Great Commission

Go! Get Out of the Bubble!

Bubbles_Juneau
Bubbles_Juneau

No doubt you've heard the phrase, living in a bubble or something similar. It was coined a few decades ago, based on the movie of a boy with an underdeveloped immune system who had to live in a bubble-like environment.

This made-for-TV movie came out in 1976 (The Boy in the Plastic Bubble), combining the life stories of two boys with rare diseases. Of course, the movie dramatized the story (added some fiction) and a romantic theme far from reality.

But the concept of living in a bubble—like an incubator—caught hold as a cultural expression. In real life, these boys were unable to venture out of their bubble-like environments without fatal consequences. And yet, their great desire was to live outside the bubble.

Imagine what it would be like to live in a sterile environment without physical human contact. 

Living in a bubble

It wasn't long before people applied the phrase living in a bubble to other situations and people. For example, the office of the U.S. presidency is bubble-like, with the 24/7 Secret Service guard, and screening of people with whom the president will come in contact.

Today it could apply to people focused on their cell phones, gaming, and social media in a virtual bubble. The phrase came to describe anyone isolated from the world around them.

Living in a bubble can describe anyone isolated from the world around them

Sadly, this describes many Christian believers.

Many Christians live in an insulated Christian world surrounded by other Christians and locked into Christian-oriented media and music. And, many Christians like it this way. They don't want to leave this protective bubble—their faith bubble.

And so, the world around them is untouched by their Christian beliefs and values. Why? Intentionally or not, we've constructed an ivory tower of faith.

Not as Jesus intended

This is not what Jesus had in mind when He spoke of the Kingdom of God on earth. Not at all.

This bubble-like isolation isn't reflected in Jesus' teaching about the kingdom of God. What Jesus intended for His followers is seen in several parables and other teachings.

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus sent out twelve disciples to "preach the kingdom and to heal the sick" (Luke 9:1-6). Later, in the last year of the Lord's ministry on earth, Jesus sent out seventy others in the same way (Luke 10:1-12).

Here are His final instructions to those who would lead the church after His departure—

But the Holy Spirit will come on you and give you power. You will be my witnesses. You will tell people everywhere about me—in Jerusalem, in the rest of Judea, in Samaria, and in every part of the world. (Acts 1:8 ERV)

This is echoed in all four of the gospels and termed the Great Commission. Jesus intended for His followers to be empowered and go out with His message to the world around them.

Jesus wanted His followers empowered to go into all the world with His message

Getting out of the Christian bubble

For the "Boy in the Bubble," leaving the bubble put him at risk for his life. But it's different for us followers of Christ. Our spiritual life is at risk if we don't get outside the Christian bubble!

We need to engage people who have different values and beliefs than our own. Here's a blog post by Pastor Cary Nieuwhof that addresses this— The Evangelism Conversation No One Is Having.

I've posted similar or related articles related to sharing your faith without being aggressive or overbearing. But, we still need to get out of our faith bubble to engage people who don't share our faith. How will they know if we don't share God's redemptive message with them?

Our spiritual life is at risk if we don't get outside the Christian bubble!

One simple question— 

Are you willing to get out of your own faith-bubble to engage people about faith?


5 Foundational Truths of the Christian Faith

In a previous post, I pointed out that a general understanding of Christianity often revolves around moral goodness. Moral goodness in and of itself is certainly not bad, but it is not the basis of genuine Christian faith.

And yet, true followers of Christ ought to be good examples of moral goodness. But what is this moral goodness based on? It is not relative to any culture, nor is it gained by upholding certain laws. It is not even based on what a person believes.

But what a person believes and why they believe it is important.

5 Foundational Truths of the Christian Faith

There are at least five basic, foundational truths essential to genuine Christianity. This is from an evangelical perspective. The work of Christ's redemption is received only by faith because of God's kindness and favor referred to as grace.

  1. Jesus is the Cornerstone of the Christian Faith
  2. Jesus is the core of the Essential Gospel and the core of our Christian faith
  3. Jesus personally calls us to follow Him
  4. Jesus gave one all-encompassing command—to love one another as He loved us
  5. Jesus gave one primary mission to His followers called the Great Commission

Do you see the constant in all five of these foundational truths? It's Jesus!

Instead of rattling off Scripture references to base these on, I'll give a few references followed by some questions. Why?

Western Christian believers have a tendency to take in biblical knowledge without fully understanding it. This may enable someone to spout Bible references and beliefs, but it doesn't necessarily lead to internalizing truth.

When the truth is internalized it becomes embedded in us and readily available to share with others. But for a truth to be internalized a person needs to process the truth through their own thinking. This often involves some form of struggle to gain understanding.

Jesus the Cornerstone

There are several places where Jesus is referred to as the Cornerstone. One of those is found in Ephesians 2:20 another is in 1 Peter 2:4-8.

Why would this be an important and foundational truth of the Christian faith? 

Has this truth been foundational for you?

The Essential Gospel

The Essential Gospel—He Came, He Died, He Rose—is laid out in my book, The Mystery of The Gospel: Unraveling God's Story.

The key is to understand who "He"—Jesus—is. When Jesus asked His disciples who they thought "the Son of Man" is, Peter made an important and accurate declaration in Matt 16:16.

What are the two things Peter declares about Jesus?

Do you understand the significance of these two truths?

Jesus' call to follow

This basic invitation to follow Jesus is found in all three of the synoptic gospels (Matt 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23) and is preceded by the revelation of who Jesus is and His relating the Father's plan for man's redemption.

What are two things Jesus says need to happen if we want to follow Him?  

What do these expressions mean to you?

The supreme command

Jesus gives one general command that He calls "new" in John 13:34-35, and it is by this we are to be known as His followers. 

What is different about this new command of Jesus and the command to love our neighbor as we would our selves (Mark 12:29-31)?

Our Mission

This final instruction of Jesus to His followers is found in all four of the gospels and the beginning of Acts. It is not optional. It is our primary mission and the heart of God for the world.

The first place we see the Great Commission is in Matthew 28:19-20. The other ones? Here's a hint—look at the end of the other three gospels and the beginning of the book of Acts.

Can you find each occurrence of it? How is this foundational truth at work in your life?

If you still aren't sure where these expressions of the Great Commission are, then check this post out—What Do You Not Understand About "Go"?

What's your view on these 5 foundational truths?

This post is not intended to be a complete guide to the Christian faith, that would require much more attention.

If you're looking for that, find a good book on biblical theology, such as—What Is Biblical Theology?: A Guide to the Bible's Story, Symbolism, and Patterns

Because I'm a proponent of intentional, relational discipleship and biblical theology, I see the Christian faith as a way of life, not a set of beliefs.

The Bible is our source for truth, but remember what Jesus says—

You carefully study the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. They do in fact tell about me... (John 5:39 NCV)

What are your thoughts on these five foundational truths?

I'd like to hear them and also your responses to the other questions in this post.

Please feel free to share it with others. Thanks for reading!

What Do You Not Understand About "Go"?

Final instructions tend to emphasize what's most important. Even in directions for how to put something together, a series of summarized instructions are given in bullet points.

When parents leave their children with a babysitter, nanny, or grandparents, they relay what's seen as essential information. Things like, "Here's their jammies, dinner, diapers...." Or it might be, "No playing ball in the house, make sure they go to bed by...," well, you get the idea.

What were Jesus' final instructions to His followers? They're summed up in a word—"Go!" But somewhere along the way, this seems to be lost in translation or just ignored.

Jesus' final instructions repeated 5 times

The final instructions and teaching of Jesus to His followers are summarized in what is called the Great Commission. It's found in each of the four gospels and in Acts. It's a mandate for action throughout the world for the benefit of all people. This requires the church to go!

Here are five places the Great Commission is found and a brief summary of its content—

  1. Matt 28:19-20– Go, make disciples... teaching them what Jesus commanded
  2. Mark 16:15– Go into all the world... proclaiming the gospel to all people
  3. Luke 24:45-49–Proclaim repentance and forgiveness (the gospel) to all nations
  4. John 20:21-21– Jesus sends the apostles as He was sent by the Father
  5. Acts 1:4-8– Receive power to be the Lord's witnesses to all the world
3guys_Indo
3guys_Indo

Three to Go!

These three young were sent off from their YWAM base family in Jacksonville, FL for a two-year mission in a small province of Indonesia. It was great to see their excitement and commitment, which was affirmed by those gathered to send them off.

I had the privilege of being a small part of equipping them for their mission. They learned and served together for two years, and were challenged by their base director and one of their teachers to go. And so, they did.

Never intended to be optional

A cursory reading of Acts reveals this mission to go was central to the church's existence and growth. It was understood to be an essential element, not an optional one. But somewhere along the way things changed.

Initially, the church did not venture out of Jerusalem. What changed that? Persecution. A great persecution broke out after the fiery Stephen was martyred (Acts 8:1). Then the church went out as the Lord intended.

This mission is seen throughout the Book of Acts with the first intentional sending out of missionaries recorded in Acts 13:1-3.

How did "Go" become optional?

Reading the letters to the seven churches in Revelation (Rev 2:1-3:22) we see a change. What happened? I see two general trends also present today—complacency and compromise.

Compromise can come in many ways, but syncretism and tolerance are common. Things get included or excluded with a detrimental effect. How do you deal with compromise? The truth of God's Word is most effective in preventing and correcting compromise.

Complacency is harder to change.

How does it settle in? First, we get comfortable. It's hard to be comfortable when persecuted. Comfort leads to an unconcerned attitude. Unconcerned is a synonym for complacent, and unconcerned quickly changes to unengaged.

Photo credit: Sergei Kutrovski
Photo credit: Sergei Kutrovski

How does "Go" become essential for you?

3 things to jump-start you into engagement—

  1. Awareness– you need to become aware of the need throughout the world. How? Learn about the state of the unreached and unengaged around the world. Learn through research in books, websites, and people interested in world missions. [see list of resources below]
  2. Acceptance– understand the need, and become willing and committed to be engaged. As you learn, contact cross-cultural missionaries and mission agencies. They'll be glad to share their passion for the nations of the world and the mission to Go!
  3. Action– move forward by faith to support, and send or be sent. Get involved with missions at a local level, be ready to go on a short-term mission, and engage people of other cultures with the gospel where you live.

Where to start?

Here are resources to get you started and engaged—


This post was edited and revised from an earlier post on my former website. It follows a couple previous and related posts below—

The World Has Changed

MOTROW

The World Has Changed

©kentoh | 123rf stock photos
©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 one of his more recent books, Western Christians in Global Mission, I was both challenged and refreshed by his writing, research, and dialogue to western Christians involved in global missions.

As a cross-cultural missionary myself, I had a vested interest in reading this book and was not disappointed.

Western_Mission_cover
Western_Mission_cover

A Big question

I've 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)?

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.

9 Great Changes and Challenges

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 a vision for the celebration in heaven of every tribe, tongue, and nation worshipping Jesus.

Two appraisals

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 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.

A new role

I found myself agreeing over and over again with the points made and the challenges posed. Paul Borthwick makes his case well and in a gracious way.

It lines up with my own observations from experience on the mission field for the past 25+ years, including 15 years as a resident missionary in the Philippines.

The 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.

The American church's most valuable role is in a partnership alongside Majority World missionary leaders.

Recommended!

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.

If you're interested in global missions, I hope you'll take the 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!


Next week I'll post a follow-up to this related to the Majority World or what I call MOTROW


This is an edited and revised post previously published a few years ago on another platform.

An Unknown God—part 2

unsplash_RPelati

unsplash_RPelati

Formulaic ways of presenting the gospel—the message of God's redemption of humanity—have been developed and taught to many eager evangelists. But I wonder how many times someone, prepped with an evangelistic formula, shares the gospel only to meet with disappointment and rejection? I know I've experienced this on both sides of the gospel—hearing it and sharing it. 

As a young man lost in my own spiritual search, two clean-cut college guys approached me at the beach to share the gospel with the four spiritual laws, telling me I could be a Christian and still own a sports car. Their approach was far off the mark for me. I experienced several other off-target attempts as I've shared before.

As with so many things in life, we can set ourselves up for disappointment with unrealistic expectations. Formulas and approaches go along with our penchant for results. But more and more I want to equip people with the story and heart of the gospel. Reading through all four gospels and the book of Acts it's hard to find any set methodology.

A city full of idols

As mentioned last week, when the apostle Paul arrived in Athens he saw a city filled with idols (Acts 17:16). This disturbed him but he still went to the Jewish synagogue to share the gospel, as he had done in other cities and regions.

He also went into the public market area to preach among those who were not Jewish (Gentiles). While engaging in discussions with those in the marketplace, he was questioned about what he taught, since it seemed so foreign to them.

Some philosophers wanted to hear more about this Jesus he spoke of and about the resurrection, so he was invited to Mars Hill (the Areopagus), the city court where much debate took place (Acts 17:17-21).

Paul's message to the Athenians

Paul realized the gospel he preached in the synagogue was foreign or strange to the ears of these philosophers, which is much like what cross-cultural missionaries experience overseas. It's also similar to sharing the gospel with those who have a postmodern mindset.

Based on this context, Paul adjusted his presentation of the gospel for a people who were ignorant of the Scriptures and the theology revealed in them.

I see three general parts to Paul's message at Mars Hill focused on connecting with the Athenians at a level they would understand. The text for Paul's message is found in Acts 17:22-31.

Connection

Paul first acknowledges they are "very religious," what we might call superstitious, as he sees all their objects of worship (idols). He establishes a connection with the Athenians by noting an altar to "the unknown god" (vs 22).

Paul says to them, "What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you" (vs 23). By saying this he stirs their interest because those gathered at Mars Hill "would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new" (vs 21).

He also establishes himself as an authority regarding this unknown God. He preaches to them, but in a way they can relate to as philosophers.

Creator and Sustainer

The first thing he tells them about this "unknown God" is that He is living and is the Creator of all (vs 24). Not only the Creator but the Lord over all He's created. He is transcendent above all and doesn't live in a temple or shrine created by humans. He wasn't imagined or designed by anyone.

He's not in need of anything people can offer. Instead, God is the Sustainer of all humanity to whom He gives life itself, breath, and everything else (vs 25). Paul goes on to speak of God's relationship with people from God's perspective.

All humanity began with one person (vs 26). It's God who established the seasons within a year and set the boundaries of earth, the oceans, and our atmosphere, as expressed in the ancient book of Job (chapters 38-40).

God makes Himself known and seeks people out so we may know Him and have a relationship with Him (vs 27). He is the Sustainer of all life and Paul relates this truth to what their own poets have said (vs 28), making another point of connection with the Athenians.

Challenging the status quo

Paul begins challenging them to think differently about God, "the divine being," since we are "God's offspring" (vs 29). God isn't like any of the idols or images their artisans have imagined because God is Spirit and not restricted to human or physical constraints.

Then Paul tells them that their ignorance of God, whom they call unknown, is no longer acceptable to God. A day of judgment is coming and people need to repent and turn to God for the timing of this judgment day is already determined by God (vs 30).

He then introduces them to Jesus but not by name. There is one person whom God has appointed as the one who will be the judge. This person is known by His resurrection from the dead (v 31), an unparalleled supernatural event.

The resurrection is the open door into a personal relationship with God and eternal life. This is a truth Paul made clear to a church he planted not long after this message (1 Cor 15:20-22).

Response

One of the criticisms I've heard about Paul's message to the Athenians is the poor response to it as if the response to Peter's message on Pentecost in Jerusalem (Acts 2:41) is some kind of norm. It wasn't the norm then nor is it now.

Most of the reaction of those who heard this message was to the concept of the resurrection from the dead. It's a great dividing line of faith. Although some mocked the resurrection others wanted to hear more, and some believed and joined Paul (vs 32-34).

As I've made clear in an earlier post, we American evangelicals tend to be very results oriented. It seems to be in our Christian-culture-DNA. But we don't see this with Jesus nor the early church leaders. They were committed to discipleship which is a long-term investment in people.

Evangelism or discipleship? Both!

Jesus invested more than three years in His chosen apostles. Paul spent a year (with Barnabas) teaching the church in Antioch, then a year and a half in Corinth, and two years in Ephesus (Acts 11:26; 18:11; 19:10).

Evangelism needs to be linked with discipleship to be effective in fulfilling the Great Commission (Matt 28:19; Mark 16:15), for church planting (the book of Acts), and to equip the church for ministry (Eph 4:11-13).

There should never be a choice between evangelism or discipleship, as to which is better. It's not either-or but both in concert with one another.

So, what are your thoughts on all of this and sharing the gospel in our times and within our culture?

Be sure to look at the notes and cross-references below and please share this with others if you find it helpful!


Here are some cross-references to go with each verse and the 12 elements I see in Paul's message to the Athenians—

  1. Paul observed the religious pursuit of the Athenians (vs 22)
  2. They focused on "objects of worship" [idols] (vs 23)
  3. Paul identified the altar "to the unknown god" as a point of connection (vs 25)
  4. He presented the Living God as Creator of all (vs 24)
  5. God is transcendent above human or earthly origins (vs 24)
  6. God is the origin of life for all people and all that exists (vs 25)
  7. All humanity is descended from one person and God is sovereign (vs 26)
  8. God makes Himself known and seeks relationship with people (vs 27)
  9. God is the Sustainer of life and connects God's nearness to all with their own poets (vs 28)
  10. God is Spirit and not restricted to human or physical constraints (vs 29)
  11. A day of judgment is coming, people need to repent and turn to God (vs 30)
  12. Jesus is the judge and proven to be so by resurrection from the dead (vs 31)
  •  Here are the Cross references—
    • vss 22-25– Psa 19:1-6; Rom 1:20; John 4:24
    • vs 25– John 1:4-5; Gen 2:7; Isa 42:5
    • vs 26– Gen 5:1-4; Dan 4:35-37
    • vs 27– Rom 1:20; Eccl 3:11; Psa 139:7-16
    • vs 28– Psa 82:6; Col 1:16-17
    • vs 29– Psa 115:3-8; Rom 1:22-23
    • vs 30– Matt 4:17; Luke 24:47; Rom 3:23-26
    • vs 31– John 5:21-27; Acts 2:22-24; Rom 2:11-16