Friday, February 27, 2009

Lessons Learned

I was recently at a conference of evangelists who are working with Muslim peoples. I learned a lot from my colleagues and I thought I would get some of these ideas down in blog form- before I forget them and have to relearn them over again in the distant future. I should start off by saying that I have long known that one of the coolest aspects of my job is the great people I get to meet and work with. This conference underlined that fact with a big black magic marker. From the first presentation to the last there was one great continuing testimony to the love and grace of our God. It was quite overwhelming.

As I sat in my seat on day one of the conference I did not know what to expect. I thought, 'If this is going to be all about methodology and how we should all do it 'this way' then I will be very disappointed.' The first guy got up and began talking about how he uses a six story story-set to share the gospel. I teared up and sat transfixed in my seat. Not because he had led so many to faith but because God had asked me to create a six story story-set in 1998. I decided to do it, tasked it to some teammates who created a 20 story story-set and because it was too big and awkward we never used it. Now, God was speaking again. DO IT! Since I have been back I pulled out six stories and have shared them several times already. It is a really great way to share the truth!

For those of you not familiar with the idea of storying the concept is really quite simple. If you want to communicate to the average Westerner then you need to share a step by step logical formula. So, the Gospel becomes the 'Four Spiritual Laws.' There is nothing wrong with that. It just makes no sense whatsoever to a Muslim. As one former Muslim once said, 'We have spaghetti brains.' I am glad I didn't say that. So, what makes sense to the 'spaghetti' brain? Stories. You can start with Adam and Eve if you want- chronological is not that important- and you can emphasis how man has sinned and God has provided salvation. The concept of the sacrifice is throughout the Scriptures starting when God slew the beast to make clothes for Adam and Eve- pointedly, to cover their shame. Anyway, as you may have figured out I am a bit of a story teller anyway so I love this approach.

But this approach is more important than a simple methodology. As I was sitting at lunch one day I was telling a story of how we were interacting in a village when the guy across the table interrupted, 'Hang on, I didn't hear the Gospel in what you just said.' 'Excuse me?', I replied. 'The Gospel. What you said was truth and it was good but the Gospel is the power of God for salvation. Only the Gospel can change people. You can tell some good stories, and you can give out a lot of truth, but you will not see changed lives until you proclaim the Gospel.' Wow. I have thought a lot about that. How many times have I told parables, or OT stories, or simple sayings from Scripture and yet never got around to proclaiming Jesus' death and resurrection. Well, sometimes you don't know if people are ready to hear that yet. We have tried many methods to 'filter' people to determine who is ready to hear the Gospel. A big lesson learned from this conference for me is that we find out who is ready to hear the Gospel by telling the Gospel! I have already put this into practice in my work here in Gondor and I can tell you it is very exciting and empowering.

Here are some other lessons learned in no particular order:
1. Go where you are invited (from Luke 10). We have ignored this one to our own peril more than once.
2. Spend the night. The vast majority of decisions for Christ happen after 10pm. They should spend the night at your house and you at theirs. If not then you don't really know each other. This is important for evangelism and discipleship.
3. Churches don't start Churches, Apostles do. I really appreciate the emphasis these days of Churches becoming more involved but it is Apostles who are sent out from the Churches who start Churches. Churches serious about getting into the Great Commission need to find, train, and support the men and women that God has called to go out and cross barriers to start Churches.
4. Find a national partner with a vision bigger than yours.
5. Fervent, desparate, 'ugly' prayer has proceeded every significant movement of people. We asked them what they meant by ugly prayer and they replied that they spent hours before God crying out to Him on behalf of their people, bemoaning the injustice and misery that they lived in apart from Him.
6. Scripture memory is essential. I know the Word really well but the guys who are seeing the most people transformed in their ministries know bucket loads of scripture and it comes out of their mouths in paragraphs concerning whatever we are talking about. I have some work to do here, how about you!
7. Stay with the Person of Peace. This is an old idea but still a good one. God is working with someone in your community: find him and stay with him.

Well, there is more but that is enough for now. I will continue to digest what I learned from this excellent conference and I will try and be obedient to God to do all He is calling me to do. Oh, in case I have not made it plain one other thing this conference has made plain is this: Great numbers of Muslims are coming to faith in Jesus Christ. Rejoice!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Pure Water

Last week I was in Fair Havens for a conference. It was a really great conference and I hope to have some of the things I learned from there up on a post soon. The week before I left for the conference I went down to the village of Pure with Eormer. We had been invited by a friend to look in on the village and meet with the local mayor. It seems that the village has no water and they want us to help out. One of the many difficult lessons I am learning is to go where we are invited. It just seems that every time I force my way in somewhere we end up hitting a brick wall but when we pray and seek the Lord invitations come our way- seemingly out of nowhere- and we have a much better situation to share in.

As we arrived in the little village we were met by the Mayor and he seemed like a nice enough guy. It was obvious to me that this was a typical village situation here in Gondor: The Mayor was very secular and the villagers were very religious. I don't know why this seems to always be the case, it just is. We sat down and and drank tea and discussed the problem and the potential project together. It seems that this village has never had water but has always had to walk a couple of kilometers down the road to a neighboring village to get water. Now, I have been here long enough to know this is not the whole truth. The truth is that there is irrigation water that flows in a ditch along the edge of a nearby field and nine times out of ten the young girls going after water in the morning will take a short cut there and use that water rather than make the hike up the hill. This of course, results in a multitude of water born diseases and a very high infant mortality rate. One of my favorite sayings is 'Even though you know they are exaggerating to get your favor, the truth is worse!' So, what was the solution? The village up the hill had a big beautiful natural spring and we could tap that and pipe it down about three kilometers to this village. Sounds good, but again I have been around this block before. All natural springs in this country are holy places. There are often mullahs there offering prayer to pilgrims and very often they don't like their holy places messed up with a water project. So I asked, 'Is there anything special about the spring?' 'Oh Yes!' came the reply. 'The water is so holy that there are fish up in a pond around the spring and we can't eat them.' But of course, they will give permission for the water project, 'It is all sorted.' Maybe. So, the Mayor asks, 'What shall we do?' I said that we should pray and then go and see the spring. Instantly, Eomer and I saw the anxiety in his face. Pray? Secular mayor types don't know much about prayer even though in their culture they should do this every time they sit down, and get up from the table with guests. Eomer said, 'Strider speaks our language well. He can pray for us.' Relief washed over his face and I prayed. As I was praying God suddenly said to me, 'Don't end the prayer 'in Jesus name'. I usually do say this and it is never offensive since I am a westerner and they expect me to be a Christian. But I heard and obeyed. So, I ended my prayer with a phrase that many believers here in Gondor end their prayers with, 'in the full power of God's name, amen'. This phrase means the same as 'in Jesus name' for the believers but is not offensive to any Muslims present. I ended the prayer and we got up and left to go up to the spring.

I was amazed when we got to the spring. Here was a beautiful spot at the foot of a high mountain and water was pouring out of the base of the cliff and tumbling down in three different directions. Question number one for these kinds of projects was answered, 'Yes, there is enough water!' Question two: Will they let us cap some of this spring and pipe the water away. There was in fact, a mullah at the spring and he came over and offered us his encouragement. 'Yes, there is plenty of water and you will do no damage if you pipe some away. It will be a good deed for the village with no water.' That's good news. Then the Mullah offered to chant a surah of the Koran and pray for us. I never really know what to do when this happens. Everyone there knelt down but I just stood quietly and respectfully with my hands behind my back. I was thinking, 'Ok, when he prays will I raise my hands and say, 'Amen' with everyone else or will I not? Sometimes I do this out of respect but I always hate to amen a prayer that I usually do not understand- it is usually in at least half Arabic- and if I do understand it I usually do not agree with it- 'Lord, make us all rich' is a common refrain. So, as I stood there wondering what I should do the Mayor stepped in just as the surah of the Koran was finished and said, 'Hey, this guy is a God-fearer and he speaks well, let him pray.' I was shocked. This had never happened before. The mullah looked at me and nodded. I prayed for God to have mercy on the local villagers so that they could learn His ways and walk in His truths. Everyone said, 'Amen' and Eomer and I walked away. About 15 people heard me pray that prayer and it never would have happened had I not prayed sensitively in the Mayor's house. Eomer and I will go up again this next week to further the water project. But more important we will start telling the Story to see where God is at work and to determine why He wanted me to be recognized as an authoritative God-fearer on my first day there. I think it means God is moving in that village and He just might use Eomer and I to reap where we have not sown and gain a harvest for the Kingdom. Pray to that end for us.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Calvinistic Thinking- Perseverance of the Saints

Here we are at the end of this Calvinistic discussion and no, I have not scratched the surface of the debate over reformed theology. Instead I wanted to get my thinking down on paper- eh, er, uh... cyberspace about what I think the Holy Spirit has taught me about the nature of God and salvation. The 'P' of the Tulip is my favorite- as it is with most Southern Baptist. It just seems to be something that most of us have 'gotten' about the nature of God and salvation.

The Perseverance of the Saints is an essential doctrine to many of us because it states that salvation is God's work and not ours. Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike tend to agree on this one. If we can lose salvation through our own work then salvation IS of our own work and we know it is not. The Calvinist adds to this that his soteriology is systematic and uniform on this point and that the free will/Arminian is inconsistent here. Of course, I am not going to get into too many details here but for the sake of clarity let's put a few facts down. One, the Calvinist is exactly right that once one adopts the idea that Grace is granted without condition, and that once it is granted Grace can not be refused, and once it has been given it must have its salvific effect, then one can only conclude that no action on the part of the beneficiary could possibly undo it. As far as Calvinist thinking goes the only way for one to lose their salvation would be for God to choose of His own will to arbitrarily cast them out and God is not arbitrary. So, for the Calvinist their is nothing to defend here. God saves those whom He will and He will never reject them. They will live for however long and then go to be with Him in Heaven forever. Once they are saved they will be forever saved because the nature of God is steadfast and sure.

For the Arminian Perseverance seems out of place. I submit that it is only out of place if we fail to understand the nature of our salvation- which we often do! I believe that if we understood what salvation is then we would understand why it Perseveres. We begin dead in our sins (Total Depravity, which everyone believes we just disagree on the degree). Then God calls us by His Grace (Irresistible Grace- which we all believe in His grace we just are unsure how 'irresistible' it is). We are moved by his sacrifice for us on the cross (Limited Atonement? I am convinced that we all hold the same position here; Christ death impacts all of creation and all Men but only some are saved by it). We are undone by the knowledge that we can not save ourselves and our need for a savior (Unconditional Election- again we agree more than we disagree on here, neither the Calvinist nor the non is promoting the idea of works righteousness: We can not earn election). The savior comes and gives us life. Here is the bottom line for Perseverance: Life is eternal and therefore can not be lost. John 3:16 declares that those who believe in Him have (present tense) eternal life. The reason this life must be eternal is obvious from 2 Corinthians 5:17 once we are saved we become a 'new creature'. This is very descriptive wording. A 'new creature' can not choose to become the old creature. The butterfly can not choose to be a caterpillar again. He can choose not to fly, he can crawl around on the leaf if he wants, but he will still be a butterfly- a new creature. It is not in his nature to go back and it is not in ours. So, for the Arminian who chooses to obey the call of God and for the Calvinist who has no choice but to obey the call of God our election has the same end; a new creature in Christ Jesus.

But some will throw out seemingly Biblical objections like Hebrews 6:4. The problem is two fold when passages like this confuse us: We don't understand the nature of our salvation and we don't read the whole passage in context. Let's look at it to see what I mean.

Hebrews 6:4- For it is impossible to restore again to repentance those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5- and tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6- if they fall away, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.

This passage taken by itself seems to indicate that those who are saved can be lost (fall away) and not be able to be restored. I will repeat myself one more time for emphasis at the risk of sounding arrogant: we do not understand our salvation and that is what I think the writer of Hebrews was getting at. Look at the list, it seems fool-proof doesn't it? Enlightened- has knowledge and perhaps understanding, heavenly gift- seems to indicate God's grace in some form, the Holy Spirit? Surely this is referring to someone who is saved yes? The goodness of the Word of God- only saved people understand this surely. The powers of the age to come? Wow, we are all praying for such powers in our lives. So, this then describes one who has been saved and then of course, in vs. 6 salvation is lost and that proves that salvation can be lost. I disagree. The reason I disagree is not that this passage does not agree with my theology but rather if we look at the whole passage we see the author making a very different point here.

Hebrews 6:9-10
Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things- things that belong to salvation. 10- for God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do.

Well that's odd yes? The writer seems to indicate that salvation can be lost and yet is convinced it wont happen to the Hebrews. Why couldn't it? If salvation can be lost then surely we are all in danger at any moment of giving in to sin and throwing everything away? But the writer disagrees. He says they wont. Look at why he believes they will not fall away. Verse 10 says that they love and care for the saints for His sake. Could it be that one who 'tasted of the heavenly gift', one who has been enlightened with knowledge, one who has even 'shared' in the Holy Spirit and experienced the powers of the things to come still has not been transformed by salvation? It is not these things the writer values as an essential sign of salvation. It is the loving of the brethren that is a true sign of a transformed life. Wow! When was the last time you judged someone on their knowledge? Their spiritual prowess? How powerful they are? But what the writer of Hebrews values in making this judgment about his friends is their love for the brethren. Do you judge others by how much the love the brethren? Maybe we should since that is the one category that the writer valued.

As a short aside to this post let me say right now that this is a scary concept for me. If we judge our fellow brethren in this light most of them don't look to secure in their salvation. We have a lot of people promoting knowledge today. They say if you believe xyz then you are ok, if you believe abc we will not call you condemned but you are in real trouble and we won't fellowship with you. If you believe mno, well, that is just silly, no one believes mno so if you do you are a heretic. This is not how the writer of Hebrews judges the Church. Using his category of love those who have knowledge and power are irrelevant, it is those who love who have truly demonstrated that they are transformed- and will never lose their salvation. When I look at my fellow Southern Baptist who are willing to disfellowship so easily and NOT serve each other for almost any reason- even based on the Calvinist/nonCalvinist debate- It saddens me. Would the writer of Hebrews write to us today and say, 'Oh, of course you guys are saved, you love each other so well it is obvious' or would he say, 'Right guys, back up to verse one: These are the elemental things and you are not ready for the real meat at all.'
I believe in the Perseverance of the Saints. The real question is who are the saints? Love is the bottom line here and it seems to be a scarce commodity.