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.”

KBC Mission and Vision Tours

KBC Mission:

Our mission as a convention is simple: created by churches, for churches, to help churches reach Kentucky and the world for Christ.

Created by churches

We exist as the Kentucky Baptist Convention because Baptist churches throughout Kentucky desired to cooperate for the furthering of the gospel. The KBC owes its existence to Baptist churches.

For churches

Baptist churches created the KBC for churches. In other words, the KBC was created not to be served by the churches, but to serve the churches.

To help churches

Thus, the KBC exists to help churches do what God has called the church to do—the Great Commission. Because the KBC was created by churches, for churches, the convention exists to help churches. Helping mobilize churches for the Great Commission is the mission of the KBC.

Reach Kentucky and the world for Christ

God did not give the Great Commission to denominations or mission boards; He gave it to the church. Denominations and mission boards are helpful insomuch as they help churches reach those across the street and across the sea with the gospel.

Mission Partnerships and Vision Tours:

Therefore, the KBC approaches mission partnerships with the goal of helping churches develop gospel partnerships. Partnerships, in the past, were developed between the KBC and certain organizations/denominations. For example, the KBC had a partnership with the Kenya Baptist Convention in Africa or the New England Baptist Convention in the northeast. God used those and we are grateful for them.

However, in recent years, we have shifted the focus of partnerships away from the KBC and placed the emphasis upon the partnership between the church and the missionary/church planter. The KBC exists to help churches form gospel partnerships for Great Commission impact.

Therefore, we desire to connect KBC churches to gospel partnerships in Kentucky, North America, and the nations. We want to resource, train, and introduce KBC churches to missionaries, church planters, established churches, and ministries in order to develop relationships that will further the gospel around the world.

One way to connect KBC churches to opportunities for gospel partnerships is by providing vision tours in strategic locations. The vision tour is designed so that the participant might see it, taste it, hear it, smell it, and overall experience the needs of a particular city or area in need of gospel partnerships.

Consider joining one of our upcoming vision tours in 2017 or 2018. Find out more information about KBC vision tours at www.kybaptist.org/visiontours.

Mission Partnerships

In 1925, Southern Baptists began the Cooperative Program to unite our resources for the furthering of the gospel. Southern Baptist churches give a portion of their offerings to the Cooperative Program to fund both state and national convention work. Over the years, thousands of missionaries have been deployed all around the world for gospel advancement; and countless churches have been strengthened as well as planted in areas in need of the gospel.

We are a cooperating denomination. We work together for the advancement of Jesus’ fame. This cooperation is meant for not only our giving, but also our serving. We do not simply give so that missions will be done for us. We give to partner more strategically and effectively that missions might be done together. Regardless of the size of the church or location of the church, each church that gives through the Cooperative Program can truly say that they help to support nearly 10,000 missionaries around the world.

Yet, we do not give simply to support missions; we give to strengthen our partnership in missions. We can do more together than we can alone. Hence, we give our dollars, but we also want to give our lives. The Missions Mobilization Team of the Kentucky Baptist Convention desires to help churches reach Kentucky and the world for Christ. To this aim, we want to be a funnel for churches to partner in certain parts of Kentucky, North America, and the World.

We create relationships with missionaries in order to connect our churches to strategic opportunities for gospel partnerships. The partnership is ultimately with the local church, not the KBC. By partnership, the KBC desire’s simply to connect and allow each local church to develop partnerships for the Great Commission. While the KBC cannot connect churches everywhere, we are connecting churches to strategic places in North America and the nations.

Here are our current areas of emphases for KBC churches, both in North American and Internationally:

In partnership with NAMB, we are connecting churches to three SEND cities:

  • Cincinnati, OH: 1,639,443 people live in the metro Cincinnati area. There is one SBC church for every 10,857 metro Cincinnati residents.

  • Salt Lake City, UT: 2,743,111 people live in the Salt Lake City metro area. There is one SBC church for every 43,942 metro Salt Lake City residents.

  • Boston, MA: 5,900,000 people live in the Boston metro area. There is only one SBC church for every 39,257 people in the Boston area.

In partnership with IMB, we are connecting churches to several international areas:

  • São Paulo, Brazil: São Paulo is one of the largest metro areas in the world with a population of over 20 million people. It is estimated that between 18 and 19 million people are lost.

  • Sub-Saharan Africa: With over 40 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, the need for the gospel is great there. From disaster relief to theological training to evangelism to church planting, the opportunities for partnerships are numerous.

  • Europe: Nearly 800 million people live in Europe and it is estimated that 99% are lost without Christ. The region of the world that brought us the gospel needs us to go back there with the gospel. We are exploring a specific country in this region that will be revealed soon.

The KBC is here to assist churches in any of these areas for gospel partnerships. In fact, if your church is interested in other areas not mentioned in these emphases, we are more than willing to help you connect wherever the Lord may be leading you. Contact me at [email protected] for further details. I look forward to helping you reach the world for Christ.

God has not forgotten

IMG_4386While recently visiting a European country to explore gospel partnerships and work among refugees, I was reminded about a truth that all need to hear. As our team listened to story after story of refugees who fled their homeland because of personal danger, one theme continued to emerge—God has not forgotten you! Whether from Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, or elsewhere, God has not only not forgotten the refugee, He cares deeply for them.

In fact, as one man’s story goes, God uses the hurts and sorrows in their lives to bring about His purposes for them. This Muslim man fled his country because of radical Muslims. When coming to Europe he met a Christian for the first time. As he began to develop a relationship with this Jesus follower, he wondered why no Christians ever came to his country to tell them about Jesus. He eventually answered his own question. In his own words, Christians never came because they are not allowed, so God sent us to them so we could hear about Jesus.

God is using the crisis of refugees to expand the gospel among people’s in the world that have been closed to the gospel for centuries. In fact, the people in the 10/40 window are moving to Europe and North America in ways like never before. Why? Well, according to some who lived in the 10/40 window, God is sending those who need to hear the gospel to places much more accessible to receive the gospel.

The question that Christians must ask is, What part will I play in advancing the gospel among these people? Whether in our own country or a country more accessible to the gospel in Europe, Christians have a part to play.

“God has not forgotten you” is a truth for us all. Refugees hear this message as Christians show the love of Jesus and then share the love of Jesus. God is bringing refugees from the 10/40 window to places in the world where gospel mercy and gospel witness can be demonstrated. What part will you play in God’s unfolding plan to reach the unreached in parts of the world where they are easier to reach? Contact the Missions Mobilization team at the Kentucky Baptist Convention for tangible ways to play your part.

Preparing Ahead is Half the Battle

Ethiopia picLike anything else in life that is done well, preparation for short-term missions is key. Leading a short-term mission team, particularly overseas, is an enormous challenge. There are many factors to consider when short-term teams plan international missions. Those assigned to lead such teams must consider these factors. Wisdom says planning ahead is always best. However, as with any mission effort, flexibility is key. Flexibility does not negate preparation; it demands it. Therefore, when leading short-term missions go with a plan and then go with the flow.

What are some critical factors when leading short-term missions? First, spiritual preparation is essential. Not only must the leader prepare himself/herself well when leading the team, he/she must help the team prepare as well. As mission teams are sent to push back darkness, Satan wants nothing more than to disrupt this assault on darkness. Paul reminds us that the battle we face is spiritual in nature (Eph 6:10-12). Walking closely with the Lord is vital for mission preparation.

Second, team leaders should never underestimate the importance of team strategy. Critical questions to ask are: Why are we doing this mission? How can we best support the work of the missionaries who are on the field? Strategy involves an overall understanding of why and what. In other words, why are we doing this and what exactly are we planning to do? Churches serve the mission field well when they allow the missionaries who are on the field to set the strategy for their team. People who know the language, culture and needs of the area are best suited to determine the strategy of a given place. Contextualizing missions occurs most effectively when those immersed in the culture set the strategy for the field work.

Third, related to the second factor is the importance of servant leadership. Short-term mission team leaders that model servant leadership will breed teams that follow that same pattern. Jesus came not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many (Matt 20:28). While what Jesus did is more than an example; nevertheless, it is still an example for us. His life of servant leadership beacons us to live for the service of others rather than for their service to us. Short-term mission leaders have the responsibility to help their team understand this crucial principle in missions. We go over there to serve; not to be served.

Fourth, short-term mission team leaders lead gospel-centered missions. Sometimes what we assume to be the obvious is not always obvious. While there are several good things that we can do while on mission overseas (build, feed, clothe, etc.), as long as it assists the strategy of those on the field, the gospel must be central in whatever we do. I am not opposed to works of mercy, but mercy without gospel witness is not really mercy. Let us be careful that in whatever our strategy the gospel is central in it. I am not suggesting being artificial or “canned” in our gospel witness. But let us, as my friend Coy Webb reminds us, love in deed and truth (1 John 3:18).

These four factors are essential for leading short-term mission teams. There are other factors to consider. On March 10-11 we are offering a training for leading short-term international mission teams. Please be our guest as we explore ways to most effectively and faithfully lead short-term teams for the sake of the gospel. For more information, visit: www.kybaptist.org/tlt.

Lessons From My Daughter’s Adoption

holly-cryingMy wife and I recently returned from adopting our two year old daughter in Ethiopia.  We began this journey nearly four and a half years ago.  We spent just under three weeks in Ethiopia finalizing the adoption and returned the week before Christmas.  While I still have much to process about this experience, here are some lessons I have learned thus far about our adoption journey.

  1. Adoption is hard.  Many may see adoption as a glamorous picture, but the reality is that adoption is hard on everyone involved.  The family adopting as well as the child being adopted all experience the challenges of this journey.  There are many highs and lows throughout the process.  Good news is often accompanied by not so good news.  Learning to trust in God’s timing and plan is necessary.
  2. Adoption is a picture of the gospel.  Paul says we “have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father'” (Rom 8:15)!  Abba Father is a personal and intimate term only those who belong to God can use.  We are able to call God our Father because we have received the Spirit through faith in Jesus.  We once were not children of God, but now we have been brought into His family through Jesus.  Our daughter, too, once had no family of her own, but now belongs to our family and calls me “daddy.”
  3. Adoption is a relentless pursuit.  When my wife and I began this journey four and a half years ago, we did not realize how relentless we must be.  We said we would pursue our daughter no matter the cost or challenge, but we had no idea what that would entail.  On the day that we met our daughter for the first time, she ran away from us crying.  She wanted nothing to do with us…at first.  We were not deterred by her resistance.  In fact, we were determined all the more to pursue her.  Oh, how this pursuit reminds me of God’s pursuit of us.  Though we wanted nothing to do with God, He pursued us at all cost (Titus 3:3-7).
  4. Adoption is permanent.  On the day of our court appointment with the judge, he asked us if we realized that this adoption is permanent. “Absolutely!” we replied.  Our daughter, on that day, became a permanent part of our family.  While in God’s plan this was certain before time, on that court date it became a realized reality.  She is now part of her forever family.  Again, what a reminder of God’s permanent adoption of us into His family.  Nothing can separate us from His love (Rom 8:31-39).

family-picWhile I will continue to learn lessons from my daughter, I am grateful for these past few weeks with her.  Adoption is not easy, but neither was the cross.  In order to bring us into His family, God gave everything (John 3:16).  He relentlessly pursued us in order bring us into His forever family.

The Famine

A famine is spreading across the globe and if it remains unchecked, the consequences will be devastating. In fact, the repercussions are already being felt. The famine I am referring to is not likely what you are thinking of. While half of the world lives in poverty (living on less than $2 per day) and one billion in extreme poverty (living on less $1 per day), I am not speaking about a famine of finances or food (though this is true). I am concerned about the theological famine that is spreading across the globe.

It is believed that 75% of all Christians live outside of the US in the “majority world” (Latin American, Africa, Middle East, and Asia) (Weymann Lee, Training Leaders International). By God’s grace, the gospel is flourishing in these parts of the world. Yet, it is estimated that there are 5 million pastors outside the US, and an overwhelming majority of them (85%) have little to no theological training or even access to it (Lee).

To understand the theological famine in the “majority world,” let these ratios sink in:

            The ratio of theologically trained pastors to people in the US is 1:230

            The ratio of theologically trained pastors to people outside of the US is 1:450,000 (Lee)

zimFor this reason, we are making an intentional effort to mobilize pastors and church leaders across the Kentucky Baptist Convention for the purpose of equipping pastors in the “majority world” for great gospel impact. Recently, we led a team of five to Africa to train pastors and church leaders throughout the country of Zimbabwe. In partnership with the Moore family from Kentucky, our team was able to assist in training around 100 church leaders in three different topics: doctrine of salvation, biblical interpretation, and expository preaching.

Kentucky Baptist church leaders can truly make a difference by investing in “majority world” church leaders what was invested in them through their theological education here in the US. The need for theological training outside the US is real and Kentucky Baptists have a genuine opportunity to partner in this great endeavor.

As one Zimbabwe pastor said to me, “What you are teaching us is needed for all of our pastors. When will you be back?” The solution to the theological famine across the globe is simple yet complex. It is simple in that the tide will turn as church leaders are trained to “rightly handle the word of truth.” However, it is complex in the sense that we need more co-laborers who will take Paul’s words to Timothy seriously: “The things which you heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim 2:2). So, let’s push back the famine.

To make Him famous

crowdGod is concerned for His fame among all the world, all peoples. Fame is the condition of being known or recognized by many people (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ fame). If God is ultimate and His glory is the purpose of our existence (as I argued previously), then this praise of God is meant to be among all nations.

The Bible is replete with passages that speak of God’s fame being worldwide. Psalm 96 is one such passage that calls for God’s fame among all the earth. In fact, the Psalmist commands all peoples to praise God. The only way for the worship of God to be worldwide is to extend His fame among all peoples. People will worship something, but the Psalmist wants them to worship the one true God who made the heavens (Ps 96:4-5).

Missionary Jim Elliot was captive to the thought that the greatness and salvation of God should be extended to the nations. He was determined to call the nations 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 (Danny 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” (Akin, 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.  He lived his life to make Him famous.  Let us be determined to live ours with the same resolve.