It’s About Jesus

Many followers of Jesus are unaware of one of the lesser-known benefits concerning persecution. Persecution is a reflection of a great harvest. One of the fastest ways to discover where an unexpected harvest is taking place globally is to watch and listen for persecution. One of the principles of persecution is that often the bad guys know when God is up to something long before the church is even aware. This is a sad fact. Often the church, especially the church in the West, is not expecting God to do the unexpected; so we are unaware when God shows up in an outside of the formal church manner. Satan is so fearful of any unusual activity of the Holy Spirit that he is always on his guard; ready to hinder and harm any unusual activity of God.

Satan is fearfully watching for the activity of God; more so than the church.

Many believers in the West, especially pastors, say to me that persecution is coming to America. When I ask them to elaborate on their statements, they talk about their stances on abortion and homosexuality in an ever-increasing liberal governmental and cultural environment as evidence to a growing hostility toward Christianity. Is this what the church in the West wants to be known for? Is it our social stances that define us? Are our conservative social stances concerning homosexuality and abortion defining for who is a follower of Jesus? Is there not a fatal flaw in such an interpretation?

Conservative Christianity’s stance in opposition to homosexuality and abortion is the same stance you would find in Saudi Arabia.

One must stand firm in regard to social issues in an ever-increasing non-biblical environment. Yet we cannot be defined by social stances that are in harmony with some of the most conservative Islamic countries on the planet. Believers in persecution can avoid being persecuted if they simply leave two things alone. If they will leave Jesus alone and witness alone they can avoid persecution. But they refuse. They insist on picking up Jesus as their Lord and Savior and they refuse to keep Him to themselves. Let’s be honest; in much of the world if one simply accepts Jesus as their ” Lord and Savior,” keeping Him privately to yourself, then you can die at an old age in your sleep. If one refuses to pick up and witness then they can live in relative safety as a Christian in places as hostile as Saudi Arabia and North Korea.

Where there is a great harvest there is great persecution. And you can flip that around; where there is little harvest, little witness, there is little persecution.

Social stances are a lot safer. Social stances can increase your audience both politically and religiously. Social stances are important. Yet social stances do not make one a follower of Jesus; just ask a follower of Islam in Saudi Arabia.

What should define us? It’s two things. We have decided to follow Jesus and we have, secondly, determined that we will never keep Him to ourselves.

Is God Insane?

The title of our first book, The Insanity of God, has caused trouble for itself. Many people, especially those of us of a more mature age, feel that the title implies that God Himself is insane. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many who have been concerned about the title have implied that it was chosen purely for marketing purposes. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The longer that one is, generationally, within Christianity the more they cease to look at the kingdom of God from a point of view of one who is outside of that kingdom. To those, when one talks about a God who would give his only Son to die on a cross, this would be the act of someone who is insane. What God would do such a thing? When we are asked about where we have gone and what we have done the last 30 years, talking about being salt and light in places like Somalia the stares and comments we receive question our sanity. We have been told that we are crazy.

The title, The Insanity of God, was a result of a lot of perspiration in seeking God’s title for the book. About seven of us struggled for weeks over this title. Finally the day came when we had to come up with a title. For hours we talked about titles that included words like “sheep among wolves, the foolishness of God,” and other biblically based, well–used themes. We had possibly 10 poster-sized sheets of paper posted around the room. We knew there was a title “out there” that God wanted us to use, but we were having difficulty placing our fingers on the pulse of God.

Finally we took a break to clear our heads and to start over again.

Walking back into the room my eyes were drawn to the many sheets of paper and the dozens of titles and subtitles posted about the room. I thought about all the conversations we had had concerning the content of this ministry. Without thinking I looked at our friends who had struggled alongside of us for most of a morning and said to them, ” everything we have talked about today represents from God’s word and our experiences the insanity of God.”

Our literary agent, a man sent from the throne of God, slapped his hand on the table in front of him and said, ” God has given us His title.”

From the world’s point of view the cross of Jesus will always be a stumbling block. From the world’s point of view God does not come and die, God comes to control and destroy. From the world’s point of view, if we were God, we would act from a position of power, not from a stance of love and humility. Today, as throughout all of history, a God who “so loves the world that he gave his only begotten son” is an act of insanity.

For those of us who know Jesus, we want to model such insanity to all the peoples of the world because it is an insanity motivated by love, sacrifice, and obedience. It is an insanity motivated by going not staying. It is an insanity motivated by giving not receiving. It is how the world looks at God. This should be how the world looks at us.

Join the insanity.

OneCry Prayer Summit

Daily we hear reports about violence against Christians all around the globe. But how does this affect us as believers in America? During the first week in November, we will take the opportunity to seek God for nationwide spiritual awakening as we learn from and uplift our brothers and sisters who are suffering for their faith in Christ.

This hour-long concert of prayer broadcast consists of teaching by Nik Ripken, author of The Insanity Of God, interviews with ministry leaders, music by Meredith Andrews and prayers from our studio prayer team made up of students at the Moody Bible Institute. The goal of this hour is to bridge our need for awakening with the experience of those awakened by persecution as we cry out for a new work of the Holy Spirit in America.

For more information about the OneCry movement, visit www.OneCry.com.

Listen to the program.

Why are the Unreached Unreached?

With the modern missionary movement shifting into high gear, attempting to access unreached peoples, it is advisable to pause and ask, “What are the obstacles to giving a viable Christian witness to those who have never heard?” New buzz words abound as the AD 2000 movement, and others, lead the evangelical community to look through the “10/40 window,” striving for a “church” for every people group by the year 2000.

Looking at the obstacles to reaching the unreached will move mission personnel beyond sticking pins in maps, gaining institutional satisfaction from the initial command to “Go.” “Going” is substantially easier than “staying,” developing a viable long-term Christ-like presence among those who have yet to hear clearly, especially where many are openly hostile to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Recognizing the hindrances that would allow the Gospel to take root among unreached peoples will enable mission agencies, churches and missionaries to plan means overcoming these obstacles.

What are some of those obstacles, not necessarily in their order of importance?

Read Nik’s Article

My son died today

It was 16 years ago when I watched my 16-year-old son die in Nairobi, Kenya, as a result of a severe asthma attack. 

His death on an Easter morning wounded the hearts of an entire community.

People asked me, How can God allow your son to die on Easter? You were only seeking to serve and praise Him among peoples unreached and untouched with the Gospel. How can a father handle watching his son die long before his child’s dreams could be realized?

I imagine God’s thoughts when Jesus died on the cross could have been similar to this:

My Son was a skilled carpenter, but I knew that He was made for something more than shaping wood with His hands. He was made for shaping lives with His words, with a touch or even with His tears. 

His life’s work was that of doing the miraculous He healed the sick, fed thousands, allowed those without worth and unclean to touch Him and to be touched by Him. 

He could weep over the death of a friend and almost in the midst of a sob call him from the grave to life again. People were enamored with the miraculous things He said and did. A few people began to discern that it wasn’t what He did that was miraculous. 

The real truth, they began to discover, was not that He did miracles but that He was The Miracle.

Others feared what they did not understand. I saw my Son arrested and ridiculed. Their spit ran down His face, their jeers rang in His ears and their tools of torture caused blood to disfigure His countenance.

Cheers from the days before when He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey turned to the jeering of a mob as they watched my Son drag His own cross up to a hill of death, where they raised His mutilated body, nailed upon a wooden cross, to the sky.

Today, I watched my son die.

The political and religious leaders of His day thought this was the end of the threat. Those who had followed Him believed their hope was dead, so they denied they had ever known Him. Both sides deeply believed this was the end of the story, this death, this killing of My son once praised, now once and for all, crucified to death.

And here was everyone’s mistake, their misunderstanding. They believed that crucifixion was the end of the story, that death ended all things the threat to the reigning government and the people’s hopes for an earthly Messiah.

Everyone was wrong. My Son was not to be defined by the waving palm leaves of the adoring multitude or by the shouts of the jeering crowd. Neither would He be defined by a crucifixion.

There was more to come more to the story. This was my plan. The crucifixion by man was a prelude to the resurrection by the Father. I allowed and watched my Son die, to be crucified, to demonstrate my love and forgiveness for all people, for all times. 

But I am not only a Father of love, I am a Father of power.

And while my love allowed for the crucifixion of my Son, my power would not allow Him to stay dead because I had determined that crucifixion was just the prelude to the resurrection.

For my family, the anniversary of my son’s death at Easter brings this bittersweet reminder There is no shortcut, no easy way out, no way to avoid wounds made inevitable by living in a broken, imperfect world.

Like God’s Son, my son died way too young and, at least for a season, for unacceptable reasons.

But my family knows that this earthly life is just a prelude to the eternal life we can have through and with Christ. Jesus’ crucifixion was for a moment in time. His resurrection is forever.

John 3:16-17 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” RSV

A 13-Year Old Church Planter

After the fall of the Soviet Union, it was my opportunity and blessing to enter many of the countries of the former USSR  and sit at the feet of many believers, while listening to their stories of faith which were often surrounded by seasons of severe persecution. It was as if my Bible was exploding in present active tense. I was interviewing, in my lifetime, Daniel in the lion’s den and Ezekiel defying and defeating the wicked Queen. I was being introduced to a faith which believed what God has always done, He is still doing!

I had interviewed a very godly, older gentleman. This pastor had been imprisoned and tortured. His beloved wife died while he was incarcerated. He talked about God’s sustaining power in the midst of persecution and suffering-yet he sternly suggested that no one should desire persecution but simply accept whatever God sends their way.

The next day I was in another home interviewing a brother in Christ whose father was severely tortured in prison. At 7 am, over breakfast he was telling me his Bible-like journey with Jesus. Before we could finish breakfast, the door opened and the older pastor from the day before entered the house. I was interviewing this 2nd pastor in the home of workers from America. They were very gracious in hosting me and in the setting up of many godly interviews. I greeted the older pastor, asking him what his agenda was for today. He replied he was off to a new area, of his central European country, to evangelize and attempt to plant a church. He further told me he had come to the house to pick up someone to help him. I certainly expected him to leave the house with the man from the West or the man and his wife. I was shocked by whom he was taking with him.

He was taking the 13-year-old son of this family from America. His parents were too busy to go.

I interviewed the 2nd believing brother until late in the evening. Almost at dark time the front door opened and in came the old pastor with a dirt-stained, scratched and bleeding, 13-year-old boy from the West. Without hesitation this boy exclaimed to his mother and father,

“You won’t believe what happened! I went with pastor today to a new area and he asked me to share my testimony. After we talked some of the people got so angry they threw stones at us and one of them hit me on the head and caused me to bleed a little bit. But after these hateful people left, and many of these villagers saw how we loved even those who cursed, beat and stoned us, many of them gave their lives to Jesus, they were baptized, and we started a church today!”

And suddenly I realized what real discipleship entails. Real discipleship is taking us, our children, other people’s children (when the adults are unable and unwilling to go) and extending the kingdom of God in the toughest of places. What this older pastor gave to the 13-year-old American boy on this day was a genealogy of faith which he, himself can reproduce for generation after generation. The 13-year-old can now lead his friends, possibly his parents, and, someday his own children on this exciting journey called faith in Jesus. He learned from that persecuted older pastor some hard lessons; faith comes with a price. He learned from a godly, former imprisoned pastor the price which has to be paid to see scores of people and multiple families come into the kingdom of God. He learned the joy of suffering with the end result of churches being planted in the homes of others.

This 13-year-old boy had modeled for him that day a faith which is bigger than a mob and more enduring than a rock to his head. I wished he could have learned these lessons and blessings from his own father. I wish it had been his parents who had introduced him to the challenges which come by walking with this Savior. Yet this old man knew who to take with him, who was willing to be discipled, and whose heart was tender enough to forgive even those who attempted to stone him. This old man learned from Jesus and these were lessons too hard-earned not to pass them on to the next generation.

2 Tim 2:1-7 “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier on service gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to satisfy the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will grant you understanding in everything.” RSV

Willing to Die for Jesus

It was a soul wrenching time for our family-which is not a surprise to anyone as we were working in Somalia at the time. While there were believers in Jesus from Muslim background inside the country, they were often scattered, alone, and afraid. We were seeing many children and older people die of starvation.  Often we had to wait for those who died during the night to be buried before we could feed those still left alive. Though we began as a mom-and-pop organization late in 1991, we soon had teams in 3 different countries doing everything from food relief, irrigation, resettling refugees, and tons of mobile medical clinics. Soon a team of 8 were feeding 50,000 people per day.

All of this was done in an environment of famine and civil war. I often wondered which classes from my Christian college or from my degrees in seminary were responsible for preparing us to minister in Jesus name in such a tough environment? It was like this; we didn’t mind being “sheep among wolves” as we understood this to be a biblical command and a constant reality. What I objected to was being a sheep among the wolves where the wolves were in the majority and, can I say honestly, we had been sent out as stupid sheep among the vicious wolves.

It’s challenging when you have civil war and famine as your ministry environment while most of your training has been to prepare you to be a sheep serving the sheep.

After numerous trips into Somalia my wife and I had an intense, heart-to-heart conversation. Coming to a deeply held consensus together, we called our 3 sons to join us so we could unpack what we felt the Holy Spirit was saying to us in regard to our ministry in Somalia. This conversation with our boys may not have represented the most articulate moment of our lives, but it certainly was heart-felt. We began the conversation something like this,

“Boys there was a time, early in our lives, when your mother and I had to decide whether or not we were willing to live for Jesus. As a pastor’s daughter, your mother can hardly remember not knowing Jesus as a young girl. My journey to Jesus was much rougher and you know I did not discover who Jesus was until 18 years of age. But both your mother and I made the conscious, spiritual decision that we would live for Jesus no matter what.

When Shane was around 5 years of age and Timmy a little past 3, we experienced a renewed call on our hearts concerning taking the love of Jesus to those who have little or no chance to know him. We heard God’s command clearly asking us if we were willing to go anywhere in the world for Jesus. Without any doubt your mother and I answered this question; it was God’s prerogative to send us wherever He determined. It was not too difficult to decide to both live for Jesus and to go anywhere in the world with Jesus.

All of this was before Somalia. Now we don’t know if going and living for Jesus is enough.

As a family we know that Somalia is a very dangerous place. Though we as a family are living in Kenya, we and our teams are inside Somalia and near its borders in many places. Your mother and I have talked and we want to share something as a family. You’ve heard us talk about our willingness to live for Jesus, giving our lives to Him, alongside our willingness to go anywhere He commands us to go. For this season of our lives it does not seem to be enough to simply be willing to go for Jesus, living for Him wherever He may plant us. We don’t want to scare or frighten you but we want to look at the cost of following Jesus as a family. There is a new question and reality we need to ask ourselves alongside our willingness to live and to go for Jesus.

The question is, are we, as a family, willing to die for Jesus as well as live and go for Him?”

Though the boys might have a difficult time remembering this conversation, it is etched deep within my soul. You see, my culture had taught me a lie. Even my Christian culture bought into this lie. The lie goes like this; “If you love and serve Jesus you are entitled to live a long life, free from serious injury or illness, and never have problems within your family. You are further entitled to a big house and 2 cars alongside a retirement dividend which will allow you to travel and relax for many years. When you reach old age you are to be free from illness and allowed to die peacefully in your sleep.”

Where is a willingness to die for Jesus in the midst of all this cultural Christianity? Who was supposed to model the trifecta of living for Jesus, going with Jesus, and even be willing to die for Jesus? What class or sermon should have prepared us for such an environment as Somalia?

There was no place in my world for such an environment as Somalia and there was no place for a faith which could sustain and grow in such an environment like Somalia. Most of my classes and the sermons I both heard and gave myself prepared me to serve in a white-collar, Christian environment. The blue-collar camel herders of Somalia were a class or a sermon consistently omitted from my nurturing within the church or in my training within denominational entities.

We still struggle consistently with Christ’s command to live for Him, go with Him and, if necessary, die for Him.

Gal 2:20-21 “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose.” RSV

The British Half-Penny

We were really proud of Southern Baptists. In Transkei, South Africa we had asked for and received $10,000 to help believers develop their own style of Bible study and Sunday Schools throughout the country. My wife and I, along with our 3 small boys, traveled to the mountains of Transkei to spend the weekend with a very small country church. They were so isolated from the rest of the churches in Transkei that we spent a lot of time simply sharing information from many of the other churches to the one we were now visiting. Almost without thinking, near the close of the time I had to share about what God was doing within the other churches, I mentioned to this small congregation the gift of $10,000 their brothers and sisters had sent them from America.

Unlike anything we had ever seen, a spontaneous love offering exploded inside this mountainous, country church! 

I am guessing you have never seen such an offering? These Xhosa speaking believers lined up between the simple, rough, wooden benches. Their line trailed all the way out of the crookedly hung back door of this isolated church. They begin to sing, dance, and sway toward the simple wooden altar table down front of the church. As they approached the altar table, these women would dance in harmony, slapping their change back and forth on the altar table all

together-sometimes three or four times. Children would ask for money from the adults, run outside of the church, cross the street – where they would enter a simple store to get the smallest change possible for their money so they could dance repeatedly in the aisle of the church, slapping their offerings together on top of the altar table.

This spontaneous offering went on for over 30 minutes!

All of this joy and offering was in response to a gift given by believers in America whom these African brothers and sisters had never seen. They danced, sang, and praised God as they gave, in joy, their offerings in response to the love offering they had received. We were so caught up in the moment, as we watched our brothers and sisters give their gifts to God, our sons began to ask us for change so they could go and slap their offerings on the altar also. It was one of the most joy filled times of giving we have ever experienced.

Until the old, arthritic woman began to limp down toward the front of the church.

As she stumbled down the aisle of the church, she reached inside of her ragged blouse and pulled out a knotted handkerchief. With her crooked fingers and teeth, she tried for many minutes to undo the knot in her old handkerchief. Finally she was able to untie the knot and inside of it was one over-large, copper coin. As she neared the altar of the church, she took that one copper coin, rubbed it with affection, and then placed it gently on the altar table. Then she slowly walked back to her seat. Curious, because I had not seen such money, I went to the altar table, after the spontaneous offering was finished, and picked up the large copper coin. I took it to one of the leaders and told him what I had seen. He went to the old lady and spoke with her for some time. He returned with tears in his eyes as he told me her story.

What she had given as her offering to God, in response to the $10,000 from America, was a British half-penny. This half-penny represented all of this woman’s money in the world; it was her retirement fund. My heart was broken when the leader of the church informed me this half-penny had been discontinued as “real” money since 1963. It was all she had owned for her retirement and it was useless. I was so broken by this old woman’s offering, her giving all she had to Jesus, that I laid a significant offering on the altar, placing her British half-penny in my pocket. For many years I carried this half-penny wherever we went. Whenever I felt we had given all we had to Jesus and it was time to quit, I would remove this half-penny from my pocket, remember this old, arthritic Mama in the mountains of Transkei, and understand that we had a long way to go before we gave all we have.

Mark 12:41-44 “And he sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the multitude putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came, and put in two copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him, and said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, her whole living.’” RSV

Beast for Jesus

Now I have to admit this is one of my pet peeves. It amazes me how often single women are stepping up to do the tough things for the kingdom of God while single men are astonishingly absent. This challenge crosses denominational lines and is to be found anywhere within the Western Christian environment. It has been our observation over the last decade or two that for every 1 single man on the mission field there are seven single women! As we noted in another article it is as if single men are praying, “Lord here am I, send my sister.”

This has reached epidemic proportions as men today are, seemingly, not tough enough to go to the tough places. While women are prepared to go as “sheep among wolves,” it seems to me believing men want to remain as “sheep among sheep.”

What has brought us to this global challenge?

Let’s focus on our issue men; why are we not showing up? Why are there scores of women prepared to go to the tough places and do the tough things while we stay home? Dare I suggest the location of this unscriptural behavior lies within the broader Body of Christ itself? While women are quietly serving all the way from Jerusalem to the uttermost parts of the earth-men stay-at-home. Why? In the West men have two models, vocationally, to choose from. Vocation, position, power, and salary packets are important to us men. Our male role models are in pulpits and in classrooms. Yet those without any access to Christ dwell in the deserts, the famines, and the war zones of the earth. Conversely, Christian men in the West are increasingly white-collar while those without Christ are tough blue-collar or no collar men.

Years ago in China I was privileged to stay among three church planting movements. If I were to ask the young men inside those movements what they wanted to be when they grew up, they would quickly answer, “We want to be evangelists and church planters.” While central to the New Testament, these roles for men are virtually nonexistent in most of our churches and seminaries in the West. We train men to be pastors, shepherds of sheep. Shepherds seldom put their sheep at risk, even for the sake of the kingdom of God! I was reminded of this as I read an article the other day. In this article, a major league baseball player talks about how he avoided Christianity as he felt it was soft and for sissies. Yet he found Jesus to be tough, willing and able to die on a cross – Jesus was a “beast,” a real man. Read the article for yourself.

Where are the men? Are we tough enough to serve in the tough places? Are we able to be a beast for Jesus?

Arab Spring?

We returned two weeks ago to America from the Middle East where we live. We had a month of traveling throughout the US and a couple of places overseas. Have you noticed the Middle East is a mess? The other day an opposition politician was killed in Tunisia. The Islamist and the Muslim Brotherhood are considering a partnership in Egypt. Refugees are pouring into Jordan from Syria. Yemen continues to be a challenge, if not an outright disaster, while Somalia shows some flickers of light after more than two decades of civil war and famine. 

It could be argued, in the Middle East and North Africa, that Al Qaeda is becoming their own people group.

Would it be fair to say I am not sure where I want to go with this blog? I am endlessly, eternally optimistic. Yet to classify this time in history as “springtime” in North Africa and the Middle East because of a movement which began when a young man burned himself to death in Tunisia seems to me to be a denial of reality. I think by writing this blog I’m able to put my finger on what bothers me.

The promotion of “Arab Spring” implies this; the solution for the ills of this world is political.

That’s the rub is it not? We clamor for solutions from sources which have never proven they can provide what the world needs. It seems many statements pertaining to local or global solutions begin with, “if we just had enough money,” or “if all the countries of the world had democratic governments,” or “if we were to recognize the truth-all religions are the same, all faiths lead to God,” and the list could go on for a long time. Much of what was just written does have the potential to make life easier, more representative, or at least set a stage for various faiths to talk to one another. But are they or the “Arab Spring” representative of life-changing significance with eternal ramifications? I think not.

While fascinated with the words of the New Testament (content), I am equally fascinated by the context in which the New Testament unfolded. Here’s what we know. Jesus lived all of his life under a Roman, foreign occupation. He never witnessed a democratic government. Soon after His birth His government tried to kill Him. For most of His ministry the leaders of His religious background were in bed with the government, even to the point of partnering in His crucifixion. As far as we know He never owned a house, made car payments, put kids through college, or ever voted in an election.

All he ever did was to die on a cross and then turn the world upside down.

It is our prayer the Arab world will experience some sort of a “Spring.” God knows they need one. Yet it will not be found, ultimately, in the ballot box, some sort of representative government, by the establishment of human and civil rights, or in a market economy.

It will be found outside the doors of an empty tomb.