Persecution in America

6 10 2015

persecutionMy eager expectation and hope is that I will not be ashamed about anything, but that now as always, with all boldness, Christ will be highly honored in my body, whether by life or by death.
Philippians 1:20

In this passage of scripture, Paul is writing from prison. He has been imprisoned because of his faith in Christ. His prayer is simply that no matter what happens, Christ would be glorified, whether he lives through this persecution or he is killed. Death is a reality that he is facing as he writes this letter.

In recent years, there have been numerous Christians talking and writing about increased persecution of Christians in America. Certainly there have been instances where Christian people or businesses have been targeted expressly because they hold a Biblical worldview, but the vast majority of these do not end up in prison or dead. We have all been following the news about the mass shooting that happened in a small college in Oregon. It has been reported that the gunman was targeting Christians. There have been in the recent past other such shootings with similar stories of Christians being targeted and killed, but, not to minimize these tragedies, these events are not the norm and are usually carried out by mentally unstable people. In America today there is no widespread, systematic persecution of Christians going on where the end result is imprisonment, death, or banishment.

To say that we, as American believers, are persecuted is an insult to the many Christians that face hatred, discrimination, death, torture and imprisonment in other parts of the world simply because they have chosen to follow Jesus. Instead of crying foul at the media, sharing alarmist articles on social media, and wishing for the good ole’ days, we should be taking advantage of the unprecedented freedom that we have to share the gospel not just in our country, but in most places on the planet. The fact of the matter is that I could go out on our streets right now, share the gospel with someone, and see them become a Jesus-follower, and neither of us is going to face prison, torture, or death. If it ever comes to that, then we can start calling it persecution.

In the end, though, persecution does not matter, because all that matters is that God receives the glory. If I live in a country where persecution is the norm, then by my imprisonment, torture, and death I should see that God is glorified. If I live in America where I can share openly and freely, then by my life I should see that God is glorified.

May Paul’s prayer be our prayer! We need to quit worrying about this fallen world. God will take care of that. It should be no surprise that this country is going the direction it is going, yet we act shocked when a sinful people actually sin. We have been called to see that God receives all glory, and by His plan we are to do that by making disciples of all people groups. Paul could have easily languished in prison feeling sorry for himself. Instead he boldly witnessed so much that it could be said that the entire Imperial Roman Guard knew that he was imprisoned because of his faith in Christ. God, please, give us that same expectation and hope!

Local Missions Challenge

2 10 2015


I have recently been taking people in our church through a mental exercise that seems simple at first, but eventually really challenges our assumptions about missions, especially local missions. I will start out explaining to the group that we have all been called to move overseas to work with an unreached tribe. I then ask them to begin listing all of the things that we need to do to reach that tribe for Christ. This is very simple as we list things such as church planter training, language and culture acquisition, moving there, building relationships with people, sharing the gospel, etc. It seems that many people understand the concept of missions when we are talking about a foreign place or even simply moving to another town. The trick is when I turn the conversation into how do we go about doing missions locally where we live. Minds begin to blow up at this point.

We have been trained that missions is really done by a specially called and trained minority of Christians that move somewhere to do it full-time. When asked about what we can do locally to reach people, we usually think of one-shot good deeds, like feeding the homeless. Missions is easy if all we have to do is go to a particular place one Saturday morning and hand out some food, but is that really missions? We have already seen what missions looks like when a missionary moves to another country. We understand that! So, the question is… Why is it so hard to transfer our strategy for reaching an unreached tribe to reaching the homeless that live in our home town? I think the answer is that we do not see ourselves as missionaries. It is easier to go do a good deed on Saturday morning, feel good about ourselves, and make it back in time for the good football games.

I believe that we all need to shift our thinking towards the fact that Jesus’ commands were not for a spiritually elite, but were for all to obey. We must learn to see ourselves as missionaries where we live. The goal of any missionary is to see a reproducing, indigenous church. The goal should be the same for a believer working with the homeless in their home town. We need to ask greater questions than just… How do I get someone’s belly full for a day? We need to be asking questions such as… How do we most effectively share the gospel with the homeless? How do we make them disciples? We need to apply the same strategies used in reaching an unreached tribe to reach the homeless, such as… getting trained, learning the culture and language, moving there, building relationships, sharing the gospel, etc.

The realization that I am a missionary changes everything. It changes how I view my work or vocation. It changes how I interact with my neighbors. If I truly am a missionary, God has sent me into the neighborhood in which I currently live. The easy part is that you already know the culture and language. That takes foreign missionaries years to acquire. Maybe you just need some training, and you definitely need to introduce some intentionality into your missionary living. As a missionary, you can no longer just let your kids sign up and play soccer. You now must understand that in God’s sovereignty He has placed your child on that particular team, because He wants you around those particular parents in order for you to be His ambassador of reconciliation. You must also train your children in the Lord by teaching them that God has placed them as a missionary on that team. I hope you see how powerful this change or shift in perception is. I believe that if just a small fraction of believers would understand and implement this lifestyle, it would change our city.

The End

28 09 2015

theendAnd this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Matthew 24:14 ESV

Last night, many of you went out to see the lunar eclipse take place. In our area, it was a beautiful night to do so. My family had to pick me up late at the airport, and on the way home we stopped in a big, dark parking lot to enjoy the view. It is always funny how events like this get Christians stirred up about end time prophecy. Many church-goers love to talk and debate about when the end will come and what it will be like. I saw multiple shares on Facebook this last week concerning these topics. Pastors love to preach through the book of Revelation, because it gets people to come to church. The problem with most talking and preaching on this subject is that it is pure speculation. I remember when I was in high school that we had a guest preacher come and talk about how Jesus was going to return in 1996. He had all kinds of Biblical “proof.”

I am all for reading the book of Revelation! John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote that we are blessed if we read it (Revelation 1:3), but we have to be careful when interpreting the meaning of John’s apocalyptic language. I believe that Jesus gave us this book to give us hope, not information about how things are going to exactly play out.

The funny thing is that when talking about end time prophecy, most people do not talk about the most definitive statement on Jesus’ return ever. Plus, this statement came from Jesus himself. In Matthew 24, Jesus’ disciples have come to him and have asked him the same question that we want to know: When will the end take place? Jesus proceeds to tell them about things to watch out for, including wars, famines, earthquakes, and false teachers. Jesus then says that at some point the gospel will be preached all over the world as a witness to every ethnic group. When enough people from every ethnic group on earth receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior, Jesus says very plainly, “…and then the end will come.” The end of the age is not contingent upon a lunar eclipse or a certain country invading another or the increase of evil. These are signs that the end is coming, but the end itself will only take place when the Great Commission is completed. This is further confirmed in Revelation 7:9 when John looks and sees a multitude from every ethnic group worshipping the Lamb.

The exciting part about all of this is that we have never been so close. With a concerted effort the Church could possibly get missionaries to every ethnic group within a short time span. That effort is underway but needs more help and finances. As Christians, if we truly long for the return of Jesus, we would be doing all we can to fulfill the Great Commission. How awesome would it be to be apart of the generation that got to usher in the return of Jesus!

I believe that God has given our generation the ability and the potential to finish His task of getting the gospel to every ethnic group, but it will take each of us as individuals to come under His Lordship and follow Him with utter abandon to the uttermost parts of the world. Let events like last night’s lunar eclipse or the world news spur us on to get the gospel to unreached people groups, because it is only then that the end will come.

Let It Be Said of Me

6 08 2014

On July 28th at about 10am my family and I were driving to Moab to go see Arches National Park when I received an email saying that Charles Whitlow had passed away. It was not a complete shock as he had been battling cancer for quite a while, but I don’t think anyone is ever truly ready for the inevitable. For as far back as my memory takes me, I remember Doc being in church and always coming or going on some mission trip. Little did I know, at the time, what an impact he would have on my life. Doc was one of the strong influences on my life for stepping into the Great Story of God and following the command of Jesus to go and make disciples of all nations. He was on my first trip to Tanzania. It was on that trip that I called Jennifer to tell her that this is where we are moving. I will never forget the last words that Doc and I shared in the lobby at church before I was to leave on another mission trip just a few weeks before he passed away. As we both cried, he hugged me and talked about how moving it was to see all of the people going out into the mission field from our church. Doc’s legacy is a huge part of why the flame of missions burns so brightly in Grand and in my life.

I went to Doc’s funeral just this past Monday. I actually brought my boys to this funeral, because I knew it was going to be different. Doc certainly did not disappoint. Passed out at the doors was an insert of words that Doc wanted to leave people with, and those words spoke boldly of the love of Jesus being the fuel for mission’s flame. His youngest, Stuart Whitlow, shared the funeral message and did a masterful job of not only honoring the man but honoring his God above all. He spoke of how his Dad was compelled to go, not just for the sake of going, but because of his passionate love for his Savior, Jesus Christ. He concluded his funeral message with the words that you would best honor Doc by going.

On that long road through the high desert of Southern Utah, I remember thinking about funerals in general. Most funerals typically make people think about their eternal destination, and rightly so! But I knew that Doc’s funeral was going to go farther. Doc’s life challenged believers not only to look forward to eternity with God in Heaven, but challenged them further to do the impossible for God while still in these mortal bodies. Jesus did not die on a cross for me so that I could just enjoy eternal security. He died and was raised to life so that I could be apart of His plan to redeem a lost world. Doc lived that life to the fullest, and I know he has now reaped the rewards of his service.

That is the funeral I want. When I die, I want people to be challenged to go. I want revival to come from my death if it will not come from my life. Whatever, whether in life or death, let it be said of me that I gave all for my Savior who gave His all for me.

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

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.


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