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John G. Paton: The Fruit of a Father’s Prayers

Aug. 24, 2015By: Evan Burns

John G. Paton was the 19th century Scottish missionary to the New Hebrides.  He suffered much personal loss, ridicule from churches at home, and great discouragement.  The Lord used Paton to mobilize many churches and missionaries to give themselves obediently to the missionary task.  Through his great adversity, he attributed the abiding presence of Jesus as his source of life and strength.  More than any other man, his father’s humble-hearted spirituality indelibly marked Paton’s thirst for God.  Often times, courageous missionary leaders are trained by the warm piety of fathers who walk with God and reflect the light of the Divine Presence.  May our children rise up and say, “He walked with God, why may not I?”

Paton affectionately reflects on his father’s influence:

81rVoh_l3FLThree times daily, generally after each meal, we saw our father retire, and "shut the door;" and we children understood by a sort of spiritual instinct that prayers were being poured out there for us, much like the High Priest within the veil in the Most Holy Place. We occasionally heard the pathetic echoes of a trembling voice, pleading as if for life, and we learned to slip in and out past that door on tiptoe, not to disturb the holy communion. The outside world may not have known, but we knew, where that happy light came from dawning on my father's face. It was a reflection from the Divine Presence of God.

 Never, in temple or cathedral, on mountain or in glen, can I hope to feel that the Lord God is more near, more visibly walking and talking with men, than under that humble cottage roof. Though everything else in my Christian experience were by some unthinkable catastrophe to be swept out of memory, or blotted from my understanding, my soul would wander back to those early scenes, and shut itself up again in that Sanctuary Closet. I can still hear the echoes of those cries to God, pushing back all doubt with the victorious appeal, "He walked with God, why may not I?"

  Somewhere in or about his seventeenth year, my father had passed through a crisis in Christian experience, and from that day he openly and very decidedly followed the Lord Jesus. At this time, he began that blessed custom of Family Prayer, morning and evening, which my father practiced without one single omission till he lay on his death-bed, at seventy-seven years of age. Even to the last day of his life, a portion of Scripture was read, and his voice was heard softly joining in the Psalm and his lips breathed the morning and evening prayer. None of us can remember that any day passed without family devotions. No hurry for market, no rush for business, no arrival of guests, no trouble or sorrow, no joy or excitement, ever prevented at least our kneeling around the family altar, while the High Priest led our prayers to God for himself and his children.

Oh, I can remember those happy Sabbath evenings; no blinds drawn and shutters up, to keep out the sun from us, as some scandalously affirm; but a holy, happy, entirely human day, for a Christian father, mother, and children to spend. There were eleven of us brought up in a house like that; and never one of the eleven, has been heard, or ever will be heard, saying that the Sabbath was dull or wearisome to us. But God help the homes where these things are due by force and not by love! The very discipline through which our father passed us was a kind of religion in itself. If anything really serious required to be punished he retired first to his closet for prayer, and we boys learned to understand that he was laying the whole matter before God; and that was the severest part of the punishment for me to bear! I could have defied any amount of mere penalty, but this spoke to my conscience like a message from God. We loved him all the more, when we saw how much it cost him to punish us. And in truth, he had never very much of that kind of work to do upon any one of all the eleven. We were ruled far more by love than fear. 

“Our Cottage Home: The Fruit of a Father's Prayers”, by John G. Paton

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Introducing False Teaching - On Accident

Aug. 21, 2015By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

The New Athiests have made a lot of noise in the United States.  Their books are bestsellers, as are the replies (see Keller's Reason for God).  These teachers who offer no hope for the world and no foundation to build a worldview are popular - in the US.  

The-Four-Horsemen

A friend of mine overseas was sharing that a well-meaning American pastor had come and was teaching apologetics when he started referencing Sam Harris and Christopher Hitches.  He explained their arguments and then proceeded to teach how a Christian should respond. The content was excellent.

Only one problem - no one knew who these guys were or even considered Atheism to be a worldview. Now, according to my friend, the churches have a new problem - Athiesm.  Why?  Because the pastor from the US introduced a totally foreign worldview and had the exact opposite impact he wanted to have.

Know your context.

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The Blessing of God and its Global Purpose

Aug. 18, 2015By: Philemon YongAuthor Bio

Scripture gives evidence that God has blessed his people and continues to bless them. These blessings are both material and spiritual. Although it is common to hear of the blessings of God, it is less common to hear about its intended purpose. Christians will often declare that God has blessed them but they fail to explain the intended purpose of that blessing. The theology of blessing in Scripture is one that stipulates both the content of the blessing and its intended purpose. Often, God’s blessing on his people, particularly the blessing of salvation, has a global purpose. The people of God will be better placed to honor him if they understand how he has blessed them and for what purpose. God’s blessings on his people has a global purpose that results in his glory among the nations.

Blessed1

 For example:

 Genesis 12:1–3

1 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Abraham was promised a blessing so that (reason) he will be a blessing (to others [implied] verse 2). The way Abraham will be a blessing to others is made clear in verse 3 in the words “and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” What we see then is that Abraham was blessed by God for a purpose that extended beyond his own time. Paul makes it clear that the blessing Abraham received in which he will be a blessing to the families of the earth was the gospel itself. In Galatians 3:8, Paul writes, 

“And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed.’”

We conclude that God’s blessing on Abraham was for the purpose of the nations receiving God’s blessing (the gospel). Thus, Abraham was not blessed because of merit but because of God’s grace on him and his concern for the nations. Putting Genesis 12:1-3 together with Galatians 3:8-9, we can see that the purpose of the blessing of Abraham is for the nations to be blessed along with Abraham. This happens through faith in Christ, just as Abraham had faith in God and was made right with him.

Additionally, the way in which Abraham was to be a blessing to the nations was through his offspring (Gen. 22:18; cf. Acts 3:25), whom Paul again identifies as Jesus Christ himself (Gal 3:16). It follows from this that Abraham’s blessing is realized in the lives of people from all nations who come to faith in Christ and thereby share in the blessing of Abraham (Gal 3:9, 13-14).

Psalms 67

1 May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, 2 that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations. 3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! 4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth. 5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you! 6 The earth has yielded its increase; God, our God, shall bless us. 7 God shall bless us; let all the ends of the earth fear him!

The pattern of God’s blessings for the sake of the nations is also evident in Psalms 67. In this Psalm, we see a prayer for God’s blessing (v. 1). The purpose for the request is stated in verse 2, “that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations” (v. 2). The blessing that the psalmist requests from God is not stated explicitly but it would seem from the context of verses 1 and 2 that it is a blessing of salvation. What the nations are to know is God’s ways, specifically, how he works to save sinners (v. 2). The psalmist’s theology of blessing is that God blesses for the purpose of the nations knowing him. This is true with both spiritual blessing (salvation [vv. 1-2]) and material blessing (vv. 6-7). Thus, both material and spiritual blessings on God’s people are for the nations to know God’s ways and his saving power for the praise of his name (vv. 3-5).

New Testament

In the NT we begin to see the promise of Genesis 12:3 and even the answer to the prayer of Psalm 67. We see the nations coming to faith in Christ, who is the offspring of Abraham (Gal. 3:16) through whom the promised blessing of Abraham was to come to the nations (Gal. 3:9, 13-14; Acts 3:25-26). We see also that those who received this blessing of salvation were also to be a blessing to others through the proclamation of the gospel (Matt. 28:18-20).

Material blessing in the NT also had the same purpose it did for those in the OT: for the sake of others knowing God through the gospel. For example,

2 Corinthians 9:10-15 

10 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. 13 By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission flowing from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, 14 while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you. 15 Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!

According to Paul, God supplies all that his people need (v. 10) for the purpose of generosity (v. 11). When God’s people respond to God’s blessings by being generous, God receives the glory (v. 12-13). The generosity of believers is evidence that they have believed the gospel of Christ (v. 13). The material blessing of God in this passage is “grace” (v. 14) and its purpose is the glory of God. 

In light of the above observations, I conclude that a right theology of God’s blessing on his people (material and spiritual blessings) necessarily follows through with the purpose of the blessings. God has blessed us, is blessing us, and will bless us, for the sake of the nations. May the nations be glad in God because God has blessed us.

How has God blessed you and for what purpose? It is up to each individual and congregation to answer this question in view of the teaching of Scripture.

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Gay Marriage and the Future of Global Missions

Aug. 4, 2015By: Karl Dahlfred

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage nationwide, the internet has been alight with articles from almost every possible angle.  As an American and a Christian, I am fascinated and concerned about what this historic decision means.  But as a missionary living abroad, I am also concerned with how this decision will affect other countries and the work of global missions. 

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Of course, the U.S. is not the first to legalize gay marriage, and Christians in other nations (Canada and the U.K., for example) have reminded American Christians that legalized gay marriage doesn’t mean that the sky is falling.  However, the American Supreme Court decision is symbolic of a larger cultural juggernaut.  Given the influence that the U.S. currently has on the global scene, the pro-homosexuality zeitgeist that is now ascendant in the U.S. will most certainly have global ramifications.

Some readers may think that I am being alarmist.  I can understand that.  Where I work in Thailand, gay marriage and LGBT rights are barely a blip on the radar.  Every once in a while, there is a Thai news article about transgender bathrooms or a transvestite entering a female beauty contest. However, there is no widespread call for gay rights and equality in Thailand.  On the one hand, many Thai accept gays and transvesites as a normal part of society, despite the fact they don’t have the right to marry.  On the other hand, Thai culture at large is still fine with transvestites being the butt of jokes on TV comedy shows, and gay or transgender students regularly get made fun of in classrooms.  Thailand, as a whole, seems quite far from jumping on the gay marriage bandwagon.

But just because gay rights has not yet become a hot topic in Thailand (among other countries), that does not mean that those working abroad can safely ignore the Supreme Court decision.   Many trends have a way of making their way abroad.  And in a globalized world, this is truer than ever.  For that reason, I think that there are a number of implications that legalized gay marriage in the U.S. will have for global missions.   Some of these scenarios may not have occurred yet (or may not yet be widespread), but Christians involved in global missions should be aware that they are coming.

1)    Pro-Gay Missionary Candidates and Short-Term Workers
Many churches and missionary organizations might feel safe because they have an evangelical statement of belief which implicitly or explicitly endorses traditional marriage.  But as the cultural winds shift, we will begin to see men and women applying for missionary work who affirm an evangelical statement of faith but also support the gay marriage and/or homosexual practice.  They may or may not be gay themselves, but this discussion will likely come up.  Will churches and missionary organizations be prepared legally to deal with possible lawsuits from homosexual missionary candidates who were not accepted as missionary workers? (Read “How to protect your church against sexual orientation and gender identity lawsuits”)

Full-time missionary candidates are screened more thoroughly, but short-term workers are often required to sign only a very minimal statement of faith.  Wouldn’t a long-term missionary be surprised if he took a team of short-termers to do an outreach and discovered one of them assuring a transgender man that being gay is compatible with being a Christian?  Those processing potential short-termers need to start checking their views on homosexuality and gay marriage before they head out on a trip.

2)    Losing Supporters and Supporting Churches
There is an increasing number of otherwise evangelical churches and Christians in the United States who are changing their position on homosexuality, and endorsing the gay lifestyle as compatible with the Christian faith.  Other churches and believers are trying out a third way, stopping short of endorsing homosexuality but still supporting the legal right for homosexuals to marry.  Although missionaries who hold to traditional views of biblical sexuality might believe that none of THEIR supporters would go in those directions, it is wholly possible that missionaries and their supporters might find themselves on different sides, either theologically, politically, or both.  Given the nature of missionary communication, this issue might not come up while the missionary is on the field.  However, when there is more time to talk and catch up during home assignment (furlough), it might come to light that not everyone holds the view that they used to.  American missionaries in particular may lose supporters over this issue, and they need to be prepared for that possibility.

3)    Meeting Pro-Gay Missionaries on the Field
Since there is a growing divide among Christians over gay marriage, it is very likely that missionaries who hold to traditional marriage will meet other missionaries on the field who endorse legalized gay marriage, and perhaps LGBT views of gender and sexuality.  Just after the Supreme Court decision, I saw a pro-gay marriage photo posted by a missionary on the Facebook.  On the mission field, missionaries of different theological and ecclesiastical backgrounds tend to interact with each other much more often than they would in their home countries. Where there are few Christians, those who are Christians often stick together.  But will differing views on homosexuality increasingly cause division among tiny missionary communities around the world?

4)    Pro-LGBT American Foreign Policy
Many countries around the world are not enthusiastic about gay rights, but the U.S. government would like to change that.  Despite the fact that there are many atrocities and injustices around the globe that deserve attention, the Obama administration has decided to devote itself to pushing for gay rights in other countries.  For example, President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have threatened to cut off aid to Uganda unless they repeal anti-sodomy laws.  It seems that if the Obama administration (and future administrations of the same mindset) are able to force the issue of gay rights upon foreign nations, they will do so.  Many missionaries and Christians outside the U.S. will sooner or later find themselves in a pro-gay marriage culture, if for no other reason than the fact that the countries they are working in are concerned to keep good relations with the U.S. (and to keep the aid money flowing).

The above four points are not comprehensive and over time the ramifications of the Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage will become more apparent.  But as Christians, we need to be aware of the direction the culture is going so that we will be ready to be agents of grace in a hostile culture.  And those who are missionaries need to be observant of the storms brewing offshore, because what is far away now will eventually hit land somewhere.

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The Exodus as God's "People Planting Movement"

Aug. 3, 2015By: Jackson WuAuthor Bio

In Exodus, God catalyzes a “people planting movement.”

This differs from “disciple making movements” or “church planting movements” (CPM). In fact, I have argued elsewhere that there are no CPMs in in the Bible.

In Exodus 13, we see God in the early stages of planting a royal priesthood and a holy nation (cf. Exod 19:6). From these Israelites, the Lord would grow a people who are called by His name.

Out of a desire to see people saved, we face the temptation to compromise by yielding toScreen_Shot_2015-07-16_at_10.06.08_AM pragmatism, especially in church planting methodology. Instead, we should be mindful that the Bible has something to say about our methods, not only our message.

How does God plant His people?

God is Faithful, not Fast

In Exodus 13:1–10, 19 explicitly remind us of God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is why Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel solemnly swear, saying, “God will surely visit you, and you shall carry up my bones with you from here.” (v. 19)

It took around 400 years for God to fulfill His promises to rescue Israel from slavery. One can almost understand why some people might think the Lord had forgot them. What are we to learn from this?

The Lord is faithful.

The Lord keeps His promises to His people. He will save them and build them up. However, it may take longer then we think. His plan might cause us to suffer more than we would like.

This raises a few relevant questions.

Are we willing to take measures or make plans for the long term? Are we willing to stay and be buried in the places we're serving? Ask yourself, “What do we call ‘home’?” Your passport country or the country in which you serve?

Rapidity is Not Always Right

Notice how Exodus 13:17–18a contrasts much of modern mission thinking,

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war and return to Egypt.” But God led the people around by the way of the wilderness toward the Red Sea.

Here is a key idea for us: the Lord does not always want us to take the fastest route.

God prioritizes His reputation, not rapidity.

The Lord’s will does not always make sense to us. Why? In part, we often are quite unaware of the true condition of our heart. The Israelites’ hearts were not ready for the “faster” route.

In view of Exodus 14:17–18, the Lord had a greater plan, one that gave God glory in Israel and among all nations.

And I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they shall go in after them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, his chariots, and his horsemen. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gotten glory over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his horsemen.”

What do we learn about God’s “people planting movement” (i.e. the exodus)? It is about more than Israel’s salvation; it primarily concerns God’s glory.

The faster, more “efficient” path often is not most glorifying to God.

Our goal is to magnify and only then to multiply. We shouldn’t confuse the two. They are not necessarily the same thing.

Here are a few application questions:

  • As you consider your ministry strategies, which of the possible “slower” paths might actually be the one chosen by God that will give Him glory and protect our hearts?
  • Shouldn’t we intentionally reflect on ways that may be counter-intuitive, immediately slower, but better in the long run?

God’s manner of leading in the past is at least suggestive of how He might lead us in the present. The unfolding of salvation history is testimony enough that the Lord is patient and less concerned with speed than we are. There is a difference between urgency and hastiness. The former entails intentionality; the latter is concerned foremost with time.

As far as the Lord is concerned, it was more urgent that Israel know more about the Lord than it was for them to

.... do what most rapidly led to salvation,

.... get to Sinai to receive the Law, and

.... be comfortable, finding rest in the promised land.

This is a key point for those who minimize theological education in a missions context.

There is a Cost

What can we learn about the people within God’s “people planting movement”?

Redemption is costly even to those who are redeemed.

Why? They must give up their old ways in order to follow the Lord and embrace their new way of life. Consider Exodus 13:12–15,

. . . you shall set apart to the Lord all that first opens the womb. All the firstborn of your animals that are males shall be the Lord’s. Every firstborn of a donkey you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. Every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem . . . . Therefore I sacrifice to the Lord all the males that first open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.

The people are redeemed through sacrifice

How often do people emphasize that salvation is “free”? We really need to define “free.” The truth is, God’s people must count the cost of following Him. Yet, I rarely see or hear people talking about the cost of faith.

Tell people the cost! 

Saved for Conflict . . . Not from It

Finally, in Exodus 13:18b, we see one more intriguing observation: And the people of Israel went up out of the land of Egypt equipped for battle.

  • They assume salvation comes through conflict (not that salvation means freedom from conflict).
  • God’s promises lead to preparation, not presumption.

As we serve God, do we have proper expectations? God’s will is that we would glorify him by waiting for Him with patient joy.  How are we enduring the wait?

May Col. 1:11 be our prayer, “May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy.”

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