• Our hope-filled future is bound up in sharing the story of Jesus, in discipling others, in bringing those disciples together into communities of believers, and in developing and releasing those believers to create other communities... till Jesus the King comes again!

Celebrate Grace

While sitting with a group of believers, someone starts playing a worship song on the piano or guitar. They are just playing the music.  What happens next?  Those who know the words begin to softly sing along with the music. 

Peter, at the end of his first letter (1 Peter 5), shares some parting counsel with his readers.  Some of the words of wisdom stand out from the others: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you into his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm strengthen, and establish you.” (5:11)

Peter describes God as ‘the God of all grace’.  It’s interesting that he didn’t write: ‘the God of grace’, but the ‘God of all grace’ as if to underline that God’s very heart is one of abundant grace. 

All of us face difficulties and struggles in our work to see disciples raised up and communities of believers multiplied.  There are numerous obstacles such as our own pride, the hardened hearts of others, or just plain daily living. There is an enemy as well who seeks to wreak havoc in our lives and in the work in which we are engaged.

Peter’s counsel to his readers, and to us, is learn to celebrate the God of all grace.  Despite everything that may be happening around us, one thing does not change and will not change: God has placed His unending love on us and no one will ‘snatch us’ from His grip.

It’s always easy to say what I just wrote.  It’s quite another to lay hold of it each day, with our arms of faith.  Probably why we need to find ways to ‘tell ourselves the Good News’ again today, tomorrow, and each day this week.

A great way is by remembering or rehearsing the words to songs that put our hearts back on Christ.

Here’s a song I might suggest: Yet Not I But Through Christ in Me

What gift of grace is Jesus my redeemer
There is no more for heaven now to give
He is my joy, my righteousness, and freedom
My steadfast love, my deep and boundless peace

To this I hold, my hope is only Jesus
For my life is wholly bound to His
Oh how strange and divine, I can sing: all is mine!
Yet not I, but through Christ in me

Grate-ful

Just finished reading an article by TJ Addington on gratitude.  He cited an article from Forbes magazine about the 7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude that will Motivate You to Give Thanks Year-Round. Then he finished off his article with that most difficult of questions: “Are you living a thankful life today?”

It kind of ‘grate-d’ against my soul to read that question, rather than cause a gusher of grate-fulness to pour out of my heart. 

Now the problem is not with TJ, nor the article. It’s actually with my heart, with our hearts.  We are just not satisfied.  Not satisfied with life, with work … we might even admit we are not satisfied with God at times.  As Tim Chester put the question: “Do you want more of God? Do you want to enjoy him?  Or let’s put the question like this: do you like God?

So as I start, as we start 2019, a check of our hearts would be in order.  Here is a short text and one question to reflect on and get us started:

A soul that is capable of God can be filled with nothing else but God; nothing but God can fill a soul that is capable of God. Though a gracious heart knows that it is capable of God, and was made for God, carnal hearts think without reference to God. But a gracious heart, being enlarged to be capable of God, and enjoying somewhat of him, can be filling by nothing in the world; it must only be God himself. Therefore you will observe that whatever God may give to a gracious heart, a heart that is godly, unless he give himself it will not do.  A godly heart will not only have the mercy, but the God of that mercy as well; and then a little matter is enough in the world, so be it he has the God of the mercy which he enjoys.”

What ‘distracting, heart-consuming care’ keeps us from prizing again today our union with Christ and the work God is carrying out in our lives?

If you are interested in reading further: The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, Jeremiah Burroughs.  It’s not an easy read, but well worth the effort as Burroughs speaks to the heart to motivate, not our pride.

My friend Paul

My friend Paul went home to be with the Lord last week.  The deep groan of sadness that I felt when the news first came out, began to give way over time to reflection on the impact that this one brother had on my life. paul_welcome

As I ‘re-watched’ the videos in my head of the many times we had shared life and ministry together, three words or word images came to mind

Persistent challengePaul regularly put challenges out in front of you. The reason I started running marathons came about the day Paul called me up to announce he had an entry for me for the London marathon. I had never put my name in for the London marathon (a lottery system)!  Apparently Paul, however, had been putting my name in, along with his name and his son’s name, for three years until our names had been drawn!  Paul didn’t just challenge you in life activities, he challenged your capacity to believe that ‘God could do above and beyond what we could ask or think’.  He pushed you to believe that God could work among a resistant people group; that He could spawn movements of multiplying churches; that He could work in and through us to reach others for Christ.

Dogged perseveranceI cannot think of Paul without thinking of how he was constantly ‘moving forward’.  I still marvel at how he, a former wrestler, finished the London marathon in a very respectable time. He doggedly pursued the difficult tasks.  More importantly, he doggedly pursued God.  There was always that new thought, fresh insight that the Lord has laid on his heart and that he wanted to share with you when you got together in a meeting.  He not only shared, but he lifted you up before the Lord in prayer, and you could count on that when he told you so.  He kept driving forward to the ‘upward call’.

Amazing adventureYou never quite knew where Paul was ‘taking’ you when you set off with him.  One year, he decided to rent a boat on the Thames for the week long meeting of the Europe field directors.  After that ‘week on the boat’, we all said that we would never do that again.  However, his ‘adventure’ worked to draw us together in a way we weren’t expecting … and part of the proof is that we’re still talking about that infamous ‘boat trip’ to this day!  It wasn’t the craziness of the activity that finally characterized Paul, it was the context of grace he tried to create where you came to recognize the One in whom we put our trust and confidence, and who gave us the grace we needed to keep moving forward.

I will deeply miss my friend Paul.  I have missed him being part of my team for the past number of years.  Detlef got that privilege in recent years. And we are all better people for having rubbed shoulders with Paul.

I will not forget the impact that Paul has left on my life.

Don’t miss the opportunity to share with another how they have influenced your life!

We won’t always get it right

perfectionPerfection is elusive.  In fact, it’s unattainable in this life.  However, that does not keep us from expecting that standard of ourselves and of others.  Oftentimes, I either say to myself or I hear other people say: “Why couldn’t (I) they just have done ____?” And you can fill in the blank.

We won’t always get it right. I won’t, you won’t always do what is best for ourselves, for others, for God.

This is where God’s forgiveness greatly impacts our relationships one to another.  I really like Eugene Peterson’s translation of Colossians 3:12-14: “So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you.  And regardless of what else you put on, wear love.  It’s your basic, all-purpose garment.  Never be without it.”

We won’t always get it right. I won’t, you won’t always do what is best for ourselves, for others, for God.

Paul, writing to the Colossian church, challenges us to live in light of the reality that we can never completely and perfectly fulfill the ‘law’ or carry out the ‘work’ with which we have burdened ourselves or others.  That is why the love and forgiveness that Christ offers to us is so life ‘changing’.  It moves us away from self-centredness to Christ centredness; offering to others what Christ has and continues to offer to us each day.

We won’t always get it right. I won’t, you won’t always do what is best for ourselves, for others, for God.  However, we can extend to one another (and to ourselves) Christ’s love and forgiveness which will remind us that when we don’t get it right, it’s not the end of the world.  For Christ once again offers to us His love and forgiveness, picks us up, and sets us on our way again to serve Him as best we can with all our heart, mind soul and strength.

Do you understand me?

Happy Reformation Day (one day late)!

Today is Reformation Day on many of our calendars.  One of the crucial elements that the Reformation ushered in was the opportunity for ordinary people to read and understand the Word of God in their own language.  People who had to ‘hear’ the Word through another who served as their translator, could now take the Word in their own hands and speak it out loud in sounds and words that would cause their own hearts to be warmed.

What the Reformers did was, in part, to give validity to the necessity and value of Bible translation.  Even more than that, though, the work of the Reformers created a paradigm shift in the then known world of Christianity.  Cultural understanding and contextual application would become vital to the spread of the Christian faith.

language learningWe as workers in God’s mission must give the time and energy necessary to understand another’s world (language, culture, worldview and context) in order to ‘put the Bible in their hands’ for them to discover, learn and apply for themselves in their culture and context.

The possible pitfalls or detours along this road of working to understand another (and his/her culture) are numerous.  Here are a few that come quickly to mind:

  • Global comprehension is adequate”: in other words, as long as I understand the gist of the conversation, I’ll be okay. Unfortunately, that hasn’t always worked for me when it comes to handyman projects. I need to know each step, each detail along the way.  Otherwise, I might find myself with water spewing all over the kitchen floor rather than the faucet correctly attached to the pipes.
  • They are happy I’m trying”: and the truth is, that many times people from another culture are happy you are trying. However, they also long for you to go farther in your abilities the longer you live among them.  The main reason being, so that you will be able to better understand their hearts and struggles.
  • It’s all about ministry”: our vision together is to see multiplying disciples and communities of believers among the unreached. It is about ministry.  However, here’s the rub with cross cultural ministry. It’s not only about what God is doing through us, but it is equally as much about what God is doing in us.  It’s often the ongoing cultural learning piece where God does a lot of work on our hearts.  Short circuiting the work of cultural learning may get you into ministry ‘faster’, but it might deprive you of Holy Spirit heart work that might provide greater foundation to one’s ongoing cross cultural ministry.

What’s great about our community is that there are many who have ‘walked this road before us’ and created ways and processes to help learn well how to ‘understand others’.  I’m sure that many of them would be open to sharing their ideas with other teams.

In the midst of all this work of cultural understanding stands Jesus; constantly calling us back to Himself so that we might have the strength, the grace and the courage to press in order to bring the Gospel to others.

Do you see Jesus for who he really is?

throw-yourself-cliff-jumpI listen to a lot of messages and sermons.  Sometimes in the midst of all the teaching that you and I receive (or give), we can miss the essential, the very heart of the Christian faith.  And that is Jesus.

One of my colleagues here had sent me awhile back an email with a link to a message given by one of my former lecturers (or professors in American English).  You know how it goes?  You get so many articles and links to read or listen to that you ‘backburner’ or file them for a later time.

Well, yesterday I pulled out that email again and started listening to this message by Sinclair Ferguson: 38 Years Waiting – God’s Word Fulfilled – There is a Hope.

The message of the Gospel for both non-believers and believers rang out clearly.  It reminded me again of how much I need Jesus every day.  In the story in John, chapter 5, everyone was missing the centre?  They were missing Jesus.  They were not really seeing Jesus for who He really is.

I would encourage you to take a few minutes to listen to this message, and as Sinclair challenges us, to ‘throw ourselves in’, into the arms of Christ once again.

Praying in a gospel centred way

Prayer is essential.  As I shared in the last post: “No man or woman can progress in grace if he forsakes prayer.”  We could enlarge that statement to read: “No team or group of workers can progress in grace in ministry to others if they forsake prayer.”

A perennial question that arises is: how should we pray for one another?  We could pray the ‘one another’ commands as a team.  We could pray the promises that God has given in His Word to sustain and encourage us.  We could pray for the perseverance to stay faithful in ministry together.  All of these prayer points are ones you and I have prayed many times for one another.

Gospel-Centered-Discipleship-Jonathan-Dodson-SomaThen another thought came to mind.  How should we pray for one another in a ‘gospel centred way’?  Prayer is one of our guiding principles, and the Gospel is the ultimate guiding principle from which the others flow.  So, what would it ‘look like’ to pray in a way that drives us back to the Gospel and our dependence upon Him?

Take a practical example.  During our World Team Day of Prayer, we might find this prayer point among others: Pray for our team to remain united together around the common vision of multiplying disciples and communities of believers.  During our concert of prayer together, one of our team members might add: Yes Lord, search our hearts and show us how often we create disunity among us because of our willingness to put our own self above others.  Remind us that the Son of God came not to be served, but to serve and that His sacrifice frees us from self-love to be other-centred.  May our hearts be warmed by that grace again today so that we might grow in unity and have the gospel power to be able to see the vision of our team worked out. 

I can so often fall into the trap of thinking I can ‘do’ all that is expected of me as a worker.  That is why the challenge to pray in a ‘gospel centred way’ would help myself, and I expect many others, to keep my eyes upon the One who is the author and perfecter of our faith.

Feel free to share examples of how you might pray a prayer point in a gospel centred way.