Tuesday, March 16, 2010

From Mexico To Africa With Love

Eight years ago, Mark & I stood on a vacant lot with Julian & Beatriz Roblez in Mexico, and joined hands with them to pray for God to bless their "ministry dream" and fill that empty lot with a church, Bible Institute, and an orphanage to minister to the people of Anapra, just outside of Juarez, Mexico.

This past weekend, our family had the privilege of visiting our dear friends in Mexico and saw how God has blessed and multiplied the service of these faithful servants. Today there is not only one church, but 8 churches, 3 Bible Institutes, and one orphanage spread throughout Juarez and other parts of Mexico as a result of that original dream. They also have sent out and support 5 missionaries that are reproducing similar works throughout Mexico! In essence, they have begun a "church-planting movement" that is extending from Anapra throughout Mexico.

Our friends invited us to come down and share with their churches about our "ministry dream" of seeing a "church-planting movement" begin among the Fulbe people in Cameroon, West Africa. It was so special to us to meet with them, this time surrounded by their church, Bible Institute classrooms, dorms, their home and the orphanage...seeing the reality of God's blessing upon their ministry. Their prayers for us as we embark upon our calling, touched our hearts greatly. If that wasn't enough, we were surprised when they presented us with a "love gift" and expressed their intent to partner with us in getting us to Africa. Their outpouring of love overwhelmed our hearts greatly, and reminded us of the Macedonian churches, who "Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity...They gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability...entirely on their own, urgently pleading with us for the privilege of sharing in this service..." II Corinthians 8:1-4

What an encouragement they were to us and a reminder to us that God WILL provide for us in some very special and unexpected ways!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Goers, Senders, & Those Who Pray

A quick perusal of much of what is written about missions, including my own stuff, would give the casual and even more particular reader alike the idea that the main characters in fulfilling God's great commission to make disciples of all the nations are the "goers". That is, those people who actually leave home to go to a new and different people group with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Certainly, it goes without saying that without the people who go--missions would not happen. That is why God specifically calls people to go and take the Gospel to faraway places and peoples.

However, without people who assume the roles of senders and encouragers, there would be very few, if any, goers. And if the truth be known, the unsung hero's of God's great plan to bring people from every people group to Himself as joyful worshipers of His glory are the people whose faces are never seen on missionary prayer cards or DVDs but without whose faithful, consistent, and sacrificially generous support there would be no prayer cards, DVDs, or missionaries sharing the Gospel with those who have never heard it.

So, a big thank you to those of you who so graciously and generously support, encourage and pray for missions and missionaries. Without you, there would be neither. Your work in supporting those who go and those who want to go is the work of the Great Commission. In fact, your work is on two fronts, in the sense that while you are sending and supporting those who go to faraway places to share the Gospel--you stay home to do the same in places just as needy and oftentimes harder to reach.

Thanks for your work and for making much of Jesus at home and abroad.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Retirement & Missions

Retirement, while a relatively new phenomenon in terms of world economic history, was known and even desired as far back as the early 19th century in Great Britain. Back then it was called "A Sabbath Evening". This term betrays the fact that at this time in England's history, biblical terms were still used and applied to the cycle of human life. In the case of retirement, it was felt that after a man had lived 60 years, having worked the vast majority of them, he was due a Sabbath rest just as God after taking six days to create the universe also rested on the seventh day.

However, as is true today, many of those who took this "Sabbath Rest" or retirement at age 60 found life so empty and utterly boring that they either got sick and died or wished they were dead. One such man was Charles Simeon, the pastor of Trinity Church in Cambridge. He, like many others of his generation had planned a very busy and challenging work life up until he turned 60. After that, he promised himself a Sabbath evening [retirement] in which he would relax and simply enjoy a life of leisure. Well, God had other plans for Simeon. In 1807, after twenty-five years of hard work and at the age of forty-seven, still thirteen years from his planned retirement, he became ill and had to leave his post. During these thirteen years of exile from his work and ministry Simeon repented of his desire to turn in his divine commission in order to sleep in and and enjoy a life free of challenges that benefited others.

Then, the miraculous happened. At age 60, when he had planned to retire his health was restored and Simeon went on to enjoy sixteen more years at his post at Trinity Church in Cambridge. According to Simeon, these were the most productive, enjoyable, and satisfying years of his entire work life.

Many of you reading this may be wondering why I would be taking a shot at this whole concept of retirement. Let me clarify for you that what I am taking a shot at is the mind-set that the vast majority of Christians have, which is that we must reward ourselves in this life with twenty or so years of leisure and relaxation in the last lap of our lives. Now, if this life was all there is and if God had not given us a race to run, a task to complete, and a commission to accomplish--I'd agree that rewarding ourselves for all our days on the job isn't a bad idea. But, knowing that God has given us a race to run (Hebrews 12:1; 2 Timothy 4:7) in which we have been given the responsibility of having some part in seeing disciples made from among all the nations (people groups), it seems to me that just walking off the track and out of the race after lap three with one more to go is a waste of our lives as well as a pretty poor statement regarding how much we value Jesus.

As John Piper writes in his excellent book, Let The Nations Be Glad: "What a strange reward for a Christian to set his sights on! Twenty years of leisure while living in the midst of the last days of infinite consequence for millions of unreached people. What a tragic way to finish the last lap before entering the presence of the King who finished so differently."

I wonder, if the reason why most Christians have this mindset is because they really don't believe that their reward is on the other side of the grave. In fact, if the truth be known, for unbelievers, retirement is simply their substitute for heaven. Isn't it a shame that so many believers have bought into this and because they have done so are wasting the last and in many cases, the very best chapter of their lives?

You see, I am not suggesting that at age 65, we all keep on working at our careers. What I am suggesting is that at age 65, we change gears and invest our resources, newly obtained and enjoyed time, and our seasoned experience and wisdom in God's great cause to make His Great Name known among all the peoples of the earth. Perhaps, the greatest missionary force upon the earth, which has the potential of doing more to finish the work of world evangelism than any other is made up of Christians who only have to pay .59 for a cup of coffee at McDonalds when they ask for the "senior discount".

My own thoughts about my last lap, which is approaching faster than I ever imagined is that as in any race I have ever run, the last couple miles are for closing the gap between where I am and the place I want to be when I cross the finish line. Life should NOT be a play-it-safe journey to the grave with the intention of leaving behind a hefty bank account, lots of toys and no broken bones but rather a skid in sideways--an empty wallet in one hand--God's Word in the other--body thoroughly used up, totally worn out making much of Jesus and screaming, "Wow, What a Ride."

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The "In-Grown Church" & Missions

According to the Center For The Study of Global Christianity based out of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary there are approximately 30,700 full-time Christian workers serving in ministry capacities within the unevangelized world made up of 38 countries where less than half the population has heard of Jesus. The total number of people in these countries who have not been engaged with the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a tangible way number almost 2 billion people (1,629,375,000 people). But, of the 30,700 full-time Christian workers serving in these countries only 10,200 are church planting missionaries involved in trying to engage and reach the 6,600 unreached people groups that make us this almost 2 billion people with the Gospel so as to make disciples and start indigenous reproducing fellowships of believers who can evangelize their own people groups.

In other words, the other 20,500 Christian workers are involved in medical work, education, orphanages, community development, business development, and crisis intervention and rebuilding projects. Whereas, all of these works are valuable, necessary, and often provide viable means for church planting frontier missionaries to share the Gospel the disparity between the number of support workers and those workers directly involved in making disciples and planting churches is incredible.

But, as wide a gap as these statistics present consider this. The number of full-time Christian workers serving throughout the world is 419 million. Of these 419 million full-time Christian workers throughout the world only 10,200 are presently involved in working among the 6,600 unreached people groups of the world as disciple makers and church planters. This means that 0.02% of the total number of full-time Christian workers in the world are working among the unreached people groups of the world as frontier disciple making and church planting missionaries.

More incredulous than this is the fact that of these 419 million full-time Christian workers in the world--418,693,000 are serving in what is known as the Reached Christian World. In other words, 99.98% of all the full-time Christian workers in the world are serving in nations and people groups that have already heard and are hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ and who already have churches and other organizations in place which are capable of evangelizing the lost.

And thus, as incredibly unbelievable as it sounds, less than 1% of all the full-time Christian workers in the world are engaged in taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the unengaged and unreached peoples of the world.

In case you are wondering how well the Church in the United States is doing--there are about 1 million full-time Christian workers serving throughout the world and in the United States that hail from the Untied States. Out of this number only 9000 are involved in direct disciple making and church planting work among unengaged and unreached people groups. Thus, again slightly less than 1% of all the full-time Christian workers in the world that are from the United States are directly involved in the work of fulfilling our Lord's Great Commission to "make disciples of all the nations".

Perhaps, the more direct application of Matthew 9:37-38 to the church of the 21st century is not so much that the need is for more workers as much as for more workers to leave the comforts of the farmhouse and get out into the fields. Missionary leaders have estimated that if they had a minimum of 90,000 more workers to go as pioneer disciple making church planters to the unengaged and unreached people groups of the world that they would have the means of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, making disciples and planting enough churches that then would be able to reach their own people for Jesus Christ.

Perhaps, instead of praying for more workers, the Church needs to rethink Missions and what "Great Commission Missions" is all about and begin to encourage and send its workers out of the farmhouse and barnyard and into the fields that are already white unto harvest.

By the way, over 163 billion dollars per year is spent on Christian ministries to Christians throughout the world. 13 billion is spent on missions. Thus, only about 8% of all the money collected by churches and other Christian ministries per year is used to fulfill Christ's Great Commission.

Does anyone else see a problem here?