On Mission

Seeking to Be a Disciple and Make Disciples

Archive for the category “Mission Principles”

Why Did You Leave Us Like This?

Many People Thinking of QuestionsLast year, I visited St. Petersburg, Russia with Phil Jackson.  We were invited to facilitate a dialogue around the concept of “Disciples Who Make Disciple Makers.”  A Russian minister made a statement followed by a question.  He stated, “The foreign missionaries came in the early 1990’s and baptized many.  They often did not stay long and left us.  However, when the missionaries left, many of those who had been baptized also left.”  He then asked the question, “Have you done a study of why those baptized did not stay?”  It was a penetrating and insightful question.  The simple answer is “no I have not done a detailed study of that particular question.”  However, I could not easily dismiss the question.  One brother from America also attending the conference rephrased the question in regards to what he was hearing.  The question was actually, “Why did you leave us like this?”  You came, you taught us the good news of Jesus and you left us.  We did not do well after you left.  Why did you leave us like this?”  The question continues to haunt me.

I don’t have the answers, but here are some thoughts.  I have come to understand that my understanding of what we call “The Great Commission” has been inadequate.  I hear and understand that I am to go into this world and as I am going, I am to “make disciples.”  I am to help them to see Jesus and bring them into a relationship with God.  Those who believe are to be baptized into the possession of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  My heritage has helped me place a high value on the importance of this step of faith.  However, for years, I misquoted Matthew 28:19-20.  I  might have said it correctly, “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” However, I have lived out the Great Commission as if Jesus said, “teaching them everything I have commanded.”  Don’t get me wrong, knowledge is vitally important.  But in my ministry, I have assumed knowledge equals transformation.  Yet, that is not the case.  Jesus says, everyone “who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24 ESV).  Disciples are those who listen to Jesus and obey Him.  Disciple-makers are those who teach followers of Jesus to hear and do.  Perhaps the problem lies in our misunderstanding or misapplication of The Great Commission.

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I listened to a Russian church leader’s response as I asked him why he thought that the Russian churches generally did not do well after the missionaries left.  He had three answers:  1) we were not taught to develop a deep relationship with and trust in God chance to listen, learn and reset our minds toward making disciples that make disciples.  There are no easy answers, but it seems that building deeper international partnership upon trust is a good way forward.  Together perhaps we can focus on what matters, hearing and obeying Jesus.d, 2) we did not accept personal responsibility for the evangelization of our own people, and 3) we were not taught the importance of being and making disciples.  As I listened and as he shared, I suppose we should have responded to this conversation with discouragement, regret and sadness.  However, the exact opposite took place.  The conversation inspired, encouraged and motived us.  We realized that in a real global partnership, we have a second chance to listen, learn and reset our minds toward making disciples that make disciples.  There are no easy answers, but it seems that building deeper international partnership upon trust is a good way forward.  Together perhaps we can focus on what matters, hearing and obeying Jesus.

Why Do We Exist?

I have the blessing of working with churches that are seeking to be on mission with God, and there are four questions which are important to always keep before us. They should be asked by all followers of Jesus and Christian communities who want to join God in His work here.

I was assisting a group of elders and ministers from a congregation and they had gathered college professors and leaders in order to gain insight on the value of two new ministries they planned to launch. They did not want to start both at the same time and were asking advice on which would be the most beneficial for their church. One quiet, reflective college professor boldly stated, “Before you answer which ministry to begin, I think your need to ask yourself whether your church has a reason to exist!” Needless to say, most were confused and a bit shocked – they simply did not understand. The way he worded the statement almost sounded as if the college professor believed this particular church should close its doors. Perhaps that was the point he was trying to make, but I don’t think so. Most did not understand the statement and went on to more “productive and practical discussions.” As I think back to this encounter, I see that the statement might have not been well worded and most certainly was not well received; however, it did point the group to the right question.

As a follower of Jesus, the first question we must ask is why do we exist? Why are we here? What is our purpose? Generally, when Christians are asked, “what is your goal in life” the typical answer is “I want to make it to heaven!” I have answered the question in the same way, but that now seems to be incredibly short-sighted. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly want to be in heaven with Jesus and the rest of you! However, I don’t think that should be my ultimate goal or even the answer to the question of why I exist. God’s word seems to make it clear that our reason for existence is to glorify God. Paul keeps repeating this clearly in Ephesians, “In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:11, 12 ESV). Jesus tells you who you are in Him. You are the salt and the light of the world and are to let your good works be seen by men “so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 ESV).

This life of being salt and light is not just something to hold on until we can make it to heaven. If I am merely waiting for that, why not just “beam me up, Scotty” after I put my faith in Jesus and was united with him in baptism? What is the reason for my existence between the beginning of my faith and the return of Jesus to take me to be with Him? The answer is found in what some call The Great Interchange. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV). Jesus became what we are, in order that we might become what His is.” Our desire is to be more like Jesus today than we were yesterday. As Paul compared our life in Christ with that of Moses being in the presence of God he declared, “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NIV). As we grow in our understanding of God’s call in our life, we realize that our reason for existence means giving glory to God and being transformed into the image of His Son. This also becomes our motivation for ministry, to see Christ formed in the life of others. Paul shared his heart for the churches in Galatia, “My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you…” (Galatians 4:19, NIV). The words resonate with truth, “until Christ is formed in you.” So, we are to glorify God, become like Jesus and help others do the same.

I mentioned that there are four questions we should constantly address as children of God and as communities of faith. Perhaps you are curious about the other three questions. Churches should ask themselves: 1) Why do we exist? 2) What values (core beliefs) are driving us? 3) Where do we envision God leading us? and 4) What steps do we need to take in order to join God in this journey? The last three questions are for another discussion; however, before we move on too quickly, it is imperative that we wrestle with the answer to the first question. Do you know why you are here?

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Why I Can’t Walk on The Grass

SJ20001373AfixOn my run this morning, I was on a trail that went past my cut off and then cut back to join the trail I wanted to follow. I thought about cutting across the grass to save the extra strides. However, I just could not do that, even though it would be easier. Why you ask? I asked myself the same question and smiled.

My father was the Jr. High principle while I tried to survive my Jr. High years. Sometimes, this fact helped; but often it didn’t – as I’m sure you can you can imagine. Our Junior High school building in Friona had sidewalks that were laid out in a rectangle with large areas of grass and trees in the middle. During lunch break, the favorite activity of students was to walk around in groups (or as a couple, IF you were lucky or brave). Of course, as people do, many would cut the corners and walk on the grass. However, no one did that too many times until Principal Tom B. Jarboe (a.k.a. Dad) saw the perpetrator and made sure that did not happen again. Most students thought it was a silly rule and probably didn’t understand. But my Dad respected the work of our grounds keepers and enjoyed having green grass in front of the school. He felt a strong sense of pride in taking care of our blessings. A small item, perhaps, but somewhere he had learned that if we did not take care of the small things we would not take care of the big things – those things that really matter in our life and surroundings.

To this day, I still cannot cut the corners and walk across the grass without looking over my shoulder to make that my principle is not watching. Ok, I may not look any more, but I just don’t walk across the grass. It is small and insignificant to most, but very significant to me. It serves as a reminder of the larger matters of integrity that my father instilled within me, my sister, our spouses, the grandchildren and so many others who were blessed to fall under his influence. So I will keep taking the extra steps, not walking on the grass, as I remember the great blessing of a loving father filled with character and integrity.

 

Four Eternal Truths

Foundational Truths for Our Understanding of Missions

 Our understanding of missions is rooted in the nature and identity of God. The more we understand God and His nature, the more clearly we see our mission in the world. Four eternal truths help us establish a strong theological underpinning for our mission activity.

  • God is a Missionary God. Our Creator is one who sends and is sent. “For God so loved the world that he gave [sent] his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God called Abram to leave his country, his people and his home, so that He could bless all peoples on earth through him (Genesis 12:1-3). Joseph revealed himself to his brothers in Egypt declaring, “God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance” (Genesis 45:4-7). God now sends His church to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20).  Jesus, the Son came “to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). We have been created in God’s image. Those restored to His image are sent into the world to fulfill His mission.
  • God Calls His Servants to Join Him in His Mission. “What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe — as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Corinthians 3:6-9).  Only God can provide the increase, yet He calls us to plant and water. I am always amazed when I hear that God has called me to be His “fellow worker” in His mission. This understanding motivates me not to ask the Lord to bless what I am doing but rather to ask Him to involve me in what He is blessing.
  • The World is In Need of a Savior. The statement may not be “politically correct,” but without Christ we are lost and separated from our God. Jesus looked upon the multitude and was moved with compassion because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. His Messianic ministry then becomes our ministry of preaching, teaching and healing; bringing the love of Christ to the needs of the world. The cry of those separated from Christ calls us to “ask the Lord of the Harvest to send out workers into His harvest field “(Matthew 9:35-38).
  • Jesus Promised to Build His Church. Jesus affirms, “…I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). Our role is to make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20); Jesus will take those disciples and build His church. It is not an either or proposal, but rather a “both and.”  Yet, we must not overstep our role. Jesus builds his church. I have spent too much time trying to “build the church,” without understanding that is God’s role. I am to equip others to be his obedient followers and He takes these disciples and builds them into His church. We must not fear, doubt or question this clear promise of God.

 

As we struggle to grasp the nature and character of God and His kingdom, we gain a deeper understanding of our identity and role which is rooted in eternal truths that do not change with time, culture or generations.

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