Compelled

13 08 2013

compelled

 

The author of Hebrews tells us that when running a race, we should, “…lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us.” (Hebrews 12:1) Most people lump both of these items that we are supposed to lay aside in the sin category, but I do not see it this way.  I believe we are talking about two very distinct things that we are to lay aside. One is easy to understand, and that is sin. We know that we cannot run the race with our legs tied together with sin. I believe that most people get this. Where we run into trouble is when we start talking about every weight that we should lay aside. These weights are not sin. I believe these weights may even be good things, but we are told to cast them aside. What is the author talking about here? Because of our lack of understanding on this subject, I believe Satan has used this to deceive us into doing a lot of good things, but not doing the main thing.

Americans, and especially the younger generations, love service, ministry, philanthropy, social justice, etc. There is no lack of ways that you can volunteer your time and donate your money. What I am afraid of is that many Christians are giving their lives to good ministry, but that ministry is not the race that God has called us to run. The best way for me to explain this is to give you an example. A hot topic right now, and rightly so, is the issue of slavery. It is hard for us to believe that slavery still exists in our world, but it is thriving, the most despicable slavery being those young children, both boys and girls, being kidnapped and sold as sex slaves all over the world. Because of the atrocities committed and publicized, the public, and especially Christians, are taking up the mantle to fight for the freedom of these oppressed images of God. Even non-believers are fighting this fight. There is a huge movement to end slavery. As Christians, though, we need to go a step further. We need to understand that a person freed from slavery will still eventually die and face an eternity without God unless they accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior on this side of life. Therefore we are compelled to share the gospel with these people who are freed. The non-believer can feel satisfied when the person has been freed from slavery. The Christians can not simply stop there. The Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40) compels us to share the gospel. You may even say that you understand that, and I think most Christians do whether they act upon it or not. But we, also, cannot stop there.

If the Great Commandment compels us to share the gospel, then the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) compels us to plant churches. Matthew 28:19-20 tells us to go and make disciples of all nations. Notice that it says “disciples” not “converts.” This is crucial for us to understand. The race that God has lined out for us is not just to tell people about Jesus, but to go further than that and disciple those who convert. When we look at the whole of the New Testament, we clearly see that God’s plan for making disciples is to plant these new converts into new churches and teach them the commandments of Jesus. Therefore, the ideal situation would be for a person freed from slavery to become a follower of Jesus and become apart of a church made up of other people who have been freed from slavery, so that they can be discipled in order to repeat the whole process. This is not my plan. This is God’s plan.

The weight that we need to lay aside are these good works, like ending slavery. That certainly doesn’t mean that we stop working toward that end, but that we go further with it because we are compelled to do so by the Word of God. The end goal is not to free people from slavery, but to plant reproducing churches that transform this earth through their kingdom-building work. This goal takes more work, more strategy, more thinking, more prayer, and more guts to accomplish, but it is the race that God has called us to run.

My prayer is that you don’t get caught up in all of these “good” weights, but that you would lay them aside in order to plant churches for the glory of God.





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.





Open or Closed Doors

16 05 2013

opendoors

A number of months ago, I announced here on my blog that my family and I were going to start the process of an international adoption. We began to pray about where we wanted to adopt from, and God began to soften our hearts for the orphans of Russia. Many of you know that in December of last year, the Russian government closed its adoption program to Americans. We began to pray again and felt like God was leading us to adopt from the country of Ghana in West Africa. Well, just about a week and a half ago we found out that the government of Ghana closed its adoption program completely. Basically, we are back to square one and have already spent a chunk of money. This has been a very frustrating turn of events. Our ideal situation in our own minds was to be able to adopt as quickly as possible, mainly because I am no spring chicken any more! I am guessing that God has other plans.

This brings me to my topic. I have had a number of people that I love ask me if this might be God’s way of shutting the door on adoption for us. I believe that in our situation it has certainly given us reason to pause and reflect on God’s plan for our lives. I believe that God can and does use circumstances to help guide our paths, so when He shuts down the two adoption programs that we are in, it would behoove us to stop and listen. I believe that we have done so and feel very confident that God is not closing the door of adoption for our family.

In the same way that God uses circumstances, Satan can orchestrate events that present obstacles or opportunities to keep us off track. Therefore we need to be very cautious when it comes to reading into circumstances too much. I believe that Christians too often run into a closed door, call it a door closed by God, and so stop. I see this all the time when it comes to missions. People would like to go on this trip or another, but “God” has the door closed because they don’t have enough money or time. I think that we are raising a generation of soft Christians that value comfort over anything else. As soon as an obstacle is put in our way, we back off couching it in spiritual terms to justify our disobedience. What we are doing is placing circumstances as the most important determining factor rather than the Word of God. Jesus clearly commanded us to go and make disciples of all nations, but we like to add “if” clauses to this statement, for example “…if you have enough money,” or “…if you can learn a different language.” By doing this, we prove our lack of faith in Jesus’ authority and power to accomplish what he has commanded through you.

I graduated with a degree in coaching. I love sports. I now have three boys that are playing on three different baseball teams in three different leagues. Needless to say, my family and I are living at the ballparks this summer. If you asked any of my boys, especially the two older ones, what the most important thing for them to do is, they would say, “Be aggressive.” As a coach, I understand that talent and ability makes a difference, but I love those kids more that try hard. I would rather have a team with no talent but gave 110% every play, than a team full of talent that didn’t care. When I coach a team, I tell my players that I would rather them be aggressive and make mistakes, than be afraid to make a mistake and so hold back. Maybe it’s just my personality, but I would rather make mistakes or fail God falling forward. So when it comes to missions or adoption, which are both close to the heart of God, my tendency is to blow through the closed doors. I think that this should be our leaning rather than the other way. I realize that in the book of Acts, God closed a door for Paul to go to an area. When God closed this door on Paul, he didn’t tuck tail and quit the mission. He simply went to another place. In another instance, Paul was stoned until people thought he was dead, but he got up and went back into the city. We would be screaming at Paul that it was a closed door, but Paul would be shaking his head at the lostness of the city.

This is a tricky topic, because ultimately we all must hear from the Holy Spirit personally and should not judge someone’s decision when they feel a distinct call from Him. My point is that when faced with a closed door, we don’t automatically shut that direction down until it is also confirmed by God’s Word either through the Bible, the Holy Spirit, or other Godly people.





Engaging Islam

4 04 2013

islam
According to an USAToday article, the population of Muslims in the United States will double within the next 18 years. Patrick Johnstone in The Future of the Global Church projects that Muslims will comprise 27.4% of the global population by 2050. That is a 12-fold increase while the global population increases only sixfold in that same period. Most people do not need these statistics to know that Islam is growing and spreading rapidly not only in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, but also in the developed countries of the West. I grew up here in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and never heard much of anything concerning Islam. Now our small city has two mosques, and it is not unusual to see women in their traditional Muslim dress out shopping.

For many people, sadly, this is cause for alarm. In many American minds, Muslims are terrorists, period. In 2010 our church had the opportunity to host a friendly debate between a Christian, James Walker – founder and president of Watchman Fellowship, and a Muslim, Khalil Meek – co-founder and executive director of the Muslim Legal Fund of America. There was one moment that really stood out to me during that debate. Khalil was asked a question concerning Islamic extremism. In his answer he made mention that as education of Islam increased, a favorable perception of Muslims increased. I believe that the fear that most Americans, even Christians, harbor of Muslims is based on ignorance, not fact. It is time for believers to engage their Muslim neighbors.

Most believers see the Islamic countries of the Middle East as heathen-filled lands that need to be converted, and, at best, they ignore their Muslim neighbors. We need to understand that the vast majority of Muslims are people just like us – they want to be happy, have a strong family, make good money, and have great friends. As Christ-followers, we need to learn and have the courage to engage our Muslim neighbors. I have used the term “engage” on purpose. For you to engage someone means that you build a relationship with them. When a couple is engaged to be married, they are committing to a new level of relationship. When I say that we need to engage Muslims, I mean that we new to build relationships with them. These should be genuine relationships of friendship, not just a relationship built to see them converted to Christianity. If someone was just trying to build a relationship with you in order to convert you to another religion, you would see right through that. Our Muslim neighbors deserve the dignity and respect that you would give to anyone else.

Learn about Islam. Read their holy book, the Qur’an. Become friends with a Muslim and attend their mosque with them. You will not lose your salvation for doing so. When you truly engage a Muslim in friendship you will find that they are excited about discussing their faith and hearing about yours. We just need to learn to trust in God that he will do his work. We are simply called to build genuine relationships and scatter the seeds of the gospel. We are moving into a new and different world in America, and we can either huddle up for protection and effectively ignore the purposes and commands of God, or we can embrace what God is doing and be salt and light as he commanded us to be.





Why Are You Here?

27 03 2013

whyhere
Last week, I was privileged to get to go on a mission trip with a wonderful group of college students to Anchorage, Alaska. We have been working there for the last couple of years with a new church plant called True North Church pastored by Brent Williams. Our church also supports a couple that moved there last year named Will and Eryn Cole.  Will is serving as an associate pastor and campus pastor of their recently started second campus. Our purpose in going there was to work on the University of Alaska campus and try to hook college students up with the church and to possibly talk about spiritual issues with them. In order to do this, we hung out at the campus coffee shops, played pingpong, cooked over 800 hamburgers, threw a laundry party, and played frisbee in 25 degree weather.

While on the university campus, we were constantly asked why we were there. It blew people’s minds that we would give up a spring break to head north instead of south to the beaches. There were times that I asked myself that question when heading out in the morning with it still being dark and 0 degrees. This question, though, is exactly what we were waiting for. It gave us the opportunity to let people know that we love them, and that we serve a great God that loves them as well. We cannot report that we had any salvations while we were there, but that is not our job. Our job is to scatter the seeds of the gospel. It is the Holy Spirit’s work to regenerate a lost soul. We also go to Alaska, because it is the least-reached state. It is the least-reached state for a number of reasons, but one of them is that the people’s hearts there are very much closed to the message of the cross and the church. It is for this reason that we must continue to go and have hope that one day there will be an abundance of fruit.

Don’t get me wrong, though. True North is definitely seeing fruit! We had the incredible opportunity to be in attendance at the launch of their second campus. They have seen and are continually seeing lives being changed by the power of God. But it is long, hard, and difficult work. Please be in prayer for their church as they continue to reach out to their city of Anchorage. Be looking for an opportunity to join our church in serving there in the future.





The Great Commissions

23 01 2013

commissions

Two Monday nights ago, I was privileged at our Perspectives class to hear from a speaker named Sean Cooper.  He was absolutely fantastic and did a great job of making the story of God crystal clear to those present. One of the things that really stood out to me was when he began to talk about the Great Commission, and he made the statement that it is not just one commission that we are dealing with but multiple commissions. Normally, we think of the Great Commission as one statement that Jesus made in Matthew at the end of His ministry before His ascension. In actuality, Jesus made many statements that had to do with us going out to tell a lost world the gospel message. We do not know who it was that originally coined the phrase, “The Great Commission,” but we do know that its original intent was to encompass all of the commission statements found in the 4 Gospels and the Book of Acts (Matthew 28:16-20, Mark 16:14-18, Luke 24:44-49, John 20:19-23, and Acts 1:4-8). We, also, know that Jesus did not speak all of the statements in the same time and place. We know that at least three of these statements were proclaimed by Jesus at different times and at different places to different crowds.

The Great Commission was not something that Jesus just threw out as an afterthought right before He left. It was the heart and soul of His message the entire 40 last days of His earthly ministry.

Sean Cooper asked us if our child did something that we told him not to do, how many times would it take to be called disobedient. Everyone obviously answered that it only takes one time. There is no question that Jesus was speaking these commission statements to all believers. If He has told us at least three times, and we don’t do it, what is that called? It is simple disobedience.

By seeing the number of times that Jesus talked about this, we get a glimpse into God’s heart. His primary desire is that He is glorified by redeeming every tribe back into a relationship with Him, and He has chosen to use you and me to accomplish that goal. How incredible is the grace and mercy of our God, that He would use a sinner such as myself to be apart of His great story!





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.





God Connections

10 01 2013

godconnections

 

I am continually amazed at how God works. When fulfilling his purpose of participating in the Great Commission, I see his workings all the more.

This morning I Skyped with a guy in Central Asia talking about mobilizing South Americans to reach people in the Middle East. How awesome is that!

Yesterday I corresponded through email with a man in charge of helping Southern Arapaho churches in Northwest Oklahoma. Come to find out, they took a group on a vision trip last year to Wyoming to work on reaching the Northern Arapaho – the same tribe that we have been working with for the last two years. We are meeting together later this month to talk about us working in Oklahoma and partnering with them to reach the Northern Arapaho for Christ.

These are not just examples of accidents or coincidences. These are connections that only God can orchestrate. One of the things that I find true in my life is that these “accidents” or “coincidences” happen far more frequently when I am working towards completing the Great Commission. This leads me to believe that God really wants all the ethne (nations) to be redeemed for His glory, and He will empower His own work. We are simply invited to be apart of it, and when something really cool happens we get to watch in amazement. Want to see God do incredible things? Get involved in His work of saving a lost world as His ambassador.





Photography for Jesus?

13 12 2012

photography

 

I love photography. It’s my hobby. I sell a few prints here and there, but I certainly don’t do enough to make any money. As an amateur photographer, I follow and emulate the work of many different photographers. The photographer that I probably follow more closely than anyone else is Scott Kelby. If you are into photography and have not heard that name before, then you are missing out. I have recommended his books to lots of people and check his blog almost daily.

Scott Kelby has, literally, millions of followers all over the world on his blog, Twitter account, Facebook account, and Google+ account. Recently, he announced that he had just published a new book. This is not a book about photography. It is called “It’s a Jesus Thing.” It’s an evangelistic book for those that might be curious about the Christian faith and who Jesus is. Now, I have not read it, and so I can certainly not tell you that it is or is not theologically correct. Kelby did enlist help from his pastor and others in writing this book, so I am assuming that it is fine, and I plan on purchasing one once they get more in stock from being sold out. The point that I want to make in this article is that Scott Kelby is using his platform as an extremely popular photographer to tell people about Jesus. In his introductory video, he claimed that he is terrible at personal, one-on-one evangelism, and I think that most people would say that they fit into that category, but he was driven to get the saving message of Jesus to a lost world. He did what he could, and this is what God has called each of us to do.

We have to constantly ask ourselves how we can creatively get this message out to people. If we believe that it is the most important message ever and that it is the purpose of our lives to get it out to people who have not heard, then we must be passionate about getting it out to anyone and everyone in anyway that we can. You have a following as well. It might not be as extensive as Scott Kelby’s, but it is no less important for the sake of the gospel. You have people that you work with. You have people that you share hobbies with. You have followers on Twitter. You have friends on Facebook. The problem is not that you don’t know any people that need to hear this message – the problem is how are you going to get this message out to your followers in a way that they will respond.

I would encourage you to purchase one of Scott Kelby’s book to check it out. Even if you never use it or read it, all of the proceeds for the sale of the book go to support Springs of Hope Orphanage in Kenya.





The Story of God

5 12 2012

storyofgod

I have never shared a video on my blog before, but I’m going to share one this time. This is a video with Matt Papa telling The Story of God. Whenever I have gone to different churches to preach this very message, albeit not as eloquently as Matt Papa, I am always shocked at the number of people that come up to me afterwards expressing how they have never heard anything like that before. I think that too often we view the Bible as simply snippets of lessons that we can apply to our lives in order to make our existence better. I believe that the majority of our sermons, Bible studies, and worship songs emphasize this distorted view. Our church is currently going through a Bible study curriculum called The Gospel Project. In this study one of the most important things that has been taught is a simple yet crucial lesson that we must get correct. We have been taught to read the Bible and then ask what we can learn from this and apply to our lives. Instead, we should read the Bible and ask first what this tells us about God. Then in light of who God is, we must ask what will we do in response. This is a God-centric view of the Bible rather than our normal egocentric view. This is God’s story, not ours. God has been gracious by allowing us to be apart of it. Enjoy…








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