Tag Archives: The Great Commission

75 Cent Shiro And Priceless Conversation.

Coffee doesn’t come any blacker than this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve been back from Ethiopia for a week and a half now. I’ve finally recovered from jet lag. My work on the photos is largely done, and now I’m going through hours of video. I spent the better part of a week with 150 people who live their faith in the same way the early church lived their faith. These men and women are living in some of the most dangerous places and are literally putting their lives on the line for their faith. I met people who have been beaten and stabbed, lost their jobs and families, and still find Jesus to be who he said he was and consequently worth everything they’ve gone through.

I shot video of some of the most incredible interviews you could imagine, some of which had to be shot in silhouette to hide their identity. I thought the stories of the early church were good, but some of what I heard was better. You’d think then that the interviews would be the highlight of my week, but they weren’t.

During lunch each day the team I was with would walk back to our hotel and have lunch at the hotel restaurant. One day I decided to instead go across the street to a vendor who had been cooking a pot full of something that at the time I could not identify. Generally I would go across to her spot (there was no stall,) and have buna, or really strong coffee served in a small cup. As I sipped my buna earlier that morning and watched her cook, I decided to have lunch there instead. Now before you tell me that it’s foolish to eat street food in Ethiopia, I’m just going to say that just because the kitchen is in a hotel doesn’t mean it’s any cleaner than the street food. Plus, I’d been able to actually watch her cook, and I was comfortable with it.

As I walked over with a couple friends I’d traveled with, I realized that the place I would be having lunch was where the indigenous church planters we’d been ministering to were also having lunch. There were probably about thirty people all sitting together on plastic stools at low tables having what turned out to be shiro with either injera bread or baguette. Shiro is boiled bean flour mixed with water, berbere spice, garlic, and rosemary and boiled until it’s the consistency of thick soup. You then sop it up with the bread. Flavor wise, it was one of the better meals I had in Ethiopia. But flavor isn’t all there is to lunch.

The church planters made room for us at a very small table and through our translator, we began to get to know each other in a way that hadn’t been possible in the more formal setting we’d generally seen them in.

Before I left for Ethiopia, a friend of mine had told me that God felt he had a message for us as we were going. That message was that a lot of these men and women were having such difficulty that they were thinking of giving up. He said our presence would be very important, because it would help the Ethiopians know that they are not alone.

As I sat telling and listening to stories, they conveyed to us how incredibly important our presence was to them. They let us know just how much it meant to them that we’d come all this way to teach and encourage them. They said that because we had come, they would go and do even more. By having lunch with them, we were able to connect on a deeper level. No longer just teachers and pastors and students, we prayed for each other and become brothers and sisters bearing each others’ burdens. Lunch cost about $2 for the three of us, including tea, but I can’t put a price on the connection we all made that day.

We had lunch there the next day as well. When I go back to Ethiopia again, I will make a point to eat with the church planters again. The hotel restaurant may have more than one thing on the menu, but it can never match the company.

Lunch with the church planters.

Killing The Wolf That Was Sent To Save You.

There is an Inuit legend that says, in the beginning there was only a man and a woman. Nothing else lived on the earth. So the woman made a hole in the ice and began fishing, and one by one she pulled out all the animals. The last animal she pulled out was the caribou, the animal that feeds the Inuit, and she ordered them to multiply. But as the herd multiplied, sickness came to the herd. As the herd got weaker, the people began to starve. So the woman made another hole in the ice and pulled out the wolf. And the wolf hunted the caribou and began to eat the weak and the sick ones, and the herd grew stronger. And the people realized that the caribou and the wolf were inseparable, because even though the wolf eats the caribou, it is also the wolf that makes the caribou strong.

The first verses of the book of James say, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”  Many people read these verses and either don’t comprehend them or uncomfortably skip past them. After all, God just wants us to be happy, right? I heard the televangelist say so. Wrong. God wants us to have joy, but joy is something that comes outside of circumstance, and it comes through faithfulness and maturity. Happiness, on the other hand, is situation dependent. Happiness is external and fleeting, joy comes from the state of one’s spirit and is much harder to destroy.

How many times have we heard someone say, “why would God let this happen?” or “if God loves me, why am I going through this?”  Well, sometimes trials are self-inflicted, but often they are not, and it’s not because God doesn’t love you. It’s exactly the opposite. You see, the human nature is to focus on self. When trials come, they can have one of two effects. They can turn one’s focus even more inward, in which case people become bitter, regressive and self-destructive. The other effect they can have is to cause growth. Trials can build patience, and character, and wisdom in people. They can turn a person’s focus outward. They can teach empathy toward the suffering. They can build understanding of situations. Trials can teach a person to stop listening to Self, and start listening to God. They can teach a person all of those “foolish” practices like dying to yourself and not always seeking pleasure, but becoming the person who seeks the needs of others over your own needs and wants. Why else would some of the wisest, selfless, and most effective ministers be the people in countries where persecution and trials are constant?

We often have the option in the west to avoid trials. We set ourselves up to avoid failure through insurance, 401k, working two jobs so we can invest more money, and most of all, avoiding the Great Commission. When Jesus told his followers to go to Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the earth, making disciples, it was not a suggestion for those who felt like it. It was a commissioning of purpose for everyone who follows Him. If we choose to avoid this commission to avoid trouble and protect our security, then we are content to accept God’s grace that is new every morning, but not to do what He asked us to do. We have traded our Purpose (capital P intentional) for a self-built security that is an illusion anyway. We are content to not grow.

Jesus said “I am sending you out as sheep among wolves.” Sheep among what? Wolves. The people Jesus was speaking to didn’t know what caribou were, but he just as easily could have said “caribou among wolves”. Being sent out as sheep among wolves sounds crazy, but it wasn’t until after imprisonment and beating that the timid Peter who denied his Lord three times became the fearless lion he was to become. Legend says that Peter was crucified upside down because he said he was not worthy to die the same way as his Lord. I know this is a hard thing to grasp, and some might say it’s crazy, but this is the kind of people God is looking for, and this is what trials, hardship, and persecution produce. So when the wolf comes, let us not kill it, but be aware that it might be there to make us stronger, to produce people of supernatural faithfulness and character and wisdom. To create people that fulfill the verse in 1 Corinthians 1:27, “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;”

What do trials produce in us?
What do trials produce in us?

And Please Give Me a Million Dollars and Huge Pectoral Muscles.

In the early 90’s cartoon, Ren and Stimpy, the cat and the dog are saying their prayers before bed.  As a very early aside, finding spiritual lessons in Ren and Stimpy proves that God can speak to you through virtually anything if you’re listening. Anyway, Stimpy prays first, “and please bless Grandma, and Grandpa”. After this, we hear Ren praying “and please give me a million dollars, and huge pectoral muscles.” Ridiculous?  More true to life I’d say.

Though the roles were reversed in the characters between the before mentioned cat and dog, there is a book called “Cat and Dog Theology”, by Bob Sjogren and Gerald Robison. No it’s nothing to do with actual cats and dogs or pet spiritism. The basic gist of the teaching is this;

A dog looks at his master and says to himself, “He feeds me, takes care of me, plays with me, grooms me, and spends time with me. Wow! You’re amazing! You must be God.”  The cat, on the other hand, looks at his “owner” and says, “He feeds me, takes care of me, plays with me, grooms me, and spends time with me.  Wow! I must be God!”  It sounds ridiculous until we realize that the second version is frequently our own theology. Though I find that the simple concept lying at the heart of cat and dog theology is spot on, the lessons themselves get a bit drawn out and overreaching. As King Arthur said to Sir Bedevere in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “Tell me again how one may utilize sheep’s bladders to prevent earthquakes.”  When you only know sheep’s bladders, you try to make them apply to everything. I found this with cat and dog theology. However, there were some fantastic points made, and so I still recommend either reading the book or listening to the lessons.

Cat people (people who think like cats, as opposed to people who like cats) read the Bible as if it’s a self-help book. Cat people don’t so much run toward God as run away from Hell. Cat people pray for blessing for the sake of their own blessing. They think that the Bible is written about us, and not about God. Cat theologians think that the Bible is written to bring glory to us. Cat people go to church for a social gospel. They go because it’s the proper social thing to do. They listen to sermons about what God can do for them, about how God wants to bless you.  While this last statement is true, half of it is missing. God blesses us so that we will pass on his glory to others, not so that we can accumulate those blessings in a stagnant cesspool of self-glorification.

Dog people, on the other hand, read the Bible and recognize that the book is about God, and that we are His servants, not the other way around. It is about less of us, and more of God. Dog people pray that God would use them to bless others. They run toward God because they love Him. They don’t run away from Hell, because they don’t fear it. They trust their God so much that they don’t need to fear Hell. Consequently they are effective missionaries. They pray that the lost would be saved. They believe in the great commission, which requires by design that we put ourselves aside to go to the uttermost parts of the earth and preach the gospel, facing hardship and possible persecution and even death because they know that no matter what happens, God will take care of them, whether it be in this life or the next.

Hebrews 11 sums up very well what it is that our faith is about.

“32 And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: 33 who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. 35 Women received their dead raised to life again.

Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. 36 Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted,[f] were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— 38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.”

They usually don’t preach the second part of these verses in church.  Sawn in two? Really?  Look in Iraq right now. The persecuted in Mosul are showing us what real Christianity is about. They would give up everything, whether it’s all their possessions to flee so as not to have to deny their God, or life itself as they are killed, and yes, sawn in two for not giving up their faith.

So I have to ask?  “What is wrong with the American church.”  What has brought us so far as to think that faith is about us? I listened recently to a sickening sermon by Keith Moore as he went on for an hour about how Jesus died so that we can be rich. How can someone read the scripture and so utterly miss the point? He actually says that Jesus would wear a Rolex if he were here in the flesh today. I read a news article a while back about how people who live according to this doctrine were now heavily in debt, because when the recession came, they didn’t want to look like they weren’t being blessed, and consequently had a crisis of faith when the recession hit. They went into debt to appear as if they were still blessed. They could have avoided the guilt had they realized that following Christ has nothing to do with having money, and has everything to do with following with a willing heart no matter what the external circumstances.

Let’s see what Luke 10 says. “After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also,[a] and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. Then He said to them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road. But whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on it; if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you. And heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.”

He does not say, “Accumulate riches to the point that when you go out, you will not lack for anything.”  He only says to obey, and leaves us to trust God. Trust is easier when we take the focus off of ourselves and place it where it belongs- on God. Missions is not part of what the church does. Missions is the whole reason the church exists. It’s time we started living like it.

Does God love them any less because they're not wearing a Rolex?
Does God love them any less because they’re not wearing a Rolex?

Drowning Jesus

Faith and missions are two things that have been on my mind a lot lately, and particularly the way they interact with each other. I grew up in churches that had no fire, no power, no influence, and consequently made no difference. I no longer have time or patience for that kind of theology. We were taught as children that Jesus did miracles, and the disciples after Him did miracles and healings and all of the incredible moves of the Spirit of God that are talked about in the book of acts, but that after the disciples died, these things died with them. You can’t back that belief up anywhere in the scriptures, but we were taught it nonetheless. Why were we taught it?  Well I’ll get to that later.

In the book of Matthew is the following story. It takes place just after Jesus had preached to the multitudes and fed them all with five loaves of bread and two fish.

“22 Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. 23 And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. 24 But the boat was now in the middle of the sea,[a] tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary.

25 Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. 26 And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear.

27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.”

28 And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.”

29 So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. 30 But when Peter saw that the wind was boisterous,[b] he was afraid; Then Jesus began to sink under the waves………………….  Ok, if you haven’t figured it out yet, I changed that last bit. Here’s how it actually goes.

“30 But when he saw that the wind was boisterous,[b] he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!”

31 And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

So my alternate ending to this story is as ridiculous as what I was taught as a child, and what many are taught now. The fact is that my lack of faith doesn’t limit God in any way, it only limits what God will do through ME. Think about that. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” If we don’t believe this is true, we may as well throw the rest of the scripture out too. The world is not interested in a castrated, ineffective, impotent, watered-down, powerless, gospel, because that is no gospel at all. I’m not interested in it either. There is a lost world out there, and if you don’t believe that, I challenge you to get out and travel to a country that the name ends either in ia or stan.

We are not told the stories in the gospels and Acts to look back wistfully and say, “gosh, wouldn’t that be nice?” We are told these things as a reference for what we are expected to do today.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,[a]
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;”

So why aren’t we taught that today?  Why are we taught that God doesn’t do this anymore?   It’s born out of fear. If I choose to believe that Jesus still expects us to pray for the sick, to set the captives free, to go to the uttermost parts of the earth, to heal the brokenhearted, to give sight to the blind, (both literally and figuratively), to cast out demons, and even to raise the dead; if I believe these things then there is going to be a whole lot more required of me than just showing up on Sunday morning and putting in my hour. I might have to go and pray for that unsavory person on the street if the Spirit of God moves me to do it. It might require me to trust God to do what He said he would do. It might require me to go to a place where there is no Starbucks, or air conditioning, or paved roads, or even an assurance of safety. So if I go with the doctrine that God doesn’t do these things anymore, what I’m telling God is, “I would do these things, but you don’t do these things anymore.  It’s not me, it’s you.” Then we can be content with our “faith” that requires nothing of us. It’s as ridiculous as getting out of the boat to walk to Jesus, but when we see the waves and start to doubt, expecting Jesus to be the one who sinks instead of us. Think about it.

Missionaries pray for a sick woman in South Sudan.
Missionaries pray for a sick woman in South Sudan.