Wednesday, September 28, 2011

You’se Ain't From Around Here!”

I still remember those words with a Brooklyn accent. They were words spoken to me as I took a seat on a Manhattan bus heading to my church plant outside of New York City. It seems that my southern accent had given me away as stranger.

As I think on that conversation with the Jewish gentlemen from Brooklyn, I will always remember those around us who aren't from around here. They are the refugee and the new immigrant from around the world who now work, play, live and worship in our neighborhoods.

Three years ago when I came on staff at the Nashville Baptist Association, I was challenged to begin pray and develop a church planting strategy that would reach out and penetrate the lostness in the Nashville area. Part of that strategy was to identify the unreached people groups of our area.

In the process of identifying the unreached peoples of Nashville, our team made some very important discoveries:

1. Nashville is 5th largest Metropolitan Statistical Area for foreign born population.

2. Nashville is home to 70+ people groups and that 35 of these groups number 1000 or more in population.

3. Several of the unreached people groups residing in the Nashville area continue to have relationships in their home countries which are areas that there is little to no gospel witness.

4. There are at least 30 people groups in the Nashville area that have less than a 2% gospel witness among them.

5. 180,000 + Total Foreign Born Population lives in Davidson County alone.

6. There are 15+ Mosques, 1 Islamic School, 1 Hindu Temple, 1 Sikh Temple, 15+ Buddhist Temples, 4+ Shinto Meditation Centers located in the Nashville area.

All these statistics are only statistics unless we realize that these numbers are also people who need the gospel. They are not some far away native or living in some village somewhere. They are your neighbors, the person in Wal-Mart, the family sitting next to you on the soccer field or the waiter/waitress serving you at one of your favorite restaurants. You don’t need a passport, you don’t need shots and you don’t even have to board an airplane. All you need is a willingness to listen, observe, ask questions and share the gospel.

You say what impact would this have? Several weeks ago, I heard the testimony of a Sudanese man living here in Nashville. He had came to trust Christ as his personal Savior and Lord. Through telephone calls, email and Internet chats, this new Sudanese believer lead his family back in the Sudan to Christ. His family is now planting a church in their village in the Sudan. Acts 1:8 was carried out without even leaving Nashville.

What would happen if we as believers in Christ were to reach those people with a strange accent and "not from around here" with the Gospel? We could see a worldwide sharing of the Gospel! God has brought the world to us here in Nashville and to all our neighborhoods. All we have to do is go across the street or around the corner to reach the world for Christ.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Why I Hate To Read Facebook and Twitter on Sunday Evenings

When I was starting out in church planting, I used to attend the weekly pastors luncheon in my local Baptist association. Being the "church planter" and the "young guy" I would usually keep quiet and listen to all of the other pastors. It was at this time I started noticing a disturbing trend.

As I listened to these conversations, I begin hearing a competition going on or what It was like some pastors were trying to one up the other. Questions were asked like " How many did you have Sunday or How many walked the aisle or how many revivals are you having this year? The one with the highest numbers or most professions of faith or the one who did the most speaking was look at with awe and with jealousy. The ones who did not measure up went and stood at the back of the serving line.

What really bothered me about all of this was that if the God was mentioned and i do mean if; then it was only when the attendance numbers were high. The movement of the Holy Spirit was only happening when it measure up to our definition of success.

Now you might be saying "What does this have to do with Twitter and Facebook?" Well, I will tell you. I have started noticing this same trend on "some" postings of people I follow. They kind of go like this: "God really rocked this morning! We had (insert a number)in our worship! I have also read: "The Spirit was moving this morning cause so many people came forward."

Now please don't get me wrong. It is great to be excited when these things happen on Sunday morning. I rejoice when people get saved and lives get changed. What bothers me is two things: First, the tone of these postings from some seem to take a "look at me I am a great servant of God and He likes me." Second,some of these postings seem to imply that God only rocks or the Spirit seems to move when something big happens. I don't know about others but my GOD ROCKS ALL THE TIME!! I also have learned the Spirit moves all the time and even when we don't see it.

I guess what I am trying to say is that we need to be careful and not turn something of God's into a 140 character sound bite for how great we think we have done. I would love to see this Easter postings on how great God is and that Christ is Alive and that is all we would need to say. Next time we are tempted (myself included) to brag on God on Facebook and Twitter lets stop and see if it is Him we are bragging on or ourselves. GOD DOES ROCK BUT HE ROCKS WITH OR WITHOUT US!!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Wisdom From A Crazy Man

1. Do not walk behind me, for I may not lead. Do not walk ahead of me, for I may not follow. Do not walk beside me either. Just pretty much leave me alone!

2. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a broken fan belt and leaky tire.

3. It's always darkest before dawn. So if you're going to steal your neighbor's newspaper, that's the time to do it.

4. Don't be irreplaceable. If you can't be replaced, you can't be promoted.

5. Always remember that you're unique. Just like everyone else.

6. Never test the depth of the water with both feet.

7. If you think nobody cares if you're alive, try missing a couple of car payments.

8. Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you're a mile away and you have their shoes.

9. If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is not for you.

10. Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day.

11. If you lend someone $20 and never see that person again, it was probably worth it.

12. If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.

13. Some days you're the bug, some days you're the windshield.

14. Everyone seems normal until you get to know them.

15. The quickest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it back in your pocket.

16. A closed mouth gathers no foot but it is hard to eat.

17. Duct tape is like 'The Force'. It has a light side and a dark
side, and it holds the universe together.

18. There are two theories to arguing with women. Neither one works.

19. Generally speaking, you aren't learning much when your lips are moving.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

What I Learned About Missions from American Idol

Alright, I admit. I watched American Idol. I found it very interesting and funny. I never thought however, that the show would teach me something about the way to approach missions.

The idol show that I saw dealt with the group competition. Each idol contestant was paired up with two other contestants to perform as a group. These pairings made for some very interesting personal dynamics between the various contestants. However, it was their performances before the judges that made a big impact.

As I watched each group perform, I realized that each person seemed to be performing to survive to the next level of competition. Many sang the song, danced the choreography, and did all the right things to get to the next level of the show. There was just one thing missing: a deep passion for the music they were singing. The music and the lyrics of the song were not a part of the performer’s passion or heart. They were only singing the song and not living it.The passion was just to get the job done to get to the next level of the show.

As I sat and watched, I realized what was missing: Passion! I used to think what was needed to do missions was either a passion for the lost or a passion to share the Gospel. This I found is not enough. When that is the basis of our passion it soon becomes like the singers on the show. We will only do what is required to get the task done.

WHAT WE NEED FOR MISSIONS IS A PASSION FOR GOD! The heart of God is missions. It is God bringing man back to a personal relationship with Him. The more we come to know God and the deeper we come to love Him, the stronger our passion for missions becomes. Because missions is God! We can talk, preach, teach, give and go do missions. Like American Idol, we can sing the song and do the dance but until we own it and it becomes a part of hearts, we are only going through the motions.

When we allow ourselves to be drawn to God through Christ and we desire that others know about His love for us and our love for Him, it is then and only then we are no longer doing missions but being missions and living within the heart of God.

Lets quit performing for performance sake and start living with the passion of God.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Prayer for My City: Repost and Revised

When you think of Nashville, what do you think of? Country music, Grand Ole Opry, Music industry, Tennessee Titans or capital of Tennessee?

Most people think of Nashville they think music especially country music. They also think of Nashville as a "southern city." Yet there is so much more to this city. We are both an international and a urban center. If you been in my office, you would see the view that you see in the picture up above. This view reminds me as a strategist that the first part of any strategy to reach an urban population is to have a compassion for the city and the people in it. Scripture tells us that Jesus looked out of Jerusalem and wept over it. He had a love so deep for Jerusalem and the world that He wept and died for it. How do we get a passion for our city? The same way that Jesus did. He had the heart of God and He got that heart by Him and the Father being one. That being one came through prayer! Jesus went to His Father in prayer and did what His Father told Him to do. We have the heart of the Father by being with the Father in prayer. We have the heart of the Father for our city by spending time with the Father talking with Him about the city. Let me encourage you to do two things:

1.Search the scripture. Look at verses that deal with the city. One you may consider is Jeremiah 29:7.

2.Pray the Lord's Prayer and when you get to "thy Kingdom come, thy will be done in (put in the name of your city, town or neighborhood).

If we are to reach our cities for Christ we must begin with praying for them. My prayer for Nashville is thy Kingdom come thy will be done in Nashville. Why do I pray this? It is my vision that one day Nashville will not be known for country music, Grand Ole Opry, Music industry, Tennessee Titans, home of the Southern Baptist Convention or Lifeway. My vision is people will say "Nashville, that is a city committed to Jesus Christ!"

Is this your vision and prayer for your city?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lessons Learned in Simulated Combat

As I sit here writing this, I am staring at a picture of myself and 6 other people in combat uniforms. I am sitting and thinking back to 4 summers ago.

It was the summer of 2007 I had the privilege of serving as a chaplain to the 53rd Infantry Brigade that is part of the Florida National Guard. I was serving with them during their annual training at Camp Blanding, Florida. This opportunity was unique because they had set up their camp like a forward operating base in Iraq. The camp was complete with razor wire, simulated artillery going off, simulated bullets firing and people pretending to be Iraqi “insurgents” and civilians.

As I was visiting some of the troops at the front gate, a truck appeared carrying ““insurgents””. As I watched this training drama unfold, I was amazed by the coordination and partnering each squad did to protect the base from attack. As the men in an observation post took aim at the truck, one squad immediately took defensive position behind a barrier, another squad immediately went and cover another barrier and a third squad covered the first two squads. By the way, yours truly at this time was down near the ground behind a tree. I had determined that when your 6’5” and wearing a cross on your helmet you do not want to give the “insurgents” a big target. By the way as a chaplain, we did not carry side arms or weapons.

What amazed me during this exercise was the support that each team gave each other. Their focus was not only on the mission but also partnering together to assist each other. When the “heat” is on we need as Christians and churches must partner together to help each other in our battle against Satan and our call to carry out the Great Commission or what I like to call the “Great Mission”.

It is so easy to focus on our little corner of the mission field or our little corner of the church field that we forget to work together or support one another. This is Satan’s greatest deception and trick. Just like the military, if we do not partner together by helping and supporting one another then we will soon be over run by the enemy.

How can we support one another? Pray. Here are some ways that we need to pray for one another:

I. Pray That Closed Doors (Hearts) Would Be Opened To The Word

And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. (Colossians 4:3 NIV)

Paul was in prison, but he knew that His God was big enough to open doors of opportunity so that the gospel could be preached clearly and plainly. Paul was always enlisting prayer partners for ministry. Lets pray for one another that God will open hearts to hearing of His gospel and lives will be changed.

II. Pray For Boldness of Speech
“Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel.” (Ephesians 6:19)
Need to pray that the Lord will give us boldness to speak His Word. In our society today it seems that everyone is bold to speak out about their cause and yet when Christians speak out we are made fun of. We need to pray that we will still be bold in spite of persecution and ridicule.
Also we need to remember that boldness is not arrogance. Speak the truth in love and be sensitive to the Holy Spirit. Let God's Word convict that our emotions or arrogance.

III. Pray For the Free Flow of God’s Truth
“Finally, Brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.” (2 Thessalonians 3:1 NIV)

Paul reminds us that we never reach a place in our Christian service where we progress beyond the need of prayer. Paul prayed for the message to spread. The Greek word means to run. The image is of the brush fires running up and down the hills and valleys. Pray that God's Word will speak truth among people. Pray that His Word will spread like a wildfire among our society.

IV. Pray For God’s Protection
“And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men ….. ” 2 Thessalonians 3:3-3 NIV)
Need to remember that we are involved in a Spiritual war and we need God's protection.The word “evil” describes active hatred. It should be no surprise that there is a real Evil One and he seeks to steal, kill, and destroy. The Evil One will use people to hinder and destroy God’s work. Satan will seek to steal the testimony of Believers, rendering them ineffective. Pray for spiritual, physical, and emotional protection.

V. Pray For Understanding And Cooperation Among Believers
“Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there.” (Romans 15:31 NIV)
This one especially hit home as a church planter. There are pastors who will say that we are starting churches to still their members. This is not so. We are starting churches to reach the lost.
So many times there is suspicion and jealousy of one another in the body of Christ. This has to stop. We are in this together. God calls us to be on mission with Him. A house divided is soon conquered We should work as one body to bring Him honor and glory.

VI. Pray For Personal Revival And Refreshment
“So that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and together with you be refreshed. The God of peace be with you all. Amen.”( Romans 15:32 NIV)

Living in God’s gave Paul a sense of peace and power. In the thick of battle, this Apostle found personal revival and spiritual refreshment. Pray that we all will draw close to Christ and experience revival and renewal daily.

VII. Pray For God To Make A Way
“And I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.” (Romans 1:10)

Many Believers use the excuse of the lack of money for not going “On Mission” with God. To use this excuse without serious prayer shows a shameful lack of faith. God will make a way if it’s His will. We must trust Him!

God has established HIS CHURCH as a base for His Kingdom’s work here. If we do not work together, pray together or partner together, then it will not be long before parts of our base will be overwhelm. God’s Kingdom is not about survival or our own personal success but rather it is about advancing forward to accomplish His Mission. We must partner together to see this happen.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Lessons from Henry and Richard Blackaby

A couple of weeks ago , I attended a meeting of Church Planting Missionaries from around the US and Canada. Leading the Bible study on our last day was Henry and Richard Blackaby. This time with them brought back memories because it was Henry who led the Bible study for my missionary group when I first became a missionary with the then Home Mission Board.

The one thing that stuck out to me as I listened to Dr. Blackaby speak was that his message was the same as it was back in 1988. GOD IS AT WORK AND HE INVITES US TO JOIN HIM.

So often we forget that God is on a mission in the world to redeem His creation back to a relationship with Him. It is almost like when we accept Christ and we decide to join Him in His work, we tell God to sit back, I got this now. I will do it and you can watch. Richard Blackaby shared a good example of this mentality of taking over for God. Richard shared about a church who was struggling to find a way to reach their community. This church began to pray and earnestly seek God on how to do this. As they prayed God began to reveal to them to host a community picnic and invite their neighbors to come. God began to reveal to people what they needed to do to resource the event. The result was God blessed and people were reached for the Kingdom.

Guess what this church did the following year? That's right. They did another picnic. This time though they did not pray as much. The following year, they did the same and with less prayer. It seems that their success in their method made them forget about God.

It seems that all of us forget this. We want to follow God. We see Him work in one way and we decide that is the way He always works and we adopt that way and stick with it. We cannot keep thinking that God works the same way each time and every time. It seems that once God has revealed and blessed a way to work for Him, that we seem to then tell Him to step back and let us do it.

As we look at scripture, God did not work the same way twice. As we begin to fall back or depend on our own mindsets, methods and patterns of success, we rob ourselves of seeing a working of God. See God is at work and He wants to work through us. The question is: Are we letting our past success and our methods keep us from being in tune to what God wants to do?

Success is remaining alert in prayer, and God will share His heart and purpose with you.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Evangelism Done in A Missional Way

Over the last couple of years there has been a buzz word going around in evangelical circles. This word is missional. It has come to be known as many things from the church going out and doing community projects; being concerned about our environment; going to a homeless shelter once a week to feed the homeless or give money to worthy causes. Like most Christian terminology there seems to be many definitions. Often these definitions are designed to fit our view or desire for it in our comfort zone.

So let me throw my definition in the ring: Being a missional church means: a community of Christ-followers sent to live out the mission of God. What is that mission? The mission of God or Missio Dei is that God is the initiator of His mission to redeem for Himself a special people from all of the peoples of the world. He sent His Son for this purpose and He sends the Church into the world with the message of the Gospel for the same purpose. Our mission and purpose is to join God in His mission as His people in seeing that mankind comes back to its original purpose and that is worshipping and glorifying God.

How does this affect the way that we do evangelism? The best ways to explain this is to refer to The Celtic Way of Evangelism by George G. Hunter III. In his book, Hunter explores the methods of Patrick of Ireland and how he used what is termed “The Celtic Way” to evangelize most of Ireland in the fifth century.

According to Hunter and other historians, Patrick did not build churches or cathedrals for preaching and worship. Rather, he and others went into the villages of Ireland and set up communities. Once in a village, they would invite the unbeliever into the community, and engage them in ministry and conversation. The Celts used a conversational evangelism using terminology or language that they could relate to and focusing on answering the questions of the unbeliever rather than pushing them along a predetermined presentation and then invite them to a commitment to Christ and the ministry of the community. Hunter says that, in the Celtic community, "seekers" often came to Christ in a matter of days or weeks as a result of participating in the life of the Christian community.

Missional evangelism is living incarnationally out the mission of God as the Celtic missionaries. We are sent by God to live in our communities, engaging unbelievers in conversation while using relevant language and invite them to be a part of our life as we are a part of theirs. For the Celts, evangelism and discipleship were synonymous. As we live among unbelievers, we can share the truths of God, scripture and Christ on daily basis with the intention that as unbelievers hear these teachings the Holy Spirit will use them to draw those without Christ to a relationship with Him.

For the Celtic missionaries, being missional was doing evangelism and discipleship wherever they were, everyday because that was their life and it was being a part of the movement of God in this world. This passion of the Celts should be the same passion of the Church to today. Like the Celtic missionaries, we are a community of Christ followers sent to live out the mission with God.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Lesson of The Seagull

I had an interesting experience on the beach when I lived in Florida that illustrated the condition of our world and the church. I was with a group of students who were having a picnic. As you know, if you are having a picnic on the beach then there is going to be seagulls. This one particular seagull me a very valuable lesson that day.

As the students were enjoying their meal, this particular seagull became entangled in a string tied to a tree. As the seagull struggled to get loose, it became more and more agitated. The more it struggled, the more it became entangled.

Seeing this, one of the students walked up to the seagull and tried to release it. The seagull began to try and attack the student. Another nearby student decided since the seagull was being uncooperative and combative; he would club the bird to stun him so the other student could save him from the string. Before this could happen however, the other student was able to free the seagull and he flew off.

This is a perfect picture of how the world sometimes response to the gospel and how the church responds to their rejection. We want to help the lost but sometimes they are unresponsive or combative because they don’t know that we are trying to help. Then when the lost don’t respond to the way we want or don’t listen, we either want to “clobber” them with our message or we just want to right them off.

The sad part of this whole story was the number of us, including myself who sat and watch. We gave advice from the sidelines but we never really tried to help. At least the two young men were trying to help the seagull, the rest of us were fascinated by the scene.

The lesson for us as the church. The world is entangled in sin and destined for destruction without Christ. They are going to fight, reject and wonder what we are trying to do. Yet, this does not change the fact that the Holy Spirit has given us the power and the message to help them become untangled for a life of sin. We don’t clobber them; we love them, try to understand their context and reach out to them in love..

The second lesson is that we need to get involved. It is easy to sit on the sidelines and give advice. However, the Great Commission calls us to be involved, not sitting on sidelines watching the scenery. With the large number of unchurched in our neighborhoods, it is time that each of us begin to help others become untangled from a life of sin and soar to freedom in Christ Jesus. Lets work together to see that happen