The Things We Won’t Give Up

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What is Jesus worth?

In 2009, my family and I left the U.S. moved to France on our way to Morocco. We knew that very few men and women there have had a chance to hear the good news that Jesus died to save them, so our plan was to move there, start a business, and share Jesus with friends and neighbors.

We left parents and grandparents. We left our homeland and our language behind. We left a lot of comfort and some opportunities. But we left because Jesus is worth everything.

In countries like Morocco, it is costly to believe in Jesus. We try to help those who believe to know that they don’t leave their family or culture to become a Christian. No, they remain Moroccan. The remain a part of their family. Instead, they leave behind sin and run to the good God who loves them.

Even though we want to see families remain intact, in places like Morocco, new believers often encounter hostility of one kind or another from family or friends when God gives them a new heart and puts His spirit in them. In some places, local or national government may, likewise, respond with persecution.

These new believers may lose jobs, family, friends. They may even have to leave their homelands. But more and more such people are turning to Jesus despite the hostility because Jesus is worth everything.

Now my family and I are back in the U.S. due to family health needs. We find ourselves in a place where it is completely legal to share our faith and for men and women to turn to Christ. That doesn’t mean there are no challenges to being a Christian today in the West. But these challenges…what are they compared to those faced in Morocco or China or Iran?

Still, it is alarming how tempting it is to allow those things to turn us from Jesus. If I hold to God’s truth about sexuality and gender, perhaps I could lose my job. If I am committed to the truth that Jesus is the only means for salvation in this life, perhaps family members will disagree or chide. If I go on, holding to the Bible as the actual, revealed truth about how life works best, I may get “cancelled.” But, what is that compared to the challenges in other places.

It is temping to remain quiet or even exchange the truth of God for a lie…just for a little comfort…just so we don’t rile up family members because we believe God instead of current cultural ideologies. How can we go to a place like Morocco, invite men and women to risk their very lives on the truth of Jesus and then turn away from Him and His truth so that we don’t anger others or cause relational stress? Not that we seek to anger anyone, but only that all would be saved!

Friends, whatever you give up for Jesus – it will be worth it. Whatever suffering you experience because you trust Him above everyone and everything – it will be worth it. If a parent or one of your kiddos cuts off communication. If your job status becomes shaky or you are dismissed. If you’re seen as backwards and a bigot. It will all be worth it, because Jesus is worth everything!

What is the Mission of God?

colored world map xxxl - abstract globe stock pictures, royalty-free photos & images

That is a question I’ve been noodling on for a bit recently. On the one hand, for many Christians, it’s such a simple question. Perhaps John 3:16 or Matthew 28:18-20 comes to mind. And I think that’s totally appropriate.

The problem really comes when you get into circles where we often make things more difficult than they need to be, whether because of academic snobbery or for practical purposes. There’s been debate for pretty much the last century on what the mission of God is in some circles. In fact, the Latin missio Dei has become a bit of a technical term for what God is after in the world. Recently, evangelicals have joined the debate and not necessarily been very helpful.

When you read many books about the mission of God they don’t actually define it. They talk about components of it. They talk about approaches to it. They talk about what it isn’t. Sometimes the definition that is given is so broad that you may as well say that everything is the mission of God.

So, I’ve been working on a definition. I want it to be simple enough that you can explain it with just a sentence or two, if necessary. But I also want it to be robust enough so that when you look at the facets of God’s mission in the Bible, all (or at least most) of it really is included. As I was just writing out some thoughts today, this is what came out:

The missio Dei or Mission of God is God’s revelatory work intended to establish communion with humanity within creation.  Or as John puts it in his Gospel: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). God reveals himself in his Son, the savior, so that mankind might have eternal life, which John defines as knowing God (John 17:4), because of his love for creation


So, there you see my definition and a very short explanation of it. Of course, you could spend a whole book unpacking all the ways God reveals himself to mankind in order to bring us into communion with Himself in the world. You’ll notice that the definition has a who, what, how, a why, and a where.

  • Who: God
  • What: Communion with Humanity
  • How: God reveals himself to humanity
  • Why: Because He desires communion with humanity
  • Where: In the world God has made

I also think this is a helpful definition because it is true both BEFORE and AFTER the Fall. This is what God was doing in creation, in the Garden with Adam and Eve. This is also what He is doing in redemption through Christ by His Spirit.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about this. Maybe you’ve read a bit of missiology or you’re simply a believer committed to joining God’s mission in the world. Either way, please share your thoughts.

I host a Podcast

Reformation Fellowship — Union

Friends, it has been quite a long time since I posted. There have been many family occurrences as well as work that have gone into that, but probably the greatest factor is that I overthink it. So, to ease back in, I want to share a little bit about some things I’ve been working on.

First, you may or may not know that I am the U.S. Director for Union, a ministry based in the UK that works towards the reformation of Christ’s church worldwide through equipping, resources, and empowering gospel ministers and the churches they lead. I love Union. I think I’ve shared that teaching from Union was used in a big way to bring personal renewal to my faith.

Well, one initiative Union has launched this year is called Reformation Fellowship. In short, it’s goal is to strengthen and encourage church leaders as they work towards reformation in their churches and cities. This will happen through resources, gatherings, etc. It is also the aim of the Reformation Fellowship Podcast.

I’ll let you explore the podcast, but I just wanted to say that I’m proud of the work. My aim as host is, first, to let the listeners hear from the wisdom of our wonderful guests. Second, and more importantly, I never want the podcast to be an intellect-only sort of conversation. Every episode, I hope, takes us into deep theology in such a way that, yes, our heads are full and, also, our hearts are warmed to Jesus.

If you get to listen to it, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

The Falling Leaves of Doctrine and the Root of Unbelief

Image result for dying tree

I have a metaphor in my mind that I want to share. Would love your feedback on it – all 3 of you who will read this! I see you.

We have a tree that’s dying in our front yard…there is nothing that we can do about it. Even if we spent thousands on it, the arborist has declared it a waste of time. Here’s the deal, it’s still got some leaves. The bark looks good on it. It’s not in danger of falling down. You could look at it and have no idea it was, for all intents and purposes, dead.

Now, the only outward sign that this tree is doomed is that during the summer, when it should be in full leaf, it’s actually quite bare. The missing leaves give it away. It’s why I first called the arborist.

This has gotten me thinking about the reality of people “leaving the Christian faith.” My first thought goes to the parable of the 4 soils and how a couple of them seemed, at first, to be alive, but in reality, they were (like my still leafing tree) already dead. I have been wondering if perhaps we ought to see signs of this death beforehand – if there are indications of the absence of true, saving faith. Any visible indication?

And that’s caused me to think about recent friends or famous people who have rejected their faith. Long before they abandon Christ, I wondered, were their signs of missing leaves? And I began to realize that, YES, there are signs. No one moves from fully committed follower to apostate over night. It is gradual. So, what are these signs? In short, missing leaves. Or less cryptically, the rejection of Christian truths, whether doctrine or Biblical worldview or ethics.

It may be different for everyone, so here are a few examples. When my seminary buddy begins to say things like, “I’m not sure about the deity of Jesus” or “I don’t think we have to argue that Jesus is the only means for salvation,” that’s a sign of missing leaves, it’s a sign that death is present or imminent.

Another friend may say something like, “I’m not sure that the Bible understands the complexity of modern gender ideology,” rejecting clear Biblical teaching that’s be embraced for 2,000 years, then death is not far off. The root could be withering already.

Still a third person seems to simply reject Christianity through living out a scattered, fear of missing out fueled life. They make decision after decision that seems to smell of foolishness. They may not be open sin, but simply a life void of Biblical conviction, growth, and purpose. Whereas others run from the faith, these people simply float away. One day we look up and they’ve disappeared. Death came slowly, but come it did.

When people say or do things like the above, it should not surprise us when these people walk away from the faith a few months or years later. Look at resent de-conversion testimonies. Often, the person telling the story says that their journey away from Christianity began by rejecting one or two Christian truths that they found troubling. One or two doctrines or ethical positions that didn’t feel right to them, that didn’t make sense, that didn’t square with how they view reality. And, then, after rejecting some of God’s truth, it doesn’t take that long to reject all of it…the root was dead and the leaves fell to the ground.

So, what are we to do. I hope we compassionately call out our friends when we see leaves falling from their faith. I hope we winsomely say something like, “I’m really worried about this, about you. We cannot stand as judge over the Word, over God Himself. He is true though every man be found a liar. Repent and believe the good news!”

I’ve heard Ron Frost ask, “Was Adam and Eve dead when they walked out of the garden?” The Bible says, “yes.” They were dead, even though they looked alive. So, too, many around us. They leave because they never were alive, John writes in 1 John 2:19. But, it’s also possible that those who seem to be losing leaves can be called back from the brink (James 5:20). For these, they look like they are dying, but the divine Gardener knows they only need some pruning. We can’t know who is who until we are willing to call them back.

So, be on the look out for falling leaves. Take seriously your calling to have the hard conversation with those around you about the leaves they seem to be losing. Let us not grow weary, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9)! We will reap! We will see more leaves than we could have imagined! Leaves fed by the strong roots of Scripture!

Christian Parents, give this gift to your children

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What is the best gift parents can give their children besides the Gospel?  This question came home forcefully to me recently.  I had a friend say, “my parents don’t know the Lord, and part of the tragedy is that I see them making the same mistakes again and again, now for 40 years.  They are the same people today as they were when I was a kid.”

Sadness for this friend swept over me…what a tragedy!  As I thought about it, I have concluded that, one of the greatest things parents can give their children is a life-long vision of sanctification.  Imagine the power of seeing your parents becoming more like Jesus over 20, 30, 40 years or more!  Imagine seeing them confess their sin and repent year after year.  Seeing confession becoming more natural, more complete, with less blame shifting and less reticence to own all of their responsibility for sin.  

At the same time, imagine seeing them have victory over sin.  For some of those sins, maybe it took decades of hard fought battles to finally win the day.  Overcoming other sins maybe seemed easy, at least looking from the outside.  Imagine this – the power of transformed parents on your faith!

Imagine that as they get older, your parents become more kind, more gentle, warmer people.  They laugh more and cry more.  They celebrate the victories of others – including you – with greater enthusiasm and joy.  They increasingly step in to carry the burdens of others with them – again, including you and your burdens.  The older you get, the better they get.  You want to be around them more and more.

Now imagine none of that.  Imagine the lost opportunity.  Imagine lives that are only testimonies of sin and lostness.  For those of us with parents who are alive and growing in Christ, be thankful!  And share stories of their impact on you because some of us need to hear about it.  Soak it up.  Talk with your parents about it.  Make sure your kids start to notice it too!

For those of us whose parents do not know Jesus yet, take heart.  The Lord is even sovereign here.  I think a holy jealousy of others’ blessings in this is OK.  Sometimes we can even borrow the parents of others and benefit from their growth in Christ.  That’s a beautiful thing as well, but we continue to pray for our own parents. And, more than that, we remember that we are NOT orphans.

Christ promises us not only a multitude of sisters, brothers, mothers, and fathers through the Church in this age and the one to come, but also that we know God as FATHER now and forever. Though our parents disappoint or even disown us, the Lord will receive us (Psalm 27:10). We have a Father who want to sweep us up into His love, into His fellowship. Hallelujah!

Finally, why don’t you commit to being a parent who is passionately pursuing becoming like Jesus.  Live in front of your kiddos in a way that they see the struggles and the victories.  Demonstrate confession and repentance in front of them.  Let them know how you are struggling, in appropriate ways, and let them know when you see victory.  Eventually, they’ll see it without you mentioning it.  

Imagine the ways they will be blessed by watching you.  Imagine the depth of relationship that will develop.  Imagine the impact your sanctification will have on your kids.  What a gift you will give them!

The Problem with “It’s a Gospel Issue”

Perhaps you’ve heard someone say recently, “this is a gospel issue.” Maybe it was said about a secondary or tertiary theological topic like baptism or church leadership. Maybe it was said about a social issue, such as race or creation care. Connecting anything to the gospel means we need to be clear with what we mean, and certainly different things can be meant by this phrase. Here are two such meanings:

  1. In some instances, you may mean, “If you get this topic wrong, then you distort the gospel.” For instance, if you get sanctification wrong, you might end up with a works-righteousness false gospel. If you get suffering wrong, you may end up with a prosperity theology false gospel.
  2. In other instances, you may mean, “The gospel has implications on this topic.” For instance, the gospel breaks down the dividing wall between Jew and Gentile (and all ethnicities), and therefore, it calls for unity within the body of Christ across such ethnic lines.

Now, these are two very different ideas. You can think of it this way, the first set of “gospel issues” are like streams that flow into the gospel, they are upstream. If those streams are poisoned, they poison your gospel. They alter and shape the gospel you believe. These are areas in which we must be very careful because they affect the gospel itself.

The second set of “gospel issues” are different. The Gospel isn’t affected by them, but instead speaks to them. They are downstream from the gospel and, therefore, ought to be shaped by the gospel. Having a poor view of creation care or economic disparity, while sad and possibly sinful, doesn’t altar the gospel like having a misunderstanding of good works in the life of the believer.

Now, if you haven’t been living under a rock, you will have noticed that many times the phrase “this is a gospel issue” is stated, it is often followed by an anathema (“you don’t have/know/believe the gospel”) against people who see things differently. Here’s where discernment is important. If the issue is upstream from the gospel, then indeed, the accusation could be true. However, if the issue is downstream from the gospel, that’s a different ballgame.

For instance, currently we have been hearing that racial injustice is a gospel issue. If what is meant by that is that it’s downstream from the gospel and that the gospel shapes what we think and do about it, then I agree. If, however, we are saying that what you think and do about this topic changes the gospel (and therefore our standing in the gospel), I disagree. This doesn’t deny the fact that many who call themselves Christian are, in fact, not converted, and their racism (for example) illustrates that. It does, however, guard the gospel from any of our additives and preservatives – other ideas, stances, and opinions that we, in our flesh, want to add to Christ alone, faith alone, and grace alone.

The gospel should shape what we think and do about racial injustice, but it may do so in a variety of ways. There are, perhaps, many outlets for the gospel river as it flows into the delta of racial reconciliation. The gospel may lead one person saying, “Christ came to me when I was dead in transgression, so I will go to those who need reconciliation.” It may, however, lead another to say, “Lord, if there is any hidden/dormant racism in my heart, purify me.” It may lead to some lobbying against the abortion of thousands of black boys and girls, while leading others to seek reform in the penal system to bless black men who find themselves there.

Here’s the deal. All of those things can be good, if it’s done as an overflow of gospel love. However, all of those can be from the pit of Hell if they flow out of, “you have to do some/all of these or you aren’t a believer.” That’s a false gospel. That’s making an issue that is downstream into one that is upstream of the gospel.

This is how the Church has, in her better moments, throughout history dealt with disagreements on secondary and tertiary issues, including many social, economic, and political issues – those downstream issues. Even during unbelievably tumultuous times! There’s charity, there’s generosity towards our brothers and sisters who differ from us. They knew the difference between upstream and downstream gospel issues. I think we could benefit from remembering that once again.

9.5 Theses for 21st Century Christian Thinking

The 95 Theses: A reader's guide – The Lutheran Witness

I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t mind a break from the craziness in the US surrounding political, social, and ethnic debates. There’s so many people using the same terms, but meaning different things. There’s so many folks talking past each other. There’s elements that are trying to foment unrest on all fronts. In the midst of this, I’ve been thinking. As a Christian, how should I think about these things? What questions should I be asking as someone whose only true allegiance is to King Jesus? As a believer, are there principles that I can keep in mind as I engage with others in loving dialogue or counsel?

So, below is my attempt. You might call them theses – short positional statements that help me think clearly in crazy times. I hope they help you. Also, whether you want to comment or email, I’d love to hear your thoughts, concerns, questions!

  1. Any solution that pits one group against another must be rejected. The Gospel tears down the dividing wall.
  2. Any solution that affirms EVERYTHING about any group or rejects EVERYTHING about another group must be rejected. The Gospel affirms what is good in every culture and condemns/judges the evil that is in every culture.
  3. Any solution that does not include the Gospel as THE solution must be rejected. Holiness can’t be legislated, not even in the Old Testament. Yes, let’s have holy, righteous laws, but only the Gospel, and the new birth it brings, transforms people.
  4. Any solution that primarily targets behavior, instead of the heart, must be rejected. As Christians, if someone is kind and respectful but unconverted and bound for hell, how can we be OK with that?
    • Similarly, any solution that dictates what generosity looks like. We can all agree that some in the early church sold everything they had to share, but we don’t see all churches, everywhere in the NT doing that. So, yes, call for generosity. And then leave it God and the individual to decide what that looks like. To mandate or even legislate this, I believe, would be sin.
  5. Any solution that doesn’t have the Church as the central player must be rejected. The halls of congress don’t have the message that can change hearts.
  6. Any solution that sees the use or distribution of power as the answer must be rejected. The greatest shall be servant of all. The last shall be first. Jesus emptied himself, and we are told to imitate Him.
  7. Any position that calls for undivided attention OR fullest commitment other than Christ must be rejected. That’s called idolatry. Besides Christ’s invitation, any other can be ignored if needed and/or good.
  8. Any position that requires “adherence or anathema” (support/believe/affirm/vote this or you’re not really a Christian) must be rejected (unless we’re talking about the actual Gospel). Those whom God foreknew, He justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies. He determines your salvation from start to finish…no one else has a say, and your advocacy for any policy or position doesn’t top-off what is lacking in the blood of Jesus.
  9. Similarly, any position that equates your commitment to it AS your commitment to Christ must be rejected. That is called syncretism – when the faith is polluted with elements form the world and actually becomes a false religion. When you add race or politics or anything else to the Gospel, you create a false gospel.

Lessons from the Global Church in this American Moment

This could easily turn into a book length post, or a series, but for now I want to keep it short and offer up some thoughts to help answer this question. I believe the global church has much to offer us as we walk through this divisive and contentious days. Here are 6.

  1. Holiness for revival in the midst of ungodliness – perhaps you look around and wonder how long the Lord will wait to judge the U.S. for our sins. Brothers and sisters living in Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist contexts understand that feeling. They cry out with us, “how long, Oh Lord,” and “will not the Lord of all the earth do right?!” One brother from Southeast Asia said to me, “Justin, Americans think that if person X or person Y is elected president, that God will judge your nation. What you don’t realize is that when these are the sort of people you have to choose between, that God has already judged your nation.” Let us grieve and lament before the Lord. The global church can teach us how.
  2. Healing to love and partner across race and ethnicity – Hutus and Tutsis are working together to heal blood soaked wounds in Rwanda, and the surrounding areas. Palestinian and Israeli Christians are working together, worshiping together, and loving one another well. The ethnic violence that we may see in the West today, while it shouldn’t be minimized, is nothing compared to what some countries have witnessed even in the last few years. The global church can help us love those who look, live, and vote differently than us.
  3. Hope in the midst of (real and potential) cultural and political opposition – Many American Christians are concerned that the direction our culture is going, and perhaps the direction of our government, that persecution of Christians will begin or increase. Our Chinese brothers and sisters suffering under a truly oppressive government, Nigerian brothers and sisters suffering at the hands of their Muslim neighbors, and Arab believers navigating a reality in which they seek to witness to Jesus despite all that it may cost them…they have so much to each us.
  4. Humility to admit our flaws and mistakes – We can stop describing the global Church, in any place, as a mile wide and an inch deep. If nothing else, recent events have exposed the Church in the U.S. – on both sides of our recent debates – as shockingly shallow in our conviction, character, and care. I’ve found so many of our African, Asia, and Latin American brothers and sisters to be humble, teachable, and hungry to grow, learn, and have more of Jesus. They are often quick to ask for help and counsel. We need a renewed spirit of humility and teachability in the American church.
  5. Hunger to proclaim the Gospel despite the current reality – look around the world and somewhere you will see famine, pestilence, sword, persecution, degradation, disease, hardship, and natural disaster. In all of those places, the church is proclaiming Christ. Across Africa, the Movement for African National Initiatives is a network partnering across denominations, cultures, languages, and ethnicities to reach the remaining unreached people groups on the continent. COMIBAM is doing the same in Latin America. Amazing partnerships in Asia trumpet, likewise, the need for the Gospel for all peoples. American Christians have so much to learn from this missional mindset despite the turmoil in their nations and, even, in their churches.
  6. Honestly about sin’s impact in our culture – the global church has helped us see that the Gospel is at home in every culture. It comes in, takes root, and transforms a people. And every culture it encounters then can express their faith in the Gospel in culture-specific ways, bringing unique gifts and glory to God that only they can. That’s what missiologists call the “indigenous principle” of the Gospel. But, there’s also the “pilgrim principle” of the Gospel which condemns sinful practices in every culture. It declares, all cultures are welcomed before the throne, but you are ultimately citizens of a new kingdom. The Gospel is at home in every culture, but also calls all cultures to bow the knee to King Jesus. EVERY CULTURE, TRIBE, RACE, PEOPLE, DIVISION OF HUMANITY. That is true of the American church, whatever culture or color.

Announcement: PhD Acceptance

I wanted to share that I have been accepted into the PhD in Christian Mission program at Southern Seminary. Thankful and excited to be further equipped to serve Christ and His Church around the world! Would love your prayers for growth, understanding, wisdom, and fruit that lasts!

I have had a few folks ask, “Why do you want to do this?”  Some have, likely, meant it this way: Why more study?  Others, perhaps, wondered, “Why any study?”  Both are fair questions.  Here’s a few thoughts, moving from general to specific and personal.

  1. Some of the best missional, Biblical, and theological breakthrough and understanding for the Church has come through intensive, rigorous study and research that would not have happened without formal, graduate level programs and opportunities.  Could God have done that in other ways?  Absolutely, but what does it say when God continues, throughout the centuries, to lend his blessing to this sort of work.
  2. I love to teach.  I don’t have a desire, at this point, to teach full time, but I’d love to teach a couple of classes each year.  Not only is there a need for this at some of our best Western institutions, but at many emerging and established institutions in the Majority World as well.  What if I could help raise up a new generation of missiologists, Biblical scholars, Church historians, and theologians in one or two places in the world?   That would be worth the effort, in my mind!
  3. I have served now for about 20 years in the “mission” world, whether as a mobilizer, trainer, missionary, or partnership/initiative builder.  The LORD Himself has done this.  This is my calling, my vocation.  Therefore, I want to learn, grow, and know as much as I can so that I might BETTER serve Christ’s Church worldwide.  If I’m going to do this the rest of my life, why wouldn’t I do whatever I could to do it better?  Are there other ways to be equipped?  Yes, and I’m taking advantage of those as well!
  4. I have questions that I want to answer.  I think they are important missional and theological/Biblical questions.  I don’t know anyone else asking them or answering them for God’s people.  This program will both equip me to answer them better as well as give me the time and space to do so.  What Bible/Mission/Theology questions do you have?

There are other reasons, some specifically related to the particular program that I’m joining, some related to my calling, but I’ll stop there for now.  Thanks for reading.  Thank you for those that have already congratulated me on making it this far.  I’m excited for the days ahead!

 

Does God Care? Comfort in Crisis

BBC World Service - The Documentary Podcast, Darkness at Noon

Hey friends, I hope you are all doing well.  No doubt, you find yourself in some sort of scenario you weren’t expecting.  This coronavirus outbreak has all of us at least, somewhat, quarantined.  Perhaps it also has us wrestling with the Lord in these days.  As the number of folks near to us, whether a direct connection or once-removed, who get the virus increases, and perhaps even death touches us, we will be tempted to wonder about the character of God and His concern for us.  That’s natural.  So, what we need is super-natural clarity on the heart of God for the struggler, the sinner, and the scared.  To that end, I wanted to share with you two sermons.  The first is a sermon that I preached over two years ago.  I think it is a timeless word because it dwells on the question of who is God in the midst of suffering.  I hope it is a soothing balm for you.  The second is a sermon I preached in 2018 simply asking, “How does Jesus feel about us?”  As we look to Jesus and ask that question, the response is so amazing!!!  Let us remember His love!