they are often stilted reflections of western churches.

One simple thing I learned over the years and have shared with others is to begin the "transition" to national leadership from the outset of establishing any ministry or church within a cross-cultural setting. Two important reasons come out of this lesson.

It takes considerable time to disciple and mentor people and no shortcuts exist to do so. We are to disciple people in relationship to Jesus, not to a methodology, nor to a style of ministry. This is a basic truth as stated by the Lord, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matt 16:24). He took more than three years to disciple those who followed Him. He spent most of His time and energy on twelve of them.

A second important part of the lesson is about national leadership. National people will not learn to follow a national leader unless they see him or her in a primary role as a leader. A primary role of leadership requires the attendant authority that goes with the responsibility of the work itself. This is a sticky point for many western missionaries. We don't like to give up our authoritative position. We don't want to lose control. It's the struggle of human will and pride.

If you want to move forward in partnership with national leaders, how do you do it? Jesus is always our prime example (Luke 10:1-3; 24:44-49). And being an example is always a prime element of being a leader.

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?

2 Homes


This week I'm traveling with my wife to the Philippines, so my regular weekly post will be a little late. But a quick thought.

It's been said that missionaries are only at home while traveling between their home culture and their home on the field (where they are involved in ministry). This expresses the dilemma most missionaries go through after assimilating into another culture and developing a home abroad. When returning to their home culture, it often seems foreign.

Not only does life continue on without us when we go from one place to another, but the missionary changes as well. Their worldview changes. Their perspective on their home culture changes. And like it or not, the passing of time changes each person, that is, we get older. 

People often make a big deal about climate and food and customs. All of those require a certain adjustment to cope and function within a new environment. But the one thing that a missionary misses most are the relationships made in both homes. It's hard to say goodbye and leave behind family and friends. But you have to get used to it, because that's a pretty constant reality!

I'm writing this late before we head out early in the morning, so hopefully it's coherent. I'll be checking back in when I'm on the other side of the world from my home in the US. What are you up to?

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!



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

God Speaks

Times_Times-Changing_collage I came of age during the tumultuous sixties. The Vietnam War began in the middle of that decade. Prior to this, America was immersed in a promising rise in economic power. The growth of the middle class was the engine that powered the American economy after decades of depression and wartime economies.

Along the way, America seemed to lose its soul. Social protests marked the latter end of the sixties and became a cultural undercurrent against racial injustice, materialism, and a war far from home.

This undercurrent created a spiritual vacuum, and nature abhors a vacuum. It was quickly filled with a myriad of philosophies, religious movements, and lifestyles.

A culture shift

The range was staggering—eastern religions and philosophies, a resurgence in witchcraft, experimentation with illicit drugs, communes, and along came the Jesus Movement that challenged the traditions and status quo of Christianity.

This cultural shift wasn’t restricted to the US, but found its way throughout the world.

The Beatles mystical involvement with Transcendental Meditation and drugs led them to India for an audience with an Indian yogi. Their songs reflected this personal and famous cultural shift, while visiting the infamous Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco.[i]

Prior to this, songwriters like Bob Dylan and other folk singers challenged America’s status quo on issues of social conscience, and Time magazine announced the spiritual vacuum with their cover declaring—God is dead. Inside this issue noted theologians touted the loss of America’s spiritual soul.

These were some of the prophets of that decade.

A breath of fresh air

In the midst of all the protests came a breath of fresh air spiritually. Waves of young people dropped out of the middle-class march and pursued all that reared its head at the time—including meditation, drug use, and free love.

Out of this move away from middle-class America, many turned to God and joined the Jesus Generation that launched what became the Jesus Movement.[ii] Although more well known and popular on the west coast, it took place across the nation, and spilled over to the next decade and into other nations.

The Olympics of 1972 (in Munich) were tragically marred by a terrorist attack on the Israeli Olympic team. But God’s counter was to send a ministry called YWAM (Youth With A Mission), which sent well over a thousand young people into the midst of millions from all over the world, and shared the love and hope of Jesus.[iii]

The Second Coming

A primary influence of this movement was an interest in the return of Jesus Christ—the Second Coming—when God returns to bring those who love Him to heaven, and also brings a final, apocalyptic judgment upon the earth.

It paralleled fears about over-population, famine and environmental ruin. Once again, God brought an answer to the world’s self-destructive spiral into despair—hope in His Son’s return to save the world from itself.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,

but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.

After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Heb 1:1-3)

Are you ready for the Lord's return to earth?

If so, how are you using your time and living that shows your readiness?

If not, what hinders you from opening your heart to God?


This is an excerpt from my book. Thanks for reading!


[i] The Haight-Ashbury district became a famous staging ground for the hippie movement, especially known for love-ins and hallucinogenic drug use

[ii] The Jesus Generation was a name given to the (primarily) young people in the Jesus Movement

[iii] For background on YWAM see this link– History of YWAM

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

Tapestry of the Gospel

Karen conference in N Thailand ©tkBeyond
Picture a tapestry woven with five different colors of thread. Choose some bold colors like red, blue, green, and perhaps some purple and gold. Or choose your own colors and imagine someone at a weaver’s frame with five different shuttles. The tapestry begins to take shape as the weaver moves the shuttles back and forth across the frame. It may take some time before you see the completed fabric, but when finished it will be bold and beautiful.

In my travels and ministry in northern Thailand, I’ve been blessed to see some beautiful weaving firsthand. Many of the Karen (Kayin) people are refugees within western Thailand because of persecution by the Burmese dictatorship in Myanmar. Originally, Karen people were from the southern and eastern portion of Burma, now called Myanmar.
The design and colors selected by the Karen in their woven garments and bags have significance. The direction of stripes is an indication of gender. If the stripes run vertical, this indicates a male (regardless of age), and if horizontal, the person is female. The colors and patterns also have significance to geography and tribal origins. The weaving is not random, but has meaning.
In this passage from Matthew’s gospel (Matt 4:12-25), I see five threads woven into a tapestry of Jesus’ gospel message and the ministry flowing from it. These five threads are elements of gospel ministry woven throughout all four of the Gospels, and are the focus of this chapter. Each thread is an element that belongs in ministry wherever the gospel is made known. As God’s tapestry was being woven, the early disciples could not see it, nor did the crowds who followed Him. When it was completed, it was much different than they expected. Hopefully, the tapestry of gospel ministry will become clearer, more vibrant, and more personal for you in exploring God’s story.
This is an excerpt from my soon to be published book, The Mystery of the Gospel. This is the beginning of a chapter I'll be posting in part from week to week. If you like it, share it—see the sharing options in the right-hand border of this blog... thanks for reading!
Also—a mission team from our Filipino home church in Dumaguete City is now in Thailand working with our missionary friends, the Johansen's, among the Karen... please pray for fruitful ministry, thanks!

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.

 

Learning, Listening, Leading

Last week I bandied about some thoughts on WWJD and my own acronym WDJD. This week I'm looking at what got me thinking about all this. The point of last week's post is not wondering what Jesus would do in a given situation, but learning what He did do. The Gospels reveal plenty of situations applicable to those arising in our own lives each day.


Last week my wife and I got away for a simple celebration of 40 years of marriage. We traveled up the coast an hour or so to the Georgia wetlands. We wanted to go somewhere nearby and different. The place we stayed at lay along the barrier islands and wildlife was all about, including many varieties of insects (bzzz...thwack!).

It was also quiet. We enjoyed a pleasant sunset along the river the first evening and arose to a beautiful and serene sunrise the next day. As we went out kayaking, seeing myriads of birds and even dolphins, we were struck by the quietness of the tidelands. A couple times we stopped just to listen.

It's amazing what you can learn by listening—a lot! Listening is also important in leading others. Jesus showed this early on, as seen in Luke 2:46—After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. It might be imagined Jesus was teaching the teachers, but it says He was sitting, listening, and asking questions. This is what we see Jesus doing later during His public ministry. I think He was on to something!

Several years ago a good friend of mine, Danny Lehman with YWAM in Honolulu, HI, was teaching at a missions conference on the value of listening and using questions in personal evangelism. Danny knows a thing or two about personal evangelism. He's lived it out for more than four decades, written on it, and taught others by showing them. He used this same Scripture text (Luke 2:46) pointing out how Jesus was not taking charge, but involved in the discussion. Danny went on to share the value of engaging people through questions and conversation in sharing the Gospel.

This is also true with teaching. Listening and asking questions invites participation. It engages people in the process of learning. I've seen this over the past three decades discipling people overseas and in the US—in staff devotions, the classroom, Bible studies, and in workshops. The most productive times of mentoring and leadership development have come through informal discussions where participation was paramount, posing and probing questions kept things moving, and I did my best to stay in the background while mediating the discussion.

How can this apply to personal evangelism? Everyone has a story and they want to tell it. Why do you think Facebook is so popular? When I first saw the question—What's on your mind? Or, What are you doing? My first response was—Who cares?! Turns out, lots of people! Why else would apps like Twitter, Facebook, Tumbler, Pinterest, etc. be so popular?

So, just imagine the opportunities that open up when you're ready to listen. I find people are often waiting for someone to listen to their story, what's going on in their lives. Sometimes it's mundane stuff, sometimes it's tragic or even impressive. Point is, if you're only interested in saying what you want to say, you're not engaging people at a heart-level. People are more willing to listen when they know someone cares.

If you're interested in people—their lives and who they are—it can open up opportunities to share the most important story—God's story. But learn to listen and ask questions with genuine interest first. Then God will open up opportunities to lead them to Jesus, and His stories are never mundane.

Lane-Lock

I don't do a lot of driving, but there are a few routes I take pretty often in and out of town. While driving I've observed a common behavior that at first perturbed me, and then gave way to some pondering.

I noticed how people would line up in a lane, sometimes miles before necessary, to exit onto another road or offramp. This seems to hold true for right or left-hand turns. Of course, this impedes traffic and causes congestion along the way. But this is not a post about traffic habits, it's an observation on life—and faith.


It's easy to get so locked into where we're going that we don't see any other possibilities than what's straight ahead—in our view of things. In life it's normal to get into certain routines as a matter of efficiency and even discipline. This is not a bad thing. But what if it limits our vision for what could be possible?

Walking by faith requires vision to see beyond the usual—beyond the norm. It requires a willingness to break out of routines, break from the pack, and take a different route. It means doing (or not doing) something in a way that seems risky to others, even foolish or possibly dangerous.

When reading about Noah, Abraham and others in the book of Hebrews (Heb 11:6-19), I was struck by how unusual their choices were when trusting God—they seemed irrational, illogical and just plain foolish to others. Sadly, I don't see this same "reckless" faith in the church today, at least not nearly enough.

There are times in my own life when this had been true. In the early seventies, my wife and I gathered our infant son, a few belongings, and about $160, jumped into our VW van and headed off to somewhere. We didn't have a definite destination, but headed up to the Northwest from Southern California. We ended up in the California low desert—not where we would have chosen on our own.

After five years, we struck out to the nearby high desert to plant a church. A dozen years later—when the church was well established and we no longer qualified for government assistance—we left it all behind, along with our oldest son, and moved to the Philippines.

There were more than a few people along the way who thought we were crazy, maybe stupid, and even wrong. Looking back I know it wasn't wrong, but what seemed normal to us back then, too often seems suspect now.

As I approach the age of retirement (I think they're called the golden years), I'm hoping there's still some unexpected ventures ahead. I'm praying for the church in America to look beyond the lane they're in and see the possibilities God has opened up—for whoever is willing to see them by faith.

I'm reading through a sequel book to the best-selling Radical, by David Platt. It's called Radical Together and I hope to do a review of it soon. The titles reveal the content. But the only reason what he says seems radical is because Christian believers, and the church itself, have moved so far away from where the Lord Jesus intended.

I know God is doing great things around the world. I believe there will be new and great things in America in the near future (sometime soon I hope!). And so, I want to be ready, and this is my prayer—Oh Lord, please, deliver me from being lane-locked in my faith, in my trust in You. What's your prayer today?

Altar or Throne?


Recently I was in So Thailand for some teaching ministry for a couple weeks. If you didn't know already, Thailand is a predominantly Buddhist nation, and Buddhism breeds and thrives on animistic belief. One look around at all the "spirit houses" and altars (shrines) erected throughout the nation makes this clear. It is difficult to preach the Gospel in Thailand and see genuine conversion.


Being in another culture different than your own helps you see things from a different perspective—one of the values of cross-cultural missions among other things. In a sense, I have two home cultures—American and Filipino. Although they are quite different from each other—one is western and the other eastern philosophically—there is a vast difference between both of them and Thai culture, which is Buddhist. Or is there?

Buddhism, which has thousands of gods, is intertwined in its history with Hinduism, an ancient religion with millions of gods (deities). How can there be so many gods? As with most ancient religions, there has been a proclivity for associating deity or god-likeness with creation, which is noted in the first chapter of Romans (Rom 1:25). It's termed animism—the worship of non-human things, as if they had souls or spirits. This is easy to see, as said already, with small altars of fruit, toys, incense and other things being offered in many places, to the many gods. Ancestor worship is also mixed into many ancient religions and animistic belief systems, especially in eastern Asia and in native-American cultures.

In the Philippines, it is common to see both Roman Catholic statues or images along with Chinese religious symbols, where ancestor worship is common. Riding in a cab my last Sunday in the Philippines, I noticed the driver (who is Roman Catholic) had a Chinese religious symbol hanging from his mirror, and a "Christian image" or two on his dashboard. As he drove me across town where I would be preaching at a church, we talked about Jesus. "He's my protector, I trust in Him," said my taxi driver. It made me realize how similar many Christians in America are with this approach of "covering all the bases." Of course, as Christians, we don't quite see it that way.

What got me thinking about all this was an article sent to me by my missionary friend in Thailand—"The Gospel in an Animistic Culture (3)," which is well worth the read. [http://goo.gl/2Cxtl] Using the typical western approach of sharing the Gospel in bits and pieces—"Jesus died for your sins" and "God so loved the world"—animistic cultures have a difficult time disassociating these bits and pieces from what they already believe in. People in such cultures can both accept and reject the Gospel readily. They pick and choose between what appeals to them and what doesn't seem to fit their belief system and worldview of life. Are American Christians much different?

It seems to be that American Christians pick and choose what does and does not appeal to them when it comes to the Gospel, in doctrine and practice. Perhaps it doesn't seem this way, but consider how many different Christian churches exist. Often times, the only distinction is the presentation or methodology of the church service. There's too much to get sidetracked on with this issue, but consider what draws you to a certain church or type of worship service. Over the past forty years, I've heard a lot of "what do you have to offer us" questions from prospective church attenders. Questions that are asking, "What do you have to offer that's better than the church down the street?"

Why is this? Is it because we as humans are so self-focused? Well, yes. But has the western church helped promote this with how we present the Gospel, Jesus, and whatever concept of church community is put forward? Before answering that last question, give the above article (link) a read. Then consider, what appeals to you about church, the Gospel (God's Story), and Jesus? What is it you like or dislike? What makes you comfortable or uneasy?

Oh yeah, the title—Altar or Throne—what's that all about? I guess you'll have to tune in next week since there was more to say about all this than I realized when starting to write this post.

Lots Going On...But Loving It


Last week's post was titled, "I 'heart' this." This is more or less an extension of last week's post. I just returned from So Thailand via Manila, where our little team taught through four IBS workshops, and I had the blessing of preaching in three church services last Sunday (15th). Yesterday (22nd) I spent flying from Thailand to Manila, including some time in the Kuala Lumpur Intl. Airport. Another flight today back home to Rainbow in Dumaguete where I'll be teaching a Bible College class this week. It's been a busy time, but good.

The workshops were an interesting mix of cultures. Our first one was primarily Thai, although our host and interpreter is Singaporean (see last week's post). Then we did two workshops in two different places, one in the early morning, and the other in the evening, which were for Burmese believers (and a few Nepalese who spoke Burmese). Our last one finished up on Saturday. It was held south of where we had been for over a week (Ban Nam Khem and Khao Lak). It was a mix of Thai, Burmese, and three Americans visiting the pastor of the church hosting the workshop. The Americans are teaching English in China and sat in for a couple days before heading back to their work.

It was a lot of fun work, and brought its own set of challenges and discoveries. I ended up writing a few pages of notes, in my ever-present notebook, on changes needed to be made, and ones made on the fly (in the process of teaching). I've learned far more about teaching when facing the challenges of teaching in a cross-cultural setting, than teaching in my own home culture. Working through an interpreter requires some serious thought processing, when the words or terms used don't translate well from one language and another (or two or three).



I was blessed to see the Americans getting into the workshop, even though it wasn't "new" for them—one of them is a seminary grad. All three work with university students and are involved in small groups studies. They echoed what I knew and have said before, there's a great need for such training among believers there (as elsewhere).

This week I get to teach the first-year students up at the college. I look forward to it! I've got lots to do going over last minute things with Rainbow Village, including our annual board meeting. Upon my return to the US, I'll be making needed changes to the international LWS/IBS workbook, and there's a few changes for the English one too. I'm also looking forward to getting my book published soon. How and in what form I'm not sure, but it's a primary goal heading into February.

What do you have planned for 2012? Anything special? I once heard we need a big enough vision that it will outlast our own life. I like that. Each year I like encouraging people, anyone who wants to grow spiritually, to read through the entire Bible through the year. There's plenty of reading plans (just "Google it"), so if you need some spiritual direction, that's a great place to start!

An American Icon and an African Story

The death of an American icon, Steve Jobs, captured the headlines and induced reminiscence by many last week. He was a creative and marketing genius, no doubt, and I appreciate the products he introduced into American life. For a while, his death took center stage in the midst of a growing protest of Wall Street's excesses. But my heart has been captured by a young South African girl named Chanda.
(BTW, the girls in this photo are from Ethiopia © tkbeyond)


This past weekend my wife and I watched "Life, Above All," a story of redemption out in movie-version. I'd like to read the book. I don't often recommend movies because people's tastes and tolerance differ so widely. It's not much of a match for "Transformers" or the "Twilight" movies (neither of which I've watched or recommend, btw). The story gives a real glimpse of life in South Africa, which is played out in many other countries. It is also another real-life view from MOTROW that I spoke of last week.

I love stories of redemption. One of my favorites is "Les Miserables," by Victor Hugo. If you've never read it, I highly recommend it. If you're not a reader, there's free audio versions (just check online), and you might want to start with an abridged version. It's a great story that's better than the movie or play (although good as well). Redemption for Christians usually focuses on forgiveness of sin, as it should. But the idea of redemption is much broader. If nothing more, it is the extension of forgiveness, God's mercy, to others. This is what I saw in this movie and in Chanda, a twelve-year old girl coming of age in a remote South African village.

The story begins with the death of a baby girl, the child of Chanda's mother by a different father. This is a family broken by grief, a somewhat classic modern-day tragedy. Chanda's natural father had died, and the man her mother had married bore three other children. This man also dies, but of a merciless death. His body was ravaged with a disease attached with shame and fear—a disease present in the whole world, but especially prevalent in MOTROW. It's a disease provoking harsh judgment, fear, and rejection, as well as shame.

This is not a feel-good movie. It's a "reality movie" in the truest sense. What it portrays is played out daily in many countries, along with South Africa. But it is a movie of redemption, and this is why Chanda captured my heart—she is an example of redemption overcoming harsh judement, fear, rejection and shame. I don't want to spoil the movie for you, and I can't do justice to how it's told. But I saw God's redemption in Chanda as reflected by the words of the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 61:1-2)—the same words Jesus read, in Luke 4:18-19, announcing His being the Messiah who had come to set people free—to redeem all people.

BTW, there's a worldwide ministry called He Intends Victory that  extends God's redemption as the answer for a powerful disease—a disease affecting millions throughout the world. There is hope, even when death seems inevitable. It is a living hope named Jesus Christ—the Redeemer of all humanity.

Redemption is not just something we receive from God for ourselves. It's to be lived out in daily life, as seen in the lives of Jean Luc (in Les Miserables) and Chanda. If you've received God's redemption in your own life, is it being lived out for the benefit of others? This a part of the Great Commission, as expressed by Jesus in Luke 24:47 and John 20:21–23. Redemption isn't just a theory, it's a reality to be lived out daily.

PS– I don't get many comments, so I often wonder if these posts are being read. Let me know, if you would. And if they're a blessing to you, pass them on—retweet, repost, or share in some other way. Thanks for reading.