How is your vision?

I have never had issues with my eyesight.  Well, until recently.  As I am now fully into my mid-40s, I am noticing that my vision is becoming a bit blurry.  Distances are not quite as clear as they once were.  I have yet to do anything about this new middle-age challenge.  Perhaps I should go to the eye doctor.  If I do, the doctor might prescribe me glasses, which would affirm my lack of clear vision.

Seeing clearly is important.  As Jesus traveled through cities and villages he saw people, and he felt compassion for them because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd (Matthew 9:36).  How sad it would be for us to see and yet not see the needs of people all around us. Because Jesus saw the people (Matt 9:36a), he felt compassion for them.

In other words, Jesus seeing people first led him to have compassion.  Compassion has been defined as sympathetic pity for the distress of others with the desire to alleviate it (Merriam-Webster).  Believers cannot look on the hopelessness of others and not be moved—moved not only with compassion, but with the desire to bring hope.

The Missions Mobilization Team of the Kentucky Baptist Convention exists to mobilize KBC churches for gospel impact.  We might say, to mobilize KBC churches to bring hope.  One of the ways we desire to help KBC churches see clearly is providing vision trips to various North American and international partnerships.  These vision trips are designed to expose KBC churches to the hopeless peoples and places throughout the world.

By seeing it, touching it, tasting it, hearing it and overall experiencing it, our prayer is that KBC churches will see the people, feel compassion for them, and do something gospel-centered to bring hope.  Making the most of a church’s time on a vision trip is crucial.

Be prayerful—With Paul, pray always.  Be in prayer as you travel from point A to point B. Pray as you walk and talk.  Pray as you hear from planters or missionaries. Pray as you return to your room.  The point…pray!  Ask the Lord to lead you in how He would have you partner in this place.

Be flexible—the time is short and filled with much to see and hear and experience.  Be prepared to spend long days with potentially shifting schedules.

Be attentive—take careful notes both on paper and in your head of planters/missionaries, stories, and situations that stand out to you.  What might speak to you now might be forgotten if you do not write it down and make note of why it impacted you.  Be observant of the area you are in (what is the community like, the people, the needs, etc.).  Take whatever notes necessary, so that you can make a prayerfully discerning decision about partnerships later with your leadership team.

Be interactive—this vision is meant to be an experience, not simply an informational dump load.  When able, talk with the planters/missionaries about the city, the needs, ways to be involved.  The point is to be engaged in the vision trip.

Be willing—to partner as the Lord leads you.  As David Platt suggests, bring a blank check (of your life) to the table and ask the Lord to fill in the amount.

So, do you have a clear vision for missions?  Learn more about KBC vision trips and partnerships at www.kybaptist.org/vision.

“Hey, Come Over Here!”

As the Apostle Paul began his second missionary journey strengthening previously planted churches, he planned to travel northeast, toward modern day northern Turkey.  However, the Holy Spirit forbid him to speak the word in Asia (Acts 16:6).  In fact, the “Spirit of Jesus did not permit them” to go there (Acts 16:7).  Instead, they traveled west toward Europe under the Lord’s leading.  Why? Because Paul had a vision during the night of a man in Macedonia (present day Greece), saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us” (Acts 16:9).

So, immediately they concluded that the Lord was calling them to preach the gospel to them, and they went.  The first city they came to was Philippi.  Paul and his traveling companions went to the riverside outside of the city to find people who would be gathered there for prayer.  Women were there, and as Paul shared about Jesus, God opened the heart of an influential business woman named Lydia and she believed (Acts 16:14).  Paul and his team then shared with her whole family and they all believed and were baptized (Acts 16:15).

What an incredible start for this mission team as they were sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit.  The gospel is shared for the first time on European soil and a house church is birthed.  Lest one think that things always go this well, the following events take a different turn for Paul and Silas.  As they continued to stay in Philippi for many more days a slave girl with a spirit of divination began following them.  She continually said, “These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17).

Paul finally has enough and casts the spirit out of this girl.  Her master sees that his form of profit is now gone and drags Paul and Silas before the authorities, accusing them of throwing the city into confusion by proclaiming unlawful customs (Acts 16:19-21).  The authorities beat them with rods and throw them into jail.  Things definitely have turned downward…or have they?

While in jail Paul and Silas sit shackled singing praises to God.  Around midnight an earthquake rocks the jail and all the prison doors and shackles are unfastened (Acts 16:25-26).  Fearing that the prisoners had escaped, the jailor intends to kill himself, but Paul cries out to him, saying, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here” (Acts 16:28).  The jailor then asks the question of all questions—“Sirs, what must I do to be saved” (Acts 16:29)?  “Believe in the Lord Jesus,” Paul and Silas reply, “and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:30).

Here are a several take-aways from this visit to Philippi.  First, gospel advancement relies upon the leading of the Holy Spirit.  Where do we go?  Just be faithful to go and trust God to lead you in where to go.  Second, gospel advancement involves engaging people where they are.  Go where people are gathered and engage them with the gospel.  Third, share the gospel and trust God to open hearts.  Ours is not the responsibility for results, but for faithfulness to share.  Fourth, gospel advancement often involves opposition.  Here is the bottom line, the devil does not like for us to advance the gospel.  Therefore, don’t be surprised when opposition arises; in fact, expect it.  Last, gospel advancement, amidst opposition, often leads to opportunities for God to do the unimaginable.  God can use demon possessed girls, earthquakes, and jail cells to change sinners’ lives.  If we will simply listen, we might hear the faint cry of someone “over there” saying, “Hey, come over here.  We need your help!”

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Faithful gospel ministry is hard.  It is often filled with deep valleys.  Just a simple scan of Jesus’s earthly ministry reveals the challenges of gospel work.  In fact, Jesus tells his band of novice followers, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. . . . You will be hated by all because of my name” (Matt 10:16, 22).  So, as Jesus tells it, gospel ministry will be filled with people who want to attach us as a wolf attacks sheep because of their hatred of us for preaching Jesus.  How is a gospel servant able to endure such hardship?

A quick glance of Paul’s journeys in Acts demonstrates the same challenges of faithful gospel ministry that Jesus spoke of with His early followers.  On his first journey taking the gospel to new places, Paul finds himself in the city of Lystra.  Jews from neighboring cities follow him there in order to stir the crowds up against him for preaching Jesus.  Winning the crowds over, the people stone Paul and drag him out of the city, supposing him to be dead (Acts 14:19).

When Paul’s companions surround him, he gets up and goes to the next city and preaches Jesus there as well (Acts 14:20-21).  After many disciples are made, Paul returns to Lystra and previous cities “strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to continue in the faith” (Acts 14:21-22).  Imagine Paul blooded and bruised from the previous day.  He was one beaten mess, and here he is encouraging these new-found believers to continue in the grace of God.  How can gospel ministers continue in such overwhelming situations?

Encouragement.  Paul understood the absolute necessity of gospel encouragement in the face of crushing obstacles.  Encouragement is that component of the Great Commission that is often overlooked but is no less invaluable. Yes, we must pray, evangelize, plant churches, and disciple for Great Commission faithfulness, but if we want to see longevity in ministry we must be intentional about encouragement.

Here is Paul, the recipient of being beaten nearly to death with stones, as the giver of encouragement.  Let’s think of missionaries serving the gospel overseas, much like Paul in his day.  One vital piece to their longevity in gospel service is the proportion to which they receive encouragement from believers back home.

Missionaries often find themselves in a tunnel of darkness because of the demands and challenges of serving the gospel cross-culturally.  Your church, your ministry group, or your Sunday School class can be the light at the end of the tunnel for those laboring tirelessly day after day for the gospel. A text, an email, a skype call, a special package, a team visit, are all ways that you might be a light at the end of their dark tunnel, and thus provide longevity for gospel impact in places that desperately need the gospel.

 

 

Disciple-Making in 2018

As 2018 is here, let me encourage us to think about how we might use our lives for impacting others with the gospel.  As I look at churches in general, I am encouraged that many have seen the paramount necessity to take a bold stand upon biblical truth.  We stand upon the Word of God (the B-I-B-L-E, I know you remember that song!) as our sole source of authority for belief and practice.  For this bold stand and action, those churches are to be commended. Yet, there remains an urgent need.

One area of our Lord’s Church still seems to be deficient—disciple-making. The command of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:16-20 is a call to action. It is a command to “make disciples of all nations.” The issue at hand, then, is what is a disciple? Disciple means a learner or follower. Jesus says in Luke 9:23, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” According to this passage, a disciple is a self-denying, daily cross-carrying, follower of Jesus Christ. We could say, therefore, that a disciple is a life-long, radical, reproducing follower of Jesus.

The question now arises as to how Jesus made disciples and whether He passed on a particular pattern for disciple-making? Jesus taught the masses, but He invested in just a few. Jesus ultimately passed on the enormous responsibility of global impact to eleven men. How were eleven men to reach the world with the good news of Jesus Christ? The answer is one person at a time. Jesus discipled twelve men (one was not a true disciple) and within the twelve he had three and even within the three he had one.

We can see three aspects of Jesus’ disciple-making process: mentor, model and multiply. Jesus would mentor or teach the disciples about Himself and God’s Word. Jesus would also model what He taught. In other words, He showed the disciples how to live what He taught. This is much like Ezra 7:10, “For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.” After teaching and showing, Jesus would multiply Himself by sending His disciples to put into practice the things that they had heard and seen from Him. For example, in Matthew 5- 7, Jesus spent much time teaching the disciples. In chapters 8-9, He showed them how to minister.  In chapter 10, He sends them out to do what they have heard and seen. Throughout the gospels we see Jesus mentor, model and multiply.

As we think about making disciples in 2018, who might the Lord place in your path that you can point to Jesus and help them grow in Him?  The pattern for Jesus’s disciple-making is reproducible.  In fact, it’s simple.  It’s relationships.  Mentor, model, and multiply.  In doing so, we reach Louisville and the world one person at a time.

 

 

A Year Later

What a ride the last year has been for my family.  After nearly 4 ½ years of waiting for our daughter from Ethiopia, my wife and I brought her home this time last year to be with her forever family.  By God’s grace the transition has gone very well.  In fact, her personality has blossomed over the last year, as she has become a very outgoing three-year-old.  Let’s just say, she knows how to work the camera!

As I look back over the year, God has taught me much about Himself through our adoption journey.  I am amazed by God’s love for us.  The first night that my daughter was with my wife and me in Ethiopia, my wife sang “Jesus Loves Me” to her as a way to sooth her to sleep.  Every night since then, my wife or I have sung this same song to her at bedtime.  She now won’t let us lay her down for bed without singing it!  We want her to know that God’s love for her is so deep and wide and high (Eph 3:17-18) that there is no place she can go where His love is not there.  We want her to know that God loves her so much that He sent Jesus to die in her place, if she will simply believe (John 3:16).  We want her to know that the love of God is not something she earns or even deserves; it is a gift from Him (Eph 2:8-9).

Closely related to God’s love for us is His (relentless) pursuit of us.  Because Jesus loves us, this I know, He takes great pains to pursue us and bring us to Himself.  As I reflect on the long journey of bringing our daughter home to her forever family, I remember days when it seemed like there was no end in sight.  No communication.  No updates. No pictures. No progress in the process.  Just when my wife and I would feel completely defeated, God would often send us a ray of sunshine in the form of a conversation, update, picture, or word of encouragement.  All we knew was that God had called us to be her parents and we would do whatever it took to bring her home.  Oh, how much more does God do this for us!  At any and all costs Jesus relentless pursues us in order to bring us into His forever family (1 John 4:10).

While I have learned more about God’s love and His pursuit of us during this journey, I have also been encouraged that He is at work for our good and His glory.  During those dark days of doubt and frustration, I can look back and see that God was working “all things for good” (Romans 8:28).  We reminded ourselves often of God’s intentional care for our lives and that He was working behind the scenes, especially when we could not see it.  All of this waiting and hoping is meant to produce trust in God, to cause us to run to God.  Much like the father asking Jesus to heal his son, we reply to Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).

God has been so good to our family, but what’s even more amazing is God is good even if the past year did not go as it has.  Yet, in His kindness He has been gracious to allow this past year to be one filled with joy (yes, challenges too).  I don’t know what the next year holds, but I am grateful I know who holds the next year!

Global Song

He was captive to the thought that the greatness and salvation of God should be extended to the nations.  He was determined that the nations be called to worship the one true God through the gift of His Son, Jesus.  He wrote of praying prayers such as this: “I covenanted with my Father that He would do either of two things- either glorify Himself to the utmost in me, or slay me.  By His grace I shall not have His second best” (Daniel Akin, Five Who Changed the World, 88).

He knew that his desire for God to be glorified in his life would best be lived out by telling the nations of God’s greatness.  Writing a letter to his family, he said, “Remember you are immortal until your work is done.  But don’t let the sands of time get into the eyes of your vision to reach those who still sit in darkness.  They simply must hear” (Five Who Changed, 93).  Not allowing the sands of time to blur his vision, he went to South America and to the country of Ecuador.  He had heard of the Huaorani Indians, also know as the Auca Indians.  They had never heard of Jesus, but he was willing to live his life so that they would hear.  He was willing to give his life so that they would hear.

That was in the mid-1950s.  Many scores of others have never heard of Jesus.  Yet, God has a heart for the nations, as is evidenced in Psalm 96.  The Psalmist insists, “Sing to the Lord a new Song; Sing to the Lord, all the earth. . . . Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples” (Ps 96:1, 3).

The word “peoples” or “nations” is used throughout this psalm.  There is an estimate of 11,629 people groups in the world (www.joshuaproject.net).  People groups (PGs) can be defined in a basic way as those of the same language and common identity.  By identity is meant common history, customs, family and clan identities (www.peoplegroups.org). Of these PGs, over 7,000 have less than 2% of Christian presence among them, which represents over 4.3 billion people.

Let me put it in this light: nearly 60% (4.3 billion people of the world’s 7.5 billion population) of the world’s population has very little to no Christian witness.  Essentially, six out of every ten people in the world have little to no access to the gospel.  We know that Scripture teaches us that the Lord will save people from every tongue, tribe, people and nation (Rev 5:9).  In other words, the Lord will save individuals from every people group.  How will this be brought about?  The answer: When our passion for God burns hot and bright, then our desire to make Him known among the nations/peoples of the world will extend globally.

It will take multiple hearts like that of Jim Elliot in the 1950s to see Psalm 96 lived out today.  The nations are called to worship the one true God, and we are the ones to call them to do so.  So, let’s call the nations to sing.

 

 

Looking for Mission Partnerships?

As a church leader you desire to lead your church to obey the Great Commission, but maybe you are not sure where to go?  If you are looking for mission partnerships, look no further.  The Mission Mobilization Team of the Kentucky Baptist Convention is here to help your church reach Kentucky and the world for Christ.  To achieve this goal, we have developed partnerships in Kentucky, North America, and the world for gospel impact.

It is one thing for us simply to tell you about an area in need of gospel partnerships. But it is altogether different for us to help you experience that area and envision how your church might partner there for the gospel.

Thus, we offer vision trips in order that KBC churches and associations might meet missionaries/church planters, experience the culture, hear the vision of a particular area in need of the gospel, and prayerfully consider how they might come alongside of the work being done in unreached places.

Currently, we have three North American and two international partnerships that are great opportunities for KBC churches and associations to engage lost areas with the gospel, with the hopes of adding more in the future.

  • Impact Boston and you impact the world.  As a cultural and academic hub in our country, Boston is one of the most influential places in North America.  Yet, there is only one SBC church for every 39,257 people.
  • Nestled along the Ohio River, Cincinnati, as some experts believe it, is poised to see a population boom in the coming years.  However, only 13.7 percent of metro Cincinnati residents are currently affiliated with an evangelical church.
  • Salt Lake City is a city most often recognized for Mormonism.  However, the city has become a major metro area and needs vibrant gospel churches to impact a population with only 2.2 percent evangelical presence.
  • São Paulo, Brazil is the largest city in South America with over 20 million people.  Easily one of the top 10 largest cities in the world, it is believed that São Paulo has between 18 and 19 million people who do not know the gospel of Jesus.
  • Greece is rich in both ancient and biblical history.  The gospel once took root in this country, but that root has nearly dried up.  Of the 10.8 million people in Greece, only about .03 percent are Jesus followers.

KBC churches and associations are needed to impact these five areas with gospel faithfulness and partnerships.  Learn more about where your church or association can partner through upcoming vision trips by visiting www.kybaptist.org/visiontrips or email [email protected].

 

From the Rising of the Sun

While on vacation at the beach recently, my wife wanted the two of us to wake early at least one morning to watch the sun rise. However, we kept putting off rising early for the comfort of sleeping in. On our last day at the beach, my wife decided to venture out and watch the sun rise from the deck. She didn’t bother to wake me, but wanted to capture the beauty of the moment on her phone. Just as the sun was breaking the horizon, her phone died—not because it was old, but because it wasn’t charged.

In frustration, she ran back upstairs to our bedroom, grabbed my phone and ran back outside to the deck (all the while, I kept on snoozing). The sun had already climbed the horizon just a bit, but she was able to capture its beauty as it lit up the sky and reflected off the ocean that last morning of our vacation. I would love to say that we stood there together in the moment enjoying God’s creation and even taking a selfie to prove we had gotten up early at least one morning, but I can’t. We did not enjoy that moment together because one of us was still asleep. In fact, the only reason I knew she had made the adventure outside is because of the pictures on my phone.

While I laughed as she told me her story of yet another phone-dying mishap, I am grateful for the pictures she captured. I am reminded of the Psalmist who says, “From the rising of the sun to its setting the name of the Lord is to be praised” (Ps 113:3). One thing is for certain, the author of this psalm is concerned for the praise of the Lord from the where the sun rises to where it sets.

In other words, every place on planet earth impacted by the sun’s rising and setting is called to offer up praise to God. Thus, the point of the author here is to say that every place on planet earth is called to praise God. Here, the call of praise is not for creation in general (though that is true elsewhere [e.g., Ps 148]), but for people.

While the rising and setting of the sun affects us all, the praise of God does not flow from all. In fact, of the 7.4 billion people on the planet, each of which benefit from the sun, 4.3 billion are unreached with the good news of Jesus Christ. For the praise of God to be on the lips of all affected by the sun’s rising and setting, all need to not only know of the God who created this sun, but of the God who sent His Son. They need to know that the Son who holds the sun in place lived a sinless life, died a sacrificial death, and was raised to life again. He did all of this in order that people all over the planet will turn from their sins and believe that Jesus is Savior and Lord, even Lord of the rising and setting of the sun.

Now, how might this matter for you? If you are a follower of the Son, you are privileged to be part of God’s plan to make His Son famous not only across the street but across the sea—from the rising of the sun to its setting. The question remains, what part are you playing in this plan in order that the name of the Lord is praised? Let us help you to connect with ways to make Jesus famous by contacting us at [email protected].

Air Guitars, Chickens, and the Great Commission

Several years ago, I was on a short-term mission in Africa.  While gathering with a local church in an outdoor courtyard, amongst the chickens running around, one church leader came up to “play” and sing as we began our time together.  To our team’s surprise, he began “playing” the air guitar…or, maybe it was the air bass guitar.  Either way, play it he did.

At first, I wasn’t quite sure what to think.  As he continued to play and begin singing, I realized, “He’s pretty good at the air guitar.”  Side note, it takes quite the talent to both “play” the air guitar and sing at the same time, but he pulled it off. (Go ahead, give it a try).  His song?  “Soon and Very Soon.”  By the time he got to the third verse—“No more dying there, we are going to see the King”—he had taken it up several notches in pitch and enthusiasm!  About that time, a chicken flew from behind me and landed on my shoulder.  Needless to say, my pitch and enthusiasm rose as well!!

The Lord’s coming should excite us.  We should be eager for that Day.  However, the work of the Great Commission must continue until then.  Our responsibility to make disciples of all nations remains until the coming of the Lord.  But how can we ensure that the gospel spreads among a growing world population at over 7 billion, of which over 4 billion are unreached?

In short, multiply disciples.  As we examine the life of Paul, we see a man who continually poured his life into the lives of others.  He was strategic about multiplication.  He understood that for the gospel to advance well beyond his life or any of our lives, we must continually raise up disciples who will make disciples. In other words, our lives are meant to multiply the gospel by making disciples who make disciples.

Paul’s final words to one of his disciples, Timothy, serves to illustrate this principle.  While awaiting execution on death row, the apostle charges the young disciple, “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2).  Paul challenges Timothy to pass on to others what was passed on to him.

That is the essence of the Great Commission.  In fact, Jesus’ last words to His disciples ring with similarity, “Teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…” (Matt 28:20).  In summary, what I have taught you, you must teach others.  Remember though, the goal is not simply the dissemination of information, but transformation.  We multiply in the lives of others not simply to know, but to do.

So, as long as Jesus’ return is still to come, we have the responsibility to multiply disciples.  Let me briefly suggest three ways to multiply disciples.  Find a Timothy and regularly:

  1. Pray together.
  2. Read and discuss Scripture together.
  3. Serve together (in the church, in the community, across cultures).

This much we know.  “Soon and very soon, we are going to see the King” (insert air guitar here).  Until that Day, we must multiply disciples in order to join in that multi-cultural chorus, “Hallelujah, we are going to see the King.”

Encouraging Leaders

Ministry is not for the faint of heart. One need only review the apostle Paul’s “resume” to realize such is the case. He describes his ministry experience:

“Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. . . . Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches” (2 Corinthians 11:24-25, 28).

Paul faced both external opposition to the gospel and internal pressure for the care of the church.

Skimming his apostolic resume in 2 Corinthians 11 reveals a man who suffered much for the gospel. If the external trials were not enough for Paul, then there was also the internal pressure of caring for the church. Bottom line: ministry is filled with both physically demanding and emotionally draining work. The stereotypical idea that ministers work only a couple of hours a week (on Sunday) could not be farther from the truth.

It is no wonder why Paul, in his prison letter to Timothy, reminds the young pastor, “For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7). Ministry can be brutal both to the body and the mind. Timothy needed to be encouraged to continue in the work that God had called him to.

Today is no different. When it comes to the Great Commission, encouragement for ministers of the gospel is as vital as evangelism and church planting. There are at least five necessary components for a Great Commission strategy (praying, evangelizing, church planting, encouraging, and equipping). The first three provide foundation; the last two provide endurance. While I deal with the importance of all five elsewhere, encouragement is a slice of the Great Commission pie that more often than not is left out.

Evangelism and church planting, both domestically and internationally, seems to be on the rise within the SBC, as rightly it should. However, one area that needs equal attention when it comes to our Great Commission faithfulness is encouragement. Our church planters and missionaries, along with pastors of established churches, grow weary (quickly). While more recent study reveals that minsters are not leaving the ministry in droves like some may say (http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2015/october/that-stat-that-says-pastors-are-all-miserable-and-want-to-q.html), discouragement is all too real.

This is where the church can play a vital role. Discovering tangible ways to encourage pastors, church planters, and missionaries is an essential way to foster longevity in gospel advancement. While ministers of the gospel grow weary, churches that embrace a culture of encouragement among those on the frontlines provide real endurance for those struggling to run the race well.

As I meet with pastors, church planters, and missionaries all over North American and internationally, the common theme I hear is you have no idea what it means to us when we receive a card, message, package, phone call, or visit.

Paul knew this well.   After all, after planting churches, he would make his rounds back to those same churches “strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith…” (Acts 14:22). You never know what a call, card, text, package, visit or just ongoing communication with a pastor, church planter, or missionary will do to help them “continue in the faith.”