Get Your Passport

12 02 2014

passport
Every Christian should have a passport. Jesus commanded us to go and make disciples of all nations, so we should always be going. Jesus provided no loopholes or gave any free passes. He simply commanded us to not only go to Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, but also to the ends of the earth. In the Gospels, I never see Jesus talking about staying, but rather sending. Somewhere along the way, we have made missions an optional activity where just a select few are called. This is contrary to everything in the Bible. We are very clearly called, and Jesus even spells out in a number of verses where we are to go: the nations, the ends of the earth, every tribe, every language, etc.

If we are all called to go, then the special calling should be to stay. We have it backwards. We tell God that we will go if He calls us, but He already has called us! We should not be praying about whether or not to go. That has been settled. We should only be praying about where we should go. If, in the midst of praying about where you should go, God calls you to stay, then by all means stay!

I have often been accused of using guilt as a tool to try and get people to go. When I was growing up, I loved sugar. I would actually sneak into our kitchen, get our sugar jar, and eat a mouthful of white sugar. Of course, my mom caught me one day and told me to never do that again. She did not just tell me no because she was mean – she knew it was bad for me. When I did it again, I was guilty. No one would say I was innocent. I disobeyed my mom! Guilt is not a bad thing. It becomes bad when we dwell in that guilt and not embrace the forgiveness and freedom that is found in Christ. Guilt is used by the Holy Spirit to initially lead people to salvation, and later to help us mature in our faith. If I am accused of using guilt, then I’m guilty as far as I am trying to make people aware of the commands of Christ. That is all I can do. It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict us of sin. If someone is not following the commands of Jesus, then he is guilty of disobedience.

When we hear Jesus command us to go and make disciples of all nations, our first reaction should be, “Ok, Jesus, where?” Any other response is disobedience. When we hear Jesus say that as the Father has sent me, I am sending you, our response should be, “I’m ready, just tell me where!” Any other response is disobedience. Our timing is key as well. Delayed obedience is still disobedience. If I told my mom that I was going to wait a couple of years to obey her sugar law, I am guilty. That is not obedience. God is calling you to obey His commands now – not when the kids are grown up a little more – not when you have more money – not when things are a bit more stable. God wants your obedience now.

The bottom line is if you truly trust God or not. Do you believe that He has the best in mind for you and for His glory? Do you believe that His command to go is not arbitrary, but has a purpose? If you answered yes to the two previous questions, here is the hardest: Will you do anything He says and go anywhere He points? If you have not gotten a passport, why not, as an act of saying to God that I am ready to go anywhere, get started on the application process?





Open Hands

20 01 2014

openhands1 May God be gracious to us and bless us;
look on us with favor
2 so that Your way may be known on earth,
Your salvation among all nations.
Psalm 67:1-2

Most Christians live in verse one of this passage and never go on to verse two. Want proof? Just attend a prayer meeting and notice what the majority of the prayers are. Look at any prayer list. The majority of prayers are for my second cousin’s twisted ankle or my grandmother’s friend’s head cold. Health concerns can and should be prayed for, but when they make up the bulk of our praying, I believe it shows a verse one-only attitude toward Christianity. Most Christians in the circles that I run vehemently oppose the health and wealth gospel, yet together we live it everyday. We pray verse one, but never move on to verse two. Everyone wants God’s blessing, but few want the responsibility that comes with those blessings.

I once heard a lady share her testimony that she really needed a new $300 rug to put in the foyer of her home. She just had to have it, because it would complete the look in that room. She didn’t have the money for it, but surprisingly, she got an unexpected check in the mail from the IRS. She determined that God had seen her need and answered her unspoken prayer and provided for that rug. This is verse one-only theology. It is a theology that says that we can pick and choose which verses we want to use and leave out the ones that make us uncomfortable. You and I might not be as open as the rug lady, but to some extent most of us live in verse one and never move to verse two. Scripture tells us to look at our fruit as proof. We have more than enough stuff, but how many people have come to Christ because of our testimonies? We are rich by worldly standards, but how many use that wealth to reach the nations? We are well educated, but how many use that education to think of creative ways to get the gospel to closed countries? We have unprecedented ways to communicate, but how many use social media to bring God glory (and I’m not talking about sharing trite Christian sayings)?

The blessings that God gives to us are not for us to keep in a clinched fist. They are to be placed in open hands ready to distribute to the nations for the glory of God. God does not get the most glory when we hold tightly to our blessings, but when we use those blessings to help bring about reconciliation between lost man and God. All too often, God blesses man to bless the nations, but instead, man keeps the blessings and receives the glory himself as if he manufactured the blessings through his own hard work.

One thing that I would like to point out in this passage that really stood out to me is that in verse two, the word “way” is singular. God blesses us so that His way would be known. There are not multiple pathways to God as many are preaching today. There is only the Way, and that only Way to God is Jesus. Through His grace and mercy, God has chosen to use you and me as his ambassadors to reach a lost world. There is no other plan that we know of! God could, if He wanted, send angels to witness, but for whatever reason He has made us the only way to get the good news to the nations. He blesses us to give us the ability and authority to accomplish His mandate.

We need to regularly evaluate our life. Use this opportunity to ask yourself if your blessings are being held selfishly or in open hands. Look at what God has blessed you with in verse one, and determine how you can use those more effectively to fulfill verse two.





Mission Education

9 01 2014

education

 

I have had many opportunities to speak at different churches, and most of the time when I go, I share the same message. It is a simple message where I take people on a journey of the entire Bible and show them that it is one story. That story, from Genesis to Revelation, is that God desires to redeem sinful mankind back to Himself for His glory. That’s it! Jesus then left us with a mandate that God has now chosen us, in His great mercy, to be His instruments or ambassadors of reconciliation. In the book of Acts, we see the disciples flesh that mandate out by planting churches wherever they went. Then, in the book of Revelation, we see the culmination of the work that God appointed us to do in the picture of a representative crowd from every people group worshipping around His throne. I end my message with a simple question: In light of all of this, what do you think we ought to be doing? By then, the answer is obvious that we should be continuing the work that Jesus and the apostles started of planting churches among all the people groups of the world. We must complete the commission that Jesus gave us and finish writing the book of Acts, so that the picture in Revelation will be realized.

It never ceases to amaze me that every time I preach that message, I will have people come to me afterwards saying that they have never heard that before. I have also seen this story of the Bible change more people’s lives than any other message that I have preached.

We have churches that are full of people that can win Bible trivia games. We host Bible study after Bible study. Anyone can look up the Greek or Hebrew translation of a word in Scripture. Our children memorize verses for prizes. We sing theologically correct worship songs. And every week, we hear sermons that move us with the slickest graphics and most humorous illustrations. But within all of this Christianity, we see very few people making disciples of all nations. This was not just a cute saying that we should slap it on paintings with an eagle, but it was a command from our Boss and Savior. I have had people come up to me, patting my back, and say that missions is just not for them or it is not their calling or gifting. I want to ask them if they have ever read their Bible!

I believe that there are a lot of good people in our churches that have just been led astray from their purpose. I have seen that when some of these folks are faced with a simple mission education, their eyes are opened, real life-change takes place, and they start asking the right questions about what they should do with their lives. The best mission education out there that I have found is a course called Perspectives. God has used this course to do incredible things in people’s lives. I am constantly trying to get people to take this course, because I believe that it is the most important Bible study a person can take. If you are tired of running your own life and wasting it on frivolous things, Perspectives is the class for you.

This Perspectives class is not easy. It is a commitment of 15 weeks. It costs $225, and you do a lot of reading and some homework. But, I promise, it will be the best thing that you have ever done.

We are starting a new class at my church, Grand Avenue Baptist Church, this coming Monday at 6:30pm. If you are interested, you are welcome to attend this first class for free. We will have childcare available along with some great snacks. The speaker that night will be Sean Cooper. Sean is with an organization called the Traveling Team, and you will not want to miss him! He is a very gifted teacher with an incredibly challenging message. If you just know that you are going to take this class, you can register now at perspectives.org.

If you have any questions about this class or other resources, please, contact me.





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.





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.





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.








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