I don’t know about you but I almost never cry in front of other people. I remember on my wedding day shedding a tear when I saw my wife walking down the isle towards me. The dam walls around my eyes could no longer hold back the overflowing river of joy that I felt. I believe that tears are a wonderful gift from God that helps give expression to our feelings. For some the waterworks open easily, for others it tends to be a bit harder – I am the latter kind of person. So, whenever I do cry, it can only be because something incredibly moving has happened. Well, that happened for me yesterday (25 Oct 2017). Aven and I have been blessed to be part of a missions conference hosted by Berean Baptist Church Livonia. I don’t think I have ever experienced this level of generosity and kindness. Let me explain.
So the church invites 5 missionary families to be part of their annual conference. Sunday to Friday night missionaries get to share their work to the church and then we get to sing praise songs and listen to a sermon. Pastor Bob Johnson from Cornerstone Baptist Church Roseville Michigan is the keynote speaker. We have enjoyed exceptional preaching focused on missions being the heartbeat of God. These sermons have been a tonic for my soul.
On top of the great preaching, the church has welcomed us with open arms. Each night we are treated to meals, our host family has been a tremendous blessing to us, we are given so many words of encouragement and kindness…and then came the gifts. Aven was at a ladies meeting and sent me a message: “Come help carry”. Huh? When I got to the church to pick her up I saw SO many gifts from people in the church! People who don’t even know us. Its hard to put these feelings into writing. After we packed the car, as we were driving back to our host family, the weight of it all just became too great. The waters of emotion surged again, the dam walls collapsed, I was overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by the tremendous generosity, kindness, and unconditional friendship offered by people I hardly knew, people I can never pay back.
At this conference I feel like one of the Old Testament characters in the Bible; Mephibosheth. Know him? He was the son of Jonathan who was the son of King Saul. Jonathan was killed in battle when Mephibosheth was 5 years old. Fearing that the Philistines will also kill the boy, a nurse rushed to try and get Mephibosheth to safety but in her haste she dropped him and he became a cripple for life.
Some years later, David conquered all of Israel’s enemies and in an effort to show loyalty to his friend Jonathan – David called for Mephibosheth. This guy must have been quaking in his sandals, it was well known that kings destroy any trace of the previous king’s descendants in order to wipe out any competition to the throne. So imagine, Mephibosheth standing before one of the most powerful kings…oops, he was probably sitting; remember he was a cripple! He is from the house of Saul, and he has absolutely nothing to offer David as a way of negotiation. But David responds in the most incredible way. David commits to showing Mephibosheth covenant faithfulness. David honors this man, he gives land to this man, he gives him a place in the royal palace, he showers him with grace, upon grace, upon grace! I am pretty sure the waterworks were flowing as Mephibosheth listened to David’s kind words. I am pretty sure this man had an incredible feeling of being overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by kindness.
I relate to the story in the way I have been treated by this church. I have been given far, far, far more than what I deserve. I am a ordinary South African, I am by no means a superstar missionary, I am not much known to the people of this church. Yet they decided to shower us with such kindness. For that reason I feel like Mephibosheth.
But far more than this, I relate to the story on another level. God has decided to give me far, far, far more than what I deserve. I have been spiritually and physically crippled by my own sin. I cannot stand on my own feet, I cannot live in a way that glorifies God. I am broken, shamed, and condemned to a hopeless existence. BUT GOD! He stepped into my world to rescue me from the crippling affect of sin. Isaiah 40:31 – He makes me rise on wings like eagles, he makes me run and not grow weary.
Like Mephibosheth I am from the wrong house, a descendant of Adam. Yet through Jesus I am brought into friendship with God. Colossians 1:22 – I have been reconciled back to God through Christ. Like Mephibosheth I had no home, I had no family. But Jesus right now is preparing a place for me. John 14:3.
I have nothing in my life that I can use to bargain with God. Nothing to negotiate with. I am a cripple, poor, homeless, enemy standing in the presence of a Holy King. But this king is infinitely compassionate, kind and gentle. He is full of covenant faithfulness. He is a king worthy of my worship. This king exchanged his crown of glory for a crown of thorns. He exchanged his throne for a cross. He gave himself up for my sins so completely, how can I not be overwhelmed?
I hope that you will also be overwhelmed by this love and grace that God offers us through his Son Jesus.
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.