The Joy of Missions

19 02 2014

joyofmissions18 yet I will triumph in Yahweh;
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation!
19 Yahweh my Lord is my strength;
He makes my feet like those of a deer
and enables me to walk on mountain heights!
Habakkuk 3:18-19

One of my favorite books of all time is Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. This Christian classic is an allegory that is based around a girl named Much-Afraid who decides to give her life to and follow the Chief Shepherd with the hope of one day running on the mountains, even though now she is crippled. At the end of this tale, she is transformed in the beautiful Grace & Glory and is able to walk on the mountain heights. As she enjoys her time in the Kingdom of the Chief Shepherd, she finds herself looking back down into the Valley of Humiliation where she had come so long ago and feeling love for the very people who tormented her before. One of the last scenes in the book is of Grace & Glory running down the mountains with her head thrown back laughing, ready to share the love of the Chief Shepherd with those who need to hear and experience that love.

Most of the best times of my life were while participating in the sending of God. I will never forget the times of worshipping in a mud hut with my Tanzanian friends with nothing but a plastic bucket and a stick for accompaniment. I will never forget laughing over a game of Settlers of Catan with my friends in Central Asia. I will never forget bringing rice to a hungry village on the backwaters of the Amazon River, or eating hamburgers with college students in Anchorage, or hugging the kids at Orphanage Emmanuel. This is the throwing back of the head and laughing while running down the mountain in total abandonment to the will of God. There is no greater joy!

We were created to glorify God, and in that glorifying we experience the greatest joy. Jesus has given us the mandate to go into all the world as the way in which we glorify God, and so it is in the going that we experience our greatest joy. Church members everywhere miss out on the greatest joy of their life, because they think they are fine by just attending church, fellowshipping with other believers, reading the Bible, and listening to Christian music. These are not bad things by any means, but they are incomplete without us working towards fulfilling the mission of God. We so often waste our lives on things that might make us happy in the moment, but will never bring us the greatest enjoyment. John Piper once said, “If you live gladly to make others glad in God, your life will be hard, your risks will be high, and your joy will be full.”

Determine this day that you will seek the greatest joy by participating in the great mission of God.





Get Your Passport

12 02 2014

passport
Every Christian should have a passport. Jesus commanded us to go and make disciples of all nations, so we should always be going. Jesus provided no loopholes or gave any free passes. He simply commanded us to not only go to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, but also to the ends of the earth. In the Gospels, I never see Jesus talking about staying, but rather sending. Somewhere along the way, we have made missions an optional activity where just a select few are called. This is contrary to everything in the Bible. We are very clearly called, and Jesus even spells out in a number of verses where we are to go: the nations, the ends of the earth, every tribe, every language, etc.

If we are all called to go, then the special calling should be to stay. We have it backwards. We tell God that we will go if He calls us, but He already has called us! We should not be praying about whether or not to go. That has been settled. We should only be praying about where we should go. If, in the midst of praying about where you should go, God calls you to stay, then by all means stay!

I have often been accused of using guilt as a tool to try and get people to go. When I was growing up, I loved sugar. I would actually sneak into our kitchen, get our sugar jar, and eat a mouthful of white sugar. Of course, my mom caught me one day and told me to never do that again. She did not just tell me no because she was mean – she knew it was bad for me. When I did it again, I was guilty. No one would say I was innocent. I disobeyed my mom! Guilt is not a bad thing. It becomes bad when we dwell in that guilt and not embrace the forgiveness and freedom that is found in Christ. Guilt is used by the Holy Spirit to initially lead people to salvation, and later to help us mature in our faith. If I am accused of using guilt, then I’m guilty as far as I am trying to make people aware of the commands of Christ. That is all I can do. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict us of sin. If someone is not following the commands of Jesus, then he is guilty of disobedience.

When we hear Jesus command us to go and make disciples of all nations, our first reaction should be, “Ok, Jesus, where?” Any other response is disobedience. When we hear Jesus say that as the Father has sent me, I am sending you, our response should be, “I’m ready, just tell me where!” Any other response is disobedience. Our timing is key as well. Delayed obedience is still disobedience. If I told my mom that I was going to wait a couple of years to obey her sugar law, I am guilty. That is not obedience. God is calling you to obey His commands now – not when the kids are grown up a little more – not when you have more money – not when things are a bit more stable. God wants your obedience now.

The bottom line is if you truly trust God or not. Do you believe that He has the best in mind for you and for His glory? Do you believe that His command to go is not arbitrary, but has a purpose? If you answered yes to the two previous questions, here is the hardest: Will you do anything He says and go anywhere He points? If you have not gotten a passport, why not, as an act of saying to God that I am ready to go anywhere, get started on the application process?





Everyone Sent

4 02 2014

everyonesentAs You sent Me into the world,
I also have sent them into the world.
John 17:18

In this passage of scripture, Jesus is praying for His disciples. If we have called Jesus our Lord, then we are now His disciples. Therefore Jesus is praying for those who now follow Him. He is telling God the Father that just as God sent Him into the world, He is sending you and me. If you are a believer, you are sent into the world. If this is not perfectly clear, Jesus later clarifies in Acts 1:8 that your sending into the world involves sharing the gospel not just in your neighborhood, but also over the whole earth. Jesus leaves no room for any other options. You cannot choose to just attend church, sing some songs, do some good deeds, and claim to be a follower of Christ. If you are a true follower, you will be sent into the world to share the love of God and the message of the cross.

In a book written by Francis Dubose entitled God Who Sends, he says, “Every Christian is called (1) ‘out of,’ (2) ‘into,’ (3) ‘in order that.'” Most believers have no problem with the first two. We love that we are called out of our sin, out of an eternity without God, out of broken relationships, out of condemnation and judgement. We love that we have been called into a love relationship with Jesus, into a fellowship of other believers, into a future hope of glory. Where most believers stumble is believing that we have also all been called in order that the world might hear the gospel, in order that God might be glorified through our lives, in order that others might experience the grace of God.

Many people today love going to coffee shops where they have the ability to customize their individual drink by choosing from a long list of different options. I enjoy a coffee shop in town called Sweet Bay where I always get a double short almond roca. The danger is that many so-called Christians treat Christianity like their favorite local coffee shop, and if they do not want to choose missions… so be it. I like to try all of the different coffee drinks, but sometimes, like when I am out camping, I just like some good old-fashioned campfire coffee straight black and steaming. Jesus is telling us plainly in John 17:18 that the only available choice for our life as His follower is the bold, lay-it-all-on-the-altar, God-glorifying leap into the uttermost parts of the world in order that others might hear the gospel and have a chance to respond.





Growing Up

3 02 2014

growingup

I just got back yesterday from a trip to Dallas, Texas, where we worked with Bhutanese Refugees. These are always fantastic trips! We have teamed up with Chris & Cheryl Read who have volunteered much time and effort to help the Bhutanese out. We took a total of eight people with us on this particular trip. We drove down to Dallas on Friday afternoon and arrived to a great ethnic meal cooked by our Bhutanese friends. The next day we spent going to different apartments to meet new Bhutanese refugees, many of whom have only been in the US for less than three months. Our desire was twofold: 1. to begin relationships with these new folks and connect them to the local Bhutanese Christian community and 2. to encourage our fellow Bhutanese workers to do outreach themselves.

The last time that we went to Dallas, we went over to new people’s apartments bearing many gifts to help them get started on their new life in America. I was pleasantly surprised to find out when we arrived this time, that the Bhutanese believers did not want us to bring any gifts with us at all. Their reasoning was that the gifts only serve to spoil the people. They have seen that all of these well-intentioned ministries have created a culture of enablement. Instead, we were just going to bring ourselves and God’s love. I see this as a positive sign that the Bhutanese Christian community is maturing in their faith. They are growing up into a wonderful church, and it is encouraging to see.

It really was an incredible weekend. We ministered to many people by praying for them and just hearing their remarkable stories of living in a refugee camp for twenty years. We saw many connections made between Bhutanese Christians and Bhutanese Hindus. We were also blessed to get to encourage a new church plant of about 40 Bhutanese. We were able to take their youth out bowling and to eat pizza. We intended to worship with them on Sunday morning, but the weather forced us to leave before the service started.

Please, email me if you are interested in this work. Our intention is to take about three trips to Dallas per year.





Proximity

23 01 2014

proximity

There is an old story told of a farmer who had gone inside his house just prior to sunset to avoid a large storm that was brewing in the vicinity. As he was preparing for dinner, he looked out his window and saw a tiny sparrow perched on the electric line that ran down from his house. He knew that if that bird stayed there as the storm hit, it would be killed. He felt sorry for the bird and got an idea. He went out to the barn and opened the door. His thinking was that the sparrow would see the open door, fly into the barn, and find safety from the coming storm. But, the bird just sat there too scared to move. Next the farmer started up an old kerosene lantern and placed it inside the barn. Maybe the bird will see the light and fly in, but, again, the bird just sat on his perch. The man then ran inside and found some bread. He put pieces under the electric wire in a line that led to the door of the barn, but every time the little bird got close to the door, he flew back to his perch. Slowly, the man shook his head and said to himself, “I wish that I could become a sparrow and fly to the little bird and tell him of the danger so that he would be safe from the storm.”

What we could never do, God did through the person of Jesus in that miraculous event that we call the Incarnation. In a sense, God became a sparrow to save all the other birds from certain death. Through, Jesus, God drew close to us and invites us to an abundant, eternal life. Now Jesus calls us to do the same. In John 20:21 he says, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” We are called in this commission statement to do as Jesus did and draw close to men and women who need to hear the life-saving gospel. In order to get this message to people that need to hear it, we must first be in close proximity to them. It is easy to think of this in terms of international missions. If you wanted to share the gospel with an unreached people group in a particular country, you would need to fly there. In the case of local missions, the simplicity of the concept of proximity sometimes eludes the best of Christians. Locally, we have our churches along with our fellowships and activities that we do with other believers. We have Bible studies during the week. We have our Christian bookstores. We have our Christian schools. There is certainly nothing wrong with any of this, except when we completely surround ourselves with such a solid wall of Christian “stuff” that we can not get out or others can not get in to us. To fulfill the command of Jesus to make disciples, we must first place ourselves in close proximity to those who have not accepted Jesus.

To place yourself in close proximity to others that need to hear the gospel locally, is not difficult; it just takes intentionality. We will not naturally do this. Our natural way is to find the path of least resistance, so instead of inviting friends over to watch the game with you, you curl up in your recliner by yourself. Instead of putting the headphones on during your workout at the gym, take them off and engage in conversations. Instead of hiking by yourself, join a hiking club. There are a thousand different ways that we can put ourselves in places that might give us the opportunity to share the gospel. Obviously, there is more to seeing people saved, than just being close, but this is a start.

This concept of proximity can be explored further in a great book by Brad Brisco & Lance Ford called Missional Essentials: A Guide for Experiencing God’s Mission in Your Life.





Open Hands

20 01 2014

openhands1 May God be gracious to us and bless us;
look on us with favor
2 so that Your way may be known on earth,
Your salvation among all nations.
Psalm 67:1-2

Most Christians live in verse one of this passage and never go on to verse two. Want proof? Just attend a prayer meeting and notice what the majority of the prayers are. Look at any prayer list. The majority of prayers are for my second cousin’s twisted ankle or my grandmother’s friend’s head cold. Health concerns can and should be prayed for, but when they make up the bulk of our praying, I believe it shows a verse one-only attitude toward Christianity. Most Christians in the circles that I run vehemently oppose the health and wealth gospel, yet together we live it everyday. We pray verse one, but never move on to verse two. Everyone wants God’s blessing, but few want the responsibility that comes with those blessings.

I once heard a lady share her testimony that she really needed a new $300 rug to put in the foyer of her home. She just had to have it, because it would complete the look in that room. She didn’t have the money for it, but surprisingly, she got an unexpected check in the mail from the IRS. She determined that God had seen her need and answered her unspoken prayer and provided for that rug. This is verse one-only theology. It is a theology that says that we can pick and choose which verses we want to use and leave out the ones that make us uncomfortable. You and I might not be as open as the rug lady, but to some extent most of us live in verse one and never move to verse two. Scripture tells us to look at our fruit as proof. We have more than enough stuff, but how many people have come to Christ because of our testimonies? We are rich by worldly standards, but how many use that wealth to reach the nations? We are well educated, but how many use that education to think of creative ways to get the gospel to closed countries? We have unprecedented ways to communicate, but how many use social media to bring God glory (and I’m not talking about sharing trite Christian sayings)?

The blessings that God gives to us are not for us to keep in a clinched fist. They are to be placed in open hands ready to distribute to the nations for the glory of God. God does not get the most glory when we hold tightly to our blessings, but when we use those blessings to help bring about reconciliation between lost man and God. All too often, God blesses man to bless the nations, but instead, man keeps the blessings and receives the glory himself as if he manufactured the blessings through his own hard work.

One thing that I would like to point out in this passage that really stood out to me is that in verse two, the word “way” is singular. God blesses us so that His way would be known. There are not multiple pathways to God as many are preaching today. There is only the Way, and that only Way to God is Jesus. Through His grace and mercy, God has chosen to use you and me as his ambassadors to reach a lost world. There is no other plan that we know of! God could, if He wanted, send angels to witness, but for whatever reason He has made us the only way to get the good news to the nations. He blesses us to give us the ability and authority to accomplish His mandate.

We need to regularly evaluate our life. Use this opportunity to ask yourself if your blessings are being held selfishly or in open hands. Look at what God has blessed you with in verse one, and determine how you can use those more effectively to fulfill verse two.





Missional Living

15 01 2014

missionalliving

Missional Living seems to be the new buzz word for publishers and authors. Our staff is currently reading a book together called Everyday Church by Chester & Timmis where this idea of missional living has been fleshed out in their church in the UK. My pastor, Brad Lewter, and I are about to teach a class out of a study called Missional Essentials by Ford & Brisco. The basic idea of missional living is that we live our everyday lives together in community with other believers and unbelievers, and the gospel is spread through organic relationships.

The reason that I am excited about the possibility of this idea making its way into the life of our church and churches in America is because it is a Biblical approach to reaching people with the gospel. It also acknowledges the fact that our society and culture are successfully pushing the church to the margins, and that in this post-Christian era, we must change tactics to reach people. Usually our churches host big events at their church and ask their congregation to invite their friends. When someone actually brings an unbeliever to church, we call that evangelism or missions. We have even gone as far as letting people think that they are doing evangelism if they paint faces at a church-sponsored community event. In the Bible Belt, where our church is located, these events can still be somewhat successful where the church has not been completely pushed to the fringes. Although, our experience is that the fruit from these events continues to decrease each year. We just cannot afford to assume that when we host a large evangelistic event people are going to show up, so every year we spend more and more money on advertising.

Back in November, our church hosted a huge event where we gave out 1,000 turkey dinners and shared the gospel with around 2,000 people. It cost us about $30,000 to do this event, and we utilized more than 200 volunteers. Our pastor shared the gospel very clearly, and many people responded. We even baptized – that day – over 40 people. Every person that responded was invited to come back to church that next Sunday through an invite card and a phone call on the Saturday before in order to receive a free Bible, eat a great breakfast, and attend a new believer’s Bible study. We had three people show up on Sunday and one of those has stuck it out the last couple of months. The bottom line is that we spent $30,000 and countless man hours to reach one person and see them become a disciple (remember our mandate is to “make disciples,” not converts). Is that one person worth it? Of course, but could we be better stewards and reach more people with less time and money? I think, yes. Some would argue that we need to do events like this to simply be a light in our community. If that is all that we are doing, then we would be no different than any charitable organization – Christian or not (we have about the same results). And, yes, of course, Jesus fed the poor. If we were effectively reaching people with the gospel and making disciples throughout our church, then an occasional event to give back to the community would be appropriate. But when we rely upon these events to do our evangelism for us, we are going to continue to lose ground.

Missional Living invites every person to live intentionally to reach their friends, neighbors, and family for Christ with the help of a close-knit community of believers. The gospel does not move from big event to big event, but from house to house. When someone accepts Christ through a personal relationship, they are much more likely to become a disciple, church-attender, worshipper, giver, etc. My resolution for 2014 is to begin living this way with my family, and to begin to mobilize as many in our church to live intentionally through education and example. It is funny when I think about it… this is the way that we lived in Tanzania to reach the Pare Tribe.








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