Book Excerpts & Reviews

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.

Who Is Jesus...Really?

aleksandr-isaychev-160112.jpg

Surveys. Opinion polls. Americans seem to have an insatiable appetite to know what other people think about... fill in the bank.

For all the mining of opinions and the flood of information available, what do we really know? Are we truly the most informed generation in history?

We know a lot of minutiae about a lot of things. This helps us in trivia games, but doesn't answer life's big questions.

A valuable question

At the beginning of this story (Matthew 16:13-20), Jesus asks His disciples a question, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” He wanted to know what the disciples heard among the people.

Yet, He was far more concerned with what the disciples thought, as seen by His second question to them.

In sharing the gospel with others, we need to be mindful of what people are thinking and saying about who Jesus is. It is valid to ask people what their perception of Jesus is before launching into a presentation of the gospel.

Knowing how other people perceive Jesus should be a factor in how the gospel is told or related.

The wrong approach

When zealous believers approached me during my spiritual search, I would hear, “you can become a Christian and still have fun!” One time I was approached while in an altered state of mind and told I could still “own a sports car and become a Christian.”

Having a sports car was the farthest thing from my mind at the time! It did not attract me to Christianity.

Although well-intentioned, this approach to share the gospel was off target. My biggest need was getting my eyes off what I wanted, or what I thought could bring fulfillment in my life.

A frame of reference

Genuine questions can reveal where people stand on spiritual matters, and their opinion about Jesus.

Asking about a person’s life can open them up to hear God’s Story. If a person’s life story is full of difficulties, or reveals a searching for spiritual truth and significance in life, it opens an opportunity for connecting them with God.

Presently in America, more and more people, especially young adults, have a limited understanding of Jesus. They may know more about Buddha or Mohammed than Jesus. Everyone needs some frame of reference, a touchstone, to understand spiritual truth.

Spiritual truth is conceptual, abstract, and intangible, yet we live in a material world. If we don’t perceive what their perception is about Jesus, the Bible, or other spiritual truth, we give them information they can’t process.

We need to know

In contrast, we may pay more attention to what others have to say than we should. Many people are intimidated to share their faith story, fearing rejection. Others are unsure of what to say or how to say it.

Every believer needs to know what he or she believes about Jesus, and why it’s believed—an understanding rooted in a genuine personal relationship with God.

When the gospel is shared with sincerity of heart and in simple words, it is more apt to be heard.

Who do You say Jesus is?

Then Jesus asks His second far more pointed and important question, “Who do you say that I am?”

It was a question of progress for the apostles. Were they grappling with the same question, or were they sure in their hearts? Ultimately, everyone must answer this question. One day, all people will answer this question in God’s presence.

What is your belief?

Other opinions aside, what is your belief? What others say may be of interest, but what is your own belief? How would you answer the question of who Jesus is?

If you are a Christian believer—that is, you have a personal relationship with the Lord, and you’ve experienced a spiritual rebirth—you should be able to answer this question. But, how would you answer? How would you describe who Jesus is to someone else?

Truth is revealed by God

Spiritual truth can only be conveyed if a person understands it in his or her own spirit. As the apostle Paul says, “ . . . not in words taught us by human wisdom, but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words” (1 Cor 2:13).

It is not knowledge of words, written or spoken. God through the Holy Spirit must reveal spiritual truth. It is expressed in words, but understanding and acceptance is God’s work in a person’s heart and mind.

What are your thoughts about Jesus? Do you know who He is?

Do you know Him personally and tell others about your relationship with Him?


This post is an excerpt from my book on the Essential Gospel. Here's another related post— The Core of the Gospel

To learn more about Jesus and the gospel, get a copy of my book— The Mystery of the Gospel

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

Easter Morning—a Restoration of Hope

Photo credit: unsplash.com_RBV
Photo credit: unsplash.com_RBV

In light of the recent terrorist attacks in Europe and the current acrimonious political scene, it's good to focus on a real hope. Hope that is living and eternal. Hope restored.

This is what the Christian faith has that no other religion can offer or know. It isn't a human hope, yet it's a hope for all humans.

Here's a story of hope restored, when all seemed lost.

Early remembrances

As a young pastor, Easter sunrise services were memorable occasions, especially when our children were young. We have four children within two and three years of one another, so many preparations were made the day and night before Easter. My wife laid out what everyone would wear, and food was prepared for a meal following the service.

Many Easter mornings were cold, even freezing, as we departed into the darkness of the early morning. We packed the children into our small car with blankets, along with my guitar and other things prepared ahead.

Although the early disciples didn’t drive their car to the tomb, I tried to imagine what it was like that first Resurrection Day as we drove to the service. I was excited to celebrate and remember the day that changed history.

Many of our sunrise services were held on a hillside in the southern California desert, somewhat similar in terrain and weather to Israel. Arriving as the first rays illuminated the sky, my heart anticipated the moment the sun broke the horizon.

Waiting for the sunrise seems to take a long time, but when it appears it bursts above the earth as a new day begins.

Hope Lost and Restored

The first disciples didn’t know what to expect that early morning. It was a long night of despair, perhaps sleepless, for it seemed all hope was crushed. The One they believed to be Messiah was crucified and buried on the day Israel celebrated their annual Passover feast.

He who would deliver them from oppression and obscurity had died, and their confidence died with Him. The One to  whom they devoted their lives—believing in Him, leaving all, and following Him—was gone. The night might have dragged on, but when the sun rose things happened fast and unexpectedly.

The women were the first to know about the Lord Jesus’ resurrection (Luke 24:1-12). In accounts from another Gospel, we are told they met Jesus in person after His resurrection (John 20:11-18).

Women had very little status or standing in Jewish culture in those days. Concerning spiritual or religious matters, women were considered unimportant. Yet, these women were the first to know and believe the truth about Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. This alone is extraordinary.

Foretold, but unexpected

Everything about Jesus defied the expectations of others and went against conventional wisdom. He began preaching the Kingdom of God in the region of Galilee, far from Jerusalem where the Temple and religious leaders were.

He chose men as His closest followers who were not inclined nor equipped to study the Law and its many interpretations. Some of these men were uneducated fishermen, some religious and political zealots, and one was a hated tax collector. And one betrayed Him.

Instead of resisting an unlawful and unjust sentence of death by crucifixion, shameful and deemed a curse by the Law, He willingly submitted to it. On the day of His miraculous resurrection from the dead, He didn’t appear first to those closest to Him, nor to the important Jewish leaders, but to a few women, even one with a shameful past.

The resurrection of Christ caught everyone involved by surprise, even those who stirred up the crowd and called for His execution. Yet, Jesus spoke of His future resurrection from the dead often and in many instances.

Three written accounts are recorded in the synoptic Gospels (Matt 16:21). Most likely He spoke of this at other times, since the women knew of this when reminded by the angels (Luke 24:6-8).

Following the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus taught that He was the Bread of Life (John 6:35-40). He used a metaphor of eating His flesh and drinking His blood, which caused many disciples to quit following. As He taught this, Jesus made four references to the resurrection related to the eating and drinking of his flesh and blood.

And yet—both His death and resurrection caught everyone by surprise.

What about you?

What surprises you about the Lord and His resurrection from the dead? Is His resurrection a living hope in your heart? Have you experienced His resurrection power in your life?

May you have a blessed Resurrection Day! Everyday!

This is an excerpt from my book, The Mystery of the Gospel, except for the questions at the end, which I've added for this post.

What Can We Learn from Dead Churches?

Photo credit: unsplash.com KHillacre
Photo credit: unsplash.com KHillacre

Throughout the history of the Christian church, there have been cycles of life and death. Cycles of revival and decline are evident by their impact upon the culture around them—both good and bad.

What about individual churches? You can find similar cycles of revival and decline. Some churches seem to thrive, while others struggle to survive.

Is death and decline an inevitable destination for every church? Not if we're willing to learn from history.

Thom S Rainer's book, Autopsy of a Deceased Church, doesn't sound like a fun read. I wouldn't call it fun, but it is enlightening, and in the end, encouraging.

I could easily see various churches I've known or been involved with that identified with Rainer's post-life church assessment. These are actual churches Dr Rainer worked with and knew.

He begins with a story of a church as if it had been a patient, in denial of her real condition. She no longer had vision and followed a familiar path to death. It's a sobering look at fourteen different churches who died. The author provides insights as to why, and later gives twelve responses to the question, "Is There Hope...?"

What is learned from the autopsy

Amazon-Autopsy_Church
Amazon-Autopsy_Church

All the insights Rainer writes about are helpful, but a few struck home in a sad way. He speaks of the Slow Erosion (Chap 2) that takes place, and of the inward and rigid focus a church develops.

In the The Past Is the Hero (Chap 3), a fixation develops on the "good old days." I've seen this too often in churches who experienced high points during the Jesus Movement, but this applies to other churches also. Rainer says this was the "most pervasive and common thread" in all of the autopsies, which created a backwards-looking vision.

This nostalgic, inward focus eventually leads to a church with ...No Clear Purpose (Chap 10). I've seen this way too often, churches that "do church," but have no clear direction or purpose except to exist.

Out of place and out of sorts

Rainer's small, succinct chapters yield insights into churches who didn't change, though the community around them did (Chap 4). Other churches rarely prayed together (Chap 9), and others became ...Obsessed Over the Facilities (Chap 11).

A chapter that struck a sad, familiar chord is where, The Great Commission Becomes the Great Omission (Chap 6). As a missionary and pastor, this one grieves me the most. The focus of the church becomes so inward that the command to "Go!" is set aside and forgotten.

I see this in both a lack of local evangelistic outreach and disinterest in world missions. This is pervasive throughout America today, along with a diminished focus on discipleship and equipping God's people.

Another great insight looked at the life stages and decrease in pastoral tenure (Chap 8). Rainer lays out five general stages of relationship between a pastor and the church. From my own experience, I found these to be accurate and remember going through or seeing each stage.

Is there hope?

An autopsy isn't fun, unless you're a forensic doctor I guess. So the book doesn't end on a down note but with hope.

Rainer lays out twelve responses to give hope. These are laid out in three categories of churches— those with sick symptoms, very sick, and dying.

You might think the last category isn't going to have much hope, but you'd be wrong. It's all a matter of focus and perspective, which is lost in a sick or dying church.

Final thoughts

I was sent this book by my friend, Pastor Bill Holdridge, who established Poimen Ministries, and graciously allows me to be part of this ministry to pastors and churches. He's seen all of this more than I have. If you're a pastor and concerned about the health of your church, I encourage you to contact Bill or any of us with Poimen Ministries.

So I recommend Dr Rainer's book for any pastor, no matter what your current role may be in church. It is well worth the read.

Here's a blog post of Dr Rainer's that echoes much of the same issues in his book– 8 Reasons Many Churches Are Living in the 1980's

Another resource I recommend is the blog of Pastor Karl Vaters, especially for pastors of small churches– New Small Church. Karl has a clear focus and purpose that is healthy and outward, and is a great encouragement to many.

If any of this post encourages you, or you see its value for someone else, please feel free to share it! Thanks for reading!