Your “Mission Trips” are doing more harm than good.

colonialists
The work of the missionary has been a developing endeavor since the moment Jesus returned to Heaven.  His parting words were,

“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

– Matt 28.18-20

These are pretty direct and intense final words.  Jesus came to the Earth to make disciples, and He has sent us out to be his mouthpieces in making more disciples.  The second half of the New Testament documents the disciples’ ministry and Paul’s missionary efforts taking the Gospel to the world.  The early Church grew organically as Christians were persecuted and forced to flee to new regions.  Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in 380 AD, and organized Christianity  began to flourish.

The modern missionary movement was sparked by William Carey around the turn of the 19th century and Christians began to develop a heart and conviction to take the Gospel to the world.  Having no experience or predecessors to learn from, there was little understanding of cultural adaptation and early missions functioned by what we understand as “colonial missions”.  White western missionaries sought to make the heathen civilized and westernized as they were converted.  Steepled churches were built, hymns translated, coats, ties and shoes required for worship – even in cultures which had never worn shoes indoors or seen a tie.  The intention was good, but the execution of taking Jesus to the world suffered by our institutions.

The world has dramatically changed with the development of technology and transportation.  It was commonplace for early missionaries to pack their belongings into a coffin as they headed out on a ship for their host country.  Now we can be almost anywhere in the world in two days or less – and at a relatively affordable cost.  Because of this fact, we now consider a “career” missionary as someone who signs up for a three or four year term and then returns home for a year to reconnect, rest, and recharge.  We also have developed a new phenomenon:  the short-term mission trip.  You can go “change the world” in two weeks.

But can I tell you a little secret?  We are not changing the world in two week stints.  Truth be told, most career missionaries are not seeing dramatic results in three or four years.  Tragically, in fact, most of our short-term trips are causing more harm than good.  Research is beginning to emerge about the impact of these mission trips that is startling at best.  We send youth and adults to love on children in an orphanage in Africa for a few weeks – maybe even an entire summer for the really committed.  How beautiful, we think!  We will show these children the love of Jesus, run a VBS, and give lots of hugs.  And then we come home with instagram pictures and facebook updates snuggling those poor children, but they are left in an orphanage with yet another source of love having abandoned them.  Each new wave of love that comes through hugs them, brings a new set of clothing, and seems to care for them and then walks away.  We are damaging these children.  Not only that, but governments are seeing the benefit of having foreigners come in and thus they keep children in poverty and in orphanages when they could potentially be adopted.

Or how about building houses or schools?  Let’s send our youth and unskilled to build a structure in a needy land!  People who have no construction experience.  People who know nothing about the host culture and actual needs on the ground.  We will raise thousands upon thousands of dollars to put unskilled westerners on a plane, fly to the remote world, and build a structure of which they have no expertise.  All the while there are perfectly skilled people who regularly build buildings in this foreign land.  They know the construction style, they know where and how to buy supplies, and more importantly – most of them are looking for work!  We are taking work away from people who want to work, developing a mindset of entitlement and laziness, and leaving the recipients with a sub-par structure.

Ok, ok, so we will be intentional about going and witnessing.  True missions is sharing the Gospel with people, right?  Yes!  Absolutely!  Jesus said,

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?  Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?”

– Matt 16.26

If we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, build homes for the homeless, but ignore the Gospel – we have profited them nothing.  Yes, we should seek the best way to meet physical needs, but only as we boldly and clearly proclaim the Gospel.

However, consider this:  how long does it take to make a disciple?  Jesus never instructed us to go out and preach the Gospel.  He instructed us to go out and make disciples.  Step one of making disciples is preaching the Gospel, but then we must invest blood, sweat and tears in discipleship.  People in the third world or on the mission field do not magically or instantaneously know Scripture, how to fight sin, and how to apply the teachings of Jesus.  They do not miraculously understand corporate worship, evangelism or differentiating between their previous religion/witchcraft and a God-honoring lifestyle.  In fact, many of them do not even have the Bible in their language!  Jesus Himself spent three years making his eleven disciples.  Dare we think we can do so in two weeks?

I once was out in a Muslim country, and was in a relatively remote city.  Everyone you met there was Muslim and they had pride in it, saying “To be from this city is to be Muslim”.  There was a Chinese couple who had immigrated a few generations before and at some point in their life a short-term group of missionaries had come through this town, shared the Gospel with them and they “got saved”.  Then the missionaries were gone.  A few years later, some Jehovah’s Witnesses came through and found these flailing Christians and converted them.  Deceived them.  Led them to believe that yes, they do believe in Jesus…but that is not enough.  There is “more”.  Jesus warns us:

“Now when the unclean spirit goes out of a man, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, and does not find it.  Then it says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came’; and when it comes, it finds it unoccupied, swept, and put in order.  Then it goes and takes along with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. That is the way it will also be with this evil generation.”

– Matt 12.43-45

It is infinitely more dangerous for someone to be deceived and trust in a false salvation, in a false version of Jesus, than to be practicing sorcery or following a false religion or atheism.  False prophets and those who twist the Gospel are of all to be pitied most for their eternal state.  And when we go in with no discipleship plan in place for someone who would believe, we are opening people up to have their houses swept and put in order only for a worse fate to become them.

On a much smaller note, let us consider the practicality and logistics of a preaching/teaching trip.  How will you communicate?  Do you speak the language?  I can guarantee that if you do not speak the language, you do not speak the culture.  What does that mean?  It means that Christianity in China looks infinitely different than Christianity in Alabama.  Scripture teaches us clearly about sin, but gives very little instruction about corporate worship.  Is it Biblical to have Sunday School in small groups and then corporate worship in a big group?  Or is that our tradition and habit?  Is it Biblical to sing a few songs, then have preaching, then have a response time?  Or is that cultural?  Is it Biblical to go to a church building, dress up, wear shoes, and sit in chairs?  Or is that what is comfortable for us?

Even more importantly, however, is our daily devotion to God.  Are your personal spiritual disciplines at a level that would establish strong churches around the world?  In countries where their current religion encompasses their entire lives, and Christians will be persecuted?  Will a few seconds of prayer over meals, a once a week worship service and quiet times when we feel like it be an adequate replacement for the Muslim who goes to the mosque to pray five times a day?  Are you a mature enough disciple to disciple someone like that?

The great-white-missionary, by in large, is enjoying traveling the world on other people’s dollar, and making himself look good by staying in uncomfortable situations.  He is not fighting the causes of injustice and poverty.  He is not investing the time and energy to learn the culture, preach the Gospel in a culturally understandable way, or help apply Scripture and Jesus to the culture to make disciples.  He is making himself feel better by actually encouraging the cycles of poverty and damaging cultures by developing entitlement mentalities and not empowering nationals to thrive in their situations.  And He is teasing people with an offer of eternal hope and leaving them without instruction or help to grow Spiritually and learn how to make disciples on their own.

I, personally, am almost embarrassed by the number of countries I have visited on so-called mission trips.  Don’t ask me, it grieves me to remember.  I was the great white missionary who hugged orphans and “built” homes.  I was the well-meaning evangelist who preformed dramas about Jesus, sang on the street corner and preached the Gospel through a translator.  But we can and must learn from these situations.  Jesus has commanded us to go and make disciples.  So the answer is not to give up or stop trying.  The answer is to grow and do it well.

First of all, in order to make disciples, we must be disciples ourselves.  If we have no personal spiritual disciples, we cannot teach others to have them.  If we are not committed to Jesus and to the Church, we cannot teach others to be.  If we are not fighting sin and growing Spiritually, we cannot encourage and instruct others how to do so either.  In short:  we need to understand discipleship in our own lives first.

Secondly, we must evaluate our Christianity and understand what is Biblical and what is cultural.  We should never set food on a foreign land or engage in cross-cultural work until we understand that Jesus is about the ministry of redeeming cultures, not making everyone look the same.  Asians do not have to wear shoes in their church buildings.  Africans do not have to wear ties.  The entire world does not have to sing European hymns.  And most cultures do not function within strict time frames like westerners:  their prayer meetings probably will go for many hours, people probably will show up late, and they might eat a full meal as the Lord’s Supper.

Thirdly, we must fully invest.  Disciple-making is not a short-term project.  There are many places and cultures in the world where there are still no Christians.  Missionaries unanimously vote the most difficult work to be “from zero to one”.  Why?  Because we are outsiders trying to convince someone of something completely counter-cultural and foreign.  Would you listen to a Nepalese immigrant who is trying to convince you to to convert to Hinduism through broken English?  We Americans tend to find the novelty factor of foreign beliefs intriguing, so they would actually have a higher success rate than an American entering a completely Hindu society with no exposure to the outside world – one that considers their culture their identity.

Once that first convert has been made, or if you are engaging a culture that has any known believers, we must focus our energies on mobilizing the nationals to be the missionaries.  An insider will always have more foundation on which to stand – if for no other reason than they fully understand their own culture and language.  You will have infinitely more sway with your friends than a foreigner, and the same is true around the world.  The more foreigners remain in the background, the more the church can be indigenous and take hold.  This is why Paul refused to baptize people in Corinth.  He had an excellent reputation, and in order to keep himself humble and to keep people from boasting or believing there to be an extra blessing by being baptized by an apostle, he taught the local believers to baptize their own (1 Cor 1.14ff).

Full investment means time.  We must go and stay.  Not everyone will go and stay.  But those who do not go and stay should only go and assist those who can stay.  Those people who are staying will be the ones who do the discipleship and follow up.  They will have needs of short-termers.  They may need English teachers to establish a VISA, they may need travel buddies for nationals to get out into remote areas (some countries do not allow free travel, but we can “hire” national Christians to be our “tour guides” – so we essentially get them into areas they cannot reach on their own).  They may need encouragement because they have no teammates and are still looking for the first believer.  The long-term missionaries will be able to tell you how they can utilize you and your group to further the ongoing ministry on the ground, and going out just to hang out with them and encourage them is absolutely a legitimate use of your time.  Have you ever felt drained when you miss church one week?  Imagine having no community, church or corporate Bible study for years on end.

Lastly, we must remember that missions is not about us.  Ever.  Period.  If you are packing your bags for the “discipleship experience”, unpack them and send the money to a missionary on the field.  Orphans, needy, and the un-reached are not tourist destinations.  They are not there to facilitate your Spiritual growth and development.  Their poverty does not exist to make you more thankful for your materialism and excess.  Yes, going on any mission trip will forever change you.  It will open your eyes, it will hopefully enhance your worldview and understanding of God, and it should give you a burden for lostness.  But those are beautiful and secondary effects.  To go out on mission is, by definition, to focus on serving God by serving and reaching out to others.  It is being mindful of the fact that the people we encounter have no hope and we are seeking their salvation.  It is about making disciples of others.  Not ourselves.

There is a lost and dying world all around us, and Jesus has commanded us to make disciples of all of the nations.  Let’s get busy about understanding what that means, and being obedient.

A True Disciple

judson

Do you consider yourself a Christian?  There are many variations of self-definition when it comes to faith and Christianity.  Some are cultural Christians, some are Christians by birth, some just want to go to Heaven and some are radically transformed sinners who love and serve God.  Jesus defines a Christian – his disciples – as those who die to themselves, who have been born again, and who submit to God out of love and thankfulness for the grace given to them.  In short, we must surrender our lives to God in order to receive life from Him.

“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

– Matt 16.25

What does this mean, exactly?  Theologians have coined a term that defines/explains this reality:  Lordship salvation.  Or simply, Lordship.  If we want to be Christians (mini Christs, followers of Christ), we have to submit to His leadership and authority.  Simply, He is in charge.  Paul says it this way:

“…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved…”

– Rom 10.9

When we recognize our sinfulness and helpless state, we turn to Jesus for hope and help.  When we confess our sins and inability to honor God, we submit to Jesus for direction and admit that He is the way to righteousness and eternal salvation.  He is thus Lord over our lives.  He is in charge.  He is the authority.  Until we recognize the fact that Jesus is indeed the final authority, we are not believers.  We must confess with our mouths – and live out the reality that Jesus is Lord because we believe in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead in order to be saved.

Sometimes our logic would tempt us to disbelieve a command or teaching from Scripture.  We may try to follow Jesus as a good teacher, picking and choosing the parts of the Bible we like.  Sometimes the Bible is taught as a buffet of nuggets of wisdom from which we can choose.  But the reality is that we must take it all or none of it.  As long as we consider ourselves authoritative to decide the parts we like, the parts we believe, or the parts to which we will submit, we have not made Jesus Lord and are therefore not saved.

Adoniram Judson was the first missionary to Burma (now Myanmar).  He gave up his life to serve in this extremely dangerous and difficult place and ultimately left a tremendous legacy of believers behind.  While serving, a Buddhist teacher told him that the Gospel he was preaching was unbelievable because no king would allow his son to suffer such indignity.  This was Judson’s response:

“Therefore you are not a disciple of Christ.  A true disciple inquires not whether a fact is agreeable to his own reason, but whether it is in the book.  His pride has yielded to the divine testimony.  Teacher, your pride is still unbroken.  Break down your pride, and yield to the word of God.”

– Adoniram Judson

Our pride and self autonomy often keeps us from true belief.  Either we harbor a sin, or we allow our logic to facilitate disbelief, or we simply treat the teachings and expectations of Scripture as optional.  Pride is a wicked enemy against which we must fight continually.  Have you confessed Jesus as Lord over your life?  Have you recognized His power?  Are you submitting yourself to Him and dying to yourself?  Or are you still just enjoying the little pearls of wisdom from the buffet of Scripture?  Do you have a verse or promise that makes you feel better, even though you make your own decisions, you practice things that God calls sin, and you live life the way you want to live it?

Let us break down our pride.  Let us submit to Jesus who is Lord over us and over all of reality.  Let us recognize that God has revealed Himself in Scripture and given us everything that we need for life and godliness therein (2 Peter 1.3).  Let us turn to Him, submit to Him and die to ourselves so that we might have eternal life.

 

Always Learning but never gaining knowledge.

books

When I was in High School, I went to a big church that was exceptionally good at events.  Like many of the big, evangelical churches in the late 90’s, early 2000’s, we began to see that while we were successfully drawing in people (namely, students), we were failing to truly introduce them to Jesus, and discipleship was not happening.  Thus, many youth and adults who once attended church for the entertainment factor have fallen away.  The church was large enough that we put on our own summer camp.  Hundreds of students, a big stage, a cool band, a dynamic speaker, you know…the cool stuff.  Students would make an emotional decision to follow Jesus, but then continue living worldly lives with no accountability or training.  While I was in High School, we began the transition away from events and to cell groups.  Remember those?  The first small groups.  Unfortunately, they were still age-segregated and thus we had students teaching students.  As it proved later, non-Christians teaching non-Christians about the Bible.

At the time, my faith was extremely academic.  I loved the Bible, I loved theology, I loved to study.  Seeing a youth group full of people who did not know Jesus, but pretended to, I grew frustrated with the Church and developed a circle of friends from high school who were the philosophical type.  We took the world religions classes, we would discuss Nietzsche, the meaning of life, and sit up drinking coffee at Perkins until 2:00 am.  I was the only professing Christian in the core group, but we all had a respect for one another and would listen attentively and critically to push one another to think more deeply.  We were those kids.

The day I arrived home from my sophomore year of college, I received news that one of these friends had been killed in the war.  My world was shaken, and my faith rocked.  Jesus hung out with the sinners, right?  I was hanging out and preaching the Gospel to nonbelievers.  I wanted him to believe.  I had prayed for him.  I wrote him letters on while he was fighting for our country.  How could his salvation not be what God wanted?

Throughout the next year as I wrestled with the eternal facets of the faith and the implications thereof, God helped me to fall in love with the Church.  In short He said, I love and died for my bride.  You are called to do the same.  Not only that, He showed me that philosophy is vain, if we are not being transformed into the image of Christ or winning others to the faith.

“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.”

– Col 2.8

For us, the meaning of life and whether or not the physical world truly existed was an interesting mental exercise.  Sure, I kept the ten commandments as best I could, I didn’t smoke or drink or sleep around, but theology and the Bible was so interesting to me that it engaged my mind without engaging my affections.  I wanted to see how all the pieces fit together, but was not falling more in love with Jesus in response.  We were thinkers.  We were philosophers.  We were “seekers”.

“But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come.  For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.
For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses, always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

– 2 Tim 3.1-7

Many churches in those days developed programs, and some even turned their entire focus to seekers.  “Seeker Sensitive” became the new hot word which some despised and some embraced as gospel truth.  We no longer used “church-ese” language, so that outsiders can understand.  We keep our preaching simple to engage a potential visitors, and our focus is on those who might show up and not know what is going on.

While that mentality is completely unbiblical, it also proved to be unfruitful.  Why?  Because many “seekers” are those academics who enjoy the mental discipline of examining theories and worldviews, but will never take a stand and choose one.  They are “always learning, but never able to come to the knowledge of truth”.  And most seekers do not show up to church on their own.  If they do, they enjoy the simplistic preaching and people are not growing.  It is the same problem as the event-driven church: no disciples are made.

Paul warned us that this day was coming.  It has been happening throughout history.  William Wilberforce fought against it in the early 19th century.  Ryle and Spurgeon fought against it at the end of the 19th Century.  Jonathan Edwards and the puritans fought against it during the birth and growth of modern philosophy in the 17th and 18th centuries…academic philosophers questioning the nature of reality but never encountering Jesus in a life-transforming way.

Paul teaches us not to rearrange our churches to cater to seekers.  Quite the opposite, in fact, he warns us to avoid such people.

Now, I know that sounds harsh.  God is love, and He would reject no one, and if we are supposed to be like Him, we should love everyone and not reject anyone either.  Right?  There are people that we are commanded to avoid and disassociate with, and they are those who have heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ and reject it or continue in sin, rejecting God’s teaching on their sin.

“Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust off your feet.

– Matt 10.14

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.  But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

– Matt 18.15-17

“It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife.  You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst.  For I, on my part, though absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged him who has so committed this, as though I were present.  In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled, and I with you in spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus, I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.”

– 1 Cor 5.1-5

Avoid such men as these.”

– 2 Tim 3.5

“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us…If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame.”

2 Thess 3.5, 14

We are too afraid to offend anyone these days, that we will not call a spade a spade.  We are too afraid to stand up against sin that we allow it in the camp and it destroys us from the inside out.  The early church took sin extremely seriously because they were running for their lives and depending on one another for accountability and livelihoods.  Church was serious.  Now, church is like a big club that we want everyone to join, and showing up on Sunday mornings is enough for us.  The early church also understood their guilt before a righteous God and the due penalty for that guilt, thus they took their personal holiness seriously, learning to live holy and righteous lives through the power of the Holy Spirit and dying to the flesh.  Nowadays we trivialize sin and believe that God will forgive us no matter what we do, because God is love.

Paul gives us the clearest instruction for how we are to respond:

“I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world.  But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one.  For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church?  But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.

– 1 Cor 5.9-15

A person who claims to be a believer yet continues is sin is dangerous and we are disassociate with them.  Period.  A person who hears the Gospel and rejects it is not of us, and we are to move on, and take no offense.  We do not cater to seekers who are always learning but unable to come to knowledge.  We do not cater to nonbelievers who might stumble in our doors.  We go out and proclaim the Gospel where people are, and then welcome them in to begin the process of maturation and growth.

Do you have the knowledge of Jesus Christ?  Do you interact with Him on a daily basis and abide in Him?  Do you rely on Him for strength and sustenance?  Doe the Holy Spirit guide you and convict you of sin?  Or are you just an academic seeker?  Do you entertain the various philosophies out there to expand your mind?

Avoid the temptation.  God has given us clear truth and answers to the questions we have.  Let’s find the answers and be satisfied, not continually seeking, and not continually engaging those who hear the truth but do not receive it.  Let us keep precious our pearls and not throw them before swine.  It is a sensitive balance that we do not write off unbelievers, we pray for them, we engage them, but we must beware to invest too much time in one who will never learn and thus not have the opportunity to reap the harvest that is ready.  Let us pray for wisdom, discernment and guidance.  Let us trust God.

Why are we not going?

world

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

– Matt 28.18-20

Few people would argue with the Great Commission of Jesus Christ, calling us to go make disciples of all the nations.  But in response to the call, how often have you heard [or said] the sentiment, “There is so much work to be done here in the United States”.  I live in a city – Denver, CO – that many would call a mission city, a largely unchurched city.  I drive through an urban section of town to get to work, and on my four mile commute I pass no less than six churches.  I know of quite a few mega churches in the city, running multiple thousands of people every weekend, as well as a dynamic Acts 29 planting network in the city, as well as many, many long-time established churches.  My husband and I bought a house and had to furnish it, and we bought almost everything off Craig’s List.  Of the countless home visits we made to check out and buy furniture, lamps and everything we needed, we met only one non-Christian.  I guess it is possible that only Christians use Craig’s List…

Statistics and numbers are lost on us.  We hear them all the time, and it is nearly impossible to grasp the magnitude of a million people verses three hundred thousand.  Our views are limited, our perspectives skewed, and we tend to care about those things that are in front of us and which we have experienced.  Just for the sake of reciting the numbers again, however, here they are.

It is estimated that there are 7.4 billion people in the world.  There are slightly more than 321 million people in the United States.  Within the United, we are 77.3% professing Christian.  That means that three out of every four people is at least professing Christ.  And we make up roughly 4.3% of the world’s population.

There are 16,324 distinct people groups – marked by a unique language and culture by country.  Of those people groups, 6,573 are considered unreached.  This means that less than 2% of their populations are Christian.  Those peoples make up 3.067 billion people.  Almost half of the world’s population lives amongst a people and nation where they will not rub shoulders with Christians, or ever hear the Gospel and hope of Jesus Christ.  Of those unreached people groups, there are 3,136 that are completely unengaged, with a population of 201 million.  This means that there is no Christian presence among the people – no Church, no missionary, no radio broadcast, no way that these people will ever stumble upon or be able to seek out the Gospel.

To give a little perspective, that means that the equivalence of nearly 2/3 of the population of the United States has absolutely no access to the Gospel.  9.6 times the population of the United States lives in a nation that has less than 2% Christian presence and will likely never run into a Christian.

And yet, three out of every four people in the United States is professing faith in Jesus.

It is true that we are only ever one generation away from being a lost people ourselves, but for lack of a better term, we are hoarding Christians here.

Jesus said go.  If we follow Jesus, if we obey Him, it should be the norm to go, not the norm to stay.  If you choose to not heed the calling, you better be extremely sure of God’s leading you to stay.  Many of us will be very sad when we meet Jesus and He asks us why we chose not to obey.

While Jesus was walking on the Earth and preforming His ministry, He was broken for the lostness of the people.  In His sorrow, He told the disciples,

“The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.”

– Matt 9.37

But do you know how He instructed them to pray in response?

“Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”

– Matt 9.38

It is the Holy Spirit’s work to draw and change people.  It is our job to preach the Gospel.  Jesus looked out over the lost people and stated that there are many in whom the Spirit is working and who are ready to believe.  Therefore, it is not our responsibility to pray to God for the lost people, but to pray to God and petition Him to send more workers into the field!  The harvest is ripe, the need is farmers who will start reaping!

Almost in the same breath, Jesus then turns around and sends the disciples out:

“Jesus summoned His twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness…These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them…”

– Matt 10.1, 5

Jesus saw the reality.  He was broken over it.  He taught the disciples to turn to God to pray for the workers, and then He sent them out.  It will happen that as we pray for the world and develop both an eternal and broader worldview that we will no longer be satisfied with the status quo.  We will go.  And we will not go, just to go.  We will go and be obedient to preach the Gospel and make disciples of all the nations.

Let’s stop hoarding Christians.  Let’s stop making ourselves comfortable.  Let’s get busy about obedience.  Let’s get busy about reaping the harvest that Jesus says is ready!

7,400,000,000 people in the world
3,067,000,000 people have little/no access to the Gospel (41.4% of the world)
201,000,000 people have absolutely no chance of hearing the Gospel (2.7% of the world)
248,133,000 number of professing Christians in the United States

 

Is the Church a good place for networking? On MLMs and the body of Christ.

MLM-image

Relationships.  Everyone alive functions in relationships.  The age-old adage about finding a job, getting into school, and establishing one’s self is simply, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”.  The United States purports to be the land of opportunity, where anyone can pull himself up by his bootstraps if he is willing to work hard enough, and while it is true that there are countless entrepreneurs who have built businesses from their own ingenuity and suave, it remains true that those who are born into a higher social rank and those who are born in privilege tend to find positions of authority, leadership and success more easily.

Networking.  We never take a class in High School or College about networking, but at some point in life we all learn that because of the weight that relationships merit in our success, we must get to know a lot of people who can help us.  We need references, we need an “in” with a company, we need people to help us along.  And suddenly our social network becomes a tool.  Friends become a target.  Relationships become a means to an end.

This reality is extremely helpful,
but at the same time extremely dangerous.  

Missiologists have picked up on this reality.  In regions of the world where there is no church and no believers, the missionary’s most difficult task is what they call “Zero to One” work.  It is always the most difficult task to find that first person who will believe.  Why?  Because a missionary is an outsider.  A missionary is trying to bring a foreign belief to a new land.  A missionary is someone who looks differently, speaks differently, dresses differently and eats differently, and it is his goal to undermine and remove all historical religious beliefs of a tribe or nation and convert them.  People are skeptical and people are set in their traditions and ways.  How would you respond to a man from South America who approached you on the street, could not speak English so he utilized an interpreter, and he set out to tell you about eternity and the path to Heaven, declaring everything you had ever heard and believed was false?  Our culture is unique in the fact that there is a coolness factor to adhering to our own personal belief system and finding ourselves in abstract and rare traditions.  Most countries around the world, however, find great pride and identity in their culture, in their family and in their heritage.  Much in the manner we would say, “To be American is to be free”, they would say “To be Saudi is to be Muslim”, or “To be Japanese is to worship the emperor”.

But the moment that first person believes, there is now an insider.  There is now a person who trusts Jesus from within the culture, and the work of redeeming the culture for Christ can begin – we do not try to make them culturally like us, but to help them glorify God through their unique habits and traditions.  But more importantly, this person has a network of friends and family which he can immediately influence for the Gospel.  It is natural, it is organic, it is normal for friends to influence friends, and family to influence family.  We can trace it through Scripture.  We can trace it through history.  And it is good practice to encourage believers to immediately share their new faith with their loved ones, as they will have infinitely more impact than an outsider will.

While it is essential that we utilize our social network for the furthering of the Gospel, we must also guard our body, our Church, diligently that we do not utilize this “network” for personal gain.  God has given us the body to reach the world with the Gospel, and to push one another on to maturity and good deeds.  It exists for accountability, fellowship, and the glory of God.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

 – Heb 10.23-25

Mary Kay has been around for ages – since 1963, in fact.  It is an MLM plan where ladies become representatives and and private vendors of Mary Kay product – working on their own time and being their own boss.  I remember hearing that women in my mother’s community were Mary Kay providers, but I was never exposed to their parties or sales tactics.  But suddenly, with the explosion of social media and inter-connectedness with the internet, there are new MLM plans every day.  People want to get rich easily – or supplement their income, they want to work for themselves on their own schedule and they are finding their fortunes in selling wraps, oils, makeup, lotions, and snakeskins to their friends and family.

Most people believe in and love the product that they are trying to sell.  It is not all a giant hoax, people are enjoying their work, their revenue and their products.

It is, however, causing great damage to the body.  Firstly, the vendor is being trained to consider all relationships as potential clients or partners.  Just get the product into their hands and they will become believers.  Convince them to sell the product too, and they can have just as glorious a life as you!  And suddenly, your friends and family are targets.  Church attendance becomes an opportunity to build your network and business, not an opportunity to corporately worship God and encourage one another.

Secondly, those non-entrepreneur types can feel the target on their backs.  They know who is selling what, and because of the aggressive nature of the representative, they start to avoid that person and begin hiding or stop attending group activities altogether.  The invitations to parties, the request to host a party, the free samples all feel disingenuous and alienate this person who deeply needs true community and accountability.

So what am I saying?  Let’s look at Jesus’ response when vendors set up shop in the Church:

“The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.  And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.  And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; and to those who were selling the doves He said, ‘Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.’  His disciples remembered that it was written, ‘Zeal for your house will consume me’.”

 – John 2.13-17

Jesus became so angry with the people who were using the temple as a place of business that He made a whip, overturned their tables, and chased them out!  It has been said that if you are ever asked “What would Jesus do?”, remind him that flipping over tables and chasing people with a whip is within the realm of possibilities.  Hopefully people are not actually setting up shop within your church building, but when MLM trainers teach vendor to consider every friend and relative a possible client or partner, we are essentially doing just that:  in our hearts.

If make your living through any of these MLMs, please hear me.  I am not saying that this is a bad way to work and live.  Mary Kay reps have been doing it for fifty-two years!  If you have the personality and the drive, then by all means, knock yourself out, and earn that pink Cadillac.  But I am saying that we need to be extremely intentional to keep our relationships within the body pure, focused on the glory of God and pushing one another on to maturity in faith through accountability.  It was said of Jesus that “Zeal for His house would consume Him”, and with the coming of the New Covenant, we – as the body of Christ – are now His house.

“Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?”

 – 1 Cor 3.16

Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people”

 – 2 Cor 6.16

We individually have the person of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, but we also corporately – as the body – make up the new temple of God.  He dwells within and among us.  And Jesus has great zeal for His body and for the temple, and He will fight for her.  Therefore, we must consider our brothers and sisters in Christ as accountability partners, and fellow heirs, as those with whom we live and strive and push each other on to holiness.  Not clients.  Not potential buyers.  Not as party hosts.

So get out there and make your living.  You can even use your platform as a sales rep to share the Gospel!  It has been said that evangelists are sales men at heart:  selling Jesus.  If you can sell green smoothies and dehydrating wraps, then you can sell your faith!  But protect your heart and protect your local body.  Beware lest we set up invisible tables at church; for Jesus may come in and chase us out with a whip.

Dear Church, missions is not for your own discipleship.

missionsbanquet

As Jesus was completing His work on the Earth and ascending back to Heaven, He gave us the “Great Commission”, the final command, the last words, by which we should all – as Christians – be living our lives:

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

– Matt 28.18-20

It is God’s plan that people from every nation, tribe and language will come to saving faith in Jesus through the preaching of the Gospel (Rev 5.9).  In fact, Jesus promised us that this will happen before the end will come (Matt 24.14).  If you are a Christian, you have been commanded to make disciples, and to be a part of disciple-making in every nation.  Yes, that does imply that there are some who must remain in predominantly Christian communities to engage and teach the younger generations, but it has been rightly said that we must be confident of our calling – by God – to stay, if we dare to not go.  In evaluating the missionary life, we today often expect those who would go to have a profound testimony and conviction of their calling, but Jesus has called every believer.  We do not get to pick and choose if it applies to us.

The early church defaulted into cross-cultural missions by the very nature of the persecution and dispersion they experienced.  Their lives were being threatened, so they ran.  When they settled in new communities and new countries, they shared the Gospel, and the church exploded.  We also see examples of intentional mission efforts from people like Paul, Barnabas, Silas and John Mark.  Throughout the Middle Ages, the Arab Conquests and the Crusades, there was some missionary effort but the Church found itself in a difficult spot, being united as the Catholic Church which was largely political.  After the Reformation began and people found faith on a personal level, modern missions was born through people like William Carey.

For centuries, missions was a lifetime and sobering commitment.  Missionaries had to travel by ship to their host countries, many lost wives and children to disease and often times they would pack their belongings in a coffin – planning on being buried abroad.  Some did travel home to raise support or awareness, but it was not a simple airplane ride, and trips home were rare.

But suddenly we are living in a world where travel abroad is accessible and easy.  In 24 hours you can find yourself at pretty much any location on the globe, for a relatively low price.  And with this phenomenon has come the birth and explosion of short-term missions.  Many people will give their vacation time, and many students seek to spend part of their summer break “doing” missions.  Unfortunately, because of the accessibility, and because of our narcissistic culture, these short-term mission trips – and consequently long-term missions have become a “discipleship tool” for the Church.

We send our youth so that they can see the poverty abroad and come home thankful for what they have.

We send out younger believers so that they can have two weeks of intense Spiritual connection with the Lord.

The team building required before the trip, the required daily devotional as a group, and the outreach tools developed will unify our body, will develop a passion in our Church, and will take us to the next level with God.

I have heard mission agencies, pastors and parents say, “We pray that our people (or students) will be changed” by going on this trip.  (The prayer factor makes it sound more Spiritual.)  Their goal in missions is to make us more “thankful for what we have”, and to disciple the short-term missionaries.

But here’s the deal folks.  People around the world are not tourist attractions.  They are living, breathing, souls who are headed straight to Hell without salvation through the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  There are over 6,600 people groups (entire nations that are identifiable by a unique language and culture) who are less than 2% Christian.  That means that for every one hundred people within the nation, there is only one or no Christian.  Nearly half of those people groups are completely unengaged.  This means that there is no Christian in the community – no missionary, no national, no radio broadcast; nothing.  There is no way that these people will stumble across the Gospel.  Almost all of these unreached people groups are in the 10/40 window:  that region from 10 degrees to 40 degrees latitude north of the Equator from West Africa to the Far East.  You can see the map here.

The call of Jesus is to go and make disciples of these people.  These millions of people who have never heard about Jesus Christ.  These millions of people who will die and go to Hell unless someone goes to tell them the Gospel.  Missions is giving of one’s life to cross culture and language to take the Gospel to these people.  A short-term mission trip is evangelical in nature.  Any other trip:  medical, building homes/schools/orphanages, educational, providing clean water, agricultural, etc. is not a mission trip.  It is a humanitarian trip.  Yes, it is a good thing, but it is not focused on people’s eternal need and ultimately does them no Spiritual or eternal good.

And quite frankly, the reality is that going out for two weeks or even six months will not make disciples.  You might make converts, with the help of translators and the direction of the missionary on the ground, but if you go in on your own without such direction and assistance, you will not even be able to communicate – let alone lead people to Jesus.  Discipleship is a process that took Jesus three years with the original twelve.  We can expect it to take about that long – or longer – with new converts both here in the United States and abroad.  Therefore if we desire to obey Jesus’ commandment in the short-term method, we must make sure that we find either a missionary or a national Church who can utilize our efforts on the ground as part of their long-term work.  They will be the ones doing the discipleship.

We must also be aware of the fact that most of the unreached and unengaged people groups in the world live in regions that are hostile to the Gospel.  There might be an appeal in your church or community to go into a hard area, but if we endeavor to take students or immature believers into a nation where it is illegal to evangelize or convert, then we are putting everyone at risk unnecessarily.  The national partners, the missionaries and the local church are risking their lives to do what they do, and a culturally insensitive or unaware foreigner could derail and endanger everything.  Therefore, when we consider engaging such a people group and partnering with missionaries, we should intentionally send our best, our wisest, our most mature.

Missions as a whole is the endeavor to glorify God by obeying the Great Commission by crossing cultures and language to make disciples of all nations.  We, as the Church, should be regularly sending people abroad.  We all have been called to this effort, and we all must examine our lives and be confident that God has called us to stay home, if we are not going.  And if we are not going, we still must be making disciples here at home.  And part of our discipleship here at home is teaching others how to make disciples themselves.  Many of our youth programs include a summer camp, a winter retreat, and an abundance of other activities.  But we should very carefully weigh our youth “mission trip” activity.  If you have mature youth who will cross cultures to share the Truth about Jesus, then absolutely send them.  But your goal should never be their discipleship.  If you want to teach them how to share the Gospel, take them one-on-one to the mall and show them how to talk to a stranger.  Reserve your efforts in a closed country for the most mature and sensitive in your congregation.  If you want to expose them to poverty, take them to the soup kitchen and let them interact with the homeless in your city.  Because physical poverty is not the real issue here.  There are countless churches around the world, in fact, who pray for us and are broken for us because we have too much stuff.  We are too comfortable.  We are too self-reliant, and therefore we never depend on God.  When was the last time you trusted God for your next meal?  We have much to learn from them.

You will be changed when you cross cultures and see how believers live in a different and oppressive society.  You will be changed when you see true poverty and genuine need.  You will be changed anytime you take two weeks to intentionally walk with God and ask Him to direct your every step, have a daily devotional with other believers, break out of your routine and share the Gospel continually.  This is a beautiful and wonderful side effect of getting out of your comfort zone and going on a mission trip.  But this cannot be our goal, our goal must be glorifying God by reaching the lost.  Beware of the temptation to use foreigners to your benefit.  Beware of the temptation to march your people amongst the lost so that they can appreciate what they have and glorify their two-week endeavor.  Focus your people on the need and enable them to truly help taking the Gospel to those who need it most.  Make it about God first and the lost second.

Can People Be Saved After Death?

heaven and hell

I had a conversation with a friend recently regarding the nature of death and whether or not people will have a chance to be saved after they die.  This is a relatively new belief that was made widely popular by Rob Bell and his book “Love Wins”, and it is defined by theologians as “postmortem evangelism” (PME).  It is certainly a warm fuzzy thought and comfort: that people can get through life and either never hear of Jesus or deny His salvation, but then be given one last chance as they stand at the brink of eternity to choose between Heaven over Hell.

The good thing, and the truth found within this belief, is that Jesus is the only way to find eternal salvation.  It is still exclusive and right in this claim.

But the problem is that Scripture clearly teaches that this is an impossibility.  The author of Hebrews makes a clear assertion that upon our moment of death we will be taken to judgment.

“And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment…”

Heb 9:27

This is a difficult concept to understand.  We know that God, being Spirit (John 4.24) and being the creator (Col 1, Gen 1-3), exists outside of time.  He is not governed by the physical laws that uphold the world (Is 57.15), and the passing of time to God is irrelevant (Ps 90.5, 2 Peter 3.8, Ps 102.12, 24-27).  So it is not only possible but likely that when we leave our physical bodies we will enter into that state of existence where time does not constrain us.  In short, we can go straight from death to judgment – with everyone (even those who are still alive when we die) – at the end of time.

When we go to the judgment, we will go through two phases.  The first is the Great White Throne Judgment where the believers will be separated from the non believers (Rev 20.11-15).  The non believers, at judgment will be sent immediately to Hell.  Then the believers will give an account for the deeds that they did while in the body, the Bema Seat judgment (1 Cor 3.12-15).  This is the time where all of our deeds that were preformed to the glory of God will be refined from our sinful and wicked ones through fire and rewarded to us as Heavenly, eternal treasures:  treasures that we can present to Jesus as gifts.

Not only does Scripture teach that judgment is what awaits us at death, Jesus also taught in a parable of the impassable chasm between Heaven and Hell in his story of Lazarus and the Rich Man.  The story teaches us that after death the two were taken immediately to their eternity (through judgment):  Lazarus to Abraham’s bosom (Heaven/the New Earth), and the rich man to Hell (Luke 16.22).  The rich man could see Lazarus and in his torment begged Abraham to let Lazarus give him a drink of water, but he was denied (Luke 16.23-26).  Abraham told him that the chasm between Heaven and Hell was impassable (Luke 16.26).  No one can go from Heaven to Hell, and no one can go from Hell to Heaven.  Abraham also condemned the rich man for his actions while he was alive and asserted that he was receiving the reward for his wickedness in life (Luke 16.25).

Scripture regularly teaches that our eternal destiny is based on our actions in life, whether to eternal blessing or damnation:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

– 2 Cor 5.10

 Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.

– 1 Cor 3.8

“Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.”

– Rev 22.12

“I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.”

– Rev 2.23

“Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.”

– John 5.28-29

The deeds we preform and the salvation we receive or reject while alive will determine our eternity after death.

We also need to consider the sovereignty of God over salvation.  Paul teaches us that everyone who will come to God for salvation was predestined to be saved before the foundation of the world:

“…just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.”

– Eph 1.4-6

Those who have been predestined have their names written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev 21.27), and they have been there since before time began.  This is why Jesus so boldly taught the disciples that God has given some people on Earth to Him, and everyone that God has given to Jesus will come to Him:

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.”

– John 6.37

The sheep analogy is continued and completed in this, as well.  Jesus says that we are His sheep, and His sheep know His voice and come when He calls (John 10.27-28).  Those who are not Jesus’ sheep are goats.  We are fundamentally, by nature, different creatures.  And that is why the first judgment will be the separation of the sheep and goats (Matt 25.31-46).

The last point we need to consider is the command and urgency of the Great Commission and missions.  Jesus came to bring salvation to the world, and the last thing He said as He was leaving the world was “Go and make disciples” of the whole world (Matt 28.18-20).  Paul said that He was obligated to the lost to preach the gospel (Rom 1.14-17).  And we are commanded to be disciples, and part of being a disciple is to make disciples.  If people had a chance to be saved after they left this Earth, then there is no urgency to go and tell.  Why?  Because anyone standing in front of two destinies, a fiery prison of suffering in Hell or eternal blessing in Heaven, will choose Heaven.  If everyone will get to see those options and choose, then there is no point to struggle to take the Gospel to the world.

Ultimately, Jesus taught us that belief in Him, through the Gospel, means that one has already begun their eternal life while alive on Earth.  Whoever does not believe still has the wrath of God abiding on him.

“He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

– John 3.36

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.”

– John 5.24

And ultimately Jesus taught that those eternal destinies are already determined before life, those who are damned are already judged and condemned even though they might still be physically alive:

“He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

– John 3.18

In summary, God has chosen us for salvation from the moment that He created the world.  His plan cannot be thwarted.  When we die, we go immediately to judgment – judgment for our deeds in the flesh and our belief in Jesus – and after judgment we will enter eternity in either Heaven or Hell, and the chasm between the two cannot be passed, in either direction.  This is why evangelism is so necessary and urgent, because we only have a limited time on Earth and then we will spend an eternity in reward for our faith or our lack of faith.  No, people cannot be saved after they die.  So let’s get our own salvation established and then let us be obedient to the ultimate call of Jesus to go out and make disciples of the world, so that we can be obedient and we can spend eternity with our brothers and sisters from all nations!