Discipling Nations

One of the key themes in the Gospel is the declaration that the Gospel will be preached in “all nations.” Jesus, as the Risen Lord, commanded His disciples to make disciples of all nations. It is interesting that, on the popular level, we often interpret this as making disciples of “individuals.” However, Jesus said we are to disciple the nations. What does this mean? The word Jesus uses for ‘nation’ in these texts is not the Greek work for country or any political entity. Jesus uses a “people” word. It is the word “ethne” which means “people-group.” The Gospel is for every people. We may work with individuals, but our goal is always an entire people-movement to Jesus Christ.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ should make an impact on the whole of society, including the values, goals and ethics of a people. The Gospel impacts not only individual hearts, but the entire social structure of a community.  The church is always more than just the aggregate number of saved individuals. The church is the community of the redeemed. The body of Christ finds local expression in particular communities who live out the future New Creation in the present order. The society should really notice the impact of a Christian presence. We should see churches as little outposts of heaven planted on the earth to give people a vision of the future.

My wife Julie and I are going to spend Thanksgiving in Tanzania with our daughter Bethany. She is there in Tanzania to bring the Gospel to the Alagwesi people. There are about 40,000 of these people in a dozen or more small villages in northern Tanzania. They live in an extremely remote area without running water or electricity or paved roads, etc. Isn’t it wonderful to know that the Lord of glory loves these people so much that he became incarnate to redeem the Alagwesi for himself. We are praying that God will help the team plant a church there and that, in time, a new nation will be discipled. Jesus declared that the Gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in “every nation” and then the end will come (Matt. 24:14).

Rob Bell takes his message to the churches

Rob Bell announced this week that his book Love Wins is now being re-released with a companion church study guide as well as a new e-version of the book with new video content. I will not rehearse here my earlier response to Bell’s book except to say that I pointed out several things about the book I liked and several points where I think he remains seriously misguided in his theology. If you go back in my blog you will find the posts beginning March 18 and continuing through March 23. The overall title of that series of posts was “Why Rob Bell Needs to Return to Seminary… and bring along quite a few contemporary evangelical pastors.”

Now, nearly a year after the book first surfaced, I want to say that I stand by what I said then. Since that time Rob Bell has left his position as pastor of the Mars Hill Bible Church and is spending his time, among other things, on the speaking circuit spreading his inclusivistic message that, in the end, none will be finally lost because “love wins.”

Since it is highly unlikely that an even busier-than-normal Rob Bell will take time to go back to Seminary, I would like for him to at least attend one lecture which I had in my first year systematic theology class. It was a lecture given by the late Roger Nicole. Dr. Nicole was lecturing on the attributes of God. He began by drawing a big flower on the board with numerous petals. He began to label each of the petals after different attributes of God. One petal he named “justice” another he named “love” and another he named “holy” and so forth, as he worked his way around the petals of the flower. We all sat there taking notes and most of us had beautiful flowers drawn in our notebooks with carefully labeled petals. Dr. Nicole then paused and looked at the class and said, “this view of God’s attributes is unbiblical.”  We all looked up in shock. He then began to demonstrate (and this continued over several days) how each of God’s attributes is informed by the other.  There is no such thing as an attribute of love which is not also fully informed and understood through God’s holiness and justice.  Likewise, God’s justice is understood via mercy, and so forth. God’s attributes cannot be separated out in isolation from one another. God’s attributes are not like separate petals on a flower. God’s love is a just love. God’s mercy is a holy mercy, and so forth.

So, as Rob Bell’s book (with the new study guide and enhanced video messages) begins its circuit through the churches, we should be reminded that there is no logical separation between God’s love and God’s justice. God’s love is not “the last petal” left standing. God never denies his justice in order to demonstrate his love. Rather, part of the way His love is demonstrated is through the just recompense of evil. If the cross teaches us anything it is that the greatest act of God’s love  – the cross of Christ – is simultaneously – the greatest act of his judgment upon sin. In the cross we see the perfect integration of justice and love enacted. Those who spurn God’s provision in Christ are refusing to accept what God has freely offered in love to satisfy the justice of God. Even in the New Creation, the Scripture indicates that there are those who persist in their rebellion against God (Rev. 21:8). However, even these who experience the full weight of God’s justice, do it in the shadow of the cross and in the face of the eternally open gates of the New Creation (Rev. 21:25).

Penn State and Lessons from Kindergarten

Many of us will remember Robert Fulghum’s book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Basic principles like “play fair,” “don’t take things which aren’t yours,” “say your sorry when you hurt someone,” and “clean up your own mess” are just a few of the gentle reminders from Fulghum. The importance of these early “life lessons” is hard to over estimate, isn’t it?

This week the nation has been rocked by the scandal at Penn State. Many careers are in ruins, a great national legacy has been tarnished, a beloved coach has been fired, and, most importantly, dozens of children (now young adults) have been violated in unspeakable ways. It reminded me of something my mother used to say to me and my brothers when we were growing up. Starting around kindergarten and, from time to time, throughout our young lives my mother would say, “never do anything which you would be embarrassed about if it was shouted from the rooftops or put on tomorrow’s headlines.” I heard it when I was so young I didn’t know for sure what she meant. I also remember hearing it in shame when I came home one day (along with my two brothers) after having participated in the “egging” of someone’s house in our neighborhood.  We all wanted to play a prank on one of our friends and so we got some eggs and threw them onto the roof of his house. We were, of course, spotted and within minutes my mother was armed and waiting our arrival back home. We walked in the door and what we thought we had done “in secret” had become known. We were marched back down the street and I spent the next two days scrubbing with soap and water the roof of the house we had violated. My deeds were literally being “shouted from the housetops” as the neighbors all gathered to watch us all up on the roof making restitution. We were also made to wash every window and sweep the driveway and mow the grass. I thought our penance would never be over! But, I learned a valuable lesson – don’t ever do anything you don’t want shouted from the rooftops or put in tomorrow’s headline.”

My mother gave her “shout from the housetops” speech because she knew Jesus’ words “what you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight; and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs” (Luke 13:3). Penn State needed that basic lesson ringing in their ears back in 2002. These kind of things cannot remain hidden. What is discussed today behind closed doors will, in time, be shouted from the rooftops. In fact, if Jerry Sandusky had learned that lesson in kindergarten, a horrible tragedy might have been avoided.

This is a powerful reminder for us to examine our own lives. Is there anything in our lives which we would be ashamed of if it were shouted from the rooftops or put on tomorrow’s headlines?  If so, then set it right today. I am so glad (now) for the rooftop speech. I hope I never forget it.

Walking right into Hell. . . . in Orlando, Florida

Last week we held a four day spiritual retreat in Orlando, Florida, for special friends of Asbury Seminary. This was the second in a series of four formation periods called Ascent whereby we set aside time to minister and invest in the spiritual growth of those who support the ministries of Asbury Seminary. Because we are committed to Wesleyan holiness we are careful to not allow it to be only a time of withdrawal and reflection. Mr. Wesley believed in “active” waiting on God. We grow spiritually both through bended knees in prayer as well as bended backs in service. Wesley understood that you grow as much sitting in church hearing a sermon as standing in a soup kitchen serving the poor.

So, in keeping with this, we took the entire group to see the ministries of The Summit church in Orlando. The Summit was founded by an Asbury graduate, Isaac Hunter, and a handful of his friends less than a decade ago. They asked the question, “what would happen if we planted a church which, from the start, was dedicated to serving our community rather than focusing on ourselves?” The church now has multiple campuses and over 4,000 members. They are seeking to bring healing and hope to Orlando, Florida, and around the world, with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

While at Summit we met another graduate of Asbury Seminary, Rhonda Stapleton. Rhonda shared her life story with us – and we were all deeply moved. Ten years ago Rhonda took a huge step of faith and moved into one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Orlando. It is known as OBT (Orange Blossom Trail). It is the kind of place which is fearful for even law enforcement people to walk around. It is known for homicides, drugs, prostitution and pimps. Even more, it is known for hopelessness. Sex trafficking is rampant. Rhonda has seen pimps waiting at the curb for the women when they are released from prison. Rhonda knows women who live in such agonizing bondage that being arrested and hauled off to jail is almost a relief. Rhonda has seen the living face of sin as much as anyone. She has also seen the living face of grace and the power of the gospel. Jesus is also walking the streets of OBT. He is there in Rhonda Stapleton, delivering new hope to the hopeless.

Rhonda saw the the need for a place in this part of Orlando to help women who are released from prison to get a fresh start, obtain job skills and to be protected from human trafficking during those first six to eight months after they are released from prison when they are particularly vulnerable. Under the leadership of Isaac Hunter, the Summit Church has helped Rhonda to found the first home, known as Samaritan Village, which promises to be a model for many to follow around the country.

Isaac Hunter and Rhonda Stapleton are just two examples of our 9,000 graduates around the world who remind me why I love serving Asbury seminary and why we are committed to training women and men for places of ministry and service in the world. Students do graduate and they do go out and make a difference. I have seen it. I have now personally met nearly 900 of the alumni of Asbury Theological Seminary. I have met them on different continents and serving in different capacities – but all dedicated to “spreading scriptural holiness throughout the world.” The OBT in Orlando is getting a divine in-breaking. The host of hell assails, but Jesus is prepared to walk right into hell. Praise the Lord.

If you want to see it for yourself, check it out here.