Monday, May 9, 2016

Disciples Not Decisions (May 2016 Newsletter)

The last month of ministry has contained many answers to prayer and work in the harvest field, including some of the most miraculous multiplication of disciples I’ve ever been a part of. God’s has mandated that we make disciples. This means connecting with those who are far from God and telling them God’s Good News about His Kingdom and forgiveness and the reign of Jesus as King. We throw the seed of the gospel into the soil of the heart. What happens next is a mystery. The interaction between the Spirit of God, the condition of the soil, and the process of encountering truth results in fruitfulness, the conception of faith, or barrenness and the rejection of the message. This rejection may not happen immediately, in the same way that many encounter the gospel many times before coming to Christ, some may initially receive the message only to reject it later, whether in word or in lifestyle.

 As a disciple maker these processes are part of the task. I proclaim the Gospel. I sow the Word of God. Sometimes the message begins to grow and sprout in someone’s life. Sometimes they receive the word—they understand and believe it, and sometimes they reject it. Sometimes they receive the message only to reject it later because of persecution, or sin, or trouble. Working with those from other religious backgrounds means that fear and persecution are very real. Sometimes they receive the message and are fruitful and the gospel multiplies through their lives.

 This month I shared with an Iraqi man in a coffee shop. I was very excited to learn that twenty years ago when he was in Iraq he read the New Testament on his own in secret. God had been working in this man’s life. I shared the story of God’s plan to provide salvation and forgiveness through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He rejected the message at first, but as we talked he came to understand and said that he believed that Jesus had died on the cross for the forgiveness of his sins. I explained how God made Jesus King of the Kingdom of God, and that he needed to obey Jesus as his King. He said that though he believed in forgiveness through Jesus, he wanted to believe in one God and live a good life. He “made a decision” to believe in Jesus’s death, but rejected Christ as his Lord. He rejected discipleship.

 This month I spent time doing a number of Bible studies with two brothers from a Muslim background. We studied Genesis and I helped them with their English homework. The older brother and I got along very well, and I began to consider him a friend. Both of them had heard my testimony when I first met them, including the message of the cross and resurrection, and they knew that I wanted them to be close to God because I told them that was one of the reasons I was helping them and what I was teaching them.

 My new friend wanted me to correct his homework for a college class. He was supposed to write about his life. He passed the paper over to me and I read:
"On the weekend I have no place specially to go. But generally I walk for blocks until I reach a little park with benches and trees and a little railing, giving it a feeling of privacy. I sit on a bench and think, "Better job. Better job. And a nice house with a porch on a street and a big yard.' When sun goes down. I go home."

I was sitting in a public place, and managed to compose myself enough to make corrections and pass the paper back to him. As he started rewriting it, I wiped tears out of my eyes. His words captured the loneliness and the need of the immigrant experience so well. I was moved by compassion.

 We continued studying the Bible, and two weeks later I received a text message saying that he and his brother would not meet with me anymore. They haven’t responded to any communication since. I think their father, who is strict, told them they could not continue, but this kind of rejection is normal even after I share my story and the gospel with them and they start discovery Bible study.

The gospel eventually reveals the nature of the heart.

 This week my friend L____ (Bangladeshi) shared the Two Kingdoms gospel presentation with I__ (Yemeni) and I__ confessed his faith in the Jesus's death on the Cross for his sins, the resurrection, and that Jesus is king of the Kingdom of God. I__ wants to follow both Jesus and Mohammed.

 L___ has been sharing faithfully, and is excited about how God is blessing his life. This month he passed a very difficult English exam. He was the only student who did well on the test. The other classmates asked him how he did so well, and he told them, “I read the Bible with my teacher.” He told them that they should read the Bible too. He was also excited that he received a two dollar raise at work without asking for it. He thanked me for praying for him and believes that God is answering our prayers.

 Please pray for L____ as he continues sowing in I__'s life and others. Please pray that God would give me wisdom in coaching and training L____, and please pray that we don't accidentally start multiplying syncretism, as I__ tries to sort out how the gospel fits within his worldview. Please pray that he would become a disciple and a disciple maker. The best is yet to come.

 Read the rest of the May 2016 Newsletter.
 Read previous Newsletters.

Monday, April 25, 2016

How to Access Other Languages on YouVersion

I frequently do Bible studies with friends who do not speak English as their first language. It is often difficult for them to discuss and understand abstract texts in English. They feel much more at home with their mother tongue. I can do Bible studies with them in English, but it is limiting. Access to Bibles in their languages can sometimes be difficult or expensive. It can also be threatening for them to read in public places. One of the best solutions I've found for sharing the Bible across language barriers is the YouVersion Bible app, which can be downloaded from the Apple App Store for free and contains a massive number of translations of the Bible, not only in English, but in many different languages.

Here's how to access them:

Open your YouVersion App

When it loads you find yourself on the homepage. Hit "Read."

The app should open the last translation you used at the last passage you read. I was reading Genesis with a friend and my app opens to Genesis Chapter one. In the top right near the center you should have a button showing the translation. Mine shows the NKJV translation. Hit that.

That will open a list of translations you have recently used and languages you have chosen. As you can see, mine is a bit mixed up because I use English, Bangla, and Arabic. Find your selected Language which should be at the center or middle of the page. Yours should say English. Mine says Bangla (in Bangla characters). Hit change.

This will open a very large list of languages. From here you are a little bit on your own. You need to be able to recognize what language you need, and you may need to recognize it in its own characters. In other words, you can't just hit "Arabic" you have to be able to identify Arabic script and hit it to open the translations available in Arabic. Start scrolling down the list. We have to get past the letter "Z" in order to find languages in their own script.

Keep scrolling.

Keep scrolling.

We found different scripts. Now we have to find the one we need. I'm going to pick Bangla.

I found Bangla. It says Bengali on the right, but I know enough of the Bangla alphabet to sound it out the first time I found it. You may need to be able to do so to find the language you need. Or get your friend to find it on the list. Just ask, "I want to show you something. Which one is your language?"

My YouVersion has three different translations in Bangla. One uses neutral terms. One uses Hindu terms, and One uses Muslim terms. I know one of the translators who created the translation that uses the Muslim terms. He and several others assured me that while it uses some Muslim terms, it retains familial language and is theologically faithful to the text. You may need to do the same kind of research to choose the right translation for your friend.

The app now goes back the text that was pulled up and it is in Bangla! I can have my friend read it from here.

To go back to English I just hit the translation button again and NKJV is in my recently used translation lists as is the Bangla version. I can navigate to a passage in English and with two buttons change the text to Bangla and show my friend. Questions or comments? Share them below.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Memorizing First John in One Year

This year I set my first ever memorization goal. I have struggled with Bible memorization since I first gave my life to Jesus. For most of my Christian life I gave up on intentional memorization and just decided to surround and saturate myself with Scripture, hoping that certain verses would stick.

A number of projects on this website were part of this approach, and it honestly worked fairly well. Reading ten chapters per day, listening to audio sermons consistently, reading books that quoted Scripture, writing articles and essays based on Scripture, leading Bible Studies, preaching, and ministry in general saturated my mind with Scripture. I ended up memorizing many verses including the references just because of constant use.

This year, I am adding intentional memorization to my goals. I have given myself the whole year to memorize the First Epistle of John. I am about four months in, and I am steadily spending time each day memorizing the book.

Are my methods effective? I will honestly have to wait until the end of the year to be sure. I know I did not choose the most effective method. I wanted to use this method:

Unfortunately this approach focuses on such small amounts that it actually requires more discipline for me. I struggled to stay interested. I decided to add another memorization habit to my life first. I took habits I already had and added to them.

  • I take a shower everyday
  • I love listening to the audio Bible with film scores behind it
I decided that everyday I would listen to one chapter of First John on a loop while I was in the shower. I recite the chapter out loud along with the audio Bible for as long as I'm in the shower (or longer in I feel like it).

I listen to and recite the same chapter in the shower everyday for one month. Then I move on to the next chapter. It is April, so I am reciting 1 John 4. Next month I will recite 1 John 5. In June I will start to writing out and reciting First John One from memory (I actually have this chapter down really well; it's the shortest). This will mean adding an additional habit, but I intend to keep the shower recitation going.

Have you memorized long passages of Scripture? What method did you use?

Monday, April 11, 2016

God Gives the Increase (April 2016 Newsletter)

I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city. Acts 18:10

 “If someone follows [Jesus] everybody will hate him,” L____ said, looking up from his New Testament in Bangla. Kamal and I were doing a study on persecution from Luke 21:10-19. L____ had been sharing Bible stories and a short gospel presentation with his friends and family. He was only beginning to experience negative responses, but as I sat with him with the Scriptures opened I was forced to consider what I had committed my life to and what L____ also faced. L____ is much more likely to be genuinely persecuted than I am; just a few weeks ago a young man was stabbed to death in his country for turning from Islam to Jesus. The stakes are high, and they are real.

Later that month L____ and I read the first chapter of the Gospel of John together. As I heard him read in English before reading it in his own language, I was reminded that this may be the most beautiful thing written in any language:

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.4 In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. 

After taking a long time to read and reread the chapter we went through discussion questions. “"All of God's Spirit and all of God's Word lives inside of [Jesus] and He shows that to the world."

The next week L____ met another young man from Bangladesh. He shared the story of the Two Kingdoms, that Jesus died on the cross as the sacrifice for sins and rose from the dead and that He is the King of the Kingdom of God we must follow. Shortly after reporting this to me he said, “We must catch people to tell them about Jesus.”

God is performing a miracle in L____ that is so huge in my mind and heart that I struggle to comprehend it. I remember every Bible study and every story I’ve ever shared with him. I remember when we struggled to communicate with each other because of the language barrier. I can look back at all the things I’ve done with L____, and I have to honestly say that I still don’t know how this has happened. God has done something on the inside of L____. I threw the seed, but God has made it into something beautiful.

This month I met two young men who remind me very much of L____. They are both young and have just come from Bangladesh. They are brothers looking to learn English and receive tutoring. I share my testimony with them, telling them that because of what God has done in my life I want to help them. I told them that I wanted to help them learn English and get a better job, but that I also wanted to help them learn how to be close to God. I told them I would use the Old and New Testament stories to teach them how to learn English and how to learn how to be close to God. They agreed and plan to meet with me twice a week. Please pray that God opens their eyes and changes their hearts the same way he has with L____.

Last month I was praying for a teammate to help me in the city of Hamtramck. God blessed me by connecting me further with Adam Crumpton a missionary who recently returned to Detroit after making disciples for over a decade in Mexico. He has been co-laboring with me several times per week and has been a tremendous blessing. I am blessed by what God is doing, and I know that the best is yet to come!

Read the rest of the April 2016 Newsletter.
Read previous Newsletters.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Sowing and Reaping (March 2016 Newsletter)

 And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground, 27 and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how. For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head.  But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.” Mark 4:26-29

This month was exciting as L____ began discipleship and two Muslim men from Yemen made decisions for Christ. Since L____ made a solid commitment to Christ as his King and Master, we have begun to study Christ’s commands. We read Mark 5 about the man Jesus delivered from the legion of demons and how Jesus commanded him to share his story with his friends and family. This man went on to tell ten cities about Jesus. After studying the story and asking and answering questions about the text, L____ made a bubble map of who he needs to tell about Jesus. His map included four Muslim friends of different ethnicities and his mother.
The next week we looked at how Jesus called his first disciples and preached the kingdom of God in Mark 1:14-20. After studying the passage L____ practiced a two minute gospel presentation about the kingdom of God called the two kingdoms. He made plans to share with a muslim friend from Yemen and to share a Bible story with his mother.
The following week we looked at Peter’s sermon from Acts 2. During the discovery questions L____ learned that if you want to follow Jesus as your King and Master, you have to repent of your sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus.
"Do you want to be baptized?" I asked.
"Yes," L____ nodded.
"When can we do that?"
"It is how . . . take a shower?"
I explained that we could use a tub at his house or mine.
"When can we do that?" I asked.
"Next time I will tell you. I will ask my mother." L____ said.
Please pray for L____, that he would continue to be obedient to Jesus and that God would give him perseverance as he encounters conflict and persecution within his community.

I recently followed up a man who had made a decision for Christ when a friend from out of town shared with him. I finally connected with him after two months of trying to spend time with him. I shared a five minute Creation to Christ story and the Two Kingdoms with him and another Yemeni Muslim man at a shop. Both confessed faith in Jesus as the Sacrifice for their sins and in Jesus as the King of the Kingdom of God who they wanted to serve. These are the first Yemeni believers from a Muslim background that we have heard of in this area. Neither was comfortable with a Bible study in their home, but want to meet twice a week for a Bible study in the Shop. I have been able to follow up with A__ consistently and we have been going over the gospel again and again in his language, and he has been reading the New Testament on his own. There is a significant language barrier, so perseverance is required. Please pray for all of these men as the Holy Spirit leads them into all truth.
I am asking God for apostolic leaders in each segment of the population. Each of these men has the potential to reach their community for Christ in a way that I cannot and start a movement for Jesus. The best is yet to come!

Read the rest of the March 2016 Newsletter.
Read previous Newsletters.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Receiving the Word of God (February 2016 Newsletter)

And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.”

File_001So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?”
And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. The place in the Scripture which he read was this:
“He was led as a sheep to the slaughter;
And as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
So He opened not His mouth.
In His humiliation His justice was taken away,
And who will declare His generation?
For His life is taken from the earth.”
So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. Acts 8:27-35

This month I went to L____’s house in the morning with my brother in Christ Neil to read Isaiah 53 with L____. L____ comes from a Muslim background and has been very responsive to the gospel and articulated his faith in Jesus as the sacrifice for his sin and that Jesus was King over his life. English is not L____’s first language, and I wanted to be sure of his understanding and commitment to Christ.

We caught up with L___, prayed with him, and asked him about sharing last week’s story, which was the story of Moses and the Passover. L____ had shared the story of the Passover with a Muslim friend from work.

“Some things are different,” L____ explained, “He didn’t know about the blood on the door.” We talked more about the sacrifice of the lamb and how the Bible is different from what he had heard before. Then we began to read Isaiah 53. We read it in English and then in L____’s language. He took his time and asked questions, “This is a poem,” he said. “Does Isaiah write this about himself or someone else?” Neil and I looked at each other, reminded of the Ethiopian eunuch who asked the same question. We explained that Isaiah was writing about Jesus. We asked L____ what he would say if he were to retell this story to a friend in his own words. He took a long time to reread the passage several times and then explained, “God had a plan for Jesus to be the sacrifice for our sins.” He continued to retell the passage, ending with “Some people, they like Jesus, and some people, they do not.” He reaffirmed his faith in the cross and resurrection.

Two weeks later we returned to his house to read the story in Mark 5 of the demoniac who Jesus delivered from bondage. We looked at how the man wanted to stay with Jesus, but Jesus commanded him, “Go home to your friends, and tell them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He has had compassion on you” (Mark 5:19). After thoroughly going through the passage in two languages we asked L____ to make a map of friends and family who he needed to tell about what God had done in his life through Jesus. He listed four Muslim friends and his mother! All five of the people L____ were from unreached people groups and there were two different people groups on his list. He will be sharing across cultures. Please pray for continued miracles, blessing, and Holy Spirit transformation in L____’s life. The best for him is yet to come!

Read the rest of the February 2016 Newsletter