On a bus in Bangkok

Photo Cred: Pixabay.com

Photo Cred: Pixabay.com

On a bus in Bangkok

In the wake of the Tsunami that devastated South East Asia around Christmas of 2004, in an effort to help with relief efforts, Cru (formerly Campus Crusade for Christ) decided to send a team of 100 students from across the country to partner with the Thailand Cru ministry. I had the privilege of representing North Dakota State on that team, and it forever changed my life. It was the first time I had ever left the country (other than going to Canada). It was the first time I had been on a plane, other than a flight to Florida at the age of five which I cannot remember. I had to get a passport. I had to get a new suitcase. I had to raise money for travel expenses and to help fund the relief effort. I grew up in a small town in central Minnesota and went to a medium sized university in North Dakota. My general experience had been largely mono-cultural. Through this trip my eyes were opened to the world.

I got to experience a new culture. I got to spend time in non-western cities. I got to interact with people who had a completely different worldview and experience than me. It was life changing. Following that trip, I traveled overseas for various types of missions trips multiple times before graduating college (I have been to the capital city of four different countries, but never my own), and spent many years seriously considering and praying about long-term missions. The burden God placed on my heart for the world has not changed, and I think it is important for all Christians to be aware of the state of global missions.

Sitting on a bus in Bangkok, a student from Iowa leaned over to me and asked me if I had ever taken the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course. I had not, and he recommended that I should, so when I got back to the states I emailed the directors of the Cru ministry at NDSU, suggesting that we look into bringing the Perspectives course to Fargo. Incredibly, one of their roommates was actually in the process of helping to plan a new session of the course for the next fall. It was clear to me that God was calling me to take the course, so I did, and I got some of my friends to take it with me. The Perspectives course is a 15-week course, with 15 different instructors and some fantastic reading materials that takes a student through the Biblical, historical, cultural and strategic perspectives on missions. If you have not taken the course, then try to find one in your city. Here is a link. Be careful though, taking this course may change your life.

These are just a few of the experiences that have shaped my heart for missions. There are a lot of great resources and opportunities to grow in your own experience and understanding of God's heart for missions.

Watch one of these videos

Do you want to expand your understanding of missions? I recently came across some great resources that you might enjoy. Here are three videos that are each about 3-6 minutes. Each of them provides information we should all be aware of about missions

Do you want to expand your understanding of missions?

The Biblical Basis for Missions

The first one is about the Biblical Basis for Missions. It is the longest of the three, and it traces God's heart for missions throughout the entire arc of the Biblical narrative. It is a great video to watch:

The Task Remaining

This video helps to describe the task remaining. It is a sobering picture of where most of our resources go with regard to missions. It is worth watching. How does this change the way that you engage with missions?

Defining Unreached People Groups

You may hear the term Unreached People Groups thrown around from time to time. This will help give you a better understanding of what people mean when they use that phrase.

On the receiving end of someone else's agenda

Photo Cred: Pixabay.com

Photo Cred: Pixabay.com

The dairy aisle at Target

I was recently tasked with purchasing our groceries, something I don't often do for our family. Not because I am unwilling, but mostly because I nearly always mess up. Almost without fail I forget something, purchase the wrong item or find a new way to screw up what should be a very simple task. I could go on with tales of my attempting to purchase our groceries, but I will stop there.

While I don't often buy our groceries, I do on occasion. Recently, on one of my more successful grocery runs, I turned the corner into the dairy aisle and was greeted by a friendly face. He was a stranger to me, but friendly none the less. There was another man getting groceries and he complimented me on my shirt. I must admit, I was a little surprised by the compliment. I do like the shirt I was wearing, but it really isn't anything special. He proceeded to ask me where I got it from. Then he asked me which stores I like to shop for clothes. He continued to ask me questions about my work, my family, where I live and other introductory questions. I am not sure if I was visibly perplexed, but I was having a hard time reading his intention behind these questions. We were able to relate with one another over the fact that we both worked in downtown Minneapolis, were both married and had young children and a few other areas. Each time the conversation seemed to be drawing to a close, he continued it with another question. Overall, the conversation felt forced, but I still didn't know why.

Then it happened. I was ending the conversation, telling him it was nice to meet him and as I began to walk away, he said, "Oh, and I guess there is one more thing..."

He proceeded to tell me about a direct-marketing company he was part of and attempted to give me a pitch about vitamins, how much they had done for his life and that I should think about taking them as well. I was on the receiving end of someone else's agenda. And it wasn't pleasant. I kindly told him I was not interested and finished my grocery shopping - successfully I might add, no messing up the grocery run that day!

I don't have anything against direct-marketing companies. I don't even think I would have minded a stranger stopping me in the middle of Target to see if I was interested in taking part in their company. What was most frustrating to me was that he veiled his agenda behind the smoke-screen of being interested in me as a person. Now, he may have had some genuine interest in the conversation, but it was clear to me that he was less interested in my answers than he was in the pitch he wanted to make.

As I reflected on that experience, it made me consider the way that we often share the gospel with other people. I wondered if people might feel the same way I did when we reveal the hidden-agenda of our conversation.

People are more than an agenda

God loves people more than our agendas. When people are devalued to simply being on the receiving end of our own agenda to share the gospel with them, it is more about us than it is about them. When it is only an agenda, it is more about us than it is about God's love for them. It is more about us than it is about God's glory. Sharing the gospel with others can not be only an agenda. People will sniff that out like my daughters week old diapers in our garbage can. It isn't very pleasant and it is really hard to mask. Consider your motives when you share the gospel. Is it about you and your agenda? Or is it about the other person and the glory of God?

God loves people more than our agendas.

Speaking the gospel still matters

Sharing the good news of the gospel still matters a great deal. We are still called to share the gospel. God still has a mission in the world to redeem a lost people for the sake of His name. We are called to be the ambassadors of that message and carry it into the world. As a result, in some sense of the word, we do have an "agenda" to share the gospel, but that doesn't mean we need to be manipulative or make people into an agenda themselves.

The Apostle Paul wrote, "therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God (2 Corinthians 4:1-2 ESV)."

Be honest with people. If you desire for them to know Jesus, then go ahead and tell them. But they should know you care about them more than your personal agenda to add another name to your personal convert list. You don't have to apologize for wanting other people to know and follow Jesus, but let's not use manipulative tactics. Lets not pull a bait and switch. It is inauthentic and unworthy of the gospel.

Is the gospel changing you?

If we are going to share the gospel without it being tainted by our own agendas, then the gospel should be changing us first. If we are not amazed at the beauty of the gospel, why would we want others to respond to the message of the gospel? This doesn't mean you need to be perfect, be experiencing a spiritual high or have all the secrets of faith figured out. God is well served when imperfect people share about the perfect love of God. Do not be hindered from sharing the gospel because you feel like you are in a slump. On the other hand, do not share the gospel out of guilty compulsion. Remind yourself regularly of the gospel. Preach the gospel to yourself (read more about this practice here). Instill habits that give you fresh perspective on why you follow Jesus. If the gospel is not changing you, then it will make it difficult for you to have pure motives when sharing it with others. If the gospel is not first changing you, then you will almost certainly turn people into agendas.

Don't put someone else on the receiving end of your hidden agenda. Share the gospel honestly and authentically.


Do you befriend non-Christians?

Do you befriend non-Christians? To some, this may seem like an odd question. Why am I even asking?

For others, it is actually quite penetrating. If you have been following Jesus for awhile, then you might be intimately aware of what I am probing you to consider.

There is a common pattern that emerges when considering the lives of people who have followed Jesus for many years. The number of genuine relationships they have with people who are non-Christians is quite small. Just so we are clear, I am writing this to myself as much as I am to anyone who is reading. As I have grown older, taken on more responsibilities and worked in a Christian context, it has become more difficult. At one point, I was living on campus at a Christian university, I was working at the same Christian university and I was attending class at a Christian seminary. I worked with Christians, I studied with Christians, I lived with Christians, I ate with Christians and I spent nearly every waking hour with Christians. Last summer, I took my first call as a pastor and so I continue to work in a context where I am constantly surrounded by other Christians. Lest I sound like I don't enjoy spending time with other Christians, that is not what I am saying. I am not complaining that I spent all my time and continue to spend my time with primarily Christians. I love the people I have spent time with over the past four to five years. I have developed real and deep and genuine relationships.

The reason I am asking the question, do you befriend non-Christians?, is because we are called to share the good news of Jesus with the world. How are we supposed to do that when we don't have friendships with anyone who doesn't already follow Jesus? Therefore, I have been challenged to consider how I can cultivate relationships with people who do not already follow Jesus. I challenge you to do the same.

But first, you may consider reading this post about what I believe it means to "follow Jesus." I use the phrase "follow Jesus" fairly often, and it may help bring some definition to what I mean.

Intentional in Relationships

If we are going to develop friendships with non-Christians then we must be intentional. The natural path of your life will be to drift toward relationships with people who look like you, enjoy the same things as you, dress the same way as you, and believe the same things you do. The friendships you have with people who share your faith are extremely important, and are not to be minimized. However, the reality is that unless you are intentional, you will probably not develop new friendships with non-Christians.

Ask yourself how you can create new rhythms in your life so that you can develop new friendships with non-Christians. You can also consider the current ways you spend your time. For example, are your kids involved in activities? When you go to those activities, do you engage with the other parents to develop genuine relationships, or do simply want to avoid the other parents? What about work? Are you actively trying to learn about your co-workers so you can love and care for them? Many of you already have natural ways to connect with non-Christians, while others will need to create new opportunities. However it works for you, be intentional to develop relationships with people who are not already following Jesus.

Develop genuine friendships

As you begin to develop these friendships, do not see them as simply a target to convert? That is not what we are after. Jesus calls us to truly love our neighbor. This means developing genuine friendships. The type of friendships that involve investment, caring, and sacrifice. If you are going to try to intentionally develop friendships with non-Christians, do not see them as a task to be conquered. They are a person to be loved. As you learn about who they are, what they cherish, what their hopes are and what they fear, you can be a true friend. As a friend, you also get the privilege of sharing the good news of Jesus. This may mean that they eventually follow Jesus too, or it may mean that they never do, but either way, we are called to love them just the same.

Relational Sphere of Influence

When I think about the relationships I have, I find the term Relational Sphere of Influence (RSI) helpful. I define my RSI as the people I have a relationship with as a result of my natural rhythms of life, including my family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, classmates, fellow parents, hair stylist, convenience store clerk, etc. These include both Christians and non-Christians. If you were to try to sit down and write out a list of everyone who is in your RSI, you might be surprised at how many people's names you scribble onto a sheet of paper. The depth of your relationship to each will vary, because we are naturally closer to our spouse than we are to our next door neighbor. Once you have written down the names, ask yourself how many of them are already following Jesus. How might you be more intentional to develop genuine relationships with non-Christians, so that you might have the opportunity to love them well and share the good news of Jesus with them.

Non-Christian friends won't make you unclean

I think that we can sometimes fear that if we spend too much time with non-Christians, they will make us "unclean." I do not believe we need to have this fear. In fact, I believe that Jesus made it abundantly clear that it is not the case. If you want to read more about this, check out my previous post about what makes us clean/unclean. We do not need to fear that becoming too close with non-Christians will somehow ruin our own faith or undercut what God is doing in our lives. We do not need to fear these friendships.

In fact, you may come to cherish and grow with your non-Christians friends more than you think. One of the favorite people I have known is a friend from the years I spent in Fargo. I developed a friendship with a co-worker who was not a Christian. We spent time playing games together, watching MMA fights and talking about faith. He actually initiated some conversations surrounding faith, because he wanted to explore it more. The questions he was asking helped me to consider things differently and forced me to answer questions I may have otherwise avoided. It didn't cause me to question my faith, but in many ways I grew more confident in the reasons I follow Jesus. Unfortunately, he and I don't interact much anymore, because we have both moved away from Fargo. If we both lived in the same city, I am sure we would find ways to hang out, but our lives just don't intersect much. I still pray for him, and I still hope that one day he will follow Jesus, but regardless, I will always consider him a friend.

Take a step

What does this mean for each of us? What is the next step that we should take?

For each of us, it may look different. Some of us simply need to intentionally invest in the relationships we already have. Others may need to restructure our lives to create space for building new relationships with non-Christians. I challenge each of us to take some time today to pray and consider how we can develop genuine relationships with people who do not already follow Jesus.

The Life Saving Hut: A Parable

Photo Cred: http://pixabay.com/

Photo Cred: http://pixabay.com/

In his book, Transforming Leadership, Leighton Ford looks at the life of Jesus and draws leadership principles for us to consider. In the book, he tells a parable that has always impacted me. I have included it here:

"Once upon a time there was a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occurred. On that coast was a little lifesaving hut, very crude and with only one boat. But there were a few devoted members who gave themselves day and night, at the risk of their own lives, to rescue those who had been shipwrecked.

Soon this little station became famous because so many were saved. Others wanted to become associated with this very famous enterprise and gave time and money and effort to buy new boats and to train more crews. After a while some members were unhappy with such a poorly equipped center, so they enlarged the building and put in better furniture. The lifesaving station became a popular gathering place and the members used it as a club.

As time went on, fewer members were interested in the dangerous lifesaving missions and instead hired crews to do the work. But lifesaving motifs were prominent in the decorations and there was even a liturgical lifeboat in the room where they had initiations!

About this time there was a large shipwreck. The hired crews brought in the cold half-drowned and dirty people - some with dark skins - and the club was messed up. The property committee had a shower house built outside, where victims could be cleaned up.

A split developed among the members at the next meeting. Most of them wanted to stop the lifesaving activities which were a hindrance to their social life. Some members insisted that lifesaving was their priority. The majority prevailed and the minority was told they could begin their own lifesaving station down the coast. They did. As the years went by the new station went through exactly the same changes as the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another lifesaving station was founded. History repeated itself, and on the coast today visitors find a number of exclusive clubs along the shore.

Shipwrecks are still frequent. But most of the victims drown."

Leighton Ford goes on to write the following words in reflection on the parable:

"Unfortunately, the parable is an all-too-vivid satire of the cycle by which missions become movements, movements evolve into machines, and machines end up as monuments."

What does it mean to follow Jesus?

Jesus loves to invite people to follow him

Jesus loves to invite people to follow him. Jesus often uses this phrase, "follow me," when he invites people to be his disciples. When he calls Simon and Andrew, a couple of fisherman, he says "follow me... (Mk 1:17). When he invites Levi, a tax collector, he says, "follow me (Mk 2:14)." On numerous occasions within the life of Jesus, he invites people to follow him. This is not merely a physical following, like we might follow someone from one location to another because we don't know the way. It is not merely being starstruck and following him like we would a famous celebrity. It certainly isn't like following someone on Twitter. When Jesus calls someone to follow-him, it is an all-of-life sort of following. It will require all of us. Jesus loves to call people to follow him, no matter their race, ethnicity, culture, sex, age or any other identifying feature. No matter their past sin, or present status in society. Jesus invites every type of person to follow him, but it will require every part of the person who does.

When I talk about being a disciple of Jesus and following Jesus, I use them as synonyms. If we follow Jesus, we are his disciples. If we are his disciples, we follow him.

SO... What does it mean to follow Jesus? What does it mean to be his disciple?

Three marks of a person who follows Jesus

They love Jesus above all things

First and foremost, a person who follows Jesus must love him above all things. Recognizing that we are imperfect, and therefore cannot perfectly love Jesus, it may be more accurate to say that we are always growing in our love for Jesus, over and above all things. Jesus says that we are to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him (Mt 16:24). This does not mean that we do not enjoy the good things that God has created, but they must always be secondary to our love for Jesus. Often, the most elusive sins and idols in our lives are those that come from good things - from loving material things too much, from worshiping our spouse or our children, or from pursuing the praise of others as our primary goal and motivation. Loving Jesus above all things means that he is more important to us than the many good things we have the privilege of enjoying in life.

Paul talks about his desire to boast only in the cross of Jesus (Gal 6:14). There is nothing more worthy of our pleasure and joy than Jesus. All things flow from and to our love and commitment for Jesus. If we follow Jesus, then we must be growing in our love for him and incorporating regular rhythms and patterns that help us grow in that love. 

What raises your affections for Jesus? What helps you to grow in your love for him? Pursue those activities, so that you will grow in your love for Jesus.

They live in a way that is consistent with their love for Jesus

The second mark of someone who follows Jesus is that they live their life in a way that is consistent with their love for Jesus. This means that their character flows from their love for Jesus - it is in response to their love for Jesus. They are not trying to live with Godly character so they can earn the love of Jesus, but because Jesus has already loved them. Living consistent with their love for Jesus means obeying God's commands as found in the Bible. This can mean many things. It means that they exhibit the Fruit of the Spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 6:22-23). It means that they love God and love others (Mk 12:28-31). It means that they change from their earthly desires to those more consistent with the heart of God (Col 3:5-17). Living a life that is consistent with our love for Jesus can mean many things and the person who follows Jesus - because of their love for Jesus - seeks to bring their character into alignment with what God says in His Word.

They multiply their faith by actively making new disciples

Jesus calls his followers to be witnesses to his Good News (Acts 1:8). The person who follows Jesus does so because they have experienced the greatest of news. Jesus brings new life to dead souls - that's really good news! At the cost of his own life, he gives life to those who follow him as his disciples. Jesus wants us to share this with others, so that they can also follow him. When he first called those fisherman on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, he said, "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men (Mt 4:19)." Jesus' call to follow him means that we will catch men into the net of his Kingdom. Some of his final words to his disciples have become known as the Great Commission - "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19)." The person who follows Jesus multiplies their faith by actively making new disciples. This happens with our friends, our family, our neighbors, our co-workers, our classmates and anyone else we come to know. We share the good news of what Jesus has done and invite others into the joy of following Jesus.