Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Gospel, Changed Lives, and a Cup of Coffee

"Church planting is much more than a mere job, ministry, or lifestyle. It is an opportunity to see lives perminantly changed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, while consuming massive quantities of caffeine." JMW

Monday, October 26, 2009

What Are We Here For Anyway?

The call to North American Church Planting is not unlike the call to the foreign mission field, in that, a complete surrender to God’s will, i.e., His place, timing, and way, is the primary requirement. The NAMB church planter must uproot his family, develop new friendships, contacts, support networks, and, in the process, plant the Gospel wherever possible. This goes, not just for the planter himself, but, for the whole family.

Many ask, “Do we really neeed more churches?” This almost sounds like a rhetorical question, demanding the answer, “NO,” as we look around and see half empty churches all around us. But, the fact is that many people are not being reached by our churches, and both are getting closer to their funerals every day.

If we look at the “Church,” of North America, i.e., the collective group of local churches, as a team, plowing in God’s field, then we can clearly see the need for more workers of the Harvest.

Jesus said, "The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest. Now go; I’m sending you out like lambs among wolves.” Luke 10:2, 3 (HCSB)

So, it’s not supposed to be easy, comfortable, or safe. This “Risky” life is not just for the church planters, whether foreign or domestic, but far ALL CHRISTIANS. Because we are all commissioned by our King to enter God’s harvest.

It’s no accident that we are in S.E Louisiana. Many times I’ve asked myself, “Am I crazy?” The answer is “Yes,” but not for the reason I ask. I sometimes wonder if I’ve made a big mistake, bringing my family more than 900 & 1300 miles away from our family. But the answer is always the same. A little voice seems to say, “You didn’t bring them here, I did.”

Interested in Urban Ministry?

Advice for a Friend

The first ingredient for success in the city is love. You must first love God with all your heart, and your neighbor as yourself. Your love for God must be evidenced by faith. Urban ministry will require faith. Faith that God has sent you, is with you, and will provide for you. But you must also love the city, the people of the city, and the culture of the city. Perfect love casts out all fear. You cannot minister effectively in the city, if you are afraid of the people that live in the city. Fear paralyzes its victims, and breeds contempt for that which is feared. Furthermore, you must be careful with the concept of “Hate the sin, and love the sinner.” There can be a fine line between the two, and too often leads to the hating of both. Remember, “For God so loved the World….” Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but to save it. If Jesus did not go to sinners to condemn them, neither should you.

You must get to know the city. Don’t underestimate its complexity by thinking it can be boiled down to a simple cultural characterization, i.e., “New Orleans is a Pagan city.” I have lived in New Orleans for close to a year, and I have immersed myself in the city during that time, and I realize that I have hardly scratched the surfaced. The “Culture of a city” is a myth. There are many cultures in a city. Certain aspects are shared by most, but many neighborhoods have their own cultural identity, making it their own culture. For instance, New Orleans has Carnival season/Mardi Gras, and Bourbon Street. These are aspects of New Orleans culture, and are shared by many people in the city, but it would be naive to define New Orleans by the filth of Bourbon Street and Mardi Gras, especially since most residents of New Orleans never set foot on Bourbon Street. You must get to know the city, beginning with the area in which you will work.

Recognize the value of the other churches in the city, and don’t seek to reinvent the wheel. You will not be as effective as you could be with an “us against them” mentality. Just as different people have different strengths and weaknesses, churches also have different strengths and weaknesses. The rich White church must be careful to not look down on the poor and struggling Black church, thinking it has nothing to learn from them. Likewise, the poor Black church must not despise the rich White church, resenting their prosperity, thinking them as greedy and selfish. The spiritual needs of the city are much too big for any one church to handle; we must value others with the same ultimate goals.

You must have compassion for the city. As Jesus wept over Jerusalem, as sheep with out a shepherd, being abused. You must have compassion for those to whom you are sent to minister. When you make a wrong turn, don’t race through that bad part of town, instead, take a good look at the people who live there. Look at them as they sit on the porch, stand in front of the corner store, or walk home with their bags of groceries. Have compassion for their unemployment, underemployment, or apparent lack of vision and drive. Think, “What would have to happen to me, for me to end up living here?” That may be what has happened to them somewhere down the line. Nevertheless, it is not just the poor that deserve your compassion. Even the affluent have troubles which they are incapable of fixing, and want things that money can’t buy. There are more than a few “Rich” people that are hanging on by a financial thread, hated by their children, and are married to an unfaithful spouse. The pressures of success can be a form of slavery, a bondage that the poor cannot understand. You need to have compassion for the city.

You must care enough for the people of the city to work hard to meet their spiritual needs, to make disciples of them. One of the dangers of urban ministry is to be so caught up in meeting temporal social needs in the city, that you never really get around to meeting people’s spiritual needs. It does little good to give food, clothing, and shelter, unless discipleship is the goal. If you fail to prioritize the gospel, you are only cleaning people up, making them a little more comfortable for their journey to eternal separation from God. The gospel must not only be the reason you do urban ministry, but it must also be goal of urban ministry. Seeing people in their physical suffering hurts, but if you only seek to meet a man’s physical needs, what will you say as you preach his funeral?

You will not get far in urban ministry if you are not trusted. The respect and credibility you will need for urban community, you will have to earn from scratch. Seminary degrees are almost worthless in the eyes of the urban poor, and so, you will get no instant credibility due to your hard earned education. Do what you say you will do, even what you imply. Rarely do people hear the qualifiers associated with what you intend to do. Develop a reputation of being a man that does what he says he will do, and you will certainly stand out. Spend time with the people to whom you minister, most can tell the difference between being loved and tolerated. You must invest yourself into the people. Don’t treat people like you are doing them a favor, even if you are. Do for them, as you would them do for you.

Cold Water for the Homeless in NOLA

Homeless Ministry of VCBC

The day began with opening up for homeless people to take showers in the church. The people came in, and sat down orderly. They are used to the program, because they return almost every Monday. There were about 30 men and women this day, 27 men, 3 women.

I was able to speak with several of the homeless men, some of which I have gotten to know from the area. There was one guy in particular, Erwin, who was a semi-regular at our discipleship group; he was shaken up, because he was threatened by drug dealer with a gun the night before. Erwin, when he comes to the meetings, wants to follow Christ. The problem is that he is broke when he makes these professions. He is on disability, so he receives a check each month, and after receiving the money, he always rushes out to spend it on drugs and alcohol, hence, he is homeless. I went through the gospel with him again, and he said he wanted Christ to change his life, but he not ready to commit himself it Him. There was another familiar face there. Pete is frequently in and out of jail. But it is never his fault, he is being persecuted by the police. He can quote many Bible passages, and was trying to straighten out Erwin, as we were talking.

It was time to make lunch for the people, and so the pastor and I went to the store to get hot dogs, buns and condiments, and then he had to leave. The meal was prepared and served. Most of the people took two hot dogs and left, but several stayed to eat in the church. I made my rounds again to talk with people. One man, a street musician, asked it I could help him get a new guitar. He said that his was stolen the night before. He was likely telling the truth, because these guys are usually not the ones asking for things, they get by a little better than most of the homeless. I could not help him.

One couple was interested in what else we had to offer, it was their first time, and they thought we were a Mission. I asked the man about his faith, and he said he had a Christian background. I then asked about the faith of his wife/girlfriend (referring to the woman he came in with), and he said he didn’t even know her, they met in the Square that morning. They did not behave like they were strangers.

After ushering the last person out of the building, I went upstairs to clean the pots, plates and utensils. I was thinking about whether or not it is all worth it. We provided showers and a meal for some people one more day in a week. I shared the gospel, a short devotion, and tried to talk to whoever wanted to talk. I wondered, are these “the least of these,” or are they of a different group? It seems they are more like locusts, than sheep, only there to consume whatever they could find, until there was no more to be had. They have so many needs, but for the most important of which, they have little to no concern.

Well, I thought, maybe next time! Maybe next time there would be transformation, repentance, and changed lives. I guessed it would be worth it. In the end, we really lose nothing, just stuff that will burn in the end anyway. Are they “the least of these,” or are we giving “Cold Water” to the wolves? I really don’t know sometimes, so I’ll let God sort it all out.

Focused Discipleship

Keep Your Eyes on the Line

As a kid, one of my greatest heroes was Evel Knievel. I can just see him now, flying through the air on his motorcycle, from one ramp to the other. One thing you can notice as you watch him, is that he stays focused on the ramp ahead. You don’t see him looking around, waving at the fans, or looking to see if anyone’s behind him. Instead, you can see that his eyes are fixed ahead. He wouldn’t take his eyes off the ramp for anything. In an interview with the History Channel, Knevel said, “How can you take you’re eyes off a runway you’re going down at 70 or 80 miles an hour and look down at a tachometer or speedometer, if you do that, you might lose line and sight on the line that’s going up the middle of the ramp.” So even when it came to the use of instruments, which are normally considered to be Good and even Wise, Evel Knevel put them aside, so as not to be distracted from the goal.

Sometimes discipleship, following Jesus, feels like that motorcycle jump. You’re not out on a limb, you’re in mid-air, wondering if you’re gonna make it to the other side without serious injury. Bu when you’re in between ramps, it’s crucial that you keep your eyes on focused Christ.

Jesus had some things to say about what it would take to be his disciple. In this text, Jesus let everybody know that being his disciple would require focused faith.

To be a follower of Jesus, he must be #1 in our lives.

So, do you want to be a follower of Jesus?

If You Want To Be a Follower of Jesus: Don’t Get Distracted by Material Comfort (57, 58)

Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”

Jesus, knowing this guy’s heart, got right to the point. It’s as if Jesus said, “You can come and work for me, but it’s an unpaid position.” This was enough to turn the man away.

Remember the Rich Young Ruler? (Mk. 10:21, 22) Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” 22 But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

It seems that this man also, went away, uncommitted to following Jesus.

Be careful, it can be easy to get focused on “Stuff,” rather than Christ. Salaries, Benefits, Insurance, Retirement packages, Homes, Cars, Grades, Etc. These are all good things, but can easily steal our hearts.

So, if You Want To Be a Follower of Jesus, don’t get distracted by material things, but also, Don’t Get Distracted by Social Expectations (59, 60)

Then He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.”

I don’t think this guy was on his way to get a shovel so he could bury his father. His father’s body was obviously not waiting to be buried, because if it were, this man would not be here with Jesus. It is more likely that that the man’s father had died, and been buried in a tomb. At this time, it was customary to remove the bones of the dead man, one year after the original burial, and place them in a box, called an ossuary. The ossuary, containing the bones, would then be placed in a permanent burial place. It was the son’s responsibility to perform this duty.

This is a good thing for the son to do. Nevertheless, it is not an expectation set by God in Scripture; it is an expectation set by man, viz., culture. The re-burial ceremony was not insignificant, but this exchange is about the supremacy of Jesus and his calling. Jesus’ mission is more important than anything man can come up with, even family obligations.

To paraphrase, Jesus said, “Let the Spiritually dead tend to the needs of the dead, but you go and proclaim Life.”

That’s what Jesus is saying to us: “Don’t get caught up with the things that concern the “dead,” the things that will eventually burn, but get busy with the things of life, preach Christ!

If You Want To Be a Follower of Jesus, don’t get distracted by material comforts, Don’t get distracted by social obligations, and finally, Don’t Get Distracted by Family Relationships (61, 62)

And another also said, “Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.” But Jesus said to him, “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Family relationships are good, and Scripture encourages good family relations, but not at the expense of fulfilling the mission of Christ, the call on your life. So, what’s so bad about saying goodbye to your family? What is Jesus dealing with here? It seems there are two possibilities. One, it may be that this guy was going home to seek the approval of his family, and if that’s the case, Jesus is saying that God’s approval is all the man needs. Or, it may be that Jesus was dealing with the urgency of discipleship, the time to follow Jesus is now!

In either case, Jesus is saying, “To be a disciple, you must be focused on God’s mission, and not on Man’s.”

I have friends that were called to the foreign mission field. They were in the process of being approved by the IMB, when my friend’s mother in-law started to lay guilt on his wife. “God wouldn’t send these little children to a dangerous country,” “This can’t be God’s will,” And the classic, “There are plenty of unsaved right here!” She was not receiving her families approval. They tried for months to get them to stay in the States, but my friend’s wife didn’t crack. They went overseas, and her family eventually came around.

Don’t let your family define your calling. When God calls, don’t look back to see what your family thinks about it.

So, is Jesus #1 in your life, or are there things in the way? What would it look like if Jesus was truly #1?

Don’t let your discipleship get distracted by material comforts, that will burn in the end, Don’t let your discipleship get distracted by cultural expectations, and finally, don’t let your discipleship get distracted by your loved ones.

Keep Jesus the focus of your life and ministry, and don’t look back.

The Gospel?

God Wants a Relationship With Us

“In Him (Jesus) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:7).

Notice we are redeemed (bought) by the sacrificial blood of Jesus, and we are forgiven by His grace, not by our works, nor by any other religious system. Also, notice that the concept of redemption is that of ownership, we become God’s possession, like the bride is to the husband, we can be His.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).

This is the gospel in a nutshell, the whole of Scripture in two verses. This is the point! God loves mankind so much that he sent Jesus to pay for our sins, and by His grace, through faith, we can be saved from the penalty of our sin. Jesus took our place, by paying for our sins on the cross. His payment was sufficient for the sins of the world. He must be the object of our faith. No saint can add to what Jesus has done, and no church can administer His merit. When we put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ alone, he gives us His grace, all of it!

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

All means All! You, me, and the rest of mankind, from the beginning of creation until Jesus returns. We cannot meet God’s requirement for righteousness on our own. We need Christ’s righteousness to apply to us. That is what takes place when we put our faith and trust in Him alone.

“But unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3).

We must be willing to turn from sin, toward Christ and His righteousness. We can’t live in the darkness and in the light at the same time. We must choose.

“Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1Corinthians 3-4).

This is the fundamental doctrine of the Christian Faith. Notice, “according to the Scriptures.” This is referring to prophesy from the Old Testament prophets. The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ was not an afterthought or accident. It was the plan of God since before creation. God was well aware of the Fall, Original Sin, my sin and your sin, and He loved us anyway, and put the plan of salvation in place.

“If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the Scripture says,“Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame” (Romans 10:9-11).

Believe in your heart, i.e., have faith & trust, this is “Heart-Belief.” I believe that the Saints are playing the Bears tonight (12/10/08), but that’s just on the surface of my mind. That information has not penetrated my heart. Unfortunately, many “Christians” have this kind of belief of Jesus. There is a difference between “I believe in Jesus,” and, “My faith is in Jesus.” It’s the element of trust that escapes many people. I believe that politicians exist, and will serve in our government, but my faith/trust/heart-belief is not in them. Make it known what you believe in your heart, this is not a private matter. Notice the last part, all of our sin is wiped out, there will be no shame as we stand before God, because our faith leads to righteousness.

“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

The thief can be seen as any one, or any system, that will say there is another way to eternal life with the Father. Jesus came to offer us an abundant life. He is sufficient.

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3).

Jesus is going to return, maybe sooner, maybe later, but He will come back for His people. Notice the Father’s house has many rooms. Those dwelling places are for His children, those who have received the righteousness of Jesus Christ by God’s grace through faith. Just imagine Jesus preparing a place in heaven for you and your family. Religion, without a personal relationship with Christ, only leads to emptiness and eternal death. Christ, and Christ alone, leads to the Father and eternal life.

You can receive God’s complete forgiveness of your sins right now. You can Know that you have been saved, and have confidence that you are part of the family of God; you don’t have to wait until you die to find out. The person and work of Jesus Christ is sufficient for our salvation, and it is by the authority of Scripture that we can know this. Trust Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. Form this desire into a prayer to God, express you repentance of sin, your need of forgiveness, and your want of a personal relationship with Christ. There is no magic in a prayer, but if these words express what is in your heart, you are saved, and part of the family of God.

Vieux Carre" Baptist Church, NOLA

We circled the church for a while to find a parking place. In the process, my kids pointed out a very large woman in a bright red dress trying to flag down cars. The main problem was that this was not a very large woman, but a rather large man. This was just one more image for their innocent little minds, on the reality and ugliness of rebellion against God, i.e., sin. After we found a place to park, we began to walk to the church. “Watch out!” One of the kids said, as one of them almost stepped in the contents of somebody’s alcohol abused stomach. “We’re not in Wilson anymore,” I said.

Inside the church, we were not surprised as to who was in attendance. We sat with homeless people, a palm reader, drunks, bums, and even a few “normal” people.

The most surprising thing, however, was the authenticity of the people as they sang praises to God, however, we were not the only visitors that Sunday morning. As the service began, the songs were sung, and the message was preached, I had a feeling that this whacked-out bunch of misfits would come to be our church family. This is a church of a different culture, a different origin, a different world, but of the same faith and dependence on God’s immeasurable love, power, and grace.

By the time the service ended, my kids were a little freaked out, and anxious to leave, but we stuck around awhile to talk to a few people, including the pastor. My wife and I really wanted to get an accurate feel of the church, so we went back that Wednesday night for a whole new angle from which to view the church. We came to realize that to be homeless, does not mean to be biblically ignorant. The problem I saw was not their lack of knowledge of the biblical text; it was their lack of wisdom and understanding of the text. They did not know how to interpret the scripture that they knew. These are confused and deceived sheep of Christ’s pasture.

There was, however, one guy who behaved as a wolf. He seemed to go out of his way to confuse the others, and cause distractions for the teacher. Otherwise, the others seemed to be eager to learn. From what I can tell so far, the goal is to get as much biblical clarity into their thinking as possible, before their next binge. Maybe next time there will be lasting change.

Why I Am A Christian

The answer to this question is a very long one. However, I will summarize.

It all began with God

At the age eight or nine I trusted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I became aware that I was a sinner in need of God’s grace, and that Jesus paid the price for the sins of the world. The church I was growing up in at that time made sure we all knew we were filthy dirty sinners, but they never told us that God loved us, and wanted to save us. More importantly, they never mentioned that the remedy to our sin was Christ alone. So at this young age, I heard the gospel, and believed, and it was the power of God unto salvation. I did not seek God, he sought me.

“For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I​ myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.” (Ezekiel 34:11,16)

“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

“But​ the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father​ is seeking such people to worship him.” (John 4:23)

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

It was not about being good; I knew that I could not be good enough. Jesus hung out with the irreligious sinners. He spent time with prostitutes, tax collectors, and the otherwise undesirable people. He did this because he loved them, and wanted to save them. He did not come here to condemn sinners to Hell, but to provide the payment for their sin, so they would not have to go there. He saved me, not because I was better than anybody else, but because he is good. So I trusted him with everything.

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17)

I did not always follow Christ; I did not always remain faithful to him. Thankfully, he did not let me go too far. God is loving, merciful, and just. I was his, and he came back for me.

“I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.” (Psalm 119:176)

So, why am I a Christian? Because of God’s grace!