Stop Kony, But Don’t Stop There

Ever since Invisible Children released its first film in 2004, they’ve been adept at creating awareness about the war in Uganda and directing grassroots movements to end it. Their latest film is a challenge to raise awareness about Joseph Kony, the brutal leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army. The hope is that with enough awareness and political pressure, the United States will intervene to arrest Kony and stop his reign of terror. (If you haven’t seen the film yet, just scroll through your Facebook News Feed until you find it. Or do a quick Google search for Kony 2012).

Kony is a criminal, and his arrest and prosecution would be a good thing. I wrote in a similar vein after the death of Osama bin Laden and concluded that God loves justice. As Christians we ought to care about the children Kony kidnaps, exploits, and murders. The campaign to stop him is appropriate. I’m encouraged that so many college students and adults are concerned for the welfare of children on the other side of the world. That concern reflects the heart of Jesus. He loves each child, and so should we.

I have an additional challenge, though, for those involved in the Kony 2012 effort: Don’t be satisfied with the removal of one evil leader. In other words, we need to ask ourselves, “What’s next?” If Kony is arrested and imprisoned or executed, what comes next? How do we prevent the next Kony from picking up where the first one left off?

It’s my belief that unless the movement to stop Kony is paired with an effort to bring the Gospel to Africa, then it will ultimately fail in the light of eternity. Kony is a problem, but he’s really only part of the problem. The problems that plague Africa, that plague the whole world, run a lot deeper than one wicked man. War and violence and corruption begin in the human heart, and they can only ultimately be solved by the intervention of God’s Spirit.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t engage in seeking earthly justice for terrorists and warlords. It just means that it’s not nearly enough. Remember this: The deaths of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden didn’t end terrorism in the Middle East. Only Jesus can do that. We represent His kingdom, but we can’t bring it here on our own. Our greater goal, then, is to provide avenues for the world to know Jesus and to one day be a part of His perfect kingdom.

I’d love to see the effort to stop Kony paired with an effort to feed and clothe the children he has abducted, and to tell them the good news of Jesus Christ.

So I would add some action steps to the ones IC provides at the end of their video: 

-Pray. Pray for the hearts and minds of Africa and the world. Pray that God’s Spirit will move and that men and women across the country will lay down their rifles to fall down before Jesus.

-Support missionaries. I’d love to see an effort among Christians to give to those missionaries who are on the front lines sharing the Gospel in Africa. I’d personally love it if that effort were supported as strongly among evangelicals as the effort to arrest Kony. What if members of evangelical churches asked their pastors this week, en masse, for the names of specific missionaries to support in Africa? What if we gave millions of dollars to the proclamation of the Gospel in addition to the money and exposure we’re providing to the military effort to stop Kony?

-Go to Africa and share. My own church is leading a trip this year to Bulembu, Swaziland to provide medical care for orphans and to share the Gospel. Maybe your church is doing something similar. If you want to impact Africa for eternity, think about taking a couple of weeks off of work or school and going on a trip like that. “But stopping Kony seems so big. Sharing Jesus with a couple of poor kids feels small.” Only as small as the power of the Gospel to change a country or a continent. Never believe the lie that a few faithful men and women can’t impact the world for eternity.

So will you pick up the challenge? Will you engage not only in seeking earthly justice for a terrible criminal, but also in the task of pointing men and women to the one true source of justice and eternal life? 

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Are American College Students Out of Touch?

Last Sunday, one of my fellow pastors spoke to our college students on the subject of world missions. In the course of his talk, he mentioned some statistics that I found intriguing (these are derived from a National Geographic Survey a few years ago):

  • 63% of Americans between 18-24 cannot locate Iraq on a map.
  • 75% cannot find Iran or Israel.
  • 88% cannot find Afghanistan on a map of Asia.
  • 48% cannot locate the state of Mississippi on a U.S. map (and 50% cannot find New York State).
  • 54% believe that Sudan is in Asia (it’s in Africa).
  • 30% believe that the U.S. has a population between 1 and 2 billion people.
  • 48% think that the majority of India’s population is Muslim

Those are just a few of the somewhat alarming stats. I should mention that the survey includes those in college and those who are less educated. Still, many of the wrong responses come from college-educated men and women.

Do you think young men and women are ignorant of the world outside their small community? If so, why? And what can we do about it?

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Five Ways to Make a Missionary’s Day

(This is a guest post written by my good friend Jerry Varghese. Jerry and his wife Suzanne are among the more than seventy missionaries supported by Grace Bible Church. This is Global Impact Week at Grace, so I thought it would be fun to shine a light on the everyday lives of our missionaries.)

Two months ago my wife Suzanne and I boarded a plane and moved to a little city in Greece called Ioannina.  The common reaction we got from people in the States was “Wow, Greece! That’s amazing!”  When we told them we were moving to Greece to serve as missionaries, their facial expressions changed from excitement to confusion.  “Uhh…You’re moving to Greece to be missionaries?”

When most Americans think of Greece, they picture beautiful beaches and little white houses with blue roofs and shutters.  That’s not the Greece we’re living in, though. We’re living in a small urban college town with no beaches in sight. The country is in economic turmoil, and most people don’t expect it to get better anytime soon. Greece has also become a forgotten place in terms of the Gospel, much like Western Europe.  Although first-century Greece was filled with thriving churches, today’s Greece is resistant to the Gospel. The people here are full of hopelessness.

Many days we wonder, “Are we really making a difference?” Even though we work with a great team of missionaries, we still need encouragement from our brothers and sisters who aren’t here with us. So how exactly can you encourage an overseas missionary?

Contact Us Regularly

I know how hard this can be when your life is already so busy!  But regular notes, handwritten letters, and emails can lift a missionary’s spirits tremendously.  It lets us know you’re thinking about us and that you value our ministry.  We also love to hear about what’s going on in your life, even if we don’t know you well. It gives us a connection to you and helps us to pray for you more effectively.

Send Video Messages

Isn’t technology amazing? Many of you have webcams built into your home computers or laptops.  Spend a few minutes planning what you want to say, click the record button, attach the video to an email, and press ‘send.’  Even if you’re technologically challenged, you can do this!  My sister-in-law sent Suzanne and me video messages for our birthdays this year. They brought us immeasurable joy and laughter.

Reply to Our Newsletters

We get very excited when people respond to our newsletters.  On the day we send it out, we wait eagerly to see if anybody responds.  When people do respond, we know that they’re reading our letters and that they care about what we’re doing.  Even a short response is fun to receive, but we especially appreciate it when people take the time to mention specific aspects of our newsletters that were encouraging or interesting.

Pray for Us

And tell us you’re praying for us! We know that people are praying, but it makes a big difference to hear them say so. When you respond to newsletters or send us emails, tell us specifically what you’ve been praying for us.  It’s so encouraging to know that our friends across the ocean are praying on our behalf. We love it!

Visit Us!

OK, so not everyone can do this. But we would LOVE the chance to show you our world.  We would LOVE to show you how your prayers and support are making a difference in the mission field.  Seeing someone from home is life-giving for a missionary. It’s like seeing a long lost friend and it’s very encouraging.

You might not be able to implement all of my suggestions.  But I’d like to issue you a challenge: pick one missionary and do one of these things consistently for the next year. When you invest in a missionary, you’re investing in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), and it’s an investment that pays eternal dividends. No matter what the economy is like!

What other ideas do you have for encouraging the missionaries you know? We’d love to hear them!

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C.S. Lewis, Inclusivism, and Scripture (Part 2)

Last week I began to address Jordan’s questions regarding C.S. Lewis’s views on inclusivism. I concluded that C.S. Lewis was indeed an inclusivist who held that although Jesus is the only way to eternal life, explicit faith in Christ is not necessary for salvation. Lewis’s views are echoed by other theologians and pastors — most notably, Billy Graham has endorsed a form of inclusivism in recent years.

So does the Scripture support inclusivism?

I’ll be arguing my position from the Bible, but my intent is not to label those who disagree with me as heretics or heathens. I’ll talk more about that issue in my final post on this subject, but my hope is to simply lay down the biblical facts as I see them.

That having been said, I strongly believe that the Bible supports Christian exclusivism, the belief that explicit faith in Christ is necessary for eternal life. Here’s why:

The Scripture consistently states that faith in Christ is necessary to receive salvation. Although you could argue that “faith in Christ” includes unconscious belief, this isn’t the most natural way to read the passages in question. For example, John 3:16-18 repeatedly talks about faith in Christ as necessary for salvation — it’s hard for me to imagine the original readers understanding that in any way other than explicit belief in what Jesus had accomplished through His death and resurrection. Romans 3 is another example. After declaring that nobody achieves eternal life through his own righteousness — because everybody is wicked — Paul states that justification comes only through belief in Christ. In other words, I think he directly contradicts the inclusivist position here by saying that no amount of sincerity or piety is enough to receive salvation apart from exercising faith in Christ.

Most of the apostles died trying to evangelize the world. Why would they do this if they felt that a sincere person could be saved apart from knowing about Jesus? Why not leave well enough alone? Why insist upon the worship of Jesus alone (and face terrible consequences for doing so) if it wasn’t really necessary? From what I see in the Scripture (particularly the book of Acts), they strongly believed in the exclusivity of salvation through faith in Christ.

Romans 1, in particular, eliminates the myth of the “righteous pagan.” In Romans 1 Paul states that worship of false gods is the way that people run away from God, not a way that they seek to know Him. As I stated above, his premise is that general revelation leads to condemnation, not to salvation. What we often call “seeking for God” is in fact a way of avoiding Him and rejecting Him. So the idea of an idolater in Africa who has never heard of Jesus but worships Him nonetheless is a myth, according to Romans 1.

For those who do sincerely want to know God, He provides further revelation leading to an understanding of the Gospel. I have biblical evidence of this and anecdotal evidence. From the Scripture, we see the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8), who genuinely wants to understand the Old Testament but has nobody to tell him what it means. He is the paradigm of the “righteous pagan.” How does God respond? He sends Philip to the man, and Philip clearly explains the Gospel of Christ! Cornelius is another example (Acts 10). God sent Peter to this God-fearing Gentile, just so he could know about Jesus and be saved.

Anecdotally (from people I know personally), I’ve heard of Muslims having dreams instructing them to listen to a particular missionary who would tell them about Jesus. I know of a formerly Hindu man who had a vision of Jesus that led to his salvation. I strongly believe that God is gracious, and He can get the message of the Gospel to whomever He pleases, assuming those individuals are prepared to hear it.

And this is critical to explain about exclusivism — we don’t believe that everybody in the Middle East is going to hell because they happen to be born in a particular place with particular parents. To the contrary, God is very capable of penetrating those lands with the Gospel in any way He pleases, and He does it all the time. God is deeply gracious and concerned with the salvation of the entire world. And I think we will be surprised to see many people from all over the world with us in heaven because God in His mercy revealed the Gospel to them in amazing ways.

There’s obviously not enough space to answer every question on this topic here, so I’ll leave it to your comments. My next post will address the question of how we ought to respond to the writings of Lewis, and others who hold his view. What should we think about a brilliant Christian theologian who held a view with which many of us strongly disagree?

[Image via http://www.lostseed.com/meet-jesus/prayer.php]

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Book Review: Our Witchdoctors Are Too Weak

I’ve always enjoyed missionary biographies — the stories of men and women who spend their lives sharing Jesus in faraway lands and unfamiliar cultures. I find that they always challenge me to reconsider my own life — have I become too comfortable or too in love with this world? Even though God might not be calling me overseas right now, am I actively participating in the Great Commission?

I particularly enjoy missionary biographies that attempt to accurately portray the triumphs and struggles of those on the field, without romanticizing or idealizing their lives. Missionaries are ordinary people in extraordinary situations, and the best biographies highlight that juxtaposition.

Our Witchdoctors Are Too Weak is such a book. It is the autobiography of Davey and Marie Jank, a couple who ministered in the Amazon jungle of South America among a tribe called the Wilo people. The Janks were part of a team with New Tribes Mission who were tasked with translating the Bible into the native language of the Wilos so that they could hear the Gospel for the first time. The book begins with Davey’s arrival in the tribal village and chronicles his struggles to learn their language, adapt to their culture, and translate the Scripture in terms that the people could understand. Along the way he meets Marie and gets married, but I’ll not spoil the story for you.

Here is what I enjoyed about this book:

The Janks are authentic in their depiction of missionary life. I never got the impression that the book was written to impress me with how godly they were for spending decades in a primitive tribal village sharing the Gospel. To the contrary, it is filled with gentle self-deprecating humor and frank admissions of struggle and even failure. On the other hand, Davey and Marie’s passion for the Gospel is evident throughout the book. They clearly love the Wilo people and deeply believe in the importance of their mission.

It gave me a good window into the world of a Bible translator. Davey’s stories about the complexities of the language and the challenges of Bible translation were fascinating to me. For example, how do you explain the story of Jacob and Esau to a culture that believes twins are inherently evil? How do you communicate forgiveness to a people who have no way to say, “I’m sorry”?

It illustrates the power of the Gospel and its transcendence over culture and language. I won’t say much more, because I don’t want to give away the ending, but the story is a beautiful depiction of God’s love for the world.

The chapters are short and the writing is easy to read. I would imagine the average reader could finish this book in 8-12 hours. The pages seemed to fly by as I read.

I only had one small criticism of the book, and that was its minimal information about time and space. I wished that there were a few more details about the specific location and history of the Wilos. It was also difficult to figure out the dates and timeline of events — one can piece things together by reading carefully, but I would have appreciated a bit more help in this area.

One the whole, I highly recommend this well-written biography as a great story of missionary life, and particularly the life of a Bible translator in a tribal context.

Question for you: Do you have a favorite missionary biography that you would recommend to the readers of this blog? Why do you like it?

(Note: I was not compensated for this review, although I was sent a free copy of the book. There were no stipulations about the content of my review, so the above reflects my honest opinion of the book).

[Image via http://www.daveyandmariejank.com/book/]