Living fully alive

Taking truth from scripture and applying it to our daily lives so that we may live from our calling and experience life to the fullest.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Old ways become new ways to reach the world for Christ

Craig Hasselbach in Nepal
There is a sense of urgency that many mission agencies, ministries and denominations are feeling to go make disciples all over the world, and God seems to be calling a new breed of missionary to accomplish the task.  

Pastor Craig Hasselbach is one who is leaving the pastorate of a large successful Colorado church to take the gospel to places where the name of Jesus has never been heard. He explains here how God moved him to transition from the pastorate to more of an apostolic role in the Kingdom during a mission trip to Nepal. 

For centuries the church has responded to the Great Commission by sending missionaries to preach the good news. These missionaries' primary job was to win individuals to Christ. Some started churches in which they pastored. Others met one on one or in small groups to disciple in order to bring families into the Kingdom. For the most part, the indigenous people looked to the missionary for their spiritual nourishment.  

This model continues all around the world. However more mission sending agencies are going back to the first century missions model.  This method, modeled after the apostle Paul's strategy, focuses on intentionally training and equipping new believers to disciple others. Many mission organizations believe this is a more efficient method of multiplying believers and producing gospel-centered movements, especially in countries where the Gospel has never been heard. 

Craig is working with Nexus International and has formed a ministry called Pastors Without Borders. The mission is to reach the unreached by planting gospel-centered churches around the world through young indigenous Christ-centered believers. Check out his blog.  

What's different from the traditional method is that Craig will not be located full time in any one country. He will spend time discipling and training indigenous leaders in several countries to start churches that will plant more churches. Craig will stay until a leader is trained and a church launched and then will visit the new churches much like the Apostle Paul to encourage and offer training. But the indigenous pastor will be the leader of the Church in each country. His goal is to plant 14 churches that will plant a minimum of 3 churches each, which will plant at least 3 churches. 
There are other mission organizations with a similar vision and methods. East-West Ministries has been training and equipping indigenous leaders for several decades. In 2013, they set a goal of making one million disciples in 5 years by using this method in countries primarily in the 10/40 window.  Many others are using the T4T training method as they seek to rapidly train and equip disciples who will make more disciples.  It is an exciting time in history as we do kingdom work until Jesus comes.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Big and Small, God uses it all!

I experienced two amazing extreme versions of following God's vision to bring people to Christ in the past couple of weeks.  These two expressions of faith were as far removed from each other as possible, one as extravagant and immense as one could imagine, the other as humble and primative as could be here in the United States. But both incredibly moving and inspirational and both reminded me that God can use every person I whether rich or poor. 

The grand experience was visiting a life-sized replica of Noah's Ark. My wife and I vacationed in Kentucky for a week and decided to experience the Ark Encounter, which had opened this past summer.  This "theme park" was the dream of Ken Hamm whose vision was to educate the masses about the Genesis account of the ark and flood. So he decided to build the ark based on the dimensions from scripture. It is 510 feet long and 85 feet wide and 51 feet high, the largest wooden structure in the world. It has three decks which spam more than 120,000 square feet. 

It is a truly awesome structure out in the middle of nowhere, much like what it would have been during Noah's time. We spent a couple of hours with a few hundred visitors walking the three levels inside the ark, reading the educational material and seeing the exhibits. It is an impressive and massive undertaking, reportedly 33 million dollars to build and much more to operate. 

Within a few days of the Ark Encounter I spent a Sunday on a small mission project at a RV park, helping clean up and build some picnic tables for this very low income neighborhood. Our church chooses to do mission projects when there is a fifth Sunday instead of meeting for worship. This RV park was actually the permanent housing for about 300 people, all living in small RV's.

When I arrived, I was directed to the back of the park to help with another project, where there was this odd looking structure that had been built out of cedar branches. There I met a woman named Donna who explained what we were to work on. This woman said she was the park manager. She was probably in her fifties but you could tell had weathered a rough life and was wearing a tie-died shirt.  She was enthusiastic and animated as she told us all about this structure was similar to an Indian longhouse, how it could withstand a tornado. It stood next to a smaller version which had been used as a greenhouse. 

"Pastor" Donna on the right
Donna explained that they decided they needed a church building to house their Bible study during the winter and thought a bigger longhouse would be perfect. She said that she had given the idea to one of the residents and explained how this uneducated man who spoke little English, looked at the old structure and built a larger version just by sight without any drawings or plans. 

We were to help put the outside covering on the building which was rolls of heavy plastic.  She described in detail where to start and end leaving the bottom third uncovered for ventilation. Donna told us they would put a stove inside to heat the structure, running the stove pipe through the roof to carry the smoke out. 

When I asked her if they had a pastor she said "no, I guess I'm the pastor."  I was amazed at the excitement and passion this woman had as she talked about their small church.  They would meet here in this longhouse during the winter when the weather turned cold on Sundays and for Bible study during the week. Her enthusiasm for God inspired me. This middle aged lady with the smoker's voice living in an old weathered tiny RV took her job as manager to a higher level, one as a priest or pastor to her community.  I have a notion that she was not ordained or anointed by some church authority to do this. She just stepped into the void doing what God wanted her to do. 

Two visions, one grand the other incredibly primative, both expressions of faith you'd be very surprised to see in the United States.  And I'm not sure which I was more impressed with. All I know is God uses us all in amazing ways when we say yes to His dreams he gives us. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The one thing we want most from our leaders is missing

I voted yesterday. Yes, neither of the candidates is my first, second or third choice. Through the whole process I've wondered if God is playing a joke on us or maybe just giving America what it deserves.  I know many people share my concern for our country and are really dismayed by our choices for president.  The reason is pretty simple but I haven’t heard many express it.  The one characteristic that people want most from their leaders is lacking from both candidates for president.  A survey of thousands of people around the world found that the characteristic they most desired in their leaders is integrity.

So we have two candidates, one who has a record of habitual lying and corruption of power and the other who comes across as a pompous, impetuous billionaire with a reputation as a womanizer.  If we want candidates with integrity, candidates that are honest, moral, principled, stable and virtuous, all words to describe integrity, how then did we end up with Hillary and Donald?

Perhaps this is an indictment on the people of America, that we have chosen candidates with the least quality we want in leaders. Maybe we don't really value character and integrity.  Perhaps we have fallen so low as a nation that we want leaders who get things done by whatever means possible more than persons of integrity.  So we are left with two candidates who specialize in getting their way; Hillary with a history of manipulation and down right criminal actions and Donald who has mastered the art of negotiating and making good deals by whatever means possible.  

I long for the time when I supported a candidate I really admired and liked personally.  Unfortunately I don’t have that choice in this election so I seem to be left with voting for policy over personality.  I’m left with deciding which candidate will help bring to fruition the type of country in which I want to live and the government in which I want over me.

So my second observation is this:  As I see it, Trump and Clinton, personalities aside, are extreme caricatures of the government types they represent.  There is Hillary the consummate politician who has used and abused her government power to gain wealth and even more power. She distrusts business and the free enterprise system and relies on government to “fix" the country.  So in her administration there will be more regulation, more taxes and controls on businesses.  There is also a distrust of the regular American citizen to make decisions for themselves. So there will be more and more government intrusion into the lives of American citizens, more thought police, rules and more government control. The government's role in Hillary’s administration will be to make life more equal for those who don’t have as much as others and safer for those who are abused by the capitalistic system.  

Then there is Trump, the outsider with no government experience, the capitalist who has used the economic system to gain wealth and power. His side distrusts government and wants to limit the power and control that the government has over business and the individual.  He will reduce regulations and make policy that will help the American business owners prosper which in turn will mean more jobs for Americans and theoretically a renewed economy and more opportunities for all people.  As I see it, these are our choices.  It’s all a matter of which country in which you want to live.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Integrity? What is it and how do I live it?

With the crazy election and all of the accusations, I’ve thought a lot recently about integrity and what it means to live a life of integrity.  So I’d like to dig a little deeper into what that life looks like in the next few blog posts.  

One of my favorite quotes is from James Michener:
The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he’s always doing both.”

I am a relational person who seeks to have fun in whatever I'm doing, so this quote really resonates with me.  When my faith, work, and play intermix and harmonize, I feel as much alive as ever.  An integrated (whole) life is one major aspect of living a life of integrity.

Yet this is not easy because most of us live our lives compartmentalizing work, play, family, and religion, especially those of my generation or older.  I can easily act one way for my family, another at work and play and wear another suit on Sunday and this feels as natural as eating and drinking. It is not even something I consciously do but is a built-in defense mechanism to keep certain beliefs and relationships separated from one another so they don't conflict.

That is why there is this perception of hypocrisy in the church. People see believers out on the town on a Friday or Saturday night partying it up and then in church on Sunday morning hearing about the evils of what they partook on Friday. It's the reason a pastor can preach on the sin of lust while having an affair or a business man who uses unethical business practices to make a bigger pay day and then sit with his family on Sunday morning listening to a sermon on integrity.  Living a compartmentalized life is living a life of hypocrisy and sin. 

I remember a skit that was done in one of the many summer youth camps I helped lead.  The skit was about a teenage girl hanging out with Jesus (a boy playing the role of Jesus) in her room. The girl gets a call from a friend inviting her to a party. She excitedly accepts the invitation and quickly gets ready and starts to walk out the door.  “Jesus” starts to go with her.  She turns around and tells him, “you must stay here”.  She turns to walk to the door again and Jesus continues to follow her.  This time she turns and adamantly proclaims, “I’m sorry but you can’t go! You don’t belong at this party, stay put!” The point was clearly made. There are places and areas of our life where we don’t exercise our faith, where we would rather not have Jesus taking part.
How well do you live an integrated as opposed to a compartmentalized life?  Consider how you keep your religious life separate.  Think about how much your faith has spilled over into other areas of your life.  Have you kept your faith life only for Sundays or do you take Jesus everywhere you go? If not, how can you better integrate your faith in the other areas?

More on living an integrated life in next week’s blog: the good news about the millennial generation and the church’s response. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

America's greatest problem few talk about

Photo curtesy of
My wife had cataract surgery a couple of weeks ago on one eye and she has been declaring what a difference her now "repaired" eye is from the other.  She'll look at an object and remark how much brighter and colorful it looks viewing from her surgically repaired eye minus the cataract as from her other eye which also needs cataract surgery.

I was thinking just how her experience with new vision is like how our lives can also become distorted, discolored and in need of some sort of operation.  Our culture is much like a cataract which slowly forms over our spirit and blinds us from the true life God has called us to live, the abundant life that we were created to experience. This distortion makes it difficult to see the world clearly and so we can easily be enticed to live a fraudulent life of death and destruction.

So many young adults have been deceived into believing that the good life is one of drugs, alcohol and sex.  One study indicated that 23.5 million Americans are addicted to alcohol and drugs. That’s approximately one in every 10 Americans over the age of 12 – roughly equal to the entire population of Texas.  And that is only those who have admitted to having a drug or alcohol problem, perhaps only the tip of the iceberg.

I'd say we have a serious problem - an epidemic.  I have personally felt the impact of this problem indirectly. I am close to seven couples, some friends and some family, who have young adult children struggling with drugs or alcohol. All of these young adults, men and women ages 18 to 37 have had children out of wedlock, that they are not able to take care of because they are not capable or just don't want the responsibility.  And much of the problem stems from their addiction to drugs or alcohol. And so this problem is not just one that affects the addicted person but it also wrecks havoc on the lives of their parents and has a great chance of being passed on to their children.

We have a lot of problems in our country but I can't think of anything that does more harm to the individual, families and to society than this.  None of the presidential candidates are discussing this problem. There are no demonstrations or protests. I think many families keep these problems hidden so we don't really understand the scope of the problem. You may hear people complain about the drug culture being an inner city problem but this goes much farther than the inner city.  We have a rotten culture nationwide which leads to broken lives of drug and alcohol abuse and it is an epidemic in all areas of our nation.  And its tentacles reach into all areas of society.

Faith based rehab facilities are our best solution now to this problem.  They serve much like cataract surgeons. These facilities remove the addicted person from the destructive culture that has so discolored their world view, so they can begin to see clearly, that there is another world full of color that is available to them.

However, only a small percentage choose to check into rehab and there are not enough facilities to handle all those addicted if they did. The Church is best positioned and has the potential to not only treat and heal but be the key to winning the war on drugs. Celebrate Recovery and identity groups are ways the church has addressed the problem but many churches aren't equipped or even want to do the messy work needed. Ironically ministry to those struggling with addiction may be the church's best opportunity for evangelism and life transformation. 

Only until one admits there is a problem and gets treatment will he or she be able to see the difference.  Then they can begin to understand their true purpose, their identity and the role they can play to make a difference in the world.  Then they will see a world of color and potential and hopefully be more inclined to choose life over death. God said "This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live!" Deut. 30:19 It is much easier to choose life when we see clearly the choices before us.

Perhaps we should take a look at our culture that promotes and encourages this life of death and destruction. Maybe if we dealt with the root issue, to understand that we do have a culture of death that permeates our society, then we could prevent so many broken and wasted lives.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Keeping the main thing the main thing

One of the biggest problems we face in life is keeping focused on the most important thing.  Whether it's in our personal lives, business or church, the temptation to drift from your purpose is always a concern.  We see it in politics when candidates drift from the important issues and sports when players get distracted  and hurt their teams by getting unsportsmanlike penalties.  When we lose our focus, we seldom accomplish our goal.

One of my favorite verses is Hebrews 12:1-3 which speaks to the importance of maintaining focus "fixing our eyes on Jesus" and removing anything that distracts from that purpose, "throw off everything that hinders” or anything that keeps us from living the life God intended us to live. This is so important that there is a crowd of heroes of the faith cheering you on, to not be distracted and bound by the world's temptations and sin, to keep focused on the main thing.

For churches, keeping focused on the main thing is extremely difficult also. The 21st century church in America has drifted a long way from what the early church focused on which was to make disciples who make disciples. Now the church has become many things to all of us and the pastor's dilemma is that we get into so many well meaning activities that the main purpose gets put on the back burner for a season or sometimes gets neglected altogether.

I recently met with a staff member of a church who was hired to oversee several ministries of the church including missions. He was frustrated because there seemed to be no direction for any of the ministries. Many voices expressed a variety of opinions about what they should be doing and there was no limit on what "ministries" the church offered. The general rule was the more we provide, the more people we will reach.

Lost in all of the activities was the original purpose; to reproduce disciples. It's as if the church itself was ADHD. The staff, lay leaders and volunteers would jump from one emphasis to the next, juggling countless number of jobs but failing to do well the one thing that the church was created to do; multiply disciples.

When contemplating any ministry, shouldn't we begin by asking the question, will this help us accomplish our main purpose?  If so, then what is the best way we can do this to reproduce followers of Jesus?

Even in the ministry of missions, the purpose can get lost. We can do a lot of great things, supporting all kinds of beneficial missions from social support to missionaries on the field. We can send mission teams all over the world to work with all types of programs and churches. We can pat ourselves on the back, for all of our efforts but we often don't slow down enough to evaluate our missions, ministries and programs and whether they are accomplishing our goal of multiplying disciples.

When we view and filter ministry from that perspective, then a lot changes.  We don't do ministry because that's the way our denomination has always done it. We don't do ministry because so and so wants it. We don't do ministry because it puts butts in the seats. We do ministry to multiply disciples. Some ministries, even good things, may need to be tweaked or eliminated. Some long term, traditional acivities may need to be put on the shelf. This probably means some member’s pet ministry may have to be sacrificed.

These are difficult decisions and can be painful but Hebrews 12 conveys just how critical it is.  The whole spiritual world is rooting, cheering, encouraging you to not be distracted and keep your eye on, your focus on the main thing: Jesus.

More on keeping your focus click here

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

When death surrounds you, what do you do?

“In the United States people die from sickness or old age. Here people die by murder. If someone here actually makes it to old age, it’s – it’s…really surprising...”

This quote came from Darwin, the Honduran husband of Jennifer Zilly, the young missionary working in Honduras. Darwin receives a phone call to learn that his brother had been murdered, shot to death when he complained that his cows had been stolen.  Darwin goes to be with his family in their time of grief only to learn that his mother has died of a heart attack when she learned her son was murdered.

In her latest post on their blog, Jennifer sheds light on how dreadfully dangerous life can be in Honduras.
"If we were to sit down with our kids and make a collective family list of all the murders that have skimmed close to our lives – all the family members, neighbors and local townspeople who have been murdered – we would need many sheets of paper."

How do you deal with life in the midst of such heartache of relatives and neighbors being murdered? How do you grieve and how do you deal with the fear of death so near?  Jennifer relies on her faith and focuses on her job as a missionary.

Read the entire post here.

This is real life in a third world country. We complain about our first world issues, which are incredibly insignificant compared to the life and problems many missionaries encounter.

Reading Jennifer's blog, we are given a real example of what life is like when there is little to no police protection. Those who complain about the police in our country and those who actually propose we don't need the police, have no clue what every day life is like without law and order.

I've seen it in many of the countries that I've visited. When there is an absence of local police, there is always a gang or entity that steps in to fill the void, using threats and their corrupt power to control the people.  And even here in the States in isolated areas where there is no respect for the police, there is an abnormal amount of crime and death.

Thank God that we have a country that values law and order. We don't have a perfect system and we certainly can improve on many aspects but our system is the best the world has to offer.  We have much to be thankful for.

I'm also grateful for the many Christians like Jennifer who sacrifice what they have to serve God in third world countries.  They are putting their lives on the line every day to bring real hope to people in cultures that provide no hope.  Pray for Jennifer and Darwin as they walk through this difficult time, that Jesus would guide and protect them so that they might complete the work that God has called them to do.