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.





Open or Closed Doors

16 05 2013

opendoors

A number of months ago, I announced here on my blog that my family and I were going to start the process of an international adoption. We began to pray about where we wanted to adopt from, and God began to soften our hearts for the orphans of Russia. Many of you know that in December of last year, the Russian government closed its adoption program to Americans. We began to pray again and felt like God was leading us to adopt from the country of Ghana in West Africa. Well, just about a week and a half ago we found out that the government of Ghana closed its adoption program completely. Basically, we are back to square one and have already spent a chunk of money. This has been a very frustrating turn of events. Our ideal situation in our own minds was to be able to adopt as quickly as possible, mainly because I am no spring chicken any more! I am guessing that God has other plans.

This brings me to my topic. I have had a number of people that I love ask me if this might be God’s way of shutting the door on adoption for us. I believe that in our situation it has certainly given us reason to pause and reflect on God’s plan for our lives. I believe that God can and does use circumstances to help guide our paths, so when He shuts down the two adoption programs that we are in, it would behoove us to stop and listen. I believe that we have done so and feel very confident that God is not closing the door of adoption for our family.

In the same way that God uses circumstances, Satan can orchestrate events that present obstacles or opportunities to keep us off track. Therefore we need to be very cautious when it comes to reading into circumstances too much. I believe that Christians too often run into a closed door, call it a door closed by God, and so stop. I see this all the time when it comes to missions. People would like to go on this trip or another, but “God” has the door closed because they don’t have enough money or time. I think that we are raising a generation of soft Christians that value comfort over anything else. As soon as an obstacle is put in our way, we back off couching it in spiritual terms to justify our disobedience. What we are doing is placing circumstances as the most important determining factor rather than the Word of God. Jesus clearly commanded us to go and make disciples of all nations, but we like to add “if” clauses to this statement, for example “…if you have enough money,” or “…if you can learn a different language.” By doing this, we prove our lack of faith in Jesus’ authority and power to accomplish what he has commanded through you.

I graduated with a degree in coaching. I love sports. I now have three boys that are playing on three different baseball teams in three different leagues. Needless to say, my family and I are living at the ballparks this summer. If you asked any of my boys, especially the two older ones, what the most important thing for them to do is, they would say, “Be aggressive.” As a coach, I understand that talent and ability makes a difference, but I love those kids more that try hard. I would rather have a team with no talent but gave 110% every play, than a team full of talent that didn’t care. When I coach a team, I tell my players that I would rather them be aggressive and make mistakes, than be afraid to make a mistake and so hold back. Maybe it’s just my personality, but I would rather make mistakes or fail God falling forward. So when it comes to missions or adoption, which are both close to the heart of God, my tendency is to blow through the closed doors. I think that this should be our leaning rather than the other way. I realize that in the book of Acts, God closed a door for Paul to go to an area. When God closed this door on Paul, he didn’t tuck tail and quit the mission. He simply went to another place. In another instance, Paul was stoned until people thought he was dead, but he got up and went back into the city. We would be screaming at Paul that it was a closed door, but Paul would be shaking his head at the lostness of the city.

This is a tricky topic, because ultimately we all must hear from the Holy Spirit personally and should not judge someone’s decision when they feel a distinct call from Him. My point is that when faced with a closed door, we don’t automatically shut that direction down until it is also confirmed by God’s Word either through the Bible, the Holy Spirit, or other Godly people.





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…








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