Tag Archives: Mission

To Japan on mission

The Clapham family are linked to Albury Bible Church. They were part of our fellowship while living in Albury (and Nathan was a ministry trainee with us). And we have an official link with them in mission to Japan.

They cannot be at church with us every week. So support for them needs dedication and discipline. Regular reminders help. And that’s what this is!

Here’s a map/video to show their location (I don’t believe they’re actually on the railway line, however).

And here are some prayer points from July 2014

  • Please pray for a non-Christian family the Claphams are getting to know
  • Pray for the Claphams’ godliness and character as they continue to settle into Japan
  • Pray for Samuel and Ian as they learn the language and settle into school
  • Pray for wisdom in care for Samuel and Ian, when they struggle with life in Japan
  • Pray for the gospel to affect peoples heart and lives in Japan


The disgrace of Christian outreach

The whole Bible shows God’s concern for the whole world.

The first three quarters of the Bible maintain focus on one people: Israel. The final one quarter is where God’s word goes out to all, freely offered to all cultures, languages and people.

Why the difference? And what made the change? A short passage in Hebrews powerfully captures the switch. It tells me that God spent great effort establishing a system of imperfect honour so that he could trump this system with perfect disgrace.

Firstly, here’s some evidence for my first two paragraphs.

Whole Bible, whole world
Page one: God created the heavens and the earth. As Genesis continues, we run into those pesky family trees. We might find them tiresome, but they place the narrower Biblical story inside the story of ‘all people.’ When Abraham enters, his promised blessing is at once very personal and universal (see Genesis 12:1-3).

Abraham’s story narrows down again and again: it’s Isaac, not Ishmael; then it’s Jacob, not Esau. This narrow group of Hebrews dominates the limelight for the Old Testament. Even so, the world is linked to their fortunes. Israel is the Lord’s nation because the whole earth is his (Exodus 19:5). The glory days of Israel’s kingdom were a magnet for the whole world (1 Kings 10:23-25). Despite later sin and judgement, God promised a glorious future where the world would again make pilgrimage to Jerusalem (Micah 4:1-2).

Three quarters, one quarter
Despite this universal concern, most of the Bible covers relatively local events. We mostly stay in the land of Canaan, with the people of Israel. When the story goes outside of this (in the first 75%) there’s usually something wrong: drought, famine, judgement, military loss, … Jesus himself sent his disciples, but not to the Gentiles – they went on a Jewish-ears-only mission (Matthew 10:5).

It’s in the book of Acts that there is an explosive change. From Acts onwards, even Gentiles come to trust Jesus. Without having to become Jewish first! Gentiles who trust have exactly the same access to forgiveness as do Jews who trust. Hear the astonishment in the voice of Jewish Christians: ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life’ (Acts 11:18). Inconceivable!

The time we live in now is marked by an astonishing reality: Gentiles listen to the word of salvation (Acts 28:28).

Imperfect honour, perfect disgrace
To understand this change, here’s that paragraph from the book of Hebrews.

We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. (Chapter 13, verses 10-13)

Hebrews engages with many details of the old covenant, including priesthood and sacrifice. The altar of sacrifice was to be pure, and to provide purification. The place of sacrifice had many exclusions in order to uphold its holiness (no priests outside the tribe of Levi, no high priest outside the family of Aaron, no high-priests in the temple without blood of sacrifice, …). This system rammed home the truth about God: he’s pure, perfect, clean, holy. This is why sacrificial blood was brought into the holy place, but the unclean carcass was taken outside the camp. Holiness inside, uncleanness outside.

The tabernacle (later temple) was to be honoured highly by God’s people. And when the system was in ideal operation … it was a failure. Blood of bulls and goats does not remove sin (Hebrews 10:4). The centre of honour to the Lord in Israel never worked. Hence: imperfect honour.

But Jesus 

Jesus changed things. Jesus’ death, the perfect sacrifice, occurred in disgrace. He died as an outsider, and died outside the city gates. His death was administered by the world (Romans), not by an appointed priest. This moment of unclean disgrace, however, is the very working of God to save. It is perfect disgrace.

A world of mission
So why, after Easter, do God’s people now actively seek the world? Why is mission normal, for those who trust Jesus?

Because of Jesus’ perfect disgrace. Jesus, on the cross, went to the world. Jesus went to the place most alienated from the Father. Jesus outside the city completed his journey of love. How do we trust Jesus? We trust by going to him in that place of disgrace. We find Jesus ‘outside the camp’, as Hebrews says, not cloistered and hidden behind holy walls. We do not withdraw – we go out and suffer reproach.

Christians should be willing to go public and to be open in precisely the place where we are not safe. (So many times I have been part of the opposite, a comfortable conversation with ‘insiders’ in which we gently mock ‘outsiders.’)

There are many ways to ‘go public’ as Christians. The most important and fundamental, it seems to me, is evangelism. When we ask people to change and to trust Jesus we are most open about our disgraceful beliefs. When we refrain from inviting Christian belief we are most likely to be hiding the disgrace of a crucified Christ.

And now, my idea for a short post has become longer than I usually write for this blog. There’s so much more to consider … Unexplored: what disgrace can look like in daily life; how Christians tend to sanctify avoiding disgrace despite following the crucified one; the difference between reproach and being insensitive. A ripe field for comments and discussion (hint, hint).

In short: mission is placing our disgraceful beliefs in public, because what we believe was the public disgrace of Jesus’ cross.



Mission work & Olympic TV coverage

In which a sports-loving blogger finds a link between TV sports and missiology …

Oi! Oi! Oi!

In Australia – and maybe the rest of the world also – Olympic games TV coverage is famously parochial. By this I mean that coverage not only tries to show as many Aussies as possible, but then fawns obsessively on those who gain success. Bleagh! (But we keep watching the sport/advertising, so we all must take some of the blame.)

Let’s assume that we somehow got the coverage ‘just right’ – perfectly pitched and balanced. What would it look like?  Perfect Olympic coverage would be the perfect example of mission practice.

Missiology is thinking about how to do Christian mission – how to announce to all that Jesus Christ is Lord. ‘How’ shows an interest in method. ‘To all’ is required, for mission crosses cultures. ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ is the message, and also implies the result, the invitation to repent and believe.

But back to what would make great Olympic coverage.

Talk to the local audience

The Olympics on Australian TV should show as many of the Australian performances as possible. It should celebrate victory. It should also cover athletes in obscure sports, or who have no great hopes of success. These team members represent Australia, so it seems wrong to bury them just because they fail to qualify for finals.

If an unknown Australia archer does not appear in Chinese or German TV coverage, fair enough. But if s/he is brushed aside in Australian TV studios that would be terribly rude.

Mission insight: speak the local language and dialect. Celebrate the high points for local people. Your Christian mission might be in Mongolia or in Melbourne. No matter where it is, talk so locals can understand.

Don’t be too parochial

Australia’s obesity problems might be the responsibility of our Olympic broadcasters: a constant diet of sugary-sweet slow-motion success-snippets.

It’s nice that we won that medal. But we don’t need to watch endless repeats of the winning move, do we? Or have inane interviews with every single participant, not to mention their ‘inspirational’ first grade teacher. (There seems no end to the number of ways to ask, ‘How did you feel?’)

This kind of coverage is all too self-glorifying: ‘Look, aren’t we good?’, ‘The whole nation is proud of you’, ‘We punch above our weight’, and so on.

Mission insight: as we love the local culture, the Gospel of Jesus will find fault. Therefore every missionary must have times of un-ease no matter how well they are enculturated. Every place and culture is touched by the ugliness of sin. It’s not love to glorify a human system beyond reality.

Tell the major story

The joy of international games, like the Olympics, if often in seeing huge stories that are not our own. Australia does well at swimming, but the 2008 Olympic pool was dominated by Michael Phelps. Even Down Under, Phelps had to be lauded. Australia had no finalists in the 100m track, yet it would have been our loss if we did not watch Usain Bolt.

Good TV coverage has to tell us the headline news from all sports. If it doesn’t, then we are uninformed.

Mission insight: all missionaries have to tell the world the big news, the account of Jesus crucified, risen and reigning. This is an obvious but essential reminder. Every mission – at home or abroad – has 1000s of opportunities. There is hospitality and care and communication and listening and giving family advice and practising compassion and showing sympathy and … All good things! In fulfilling these, we are to remember to talk about Jesus, because he is the major story.