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

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


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.


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?


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.


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.


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!

You have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.


There once was a missionary effort in a Muslim country where the nationals adamantly asserted, “To be from here is to be Muslim”.  The work was hard and slow as the small team scoured the region looking for anyone in whom the Spirit was moving, anyone who would believe.  After years, there were a few here and a few there who had believed, but the follow up and discipleship work was poorly executed.  Being secluded with a new faith and not even a Bible to read, these people were left extremely vulnerable.  Shortly thereafter, Jehovah’s Witnesses came in and led these new believers astray.  Years later, a new wave of missionaries came through and were surprised to find random Jehovah’s Witnesses in these remote areas, and only learned this tragic reality from their conversion stories.

Jesus taught a parable of different types of seeds that fall to the Earth.  Some fall on the hard ground and the birds eat the seeds before they can take root.  Some fall on rocky soil and grow up quickly, but are scorched by the sun because they are unable to take deep root amongst the rocks.  Some fall in the midst of thorns and weeds and are choked out.  And some fall on good soil and grow strong – producing fruit.  The hard soil into which the seed does not penetrate it is one who hears the Gospel and denies it – never understands it.  The rocky soil is one who hears the Gospel and receives it but has no depth of root or transformation, and when persecution and trials arise he falls away and abandons the faith.  The weeds represent wealth and/or worries of the world that consume someone and his faith withers away because of his love for and focus on the world.  Lastly, the good soil is one who hears the Gospel, establishes deep roots, and grows fruitfully (Matt 13).

The new believer who is deceived by a false religion like Jehovah’s Witness could be the young plant in the rocky soil or amongst the thorns.  He could be deceived by the promised pleasures of a false religion, or he could be tempted to fear the consequence of not following the false religion (be it persecution or spiritual consequences).  Either way, the lack of growth of the seed proves the seed to not be in the good soil.  If one remains in this state, Jesus says he will not be saved eternally.  We see this terrifyingly severe admonition in the fifth church Jesus addresses in His revelation to John, the Church in Sardis:

“To the angel of the church in Sardis write: He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.  Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God.  So remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, and repent. Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you.  But you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy.  He who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garments; and I will not erase his name from the book of life, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches’.”

– Rev 3.1-6

The Church at Sardis had a great reputation.  People from all around took note of the good things that the church was doing, and/or the numbers that they were drawing.  Everyone thought Sardis was alive and thriving because of their outward success, but Jesus terrifyingly pronounces them to be dead.  The Church as a whole was preforming “good deeds” in their own power, and Jesus was not a part of it.  He bids them to wake up and to strengthen that small remnant within them who still had some Spiritual life, but are about to die.  They are about to be choked out by the weeds or scorched by the sun.

Jesus says to the Church, “I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of my God”.  This is not to imply that more good deeds and service will merit salvation, rather it is the truth that works must be the result of salvation and love (James 2.18).  We must have good works, if we do not serve God with our strength, our minds, and our hearts, we prove ourselves to not be saved(Matt 22.37).  He has created us to do good deeds (Eph 2.10).  But our deeds are only completed when they are driven by a love and respect for God through our humble reception of His grace which is our salvation.  This Church had heard the Gospel and twisted it so slightly that they looked extremely religious and holy to the outside world, but had neglected the inward transformation which God requires.  They were white washed tombs (Matt 22.37).

Jesus affirms, however, that they had heard the true Gospel, and he implores them to remember the foundation and to repent.  He warns them that if they do not repent, they will suffer eternity in Hell.  The stakes here are extremely high.  He again points out the fact that there are a few left in their midst who are alive, and Jesus promises to redeem them on the last day and to clothe them in white.  Their sins have been covered and washed clean, and they are clothed in white which represents their purity before God by the saving work of Jesus on the cross.  Jesus will be their advocate at judgment day and they will enter His rest.

This is a terrifying reality, as are all of the warnings Jesus gave to the Churches.  Jesus is addressing and warning the churches – and our churches – about eternity.  He is not speaking about preference, He is not speaking about our level of reward in eternity.  He is speaking about Heaven and Hell.  The stakes are most severe, and the consequences are of utmost importance.  If we deceive ourselves and follow the actions and deeds of the church without having been transformed from the heart, we are damned to Hell.  And Jesus says that churches can thrive in the eyes of the world and other Christians, yet be dead.

This is why Paul teaches us to continually be aware of the thoughts and motives of our hearts, and to be continually conscious of our salvation:

“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?”

– 2 Cor 13.5

While this may seem depressing and weighty, the consequence for not being diligent over our souls is eternal.  Compared to eternity, our lives on Earth is a vapor, like a breath that disappears on a winter’s morning.  We experience it slowly now, but in eternity we will be grieved that we did not slow down and examine our hearts.

Let us not find ourselves on judgment day to be dead.  Let us nurture that baby plant, removing the weeds and digging up the rocks that might thwart our growth.  Let us help our brothers and sisters in our church do the same, so that our churches will not only look good from the outside, but will be a thriving body which is recognized and honored by God.

Is being a wife truly the highest calling for women?


I read an article last week speaking to women who felt called to the mission field, and finding their “place” in life.  Now, let me give you a tidbit of my background.  When I was in High School, my family started attending a fairly large church that was trying to wade through the transition from being activity-oriented to disicpleship-oriented.  The youth grew drew in a few hundred students from the city, and we knew how to entertain them.  My parents had connections with other ministries and sent me on international mission trips in the summers, and by the time I graduated High School, there was a driving theme in the youth group of calling students to full time ministry.  There were many who responded who are not even active in a church today.

Then I went to college, was active in Campus Crusade and then to Seminary, where many people had an interest and professed a calling to international and full time missions.  Interestingly, it was predominantly women who professed this desire.  But we all know how life goes, you go off to college with big dreams and then you learn how life is “supposed” to go:  get a job, get married, buy a house, have kids, save money for retirement, and fight to make ends meet in the meantime.  If you don’t do all of those things, you are missing out and you are not just crazy, but you are unwise.  So people, who professed a passion for dedicating their lives to the Lord and to the Kingdom work, slipped into normal life, preparing for retirement.

Then I came across this article, supported by a prevailing voice in my denomination, that was written as advice for women who feel called to the mission field.  The thesis of the article was this,

According to God’s Word, God’s highest calling for most women is being a wife and mom.

And these are the two verses the author used to support her claim:

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.”

– Gen 2.18

“…so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children,”

– Titus 2.4

The author continues her argument for single women thus:

“If you are called to singleness, you are still created to be a helper in a general sense to the body of Christ, but you are also able to maximize your giftedness in a unique, devoted way (1 Cor. 7:32-35).”

There are two giant, red flags that we need to point out, and fight against in this article.  First of all, God did not create women for men, He created women for Himself.  God taught in the beginning, and Jesus reinforced in the New Covenant that our first and primary command is to love and serve God.  God is always and will always be our number one.

“Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”

– Deut 6.4-5


– Matt 22.37

It is only through loving God that we can rightly and truly love our spouses.  Men and women’s call in life is always, firstly, to serve and love God.  In fact, Paul teaches us that it is better for men and  women to not marry so that they can most fully serve God.

Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that.  But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I.

– 1 Cor 7.7-8

Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy.  I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is.  Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife.  But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you…But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.  This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.”

– 1 Cor 7.26-29, 32-35

Scripture clearly teaches us that it is better to remain unmarried, because one who does not have a spouse and children can fully devote his and her time to the Lord.  Getting married is not a sin (I am married, and am extremely thankful for my husband), but it is a distraction and divides our time and energy.  Single women, if God is calling you to a life of singleness and to serving Him with all of your life, you have not missed the “primary call” of your life.  The Southern Baptists, who have the largest mission boards both internationally and nationally, send out women to men in the ration 2:1.  For every man on the field there are two women.  That means at least half of the women who are serving on the field are single.  And not only that, both the international and home missions boards were begun and are still recognized by their women founders:  Lottie Moon to China and Annie Armstrong who founded the Women’s Missionary Union.

If you are a wife, and you feel the calling to the field, then you need to discuss this openly and honestly with your husband.  Most missionary families who are on the field did not receive the calling at the same time.  Many couples will tell a testimony of one spouse hearing the call before the other.  But God is faithful, and if it is His intention for you to serve internationally, He will draw both units of the couple, and will open the door to service.  Most mission boards will not send a couple or family unless both husband and wife can articulate their personal calling to the field.  If one spouse (husband or wife) does not believe in the calling, the unit will fail.  And if wives go simply to raise the children, as soon as the children are raised, she will have no purpose and the unit will fail.  Women, you are not a wife to a missionary, you are a missionary.

The passage that this author applies to women’s calling as a helpmate alone, actually teaches the opposite:

Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good, so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.

– Titus 2.3-5

Women will disciple and teach women.  Men will disciple and teach men.  If we only mobilize men to be missionaries, and if women only support the ministry of the men on the field, then half of the population will be left un-ministered to.  Paul taught a similar logic to Timothy in regards to men:

“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”

– 2 Tim 2.2

This is what we call complimentarianism.  Men have a role in ministry, in marriages, and in life.  Women also have a role in ministry, in marriages and in life.  God teaches us that the men are the Spiritual heads of the household (Eph 5.23), and the financial provider (1 Tim 5.8).  But we also learn from Proverbs 31 and many other go-to passages that women, while they are mothers, are also praised for working, helping provide for their families, and being active in ministry.  As our culture continues to change, many families cannot survive on one income, and many women are offered high-paying jobs.  This is not a sinful thing, it is her being a praiseworthy wife, according to Prov 31.

Consider the Muslim world.  Men and women rarely socialize together in the Muslim world.  If male missionaries meet with men, reason with them, and lead them to faith over a long period of time, the day that man comes to faith, he will go home to a wife who has never heard the name of Jesus and the Gospel.  He is not prepared to reason with her, and often times, because of their culture, he will simply inform her that this is their new identity.  Shariah Law does offer her an escape, if he leaves the Muslim faith, but then she is left without a husband, still in her faith.  Either way, the picture is grim for her.  So most mission boards, to combat this tendency and problem on the field, are focusing on “household evangelism and discipleship”.  Many of the movements that have started throughout the book of Acts and the history of the Church began because an entire household came to faith.  And this requires the ministry of the husband and the wife in much of the Muslim world.

When people get married, their spouses and families automatically become priority number 2.  Husbands are Christians first, husbands second, and profession third.  Wives are Christians first, wives second, and profession third.  Thus we would appropriately apply 1 Cor 12:12-20 to husbands, wives, and everyone who would consider themselves a Christian.

The second red flag here is the implication that women cannot lead a ministry.  Just because God set up the familial structure that husbands are the head, does not mean that women cannot have a ministry of their own.  The point has been made clearly already that God intends for women to teach and disciple other women.  This will not be the ministry of  these women’s husbands.  This will be their ministry.  If an older woman teaches a younger woman how to love her husband and children, this is between them.  My mentor’s role in my life is not her husband’s ministry to me.  And if a woman is led to start an orphanage, a school, a house for women being rescued from the sex-trade, this can and rightly should be her ministry, if her husband is busy doing something else.

This is where we often get confused:  Scripture gives us guidelines for the qualifications of a pastor.  God has reserved the role of the pastor and elders of a church for men.  We see these clear qualifications outlined in the books of 1 Timothy and Titus.  Missionaries, however, are not pastors or elders.  And leading a ministry does not put one in the role of pastor or elder.  All mission boards appoint women as missionaries, but sometimes we forget that these qualifications – while solid and helping us evaluate the character of would-be missionaries – do not prevent women from service, because these women are not seeking to be pastors.  They are seeking to go share the Gospel with anyone who will listen.  Women can share the Gospel with men, and men can share the Gospel with women.  But long term discipleship will (and should) happen gender-specifically.

Single ladies, if you feel a calling to be a missionary, and if God has given you a peace about remaining single, you have not missed out on life.  Scripture teaches that you have a higher calling, and in reality, you are more like Jesus.  Jesus never married.  He devoted His entire life to the service of God.  Married ladies, if you feel a calling to ministry or missions, pray for your husband and that God will guide your family where He has you.  But you are not thwarted from serving God by your husband’s lack of faith or calling or whatever.  You cannot drag your husband halfway around the world to be a missionary if he is opposed – just like a husband should never try to drag his wife halfway around the world if she does not hear the calling.  You are a team.  You will and should minister together.  And God will place you where He desires you to serve.

Being a wife (and mother) is priority #2 for wives.  Being a husband (and father) is priority #2 for husbands.  Being a servant of the Lord is priority #1, it is the highest calling, for all Christians.  Ask the Lord what it is that He has for you to do, and for your family to do, in service to Him today and throughout your life.  And do not quench the Spirit’s calling on your life just because you are a wife and mother.

Is diversity the answer?


Turmoil has gripped our nation the last few years after controversial deaths, shootings, and imprisonments of African American men.  We have all watched this past week as Baltimore was brought to her knees by rioting in the wake of the injury and death of Freddie Gray while in police custody.  And we as Christians are left trying to understand how the Gospel answers the questions of race and racial reconciliation.

Racism is by no means a new or unique issue.  When God divided the world into a variety of cultures by language and ethnicity at the Tower of Babel, ethnocentrism immediately began to develop and rear its ugly head.  It is selfishness and pride on a cultural and/or national level.  It was a particularly difficult topic for the Jews prior to Jesus’ arrival on the Earth because they were (and are) the chosen people of God.  God called Abram out and promised to make of him a great nation that would be set aside for Him and His glory.  Outsiders were certainly welcome to come and be integrated into Jewish culture and and the Jewish faith, but God clearly chose the Hebrew people, He resided in a tabernacle and later a temple in their midst, and He purposed to make Himself known to them – and to them alone.  When Jesus came He radically altered the promise, offering salvation and sonship to people of every tribe, tongue and nation.

Peter, the apostle, was given a sign from God of a sheet coming down out of Heaven filled with all kinds of animals and birds and God commanded him to go kill and eat.  Peter, having kept the Law and not eating anything considered unclean, protested to God and informed Him that he had never eaten anything “unclean”.  But the heavenly voice responded,

“What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.”

This happened three times all at once.  Three times, a heavenly voice instructed Peter to kill and eat an animal and he protested.  Immediately after the vision was completed, three non-Jewish men came looking for Peter because an angel had met with a man named Cornelius and told him that salvation would come from the Gospel he heard from Peter.  Cornelius sent men to get Peter and gathered all of his friends and family to hear the good news.  Upon arrival at his house, Peter revealed to them that he had understood what God was trying to tell him:

“You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean.”

– Acts 10.28

The Jewish law and racism had grown so strong that it was actually illegal for Jews to associate with non-Jews.  But God, in the fulfillment of the sacrifice of Christ, removed social and ethnic barriers an invites people from all nations to salvation.  We learn later that we are all adopted as sons:

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.

– Gal 3.26-29

Through salvation, we are all made sons of God.  And Paul explains that we are Abraham’s descendants – we are of the promise that God made to Abraham when He first set aside the Jews, because Abraham was a child justified by his faith, and we are justified by faith as well.  The determining factor is faith.  Not race.  Not culture.  Not language.  It is important to note, however, that we are grafted in to the people of God:  the Jews.

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you.

– Rom 11.17-18

Jesus was a Jew who lived a Jewish life and fulfilled the Jewish Law.  The Jews are the chosen people of God, and Paul tells us that God is not neglecting the Jews, He is simply extending the offer to us, to be added to the people of God (Rom 11.1-2).  This is why Paul can and does say,

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.  For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “but the righteous man shall live by faith.”

– Rom 1.16-17

Salvation came to the Jews first, and it comes from the Jews.  Jesus Himself said,

“You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.”

– John 4.22

So all of us, whatever color, whatever language, if we are not Jews then we are Gentiles.  But salvation through Jesus, sonship through salvation unites us in Christ and by faith.

But even Peter, the very first one to be taught by God that He intended to save people from every nation, struggled with racism.  There was a sect of Jews who were trying to force new believing Gentiles to follow the Law of the Old Covenant, namely by being circumcised.  Peter was in Antioch at the time, ministering to Gentiles, but when Jews came from Jerusalem, he suddenly quit eating with them and held himself apart.  Paul called him out, and the Gospel’s truth was maintained (Gal 2.11-14).

God is offering salvation to people from every tribe, tongue and nation.  And every single people group will be represented in eternity.

And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.

– Rev 5.9

“This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.”

– Matt 24.14

So we see clearly that the Gospel breaks down barriers and unifies us by faith.  What exactly, then, does racial reconciliation look like?  Wherever you go in the world you will find racism.  States joke about each other:  Indiana jokes on Kentucky and Kentucky jokes on West Virginia.  But true hatred and racism is deeply rooted in cultures worldwide.  I one time talked with a girl who was a Christian in a predominantly Muslim country.  The Christians there are extremely persecuted:  their churches are burned down, they are unable to get jobs, continually persecuted at school and often killed.  This is a level of racism and hatred that we know little about in America.  And when I was talking to her about sharing the Gospel with Muslims – people from another tribe, she was not interested.  I said to her, “don’t you know that they will die and go to Hell?” and she responded without hesitation, “Yes, and they deserve it”.   The hatred is deep rooted and goes both ways.  And these people have the same color skin, the only difference is their language and religion.

So how do we define race?  Mission organizations define a people group as a group of people that shares a unique language and culture.  They draw this from the prophecies that state that every tribe, tongue and nation will be represented.  Many countries around the world have political borders that draw in multiple languages and cultures.  Here in the United States we are known as the melting pot.  We are loosely defined as an English-speaking nation, but we all know that there are thousands of languages spoken within our borders, and even though we call ourselves a melting pot of cultures, we know that it is extremely common for our neighbors to have unrecognizable cultures and traditions.  So even though we live in a subdivision that would appear codified from the outside, it can host people who do not know how to interact with one another socially and culturally.  We are indeed in a unique situation historically.

Modern mission began roughly 150 years ago, and they took the form of “colonial missions”.  The English (and others) thought that making disciples meant replicating themselves in every way.  They would arrive in a foreign country, build a compound – which housed hospitals, schools, and western-style homes, and then they would preach Jesus.  Once people became Christians they were welcomed on the compound.  The churches had white steeples, hymnals were brought and people were forced to wear a coat and tie.  This led to many churches in Asia, where people take their shoes off to enter every building as a sign of respect, people wearing shoes in church.  People began to think that you have to wear a tie to pray to God.  You had to build a western-style church to be acceptable to Him.  Mission organizations have learned (the hard way) that God does not intend to unify the world in structure and culture.  God intends to redeem cultures.  In Asia, if you take your shoes off to respect someone’s house or shop, it is natural to respect God by taking off your shoes when you enter Church.  In Africa, if you dance in celebration of a victory or accomplishment, then you dance to praise God.  The New Testament offers no instruction of liturgy and format for a church service, other than that our gathering would include singing, praying and teaching.  This can and should be adapted to every culture.

What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification.

– 1 Cor 14.26

Thus the modern mission movement encompasses ethnomusicologists who help new nations write praise music and hymns in their own language and musical traditions.  Wycliffe Bible Translators is seeking to translate the Bible into every spoken language around the world, so that people can read and know God in their heart language.  Anthropologists are studying cultures and discipling new believers to help delineate what is morally and ethically neutral in a culture and what is a characteristic of another religion, helping people uphold their cultural norms and traditions while glorifying God through those expressions of uniqueness.  Missionaries target people groups.  Churches, by in large, are planted within a singular people group, so that people can redeem their culture for God, and glorify Him in the way they have been created.

But yet, here in the United States, we are trying to force everyone into one mold.  Diversity is the battle cry.  We want our congregations to represent what eternity will look like, and if we do not have the same percentages of every nationality represented in our 10 mile radius, we consider ourselves to have failed.

Why do we have this double standard?  Here in Denver, I pass a Korean church, a Vietnamese church and an Hispanic church all on my way to work.  I know of Indonesian churches, Russian churches, and African American churches all within my ten mile radius.  And those are just the ones that I know of!

Does racial reconciliation within the Church require that we suddenly have the same culture and worship in the same manner?  That all of these cultures are forced to unite?  Or does it mean that we love and respect one another’s cultures and our differences?  I have been part of some worship services that do not lead me to worship God because they only create in me confusion.  I do not know what is going on, the chosen form of worship is distracting to me, and the time frame is beyond my attention span.  Korean Christians and churches by-in-large have developed an unmatched commitment and dedication to prayer.  I, personally, do better extended music services.  Cultures have preferences, convictions, strengths and weaknesses.  And while we all can and should learn from one another, we do not have to morph into one common culture in order to fulfill the Great Commission.  We should celebrate our differences, value one another and partner together when necessary and appropriate to take care of the widows and orphans and care for the poor.

In the United States, we do have cultural and language differences for new immigrants, but as second generations are raised, we are seeing that cultural variations are less by language and color and more socio-economic.  There are gangs of all colors and there are the extremely rich of all colors.  I believe that as we continue to become more and more diverse, and as cultures continue to intermingle through the raising of new generations, that churches will naturally begin to show this variety in color, but my argument is simply this: it is good and right if people choose to worship God in their heart language and culture, making much of God in the way that is closest to their own hearts and traditions.

Scripture clearly teaches us,

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

– Matt 22.39


“Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress,and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

– James 1.27


“They only asked us to remember the poor—the very thing I also was eager to do.”

– Gal 2.10

The application is simple:  ethnocentricity and prejudice is sinful.  To treat someone with greater or lessor honor because of their skin color, culture or language is wrong.  We are to love justice and stand up for the oppressed because God loves justice.  We are to love our neighbor as ourselves, no matter their race, culture or disposition.  We are to care for the widows and the orphans and we are to serve the poor.  And while this is all true, we do not have to make ourselves something that we are not.  We do not have to incorporate every form of worship in every worship service in order to accommodate every culture that may or may not be represented in our district.  So let us check our hearts.  Are we harboring bitterness or prejudice against our brother of a different culture, language, or color?  Or are we encouraging and enabling him to love, serve and worship God in his own, unique way?  Everyone should feel welcome and free to join our congregations.  We should make an effort to share the Truth with and make disciples of everyone we encounter.  But if people of different cultures choose to worship God with people of the same culture, this is a good an beautiful thing before the Lord.  We are one body that glorifies and serves God fully through our differences.

“Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands—remember that you were at that time separate from Christ,excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.  For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.  AND HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE TO YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY, AND PEACE TO THOSE WHO WERE NEAR; for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father.  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.”

Eph 2.11-22