Posted on October 21st, 2014 by Jonathan
If you’ve ever taken a vegan friend to lunch, chances are your first suggestion was not Whataburger. You probably stayed away from all restaurants the fell under the “fast food hamburger joints” category. But not only did knowing your restaurant categories prove to be helpful; so did knowing the category your friend fell into – “vegan.” When used correctly, categories are good and helpful tools.
One category that Jesus makes use of is ethne, translated “nations” in the Great Commission – “make disciples of all ethne.” This command drives us to go and steers us toward our many destinations: the ethne of the world. But ethne doesn’t refer to nation-states such as Uganda, India, or China. Rather, it refers to categories of people (people groups) such as the Seminole Nation, the Yazidis, or the Kurds. Our desire to fully obey this command has led us to identify who these people groups are, and then to prioritize the ones that have little to no believers among them – unreached people groups (UPGs). We have a clear aim.
Categorizing people into groups doesn’t just give us an aim, though; it assists us in attaining it. Knowing a person’s specific people group can help you prepare to share the gospel with him or her by indicating language, cultural customs, religious beliefs, social norms, assumptions, values, and more. The good news cannot spread where there is no understanding, and people group categories help us find some common ground so we can meet them where they are.
For example, let’s suppose you meet an Afghan woman. Knowing that her Afghan people group is unreached, you decide to go out of your way to share the gospel with her. Based on her people group, you infer that she speaks Dari, practices Islam, is offended by women in shorts, and doesn’t talk directly to men. So you learn a few Dari words, study the basics of Islam, make sure you’re modestly dressed, and make sure there’s no one-on-one situation with a male.
People Groups and the People that Comprise Them
But what if the Afghan woman’s parents immigrated to America shortly after she was born and she grew up in the California public school system? Will she feel that you cared more about her than her Afghan-ness? Does your preparation allow you enough flexibility to still be an effective witness?
What if people don’t always fit their people group mold?
We must remember that individuals are not people groups. Though people from within the same group will necessarily share some characteristics, they won’t necessarily share all characteristics. In fact, chances are, you’ll find a whole gamut of differences within each group. Our mission is still clear: to make disciples of all of the people groups. And these people groups give us a huge jump start in knowing about a person so as to communicate with them well. But as we seek to share the gospel with individuals, we must learn to use people group categories as guiding tools rather than hard line rules.
I have an Iranian friend named Ali. He came to the United States as a student in engineering. One night, a close friend and I were talking with him, and we began to steer the conversation toward spiritual things. I thought I knew how it would go: What do you believe? Islam? Great, let’s talk about the difference between Islam and Christianity. To my surprise, not only was Ali not Muslim… he was more interested in finding out where American guys go to meet American girls. In fact, according to him, the Iranian government was far more Muslim than the people they governed. He shared a heart language and cultural identity with the Persian people of Iran, but not the majority religious belief.
Again, categories – including people groups – are good and helpful tools to utilize… when they are used correctly.
There are more than 11,000 people groups, and well over half of them are unreached. Though the Great Commission demands we make disciples among each of them, we ought to be careful not to approach individuals mechanically with regard only to who their people group says they are supposed to be. In the end, all ethne will be represented around God’s throne in heaven. And the representatives will all be unique individuals. May our ministry reflect both these truths.
BOOK: Let The Nations Be Glad (and related resources), John Piper
Posted on October 20th, 2014 by Jonathan
Nearly a quarter of a billion people live in the 29 countries that comprise Southeast Asia. The region hosts 426 people groups, 343 of which are unreached. If you’re one of the 215 million people in these unreached people groups (UPGs), chances are, you live your entire life without ever hearing the good news of Jesus. That’s a sort of despair with which most of us are unacquainted.
However, one North Carolina church is at work in the region, hoping to change the situation for the “T people,” as they affectionately call them. There are only a handful of known believers among the T, a largely Buddhist UPG. Why are they unreached? IMB writer Paige Turner – who lives in Southeast Asia – explains:
The problem lies in getting to these people. It isn’t easy. Few outsiders make it to the remote villages nestled in the steep, wet mountains of Southeast Asia.
Just to tell this one Bible story about creation, Harrison [a pastor from the North Carolina church that is engaging the T] and several local believers ride 45 minutes in a three-wheeled motorcycle taxi, with little protection from the rain and wind. Along one road, the group walks while the taxi slowly maneuvers through the mud. Then, they ride motorcycles another 30 minutes straight up a mountain to the fishing village.
The journey is even difficult for local residents to reach the remote villages. Khin and Thet [believers from a neighboring ethnic group] often walk three hours one-way during rainy season, when their motorcycle can’t make it up the mountain through the mud, to share the Gospel.
Again, this is just one of 343 UPGs in Southeast Asia. Worldwide, it’s one of 6,565 . . all of them without access to gospel. Though the reasons for these groups’ lack of gospel knowledge are varied, the fact they don’t have it should lead us to ask the same questions as Paul in Romans 10: “How will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to peach unless they are sent?” (vv. 14,15).
Posted on October 17th, 2014 by Jonathan
Ten Reasons Why You Can’t be a Missionary: David Sills explores some of our most common excuses and concludes, “It is possible that you have a really good reason that is sufficient for not obeying a missionary call; but I doubt it.”
Why Keep Sexual Boundaries?: Can our motivations for sexual purity be less than Christian? According to Ed Welch, yes.
Seduction and the Cost of Saying ‘No‘: American teenagers who resolve to guard their sexual purity must count the cost, and it is high. Mark Howard says we shouldn’t minimize their suffering by comparing it to more extreme persecution.
The Epidemic of Male Body Hatred: Some gospel encouragement from Paul Maxwell: “God has something to offer each aspect of a man’s hatred of his body, and he offers it through the five relational spheres of his self-hatred.”
Posted on October 16th, 2014 by David Burnette
How can the Old Testament sacrificial system, which Christians no longer participate in, enrich our understanding of salvation in Christ?
“This is the best news in the world: God invites humanity into relationship with Him. However, as God makes covenants with people, it creates a serious tension. After all, isn’t it impossible for a holy God to stay connected to sinful people? At this point in the biblical storyline some important questions develop. Will God need to lower His standards? (Could He lower His standards even if He wanted to?) Will God’s people be able to live sinless lives so they can enjoy God’s presence?
Of course, the answer to these questions is no. God would never and could never lower His standards or diminish His holiness. And since the fall, human beings are incapable of living sinless lives and enjoying God’s presence on the basis of their own moral purity. So if God is going to bind Himself to human beings, something has to be done about the sin that inevitably enters the lives of the people of God.
God’s solution for the problem of sin is sacrifice.
Most Christians today understand that when Jesus died, He was serving as a sacrifice on our behalf. What many don’t understand, however, is the major role that sacrifice played in the Old Testament. Most Christians today understand that Jesus’s death on the cross paid for our sins and allowed us to have a relationship with God. But we rarely consider that Jesus’s death was the culmination of a larger story of sin and sacrifice that develops throughout the Old Testament. Only when we understand the Old Testament sacrifices can we see how the Old and New Testaments dovetail perfectly into one amazing story. Jesus didn’t decide on a whim that the problem of sin could be solved by dying on a cross; the Old Testament sacrificial system demanded a sacrifice for sin, and Jesus offered Himself as the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf.”
As if we needed more troubling news on the religious liberty front, now comes word that pastors in Houston have had their sermons subpoenaed by Mayor Annise Parker and the city attorney. The subpoenas come in response to the pastors’ opposition to an Equal Rights Ordinance that concerns issues of gender identity and sexuality in public accommodations.
A number of Christian leaders have spoken out against this quite brash move by the Houston mayor, as the request for these sermons is a clear violation of the First Amendment, and a reminder of how opposition from the culture is becoming more acute. The ERLC is offering suggestions for how you can stand with Houston pastors, which you can see here. In addition, here are several excerpts from Christian leaders reacting to Mayor Parker’s overreach:
– Russell Moore (ERLC)
“I am simply stunned by the sheer audacity of this.
The preaching of sermons in the pulpits of churches is of no concern to any government bureaucrat at all. This country settled, a long time ago, with a First Amendment that the government would not supervise, license, or bully religious institutions. That right wasn’t handed out by the government, as a kind of temporary restraining order. It was recognition of a self-evident truth.
The churches, and pastors, of Houston ought to respond to this sort of government order with the same kind of defiance the Apostle Paul showed the magistrates in Philippi. After an earthquake, sent by God, upturned the prison where Paul and Silas were held, Luke tells us that the officials sent the police to tell Paul and Silas they could go. Paul replied. “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned men who are Roman citizens and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly. No! Let them come themselves and take us out” (Acts 16:37).” Read the rest here.
– Jason K. Allen (Midwestern Seminary)
“For the church, though, the mayor’s handling of the First Amendment is secondary. Our handling of the Bible is primary. Our indignation over the mayor’s boldness must be displaced by passion and resolve of our own. We are called to speak the truth in love; to preach the Word in season and out. Ordinance or no ordinance, subpoena or no subpoena, First Amendment or no First Amendment, God’s Word doesn’t change—and our convictions must not change either.
That is why my concern is not so much Mayor Parker’s orchestration of velvet-gloved persecution. My concern is whether or not Christians will persist in having the courage of their convictions. This won’t be the last time the church encounters intimidation—for we are assured that all who desire godliness in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.
And Mayor Parker isn’t the first ruler to threaten the church either. Here we learn from our apostolic forebears. Just as when the Temple authorities threatened Peter and John in Acts 4, their response must now be ours, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Read the rest here.
– Joe Carter (Acton Institute Power Blog)
“Texas law makes it clear that the discovery process in a legal proceeding “may not be used as a fishing expedition.” Houston’s city attorneys are certainly aware of this fact, so why are they seeking the sermons and communications of pastors who aren’t even involved in the lawsuit?
The apparent answer, as ADF notes, is that the Houston city government “has embarked upon a witchhunt.” They are trying to send a message to area pastors that criticism of city policies from the pulpit can result in their being dragged into court. This is a despicable display of government overreach and an attempt to stifle both religious freedom and political speech. If this violation of citizens rights isn’t checked in Houston, other cities will get the message that irrelevant legal actions can be used to harass church leaders who dare to challenge our “public servants.” Read the rest here.
— For more on how followers of Christ should approach the issue of religious liberty, stay tuned in the coming weeks for posts related to David Platt’s upcoming book, Counter Culture, as well as posts and information related to Secret Church 15: “Christ, Culture, and A Call to Action.”
Posted on October 15th, 2014 by David Burnette
We’re excited to announce that Early Registration for Secret Church 15 is now open!
Simply go here to register for SC15 as a church, as a small group, or as an individual. The last day to get early registration pricing is January 25th. For those who have participated in Secret Church in the past, please note that this year’s gathering will not take place on Good Friday. Instead, the date for this upcoming gathering is Friday, April 24, 2015. Beat the end-of-year busyness by registering now.
David Platt will be speaking on “Christ, Culture, and a Call to Action.” In case you missed the topic announcement earlier this year, here’s a summary of what you can expect followed by a video that talks about the purpose behind Secret Church:
The culture around us is constantly changing, and successive changes are often accompanied by significant challenges. So how does the call of Christ compel us to respond to these challenges? How does a Christian respond to the rapid rise of so-called same-sex marriage and the increasing acceptance of homosexuality? How does a Christian live in a world of sex slavery and rampant pornography, a world where babies are aborted and widows are abandoned? How does a Christian think in a culture of pervasive racial prejudice and limited religious liberty? What does a Christian do in a church that exalts prosperity amidst a world of extreme poverty? During this Secret Church, we will explore biblical foundations for answers to these questions and come to significant conclusions regarding how Christ calls every Christian to engage culture with a firm grip on the gospel in the church and a fervent passion for God’s glory in the world.
When we think of mission work, our minds may most naturally go to the African bush, the Indian slums, or the Arabian deserts. We probably don’t think of Tokyo high rises.
At less than one percent evangelical Christian, Japan’s 120 million natives make up the second largest unreached people group in the world. Don’t be fooled by the neon lights illuminating the bustling streets – Japan is a dark country. Some have even dubbed it “the missionary’s graveyard,” not because violent persecution is common there, but because ministry burnout is. In Japan, after spinning their wheels for years, many missionaries find themselves stopped dead in their tracks.
One reason that ministry there has been so difficult is its material excess. Contrary to the hunger, sickness, and poverty that so often opens doors for ministry in developing nations, Japan seems to have it all. Blinded by worldly ambition and distracted by excessive busyness, the Japanese obliviously wander on, “like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).
At the same time, they may soon be ripe for a huge harvest. Their immense spiritual need is starting to come to a head as they work themselves to death (literally – they call it karōshi), fight a losing battle with depression and suicide, tragically give themselves to sex trafficking, and realize that their advanced technology and infrastructure is no match for nuclear disasters, typhoons, and earthquakes.
Pray for the Japanese. Pray for the worn out missionaries among them. Pray for a massive harvest. And pray for more laborers to go to this forgotten field.
“Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” So the saying goes, overused as it may be. But when it comes to studying the Bible, the “teach a man to fish” mentality has much to offer
Equipping people to self-feed is John Piper’s goal in the latest initiative from Desiring God – Look at the Book. In their creative introduction video, Piper explains that during Look at the Book teaching sessions, you’ll see the text instead of the teacher. While this is literally the format (the words of Scripture on your screen) it’s also the goal–to see, firsthand, the treasure that’s in the Bible. As you watch his pen circle, underline, connect, dissect, and “plunder each line for all it’s worth,” the man teaching fades in the glorious light of the truth being taught. The hope is that you walk away from each short session with skills that will assist you, as a student of the Word, in discovering more of God each day through your own study of the Bible.
Watch below to see Luke 12:32 come alive (your heart along with it) as John Piper leads you to look at the Book.
Click HERE for an outline of the Look at the Book session on Luke 12:33, as well as for some study questions.
Posted on October 10th, 2014 by David Burnette
Are You Ready to Speak to the Culture? Over at Baptist 21, Dan Darling of the ERLC talks about why pastors and church leaders must be ready to address difficult questions, particularly on the issue of homosexuality.
Pagans Envying Christians: It is largely Christian missionaries who have responded to the Ebola crisis, and as Ross Douthat notes, this is making some non-Christians in our culture uneasy. Douthat likes the fact that Christians are outshining their pagan neighbors in terms of good deeds. (See, however, Denny Burk’s gentle pushback regarding what qualifies as persecution).
Supreme Court Round-Up: Andrew Walker gathers together a number of responses to this week’s Supreme Court decision regarding so-called same sex marriage. Churches and individual Christians would do well to pay attention to these events, not so we will panic, but rather so that we might pray and persevere.
Posted on October 9th, 2014 by Jonathan
In Scripture, the church is described as a body, a family, and a bride. Naturally, these may be some of the first images that come to mind. But have you ever thought of the church as an army? Here are two words of encouragement from David Platt to a church at war . . .
I want to leave us tonight with two simple, significant words of encouragement. Number one, know this: We are never alone in this war. Now, obviously, we know that, based on what we’ve already seen in 1 Timothy 6. We know that God is with us. We know that He is with us and for us, but I want you to see this even in a bit different way. When Paul says in verse 21, “Grace be with you,” what’s interesting is–and you might circle it and put a note in your Bible, this is important–when he says, “Grace be with you,” that word “you” is not a singular “you.” The word “you” is plural. You might even have a note in your Bible that sends you to the bottom. The Greek for “you” is plural, which is interesting. Kind of weird.
When Paul started this letter, he said, “To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.” He has written this letter to Timothy, but he gets to the end, and he says, “Grace be with you.” It’s not “You, Timothy . . . grace be with you.” It’s “You, church at Ephesus, along with Timothy . . . grace be with you.” So, when I say to us, “We’re never alone in this war,” obviously, I mean that God is with us. But also, as you fight this fight of faith, not only is God with you, but the people of God are with you. You are not alone in this war . . .
You, together, fight this fight of faith with grace amidst all of you. One of the ways we experience God’s grace is through one another. This kind of battle is not intended to be played out with a bunch of anonymous church attenders or church hoppers. This battle is intended to be played out with brothers and sisters who are on the front lines together, with locked arms, saying, “We have a mission to accomplish that we’re running after together.” So, we’re not alone in this war.
The second word of encouragement is . . . the outcome of this spiritual war is irreversible. I.e., the battle and the war have already been won . . . Christ has taken the penalty of sin upon Himself, and He has risen from the grave. He has conquered sin and death, and He has conquered Satan. Satan is a defeated foe, and he will be destroyed. Will be. Guaranteed. So . . . as as we fight this good fight of faith, we’re not trying to win. I quoted 1 John 4:4 earlier: “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” This transforms our perspective on our battles, right?
Think about it this way. The morning of April 9, 1865, General Robert E. Lee meets with General Ulysses S. Grant to sign an agreement marking the end of the U.S. Civil War. The war was over, peace accomplished. But interestingly, just south of where we sit tonight, from Montgomery to Mobile, the battle was still raging. Even though the Civil War was technically over, the battle at Fort Blakeley still took place. Fighting just as real, guns and bayonets just as devastating, and death just as brutal. The war had been decided, but the fighting was still going on. It wouldn’t be until days later when full and final peace would reach all throughout the land.
This is not a perfect picture, but follow with me here. I think it captures a bit of the fight of faith that we find ourselves in. The victory has been accomplished. Satan has been defeated. What continues to be at stake, though, is the lives of those who are still fighting. And just as peace had yet to be fully enforced in Lower Alabama, Jesus’ victory has yet to be completely enforced in this world. The day is coming–it’s going to come–when He will come and force His victory finally and completely. Evil will be totally abolished. But now, we find ourselves in the midst of a fight of faith. I want you to hear this and let this soak in. This, I pray, will transform your perspective on the battles you’re walking through right now. We do not fight this war for victory; we fight this war from victory. That changes everything. He has conquered sin and death and the grave. He has conquered Satan.
You are battling a defeated foe this week. So, flee evil that pulls you away from God. Pursue goodness that pulls you toward God. Experience the life that has been bought for you. He’s called your name. You’ve confessed your faith. Live in light of His presence, in view of His faithfulness to you, in awe of His greatness. Guard this gospel as you give your life on the frontlines of a mission to make His glory known to the ends of the earth. That’s a good fight worth fighting.
The above excerpt is from a sermon David Platt preached on October 23, 2011, called, “The Church at War” (1 Timothy 6:11-21).
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