Monthly Archives: July 2012

Unpacking from Tanzania 2012

Unpacking from Tanzania 2012

I have always wanted to go to Africa.  My dad went to Kenya when I was a teenager and I remember him coming back and telling amazing stories about his time there.  Our church was able to minister to many African refuges not long after that time, and so my heart was always intrigued about the Church in Africa.  I loved watching them worship and pray.  I have always had a passion for missions, but I had no idea how the Lord would grow that passion.  This opportunity, accompanied by a chance to preach, peaked my interest as soon as Scott Whitson mentioned it in one of our meetings.  The Lord made the way, and I followed in faith.

The journey was very much like what most of you have heard about traveling in Africa.  Rough roads, long bus rides, and rarely a schedule to be seen much less kept.  None of this bothered me or even presented a challenge.  The Lord has blessed me with many experiences of traveling internationally and it has been extremely that any of those have been short or comfortable.

The lessons I learned and the things that stick with me the most are not what I had anticipated.  I had expected to see dozens come to Christ.  I had expected to be irrevocably moved by their worship and love of Christ.  I had expected to be broken by their poverty.  Don’t get me wrong, we saw salvation, I was moved by their worship and love, and I was broken by their poverty, but the lessons cut much deeper than that.

Firstly, I was blessed to connect with the other members of the team I traveled with.  You might not count this as all that strange, but I’m no accustomed to making friends quickly or easily.  Nor was I prepared for the depth of conversations that began almost immediately, most people aren’t game for deep theological discussions with someone they have barely met and usually gives off a rather intimidating first impression.  I will never forget Josh Woolsey as long as I live.  He was a Godsend, and it was through Him that the Lord opened my eyes to my role on the trip.

Secondly, I was blessed to be trusted with the privilege of presenting the Gospel.  My heart had been longing and is still longing for such opportunities.  This is the calling that is placed upon my life.  I am to proclaim the Gospel.  As much as my flesh despises the idea of standing in front of people, as much as I would prefer to be left alone, as much as I would never choose a profession where I am constantly in front of people, I know that He has chosen me for this.  My heart is still burdened for the pastors and their wives who attended the seminar that we were able to hold.  It was there that I met the Lord face to face.  It was there that His voice spoke to me and through me most clearly.  I scarcely remember what was said, but my soul remembers His embrace.

Thirdly, I was burdened for the people.  In every nation that I have had the privilege to travel to in my life, I have always been struck by the people.  It is no different at home, but the feelings resonate more emphatically in a new culture.  As in all nations on this earth, there is darkness in Africa.  There are heavy burdens borne by those who are not capable of carrying them.  The weights come in different forms in Africa than they do here at home.  Instead of greed, they carry want.  Instead of gluttony, they carry hunger.  Instead of freedom, they carry oppression.  Many of the people, especially the children, looked to us as if we could lift their burden.  You could see in their eyes that the believed that we could save them because we had been saved from what they suffered from by the fact that we were born where we were born.  A cloud always hung heavy on my heart as I looked into their eyes.  I was not the only one to sense the cloud.  I watched as several tried to alleviate the weight on their hearts by giving and reaching out, as indeed we all did.  The truth remained that we did not have the power they thought we possessed.  Helplessness is a hard lesson.

The singular thread that wove its way into every aspect of the trip was just how sovereign our God is.  I look back and wonder what the trip would have been like if He had not intervened the way that He did.  How would the trip have gone if even one of the team members had not been so open and courteous?  How would the trip have looked without the rain or mud that came upon us unexpectedly?  How would we have been impacted if it were not for the cloud He placed on our hearts?  I am thankful for His discipline and great love that He showed me on the trip.  Those moments will not soon be forgotten.

Philippians 4 – Continuing in the Gospel; June 27, 2012

Philippians 4 – Continuing in the Gospel

 

So you’re a Christian, now what?  So you’re involved in ministry or serving at your local church, now what?  Paul’s conclusion of his letter to the Philippian church is a call for all of us who claim the name of Christ to continue in what we say we believe.  Paul challenges them in what we so often tend to pull away from as we walk with Christ – the practically functional aspects of our faith.

Paul begins by acknowledging and addressing what anyone who has been in church knows – there will be conflict even among believers.  Paul encourages unity without ever really taking a side.  We must assume that the disagreement may not have been of a moral nature since Paul doesn’t take a side.  Church life will always be full of disagreements where no one is right.  We must be willing to give grace and serve one another, especially when our personal preferences are the only points of contention.

This disagreement pulls Paul into a string of connected ideas that build on each other.  And he starts with joy.  What is the basis of our joy?  If we could really dissect the roots or our joy, would we find God at the heart of our joy or our own personal preferences?  Is our ultimate and final joy found in Christ or in something else we want?  “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” (v.4)  If our joy is in the Lord we don’t have to hold on to personal preference.  Finding our greatest joy in Christ alone will lead to several wonderful things:

  1. reasonableness
  2. freedom from anxiety
  3. unhindered prayer
  4. peace

Paul does not mince words.  Finding our joy in Christ opens wide the doors to be able go further with Christ in life.  When we place our joy in any other thing, we neglect godly reason, freedom, prayer, and peace.  Watch anyone who would rather hold on to their own personal preference instead of extending grace and you’ll find someone who struggles with one or more of these.

The peace that flows from our joy being found in Christ leads to a guardianship of our hearts and minds.  Paul is not encouraging us to simply guard our hearts and minds ourselves, although we should be vigilant.  Paul is suggesting a better guard than we could ever be.  As we find joy in Christ and His peace dwells in us our hearts and minds are guarded by God Himself.  This is a tremendously comforting thought.  He is the one that determines what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise.  When our joy is in Him, we can trust Him to guard our hearts and minds more diligently than we ever could.  Most of us miss our on this because we would prefer to do the guarding ourselves, and in holding to our preferences as our greatest joy we allow ourselves to be deceived as to what is true, honorable, just, pure, and the like.

God being our greatest joy leads to peace that guards our hearts and minds that translates to outward manifestations of the Spirit’s working.  Paul gives two examples that should be evident in the life of a follower of Christ: giving and contentment.  How we give tells a great deal about where we find our joy.  If our money is about our happiness, our children’s happiness, or how people perceive us we have traded joy in Christ for joy in possessions.  I am not saying that having nice things proves that your joy is not in Christ.  I am saying that if your money goes to things and rarely goes to your church, missions, or ministries there may be a disconnect between what you are claiming you believe and how you live.  The Philippians went to great lengths to support Paul.  When was the last time you gave at the cost of your comfort?

Paul then goes after contentment, something that is greatly lacking in the America as a whole.  We are rarely content with what we have been given.  We are trained from childhood to never be satisfied with where we are.  We are coached to go for the next best thing.  We are in a constant state of discontentment.  If our joy is in Christ alone, we are content with whatever He has given us.  Again, this is not a condemnation for those who have been given much.  This is an exhortation to examine the roots of your joy.  If you lost all that you had materially, would you still have joy?

“The Lord is at hand.” (v.5) At the heart of Paul’s conclusion lies the understanding that our time is short.  Even if we live to see death, our life is a vapor, a breath.  If we can remember that, we tend to not get focused on accumulating stuff here.  We tend to see our preferences as secondary or less.  If we can keep this in perspective, we can focus on what really matters without the distractions of pride and ignorance.  Our faith and joy are in Him, not in our ability to protect or perfect.  We would do well to remember that we will stand before Him soon.  Much sooner than any of us would like to admit.  I love y’all more than you know.  Grace and peace,

 

JOT

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