This Gospel | Book Review


The first time I heard veteran missionary Dick Brogden preach was in August 2014 at the Centennial Celebration of the Assemblies of God in Springfield, Missouri. Karl Adams once quipped that Karl Barth’s commentary on Romans dropped a “bombshell on the playground of the theologians.” After hearing Brogden’s sermon, I commented on social media that he had just dropped a bombshell on the playground of comfortable Pentecostals.

That sermon — “Abide, Apostle, Abandon” — is included in This Gospel (pages 85–94). “We’ve probably all heard about what has happened in Iraq,” Brogden began. “Children butchered, women raped, men forced to convert to false religion, villages attacked, fear spread throughout the region, heads cut off and displayed to intimidate any who dare resist.”

Most thought, reasonably enough, that he was talking about the depredations that ISIS was committing at that very time. But Brogden was talking about “the Assyrians in the time of Jonah, 2,500 years ago.” The more things change, the more they stay the same, it seems. “To me,” he went on, “the miracle of Jonah is not that the sea calmed when Jonah was thrown in or that the fish swallowed Jonah in order to save him.” Rather, “the great miracle is that the intimidating, bloodthirsty, disobedient, false-religion-spouting city of Nineveh repented!” If God could do that then, He can do that now as well. “All He needs are a few Jonahs.”

Modern-day Jonahs, Brogden explained, will be characterized by three traits: First, they will abide (John 15:5) “We must return to and maintain the simplicity of just having Jesus.” Second, they will apostle, that is, “advance together in planting the church where it does not exist” (Romans 15:20). And third, they will abandon. “We must embrace suffering for Jesus’ sake as part of our normal reality” (Acts 9:16).

Summarized this way, Brogden’s points may not strike you as all that bombshellish. But it seemed to me when I first heard this message, and it still seems to me as I reread it, that his points are indeed explosive, for they confront the comfortableness of American Christianity.

Take abide. Jesus said, “If you remain [i.e., abide] in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Here, abiding and fruitfulness are sequential. Do the one, and the other will result. But how often do we rest our hopes for fruitfulness in ministry on our wealth, education methods, programs, worship styles and whatnot rather than on spending “extravagant time with Jesus”? This challenges the depth of American Christian spiritual discipline.

Or consider apostle. “Missions is not even strictly an issue of lostness,” Brogden writes, “for there are lost people everywhere in the world.” Instead, he goes on, missions is “an issue of access. Missions means that we take the gospel where it has not gone.” The problem, though, is that today, there are too few missionaries in those regions of the world that have the least access to the gospel. This challenges the distribution of American Christian missionary resources.

Then, abandon. The idea of embracing suffering as normal challenges the American Christian expectation of prosperity at its core. So much so that Brogden builds a biblical case for the notion that Christians will suffer as they take the gospel around the world, drawing especially on the example of the apostle Paul, whose missionary commission included the promise of suffering (Acts 9:11–16). Of course, Paul was to simply follow Christ, so, Brogden asks: “Christ loved us enough to die for us. Do we love Christ enough to die for Him? If the price of world evangelization is our own discomfort and demise, will we not willingly and joyfully pay it?” That strikes at the core of our desires, does it not?

“Abide, Apostle, Abandon” is one of 25 “missions sermons” included in This Gospel. The others expand on these themes or introduce new ones. I’ve selected the Centennial sermon because it captures the core of Brogden’s convictions as a missionary, as well as the central practices of the Live Dead movement, in which he is a leader.

A final, personal note. Dick Brogden is a friend. His messages are earnest and to the point. What words on a page don’t capture, however, is the spirit of joyfulness that Dick exudes personally. That’s something to keep in mind as you read these sermons, which challenge but also inspire.

Book Reviewed
Dick Brogden, This Gospel: A Collection of Missions Sermons (Springfield, MO: Live Dead Publishing, 2018).

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Value, Worship, and Evangelism | Luke 2:1-20


Today’s Scripture reading: Luke 2:1–20

 

The Christmas story in Luke 2:1–20 teaches us five lessons. We looked at the lessons of sovereignty and humility yesterday. God rules over all creation, directing the course of history toward the fulfillment of His purposes. And one of His purposes is to draw all people to himself, which He does by sending His Son in the humble form of a baby in a manger. Today, we’ll look at three other lessons the Christmas story teaches about value, worship and evangelism.

What is most valuable to you? All right-minded people will say they care most about their relationships. The value of a loving family and good friends far outweighs that of material possessions. God values relationships too, to a degree that we will never fully understand. Most of our significant relationships are mutually beneficial; we supply what our friends lack, and they supply what we lack. But we have nothing God needs or wants. He loves us, not because of any benefits we provide Him, but simply because He loves us and because we need Him.

We see God’s values at work in the angel’s announcement of Christ’s birth to the shepherds. In Jesus’ day, shepherds rated low on the hierarchy of valuable relationships. They were considered dishonest and disreputable. And that, it seems to me, is precisely why God sent an army of angels to shepherds to celebrate the birth of Jesus. It was His way of reversing worldly values and saying, “I value these men. I love them. I want to save them.”

At Christmas, we ought to pay special attention to people whom the world doesn’t value, precisely because that is what God does.

Worship is a way that we express God’s value to us. Notice the song of the angels: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (verse 14).

This song makes two statements: (1) that glory belongs to God and (2) that the byproduct of grace (divine favor) is peace among people. Unfortunately, we too often focus only on the second statement. We want peace on earth. But peace comes as the result of right values. Jesus said, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6.33). The only way to have “all these things,” including peace, is to seek first God’s kingdom. God values you. Do you value God?

If you do, the next obvious question is this: Do you share God with others? The angel said to the shepherds, “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people” (verse 10). And the shepherds shared the good news of Christ’s birth with everyone they talked to. “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” (verse 17). The Christmas story is the gospel, and all who tell it become evangelists.

God values you. Do you value Him? And are you helping others to value Him? Those are good questions to ask yourself at this time of year.

 

P.S. This article is cross-posted at InfluenceMagazine.com. For earlier posts in the Songs of Christmas devotional, see here:

Through Us, Not Without Us | Luke 1:67-80


Today’s Scripture reading: Luke 1:67–80.

 

In this passage, Zechariah teaches us something important about Jesus Christ and something important about ourselves. Yesterday, we looked at what he teaches us about Christ. Today, we will look at what he teaches us about ourselves. Pay careful attention to verses 76–80.

Notice, first of all, that this is a statement about John the Baptist. Zechariah is telling us who John will be (“a prophet of the Most High”) and what he will do (“prepare the way” for the Lord). Each Gospel mentions John’s ministry in some way or another (e.g., Matthew 3:1–12, Mark 1:3–8, Luke 3:2–17, John 1:19–34). And in each Gospel, John prepares the way for Jesus.

Second, Zechariah’s statement about John highlights a central theme in the Christmas story, namely, the role of human beings in God’s plan of salvation. Mary accepted the divine gift of bearing Jesus Christ in her womb for nine months. Joseph accepted the divine gift of fathering a son who was not his biological child. John drew great crowds to himself, only to direct their attention and loyalty to another man, Jesus Christ.

In each case, God accomplishes His plan of salvation through human beings, not without them. God does not impose His will on these people. He invites them to place their faith in Him. So, Mary says, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38). And Joseph “did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him” (Matthew 1:24).

Such willing obedience is not easy. It requires great humility. It demands that we think first of God’s will, not of our own wills. One of the most poignant statements in the Gospels comes from John’s lips as he realizes his ministry is drawing to a close: “Jesus must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). God works through us, not without us, and the more we obey Him, the more others can see Jesus through us.

Which brings me to my third and final point: Just as John was an evangelist within his sphere of influence, so we are evangelists within ours. Do we prepare the way for the Lord into the hearts of our friends and family members? Do our lives and words give people “the knowledge of salvation” (verse 77) so that they can find forgiveness, mercy, spiritual illumination, guidance and peace?

If not, why not? God worked through John in the first century. He works through us today, if we become less so that He can become greater.

 

P.S. This article is cross-posted at InfluenceMagazine.com. For earlier posts in the Songs of Christmas devotional, see here:

Why You Should Care About Church Planting | Influence Podcast


This past Sunday–September 17–was Church Planting Sunday. In honor of that, I recorded an episode of the Influence Podcast with my friends and colleagues, Chris Railey and John Davidson, who make a good case for why every Christian should care about church planting.

 

Basic Christianity | Book Review


What does it mean to be evangelical? Derived from the Greek euaggelion — “gospel” or “good news” — the word describes things that are related to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Since the Reformation, it has been used as shorthand for Protestants generally. With the Great Awakening, it began to be used of a specific type of Protestant: Bible-based, Cross-centered, conversion-required and action-oriented.

Now in the United States, the word more often than not is used to describe a brand of partisan politics, at least in the popular press. This is unfortunate, because the gospel itself cannot be reduced to partisan politics. It is bigger and more fundamental than that. John Stott’s Basic Christianity helps readers remember this by outlining a truly evangelical understanding of Christianity.

Stott writes: “Christianity is a rescue religion. It declares that God has taken the initiative in Jesus Christ to rescue us from our sins. This is the main theme of the Bible.”

Over the course of 11 short chapters, Stott covers who Christ is, the nature and consequences of sin, the atoning work of the Cross, and the necessity of responding to Christ personally.

In the Preface, Stott pens this brief description of basic Christianity:

We must commit ourselves, heart and mind, soul and will, home and life, personally and unreservedly, to Jesus Christ. We must humble ourselves before him. We must trust in him as our Savior and submit to him as our Lord; and then go on to take our place as loyal members of the church and responsible citizens in the community.

Over the course of its nearly 60 years in print, Stott’s little book has found a remarkably broad audience — internationally and ecumenically — and for good reason. It is biblical, orthodox and evangelical in the best sense of the word. I recommend it highly. An individual can read it profitably, but I think the best way to read it is with a group. The third edition helpfully includes group discussion questions at the end of the book.

Stott first wrote Basic Christianity in 1958 for a British audience. It has been revised twice, in 1971 and 2008. As far as I can tell, this 2017 Eerdmans reissue is nearly identical to the third edition. Changes include a new cover and minor reformatting of the text. The biggest change is that all Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the 2011 edition of the New International Version.

 

Book Reviewed:
John Stott, Basic Christianity, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2017).

P.S. This review was written for InfluenceMagazine.com and appears here by permission.

P.P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page.

Monday’s Influence Online Articles


Today, over at InfluenceMagazine.com:

  • “Between 2001 and 2008,” Jerry Ireland writes, “missions budgets for evangelism and discipleship declined by almost 11 percent, while funds for relief and development work increased by nearly 9 percent.” My guess is that this trend continued in the second decade of the twenty-first century. Both Jerry and I believe that Pentecostal mission must include evangelism and compassion. However, discipleship has a missional priority. Jerry writes, “The most compassionate thing your church can do is support missionaries discipling local people to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Matthew 5:13-16).”
  • In today’s #InfluencePodcast, Daniel Im and I talk about how new book, No Silver Bullets: 5 Small Shifts That Will Transform Your Ministry. Daniel argues that churches need to make five micro-shifts in ministry: (1) from destination to direction, (2) from output to input, (3) from sage to guide, (4) from form to function, and (5) from maturity to missionary. My review of the book will be up at InfluenceMagazine.com and here on Wednesday.
  • Chris Railey highlights the importance of church planting in the August-September issue of Influence magazine: “Church planters want to change the world, and the truth is, they are the Church’s best hope. The Assemblies of God is seeing incredible growth in the number of new churches. In fact, 2016 was the best church-planting year in our 103-year history, with 406 new churches opened. Church planters connect us to our pioneering roots; they represent the missional and Spirit-led work of expanding the kingdom of God that has always defined our movement.”

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#InfluencePodcast with Lee Strobel


Over at InfluenceMagazine.com, I have an episode of the Influence Podcast with Lee Strobel about six strategies for raising the evangelistic temperature of your church. Lee is a New York Times-bestselling author–most famously of The Case for Christ, forthcoming from PureFlix as a movie–and director of the Center for Strategic Evangelism at Houston Baptist University in Houston, Texas. Take a listen!