For Those Having a Blue Christmas

Like many, the holidays are a difficult time of year for me. A few years ago, my family spent our final Thanksgiving together and then, just before Christmas on December 13, my Dad lost his 5-year battle with pancreatic cancer. Truth be told, while Christmas carols and hymns proclaim “Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men,” the harsh reality is that the season doesn’t place a pause on the hardships of the poor, the homeless, the sick, the orphan, the widows, the lonely, the unclothed, the hungry, the thirsty, the jobless, the war torn, and the needy. In this season of Advent or “Expectation,” will peering into the manger bring lasting peace or further reminders of regret, loss, disbelief, and discouragement?

It’s important that we catch the true meaning of Christmas by creating gospel moments by announcing the birth of Jesus to those around you—inviting them to join you at Christmas celebrations: in your homes and in your churches. It’s fine if Santa Claus and snowmen are present in your home as long as you exalt the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes laid in the manger. The birth of Christ is the gift of God to be celebrated.

I often reflect back to one of the most treasured Christmases that I cling to which was my last Christmas with Dad. My Dad and Mom found themselves in a hospitality apartment in Houston, Texas while my Dad received his cancer treatments. They were eleven hours away from our hometown at Christmas time and couldn’t return home because of his treatment schedule. My wife and I decided to take “Christmas” to them in Houston. We gathered a small nativity set, bought a small pre-lit tree, some Texas themed ornaments, special mugs, a Christmas wreath for the door, and made some other things to make their apartment a little more “Christmassy,” like home during the holidays.  When we arrived, we brought our Christmas surprises inside and got it set up. We even put a couple of presents beneath that little tree. The small gesture meant the world to my parents. To anyone else they might have seen a “Charlie Brown” Christmas, but to us, Christ’s birth gave us hope and strength.

The following day, we planned a Christmas dinner for the other residents of that hospitality house. We cooked and cooked and fed so many cancer patients–too sick to travel home, alone for the holidays, and too poor to pay for Christmas dinner and their caretakers. It was a Christmas miracle! God took our little and multiplied it to meet so many needs that day. And he gave my Dad the strength and health to participate. We experienced the Spirit of Christmas through loving Christ and loving others. I even preached a Christmas message of hope and peace found in Jesus Christ to those able to gather in the clubhouse. That day, I was reminded that Christmas isn’t what is found in boxes beneath a tree, but the love of Jesus, the Savior. I will never forget that Christmas.

Seek to serve the less-fortunate during the Christmas season and display the love of the Savior to those who desperately need a reprieve from life’s striving.

God used the Birth of Jesus to make an eternal impact.
Do the same.

When Missions Cause Confusion

With the recent death of missionary John Chau, there has been a whirlwind of reactions and opinions. Some grieve the loss of life and the tragic nature of his death while pursuing a greater cause; others argue that his death was pointless and could have been avoided.

These reactions reveal that we are in a new era concerning the perspective of missions. I believe that the popularity of consumer Christianity has led us to the point of viewing missions in a different light than what we have in the past. In the past, giving your life to reach the lost for the cause of Christ was both noble and honorable. In the present, methods are questioned and critiqued without examination of motives. If that isn’t evident in the case of Chau, perhaps compare the op-eds of late with the Time article covering the death of Jim Elliot.

Regardless of your position, many of us are confused with missions and when confronted with the hard realities of missions (i.e., the mission may cost us our lives) we turn inward conviction into critique to appease our conscience.

Confusion in the Need

Over the past few days, the Twitter-sphere has been abuzz around the incident. People have been on both sides of the issue, some calling John a martyr and others calling him a lunatic.

Many of his proponents call him a lunatic, a buffoon, a failed colonizer, or worse. (In all honesty, it took me a few minutes to find tweets that were not full of obscenities).

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The problem with these viewpoints is they do not understand the need for missions. It’s not to colonize or conform different people groups to look alike or function in similar ways; neither is it necessary in missions to impose one’s personal agenda onto another.

Biblical Christianity places the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ as the need for missions. The sole point of biblical missions has been, and will always be, the message of Jesus dying for the forgiveness of sins and offering eternal life to all of humanity.

John Allen Chau was not concerned about changing the Sentinelese standard of living or implementing a 21st-century worldview on their island. His burden was far greater—apart from Christ, they would spend eternity in torment.

Rather than rendering judgment on his burden for the lost, let us examine our own lives and ask ourselves if we are burdened similarly for those without Christ.

Romans 10:14–15 (CSB)
How, then, can they call on him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about him? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news.

Confusion in the Calling

Rod Dreher’s recent article on the American Conservation and many others have called Chau’s efforts unwise for several reasons: he was not familiar with the language, the people were aggressive towards outsiders, the Indian government had isolated the people for a reason, etc.

While later reports have released more information regarding Chau’s preparations for this mission. His critic’s views, then, raise a few concerns.

These viewpoints place specific requirements on the missionary before the mission can be deemed wise—the missionary must learn the language, the missionary must have a certain number of vaccines, the missionary must be fully aware of all of the culture, the missionary must be funded and supported by a mission sending agency, etc. The problem with this view is that it is not what is represented in the Bible. In fact, the Bible records that when the Spirit called a person, the church confirmed the calling, and the church sent them out (for one example, see Acts 13:1–5). Biblical Christianity teaches that the qualification for missions is the calling of the Lord. If the Lord has called, they are ready.

That being said, let me also qualify that I believe that a calling implies equipping. I have been called to pastor, and for that very reason, I have been equipped at a local seminary. Moreover, I can see how Paul and Barnabas were equipped earlier in the book of Acts for the mission to which God had called them.

I also believe that mission sending agencies are great. I love the work of the IMB (International Missions Board), support them, and partner with them.

While it is ideal for missionaries (and pastors) to be equipped by formal agencies, formal agencies are not a prerequisite for ministry. A person who is called by God to pastor can pastor (and many do) without a seminary degree. A person who is called to be a missionary can go (and many do) without a formal equipping by a missions sending agency. Even if the reports of Chau’s preparation had not come out, who are we to criticize a man who felt called by the Lord and was acting on it?

Let us not criticize Chau for his calling or his zeal in his calling. Instead, let us pursue the Lord’s calling in our own lives and examine ourselves to see if we are zealous to see others come to Christ.

Confusion in the Comfort

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So why are these people calling Chau a fool? I believe it has to do with respecting a person’s comfort. The world tells us that if a person is comfortable, leave them alone. If they want to live a certain way, as long as everyone is comfortable, just let them. In this type of culture, comfort rules and when anything challenges comfort, it is proclaimed as foolish.

Chau was not willing to let the people remain comfortable in their ignorance of Christ, nor was he was willing to remain comfortable knowing that they would spend eternity in hell without Christ.

The problem with these viewpoints is that they do not understand that, at its core, the mission of Christ is foolishness to the world because it sacrifices comfort for the cause of Christ. Missionaries sacrifice their comfort to go to the mission field—they leave jobs, they sell possessions, they spend large amounts of time learning about communicating with and integrating into a foreign culture and that is even before they get onto the field. Once missionaries are on the field the foolishness (by worldly standards) and sacrifice of comfort continues as there are language barriers they must deal with, the people can be unreceptive to the missionaries message, and the time investment required to reach an unreached people group can be massive.

Simply put, missions will always look foolish when it is viewed through the lens of the world because it calls everyone to sacrifice comfort.

Biblical Christianity is not concerned with the world’s perspective or comfort. Biblical Christianity is concerned with those living without hope finding hope in Christ. For the Christian, the temporary sacrifice of comfort in this world is worth the opportunity to lead others into an eternity with Jesus.

Chau was not concerned with those who would consider him foolish or even the sacrifices that he was going to make. He was concerned about how he could share the hope that can be found in Jesus.

So, let us not judge him for his willingness to sacrifice his worldly comforts, even his own life. Instead, let us examine ourselves to see if we are ready to sacrifice our worldly comforts for the commission that Christ has given us.

2 Timothy 1:8–12 (CSB)
So don’t be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, or of me his prisoner. Instead, share in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God. He has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began. This has now been made evident through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who has abolished death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. For this gospel I was appointed a herald, apostle, and teacher, and that is why I suffer these things. But I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to guard what has been entrusted to me until that day.

Confusion in the Command

At the core of the problem, we find confusion in the command. Christ has called every Christian to go and make disciples of all nations.

Matthew 28:18–20 (CSB)
Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The world will always misunderstand the purpose of the mission, place roadblocks before the mission, and cling to earthly comfort. Nevertheless, let us seek to fulfill what Christ has called us to do and share the gospel with all who will listen, even to the ends of the earth.

Lessons from a Modern Martyr

Much has been written about John Allen Chau—the American missionary seeking to proclaim the gospel to a remote tribe on North Sentinel, an island off of the Indian coast. By all accounts he was aware of the dangers he faced, having paid local fisherman to bring him near the island under the cover of darkness. Even that action seems to break Indian law which forbids engaging the Sentinelese at least in part due to certainty that those who do are almost universally met with a hail of arrows. After being brought near the island, Chau paddled to shore with food and gifts to offer the islanders in the hope of gaining an audience to share the gospel. According to the local fisherman, he attempted to make landfall several times and was met with a number of arrows each time.

His diary records that he “hollered” in a foreign language, “My name is John, I love you and Jesus loves you.”

He wrote of his first encounter in his diary before returning. He had gotten “within inches” of a tribesman and offered his gifts only be met with hostility, including an arrow piercing his waterproof Bible. The fisherman who had taken him into the waters around North Sentinel reported that two days after his initial attempts, they saw the Sentinelese bury his body on the beach.

Reflective of the immediate and extreme nature of social media, reports of Chau’s death was hailed as that of a humble martyr carrying the gospel to the unreached nations by some. Others, however, showed little sympathy for the young Westerner who dared attempt to force his culture and religion on an indigenous people.

The impetus to comment ensured that few were willing to exhibit patience enough to allow more news to come to light and think carefully about the meaning of his death.

For Bible-believing Christians, some aspects of his story merit discussion.

Taking the Gospel to Every Tribe and Every People Remains a Biblical Imperative

Reading the accounts of those who made up the very first Baptist Missionary Society in history—the very men who initiated the modern missions movement—who were challenged to “expect great things for God,” and to “attempt great things for God,” I am often struck by their willingness to forsake all for the sake of the gospel. I am moved with gratitude for those who left home and hearth for the sake of the heathen. Their intentions were not selfish. In fact, whenever I lecture on the Serampore Trio or those holding the rope at home, I remark of their repeated emphasis on their calling to share biblical Christianity, not British Christianity.

Make no mistake, non-believers have accused Chau of colonialist intentions and have vilified him for even attempting to introduce the people of North Sentinel to biblical Christianity. But Christians must, at the very least, take note of his willingness to count the cost and determine that the proclamation of the gospel was worth his very life.

Chau’s concern was clear. He may have had a history of thrill-seeking and adventure, but his diary revealed a heart shaped by the love of God: “Lord, is this island Satan’s last stronghold where none have heard or even had the chance to hear your name?”

“This is not a pointless thing—the eternal lives of this tribe is at hand and I can’t wait to see them around the throne of God worshiping in their own language as Revelations [sic] 7:9–10 states.”
John Allen Chau in a letter to his parents

Extreme Measures are Necessary

There are a number of Christians who echo Rod Dreher’s thoughts concerning Chau—“even though I share his faith, Chau had no business going to those people. It gives me no pleasure to say this, but I believe it.” It strikes me that virtually all of them do so from the comfort of their office or home; few do so from the mission field.

We might all be better-served by allowing Chau’s willingness to die for the sake of the gospel to challenge us—what are we willing to risk that others may hear the eternity-changing hope of Jesus Christ? When faced with criticism concerning his methods of reaching people with the gospel, the great evangelist D. L. Moody once quipped, “I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it.” No doubt, many of those criticizing Chau prefer their way of not proclaiming the gospel to his way of doing it.

Some have averred that Chau’s motivation is inspiring, but his methods were flawed—at first it was observed that he did not seem to have been partnered with a missions organization. That information was incorrect in that he was commissioned by All Nations after having “studied, planned and trained rigorously since college to share the gospel with the North Sentinelese people.” Nevertheless, he was facing a significant language barrier. The language barrier that some believe to have been insurmountable is, in many ways, reminiscent of another age of missions when every language barrier appeared impossible to overcome.

Perhaps Chau was naive enough to believe that if he merely “hollered” the name of Jesus loud enough, the Sentinelese would bow the knee in faith. Perhaps it was his hope that, like in Acts 2, the Lord would ensure that they heard the message in their own language. Perhaps his was a story of youthful exuberance lacking wisdom. But have we forgotten those who settled among unreached peoples who spoke unknown languages and learned their language over time, enabling them to share with them the hope of Jesus Christ?

Is this the norm?
Certainly not.
But unreached peoples are generally unreached for good reason.

A Lesson from a Modern Martyr

However we feel about the methods used by Chau, may each of us be challenged by his willingness to go to the ends of the earth for the sake of the gospel. May we remember that the Great Commission is still our commission. We are commanded to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations (τὰ ἔθνη), baptizing them in the name of the the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that [Jesus] commanded [us]” (Matt 28:19–20).

Likewise, in Acts, Jesus promised the disciples that they would “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,” but then he added, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). I’m often struck by the manner we interpret this particular verse. Many of us read Jesus’s promise of the Holy Spirit and our faith in Jesus gives us assurance of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives. The substance of Jesus’s promise is clear: the Holy Spirit.

All too often, however, we miss the other promise found in the verse.

Jesus’s statement that the disciples will be his witnesses even to the ends of the earth is his promise to those who have not heard of the name and work of Jesus Christ. He is promising that the Good News is on its way. And his disciples—those in the book of Acts and those in our churches today—are the substance of that promise to the ends of the earth.

Perhaps the lesson we need to learn most from John Allen Chau—the modern martyr—is the reminder that there are still those who have not heard and it’s time for us to get back to work.

Update: Corrected information about Chau’s missions sending agency. See here for more information. HT: Regan King.

Observations on Samuel Pearce’s Tract for the Lascars

The post is a follow-up to my post of Samuel Pearce’s Tract for the Lascars. In that post, I offered a brief history of Pearce’s life and quoted a tract written for the Lascars—a predominantly-Muslim class of sailors from India. In this post, I would like to make a few observations—two positive and two more critical.

Pearce was Passionate about Extending the Gospel Offer to the Lost.

Pearce’s heart was touched by the plight of the Lascars. Not only were these men far from home and in a foreign land, but more importantly, they were ignorant of the love of Jesus Christ. Pearce expressed that the Lascars were not invisible to him, but that they were in his thoughts; their situation brought him to tears and put him on his knees in prayer. There is no hesitation in Pearce’s offering of the gospel to the Lacars, many (if not most) of whom were Muslim. The Lascars were of a different skin tone and worldview than Pearce . . . and they were in England. Pearce did not need to go to them, they had come to him! Pearce believed that these were men whom Christ loved; Pearce believed that these were men for whom Christ died. As such, they were men whom Pearce loved and men with whom Pearce was obligated to share the gospel.

There is a subtle missiological point to be identified here. The love of Christ for the Lascars is that which incited such love in the heart of Pearce—that he believed Christ died for them (an unlimited provision of the atonement), inspired Pearce’s obligation to offer the hope of the gospel.

Let that sit and stew for a bit, Calvinist and non-Calvinist alike. His theology drove his practice. And just as importantly, his practice shed light on his theology.

After giving it some thought, I wonder at times if we do not take the opposite approach. There is a tendency in the human heart to limit the love of God to those we find acceptable—to those we deem worthy of love. Those who dismiss the practice of sharing the gospel with those one does not know necessarily, but rather contend that believers should share the gospel only in the context of a relationship reverse Pearce’s pattern, albeit unknowingly. We may preach of God’s love for all people, but if we only offer Christ to those with whom we’ve built relationships, perhaps our practice speaks of a different gospel.

Imagine the difference it would make in our own day and our own culture if every believer cared for the lost in the same manner as Pearce. Imagine the difference it might make if every time we laid eyes on another human being, we saw them as objects of God’s affection and those with whom we are obligated to share the gospel.

Pearce Spoke and Thought Biblically.

Notice how replete the tract is with biblical passages and allusions. Pearce is so immersed in Scripture that it flows from his pen as naturally as his own thought. Yet this is no mere repetition of verses from memory. Pearce may begin with a prayer “to the great Allah,” but he moves forward to explain the truth of Jesus Christ. He speaks of the Incarnation of Christ, the sinlessness of Christ, and the suffering and sacrifice of Christ.

Imagine the difference it would make in our own day and culture if we were so immersed in Scripture that God’s Word pours forth from our mouths and our pens (keyboards?) regularly, and not only when we are sitting in Sunday School. Imagine how our evangelistic efforts would be affected if, rather than sharing four spiritual laws or a series of verses from memory believers were so saturated in God’s Word that they could share the hope of Christ without being dependent upon an Evangelistic campaign or program.

However, the Tract is Void of Any Reference to the Resurrection and Reign of Christ.

This stands out as one of the few negative observations I discovered when reading the tract. As previously mentioned, he speaks of the Incarnation of Christ, the sinlessness of Christ, and the suffering and sacrifice of Christ, but nowhere does Pearce establish Christ as having been risen, and nowhere does Pearce present Christ as reigning as the King of Creation. This is not a harmless oversight on Pearce’s part. I do not believe he had any malicious intent in this omission, but the resurrection and reign of Christ are not minor components of a dry doctrine. They are, rather, the very source and substance of our hope!

Paul writes, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 5:17). The resurrection of Christ and his present reign give substance and meaning to his death and burial. He has conquered sin! He has defeated death! He was not crushed under the weight of the sins of humanity, but bore the penalty of sin, suffered death on our behalf, and yet lives. He is seated at the right hand of the Father. This matters. This matters in every context wherein we share the gospel. And it is a shame that Pearce’s otherwise exemplary tract neglects these emphases.

We Must Be Very Cautious in Adopting Any Use of the Name of Allah.

He writes that many “pray to the great Allah for you.” While some modern missiologists are comfortable invoking the name of Allah in the same way that we would use the term, “god” when not necessarily referring to “God,” others have made the point that doing so enables the hearer to import his own thoughts and conceptions of Allah into the discussion. Pearce does not linger on any thought of Allah, but rather moves directly to the discussion of the person of Christ Jesus. But does his introduction imply that he worships the same God as the Lascars, but with a different view of Jesus?

Allah is not the same as the God the Father. Their natures are entirely different. The manner in which the two are described are entirely different. Their characters are entirely different. Pearce did not worship Allah any more than the Lascars already worshipped the Lord Jesus Christ.

In his attempt to contextualize his gospel message, he opened the door for misunderstanding.

As believers seek to offer the hope of eternal life, we must strive for clarity concerning the character and nature of God. We must work to dispel any false notion or understanding of who Jesus is. The gospel we offer is inclusive in that Jesus Christ has given himself as a ransom for all (1 Tim 2:6), but it is exclusive in that no one comes to the Father, except by the Son (John 14:6).

Samuel Pearce is an admirable figure from one of the brightest eras in our Baptist heritage. His passion for the lost, his zeal for the gospel, his saturation with the Word of God are all to be commended to modern believers. And yet, as this tract attests, his model was not without flaw.

This is the great lesson of history—even our heroes were flawed and in need of grace. Learning that lesson and implementing it into our lives will help each of us become better at reading and appreciating history, but perhaps more importantly, it will help us grow in patience and kindness toward one another.

Samuel Pearce’s Tract for the Lascars

Samuel Pearce participated alongside men such as Andrew Fuller, William Carey, and John Sutcliff in the inception of the Baptist Missionary Society (BMS), which launched the modern missions movement. Pearce’s passion for and commitment to missions established him as a gifted spokesman and fundraiser for the cause. Carey was the first to go, but Pearce’s desire was to join him in India. It was his giftedness at raising funds that prompted the BMS to restrain him from going. Andrew Fuller, the Secretary of the group, was suffering an illness that paralyzed a part of his face, and they feared that Pearce may be required to succeed Fuller in his role.

Pearce’s longing for the mission-field—to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who had never heard—never relented. So he poured himself into the effort to promote the cause at home while also searching out those in need of hearing the Gospel.

He became burdened for the Lascars—Indian sailors who had been employed on European ships since the sixteenth century who were treated little-better than slaves. His biographer writes, “to others they were nothings, but to Pearce they were brother-men for whom Christ died” (190). So Pearce wrote a tract in the hopes of “lead[ing] them out of the poor cold twilight of Mohammed into the sunshine of the face of Jesus Christ” (190). He wrote the tract in English, and his friend William Carey—the missionary to India and gifted linguist—translated it into the Lascar language.

The tract is quoted here as abridged in the book. In an upcoming post, I will offer several of my observations regarding Pearce’s tract. But first, read the tract and comment below.

What stands out to you?

Lascars!

You are far from home, and in a country of strangers! Most of the Europeans whom you have been wont to observe have perhaps exhibited a desire for nothing but gain or honour or personal indulgence; but you know not all; in this strange land there are many who think of you, weep over you, and pray to the great Allah for you. . . . Hear, then, the heavenly message. “God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him might not perish, but have everlasting life.” This great Gift of God to us and for us is Jesus Christ. You, perhaps, have been taught that this Jesus was only a prophet, like Moses, and could do no more for you; but you have been misled. The Jewish prophets plainly foretold that He was to be a Divine Saviour. . . . This blessed Saviour, for the great love He bore to us from before the foundation of the world, at length clothed Himself in our nature, and became bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. . . . When He grew up to manhood, because He preached so faithfully against men’s wicked practices, they continually watched him to find some evil, of which they might accuse Him; yet they could find none. Twice did the Holy Father give notice of His dignity by proclaiming from heaven, “This is my Beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased. Hear ye Him.” In His own omnipotent goodness He raised men to life from death and the grave, and daily employed Himself in healing all manner of sickness and disease among the people, without a single failure. . . . But the remission of our sins cost Him most grievous sufferings; for nothing less than His precious Blood was sufficient for our Redemption. Yet so much was His heart set upon our salvation, that he was content to undergo the severest torments, and to die the most shameful and cruel death, rather than we should be lost. This, Lascars, is the blessed News! These are the glad tidings of great joy which must be preached to all people, and which the God of Heaven now sends to you.

Jesus shed His blood for Jews, and there were thousands of the posterity of Abraham, who believed in His Name, and loved Him till they died. Jesus died for Gentiles also. He died for us, and since we knew His love, our hearts have been drawn to love Him in return. Jesus died for Lascars! Jesus suffered tortures for Lascars!

O Lascars, have you no love for Jesus? Long indeed you have been ignorant of our Saviour; but now God has made sailors of you, and sent you to England, that you might no longer be unacquainted with Jesus. Oh, how great the privilege that you hear His blessed Name, and are taught His great salvation! Lascars! receive into your hearts this Word of Life: give thanks to God that you are not suffered to perish for want of a Saviour. Put your trust in the Almighty Jesus, and yield yourselves to Him as living sacrifices: then shall you have the witness in yourselves that He is the Son of God; for you will find such peace, such joy, such delight in God, such desires after purity, such love to our Saviour, and to all who love Him too, of every country and of every colour, as will assure your hearts more strongly than all the force of argument that the religion of Jesus came from heaven, and that it leads thither every soul who sincerely embraces it.

Minding the College Gap: It’s about Priorities

In my previous post, I sought to explain that wise parents don’t assume that their son or daughter will participate in a local church during their collegiate years by default. Rather, as demonstrated by the example of George Scarborough and Benajah Carroll, instilling the importance of local church participation begins before a child heads off for college and requires that parents play a role in helping their children find a biblically-sound college church home.

My Story

I began college with all of the excitement of so many freshmen in the Fall of 1997 at a private Baptist college. I recall moving into my first dorm room, carrying my new bedding and dorm refrigerator up the stairs, meeting new people with each step. My roommate was an athlete that first semester, and his schedule was dramatically different that my own. We rarely saw one other, which didn’t bother me. I was on a mission. I was going to do what I wanted to do, study what I wanted to study, live how I wanted to live, and become who I wanted to be.

I had been reared in a small town and this was my first taste of freedom. There were no parents to rule over me. Looking back, my experience at that school was a mixed bag; I had both good and bad times. But I was on a mission of self. I wasn’t a Christian and most of those around me didn’t look or act like Christians. Being a private Baptist college, we were required to attend Bible classes, but the theology was loose and liberal; our New Testament Survey professor gave us more cause for doubt than faith. Eventually, I dropped out. I had only managed to make a mess of my life in my mission of self.

One year and two moves later, I gave college another shot, this time at a small liberal arts college. It was drastically different from the private Baptist university I had attended before. The president was a well-known and vocal atheist and anything the mindset both on and off of campus was “anything goes.” Each spring trimester, the cool fraternity would throw the “Bros and Hoes” party; it was like scenes from the old National Lampoon’s Animal House. And my life reflected this worldly mindset. It was from this environment that the LORD saved me. You see I had been on the mission of self, but that path was lonely, and headed for self-destruction. I too was worldly.

My Turning Point

At this second university, I met, carefully-watched, and listened to a group of college students who were Christians. Each of them prayed, witnessed, and loved me despite my sin, and they lived out a genuine faith in Christ that I had never seen before. The Gospel was on display and lived out before my eyes. They were like Christian Soldiers straight out of the sixth chapter of Ephesians. Their mission was different from mine. They had been called by Jesus Christ. They had been armed with a strong faith in God the Father, abided in the Son, and were empowered by the Holy Spirit! They heeded the words of the Apostle Paul who wrote to his young son in the faith,

Don’t let anyone despise your youth, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity (1 Timothy 4:12 CSB).

I owe a great debt of gratitude to the LORD God for his having surrounded me with this collegiate mission force. Their influence changed my life for Christ and they rejoiced greatly when I surrendered my life to him and joined God’s mission. I remain on that same mission even today.

None of them could have had any idea that one day I would one day marry and be called into the Gospel ministry as an evangelist. Nor could they have known that I would (Lord willing) one day complete a PhD in evangelism, while regularly sharing Christ with others and introducing precious souls to Jesus. They were participants in God’s plan to redeem my life from the pit of destruction and lead me into the bliss of forgiveness, mercy, and the grace of Jesus Christ.

It Comes Down to Priorities

Looking back, here’s the lesson learned: God had brought this group of individuals together for his eternal purposes even during their college years. Their first priority was serving God; education, for them, was only of secondary importance. They weren’t perfect, but they were obedient to Christ and deeply in love with him; they were involved in various local churches and the Baptist Student Ministries (BSM). They chose to live for God’s glory. They had a heart for the lost around them because they had been discipled and taught how to share their faith without fear. They were fearless soldiers of the cross.

Perhaps as a parent, you’ve heard others lament the spiritual conditions of our colleges and universities or you’ve taken your family to watch God’s Not Dead in theaters and you’ve wondered, “What can I do?” And God has answered that question in the person of your own college-aged student.

God can create in him or her the mind and heart of a soul-winner. He or she is the mission force of God on the campuses around the world. Revival can still break loose on campuses world-wide. Train up your children now to be personal evangelists. Teach them by example. Take them door-to-door evangelizing in your neighborhood and model what sharing your faith looks like. Go on international mission trips together and work in the harvest. Disciple your student and instill in their hearts a love for the lost, the Scripture, and the things that Jesus loves and then encourage them to live it out before their college classmates. Kingdom first; education second. No greater impact could be made on college campuses for Jesus Christ than the one your college student and their friends could make. Raise up a generation that will mind the college gap.

Five Reasons Short-Term Missions Helps Church Revitalization

When I first became a Christian I had a great misunderstanding. I believed that short-term mission trips were just vacations for Christians. I pictured how my fellow church members would go to other countries to see the sights and live the life. I even thought my pastor would plan these trips to places that he wanted to go and see for his pleasure.

Man! Was I mistaken! I didn’t understand what role the short-term mission trip played in the life of the church. Short-term mission trips are vital for Christians and the Church.

Here are five reasons to get involved with short-term missions at your church.

Short-Term Missions Enlarges the Pastor’s Vision

Short-term mission trips allow me to unplug from the usual hustle of being around the church. They put me back into a focus on His mission. Furthermore, mission trips have provided some of the greatest mountaintop experiences with God that I have ever had.

Church revitalization is hard work and the process can be stressful for pastors. Short-term missions are essential for pastors in the midst of revitalization because they can help pastors be revived in their view of God’s greater Kingdom work.

Short-Term Missions Empowers the People

Short-term mission trips call people out of their comfort zones to serve the Lord. Each time I have taken my congregation on a mission trip, I have seen people use their gifts and step into the role that God has given them.

Church revitalization cannot be accomplished by the pastor alone. Pastors need their people to come alongside them to do the work of the ministry. Short-term missions have always accomplished this for our church. When we return home, those who went on the trip are revived and ready to do missions at home.

Short-Term Missions Engages the Church with God’s Greater Mission

Short-term mission trips help people get out of their bubble. One of the best things about church mission trips is that it gets people to look outside of their usual context. We can get so wrapped up in our schedule, our work, our hobbies, our church that we miss what God is doing to glorify himself among the nations.

Understanding that God desires to glorify himself is paramount for church revitalization. Church revitalization is not about updating a facility or improving a worship experience. Church revitalization is about bringing a church to a healthy place where it can glorify God in all the church says and does.

Short-Term Missions Encourages Momentum

Let’s face it. Churches love tradition. If a church has no tradition, it will make a tradition. In the process of church revitalization, churches will have to sacrifice tradition.

Short-term mission trips show people that ministry can be done another way. As people work with and see God move in other ministries, they realize that God is not tied to a tradition or single way of doing things.

Who knows? You may find yourself implementing methods in your church that your people learned on the mission field.

Short-Term Missions Exalts the Savior

Short-term mission trips exalt the Savior. God is glorified when his people get to the work of reaching the lost. When Christians are faithful in sharing the gospel of Jesus, God is exalted.

If church revitalization could be boiled down to a single purpose, it would be to exalt the Savior. When a church is improving ministries and sharing the gospel, the goal is to make much of Jesus. Mission trips help the people to see the end goal, that all Christians are here to exalt the Savior.

Conclusion

I used to think that short-term mission trips where extracurricular activities for the church. But the longer I have pastored, the more I realize that these trips are vital for Christians’ spiritual growth and the church’s health.

Pastor, evaluate the missions ministry of your church. Lead your people to get involved in reaching the nations for Christ. Missions with your people will benefit the Kingdom, grow your people, and bless your ministry.

I love to help pastors and churches in ministry. If you would like to read more about church revitalization or ministry in general, check out my website at AnthonySvajda.com

Serampore Reflections: Christ, the Grand Means of Conversion

This is the third of several posts reflecting upon the Serampore Form of Agreement, signed in 1805. Click here to read the first reflection and here for the second.

William Carey and his first convert, Krishna Pal

In addition to the Serampore missionaries’ emphasis on the value of souls as well as their willingness to forsake all for the sake of the gospel, their singular emphasis on preaching Christ should remind each of us that salvation is found in no other name. There may be other messages profitable to our hearers—there may be other causes worthy of our time and attention—but there are not other messages with the power to save.

The doctrine of Christ’s expiatory death and all-sufficient merits has been, and must ever remain, the grand means of conversion. This doctrine, and others immediately connected with it, have constantly nourished and sanctified the church. Oh! that these glorious truths may ever be the joy and strength of our own souls, and then they will not fail to become the matter of our conversation to others.

Added to this emphasis is their recognition that once they have led a soul to Christ, they have a responsibility to continue investing in that person’s holiness and growth in Christ. They wrote, “We must be willing to spend time with them daily, if possible.” The task of the missionary is not mere cross-cultural evangelism; the Great Commission instructs us to make disciples, not mere converts.

In so doing, the disciple is encouraged to grow in his knowledge of the Scripture and in his obedience to it. As he studies the Word of God and grows in his obedience, he is to be encouraged to cultivate his spiritual gifts.

The Serampore missionaries understood, “it is only by means of native preachers that we can hope for the universal spread of the gospel through this immense continent. . . . Let us therefore use every gift, and continually urge on our native brethren to upon their countrymen the glorious gospel of the blessed God.” As such, the missionaries’ aim was not the perpetuation of their responsibilities in India, but rather the development and maturation of their hearers to the point that they were able to establish autonomous churches in which indigenous pastors were called.

And in support of each of these endeavors—the conversion and discipleship of their hearers, the development of their spiritual gifts and the establishment of autonomous churches with indigenous leadership—the missionaries gave themselves unceasingly to the acquisition of languages and the translation of the Bible into native languages.

Though many of us reading this post will never find ourselves ministering in Serampore and living in India, the Serampore Form of Agreement contains a number of helpful reminders.

May the Lord remind each of us . . .

  • to set an infinite value upon men’s souls.
  • to acquaint ourselves with the snares which hold the minds of the people.
  • to abstain from whatever deepens the lost’s prejudice against the gospel.
  • to watch for every chance of doing the people good.
  • to preach “Christ crucified” as the grand means of conversion.
  • to esteem and treat those of every race always as our equals.
  • to guard and build up “the hosts that may be gathered.”
  • to cultivate their spiritual gifts, ever pressing upon them their missionary obligation.
  • to labor unceasingly in biblical translation.
  • to give ourselves without reserve to the Cause, “not counting even the clothes we wear our own.”

Mind Your Business, Short-Termers

I recently saw a young man post on The Baptist Review Facebook group requesting tips on how he might make the most of an upcoming short-term mission trip. His post got me thinking about what matters for short-termers, especially as it concerns the long-term effects of short-term trips. After reading through the comment thread (see it here: Mission Trip), I mentioned the need to follow the pattern of the missionaries already on the ground. In this post I want to follow up on that statement to explain why I believe  that to be important for short-term mission trips.

In season five of The Office, Dunder Mifflin has fallen on hard times, yet the Michael Scott-run Scranton branch continues (inexplicably) to turn a profit. To discover the secret of his success, Michael’s boss, David Wallace, invites him to a meeting at the corporate offices in New York City and rather sheepishly inquires of Michael, “What are you doing right?” The response is, of course, vintage Michael Scott:

David, here it is. My philosophy is basically this. And this is something that I live by. And I always have. And I always will. Don’t ever, for any reason, do anything to anyone, for any reason, ever, no matter what. No matter . . . where. Or who, or who you are with, or, or where you are going, or . . . or where you’ve been . . . ever. For any reason, whatsoever.

Now let’s make some sense out of Michael Scott’s harebrained ramblings and hopefully apply some wisdom to our short-term mission trips. In boiling down his incoherence into a logical statement, Michael is saying: “Mind your business.” Short-termers, when we prepare for trips, it is essential to know what our business is—what we are doing when we go. I don’t mean the practical day-to-day functions in which you will participate, but the foundational reasons that undergird the daily activities. That being the case, one of the most important items of business each short-term missionary has is supplementing the work of the long-term missionaries with whom he/she will partner. To do this well and to maximize long-term impact, the short-term missionary needs to follow the established patterns of those already on the ground.

Here’s why.

They were there before you

Maybe you’ve taken courses or read books on missions, or about the people or place you are going, but I promise you (and I mean no offense here), the missionaries who have been on the ground know better than you the cultural nuances of the people and place. If they tell you not to do something, that restriction is not arbitrary; it has significance to the missionary and, just as importantly, significance to the people that missionary is seeking to reach. Perhaps that doesn’t correspond to something you read beforehand, but beware that books simply can’t provide an exhaustive—or readily updated—list of cultural dos and don’ts. Read the books, prepare as much as possible, but trust the missionaries who have worked tirelessly to learn the language and culture of the people with whom they live.

They will be there after you

You will return home not long after you arrive—maybe a week later or maybe a few months later. You will be different, changed by what you’ve seen and done. You will want to talk about it and some people will want to hear about it. But while you’re doing that (and you should do that), remember that there are those who stayed behind and continue the work of serving and seeking to reach the lost. In preparation for a short-term trip, resolve in your heart not to do anything that could negatively impact the long-term efforts of those who remain after you return home. In other words, don’t be a rogue short-term missionary; follow the leadership of the long-termers who are investing their lives, families, and careers in the people and place you will visit.

Short-termers, our work is important and impactful. So let’s go, serve, and return in as positive a way as possible. We are servants and not celebrities, so let’s mind our business and submit to the leadership and patterns of those who have gone before us and who will remain after us, for the sake of the glorious gospel among the nations.

Serampore Reflections: Cultural Exploration and Sacrifice

This is the second of several posts reflecting upon the Serampore Form of Agreement, signed in 1805. Click here to read the first reflection.

In addition to the infinite value of immortal souls, readers today can also take note of the Serampore missionaries’ emphasis on cultural exploration and personal sacrifice.

The Serampore Trio: William Carey, Joshua Marshman, William Ward

In much the same way that John Stott encouraged preachers to be “bridge-builders”—tying the biblical world to the contemporary world (See Between Two Worlds)—the Serampore missionaries emphasized the need to connect the world of Scripture to their missionary context. In order to do that, however, their context demanded their attention and exploration.

To know their modes of thinking, their habits, their propensities, their antipathies, the way in which they reason about God, sin, holiness, the way of salvation, and a future state ; to be aware of the bewitching nature of their idolatrous worship, feasts, songs, &c., is one of the highest consequence, if we would gain their attention to our discourse . . .

In addition to exploring and understanding their cultural context for the purpose of relating their thoughts concerning holy things to the Word of God, the Serampore missionaries sought to use their knowledge to diminish the likelihood that they would be unnecessarily offensive to the cultural sensitivities of those in India. As has been observed and stated so often before, the gospel may be an offense to those who are perishing; we need not be offensive in our communication of it.

These English missionaries understood that there would be some major cultural differences, but emphasized that, “Paul’s readiness to become all things to all men, that he might by any means save some, and his disposition to abstain from necessary comforts that he might not offend the weak, are circumstances worthy of our particular notice.”

Without beginning a new debate unnecessarily, at the very least, we should acknowledge that if the best reason one can give for participating in a given behavior that may be considered offensive (drinking alcohol or smoking cigars, for instance) is his freedom in Christ, perhaps he misunderstands entirely the manner Paul understood this freedom.

These missionaries, however, did not. Their willingness to jettison any cultural distinctions that may have been a hindrance to the lost hearing the gospel should inspire many of us to do the very same. They were interested in converting those in India to become biblical, not British, Christians.

Finally on this point, their willingness to forsake all for the sake of the gospel should inspire us today.

Let us give ourselves up unreservedly to this glorious cause. Let us never think that our time, our gifts, our strengths, our families, or even the clothes we wear, are our own. Let us sanctify them all to God and his cause…. Let us continually watch against a worldly spirit, and cultivate a Christian indifference towards every indulgence. Rather let us bear hardness as good soldiers of Jesus Christ, and endeavour to learn in every state to be content.

May God grant each of his children such a singular resolve.