Avenues of Grace

Seeking the Lord with Eyes Wide Open

Archive for the category “Missions”

Missions and Measurement

We arrived home from Poland on Sunday night, and my mind has processed a thousand different emotions and lessons that The Lord taught me while there.  How do you describe the warmth of the people, the beauty of the country, the power of God’s Word, or the Spirit that flows through believers of every nation? How can I tell you the peace, the welcome, the feelings of “family” that we experienced with complete strangers or the joy of sharing with those who are considering who Jesus is for the first time?

 

You see, missions is not just about the pretty pictures or the bottom-line of numbers.  God works mightily in so many things on a mission trip, and I want to give as full of an account as I can.  So here goes:

Several years ago, Melaina fixated on a Polish missionary and began praying for her every day for more than a year. This was not our doing. It was The Lord. Only HE could call a 7 year-old to pray like that. We sensed then that we might one day go to Poland.

Fast forward to several weeks ago, and we were $3,600 short of paying for our trip. With so much going on with my family, I had no time to fundraise. The Lord quietly reminded me that HE was sending us to Poland, and He owns the storehouses. I continued to pray and enlisted my prayer warrior friends to pray with me. The Lord provided MORE than we needed for the trip!  Again, only GOD can do that.

We arrived safely and Danny preached the next morning in Olsztynek.  A younger man and woman offered to translate, but after a minute or so, they realized that they couldn’t. A visitor who came in late stood and offered to translate.  It turns out that he was a professional translator AND a pastor. He was in town for the day because his son was placed in the children’s hospital there.  At the end of the sermon, one precious woman came to the front and professed Jesus as Lord.  Just think of the odds of all that coming together at the perfect time…Ya’ll, only God can do that.

So the camp consisted of Polish workers, teams from Arkansas and Florida, and the guests who signed up or who the Polish church members invited. Our theme was the “I Am” statements in the book of John, so all of our lessons walked through those.  The camp was a family camp, so we had a variety of men, women, and children.  Each day followed the same pattern: team devotion, breakfast, worship service, crafts, separate men/women/children Bible studies, and lunch. We then had free time for a couple hours followed by games, whole group Bible study, dinner, and open discussion time.  For those that could stay up late enough, there were games until almost midnight each night.

So now that you know the format, where do I even start in telling you how God is moving?  I could tell you about the man who has battled alcoholism and was saved before coming to camp.  I could tell you how he gave his testimony that if the Bible could help him, he swore he would profess Jesus to everyone he encountered.  This man was baptized at the lake in the camp, and his girlfriend crowned him with a beautiful lei of flowers that she made.

Maybe I should tell you about the women’s group, how open the ladies were to listening to the Bible stories or how they were willing to ask questions and be transparent.  One said, “Last year, my heart was not ready, but this year it is.” Will you pray that she will fully surrender to Jesus?

Maybe I should tell you about another lady who shared the story of her dream while at camp.  In her dream, she went to the store to buy cabbage, but someone stole her wallet. On her way home, she was crying and Jesus appeared to her and gave her a new wallet that was better than anything she had before.  She told us that she believed that she had the dream because she was getting baptized, and she believed that the dream represented the death of her old life and the resurrection of her new life in Jesus. This, she told us, in a room full of women who do not yet believe.

I could tell you about the precious translator who just absolutely won my heart. She has the sweetest spirit about her, and I know that we would be close friends if we lived in the same country.  She said that she has always considered herself “spiritual” but not “religious.”  She has never believed in Jesus, but after translating, she is now interested in what we believe. Will you pray that she understands how very much Jesus loves her?

Would you pray for the precious Polish believers who war with a culture of  religion instead of relationship?  It is so difficult to break from traditions that you’ve held since birth, even when your heart tells you that they’re wrong.  One couple is confronting this now and will have to come to terms with what they believe to be true about God and His Church.  Will you pray for them?

Will you pray for the ones who had serious questions during discussion time? This was an open format for people to be honest and genuinely ask anything they wanted to know without any of us interjecting. As the Polish pastors fielded those questions, it was amazing to see the Lord move and to prompt people to give their testimonies.  One such testimony came from the pastor’s wife, a precious woman with more light in her than I can possibly describe.  She came to Christ through a vision of Him after she was contemplating committing suicide.  Isn’t it incredible how the Lord redeemed her and is using her so mightily? Will you pray for her family?

Shall I tell you about the children? They were everywhere! I absolutely LOVED the family culture.  My daughter didn’t know how to feel about being able to roam freely around camp by herself without worry.  She got to play and be a kid instead of worrying for her safety.  It was wonderful! God grew her faith, too.  She celebrated as He provided for us, and while the beginning of the camp was hard for her, by the end of the week, she managed to befriend two precious Polish twin girls.  It was wonderful to see them play, and I know she will cherish them in her heart.  It also helped her to consider those at her school who might not speak her language.  She got to experience what it felt like to be an “outsider,” and I know that this lesson will stay with her.

On the last day before we got on the plane, we had the opportunity to see Warsaw.  It was both exactly what I expected and none of what I expected. I imagined flocks of tourists and museums to remember the Warsaw Ghetto.  Instead, I saw only a small plaque on the wall of a building and a marker across the sidewalk.  It took me a moment to catch my breath, but then I realized why this was so.  Most buildings had plaques of some sort or another, some from WWII, others from Russian takeover.  In the midst of Old Town, there are remnants of the old fortress wall, and in the center stands a beautiful castle. At the end of the day, we had the chance to tour the castle.  It was incredible with ornate, gilded ceilings, massive murals and tapestries, and centuries old artwork from floor to ceiling in almost every room.  We even saw two original Rembrandts.  What struck me most, however, was the contrast: the palatial glory of the castle in the midst of so many memorials to those who were slain.  Even many of the paintings depicted the rise and fall of empires.  This was my first time seeing things so old, and doing so reminded me that everything in this life will pass away, but the glory of the Lord is forever.  In Him alone can we find safety. In Him alone can we find eternal life.

So how do I “measure” this trip?  It isn’t by the bottom-line question that so many of you will ask: “How many got saved?”  I measure this trip by the seed sown. I would love to tell you that everyone at camp accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior, but that is not what happened. What I can tell you is that they heard the Gospel over and over; I can tell you that God moved mightily; and I can tell you that He isn’t finished.  The campers have spiritual questions now, and those questions are the beginning of seeking Him.  Will you pray with me for the Polish believers to continue to shine their Light in darkness?  Will you pray for the Word to take root in good soil and not be choked out by the culture? Will you pray for Jesus to break down the fortress of each camper’s heart and reveal His Truth to them? Will you pray for the missionaries and church planters to seek the Lord, grow in Him, and stand firm?  Only 200 of 2400 counties have an evangelical presence in Poland.  Will you pray for more people of peace to rise up, plant churches, and see His Gospel transform Poland?

It’s hard to come to a close, but I suppose that’s because I don’t believe this is one.  The trip is only part of the mission, and the mission isn’t over.  Will you join me in prayer?

 

 

 

The War for Authenticity

I grew up in church. I was there every time the doors were open. I loved every part of it until one night at church camp.  I was broken and crying out to the Lord and felt that I needed to speak with a counselor.  While I won’t claim that I was pure in any way for most of my teenage life, I will tell you that, at this point, I was still really young and trying to follow the Lord.  When I met with the counselor, he asked that we go outside to talk. It was dark, and he began to ask me really uncomfortable questions.  As he spoke, my anger raged inside me. Maybe he didn’t intend to make me feel the way he did.  Maybe he thought I was naive enough not to notice where his questions were going. Either way, that was the turning point for me walking away from the church.

I spent the next several years going through the motions with spiritual highs and lows and times of nothing spiritual at all. My parents did everything possible to pour God’s Word into me, but when I looked at the church, I didn’t see God’s love.  I saw judgment and slander and gossip and anything but the Gospel.  For a brief time, I saw God’s love in a youth minister who I knew I could share my heart with.  He was special– when I looked at him, I knew that he knew that I was living in sin, yet he welcomed me with open arms and continually pointed me to Christ.  And then he was gone.  The church changed leadership, and in what seems like an overnight decision, he was ousted. The one who walked with us, the one who met people out on the streets and asked them to join us, the one who didn’t care about the color of our skin or our background, the one who day in and day out week after week shared the Gospel, was gone.  And that was strike two for me.

Fast forward a few years, and I had just turned seventeen and was living in my own apartment and going to college.  When I finally got the nerve up to attend a church, guess what happened? It was NOT church. It was a Republican rally.  The only time Jesus was mentioned was in the opening prayer.  The preacher (and I use that term VERY loosely here) literally ended the “sermon” of talking about the death penalty by slamming his hand down on the podium and screaming, “and I say let’s kill em’ and kill em’ faster!”

I. Was. Done.

So how on earth did I end up back here? And why on earth do I encourage people to attend the local church? How did I come to love her so much in my adult life when I found no relevance in her in my younger, more pivotal years?

The answer is simple: Jesus.

I remember the moment when I knew I must go back.  I had spent years shoving the Holy Spirit into the recesses of my being and living the way I wanted.  I was empty inside and hurting, but I was also stubborn and wanted to live my own way.  Then one morning it happened: I was in the shower, and I felt this “leaving” within me. I don’t know how else to describe it. I know the Lord never leaves us,  but I believe that He allowed me to feel that so that I would return to Him.  I remember hitting my knees and screaming out loud, “WHERE ARE YOU, GOD?!”

I have never been so scared in my entire life.  It had been years since I spoke with God, yet in that moment, I knew I would never be the same.

You see, God pursues us. He is the Good Shepherd, and He never loses one of His flock. His children hear His voice. There was no person, no sermon, no pastor, no program, no music, no graphic, no show that brought me back to Him.  It was God Himself.

This was my experience as a believer.  This was the Lord calling and my willingness to surrender.  But God didn’t stop there. He didn’t intend for me to walk alone. After years of being away from church, I had a desire to be with people of God.  But how, after my experiences, could I find an authentic church?  Did it really exist?

I share my story with you for two reasons.  I want you to understand that this is not some generic “5 Ways to Become More Relevant as a Church” list.  It is what made me listen after years of turning away.  It is also to encourage you, fellow church members, to BE The Church.  Our worship times are full of “fans” who are not actually followers of Christ, and it is hard for outsiders to differentiate.   We must be active in reaching people instead of sitting comfortably on our pews. We must live what we believe.  We must be authentic in the midst of pride, comfort, busyness, and distraction.

So now to the grit of the matter: How can we, as a church, reach the lost or even the believers who have experienced “church hurt”?

  1. We have to be relevant in the right ways. While it’s important to contextualize, we have to be careful not to simply advertise.  Every gimmick, every show, every song, and every graphic is important, but these things are ultimately just vehicles for the message.  Millennials have been sold the philosophies of postmodernism and relativism mixed with tremendous undertones of existentialism.  They question the meaning of life and whether or not life even has meaning.  They are searching for purpose in a world that doesn’t fulfill and doesn’t make sense.  They see suffering and hatred that are incomprehensible, and they are searching for peace. When millennials walk into our churches, if we don’t have substance to support the hype, they will not stay.  They can get great coffee at Starbucks instead.
  2. We have to LOVE people, not adopt “projects”. This might be the hardest part. Discipleship is not us sitting at a table and imparting our knowledge on a group of eager listeners as they highlight their Bibles and become the next Timothy.  (Okay, so maybe it can be for some, but that’s rarely been my experience.) More often than not, discipleship is MESSY. It is first and foremost a friendship.  We are all family in Christ, and we should treat each other as such.  This means sharing our burdens, warring together, praying together, and pointing each other to Christ.  It means receiving a call at 2 a.m. from a friend who has fallen into sin and telling her how much Jesus loves her and that His mercies are new every morning.  It means holding each other accountable in the Word, not condemning each other.  After all, we can’t be someone’s Holy Spirit.  We are all on a journey, and we are all being sanctified daily.  The Lord is the One who works on us. If we could fix each other with our judgments, we wouldn’t need Him.
  3. We have to get over ourselves.  We are obsessed with perfect angles and pithy quotes, but if our lives don’t reflect the Gospel, we are “stale bread” to outsiders. As we disciple each other, let it be that we point each other to what God’s Word says. Anyone can argue with our personal thoughts on a matter, or the latest celebrity preacher’s thoughts on a matter, no matter how eloquent they sound, but they can’t argue with what the Word says.  Let us be a people who abide in the Word so that it flows through our hearts and minds and out of our mouths and into our limbs! As my mom would say, “Let your walk talk what your talk talks.”
  4. We have to love ALL people.  Oh friends, if I could scream one sentence from the rooftop, this would be it.  Yes, ALL people, because God loves all people. Jesus died and rose again to pay the penalty of sin for ALL people.  You know… the ones with different skin tones, the ones with different nationalities, the ones with different backgrounds, the ones with illnesses, the ones with different religions, and even the ones with different sexual preferences!  Jesus didn’t say, “Go and share the Gospel with all nations of people who look like you and are already Christian.”  He didn’t say, “Go and sit on a pew with your best friends and form a holy hill that digs into my Word but never practices it.”  What about the woman who sneaks into the back of the church right when it starts and leaves during the offering? How will you reach her? What about the one who smells like he hasn’t had a bath in a week? What about the one who only speaks broken English? What about the one who just got out of prison? What about the one who has a bad reputation?  What about the one who is openly gay but decides to try your church? Friends, oh dear sweet friends,  we have to stop.  We have to see the unseen. We have to walk into church with eyes for the lost just like we walk into the world with eyes for the lost.  We have to do more than wave hello. Anyone in the world (especially in the South) will do that.  We have to be willing to get into people’s lives.  It can be uncomfortable. But each of us has a circle of people that we encounter each day that are totally unique to us.  What if we stopped letting fear stop us? What if we loved ALL people as Christ loves them? What if we shared the Gospel with ALL people, no matter their background?  The Gospel has the power to save! It has the power to transform! We should be a vehicle for sharing it, not a barrier preventing it.
  5. We have to be available.  Enough with limiting our hours to Sunday and Wednesday at specified times. That is NOT authentic.  Would we do that to our family members?  Would we do that to our friends? We don’t throw seed in the ground, water it once, and expect it to continue to grow.  We need each other! God is relational, and He has designed us to be relational as well.  There is no greater blessing than having a group of people to pray for us, encourage us, and continually point us to Christ.  We have many burdens in this world, and when the Body of Christ functions as He desires, the Church becomes a safe haven, a place of refuge and growth that is not limited by time or place.

For me, church is not about a building; it’s about a group of people.  I spent years without that support, and while finding it was difficult, it has been one of the greatest blessings of my life.  If you don’t have a church, I’m urging you not to give up.  Jesus loves the Church and desires for you to be connected.   If you do have a church, I urge you to take these things into consideration.  We will never win a culture in a fallen world, but through The Church, the Gospel can win a people.

 

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Alaska and the Piece of My Heart That I Left There

I’ve been asked approximately a hundred times this week: “How was Alaska?” I don’t know why, but every time I try to answer, I get a lump in my throat.  I guess writing about it is my best bet, so here goes:

Alaska is a place of extremes: extreme terrain, extreme brokenness, extreme weather, extreme people, extreme lostness, extreme love, and extreme possibility.  When I heard that where we were going was the least evangelized place in the nation, many things went through my mind. I imagined stories from our friends who are church-planting in Brooklyn, the look of hatred on people’s faces when we went door-to-door in Spokane, the man cursing my husband at the top of his lungs at a market in the French Quarter.  I braced myself for extreme rejection and the heaviness that accompanies the dark places in our country.

But that’s not what I found.

You see, most places in our country have experienced a movement of Christianity, and that movement has started to pass. Some would even say the Bible Belt is “post-Christian.” But Alaska isn’t like that. When you look around, there are a few churches sprinkled here and there, but overwhelmingly the church is just absent. It never came to have the chance to leave.  Because of this, I expected extreme rejection. While our trip focused on service, I did notice this: The people of Alaska (generally speaking) are NICE! Many were very appreciative of what we were doing, and one even said, “Forget our differences; I’m just glad you guys are here sharing the love of Christ.”

Now THAT is not what I expected.

While most of our time was in Anchorage, we spent one of our nights doing ministry in a laundry-mat in Girdwood. While there, I had one of the most horrific migraines that I’ve had in years. I was almost an hour away from where I was staying and had no access to a vehicle. A complete stranger offered his van, and being desperate, we took it. When we got in, it was not just his van– it had a mattress and all of his stuff in it. I was overwhelmed that the Lord would provide through His people in such a way that a man would offer all he owned to me just because I was sick. This, for me, spoke volumes about the heart of the people there.

But it wasn’t all roses, and I don’t want to paint any false pictures. There is extreme lostness and extreme spiritual warfare there, too. When we arrived, we learned that the head church planter had unexpectedly resigned, leaving Jason (the Girdwood planter) and a team of interns with a full plate, two mission teams, and one week until Easter. The leadership there was under tremendous stress, and it was incredible to see them work together to stay the course and encourage their congregations to continue in what God had called them to do. With everything that happened, our entire agenda completely changed. We learned that we would not be doing anything that we planned to do. (Gotta love mission trip flexibility!:)

While we didn’t expect service projects, doing them gave us a truthful look at the lostness of the city. We did a block party in the most diverse neighborhood in the entire country and also did some street clean-up. This was a tense time as our team members encountered lots of homeless people and saw firsthand the devastation of particular lifestyles. Likewise, some of our team got the chance to serve lunch to a center with AIDS patients, seeing again the brokenness and destruction of drug addiction and lifestyle choices. Even our donuts ministry (we took donuts to local businesses to invite them to church) provided us with a chance to truly SEE the city. I don’t think it’s an accident that the first coffee shop that we went to was next door to a Buddhist society.

In all of this, we did not get to have many Gospel conversations, but we did get to invite many people to True North Church, and being in those places allowed us to pray and know more specifically HOW to pray for the people and the church.

On our final day there, Danny and I rode with Jason to Wasilla to discuss how he believed the Lord desired to build a church there.  As we drove, I couldn’t help but think about how much Wasilla reminded me of home, except my city is called “The City of Churches.” It broke my heart to hear that members of his congregation had to drive an hour just to attend a church service. In fact, later that afternoon, someone from the church said, “I’d love for someone to plant a church in Wasilla! I have coworkers who would LOVE to go to church but can’t drive all the way to Anchorage!”

And that’s where I lost a piece of my heart. You see, many people dismiss Alaska. They imagine this frigid ice-land with some kind of cross between igloos and Sarah Palin, and neither could be farther from the truth. The people of Alaska are as diverse and transient as those of New Orleans. Out of all the people we met throughout the week, only a few were actually from Alaska. That transience makes it hard to plant a stable church but likewise opens the door to many nations. In fact, planting in Alaska provides access to 68 unreached people groups.

Did you hear me? SIXTY EIGHT UNREACHED PEOPLE GROUPS, and that isn’t counting the melting pot of travelers who come to visit and decide to call Alaska home.

Since I’ve returned to Arkansas, I’ve pondered many things about our trip, from the people of True North Church to the need for people to hear the Gospel. I wonder if we could’ve done more? I wonder how God will continue to use the core group. I wonder how the church in Anchorage will move forward after the grief of losing their pastor? I wonder who will plant in Wasilla and bring Light to it?

And then my mind wanders from the crystal blue waters of the inlet to the heights of the majestic mountains, and the picture dissolves into a white field and Jesus calls out:

“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” Luke 10:2

 

 

 

Rapture Practice: Calling All Christians

I hear it all the time. “Lord, come quickly!”

But it’s not a fervent, prayerful request or a sincere desire of our hearts. It’s usually accompanied by scoffing, eye-rolling, or perhaps an attempt to ask God to deliver us from whatever obstacle we are facing at the moment.

But I want to ask you something. What if He did return? What if He came back tomorrow at 12 pm.   What would you do tonight?

If your answer is anything other than what you already had planned,  then you aren’t ready. Neither am I.

You see, of the 7+ billion people in the world, more than half have little to no access to the Gospel.  And let’s be realistic– among those who do have access to the Gospel, relatively few choose to accept it. So I’ll ask you again…do you still want Jesus to come quickly?  Do you understand that this would mean the end for nearly 5 billion people?

When I look at the world and how far we are from the will of God, I often wonder where the wrathful God of the Old Testament is.  I wonder how Sodom and Gomorrah could be destroyed, yet we could stand through the terrors of Nero, Hitler, and more currently, ISIS.  Why would God not choose to end this?

And then it hits me.  It is God’s GRACE that keeps Him from returning. He WILL return but not until every ear has heard the Good News.  He will not give up on us, even when we are ready to give up on each other, and that should challenge us to love more deeply than we ever thought possible.

So enough with the division. Enough with the negative comments. Enough with the narcissism. Enough with the hatred. These are not of God. In fact, He gave us specific instructions for how we are to handle ourselves as we await His return.

So consider yourself cordially invited to Rapture Practice.

12 But we request of you, brethren, that you [i]appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you [j]instruction, 13 and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another. 14 We urge you, brethren, admonish the [k]unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. 16 Rejoice always; 17 pray without ceasing; 18 in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not quench the Spirit; 20 do not despise prophetic [l]utterances. 21 But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; 22 abstain from every [m]form of evil.

23 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.

25 Brethren, pray for us[n].

26 Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss. 27 I adjure you by the Lord to have this letter read to all the brethren.

28 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.

1 Thessalonians 5:12-28

As we enter a time of reflection before the beginning of a new year, I am asking you, fellow follower of Christ, to examine your life.  Do each of these verses describe you? If not, you may have some practicing to do.

 

 

 

More Than Just A “Sit and Soak” Christian

I see you. You’re tired, stressed, pulled in a thousand different directions. Some of you are grieving losses that the world cannot fathom, losses of childhood, innocence, family, friends, jobs, marriages, and hope altogether.  Mary Magdalene must’ve been the same way.

I can just imagine her, heading to the tomb…reliving every gruesome moment of His death, watching as they nailed Him to the cross, weeping with His mother as she likely collapsed under the weight of what the soldiers and the crowd were doing to her Son. Listening to the cries of the Lamb of God.

I bet she relived every moment…the moment that He saved her…the moment that He pulled her out of the darkness and released from her the demons that controlled her mind. I wonder if she smiled to think of the new life that He gave her or if she was too torn with grief to even consider it.

But Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping; and so, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb; 12 and she *saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying. 13 And they *said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She *said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and *saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus *said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she *said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” 16 Jesus *said to her, “Mary!” She turned and *said to Him in [a]Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher).

John 20: 11-16

How could she not have known that she was speaking to Jesus?  Was it too dark in the tomb? Was she too sleepy or upset? Did she miss the angels sitting there?  How many times had she heard Jesus’ voice? How could she have missed Him standing right in front of her?

Maybe a better question would be, “How often do we do the same thing?”

When we go to church, we expect to meet Jesus.  When we are praying or reading the Bible, we expect to meet Jesus. When we go to work…do we expect to meet Jesus?  When we’re doing the dishes, cleaning the house, and trying to get our children to stop fighting, do we expect to meet Jesus?  Perhaps Mary didn’t recognize Jesus because she wasn’t expecting Him.

And this thought makes me ponder how many times a day I miss Him.  How many times is He prompting my heart, but I am not truly listening.  How many times do my own griefs and troubles drown out the sound of my Shepherd’s voice?

But then He calls her attention; she recognizes Him; and I can just imagine the excitement in her heart.  He is standing before her, alive! I don’t know about you, but I would fall straight down on my face, too. I would never want to leave his presence, and I don’t think she intended to. You see, Mary’s relationship with Jesus was based on His physical presence. She needed to be physically near Him…and who wouldn’t want to be?  But we can’t miss what Jesus tells her next:

17 Jesus *said to her, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene *came, announcing to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord,” and that He had said these things to her.

John 20: 17-18

Stop clinging to Me.

Stop clinging to Me?!  But Lord, isn’t that what you want?  There is no place that I feel more refreshed and whole than at Your feet! I love my quiet time and my small group and my coffee/prayer talk with my Christian friends and my pastor’s sermons and my…

Stop clinging to Me…Go and tell what you have seen.

And there we have it: the missing piece.  In a world that is starving for authenticity, starving for the Truth of the One who can save them, we have chosen instead to sit and soak on all that we are “learning” rather than share what we have seen with the lost.

Don’t misunderstand me: there is NOTHING more important than our intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.  Nothing! But if no one ever hears the Gospel, have we really fulfilled our purpose?

We imagine America as a “Christian” country, but according to Pew Forum’s 2014 poll, only 25% of Americans are evangelicals. Only 13.1% of the entire world is evangelical Christian.  Considering that 108 people die every minute in our world, I’d say we have work to do.

So this brings us to the subject at hand: how do we move beyond the boxed up version of Jesus in our prayer closets and recognize Jesus’ prompting in our daily lives? How do we truly share Him with others and move from a mindset of  “me” to a mindset of missions?

First, we must EXPECT to meet Jesus…in every moment of every day. We must pray for open eyes and an open heart. We must train our ears to hear our Shepherd’s voice, even in the most unexpected places. And we must realize that there is so much more to the Christian life than simply overcoming our own trials.  We must look at the bigger picture: the Kingdom.

And we must share what we have seen. No, Jesus didn’t “need” Mary. He would’ve appeared to the disciples either way. But He allowed her to be part of what He was doing, and her obedience grew her own faith and prepared the way for His appearance to them. This set the standard for what He requires all of us to do–go and tell! I once heard a missionary say, God calls; the Holy Spirit convicts; Jesus saves.  Your job is to tell the story.  We see the same principle at work here. Mary was commanded to tell what she had seen, and Jesus followed. Oh that the same would happen for us– that we would share our stories only to have Jesus Himself show up!

19 So when it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in their midst and *said to them, [b]Peace be with you.” 20 And when He had said this, He showed them both His hands and His side. The disciples then rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”

John 20: 19-21

I can’t even fathom the awe of the disciples when Jesus appeared. I’m sure they were eager to see Him establish His Kingdom, the one they believed would be on the earth.  But Jesus’ Kingdom would look different than they expected, and His instructions would be simple ones: Share the Gospel.

He showed them His hands– the same ones that were pierced for our transgressions. The ones that were nailed to the cross that we should’ve borne.

He appeared to them after rising from the dead– the incomprehensible realization that He not only died for our sins but that He overcame death for us.

He prepares to ascend to the Father, the same one that He says is also now their Father because they have trusted in Jesus.  The Father who is now restored to them.

You see, the Gospel is not some long story that we have to memorize.  We are all broken, but God didn’t leave us that way. He sent His only Son who lived a perfect life and sacrificed Himself on the cross to pay for our sins. He was buried and arose three days later. He offers us eternal life and restoration with the Father if only we believe what He has done, believe that His sacrifice can save us, and trust Him to be Lord of our lives.

See?  It’s that simple.

So how does that translate to missions?

Jesus is sending us. He tells us to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:20), and He tells us to start in our own backyard (Acts 1:8). When is the last time we truly asked the Lord to break our hearts for the lost that are right in front of us? For the lost in our city? For the lost in our country? For the lost around the world?

No one on earth has the exact same inner circle as you.  Only you have your family, your friends, your coworkers, your routine, and the people that you encounter every day. Have you considered how to reach them? Have you considered that God has placed you exactly where you are for a purpose bigger than you? Are you complaining about the disgruntled people around you, gossiping about the wild coworker, judging another’s parenting skills, comparing yourself to the ones who seem to have it all together… or are you recognizing that some of these people are LOST?

One thing is certain: being a “good” person is not enough. Posting a Scripture on social media is not enough.  Hoping that someone will magically ask you if they can come to your church will likely not happen, and even if it does, there’s no guarantee that they will come back.

YOU must SHARE the Gospel…and you must LIVE it, too. Yes, you!

So that’s a start…because missions isn’t location specific; it’s a mindset.

Then there’s your city, your state, your country, and even the ends of the earth. Because Jesus is worth it. Because He commands it. Because our joy overflows to the point that we can’t help but share our REAL, PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP, not some scripted version of religion. We must share what we have seen, just as Jesus commanded Mary to do.

It’s time to stop sitting and soaking, and go out there and get our feet dirty.  Then we should repeat the cycle and soak again…then go and tell again.  And this should be the beautiful race that we run because the world is still lost…and it is our job to share the Gospel.

How Can You Get Involved?

Daily:

  • Minister to your family– remember, Jesus commands us to make disciples, not converts! How are you reflecting Jesus’ love to your family members? How are you talking about all that He has done? Who are you discipling right now?
  • Work, Kid Stuff, Daily Activities:  Identify a few people that you can build intentional relationships with.  How can you share with these people?

At Church:

  • What are your spiritual gifts?  Are you using them?
  • Who can you encourage that is outside of your typical friend group?
  • Where can you serve? (Greeting, singing, media, teaching, stocking pews, preparing food, children, youth, college, etc.)
  • Sit by someone who is sitting alone and talk to him/her!
  • Connections: Participate in community outreach such as writing letters, making phone calls, going on visits, and participating in events that help to share the love of Jesus.

Jonesboro Opportunities:

  • Foster Care/Adoption
  • Pregnancy Resource Center
  • International Student Ministry
  • Chinese Church
  • Family Care Home
  • Mercy Ministries
  • Kids at the Cross
  • Prayer Walking
  • Adopt an ASU football player
  • Christian Men and Women’s Job Corps

Arkansas Opportunities:

  • Prison Ministry
  • Children’s Homes
  • Forrest City Church Plant

USA Opportunities:

  • Spokane, WA church plant
  • Seattle, WA church plant
  • Alaska church plant
  • Brooklyn, NY church plant
  • Denver, CO church plant
  • Santa Barbara, CA church plant
  • Montana “Fry Bread” church plant
  • St. Louis, MO- outreach before Pastor’s Conference
  • New Orleans- Global Maritime Ministries

International Opportunities:

  • Haiti
  • Uganda
  • Cote d’Ivoire
  • Egypt
  • South Africa
  • Poland
  • Guatemala
  • Nicaragua (youth)
  • India

Want to know more about any of the CBC opportunities above? Contact Bro. Danny at Word Campus! 🙂

Worth the Risk: A Response to the Refugee Crisis

We’ve all seen the pictures—the ones of men lined up on the beach waiting to have their heads chopped off. We’ve cried through the photos of children with tear-filled eyes posing with the leaders as a “warning” for the media. We’ve been enraged to hear about groups of people who have been forced to leave their communities, starve on a mountainside, and wait for an imminent death. We’ve heard of the rape, the torture, the crucifixions, the burnings… and we are angry.

This summer, I had the incredible opportunity to attend the Southern Baptist Convention. The theme was prayer, and I can never express the power of the Holy Spirit in those moments when thousands of pastors cried out to The Lord for our families, our cities, our country, and our world.

The last part of the night was prayer for the persecuted. As the faces of our brothers and sisters from around the world flashed across enormous, panoramic screens, I couldn’t contain my sorrow. Sorrow for those who are facing a hell that I cannot even comprehend, and sorrow that I could live my life and only have them as an afterthought. Why had I not been praying, fasting, relentlessly seeking wisdom from the Word and interceding on behalf of these people? How could I have been so inconsistent? How could I forget the innocent blood being spilled? How could I have been so selfish?

So I prayed. I prayed for deliverance for them. I prayed for brave men and women to rise up with the courage to fight the terrorists. I prayed for the Lord to remove the enemy. I prayed for the believers to remain strong and look to the Lord. I prayed for the terrorists to have dreams and visions of Jesus. And more than anything, I prayed for the Gospel to spread like wildfire.

Fast forward just five months, and something miraculous is happening. Because of the persecution, the people of the Middle East are beginning to question things that they have never questioned before. They are beginning to wonder why they are being forced to subscribe to a particular extremist brand of their religion. They are wondering why people are willing to die for Jesus. They are wondering why a line of men sang praise songs to Jesus until their cords were severed with knives.   And a movement is happening. But you’ll never hear about it on the news.

And then another miracle happened. The Lord answered our prayers. He delivered the people from the arms of the enemy. He gave them safe haven in a number of countries, and HE even hand-delivered them to our doorsteps so that they could hear the Gospel and sleep without fear of death.

And we welcomed them…with hatred, closed borders, name-calling, stereotyping, and prejudice. We looked at the color of their skin, the hijabs on their heads, and the country from which they came, and we forgot that they are the very people that we asked God to deliver and chose instead to brand them all terrorists by affiliation.

My fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, I urge you to pray and ask the Lord for wisdom in this situation. The Gospel has NEVER been about comfort, safety, and prosperity. If you don’t believe me, just look at the lives and deaths of Jesus’ own disciples. Better yet, look at Jesus’ life! These people are simply LOST, just as you and I were once lost. I implore you; pray and ask the Lord to show you how to see them the way HE sees them. He loved them so much that He died for them; who are we to deem them unworthy?

I understand that this is scary. I understand the potential threat. And I understand that the Gospel is WORTH IT ALL. I am in awe of how gracious our Lord is to give us such an amazing opportunity to share and to give these people such an unlikely opportunity to hear the saving, glorious Gospel of Jesus. We don’t have to go to the front lines; we don’t have to sacrifice anything except our personal, luxurious comfort.

It’s time for us to rise up and BE the church. We should love these people (and ALL people) so immensely that they can’t help but wonder the source of our love. We should pour out ourselves in every way possible to show kindness, friendship, aide, education, and any other means available to bridge the Gospel to them. We shouldn’t be fearful of foreigners if they come to our churches; we should welcome them with open arms and as much love as humanly possible. Because this is what Jesus would do and what He commands us to do.

I realize that many of you will disagree with me, and that’s okay. This is truly the conviction of my heart. All I am asking is that you genuinely seek the Lord in how to handle this situation. If your words flow from the condition of your heart, what does the world see when it reads your social media posts?

As for me, I am excited. God is never surprised and always has a plan. My prayer is to be ready for every incredible opportunity that He has in store! He is working everything out for good…we just have to have the right vision to see it.

Thus says God the LORD,
            Who created the heavens and stretched them out,
            Who spread out the earth and its offspring,
            Who gives breath to the people on it
            And spirit to those who walk in it

  I am the LORD, I have called You in righteousness,
            I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You,
            And I will appoint You as a covenant to the people,
            As a light to the nations,

   To open blind eyes,
            To bring out prisoners from the dungeon
            And those who dwell in darkness from the prison.

Isaiah 42:5-7

 

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