Category Archives: Missions and Ministry

Moving With The Spirit

Last Friday I published a post titled Animated By The Holy Spirit, which was an updated version of an older post. The point of the post was to state why I believe that the Holy Spirit is essential for the local church’s participation in the mission of God and mention two guiding convictions I have regarding the work of the Spirit. My friend Amy commented “…how do congregations begin to rely more on the Spirit and less on their traditions? I get prayer but I wonder if the Spirit can even work if we have other objects to over come.” So I want to write more about how how our churches are animated by the power of the Holy Spirit over several posts and I’ll begin with what has to change for us to see where the Spirit is leading.

Repentance Is So Much More

Repentance! It’s a word very familiar to our Christian vernacular but perhaps too familiar. We often think of repentance as turning away from whatever ungodly ways we lived in the past, meaning that we are not indulging in immoral and destructive behaviors any more. To say it sort of sarcastically, repentance, we think, means saying goodbye to the endless summer nights of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll. There’s a lot of truth to that but in truth, the call to repentance is so much more.

When Jesus began his public ministry and Peter later preached the gospel on the Day of Pentecost, both called for repentance. Jesus called the people to repent and believe the good news of the inbreaking kingdom of God (cf. Mk 1:14-15) and Peter echoed this call with even a stronger sense of urgency since God had raised the crucified Jesus from death and exalted him as Lord and Messiah (cf. Acts 2:36-39). But what we often miss is that on both occasions, this call for repentance was issued to the Jewish people who were already religiously devout people seeking to live righteous lives. And yet… they still needed to repent. Jewish nationalism, religious traditions, and contempt for the Gentiles blinded them to the work of God among them and they needed to let go and become followers of Jesus.

Now hopefully this doesn’t come as a surprise to you but spiritual blindness is not a disease that has disappeared. As local churches and as individual Christians, we are capable of becoming blind to the ways in which God is at work. Consumerism, traditionalism, politics, careers and personal ambitions, and even a lifeless apathy towards the gospel are ways that obscure the kingdom of God so that it remains hidden from our eyes and ears (cf. Lk 8:9-10). This must change… We must repent!

We Pledge Our Allegiance…

Peter’s sermon on the Day of Pentecost challenges and invites us to “repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” assuring us that not only will our sins be forgiven but that we will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (cf. Acts 2:38). Now here is the important caveat that goes overlooked to often: Peter is telling us to pledge our allegiance to the Lord, Jesus the Messiah! Join the movement, follow Jesus and receive the gift of the Spirit that animates our life together and enables us to move with the Spirit as participants in the mission of God. That’s the invitation and challenge.

But… Moving with the Spirit requires change! That’s what repentance is. It is changing, letting go of whatever other commitments we have and living, not as consumers of religion or just good church-going Christians, but as passionate followers of Jesus participating in the mission of God. As Christians, who presumably have already been baptized, that means remembering our baptism… remembering that given our allegiance to Jesus.

By remembering our baptism and living as people committed to Jesus and aligned with his kingdom, we learn to see and hear where God is working among us and how the Spirit is animating us for participation in that work. Then we are moving with the Spirit and learning to move with the Spirit.

Following Jesus Together

Let’s not kid ourselves and think that this is an easy thing to do. Even Peter, when told to not regard as unclean what God had made clean, struggled to move with the Spirit (cf. Acts 10). So I assume we will as well. This is why we need our Christian community and particular people who will speak the truth to us, challenging us to see what we are struggling to see… to see where God is trying to lead us through the Holy Spirit.

God can and will certainly speak through the hymns and liturgy of worship as well as through the reading and preaching of his word. God can even speak in a dream if he so chooses (far be it for any one of us to tell God in what ways he can and cannot work!). However, God’s normal way of working seems to be through people who themselves are moving with the Spirit. God is working through you and I, if we are aligned with him. So when we encounter Christians who are placing things like traditions above participating in the mission of God, we must have the courage to lovingly but boldly call for repentance.

A lot of this has to do with leading missional renewal among our local churches which is so necessary. However, rather than expecting an entire church to change at once, renewal will happen as we, along with a few others from our church, begin to reimagine what it looks like to follow Jesus together. As we learn to embody the gospel in new ways, we become a breath of new life that God uses to bring renewal and change within the church overtime as we move with the Spirit. So if you find yourself among a church that seems lost in tradition or anything that has stifled the mission of God then my suggestion is finding a few other people and invite them over to your home, inviting them to break bread and into the word of God as you pray together and discern together how God is calling you to serve together on mission with him (but more on that in another post).

Animated By The Holy Spirit

The third person of our Triune God, the Holy Spirit. As the promise of our victory in Christ and the power of our living in Christ, the Spirit dwells among Christians so that we may live as the church Jesus gave his life for us to be. You need the Holy Spirit. I need the Holy Spirit. We need the Holy Spirit. God offers us his Spirit.*

Consider what one passage of scripture says:

While he was with them, he declared, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait there for what my Father promised, which you heard about from me. For John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” So when they had gathered together, they began to ask him, “Lord, is this the time when you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He told them, “You are not permitted to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth.” – Acts 1:4-8

The same Holy Spirit that is promised here is promised as a gift to all (Acts 2:38-39).  Yet in most churches, talk of the Holy Spirit still seems as if we are entering into unchartered waters. Why?  What is it that makes churches/Christians afraid of the Holy Spirit?

Perhaps it is because we fear losing control. Most churches in America came of age during the end of modernism, which was shaped thoroughly by the rationalistic and humanistic thinking of the Enlightenment era. That was the sort of thinking that held a high view of humanity, which sought to maintain control over important matters in life through human reasoning. Control is the operative word and it is something we lose by submission if we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us. That isn’t to say that the Holy Spirit will ever force us in any way but to say that when we seek the guidance of God through his Spirit, we are relinquishing our own way and that still makes us nervous.

But for what are we relinquishing our own way?

For mission. The mission of God. That as the church of Jesus Christ, we may participate with God in his mission as followers of Jesus. So in thinking about the way in which the Holy Spirit leads us as followers of Jesus, the book of Acts is always a great place to start understanding how we should expect the Holy Spirit to lead us. In fact, the book of Acts is so important to this question that even though it is technically known as The Acts of the Apostles that it has also been described as The Acts of the Spirit. That’s because the book of Acts is the continuing the story began in the Gospel of Luke regarding how the gospel goes from the Jews to the Gentiles, first undertaken by Jesus himself and then continued by the followers of Jesus who, like Jesus, are animated by the Holy Spirit.

There is so much more that needs to be said about the work of the Holy Spirit as told in the book of Acts but here is where I start: I believe that any faithful reading of Acts reveals that our calling as followers of Jesus is to be animated by the Holy Spirit so that we embody the gospel of Jesus Christ in all that we do and say. Within this belief I have two additional convictions that might help clarify the work of the Holy Spirit among the church.

  1. As the third person of the One Triune God, the Holy Spirit will never empower Christians to do anything that goes against the will of God.  Although we will have disagreements  over the question of God’s will and disagreements on certain issues, scripture is the story which tells us how God acts within history. In particular, it tells us how God is working to redeem creation in Jesus Christ and the goal of that redemptive work (which is also to say that we should read the Biblical narrative as a christologically centered and eschatologically oriented story). Consequently, we know what sort of values, what sort of things make God tick, what he loves and what burns his anger, etc… and how that has played out in Christian history. Thus, scripture and tradition must be our conversation partner in discerning the leading of the Spirit.
  2. The Holy Spirit will animates us to accomplish our calling as in both ordinary and extraordinary ways but in ways that are often beyond our own human ability. That means that participating in the mission of God always more than our own capabilities. This is one reason why we, like Jesus whom we follow, must pray. So if we are living by the power of the Holy Spirit, we’ll be a praying people because there isn’t any other way except to go to God the Father and pray that he may strengthen us with power from the Holy Spirit (cf. Eph 3:16).

So what say you?

——————–

* This post is an updated and revised version of a post titled You Need The Holy Spirit, originally published on May 20, 2012.

Does Your Church Have Faith?

In terms of work, serving as a minister is my second vocation. Besides working for my father, who owned a small excavating business, for a few years after high-school, I also worked four years as a machinist. It was during these years that I became a follower of Jesus, began to sense a call to ministry, and eventually returned to college in order to engage in biblical and theological studies in preparation for ministry.

Though it sounds simple, this journey was far from easy. Many difficulties came, most notably the death of my son Kenny in the summer of 2002. Yet long before Kenny’s death came the first test and it had to do with whether or not I could step forward in faith or go backwards to what was known, manageable, and predictable.

It was the spring of 1999 and my wife and I, newly married, were living in Rolla, Missouri where my wife had a teaching job nearby. I had a machining job that paid a quarter above minimum wage which irritated me knowing that I had left behind a machinist job in LaPorte, Indiana that paid nearly three times what minimum wage was. Like most newlyweds, money seemed tight and that frustrated me… I mean, it really frustrated me. Though I was already accepted and scheduled to begin studies at Harding University in the fall, I told my wife that we should just move back to Indiana where she could get a teaching job and I could either get my old machining job back or take my brother’s offer up and go to work for a construction outfit through the Carpenter’s Union. Of course, you know the outcome. Thanks to the prayerful encouragement and persistence of my wife, we pressed ahead into the unknown and unpredictable.

There’s a reason why I am telling this story and it has to do with local churches and Christianity in America. But first a story about Israel and I think the point I want to make about local churches will make more sense.

Israel and the Uncertainty of the Wilderness

According to Exodus 12:40, Israel spent 430 years in slavery under Egyptian tyranny. That’s a long time. Given the brutal and harsh conditions that Israel suffered, Israel was eager for redemption. Yet once they found themselves in the wilderness, there feelings changed. Facing the perils of the journey as they encountered opposition, Numbers 14:2-3 tells us just how the Israelites felt:

“If only we had died in the land of Egypt, or if only we had perished in this wilderness! Why has the Lord brought us into this land only to be killed by the sword, that our wives and our children should become plunder? Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?”

Would it be better if Israel returned to Egypt? Of course not! But when we consider the circumstances they were facing, we can better appreciate the question.

For Israel, the way ahead was full of uncertainty and well beyond their manageability. Regardless of the oppression was, 430 years allowed Israel to become well acclimated to life in Egypt. It became a predictable life in which they knew the rules and everything they needed to do in order to survive. It was a manageable life that they understood, whereas the journey ahead was full of risk that required faith rather than their own understanding which was well acclimated for the past. But the temptation of returning to the safe, predictable, and manageable past was great… “So they said to one another, ‘Let’s appoint a leader and return to Egypt’” (Num 14:4).

The Local Church, The Past, and the Future?

Come back to present day and the question facing many local churches. It’s the twenty-first century in American and Christians no longer exist in world that many local churches were established in. That was a world characterized by modernism and Christendom, two socio-political realities that predates America as a nation. It was a world shaped predominately by Christian rule and human reason as the sure foundation by which we could be certain about what is true and what is right. More importantly, it was the world that many local churches remain well-acclimated for… unlike the postmodern and post-Christendom world these churches find themselves among now.

Because churches now find themselves existing in a postmodern and post-Christedom world, they find themselves in a wilderness so to speak. The world of modernism and Christendom safe, predictable, and manageable because it was well-known territory. Despite the problems it created (and both modernism and Christendom were fraught with problems), local churches knew how to function for the sake of God’s mission. Ministry programs at the church building would attract people to the church and evangelistic tracts using human-reason as their teaching method helped bring people to Christ. But that was then!

Now local churches find themselves living in unchartered territory, the wilderness of a postmodern and post-Christendom world. The way forward seems uncertain. Follow Jesus… Yes! Embody the gospel… Yes! Embody the gospel in a contextualized manner… How? The context has changed and the rules that easily provided clear direction and certain in the past no longer work so easily. Sometimes they don’t seem to work at all.

Now stepping forward in an unpredictable and uncertain world is risky and very uncomfortable at times. It requires faith but no amount of faith will eliminate the anxiety and the temptation to think that it would be easier if we just return to the past. In fact, many church will attempt to go back. I think this explains why some churches continue to talk about creating more building-centric programs, thinking that people will come if they build it. It is also, I believe, why in my own tribe, the Churches of Christ, many churches and Christians have become enamored with the book Muscle and a Shovel (despite it’s numerous theological problems (see John Mark Hicks 3-part review here, here, and here)… because despite the sectarianism and legalism of the past, most Churches of Christ know how to function in that past culture. Even though returning to the past will not help in learning how to engage among the new cultural territory, returning to the past is more comfortable than doing the messy task of faith which is continuing to journey forward through the wilderness learning how to live as a colony of heaven in an unChristian world.

One Final Word

The question churches face in the wilderness is whether they will try returning to the past or continue stepping forward. It’s a question of faith. It’s the question I faced in Rolla, MO, the question Israel faced in the wilderness, the question many other people of God have faced on occasions, and the question facing local churches in America today. How the question is answered is either a matter or faith or a lack of faith.

In the meantime, remember that Israel made to the promise land not by their own strength but by their faith in the God who delivered them. The church of Jesus Christ will make it too not by her own strength but by faith in the God whose promise in Christ is sealed by the Spirit dwelling among the church. I’m tired of reading article about the ten reasons why millennial won’t… or the ten steps every church needs to do in order to… At the risk of oversimplifying the journey ahead, churches just need to press forward in following Jesus and learning how to embody the gospel in contextualized manners. It’s a messier task filled with unpredictability, requiring discernment bathed in prayer and scripture but the church today is not the first to make this journey. So press ahead!

Cultivating People of Grace

Everybody sins, including you and including me. But to often, so it seems to be the case, we forget that we’re sinners as we heap judgment and condemnation down upon others for their sin. But as one who unapologetically believes in Jesus and is striving to follow him, I believe Jesus calls us to become conduits of grace in our world. And boy oh boy, does our world ever need grace…

If Only there was more grace

Last week I read the story of a Michigan City, Indiana police officer who was found dead from a self-inflicted gun shot wound. Growing up in the LaPorte, near Michigan City, the story interested me. The story itself is sad, as it is any time someone takes their own life, but the story is bigger than just a tragic loss of life. The officer had resigned his position just a couple days prior to his death after having been arrested and charged with three counts of level 6 felonies having to do with misconduct and possession of a prescription narcotic drug without a prescription.

I’m not repeating the story here in order to heap any sort of judgment upon this officer. In fact, I intend to do just the opposite with this post. I tell the story because it seems rather apparent that the officer had some personal struggles that had now led to further problems affecting his life and career. Adding his trouble was the fact that the news was well publicized locally and some people apparently used Facebook as a place to play judge, jury, and executioner by quickly heaping judgment and condemnation on this officer with vitriolic comments. Unless we have found ourselves in similar circumstances, we can only imagine the shame and how it must have felt for this man to have his life seemingly unraveling in such a public way. Nevertheless, this officer apparently felt so hopeless that ending his own life seemed like the only option and that is a great tragedy.

The reason I share this story is because it reminds me of how much every community needs the local church whether they know it or not. Every community needs people who know how to show grace and that should be the church who has encountered the grace of God. Here is why…

Society is often full of graceless people who are ready to judge and condemn, as though they have never sinned themselves. When people find themselves broken and their world is collapsing amidst the shame of judgment and condemnation, what they need is some friends who will love them rather than heap more scorn upon them. By loving such people, the church becomes a conduit of grace and mercy. As I have said in preaching before, everyone needs forgiveness and a second chance at some point in their life. When the church is the place where those who have failed and let others down begin encountering that forgiveness and second chance, the possibility of hope is believable.

Jesus, An Immoral Woman, and Grace

One of my favorite Jesus stories, one that I’ve written about before, is found in Luke 7:36-50. While dining by invitation at the home of a Pharisee named Simon, a sexually immoral woman, perhaps a prostitute, anoints the feet of Jesus with oil and Jesus doesn’t scold her. This doesn’t sit well with Simon, so under his breath he criticizes Jesus which in turn draws some very pointed teaching about grace from Jesus. Then Jesus tells the woman, “Your sins are forgiven… Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (v. 48, 50).

But there’s more and it’s matters much!

Jesus spoke words of grace to this woman and that’s important because she needed to hear that she is forgiven. But Jesus also embodied grace to this sinner in the way he treated her.

  • By not scolding her, Jesus extended hospitality and let her know that he is someone safe. Unlike Simon, Jesus will not heap judgment and condemnation on this woman whose tears signify the shame she already carries around with her.
  • When Simon, along with the others, judge this women with their glaring looks and scornful remarks, Jesus comes to her rescue and defends her. Jesus will not let this woman drown in her own tears of shame. Instead his protection lets her believe in the possibility of hope, hope that not even she is beyond redemption.
  • Perhaps the biggest surprise is that Jesus himself is willing to risk his own reputation and endure the scorn of others in order to show grace. Regardless of what Simon and the others think, this woman will not bear the shame alone anymore because Jesus is willing to bear it with her.

This sinful woman is able to leave this dinner party with forgiveness but she is also able to leave with hope because through the actions of Jesus, his word of grace has meaning.

Cultivating Grace

Talk is cheap and words are meaningless without action. Churches can sing all the songs about grace and pastors can preach sermons about how much God loves the sinner and forgives the sinner but unless the people that make up the church are able to embody the grace of God, those songs and sermons mean little.

Ministers, through preaching and teaching, must cultivate the churches they serve to become people of grace. And by that, I mean becoming people who extend hospitality to people drowning in the shame of their sin, defending them from the judgment and condemnation of others and doing so even at the risk of their own reputation. It’s not enough to offer recovery programs for those struggling with addictions or those who have suffered through a divorce. Those are certainly important in helping people turn the page, so to speak, and learn to live into the life God is redeeming them for. But when people find their life unraveling in brokenness, what they need is people who will put their arm around them and remind them that they are not what others, and maybe even they themselves, think they are… who will remind them that the grace of God is for them.

Cultivating churches to become a people of grace involves equipping the people to be present to their friends, neighbors, and co-workers in order to extend that grace in that hour of need. That means equipping people how to listen without judgment nor advise. Sometimes it might be necessary to offer some suggestive guidance just to help prevent someone from aggravating their trouble any further but other than that, advise is not needed. What every sinner needs, especially when they are drowning in shame, is someone to be their friend. And that means being the friend who will listen to them, praying for them and being present to them so that the phrase “Jesus loves you and so do I” has actual meaning.

One Final Word

Everyone sins. Unfortunately, sometimes the price of sin is very steep. Beyond adversely affecting the relationship with God, moral failure can be costly in a social sense and this is especially the case when it involves criminal activity. Grace will likely not eliminate these consequences nor should it necessarily do so either. But what showing grace just might do is make the fall bearable and let the person know that this too will pass… that there is hope, a second chance to get back up and live again.

By the power of the Holy Spirit, may our churches embody the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ to the glory of Father in heaven!

The Ministry of Cultivating A Gospel Passion

I’m reading through Charles Taylor’s book Modern Social Imaginaries which is one of those thick reads akin to running a race waist deep in mud. Nevertheless, if I understand Taylor correctly, he describes how modernity brought about the notion of a modern-state as the means of establishing civility among European society where much savagery existed at the time. Of course, the idea that that morality and civility can be brought about by legislative governing is a modernistic idea and an anthropocentric one too. That is, the capacity to generate a well ordered life for people is an activity of human power.

Now I might be making too much of a leap here but given this modern notion that centralized authority could establish and regulate civility, this also gives some understanding of how the modern church denomination became so popular. A denomination provided structure that could regulate beliefs and practices of the Christians who belonged to the various churches within the denomination.  Even among the Churches of Christ, though not structured with the typical polity of most denominations, the editors of various journals along with the popular “gospel meeting” preachers served to regulate the local church.

The Limitation of Regulation

Like the modern-state regulated civility with establishment of new laws, the drafting of statements of faith and church by-laws by denominational boards helped regulate the beliefs and practices of local churches. Sometimes this regulation, as in the case of the Churches of Christ, was predicated on a legalistic reading of scripture that turned the Bible (and particularly the New Testament) into a constitution that served as the foundation for the regulation. In the end, the objective of such regulation was faithful Christians and faithful churches.

However, even though the modern denomination remained a strong presence throughout the twentieth century, it was during that time that we began to see the impossibility of regulating civility by legislation. Despite such coercive power, the twentieth century proved to be one of the most deadliest in history (if not the most) with numerous wars and conflicts that have now spilled into the twenty-first century.

Few believe that governments can maintain lasting peace, though without a doubt they will continue trying. I also suggest that like the inability of governments bring about civility, church denominations cannot make faithful Christians by regulating the beliefs and practices of a church (and that includes appealing to scripture as a legalistic text). Despite written and unwritten creeds, church’s still struggle to live on mission with God and Christians still struggle in remaining faithful to Jesus.

Cultivating Passion

Nothing can replace passion! When someone is passionate about something, they will pursue that passion vigorously and good will come of that provided that the said pursuit is based upon a health passion. So it also seems that local churches flourish when there are a core group of people with a passion that is rooted in Jesus and his gospel and that individual Christians are most likely to remain faithful when they have this passion.

And where does this passion come from? A living encounter with God and what he is doing in Jesus by the power of his Spirit! It is a spacial-jouney whereby a new core identity takes shape, one that is in alignment with the kingdom of God. This is why Jesus announces the gospel (cf. Mk 1:15) and then invites us to come follow him (cf. Mk 1:17), which is an invitation to come learn how to live the kingdom life as an embodiment of the gospel he has announced. The fulfilling of this passion is then brought into fruition by the Spirit rather than enforcing regulation, which is exactly what we read of in the book of Acts.

If the fulfillment of this passion could be achieved through regulation of law, we would have a different story to tell about the Pharisees and religious leaders of Jesus’ own day. But that won’t work and I think we are coming to realize this with what we see happening in many churches across various denominations and fellowship. If ministers of the gospel and other church leaders want to form people with a passion rooted in Jesus and his gospel, a passion that results in people serving as God gifts them and calls them to do so, then we must, as Alan Roxburgh suggests in his book Missional Map-Making, cultivate that passion as an artisan working soil (p. 138).

This cultivation involves, I believe, preaching, teaching, and leading people to see what God is doing in life. Doing this requires presence among the people while simultaneously having the ability to ask good questions as a listener of both the people (the church you serve) and culture. Scripture is still very much involved but the aim is more than just pointing people to scripture. Ministry points people beyond scripture toward that living encounter with God.

Participating in Global Missions

This is a guest post from a friend and fellow follower of Jesus, Will. In this post Will talks about global missions, how he and his wife are participating in missions, and one way in which you might join in this work.

——————–

Jesus said we’d be his witnesses even to the ends of the earth. The missionary community has been pushing towards that goal for almost two millennia now. As it turns out, we’ve already reached the easy geopolitical areas. What’s left are places like Somalia, whose government is in shambles and violence is an everyday fact of life. Or perhaps the northern border country of India, where in one region kidnapping is the number one economic activity. Or even the restricted access countries like China, Vietnam, Russia or the Muslim-bloc countries. Or the geographically brutal jungle tribe regions in the Amazon and in Papua New Guinea. Most of those areas left are hostile to both God and humanity. The point is that the final push to the absolute ends of the earth is the hardest one.

Conversely, church giving to pioneer missions is pretty low. Current giving is estimated as less than 0.05% church resources dedicated to pioneer missions. The number of full-time professional missionaries going to the field is also on the decline. These facts hit home on my Harding University graduation day in 2006 when I saw more than 1000 of my peers graduate, and only 2 of us were missions majors. A few more than that minored in missions. Something had to change, I though. We cannot move forward if we can’t send more.

A couple of trends in missions came to bear at that moment. First was a blended model of missionary activity and health care. Now, missionary activity should be thought of as actively sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ and forming new believers into a local, indigenous church. Many of us have participated in medical missions, and they are truly a blessing when we are able to participate in these social endeavors that support the indigenous church. We don’t often get to share our faith in medical missions, because we often don’t speak the language or understand the local culture. For the last ten years I’ve been serving in a number of social work roles in different organizations in three different countries, speaking in five different languages. The second trend is “business as mission”. It was first termed in 2004 by the Lausanne Committee. It too is a blended model, but it unites business activity with missionary activity. In my years trying to help people both medically and economically, the realization came that jobs are really what brings economic development. It was an “aha!” moment, followed by a “duh!” moment.

When I interned as a missionary in Switzerland, and when I lived as one in Guatemala, one of the hardest things to overcome was a lack of role in the host culture. In other words, when people asked what I did, my answer didn’t really make sense to them, and I was relegated to the “weird guy” role. Fast forward to 2015. My wife and I now own an importing business. We sell high-quality loose leaf Coban black tea online at an affordable price. This allows us to truthfully say that we are importers when we are introducing ourselves. It also allows us to speak the gospel of Jesus to our suppliers and buyers. It also allows us to go to countries in the Muslim-block, which is a major consumer of tea, without fear of retribution.

Tea is to Muslim countries as beer is to Texas. We can make relationships with people who would never have anything to do with a missionary, and we can tell them about Jesus. It’s really exciting to talk to a Muslim about Jesus and to give them a copy of the gospel in Arabic. There really isn’t a feeling like it that I can describe, except by elation. It’s a very simple task, but so profound. Not only can it create jobs and create relationships, but it can also create fundraising opportunities for pioneer missions, which is one of our goals with this business. We currently operate in Guatemala and the USA, but our next phases will be to open markets in major Arab immigrant communities in the USA, then to North Africa, and then to Afghanistan.

If you’re a tea-drinker, I hope you’ll join me in supporting our business and the mission at TRW Fair Trade Imports.

——————–

Bio: Will and his wife, Karen, and live in Atlanta, Georgia. Will is a graduate of Harding University with a Bachelor of Arts in both Missions and French and is currently working toward an Master of Business Administration at Harding where he is on track to graduate in 2015. Will also works full-time as a patient navigator, providing resources for elderly cancer patients across Georgia. Both Will and his wife are active members of North Metro Church in Kennesaw, GA.

Engaging Culture As Followers of Jesus

Part of following Jesus Christ is living as a learner, learning just how to live as his disciple. I’m still learning and sometimes I show how great of a student I am and sometimes, actually a lot of the time, it is evident how much I still have to learn. Nevertheless, because I believe that God is redeeming, reconciling, and restoring all of creation in Jesus Christ, I keep following. I want to participate with him in the mission of God, making the world aware of the good news and embodying that good news in the way I live. Doing that means involves at least two activities: 1) becoming aware of how God is presently at work in the world in order to join in that work and 2) knowing how to faithfully engage in that work among the world. I do neither well, at least not if Jesus is the standard by which I measure myself.

Becoming Present

When it comes to the first activity, part of my daily prayer is to see how God is presently at work around me and how I might participate in that. My trouble is that it more often I see God at work around me only in hindsight and by then, it’s a little too late to join in that work. That’s because I tend to be too tasked focuses on what I am doing and what I plan to be doing that I miss out on what God is doing (that’s not an excuse though!). However, lately I have really felt the conviction of the Spirit that I must become more present to what is happening around me and who is around me in order to more faithfully live on mission with God. And that opened up two incredible conversations this past weekend that I want to share.

  • The first conversation took place at pool-side with another parent while we both were waiting for our children who were having their swim practice. I was reading a book by James K.A. Smith, How (Not) To Be Secular, for my upcoming D.Min seminar and this parent asked me about the book and why I was reading it. This particular person is a pediatrician who was grew up in England and is about to finish a Ph.D. in botanical medicine. Obviously, ver smart! Realizing that I am a minister engaged in theological studies, she asked me a question about homosexuality and what it means to be created in the image of God. Her own Episcopalian and very politically left background means that she has some different beliefs and values than I have when it comes to this issue, which I was aware of as we talked. Nevertheless, we had a good conversation sexuality and how Jesus showed hospitality to those regarded as sinners.
  • The second conversation happened, in of all places, while sitting in a hot-tub. Someone who knew that I went into Baltimore during the recent riots and protests to pray with and listen to the protesters asked me why I would do such thing. This question wasn’t a passive-aggressive attempt in maligning me for doing this, just an honest question from a person who happens to be Black. So I explained that I am a follower of Jesus and as his disciple, I refuse to let issues like racism and violence divide… that I want to do what I can to bring about reconciliation. So we had a good conversation about this.

Now let me get to why I want to share these two conversations with you.

Which Battle to Win?

As you know, both issues, sexuality and racism, are difficult issues that both the church and culture at large are wrestling with right now. Everyone has their beliefs on each issue and any conversation about either issue has the potential to quickly disintegrate into an argument that only creates further division and animosity. So as Christians, how do we engage in such conversations? This question brings us back to the second reality of participating on mission with God discussed above… of how we faithfully engage our culture, particularly our friends and neighbors.

In engaging our friends and neighbors, we want to remain faithful to Jesus. So besides treating others as we ourselves wish to be treated, we also want to speak truthfully about what we believe. That is, we want to speak the truth in love (cf. Eph 4:15). But I want to suggest that sometimes speaking less is what it takes to speak in love and that this is how we must learn to engage our friends and neighbors. And if Facebook is any indication, this is something most followers of Jesus, including myself, need to learn.

This is about deciding what battle it is that we want to win. It requires listening and discerning first in order that we may create a dialogue. Part of the discernment is knowing that not every battle, or the entire battle itself, must be won in in one single moment. Therefore we must decide which battle do we want to win. Do we want to win a theological argument about sexuality and human nature or a political argument about racism and violence in a city like Baltimore? Or would we rather the win be that someone, one of our friends and neighbors, now knows that we are safe enough to ask questions on difficult and potentially volatile issues without being judged and dismissed because they may have some significant disagreements with us?

For me, the big battle, is about helping others to see God at work in Jesus, coming to believe in Jesus and follow Jesus because I believe that God is redeeming, reconciling, and restoring his creation in and through Jesus. I’m still learning how to do this and I already see in hindsight some ways that I could have handled to two conversations mentioned above a little differently… and probably better too. Nevertheless, we must pray that we may learn to be present in each moment, remaining open to the opportunities for engaging our friends and neighbors as followers of Jesus, and remaining patient and wise about what to say and what not to say. God has already won the big battle, we just need to kindly and patiently point others to that victory!

May we, who believe in and follow Jesus Christ, be filled with the Spirit in order to faithful participate in the mission of God!