Monday, September 29, 2008

Pastor's Conference

The first function of our mission trip to South Asia was to train a group of pastors. Many of them brought their families and some people from their church. There were eight people who decided to follow Jesus in baptism. I am not sure if they came to Christ at the conference or if they were already believers when they arrived, but had not been baptized. The people the pastors and I are praying over are the believers to be baptized.

This is a huge step in their life. It's not like what happens here in the States where we have a nice baptismal service in the midst of Sunday worship and then a nice lunch with family and friends afterward to celebrate.

If and when these believes are baptized, they will be persecuted. They will miss out on educational opportunities for their children, they can lose their homes and jobs, they could be removed from their extended family, and they could be ostracized and attacked by their neighbors. They will probably have to travel some distance to find water suitable for baptism and then they will face a life of pain and difficulty.

Why would they choose to do that? Because like Moses they have their hearts set on something greater and more significant that this life's comforts. Hebrews 11:24-26 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Team Life

The Christian life is never to be lived in isolation. God has made us to be in community. God Himself is three in one and is in constant community in His divine existence. A Christian must always be in the midst of community or have the support of community, even when they are at a distance physically from those they love.

I was reminded of the importance of the Team Life in India. Scott, David, and I went to India as a team. This was crucial to our success. As a team, we brought our individual strengths and used them to help God's effort He had called us to. There was no wasted gift. Each strength was used for the whole.

There were four basic activities on this trip where the team in God's grace and power was able to succeed.

The first activity was travel. Traveling is one of the most difficult parts of any trip. If anything is going to go wrong, it usually involves travel. Many times planes or trains are delayed. Luggage can easily get lost or not delivered. Sometimes cab drivers take passengers to the wrong places without the passenger even knowing they are in the wrong place. Our team was able to use our cumulative strength, wisdom, and discernment to get the team where we were supposed to be.

The second activity was preaching. Each of us brought three messages to the pastors and their families and friends. Scott focused on the what the Gospel is and how prayer works. David focused on Discipleship and the principle components that are necessary for people to be made into disciples. I focused on leadership and what the specific roles and functions are for a leader. We each had different strengths and areas of competency that were utilized to bring a holistic training to these indigenous leaders.

The third activity was hiking. We had to traverse a long windy wet trail for several hours to get to the villages where we would be sharing the Gospel. The rain actually made the trail a creek in some parts. We had to deal with detours, leaches, and falls. All along the way we were there to pick each other up and provide strength and direction for the trip. We sang hymns and prayed as we went and gave God praise and joy to each others' hearts.

The fourth activity was encouraging the mission team. We spoke into these precious people's lives with a Word God had given us to give to them. Each of us had a different perspective that brought together a single message from God: "You are here by God's divine calling and are equipped for this good work. Continue in the task before you and do not lose heart. Know that the Spirit of God has gone before you. Jesus is with you. God is working in all things to accomplish His perfect will. The churches are with you."

Our team was a good one. We were able to serve the missionaries who are serving as an amazing team.

Everyone needs to be a on a team. You need to have people that you are journeying through life with and sharing your experiences. You need other people and they need you.

Who is on your team? Write down their names, pray for them, and get together with them soon and talk about team life.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Back from South Asia

On Monday, September 15, 2008 I left for an eight day trip into a dark dying portion of creation half way around the world. I went with two trusted brothers, Scott Patty and David Atchison. Scott is the pastor of Grace Community Church in Nashville, Tn. If you are ever in Nashville you should take advantage of the opportunity to worship with some of the greatest people in the Kingdom of God and sit under a gifted Bible expositor. David Atchison is a Christian Business man and an elder at Grace Community Church.

I partnered with Scott and David for two reasons. One, Scott is a man God has used to disciple me for 20 years now. He is a dear brother and a strong voice in my life. The second reason is because we each have a family from our church serving together in the region we visited. Scott and I both believe in global missions and have sought to raise up missionaries from our respective congregations. We were going to visit the outcome of our prayers and efforts and encourage their work and experience something of what God is doing through them for the praises of His glory and name.

The plan for the trip was simple. The impact on my life was immense.

We led a pastor's conference for approximately 60 people from this nation. Some were pastors who are actively sharing Christ and seeking to build house groups to develop them into house churches. Some of them were family members of these pastors, leaders involved in their churches or groups, or people that were on the edge of committing to Christ.

To commit to Christ in this culture and be baptized is a great sacrifice. The believer must truly die to their old life in order to live a new life in Christ. It will mean that this person and their family will miss out on financial opportunities. There might also be an estrangement from family for having faith in Christ. Those who are in Christ are being heavily persecuted in parts of this nation. You can click here to see an example of this persecution from a couple of weeks ago. Be warned that this is very disturbing footage.

We saw eight people choose to follow Christ by faith and decided to be baptized. It was overwhelming to see such great faith and a willingness to suffer for the cause of Christ. I was humbled and reminded of what a great honor it is to know Jesus and be filled with the Holy Spirit. In American it is easy to take God for granted. Thankfully, I don't know that I can do that anymore.

In a later blog I'll provide more insights and details from the pastor's conference. It was a glorious encounter with the risen Christ and with my Spirit-filled siblings.

Next we headed to the mountains to do evangelism. We hiked in the foothills of the Himalayas and shared Jesus with people who had never heard His name. The entire experience of hiking for hours in the pouring rain, falling down the hill and getting knocked silly, seeing poverty and pain, sharing Jesus, and seeing new in Christ begun was overwhelming. In a later blog I will share the details of this experience. It changed my life.

We had a precious worship time on the Lord's Day with our hosts in the mountains and then were to head back down to do some additional evangelism before getting back in the valley, but a rock slide changed all of that. Instead we had to take an eight hour detour into the heart of darkness past the Ganders River where it seemed we enter back into the New Testament world where Paul had sought to share Christ. Here were pagans worshipping idols - demons that did not know and had not heard of Jesus. It was surreal. The darkness was oppressive to me. I will share more pictures and insights from that experience later.

Finally, we began our trek back and experienced some fellowship and made some new friends from the IMB who involved us in a documentary they are doing for their focus on India next year.

This experience has made me a different man. It was not at all what I thought it would be like. Even though I got sick, the physical aspect was not the difficulty for me. I thought it would be. The challenge for me was the spiritual realities I had to deal with. My faith, which is content full, but weak in spiritual warfare, was challenged and strengthened. The emotional trial I faced was also exhausting. Seeing children begging in the streets was more than I was ready for. I'd seen pictures, but it is something altogether different to have a mother holding a naked baby with waste running down it's rail thin legs asking you for food in a busy traffic intersection in between red lights. That's just something that you don't get over.

I was asked by my small group last night, if I would do it again knowing what I do now. And the answer is yes. If God called, I would go. I would go out of obedience, but also in the hopes that what happened in me would happen again and enable me to believe in ways I can't even imagine now. There is no way for me to estimate the impact these days had on me. I only know that I am not the husband, father, friend or pastor I once was. God has changed me eternally.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Best Explanation of Prayer

As I read this devotion this morning, I received the best and most succinct explanation of prayer I have ever heard. It comes from Blackaby's devotion "Experiencing God Day by Day", which is available here at his website.

A couple of weeks ago, I had someone ask my why we should pray if God was sovereign. They did not understand the need to speak to God about matters He'd already determined in His will. I attempted to explain what Blackeby has written here about prayer. Needless to say, I did not do as well.

This is what prayer is and what it does. This is good.

When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. (Acts 2:1)

Prayer does not give you spiritual power. Prayer aligns your life with God so that He chooses to demonstrate His power through you. The purpose of prayer is not to convince God to change your circumstances but to prepare you to be involved in God’s activity.

The fervent prayer of the people at Pentecost did not induce the Holy Spirit to come upon them. Prayer brought them to a place where they were ready to participate in the mighty work God had already planned.

Jesus told His followers to remain in Jerusalem until the Spirit came upon them (Acts 1:4–5). The disciples obeyed His command, waiting for God’s next directive. As they prayed, God adjusted their lives to what He intended to do next. As they prayed, a unity developed among them. For the first time the disciples used Scripture as their guide in decision making (Acts 1:15–26). The day of Pentecost arrived, and the city of Jerusalem filled with pilgrims from around the world. When God released His Holy Spirit upon the disciples, He had already filled the city with messengers who would carry the Gospel to every nation. Prayer had prepared the disciples for their obedient response.

Prayer is designed to adjust you to God’s will, not to adjust God to your will. If God has not responded to what you are praying, you may need to adjust your praying to align with God’s agenda. Rather than focusing on what you would like to see happen, realize that God may be more concerned with what He wants to see happen in you.

Wow! Wrap your mind around that and give God praise. Prayer, like life in Christ, is all about what God is doing and our being aligned to Jesus. It is not about us.

Friday, September 5, 2008

But Stay Humble

Last week, I wrote about the Victorious Christian Life. I want to provide a word of caution as well. Live victorious, but remain humble.

Heed the Scripture that tells us in 1 Corinthians 10:12-13 So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

A sure way to lose your step is to ignore the fact that you are prone to wander and quite capable of sinning to an extent that it could ruin your life and the life of those you love.

During his early teen years, Robert Robinson lived in London, where he mixed with a notorious gang of hoodlums and led a life of debauchery. At the age of 17 he attended a meeting where the noted evangelist George Whitefield was preaching. Robinson went for the purpose of “scoffing at those poor, deluded Methodists” and ended up professing faith in Christ as his Savior. Soon he felt called to preach the gospel and subsequently became the pastor of a rather large Baptist church in Cambridge, England. Despite his young age, Robinson became known as an able minister and scholar, writing various theological books as well as several hymns, including these words written when he was just 23 years of age:
Come, Thou Fount of ev’ry blessing, tune my heart to sing Thy grace; streams of mercy, never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise. Teach me some melodious sonnet sung by flaming tongues above; praise the mount—I’m fixed upon it—mount of Thy redeeming love.
Here I raise mine Ebenezer—hither by Thy help I’m come; and I hope by Thy good pleasure safely to arrive at home. Jesus sought me when a stranger wand’ring from the fold of God; He to rescue me from danger interposed His precious blood.
O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be! Let Thy goodness like a fetter bind my wand’ring heart to Thee: Prone to wander—Lord, I feel it—prone to leave the God I love; here’s my heart—O take and seal it; Seal it for Thy courts above.

[Kenneth W. Osbeck, Amazing Grace : 366 Inspiring Hymn Stories for Daily Devotions, Includes Indexes. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Publications, 1990), 343.]

Now for the rest of the story. As the years passed, Robert lost his focus and passion for God.
A story, possibly apocryphal, is sometimes told of Robinson that one day in a stagecoach a lady asked him what he thought of the hymn "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing." He responded, "Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then."

The Victorious Christian Life

Congratulations to Coach Bobby Johnson and the Vanderbilt Commodores!!!!

Last night Vanderbilt beat The 'Ol Ball Coach by defeating the 24th ranked South Carolina Gamecocks. The special teams played extremely well as did the defense. Both put the offense in good field position and they made big plays to get touchdowns rather than field goals.

I must confess that I did not allow myself to enjoy the second half. I just kept waiting for Vandy to lose it. I have been watching The 'Dores for years and I've seen them have a lead and then lose it by turning the ball over or just running out of steam. I did what many Christians do in the face of long-term struggles with habitual sin. I miserably waited for and anticipated defeat.

All believers struggle with sin. Some have struggleld more and for a longer time. These Christians many times will do well for a while, but there is something in the back of their minds that tells them that they are going to fail. They beleive, as I did about Vandy, that they are destined to lose the battle.

Unlike football where the game goes to the strongest, believers must learn that the battle is not won by the strongest, but the weakest. The way sin is overcome is through living in grace.

2 Corinthians 12:7-10 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Believers are made strong by the indwelling Spirit.

Romans 8:12-15 Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. 13For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, 14because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

The so-called pramatics who live by will-power say, "How does that work?"

It's simple. The fruit of the Spirit is love. When you love God, you obey God. Living the Spirit-filled life is the exact opposite of living the self-focused will-powered life. The Spirit-filled life lives to say, "Yes, Lord." The self-focused will-powered life is lived saying, "No." God wants us to live saying "yes" to him. Yes, I trust you God. Yes, I know you love me God. Yes, I love you because you loved me and gave yourself for me. Because I love you, I will trust and obey you. The self-focused will-powered life is lived saying, "No, I won't give in. No, I won't do this or that."

God wants us to live saying, "Yes!"

Whenever we sin, we in essence say "no" to God. We say, "No, God I don't trust you. No, I don't believe you want what is best for me. This sin is best for me. Instead of loving you and obeying you in trust, I am going to love myself or something/someone else and trust and obey that or them." That is what sin is. It is refusing to love God.

To live victoriously in Christ we should expect to love God at all times. We must live in the Spirit, which produces love. The love we have in Christ is revealed as we trust and obey. As we trust and obey, we avoid the failure of sin and we bask in God's grace. Grace brings the victory.