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.





Give Recognition

15 08 2013

recognition

Now we ask you, brothers, to give recognition to those who labor among you and lead you in the Lord and admonish you, and to regard them very highly in love because of their work…
1 Thessalonians 5:12-13

Not too long ago we hosted a couple who are missionaries to a country in Central Asia in our church. I had the opportunity to interview them during the morning worship service. At the conclusion of the interview, I shared the above passage of scripture with our church and asked our congregation to help me honor them. Our church gave them a LONG standing ovation for their service and work for the Lord. It was an incredibly touching moment as I watched as our church gave recognition to these two unsung heroes of the faith. After the clapping died down and we all were seated again, with tears in their eyes, this missionary couple gave all the glory to God and rightly so. I know this couple personally, and I know how humble they are, so they certainly did not expect this outpouring of love. I simply stated that we were doing what the Word of God told us to do.

One of the top reasons for missionaries leaving the field and pastors leaving the ministry is simple burnout. When we lived overseas, our closest Christian, American friends lived more than three hours away. I understand how lonely it can be for our missionaries. It is only on rare occasions that they are able to come together and worship in their heart language with other believers and just talk about everyday things. Paul understood this as well, and that is why, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he wrote this passage of scripture.

Our church has the opportunity to partner with some fantastic missionaries all over the world. Our number one reason for participating in these partnerships is to come alongside them in their work to reach the unreached people group that they are working with. Our second reason for participating in these partnerships is to encourage them and to keep them going strong. I believe that if we can help to increase the longevity of our missionaries on the field, then we can increase the work. I tell all of our short-term teams that are heading out that I want it to be like Christmas morning when you arrive. Our teams going to Central Asia, for instance, will never be able to share the gospel to someone in their own Central Asian heart language, but they can encourage the missionaries that are there and do know the language. In verse 13 of our passage it says to regard them very highly in love. To me, this means that we should encourage them, pray for them continually, remember their birthdays, do something for them on holidays when it gets really lonely, keep up with their children’s lives, email them notes, and even go and visit them just to visit with them. You may be wondering if we actually spend thousands of dollars in airfare just to go and visit our missionaries, and the answer is a resounding yes! Paul tells us that we should regard our missionaries highly.

In light of this scripture, what can you do to encourage our missionaries and ministers and pastors? Can you go on a mission trip to hang out with the missionary kids? Can you write your pastor an encouraging note? Can you send a gift to one of our missionaries on their birthday? God’s plan is not for lone rangers to go out into the mission field and work it by themselves, but to have His church come alongside those who are following Him to the uttermost parts of the earth and participate as co-laborers and encouragers.





Compelled

13 08 2013

compelled

 

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

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

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

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

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





God Created the Nations

2 08 2013

created

So from there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth…
Genesis 11:8

When Noah and his family exited the ark, God told them to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth (Genesis 9:1). They did the first two really well, but they completely disobeyed the third command to fill the earth. They certainly were fruitful and multiplied according to the record in Genesis 10, but instead of scattering all over to fill the earth, they found a valley in the land of Shinar and started building a city with a tall tower as the centerpiece. God came about that time to see this city and the tower that they were building. God decided to make them obey this first commandment that He had given to Noah by confusing their languages and scattering them over the face of the whole earth. Thus we have the creation of the nations or tribes.

As Christians it is important for us to remember that God created these different tribes, people groups, cultures, languages, and ethnicities. It is also His desire to see a representative from each of these tribes redeemed and worshipping before His throne (Revelation 7:9). This means that as God loves His creation, so must we. Certainly these cultures, just like our own, were affected by the Fall. They are full of sinful attitudes, sinful traditions, and sinful superstitions. But we must recognize the fact that God has called us to love them and be a witness to them, and that eventually we will live with them forever in eternity for those who follow Jesus. We tend to think that eternity will be made up of just our culture group with Chris Tomlin leading the worship. This is called ethnocentrism. This malady causes us to lose sight of anyone but those in our own culture, and in its worst form causes us to be racist. God is calling us to love the nations, not to despise them. This includes the Northern Pashtun Tribe who predominately make up the Taliban. We have made enemies of them, but God still loves them fiercely and calls us to do the same.

As Christians, we are called to be in this world but not of it. This means that what we do as followers of Jesus does not always make sense to the world. One of these things is to love all the people of the world so much, that we would lay down our life for them. Christians will say that they love the Vietnamese. What they usually mean by that is that they have the best soup kitchens, but how many Vietnamese do they even know personally? Do they consistently pray for the Vietnamese people to come to Christ? Would they be willing to move to Vietnam in order to reach the millions of Vietnamese that have never heard the gospel? This is a different way of living. As followers of Jesus, we are not afraid to make friends with our Muslim neighbors and to attend their mosque with them. We intentionally frequent international food restaurants with the purpose of meeting representatives of unreached people groups. We can point to places on a world map that most people have never heard of. We invite international students to our homes during holidays. We go to some of the most dangerous places on the planet.

If God truly created the nations, what should our response be to that? Our lives will look different than even many people who attend our churches and racist jokes will no longer be funny. Since God created and loves the nations, He sent His only Son, Jesus, to the nations, who in turn sent His followers to the nations. This is God’s pattern. The question, then, is are we participating in that pattern or merely acting like the rest of the world.





Why the Unreached Are Unreached

31 07 2013

whyunreached

 

I just spent a week in Wyoming on the Wind River Indian Reservation among a beautiful tribe of people called the Northern Arapaho. I have been to a South American country to work with Indigenous Tribes along the Amazon River Basin. I have walked among a completely unreached, unengaged tribe in the isolated mountains of Central Asia. I have even lived for three years working with an unreached tribe in Tanzania.

Before I get to the topic, some things need to be defined first. What does it mean when we say, “Unreached?” When speaking about a tribe of people being unreached, it is universally recognized by missionaries and missiologists that the tribe in question has 2% or less of their population being evangelical Christians. This is no arbitrary number. It has been studied that in most cases a tribe that has more evangelical Christians in its population than 2% of its total has a viable church that has the opportunity to spread the gospel among its own tribe. You might even go as far as asking why this is important. In Matthew 24:14 Jesus says, “This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations. And then the end will come.” The word “nations” in this passage of scripture literally means “tribes” or “people groups.” Therefore, Jesus is saying that before He returns and ushers in the end of this age, all of the tribes will be reached. We see a glimpse of the future in Revelation 7:9 when John writes about seeing a “vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language…” (italics mine) If this is true, and I tend to believe in the truth of the Bible, then this makes unreached people groups a priority for churches. With only an estimated 6,900 people groups left unreached, we are literally seeing the end in sight. It is possible that we could be the generation that has the blessing of ushering in the return of Jesus Christ.

With all of our technology, communication advances, and transportation ease, why are these last unreached people groups still unreached? I believe, having seen it firsthand, that there are many common reasons that all play a role as to why a group is still unreached. First and foremost, we have to recognize that Satan is still very active in this world and maybe more so as his time runs short. He has had these groups and their land in his grasp for generations and generations, and he will not give them up without a fight. Many of these tribes remain unreached, because the church has not engaged in the spiritual battle. Individuals may have fought in the past, but it will take the effort of many praying for extended periods of time before the battle can be won. I am encouraged that more and more churches are recognizing the fact that it will take more than a 3-year partnership to see these remaining peoples reached. We can no longer afford to move on to another people group after just three years and know that we have accomplished anything. This brings me to the next reason these tribes are unreached. Most of these groups are calloused or hard-hearted toward Christianity. The Muslim Tribe in Central Asia sees it as a Western religion, and if one converts, that one is considered a traitor to his family and culture. The point is that in different ways, Satan has gained a deep foothold in these people both individually and culturally. These are holds that only God can break, and through His mercy, He has chosen to use you and me to be His ambassadors and soldiers.

Although not as important as the spiritual reasons, there are also physical reasons why these groups are not reached. Many of them are very difficult to get to. When I lived in Tanzania, it still took me hours driving on treacherous dirt roads along cliff edges to get to the majority of the people group. We had a team earlier this year go to Ecuador to work with an unreached tribe. Once they arrived in the country, they still had hours and hours of driving on horrible roads, boating on a dangerous river, and living in the rain forest. Not only are these groups, in many cases, physically distant, but they are also culturally distant. The languages are difficult to learn. The cultures are completely foreign to us and hard to understand. The food makes us sick. These and more are all reasons why these groups remain unreached, but if we believe the Bible, then we have to believe that these reasons must be overcome.

In these last days, God is looking for individuals and churches that are spiritually and physically tough to finish the task.








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