Ministry, leadership, discipleship, the local church and the deep riches of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
Today's Bible reading is in Nehemiah 8. Lord, give Your people a renewed hunger to get together just to hear the Truth of Your Word (v. 1) so much that we would sit for 6 hours to listen attentively and obey it (3). Help me allow your Word to change my life to show how much I value the Word (they stood) and its Author (they bowed) (5-6). Help Your Spokesmen make it clear (8). Grieve me concerning ways i don't keep Your Word (9). Then give me joy simply because I have understood Your Word (12). Remind me and help me celebrate that my life (like Israel's life in tents or booths in the wilderness) is only temporary and that my permanent house is in the heavenly promised land with You, my King (13-17). Help me celebrate Your Word (18).
If you are like most folks, this is the time of year you take inventory of your life. We tend to think about the areas in which we are falling short of our ideal and begin to contemplate the ways we can improve. I am told that more exercise equipment is sold immediately after the New Year than the rest of the year combined. I have an elliptical in my bedroom collecting dust and laundry that was purchased as part of a New Year's resolution a few years ago.
While losing weight and committing to physical exercise is valuable, it falls far short of the commitment to spiritual exercise we need to make. As the exercise equipment flooding garage sales and eBay can attest, resolutions are easy to break. Commitments are not.
This year, I encourage you to commit to a Bible reading plan. Several good plans are available. Justin Taylor has an excellent summation of several good plans, including links to plans for your mobile phone. If you are looking for a very challenging plan that will give you variety each day and will enable you to read parts of the Bible several times in 2012, check out the plan I will be using. While this plan is attributed to Professor Grant Horner, it is very similar to the plan my Papaw Drake used for years, before he died in 1985.
Regardless of the plan you use, it is important that you have a plan. After you pick your plan, plan your time. Some will be more faithful to keep a morning time, those who cannot function in the mornings will need to plan an evening time. Early mornings work best for me, before the hectic busy-ness of the day begins. Regardless of the time you pick, you must pick a time or it will never happen.
Pick your plan, plan your time and prepare your place. May I suggest a place that is as free from distraction as possible? As a recent iPad convert, I have found that I must disable all of the "Push Notifications" in order to use it for effective Bible reading. Otherwise, I become too distracted by the interruptions. Email, texts, Twitter, telephone, television and Facebook need to be absent from the place you prepare. Every effort should be made to provide for yourself a place free from distraction. When that happens, you can immerse yourself in the Word.
Pick your plan, plan your time, prepare your place. Finally, proclaim your intentions. Part of the reason for writing this post is for accountability. I would love for you who read this to periodically post a "how goes it" comment. The threat of having to answer you should keep me going during the times when it will be much more appealing to sleep than get up and read ten chapters. But the fact is, I don't see most of you who read this blog. I need to seek accountability with those whom I see regularly--and so do you. Proclaim your intentions to them. Invite them to challenge you and hold you accountable to your plan. When you fail, seek their encouragement. In doing so, you will encourage their growth as well.
Pick, plan, prepare, proclaim--let's do those things and celebrate the joy of daily being in God's Word together this year.
This past week, LifeWay Research released some new data on how Americans perceive and pursue spiritual realities. The statistic that most struck me is the fact that 46% of Americans NEVER wonder about whether they will go to heaven. It’s not that they don’t believe in heaven or hell. It’s just that they simply don’t think about it.
I have often lamented the impression that we live in a culture of death. Skulls and skeletons have moved from underground Goth subculture to mainstream fashion. Death, gore, murder, blood and violence fill movie screen, television programs and video games. The current generation has been desensitized to images of graphic violence.
But despite the numb, calloused reaction to IMAGES of death, many people in our culture are not confronted with the actuality of death. Death is fictional. It is a caricature. For average, comfortable suburban people, it isn’t real.
Although I am speculating, I would imagine that very few of the 46% have been personally impacted by the stark reality of death. Seeing the cold, lifeless body of one whom you have loved—not a made-up corpse or a cremation urn—inevitably raises questions of the afterlife. With our society’s comfortable embrace of the images of death, we seem to have lost touch with its reality.
God became a baby. He entered a world of problems and heartaches.
“The Word became human and lived here on earth among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness” (John 1:14 NLT).
The operative word of the verse is among. He lived among us. He donned the costliest of robes: a human body. He made a throne out of a manger and a royal court out of some cows. He took a common name—Jesus—and made it holy. He took common people and made them the same. He could have lived over us or away from us. But he didn’t. He lived among us.
Max Lucado and Terri A. Gibbs, Grace for the Moment : Inspirational Thoughts for Each Day of the Year (Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman, 2000), 49.
Today's time being shaped like God is in Nehemiah 7. Lord, make me a person of integrity who fears you more than most people do (7:2). Lead me by clearly putting Your will in my heart (7:5). May others recognize by my life that my name is on the list of those who have been freed from slavery to sin (7:5-7). The average Joe israelite gave 1/4 of their annual income to Your work (7:72). Lead me to be as generous with what You have given me so that people will both be Your disciples and make disciples.
Today's time learning God's way of thinking is in Nehemiah 6. Lord, don't let the enemy distract me from doing Your work, even if they try repeatedly (6:3-4). Cause me to work consistently. Let me not be weakened in Your work by fear or threats (6:9). Don't let me sin or give anyone reason to accuse me (6:13). Strengthen my hands today (6:9). Make it obvious today to those against me that my work is really you working in me (6:16). Finish Your work in me and through me (6:15).
There is much talk about planting churches in Southern Baptist circles these days. Questions of methodology, strategy and means tend to dominate the conversation. But before addressing any of those issues, we must be clear on the need.
All too often it is said that we have too many churches already—what is the need to plant new ones? It is true that the many parts of our country are littered with small evangelical church buildings—especially in the southeast. The problem is that many (if not most) of them are in various stages of death and decay. If that does not describe your church, then praise God! But I can confidently make that charge about most American churches because of the vast numbers of lost people right outside their doors.
Crime, drugs, child abuse and neglect are key indicators that what we are doing isn’t working—because people who have been transformed by the Gospel don’t act like that. The only solution to the problem of our communities is the Gospel. It’s not social programs, food pantries, clothes closets or other giveaways. Those things can be helpful in the right context, but they do nothing to solve the core problem of lostness.
The only thing that will fix the problem is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But according to Romans 10:14-15, the only way the lost will hear the Gospel is if someone proclaims it to them. And the only way that someone will proclaim it to them is if they are sent. Church planting, at its core, is sending.
The church growth models of recent years—while good for what they were good for—were primarily designed to bring. Church planting is primarily designed to send. Bringing builds crowds and budgets which can be good if focused and directed properly. Sending inherently builds disciples. And disciples are what the Great Commission calls us to build.
The Great Commission is clear. We must build disciples. But disciples will not be built if they do not hear. And they will not hear if no one is sent. And sending is best done by planting churches. Therefore, we must plant churches.
Today's time in the Word is in Nehemiah 5. My God, Help me keep my promises to You (5:13). Make me a giver in Your body, not a taker (5:15). Make me live so that others remember the good I have done for Your people (5:19) rather than what I did for my own benefit.
Today's time being transformed by the Word is in Nehemiah 4. My God, let my work building Your kingdom be a threat to Your enemies (4:1-3). When they accuse me of weakness, be my strength (4:2). When they accuse me of blind ambition, be my success (4:2). Make them see that You are great and awesome and lead them to repent (4:14). Help me not do Your work half-heartedly (4:6). Make me always prepared to work for You (4:23).
Sometime in the past 48 hours, the political landscape in North Korea—and possibly the world—dramatically shifted. Last night, news reports began to trickle in about the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il. My first reaction was the same as when I heard of Christopher Hitchens’ death—neither of them is an atheist any longer.
But after my initial reaction, I began to think about the void that each of those influential atheists will leave behind. Those who will fill the void left by Hitchens’ passing will continue to spew the same venomous blasphemy he did, albeit with less adeptness and aplomb. People who eulogized him by saying there will never be another like him were wrong.
There have been militant atheists since Genesis 6, and there will continue to be militant atheists until the events of Revelation 20 come to pass. Men like like Sartre, Comte, Nietzsche, Mill, Marx, Hitchens and countless others were brilliant polemicists of their atheism—and countless more will fill their shoes. Christopher Hitchens—though brilliant—was not really that special. Historically speaking, you could say that men like him are, and always will be, a dime a dozen.
Although not unique, Hitchens’ intellectual influence was undeniable. On the other hand, Kim Jong Il’s power was more tangible. Unlike Hitchens, Kim Jong Il was a unique man with a unique and powerful role. As the tyrannical leader of nuclear North Korea, he had the sheer power to oppress, starve, intimidate and terrorize the people of his nation. In doing so, he nearly completely suppressed the witness of the Gospel to millions of people. While Hitchens poisoned minds with rhetoric, Kim brutalized people with starvation and force—producing one of the most oppressively atheistic nations in the world.
While countless people will fill Hitchens’ shoes, only one has been chosen to succeed Kim Jong Il. Kim Jong Un has been named as “the great successor” to pick up where his father left off. In the days and weeks ahead, he will be hearing advice from many of his subjects. That advice will likely look like the advice given to Rehoboam in 1 Kings 12 upon the death of his father Solomon.
Rehoboam’s first advice came in verse 7 from those who had the pulse of the nation: “And they said to him, ‘If you will be a servant to this people today and serve them, and speak good words to them when you answer them, then they will be your servants forever.’” Rehoboam was not satisfied with that advice, so he sought another opinion in verses 10-11: “And the young men who had grown up with him said to him, ‘Thus shall you speak to this people who said to you, “Your father made our yoke heavy, but you lighten it for us,” thus shall you say to them, “My little finger is thicker than my father’s thighs. And now, whereas my father laid on you a heavy yoke, I will add to your yoke. My father disciplined you with whips, but I will discipline you with scorpions.” ’ ” Rehoboam took the advice of his cronies and sent Israel into chaos.
Christopher Hitchens’ successors can do no more damage than he or any of his atheistic predecessors have done, but Kim Jung Il’s successor can slaughter millions and potentially plunge the world into war. Knowing this, we should pray that in the coming days Kim Jung Un will listen to the advice of more moderate voices. Pray that he will be a servant to his people and speak good words to them. Pray specifically that he will allow food to reach his people, and more importantly, pray that he will begin to allow the free spread of the gospel among his people.
In the days and weeks to come, whoever Kim Jung Un listens to, remember that God is always in control. No matter what Hitchens' successors will say or how eloquently they attempt to say it, God was in control in Rehoboam’s day and He still is today: “So the king did not listen to the people, for it was a turn of affairs brought about by the LORD that he might fulfill his word, which the LORD spoke by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat.”
Today we are in Nehemiah 3. Lord, cause your people to get busy about Your work, side by side (3:1-4). Help me see that my task may not be the same as that of my co-worker, but all will be for the building of the kingdom. Don't let me be too good to do the grunt work (3:5). Let me do work that people think I am too weak to do (3:12) so You get the glory. Let me be passionate about the work You give me to do (3:20). Help me build your kingdom right around my own house (3:23, 28). Help me build up Your body to maturity. Use me to make it ready for the enemies attacks.
John, the disciple Jesus loved, was an old man when he wrote his three letters to the church. His exile on the Island of Patmos where he penned the book of Revelation was past, and he was pastoring, likely in Ephesus.
John addressed his readers as “children” thirteen times in the five chapters of first John alone. He viewed his audience as his own spiritual children and viewed himself as their spiritual father. As a result, He offers many insights about how to parent.
We find the first bit of wisdom in 1 John 1:1-2. John’s first point is that he has had first hand experience of Christ, the One who was “from the beginning,” “the Word of Life,” and “the eternal life that was with the Father.” John had heard this Christ, seen this Christ, observed this Christ, and touched this Christ.
Do you have firsthand knowledge of this Christ to share with your teen? Have you heard His voice today in His Word, the Bible? Have you sensed the leading of His Spirit today as you read and prayed? Do you know the touch of His encouraging and correcting hand through the Church?
It is impossible to teach your teen what you don’t know. So make it a point today to know Jesus more. . . in His Word, Spirit, and Body. If we don’t know Jesus firsthand, we cannot parent as God created us to parent. Without firsthand knowledge of Christ, parents can merely raise nice, law-abiding teens.
Parenting out of firsthand knowledge of Christ, however, leads teens to recognize Jesus when they see Him, know what it is they need to become, rightly evaluate themselves compared to Christ, and want Him with all their hearts. What firsthand knowledge have you passed on to your teen today?
Today's time learning how God has worked through His people is in Nehemiah 2. God of heaven, let those close to me notice my sorrow over what really matters instead of over silly selfish things (2:2). Remind me to seek You before each step I take (2:4-5). Provide all the resources needed for me to do Your will (2:7-8). Give me the faith to trust that I will live in the promised land one day even though now I live in this imperfect place (2:8). Help me know what I must do to build Your kingdom, involve others in that work, and tell those who oppose us that You, God, will give us success in the work You gave us to do (2:12-20).
Today we start to read a short book in the Old Testament, Nehemiah. He was an Israelite living in Susa because Jerusalem had been destroyed and the Jews had been taken into captivity. Today, read Nehemiah 1. Yahweh, God of heaven (1:5), break my heart when I hear of Your people living in the destruction of their own sin (1:4). Help your Church and remind me to pray for it day and night (1:6). Your people and I have lived as if You don't exist (1:7). You are just to punish us, and faithful to restore us (1:8-9). Hear my prayer for help (1:11). Cause me to delight in an awareness of You greatness (1:11). Make me successful in what You call me to do for Your people (1:11).
Today's time lining our lives up with God's Word is Romans 16:17-27. "Only wise God (16:27), keep me from causing division in Your Church or saying anything that does not agree with Your Word (16:17). Don't let me live to get what I want, but to want what You want, and let my speech, however clumsy, lead others to Your truth (16:18). Let those who have taught me to follow You be able to celebrate because of my obedience to You (16:19). Use me soon to crush the work of The devil around me (16:20). Push me to lead people from all nations to obey You simply because they trust You (16:26). Let my life display Your greatness today for all to see (16:27).
Today's reading is in Romans 16:1-16. Lord, make me a servant in Your Church, a giver, not a taker (16:1-2). I want to risk all for the gospel (16:4). Use my house to grow Your church (16:5). Make me a hard worker in Your kingdom (16:6,12). Help me be a friend in the Lord to everybody, especially those it's hard to like (16:8). Help me to remember my family as those to whom I minister and disciple (16:13). Thank You for seeing me as a saint, a holy one (16:15). Let Your thoughts and wants so permeate me that even my kisses are holy/godly (16:16).
Paul was at Rome in prison for the second time, likely awaiting his execution. Demas had abandoned Paul due to a love for the things of the world. Paul sent other friends away to minister and only Luke was with him. Paul was alone, facing winter’s onset with no coat, striving to minister without his dear Scriptures, and was likely suffering physically since Alexander the coppersmith “did great harm” to him. In this seemingly hopeless situation, Paul identified two things for which God rescued/will rescue him. The first rescue followed Paul’s first hearing in court. All of Paul’s friends deserted him, but God stood near to him. God strengthened him to speak the message of Christ fully to the Gentiles present in court, and God rescued him from certain death (“from the mouth of a lion”) so that he could continue ministering from prison. Paul’s intent to make full use of this rescue from immediate execution is made clear by his request for Timothy to bring his scrolls and parchments. These “books” were likely the Scriptures that Paul would need in ministry. Every rescue by God from death is for the purpose of making Christ known. Paul anticipated his second rescue (v. 18) which was deliverance from this life and entrance into heavenly life. The second reason God rescues us is to take us home to be with Him. To be rescued from death is to make Christ known to all. To be rescued by death is to be present with Christ in heaven. We must use the life God has given us to make Christ known. If not, whom will we have to present mature in Christ when we are rescued from this world by Christ.
Sprawling along the hillsides beneath the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue, Rio de Janeiro is a city of juxtaposition. A middle-class gated community may share a wall with a gang-controlled slum. This proximity allows Eric and Ramona Reese to reach out to both extremes within the Brazilian megacity.
While Eric focuses on ministering in the favelas (slums), Ramona reaches out to the middle-class wives and mothers she encounters as she works out at the gym or takes their two daughters to school and ballet practice.
“We’re here in the city, and we try to make relationships with the people who are around us,” Ramona says.
One person Ramona has become friends with is Eliane Santos, a mother she met at the ballet studio. “We were just sitting and talking,” Eliane says. “Eventually, Ramona shared Christ and asked if I had asked Christ into my heart. I said, ‘No, I haven’t.’”
That night in her home, Eliane reflected on Ramona’s message and placed her faith in Jesus.
“I look to Ramona as a mother in the faith,” Eliane says. “She’s someone that encourages me and makes me want to go on.”
When Ramona heard about Eliane’s conversion, she was overjoyed.
“Go out and seek the lost,” Ramona says. “Relationships are what it’s all about.”
Pray God will help the Reeses be His heart, hands, and voice as they build strong relationships with Brazilians from opposite walks of life. Pray many Brazilians will accept Christ through these friendships.
Sanaz left Iran with nothing but her daughter and a will to live.
At 27 years old she had seen enough destruction. Her workplace, her family, her hopes for the future had been chewed up in a political machine determined to obliterate dissent. Not knowing whether her husband was dead or alive, she set out on an invisible passageway well trafficked by refugees fleeing oppression in North Africa, Afghanistan, and Iran.
She ended up on the crowded doorstep of a European city.
Here she found a government overrun with requests from asylum seekers. She found a society groaning under economic pressures not helped by a burgeoning immigrant community. Instead of freedom to pursue a new life, she found barriers.
Until some Afghan friends told her about a place where IMB workers are welcoming weary travelers. With food, training, and the good news, they are helping refugees find spiritual freedom—perhaps not what they left home to find, but something better.
For Sanaz, this has made all the difference. “I have hope that my future is bright because my heavenly Father is with me.”
Pray for IMB workers in this European city to have wisdom and skill in crossing cultural and language barriers with refugees who are arriving daily from places like Afghanistan and Iran.
Factories are the bus stops and the monuments and the landmarks. Everything exists to serve them in Dongguan, China.
The city is divided into 32 districts, each one specializing in a different kind of manufacturing with more than 3,000 factories crammed into one town.
IMB worker David Rice* believes that by reaching the factories with the Gospel, an entire generation of migrant workers will take the message back to their homes. These villages are often so remote that they are not even on a map, let alone on the radar of Christian strategists.
“People come here from all over the country looking for a job,” Rice says, noting in one year’s time he has met at least one person from all 34 provinces.
Rice and his ministry partner, Delun Kao*, see this group of 10 million 17- to 35-year-olds primed for making major changes in their lives. They are away from the strongholds of their culture back home. They are lonely and searching for meaning.
“We know they won’t stay here forever,” Kao says, noting that most return to the village by age 35. “So, the goal is to train them to be a catalyst for a new church.”
Through the years, Kao’s seen the training model work as migrants return to their villages and start new fellowships. Still others switch factories and start churches in their new workplace.
Pray that factory workers in China will open their hearts to the Gospel and take it back to the village.
Pray how you will give to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering to support workers like Rice who partner with national believers to be His heart, His hands, His voice.
Today's time being changed by His Word is in Romans 15:14-33. God, in addition to joy and peace, fill me with goodness, knowledge, and the ability to disciple others (15:13-14). Let me be fruitful so I can brag about You more (15:17-18). Help me to agonize in prayers for my fellow believers and give me times of refreshing with them (15:30-32).
Lisha* was just a little girl who trusted her pastor, but he raped her. As a teenager she trusted her friend, but he raped her repeatedly. When Lisha’s mom found out she was pregnant, she kicked Lisha out, forcing her to find a home with her abusive boyfriend. He soon realized he could profit from selling Lisha to his buddies for sex. Lisha is now 33 years old and still trapped in forced prostitution.
Lisha is just one of an estimated 27 million victims of human trafficking around the world. Human trafficking is the practice of deceiving individuals or taking them against their will, selling, buying, and transporting them into slavery. Trafficking encompasses more than just sexual exploitation; men, women, and children are also trafficked for forced labor.
IMB missionary Martha Richards*, who lives in Johannesburg, met Lisha while researching trafficking in South Africa. As Lisha shared her story, Richards was eager to help girls escape from bondage.
“We need to open our eyes and take a hard look at the reality around us,” Richards says. “Many of these girls have never received genuine love. They desperately need to know the love of Jesus.”
Richards tried to help Lisha and another woman escape, but their “owner” found them and forced them back into prostitution.
Pray that God would save trafficking victims and their owners. Ask Him how He wants you to join the global fight against trafficking, whether through prayer, support, or personally rescuing victims of modern-day slavery.
Though she has always lived in London, Fatimah grew up observing her family’s Islamic rituals, just as if she were living in her father’s homeland of Iraq. And she has faithfully passed these traditions on to her own children. Fatimah’s parents make the hajj to Mecca every year, and she has been five times herself, she says.
“We don’t drink alcohol or smoke, so we save that money to use to go to Mecca,” she explains. “It’s really lovely there, like a festival, with everyone there for the same purpose,” she says, her eyes shining as brightly as the tiny diamond piercing her nose.
Fatimah lives in an area of west London teeming with ethnic restaurants, clothing shops, mosques, and Sikh temples. To walk the streets of Southall is to encounter a very different London from what most tourists to Britain experience.
“London is an amazing place to get to relate to people from all over the world,” says Patrick Sims*, IMB missionary. This multicultural aspect of London brought Sims, strategy leader for the London team, to work here nearly a decade ago.
The world has indeed come to London: schoolchildren here speak more than 200 languages, and more than 40 percent of London schoolchildren speak a language other than English at home. As in urban settings everywhere, building relationships is a challenge for missionaries serving here.
Pray for missionaries in London to develop deep, cross-cultural relationships in this urban environment.
London is the focus of International Mission Study 2011 by Woman’s Missionary Union. Visit www.wmu.com/london.
Aadam Channar* was only a boy when Baptist missionary Hu Addleton first brought the Gospel to his province in Pakistan. Today he is an evangelist trying to reach Pakistan’s largest city.
“Karachi is the largest city in Pakistan. When we arrived there [in 1956], it was 1 million population. Now it’s 17 to 18 million,” said Addleton, who retired after serving 34 years in Pakistan with his wife, Bettie. “It is a picture of the whole country, because you have every ethnic group living in Karachi.”
About 97 percent of Karachi follows Islam. Christians make up only about 2 percent of the city’s population, according to the US State Department.
Channar grew up in a tiny Hindu village very different from the bustling hub of Karachi, but that did not keep him from approaching the city with the intention of sharing the good news of Jesus among its many people groups.
“God gave me this vision: ‘Go [to] Karachi. Leave your home, area, village.’ So God sent me here,” Channar said. “That’s why I am in Karachi.”
Addleton, who discipled Channar, encourages Southern Baptists to continue giving through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.
“We ought to continue to pray for [Pakistani Christians] and to challenge people to go,” Addleton said.
Please pray for Channar as he represents the Lord as His heart, His hands, His voice in the city of Karachi, and ask that more Pakistani Christians would respond to God’s call to do the same.
Aware that he was about to die a martyr’s death in Rome, Paul taught Timothy how to live by sharing with him how he (Paul) intended to die. Paul began by referring to himself as a “drink offering.” In the Jewish Temple, a drink offering was poured out at the base of the altar after the sacrifice and before the singing of a song of praise to God by the priests and Levites. When Paul said “I am being poured out as a drink offering,” he was telling Timothy that the sacrifice of his life for the cause of the Gospel was complete, and that he was about to begin a heavenly song of praise to His Lord in God’s presence. The anticipation of this time of praise was possible for Paul because of the way he had lived. He had fought the “good fight.” He had run hard to lead many to follow Jesus well and had trusted Jesus all the way to the end. Now he anticipated the fulfillment of his salvation, the perfection of righteousness without any more struggle with sin (cf. Rom. 7). He told Timothy that to live a life led by the Lord makes death something for which one longs. Do we lead our teens to be ready and excited to meet Christ at death? Do they see that we have fought, run, and endured for Christ? Do we teach them that being with Christ is far better than life here? What do we communicate about Christ by what we say about death? Are we willing to die daily now so that others will share in crowns of righteousness and songs of praise in heaven? When you die, will your kids be able to describe your life as a drink offering poured out to God?
As Jesus approached Jerusalem for the last time, He wept. He thought about the people within its walls and said, "If you had only known on this day what would bring you peace.” He knew within hours He’d be crucified by the very people for whom He wept.
Would Jesus still look over the city and weep 2,000 years later?
Most believe He would. Jerusalem is a city where stress runs high, and the strain of so many people practicing so many religions in such a small area makes the tension palpable. They seek a blessing or a healing or some connection with God through well-meaning, but mistaken, devotion.
Bitter division resides just below the surface. Christians, Jews, Muslims—no faction would be disappointed if the other two groups would exit the city walls and disappear into the barren countryside. Many who want peace see it as something to be politically brokered.
“We work toward peace, we work toward bridging the gap between cultures and between the differences in people, but really it’s God’s grace and only God’s grace that will ever appear,” says an IMB worker.
“The situation in Jerusalem will decide what will be the situation in the rest of the world,” says a local messianic pastor. When Jesus comes, “there will be peace in Jerusalem and there will be peace in the rest of the world.”
Pray that the people of Jerusalem will begin to recognize the things that bring true peace.
In Japan’s male-dominated society, a man’s identity centers on his work. Companies reward loyalty, hard work, and long hours. But losing one’s position is a fall from grace that leads to shame. For many Japanese, losing a job means losing their identity. For some touched by the ministry of International Mission Board (IMB) workers to the homeless, it means new birth.
Hironobu Honda, Kiyoshi Sugioka, and Katsuo Yamamota are three of the nearly 1 million Japanese who lost their jobs during the global economic decline that began in 2007. As their foundation of pride and self-sufficiency crumbled, all three found themselves homeless. All three contemplated suicide.
Then they found Christ through the witness of IMB personnel helping the homeless in Tokyo’s Yoyogi Park. Today these men are involved in small Bible groups throughout Tokyo.
On March 11 a crushing earthquake and tsunami dealt Japan another blow. A nuclear crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant complicated relief efforts and led to the temporary evacuation of American citizens from Tokyo, including IMB missionaries Mark and Wendy Hoshizaki who minister to the homeless.
“Even before the earthquake, the homeless were beginning to ask, ‘What is important? What is real? Isn’t there some hope?’” Mark said.
Sugioka saw opportunities in the crises.
“Japan has been too comfortable and maybe this is what Japan needs to turn to the Lord,” Sugioka said.
Pray that both the earthquake and economic crisis will lead more Japanese to turn from their pride and self-sufficiency to faith in Jesus Christ.
Pray that small groups begun among the homeless will grow into reproducing churches.
Pray the spiritual rebirth among the homeless will spread to other sectors of Japanese society as they become bold witnesses for Christ.
If you are a follower of Jesus, you are part of the task to fulfill the Great Commission.
Paul says, “All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). Jesus has commissioned us to be His heart, His hands, His voice. Through praying, giving, and going, Southern Baptists have fulfilled this legacy for more than 160 years.
Yet billions remain lost and time may be running out for them. We must pray more intentionally and give more sacrificially than ever before. Our churches must take direct responsibility for helping reach the nearly 3,800 unengaged, unreached people groups that missionaries may never be able to get to.
And, since most unreached people groups likely are represented in the world's urban centers, we have unique challenges and opportunities to reach the world through the cities, as illustrated in this year’s week of prayer features.
What can you do, individually? Start by being “Southern Baptist missions” through your prayers to be an extension of His heart, hands, and voice through unprecedented giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering®.