Redefining “missionary”

10947264_10152997108205049_9165043593889483864_o (1)We deployed a missionary last week. But we didn’t send her far … 20 miles further south at most.

And, no, we aren’t in a third world country sending her across the border or to a new people group. We’re in the Bible Belt. Churches are on every corner, and yet those numbered with Christ are declining.

She’s going to change that in Corporate America, and her first day is today.

Based on that description, do you still think she’s a missionary?

My guess is that the more I defined where she’s deployed, the less “missionary” she became. The roads she walks are paved, showers and toilets are easily accessible, water is clean for the drinking, and the people speak her language.

But—biblically speaking—she’s a missionary. And so are you.

Missionary isn’t a career reserved for the super spiritual with a call to travel far distances to live among people that greatly contrast from their own upbringing.

And it’s not a side-gig when you have extra time on a Saturday morning.

It’s for people that know Jesus and live to make Him known. That includes you and me. The Great Commission isn’t just a call just for Christ’s first twelve disciples … it is a command for every person that has known, knows, and will know Him.

By the end of Acts, we’re introduced to a lot of believers. Peter, Barnabas, Paul, Stephen, Philip, and Lydia are the names of just a few. Some of them were blatantly sent to new places to sow gospel seeds, others stayed where they were planted to do the same.

But regardless of their formal career title or source of income, they lived as missionaries—sent ones proclaiming Christ crucified and raised to life for the forgiveness of sins and salvation of all who believed in Him.

Believer, do you define yourself as a missionary?

Because you are, and I want to encourage you to boldly own that title for the glory of God wherever He’s placed you.

“Every Christian is a sent one, there is no such thing as an unsent Christian.” –Alan Hirsch

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The Problem with Fear

IMG_4232 - Version 2What’s the problem with fear? It paralyzes us from action.

Last week, I shared about the decline in evangelism within the American Church. And I think fear fuels this.

We fear being awkward. We fear being called a bigot or Bible thumper. We fear breaking relationships. We fear being left out because we are vocal about Who we follow and what we believe.

In the grand scheme of things, these things really aren’t that scary, and when we allow them to silence us, Satan wins.

Now don’t get my words twisted here. I know and fully believe Christians fight from victory (1 Corinthians 15:57). Jesus said, “it is finished” (John 19:30). The grave is conquered and one day people from every nation will worship the Lord (Revelation 7:9).

But right now we are waging war “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). Satan is on the prowl to steal, kill, and destroy, and he does so by keeping people in the dark when it comes to the gospel message (John 10:10).

When we are silent with our message, we fuel Satan’s agenda instead of God’s.

In his book, The Insanity of God, Nik Ripken states…

Satan’s greatest desire is for the people of this planet to leave Jesus alone. Satan desires that we turn away from Jesus—or that we never find Him in the first place. If Satan cannot be successful at that, he desires to keep believers quiet, to diminish or silence our witness, and to stop us from bringing others to Christ […] Those who number themselves among the followers of Jesus—but don’t witness for Him—are actually siding with the Taliban, the brutal regime that rules North Korea, the secret police in communist China, and the Somalilands and Saudi Arabias of the world. Believers who do not share their faith aid and abet Satan’s ultimate goal of denying others access to Jesus. Our silence makes us accomplices.

Today, whose side are you aiding?

I am a missionary

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I am a missionary.

I’ve denied that title for years, but that’s what I am … and if you are a follower of Jesus, so are you.

We are the sent ones in a world hurting and in need of hope.

That title is engrained in our new identity in Christ as deep as our status as God’s children, but for some reason we’re less likely to own it.

A few weeks ago, I sat in a meeting with my church’s elders. God is clearly as work in our members, but they shared that less than 7-percent of us are sharing our faith often. That’s above the national average, yet it starkly contrasts with the 97-percent of our body that say we’re comfortable sharing our faith and testimony.

How can that be so?

I’m going to speculate it’s because we—the American Church—have mistaken God’s command to remain unstained by the world to mean remain unengaged with the world (James 1:27).

Instead of dining with sinners and calling them to repent and believe in Christ Jesus, we spend our evenings in Bible studies, community groups, and church services with people who are already brought into the fold.

Meanwhile billions outside of our Christian culture are destined for hell.

I don’t mean to sound harsh, but that is the spiritual reality we profess to believe as disciples of Jesus. He says He is only way to an eternity with God, and over three billion people in our world haven’t gotten an opportunity to know Him (John 14:6).

That stat alone should spur us to action. But does is it?

Have we become so content and comfortable in our churches that we’re willing to forsake Christ’s final command to make disciples of all nations, including the lost people who live across the street?

The Acts of the Apostles documents thousands coming to faith in Christ within minutes. Do we even share our faith often enough to see our churches grow by a few hundred new believers–not church hoppers–each year?

I know I am not near as faithful as I want to be in sharing the gospel, but, wow, I am convicted. Eighty-three people groups remain unreached by the gospel in the United States alone, meaning they have limited to no access to the gospel. In a predominately Christian nation with unlimited resources, this should not be the case.

I feel a God-given responsibility to play a role in changing that. Do you? If yes, spend a few minutes reflecting on these questions … and then act.

  • How much time do you spend at your church each week?
  • How much time do you spend intentionally among non-Christians each week?
  • Do you know how to share your faith?
  • Who in your direct sphere of influence needs to know there’s a God who loves them so much that He sent His only Son to die so they could know Him?
  • What are you going to change to live a more missional lifestyle?

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” –Romans 10:17

 

He Keeps and Cares

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I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore. -Psalm 121

Before leaving for South Asia, I knew my trust in God would be put to the test. Our travel schedule alone took us through the Middle East, across country on a small domestic flight, and along winding mountain passes before the real part of the trip ever started.

Weeks out a team member shared Psalm 121:3 as a prayer request. Looking more into the Psalm, I decided it would benefit me to memorize it before leaving.

If I hadn’t, my experience in the foothills of the Himalayas would have been anxiety-ridden. Most of the time I had no clue what was happening or where we were headed. But the first half of the trip passed with my steps firmly trusting God.

And then my foot slipped … and I ate it.

Thanks to the turtleshell of a pack on my back and a borrowed trekking pole, I escaped injury. But I tend to take things a little too literal and threw an inner hissy fit … clearly God didn’t care about me if He let me slip and fall (see Psalm 121:3).

I stewed for an hour until I met my tent-mate on the trail. She listened to my frustrations and asked if I was hurt.

“No,” I said. “See, God does care,” she said.

Oh, how she was right about that.

You see, this was the longest day of our hike and my team happened to be the best at taking the long route to camp.

Roughly seven miles in we started descending into a valley–home to one of the only pastors in this remote region of the world. We stopped at his house for water and rest before the final push to camp.

As we left, Ezekiel 37 ran through my head, like it had just days before.

The hand of the Lord was on me, and he brought me out by the Spirit of theLord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

I said, “Sovereign Lord, you alone know.”

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.” -Ezekiel 37:1-5

There are a lot of valleys in South Asia … most of which are spiritually dead. They don’t know Jesus and haven’t heard His message. But that wasn’t the case here.

Here God breathed life into dry bones … and He cared enough to show me.

He cares about me. He cares about my teammates. He cares about those we carried the gospel to. And, friend, He deeply cares for you. Do you believe it?

Divine Layup

It was just me and her and an empty nail salon.

I knew it was God orchestrating a divine layup to share the gospel, but it was up to me to obediently seize the opportunity … and the enemy was attacking.

The internal battle raged. Within milliseconds my mind argued back and forth with God. One moment I was bold and on the brink of sharing. The next, I shrank back in fear.

Flag_of_Vietnam.svgAnd finally, I asked her what she believed—she was a Buddhist from Vietnam.

God showed up, filling my mind with compassion and questions for a woman whose view of Christianity was informed by Hollywood. She knew Christians ask their God for forgiveness, but she didn’t know the true story of how we’re eternally forgiven—through the great sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In fact, she didn’t even know His Name.

“In [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us.” –Ephesians 1:7-8

Last night that changed. She didn’t accept the gospel, but she engaged with it. And I’m learning that’s a victory.

For those who may read this and presume I’m a natural evangelist—I’m not. I’m awkward, get tongue-tied, and allow my fears and insecurities to reign often. But I want to be obedient to share the story that’s eternally altered my life.

In doing so, I’m experiencing the joy of knowing God in a whole new way and am growing in my confidence in the gospel. Will you join me?

“I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ.” –Philemon 1:7

[Missions] The most unlikely of friends

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We may be some of the most unlikely of friends.

You see, our countries are far from civil. For over 50 years all relations have been cut off, but this picture is evidence that government restrictions can’t sever friendships founded on the Gospel.

There’s reconciling power found at the Cross that makes the unfathomable fathomable … including unifying a team of three from nations with a history of conflict.

God has a lot to say about unity. In fact, when Jesus prayed for us, He prayed that we’d be unified as a testament to His work at Calvary.

“…I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” –John 17:20-23

And that’s what I experience with these friends … a divine gift of unity that witnessed to the goodness of the Gospel and the greatness of God’s glory.

[Missions] Learning to shake off the dust

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset Processed with VSCOcam with t1 presetI’m a fixer … so naturally I like to fix things. And when I can’t, I go bonkers.

In January, I came face-to-face with this problematic character trait on a dusty city street outside of a hard-hearted atheist’s home.

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. –Matthew 10:14

Honestly, I don’t like these words.

They remind me there will be times the Message of redemption and forgiveness rushing from my lips won’t “fix” someone for eternity.

And I’m hit with the truth that no fruit produced from my labor is on account of my efforts. Fruit bursts forth only through the timely nourishment of the Vine … apart from Me you can do nothing (John 15:5).

These moments are sobering reminders of my own dependance on Christ to reap any measure of harvest. I’m reminded that I’m not the fixer of souls … only God has the power to breathe life into dry bones.

My American self wanted to witness this man’s calloused soul melt like a stick of butter at the revelation at God’s great love.

But that didn’t happen. Instead, he graciously welcomed me into his home, listened to the Story I shared, and respectfully discredited it as true.

To paraphrase his response: I respect that you believe in God, but I’m an atheists. I don’t need this faith in my life.

I so desperately wanted to shake him and make him understand the depth of his depravity and need for Jesus. But my translator nudged me, indicating it was time to move on to the next home.

Sensing my disappointment, the words of Jesus dripped from the lips of my translator and church worker … shake the dust off your feet.

Sometimes that’s what we’re called to … simple contentment in faithfully sharing the life-giving message of Christ and the willingness to move forward without reaping the joyful harvest.

I can’t fix this man, or any man for that matter. Fortunately, there’s One who is patient and more than able to fix the stoniest of people.

[Missions] Friends, meet Camila

The task was clear: visit four homes in two hours.

It was our final ministry day on the island of old cars and there was a lot of work left to do.

Miraculously, it didn’t take long for my team of three to complete our assignment for the day. With 45 minutes left until we needed to be back at the church, we asked the Spirit to guide our steps to someone who needed to hear the message we came to proclaim.

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Friends, meet Camila.*

She stood on the porch of her humble home with curiosity looming in her eyes. After all, it’s not every day a stark white, abnormally tall American woman strolls the gravel streets of her town.

We approached her and asked if she knew Jesus. Immediately she made the connection to the faith of her son. He was a believer and Camila shared that he desperately wanted his family to know Christ … but she didn’t have the faith to believe.

We asked if we could talk to her about Jesus. She said yes and invited us into her home. That’s one of the many things I love about the people on this island … they can disagree with you and still make you feel like family.

Once in her living room, we shared the story that changed our lives forever.

We told her God made her special. In fact, He crafted her uniquely in His image.

We told her all people had missed the mark and fallen short of God’s glory.

We told her God loves us – and her – too much to let our stories end in tragedy.

We told her He made a way for us to know Him through Jesus.

We told her Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life … no one gets to God except through Him.

We told her she could know God intimately right now.

And – in the Lord’s kindness – she believed the words pouring from our mouths. 

That day a woman who’d been lost in a desert of disturbance, found a well of peace.

That day a mom’s faith aligned with that of her son.

That day a child was adopted into the Holy Family.

I love you deeply, Camila, and eagerly anticipate the day we’ll be united once again in the presence of the Holy One.

*a pseudonym

[Travel] The Latin Word for “Flex”

Missionary is a Latin word for “flex.”

My gullible self immediately thought our trip leaders were serious when they opened our training day with this line … for my easily persuaded friends out there, missionary doesn’t actually translate to “flex” in Latin.

Although they were facetious, their words served as a forewarning of the travel woes to come when our 6:00 p.m. flight to the other side of the island was cancelled without reason, rescheduled for 4:00 a.m. the next morning, and we didn’t have a hotel room to stay in because we’d checked out that morning.

Did I mention everyone was emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually drained from spending five days in a knock-out, drag-out fight for the gospel?

So what do you do in a foreign land when your flight is delayed for no apparent reason?

ADVENTURE!

At our first stop, we explored the nooks and crannies of a 400-year-old 10922807_10100113124564690_5949600144154495871_nfortress and watched the sun kiss the Caribbean waters goodnight.

Then we climbed to the third floor of a home/restaurant for a coast-side dinner and laughter hour where delirium kicked in and a few teammates lost their mental marbles.

Around 9:30 p.m. we headed back to the airport to waste time and rest in the lobby before our 2:00 a.m. flight check-in … only to find out the airline conveniently forgot to mention they provide complimentary hotel rooms for situations like ours.

10974655_10152634977031517_4535731372048368680_oWe laid our heads down for about 2.5 hours before our alarms went off at the ungodly hour of 1:00 a.m. and we headed back to the airport in hopes of making it to our day’s destination (enjoy this glamor shot to the left).

Our flight remarkably left on time and we landed in the country’s capitol at 6:30 a.m. After another 4-hour catnap at the hotel, we headed out for a day of touring one of the most vibrant and historic cities I’ve wandered in my short 23 years of life.

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In retrospect, I’m glad airlines in developing countries don’t get uptight about canceling a flight. I trust there was a divine reason our initial flight didn’t make and the Lord gave me another opportunity to work on my patience. The way I see it, it was a win-win.

It turns out this being flexible thing isn’t so bad after all.

[Missions] Claimed

Island

There is no neutral ground in the universe; every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God & counter-claimed by Satan. | C.S. Lewis

God is taking back His island.

I witnessed it firsthand in the trenches of the island of old cars.

In the matter of four days of ministry, a team of ordinary men and women had front row seats to the extraordinary. Over and over the gospel was preached and lives were changed … 650 people heard of God’s great love for them and 542 responded to the tender tug on their hearts.

It was a fishing trip like none I’ve experienced before. I can’t wait to tell you more.