Being a World Christian

My church has overwhelmed me with the response of obedience to this season of global mission giving. This is how we fulfill the Great Commission: together. The unity and faithfulness expressed in this offering is so encouraging!

I want to conclude this season of emphasis by saying this is not the conclusion. Giving of our resources is only the beginning of the call to give our lives. This is about being a World Christian. Not worldly Christian, World Christian.

If we want to be consistent in laying down our purposes in exchange for His purpose to reach the nations, it’s going to have to come from God and the Word. Lots of Scripture gets overlooked because we focus on the part about us. And the task becomes ignored or daunting. Either we don’t want to do it, or we don’t know what to do or how to do it. But God is not concerned with our ability, but our availability.*

We live in an age of unprecedented access and wealth. That’s why we need to look at leveraging our lives for the Kingdom. We can’t allow God’s blessings to become the very things that hold us back because we aren’t willing to sacrifice them. What if our children became arrows we shoot into the darkness, rather than setting them up to pursue the American Dream? What if our jobs become the entry-point into limited access countries? What if our time in retirement isn’t meant to be spent coasting out the remainder of our lives on the sideline?

We are each where we are in this time and this place to reach our neighborhood, our city, and the places God sends us around the world. I want to end by reading an excerpt from a book by Dr. Todd Ahrend, who is a mission mobilizer right here in Arkansas.

“The World Christian is a believer who has discovered the truth about God’s unfulfilled global purpose and His desire to reach all peoples… [Who] have reached the conclusion that God’s Word is a missions book… [Who] see the world through the filter of this biblical theme, which inevitably causes them to grow in knowledge and personal application… [Who] embraces a lifelong commitment to God’s purpose, doing whatever it takes—going or staying—to be strategically involved…

“The breadth of World Christianity [is this]: giving financially, interceding on behalf of the world, taking personal responsibility to care for those on the mission field, and personal missions education. Being a World Christian has nothing to do with location, profession, spiritual gifting, or calling; it has everything to do with the fact that we love and serve a missional God.

“If loving the nations feels too radical, redirect your love to God. He loves the nations and we love Him. That is enough.”*

God will accomplish His plan to reach all nations. Will we be a part of this privilege in willful obedience, being able to joyfully say in the end we have finished the work He gave us to do? Or will He accomplish the task by another means, and we find ourselves facing Him at the end with nothing to show for our faith in this life? Let’s not miss this. He is worth it!

(Quoted from The Abrahamic Revolution, by Dr. Todd Ahrend)

Being a World Christian

Lottie Moon

Today marks the first day of a focused week of prayer for international missions. I had the opportunity to speak to my church family this morning in order to inform and call for us who follow Christ to examine how we view this opportunity to send harvesters.

The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is received annually to support our international Christian workers who are serving through the IMB. 100% of the collected offering goes directly to support their work.

In recent years, funding goals have fallen short and the IMB has come under new leadership. Assets have been sold to manage the shortfall but that could not last forever. And right now, currently underway, over 500 Christian workers are being recalled from the field through various means, mainly early retirement incentives.

Allow me to provide some perspective. It breaks my heart to hear that Americans will spend $350 million dollars on costumes for pets or a whopping $6 billion on just decorating our homes for the holidays with all the latest LED lights and inflatable santas, yet the Church has not met a funding goal to support gospel work across the world.

I’m not sharing these things to make anyone feel guilty. But I do think there is a clear call to examine ourselves. I want to be totally transparent. I myself spent plenty of years ignoring this and other annual offerings. But if there’s one thing that God has shown me in this life-changing journey: He is worth it.

To those who have been faithful to giving to this and other offerings (like the cooperative program), thank you. The Kingdom is pushing new boundaries today because of your sending support. If we are complete the great commission and reach every unreached people with the gospel, it will require obedience and sacrifice in new ways.

The IMB recognizes this. Under new leadership, there’s a shift happening in their role. One, they recognize they aren’t the sending body. It is the Church that sends–it is why the Church was founded–and the IMB exists to train, resource, and support churches who send. Second, they want to equip you and me to leverage our lives to go and send, and not view global missions as if we have to give up our lives. Why not take what we do here and go do it there for Kingdom impact?

The point is, I don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that we can throw money at missions and sit back in our comforts. This offering is just the beginning of our expression of trust and faithfulness to God’s commands to reach the nations.

To whoever is reading this today, as you gather with your family for a meal and throughout this week, use one of the resources provided below and begin focused prayer this week. Each day, there is a story that will make what we are talking about real, and a need that you can pray on behalf of. That’s my ask of you this week. Just pray. And consider what your support of global disciple-making looks like.

I think about how much we spend on ourselves in the holidays and don’t wonder, what impact could our resources make if we made it a goal to match what we spend on gifts for ourselves as an offering to global gospel work? Maybe that’s your sacrifice. Or maybe it’s your next step to simply send a text stating “IMB” to 80888 to donate $10. Or as you are shopping online, you use smile.amazon.com and select the IMB as your charity of choice to give a small percentange of your costs.

Whatever it looks like for you, I stood before my church family this morning, and I write this to my website, to offer the testimony that I would rather risk all I have for the sake of Christ than to sit back in my comfort, safety, and disobedience. Because the person who has nothing and Christ has everything. I want my life to count. So let’s be a part of taking Christ to the unreached nations.

Daily Prayer Guide

Info about Lottie Moon

Lottie Moon

Favorite Quotes

I hope you have enjoyed and been challenged into action by my last several posts.  If you are just joining us on this my blog, I really encourage you to go back to the post entitled “Complete the Task” and read back toward the present.  It’s a lot; but well worth it, if I may say so.  In this post, I’d like to share some of my favorite quotes from Perspectives.  I couldn’t have said any of these more perfectly.

Will we allow the very things God has given us to bless others to hold us back? – Todd Ahrend

We get the joy; He gets the glory. – Marty Brown

If I get today, if I don’t get what my sins deserve, then may I live a life so that God is glorified. – Mark Palfreeman

We can’t tell others what we do not know. -Ken Wilson

God is more sovereign than we think He is.  We are more responsible that we think we are. -Bill Parkinson

You are no longer about getting and gaining but rather spreading and proclaiming. You are not afraid of loss. You dare to even believe it a privilege to suffer and die for the spread of God’s glory. Your reward awaits you at the throne of your Creator.  -Floyd McClung (Apostolic Passion article)

Ordinary people become kingdom heroes by surrendering to God.  They do not love their lives in the face of death.  -Jamie Zumwalt

What seems impossible to man is exactly what God wants to do! -John Zumwalt

We’re to be light in the darkness, not light in the lightness. – Jamie Zumwalt

We’re not called to be the salt lick of the earth, but to be sprinkled and spread out. – John Zumwalt

We need to be less concerned with people making “decisions” for Christ and more for people becoming disciples of Christ.  -Bobby Gupta

We’ve got it backwards:  we’ve been inviting Jesus into our kingdoms (hearts), when God is really saying that He’s inviting us into His. -Stan Yoder

How long does it take to become a disciple? As long as it takes the nets to hit the ground. -Robert Brown

Christ asks, “I have done this for you, now what have you done for Me?”  Why do we do this?  May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering.  -Robert Brown

Favorite Quotes

World Christian Discipleship

Here it is. The capstone to a tremendous 16-week mind-bending, heart-changing, life-altering experience. I cite many articles this week, as well as the last lesson we had. There is truly no greater name for these lessons that “Perspectives”. Oh, how mine has changed. God has grabbed hold of me and flipped me right-side up and I never want to go back. I hope these recaps motivate you to look deeper into our reason for living. At the time of this post, I’m five weeks away from going to an area in South Asia that has not been reached with the gospel. I’m anxious, excited, scared, ready. While I mourn the 14 years I’ve wasted, I look forward to the part God has for me to play in completing the task of Him receiving global glory. Read on. Be challenged. Be changed. Be obedient.

A little over a year ago, I began a journey to refocus my life in pursuit of spreading the gospel. I was confronted with confounding realities of the American dream and the state of the Church. I intensely studied the Word to understand God’s redemption story. I took a course to better understand the world Christian movement. And for the last several weeks, you have read these recaps of all that God has been teaching me regarding our role in completing the task. I’m going to pose many questions to you here which ultimately can be gathered into the same question our last instructor posed to us as we closed out the course. He did not ask “has God spoken to you?”, for that is the wrong question. Of course, God has spoken. The question is: what are you doing about it?

Our imperative is to become disciples of Christ and to go make disciples of Christ. How are you and I becoming disciples? What has changed in this journey for you? The original disciples were confronted by Christ and given a choice. They sat working on their fishing nets and Jesus invited them to leave it all and become fishers of men. It’s the same choice we have. We can choose to follow Him or we can choose to disobey. Like the original disciples, it will take as long to become a true follower of Christ as it takes for our nets to hit the ground.

A disciple understands that the message of the Bible is God’s glory. A disciple of Christ is someone who has God’s heart for the world. A true follower is the person who throws off all things that hinder. He/she sees that yes, God so loved the world, but even more importantly, “God loves His Son and has a wonderful plan for Him, to bring all the nations to His feet as Lord of all, and He loves you and me enough to give us a place in it.” (David Bryant)

Unfortunately, we’ve made Jesus into a mascot. On Sundays, we hear messages that Jesus is with us to cheer us up, reinvigorate us, and reassure us. It’s just like we learned back in lesson 1, we’ve made it about God and me. Our ability to drop our nets and become followers is being destroyed by our affluence and our trivial pursuits. We are constantly surrounded by comfort, security, ease of life, and pleasures that we drown out Jesus’ voice, calling for us to take up our cross daily. So I ask each of us today, what comforts are we holding on to that we need to let go of? What trivial pursuits are you and I chasing, distracting us from eternal matters?

Our vain, over-abundant, affluent lifestyles must change. We need to adopt a wartime strategy in our lifestyles. There’s a popular story about a luxury cruise ship, the Queen Mary, that was the symbolic epitome of affluence in America. But when World War II broke out, it was turned into a troop transport. The survival of our nation depended on such an act. The survival of millions of people who do not know Christ also depends on us doing what it takes to fulfill the Great Commission. A couple of sobering statistics from an article by Ralph Winter. We send 1/4 of what we spend on weight-loss programs to missions. It takes just spending $2 extra in over-eating at meals to add an extra pound of weight. $2 is more than what 90% of American Christians give to missions. The point is, if we’d simplify our lives, we could live generously. We have hardened our hearts (and our arteries) with our lifestyles, accepting status quo living as biblical following of Jesus. In Revelation 3:15-17, He declares His distaste:

“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.’”

One of the most sobering verses, which God used early in my journey, speaks to the urgency of re-evaluating our lifestyles. Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus speaking, states:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Let me ask specifically at this point, in light of all God has taught us and with our commitment to South Asia, how are you doing? Are you living life with a new perspective? Are you reading God’s Word daily? Have you opted in to the People Group of the Day prayer guide to pray for the nations? How have you adjusted your time to be available to serve? Are you evaluating your circumstances now in order to free up vacation time and finances to go to an unreached area next year? What are you doing about the truth you have learned?

Several weeks ago, I shared with my small group—a church-plant out of Parkway Place—the reason I believed God called our leaders (Larry and Wanda Remington) to start Compass. Following the New Testament model, I believe we are to become the called-out team, much like Paul and his missionary band were. If all we do is continue to meet on Tuesday nights, then we aren’t being obedient. This apropos illustration from Todd Ahrend exemplifies this calling even further:

We really want God to give us step-by-step instructions for life. But that’s not what God is in the business of, because our faith will never be built. That’s because faith is built upon the experience of obeying His Word. “We cannot expect to get all the detailed instructions before we are willing to begin traveling the path. The Bible doesn’t lay out a ‘map’. It gives us a ‘compass’. God calls you to join Him in journeying in a steady direction [True North] toward a grand global destiny.” (Ahrend) Our yes must be on the table before we know the details. Maps only give you details of areas already known. But this journey with Christ calls us to point our compass toward unknown territories where the gospel has not been taken. So we must be focused on True North—to do whatever it takes to live strategically and purposefully for the completion of the task. This is the mark of a World Christian. (Not a worldly Christian, which would be quite the opposite.)

We can maintain ourselves as World Christians through the different seasons of life. There are several practices of a World Christian. First, we can be goers. Some us may never literally go to another country, but the reality of today is the world is more connected than it ever has been, and we ARE commanded to go to people with the gospel. We have opportunities right where we are to engage people of different cultures. This truth segues into the second practice, being welcomers. The nations are coming to us; that much is clear. While they are visiting, we have the tremendous opportunity to reach them for Christ. Right here in Little Rock is a very prominent organization called International Friendship Outreach. They host events such as Conversation Club, which allows international students meet Americans and practice their English. This practical met need builds the kind of relationship necessary to bridge the way to Christ. Third, we can be senders. We’re not just talking about financial giving and prayer support. These are vital essentials, but World Christian senders go beyond that and make it their ambition to further the work of others through creative means. Fourth, we can be mobilizers, people who cast a vision for the work that must be done and the joy of accepting God’s invitation to be a part of it. These recaps have been aimed at mobilizing you because I care for you and want you to experience the rich and fulfilling joy I have had in this journey.

As four of us prepare to leave on a visionary apostolic journey to South Asia, we do so with God’s mission in mind. This is a short-term trip to gauge the spiritual condition of the region and identify potential native leaders in church planting. Short-term missions can be key in completing the task; the reality is not all of us are going to go on long-term trips or be “career missionaries”. (But if God asked you to be, would you obey? Have you ever boldly prayed whether you should?) These STMs can be successful, as long as we 1) realize and connect God’s purpose as being already at work, 2) plan and act in culturally relevant ways alongside time-tested strategies, and 3) do not use the experience as a primary method of promoting personal discipleship. (Again, it’s not about us.) As we walk with the Holy Spirit, our vision is that multiple short-term trips will work alongside the full-time efforts to train obedience and leadership in native peoples.

With compass in hand, we stand at the “you are here” mark, our “yes” on the table, ready to embrace uncharted territories in our lives and in the world. How can we be confident in the choices we make? First, we must each walk in this journey together. The American Dream route of self-exaltation will not work. Let us grow together and serve together. Go back to your church and bring back like-minded brothers and sisters who want or need to be a part of this journey. We must first multiply disciples here before we’ll ever do it somewhere else. So if we’re not growing, something is wrong! Be the voice in a body of believers who have made it about themselves. Pray constantly. Not just genie-in-a-bottle prayers, but prayers that exalt who God is, thank Him for what He is doing, and ask Him to fulfill what is already on His heart, that the nations would come to glorify Him. God will absolutely say “yes” to these things and cause you to succeed. Simplify your life. We all need to be freed to give and live generously, of our time, our talent, and our treasure. We are blessed to be a blessing. It’s not necessarily about selling everything you have, but rather if God asked you to do so, would you obey? Nor is it about redistributing wealth. We are a people saved by grace and we should live generously that way. The reason a tithe is not mentioned in the New Testament is because Christ desires for us to live purposefully toward generosity. The tithe should be the floor of our giving, not the ceiling. Finally, be a willing learner. Stay in God’s Word. Reject the notion this book is about us. But not only that, be informed of the world around us. Push your perspective into new territories. In the end, the question you need to ask yourself is the same one found on a tombstone of a renowned missionary leader: “Are the things you are living for worth Christ dying for?”

We don’t have to have it all together. We just need to be willing. What part of our lives reflect God’s desire to be known among all peoples? How are we being doers of the word and not just hearers? Are you even suffering for Christ? The Bible assures us that the gospel message is dangerous. If we have dropped our nets and followed Christ, we can be assured we will endure suffering. Do not care for how you will be received or for any discomforts. In Acts, the early disciples counted it as joy to be considered worthy to suffer for Christ!

“Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” (Acts 5:41)

Christ suffered in obedience to God, all the way to the cross. How can we expect not to suffer for that same message? Are you waiting on a special calling? You don’t need it! The mandate is clear! Just have a heart of willingness. Be a goer, a sender, a welcomer, a motivator. As the body of Christ, we have all been given gifts from the Spirit to build each other up, serve in love, and glorify God.

If we truly grasp the depth of love God exhibited by enduring our punishment and making a way for us to be with Him even while we were His enemy, how can any other response but obedience be sufficient? I deserve death and separation from the holy, perfect, loving God, in whom there is supreme satisfaction and fulfillment and purpose. Therefore, He is worthy “to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:13) Christ has done this for us. What will we do for Him? He deserves all glory! And I get to help give it to Him! Why do we take joy in being invited as a part of completing the task? Here’s why: May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering.

World Christian Discipleship

Spontaneous Multiplication

Rapid and spontaneous multiplication of the church.  That is our goal.  That is the mission we join God in.  Did you know that more people have come to know Jesus in the last 100 years than the previous 1900 combined?  God is at work.  We’ve moved from a time when the growth rate of the church was less than the birth rate.  At today’s rate of 7.5%, half of the world would be Christian within 25 years.  Today, 65% of the Church is from races other than Caucasian.  Truly, Christianity is now genuinely an international family of faith.

The type of rapid and spontaneous multiplication we’re talking about is dubbed a church planting movement.  Has anyone ever thought to ask what “church” really is?  Our definitions would probably include many things a church does.  Neil Cole defined it as “the presence of Jesus among His people called out as a spiritual family to pursue His mission on this planet.”  Reproduction of the church means multiplying, not just adding.  These churches are born out of indigenous cultural settings and will reproduce best along ethnolinguistic lines.  It becomes a movement when, like a dam finally breaking, there is no stopping or controlling it.  I’m not sure we really know what that looks like in America.  Our western style of doing church—with its big structures, lots of staff, multiple programs—is not rapidly reproducible.

Why is our focus on church planting?  Indeed, it is the biblical pattern we find in Scripture.  It ensures that the fruits of our labors are preserved.  It gives us a place to nurture multi-generational believers.  It is how we’ll reach the unreached and lay a foundation for discipling entire nations.  And it very practically gives us a measure of the completion of the task.  Listen, this is not just a short-term project we can take on.  We’re talking about a task that is much bigger than any one church can accomplish on its own.  We need God; we need the united Church.  The effort must be covered in prayer.  It requires accurate information and research.  And it is a long term process, not an event that has a beginning and end.

The focus is on discipleship.  This is no small statement.  To not just grow but multiply, a church must be obedient to Christ.  Not just hearers of the Word, but doers.  After all, that’s the Scriptural imperative: make disciples.  The problem is we’ve made teaching, baptizing, preaching, and all sorts of other things the imperative.  Those things are important, but the mandate is clear: make disciples.  This is going to require a lifestyle change for all of us!  We’re too busy to make disciples.  We’re too reliant upon pre-packaged programs and messages that make us feel better about how we’re living.  We’ve watered down the gospel and made the blood of Christ like kool-aid.  If a person will just pray a prayer and come to church once a while, we declare them fit for heaven.  They are top of the class if they even give some money.  The reality is praying a prayer is just the beginning.  You’ve just been introduced!  The focus must be on the discipleship that follows.

This is completely my own side-note, but I want to point out where I think our own discipleship must begin.  We don’t take sin near seriously enough.  We must absolutely repent of it.  Not just pray for forgiveness, but also truly turn away.  Repentance is the beginning of discipleship.  James 4:9, in regards to sin in our lives, says we must “Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.”  Not because we got caught or because it had certain negative effects, but because it separates us from God.  The Bible instructs us to run away from sin as fast as we can.  Do not allow temptations to fester and pull you away from your fellowship with God.  It warns us the dangers of miring our lives in it over and over.  In doing so, we make the cross work of Christ as nothing!  Does that notion not break your heart as it does mine?  Hebrews 10:26, 29: “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins…How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?”  Whatever it is we’re facing that we maybe think God just doesn’t understand or is simply too much for us to resist, remember what Hebrews 12:3-4 says.  “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.  In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”  What we’re faced with is nothing compared to what Christ endured on the cross, and He did so without sinning.  So run the race, flee from sin, crucify yourself daily, and follow Him.

Why do I digress into that?  Just remember, we cannot teach what we do not know.

A second requirement of multiplication is the development of leadership who are encouraged and trained in the Word.  Jesus focused on a few men and sent them out.  That should be our model too.  The huge rally strategy isn’t going to work.  A new church must be built up through its leadership.  Teaching them obedience to Christ is essential.  And it is important to distinguish between commandments, biblical practices, and human customs.  Allow the Holy Spirit to work through any cultural issues.  We must trust His guidance toward the people and the people’s ability to follow the Holy Spirit’s direction.  We’re not calling people to extract themselves from their cultural identity.  Remember, we’re there to help them become like Christ, not like us!  Another warning involves providing funds to support the leadership.  New indigenous believers need the opportunity to learn about generosity and stewardship.  Throwing money will create dependency, which will always freeze multiplication.  We should focus our efforts on a single people group to multiply churches, providing contextualization, avoiding syncretism, encouraging group decisions, and emphasizing community.

The cycle for rapid and spontaneous multiplication of the church begins with envisioning the task.  Then you mobilize through prayer and begin equipping those persons whom God has revealed as leaders.  A church is planted and leadership development takes place with an emphasis on obedience to Christ.  Those leaders then envision their role in the task and the cycle begins anew.  So where do we begin?  Dr. Bobby Gupta, President of the Hindustan Bible Institute, which has been responsible for planting thousands of churches in India, stated that the best place to start is by asking a simple but loaded question.  It’s one that I want each of you to ask yourself and what your role is for it:  what does it look like when the task is complete?

Spontaneous Multiplication

Building Bridges of Love

I’ve combined several lesson into this post.  Many of them were academic in nature and involved a great deal of story-telling about social and cultural action.  Much of this recap comes from our reading.  Although the lectures had good content, they weren’t the most dynamic of lectures and I didn’t take many notes.  So I did the best I could turning these lessons around into my (mostly) my own words.

I’ve introduced the barriers—language and culture—which can hinder the spread of the gospel.  For culture, we know that we need to contextualize the message; in other words, present it in culturally relevant ways, while guarding against syncretism.  One of the most important cultural distinctions we must be ready for is the idea of community decision-making.  In America, we are very individualistic.  Our society teaches us to live for ourselves and do and believe in what is good for you.  We’re independent thinkers!  Therefore our efforts at local evangelization are geared toward individuals.  But we cannot take this model overseas.  There, community is most important.  Many missionaries have been blocked in their efforts when trying to convince a single person to follow Christ.  Doing so can result in alienation and ostracism from their people.  Convince a family unit or tribe of the Gospel and let the Holy Spirit sink the truth into them, you have completely different results.  Remember “Ee-Taow”?  To have this kind of influence requires us to build a bridge between the cultural divide.  In doing so, we must not become authorities or builders, but servants who walk along beside.  Take a look at Paul’s response to the Thessalonians:

So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.  For you remember, brothers, our labor and toil: we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how holy and righteous and blameless was our conduct toward you believers. For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. (1 Thess. 2:8-12)

Language is something that can be magnificently difficult to break through.  One expert in linguistics said “There is no such thing as a word in one language that has a perfect equivalent in other language.”  Just look at our own.  Take a simple word like “world”.  It can have multiple meanings in context.  In Scripture, we see “God so loved the world”, “Love not the world”, “The world was created by Him”, and “If the world hates you, it hated me before it hated you”.  In each case, it means something different.  Every language has its figures of speech or idioms, and rarely do they transfer without serious distortion.  The Bible is full of figures of speech!  You couple this with cultural interpretation of a story, and you can easily see the monumental task missionaries have in accurately conveying the true intent of a biblical passage.  Yet taking the time to learn the language of the people is so crucial because they will not see Christianity as theirs until God (in His Word) can speak to them in their language.  Today there are still 2,000 languages that do not have a biblical translation.

So when we go, are we going to meet a physical need or a spiritual need?  The 10/40 Window represents the greatest degree of non-Christian peoples.  But is also includes over 80% of the poorest in the world (living on less than $500 per year) and over 80% of those with the lowest quality of life (in terms of life expectancy, infant mortality, literacy, etc).  The problem is, we dehumanize the situation.  It becomes overwhelming and abstract.  It no longer seems like a real problem.  And we end up thinking the “poor” are anyone who has less than us.  In America, you can own a home, car, cell phone, and have a job and still be considered poor.  But that’s relative poverty, which is based on standards of living.  What we’re talking about are the blind, the lame, those who can’t read, victims of war and injustice, and slum dwellers.  That’s absolute poverty, a situation where people have insufficient resources to meet basic needs.  The disparity is great and we cannot be okay with it.  In America we have freedom of religion, but in most of the developing world, they are chained by religious restrictions.  Here, 86% identify themselves as Christian; there, 83% have never heard the gospel.  We have 300,000 seminary-trained ministers while there is roughly only 1 pastor for every 50 congregations overseas.  It has been shown that a church spends $10,000 for every person who comes to know Christ in evangelistic outreach; the equivalent for the 10/40 window is 10 cents.

History has shown us that we tend to swing like a pendulum in our global campaigns to care for physical and spiritual needs.  In other words, we seem to be grappling with the question of which one is more important, “social action” or “evangelism”.  But they are one and the same.  Where a physical need is greatest, we should meet it, thereby opening a door to the spiritual.  And where truth needs to reign primarily, then we need to address the spiritual need, which ultimately will address the physical.  We absolutely must take a holistic mission approach.  Isaiah 61:1-4 says,

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
 because the Lord has anointed me 
to bring good news to the poor; 
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, 
to proclaim liberty to the captives, 
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
 and the day of vengeance of our God…that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
 the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.  They shall build up the ancient ruins; 
they shall raise up the former devastations;
 they shall repair the ruined cities, 
the devastations of many generations.

You see, those who have been captives and brokenhearted become “the planting of the Lord”.  They will restore the devastation.  Practically speaking, this means that we shouldn’t just throw our money at problems or think that clicking “like” on Facebook to increase awareness will do anything.  (Sorry, side rant there.)  When a local people mobilize local resources to take ownership of their needs, guided by our knowledge and experience, which in turn are rooted in the values of the Kingdom of God, the effect is much more long-term and actual change is produced, rather than just passive impact.

Honestly, it really isn’t that complicated, though the details are many and varied for each culture.  But the bottom line is summarized nicely by Dr. Ron Blue.  Live among the people and win their friendship.  Then at the earliest possible moment, get them into intimate contact with the Bible.  This will get to the root of the needs in the world.

Building Bridges of Love

How Shall They Hear

What is culture?  What is at its roots?  How does it affect how people view the world?  All good questions.  And all must be answered if we are to effectively carry the message of the gospel to the world.  Culture is how a group of people deal with the world around them.  It consists of patterns we learn and products we produce to help us live based on our view of reality.

At the surface, people model behavior.  Behavior includes the actions, words, and deeds of a people.  It is based on a person’s values, or in other words, their view of what is good or best.  Values are based on a person’s beliefs, which stem from answering the question “what is true”.  And one’s beliefs are grounded in one’s worldview, which asks the question “what is real”.

As an example:  Our Christian worldview is that God is Creator and created reality.  That gives rise to our belief that God is sovereign.  We value our faith and the idea of living worry-free because God is in control.  And therefore, we exhibit a behavior of living generously as a people saved by grace.

At the heart of culture is worldview.  It is how we view the world based on assumptions that we hold either consciously or subconsciously.  Worldview is seen through a series of filters comprised of what we believe, experience, and analyze.  This becomes our view of reality.

What we must guard against is ethnocentrism, or viewing my own set of behaviors—which are based on my beliefs, values, and worldview—as the best way possible.  This is obviously very harmful in the pursuit of spreading the gospel.  But in reality, we do it every day.  Our media always shows us the bad sides of a culture.  And we end up judging what we consider a culture’s bad behaviors relative to what we consider our best values.

At the same time, when entering an unknown culture, disorientation can often result.  This is what we call culture shock.  It is the result of trying to accept a culture’s behavior without understanding their underlying beliefs, values, and worldview.  And what we’ll end up with is withdrawal and criticism, rather than love.

How then shall we proceed into cultures that are different that our own and not experience ethnocentrism or shock?  We’ve got to make our message culturally relevant.  That means we need to contextualize it.  In other words, we need to present the gospel in regard to the culture we’re in.  We need to adapt ourselves and our presentation.  But there are two problems.  The first is syncretism, which is a fancy word that means foreign religious practices have blended with Christian ideals resulting in non-biblical Christianity.  In our efforts to make the gospel relevant, we must guard against going too far so that practices that are not biblical are not kept.  Yet we can’t just go in and say “your practices or gods are bad; ours are good”.  We’ll be shut out.  We must trust and allow the Holy Spirit to work, and show them loving obedience through the Word.

The second major problem is the message being perceived as a threat to the culture.  Our ability to be effective for the gospel has greatly diminished in foreign settings.  Westerners are often frowned upon because people believe we are coming in to make them like us.  And for a long time, we have been.  They also perceive all Westerners to be “Christian”, so when the media portrays corruption, we’re all cast under the same poor light, even though a true Christ-follower may not have been shown.  We are regarded as unclean for the things we eat or do, or maybe even don’t do.  The point is, we need to be aware of this barrier and adjust our strategy as needed to maintain effectiveness.

A major missionary paper once included the statement that contextualizing the message requires an “active, loving engagement with the local people, thinking in their thought patterns, understanding their worldview, listening to their questions, and feeling their burdens”.  One of the major points of dissatisfaction I personally have with the American Church is reliance upon programs and buildings.  If we have more and more programs and bigger buildings, we’ll stay relevant and get people to come.  We end up relying on our programs and productions more than the power of Christ.  We can’t take this model overseas.  We’ve got to invest the time and effort and pain and setbacks of understanding and appreciating a culture.  There is no pre-packaged set of plans to help.  The gospel is a seed that must be planted and cultivated, not a potted plant to transport.

There are three encounters that take place when communicating the gospel.  First, a truth encounter is one in which a person is taught and comes to an understanding of truth.  It’s based on knowledge and experience, and is actually rooted in the other two encounters.  The second is an allegiance encounter.  Here the person must choose to commit and obey.  It’s driven by our witness and where conversion takes place.  The third is a power encounter, and is one few of us have probably experienced.  This is the realm of spiritual warfare, resulting in the freedom from Satan’s captivity.  These are the kinds of stories we have a hard time believing because of our skeptical culture.  But spiritual warfare is real and the types of encounters you read in the Bible are still going on today.  Our instructor told us stories of casting out demons and how a medicine man called upon a spirit, effectively talking bullets out of a young man who had been shot.

Ever wonder why we don’t hear stories about this kind of warfare in America?  So that I don’t belabor the point, I’ll just say that I believe we’ve drowned out God’s ability to work miraculously like this.  We’re too busy.  We depend on too many other things.  So God works, but He does so silently.

When we take the gospel to other cultures, we do so with Acts 26:18 in mind: “’to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’”  Just maybe it’s our worldview that needs changing, not theirs.  In a very real sense we’ve got it backwards:  we’ve been inviting Jesus into our kingdoms, when God is really saying that He’s inviting us into His.

How Shall They Hear