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.





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.





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.





The Day

23 08 2013

dayIf anyone builds on that foundation with gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, or straw, each one’s work will become obvious, for the day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire; the fire will test the quality of each one’s work.
1 Corinthians 3:12-13

Many Christians have the notion that when they walked down an aisle, said a prayer, and were baptized that they received their Hell insurance. Many of these people live a decent life – never getting into too much trouble – go to church, have other Christian friends, listen to the latest worship music, and even give to their local fellowship. In my opinion, it is hard to determine if these people are truly saved or simply living a cultural Christianity. It is not my place to judge, because only God can see the heart. In 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, we see Paul talking about how Jesus is his foundation. He is assuming here that the people that he is writing to are believers who have initially built Jesus as their foundation. This is important for each person to personally make the distinction between simply doing Christian things and having Jesus as your foundation. There is an eternal difference between the two.

Assuming that Jesus is your foundation, Paul goes on to say that we are building upon that foundation by what we do in this life. At some point in time, this passage calls it the Day, we, as Christians, will stand before Jesus in judgement. We will not be judged for our sins. That has already been taken care of by Jesus on the cross and our accepting that free gift of eternal life. Your eternity is secure. Rather, you will be judged on what you have accomplished from the time you first laid Jesus as your foundation until you died physically. Scripture here says that He will take all of those things that you have done and throw it into the fire. There are some works that are gold, silver, and costly stones, and other works that are wood, hay, and straw. Some of your works will be worthwhile and will pass through the judgement fire. Others will be burned up and count for nothing. The key here is knowing which is which so that we can do the things that have eternal significance.

The Bible clearly spells out what the gold, silver, and costly stones are. This is not some big secret. Paul, in Galatians, says that for him to live is Christ. That’s it. We live for Christ’s glory. And how do we do that, you may ask? Christ gets the greatest glory when more people are glorifying Him. Therefore, we must spread the story of His good news to all the world, so that more people will hear it, accept it, and glorify Jesus because of it. Paul had a single-minded passion to do this, and he continually built a house out of those things that will last. Too many of us are simply building out of flammable material. We live our own lives with a little bit of Christianity and good works thrown in.

You might ask what difference does this make. You get to go to heaven anyways. If you read the next two verses, you will see that if anything lasts you will be rewarded. If everything is burned up, then you will suffer loss. I don’t know about you, but when I finally stand before Jesus, who gave His all for me, I do not want to be standing there with empty hands. He deserves so much more than that. Because of what Christ has done for us, we should be compelled to do anything and everything for Him, even if it costs us our lives. We should be driven as Paul was to live only for Christ and not for ourselves. It is time to break out of this mess that we call Christianity and begin to live for Christ.





Give Recognition

15 08 2013

recognition

Now we ask you, brothers, to give recognition to those who labor among you and lead you in the Lord and admonish you, and to regard them very highly in love because of their work…
1 Thessalonians 5:12-13

Not too long ago we hosted a couple who are missionaries to a country in Central Asia in our church. I had the opportunity to interview them during the morning worship service. At the conclusion of the interview, I shared the above passage of scripture with our church and asked our congregation to help me honor them. Our church gave them a LONG standing ovation for their service and work for the Lord. It was an incredibly touching moment as I watched as our church gave recognition to these two unsung heroes of the faith. After the clapping died down and we all were seated again, with tears in their eyes, this missionary couple gave all the glory to God and rightly so. I know this couple personally, and I know how humble they are, so they certainly did not expect this outpouring of love. I simply stated that we were doing what the Word of God told us to do.

One of the top reasons for missionaries leaving the field and pastors leaving the ministry is simple burnout. When we lived overseas, our closest Christian, American friends lived more than three hours away. I understand how lonely it can be for our missionaries. It is only on rare occasions that they are able to come together and worship in their heart language with other believers and just talk about everyday things. Paul understood this as well, and that is why, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he wrote this passage of scripture.

Our church has the opportunity to partner with some fantastic missionaries all over the world. Our number one reason for participating in these partnerships is to come alongside them in their work to reach the unreached people group that they are working with. Our second reason for participating in these partnerships is to encourage them and to keep them going strong. I believe that if we can help to increase the longevity of our missionaries on the field, then we can increase the work. I tell all of our short-term teams that are heading out that I want it to be like Christmas morning when you arrive. Our teams going to Central Asia, for instance, will never be able to share the gospel to someone in their own Central Asian heart language, but they can encourage the missionaries that are there and do know the language. In verse 13 of our passage it says to regard them very highly in love. To me, this means that we should encourage them, pray for them continually, remember their birthdays, do something for them on holidays when it gets really lonely, keep up with their children’s lives, email them notes, and even go and visit them just to visit with them. You may be wondering if we actually spend thousands of dollars in airfare just to go and visit our missionaries, and the answer is a resounding yes! Paul tells us that we should regard our missionaries highly.

In light of this scripture, what can you do to encourage our missionaries and ministers and pastors? Can you go on a mission trip to hang out with the missionary kids? Can you write your pastor an encouraging note? Can you send a gift to one of our missionaries on their birthday? God’s plan is not for lone rangers to go out into the mission field and work it by themselves, but to have His church come alongside those who are following Him to the uttermost parts of the earth and participate as co-laborers and encouragers.





God Created the Nations

2 08 2013

created

So from there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth…
Genesis 11:8

When Noah and his family exited the ark, God told them to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth (Genesis 9:1). They did the first two really well, but they completely disobeyed the third command to fill the earth. They certainly were fruitful and multiplied according to the record in Genesis 10, but instead of scattering all over to fill the earth, they found a valley in the land of Shinar and started building a city with a tall tower as the centerpiece. God came about that time to see this city and the tower that they were building. God decided to make them obey this first commandment that He had given to Noah by confusing their languages and scattering them over the face of the whole earth. Thus we have the creation of the nations or tribes.

As Christians it is important for us to remember that God created these different tribes, people groups, cultures, languages, and ethnicities. It is also His desire to see a representative from each of these tribes redeemed and worshipping before His throne (Revelation 7:9). This means that as God loves His creation, so must we. Certainly these cultures, just like our own, were affected by the Fall. They are full of sinful attitudes, sinful traditions, and sinful superstitions. But we must recognize the fact that God has called us to love them and be a witness to them, and that eventually we will live with them forever in eternity for those who follow Jesus. We tend to think that eternity will be made up of just our culture group with Chris Tomlin leading the worship. This is called ethnocentrism. This malady causes us to lose sight of anyone but those in our own culture, and in its worst form causes us to be racist. God is calling us to love the nations, not to despise them. This includes the Northern Pashtun Tribe who predominately make up the Taliban. We have made enemies of them, but God still loves them fiercely and calls us to do the same.

As Christians, we are called to be in this world but not of it. This means that what we do as followers of Jesus does not always make sense to the world. One of these things is to love all the people of the world so much, that we would lay down our life for them. Christians will say that they love the Vietnamese. What they usually mean by that is that they have the best soup kitchens, but how many Vietnamese do they even know personally? Do they consistently pray for the Vietnamese people to come to Christ? Would they be willing to move to Vietnam in order to reach the millions of Vietnamese that have never heard the gospel? This is a different way of living. As followers of Jesus, we are not afraid to make friends with our Muslim neighbors and to attend their mosque with them. We intentionally frequent international food restaurants with the purpose of meeting representatives of unreached people groups. We can point to places on a world map that most people have never heard of. We invite international students to our homes during holidays. We go to some of the most dangerous places on the planet.

If God truly created the nations, what should our response be to that? Our lives will look different than even many people who attend our churches and racist jokes will no longer be funny. Since God created and loves the nations, He sent His only Son, Jesus, to the nations, who in turn sent His followers to the nations. This is God’s pattern. The question, then, is are we participating in that pattern or merely acting like the rest of the world.





Let the Heavens Be Glad

16 01 2013

heavens

I have just recently discovered a wonderful photographer whose picture is shown above. His name is Lincoln Harrison. You can see more of his photography by clicking here. It is absolutely amazing. It reminded me of the passage of scripture in Psalms…

Let the heavens be glad
        and the earth rejoice;
let the sea and all that fills it resound.
Let the fields and everything
        in them exult.
Then all the trees of the forest
        will shout for joy
before the Lord, for He is coming…
                          Psalm 96:11-13

This particular passage of scripture has been quoted often and has been made into songs. It talks about how the beauty of the creation of God cries out about His glory. It attests to the fact that we should be able to look at this beauty and know that there is a good God.

When we lived in Tanzania, we had to learn Swahili. We quickly found out that language is very closely tied to culture. One of the shocking things that we learned is that there really is no good way to say that something is beautiful in Swahili. In a survival culture there is no need to look at the sunset or the mountains and think about how beautiful they are. In the absence of any believers, Satan has even used language and culture to disguise God. These people truly live in darkness. This is why we cannot simply rely upon creation to point people to God. This is why the three verses above are at the end of the chapter. The first part of the chapter talks about how we first should “declare His glory among the nations.”

From now on allow the beauty of God’s creation to remind you of the fact that there are literally millions of people trapped in darkness. Let it spur you on toward opening your mouth in order to bring God glory by telling the nations the gospel story. See the resurrection in the sunrise and know that many do not believe. Lift your eyes to the mountains knowing that God is all-powerful and that He can and wants to use you to change the world. Look to the sunset and allow it to remind you that the days are coming to a close and that our mission is urgent.








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