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2bobcraft2We have our fingers on the pulse of modern missions. Mission work is changing rapidly as the world's cultures and global conditions are changing. Ease of travel and communication impact how the Gospel is spread. But at the heart of missions, there is the work of the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, and the obedience of the Church to carry out Jesus' command to go into all the earth.

We want to present challenging biblical truths, insights into today's missions environment, and progress reports on reaching the entire world with the Gospel. Please keep checking our blog regularly for updates, stories and challenging thoughts from Scripture! 

Persecution: Who Killed Jesus?

I like to start any discussion about persecution by asking the question, “Who killed Jesus?” Was it the Jews? Or was it the Romans? The longer you ponder the questions, the more complex the answer becomes.

We are approaching the time of year when many churches are having special times of prayer for the persecuted churches and Christians around the world. Why are they persecuted? Why are there so many of us who are not being persecuted? These are challenging questions. “Because they are Christians” is a possible answer to both questions.

The deciding factor as to the degree of persecution often lies in the prevailing religious and political climate of the times. Jesus told His disciples, “ ‘... they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name.’ ” Luke 21:12 (NIV) This was a hint that persecution can involve a mix of religious and political motives. Jesus Himself was victim to this. The Romans tortured and ridiculed Him, executing Him by brutally nailing Him to a cross. The Jewish religious leaders were the ones who set it in motion, making use of Roman political connections to kill Jesus.

Having spent time in ministry in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Indonesia, I hear stories from those who have suffered prison, house arrest and banishment. They have been beaten, tortured, threatened, humiliated, and have endured every imaginable kind of injustice, primarily because they were Christians living in the midst of religious or political opposition. They had done no wrong, but were misunderstood, despised and targeted because their faith was viewed as a threat to religious or political power.

The false perception that Christianity is a “Western religion” continues to be one of the main factors motivating persecution. Believers are even accused of working for the CIA because they are Christians. After all, it was Western missionaries who most often introduced the Gospel to much of Asia. The colonists often brought their missionaries and their military to subdue nations during colonial times.

Yet there are many cases where persecution results when believers break from ingrained religious traditions, social norms or political systems because of their faith in Christ and the truth of His Word. They are good citizens, attempting to live peaceable, godly lives. They face the spiritual darkness of their environment with love and faithfulness and find themselves persecuted by “evil men.” “And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith.” 2 Thessalonians 3:2 (NIV)

In the end, we find that no one “killed” Jesus. Jesus said, “ ‘... I lay down my life – only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.’ ” John 10:18 (NIV)

The persecuted believers I have met show this same sacrificial spirit, this same understanding of their purpose in life. They embrace persecution as part of the life of a Christian, just as it was part of the life of Christ. Their Christlikeness in the midst of the refining fires of persecution reflects His image and His love to those who are persecuting them. Enduring persecution, even to the point of death, is the ultimate testimony to a living, loving Savior.

By Bob Craft

Should I Not Have Concern?

You think you know Jonah? Think again.

Jonah’s story is perhaps one of the most famous in the Old Testament, and with good cause. Since it is very dramatic and has great teachings, it is an excellent story to share with children and adults alike.

To recap, in Jonah 1:2 God calls Jonah to preach in the great city of Nineveh because of the wickedness taking place. Instead of obeying God, Jonah fled by boat. God saw this and sent a great storm. After determining he was the cause of the storm, the sailors threw Jonah overboard, where he then gets swallowed by a whale (or large fish). He remains there for three days and nights, repents, and then is released from the whale to start ministry in Nineveh.

For most of us, that is where the story ends.

Yet, there are key teachings in the book of Jonah that can be overshadowed by the first chapter (and a giant fish). This is an Old Testament book written hundreds of years before Jesus walked on the earth. The key question of the book is: Why has God called Jonah to Nineveh, a non-Jewish city?

Although Nineveh was known for its wickedness, God explains in 4:11, “Should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”

Simply put, the people in Nineveh are lost! God’s vision is greater than simply the obedience of one person. The 120,000 people are so lost that they cannot even tell their right from their left. Even the animals are lost! They are not following His ways, and He wants them to turn away from the wickedness.

The book of Jonah is not just about God’s pursuit of Jonah to fulfill His call; rather, it is about God’s pursuit of Jonah so that Jonah can reach the people of Nineveh. Why didn’t God give up on Jonah? Jonah was God’s chosen instrument as the means to reach Nineveh. This is powerful on a personal level for Jonah, but on a much greater scale for a city of 120,000 people.

What was the result? Chapter 3:4-5 says, “Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, ‘Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.’ The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.” The news even reached the king, and he issued a decree for the people to repent! As a result, the people were spared and God did not bring about their destruction.

When we consider modern missions, we can learn three things from this book:

1) God uses people as His main way to reach the lost with the Gospel. This theme is echoed throughout the New Testament as well – the disciples, Paul and Jesus Himself were the messengers of the Gospel.

2) God already wanted the world to follow Him during Old Testament times. He had chosen Jonah to be the messenger and relentlessly pursued him so that the message would be brought to Nineveh, a non-Jewish city.

3) God has tremendous love for the lost. Even hundreds of years before the Great Commission, we see God already showing His divine love for the world, wanting all to come to faith. God, in His righteous justice, was deeply offended by what was taking place in Nineveh, but He offered redemption for them.

At Reach A Village, our heart’s desire is the same as God displays in this book. Just as God wanted to reach the people of Nineveh, He wants all to know Him today. He is still sending out people to the unreached places of the world with the Gospel. Pray for willing workers to reach these areas around the globe!

I encourage you to read the book of Jonah again with fresh eyes. May God show you more of Himself in this fascinating account of reaching the city of Nineveh. God bless you!

 

By Erin Menke-Assam

Image courtesy of tiverylucky at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

3 Things That Will Kill a Church

By Bob Craft

Ever wonder why Peter, James and John fell asleep on the mountain as Jesus was transfigured while communing with the God of the universe and with Moses and Elijah (Luke 9:28-36)? While on top of the mountain, Peter, James and John dozed off with heavy eyes during the most important period of prayer in Jesus’ life. When they awakened, Peter, as usual, fumbled for something to say and came up with the bright idea that a building program was in order! Jesus didn't even acknowledge such foolishness, and God Himself interrupted with a thundering proclamation of the divine nature of Christ and commanded them to listen to Jesus.

Then they headed down the mountain, only to face more overwhelming issues. How could these mighty apostles, who, earlier in the chapter, had cast out demons and healed the sick, suddenly be so powerless as to not be able to help the little, demon-possessed boy, writhing at the foot of the mountain, at the feet of the disciples and the feet of his desperate father (Luke 9:37-43)?

In fact, all of the apostles had successfully been sent out on their first solo mission and returned with great stories of victory. Great crowds of people followed them back to Jesus and He then fed the 5,000 with five loaves and two fish. Yet look at the disciples now, at the foot of the mountain! So shortly after such powerful experiences of sharing the authority of Jesus over demons and death, they all stood powerless and defeated.

What had gone wrong? What had "zapped" their faith and their power?

I have the privilege of helping train teams of church planters as they go into unreached villages. As I studied this passage (Luke 9), the Holy Spirit revealed something that I had never seen before. The real answer to the problem of these powerless disciples was something that Jesus had to deal with in detail over their next stage of training.

During the incident with the demon-possessed boy, Jesus made a simple statement regarding their lack of faith, prayer, and fasting to deliver the boy from demons. But the disciples already knew that. That's why He said, "How long do I have to put up with you?" (Luke 9:41). This power failure is not just about prayer or fasting or faith! Look at the next verses. Look at the events that were to follow. Therein lies the root of the problem of powerless, prayer-less, disciples.

Three stunning revelations come out about the attitudes of the disciples. There was something toxic going on among the disciples. Something Jesus needed to get to the bottom of quickly if they were to regain victory and power. These three attitudes would kill the church planting movement that had just begun. These attitudes would render the disciples powerless to carry out the Great Commission and the will of God.

Attitude #1. Who is the Greatest? Luke 9:46: “Now an argument started among the disciples as to which of them might be the greatest.”

Ah! Now we get to the heart of the problem of powerless disciples! They were proud and competitive, grasping for power and position. These characteristics are guaranteed to stop church growth and give Satan the upper hand. The fruits of this attitude are quarrels and arguments, discord and disagreement. It does not make them united; it makes them u-n-t-i-e-d. It breaks the bonds of brothers, but not the bonds of Satan. Here, at this point, is where Jesus brings a little child into the scene. Who gets to stand at the right hand of Jesus? An innocent, blameless child becomes the eternal example of greatness in Jesus' Kingdom (Luke 9:46-48).

Attitude #2. He is not one of us. Luke 9:49: "Master," said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us."

No sooner than Jesus addresses the issue of greatness, the disciples open their mouths again, proving that they have deep issues that will hinder their effectiveness and zap their power. "He is not one of us!" Now what kind of spirit would you call that? In one of the training sessions in Myanmar, a worker cried out, "That's the denominational spirit!" Yes, if it is not individual pride and competition, it is the sectarian, group spirit. We are all so prone to think that God can only speak to us or work through our group. Does anyone have a corner on God, His Spirit or His Son? We cry that if someone is not for us, they are against us. "'Do not stop him,' Jesus said, 'For whoever is not against you is for you.'" (Luke 9:50). Jesus revealed the Kingdom point of view. The sectarian spirit will truly hinder a movement of God and stop the expansion of the Church.

Attitude #3. Destroy them! Luke 9:53-54 “but the people there did not welcome him ... When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, 'Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?'"

The disciples had bad attitudes toward each other (Who is the greatest?), bad attitudes toward other groups of workers (They are not one of us!), and now we see that they had bad attitudes toward those who do not welcome Christ (Destroy them!). Jesus soundly rebukes the disciples for such a judgmental attitude toward the lost! Jesus simply takes them on a journey to yet another village to proclaim the Gospel!

In my estimation, these three spirits are the greatest hindrances to the work and movement of God in His Church and in the “missions” world. These attitudes hinder church planting, church growth and church unity. They must be rooted out by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit and dealt with openly and deeply if we are to carry out the Great Commission and take the Gospel to every village. Jesus had to deal with these issues before He could ever multiply and send His disciples out on another mission like the one described in Luke 10.

The next time we find ourselves lacking spiritual power, unity or compassion, I suggest we do a quick check of our attitude in these three areas. We will probably find the problem.

 

Photo used by permission - "Old Ruined Church by radnatt @ http://freedigitalphotos.net

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