Finish

Dr. Neil Gilliland

Finish

Mark your calendars: January 12, 2020. It will prove an important date for many people. Research suggests 80% of people who make New Year’s resolutions give up on them by that date. About half of all New Year’s resolutions revolve around health issues (eating less, getting more exercise, etc.). Our goals are seldom reached simply because we lack personal discipline. I am not trying to be critical or harsh, just truthful. Anyone who has ever made a resolution can identify with those who “give up.” What we began with great enthusiasm now lies in the heap of the unfinished.

The disciples gathered around as the Lord shared some last instructions just before His Ascension. A few simple words, and He was gone and a new era began. 

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you,
and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”
And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. (Acts1:8-9, ESV)

I wonder if Peter turned to his companions and said, “Boys, we’ve got a job to do.” Nearly 2000 years later, we are still about the task. Why? The answer is simple, the task is unfinished. As long as there are those who need our witness in Jerusalem we can’t quit. As long inhabitants of our Judea remain in darkness the task is unfinished. As long as the people of Samaria have not heard a clear presentation of the gospel the mission is uncompleted. And as long as men, women, boys and girls in the ends of the earth do not proclaim Him as Lord and Savior, the task rests unfinished.

That small band of men grew exponentially in the ensuing years as the Church put its shoulder to the task. Undaunted through the winds of adversity and persecution, the flame of the gospel spread across the known world and to the ends of the earth. They did not quit. The flaming arrows of the evil one came to naught as the Church moved forward.

The gospel moved from Asia Minor to Europe, and its flame became a mere flicker. Then a monk in Germany tacked his theses to a monastery door and the gospel’s flame once more burned bright. It was transported to the new world and was the basis for the foundations of the new country, eventually called the United States of America.

And in 1935, a small fledgling denomination sent out its first missionary to the ends of the earth and we have not turned back. We have not quit. Many January 12s have come and gone and we are still about the task. Why? It is simple…the task is unfinished. As long as it is unfinished, we will keep on praying, sending, and going.

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Aka’s Story

Kenneth Eagleton

Aka’s Story

While I was in Tiassalé, Ivory Coast, I ate lunch with one of the men in the church, Mr. Aka. After the Sunday morning service, both I and one of the pastors accompanying me, asked questions about his spiritual journey. Prior to becoming a Christian, he was a follower of Mahikari, a Japanese religious sect. His mother, a follower of that religion, influenced her children to become involved as well. About 20 years ago, he began living with a woman with an evangelical background. She, too, became involved in the sect.

Ten years ago, the couple moved to Tiassalé. Mahikari doesn’t have a following there. So, they just quit attending any kind of religious service. Eventually, feeling the need to reconnect with God, Mr. Aka’s companion decided to return to an evangelical church. She started attending the Free Will Baptist church. Liking what she heard, she invited her husband to attend with her. He had many questions about Jesus and spent long periods of time talking to Pastor Emmanuel of the FWB church. Mr. Aka became convinced of the truth about Jesus and salvation found only in Him.

The problem was, he was scared. Three family members left the sect at different times; each one met with unfortunate situations. One family member even died a sudden death. Mr. Aka was afraid of what might happen to him. However, his conviction about his need for Christ continued to grow. It became so strong, he stepped out in faith and became a Christ-follower. He said, contrary to what happened to his other family members, he received immediate peace and happiness. He married his companion of nearly 20 years and both were baptized this past January.

IM’s partnership with the Association of FWB churches in Ivory Coast allows us to plant churches like this one that are reaching the lost. The Bible Institute we help support in Ivory Coast trains pastors like Emmanuel who was able to answer Aka’s many questions. The Tiassalé FWB church is in a building project. The walls are up, but they don’t have money to put a roof on. The Ivory Coast partnership is providing the funds so they will have a place to worship (they are currently worshiping under a makeshift shelter).

The Association of FWB Churches now has 134 churches and more than 10,300 people in attendance. Our continued partnership allows them to do more and do it quicker.

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Do We Get It?

Clint Morgan

Do We Get It?

In the book of Acts, as the disciples gathered prior to Jesus’ ascension, it is evident (1:6-7) they still did not fully grasp what Christ’s death and resurrection were all about. Even after 40 additional days of instruction from Him, their primary focus centered on their obsession with Him restoring the kingdom of Israel.

This was not their first display of a lack of discernment. We have several examples of Jesus speaking plainly, yet these men simply didn’t get it. In Luke 24:25-29, He reminded them the prophets said He would suffer. They weren’t really tracking, but in verse 45 Luke wrote, “He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” Indications are, they still did not really “get it.”

We are tempted to roll our eyes at the disciples for this apparent lack of faith and understanding. However, we probably should find some relief as we recognize an object lesson on the difficulty of humanity trying to grasp divinity.

I hate to admit it, but I find a little comfort in knowing Jesus’ handpicked disciples frequently failed to comprehend His teaching both before and after Pentecost. He was the perfect instructor, yet they didn’t always “get it.” Being God, He could have supernaturally imposed understanding on His disciples, but He didn’t.

No doubt, Christ wanted His disciples to “get it.” Get what? He wanted them to fully seize the truths found in John 3:16, obey the command given in Matthew 28:19-20, and achieve the objectives revealed in Acts 1:8. They were a bit slow, but once they did get it they were ready to go. They went out with the power of the Holy Spirit on them, the story of the resurrected Lord on their lips, and the hope of expanding the true Kingdom—the Kingdom of God. Non-believers declared these people who “got it” had turned the world upside down.

The question is, do we get it? If we do, we too can turn our world upside down. It happened once; it can happen again!

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Freedom of Religion and the Gospel

Trif Trifonov

Freedom of Religion and the Gospel

“At 4 o’clock in the morning, the doorbell rang, then again and again. There were three strangers there —two were wearing suits and one a military uniform. ‘We have a search warrant,’ said their leader, then he pushed me back and intruded into the sleeping house.

“Within three hours they rummaged everything—books, beds, cabinets, drawers. When at about 7 the sunshine shone through the window, they ordered me to go with them for a ‘little inquiry’….”

Thank God, this is not a story of the present. But it is not fiction either. It’s a real story. This took place in the life of a Bulgarian pastor, Haralan Popov, in the first years of the communist regime.

Earlier this year, our parliament tried hard to violate [our] fundamental rights. For now, it looks like evangelical churches won a victory. The relative freedom we have enjoyed will, more or less, continue.

Bulgaria’s restrictive law-making is happening against the backdrop of a new wave of persecution in the Middle East, India, Northern Africa, and China, as well as the resurgence of nationalism in Europe.

Many fear the church won’t be able to do the Great Commission. Our wings will be cut off and we won’t be able to fly to the unreached; our legs will be amputated so we can’t go to the needy; our hands will be broken and unable to reach the hungry.

During communism, the church survived but didn’t thrive. She was deprived of her best leaders, had no access to the public arena, and found evangelism a risky business.

Other voices say the church needs to be shaken up and sifted, so the chaff is separated from the wheat (Matthew 3:12). The proponents of this view point to communist China. In the last 30 years, Christianity has grown to more than 100 million adherents in China.

Though persecuted, the Early Church, also grew rapidly in number. Persecution caused many to flee and take the gospel to the ends of the Roman world.

If we believe God is our King, no restrictions in secular laws should be able to hinder the gospel.

Personally, I think as Christians we should treasure and defend our freedom of religion because God created us with this “unalienable right.” Religious freedom is rooted in the Scriptures and is at the heart of the gospel.

God doesn’t coerce but invites his followers in a relationship with Him. God is love, and love presupposes freedom. Christian commitment to religious freedom reflects our beliefs about the character of the Creator.

Secondly, the struggle for religious freedom is part and parcel of the second great commandment to love our neighbor (Matthew 22:38). God has given each human being dignity. When the basic human right of religious freedom is not granted, human dignity is damaged.

And, last, restrictions on religious freedom hinder people from hearing the gospel and receiving the greatest gift imaginable: salvation and eternal life.

It is true Christianity in China is growing rapidly, in spite of restrictions and pressure from the state. Yet, how can we be sure it would not grow even faster if freedom of religion were made available in the vast country. The rapid evangelization of South Korea provides a case in point.

Plato said, “The penalty good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.” Once we paid that penalty. We are still recovering from that evil. May God give us wisdom and courage to defend our religious freedom and make sure all Bulgarian citizens have access to the gospel.

 

Trif Trifonov and his family serve as missionaries in Bulgaria. The World Missions Offering provides some of his support. This blog is excerpted from an article written for ONE Magazine. Read the whole article here.

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No One is Looking For Me

Clint Morgan

No One is Looking For Me

In the previous blog, I spoke of the meeting where Nik and Ruth Ripken spoke. He shared his personal testimony. Of course, time did not permit him to dwell too long on any point in his long journey from unbeliever to believer and on to an ambassador for Christ to some very hard places.

One comment about when he was a young man has really stuck with me. He was not raised in a Christian family. At times he did not know if there was a God, or if God did exist why He would even care about Nik Ripken. He stated, “I know what it means to be lost and have no one looking for me.”

He went on to share another profound thought: “two weeks after I was saved I ceased being among the unsaved.” He did not mean that to be a positive statement. He went off to a Bible college just days after his conversion where he lived in the isolated world in which so many Bible college students find themselves. As he succinctly put it, “Bible college prepared me to be a sheep among sheep.”

These thoughts still trouble me because they reflect what we often find in Christianity: blocks of Christians huddled together in church and in their friendship groups. Few have a real focus on the lost.

The results of how we do church and live out our Christian lives often leaves many unbelievers out there feeling “no one is looking for me.” I don’t think this stacks up too well with the purpose Christ set for us. He set the example when He declared in Luke 19:10, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Not one soul on this earth should be thinking, “no one is looking for me.” Who is waiting for you to “look” for him or her?

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Watch Out for the Squirrels!

Clint Morgan

Watch Out for the Squirrels!

We love bird feeders at our house. We experience joy as we watch various birds zoom in, land, catch a quick snack, and sail off again. My wife has taken the time to learn about several species and loves seeing them come regularly. It is a thrill, and challenge, when we spot a new species dropping by one of the feeders. We often grab our binoculars and bird book, and busy ourselves trying to discover specifics of the new visitor.

That is the fun part of having the bird feeders. On the other hand, we deal with constant invasion by thieving squirrels. Those rascals show up…and the birds flee. One would think the squirrels are carnivorous the way the birds try to avoid them. They are some of the most creative creatures that exist. We have seen them literally take the top off the feeder, climb in, and gorge themselves on the variety of grains.

This makes me think of the parable of the sower in Matthew 13:1-23. The sower went planted in hopes of seeing a good harvest. However, the greatest part of the seed appears to have been lost to rocks, thorns, and birds. It is a reminder that our best efforts do not always produce the desire results. Satan is very intentional in his efforts to ensure the Word does not find its way into the hearts of man. Christ’s parable should sharpen our awareness of the ongoing work of Satan to stymie, even stop, the progression of world outreach.

I am reminded of this dilemma when we feed the birds and the squirrels steal the seed. Our solution has been to put out more bird feed. So, in spite of the fact that Satan steals much of the Word seed, we must continue to sow more diligently and freely.

John 4:35-38, Galatians 6:9, II Corinthians 9:6

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Abandon All to Follow Him

Clint Morgan

Abandon All to Follow Him

I stood under the cool shade of the mango tree talking to an African friend of mine. I had known him for some time and on several occasions had shared the gospel with him. Each time he found an excuse to not follow Christ.

This time was a bit different. He asked a question that caught me by surprise: “Okay…if I become a Christian, do I have to stop selling beer?” As a local store owner, he made quite a bit of money selling beer and other products. He went on to say, “I can’t stop selling beer because this is how I make money to feed my family.”

I whispered a prayer and asked the Holy Spirit to direct my thoughts on this matter. Obviously, I was against him selling beer. But, I preferred he see the deeper implications of his statement rather than a quick command from a missionary.

Immediately a question came to mind that I believe came from God’s Spirit. I asked pointedly, “If the fetish priest (witchdoctor) told you that if you sell one more bottle of beer you would die, what would you do?”   

A bit embarrassed, he confessed truthfully: “I would never sell another bottle of beer.” He knew he had contradicted himself and laughingly said, “Oh Pastor, you really trapped me on that one!”

I told him, “I’m not trying to trap you, my dear friend. But, don’t tell me you cannot stop selling beer. Tell me you don’t want to stop and have no plans to unless properly motivated.” I then emphasized I was quite confident that if he became a believer Christ would not want him to sell beer.

The important thing in following Christ is being willing to give up everything, especially those elements clearly named as sins in the Word. But it also means to submit our wants, desires, possessions, thoughts, actions, and words to His will even if they are not directly addressed in the Word.

This African friend allowed selling beer to stand between him and serving God. That may seem foolish to us, but for him it was serious. I imagine some of the things keeping others from following Him are truly foolish.

Christ’s call is to leave ALL and follow Him. Matthew 16:24-26

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A Communal Faith

Clint Morgan

A Communal Faith

For pretty much all my life I have heard a strong emphasis placed on our personal relationship with Christ. I am thoroughly convinced each and every individual on this planet has the potential to accept or reject Christ. It is not a decision that should or can be forced on someone.

With that being said, let me take this in another direction. We may start our journey with Christ and His body through a personal decision to accept Him as Savior, but we must understand that Christianity is also a communal faith. As converts we become part of the Church and it becomes part of us.

The Greek word "ekklesia," is used 115 times in the New Testament, and in most Bibles, it is always translated as "church" (except in Acts 19:32,39,41, where it is properly translated as "assembly"). The word "assembly" carries with it the idea of a group of people coming together for a common purpose. This leads us to the image of the church as a "community."

Koinonia (koinwnia) is the Greek word translated by our English New Testaments as communion, association, fellowship, sharing, common, contribution, and partnership. Not one of these words speaks of individualism. The implications of this word are profound when used in conjunction with the Church. The "community" concept does not degenerate into a blur of insignificant individuals, but rather it calls us to a symphony of personalities that reflect the unity we find in Christ.

The Lobi people in Africa express it this way: We eat out of the same bowl. This signifies the sharing of food, but also the very personal aspect of hands (germs and all) coming together in one place to nourish the individual. This is a beautiful picture of the communal element of our relationship to Christ on a personal level and to others of the Body on a communal level.

We need to enjoy our personal relationship with Christ but never neglect that we are part of a greater community called to live in a way that others are drawn to Christ by our actions. 

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Step Out of the Boat

Clint Morgan

Step Out of the Boat

One of the speakers at the International Fellowship in Brazil brought a great message about Peter’s walking on water. He clearly pointed out that one thing you can say about Peter is when Christ came to them during the storm, he did get out of the boat.

We tend to get caught up in the fact that he panicked and began to sink. Perhaps we need to look a bit more on the significant detail that he got out of the boat.

Remember, three factors were not favorable to getting out of the boat:

  1. It was early morning and they were certainly very tired, wet, and afraid.
  2. The storm and common sense would argue "stay in the boat and hope it doesn’t sink."
  3. A “Ghost” was out there, walking toward them.

Those are three pretty sound reasons to stay put and hope you survive.

It is probably safe to conclude that if Peter had not fully recognized it was Jesus coming toward them he would not have stepped out of the boat. His fear succumbed to the power of his faith in Christ. For a brief moment the fatigue, cold, and violent water became secondary factors.

If Peter had not stepped out of the boat, he would not have known the experience of being saved by Christ when his faith failed him. When he climbed over the side of the boat he probably wasn’t thinking, “Okay, if I start sinking Jesus will save me.” But, when the reality of what he was doing—walking on water—hit him he became vulnerable to his own limitations.

What if we could fully fix our eyes on Christ, not think of the dangers, and get out of the boat…maybe, then, we could figuratively walk on water. Would that not radically change our life and our testimony?

Matthew 14:22-33

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Ramadan: What to Do?

Clint Morgan

Ramadan: What to Do?

I first saw Muslims at evening Ramadan prayers in 1980 in Côte d’Ivoire. 

My wife, two boys, and I had taken a short road trip to buy supplies in the nearest town. As we crossed the bridge at the entry of our village, I saw a massive number of people out in the field on the right side of the road. At first, I could not figure out what was going on. Then it hit me—Muslims from the surrounding area had gathered for prayer during Ramadan.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. All practicing Muslims must abstain from food, drink, or any pleasurable activities during the daylight hours of this month.  It is a complete fast from the rising of the sun until its setting all month.  Muslims see it as a time to purify their souls by focusing on Allah, righting wrongs, strengthening communal ties, and, in general, cleaning up their lives.

As believers, how should we respond to Ramadan? I can’t give a definitive answer to such a profound question in a few words.  So, at the risk of oversimplification, I’ll make a few simple suggestions of what we can do as our Muslim neighbors and friends practice this month of fasting from June 18 through July 17 (some slight variations of these dates is possible, depending on where you are).

  1. We believe in freedom of choice, therefore we must respect it for others, even if we adamantly disagree with their beliefs and/or practices. Be sure of your choice.
  2. We must stand on what we believe as it relates to God, fasting, praying, serving others, and holy living.  Be strong, and do not compromise your choices!
  3. We believe in one true and living God; that those who worship any other god have not chosen the path to eternal life, as designed by God Himself; and they need to know about Him. Be as certain as a human can be that you know—and are on—the path.
  4. We must pray earnestly for those who are not followers of Christ to hear about Him and choose to follow Him.  Be in constant prayer for those who do not know Him.
  5. We must take the Good News to those who do not know Christ. Be committed to sharing the gospel each time the Holy Spirit opens the door.

Let’s pray Muslims practicing Ramadan will be touched by God’s Spirit, and by the lives and prayers of those who believe in Christ as the Savior of the world.  Let’s pray that this will be a Ramadan to remember for many as they come to know Him. 

Romans 10:1-4

Photo credit: Clint Morgan

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