Me? A Missionary…

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In this simple post, I want to encourage you to be confident in your ability to hear God’s voice and respond to His call to be a missionary. Before you stop reading because you could never be a missionary, let me remind you of Jesus words that still ring true for us today.

Matt 28 18-20
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In the simplest sense, anyone intentionally sharing the gospel in any context is a missionary. A call to missions is simply the expectation from the father to be about the business of bringing the good news of God to the world. If we consider the goal of missions like the game of football, eternity with Christ is the end zone and God’s word forms the sidelines of this life. As Christians, we have committed to the team, to run down the field in pursuit of the prize of the upward call of Christ. The missionary call is precisely a call to evangelism and discipleship. God invites all of his followers to the field. As you consider how you will participate, consider the pace you run down the field, the people you will encounter along the way, and the team-mates around you. As you reach places where you must decide to go right or left; whether to run or pass, do so with confidence.

God’s call is to advance down the field. He has set the side-lines and His leadership is consistent play calling for the people of the church. Trust Psalm 37:4 in that God gives the desires of the heart. In a very real sense, God both places within us the desires of the heart and then gives opportunity in life to experience them. In all, there is only one crucial question. How do we insure that God has access to our heart and respond when he provides an opportunity?  John 15:5-8 is the key t0 both efforts.

 

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

Jesus warns that disconnection from the source will lead to a lack of progress and a withering of purpose. Simultaneously He says to stay connected to the source of all things life and Jesus himself will fill life to make you fruitful. We sense the leadership of God through connection to the vine; the reading of God’s word and meditating upon its meaning as well as prayer. We are only as available to God for short and long term missions as we are connected and obedient to Him on a daily basis. So, say yes you will go when God calls, and ready yourself with confidence by your connection to Jesus himself. “And behold, [He is] with you always, to the end of he age.”

#BeAbringer – bring Jesus to people.

Are You Afraid Of The Dark?

shadow-monster

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16, ESV)

There is a monster living in the corner of our seven year old daughter’s room.  How do I know?  Because she has been telling me about it for years!

It generally makes it home in shadowy corner just under her window, but if you get too close, it isn’t beneath slipping into her closet, just out of reach and out of sight.  It has some very specific conditions for coming out, too- it has to be dark, and she has to be alone.  Apparently, it gets pretty skittish around even small crowds- and it absolutely hates light of any kind.  So while it is admittedly a pretty pesky, persistent little guy- he has been paying regular nighttime visits for several years now- if you have the right tools at your disposal, he’s incredibly beatable.

Let’s be real here- Whether you’re a parent, grandparent, teacher, older sibling, or anyone else who deals with kids on a regular basis, you’ve probably played out something very similar to the scenario I’ve described above.  And if you’re anything like me- and on this point, I’m guessing you probably are- you’ve likely played along graciously in an effort to calm young minds, while at the same time thinking to yourself, “This is pretty ridiculous.”  After all, it is the fear of the unseen, the unknown, and the unchallenged that gives such “monsters” their power.  It is in darkness that such fear thrives, and in the light that it finally dies.

Now it’s been a loooooong time since I’ve been seven years old, but what I’ve recently realized is that as we grow older, the “monster” never really goes away; it just change residences, moving from the dark corners of our bedrooms to the dark corners of our hearts.  Eventually it gets a name too- shame.  With every mistake we make in life, every struggle we face in relationships, every failure we experience on our journey, the monster grows more and more powerful.  It feeds on our anxieties and insecurities.  And the bigger it grows, the more feverishly we work to keep it tucked away in the shadows, and the more fearful we are to shine a light in its direction and face it.

The “shame monster,” as I call it, comes in near countless variations.  A few common ones…

  • Shame over a checkered moral past that continues to follow you
  • Shame over unwise financial decisions and their continuing effects
  • Shame over failed or close-to-failing relationships
  • Shame over unspoken doubts and questions about God and faith
  • Shame over long term, seemingly impossible-to-shake sin struggles

I don’t know which of these resonate most with you, but here’s what I know for certain- Just like the live-in “monster” in our daughter’s room, every unique version of the “shame monster” has two things in common…

  • It thrives in the dark.
  • It dies in the light.

One of shame’s greatest effects on us is its relentless power to paralyze.  It deceives us into believing the lie that our sin is too ugly to own, too scary to reveal, and too grievous to forgive.  So we keep it tight under wraps, and do our best to pretend that it isn’t there, that it isn’t impacting us all the time.  Some of us are better at pretending than others, but no matter how skilled we are at putting on a “happy face” for others, as long as we’re lying about what’s really happening in our hearts, shame wins.

So what’s the alternative?  To bring the “shame monster” kicking and screaming into the light of the Gospel of Jesus, believing it and applying it to our specific situation.  Here’s how we do that practically…

  • Own your sin, the ultimate source of our shame. Own it before God to find forgiveness, and own it before others to experience healing.
  • Consider the Cross, the reality that all your sin and shame were nailed to it with Jesus Christ, our perfect substitute sacrifice. Because Jesus took your place, bearing God’s wrath on your behalf, sin and shame no longer have to hold you captive.  Recognize that the Cross is not just an objective fact, it is a personal
  • Live in the light. Be open about your struggles and failures, and about the truth that they no longer have to define you, because Jesus has given you a brand new identity in Him!  This will not only help you to remember and hold on to this, but it will also send the message to others that they too can experience the same forgiveness and freedom.
  • Fight the temptation to isolate. Remember- shame thrives in the darkness, and disconnection drives us into that darkness like nothing else.  This is why the local church, and the opportunities that she provides us to build relationships, is such a critical, non-negotiable part of our thriving in Jesus Christ.  We weren’t made to live independently, but interdependently.

Back to where we started, I have a suspicion that in years to come, we’re going to see less and less of the “monster” in the corner of the house’s back bedroom.  That battle will soon be over- but a much deeper one will continue to rage, in the hearts of every member of our family- and in the hearts of every member of yours too.  I’m committed to fighting that fight with the piercing light of the Gospel, because I know more and more that that’s our only shot at winning.  Wherever you find yourself today, I pray that you would take up that same weapon and find victory and freedom too.

Do not Do

“To do or not to do.”  That is often the question in life.  Sometimes we are asking that question as we about to do some silly prank or take some ridiculous risk in the name of fun and entertainment.

“Do Not” is not incorrect; it is incomplete.

Many people who claim to follow Christ define their faith by the actions their lives are void of not the actions their life is filled with.  They can tell you all the things they do not do but they have very short lists of the things they do because they are following Christ.

Jesus taught about the switch from “do not” to “do” in Matthew 6.  He said do not store up treasures on earth.  He said do store up treasures in Heaven.  It is not simply wrong to store up for yourselves earthly treasure; it is right to store up Heavenly treasure.  Next he told us to not be anxious but to seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.

Anxiety or worry is the byproduct of disproportionate concern for proper cares.

Jesus speaks of clothing and food and simple life issues in this passage.  These things are proper Biblical cares.  Proverbs 31 and 1 Timothy 5:8 teach both men and women the call to provide such items for their families in honoring the Lord.  So if these things are proper, what is the issue?  The issue is anxiety.  “Oh you of little faith” is what Jesus goes onto say.  The issue is a lack of faith in the Lord to provide such things.

The question we must ask ourselves in dealing with such cares and concerns is, “Do I believe God truly cares about me in all things?”  Worry is the byproduct of disproportionate concern.  When we are overly concerned and consumed with the things of this world, we worry.

When we focus on the temporary the result is worry.  When we focus on the eternal the result is rest. How, then, would we not worry.  Is it as simple as, “Don’t worry.  Be Happy?”  No, it is not.  The answer is not simply found in the “do not;” it is found in the “do.”  It is found in the instruction to seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.

We care less about lesser things only when we care more about greater things. The answer is not to stop caring about food for your family.  The answer is not to stop wearing clothes.  The answer is what you start.  Start seeking the Lord and His will in all things.  Seek God’s Kingdom and not your own.  Allow the priority of the Kingdom of God to be the filter through which all decisions are made.  The more you focus on the greater things the less you will focus on lesser ones.

We must seek the reign of Christ to experience the righteousness of Christ. You will never experience the goodness of God without the governance of God.  If you desire to know the greatness of his glory and grace in your life, you must actively seek out his governance over your life…his Lordship.

The answer to so many of life’s deep struggles is not found in the things we “do not,” but in the things we “do.”

Pray this prayer daily, maybe even moment by moment or decision by decision to help you learn this truth in a practical faith. God, I believe you truly care about me in all things. Say it over and over again.  Say it until you mean it.  This prayer is not asking God to change a thing.  It is asking God to change you.

Just Enough Is Not Enough

NFC Championship Football

“Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord”- Romans 12:11 (ESV)

Last Sunday evening, millions of people across America and around the world tuned in to watch what is arguably the single most celebrated American sporting event of the year- the NFL’s Super Bowl.  For the better part of three quarters, the Atlanta Falcons- quite surprisingly, to most fans and observers- absolutely dominated the New England Patriots, to the tune of a seemingly insurmountable 28-3 lead.  At this point, many parties began to wind down, and likely many TVs began to be turned off, because it was over…right?  Right?!

Wrong.

From the 8:51 point of the third quarter on through the end of the regulation and overtime, Tom Brady and the Patriots would orchestrate the single greatest comeback in NFL playoff history, capped by a touchdown on the first possession of overtime, to defeat those Dirty Birds by a final score of 34-28.  If you are a Patriots fan, it was, of course, absolutely exhilarating.  And if you have the misfortune of being a Falcons fan (which is quite a misfortune in its own right!), the misery of your championship-less history was extended and deepened in a most gut-wrenching fashion.

As I reflected on this historic game late Sunday night, I thought back to the message I had preached at FC Airline that morning.  Working from Jesus’ powerful words in Matthew 5 and Luke 6, we were challenged to “go beyond” in our giving, our going, and our loving- to live every aspect of our lives with “second mile mentality.”  As I thought more about that hauntingly high standard, and about the incredible happenings I had just witnessed on my TV, this statement struck me…

Just enough is not enough. 

It wasn’t enough for the Falcons to finish what they started in that fateful Super Bowl loss, and it isn’t enough for those who have been named with the name of Jesus.  In fact, it is never enough if we are to live the life that God has called us to live as His unique people.

If we’re being honest with God, ourselves, and each other- “keeping it real,” as we say- I think we’re all pretty well acquainted with “just enough,” aren’t we?  In many ways, it is the natural bent of our sinful hearts; we want to live our lives in such a way that we appease God and assuage our guilty consciences, but don’t get “too radical” about things.  I confess that I have lived too many days of my life with this very mentality.  I’m guessing I’m not the only one.  So what are some ways that “just enough” plays out practically in our lives today?

“Just enough” giving.  We don’t keep everything to ourselves.  We write a check to the church or to our favorite charity from time to time, and maybe toss a couple bucks to the homeless guy on the corner.  This helps us to feel like we’re “doing some good,” but never works to release the relentless chains of greed, materialism, and “possession obsession” from our hearts.

“Just enough” confession.  Nobody wants to be known as a “fake.”  But at the same time, true authenticity is pretty scary stuff, isn’t it?  So we often settle for the halfway version of honesty.  We share the safe stuff, the surface level symptoms of the sin-sickness that afflicts the depths of our hearts.  Because we’re sharing something– again, nobody wants to be perceived as claiming perfection- we justify the things we continue to hold shamefully in secret.

“Just enough” service.  Just as nobody wants to be seen as inauthentic, likewise no one wants to be called lazy.  In an effort to avoid this, often we choose to serve somehow– but in a halfhearted, “bare minimum” kind of way that doesn’t stretch us into the realm of the uncomfortable or challenging.  Tragically, many Jesus followers are selling short the Spirit’s great power and giftedness within them simply because we don’t want to make the sacrifice to use it to its fullness.

“Just enough” discipline.  This is one the foremost hallmarks of lifeless, routine, “checklist Christianity.”  Sure, we may crack open the Bible regularly- perhaps even daily- and toss a casual prayer to heaven each morning and evening, but we do so without any real engagement or expectation.  We do it “because we’re supposed to,” or maybe “because we’ve done it for years,” but the freshness and impact that God promises- and truly desires to give His children- is long gone.

“Just enough” leadership.  One of my all-time favorite statements on leadership comes from Andy Stanley- “Leadership is a stewardship.  It is temporary, and you are accountable.”  That’s rich- and for many of us, uncomfortably weighty.  As a result, many of us avoid stepping fully into the leadership responsibility and opportunity that God has laid before us.  We use false humility as a defense mechanism- “Oh, I just don’t think I’m qualified for that…”  Essentially, we play it safe- when God has instead called us to step boldly into His call in our families, schools, workplaces, churches, and communities.

I recognize that these are tough words, but they aren’t intended as a condemnation- far from it!  God’s invitation to the “second mile life” is an incredible act of grace and generosity.  He wants us to know Him personally and powerfully– in all His glory.  He likewise wants us to be used by Him personally and powerfully– all for His glory.  He wants our lives to echo into eternity, leaving a legacy of spiritual impact on those who we have the opportunity to touch.  This is what we were made for- all of us!- and this is where true joy, “real life,” is found. 

Because of this truth, “just enough” just isn’t enough; it is a profound and tragic “selling short” of God’s design and desire.  Where and how have you been settling for “just enough” in your life lately?  What would it look like to live with a “second mile mentality” in one of the areas mentioned here- or perhaps another?  What would it look like to live a life “worthy of the calling to which we have been called” in Jesus Christ?  My hope and prayer is all of us will step out today to find out.

Ready for Baptism?

picture1It is exciting every time baptism is a topic of conversation because I know that someone has either made a life changing decision to follow Christ or is seriously contemplating matters of faith.  The pleasure of working with children and families is to walk with them through an exciting time in life.  Conversations often begin with, “Pastor B, my son/daughter wants to be baptized and asks all sorts of questions about God…I’m not sure I have all the answers…What do we do next?  Will you talk with them?”
I take every opportunity I get to talk about baptism, but what is even more exciting to me is to help parents feel equipped to lead their children during a very exciting time in life.  Mom and Dad, it is you that Deuteronomy 6:1-9 directs to teach your children about Gods ways and wondrous acts.  Paul reiterates your the role of the parent in the spiritual upbringing of a child when he instructs, “bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)
Ask open ended questions that help you determine if they understand and have responded to the gospel.  Here are some questions that I think are most helpful.
 
Why do you want to get baptized? (It is important for children to understand baptism is the next step following salvation, not the first step toward salvation.) 
What we want to hear is that our child came to grips with their sinful behavior and recognized their need for forgiveness through Jesus.  It would be great to hear, “Dad, I want to be baptized because I believe Jesus died to save me from my sin and God raised Jesus from dead so that we might have eternal life.  And mom,  I just prayed in my room to ask God for forgiveness and to accept Jesus as Lord of my life forever…Just like Romans 10:9-10 says”  That would be amazing, don’t you think?!  The reality is that it took me 20 minutes to write the last four sentences.  So, we might expect their answer may not be so clear and may be a simple, “I don’t know.”  The great thing about this question is regardless of the response, it gives you a starting point for a great conversation.
 
What do you know about Jesus?  Can you tell me why He died on the cross and God brought Him back to life three days later? (When we understand that Jesus, God’s son, entered the world to live a perfect life and then died as a final sacrifice for our sin, we know the source of salvation.)   God’s love for us through his sacrifice and the reality of His power through the resurrection are an amazing story of hope in eternal life.  (Romans 5:8 & 6:23)
 
Do you know what to call doing something that God says we can’t do or not doing the things that God says we should do?  (We can not seek forgiveness for sin if we do not understand sin.)  One of the things the Holy Spirit does for us it to help us understand when we have done something wrong.   As parents we work hard to help them do right and avoid wrong.  It is important to help them understand that wrong = sin and sin is ultimately against the creator.  “We all sin and fall short of God’s glory.” (Romans 3:23)  Just as doing wrong toward a friend or family member breaks our earthly relationships, sin damages our relationship with God. Here is a word of caution.  Children can often give a definition of sin, but have not connected all of the dots that it is their own personal sin that has broken relationship with God.  Here are a few simple follow up questions that are helpful.  Do you ever sin?  Do you think I ever sin?  If you are afraid of the answer to that second question you have my permission to ask, Do you think Pastor B ever sins?
I will leave you with this.  Don’t rush your child to baptism, but try not to get in the way of what God is doing either.  I have talked to scores of adults that feel a need to take a second trip through the baptistery because early in life they were only trying to please their parents.  At the same time I know some adults who struggle because when God was doing something in their lives at a young age, they were told they were too young to understand… It’s not always clear if a child is ready for baptism, but they are always ready for the gospel.  They are always ready to hear the good news of God’s work to make us right with himself through Jesus Christ.  It is always a good time to help them understand that everyone of us sin and need to be saved from the effects of our sin through the forgiveness found in Jesus.
And yes!  I will absolutely talk to them…