Monday, March 17, 2008

Commission Stories: The Art of Braving Bullets

Every Sunday, prior to our offering, a member of our congregation reads the Missionary Moment which is a short biographical blurb about a NAMB or IMB missionary who is on the field. While this may seem like a non-traditional inclusion to a worship service, it serves many purposes.

The first of which is to remind ourselves weekly to pray for missionaries and to long for the Day of the Lord by asking that God will mightily bless the Gospel that is being proclaimed in our own public worship but also around the world wherever the truth is proclaimed. This exhortation also allows us to take time in worship to explain the importance of giving as Southern Baptists. Every few weeks, one of the presenters will make sure to explain that a portion of the offering given will go directly to the mission sending agencies through the Cooperative Program. We make it clear that this missionary family we are praying for is also being supported by our tithes and offerings. Thirdly, we have a built in time to mention special mission projects within our church family and special offerings like the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering and the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering along with various state and associational offerings we support.

I serve in a mission church (a church re-plant). We are making our way toward constituting as an autonomous church but we have benefited through the CP financially and because of this, even with a tight budget and a lot of penny pinching, we manage to give 10% of our budget to the CP. But this sacrifice is realized when we hear the stories of persecuted missionaries. When we hear stories about John and Jane Doe (the missionary moments always says, "not real names") trying to reach particularly militant Muslims in Indonesia or dangerous natives in the upper Amazon with the gospel, we see how important it is to hold the ropes here, to give and to be attentive in our prayers for these missionaries.

One such missionary that we can all take time this week to pray for is Eric Reese. Eric Reese is the Strategy Coordinator for the urban poor of Rio De Janeiro, and his team of Brazilian nationals are taking the Gospel to the most violent and dangerous slums in all of Latin America, called favelas. You can see how God is allowing him to minister in a tumultuous environment by going HERE. This video is a call to prayer and a call to the gospel.

Here's how Eric sums up why he's serving: "The gospel got to get to them."
It's as simple as that.

As we are all focusing on the cross of Christ this Holy Week, remember to pray for our missionaries who are braving bullets and much worse for the Glory of Christ and the spread of the Gospel of the Kingdom and the reconciliation that was bought and sealed on that first Easter morning. And lets make a point ourselves to tell this great, true, life-changing story to as many as we can. At the end of this video, Eric says that when people ask him if he's afraid doing what he's doing, he can't help but respond that he would be more afraid if he were not doing what he knew he was called to. May we all be encouraged to live how we're called: to be making our own commission stories.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Transforming Power of Proper Perspective

Perspective is very important. Here's a good example:

Dear Mom and Dad:

It has now been three months since I left for college. I have been remiss in writing this and I am very sorry for my thoughtlessness in not having written before. I will bring you up to date now, but before you read on, please sit down. YOU ARE NOT TO READ ANY FURTHER UNLESS YOU ARE SITTING DOWN. OKAY!

Well then, I am getting along pretty well now. The skull fracture and the concussion I got when I jumped out of the window of my dormitory when it caught fire shortly after my arrival are pretty well healed now. I only get those sick headaches once a day.

Fortunately the fire in the dormitory and my jump were witnessed by an attendant at the gas station near the dorm, and he was the one who called the fire department and the ambulance. He also visited me at the hospital and since I had nowhere to live, because of the burned out dormitory, he was kind enough to invite me to share his apartment with him. It's really a basement room, but it's kind of cute. He is a very fine boy and we have fallen deeply in love and are planning to be married. We haven't set the exact date yet, but it will be before my pregnancy begins to show.

Yes Mother and Dad, I am pregnant. I know how much you are looking forward to being grandparents and I know you will welcome the baby and give it the love, devotion and tender care you gave me when I was a child. The reason for the delay in our marriage is that my boyfriend has some minor infection which prevents us from passing our pre-marital blood tests and I carelessly caught it from him. This will soon clear up with the penicillin injections I am taking daily.

I know you will welcome him into our family with open arms. He is kind and although not well educated, he is ambitious. Although he is of a different race and religion than ours, I know your often expressed tolerance will not permit you to be bothered by the fact that his skin color is somewhat darker than ours. I am sure you will love him as I do. His family background is good too, for I am told that his father is an important gun-bearer in the village in Africa from which he came.

Now that I have brought you up to date, I want to tell you that there was no dormitory fire, I did not have a concussion or a skull fracture. I was not in the hospital, I am not pregnant, I am not engaged. I do not have syphilis and there is no man in my life. However, I am getting a 'D' in History and an 'F' in Science and I wanted you to see those marks in the proper perspective.


Your Loving Daughter

I don't know if you have heard this joke or if you have received it via your email inbox. I know I have more than once. But I recently heard this read as an illustration in a message by C.J. Mahaney given to the Acts 29 network's Resurgence Conference in February. You can download the message by clicking HERE.

Mahaney's message has been a wonderful blessing to me. Preaching from I Corinthians 1, he shows how genuinely Paul shows personal love toward the Corinthian Church in the introduction to his letter, but also has them in the right perspective. Despite the moral failure and the lawsuits, the drunkenness and abuse of the Lord's Supper, the sexual immorality and failure to expose public sin, the misuse of spiritual gifts and lack of love, Paul writes that he is thankful for this church. Paul writes that he prays for this church daily. Paul writes (authoritatively mind you) that they have been enriched in every way (v.5). He claims that they lack no spiritual gift (v.7). He even calls them sanctified (v.2), perhaps the hardest for us to imagine.

How can Paul say these things? How can he call this bunch of misfits sanctified? Mahaney shows that it is because Paul has the proper perspective on their salvation. Paul goes on in the letter to give stinging rebukes of their sin, so he is by no means sweeping their evil behavior under the rug. But because he is confident in Him who began a good work in them and promises to complete it, he can heartily show love and affection for this people. He can pray for them fervently and wish to come see them again.

As ministers of the Gospel and servants of the church, it is imperative that our minds are in tune to this reality. I am a "pk" and have been in church from day one. I have heard so much disparaging talk about the church from ministers, leaders, deacons, Sunday school teachers and various brands of modern-day pharisees. I have been one in the past who is willing to write off those in the church because their progress wasn't sufficient to my standards. But this isn't Paul's attitude. God is Holy and the bible is clear that he HATES sin. But His grace is such that he is working in our hearts and lives, conforming us to the image of his son and He has poured the righteous wrath that we deserve onto Christ, who bore our penalty on the Cross. He is chastising his children and disciplining in love while showering us with blessings through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

May all of us who serve and minister to the church always remember who is at work and the great love shown to desperate sinners and the lengths to which Christ himself went to serve us and to call us brothers. Paul loved this church at Corinth and longed to be with them in person, but Christ humbled himself, came in person and gave up His heavenly crown for a time to take on a Crown of thorns. Paul sent a letter, but God sent his Son.