What God is Saying:

"Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." Matthew 28:19-20

Thursday, April 26, 2018

God's Hand in History (Part 6)

A few years back I took an online course called Perspectives in World Missions...http://www.perspectives.org. It is an awesome course and I learned so much through it!

One very memorable article I read was entitled, The Kingdom Strikes Back by Ralph D. Winter. This is the sixth part of the article:

It is a fact that when the earlier (Gothic) tribal peoples became Christianized into an antagonistic Arian form of the faith, they became a greater and greater military threat to Rome. All it took for this threat to become a true menace was for the feared Huns to punch into Europe from Central Asia. This pushed the panicked Visigoths (and then the Ostrogoths and then the Vandals) inside the Empire. In the turmoil and confusion these tribal incursions somewhat unintentionally wrecked the entire network of civil government in the West (in today’s Italy, Spain and North Africa). Later they tried seriously to rebuild it.

(Was all this something like the post-colonial chaos in Africa after the Second World War?)  In fact, the only reason the city of Rome itself was not physically devastated by the invasions, which arrived finally at the gates of Rome in 410 AD, was that these Gothic Barbarians were, all things considered, really very respectful of life and property, especially that of the churches! It was a huge benefit to citizens of Rome that earlier informal missionary effort —for which Latin Roman Christians could claim little credit— had brought these peoples into at least a superficial Christian faith. Even secular Romans observed how lucky they were that the invaders held high certain standards of Christian morality. Not so the Angles and Saxons who invaded Britain.

We are tantalized by the reflection that this much was accomplished by informal and almost unconscious sharing of the gospel— e.g. the news and authority of the blessing being extended to all Gentile nations. How much better might it have been if the Romans —during that brief hundred years of official flourishing of Christianity (310-410) prior to the first Gothic invasion of the city of Rome— had been devoted to energetic and intentional missionary effort. Even a little heretical Christianity prevented the Barbarians from that total disregard of civilization which was to be shown by the Vikings in the third period. Perhaps a little more missionary work might have prevented the complete collapse of the governmental structure of the Roman Empire in the West. Today, for example, the ability of the new African states to maintain a stable government is to a great extent dependent upon their degree of Christianization (that is, both in knowledge and morality).

In any case, we confront the ominous phenomenon of partially Christianized barbarian hordes being emboldened and enabled to pour in upon a complacent, officially Christian empire that had failed effectively to reach out to them. The tribal peoples were quick to acquire Roman military skills, often serving as mercenaries in the Roman legions.

[These events may remind us of our relation to the present-day colossus of China. The country of China, like the Barbarians north of Rome, has been crucially affected by Christianity even though bitterly opposed to its alien connections. And they have gained nuclear power. Can you imagine why they vigorously opposed the Pope’s appointment of a Cardinal within their midst? After the Second World War they adopted “Chinese communism” extensively and profoundly, which was a kind of superficial “faith” embodying a number of distinctively Christian ingredients— despite the often grave distortion of those Christian elements. Just as a modicum of Christian faith in some ways strengthened the hand of the Barbarians against the Romans, so the country of China today is awesomely more dangerous due to the cleansing, integrating and galvanizing effect of the Communist philosophy and cell (structure which is clearly derived from the West, and indirectly from the Christian tradition itself). You can imagine the Barbarians criticizing the softness and degeneracy of the Roman Christians just as the country of China denounced both the Russians for failing to live up to Communist standards and the West for its pornography and crime.]

Whether or not the Romans had it coming (for failing to reach out), and whether or not the Barbarians were both encouraged and tempered in their conquest by their initial Christian awareness, the indisputable fact is that while the Romans lost the western half of their empire, the Barbarian world, in a very dramatic sense, gained a Christian faith.

The immediate result: right within the city of Rome appeared two “denominations,” the one Arian and the other Athanasian. Also in the picture was the Celtic “church,” which was more a series of missionary compounds than it was a denomination made up of local churches. Still less like a church was an organization called the Benedictines, which came along later to compete with the Celts in establishing missionary compounds all over Europe. By the time the Vikings appeared on the horizon there had spread up through Europe over 1,000 such mission compounds.

Mission compounds? Protestants, and perhaps even modern Catholics, must pause at this phenomenon. Our problem in understanding these strange (and much misunderstood) instruments of evangelization is not so much our ignorance of what these people did as our prejudice which developed because of decadent monks who lived almost a thousand years later. It is wholly unfair for us to judge the work of a traveling evangelist like Columban or Boniface by the stagnation of the wealthy Augustinians in Luther’s day— although we must certainly pardon Luther for thinking such thoughts.

It is indisputable that the chief characteristic of these “Jesus People” in this second period, whether they were Celtic peregrini (wandering evangelists) or their parallel in Benedictine communes, was the fact that they held the Bible in awe. They sang their way through the whole book of Psalms each week as a routine discipline. It was primarily they who enabled the Kingdom and the power and the glory to be shared with the barbaric Anglo-Saxons and Goths.

It is true that many strange, even bizarre and pagan customs were mixed up as secondary elements in the various forms of Christianity that were active during the period of the Christianization of Europe. The headlong collision and ongoing competition between Western Roman and Celtic (mainly of Eastern origin) forms of Christianity undoubtedly resulted in an enhancement of common biblical elements in their faith. But we must remember the relative chaos introduced by the invasions, and therefore not necessarily expect to see the usual parish churches that once were familiar in rural America dotting the landscape.

Monday, April 23, 2018

God's Hand in History (Part 5)

A few years back I took an online course called Perspectives in World Missions...http://www.perspectives.org. It is an awesome course and I learned so much through it!

One very memorable article I read was entitled, The Kingdom Strikes Back by Ralph D. Winter. This is the fifth part of the article:

Perhaps the most spectacular triumph of Christianity in history was its conquest of the Roman Empire in roughly 20 decades. There is a lot more we would like to know about this period. Our lack of knowledge makes much of it a mystery, and the growth of Christianity sounds impossible, almost unbelievable— especially if we do not take into account the Jewish substratum. Only the early part of the story starts out emblazoned in the floodlight of the New Testament epistles themselves. Let’s take a glance at that.

There we see a Jew named Paul brought up in a Greek city, committed to leadership in the Jewish tradition of his time. Suddenly he is transformed by Christ and gradually comes to see that the essence of the faith of the Jews as fulfilled in Christ could operate without Jewish garments. He realized that an inner circumcision of the heart could be clothed in Greek language and customs as well as Semitic! It should have become crystal clear to everyone that anyone can become a Christian and be transformed in the inner man by the living Christ, whether Jew, Greek, Barbarian, Scythian, slave, free, male or female. The Greeks didn’t have to become Jews —undergo physical circumcision, take over the Jewish calendar of festivals or holy days nor even observe Jewish dietary customs— any more than a woman had to be made into a man to be acceptable to God. What was necessary was the “obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5, 16:26).

Paul based his work on the radical biblical principle (unaccepted by many Jews to this day) that it is circumcision of the heart that counts (Jer 9), and that the new believers of a new culture did not have to speak the language, wear the clothes, or follow all the customs of the sending church. This meant that for Greeks the cultural details of the Jewish law were no longer to be considered mandatory. Therefore, to the Jews, Paul continued as one “under the law of Moses,” but to those unfamiliar with the Mosaic law, he preached the “law of Christ” in such a way that it could be fulfilled dynamically and authentically in the new circumstances. While to some he appeared to be “without law,” he maintained that he was not without law toward God. Indeed, as far as the basic purpose of the Mosaic Law is concerned, the Greek believers immediately developed the functional equivalent to it in their own cultural terms while most of them held on as well to what is often called the Old Testament. After all, it was “the Bible of the early church” (as well as of the Jews), that had led them to belief in the first place.

We may get the impression that mission activity in this period benefitted very little from deliberately organized effort. That may well be only because its structure was transparent: Paul apparently worked within a well-known “missionary team” structure used by the Pharisees —even by Paul himself when he was a Pharisee! Paul’s sending congregation in Antioch certainly undertook some responsibility. But, basically, they “sent him off” more than they “sent him out.” His traveling team had all of the authority of any local church. He did not look for orders from Antioch.

There is good reason to suppose that the Christian faith spread in many areas by the
“involuntary-go” mechanism, because Christians were often dispersed as the result of persecutions. We know that fleeing Arian Christians had a lot to do with the conversion of the Goths. We have the stories of Ulfilas and Patrick whose missionary efforts were in each case initiated by the accident of their being taken captive.

Furthermore, it is reasonable to suppose that Christianity followed the trade routes of the Roman Empire. We know that there was a close relationship and correspondence between Christians in Gaul and Asia Minor. Yet we must face the fact that the early Christians of the Roman Empire (and Christians today!) were only rarely willing and able to take conscious practical steps to fulfill the Great Commission. In view of the amazing results in those early decades, however, we are all the more impressed by the innate power of the gospel itself.

One intriguing possibility of the natural transfer of the gospel within a given social unit is the case of the Celts. Historical studies clarify for us that the province of Galatia in Asia Minor was called so because it was settled by Galatoi from Western Europe (who as late as the fourth century still spoke both their original Celtic tongue and also the Greek of that part of the Roman Empire). Whether or not Paul’s Galatians were merely Jewish traders living in the province of Galatia, or were from the beginning Celtic Galatoi who were attracted to synagogues as “God fearers,” we note in any case that Paul’s letter to the Galatians is especially wary of anyone pushing over on his readers the mere outward customs of the Jewish culture and confusing such customs with essential biblical faith which he preached to both Jew and Greek (Rom 1:16). A matter of high missionary interest is the fact that Paul’s preaching had tapped into a cultural vein of Celtic humanity that may soon have included friends, relatives and trade contacts reaching a great distance to the west. Thus Paul’s efforts in Galatia may give us one clue to the surprisingly early penetration of the gospel into the main Celtic areas of Europe, comprising a belt running across southern Europe clear over into Galicia in Spain, Brittany in France and up into the western and northern parts of the British Isles.

There came a time when not only hundreds of thousands of Greek and Roman citizens had become Christians, but Celtic-speaking peoples and Gothic tribal peoples as well had believed within their own forms for various versions of biblical faith, both within and beyond the borders of the Roman Empire. It is probable that the missionary work behind this came about mainly through unplanned processes involving Christians from the eastern part of the Roman Empire. In any case this achievement certainly cannot readily be credited to the planned missionary initiative of Latin-speaking Romans in the West. This is the point we are trying to make.

One piece of evidence is the fact that the earliest Irish mission compounds (distinguished from the Latin-Roman type by a central chapel) followed a ground plan derived from Christian centers in Egypt. And Greek, not Latin, was the language of the early churches in Gaul. Even the first organized mission efforts of John Cassian and Martin of Tours, for example, came from the East by means of commune structures begun in Syria and Egypt. Fortunately, these organized efforts carried with them a strong emphasis on literacy and the studying and copying of biblical manuscripts and ancient Greek classics.

As amazed pagan leaders looked on, the cumulative impact of this new, much more acceptable clothing of biblical faith grew to prominent proportions by AD 300. We don’t know with any confidence what personal reasons Constantine had in AD 312 for declaring himself a Christian. We know that his mother in Asia Minor was a Christian, and that his father, as a co-regent in Gaul and Britain, did not enforce in his area the Diocletian edicts commanding persecution of Christians. However, by this time in history the inescapable factor is that there were enough Christians in the Roman Empire to make an official reversal of policy toward Christianity not only feasible but politically wise. I well recall a lecture by the late Professor Lynn White, Jr. of U.C.L.A., one of the great medieval historians, in which he said that even if Constantine had not become a Christian, the empire could not have held out against Christianity more than another decade or two! The long development of the Roman Empire had ended the local autonomy of the city-state and created a widespread need for a sense of belonging— he called it a crisis of identity. At that time Christianity was the one religion that had no nationalism at its root, partly because it was rejected by the Jews! It was not the folk religion of any one tribe. In White’s words, it had developed “an unbeatable combination.” However, this virtue became a mixed blessing once it became aligned with the Empire.

Thus, it is the very power of the movement which helps to explain why the momentous imperial decision to tolerate Christianity almost inevitably led to its becoming (roughly 50 years later) the official religion of the Empire. Not long after the curtain rises on Christianity as an officially tolerated religion, the head of the Christian community in Rome turns out astonishingly to be the strongest and most trusted man around. That’s why Constantine, when he moved the seat of government to Constantinople, left his palace (the famous Lateran Palace) to the people of the Christian community as their “White House” in Rome. In any case, it is simply a matter of record that by AD 375, Christianity had become the official religion of Rome. If it had merely been an ethnic cult, it could not have been even a candidate as an official religion of the Empire.

Ironically, however, once Christianity became locked into a specific cultural tradition and political loyalty, it tended automatically to alienate all who were anti-Roman. Even being tolerated instantly created suspicion and then soon widespread slaughter of “Christians” in Arabia and what is now Iran. This persecution stopped for three years, when a Roman emperor (Julian the Apostate) opposed Christianity and tried to roll things back to the pagan gods! Meanwhile, even in the case of anti-Roman populations within the Empire’s boundaries, as in North Africa, the foundation was laid for people to turn to Islam as an alternative. This in one sense was a cultural breakaway from Christianity just as Christianity had been a breakaway from the Jewish form of the biblical faith. Similarly
“Black Muslims” today deliberately reject the “white man’s religion.”

Thus, the political triumph of what eventually came to be known as Christianity was in fact a mixed blessing. The biblical faith could wear other than Jewish clothes; it was now dressed in Roman clothes; but if these new clothes were normative, it would not be expected to spread far beyond the political boundaries of the Roman Empire. It didn’t, except in the West. Why was that?

No one questions that when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, it became ill-equipped by its very form to complete the Great Commission with any populace that was anti-Roman. As we might expect, only Christianity of a heretical variety was accepted by the Germanic tribes while Rome was still strong militarily. But once the tribal peoples discovered it possible to invade and conquer the western half of the Roman Empire, the Catholic and Orthodox forms of the faith became less threatening because the Goths and others could now try to acquire the prestige of the Roman language and culture without being dominated by the Roman legions.

Note, however, the domino results of partially Christianized Gothic barbarians threatening Rome: the Romans in defense pulled their legions out of Britain. As a result, four centuries of Roman literacy in southern Britain were soon extinguished by a new form of invading barbarians—Angles, Saxons and Frisians who, compared to the Goths, were total pagans, cruel and destructive. What would happen now? Thus began the “First” of the two Dark Ages.

(My thoughts) “The political triumph of what eventually came to be known as Christianity was in fact a mixed blessing...(because) when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire it became ill-equipped by its very form to complete the Great Commission among any populace that was anti-Roman,” (pg. 216). This same unfortunate truth can be seen today but instead we would substitute the word “America” or “Western World” for Roman. When Christianity takes on political power and might, it often times becomes corrupt and power hungry (as seen in the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages and some Western churches today). Our human nature wants to make our religion supreme and in charge. We want power and authority, but of a worldly kind. This is what the Jews were looking for when Jesus arrived. When He did not provide this, many of them rejected Him.

The sad truth is that when Christianity becomes the main religion of the masses, officially recognized by the government, and the persecution stops, often times so does the fervor of outreach. When it becomes easy to be a Christian, it also becomes easy to be content in this world. When we are content in this world, we are not seeking after the Lord and anticipating His arrival as we should. When this happens, the fervor for the Great Commission seems to dwindle. Difficulty draws us closer to the Lord and thus His heart for the nations. Ease in life makes us complacent and content with the status quo.

It may be for this reason that Jesus never sought political power and authority for Himself on earth. He did not want faith in Him to be linked to the Jewish or Roman authorities. God is not linked to any one government or people group. He is King. He is Lord. He does not need the help of any government to spread His love and truth throughout the world.

Friday, April 20, 2018

God's Hand in History (Part 4)

A few years back I took an online course called Perspectives in World Missions...http://www.perspectives.org. It is an awesome course and I learned so much through it!

One very memorable article I read was entitled, The Kingdom Strikes Back by Ralph D. Winter. This is the fourth part of the article:

It is wise to interrupt the story here. If you haven’t heard this story before you may confront a psychological problem. In church circles today we have fled, feared or forgotten these middle centuries. Hopefully, fewer and fewer of us will continue to think in terms of what may be called a fairly extreme form of the “BOBO” theory—that the Christian faith somehow “Blinked Out” after the Apostles and “Blinked On” again in our time, or whenever our modern “prophets” arose, be they Luther, Calvin or Wesley. The result of this kind of BOBO approach is that you have “early” saints and “latter-day” saints, but no saints in the middle.

Thus, many Evangelicals are not much interested in what happened prior to the Protestant Reformation. They have the vague impression that the Church was apostate before Luther and Calvin, and whatever there was of real Christianity consisted of a few persecuted individuals here and there. For example, in the multi-volume Twenty Centuries of Great Preaching, only half of the first volume is devoted to the first 15 centuries! In evangelical Sunday Schools, children are busy as beavers with the story of God’s work from Genesis to Revelation, from Adam to the Apostles—and their Sunday School publishers may even boast about their “all-Bible curriculum.” But this only really means that these children do not get exposed to all the incredible things God did with that Bible between the times of the Apostles and the Reformers, a period which is staggering proof of the unique power of the Bible! To many people, it is as if there were “no saints in the middle.”

In the space available, however, it is only possible to outline the Western part of the story of the kingdom striking back and only outline. It will be very helpful to recognize the various cultural basins in which that invasion has taken place. Kenneth Scott Latourette’s History of Christianity gives the fascinating details, a book extending the story beyond the Bible. (A book more valuable than any other, apart from the Bible!)

Latourette’s “resurgences” correspond to our “renaissances.” In Period I, Rome was won but did not reach out with the gospel to the barbaric Celts and Goths. Almost as a penalty, the Goths invaded Rome and the whole western (Latin) part of the empire caved in.

In Period II, the Goths were added in, and they and others briefly achieved a new “Holy” Roman Empire. But this new sphere did not effectively reach further north with the gospel.

In Period III, again almost as a penalty, the Vikings invaded these Christianized Celtic and Gothic barbarians. In the resulting agony, the Vikings, too, became Christians.

In Period IV, Europe now united for the first time by Christian faith, reached out in a sort of pseudo-mission to the Saracens in the great abortion known as the Crusades.

In Period V, Europe now reached out to the very ends of the earth, but still done with highly mixed motives; intermingled commercial and spiritual interests was both a blight and a blessing. Yet, during this period, the entire non-Western world was suddenly stirred into development as the colonial powers greatly reduced war and disease. Never before had so few affected so many, even though never before had so great a gap existed between two halves of the world. What will happen in the next few years?

Will the immeasurably strengthened non-Western world invade Europe and America just as the Goths invaded Rome and the Vikings overran Europe? Will the “Third World” turn on us in a new series of “Barbarian” invasions? Will the OPEC nations gradually buy us out and take us over? Clearly we face the reaction of an awakened non-Western world that is suddenly beyond our control. What will be the role of the gospel? Can we gain any insight from these previous cycles of outreach?

(My thoughts) Time and again, Christianity gained followers and influence but failed to share the good news with their surrounding neighbors. (This statement is given as a generalization because there were groups who did reach out...most notably the monastic orders and the Celts. But as a whole, the Church did not do a very good job of willingly reaching out with the Gospel, “we must face the fact that...Christians...were only rarely willing and able to take conscious practical steps to fulfill the Great Commission,” pg. 214.)  Rome failed to reach out to the Celts and Goths. The “Holy” Roman Empire failed to reach further north. The Celts and Goths failed to reach out to the Vikings. Europe failed to reach out to the Muslims. Due to these failures, one can observe that God seemed to allow their enemies to invade them. But praise God that in many cases, their enemies ended up receiving the good news and being changed forever.

Monday, April 16, 2018

God's Hand in History (Part 3)

A few years back I took an online course called Perspectives in World Missions...http://www.perspectives.org. It is an awesome course and I learned so much through it!

One very memorable article I read was entitled, The Kingdom Strikes Back by Ralph D. Winter. This is the third part of the article:

The next 2,000-year period is one in which God, on the basis of the intervention of His Son, makes sure that the other nations are both blessed and similarly called “to be a blessing to all the families of the earth.” In each case, “Unto whomsoever much is given, of him (of that people) shall much be required.” Now we see the Kingdom striking back in the realms of the Armenians, the Romans, the Celts, the Franks, the Angles, the Saxons, the Germans, and eventually even those ruthless pagan pirates further north called the Vikings. All these people-basins will be invaded, tamed and subjugated by the power of the gospel, and in turn expected to share that blessing with still other peoples (instead of raiding them).

But in one sense the next five epochs are not all that different from the first five epochs. Those nations that are blessed do not seem terribly eager to share that unique blessing and extend that new kingdom. The Celts are the most active nation in the first millennium to give an outstanding missionary response. As we will see- just as in the Old Testament— the conferral of this unique blessing will bring sober responsibility, dangerous if unfulfilled. And we will see repeated again and again God’s use of the full range of His four missionary mechanisms.

The “visitation” of the Christ was dramatic, full of portent and strikingly “in due time.” Jesus was born a member of a subjugated people. Yet in spite of her bloody imperialism, Rome was truly an instrument in God’s hands to prepare the world for His coming. Rome controlled one of the largest empires the world has ever known, forcing the Roman peace (the “Pax Romana”) upon all sorts of disparate and barbaric peoples. For centuries Roman emperors had been building an extensive communication system, both in the 250,000 miles of marvelous roads which stretched throughout the empire, and in the rapid transmission of messages and documents somewhat like the Pony Express on the American frontier. In its conquests, Rome enveloped at least one civilization far more advanced than her own— Greece. Highly-educated artisans and teachers were taken as slaves to every major city of the empire where they taught the Greek language. Greek was thus understood from England to Palestine.

Equally important to our thesis is the less known but empire-wide substratum of obedience and righteousness—the massive and marvelous presence of diaspora Jews, more respected in their dispersion than in their home land! Scholars agree that their numbers had grown to 10 percent of the Roman population. The virile element within this Jewish presence—those “circumcised in heart”— played a large part in attracting many Gentiles to the fringes of the synagogues. Many of these Gentiles, like those of Cornelius’ household, became earnest Bible readers and worshipers—people the New Testament calls “devout persons” or “God-fearers.” This way the faith jumped the ethnic borders! Such God-fearers became the steel rails on which the Christian movement expanded. This movement was basically the Jewish faith in Gentile clothing, something—take note— which was understandably hard for earnest Jews to conceive.

How else could a few Gospels and a few letters from St. Paul have had such a wide- spread impact within so many different ethnic groups in such a short period of time?

Stop and ponder: Jesus came, lived for 33 years on earth, confronted His own unenthusiastic missionary nation, was rejected by many, was crucified and buried, rose again, and underscored the same longstanding commission to all who would respond, before ascending to the Father. Today even the most agnostic historian stands amazed that what began in a humble stable in Bethlehem of Palestine, a backwater of the Roman Empire, in less than 300 years was given control of the emperors’ palace in Rome. How did it happen? It is a truly incredible story.

Friday, April 13, 2018

God's Hand in History (Part 2)

A few years back I took an online course called Perspectives in World Missions...http://www.perspectives.org. It is an awesome course and I learned so much through it!

One very memorable article I read was entitled, The Kingdom Strikes Back by Ralph D. Winter. This is the second part of the article:

The story of the “strike back” as we see it in Genesis 12 begins in about 2000 BC. During roughly the next 400 years, Abraham was chosen, and moved to the geographic center of the Afro-Asian land mass. The time of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph (often called the Period of the Patriarchs) displays relatively small breakthroughs of witness to the surrounding nations even though the central mandate to restore God’s control over all nations (Gen 12:1-3) is repeated twice again to Abraham (18:18, 22:18), and once to both Isaac (26:4) and Jacob (28:14,15).

Joseph observed to his brothers, “You sold me, but God sent me.” He was obviously a great blessing to the nation of Egypt. Even Pharaoh recognized that Joseph was filled with the Spirit of God (Gen 41:38, TLB). But this was not the intentional missionary obedience God wanted. Joseph’s brothers, for example, had not taken up an offering and sent him to Egypt as a missionary! God was in the missions business whether they were or not.

The next four periods, roughly 400 years each, are: 2) the Captivity, 3) the Judges, 4) the Kings and 5) that of the Babylonian Exile and dispersion (diaspora). During this rough and tumble, the promised blessing and the expected mission (to extend God’s rule to all the nations of the world) all but disappear from sight. As a result, where possible, God accomplished His will through the voluntary obedience of His people, but where necessary, He accomplished His will through involuntary means.

Joseph, Jonah, the nation as a whole when taken captive represent the category of involuntary missionary outreach intended by God to force the extension of the blessing. The little girl carried away captive to the house of Naaman the Syrian was able to share her faith. Naomi, who
“went” a distance away, shared her faith with her children and their non-Jewish wives. On the other hand, Ruth, her daughter-in-law, Naaman the Syrian, and the Queen of Sheba
all “came” voluntarily, attracted by God’s blessing-relationship with Israel.

Note, then, the four different “mission mechanisms” at work to bless other peoples:
1) going voluntarily, 2) involuntarily going without missionary intent, 3) coming voluntarily, and 4) coming involuntarily (as with Gentiles forcibly settled in Israel—2 Kings 17).

Thus, we see in every epoch the active concern of God to forward His mission, with or without the full cooperation of His chosen nation. When Jesus appears, it is an incriminating “visitation.” He comes to His own, and “His own receive Him not“ (John 1:11). He is well received in Nazareth until He refers to God’s desire to bless the Gentiles. At that precise moment (Luke 4:28) an explosion of homicidal fury betrays the fact that this chosen nation—chosen to receive and to mediate the blessing (Ex 19:5, 6; Ps 67; Isa 49:6)—has grossly fallen short. There was indeed a sprinkling of fanatical “Bible students” who “traversed land and sea to make a single proselyte” (Matt 23:15). But such outreach was not so much to be a blessing to the other nations as it was to sustain and protect Israel. They were not always making sure that their converts were “circumcised in heart” (Deut 10:16, 30:6, Jer 9:24-26, Rom 2:29).

In effect, and under these circumstances, Jesus did not come to give the Great Commission but to take it away. The natural branches were broken off while other “unnatural” branches were grafted in (Rom 11:13-24). But, despite the general reluctance of the chosen missionary nation—typical of other nations later—many people groups were in fact touched due to the faithfulness and righ- teousness of some. These groups come to mind: Canaanites, Egyptians, Philistines (of the ancient Minoan culture), Hittites, Moabites, Phoenicians (of Tyre and Sidon), Assyrians, Sabeans (of the land of Sheba), Babylonians, Persians, Parthians, Medes, Elamites and Romans.

Monday, April 9, 2018

God's Hand in History (Part 1)

A few years back I took an online course called Perspectives in World Missions...http://www.perspectives.org. It is an awesome course and I learned so much through it!

One very memorable article I read was entitled, The Kingdom Strikes Back by Ralph D. Winter. Although this may be a bit long, I wanted to share this article, in its entirety. This article shows, like no other that I have read, that there is a magnificent purpose in all of history! It's not so much about remembering dates and names (like we were taught in school) but it's about tracing God's hand as He fulfills His purpose throughout history. History is His Story and it's the way we should re-look at history and teach our children.

I will break up this article into separate blogs with some commentary at the bottom. I hope you find this as fascinating and encouraging as I have!

Man has virtually erased his own story. Human beings as far back as we have any paleological record have been fighting each other so much that they have destroyed well over 90 percent of their own handiwork. Their libraries, their literature, their cities, their works of art are mostly gone. Even the little that remains from the distant past is riddled with evidences of a strange and pervasive evil that has grotesquely distorted man’s potential.

This is strange because apparently no other species treats its own with such deadly hatred. The oldest skulls bear mute witness that they were bashed in and roasted to deliver their contents as food for other human beings. An incredible array of disease germs also cuts down population growth.

World population in Abraham’s day is estimated at 27 million—less than the population of California in AD 2000. But, the small slow-growing population of Abraham’s day is mute, and ominous evidence exists of the devastating combination of war and pestilence, both the relentless impact of the Evil One. World population growth back then was one- sixteenth of today’s global rate. As hatred and disease are conquered, world population instantly picks up speed. If today’s relatively slow global growth rate would have happened in Abraham’s day, our present world population (of 6 billion) would have been reached back then in just 321 years! Thus, in those days, evil must have been much more rampant than now.

We are not surprised, then, to find that the explanation for this strange evil comes up in the oldest detailed written records—surviving documents that are respected by Jewish, Christian and Muslim traditions whose adherents make up more than half of the world’s population. These documents called “the Torah,” by Jews, the “Books of the Law” by Christians, and “the Taurat” by Muslims not only explain the strange source of evil but also describe a counter-campaign and then follow the progress of that campaign through many centuries.

To be specific, the first eleven chapters of Genesis constitute a scary “introduction” to the entire problem, indeed, to the plot of the entire Bible. Those few pages describe three things: 1) a glorious and “good” original creation; 2) the entrance of a rebellious and destructive evil—superhuman, demonic person—resulting in 3) a humanity caught up in that rebellion and brought under the power of that evil person.

Don’t ever think that the whole remainder of the Bible is simply a bundle of divergent, unrelated stories as taught in Sunday School. Rather, the Bible consists of a single drama: the entrance of the Kingdom, the power and the glory of the living God in this enemy-occupied territory. From Genesis 12 to the end of the Bible, and indeed until the end of time, there unfolds the single, coherent drama of “the Kingdom strikes back.” This would make a good title for the Bible itself were it to be printed in modern dress (with Gen 1-11 as the introduction to the whole Bible). In this unfolding drama we see the gradual but irresistible power of God reconquering and redeeming His fallen creation through the giving of His own Son at the very center of the 4000-year period beginning in 2000 BC. This is tersely summed up: “The Son of God appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn 3:6).

This counterattack against the Evil One clearly does not await the appearance of the good Person in the center of the story. Indeed, there would seem to be five identifiable epochs of advance prior to the appearance of Christ as well as five after that event. The purpose of this chapter is mainly to describe the five epochs after Christ. However, in order for those later epochs to be seen as part of a single ten-epoch 4,000-year unfolding story, we will note a few clues about the first five epochs.

The theme that links all ten epochs is the grace of God intervening in a “world which lies in the power of the Evil One” (1 Jn 5:19), contesting an enemy who temporarily is “the god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4) so that the nations will praise God’s name. His plan for doing this is to reach all peoples by conferring an unusual “blessing” on Abraham and Abraham’s seed (Abraham’s children-by- faith), even as we pray “Thy Kingdom come.” By contrast, the Evil One’s plan is to bring reproach on the Name of God. The Evil One stirs up hate, distorts even DNA sequences, perhaps authors suffering and all destruction of God’s good creation. Satan’s devices may very well include devising virulent germs in order to tear down confidence in God’s loving character.

Therefore this “blessing” is a key concept. The English word blessing is not an ideal translation. We see the word in use where Isaac confers his “blessing” on Jacob and not on Esau. It was not “blessings” but “a blessing,” the conferral of a family name, responsibility, obligation, as well as privilege. It is not something you can receive or get like a box of chocolates you can run off with and eat by yourself in a cave, or a new personal power you can show off like rippling muscles. It is something you become in a permanent relationship and fellowship with your Father in Heaven. It returns “families,” that is, nations to His household, to the Kingdom of God, so that the nations “will declare His glory.”

The nations are being prevented from declaring God’s glory by the scarcity of evidence of God’s ability to cope with evil. If the Son of God appeared to destroy the works of the Devil, then what are the Son of God’s followers and “joint heirs” supposed to do to bring honor to His Name?

This “blessing” of God is in effect conditioned upon its being shared with other nations, since those who yield to and receive God’s blessing are, like Abraham, those of faith who subject themselves to God’s will, become part of His Kingdom, and represent the extension of His rule, His power, His authority within all other peoples.

(My thoughts) Winter describes a 4,000 year period of history, from the time of Abraham to present day. as being broken down into roughly ten, 400-year periods. In each of these periods, the theme which links them all together is “the grace of God intervening in a ‘world which lies in the power of the Evil One’ (1 Jn 5:19), contesting an enemy who temporarily is “the god of this world” (2 Cor 4:4) so that the nations will praise God’s name,” (pg. 210). He does this by giving a blessing to Abraham, whose purpose was not to single out the nation of Israel as better than the other nations, but to reveal Himself through Israel to the rest of the nations. “It returns...nations to His household, to the Kingdom of God, so that the nations ‘will declare His glory,’” (pg. 210).

God has been at work in every period of history. There has never been a time that He was silent, as Satan would have us believe. His grace has been intervening and shaping a Church for Himself since the time of Adam and Eve. It is exciting to watch His Kingdom strike back!

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Katie in Uganda

I would like to introduce you to a modern-day Mother Theresa. Her name is Katie Davis Majors and she lives in Uganda (she is originally from Brentwood, TN). She went to Uganda on a mission trip when she was 18. God touched her heart, broke it for His people, and she gave up her dreams of college, marriage and living near family to move to Uganda permanently (that was 10 years ago).
She has since adopted 14 little girls, gotten married and helps hundreds more every week through a Compassion-like sponsorship program.

When I first found out about her, I took a few days and read through all her blogs. Her life and witness have touched me so much!!!!

I wanted to share her latest blog entry to give you an idea of how God can and will use one willing heart! I pray that her story encourages you and blesses you and I pray that we, as her sisters and brothers in Christ in America, can pray for her!  Her main website is https://amazima.org                 
and the website for her blog ishttps://katiemajors.blog/2017/07/30/a-decade/

A Decade
It has been ten years since my feet first stepped onto this red dirt to call this place home. A decade. Something about that word makes it sound like a very long time. Sometimes, it feels like a very long time, but sometimes it feels like only a blink.

Ten years ago I moved across the ocean with something that I thought was hope but in reality was more like a naïve optimism, a young but confident faith in who I thought Jesus to be then, and a wild spirit for adventure. I would like to say that if I could go back and do it all over again, I would do some things differently, I would make less mistakes, I would live more graciously, but in saying that I might discredit the grace of God who worked so tremendously in my naivety that only He could get any credit. And so today I sit and remember and giggle at a bold and inexperienced 18-year-old who thought she might change the world.

I didn’t know it then, the truth that sinks deep into my bones now: It’s not our productiveness “for” God that counts, it is our worship, our time at His feet. It isn’t our public life, the accolades and the “well-done”s and the applause of the world that matters, it is our silent, continuous reach for Him in the places where no one is watching. It isn’t our “world changing” that makes any difference, it is the way we let Him change and shape our hearts to more reflect His.

One of my favorite characters in the Bible is Mary of Bethany. By the world’s standards, she didn’t do much of anything extraordinary. She sat at Jesus’s feet while her sister ran around serving; she poured her life savings in perfume over Him while others looked on and called it a waste. But I think Mary knew this secret, the one the world doesn’t teach us, the one I didn’t know at eighteen, when my productive and radical life was going to make a difference – the only thing that matters is Him. Not what we do for Him, but that we know Him.

Ten years in Uganda, pretty much my entire adult life. I drive much better on the left side of the road than I do the right and I can’t parallel park in anything other than a 14-passenger van. I take my shoes off before entering a home regardless of whether the host cares, and I find the floor a more comfortable seat than furniture. This place has brought me my husband and my babies, my dearest friends, my best days and my worst days. This place has held my greatest trials and my biggest celebrations. This place has become home. But something so much more extraordinary has happened – I have found my home in Him. This decade has brought me, like Mary, to sit at His feet.

In ten years of living and loving, of huge loss and great blessing, deep sorrow and immense joy, I have known Jesus more intimately than I originally thought possible. He met me here. He met me in the unexpected places of my story and He met me when the trials were too great and the night was too long. He invited me to sit at His feet, to know the better thing, relationship with Him. When my story was not what I expected He picked up each piece and held it tenderly and wrote His name on the pieces and on my heart. Jesus took my naïve optimism and forged a deep hope that grew in long hours and months and years of clinging only to Him. Jesus took my wild-eyed desire for adventure and showed me that the greatest adventure would be in allowing Him to peel back the layers of my heart, in searching the lines on His face, in truly knowing Him and being known by Him. He showed me that He wasn’t Jesus who desired my productivity, He was Jesus who desired me. All of me, poured out before Him.

I don’t know what season of life you are in today, if you are like me, watching your babies grow in front of your eyes, marveling at all God has done that is so beyond what you could have dreamed up or imagined, or if you are like me ten years ago with absolutely no idea what God is going to do, baffled as He strips away all the “good” plans you have a replaces them with His. But I know this – He wants you. He wants your worship. He sees you reaching for Him when no one else is looking, when no one sees or recognizes your tireless serving, when there are no applause. You are beautiful to Him, here. His eyes are on you and He is pleased with who He made in you.

Let’s find ourselves at His feet today. We may pour out tears or we may pour out praise or maybe a bit of both, and Jesus who cups our faces in His hands wants every bit. His arms stretched out to you are safe, His gaze toward you is loving and His deep desire is that you would know Him and be known by Him.