The Purpose of This Blog

In response to the challenge by the Southern Baptist Convention that churches take on the task to share the gospel with unengaged unreached people groups, the missions team of Harmony Pittsburg Baptist Association felt the need for a way to focus prayer on the task. This blog is intended to facilitate prayer for those contemplating their role in fulfilling the Great Commission. This on-line prayer guide may prove useful to those exploring a call to missions involvement as well as to those who have sensed a call to pray for those who will go to the front lines.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Reluctant Missionary Part 2

I don't want to allegorize the story of Jonah, but there are lessons we can learn from him about what it means to resist joining God to reach the nations.  It would be going too far to see parallels in story details like his "paying the fare" (supposed lesson: it costs to disobey the Lord), or like his going "down" to Joppa (supposed lesson: disobedience always takes us down).  But some details illustrate clear spiritual principles.  Let's consider one today.

In chapter one verse three it says, "But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port.  After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord" (NIV, italics added).  The spiritual principle taught in these emphasized words is that rejection of the Lord's call is a rejection of the Lord Himself.

In previous posts I have demonstrated that God's eternal purpose, as revealed in His Word, is to reconcile all peoples in the world with Himself.  This aim is not just a part of His plan; it's the main point.  Some might argue that God's purpose is to reveal His glory so that man's purpose becomes "to glorify God and enjoy Him forever," in the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.  But for His glory to be revealed to its fullest extent, it must reach "every nation, tribe, people and language" (Rev. 7:9).  The Great Commission was not an afterthought, something Jesus tacked on to His ministry at the end as if He were saying, "Oh, by the way, there has been something I've been meaning to tell you but it has slipped my mind.  I've got something I want you to do that will keep you busy until I get back."  No, as I have tried to show in the previous posts, all the Word focuses on all the world.

A soldier who refuses to obey an order does so only by rebelling against his superior's authority.  But perhaps we can see the consequences of not joining God in His purpose by thinking of a more loving relationship.  Suppose a woman wishes to marry a man who has a passion for sports and whose life goal is to become a professional athlete then later a coach.  But she doesn't care for sports.  Now you may argue that they can still have a happy relationship, but can they really become one as God intended for husband and wife to be?  If she refuses to have anything to do with sports, isn't she rejecting an important part of who her husband is?  Or think of a son whose father is a master mechanic.  If that son has nothing to do with cars and engines, won't he miss out on many opportunities to be close to his dad? So we cannot draw close to our heavenly Father unless what interests Him interests us.

If our heart is truly linked to God's heart, we will have the same heart for the nations that He does.  If we don't have a passion for the nations, then we don't share His passion.  To ignore His purpose is a rebuff to His person.  Let us pray today that our hearts will become aligned with His.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Jonah: The Reluctant Missionary

It is somewhat surprising to find a missionary in the Old Testament.  It is even more surprising to read his story of resistance to God's will.  Most surprising is reading how far God would go to get His word to other people and to minister to His prophet.

The opening verses tell us that "the word of the Lord came to Jonah" telling him to "go to that great city Nineveh and preach" (Jonah 1:1-2).  This command is just like the one all followers of Jesus have received:  "Go into all the world and preach" (Mark 16:15).  Jonah was being sent to another place and people to tell them the message God had for them.  The English word "missionary" comes from the Latin and means "one sent" with a message or on a task.  It is the exact equivalent of the word "apostle" which comes from the Greek.  Some people say that every Christian is a missionary, and perhaps they should be.  But technically, we become missionaries when we "go" with our message to some other place or people that is different from us in some way, such as,  culture, race, or language.  There is some barrier to cross that makes the mission more difficult than doing the same thing at home.

Those barriers can make us reluctant to obey God's clear leading.  Our "flesh" never wants to do God's will (Romans 8:7).  Jonah, in spite of being God's prophet (2 Kings 14:25), gave in to his natural side.  He tried to run away from the Lord (1:3).  Tarshish, perhaps in what we now know as Spain, was as far away from Nineveh as possible in the known world of Jonah's day.  It is worth noting that verse 3 begins with the word "but."  How many of us have responded to God's call with that word?  God wants us to do one thing, BUT we are busy doing something else.  God reveals to us His concern for another people, BUT our mind comes up with all kinds of reasons, good ones, for doing something else or why it should be someone else.  Why don't we realize that those excuses come from the part of our nature that rebels against anything God desires for us?

When God clearly called me to serve as a missionary some thirty years ago, I realized that He had been calling for some time.  I had allowed my "flesh" to deafen me to what God was saying.  I told myself that God wanted me to pastor in the US.  When I was in seminary, I would not attend the chapel services that focused on missions because, I told myself, they did not apply to me.  As a pastor, I preached on missions, giving high priority to raising funds and to telling others to go.  But even though I believed in missions, I did not see that I was the one who was to go until He broke through my resistance.

When we think of God's command to take the gospel to all peoples of the world, what excuses pop into our minds?  What is our "but"?  Where do we think those arguments come from?  God has told us to go. Some have argued that we don't need a special sense of call to go as missionaries because the Bible already clearly gives us God's will for us to go.  It takes a special call to stay.

Let's pray today that we will not be reluctant but eager to do His will whatever it may be.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Aiming at the Wrong Target

I am borrowing the following story from the e-newsletter of Larry Doyle, a friend and a DOM in North Carolina (I borrowed the title, too!).

Matt Emmons was one shot away from capturing his second gold medal and securing the lead for Team USA in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. He had a 3-point lead in the men's 50-meter, three-position rifle competition. He didn't even need a bull's eye to secure a first place finish and win the gold medal.  All he had to do was hit the target near the bull's eye.  

He calmly approached his final shot, aimed carefully, and pulled the trigger. He was confident he'd hit the target, but when he looked up at the electronic score board, nothing appeared.  Puzzled, he looked at the judges, thinking the electronic scoring device had malfunctioned. He saw the officials huddle together briefly, and then his score appeared.  A zero!

Unbelievable! That couldn't be!  He had taken careful aim, and he was sure he had hit the target. Suddenly, he realized what had happened. Yes, he'd hit the target, but he'd hit the wrong target. He was standing in lane 2, and had fired on the target in lane 3.    

What an incredible story! He, his teammates and his opponents were in disbelief. How could he have made such a mistake?  He did everything right, but he aimed at the wrong target. This extremely rare mistake in such an elite competition dropped him from first place to eighth place.

Is it possible to live our lives successfully but wrongly?  Is it possible to be very good at the wrong things?  Can a victorious Christian life be wasted on self-fulfillment or church growth rather than the advancement of God's kingdom?  Let us pray today that we aim at the right target, the one God has set before us in His word as revealed in His Son.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Do People Groups Need the Gospel?

Let me share a heart-breaking article I read yesterday.  What a difference the Gospel could make in situations like this one.

KARNATAKA, India — Imagine living in a society in which you are judged by your station in life, determined by your birth, rather than by your individual worth or accomplishments. As a member of the lowest rung of society, you can barely keep food on the table for your wife and two daughters.
When your wife becomes ill after giving birth to a third daughter who, unlike the son you had hoped for, will be an unbearable financial burden, you have only one choice: You must dedicate your daughter to the goddess as a devadasis, a temple prostitute.
By dedicating your baby, you have given her a profession and a way to obtain food for her family. Perhaps the goddess will now show favor to your family, sparing your wife’s life and filling her womb with the long-awaited boy child. Your daughter’s sacrifice is small compared to your entire family’s alternative fate of starvation. If her body is the price the goddess asks, it must be paid.
In India, the devadasi (day-vah-dah-see) system, a Hindu practice of temple prostitution, has existed for more than 5,000 years, says David Dass, executive director of the India Gospel League. In the state of Karnataka, where he and his wife live, starving families dedicate hundreds of girls each year to the goddess Yellamma. The children are forced to begin a life of prostitution at age 11 or 12.
"F'rom the very beginning, they’re being exploited as babies,” says Annette Romick, a humanitarian aid worker in India. “Then, when they hit maturity, their bodies are exploited by men. Even when their bodies are no longer desirable to men, they are still exploited and abused because that stigma is on them. They can never escape from it. It’s a trap that they’re stuck in; it’s a living hell that they’re experiencing.”
The word devadasi literally translates to “god’s female servant.” Parents usually choose to dedicate their daughters as infants to the goddess Yellamma, in hopes of gaining the goddess’ favor or easing a financial burden. When the girl reaches physical maturity, she is forced to begin her life as a prostitute. Once dedicated, a girl is considered to be married to the goddess and is never allowed to marry a man. 

Who will take the Gospel to these people and others like them?  Let's pray for them and for ourselves that we will do what it takes for the peoples of the world to find hope and life.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

"Who am I?" or "Here am I!"

To an ordinary person, the task of discipling the nations can seem daunting.  The sheer size of the task seems overwhelming.  (It would take almost 222 years, at one person per second, just to greet the 7 billion people in the world, not counting the number that would be born during the process.)  Then you have to add in the challenges of language, culture, geography, and politics plus the opposition of spiritual enemies, religious systems, and human willfulness.  It all leaves a person who is cognizant of his own limitations of time, ability, and resources with the feeling of "who am I to take on such a task?"

A message I heard on the radio last night by Chip Ingram had an insight that can give us some encouragement.  He was preaching on the birth of the church on Pentecost.  The promise of power through the unction of the Holy Spirit is, of course, the only way common believers could have any hope of making a difference.  But Ingram had a further insight.  He pointed out that when God chose His spokesman for that historic day -- a once-in-eternity, make-or-break situation of incalculable importance -- He chose, in Ingram's words, "an uneducated failure."  Peter's lack of formal training would be noted by the Jewish religious leaders in Acts 4, where he and John were called "uneducated and untrained men" (v. 13).  And Peter was the one who in an act of cowardice had denied his connection to Jesus.  Who was he to step forward to tell the inquiring crowd about the Savior?

Indeed, who are we -- any of us -- to take on the task, that no one else has yet done, of taking the gospel to an unengaged unreached people group?  We are without a doubt inadequate for the effort.  But I am reminded of the words of a popular author and conference speaker of a generation ago, Ann Kiemel, who used to say, "I'm just an ordinary person, but I serve an extraordinary God."  It is not about us, but about Him.  None of us in ourselves is adequate.   Even the apostle Paul said, "Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves" before adding "but our sufficiency is from God" (2 Corinthians 3:5).  Mary realized her inability to be the mother of the Messiah, but the angel said, "With God nothing shall be impossible." If God touches our lives and empowers us like He did the prophet Isaiah, then we can as he did, "Here am I, send me!"

Let's pray that our sense of unworthiness or of inability will be replaced by the realization of God's worthiness and power.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

All Nations and the Second Coming

As the apostle Peter taught about the return of Christ and the end of the world, he told us what we should be doing about it in the meantime:  "Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements will melt with fervent heat?" (2 Peter 3:11-12 NKJV italics added).  Hastening?  Isn't the Lord's return a set event on God's calendar?  In what sense could we move up the clock?

Prayer might be a factor.  In the Model Prayer Jesus taught us to pray that the kingdom would come.  The apostle John certainly believed in praying for the end to hurry up and get here.  At the end of the book of Revelation after the Lord has promised three times to come quickly (22:7, 12, 20) John adds the prayer, "Even so, come, Lord Jesus!"  It seems John understood that he could ask the Lord to hurry because of Jesus' own promise.

There is another possibility for how we might hasten the Lord's return.  Matthew and Mark record that Jesus taught the disciples about the end on the evening of His arrest.  Both accounts tie the timing of the consummation with the preaching of the gospel to all nations.  Mark has it this way: "And the gospel must first be preached to all the nations" (13:10).  "First" implies a sequence of events; the gospel must reach all ethnic groups before the end comes.  This sequence is stated even more clearly in Matthew's version of the same saying:  "And this gospel of the Kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come" (24:14).  All of us who love His appearing (2 Timothy 4:8) will do all we can to hasten it.  This possibility gives us a further motivation for getting the gospel to the nations.

Note how even in the conclusion to history the two themes of the person of Christ and the purpose of God stand out.  When Jesus comes in glory, He will be fully vindicated.  Every eye will see Him, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that He is Lord to the glory of God the Father.  We will see Him as He is.  That full, undeniable revelation of the person of Christ is linked to the preaching of the gospel to "all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues" (Revelation 7:9).  From Genesis to Revelation the Bible is about two things:  first, "that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day" and second, "that repentance and remission of sins should b preached in His name to all nations" (Luke 24:46-47).

Let us pray today that the Lord will hasten His return.  Let us pray also that we will do our part in taking the gospel to the nations so that all possible conditions have been fulfilled.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Mystery Solved: God's Eternal Purpose

The Bible is about two things: a Man and a plan.  The Scriptures teach us about the Messiah, God's suffering Servant who would suffer, die, and rise again to redeem mankind from the bondage of sin.  They also teach us that God has had a "plan for the ages" as W. O. Carver put it.  That plan is to reconcile to Himself people from "all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues" (Revelation 7:9).

There was one follower of Jesus in the Bible who perceived and preached and practiced the two themes before any of the Twelve -- Saul of Tarsus, later to become Paul the Apostle.  It is interesting that the Lord used an outsider to show the way to the "establishment."  How often He uses someone that others have rejected to accomplish His purpose.  To the Ephesians, Paul describes the revelation of God's plan as a "mystery which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ" but now made known by the church "according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord" (3:8-12).

The idea of "mystery" in New Testament times was of a truth that one could not know unless it was revealed to him by God or by someone else to whom God had revealed it.  Paul writes of the "mystery of Christ" both to the Ephesians and to the Colossians, the companion letter.  The words of Paul about this mystery show us the same two themes we have seen throughout the Bible.

To the Colossians Paul shows that the mystery had to do with the person of Christ: "the mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints ... which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:26-27).  Paul's life was devoted to the truth that a right standing with God came through faith in the person of Jesus, not through observance of the Mosaic code.  He also insisted that this simple faith in Christ could be embraced by peoples of all nations and cultures.  To the Ephesians he wrote: "by revelation He made known to me the mystery ... which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel" (Ephesians 3:2-6).

Paul's life gives us an example of what it means to devote one's life to the purposes of God who calls us to salvation in Jesus and to service in the nations.  Let's pray to understand and to obey God's will not only with regard to faith in Jesus but also in aligning our purposes with His purpose, to bring all peoples to Himself.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Acting Like They Acted in Acts

I have borrowed the title for today's entry from a sermon by Perry Crisp, pastor of Lake Fork Baptist Church.  (You can hear his sermon by going to the church's website and clicking on the media tab then scrolling down to the sermon title).  It is a great sermon on the opening verses of Acts.

I love reading the book of Acts.  It always challenges me to see how ordinary men like me were used by God to take the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome.  It thrills me to see how an extraordinary God moves through men to accomplish His purpose of taking the gospel to the nations.  It wasn't always easy.  The resistance to God's movement did not always come from those outside the faith.  The reluctance of the apostles to obey the Great Commission reminds me of how human they were.  Consider these events:

  • At the ascension, the apostles just stood on the hill looking up at the clouds that had received the Lord.  Two men (angels) had to get them moving.
  • The timing of the Holy Spirit's coming upon them -- at Pentecost when there were people from all points of the empire -- gave clear evidence of God's desire for the nations to receive the gospel, yet they remained in Jerusalem.
  • To get the gospel out of Jerusalem, God allowed persecution to drive the church out of the city, except the apostles!
  • It was not one of the apostles but Philip, a deacon, who was the first to proclaim the gospel to someone who was not a Jew.  It is true that after seeing firsthand the work of God among the Samaritans that Peter and John preached the gospel to them, also -- on their way back to Jerusalem!
  • When revival broke out among the Gentiles at Antioch, the apostles did not even go to see what God was doing.  Instead they sent Barnabas.  Barnabas found help not from the Jerusalem leadership but from Saul of Tarsus.
  • It took an extraordinary vision from God for Peter to be convinced to enter the house of a Gentile and share the gospel with his household.
  • When Paul and Barnabas reported all the wonders of God's work among the Gentiles during their first missionary journey, the apostles praised God but concluded that God had sent the two as apostles to the gentiles (the nations with a population of over 900 million) while the twelve were to  continue as apostles to the Jews (with a population of some 3 million).
  • To even allow other cultures and ethnic groups to become Christ followers without having to adopt Jewish identity required a major meeting of the church.
  • Church history records that the apostles eventually went to other lands (Thomas to India for example), but apparently the only way God got them out of Jerusalem was to destroy the city in 70 A.D.
The story of Acts is one of God's relentless push to overcome every hindrance to the spread of the gospel through all the world.  Commentators have noted that the last word in the Greek manuscript of the book is the word translated "unhindered."  It was not just geographical or political or religious barriers that had to be overcome, but ethnic and cultural barriers, barriers that existed within His own chosen ones.

Perhaps instead of acting like they acted in Acts, we should pray more to act like they should have acted in Acts.

As you pray today, let's ask God to show us what is keeping us from joining Him in reaching the nations.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Jesus and the Nations

In our familiarity with the life of Jesus, it is easy to overlook the degree to which His concern for all nations appears in His ministry.  Some of you might be thinking, "But didn't Jesus say, 'I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel'?"  Yes, but He said it to the Syro-phoenician woman to provoke her faith. And if you are thinking that Jesus confined His ministry to the land of Israel, remember that He had an unusual number of encounters with Gentiles for someone who did not travel very far.  In addition to the woman just mentioned, there was the Roman centurion whose faith Jesus praised, the Gadarene demoniac, the Samaritan who was the only one of ten lepers to thank Him for his healing, and the Greeks whose visit indicated to Jesus that His hour had come (to name a few).

In addition to these encounters, there were subtler indications of Jesus' worldwide aim that set the tone for everything He said and did:

  • His preference for the title "Son of man" which came from Daniel 7:13-14 where the One called by that term approached the throne of the Ancient of Days and was given "dominion and glory and a kingdom that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him."
  • His connection to John the Baptist, the forerunner prophesied in Malachi who condemned the corrupt worship of Israel and who heard the Lord say, "From the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles [nations] ... for My name shall be great among the nations" (1:11).
  • His temptation by Satan to receive all the kingdoms of the world in exchange for worship, showing that worldwide dominion was something to which Jesus aspired (just the shortcut was wrong)
  • His first sermon at Nazareth offended the hometown folk with its examples of how God worked miraculously on behalf of Gentiles in the time of Elijah and Elisha.  Goerner writes that this beginning to Jesus' preaching "demonstrates that His life purpose extended far beyond the nation of Israel."
  • His sending out of the 70 is significant because that number represented to Jews the number of nations in the world (based on Genesis 10).  Even the sending out of the 12 (which was confined to Israel) contained these words: "You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles [nations]" (Matthew 10:18).
  • His triumphal entry fulfilled Zechariah 9:9 whose following verse includes, "He shall speak peace to the nations; His dominion shall be from sea to sea."
  • His cleansing of the temple was because "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations" (Mark 11:17).
  • His defense of the woman who "wasted" the expensive oil by anointing Him foresaw that her action would be retold "wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world" (Matthew 26:13).
  • His prophecy that the end would not come until the gospel had been preached "in all the world as a witness to all the nations" (Matthew 24:14) ended with the sheep/goat judgment of all the nations (Matthew 25:31f).
All these examples (and there could be many others) lead to one inevitable conclusion: Jesus' mission was for all peoples.  As His followers, we can aim for nothing less.  Let us pray like we believe it.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Reading the Psalms Like Jesus Did

On the basis of Luke 24:44-49 (and the exposition of that passage by H. Cornell Goerner in his book All Nations in God's Purpose), I have discussed that Jesus' understanding of the Law and the Prophets led to two conclusions: that the messiah was to suffer and rise again and that God's intent was that the message of salvation be preached to all peoples.  Our application is that those of us who have experienced salvation in Christ and have become His followers should also have the nations on our minds and hearts.  To finish our look at the Old Testament, today I examine how the twin themes (person of Christ and purpose of God) are found in the Psalms.

There are many Psalms classified as "messianic."  Warren Wiersbe lists the following in that category: 2, 8, 16, 22, 23, 40, 41, 45, 68, 69, 102, 110, and 118.  Derek Kidner in his two-volume commentary on Psalms says that fifteen psalms are treated messianically in the New Testament but goes on to say, "A closer look at the way these [fifteen] are handled will suggest that they are regarded as samples of a much larger corpus.  It would scarcely seem too much to infer from this treatment that wherever David or the Davidic king appears in the Psalter (except where he is confessing failure to live up to his calling), he foreshadows in some degree the Messiah."

There are also many Psalms that refer to the nations.  Although many of the references treat the nations as the enemies of God's people, there are others that explicitly teach God's care and concern for all peoples.  Psalm 67 is a notable example.  Further, Goerner notes that the King James Version obscures many references to "peoples" due to its translation of the Hebrew plural (ammim = peoples) by the English singular "people" since as a collective noun it may be considered plural already.  Newer versions usually get it right.

There is a Psalm that combines both elements and was obviously meaningful to Jesus.  His cry from the cross, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?", quotes the opening words of Psalm 22.  Since Jesus evidenced extensive familiarity with all the Scriptures, many commentators believe that Jesus had in mind not just the phrase He quoted but the entirety of Psalm 22.  It is a remarkable description of what Jesus endured on the cross, down to the gambling for His garments, written more than 900 years before the event.  The first 21 verses describe His agony, verses 22- 26 His victory, and the final verses His posterity:  "All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You, for the kingdom is the Lord's and He rules over the nations."  Popular songs may say that "when He was on the cross, I was on His mind," but it might be more accurate to say that He was thinking about the unreached nations of the world.

The Psalms, as the prayerbook of the Bible, teach us that our prayers should reflect the two concerns of God -- glory for Jesus and the gospel for all peoples.  A recent news article described the importance of prayer to actor Mark Wahlberg.  He talked of praying at least once a day in this way, "I pray to be a good servant to God, a father, a husband, a son, a brother and uncle, a good neighbor, a good leader to those who look up to me and a good follower to those that are serving God and doing the right thing."  Frankly, I was pleasantly surprised to learn of this aspect of Wahlberg's life, and in many ways the content of his prayers is admirable.  But in light of the Bible's emphasis, a prayer life focused on those immediately around us falls short of Jesus' example and teaching.

Let's pray like Jesus did that the nations might come to know Him.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Reading the Prophets Like Jesus Did

Jesus' instruction to the disciples in the upper room (Luke 24) corrected their messianic expectations and their ethnocentricity.  The Messiah was to be less the popular conqueror and more the suffering servant.  The favor of God was not just for the Jews but for all peoples.  The universal vision of the prophets is seen in various ways.  Every time I read through the major and minor prophets, I am surprised at how often their messages target nations other than Israel or Judah.  There is also a frequently repeated concept of the nations streaming into Jerusalem to worship.  For instance, Zechariah says, "In those days ten men from every language of the nations shall grasp the sleeve of a Jewish man, saying, 'Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you'" (8:23).  Jesus reversed the direction while maintaining the focus on the nations by explaining "that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" (Luke 24:47).
I  have neither time nor space to survey all the prophetic scriptures that focus on the nations.  Perhaps one clear example will suffice to sensitize our reading and study of the prophets to the pervasiveness of this teaching -- that the prophets not only foretold the coming of the vicarious Savior but also foresaw the spread of His salvation to all peoples.

Of all the passages in the Prophets, none better portrays the vicarious atonement of the Messiah than Isaiah 53.  I have read of Jewish families who forbid that their children read the chapter because it is so clearly fulfilled in Jesus.  The importance of this passage can be seen in that eleven of its twelve verses are quoted in the New Testament.  All four Gospels quote some portion of it.  It was this passage that the Ethiopian eunuch was reading and from which Philip preached Jesus to him (Acts 8:34).  I doubt that anyone would dispute that Jesus' understanding of His death and resurrection was rooted at least partially in this passage.

Goerner draws attention to the context  of Isaiah 53 to show that the prophecy of Jesus' passion was "bookended" by prophecies of "the exaltation of the true God among all the nations of the earth."  The issue of context takes on special significance considering that in Jesus' day the scrolls had no chapter or verse divisions.  So in the prior pargraphs it says, "The Lord has made bare His holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God" (52:10) and "Behold, My servant shall deal prudently ["prosper" in the margin]; He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high" (52:13) and "So shall He sprinkle ["startle" in the magin] many nations" (52:15).  Then in the paragraph following we read, "For more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married woman" (54:1) and "your descendants will inherit the nations" (54:3) because "He is called the God of the whole earth" (54:5).

It was on the basis of Isaiah 54:1-3 that William Carey preached the annual sermon to his local Baptist association of churches that led to the formation of the first "Protestant" missionary society.  His sermon theme still challenges us today: "Expect great things from God. Attempt great things for God."

If we understand and trust the Bible's message about God's provision of a Savior , shouldn't we also understand and obey the Bible's message about God's purpose of saving the nations?  Let us pray that we will be consistent in heeding what the Scriptures say.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Reading Our Bible Like Jesus Read His Part 2

The focus on all people groups of the world in the Abrahamic covenant held true for the Mosaic covenant as well. Although, in terms of quantity of material, the weight of content in the books of Moses has to do with ordinances and precepts governing the religious and social life of the Israelite community, the essence of the covenant is recorded in chapters 19 - 24 of Exodus.  The first six verses of chapter 19 record a meeting between Moses and God to set up the meetings to follow in which the covenant would be given.  God's words at this meeting form something of a preamble, according to Goerner, stating "the reason for God's choice of one people from among all the peoples of the earth, the condition under which any people may continue to serve as God's special people, and the function which they are expected to perform" (emphasis in original).  Understanding these verses is essential to understanding all that follows.

The reason for God's choice had to do with ownership.  In biblical times, everything in the kingdom technically belonged to the king, but he had some items that  he possessed personally.  When God says the children of Israel will be his "special treasure" (verse 5, NKJV), the Hebrew word indicates that personal type of possession.  However, God maintains His claim to all the earth: "for all the earth is Mine."  God had redeemed Israel out of slavery to Egypt and had brought them to Himself.  They were His in a special sense, but not to the exclusion of the rest of the nations.

In spite of all that God had already done, the choice of Israel was conditional: "if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant."  Obedience to His will is required for any people who wishes to continue in the special status of God's called ones.  In spite of their expressed willingness (verse 8), Israel was never truly faithful to the covenant.  It was not until the new covenant that genuine obedience was possible.  Obedience is still required, but grace makes obedience possible for those who abide in Christ.

The function of God's chosen people is to serve as a priesthood to the other peoples of the world.  Goerner writes, "The function of a priest is well-known.  He serves as a mediator between God and the congregation he serves.  He makes the will of God known to the people and makes the people acceptable to God."  God has in mind a nation composed entirely of priests who will minister to the other nations.  The priest-kingdom shares what God reveals and leads the nations in the proper worship-response.  In this way the chosen nation becomes a channel of blessing to all other nations.

This teaching is important for us to understand.  God did not bring us to salvation merely for our own sake.  When He included us in His special treasure as His chosen people, He intended for us to function as channels of blessings to others.  How well we fulfill that function determines the degree to which we enjoy His continued blessings.

In our prayers today, let us ask God to forgive us for any self-centeredness that has caused us to keep God's blessings for ourselves.  May He forgive us for thinking too much of ourselves and our own and for not thinking enough about all the peoples who are His.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Reading Our Bible Like Jesus Read His

Jesus' Bible was our Old Testament.  The Jews organized it a little differently than we do.  It consisted of the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings.  The Law corresponded to our five books of Moses.  The Prophets included our historical books (Joshua - Kings) plus the major and minor prophets (Isaiah - Malachi).  The Writings took in the rest, especially the Psalms.  So when Luke writes that Jesus opened the disciples' mind to all that was "written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms," all the Scriptures were included.

Jesus enabled the disciples to understand that their thinking was wrong on two main issues.  First, the Messiah was not to be a political or military conqueror, but one who would suffer, die, and be resurrected.  Second, God's focus was not on the nation Israel but on all the nations of the world (starting with Israel).  With hindsight, we can now see these truths clearly in the Old Testament if we look for them through a Jesus focus.

For example, God's covenant with Abraham has often been used (even in our day) to teach that the nation of Israel must receive special consideration.  The quote "I will bless those who bless you and I will curse those who curse you" is the one we most frequently hear.  But looking at the promise the way Jesus did, we see that the emphasis should be on the phrases "I will bless you ... and you will be a blessing" and "in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Genesis 12:1-3).  On two subsequent occasions God repeated the covenant with Abraham with the same emphasis.  On the first, Abram's name was changed to Abraham because he would be the father of many nations (Gen. 17:5) and in him "all the nations of the earth" would be blessed (18:18).  On the second, the offer to sacrifice Isaac, the Lord said, "In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed" (Gen. 22:18).  The Apostle Paul later noticed the importance of the singular "seed" rather than the plural as a prophecy of the Christ (Galatians 3:8 - 16).  Paul would argue vehemently that Gentiles (nations) did not need to become Jews to be saved and become God's people.  God's plan was not for one people but for all peoples.

When God confirmed the covenant with Abraham's heirs, both Isaac and Jacob were told that the focus was on the nations.  The wording was the same to both: "In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed" (Gen. 26:4; 28:14).  Goerner, the author I have mentioned in previous posts and whose book is the source of these thoughts, writes concerning these passages in Genesis, "It is difficult to understand how the Jews could have overlooked or virtually ignored these statements, which literally dominate the book of Genesis and give the reason for their existence as a nation."  They focused on the promises to make them a great nation while forgetting the basic purpose of it all -- that all nations should be blessed.

Perhaps the Jews forgetfulness or ignorance is more understandable if we examine our own thinking and inclinations.  It is so easy for our thoughts to center on our family, our church, our community, our nation.  Years ago as I was helping a church develop its budget for the coming year, one of the committee members insisted that the percentage of missions giving should be cut so that more "local missions" could be done.  It took a while, but finally he was able to see that the church was already spending nearly 90% of its budget on local missions when it spent the money on the church's programs and personnel.  He agreed not to cut the allocation for missions, but not to increase the missions percentage.  Do we really understand the Bible the way Jesus did?

Pray today that God will open our churches' understanding of God's plan and purpose.  Pray that we will align our priorities with His.

Friday, January 13, 2012

All the World in All the Word

I have re-acquired a copy of the book I mentioned a couple of days ago, All Nations in God's Purpose by H. Cornell Goerner.  I had lost my copy sometime during my missionary days (possibly loaned out and not returned as has happened with some of my best books).  However, now in the days of it is easy to find old books at reasonable prices (but I wouldn't advise you to buy the NEW copy someone has for sale -- for $588.88!).  Re-reading the first few pages after many years, I was reminded that Goerner based his study on lectures by one of Southern Baptists' greatest educators, W. O. Carver.  Carver had also written a book for the WMU in his day.  He gave it the title that I have used for this blog entry.  Goerner quotes what Carver wrote about the book in his autobiography:

This book was not written for the pastors.  It was hoped that they would find it useful, but they took little interest in it.  When they spoke of it, in the majority of cases, they got the title wrong, revealing that they had no real insight into the purpose or nature of my effort to show that the whole world enters definitely into every part of the word of God in the Bible.  That remains one of my deep griefs about ministers, they have so little understanding of the major purpose of God and the universal outreach of his love dominating the entire Scriptures. (emphases mine)

If Carver thought the pastors in his day had missed the main point of the Bible, I wonder what he would say about the current generation of preachers who seek to build audiences looking for their "best life now."  The Bible is not about how God can enrich our personal lives.  It is about a lost humanity and a loving God whose principal aim is to bring them all back to Himself.  We dare not make the same mistake that the Jews of Jesus' day made in thinking that God's choice of their nation gave them a position of privilege.  Had they understood that they had not been given a position but a function (to be God's witnesses to the world) they would not have experienced God's judgment.

The dominant theme of the Bible must be the dominant theme of our lives.  How much of us is invested in taking the gospel to the nations?  I read some years ago that a speaker wished to illustrate how Christian resources were being divided between America and the mission fields.  He invited 20 men to come to the stage to move the grand piano there.  When in position, he instructed 19 of them to pick up the piano bench and the remaining man to pick up the piano.  You see, at that time 5% of the churches' men and money went to missions where 95% of the world's population lived while 95% of the resources were spent at home on America's 5% of the world's population.  I wonder how the percentages work out in our personal budgets.

Let's pray that our hearts and purposes will become aligned with God's heart and purposes.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Why Is Prayer So Important?

I interrupt the flow of thoughts about the Great Commissions for some thoughts about prayer.  After all, our purpose here is to stir one another up to prayer.  I read these words from Charles Swindoll as I studied about Nehemiah who was known for his prayer life.  Here is what Swindoll wrote:

Why is prayer so important?  Here are the four shortest reasons I know.

Prayer makes me wait.  I cannot pray and work at the same time.  I have to wait to act until I finish praying.  Prayer forces me to leave the situation with God; it makes me wait.

Secondly, prayer clears my vision.  Southern California often has an overhanging weather problem in the mornings because of its coastal location until the sun "burns through" the morning fog.  Prayer does that.  When you first face a situation, is it foggy?  Prayer will "burn through."  Your vision will clear so you can see through God's eyes.

Thirdly, prayer quiets my heart.  I cannot worry and pray at the same time.  I am doing one or the other.  Prayer makes me quiet.  It replaces anxiety with a calm spirit.  Knees don't knock when we kneel on them!

Fourthly, prayer activates my faith.  After praying I am more prone to trust God.  And how petty and negative and critical I am when I don't pray!  Prayer sets faith on fire.

In taking on the task of evangelizing unengaged unreached people groups, all of these reasons for prayer are not only valid but essential.  We can't do this without prayer.  The great Bible expositor Warren Wiersbe quoted Scottish novelist George MacDonald who wrote, "In whatever man does without God, he must fail miserably, or succeed more miserably."  He also quoted evangelist Alan Redpath who said, "There is too much working befoer men and too little waiting before God."  Let's pray like never before!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

People of the Book

When I first heard the phrase "people of the book," the speaker was implying that it especially applied to Baptists.  At the time I did not know that it historically was a category used by Muslims to refer to "faiths which have a revealed Scripture" (according to Wikipedia) and includes Jews, Sabians, and Christians.  But I can see how the term especially fits Baptists since we claim as our first distinctive that the Bible is our sole authority of faith and practice.  We claim to believe the Book and to live by the Book.

If we are indeed "people of the Book,"then two things will mark our lives, the same two things that Jesus taught as the message of the Scriptures (see yesterday's post):  Jesus and missions.  We will have a passion for the person of Jesus and a passion to see all peoples come to know Him.  Over the years, we Baptists have been strong in insisting that our character be Christlike.  Let's be just as strong in insisting that our work be Christlike, not just in the sense of being compassionate, but in the sense of being focused on the whole world.  Remember John 3:16?

Jesus died for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).  Let's pray that we do our part that the world may know.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Last Great Commission

By "last" I mean the final of the five versions of the Great Commission found in the four gospels and the book of Acts.  Having looked at Matthew, Acts, John, and Mark, we now turn to Luke 24:45-47:

Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.  He told them, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations beginning at Jerusalem."

When we went through missionary orientation, we studied a book entitled All Nations in God's Purpose by Goerner.  He called attention to the amazing Bible study Jesus gave the disciples after His resurrection.  If we truly understand the Bible the way Jesus taught it, we will understand that the Scriptures have two complementary themes: the person of Jesus (sacrificial death and saving resurrection) and the purpose of God (to reach the nations with the message of repentance from and forgiveness of sin).  This insight to the meaning of God's word is not just eye-opening, but mind-opening (literally).  I had heard the Bible preached for many years, always hearing the story of Jesus but never hearing the teaching that God's purpose in all the biblical events and prophecies was that the peoples of the world would be reconciled to Himself.  Not just Israel.  Not just the church.  But all the people groups of the world.

I wonder what our churches would be like if we taught the plan of missions as clearly and frequently as we teach the plan of salvation.  There are only two worthy emphases in life: to know Him and to make Him known.  The Bible tells me so.

Let us pray today about making these two purposes the tracks on which the train of our lives runs.

Examples of People Groups

Three times a week the International Mission Board sends out prayer requests for situations missionaries are facing.  They call it "Prayerline."  You can subscribe to it from the IMB website.  Today's Prayerline illustrates the differences in people groups.
The Ar people of Colombia believe that although there is a Creator God, he does not involve himself in the real world. The real world is controlled by spirits and lesser gods. They also believe that man does not have a personal relationship with his Creator God. The Ar people do not see God as more powerful than the spirit world--or, at least, they do not have access directly to that power. The word of a non-Ar person has little value.
Ganaks (pronounced guh-KNOCKS) are a high-caste Hindu group who live in Northeast India. They consider themselves to be brothers of the Brahmin, the priestly Hindu caste. Ganaks are involved in astrology, the consulting of the positions of planets and stars to determine the fortunes and misfortunes of a person’s life. When a child is born, a Ganak astrologer will write out a horoscope that contains all the events of the person’s life and predicts aspects of their personality, their future job, and even the person they will marry. When there is any problem, they consult an astrologer to ask what ritual should be done or what type of special stone ring should be worn to counteract the problem. For Ganaks, astrology is not just a belief, it is a science. Traditionally, they are also devout Hindus, and worship many different gods. There are very few believers among the Ganak. A few house fellowships have been formed by those who have moved to more urban areas.

Each people group has unique faith issues which necessitates unique approaches.  Who will pray for the AR and the GANAK?  Two Colombian believers are trying to reach the AR.  I assume that some unnamed person(s) is trying to  reach the GANAK or their situation would not have been shared.  But who will reach the 3,800 people groups that have yet to be embraced?

Sunday, January 8, 2012


Let's pray for our churches today.  There will be a new post tomorrow.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Encounter with Christ

Which comes first, renewed faith or renewed service?  I usually think that if we believers would just get our hearts right, then our hands and feet would follow.  I suppose that my thinking is an extension of the oft-repeated pattern of a person coming to faith in Christ and then serving in His Name.  Logic dictates (as Star Trek's Spock would say) that if faith in Christ precedes serving Christ, then renewed faith precedes renewed service, right?  Maybe not.

When I first started out in ministry, working with youth, the evangelist for our church's spring revival asked  me about my plans.  I told him that I wanted to disciple the church youth into being passionate followers of Christ and then turn them loose to reach the lost youth in town.  He surprised me by saying that I had it backwards.  He said that if I would get the church youth involved in evangelism, then they would see that they needed to learn and grow in order to be equipped for their encounters with the lost.  That conversation has made a real difference in how I approach ministry.

Let me share another conversation.  I have heard (both in person and on video) Sunday School consultant Josh Hunt tell about how his son went on a mission trip and came back more excited than ever about Jesus.  Note:  his obedience to serve Christ preceded his renewed passion for Christ.  Josh Hunt observes that this renewal is common for people who go on mission trips.  His explanation is that when a person gets out to where Jesus is and joins Him in the work, his relationship with Jesus is renewed.

If we want to have a fresh encounter with Christ, it is more likely to happen if we go to where He is.  Since Jesus is still in the business of seeking and saving the lost (Luke 19:10), we can still find Him being a friend of sinners.  When Jesus walked the earth, He was not often found in the Temple.  He was out where the people needed healing, needed the gospel.  That's where we will find Him today.  Why do new churches have more excitement?  Because they are focused on reaching the lost, not on maintaining a set of programs.  By focusing on the lost, they join Jesus where He is.

Here's another way of looking at it.  If lack of obedience to the Great Commission has contributed to the diminishing of our fervor for Christ, doesn't it make sense that renewed obedience would be a factor in renewing our zeal?  If we want a fresh encounter with Jesus, we will find Him reaching the nations.  Let our prayer today be one of commitment to join Jesus in evangelizing all peoples.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Another Great Commission -- Addendum

I can't get my mind off of thinking about why we don't naturally talk more about Jesus and why we don't make greater sacrifices to make sure that all peoples get the chance to hear about Him.  I don't believe we can "guilt" ourselves into being more faithful witnesses or missionaries.  My previous examples about topics of conversation we get excited about implied that we are guilty of not being as excited as we should be about Jesus.  However, there is at least one other factor, other than our degree of passion, that influences how readily we speak about something: novelty.  We are more likely to share with others the unusual things we see, hear, or experience.  The old dictum states that "dog bites man" is not news, but "man bites dog" is.

We know that the gospel is "good news," but it is easy to lose the "new" part of the "news."  Our faith walk can lapse into a routine before we realize it has happened.  Psychologists talk about the mind's propensity to habituation, the process by which we grow accustomed to our surroundings and start failing to notice the details around us.  When we bought our current house, we found it to be a frequent source of conversation, especially with people who like us us had bought a century-old dwelling.  Also, I constantly saw things that needed fixing or updating, but now I rarely notice them (even though the repairs haven't been made), and we don't talk about it as much as we used to.  Perhaps a more common example is the young family that has many more pictures of the first born than of the second and often even fewer for subsequent children (unless they have a long-awaited child of different gender).  With the firstborn, every new development -- first word, first step, and so on -- is eagerly shared with grandparents, friends, acquaintances, and even strangers.  But the later children's exploits usually don't elicit the same reaction. The fact is that when things are new we all notice more and comment more.  Allowed to follow our natural tendencies, grow so used to the "new normal" that it fails to evoke a reaction from us any more.

I can't begin to count the number of prayer meetings at which I have invited people to share what Jesus is doing in their lives only to have the congregation sit and stare silently at me or the floor.  I know that Jesus is important to those people.  They are committed to Him or they wouldn't be there on a Wednesday night.  I think it could be that they have lost their sensitivity to the activity of Jesus in and around them.  They are like the people of Nazareth whose familiarity with Jesus had developed into unbelief to the degree that Jesus could do no mighty work among them (Matthew 13:53-58).  I wonder if some of the Nazareth-problem was due to the fact that they stayed in their familiar surroundings.  The disciples who left all to follow Jesus wherever He went were repeatedly amazed at what they saw and heard.

I think I said more than I realized in the previous post when I suggested we should pray for renewal.  We can't expect to take Jesus to the nations if we aren't taking Him to our neighbors.  We need to be re-sensitized.  We need a fresh encounter with Jesus.  I suppose instead of saying we are taking Jesus to the nations I should say we are following Him to the nations.  William Barclay, the great New Testament commentator, frequenly quoted Richard of Chichester's prayer:  "To see Thee more clearly, to love Thee more dearly, and to follow Thee more nearly day by day."  Would you join me in that prayer?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Another Great Commission

Although we give the title "The Great Commission" to Jesus' instruction to the disciples at the end of Matthew, in reality all four gospels end with and the book of Acts begins with our Lord's command to evangelize the world.  In the past few days we have considered three of these passages (Matthew, Acts, and John) for any insights we need especially to ponder.  Today, I wish to look at Mark's version of the GC:  "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation" (16:15 NIV).

Rather than focus on the actions (go, preach) or the objects (all the world, all creation) -- both subjects  worthy of further contemplation -- what has captured my attention is "the good news."  Currently, there is much discussion among evangelical scholars about the exact nature of the gospel.  But Jesus did not tell us to debate the gospel but to proclaim it like the angels did at His birth (Luke 2:10).  Indeed, if we truly grasp the significance of what Jesus has done for us and to us, we will be as unable to stop talking about it as the shepherds were or the woman at the well and blind Bartimaeus were (John 4, Luke 18), or the apostles were after the day of Pentecost: "we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard" (Acts 4:20 NIV).

It is human nature to talk about what we are excited or passionate about.  No one twists our arms to get us to talk about our grandchildren.  You don't have to be around a man long before you will know his favorite sport or team.  Casual eavesdropping on students will soon reveal their current boy/girl friend, their favorite music, or the latest app for their smartphone.  We have no trouble working our latest discoveries or advances into the conversation.  If we are excited about Jesus, we don't need any prompting to talk about Him, especially with someone who does not know Him like we do.

Perhaps we need to pray today about being more obedient to share the gospel.  Perhaps we need to pray about finding those who have yet to hear what we have heard.  Or perhaps we need to pray for renewal of our relationship with Jesus, a renewal that will have us unable to resist the impulse to talk about Him.  He is the good news.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Sent to Seek

"As the Father hath sent me, even so send I you," Jesus told the disciples on the night of Resurrection Day (John 20:21).  Since Jesus came "to seek and to save that which was lost" (Luke 19:10), shouldn't we be doing the same?  Of course in a technical sense we can't save anybody, but we can introduce them to the Savior so that they can be saved.  However, what is our excuse for not seeking the lost?

I still remember how shocked I was the first time I heard someone say, "They [the lost] know where the church is.  It's up to them to come."  I had heard preachers say in sermons and I had read in books that people had that attitude, but I thought it couldn't be true.  To hear someone actually voice something so contrary to biblical teaching boggled my mind.  I was fresh out of seminary where my evangelism professor had taught us that the Bible does not command the lost to come and hear rather it commands us to go and tell.  Probably, most of us would never say such a thing out loud, but what do our actions show?  How much effort do we put in to finding those who don't know Jesus?

A good question for all believers today is, "In what ways am I intentionally looking for lost people and sharing the gospel with them?"  A common observation today is that many long-time believers no longer know any lost people.  Such a situation could not occur if we were living like Jesus did.  He would take the initiative to find sinners to befriend.

One way to seek the lost is to research the unengaged unreached people groups and to allow the Lord to lead us to those He will put on our hearts.  I will be putting links on this blog site where you can access the information that missionaries have compiled on peoples around the world.  Perhaps learning about the unsaved in other cultures will sensitize us to those around us who are without Christ.

Today we should pray two kinds of prayer:  a prayer of repentance for our failure to be proactive in seeking the lost and a prayer of commitment to dedicate ourselves to living the way that Jesus did.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Both ... And

Too often we think in terms of "either ...  or" while God is thinking of "both ... and."  A good example is in our thinking about the Great Commission.  We think that we have to choose either to serve locally or globally.  But in Acts 1:8 Jesus told the disciples, "But ye shall receive power after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you; and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and unto the uttermost parts of the earth."  I have emphasized two words in the quotation from the King James version which is one of the few versions to get this translation right.  I used to think that Jesus was giving the disciples a sequence for preaching the gospel, first Jerusalem, then Judea, and so on.  But the "both ... and" construction shows that Jesus was not thinking sequentially but simultaneously.  We are not to do one after the other but do them all at the same time.

If we think, "First reach our Jerusalem, then our Judea, and so on," we fall into a trap because our Jerusalem will never be fully reached.  There will always be some around us who have not accepted the gospel.  If we think we should complete one stage before moving to the next, we will never move on.  There will always be more to do at home.

Sometimes we may think, "I'm called to work at home and others are called to missions."  But the Great Commission was not given to a select group of the disciples.  Neither was Acts 1:8.  We are all called to participate in the going (though the Apostle Paul seems to indicate in Romans 10 that there is a role for those who "send").  With today's technology and travel possibilities, it is no longer necessary to have to choose between local church service and missions.  We can do both.

I remember reading years ago about the debate between those who advocated the "social gospel" and those who argued for strictly preaching.  Which is it?  Either works of service or evangelism?  The answer is both.  As one writer said, "Asking which is more important, service or evangelism, is like asking which wing of an airplane is more important.  You have to have both."

We can't choose between missions and local church service.  We must do both.  Let's pray that we get our understanding right.  Let's pray that we get our actions in line with Jesus' instructions.

Monday, January 2, 2012

A Sign of God's Will

As Bryant Wright, president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), prepared his address for the 2011 convention in Phoenix, he was moved to challenge the messengers to accept the task of embracing the unengaged unreached people groups (UUPGs).  Knowing that the International Mission Board (IMB) would have to support such an effort, he phoned Tom Elliff, the newly elected IMB president.  When Wright explained what the Lord had put on his heart, there was a momentary silence on the line.  Then Elliff responded, "The Lord has been telling me the same thing."

This testimony, that I heard at the Embrace Conference in Cedar Hill, Texas, is significant to me as a sign that this movement for churches to become the missionaries to the unengaged unreached people groups is God's will.  Why is that so?  Do you recall the verse where Jesus says that if two of His followers would agree on anything they pray for that He would do it (Matthew 18:19)?  For years I struggled to understand that promise.  I saw people asking others to join them in praying for something, but usually they did not get what they prayed for.  Also, I could see that taking the verse in the usual way (get another person to join you in praying so that you will get what you ask) could be a way for us to obligate or control God, something I knew was impossible.  Then one day the Holy Spirit gave me an insight--when two people are independently led by the Spirit to pray for the same thing, their prayer will be answered because it is God's will, not their own.  That both Bryant Wright and Tom Elliff were led to the same vision independently of each other is an indication that the idea is God's and not theirs.

S. D. Gordon has written that prayer is not man's way for getting his will done in heaven, but God's way for getting His will done on earth.  Jesus taught us to pray "Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."  The Bible tells us that praying according to God's will is essential to having our prayers answered (1 John 5:14-15).  When we see that something is God's will, we should take that as our cue to pray for its complete fulfillment like Daniel did when he understood Jeremiah's prophecy about the seventy years of exile (chapter nine of Daniel).  There are many forces resisting God's will.  God has given us the privilege of participating in achieving His purposes by both prayer and work to overcome all resistance.

As I have shared the challenge of churches' taking the gospel to UUPGs, I have seen several people whose hearts immediately received confirmation by the Holy Spirit that this work is of God.  If you are reading this blog, your interest is an indication that the Spirit is working in your heart, too.  I am writing this blog because I sense that God is leading us in this effort.  Seeing that this movement is of God, let us pray earnestly, fervently, and persistently until we see God's work completed.  Let us also pray for God's direction in what He wants us to do in addition to praying.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

People Groups and the Great Commission

Most of you with enough interest to read this article know that the last two verses of The Gospel According to Matthew are usually referred to as the Great Commission.  The first phrase says, "Go ye therefore and teach all nations."  Most of us would assume that Jesus is telling us to take the gospel to England, Mexico, Kenya, Brazil, and so on.  But the Greek word translated "nations" is ethnos from which we get our English word "ethnic."  The "nations" are not political entities but socio-cultural-linguistic entities that many missiologists call "people groups."  Those of us in the United States surely are aware of the many ethnic groups that make up our nation.  In addition, there are other sub-groups due to cultural, economic, geographic, or social distinctions.  All these factors go together to form the distinct units of people groups.  A people group has its own sense of identity.  The Great Commission instructs us to make disciples of all people groups.

It is possible to preach the gospel in a nation (political entity) but not make disciples in all the people groups.  For example, just because there are churches in the US doesn't mean that all segments of the population are being reached.  A recent study revealed that after more than 100 years of mission effort in Nigeria, a nation with some of the strongest Christian institutions in Africa, 148 of the 153 people groups in that nation were still less than 2% evangelical believers.  Missions agencies have identified almost 12 thousand people groups around the world and more than half of them are classified as "unreached" (less than 2% are evangelical followers of Christ).  Furthermore, 3,800 of the people groups are also "unengaged" meaning that there is no known missions agency, institution, church or individual who is actively carrying out a strategy to make disciples and plant churches among those peoples.  I've been struck by the remark one person made when talking about those people groups with no missions work:  "The only thing worse than being lost is being lost and having no one looking for you."

If we are to be obedient to the Great Commission of our Lord, we must find a way to get the gospel to all the people groups of the world.  Let's pray for wisdom to know how the Lord wants us to get this task done.  Let's pray for courage to do whatever He may ask us to do personally.  Let's pray for strength to stick with the task until it is finished.  Would you join me in prayer today?