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.





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.





The Persecuted Church

22 08 2013

persecuted

 

The world’s eyes have been glued to what is currently happening in Egypt. I have been surprised that the media has actually covered many of the church burnings that have taken place. The reason that I am surprised is because in most of the uprisings and protests that have taken place throughout the Middle East, church burning and persecution of Christians has taken place without the media reporting on it. In Egypt’s case, the Muslim Brotherhood has used the crackdown on the protests as an opportunity to loot and burn churches and Christian businesses. The Daily Star, Lebanon’s English language newspaper said attacks on churches coincided with assaults on police stations, leaving most police “pinned down to defend their stations or reinforcing others rather than rushing to the rescue of Christians under attack.”

The reality is that the persecution in Egypt is just the most popular of a long list of these things happening currently all over the world.  Statistics show that this year alone 163,000 people will die because of their faith. It is estimated that by 2025 that number could rise to 210,000 per year. There is any number of reasons for persecution, and it is not just because of religious differences, although that usually plays a major role. Other reasons include politics, finances, anti-Western bias, and racism. Many times all of these issues are rolled up into one that supports the persecution taking place. There is also a disturbing myth among Western Christians that persecution causes the church to grow. In fact, since persecution in the country of Turkey began the percentage of Christians has dropped from 32% to 0.2%. Syria has seen a drop from 40% to 10%. Iran saw a drop of 15% to 2%. Persecution is something that will always be with the church and will even ramp up as the Great Commission comes to completion, but it is not good. Persecution is the result of a fallen world and a real enemy that must be fought against. This enemy is not flesh and blood, though, so our fight must take place in the heavenly realm through prayer.

The atrocities that we are seeing on television should prompt us to fight the spiritual battle. We must first pray that God would be glorified. God is not surprised by what is taking place in Egypt. We need to pray that the believers and Christian workers there would have faith and use this as an opportunity to share the love of Christ with others. We also need to use this as motivation for ourselves individually to get better informed and learn about the persecuted church so that we would know how to pray. Lastly, I would challenge you to consider going to these places. There is nothing quite like a real, physical hug to encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ. It could be your visit and encouraging words that gives strength to the church to continue fighting the good fight.








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