The church moves west (part 3)

One of the most outstanding church planting movements of our time is going on in India. Victor Choudhrie has written a book, Greet the Church in Your House detailing the principles behind this movement. It will come out as a Kindle book in September. This post is the final part (first part starts here) of a section from the foreword I have written for the book.

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The influence of the church continues its march back to Jerusalem. The Muslim nations are just beginning to see their own extraordinary moves of the Holy Spirit as sheikhs, imams and even whole mosques are finding freedom through becoming followers of Isa, Jesus the Christ.

An interesting point: the speed of what God is doing is increasing exponentially. What took centuries in times past now takes decades. What took decades is now happening in a few short years. If the present rate of growth continues, India has the poential to become a Christian nation.

The march of Christianity around the globe has almost gone full circle, each wave of recovered truth building upon the last. The tide continues to advance. What will happen next? I believe that even as the world grows darker, we will see a harvest of historic proportions, this time covering the whole world. But if we are to experience the kind of growth we have longed and prayed for, we need to adopt the principles that the Holy Spirit has already revealed through the waves of church history.

The church moves West (part 2)

The focus of Christian missions has historically moved west. This is the second of a three part series (here is part one) looking at this phenomenon, and is part of the foreword I have written to a new Kindle book, Greet the Church in Your House.  by Victor Choudhrie, due out in September. This book details the principles behind one of the greatest disciple making movements of our time.

 

This is a photo of Tony and me standing on the very harbor wall in Turkey (Seleucia) from which Paul and Barnabas left with John Mark to sail west on their first missionary journey. The harbor is now silted up and the harbor wall is about 100 yards inland.

 

While all this was going on in Europe, the epicenter of Christianity was sailing west across the Atlantic to the United States.  Waves of revival spread across the land as Jonathan Edwards and George Whitfield, John Wesley and Charles Finney preached to huge crowds. In 1906, the Pentecostal Movement began in Azusa Street in Los Angeles and spread rapidly throughout the world. The United States became the great missionary-sending nation.

But even as Christianity waned in Europe and began its decline in the United States, the center of Christianity was moving west again. Initially this was hidden. When the Communists overtook China in the late 1940s, threw out the missionaries, closed the churches and jailed its leaders, everyone wondered whether the church could possibly survive. When the bamboo curtain finally lifted, the world was amazed to see the church had thrived and multiplied. Ordinary people, mainly women and children, rather than trained preachers, were spreading the Gospel, and churches were starting everywhere in the homes of ordinary people. Small and hidden, the good news was spreading like yeast in a lump of dough.

Again the focal point of the church moved west. Via Korea and the cell church movement, it has moved on to India where the Choudhries and many others like them are seeing similar growth to China. Here God is restoring disciple-making and house church planting, not as a matter of necessity because of persecution, but as a deliberate policy with well-understood theological and ecclesiological reasoning. An emphasis on the Kingdom is producing marked changes in the local community too. As other nations hear what is transpiring in India, they are inviting men and women from India to come and infect their own lands with what Jesus is doing.

Part three to follow…

The church moves west (part one)

Over this past month, I’ve had the privilege of writing a foreword for a book written by one of my mentors in the faith, a church planter in India named Victor Choudhrie.  The book, due out in September , will be available on Kindle and is called Greet the Church in Your House. It describes the principles behind one of the greatest church planting movements of our time.

Here is part of the foreword–a birds-eye view of how the epicenter of Christianity has moved over the centuries:

Photo credit: Irina Patrascu (Creative Commons)

The spotlight on the center stage of Christianity is no longer focused on the church of Europe and the United States.

The epicenter of Christianity has arguably been moving west throughout the course of church history. The early church began her journey in Jerusalem, and although the gospel spread eastwards to India via Thomas, the apostle, and south through the Ethiopian Eunuch to Africa, its primary influence traveled in a westerly direction towards Europe. In the book of Acts, for example, we see Antioch and Ephesus becoming centers of missionary activity.

Soon, the hub of church history moved west again to Rome where it remained for several centuries. Under the Emperor Constantine, the church, the vibrant body of Christ, became an institution. Gone was The Way, the dynamic lifestyle that won disciples who modeled their life on Jesus. Instead, copying pagan religion, holy priests in sacred buildings dominated Christianity.

The Dark Ages followed the collapse of the Roman Empire and saw Christianity at its lowest ebb worldwide, with increasing corruption in the church and little to no understanding of the true nature of the gospel. However, a true remnant always remained.

The Reformation of the 16th century moved the core of Christianity northwest again to Germany, Switzerland and Britain. Firstly, the Bible was translated into the common language through the work of Wycliffe and Tyndale. The invention of the printing press made it available to ordinary people. Key New Covenant truths were rediscovered when Luther and Zwingli declared that salvation comes through faith; it cannot be earned. Other truths such as the priesthood of all believers, baptism by immersion, holiness and the social implications of the gospel followed in subsequent centuries.

To be continued…

Free e-book on hearing God

A year or so ago I wrote an e-book entitled A Simple Guide to Hearing God. It’s designed to be a very practical look at how to hear God’s voice. However, I decided to take a different approach.

I have many friends who know how to hear God clearly–some of the stories they tell are remarkable. Armed with my iphone, I interviewed these people asking them how God speaks to them. (The videos I produced are amateur, but what the people I interviewed say is not!) How to hear God is also a subject I have studied and practiced for many years, and the text comes out of what I have learned.

The result is an enhanced e-book–a combination of video and writing. (It therefore has to be viewed on a computer rather than a kindle).

I would now like to give this e-book away. If you subscribe to my blog, you will receive a link to the free download.

 

 

God’s view of time

The church has become accustomed to measuring success by the world’s standards–not just in terms of numbers but in terms of speed. In our Western world we expect fast and instant. Think microwave dinners, air travel, Internet.

I think God views time differently.

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A story comes to mind; the story of James O. Fraser, chronicled by his daughter Eileen Crossman in the missionary classic, Mountain Rain.

James Fraser was a British missionary who went to Yunnan Province with the China Inland Mission in 1910. He loved to hike and climb, and it was on hiking trips into the Himalayas that he came across the Lisu people, a tribal group living high in the mountains of China, Myanmar, Thailand and India. He felt an immediate affection for them. His initial contact with them  was successful because he willingly adopted their lifestyle, staying with them in their huts, eating their food, sleeping on the ground. But nothing of any substance developed from this.

So what did Fraser do?

He prayed. Nothing happened. He became discouraged but he refused to give up. He set himself to pray through. He spent whole days and nights in prayer, crying out to the Lord for the salvation of these people whom God had laid on his heart.

Finally in 1916, he saw breakthrough. Scores of families came to know Christ. By 1918, the Lisu people had taken the Gospel themselves along family lines and 60,000 had been baptized. By the 1990s, the Chinese government admitted that more than 90% of the Lisu in China are Christians.

What would have happened if James Fraser had returned home in defeat after three or four years?

God’s timing is not our timing. If we are looking for instant success, we’re likely to fail. Within the simple church we look for multiplication and that starts slowly–really slowly–and takes time to gather momentum.

We can become discouraged and give up. Or we can choose to press through into everything God has laid on our hearts.

Are there times when you’ve been tempted to give up, but in pressing through, you’ve seen Jesus do things beyond your wildest dreams?

An evening to remember

Last Friday the church in our home had one of the most beautiful times together that I ever remember in more than 20 years of meeting in house-church sized groups. The presence of Jesus was so real, it was almost tangible.

Young kids (three of them aged around five) were there, watching spellbound as things unfolded. The two toddlers went from one adult to another as they needed attention. The older kids were fully engaged in what was going on.

As usual, we started with a meal. Over dessert, the usual question: “What God events have there been in your life this week?”

First was Rosaura. Those of you who follow this blog will recognize her story. She was a crack addict for 30 years who was instantly delivered from her addictions during a meeting of our church. We were away in Russia at the time, so it was a group of new Christians and young people who prayed for her to be set free–all in response to the prayers of her 15-year-old son, Jose.

Rosaura shared that for her birthday that week, three of her old friends came round to celebrate and they wanted her to do drugs with them. She was very tempted, but went outside to ask God for help. When she came back in, her friends had decided to go somewhere else. “We’ll be back later,” they told her. They never returned and Rosaura is rejoicing. She is only a few weeks away from a full year of being clean and sober.

We’ll throw a party for her that day!!

We praised God for keeping Rosaura safe and laid hands on her, praying that she not only makes a year drug free but a lifetime.

Jose had asked God for something impossible–his mom set free from drugs. So using that example, we broke into six or so smaller groups to pray for the “impossible situations” amongst our families and friends.

Next came a couple of students who are holding a student CPX this week at their university. They sat on the “hot seat” while people prayed for them and shared any impressions God was giving them. They will be bold in following the Holy Spirit this week, and it will result in more churches on their campus.

One of them had finally graduated from college. Applause and praise.

A young Hispanic couple shared how since they had started coming to the church about two months ago, their lives had totally changed. Their faith had become real to them. They had been struggling financially, but now the husband has a new job. This week they have been able to purchase a second car, and their young son has been accepted into a charter school.

More praise and thanksgiving.

A young man who became a Christian around two months ago when he was homeless shared how his faith has been real, even through difficult circumstances. This week he has a job and is now back with his family.

Applause and thanksgiving.

Then Tony asked, “Is there a passage of Scripture that has been on anyone’s heart this week that fits in with what the Holy Spirit has been saying so far?” Someone shared that the verse from 1 John 4, that perfect love casts out fear, had been on her heart. We studied that passage of Scripture together, different ones commenting on parts that were especially relevant to them.

A description of the highlights we experienced doesn’t begin to do justice to what happened in our midst on Friday evening. How do you accurately convey the sense of God’s presence, the leading of the Holy Spirit, the friendship, fun and camaraderie?  The glow on people’s faces as no one wanted to leave because the presence and power of Jesus was so real.

Do you have similar stories? I’d love to hear them.

 

 

Miraculous Movements

Erich Reber, a friend of Wolfgang Simson, is a Swiss prophet with a remarkable ministry. For example, God warned him in advance of both 9/11 and the London tube bombings. In the Starfish Manifesto, written in 2008, Wolfgang writes:

In a vision in 1991, God showed him [Erich] the sequel of the last harvest. According to his vision, it will happen in four phases: first God is going to visit the eastern Block countries (Russia etc. 1991 -1993), then God is going to bring in a huge harvest in Middle and North India from 1996 onwards. The third phase will be God visiting first the soft-Islamic, then the hard-Islamic nations, and finally, as the last phase, Europe and the West. All of this seems to be coming true. What happened after the Soviet Union went out of business in 1991 is history. Since 1996, as many empirical researchers have since shown, there is an unprecedented spiritual harvest in Middle and North India. The number of newly planted house-churches has already reached several hundred thousand. Today, one of the most fascinating developments is the increasing number of Muslims finding Christ: many thousands of new churches have developed in nations like Bangladesh,Indonesia or Pakistan….

For many years, ever since being involved in an incredible move of the Holy Spirit in an Islamic country which resulted in thousands of house churches planted, I have watched what God is doing in the Muslim world with keen interest. Imagine my excitement when I was asked to endorse a copy of  Miraculous Movements: How Hundreds of Thousands of Muslims Are Falling in Love with Jesus by Jerry Trousdale.

I devoured the manuscript, unable to put it down. Story after story described how God is reaching out sovereignly to transform the lives of those who are seeking him. Dreams, visions and miracles are drawing Muslims to the person of Jesus. Imams, sheikhs and even entire entire mosques are embracing a lifestyle of following Jesus. But Miraculous Movements does more than tell stories. This isn’t happening in a vacuum. The book describes the principles involved–principles that we can all use, not just to reach out within an international context, but right here at home too as we interact with our neighbors.

This book is destined to become a classic! I give it my highest recommendation.

A weekend of conversation

What is usually the greatest long-term benefit of going to a conference?

Often the thing you will remember best and that will have the most impact on your life is the conversations in the hallways.

 

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This year, because of the emphasis on the regional Momentum conferences, rather than our usual Labor Day conference, House2House is having a weekend, primarily of conversation. It will take place in our home in Austin, Texas–very relaxed and informal. There will be good food and good fellowship, iron-sharpening-iron discussions all centered around what God is doing today, evenings in the hot-tub…

Those involved with us in the weekend are primarily involved in the marketplace rather than full-time ministry, although all of them have a network of house/simple/organic churches.

Jim and Cathy Mellon are well known for the financial model they use–their network of simple churches has given away more than $1.5 million since their inception. Jim’s company runs optical services.

Mike and Carol Watson support themselves as business chaplains. They help to create teamwork in secular companies. Their Episcopal church transitioned successfully into a network of organic churches some years ago.

Aaron Snow works for a high-tech company and has helped pioneer International Gatherings and StudentCPX which is having a significant impact in colleges around the country.

We’d love you to come and take part.

A new wave of the Spirit–six of your ideas

The God of history is at work in his church, revealing fresh (old) truths in order to make us more like his Son.

In the last post, which was about the different waves that God’s Spirit has revealed over the last few centuries, I asked for suggestions as to what God is doing now, in this century. My idea is that one of the things God is doing is to lead his people into the harvest as they learn to listen to the Holy Spirit and obey him.

There were some wonderful comments in response, many of which had a common theme. Here are six of your ideas as to what this century will bring:

  1. A fresh wave of understanding and fruitfulness regarding how the Body of Christ in designed by God to function. Specifically, Ephesians 4:11 gifts (Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds, Teachers) will inform new paradigms for discerning both personal calling and corporate mission. Whereas before our gift differences led to polarization, they will now be appreciated as unifying assets. (James Paul)
  2. Growth in holiness: I think we’re going to see a people who are not only set apart to serve the Lord, but increasingly KNOW that they’re set apart to serve him. This is what it means to be a priesthood. If we are also characterized by obedience to the King (1 – Led by the Spirit) then we will be a royal priesthood, a holy nation! (Chris Jefferies)
  3. Next generation christians will identify more with fruit rather than gifts and character qualities rather than accomplishments. The many youth in our circles certainly have little use for official-ism, ordination or experts, and they go far out of their way to develop egalitarian community. (Greg)
  4. We join together in our cities, towns, villages and be the church without any denominations, legalistic rules and regulations that don’t bring life. We do simple church together like in Acts. Otherwise we will do our good works, do our social caring through big organizations who are apparently the experts and forget that maybe none of us have been willing to take in an orphan, care for the true widows and fatherless. We had better decide together to be the simple church in our city or town with our fellow believers. Most will not dare to go this way unless the Holy Spirit does a deep calling to the depths of our hearts. (Shirley)
  5. A removal of the clergy/laity divide (David Coufal)
  6. The orality movement is a strong trend in which God’s Word is internalized and shared in open, relational environments ranging from personal coaching to small groups. (Mark Snowden)
It’s interesting to me that the majority of your ideas centered around two main topics. One is unity across the body of Christ and the other concerns leadership.
What will it take for us all to lay aside our theological and ecclesiological differences and, together on the same team,  BE the body of Christ within our communities.

 Photo credit: woodleywonderworks (Creative Commons)

Another wave rolls in

Arthur Wallis, a British “elder statesman” in the Kingdom wrote a fascinating foreword to a book by Frank Bartleman called Another wave rolls in: (formerly) What really happened at “Azuza Street?” The book describes from a first-hand perspective, the events at Azusa Street–the beginning of the Pentecostal Movement. In this foreword, Arthur described how the life of the early church quickly degenerated and was nearly extinguished during the Dark Ages. But then God began recovering waves of truth.

 

  • In the 15th century, the Bible was put into the hands of ordinary people (Wycliffe and Tyndale).
  • In the Reformation, through people like Luther and Calvin, the truth that salvation is by faith and not by works was recovered.
  • In the 17th century, the Congregational Movement recovered the truth of the autonomy of the local church, and the Baptists also stood on this ground while adding baptism by immersion.
  • In the 18th century God raised up Wesley and Whitfield. The Methodist movement emphasized salvation by faith as a work of the Holy Spirit, holiness, and the fact that neither ordained preachers nor sacred buildings were necessary to preach the Gospel.
  • In the 19th century, the Brethren taught that the Bible is sufficient for running the church and the priesthood of all believers. The Salvation Army looked at the social implications of the Gospel. The deeper life movement recovered the potential of a victorious Christian life through union with Christ’s death and resurrection.
  • In the 20th century, the Pentecostal and Charismatic movements characterized the church.

Each of these waves of recovery built upon the previous wave, like a tide coming into the shore. The waves may break and recede, but the tide itself moves inexorably forward.

What will be the waves of the 21st century? It’s too early to answer that fully, but I believe that one of the waves is this: that God wants his people to be led by the Spirit.
  • His ordinary people will engage with him in the harvest, following the Holy Spirit as he leads them on mission with God to make disciples. It’s no longer the DL Moody’s, John Wesley’s or Billy Graham’s, extraordinarily effective though they have been, but all of us–”an army of Billy Graham’s” that will usher in the final harvest.
  • Church, too, will be in the hands of ordinary people, and therefore will become simpler and more organic, again following the Spirit’s leading. This won’t be limited to house/simple/organic church, but will increasingly be recognized across the denominations.

What other waves do you see?