The Battle Belongs to God! (Wright)

The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible's Grand Narrative I mentioned this book a few years ago: The Mission of God by Christopher Wright.  Since it is an excellent resource, I’ve used it again from time to time in my studies.  This morning while studying the “nations” theme in Luke 24:47 (…repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations… NIV), I ran across this great reminder:

“God’s battle with the gods is an essential part of God’s mission.  God’s mission is the blessing of the nations.  And the blessing of the nations must ultimately include ridding them of gods that masquerade as protectors and saviors, but are actually devouring, destroying, disappointing deceptions…..”

“The battle and the victory belong to God. …By putting our emphasis again on the mission of God, not on human mission, we preserve the right biblical perspective on this matter.  For we need to be clear that in the Bible the conflict with the gods is a conflict waged by God for us, not a conflict waged by us for God.”

“To be sure, the people of God are involved in spiritual warfare, as countless texts in both testaments testify.  However, it is assuredly not the case that God is waiting anxiously for the day when we finally win the battle for him and the heavens can applaud our great victory.  Such blasphemous nonsense, however, is not far removed from the rhetoric and practice of some forms of alleged mission that place great store on all kinds of methods and techniques of warfare by which we are urged to identify and defeat our spiritual enemies.”

“No, the overwhelming emphasis of the Bible is that we are the ones who wait in hope for the day when God defeats all the enemies of God and his people, and then we will celebrate God’s victory along with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven.  Indeed, in the company of heaven we already celebrate the victory of the cross  and resurrection of Christ, the Easter victory that anticipates the final destruction of all God’s enemies.”

“God fights for us, not we for him.  We are called to witness, to struggle, to resist, to suffer.  But the battle is the Lord’s, as is the final victory.”

C. J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 178.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015


Missions, the Far East, and Bruce Hunt

I recently read this fascinating account of 19th century Presbyterian (OPC) missionary Bruce Hunt: For A Testimony.  This book is Hunt’s account of his mission work in the Far East in the 1930’s-40’s.  Hunt (along with his wife and children) was laboring in Harbin, Manchuria during the Second World War.  Hunt, along with other Christians in the area, was opposed to the Japanese government’s attempt to force everyone (Christians included) to worship the emperor.  He was imprisoned in 1941, and spent the next few months suffering specifically for the sake of the gospel.

One time, when Japanese authorities were interrogating Hunt, he was asked this question:

“Do you believe, according to the verse you have just quoted [Acts 4:12], that the Japanese emperor would be lost if he did not believe in Jesus?”

Hunt, a prisoner for his testimony, replied,

“Yes.  I believe the emperor is a mere man like any of us, and that unless he believes in Jesus, the Son of God, he will suffer eternal punishment.”

After his answer, Hunt said the interrogator “looked at me with raised eyebrows as much as to say, ‘I wonder if you realize what you are saying!’”

While Hunt did stand firm in his faith, it wasn’t easy and he was challenged in many ways.  I was encouraged in my own Christian life by Hunt’s faith – and I’m thankful that Christ’s church in this part of the Far East stood firm under fire.  Hunt wasn’t alone in his convictions, and he gives credit to other saints who walked the path of suffering with him; some walked even unto death for the sake of the gospel.  Ultimately, Hunt gives credit to God, his Word, and his promises in Christ that gave him strength in suffering and brought him through the ordeal.

If you’re looking for a story of Presbyterian missions in the Far East, or if you just want a faith strengthening story, I highly recommend this one: For A Testimony.  You can find new copies for $9 (shipped) on the OPC’s website (HERE).

shane lems
hammond, WI

A Structured Church Plant

Cover Art  I’ve come to appreciate Ott and Wilson’s book, Global Church Planting (see here and here).  This book covers many details that church planters do well to know, follow, and implement.  One area worth mentioning here is structuring the church plant – specifically in the area of bylaws or a church constitutions that define the practices and procedures of the church (including membership):

“Many church planters have little patience with the technicalities of creating a church constitution and bylaws or legal registration [with the government, if applicable – spl].  Nevertheless, it is wise practice to give attention to this as the church grows.  Clear polity and doctrinal statements can help clarify purpose and avoid conflict.  Fortunately most denominations provide sample documents that can be adopted or adapted to local needs.  Cross-cultural church planters should, however, avoid importing a foreign constitution and bylaws.  Even statements of faith may need to be contextualized.  The goal is not conformity to an outside standard but faithfulness to biblical truths and principles.  As local believers participate in the formulation of such documents, they will both understand them and have a greater sense of ownership.  But in a church of predominantly new believers, the church planters will need to give considerable guidance to the process.”

“Formal membership clarifies who is fully committed to the church and is a means of public identification with the church, of formal submission to the spiritual care and leadership of the church, and for congregants to declare, ‘This is my spiritual home.’  It also clearly defines what persons may have a formal voice or vote in the important decisions of the church and who might be entitled to services provided by the church (such as aid for the widows in the New Testament).  Experience teaches that neglecting to formalize membership can have the high price of conflict later when important decisions involving the congregation must be made.  Peripheral persons can attempt to influence decisions and even rally extended family or others who have even less of a relationship to the church and to support their cause” (p. 282-3)

Ott and Wilson go on to talk about some details of how to write bylaws and incorporate membership in the church plant.  Again, I highly recommend this book for missionaries and church planters: Global Church Planting.

rev shane lems
covenant presbyterian church (OPC)
hammond, wi

On Missions in Papua, Indonesia

If you want an informative, God-glorifying, and faith-strengthening missionary story, I recommend The Amazing Danis by David Scovill.  This book is one missionary’s account of his work in Papua, Indonesia (New Guinea – or PNG) starting with his childhood on a farm in Northern Minnesota (when gas was just 13 cents a gallon!). David Scovill (a Baptist missionary) and his wife Esther moved to Papua in 1960 and spent the next 40+ years of his life preaching the gospel as well as explaining (and translating) scripture to a people who had never heard the good news before.

Specifically, Scovill preached to the Danis tribe – people who lived in the mountains of PNG and had almost never come into contact with the Western world before Scovill arrived.  They were an average tribal people, with superstitions (animistic), habits, and customs that Scovill had to deal with in a biblical and Christian way.  How he does so makes the story quite captivating.  How do you tell people that the cicadas in the bushes at night are not spirits?  How do you tell a tribe that they don’t have to go to war over pigs?  How do you minister to them while overlooking their views on hygiene that are totally foreign (and gross) to many Westerners?  How do you plant indigenous churches in such a way that they plant churches (without much outside help)?  And the questions go on.  I appreciated Scovill’s explanation of these things and the way he and his mission team handled them.

Here are a few highlights worth mentioning.  First, after some time of teaching and explaining God, Scripture, Christ, and Christian living, a group of the Danis said this to Scoville and the mission team:

“We, as a people, have made a decision to do away with our life of killing one another and worshipping of the spirits; we want to live the way that Big Book tells us to live.  To do that we must destroy our weapons and fetishes immediately.”

After much of the translation work of the Bible to the Dani language was finished, one Dani man said,

“God’s Word, in my own language, speaks louder to me than any of the other languages I have learned.”

I could go on.  Trust me when I say this is a captivating book – especially for those of you who are interested in missions and church planting.  Whether you get it on Kindle or paperback, it is worth every penny.  In fact, as I review it here, I’m beginning to want to read it again!  Scovill wrote this book in such a way that the spotlight was not on himself, nor on the Dani tribe, but on God and his gospel of grace.

David Scovill, The Amazing Danis.

shane lems

The OT and Christian Missions

 Christopher Wright’s The Mission of God is an outstanding contribution to the fields of hermeneutics, biblical theology, missions, and evangelism (among others).  It is a unique and amazing resource for pastors, church planters, missionaries, and any Christian interested in a detailed yet readable study of the mission of our Triune God.  Here’s one short quote that I highlighted as I read through it last year.  It comes in the chapter entitled, “God and the Nations in Old Testament Vision.”

“All stand under YHWH’s judgment.  All can turn to YHWH and find his mercy.  This surely has to be one of the most foundational elements of the Old Testament contribution to our theology of mission.”

“1) If it were not the case that all nations stand under the impending judgment of God, there would be no need to proclaim the gospel.”

“2) But if it were not for the fact that God deals in mercy and forgiveness with all who repent, there would be no gospel to proclaim.”

Christopher Wright, The Mission of God (Downers Grove: IVP, 2006), 462.

rev. shane lems

Missionaries and the Mission Field: On Leaving

As I’ve mentioned before, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? by Roland Allen is an absolute must-read for missionaries, evangelists, church planters, and others involved in mission work.  Though it might be a bit dated, the content is more than a little valuable.  For example, near the end of the book Allen talks about how a missionary should – following the Apostle Paul’s example – prepare the way for his retirement right from the outset of his work.  “Retire” in this context means “leave a particular mission work.”  Here’s Allen:

“He [the missionary] can live his live amongst his people and deal with them as though he would have no successor.  He should remember that he is the least permanent element in the church.  He may fall sick and go home, or he may die, or he may be called elsewhere.  He disappears, the church remains.  The native Christians are the permanent element.”

How can a missionary practice this type of retirement?  Here is some of his advice (edited/abridged for the purpose of this blog).

“He can associate the people with himself in all that he does and so make them thoroughly understand the nature of the work. …He can educate the whole congregation.  What is needful is to begin from the bottom.  Leaders must be thrown up by the community, not dragged up by the missionary.  It is necessary to make the whole body realize its unity and common responsibility.”

Allen also says the missionary should teach the congregation about finances/stewardship, Christian baptism and discipleship, appointing church leaders, and administering church discipline.  The missionary should do these things so the church can carry on without him.

A missionary can train them for his retirement by retiring.  He can retire in two ways, physically or morally.  He can retire morally by leaving things more and more in their hands, by avoiding to press his opinion, by refusing to give it lest he should, as is often the case, lead them to accept his opinion simply because it is his.  He can retire physically.  He can go away on missionary tours of longer and longer duration, leaving the whole work of the station to be carried on without any foreign direction for a month or two.  He can do this openly and advisedly because he trusts his people.  Only by retirement can he prepare the way for real independence.”

Obviously there is more to the discussion – you’ll have to read the entire section for the rest of Allen’s helpful counsel (it is in chapter 13).  Again, if you are involved in missions of any sort, be sure this one is on your list of study materials: Missionary Methods: St Paul’s or Ours?

shane lems

Bibles to China

I love stories like these; they are incredibly edifying.

“As we saw in the previous chapter, in the 1970’s Brother David had managed to get 25,000 New Testaments into China in driblets, inside travelers’ suitcases.  He also managed to have a further 30,000 Bibles taken in by business people attending the twice-yearly Guangzhou Trade Fair.  The project was called Operation Rainbow and went flawlessly.  Encouraged by this, Project Pearl was put into operation.  This was an audacious plan to ship one million Bibles into China in one go!”

“On 18 June 1981, one million Bibles, weighing 232 tons and divided into one-ton blocks, were smuggled by a barge towed by tugboat to a prearranged beach.  This was a 300-yard stretch of beach near Shantou, on the coast of China’s Fujian province.  The three-day journey was nerve-wracking but successful.  Unloading the barge by moonlight took two hours by means of multiple trips to shore in three rubber boats.  Each one ton block held forty-eight waterproofed boxes of ninety Bibles.  These were swiftly distributed to 2,000 Chinese Christians, who took the Bibles by bicycles, cars, and lorries to locations in almost every province in China.  By the time the army turned up, only a few boxes were left on the beach for them to dump at sea.  Fishermen reclaimed most of these, dried them and then sold them to the local Christians!  The tug and barge arrived safely back at base.  Two Fujian Christians were sentenced to three years of imprisonment” (p. 280).

The rest of this fascinating story is found in The Power to Save by Bob Davey – an excellent account of the history of Christian missions in China.

shane lems