Monday, October 12, 2015

Waiting for Repentance (October 2015 Newsletter)

The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. – 2 Peter 3:9

I have heard a lot about the end-times in the last few months. Teachers are regularly putting out new books and new explanations of the Bible’s end-time prophecies. Many pastors and leaders point to current events as signs of the times, and as evidence that Christ is returning soon.

As I study Scripture, I receive greater and greater motivation to obey the Great Commission and follow through on Christ’s commands to His body and to me personally. Whether the headlines reveal the nearness of Christ’s return or not, and regardless of new books and explanations of current events and phenomena, the Bible is clear as to the reason that Christ has not yet returned. The Apostle Peter writes in 2 Peter 3:3-4 that scoffers will come and say, “Where is the promise of His coming?” In other words, many will mock the Bible’s clear teaching that Christ will return, because it has been over two thousand years since the prophecies of His return. Peter then goes on to tell us why Christ has not yet returned for all these generations in 2 Peter 3:9 (above). It is because God does not wish to judge the world. It is not His desire that anyone perish or die in their sins. He is waiting patiently for the lost and the unbelieving to come to repentance and faith. Jesus has not returned because He is waiting for the harvest to come in.

For the last few weeks, I have been out on the streets of Hamtramck six days per week knocking on doors, telling people about Jesus, praying for people, offering to do Bible studies in people’s homes, and giving out Jesus Films in many languages. I am doing this because I know that Jesus is patiently waiting for His body to reach them. Jesus does not want these people to perish. Jesus longs for these people to come to repentance in faith. Today, Jesus holds back judgement and extends mercy. He patiently waits, giving more time for everyone everywhere to repent.

We are a part of the Lord’s patient will. Each day that He has given, the body of Christ advances the gospel a little further. We proclaim “repentance and forgiveness of sins [ . . .] in His name to all nations” Luke 24:27.

In the last month I’ve seen God perform miracles to reach Muslims, empower new believers to reach the lost, and mobilize new groups and churches to enter the harvest. Laborers I am training in disciplemaking are seeing new Bible studies started among Muslim families, meeting unbelievers who have had encounters with Jesus, and faithfully and daily laboring in the harvest. I am pleased to be a part of what God is doing to reach the world. I am thrilled to be one of the laborers that God has sent into the harvest.

As we look forward to the coming of the Lord we must also look out at the ripe harvest of lostness that Jesus presents to us. We are in a season of harvest, and it is vast. As with any harvest, there is a window of time when harvesting must be done or the crop is lost. It will require many laborers, laboring with love and intensity in order to bring it in before it is lost forever.

This is the reason the Lord is waiting. He wants all to come to repentance. He wants all to hear of His love and mercy. He wants all to repent and believe, receiving the forgiveness of sins. By His grace, we are the laborers in the harvest field, preparing the way of the Lord.

Read the rest of the October 2015 Newsletter
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Monday, September 28, 2015

Review: Effective Discipling in Muslim Communities by Don Little

Muslims who come to Christ face momentous spiritual, psychological and social obstacles that drive many to abandon their faith. Often conversion and discipleship are framed by individualistic Western models that do not acknowledge the communal cultural forces that constrain and shape new believers. Effective discipleship requires a more relational, holistic process of Christian identity development and spiritual formation in community.
In this comprehensive resource, missiologist Don Little engages the toughest theoretical and practical challenges involved in discipling believers from Muslim backgrounds. He draws on New Testament principles, historical practices and interviews with seasoned disciplers ministering in a dozen countries across the Muslim world. Addressed here are key challenges that believers from Muslim backgrounds face, from suffering and persecution to spiritual warfare and oppression. Also included are implications for the role of disciplers in church planting among Muslims. - Intervarsity Press

Don Little offers a needed examination of discipleship among those from a Muslim background in Effective Discipling in Muslim Communities. The book is divided into two parts "Biblical, Historical, and Missiological Foundations for Discipling Believers from Muslim Backgrounds" and "Seasoned Practices in Discipling Believers from Muslim Backgrounds." The first three chapters address conversion and discipleship as presented in Scripture. Little examines Paul's writings and then Luke and Acts in a fascinating look at biblical doctrine and practice.

The chapter on conversion was a delight as Little challenges common perceptions of "being saved" and decisions with the biblical example of transformation, obedience, and discipleship. The following two chapters are an examination of discipleship in Scripture, but reveal that Little clearly has certain focuses, emphases, and points which he desires to make. A thorough and balanced examination of Scripture requires a different book, but Little's introduction of discipleship through an overview of Scripture provides a needed foundation.

The weight of Little's perspective continues to determine the analysis in his chapters on Contemporary Western Evangelical Approaches and Historical Understandings of Spiritual Formation in the Church. Little addresses popular literature on discipleship in a way similar to his examination of Scripture. He addresses perceived strengths and weaknesses in both approaches before turning to the specific topic of discipleship in Muslim contexts.

I was immensely pleased to see Little devote an entire chapter to "Contextualization and Discipleship Within Muslim Communities," and further that he provides a strong critique of Insider Movements and their methodology. While there isn't space to detail the controversies immersing the evangelism of the Muslim world or Insider Movements, it is an issue that every book on evangelism or discipleship in a Muslim context needs to address. At this time it seems that the overwhelming majority of literature on reaching Muslims for Christ endorses Insider Movement methodology or is silent on the controversy. I was actually surprised that Little not only addresses the issue, but does so clearly, stating, "I believe that unhelpful syncretism is more likely to develop, because it is already there in the theoretical foundations, when one adopts an insider approach" p. 116. He goes on to address specific issues stating, "In my experience it is quite rare to find people who have chosen to believe in and obey Christ who want to continue to call themselves Muslims or continue to attend a mosque" p. 118. These statements are to be applauded; however, Little goes on to quote and endorse several missionaries who are indeed involved in promoting Insider Movement methodologies. One of the difficulties in these controversies is that each individual draws lines at different practices and assigns labels and definitions differently. For some, Little's chapter will be shocking, for those like myself it will be a welcome but somewhat unsatisfying entry in the Insider Movement debate.

Little goes on to propose his own model of discipleship, a somewhat complex scheme he calls the Living Pyramid Model. This model, while not offering a practical program or method presents what Little believes to be a balanced, scriptural approach to discipleship in general.

The majority of the book then begins as Little presents and analyzes content provided by 75 disciple-makers involved in discipling BMB's (believers from a Muslim background). Little interviewed each subject (he presents detailed statistics regarding who was interviewed) with the following questions: 
  1. What would you give as a quick definition of discipling? What is it?
  2. How does a believer grow? What is the process that makes growth happen?
  3. How do you disciple individuals in a collective culture? Explore individual versus community.
  4. What is the BMB's  ideal identity in family and community?
  5. What have you seen to be the biggest obstacles to seeing people grow to maturity?
  6. How do you disciple BMB's through persecution and opposition?
  7. Have you had experience with demonic manifestations? If so, what advice do you have?
  8. What are the challenges and opportunities that come through the nature of BMB families?
  9. Let's explore some of the challenges of handling foreign money and foreign support.
  10. What's your integration goal for BMB's? Forming BMB groups? Having them join churches of believers from Christian backgrounds? Other?
  11. What is the ideal role(s) for an expatriate worker(s)?
  12. How do you deal with oral learners? What is the role of literacy in you discipleship?
  13. Anything else? Is there some key thing I have overlooked? Any other comment you want to make?
These responses were then analysed and cross-referenced in a number of different ways leading to a fascinating series of charts documenting the frequency of certain answers and comparing and contrasting the wisdom and emphases these disciple-makers had to offer. The interviews provide a wealth of information and chapter after chapter of fascinating discussion. The information retrieved from these interviews are invaluable and make the book and the discussion within worth the study of every Christian worker among Muslims.

I will be referencing these sections again and again, and found myself informed and appropriately challenged by the varying perspectives presented within the study. While I often wished that Scripture was a greater part of the discussion and analysis, these studies provide the reader with their own opportunity to apply scriptural authority to the discussion. Little's strong perspective does not persevere here, and he reports and analyzes the findings in a clear and objective way; so much so that it is almost jarring when the conclusion of the book abandons the interviews and the objective tone.

Little's concluding chapter is somewhat puzzling as he moves away from the content of the interviews and provides a chapter extolling the virtues of Eugene Peterson's work and perspective and challenging the principles and practices of Church Planting Movements ( of which a number of those interviewed were involved). As a practitioner of Church Planting Movement methodologies I appreciated the challenge, but felt that Little mis-characterized the emphases of what he was critiquing. Again, the length of this review does not permit me to delve into a critique; suffice to say I appreciate Little's emphasis on faithfulness and perseverance with those God has given us to Shepherd while disagreeing with his perception that many focus on speed.

Effective Discipling in Muslim Communities presents a somewhat uneven study of discipleship in general and discipleship in Muslim contexts. It excels while discussing specific issues present in discipling Muslims, and the material present in the appendices, charts, and interviews is well worth the study and purchase of the book. I would not hesitate to recommend it to all of my brothers and sisters working within Muslim contexts and am immensely grateful for Don Little's research. Little's own views on discipleship may have been better suited for a different book, or may have been more gently integrated into the whole. The book remains a valuable resource and discussion as Christians across the world find themselves discipling their brothers and sisters from a Muslim background.

Monday, September 14, 2015

No One Except Jesus (September 2015 Newsletter)

When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. - Matthew 17:8
The last few months have been a whirlwind of activity in the kingdom. While I haven’t put out a newsletter in some time, it is not because Jesus hasn’t been working. The last few months saw a number of missions teams come to Hamtramck, some of whom I helped host, a number of decisions for Christ, new Bible studies started, and miracles from the hand of God.
With the help of laborers from several different churches in several different states, I have continued to advance towards the goal of presenting the gospel at every single door in Hamtramck. We received a number of positive responses and several decisions for Christ as we offered people the Jesus Film and the opportunity to learn more about Jesus in their own homes. These interactions also led to powerful times of prayer and new opportunities for meetings.
During this time I met a young Muslim family who wanted to meet to learn English using the Bible. They eagerly received Jesus Films, asking for more for their friends, and have faithfully studied Bible stories with me twice a week since. Please pray for the A____ family, that they would truly encounter Jesus as He really is!
Also during this time I have been faithfully meeting with K_____ a young Muslim man about three times per week to read Bible stories. During a Bible study I asked him, “Do you believe that Jesus Christ died on the cross as the sacrifice for you sins?”
He said, “Yes.”
“And do you believe that Jesus rose from the dead?”
“Yes,” he nodded.
We continued to study the gospel together, trying to leave no stone unturned as we looked at the Bible in English and in his language. During our 38th study I explained the “Two Kingdoms” gospel illustration which emphasizes Jesus as King and Lord over the Kingdom of God, and revealing that we must bow and surrender to Jesus as our Lord and Master and Boss if we are to enter the Kingdom of God. I asked K____, “Do you believe that Jesus is King of the Kingdom of God?”
“Yes” he answered.
“And is Jesus your King and Master and Boss?”
“Yes, Jesus is my King”
“And you are His servant?”
“Yes” K____ agreed.
I talked with him more about what this meant and how the Spirit was leading him to respond to this truth.
During out 42nd Bible study I presented the whole Creation to Christ summary, asking K____, “How do you have a right relationship with God?”
“Believe in Jesus!” he answered.
“Do you have a right relationship with God?” I asked.
“Yes!” he said smiling.
“Why?” I asked.
K____ broke out in a huge grin and laughed, “Because I believe in Jesus!”
The longer I work in Christ’s service the more I am aware that it is His work, and it is about Him.
The best is yet to come!
Read the rest of the September 2015 Newsletter
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Thursday, June 11, 2015

Branching Out (June 2015 Newsletter)

Then He said, “To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it?  It is like a mustard seed which, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth;  but when it is sown, it grows up and becomes greater than all herbs, and shoots out large branches, so that the birds of the air may nest under its shade.”– Matthew 4:30-32

This morning I say down with a young Muslim man to study the story of Jesus birth, touching on the prophecies and stories of the Promised King we had read before. I meet with this young man three mornings a week, helping him learn English and studying the Bible. I pray with him each time, asking God to bless him and his family, to help him learn English and to help him come close to God.

Serving those who come from other cultures and other religions is a major part of my everyday life, and proclaiming the gospel to all of creation is an everyday calling and ambition. When God called me to Hamtramck five years ago I did not feel a specific burden to Muslims or Hindus, Arabs or Asians. I simply knew where God wanted me to go. Only now can I look back and see the blessing and privilege God has given me. Jesus has trained me here: to care for the lost, to serve the poor, to lay down my rights, my culture, my language, in order to become all things to all men and to be a light to all nations. I am still being trained every day.

As I returned home after the study, I found a list of emails from disciple-makers and church planters around the nation waiting for responses. Some wanted collaboration on projects. Some wanted to request training or partner in events. Most wanted me to share best practices and resources. Some of these church planters I had trained over the internet, some of them I had worked with, and some were trainers that I looked up to. I spent all afternoon taking phone calls, messaging over Facebook, replying on message boards and collaborating on online documents. I had to stop and thank the Lord for the favor he had poured out on my life. I am so grateful for a community of laborers who encourage each other and share a common vision and goal in the Great Commission. I am so grateful that I get to be a part of ministry and labors in many different states and even different nations as God expands His Kingdom all over the globe.

Jesus told multiple parables about the mustard seed. The most famous one compares the small seed to an amount of faith, but in Matthew 4 Jesus compares the Kingdom itself to a mustard seed. The Kingdom of God which resides within and among us (Luke 17:21) is like this small seed, which expands and multiplies exponentially until it is a tree, growing stronger and thicker, spreading its branches, and providing shade and support for birds. In the same way that the mustard seed begins in an almost microscopic way, so the Kingdom is not always visible or even noticeable. Often God chooses the small, the weak, the unimpressive. As God expands His rule and reign and His presence and glory in our lives we become larger and stronger: big enough to support others. We cover more ground and reach into new places.

As God expands His work in my life, I am most excited about what He is doing in the lives and ministries of the men and women I’ve trained, many in different states who I contact over video conference. I am grateful for all that God has done in Hamtramck and look forward to seeing Him continue to move as the branches of the Kingdom in my life spread into new places and new lives. The best is yet to come!

Read the rest of the June 2015 Newsletter
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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Faithful with Little (May 2015 Newsletter)

A generational map showing who I'm discipling
His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ – Matthew 25:21

This month I sat down with a young Bangladeshi man named K____ who wants to learn English. He speaks English fairly well, especially for someone who moved from Bangladesh only a few months ago. He wants to be able to get his GED and go on to study engineering in college, but right now, he is the sole provider for his mother and brother. He works long night shifts at a factory making plastic parts for cars and then studies English with me in the morning after his shift is over.
I explained to him that I want to teach him English so that he can have a better life here and provide for his family, but that I also wanted to help him learn how to be close to God. I told him my testimony, explaining that because God had been so good to me, I wanted to help others know His goodness. I told him that I would be using stories from the Bible to teach him English and he agreed. I gave him the Jesus Film, which he watched that week.
I took some time to pray for K____ the first day that I met him, and I as I prayed I was reminded of another Bangladeshi student I knew about four years ago. This student was much older, in his 70’s, but he was named K____ too (which is not a common name for Bangladeshis).
The first K____ I met was a sweet old man who had a great education and read voraciously. When I gave him the Bible in his own language he began reading it every day. He told me that he loved Jesus and that he knew that Jesus was “the heart of God.” I felt so sure that K____ would become a believer, and was encouraged that he was growing in faith. There were language barriers, I was new in ministry to Muslims, and I wasn’t always sure that we understood each other. But I knew that God was working in K____’s life. In the midst of studying with K____, he became very sick. I felt convinced that God would heal him, but had hardly seen anyone healed through my prayers. I prayed and prayed, but K____ passed away. Losing him was difficult. His death put me on a passionate pursuit for the power of God. Though K____ is gone, God heard my cry and led me into the miraculous in a way I never would have imagined. I have seen many people who would have otherwise died, healed by the power of God.
As I think back to the first K____ I met and who and where I was then and the K____ that I meet with now, I am struck by the grace and love of God. I strove to be faithful to God and to the people he had given me. In His grace and patience God taught me, molded me, and gave me greater fruit and impact in ministry.
Today I look at my ministry, and I am immensely blessed by what God has done. God’s work has grown in my life, and I look forward to greater and greater things as I continue to work and strive to be faithful with all He gives me. I know that those who are faithful with little will be set over much, and that God will multiply His kingdom as I am faithful to serve Him in every opportunity He gives me. The best is yet to come!

Read the rest of the May 2015 Newsletter
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