Both…And!

I had the opportunity last week to spend several days in eastern Kentucky alongside disaster relief volunteers who were providing help, hope and healing following historic flooding in thirteen counties.  I saw families who had lost everything, literally everything except the clothes on their backs. Homes were washed down river, cars destroyed, personal possessions lost, and everything left behind covered in mud.  Flood insurance is almost non-existent, and families are overwhelmed and uncertain what to do next.  The question was raised in a discussion with someone who had come to help, “are we here to help them recover from the flood or share the gospel?”  The answer is Yes! 

Caring for the needs of others is not an option for Christ followers. Jesus demonstrated this by healing the sick, feeding the hungry, casting out demons and raising the dead. If we are going to identify with Him, then we too, must love our neighbors and help those in need.    

However, preaching the gospel is not an option either.  Jesus said I was sent to preach the kingdom of God to others. We too, have an obligation to preach the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:16). Furthermore, those who are lost can’t believe and call upon Christ to be saved unless they hear the gospel preached (Romans 10:14). 

So, which was more important to Jesus, caring for the needs of others or preaching the gospel?  I don’t know that he had a preference.  We find that Jesus preached and cared for others everywhere he went.  Every time Jesus sent out the disciples, He commanded them to take care of the needy as they preached the gospel.

We understand from scripture that after Jesus’ return to heaven, the disciples followed His example of simultaneously preaching and caring for others.  We observe in the life of Jesus and the disciples, that caring for hurting people provides opportunities for preaching the gospel. Jesus didn’t send some of us to preach and others to do disaster relief or community service. 

Helping mud out a flooded home is complimentary to sharing the gospel.  Blending the feeding of a family in a shelter with telling them about Jesus is God-honoring.  Providing a place to shower or do laundry can easily be mixed with listening to others and sharing how we’ve found hope in Christ.

A healthy balance between meeting needs and preaching the gospel can be so effective in reaching the lost.  Success of this approach is evidenced in the sixty-four (64) lives that have come to faith in Christ because of the flood recovery efforts in eastern Kentucky in the last several weeks.

Remember the question that prompted this post – “are we here to help them recover from the flood or share the gospel?”  I’m not saying that caring for the needy is equal to sharing the gospel.  But both are important because they are expected of Christ followers.  They are two sides of the same coin and there will certainly be synergy and life transformation when we do both together, just as Jesus did. 

Praying for Our Neighbors and Community

Matthew 22:36-39  “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

This is one of the most quoted verses in the Bible because loving your neighbor as yourself is the second greatest commandment, after loving God.

Jesus calls us to love our neighbors and most of us actively try to do that by meeting their needs and showing love in tangible ways.  But another valuable way we can love our neighbors is by praying for them.

I have often found myself so caught up in helping neighbors with their needs that I forget to pray for them and the community we live in. While the work I do with them, or even for my neighbors is important, nothing is more important than the prayers I pray for them. 

Hudson Taylor said “when we work, we work. But when we pray, God works.”  Through prayer, God invites us to work with Him for the well-being of our neighbors.  It is God’s way of giving us a stake in His Kingdom building work. 

We want good for our neighbors and the community we live in, but too often we rely on the work of our hands instead of partnering with God and seeing things really happen. I must confess that prayer is sometimes the missing element in my attempt to care for neighbors and bless my community.

Let me suggest the following ways that we can pray specifically for our neighbors and the community we live in.

Pray that God would …  

  1. Give neighbors a hunger and thirst for God and His Word.
  2. Heal the emotional wounds of people living in my community that relationships between neighbors would be made right. 
  3. Remove any racial or social barriers that exist between neighbors.
  4. Destroy poverty in the community and grant economic growth to meet the financial needs of families.
  5. Deliver the community from alcohol and drug addiction. 
  6. Drive out all occultic influence and evil activity in the community. 
  7. Strengthen families in the neighborhood and bless each home.
  8. Provide opportunities for sharing the gospel so that many would hear and receive Jesus.   
  9. Give believers a deep burden for the lost and an increasing desire to share the gospel with them.   
  10. Bless the pastors and churches of the community, granting them power and protection as they minister.
  11. Deliver the believers in this community from self-centeredness and indifference toward those who need Jesus.  
  12. Transform the homes in this community so that they will be Christ-centered.

THANK YOU Lord for placing me in this community and for what You are doing to bring about Your kingdom here. I pray that my neighbors in this community will come to know you!

As the World Watches – There is Something We Can Do!

As the world watches, Ukrainians are being invaded by Russia and forced to flee from their homes.  While the actual numbers are believed to be higher, it was reported today by national news sources today that 365 Ukrainians have been killed and 759 have been injured.  We’ve seen the videos of families crying and praying as shots are fired and shells dropped in or near their homes. The world is watching as mothers and children wait it out in subway stations or bomb shelters throughout the Ukraine.  It’s so heartbreaking and perhaps even traumatizing. 

Many have denounced the actions and feel strong emotions toward those responsible. I’ve felt that too.  But I want to do more than feel, I want to help.  But what can I do?  Are there things I can do to help those that are experiencing isolation, hunger, physical pain, death of loved ones, unemployment and loss of shelter?  The answer is yes.  There are two primary ways we can help at this time in the crisis:

  1. Prayer – prayer is the best way to face anything, especially a crisis.  Prayer is a real connection to God and helps us as we petition God on behalf of others. God encourages us to cry out to Him when there is trouble.  “Call out to me when trouble comes. I will save you. And you will honor me.” (Psalms 50:15; Psalm 91:15).

Here are some specific ways to pray:

  • Pray for peace, asking God to bring an end to the violence and tension between these countries.
  • Pray that God will redeem this situation by drawing people to himself. 
  • Pray those in the crisis will place their hope in Christ rather than governments, a powerful military or diplomacy.
  • Pray that leaders will exercise wisdom and seek God about decisions being made.
  • Pray for the safety of soldiers and their families while separated from them. 
  • Pray for the 1.5 million refugees who have been displaced that are now seeking safety, shelter and food. 
  • Pray that Christians in both countries will stand strong and boldly proclaim their faith as it is tested.
  • Giving – giving is a way for us to bless those in the crisis as we’ve been blessed, and we certainly have been!  Donating to relief efforts encourages a grateful and generous spirit in us as we determine in our heart to give and help others who are in need. “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7). 

There are many organizations receiving financial gifts on behalf of the Ukrainian crisis and to whom you give is of utmost importance.  Here are a few things to consider before writing a check or making a charge on your credit card:

  • Research the organization you are giving through to ensure they are credible and have boots on the ground that can carry-out the response effort.
  • Consider becoming a partner to the organization and giving over the long haul because relief and recovery efforts may take months, and sometimes even years.    
  • Support an organization that was there before the crisis and already invested in the people. Unfortunately, charities come out of the woodwork following a disaster and many don’t have the local network, infrastructure or relationships to efficiently and effectively distribute aid to victims.
  • Make sure that the organization you are giving to is a registered non-profit with the state regulator.  If you wish to receive a tax deduction for your gift, make sure that they are registered with the IRS as a tax-exempt organization.  You can check this out at: https://www.irs.gov/charities-non-profits/tax-exempt-organization-search

The Kentucky Baptist Convention (www.kybaptist.org/ukraine) is an organization collecting financial aid on behalf of the Ukrainian crisis. It is the organization that many choose to give through because it meets all the criteria outlined above.  They have partners on the ground already providing aid. To date, our nationally partner, SEND Relief, has already dispersed almost a million dollars in aid.  We have boots on the ground meeting needs because we were there prior to the crisis and have plans (Lord willing) to still be there when the dust settles.  Additionally, a small portion of the financial aid received through the KBC will be used specifically to aid Ukrainian refugees who settle in Kentucky. If Ukrainian refugees don’t settle in Kentucky, any dollars withheld will be forwarded to our national partner, SEND Relief. 

I can’t imagine being forced out of my home, community or country. But if it happened, I would find encouragement and strength in knowing that people everywhere are praying for me and giving financially toward my recovery.   

Spiritual Growth Leads to Mission Service

There’s no shortage of places to serve on mission with the Lord.  Opportunities abound, but only a very small number are willing to respond. We’ve heard the request for mission trip participants or the plea for volunteers to help meet a need in the community, but how did we respond?   Many churches lack people who are willing to get involved in taking the gospel across the street, much less, around the world.  The mission fields locally and globally are in desperate need of obedient Christ followers willing to say, “here am I, send me” (Isaiah 6:8). I’m not sure what more can be done by churches or missions organizations to entice people to respond affirmatively to mission service.

I don’t think the answer to more people serving is greater promotion, financial assistance or even a powerful personal challenge. While those things may be helpful, what is needed are spiritually mature believers who will say yes to live out their faith (James 2:14-26).  We need God’s power to fall upon our churches because His presence in our lives will bring repentance, followed by a life of service. When God is at work among His people, there is never a shortage of volunteers or resources for His work!  When Christ followers are walking with Him, witnessing to neighbors and taking the gospel to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8) will be a natural outcome. 

God didn’t save us to satisfyingly sit.  He saved us to serve Him through a life on mission. He expects us to minister to the least of these (Matthew 25:40) and take the gospel to the lost. But will I be obedient in going if it requires making personal sacrifices in-order to do so? Living a life on mission involves exchanging my selfish desires for whatever God wants. The author is unknown but I’ve heard it said that “spiritual maturity isn’t measured by how high you jump in praise, but by how straight you walk in obedience”.

If we are growing in our faith there will be an awareness within us of the lostness around us.  Very simply, God draws us to Him and sends us out (John 20:21).   Spiritual growth in the life of a Christian will be lived out through missions involvement. So, if I’m not living as “sent”, perhaps I’m not as spiritually mature as I should be because growing is evidenced by going. 

I pray that what God is doing in my life inwardly will be seen outwardly through mission activity that results in new believers being baptized and discipled.

Less May Mean More

It’s interesting to note how often we use numbers to determine the success or effectiveness of our churches.  We talk about how many attend on Sunday, the number of small groups, how many were baptized or the annual budget.  If attendance is less this year than last, things must not be going well.  However, that’s not necessarily true if the number attending is fewer because they’re sending out missionaries, ministry leaders and church planters.  But how often do we describe a church by the number they’ve sent out?  

Throughout the Word of God, it’s very clear that God’s people are to go because we are sent by Him (Genesis 12:1-3, Isaiah 6:8, Matthew 28:18-20, John 20:21, Acts 1:8).  So, why not describe the success of our church by how many went on mission trips, the number of members engaged in local ministry, or how many we’ve sent as missionaries or church planters.   I think it would be exciting for this reason to greet pastors and church leaders with – “how many less did you have in worship this week?”  

We typically celebrate growing attendance in church and grieve if the numbers are less than last year.  But what if the numbers are less because we’ve sent more?  The sending of missionaries, church planters and mission teams is reason to celebrate.  Let’s see if we can begin a shift in our thinking and conversation to realize less may mean more if the church is sending people out on mission.  Our sending may mean a smaller number is gathering, but how exciting it would be!  Let’s celebrate fewer people in our small groups and worship if it’s the result of more Christ followers going out with the message of Christ. 

The focus of the church must change from how many gathered to how many were sent.  It will be hard to talk over lunch or in meetings without asking how many attended small groups or gathered for worship this week.  But by changing the conversation, we’re taking a step toward changing the score card that determines success.  

The Mission Requires Submission

There are several things we think about when sending a group from our church out on mission for a week or even a weekend.  We expect those going on a mission trip to be people of integrity, faithful in their local church, bold in sharing their faith, and prepared for the work they’re going to do. 

I’ve seen many requirements for going on a mission trip, but I don’t recall ever seeing “submissive” on the list.  Our culture views submissive as a weakness so most don’t want to submit to anyone.  So, should submission be a requirement for going on a mission trip? 

What does submission mean? Google’s dictionary defines submission as “the action or fact of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person.”

Submitting means putting others before yourself; it means not always doing what you want to do. It means putting God’s desires above your desires.

Missionaries on the field with whom short-term mission teams work have prayed and sought the Lord’s direction concerning the people they’re trying to reach, strategies they use and ministry methods.  Well-intentioned short-term volunteer teams generally arrive on the field, filled with excitement and zeal about the mission work they’re planning to do.  They too, have prayed and prepared themselves for this experience.

However, sometimes teams believe they know better than the missionary how the work should be done and question, or even push against the methods or ministry plans.  This creates tension and has the potential to minimize the effectiveness of the mission.

If there is a difference of opinions, an unwillingness by volunteer teams to submit to the missionary in authority shows spiritual immaturity.  And, if the short-term team is unwilling to submit, it is the missionary who remains behind to correct things long after the volunteers leave.

The Bible has much to say about submission: to God (James 4:6-7), to political authorities (Romans 13:1-7), to church leadership (Heb 13:17), within marriage (Col 3:18), and even a general submissiveness of all Christians to one another (Eph 5:21).

We all have a lot we can learn about submission. Submission can be a very hard thing. When Jesus prayed for an alternative to the cross (Luke 22:39- 44), he wanted another way so badly that he sweat drops of blood. However, He chose to follow the Father’s plan even when it was hard. All of us should be extremely grateful that He did.

There may be times as a volunteer team member that you believe you know better than the missionary what is best and that what you’re being asked to do doesn’t even make sense to you.  Like Jesus, you may find it hard to follow the plan, but exercise submission to the missionary in authority and trust our Father for the results. 

You Can’t Be One and Not the Other

I gave my life to Christ at the age of nine.  I understood then, as much as young boy can, that I was making a commitment to become a Christ follower.  That meant allowing Christ to control every aspect of my life.  I knew that my life was no longer mine.  I was to model my life, attitude and actions after Him.  Whatever Christ did, I was supposed to do.

Scripture tells us to imitate Christ, walk as He did and follow His steps.  (1 John 2:6, 1 Corinthians 11:1, 1 Peter 2:21).   I didn’t know that I would one day serve as a missionary or go on a mission trip.  But I have come to understand that if I’m a Christ follower, I am also a missionary, because that’s what He was. 

A missionary is defined by the North American Mission Board of the SBC as a person who, in response to God’s call and gifting, leaves his or her comfort zone and crosses cultural, geographic or other barriers to proclaim the Gospel and live out a Christian witness in obedience to the Great Commission. 

Jesus became the first missionary when He left heaven and came down to earth.  God called His son to leave the comfort of heaven and go to earth.  Now that’s a change of geography and culture for sure!  His mission was to seek and save the lost who needed to be rescued.  He engaged the indigenous people of the earth while proclaiming the Gospel.  He lived His life as a witness to the Father’s love.  What a missionary He was!        

I want my life to reflect Christ and pray that people see Him in me.  If I want to be like Christ in every way, it will mean going as a missionary because that’s what He did.  I might not cross an ocean, but I will need to cross the street or grocery isle.  I might not go to a foreign land, but I will need to engage the internationals in my community.  I might not be sent by a mission agency, but I have been sent by Christ Himself (Acts 1:8, Matthew 28:19-20).  I am thankful to be a follower of Christ AND missionary – you can’t be one and not the other.    

A Vaccine in Every Arm and the Gospel to Every Home

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, almost 500,000 Americans have lost their lives due to COVID-19.  This sobering statistic and the threat of even more deaths has caused pharmaceutical companies to up their game.  They are working harder and faster, in an effort, to get a vaccine shot in the arm of every American. 

Prior to COVID-19, there was a very little desire for competing companies to work together.   But the urgency of the situation now required companies to think much bigger and bolder in-order to accomplish the goal.  One White House official said “we have to take bold action and overwhelm this”. 

As a result, Merck and Johnson & Johnson realized they could be better together and decided to work in partnership to ensure a greater impact toward the goal of defeating the virus.  Another White House official speaking about the partnership said “they understood this was a wartime effort. This was their legacy. This was their time.”

Getting the vaccines made, put into vials, and shot into arms is a massive undertaking involving many different people.  The Defense Production Act, which gives the government the power to compel companies to support a war effort, could have forced cooperation between Mercke and Johnson & Johnson.  But it didn’t have to because these two companies voluntarily chose to work together in order to address an urgent need.  As a result, millions more Americans will have the opportunity to receive a vaccination in their arm in an effort to avoid death. 

COVID-19 is a serious virus and statistics reveal that it shouldn’t be taken lightly.  However, there is an even more concerning statistic shared by the Glenmary Research Center, who reports that 85% of Kentuckians do not a have a relationship with Christ.  It’s alarming to think how many will die without Christ and spend eternity in hell because they’ve not received the gospel.  But how can they receive the gospel if it isn’t shared with them? 

The Kentucky Baptist Convention’s “Gospel to Every Home” initiative is an opportunity for associations and churches to partner together so that our neighbors, family members and co-workers might receive the gospel and avoid eternity without Christ. Getting the gospel to 1,728,681 homes is bold action and a goal that can be accomplished if we voluntarily choose to work together. We’re in a spiritual battle and this is a monumental task requiring a wartime effort!  Let’s take action with an even greater sense of urgency and cooperation than Merck and Johnson & Johnson, and get the gospel to every home before it’s too late.  

Love Thy Neighborhood

I enjoy celebrating Valentine’s Day because it presents an opportunity to show love to those I care about … and eat chocolate too!   I will always try to remember my wife, daughters, and those closest to me on Valentine’s Day.  But what about my neighborhood?   If you’re like me, I don’t associate Valentine’s Day with showing love to my neighbors, but shouldn’t I? 

Matthew 22:34-40 says “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”   Jesus was saying, don’t stop at just loving me, love those around you too.   

I have the privilege and responsibility of being a covenant member in a young church whose mission is “to love God, love people and love community.”  From the beginning, it has been our goal to show our love for God by serving our community and those in it.  

One of the many ways that we loved and served our community early on was to spend afternoons tutoring children in the local elementary school.  The elementary school we chose to serve was struggling because very few parents were involved, many of the students were new to the US and learning English as a Second language, a majority of its students were on free or reduced lunches and academically, they were only in the 14 percentile state-wide.    

Our willingness to serve and love the children opened doors of trust with the faculty who were curious as to why we cared so much.  Our tutoring helped those students who were falling behind to catch up while discovering that someone genuinely cared about them.  It provided opportunities for sharing Christ and inviting families to join our community of faith.  It encouraged the teachers and faculty who had become so discouraged in their work.

Showing God’s love to the school greatly benefitted them … and us.  That school was recognized as the greatest success story in the district.  Their growth surpassed 90% of the elementary schools in the state, earning them a special distinction as “High Progressing” school, after finishing in the 71st percentile, up from the previous 14th.  WOW, what a difference our involvement and service had made. Their principal contributed the amazing turn-around to a team effort and thanked the church’s volunteers for loving the students and showing them the love of God.    

Our service through the school allowed me to see first-hand how loving our community opened doors that would have otherwise remained closed.  I saw the smile of a child who finally understood how to complete his homework assignment. I discovered what it means to love your neighbor and most importantly, I witnessed people coming to faith in Christ because we loved God, people, AND our community.  Let me challenge you to love your neighborhood this Valentine’s Day … and eat chocolate too?    

All Life is Sacred

January is a month set aside for focusing on the sacred nature of human life. Sanctity of Human Life” Sunday will be observed throughout the Southern Baptist Convention on Jan. 17, marking the 48th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe V. Wade decision legalizing abortion on demand in America.  Sadly, according to the Office of Vital Statistics, there were 3,664 abortions performed in Kentucky in 2019.

While Kentucky Baptists certainly won’t be celebrating Roe v. Wade, we will be celebrating that because of almost 50 pregnancy care centers affiliated with the KBC, hundreds of babies were spared from abortion last year.  Additionally, many women have accepted Christ because pregnancy center staff members shared the Gospel with them.

The sanctity of human life is a core principle for me as a follower of Jesus Christ.  I believe that humans are created by God and in His image (Genesis 1:27). That means that every person, from conception to death, possesses dignity and worth – including unborn children, elderly individuals and those with special needs. As Christ followers, we are called to defend, protect and value all human life. 

Human life is defended, protected and valued everyday throughout Kentucky in pregnancy resource centers that are there to support and encourage mothers through the birth process by helping them to choose life for their unborn children.

With Sanctity of Life Sunday only a few weeks away, let me encourage you to be a friend to life by offering assistance to one of the many pregnancy care centers in Kentucky.  Why not visit your local pregnancy resource center to discover ways that you can help. Learn how you can pray for and/or with center directors and volunteers.

Pray that God will:

  • Protect center personnel (board of directors, staff, volunteers, families) from any type of physical abuse or harm and from discouragement or doubt from the enemy.
  • Meet the spiritual, physical, and emotional needs of center staff.
  • Lead clients to the center so they may hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
  • Give counselors special wisdom and boldness in sharing the Gospel with clients, challenging them to live a life of obedience and purity.
  • Change the minds and hearts of mothers who are considering abortion and give them the courage to choose life and consider adoption, when appropriate, for their unborn children.
  • Bring healing and a renewed relationship with Christ to women and families inside and outside the church who have chosen abortion in the past.
  • Meet the financial needs of each resource center.

Consider helping your local pregnancy resource center in the following ways:

  • Donate baby clothing, furniture, car seats, and/or formula.
  • Provide food, clothing, and a safe place for expectant mothers.
  • Serve as a mentor for expectant mothers.
  • Sponsor a baby shower for the center with gifts of clothing, furniture, diapers, and formula.
  • Partner with a pregnancy resource center to teach young women good parenting skills.
  • Plan a mission trip to a center to do maintenance, painting, and redecorating, if needed.

The Kentucky Baptist Convention recognizes and appreciates the life-giving ministry of faith-based pregnancy resource centers in Kentucky. We encourage your support of the pro-life pregnancy resource centers with which KBC churches and associations partner. For a list of those centers, visit: http://www.kybaptist.org/pregnancycare/