Tuesday, 29 May 2012
I hope you had a wonderful Memorial Day weekend. We enjoyed a cookout with our kids and grandkids, and hardly needed the grill given the heat. Sunday was only the third time this year I haven't been preaching somewhere. We providentially chose to attend Mt. Pleasant Christian Church in Greenwood. I say providentially because it had been a very tough week. We had grieved with several missionary families we know because of the notification they had received that their support was being discontinued. So we got to church on Sunday and Chris Philbeck wasn't there but his son, Andrew, was preaching. And what was he preaching on? He was preaching on Romans 8:28. It was an excellent sermon. While he made a number of good points I was especially blessed by being reminded of these three: (1.) We can't explain the unexplainable. (2.) God's values and our values are not always the same. (3.) We need a long-term perspective. "Thanks, Lord, by way of Andrew: Jan and I both needed that." I'm still amazed after all these years that the Lord gives me just what I need when I need it most.
I'm a reader. I always have been but I've become increasingly so since retiring. For many years my goal has been to read an average of a book a week and I've consistently reached that goal. Last year the total was 83; and right now I'm on my 50th book this year. Much of my reading both last year and this has been related to ICOM and our theme, "Radical...Again!" A week or so ago I finished reading D.A. Carson's latest book, "The Tolerance of Intolerance." Dr. Carson is Research Pro-fessor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where I received my doctorate.
His books are mostly academic in nature; but there is also always a very practical application aspect to his books. At the end of this book on what he identifies as "the new tolerance (which says that I must accept your beliefs and behavior as equally as valid as mine no matter what that may be) he offers ten positive responses. The last three are of special significance in regard to the missionary enterprise: (8.) Evangelize, (9.) Be prepared to suffer, and (10.) Delight in and trust God. - All are tremendously important, but let me focus on number eight.
Carson offers four reasons why he makes such a point of evangelism as it relates to the subject of tolerance. Let me try to summarize. First, he points out that openly declaring the gospel to others in an effort to win them to Jesus Christ is a reminder of the supreme importance of the gospel, of absolute truth. Second, he points out that as we evangelize we have the opportunity to explain what evangelism is. The world sees what we do as proselytism, an unworthy witness, an attempt to win others to our position out of unworthy or even corrupt motives. But true evangelism is motivated by the best of motives and is making "an open and honest statement of the gospel, which leaves the hearers entirely free to make up their own minds about it."
His third reason is that when we evangelize, we have the opportunity to explain why genuine freedom of religion necessarily includes the right to evangelize. True tolerance can be maintained "only if people have the right - indeed, the responsibility - to tell others...in an effor to win them."
His fourth reason and the one I want to stress is this: "If men and women are genuinely converted (as opposed to making an innocuous decision that affects little of their thinking and priorities, which from a biblical perspective is no conversion at all), they will become salt in a decaying world, light in a dark world. Yes, their is a divine mandate for Christ's disciples to evangeize.
The bottom line is that in a world where so-called tolerance is used to shut us up, it is more important than ever that we not be intimidated and that we continue to speak the truth about Jesus whether in America or some far away country. For He is man's only hope!
Next week I'll get back to introducing you to the sermon themes and preachers for ICOM 2012. As for me personally, I'll be presenting the work of ICOM and preaching at Knightstown, Indiana this coming Sunday.
Tuesday, 22 May 2012
This past January, while on a mission trip to Italy and India, I had the opportunity to read Bonhoeffer, the biography of the German pastor who opposed not only Hitler but the compromising church of his day as well during the days of World War II. You probably know that he paid for that opposition with his life, being executed by the Nazi regime just days before the end of the war. I highly recommend this book by Eric Metaxas. But reading it brought to mind having read some of the books Bonhoeffer himself wrote such as Life Together and The Cost of Discipleship. I decided to reread the latter, a classic I had read many years ago. Bonhoeffer makes one statement in that book that is at the very core of what it means to be "Radical...Again!" He says, "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die."
Look at the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:38-39: "If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it." When you took up a cross in the days in which Jesus walked upon earth everyone knew you were already as good as dead. Jesus made similar statements again and again. This gets to the very guts of what radical discipleship is all about. I will have the privilege and responsibility of developing that theme on Friday night, November 16, at ICOM 2012. I'm preaching, "A Radical Call...Come and Die!" based primarily on Luke 14:24-33.
The apostle Paul knew exactly what Jesus meant. He writes in Galatians 2:20, "My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me..." Again he writes in Galatians 5:24, "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to His cross and crucified them there." What does it really mean to be crucified with Christ? If all of us who are believers truly understood and practiced that basic teaching it would revolutionize the church and result in the evangelization of the world.
Let me quote again from Bonhoeffer: "The cross is laid on every Christian. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with His death - we give over our lives to death. The cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise God-fearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ." Be sure to join us as we explore this powerful truth. This will truly be "a disturbing conference that demands a response!"
The RESET Tour was a great success. We've heard from Christian leaders and missiologists all across the country. Their input will be digested and put into cohesive and understandable form by Steve Moore of Missio Nexus for presentation on Thursday afternoon preceding the start of ICOM. However, as Dave Empson likes to say, "We'll not only be presenting the 'what's so,' but also the 'so what?'" as we react in the most positive and productive way possible to the exponential and irrevocable changes going on all around us.
Tuesday, 15 May 2012
The underlying thinking behind the recent RESET Tour was that the world has changed dramatically over the last decade or two and that those changes powerfully impact the way we go about carrying out the Great Commission. One of those changes that came up again and again in the tour is the rise of globalization; and one facet of globalization is the fact that God is bringing the mission field to us. I don't have accurate statistics in this regard but I do know that hundreds of thousands of foreign students are coming to study in American colleges and universities. Many of them come from influential families in their native countries. Many of them are people who have the potential to be world changers.
Not only do we have hundreds of thousands of foreign students on our campuses, but we have millions of immigrants coming to the United States; and they no longer only congregate in costal cities like New York and Los Angeles, but they are spreading out all across the country. Chances are that you have families living near you who moved here from India, Nigeria, or even Saudi Arabia. All of this provides us with "A Radical Opportunity...Reach the World Changers!" That will be the second challenge on Friday morning, November 16, at ICOM 2012.
What if anything is being done to reach foreign students as well as our immigrant population? I have learned that there are some very dynamic things happening in that regard in churches all across the country. For instance, the Sherwood Oaks Christian Church in Bloomington, Indiana has taken a very pro-active role in reaching foreign students on the Indiana University campus. Among other things they have challenged their people to adopt hundreds of those students, providing them a home away from home; hosting them for lunch on Sundays, having them in their homes for the holidays, and all the while influencing them for Christ. I've learned exciting stories from other ministries as well about students who were won to Christ while studying here then going back and making a powerful impact on their native countries. Many of those are restricted countries where traditional missionaries could not go.
So I've asked Tom Elsworth, pastor of the Sherwood Oaks church to address this subject with which he already has significant experience, "A Radical Opportunity...Reach the World Changers!" While Tom is pastor in one of the leading churches of our fellowship in a major university town, this session will also focus on campus ministries, other church initiatives to students, and how every congregation can take advantage of the immigrant mission field God is bringing even to small-town America. What is happening will be further hightlighted by testimonies from some of those world changers. We'll also let you know about some very creative initiatives right here in Indianapolis using such things as taxis and low cost housing to reach people from some of the most restricted nations on earth.
You'll want to read Tom Elsworth's bio on the Indy 2012 "on stage" page of this website. You'll also want to scope out the rest of the lineup of speakers and topics which will make this year's ICOM "a disturbing conference that demands a response."
I'm looking forward to being with the Jamestown (IN) Christian Church this coming Sunday for a very special day. While they are preparing to relocate and build new facilities for their local ministry, they want to intensify their efforts toward global evangelism. I'll be teaching on missions during their Bible School hour and then preaching in the worship service. The announcement of their capital stewardship campaign commitment total for the relocation will be made during a dinner that will follow the services. It should be very exciting!
Monday, 07 May 2012
I’m writing from the campus of Hope International University in Fullerton, California where we’ve just begun the final week of the RESET Tour with additional stops this week in Phoenix and Dallas. This past weekend was especially enjoyable. Jan and I were with Hazel Dell Christian Church in Carmel, Indiana where Mark Wright has served as senior pastor for 23 years. The worship was outstanding and the congregation very affirming. However, an unanticipated blessing had to do with the dozens of people who had connections to our past ministry at Kingsway. There were a number of people I had led to Christ and/or baptized into Him. There were couples I had married. There were families I had pointed to Hazel Dell when they moved to the northside. There were close friends from the early days of our ministry in Avon. God is so good and we are so blessed. And He just keeps pouring out blessing upon blessing.
Last week I began introducing you to the topics and speakers who will develop our “Radical…Again!” theme at ICOM 2012 in Indianapolis this November. Our first Friday morning speaker will be someone well known to the conference and to our fellowship of churches. Dr. Mark Moore has for many years served on the faculty of Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri. Before we meet in the fall Mark will have completed his time of teaching at OCC and become part of the teaching team at Christ’s Church of the Valley in Phoenix (Peoria), Arizona. He is a man who has been used of God in the area of missions, especially missions in Europe where he also completed his Ph.D.
Mark will develop the theme, “A Radical Force: The Holy Spirit.” Mark is a pretty “radical guy” himself. But both by personal experience and exegetically, as a New Testament scholar, he is well acquainted with the power of God’s Holy Spirit. Indeed, it was the Holy Spirit who energized the church in the book of Acts as it exploded with growth. It is that same Holy Spirit who we must allow to energize the church of today if we are to get on with the job of evangelizing the world. The truth is, apart from this “radical force” all our efforts are merely expressions of human effort and will result only in what human flesh can accomplish – and that’s not very much in regard to what needs to be accomplished.
When we were first designing the sermon topics to develop the “Radical…Again!” theme, the first sermon on Friday morning was to have been, “A Radical Foe: The Spirit of Anti-Christ.” However, due to speaker availability that topic will now be developed on Saturday. We need to realize that as we attempt to carry out the Great Commission we do face a “radical foe.” Satanic opposition is real. But Mark Moore will help us celebrate the fact that “The Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world.” (I John 4:4)
Tuesday, 01 May 2012
The last few weeks have just been incredible as things continue to fall into place for what I believe will be a life-changing conference for thousands. All the main session speakers are in place; invitations are going out to dozens of workshop leaders; testimonies are being selected for each session; speical events are being planned, the RESET Tour is 70% complete; and some very special guests have been confirmed. Local churches are being very supportive. Just the other day the missions pastor of a local church called to ask how much more we needed to cover the cost of the convention center and followed his question up by telling me his church was sending ICOM $25,000 for that purpose. Then I learned of another local congregation that is not only supporting and promoting the conference, but they are going to transport their whole congregation to the convention center for Sunday morning's closing service. The stories go on and on.
But today I want to begin the process of telling you about each main session, the speaker, and the theme. I've already told you that reading Radical by David Platt provided the inspiration for our theme, "Radical...Again!" My only concern about the book is that if a non-Christian reads it without any other input, they might conclude that salvation is something we earn through human effort. While ICOM is specifically directed toward Christ-followers, I want to make sure that all of us understand that "by grace (we) have been saved through faith; and not of (ourselves), it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast." (Eph. 2:8-9 NASB) I also want the all-sufficiency and exclusivity of Christ in regard to salvation to be made clear. Those truths form the platform for everything else that will be said and done during the conference.
That's why the first session theme is "A Radical Belief: No One Come to the Father Except Through Jesus," with our theme verse being John 14:6. Why would such a belief be considered radical? It shouldn't be, but it increasingly is. Over the years I've worked with literally hundreds of congregations, and more and more I'm finding that in our increasingly pluralistic society the all-sufficiency and exclusivity of Jesus for salvation are being questioned, even by those who are considered believers. If Jesus is not the only way of salvation, but only one of many ways, then let's abandon the Great Commission and forget the missionary mandate. But the truth is that Jesus is not "one of the ways," He is "THE" way!
As soon as our theme was set and the first service topic determined I knew who I wanted to speak. There is no one better suited to bring that message than JEFF VINES. Jeff was a missionary in Zimbabwe. He was a church planter in New Zealand and then a teaching pastor at Savannah Christian Church in Georgia, a church with a great missions emphasis. Now he serves as senior pastor of Christ's Church of the Valley in San Dimas, California. Perhaps of even greater significance is the fact that God has equipped Jeff with special interest and gifts in the area of Christian apologetics. He is one of the best preachers I have ever heard, and I've heard a lot of them. Honestsly, I can hardly wait to hear the way Jeff develops this all-important message in the opening service on Thursday night, Novermber 15, "A Radical Belief: No One Comes to the Father Except Through Jesus." Read more about Jeff by going to the ICOM homepage and clicking on "Radical...Again!" Next click on "Indy 2012" and then "On Stage."
This next Sunday I've privileged to be preaching at Hazel Dell Christian Church in Carmel, Indiana with services at 8:00, 9:30, and 11:00. Sunday evening I'm off to Los Angeles, then Phoenix, and finally Dallas for the RESET Tour. I hope to see many of you at one of these events.