Our Mission Trip to Iceland: A Sunday Morning, Coffee House Update

IMG_0514On Facebook, I’ve had a chance to share a few updates from our mission trip. Today, as we get ready to go to church (at 2pm UTC), we are stopping in a local coffee shop—the Flagship Coffee House of the North Atlantic—and stopping to give a brief update on our trip. So, here are six highlights from the trip.

Six Highlights from Iceland

The Landscape

The first thing to mention about Iceland is the stunning beauty of the Iceland. The word Reykjavik, which hosts about 80% of the population (280,000 of 340,000), means “smoky bay.” The reason: Iceland is situated on a volcanic rock jutting out of the Northern Atlantic. Accordingly, it has beautiful black beaches, rocky mountains, long bays (called fjord), and rainbow-filled skies. In short, the landscape looks like something from a C. S. Lewis or J. R. R. Tolkien novel—and that’s fitting because both were affiliated with Iceland.

The Weather

Next, the weather. When I first thought of Iceland, I (wrongly) thought of ice, snow, blizzard, and sunless winters. And to be sure, Iceland is cooler than Virginia and darker in the Christmas season. But at the same time, it has been far more pleasant than I imagined. Our weather has been wet, but the houses are more than adequately warmed. With lava-heated water pumped into every home, windows stay open most of the time. And the landscapes and people more than make up for the Seattle-like wetness. Continue reading

Enlarging Our Missions Footprint

feet

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news,who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation,who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
– Isaiah 52:7 –

 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel.
For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”
17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
– Romans 10:14–17–

Imagine a child who is growing into adulthood. Each year she grows taller, stronger, wiser. Only with this child, her feet never grow any larger. While her arms and legs gain length and strength, the foundation of her body, the feet, disables her from running, jumping, playing as she’d like. Because she doesn’t have adequate support for her growing body, her feet become misshapen and debilitating for a healthy life.

Speaking metaphorically, Isaiah 52:7 extols the beautiful feet of those who bring good news. In context, Isaiah 52 is a prophecy that recalls the enslavement of Israel (“You were sold for nothing,” v. 3) and the greater salvation that God is going to bring. Isaiah tells the people of Israel to rejoice in the happy news of their salvation (v. 8), for the Lord has revealed “his holy arm” and promises to lead Israel on a new exodus (vv. 10–12). In context, Isaiah 52 sets up the announcement of the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53), who will deliver all God’s sheep—the elect from Israel and the nations—from the very sins that led them into exile. It’s in this context that the good news is brought.

In the New Testament, Paul picks up the same imagery. When speaking of the gospel going from the Jews to all the nations (Romans 10), he quotes Isaiah 52:7, explaining that the beautiful feet “preach the good news,” i.e., the gospel of Jesus Christ. In context, Paul inquires how the nations will hear the good news of salvation, unless men and women proclaim the gospel. “And how are they to preach unless they are sent?”

Romans 10 is one of the most forceful passages in the Bible for the call of Christians and especially churches to engage in missions. From Acts 13 on, the pattern of missionary activity is for churches to recognize gifted servants whom they can send out to deliver the good news to those who have not heard it. In Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas are called by the Spirit and commissioned by the church to take the gospel throughout the Mediterranean. Ever since, “New Testament churches” have followed their pattern—raising up, sending out, and supporting missionaries.

In other words, “beautiful feet” do not come by accident. They are cultivated in and sent out by local churches. Continue reading

For His Name’s Sake: Why the Church Must Do More Than Local Evangelism

worldThere is a popular argument that persists among American evangelicals that prioritizes domestic evangelism over against international missions. Often it is put in the form of a handful of questions:

  • “Why should we spend our time reaching the lost overseas when there are so many lost in our community?”
  • Or, “Why spend our money on foreign missions when there are millions nearby who need to hear the gospel?”
  • Or, “Wouldn’t it be more effective to focus on the lost here?”

On the surface such an argument may sound plausible, even effectively evangelistic. It certainly appeals to the pragmatic. But examined by the Scriptures, it will not hold. For Scripture does not simply speak of evangelism in commercial terms—finding the fastest way to sell the gospel to the most number of people. Regularly, it speaks of the advance of the kingdom crossing boundaries, reaching nations, and extending the glory of God to the ends of the earth. In fact, the glory of God depends not only on the vastness of redemption, but its variety. Therefore, for those who care about God’s glory should also care deeply about reaching the nations.

Continue reading

The Centrifugal Mission of the Church

outreachHow should the church live, move, and have its mission?

In him we live and move and have our being
— Acts 17:28 —

 Just before this verse, Paul makes an important point about God’s relationship with the nations. He writes, “He made . . . every nation . . . to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.”

The theological truth Paul posits is that God upholds the universe and directs the ways of history, and he establishes the boundaries of nations. Even with the back-and-forth of disputed territories, God is the determiner of the “allotted periods and boundaries.” Set in the context of redemptive history, this means that God dealt only with Israel for two millennia. Paul calls this “the times of ignorance” (v. 30). It was a time when the nations were without God’s law (Ps 147:19–20) and had to feel their way towards him, if they could.

Such was the wreckage after the fall. Adam’s sin led the human race into disobedience (Rom 5:18–19) and death (Eph 2:1–3). With no natural power to seek God (Rom 3:10–23), the nations were utterly lost, without hope and without God in the world (Eph 2:11–13). Yet, in his love, God initiated a course of action that would bring salvation to the world.

In Genesis 12, God chose Abraham to be the source of blessing for the world. Through God’s promise to him, God would bring an offspring to bless the world (Gal 3:16). Yet, in sending his Son there was and has continued to be confusion about how the nations would come to receive the blessing of God.

Here’s what I mean: In Israel, the confusion was a theological problem—how can an uncircumcised Gentile be saved? Today, it is a methodological problem—should we focus our mission on bringing people to church? Or should we go to them? Continue reading

Five Lessons from an Unlikely Missionary

The first missionary I heard of was not Lottie Moon or Jim Elliot. It was Dr. Dolittle, the man with the curious ability to speak to animals. When I was a boy my parents read to me about his astonishing adventures and the way he traveled over oceans to care for a host of animals.

I admit, most of my memories of that book have faded, but one memory remains: the pushmi-pullyu (pronounced ‘push-me—pull-you’). In Hugh Lofting’s book the bizarre animal was a ‘gazelle-unicorn cross’ with two heads at opposite ends of its body. In the book, Dr. Dolittle first meets a pushmi-pullyu while in Africa, and is eventually awarded one after vaccinating a kingdom of monkeys. Sounds interesting, doesn’t it?!

The gift of this animal sets Dolittle on a tour around England, the proceeds from which enabled him to retire to his home in Puddleby-on-the-Marsh. In all honesty, Lofting’s book is slightly absurd but it succeeded in charming readers young and old with this animal-loving ‘missionary.’ Continue reading

Fifteen Years of Manual Labor: How Much Is Your Bible Worth?

In Genesis, Moses records the way that Jacob spent fourteen years winning (read: paying for) the love of his life, Rachel.  In those days, it cost men a pretty penny to win the hand of their brides.  Yet, because of his love for Rachel, Genesis 29:20 says that the first seven years “seemed to him but a few days.” Likewise, Jacob agreed to the next seven years of manual labor, even after they were deceptively thrown upon him.

How long would you be willing to serve for the love of your life?  Or to turn the question from marriage to God’s mercy, how long would you work in order to have in your hands a copy of God’s word?

The Inestimable Value of God’s Word

This is a question that the English-speaking world cannot even begin to understand.  We pawn off Bibles at Goodwill’s and have no fear or remorse when a Bible is lost or left in the rain.  I know that the Bible in its inscripturated form is not sacrosanct, but I do think the commonality of the Bible blinds us to the ravishing truth of Psalm 19:10-11.

More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.

God’s word is priceless.  It is more valuable than the crown jewels; it is an infinite investment whose value never plummets and always promises to deliver. Yet, existentially, we still struggle to feel this value because the pages of God’s word are everywhere. Where can we go for help?

How Missionary History Reappraises Our Value of the Bible

One place we can find help for properly valuing the Bible is church history and the stories of missionaries bringing the Bible into foreign lands who do not have the priceless word of God.  This week I came across such a story in John Paton’s autobiography, John G. Paton: Missionary to the New Hebrides.

I hope you will take the time to read the following anecdote and marvel at the how the people of Aneityum (in the South Pacific) labored fifteen years to raise the necessary funds for the Bible.  Surely, these earnest men and women were spurred on by the same joy and anticipation that gripped Jacob.  In that time, many who endeavored to see the Bible printed in their languaged perished in the pursuit, but oh the joy for those who labored for a decade and a half to get the Bible in their own hands.

These poor Aneityumese, having glimpses of this Word of God, determined to have a Holy Bible in their own mother tongue, wherein before no book or page ever had been written in the history of their race. The consecrated brain and hand of the Missionaries kept toiling day and night in translating the book of God; and the willing hands and feet of the Natives kept toiling through fifteen long but unwearying years, planting and preparing arrowroot to pay the £1,200 required to be laid out in the printing and publishing of the book.

Year after year the arrowroot, too sacred to be used for their daily food, was set apart as the Lord’s portion; the Missionaries sent it to Australia and Scotland, where it was sold by private friends, and the whole proceeds consecrated to this purpose. On the completion of the great undertaking by the Bible Society, it was found that the Natives had earned so much as to pay every penny of the outlay; and their first Bibles went out to them, purchased with the consecrated toils of fifteen years!

Some of our friends may think that the sum was large; but I know, from experience, that if such a difficult job had been carried through the press and so bound by any other printing establishment, the expense would have been greater far. One book of Scripture, printed by me in Melbourne for the Aniwans at a later day, under the auspices of the Bible Society too, cost eight shillings per leaf, and that was the cheapest style; and this the Aniwans also paid for by dedicating their arrowroot to God.

Fifteen years.  Utterly astounding.  It should inspire us to reconsider the value of our Bibles.  Here is Paton’s pastoral charge:

Let those who lightly esteem their Bibles think on those things. Eight shillings for every leaf, or the labour and proceeds of fifteen years for the Bible entire, did not appear to these poor converted Savages too much to pay for that Word of God, which had sent to them the Missionaries, which had revealed to them the grace of God in Christ, and which had opened their eyes to the wonders and glories of redeeming love! (77-78)

Father, may we who are surrounded by your word never forget how priceless each page is.  May we invest our lives in the Scriptures and labor to make them know to the ends of the earth, so that those who do not have them would not have to wait decades before receiving them.  God gives us heart that love your word more than life itself (Ps 63:3).

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Saint Patrick: Separating Missionary Fact from Fictitious Malarkey

What comes to mind when you think of St. Patrick’s Day? 

Leprechauns.  Ireland.  Wearing green.  Or drinking green beer.  If that is it, you may want to re-read the record books.  

A few years back, Russell Moore gave a brief history lesson on the real Patrick that should make every missionally-minded Christian sit up and take notice.  Drawing on the Philip Freeman’s 2007 book, St. Patrick of Ireland: A Biography, Moore summarizes Freeman’s work:

Freeman helpfully retells Patrick’s conversion story, one of a mocking young hedonist to a repentant evangelist. The story sounds remarkably similar to that of Augustine—and, in the most significant of ways, both mirror the first-century conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Freeman helpfully reconstructs the context of local religion as a “business relationship” in which sacrifice to pagan gods was seen as a transaction for the material prosperity of the worshippers. Against this, Patrick’s conversion to Christianity was noticed quickly, when his prayers of devotion—then almost always articulated out loud—were overheard by his neighbors.

The rest of the narrative demonstrates the ways in which Patrick carried the Christian mission into the frontiers of the British Isles—confronting a hostile culture and institutionalized heresy along the way. With this the case, the life of Patrick is a testimony to Great Commission fervor, not to the Irish nationalism most often associated with the saint. As a matter of fact, Freeman points out that Patrick’s love for the Irish was an act of obedience to Jesus’ command to love enemies and to pray for persecutors.

Likewise, Kevin DeYoung, also from the archives (ca. 2011), provides a brief missionary biography of Patrick.  He says,

Here’s what most scholars agree on: Patrick–whose adult life falls in the fifth century–was actually British, not Irish. He was born into a Christian family with priests and deacons for relatives, but by his own admission, he was not a good Christian growing up. As a teenager he was carried by Irish raiders into slavery in Ireland. His faith deepened during this six year ordeal. Upon escaping Ireland he went back home to Britain. While with his family he received a dream in which God called him to go back to Ireland to convert the Irish pagans to Christianity.

In his Confessio Patrick writes movingly about his burden to evangelize the Irish. He explicitly links his vocation to the commands of Scripture. Biblical allusions like “the nations will come to you from the ends of the earth” and “I have put you as a light among the nations” and “I shall make you fishers of men” flow from his pen. Seeing his life’s work through the lens of Matthew 28 and Acts 1, Patrick prayed that God would “never allow me to be separated from His people whom He has won in the end of the earth.”  For Patrick, the ends of the earth was Ireland.

According to one historian (again I am citing DeYoung’s research) “[Patrick] was the first person in Christian history to take the scriptural injunctions literally” (Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion: From Paganism to Christianity86)  meaning that he was the first person to take the Great Commission as a command.  Rightly, Patrick read Matthew 28:19 as a calling for him, and so he left home to take the gospel to pagans of Ireland. 

This literal and personal reading of disciple-making needs to be reissued today, because some still think Jesus’ words are for someone else. Tragically, they relegate Jesus’ missionary imperative to a bygone era or for some special class of people.  Yet, as Patrick’s life and labors show, when men take seriously the call to be a disciple-making disciple, God will bring great blessings.  Fifteen centuries later we have much to learn from Patrick.

I encourage you to read the rest of Moore’s blogpost (What evangelicals can learn from Saint Patrick) and DeYoung’s foray into history (Who was Saint Patrick?).  Together these two brief posts will help you determine fact from fiction.  They will give you many reasons to thank God for the missions-minded Brit who brought the light of the gospel to the whole nation of Ireland.

May Patrick’s brave example spur us on to share the gospel with our own pagan nation and hostile neighbors. 

Sola Deo Gloria, dss

For Your Edification (7.14.12)

For Your Edification is a weekly set of resources on the subjects of Bible, Theology, Ministry, and Family Life.  Let me know what you think or if you have other resources that growing Christians should be aware.

BIBLE & THEOLOGY

The Danger of Pragmatism.  Jared Wilson, “Gospel-centered” blogger, pastor, and author, provides a helpful look at pragmatism and its deletrious effect on biblical truth and faithful ministry.

Pastor Wilson lists six symptoms of pragmatism and seven ways churches and pastors can regain a biblical ministry.

Six Symptoms of Pragmatism

  1. Pastors increasingly hired for their management skills or rhetorical ability over and above their biblical wisdom or their meeting of the biblical qualifications for eldership.
  2. The equation of “worship” with a creative portion of a weekly worship service.
  3. The prevalent eisogesis in classes and small groups.
  4. The vast gulf between the theological academy and the church.
  5. Biblical illiteracy.
  6. A theologically lazy and methodologically consumeristic/sensationalistic approach to the sacraments.

Seven Ways  to Fight Pragmatism

  1. Pastors must study and read, and read and study.
  2. Expository preaching.
  3. Pastors must bridge that gulf between the theological academy and the church.
  4. Churches should identify those with the spiritual gifts of teaching and leadership and make sure they are both discipled and discipling, mentored and mentoring.
  5. Impress upon every minister of the church the need for doctrinal soundness, especially those planning and leading “worship.”
  6. Recapture a vision for truth that makes the goal of theology a deeper relationship with God and greater affection for Christ.
  7. Recover the centrality of the Gospel.

Let me encourage you to read the whole blogpost and ask the question: Are you being shaped more by the pragmatic culture around you, or are you being shaped more by God’s truth?

Continue reading

To Be Eaten By Worms or Cannibals: In the Resurrection It Doesn’t Matter

A number of years ago I was introduced to John Paton through the biographical sermon of John Piper on Paton, “You Will Be Eaten By Cannibals: Life Lessons from John Paton.” In that sermon, Piper records a conversation that Paton has with an elderly man in his church that is at the same time humorous and inspiring.  In response to the concern expressed by Mr. Dickson that Paton, if he leaves his post in Edinburgh, Scotland to go to the South Seas, will be eaten by cannibals, Paton plainly states.

Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my Resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer (From Paton’s biography John G. Paton: Missionary to the New Hebredes,An Autobiography Edited by His Brother [Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1965, orig. 1889, 1891], 56)

Might God grant the same kind of bravado to a younger generations of missionaries, myself included.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss


Five Questions on Discipleship: (5) Why Should You Make Disciples?

Thus far we have asked four questions about discipleship: (1) What Did Jesus Do?  (2)  What is a disciple? (3) Who makes disciples?  And (4) How do you make disciples?

Today we finish by simply asking the question, Why?  Why should you make disciples?  Let me give five answers that will serve as great motivation for stepping out in faith to make disciples.

First, It is disobedient to ignore this command (Matt 28:19).  The Great Commission is for every born-again believer in Jesus Christ. To ignore this command is to ignore the heart of Jesus. Making disciples is not an optional aspect of the Christian life for a select group of Christians.  It is part and parcel of every Christian’s calling.  Some may be more gifted at it than others, but all are called to be participants.

Second, the presence of God is found in it (Matthew 28:20).  The promise of God’s nearness is not found in your daily devotion or in a cabin retreat. It is found in the ministry of making disciples.  While such personal times of reflection are sweet, God’s word promises more emphatically his presence when we are laboring with him in finding, winning, and growing the sheep that Christ has purchased with his own blood.

Third, the promise of success is given in this task. (Matthew 16:18).  Disciple-making is guaranteed to work.  Sure, there will be many who you meet and minister to whom may fall away.  However, there will be others who will have their place marked out in heaven because of your willingness to serve.  You cannot save anyone, but God has chosen to use means (you and me) to build up his church.  And like the Father’s promise to the Son that his death would effect the salvation of his children, so we are given the promise that our labors will not be in vain (1 Cor 15:58).  The word of God never returns void, God has guaranteed that his church will be built, and he has shown us that this building comes through disciple-making.

Fourth, your greatest Christian joy will be had in disciple-making (1 Thess 2:19-20).  Just ask Paul.  His glory and joy were found in the men and women that he won to Christ and established in the faith.  His greatest anxiety was seeing disciples he had invested in turn from Christ.  Truly, if you are a Christian, this will be the source of your greatest joy, too.  The treasure you are to lay up in heaven is people–those whom you lead to the Lord and help along the way will be your greatest joy.

Fifth, churches grow as we make disciples.  The truth is, only disciple-making guarantees church growth.  The one “product” that the church should be producing is disciples.  Just read John 15:1-8.  When the church abides in the Word of God (i. e. the gospel) and the gospel permeates that church, disciples will be born unto the glory of God.

All other activities must be subservient to this main purpose. Therefore, block parties, special events, Power Team performances, and movies may draw a crowd, but they do not make disciples.  Children’s programming, bus ministries, friend days will get people in our building, but they will not make disciples. A cool website, newspaper ads, and yard signs will announce a church’s presence,  but none of these things guarantee disciple-making.  All of these events must be linked up with slower, more intentional process of life-on-life discipleship.

What This Means

If you commit to making disciples, you are committing to doing church in a more simple fashion.  While many programs and activities may be going on at your church, only one thing is necessary–Jesus Christ and the preaching of his gospel in the context of loving relationships that are growing disciples.

Similarly, if you commit to making disciples, you are committing yourself to slow growth.  If you want an instant helper in the home, buy a robot.  Don’t have a baby.  Children take time to rear, but in the end there is great reward in seeing a baby become a boy become a man, one who receives and lives out all the priorities you instill in him.  So it is with making disciple-making.  While it takes time and comes with seasons of pain, slow growth in pouring your life (with the gospel) into the life of another will be impact disciples in ways programs cannot.

Finally, if you commit to making disciples, people may wonder what you are doing to grow the church.  After all, the point of church growth is larger numbers, right?  It is true that numbers do provide a means of measuring the ministry, but perhaps we should find a quotient that divides the number of believers by the time that they stay and grow.  Of course, this sort of metric is impossible, but in our discussions about numbers, we should add to the conversation not only how many converts are won to Christ, but how many of those converts are grown up to be soul-winners themselves.  Or to use more biblical terminology, how many of the disciples made in your ministry are reproducing themselves?

May we continue to let the Great Commission ring in our ears and reverberated in our hearts, so that disciple-making becomes a central feature of our personal lives and church ministries.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss