Kenya Recap

For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you  that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.

~ Romans 1:11-12

 

 

What a trip Kenya was, I am still trying to process through everything that we saw the Lord do and all that we experiences. This is a trip that I can say I returned with a full heart and greatly encouraged by the work that is going on in Kenya, specifically through the ministry of SIM and Sports Friends.

Trip Recap:

We traveled to Kijabe, Kenya for purpose of connecting with missionaries from our church to assist them in the running of a sports camp for Special Needs children in the area. However, this camp was so much more than simply playing sports with some children for a few days. As we arrived at Camp Wendo (think Baptist encampment in the States) we quickly learned that many believed that this would be the first camp for children with special needs ever put on in Kenya, you see many see disabilities as a curse in their culture. Those born with disabilities in Kenya are often ignored, marginalized, or treated even worse.

This camp consisted of two parts: 1) Connect with the Children and 2) Connect with their families. To show the children they are seen, known and loved by God; as well as help the families know they are not alone, but are also seen, known and loved by God.

Connect with Children

These children, were so precious. The camp was set up for ultimate attention to the children, each camper had one American coach and one Kenyan coach assigned to them. It was then our joy to love on them and serve them for three days. Through eating breakfast, lunch and dinner with them; accompanying them to chapel, and playing many different activities with them. For some this meant kicking of a ball for hours on end, and for some this meant sitting in the sun allowing the child to feel the warmth of then sun. The three days were draining and filling all at the same time; physically tiring as some campers had to be carried everywhere, and spiritually filling as we were blessed with the opportunity to be the hands and feet of Christ in this campers life.

Connect with Families

Many of these families have been living in isolation for many years. All of these families were from the same area and yet did not know each other. While our team was loving on and playing with the children, the local staff with SIM was loving on the families through a workshop for them.  Answering questions such as, “Are there people with disabilities in America? or just Kenya?” And hearing comments like, “I thought we were the only ones with a child with a disability, I had no idea there were others!”

It’s hard to put into words the apparent impact of this camp, we heard one mom testify that at the end of the camp she now saw her son as a blessing, no one had ever told her that before, and she had never seen it.

Takeaways:

  1. Importance of Community – These families had no idea there were others in the world and even in their neighborhoods that were in the same situations as them. Until we are willing to be venerable and let others into our lives we will face many circumstances feeling alone. Walking in community reminds us we aren’t alone, and we aren’t the only ones, facing whichever circumstance we find ourselves in.
  2. Freeing of the Gospel – It’s the Gospel that sets us free and allows us to serve out of this freedom. As the truth of the Gospel was revealed to these families, burdens that had been carried for years were lifted. The Gospel frees you to step outside your comfort zone to love on those who don’t speak your language, look like you, or can ever repay you.
  3. Global Work of God – We serve a Global God who is doing a Global work all around the world. This week in Kenya reminded me that He is doing a work of drawing people to Himself of every tribe, nation and tongue. He allows us to play a part in this process, though we aren’t needed.
  4. Encouragement of the Saints – There is a strengthening of souls that occurs as saints labor alongside one another for the sake of the Gospel. Both our missionaries and the team I was blessed to serve alongside displayed not only to the campers and their families but also to me, Jesus. Watching their actions helped me see Jesus more clearly and love Him more.
  5. People are People – Despite language barriers, culture difference, abilities or disabilities, people are people. Precious image bearers of God who are seen, loved and known by Him. A smile, a hug, attention to them goes a long way to connecting with them and pointing them to Christ. This takes effort, comes easily on a mission trip, but it is imperative that we practice this in our lives daily with those we do life around.

I could go on and on about this trip, I don’t have time to go into all that I learned from being around Shane, Allyson, Shaun, Abby, Stephanie, Sheri, Greg, Cambi and others. The Lord is doing some amazing things in Kenya, I’m thankful for the opportunity to see a part of it.

One final thought, let us not neglect to remember those whom have gone from us for the work of the Gospel around the globe. Remember to pray for them, reach out to them, remind them we are all in this together, that they are not alone. It’s the people of God, doing to the work of God for the Glory of God!


“We must be global Christians with a global vision because our God is a global God.”

– John Stott


 

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Shepherding Our Singles

 

Shepherd the flock of God that is among you…

1 Peter 5:2(a)

 

 

Looking at the trends today in the US we see that there is a growing trend of Singles; men and women are staying unmarried longer than any other time in US History. Currently, as of 2015 there are 109 million singles in the US making up nearly 45% of our total population. Viewing this chart (here) we see that the gap between those married and those unmarried has shrunk quite a bit since 1950.

Not only is this trend in the United States growing, it is also growing in our churches causing us to pause and think, perhaps for the first time, how do we best shepherd this demographic within our body. There seems to be a growing discussion amongst church and their ministers around this topic. Recently 9Marks released their new journal titled Pastoring Singles due to this growing demographic within our churches helping aid us in thinking of our Singles.

Lately I have had multiple conversations with local pastors asking the same question, “How do we best love and serve the singles entrusted to our care?” Having thought through this question as well as speaking with many singles on the subject, I would like to provide a starting place for us:

Speak to Who They Are Not What They Are

When speaking to those under our care and in our churches who find themselves unmarried, we must remember to speak to who they are. Who are they? They are first and foremost adopted children of God (as believers) and as such our brothers and sisters in Christ. Speak to them as such!

What are they? They are single, a label that is on them defining their current season of life but not one that is defining all of who they are. This is one of many labels that are making up their life as a whole, don’t narrow down their whole existence to this one label.

Ask Better Questions

I believe we are asking the wrong questions of our singles today. We ask them, “Are you dating? Why aren’t you dating? What about so-in-so?” While I feel that if Paul was here today he would walk into most of our churches and see the group and singles and ask, “You are all single? Where are you going? Who are you discipling? How are you advancing the Kingdom?”

This again helps speak to who they are as a brother and sister in Christ and not simply speaking to what they are and assuming that every single is looking to date and every single is in season of life to be dating. The first set of questions are ok questions to ask if you have a close relationship with singles in your life and are having these conversations on top of many other conversations.

Have Higher Expectations

We have a generation of singles today that want to be challenged and held up to a higher standard. Many singles I talk to, have the sense that the expectation of their church is that they are simply good church members and attenders until the day they are married. These singles came up in youth groups and college ministries where they were challenged not to let anyone look down on them because of their youth (1 Timothy 4:12); now feel they get to “big church” and their expectation is to be a good member.

The singles in our churches have special gifts and talents for the betterment of our church bodies. Leaders use the singles under your care, have high expectations for them. Allow them to worship the Lord and serve the local body according to their giftings.

Churches, leaders and ministers as the culture continues to trend in this current trajectory it will become more and more important that we think on and begin to answer the question, “How can we best love and serve the singles entrusted to our care?” This population is growing and in many of our churches will continue to grow. Let us shepherd this flock well, in this season of their lives for His Glory and the betterment of our churches.

Singles and the Church

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The question of how does the local church love and serve singles is something I have been trying to pray through and think through for the past year. Around a year ago I reached out to several non-married friends of mine with the question:

 “What has the church done well and not so well in serving you as a single?”  

Within the group of those questioned were both men and women, some in large cities, some in rural cities, some that attend mega-churches and some that attend smaller churches. Now when I address this question, I am predominately thinking about those in their mid-twenties to mid-thirties, as this is the context I find myself in and ministering in. Asking myself the question, “How do we as the Church minister to singles well?” So that they are able to flourish as part of the Body of Christ and in their personal walk with Christ to see Him as the main object of their affection.

Conversations I have had with other non-marrieds I would say are always all over the place. Oftentimes I feel that singles make things hard on the church. We want to be apart of the Church like everyone else, but also want something separate for us. Plan something centered around families and we feel left out; yet plan something specifically for singles and we wonder if it will essentially be “speed-dating.” Oftentimes we are so focused on wanting to get married that we are not serving in the Church, and the Church as a whole is suffering because we have specific gifts the Lord has given us and placed us within our context for the flourishing of the Body that we are not using.

All that being said here are some ways I have observed as well as discussed with other singles that the Church has loved singles well and not so well:

Things I have seen the local church do well concerning the non-marrieds:

  • Recognizing the gifts of the singles as a valuable part of the church. Seeking to use their gifts and allowing them to serve the church in a manner that grows their gifts and utilizes their gifts.
  • Allowing the Singles to have a voice in the church. Essentially having an ear for the non-marrieds to have a voice. Whether by serving in leadership or by being part of focus groups as the church thinks through and prays through various issues facing the church.
  • Reminding the non-marrieds that their identity is in Christ not in a relationship. By not looking down on the non-marrieds as “lesser members”
    • I have seen Pastors do this from the pulpit by not only using family illustrations and being more mindful how the passage or point also applies to the non-married.
  • Emphasizing the need of the non-marrieds to serve and volunteer within the body, and pointing them to ways to serve.

Ways I have seen the church do not so well concerning the non-marrieds:

  • Making them feel like they are “lesser members” until they are married. Many singles I have talked to have discussed the frustration that they feel from their Church that until they get married their life will not be fulfilled.
  • Have a singles ministry that is almost completely separate from the rest of the Church. This does not build up unity in the body. Non-marrieds have gifts and talents to serve the body that the marrieds need and vise versa.
  • Placing singles into service areas that do not meet their specific giftings or talents. There is a tendency to sometimes take a single who wants to volunteer and immediately place them into Children’s Ministry to help out. Many singles love this and have passion for working with students and the children of their Church, but not all of them do. The end result is volunteers being frustrated in seeking to serve.

This topic is one I am continually trying to think through to better love and serve those the Lord has placed in my path. This is not complete, I am certain that we could definitely add to this list. Hopefully this helps us begin thinking through how we view and serve those non-marrieds around us.

Who is My Neighbor?

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But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

~ Luke 10:29

 

 

Around two thousand years ago a Lawyer after reciting the two most important commandments to Jesus: to Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and all your mind and your neighbor as yourself;  asked Jesus a very important question, “And who is my neighbor?

To answer him, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

Who is my neighbor?

This is a question, I feel we need to ask ourselves again. Some neighbors are easy to love, respect, and care for; they look like us, think like us and have similar views and histories. While others prove to be more difficult, you see in my experience, “my neighbor” doesn’t always look like me, think like me, doesn’t have similar views or histories.  But yet they are my neighbor, men and women created in the image of God that I am command to love, I am commanded to respect, and I am commanded  to serve.

As Jesus brings the parable to an end, we see this conversation:

Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He (lawyer) said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” ~ Luke 10:36-37

The one who showed mercy was the neighbor, to which Jesus adds, “You go, and do likewise.

How do we love our neighbor, when it doesn’t come naturally, because they don’t look like us, think like us or have similar views and histories?

We See Them: 

But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion ~ Luke 10:33

We are intentionally looking for those around us whom we are called to love, as ourselves. With eyes to see, we see them; without turning a blind eye to them, we notice them.

We Go to Them:

He went to him … ~ Luke 10:34(a)

We meet them where they are. We are called to love them as they are, so we do not go to them arrogantly telling them to clean up their mess then we can talk to them. We do not tell them to change their point of view or move beyond their past so we can love them. We go to them where they are, it is there that we meet with them. In love we listen to and in love we engage them.

We Meet Their Needs: 

He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back. ~ Luke 10:34-35

In love we meet their needs, showing them mercy. The one who needs to weep, we weep with and listen to. The one who needs to rejoice, we rejoice with. To the one who is searching we point them to Christ, planting and watering seeds asking the Lord to bring about salvation in their life. To the struggling believer we point them to Christ, reminding them of who He is and who they are in Him.

As believers seeking to live a life of obedience and faithfulness to the Lord and His Word we are commanded to love Him with all that we are, and to love our neighbors. Many of our neighbors do not look like us, think like us, or have similar views or histories; therefore we must be intentional in loving our neighbors. Loving those who may not be exactly like us is so counterculture that it is in our love to our neighbors that the world gets a glimpse of God, His love, His compassion and His mercy.

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven ~ Matthew 5:16


There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. 

~ CS Lewis 


When The Answer is No

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Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.

~ 1 Timothy 5:1-2

 

 

 

Listen to any Ben Stuart sermon series on dating and you will hear the point (and I agree) that:

Singleness is for Devotion (to the Lord)

and, Dating is for Evaluation (can you get along).

Unless the first person you pursue (or are pursued by) you marry; the evaluation process doesn’t always end in marriage. Leaving the process of either remaining friends or awkwardly avoiding the other person for the rest of your life. Remembering that as believers, we are first and foremost family as brothers and sisters in Christ how we respond matters.

Oftentimes, the breakup or the end of the pursuit in hope of a date can be awkward, especially when you attend the same church or have the same group of friends. You know you will see each other; it never fails no matter how big or small the church is you come walking in and the first person you see is “them.” Perhaps you put your head down and act like you didn’t see them, or try to hurry to find someone else to talk to, or just awkwardly say “Hi, how are you?…”

Lets just be honest here, the interaction shortly after a breakup can be awkward, but how we interact matters, how we respond in our hearts and to the other person matters.

So, what do we do when the answer is no?

We, Remember…

Our First Love

We remember that our first love is Christ and if singleness is for devotion to the   Lord, then the Lord is granting us an extended period of time to pursue Him. Perhaps there is more the Lord is seeking to teach us, or there more of us that He is seeking to remove in order to make us more like Him.

We must remember that until we love the Lord rightly we will never love a spouse rightly. So in our singleness we have a period of time set aside to fully pursue the Lord, to go deeper with Him; allowing us to grow and be shaped more into His Image. The end results, your future spouse will thank you for.

We are Brothers / Sisters in Christ

We remember that we are first and foremost brothers and sisters in Christ. That because of the work on the cross we have been adopted into the Family of God. This is a point I always want to put before singles, especially when they meet. As believers, members of the Family, we are brothers and sisters in Christ first, and we are to live our lives as such.

When we remember that we are brothers and sisters first, some of the awkwardness of meeting new people and remaining friends post-breakup is removed. We are able to remember they are family and as family we are commanded to love them. It is this love that the world is to behold to know we are His disciples.

Our Identity

Lastly, we remember our identity isn’t wrapped up in our relationship status, but has been purchased for us on the cross. We are sons and daughters of the Father, and have been adopted into the heavenly family. We have been created in the image of God and called to Him, our identity is found in Him.

As we remember who we are in Christ, we remember who He is. We remember that He is a sovereign God, who is loving and One who is after our ultimate joy not our current happiness. That He is a good Father who does good for His children; remembering that He has been faithful countless times for us in the past and can be trusted with our future.

Even when the answer is no, we have the unique opportunity to put the love of Christ on display for a watching world to behold. Whether we are single, dating, or married, how we interact with one another matters, because it is telling the world a lot about our God.

City of God in Our Cities

FullSizeRender-7“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. ~ Jeremiah 29:4-7


Three weeks ago I had the privilege of preaching in Visakhapatnam, India. This is a summary of my notes from that Sunday. 


All of us here today are writing a story, for ourselves personally, for our families, and as a church. From the beginning of time there is One who is writing a Greater Story, and our stories only have life and purpose when our stories line up with His. He is writing a story that ends with a new heaven and a new earth and peoples from every tongue, tribe and nation gathering around the Throne worshipping Him. And He has invited us into this story to play a part, not because He needs us, but because He loving allows us to play a part. We remember that although we are currently living here on earth, that this is not our home. There is coming a day when we will see the Lord face to face and our dwelling place will be with Him (Revelation 21).

Much like Abraham and Sarah who were called out to a place or land they did now know, we are being called out to a new city a heavenly one; so they had their gaze set on it and did not return to where they were being called out from (Hebrews 11). Our eyes are to be set on that day to be looking/ longing for that day to come.

But in the waiting, we as the Church have a purpose, to be a City of God within our cities. The Church has a purpose in our cities as part of the Greater Story.

Jeremiah 29:4-7

The Lord is speaking to those in exile from Jerusalem, who find themselves in Babylon, a place that is not their home. Much like today the Israelites find themselves not home, and they are going to be there for a while.

So what does the Church do in the waiting?

Be Planted Where You Are

Verse 5aBuild Houses and live in them

This is a long-term command, the Lord is telling them to set up roots where He has planted them. As we remember the words of Jim Elliot, “Wherever you are, be all there!” That is be committed to where the Lord has you, finding rest in the truth that it is Him who has placed us wherever we find ourselves. Whether we love the city we are currently in, or want our as soon as possible, He has placed us in our cities for a purpose.

Verse 5bPlant Gardens and eat of their produce 

Not only are we to be planted where we are, we are also to contribute to the society and the culture of our cities, wherever we find ourselves.

Be About the Cultural Mandate

Verse 6 – Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease

In Genesis 1 & 2 we see the Lord create Adam & Eve then gives them the Cultural Mandate in Genesis 2:15 –The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.

Also connecting with the command to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28)

The Lord continues this original command telling the exiles that as they wait for deliverance, to be home, they are to marry and have children; to fill the city with the people of God.

Adam and Eve were to fill the earth and seek to make it look like the Garden; we as the Church in our cities are to seek to fill it and be apart of the Lord’s work of restoring all things to Himself

Be About the Welfare of the City

Verse 7 – But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.

Welfare = Shalom / peace

 

We as the Church are to seek the peace of our cities. All aspects of peace, that we as the Church in our cities will seek to push back evil. To where we see injustices we will push back for the greater good of the City. That we as the Church in our cities would stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. That we carry out the Great Commission in our cities by brining the Gospel to those we work with and shop with and ride the bus with that all may know Him, the author of peace.

Ultimately the Church is called to be Salt and Light in our Cities so that the watching world will take notice and praise God for it (Matthew 5:13-16).

He has called to Himself making us His own, and is preparing a Heavenly City for us; while we wait for that day He has placed us as a light on top of a light stand in the midst of cities, so that all may see and give Him glory!

While we wait, we must be about the Greater Story that He was called us to, to be a City of God within our cities!

India 2016 Recap

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Praise the Lord, all nations!

Extol him, all peoples For great is his steadfast love toward us,and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.

Praise the Lord!

~ Psalm 117

There are trips that are easy to put into words and there are trips that a week and a half later you are still seeking to fully process them. The trip we took to India falls into the later category. If we were to sum in up in one phrase it would be God is Faithful. He is faithful to use His people; He is faithful to equip and prepare His people; and He is faithful to sovereignly control all things in the midst of chaos.

The trip consisted two different parts, while a group of ten loved on two hundred-sixty children through a VBS, Richard Brindley and I were loving on and teaching one hundred and twenty Village Pastors.

Vision Natives Training Conference: The Church and its Leadership

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“And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.”

~ 1 Thessalonians 5:14

While in India, Richard and I had the humbling task of training one hundred and twenty pastors from surrounding villages, some who came from the city and some who came from 400km away. We were asked to teach on the subject of The Church and Its Leadership, where we would over four days pour into these pastors on what the scriptures says about the Church, how it is to be set up, what are the qualifications of leaders as well as how do we raise up leaders from within our bodies in a biblical way.

Through it all the Lord remained faithful to use us to encourage those He has called to the task of ministry for the sake of the Gospel in their villages. These men, as we begin to converse with them, we would see that they were tired, and here to be reminded of their calling and find encouragement. These men came in weary, tired and the Lord ministered to them greatly, through worship, His Word and prayer. Was a humbling experience to be allowed to be a small part of what the Lord is doing in and around the world. To be able to open up His Word to speak to His People as He offers rest, encouragement and strength so they can carry on with their calling.

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Vacation Bible School

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“In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

~ Matthew 5:16

While Richard and I were speaking at the Pastor’s Conference, ten members of the group spent the week pouring into the lives of about 260 children; many of whom had no personal relationship with the Lord. Only around ten of the children were known to be believers in Christ; while of the eighteen teachers working at this school, ten are professing Christians. Many of the teachers and children are practicing Hindus, living without the hope and love of Christ. The team could feel the weight of the situation, and the glorious opportunity to shine Light in the midst of darkness. With this in mind the team sought to impact the lives of not only the children and teachers, but anyone they encountered in hopes of leaving behind an understanding of Christ’s unconditional love. Twice a day for five days, they would meet with the children and center every lesson on how each child was created to be special and the one, true God saw them, knew them, and loved them deeply.

Seeing the pictures and videos, and hearing the stories each evening made their success clear– this team did a phenomenal job. Each member sought new ways to engage, entertain, and ensure that the biblical truths of the gospel would be remembered. Watching the team transition from being shocked the first day at the amount of children and scheduling issues, to passionately loving the children to the point of tears on the final day, showed commitment and dedication to serving others in order to serve the Lord.

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Small Taste of the VBS (Video)

Taj Mahal

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“He is not here, for He has risen, as He said. Come and see the place where He lay. Then go quickly and tell His disciples that He has risen from the dead…”

~ Matthew 28:6-7a

On our final Saturday in India, we all hopped on a train from New Delhi to Arga, a two-hour trip, to see the Taj Mahal. Let me tell you, nothing about this 7th wonder of the world was disappointing; completely worth the hectic travel circumstances we all endured. The Taj Mahal is a wonder that many in the world will not have the opportunity to behold. However, as we stared in awe, we marveled at the fact that the tomb was built-in 1632 (pre-power tools). This beautiful tomb was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his favorite wife. As I was struck by the beauty and looked in astonishment at the details, I kept remembering that this is just a tomb. This particular tomb is still full, but there is a tomb that perhaps to the human eye is not as glorious, but is infinitely more astounding than the Taj Mahal. King Jesus’ tomb is empty, but because He is risen, we have the privilege of being welcomed in and adopted into the Holy Family. A love story unlike any other. One leader built a home for his favorite wife to wither away as he eventually would do the same. Another King came as a servant, willingly went to the cross, died, and rose again in order to prepare a place for us to not just die and become ashes, but instead enter into eternity as His bride, the Church.


“The overriding reason why we should take other people’s cultures seriously is because God has taken ours seriously!”

~ John Scott