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.





Orphanage Emmanuel

21 02 2013

emmanuel

Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
James 1:27

I just got back from a mission trip to Guiamaca, Honduras, to visit and work at Orphanage Emmanuel. This orphanage was started in 1989 by David & Lydia Martinez with five kids and three small buildings on an old cattle ranch. Since that time, it is absolutely amazing to see what God has done! They now have over 600 children, a working farm, dental and medical clinics, staff from all over the world, and a God-given vision to continue. This is my second time to have been to Orphanage Emmanuel, and I am continually astonished at this place. The thought that kept running through my head and heart this last week was that this is a small piece of heaven on earth. In Matthew 6:10, Jesus teaches us to pray, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” This place is a living embodiment of that verse.

I am certainly not saying that Orphanage Emmanuel is perfect. As much as the staff and volunteer teams love these kids, they simply do not get the extent of the love and hugs that a small family would provide. They are continually struggling with what to do with children who have aged out. There is still sickness, disease, disabilities, and death. But in the middle of this imperfection, there is a nugget of pure religion. Looking after orphans is Biblical. When describing this trip to others, the one adjective that keeps coming to my mind is “good.” What is happening there is good. Spending a week of my time to tile a new girls’ dorm when I do not know the first thing about tiling is just a good thing to do. Hanging out and wrestling at the power toddler house with snot and other unmentionable bodily fluids is just good. Sponsoring a child for $35 per month at this place is a good thing, and you can rest assured that your money is being stewarded well.

One of the highlights for this trip was for me to get to spend some time with Olvin. My family has been sponsoring Olvin for two years now. It is our understanding that he came to the orphanage when he was two years old out of a very abusive situation. He is now four years old with a smile that would light up any room. My greatest wish while I was there was that somehow I could sneak this little guy home with me. We got to hang out and play ball together, and he started calling me Tio, which is the Spanish word for Uncle.

Most of our trips that we provide through our church are to places where there are unreached people groups with a strategy of starting indigenous churches among them, but there is definitely room for a trip each year to Orphanage Emmanuel. I would certainly encourage you to consider this trip next year. If you don’t go, I would ask that you consider sponsoring a child. Believe me, it is a good thing, and one that God will bless you. And, at least, be in prayer for David & Lydia, the staff, and the children at Orphanage Emmanuel.





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…





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.





The Door

27 11 2012

 

John 10:9
I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture.

During our annual Thanksgiving Blessing at our church (Grand Avenue Baptist Church) where we present the gospel message and give away 1200 full turkey dinners, our Lead Pastor, Jeff Crawford, presented a message entitled “The Door.” Because of God’s Spirit moving, we saw hundreds of people respond to this message, and that very day we baptized almost 70 people. The one thing that struck me about this message was its simplicity. I think that too often we forget that God does not make it complicated. The good news of Jesus Christ redeeming a lost and dying world is a very simple message that can be explained with an everyday example of a door. It does not take an expert in theology to explain it, and even a young child can understand it.

When my family and I served as missionaries in Tanzania, the one thing that we dealt with more than anything was confusion. The tribal people there knew of the Bible. They knew of Jesus. They heard sermons and worship songs on the radio. The reason that these people were confused was not because God’s message is complicated, but because humans and their sin twisted the gospel into something unrecognizable through their own prejudices, denominations, and pride. I believe that the same thing is happening here in the United States and probably most other places around the globe. The people who responded to Jeff’s message at Thanksgiving Blessing had probably been in church before. They undoubtedly knew who Jesus was, but most of them came in, unknowingly, with a distorted, twisted, and confused view of Jesus and the gospel. When presented in all its beautiful simplicity, the gospel “spoke” truth in their hearts for the first time, and they responded with enthusiasm.

As followers of Jesus, we must be faithful in presenting the pure gospel message – nothing more and nothing less – and allow it to do its own work in and on the heart of the hearers. This brings me to a question… if the gospel is so simple and the Holy Spirit does all the work, why do we not share it more often? We know that people are confused and yearning for and needing this vital message, yet we remain silent. If we can fully explain the gospel using a basic example of a door, or a gate, or a narrow path, etc., this leaves us with no excuse to share it except disobedience. Jeff presented the gospel clearly and concisely, and certainly he is a gifted speaker, but Jesus has called all of us to share the Good News – not just seminary-educated preachers. Pray about who God would have you share the gospel with this Christmas season and be obedient to do it even if you feel unqualified or ill-prepared. Trust in the Holy Spirit that He will give you the words to say at the right time. I promise, you will not regret it.








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