There are billions of people around the world in thousands of unreached people groups with little or no hope of hearing the Gospel in their lifetime. What are you prepared to do?
This sort of appeal to the immensity of the Church’s task in fulfilling the great commission has become the stock-in-trade of the global missions movement in the past few years. The true, of course, and we shouldn’t lose sight of Christ’s promise that “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations” (Matt. 24:14) or the faithful and courageous efforts of missionaries and organizations working in every corner of the world. Often, however, this appeal has the opposite effect–the call is so great, so all-encompassing, that it is abstracted to such a level in the minds of most Christians that they end up doing nothing (or very little) because they cannot do everything. Even in the secular realm, there is a growing body of research from the psychological realm that points to the simple fact that we have trouble feeling responsible to do thinks we feel we are to accomplish.
How does this square with clear commands of Scripture? Surely God would not call us to do that which He knows we are incapable of…or would He? Actually, He does that all the time, calling dead men to live. The trick is that God gives the life He asks for. Our making disciples is entirely contingent on His Spirit bringing to life both us and those we reach. The power for the action of our obedience and the results of that obedience come from Him. He is the one who makes possible the impossible (Mark 10:27).
If you think about it, how much more unattainable must the Great Commission have seemed as Christ ascended into the Judean sky? For us, it starts with millions of faithful believers in multiple countries and cultures, billions of dollars in resources, and incredible advantages. The apostles had obstacles to the goal we could never imagine–there were 11 of them (12 when Paul was “recruited”) and an entire world of unregenerate souls. And yet they obeyed, the truth prevailed, and caused the dry bones of sinful men to become as flesh.
The temptation to give in to the apathy of the overwhelmed, I would submit, comes because we have forgotten the truth of God’s power embedded in the Scriptures–not just when taken as a whole, but in the very passages that call us to the task.
“And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age’” (Matt. 28:19-20).
“For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16).
“Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:18-20).
This Gospel is the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24), and He who made the world and all that is in it will accomplish His task. Our participation at whatever place He leads us to is part of His plan. We obey, but the work is His, the results are His, and the glory is His. Ours is not to change the hearts of men, but only to tell them of the One who will. Reaching the nations begins with reaching your neighbor. In any good-sized Western city, reaching your neighbors often is reaching the nations–with people from many tribes, tongues, and nations moving in to seek a better life for their families.
We may want to throw in the towel (or, on the other hand attempt own the task and own some of the glory), but our desire for success and significance beyond obedience is in vain. As T. S. Eliot wrote in his Four Quartets:
These are only hints and guesses,
Hints followed by guesses; and the rest
Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.
The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is Incarnation.
Posted by Justin Lonas.
“The Lord commands us to do ‘good unto all men,’ universally, a great part of whom, estimated according to their own merits, are very undeserving; but here the Scripture assists us with an excellent rule, when it inculcates, that we must not regard the intrinsic merit of men, but must consider the image of God in them, to which we owe all possible honor and love; but that this image is most carefully to be observed in them ‘who are of the household of faith,’ inasmuch as it is renewed and restored by the Spirit of Christ.
“Whoever, therefore, is presented to you that needs your kind offices, you have no reason to refuse him your assistance. Say he is a stranger; yet the Lord has impressed on him a character which ought to be familiar to you; for which reason he forbids you to despise your own flesh. Say that he is contemptible and worthless; but the Lord shows him to be one whom he has deigned to grace with his own image. Say that you are obliged to him for no services; but God has made him, as it were, His substitute, to whom you acknowledge yourself to be under obligations for numerous and important benefits. Say that he is unworthy of your making the smallest exertion on his account; but the image of God, by which he is recommended to you, deserves your surrender of yourself and all that you possess.
“If he not only deserved no favor, but, on the contrary, has provoked you with injuries and insults—even this is no just reason why you should cease to embrace him with your affection, and to perform to him the offices of love. He has deserved, you will say, very different treatment from me. But what has the Lord deserved, who, when He commands you to forgive all men their offences against you, certainly intends that they should be charged to Himself?”
~ John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion
Posted by Justin Lonas
The Yankee Officer and the Southern Belle: A Journey of Love across Africa, Nell Robertson Chinchen, 2012, Christian Focus Publications, Faern, Scotland, ISBN 9781845509217, 175 pages, $12.99, softcover.
Serving as a part of a missions organization, my coworkers and I have the opportunity to hear so many firsthand stories of the incredible power of God to use individuals, families, churches, and institutions to proclaim His Gospel and redeem people from every tongue, tribe, people, and nation. This is a source of great joy, but also a danger—if you’re not careful, you can grow numb to the eternal significance of this. This can happen even in wonderfully missions-focused churches, and every Christian should be on guard to keep themselves uncalloused.
A good missionary biography can be an excellent tool to refresh the sheer wonder at the work of God that we as believers should enjoy. Nell Robertson Chinchen’s The Yankee Officer and the Southern Belle serves admirably for this. The Chinchen family’s story of spiritual growth from complacent churchgoing to pastoral ministry to pioneering missionary work across Africa offers example after example of God’s radical faithfulness to His obedient servants.
In the book, Chinchen recounts her family’s journey into a lifetime of missionary work over the course of dozens of short stories. It would be impossible to miss the Lord’s guidance of every step of their move to the jungles of Liberia, the establishment of the African Bible College there and (later) in Malawi and Uganda, and the blossoming of their radio ministry, and Chinchen is careful to make sure readers know that He deserves all the glory.
Though the book’s anecdotal format seems to leave some gaps in the larger narrative of the Chinchens’ life and ministry (there is enough material there, to be sure, for a much longer book) and doesn’t quite plumb the emotional depths of their experience as one might hope, what shines through is the mighty hand of God in every facet of their work.
Chinchen shares how God opened doors for ministry by bringing “men of peace” to guide them through red tape and dangerous situations, how He miraculously provided land, equipment, and funding for every ministry need, and how He protected them through disease, fire, political unrest, and war. Her frank and funny style resonates well, and punctures the notion that missionaries must somehow be extraordinarily somber, hyper-spiritual people to be effective.
The reason I picked up this book is largely personal—I grew up in a church that supported the Chinchens. They were regulars at our congregational missions conferences, and I remember them coming over to my family’s house for meals when I was 9 or 10 years old. It seems like yesterday that we were praying for their safety during the Liberian Civil Wars and rejoicing with them at the Lord’s provision for a new African Bible College campus in Malawi. I can attest to their faith and infectious zeal for missions, and that comes through in the book.
The Yankee Officer and the Southern Belle should be a great encouragement to all believers to look up and see what God is doing, and perhaps even to respond to His call to “ go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19).
Posted by Justin Lonas
What Is the Mission of the Church?: Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom, and the Great Commission, Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert, 2011, Crossway, Wheaton, Ill., ISBN 9781433526909, 283 pages, $15.99, softcover.
Among evangelical Christians these days, there is a groundswell movement toward cultural transformation—not simply to reach the world with the Gospel of Christ but to do the work of renewing communities and creation as a whole to make ready for the new heavens and the new earth. This philosophy goes by several names with different shades of meaning: social justice, kingdom building, missional ministry, shalom, etc.
Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert have written What Is the Mission of the Church? to address this “mission drift” and call the Church to remember that its specific priority is the proclamation of salvation—the redemption of mankind from the righteous wrath of a holy God through the shed blood of His Son Jesus Christ.
Though their aim is to correct a popular level misconception, the authors rightly critique the theologians and pastors who have propagated exegetical and hermeneutical faults to drive the movement. They are careful and nuanced in their argument, but pull no punches when expositing the key passages used as source texts for the other side of the debate (Gen. 12, Lev. 19, Isa. 58, Amos 5, Matt.25, etc.). The level of scholarship employed and the winsome tone of the book make their case a strong one. The book is not meant to be a polemic against an opposing viewpoint, but rather a plea for all believers to let Scripture, not culture, determine the focus of our efforts in this world.
DeYoung and Gilbert are not attempting to undermine the good work done by believers in various venues, rather they criticize such alternative interpretations of the Church’s core mission as “putting hard ‘oughts’ where there should be inviting ‘cans’.” That is, they warn against confusing the good things that Christians may be individually called to do with the overarching goal that the Church gathered must pursue.
They carefully define “mission” as the central priority of the Church to which all other activities point and provide support. They point out repeatedly that the Church is given its mission specifically by Christ, and that its mission is distinct from (though part of) the overall mission of God in restoring a fallen creation—our mission is not exactly the same as God’s mission, and we shouldn’t take that unobtainable responsibility on ourselves.
Beyond simply articulating the pitfalls of a misdirected mission (i.e. that doing all manner of social good at the expense of Gospel proclamation fails to achieve eternal good), the authors issue a rallying cry for the Church to recapture the excitement and joy that comes from pursuing Christ’s commission to us. They remind readers that what ultimately leads to the transformation believers seek in the world is the blood of Christ and the work of the Spirit, and they challenge believers to remember that God chooses to break into the lives of the lost through the faithful proclamation of His Gospel through the Church. They make the foundational point that the only thing the Church does that no one else in the world will do is to make disciples of Jesus, and that this should be our driving motivation.
What Is the Mission of the Church? is a well-written, well-researched, and much needed book—it might be the most important Christian book of 2011. The implications of our interpretation of our mission for the Body of Christ are tremendous.
Take: Must Read
Posted by Justin Lonas
One of the most prevalent trends I’ve noticed in the written word these days is the proliferation of parenthetical remarks, clauses, qualifiers, and asides of all types. I see this a lot in my own work as well. It leads me to wonder what happened to our collective ability to speak straight and say what we mean in plain English. If everything we say has to be crafted in such a way as to require explanation, are we saying anything at all?
The use of parentheses, commas, dashes, colons, and the like to set off related yet distinct thoughts is nothing but proper grammar, but these markers can easily be used to shade the meaning of sentences just enough to make a writer’s thoughts impossible to pin down. When one says, “The Church in America has no interest in community outreach,” he is making a bold statement that is open to criticism and refutation. It is the opening salvo of an argument in the classical style. When he says, however, “The Church in America, by most counts, has little to no interest in community outreach,” he has maintained just enough give to take the edge off his statement and preemptively parry any attempt to take issue with it. His meaning is blunted, but he still gets in his punches without actually stepping into the ring.
Often, this style is employed not to attack, but to ward off the unjustified attacks of politcal correctness. We gut whatever we are trying to say in order to avoid the ever-present criticism of honesty that our society now accepts as normal. An example of this phenomenon might be a sentence such as this. A direct sentence might read, “The Bible clearly teaches that marriage between a man and a woman is designed by God and that homosexual relationships are both unnatural and sinful.” In effort to make this statement less of a bitter pill of truth to those who would disagree with it, it gets transmogrified into, “Most conservative scholars agree that Scripture holds up marriage between one man and one woman as the ideal (though many polygamists, such as David & Solomon, rank among the Bible’s praiseworthy characters), and that homosexuality was to be avoided.” The second statement, though factually correct, lacks the force and completeness of the first, but would assuredly not raise the red flag of controversy for most groups.
The danger in this habit is this: in our efforts to shift blame, avoid declarative statements that might offend some, or subtly attack and undercut opponents, I fear we may compromise our own ability to stand firm in the proclamation of the Gospel. If we qualify everything we say to make it unassailable and palatable to all comers, then we will necessarily remove or cover over the stumbling block of the cross (1 Cor. 1:23). The Gospel is unequivocal. We do not preach “grace, but” or “atonement, if” when we proclaim “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24). “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12); to skirt His name or even tuck its power in behind the lessons of His earthly actions is to misrepresent the whole truth in a fundamental way.
As Christians, we are to be a people of truth and love. Our “yes” is to be “yes”, and our “no”, “no”. To shade the truth undercuts our love, for “the love of Christ controls us” (2 Cor. 5:14) in proclaiming the truth. What kind of love is there in a Gospel without redemption or a faith without hope? Preach the Gospel, “in season and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2); let the pure truth of Christ’s immeasurable love for lost sinners shine forth, no ifs, ands, or buts.
Posted by Justin Lonas
I wrote this for my student newspaper during my senior year of college after a trip to Louisiana to assist with hurricane relief. I’m reposting it here in honor of the 5th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall on the Gulf Coast on 8/29/05 and as a reminder that God is at work in even in the worst disasters we witness around the world.
“œEverybody keeps saying that God sent this thing as an act of judgment on our city. I think it was really an act of mercy ““ there are people who have been praying for something like this for years ““ just waiting for an opportunity to get out of a bad situation.”
These level-headed words from the wife of a New Orleans Baptist Theologial Seminary student didn’t blend with their context.
She spoke them while inspecting her salt-encrusted Chevy Cavalier to the background noise of six men from Bryan College stripping appliances and furniture from her neighbor’s apartment.
I never associated mercy with destruction. The mold-blackened walls, rancid refrigerators and pervasive stench of flooded homes more closely matched my conception of hell than of God’s love. Pausing from our grim task to hear her wisdom sharpened the meaning of our work there.
Before heading to Louisiana for a week of ministry, I wondered how I could show God’s love to people who thought He Himself had destroyed their lives. The words of the seminary wife caught me off guard with the simple truth that God was behind the whole story of Hurricane Katrina, in ways that I never conceived.
New Orleans needed judgment. The city of gamblers, drunkards, prostitutes and revelers, was ripe for sentence to be passed. Gulfport and Biloxi in neighboring Mississippi weren’t much better. Then again, neither is any place on this earth. What cities and towns don’t play host to people who are financially irresponsible, those who depend on alcohol and drugs, the sexually promiscuous and self-absorbed partygoers? “œNormal” places carefully pass over these woes as those who partake of them deftly cover their tracks to avoid condemnation.
New Orleans wore her sins on her sleeve. Did we rush to proclaim the wrath of God on the Big Easy because she deserved it or because we were glad that our own closet hadn’t been blown open by the storm?
Too often we mistake nudges from the Almighty as blows from His sword. We forget that He works in mysterious ways. If He wanted to destroy the city, He could have ““ beyond the shadow of a doubt. Looking at roofs crushed by trees, windows exploded by 130-mph winds and 10-foot-high piles of trash that were once the contents of a home, it’s very easy to think of judgment.
Looking deeper, mercy overtakes judgment as the theme of this saga. A city of 500,000 people losing only a little more than 1,000 to a direct hit by a monstrous hurricane for which it was almost completely unprepared is mercy. Letting people see the Church do the work of restoring lives wrecked by the storm when the government bungled its attempt at the same is mercy. Leading National Guard soldiers and Red Cross relief workers to salvation is mercy. Allowing the terrible beauty of a hurricane to thrash our lives so that we wake from the slumber of Christless apathy is mercy.
New Orleans needed mercy. We all need mercy. God loves to show us His gracious care. We’re just slow to pick up His frequency.
New Orleans was not destroyed. Today, just a few weeks later, it is bustling with the activity of reconstruction. The South isn’t about to let the bosom of its culture wash by the wayside. More importantly, Christ isn’t about to let hurting people go untouched through this upheaval. I’ve never seen as positive an outpouring of energy and resources from the Church in my lifetime.
Those of us who could go offer tangible help did, some more than once, and I’m sure many will continue to go for months to come. Those who could give to the cause gave generously; so much so that there has been an overabundance of supplies for the refugees. The hand of the Lord has been active the whole time. It touched refugees herded into shelters with hot meals and listening ears. It touched uninsured homeowners by preparing their homes for reconstruction free of charge. It touched people living in makeshift trailer parks with welcoming embraces and simple services. It touched relief workers from Bryan with the strength, patience and generosity we needed to be that hand to the people of southeast Louisiana.
Years from now, when we look back on this incredible story of God’s redeeming mercy, no one will think of it as a judgment from on high. We can’t waste the gift He has given us. If we allow our lives to return to “œnormal” after the dust of all this settles, the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina will not be the destruction of the Gulf Coast but the destruction of spiritual fervor by comfortable circumstances.
The words of the prophets linger in the background. “œ“˜I struck all the work of your hands with blight, mildew and hail, yet you did not turn to me,’ declares the Lord.” (Hag. 2:17).
God got our attention and allowed us to rebuild His Body with a righteous work ethic. To Him be the glory, even (or, should I say, especially) when we can’t immediately see His purposes.
Posted by Justin Lonas
O for a Thousand Tongues
by Charles Wesley, 1740
“O for a thousand tongues to sing
My great Redeemer’s praise,
The glories of my God and King,
The triumphs of His grace!
My gracious Master and my God,
Assist me to proclaim,
To spread through all the earth abroad
The honors of Thy name.
Jesus! the name that charms our fears,
That bids our sorrows cease;
‘Tis music in the sinner’s ears,
‘Tis life, and health, and peace.
He breaks the power of canceled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.
Hear Him, ye deaf; His praise, ye dumb,
Your loosened tongues employ;
Ye blind, behold your Savior come,
And leap, ye lame, for joy.”
What a great Savior we serve”“not only has He cancelled our sin by His sacrifice, but He frees us from its power in our lives by His indwelling presence! How can we adequately offer gratitude for so marvelous a gift? To quote from another great hymn (Isaac Watts’ “œWhen I Survey the Wondrous Cross”), “œWere the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all.”
What greater praise could we render to the Lord than to “œspread through all the earth abroad the honors of [His] name?” The end result of redemption should always be missions. God’s greatest glory is the praise of His name by sinners redeemed from rebellion”“the more He redeems, the more glory He gets. We proclaim His name both out of gratitude and out of a desire to see His name glorified above all other names. No other act of Christian service is more precious to God.
Posted by Justin Lonas
A friend of mine blogged this morning about the real tragedy of Haiti, which experienced a massive earthquake yesterday evening. She pointed out that when people are tempted to doubt God’s goodness in the face of such horrific natural disasters, we should remember that 1) all such suffering is ultimately a consequence of human sin, and 2) we should be as quick to doubt our own goodness for allowing the poverty which magnifies the disaster (through food shortages, unstable construction, inadequate communication of danger, etc.) to go unchecked. She asked how we can process something like this theologically and practically. The following was my answer to that question:
It’s always tough to process natural disasters–especially when they’re coupled with unnatural disasters like the pillage of Haiti which has been going on since the Spanish first landed there in the 1500s and the French turned it into a massive sugar plantation in the 1700s. For me, this particular disaster creates a struggle on a personal, emotional level too–I’ve been to Haiti; I have Haitian friends; I love Haiti.
At the theological level, I am praying that the Hatian church (particularly my friends) can rise to the occasion and be the love of God to their countrymen through this crisis. I am praying that the people of Haiti, as everything crumbles around them, will place their trust in the unshakable God. I am praying that the thousands of Americans (believers and unbelievers) who have for decades given graciously to the people of Haiti from the resources entrusted to them will continue to do so with renewed passion, and begin to invest in the lives of those people with Christlike care for the whole person rather than simply pouring money into the black hole of corruption that foreign aid to Haiti has become.
At a practical level, the quake has renewed my commitment to the work the Lord has brought in partnership with Haiti through child sponsorship and our church’s long-term commitment to one small community in Nord-Est Department. We have a natural avenue of ministry there, and though the community was not destroyed by the quake, and we want to help the church there be a help to areas harder hit. I’m sure that we’ll redouble our efforts to bring hope to that community through the preaching of the Gospel, the building of schools and medical centers, providing clean water, training in business & agriculture, and microfinance.
In short, processing theologically cannot be separated from processing practically. God has placed each of us in a sphere of influence for a reason, and we cannot believe one thing and do another–we use what He’s given where He’s placed us for His greatest glory (i.e. – people finding His salvation and the love, mercy, & justice of His character). A disaster should, if anything, strengthen our faith in God by shaking us out of the belief that we control things and redirecting our focus to obedience.
To find out more about how to partner with AMG International (our parent organization) to provide assistance to their partners in Haiti, click HERE.