UPG North America is a great new website to help the local church engage the unreached people groups who are moving into the neighborhoods of North America. It is the collective work of multiple organizations with the shared desire to "serve the entire Body of Christ in our common goal of communicating the love of Christ to all peoples of the world."
The website exists to identify the least-reached diaspora communities in North America, mobilize prayer for them, and see an increase in gospel activity among them. A few of the unique aspects of the site are an interactive point of interest maps and virtual prayerwalks for specific people groups in a city.
This website is a great new tool for anyone interested in sharing the love of Jesus with the least reached in North America.
Visit now: www.upgnorthamerica.com
If you have had the opportunity to listen to more than a few testimonies of people who were raised in lostness and came to faith, you have probably started to notice a couple of themes. One of those themes is the importance of a follower of Christ in their life. They met a Christian who through word or deed or both had an impact on their journey toward faith. Another that often comes up is the power of the word of God to bring conviction and give hope. In reading the Bible, they met a God who loved them enough to send his one an only son to save them from their sin, from fear and shame and from death.
In the scriptures, they met the living God.
With this article, I want to provide tools to help you help your friends begin to explore the Bible and learn from the scriptures themselves. The Bible is both the greatest evangelistic tool that we have as well as the foundation for disciple making. Story Sets are apowerful tool to help your friends read the Bible.
A story set is a set of Bible stories that focus on a particular topic or theme. These can be used as a basis for exploring the Bible with your friend. Story sets are most often narrative in nature which allows pre-believers to enter into the story of the Bible and into discussion with you around the character and will of God. The purpose of story sets is to get people quickly into the scriptures, and to begin to teach them how to read the word of God.
How To Use Story Sets
As you connect with people who are far from God or if you are working with new believers, it will be natural to talk about the things that are important to our lives. There will be events in life that you will want to celebrate with your friends. There will be challenges in life that come up for which your friends will be looking for guidance. You will find yourself talking about the bigger questions of the meaning of life and the nature of God. Story sets give us a framework for introducing the word of God into these discussions.
For example, let's say you are having a conversation with a young mother and she says, “I got into parenting before I was ready. Other people make it sound so easy. My mother just laughs. My grandmother says everything will be okay. But I’m trying to raise my kids without a map. Please help.”
You could respond, “I’ve found a lot of guidance for parenting in the word of God. I’ve been so thankful that God gives us examples of parenting in the Bible. I wonder if you would like to read some of these stories together and see what we can learn from them.”
You could then find or create a story set and read through a story each time you meet. Here is an example of a "New Parent" story set:
This particular story set finishes out by pointing not just to some good examples and lessons for parents, but with the story of Abraham and then the return of the prodigal son. Like this one, most story sets are evangelistic in nature, giving guidance for life while also pointing to Christ. One of the most commonly read story sets in the Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist world is Creation to Christ, a collection of stories, starting in Genesis, that give a general overview of the story of the whole Bible.
Choosing The Right Stories
How do we know which story set is the right story set to read with each of my friends? This is a discernment process that begins with prayer. Pray often for the opportunity to read the Bible with your friend. Pray for wisdom to know what stories in the Bible are the ones that will meet the felt needs of our friends and meet them where they are at. Choosing a story set also involves good listening. If we care about our friends, then we will be asking about their lives and as we get to know them, we’ll begin to hear the issues with which they are struggling. Then we can create or find an appropriate collection of Bible stories for their particular need.
How To Read The Stories
Isaiah 55:11 says, “When my word goes forth, it shall not return empty or void, but will accomplish the thing for which I sent it.” This is an amazing promise and it encapsulates why it is so important that we help our friends begin to read the scriptures. God will do the work!
A process to read the Bible that missionaries around the world are finding to be fruitful is the Discovery Bible Study. It is a simple process that allows the Word of God and the Holy Spirit to be the main teachers. You don’t have to have all the answers but can trust that as you read the Bible with your friends, the Holy Spirit will guide them. It also begins the disciple making journey even before they come to faith as you model with them how to read the word of God and apply its teachings to your lives.
[Learn more about Discovery Bible Study]
The Discovery Process
1. Before you jump into the Bible story, be sure and spend some time connecting with your friend. How are they doing? How are their father and mother doing? How is work going? Spend time being with them. Don’t neglect this opportunity to extend hospitality. Share the week's highs and lows with one another.
2. Next turn to the passage. Read the passage aloud with your friend. Re-read it 3-4 times. Really! Re-reading helps ensure that they are actually getting into the passage.
3. Work together to retell the story in your own words. Don’t explain or interpret. Just retell the story. This provides an opportunity to make sure they are understanding the story and creates an opportunity to hear the story one more time. It also gives you and your friend practice in telling others the story. We want to be able to go home and say to a friend or family member, "Let me tell you the story I learned today." If in the process of your discussion your friend says something that is obviously not in the story, just ask the simple question, “Where do you see that in the passage?”
4. Next begin to discuss the following discovery questions:
5. Work together to think about what you can do this week to apply what you have learned in the passage. It can be helpful to actually write down an “I will . . . “ statement.
6. Spend time thinking about other people in your life who you could tell the story to this week. Ask, “Who can you tell this story to this week?”
7. Last question -- When can we meet again? Set a time to connect again and to read the next passage in the story set.
Story Set Collection
The following story sets are for you to use with your friends. Most are story sets that others have created and we have collected to share with you here. These should give you an idea of how you could create your own story sets to respond to the felt needs of your friends or disciples.
54 Trial DBS Series
The parenting story set above comes from this great resource. I'd originally seen this collection of stories on a website which is no longer active. Thankfully my friend Chuck sent me a copy he received from a friend who was connected with Jerry Trousdale. This is a collection of 54 stores divided into nine major categories with six sets of six stories each. It is a really amazing resource. You can access this story set HERE.
Creation to Christ - Long Version
Beginning with Genesis, this study examines how God's plan of redemption unfolds throughout the Old Testament. It leaves the reader expectant for the fulfillment of the many prophecies found throughout the scripture.
You can access this story set HERE.
Creation to Christ - Short Version
A modified, shorter version of the original Creation to Christ set.
You can access this story set HERE.
Stories of Hope
A series of seven stories that introduce the reader to Jesus.
You can access this story set HERE.
Signs of John
A series of seven stories that introduce the reader to Jesus.
You can access this story set HERE.
Learning to Follow Jesus
A series of stories that allow you to disciple a new believer into the basics of following Christ. You can access this story set HERE.
Other Story Set Resources
I've written often about the importance of immersing ourselves in the word of God and have shared tools for helping us do that well. Today I want to take one step back and share a short scripture hammer tool to help young believers discover the absolute importance the scriptures. The tools are great but if your disciple doesn't understand why they need to apply the tool, well, it may not do much good.
When I sit down to read these with my disciple - or a group of disciples - I read each passage two to three times aloud and then have the individual or the group summarize the basic message in their own words. I save the last passage - Jesus' confrontation with the devil in the wilderness - for last as a way to sort of watch Jesus apply the scriptures in His own life.
The goal is to help our disciples discover the joy, the benefit and the power of the scriptures in our lives. The sooner we can help them begin prayerfully engaging with the scriptures on a daily basis, the quicker they will grow toward maturity. If we really believe that the Holy Spirit will guide us - and them - into all truth (John 16:13) then we have to help them get into the scriptures trusting that the Holy Spirit will indeed disciple them into all truth.
Do you have a young believer in your life who is struggling to get into the word daily? Find some time to sit down and work through these scriptures together.
Do you have another scripture or story that you would include in the list? Share it in the comments below.
If you do take a disciple through this discovery study, let me know how it went in the comments as well.
What is the person of peace? It's a term that is increasingly used both in the church and in the mission field. Practitioners of disciple making movements (DMM) often talk of searching for the person of peace and yet different groups use the term in different ways. All are correct but for those just beginning to explore the idea of the Person of Peace, a clarification might be in order.
Some define the Person of Peace (PoP) as anyone who welcomes and opens up their relational network to to the messenger - be that a missionary or a local lay believer crossing the street in their neighborhood. In this use, the PoP doesn't necessarily need to be someone who initially accepts the message, but rather gives permission to the messenger to share with the group. They are often a gatekeeper of sorts - an elder of the village or the patriarch of a family. God is using them to open the door for the message to go forward in their context. This is also sometimes referred to as a House of Peace.
A second way the idea of the Person of Peace is used is to simply indicate someone whom God has prepared to receive the gospel. They are a seeker, a God prepared person. Perhaps they've had a dream or a vision or have had a crisis in life that caused them to do some deep soul searching. Their heart is prepared to respond to the gospel. They are ready to receive the messenger and the message.
A final way I often hear to idea of the Person of Peace discussed is that they not only are prepared to receive the gospel, but they are also ready and able to reproduce and share the good news with other. They receive the message and the messenger but they also readily receive the mission. When the woman at the well believes Jesus in John 4 she immediately takes that message back to he village where she tells everyone the good news and brings them to Jesus. Many would also refer to this person as a "Fourth Soil Person" who reproduces 30, 60 or 100 times from the Parable of the Sower.
All of these definitions work but as you are reading the literature or listening to interviews with practitioners, it is helpful to understand how they are using the term. It was a bit confusing for me the first time I ran into the different ways it was being used.
Perhaps there are other ways to think about the Person of Peace. If so, let me know your thoughts in the comments.
Until then, I'd encourage you to download this discovery tool to help you learn about the Person of Peace from Jesus' ministry in the gospels. Trainer's notes are included on page three.
When Jesus told his disciples in Luke 10:2 that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few he was making a statement of fact. His encouragement was to pray for more harvesters and when he later delivered the great commission in Matthew 28, the marching orders for followers of Christ and his church became clear: Jesus came to seek and save the lost and his plan to accomplish the task was built on the development of disciples who make disciples. Out of this disciple making milieu churches naturally form. God gets the glory and the kingdom of Jesus expands. The simple creed, to know God and make him known, stands as a summary of the message of the Bible and the life purpose of any Christian.
As we cast our gaze back through church history we see the story of a church stumbling forward in this endeavor, sometimes embracing it wholeheartedly, sometimes distracted and faltering, sometimes accomplishing it through the divine push of the Spirit of God. The very first generation of Christians was laser focused on making disciples. They proclaimed the gospel boldly and God added to their numbers steadily (Acts 2:41, 47; 5:14, 42; 6:7). Outside of Philip however, few ventured beyond the walls of Jerusalem. And then, with the martyrdom of Stephen, God seems to have given His church a divine push and a ragtag collection of relatively new Christians soon scattered across the refugee road and “preached the word wherever they went” (Acts 8:4). The church, a family of ordinary, unschooled men and women living on the fringe of society, turned the Roman world upside down.
Each successive generation has had to discover their own role in obeying the great commission. At times the church has remained true to the core missionary task and at other times the church has turned inward, succumbed to the distracting lure of political power or simply capitulated to the ways of the world. Always there was a remnant and that remnant continued to follow Jesus into the harvest among those who had not yet heard. As the world grew and changed, the church adapted with it. New technologies and innovations opened up new opportunities to carry the gospel forward. The printing press allowed for the mass printing of Bibles and gospel tracts. The steam engine carried missionaries further, faster. The radio opened up the door to broadcasting the good news into the places Christian workers weren’t allowed.
Missiologist Doug Birdsall observed that, “The Great Commission is for every church in every culture in every generation. There are no exclusions. But . . . every church in every culture in every generation must determine the way in which they respond to this responsibility -- in a way that is appropriate to time and context.” Philip the Evangelist thought about his role in completing the great commission in completely different ways than Hudson Taylor did 1800 years later when he boarded a ship to China. And when Jim Elliot and Nate Saint dropped a bucket on a string out of a circling plane over the Amazon jungle they too innovated in order to take the gospel forward.
Today our world has changed in extraordinary ways. Globalization has led to the migrations of people across the globe in unprecedented numbers and now people groups once hidden in far away lands are living down the street. Technology has opened up doors of communication that never before existed. Where the printing press gave rise to the gospel tract, the internet has opened doors to place gospel messages on the smartphones in the hands of men and women who have never met a follower of Christ.
We can all agree that the Internet is a double edged sword carrying in its networks unimaginable power for both good and evil. And yet our redeemer God has led His church to utilize this new technology for His glory and the expansion of His kingdom. Mission agencies around the world are using social media marketing tools in order to connect with the hidden seekers scattered throughout every region, people group and religion.
One group serving in a Muslim majority country saw all in person connections shut down because of Covid in early 2020. After catching their breath and mourning the loss of ministry as they knew it, they began to run Facebook ads throughout the region. Within a few months they had engaged in more gospel conversations and seen more people come to faith than in the previous years they’d been in the country. Two young teenage girls who had been secret believers for over a year responded to one of those ads and for the first time were connected with other followers of Christ.
But it’s not only missionaries and professionals who are able to do this kind of work. Today, with a little coaching and some simple training, any follower of Christ with an Internet connection can begin building relationships with the unreached in the Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and tribal worlds – the church unleashed into the global harvest, partnering in the great commission as never before, being the answer to Jesus’ prayer for more harvesters.
A retired teacher in a small town in the Midwest heard about Crescent Project and the Embassy ministry and was soon connecting with English teachers through a Facebook group for teachers in the Middle East. She now regularly texts and calls with a handful of new friends - all of them are Muslim. She is the first true Christian any of them has met and she is praying for them daily, sharing regular testimonies of God’s faithfulness and, with two of these dear teachers, they have begun reading the Bible together.
A college student in London was watching a live soccer match on Youtube when he noticed that many of the people adding comments on the live chat were Hindi names. He began to interact and was able to connect with two new Hindu friends from East Asia - in a live chat on Youtube while watching a soccer match. Who knows where God will lead these young men as they begin to ask questions and hear about the good news from a twenty year old Brit.
Another Embassy volunteer was pleasantly surprised to find out that the young Iranian woman with whom she’d connected on a language learning app had recently become a Christian. A sister in Christ from Brazil had already been connecting with her, shared the gospel and led her to faith. In what the Embassy volunteer would say was one of the most powerful zoom calls of her life, these three sisters gathered together to share testimonies, read the Bible, worship and pray together.
God is on the move. He has always been on the move and has never missed an opportunity to redeem new technologies and innovations. Over 5 billion people in the world, if asked today, would say that they are not a Christian. 3.3 billion of those are a part of unreached people groups, ethnic groups without an indigenous, self-propagating Christian church. Many of them have never met a follower of Christ, have never read a Bible and have never been in a church. We must continue to raise up and send missionaries into these least reached regions of our planet - we must do so and we must send more.
But for those of us who are not going, we too can be a part of Christ’s harvest force. It will take a tenacious curiosity and teamwork and the expertise of those among us familiar with these new technologies. More than anything, like always, we’ll need to be faithful. Faithful like the two dear sisters who are vision impaired who have joined the Embassy team. Faithful like the many seventy and eighty year olds and the university students who are reaching out online and meeting Muslims. They too are a part of the Embassy ministry.
At Crescent Project, we would love to give you the training and the onramps to begin to reach out, connect with and share the love of Jesus with Muslims. There are other great organizations who can help you get started as well. The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few - join with me in praying for the Lord of the Harvest to send workers into those harvest fields.
Sometimes we catch glimpses of grace and truth in the unfolding realities of the world around us. Other times grace and truth come to us through the ugly realities of our own actions. Either way, we have an opportunity to learn. This poem was written in Istanbul, Turkey in 2009.
I saw you today.
Walking past my office window,
dumpster to dumpster with drag foot strides.
I saw you - all of you.
You two mothers pushing your finds in converted baby buggies,
babies slung over bent backs,
one tugging at the slack edge of a scarlet head scarf.
Your three and four year olds –
boys in rags and broken sandals –
sometimes behind, sometimes squirting ahead,
but always walking wearily,
wary of the ways of the back of your hand.
Harsh hands and harsher words carry them down dumpster lined streets.
The four year old’s mother
hands an unpeeled orange to his open hand,
rescued from refuse, but fails to peel it.
He makes a marvelous mess of pulp and juice before she,
the giver, the guardian,
slaps it from his greedy fingers.
On they walk,
on into their gypsy life,
their wandering life,
their hungry life,
And they disappear.
a father came.
A father with another four year old
and another converted baby buggy
and another journey down an Istanbul street,
dumpster to dumpster, market to market,
meal to meal to find to find.
He stopped the buggy behind a black Mercedes,
said stay – to the buggy and the boy –
and crossed to a waiting meal in the market trash.
The boy stayed,
lips moving – presumably for himself though I could not hear,
fingers fondling the days find.
But then a man approached,
middle aged and well dressed,
talking kind words to the boy, beckoning –
And the boy went, without qualm
quickly on his heels and into the next door store.
But then the father returned,
smiling at the two bruised apples and a smashed orange in his hands
to find the buggy but not the boy.
I saw it then.
I saw how much love he harbored in his tired heart for his son.
I saw it in the fear that crept into his eyes.
I saw it in the terror of his movements
and in the two new bruises the apples received
as they hit the concrete at his broken sandals.
I saw it in his hands, cupped around shouting lips –
I saw it in the flood of relief that his smiling son
gave him when he bolted from the store,
cookies clutched in jubilant hands.
A broken heart was not broken more.
The middle aged man walked past the two,
a silent Samaritan not letting left know what right had done.
On he walked,
on into his Muslim life,
his secular life,
his blessed life.
And he disappeared.
I walk home along the sea,
praying for this nation,
praying for grace and discernment to be salt and light to this land.
I stop at the store,
mindlessly buying four kinds of noodles,
not knowing what we’ll make with them.
My groceries and I make our way to the tunnel where
I will cross the tracks and head for home.
On a concrete bench
Sit two tired teenage boys.
“Mister, we’re hungry. Do you have any food? Do you have any money?”
I stop, surprised.
“Would you like some noodles?”
I offer to blank stares and then add –
“You can cook them at home.”
Their look tells me they may not have a home.
“We’re hungry mister. Do you have any money?”
I turn and I walk
And I cross the tracks
And walk from them
But the five lira in my pocket doesn’t disappear.
And the words of Jesus don’t disappear.
“You will always have the poor among you.”
It seems now more a command than a fact.
A command I’ve missed through a sham of fact.
If the poor are not among us,
Could it be we disobey?
I surely did today.
I surely did today.
As we immerse ourselves in the story of the scriptures, we allow the Holy Spirit to use them to shape our view of the world, of ministry and of ourselves. Scripture hammer trainings allow a trainer to step out of the way and allow the Bible to do the heavy lifting of the training. They require little charism on the part of the trainer, are hard to argue with and place a tool in the hands of those we are training that is immediately reproducible.
The basic idea is to create a list of scriptures that all point toward the basic Biblical principle or lesson you are wanting your trainees to grasp. A scripture hammer study is best done in groups of 2-5 and then debriefed as a group. You can create your own for any topic you'd like to train on.
I've created a one page handout with six scripture hammer studies that I've learned from others and that I've been using to train. The focus of these particular studies are:
[CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE SIX STUDIES]
I've written previously about a few of these topic and you can check those out at the links below:
A good friend shared Job 39:13-18 with me a few weeks ago and I've been continuing to learn from the topic of that particular passage: the ostrich.
I've been able to share with the Lord has been teaching me in two different churches in the last month and so thought I'd share it here as well. May it encourage you to discover the unique ways that you have been gifted and the unique ways that God is wanting to work through you to expand His kingdom and declare His glory.
You can watch the sermon above.
While coronavirus has caused a lot of disruption in our world it has also created some great new opportunities. Crescent Project's annual national conference has needed to adjust and has moved online.
Introducing the Hope Conference. More accessible than ever and FREE, Hope Conference will happen Thursday September 10th from 9 am - 2 pm central time. The event will feature top notch speakers, opportunities to interact with mission mobilizers, missionaries, former Muslims and Crescent Project staff and all of this will happen online.
This will be a great opportunity to be encouraged and equipped to join the work that God is doing in the Muslim world.
Watch alone or gather some friends!
A short video sharing a framework for understanding suffering. This framework has helped me understand the role of suffering in the life of the disciple of Jesus. The sound quality isn't perfect, but I'd love to hear your thoughts. What would you add to this framework? How have you been developing a theology of suffering?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.
The E2E Community