Hope Springs International

Lasting Change One Village at a Time

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Mission Movements

I closed the last article in this series with a lot of questions. How do we do what they did and fulfill the Great Commission that Christ gave us? The gospel is spreading in many areas of our world and thousands upon thousands are coming to Christ. There is growth despite persecution in Asia, Africa, and South America. In fact, 70 percent of the world’s Bible-believing Christians now live in these areas.

Growth in these areas of our world is the result of movements. Movements grow like wildfire on a grassing plain. They are like a small snowball that rolls and gains size and momentum as was it rolls. I believe that movements are God’s way of reaching entire people groups. But the church in the US is not structured to become a movement. My friend Matt Dabbs recently addressed this issue in the following article.

A Few Reasons We Don’t See Movements in the United States

by Matt Dabbs

It seems God is moving all over the world through massively expanding organic networks of everyday people making disciples who make disciples who plant churches.

Why aren’t we seeing this as much in the U.S.?

First, we don’t see them because we aren’t looking for them. We aren’t turning over the stones with our ears to the ground looking for them. They are happening and are probably near where you live – you would just never know it. There are house churches all over the country but how would you know they exist since they don’t have a sign or building?

Second, God moves fastest among the humble and we have a pride problem in the United States. Experts in disciple making movements say the people who are hardest to train and most resistant are people who have been in ministry the longest. There are too many habits that have to be broken and paradigms that have to be shifted and most can’t do it. Movements are taking place among people who are desperate for God. We aren’t there yet.

Third, we haven’t given over control of our churches and our lives to God 100%. We like to maintain and exert control and this runs counter to the movement of God. It is only when we give it all over to God and plead with him for him to run the show and we follow his lead that movements can happen. We aren’t there yet.

Fourth, the movement of God runs counter to how we set up church. By church I mean institutional, established church as we see in the United States.

Church was set up to be stable and predictable…movements are not.

Church was set up to be top-down leadership. Movements are bottom up.

Church was set up to be run by professionals. Movements are energized and driven by lay people.

Church was set up to not upset the insiders. Movements mobilize the insiders for mission.

Church was set up to keep leadership in the hands of the few and keep them local. Movements multiply leaders and give them away readily.

Church values slow. Movements value fast.

Church is expensive. Movements are cheap.

Church is programmatic. Movements are mission focused.

The way we set up church creates inherent barriers to movement that were completely foreign to church in the New Testament. And so much of the drama revolves around the brick and mortar. If we can divest ourselves of our investment in the buildings and refocus on people, we would be more apt to be movements rather than feeling so stuck.

God is willing and ready to move. I am not so sure we are.”

I am challenged, how about you? When Constantine lifted the persecution and made Christianity popular, the simple Ecclesia or assembly, became Church a building. A hierarchy of leadership establishes a formal structure, and the message went from being simply about a resurrected savior to keeping all the rules established by the leadership’s interpretation of scripture. That first movement did not have scripture. All they had was the wonderful story of a resurrected Savior that had died for the whole world, and He said go tell it to every human being you meet.

Oversimplification? Probably, but I think you get the message. It will take a total paradigm shift. If a movement develops in the US, I don’t think it will come from the existing church model, but outside of it. I would not be so arrogant as to say I have the solution, but I do have some suggestions. We will do that next time.

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Do you care to know?

“One great reason why the rich in general have so little sympathy for the poor is because they seldom visit them. Hence it is that . . . one part of the world does not know what the other suffers. Many of them do not know because they do not care to know: they keep out of the way of knowing it – and then plead their voluntary ignorance as an excuse for their hardness of heart.”John Wesley (d. 1791)

I know this to be personally true. Although not rich by standards in the US, I remember so very well my first visit to Ghana, West Africa in 1969. A young preacher 24 years old experiencing the poverty of a developing nation gave me a reality check. I was rich by anybody’s standards compared to what I saw and experienced on that trip. There have been many trips since then, and the contrast is a constant reminder of how very blessed (rich) I am.

Through the years leading small and large group trips to Ghana, Nigeria, and Chad, I have observed many people as they experience poverty on a level they have never seen before. They speak of shock: “I can’t believe people live like this”; “I never had any idea”; “They have so little, but they are so happy.” Pictures and videos struggle to share the reality of poverty they portray, but there is something about seeing third-world poverty firsthand that changes you forever.

There is yet another reality we often miss. It is the reality of spiritual poverty. It is as ugly and compelling as physical poverty because it has eternal consequences. While the cause of Christ is growing in many areas of our world, there are still more than 3 billion people who live with no access to or knowledge of Jesus Christ and the salvation He offers.

It is easy for us to focus on our needs and wants at the expense of seeing the opportunity to bring real lasting change to others both physically and spiritually. It is easy to forget the reason God blesses us with so much. It is not so we can build bigger barns (homes), bank accounts and investments focused on our security at the expense of the security of others whose lives we have been given the means to change. Jesus said that the security of our treasures is not found here but in the bank of heaven. God’s blessings to us have a purpose not only to bless us but others as well.

There are two kinds of poverty in our world. Poverty with safety nets like social security, welfare, and social services. Then there is poverty without any of those things. Add to this the lack of clean water and available health care. Poverty in the US is a first-world problem, the other a third-world problem without any kind of safety net.

Wesley’s quote may seem harsh, but sometimes we need to face the harsh realities. We are all stewards of what God has blessed us with. We are therefore accountable for all that God has blessed us with. Think for a moment about the parables of Jesus. Think about the challenges issued by Jesus to the wealthy. Think as well about the judgment scene in Matthew 25.

What does this have to do with missions and the Great Commission? Everything, because it has to do with our life’s focus. It has to do with fulfilling our God-given purpose and mission. Our mission is from God. It is funded by God through us. What we have been freely given we freely give to others. In Matthew 10:5ff, Jesus commissioned those early disciples with these words, “Freely you have received; freely give.”

Our physical and spiritual situation is an important part of the solution. But what are the “mechanics” of the solution? If it was accomplished in the first century, how does that apply to us? We are literally 2000 years removed from that time. Is it duplicatable? Is there a better way? We will seek to find answers next time.

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How are we doing?

I closed the last article in this series with a question: How are we doing? Jesus gave the great commission more than 2000 years ago. Every generation inherits the responsibility of carrying that commission to their world. It is like a relay race and the 21st Century now has the baton. So, I ask again, how are we doing?

In the 1980’s, statisticians reported that the worldwide church of Jesus Christ was for the first time since the first century predominately non-Western. In other words, the majority of Christ-followers live in the Southern and Eastern Hemispheres. Today Christianity is now primarily a non-white, non-Western, non-wealthy religion. In fact, Africa will be the most Christian continent on earth by 2025.

A part of the reason for this is we have been focused on making converts, and not disciples. The result, as unpleasant as it may be to admit, is described pointedly in the book “Western Christians in Global Mission” by Paul Borthwick, where he writes, ”Our greatest problem here [in the USA] is that the church is miles wide and inches deep.” He continues, “Obedience to the Great Commission suffers because nominal Christians, who have been momentarily ‘converted’ do not grow in integrity or character or biblical knowledge or Christian living. These superficial decisions are not necessarily integrated into the way they live, treat their spouse, operate in their community, or participate in business and politics. We need disciples.”

Over the last few years, I have watched the church turn from a world view to an inward focus. In fact, I was told by someone I deeply respect that a minister from a large mega-church speaking at a conference encouraged all church leaders to bring their missionaries home and put that money toward their own congregation and city. He saw this as the solution to survival. What tragic advice!

This kind of emphasis takes our focus off our own responsibility to join the rest of the world in carrying out the Great Commission. We are the wealthiest nation with the greatest financial resource available. Another quote from Paul Borthwick from the book mentioned above states: “Most of us in North America are living on an island of affluence in the sea of poverty. We fail to realize this because we think that everyone else around us is more affluent. So, we often think of ourselves as ‘poor,’ failing to remember our relative position in this globalized world.”

This kind of thinking and inward-turning is causing some countries to think of the USA as a mission field and in need of missionaries to come to our aid. The Redeemed Christian Church of God in Nigeria has already planted 500 churches across North America.

Ok if that is the problem, now what is the solution? We will tackle that one in the next article.

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What’s The Plot?

About God’s Word, “It is a very long story, with a complicated plot; and we are not, perhaps, very attentive readers.” –

C.S. Lewis, Miracles

“The mission was already under way before there was a church. There was a mission of God before there was a people of God. God is on a mission. The mission is already under way in the Garden. God didn’t lose Adam, but God is always coming, always seeking. People aren’t seekers, God is. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. As the Father sent the Son, so the Son sends us. We get to participate in what God is doing, His mission.” Carman Fowler

The Bible contains 66 books, filled with history, poetry, letters and stories. Seldom do we see that there is a theme, a plot running through these books. We study book by book; rarely look at it as a single book. Forty authors, over 1500 years. And while we know the ONE author, we don’t treat any other book like the Bible.

Genesis 1-11 covers the creation of the world and the first humans, Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve were to reflect God’s character (made in His image) and as such were to be God’s representative of His rule over all creation bringing about this new creation’s potential through their rule.

By the time we reach chapter 3, we see man’s fall from grace and banishment from the Garden of Eden. From this point on, there is a spiral downward because of sin. Chapter 4 tells us Cain kills his brother Abel, and the story of Noah and the flood follows in chapters 6-9. The story of the tower of Babel is covered in chapter 10-11. In all these stories we see sin, God’s judgment and the hope of redemption. This is a theme we will see repeated throughout the rest of scripture.

God gives us insight to the plot of the book in Genesis 3:15. After God tells the serpent and Adam and Eve about how life is about to change, He says this, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” In this short verse God gives Satan a picture of his end, and the hope of redemption to Adam and Eve. You have the conclusion of the book pictured here in the beginning of the book.

Have you ever wondered how the Tower of Babel story fits into this theme? I have always thought that this story was just a great example of the pride of building a tower to man’s glory and not God’s. But I think that the real answer is their statement of their own intent. “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4). God’s intent and purpose for man in the beginning was: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth…” (Genesis 1:28). God’s purpose and intent was for His image and His glory to be spread over all the earth, so God introduced the variety of languages causing the development of nations over all the earth. Genesis chapter 10 gives the genealogy of the descendants of Noah. Note verse 32, “These are the clans of Noah’s sons, according to their lines of descent, within their nations. From these the nations spread out over the earth after the flood.”

In the same way that Shem was given as a replacement for Abel, God is continuing to orchestrate His rescue story and purpose. God, by confusing and creating multiple languages, also created all the nations. In Chapter 12 God makes a promise to Abraham that through his descendants he would bless all nations (ethna-nations), same term used by Jesus in the Great Commission). The rest of the book is about God carrying out His redemptive purpose. It is the context of the rest of the Bible.

Psalm 67:1-5, May God be gracious to us and bless us
  and make his face to shine upon us, Selah
2that your way may be known on earth,
  your saving power among all nations.
3Let the peoples praise you, O God;
  let all the peoples praise you!

4Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
  for you judge the peoples with equity
  and guide the nations upon earth. Selah
5Let the peoples praise you, O God;
  let all the peoples praise you!

See also Psalm 72:17, 19; Psalm 96; Psalm 113:3; Isaiah 56:7.

If you miss the themes in the plot, you will only apply these things to yourself. We would never do that with any other book.

Illustration: God chooses Israel to be His people. Why?

Exodus 19:1-5 They were His people because of His love for the nations.

In I Peter 2:9ff, he uses four phrases from the Mosaic covenant. “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.10Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” It was their (Israel’s) purpose and it is now our purpose.

We were not just saved to go to heaven; we are saved to be part of God’s mission for our neighbors and the nations of the world.

Look closely at the prayer of Jesus as He prepares the disciples for a future without Him.

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,21that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.22The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one,23I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” John 17:20-23. The unity or oneness here is not perfection in doctrine, but perfection in following God’s purpose, design and intent that the nations would come to know Him and worship Him.

Mission is not just something for “others” to do; it is our purpose for existence. If we are not actively involved in His mission, we are living in disobedience. Some of the most sobering words to me in scripture about what it means to be a disciple of Christ are found in II Corinthians 5:14-15, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;15and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

Guilt motivation will never accomplish the will of God; it must be a relationship. When Christ died for all, and all died to themselves, then the rest of their life is not for themselves, but for Christ.

Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God.
  I will be exalted among the nations,
  I will be exalted in the earth!”

This is OUR reason for existence. So, how are we doing? That we will look at next time.

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Great Commission…What’s that?

Would it surprise you to know that only half of U.S. churchgoers recognize the term “Great Commission”?

When asked if they had previously “heard of the Great Commission,” 51% of U.S. churchgoers said they do not know this term. This question was posed in a recent survey by Barna in partnership with Seed Company. The report continued by saying, “It would be reassuring to assume the other half who know the term are also actually familiar with the passage known by this name, but that proportion is low (17%).

Meanwhile, “the Great Commission” does ring a bell for one in four (25%), though they can’t remember what it is. Six percent of churchgoers are simply not sure whether they have heard this term “the Great Commission” before.” Translating the Great Commission

Go with me for a moment to that mountain outside of Galilee. Some believe it may have been the same mountain where Jesus first selected the disciples. The scripture says, “when they saw Him, they worshiped Him, but some doubted” (Matthew 28:17). The disciples met Jesus there at His request, but they are still confused about the true nature of the Kingdom Jesus had come to establish (Acts 1:1ff). So much happened over the last few weeks that it is hard for them to take it all in. They are still filled with so many questions.

Jesus is standing before the disciples in His resurrected body. In plain sight are the nail-scarred hands that held Him to the cross. Those hands had become a familiar sight over the last 40 days as he appeared to them from time to time. But now, with His mission completed He is ready to depart and return to the Father. Last words are immortalized often when people die, but these last words are from the resurrected Son of God who has defeated death and overcome the grave.

He begins by saying, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (verse 18). You don’t question the authority of One who can come back from the dead and walk through walls. So, what He says next has all the power of heaven behind it.

“Go therefore.” The “Go” literally means “as you go”; “therefore” because of the authority He has. The command to go is powered by all the authority of heaven and earth. The participle conveys a continuous action that is already happening right now, but that also continues to happen into the future. So, the idea is more like… “As you’re going along in your life.” Wherever you go, discipleship is a part of your life here or wherever the commission of God may send you.

“Make disciples.” As His disciples He was their Rabbi and their very aim in life as a disciple was to be just like their Rabbi, even to the point of saying things like He would say them. They were to embody the teaching of their Master, not just have knowledge of it. Jesus told the disciples that people would know they were His disciples by how they loved each other (John 13:35). Now Jesus is commissioning them as they go throughout the world to disciple others as they had been discipled. It is a process of multiplication. Disciples make disciples who make disciples.

“Of all nations.” Literally ethnic-specific units (ethne= nations). We are talking about every tribe and language on the face of the earth. Without Jesus, they are lost. The message is to not leave anyone out. Jesus was not trying to establish a new Jewish sect. His message was for all people everywhere.

“Baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Baptism was to picture a transformed life of one who had died to self, was buried in water symbolizing physical burial and then resurrected to walk a new life of service to Jesus. Disciples were to no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them. Their life from this point forward was to glorify Christ.

“Teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” The teaching is more than just imparting knowledge. This is not a trivia contest to see who can answer all the questions correctly. The end goal is obedience. Our faith in Christ is not just fire insurance, but a walk with Christ and a process of being transformed into His likeness in all that we do (Colossians 3:17).

“I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The One who gave the commission is also going with us. Not in the flesh as with the original disciples, but His presence is “IN” us through the Holy Spirit that he gave us (John 14:17).

So today we can go forth with the same authority as we share the most important message of all time. There are no boundaries, for everyone in the world needs this message desperately. This is what makes it “The Great Commission.”

These comments will seem familiar to some who read this, but if you are a part of the 51%, maybe, just maybe, this will become your personal great commission to take this message to your world, your ethnic group, tribe or tongue. But it is also a commission to take this message to those who are not like your group, tribe, or tongue. Disciples make disciples wherever they go.

“We have an incomprehensibly great God who has looked upon a sinfully depraved people and sent a scandalously merciful Savior, and as a result, we have an indescribably urgent mission” (Radical, by David Platt).

Each of the Gospel writers states the commission in his own words and understanding.

The Commission Modeled: “As the Father has sent me…” John 20:21

The Commission’s Magnitude: “go into all the world… to the whole creation” Mark 16:15

The Commission’s Methodology: “…make disciples of all nations…” Matthew 28:18-20

The Commission’s Message: “…repentance and forgiveness of sins…” Luke 24:44-49

The Commission’s Means: “you will receive power…” Acts 1:8

Maybe one of the reasons the “Great Commission” is not better known and understood is that we seldom see people live out God’s heart for the nations. So before moving on I want to go back to the beginning and see that God’s eternal intention has always been to reach all the world. We will do that next time.

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How Does the Church Change the World?

I am old and so are some of my memories. Back in the ‘70s when I first began going on campaigns to Ghana, West Africa, there were reports of a lot of baptisms. While the numbers made for successful reports to churches back home, most of those so-called converts were sadly never seen again. There is also the possibility they were given a false feeling of security from saying yes to something they did not understand.

A similar thing happens even today when we focus on making “converts” and not making disciples. Jesus never sent us to make converts, but disciples, and there is a big difference. Here is a quote that sums up the problem very well:

“In the United States and around the world, leaders sometimes say, ‘Our greatest problem here [in this country] is that the church is miles wide and inches deep.’ Obedience to the Great Commission suffers because nominal Christians, who have been momentarily ‘converted,’ do not grow in integrity or character or biblical knowledge or Christian living. These superficial decisions are not necessarily integrated into the way they live, treat their spouses, operate in their community or participate in business and politics” (from the book Western Christians in Global Missions by Paul Borthwick).

In an article entitled “No One Likes the Product,” Mike Glenn explains why today’s generation, and past and future generations for that matter, are not buying into the Christianity they see. “Because of what they see every day in the lives of those who proclaim to be Christian. Rarely can people remember an encounter with a Christian who was kind and loving. Everyone, on the other hand, has a story about a Christian who was rude and condescending. Many of us who are Christians won’t use the word anymore because it has become associated with attitudes of bigotry, hatefulness and judgment. We introduce ourselves now as ‘Christ-followers.’

“No one wants to be a Christian these days. The word is almost an insult in polite conversation.” https://www.christianitytoday.com/scot-mcknight/2021/september/no-one-likes-product.html

When Jesus gave the Great Commission, He was starting a movement. When people came to Jesus, He minced no words when it came to His expectations of His followers. “And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’ ” Luke 9:23. Crosses today are worn as jewelry and placed on the walls in our homes, but you would never have done this in the first century. Crosses were a symbol of the most heinous form of torture and death known at that time. It would be like wearing a miniature electric chair around your neck. Or hanging an electric chair on your wall. When I “take up my cross” it is a picture of my death to self that Christ might live through me.

Jesus was calling people to love Him with a love that surpasses all other loves. “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26, 27 (emphasis mine). Jesus says our love for Him must surpass love for the closest people to us on earth; in fact your love for Him makes your love for those relationships look like hate in comparison. Stop for a moment, read that again and reflect on what Jesus said.

You and I don’t determine if we can be His disciple; Jesus does that. Remember we are part of a movement that He started. It won’t be easy, and He makes that abundantly clear in many places with many illustrations.

I have been reading recently about the lives of early 18th and 19th century missionaries. One common thread running through all their stories is their commitment unto death, to take the Gospel to areas of our world that had not heard of Christ regardless of the consequence to their own lives. One of those stories was about Adoniram Judson. His commitment to Christ is humbling and inspiring.

Adoniram lived from 1788-1850 and was a missionary to Burma for almost 40 years. Before he left for the mission field, he fell in love with a lady named Ann Hasseltine. Knowing the hardships that were ahead of them, Adoniram wrote a letter to Ann’s father asking for her hand in marriage. Take just a moment and slowly read this letter.

“I have now to ask whether you can consent to part with your daughter early next spring, to see her no more in this world? Whether you can consent to her departure to a heathen land, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life? Whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation, insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death? Can you consent to all this, for the sake of Him who left His heavenly home and died for her and for you; for the sake of perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion and the glory of God? Can you consent to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with a crown of righteousness brightened by the acclamations of praise which shall resound to her Saviour from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?” Wow, can you imagine getting that letter asking for your daughter’s hand in marriage?

Ann’s father did give his consent, and many of the things mentioned in his letter were fulfilled in the lives of this couple. Ann had three pregnancies. The first ended in a miscarriage while moving from India to Burma; her second child, Roger, was born in 1815 and died at 8 months of age; her third child, Maria, lived only 6 months after Ann herself died in 1826 of smallpox. Adoniram Judson lost two wives and six of his 13 children on the mission field. Ann and Adoniram suffered through many other trials while serving as missionaries. They left their homes and their family to spread the glory of God to an unreached people.

Ultimately, their sacrifice yielded much fruit. While Judson only had 18 converts after 12 years of work, when he died he left 100 churches and more than 8,000 believers. He was making disciples, who made disciples. Today we can see the results of his work since there are 2.5 million evangelical Christians in Burma (modern day Myanmar).

Judson also wrote a grammar of the language that is still used today, and he translated the entire Bible into Burmese, which took him 24 years to complete.

It is amazing what can transpire in our lives when we realize the seriousness of the commission that Jesus gave. We call it a “Great Commission” for several reasons. The one who gave it. The importance of the mission, salvation of souls. And the urgency of it, because so many people who face a Christless grave have yet to hear. Maybe it is time we took another look at “The Great Commission.” We will do that next time.