Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Missing Piece of Missions

The week in Nicaragua got me to thinking a lot about missions in general.  I asked myself the question, why doesn’t the church live on mission all the time?  What is missing from the church that would prevent us from being on mission? I don’t want to give you the impression that I think we are not doing missions, we have obviously gone on mission trips and have done events. But are we making a significant impact for the kingdom where we live?  Do we see significant kingdom impact in a world of darkness or is the growth we see in the church merely transfer growth?

So I ask you that question before I go on and give you my thoughts.  What is missing from our church that would prevent us from being on mission in such a way that we are making a significant kingdom impact?  

Matthew 9.35-38   “35 Jesus was going through all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. 36 Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without * a shepherd. 37 Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. 38 "Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”

#1 Prayer for God to send out workers
But what is it that drives our prayer for mission?  It is the compassion we have for people.  Over and over in the gospels we see that Jesus had compassion on people.  He had compassion because they were harassed and helpless.  He had compassion on them because they were sick diseased (Matt 14.14). He had compassion because they were hungry (Matt 15.32). He had compassion on the widow who’s son had died (Luke 7.13). Twice in Luke Jesus tells parables about compassion as the Good Samaritan had compassion on the man that had been beaten and left for dead (Luke 10.33) and also the Father of the prodigal son as he saw his son returning home had compassion on him and ran and embraced him and kissed him.  Jesus offered people compassion. He was moved at the heart to help these people who were at their core, helpless.  Is that what we see when we see people without Christ? Do we see them as helpless or do we see them as people who should know better because they haven’t been brought up that way?  Do we see people who we think should just stop doing what they’re doing? Jesus had compassion on them because he saw them as helpless and aimless.  And the remedy for that was not to pity them or to look on them in judgment but to have compassion on them and offer them the remedy that would truly give them help and hope.  Our compassion should move us to action, not merely sit back and say what a terrible situation they’re in.  

So when we are praying for God to send out workers, what are we praying for?  Are we praying for God to just call out missionaries from among us?  Are we praying for something broader than that?  

I believe we should be praying that God places a burden on the hearts of all His children in the church to go out in the harvest field and share the gospel.  That we would so prioritize the mission of the church that we would give up other things for it. It would mean that we would not go into our houses every night and shut the doors and keep ourselves barricaded inside our castles only to go out the next morning and pass by our neighbors only to meet them as we come home again in the evening.  I think about this imagery that Jesus uses here in Matthew 9 and the workers in order to harvest must have the proper tools.  What is the proper tool in the hand of a Christian harvester?  The gospel.  Romans 1.16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”  

Honestly this is one area I have really struggled in knowing what to do in our church.  I know that there used to be visitation programs in the church that would visit prospects and invite them to church and even visit people who hadn’t been to church in weeks or months.  But every program that I know of like that starts out with a bang and then fizzles after about a month or so.  But I don’t want to just have a visitation program that invites people to church.  I want us to have a full-fledged door to door evangelism ministry where people would go out and actively pursue sharing the gospel with people.  I know that the norm today is relational evangelism and I think that is extremely valuable and doesn’t need to be down-played.  Relationships are extremely important in sharing the gospel with people, but that doesn’t mean that we just throw out witnessing to people that we don’t know.  If we’d have done that in Nicaragua or on any other short-term mission trip we wouldn’t share the gospel with anyone and none of the people who received Christ would be in the kingdom today.  When we pray for workers to go into the harvest field, don’t we have to be willing to go into the harvest field and not ask for God to send someone else?  

Ephesians 6.18-20 “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, 19 and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.”

#2 Prayer for the Boldness in sharing the gospel
This is extremely important.  We have to remember that we are in a spiritual battle.  We were out going door to door in one of the villages in Nicaragua and a dust storm came blowing in .  It was like something you’d see in a movie.  Off in the distance you could see it coming and the sky was a reddish brown as it carried the dust along.  They’ve been in a drought for about 3 years where they didn’t get enough rain so there is a lot of dust. I was witnessing to a man that was extremely resistant at the time. I’ll tell you more about him later, but while I was witnessing to him, a lady in our group was witnessing to the family where the 6 children and their mother prayed to received Christ.  As I saw the dust storm blowing in thoughts came rushing into my mind about how that storm was a physical reality that illustrated the spiritual reality that was happening at that very moment.  The first phrase that popped into my mind was “the prince and power of the air.”  And then as I heard the news that those 6 children and their mom had accepted Christ the scripture popped into my mind “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it.”  

As believers we are constantly in a spiritual battle.  Most of the time I don’t believe we realize that on a conscious level.  We know that truth, but realizing that in the midst of your day when chaos (or numbing routine) is happening it is more difficult.  But the Ephesians passage above follows the passage about putting on our spiritual armor.  The war is real and when we are in the midst of it we must hold up the shield of faith when doubts begin to creep in about whether we are able or equipped to share.  The enemy is always going to throw doubts our way.  He doesn’t want us to share the gospel with people because he also knows that it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes.  So this prayer for boldness in declaring the mystery of the gospel is not a half-hearted prayer of “God please be with the missionaries,” or “God please help us as we go door-to-door.”  It’s a battle happening as the people of God go to their knees and cry out for Him to give us words to speak in the midst of the warfare.  I experienced this week a question by an individual that I didn’t know how to answer and it was even about a passage that I’d preached on later in the week.  Later I thought of that response but I needed it in the midst of the warfare.  We need God to supply us with the ammunition we need when the battle is raging as we share the gospel.  So we need to wage some war on our knees.  We need to do that individually, but I also think we need to do that collectively.  Sometimes I think we pray too sophisticated prayers.  They are nice and neat and they are sometimes stale.  But we need to pray prayers that sound more like the guttural cry of William Wallace as he led the Scots to fight the army of England. Not for show but as a result of the heart wrenching passion we have for people to hear the gospel.  We are in life and death combat for the hearts and souls of the people that live in our neighborhoods, the larger community, and around the world.  I know that there are people sitting in churches that have gone their whole Christian life and never shared the gospel with someone and I don’t speak words of condemnation to you, I hope that I am giving a call to arms for you to engage in the battle.  

John 6.44 “"No one can come to Me unless * the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.” 

#3 Pray for God to draw the hearer
I said earlier that I was talking to a man that was extremely resistance  as we went door-to-door in Nicaragua.  I asked him about his spiritual beliefs and allowed him to tell me where he was regarding a relationship with God before I jumped in to a gospel presentation.  He tried to deflect me with arguments about the infallibility of the bible claiming that people have added to it and they didn’t follow it. I explained why such things were so and then I got around to sharing the gospel with him but he did not want to accept.  He heard the truth completely and suppressed it, refusing to believe or even entertain the idea that he would spend eternity in hell, separated from God if he did not repent.  

This scripture in John 6.44 was very real to me on that day.  There is not a single person who can just decide on their own without the Holy Spirit convicting them of sin and the Father drawing their heart who will be saved.  We can have the most polished presentation of the gospel possible and it will make no difference if the Holy Spirit doesn’t draw them.  The Spirit is the One that illuminates the scriptures and gives understanding to the simple.  This too needs to be our fervent prayer for God to move.  I know that there is a tendency in most people, myself included, to want God to manifest Himself in a large physical way like He did in the Old Testament. We’d like to see Him shake the building or fill it with smoke. But we must believe that He does a far greater miracle than those things when He rocks a man or woman with conviction and fills their temple with the glory of the Lord through salvation.  

We are a vital part in spreading the kingdom of God through the gospel of the Kingdom, but we do not save anyone, only the shed blood of Jesus by the application of the Spirit brings understanding of sin, repentance of heart and salvation to the soul.  I didn’t walk away from any gospel encounter I had in Nicaragua sorrowful because I thought I’d failed. I shared the gospel and that is what I was supposed to do.  Many times where we fail is not in the presentation itself but in our neglect of prayer before we ever go out.  We must pray fervently and continually for God to draw those we know and those we don’t know to Himself.  

Matthew 28.18-20 “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always *, even to the end of the age.”

#4 Obedience/Love

Lastly as we look at the missing piece of missions we must look at the issue of obedience/love. I don’t say "obedience and love" because to say it that way would imply that they can be separated.  Jesus in John 14 says, “If you love me you will keep my commandments”  and in John 15 He says, "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love.”  Love and obedience are inseparable in the Christian life.  And we must come to grips with that.  We can’t say that we love God and yet we don’t keep His commandments.  Obedience to commands are born out of love in the Christian life.  So we are forced to deal with our obedience or disobedience in regard to the Great Commission as an issue of love.  I had to deal with this in my own life.  

For many years I didn’t openly share the gospel with people because I was scared.  Although there was some fear in regard to what I would say and how I would respond to people’s questions, if I had to get right down to it, I was worried about what people would think of me and whether or not they would reject me.  I loved the comfort and security that my friendships gave me more than I loved the relationship I had with the Father.  I didn’t want to admit that for a long time, but that was my reality.  As a result of my self-love I was disobedient to the command of the Father.  Once my love for Him began to outweigh my love for self then I didn’t have to struggle with whether others rejected me or accepted me. I am accepted and loved by God.  

That is not to say that there aren’t times that I don’t still struggle with those feelings. I’m not completely free of that and probably won’t ever be, but my love for God empowers my obedience.  Was I nervous in sharing the gospel this week in Nicaragua as we went door to door?…sure I was but once I obeyed the fear dissipated.  One of my favorite OT bible stories is when the children of Israel were going into the promised land and the Jordan River was at flood stage.  God parted the waters for them but it wasn’t until they took the step of obedience and put their foot in the water.  The parting of the water wasn’t dependent upon them, God merely blessed the obedience.  

So the missing piece of mission many times is passionate prayer driven by compassion, love and obedience.  Let us pray hard and follow hard after Jesus so that others may know Him.  

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Longing

On this Saturday morning when all is well there is still a part of me that longs for more satisfaction and joy.  I have health, a great family, a wonderful house, cars that aren’t in need of repair, a church family that I’ve always wanted to be a part of and yet there is still a lack of satisfaction in my heart.  But I think that even in describing all that I have, I have a discovered part of the problem.  Now I’m not saying that all of those things are bad…quite the opposite, all of those things are tremendous and are blessings from God.  But even in all of those things and all of those relationships, my mind and heart longs for more.  It’s not because those things are inherently bad, but because they were never meant to satisfy the longing of my heart.  All of these things and relationships will be crushed under the weight of trying to meet the longing of my heart.  Like the quote from Daniel 5.27 or maybe the more well-known quote from A Knights Tale if I keep my heart and mind focused even on the blessings that I’m given, I will be “weighed on the scales and found wanting.”  There will be a lack in me that constantly plagues me.  I think this is the longing that plagues many men’s hearts that is mislabeled as a mid-life crisis.  They begin looking at the things and even the people they have in their lives and ask the question, “Isn’t there more?” Unfortunately many men will look to other earthly things to fill that longing but will wake up after their attempts to find “it,” that the dissatisfaction is not only still there, but has grown even larger.  I’m not saying that this doesn’t happen to women (I believe it does), but I’m a guy and so I write from my perspective. 
There was a time in my life that I tried to fill that dissatisfaction with other things and it almost destroyed my marriage.  So this is not an issue that can be ignored. It is a universal condition that men and women deal with because and if not understood, it is highly likely that individual lives, marriages, and families will suffer the consequences of these misplaced affections. 
So what is one to do? At this point in my life, God has shown me through His Word that this longing in my heart, rather than being a bad thing that indicates a need for more stuff or relationships, is actually a drawing of my heart and mind to the One who can satisfy.  A few months ago I preached through the book of Colossians. Ever since that time, the words of Paul to the Colossians have resounded in my mind, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.”  You see, the problem with us when we begin to feel the longing for more in our hearts is that we have set our hearts and minds on earthly things to satisfy us.  This may have been conscious in some, but I feel that most of the time it happens unconsciously as we simply fail to intentionally set our hearts and minds on things above.  This longing should be a 5-alarm warning that we need to return to the One who can satisfy, Jesus Christ.  I don’t write this because I’m a pastor and this is what I’m supposed to say.  I write this because I’m a follower of Christ and have found that Scripture is true not only in theory but in practice.  So I encourage you, before the longing of your heart turns you to things that will leave you wanting, set your mind and heart on things above.  Sit down, remove distractions, and focus on Christ by reading the Word, listen to Christ-centered music, ask God to speak to you and bring the satisfaction (joy and happiness) for which your heart longs. This is not simply an exercise in religious ritual, but the building and development of a relationship with your Heavenly Father.  He wants to give you what you need as any good father would.  “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Romans 8.32.
So today as my heart is not satisfied with all of the things that I’ve been blessed with, I understand that this is the Holy Spirit drawing me to the heart of God. 

“As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake.” Psalms 17.15

Friday, October 24, 2014

What's With the Name?

Why the name "Already Not Yet" for this blog?  Because that is the description of my life.  It's about the work that has already been accomplished for me in Christ (Already) but there is still much more to be accomplished in me as my life goes on (Not Yet).  When I started seminary back in 2002 I walked into class and began to experience overload.  There was so much information to consume and absorb that I would come home and tell Sherry (my wife) that the more I learned, the dumber I felt because there was so much more yet to learn.  At that time the "Already Not Yet" consisted of an intellectual understanding of scripture and ultimately who God is and who I am as a result of knowing God and His Word.  But now ten years removed from that first seminary experience I am continuing to gain an experiential understanding of the Already Not Yet as God is constantly transforming my heart.  The Spirit exposes things in me that I never knew were there and shows me my need of Him.  Recently the song that has been resonating in my heart is "Lord I Need You."  Whether it is for strength or joy or love or understanding there is only One Fountain that pours out the water that can quench the longing of my soul.

I'm sure this may seem like I'm out in the theological atmosphere to some people, but I assure you that there has never been anything that has been more practical in my life than learning how to rest in Christ on a daily basis is now.  Is it easy? Absolutely not.  Most days it's a struggle.  Some days I don't want to be in the struggle. But God is teaching me to embrace the struggle because it is in the midst of the struggle that God is transforming me into a usable jar of clay that can be filled and poured out for the glory of His name (not mine!)

So this blog will mostly be about the struggle as God transforms me in hopes that the transparency one finds here will be an encouragement to embrace the struggle in your own life and cling to the all-satisfying Savior. "Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me" (2 Cor 12.9).  So I invite you on my journey of faith to witness the works of God.  May God be glorified.