Monday, April 15, 2019

This is Better Than Disney World

I took each of my seven children with me to Africa, at least once. I took one to Ghana, five to Kenya, and one to South Africa. This process began in 2002 and my youngest traveled with me (and my wife!) to Africa in 2015. I have been able to take my two oldest sons, both married, with me to Moldova. And almost all of my family has been with me to Colombia, South America. The first time Cindy was able to accompany me to Colombia was January 2011. We had the privilege for 10 days of taking most of our family to serve with Jorge and Karen in Bocachica, an island off the coast of Cartagena. Cindy said as we left for the airport that morning, “This is the first time in 25 years I haven’t had to say goodbye to you as you left the country.” The team of 20 from Antioch Community Church consisted of three sets of parents and at least two children from each family, as well as a father and his daughter, another father, and several young single adults. Each of the parents on the trip agreed: there is nothing like serving the Lord with your family in a cross-cultural context. One father said, “It’s better than a trip to Disney World.”

I can think of at least four reasons why a family mission trip is better than a trip to an amusement park. First, we go to serve, not to be served. I love Disney World, don’t get me wrong. But when I go there, I expect to be catered to and entertained. I am spending a small fortune, after all, so I expect to have a full day, or three, of nonstop pleasure. When I go to the mission field, I expect to sweat in the hot sun pouring concrete or digging latrines. I expect to have to take bucket showers. I expect to flush toilets with salt water. I expect to speak through a translator in church services and encounter language barriers with my very limited understanding of Spanish or Swahili or Romanian or Russian, and to overcome those barriers with smiles and hugs. I expect to serve.

Second, there is no better place to have your heart for the world expanded than the mission field in another culture. My children have all come back from mission trips with a world vision, not just a Burlington vision. Jesus said to his disciples in Samaria, “Lift up your eyes and see the fields, for they are already white for harvest.” A mission trip lifts the gaze.

Third, there is nothing like a trip to another culture to make you appreciate the blessing of your own. “I am ashamed of how much I take for granted” is a typical comment we hear from those who travel to another place where people typically exist on one or two dollars per day. Seeing that motivates you to live more simply and give more freely.

Fourth, serving on the mission field as a family increases our vision for serving God here as a family. Most of the teams that travel to the mission field from America’s churches are comprised of young people and one or two adult leaders. I know, because I see them in the airports with their colorful T-shirts that proclaim where they are going and why. Jorge said to me in 2011, “It is so helpful for our mission and the people we serve to see whole families coming here,” he said. “They watch your marriages and how you interact and work together as a family, and they are blessed by that.”

Oh, not half as much as we are blessed by it, Jorge. My family is involved in church and mission here in the United States in a way that has been informed and broadened by our exposure to church and mission in other cultures. I cannot begin to put a price tag on that blessing.

Here’s my challenge. Take that money you would have spent on yourselves at Disney or in the Bahamas, or on a cruise, and invest in the kingdom of God. Go on a family mission trip. It will change your life. It will change your family. It will be used by God to change others.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Lay Hold of God’s Willingness in Prayer

Do you make arguments in prayer? Not arguments based on strife or selfishness, but humble appeals built on sound, biblical reasoning? As I read Psalm 143, that’s something I learn from David. He did not just make his requests known in prayer, he also put arguments behind them. He appealed first to the righteousness of God, and really, that’s all we can ever appeal to. We make God laugh if we pray on the basis of our own goodness or because, well, “I really deserve this, Lord!” Imagine the thief on the cross who said, “Lord, remember me when you come into Your kingdom” instead saying, “Hey, Jesus! I am not as bad as that other guy on the cross over there. So, help me out here, OK?” Or remember the tax collector who was so broken he couldn’t even lift his eyes to heaven but prayed, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus told this parable to show that the prayer of a self-righteous man didn’t even make it past the ceiling, but the God-exalting prayer of the humble publican sent floods of God’s mercy upon him and sent him home justified. The thief and publican did what we must do: flee from God’s justice by fleeing to His righteousness.

Second, David tells God about how bad things are. There is nothing spiritual about denial. There is nothing appealing to God about our pretending with him or anyone else that everything is “fine” when in fact we are almost overwhelmed. Overwhelmed with sickness or busyness. Conflict or financial nightmares. Marriage fights or addictions. There are three choices when we get here. We can take the stiff-upper-lip approach and tell no one. We shrivel up. We can take the whiner approach and tell everyone, twice. We throw up. Or we can take the biblical approach and tell God first and often. We grow up.

Finally, David appeals to God by reminding him of their relationship and God’s promises. I remember the story about the man who was in a big hurry to get his wife and his baby into the car, and as they pulled onto the interstate and got up to speed, he and his wife heard an awful scraping noise on the hood and then in horror, they saw the baby carrier, with their child strapped in, come sliding down the back windshield and hit the pavement on the interstate. An 18-wheeler was behind them, but he saw the whole event happening in enough time to slam on his brakes and come to a stop just before his tires would have crushed the baby. The baby was perfectly fine. The father and mother? You can imagine. They may still be in counseling.
Now, if we could rewind to the moment the father laid his baby on the roof, and the baby could make an argument at that time, here’s what he might have said: “Dad, I am absolutely helpless here. You are my only hope right now. If you forget to put me in the car and I die on the highway in a few minutes, what will that say about you and your character and your commitment to do whatever it takes to protect your son? Dad, I need you to help me. Will you protect me?” What father, hearing that from his son, would turn a deaf ear? How much less will God do that when his children cry out to him?

Make humble arguments in prayer. As Luther said, “Prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance but laying hold of His willingness.”

Monday, April 1, 2019

The Church Ignores This at Its Peril

What if a church leader is guilty of persistent sin? He should be “rebuked in the presence of all.” The Bible is as clear on this point as the church is confused on it. Sin happens in every church, large or small. The question is not whether it happens, but how the church should respond when it does, especially when persistent sin is found in the life of a leader. How many times have you heard about a church where the pastor, youth pastor, worship leader, or one of the elders has been discovered in an ongoing pattern of adultery or another sin that disqualifies him from leadership, and he has simply been quietly dismissed? Or worse, he has been given a stern “talking-to” by the other leaders in private; meanwhile, he remains in his position with no public rebuke, no discipline whatsoever. Whatever sin a church ignores, especially in its leaders, it welcomes into the body. A large church in California chose not to discipline sexual sin with a pastor and his secretary, but rather kept it quiet. The next year, seventeen marriages of senior leadership people in the church ended. Why is public discipline necessary? Paul says it clearly in 1 Timothy: “that the rest also may fear.”

I remember being fascinated by a guy in the 7th grade named Steve. Even at thirteen, he was a wild child, living on the edge. We were walking down the hall one day, when Steve suddenly stopped, pointed to the ceiling tiles and said, “It would be so easy to put a bomb up there, under one of those tiles.” I looked at him with surprise, thinking he was just kidding around. I laughed, nervously, unsure what to say, but Steve was lost in his thoughts. Just days later, during a whole-school assembly, the principal called Steve down front. He then told the student body that Steve was trouble and warned us to avoid him. Apparently Steve’s bomb talk had been voiced to other students and had made its way back to the principal’s office. I don’t know why the principal handled the situation with public censure, and I am not suggesting it was the right way. Today he would probably be fired. The end result, for me at least, was mortal fear. I stayed away from Steve from then on, and was very careful about my behavior for the rest of the year. The last thing I wanted was to be called to the front of the gym during an assembly.

That is the point of the instructions Paul gives to the New Testament church. If discipline of a sinning church leader is done properly, the result will be a healthy and glorifying fear of God. Why, then, has the church lost its courage to discipline her leaders? Al Mohler writes, “The decline of church discipline is perhaps the most visible failure of the contemporary church. No longer concerned with maintaining purity of confession or lifestyle, the contemporary church sees itself as a voluntary association of autonomous members, with minimal moral accountability to God, much less to each other.”

What can result when churches lose their courage? John Leadley Dagg wrote in the 1850’s, “It has been remarked that when discipline leaves a church, Christ goes with it.”

What if the church does have courage and the sinning leader repents? Then restoration is made possible, at least to the fellowship as a member, if not as a leader.

A healthy church has courage to exercise church discipline, especially with its leadership. We ignore this at our own peril.