Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Back to Christ, Back to the Cross

Philip C. Flores is national coordinator for Trainers of Pastors International Coalition (TOPIC) Philippines. Recently we met in Manila to discuss and plan ministry to the 41,000 undertrained pastors of the Philippines. He writes the following:

Back to Christ, Back to the Cross
by Philip C. Flores, in Evangelicals Today

The church growth movement during the last three decades of the 20th century has brought about an explosive growth of churches worldwide. Churches are growing rapidly in Asia, Africa, South America and the former Soviet Union. Consider the following statistics:

Evangelicals are growing in number, by 4.7% to 5.3%. That figure is more than three times the rate of the world population growth.

176,000 new believers are added to the church daily.

4,000 new churches are formed each week.

Once the church was predominantly Caucasian; today, 65% of the global church is composed largely of people from various other races.

Coupled with this phenomenal growth are various programs, strategies, plans and goals designed to ensure the church growth movement's success, and rightly so. But, with all this, something is still missing, something very important. The churches appear to have a blurry center.

For the past few years, I have had this growing conviction that, if the church is to affect national renewal and global transformation, it would need a new breed, a new generation of pastoral leaders. leaders who will blow the trumpet call: "Back to Christ, Back to the Cross." They will fill their churches with Christians who are both Christlike and Cross-bearing. They will, like the apostle Paul, say, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved , .. for too long we have mea¬sured success in the ministry in terms of mega-churches-big buildings, big attendance, big cash. These big churches have become like shopping malls attracting religious consumers, church-hoppers and the curi¬ous. They are drawn to our ca¬thedrals, but not to Christ-not to the cross, me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). This is the center that I believe the church needs to regain.

For too long we have seen many of our church leaders being entertained by celebrities and champions. As a result they have become more celebrity-conscious rather than Christ-conscious. They want to become more like John Maxwell, the leadership guru. Or, like Rick Warren, the church-health specialist. Becoming more Christlike is taken for granted, if not totally overlooked.

Also, for too long we have measured success in the ministry in terms of mega-churches-big buildings, big attendance, big cash. These big churches have become like shopping malls attracting religious consumers, church-hoppers and the curious. They are drawn to our cathedrals, but not to Christ-not to the cross. The result: we have converts but not changed lives, members but not ministers, decisions, but not disciples.

The need of the hour is a new breed, a new generation of pastoral leaders-leaders who will faithfully and fearlessly call God's people to go back to the cross. Leaders who will lead the church back to its one and only center.
In their book, Reclaiming God's Original Intent for the Church, authors Wes Roberts and Glenn Marshall quoted the Cambridge Declaration of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, which in part says, "As evangelical faith becomes secularized, its interests have been blurred with those of the culture. The result is a loss of absolute values, permissive individualism, and a substitute of wholeness for holiness, recovery for repentance, intuition for truth, feeling for belief, chance for providence, and immediate gratification for enduring hope. Christ and His cross have moved from the center of our vision."

The authors also referred to Robert Webber's book, The Younger Evangelicals, where John Green, founder of a ministry to gay and lesbian street prostitutes in Chicago was quoted:

The Christian church is so enmeshed with the American culture that it cannot see the same culture is frighteningly anti-Christian.. We are made to be a light in the darkness-calling people to the road less traveled, to a costly discipleship that rejects the materialism, nationalism, militarism, racism and sexism of/he culture for the cross of Christ.

I believe that if the church is to regain its Center, we need to pray to the Lord of the harvest to raise up a new breed, a new generation of transformed pastoral leaders-leaders in whose lives Christ and the Cross are central, not just cerebral. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote: "To endure the Cross is not a tragedy; it is the suffering which is the fruit of an exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ. When it comes, it is not an accident, but a necessity. "

The apostle Paul declares, "For my part, I am going to boast about nothing but the Cross of our Master, Jesus Christ. Because of that Cross, I have been crucified in relation to the world, set free from the stifling atmosphere of pleasing others and fitting into the little patterns that they dictate .... I bear in my body scars from my service to Jesus" (Gal. 5:14,17, The Message).

Back to the Center-back to Christ and the Cross

Any center less than this is anathema to the Church

Evangelicals Today, April-May 2006 by Philip Flores

Monday, April 28, 2008

Scottish Slaves Sharing Music with African Slaves

The following is an excellent story from the book Fair Sunshine: Character Studies of the Scottish Coventanters by Jock Purves.

White Scottish Slaves Share Gospel and Music to Slaves from Africa in America

John Pollock was most cruelly treated, but in the midst of it was steadfast and cheerful, and was banished as a slave to the American Plantations with the marks of his torture still upon him.

From whom did the early American slaves wrested from Africa hear the Gospel? No doubt from the Puritans and Quakers. But such were not fellow slaves. The former lived more in their own settlements, and the latter to their everlasting credit would not hold slaves. Whosoever got to a Quaker settlement was at once a free man. To the West Indies, Barbadoes, and South Carolina many Covenanters were sent as slaves. The accounts of their tragic hell-ships make painful reading. Hundreds of these godly men and women, shipped to be sold as slaves, perished in most terrible conditions through disease, and in fearful storms were drowned miserably battened under hatches. From those who reached the Plantations black slaves heard the Gospel, and thus white-skinned slave and black rejoiced in one common Lord.

In our young years we were rightly familiar with Longfellow’s poem, beginning: “Beside the ungathered rice he lay, His sickle in his hand,” but it is possible that it was not always an African who so lay. Now and again it may have been one who in his last visions saw not himself as if ‘once more a king he strode, ‘ but one who was back once again in fellowship among the hunted ‘of one heart and one soul.’

The Negro Spirituals always have a hearing. The words of worship there united with the moving melody are a living union. But such melodies, it seems, may be sought for in vain in the negroes’ own native land, Africa. Whence came they? Out of something wondrously new, the dark soul meeting with the Light of Life, Christ Jesus? Yes! And out of fellowship in His sufferings, and the fellowship of Christ Jesus in the slaves’ sufferings. Yes, no doubt of that. But there are seeming traces of time and melody in these lovely spirituals which are reminiscent of the music of the old metrical Psalm-sing. Who can say? At any rate, these banished men and women carried the message of redeeming love to their fellow-slaves of another race.

Fair Sunshine: Character studies of the Scottish Covenanters by Jock Purves, Banner of Truth Trust, 1968, p.48-49. (ISBN: 0851511368)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Quotes frm the Great Commission Lifestyle

The following are quotes from The Great Commission Lifestyle (Conforming Your Life to Kingdom Priorities)” by Robert E. Coleman:

1. The whole thrust of the Great Commission is discipling all nations.

The directive, issuing from Christ's authority, comes out in the action portion of the Commission: 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 teach¬ing them to obey everything I have commanded you ... (Matt. 28: 19, 20).

In the original text, there is but one verb, make disci¬ples. Go, baptizing, and teaching are participles, which means that these activities do not stand alone. As in English, so in Greek: Participles derive their force from the leading verb. The implications of this are quite significant for ministry, for it means that the reason for going anywhere, whether next door or across the ocean, is to make disciples. Similarly, the evangelistic imperative to preach the gospel and to bring persons into baptism, aims to make followers of Christ, just as teaching has its objective in the building up of these disciples. The whole thrust of the Great Commission-giving direction and validity to every effort-is the discipling of all nations.

Notice that the command is not to make converts. In other contexts, of course, Jesus emphasizes the necessity of conver¬sion (e.g., Matt. 18:3; John 3:1-36). Tragically, however, too many converts, if indeed they are born again, fail to go on with Jesus, and His plan for reaching the world through their witness is never realized. The irresponsible way that the church has accommodated this situation, I believe, explains why so much of the world's population still languishes in darkness. (page 53)

2. Jesus went about doing good and through it all He proclaimed the good new of the Kingdom.

Jesus came to serve, and in that role He went about doing good. Whenever He saw need, moved with compassion,He reached out to help (Matt. 9:36 KJV). He fed the hungry; He healed the sick; He opened the eyes of the blind; He cleansed the lepers; He bound up the brokenhearted; He delivered the demon possessed; He raised the dead. And through it all, He held forth the Word of Life, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom. (p 55)

3. A horse to suit every taste.

…have you heard of that riding academy in West Texas that advertises that they have a horse to suit every taste? For fat people, they have fat horses; for skinny people they have skinny horses. For fast people they have fast horses; for slow people, they have slow horses. And for people who don't know how to ride at all, they have horses that have never been ridden before! page 68)

4. A World Christian recognizes his own personal responsibility for all phases of the Christian world mission.

World Christian was a term often used by the late Dr. Herbert Kane. In his book The Christian World Mission Today and Tomorrow (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1981), he defines such a person as one who acknowledges the universal fatherhood of God and the universal lordship of Christ, one who recognizes the cosmopolitan composition of the Christian church and the prime importance of the Christian mission, and finally, one who recognizes his own personal responsibility for all phases of the Christian world mission. He goes on to say that a world Christian will seek to increase his knowledge of world affairs, broaden his views of the church, increase his understanding of the Christian mission, enlarge the people of his prayer life, go abroad if opportunity affords, change his lifestyle, and recognize his personal responsibility for world missions. (page 70-71)

5. Delivered from the possibility of disobedience.

Some years ago I was gripped by the account of five mis¬sionaries who were killed while seeking to make contact with the Auca Indians in Ecuador. What so arrested my attention was an interview a reporter had with the widowed wives. Why would God permit this to happen? he asked. After all, were not the men on an errand of mercy?One of the wives, turning to the incredulous man, quietly replied: Sir, God delivered my husband from the possibility of disobedience. (page 106)

6. Life giving sacrifice.

I read about a little boy who was told by his doctor that he could save his sister's life by giving her some blood. The six-year-old was near death, and her only chance of recovering was a blood transfusion from someone who had previously conquered the illness. Since the two children had the same rare blood type, the boy was the ideal donor.

Johnny, would you give your blood for Mary? the doctor asked.

The boy hesitated. His lower lip started to tremble. Then he smiled, and said, Sure, Doc, I'll give my blood for my sister.

Soon the two children were wheeled into the operating room-Mary, pale and thin; Johnny, robust and the picture of health. Neither spoke, but when their eyes met, Johnny grinned. As his blood siphoned into Mary's veins, one could almost see new life come into her tired body. The ordeal was almost over when Johnny's brave little voice broke the silence. Say, Doc, when do I die?

It was only then that the doctor realized what that moment of hesitation, that trembling of the lips meant. For little Johnny, in his naiveté, actually thought that in giving his blood to his sister he was giving up his life. And in that brief moment he made his great decision.

Coleman, Robert E. The Great Commission Lifestyle: Conforming Your Life to Kingdom Priorities, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1992.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

How is Your Generosity?

The Word of God says,…blessed is he who is generous to the poor,(Proverbs 14:21, esv). It is interesting that the word used is not just to give to the poor, but to be generous!

A Norwegian missionary couple manage a guest house for their mission on a large island in the Philippines. Someone from the USA sent $500 to help a very poor Christian family whom they had met previously to build a small kitchen area.

The missionary couple discovered the family living in a deplorable, filthy situation. They did not just need a kitchen, but a safe, dry, and clean complete house for their six small children; two of whom were handicapped. The Christian mother was raising and caring for all six without the support of a husband. A simple house would cost nearly $4000. Where would the money come?

The missionary couple was not well-supported; the wife, however, reminded her husband that they had saved nearly $3500 for a trip to China that they had dreamt of for many years. What was more important – a home for a mom and six needy children or a trip to China? After prayer the Norwegian missionary couple took all of their China-trip money and used it “generously” to build the house for the needy family.

What about you being generous today? Will you and I just give to the poor or will we be generous as God has so richly blessed us with all things in Christ? Why did He do this? So that we might be generous to the poor in Christ’s Name for His glory!

Monday, April 21, 2008

God Works through Trouble

Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all(Psalm 34:19, nasb).

It seems as if Satan releases all of his demons against the needy children of the world. Orphans and the poor are the ones who really suffer in wars, storms, revolutions, and political turmoil.

Some ministries to children seem to have sufficient funds, but most are very underfunded. In Africa there are 13 million orphans from AIDS alone and143 million orphans, and there are worldwide 160 million street children. God’s people seeking to minister to these needy children face extreme difficulties and many afflictions!

My wife and I faced many problems in legally adopting our two children, Robby and Julie, in the Philippines. On one occasion when all looked hopeless, we were in the office of our city mayor, who had to sign a key paper to move the adoption papers along. The mayor was drunk (it seemed as if he was always drinking); I naturally thought we would have to return and try another day. However, an aide of the mayor took our papers and quietly asked the mayor to sign them. He did! I do not thank God for beer or liquor, but I do praise the Lord God Almighty for even using drunk men for His glory!

The two children we adopted were five years old and almost three. They are now in their thirties with families serving the Lord Jesus in ministry. Robby serves in the Philippines!

Yes, many are the afflictions of the righteous, but remember, God delivers you from them all. If not here on earth, but in glory in heaven!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Bibles before Bullets

For the Word of Lord is upright, all His work is done in faithfulness,(Psalm 33:4, nasb).

Just before Philippines Peoples Revolution in 1985 after which President Marcos and wife were forced to leave the country, we received a call from General Fidel V. Ramos (who later became President of the Philippines) asking if our ministry could provide a New Testament for 75,000 soldiers and police!

This was a huge request for New Testaments valued at $1 each. I said we would try. The Lord was gracious and two organizations, The Bible League and the International Bible Society, provide the funds to print 75,000 New Testaments in Tagalog (Filipino), English, and three other languages. The New Testaments were delivered to General Ramos and he had these systematically distributed to soldiers and police throughout the country.

One missionary friend, who worked with army officers at a very secure military base, said he normally had to go through three very strict checkpoints every time he conducted a Bible study with the officers. However, the day the New Testaments were delivered, he was simply waved through each security check point with the guards paying him little mind because they were busily reading their New Testaments!

When the Peaceful People Revolution began a few days later, the army was ordered to shoot into the crowd and run over them with their tanks by the President. The army refused to shoot the innocent. Was this a result of the military reading the Word of God? Who knows? But we do know that it was one of the first “peaceful” revolutions which resulted in the overthrow of an unjust regime.

We may be shy sharing the Gospel, but we can give people the Word of God encouraging them to read it. The Word of God is “upright.” Who knows, another revolution may just around the corner.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Useless or Strategic Ministry?

Recently while on an early morning walk in Manila, I noticed an older, filthy, mentally-handicapped man surrounded by his meager possessions. I felt compelled to speak with him at least show some measure of kindness. There was no response, just glazed, lifeless eyes, not even focusing on the one speaking to him.

I decided to help him and gave him the delicious bread which I had purchased for breakfast. He said nothing as he took the bread and began to eat.

Years ago a noted Christian leader said, "All souls are precious, but not all souls are strategic." In other words, spend your time with the people of prestige who can influence others, not some poor man on the street.

Well, I sure blew it this morning, wasting time on an old, mentally-deranged dirty man living on the streets. Useless ministry or was it?

Jesus said, I was hungry and you gave me food …,(Matthew 25:35, esv). He also said, If you love me, you will keep my commandments,(John 14:15, esv).

Perhaps my bread-giving was not useless after all. If given in Jesus’ Name, for His sake, and in obedience to Him, how more strategic can you get?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Are You About Through?

Recently my wife, Margaret, and her sister were visiting a dear elderly and godly friend in the hospital. 

As Margaret was reading Psalm 42 from the Word of God, suddenly the lady in the next bed said, “Are you about through? I don’t like that!”

The Word of God does that, doesn’t it? To some, it soothes, comforts, challenges, encourages, convicts and builds up. To others, the Word of God is a stinging sound!

Should we not read and use the Word of God more to let it do its work?

During my cancer treatment years ago, Margaret had to rush me to emergency one night. As the doctors worked on me through the night, not really knowing what to do, they called Margaret into the hall the next morning to explain my situation to her. About that time, a chaplain came in to see me and I thought “Oh no, this must be it.”

As the chaplain talked softly to me for a few minutes, I finally opened my eyes and as tactfully as I could in my pain said, “Is that the stuff you share with people all the time?” 

He said, “What do you mean?” 

I said, “Well I’m dying of cancer, I do not want to hear about the sweet breeze blowing through the trees, the smell of flowers or the birds chirping. I am dying! You need to read the Word of God.” 

He said, “The Word of God? Where do I get a copy?” 

I said, “For Pete’s sake, you are a chaplain! Get one of those Gideon Bibles over there on the table.” 

As he picked up the Bible he asked, “Where do I read?” 

I said, “Well, why don’t you start with Romans?” (I forgot that when you are dying you are supposed to read Psalms, not Romans). So he began to read Romans chapter one. In my pain I went to sleep just as he got to verse 16, For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes... What a great verse to go to sleep on!

The next day, he came to see me again and asked “Can we read the Word of God some more?” As he read and we talked, I challenged him to use the Word with more patients because even in our misery, agony, pain and discomfort, the Word of God brings hope.

The Scripture says, So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). So let’s read the Word of God and our faith will continue to grow.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Matthew Henry

While in the United Kingdom several years ago, I read that the great Bible commentator Matthew Henry pastored in Chester, England, a town about an hour from where we stayed in Wales. After ministering for 25 years there, he pastored in London, but years later in 1714, on a preaching visit to Chester, he died. Matthew Henry’s last words to a friend, “A life spent in the service of God, and communion with Him, is the most comforting and pleasant life that anyone can live in this world.” I asked a friend if he knew where Matthew Henry lived in Chester and where he was buried. In an old book, we discovered he was buried at Trinity Church near Crook Street. The next day, my wife, Margaret, and I went by train to Chester and found Crook Street and Trinity Church. The church was rebuilt in the 1800’s and is now a run-down museum. Matthew Henry’s grave is no more, but his ministry lives on in his commentaries and other writings, all of which glorify the Savior. One of my favorite quotes of his is: “The faithful ministers of Christ are to dispense God’s sacred truths, however disagreeable they may be to some, and whatever they themselves may suffer for doing so.” Matthew Henry’s Commentary of the Bible is six volumes. The Evangelist of the Great Awakening, George Whitefield, is reported to have read through the commentaries four times, mostly on his knees!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Knightly Soldier

By Dennis Fisher

Be gentle…, in humility correcting whose who are in opposition, (2 Tim. 2:24-25,nasb).

Before he enlisted in the Union Army to fight during the US Civil War, Joshua Chamberlain was a quiet and unassuming college professor. In the crucible of military combat he distinguished himself for his heroism in holding the line on Little Round Top during the Battle of Gettysburg. He was later awarded the Congressional Metal of Honor.

To recognize Chamberlain’s contribution to the Union victory, General Ulysses S. Grant designated him to receive the first flag of surrender at Appomattox Courthouse. The defeated troops of the South expected to be ridiculed and humiliated. Instead, Chamberlain showed them kindness and respect. For this, the Confederate commanding officer wrote in his memoirs that Chamberlain was “one of the knightliest soldiers of the Federal Army.”

As a committed Christian, Chamberlain reflected the grace of Christ. We too need to stand for what we believe but also to be kind to those with whom we disagree. Paul exhorted Timothy, “as a good soldier of Jesus Christ…be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition” (2 Tim. 2:3,24-25). In conflict and in reconciliation, our response should reflect the gracious heart of a knightly soldier of Christ.

Oh, to be like Him, tender and kind,
Gentle in spirit, lowly in mind;
More like Jesus, day after day,
Filled with His spirit now and always. –Ellsworth

There is nothing so kingly as kindness; there is nothing so royal as truth.

Source -- “A Knightly Soldier” by Dennis Fisher. December 8, Daily Bread, Radio Bible Class Ministries

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Do we look (act) like Jesus?

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17, nasb).

On one occasion I was trying to find some of my wife's (Margaret Jespersen) family near Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. I was at a conference, had an unexpected long break so drove 20 miles for a quiet visit. The Jespersens are a huge clan and since I had no address with me, I stopped at a busy doughnut/coffee shop to ask directions.

As I stood in line to get a coffee and thinking who should I ask, suddenly an old man sitting with his wife at a nearby table smiled and said, "Hello, you're a Jespersen, aren't you?"

I was very surprised (somewhat shocked) and answered, "No, I'm not a Jespersen."

"Oh, yes, you are," the man and his wife said, "We've been watching you, and saw you come in. You're a Jespersen; we can tell a Jespersen a mile off."

They were surprised when I told them that even though I was not a Jespersen, I had been married to one for about 40 years. I guess, since I have been with this wonderful woman for so many years, we have begun to look alike.

I trust that this is the way it is with Christ and us.

Not only have we become new people in Christ when we become His children by faith, but we also become more and more like Him as we spend time with Him, obey Him, and follow in His steps. Perhaps as we grow in grace and knowledge of Christ we come to the place that people will say to us, "You're a Christian, aren't you? We can tell a Christian a mile off because you look (act) like Christ!"

Monday, April 7, 2008

Standing in Respect

It is interesting to see the context of the two references to fearing (revering) God in Leviticus 19 (nasb).

Verse 14 says, You shall not curse a deaf man, nor place a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall revere your God; I am the LORD.

Verse 32 says, You shall rise up before the gray headed and honor the aged, and you shall revere your God; I am the LORD.

In this chapter of detailed instructions and commandments of God he lists three commandments to revere (fear) Him! These are:

1. Do not make fun of (curse) a deaf person because he cannot hear,
2. Do not tease a blind person, and
3. To honor the elderly (even to stand in respect of them)!

Are we caring for those who are suffering from deafness and blindness? Do we stand in respect and honor the elderly?

Let’s practice this individually, in our homes, churches, schools, and work. Who knows, if we all practiced this, we may have what William Wilberforce called, “a revolution of manners” to the glory of God!