Tag Archives: evangelism

Multiplying What Is Possible

Over the past several years, my role in missions has changed. I have been to a lot of places I could never have imagined being, and formed relationships with people that from first glance I would have thought couldn’t be more different from myself. The latter part I of course couldn’t be more wrong about. My tasks have changed drastically as well. I am now in leadership in a missions organization. As such, I have been taking time lately to assess how I see things progressing or not progressing. I’ve been asking myself what the initial task was that God gave us, and asking whether we are still on that path or if we’ve strayed from it. As things begin moving, it’s easy to start looking out the side windows of the car and say, “Ooh, look at that!”. Pretty soon you find yourself off in a field looking at a replica of Stonehenge made out of junk cars. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to look at, but it’s definitely not what you were sent to do. As the quote goes, “The good is the enemy of the best.”

The good thing about having been involved with so many people and missions is that I’ve been able to see what works and what doesn’t. Which is what brought me to Luke 10 this week. It’s the chapter of the Bible where Jesus sends out 72 disciples in pairs as a kind of advanced party to everywhere he will shortly be going. It’s the only chapter where they’re mentioned, and until this past week I had never really though about who or what they were.

In reading, I’ve come up with a theory that is tied to Jesus’ leadership style. Some of the key points of how Jesus led, and consequently what we should emulate as leaders, are leading by example, leading through servanthood, and by delegating tasks to his disciples and allowing them to either succeed or fail. The last one is particularly key, because it’s clear that the disciples, and probably everyone, learned far more from failures than from instant success. Also key is that Jesus did not do everything himself, but delegated tasks, knowing that in order for success to continue past today or next week or next year, he had to raise up people who could and would do “greater things than these.”

So who were these 72 he sent out? I think we need to back up a chapter to Luke 9 where Jesus sends out his 12 disciples, his inner circle to do the following.

“When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. 3 He told them: “Take nothing for the journey—no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt. 4 Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. 5 If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” 6 So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.”

In chapter 10 Jesus gives virtually identical instructions to the 72, and the reports when they get back from their journey are also almost identical to that given by the 12. So what does this mean? I think the key is in the number of disciples. How many times does 12 divide into 72? The answer is 6, with no remainder. I believe that as Jesus was a good delegator, he gave each of his inner 12 the task of training 6 others. Often the best way to make what you’ve learned stick is to teach someone else as you’re learning. Consequently Jesus sent out the 12 first, and what they learned they were then able to pass on each to 6 more. Why else would Jesus last instructions to his disciples before he was taken up to heaven be, “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, teaching them all I have instructed you?”

There are two things I can take from this. The first is that missions will never be successful unless we are investing in people and raising up disciples. The second, and I think where missionaries and church leadership often makes the biggest mistake, is that Jesus didn’t try to do it all himself. He raised up leaders. He allowed people to fail, and in doing so he raised up more competent, passionate leaders. And if Jesus didn’t try to do it all himself, what makes us think we can? It’s something to think about.

Raising up leaders in the most remote parts of the world.

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The Settlers, Part One

Recently I was looking at a group I follow on Instagram. It’s an organization that puts together short term missions trips for which people can get involved. They put up a map showing all of the planned trips for the year. There were a lot of them, and they were certainly going to be very busy. But one thing stood out immediately, and that was the blank parts of the map, places where there were no trips planned. The entire Middle-East was missing. North and Central Africa were missing. Central Asia was missing. In short, the planned trips were all to places where the gospel has already been heavily preached. All or nearly all where there is a significantly large indigenous church presence to take up the job for which we’re sending short term missionaries.

Even in the first century, the Apostle Paul talked about this. Romans 15:20 says, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.”

The problem is this; when Jesus told us to go and make disciples of all nations, going to Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the Earth, we weren’t all supposed to go to the same place. God was looking for pioneers. He was looking for people who would do the hard work, going into hostile, uncomfortable places. That’s what pioneers do. But at some point the settlers came in. Settlers are people who see that the wolves have been killed, the land has been cleared, and the railroad has been constructed. Settlers want to do something worthwhile but don’t like risk. In short, settlers build on someone else’s work. They not only settle the land, they settle for second best.

What we have to realize is that the Great Commission was never about us. It was not about feeling like we’re doing something worthwhile. It was not about being or looking busy, or having a life-changing experience. Sometimes these things happen. It’s good to have a life-changing experience and have a heart change. But it’s more important to be obedient. When Jesus said to go to the uttermost parts of the Earth, he meant the uttermost parts, and not just the convenient and easily accessible parts of Mexico. When we go to these places, we often go to places where we are not needed, and local ministries often find themselves taken from critical work in their own communities to accommodate our insatiable need to feel like we got something done. In cases like this, it’s better to have just stayed home. I don’t want to sound harsh, but the more quickly we figure out that missions is not about us, the more quickly we can fulfill the actual commission we were given.

So the next time an opportunity comes up to get involved in missions, ask yourself, “Am I a pioneer or a settler? Am I doing the best God has called me to, or am I settling for second best?”

Your Safety Is Not Assured.

It’s been a while since I’ve written. It’s not because I haven’t had something to write, but rather I’ve been a bit stumped as to how to write it.

Sometimes when you’ve been doing something for a while, it’s hard to think back to the way you thought about those things when you were still new. But recent events have brought me back to some underlying assumptions I had about missions when I was growing up and even as an adult.

Before I was a missionary, I always assumed that if my church was involved in missions somewhere and was sending people, it must be safe. I know from the statements that people say to me, and from observing what goes on, that this is still a very prevalent assumption that people make. Why is that?  Well, as a general rule, in most churches I’ve been a part of , that is the case. We only send people to “safe” places. But what makes a place safe?

The philosopher Jürgen Habermas deals with this in what is probably an unnecessarily wordy way. He says, “Egalitarian universalism, from which sprang the ideas of freedom and social solidarity, of an antonomous conduct of life and emancipation, of the individual morality of conscience, human rights, and democracy, is the direct heir to the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of continual critical appropriation and reinterpretation. To this day, there is no alternative to it. And in the light of the current challenges of a postnational constellation, we continue to draw on the substance of this heritage.”  Dumbing it down, the ideas of love and justice in society are a direct result of the Judeo-Christian heritage which we draw from, even if our societies have moved away from that underlying paradigm.

If we look around the world, most places follow that general rule. The most dangerous places are those places that do not have a current or recent Christian presence. So if that is the case, then why are we going to the “safe” places? Is it because we are afraid to go the the places that God is really calling us to go? If a place is considered safe, there’s a good chance that a lot of missionaries have already been there. Do we go to the places that have already been evangelized because we feel that doing something is better than nothing? Is it our ersatz way of fulfilling the Great Commission?

It is said that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. I would like to amend that statement. I think what is even more dangerous than good men doing nothing is good men doing something that is neither good nor bad, but leaves them feeling as if they did something good. Rather than go to the places where God would actually call us to go, we give in to fear. We still go, but we go somewhere else.

Decisions that are made based on fear are almost universally the wrong choice. When we choose to do missionary work only in places where we feel safe and comfortable, we are not only disobedient to the Lord’s calling, but we carry that spirit of fear with us wherever we go. I read a quote this week from an indigenous Christian overseas. He was asked what his church learns from the Western missionaries. His answer was very telling. He said, “the Western missionaries teach us to be afraid.”

Why do we fear so much? I believe it is because many of us are building a kingdom, but it isn’t God’s Kingdom, it is our own kingdom. We seek to be gods of an empty universe of our own creation; kings of a kingdom with no subjects. We do what we want to do first and ask God to bless what we’ve already decided to do. As our towers grow taller and taller, they become harder and harder to maintain, and we fear they will topple. This is why Jesus says, “whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will save it.” This isn’t some trite conundrum. When we literally give our life, and our plans, and our finances, and our spouses and children, and our present and future over to Christ, all fear is taken away, because you can’t fear the loss of what you’ve already given away.

Most of Romans 8 deals with this, and so in closing I am going to sum up with the words of the Apostle Paul, who wrote,

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus,[a]who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. 10 And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

12 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shalltribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

It’s time to give up fear and go to the hard places.

I Used To Be Able To Throw A Pigskin A Quarter Mile.

An Ethiopian runner crosses the finish line, utterly spent.
An Ethiopian runner crosses the finish line, utterly spent.

There’s a quirky movie called Napoleon Dynamite, in which one of the characters, Uncle Rico, continually lives in the past. He’s been out of high school for the better part of twenty years, but he continually talks about how great he was at (American) football, and laments about how things would have been if his coach had put him into the game for the championship.

Uncle Rico is comical because many of us can relate to him. The longer time goes by, the greater we were at such and such a time in the past. I hate to burst the bubble though, because if our finest and most defining moment was in high school, and we’re not still currently in high school, we are utterly wasting our lives. It doesn’t have to be high school, either. It could be college or career or any other time of life. The point is to keep going and continually seek not only better things, but the best things.

This concept got me thinking about racing. I’ve done half-marathons, marathons, mountain bike races, triathlons, even a couple of twelve hour races. People always think of racing in terms of winning, but there are two other aspects of racing people rarely think about. Before you win a race, you must first start, and you must also finish.  The Apostle Paul wrote about this when he could see his life was coming to an end. “But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” Notice that he doesn’t say he has won the race. He says he has finished. This is all we’re called to do, because everyone who finishes the race wins. 

There is the other side of the coin I’d like to address though, and that is that many never even start the race. They pray to God with tears in their eyes for God to save them, and he does, because his grace is free. But then nothing happens after that. It’s easy to say that by grace we’re saved and leave it at that, but as the book of James says, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?  If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?  Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.  You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” It goes on further. “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom.”  Or take Jesus’s own words. “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father.”

If we pray for God’s kingdom to come on Earth as it is in Heaven, what we are praying for is that God’s will would be done here as it is in heaven. How does that happen if we refuse to do what God called us to do, or if we believe the lie that all the work was done when the original apostles walked the earth?  God calls us not only to be unpolluted by the world, but also, and this is the part that’s often forgotten, to look after widows and orphans in their distress. He calls us to make disciples of all nations. If we are to be like Christ, then we should do what he said he came to earth for in Luke 4, “To preach the gospel to the poor;
to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind,  to set at liberty those who are oppressed, and to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”  It’s time to take hold of the gratitude to God for what we’ve been saved from and let it be an outpouring that flows into a dark and lost world. We are just as broken as the world around us, but God takes that which is broken, mends it, and turns it into something beautiful. It’s time to take that gratitude and love for God, and other men who are made in His image, and turn it into new finest moments. It’s time to not only start the race, but finish it. Let’s not be Uncle Rico, who continually dwells on the past and what could have been. As long as there is breath in our lungs, there is opportunity. If you don’t currently follow Jesus, do so. He saves generously. The point is, life is too short to sit around wasting gifts we’ve been given. If you have wondered about serving God, and wondered about getting involved with missions, consider this your invitation. The time is short, and there’s literally a whole world of opportunities. So get out there are start the race.

 

Just as a footnote, I’m tempering this word with a counterpoint I wrote about in a previous blog, about when it all becomes about doing. https://southsudantraveler.wordpress.com/2014/12/29/when-the-mission-ruins-the-missionary/

Where The Chains Of Doom Are Kept, I Find My Shoes.

One of the most profound music lyrics I’ve heard is from, oddly enough, a song called “American Cheese”. One of the lines is, “And I know that, where the chains of doom are kept, I find my shoes.”  I know there are those out there who believe that people are inherently good, and they’re welcome to their opinion. I’ve never taken to the Star Trek version of humanity, that we’ll just keep getting better on our own. I’ve seen too much with my own eyes to believe such fluff. I’m more of the opinion that “Lord of the Flies” had it much more accurately.

If I want to know the potential of what evil is possible in the world, all I really need to do is look in the mirror. I can tell myself, as many do, that I’m not such a bad person. But I know perfectly well that the potential is there. All I need to do is take my focus off of God and place it somewhere else, whether it’s myself, or money, or power (the latter leading back to self anyway.) But that’s the great thing about following Christ. He takes his own perfections, (yes, plural) and in an incredible act of grace and mercy, decides to let me with all of my imperfections, be His representative. I can look in that mirror, look at my face with all the potential for evil, and see the face of Christ instead. All I have to do is make sure my focus is not on me, but on Him. 2 Corinthians 4:7 says, “And we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us;”

As I get ready to go to Ethiopia, the spiritual warfare has already started. God chooses to let cracked, broken pots hold the fullness of His glory. The devil tries to drive wedges into these cracks and make them larger; cracks caused by all our imperfections, whether it be pride, or a lack of faith, or a lack of trust, or fear. I speak of myself with some of these. But the perfection that is Christ is made more full because the larger the cracks, the more opportunity for God’s grace to abound. In the same way, the worse things are, the more opportunity for God to do miracles. In all this, the defeat of the enemy will be all the more bitter because he will be defeated by such imperfection made perfect through Christ. So I must maintain my focus on Christ. When I go to the place where the chains of doom are kept, I don’t want to find my shoes there, and by God’s grace I won’t.

Where the chains of doom are kept (or the South Dakota badlands in infrared.
Where the chains of doom are kept (or the South Dakota badlands in infrared.