I Woke Up Today

I woke up today with such confusion and disappointment. Hardly effective words to describe my reaction to what is becoming a part of the daily news cycle in this country.

We say and sing “God Bless America”. All I’m asking is, didn’t He? Perhaps He did and we said “no thank you”. And now as the morality of our society goes, so too does our country. And Romans 1:28 prevails:

“And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.”

Now is the time for the Church to rise and unite in the Spirit of God, come out of our comforts and safety, seek to know God and to make Him known. The Church must push past the societal cries of intolerance and bigotry, accept the words of Jesus that we would be hated as a result, and humbly and lovingly live, speak, and lead the truth of 2 Chronicles 7:14:

‭“if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

I Woke Up Today

Powerball

Just a very quick word about my feelings on lottery, in order to get them off my chest. Despite whatever good it may raise funds for, and that is considerably little, the whole force behind a lottery is pre-supposing that a majority of people will lose, and it is built on the backs of the poor who are drawn to it. (See what John Piper has to say about it: Seven Reasons Not to Play the Lottery). The Bible commands followers of Christ to care for those in need (James 1:27), not condone a practice that further burdens them by participating in it. There are also wisdom verses that caution against get-rich-quick choices (Proverbs 13:11), commands against the love of money (Matthew 6:24Hebrews 13:5, 1 Timothy 6:10), and warning of our accountability in stewarding our resources (1 Corinthians 3:12-15). We need to take our Lord’s commands seriously. Even if you pledge to give some percentage of winnings to the Church or for religious charity, the Scripture tells us God would not be honored by this because He is more concerned about our hearts (Hosea 6:6). So are you justifying purchasing just that one ticket like it’s no big deal? I’ll leave this quote I read today right here as a final thought:

15,499,173 Southern Baptist church members x $2 (cost of Powerball ticket)= $30,988,346 for IMB missions.

Powerball

Lottie Moon

Today marks the first day of a focused week of prayer for international missions. I had the opportunity to speak to my church family this morning in order to inform and call for us who follow Christ to examine how we view this opportunity to send harvesters.

The Lottie Moon Christmas Offering is received annually to support our international Christian workers who are serving through the IMB. 100% of the collected offering goes directly to support their work.

In recent years, funding goals have fallen short and the IMB has come under new leadership. Assets have been sold to manage the shortfall but that could not last forever. And right now, currently underway, over 500 Christian workers are being recalled from the field through various means, mainly early retirement incentives.

Allow me to provide some perspective. It breaks my heart to hear that Americans will spend $350 million dollars on costumes for pets or a whopping $6 billion on just decorating our homes for the holidays with all the latest LED lights and inflatable santas, yet the Church has not met a funding goal to support gospel work across the world.

I’m not sharing these things to make anyone feel guilty. But I do think there is a clear call to examine ourselves. I want to be totally transparent. I myself spent plenty of years ignoring this and other annual offerings. But if there’s one thing that God has shown me in this life-changing journey: He is worth it.

To those who have been faithful to giving to this and other offerings (like the cooperative program), thank you. The Kingdom is pushing new boundaries today because of your sending support. If we are complete the great commission and reach every unreached people with the gospel, it will require obedience and sacrifice in new ways.

The IMB recognizes this. Under new leadership, there’s a shift happening in their role. One, they recognize they aren’t the sending body. It is the Church that sends–it is why the Church was founded–and the IMB exists to train, resource, and support churches who send. Second, they want to equip you and me to leverage our lives to go and send, and not view global missions as if we have to give up our lives. Why not take what we do here and go do it there for Kingdom impact?

The point is, I don’t want to leave anyone with the impression that we can throw money at missions and sit back in our comforts. This offering is just the beginning of our expression of trust and faithfulness to God’s commands to reach the nations.

To whoever is reading this today, as you gather with your family for a meal and throughout this week, use one of the resources provided below and begin focused prayer this week. Each day, there is a story that will make what we are talking about real, and a need that you can pray on behalf of. That’s my ask of you this week. Just pray. And consider what your support of global disciple-making looks like.

I think about how much we spend on ourselves in the holidays and don’t wonder, what impact could our resources make if we made it a goal to match what we spend on gifts for ourselves as an offering to global gospel work? Maybe that’s your sacrifice. Or maybe it’s your next step to simply send a text stating “IMB” to 80888 to donate $10. Or as you are shopping online, you use smile.amazon.com and select the IMB as your charity of choice to give a small percentange of your costs.

Whatever it looks like for you, I stood before my church family this morning, and I write this to my website, to offer the testimony that I would rather risk all I have for the sake of Christ than to sit back in my comfort, safety, and disobedience. Because the person who has nothing and Christ has everything. I want my life to count. So let’s be a part of taking Christ to the unreached nations.

Daily Prayer Guide

Info about Lottie Moon

Lottie Moon

Why I Go.

In an age of technology and internet there are still billions who have never even heard the gospel.  When the Bible uses the word “nations” it does not mean geopolitically bordered entities.  It is describing people groups gathered under the commonality of culture and language.  We call these groups of people who have not heard “unreached people groups” where less than 2% are identified as followers of Jesus.  These are people with no access to the gospel.  They are born, live their entire lives, and die, having never heard the good news of Jesus Christ.  As an example, there’s an area in India where the mortality rate is some 5,000 people per day.  They are 0.01% evangelical, which means 4,950 people each day in this area alone are plunging into an eternal hell while I sit here with my casual association with Jesus and play the game of checking off my religious boxes.

Or recently, I learned of an area in Nepal where a follower of Christ was on mission.  While hiking down a trail, he came to a sacred river where the dead are placed on pyres, lit ablaze, and sent down river in order to find safe passage to reincarnation.  In those moments of watching the bodies burned, his heart was broken with the realization that even as their physical bodies burned as he watched them pass by, so too were their souls burning for all eternity because no one ever told them there was a park to avoid it.  We wait for the second coming of Christ while they have not even heard of the first.  Followers of Christ, we cannot be satisfied with this status quo any more.

There are approximately 6,500 people groups in the world who are unreached.  Of those 6,500, some 3,500 have no one actively working among them.  We call those “unengaged.”  A majority of them live in what is known as the 10-40 window, an area on the globe from latitudes 10 to 40 where more than 3 billion people live.  I want to share with you some stats, but in doing so, want to make clear that I am not diminishing the importance of local ministry efforts.  The importance of reaching our neighbors is just as high, but today I want to show you the disparity and the gap of advancing the kingdom into unreached areas.

5% of the world’s population lives in North America yet more than 90% of Christian ministry efforts are carried out here and 95% of all giving goes here.  For every $100 given, 5 cents is for church planting efforts among the unreached.  We spend nearly $10,000 per convert in the American church versus 10 cents in developing countries.  We have some 300,000 seminary trained pastors whereas there is maybe one pastor per 50 congregations.  Millions upon millions are spent in buildings, and programs, and elaborate concert-style conferences, while brothers and sisters risk death just for owning a Bible.

The question I ask myself is: “How can I sit here in my comfort and complacency, consume the parts of the gospel that benefit me, and complain when I don’t have them anymore?  Yet people around the world risk their lives just for the chance to get together as a secret house church.”  I cannot tolerate this for my life any longer.  It breaks my heart.

But there is hope because the Church is waking up to fulfill our mandate.  Evangelical Christianity is the fastest growing religious movement in the world, growing at a rate of 7.5%.  More people have come to know Jesus in the past 100 years than the previous 1900.  At the same time, more people have been killed for their faith in the last 100 years than ever before.  Think there is not a high cost to this command?

Church, I believe with all my heart that we can see the fulfillment of the Great Commission in this generation, if we long for and love the Lord’s return more than our own lives.  There are some 50,000 Southern Baptist churches alone, to speak nothing of all the other denominations who are also evangelical.  That means if just 12% of this one denomination would say yes to God with a blank check and go to an unreached people, we would complete our mandate in this lifetime.  Just 12%.

Our responsibility as the Church is to multiply disciples.  As individuals, we reproduce disciples of Jesus, and as a church, we reproduce self-sustaining churches.  And I believe that we are poised to be this missional force; the foundation is already in place in our life groups, if we’re willing to balance our purposes, radically change our lives in obedience to Christ’s command, forsake our comforts, and be courageous for this gospel without having all the answers.  God will reward our faith, which is the joy of being a part of spreading God’s glory.

Surely, we do not want to miss being a part of this.  The thing is, we don’t have to pray for and wonder what God’s will is.  We know His will.  We need to pray for how we align our lives to His will.  We don’t have to hang ourselves up on all the supposed signs of the end of the age.  We’ve been in the end of the age since Christ ascended to heaven, and it is on us to see to His return!  If we long for Christ’s return, this is our driving purpose.

“…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

“God has not saved us to sideline us for his global purpose,” Dr. David Platt, President of the International Mission Board said.  We need to see every day life as a part of God’s global purpose.  To surrender daily to however he wants to use us in that purpose.  Some it will be right where you are; some periodic going; some to take their work here and use it over there.  But to do this we cannot be mired in ineffectiveness with our toying with sin and temptation, nor live in complacency and consumerism in our religion.  We will consider the costs to ourselves and our families and move where the Spirit of God is working.  What does this look like?  The Bible gives us three choices.  Let’s talk about those.

First, we can be go.  We go into our neighborhoods and workplaces, we go into our community, we go across the world.  Local and global.  The harvest is everywhere.  We are trying to pull people in when we should be training up ourselves to go out!  Our direction should be like that of Paul’s:

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” – Romans 10:14-15a

“…and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I built on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, ‘Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.'” – Romans 15:20-21

Whether daily lives, short-term or long-term missions, or lifetime overseas work, we all have the opportunity to go.  If we’re going to take the gospel into the front lines, then we must be strong of faith and grounded in biblical truth.  That’s the cool thing about how God rigged discipleship.  We can’t make disciples unless we become disciples.  Our own discipleship is a by-product of the purpose to make disciples.  The spiritual battle for lives is unlike anything we experience here in America, where the worst ‘persecution’ we face is the risk of offending someone.  Being on mission is a serious and solemn undertaking where the risks are real and the reward is eternal.  For these efforts to be effective, they must be saturated in prayer and grounded in biblical obedience.  We have to live out the gospel, yes, and we also must be ready to speak it with grace and truth.

Going doesn’t necessarily mean moving to a mud hut in Africa.  Maybe God has not shaped you for overseas.  Here’s the cool part.  God brings the nations to us too. There are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of international students right here in Little Rock.  While they are visiting, we have the tremendous opportunity to reach them for Christ.  We have the opportunity to build a relationship with them and a bridge to proclaim Christ to them.  And we have to be ready and understanding of the cultural differences that present challenges to speaking the truth to them.

We go motivated because we want our King to come back.  We go not because we feel guilty after everything you’ve heard today; we go because we want God’s glory.  We go yes, to help and serve where we can in areas of social justice, but even then, the primary responsibility is to go to share the gospel.  Dr. Platt reminds us, “Jesus said when we go, they will hate us and they will kill us and we will be resisted by the powers of hell.  But we go nonetheless.”

Second, we can send.  There are people who cast a vision for the work that must be done and the joy of accepting God’s invitation to be a part of it.  There are many organizations big and small, or simply churches themselves, that mobilize teams and aid in their support and safety.  Senders support financially and prayerfully, and make it their ambition to further the work of others through creative means.  Mission work must be saturated in prayer and fasting.  Jesus illustrated this when he described the vast harvest with so few workers.  Farmers don’t gather in the barn, they go out to the fields!

“Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.'” -Matthew 9:37-38

We need to be careful of the “out of sight, out of mind” trap, and be praying for the unreached.  At the very least, if we are not willing to pray for the Spirit’s movement among the unreached, the great commission will remain stagnate.  A very useful tool is at unreachedoftheday.com.  What could happen if we as individuals, classes, and life groups committed to praying for the unreached?  Would we find that maybe we are the laborers we’ve been praying for?  Start praying and see if God doesn’t open your heart to loving these people and desiring them to know Christ.

The third option is to disobey. When Christ calls us to His mission, we can respond in one of two ways. I can illustrate this with two biblical encounters with Jesus found in the book of Luke, the rich young ruler and Zacchaeus.  When Jesus said “follow me” the rich man walked away sad because he couldn’t give up his “blessings”.  When Zacchaeus received this invitation, he received Jesus joyfully and salvation came to his household.

One man checked off the religious boxes but walked away from Jesus because his heart was not really in it.  One man was moved by the power of the gospel and gave what he had for the glory of God.  One had a saving faith; one did not.  It is the same choice before us today.

At the end of this life, I want to say that I laid it all out there for the sake of God’s name.  I want the joy of being counted worthy to suffer for the sake of the gospel.  The Bible is clear that our exposure to suffering will increase in proportion to our obedience!  And that’s okay!  What’s the worst that could happen?  I get killed for my faith?  Great!  You know why that doesn’t matter?  Because I’ve already died to Christ!

The aim is a Biblical one; that is to be a part of the assured victory in Revelation,

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'”  -Revelation 7:9-10

We can use trendy words like “radical” to describe how we should live, but really, all I’ve described today is just the normal Christian life as Jesus taught it to be.  Unreached people must become totally intolerable to us.  God’s aim is to see his glory proclaimed by all these people.  This is the purpose for why Jesus died.  “Global mission is not a compartmentalized program in the church for a select few people who feel called to it,” said Platt.  “It’s why we are on the planet.  It’s the purpose for which we have breath.”

Let us give of our time, our talents, our treasures, let us not love our lives more than the gospel but fix our eyes on heaven, let us hasten the return of Christ.  Let’s give our lives—lose them if necessary—for the sake of the gospel, because that’s what it means to be a disciple.   I don’t want to get to the end of my life and say to God “I missed the point of why you put me here.”  How do we know when we are done?  I gave some stats, but personally, I don’t want to get caught up in definitions and numbers.  I heard this quote by George Ladd during a class called Perspectives:

“God alone knows the definition of terms. I cannot precisely define who all the nations are. But I do not need to know. I know only one thing: Christ has not yet returned. Therefore the task is not yet done. When it is done, Christ will come. Our responsibility is not to insist on defining the terms, our responsibility is to complete the task. So long as Christ does not return our work is undone. Let us get busy and complete our mission.”

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Information for this post is attributed to these resources: radical.net, perspectives.org, desiringgod.org, and imb.org.

Why I Go.

But God…

Today, I shared a story with my church family about the victory God gave me over a long-suffering issue of sin in my life.  It’s a powerful story for His glory.  And it is my sincere prayer that more than conviction, those who hear or read it will allow God to bring change.  My heart breaks for the thousands and thousands of people, particularly church-goers, who culturally identify themselves as Christians yet are far from God.  May these true events and Scriptures work powerfully in the lives who are living under the same deception I was for so long.

Transcript – Let me start by saying that I have been under the shroud of a sin in my life—even after making a confession of faith at 18—that goes back to the days of my adolesence.  I’m not ready to share the full extent of all that that entails and perhaps I one day will, but for today, let’s flash forward to four years ago.

Through the ministry and teaching of Compass, the house church plant that Larry and Wanda Remington began out of this body, four years ago God rocked me. We were reading a book called “Radical” by Dr. David Platt, the same pastor out of Alabama who does Secret Church. I had lived under an evil deception for the 12 years since I said “yes” to Jesus. I bought into an American dream spin of Christianity. It is a watered-down version of the gospel that says, “If you say a few words, go to church, give some money, serve in a ministry, you are fit for heaven and you can otherwise go on and live your life.”

It was a very me-centered gospel that I believed. And my faith had become about advancing me. I picked out the pieces of Scripture that make me feel better about my life. My salvation, my relationship with God, my every day choices…it becomes all about me.

So this shroud of sin in my life was no concern to me. I thought I was covering it up by all the religious activities I was doing and serving. But four years ago, I not only understood that Jesus saved me, but He showed me what it is that He saved me from. I think for perhaps the first time, I met the Christ who lived the life I could not live and died the death I deserved to die. The understanding of my debt that He paid to make me adopted as God’s son broke me way beyond any intellectual affirmation.

And one thing became very clear. None of this is about me. My salvation is first and foremost about God doing this work to receive the glory He is due. And the Bible is the story—His story—that unfolds the history of redemption in this world. And He was inviting me to be a part of that story by proclaiming the glory of God to the ends of the world. Until I let this truth sink in and change my perspective, everything was an obligated religious duty. This is my plea to you as you hear this: that we will not waste decades coasting out our lives! You see, when God revealed Himself to me and I let Him change my heart, obedience became the choice I wanted to make.

God brought a Scripture to the forefront of my life that terrified me. Before we read it, I want to be very clear on this truth: We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Four years ago, God hit me with the truth that I was checking off the boxes and doing all the things I was supposed to do as a “Christian” yet I was far from Him.

You know the greatest scheme of the Devil?  He leads us on a path of destruction without us even realizing it. Take this analogy.  Put a frog in boiling water and it’ll quickly jump out.  Put it in water and slowly heat it, it’ll end up boiling to death.  This is not a recipe for frog soup though, it is a recipe for disaster in our lives.  Stated another way, in his book “Tempted and Tried”, Russell Moore described it as the process of cattle being led to slaughter.  He described how slaughterhouses have gone to enormous expense to make it seem to the cow that she is just taking a stroll across a pasture and not toward an untimely end.  And before they even know what has happened, the deed is done and they were never the wiser.  This keeps them stress-free, which in turn, keeps the meat tender. The Bible also has something to say about deception:

James 1:21-22—“So get rid of all the filth and evil in your lives, and humbly accept the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls.  But don’t just listen to God’s word.  You must do what it says.  Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.”

I realized that I had nothing to evidence the faith I said I had.  I was living under this complacent deception, walking a path I thought was just fine but was inevitably leading me to death.  I never made God’s Word a priority or let myself see that it is all about His glory, not mine. I took the part of salvation that was good for me and set the rest aside. I had a casual acceptance of Jesus’ salvation, but rejected His Lordship.

I continued to fall time after time after time in a vicious cycle of sin. Was I saved? On examining my own heart, I honestly cannot tell you with confidence that I was. I do know that I did not care about my sin and I look back and see that as a huge red flag. It goes to show that words are meaningless unless the heart is changed to accept Jesus Christ as both Savior and Lord.

In these four years since—and up until these past couple of months—God was doing a tremendous work aligning me into his global plan, and you would think that kind of experience would strengthen me. I wish I could say my slavery to the sin in my life was dealt with at this point. I knew the call on my life yet I was mired in deception and ineffectiveness. I’d lived with it too long; it was a part of me. The high of doing what I wanted was always followed by a low of greater magnitude for the choices I had made. Then to make up for feeling down, I did the things again that made me feel better. So I could not overcome them in my own will or strength.

Yet there was a difference. The more time I spent with God and His Word, the more I understood the grief I caused the Holy Spirit, how I profaned Christ’s cross-work by willingly choosing these things, and how I was separating myself from my holy Father. These sinful choices cast a veil between us, of my own making. I wasn’t gaining clarity on how God wanted to use me in specific ways. I even questioned His Word, not understanding why the Bible says He would provide me a way out of temptation but I was not receiving it. I wavered in my trust because I would read that Jesus frees me from sins, yet I felt chained to them! I couldn’t understand why I had this addiction and could not break free from it despite wanting to.

I have been serving on the media team in various capacities for 12 years. I recently took some time away. I had been feeling the fatigue of burnout setting in and I wanted to seek the path God has for me in the spread of His Kingdom, including what I’ve felt is a call to serve globally. So I thought this rest period would focus on that and I had this whole plan for my time away. I met with Bit Stephens and asked her what the greatest challenge is as you step out in obedience to global disciple-making, and she emphatically said it is that whatever weaknesses you have here, they are amplified over there because of the intense spiritual warfare that takes place.  Obviously, I knew what I must deal with when she said that.  And my time away became about something else entirely than I had planned. God was separating me from what I was using as a crutch in my role here, and also showing me that as enthusiastic as I was for His disciple-making command, I was loving His mission more than loving Himself.

In February, I felt the Spirit leading me to confess my burden to a guest pastor who spoke at Perspectives.   As we talked, I knew God had shown up. This pastor told me it is a lie of Satan that I would be bound to this sin forever. He asked me: is the pain of staying the same more than the pain of changing? If it is, that’s when we are ready to be done with it. He affirmed to me that I had to be a doer of God’s Word, not just a hearer. He showed me a story in the Old Testament and the New Testament that both showed the difference. If Jesus is in fact Lord of my life, he said, then I will: 1) come to God. 2) listen to Him; 3) and do what He says.

This is the choice that was set before me that day at lunch with this pastor. And just as Jesus asked a paralytic man of 38 years before healing him, he pointedly asked me “do you want to be healed from this?” I emphatically answered YES, I want to be healed.  I don’t want to do this any more. I was at the end of myself. I knew it was time to deal with this finally. And I knew that God called this period of rest for this purpose.  He commissioned me to a period of consecration: to fast, pray, and soak in God’s Word.  I did so in mid-February and I want you to see the beautiful process God faithfully took me through.

First, God began renewing my body through fasting.  I have never really done this discipline before. I went into it committed to fast for 21 days. But I hit a very low point on day 4. I mean, I was pretty much freaking out. Wondering how I would ever get through this. Trying to figure out another way and if God would be less pleased if I did a shorter version.

But our patient God showed me in those moments His sufficiency for today. He gives us His provision for today. Oh what great confidence that brings! At that moment, I knew it wasn’t about 21 days or 10 days or any other day, except to trust God for today, and when He was ready to release me from this fast, He would do so. And I changed. More than I wanted my stomach to be filled with any kind of food, I want to be filled by His Word!

I was doing a study of the book of Matthew and came to Chapter 11 that Sunday. Jesus says this:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

As I contemplated on these words, I realized that I had an incomplete picture of them. I can’t tell you in words what happened in that moment, but I felt something shatter around my heart.  The weight of this sin that had laden me for so long was lifted. I understood that Jesus bears the burden of my sin. I don’t have to live under that weight. He lifts it for me. How? He can because He has already conquered sin.  He died for it. But it did not hold Him in the grave. He is risen and alive and victorious over sin, death and Satan today!  And I knew in that moment that I would never make these sinful choices again.

In those moments I went from questioning God for these struggles to understanding He was using them to make me utterly reliant upon Him. Yoked with Jesus, He is my strength in weakness:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

Let me tell you, I was on my face. And He kept pouring into me, giving me instruction to fill my mind with His Word, as Psalm 119 so beautifully admonishes us to do.  The truth is our hearts can only love what the mind gives it. Mine was filled with junk but God showed me how to replace it with the Word of God.

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. (Psalm 119)

God continued by giving me reassurance that I am to be used for His purpose in His global glory. Look back at the picture of being yoked to Jesus. He’s plowing the harvest fields for the planting of the seeds of the gospel. Because we are yoked together, where He goes, I am going. I have the confidence of his leading me to the places of good soil where planting is taking place.

Later that morning, I go to the church I was visiting during this time, and in God’s perfect and sovereign timing, the speaker that day taught on the story of Elijah, in the days after his victory over the prophets of Baal. What God unfolded in that sermon on that day was the revelation of how He had just worked in my life. He made it plain for me to see. To Elijah, God brought physical healing through nourishment, confirmed His presence in a gentle whisper, instructed him in what he needed to do, and reassured him of his value and use to God’s kingdom purposes. In my life, God used fasting to cleanse me physically, His Spirit brought forth truths in Scripture that affirmed His presence with me, He showed me how to replace the sin and the flesh with His Word and the Spirit, and He reassured me that I would be used for His global purpose.

How I praise God for His persistence and patience and faithfulness with me. I know that He is setting me to work to proclaim His great name. I am ready to throw off the weights that are holding me back from completing the task both where God has planted me and across the world. I’m throwing off the lens of tolerances and selfish desires, and I choose to see the Word of God through a Christ-centered lens. I’m not going to sit back in my comforts anymore and complain about them when they aren’t there. I’m willing to sacrifice my time, my talents, my treasures for the spread of the gospel!   I want to stand strong in the battle and be like the saints of Revelation 12:11—

“And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.”

I don’t want to stand before Christ and hear those shocking words from Matthew 7, but rather I want to be able to say, as Paul:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith… (2 Timothy 4:7)

I don’t know what else to do but tell what He has done in my life. The urgency is immediate. Christ is returning! The cost is high! I’m finding that the more I align my life to God’s will the harder the opposition I am going to face, both spiritually and in the world around us. But that’s okay! Because Jesus is worth it!

This is the story of how God saved me through His perfect Son, from a deceived life that for over two decades I was “dead in my trespasses and sin in which I once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind and were by nature children of wrath like the rest of mankind. But God, bring rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loves me, even when I was dead in my trespasses, made me alive together in Christ—by grace I have been saved—and raised me up with Him and seated me with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God, not a result of works so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared beforehand that we may walk in them.”

But God…

A Recipe for Frog Soup?

I am a huge fan of movies.  I love the cinematic experience.  I’ve spent more than I should on a nice home theater set up.  I arrive 30 minutes early to the movie theater to find the acoustically and visually centered seat.  (And make no qualms in expressing my displeasure of texting and talking during movies.  But that’s for another day.)  During this time of rest and focus, I have made it my aim to let God identify key avenues where I may be letting Satan have a foothold.  As I will likely exposit in a later post, I have come to learn that God has appointed this time as a consecration and a purging of areas I am disobedient.  You see, a very good friend told me that one of the hardest aspects of mission work is that whatever areas of weakness we have here at home are greatly amplified on the front lines of gospel work.  It’s a spiritual battlefield out there and Satan will bend all his efforts to distract and render us ineffective.

In a particular area of spiritual discipline God has called me to deal with, He made me aware of the avenue of entertainment as a source of distraction.  Now before I go any further, do not hear me say that Christians cannot watch TV or go to movies or play video games, etc.  And this isn’t a post about challenging how many hours we sink into these things.  But I think there is a strong necessity for us to evaluate what it is we are devoting our time to.  While this was already stirring in my spirit, a blog post came across Desiring God, John Piper’s website, about this very subject.  I invite you to pause here and go read that article now:  Three Questions to Ask Before Watching a Movie.

Back?  Great.  I want to draw attention to a particular statement, in which Jonathan Parnell said, “Some movies should be out of the question, and for those on the bubble, we know best how certain things affect us.”  That left the question in my mind, what are the ‘out of the question’ movies?  I leave the Spirit to tell each person where to draw the line with such aspects of entertainment that include vulgar language and violence and such.  But I think the clear imperative for me and for all followers of Christ is to not set our eyes on the screen depicting sexual immorality.

There is a clear and distinct line about sexual immorality in the Bible.  We cannot make some amalgam of God’s Word and what culture tells us is permissible.  This is the deception of Satan.  There is to be no sex outside of marriage, no sexual worship, no prostitution or sexual violence, no homosexual activity, no sex with animals, relatives, or children, no sexual lust, no sexual allurement, looking or touching outside of marriage.  And no entertaining ourselves with or joking about sex. (1)  The central exhortation in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 6:18:  “Flee sexual immorality.”  The word flee is not arbitrary here.  It should invoke an urgent emotion in us.  Certainly, do not give sexual immorality–as biblically defined–any credence.  But the strength of this word also means don’t even glance and casually walk away.  No, you run as fast as you can from it as if a fire were bearing down on you.

We should not commit those acts, and we should not watch them or joke about them. Ephesians 5:3-12 calls the Christ follower to the specific rebuke.  “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among the saints.  Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.  For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.  Therefore do no become partners with them; for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.  Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.  For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.

You know the greatest scheme of the Devil?  To lead us on a path of destruction without us even realizing it. Take this analogy.  Put a frog in boiling water and it’ll quickly jump out.  Put it in water and slowly heat it, it’ll end up boiling to death.  This is no recipe for frog soup though, it is a recipe for disaster. (2)  Stated another way, in his book “Tempted and Tried”, Russell Moore described it as the process of cattle being led to slaughter.  He described how slaughterhouses have gone to enormous expense to make it seem to the cow that she is just taking a stroll across a pasture and not toward an untimely end.  And before they even know what has happened, the deed is done and they were never the wiser.  This keeps them stress-free, which in turn, keeps the meat tender.

In light of all that God has taught me and that I have been trying to live out and speak to in others, the warning is plain to see and the consequences severe.  If we willingly walk into these avenues of sexual immorality, then we need to ask if the light of Christ is really within us.  Paul said it, not me! “You may be sure of this…” he said. Now I’m not saying we won’t be tempted.  As the Bible tells us God provides a way out from temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13), the implication is, we will be tempted. But there better at least be some struggle of conscious before we willingly step into an arena where our senses and bodies will be taken in by idolatrous acts.

Do we not think that our acceptance of entertaining ourselves with sex is why we are so numb to the immoral acts in our lives?  Statistics show that 42% of Bible-believing Christians are in a sexual relationship outside of marriage!  Cattle being led to the slaughter!  If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus dwells in us, we must be compelled to say no to these things.  Paul also says don’t be deceived by people who have empty words.  In other words, do not care about what society says and all their cries for tolerance.  Fear God.  He is the one with the power to send our souls to hell or graciously receive them into His presence through faith in His Son.  When we accept Christ, those immoral and idolatrous things become dead to us!  This is the freedom of Christ!  Our desires begin to become His desires for us.  Is that true in your life?

In a culture where the boundaries are disappearing, we must humbly and boldly stand for God’s standard.  Sexual sin is set apart in the Bible as particularly destructive because it is deceptive and never delivers; it may temporarily pleasure but always ends in deep pain. (1)  And because culture is saying these things are permissible, Christ-followers are being led astray and rendered entirely ineffective in our mandate to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom.  Who in their right mind would ever listen to what we have to say about Jesus if we are not conforming our images to be like Jesus in deed?  But that’s exactly where the Church finds itself.

David Platt, author of “Radical” and “Follow Me”, said it this way, in his sermon on human sexuality.  “It is right to stand up and speak for what God’s Word says about [sexual immorality].  We would be wise to stop taking the specks out of others eyes when there are planks in our own eyes.  If we roll our eyes and shake our heads when we see the Supreme Court ruling [in favor of gay rights], yet we turn the channels on TV to watch the trivialization of sex on shows and advertisements, to surf the internet for images to satisfy our lusts, to go to movies that glamorize sex outside of marriage, and entertain thoughts and desires outside of our own marriage, then we have missed the entire point.  Are these sins acceptable simply because they are the sins of the majority?”

With movies and shows such as “300: Rise of an Empire”, “Need for Speed”, “Game of Thrones”, and God forbid even “Nymphomaniac” hitting screens soon, my heart and prayers reach out to my friends who may be enticed to see these movies for their visual spectacle and compelling stories.  And I guess that is what has led me to write this. A careful look at the ratings of these movies will reveal “nudity”, “sexuality”, even “sex scene”. We must pay attention and carefully consider what we are setting before our eyes, unwittingly allowing the enemy to lead us down a path of destruction.  (The latter movie is such an abomination, it is reportedly nothing more than pornography that will be in movie theaters under the guise of “artistic expression”, where actors–such as the current media prince Shia LaBeouf–actually partook in sexual acts for their scenes.  If that line isn’t clear for you, then we need to talk.)

In our justification of our actions, the line may blur in our mind, but that is nothing more than Satan’s deception.  Listen, Christ-follower, make this your commitment:  “I will walk with integrity of heart within my house; I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless.” (Psalm 101:2-3)  We cannot continue to coast out our lives as if Christ has made no difference or has not called us to a higher standard. Don’t fool yourself (James 1:22). As we sit entertaining ourselves with sex, thousands–millions–continue to live their lives having never even heard of Jesus.  How will we ever carry out our command to take the Good News to them when we are mired in our pits of sin and idolatry?  Let us repent of what we have set before our eyes and don’t turn back to them. The heart will love what the mind gives it. (3) So, let’s fill our minds with His Word (Psalm 119:1-48). Whereas the frog slowly boils to death in gently heating water and cattle walk to their death unaware, don’t succumb to the slow deception of Satan. Flee this.  It is not worth the price of eternity.  Yours or those you are commanded to reach.

 

1-“The Cross and Christian Sexuality (Part 1)”.  Dr. David Platt.  radical.net

2-Appropriately in context of this post, this analogy was taken from one of my favorite disaster movies, “Dante’s Peak”.

3-a paraphrased quote from the @desiringgod twitter account.

A Recipe for Frog Soup?

Going Off the Grid

I tend to make things complicated.  I guess we all do.  Three years ago God wonderfully ruined my life–in terms of changing all the plans I had made or wanted to make.  He opened my heart from an intellectual assent of what Jesus did for me–one I said “thank you” to and continued to live my life–to a humbled amazement of what He really did for me.  I have not been the same since.  Religious disciplines and responsibilities were buzz kills and obligations.  Now I desire to obey God out of love and gratitude for the grace I have received.  It’s an understanding of what Jesus saved me from and wanting–needing–to tell people about it!  God chose me, when He saved me, to do this: to make His name known throughout the whole world because it is His desire to be worshipped by everyone.

Some of the teachers and studies God used in these past three years completely changed my perspective.  I haven’t read the Bible the same way since.  Before, if I did read at all, it was very me-centered.  What can I get out of this?  But then scales fell off my eyes and I saw in every letter of the Word that this story is not about me at all, but about God’s glory and it’s a rich redemption history that points to Jesus Christ.  Now (ironically) I can’t get enough of this book!  I fell into the American dream spin of the Church and realized I’ve only lived as a Christian consumer.  That’s a complete oxymoron.  I accepted the system that said pray a prayer, go to church, give and serve some defined amount, and you are fit for heaven.  Was faith there?  Maybe; but I don’t know.  I did a lot of good things for Christ.  But the Bible speaks very clearly on how such people fool themselves about their standing before God, and I could have very well been a fool.  Because was there a biblical obedience of faith there?  The kind of authentic faith that induces repentance and willing obedience.  Certainly not.  But when God woke me up to the fact that my unchanged heart was really no heart for God at all, everything changed.

One of the teachers in the Perspectives class I took in 2012 had a very similar analogy of what we’re prone to do in the American church.  He said we invite people to say some words, sit them in a pew, give them something to do like the “coffee ministry” and tell them they are good to go.  Well, I’ve come to realize in the past few months that my “coffee ministry” has been my work at church as the technical director.  I’ve lived under Satan’s (or my own) misdirection that said I was fulfilling my purpose in this time and place by doing what I do for my church.  And don’t get me wrong, what I do is a very good thing and I have a huge passion for making the gospel seen and heard through the wise and excellent use of technology.  But I took it too far and said “this is it; someone else can tell others about Jesus”.

12 years later, I am not satisfied with this any more.  And that’s because God is not satisfied with this.  There are 2.6 billion people in some 6,500 people groups who have never even heard of what Jesus has done for them.  No access to the gospel.  They are born, live their entire lives, and die having never heard the gospel.  They are plunging into an eternal hell.  Speaking of technology, how is this possible in such a time of global interconnectedness?  I don’t know, but it is the reality.  And we are the workers who are commanded to take the good news.  This is no obligation I avoid any more.  After encountering Jesus in a way only God could reveal Him, I know this is my glorious privilege and purpose.

So it is that I am taking an extended leave from my responsibilities at church.  I have to separate myself from this ministerial crutch.  I’ve given so much time and effort to it, I have begun to see the signs of burnout.  (Two renovations, a whole host of unique and unexplainable technological disruptions, and having to work with some tech that I have no understanding of will do that.)  I don’t know if it is in God’s plan for me to be a biblical teacher, but being behind the sound board or PC as much as I am, I feel mired and frustrated by not having opportunities to tell and teach what God is doing in my life and around the world.  What He has given me in a way of understanding Scripture from a God-centered perspective, I want to give to others.  I want to pull my brothers and sisters out of complacency, to no longer settle for a “come and sit” mantra but one of “go and tell”.  And I want to be a part of the going and telling!  To take hope and light where there is such great need and darkness.  We must complete this task together.

During this time, I will be working on a personal disciple-making plan, visiting churches and leaders to gain wise counsel about global missions, and focusing on an area of personal spiritual growth.  The noise of busyness makes clarity from God difficult for me.  I’m sure He’s up there shouting and shaking His head at me as I ask for Him to say something.  My lack of understanding is totally on me.  Sometimes when I start thinking about this break/focus time, it feels a little dramatic or religiously over-the-top.  Am I over-complicating the issue?  But I have to think that God is going to bless this time and send me exactly what I need.  For three years, He has been preparing me.  It hasn’t always been forward progress.  In fact, hardly so.  But the pull toward global missions has not waned, and I seek clarity on how to align my life to His role for this mission.  I’m not asking if I’m called or what God’s will is.  I’ve–we’ve–already received that answer.  Just look in Scripture.  We are called.  We know God’s will.  How that specifically looks for me is what I seek.  In many ways, I just need some practical advice.  Is it short-term, long-term?  Go full-time, or via tent-making opportunities?  To know that, I need and want to know more the One who is commanding my affection and obedience.  My love and trust for God is primary; the Bible assures me that His desires become my desires and then I will know that I know my role.  So this time, ultimately, is to allow God to grow my love for Him by setting aside a period of spiritual focus.

The plan for now is for me to take this break in February and March.  At the very latest, until Easter.  I think I’m going to sign off social media during this time too.  Heck, if I could take a leave of absence from work, I just might’ve asked for it.  But a guy’s gotta pay the bills!  I do hope you’ll pray for me during this time, but more so, I hope what I’m doing serves as something for you to think on and be challenged by.  Pray for the unreached people.  They’ll stay out of sight, out of mind if we don’t start there.  Pray for an awakening in the Church, particularly in America, where there is ready access to the gospel yet it is where we spend 95% of our efforts and money.  Pray for your own role as God’s ambassador and that God will begin working in your heart about your role.  Our hearts are so hardened by the only way we’ve ever known for the Church to be as consumers, we are too quick to reject the notion that God calls us all to be missionaries.  The opportunities are so much more than our cliché mentality of selling everything we have and moving to a mud hut in Africa.  If we don’t see it as a privilege and aren’t humbled by being counted worthy to suffer for the gospel’s sake, then do we really understand who Jesus is?

I’m certainly not trying to come off all pious.  I certainly know where I have come from and how long it took before I let God get through this thick skull.  I have an excitement and urgency for this task.  I have a need for God to grant me boldness in areas of social timidity.  To seize opportunities where I’m at now.  To live above reproach, like Christ, and become His disciple in order to make disciples.  I just want to be able to say and mean, “Here am I, Lord, send me!”  Looking forward to the journey!

Going Off the Grid