The interlude between Acts 9:31 and 11:24 is a mighty work of the Spirit in changing the Jewish mind of Peter and the church in Jerusalem from a solely Jewish church to one that accepts Gentiles. This required divine intervention, first with Peter and then with the church in Jerusalem, so they could recognize that God was doing something beyond them. To verify this work of the Spirit, Jerusalem sent Barnabas to Antioch to examine what was taking place. “When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad” (11:23).
This point becomes a challenge to our stale thinking. I fear we become so immersed in our own church activities and programs that we fail to see how God is working beyond our community, country and culture. How often do we stop and celebrate the new believers among the Aka people of Myanmar or the Muslims who have come to faith in Christ, accepting family and cultural persecution in many places around the world?
In this interlude, God is preparing Saul in Tarsus for the next stage of effective missions. Barnabas realizes that these new believers in Antioch need some good teaching to establish them in their faith. Who better to help him with this task than Saul? Barnabas goes up to Tarsus and looks for his friend and disciple and brings Saul back to Antioch. “For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians” (11:26). The uncertainty about this young convert Saul has melted and given way to effective teaching so that these new converts become a clear reflection of Christ!
How does our discipling, strengthening and encouraging of new believers compare to this? Is it so effective that the world sees the reflection of Christ in them? This multiplies our mission effort by the power of God working in persons!
As I have noted before on this blog, there is a “both/and” factor that must be part of effective missions. The spontaneous expansion of the gospel and the church in the Book of Acts was clearly Jesus method as predicted in Acts 1:8b; “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and (in union with or along with) all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.” In other words, the missionary push to the ends of the earth cannot be apart from God working in Jerusalem.
This effective principle is seen again in chapter 9 where in the Jerusalem church, Saul “preached boldly in the name of Jesus” (9:28). This resulted in the “brothers…bringing him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus” (9:30). The Holy Spirit is working through the church to ‘stage’ Saul for joining Barnabas again for the next push into the mission’s frontier. Also note that while being moved on to his next assignment, “the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied” (9:31)! Effective missions cannot take place unless both activities are taking place. We must be building up the existing church if sending and positioning God’s messengers in “Going” is to be effective.
How is this working out in your church? Are you doing both?
The effective expansion of the gospel requires those who encourage the messenger. This is vital because there may be doubts in the minds of church leaders who have not known how God worked in the life of the new messenger. So it was with Saul. It takes a Barnabas who knows God’s inner working to explain what has taken place. One of the most convincing facts about Saul that caused the church leaders to accept him was “how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus” (Acts 9:27). As in chapter 4, boldness was one of the marks of the rapid expansion of the gospel, and now we see it again with Saul.
Notice that this effective boldness was clearly the work of being filled with the Holy Spirit which Saul received at conversion (9:17). There was no education requirement for this to take place. How much have we hindered this spontaneous work of God by placing formal education requirements on persons after they are saved? Should we rather be a Barnabas to them and encourage, strengthen and promote the active missionary Spirit given by faith in Christ?
In this and the next few blogs, I want to explore with you what are “Effective Missions” from a biblical point of view using Paul as our example.
Immediately after Saul’s conversion (Acts 9:1-19), he began his preaching ministry in a missionary setting. He had come from Jerusalem to Damascus, fresh from the scene of Stephen’s murder and bent on bringing believers (“any belonging to the Way”) bound in chains to Jerusalem. Damascus was not his home. So powerful was his encounter with Jesus that he “immediately…proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God” (9:20). There was no requirement or coercion from anyone that forced Saul to go through training before he could preach.
I suggest that where the gospel has been received in the power of the Holy Spirit, there is a God-given ability to tell others what has happened to them and who it is that has made the change in their lives, simple though it be. The proof that his preaching was effective was that “all who heard him were amazed. Saul increase all the more in strength and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ” (9:21-22). We find the same powerful work of the Spirit with the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 1:5-8).
Do you trust the work of the Holy Spirit in a new believer and encourage them to share their faith and hope in Christ with others who are still without hope in God? The Spirit’s work in a believer is its own witness to the source and the power.
I am deeply challenged as the Holy Spirit pushes me along this path of missions – reaching the unengaged and unreached of the world. How do we measure our own passion and zeal for God glory and agenda for this world? The truth is we really can’t measure accurately our own spiritual state. But we do have the Holy Spirit who “bears witness with our spirit” (Ro. 8:16). The more we are honest with ourselves and willing to listen to the Spirit speaking to us the more we will assess our present spiritual condition. Paul confirms this approach in 2 Cor. 13:5 when he says; “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Christ Jesus is in you?” This testing is about the activity of faith in us and the how conscious we are of Christ’s life in us.
John Piper commented that “where passion for God is weak, zeal for missions will be weak.” You can be sure that where there is weakness of any degree, there will be ineffectiveness. Let’s change that state of soul today!
Piper, John, Let the Nations be Glad, Bake Academic, 2007, page 18.
OUR OVERHEAD MUST BE KEPT LOW
“One of the greatest criticisms of missionary work today is provoked by the amount used for home expenses. I would strongly advise every contributor to find out just what portion of his dollar actually gets to the field, and how much is used for overhead. Surely fifteen percent should be sufficient to take care of the needs at home, and even that should be so designated. If money is given for the foreign field, to the foreign field it should go.
These then are the principles and practices that should govern missionary work. To ignore them is to court disaster. To apply them is to experience the blessing of God.”
Oswald J. Smith, The Challenge of Missions, page 136.
These principles set out in this series by Smith are guidelines and have tremendous value. They may cut across many of our habits and thinking. Let me suggest that before you dismiss them; ask whether they will accelerate the spread of the gospel and have a biblical footing. If they do, use them rigorously!
ALLOWANCE SHOULD BE BASED ON NEEDS, NOT WORTH
“The best plan is to share and share alike, that is, if we have faith enough to keep the pot full; then there will be sufficient for all. It is dangerous to pay big salaries. Most so-called ‘Faith Missions’ set aside just sufficient to meet the cost of living, and that is a wise plan. It does not put the missionary too high above the native. It does not overburden the church at home. It honors God. Too much equipment is a hindrance rather than a blessing.”
Oswald J. Smith, The Challenge of Missions, page 136.
Back at the elephant shelter, we dismounted and walked across the road to a café and print shop where we purchased an official photo of us two old men on top of this conquered beast☺ We were then asked to go with a local man in his pickup truck. Tim was not sure what our next destination would be, but within a few minutes, we went through the village and descended down to the bank of the river that ran through this valley. By this time we guessed that they were taking us on a rafting trip down the river, because Tim had done this before during a previous visit. I have gone rafting before in Jamaica, but the construction of these rafts was not quite the same as the ones I had ridden before, being narrower and the seat was just two pieces of bamboo with no back. In my mind, this posed a slight problem, but I figured the trip would be short and I could endure with a little perseverance. We climbed down the bank and onto the raft and were off with a very young pole man as our guide.
It was a perfectly gorgeous day! For the locals, it was cool, but for us it could not have been better. As we made our way down the river, over gentle rapids, around turns in the river, Tim remarked that we were going on a much longer trip than he had before. Passing under several suspension bridges, some hardly fit to hold up anyone, we noticed that the river was getting narrower and the rapids more challenging. The gates between large rocks made passage a challenge in some cases. At one point, we were asked to get off the raft and walk a few hundred feet down the river while the pole man maneuvered the raft around the rocks and down a large rapid. Getting back on the raft, we continued down the river, passing through several other narrow gates and rapids.
The thought had not occurred to me until this point that we had not left our cameras or phones or hiking boots back at the elephant farm or placed them in a waterproof bag because we had no idea what was ahead……then it happened! We headed into a rapid that was narrow and dropped several feet. Unable to control the raft which hit a boulder on the left side, I felt the raft begin to tip to the right (the side I am on). I immediately threw my weight to the left hoping to compensate the force of water that was turning us over. It happened so quickly! Because I cannot swim (particularly in tense moments), I threw out my arms hoping to grab onto something since I did not know how deep the water was. I grabbed Tim, who was my life raft and he assured me that all was well! By this time, I grabbed the raft again and found footing on the river bed. Need I say that everything was soaked—clothes, boots, camera, phone and ipod!
I did not want to get back on that raft, but we were not at the end of this journey. We proceeded down the river again and soon reached the end of this “exciting” experience! The person who had taken us down to the raft launch was there to pick us up, and the look on her face was worth a picture as she saw our wet condition, but she ended up laughing with us at the unplanned event. Looking back we truly can laugh, and we both tease each other that we are now baptized brothers. Jumping forward a few days, I can say that our pictures have survived on the camera card, even though our equipment hasn’t. Though I have never experienced something as dramatic as this, I continually thank the Lord for preserving our lives for a much greater purpose and these times are to remind us of His overflowing grace.
Back at the elephant farm café, I stood in the sun as much as possible and tried to dry out. Tim says that I am still all wet, and that is OK, so long as it is the water of the Holy Spirit continually washing over me with His cleansing, purifying and empowering presence. Before heading back to Chiang Mai, they wanted to take us to a local waterfall which was set in the hillside of this valley. “A’s” father put us with a tour group that had come to the farm from Chiang Mai that morning, so we could ride with them in a van back to the Chiang Mai YMCA. It felt so good to take a shower and get dry clothes on. For many in our family and circle of friends, this event will never be forgotten. I can accept your teasing! Attending church versus elephant rides and river rafting? I will let you judge by grace or law!!
Jan. 19-22, 2015. Tim and I spent some time praying for each other as he was leaving for Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam where he and Terry will have the opportunity to launch GPHC with two groups and follow-up with two other groups that I had introduced the manual to last year. I will insert parts of Terry’s notes here so you get a sense of how God is continuing to work in this country.
Tim’s comment – “After almost 15 years, I am amazed how well he (Terry) jumped right back into the material...great teaching Terry!”
Terry – “The second day of training was packed full, not only of people - several new ones - but also with teaching GPHC. I taught chapter 2 of the manual and was a bit apprehensive because I haven't taught this material in a long time and with an interpreter. Tim said it flowed well. Tim taught next, and that took us to lunch. What a treat (again!).
After lunch I presented chapter 5 which dealt with using the letters of Paul to strengthen churches. I was even more apprehensive about teaching this chapter because I really had to summarize rather than go into much depth, but the participants seemed to catch on and understand. After a break, class participants presented their homework that looked at the various roles and responsibilities of the different people that make up households and the church, the household of God.
One of the new participants was a man who once fought for N. Vietnam against the US. What a testimony! After the war he developed an alcohol problem that badly affected his liver. He eventually moved to Canada and came to know the Lord. Now he has returned to N. Vietnam where he started several churches. There was great rejoicing as we pointed out the changed lives of both Tim and this man through the gospel. What reconciliation the cross produces!
We also met a lady (sister in the Lord) whose husband is not saved. She has a rough life and abuse from her husband and who is not sympathetic at all to her faith in Christ. Tim prayed for her which seemed to encourage her.
Afterwards our hosts took us for supper at....... Are you ready? Drum roll, please! Pizza Hut!
I got up around 2:30 this morning. Still adjusting to the jet lag, I guess. I can't thank everyone enough for your prayers. Please continue! We finish with this group tomorrow and meet with a new group on Saturday.
We finished day three training for group 1. This involved first reviewing the first 5 chapters of the manual and then covering chapter 6, Developing Ordered Churches. Tim focused a lot on developing our own personal relationship with Christ as the key to everything else we talked about. This resonated with a lot of the participants. After lunch we finished with chapter 7 that deals with developing a personal ministry strategy for planting or renewing churches. The group got bogged down here when it came to putting into action what they learned. I think this revealed a universal problem: it's easier to talk, study and learn about something than it is to put it into practice. But we ended by sharing things they could take home with them such as "Go" preach the gospel - do it! One sister learned the importance of developing her marriage and family. Another sister appreciated how clear the lessons are and how she will be able to study them on her own. These Vietnamese brothers and sisters are so precious and friendly and face some of the same issues we do. They need encouragement just like we do. Tim ended the meeting by sharing from 2 Timothy 4 on Paul's final words before his martyrdom: "I have fought a good fight, finished the race and kept the faith" and challenged us to be able to say that at the end of our lives. This particular devotional really resonated with the interpreter.
In a half hour our host will pick us up for the evening meal at his home. Can't wait to see what we have to eat. All the food has been delicious. These people really are very hospitable and taking good care of us. We ended the evening praying for the mother's husband who is not a believer - yet! The sad thing is that years ago he made a profession of faith in Jesus but walked away from the church. You see, he's the oldest son in his Buddhist family and is expected to carry on the family tradition and religion. We prayed for him to believe in Jesus so he could become an adopted son of God. Yes, they deal with the same issues that we do with people walking away from their earlier confessions of faith.
Tomorrow we meet with group two. There are supposed to be 26 people meeting in our host's home. This is a brand new group. Please pray. We sense God working through your prayers. Thanks again for your prayers!”
Remember that it is through your prayers and support that we now have the manual in Vietnamese and approved for printing by the government! This is a miracle of God’s grace!
Now I (Sherman) will recount this week with the Karen Baptist Bible School students who are graduating next month. Our dear brother “T” was my interpreter and will also be with me next week when we meet with Karen leaders and pastors. Having the manual in their own language is a huge way to accelerate the training, thanks to so many of you who have generously helped cover the printing costs.
All nine students were together for the week except for two who were sick for one day. We quickly bonded as the material was presented. I intended that “T” do most of the teaching, but he still feels a lack of confidence in what he has learned. I can honestly say that I have never been with a group that was more studious and focused on what they were learning. We covered chapters one and two on Monday. By the afternoon, one young man (married, with a little daughter) began asking questions that were prompted by our study of God’s plan and purpose for the church and the early expansion that took place in the early church. It was interesting how he questioned the disparity between the biblical model and what he sees in his own denomination. His questions prompted questions from others during the days that followed.
I was very excited that our progress through the manual was in no way hindered by their frequent questions and healthy discussions. On day two, we finished lesson three and four, day three completed most of lesson five, and day four and five were used to do most of the lessons in chapter six and the project in chapter seven. In fact, I saw their eagerness grow through our five days together so that we completed almost all of the lessons and most of the projects. Homework in the evening for them was not a problem. Each day, I had them review what we covered the previous day(s) and without hesitation, they worked together to make sure each person remembered the complete picture. When it came to chapter five and Paul’s method of strengthening the church by using his letters, they went beyond what we normally expect by listing all of his letters Paul wrote in the order they were written and labeling them with their purpose. Several times they said that this had never been taught them in their four years of Bible School and it made such a difference in how they looked at these as tools for establishing and strengthening the church.
One of the most striking questions asked was, “what will happen if I stand by what I have learned and our pastors/leaders don’t agree or understand what we are learning”? In one way, this is a difficult question! Care must be taken not to criticize any denomination, leaders or persons. The focus must be on God’s Word and His truth, not man and his organization. I took them to Ephesians 4 where Paul insists on maintaining the unity of the Spirit and at the same time promoting spiritual maturity in Christ; “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (4:13). In this section, Paul also insists that we speak the truth in love (4:15) which is often difficult, but absolutely necessary so that we appreciate God’s work in others and yet seek the mature understanding of God’s plan and purpose. I spent some time hoping to build their confidence in the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit who will faithfully lead them through many challenges like this. The fruit of these conversations came through in their final project (chapter 7) which they presented Friday afternoon.
WOW! WHAT A WEEK!!
For me (Sherman), Saturday and Sunday will be for rest and catching up with my journal. There are many other ministry responsibilities in the U.S, that I am seeking to keep on track as well, so your fervent prayers are the fuel in my engine and the tool that keeps the enemy in his place (Eph. 6:10-20).
Thank you for those prayers!
Continuing to press on,
Jan. 17-18, 2015. We approached this weekend with much anticipation. “A” had arranged with her father, who operates an elephant farm, to pick us up and take us to the farm on Saturday. Sadly, Tim fell sick Friday night apparently with food poisoning, and had to cancel the excursion. While we rested on Saturday, Tim began to feel better and the trip to the farm was rescheduled for Sunday. This seemed appropriate since neither of us were asked to speak at a church. With our involvement in ministry all during the week, it is good to spend extra time with the Lord in prayer and reading His Word Saturday.
On Sunday morning we were picked up at 7 a.m. by “A’s” father and headed southwest through the outskirts of Chiang Mai into farmland that was lush with crops; some ready for harvest. Some of the workers were harvesting onions, putting them into sacks and loading them on to trucks so they could be sold at the market. I saw a great lesson in this. Cultivation, planting, watering, tending the growing crops, and then harvesting are all a process that is going on simultaneously. So it is with the Lord’s work. If we forget one of these elements in doing the Lord’s work we will miss the unity of the Spirit’s work in the body of Christ (see 1 Cor. 3:5-9). This work is in “God’s field” for “God’s building” (3:9).
Leaving the farming plain, we climbed a winding road through forests into a lush valley where we reached a small village and turned onto a local road. It was only a short distance to the elephant farm and still early in the morning before other tourists and visitors arrived. We walked to the field and pole shelter where the elephants were pegged by one foot with a chain to the ground. I have no doubt that their strength could rip these pegs from the ground, but it is enough of a reminder that there are limits to their freedom. The workers walked freely among them arranging them for the day’s work. There were also two baby elephants loose that stayed very close to their mothers. One was a year old and the other two years. Later I saw the mothers giving visitors a ride and the babies followed right at their side. After observing the workers handle the elephants, we climbed up a platform so we could easily mount these huge animals and start our ride. A seat was strapped to the elephant’s back and we carefully stepped onto its shoulders to get seated. I was able to touch her tough hide---what an experience! A handler sat on the elephants head giving verbal commands to the elephant as we headed along a ravine and up steep slopes into the hills above the farm.
The ease with which the handler controls this huge animal reminded me of the contrast James makes between horses, ships and our tongue. We must conclude that this small member of our bodies that is influenced by the human will (apart from the Holy Spirit) can do more damage than these powerful animals. We were amazed by their strength and sure-footed ability. Since she hadn’t been fed yet, this elephant had her feast along the way; pulling at vines, plants and trees until the handler commanded it to move on. At the end of the ravine we turned and went up a trail that was very steep. You can imagine the sense of wonder as we sat on top (already 10 to 12 feet in the air) and then going up this trail, putting us even higher off the ravine below. God has made their feet so they mold to the surface they are walking on. Even the rocks became anchors for their feet to grab as we felt the enormous strength of this creature under us. What an exhilarating opportunity which I have never experienced before and will never forget!
To be continued....
WE SHOULD NEVER GO INTO DEBT
“Owe no man anything” is His Word (Romans 13:8). To disobey is to court disaster. We have no right to go forward until God supplies the funds. Let us get out prayer requests for the amount needed first, instead of forging ahead and looking for money that does not come in. If God can provide for our needs after, He can just as easily do so before. George Muller spent only what God gave him. He prayed first for the money necessary and waited for God to answer that prayer before going ahead. That is always a safe procedure. We have no right to incur debts for others to pay. Let us get out of debt and keep out. Debt is a disgrace. It is dishonoring to God.”
Oswald J. Smith, The Challenge of Missions, page 135-136.
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