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.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Multiply! Fruitfulness the Family and Apostasy.

In my recent series on fruitfulness we explored the three different kinds of fruitfulness described in the scriptures. These three types of fruitfulness mainly have to do with biological reproduction, disciple-making and sanctification--they all however share the common theme of restoring the image of God in people. Today we will explore the one of the practical out-workings of these scriptural truths.

First we will look at the theme of biological reproduction from the Scriptures and what that means for us today as followers of Jesus.

Be Fruitful and Multiply

Birth rates are declining in the developed world--more people with the means of raising children are opting not to have any. I used to live in Seattle--and I have heard it said that there are more pet dogs in Seattle than children. There is even a movement in Japan among women to have pets instead of children. Children are becoming an endangered species in the developed world. Frighteningly, there are even some radical environmentalist-types that advocate forced population control the likes of which are already used in Mainland China.

Being faithful to the biblical command to be fruitful in the biological reproduction sense, however, doesn't necessarily mean having a dozen children. Not everyone is called to have a quiver full of children. In fact, stewardship was one of the key principles in the garden before the fall. God desires for all of his creation, plants and animals along with humans to be fruitful and flourish--and all have been effected adversely by the fall.

In this case, quality is much more important than quantity. Christians are not in a baby-making arms-race with other faiths or world-views. The focus should be on raising up children that reflect the image of God--that is, bringing up children with living faith in Jesus.

The family was instituted before the church--and it has been the foundation for every human society. Fruitfulness then begins in the home. The scriptures are replete with challenges to parents to bring up their children in the faith. "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord." (Ephesians 6:4 emphasis mine)

Fatherhood and the Family Altar

It was not uncommon in the past to hear sermons devoted to family worship, family prayers, family bible reading--sometimes these are referred to with the general term, 'the family altar.' These are not just quaint notions--they are of eternal significance!

Parents are responsible to raise their children in the faith. Parents used to be expected to train their children in the faith. If the parents weren't up to this task, their children's faith wasn't left to chance--it used to be common practice when dedicating or blessing a child to assign a godparent to make sure that the child would be raised in the faith even if something were to happen to the parents. Simply put, catechize your children!

Men in particular are called to be the spiritual leaders of their households--it is the duty of the Christian father to set an example of godliness in devotion as he ministers to his family and directs them in their faith. In fact the marks of a Spiritually mature man include a strong marriage and believing children (1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-9).

What happened? Why is it so rare to find men taking on the responsibility of being the spiritual leaders in their homes? The first answer is of course disobedience and sin--but the problem is much bigger than that; just as schools have increasingly found themselves replacing the role of parents in character formation of children--so have church youth groups and para-church youth ministries often found themselves filling a parenting void.

While many children and youth ministries are valuable supplements to godly parenting and spiritual training in the home, they are not a suitable replacement for it. In fact, they can sometimes do more harm than good.


There are significant problems in the spiritual health of the church, and they require proper diagnosis! The break down in the family has contributed to a break down in the church. Untreated they will continue to perpetuate each-other.

In South Korea only about 2% of young people between the age of twenty and thirty attend church regularly! This is a shocking statistic considering about 30% of South Koreans identify themselves as Christians. With all the eagerness to have people come in the front door of the Korean church, they have been losing young people out the back door at a shocking rate. There are numerous reasons for this including the idolatry of education, increasing hostility towards Christianity, materialism, absentee parents and hypocrisy among Christians--but one of the most critical reasons is a lack of spiritual leadership in the home.

One of the significant problems I have perceived among South Korean churches are the generation gaps in the church--it is not uncommon for children and youth to attend completely different worship services than their parents. I very rarely see families sitting together in worship. I believe this is partly as a result of the rise of children and youth ministries (exported to Korea from the West), but also because of a disconnect in the family. Children are smarter than we give them credit for, and segregating them from the 'adult' worship probably does more harm than good. They also don't have an opportunity to see their parents worshipping.

One of the reasons I believe many parents don't have a problem with this gap, is because consciously or subconsciously they are aware of the shortcomings and hypocrisies in their own lives--they would be ashamed for their children to see the legalistic masks they put on at church, knowing the broken 'real' people that they are at home. The generational divide in the church actually perpetuates the divisions in the home. Children are not oblivious to hypocrisy; this is one of the main reasons many young Koreans have shared with me for not wanting to follow in their parents faith.

Healing this divide starts in the home--it starts with parents teaching their children about Jesus; about how God sent his son to redeem fallen mankind. Parents need to be transparent about their failures and fallenness so that their children can understand and appreciate the mercy and love of God! Children need to see their parents living out their faith, hear them talking about the Gospel, see their parents forgiving each other, see their parents being transformed and sanctified by the Holy Spirit; they must encounter Jesus through their parents. This is the heart of the first biblical theme of fruitfulness!

Additional Resources:

How I Pastor My Family by Justin Hyde (The Resurgence)
A Brief History of Youth Ministry by David Wright (The Gospel Coalition)
Modern Youth Ministry a '50-Year Failed Experiment,' Say Pastors (The Christian Post)
Divided. Is Age-Segregated Ministry Multiplying or Dividing the Church? (Vimeo)