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The Foolishness of the Cross

Almost 2,000 years ago, the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing…” (1 Corinthians 1:18). Paul could well have written those words today.

After the release of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ in 2004, movie critics pounced on the film, condemning it for its violence, telling parents they should never take their children to see it. One critic said, “No level-headed parent should ever allow children to see it.”

Another critic, an avowed atheist, labeled the film a “mainstream snuff film.” Still another critic said that the film “arises less from love than from wrath, and succeeds more in assaulting the spirit than in uplifting it.” Yet another critic said the film should have been named the “Jesus Chainsaw Massacre.” And still another critic castigated Gibson for focusing upon the brutality of Jesus’ death rather than upon his teachings.

Clearly, these people have no understanding of the cross, its power to save or the plan of God before time began. Indeed, they have contempt for the cross. They are those of whom Paul writes, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent” (1 Corinthians 1:19). In this, Paul echoes the word of God through the prophet Isaiah (29:14) hundreds of years earlier.

As a young boy, one of our students at India Bible College & Seminary was allowed (and probably encouraged) by his parents to see The Passion of the Christ. Instead of being traumatized, his life was permanently and positively transformed by the cross of Jesus Christ. To him, even as Paul wrote, the cross is not gratuitous violence, but it is “the power of God.”

Even as a 12-year-old, this young man wanted to tell others of the saving power of the cross. Even as a child, he saw the horror and violence to Jesus as the result of God’s love for him and his unsaved Hindu friends. To the sophisticates of our day, his decision to follow Christ is just a poor boy’s traumatic response to seeing a horror movie. We should not be surprised.

In The Message, Eugene Peterson contrasts the offense and beauty of the cross:

“Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life. But those on the way to destruction treat us more like the stench from a rotting corpse. This is a terrific responsibility. Is anyone competent to take it on?” (2 Corinthians 2:15:16)

The cross of Jesus Christ will always be an offense and a thing of infinite beauty. Jonathan Edwards wrote of the smug men and women who find the cross an absurdity:

“The reason why men are not affected by such infinitely great, important, glorious, and wonderful things, as they often hear and read of, in the word of God, is undoubtedly because they are blind; if they were not so, it would be impossible, and utterly inconsistent with human nature, that their hearts should be otherwise than strongly impressed, and greatly moved by such things.”

As we approach Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday, let us thank God for His wonderful gift, and help to spread its fragrance to those He is preparing to receive it.

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Monica’s Prayers

Monica's-PrayersEach believer in Christ is called to do great and mighty things for God. To say, “I am just a small and insignificant person” shows lack of faith and insults God to think He cannot work through you.

The name of “Monica” is remembered for the lasting influence she had upon her son, Augustine. A Christian woman of the 4th century, she was called by God to pray him into the Kingdom. It doesn’t sound like much of a calling—to pray for a single person—but Monica did not waver in her commitment because she knew God had placed this upon her.

Augustine was not a promising prospect. Highly intelligent, he was also lazy, a lover of pleasure and sensuality. Monica tried to teach him to pray, but he twisted her intentions by praying, “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet!” He took a lover and had a son out of wedlock, and he did many other things that broke Monica’s heart, but she never stopped praying for her son with many tears.

One day, as Augustine tells it himself, he heard a childlike voice say to him, “Take up and read.” He saw this as a divine command to open the Bible and read the first thing he saw. When he opened the Bible, he found himself in the Book of Romans, and his eyes fell upon these words:

“…not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision of the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof” (Romans 13:13-14).

These short words struck him as a summary of his own life and a call to commit his life to Jesus Christ. It came as a word from the Holy Spirit. From this moment on, Augustine became a new man in Christ.

In coming days, Augustine became one of the most prolific and influential Christian thinkers and writers of all time, influencing Protestants and Catholics alike. Martin Luther and John Calvin were strongly indebted to him. His influence helped to end slavery in Europe. He helped to lay early Christian foundations for later scientific learning and research.

Augustine gave credit for his transformation to the faithful prayers of his mother, Monica, who never gave up on him even in his darkest days. In the end, Monica’s prayers not only influenced her son’s life but also generations of believers and of human society around the world.

Monica’s story and that of her son, Augustine, teach all of us the power of our influence, and how it may even change generations not yet born. God is glorified when we put ourselves into His hands. God told Jeremiah, “Call unto me, and I will answer and do great and mighty things you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3). God’s invitation to Jeremiah is also His invitation to us.

In dark days like our own, God especially loves to work His greatest works, through people willing for Him to use them.

All major revivals and awakenings begin in dark days when nameless people, known only to God, cry out to Him. The most influential people in the world are those not paralyzed by the times but energized by them because they anticipate His victory and their part in helping to make it happen.

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Social Media Strategy

Social-CollageFacebook, Twitter, LinkedIn…

These and many other social networking websites have swept the world like a global tsunami. Social media have especially affected the younger generation.

Social media have not always resulted in good. The goal of social media is to bond people with one another. In too many cases, social media result in artificial relationships, new kinds of addictions, narcissism, and fictional portraits of oneself to so-called “friends,” defeating the purpose for which the creators intended it.

Ravi Zacharias has called social media “the new Tower of Babel.” Like the original Tower of Babel, “they all wanted to come together, and all of a sudden, the Bible says, in an incredible way, the languages were confused, and the people could not communicate with each other…”

We can use social media for good or for evil, he says. He challenges the next generation of Christian believers to use it for good.

Justin Wise, 34 years old, comes from the younger generation. He has become convinced that social media can become a mighty weapon to glorify God and advance the gospel around the world. Recently, Facebook turned 10 years old, and it will not go away. We ignore social media at our peril. As Christians, how do we deal with it in ways that honor Christ?—this has become his life mission.

Wise earned both a Master of Divinity degree and a degree in electronic media. He believes the Lord called him, not to pastor a church but to help harness this 21st century phenomenon for the glory of God.

To that end, he wrote a book, The Social Church: A Theology of Digital Communication, for Christians who want to learn how to use internet technologies for Great Commission purposes. He has become a social media strategist. In 2004, he founded a consulting group called Think Digital to help churches and mission groups use social media in biblical ways.

He believes the social media require churches to think in new ways. No longer can the church simply publish and distribute information. Now, the church must become more directly involved in people’s lives. Churches who refuse to accept new realities and seize these new opportunities will simply fold up.

Historically, he says, Christians have helped to pioneer communication technology. In the days of the apostles, common people came to use pen and paper (or papyrus), once used only by a privileged few. Paul and the gospel writers seized upon this to pen the gospel and epistles to the churches.

Martin Luther used the newly-invented printing press to make his German translation of the Bible available to the German public.

Aimee Semple McPherson used the new invention of radio to broadcast an evangelistic message, as did Billy Graham in the early days of television.

Now it is our turn. Today, through social media, we have an opportunity to extend the Kingdom of God over the internet to the entire globe. Social media is to this generation what pen and paper was to Paul, and the printing press to Martin Luther.

What would have happened to the gospel if Paul decided that pen and paper were too worldly and common to communicate the glories of God’s Kingdom? Without his letters, what kind of lives would we live today?

Let today’s generation seize this new God-given opportunity for His glory!

Your Life, His Grace

In the Greek New Testament, the word for “witness” is also the root word for “martyr.” When Jesus tells His disciples, “You shall be my witnesses…,” He is also saying, “You will lay down your lives for My sake.”

This does not mean that we must seek martyrdom to become a “witness” for Christ. But it requires that we count the cost of discipleship. We must see ourselves as soldiers for Christ. When a new recruit takes his oath of loyalty, he gives his superiors the right to send him anywhere, even into battles that require great risk to his life, from which he may not return.

A-bigger-lifeTo become a “witness” for Christ means that we serve a life bigger than this earthly life. The circumstances of our lives are short and uncertain. There are other things better and eternal, centered on Christ. A true “witness,” like Jesus, has compassion upon people and a world that wander like sheep without a shepherd. Whether in life or death, true witnesses trust Jesus to provide everything they need, to go wherever He says to go.

Jesus warns His “witnesses” that He may assign them to take the gospel as “sheep to wolves.” Many will gladly accept the Good News, but others will hate the “witness,” claim that he is destroying society and seek to defame him or her.

Like Jesus, witnesses may also have to stand before the authorities in trial for their faith. But their suffering will further the gospel, and the Holy Spirit will give them the words to say at the right time.

We are to become Christ’s witnesses with the perspective of Christ’s own suffering and of His Second Coming. We are to know that whatever suffering we face will bring glory to God, a great reward in heaven and ultimate judgment for those who persecute us. We are to know that even if we lose our lives, human power over us ends at death, but God’s power is eternal.

Grace is costly, Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us. The gift is free, but it costs our lives. Beware of “cheap grace,” he warns, “the grace that we [not God] bestow on ourselves…forgiveness without repentance…baptism without discipline, communion without confession.”

“Costly grace,” he goes on, “costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer knew what he was talking about. God called him as a witness to serve Him in Nazi Germany—a place unfriendly to the gospel. He became a leader of the Confessing Church when other German churches were giving in to Hitler. His friends wanted to save him by bringing him to America, but after a few months, Bonhoeffer knew he must return to the place God called him.

Bonhoeffer indeed paid with his life, but he became the ultimate winner. Days after his death, Hitler went down to defeat—and suicide. Bonhoeffer’s witness continues throughout the world in his writings and his example of commitment to Jesus Christ.

This month, as we celebrate Christ’s costly sacrifice and His triumphant resurrection, may each of us also count the cost of discipleship and commit ourselves to effective witness however and wherever Christ calls us.

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His Witnesses

witnessThree years before he became President, Abraham Lincoln, then a lawyer, was called to defend an old family friend accused of murder. The murder took place at night, and a key witness said that he saw the defendant kill the man “by the light of the full moon.” This seemed compelling evidence, beyond reasonable doubt.

However, during cross-examination, Lincoln used a simple almanac to prove that on the night of the murder, there was no full moon. The accuser could not have seen what he claimed to see.

Today, we all stand accused by Satan of crimes against our Creator. His evidence against us appears beyond reasonable doubt: we all stand guilty before God. But through Jesus Christ, God has evidence on our behalf that saves us from our arch-accuser, Satan.

Before He ascended into heaven, Jesus told His disciples that they would become His witnesses to His power to save, and that their witness would carry them to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

What kind of compelling “witness” did Jesus have in mind for us? How effective is our “witness” to others?

The Greek word for “witness” used by Luke has more than one meaning. First, a “witness” is one who speaks from first-hand experience about actions in which he participates. Specifically, this “witness” means our testimony to others of our relationship with Jesus Christ and what God has done in our lives.

Second, a “witness” is one who makes an evangelistic confession of specific truths. In Luke 24, Jesus said that this “witness” must include the truths involving His suffering and death on the cross and His resurrection on the third day—the key to our salvation. It must declare the need for repentance from sin to receive forgiveness and reconciliation with God.

Luke tells us that Jesus sent His disciples forth on their mission as “witnesses” with the promise of His Father and the power of the Holy Spirit. In other words, an effective witness depends upon trust in the word of God to empower us and bless our witness in great and marvelous ways.

Before He left them, Jesus grounded their “witness” firmly in the scriptures. He systematically showed them how the entire Old Testament—“the law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms”—was the foundation for His saving life, death and resurrection.

In short, effective “witness” comprises four major elements for compelling communication to others: (1) personal experience, (2) clear evangelistic confession, (3) trust in Holy Spirit power and (4) solid biblical foundations. If one or more of these elements is lacking, our “witness” suffers, and a needy world fails to hear the Good News and escape Satan’s accusations.

How well are we doing? Is our society becoming more or less committed to the Christ of our “witness”? Too often, we must admit, our words and actions have denied Jesus. Too often, we have played the coward, fleeing from opportunities and hiding from opposition.

Clearly, as we read our daily news today, we have much for which to repent. But let us not become discouraged. Let us remember that the success of the disciples’ witness followed only after their own abject failures and cowardice. Let us heed their example of repentance, for God’s forgiveness and renewal is the same yesterday, today and forever.

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Weighty Prayers

True-PrayerWe must all learn to pray more “weighty” prayers.

The great 19th century preacher, Charles H. Spurgeon, once said, “True prayer is measured [by God] by weight, not by length. A single groan before God may have more fullness of prayer in it than a fine oration of great length.”

How do we pray more “weighty” prayers? In humility. In faith. In accordance with God’s will. Focused upon others. In boldness. In the name of Jesus.

This is a critical time for your “weighty” prayers on behalf of India Gospel Outreach.

Over the years, our praying friends have opened many new doors of ministry in many new places. We are grateful to each of you who have been a part of this critical prayer support. So also are the countless men, women and children who have been blessed through your faithful and “weighty” prayers.

Again, this is another opportunity for you to help enlarge the influence of the gospel in India, especially through this ministry and to potentially change the eternal destinies of millions.

In addition to the daily prayer requests that follow, I request that you pray daily this month for a very special need:

In the past year, enemies of the gospel were elected to the highest offices of Indian government during the most recent national election. Their stated aim is to make India a nation for Hindus only. Since that election, persecution of Christians has increased in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Karnataka.

They are even attempting to bribe Christians to become Hindus. In Uttar Pradesh, they planned a mass conversion of 4,000 Christian families to Hinduism for Christmas Day. Praise God, through the prayers of many of you, so much infighting and confusion took place among the leadership, the event never took place!

But they have not given up, and neither must we. We must continue to pray “weighty” prayers until all things are subjected to Him.

Therefore, I would greatly appreciate your daily prayers for the Christians in Uttar Pradesh where much persecution is taking place. With more than 210 million people in this large state with 1,325 people/square mile, 742 urban centers, 307,452 villages, there are only about 200,000 Christians, many of them only nominal believers.

IGO has sent a number of trained church planters to this state and is planning strategic things in this large state, so influential for the rest of India. Please pray daily that God will raise up and prosper these schools to train many evangelists who will plant churches in every zip code and reach every ethnic group in Uttar Pradesh with the Good News.

Pray for a mighty awakening to the gospel, not only in Uttar Pradesh but throughout India. Pray that God will give IGO many opportunities and resources to take the Good News to many new places.

Thank you for your bold, faithful—and essential—“weighty” prayers.

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Glory & Grace

Glory-and-Grace-2014-12Even when we do not think of God, we all depend upon Him every moment of every day. The more we become aware of Him, the more we experience freedom. When Isaiah met God in the temple, it changed the rest of his life. On that day, he heard the angels cry out,

“Holy, Holy, Holy is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isaiah 6:3)!

The whole earth is full of His glory! Yet tragically, most of the time, we don’t see it.

Go down the streets anywhere and observe the people. How many of them walk about
with stooped shoulders, dead eyes, and grim faces.

Yet right before their eyes, may lie a glorious sunrise or a lovely child. Overhead, graceful flocks of birds may head for unknown destinations, guided by instincts still little understood.

Every moment, we are surrounded by thousands of signs of a glorious God. But more often than not, we miss them because we are consumed by our own worries, doubts and frantic schedules! All too often, WE may be those grim-faced people on the streets!

Paul says, “Since creation, His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen…” In other words, HIS GLORY. But…

“Even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks.”

Yes, more often than we like to think, this appalling verdict claims us, as God’s children of grace—even now. We all have myopic vision and futile thoughts. Too often, talk of God’s glory seems to contradict our daily experience of mediocrity, sorrow and failure. But…

The Gospel of John tells us, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we saw HIS GLORY, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (1:14).

His great glory is His grace. That grace and glory of God came to live among us through a young teenage girl giving birth to a Child in a manger. It ended on a cross. In Romans, Paul tells us that we, too, were crucified with Him. Three days later, we were also raised with Him, so that our life of mediocrity, sorrow and failure might become absorbed and transformed by His resurrection GLORY. He lives for all eternity, now and forever. So do we who trust in Him.

In short, through His birth in a manger, death on a cross and resurrection from a tomb, He has already given us the gift of His glory to experience now and forever. As Paul tells us, even in spite of ourselves, we can “reckon ourselves dead to [the kingdom of] sin and alive to [the kingdom of] God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11). Yes, God’s glory is also His grace.

So the battle is already over, and the victory is already won. The prison doors have flown open. The shades are up, and the glorious light of God already shines upon us. Already, God tells us, “Get up! You are free! Walk out into all that I planned for you before I created the universe! It is yours now!” This grace is true glory and freedom!

The rest of the world still sees only prison cells around them, and they walk about with grim faces, awaiting their freedom. Let us better see the gracious glory of God for ourselves, that we may help them to see it–and to experience true freedom!

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8 Ways to Walk in the Spirit

What is the secret to dealing with temptations and worldly desires?

Paul answers this simply: Walk in the Spirit, and you will not fulfill the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).

Sept blog - walk in the spirit copyWhat Paul is saying is: a person cannot walk in the Spirit and fulfill the lusts of the flesh at the same time. We will do either one or the other.

“Walking in the Spirit” means learning how to live out the life of God given to us when He gave us the Holy Spirit at our first moment of trust in Him.

The only One who has fully walked in the Spirit is Jesus Christ. The rest of us are much more inconsistent. Even well-known evangelist Billy Graham at 95 says that he regularly confesses his sins before God.

It is easy to worry about our failures, but it helps us to know that learning to walk in the Spirit is a lifelong process. There are things we can do to help that process along:

1. Know who you are. Make Jesus Christ and His sacrifice on the cross the source of your identity. Know that God chose you before He created the universe, so reckon yourself dead to sin and alive to God now. Know that God is your Father, that He has always been on your side, that He wants you to succeed. Peter was a wavering coward, but Jesus still called him “the rock.” What possibilities does Jesus foresee in you?

2. Let your spirit dominate. The desires of the world demand attention, but they soon pass away. Learn to see the bluster of the world for what it is. Learn to see God’s control of all things and act accordingly. This may take many trials and errors, but every time you succeed, you build a foundation for future success.

3. Think “kingdom thoughts.” Know that God’s kingdom ultimately triumphs. Learn to develop thought patterns that reflect God’s ways, concerns and goals.

4. Pray and listen. Develop prayer as a dialogue with God. Learn to listen as well as to speak.

5. Live harmoniously. Learn to live in peace with God and others. Avoid judging others through gossip, slander and bitterness. Someone has said, “You only love God as much as you love the persons you find hardest to love.”

6. Examine yourself. Let the Bible help you do this. Be honest with God and yourself. Stop hiding and rationalizing. Let God show you the “junk” in your life He wants removed.

7. Know your weaknesses. We all have them, so know them. Give those weaknesses to the Holy Spirit and seek His help during temptation and pressure. Don’t let your weaknesses and failures discourage you. Confess your sins daily. Remember—God is on your side.

8. Know your Helper. The Holy Spirit is your best friend and mentor, so learn to know and trust Him fully. Take all your troubles to Him.

The apostle Paul has good advice for all of us in this process of learning (and sometimes failing) to walk perfectly in the Spirit: “…forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13, 14)

As we look forward with Christ, others who hunger for righteousness will notice, and they will want to know the truth that sets them free.

Some points taken from this article.

Divine Love Letter

Only the one who senses true love can fathom the real meaning of a love letter.

When a woman receives a letter from a man and senses his unmistakable devotion, respect and self-sacrifice for her welfare, she can hardly wait for the next one. She wants more than to know him but to commit her life to him.

How much more so the person who recognizes in the Bible a personal love letter from God.

To accurately interpret any document, we must understand the context in which it was written and the purpose the writer intended. The Bible comes to us from the context of the holy love and grace of God, perfect in every respect. This God has sacrificed and lavished more on His beloved than is beyond human understanding or possibility. Human love on this earth has a beginning and an end. Divine love for each of us has no beginning and no end.

photo 1To read and interpret the Bible in this context is to discover the Bible’s underlying meaning. In this context, even so-called “dead” books of the Bible, such as Leviticus, take on new life.

Just as the beloved sees in a love letter something special written directly to her, so we ought to read and interpret the Bible as a special letter to us. Then the Bible becomes irresistible. We eagerly open its pages and expect it to daily give us our personal, creative and renewing word of God meant for us now.

We will find the Bible is like no other love letter. Human passion, however sincere, possesses no power to perfectly fulfill its promise. The Bible not only expresses passion, but power to change our lives and circumstances. We experience its power to heal, set free, transform, change evil into good, turn ashes into beauty, change the destiny of the universe.

Those outside a love relationship often regard a love letter as little more than “sweet nothings.” In a similar manner, those without God do not see the Bible as personally written to them or anybody else. For them, the Bible is a hodge-podge of ancient and irrelevant stories and religious gibberish.

Even Christians can turn this divine Love Letter into less than what the Author intended. Too often, Christians regard the Bible as an impersonal book of stories, rules and moral standards. Too often, we read the Bible without seeing its application to our personal and present moment. We let details confuse its message. Even right theology can miss the love that shines through each page. This was the sin of the church in Ephesus (see Revelation 2).

The gospel takes deep root only as God’s people daily experience the holy love, grace and righteousness of God found in the Bible. On the night before His crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples, “Abide in my love” (John 15:9). From this basic interpretation of the Bible comes everything else.

Millions of people in places like India await a genuine love letter from God. They can hardly fathom that such a letter exists because of sin and evil in their lives and circumstances.

Only as we, the professed recipients of God’s love, live out the spirit and power of God’s Love Letter in our own lives will they believe that letter is also for them. Let us not disappoint them.


In 2010, I was a delegate at the Lausanne Conference in Capetown, South Africa. That gathering of mission-minded Christians from around the world reflects the growing realization that the Great Commission requires global cooperation with other believers.

The Lausanne Conference is just one example of the growing influence of “globalization.” A conference speaker, Dr. Os Guinness, defined globalization as “a process by which human interconnectedness has reached global proportions.”

Globalization promises to revolutionize the human condition in a permanent and fundamental way as the invention of the wheel, printing press or automobile. Globalization is here to stay, and as Christians, we better come to terms with it.

GlobalizationThis process of globalization is driven by revolutionary developments of information technology. Through IT, we can create, multiply, expand, intensify and accelerate more human activities with more people than ever before.

This growing phenomenon has implications for all of us, and especially for the spread of the gospel to the remaining peoples of the world who do not yet have the Good News.

As Dr. Guinness told us at the Lausanne Conference, “Globalization is the greatest challenge and opportunity for the church since the apostles.”

The big question: Are we really ready for the challenges that globalization brings?

From my own observation, I think I am safe in saying that we are not ready, on a lot of levels.

But I am also safe in saying that globalization has not caught God by surprise. He knew it was coming, even 2,000 years ago, when He gave His Great Commission to His disciples. He knew about globalization long before anyone thought about it.

From the beginning, Jesus knew that He was giving His disciples a task way too big for any of them to handle. They were simple men in a world too complex and big for them. They weren’t ready. They were unqualified for the job He assigned to them.

And yet look what God has done through those twelve unqualified men and those who came after them! How did these unqualified men do so well? Perhaps most importantly, they realized how unqualified they really were.

Scripture tells us that before they set out on their mission, they waited upon God in the Upper Room until the Holy Spirit came upon them. Only with the coming of the Holy Spirit did they begin the process of taking the gospel “to Jerusalem, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the world.”

That simple strategy of the disciples must become our own. We must recognize our inadequacy for the task. We must recognize our slowness of heart, lack of faith, our tendency to let the standards of the world influence us. We must come to terms with the sins that so easily beset us. Indeed, the church is in dire need of a spiritual renewal such as never before.

Only with a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit will we make the challenges and opportunities of globalization count for Christ so that the gospel is preached to all peoples and touches people in every facet of their lives.

Are you waiting on God for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, for yourself and for your church and nation?