MACAU. For the past week I have been on a small island, that looks and feels like a large casino. Every Nation Macau Church hosted our annual Asia Leadership Team meeting and a day later our China Discipleship Convergence. I wish I could blog about the reports I heard from Every Nation leaders in China, Pakistan, Laos, Tibet, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia, but I can’t because of security concerns.
Here’s my Every Nation Asia summary, in the words of Apostle Paul, “The Gospel is bearing fruit and growing throughout the whole world—just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and truly understood God’s grace.” (Colossians 1:6)
While the spread of the Gospel brings great joy to my heart, there is also a deep sadness as I watch thousands and thousands march into the casinos to throw away their money and their future. I have observed a strange mix of greed and hope in the eyes of those coming into the glittery casinos, and a zombie-like hopelessness in the eyes of those shuffling towards the exit doors.
Luck is the operative word around here. Some, a very few, have good luck. Most have very bad luck.
While watching this tragedy play out before me, I read an interesting story about blessing this morning. Many people see blessing as the religious version of luck, but the two concepts have nothing in common. Luck is something that randomly happens to one and not to another. Blessings are often the direct results of our decisions and actions.
It is common for religious people to have wrong ideas about the blessing of God. Consider Luke 11. Jesus just taught his disciples how to pray the “Our Father.” Next He heals a mute boy by casting out a demon. Then He teaches the crowd. Typical day in the life of Jesus.
Watch what happens next, and notice the response of a random woman in the crowd.
As he said these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!” Luke 11:27 ESV
Like many people today, most people in Jesus’ day wrongly believed that a person was blessed or not blessed solely based on who their parents were. A person’s family background determined ethnicity and nationality. That was true then, and now. But ethnicity and nationality do not determine divine blessing.
In His response to the woman in the crowd, Jesus redefined what it means to be blessed and corrected a false belief about the source of the blessing.
“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Luke 11:28 ESV
How then is one “blessed” according to Jesus? In this passage in Luke, Jesus clearly ties the blessing of God to hearing and living God’s Word.
Never allow your family background, your ethnicity, or your nationality determine your blessing. Hear, read, obey, and live God’s word and you will find the true source of the blessing of God.
MANILA. I once knew an arrogant young Calvinist who took great pride in his Reformed pedigree: saved as a teenager at First Presbyterian Church, while in high school attended Bible studies on the hallowed campus of Reformed Theological Seminary, bought his first study Bible in the RTS bookstore, took classes at RTS (but got too busy doing mission and never graduated). This guy was throughly Reformed, and equally arrogant. Had all the answers. Had it all figured out. Then life happened and he realized there were biblically valid answers that were not sub-points neatly tucked under one of Calvin’s Big Five. And he discovered a deep theological truth: loving, serving, and respecting people is more important than being right, winning arguments, and appearing smart.
That arrogant young Calvinist grew up to be a “Presby-costal” equally embracing his Reformed and Pentecostal foundations. He also spent most of his adult life making disciples and planting churches in Asia. Yep, I’m talking about me, and hopefully I am not as arrogant or irrelevant as three decades ago.
I’m thankful for my theological and spiritual heritage. God providentially saved me in a Reformed Presbyterian church, then formed me in a Pentecostal/Charismatic church. After all these years, my theology stubbornly clings to its Reformed and Pentecostal roots.
Last week, in the wake of the World Vision confusion, a Filipino campus ministry leader asked me a question about same-sex marriage. His question had serious theological, sociological, and moral implications. That question sparked a good discussion, and this blog.
Anyone who is willing to leave the safety of the seminary classroom or church sanctuary will quickly realize that unchurched students are not asking about unconditional election and limited atonement, but they are asking about same-sex attraction and sexual boundaries. Sadly, as church leaders rehash 400 year-old debates that no one but the “choir” cares about, few seem to be doing theology on issues that matter most right now. The Bible has answers, but it will take serious study and disciplined debate to mine its ancient wisdom and apply it to a confused culture.
A long long time ago, on a continent far far away, Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, and other pretty smart Europeans did theology to address questions that were actually being asked by their cultures and communities. I am glad they gave clear and thoroughly biblical answers to the burning questions of their day. I have learned much reading some of their book. And I have slept much while attempting to read others.
Rather than endlessly debating the minutia of the sub-points of Calvinism, I think we could better serve our churches and our communities if we do theology in order to answer questions that are actually being asked by real people today.
Here’s what Martin Luther said about answering contemporary questions in his classic book, The Bondage of the Will.
“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every part of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at the moment attacking, then I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Him. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all battlefields besides is merely flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”
In other words, if we are able to debate all five of Calvin’s main points in English, Latin, French, Greek, and Taglish but we have no sane theology of gender, sexuality, morality, and marriage, then we are like soldiers fleeing the battlefield and we are ”not confessing Christ.”
Time for serious theologians to engage the battle that is in front of us, not the one behind us.
NASHVILLE. Have you ever known someone who is crazy generous? Not the guy who occasionally drops a few coins in the tip box at Starbucks. I’m talking about those people who love to give and who live to give. Are you one of those extremely rare extreme givers?
Luke recorded a story about a woman who didn’t have much, but all she had, she gave to Jesus. She gave joyfully and sacrificially. She was not a pious religious woman. She was a woman with a past. A sinful past. A shameful past. A past filled with regret. But she gave Jesus her all and her best.
The reason for her extreme generosity was simple. Here’s how Jesus explained it to his small group of Rhodes Scholars.
“Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:47)
Those who have been forgiven much, love much. Those who suppose they have been forgiven little, love little.
This idea of reciprocating love is the explanation for crazy generosity. So, if we have been forgiven much, we will show much generosity, but if we have been forgiven little we will show little generosity.
Two summary thoughts about generosity from this story in Luke’s Gospel:
1. Generosity is an expression of love and gratitude.
2. Generosity is a response to being forgiven.
I have been forgiven much, therefore I should be extremely generous. What about you, have you been forgiven much, or little?
Almost three decades ago, Brady preached at Victory-Manila. After all these years I still remember the gist of his sermon: “It doesn’t matter if you’re in the ministry, as long as the ministry is in you.”
During the memorial service Brady’s sister, Trudy, reminded us of Brady’s famous voice mail message. Imagine the most genteel southern gentleman accent possible, then slow it down and exaggerate it:
You’ve reached the most fortunate man in the world. I’ve got great kids. I love my job. I have the best friends a man could ask for. If there is anything I can do to help you, just leave a message and I’ll call you back as soon as I can.
Brady’s sermon from thirty years ago and his voice mail message from last month sum up a good man’s life and legacy: faith, family, friends, and helping people.
Rest in peace, Brady Clark. You will me missed by many.
NASHVILLE. This week, twenty years ago, Every Nation Churches & Ministries serendipitously started in my home when a couple of old friends had a layover in Manila. The date was March 4. The time of day was late, close to midnight. The place was my house in Pasig, Philippines. Our fledgling ministry had no legal documents, no headquarters, no budget, no plan, no logo, but we had a clear call from God and a sense of stewardship for the university campuses of the world.
Here’s how I described that night in my book, 100 Years from Now.
Six years after the demise of the ministry and mission agency that sent us to the Philippines, I received a call from Rice Broocks that would change our lives. Every decade or so, I get a call like that from him. Rice called to ask if he and an old friend, Phil Bonasso, could crash at my house in Manila for a couple of nights on their way to Singapore and Malaysia. Rice and Phil’s Asian adventure was a response to a “Macedonian call” from a friend of a friend asking them to consider assisting two new church-planting opportunities in Asia.
I’ll never forget that late night in my house in Manila. Rice and Phil were talking about the open doors in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, and then one of them said, “We need to plant churches in those cities.” I responded, “Who is ‘we?’ There is no ‘we.’ There is only you, and you, and me.” In 1989, when Maranatha Campus Ministries ended and we all went our separate ways, any semblance of “we” had abruptly ended. I can’t remember the whole conversation, but by the time Rice and Phil left my house, there was a “we” that the three of us agreed to call Morning Star International. God had connected us together for the purpose of “church planting, campus ministry, and world missions.” Phil and I agreed to join our ministries together if Rice would take the lead. We never imagined anyone would want to join with us. We simply wanted to plant new churches, not gather existing churches. To our surprise, as soon as Rice and Phil landed in the USA a week later, old friends started calling to ask if they could join our little church-planting group. A few years later, we changed our name to Every Nation, but we never changed our commitment to church planting, campus ministry, and world missions.
When God reconnected Rice, Phil, and me that night in Manila, it was not because we were all struggling and failing. Quite the contrary—all three of us were leading what most people would consider growing and successful ministries. Every Nation came about because the three of us believed we could accomplish more together than apart. We believed we could be better together.
That’s how we started. It has been quite a ride these past twenty years. Together we have made a lot of disciples, a lot of mistakes, and a lot of great memories. I thank God for allowing me to preach the Gospel, make disciples, and plant churches with good friends all over the world.
By His grace, eventually we will reach every nation with the Gospel.