Open Hands

20 01 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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





Missional Living

15 01 2014

missionalliving

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

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

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

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





Mission Education

9 01 2014

education

 

I have had many opportunities to speak at different churches, and most of the time when I go, I share the same message. It is a simple message where I take people on a journey of the entire Bible and show them that it is one story. That story, from Genesis to Revelation, is that God desires to redeem sinful mankind back to Himself for His glory. That’s it! Jesus then left us with a mandate that God has now chosen us, in His great mercy, to be His instruments or ambassadors of reconciliation. In the book of Acts, we see the disciples flesh that mandate out by planting churches wherever they went. Then, in the book of Revelation, we see the culmination of the work that God appointed us to do in the picture of a representative crowd from every people group worshipping around His throne. I end my message with a simple question: In light of all of this, what do you think we ought to be doing? By then, the answer is obvious that we should be continuing the work that Jesus and the apostles started of planting churches among all the people groups of the world. We must complete the commission that Jesus gave us and finish writing the book of Acts, so that the picture in Revelation will be realized.

It never ceases to amaze me that every time I preach that message, I will have people come to me afterwards saying that they have never heard that before. I have also seen this story of the Bible change more people’s lives than any other message that I have preached.

We have churches that are full of people that can win Bible trivia games. We host Bible study after Bible study. Anyone can look up the Greek or Hebrew translation of a word in Scripture. Our children memorize verses for prizes. We sing theologically correct worship songs. And every week, we hear sermons that move us with the slickest graphics and most humorous illustrations. But within all of this Christianity, we see very few people making disciples of all nations. This was not just a cute saying that we should slap it on paintings with an eagle, but it was a command from our Boss and Savior. I have had people come up to me, patting my back, and say that missions is just not for them or it is not their calling or gifting. I want to ask them if they have ever read their Bible!

I believe that there are a lot of good people in our churches that have just been led astray from their purpose. I have seen that when some of these folks are faced with a simple mission education, their eyes are opened, real life-change takes place, and they start asking the right questions about what they should do with their lives. The best mission education out there that I have found is a course called Perspectives. God has used this course to do incredible things in people’s lives. I am constantly trying to get people to take this course, because I believe that it is the most important Bible study a person can take. If you are tired of running your own life and wasting it on frivolous things, Perspectives is the class for you.

This Perspectives class is not easy. It is a commitment of 15 weeks. It costs $225, and you do a lot of reading and some homework. But, I promise, it will be the best thing that you have ever done.

We are starting a new class at my church, Grand Avenue Baptist Church, this coming Monday at 6:30pm. If you are interested, you are welcome to attend this first class for free. We will have childcare available along with some great snacks. The speaker that night will be Sean Cooper. Sean is with an organization called the Traveling Team, and you will not want to miss him! He is a very gifted teacher with an incredibly challenging message. If you just know that you are going to take this class, you can register now at perspectives.org.

If you have any questions about this class or other resources, please, contact me.





Stress

4 12 2013

stress

I realize that everyone deals with some kind of stress day in and day out. I certainly do not want to minimize that, but there is a phrase out there that I am hearing more and more that makes me chuckle.  Someone describes a stress or problem, and another replies sarcastically, “First-world problems.” I realize that there are real and serious stresses and problems out there, but I believe that the majority of our stresses are “first-world problems.” The idea behind this is that our problem might be not being able to get our email to work correctly (1st world), while someone else’s stress might be putting food on the table for their family or if their baby will die of malaria (3rd world). Perspective is everything, and many times our stresses are self-imposed.

A month ago I was reminded of this topic when we hosted a missionary family from Ecuador at our church. They were in need of a boat motor in order for them to be able to have their own boat so that they could get to the tribes that they are working with. They also, though, needed that motor in case of an emergency. Snake bites, parasites, sicknesses, broken bones – all of these and more are realities that can happen when living in the rain forest, especially when you have a bunch of curious and active children. This boat motor is a simple way that we as a church can reduce the stress of our missionary family on the field. I am happy to report that we were able to raise enough money to more than cover the cost of the motor. The result of this is that we may have just increased the longevity that this family will stay on the field, because of less stress, and therefore increase the work they do for the gospel.

I would like to challenge us all that when we experience stress in our personal life, that we would remember and pray for our missionaries that are constantly living at an increased level of stress. Our missionaries around the world are automatically targets, because of their nationality and skin color. When we lived in Tanzania, we were perceived as the rich, white people, and were therefore targets for robberies. Most people in the US don’t think about going to different ATM’s each time, utilizing counter-surveilance tactics all the time, and carrying a year’s worth of salary in cash on them. This was my life for three years. At the same time, we lived eight hours from where we would consider medical care similar to what we have in the US. One of our biggest times of stress was when our oldest son had a grand mal seizure in our little village.

Our top priority for working with our missionary partners is to come alongside their strategy to see indigenous church planting take place among their people group. Our second priority, but very close to the first one, is to encourage our missionary families. This includes helping all we can to reduce their stress. I fully believe that if we can increase the longevity of our missionaries on the field – we will see an increase in the work of the gospel. A gospel movement among an unreached people group normally does not take place in the short term. It is through long term effort and prayer and perseverance that people are reached, and if we can be apart of helping our missionaries stay long term through encouragement and reducing their stress, then we are going to do that.

 

 





Syria

5 09 2013

syria

The country of Syria is front and center in the media today. They have been in the midst of a bloody civil war for two years that has claimed more than 100,000 lives and produced more that 2 million refugees. There are claims that their president, Bashar al-Assad, used chemical weapons on civilians of his own country. With that news, our president, Barack Obama, has taken to congress a short-term initiative to punish the Syrian dictator.

I am now constantly hearing conflicting reports. I have heard that the rebels were the ones to use chemical weapons to set the president up. Our government is also not sure that we want the rebels to win. The American public certainly does not want to involve our troops in another Middle Eastern crisis. On the other hand, as Christians, we see the atrocities taking place on the news, and we can’t help but wonder if there is something more we can do. There is one thing that I do know for sure… I don’t know all the facts. Syria is a confusing mess with no easy solution. This does not mean that we check out, though. As believers, we must respond.

The country of Syria has a total population of about 21.3 million people. Only 0.1% of that population is an Evangelical Christian. There are 34 different ethnic groups represented in the county. Half (17) of these people groups are considered critically unreached.

It would be easy for us to just let Syria be, but that is not what the Bible teaches us. As Christians, our response should be to engage in spiritual battle. We are to pray. Pray for peace, yes, but more importantly, pray that God would be somehow glorified in this mess. Pray for workers to be sent that will share the good news of Jesus. Pray for the boldness of the few Christians and churches that live there. Pray that God, in His sovereignty, will use this tragedy to make Himself known.

Not too long ago, I met a woman on the soccer field that was obviously of Middle Eastern descent. Her son played on the soccer team that I coached. I asked her where she and her family were from. She said that she was from Syria. I then told her how sorry I was that horrible things were happening there, and that I would pray for her family. She was genuinely moved by that and talked to me for about 20 minutes about her life and family in Syria and how scared she was. Sometimes when we hear the news, we forget that behind all of the rhetoric there are real people with lives, passions, and dreams just like you and me.

Let’s join together to pray for Syria.





Tough

29 08 2013

tough

 

Yesterday evening I went out for a 9 mile run. The heat index was 101 when I started with a humidity of 50%. I ran a single track dirt trail the entire distance. Because we had a fairly wet summer, the bugs were in full force: mosquitos, gnats, hornets, seed ticks, chiggers, biting flies, etc. It was miserable, but I finished. As I was running, I began to think about what it means to be tough. It was probably more stupidity than toughness that started me on that run yesterday, but once I was on it, I think it was toughness that saw me finish it. I was also motivated to go run yesterday because of an article that I read in Oklahoma Sports and Fitness online magazine entitled “What a Rush!” written by my good friend, Will Blanchard. The article was his review from running the Leadville Silver Rush 50. Yes, that’s a 50-miler! Here’s a portion of what he wrote…

A major determinant to finishing any ultra distance (any distance more than a marathon) depends on a person’s ability to keep moving forward and adapt to the inevitable highs and lows.

Will goes on to explain that he reached one of those low points at miles 37-40 on a steep uphill climb to 12,000 feet. He said that his body began to rebel and it took him 90 minutes to get that distance, but he kept moving forward. This is a great definition of toughness.

As I was running yesterday, I began to think about and pray for the missionaries I know and love. I realized then that these are some of the toughest people that I know. Not only is the spiritual battle grueling for them, but so is the physical battle. I have had the incredible opportunity to spend time in Colombia with an awesome team. These families literally live in the rainforest on the banks of the Amazon River. It is hot and muggy year around. When they go out on the river to the people they are working with, they must deal with the brutally hot sun, insects galore, the dangers of the river, etc. I have gone out on the river along with guys like Peter Davis, Jeff Crawford, and Ryan Martin, and we have seen how tough it is to just make it one or two nights. On the other side of the world in Central Asia, our missionaries deal with being cold all winter with little to no electricity, being isolated from the outside world for months on end, and dealing with some of the hardest hearts in the world towards the gospel. These missionaries are tough!

It is time for our American church to get tough, both spiritually and physically. One of the reasons that unreached people groups are still unreached is because they are difficult to get to. It takes a certain amount of toughness to get on a plane for 20+ hours and then a car ride on the worst roads known to man for another 6 hours. In Tanzania this June, our team found out that one of the reasons the Pare Tribe is unreached is because they live in a steep mountain range. It was hard getting there, and once there, it was hard just walking around along the steep trails. In order for someone to effectively go on one of these trips, they need to be physically tough. We have to realize, too, that this physical toughness does not just happen. It is developed through training. God gave us our bodies, and we are to be good stewards of them, not for the purpose of vanity, but for the purpose of completing the Great Commission which is a physically demanding task.





Adoption: South Korea

26 08 2013

southkorea

Wow! A lot can happen in two weeks!

Many of you have been keeping up with our adoption process. Over a year ago, we made the decision to adopt internationally from Russia. Most of you know that Russia closed its adoption program to US citizens last December. After praying, we decided to switch programs to Ghana, West Africa. Shortly after joining this program, they closed as well. We were very discouraged. We were feeling like I always do when I change traffic lanes, because one lane looks faster than the other, only to come to a complete standstill and watch my previous lane speed on by. We had some good friends at that time ask us if God was maybe wanting us to adopt domestically or even if God was shutting this door completely. These were good questions, and we diligently talked about them and prayed through them. When it came to it, though, we still felt a strong calling from God on our lives to adopt internationally.

About three weeks ago, we just got desperate. I remember when we were talking about having our first biological child, and we knew that we were ready. That is how we felt. We were just ready to have our child. We began to look at other agencies, websites, and waiting lists. I was even willing to adopt a 12 year old girl at one point! (Now that’s desperation!) About two weeks ago, we were on vacation at the beach when our Ghana program director contacted us to let us know about some possible referrals from South Korea. We emailed back saying that we would be interested in taking a look at the referrals. Our social worker called us about 2 hours later, still at the beach, saying that there was a specific boy from South Korea that they wanted us to consider. We were surprised that they would give us a referral from a country program that we were not even in, but they felt like it would be a good fit. After praying for two weeks and seeking medical guidance, we felt sure that this was our baby that we have been waiting on. We knew that if we did not accept this referral, we would regret it. We can’t help but wonder if God brought us to this place of desperation, because he had this child waiting for us. If this referral had come a couple of months earlier, we might have said no to wait on the Ghana program. God has definitely given us peace about this decision.

Our fourth son’s name will be Samuel. My wife, Jennifer, felt like God gave her that name, and Samuel appropriately means “God has heard.” He has just turned 10 months old, and he is a cute one. The hardest part for us is yet to come as we have to do tons of paperwork and walk through government red tape, raise the finances for this expensive process, and wait 14-18 months before we can go get him. Please be in prayer for us that everything will continue to work out. Pray that the paperwork and needed approvals from a thousand different government agencies will go smoothly. Pray that we will be able to get him sooner than expected. Pray for Samuel’s continued health, safety, and development. Pray for his foster family.

We want to thank all of you that have been praying for us and will continue to do so. We also want to thank those that have given to us financially. Being a pastor is not the most lucrative of professions, and this is a very expensive process. If you would like to help towards bringing Samuel home, we are raising funds here at Adopt Together. We would greatly appreciate any gift large or small.








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