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.





Do Something

10 09 2012

 

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

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

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

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





Great Commission Baptists

21 06 2012


Why I’m A Southern Baptist

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

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

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

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

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





Run the Race

2 06 2012

One of our purposes in going to Colombia next week is to lead some of our missionaries in a Prayer Retreat. I will be in charge of leading the worship and leading the Bible study with the adults. Whenever I have the opportunity to share with missionaries serving on the field, I am always faced with the dilemma of what I should speak about. I have been praying about this retreat for quite some time now, and I think that I have come up with a topic that will speak to their hearts. I am going to be speaking about how we should be running the Race that God has set before us. In Hebrews 12:1-2, the author reveals that we should run the Race with fellowship, with freedom, with endurance, with purpose, and with joy.

When the author of Hebrews says that we are “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses,” I have always wondered what exactly that has meant. I believe that the author was referring back to chapter 11 where he described those that have persevered and eventually died for the cause of Christ. Is this allusion to them meant to say that in light of what they have done, we should run the Race, or is it meant to say that they are actively watching us even now? Have those that have preceded us in death the ability to see us and intercede for us? The picture that the author gives us is one of a huge stadium filled with fans cheering on those that are running on the track below. For me this is a great encouragement to know that I am being cheered on and maybe even prayed for by those who have already fallen asleep in Christ. On the other hand, it makes me wonder what those who are watching are thinking when I am stumbling along or not even running. It gives me accountability to keep up the fight – to keep pushing even when I don’t feel like running.

Please be in prayer for me as I share with these wonderful people the power of God’s word. Pray that they will be encouraged and pressed to continue on with the difficult Race that God has set before them.





Get to Church

18 04 2012

When my family served as missionaries over in Tanzania, East Africa, we had a fantastic leader named Jon Sapp. Jon now works for the Kansas/Nebraska Convention of Southern Baptist Churches. I will never forget the phrase that he said all the time… “Get to church.” What he meant by that was that everything that we were doing should end in an indigenous, self-replicating church. And we are not alone in that work! Jesus said in Matthew 16:18 that He will build His church. Jesus is in the business of building His church, and if that is what He is doing, then I want to be about that as well.

I had the privilege Monday of meeting a man by the name of Bobby Gupta (HBI Global Partners). He taught a Perspectives class that I have been taking. Bobby is from India and has some awesome experiences related to church building. He is actually a part of a movement trying to see 1 million churches started throughout India. During his talk, he shared some of the challenges that he faces. He said that many preachers love to come to India, because they can share the gospel and thousands of people will respond. He said that he has heard mission teams come back from India and other similar places boasting huge amounts of people accepting Christ. The problem, he said, is that he lives in India and he can never find all of those masses of people who have supposedly believed in Jesus. He claimed that too many Western Christians are focused on the proclamation of the gospel only, when Jesus told us very clearly in the Great Commission to go and make disciples – not converts only. This is a much more difficult work. Planting churches requires so much more time and energy than simply sharing the gospel and leaving, but it is essential to the completion of the Great Commission. Bobby left us all with some great quotes from some top missiologists, and I would like to share some of them with you…

David Womack says:
There is only one way the Great Commission can be fulfilled, and that is by establishing Gospel-preaching congregations in every community on the face of the earth.

Dr. Ralph Winters says:
…it seems to me that we should say a church for every people group in the world and at least one for every 1,000 within those groups.

Dr. Donald McGavran says:
The only way we will get the job of the Great Commission done is to plant a church in every community in the world.

Dr. Peter Wagner says:
The best method under heaven for evangelism is church planting. There never was a better method and there never will be.








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