You know about fortune cookies. You are at a Chinese restaurant. You have enjoyed a good meal with friends, but there is a ritual to perform at the end of the meal. Your server brings you a small tray with the bill and a fortune cookie for all. Everyone eagerly tears off the wrapper, breaks the cookie, reads their fortune, and shares it with others – a fitting and fun end to a great meal.
Unfortunately, that’s the way many Christians approach the Bible. It has become a book of “sayings,” “promises,” “principles,” and “commands” – only. Kind of like fortune cookie sayings. We read them, memorize them, pray about them, claim them, and sometimes obey them – all good. But too often we don’t realize these individual sayings are pieces of a larger narrative that exists to change people … and the world. Far too many Christians treat the Bible as a book of “Fortune Cookie” sayings. Their faith never rises above individual statements and never connects to the history-long, world-shaping narrative of God’s plan. They go their merry way with their spiritual Fortune Cookie saying for the day.
The Gospel of the Kingdom of God is a powerful remedy to this problem for it tells us that our Gospel connects to a world-wide and history-long story. The Story tells of a God who created a beautiful world and placed image bearers to live in it, to cultivate it, and to manage it for his glory. But the story took a dreadful turn. The image bearers rebelled against the King and in spite of his loving efforts to restore them, they continued to rebel and set up defiant kingdoms in the world and created offending caricatures of the true God. The world plunged into darkness.
Yet, God continued to reach out to the world of men, promising through his people Israel that he would restore his reign upon the earth. Those rebels who submitted to his kingdom could find release from sin and the restoration of his image in them. God would create a people for his glory, and he would one day fill the earth with his glory – paradise would be restored.
This is a long ways from “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life!” Although a true statement and one that God has used to introduce countless men and women to Christ, it is only a crumb from the Master’s table when he invites the Church, and the nations through the Church, to his Gospel banquet. Or, to use the Story metaphor, he invites us to explore, learn, and tell the full story and not just a portion of it. We are part of a history-long, world-wide story! When God’s people learn and embrace this Story, the Narrative of Power – The Kingdom of God – they will find themselves letting go of Fortune Cookie Christianity for something far greater.
In my book, Changing the Stories of the World, I explain how large segments of the Church have truncated the Gospel by not connecting it to God’s kingdom plan. Jesus did not preach a Gospel of “pray this prayer and you’ll go to heaven when you die.” He proclaimed the kingdom of God. So did Peter, Philip, Paul, and all the apostles. The opening verses of Acts tells us that Jesus taught his disciples the kingdom of God during his 40 days after the resurrection. The last verse of Acts tells us that Paul was proclaiming the kingdom in Rome.
I hope you will get a copy of Changing the Stories of the World, deepen your understanding of the Gospel, and share your faith more confidently and fully for the glory of God in his world.
The Church, like ancient Israel, has always faced the enemy of false gods. To ancient Israel they looked like the faces of Baal or Astarte, gods and goddesses of fertility or like the faces of Bel and Marduk, the gods of Babylon who had conquered Jerusalem.
But the enemy has a different face today for it is telling its story in a new way. The new story is “your god is OK. My god is OK. Everyone’s god is OK as long as we believe. Right?”
And this is where we must humbly say, “No. Not right.”
We live in a country where 94% of the people claim to believe in God. Big deal! In Paul’s world, I would guess that 99.9999% of the people believed in God. An atheist was a rare commodity. The problem was that they believed in the wrong God, and the problem for us is that when people say they believe in God, they don’t have a clue what they mean about “God,” or, they have another version of God in their mind. This is why our message must include “the Gospel of God” – an explanation of who he is, his nature, his creative purposes, and his promises to restore the world to himself. When we do not present the Gospel of God to people, we may not be giving the proper theological context, worldview perspective, or narrative background for our presentation of the Gospel of Christ.
Today, the promotion of Generic Theism is in full swing. We hear of:
- The higher power of Alcoholics Anonymous
- The intelligent designer of academic debates
- The human-evolved-into-the-Father god of Mormonism
- The Great Mind or Soul of Hinduism
- The pantheistic god of new age spirituality
My guess is that these beliefs substantially pad the 94% of survey results. We no longer have the luxury of assuming that “God” means the God of the Bible to everyone. We certainly would not assume that in India. We should no longer assume it in the West. And for this reason, when we present the Gospel, we may first need to present the Gospel of God – the good news of who God is, what he is like, what he has done, and his call for absolute allegiance and solitary worship.
Would you like to learn more about the Gospel of God and changing the stories people believe about God, about the world, and about themselves? We hope you will get a copy of this important book, study it thoroughly and equip yourself to share the Gospel with clarity and conviction to the confused. Order here.
Since the late 1970’s, I have heard story after story of Jesus appearing to Muslims in dreams and visions to speak to them about who he is. It has come from every conceivable source, numerous well-respected organizations, and trusted friends. Why does he do this with Muslims and so frequently? I don’t know, but it thrills my heart every time I hear a new story. It reminds me that we are speaking the truth, Jesus is alive, and he is Lord of all.
Last weekend I heard another story of the mighty power of Jesus. Kathy and I were in Ft. Worth at the Muslim Background Believers conference. On Saturday night we had dinner with Hormoz Shariat and his wife Donnell. Hormoz is the founder and president of Iran Alive Ministries which God is using to bring Muslims to Christ in the thousands in Iran. Here is what he told me.
A Muslim man in a village watch Hormoz week after week speak of the love and life giving message of Jesus. Then, one night he trusted Christ as his Savior. He wanted to know what to do with his new-found faith and the Lord spoke to him to share this good news with others. The man obeyed and started sharing with the other men in the village but three of them took offense at his message and beat him severely.
The new Christian went home badly beaten physically and greatly discouraged. He fell asleep and soon Jesus appeared to him in a dream. The man said, “Lord, why did this happen to me? I have obeyed you and look what happened! Are you sure this is what you wanted me to do.” Jesus told him, “Yes, I wanted you to speak with them and very soon you will see that I can turn your enemies into friends.” Then, the man fell into a deep, restful, and healing sleep.
In the morning he was awakened by loud knocking on his door. When he opened it, there were the three men who attacked him! In fear, the man tried to shut the door, but they said, “Please, no, wait. Last night we could not sleep. We felt so bad about what we did to you. We had a dream and we want to learn more about Jesus.” So the four men began watching Hormoz’s broadcast and soon they trusted Christ as Savior!
Then, they started telling others in the village. Soon, the entire village was in the man’s home watching the show. Eventually, everyone in the village became a follower of Jesus!
This is only one of many gripping stories we heard last weekend at the conference we attended to equip God’s people to minister to Muslims. Islam has always presented a great challenge to our faith, but we heard repeatedly that we are not to give in to our fear. We have a greater message, a greater story, a greater Lord.
To assist you in your outreach to others, we have created a 16-minute video, The Renewal of All Things. You can purchase a DVD, purchase the download, or watch with this link on the web. We have also created a follow up booklet to guide people through the video with discussion questions. We hope you will take advantage of these resources to share your faith with others.
When we heard the news, saw the pictures, and imagined what it was like we were all sickened. The news channels covered it and depending on the channel you watched commentators either railed against the President for doing nothing or commended him for his restraint in the face of barbarism.
But another story has emerged from this terrible act. One mother lost two sons in this incident and has spoken out. Another of her sons, Beshir, has gone on television and spoken of losing his two brothers when he called in to the television show which was speaking of this atrocity. Here is a summary of what was said:
Beshier: “I did not lose one brother … I lost two. Bishoy who was 25 and Samuel was was 23. I am proud of them. They are a pride to Christianity. They make me walk with my head high.”
Host: “Great is your faith.”
Beshier: “ISIS gave us more than we asked when they did not edit out the part where my brothers and others declared their faith and called out to Jesus Christ. I thank ISIS. ISIS helped us strengthen our faith. Yes … believe me! This only helps us endure such crises because the Bible tells us to love our enemies and bless those who curse us.”
Host: How did your mother respond? What would she do if she saw one of these killers on the street?
Beshier: “I did talk to my mother about this. I can tell you that she came to this resolution in her heart. She said, ‘If I were to see one of these killers on the street, I would invite him home and ask God to open his eyes!'”
Beshir then prayed on air and asked God to open the eyes of the ISIS killers that they might turn from the lies they have believed to the truth. Everyone in the studio was deeply moved by this story and by the fact that it was being heard by tens of thousands all over the Muslim world. Phone calls poured in from people of various religions or no religion who saw this. The atrocities of ISIS, the faith of Christians, and the witness of
Christians reaching out in acts of kindness and faithful Gospel witness are causing them to turn to Jesus!
We rejoice in the faith of our martyred brothers. We rejoice in the faith of a grieving, but strong, brother and mother. We rejoice in the faithful witness of God’s people who continue to reach out in these lands through acts of kindness and faithful Gospel witness!
Soon, the Arabic translation of The Renewal of All Things will be available in Arabic, Farsi, Kurdish and other languages where it is difficult to follow Jesus. Please join us in prayer for God to use this video as people hear the true story of the true God and Lord of the world.
Watch the 16-minute video here. Scroll down below the trailer to watch in six languages.
To my dear friend, and now sister in Christ, Susan
Once a group of theologians were sitting in a conference room discussing what, if any difference, existed between Christianity and other religions. Many ideas were proposed but no one could quite put their finger on what made Christianity unique. Then, C.S. Lewis, the professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature in a great British university walked into the room. Lewis had been an atheist for most of his adult life but his conversations with J.R.R. Tolkien, author of Lord of the Rings, had convinced him of the truth of the Gospel many years before.
Lewis asked, “What’s all the rumpus about?”
Someone replied, “We are discussing what makes Christianity unique? We can’t quite put our finger on it. What do you think?”
And Lewis replied, “That’s easy. It’s grace!”
The others sat still for a while and then one by one gave their assent. Lewis had quickly identified the core component of Christianity’s uniqueness – the grace of God. Every religion is an effort by man to find God, to please God, and to make amends for bad things. It is man’s effort. Christianity is just the opposite – it is about God seeking after man and what he has done to restore sinful, weak humans to himself. This concept of God’s work to save us is called the grace of God. Grace is the personal work of God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves and to do what we will never deserve to have done for us because of our sin. All of that is wrapped up in the one little word – grace. Religion is man’s efforts. Christianity is God’s efforts.
But there are other important attributes of Christianity that are unique.
- Most religions in the world are a variation of Greek philosophy which teach that matter (the physical part of creation) is eternal, in chaos, and is something to be escaped. Biblical teaching is that matter is not eternal but was created by God. When he created it, it was good. It became corrupted when mankind rebelled against God, but God’s purpose is to restore creation to its original, pristine state of goodness and perfection.
- Most religions in the world do not have a historical narrative. They deal with mythological beings in other worlds. Biblical teaching is that history is important – the history of nations, families, communities, and our personal history. God interacts with this world and is very interested and concerned with what happens on this planet. God’s ultimate goal is not to help people escape a fallen world. His ultimate goal is to restore what was lost. The bible does not present itself as myth. It presents itself as history with real events happening in real places.
- Jesus never came saying, “I will show you the path of enlightenment and inner illumination by which you can find your true self, your true divinity, and can be reunited with the divine.” If he had said that, no one would have paid any attention to him in his nation. Instead, he came with the message of the restoration of all things (this is why we call our video – The Renewal of All Things) – the restoration of people to God, to one another, the healing of the image of God, and the healing of earth.
- Jesus always claimed to be more than a teacher and a prophet. He was a teacher and prophet, but far more. He claimed to be the Anointed One prophesied by the prophets of Israel who would restore all things. One of these prophecies calls him “Mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6) and Jesus claimed to be this Mighty God (see the Gospel of John).
- Teachers of other religions never claimed to be sinless, never said they would offer themselves as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, and never said they would rise again from the dead in three days after they were executed. Jesus staked everything on this. He claimed to be the sinless anointed one. He said his death would be a ransom payment to rescue us from sin, and that it would all be proven by the resurrection.
What every person must do is to verify if these things are so. They must examine the historically verifiable documents of ancient history which we call the Bible, and especially the New Testament to see if this is what is really being said. Then, once they see that this is, indeed, what the New Testament is teaching, they must then ask themselves – was Jesus lying, was he deluded, or was he telling the truth? When people discover he was telling the truth they must call upon him and ask the living, resurrected Jesus to be their Lord and then spread that good news to others in the world.
It is crucial for everyone to learn the big difference. In Changing the Stories of the World I share how we must change people’s stories and the world’s stories by presenting the unique message of the Bible. Get a copy of this important book today and learn how you can change the stories of the world.
It’s not earthquakes, or wars, or supposed events in the heavens. Everyone is talking and writing books about such spectacular signs.
The surprising sign of the last days is … love. That’s right. Here is my text, 2 Timothy 3:1-5.
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power. Avoid such men as these.
Although Paul says in verse 3 that one of the signs of the end is that people will be unloving, he says in three other places that another sign is love abounding. Men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, and lovers of pleasure. Love abounding – a sign of the end – if not the end of the age, at least the end of our culture and life as we have known it.
Some will reply, “Jonathan, that’s not love.” But Paul doesn’t say that. He calls them lovers. It’s just that the love that springs up in their hearts which is a gift from the God of love is misdirected and misused.
The other day, I posted on Facebook a picture of three homosexual men who were “united” in marriage by a Buddhist monk in Thailand. My comment was that when the definition of marriage ceases to be the union of a man and a woman, then marriage can be anything we want it to be, as long as there is “love.”
The three said, ‘We thought what better way to show our love for each other than by getting married.” The article reported that “The ceremony included the traditional exchange of vows in which the trio declared their love for each other, and in doing so, agreed to share their home and responsibilities.”
Love! Who can argue with this? Shouldn’t people be free to marry the person they love? The former mayor of my city boldly proclaimed this in 2012 at the Democratic National Convention. The audience roared with approval. Of course! It makes perfect sense!
Unless, we have missed a crucial point, that love has limits. Love has boundaries.
The greatest words ever written about love are found in 1 Corinthians 13. It’s not just followers of Jesus who love this chapter but everyone! But when we look closely we find, right in the middle of Paul’s beautiful words, something disconcerting about love. He says in verse 6, “Love … does not rejoice in unrighteousness but rejoices with the truth.” Uh oh. Unrighteousness? You mean there are standards for love? Truth? You mean some people might love what is false?
Yes, in the last days, men (and women) will love the wrong things. I suppose that has always been going on, but the last days scenario is that there will be an acceleration of affection for the wrong things.
May I say here that I am not “gay-bashing”? This is not an article about homosexuality. I could have easily talked about corporate greed for Paul says that men will be lovers of money. But the article in the Daily Mail.com on the three guys prompted all this so I use it as an example to press home this point – God has put love within the hearts of all of us. We are made in his image and because he is a God of love it is natural for us to feel and express love. But because of sin, it is easy for our love to be misdirected or to be expressed inappropriately.
We all smile at little boys who want to marry their mother. It is cute. But these little boys need to have their “mother-love” shaped into an appropriate expression of love. It is not right for little boys to grow up and marry their mothers.
In the same way, the love in all of us must be channeled, directed, nurtured, defined. Love must be seasoned with truth and righteousness. Otherwise, it stands in peril of being misdirected and corrupted. This is why Paul also said, “And it is my prayer your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” (Philippians 1:9-10)
Love? Yes! Love abounding? Yes! Love indiscriminately offered to whoever or whatever or whenever? No!
Love must have knowledge and discernment mixed with it so that we might make right choices about love in order to be pure and blameless for Christ. Love must be expressed appropriately.
This is crucial for the times in which we live. We must have love with truth. We must have love with righteous standards. Otherwise, untethered, unanchored love will drift into greater and greater bizarre-ness. And in the end, love will cease to be, and we will cease to be.
Those are the words that came to a Turkish Christian evangelist who has been proclaiming Christ to the 77 million people of Turkey on her television show. She was an infidel, an apostate from Islam, and horror of horrors – a woman! He posted a picture of himself in an email to her in full battle gear with a machine gun in each arm. He was serious. He finished his harrowing email with the words, “If it takes me to my last breath, I will find you and kill you.”
The woman was filled with fear but she took it to the Lord in prayer and finding his peace wrote back to him! She shared her testimony, spoke of the love of God and finished with these words, “If it takes me to my last breath, I will find you and share the unconditional love of God with you.”
Two weeks later he wrote her again, “You don’t understand. I am a dangerous man. But you speak of a God of love. I do not believe he could love me. I am a murderer. I am a rapist. I have committed many crimes. God could not love me.”
She wrote him back, “God’s unconditional love is matched by his unconditional forgiveness. No matter what you have done, he will forgive you if you turn to Jesus Christ.”
Again, silence for two weeks. Then he wrote back, “I want you to call me and tell me more about this God of love.”
She arranged a secure place and a secure line to contact him. When she reached him he said, “I am ready. I want to have Jesus Christ in my life and he went down on his knees and became a new follower of Jesus ready to spread love instead of hate.”
Story #2 – What limits do we place on the power of the Gospel and the reach of God’s grace?
A 16-year Muslim girl was kidnapped, taken to a forest, stripped, tied to a tree and raped. But the father found out about it, got his gun and went to the forest. He found the man and his daughter, put the gun to the man’s head and said, “Either you agree to marry my daughter or I will kill you both.” It would be death for the rapist and a Muslim honor killing for a woman who had been defiled. The man agreed to the marriage to save their lives, but it was horrific for the girl – she had to be married to the man who had molested her. For 25 years they stayed married and even had two children but life was a nightmare for her to be married to this man and she was contemplating suicide.
One night she was watching TV and came across the Turkish evangelist who was speaking that night on suicide. The evangelist closed with these words, “Tonight someone is watching who is contemplating suicide. I urge you, do not do this but give your life to Christ and find his healing in your life” and that night the troubled Muslim woman found peace in Jesus. Her life was changed and two years later she led her rapist/husband to Christ. He is now a new man and together they have a Bible study in their home and share God’s amazing healing power to bring people out of unimaginable darkness into the light of his grace and love.
What limits do we place on the power of the Gospel and the reach of God’s grace?
These are two of the mighty stories we have heard this week at the National Religious Broadcasters Convention. We are networking with people to share with them about our video, Gospel presentation “The Renewal of All Things” and our book The Women Jesus Loved. Pray that we could help spread this joyful message to the world. Join us in prayer and in giving for this great effort to get out this great news! Donate here.
One year ago I revealed to friends something God put on my heart. I had kept it secret for months. I had not told a soul for fear that people might laugh at me or think I was arrogant. I believed God wanted to turn our radio program, Stories of the Master, into a dramatic television series.
When I finally shared this – no one laughed. And no one thought I was arrogant. Instead, they joined me in prayer for the impossible. It was impossible because I had no resources or contacts in the television industry.Yet, a few days later my wife and I connected with secular television executives who are believers and who became very interested in exactly what I was praying – turning Stories of the Master into a television show! They actually walked up to us and started talking to us! God brought them to us!
Now, one year later, my son Nate and I will meet again in Nashville, TN on February 23 with Peter Lamberti and Myron Nash of the award winning Lion Mountain Media to shape plans for a 2-season, 26-episode television series where we will tell the story of Jesus to the world. Our prayer is to present the biblical, kingdom-of-God, Jesus in four ways:
Dramatically – Accurately – Thoroughly – Excellently
God has powerfully answered these prayers for his glory to bring us to this point. Now, please join us in prayer February 23 and beyond as we shape Stories of the Master into a television show that will reach the world with the Gospel.
One or One Million – Both are a Privilege!
The Merciful Wife
In a particular section of Kigali of mixed Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups, the genocidal war broke out with a bloody vengeance. Neighbors attacked neighbors. In one area a Hutu man murdered his Tutsi neighbor. Later, after the Rwandan Patriotic Front won the war and took over the government, local investigations of the atrocities started. The wife of the dead Tutsi man was asked to identify her husband’s murderer. She refused knowing the Hutu man would be arrested, imprisoned, and perhaps killed in return. The woman said that she preferred to remain silent to save another life. “This is enough. This killing has to stop somewhere. One murder does not justify another killing. We have to break the cycle of violence and end this genocide.” And she chose to forgive.
The Loving Sister
A woman, about 30 years of age, flagged down a car for a ride. The driver of the car was a church pastor who was returning to Ndoleleji from one of his rounds. The pastor did not recognize her but was interested to learn that she had been attending one of his classes to learn more about the faith. “I am a believer,” she said.
When he asked, “What started you on your journey?” she told this story.
“My brother was a Christian, the only Christian in our family. He became very sick. He tried medicine and spent all of his money at hospitals. When I went to visit him a nurse told me, ‘Take your brother home. Take care of him. Wash him. Do not be afraid. You will not catch what he has. But there is nothing more we can do for him.’
“So I took him home but no one in our family would come to see him or even get close to him. All were afraid. Not even our parents would come. I loved my brother. We came from the same womb. I took care of him, cooked his food, and ate with him. I did not care if the nurse was wrong and I did get his sickness. I was ready to die with him because I loved my brother.
“One day my brother said to me, ‘My sister! You are such a good person. You are the only one who helps me. You must become a believer and be baptized. Please go to the next town. The pastors have an outstation there. Ask them to pray for me.’ So on Sunday night I went and I told them about my brother.
“That week a group from the Church came to visit my brother. They brought food. They sat with him. They came every week. They were with him when he died. Not one of my family came to bury my brother. No one in our village came. They were all afraid but the Christians washed his body and buried him. I decided then that I wanted to be one of them, and that is why I am in your class and a believer!”
In June 1994 this woman was baptized and is part of the New Africa that is arising out of the old, dying Africa.
Greater Than Ebola
Ebola, as dreadful as it is, cannot stop the Gospel. Last year, this African evangelist told this story.
“I wanted to visit my people but in order to do so I had to cross national boundaries. Due to Ebola the borders were closed. So, I waited until 2am to sneak across and come to my village. The brethren greeted me enthusiastically. We had a wonderful service together worshiping the Lord but the greatest joy was still to come.
“The following day, the Muslim people in my village invited me to lead them in prayer. I told them, ‘I am not a Muslim. I am a Christian.’ But they said, ‘Our imam is dead and we have not opened our mosque since that time. We have been praying in our homes but seeing you Christians gathering and singing has challenged us to meet together again. We want to meet with our Christian neighbors in our mosque and ask you to lead us in any form of prayer that you know.’
“I consulted with my Christian friends and they thought the whole situation was full of irony and funny because these same Muslim neighbors had been persecuting them for years. And I had my own doubts. I had been saved by the grace of God and I never wanted to enter a mosque. But after some time of reflection my Christian friends and I agreed to hold our service in the mosque. My Christian brothers led the praise, worship, and prayer. The Muslims listened to us and kept saying “Amen,” through the service!
“Then I preached on the miracles of Jesus from the book of Luke. I spoke on all of them. I just kept on reading and explaining to them and they listened to it all. You should have seen the faces of our Muslim neighbors! When the service was ended they asked me to come back. I have not been able to, but one of the other Christians in the village says that now, every Sunday, the entire village comes to their gathering under the tree to hear the Word of God preached.
In 1967 Albania was declared the world’s first atheistic state. Every church, mosque, synagogue, and temple were closed and converted into secular meeting places. Religious leaders were publicly humiliated. Today, Albania is a secular state and religious freedom is allowed. Many people and organizations have stepped forward to preach the Gospel and renew this country which was devastated by Communist rule, and we have been excited to be part of this renewal.
This Wednesday, December 17, our brothers and sisters in Christ at Radio 7 in Tirana, Albania will host a Christmas outreach. Among their many activities will be the distribution of 1000 copies of our video The Renewal of All Things in the Albanian language. They will also reach out into neighboring Kosovo which is ethnically 95% Albanian.
Radio 7 is also translating our video into Serbian, Greek, and Macedonian for future distribution. Please join us in prayer that God would use this video mightily to reach multitudes for Christ in these southeastern European countries.
Don’t wait! Please take one minute right now and lift this up to the Lord. Thank you!
Have you seen the video? It begins this way: “Why? Why is there so much sorrow and sadness in the world? It was not always this way but it became this way through the ‘Great Catastrophe.'” Watch now and learn how God worked throughout history to restore mankind to its original purpose through his promises to Abraham and his descendants and through the work of his greatest son, Jesus of Nazareth.