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Evangelism in the Dominican Republic: Day 3

The last night of day 2 and today we had some down time. We were originally supposed to meet with the superintendent for the Assemblies of God for the several countries, but that fell through at the last minute.

We started by going to get our COVID test to determine if we would even be able to come home or if we would have to book a few extra days here. Thankfully, all of us tested negative. A little side note. DR has a very high rate of COVID. In many of the Caribbean and Central American countries, people are dying at an alarming rate. We had the regional admin for Latin America for Oasis with us. She lives in El Salvador. She said that almost every week another one of her pastors is dying of COVID. Frankly, I don’t care where anyone falls on the political spectrum. But it is important to know that when we begin to meet people who have lost many friends or family to COVID, we can’t look at that as a political issue. We need to look at those people in the same way Jesus does, with tears for their pain. If we politicize other people’s pain, then we are no better than the politicians we are trying to speak against. Remember…

Ephesians 6:12 – For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Our battle is against our spiritual enemy and his demons. That includes those aspects that rule us, such as our pride, arrogance, and bitterness against authority that leads us to sin. As Christians, we need to learn to control our own selves instead of seeking to control others or governments or even other denominations. Something about taking the log out of our own eye first.

Matthew 7:5 – You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

One final note about this. Health care in other countries is not as strong as it is in America. If we think, with our American eyes, that simply telling everyone around the world to live healthier lives, take supplements, and just be smart about how we interact with others, then we are more focused on our nationality as an American than we are in seeing those around the world as brothers and sisters in Christ or even as seeing them as those who are made in God’s image. Other countries don’t have the comforts of our rich lives that we do. Even here in Dominican Republic, where it is a fairly rich country, there is a wide chasm between what “rich” would look like in America and what it looks like in the DR.

Something I preached on yesterday continues to ring true to me. I preached through 1 Thessalonians 3:1-8 yesterday as we ended our gathering. I was speaking on how we can improve our ability to show compassion to others as we evangelize. And this led me to share with everyone that the people who are most open to truly receiving the Gospel are those who realize that they are missing something in their life. Yes, they could be poor or sick or lonely and that becomes the impetus for opening a pathway to God. But, just as much, they could be rich and just as lonely. They could be rich and just as sick. They could realize that even while they have more wealth than they need, they still have a God-shaped hole in their heart. Trials happen to both the rich and the poor.

And when it comes to trials, one of the major truths I learned is that, especially for Christians, God doesn’t care about the trial as much as He does about how we respond to it. If we spend all our energy focused on the trial itself, then we risk responding to the trial in way that is not pleasing to God or bringing Him glory. How will you respond in trial? Will it be with faith or unbelief? Humility or arrogance? Forgiveness or anger? Hope or despair? Remember the words of James 1:2 when we are faced with trials:

James 1:2 – Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds

And don’t forget Romans 5:

Romans 5:3-4 – Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope

So, regardless of the trial, for the unbeliever it is an avenue to leading to faith. For the believer, it is process of refining our faith.

Job 23:10 – But he knows the way that I take; when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.

Ok. Enough preaching.

We had a chance to go throughout the historic city and I want you to know that I want to come back to the Dominican Republic with Mimi just to walk through the historic city! So much to take in! Enjoy the pictures for the rest of this post and thanks for following along in this journey.

Evangelism in Dominican Republic – Day 2

Romans 10:10-11 – For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”

Today we started the day with a review of day 1. Yesterday we had close to 200 pastors there and today another 50 or so came and joined the group.

After the review, we teamed up again, this time with different people than the previous day, and went out and hit the streets. Today, in about an hour, another 130 people gave their lives to Christ!

I want to preface something here, though. I went out both days with someone in our group who spoke some English so he could help me translate into Spanish. The first day, I failed miserably at leading people to Christ, and even talking to them at all. It is a very different thing when you are evangelizing in a country that you don’t know and don’t speak the language. Today, I was able to lead 3 people to Christ. I don’t say that to boast or to say “hey, look at what I did.” I say that because it isn’t easy. One of the big excuses I hear about why people don’t evangelize is because they don’t feel equipped to do so. The first day, I definitely felt that way. I had the tools. I had the desire. But I didn’t have enough compassion on the people who are made in God’s image to break through my comfort zone and give them Christ.

Today, however, I was told God I was available for Him to use me no matter what. Then I spent time in prayer before we left, asking God to give me the power of the Holy Spirit and compassion of Christ. You see, you don’t need fancy tools or seminary education to lead people to Christ. You simply need to be available and accept the power of the Holy Spirit and desire to have a heart like Christ’s.

I am nobody special. I am simply a guy who say “Yes, Lord” when asked to step outside my comfort zone and who wants to grow to be more like Christ daily.  If God can use me, He can certainly use you!

Acts 1:8 – But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

We had another visit with denominational leaders, presidents and superintendents and, beginning next Saturday, ALL of the churches, regardless of denomination, beliefs about end times, beliefs about women in ministry, or beliefs about Arminianism or Calvinism are unifying together to evangelize the surrounding 25-30 miles of Santo Domingo. That will be almost 6 million people reached with the Gospel of Christ! And every single one of them are using a testimonial way to reach the lost.

You see, there are really 2 ways to lead people to Christ:

  • Doctrinal

I am going to walk you through Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, 1 Corinthians 5:15, Roman 10:9-11, and Romans 3:20. I will ask you what those verses mean to you and then I will ask you if you believe what you just read and then bring you to a decision.

There are so many reasons to use this method and they are all good. They get you comfortable with leading people through the Bible. They get the evangelized used to reading the Bible. And this method uses the truth of God through His Word to reach the lost.

  • Testimonial

This is basically my story and how it relates to coming to Christ. This is the method we used in Dominican Republic. A lot of people, and I used to be one of them, knock this kind of evangelism because, on the outside, it seems like it isn’t really biblical. You aren’t using the Bible to lead the person to Christ, you are using your story of coming to Christ to lead them and only giving them the Bible if they want to hear more.

But let’s take a look at an example of this in the Bible. Look at Mark 5. I am not going to post it all here, so I am going to trust that you will stop reading here and turn to Mark 5 and read it yourself. Focus on the story of the demon-possessed man in verses 1-20.

Mark 5:19 – Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.

Jesus removes Legion from the man. Afterward, the man asks Jesus if he can join His team. Jesus tells him no. But he also tells him to go back to Decapolis (the 10 cities or towns around where this man lived) and “tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.”

This is testimonial evangelism. Jesus didn’t tell him to go back and walk people through God’s Word. He told him to return and tell his story.

If that style of evangelism is good enough for Christ, it is good enough for me!

So here is how we evangelized. If you are near Friendship Community Baptist at the end of this month, I will be teaching about testimonial evangelism during the 9 and 10:30 services. It would be awesome to have a lot of people come and learn.

  1. Permission

May I have permission to ask you a question. Start with “I am working on an assignment…” You are, right? God has given you the Great Commission, an assignment for all believers!

Then, when they say yes, ask them, “What was the greatest thing that ever happened to you?”

Most people will say their family, their job, or their success financially.

Make small talk with them a little about that and be encouraging of their blessing.

Then ask them, “May I share with you what the best thing was that ever happened to me?”

  • Before Christ

You aren’t going to mention the name of Christ just yet. This is going to be an introduction to your story. Say something like, “Once in my life, I was broken, hurting, and lonely.” Choose 3 adjectives that described your life before Christ.

This whole section should take all of about 10 seconds!

  • Turning Point

This is where you will introduce Christ to them.

Here is mine version of this, “One day, I had some friends come to my door and say to me, ‘we are here to build you up.’ I listened to them and they told me about someone who could take my loneliness and pain away. Eventually I wanted to know about the One who could do that. And when I realized that Jesus Christ died for my sin and rose again, I asked him to heal my heart so that I could experience it.”

Start with “One day….” And tell what happened. Then explain to the person what happened when you realized that Jesus died and rose again for your sin. What did you do at that point?

This whole section should take about 20 seconds.

  • After Christ

In this section, you will show how Christ reversed all of the adjectives you listed in section 2. So, again, here is mine. “After I accepted Christ in my life, He took my loneliness away from me. The pain from my past is gone and I was able to forgive again.”

This section takes only about 10 seconds.

  • If I never met Christ…

In this final section, you explain what your life could look like if you had never made the decision to follow Christ. Here is mine. “Without Christ, I would have been drifting from place to place, getting caught up with the wrong people. Seeking fulfillment in women. But I thank God that He took that empty life away from me and gave me purpose and peace.”

Another 10 seconds.

This is where “reading the room” is very important. If the person doesn’t seem interested in what you are saying, end it. Do it this way: Thank you for listening to my story, I just want you to know that this Jesus Christ loves you very, very much.”

But if they are looking for more or asking questions, this opens up the opportunity to go deeper with them. Say something like, “May I show you how the Bible says you can be sure you’re going to be saved?”

And follow you’re ABCs.

  • A – Admit

I have done wrong and my sin separates me from a holy God (Romans 3:23)

  • B – Believe

Jesus Christ died to forgive me and rose again, proving He is the One True God. (Romans 10:9-10)

  • C – Confess

Confess I have sinned and ask Jesus to save me and be the leader of my life.

If they understand those ABCs, then ask them “What would stop you from totally surrendering your life to Christ today?”

Then, when they say yes to that, pray with them. Pray the ABCs with them and have them repeat it. Many people call this the sinner’s prayer. And it is controversial. A lot of people like it. A lot of people hate it. It is biblical. But please note, the prayer is an open communication with God, but the prayer cannot be the end of the conversation. Once they have prayed, give them your email and phone number and get theirs. It is up to you to be the Paul to their Timothy. Get them connected to a growth group or small group in the area. Help them find a church. Immediately direct them to John 3:16-17 and ask them to start reading the Bible in the book of John. One chapter a day for 21 days.

You can do this! If I can, you can! The important thing is the compassion. If you look at them simply as lost, you won’t have the compassion. But if you see each person made in God’s image and as sheep without a shepherd, then, perhaps, like Christ, you will be moved “to your bowels” as the original language says, to seek out the lost everywhere you go.

Proverbs 11:30 – The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and whoever captures souls is wise.

Evangelism in the Dominican Republic – Day 1

Matthew 9:35-38 – And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”

It has been exactly 1 year since I last blogged about anything. It isn’t that I ran out of things to say, just ask my wife or anyone that I work with and they will tell you that I always can find something to say about anything (FYI…not always a good skill to have).

But I felt I needed to get back into the blogging scene when I decided to take a mission journey to the Dominican Republic. Let me back-peddle a little.

A while back I virtually met this guy Tom. Tom is looking to expand his non-profit, Oasis World Ministries. The organization does to big programs: water wells around the world and evangelism training for pastors. This intrigued me and I wanted to go on a mission journey with him.

Originally, this was planned for November. We would be going to Nepal, Pakistan, Vietnam, and South Korea. It was to be 12 days long and we would get a few days in each area. Then Tom went and blew his Achille’s. That ended that trip and postponed it into 2022. The next trip would be in January, but I was already planning on a vacation with the family. So that left February.

The plan was to go to Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. Well, COVID had other plans. Both Jamaica and Puerto Rico wouldn’t allow large groups to gather. This effectively ended the evangelism training we were going to be doing, so those countries were removed. Then Haiti continues to descend into more and more danger if you are a visitor. We were asked not to come because of the danger by the Haitian government.

That left the Dominican Republic. Our trip went from 10-12 days to a long weekend. I would leave on 2/10 and return on 2/14.

So, on 2/10, I boarded a Delta flight for ATL where I would officially meet Tom, and then we both went off to the DR together. When we arrived, we were met by 2 men, Javier and Pedro. Javier is a pastor and the country manager for Oasis World Ministries. He doesn’t speak any English, so that is why Pedro was accompanying him. Pedro speaks English, French, and Spanish.

We headed to the hotel and met up with CiCi. She is the country manager (along with her husband) for El Salvador and the Latin America administrator for Oasis World Ministries. She works directly with all the country managers to make sure that all their paperwork is in on time.

As you can gather, Oasis is pretty big. While they have a skeleton staff that works in Minnesota, they are currently in 51 different countries and have country managers in most of them as well as administrative assistant in many of them.

Once at the hotel and checked in, we had a pretty awesome dinner at the hotel and then Tom, CiCi, and I gathered together for a couple hours more to discuss the weekend as well as an idea for large-scale summits in Asia, Latin America and Africa throughout 2022.

Friday morning came way too quickly and we were off to the church to spend the day teaching. We were going through the program called 5-Star Evangelism and the tool, One Minute Witness.

The 5 stars of evangelism are:

  • Compassion
  • Equipping
  • Application
  • Discipleship
  • Multiplication

The entire day was spent explaining each point and how important they are.

  • Compassion
    • This is the fuel for the tank of evangelism. Without compassion, you can never lead the lost to Christ.
    • You can’t have compassion if you don’t have tears for the lost.

Psalm 126:5-6 – Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.

  • The best way to have tears for them is to befriend the lost.

Luke 5:32 – I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.

  • Equipping
    • Most Christians don’t feel equipped to share their faith. This provides a simple, replicable tool.
  • Application
    • Once they know the tool, it is time to use it.
    • This is where the One Minute Witness comes in.
      • May I have permission to ask you a question?
      • What was the best thing that ever happened to you?
      • May I tell you what the best thing to ever happen to me was?
        • There was a time I was (pick 3 adjectives to describe your life before Christ)
        • But (what happened to turn your life to Christ)
        • When I learned that Jesus died and rose again for my sin, I (did you commit your life to Christ, etc….)
        • Since coming to know Christ, my life has changed (3 ways that your life has changed)
        • If I never would have come to Christ (what would have happened?)
    • The entire One Minute Witness is meant to direct people to Christ in 1 minute.
    • Once you do that, then if they seem like they are tracking with you, ask them “If you were to die tonight, where do you think you would go?
  • Discipleship
    • Be someone who is trained to train others on sharing their faith.
    • This is simply building the skills necessary to share your faith. Practicing over and over again.
    • Your mission field is wherever you are at that time.
  • Multiplication
    • Once others are sharing, the Gospel math is about multiplication, not addition.
    • The 2 parts to multiplication are:
  • Be filled with the Holy Spirit

Ephesians 5:18 – And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit

  • Go. Remember, your mission field is wherever you are.

Mark 16:15 – And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.

Once we walked people through the One Minute Witness, we went out into the streets to try it for real. In that hour, 48 people came to Christ! Many more were prayed over for their hurts, hang-ups and trials.

We ended day 1 with a meeting with leadership from 12 different church networks or denominations representing thousands of churches throughout the Dominican Republic.  By the end of the meeting, several of these bishops, presidents or superintendents committed to training people to use this tool to reach the lost.

Many people are opposed to systematizing the Gospel. I used to be one of them. But the older I get, the less I remember, so it makes it easy on me if I only need to remember the highlights of my story that brought me to Christ. Plus, most people will only give you a minute or two to share your faith anyway. Having a tool that can help you get the Gospel in a person’s ears quickly is beneficial.

Tomorrow, we go back to the same group. We complete the day with more detailed training for them, more on-the-street practice, and I will be sharing a message that targets the compassion aspect of the 5-Star evangelism.

Looking forward to seeing how many people God brings into His kingdom tomorrow!

I want to want to be like Shamgar

Shamgar has GOT to be one of the more mysterious judges, if not characters, in all the Bible. I’ve been doing my morning Bible devotions around the book of Judges lately. I’ve been working with my young adults through the book of Ruth and that takes place in the time of judges, so I figured I better learn me something about these here judges before the young adults have questions that I can’t answer.

So I reading Judges 3 and you hear about Othniel, who saved Israel from the Mesopotamian king. We get details about how many years the Israelites were in bondage and then how many years Israel had rest and how long Othniel lived. You get the name of the king he defeated. You even hear a little about his genealogy. He was the son of Kenaz and Caleb’s younger brother.

Next you hear about Ehud. You learn that the Ammonites and the Amelekites defeated Israel. Then you learn how Ehud killed the king of Moab. It is actually a pretty cool story. This guy must have been planning this for a very long time for the operation to go as it did. We even learn that Ehud is a left-handed man. There is a lot of detail in Ehud’s story.

Then you get to Shamgar.

Just so you don’t miss it, I am going to put everything we learn about him in chapter 3 below, so be prepared to do some reading:

Judges 3:31 – After him was Shamgar the son of Anath, who killed 600 of the Philistines with an oxgoad, and he also saved Israel.

That’s it.

The next time we hear about Shamgar, we are listening to Deborah’s son in chapter 5 where she simply mentions that in the days of Shamgar, there were no caravans because something must’ve happened to the roads.

The mystery surrounding him is so great that both Jewish scholars and Christian scholars disagree as to his purpose.

Let’s look a little at Shamgar and just who he MIGHT be.

Shamgar is not an Israelite name. And Anath? Well, Anath is a Canaanite goddess of war!

Jewish scholars believe that Shamgar is not a judge, but one of the leaders of the oppressing tribes, likely Hittite and possibly even the father of Sisera. The Philistines shouldn’t even be in the picture at the time of this entry.

Another Jewish scholar believes this this verse is out of place and that it was most likely one of David’s mighty men, Shammah son of Agee. This would mean that the Biblical writing was eventually corrupted to say Shamgar. I don’t like this rationale. It would mean that the Bible isn’t infallible or inerrant, and I believe it is.

One Bible scholar believes that he might not have been Israelite, but instead came from a military family. In those times, men would have been known as “son of…” and many times the town would associate with the name of a deity. This could have been a non-Israelite military family from a town that worshiped Anath. It could also be that he was part of a mixed Israelite-Canaanite marriage.

There are other

All we know from the Bible is that Shamgar’s time was in between Ehud and Deborah and then later Deborah sang about him and that he killed 600 Philistines with an oxgoad (an 8’ long stick that was used to prod oxen).

We don’t know if he killed 600 Philistines in one day, like a mini-Samson, or if this was over his lifetime. But that number does put him in good company with only Saul, David and Samson killing more Philistines.

But what does it for me is the mystery.

Why is this guy in here?

God doesn’t just put words on a paper to fill a word quota. There is a purpose behind every word in the Bible.

What is Shamgar’s purpose?

Then I got to praying.

“God, why on earth am I so obsessed with this guy Shamgar right now? Why do you have me so hyperfocused on him?”

Then it hit me. Shamgar did some amazing stuff, but didn’t get anything other than a byline in the Bible.

I want to want that for myself.

I want to be the person who affects so many lives but no one really cares but God.

That is a tough place to be because I kinda like the limelight. I like to preach a sermon and see faces light up. I like to teach a small group and see the eyes of everyone as they finally understand something they never did before. I like to be the one that is relied upon.

That was tough for me to write. I hate to admit that.

But I like people to need me.

Perhaps Shamgar is in there for people just like me. To know that others really do need you, but they don’t have to celebrate the fact that they do.

Ouch.

But #truth.

Generation of Complacency

Hebrews 10:24-25 – And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

The past few weeks I have seen what I believe is an unhealthy trend in churches that, at least to me, seems fairly new.

I live in Maryland. We don’t get a lot of snow, but when it snows, the average Marylander freaks out and purchases enough toilet paper, bottled water, and liquor to last a couple of pandemics. The past couple of weeks, we have had snow. It isn’t Minnesota snow, but to a Marylander, it might as well be equivalent to the Rocky Mountains.

During this time, we have had several conversations about whether we should close down for the weather or remain open. We decided upon using everyone’s favorite pandemic word and did a hybrid service. We cancelled our 8:30 AM outdoor service (because who in their right mind would want to be sitting out in the falling snow) and kept the 10:30 AM indoor service unchanged.

As the one who posts the majority of the social media on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter, I made it point to follow all the local churches around us. What I noticed is that the past 2 weeks, a large portion of the churches around us closed down due to the snow.

I don’t remember that happening on such a large scale and I am thinking, completely unscientifically of course, that it has to do with the COVID comfort that we have all slid into.

Allow me to explain.

When COVID hit, many churches weren’t allowed to be open except for a few people who were considered essential to streaming a service. This led to every church out there becoming a streaming facility.

The leaders in the churches became increasingly comfortable in becoming a modern-day version of a televangelist. The congregations became increasingly comfortable sitting at home in their pajamas watching the stream.

Matthew 18:20 – For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

We have already noticed, in reading the like of Thom Rainer, Ed Stetzer and others, that the average church lost over 60% of their volunteer base and are finding it difficult to rebuild it again (I can concur with this, by the way. As the guy who’s title is Director of Ministry & Outreach, finding volunteers who are comfortable returning to church is a tall order these days, we have had to rebuild from scratch).

But now add to the fact that people are more easily swayed to say, “It is going to be bad weather, I don’t think I want to risk going to church today.”

On Sunday we had 90 people in our sanctuary. COVID restrictions allow us to have 118 (50% of fire code). So we were well below the restriction, but we also were not missing a lot of people. Our average attendance between 2 services since coming back has been somewhere between 130-150 each week. For a church that was about 200 pre-COVID, I am pretty excited about that number.

So to see 90 people come out on a snow-covered Sunday, warmed my heart. But we also saw a significant increase in online viewership.

I know the local megachurch down the street cancelled its services. They had nothing, not even a stream. The other larger church near us cancelled their services as well. So between those 2 churches alone, over 2,000 people didn’t go to church!

Matthew 12:30 – Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.

Meanwhile, we had 90 in the service, 41 watching on Facebook, 50 watching on YouTube, and 36 watching on our website. If we assume only one viewer per social outlet, that means we were at 217 people celebrating with us.

Imagine if we hadn’t met. Would those 90 have “gone” to church?

I think we live in a world of double standards. It is too dangerous to go out and drive 5 miles in the snow but you better not close my church for a pandemic. And I think we also have become numb and comfortable to the fact that we can just turn on the TV, the computer, or the iPad and watch a service any time we want.

And I am guilty of creating that culture.

I think as leaders we should consider our actions. Have we made it too easy on our congregations to stay at home on Sunday? Have we enabled them to simply soak but not serve? Are we training up a generation of complacency?

I don’t have the answers. That is why I am asking. What do you think?

1 Thessalonians 5:11 – Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

What Does a Call Look Like?

I’ve been talking to several people over the past couple of week about that term “calling.” Just what does a “call” look like?

In baseball, they have the “call to the bullpen” where the old pitcher comes out and a new pitcher comes in to take over the rest of the game.

Then there is another way to use the word:

“My name is Zebediah, but you can call me Zeb.”

In that case, the person wants you to call them by a certain title or nickname.

Then you have the doctor version of it. “I am on call.”

And there are multiple other uses of the word…

“’Should I call the men from up on the hill?’ he called out.”

But what about in Christianity? Let’s look at a couple verses and determine what this word actually means and if it is even biblical to say “I have a calling to go into the ministry.”

Ephesians 4:1-3 – I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Romans 11:29 – For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

2 Peter 1:10 – Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.

1 Corinthians 1:26-27 – For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;

That is a lot to digest!

Let’s unpack each of these verses and throw in some of the church history as well.

To begin, the general call in the Bible is to a live with Christ. That is the first and foremost call in the Bible.

Romans 1:5-6 – through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ

Belonging to and in Christ is a much deeper calling than anything else in there. When one starts to discern a calling from a Christian standpoint, we need to make sure they have first a restored relationship with God and with His people.

This means that the primary call of the Christian is to respond to and act upon the call to participate in God’s redemptive work in the world.

This means that whatever work we choose must be integrated with the participation with Christ Himself. We could be a plumber, but as a plumber, we can work for the Kingdom by repairing relationships, showing justice, acting with mercy and grace and other components of the kingdom.

Next, God has given us a call to work. God created us to work. It started all the way back in the Garden of Eden. In Exodus, we are told that we are to work for 6 days and then rest. So you could say that it goes beyond calling, we are created to work. In the very beginning the call to basically be a farmer was the highest calling there was other than unity with God (until Eve came along that is).

Next, we are called to, well, life. Our work is not merely the job from which we get a paycheck. We raise families, have a spouse, and have friends.

Eve came along and Adam was then so smitten with her that he gave his time and attention to her as well as working his job in the Garden. This means we should balance our paid work and personal work with our families and friends.

So, to this point, we know that we are called to belong to Christ. We are created to work. And we are called to have a full life, filled with family and friends.

Knowing what kind of work you do is probably not that high on God’s list of things that are of critical importance.

But let’s look at whether God calls us to particular work.

We do know it does happen. God has called several people in the Bible to specific work. He called prophets. He called Noah to build an ark. He called Moses and Aaron to their roles. Many of the political leaders we see in the Bible, God elevated them to their roles. Even though the word “call” is not used here, there is no mistaking that God called those people to their roles.

I have read several commentaries that said that God called very few people in the Bible. And, I guess He didn’t call a lot of people numerically. But if you take that as a percentage of the people mentioned in the Bible, it is actually pretty high. And if you include the people we don’t get to “meet,” then that is a very high number. We don’t see all the people who went on to plant churches  in the New Testament or all of the Israelites whose sole job it was to protect the Ark of the Covenant.

But were many of these calls a direct “voice from heaven” moment or were they more subtle, such as being attuned to the heart of God through Scripture and meditation? There are several ways to discern where God wants to place you as far as a career goes.

First, we need to look at the needs of the world. We are told in Scripture that we should support ourselves and our families.

1 Timothy 5:8 – But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

Titus 3:14 – Let people learn to devote themselves to good works in order to meet urgent needs, so that they may not be unproductive.

We also are expected to meet the needs of those who are not part of our family.

Proverbs 14:21 – Happy are those who are kind to the poor.

Proverbs 11:25 – A generous person will be enriched, and one who gives water will get water.

Or what about working to be productive in society? That is Scriptural as well.

Jeremiah 29:5-7 – Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Next, God gives us each talents and gifts. We should use those gifts not only for the edification of the body of believers, but for the society as a whole.

Isaiah 28:24-26 – Do those who plow for sowing plow continually? Do they continually open and harrow their ground? When they have leveled its surface, do they not scatter dill, sow cummin, and plant wheat in rows and barley in its proper place, and spelt as the border? For they are well instructed; their God teaches them.

1 Corinthians 12:7-10 – To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.

This is where knowing what you are good at and what spiritual gifts the Lord has given is important. This happens by talking to those closest to you, realizing your talents and spiritual gifts tests.

For example, I know that God has given me the ability to take large tasks and get them accomplished. I have managerial skills and leadership ability. I also have the ability to preach and to teach. That is what has helped me to confirm my calling into ministry. But similar skill set could be used to be a training manager for a company or a military commander.

Finally, what has God given you as your desires? Your fulfillment of purpose is vitally important to God.

Psalm 37:4 – Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Matthew 5:6 – Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

John 16:24 – Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.

Because of sin, however, our desires can get all screwed up. Doing what makes us happiest will not always bring the greatest fulfillment. God is looking out for our fulfillment of purpose, not mere happiness that comes and goes with the circumstances.

Does this mean that being “called” into the ministry is a higher calling? Around the Middle Ages, becoming a monk or a nun was considered a higher calling. Even to this day, we still see that played out. I have been fairly consistent in believing that while I welcome the benefits that the government affords those in ministry, they further create a divide into calling versus higher calling, and that is a mentality that needs to stop.

But fact of the matter remains, God does call people into vocational ministry.

Exodus 28:1 – Then bring near to you your brother Aaron, and his sons with him, from among the Israelites, to serve me as priests — Aaron and Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar.

Mark 1:16-17 – As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea — for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

Acts 13:2,5 – While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” ….When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John also to assist them.

Regardless, Christians are called, yes called, to conduct themselves to the full-time service of Christ.

Colossians 3:23 – Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters.

But, Fred, what about 1 Timothy calling out those who are elder or pastor as it actually being a higher calling?

1 Timothy 5:17-18 – Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching; for the scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves to be paid.”

This should be translated more in line with pay rather than about comparing their work with other peoples’ work. The true comparison in this passage is about pastors who rule well versus those who don’t instead of pastors versus the rest of the world.

Whew….That was a lot. But I believe this will give some insight, mostly to myself, about the word calling and what it is to the Christian.

Wait

Creator of earth & heaven, why am I filled with question

Defeated in my spirit. One empty man, desiring Your plan

Proverbs 21:5 – The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.

Ministry is such a fickle calling. The majority of Christians, in America at least, desire to have their ears tickled rather than salt poured on their wounds. We have trained ourselves to think that God’s blessings come only when we get what we want.

Now the inside of me is empty, the ones I have trusted have left me

But still I’m not forsaken, led by the hand of the Son of Man

Proverbs 16:3 – Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.

Your kingdom is so much bigger than what we make it out to be. Your kingdom is the present perfect tense! It is and it is yet to come. You have directed my path every step of the way ever since I called out to You.

My life has not been an easy one. Yep, it was, for 38 years. I grew up in a pretty stable family. Before I came along, though, I know both my mom and my dad, before meeting each other, had tough lives. It is one of the big things that I respect about them.

But for 38 years, I was fairly insulated from pain.

The past 12 years have been hard. And I am not saying that lightly. I mean it feels like someone has placed a shackle around my feet, attached a large boulder to it and told me to go climb Mt. Everest.

In 2011 I not only committed my work to the Lord, but I committed to work FOR the Lord. So plans were put in place to make that happen.

2011 is when the calling and my life truly intersected.

And so I will wait

And though my heart aches

Nothing can cause me to ever turn away

There is so much pain in this world that my heart wants to break

Proverbs 24:27 – Prepare your work outside; get everything ready for yourself in the field, and after that build your house.

I prepared my work and got everything ready. By 2016 I started building the house that You asked me to build, preparing to go into vocational ministry.

You called me, Lord. You called me to intersect with those whose lives were without purpose, like mine was for 38 years. You called me to reach into the mire of peoples’ lives and show them that You are their one and only way to salvation.

2018 you blessed that day in early December. The house was now built.

But until You choose to deliver me, I choose to wait

Proverbs 24:3-4 – By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; by knowledge the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches.

Lately, that house has been rocked. Figurative earthquakes have shaken the foundations. Figurative floods have destroyed some of the beautiful treasures inside the house. As the figurative house ages, I am learning that the equipment needs to be upgraded. I still need to place weed killer down so the crabgrass doesn’t break up through the driveway. I need to maintain the house you helped me build.

So that is my prayer today.

How can I maintain the house You helped me build?

What does that look like?

Last night I stood outside my house and simply looked at it. How do I know what needs to be replaced, upgraded, and repaired?

Short answer is that I typically stumble across it. Yes, there are reminders that I have in my phone to replace filters and I know that during the summer I will need to cut the grass weekly. But I won’t know the shower cartridge has a problem until there is a leak. And I won’t know a light is bad until it burns out.

The same can be said for this spiritual house I am in. There are things that I do daily to maintain the house. I read Your Word. I spend time in prayer. I study to show myself approved by You.

But there are areas that I won’t know are wearing out until they break.

Proverbs 27:23 – Know well the condition of your flocks, and give attention to your herds

But hopefully, through study of the Word and prayer, I can learn to see the conditions of the house before too much begins to fail.

I am invisible…to myself

Romans 12:2 – Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

This past week I was able to unplug, unwind, and just enjoy some time alone. Throughout the week, while I spent the majority of my time alone in my hotel room, I did venture out occasionally. While out there, I realized that there is a very big difference between myself, and the culture that I have grown up in, and other cultures that are present right here in my own backyard.

Our behaviors are driven by the cultures and norms that we grew up with. When we enter areas or get into groups that have norms that we don’t understand, we tend to interpret those words and actions through the lens of our own culture. The problem with that is that it can lead to misinterpretation of the culture and damaged relationships.

I would like to share an example of this from a business perspective, but understand that this can be seen across countless other “cultural” norms other than business.

In American business, we tend to expect people to say what they mean and take their word at face value. Unfortunately, that cultural norm doesn’t translate across all cultures. If an American manager assumes an Asian counterpart will understand words the same way, that American manager could be in for a rude awakening.

The American manager looked at his Asian counterpart and asked if he understood on how to move forward with a project. The Asian coworker said he understood and agreed with the American coworker on how to move forward. A few months later, however, the American manager realized that his Asian counterpart didn’t agree at all and the project had never moved forward.

In many Asian cultures, harmony is highly valued. It is rude and inappropriate to disagree with people face to face and even more so in the presence of others, such as in a meeting. So typically, an Asian person may nod and say “yes” but it simple acknowledgement that they understood what you said, not necessarily agreement with what you propose.

Many times, the only way to deduce whether someone Asian agrees or disagrees with you is by watching their nonverbal cues. Do they have a pained look on their face as they nod? Don’t expect them to agree with you.

A key takeaway from this is that the American manager should have scheduled a one-on-one meeting with his Asian counterpart and been more aware of his body language. This would have helped him understand that cultural differences between him and his counterpart.

That was only an example taken from a business perspective.

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 – For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

But this past week has been very eye-opening to me. Mostly from a perspective of Caucasian versus African-American.

I’ve never subscribed to the political norms of the day. As a Christian, I am supposed to be right-wing, conservative, Republican. I am supposed to be wearing something preppy (I know, a throwback to the 80s) and focused on building my bank account instead of healing the world.

But that isn’t me. I am NOT a Republican (I am also NOT a Democrat). I am not totally conservative. I hold to some traditional conservative values (I am pro-life, for example). But I also hold some traditionally liberal values (I think we should take care of the immigrants in our country, for example).

I base my Christianity from the Bible, not from commentaries or political pundits.  I do not ascribe to political Christianity. We don’t live in a post-Christian culture. We have never lived in a Christian culture. Yes, many of our laws are based from the Bible, but we were never a Christian nation. At best, we are a pre-Christian nation.

But, what I realized this week is that even though I don’t ascribe to many of those cultural norms, they are ingrained in my psyche and my actions.

For so long, I held to the fact that I didn’t need to wear a mask. I thought of it politically. Why did I have to do something that various people (both Democrat & Republican) don’t have to do? On the Democratic side, why does Rep. Lewis get a huge funeral attended by hundreds while it is illegal for the average person to get a funeral for their mom or dad. As for the Republicans, why do I have to have my rights trampled on so I can’t meet at church while I can fill up a Walmart or Home Depot with tons of people who barely know how to wear a mask?

I still don’t fear this virus. I have no reason to. I have a God who is bigger than this virus. But what I need to realize is that my culture, the one I ascribe to, is not being targeted. It is not in jeopardy. I can still worship. I can still praise God publicly. I can still have friends over to my house to talk about the Bible openly. And we can, technically, still have church, even if you are in a state like California where they have banned inside services and small groups in houses (they can still meet outside, whether at their houses or at their churches).

Colossians 2:8 – See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

But this week….

I went away to rejuvenate. After doing ministry through this pandemic the past 4-5 months, I realized that I was a little burned out. The sheep have become more in need during this time and we are trying to reach a community for the Gospel that is not just dying spiritually, but now could very well be sick and dying physically!

I went about 3 hours away to southwest VA. In this area there were a lot of people vacationing. There were Caucasian, Asian, and African-American from what I saw.

All of the stores in the area are required to have a sign on their doors that say “MASKS REQUIRED.”

But that didn’t stop people from not following it.

And it wasn’t a cross-section of each population that was not wearing it. It was a single culture that wasn’t wearing masks…mine.

The Asian and African-American people were wearing the masks. Almost 100% of people of those ethnicities were in masks. But the Caucasians were not wearing masks well or at all!

My wife and I met with a salesperson while down there who spits while he talks. He was not masked as he tried to sell us on something. He had spit coming out of his mouth and landing on the table in front of him.

Then, I asked a few people why they weren’t wearing masks in the places they worked and they said, for example:

“I can’t breathe in them” (that was the most common answer…lame excuse! I have asthma and can breathe perfectly through the mask)

 

“I am not wearing a mask, it violates my rights.”

 

“Masks don’t save lives. The studies are all lying to us.”

 

Then, on Thursday, I went to a convenience store. Inside were 3 Caucasian people working and probably about 10-12 Caucasians buying stuff. Absolutely none of them (except me) had a mask on! Also in there were 7-8 African-Americans. They were all masked up.

So I asked them why they were wearing masks. Here are a couple of their responses:

“It is my duty to protect others.”

 

“The virus affects the black population more than the white population.”

 

“Masks work to keep us all safe.”

 

We can learn from so many people from all cultures and ethnicities. But ultimately, what does the Bible say about this?

My wife and I were interviewed om Saturday for a YouTube video that a couple of missionaries we support in Peru were putting together. During the interview, Mimi brought up a verse that I have always enjoyed to share with others, but never put a lot of thought into it.

Philippians 2:3 – Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

Now re-read those answers from the people above and see if they fit within Philippians 2:3 context.

So I need to realize that my own culture…even the one I like to say I don’t ascribe to…is invisible to me and I need to start taking Philippians 2:3 as more than just good words of advice to share with others and let it be something that leads my actions and words.

Judgment, Trial, or Consequence?

Yesterday when I wrote about my thoughts, I said that I was thinking this COVID thing was judgment from God rather than a trial we are going through.

When I wrote it, I was actually surprised how easily those words came from my hands. Today, after prayer and thought, I am not so sure.  Do I still believe it could be judgment from God? Yep. Am I convinced of it? Not so much.

Here is why.

I decided to take a vacation. The clamors of the world were so loud over the past 5 months that I needed to disappear and get some alone time with God. I left Friday for vacation, heading into the mountainous areas of southwest VA. Mimi joined me for a couple of days and we tooled around the area looking at antiques and flowers and things, but she left Sunday afternoon and I stayed behind to get some alone time with God.

Yesterday, when I woke up, I started thinking on judgments in the Bible and what they looked like. I let my emotions lead my typing as I posted yesterday.

But then I spent much of the day reading, studying the Bible, and reviewing those judgments in there as well as other times people called things judgment that were not.

And now I am not so sure.

Looking at specific times in the Bible that could be used as a barometer for this being judgment, I started in the New Testament.

Acts 12:23 – Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.

I know, not necessarily the use of a disease, but a judgment nonetheless and, bonus, it has worms eating a guy! But God does use death as a judgment. This one, was more personal than corporate.

Then you have this…

John 5:14 – Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.”

Jesus is clearly telling someone to not sin anymore so that nothing else happens to him. But then I got to praying about this. Is this judgment or consequence? This guy was paralyzed 38 years prior. Who knows if it was from his sin or if he simply tripped and became paralyzed. We need more to the story to determine if it is truly judgment that Jesus is talking about here or if it consequence.

What about this one…

1 Corinthians 11:30 – That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.

This one is clearly a judgment. Jesus is doing communion with His disciples and He tells them that if you take communion without discerning the body is eating and drinking judgment on themselves. Then He goes on to tell them that this is why many have died or are weak or sick.

Clearly a judgment here.

And this is a judgment specifically for people who are followers of Christ!

How about in the Old Testament?

Well, we have Job. His friends told him that he was being judged by God. God called Job’s friends wicked and stupid for saying that, though.

You would think that if this was judgment, there would be no confusion about whether it is or isn’t. God is not a God of confusion but of clarity.

One more verse to make a point is in Luke 13….

Luke 13:4-5 – Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

A tower fell in Jerusalem and the people wanted to know if it was judgment on them. Jesus specifically tells them it was not.

So now I am left wondering. Is this judgment? Is it a trial? Is it a consequence? I tend to lean more (today) on the consequence than anything. We are acting foolishly here in America, and especially in our churches, and we are not heeding the sound advice of the experts in their fields and doing what we please. There has to be a consequence that follows that course of action.

Ultimately, though, it is God who is in control. And, one day, this will all be wiped away as we enter rest with Him.

Sometimes the words fail

Matthew 12:36 – I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak

Over the past few months, I’ve been learning a lot about what ministry is like but even more so about who I am in ministry.

And the words have failed me.

I have about 20 blog posts that I have started and haven’t finished.

Because the words have failed me.

The past few months have filled my head and heart with a lot of different thoughts and feelings.

And, yet, the words have failed me.

I have gone back and forth between the importance of social distancing and the desire to be close-up with people I know and love.

I have switched several times between the importance of masks and thinking they are just something that is just a false sense of security.

I’ve been seeing the effect of this pandemic on the church I am a leader at and churches around the country and worldwide.

But I can’t find the words to share what is truth during this time.

I only have emotion.

So, in a different twist, I would like to type my prayer to God here that I am asking Him right now.

God, I give you the glory. But right now I am at a loss for words. I am at a loss for truth. I pray for the discernment to know what to say to a community that needs words of wisdom. A community that hasn’t been through what we are currently going through. A community that is going through the same emotions that I am going through. In Jesus Name. Amen.

Psalm 19:14 – Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

When 2020 started (I wonder how many books, blog posts and social media sentences will be starting with that), I was a little over a year-old in full-time ministry. Our church was growing. We were above 200 and seeing more come every day. We had growing ministries and several people serving throughout the church.

My job is Director of Ministries. Things were going well. It was great seeing the ministries grow and the people get involved.

Our growth groups were growing as well. We were seeing a very high percentage of our attenders going to growth group and connecting with people outside of the Sunday service. People were becoming what our mission statement says, “bringing people to Christ and developing them into fully mature, reproducing followers of Jesus.”

But now, we look at about 60 coming to church as success. We look at the live stream numbers and see how many views we had or comments. How many subscribers did we grow. We don’t even know how to truly disciple people during this time in our history.

It is as if God has taken what we know of church and thrown out the model.

The one thing that keeps coming back to me is that this isn’t a time of trial for the church but a time of judgment.

If this is judgment on the church, then that means we need to become the church that God needs us to become.

The book of Hebrews can be filled with hope for us. Originally written for Jewish Christians who were getting ready to go through a time of intense persecution who were feeling worn down by the time they were in and they were beginning to revert to their old ways.

Sound familiar?

In America, the church has never been more divided. In the past, we were divided on issues such as grace and works or infant baptism and believer’s baptism or views on women in ministry. Today, the church is divided over whether we should follow the guidance of the government to protect those who are at most risk by a virus that has a history of killing those at risk. We are divided on whether we should wear a face mask because, as Americans, it is more important that we have our freedoms than it is that we care for the least of these.

But what do you expect from a country that believes a political leaning is based in Christianity.

Is our freedom really in what the government promises us? Or is it in Christ?

If we as Christians find our freedom and hope in our government, then we have abandoned the One who gives us true freedom and hope.

We have pastors and churches who are leading their sheep into a belief that church can only happen if they listen to them live on a Sunday morning. We have pastors who are suing the government by saying that they have lost their rights. We have pastors and churches who believe less about the shepherding of the one than they do about the leading of the masses.

When we lose sight of what it means to be a shepherd, then we miss the point of Christ and His church.

So whether the argument is about immigration (by the way, Jesus would help the sojourner), or equality of the races (by the way, we are all made in the image of God, regardless of color of skin or place of birth), or whether we should completely close down churches for a time to save a population that is at risk (by the way, if the only way you can worship God is on Sunday morning in a large church service, then you have missed the point of the Gospel), we need to unify around the Word. We need to unify around the Christ who saves us. We need to consider others as better than ourselves and allow our pride to be crucified on the cross of Christ.

So I found the words. Or more, I believe they were given to me to say.

In a time of judgment, it is a necessity to seek the Christ of eternity rather than come up with more and more plans, programs, and ideas.

In a time of judgment, it is a time to seek God through His Word and act in a way that honors Him alone.

In THIS time of judgment, may all the words we say be seasoned with salt but chosen only with discernment and wisdom.

Colossians 4:6 – Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

 

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