Today I came across an interesting quote coined by a Canadian strength coach of all people “You can’t fire a cannon from a canoe”. He was referring to your body needing a stable core that enables a strong production of force.
Nope….I have not taken up body building BUT, I think this gives pretty good perspective on ministry too. Every gospel worker longs for strong, lasting, and deep impact. Church planters want to see healthy, vibrant churches. Youth leaders seek growing, passionate and Christ centred youth groups. Preachers want to stir a passion for God in the hearts of their listeners. Missionaries want to communicate good news effectively. Deacons want to serve efficiently. Sunday school teachers want to see Christ like character develop in the children they teach. If you are a Christian involved in any kind of ministry, in the church or outside, your desire should be for powerful impact BUT, you can’t fire a cannon from a canoe. You can’t be effective unless your ministry is rooted and made stable on a rock solid fortress. The canon of ministry needs to be fired from a position of strength.
This rock solid fortress is daily, personal, soul feeding time with the Lord. We call this our spiritual disciplines. It’s the reading of Scripture, spending time in prayer, confession, thanksgiving, praise, turning our gaze toward the God of heaven and earth. There is no substitute for this. Without this your ministry will be firing from a weak position and will not have lasting impact. Even worse, over time the canon of ministry will become burdensome, heavy and cause you to sink.
A.W. Tozer said “The highest accomplishment of humanity is entering the overwhelming presence of God. Nothing else can satiate this burning thirst”. Paul put it like this in Phil 3:10, “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death”.
Real ministry power is to be intimately connected to the source of all ministry. Remember Jesus’ words…“Without me you can do nothing” John 15:5
It’s not the size or success of your ministry that is important; it’s whether your ministry is grounded in a rock solid love, commitment and reverence for Christ.
Fire your ministry canons from a fortress, not a canoe.
A while ago I posted a blog about sending churches like Antioch in the New Testament sending Paul and Barnabas. This time around I want to share about partner churches, looking at the Philippian church as a model. This church was planted by Paul and Silas and had converts like Lydia, the seller of purple goods, a demon possessed slave girl, and the Philippian jailer. Paul helped to establish this church and his epistle to the Philippians is a kind of thank you letter for how this church treated him. Paul is full of optimism in this letter, which is kind of amazing since he is writing from jail and not a penthouse suite. There was something about this particular church that filled Paul with exuberant joy. Let me highlight a few things about this church that makes it stand out as a model partner church.
- Partner churches brings joy and encouragement to gospel workers
Listen to Paul’s introduction; “I thank God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the Gospel”. Even in the midst of trial, Paul is encouraged by this church, they were a blessing to him. Phil 2:19, “I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you”. Encouragement is something very necessary and practical that partner churches can do for their missionaries.
- Partner churches have concern for a missionary
In chapter 1 verse 12 Paul tells the church not to be concerned about what has happened to him regarding his imprisonment because God was using it to advance the Gospel. It shows that this church was genuinely concerned for Paul. Phil 4:10, “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity”. Partner churches have real concern for a missionary. I am sure this church prayed for Paul, they eagerly awaited news from him, their partnership was deep. This is another way a church a can be involved as a partner.
- Partner churches contribute financially
Phil 4:14-15, “Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble. And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only”. Their encouragement and concern was not only sentimental, it was genuine and practical. It affected their bank accounts, they gave materially towards the needs of Paul. It is sad that other churches did not partner in this way, the Philippian church sets the better example. This is just another practical way in which a partner church helps in advancing the Gospel among the unreached.
- Partner churches are just as much part of the work as sending churches AND the missionaries themselves
Phil 4:17-18, “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit. I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God”. Paul says that when a partner church invests resources in the work of a missionary, the fruit is shared. They have direct involvement through their partnership. They are equal partakers in the blessing that comes from advancing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They can rejoice as though they did the work themselves.
And then finally. Philippians 4:19 gives us an amazing promise, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus”.
What a wonderful promise! BUT…its not for everyone! If we are faithful to context, this promise is for the Philippian Christians who were cheerful givers. Often we see this verse printed on a coffee mug or cross stitched on a pillow, everyone wants to claim it for themselves, even when they contribute nothing to the kingdom of God. No, No, No. I had to learn this personally, I cannot seek God’s provision and riches, if I am not personally being generous. This has convinced me that even as a missionary, I must live willing and prepared to help others. Consider HOW you can live generously and enjoy the promise of being rich in Christ.
In our own preparations for Japan we are in need of partner churches like Philippi. Our sending church does not have the resources to support us fully. If you are able to link us to a potential partner church please contact us. We would love an opportunity to share our vision as we trust God to provide for our needs.
This is a trending tag in South Africa right now. Just giving my 2 cents…
First we need to understand a few things…
1. Women are equally created in God’s image. They ought to be respected, honored and valued for their inner worth. Not exposed, abused, dishonored or mistreated like a piece of meat. The Bible is clear.
2. All men are not trash BUT it has got to a point where this is HOW women are feeling. Why as a male gender have we allowed this to happen? What are we going to do to change women’s view of men? THINK!
3. Be a man and own the sins of your gender. Ask if you have contributed to this problem in any way. A crude joke? A comment about a girl’s figure? “I’d tap that” “Check out those buns” Guys – you know the bathroom talk.
I can’t say that my life is completely free from any of such discrimination or sin. Neither can you, neither can anyone else. But I want to be willing to listen, repent and learn.
If I can speak personally here: The desire of my heart is that by God’s grace I will see my wife flourish and blossom like the beauty that she is. When I said yes to her, I said no to every other girl. I made a commitment to enter into a covenant of love with her, and I committed to give only friendship, respect and kindness to every other women. I am ashamed of many of my gender who would dishonor and mistreat women. Shame on us. But I am also inspired and encouraged by faithful men who do indeed uphold and fight for the value of women. Also, for the example of men who under God, love their wives and cherish them, being willing to sacrifice anything for their well being. I can name a number of such men. They are not trash, and their wives will agree to that.
To the ladies willing to listen to a Christian voice…
1. Consider the love of God…
1 John 4:9-11 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
Ephesians 2:4-5 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved.
If not for Jesus I too would be trash, but Jesus changed me, and He enables me to love true and well. My wife finds the ultimate example of love in Jesus, not me, not in any other man. I understand that, I find joy in that, and I can only strive to love her like Jesus does.
2. Find a man who would strive to love you like Jesus does
Ephesians 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,
There are men who would love you like this if you would commit your steps to the Lord. Do not settle for a low life only interested in what he can get from you. Commit to the man who will serve you and sacrifice for you as Christ did for His church. This is the love life you can have if you let God write your love story. You wont find this guy wasted at the bar, you wont find this guy rubbing up against you in the club, you wont find this guy holding crude, sexist and obscene posters at a university residence.
Satan is writing a fake love story filled with evil, heartache and tears. The first few pages seem fun and exciting but as the story continues the pages are stained with alcohol, porn and crude joking. Later the story gets more gruesome; rape, abuse, divorce. This story does not have to be your story. Let God write your love story.
Do not give up on happiness, do not give up on love, just give up on the books that don’t have the answers.
God gives us His book, His love story – it has changed me, it has changed my wife, it has changed many others I know…it can change you.
Let God write your love story.
Some photos to help you see…NOT ALL MEN ARE TRASH – JESUS MADE US DIFFERENT
William Carey was a missionary to India under the banner of the Baptist Missionary Society. In that time Andrew Fuller said: “There is a gold mine in India; but it seems as deep as the center of the earth; who will venture to explore it”? “I will go down”, responded William Carey, and included these words: “but remember that you must hold the rope”.
This picture of Christians holding the rope is a fitting analogy for the relationship between missionaries and their supporters. This relationship is seen in the book of Acts when Antioch sends Paul and Barnabas to do the work of the gospel.
Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. Acts 13:1-3
Here we have a case study for a sending church and we can make the following observations.
- They were sensitive to God’s agenda.
This church was able to discern God’s call upon Paul and Barnabas. This was no arbitrary sending, there was a kind of synergy between the church, the Spirit of God, and the missionaries Paul and Barnabas. The church responded to God’s call together, missionaries can never act independently from the church.
- Their priority was worship before mission.
As John Piper puts it: “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” Antioch proves that when authentic worship is present, missions will be a inevitable result. Antioch had no missions mobilizers, no agencies pushing for the unreached, nobody putting them on a guilt trip about the unreached billions, nobody pleading with them to go to the Gentiles. It was worship that compelled them towards missions. Sending churches make worship their top priority and missions flows naturally from that. (See Psalm 67)
- They stood with their missionaries.
There is wonderful symbolism in Acts 13:3. When the church laid hands on Paul and Barnabas it was an expression of their identification with these two men. It was as if they were saying: “Brothers we are with you in this great enterprise.” Or “As you go, we go with you.” Or “We will hold the rope.” Also, Paul and Barnabas were not strangers in this church. They spent months in the church encouraging, teaching and connecting with the believers. Missions is a mandate given to the church and when it comes to reaching the unreached we either go down the mine or we hold the rope.
- They gave up their best.
I am sure it hurt to send Paul and Barnabas off into frontier missions. I mean these guys were significant leaders, they were adding great value to the church in Antioch. But the church let them go because they were following God’s agenda. The church in the west must be careful not to adopt a gathering approach rather than a scattering approach. A strong church is not identified by its seating capacity, but by its sending capacity. Sending churches realize that at some point they must allow their best people to go down into the unreached mines.
- They kept their missionaries accountable
In Acts 14:24-28 we read how Paul and Barnabas reports back to Antioch about all that God has done. It shows that Paul and Barnabas were not off gallivanting, doing their own thing. They had a task and reported back when the work was complete. There was a genuine relationship and gospel connection between the church and its missionaries. This relationship is not the primary role of the missions agency, it’s the role of the church.
Antioch gives us a good model for the relationship between sending churches and missionaries. In my next blog I hope to write about partner churches and their role in terms of sending missionaries.
I’d like to end off on a personal note. God has been so gracious in providing a team of people holding the rope for us. Like India, Japan is a gold mine that runs as deep as the center of the earth. Multiple unchurched cities and towns, many who have never personally heard the good news, 127 million precious souls. Who will go down into these mines? Many are already there, but many more are needed. We are willing to go down – but only if others will hold our rope. The resources needed are large, the training needed is tough, the time needed is long, but it is a necessary task.
We have 3 churches so far supporting us financially. We have about 30 individuals supporting us financially. Most importantly we have 6 churches and over 100 individuals praying for us. We praise God for these dear rope holders. But the rope is not secure enough yet…In order to go by February next year we need about 10 churches and 70 individuals to hold the rope. If you want to be a rope holder please contact us and we will share all the Lord is laying on our hearts to do.
Personal email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sending church email: email@example.com
This past Saturday I joined a team of people from my church to go on a afternoon outreach in the community. Our goal was to hand out gospel literature and invite people to our Easter services. I will admit that this kind of cold contact is not one of my strengths, I prefer to build up a friendship and have the opportunity to be an ongoing witness in someone’s life. However, I believe it is still beneficial to have a presence in the community and to try and be a blessing, even to people I’ve never met.
So my partner and I went to the park across the road. There were probably about 50 people out and about. There was a children’s birthday party along with couples romancing, a family having lunch while waiting to fetch a family member from hospital, and a few groups of men getting drunk, getting high, or in some cases both. As a inner city Church, this is our mission field.
I have been reminded about how easily I can fall into naively thinking that most people in South Africa think or believe as I do. In the church, we get so comfortable talking about our beliefs and use phrases that we think goes without saying. “The Trinity” “The deity of Christ” All my views were challenged by the people we conversed with over the course of the afternoon. We had tense discussions with Zionists, Catholics, Muslims and others just not interested in religion. Sharing the gospel is not for sissies. I left feeling the need to study harder, and to think more clearly about how my beliefs comes across to sceptics. I need wisdom. What goes without saying for me is not what goes without saying for others.
One particular conversation really troubled me deeply. I was speaking to a 40 something year old black man who sat on a bench, drinking his troubles away. He refused our literature but was open to talk. His one question still haunts me: “Your daddy and granddaddy killed and oppressed my daddy and granddaddy. So what makes you think we can even have this conversation?”
I was immediately cut to the heart. Now I know that my dad did not harm or persecute any black people himself, but I do understand that we were part of a evil and oppressive system. I was cut because through the smell of booze and slurring words – This man had pain, and he was angry.
No amount of apology, sincerity or payback will ever fix the past. What we need as a nation is the redeeming, unifying, cleansing power of the gospel. My prayer for that gentleman is that he finds the peace that only Christ can give.
My pastor has a saying that he regularly emphasises. “The past is formulative, but it is not determinative”. We do not have to be slaves to the evils of the past, we should not use the past to justify more evil, we should learn the lessons, grieve the hurt, but look forward in hope.
All in all, it was good to go out and speak to people in our community. I challenge you to do the same, but be prepared for uneasy, messy confrontation. Sharing the gospel is not for sissies.
I thought I would share a little bit about the type of research I am preparing to do for my Masters in Theology. I will be doing research on sin as impurity, focusing on Mark 7:14-23 and how it can be applied in a Japanese Shinto context. It’s still early days, in fact I am still in the process of delimiting and finalizing my proposal but that is pretty much the just of what I want to write about.
One of the books I am reading is by Sam Lee: The Japanese and Christianity. In his book, Sam researches different reasons as to why Christianity is not widely believed in Japan. It is a very interesting read. One of the chapters that’s of particular interest to me is on the theological factors, especially the way Japanese people understand sin and how different it is to that of Christianity. Here are a few quick examples:
- Original Sin
Christians believe that humanity is sinful from birth, fallen by nature and unable to rescue themselves. Our only salvation is by God’s grace, believing in Christ’s atoning work on the cross to rescue us from sin’s curse. However, this world remains under sin’s cursed effects and will only be completely restored at the second coming of Jesus.
This concept of sin is not heard of in Japanese Shinto. For starters they do not believe in a linear conception of time – time is cyclical and there is no notion of a beginning moment where sin entered or a end moment when sinful man will be destroyed. Additionally, human beings and nature are understood as divine and naturally good, all life stands in solidarity and the concept of individual sin and judgement is a foreign concept.
- Sin as disobedience
Christians believe that sin is disobedience to the laws of a holy God. We are guilty before God when we choose to disobey and this sin brings deserved judgement. For Japanese in Shinto tradition things are understood very differently. Firstly, there is no such thing as a personal God. Shinto believes in kami, which are spiritual beings or concepts that can take different forms. So morality is therefore not determined by a moral law giver. Morality is determined by wa. (Social Harmony) The Japanese are a group oriented people and sin is understood as a disturbance of harmony. Whatever disturbs harmony between people, nature, kami and ancestors is considered sinful. This is why it becomes a problem when one member of the family chooses to become a Christian because that person is seen to disturb wa in the family. Especially felt if the Christian refuses to attend Shinto ceremonies.
- Sin as impurity
One area of great interest to me is the understanding of sin as impurity. Uncleanness or kegare is understood as a kind of negative energy or impurity that attaches itself to a person. This is why ritual cleansing is required: A basin of water outside a Shinto shrine is used by worshippers to cleanse themselves before entering. Omamori (Talismans) Are available at temples, this is carried on one’s person to bring good spiritual energy and dissipate evil energy. Regular Shinto prayers, ceremonies and festivals are conducted to purify people, cleaning them from impurity. Culturally speaking these concepts have come to influence many parts of Japanese life. Onsen (Public Hot Springs) are almost religiously enjoyed and promotes a lifestyle of cleanliness, taking your shoes off before entering your home, a annual spring cleaning day before the start of a new year, Shinto Priests wearing white, salt thrown on a Sumo ring before a match as a purifying agent. etc. etc.
This sounds quite similar to Ancient Near Eastern Jewish culture. Think of Jesus and the Pharisees in Mark 7: Hand washing, purity laws, washing utensils, all for the sake of ritual cleanliness. Jesus responded to the Pharisees by saying it is not what goes in but what comes out of our hearts that make us unclean. I believe that Jesus had something to say to Jews and likewise I believe He has something to say to the Japanese too. Jesus took all our impurities to the cross and by believing on His name He gives us perfect purity, not just outward, but inward purity. Maybe this narrative of sin and salvation can be useful in Japan, I guess I will see once we get there 🙂
But this concept does not only relate to the east. As westerners we also like to think of ourselves as “good” “acceptable” “pure” people. We donate to charity, we do volunteer work, dress up for church in our Sunday best. BUT – It’s not what we do or wear that guarantees a pure heart. In fact, we can never attain the perfect purity that God demands. This is why Jesus came to die on the cross, to cleanse our hearts from all impurity. And to give us His Spirit to sanctify us and to work in us to be a clean people. This work God did out of love, so that He, the God of all pure holiness can be with His people without compromising his justice. Just like a parent cannot allow a muddied child to come into a clean house before being cleansed, God cannot allow any into His pure Heaven without being cleansed by the blood of the lamb.
Psalm 51:7 – Purify me with hyssop and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
I am really excited about what I will be able to research and study, maybe taking a small step towards showing that the Bible speaks to every culture in every time.
Lee SC 2014. The Japanese and Christianity: Why is Christianity Not Widely Believed in Japan? Amsterdam: Foundation University Press.
The idea of frontier missions to the unreached world is a very scary prospect. What gives Christians the right to go “interfere” with the lives of others? Why should they accept the message of a foreigner? Why sacrifice so much just to risk the possibility of seeing very little fruit and wasting your life? Honestly, these thoughts have raced through my mind in recent months.
I have been reading a number of books about the history of Japanese religion. It really is a complex and multi layered system of beliefs, traditions and cultural values. A ancient eastern leader; Prince Shotoku once called Shinto the roots of a tree; embedded in the very heart of the Japanese people. Confucianism; the trunk and branches; politics, morality and education and lastly Buddhism; the flowers, religious feelings that bloom like flowers.
Why should the Japanese even believe our message after so many years of following their own path? How can we ever convince them that Jesus is the only way, truth and life? And how can we even communicate successfully when the language itself is so difficult to understand? These are the types of questions every missionary wrestles with. But honestly, it is the question every Christian ought to wrestle with. How can I share the gospel effectively with my neighbor?
How does he/she think? What do they value? What is important to them? How do they spend their time?
So often we feel defeated before we even start. We are like the faithless Israelites who only think about the giants in the land instead of looking to the limitless power of the God they said they served. We say to ourselves; “Those people already have a religion, they won’t listen to us”. “That guy is a staunch atheist – he’s never going to give me the time of day”. …missions is not easy.
But we are not left without hope from the Lord. There is one truth that helps me, and honestly if it wasn’t for this I would not even be in ministry. Here it is:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
When a Christian flies halfway across the world, walks across to a neighbor, or drinks coffee with a co-worker with the intention of making disciples, Jesus; the one who has ALL authority is with them. I have to cling to the truth that when we enter Japan, often referred to as the missionary graveyard; even there Jesus will be with us. I need to have confidence in the power of His redeeming grace, available to anyone who would believe. Missions will be successful only because it is God who does the work.
I found this encouraging Scripture in the book of Isaiah, a prophecy concerning the work of the Messiah, written 700 years before the birth of Christ.
Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The Lord called me from the womb, from the body of my mother he named my name. He made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me away. Isaiah 49:1-3
A couple of things stand out for me here with regards to missions:
- The intended audience are those from distant lands.
The Hebrew word for coastlands carries the idea of islands or regions beyond the sea. God’s missional scope is not only Israel, not only the western world, but for all people, from all regions to worship Him. God has a special word for the unreached nations. Later on in verse 6 we read these words: “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth”. WOW!!!
- The incarnation is a pivotal part of God’s mission.
Isaiah prophecies that the Messiah is called from the womb, and while still in the womb he was already named (Luke 1:31). This points to a divine and predetermined purpose. The Messiah was given the name Jesus because He would save His people from their sins. God personally came to rescue sinners, He came in the flesh, born of a virgin, this is the wonder of the incarnation and the real reason we celebrate Christmas.
- The Messiah came as one divinely appointed, carrying authority and power.
In the gospels Jesus repeatedly says that he came to do the Father’s will. In the Isaiah passage we see the illustration of two different weapons, helping the reader to see the mission of God being fulfilled through the ministry of Jesus the Messiah. The first is a sharp sword. This points to the power and authority of Jesus’ word and how it cuts right to the heart.
Mark 1:22 And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes.
Luke 4:32 and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority.
Matthew 7:29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.
The seconds weapon is a polished arrow, hidden in God’s quiver. I think this refers to the very specific nature and timing of Jesus’ mission. God’s revelation and salvation through Christ has been carefully planned and orchestrated by God the Father. The mission was precise:
For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:45
And the mission had a specific time:
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, Galatians 4:4
What amazes me is that God’s mission in calling and rescuing a people from every tribe, nation and tongue is GOD’S MISSION. He has carefully planned out every detail. Surely He will accomplish all, just as He has promised. Missionaries ought to enter their respective mission fields with the rock solid confidence of God being with us and for us as we engage in His mission. The gospel is not a pee shooter in the face of religious pluralism and the modern anti God sentiment. The gospel is dynamite, it is the power of God, let’s not be afraid to use it. Missions will be successful because Jesus has all authority and He is with us…always.