Tuesday, 27 March 2012
A few of you reading this blog know something about my family. There's my wife, Jan; our son Shan, his wife Lise, and my grandsons Jack and Will; our daughter Jennifer, her husband Darren, and our granddog, Mable. Some of you know that I was raised in a Christian home; that my dad died while I was still in Bible college; that my mother died a few years ago at the age of 94; that I had only one sister, and that she was disabled in a number of ways. I could tell you about my grandparents, all four of whom died in the Lord. However, I haven't told you about the rest of my family.
For instance, I have a brother in Cuba who was sentenced to 18 months in prison where he underwent the harshest of treatment; the reason being that he wouldn't stop showing Christian videos in his home and the homes of others. I had a sister in the Sudan who was tortured and executed because she would not convert to Islam. Her children were abducted and taken to a special school where they were forced to memorize the Koran. I have a brother in Pakistan who was imprisoned because he blasphemed against the prophet Mohammed by saying Jesus is Lord. I have another brother in Iran who was imprisoned, tortured, and eventually executed because of his Christian faith. I also have a Filipino brother who was sentenced to death in Saudi Arabia and was spared only by direct intervention of the Bush administration and then was immediately deported from the country.
No, I've never met these brothers and sisters, but they are no less family. They are brothers and sisters in Christ, and when a member of the family is in need, we must do what we can to help. Certainly we can and should stand in solidarity with them and pray for them. One of the things I have always appreciated about the National Missionary Convention and now ICOM is the fact that it gives you the opportunity to meet and interact with family from all over the globe, including family from countries where such things as mentioned above are part of the circumstances in which they live day by day. There will be family members from at least 40 countries present when we come together in November. Not all face these sorts of persecutions or difficulties, but many of them do.
Did you know that 45 million, or two-thirds of all Christian martyrs died in the 20th century? Many of those martyrs died in places like the former Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. But others were killed for their faith in places likeTurkey where 1.5 million Armenian Christians gave their lives. It has been estimated that 160,000 Christians have been killed every year since 1990 in places like Algeria, Nigeria, Sudan, Pakistan, India, Iran, and Iraq. The global persecution of Christians is still very much in progress but largely ignored by the mass media.
At this year's conference you'll learn more about the persecuted church. We'll pray together for our family members who live under constant threat. You may even meet people like the brother I met recently whose home was destroyed and his daughter raped before his eyes by Hindu extremists in the state of Orissa in India. You'll have the opportunity to learn how to better witness to people of faiths antagonistic to Christianity. These are further reasons you need to be in Indianapolis November 15-18 for "Radical...Again!" It will be a "disturbing conference that demands a response."
I'm writing on Tuesday night from a Holiday Inn Express in Richmond, Virginia, having just arrived from Atlanta where we began the Reset Tour at the historic Peachtree Christian Church earlier today. Tomorrow we're at the Fairmount Christian Church here in the Richmond area. Over the weekend I was with Mt. Carmel Christian Church in metro Atlanta where the missions team, with Kari Duncan as point person, put on an outstanding Faith Promise Rally. Art Stansberry was just affirmed as their new senior pastor. Lots of exciting things are happening in the world of Christian missions. I feel very privileged to be personally exposed to so much of what is going on.
Monday, 19 March 2012
This next week will be a very busy one. Tomorrow morning (Tuesday) I speak for the OMS staff in Greenwood, IN, then meet with the Indianapolis local arrangements people in the afternoon. Wednesday afternoon I head for Evansville where I will meet with David Rinehart for several hours on Thursday as we begin to put together the services for November. David is the music and worship director for ICOM 2012. He serves alongside Ken Idleman at Crossroads Christian Church. Saturday morning I fly to Atlanta where I'm leading the Missions Emphasis Weekend at Mt. Carmel Christian Church. I'll be preaching both morning and evening as well as participating in a missions luncheon and several other meetings. Monday I have a couple of ICOM related meetings in the Atlanta area. Then on Tuesday we kick off the RESET Tour with our first meeting at Peachtree Christian Church right there in Atlanta. The next day we'll be in the Richmond, Virginia area at the Fairmount Christian Church. If you live in either area please e-mail Nicole@theicom.org to register.
Both interest and excitement are building for our Indianapolis conference. When people learn about it the conference has a natural draw simply in our theme, "Radical...Again!" and the incredible list of speakers we have to help us develop that theme. However, in the midst of planning and promoting a conference I'm finding myself more greatly challenged than ever before in my life spiritually. Part of that is simply the reading that I've been doing while preparing sermons for my various preaching engagements this year and especially my Friday night sermon for the conference. Of course there's Radical by David Platt which inspired the theme for this year. But is seems like book after book has challenged me to become a more radical disciple: Crazy Love by Francis Chan, Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman, Your Church Is Too Safe by Mark Batterson, Hole in Our Gospel by Richard Stearns, Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis, and Generous Justice by Tim Keller. While each book is very different, thay all seem to pound home a common theme for me which is that of radical discipleship.
While all the above-mentioned books have impacted me, I have been especially impacted by the reading of Eric Metaxas' biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and even moreso by my rereading of Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship. However, I can honestly say that I have been most impacted simply by rereading the gospels and the words of Jesus concerning what it means to be His disciple. And when you think about the cost of discipleship as set forth by Jesus, never forget that He gave up the riches of heaven to come to this sin-infested earth for you and for me. "Though He was God, He did not demand and cling to His rights as God." (Phil. 2:6 NLT) Wow! That is still beyond my comprehension.
But here's the question for us. Do we take our mission as Jesus' disciples seriously enough to get out of our comfort zones to serve as He served, whether that takes us to another country, our own city, or even our own family? Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. And He calls His followers to go wherever the lost may be found. That includes all tribes, tongues, and nations. That includes prisons, brothels, leper colonies, corporate offices, university classrooms, ghettos and gated communities. There is no place so uncomfortable, dangerous, or unreceptive that He does not send His disciples there to win the lost. Challenging? Yes! But He has promised to go with us. "Radical....Again!" It will be "a disturbing conference that demands a response." But the truth is that we all need to be disturbed.
Monday, 12 March 2012
If you are a Christian leader who is concerned about the mission of the church in the context of the fast-changing world in which we live, you need to participate in the RESET TOUR which begins in Atlanta on March 27. More than an event, this is a thought provoking conversation, facilitated by Steve Moore of The Mission Exchange. David Empson, Executive Director of ICOM, Dennis Bratton of KORE, and myself will also be present for each stop on the ten city tour.
Please go to the RESET location on the ICOM website for full details and to download an article by Steve Moore which will explain the idea behind RESET. But here's the basic idea. The whole world is changing dramatically at a dizzying pace. That is true politically, economically, culturally, socially, and spiritually. How does all that impact the way we approach fulfilling Christ's mandate to "go and make disciples of all nations?" We want to hear from church leaders as to how you see it, how you're deal-ing with it, and what you believe we must do. RESET offers no pat answers or easy solutions. It is an open dialog. The results will be compiled, organized, and presented in a special seminar on November 15, just before the beginning of the 2012 ICOM. There is no charge for participation. Lunch is even provided for free. However, only 50 leaders may participate in each seminar. We're especially anxious to hear from the under 35 set. We'll be in Atlanta, Richmond, Joplin, Springfield (IL), Indianapolis, Louisville, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Dallas.
Nowhere is the change I'm talking about more obvious than in the way that Islam is dominating our world's conversation. From Sharia law, to the Muslim persecution of Christians, to the move by militant Islamists to fill the vacuum created by the overthrow of dictators in the Middle East, to the way political leaders, including our own, seem thoroughly intimidated, Islam does impact many if not most of our strategies for reaching the world. Contrast the recent chaos and bloodshed over the accidental burning of a couple of Korans by our military, with the fact that only a couple of hears ago our military purposely burned a whome shipment of Bibles sent to Afghanistan in the local languages of Pashto and Dari. The U.S. government and military commanders feared that they would be used to "evangelize Muslims." By the way, you heard very little from the media about that and there were no riots of which I heard. But there is a growing antagonism toward all things Christian. Just tonight I heard on the news that the British government is moving to ban Christians from wearing a cross at work. We are now operating in an increasingly hostile environment.
Meanwhile, David Platt in Radical reminds us that we in the American church have twisted the Jesus of the Bible into a nice, middle-class, American Jesus, who asks very little and with whom we are comfortable. However, the "real Jesus" - the divine, miracle-working, prophecy-fulfilling, dying on the cross, and raised from the dead on the third day Jesus - has commissioned us to win the world. He has also called us to live lives of self-denial, of putting our commitment to Him above all other commitments, and living lives of radical discipleship - at least radical compared to the way most of us have been "doing church." So how should all this impact the church and missions? Come and join the the conversation. It should be both challenging and exciting as well as profitable for the Kingdom.
Knowing that the readership of this blog is limited in number, can I count on you to spread the word and encouage the leaders in your area to participate?
I'll be preaching on "Radical Discipleship" at Valley Mills Christian Church here in Indianapolis this weekend, and at Mt. Carmel Christian Church in Atlanta on the 25th, morning and evening.
Monday, 05 March 2012
This Sunday I'll be preaching at the Hazelwood (IN) Christian Church just west of Indianapolis. This congregation is special to ICOM for a number of reasons. They provide the facility that houses the ICOM offices. Most of the ICOM staff are members there. The president of this year's SICOM (Student International Conference on Missions) is youth pastor of that church. It is a congregation heavily involved in missions and support of the conference. But I especially want to point out that Hazelwood's senior minister is the prayer chairman for this year's conference.
I've known Steve Ranson since even before he came to Hazelwood more than three decades ago. I've watched him lead that church from a tiny congregation in a tiny town to a thriving church of over 800 in a tiny town. During my ministry at Kingsway he was one of my greatest encouragers. My files contain literally dozens of notes from Steve affirming my ministry and assuring me of his prayers. That's the main reason I asked him to serve as this year's prayer chairman - he is a man of prayer! Furthermore, he is a man who believes in the Great Commission. We have prayed and will continue to pray together one on one. He has led our planning team in corporate prayer. And he will be leading the prayer initiatives that will empower this year's conference.
Let me urge you to join Steve and me in praying for "Radical...Again!" Pray that it will indeed be a "disturbing conference that demands a response." And pray that people WILL respond. Join us in praying for 300 new missionary recruits. Join us in praying that God will anoint all this year's speakers in a special way (go to the ICOM home page; click on "Radical...Again!" then "Indy 2012," and finally "On Stage" for names, photos, and biographical sketches of those speakers). Pray about every aspect of and preparation for the November 15-18 event. But there are two specific areas that I'm asking you to target in your prayers: the prayer for workers, and prayer for the persecuted church.
Jesus specifically told us to pray for more laborers for the harvest. In Matthews 9:37-38 He said, "The havest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask Him to send more workers into His fields." He told His disciples the same thing when He sent them out two by two in Luke 10. And after His encounter with the woman at the well in Samaria, He again pointed out that the problem is not so much with the harvest as with a lack of harvesters. I mentioned that I'm praying for 300 mission recruits at the conference, people both young and older who will commit their lives to serve cross-culturally and vocationally in helping to bring the world to Christ. However, I'm also praying that every one of the twelve to fifteen thousand people present at the conference will go away determined to at least help their little part of the world come to know Christ, and to pray for those who go to the rest of the world. Everyone may not be called to go overseas, but we can all go across the street. Jesus said that we are to pray for laborers. It's not just a matter of need; it's a matter of obedience.
The persecuted church worldwide should also be a target for our prayers. This has been another special burden on my heart. Have you been following the story of Iranian Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani. He has already been in prison for over two years and has been sentenced to death by the Iranian government. What was his crime? He converted from Islam to Christianity. He was told he could go free if he would just recant his faith in Christ. He refused! What an incredible example of faith and courage he is for all of us. Worldwide pressure has thus far delayed his execution, but he remains imprisoned and under a death sentence which could be carried out at any time. He is only one of thousands of Christians who are under severe persecution all across the world.
Many of us are aware of the persecution of Christians in India by militant Hindus. When I was there earlier this year I met a brother in Christ from Orissa whose daughter had been raped and his house destroyed in that persecution. Recently some of our news media carried the story of the beheading of a Christian teen in Somalia by Muslim extremists determined to impose Sharia law. Yet another church was bombed in Jos, Nigeria last month, where many Christians have been martyred, again by Muslim extremists. Then there was the Jerusalem church that was vandalized by Jewish nationalists.
The easiest way to be made aware of such on-going persecution is to go to the Voice of the Martyrs' website and click on "news." There you can currently read about persecution in Laos, Pakistan, Egypt, Kenya, Myanmar, and Maldives, along with many other places. Those of us involved in ICOM need to become passionate prayer warriors for the persecuted church.
All the resources of God are available to those who pray. It is my hope that ICOM can be a great mobilizer for prayer power for the effectiveness of today's church in the evangelization of the world!