In 2005 my good friend Afshin Ziafat (http://www.afshinziafat.com) had taken a trip with e3partners.org to the Middle East. During a phone conversation with him several weeks later, he drew me in, as only Afshin can, with humorous and inspiring stories from his experiences in the Middle East. He then paused and said, “Scott, you should check into e3. I think that you were made to do something like this. You should go with Mike Congrove. You’d love this guy.” So after some prayer and contemplation, I signed up to go to Ethiopia the first e3 adventure that Mike Congrove led as a Church Planter. Little did I know how God was going to use this trip to call me into the life of an international church planter. Little did I know how God would lead Mike to travel on from our Ethiopian campaign to the Sudan on an exploratory trip that would prepare him to become one of the finest Country Strategy Leaders (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wBUdvYLzYkQ) and mission pioneers that e3 has ever employed.
Well, I guess that Mike thought, ‘Hey Scott’s a pastor. I’ll just throw him out there in Africa several miles from our team’s home base (in Ethiopia) with two Ethiopians he’s only known for 1 day. It’s all good. He’ll be fine.’ So in August 2006 (I think it was August) I found myself being dropped off from our vehicle in the middle of no-man’s-land Ehtiopia with Worku and Eberra. The driver told us, “The village you’ll be going to is only a 3 mile walk from here”… except… I didn’t understand a word he said. I had to rely on Worku’s interpretation from Amharic to English. I thought to myself, ‘Scott you’re in over your head here’. But hey, I’ve never been one to back down from an adventurous challenge.
So there I was, a stranger in a strange, yet beautiful land nervously excited to share the life changing dangerous message of Jesus. As we walked up the road passing these beautiful people, I couldn’t help but notice that each and every one of the people I passed couldn’t stop staring at me and my Scottish tan. Their obvious non-verbal gestures seemed to communicate that I was quite possibly the first white man these folks had ever seen in their neck of the woods.
Had Afshin predicted the future? Was he delving into the prophetic? I joke. Yet, after just two days of sharing the Gospel with these people, who were thirsty for life, I knew that I’d entered my element… my sweet spot… my God ordained purpose if you will. But it was during the third day of mission work there that God crystalized everything for me. On that day Worku, Eberra and I met 10 or 12 some were closer to 21 years of age and some younger with the youngest being a 14 year old boy. I call it my “boys to men” experience.
As I shared how Jesus came to earth to die for us, to resurrect and ultimately to save us, they all seemed interested at first… all except for a couple of the older guys, who seemed half drunk. They were mocking us. As I clumsily expressed the notion to them that each of them could repent and call on the name of Jesus to save them, even at that very moment, I could feel the tension. I could sense the invisible spiritual battles raging within them.
I’d like to say that they all or at least most of them came to know our Savior that day. But instead, as I spoke and Worku interpreted, one by one they turned and acquiesced to the pressure of the two older guys and the growing majority. In the end, they all turned away except for three of them. Two of these three boys shouted back toward their retreating friends saying, “Come back! We all need this. You know we need God.” I asked these three young men if they were ready to follow Jesus inviting them to believe on Him and to give their lives to Him. The two older ones, probably 17 to 19 years old, were ready. They bowed on their knees seeking God’s grace and willing to call on Jesus to save them. I didn’t ask them to do this. But their unsolicited posture expressed their sincere humility before God.
However, the fourteen year old hesitated. His name was Shirtu. I asked Shirtu if something prevented him from inviting Jesus to be his Lord and Savior. He said, “Yes. I have to ask my mother’s permission first.” Well, I hope that this doesn’t surprise you, but I really despise preachers who pressure others into some confession or profession before the people hearing are ready. In other words, I wanted to respect Shirtu’s willingness to submit under his mother’s authority. Nothing good comes out of false professions performed under spiritual bullying. But at that very moment it was as if God came down, took over my brain and tongue and said, “Shirtu, I’ll respect whatever you desire. But do you think that God wants to change you and to give you life through Jesus today so that you might offer the same gift from God to your mom tomorrow?” He nodded and said, “Yes.” Then he got on his knees with the other two older boys. They confessed and professed their love for and belief in Jesus right then and there.
The next day we made our way to an area of the village we hadn’t been to before and we unknowingly knocked on the gate of Shirtu’s yard. They have gates there connected to shrubbery surrounding their yards like a fence. Lo and behold Shirtu came to the gate. He smiled ear to ear with excitement and then ran to tell his mom that we were at the gate!
He’d already spoken with his mother about Jesus and the life change that he was now experiencing. During our conversation, Worku, Eberra and I only reiterated what Shirtu had shared with his mom. God revealed his sovereignty during our visit with her. We discovered that Shirtu’s mom was a widow with seven kids. Her deceased husband was the “right hand man” to the local witch doctor whom she was still following. Not only that, but she’d made her living brewing and selling an indigenous brand of moonshine that had lured many of the local villagers into addiction.
To make a long story short, she decided to give her life to Christ that day! Through God’s direction she quit her business and forsook everything to follow Him. She opened her hut to house the church that we started in that village. That was in August of 2006. Before losing contact with Worku sometime in the Autumn of 2008, Worku would email me from time to time to tell me how God continued to work through Shirtu’s family and grow that little house church in the middle of nowhere, Ethiopia.
Would you take a moment and pray for Shirtu’s family, the little house church, Worku and Eberra (who became the shepherd over Shirtu’s house church)?
Right Answer, but the Wrong Attitude
I’m sure that most of us have witnessed the war of words between the “pro-gay rights” folks and the “christians” stirred up by what I call “the Chick-fil-A Contraversy”. I left the label “christians” with a lower case “c” simply because many of our Christian brothers and sisters seem to be lowering themselves in this discussion turned debate turned shouting match.
Here’s a quick overview of the controversy in case you’ve been living in a cave: During an interview Dan Cathy (owner of Chick-fil-A) simply stated his belief in the traditional biblical view of marriage. That brought out many verbal protests by “pro gay rights” folks and then many wonderful “christian” people protested the protesters. That’s what Jesus would do, right? Just in case you didn’t catch the sarcasm, much of the “christian” reaction smacks of self-righteousness, condemnation and lack of love. Whether some form of self-righteousness lays in the subconscious motivation of the majority of “Christians” intentions or not, can’t really be proven. No man can judge another man’s inner thoughts (1 Corinthians 2:11). But at the very least, many people living outside of evangelical social circles perceive Christians this way. Who can blame them with the venom being spewed from several “christian” acrosse various forms of media. To those on the outside, it just looks like we Christians just want to prove that we’re right.
Christians (I, as in me too) Sin Also
Ok. Ok. We Evangelicals make mistakes too (including myself to the Nth degree). I’m going to be honest with you. It isn’t always easy for me to hold myself back. Watching “pro gay rights” advocates ignore rational discussion concerning the constitutional right of Americans to hold different beliefs concerning gay marriage can be very… very frustrating.
Sometimes I want to jump out of my chair at the TV, when “experts” claim that scientific genetic study proves that homosexuals are born this way. There are theories that lean that way, but they are simply theories, they fall significantly short of proof. On the other side, some scientific studies/theories suggest such genetic fatalism hypothesizes are improbable. The following link gives us one such example found in a journal. An interesting twist is that this quasi-academic piece was published by an anti-capitalistic, pro-gay rights and pro-abortion rights organization called the International Socialist Organization: http://www.isreview.org/issues/40/genes2.shtml This is a healthy portion of food for thought for those who read this article and have concluded that in fact homosexuality is genetically predetermined.
Many “pro gay rights” folks label us as hate mongers because we interpret God’s word as identifying homosexuality to be a sin. When I consider some “slow-to-think-quick-to-anger” Christians, I sympathize with those holding a more liberal bent toward the subject. However, according to the Bible sin (one sin and/or all sin) is an offense that leads to death (Romans 6:23). Euphemistically speaking sin is unhealthy. Not only that, but scripture clearly conveys the notion that all people, Christian and non-christian alike, struggle with sin (Romans 3:23). This means that all Christians have struggled or presently do struggle with at least one or more of the following: selfishness, pride, lust, greed, gluttony, gossip, idolatry, covetousness, fornication, pornography, lying, drunkenness and yes, even homosexuality. So a Christian, who genuinely seeks to be like Jesus (striving for sanctification), does not like sin, but actually truly loves the sinners. Or else, we’d have to hate ourselves.
If we’re honest, we all need salvation from behaviors carrying heavy emotional, physical and spiritual consequences. The consequences of sin are devastating because they adversely affect God’s beautiful creation. They steal faith, kill hope and destroy life of humanity. However, Jesus didn’t take on flesh and descend upon the earth to tell us: “You humans have ruined everything and there’s no hope”.
Our Goal Should Never Be to Make the Earth a Better Place for People to Go to Hell From
Qualifier: Ok. I realize the grammatical error and a flare for the dramatic in the sub-title. But it’s meant to leave a lasting impression. It’s really a modified quote from the late great Pastor Adrian Rodgers.
Can we Christians get it into our heads that folks without the guidance of the Holy Spirit are going to act like, well… people without the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Heck, it’s hard enough to live a godly life even with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Are those, who don’t know Jesus, supposed to act righteously before knowing the Righteous One? Is that our goal? Is it our mission, as Christians, to persuade or prod people to behave correctly?
Jesus didn’t come to point out our sins so that we can pull humanity from our moral-bootstraps. He came to save ALL of us from ourselves because we can’t save ourselves and loves us (John 3:16-17). So Christ Followers, “We are just beggars trying to lead other beggars to the bread of life”-Charles Spurgeon. It should never be our purpose nor is it within our tainted powers to make the world a more moral place.
The Love and Kindness of the Lord Leads to Repentance
I’m not saying that we need to hide the truth. And I’m not saying that Dan Cathy was wrong by expressing his biblically based belief. Cathy answered a simple question concerning his view on marriage in an interview without condemning anyone.
Here’s the most important question: How are proponents of homosexuality or those who don’t believe in the Gospel going to believe? Love is the answer. The same love that drove Jesus to the cross can drive enemies of the truth to Him. Sure, if someone asks you what God’s word says about homosexuality, tell him or her the truth. But try to let people know how much you really do love them and how much God loves them, even more. Focus on God’s love and kindness rather than the sin (Romans 2:3-5). This doesn’t mean that you have to totally ignore the truth about sin. I’m only pleading that we, as Christians, strive as much as we can to develop meaningful, loving and Christ-like relationships with people that hold opposite moral beliefs from us, that we might win some. We are His ambassadors, living breathing vessels of His Gospel of Love and Redemption.
For a more truthful, grace-filled and less clumsy perspective on the Chic-fil-A controversy, check out Perry Noble’s perspective: http://www.perrynoble.com/2012/08/01/ben-jerrys-chic-fil-a-political-correctness
What is the most important thing to you? Your car? Your job? Your next vacation? That your team wins the championship this season? I have traveled to Europe, South America, Central America, Asia and Africa. And I have asked this question to folks I encounter along the way:
What is the most important thing to you?
99.9% of people answer: Their family (i.e. relationships)
Why is this the answer? And why does it seem to be so universal? I believe that we can find the reason in a sort of thumb print that’s been stamped in and on each one of us. Some call it the image of God and some call it the conscience. Whatever we label it, it does indeed appear to be a common trait shared by all people no matter race, language or culture.
So why is this characteristic found in all of humanity? In order to cut to the chase, I believe that its reflection of God’s heart… something He placed inside of us so that we would crave the most important thing in the universe, to love and be loved… to be in relationship with one another. This is why solitary confinement is the worst of all punishments for those subjected to it in prison.
And if relationships are the most important thing in all of the galaxies, then what is the most important, most valuable, most life giving, most purposeful relationship?
That would be a relationship with the living God of the universe!
Of course I believe in what I’ve been doing these past three years with e3 (that is church planting in India if you didn’t know yet): sharing the love of Jesus with those who’d never even heard of Him, gathering those new believers together to plant fresh new churches where they can grow and finding persons of peace in the villages (Luke 10:4-8) to lead these new gatherings. Its biblical. Its excellent strategy. But does it work?
The answer is of course, yes! At least I always know that in my head where I’ve been trained heavily in theology and bible. But sometimes you have to experience the reality before it goes from your head to your heart. And that’s why foreign mission trips are an excellent way for God to get those “do right biblical ideas” into your heart. They provide excellent environments to not only get away from our tvs, air conditioned cages and instant meal machines, but also opportunities for us to be dependent on God in ways that seem difficult to depend on Him here in the west. When you’re out in the field talking to strangers, who might not only reject your message, but actually gather a lynch mob to beat you, you tend to get real close to God. And those ideas we’ve been taught about in the pulpits become actions in real life. Thoughts about God in our minds become connections to Jesus in our hearts.
In August of 2011, we returned near the district from the trip before. Blessed to visit some of the past churches we planted and persons of peace God sent us during our last expedition in January, we reunited with “Das” the new (person of peace) leader of a small church in this small remote village near the train tracks. So we anointed “Das” with oil, prayed over his family and worshiped with this small, but fresh six month old church.
We also worshiped with an existing church that helped us to plant other churches in their area. In January we prayed for the husband of a young woman who’d come to Christ and whom we had the honor to baptize. Her husband’s name was Srynu (Sree-noo). He WAS an alcoholic. Syrnu was there when we showed up at the small little church a few miles away from Das’ church. Something phenomonel had occurred. He gave his life to Jesus three months before we showed up. His wife’s life must have been contagious. So at the end of our campaign he wanted us to baptize him! So along with seeing over 100 people make professions of faith in Christ and planting 4 churches that August, we saw the fruit of our past labor. Indians in Andhrapradesh are coming to Christ, churches are being planted, leaders are being developed and life change is truly happening! It really Works!
There we were on a train. By the way, its very rare for westerners to ride trains. They aren’t exactly, well… luxurious. But time to relax it was. We’d seen 250 people make professions of faith and we planted 5 churches. Our hard work? Finished. So we shared a few laughs and joked around, not really paying the Indians all around us much attention. We were tired of doing ministry. At least, I was (can’t believe I’m admitting this). Yet, across the aisle from us a young woman smiled and seemed to join in on our jolly mood. We soon found out that she, Sai, spoke english very well. So we invited her to sit with us. “Do I know you? On facebook or something?” she asked Jason, one of our team mates from Texas. Of course Jason didn’t know her.
Through our conversation we find out that she’s from the Brahmin caste. The highest caste in Hindu culture. If you know anything about the caste system in India, you’ll know Hindu priests come from Brahmins and they’re the most resistant to the message of Jesus. Why would they choose to give up everything and follow Him? Everyone holds Brahmins in the highest regard for their dedication to the Hindu gods. They look to the Brahmins for spiritual guidance.
We felt prompted to share the gospel with her none-the-less. While sharing the good news, I used the evangecube, a tool that presents the gospel in picture form. When I turned the cube to the picture of Jesus, she gasped. “I’ve seen a vision of Him before. I was only eleven. But when I saw that exact face, He came to me and said, ‘This bread is for you’. Everything is about to change for me,” she said. You should’ve seen our expressions. We were in awe.
She continued on, “You see. We’ve been on this train for ten hours already. Two hours before you boarded and I had a dream. In my dream Americans, who look like you, came on this train and sat right next to me. They, well… you told me ‘we have news that will change your life forever’. So when I saw you all enter our coach, I almost couldn’t believe it! I’d shared the dream with my mother and it shocked her to see you here as well. And now you’re sharing the news!”
She and her mother decided to give their lives to Christ that day. I’ll never forget that day and neither will our new sisters in Christ. It is a reminder that we’re not taking Jesus to India. Jesus was already there seeking those who would call on his name. The one true God is in India!
From January 2011
Ahhh… Spring has arrived. The dead is gone and a new breath of life has come. Beautiful flowers… The buzzing of bees… The birds instinctually play the nature dance in the air and light breezes caress your skin with its moderate pleasures. Ahhh… Spring.
Oh and don’t forget the migraines and the dizzying episode of sneezing 52 times in row. The aching sinuses. And the feeling that your whole body is going to explode because of the onslaught of that deadly yellow dust they call pollen. Arrghh… Spring has arrived.
Really its a mixed bag for me. But I actually cherish the beauty that blossoms for two weeks. It trumps my allergies by leaps and bounds. This is going to sound out of place, but it reminds of Autumn. Why? Because I actually suffer no allergic side effects during the Fall. I can enjoy the two week collage of oranges, yellows and reds without consequence .
But I have a question for God. Why only two weeks? These seasonal artistic strokes painted by our Savior and Creator usually only last for two weeks. That’s four weeks out of 52. Then its back to what seems to be a more monotonous tone of same colors… Greens in the Summer and brown and grays in the winter. Yeah, I know there’s beauty to be found even in the hum drum. But give me the bright and the extravagant.
I feel the same way about life. I cringe at the idea of working a clock-in-job at a warehouse (which is where I work at my part time job) or an office cubical (where many of you work 8-5). Give me the adventurous, the exciting and the rare (that’s why my primary job is taking teams to India).
But there’s something to be learned in comparing those inspirational seasons of brilliance to the more frequent and common seasons of “same-ole-same-ole”. I’m sure we’ve all experienced both. But why does that incredible football game, incredible opera performance or date with our dreamgirl/dreamguy only last four hours, then we have to drudge through a week of the mundane?
If you’re thinking “its our perspective that determines how often we observe great things”, then you are indeed correct. We have the divinely given ability to find the good even in the darkest times if we choose to seek it. But I wanted to take it a different route.
Maybe the 4 weeks of the year that visually take our breaths away is something that God is whispering to us. Maybe this is what He’s saying, “Look at extravagance I want to bestow upon my creation! This wondrous Spring is only glimpse of what I have in store for you. But this earth is not your permanent home. It is broken. Your home is ultimately with Me, ‘The Great I AM’ ”
Read the scripture below…
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” And he who sat upon the throne said, “Behold I make all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the fountain of the water of life without payment. He who conquers shall have this heritage, and I will be his God and he shall be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, as for murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur, which is the second death.”
Holy smokes! These are some very serious verses concerning the favor of God and His wrath. You’ve probably heard a couple of pastor’s or very uncouth Christians talking about how folks who don’t have God will fry like a sausage. And for the most part I believe that the church has moved away from the turn or burn mentality. But do these scriptures support such a philosophy.
Or some people take these verses to mean that all folks will be made new (they mean to include Atheists, Buddhists, pagans, etc…) So from their interpretation, taking Christ as their savior is not necessary because God “will make all things new”.
I know what I’ve learned and experienced. But what are your thoughts on this?
Or how about this, what has God made new in your life?
I will type a few of my own thoughts, if I can get some folks to respond.
Oh yeah, I haven’t added to this blog in over a year. I guess that you could say that this is practically a new blog. Or just view it as something that was old, obsolete and non-engaging to something that now breaths life, humor, passion and love again. God makes all things new. Including this blog. Glad to be blogging again. I’m going to try to post a thought or two every day.