Thursday, November 10, 2016

a glimpse into the future

at his high school graduation last month
allan is former rhino (graduated 2015), and current leader and coach at bvsa.

there is no way to describe all that we have been through with allan, or to even attempt re-telling all of the special "allan stories".

but i will say this...

when allan started in the academy 6 years ago, he was a little punk.  several times we found ourselves on the brink of kicking this little smart-butt kid out of the academy.  he had some charisma and personality, but it did 95% damage, leaving a 5% glimmer of hope.

thankfully, God could care less about odds.  in fact, he has always delighted in defying the odds!  can you imagine what the odds were against david beating goliath?  or the against sarah and abraham having a baby? consider the odds against joshua, moses, elijah, jonah, jacob, joseph, gideon, esther, noah, job, daniel, shadrach meshach & abednego,  paul, and jesus... just to name a few!

well, add allan to that list :)

in a village where abuse, addiction, machismo, and hate-your-neighbor is pure commonplace, God rescued and radically transformed this young man.

allan accepted jesus, developed a love for the bible, and has never been the same.

he shares the bible with his parents, brothers, sister-in-laws, cousins, nieces, nephews and practically anyone else that will listen!

at the end of his day in the academy, he hustles down to his house with his bible.  whoever is there becomes his disciples for a couple hours.  if its his little nieces and nephews, he tells them bible stories and encourages them.  if its his older brothers, he talks to them boldly about how to be better dads and husbands.

his brothers must look at him like he's crazy.  the baby of the family, and the only one without a wife and kids...  giving them advice - and even scolding them - for the way they treat their families.

he recently asked his oldest brother, who was yelling at his son for hitting his sister, "why do you think he does that?"  he went on to explain to his brother, 18 years his senior, "you can yell at your son all day, but he's only repeating what he sees you do your wife.  you treat your wife like trash, so he treats all girls like trash.  he wants to be like his daddy."

astonished, his older brother actually responded humbly (which is unheard of in this culture), and it opened the door for allan to share more.  since then, their relationship has improved, and allan is beginning to see some changes in the way his brother treats his family.

usually around 9pm, he rushes into the house to tell me whatever happened.  if its not a story about who he shared jesus with, its a question about scripture.  a deep question...  like "why do catholics pray to mary?" or "what should i say to the jehovah's witness people that visit buena vista?"

i love those questions.

recently, he came in past curfew and said he was sorry - that he had just spent 2 hours talking about jesus with a policeman who had left the church years ago because of its hypocrisy.  he told the cop that his frustrations were justified, and that jesus himself shares some of the same frustrations.  the cop was so shocked by that comment, that he kept asking allan more questions- for 2 hours!

allan started a soccer team for the girls of buena vista this year (Las Rinas), simply because he wanted to make them feel special.

he has a serious girlfriend, and talks to her deeply about purity, maintaining boundaries, and working together to be sure their relationship honors God.

he takes advantage of evenings, weekends, and any other free time to ask the rhinos how they are doing, if they are falling victim to sin in their personal life, and encourages them.

last week, we heard of a local family who lost everything they had in a house fire.  thankfully no one was injured, but by the time we arrived they lost all of their belongings in the fire.  knowing how crushing of a blow this is to a poor family who barely earns enough money to eat, allan had an idea.

he asked all the rhinos if they would be willing to door to door, raising money for the family.  (a few days later, a local pastor told me he had never heard of anyone doing something like this before - not even a church!)  that explains why the boys seemed embarrassed when allan made the suggestion!

allan delivering the blessing to the family
but allan encouraged them, and soon all the rhinos were out in the streets knocking on doors.  after several hours, they had raised 900Q (about $120), 2 boxes of food, and a large garbage bag of clothes.  knowing that our village is not known for its generosity, this was truly a miracle!  allan later told me that he knew people would not want to give, but he had put together the boys in groups of 5 because he knew the people would feel obligated to give, or else rumors would spread that they didn't help out.  wow!  allan had invoked a strategy that was as wise as a serpent, while maintaining a motive that was innocent like a dove!  (matthew 10:16)

when we delivered the money, food, and clothes to the family, it wasn't only the young family that was overwhelmed with emotion.  they cried humble tears as allan shared, but i too was fighting back my own...

by the way, allan is not some awkward, overly-spiritual weirdo.  far from it!  he is a natural leader with a charismatic personality.  he's a self confident young man and a good public speaker.  and he is a phenomenal soccer player.  he is actually well respected and looked up to in the village because of his soccer skills.

i think his reputation as an athlete, and a fun guy, is partly what confuses people when he is so bold about his faith.

you see, in our village, the christian church is bound by deep legalism.  once you become a christian you become a lifeless robot.  you even have to give up soccer and anything else "of the world" when you join the church.

so the people are dumbfounded by allan.  even after accepting jesus, he is still allan - funny and free.

yesterday, after a rough practice where several boys got into some trouble, he called a meeting.  he read the boys a passage from proverbs about not letting your pride block you from receiving counsel and discipline.  he told the boys how God has graciously given them wise counsel through the boy's academy, and not to be rebellious fools who reject it.  he warned them that, like those who have quit the academy for similar reasons, they would regret it.

sharing with the rhinos in the academy
as i sat there watching and listening, a huge knot formed in my throat.  i was seeing something that perhaps this village has never seen before.  a young man, born and raised in buena vista, sharing solid bible teaching with a younger generation.

i was seeing a young man from buena vista, full of the holy spirit - but free from legalism and nonsense.  a young bible teacher who understands grace, sharing with kids who live in a village where grace does not exist.

i was looking at a radically transformed young man who had not only fallen in love with jesus, but longed to tell others about him as well.

and i'm pretty sure i was getting a glimpse into the future of the buena vista soccer academy for boys.
 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

the most important blog i can write

The data and statistics shared in this blog are approximate, based on research comparing various sources.  I am using rounded figures, but the numbers and percentages are at a minimum very close.

I wrote this over 6 months ago and never posted it.  Not sure why.  I have a lot of drafts that I never post.  But I was encouraged today by something I read by John Piper.  It fired me up, and sent me back to this entry.  So, here it is.  Thanks Piper!

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I don't currently attend a local sunday gathering.  But I love listening to good bible teaching.  Oftentimes, I listen to sermons while I exercise, or as I am working in my office.  I probably listen to 3 per week.

The messages always have common elements.  They are based on scripture, logically structured, and well-prepared.  They usually use relevant examples and almost always use humor to connect with listeners.  I listen to sermons by people who I am pretty certain genuinely love Jesus.

There's another commonality though that I can't help but notice.  With the exception of 2 pastors i listen to (for this very reason), rarely do any of the messages mention or imply international missions in any way.  Maybe 1 out of 8 mention something about missions - and even then, its not exactly an imploration.

Before you think I'm being sensitive just because "missions is my thing", I beg you to think again.  This has nothing to do with me.  It's not personal.  Just hear me out - because I don't think it's me who is ultimately saddened by the lack of focus on missions within the christian church.


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The final instructions of the resurrected Jesus were simple, and have come to be known at The Great Commission:  Take everything I've taught you and GO make disciples in all the nations of the world.  (Matthew 28:19-20, my paraphrase)

This was Jesus' final request before he left and returned to the Father.  But consider the weight of the moment...

Jesus had spent 3 years living with the disciples, teaching them daily.  They watched him heal the sick, the blind, and the crippled - even raise people from the dead.  Then they witnessed his torturous murder on the cross, and saw him take his last breath.  After 3 days in hiding... scared to death... doors locked...  the resurrected Jesus walked into the room they were hiding in and said "peace be with you."

I-N-S-A-N-E!

After 40 more days together - preaching, healing, and having been witnessed by thousands - it was time for Jesus to say his final goodbye.  All of it... from His miraculous birth to His miraculous rise from death, had come down to this.  Do you think the disciples were on the edge of their seat?

Take everything I've taught you and GO make disciples in all the nations of the world.

He left his followers with the power of the Holy Spirit, and charged them to cover the earth with the good news.

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Presumably, all christians accept the fact that the Great Commission applies to all of us.  None of us are exempt from the responsibility of reaching the world for Christ.  In christian circles, it is often said that the Great Commission can be fulfilled through the combined efforts of "goers" and "senders."  That is, we are called to do one or the other.  If all christians are to participate in the command to reach the nations, we must be either a goer or a sender.

In theory, the calling for some to do the "sending" while others do the "going", is quite accurate.  As a missionary worker myself, I thank God for my team of senders who fund our mission.

But on a broader scale, it seems the idea of "goers and senders" has simply become a good way to justify the fact that almost no one is going.

In Luke 9 and 10, Jesus sends out the 12 disciples, then 72 more, into villages to share the gospel - so that people will believe and be saved.  He told them "the harvest is plenty, but the laborers are few."

It was true then, and it still rings true today.  


An American perspective

The population of the United States is 319,000,000.  Supposedly, 75% of americans say they are christians, which means there are 239,250,000 christians living in the USA.

If we accept that the Great Commission can be fulfilled by a combination of goers and senders:

  • What ratio do you think would be appropriate?  
  • How many senders per goer?  
  • What strategy would help accomplish that goal most effectively?

Out of the 239,250,000 christians in the US, there are currently 127,000 american missionaries "sent out" into the world to tell the nations about Jesus.

That means the american church is responding to the clear instructions of Jesus with a game plan of 239,123,000 "senders" getting behind 127,000 "goers".  Or put more alarmingly, 99.95% senders, and 0.05% goers.

That's what we, as american christians, will answer to when our Savior asks how we responded to his final command.  "We sent 0.05% of us out to tell the nations."


A global perspective

There are about 7.3 billion people on the planet.

Over 5 billion of which are NOT christians.

In total, from all countries, there are 400,000 christian missionaries serving in the world.

So, sticking with the concept of using goers and senders to strategically accomplishing the Great Commission:  of the 2 billion christians in the world, 1,999,600,000 of them are supposedly senders.

But there's an even sadder twist to this story.  The overwhelming majority (more than 4.5 billion) of the non-christians in the world live inside the 10/40 window...  where only 8% of the worlds missionaries are currently working.

That's right.  Around 8% of the already embarrassingly low number of "goers" - are working to reach 4,500,000,000 lost people - the majority of the world's unreached.


Getting back to the American church

I live and work in Guatemala.  But I am an American.  I love America and I love the American people.  That's why my heart hurts deeply for the condition of her church. 

To the vast majority of churches in American neighborhoods, the Great Commission of Jesus is clearly an afterthought, if not an absolute non-thought.  That may sound harsh, but the data is undeniable.  The overwhelming majority of money, time, and focus of the average American church goes toward everything other than the lost nations.

Take this study from the Evangelical Christian Credit Union (various studies from other organizations show similar results).  The study breaks down the average American church's budget:

82% goes to salaries, facilities, and administration
12% goes to its own programs
4% is designated as "other"  (2% of which is tagged "cash reserves")
2% goes to international missions

The numbers speak loudly - and they are shameful.  If where we put our money reflects where our heart is (and it always seems to), the American church puts a 2% value on the final instructions left by Jesus.  A 2% value on reaching the nations for Christ.

Right up there with rainy-day cash.

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If at the end of the day all of Jesus' teachings are true, he is who he says he is, heaven and hell truly exist, and the eternity of every human soul hangs in the balance... what in the world are we doing?

Paul said (in 1 Cor 15) that if we are wrong about Christ, we should be most pitied.  Think about that.  He had given up everything for the advancement of the gospel.  He gave up comfort, career, status, safety, security, and any sniff of a routine that brings contentment.  He called for all christians to live in such a way that would justify the claim: "if we're wrong about this, we should be most pitied, because we're giving up everything for it!"

Would anyone examining your life call it pitiful, because of all you've given up?
 
Quite to the contrary, many christians are far more interested in a nice seat, quality worship music, good youth programs, a fun community, a dynamic pastor, funny and relevant sermons, and a cool ambiance - than we are the 5 billion lost souls around the world.  As we put the Great Commission on the back-burner, our self-absorbed bubbles reek of comfort, financial security, career ambitions, entertainment, fun, and recreational hobbies.

There is no greater matter of urgency.  This can't be put off until tomorrow, next week, next year, or when the kids are out of the house.  This is wartime!  People are dying.  Hell is welcoming souls. 

John Piper wrote in his book "Don't Waste Your Life":

“I am wired by nature to love the same toys that the world loves. I start to fit in. I start to love what others love. I start to call earth "home." Before you know it, I am calling luxuries "needs" and using my money just the way unbelievers do. I begin to forget the war. I don't think much about people perishing. Missions and unreached people drop out of my mind. I stop dreaming about the triumphs of grace. I sink into a secular mind-set that looks first to what man can do, not what God can do. It is a terrible sickness. And I thank God for those who have forced me again and again toward a wartime mind-set.”

If you are a christian, this is wartime.  It is time to enlist.  It's time to make war!  Maybe you say your salvation is secure, but what about your neighbor?  What about the 5 billion who desperately need Jesus?  We must be willing to give up our own life in order that they know Him. 

This is a cause that requires extreme, irrational, unreasonable, and unthinkable action.  The kind of radical faith we see in scripture, and have read about over the centuries.  And it requires an all out rejection of the comfortable, safe, mismanaged and incorrectly prioritized, consumerist version of christianity that is luring millions to lukewarmness.

It requires taking up our own crosses, as Jesus said, and following Him.

And following his charge to all the nations.


 "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."  Acts 1:8

"Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you."  Matthew 28:19-20


The world is desperate for more goers.  Is anyone out there willing to risk it all and go?