Reports from Citizens of Heaven

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 4.33.32 PMPhoto – Fr. Jacques Hammel, recently martyred in his church in Normandy, France
The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

One of my visions of heaven involves a Starbucks-like setting where ambrosia and manna are served. Around the tables are saints from all eras and diverse localities. The conversation clearly thrills all those listening, for they are sharing the ways God has loved them, how they experienced God’s grace.

This scene, we may say, is the assurance of things they hoped for.

When we read and hear of the stories of the saints of the church, we are hearing reports from citizens of heaven. Until our time of arrival there, we have opportunity to eavesdrop on these who have gone before. The writer to the Hebrews recognized the special value of their stories by including this great eleventh chapter. We can only imagine the taste of ambrosia and manna, but the stories are the stuff of real life.

They knew the promise. They held on because they had heard God promise that He has a city that is not of this world. Theirs was not a faith built upon dreams or fantasy. He promised; it was so.

They were strangers and exiles. This world was not their home. For all their opportunities for comfort, success, and more, they knew that this world was not all there is. The world to come was a reality greater than the illusions of grandeur here.

They knew God was the architect. The best they had experienced here was nothing in comparison with what God has designed. No advertisement—whether it be of extravagant luxury or enviable lifestyle–nothing earthly would compare with the City of God. “No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined—what God has prepared for those who love Him” (I Cor. 2:9).

They were bulwarks of truth. Their faith communicated truth, real and trustworthy truth. This world is not all there is; this world has fools’ gold; this world is corrupt and will be destroyed; this world will capture, dehumanize, destroy, and discard.

To be sure they also had trials of faith, times of doubt, and temptations to which they yielded. In vivid detail we read of all these in the Bible, and we know all the saints since then have the same tales. But by the grace of God they “endured to the end.”

We, too, face trials, doubt, and temptations. We, too, have shame and embarrassment for how we have dishonored God and hidden our testimony. As we strain to hear the stories of the saints who have gone before, we gather a bit more faith to believe, stronger courage to witness, and a clearer vision of the city God has prepared.

World Christian Trends 

The section on martyrology in this volume is truly extraordinary. In 40 pages, encyclopedia size, we read a list of martyrs and massacres beginning with year 33. Then the list of martyrs is given by country.

What follows is a random selection of martyrs, chosen for variety of eras and localities. These are people whose excitement and awe fill the conversations around the tables. From them, even from these very brief sketches, we can distill the signs of grace and hope that stayed alive in them, even as they faced death.

Aretas of Yemen, burned with monks and nuns in 427. The blood of the martyrs in that country has barely penetrated the soil. The harvest in this land remains small.

Wenceslas in Bohemia, the saint of the well-known carol, who gave his life for the Lord in 929. He left a legacy of kindness as well as clear faith in Christ.

Peter of Castelnau of Toulouse, France, the city where my French cousins live. Their faith is buoyed by the legacy of this martyr of 1208 and others who secured a stronghold of faith in this part of France.

Daniel of Belvedere from Morocco, a Franciscan monk who met his death in 1220. He was determined to show that to be a Moroccan can also mean to be Christian. That continues to be vehemently denied by the rulers there today.

Tamerlane’s brutality and massacres of hundreds of thousands of Christians between 1358 and 1401. No list carries their names, no plaques or saints days, but each one is known by name by our Lord, each one precious to Him. He has given each a white robe and a seat on the front row.

J. de Almasia of Paraguay martyred by the Agaces Indians in 1536, showing the centuries of resistance to establishing the church in the highlands and savannahs of Paraguay.

L. de Quiros, one of eight Jesuit priests killed in my native Virginia in 1571. I look forward to learning the good and the bad of the efforts to assist the Indian population to embrace the faith of the crucified Savior.

Donna Beatrice, one of the early martyrs of Sub-Saharan Africa, being burned at the stake in Congo in 1704. How many people will we meet who suffered for the faith, who brought many to the Lord, and who influenced generations that followed? We will meet many of these.

E. Trieu and J. Dat were two Vietnamese priests pioneering in Indonesia in 1773. Henry Lyman and Samuel Munson, sent out by the American Baptist missionaries to Sumatra, Indonesia. They met their death in 1834. Sumatra still has several large unreached groups there, the larger ones being Lampung and Komering. Blood of martyrs and prayer will one day bear fruit.

David Dapcha Lama, a Nepalese missionary in the earliest days of Christian witness in Nepal.  He gave his life in 1958 when there were so few Christians they could not be counted.

30,000 Igbo Christians massacred by Muslim mobs in Nigeria in 1966. The fervor for mission in Nigeria has not come without enormous cost.

The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is a chapter of encouragement. The tales of the saints inspire faith, as well as awe and praise of God. The writer meant for us to eavesdrop, for from them we draw hope and strength as we prepare for our place at the table.

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The Wrath, yes, the Wrath of God

Screen Shot 2016-08-10 at 4.27.56 PMPhoto – The city of Istanbul

July 31, 2016  The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost  Luke 12:13-21

In the placid waters of the seeker-friendly climates, the voice of the church dares hardly a whisper to warn of disturbing weather provoked by the wrath of God. Hearing this, the friendly seekers would flee–not to avoid God’s wrath but to find different climates and soothing voices.

Of course, the prophet Hosea, the apostle Paul, and the Lord Himself knew no such restraint. Each of them, in the lessons for this coming Sunday, sounded the alarm of God’s coming wrath.

The question is not whether God ever exercises wrath. No, the true question is why God would ever not show His wrath. Is He not a holy God? Is sin not a stench in His nostrils? Then why on earth would we ever be surprised to learn of His wrath?

For Hosea the wrath comes from the faithless turning away from God. For Paul it comes from all forms of impurity. And for the Lord it is the sightless pursuit of more.

We see evidence of all these forms around us today. Let me mention three, and let me hope that my references do not seem prompted by any of the debates we hear today.

1. The disintegration of the prime metaphor throughout Scripture illustrating the steadfast love of God for sinners. That metaphor, of course, is the lifelong union of one man and one woman in marriage. And yet, many today reject that foundational teaching in order to conform the church to the world–in order to sanction to same-sex unions as marriage. Not only is biblical marriage misrepresented, but worse, the steadfast love of God for sinners is diluted to render our sin and God’s forgiveness irrelevant to the human condition.

2. The diminishing of Jesus Christ as the Savior of the world. There are blatant heresies on this, of course. Even those who wish to appear orthodox offer a formula that slides around the historic creeds. Christ is unique, we hear, but not exclusive. That is, He is unique as the Incarnate Son of God, but He is not the only way to the Father. The doubt that lingers from this is who else could satisfy the sin of the world, what other offering than the substitution of the sinless Savior for sinners.

3. The public discussion relating to pregnancies.  The terminology is often exclusively directed to the mother’s health. The right to abort is the right to preserve supposed danger to the woman. Not mentioned is the unborn child whose life is terminated under this guise. In many cases it is only hours that separate an abortion from child sacrifice.

4. Wanting more and getting less. This applies to seeking more money and never meeting the level of enough, of wanting more sex yet moving to uncontrolled and repugnant patterns, and pursuing “the good life” but never finding satisfaction. All that is as good a working definition of greed as is needed.

As for signs of God’s wrath, again let me point only to the most obvious. In the West we are seeing churches being closed, since the attending people are too few and the supporting income too small. Also in this year we have read of seminaries of four denominations—Episcopal, American Baptist, Lutheran, and Church of Christ—closing for lack of funds and students.

While there is nothing to point to, no divine sign writ in heaven, that identifies these closings as signs of God’s wrath, we may at least state the opposite: If we were exhibiting godly living and faithful mission, we would not be experiencing the breath of Christ exhaling from the life of the church.

A closing word again from de Tocqueville and his book, Democracy in America. “When the taste for physical gratifications has grown more rapidly than their experience, the time will come when men will lose all self-restraint. It is not necessary to do violence to such people in order to strip them of the rights they enjoy; they themselves will loosen their hold.”

World Christian Trends

Last week I wrote that I would use the records and statistics to bring a composite picture of Turkey.  The latest figures of WCT are about ten years old, so I have also gone to Johnstone’s The Future of the Global Church, and the Joshua Project.

The reason for this effort is to demonstrate the value of research in order to have a reliable picture of the country. That will help our approach for prayer and for ministry.

In the case of Turkey we know of two recent occurrences that reshape the face of the country—the influx of refugees from Syria and the failed coup and reprisals of the last two weeks. I will give some pertinent figures for the country before commenting on encouraging developments.

Population:      80 million        Population over 15:     52%     Life expectancy:     71
Ethnic groups: 57                    Literacy rate:               82%     Urbanites:               82%
Access to health care: 75%    to safe water:             92%     Universities:            424

All looks fairly normal from these figures. An indicator of turmoil below the surface, however, comes from the Universal Index for Freedom. Turkey rates 18 out of 100. In the Suffering Index it rates 47. Christian safety rates 39. Indeed, when I visited there over ten years ago, my host commented that outside churches during worship services are armed guards. They are there not to protect the Christians, she explained, but to make sure no Turks attend.

The Muslim population is 97.2% while the Christians are 0.4%.

The statistics on religion are surprising. Research shows 56 denominations (So much for unity, even in a small Christian population.) and 900 workers.  Ten years ago there were 15 Christian periodicals.

But then comes these revealing numbers: The audience for all Christian radio is 1.5% of the population, and there is the equivalent of only one evangelistic offer per person per year. Even in Turkmenistan the average is two. Tanzania has 162.

It is not surprising, then, to note that there are 81 provinces of Turkey without any Christian witness.

One of the world’s largest megapeoples with no witness is in Turkey, but recent reports show that considerable work is progressing there with evidence of spiritual fruit. Also, earlier this year there were about 100 Christians in teams around the country interceding for the people of this great country.

Surely we can adapt the closing verse of Hosea to the people of Turkey:
“They shall come trembling like birds from Egypt, and like doves from the land of Assyria; and I will return them to their homes, says the LORD.” Hosea 11:11.

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The Signs of God


July 24, 2016   The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost     Luke 11:1-13

Q team

Last Tuesday I spent the day on the Chesapeake Bay with eight others fishing for cobia. This is a fine eating fish; they come big and fight hard. We went out early and stayed for two tide changes.

After three hours of watching the tips of the rods not move, enjoying the banter of fishermen, and getting hungry, I decided this was the time and place to bring God onto the scene. I told them I would say grace over our lunch and also would address the One who gave us the food, asking Him to show cobia where they could find a snack. I might have even said, “…where they can get hooked on a snack.”

Later, within an hour of our time to head in, we landed two large cobia.

Was that a “sign of God”? Certainly to the woman on board, a friend who is applying to Anglican Frontier Missions. Probably to the others as well. There was talk among them of the Lord sending “seconds”.

But we know that quantifying answers to prayer is difficult, not because the answers aren’t there but because God’s answers are not always so obvious as “fish on line”.

In the sphere of missions there is a place for seeing signs of God. The best quote for this comes from Prior Roger Schutz of the Taizé Community. He wrote in 1960, “Les chiffres sont les signes de Dieu.” Or, “Statistics are the signs of God.”

William Carey knew the importance of statistics for mission work. He wrote a pamphlet commonly known as “An Enquiry into the obligations of Christians to use means for the conversion of the Heathens.” The title continues in smaller type: “In which the religious state of the different nations of the world, the success of former undertakings, and the practicability of further undertakings are considered.” Then he gives 23 pages of tables by continent of the religious state, the former undertakings, and the relative success of these efforts. Carey knew statistics tell the tale.

World Christian Trends 

WCT shows us ways to discern the signs of God, how to sight trends.  The pattern is the same for international missions as for local church. We build upon an irreproachable mandate, use reliable sources, and then find valued analysis.

The Mandate:             WCT lists 23 verbs from our Lord and throughout the Bible that urge measuring by numbers. A sample of these are: Add (Acts 2:41); calculate (Luke 14:28); count Rev. 11:1); list (1 Tim 5:9); measure (Rev. 11:1); survey (Josh 18:6); register (Luke 2:1). From this list come another 51 English imperatives related to what WCT calls missiometrics.

Clearly, God leads us into the dimension of records. How can we know what God is doing, after all, if we cannot see the before and after?

Reliable Sources:        As much as this exercise applies to the task of world evangelization, we also must apply the same principles to leadership in the local church.

Listed first in “50 new facts and figures about trends” is this statement:
“Every year the churches hold a megacensus costing $1.1 billion, sending out 10 million questionnaires in 3,000 languages, which covers 180 major religious subjects.”

The categories for these reports are not randomly chosen. They plunge into the realities of church life. Is there growth in attendance? Is growth by birth or conversion? What ages are leaving, what ages joining? And more, many more areas to be examined.

Who reads these? Maybe your bishop or Superintendent, maybe not. But researchers do. They pore over the findings, study the documents, and track the changes.

Major missionary organizations also carry extensive databases. Some of these are:
Summer Institute of Linguistics for Bible translations (;
Joshua Project (;
Global Prayer Project (;
World Christian Database (;
Operation World (

In addition to these religious surveys are the extensive reports of the United Nations (UN) and United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

In one major section, WCT carries 171 columns of data for each country. The data come from reports of these and other organizations. The lengthy composite reveals quality of life in several key areas, the strength and needs of the church, and key steps towards evangelization. The columns for your church reports also give composites, composites that show strength, gaps, needs, and more. Wise leaders will push for understanding, then push more for reasons, and push again for what to do and where.

Valued Analysis:         Actually the analysis comes in pages and tables of the book; the value must come from the student of these figures.

For instance, planning for work in Cambodia will examine life there. show that only 13 % have access to clean water. There are only 12 hospital beds per 10,000 people.  Cambodia has 40,000 blind people and 672,000 deaf. The country has a very high murder rate of 70 for every 100,000 people. Results of this study must determine the shape of ministry there in the name of the love of Jesus Christ.

The benefits of studying the signs of God through statistics can prevent errors all too common in the church. I will mention three:

Duplication.     This is the arrogance that my particular ministry is so far superior to another’s that I must pursue my effort as if other efforts do not count and are not there.

Neglect.          Evangelization of an ethnic group or a city requires multiple layers. Studying the trends as represented in books like WCT will highlight needs that have been overlooked. In Cambodia, for instance, these numbers reveal the deeper picture of poverty of respect for life.

Hunch.             Factors that determine emphasis in ministry can be less than honorable. Some may be the particular likes or dislikes of the leader, ministries popular with donors, or where the glitz—the photos, the stats, “the bang for the buck”–is greatest. The counterparts of these fit easily into ministry in the local church, do they not?

Before we scoff at studying statistics to discern trends, we should recognize how statistics serve this purpose in other spheres.  During the recent All Star Baseball game in the US, with each batter the TV screen showed layers of statistics to tell us what we might expect him to do. Watching a golf tournament now gives the viewer the exact length of the putt and the % for that golfer on that putt.

Next week: a composite of Turkey—its government, churches, demographics, and society.


Photo: Part of a team researching one of the large unreached peoples, in preparation for devising strategies.


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Mary, Martha, and Missions

The Ninth Sunday in Pentecost, July 17, 2016   Luke 10:38-42

Just as I was getting ready to launch Anglican Frontier Missions back in 1993, one of my mentors said, in passing, “You know, God has done great things in the world… in spite of the missionaries.”dominos in Indonesia

This man is not at all against sending missionaries. Quite the contrary, he has sent many, became one himself, and has written about missionary practices. One of his books I highly recommend and mention at the bottom1. While he is a missionary advocate, he has sat with Mary at the Lord’s feet.

That is first work of any Christian worker–to sit beside Mary at the feet of Jesus. Martha has her jobs, but the better—and more crucial—is Mary’s. Henry Blackaby gives us this provocative statement from Experiencing God: “Don’t just do something. Stand there!”

In Paul’s letter to the Colossian church, which is read over four Sundays, he gives high praise to the life of this congregation—for their hope, faith, and love; for their witness to surrounding cities; for their resistance to distortions to the truth; and for their earnestness in prayer.

In the letter he points to the origins of their maturity—a man named Epaphras. We have enough of a description of him to see in his life the priority of Mary’s devotion and the fruit of Martha’ toil.

Love                 He lived among them, sent Paul news about their growth in the Lord, committed his heart to seeing Christ be born and take root in them. Paul could mention the love of the Colossians certainly because they had a leader whose love was their model and example.

Prayer              He “labored in prayer.” That’s not emphatic enough for Paul. “He labored fervently for you all.” Epaphras was a man whose walking and talking with them were essentially prayer walks and prayer talks, increasing and informing his labors of intercession.

Zeal                 As Epaphras saw his Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, he saw whom he wanted to be recreated in the people of Colossae. Paul referred to him as a “fellow servant” and “faithful minister”—a pastor’s heart and soul bound up in his efforts to teach, admonish, lead, and form the Body of Christ.

Sacrifice          The one specific example that Paul gives of his friend occurs at the close of the letter when he wrote Philemon, written at the same time he wrote this letter. “Epaphras, my fellow prisoner, greets you (Phile 23).” There is exposed the life of a man who knew “the better thing” and did not fail to do the work God gave him.

We find one supreme and rare compliment to the fruit of the labors of Epaphras. This Body of Christ was so rich that many of Paul’s friends went out of their way to stop in. These knew that a visit to the Colossian church was one they would cherish, that the friendships were lasting and deep, and the fellowship in Christ had splendors of heaven. Among the visitors were Tychicus, Onesimus, Aristarchus, Demas, Luke, Mark, Justus, Archippus, and Nympha. A supreme and rare tribute, indeed.

World Christian Trends

The work of mission is the work of both Martha and Mary. But it starts with Mary. And that “better thing” must include prayer.

Keith Carey has led the ministry of the Global Prayer Digest for 30 years. This monthly digest gives information on the least evangelized ethnic groups for prayer2. Recently Carey wrote that the number of unreached groups 30 years ago was about 17,000. That number has now been reduced to about 7,000. Why? Because prayer moves God. Yes, there are many angles that can dissect that statement, but at the end the truth remains: God has heard and answered prayer!

At the same time God expects us to use our brains, our imagination, and our resources. Jesus did not imply that Martha’s work was frivolous. The commission to evangelize the world requires the best that we can offer.

WCT presents the gallery of strategies for world evangelization. It lists 1500 of them, noting that there are more. (One that does not make the list, mentioned in the corridors of our offices [theirs were just above ours] was the plan to send television sets by parachutes over the Himalaya mountains.)

The list begins with Matthew 25:18, what is called The Great Commission. Number 63 comes in the year 1000, number 93 at 1500. Two-thirds of them have come since 1960, with about one a month since 1990.

Ours would have come in 1985 under the plan of the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board with what was then called the “non-residential missionary.” We piggy-backed shamelessly on their advanced planning.

In the analysis of these plans, WCT points out the basic elements of the most enduring plans, the most common flaws, and the goals to seek.

The most basic elements:
Evangelization            There is no short cut in this. Incarnational love, language learning, and time are built into this.
Cooperation                My hunch is that the reason the Lord urged unity in His High Priestly prayer of John 17 is that that reality is so difficult for us. This cooperation means cultures, races, denominations, confessions, and genders see greater value in working together than separately.
World A                       This is the term for those ethnic groups that are less than 50% evangelized. Along with this piece comes the recognition of the essential reliance on research, statistics, and numbers. If illiteracy means those who do not read, innumeracy means those who do not value these tools
Wholism                      “Evangelization requires word, sign, and deed inseparably linked. This includes a response to justice, peace, and responsibility towards creation and the truth of the Gospel to all areas of human experience.”

The most common reasons for failure are:
Organizational isolation
Financial mismanagement
Downplaying the cost of discipleship
Moral lapses
Rigid church/mission structures
Excessive dominance of Western churches
Spiritual flabbiness
And about 325 others.

The goals for mission      by the year 2025     projected status at today’s pace:
Global % evangelized             100%                           77%
# of cities without a
church                                     0                                  80
# of people groups
without a church                       0                                  500
# of languages without
a Bible                                     0                                  4,000
% of giving to Christian
causes                                     3%                               2%
% of population Christian        44%                             33.4%

Photo: Lampung men of Sumatra, Indonesia, enjoying a (regular?) afternoon’s game of dominoes.
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The Good Samaritan — Profiled

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, July 10, 2016  Luke 10:25-37

After the Samaritan left the inn where the man was recovering, there were a few comments heard inside.

“Do you think his money is any good?”

“Who does he think he is, coming in this establishment like that?”

“Anybody want to take bets that he does not come back tomorrow?”

Profiling gives credibility to stereotypes, which, in turn, render the person in the least favorable light. Profiling diminishes the person to the lowest expectations. At best it doubts respect, and at worst, it abolishes any spot of honor, worth, and dignity.

Profiling puts filters into the person’s hands through which he or she views the world The filters, of course, eliminate certain characteristics, whether they are there or not.

In the mission work of the church and much of its international life, the residue of time gone by has left filters in the hands of some, and these some are mainly white Anglos. The reasons go back to the past two hundred years when most Christians were white and most of the pioneering missionaries of that era were also white.

Holding these filters today removes from sight the changes in God’s fields. I’ll just mention a couple. Two of the liveliest Anglican congregations in the Ukraine and in the United Kingdom are led by Nigerians. in India the surge of growth of the church can be traced back to the great Bishop Azariah. At the Edinburgh Missions Conference of 1910, he told the assembly, “Do come to India, but come as friends. India will be evangelized by Indians.”

The residue of the past two centuries firmly established the footholds for these filters, so they have disappeared slowly. My formal education reflects this. It lasted between the years 1949 and 1969. In those 20 years I had no more than two years of schooling with girls. There were no “people of color”—of any color other than white—but for a small number enough to be counted. As for religion, I grew up in a family of 9 other Episcopal clergy in my immediate family. My hands were full of filters!

It is a euphemism to say that “exposure to others” helps us see better. It takes cracks in our pride, direct hits, for us to receive God’s grace that allows a wider vision of His world and the people He loves. The lesson is an easy one to identify—to grasp the profiles that God designs.

World Christian Trends

When profiling rears its very ugly head in the church, the lamentable result is diminishing God, overlooking His people, forgetting what He is doing, and replacing all that with a serious myopia that leaves the world out of sight. We must gain the vision that sees God at work.

I bring to your attention the church in two countries—Brazil and China: Brazil because the world sees that country only in turmoil and not what God has established there; China because its church is one of the largest in the world, as is the nation itself.  Overlooking China only shows our myopia.  (Can you remember the name of China’s Prime Minister? Do you know how to pronounce his name?)  The statistics on these two countries are eye-opening.

First, Brazil.  Just consider the size of its two largest cities: Sao Paulo has 10 million, Rio de Janeiro has 17 million people. In Christianized countries, the population of Brazil will be second only to the United States in 2025 with an estimated population of 217,930,000

In 1900 Brazil was the 10th largest church in the world with 17,319,000 believers. By 2000 the. church had swollen to 155,545,000. Among Pentecostal/charismatics, they lead all countries with almost 80 million. That represents 47% of the church.

Among the ethnic peoples, the Branco Brazilians are the largest Christian ethnic group, with just over 80 million. The 7th largest Christian group is the Mulato Brazilians, numbering 35 million.

There is more going on in Brazil than the Olympics.

China has firsts in enviable categories as well as some less.

China is the largest country by population, with 1,460,000,000 projected in 2025. After India, China has the most cities over 50,000 – 463.  The nation has 254 different ethnic groups, many with subgroups that speak dialects unintelligible to others in the same ethnic group. It also ranks second to India with the number of blind, deaf, and lepers.

The church has reaped the fruit of the tears, the prayers, and the martyrs and missionaries of the 19th and 20th centuries. In the last decade of the 20thcentury the church was estimated to be increasing by one million people per month. By 2025 it is estimated that the number of Christians will number over 135 million, just after the churches of the United States and Brazil.

The predominate affiliation is categorized as Independents. This reflects the strength of the House Church movement. The Chinese church is second only to the United States with the number of Great Commission Christians, 81 million.

An interesting insight into the enormity of the population of China comes with the Han people. There are 810 million Han. These must be divided into numerous subgroups. Among the Han groups are the Mandarin Han, the fourth largest Christian group with 61 million. But there are three Han subgroups among the largest unreached peoples. These are the Jinyu (47 million), the Hunanese (44 million), and the Kan (25 million).

As might be expected with a nation of this size and with the growth of the church being so recent, the needs for the church’s work are clear. These same Han groups are among the largest ethnic groups without the printed Gospels, much less the entire Scripture. The Jinyu have lacked a mission agency as recently as 2000.

In my appreciation for the 4th of July and the United States’ unique history, I have been reading Alexis de Tocqueville on Democracy in America. His wisdom and insights make it clear how well we have molded ourselves and society around the pillars of democracy. Reading him also makes it crystal clear that expecting democracy to appear and flourish in China as it has here is unreasonable. The manifestation of the influence of the Body of Christ in China will have its own distinct and very powerful shape.

Photo: Dai women in Yunnan Province, China, with their first blue chewing gum! It broke the ice.
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Foreigners Coming, Missionaries Going

July 3, 2016     The Seventh Sunday of Pentecost   2 Kings 5:1-14; Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

The story of the servant of Naaman’s wife alongside the sending of 70 missionaries gives the dual trajectory of mission today.

On the one hand, we have the Jewish slave girl with the people of Damascus. Because of being among foreigners, she had the opportunity that never would have come had she stayed among her own.

On the other hand, Luke tells of Jesus sending 70 evangelists to Gentile nations. Matthew tells of the 12 He sent. The number 12 is a Jewish number—the tribes, the apostles, so these went to the Jews only. Luke recorded sending 70. Again the number tells us the context. There are 70 nations listed in Genesis 10, representing the nations of the world. So the mission of the 70 indicated Christ’s global view.

Today the stories remind us of the two-fold trajectory of mission: do not miss the opportunity of foreigners in your neighborhood, and do not fail to send missionaries to those nations who yet have no church.

In Part II I will focus on the 70. First, let me make some observations about the servant girl’s opportunity and what that means for us here. “Here” for Constance and me is Richmond, Virginia. Our three children and their families live here, so we moved to join them last August.

Next door to us is an Orthodox family from Serbia. Two doors down is a Muslim from Morocco. The lifeguard at the community pool is from Slovakia. I mention those neighbors because that is normal–normal for us and normal for those of you living in the United States.

God has given us an opportunity. We are the servant girl, not in captivity but living with Serbs, Moroccans, and Slovaks. And Han Chinese, Pushtun Afghans, Maaye Somalis, Rajasthani Marwari, Algerian Tuaregs, and so forth. Endlessly–an endless list of representatives of the nations represented by the 70 nations of Genesis 10 in your neighborhood and mine.  The servant girl was displaced to them. Now they have been displaced to us.

A couple of thoughts about following her example:

  1. Face our wilful isolation. That is, we live isolated lives, choosing to surround ourselves with people like us. To be God’s witnesses, we must wilfully leave our own and pay attention to those unlike us and around us.
  2. Face down the stereotypes. If we do not look under and beyond the stereotypes, we will never move to people beyond our own. Here is an example—the stereotype of Muslim terrorists. The FBI lists 1,000 Muslims on their watch list. There are 3.3 million Muslims in the United States. That means Muslims deemed suspicious by the FBI amount to a whopping 0.03%! Even if we triple the number who could be on the list, that still leaves the number at just 0.1%. The woman you notice with the hijab and her husband, and most like them, are just “bringing home the bacon,” just like you and me.
  3. Learn about their religion. This applies to Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, Baha’i believers, and all the rest. Can we not show them the respect for their religion that we hope they will show ours? We do not compromise our faith, nor are we disobedient witnesses, when we do no more than listen to them explain their faith and then go home. We are opening a respectful dialogue.
  4. Extra stars in your crown for every invitation you receive next week for celebrating Eid al-Fitr with your Muslim friends as they close Ramadan. After all, Ramadan is their time of seeking a better knowledge of God, forgiveness and salvation. One of the nights before the close is the “Night of Power.” That is when Mohammad first received dictation from Gabriel for the Qur’an. Muslims believe that the Night of Power is when prayers are answered and determination for souls is decided.
  5. Can we not see opportunity in all this: not for rolling our eyes but for opening conversations on a dozen topics that can draw out our Muslim friend to discuss a different take on a deeper knowledge of God, intercessory prayer, salvation, revelation,…

Naaman, or his contemporary counterpart, is listening. Maybe with skepticism, but don’t forget, the general left with a faith that he carried back to Damascus. That is possible with the Han, the Maaye, the Pushtun, and the rest on the endless list.

World Christian Trends and the 70

WCT gives statistics on this dual trajectory with foreigners coming and missionaries being sent. While the suggestions above apply to us individually, these reflect the global context of mission.

The relevant measurement is the balance of the dual calling of mission: workers among those where they live, and missionaries sent to unevangelized.

Some countries ought to receive a much larger number of missionaries than it sends, due to the relative low level of Christian depth in it. But for those with significant depth, the balance would be more on those sent than received.

WCT introduces categories describing where a country sits relative to the balance of receiving and sending. Some of these categories are : looting, squandering, donating, and sending. Looting takes more than its share of workers, while donating sends more than it might be expected to.

Ireland’s share of sending, for example, is way above those it receives. This is appropriate for that deeply Christian country. Chile, also a mature Christian land, is in the “looting” category, with many more received than sent. Some of those in the “wasting” category are Kenya, Reunion, Zaire, and Honduras. Belgium, Canada, France, and the US are among those in the ‘Sharing” list.

The studies show some expected results. For instance, India was one of the top receiving countries throughout the last century. Now it is the second ranking sending country. Nigeria is among the top five sending countries, not including missionaries sent to the unreached in its own lands. Nigerian leaders have touched the cold hearts of Central and Eastern Europeans more than others have been able to.

The final word comes from the Lord at the return of the 70. No matter the part we play, the important thing is but one—that our name be written in the Book of Life.

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Structures of Sin

June 26, 2016   The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost   Galatians 5:19-23

The usual task of itemizing the individual sins of the “works of the flesh” is rudely disrupted by the villagers in Samaria. Searching the corporate heart of the villagers yields the same sins found in individual hearts. Don’t they count?

The tendency of good biblical application has been to hang the works of the flesh on individuals. Full stop. That is easy to do, given a list that includes wrath, ambition, sexual immorality, murders and the like. But if we reduce categories of sins only to individual people, we feed a parody of Christian morality. We excuse ourselves from participating in the ills of society, and we take no responsibility for their healing.

The villagers, wrote Luke, saw that Jesus “had set His face towards Jerusalem (9:53).” The reasons for their refusing hospitality are not noted by Luke, but the setting gives hints. They recognized Jesus as the Light of the world, and they also recognized His condemnation of the sin of the world. As the world prefers darkness to Light, so the villagers preferred to refuse Jesus and avoid any hint of condemnation.

Who knows what their particular set of sins were? Whatever their list, it most certainly resembles contemporary forms of the sins that grip the world today. Maybe their list included:

Gangs that terrorize neighborhoods and extort honest people;
Drug dealers who may not take drugs but lead others to lethal addiction;
Pornography made accessible, feeding an addiction that breaks marriage bonds;
Corruption in the finances of schools or widows’ funds or town improvements;
Warfare from jealousies or for economic gain;
Approval for sexual perversion, either in homosexuality or heterosexuality;
Fraud hidden in bureaucracies or cartels.

The terminology may not be biblical, but the categories are. The very sins harbored in the lives of individuals find ample opportunity and power in the social structures of our worlds.

World Christian Trends

Curiously, many voices in the church will measure individual sins but will deny our responsability for sin in society. Walter Rauschenbusch referred to social sins as “structures of evil,” and Pope John Paul II named them as “structures of sin.”

The devastation of these sins can be measured in money: The estimated cost is $9.25 trillion, or 32% of the Gross World Product. The real devastation is in the grinding, heartless, wasteful, abusive, ruthless treatment of God’s creation and of people precious to Him.

I will select only a few of the items in the analysis of Structures of Sin. I will bring these from three categories only: the poor, the environment, and women. Below are facts, plain statistics. They deserve a slow reading. I do not need to embellish or illustrate what are the realities represented by these numbers.

The poor:
700 million severely malnourished
500 million on the verge of starvation
93 million beggars
70 million abandoned children and infants
850 million with no past schooling
100 million supported by garbage
150 million with no shelter whatsoever
$400 billion of food and property destroyed by rats p. a. (per annum)
349 million homeless or family-less children
80 million new slum dwellers p. a.

The environment:
Tropical forests shrink by 247 million acres p. a.
75,000 species of life destroyed p. a.
50% of the world depends on biomass (firewood) for daily needs.
Soil erosion: 27 billion tons of topsoil lost from cropland p. a.
Sea levels rise by 0.6 inches p. a.
Waste: 1.6 billion tons p. a. (1 pound per capita per day)
50,000 acres of rain forest destroyed each day
63 sq. miles of arable land engulfed a day by deserts through mismanagement

Number 49.6% of the world
Receive 10% of the world’s income
Own 1% of the world’s property
Social surgery: 100 million genitally-mutilated
2.5 million raped p. a.
Women make up:
70% of all poor
66% of all illiterates
80% of all refugees
75% of all sick

If the sins of “the works of the flesh” are found in cultures and societies as well as in our hearts, so “the fruits of the Spirit” must be seen in the lives of Christians and in the cultures of God’s world as well. If that is where the Spirit redeems, then that is where the fruit of the branches must show the life of the Vine.

Photo: Two Hindu women in a village of Rajasthan, unmarried and doing household chores.
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