Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Fresh Labor and Fresh Vision (January 2015 Newsletter)

Don't you have a saying, 'It's still four months until harvest'? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. – John 4:35

Jesus told His disciples to look at the harvest, to open their eyes and look with new eyes and understanding that the time was short and that harvest time was now. Our vision and our focus determine everything that we do. How we see the world around us and what God has commanded us to do determine our obedience and our motivation.

When Jesus looked at the harvest he was moved with compassion and urgency. When Jesus saw a hungry crowd He took responsibility for their needs. He challenged His disciples, “You give them something to eat.” It was an impossible task in their eyes. They had no resources, no plan, and no strategy to provide for the hungry masses. Jesus challenged their thinking, teaching them to consider not only the need in front of them, but the power of God that was present in their relationship with Him. Jesus gave instructions to organize the crowd, imposing structure on the chaos, before placing the miracle of multiplying bread in the disciples’ hands. As they obeyed, they saw a miracle unfold before them.

Ministry requires that we see both the need of the world and God’s power to meet the need. We must see the ripeness of the harvest and the power of the Holy Spirit to reap the souls of men. We must hear the voice of the Master and obey, trusting that He will both direct our work and put a miracle in our hands that will be more than enough for the massive need that surrounds us.
I am filled with anticipation as I seek the Lord in prayer and fasting this January. I see the same harvest, I’ve seen before. I see the hopelessness and helplessness of those around me. They are captives to sin, depression, and both spiritual and physical poverty. They are spiritually alone. My heart is moved with compassion. I can remember the hopelessness of being lost and without Christ, but though I am moved with empathy I do not live in their hopelessness. I live in the hope of a kind and loving God who is powerful and mighty to save and rescue. I hear His voice encouraging and strengthening His body and giving us both directions and power to reach the lost of this world.

I am thrilled for new partnerships, new outreaches, and the new miracles we will see this year. Even today I am working on resources and organization that will help us map and carry out evangelistic outreaches to every home on every street of Hamtramck this year. In the next few months mission teams will be coming to Hamtramck to labor in our harvest, and I will get to invest in the body of Christ in Uganda. Old partnerships will mature as we discover the gifts in one another and find greater unity. New partnerships are already forming as God spreads a single vision among His body. I know that God will fill our hands with bread that multiplies to every home. The best is yet to come!

Read the rest of the Newsletter here.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

My 2015 Bible Reading Plan

Happy New Year!

Last year I went through the most intense Bible reading plan I've ever attempted (short of the 26 day whole Bible rush I did in college). You can check out the plan here. Basically I read through the whole Bible once and the Gospels and Acts 30 times. How did it go? Fairly well. I did read the Gospels and Acts over thirty times with the help of audio Bibles, and I did read the whole Bible with the exception of being fairly spotty in Psalms and Proverbs (odd I know, but I kept bouncing back and forth to those two while reading other books, which meant I didn't keep enough discipline to get all the way through them).

It was a profoundly challenging experience. The Gospels and Acts are demanding, and I honestly miss the encouragement of the epistles, which I usually read more than any other portion of the Bible.

So what's up this year?

I'm going to scale things back a bit, by keeping track of my reading on a simple checklist and doing ten chapters per day. I will read the whole Bible at least once, but other than that broad goal I will be free to read what I want, when I want with one exception. I will be reading the Gospel of John at least once a month. How does that break down?

  • Read ten chapters per day
  • Read the whole Bible at least once
  • Read the Gospel of John at least once per month
  • Keep track here:

Need some encouragement for the new year? Check out this New Year's sermon:

Monday, December 1, 2014

Gifts and Intercession (December 2014 Newsletter)

This month a missionary I have been training revealed that he had started five discipleship groups, four of these were among four different people groups with different religious backgrounds. We were excited at what God was doing, and especially that these groups had all started within the last few months. The missionary reported that though he had met with many people before this, God had been answering prayer in the last season and was drawing people by his Holy Spirit. We rejoiced together, and I was reminded of a quote by Oswald Chambers: “Prayer is not preparation for the work, prayer is the work.”

Although feet on the street ministry is where many miracles occur and God’s work is seen, these things started in the prayer closet. I meet with many people, both lost and saved, and preach and teach Jesus as the Christ, exhorting all to obey Jesus as Lord. But along with all the meetings, I have been taught by mentors and the Holy Spirit to labor in prayer for each person I meet with by name. I endeavor to intercede daily for my friends and coworkers, for strangers I meet on the street, for lost people I share with, and for even for some I haven’t seen for years. I know that the goal and lasting fruit of ministry is something that only God can do. I must obey His Word, do what He has commanded me and partner with Him on the earth to see His will accomplished through obedience and the prayer of faith.

God has given us His Son as evidence that He will freely give us all things, but we do not have because we do not ask (Romans 8:23, James 4:2). He is an amazing Father, and as we enter the season of gift-giving to commemorate His most precious gift, we must remember that every good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of Lights in whom there is no variance or shadow of turning (James 1:17). If we ask for bread he will not give us a stone (Luke 11:11). Jesus encourages us always to pray and to never give up (Luke 18:1).

A Muslim family who had been studying the Bible with me, going through stories from Creation to Christ had dismissed me from their home two months ago. I had continued to pray for them daily for some time, but eventually I grew tired and since I no longer saw them every week began to gloss over them on my prayer list. Two weeks ago in the middle of the night I remembered them and prayed again, petitioning the Father that they would call me and ask to continue the study. The next day I received a phone call and they asked me to come over and share with them four days a week! God hears our cry.

Recently I was struggling to fall asleep; I kept drifting in and out of a groggy state. I was praying off and on, but I was too tired to pray with fervor. Instead I was just letting God hear my stream of consciousness. As I talked to him in a semi-dreamlike state I imagined entering Jesus’ throne room with a friend. I walked in calmly holding their hand and told Jesus, “Jesus this is my friend. They need your help. Please touch them,” and continued to tell Jesus what they needed. In my imagination, Jesus’ throne became a long couch and I lay on one side of Him resting my head against His side as He put his hand on my chest. I could feel warm burning come from his hand, and my heart felt His love for me and my love for Him. On the other side my friend lay in the same position as Jesus held them. It seemed like I was there for an hour, and I fell asleep knowing that He was answering my prayer, not because I was pounding the floor or shedding tears, but because in drowsy half-asleep haze I asked Him to help.

Ask the Father what you want for Christmas today. He never runs out of good gifts. Hope does not disappoint. The best is yet to come.
Read the rest of the December 2014 Newsletter
Read previous Newsletters

Monday, November 10, 2014

Near to Each One of Us (November 2014 Newsletter)

One of the benefits of sharing my testimony on a regular basis is revisiting the years before I met Christ. While I know that the past is gone and all things have become new, I have never forgotten what it was like to live without Christ. Many forget the hopelessness, pain, and confusion of a life without God. They have left those experiences behind and struggle to empathize with the lost. They no longer can remember with compassion their own gasps for air as they drowned in sin and shame, regret and loneliness, meaningless pleasure and insignificance. When we forget where we have come from, we lose our ability to speak to the reality of lostness.
I still vividly remember the pain and torment of life without Christ and without love. I remember the depression and the boiling torment that was so real and so palpable and had no release apart from an ensnaring self-abuse. I remember looking at the violence and depravity of the world, feeling the oppressive weight of pain that I had to rise above everyday just to get through life, and crying out inside to someone I didn’t believe was listening: “God! Where are you?” And though my heart screamed to the Creator I knew was there, my hatred and the deafening effects of sin prevented me from listening to His call: “I know your heart and your soul, and I love you so much I sent Jesus for you.”

I never cease to be awed that Jesus changed His whole life, laid all His plans and possessions aside, put all of His glory away and chose to live a life far below what He deserved, so He could lay it down for me. He not only left all the glory and all that was His in Heaven, but He stepped into all the depravity and pain that was mine on earth. He became my sin. He took on my shame. He took stripes for my healing. He was punished so I could have peace. He identified with my pain, so that I could identify with His joy. He exchanged His life for mine. He became all my sin and all my suffering on the cross. He offered all that He has and all that He is to me.

When He was dying, He cried out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” We know that He was quoting Psalm 22 and fulfilling messianic prophecy. But He was not only pointing to the Scripture; He was pointing to me. In the midst of the guilt and the shame, surrounded and overwhelmed by loneliness and helplessness I cried out, “God, where are you?” I had heard that God was supposed to love me, to care for me, to intervene in my life, but I could not see Him. I could not listen. I felt profoundly alone. Yet even in my God-forsakenness, Jesus joined me. Though He was God, He entered into the state of isolation, the confusion of humanity, and cried out with me, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He identified with my unbelief. He joined my sorrow. He answered my prayer. He stepped into the worst of what I was, proving once and for all time that He loved me and that He is and always will be Immanuel: God with us.

Today I can tell the lost that God is near to each one of us. Not because of some nursery rhyme or empty words of comfort. But because Jesus took nails in His hands, was mocked and blasphemed, and joined us in the lowest state so He could raise us as Sons to sit on His throne. What a Savior and what a Gospel! He never leaves us or forsakes us. Whoever comes to Him will never be cast out. Today He offers life to the world through you. You are His minister of reconciliation. Immanuel lives within you. Reach out to the forsaken.

Read the rest of the November 2014 Newsletter
Read previous Newsletters

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Relentless Shepherd (October 2014 Newsletter)

“for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” – Luke 19:10

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?” –Luke 15:4

“Or what woman, having ten silver coins if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp, sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?” -Luke 15:8

“Go and make disciples . . .” -Mathew 28:19

Much of my job involves pursuing people, searching for persons of peace, and seeking those who are lost, broken, desperate, and ready to receive the Lord and Savior. Jesus did not tell the lost to come to us, but He commanded us to go to the lost with the Good News of the Kingdom. We have been sent to seek what Jesus seeks, to pursue what Jesus pursues: a lost and dying world which He purchased with His blood.
The world often rejects the message, turns their back on the savior, and denies Jesus’ Lordship over their lives. They are rebellious and disobedient. They do not wish to have a king to rule over them (Luke 19:14). Jesus warned His disciples that they would be rejected, encouraging them, “He who hears you hears Me, he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me” (Luke 10:16). We are all tempted to give up on people, especially those who reject us again and again, but Jesus reminds us that they are rejecting Him. And though we may grow tired, He never does. Though we may have to move on, God is still working.

I remember being lost and running from God as a freshman in college. God’s pursued me relentlessly. I rejected Him again and again, but the Good Shepherd never stopped searching for the lost sheep. He went after the lost one, until He found me. I think about how overwhelming it can be to try to follow up on all the conversations I’ve had with people about Jesus, but then I think about how God valued and treasured me so much that he swept through the world until he found me. Like the woman who lost her coin He sought me diligently until He found me ready to receive His Lordship and His love.

The Father had a specific purpose in sending Jesus into the world: to seek and to save that which was lost. All of humanity was lost in sin and rejected Him over and over, but He pursued us as sons and daughters. Jesus commissioned us saying, “As the Father sent me, I also send you” (John 20:21). God calls us to persevere in the pursuit of the lost. Love is patient. Paul lists “patient” as the first thing love is. In another translation it states, “Love suffers long” (1 Corinthians 13:4). Paul ends his list with “Love never fails.”

As I pursue people of peace, I am reminded that love is patient with people, willing to be rejected again, willing to share one more time, willing to wait and willing to listen. I am reminded that love is guaranteed success. Paul exhorts the Galatians “Let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart” (Gal 6:9). We will succeed if we don’t give up. He also writes, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, he will also reap” (Gal 6:7). We must not allow the enemy to discourage us or deceive us into thinking we will fail. We have to reap what we sow. If we faithfully sow the gospel, we have to reap a harvest. I am in a season of great encouragement as I see believers from a Muslim background sharing their faith and growing in Christ, and watching disciples beginning to multiply, but I know that today is still the day to strengthen ourselves in the Lord. Greater work is ahead, and the best is yet to come. “But you, be strong and do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded!” 2 Chronicles 15:7.

This month I was meeting with a Muslim family to teach English using stories that show God’s plan of redemption from Creation to Christ. I was nearly asked to leave because Genesis says that God made man to be similar to himself (in His own image). Because I was asked not to teach from the Bible anymore, the next day I planned to give a full Creation to Christ overview culminating with a command to make Jesus Lord. If I was going to be kicked out of their house, I wanted it to be for the full gospel presentation, which I had presented once before when I met them and told them my testimony.

I was praying the night before that God would give the head of the household a dream. When I came over I asked him if he had a dream the previous night. He said that he had. I asked him what happened in the dream, but he either couldn't tell me because of limited English or was unwilling. I still don't know what he dreamed, but I trust it was the Lord working to connect with the Gospel.

In spite of asking to not hear another story from the Bible, we went over the story of Adam and Eve disobeying God in the garden. I had him read it in his language. We talked about it. He liked the story, and in spite of believing that God making people to be similar to Himself was blasphemous, he has always been interested in the stories. I showed him a gospel video about Jesus as the Sacrifice for sin in his language.
He wants to hear more stories. I was not kicked out of their house, and we've dealt with most of the major objections. We serve a prayer answering God!

Read the rest of the October 2014 Newsletter

Read previous Newsletters