Thursday, December 20, 2012

Reflections: The Value of Friendship

The end of the year is closing in, and as the new year approaches I have been reflecting on the events of the past twelve months. So much has changed in such a short period of time, and I thought it would be helpful to me, and maybe interesting to you to collect a few of the significant lessons that the Lord has taught me over the past year here on my blog.

In the beginning of March I moved from Chicago to South Korea. I had been invited to visit Juhyang Community Church in January and while I was there they offered me the opportunity to return and help them begin an English ministry. In addition to serving at the church, opportunities opened for me to serve with a campus group and a missionary training school. I had few expectations about what my experience in Chuncheon would be like, but God wanted to use my time there to teach me a valuable lesson that I didn't expect.

Within a couple of months in Chuncheon I was experiencing some significant culture-shock. I had attempted to set my expectations low, but there were many experiences that left me feeling jaded. During the first three months in Chuncheon I had spent my time exclusively with Koreans--many of whom had little or no English ability. My Korean was getting much better, but the lack of a shared language often led to miscommunication and misunderstanding. I felt like the rug was being pulled out from under my feet. Many times God uses hardship and suffering to get us to reflect on what is really valuable.

At the end of June I went on a three week long trip to Japan and the USA. Just before leaving for the trip a couple of visitors attended the English worship service at Juhyang Community Church. They were Pastor Eric Beck and Pastor James Lee of Harvest Time Community Church. After the service we went out to eat jjajangmyeon. I learned from them that there was already an English language international church being planted in Chuncheon, and they already had a well established core of people. It occurred to me that rather than I could much more fruitful partnered together with what they were already doing than I had been on my own. Henry Blackaby's maxim comes to mind; if you want to experience God, discover where God is working and join Him.

Eric and I post shabu-shabu. Nice haircut 'eh.
After returning in July I began attending Harvest Time and participating in their outreach to international students at Kangwon National University. It turns out that we had both been partnered with different people from the same organization doing virtually the same thing--like ships passing in the night. I started to spend a lot of time together with Eric. In addition to the time spent together in prayer and outreach, I found that he had a heart with a great passion for the Lord, and we leaned on each other as each of us sought to serve the Lord in Chuncheon. We also ate a lot of great food, watched movies, played board games and screen golf.

One thing that I hadn't considered before going to Chuncheon was just how much a strong friendship could affect the whole of my ministry in a place. I found that a lot of the things that I had been struggling with were suddenly much easier to bear. My bitterness and disappointment were replaced with joy and excitement. I feel that God even helped our friendship to be contagious. There is a great community at Harvest Time and it only seemed to get better week to week! I am so grateful for the time I got to spend there, because the Holy Spirit is so clearly at work in that community of believers.

Sometimes it takes a life experience for us to understand the Bible better--I had never had such a strong and encouraging friendship with another guy since coming to faith in Christ. The first thing that comes to mind is Jonathan and David--God knit our hearts together with a common vision and passion in a very short time. It was extremely difficult to leave Chuncheon in spite of the excitement I had about the opportunity God had given me to begin support raising to go to Japan with Converge Worldwide.

Even Iron Man is better with a friend.
God doesn't want us to serve him alone. We are better together than we are individually. The body is made up of many different parts and we need each other. I understand much better why Jesus sent out his disciples two-by-two. I am really grateful for the friendship I found with Eric Beck in Chuncheon. God used him to minister to me and help me to realize how much I needed community and fellowship with the body of Christ--it moved beyond a conceptual understanding to a real experience.

I would appreciate it if you would pray for Eric as he faithfully serves with Harvest Time International Church as the Outreach Pastor! He holds weekly Bible studies for international students at Kangwon National University and Hallym University. He is also responsible for weekly bible studies and men's fellowship at Harvest Time. Eric, his wife Elizabeth and daughter Clara live in Chuncheon by faith. He has a home in Joplin Missouri that he has been trying to sell from a distance. Please pray that they would find a buyer for their home as this would help them greatly with their finances.

Eric serves bi-vocationally and his wife Elizabeth works full time as an English teacher. Their time is very precious, but they give it away so generously. Pray that God would bless them and their family during this Christmas season!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Missions 101: Defining Missions

Reconciliation by Cindy Alsop 
A few Sundays ago I had the opportunity to speak on missions in a youth meeting at Shiloh Hills Fellowship in Spokane Washington. I was asked to speak on missions in a way that would be compelling for the youth. I only had a short time to prepare, and an even shorter time to present--but I liked the challenge.

There were so many things that I could have said--missions isn't simply a subtopic within theology, as the theologian Martin Kähler (1835-1912) once said, "Missions is the mother of all theology." That actually complicates the matter quite a bit. It's like being told, 'sum up the bible in twenty minutes.'

Never one to back down from a challenge I dived head in. Thankfully the Holy Spirit used me to articulate what I actually felt afterwards was something that might be beneficial to share with my readers here on JoyField (all three of you, thanks mom!).

I began by asking the youth if they could give me a definition for 'Missions.' I got a lot of great answers. The youth understood that it meant going to another place and sharing a message, that it included danger, but also excitement. There was some vagueness about the specifics, but there was a general consensus that it was important.

The word Mission actually comes into the English language from the Latin word missio, which means 'to send,' or 'to be sent.' This word was used to translate another very important Greek word from which we get the word Apostle, that is, one who is sent. One of the most important ways to understand missions is that it is the imitation of Christ in his incarnation and ministry of reconciliation.

Jesus was sent by the Father, and He sends us.

Missions is rooted theologically in the incarnation of Jesus. In John 20:19-21 Jesus appears to to His disciples after His resurrection from the dead. "On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”"

In Jesus' parable in Luke 14, He compares heaven with a banquet--unable to get the invited guests to come, the host sends his servants out into the roads and country lanes to invite in whomever they can find to experience the festivities. This is just one of numerous references to being sent in the New Testament, but it is a story that illustrates the very heart of missions. We have been commissioned by Jesus to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that Jesus taught (Matt 28:18-20).

This commission is a high calling--and one that is given to the entire body of Christ. It is not limited to a select group of highly trained religious professionals. Instead, as we see in the New Testament it was to be accomplished by fishermen, tax collectors, tent makers, soldiers, slaves, linen dyers, medical doctors, farmers--in short, everyone who belongs to Christ is given this command.

The great commission is a recommissioning of Adam's commission given in Genesis 1:27-28--to fill the world with image bearers. We participate in the mission of God both individually and corporately as the Holy Spirit works to restore the image of God in us.

In the book of Revelations we get to see the end of the story--all the treasures of the nations being brought into the heavenly city. Jesus' blood "has ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation."(Rev 5:9) Jesus will be the center of the new heavens and earth--the glory of His face will be the source of its light, "The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it." (Rev 21:24)

Jesus' incarnation and ministry of reconciliation are the blueprint for missions.

There is very little disagreement in regards to the 'going' of missions, but there is great contention as to what the content of missions is supposed to be. Thankfully Paul gives us a good reminder:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor 5:17-21)
God has entrusted us with this ministry of reconciliation--to reconcile people to their creator. He invites us to be part of this very exciting rescue mission. We join together with Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit to reconcile the world to the Father. Jesus crossed over the greatest  cultural divide when he became incarnate as a man, and He did it in obedience to His Father who sent Him. He came on a mission of redemtion, to go to the cross and defeat death and Satan through his suffering on the cross. He rose again from the dead victorious and invites us to partner with him in reconciling and restoring all the nations to God the Father.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Converge: A History Lesson with Significance for Today

While visiting Shiloh Hills Fellowship in Spokane two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to fellowship with Bud Malmsten, a retired pastor with Converge Worldwide. Bud's grandfather had actually been a founding member of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis in 1871. His father Rev. H. Wyman Malmsten (memorial) served with distinction on the staff of Bethel University. Bud helped me to understand the rich heritage of Converge Worldwide (aka the Baptist General Conference, formerly the Swedish Baptists).

First Swedish Baptist Seattle, now a parking lot.
Bud regaled me with many stories about his family, ministry and the history of Converge, but one of these tales stood out in my mind. He shared how, prior to the second World War, the Swedish Baptists sent their missionaries overseas under the leadership of the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society of the Northern Baptist Convention.

At the time it was becoming common for smaller ethnic Baptist denominations to formally join the Northern Baptists (now known as the American Baptist Churches USA) or work in close partnership with them when it came to missions. In fact, according to Bud, the Swedish Baptists were very close to merging with the Northern Baptists as the Danish and Norwegian Baptists had for the most part already done. Wikipedia says, "Swedish Baptists had maintained an alliance with the American Baptist Publication Society, American Baptist home and foreign missions... Some Swedish Baptists expected to merge with that body."

That was until the 1940's when a major schism in the Northern Baptist Convention occurred. Concerned with the growing influence of liberal criticism of the bible, a movement began within the denomination to make sure that any missionaries being sent out with the ABFMS were consistent on their understandings of the fundamentals of the Christian faith. The disagreement over liberal theology eventually tore the denomination apart, and in 1943 a new denomination was founded called the Conservative Baptist Association.

According to Bud, this split had a profound effect on the Swedish Baptists. Different voices within the denomination suggested merging with the American Baptists or one of the splinter groups. However, at an annual meeting, Bud's own grandfather Wyman Malmsten promoted a vision for what he thought might help set a new direction for the denomination. The idea was called "52 by 52."

With the Northern Baptist Convention coming apart at the seams, the Baptist General Conference had begun sending their own missionaries in 1944. At the time the number was very small, but the feeling was that if there were a significant number of foreign missionaries being supported by the BGC, then that would warrant their continuation as an independent and separate denomination. Wyman was instrumental in putting forth the vision of sending fifty-two missionaries by 1952 (which happened to be the centennial anniversary of the founding of the denomination). This would be the litmus test of their resolve to trust God and be faithful to the Great Commission.

The number seemed outrageous at the time that it was first proposed, but by 1950 they had already sent out more than fifty-two missionaries! Wyman's calculated gamble paid off and the denomination rallied around their missionaries. The missionaries sent out became the glue that held the denomination together. Wikipedia's less sensational version corroborates the story, "The conservative Swedish Baptists pulled back from growing liberalism of the Northern Baptists, and in 1944 formed their own Board of Foreign Missions. This moved them toward independent existence, which they have maintained to the present."

In a book published by the denomination entitled, "Fifteen eventful years: A survey of the Baptist General Conference of America: 1945-1960" it says:

In June, 1944, the Swedish Baptist General Conference took one of the most momentous steps in its history... it adopted a series of resolutions which led ultimately to the creation of an independent Board of Foreign Missions. Until that time the official missionary program of the denomination had been carried on largely through the agencies of the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society. The year 1944 holds special importance for Conference Baptists, for it marks the beginning of an independent program of foreign missionary endeavor. 
The significance of this step in the history of the Conference was very great indeed. The decision represented a new-found confidence in the future of the denomination and a determination to discover a distinctive role for Conference Baptists within American Christianity and in the world mission of the church... the new foreign work had special importance as a rallying point for Conference Baptists, and the launching of the new program contributed immeasurably to the change from pessimism about the future of the denomination to optimism. (p. 63)
Two quite different kinds of motivation lay behind the decision to create an independent foreign mission society. Some leaders were motivated primarily by a concern for the theological integrity of the Conference missionary participation. Some others were motivated primarily by a concern to promote denominational unity and loyalty through a vigorous world-wide outreach. The reasons for the Advance were summarized in an official publication of the Board of Foreign Missions in 1950:  
Two reasons for this new action were: First, our churches wanted to be sure they were supporting only missionaries who were true to the Word of God and who were under the direction of a board that was faithful to the Bible; second, since God had kept our churches together as a Conference fellowship, showing us that He had continued work for us to do, we were convinced that we must accept as our own the obligation of going with the Gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth. (p. 70-71)
In 1945 a six-year plan for the development of the new work was adopted. The plan called for the appointment of at least three missionary families and one single worker each year. It was hoped that by 1952, the year of the denominational centennial, there would be fifty-two Conference missionaries under appointment.
... Five mission fields were opened in the first six years: China in 1945, the North Bank of Assam, India, in 1946, Japan in 1948, the Philippine Islands in 1949, and Ethiopia in 1950.  (p.72)

I already liked many things about Converge Worldwide, but learning this history has made me even more excited to serve as one of their missionaries. After establishing the separate mission board in 1944, they opened up five new fields in 1948--one of these was Japan. Next year will be the sixty-fifth year of Converge missions in Japan! This is a denomination with a serious commitment to missions, and one that has made missions part of its DNA. It is also a reminder that as I visit different churches I am serving to link them together with other churches in the body of Christ as we work together to advance the Kingdom of God!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Pray for Japan! The Silent Tsunami

The words 'Pray for Japan' flooded twitter and facebook feeds in March of 2011. As waves engulfed the coastal cities of northeastern Japan, the world's focus affixed upon the land of the rising sun--but as with most natural disasters, attention spans were short. Soon the news media found other stories to cover.

Some students at Wheaton College had already been holding a weekly prayer meeting for Japan long before the disaster took place. This event only intensified their intercession for the island nation and its people. Their prayers for Japan were the result of an even greater disaster occurring in Japan every day, invisible to the naked eye.

There is a Silent Tsunami that affects all of Japan. Each and every week more Japanese die without a saving faith in Jesus Christ than died in the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

Image: Reuters
Less than one percent of Japanese people have responded to the message of the Gospel, making the Japanese one of the largest 'unreached people groups' in the world. Because of the size of the Japanese population the task of reaching them is immense.

There are approximately 128 million people who call Japan their home. According to the census data about 1.146 million Japanese people died in 2009. That is about 22,000 people each week. That is quite shocking considering that only 15,870 people died in the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.

Considering that only about 0.5 percent of Japanese people have been reconciled to God through faith in Jesus, that means that over 20,000 Japanese people are entering a Christless eternity each week.

Few people are aware of this silent tsunami but I pray that you would join me and truly begin to 'Pray for Japan.' Does it take a natural disaster to drive us to our knees in prayer for the Japanese?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

Source flickr: Leaf Image
The more things change, the more they stay the same. With the changing seasons, I am reminded that some things never change.

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to preach on Colossians chapter three. While preparing for the sermon I outlined the book of Colossians and studied several commentaries about the epistle. One of the commentaries quoted a big chunk of one of the earliest Christian writings (circa A.D. 200) outside of the bible, entitled, the 'Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus.' While not inspired, chapter five and six of Mathetes caught my attention because of its missiological significance. I would encourage you to read the following quotation from Mathetes in light of the current state of Christianity in the West and also because today many Christians in the United States will be heading to the polls to vote.

For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. 
The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. 
They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. 
They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.
To sum up all in one word— what the soul is in the body, that are Christians in the world. The soul is dispersed through all the members of the body, and Christians are scattered through all the cities of the world. The soul dwells in the body, yet is not of the body; and Christians dwell in the world, yet are not of the world.

The author of this early Christian writing is an evangelist writing to a non-Christian. This context helps us to appreciate the previous quotation even more! Ideally, Christians are only distinguishable from those they live among by the life of Christ living through them--they are salt and light living in the midst of a dark world. They are the preserving agent; or as this writer has put it, the soul of the people they are living among. As much as things in the broader culture change, Christians have a call to live in the midst of their communities as ambassadors of a heavenly Kingdom!

A few days ago I posted this same quote on facebook, and upon re-reading it, I found it was even more relevant to our current circumstances than at the first reading. One sentence stood out: "They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed." This quote reminds me that Christianity started in a context where infanticide (the Greco-Roman alternative to abortion) and sexual immorality were the norm. The issues of human dignity and traditional marriage have been at the forefront of American politics for the past several decades. Despite the appearance of losing ground, it is actually a return to the status quo.

The more things change, the more things stay the same--one of the things I have been reminded is that humans are still in rebellion against God. Christians cannot change this fact by legislating morality. In fact, as the apologist Mathetes illustrates in his epistle to Diognetus, the Christian church is supposed to live differently in the midst of the world--not by wearing different cloths or eating different foods, but by living holy lives.

Friday, November 2, 2012

One Step Forward...

Today I saw Guy Fieri and his red muscle-car in Olympia, my home town. He seemed to be filming a segment for his show 'Diners, Drive-ins and Dives' at a local restaurant called Darby's. I was actually on my way to meet with the pastor of a local church who I had connected with by e-mail. I stopped to get a picture of Guy with his car and then went to the church. 

I am still getting the hang of meeting Pastors and sharing about my future ministry in Japan. I want to be honest and vulnerable about my weaknesses and past failures in ministry--but I also want them to have the impression that I am knowledgeable and experienced; it is an interesting balancing act, and one I haven't quite figured out yet. 

Guy finished by filming a commercial segment in which he shared that his restaurants would be giving fifty percent of their proceeds to help with the disaster recovery in the Northeast. Whatever you think about Guy Fieri, he is a master publicist and appears at home in front of the camera. That is not how I felt meeting with the Pastor later--I feel out of my element. 

I have already had several churches and pastors tell me that they will not be supporting me (or are incapable of supporting me). It has been discouraging each time. Some churches and individuals that I thought would be most excited about the opportunity to join together in the vision that God has given me have been the quickest to turn me down. 

That being said, I have had some very encouraging encounters as well--and some that even though they may not be open doors now, may become so later. Please pray for me that I will not be too discouraged, but that I will continue to plant seeds and share about this opportunity with passion and clarity. 

Friday, October 5, 2012

Sign Up to Receive My Monthly Prayer Updates!

What it looks like!
A few days ago I added a new feature to the blog that I wanted to point out. In the top right hand corner of the website you'll notice a link that says 'Prayer Letter Sign Up Form.' I've been meaning to add this to the site for quite a while and only recently got around to it.

Each month (give or take) I send out a prayer letter recording God's faithfulness and how you can be praying for me and the different ministries that I serve in. Recently I was appointed as a career missionary with Converge Worldwide and I would be grateful for your prayers!

If you would like to keep up to date on where I am and what I am doing so that you can pray more specifically for me, I encourage you to sign up for my prayer letter!

I use a website called Mail Chimp for this prayer update which means that it is very easy for you to subscribe to receive the e-mail, and also unsubscribe if you would so desire!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Where in the World is Ian Smith?

“Are you in Japan?” This is a question that I have been asked several times this past week via e-mail or facebook. The truth is there is a lot of confusion about where I am and what I am doing. I’m hope that this blog-post will help to clear things up.

With Int'l friends from Kangwon National University
As of the writing of this blog post I am in Chuncheon, South Korea. A week from today, on October 11th, I will board an airplane to return to the United States. Initially, I will be staying in Olympia, Washington with my family.

I will be in the States for at least a year to prepare for ministry in Japan and develop the financial partnerships to get there. Once I have reached the support goals set by Converge Worldwide I will depart for Japan. Where in Japan will I be living? I will be spending the first couple of years studying language, so wherever we determine I will receive the best language training.

It is bittersweet leaving South Korea--I have made a lot of friends here, and God has blessed my time here and made it fruitful. This next week will be a lot of goodbyes and packing.

Please pray for my trip back to the States next Thursday. Also pray that I will be able to find a reliable car to make the many trips that I will have to make around the USA visiting different churches over the next couple of years. Pray that I would not be a burden on my family, but that my time living with my parents would be a blessing to them. Pray for my spiritual life during this time of transition as I anticipate that it will be quite a challenging time.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Amazing Grace and Family Worship

On Monday morning I accompanied some Japanese seminary students as they explored Seoul. One of the destinations we visited was a Korean Christian bookstore where they bought Christian themed gifts for their friends and families. Thankfully the bookstore was also well stocked with English theology books, and I was able to spend some time reading from the first volume of the Works of John Newton.

John Newton
You may already have heard of John Newton (1725-1807) because of Amazing Grace, the famous hymn that he penned--or you may know that he was once a wretched slave-ship captain who repented and became the spiritual mentor to William Wilberforce, the leading voice in the abolition movement in England as retold in the 2006 film aptly titled, 'Amazing Grace.'

When I searched the index of the book, a letter that Rev. Newton had written on the topic of Family Worship caught my attention. After recently writing on the topic of family worship as it relates to the theme fruitfulness I quickly skimmed through the letter and found it very edifying, I will post it here in its entirety:

To Theron, on Family Worship

Dear Sir,

A NEGLECT of family prayer is, I am afraid, too common amongst professors in this day. I am glad that you consider it both as a duty and a privilege, and are by grace determined, that, when you shall commence master of a family, you will worship God with all your house. It was Abraham’s commendation, that he not only served the Lord himself, but was solicitous that his children and household might serve him likewise. I trust that he who inclines your heart to walk in the footsteps of faithful Abraham, will bless you in the attempt, and give you peace in your dwelling; a mercy which is seldom enjoyed, which indeed can hardly be expected, by those families which call not upon the Lord.

Though I readily comply with your request, and should be glad if I can offer any thing that may assist or animate you in your good purpose, I am afraid I shall not answer your expectations with regard to the particulars of your inquiry, concerning the most proper method of conducting family worship. The circumstances of families are so various that no determinate rules can be laid down; nor has the word of God prescribed any; because, being of universal obligation, it is wisely and graciously accommodated to suit the different situations of his people. You must, therefore, as to circumstantials, judge for yourself. You will do well to pursue such a method as you shall find most convenient to yourself and family, without scrupulously binding yourself, when the Scripture has left you free.

We have no positive precept enjoining us any set time for prayer, nor even how often we should pray, either in public or private; though the expressions of 'continuing instant in prayer,' 'praying without ceasing,' and the like, plainly intimate that prayer should be frequent. Daniel prayed three times a day; which the Psalmist speaks of as his practice likewise; and in one place declares his purpose of praising God seven times a day. This last expression is, perhaps, indefinite, not precisely seven times, but very often. Indeed, a person who lives in the exercise of faith and love, and who finds, by experience, that it is good for him to draw nigh to God, will not want to be told how often he must pray, any more than how often he must converse with an earthly friend. Those whom we love, we love to be much with. Love is the best casuist, and either resolves or prevents a thousand scruples and questions, which may perplex those who only serve God from principles of constraint and fear. And a believer will account those his happiest days, when he has most leisure and most liberty of spirit for the exercise of prayer. However, I think family prayer cannot be said to be stated, unless it be performed at least daily; and, when unavoidable hindrances do not prevent, twice a day. Though all times and seasons are alike to the Lord, and his ear is always open whenever we have a heart to call upon him; yet to us there is a peculiar suitableness in beginning and closing the day with prayer: in the morning, to acknowledge his goodness in our preservation through the night, and entreat his presence and blessing on our persons and callings in the course of the day; and at night, to praise him for the mercies of the day past, to humble ourselves before him for what has been amiss, to wait on him for a renewed manifestation of his pardoning love, and to commit ourselves and our concerns to his care and protection while we sleep. You will, of course, choose those hours when you are least liable to be incommoded by the calls of business, and when the family can assemble with the most convenience; only I would observe, that it greatly preserves regularity and good order in a house, to keep constantly to the same hours when it is practicable; and likewise, that it is best not to defer evening prayer till late, if it can be well avoided; lest some who join in the exercise, and perhaps the person himself who leads in it, should be too weary or sleepy to give a due attention. On this account, I should advise to have family prayer before supper, where people have the choice and disposal of their own hours.

I think, with you, that it is very expedient and proper that reading a portion of the word of God should be ordinarily a part of our family worship; so, likewise, to sing a hymn or psalm, or part of one, at discretion; provided there are some persons in the family who have enough of a musical ear and voice to conduct the singing in a tolerable manner; otherwise, perhaps, it may be better omitted. If you read and sing, as well as pray, care should be taken that the combined services do not run into an inconvenient length.

The chief thing to be attended to is, that it may be a spiritual service; and the great evil to be dreaded and guarded against in the exercise of every duty that returns frequently upon us, is formality. If a stated course of family prayer is kept up as constantly in its season as the striking of the clock, it may come in time to be almost as mechanically performed, unless we are continually looking to the Lord to keep our hearts alive. It most frequently happens, that one or more members of a family are unconverted persons. When there are such present, a great regard should be had to them, and every thing conducted with a view to their edification, that they may not be disgusted or wearied, or tempted to think that it is little more than the fashion or custom of the house; which will probably be the case, unless the master of the family is lively and earnest in performance of the duty, and likewise circumspect and consistent in every part of his behavior at other times. By leading in the worship of God before children, servants, or strangers, a man gives bond (as it were) for his behavior, and adds strength to every other motive which should engage him to abstain from all appearance of evil. It should be a constant check upon our language and tempers in the presence of our families, to consider that we began the day, and propose to end it, with them in prayer. The Apostle Peter uses this argument to influence the conduct of husbands and wives towards each other: and it is equally applicable to all the members of a family; "That your prayers be not hindered:' that is, either prevented and put off, or despoiled of all life and efficacy, by the ferment of sinful passions. On the other hand, the proper exercise of family prayer, when recommended by a suitable deportment, is a happy means of instructing children and servants in the great truths of religion, of softening their prejudices, and inspiring them with a temper of respect and affection, which will dispose them to cheerful obedience, and make them unwilling to grieve or offend. In this instance, as in every other, we may observe, that the Lord’s commands to his people are not arbitrary appointments; but that so far as they are conscientiously complied with, they have an evident tendency and suitableness to promote our own advantage. He requires us to acknowledge him in our families, for our own sakes; not because he has need of our poor services, but because we have need of his blessing; and without the influence of his grace, (which is promised to all who seek it,) are sure to be unhappy in ourselves and in all our connexions. 

When husband and wife are happily partakers of the same faith, it seems expedient, and for their mutual good, that, besides their private devotions, and joining in family prayer, they should pray together. They have many wants, mercies, and concerns, in common with each other, and distinct from the rest of the family. The manner in which they should improve a little time in this joint exercise cannot well be prescribed by a third person; yet I will venture to suggest one thing; and the rather, as I do not remember to have met with it in print. I conceive that it may prove much to their comfort to pray alternately, not only the husband with and for the wife, but the wife with and for the husband. The Spirit of God, by the apostle, has expressly restrained women from the exercise of spiritual gifts in public; but I apprehend the practice I am speaking of can no way interfere with that restriction. I suppose them in private together, and then I judge it to be equally right and proper for either of them to pray with the other. Nor do I meet any thing in St. Paul’s writings to prevent my thinking, that if he had been a married man he would, though an apostle, have been glad of the prayers of his wife. If you ask, how often they should pray together? I think the oftener the better, provided it does not break in upon their duties; once a day at least; and if there is a choice of hours, it might be as well at some distance from their other seasons of worship. But I would observe, as before, that, in matters not expressly commanded, prudence and experience must direct.

I have written upon a supposition that you use extempore prayer; but as there are many heads of families who fear the Lord, and have not yet attained liberty to pray extempore before others, I would add, that their inability in this respect, whether real, or whether only proceeding from fear, and an undue regard to self, will not justify them in the omission of family prayer. Helps may be procured. Mr. Jenks’s Devotions are in many hands; and I doubt not but there are other excellent books of the same kind, with which I am not acquainted. If they begin with a form, not with a design to confine themselves always to one, but make it a part of their secret pleading at the Throne of Grace, that they maybe favored with the gift and spirit of prayer; and accustom themselves, while they use a form, to intersperse some petitions of their own; there is little doubt but they will in time find a growth in liberty and ability, and at length lay their book entirely aside. For it being every believer’s duty to worship God in his family, his promise may be depended upon, to give them a sufficiency in all things for those services which he requires of them.

Happy is that family where the worship of God is constantly and conscientiously maintained. Such houses are temples in which the Lord dwells, and castles garrisoned by a divine power. I do not say that by honoring God in your house you will wholly escape a share in the trials incident to the present uncertain state of things. A measure of such trials will be necessary for the exercise and manifestation of your graces, to give you a more convincing proof of the truth and sweetness of the promises made to a time of affliction, to mortify the body of sin, and to wean you more effectually from the world. But this I will confidently say, that the Lord will both honor and comfort those who thus honor him. Seasons will occur in which you shall know, and probably your neighbors shall be constrained to take notice, that he has not bid you seek him in vain. If you meet with troubles, they shall be accompanied by supports, and followed by deliverance; and you shall, upon many occasions, experience that he is your protector, preserving you and yours from the evils by which you will see others suffering around you.

I have rather exceeded the limits I proposed; and therefore shall only add a request, that in your addresses at the throne of grace you will remember, &c.

Considering Vocational Ministry in Japan?

A few days ago I received an e-mail from a Christian college student from the United States who had read a post I had written on Christianity in Japan--he shared his burden for the Japanese and asked what steps he might take to prepare for future ministry in Japan. It took me a couple of days to respond as I thought about his question (most of these things I have done myself), but here is more-or-less what I wrote to him with edits made to conceal personal information (I also added bible verses for emphasis and combined some things): [many of these will be applicable to other mission fields than Japan!]

'Church' by Shohei Hanzaki (flickr) 
The Japanese are the largest "unreached people group" (youtube) in the world, a missiological term to designate those groups with less than 2% Christian population. Japan is one of the most resistant countries to the Gospel in spite of it being a country open to missionaries.

Many missionaries have spent their entire careers (30+ years) in Japan and only seen a hand full of fruit; and we some of the church's best and brightest to Japan--there are numerous reasons for this; historical, cultural, linguistic and spiritual--but it is enough to say that there is a great need for prayer for the Japanese.

Japan is worth investing your entire life in for the sake of the Gospel--but it also has one of the highest missionary attrition rates of any missionary field (possibly the highest) because of the cultural, spiritual and financial issues involved in being a missionary in Japan--missionaries to Japan experience burnout at a much higher rate than in other fields. This is probably due to the amount of labor put in versus the yield of fruit and the difficulty of living in Japan cross-culturally long-term.

I say this so that you are prepared--it isn't going to be easy. It isn't going to be easy raising support for Japan (although I have heard some amazing stories of people getting over in as little as 3 months) and it isn't going to be easy staying (the exchange rate right now is a monster).

Since you are in college now, here are a few steps you may consider taking:

  • Missions is not the ultimate goal of the Church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever." -John Piper, 'Let the Nations Be Glad.' The most important thing you can do to prepare yourself for missions is to cultivate a life of worship. Develop a strong personal devotional and prayer life--as a missionary in Japan you will often feel lonely and isolated and you must be able to feed yourself spiritually. Worship is the most important preparation for missions and is the fuel for missions. 
  • "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ -Luke 10:27. After love for God, we must love our neighbor--pray for the Japanese people. Pray for Japan--find out if there are any retire/furloughing missionaries to Japan in your area and see if they have a prayer meeting for Japan. If you can't find one, consider starting one of your own! Find out if there are any Japanese students at your school--make friends with them, if they are Christian learn about their experiences as a minority in Japan and pray together with them. Encourage them as they most likely will be returning to Japan as missionaries even if you never do. If they are not Christian, learn about their experiences and share your faith with them.
  • "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." -Matthew 18:20. Attend a Japanese church in the States if possible--see if they have a service time you can attend or they may have a bible study you can join. Most likely you will be partnering together with the Japanese church in the future, so it is best to learn as much about the Japanese church culture as possible.
  • "Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language?" -Acts 2:8. Study the Japanese language--language and culture are interwoven, and it will be a good step in understanding Japanese culture. Take a class at your college if possible--if not, see if there is someone you can meet with for lessons. There are also a lot of free Japanese language resources online
  • "And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight." -Philippians 1:9. Take the Perspectives course--this is one of the most valuable educational experiences you could possibly get, definitely take it even if the Lord doesn't lead you to Japan. Start reading missions and theological books--consider Lingenfelter and Mayer's 'Ministering Cross Culturally,' David Hesselgrave's (former missionary to Japan) 'Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally,' Paul Hiebert's 'Anthropological Insights for Missionaries,' books and articles by Harold Netland (former missionary to Japan, professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) on Japanese Buddhism... read your Bible too. If the Lord so leads you, consider an MA in Missions as preparation for service in Japan. Check out JEMA and the Hayama Mission Seminar Reports for more information--study history as well, understanding the history of Japan is invaluable as a potential missionary to Japan. Also read up on missions at the Lausanne Global Conversation and Mission Frontiers. Missionary biographies are also very good devotional reading.
  • "I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ." -Philemon 8. If you are in a Christian college, take some missions courses, if not, join a group like Navigators, IVF or CRU and get experience doing discipleship and evangelism. If you are at a Christian college find out if there is a missions interest group or prayer meeting; if not, consider starting one!
  • "While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off." -Acts 13:2-3. Share your burden for Japan with your church leaders. If your church has a passion for missions, make sure they know you are praying about vocational ministry--its never too early to start; they will help you be accountable and get the training and support you need. If your church isn't responsive, join a church with a passion for missions. 
  • "The LORD God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." -Genesis 2:8. "Don't we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord's brothers and Cephas?" -1 Corinthians 9:5. If you are in a relationship, pray about taking steps towards marriage--being a single male missionary in Japan is super tough. Loneliness and the sexual saturated culture are a bad combination. If you have any issues with singleness, start praying for God to provide you with a mission minded wife.
  • "Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord." -Acts 15:39-40. Begin the application process with a missions agency--its not too early even though you are in college. Pray about the best agency to serve in Japan with, whether you will go short term (2-3 years) or long term (3+ years). Consider your theological preferences, strategy and location within Japan. If you are a Southern Baptist, EV Free or part of a CMA church, consider going with your denomination. Also consider how much support you will have to raise--you'll find groups like YWAM and Operation Mobilization on the low end (with a short term emphasis), Pioneers, OMF, MUPS and World Venture in the middle; Asian Access, SEND, TEAM and Converge Worldwide (who I am with) tend to be on the higher end; I know because I asked most of them. ASK QUESTIONS to missions agencies. Some of the reasons I chose Converge Worldwide were its theology, long history working in Japan (60 years), strong partnerships with Japanese Churches (The Japanese Baptist Church Association), and their strong relationship with the Converge Churches here in the USA. Find out about the member-care options of each missions agency you are interested in--are they going to take care of you if something goes wrong? What about health insurance and retirement? Is there pastoral/spiritual counseling and leadership available? What does the team situation look like on the ground? Do you agree with their theology/strategy? Do you like the people you are going to be working with?
  • "While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols." -Acts 17:16. Consider taking a extended vision trip to Japan if you haven't already. Living in Japan for six months as a short-term missionary really helped me to fall in love with the Japanese people even more--and I went through culture shock and saw the ugly side of Japan, and got through culture shock and past the honeymoon phase. If your school has a study abroad option and you have time left, consider a semester in Japan. You may also begin preparing for next summer--I have a friend named Dan Basco who spent his entire summer in Japan shadowing missionaries with a couple of different organizations (TEAM and SEND) in order to find out where his best fit may be. 
  • "Finding the disciples there, we stayed with them seven days... But when our time was up, we left and continued on our way. All the disciples and their wives and children accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray." -Acts 21:4-5. Connect with RJC: Reaching Japanese for Christ--and attend a regional conference--network with others burdened for the Japanese. There is a lot of great work being done among the Japanese diaspora here in the states! 
  • "I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest." -John 4:35. I highly encourage you to look into the topic of Church Planting Movements (pdf by David Garrison)--these days I have been exploring a program called Training for Trainers and have been considering how it might be implemented in Japan--there are 128 million Japanese, and only about 10,000 churches in Japan; there is a huge need for a multiplication of church planting. There are a lot of different kinds of missionaries--but church planting missionaries are urgently needed in Japan. 
  • "'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’" -Acts 17:28. Study Japanese arts and culture! Watch Japanese movies--Akira Kurosawa (Ikiru), Yasujiro Ozu (Tokyo Story), Hirokazu Kore-eda (Still Walking, Nobody Knows, I wish), Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke). You can learn a lot about the Japanese from media--but it is passive, and it is just one voice; it can supplement your interactions with Japanese people as you prepare for ministry in japan, but it cannot replace them.
  • "Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure." -2 Peter 10. Pray some more--ask the Lord to confirm your calling to vocational ministry. Because of the difficulties of serving in Japan it is very important that you make your calling sure. If God wants you there, you will get there, but if God hasn't called you there, you won't be fruitful there.
  • "Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."-1 Peter 5:5. Be in relationships of accountability--if you have any patterns of sin in your life that you need to deal with, deal with them now, don't bring them to the mission field. Also, if you have any family problems, abuse, anger issues, identity issues, consider visiting a Christian counselor before going overseas--many missions agencies are now making this part of their recruiting/training/orientation process. 
  • "Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?" -Hebrews 12:7. Finally, prepare for suffering. I want to re-emphasize an earlier point: fall in love with the Japanese people. After worship and prayer this cannot be over emphasized. Love for God and love for the people he has called you to serve is going to help you to persevere in the midst of suffering. This is what is going to get you through some of those really tough times on the field dealing with culture shock--that and the sovereignty of God--knowing that he is going to be glorified among the Japanese! 
I also should mention that going to Japan with a missions agency is not the only way to get there--you can also go as an ESL teacher (possibly with JET) or work directly with a larger Japanese church if you can make the connection. If you can get your Japanese language skills up high enough you may even consider seminary or graduate studies in Japan (Christ Bible Institute in Nagoya would be a good option--it is strongly evangelical and has an international faculty).

This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a good start and should give you plenty of things to look into as you prayerfully consider serving the Lord Jesus in Japan!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Multiply! Maturity, Sex and Evangelism.

Apology: Sensationalism and Provocation

“What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” This was a provocative rhetorical question asked by Tertullian (AD 160-225), one of the early Church Fathers.  He was critical of the use of Greek philosophy in the early church and his question has spawned countless debates, books and articles over the centuries. Today I want to be provocative in this sense; I want to ask a question that will ruffle some feathers, not for the sake of sensationalism, but in order to provoke thinking, discussion and hopefully action. This is the question: What has Sex to do with Evangelism?

Sex is a sensitive issue among Christians [understatement]. At first glance many of the biblical references to sex are related to the sin of sexual immorality. However the bible has a lot more to say about sex—as Jerry Root, one of my professors at Wheaton College, says (paraphrasing Plato), “An abuse does not nullify a proper use.” Sex has its proper place in God’s created order. He established sex as the means of reproduction, and commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply. Sex existed before the fall; and we can often forget that when almost everything the world says about sex is void of anything wholesome and good.

That being said, missions and sex haven’t always been good bedfellows. Perhaps one of the most unfortunate etymological disasters is the term, ‘missionary position,’ which was created (possibly maliciously) by Alfred Kinsey in 1948 to describe a sexual act.  ‘Missionary dating’ is another term that has a derogatory connotation among evangelicals.

Almost anyone who attended a church youth-group while growing up probably heard a message discouraging ‘missionary dating,’ that is, becoming romantically involved with someone with the hopes of him or her becoming a Christian—however, there may just be a theological principle (impulse) hidden in this common phrase. I believe that there is a biblical link between evangelism and sexual reproduction. In today’s blog post we will continue our ongoing study of the biblical theme fruitfulness as we explore the Great Commission’s command to make disciples as it relates to Adam’s commission to make image bearers (i.e. babies).

Understanding Maturity: Physical and Spiritual

“How do you know if a plant or animal is mature?” I have often asked this question to make a point—almost everyone I have asked this question to knows the answer immediately: they can reproduce. This is Biology 101.  Physical maturity is linked with the ability to bear offspring. A plant is mature when it can produce fruit, birds when they can lay eggs, mammals when they can give birth. The human body goes through a process called puberty after which persons are physically capable of reproducing even if they are not cognitively ‘mature.’

Organisms are designed by God to reproduce. If they reach the age of maturity and are unable to have offspring there is something wrong—either with their environment or their health. While this is a simple biological truth, it is surprising that it is so often absent when talking about ‘spiritual maturity.’

Are you spiritually mature? How about your church? There are many Christians and churches with the illusion of maturity but without any fruit to show for it. In the New Testament fruitfulness is linked with disciple making (Matt 28:18-20 *see the first post in the series on fruitfulness) and sanctification (Gal 5:22-23, Fruit of the Spirit; Philippians 1:11, Fruit of Righteousness). Mature believers should be able to lead people to Christ and disciple their families. Mature churches should be growing through reaching their communities and neighborhoods with the Gospel by equipping believers to share their faith—and they should be planting new churches!

Show me the fruit!  Jesus says in Matthew 7:16-20, “Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.”

Some organisms are unable to reproduce because they are unhealthy. Sometimes this is the result of disease, but it may also be because of environmental factors. Organisms that are ‘fit,’ are more capable of reproducing. Full disclosure: I am overweight and unmarried. I have come to terms with the fact that many women do not find me attractive. My inability to find a mate is partly due to my lack of physical fitness. I am obese, this is a physical reality that I can improve with exercise and diet to make it more likely for me to get married and have children. Obesity of a different kind is epidemic in the church.

We have churches full of consumers-of-Christianity. Many Christians attend church regularly, have believing friends and family, read Christian fiction novels, and tune into Christian music on the radio—many are consuming a 4000-calorie-a-day diet of Christian media, but very little of this is put to any use. It is very easy for people to become morbidly spiritually obese. Spiritual obesity (linked with consumer-Christianity) is one of the biggest problems in the Church. We have many hearers of the word, but few doers of the word. They create the illusion of fruitfulness by being busy with Christian activities, but are not actually producing any of the fruit that the New Testament says is the mark of a believer.

Just like an obese person thinking about going to the gym for the first time, many Christians are intimidated by the thought of sharing their faith with their family, friends and neighbors. Running on the treadmill can be like a parade of shame—and the same cringe occurs when we think about what we will say when sharing Jesus with others. It takes rigorous exercise and diet to fight physical obesity and the same perseverance and discipline is necessary to combat our spiritual lethargy. But with Rachel, we need to recognize our infertility and cry, "Give me children, or else I die." (Genesis 30:1)

Sex and Evangelism

Sex sells; our culture is obsessed with sex. There is no need to convince anyone as to its desirability; from the time that our bodies reach puberty we crave sexual intimacy. Evangelism on the other hand is a PR nightmare. Often, the thought of evangelism sends cold shivers down the spine of even the most committed Christians.  Most sermons on evangelism emphasize duty and obedience—I have yet to hear anyone make the case that evangelism is anywhere near as desirable as sex—so I guess I have to buck the trend.

Complete the following analogy: ‘Disciple Making is to Evangelism as Childbirth is to ___________.”

Dallas Theological Seminary Professor Doug Cecil, in introducing his Evangelism course says, “I can’t believe God gave us the Great Commission to make life miserable for us. I can’t believe that. So if evangelism is one of those places where in your spiritual life you are either frighten scared, or it is misery or a guilt trip, then something’s wrong… something’s wrong in your spiritual life… because I can’t believe that God gave us the Great Commission to make us miserable.” (Available on iTunes U). This is such a challenging and through provoking idea, and one that I have been wrestling with—because in spite of my experience in ministry, I still frequently get cold feet when it comes to bearing witness to Christ.

Lets bring back that idea about missionary dating from the intro. Some people use missionary dating as an excuse to be with the person they selfishly want to date—while in some rare occasions, a person may actually start with the desire to witness to Jesus and become romantically involved with the person they wanted to share their faith with. Most often missionary dating fails—or works in reverse. But the principle is what I was really interested in: evangelism should be pleasurable!

The analogy between sex and evangelism cannot be stretched very far—but it is a useful thought experiment. Both evangelism and sex have the purpose of creating new life. Both of them are linked with maturity—physically mature people are capable of having children, spiritually mature people are capable of making disciples. But one of them is very desirable while the other is frightening—wait, which one? To be honest, the sex portrayed in media is much different than the real thing (or so I have heard). Statistics show that married people have more sex, and more satisfying sex than sexually active unmarried people—in spite of what is portrayed in the movies.

We are terrified of evangelism, but lets consider it more honestly. Evangelism is messy, uncomfortable and often falls short of our expectations—so it is almost exactly like sex. What makes sex good and evangelism bad? Experience. More people have experienced good sex, or been sold a bill of goods; while many people have never had a positive evangelistic encounter. Maybe we are put off because many of us have discouraging mental images of Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons going door-to-door—or more likely, we have encountered rejection.

As a culture we have bought into a myth of sexual fulfillment—but since sexuality is not permanent or eternal, it cannot fulfill. It cannot satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart. People long for intimacy, but that desire is only satisfied in the God who created it. We have the opportunity to invite people into a relationship with God that truly gives life and keeps its promises. The promises that the culture of sex makes it cannot keep—God, however, is faithful.

When God works new life in our hearts as believers, we are instinctively given a desire to reproduce that life through evangelism—but the enemy wants to stifle that desire. Just as the body has a sex-drive, so spiritual life has an evangelism-drive. However, due to disobedience, sin and fear we quash what God is trying to do through us. Many of us are not spiritually fit enough to reproduce our faith. We have bought into the lie from Satan that evangelism is ugly, obnoxious, frightening—we have let rejection keep us from being faithful to the Great Commission. Just as Professor Cecil said, I have a hard time believing God gave us the Great Commission to make us miserable—in fact I believe the opposite; I believe that when we have the opportunity to lead another person to Christ in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, it is an experience that is better than sex.

When finishing his parable about the woman and the lost coin, Jesus said, “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." (Luke 15:10) This chapter contains three parables, and they all represent God’s pursuit of sinners. Each of them ends with celebration! We have an eternal celebration to look forward to—and it begins whenever anyone puts their faith in Jesus.

Understanding the amazing transaction that is occurring when someone becomes a Christian is one reason to consider it better than sex: they are being reconciled to God, (Romans 3:24) God is creating new life in him or her, (2 Corinthians 4:6) filling them with the Holy Spirit, (Ephesians 1:13) and seating them spiritually with Christ in heaven! (Ephesians 2:6) All of that is going on whenever anyone puts his or her faith in Jesus! And you get to be part of it. It is physical interaction that causes an embryo to be fertilized, but it is God that gives life—in the same way, we get to participate with God in someone being given Eternal Life! The fruit of evangelism lasts forever.

So What Now?

Want to start experiencing evangelism in a new way? Pray. Pray a lot! Write down your testimony—one page: before you knew Jesus, how you encountered Jesus and your life since you became a Christian. Practice reading your testimony to yourself in the mirror. Share it with your Christian friends. Ask for feedback. Be able to share it from memory.

Pray some more. Learn a simple Gospel presentation—whether it is Training for Trainers (pdf),  the Bridge illustration, Romans Road, the Four Spiritual Laws, or something else. The important thing is to be able to share the central truths of the Gospel in a concise and repeatable way. Practice.

Put them together. Write down a list of your friends, family and neighbors that need to hear about Jesus. (Don't have any non-Christian friends? Well that is an environmental factor that is hindering your health as a Christian--ask the Lord to help you to meet people to share your faith with). Pray for them. Pray for them every day. Find some people in your church or among your Christian friends to keep you accountable and start to witness! You will be surprised at what God will begin to do.

Sounds too simple? We often make evangelism much more difficult and scary than it needs to be—we dwell on worst-case scenarios and hold onto rejection in our hearts. Think about evangelism like dating; you’re going to get rejected sometimes. Well how does one go about dating? Do some sit-ups, buy a couple new pieces of clothing, get a hair cut, hang out in a place where there are people, take up a new hobby, attend the singles fellowship at church? It isn’t all that different; it’s mostly about initiative.

Appendix: Herbivore Men and Theological Masturbation

Young Japanese men are becoming disinterest in sex (One third of Young Japanese men not interested in sex)—this is in spite (or possibly because) of having one of the largest pornography industries in the world. The name given to this developing trend is Herbivore Men (there is a similar trend among women called Dried Fish Women). These are men and women who can’t be bothered to reproduce.

While an interesting phenomenon in Japan, especially considering the declining birthrate—it is shocking if applied to the church. The truth is, that the church is filled with Herbivore Christians (aka CT Studd’s The Chocolate Soldier). The term Herbivore Men was coined by Maki Fukasawa who described them as men “not without romantic relationships, but has a non-assertive, indifferent attitude towards desire of flesh.” Simply put: commitment issues.

These men are not interested in getting married or starting families—they have delayed adulthood, preferring to live in permanent adolescence. They do not necessarily dislike women—but are unwilling, or incapable of being in a relationship with one. In the same way, many young men and women in the church today are disinterested in reproducing their faith—this is understandable because of the stigma attached to evangelism, but it needs to change!

There is one last trend that I would like to tie in to this appendix and that is what I am going to call theological masturbation (in keeping with the theme of sexuality). Last night I was talking about some guys and the topic of Apologetics came up—there is an interest in Apologetics within the Western Church right now in spite of the lack of zeal for evangelism and personal witness—and I fear that much of this is selfishly motivated.

Many of the people who are involved in Apologetics movements that I have met over the years don’t seem to know any non-believers besides anonymous names on internet message boards. For the most part they are disinterested in sharing their faith, but obsessed with proving their mental stamina and being right. I know, because at times I have been guilty of this. It is like Don Quixote tilting at windmills.

Losing the opportunity to share your faith in a winsome way is worse than losing the argument.  Instead of focusing on philosophical questions that almost no one really thinks all that deeply about (and which are usually a defense mechanism for hiding the real reasons that keep people from Jesus, namely disobedience or rebellion), think about what brought you to faith. Was it a really good argument for the existence of God, or was it encountering God? If your study of apologetics, theology or ministry is about you, and it isn’t about leading other people to faith in Jesus Christ, then it is theological masturbation. Start being fruitful.