Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Don't Miss a Golden Opportunity

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In their book on missions, World Christian Trends, authors David Barrett and Todd Johnson wrote about “the greatest missed opportunity in Christian history.” The Mongol empire, led by Genghis Khan’s grandson, Kublai Khan, once stretched from the Black Sea to the Pacific Ocean. One reason why this empire flourished was the famous Silk Road which cut a path from Europe through Asia and came right through Kahn’s kingdom. The Silk Road was the interstate highway of trade during the middle ages that brought precious commodities from the Far East to Europe.

It was into this “gold rush” that Marco Polos merchant father, Niccolò, and Uncle Maffeo pursued their fortune. After much exploration in China, they detoured further east. There, by chance, they met envoys of Kublai Khan and in 1266 the Polo brothers were given an enthusiastic reception into the court of the larger-than-life ruler.

They were surprised to discover that Kahn had an insatiable curiosity for everything Western, including Christianity. He was interested about rumors he heard of “the man who died on a cross” and who had done many miraculous things. Before the Kahn’s left for home, the warrior-king, wrote a letter in which he asked Pope Gregory X for the following:

“Send me 100 men skilled in your religion. If they were convincing, I shall be baptized, and then all my barons and great men, and then their subjects. And so there will be more Christians here than there are in your parts.”

When the Polo’s returned to Rome they gave the Pope the note. But Pope Gregory X, unable to see the potential, only sent two friars. Tragically, neither made it Khan. They turned back half way to China because of the harsh weather. By the time the first batch of a missionaries arrived in Beijing in 1294, Kublai Khan had died and the Mongols had turned to Tibetan Buddhism.  

Today, Buddhism is Mongolia’s most-practiced religion (55%, according to Pew Research Center), followed by the unaffiliated (36%) and a smattering of Muslims and folk religions.
About 2% of the country’s nearly 3 million people are Christian, which seems small until you consider that when Mongolia opened up after communism in 1990, it was statistically zero.

Could we imagine a more botched opportunity for the Gospel? Was it because the Polos failed to convey a sense of urgency? Was God in some way protecting China from the brand of Catholicism which later gave rise to Luther’s 95 theses? Was it because God knew that the persecuted Church in 21st century China would ultimately bear more fruit?

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It’s impossible to know for sure, but that history lesson got me thinking about all the evangelistic opportunities I have failed to capitalize on. You know what I mean—the Holy Spirit nudges you to witness to a stranger and instead of being bold you are bashful. Maybe you have a chance to go on a mission trip, but instead of going, you make an excuse, “Well, I just can’t afford it.” Or, you hear about a ministry need in your church, but instead of stepping up you think, “I’ve done enough. I will step back and let someone else take this one.”

Meanwhile, souls hang in the balance. Friend, besides you and me there is no plan B. We must not let the golden opportunities God has placed in our path slip away. I am reminded of what Jesus said, “We must work the works of Him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4). Are you living with that kind of urgency for the Lord’s work? How tragic would it be to be on your deathbed with heavy regret over what might have been.

Missionary Amy Carmichael was right, “'We will have all eternity to celebrate our victories, but only a few short hours to win them.” Excuses will always be plentiful, opportunities won’t. -DM


David Barrett and Todd Johnson, World Christian Trends (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2001), 124.

Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra, “Rectifying the ‘Greatest Missed Opportunity in Christian History,’” The Gospel Coalition, AUGUST 7, 2017 <https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/rectifying-the-greatest-missed-opportunity-in-christian-history/>

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Getting to Know the "Paraclete"

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There is an interesting story that goes back to the days when missionaries were translating the New Testament into the Karre language, which is spoken among several tribes in Central Africa. Karre proved to be difficult for the translators of the New Testament, especially when it came to the word Paraclete, which is often rendered “Helper” in our English Bibles.

The translators searched for ways they could describe the Holy Spirit in the Karre language, but struggled to find the right words. One day the translators came across a group of men going off into the bush carrying bundles on their heads. They noticed that in the line of men there was always one who didn't carry anything, and they assumed he was the boss, there to make sure that the others did their work. However, they discovered he wasn't the boss; he had a special job. He was there should anyone fall over with exhaustion; he would come and pick up the man’s load and carry it for him. In the Karre language the word for this man was translated as “the one who falls down beside us.” The missionaries instantly had their word picture for paraclete

In Jesus’ Upper Room discourse, He referred to the Holy Spirit as the Paraclete. “16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper [Paraclete], to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17).

The origin of the paraclete has its roots in ancient Greek warfare. When Greek warriors went onto the battle field, they went out in pairs, so when the enemy attacked they could stand back-to-back, covering each other's blind side. The battle partner in Greek was called a “paraclete”— he was there to watch his partner’s back and pick him up if he was wounded.     

Later in that same teaching scene, Jesus explained to his disciples the various ministries of the Holy Spirit—He would indwell them with God’s presence (John 14:17); He would instruct them in the truth (16:13); He would incriminate the world of sin (16:8); He would intensify the glory of the Son (16:14). In the epistles we also learn that the Holy Spirit incorporates all believers into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13); He insures our salvation as a finished transaction (Eph. 1:13); He intercedes for us when we pray (Rom. 8:26-27); He impresses upon us the will of God (Acts 16:7) and He imparts to the church spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:11).    

I leave you with the insights of Charles R. Swindoll, “Every believer in Christ should be intrigued by the Holy Spirit. Like moths, we are attracted to the warmth and the light of His flame. Our desire is to come closer . . . to draw nearer, to know Him more fully and intimately, to enter into new and stimulating dimensions of His workings. The Spirit is interested in transforming us from the inside out. Flying closer to the flame sets that in motion. He is at work in dozens of different ways, some of them supernatural. Flying closer to the flame makes us acutely aware of that. The Spirit is the comforting Helper. He is the Truth-Teacher, the will-of-the-Father Revealer, the Gift-Giver, the Hurt-Healer. He is the inextinguishable flame of God, my friend. HE IS GOD. To remain at a distance from Him is worse than wrong; it is downright tragic. Flying closer to the flame, therefore, is better than good; it is absolutely magnificent.”[1]

[1] Charles R. Swindoll, Flying Closer to the Flame: A Passion for the Holy Spirit (Dallas, TX: Word, 1993), 14-15, 21, 26-27. 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Antidote to Racism

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Jesse Owens seemed sure to win the long jump at the 1936 Olympic games in Berlin, Germany. Just the year before, he had set three world records in one day. He was the record holder for the running broad jump with 26 feet 8 1/4 inches—a record that would stand for 25 years.

As he walked to the long jump pit, however, Owens saw a tall, blue-eyed, blond German taking practice jumps in the 26 foot range. Owens was nervous. He was aware of the tension created with his presence. He knew the Nazis' desire was to prove Aryan “superiority,” especially over the blacks.

The pressure was overwhelming, and on his first jump Owens inadvertently leaped from several inches beyond the takeoff board. Rattled, he fouled on the second attempt, too. He was only one foul away from being eliminated.

At this point, the tall German approached Owens and introduced himself as Luz Long. Then an amazing event took place. The black son of a sharecropper and the white model of Nazi manhood chatted in view of the entire stadium. What were they talking about?

Since the qualifying distance was only 23 feet 5 1/2 inches, Long suggested making a mark several inches before the takeoff board and jumping from there, just to play it safe. It worked!
Owens qualified easily. In the finals, he set an Olympic record and earned the second of four gold medals during the 1936 Olympics. The first person to congratulate Owens was Luz Long—in full view of Adolf Hitler.

Owens never saw Long again, for Long was killed in World War II. “You could melt down all the medals and cups I have,” Owens later wrote, “and they wouldn't be plating on the 24-carat friendship I felt for Luz Long.” A final letter Long wrote to Jesse Owens reads, in part, “Someday find my son . . . tell him about how things can be between men on this Earth.”[1]

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Stories like that remind us that battle against racism is fought with courage and a willingness to see all people as created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26). The Gospel is the ultimate antidote to racism—because racism at its core is a spiritual issue. In Ephesians 2:14 Paul writes about the unifying effect of the Cross, “For [Christ] himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier the dividing wall of hostility.” The two groups in the passage are the Jews and the Gentiles. Paul explains that Jesus has brought peace between these two (often-opposed) groups by making them one people—the church unified by one Savior and one Spirit. Also in Galatians 3:28 we read, “There is neither Jew nor Gentiles, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Jesus’ solution to racism is not to have each ethnic group politely stay in their own space. His solution is to bring us together and overcome our differences by the love of Christ as expressed in the Cross of Calvary (John 15:12). Billy Graham once said, “The closer the people of all races get to Christ and His cross, the closer they will get to one another.” -DM

[1] Ken Sutterfield, The Power of an Encouraging Word (Green Forest, AR: New Leaf, 1997), 105-106. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Trust and Obey

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Robert Kupferschmid was an 81-year old with no flying experience. However, due to a tragic emergency, he was forced to fly an airplane. On June 17, 1998, he and his 52-year-old pilot friend, Wesley Sickle, were flying from Indianapolis to Muncie, Indiana. During the flight, the pilot slumped over and died at the controls. The Cessna 172 single-engine plane began to nose-dive and Kupferschmid grabbed the controls. He got on the radio and pleaded for help. Nearby were two pilots who heard the call. Mount Comfort was the closest airport, and the two pilots gave Kupferschmid a steady stream of instructions of climbing, steering—and the scariest part—landing.

The two experienced pilots circled the runway three times before this somewhat frantic and totally inexperienced pilot was ready to attempt the landing. Emergency vehicles were called out and ready for what seemed like an approaching disaster. Witnesses said the plane’s nose nudged the center line and bounced a few times before the tail hit the ground. The Cessna ended up in a patch of soggy grass next to the runway. Amazingly, Kupferschmid was not injured. This pilot listened and followed those instructions as if his life depended on it—and it did.[1]

What if we obeyed God the way that Mr. Kupferschmid obeyed his pilots? Have you ever noticed how much God places a premium on obedience? The apostles John wrote, “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected” (1 John 2:3-5).

Notice that John is not saying that we keep God’s commands in order to be saved, but we keep God’s commands because we are saved. We do not keep Christ’s commands to merit His love; we keep His commands as an expression of love. We are not working to salvation, but we are working from salvation.

There are three motives for obedience. We can obey because we have to, because we need to, or because we want to. A slave obeys because he has to. If he doesn’t obey, he will be punished. An employee obeys because he needs to. He may not enjoy his work, but he does what his boss asks so he can get a paycheck. However, a child who is in a loving relationship with his/her father obeys because they want the approval and blessing of the parent. This is the kind of motivation behind the believer’s obedience. God’s commands are given with our best interest in mind, so when we obey the commands of God we set ourselves up for blessing.

God doesn’t owe us an explanation or reason for everything he asks you to do. Understanding can wait, but obedience can’t. Instant obedience will teach you more about God than a lifetime of reading theological volumes. In fact, you will never understand some commands until you obey them first because obedience unlocks understanding. Just look at the servants who filled the water pots at the wedding in Cana. They didn’t know until later that Jesus was going to turn that water into wine (John 2). That’s why the best advice ever given to anyone was what Mary said to the servants at the wedding that day, “Whatever He [Jesus] sayeth unto you, do it.”

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Often we try to offer God partial obedience. We want to pick and choose the commands we obey. We make a list of the commands we like and obey those while ignoring the ones we think are unreasonable, difficult, expensive, or unpopular. I’ll attend church but I won’t tithe. I’ll read my Bible but won’t forgive the person who hurt me. I will pray for my neighbor’s salvation, but I won’t open my mouth and witness to them about the Gospel. Yet partial obedience is still disobedience.

As a child of God you can bring pleasure to your Heavenly Father through obedience. Any act of obedience is also an act of worship. Why is obedience so pleasing to God? Because it proves you really love him. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commandments” (John 14:15).


[1] David Jeremiah, Living in the Light (San Diego, CA: Turning Point, 2009), 38. 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Age of Apostasy

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I recently read about a large office building in New York City that started showing cracks on the 42nd floor. The building manager called the architect to meet him on the 42nd floor so they could look at the problem. However, when the manager arrived the architect was not there. He asked around and found out that the architect was actually in the basement. So the building manager went down into the bowels of the skyscraper and there found the architect.

The manager said to the architect, “Hey, why are you down here? The cracks are on the 42nd floor?” The architect replied, “Indeed you have cracks up there, but the problem begins down here at the foundation.” Then the architect took him over to a wall where some bricks were missing.

After some investigation it was discovered that the one of the building’s janitors was chiseling out bricks. The janitor was building an addition on to his house and each night he would remove one brick and take it home with him. The janitor figured that no one would notice and that it wouldn’t hurt anything. However, over a period of months, removing brick-after-brick gradually compromised the integrity of the structure and cracks began to appear.

When I read that story, I thought it a fitting description of what’s happening in the American church right now. Brick-by-brick the foundational doctrines of the Christian faith are being removed and the cracks are starting to show. The word that the Bible uses to describe this gradual departure from the truth of Scripture is the Greek term apostacia, which means “a falling away.” The term is used to describe someone who drifts or defects from the truth. 

There are several examples in the Bible of people who fell away from the faith. In the OT, Balaam the prophet was hired by Israel’s enemies, the Moabites, to curse God’s people. In the NT, Judas Iscariot is the ultimate picture of an apostate because of his betrayal of Christ.

The NT is filled with warnings about the age of apostacy that would characterize the end-times:    

·         10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. (Matt. 24:10-11)

·         1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons . . . (1 Tim. 4:1)

Apostates are better known for what they deny than what they affirm. For example, A recent Newsweek poll revealed that 68% of evangelicals reject the idea that Jesus is the only way to heaven, agreeing that a good person who is of a different religious faith will go to heaven.[1] In 2010 the Barna Research Group found that 67% of church-goers denied that the Bible was the unique Word of God. When asked, 43% of those who identified themselves as Christians agreed that the Bible, the Quran and the Book of Mormon offer the same spiritual truths.[2]  

One of today’s biggest apostates is Brian McLaren, dubbed by Time magazine as one of the top 25 influential spiritual leaders. McLaren has tried to reimagine Christianity for a post-modern world that denies absolute truth. Not only does he teach that sincere followers of other faiths will be saved, but he’s said, “I don’t think we’ve got the Gospel right yet . . . I don’t think liberals have it right and neither do conservatives. None of us has arrived at orthodoxy yet.”[3]   

Presently, one of the hippest heresies that we are seeing in the church is a rejection of hell. The major proponent of this view is Rob Bell who wrote a mega-selling book in 2011 called Love Wins. In it he argues:
            “A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better . . . This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’s message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear.”[4]  

Friends, if there was no Hell then Calvary was the blunder of the ages. It is incomprehensible to the think that God would let His only Son to be killed for a punishment that does not exist. Jesus’ sacrificial death is robbed of its eternal significance unless there is a Hell from which people need to be delivered. And, if there is no hell then why are we preaching? Moreover, if there is no hell then doesn’t that make Jesus a big, fat liar, because he preached about hell?      

Another way, we see apostasy happening today is how churches are gradually accepting the homosexual lifestyle. Several Baptist churches in 2016 began permitting its ministers to officiate homosexual marriages. They also said they would ordain any person, regardless of sexual orientation and lifestyle, to serve in a leadership role.[5] According to one survey, in 2003, 39% percent of evangelicals supported same-sex marriage, that number has risen to 62% in favor.[6]    

While all this bad news should be alarming to us, we should not be surprised or hopeless. The reason is because it doesn’t catch God by surprise. In fact, the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write about the age of apostacy and how it serves a prophetic signpost for us to take notice.
Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition . . . (2 Thess. 2:3)

In this passage Paul is addressing the program of prophecy, specifically what events will precede the day of the Lord’s return. Paul clearly lays out a timeline—first, there will be a great apostacy in the church; second, the antichrist will emerge as a world leader; third, once the “man of sin” has been allowed to fulfill His purpose, then Christ will return to destroy Him.

Friends, it’s obvious that the time of the great falling away has already begun. We are seeing the age of apostasy take shape before our eyes and that means that the rapture is even closer.

Jude reminds that when we see a surge of apostacy in our times that everything is running according to God’s prophesied plan: “17 But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. 18 They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” The age of apostacy should not deter us in the least bit from serving Christ. Instead it should embolden us to greater service because it confirms the truth of the Bible and it shows that the time is drawing nigh for the Lord’s return. -DM

[1] Alex McFarland, The Ten Most Common Objections to Christianity (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2007), 148.   
[2] David Jeremiah, I Never Thought I’d See The Day (New York: Faith Words, 2011), 174.
[3] John MacArthur, The Truth War (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007), x.
[4] Rob Bell, Love Wins (New York: Harper One, 2011), viii, 1-3.
[5] <http://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/news/local/2015/08/03/first-baptist-greenville-sex-couples/31071697/>
[6] <http://www.nationalreview.com/article/449660/evangelicals-gay-marriage-debate-just-beginning>