Monday, October 28, 2013

4 Ways Paul Encouraged Believers to Pray

Praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints.
-Ephesians 6:18

I'm on my last week of the Spiritual Warfare study that I've been going through by Chuck Lawless. Each week I have gone through six pieces of the armor of God, each requiring one to be faithful and obedient to Christ daily. Through this study I have realized that wearing the armor is never easy as it demands discipline and effort and requires much prayer.

Although prayer isn't a piece of the armor, it is a non-negotiable in winning spiritual battles. In his study, Lawless points out why Paul so strongly encouraged his readers to pray:

First, he understood that all believers battle against the Enemy. No follower of Jesus Christ is immune attack. If the Enemy was brazen enough to strike at Peter (Luke 22:31-32), Paul (2 Cor. 12:7), and Jesus Himself (Matt. 4:1-11), we shouldn't expect anything less. 

Second, Paul knew the potential intensity of the attack. In 2 Corinthians 12, he used the word translated buffeting or tormenting to describe an attack from the Devil (v.7). The word he used literally means "to be slapped back and forth." The attack Paul faced was repeated, relentless, and ruthless. Paul knew the importance of believers praying for others who might face the same kind of assault.

Third, Paul expected believers to rejoice always. (1 Thess. 5:16), even when under attack from the Enemy (2 Cor. 12:8-10). He had learned from his own battles with his thorn in the flesh how to rejoice despite them. He pleaded with God to remove the thorn when he was being tormented, but God told him no. In the end, Paul learned that God's grace was sufficient for him, and he even rejoiced in "catastrophes, in persecutions, and in pressures" (v.10). Paul wanted other believers to rejoice, but such a response to difficulties seldom happens apart from others praying for us.

Fourth, Paul understood the brevity of life. He wrote the letter to the Ephesians from a jail cell, not knowing if he would live or die. He never wanted to miss an opportunity to glorify Christ, so he sought the prayers of others (Eph. 6:19-20). 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Should Christians Celebrate Halloween?

[Note:The following has appeared on this blog in the past as a re-post of George Robinson's Sep.28, 2010 blog.]

October 31st.  For most Americans this date means one thing: **Halloween.**  Costumes, candy and trick-or-treaters spending to the tune of $2.5 billion making this holiday second only to Christmas in marketing revenue.  But good Christians don’t celebrate Halloween.  Or do they?  Some Protestants may prefer to call it Reformation Day, for after all, that is the date that Martin Luther nailed his Theses to the door at Castle Church in Wittenberg back in 1517.  That does pre-date the first usage of the phrase “All Hallows Eve” (commonly known now as Halloween) which didn’t emerge until some 40 years later in 1556.[1]

Ironically, most good Christians that I know won’t be celebrating either Reformation Day or Halloween.  Instead, they will be showing support for their local church by attending a “safe and sanitary” alternative called a Fall Festival.  This alternative allows good Christians to invite their neighbors and friends to come to the church and get candy, play games and have some good, clean Christian fun.  No pagan witches and goblins allowed.  But they can dress up as David or Moses or some other biblical character.  All the fun without the pagan revelry, right?

I would like to propose another alternative – that good Christians should indeed celebrate Halloween.  I think that they should stay home from their church’s alternative Fall Festival and celebrate with their pagan neighbors.  Most of them wouldn’t have come to your Fall Festival anyway.  And those who did would’ve stopped by briefly on their way to “real” trick-or-treating.  I’m sure that some of you reading this blog might be more than a little unhappy with my proposal at this point, but stick with me for a moment.: The reason I propose that good Christians celebrate Halloween and stay home from the “Christian alternatives” is that Halloween is the only night of the year in our culture where lost people actually go door-to-door to saved people’s homes . . . and you’re down at the church hanging out with all your other good Christian friends having clean fellowship with the non-pagans.

Living with missional intentionality means that you approach life as a missionary in your context.  I lived with my family in South Asia and we had to be creative and intentional in engaging our Muslim neighbors.  We now live in the USA and we still need to be creative and intentional.  That’s why for the past 2 years we have chosen to stay at home and celebrate the fact that Halloween gives us a unique opportunity to engage our neighbors.  In fact, last year we had over 300 children and 200 adults come to our doorstep on that one night.  And we were ready for them!

We had a tent set up in the driveway and gave away free coffee and water to the adults who were walking with their children.  Our small group members manned the tent and engaged them in conversation and gave each one of them a gospel booklet (“The Story” gospel booklets are available with a Halloween distribution rate here:  The children ran up to our door while the parents were waiting and got their candy, along with gospel booklets (even if they were dressed as witches or goblins!).  In all we gave away more than 500 pieces of literature that night, each with our name, e-mail address, and a website where they could get more info.

I sure wish more good Christians would celebrate Halloween this year by staying home and meeting their pagan neighbors – an option which I believe surely beats the “good Christian” alternative.
[1] John Simpson and Edmund Weiner, Oxford English Dictionary 2d. ed. (London: Oxford University Press, 1989)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Better Halloween

No, this is not your typical posts on why Christians should or should not celebrate Halloween. Sorry to disappoint, but I came across a Better Halloween on another blog that I regularly read and wanted to also share. It is a different way to help children around the world with real needs. I don't see this trying to spoil the fun that kids usually have, but a unique way to raise awareness for kids everywhere.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Developing A Bible Learning Plan

As important as it is for us to spend time daily in the Word of God, I often question how much good it is doing if people are only reading through the passage with no time for reflection. If you are only reading then keep on doing that, but add some time for reflection and true study. Dr. Chuck Lawless has pointed out a way for Christians to develop a Bible learning plan so that as one studies they are also able to learn more effectively.
  1. Follow a reading plan. YouVersion is probably one of the better ones available today and it has all types of plans that you can tailor make.
  2. Always pray before reading. 
  3. Use a good study Bible. I personally use the ESV Study Bible and think that you should too.
  4. Don't be afraid to utilize good commentaries. For most people, owning a simple one volume commentary including all 66 books can be helpful and help you gain confidence in interpreting Scripture. 
  5. As you read, be alert to verses to memorize.
  6. Using good principles of interpretation, look for truths, insights, and examples to guide you in Christian living. Find a workable method for recording these teachings. A commonly helpful method is to highlight the passages that jump out to you when reading them and then write notes in the margin.
  7. Make any changes or commitments that the Scriptures require each day. In other words become obedient to what Scripture tells you. This points back to one of the key components of the Great Commission, we are to teach people obedience.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Are There Benefits to Short-term Missions?

Many people I have had conversations with over the last couple of years see little to no value in short-term missions. The majority of the people that I am having those conversations with are those that would be considered long-term missionaries themselves. Just for clarification sake, when I say short-term missions I am referring to a one to two week trip. Mid-term would be anything from one month to one year of service. And long-term would be anything from two years on.

The long-term career missionaries who see little to no value in short-term missions question the importance and validity of such trips. I believe that many of their reservations are valid, having done long-term overseas missions myself; but I believe that my fellow colleagues and other overseas workers are mistaken if they see no value in short-term missions. They are quickly throwing the baby out with the bathwater when they see no value in such trips.

I don't know the exact percentage, but the majority of long-term career missionaries at some point took their first short-term mission trip, which likely led them to a long-term service later. That one aspect alone if nothing else is why I believe in short-term missions. It is a great way for the church to see what God is doing in another part of the world and to mobilize a church or an individual to commit to praying and working in a particular area or with a particular people group to see them reached.

Before my first short-term mission trip I had no desire to leave the US or go on a mission trip. To be completely honest, I had a fear for years that God would call me into some form of long-term missions service in another country. Once I went on my first short-term trip, my eyes were open to a global perspective, which started the journey towards long-term service.

I don't know one long-term missionary that would turn down more offerings for mission work or in some cases their own salary. Another benefit to short-term missions is that it gives the short-termers an idea of the needs, which many times results in more giving to the global cause of missions. In addition to giving, it mobilizes more prayer warriors, which truly is the most important thing that those on the field need in the midst of being on the front line of the battle.

Yes, there are many benefits to short-term mission trips and I ask that you prayerfully consider going on one this year as short-term missionaries will always be needed in the assistance of long-term ones until the task is finished. If you or your church need help getting connected to an area or a long-term missionary to work with feel free to contact me through the speaker request form.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Magpie and the Dandelion

Yesterday a band that I have been following for years, The Avett Brothers, released a new album, Magpie and the Dandelion. This folk-rock band continues to evolve each album, which some don't like, but I see them developing and changing their style as any true artist does overtime. Truthfully I am partial to the band as they are from North Carolina and nothing can quite bring me back from homesickness like the Avett Brothers. Enjoy the lead single off the album, "Another Is Waiting," below. 

The band says this of the album in an issued press release:
"If you think about a Magpie, it’s a bird from the crow family. You can see them everywhere, and they’ve got this strange grace. And, we all know what a dandelion is. It reminds you of being a kid and watching a flower come apart on a summer day. There’s a youthful wonder in that. Those kinds of feelings live and breathe inside this album."

Monday, October 14, 2013

How Do We Take Up Our Cross Daily?

Then He said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me."
-Luke 9:23

Jesus words were quite simple and clear in this verse, but fully understanding them is the most important part. This week in my spiritual warfare study, Chuck Lawless pointed out the three keys of understanding the implications of taking up our cross daily found in this verse.

To Deny Self means to reject a life built around self-interest, self-fulfillment, and self-glorification. It means to walk with Jesus regardless of personal cost.

To Take Up Our Cross Daily is to be willing to die for Jesus. Picture a condemned criminal who is forced to carry his own cross to his execution; however, in this case, the disciple of Jesus willingly takes up his cross. Such a deep commitment demands that we renew this pledge every day.

To Follow Jesus means that we continually trust Him and obey His commands, walking in His footsteps as the disciple following the Master. Thus, wearing the helmet of salvation includes all three steps: saying no to self, accepting the cost of obedience, and following Christ every day.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The "What" and "How" of Ministry

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.
Ephesians 4:11-12
I've been around the church culture and in ministry long enough to realize that in ministry one is always told the "what" of ministry, but not often told the "how." This carries over further into the entire body of Christ as most know that they are called to evangelize and make disciples, but often the how of doing those things are left out. This is the reason that when I am having a meeting with the group of church planters that I am pouring into we take time to learn the "what" but we also practice the "how."

Our basis is the great commission, but instead of camping out on the great commission passage only, I also equip them with the tools to do the ministry and we also as a group practice the how. That means that I give them tools to share the gospel, we practice with one another, and then I send them out to do the real thing. I give them short-term and long-term discipleship tools. These guys not only know that they are to baptize, but we practice baptisms. Most often these are done in the room where we are meeting, but just this week we went down to the near by river and every single guy had the opportunity to practice baptizing one of the other guys. Instead of learning that we are to teach from the Bible and hold one another accountable, we actually practice how to prepare a lesson and then how to teach it.

Really what I am doing with these guys is developing them as leaders. On some level they are already leaders, but I am helping develop them further through equipping them for ministry. Practically this looks similar to the five steps of leadership development given by Dave and Jon Ferguson in their book Exponential

The Five Steps of Leadership Development
1. I do. You Watch. We talk.

2. I do. You help.

3. You do. I help.

4. You do. I watch. We talk.

5. You do. Someone else watches. 

So if you are one in an equipping role make sure that you are not only giving the people the "what" but also intentionally give and show them the "how."

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Top 5 Posts of September 2013

Last month I saw an increase in the amount of visitors to the blog, but I have a feeling that some of you may have missed a day so I want to share easy access to my top 6 posts from September. If you are a regular reader, thanks for the continued support and if it is your first time checking out my blog then I want to thank you as well and encourage you to look around a bit and feel free to contact me directly with any questions. By the way, you can also follow me on Twitter for more updates.

1. Small Children and The Church

2. A Conversation with Director of the Release Initiative: Sam Smith

3. Moving Law to Grace on Alcohol and Tobacco

4. Vacationing as Worship

5. A Day in Modern Day Life with No iPhone

Monday, October 7, 2013

Always Being Alert to Share About Jesus

Over the years I have had many conversations with other followers of Christ discussing the difficulty in getting to Jesus and the gospel in an average conversation. As believers most of us sincerely want to share with those we interact with about Jesus, but we do not always know how to make a smooth transition to the gospel. The following list in bold from Chuck Lawless reminded me of how being alert to opportunities to tell others about Christ on a daily basis can help us in this.

Intentionally develop relationships with nonbelievers. 
This can take some intentionality on your part as many Christians find themselves living in a bubble of everything "Christian." A simple way to do this is join a gym, become a regular at a pub or coffee shop,  and build relationships with the people that frequent those places. Find your third place and intentionally develop relationships.

Know people - and always be prepared to minister to them when they're hurting.
This is not a way to manipulate people, but when people are hurting it is a great opportunity to meet a tangible need that they may have such as preparing a meal, providing childcare, visiting the hospital, or simply being there to listen. Any of these things will likely provide the proper platform for you to share your story (testimony) and God's story (the gospel).

Do a prayer survey of those you encounter daily.
Each of us has a group of people that we interact with on a daily or at least a weekly basis. Take time to ask those people how it is that you can be praying for them. Even nonbelievers will often not turn down the opportunity to have someone listen to them and in turn pray for them. One would be suprised at the conversations this will also lead to, most often allowing one to share their faith in Jesus.

Take the initiative to ask others about themselves. 
If someone sees you truly care about them and want to get to know them then they will often open up to you. Through this two way interaction, you will have the opportunity to share about the most important person in your life.

Be ready to respond appropriately when someone asks about your day or weekend.
Most of us answer questions such as, "How are you doing?" or "How was your weekend?" in a superficial way with something like "Okay" or "Fine." Why not be ready to give a genuine response that will open up further conversation.

Learn to bridge conversations to talk about your Christianity. 
This is really what this post is all about. In order to naturally bridge your conversations to the gospel can take time, but be patient so that they are not contrived or fake. Part of bridging a conversation is also about contextualization to know what is appropriate in a given culture and cross the bridge when it comes up. The point of a bridge is to cross it, so remember not to camp out too long on your bridge when your goal is to get to Jesus and the gospel.

Friday, October 4, 2013

There Will Always Be Poor and You Can Do Good For Them Whenever You Want

For you will always have the poor with you, and whenever you want, you can do good for them. But you will not always have me. 
-Mark 14:7

The topic of poverty has been on my mind and heart a lot recently as the group of guys that I am working with all genuinely have needs. Some needs, as a brother in Christ, I can meet, but other needs I cannot realistically meet as much as I want to help them. Wrestling through these issues have caused me to re-read the book When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor and Yourself. This is still one of the most highly recommended books that I know on the topic and recommend that you get a copy if you care for the poor and have not read through it yourself.

The below video has been out for a few months now, but I just came across it this week through a blog of a friend. This helps me see the needs of those that I am in contact with daily even more and helps remind me that whenever I want, I can do good for them as Jesus told his disciples. The reality is that I cannot eradicate the poverty of the world or even those that I am working with closely, but I can help them. As followers of Christ we are all encouraged in this way, so my question for you, are you doing your part?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Does A Church Planter = A Pastor?

In preparation to move to South Asia to equip church planters I read a lot of different books on missions and church planting. One book that I highly recommend to anyone preparing to plant whether in North America or in an International context is Discovering Church Planting by J.D. Payne. Many people were confused when I told them that I was going to be a church planter in South Asia, but that I had no intentions on pastoring a church. Payne helped me differentiate that for them by delineating two types of church planters.

First you have the Apostolic Missionary, who plants and raises up a pastor, then plants again, which is very similar to what we see modeled by Paul in the New Testament and what we typically train and do in my part of the world. Second you have the Missional Pastor, who plants and pastors, and then raises up others from within the congregation to plant elsewhere, which is what we typically see in a Western context.

There are examples of both and one is not better than the other, but due to the nature of International Church Planting, in most cases the apostolic missionary type is the better suited type. The apostolic missionary is also sometimes referred to as a Pioneer Church Planter when they are going into areas where the gospel has never been proclaimed and there is no gospel witness. Where my family and I have been for the past two years is mix of both as we have our home city, which has an established gospel witness; but I also do a lot of traveling to other areas where there is little to no gospel witness. 

My prayer and ambition for my part of the world these past two years has been this:

...and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else's foundation, but as it is written, "Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand."
-Romans 15:20-21