Thursday, November 02, 2017, 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM
Rural communities have been given the unfavorable nickname of “fly-over-communities.” It indicates that the corn fields and barns, dotted by little towns...
Before you get too excited about the dirt I’m sharing, I hope that you first decide to forgive me. Here it is. Try to be understanding. I’ve carried this burden for the better part of my life. At times it has been overwhelming. I also realize that many of you have already screamed at the screen, “I wish he would just get it out!” Please realize how tough it is to admit a struggle. I think I’m ready.
I am not a patient man.
Wow. Did that feel good.
I have determined that my impatience is increased as the speed with which I live my life increases. I think I first realized it as I was stranded on a country back road behind an Amish buggy progression in front of me, and an oncoming combine approaching in the opposite lane. I had such an immediate onset of road rage that I thought I would bust my overused stress ball.
What made my mood worse was the internal dialogue, that I am fairly sure was actually between the devil and the Holy Spirit. I feel that there may have been a literal little devil on my one shoulder and a literal mini-angel on the other. The conversation between the two went like this.
“No. That’ll just pressure the combine and the family in the buggy.”
“Go now or you’ll be waiting here until harvest.”
“You are not really in a rush. Besides, the cute little kid in the back is waving.”
“She’s mocking you. She’s waving you ahead. Go now or else these 23 seconds will be lost forever!”
I have these conversations with myself all to often. I have them in the grocery store or at sports events. I have them when my foot gets caught in the foothole of my sweats. I have them when I am deciding if I need to put on socks or not. I have them when I am trying to decide whether I want another cup of coffee or not. I have them when I am waiting for any sort of response.
I started to think about the reasons for the extreme moods brought on by waiting. My problem is actually selfishness. I am not committed to considering your life as important as mine. No one needs to get anywhere as fast as me. Whatever I have in front of me is more important than whatever you are placing in front of me. That creates a Christianity that is self-serving at best, and at its worst anti-Christ. I fear we are, because of the demands of our hectic lifestyles, becoming less able to respond to the alerts of the Spirit. I know that people feel pressured to do the few things that are already in front of them. That is a cultural shift for American believers.
Church goers in the United States used to regard it as their role in the world to impact the world for Christ. Missions organizations popped up and the American church staffed, funded and prayed for them. We had a different ability to hear a new message about a new place. Now churches have to fund, staff and pray for their own thing, and although it may seem that I am criticizing the church, I am not. Churches in the United States have had to reach a busy and savvy people group. In some respects, the call to rescue a culture from prosperity is far more difficult that trying to rescue a culture from poverty. My point is instead to call for solutions to the increased need of missions organizations and the diminishing interest in ministry that I cannot see out of my front window.
I just took a call from a pastor friend in Ohio. He is in a small community like so many of the areas that Crossroads Farm works with. As I talked with him I was aware of a fairly profound truth. The hope in the struggle most often is provided by those outside the struggle. Rural ministry is difficult. It is also fighting an uphill battle. Rural communities are being asked to reach a religiously declining culture with less resource and frankly, low interest from those who can help. Rural communities are in desperate need of champions who will solve very solvable problems by funding very fundable solutions.
I know my own propensity to focus on the things that are immediately in front of me. I understand that my call is to change rural communities, one at a time, through the vehicle that is Crossroads Farm. I also know that the command to change the world rests on me. My challenge, and I believe the challenge for the American believer is a different type of discipline. I believe that the call to us is one to slow down, bend an attentive ear to the heart of God in each personal encounter we have. When he speaks, and only when he speaks should I do.
1 Kings 19:12 says this about our fire-branded lifestyles.
After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper.
Sometimes, Amish buggies are a pause to a hurried life going every direction at the same time. It is possible to move straight and to move more slowly. I missed my chance to pass anyway.
I am excited about the upcoming Barnstorming events in Detroit, Traverse City and Hillsdale County. These events feel a little bit like a wedding to me. I get to spend time with people who I really appreciate and share a great love affair with them. That, and we always have great food.
I am also conflicted at these events. There are so many people who I legitimately love, and they have each made sacrifices to be at something we are doing. There just isn’t enough time to spend the amount that I want with each person. I inevitably have to cut conversations short because I need to be responsible for something, need to meet someone new, or want to check in on my staff team. It is a precursor to heaven and there we will have eternity together. At the end of these occasions there are heartfelt promises to reunite sometime in the near future. Those subsequent meetings do not happen often enough.
Ministry is a lot harder than most people think. Missions work is exponentially more difficult. The basic reason for the struggle is that the majority of the Christian world misunderstands their roles in global evangelism. Wrong perception, very often relegates missionaries to the place reserved for telemarketers and door-to-door evangelists. All too often, people assume that being passionate about ministry to a particular people group, indicates that all you want is their cash. That is not close to true. I’m afraid that many misunderstanding friends hope to keep all missionaries away.
Just recently one of our newest missionaries attended a meeting with a local church’s missions committee. This would be the group of people who are entrusted with the decisions regarding funding and other forms of support to the people God has called to do evangelism, church planting and ministry training in parts of the world not reachable by the committee itself.
As our candidate began his presentation, one of the gentlemen stated that he could not believe that our organization was sending another missionary to the committee to ask for funding. He then instructed this young man called by God to cut to the chase. He had family waiting lunch for him at home. I wish that was uncommon.
It did accomplish one thing for our young obedient servant. It humiliated him. It demonstrated that this church does not understand its role. God forbid, that a meeting with a church’s primary sending group would dissuade a missionary from finding the field he was called to. The incredible dichotomy here is that the same evening, I was approached by a young girl from the same church who was selling pies in order to fund a summer missions trip. I bought one.
We have an increasingly evident problem.
Even as most American Christians enjoy a lifestyle that is far more luxurious than the rest of the world, The United States is experiencing a decline in missionaries. Something is wrong.
Just yesterday I had a conversation about raising support with another one of our prospective missionaries. A friend of his explained to him that he did think anyone in Pennsylvania would be interested in supporting a ministry in Michigan. I was shocked. It is a misunderstanding of our call to win the world.
I explained to my young Padauan learner that his friend needs to understand that He is not being asked to come behind an organization or a state, but a friend. I shared that my refrigerator door is covered with pictures of missionaries whom I support financially even though I have never been to the place where they are ministering. I am thrilled to share in the joy of the gospel reaching a place that I cannot personally go.
Beyond that principle there is an important Biblical injunction. The disciples were told to go into the world. They were called to be Christ’s witnesses, “in Jerusalem (or in this case, Pennsylvania) Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth.” Acts 1:8
One of my favorite movies, Hoosiers, has a line that I love to quote when it comes to responsibility.
“Look, mister, there's... two kinds of crazy, a guy that gets naked and runs out in the snow and barks at the moon, and a guy who does the same thing in my living room. First one don't matter, the second one you're kinda forced to deal with.”
I am called by God to deal with the need that I stand face-to-face with. It has been my ambition to do something about the needs that I can see. This week, thankfully, God asked me to buy a pie. I’m really glad it wasn’t cake.
When I see friends at events, I want to be able to tell them about the students that are coming into a relationship with Jesus. There is a chance that I will have to end the conversation too quickly. That’s Okay! We should have eternity to talk.
As I walk through the building, I am overcome by two powerful sensory experiences. The first is smell. I can smell cooking beef everywhere in the office. It doesn’t usually smell like that, but right now, I am driven nearly mad with the thought of getting to a Five Guys, fast.
Our summer residents are doing food prep for our trip to a music festival. That means browning somewhere around 30 pounds of burger for Sloppy Joes. It has been fairly hard to concentrate on my task at hand; which is to pray for that trip.
As I move into the game room, I am struck by a second, and completely overwhelming sight. It is that same staff on their knees praying through our student list. I am humbled, proud and exhilarated at the same time. It is the experience that I feel has most closely replicated attendance at one of the Temple’s high festivals. Fire smoke wafting the scent of roasted meat while the voices of thousands pour their hearts out to a living God. That is when I realized that the cross has made this moment, exactly the same as that moment. Holy.
So many times we in youth ministry put more emphasis on the offering than we do the submission. The place may smell sacred, but it does not sound it.
I have been fascinated by Andy Stanley’s focus on reclaiming the irresistible nature of the first century church. As I wander through the unavoidable scent of roasted hamburger, I wonder if “irresistible,” has more to do with our knees than our altars.
This last weekend Stephan talked about there being more to life than being happy. It probably made you think, “Like what?” Let’s explore that topic a little bit further.
I have heard tons of people tell me that they knew that God ultimately only wanted for them to be happy. To them, I always respond, “Actually, that isn’t really logical.” You cannot believe that an all powerful God really wants for everyone to be happy. If he willed it, then the Muslims would eliminate the Jews. The Jews would displace the people living in modern-day Palestine. Detroit Lions fans would celebrate a Super Bowl victory, as would Green Bay, New England and the rest of the 32 cities that have teams in the NFL.
It would mean that two guys in love with the same girl would both be married to her and live happily ever after. If you start to make a list of the things that make us happy, you would realize that we could not possibly have it all. Workouts wouldn’t be necessary because no one would be fat. No one would die because that makes us unhappy. We would live in a perpetual state of getting everything we wanted all the time. Our lives would become meaningless.
More importantly than the pure logic, which would dispel the thought that God just wants to make us happy, there is an incredible spiritual truth that dictates that God is less concerned with our happiness than we think. God does not exist for our pleasure. Most people have God confused with either a genie or a doting grandmother. Neither are true.
and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images of mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. 24Therefore God gave them up in the desires of their hearts to impurity for the dishonoring of their bodies with one another. 25They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator, who is forever worthy of praise! Amen.
This passage states that people would serve what they wanted more than serving God. It actually describes pursuing happiness above everything else is actually a punishment from God. More than this. The Bible says that as we chase our own happiness at the expense of glory to God, death is the result.
but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.
Most people believe that what they want, what makes them happy is getting what they want. They do not take into consideration that people are evil by nature. What I want, many times would be painful and sometimes even tragic for someone else. That is not what God wants. There must be something far bigger.
There is just one more thought about happiness that is critical.
Happiness is an effect. It is a terrible end. What I mean is this. Happiness is something that we experience because of things working well. We know that this life is not designed to always work out. Happiness comes on as a surprise, but when we expect it or even live for it as our goal, we become entitled to happiness. The end result is that we are disappointed with most of what life hands us. I am sure that you have heard some one complain about the Christmas gifts they received, or talking negatively about a date they had. That is because they felt entitled to happiness. It is a better life when we are surprised by happiness.
We would be better served discussing what God actually does want for us. I consider that God has already told us what he wants for us. It is that we find our fulfillment in our relationship with him. That makes sense in that God is permanent and unchanging. Fulfillment is also a more important experience than happiness. It lasts.
Hey. Consider these things when you are thinking that life is not making you happy enough.
I was reading this morning about a friend who quit smoking one year ago. He said that the way he stopped was to put the money he would spend on cigarettes in the bank. In just one year that special account held over $5000. Habit cured.
I began to think about the accounts that I systematically take from in order to “purchase” something really harmful. What I mean is this. A person has to take from his/her marriage account to view pornography, look at someone lustfully, or have an affair. Another person steals from their “Made-In-The-Image-Of-God” account in order to allow friends to speak poorly of them or to be a part of an abusive relationship. A third person robs his account called “Meaningful and Fulfilling Career,” in order to continue to work at a dead-end, negative energy job. I take away the opportunity to invest in my “Spiritual Growth” account in order to sleep in, skip church or neglect reading my Bible, daily.
Think about this from a positive perspective instead though. Think about the investment I make in my romantic relationship when I live in purity. Imagine the deposits when I have surrounded myself with people who pour encouragement into my life. Reflect on the difference my heart feels each day as I do what God made me to do! The benefits that a focused discipline on God’s Word and my prayer life would be incalculable. These investments would also be compounded, right?
That’s what we mean by “Big Stuff.” A person weighs 600 pounds, by eating thousands of bacon double cheeseburgers with fries and a shake. They don’t eat one 600 pound burger. I lose my relationships one comment, lustful side-glance, or lingering thought at a time. I lose my hope each day I work the wrong job, until I cannot foresee myself attempting something more. I lose my faith a little with each unconfessed sin, a day further away from God’s ear and one selfish ambition at a time.
I read another article that reminded me that one penny, compounded and doubled each day ends up being worth about ten million dollars in just one month. If you don’t believe me, do the math. It’s all big stuff. Zootopia says it this way, “Changing the world, one carrot at a time.”
Each thought, action, and word add up. The Bible talks about these investments.
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Colossians 3:17
Time to start making some deposits.
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