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.





Reverse Culture Shock

29 11 2012

 

I was at Reach, our college service last night, and I enjoyed getting to hear from one of our college students who spent the last six months in a country in Central Asia. Our College Pastor, Aaron Rodgers, was interviewing her in front of everyone, and he asked a great question. He asked what, if anything, has been the hardest thing for you since coming back to the US. She answered that all of the choices that she has at restaurants, stores, or coffee shops is absolutely overwhelming. Many of our missionaries, even short-termers, come home and experience this kind of “reverse culture shock.”

Most missionaries, especially those going to a third world country, expect and certainly do experience culture shock when first entering their new country. The food is different. Electricity is sporadic at best. You have to keep your mouth closed when taking a shower. Everything is upside down! When we first went to Tanzania as long-term missionaries, I expected to experience culture shock. I think that because I expected it and had been trained to deal with it, I didn’t experience the full brunt of it like I thought I would. This is probably the norm for most missionaries. Most mission-sending agencies and churches do a great job of training our folks on dealing with culture shock. I think that where the training is lacking is in helping folks reenter the United States.

There are two dangers to the “Reverse Culture Shock.”

Many people go on short-term (10-day) mission trips. During that trip God does some incredible things in their life. God softens their heart for the nations. God gives them an outsiders perspective on their own life back home. God challenges their preconceptions of Himself. God changes their heart. Whenever I debrief people after they come back from a trip, I always hear them say something to the extent of… “I will never be the same again.” As many trips as I have now been on, God still does this for me. The danger is that all too often a person experiences this and quickly reverts back to their old lifestyle of nominal Christianity. Whenever this happens, a callous is produced. This person goes on another trip and does not allow God to change them again, and the callous gets thicker. Before too long, you have a Christian tourist that enjoys going on mission trips and loves the joy (high) it produces, but there is no evidence in their life that God has enacted any change.

The other danger is that a person reenters their home culture and is so disgusted by it and the apathetic religion that is practiced that they distance themselves from the church. I have seen this happen more often with people who stay a little longer in another culture. This is what happened for me. By the grace of God, He quickly showed me that if He loves the church, then I am to love the church – warts and all. In Tanzania, we worshipped on Sundays with a plastic bucket, a stick, and our voices. It is very easy to get disgusted with our American church for thinking they need multi-million dollar sanctuaries with top-of-the-line technology, but we have to understand that America is a distinct culture as well. A bucket and a stick are not going to reach people in the US that are watching Sunday football on their HD TVs. Is there a balance to be struck? Certainly! The point I am trying to make, though, is that the church is Jesus’ bride whether the church uses buckets or digital sound boards and LED lights. Jesus loves His bride, and so should we.

Reverse culture shock is real and dangerous, and we, as mission leaders, need to do a better job of helping our members who go on mission trips to come home with more success.





Thankful

21 11 2012

 

Give thanks to Yahweh, call on His name;
proclaim His deeds among the peoples.
Sing to Him, sing praise to Him;
tell about all His wonderful works!

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love this time of year. I love the cooler temperatures, pumpkin spice coffee, eggnog, turkey, football, fall colors, etc. It is a time that we traditionally ask ourselves what we are thankful for, and I am thankful for a whole lot. I am thankful for my family, my health, my job, etc. I know that as Christians we are all incredibly thankful for Jesus. We believe that without him, there is nothing to be thankful for and no one to thank. He is our All in all.

Most people just let “being thankful” be an end unto itself, though. Look at the passage of scripture that I put above. As Christians, our thankfulness has an appropriate response. Too often we feel thankfulness in our hearts or post our thankfulness on Facebook, but that is all we do with it. The Bible teaches that as a thankful people we should respond out of our thankfulness to tell other people about God. For believers, the holiday of Thanksgiving should be a motivator to get out and share the Good News of Jesus, but, sadly, the holiday usually becomes a time when we shut down for the Christmas season and indulge in our own selfish traditions never thinking about missions at all.

Let’s make this year different! Instead of just saying thanks to God, let’s prove that we are thankful for his grace by “proclaiming His deeds among the peoples.” How might this flesh itself out? Well…

  • Go shopping on Black Friday, but intentionally look for ways to be a witness during that hectic day.
  • Participate in the mission opportunities at your church. We just had our Thanksgiving Blessing where we gave out 1200 turkey dinners and saw 69 people saved and baptized.
  • Participate in your church’s mission offering. In our church, the month of December marks our Lottie Moon Christmas Offering in which every penny goes to fund our 5000+ missionaries on the field.
  • Get your children involved in a mission project. Too often children just get stuff and never give, and we wonder why they are growing up selfish and moving away from God.
  • Don’t forget the missionaries that your church is partnered with. Send them a Christmas card to encourage them or at least an email. All of them will be spending Christmas away from their families and could use a little encouragement.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving!





Embajadores – Venezuelan-Style

16 10 2012

 

This Saturday, October 20th, we have a team from Venezuela coming to Fort Smith. They are from a very mission-minded, Southern Baptist Church there. Their purpose in coming is to help us, as a church, reach out to the Hispanic community in our city. I am extremely excited about this on many levels. First, I just think it is incredible to be apart of God’s global plan and purpose. For many years the United States was the country that sent out most of the world’s missionaries. That is no longer the case. We now have missionaries coming to us from other countries. Second, our city has a very large Hispanic population and very few churches are doing anything to reach out to them. God has made it clear that if we will not go to the nations, He will bring them to us. Now that they are here, it is our responsibility as believers to share the gospel with them.

Embajadores is the spanish word for ambassadors. We are called to be ambassadors for God. This team from Venezuela is coming as embajadores to share the love of Christ with those of a different race and culture than me, and they will be more effective than I will be because they speak the same language and look the same as the ones they are trying to reach. My prayer is that this will kick start an incredible mission to the Latino community here in Fort Smith. Please be praying with me, and be sure to give the team a warm welcome when you see them in church. A number of them do speak English!





Indigenous Tribes

30 09 2012

 

I am on my way to Colombia again, and I am extremely excited! I love our families that serve there, and I love the people that they are serving. It is extremely difficult work, though. I have had many people question my sanity because of the places that we are traveling, but there is a good reason. The people groups that are left unreached are either a hard-hearted people or very difficult to get to. When Jesus called us to go reach the nations, he did not add an “only if it is safe” clause. The Indigenous Tribes of the Amazon River Basin happen to be both difficult to reach and extremely hard find. Many of them speak Spanish, but their heart language is a little-known tribal language that few outsiders know. The only way to reach them is to travel up the rivers and streams which is expensive and can be dangerous. The environment is hot and humid. There are mosquitoes everywhere. There is disease, hunger, water problems, flooding, etc. On top of all of this, they are very resistant to the gospel. In many cases, they know just enough to know how to refuse you. In every village along the river there is an abandoned Catholic Church. I have heard that the priests show up at the churches a couple of times a year. The rest of the time, the buildings sit empty, rotting in the humid air. In addition to all of this, there is pressure from governments, who have been encouraged by popular anthropologists, to leave these tribes alone, because their culture is being destroyed. Of course, we believe that their culture is already destroyed by sin, and that by sharing with them the love of Jesus, we are allowing them to move toward the perfect culture in which God created them to be.

Please be in prayer for these tribes. Jeff and I will be traveling to visit a couple of villages. One of the strategies that the missionaries have found to be effective is to share Bible stories with the tribes, and we will be doing this during our visit.





Do Something

10 09 2012

 

We had three great lessons yesterday at church that all went together perfectly! In Bible Study we started the fantastic Lifeway curriculum, The Gospel Project. In that first lesson we learned that God speaks through general and special revelation with power and authority. We are then blessed to even be able to hear his voice through God’s grace and mercy. And lastly his voice always calls us to a task that we a supposed to do out of faithful obedience. Our Lead Pastor, Jeff Crawford, then gave a message about the faith of Elijah, and he told the story of how God called the Israelites to cross the Jordan River by first stepping into it in faith. Our church was hugely blessed to have the Lead Pastor of Harvest Time, Marty Sloan, preach our Sunday evening message. He talked about how God works to use us in His work. Sometimes we over-spiritualize things when we just need to do something.

As Christians, we believe that Jesus is God and came to earth as a human both fully God and fully man. He was nailed to a cross in our place, died, was buried, and rose from the dead. He then, with all power and authority, gave all of us the general revelation to tell everyone on the planet this very message. We are blessed to be able to hear the message for ourselves and doubly blessed to be asked of Jesus to be apart of His plan to redeem the world. Now it is simply up to us to do something about it. Far too often, we hear this message, and we stop at feeling a warm fuzzy over the blessing of God. Most church members will never do anything about it. I have heard many teachers and pastors say that the reason for this is that people enjoy their comfort zones and by default fall back into them. This is exactly true, but I believe that it goes deeper than that. At the heart of every comfort zone is pride. The reason that more people are not following the Great Commission is because they are the center of the universe in their own minds. They really don’t see Jesus’ command as a blessing but a burden. They have a token gratitude for what Jesus did for them on the cross but not enough to feel like they owe him anything. It is as if all our churches are full a people eating an incredible feast with the best service, leaving a small tip in the offering plate, but skipping out on the bill. We do this for years on end and expect not to be judged by a holy and righteous God.

How about some hard questions: When was the last time someone came to know Christ because of you sharing your testimony? How many people from different nations will worship in heaven one day because of your work on the mission field? How many lost friends do you have, and how many of them have you invited to church or talked to them about spiritual matters?

We have to understand that God did not just throw out the Great Commission as an afterthought. It really is His plan to redeem a lost world. The question is not whether you will pray about it or attend another Bible study or come to church next Sunday, but what will you do about it! How will you be apart of reaching this world for Jesus Christ?





Church Partnerships

23 08 2012

I just had the opportunity to have lunch today with Ryan Martin, the Mission Pastor at University Baptist Church in Fayetteville. We talked about how both of our churches could partner together to reach the indigenous tribes in the Amazon River basin in Colombia. We are currently partnered with First Baptist Church of Jenny Lind to reach the Northern Arapaho Tribe for Christ. We have gone to Alaska with FBC Van Buren. We are about to send a team to Central Asia with a church in Louisiana. When my family and I served in Tanzania, we had a number of churches that were partnered with us in our work. Two weeks ago I had lunch with my good friend, Greg Ford, who is the Mission Pastor at FBC Fort Smith. We are looking at potential partnerships.

Church partnerships are healthy. I believe that we need to do more of it. There are many churches out there that are much smaller than we are and can probably not do their own full-blown partnership with a team on the field, but they can partner together with another church. I believe that this idea of churches partnering together to reach the world for Christ is a great way and maybe the best way for the body of Christ to come together. I have tried many other things in the past locally, like doing community-wide concerts or Disciple Now’s or revival services, but these usually never amount to anything, because of all the competition locally. But multiple churches could come together to reach an unreached people group for Christ. That sounds exciting and is an incredible experience to be apart of.

Churches coming together to do missions also breaks down the stereotype that churches do not really cooperate. Jesus says that when people see our love for one another, they will see Him. Jesus’ love is best shared not only by simply doing missions, but by also doing it together with other believers from other churches.

A very exciting thing that is about to take place in our church is that we will be hosting a mission team from Venezuela. They are coming to Fort Smith in order to do mission work among our Hispanic population and to help us begin a ministry to the Latinos in our community. This is taking partnership to a whole new level. We are also extremely excited to be working together with a team in Brazil to reach a city in Italy. Now this is body of Christ stuff! I desire to be apart of something that is big like this, and only God can fulfill that dream. He is allowing that to happen today in unprecedented ways and invites all of us along for the ride. My encouragement to you is to get involved. Don’t stand and watch on the sidelines. Life is too short.

 





Great Commission Baptists

21 06 2012


Why I’m A Southern Baptist

I am always amazed that people will join a church and never know what the church or denomination actually believes or why they exist. I think that many people were simply born into a church or denomination and have continued without asking the hard questions. My parents were members of a Southern Baptist Church, and it would have been easy for me to just continue on in that tradition without ever even thinking about it. When I went to the University of Arkansas, like many college students, I began to question my beliefs and why I did the things I did. I started out questioning the basic beliefs of Christianity and was satisfied with the arguments for it. I then began to question my interpretations of the scriptures and the tradition of the Southern Baptist Church that I grew up in.

I discovered two things that have kept me a Southern Baptist. Before I state those two things, I will admit that we are not perfect. Like any large institution, there are imperfect people involved. There are things that I wish we would change or do differently. There have been things done in the past that are embarrassing. I am also not saying that heaven will only be filled with Southern Baptist (although we will make the potlucks spectacular). I believe that when we all get to heaven, we will discover that we were all wrong.

The number one reason why I am a Southern Baptist is because I feel like we are the closest to being Biblical of any other denomination. I love our Baptist Faith and Message that most of our churches subscribe to. I appreciate the history of our due diligence to write our statement of faith and to stick with it when it has not been popular.  I will admit that we have some gaps, but these are on nonessential items. I was bothered that in order to serve as a missionary with the International Mission Board I had to sign that I was baptized in a Southern Baptist Church and I did not use a private prayer language. I was baptized in a Southern Baptist Church, but I was not baptized to identify myself with that denomination. I was baptized to identify myself with Jesus. I don’t have a private prayer language (the gift of speaking in tongues), but I certainly believe it is a Biblical gift that some people have and should exercise. All in all, though, these things are minor compared to the theological problems that I have found in any other denomination.

The second reason why I am a Southern Baptist is because of our focus on the Great Commission. As a matter of fact, our denomination just approved the use of a new name: Great Commission Baptist. Our denomination has the largest mission agency that the world has ever seen.  We are currently supporting around 5,000 missionaries who are serving in every corner of the world. This did not happen on accident. It is the result of the very reason why our churches decided to come together in the first place. We believed that one church could only do so much to change the world for Christ, but together we could not only obey the Great Commission better, but also complete it. Today we are a network of around 45,000 churches that are working towards completing the Great Commission, and I fully believe that we will accomplish this task in my lifetime.

So there you have it! Why are you attending the church that you go to on Sundays? Do you know the history of your church? Are you apart of a church that is doing their part to reach Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the Earth?








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