Archive for June, 2013

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One day in the temple, as Jesus anticipated what He saw fixing to happen he called the attention of the disciples to a small widow lady that walked up to the temple treasury and dropped in two small coins, the “widow’s mite.” It was roughly the equivalent of six minutes wage for the average laborer of that day. What made this gift so significant was it was all that she had. It was a costly gift, a sacrificial gift. There are so many lessons in this story, not the least of which is that God measures our giving by what we have left after we give.

I heard Jim Slack with IMB say recently that less than 2% of all the monies collected by churches in the U.S. ever makes it to the realm of international missions. Among Southern Baptists last year approximately half of our churches did not give a single dime to our annual International Mission Offering. In the typical church historically, 20% of the congregation give 80% of the receipts, 30% give the other 20, and 50% give absolutely nothing.

Consider this: If I buy an average meal at a fast food restaurant, I am going to spend $7.50 to $10.00. If I gave up one of those type meals a week, I could give between $30 and $40 a month to advance the Kingdom of God through international missions. A good friend of mine once said, “I believe in relationship to mission, ‘you either go, or provide the cash flow.”

Personally, I believe the Bible teaches that all we have belongs to God. I believe it teaches that we are to give a minimum of a tithe (10%) back to God through our local church in order to remind us that He is our provider and that it all belongs to Him. But Today, I want to challenge you to consider doing something a little sacrificial. Beyond your tithe, give to the cause of missions. You can do that in so many ways.

David once said that he would not offer something to God that did not cost him anything. I suspect that very few of us are giving to the point that it changes our lifestyle. What if you added a giving plan of $10, $20, a month or more to missions? Imagine if all believers did that.

If you want to support the work of Church Unleashed Global, a mission of mobilizing local churches to embrace unreached peoples in our world and work together to insure all hear the Gospel, give by writing a check to the Columbia Metro Baptist Association, and write on the memo line, Church Unleashed Global. Mail it to 1929 Gadsden St, Columbia, SC 29201. Visit our website, http://ChurchUnleashedGlobal.org

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Recently, I began a sermon with these words, “Today, I am going to ask you to do one specific thing. I am going to ask you to write a blank check with the rest of your life to God.” I borrowed a statement that I had heard from someone, “Put your ‘yes’ on the table, and let God put it on the map.” After the worship service a gentleman walked up and said, ‘I am two years from retirement’ and my wife and I have been really struggling with what to do next. This is it. This spoke to me today.”

In Acts 10, God is preparing Simon Peter to go and share the Gospel with a Gentile man named Cornelius. Three times Peter has a vision of a tablecloth of “unclean” foods coming down before him and God telling him to eat. Peter says something very intriguing. He responds, “No, Lord.” Think about that for a moment. You can not honestly say both. If Jesus is Lord of your life, you cannot respond with “No”. And if you respond to God with “No”, then you cannot honestly call Him Lord.

No matter what God asks of us, the only appropriate answer is “Yes.” Romans 12:1 calls on us to make a once and for all presentation of our “bodies” (representing the entirety of life) to God. It then goes on to say that it is the only reasonable act of worship we can do in light of God’s incredible mercies demonstrated toward us. So today, imagine whatever is left of your life as a blank check. It is the blank check of your time, your treasures, and your talents; whatever is left. And sign it over to God. Simply say, “Yes, Lord.” Then let God fill it all in.

When Isaiah encountered God in all His glory in Isaiah 6, he also overheard God having a conversation with Himself, saying, “Who will go for us; who will I send?” Energetically and enthusiastically he volunteered, saying “Here am I, send me?” Words that today might be heard as, “What about me God? I volunteer. Can I go for You? Can you use me?”

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My guess is that when you think of Gideon, you think of a “fleece” that he put out to discover God’s will. When I think of Gideon, however, I think about what I call the “Gideon Principle”, which simply stated is, “You can be too big for God to use, but you can not be too small.”

The story is found in Judges 7. God has raised up Gideon to deliver his people, and they are facing destruction at the hands of a group of people from Midian. Gideon has mustered an army of 32,000 rag-tag soldiers. They are overwhelmingly outnumbered by the Midianites, who also have better weaponry and military skills. But God says an interesting thing to Gideon, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands. . .” Honestly, I would have been tempted to say, “God, are you kidding me?” But God tells Gideon to instruct anyone who is afraid to go home. And 22,000 leave, a third of his army.

God then says, “The people are still too many . . .” I kid you not; read the story. So God tells Gideon to take the people down to the riverside and tell them to drink. And God tells him to separate the people based on how they drink. Gideon is to only keep in his army those who cup their hands and bring the water to their mouth and then lap it with their tongues. Gideon is left with 300 men.

WHY DOES GOD DO THIS? God does not want the people to believe they have overcome the Midianites by their own military prowess. God desires all the glory. There is to be no doubt about what happens. Again, read the story, it is all there.

In February 2007, Missionary Steve carried three men and myself to a remote village in the bush country of Mali. Along the way he explained that the Gospel had come to that village for the very first time three weeks earlier when he brought a large church with an attendance of 10,000 to the village. He had asked them to adopt the village and plant a church but they had told him it was too big a challenge. Here we were, a small rural church in a blue collar community with an average attendance of less than 150 and an annual budget less than $300,000.
I bet you can see where this is going. God led our church to adopt that village. We saw God do remarkable things. Not only was a church planted in that village, but in several surrounding villages.

Sometimes others have asked me, “How did you do it? And don’t give the ‘God-answer’.” There is no other answer. God is all about doing things in and through us for which only He can get the credit and the glory. I want to remind you today, you can be too big in your own mind and attitude for God to use you. But you cannot be too small or humble.

God has a heart that the nations hear the Gospel. There are 1.7 billion people on our planet who have absolutely no access to the Gospel. You are not too small and insignificant, and neither is your church. God is doing some of the most incredible things of history around our world. Be a part. Get involved today.

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Today if someone asks you are you a “follower” of someone is most likely means that you receive their latest blog post on your computer. It is as simple as clicking “Like” or “Follow” with your computer mouse. Unfortunately, I fear, too many people have that idea in mind when it comes to being a Christian. Its a day in which we can have “virtual church” experiences of worship without any real commitment or even participation on our part.

If I get annoyed with the number of posts on my Facebook page, I defriend, unlike, or stop following with another click of the mouse. If someone posts something I like, I simply click like, or write a comment, and my “discipleship” with that individual is fulfilled. Nothing changes in my life. Nothing is expected of me in return.

Jesus had something entirely different in mind, however, when He bid people, “Come and follow me.” He cautioned that while foxes and birds have homes, His followers often have “no place to lay their heads”. This is one who said, “Unless you hate your Father and Mother” and on another occasion “let the dead bury the dead” to a would be follower whose father had passed.
Perhaps nothing sums it up better than “If anyone would come after me (be my follower), let him DENY HIMSELF, TAKE UP HIS CROSS, and follow me.” Pretty strong words requiring total surrender.

Paul to the believers in Rome about Gentile disciples in Romans 15:18. He described the Gentiles discipleship as one “resulting in obedience by word and deed.” So consider this morning. Have you simply “liked Jesus” by praying some simple formula-matic prayer as a fire insurance policy, or have you denied yourself, taken up your own cross and surrendered fully to Jesus?

First Night in the Bush

Posted: June 10, 2013 in Uncategorized

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Chapter 1
When Donkeys Talk

“Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey and she said . . .”
Numbers 22:28

“Who has let the wild donkey go free? Who has loosed the bonds
of the swift donkey?” (Job 39:5)

It was my first night in the “bush”, as the Africans call it. I couldn’t sleep. I was zipped up as tightly as possible in a nylon sleeping bag trying to keep from being bitten by mosquitoes. As I have fallen into the habit of saying, “I was sweating like a pig.” The truth is, I have no idea whether pigs sweat or not, but it sounds like a good description of being radically hot to me. Truthfully, it had been about 3 months since rainy season and the mosquitoes were not that bad, but I had saturated myself in insect repellant with 100% deet just in case, and now I was zipped up tightly, determined that malaria would have to search really hard to find me. The bug spray itself seemed to have raised my body temperature about 15 degrees. It was February, so it was only about 75 degrees Fahrenheit, but we were in a walled-in enclosure trying to sleep on what I will loosely call the front porch of the mayor’s guesthouse. The guesthouse is basically a cement slab, with walls made of mud bricks mixed with a little concrete and covered by a tin roof. It is divided into two rooms, and on the front there is a walled in, and covered porch. It was much too hot to sleep inside, but it seemed far too exposed to the wild in my mind to sleep out in the open like the missionary. After all we were in the bush of Africa.
But it was not trying to sleep on a concrete floor in the heat that was keeping me awake. It was the incredible experience that had just taken place in a remote village in Mali, West Africa. We had arrived, four of us, in the city of Bamako the day before on a Vision trip to engage three different unreached people groups in search of where God might use our small church in advancing His Kingdom. The missionary had picked us up about 1 pm, told us to grab our sleeping bags and whatever we needed to spend the night in the bush. That just sounded very safari-like to me, not to mention dangerous. We had turned off the paved road and begun the experience of traveling down a dirt road in West Africa, which has permanently removed any interest I might ever have had in going four-wheeling. As we road along, our missionary, Steve, told us more about the place to where we were going.
“An African bushman discovered this village and came and told me that they needed the Gospel,” Steve said. “I was out here three weeks ago on what I think was the first time the Gospel of Christ had been shared in this village.” Periodically he consulted his GPS to make sure he took the right turn in the road (no road signs). “I preached Ezekiel 33,” he continued, “and spoke of being a watchmen, and how we had come to announce to them God’s Good News. The villagers were interested, but there were no visible decisions. They invited us to come back and talk with them again. A couple of other missionaries in West Africa and I have covenanted together to be a little more direct in presenting the Gospel to Muslims. I was going to do a simple Gospel presentation tonight, but you can do it if you like, and I will translate.”
“I would love the opportunity,” I had said, and my mind began to race with excitement about preaching the Gospel where it had never really been proclaimed before. I thought, “this must be what Paul and Barnabus felt like as they left Antioch for the first time.” What must it be like to hear the incredible Good News of Christ, when you have never even known there was a Jesus? How should I preach this message so that it is clear when they have no background framework on which to hang the stories of Jesus? The missionary had suggested the “Romans Road”, but I had never really learned that presentation. I settled on telling the story of Creation and then heading to the Cross as quickly as possible. I began to cry out to God, “Lord, please use me tonight. Help me make this clear. Help me get out of your way so that You can accomplish what You desire in this village. You do not need me. You allow me to be a part of what You are doing. Thank you for this incredible moment of opportunity that you have provided for me. Only Your Holy Spirit can change a man or woman’s heart. Glorify Your name.”
As I continued to “sweat like a pig” zipped up tight in the sleeping bag that night, I continued to also reflect on the rest of the events of that day. We had arrived in a small village adjacent to the one where we were planning to spend the night. Steve had said we would greet the chief and essentially get permission to be in the village. As the landcruiser had come to a stop, children, women, and a few men immediately swarmed all around us. The missionary pointed out the ground around a well near the care where African killer bees also swarmed. “They won’t bother you,” he grinned, “if you don’t show any fear.” I hoped he was just messing with us.
The children were covered with dust and their faces caked with mucous from trying to breathe in the dust filled environment that was typical of that region most of the year. The surroundings looked more like a scene that would come out of the first century, not the 21st. No mater how much we try, it is hard to describe the poverty in this part of the world, and yet in spite of the conditions they live with day by day, everyone’s face wore the biggest smiles that I think I have ever seen. Our new missionary friend explained to the group of villagers that we had come to greet the chief, but we were told he was not there. Instead we discovered that some of the elders would speak with us. We explained why we were there. “We are teachers of God’s Word and we have come to share Good News with the people in F-village.” One of the elders then said, “If you are sharing Good News from God’s Word, then don’t go there, stay here and tell us.”
“They are expecting us,” the missionary explained. “But, we will stop by here tomorrow and tell you the Good News.” As his smile exposed his missing teeth, he said, “That is good. We will gather the entire village to hear your story.” Having gained his blessing to be in the villages, we loaded back into the truck and headed for our destination. This had been my first experience engaging West Africans. This had been my first exposure to life in a village in the bush country of Mali. What beautiful and friendly people, and so eager to hear the message of God.
Arriving in F-village, we began to walk through the village and greet people. The women were cooking what looked like French-Fries. The missionary stopped to buy something and I thought, “Good, I can eat, and french fries, just like home. Probably no ketchup.” “Here, try this,” he had said. It was not the fried potatoes I had seen, but rather some fried beans. I spent the rest of the afternoon trying to wash the taste out of my mouth with lukewarm water. As we greeted the Africans, Steve explained in the language of their people group that we would be telling stories from God’s Word that night, and he invited them to come.
We had returned to the courtyard of the mayor’s guesthouse, where we had some more first time experiences. I had bathed out of a bucket in what some might call a latrine, but the missionaries affectionately call a “squatty potty”. After a hot day in a dusty climate and a long ride into the bush, the bucket bath was amazingly refreshing. Then we had our first African meal, eating out of a common bowl with our hands. It was something made of ground millet with some kind of peanut sauce. It wasn’t particularly tasty, but these four newby Americans were proud of ourselves for having eaten “African style”.
About dark we had made our way back into the heart of the village, and there in an African courtyard by the light of a kerosene lantern we shared the Gospel. I don’t know whether there were 20 people or several hundred. I could only see the front row of eyes, but I could hear the murmurs of many more. I was a little nervous stepping up to speak in this strange environment, but that quickly passed when I realized how near God seemed to be. “I have come to share with you truth from the Word of the one true living God,” I said, and then paused for Steve to translate. I began to share the Genesis account of Creation up through Adam. I had heard of a presentation called “Creation to Christ”. Although I had never learned that presentation, I knew the Creation story and I quickly hurried to the Cross. After sharing for about 30 minutes, I asked if anyone had questions. “What do you mean, eternal life? What is that?” came the first. After answering that as best I could, another one asked, “What do you mean, Son of God?” Quickly I was becoming acquainted with the reality that these people had an entirely different framework of reality from the one that I was trying to introduce to them. Yet in spite of everything, the Holy Spirit was working.
After answering a few more questions, we invited anyone interested in knowing more about following Jesus to return to the mayor’s guesthouse with us. As I recall, ten village men followed us that night back to where we were staying while in the village. The missionary and the African bushman that had first reported the village to him said to me, “We aren’t sure they really understand. We want to make sure they count the cost and understand what it means to follow Christ,” Steve explained. “Because it is late, let me talk with them, and when I finish I will tell you what has been said.” So for about an hour and a half, the missionary talked with the ten men, and as nearly as I could tell did his best to talk them out of becoming believers. Obviously, that was not his intention, but in spite of his best efforts to be sure they knew it was a serious commitment, nine men surrendered their hearts to Christ. Then we spent another hour teaching them how to pray and more time after that finding out who could read so that we might give them Bibles. We stood around a wooden table in the courtyard between the mayor’s guesthouse and office building with flashlights letting some read to us from the Bibles we had. The moon was bright and to me the temperature was very warm. The African men were wearing jackets and told us they were getting cold. Finally, we prayed with them and said our good-byes. The men told us they were leaving before daylight to go to another village for market day. As we prepared for bed, I had no idea whether I would ever see these men again this side of heaven.
So I couldn’t sleep. It had been much too incredibly exciting to see what God had done. As I drifted between reflection on the day and prayer for these new believers, I heard the braying of donkeys in the background. A donkey can make some of the most horrible sounds I think that I have ever heard, especially in the middle of the night. As I listened to the donkeys, my mind drifted back to a statement one of my best childhood friends had made to me. I was visiting him at the college he attended at some point during my senior year of college. It was early morning in a dormitory shower, much like a man’s locker room. Out of left field, Terry said, “Brad, all I can say is this. If God can use a donkey in the Old Testament to speak, then I guess he can use you.” Now lying in a village in West Africa I thought to myself, “I guess God can use someone like me.” I knew that Terry was talking about the time when the prophet Baalim was not obeying God, and God had surprised him by opening the mouth of his donkey and letting the animal speak. As I lay in my sleeping bag, I could not help but think, “Terry was right. God can take a preacher from a small church in Hopkins, SC, and place him in a village where I don’t know the language, don’t know much about the culture, and yet let him share the story of Jesus. By His Holy Spirit He can change lives. Yep, I guess if God can speak through a donkey, I guess He can use even me.”
It would be a few trips on down the road many months later that this comparison to a donkey would come back to me again. On that occasion, our team would settle in for the night. Usually the first night or two in the village the excitement of the day keeps everyone talking for a while like a group of youth at summer camp. Finally, everyone was about to doze off in his or her mosquito tents (we were better prepared this time), when again a donkey began to bray. One of our male translators said, “Brrraaaad; your brudder is calling you.” We all laughed ourselves to sleep after that but once again I was reminded, God can use even a donkey to deliver his message. In fact, God can use anyone who is willing to make himself or herself available to Him. Sometimes, when God uses an old donkey like me, the seeds of a church can be planted in a village where the Gospel has never been before. And sometimes those seeds will bear fruit that results in other villages hearing the Gospel.

Aftershock
Burro, donkey, jackstock, are all names that they are known by, but I am told that the correct name is ass. The latin name is “equss assinus”, and it is the smallest member of the horse family. There are some interesting facts available on the Internet about donkeys. They actually originated in the African desert, which makes the donkey an appropriate animal for describing some of the truths and stories in this book. Donkeys are affectionate animals and need companionship or they will become depressed. Ultimately the same is true of humans, don’t you think? It is interesting to reflect upon the story of the prophet’s stubbornness and how God used a donkey to speak in Numbers 22. In fact, this is a good moment to simply call attention to the fact that God seems to specialize in using people that by human standards may seem to be very unlikely choices. Consider that Jesus appeared first to Mary Magdalene on the morning after the Resurrection and then you can move in any direction in the Bible. Abraham proved to be a liar and adulterer. Moses was a murderer hiding on the backside of a desert when God called him. Jacob was a con artist and Samson had a weakness for women. Rahab was a prostitute, Elijah battled depression, David was an adulterer and a murderer. Peter denied Jesus and failed at the most critical moment, and Paul was a man that heavily persecuted and tormented Christians before God called him. John Mark got homesick and deserted the cause, but came back strong later. We could go on, but the reality is God uses ordinary people, even unlikely people to do His work in the world.
“Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have–right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start–comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying, “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.” (I Corinthians 1:27-31, MSG)

Go Viral with a Hashtag

Posted: June 10, 2013 in Uncategorized

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It was a classic by #William Shakespeare, that is #Much ado about Nothing. And in my lifetime the tv show #Jerry Seinfeld carried it to new heights. It was, afterall, a comedy show in which each episode was pretty much about nothing. So I will tell you on the front end, with the exception of the last couple of paragraphs, this blog post at times will be a lot of rambling about nothing.

My daughter came over yesterday to help me with the creation of a Facebook page. I admit that I am quite the #dinosaur when it comes to the matter of the internet and social media. I know how to check my email, and I know how to get on #facebook, and post a comment on #twitter. But I honestly don’t understand most of the meta-language and dialogue that takes place these days. I watched some portions of the #Tony Awards last night, and was glad to see the #Rascals singing “Good Loving” because that was from back in my day. I have nothing against #Taylor Swift, but I got it the first time she told that guy they were never ever, ever, not now, not ever getting back together. So a reference to the music of the #old time rock ‘n roll on the TV catches my attention.

Anyway back on the subject: My daughter was trying to explain to me how to get more exposure on my facebook page by tweeting and using hashtags. I check #twitter from time to time, and I post occasionally. I usually do more in the way of “re-posts” when #JohnnyHunt, or #SteveFlockhart, two friends have something catchy on their posts. I even retweet people I haven’t ever met like #MarkTwain, or #CharlesSpurgeon, or even #JohnWesley. I might retweet #RyanSeacrest or #JustinBieber if they have anything worth repeating. I don’t keep up with #Hilary Clinton, or #PresidentObama to see if they tweet. I don’t even know if the annual meeting of the #SBC that begins tomorrow in Houston will catch much attention with the comments on #twitter from the attendees. So I can throw the “#” sign in front of anything and see if others are talking about that topic. It should draw some attention. I don’t know.

So that said, I was in the “Bush country” of #Mali for the first time in February, 2011. I was amazed in a village with no electricity, and where they still cooked on open charcoal fire, they still had advertisements here and there for #Coca-Cola.
Even now, in the village where I have spent the most time, there is still no electricity or running water, but there are cell-phone towers by #Orange. Obviously anyone with enough money and ingenuity can get their message to the most remote of places.

All of that to simply say, what would it take for the gospel message of #Jesus Christ to go viral, literally everywhere. I still go into remote villages and have people tell me when we share the Good News that they have never heard this name #Jesus Christ before. #RickWarren wants them to know that they can live a #PurposeDrivenLife, and #DavidPlatt will remind them it must be #Radical. #JohnPiper challenges us to #Let the Nations Be Glad, and Nik Ripken points out for us #The Insanity of God. But still there are people who have not heard the message #JesusSaves.

#ChurchUnleashed is one effort to carry the message of the #Bible to the ends of the earth and make the name #JesusChrist a viral message on every tongue. I challenge you to be a part of the conversation. Copy your #facebook friends, and repost on your #twitter account. If don’t know how, but include #Pinterest if you like. Get LinkedIn. I am guessing my regular blog readers, both of them, won’t get this post. I am not sure I do either, but I have had a good time with it. Either way, let me challenge anyone reading this, #JesusChrist is the name above every other name, and the #Bible says that He is the Way to the Father. @Tweet His name to the ends of the earth. Post His message on your #Facebook page. Tell the story on your blog site, make it viral on #Wordpress.

Enlisting an Army

Posted: June 8, 2013 in Uncategorized

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One of the most challenging aspects of a “faith based ministry” is raising the financial support to enable the ministry to take place. I made a living in sales for about 12 years, and with most products I found that I had one “yes” in every ten sales calls. That meant I heard “No” at least nine times for every “yes”. In fund raising for ministry, I am told the numbers are more like one “yes” for every twenty contacts made.

The “no’s” caught up to me this week. So I began to think, do I really believe what I have preached all these years? Is prayer the last resort, or the first “resolve.” Do I really believe that prayer is the most effective work that believers can do? And “Yes” I really do.

So I determined that I want to raise an army of 1000 people that will pray for our new ministry, Church Unleashed Global. My heart is to help churches mobilize to carry the Gospel to the ends of the earth. There are approximately 12,000 people groups that have been identified in our world. Roughly half of those are yet unreached with the Gospel, meaning less than 2% of the population is Christian. But another half of them, 3100 people groups are called Unengaged. That means that there is no church, no mission board, no one trying to reach them today. I cannot reach all of them, and neither can you. But I can be a part, and so can you.

Will you pray for our ministry as we seek to come alongside churches and help them to embrace an Acts 1:8 strategy; to embrace God’s heart for the nations; to embrace a posture of absolute obedience to fulfilling the Great Commission? Email me at bradbessent@msn.com or facebook me and let me know you are willing to call our name before the Father at least once every week. Be sure to give me your email address so that I can keep you up to date with our prayer needs. Thanks.