Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Cost of Discipleship : The Call to Missions (Part 1)

This was something I read this morning and felt was too appropriate not to share (be patient and have some time for you to read through it all – it’s long).

Luke 9:57-58 - "Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, 'Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.' And Jesus said to him, 'Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head."

There are three men in this entire passage, but today I just want to talk about the first man. This man makes a very bold statement out of emotion, passion, and how he felt at the moment in which he said it, but he didn't count the cost of his promise to Jesus. What exactly was it that this man felt? It could have been love for Jesus and His ministry, excitement for the coming kingdom of the Messiah, or possibly even guilt for not joining Jesus' ministry earlier? We really don't know, but we do know that there was something that was not genuine about his statement because Jesus knew that this man did not have knowledge of the sacrifice that his promise required.

Following Jesus wherever He goes requires a great cost. Jesus' direct response mentioned the fact that He did not even have a home to rest His head which is something that even foxes and birds have. Jesus had no home and none of the basic and proper necessities of life. Following Jesus would require this man to give up all those necessities. Not only this, but Jesus was heading to Jerusalem (9:51) the place where He will be beaten, tortured, and crucified (Source: Bible Knowledge Commentary). Would this man follow Jesus to the cross as Jesus Himself taught just before the transfiguration (9:23-27). To all who wished to follow Him, there was a requirement to "deny himself, and take up his cross daily." All who followed Christ sought to lose their lives for His sake in order to truly save it.

Matthew Henry speaks about Jesus' self-title of "Son of Man". "[Jesus] glories in His condescension towards us, to testify His love to us, and to teach us a holy contempt of the world, and a continual regard to another world." The title of "Son of Man" identifies Jesus with mankind and causes all who hear that title to recall Jesus' great humbling of Himself descending from the throne of God to become, live as, and live with mankind (Philippians 2:5-11).

Jesus gave up His rights, and condescended Himself to become a man. Why? To save us (Luke 19:10), and to serve us (Matt. 20:28). How did Jesus do this? Was it out of boldness? Emotion? Passion? Love? Yes, all these are true, but the foundation of how or why the Son of God came to man as Jesus Christ lies in His OBEDIENCE to the Father. Jesus came because He was sent by the Father out of the Father’s LOVE and MERCY. Jesus came out of OBEDIENCE because the Father had sent Him. The Father commanded that He go, and so He went out of Obedience and Love towards the Father. The Father commanded that Jesus be sent to the cross, and Jesus prayed for another way yet remained faithful in attaching the clause, “not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39).

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” (John 3:16); “But God demonstrates His love toward us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8); “If you love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15). It seems that here Love and Obedience are tied to one another. Some say Love is an emotion, others that it is a decision or commitment. Perhaps it is both. Jesus loved us, because the Father loved us and they are one in the same. But Jesus came because the Father commanded Him to come, and so He did because love and obedience are connected. That is to say, obedience is the effect, while love is the cause. The Bible talks about hearers and doers (James 1); to hear and not do is the same thing as loving and not obeying. If obedience is not there, then the love that is supposedly there is not trustworthy; if action is not there, then the hearing of the word of God must be called into question.

This passage has application in all of the Christian life; it is the cost of being a personal disciple / follower of Jesus Christ, but I want to talk about something that my team and I spoke about a lot during the trip, the call to missions.

So many young people have the same story. They went on a short term mission trip, and then they preach God’s calling of them to the mission field. Either that or they just woke up one morning and God spoke to them that they are to personally go do missions in a very specific country. Now, it is very possible that all these experiences or callings are really true and God is working on someone’s heart to go on the mission field. It would be wrong of me to deny their personal experience. However, when many people preach their calling to missions, go on the mission field for any extended period of time, and then suddenly come home without that calling, it makes me wonder what happened?

This, I think, is what happens. The calling of missions can be founded by emotions or obedience, by one’s personal feelings or by their commitment to the will of God in their lives. And as I was discussing with a friend, he helped me realize that if your commitment to missions is based on your passions, emotions, or romantic notions of serving God in a foreign context, you will fail and come home to America defeated. Why will you fail? Passions wane, emotions are fickle, and romance dies when trials come. These things are the chaff that is blown away by the wind (trials), and you are left with only the wheat (your commitment to the will of God) which turns out to be very little. But I don’t want to sound so stoic and unbalanced. Passion, emotion, romance are all great things and I think they are necessary for daily living, but if they are the reasons you are serving in a difficult and often times, lonely place, they are simply not enough.

The calling to missions is the same as the calling to be disciples of Christ. Both callings must be founded on obedience and commitment to the will of God while counting the cost of difficulty that lies ahead. If the calling is founded on how you felt at the moment when making that commitment it will not stand the test of difficulty. Not all people are called to the mission field, but we need more. Not all people that stay to do the work of ministry in America actually do the work, but they should. The problem lies in a faulty, fickle commitment to God’s will, God’s law, and God’s way. To say, “Lord, I will follow You wherever You go,” must be said out of obedience. Anything else is a rash, emotional statement made without true commitment.

So I will make a bold statement which could be proven wrong by more experience and wisdom: stop asking if you are “called” to missions, and start praying about how far you are willing to follow your Lord and Savior. If it’s not very far, pray for a greater love for God, the type of authentic love that demands a greater obedience and commitment to God’s will for your life.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

God's Sovereignty: The Stranded Frenchman

As I begin to tell the stories of the trip to Kenya, it only seems right to begin with the most exciting if not devastating portion of our travels to Kenya. Our flight connections went as follows: DFW to Newark, NJ - NJ to London - London to Nairobi - Nairobi to Mombasa. So after 3 hours on a plane we arrive in the Newark airport a little late due to weather and Continental Airlines. We still had a few hours to kill before our next flight and for some reason it did not click with either myself or Shanda that we have not passed security yet for an international flight. On top of that Virgin Atlantic closes their gates 30 minutes before departure. Well, by the time we got to the gate and security check-in, it was already past 30 minutes and they wouldn't let us in. After much shock and then deliberation with the Virgin Atlantic counter, we accepted the fact that we missed our flight and hoped / prayed that we wouldn't miss any more. We then went to Continental because we hoped they might be able to book us on another airline. This didn't work, but they did give us a hotel for the night in NJ as well as Meal Vouchers for the morning. Since Virgin only flies out of London to Nairobi once a day, it was now our plan to spend 23 hours at London, Heathrow. This was obviously a little test in patience and flexibility for my whole team, but they did a wonderful job in rolling with it and simply accepting the loss of a day in Kenya. We focused on the fact that we were still going to Kenya even if we'd be a day late.

Now, the blessing of God's confirmation that our mistake was really His sovereignty came in the form of a stranded Frenchman named Jeff. Jeff was also stranded in New Jersey for the night, but because he didn't come in on Continental, they were unable to give him a hotel room. Shanda and I realized that we had 4 hotel rooms which allowed for me to share a room with Jeff so we quickly offered him a place to stay for the night. Jeff seemed very grateful and followed us around hanging out with the team until Shanda and I finished tying up all the loose ends for our flight in the morning. I ended up having a substantial amount of time with Jeff traveling to the Hotel Shuttle area and then waiting for our van to the Radisson to come. God obviously had His hand in the entire thing because my conversation with Jeff was one of great openness about Christ. I pray that after our conversation He was able to understand the gospel and message of Christianity with much more clarity and know exactly what he must to do be saved whenever the Lord would call him to that faith.

It was about 12:30 am by the time we got to the hotel and we needed to be back at the airport by 5 am. I couldn't sleep for the life of me because of all the thoughts of what I should have done differently rolling around in my head. It was 2:30 and I resolved to just soak in the bath if I wasn't asleep by 3. As I was wishing I had not made the mistake that I did and failed my team as I did, I remembered that God calls all of His servants to simply be AVAILABLE for His use but not because of our ABILITY. So I began to cry thanking God for His goodness and love for me. Then I began to laugh silently as not to wake Jeff. Then the thought of waking Jeff, a Frenchman who I shared the gospel with and Continental hooked up with a hotel room for the night in Newark, New Jersey at 2:30 in the morning, just made me laugh all the more. Why was I laughing? One because it was an experience I am sure to never have again, and two, because often times OUR MISTAKES SHOW GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY.

The blessings that came from our mistake are numerous. Jeff in New Jersey; our team being forced into flexibility on the front end of our trip; staying in two cramped hotel rooms in London (one bed, 5 girls; one bed, 3 guys) and having the team sneak into the hotel unsuspiciously so we wouldn't be forced to get more rooms at outrageous prices brought a great deal of humility to the team; Amadala, the girl I sat next to on the plane to Nairobi - a Kenyan living in London who found out that she has nothing holding her back from praying to receive Christ in her life and knows that she can pray to God at anytime to be cleansed of her sins.

God used this "mistake" to prepare my team greatly and to bless two to five different people's lives through our unique circumstances.

Monday, June 25, 2007

And we're back!

My team and I arrived at DFW around 11am yesterday. We are all excited to be back and to process through all the things we've learned and experienced. I'm sorry I was unable to communicate at all while we were there but the 2 chances I did have to use the internet were taken away by the service being down.
From here on out, my plan is to write small memories or stories to share with you all about what the team did, how it went, and the impact it has had on me, my team, and the Kenyans as well. I will try to publish / email these out once every other day.
As a whole, the trip was a great success and we accomplished the main purpose of our being there which was to teach, encourage, and spread the vision of discipleship to the Kenyan leaders of the college ministry of Mombasa Polytechnic.
Thank you for your support and prayers throughout this time. Continue to pray for me and my team over the next week or two in readjusting to normal life. For me especially, it is hard having so much work and leadership placed into this trip and then have it suddenly taken away. I experienced a little shock yesterday from being alone and without my team. It's hard to spend 3 weeks constantly around people and then to suddenly be alone, but today is already better. And luckily for me I have the next two months or so to rest and begin preparing and looking forward to my Missions training that will begin at the end of August! You will be hearing from me soon.

Monday, June 4, 2007

And we're off!

We will depart our beloved country sometime Tuesday evening from New Jersey.

From Newark we will depart to London.
From London to Nairobi, to Mombasa. From there it will be June 7th and we will have some time to rest.

I feel that my team is prepared as we ever can be and now it is finally time to go. We are excited as we trust in God to do great things according to His will. Please join us in confident prayer for God's will to be done in Mombasa, Kenya and through us , His humble (and pray for humility too) servants. I John 5:14-15: "Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him."

I should be able to communicate only twice while I'm in Kenya. I'll do my best to remember my experiences and relate the best ones here or in person when I return. Thank you so much for your prayers.