Monday, January 31, 2011

Miracles Come in Many Forms

Last week Eormer, the local house church leader who drives for our humanitarian aid agency came in with a good story. So for your edification, here it is told in his words. Of course, his words are actually in the language of Gondor but I will go ahead and translate.

"Strider, as you know my family is from the village of Pelegir way down south on the border with Mordor. I have one aunt, a niece, and one uncle who have become believers in that village but they have been really persecuted by our family and neighbors there. In December I made a trip down to Pelegir with my wife and we had a good meeting with them. While we were there in the room with all the relatives around my aunt who is a believer complained how her husband has been gone to the north to work for many years and she has not seen him nor any money in a long long time. I told her to stop crying and that if she needed anything then what she must do is to ask Jesus for it. So, I prayed for her in front of everyone that her husband would return. I prayed in Jesus name. Many people there laughed and made jokes. No one believed praying would bring this man back who had been gone for so many years.

The next week the woman's husband returned. Not only did he come back but while he was up north he had become a follower of Jesus! So, two weeks ago another of my aunts came up and stayed with me several days. She is the one who persecuted the believers the most. She was always very condemning and never wanted to hear about the truth. Friday night a week ago we had a meeting at my house and she listened to all of it. She had many questions after the meeting and late that night she accepted Jesus as her Lord.

I called her yesterday and she told me that she had been very mean to her daughter in law. She went to her daughter in law and asked her for forgiveness. I asked her what about Jesus, who is he? She told me that Jesus is her God. I would not believe her for her words but because she asked forgiveness of her daughter in law we know that she is a true follow of Jesus."

Amen and Amen.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

5x5x5 IMB Strategy Goals for 2011

As I set my goals for 2011 I am keeping the 5x5x5 principle in mind for the work that God has called our team to here in Middle Earth. The three fives stand for the following: We are to be praying for

5 lost people

5 national believers

5 unengaged unreached people groups

The first 5 is an obvious one. We should be praying for the lost and striving to find ways to engaged them with the Gospel. I have been praying for ‘my 5′ for several years now. The number 5 is a bit artificial but it is a good number to shoot for. Obviously, we want to see many more than just five people come to faith this year, but these five are the guys that I am close to and have regular opportunities to share with.

The second 5 is one that I am most passionate about. We are to be praying for five fruitful believers. These are men and women who have ministries that are bearing fruit in their community. I am firmly convinced that this is an area we all need to do better in. Every time a team member comes to me with a job request my first response is, ‘Is there anyway that this position could be taken by a trained national?’ I believe that my main job is to empower nationals to do the work that God has called them to so that their people will be reached with the Gospel. I have said it before and I will say it again, I love John 4:1-2 where it says that Jesus was baptizing people by the Jordan but in verse two it says, ‘although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples.’ That is so fantastic! This was the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry and his disciples knew next to nothing but Jesus began his training of them by having them ‘do’ ministry. This concept has had a huge impact on my ministry. I remember when I was a pastor back in the West that a young man came to me for help. He had a porn addiction problem and he wanted free of it. I counseled with him a little and prayed with him and told him I would see him on Wednesday night. He thanked me and said, ‘ok, but what I really needed from you was something to do at 2:30 in the afternoon when I get off work!’ I am sure he never got free when I was there. I hope he found someone who knew better later. If I had it to do again…. man, don’t we say that too often! I would have grabbed that guy and taken him visiting in hospitals and nursing homes and found ministry for him to do to fill up those few empty hours between the time when he got off work and his wife came home. Now, I know better. I pray for my 5 and I empower them to do the ministry God has called them to. I make sure they get to the people they are supposed to reach and I make sure they know what they are supposed to do when they get there. It is hands down the funnest and most rewarding part of my job.

It sounds kinda funny to say but I am equally excited about finding and engaging unengaged unreached people groups (UUPGs is the new term in missiology). If that phrase is new to you what it means is a people group who are not only ‘unreached’( there are thousands of these) but an unreached people for whom there is no one even making plans to reach. It is one thing to be lost, it is another thing for no one to be looking for you! And you and I both know that the Good Shepherd is looking for them so we must be about his business. So I am praying for the five largest UUPGs in Middle Earth and guess what? Already we have the possibility of engaging one this year. I will be hosting a volunteer team of nationals from a country to the north of us to go and see about reaching one of these groups where there are no churches and no known believers. We also have a new long term person who has come to reach a small UUPG in the mountains above our city here in Gondor. Two down maybe but still way too many to go. God is on the move though and we are striving to keep up with him here in Middle Earth.

There are truckloads of issues in the IMB today. We still don’t have a president. We have an administrative reorganization that has been an unmitigated disaster. We are way short of funds still even though we have cut personnel by the hundreds from the totals two years ago. But I am not going to focus on any of that. It’s not my job. The thing that God has called me to are the things I just outlined and I am sticking with that. What about you? What are you focusing on as you go into 2011?

Friday, January 14, 2011

What is Offensive- a repost from SBCImpact Blog

Last week Tucker Carlson over at Fox News did what guys in his business are supposed to do, he said something controversial in a controversial way. It made some headlines and even caught my attention way out here in Middle Earth. In discussing the Eagle’s quarterback Michael Vick, Carlson said that Vick should have been executed for torturing and killing dogs. Vick famously went to prison several years ago for cruelty to animals ending, it seemed then, a promising career as an NFL football player. After prison though, the Eagles signed him up giving him a second chance. President Obama made mention of his approval of giving Vick a second chance and this led to Carlson’s comment. What interests me is Carlson’s preface to his comment. He said, ‘Now, I am a Christian, I have made mistakes myself. I believe fervently in second chances, but…’ And that is of concern to me. He doesn’t just believe Vick should have gotten a harsher sentence, (yes, I understand that the ‘execution’ rhetoric was probably (hopefully?) hyperbole) he believes that Vick should not have been given a second chance. Well, he is entitled to his opinion but is he entitled to claim his opinion is grounded in Christian teaching?

We talk about the ‘offense’ of the Gospel. We usually use this term when discussing why we need to speak out against homosexuals or drinking alcohol. As I look through the Word of God and study the life of Jesus ‘offense’ looks a little different to me. It seems that Jesus offended a lot people and almost always for the same reason: forgiveness. The Pharisees were mad at him for forgiving the sins of the paralyzed man. They were mad that he fellowshipped with sinners, that he ate with them, talked with them, and even seemed to like them. They were mad that he healed people on the Sabbath. It seemed there was no good deed or loving act that they couldn’t criticize. It was as if he knew what would really push their buttons. He talked to women, and not just any women, he went to Samaria and spoke words of comfort and hope to THOSE people.

The picture of Jesus that I keep in my head, the one that defines him for me personally is the story of the woman caught in adultery. In John 8 the religious leaders bring a woman caught in adultery before Jesus and ask him what they should do. The religious leaders believe that if he sides with the law and condemns her to stoning then the crowds will leave him because his message will not be new or hopeful. If he lets her off free then he would not be respecting God’s law and that would make him no true prophet. But you know what happened. He proclaimed that the one without sin should cast the first stone. At this point in the story I am waiting. Will he not pick up a brick, declare to all what they already know, that he is sinless and bash her in the head? No, he doesn’t. I do that, you do it too, but Jesus didn’t and still doesn’t. The woman is guilty. The laws were written for a reason and a purpose. They can not be ignored because we don’t like them or popular culture decides they no longer apply and yet, Jesus forgave this woman and let her go. This is why I love him and this is why the religious leaders of the day killed him. Not because he stood up for the law, for what was ‘right’, for morality, or anything else; he was killed because he forgave sinners. And this is so cool because it was his sacrificial death that enabled him to forgive sinners!

We are the older brother if we like it or not. We, as Southern Baptist Church members have grown up in our Father’s house and have done our duty. We go to the meetings, we pay the tithes, we do the work and we have watched in eager anticipation for the day when our younger brothers get what is coming to them. The drug addicts, the prostitutes, the crooks, the homosexuals, the guys who sleep in on Sunday morning, the divorced, the Democrats and anyone who voted for the Health Care Bill, those Church of Christ people, the evil, the lawless, the lawyers, and even those guys who believe the earth is getting warmer are all around us and we have been waiting for the fire to come down on their heads. Now, I am a Christian, I have made mistakes myself. I believe fervently in second chances, but… Jesse Jackson? Anyone in Hollywood? Most people in New Hampshire? Surely not these Lord! It couldn’t possibly be politically correct to kill a fatted calf for Michael Vick, right?

I was in a local friend’s house for New Year’s Eve. They have a son who is becoming increasingly Muslim fundamentalist in his outlook and belief. He usually wont come in and sit with us because we are kofirs (unbelievers). But Friday night he came in and sat across from me. After a while he began talking about religion. He said that there were not even 100 good Muslims in this Country, they all fell short of the law. They didn’t read and obey the law as they should and now they are building a large new mosque here in Gondor. He said, ‘Strider, we have satellites and compasses and all kinds of science to tell us exactly which direction Mecca is in but do you know what they are doing? They are building the Mosque to face directly West so the walls line up North, South, East, and West. When we pray we will be facing straight at Rome!’ I laughed out loud but he responded that this was ‘NOT FUNNY’. I disagree. It is hilarious and in the end it always is. Legalists can never satisfy the law no matter how hard they try. I told him that Jesus died to save us from our sins and that our works were useless. He was angry with me. ‘Jesus could not have died’, he said, the Koran says he didn’t die. Our only hope is in obeying the law. I told him that was no hope at all. Our only hope is to trust that the Jesus who forgave that woman, the Jesus who rescued the thief on the cross, the Jesus who loved little helpless children still loves and forgives today. I love my friend. I love him so much that I was willing to offend him by proclaiming a God who loves and forgives. Go out today and offend someone- it’s fun and it’s the Christian thing to do.