Local Missions Challenge

2 10 2015

localmissions

I have recently been taking people in our church through a mental exercise that seems simple at first, but eventually really challenges our assumptions about missions, especially local missions. I will start out explaining to the group that we have all been called to move overseas to work with an unreached tribe. I then ask them to begin listing all of the things that we need to do to reach that tribe for Christ. This is very simple as we list things such as church planter training, language and culture acquisition, moving there, building relationships with people, sharing the gospel, etc. It seems that many people understand the concept of missions when we are talking about a foreign place or even simply moving to another town. The trick is when I turn the conversation into how do we go about doing missions locally where we live. Minds begin to blow up at this point.

We have been trained that missions is really done by a specially called and trained minority of Christians that move somewhere to do it full-time. When asked about what we can do locally to reach people, we usually think of one-shot good deeds, like feeding the homeless. Missions is easy if all we have to do is go to a particular place one Saturday morning and hand out some food, but is that really missions? We have already seen what missions looks like when a missionary moves to another country. We understand that! So, the question is… Why is it so hard to transfer our strategy for reaching an unreached tribe to reaching the homeless that live in our home town? I think the answer is that we do not see ourselves as missionaries. It is easier to go do a good deed on Saturday morning, feel good about ourselves, and make it back in time for the good football games.

I believe that we all need to shift our thinking towards the fact that Jesus’ commands were not for a spiritually elite, but were for all to obey. We must learn to see ourselves as missionaries where we live. The goal of any missionary is to see a reproducing, indigenous church. The goal should be the same for a believer working with the homeless in their home town. We need to ask greater questions than just… How do I get someone’s belly full for a day? We need to be asking questions such as… How do we most effectively share the gospel with the homeless? How do we make them disciples? We need to apply the same strategies used in reaching an unreached tribe to reach the homeless, such as… getting trained, learning the culture and language, moving there, building relationships, sharing the gospel, etc.

The realization that I am a missionary changes everything. It changes how I view my work or vocation. It changes how I interact with my neighbors. If I truly am a missionary, God has sent me into the neighborhood in which I currently live. The easy part is that you already know the culture and language. That takes foreign missionaries years to acquire. Maybe you just need some training, and you definitely need to introduce some intentionality into your missionary living. As a missionary, you can no longer just let your kids sign up and play soccer. You now must understand that in God’s sovereignty He has placed your child on that particular team, because He wants you around those particular parents in order for you to be His ambassador of reconciliation. You must also train your children in the Lord by teaching them that God has placed them as a missionary on that team. I hope you see how powerful this change or shift in perception is. I believe that if just a small fraction of believers would understand and implement this lifestyle, it would change our city.





The End

28 09 2015

theendAnd this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.
Matthew 24:14 ESV

Last night, many of you went out to see the lunar eclipse take place. In our area, it was a beautiful night to do so. My family had to pick me up late at the airport, and on the way home we stopped in a big, dark parking lot to enjoy the view. It is always funny how events like this get Christians stirred up about end time prophecy. Many church-goers love to talk and debate about when the end will come and what it will be like. I saw multiple shares on Facebook this last week concerning these topics. Pastors love to preach through the book of Revelation, because it gets people to come to church. The problem with most talking and preaching on this subject is that it is pure speculation. I remember when I was in high school that we had a guest preacher come and talk about how Jesus was going to return in 1996. He had all kinds of Biblical “proof.”

I am all for reading the book of Revelation! John, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote that we are blessed if we read it (Revelation 1:3), but we have to be careful when interpreting the meaning of John’s apocalyptic language. I believe that Jesus gave us this book to give us hope, not information about how things are going to exactly play out.

The funny thing is that when talking about end time prophecy, most people do not talk about the most definitive statement on Jesus’ return ever. Plus, this statement came from Jesus himself. In Matthew 24, Jesus’ disciples have come to him and have asked him the same question that we want to know: When will the end take place? Jesus proceeds to tell them about things to watch out for, including wars, famines, earthquakes, and false teachers. Jesus then says that at some point the gospel will be preached all over the world as a witness to every ethnic group. When enough people from every ethnic group on earth receive Jesus as their Lord and Savior, Jesus says very plainly, “…and then the end will come.” The end of the age is not contingent upon a lunar eclipse or a certain country invading another or the increase of evil. These are signs that the end is coming, but the end itself will only take place when the Great Commission is completed. This is further confirmed in Revelation 7:9 when John looks and sees a multitude from every ethnic group worshipping the Lamb.

The exciting part about all of this is that we have never been so close. With a concerted effort the Church could possibly get missionaries to every ethnic group within a short time span. That effort is underway but needs more help and finances. As Christians, if we truly long for the return of Jesus, we would be doing all we can to fulfill the Great Commission. How awesome would it be to be apart of the generation that got to usher in the return of Jesus!

I believe that God has given our generation the ability and the potential to finish His task of getting the gospel to every ethnic group, but it will take each of us as individuals to come under His Lordship and follow Him with utter abandon to the uttermost parts of the world. Let events like last night’s lunar eclipse or the world news spur us on to get the gospel to unreached people groups, because it is only then that the end will come.





Growing Up

3 02 2014

growingup

I just got back yesterday from a trip to Dallas, Texas, where we worked with Bhutanese Refugees. These are always fantastic trips! We have teamed up with Chris & Cheryl Read who have volunteered much time and effort to help the Bhutanese out. We took a total of eight people with us on this particular trip. We drove down to Dallas on Friday afternoon and arrived to a great ethnic meal cooked by our Bhutanese friends. The next day we spent going to different apartments to meet new Bhutanese refugees, many of whom have only been in the US for less than three months. Our desire was twofold: 1. to begin relationships with these new folks and connect them to the local Bhutanese Christian community and 2. to encourage our fellow Bhutanese workers to do outreach themselves.

The last time that we went to Dallas, we went over to new people’s apartments bearing many gifts to help them get started on their new life in America. I was pleasantly surprised to find out when we arrived this time, that the Bhutanese believers did not want us to bring any gifts with us at all. Their reasoning was that the gifts only serve to spoil the people. They have seen that all of these well-intentioned ministries have created a culture of enablement. Instead, we were just going to bring ourselves and God’s love. I see this as a positive sign that the Bhutanese Christian community is maturing in their faith. They are growing up into a wonderful church, and it is encouraging to see.

It really was an incredible weekend. We ministered to many people by praying for them and just hearing their remarkable stories of living in a refugee camp for twenty years. We saw many connections made between Bhutanese Christians and Bhutanese Hindus. We were also blessed to get to encourage a new church plant of about 40 Bhutanese. We were able to take their youth out bowling and to eat pizza. We intended to worship with them on Sunday morning, but the weather forced us to leave before the service started.

Please, email me if you are interested in this work. Our intention is to take about three trips to Dallas per year.





Proximity

23 01 2014

proximity

There is an old story told of a farmer who had gone inside his house just prior to sunset to avoid a large storm that was brewing in the vicinity. As he was preparing for dinner, he looked out his window and saw a tiny sparrow perched on the electric line that ran down from his house. He knew that if that bird stayed there as the storm hit, it would be killed. He felt sorry for the bird and got an idea. He went out to the barn and opened the door. His thinking was that the sparrow would see the open door, fly into the barn, and find safety from the coming storm. But, the bird just sat there too scared to move. Next the farmer started up an old kerosene lantern and placed it inside the barn. Maybe the bird will see the light and fly in, but, again, the bird just sat on his perch. The man then ran inside and found some bread. He put pieces under the electric wire in a line that led to the door of the barn, but every time the little bird got close to the door, he flew back to his perch. Slowly, the man shook his head and said to himself, “I wish that I could become a sparrow and fly to the little bird and tell him of the danger so that he would be safe from the storm.”

What we could never do, God did through the person of Jesus in that miraculous event that we call the Incarnation. In a sense, God became a sparrow to save all the other birds from certain death. Through, Jesus, God drew close to us and invites us to an abundant, eternal life. Now Jesus calls us to do the same. In John 20:21 he says, “As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” We are called in this commission statement to do as Jesus did and draw close to men and women who need to hear the life-saving gospel. In order to get this message to people that need to hear it, we must first be in close proximity to them. It is easy to think of this in terms of international missions. If you wanted to share the gospel with an unreached people group in a particular country, you would need to fly there. In the case of local missions, the simplicity of the concept of proximity sometimes eludes the best of Christians. Locally, we have our churches along with our fellowships and activities that we do with other believers. We have Bible studies during the week. We have our Christian bookstores. We have our Christian schools. There is certainly nothing wrong with any of this, except when we completely surround ourselves with such a solid wall of Christian “stuff” that we can not get out or others can not get in to us. To fulfill the command of Jesus to make disciples, we must first place ourselves in close proximity to those who have not accepted Jesus.

To place yourself in close proximity to others that need to hear the gospel locally, is not difficult; it just takes intentionality. We will not naturally do this. Our natural way is to find the path of least resistance, so instead of inviting friends over to watch the game with you, you curl up in your recliner by yourself. Instead of putting the headphones on during your workout at the gym, take them off and engage in conversations. Instead of hiking by yourself, join a hiking club. There are a thousand different ways that we can put ourselves in places that might give us the opportunity to share the gospel. Obviously, there is more to seeing people saved, than just being close, but this is a start.

This concept of proximity can be explored further in a great book by Brad Brisco & Lance Ford called Missional Essentials: A Guide for Experiencing God’s Mission in Your Life.





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.





Stress

4 12 2013

stress

I realize that everyone deals with some kind of stress day in and day out. I certainly do not want to minimize that, but there is a phrase out there that I am hearing more and more that makes me chuckle.  Someone describes a stress or problem, and another replies sarcastically, “First-world problems.” I realize that there are real and serious stresses and problems out there, but I believe that the majority of our stresses are “first-world problems.” The idea behind this is that our problem might be not being able to get our email to work correctly (1st world), while someone else’s stress might be putting food on the table for their family or if their baby will die of malaria (3rd world). Perspective is everything, and many times our stresses are self-imposed.

A month ago I was reminded of this topic when we hosted a missionary family from Ecuador at our church. They were in need of a boat motor in order for them to be able to have their own boat so that they could get to the tribes that they are working with. They also, though, needed that motor in case of an emergency. Snake bites, parasites, sicknesses, broken bones – all of these and more are realities that can happen when living in the rain forest, especially when you have a bunch of curious and active children. This boat motor is a simple way that we as a church can reduce the stress of our missionary family on the field. I am happy to report that we were able to raise enough money to more than cover the cost of the motor. The result of this is that we may have just increased the longevity that this family will stay on the field, because of less stress, and therefore increase the work they do for the gospel.

I would like to challenge us all that when we experience stress in our personal life, that we would remember and pray for our missionaries that are constantly living at an increased level of stress. Our missionaries around the world are automatically targets, because of their nationality and skin color. When we lived in Tanzania, we were perceived as the rich, white people, and were therefore targets for robberies. Most people in the US don’t think about going to different ATM’s each time, utilizing counter-surveilance tactics all the time, and carrying a year’s worth of salary in cash on them. This was my life for three years. At the same time, we lived eight hours from where we would consider medical care similar to what we have in the US. One of our biggest times of stress was when our oldest son had a grand mal seizure in our little village.

Our top priority for working with our missionary partners is to come alongside their strategy to see indigenous church planting take place among their people group. Our second priority, but very close to the first one, is to encourage our missionary families. This includes helping all we can to reduce their stress. I fully believe that if we can increase the longevity of our missionaries on the field – we will see an increase in the work of the gospel. A gospel movement among an unreached people group normally does not take place in the short term. It is through long term effort and prayer and perseverance that people are reached, and if we can be apart of helping our missionaries stay long term through encouragement and reducing their stress, then we are going to do that.

 

 





Syria

5 09 2013

syria

The country of Syria is front and center in the media today. They have been in the midst of a bloody civil war for two years that has claimed more than 100,000 lives and produced more that 2 million refugees. There are claims that their president, Bashar al-Assad, used chemical weapons on civilians of his own country. With that news, our president, Barack Obama, has taken to congress a short-term initiative to punish the Syrian dictator.

I am now constantly hearing conflicting reports. I have heard that the rebels were the ones to use chemical weapons to set the president up. Our government is also not sure that we want the rebels to win. The American public certainly does not want to involve our troops in another Middle Eastern crisis. On the other hand, as Christians, we see the atrocities taking place on the news, and we can’t help but wonder if there is something more we can do. There is one thing that I do know for sure… I don’t know all the facts. Syria is a confusing mess with no easy solution. This does not mean that we check out, though. As believers, we must respond.

The country of Syria has a total population of about 21.3 million people. Only 0.1% of that population is an Evangelical Christian. There are 34 different ethnic groups represented in the county. Half (17) of these people groups are considered critically unreached.

It would be easy for us to just let Syria be, but that is not what the Bible teaches us. As Christians, our response should be to engage in spiritual battle. We are to pray. Pray for peace, yes, but more importantly, pray that God would be somehow glorified in this mess. Pray for workers to be sent that will share the good news of Jesus. Pray for the boldness of the few Christians and churches that live there. Pray that God, in His sovereignty, will use this tragedy to make Himself known.

Not too long ago, I met a woman on the soccer field that was obviously of Middle Eastern descent. Her son played on the soccer team that I coached. I asked her where she and her family were from. She said that she was from Syria. I then told her how sorry I was that horrible things were happening there, and that I would pray for her family. She was genuinely moved by that and talked to me for about 20 minutes about her life and family in Syria and how scared she was. Sometimes when we hear the news, we forget that behind all of the rhetoric there are real people with lives, passions, and dreams just like you and me.

Let’s join together to pray for Syria.








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