Don’t be hating on "buzz words" without thinking critically

In the blogosphere there will always be new methods and new words to describe ways in which the church can do things better. Some are quite helpful and biblical and some may not be as biblical or helpful. However within the blogosphere, many folks attack such terms or “buzz words” without truly considering the reason for why such “buzz words” sprang into existence.
While I don’t think people should necessarily hop on such buzz words or new ways of doing church or missions without critically thinking through the issues like they did for that KONY video, we really need to not blast things simply because they have become popular.
A “celebrity pastor” tweeted against criticizing “celebrity pastors” who are being faithful to the work Jesus has for them. The problem is not the celebrity pastor but those who have elevated them improperly. I think the same thing goes for such “buzz words.”
Here are some thoughts that might help us think critically but without become just another “hater”
1.) Terms, buzz words, and new ministry opportunities often develop because of a need. “Community” or “doing life together” are considered “buzz words.” But consider their importance. We will always tend toward individualism, and need to always be reminded to seek community and to share our lives with one another. The “one another” passages fill the pages of scripture and its commands. Whether you call it “doing life together” or “community” or some other word, you need to do life together. Buzz words can serve as helpful reminders of our need.
2.) Think critically about the goal of the term more so than the word. Some folks like to throw out the word “missional.” But consider what many people really mean by this term. Thinking outwardly on behalf of non-Christians to the point where you sacrifice your personal preference to help reach lost people. I don’t see how that’s too bad. Sacrificing biblical principles is one thing, but preferences is an entirely different thing. Most people hold on to preferences or traditions a bit too tightly.
3.) Think critically about the implications as well. If the only driving force behind your church is to be “missional” then you can lose other components. Some “missional” churches may cancel their worship service to serve their communities. Missional is a biblical component, but so is “worshipful” too. You can’t sacrifice one at the altar of the other, and this can happen if we never think out the implications.
4.) Balance the buzz words with other components of Christian life and ministry. Doing life together doesn’t mean that you neglect personally cultivating a healthy devotional life. Missional means I love, live among, and invite folks to worship. In worship I seek to explain terms, regardless if some folks feel “I already know that.” But the goal of mission is worship. So missional folks should move non-believers to worship, not entertainment.  As long as one buzz word does not dominate and trump everything else, the buzz word can be quite helpful.
5.) Buzz words can actually help keep lives and ministry in balance.  I find most people naturally turn inward as opposed to real, not shallow, community. And when most people enjoy community, there is still a tendency to guard that community, keeping closed and inward focused. A challenge to live “missionally” as a group reorients your thoughts to those outside your small group, and in turn keeps you from becoming clique-ish, myopic, or selfish. A kingdom focus (another buzzword) can help you remember that what you do in your work and community does indeed matter. But we also need reminders that serving our community cannot replace the proclamation of the gospel. That’s becoming almost a buzz word now. And I’m glad. We need that too. In the end, we need to learn from folks who are “gospel driven,” “missional,” “covenantal” “kingdom oriented.” Churches sometimes, and individuals most of the time, need to have regularly their pendulums swung this way.

Reflections on David Platt’s sermon to the youth

As I mentioned earlier, this past week was Redeemer’s Missions Week. We do these things yearly to really emphasize world missions. Without something yearly to remind us to really hone in our thinking, praying, giving, going, we can easily forget about people that we’ll never see (but hope to one day in heaven).
So for our last act of the Missions Week, one of my incredibly helpful youth teachers requested we show the recent David Platt Sermon delivered at Together for the Gospel (T4G) for youth group. More often than not, I try to give folks the freedom to bring options, run them by me, and then let them run with those ideas. So we watched what has been deemed as the best sermon ever preached on missions over a delectable spaghetti dinner.
Here are my reflections
1.) I was wrong. I thought it would be best to break up the video into 2 sessions. An hour long sermon can be difficult for a middle schooler. Last year they listened to a half hour audio of a Piper lecture and it did not go well! The Sr High’s did go well on the other hand. Plus, if we broke it up, I figured we’d have more time for discussion. However, I yielded to the desires of the one who wanted to show the video and am glad I did. Leadership sometimes involves yielding. It also involves admitting you were wrong! I even told the kids I didn’t think they had it in them, but that someone else did!
2.) Teaching up. I always tend to “teach up.” Our Jr High use Sr High material for Sunday School and it has gone well. Our Sr High use an adult study from Tim Keller and have been doing this type of stuff for a while. When we had to break up our Sunday School classes from the normal break-up (PreK-K, 1st-2nd, 3rd-4th, etc…), we sent the 2nd graders up and the Pre-K have been working with the 1st-2nd grade material. I prefer to teach up. I knew that the Sr High’s would be OK with the video, but my concern was the middle school kids, particularly the younger middle school kids. But in the end, “teaching up,” was the right way to go.
3.) In “teaching up” one must still remember the younger ones instead of assuming everyone “gets it.” This sermon is probably the best sermon on missions I’ve seen, but we need to remember that it was delivered to pastors at a pastor’s conference (of course many others go who aren’t pastors, but those who go have more knowledge than most others in the church). As a result, David Platt does not define all of his terms (and he shouldn’t have to). It is impossible to think like a middle schooler if you are not one. But instead of assuming that all kids knew such terms, I made sure to get up and ask the kids if they did. I’m glad I did, because several didn’t know what the word “Sovereignty” meant; and that was a word used in his main point! So I let the Sr High’s define “sovereignty” for the others, as well as “people groups.” Those were two huge points in the sermon, and several folks didn’t know what they meant. When you “teach up,” you still have to take pains and ask questions to make sure kids are getting it. But in the end, you end up letting the older kids assist in teaching the younger kids. So cool to see.
4.) Power of stories. While David Platt didn’t illustrate heavily, he did use several stories and anecdotes that I could tell ALL of the kids got. It is beautiful to see a middle school lad get excited about a story where a pastor realizes that dying is gain; because that pastor realized it, so did his persecutors. They would have been worse off killing him, so they let that joker live! That’s priceless. All the kids got a kick out of that. I think these stories will stick, even if some of the main points or terms may not.
After the brief discussion and clarification time, we sent them on their way. It was a great night and encouraging to expose these kids to the radical call of the gospel to lose our lives for Jesus glory. Whether they go overseas or minister here at home, we have to teach our kids to say no to the suburban American comfortable lifestyle and to find the joy in following Jesus wherever we are.
If you haven’t seen the video, check it out here or the audio here.

What an NBA elbow can teach us about foreign and local missions

Yesterday, in a fairly meaningless NBA game (most of them have lost meaning to me at least….) the artist-yes he did record a rap album-Ron Artest apparently threw a vicious (he claims it was an accident) elbow to the head of James Harden. It left Harden lying on the floor with a possible concussion. 
The ironic part of this whole thing is that Ron Artest recently changed his name to Metta World Peace. Of course the non-ironic part of this is that Artest was once suspended more than 80 games for charging into the crowd and fighting Detroit Pistons fans a number of years ago. 
But let’s just consider it ironic, that a man who desires world peace enough to change his name to it, would then assault an opponent-not a bitter enemy-on the floor. I’m not judging Artest/World Peace for it either, as I wouldn’t trust myself on the floor. Still, isn’t it a little ironic that someone would advocate world peace enough to change his name to it, and then assault his neighbor? I’m for world peace, but I’m not for peace on the basketball floor. I’m for world peace, but not for local peace.
I don’t know anyone who has had such a passion for world peace that he/she has changed his/her name. I also don’t know anyone who has had such a passion for world missions that he/she has changed his/her name. And of course they shouldn’t.
But I have known people who have a passion for world missions, but don’t have much of a care for those folks in their paths now. I’ve seen churches who are good “senders,” but they are cool with their neighbors going to Hell. And that to me is just as ironic as Metta World Peace elbowing an opponent on the floor.
God grants us different gifts, passions, and emphases. For instance, some have a bent toward youth ministry, foreign missions, church planting, local mercy ministry. And that is beautiful. But it is ironic for a church planter to ignore foreign missions. John Piper once said something to the effect of “being missional without a concern for foreign missions is not missional enough.” Well said. Local missions can never have as its end local missions. It should play a part in the nations bringing the glory due God’s name.
But those same churches and members who have a passion for foreign missions have a mission field that is also local until they leave. Now of course individuals won’t have the same passion locally as they do for a destination and a people overseas. They shouldn’t. But a pastor once shared some fantastic advice at a time in my life when I felt precarious about my future: “Just ask who does God want me to minister to today?” I’ve never forgotten that.
Thinking about who we may minister to today will keep us from solely focusing on who we will minister to tomorrow. Whether your bent is youth ministry, mercy ministry, foreign missions, children’s ministry, or no ministry, don’t ignore who God puts in your path today. After all, you technically never “arrive” at “tomorrow.” That’s probably why Paul reminds us, “Now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor 6:2). Ignoring those who God puts in our paths today may not put us on ESPN or get us suspended from the NBA, but it still falls short of the joy we can have when we align our purposes, passions, schedules, and even opportunities, with God’s Kingdom purposes in His world.

I’m thankful for dear friends who have a passion for foreign missions, but have continued to minister to their fellow employees until God sends them out. Both WV and ________ when they get there, will be better off because of them. And I am too.

The joy of putting God’s glory in missions before your problems

I just read this morning about Paul’s thorn in the flesh from II Corinthians 12. Would love to know what that “thorn” was, but nevertheless realize that information is actually quite immaterial. That’s why he boasts in “weaknesses, insults, persecutions, difficulties.” A number of things could fall into those categories.

One of my thorns is my house in FL. Can’t sell it. Can’t refinance it because I’m too far under-water on it. And every so often, I get news that something is broken that is NOT under the home warranty. I’ve pleaded with God to take it away from me, but its just not happening now.

At the beginning of missions week, I got notification that the garage door which I had already spent a few hundred dollars to get fixed in January is broken again. Not under warranty, again.

On the way to the missions prayer meeting, it was WHAT I was thinking about. As I walked into the church it was WHAT I was thinking about. But I asked God to change my heart, because I wasn’t able to change it, and as usual, He did. To Him be the glory!

Here are some things I learned from last night’s missions prayer meeting. Ultimately, what I learned was how God’s Kingdom advancement can be so incredibly helpful, practical, and personally devotional.

1.) A Concern for missions (God being glorified by people who do not yet know Him in places where they haven’t heard or responded) keeps you from focusing on your own problems. God receiving the glory due His name where He’s not-as opposed to limiting the focus to the needs of others-is the fuel for missions. But a very helpful side affect is that we end up losing ourselves-and our problems-in that passion. The most self-satisfying thing you can do is to take your focus off yourself and onto God. The idea of “I need to first take care of myself,” then I can take care of others might be from Oprah but not Jesus. I still have to find someone to fix my garage door in FL. Again. Yet God’s developing a greater passion for missions in us increases our joy in His Kingdom coming down even when my garage door won’t go up. There is joy to be claimed and experienced if we look not inside, but outside of ourselves, at God’s active work in the world-of which he allows us to play a part-today.

2.) Need for community. I can’t develop a passion for missions or a passion for God by myself. I really do need others. When I prayed that God would change my heart, He decided to use His people to play an integral part. A woman at the group was a Voice of the Martyrs representative in our area. She let us know that the Northern part of Nigeria is now one of the persecution “hotspots.” She let us know that it appears nearly 5,000 Christians lost their lives over Easter. Wow. I needed to know that. And I needed someone else to tell me that WHEN she told me that. Never forsake your own need for community; and let that need drive you to community even if you don’t feel like it or have other things to do.

If you’re connected to Redeemer, come on out to the rest of the Missions Week as we have a dinner Wed and Friday night at 6 pm. Bring dessert or salad on Wed and dessert or chips on Friday.

No Christian Friends!

Every Christian who has kids wants his/her kids to have Christian friends. That’s pretty much a gimme. But I think if we take seriously the fact that our families ARE NOT ends in and of themselves (Gen 12:1-3), we will also pray that they have non-Christian friends who will come to know Jesus through our children and their activities. 
Now how that is applied for each family will differ. Some may need to put strict limits and boundaries and decide how much his/her child is ready to seriously be a friend to others outside Christ. Some may just not be ready yet. But at the very least, we can regularly be praying for our kids’ unchurched friends. I do this each night with my 3 year old, praying for several of his pre-school friends to come to church with us.
And still, there is always some parental anxiety that bad behaviors will rub off. Of course, if we are honest, we would recognize that bad behaviors are more than just learned from others; they are produced from within our and our children’s sinful hearts. It’s not Spongebob’s fault. At the same time, Connar my three year old is probably too young to actually filter Spongebob through a Christian grid, so that, including disrespect, is a potential risk when he plays with his unbelieving neighbors.
One family unknowingly helped me and several other folks think through this issue.
We had a missionary family come visit the church a few weeks ago. They are going back to Germany in a year to begin tilling the soil for another church plant in Berlin. We asked them, “Who do your kids play with?” Their kids have NO Christian friends. In fact some families don’t let their kids play with these missionary kids because they are Christians. How reversed is that?
Ultimately you just have to trust that Jesus is bigger than your kids lack of Christian friends. They can still grow up to know Jesus, rest on Him, and tell others about Him. If He that is in us, is greater than he who is in the world, then we need not fear.
Is that not challenging to us in America? Will my kid have good influences? Enough Christian friends? How often should I let Jimmy the Pagan come over to play? These are questions church-going suburbanites ask.  But I think we need to be reminded of the Christian community overseas, particularly those of missionaries. Perhaps we need a bit more faith in God and less faith in “seemingly” controllable areas.

When these fears or “controls” come up, consider your brothers and sisters in the faith whose kids have NO Christian friends. God is good. He is faithful to us and to our children. He can make up for our lack of faithfulness as parents as well as our kids’ lack of Christian friends.

The external call: This is not outsourcing the Holy Spirit to the Church or India

This past Sunday I preached on the sending of Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13. I had previously preached this passage as it relates to church planting, because I think it truly does. But what the Spirit brought to my mind this time as it relates to foreign missions was something quite different than I had originally noticed. The call to foreign missions, just as the call to local missions-and I think the call to most anything major in life like work and who to marry-involves both an inward and and outward “sense of call.” For instance, if God wants you to be a missionary, attorney, he is going to confirm that in your heart, but others will also see that you are called or not called. 
What I think many people seem to miss is that Paul and Barnabas didn’t get ONE “quiver-in-the-liver moment” as Steve Childrers likes to say. In fact in this passage, the call was actually given BY the Holy Spirit, TO the church. Now this is something I think we Americans have a hard time with. The external call.
Now that doesn’t mean there wasn’t also an internal call; there will always be. And I think Barnie and Paul already sensed the call to go, as did the local church. Both parties could see such gifts being developed while they taught in a local cross-cultural setting (Jews and Gentiles) at Antioch (Acts 11:25-26) and saw tons of fruit. In addition, I’m sure the Spirit was already at work internally confirming their call while on a short term mission trip bringing relief funds to Jerusalem (Acts 11:29-30).
But because the tendency in the American evangelical church is to assume God is saying this or that to you (and it cannot be questioned), I found this passage’s emphasis vital to today’s church desiring to send out missionaries. The Spirit allows the local church to come alongside and confirm that call. That way the missionary doesn’t have to wonder if his sense of call was from the Spirit, or just something he/she ate that day.

It is necessary to pay attention to the Spirit’s confirmation in missions (as well as many other life-changing decisions) THROUGH others in the church. It sounds less spiritual, but that probably comes from viewing the Spirit’s work from a lens heavily tainted with individualism and existentialism. While some may interpret the external call as “outsourcing” the Spirit’s work to the church, discerning the external call actually relies more deeply on the Spirit. For each call and major decision, we desire to seek the Spirit’s work in more than just one person.

Thoughts on When missionaries get sick: Part II

Well, I start this post out to say I’m a legitimately driving West Virginian now with my new license plate. 
Anyhow, this is a continuation in how to think when missionaries get sick. The main goal I have is to invite you into my thinking process (which is not necessarily always a good thing, but perhaps it could be helpful), and get a more solid working scriptural framework. So I posited this question: is there any scriptural precedent for missionaries getting sick?
Even as the gospel was first exploding on the scene, missionaries got sick. Epaphroditus, who Paul describes as “my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, your messenger…” was very sick for a time (Phil 2:25). And from this description, you could certainly call him a missionary, yet he definitely couldn’t leave as a missionary during this time. How much “ministry” did this joker miss simply because he was too sick to do it? I mean, “What’s the deal, God?”
He eventually recovered and went to Philippi to strengthen the believers in that area. But it also helps me to know that there is biblical precedent for missionaries getting sick, even from the beginning. It doesn’t mean that God isn’t there or doesn’t care about missions or missionaries.
But that also raises another point: Christ will build His church and He will do it the way He wants to do it. It will not be built around one person. While Paul did write much of the N.T., let us not forget that he spent much of his time imprisoned. If I’m ‘writing the script,’ I would keep Paul, who would probably be in the “missionary Hall of Fame” if they had one (and if they did, where would it be?) out of prison. I would also extend his life, and not leave him under some sort of house arrest his final years. If he wanted to go to Spain, I’d let that joker go. 
But again, I don’t get a vote. And I don’t need one. The gospel went forth just fine without my vote. It went forth just fine with a Hall-of-Fame type missionary spending a lot of potentially fruitful time in prison. Jesus said He’d get this thing done, and so I just need to trust Him. He can use healthy and sick missionaries, and people like you and I to get the job done. Fortunately. He doesn’t need All-stars like the Yankees, but can use consistent players like the Tampa Bay Rays. Maybe that’s the point.

Thoughts on when missionaries get sick

Had a fantastic 33rd birthday yesterday, watching the Rays take down the Yankees, cooking up some burgers, and hanging out with some good friends.

Anyhow, I was a little bummed in church yesterday at hearing of two of Redeemer’s short term missionaries getting so sick in South Africa. When a church supports missionaries, we support them to do the work of ministry. But if they’re sick, they really can’t do too much; not only that but they in turn need to be ministered to. And how hard it must be for them who raised money to do ministry THERE, but can’t.

How should we think about this?  Is this proof God isn’t there or doesn’t care? Is there any biblical precedent for what to do in this situation?

The first thought I have to continually beat out of my head is that this type of thing is NOT a good apologetic AGAINST God being there, caring, or whether missions is even worth it. I mean, if you’re just going to go and possibly get sick, what’s the point? That’s what pops into my heart. So I need something in my head to drive that stuff out.

Sickness, death, and suffering DOES NOT mean God doesn’t care. It would seem to be so, but the bible time and time again reminds us that this isn’t true. In fact it just means that God doesn’t lie. This is the stuff he said would happen to us in this world.

We just heard a great sermon on Revelation 6, which summarized to us what we would see BEFORE Jesus returns: Conquest, Wars, Scarcity, Famine, Pestilence, Death. Missionaries, and Christians for that matter, are not immune to this. I wish we were. I wish at least missionaries would be immune to this stuff because they are giving up the comfort of a known culture to go to an unknown culture and land. But God never consulted with me on this, and as my old seminary professor Steve Brown always said, “We don’t get a vote.”

So the next question then becomes, is this sickness the work of Satan persecuting Jesus’ church and it moving forward? Or is it directly, as opposed to indirectly, (although I recognize this is really impossible to figure out!) from the hand of God for some unforeseen better outcome? I think Satan can make people get sick; he made Job get a bunch of sores on his skin. Nevertheless he was only allowed to go so far, and couldn’t take his life. So I guess sickness could be a form of Satanic persecution.

In II Corinthians 12, Paul tells us of a messenger of Satan sent to him by God to keep him from being too proud of his crazy visions. So I guess sickness can also come directly from God to make us more dependent upon Him.

So whether God has a direct hand or indirect hand in missionaries getting sick (and its really a waste of time to figure out which is which), He’s still sovereign over all. All we can know is that He’s got a plan and it is coming together.

I just have to remember this when missionaries get sick. But at least someone on this team is doing better because she took this picture of some children running!

I’ll deal with another question tomorrow: is there any biblical precedent for missionary sickness happening in the bible?