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Strategic thinking on missions

On a recent trip to Colombia in discussions with missionaries I kept asking what was the most significant lesson that they wished new missionaries would have learned before coming to the field. One topic kept surfacing: how to do strategic planning.

Every ministry or field of ministry should have a strategy statement that expresses its long and short-range plans. Without this clarity of thinking everyone is in a fog of ideas about what to do next. The home board, field director, supporters and the missionary himself has no idea what to do or if what he is doing is in line with the goal of the mission or not.

Being a Prayer-Partner with a Missionary

The following is a brief outline of suggested topics and themes that need to be saturated with prayer lest the evil one gain an inroad into the life of a servant:

SPIRITUAL LIFE: The key to an effective ministry is the power of the Holy Spirit guiding and filling one’s life.  The sensitive conscience to the Spirit’s urgings and conviction of outward and/or inward disobedience requires a broken spirit and submissive will.  The missionary will be tempted to not trust the Lord, cut corners financially, morally, and ethnically to accomplish his goals. When he believes his identity and reputation are tied to his goals then the temptation becomes greater. The enemy will use discouragement and discontent in his attack.

Reflections on Furlough

Typically a missionary will serve a 4-year term overseas, then return for one year to
visit his churches to share what God has done through their joint service and create
a continued enthusiasm for world missions. Mark and Rachel Steffen, New Tribes missionary from the Philippines describe their experience on one of their furloughs.

Sing a song of the furloughing missionary
Home from jungles far;
They’ve dressed him and they’ve dined him, and
Supplied him with a car.

They invite him to their potlucks,
They feed him in their homes;
You’d hardly recognize that man
Who came home skin and bones.

He’s shown his slides a hundred times,
He’s spoken and he’s sung;
He’s quoted John 3 verse 16
In that funny, native tongue.

He came home so excited,
With a burden on his heart
To share with friends and churches;
He could hardly wait to start.

He was sure the things he had to say
Of needs in tribes abroad
Would bring scores of Christians to their feet,
Eager to serve their God.

As he told of darkened hearts grown light,
Of new, changed lives and minds,
He knew they’d cry, “I want to go,
So ALL this peace can find!”

“How can I help?” he’d hear them say;
“I want to get involved!”
He knew they’d want to pray by name
For the brown friends he now loved.

Instead, they asked, “How about the bugs?”
“How hot does it get there?”
“Oh, you’re so brave, I could never go,
Snakes give e such a scare!”

“I flunked my high school Spanish course,”
“I simply can’t stand rice!”
“Thank you for coming, Mr. Uhh…
Your talk was very nice.”

His shoulders sag as he leaves the church,
His disappointment hard to bear;
Why haven’t Christians sensed the need
He’s tried so hard to share?

He glances up and sees the Moon,
Then tears well in his eyes
At the thought that only hours before
That Moon shone in tribal skies.

His friends in the village had seen that Moon,
Brown brothers in Christ so dear,
But the Moon shone as well on hundreds of tribes
Who yet live and die in fear.

He can never reach them all alone,
And they need help – right now.
In pain, he cries out to his Lord
“Dear God, why won’t they go?”

“I’ve tried my best, Lord, but you know
There’s much more to be done;
It’s up to You, to complete as promised
The work You have begun.

“I guess I need to remember here
What you showed me over there;
The battle’s Your, the victory, too,
Thank, Lord, I know You care.”

If Paul were applying as a candidate to a mission board today…

If Paul were applying as a candidate to a mission board today…

Mr. Saul Paul
Independent Missionary
Corinth, Greece

Dear Mr. Paul:

We recently received an application from you for service under our board. It is our
policy to be as frank and open-minded as possible with all our applicants. We now
have an exhaustive case history of your activities.

Frankly, we are surprised that you have been able to pass as a bona fide missionary.
We are told that you are afflicted with a severe eye disorder which is certain to be
an insuperable obstacle and handicap to an effective ministry. Our board requires
20/20 vision, both eyes, from all applicants.

Is it true that you have a jail record? Certain brethren report that you did 2 year’s
time at Caesarea and were also imprisoned in Rome. You are also accused of making
so much trouble for the businessmen of Ephesus that they refer to you as “the
man who turned the world upside down.” Such sensationalism has no place in our
mission, and we continue to deplore your lurid “over-the-wall-in-a-basket” episode
at Damascus.

We are appalled at your obvious lack of conciliatory behavior. Diplomatic men are
not stoned and dragged out of the city gate or assaulted by furious mobs. Have you
ever suspected that gentler words might gain you friends? I am enclosing a copy of
the Daleios Carnegus’s book entitled “How to Win Jews and Influence Greeks.”

Your ministry has been far too flighty to be successful: first into Asia Minor, then
Macedonia, then Greece, then Italy, and now you are considering a wild-goose chase
into Spain. Concentration is more important than dissipation of one’s powers. You
cannot win the whole world by yourself; you are just one little Paul.

In a recent sermon, you said, “God forbid that I should glory in anything save
the cross of Christ.” It seems to us that you might also glory in our heritage, our
denominational program, the unified budget, etc. And, also, who do you think you
are, trying to tell people you long to impart some spiritual blessing to them?
Are they not educated enough to care for themselves?

Dr. Luke reports that you are a little man, bald, frequently sick, and always so
agitated over your little churches that you sleep very poorly. He also reports that
you fidget around the house half the night praying. A healthy mind in a robust body
is necessary for all our applicants.

You wrote recently to Timothy that you had “fought a good fight.” Fighting is hardly
a recommendation for a missionary. No fight is a good fight. Jesus came not to bring
a sword but peace. You boast that you fought with wild beasts at Ephesus. What on
earth do you mean?

It hurts me to tell you this, brother Paul, but in all my 25 years’ experience, I have
never met a man so opposite to the requirements of our Foreign Mission Board. If
we accept you, we would break every rule of modern missionary practice.


Heady N. Highminded
Director, Faithless Mission Agency

(James D. Hubbard, Vista, November 2, 1980)

Meditations on the commands of Jesus

Why meditate on the commands of Scriptures? Doesn’t this lead to a legalistic mindset? The author has been amazed at the reluctance of many believers to take seriously the need to know and understand the commands in Scriptures that God expects us to practice.

The primary way that we can “do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31) is to know thoroughly what He tells us to think and to do, which essentially means the commands that He gives us.

Jesus said, “If you love me, obey my commands” (John 14:15). He expected us to know what He taught us and to practice it in our lives, yet few Christians can even state the Ten Commandments, much less the hundreds of commands in the New Testament. It seems in Jesus’ way of thinking, that He is no more important to us than His commands are important to us.

Many modern Christians refuse to submit to rules or regulations (like covenants in church constitutions or standards of conduct in Christian universities or Christian ministries or businesses) under the argument that they are legalistic, therefore to be avoided. This attitude leads some to an antinomian (no-law) lifestyle where they believe that all is or will be forgiven anyway, so it does not matter what we do. When grace is used as a license to sin, wrong beliefs will lead a person to self-destruct.

Legalism has two major errors. The first error is when the unsaved believe that by being perfectly obedient one can become holy enough to be acceptable to God. Every religion in the world teaches this false notion. Sinful man can never become holy, regardless of the discipline attempted. Man is selfish, self-centered and proud to think that he can be righteous enough for a holy God. We are warned that our “righteousness is as filthy rags” (Isa 64:6) and that we are saved “not by works of righteousness which we have done” (Tit 3:5), but by His “grace we are saved through faith. Not of works lest any one should boast” (Eph 2:8-9), that is, to think proudly of himself. Legalism is self-deceiving. The truth is that no one is good enough to be acceptable to a holy God. Man’s only hope is a forgiving and righteousness-granting God who can make us acceptable to Himself.

The second error of legalism occurs when believers think that they can become “more acceptable” or spiritual by avoiding certain sinful practices (however defined) and by doing spiritual acts, especially before others. In the first place, our standing before God as believers is clothed in the perfect righteousness of Christ, which can never be improved upon. Nothing we do can make us more acceptable to God or loved more by God. He accepts us and loves us as He does His own Son (we are “accepted in the Beloved” – Eph 1:6). This is a subtle error that perverts the Christian life into a competition to see who is the most “spiritual.” Some symptoms of this error are the pride of being more “godly” than another believer, or a critical spirit of other believers who may not practice the same rituals or behaviors. Pride and self-righteousness is always a symptom of false beliefs and spiritual legalism.

On the other hand, a correct view of the commands have nothing to do with what we can acquire or attain before God, but rather does become a statement to our God that we value His opinion and His Word. Jesus said, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.”(John 14:21). The first verb is to “have” (echo), which means to “have in hand in the sense of wearing, to have possession of the mind… to hold ones self to a thing, or be closely joined to a thing.” The second verb is “keep” (tereo) which means to “attend to carefully.” This shall be the scope of this study and meditation: to understand the clear meaning of the commands and be encouraged to make practical applications to our lives.

No one is born with the right way to live; rather it is quite the contrary. We are told that our natural tendency from childhood is foolishness: “A youngster’s heart is filled with foolishness, but physical discipline will drive it far away,” Prov 22:15 NLT. This foolishness is evident in the child’s attitude toward instruction or correction: “A fool despises his father’s instruction, but he who receives correction is prudent”(Prov 15:5 ). When a fool gets older his attitude does not change, it just becomes more sophisticated. When a fool becomes a Christian a major transition is necessary.

The believer’s transition begins with a change in attitude about himself and his sinfulness before a holy God, which means that he must exchange his love for sin for his love for Jesus and his false notion of being good enough to being totally unworthy in himself of acceptance before God then to a utter heart-trust in Christ’s payment for his sins to make him acceptable to God. This trust in the promise of His Word, when genuine, extends to a trust in all that He says.

The measure of foolishness that remains in a believer is evident by how he responds to correction. “A fool despises his father’s instruction”(Pro 15:5), which is an attitude that can be extended to how he responds to God’s instruction or commands as well.

Once a person becomes a believer he is told, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect”(Rom 12:2 NLT). The key to a successful Christian life is to think biblically and learn God’s will through His commands. Paul wrote, “we take every thought captive to make it obey Christ”(2Co 10:4 NET) as He has commanded us.

Foolishness is overcome by consciously deciding to trust in, and to commit to practice, the will of God as expressed in His Word. The quest of the believer’s transformation is to “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus”(Phi 2:5) which follows a series of His commands (see Phil 2:2-4 practical instructions, which describe His mindset).

If we love Him and believe that He is the most fulfilled, realized, and complete Person in the universe, then we will want to be as like Him as much as possible. He is God, and our Savior as well. Whatever He tells us to think, believe, value or commit to, we will obey gladly. We’ll take whatever correction or exhortation we read or experience as God’s instrument to transform us from foolish people to be more like Him in attitude and actions.

Throughout this meditation we will learn the meaning of each command, then be challenged to incorporate each instruction into our daily lives. This is the process of meditation: wrestling with the meaning and application to our personal lives. Nothing can more profitable than to be transformed into His likeness. Follow them daily at www.obeythecommands.com.


Why the focus on tribal people?

Missionary Brad Bruser, missionary-translator-church-planter to the Itari people in New Guinea, told of a lesson his father taught him from his career as a Marine. The rule in the military is “When in doubt as to what to do, always default to the last order given.” The last order given by our Savior was to carry the news of what Jesus did on the cross to every last ethnos, people group on earth. After 2,000 years His Church still has not completed this task.

Remember: the Great Commission has a dual focus that must be kept in balance – preaching the gospel to every creature (Mk 16:15) and making disciples of every ethnic group on earth (Matt 20:19). 96% of all Christian outreach and resources are targeted to nominal Christians! Less than 4% are targeting the totally Unreached People Groups (UPGs)– that, admittedly, are the most difficult people to reach on earth. It must be clearly understood that we don’t get involved in this immense task because we feel like it, its going to be fun, or naturally want to do it or have some mystical impression that we are the ones to do it. We commit ourselves to accomplish the task simply because our Lord asked us to do it.

Somehow we think we have to reach every person in our people group first, like North Americans, before we can get interested in a neighboring or remote people group. Yet Jesus wants EVERY people group to know of His sacrifice for them. Don’t we owe it to the Lord to make sure every tribe and UPG has at least one functioning reproducing community of believers?

This is what Paul meant when he said, “I am obligated both to the Greeks [my people group] and to the non-Greeks [non-Greek speaking UPGs]” (Rom 1:14). It wasn’t that he liked doing it, wanted to do it, or felt good about doing it that motivated him. Paul owed so much to Christ for his forgiveness and he was so grateful for it, he was willing to take on the mission of getting the message out to where no one had ever been before.

When my wife and I were in our last year of High School we both read “Through Gates of Splendor,” the story of five men who gave their lives to reach the Auca Indians in Ecuador.  She was in Texas and I was in Florida. We, like thousands of other young people after reading this story,  decided in their hearts to reach a lost tribe like the Aucas (Waodonis today) is worth giving your life for.  We were both led to the same college and met our first semester. Following our training we headed to the Colombian jungle looking for tribes that had never heard the gospel.  We found a number of them and God planted His church among two of these tribes. It was worth it all. We wish we could do it again.

Today there are approximately 2,100 UPGs that are totally unreached with the gospel today. This group amounts to about 1,870,000 people (almost 1/3 of the world’s population). Of this group almost 1,200 are tribal groups isolated in remote corners of the world. All of these have not been reached to this date, because they are often the most difficult to get to, tough to live among, and the most challenging to understand  in order to relate the gospel.

At Liberty University’s Center for Global Engagement we have organized a Jungle Camp training in alliance with New Tribes Mission, the largest and most experienced church-planting ministry among tribal people in the world.

Our students are being put through a week of training that exposes them to the challenges and difficulties they will face in going to a UPG where no one has ever been. Sleeping in hammocks in the woods, cooking on an open fire, listening to seven experienced missionaries tell and show how they lived with tribal Indians.

Jungle Camp takes place in a mock-up of a Yanomamo village that has been built in a gym (but you would never know it). When the missionaries enter the “village” they no longer are American missionaries, rather are Yanomano Indians. Everything is there: authentic hammocks, campfires, blow-guns, cooking utensils, thatched roof, smoke, dirt floor, actual sounds and weapons for hunting and warfare. Our students are treated just as the Indians would treat them in their village and are given an assignment to solicit key vocabulary and phrases from the Indian dialect (missionary actors in Indian dress).

This entails getting used to cultural differences like food, expressions of affection, dress, how to express yourself, behavioral norms, patterns of thought, values in culture, and economic [poverty] norms. Every culture is different. One’s level of discomfort is the level of one’s mono-cultural bias. How to not be weird in another culture is a challenging experience.

Admittedly, tribal people are not the only Unreached People Groups (UPG) in the world, but they are the most Unengaged, Unreached People Groups (UUPG) left in the world>

We must pay the price to “become all things to all people, that by all means some may be saved” (1 Cor 9:22). Are you ready to get the training to reach the world for Christ? Is your life worth more to you than the desire [command] of our Lord Jesus to tell every tribe His “good news”  before He comes again? (Matt 24:14).

Warning: you may lose your rewards

People tend to panic when they are about to lose something valuable. Some will go to any extreme not to be a loser.   It is one thing to lose in a sport because someone else was better than you, but it is humiliating to lose because you violated one of the rules of the game.

Athletes who think they can get away with using performance-enhancing drugs to gain an advantage over an opponent eventually get found out.  They lose all their previous medals, awards, trophies, and financial benefits, often forced to return their prize monies won under false pretenses. Their performance was excellent, but their motives and secret methods brought them down.

Clear indicators

Most Christians have no idea that God has set certain rules in place that, if violated, can equally eliminate the possible rewards one could have received. God never bends His rules (commands).  Only a fool plays a game (especially one that has serious consequences) and has no idea about the rules, yet many Christians live this way.

Let me be clear: this is NOT a discussion about the salvation of a believer.  Salvation is NOT a reward for good service or living.  It is granted to undeserving sinners by grace through personal faith in God’s promises of forgiveness and His gift of righteousness.

Rewards are promised to those who “giving all diligence, add to [their] faith …” (2 Pet 1:5-6) a series of seven qualities, that will “keep you from becoming ineffective and unproductive” (2 Pet 1:8) and “there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet 1:11).  The rewards granted by our King and Savior should be the most important motive in our lives.

“Great reward” is promised to those who make His “judgments” or commands the directives of their lives (Psa 19:9-11). His rewards are so great that they will make any sacrifice seem insignificant and incomparable.

Be warned: whatever God promises He will do.  This is the “fear of the Lord.” We should be afraid that He will do exactly what He says.  Without this fear, we can fall into the trap that snared Eve when she began to doubt God.  Subsequently the temptation to ignore His command became irresistible.  She thought she could do what she wanted with impunity. When they disobeyed they immediately died spiritually and later died physically, just as God said they would.  We must learn to take His Word seriously.

John’s warning

John gave this warning, “Watch out, so that you do not lose the things we have worked for, but receive a full reward.” (2 John 8 NET)  He had just stated, “This is love that we walk according to His commandments” (2 John 6). To ignore his commands has a high risk: you could lose all or part of your potential rewards.

Promises of rewards

Jesus spoke more of our rewards than anyone. For example, “”Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt 5:12 NKJ).  This means if you are reviled, undeservingly reproached, given hostile pursuit, harassed, or mistreated “falsely on account of Me” (Matt 5:11 NAS), then “great is your reward in heaven” (5:12).  Never be ashamed of Jesus.

The real question for us to evaluate personally is, “Are the rewards of heaven worth whatever sacrifice I might have to pay to be faithful to Christ?”

Misunderstandings clarified

While it is true that we are to love each other, there is no reward for just loving those who love you!  Jesus said, “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they?” (Matt 5:46 NET). The reward is for living to benefit those you do not like; those you don’t think deserve to be loved.  As you demonstrate God’s love by caring for and benefiting those who do not like you, those actions have great reward.

How to lose your reward

Each of us tends to think we are better than others and deserving of fame and fortune.  Whatever we do, if we are motivated to be seen by others doing spiritual things, so they will think we are special, or spiritual, then there is no reward in heaven no matter what we may accomplish.

The test of one’s heart, in this regard, is being willing to do for others things that no one will ever know. “But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. (Luke 6:35 NAS)  Quality love is most evident by learning to love or benefit the unlovely without seeking personal benefit.

Even generous givers often want to be appreciated and thanked (as well they should be).  But how does a donor respond when there is little or no appreciation? Is there a sense of bitterness and a decision to never help that person again? Do you see the donor’s real motivation?

Jesus warned us that giving or any good deed, ministry or sacrifice done “to be noticed by” others, will receive no reward from your Father in heaven” (Matt 6:1)

In Matthew 6 spiritual ministries like prayer and fasting are illustrative of all kinds of ministry tasks, if done “to be seen by men” (Matt 6:5a) or to be in the limelight, appear to be important, powerful, respected or popular, there is no reward in heaven.  Jesus said, “They have their reward” (Matt 6:5b) on earth.

Once again in the text, the solution to prideful motivation is to do what you can in secret, believing that “your heavenly Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly” (Matt 6:4, 6, 18). Since this principle is repeated three times in a passage, we should pay close attention.

Basis of rewards

When Paul discussed the basis of our rewards he used a metaphor for ministries when he said,  “Now he who plants [evangelists?] and he who waters [servers, teachers, exhorters, pastors] are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor” (1 Cor 3:8).  The reward is not according to the bigness or success of a ministry, in fact, we will not be judged at all by our ministry or organization. We will be judged by our “labor”  (kopos, “cause one trouble, intense labor united with trouble, toil, laborious effort”). It is not success achieved, but effort extended for His purpose that is rewarded.

The tireless pastor I met in Nepal who planted five or six small churches simultaneously scattered over the terraced mountain slopes of the Himalayas, trekking over twenty miles a week while facing fanatical Hindu persecution in every small town he passes will undoubtedly be rewarded beyond measure.

Day of rewards is coming

Paul warns us to “According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building upon it. But let each man be careful how he builds upon it.” (1Cor 3:10 NAS). He laid the foundation of the gospel and biblical instruction to be used for building up the church. It is not as much “what” one builds on this foundation, but “how” he builds. If one’s methods and motivations are secular and selfish, the rewards vanish.

Paul uses metaphors for likening all our deeds as “gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay and straw” (1 Cor 3:12), which are then tested by fire to see what is genuine.  Then “each builder’s work will be plainly seen, for the Day will make it clear,” (1Cor 3:13a NET).

Metaphorically “it will be revealed by fire. And the fire will test what kind ofwork each has done. (1Cor 3:13b NET). The measure is not how big one’s work is or how important one becomes, but the quality, sincerity, transparency and God-focused motivation.

Good or bad

Paul was ambitious, but not for himself. He wrote, “So then whether we are alive or away, we make it our ambition to please him. (2Cor 5:9 NET). He was careful to keep motivated to please and honor Christ, not himself, in everything he did.  He then said why: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. (2Cor 5:10 NAS).

Some believe that if they are simply “good” moral people staying out of trouble, they will be rewarded, but that is not what these words mean.

In Greek there are several words translated “good” and “bad.” In English we use good differently, but in the context it makes sense. To say, “This is a good car,” means that it is efficient, useful, and functions well. There is no moral quality implied.  But if we say, “This is a good person,” we typically mean a moral, upright person.  In Greek these are two different words. The word for “bad” is likewise used in two different meanings, one morally bad and the other meaning useless.

The word for good is agathos, which means something “beneficial, useful, or serviceable,” especially when used in contrast with the word “bad” or phaulos, which means “worthless, unhelpful, careless, thoughtless, indifferent or of no account.”  The emphasis is not on our moral qualities or sinfulness, but on the usefulness or benefit of our lives to the purpose or cause of Christ in our world.

At the Judgment Seat of Christ we will not be judged for our sins or lack thereof, because all our sins were judged on the Cross of Calvary.

This Judgment determines our efforts to be useful for Christ’s kingdom. Did our life benefit the building up (evangelism and edification) of the Church of Jesus Christ? Were we useful in reaching the unreached peoples of the world? (Matt 24:14).

All of our rewards depend on the answers to these questions.  However, we are not even capable of judging ourselves in this regard (and certainly not anyone else). Paul was criticized by others, but he said, “I do not even judge myself” (1 Cor 4:3).  It is hard to be honest with ourselves. Paul added, “My conscience is clear, but that doesn’t prove I’m right.  It is the Lord himself who will examine me and decide” (1 Cor 4:4 NLT).  All we can do is to keep our motives pure and live to contribute to His purposes on earth every day. He will determine the value of our lives.

Praise from Jesus

One of the most dramatic pictures of this Judgment day is revealed in 1 Cor 4:5a, “So don’t make judgments about anyone ahead of time– before the Lord returns. For he will bring our darkest secrets to light and will reveal our private motives.” It must be reiterated: God is not looking for bad things to reveal, but He is searching for every pure desire and motivation that was for His glory, not our own.

Paul concludes, “Then God will give to each one whatever praise is due.” (1Cor 4:5b NLT). This has to be the most dramatic moment in all history: God praising His creatures individually for choosing to follow Him and however much they invested their lives in His kingdom purposes.

This is everyone’s moment of truth: what was my life worth to God?

All that God says in His Word about His kingdom plans and desires should be taken with utmost seriousness, rather than merely an optional recommendation. Herein is the heart of God revealed: He wants to honor and praise everyone who lives for His purpose, His glory and His honor.  This is all He will recognize in that day, and He will not miss a single thing, even a cup of water given in His name (Mark 9:41).

Is Hell a motive for missions?

Asking around campus for personal opinions about the reality of hell we were shocked at the variety of opinions, few of which were derived from the Bible. “Well, God loves everyone, so how could He send someone He loves to a lake of fire,” or “It seems so unloving for God to make someone suffer forever.”

Believers seem to be humanizing God, minimizing the awfulness of sin and romanticizing God’s love.  Have we recreated God?  Is this approaching idolatry by making God in our own image?

Holiness of God

We love to sing “Holy, Holy, Holy,” but do we know what that means? It is not just that He is sinless or unique, but that sin has no place in His presence.

God invested an unbelievable preparation for the creation of man including a “book” in which the formation of every man is prescribed as “being formed in utter seclusion, as I [he] was woven together in the dark of the womb” (Psa 139:15 NLT) and then “Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written,” (Psa 139:16 NKJ).

From eternity past to the climactic moment of the creation of man the greatness of His majestic plan suddenly crashed.  Between Genesis 2 and 3 a tragedy occurred.  All was “good” until this moment.  With the freedom to choose, a third of the angelic host rebelled under Satan or Lucifer (the “shining one,” Isa 14:12-14; Rev 12:4, 9) to begin a plan to destroy God’s creation.  Now Satan describes himself as “patrolling the earth, watching everything that’s going on.” (Job 1:7 NLT) and Peter describes him as one who “walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” (1Pe 5:8 NKJ). Adam and Eve were his first victims.

Adam had lived in a perfect environment with every need provided, an ideal mate, and enjoyed amazing times with the God of creation “walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Gen 3:8), but this time it was different.  They had succumbed to the deceit of Satan (Gen 3:1-7) and chose to trust his lies rather than obey God’s single command to not eat of a certain tree. Satan blatantly denied that they would die if they ate of the fruit, then he humanized God into a selfish being not worth taking too seriously or trusting. He would not do what He said He would do.

Jesus later said, “If you love me keep my commands” (John 14:15). They chose to disobey their only command because it became “pleasant to the eyes” and “desirable to make one wise” (Gen 3:6). They had no idea how serious one act of disobedience was to God.

They did not know that, because of the rebellion of Satan, a place called hell was “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt 25:41) and for those who believed his lies.

As a result of Adam’s one sin, he was driven from the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:24) and from God’s presence to work the soil. He also began to die physically to return to the dirt from which he was made (Gen 3:23). Worse than their inevitable physical death was the fact that their “iniquities have separated [them] from [their] God; And [their] sins have hidden His face from [them], So that He will not hear” (Isa 59:2 NKJ). They were no longer welcomed in His sight, but now were rejected as sinners, a state later described as spiritual death (Rom 5:14; 6:23; 7:24; 8:2).

Probably as a visible lesson, one of the first theophanies occurred when God took on physical form, killed an animal, likely a sheep, skinned the carcass and “made garments of skin” (Gen 3:21) to cover the shame of Adam and Eve.  Sin is so offensive to God it requires the life and blood of a substitute sacrifice to cover its shame.  The awfulness of taking the life of an innocent victim pictures the horridness of sin to a holy God.

They learned the hard way that whatever God says, He will do.  They died spiritually the moment they disobeyed. They learned that God cannot allow a single sin in His presence. Sin must be dealt with at the horrible price of the blood of a substitute victim.

The awfulness of sin

We live in sin so commonly that we can easily think that God shrugs His shoulders and blinks His eyes at sin as a mistake or momentary lapse, as we tend to do.  God, however, is not human.  His nature is so opposite to our sinfulness that everything in Him finds any sin to be repugnant and deserving of His immediate wrath.

His hatred for sin cannot be minimized or humanized.  He is not like us.  When Jesus, “the one who did not know sin” even contemplated having to be “made… sin for us” (2 Cor 5:21) so He could justly suffer the wrath of the Father against all our sins, “His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:44 NET).  We cannot even imagine how awful the evening before His crucifixion was to Him.

Any sin, all sin, is so wicked to a holy God that only the life and blood of the God-man, Jesus, could annul the wrath of the Father against it.  Hell is no comparison to the filthy wickedness amassed on the cross and God’s wrath being poured out on the innocent, perfect Son of God for our sins.  No suffering even for eternity in the torment of the Lake of fire could compare to the torment of Christ on the cross.

Mercy has never been so magnanimously displayed. Only as we begin to comprehend God’s disdain for any sin, and more specifically the wretchedness of our own sins, can we begin to understand His love for sinners?  There is nothing in us that is appealing to our holy God.  His love for sinners is not an emotional or romantic love like we tend to think it is.

God’s love for sinners

If our sinfulness makes us totally unacceptable in His sight, how could He love us?  We have so humanized our God that we think He ignores our sins as we do and somehow we are naturally friends with God because we worship Him.

When the Scripture says, “God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us,” (Rom 5:8 NET) it does not mean an emotional love or a “warm and fuzzy feeling” for us.  It means that He overcame every negative emotion that He has for sinners, and personally paid the wretched price of suffering God’s wrath against all sin so He could forgive us of all our sins and give us His righteousness. Only in this manner enables us to become acceptable in His holy sight.  Without His guilt-payment on the cross and the gift of His righteousness, we would be condemned forever.

This is a love beyond what humans can imagine because He loves what He cannot stand.  He loves what He does not like (emotionally), and this is what He calls us to do. “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they?” (Mat 5:46 NET)  He challenges His followers to give their lives to those who do not like them, and perhaps they do not like either. Our feelings cannot dictate our actions if we are going to love sinners as God does.

The price God paid for sinners to become acceptable to a holy God is so beyond human imagination and yet so free to any sinner willing to trust His payment alone for their sins, that to reject His grace or ignore His offer is tantamount to the worse sin of humanity. No amount of suffering can ever compare to this renunciation of what God did on Calvary.

The tragedy of the ages is the masses on earth that have never heard of this incredibly gracious God, leaving them all guilty of all their sins (John 3:18, 36). Their ignorance is largely because His followers have chosen not to be similar to their Savior who said, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” (John 20:21 NKJ). He overcame all His holy feelings against sin to give His life as a ransom for sinners. Now He asks us to do the same by carrying the message of His grace to the entire world.

The cry of those who realize too late the reality of sin and hell is a plea to send as many messengers as possible to the ends of the earth “so that they don’t come into this place of torment.” (Luke 16:28 NET)

If the avoidance of hell was a motive for the cross, it certainly should be a motive for the mobilization of the churches of Christ to make sure everyone hears the incredible story of God’s grace, love and mercy for undeserving sinners, even those in the last tribe, tongue or distinct people group on earth.

The Skip-over Syndrome

When John Piper wrote one of his famous quotes the Christian world changed.

“The reason missions exist is because worship doesn’t.” (John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993/2003), 17).

Statements like this always have a strong basis in truth, but they seldom contain the whole truth-concept and can easily be twisted to mean something that was never the intent of the author.

There are few advocates more committed to “kindle a fervor for missions and recruit missionaries and stir up support in senders for missionaries” than John Piper (Piper’s blog, Desiring God).  Yet the enthusiasm for “worship” has consumed the church, especially the youth, overshadowing the reason for worship.  We could never deserve the benefits God offers, yet we came to hear and know the glorious gospel of our Savior.

Piper is saying that an abundance of evangelism and missions should result in an overflowing of meaningful worship.  The question is today: Is the sequence of evangelism and missions the reason for the exploding worship movement, or does it have a life of its own?

Sea captain metaphor

Ray Comfort gives the analogy of a cruise liner filled with people singing praises to the captain of the ship in the stateroom, while all around the ship there is a sea of people crying for help before they drown.  Every now and again someone leaves the stateroom and hears their cry. They make some attempt to save a few, but there are so many.  When these few rescuers’ attempt to recruit others to the task of bringing more on board, they are met with disinterest and apathy as the crowd continues to praise the captain (Way of the Master).

Perhaps this is a somewhat exaggerated metaphor, but the fact that enthusiasm for corporate worship today far exceeds the enthusiasm for evangelism and missions seems fairly obvious.

It appears that the church has skipped over the steps of evangelism and missions to make the primary objective of the western church today to be worship.

Phasing out evangelists

At one time there were 4,000 full-time evangelists in church campaigns in N. America.  Today there is only a handful of evangelists left.  In the 1960’s evangelism was one of the most popular ministry careers in Christian colleges, but today few are able to make a living in evangelistic campaigns.  Few Christians even know an evangelist personally.

The idea of confronting the unsaved with a gospel witness and urging them to accept Christ is increasingly seen as an uncomfortable and undesirable activity.  Some think it will hurt the reputation of the church to be overly evangelistic.  Soul-winning conferences are almost unheard of in the contemporary church. We are told to make friends and do something nice for them so as to attract them to the church…, where they can experience worship.

Missions have not fared much better.  The day of a weeklong missions conference is increasingly rare.  Today it is difficult for new missionaries to have any exposure to the congregation in many churches and few pastors understand missions enough to lead their churches into a meaningful involvement in global missions.

Often pastors perceive missions as an additional (if not unnecessary) expense to an already tight budget.

Church worship

On the other hand, worship conferences and church worship have exploded.  It is more beneficial to the churches to have large worship programs, than large evangelistic or missionary programs.  Worship creates church growth by attracting people.

The argument can be thought out as follows: if worship is the chief or ultimate purpose of the church (and it also attracts the most people), then this should be the primary focus of the church today.  Could it be that instead of it being the result of evangelism, it has become the substitute for evangelism… and thus missions.

Worship testimony

In my evangelism class, I once asked a student why she thought she was saved.  Her answer was, “I have discovered that I love to worship God.  Since only Christians can enjoy God in worship, I must be a Christian.”  Several others have voiced similar testimonies.  Did they miss the evangelism component entirely?

Worship is meant to be a heart-felt experience that comes from the reality of a believer who celebrates the cleansing work of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary. Can the music and euphoria of mass enthusiasm generate a substitute feeling of being touched by God, when there is no understanding of the gospel?

Worship as missions

It is certainly a lot easier to engage in a worship experience than to learn how to practice a regular evangelistic ministry or prepare for a cross-cultural career.  Electricity flows where the resistance is least. Worship is meant to be a wonderful experience that is easy to practice as we feel His presence.

Can we get people singing in rhythm to feel God without knowing Him?

Questions to ponder

What do you think Jesus is more interest in today: hearing large groups of enthusiastic people praising Him for His greatness and holiness or seeing an army of believers giving up their lives to tell a lost world about what He did on the cross for their sins? If you were Christ, which would you be more interested in seeing?

Of course, the question should be, why can’t we have both?


Certainly eternity will not be a time of evangelism and missions, but rather of worship and thanksgiving for who God is, and all that He has done; thus now, in this age, in our lifetime, it is the only opportunity in eternity to demonstrate to our Savior how much Calvary means to us by living to tell the unreached world.  Singing praises are not the same as sacrificing one’s life to bring the lost of this world to kneel before the Savior before it is too late.

This is not an either/or issue, but a both/and priority.  Just as we now desire to focus on worship, may we elevate anew our enthusiasm for evangelism and missions.  We cannot skip over the means and reasons for our eternal worship.





Nine paradigm shifts that will define missions in the 21st century

  1. Shift from being doers to being equippers of nationals, then we stand behind them.
  2. Shift from being in charge to equal partnerships.
  3. Shift from owning and controlling to “we own nothing, control nothing and count nothing as ours.”
  4. Shift from Western missionaries to global missionaries: all people going to all peoples.
  5. Shift from dependency to self-sufficiency (dependent partners cannot be equal).
  6. Shift from addition to multiplication (it is not what we do, but what we help others to do).
  7. Shift from moving from competition to cooperation (we taught them to be independent but we are better together than alone)
  8. Shift from an emphasis on my brand of Christianity to his brand (Jesus died for His bride, not my brand of the church).
  9. Shift from mission agency to church /agency synergy (vision of missions as the vision of the church).