The Privilege Of Suffering

4 03 2020

privilegesuffering

Last year was a tough year for our family. We lost someone who was very close to us unexpectedly. We did question then and continue to question now why God would have taken someone like him so early who was doing so much for the Kingdom of God. As you know, the loss of someone like that hurts. Sometimes the pain goes deeper than you believe you can bear.

I really hesitate to write about suffering because I feel like my suffering pales in comparison to others. Someone asked once, “What is the hardest language in the world to learn?” The answer is… the one you are currently learning. I think this is the case with suffering. We don’t need to compare our suffering. We just need to acknowledge that, regardless of the circumstances, suffering is hard in general.

I’ll be honest and say that I find it difficult to understand suffering. Why has God used suffering as a tool to sanctify us? Could He have not used Oatmeal Cream Pies, so that the more Little Debbies you eat, the holier you become? I could get on board with that plan!

Sanctification

I think one reason that God chose suffering to make us more like Him was because there is nothing else that draws us deeper into him. There is nothing else that makes us rely solely upon Him. In our darkest moments and in the time we are experiencing our most excruciating pain is when we truly cry out for help and find that God has been with us all along. In the place of suffering is when we finally shed our pride and fully understand that apart from Jesus we are nothing.

What is absolutely crazy is that we don’t serve a God who has just arbitrarily placed this burden on us. He actually fully understands! Hebrews 5:8-9 says, “Although he was the Son, he learned obedience from what he suffered. After he was perfected, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him…” (italics mine) In my deepest heartbreak, when I feel Jesus’ hand on my shoulder, I know it is a hand that has been nail-pierced.

Gospel

Another reason for suffering is found in Colossians 1:24 where Paul said, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I am completing in my flesh what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for his body, that is, the church.” In the previous passage in Hebrews it says that through Jesus’ sufferings He was perfected. Paul is saying here that the plan has not been made complete. Jesus is perfect and has completed for us everything that is needed to be made righteous by dying on the cross in our place. However the plan to get this good news to a lost and dying world is not yet complete and will be completed through the suffering of His servants.

Paul didn’t say that he was begrudgingly and bitterly walking through suffering for the sake of the gospel. He said, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings…” Paul considered it a privilege to suffer for the sake of Christ and His gospel.

Helen Roseveare

This past Monday evening at a class called Perspectives, our teacher, Jessie Smith, introduced us to a woman named Helen Roseveare. Helen was a missionary to the Congo 1953-1973. In 1964 a brutal civil war broke out where Helen along with other workers were captured. On October 29 of that year Helen was brutally beaten and raped by her captors. She later recounted: (taken from this article)

On that dreadful night, beaten and bruised, terrified and tormented, unutterably alone, I had felt at last God had failed me. Surely He could have stepped in earlier, surely things need not have gone that far. I had reached what seemed to be the ultimate depth of despairing nothingness.

In this darkness, however, she sensed the Lord saying to her:

You asked Me, when you were first converted, for the privilege of being a missionary. This is it. Don’t you want it? . . . These are not your sufferings. They’re Mine. All I ask of you is the loan of your body.

She eventually received an “overwhelming sense of privilege, that Almighty God would stoop to ask of me, a mere nobody in a forest clearing in the jungles of Africa, something He needed.”

This theme of “privilege” became prominent in Helen’s ministry. In her Urbana ’76 address, she said:

One word became unbelievably clear, and that word was privilege. He didn’t take away pain or cruelty or humiliation. No! It was all there, but now it was altogether different. It was with him, for him, in him. He was actually offering me the inestimable privilege of sharing in some little way the edge of the fellowship of his suffering.

In the weeks of imprisonment that followed and in the subsequent years of continued service, looking back, one has tried to “count the cost,” but I find it all swallowed up in privilege. The cost suddenly seems very small and transient in the greatness and permanence of the privilege.

I heard Helen’s story, and I found myself utterly lacking. God, give me the courage and faith to see my suffering as a privilege to carry your message of love to a dying world.

Take a look at this video. This is one of the last videos that Helen recorded before she passed away in 2016 at the age of 91.





Free Burma Rangers

26 02 2020

freeburmarangers

A few weeks ago, I saw a Christian documentary advertised on Facebook called Free Burma Rangers. I clicked over to the trailer and thought it looked like it would be good to go see. I went ahead and bought my family tickets.

Last night we went to see this movie. Little did I know I would see the most impactful and powerful film I have ever seen.

I cannot wait until this film is released so I can show it to everyone!

After the documentary was over I just wanted to sit there. Later, my wife asked me what I thought, and I couldn’t speak. I am still trying to process what I just saw.

The Story

In short, this is a story about a family who serve in Burma to show and share the love of Jesus with the ethnic minorities who are facing a genocidal government in a decades-long civil war. In the process, many of these tribal people have stepped forward to help.

Out of this group, they have formed the Free Burma Rangers. This group provides help in the form of medical care and spiritual support to those who have been displaced and targeted by the Burmese government. They also video document everything in order to get the word out about the atrocities that are occurring.

They have also been invited to serve in similar capacities in Iraq, Syria, and Sudan.

The Faith

This is what blew me away. After facing some of the most horrible things, this family continues to place their faith in Jesus and love people unconditionally. They didn’t just talk about it. They did it.

We have churches full of people who talk a good game but really do very little for the Kingdom. This is what I struggle with personally. Am I just spinning my wheels trying to mobilize people for missions, or do I head to the frontlines myself? When it comes down to it, am I all talk, too?

I know that one day I will stand before Jesus and give an account. What will I have to show for this one life I have to live?

A Fig Tree

This morning I was reading Luke 13 and came across this passage…

Luke 13:6-9

And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree that was planted in his vineyard. He came looking for fruit on it and found none. He told the vineyard worker, ‘Listen, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it even waste the soil?’

“But he replied to him, ‘Sir, leave it this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. Perhaps it will produce fruit next year, but if not, you can cut it down.’”

I am wondering if I am like that fig tree that hasn’t produced any fruit in years. As far as Kingdom work, am I only fit to be cut down for kindling? Am I wasting soil?

My heart has always been that I would be the most effective I can be for God’s Kingdom in this short life I have left to live. I am now left wondering if those are just words. I am realizing that my heart and life lack real faith.

My prayer is that God would leave me for another year, dig around me, and fertilize me to give me another chance to produce fruit.

Next Step

After watching this film, I am inspired to do something. I am still processing, and I’m not sure what that something is, but I do know that it would be a sin for me to do nothing.

When talking about faith, I always think back to the scene in Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade where he had to take a leap of faith. Indie was prepared to launch himself out into the unknown only to realize that it was just one small step.

I think in many cases faith is not necessarily the crazy leap off the cliff, but it is the daily, weekly, and even monthly small steps that we take to follow Jesus into an unknown yet fruitful future.

Conclusion

Watch this documentary! It just might be this generation’s End Of The Spear. The story of Jim Elliot and his team mobilized thousands for missions and continues until this day. I feel like Free Burma Rangers can have the same impact.





Support: 7 Ways To Send Well

13 02 2020

support

In most churches, when missions is talked about, 3 things are asked of you: Pray, Give, & Go. It is no surprise, then, that most individuals and churches are not good senders. Praying and giving are very important and a part of sending, but not the only part.

Romans 10:15a says, “And how can they preach unless they are sent?” This is asked rhetorically by Paul to emphasize the importance of sending. It also legitimizes sending. Many people mistakenly think that the ones who go on the mission field are the super saints, while those left behind are second-class Christians. This could not be further from the truth!

Sending is just as important as going. And, if this is the case, our senders need to be given just as much priority in training and resourcing as our missionaries. Too often, though, our missionaries are sent to the field with an inadequately trained and small sending team.

7 Ways To Send Well


  1. Pray: Ephesians 6 talks about how we are engaged in spiritual warfare. Our missionaries and church planters happen to be the ones in different geographical locations, but, if this is truly a spiritual event, senders can literally engage in the battle from home. A sender can fight the spiritual battle on behalf of the person on the field. How awesome is this! We can not only fight, but, as a result, share in the harvest celebration knowing that we played a part.
  2. Give: Planting churches and cross-cultural missions are expensive endeavors. Christians are needed to give to help fund these things. However, donating a little extra money is not the only way a sender can resource our missionaries and church planters. You could restructure your life and budget to be able to give sacrificially. You could use your gifts and talents to start a business to fund missions. You could use your resources to invest in opportunities that yield dividends that go to fund missions. The point is that we are pretty good at creatively thinking of ways to get the gospel to an unreached people group, but we tend to stop thinking creatively when it comes to funding the venture.
  3. Communicate: Speaking from experience, there is nothing quite like opening your email or, especially, your post office box in a distant country and finding a note of encouragement. As a sender, we ought to be writing our missionaries and church planters continually. Write them Scripture. Write them what you are praying. Write them about what God is doing in your life. Of course, we need to be sensitive to security issues when sending written communication, but a good sender simply figures that out and gets on with writing. You can also jump on FaceTime or Skype or any of a number of conferencing apps and talk face-to-face with them.
  4. Respond: I know that a response is communication and could have gone in the above category. But I felt like this one deserves its own. Many of our church planters and missionaries spend a lot of time each month preparing an e-newsletter. I believe that most people receive that email, give it a cursory glance, and forget about it. We can do better! Commit now with me that when you open that newsletter you will read every word and immediately hit the reply button to send them a response. When you respond, be sure to use their secure language. For instance, if they write “lift up” in the place of “pray,” use the wording they use. Don’t just respond with a thanks for sending the newsletter. That’s better than nothing, but instead write them back concerning the things they are concerned with in their newsletter. I remember spending hours putting together a newsletter, sending it to hundreds of people, and not hearing a word from anyone. I didn’t even know if people were getting it. It was very discouraging.
  5. Advocate: To advocate for something is to publicly support and recommend a cause. What better cause is there than to support our missionaries and church planters?! A great way to think about your role as a sender is that you are the go-between for missionaries and their sending churches. Take every opportunity that you can to advocate for your sent ones. There are a million different ways to do this. Here are a few ideas to get you started… set up an informational booth in your church to educate people about the partnership, host a dinner and prayer meeting at your home to specifically pray for your sent one, moderate a private Facebook page dedicated to supporting your partners, take your pastor to lunch and inform him about the partnership, pass out your partnership’s prayer cards like they are candy, etc.
  6. Visit: Go visit your missionary or church planter. When we lived in Tanzania, we loved it when people came for a visit. Our boys could not wait until our volunteer teams arrived. Don’t go expecting the missionary or church planter to prepare a ton of ministry opportunities for you. There is a time and place for that kind of trip. On this trip, your job is to go and be an encouragement for your sent ones. Take them stuff they need. Play board games with their kids. Watch the kids so mom and dad can go on a date. Take the ladies to get their nails done. Take them to a favorite restaurant. In short, love on them! That’s it! I promise that a trip like this will give your missionary or church planter a boost that will keep them on the field longer, and, in turn, that will increase the work!
  7. Send: Send other folks to go, both short-term and long-term. Be a travel agent for your missionary or church planter to get other people to go and serve on their team. Take some time and pray about who to ask. Make a list of names. Then invite these individuals to a personal meeting, buy them a cup of coffee, and ask them if they ever considered going. You will be surprised! I have found that God is still in the business of working in people. Sometimes all it takes is the ask.




Lonely Christmas

23 12 2019

lonelychristmas

I still remember back in 2009 during Christmas how my family and I were stuck in Nairobi, Kenya, getting some medical stuff done. We were in the Baptist Guest House there, and although it is very nice accommodations, we had none of our Christmas decorations. We were living out of our bags. We were worried about our son who was having difficulty speaking. We were a long ways away from our home in Tanzania, and we were a long ways away from our family.

We certainly made the most of the time. We had wonderful friends there. Our two older boys made a construction paper Christmas tree that we hung on the wall and decorated. In all of the fun that we had, though, there was still a sense of loneliness.

This experience has made me more sensitive to the needs of our missionaries living overseas. We have families serving in some of the hardest places on earth, and even though they will make the most of the holiday season, they will still miss their family and friends. They will still miss the “stuff” that surrounds Christmas.

I remember missing the food that my mom makes. I remember missing getting to see all of my cousins and grandparents. I remember missing watching The Christmas Story over and over again and laughing at the same places.

This season for our missionaries is a time of conflicting emotions. They feel very called to be where they are, and at the same time many of them long for home. They have chosen to leave their home, friends, and family to follow where God has led them, but during this season, especially, they are keenly aware that leaving everything has consequences.

It can be very difficult for our missionaries to celebrate Christmas while living among a people group where very few, if any, even believe in Jesus.

As a result of all these things put together, many of our missionaries experience a real sense of loneliness during this season.


5 Things That You Can Do To Love Our Missionaries Well During The Christmas Season

  1. Pray for them – This may seem like the pat answer to everything, but it is only that to those who don’t believe in the power of prayer. Pray that our missionaries will experience a wonderful Christmas sensing God’s presence in everything they do.
  2. Email them – Send a missionary you know an email on Christmas morning. If they live on the other side of the globe, this will mean they will still get it on Christmas. Write some encouraging words. Let them know that you are praying for them. Give them a short update on what you are doing for Christmas and ask them what they did.
  3. Skype them – Most of our missionaries have the ability to Skype. Skype them in for a few minutes on Christmas morning just to say, “Merry Christmas!” You might even gather a group up and sing a Christmas carol for them!
  4. Remember their families still at home – Reach out to their families that are not with them to let them know that you are praying for their loved ones who are serving God in another country. Encourage them that you are praying for them as well.
  5. Send them something – Most missionaries can receive at least small things in the mail. Find out their mailing address and send them something. Anything is appreciated! You might send them a new movie or some hot cocoa packets or just some handwritten notes. Make sure you ask them about sending something. Sometimes customs charges our missionaries to pick up a package. This is fine as long as you cover that expense, too.

Don’t forget our missionaries this Christmas season. Have an incredible time with your family, but know that you can really make someone else’s Christmas special by doing one or two simple things.

 





Don’t Be A Hirpler

16 12 2019

hirpler

I was reading Oswald Chamber’s “My Utmost For His Highest” this morning, and I learned a new word: hirpler.

hirpler \ hirˈ plər \: one who walks with a limp or hobbles

Chambers wrote, “Always distinguish between God’s order and His permissive will… God’s order is unchangeable; His permissive will is that with which we must wrestle before Him.

Hebrews 11:21 speaks of Jacob… By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and he worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff.

Jacob seems to be best known as the guy who wrestled with God. The story is told in Genesis 32 that Jacob was about to meet his brother, whom he had deceived in the past, and he was terrified that Esau was going to kill him.

Jacob decides to spend the night alone and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. This man decides that Jacob is not going to stop, so he strikes his hip and dislocates it. I believe that at this point Jacob realizes that this is not just a mere man, but he still refuses to let go until this “man” blesses him.

The “man,” who Jacob now recognizes is God, changes his name to Israel, which means “he who struggles with God.”

I have always heard people teach that Jacob wrestling with God was a good thing. Certainly, good came out of it! God did bless Jacob for at least holding on, but I don’t think it was God’s perfect will (order) that he had to dislocate his hip to get to that point.

It is not God’s desire that we wrestle with Him. We are called to immediately submit to Him.

Jacob’s leaning on the top of his staff was not a badge of honor as some may think, but a sign that he had struggled with God’s plan for His life and not submitted to His will.

There are definitely times that we have to learn the hard way, but it is not God’s desire that we become a hirpler because of Him. We may end up limping spiritually because of things that have happened to us as a result of this fallen world, however we should never have to hobble around because we chose not to submit to God.

We should wrestle against sin in our life. We should wrestle in prayer for the lost. We should wrestle over our specific calling. We should never wrestle with God.

Jesus has commanded us to go and make disciples. That is His perfect will or order. As a follower of Jesus, we don’t wrestle against that command. We might wrestle in prayer over how and where we should complete this command, but we should not struggle against actually doing it.

God will dislocate my hip if I continue to wrestle with Him because He loves me. He will get His way and His glory with or without me, but His desire is to use me, as unworthy as I am. My prayer is that I can just simply follow him with open hands of submission without having to become a hirpler!

 





Speak

9 12 2019

speak


And since we have the same spirit of faith in keeping with what is written, I believed, therefore I spoke, we also believe, and therefore speak.
2 Corinthians 4:13


Many churches and even many Christians do a good job of serving their communities. They host floats in the annual Christmas parade. They provide canned foods at Thanksgiving. They serve food at homeless shelters. Etc. Etc. Etc.

All of these things are good things! We should not stop doing these very worthy events to serve and better our communities.

But (you knew there was a “but” coming) in the absence of a declaration of the Gospel, our churches are no different than any other philanthropic organization.

There is a reason the Church in America continues to decline. There is a reason that my denomination (Southern Baptist) continues to see a decrease in baptisms and an increase in churches closing their doors. That reason is simply that we are not seeing new people choose to follow Jesus. God’s plan to get the Gospel to others is for us to share that good news with others, and it is painfully obvious that the sharing is not happening.

Now, I am not saying that we only provide canned foods to someone if they will listen to a Gospel presentation. Or, we pass out Gospel tracts while we walk in the parade.

What I am saying is that we, as Believers, are, or at least should be, compelled to get to the Gospel at some point.

I see it as a very simple step-by-step formula…

  1. Good works
  2. Relationship
  3. Spiritual Conversation
  4. Gospel
  5. Holistic Ministry
  6. Effective Teaching

This formula equals disciple-making disciples!

Let me give you an example… While out serving at a community homeless shelter doing a good work, John, who is a Believer, meets Mike. Mike is not a Believer, but he sees a need to help the homeless community out. As they serve food together, John and Mike discover they work for the same large company, so they already have a lot in common. A friendship is built, and over the course of months John is able to talk about spiritual things with Mike. Mike even begins to ask his own questions as he sees how John works and treats his family with love and respect. Mike even starts to come to some of the church events! Eventually Mike asks what it means to be saved, and John is able to share the Gospel with him. He accepts Christ and begins attending John’s church where he and his family are ministered to and receive great teaching through sermons and John’s discipleship group. As a result, now Mike feels the need to begin sharing the Gospel with others.

I realize that it is never this cut and dry, but I hope this shows you how the formula is intended to work.

We tend to get messed up in three different ways.

  1. Picking One – This is what we talked about in the beginning. Most Christians might just choose to do good works and never move on to the other steps. Some churches say that they are just going to teach the Word. Some individuals have the spiritual gift of evangelism, and all they do is share the Gospel to get converts.
  2. Stopping – This is where we might do a good work and build a relationship with someone, but we never get to spiritual conversations or the Gospel. Or, we see someone come to faith in Christ, and we leave them be with no ministry or teaching.
  3. Lack of Training – This is where in any of these steps we mess up because we don’t fully understand it. For instance, standing up and lecturing a group is one way to teach, but is it effective? How many Believers can articulate a clear Gospel message?

If I were to pick where the US Church is weakest, I would say that the majority of Christians simply don’t share the Gospel. There is little passion for getting the Gospel to unbelievers, and there is little understanding of even how to share the Gospel if the heart was willing.

Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:13 that he believes so he speaks. It’s that simple. If we truly believe that sharing the Gospel could save someone from an eternity in Hell, then we speak.

Later in 2 Corinthians 5:14 Paul says that the love of Christ compels him to share the Gospel. In light of what Jesus did for me, I have no other choice but to share it with others.

In 2 Corinthians 5:20 Paul says that we are ambassadors of reconciliation. It is simply our duty, and, if our Lord commands us, we do it. We are now, as a Believer, a new creation created with the one and only purpose to bring God glory by sharing the Gospel with those who are lost.

My prayer is that the Church will recapture its heart to see disciples made through the sharing of the Gospel message.





Busy. Busy. Busy.

2 12 2019

busy

Normally, when someone would ask how I was doing, I would reply, “Busy.” I have recently been convicted of that. Maybe God could use my conviction to influence you towards a different stance as well.

I have realized that old habits are hard to break, so I still find myself replying with the word busy. When I do this and catch myself, I usually follow it up with something like, “It keeps me out of trouble,” or, “I’m really not that busy.”

When you hear a particular saying over and over again, you tend to forget the meaning. I have always heard it said that you are only as busy as you want to be. This is true, but we tend to forget. Our busyness or lack thereof is a choice.

We, also, have the choice of what to be busy about. After being in the ministry for over 25 years, I have found that most people choose everything else first over ministry or mission. If there is any margin left, well, that can be given to God.

There are two reasons why the busyness leftovers are given to the church and not the first fruits…

  1. Church leadership has failed to give good training, a compelling vision, and proper placement for ministry and mission. (equipping the saints for ministry)
  2. Christian individuals have failed to rise up and follow the God-given commands to ministry and mission. (disciple-making)

My conviction has come through me doing a study called Deepen Discipleship with a group of guys at the church. We have been reading through a book of the New Testament each week. Through this reading, among other things, I have realized that…

  • I am not busy. Paul was busy.
  • If I am busy, I’m not busy with things of eternal consequence.
  • I complain WAY too much.
  • In light of what Christ did for me and continues to do, I have no right to be busy with anything other than the things He calls me to.

These lessons may sound really simple, but it has been my personal experience and my experience working in professional ministry that most people, including me, still need to work on these things.


5 Practical Steps You Can Take To Solve The Busyness Problem

  1. Stop saying and believing that you are busy. Understand that busyness, in most cases, is a state of mind and not an actual reality. Busyness is also relative. Always hold up your life choices to the standard of the Bible.
  2. Practice gratitude. Every morning write down one thing that you are grateful for.
  3. Read God’s Word. Read the Bible every single day. This is how the Holy Spirit convicts and speaks to us.
  4. Prioritize your time. Take a hard look at your calendar (and the things not on the calendar) and see if it is filled with temporal things or eternal things. Make changes where necessary.
  5. Make disciples. This is why we, as Christians, were left on Planet Earth. You will find your greatest fulfillment in doing what God created you to do.

 








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