To go or not to go, part three...

Picking up where we left off yesterday in our discussion of questions about serving in missions when others caution you against going, there are a couple more questions to ask...

3. Is this naivete or a calling?

In Paul's speech to the Ephesian elders, he states, "And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me." (20:22-23)  Paul was not naive about his mission.  He was going, knowing that there were assured dangers ahead.

We are most often not going to find ourselves in this situation.  We may know that there is the possibility of danger in our mission, but the assurance Paul had is rare.  Yet we must not blindly ignore the calls of someone who tells us of the inherent danger in a situation.

When we hear of the powerful works of God and the great destinations offered, we can be really excited about the opportunity to go to a far away state or land.  And yet our desire must be proclaiming the greatness of Christ to those who haven't heard and not just a sanctified vacation.  Missions may very well take us places we find are beyond words and to people who have an awe inspiring effect on us.  However, the allure of the opportunity must not close our eyes and cause us to make an unwise decision.  God's call is of primary importance, the place will be beautiful, whether it is across the street or across the globe.

4. Why don't they want you to go?

We must not make the assumption that those who do not want us to go are against God's call in your life.  At the same time, they are not necessarily a prophet, speaking God's direction for you.  A good question for us to ask is their motive for telling you not to go.

Those who loved Paul did not want him to go because they knew he was in danger.  Their concern was for his life.  He as dear to them and losing him would cause them great pain.  And yet they also had a genuine desire to see the Kingdom of God advanced and the work of the Spirit to continue. Through their tears they sent Paul to fulfill God's call on his life.

Not everyone is able to put their personal feelings secondary to a desire to see Christ's name proclaimed.  It may be for many reasons.  If we know this, then we may have insight as to why they may not want us to go.  We find Christ's command in coming to bear here: ""If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple."  A love for His glory is primary.

I in no way believe that asking these questions will be easy or enable us to make a quick decision.  I do however believe that when they are discussed and prayed over earnestly, God will direct, Christ will be honored, and the Spirit will move through us to reach our neighborhoods and the nations.

Posted by Jack | at 8:00 AM | 0 comments

To go or not to go...part two

In last week's post, I looked at the struggle found in making the decision as to whether or not you should go on mission (read either short-term or long term) when you are being counseled not to go by people who genuinely care about you.  Serving as a student pastor, I have face this on several occasions. Parents who are committed to Christ are faced with a difficult decision when their child wants to go and serve in a distant place.  Some places that even brought somewhat of a danger.

All believers are called to be on mission in the context in which God has placed them (Matthew 28:18-20, Colossians 4:5-6, 1 Corinthians 7:21-24). Not everyone is called to go and be a part of every opportunity (3 John 5-8).  We must see to make our decisions based on direction from Scripture and from much prayer.  In that light there are a few questions that I believe are good for us to ask if we find ourselves in this kind of situation.

1. Are you under your parent's authority?

Our four-year old has memorized three verses of scripture.  One of them is "Children obey your parents in the Lord for this is right."  Paul goes on to instruct children that honoring their father and mother was the first commandment with a promise.  Parents have been given the responsibility and privilege by God to teach and raise their children in a way that they would know and love God with all they are. This would include being faithful to the call He has placed on their lives.

The key to this passage, especially as it relates to our topic, is the phrase "in the Lord." Parents must not stop their children from being faith out of sheer worry or fear. To do so is to ignore Paul's admonition to fathers in to "not provoke their children to anger." At the same time, those under their parent's authority must not ignore their parents direction simply because they "really, really, really want to go!"

When this type of situation comes, parents and child should spend time together talking through concerns and desires and praying earnestly together.  Both sides must be willing and open to God changing their perspective and be willing to submit to his leadership.  In the end, parents must seek God's leadership and make the decision they believe is what God would have them do, even if this is unpopular.  If a parent has made that decision, trust that God will honor your desire to serve and open a door that both you and your parents will see as a prefect opportunity.

2. Is this a good idea or God's idea?

A desire to share the Gospel is a good thing.  Period.  Yet there are times when we desire to go one direction when God would have us to go in another direction.  In Acts 16:6-7, Paul and his companions are stopped from going into two different regions by the Spirit.  Upon first reading, this may seem somewhat strange to us.  Why did God stop them from going and spreading the Good News?  We find the answer in verses 9-10.  God wanted them to go to Macedonia, so he sent Paul a vision.

Most of the time, God does not speak to us in visions.  Yet he does use His Word and His church.  It may be that God is using those who are urging you not to go as a means of redirecting your focus and energy.  If their counsel is both biblical and saturated with a desire for the glory of Christ among the nations, we would be fools to pay no attention.  Wisdom would lead us to at least consider if their counsel is God's way of moving us from a good idea to His idea.  It may actually be God's way of confirming the call in our lives as we hear their counsel, pray passionately, and still feel compelled to go.

Tomorrow I will post two more questions and some brief closing thoughts

Posted by Jack | at 8:30 AM | 1 comments

To go or not to go...that's the real question

Missions have always been important to me. Some of my earliest memories are sitting at church in a group known as "Mission Friends." I started taking mission trips as soon as I was able and haven't looked back.

In my role as a pastor, I have tried to pass this passion on to those God has given me the priveledge to serve. By God's grace there have been several who have developed a heart for missions. It is exciting to see their enthusiasm grow and their faces shine as they return, eager for the next opportunity.

This morning, my heart was stirred as I read my Bible. I usually post my thoughts about my readings on Twitter. However, this morning I needed more than 140 characters.
I am reading through the New Testament with our students. This mornings reading was in . To be honest, this thought actually began in chapter 20. Paul is on his way to Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit has testified to him that he faces "imprisonment and afflictions." (Acts 20:20) As he moves closer to Jerusalem, more and more people testify that this is the case. Finally a prophet named Agabus demonstrates with Paul's belt the way he would be bound by the Jews and handed over to the Gentiles. Paul's friends respond the way we would expect:

"When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem." (Acts 21:12)

This is one of those "we" passages in Acts where Luke, the writer of the book, places himself in the narrative. Even he desired for Paul to stop his trip to Jerusalem. All of those who loved Paul dearly did not want him to go because of the great danger involved. And here is Paul's reply:

"Then Paul answered, "What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." (Acts 21:13)

Their love was dear to him. Their concern overwhelming. And yet all of their concern was not enough to make him turn back from the path God had placed before him. And so Paul went and by the end of chapter 21 he has been beaten and is in the custody of the Romans.

God does not call us to go on vacation. He calls us to go on mission. To be on mission is to go to those who are hostile to the Gospel. This hostility may be civilized (a polite, "no thanks") or it may even be physically violent. It also means quite often leaving our comfort zone and place of perceived safety. When we contemplate this, those who love us are rightly concerned about us. If they weren't, we would have to question their love. Sometimes they are like Paul's companions and beg us not to go.

This can place us in a very precarious situation. Are they God's way of telling us that we may not need to go? Are they voices that love us greatly yet stand with Paul's companions, "breaking our hearts" but not in-line with God's call?

Though I do not believe that there are easy answers to these questions, I think that if we think Biblicaly, we can find a direction that is Christ-honoring and at least somewhat comforting to our loved ones. Tomorrow I will present some of my thoughts on this.

Posted by Jack | at 7:57 AM | 1 comments

Mike bought my milk

Today I had to run some errands to nail down some details on an even we are going to have through our student ministry this Saturday.  One of those errands involved heading to Wal-mart.  While there, I told my wife that I would pick up some milk.

I chose what I hoped to be the shortest line.  When I did, I noticed that the guy in front of me was talking to everyone around.  To be honest, I thought he was a little off-center.  Then I realized that He was talking about Jesus.  I wasn't sure where this was going to go, but I began nodding in agreement with some of what he was saying.  I was counting out some change to pay for my milk, and he looked at me and said, "God loves you on a Monday morning when you don't have the money to buy milk."  He then looked at the cashier and said he was going to buy my milk.  I told him that I truly appreciated it, that I was a brother in Christ, and that he really didn't need to buy my milk.  He simply smiled and said that whether I had the money or not, he wanted to buy my milk.  Somebody brought him groceries one time and he just wanted to do the same.  We talked for a few moments, and then parted ways.

Mike, his real name, has two things I admire.  One is a heart to tell people about Jesus.  The other is a desire to be a blessing to others.  He was a blessing to me.  And he was a great challenge to this pastor as well.  May my life be one that overflows with words about Jesus and love to others.

Mike, I may never see you again and you will probably never read this, but thanks for buying my milk.  And thank you even more for stirring my soul to be more earnest in my love for others.

Posted by Jack | at 4:21 PM | 1 comments

Self-condemnation? Not exactly...

This morning, I read an interesting verse in Acts 13 . In verse 46, Paul is speaking to the Jews who were inciting people against him and Barnabas. He says:

"It was necessary that the Word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles."

It struck me that their rejection of the Gospel was an act of judgment. Yet unlike many claims against Christ-followers today, it was not Paul or Barnabas who did the judging. They judged themselves unworthy. And not in a remorseful or broken way. It seems the judgment was one of agreement. Like a judge who closes one case and moves on to the next, they were done with the message of the Gospel.

From time to time we as believers will encounter those who seem to do the same thing. We must not let it turn us to arrogance, but brokenness. We must not let it turn us to hopelessness, but prayer. After all, Paul stirred up all kinds of trouble for believers and God over-ruled his self-judgment.

Posted by Jack | at 7:38 AM | 1 comments

The chasm between study and practice

I enjoy the study of theology. I am one of those guys who would
gleefully spend hours pouring over a book written by a guy who died a
couple hundred years ago about theories of the atonement. Yet lately I
have come to realize all the more that study is nothing if it is not
lived out.

My dad once told me, somewhat tongue in cheek, that those who can, do,
and those who can't, teach. While that certainly is not a hard and
fast rule, I feel that without caution it could become the case in my
life. Knowing what to tell someone is one thing. Living theology day-
in and day-out is another.

This has become even more evident as I have walked with friends
through rough spots in their lives. It has become more evident as I
have become a husband and father. It is has become more evident as I
have served as a pastor for the past five years.
So now I press on to bridge the chasm and become more and more in
practice what I have learned in my study. (And I am starting now as my
boys eagerly ask me to come "play bugs.") May God grant me grace to
become a godly man in more than just theory.

Posted by Jack | at 7:14 PM | 0 comments

Trying something new

Last night I taught on God's transcendence.  I added a link to my podcast on the right.  I am not sure how this works, but if you subscribe, you may also get it in this post.  I guess we will check and see.

Posted by Jack | at 11:14 AM | 0 comments

Politically Uncorrect Kindness

In my previous post, I hoped to explore why the call to repentance is a good thing based upon Peter's call in Acts 3.  The first of those reasons is that we may have our sins blotted out.

Imagine for a moment that you were in a bad car accident. As a result of the trauma, your hearing is damaged.  As you stagger out of the mangled wreckage, a semi-truck is barreling towards you.  If I am standing on the side of the road, what is the kindest thing for me to do?  It's to let you know the truck is coming and to help you get out of the road!

While this analogy has its limitations, it is helpful for me to understand why calling people to repent of their sins is an act of kindness.  Without their sins forgiven, they have the holy wrath of God barreling towards them.  The only way that they escape is to "repent and believe" (Mark 1:15).

When thinking of this, there are two passages that come to mind:

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. Romans 2:4-5
The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 2 Peter 3:9
Our call to a person to repent of their sin is a call to escape God's wrath and live in the kindness and patience of God that lead them to Him.  Rather than condemnation, the call to repentance is a plea to have our sins removed and reconciliation be made between us and God.  We don't want them to be like us.  Rather we want them to know Christ.
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  2 Corinthians 5:18-21
Be kind to someone and call them to repent.

Posted by Jack | at 9:33 AM | 0 comments