I spent all day Thursday with a group of ministers from Columbia, SC, but touring the inner city of Atlanta with Send Atlanta coordinator Jim Haskell, of the North American Mission Board. Here is a quote from NAMB’s web page, “Though it sits in the biblically saturated South, the city itself is no longer considered to be the hub of the Bible Belt. Only a small percentage of the millions living inside the city’s perimeter have any inclination toward church. With a population of more than 5 million in the metro area, only 27 percent are considered evangelical believers, leaving millions that still need to know Christ.

“There’s an idea that because we’re sitting in the middle of the Bible Belt, we don’t need more churches or evangelism in a city like Atlanta,” explains Send North America: Atlanta City Coordinator Jim Haskell. “But the truth is, the majority of our city is uninterested in church. We have 62 planters on the ground in the metro Atlanta area but we need hundreds more to reach our city.”

We made one stop in a neighborhood notorious for drugs, prostitution, and human trafficking. It is like an area of the city designed to “contain” the problems in one spot. We met a man committed to plant a church in that community by loving people who much of the world has overlooked. It was an amazing ministry. But then all of the church planters we met were impressive.

As I wake up this morning and face a new day, I cannot help but wonder, “Where would we find Jesus today?” I believe we would find Him in places like we visited yesterday. We saw wealthy communities where there are hundreds of thousands of people with no inclination toward church or faith. We saw a city that once would have boasted churches ministering to people needing to know God, but where most churches had either closed their doors and moved on (some were rock concert venues), or churches that had been walls around them to insulate them from the people in the communities. I never would have thought of Atlanta, Georgia as a mission field.

You can make a difference. Contact the North American Mission Board and ask for Jim Haskell.

http://www.namb.net/atlanta

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You Can Do It!

Posted: August 5, 2013 in Uncategorized

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All of us at times in our lives face what we think are insurmountable odds and overwhelming responsibilities. One of the “excuses” I hear sometimes from churches about embracing an Unreached People Group is that our church is too small, or we just don’t have enough money and people. I want to tell you that it is not the size of your budget, or the seating capacity of your church that matters, but rather the size of your God.

Gideon was hiding inside a wheat threshing container when the angel of God found him. God called Gideon to lead the people of God in battle against the Midianites, a superior enemy. The Midianites had better armor and weaponry and overwhelming numbers. Already outmanned, imagine Gideon’s surprise when God told him to whittle his army down from 32,000 to only 300. (Judges 7). God told Gideon that He did not want the people to think that they had accomplished victory on their own. God loves putting us into situations where we have to absolutely depend on Him.

When Beulah Baptist Church made its way to F-village in the bush of Mali in 2007, Steve told us that one other church had been there a couple of weeks earlier. That church happened to have thousands of members and a large budget. He had asked them to adopt this village of the unreached people group, the Bambara. They had said it was too big a challenge. Here we were, a church averaging slightly more than a hundred people each week in attendance and an annual budget of about $300,000. When God called us to embrace that People Group it was the “Gideon Principle” all over again.

You can be too big for God to use, but YOU CANNOT BE TOO SMALL. The reason that is true is because God is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond anything we might ask or imagine. You can do it. It is a matter of confidence in God, not in your abilities or resources. By the way, our small church made 25 trips in 5 years, and we saw a church planted in the village we adopted and that overflow to other villages. What will God have you do?

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The other morning I was looking for a picture to illustrate a post. I ran across a news photo in which a man held a sign in one hand that said, “God hates ___s,” and then in the other hand another that said, “____s go to hell and God laughs.” It immediately reminded me of Jesus looking upon the city of Jerusalem, lamenting the people’s stubbornness and continued rejection of God, and He wept. (Luke 19:41-44)

I remember a day in my theology class in seminary when the professor asked, “Is God in hell?” It was never unusual for him to ask questions that challenged our thought processes. He pointed us to Psalm 139, “If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.” (v.8). Then the professor made two other comments that I clearly remember. First, he said, “Hell, is like an ulcer in the pit of God’s stomach.” And then he said, “If you picture hell and feel a sense of joy over anyone spending eternity there, then you don’t really believe in hell.”

The Bible teaches, “God is love.” (I John 4). Love is the essence of God. It is who He is. Love excludes the possibility of hate, in my opinion</strong I absolutely believe in the "wrath of God". I believe that an unrepentant sinner who never trusts in Jesus Christ will indeed spend an eternity in a horrific hell. But I do not believe that God laughs. I believe that He weeps. I believe God loves sinners, no matter how heinous their sin. I also believe that He absolutely hates their sin. That is why He took on human flesh and came and died on a cross where He became the sin-bearer. I believe that God crucified sin, and that He forgives sins. And I believe those things because I believe that is what the Bible teaches.

One of my very favorite scenes in the movie, The Passsion, is where while Jesus is on the cross, a giant tear drop falls from heaven. The Bible says, “God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”(2 COr. 5:21) As God looked upon Jesus Christ on the cross and saw all of the sins of all of the people of all of history, I believe indeed He wept. Grief is an emotion that springs from love.

That is my “unleashed” perspective on this subject on this the 2nd day of August, 2013, in the year of our Lord.

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What does “Joy” look like? Something like the expression on the face of this woman, I suppose. Joy beyond description is something we would all love to know and experience throughout everyday. I truly believe if you could bottle “Joy” and sell it you would be the wealthiest person alive.

Last night I attended a worship service at North Trenholm Baptist Church in Columbia, S.C. So what took me out in the middle of the week to a church I am not a member of? They were bringing a mission report of a recent trip to South Africa. I walked into a worship center that was 80% full, on a Wednesday night. (I was impressed.) More significantly than the attendance there was an electricity in the air. One by one the participants stood and gave a two to three minute report of their most memorable moment on the trip. Every face literally glowed with the joy of the Lord. The pastor, Steve Cloud, brought the service to a conclusion with a challenge to the congregation to begin with him a 40 Day Journey to restore their Passion. One statement caught my attention. He said, “If you want to know the blessing these people experienced on this mission trip, you have to be On Mission.”

One of the realities of the reports that also grabbed my attention was the number of participants who indicated it was their first mission trip. It took me back to my first time. There is a Joy beyond description of making that first mission trip, totally surrendered and yielded to God. I remember the last night that I spent in Bamako Mali trying to fall asleep. Marvin, with whom I shared a room, was out washing his clothes. I remember lying on the bed weeping, singing, rejoicing at what God had done. It was a time of Joy beyond description.

The joy of the Lord is our strength, Nehemiah wrote. And true joy is found by dwelling in the Presence of the Lord. And whether it is across the street, on the other side of town, or around the world, there is nothing that enables you to experience of the presence of the Lord more than being On Mission. Will you make a fresh decision today to live your life on mission for God?

I want to propose a hypothetical scene. It could be any host of issues, pro-life, racial equality and harmony, the relationship of the church to gays, or a number of other subjects. It is hypothetical, but it could be happening in any city across America, and for that matter around the world. The Bible teaches that there is a “Way” to God, and that Jesus is that way. The Bible declares that the road that leads to destruction is wide and many travel on it.

So let’s assume those last two statements are true. (I believe they are, but I hope some read this who may not). So people are traveling down that road headed to destruction, and on each side of the road are people who claim to be followers of Jesus. On one side are the folks with the signs, “God hates . . .” and you fill it in with the particular group. Let’s say for illustration purposes, “God hates gays,” or maybe even more derogatory terms are used, “God hates fags”. And sprinkled throughout are signs that say in a proliferation of ways, but the message is, “You are going to hell.”

On the other side of the road are some folks who have set up tents, and who have ice coolers with bottled water in them. The only signs are hung on the sides inviting anyone to stop and have a cool drink. Inside they are greeted by folks with warm smiles and handshakes who are willing to share a story of hope. God loves you and we love you. We want you to know that we are all sinners, but God has made a way for us to know Him. Would you like to hear about it?

Now I have given a brief synopsis only of two very different approaches. And I am not inviting a response that tells me whether I am right or wrong about an issue. I am asking, if you claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ, which side of the road would you rather be standing on?

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Friends

Posted: July 30, 2013 in Uncategorized

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One of my favorite verses of scripture is “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Prov. 17:17).I have been blessed with some real good and true friends through the years. Some of them have been seasonal and while we have a good relationship we are separated by time and distance. Some of my best of friends are with the Lord, now.

What grabs my attention about this verse is that a friend loves you all the time. A friend will know your faults, understand that you often stumble. They love you anyway. They love you unconditionally. They love you in the good times and the bad times. They know when to encourage you and when to rebuke you. But what they never do is not love you because they love all the time.

Perhaps nothing hurts more than the sense of loss when you discover someone that you thought was a friend demonstrates that they are not. King David experienced some of that and wrote about it in his Psalms. Some can’t love unconditionally because they are not living in the overflow of God’s unconditional love.

I can remember a speaker a number of years ago at a pastor’s conference making this statement. He was talking about so-called friends that had let him down. They say one thing, and do another. So he said, “I wish I was a country western singer, and then I would write a song entitle, That’s why ‘I love you brother’ is fightin’ words to me. I thank God for the good friends I have had, and I am praying that God help me be a better friend to others in my life.

As I ponder this, I am reminded that there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.(Prov. 18:24)When I consider that in light of Jesus’ words, John 15:13, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” In light of those two verses I believe there is no greater friend than Jesus. I praise God that Jesus is the friend of sinners, because I am one.

I just had this on my heart. I think it is true, in order to have friends, you have to be a friend. That is the only side of the equation I can do anything about. So today, I am going to work at being a better friend.

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I woke up at 3 am this morning. That is not all that unusual for me. At my age I wake up often in the night to go to the restroom, and then usually go back to bed and fall back asleep. This morning I could not go back to sleep. Sometimes I have found that means God is calling me to prayer and that He may have something to say. So at 3:30 I climbed out of bed, got a cup of coffee, and began to pray and read my Bible. I didn’t hear any voice from heaven, or see any vision, or even doze off and have a dream.

But as I prayed, and as I read the Bible, in the midst of the silence of the house, I heard this, “tick,tick,tick . . .” Just as steady and precise as it could be. I wrote an article on logs turning into crocodiles in yesterday’s blog, so I cannot help but think of Captain Hook and his fear of clocks ticking, assuming it might be the crocodile that bit off and swallowed his hand coming (it having also swallowed a clock.)

This ticking, however, was coming from an orange battery powered clock that sits on the table beside the chair where I have been praying and reading. After prayer and the scripture, I read the last chapter in a book entitled, Dreams and Visions, by Doyle. He has a section in that chapter with the title I have given this article. He speaks of time running out. So all of that in the way of introduction to acknowledge that reality.

Time may not really fly, although it speeds by, but it certainly continues to “tick” off of history. Our lives move us second by second close to our own death. History moves second by second closer to the consummation of the ages. As time goes by, the reality is that all around the world there are people who have little or no access to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They will die and spend their eternity in a Christ-less eternity. As I have quoted others before, “The Gospel is not Good News if it doesn’t get there in time.”

Early this morning I have been on the websites, International Mission Board, Frontier Mission, Finishing the Task, and the Joshua Project, to mention a few. The numbers are a “moving target” which is ultimately a good thing. We are making a difference for many. But those who are Unreached with the message, those who have no access to the message, and those who are even under-reached are staggering in volume. And ultimately the problem is there are simply not enough workers in the fields of the harvest. Jesus said that over 2000 years ago, and as the population of the world has mushroomed, the lack of workers is still an issue.

Who will go and tell? Someone else has said, “God is calling more than are going.” We can all pray. Almost all of us can give financially to support the work. Many, maybe even most of us, can go in some form or capacity. For some that might be a career call, for others it may be as a volunteer on shorter trips. But God has called every single church to this task. Pray that we hear and obey. Pray that all will hear before time clicks off and there is no more opportunity. One life indeed matters. Every life indeed matters. You can make a difference.