Jesus is Lord of the valleys.

Today’s post comes from Elizabeth Glass-Turner, Managing Editor of Wesleyan Accent, writer and speaker. She reflects on the power of the Lordship of Jesus in hard times. Read on …

Sanctification is fun when it’s under our control.

Out of the corner of our eye, we have peripheral awareness of how close to being faith consumers we really are. We choose to go to a conference so we can grow spiritually. We choose to show up to Bible study so we can grow spiritually. We choose to read a book so we can cry or become more efficient or grow spiritually.

We choose.

We choose the parameters of our growth. Where we next discern/feel/think that God is leading us. What we will “give up” for Lent. The solution is perceived as whatever antidote to lukewarm faith fits the bill. I’m not sure the problem is lukewarm Christians, though. I think the problem is more the insidious mindset that is entangled in our approach to faith: that we set the table, invite the guests, and choose the menu of our own spiritual growth. That we’re in charge. That we can choose what outcomes we want to see in our spiritual life. That we control how we want to be made Christlike.

If you can choose what to give up for Lent, you’re living in a place of blissful abundance. Don’t take it for granted. Years back during Lent several areas of life imploded at once. In the wake of the economic collapse in 2008, there was a lot of scarcity, especially in certain areas of the country. My household was affected directly, and I remember writing a short reflection including the comment, “What do you give up for Lent when you’re already in a season of scarcity? What does fasting look like when the cupboards are pretty bare?” Lent had changed from practices I chose and controlled to something outside my control, and I didn’t like it.

God had allowed my chosen self-denial to be replaced with real desperation.

It was awful, and there’s no good way to spin or market it.

It hadn’t really occurred to me before what fasting sounded like to people who struggled to afford groceries, or who waited for their food stamps to be refilled. One day during that time — when the news was full of stories of foreclosures, whole subdivisions emptied, when the rust belt was contracting and people moved across the country away from their lifelong hometowns in order to find work — I came across a story of a humiliated woman who drove a luxury car driving to the food bank she used to donate to. In desperate tones she explained a paid-off, reliable vehicle was one of the only decent assets she had left and it didn’t make sense to trade it in for a cheaper but possibly less reliable car. But that meant that she was driving to the food bank in shiny German engineering.

Before the housing market crisis and Wall Street meltdown, if this woman had chosen to live on a strict budget, she would have been living in self-denial; it’s the removal of options that leads to desperation, no matter how well-resourced or well-connected you’re accustomed to being. Sometimes we instinctively recoil from people going through hard times, as if back in our minds is a hidden, primitive instinct to label tragedy or suffering “unclean.”

How did God let me learn about what Lent looks like when circumstances careen out of control? Several times over the years something would happen – why around Lent? – completely out of my control.

I’m trying to be pious and become Christlike, God. Why won’t you let me?!

In 2017, I had a completely unforeseeable health crisis and after misdiagnosis and falling asleep night after night praying I would wake up the next morning, eventually had emergency surgery and a painful recovery.

That’s a bit more “from dust you come, to dust you shall return” than I meant, God.

In 2018, my husband was stricken with a serious set of grave symptoms that left him on bedrest all winter. I joked that I was fasting from certainty. It wasn’t that much of a joke. Finally, he found relief in the spring.

Well someday I’ll get back to a normal Lent.

In 2019, his symptoms returned. The relief that had helped before hasn’t yet this time. Again, a Lent full of doctor appointments, insurance arguments, hours spent on hold, notes documenting symptoms scribbled down.

Will I ever get back to a normal Shrove Tuesday pancake supper?!

To proclaim that Jesus is Lord means this: I won’t always get to decide how or by what means I grow spiritually. What does the fruit of the Spirit look like when a doctor’s office receptionist is callous, flippant, or rude? What does it look like to be Christlike when you’re grieving lost opportunity due to difficult-to-diagnose chronic illness? What does joy look like when you realize your kids will be spending part of their spring break accompanying a parent to another physician appointment?

None of this fits on the brochure for “Christianity: Come Join Us! Really, It’s Not that Bad!”

I can’t guarantee you stability in this life. I can’t guarantee you won’t face tragedy. I can’t guarantee you won’t experience mind-numbing grief.

I can witness to the goodness of God, though.

I can, and will, bear witness to the power of Jesus Christ, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

I can worship God from inside the blasting, scorching furnace, while evil asks, “Didn’t I put three people in there? I see a fourth man, and he looks like the Son of God.”

If I let go of the outcomes I hope for, I can grab onto the person of Jesus.

Jesus is Lord, and nothing in heaven or hell, nothing on earth or out past Pluto, no entity or circumstance can erase the goodness of God. Jesus is Lord and victory belongs to him even when I don’t get to choose the battle.

Please God, I’d like to go fight in that battle over there.

“This is what I have for you.”

I’m so much better over there, you gave me gifts for it! I’m sure that’s where you need me.

“I need you here.”

That doesn’t make sense.

“No, it just doesn’t make sense to you.”

It turns out getting up and responding to altar calls is pretty good practice for the much harder business of following Jesus in the dark.

There will be times you get to choose and pursue ways to grow spiritually.

There will be times you are thrown into a whirlwind, into a vortex, and forced to respond.

In all things, Jesus is Lord, and nothing can force us to stop testifying to the goodness and power of Jesus Christ, whether we like our circumstances or not.

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Jesus is Lord of the whole world.

My dear friend in Christ, Ruth Burgner serves on the staff of TMS Global. Her missional voice and global perspective offer a beautiful insight into the Lordship of Jesus:

Jesus, Our Home

At Appletree House in Karaganda, Kazakhstan, neighborhood children – many of them, children of alcoholics – get fed one meal a day, five days a week. Some of them trudge through the snow in subzero degree temperatures, with holes in their shoes and with coats only the weight of a windbreaker. They hazard the bitter cold to come to this little house to be given something to eat and to listen to our missionaries tell Bible stories. When it’s time for them to leave, the children go off to homes where, in many cases, they are the primary caretakers of their siblings. One of our missionaries described these children, whose tender hearts are so battered by “rotten” home lives. “I’m afraid they think Jesus only lives in that one room where we feed them,” she told me.

This is the sorrow of ministry, isn’t it? Where there are children enjoying bread and hot soup five days a week, there is often the ever-present knowing that they will spend most hours hungry for food and affection. Where there is a village receiving medical care from an incoming team of doctors there is the reckoning that there is a neighboring village where people’s suffering could be so easily relieved, if only the doctors would visit them, too.

The Kingdom of God on earth has been inaugurated through Jesus, but there are lots of rooms, homes, and communities where He, we might secretly think, doesn’t seem to have ever come. We know that Jesus is Lord, that He is supreme, that good outweighs evil.

But then there are these stories.

The presence of suffering in a world in which Jesus is King is puzzling indeed, but those who do not acknowledge God’s reign have an even bigger puzzle. Where, for example, has all the goodness in the world come from? And why is it that all people everywhere seem to carry around the same longing in our hearts? It is as if we are all homesick – and for the same home.

The children of Appletree House, for example, trudge through the snow for an experience of love. The atheist in France is drawn, as if by another world, by his enjoyment of beauty. The Buddhist in Shanghai (or, for that matter, nearly anyone you can think of) wants to be virtuous. Our cravings for love, beauty, virtue – like a trail of breadcrumbs through the woods – begin leading us Home. “There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven,” writes C.S. Lewis, “but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else.”

This longing for Home shows up in other worldviews and religions. And, says Sri Lankan evangelist Ajith Fernando, “human aspirations reflected in the other religions find their fulfillment in Christ.” Neal and Mari Hicks, missionaries in Japan, told me, “When Japanese receive Christ, the light that comes into their life is so strong that they, whether they are Buddhists or Shintoists, realize their other hard efforts to reach God were in vain. But in Christ they find great joy.”

Islamics professor, Dr. Mathias Zahniser told me, “Muslims who come to Christ have this exhilarated sense of intimate connection with the God that they have admired and worshipped for a long time.” Another of our missionaries in a Muslim nation told me of a little Muslim girl who discovered a Bible in the basement of her apartment building. She had never seen a Bible before, and began reading the gospels. So taken by the person of Jesus, she put her trust in Him without the input of a missionary—or anyone.

All around the world, Jesus is revealing Himself. Jesus, says Fernando, is “God’s final revelation to the whole human race.” He is the completion of all other truths. “He is the Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:13, NIV).

He is our Home.

Adapted from Unfinished, a publication of TMS Global, issue 35. Published in 2006.

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Who gets to be Lord?

I was called by God to preach when I was thirteen. Forty-three years ago in Georgia, that was a strange thing to claim. I struggled to hold on to this call. In fact, by the time I reached college, I’d watered it down. I would go into Christian education since that would be more socially acceptable for someone like me. The only two problems with that were: 1) I’m terrible in a roomful of children; and 2) it wasn’t God’s call.

I tried anyway. And failed miserably.  Then walked away from my call completely.

I didn’t realize then that the call is intricately connected to faith. To abandon my calling was to play fast and loose with my relationship with God. I became an easy target for the enemy of my soul who tied my hands, kicked me down the street and threw me into the prison of alcoholism. Somewhere in there, I finished college, got married and began a career outside the church.

In fact, I quit church altogether for about ten years but let me be clear on this: I didn’t stop going to church because the church wasn’t relevant or didn’t meet my needs. I quit going because the enemy came and snatched me up and threw me into a prison that I was then unable to get out of on my own.

It would take twelve years for me to finally, fully come home to Jesus. It happened by mistake. A friend roped me into attending a Bible study and over time I got interested and involved. One day, the leader of this study invited me onto the leadership team, but told me in no uncertain terms that to accept the invitation I’d have to quit drinking.

I said, “I’ll get back to you.” Which was code for, “When hell freezes over.”

I had no intention of giving up drinking, but that invitation was the hook. Someone leading a Bible study had the guts to invite me to consider a different life and I took the bait. One day soon after, I realized the depth of the choice I’d been given: quit drinking and lead a Bible study, or keep the status quo and allow my life to continue floating without purpose.

That choice wasn’t ultimately a choice about leadership. It was a choice about lordship. The real question in front of me in that season was this: Who gets to be Lord of my life?

I had my last drink 27 years ago and that choice to quit was one of the best choices of my life.

This is the question every great story of transformation answers: Who gets to be Lord? Until you answer that question, nothing else matters. When you answer that question, everything gets redeemed.

Everything.

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The Danger of Distraction (and how to find your holy “yes”)

I wonder if there has ever been a climate so ripe for distraction. So much information coming at us from every possible lit-up screen. We are distracted by social media, by our phones, by unwelcome relationships, by our phones, by intruding thoughts and lusts and wants and needs, by our phones … we are distracted.

Listening to a message by Steven Furtick (Elevation Church), I learned something about that word — distraction. In medieval times, there was a barbaric torture tactic called “drawing and quartering.” Each of a person’s four limbs were tied to four ropes, and each of those ropes was tied to four horses, who were then commanded to run in four different directions. It was a horrible practice.

Do you know what the French called it? Distraction.

When I saw that image and heard that term, I thought, “That’s it!” By making us rush to catch up, by keeping us in mental chaos, by luring us away from life-giving habits like what Methodists call the means of grace, by making us say yes to things we ought never say yes to, distractions rob us of rest and keep us from being formed into the likeness of Christ. No wonder one of the fruits of the Spirit is self-discipline. It is discipline that pulls the distracted parts of us back together.

We want to believe that the means of grace — or what you may know as spiritual disciplines — are for people who have too much time on their hands. Nothing could be further from the truth. Disciplines are precisely for people who have too much on their plate.

Listen: Who needs discipline when you’ve got nothing but time? Disciplines are not for people who have too much time; they for people who have too many distractions.

Let me say that again: Disciplines are for people who have too many distractions.

Disciplines bring the pulled-apart, conflicting parts of us back together again. They help us to live inside our limits so we don’t end up without enough energy to take a shower much less spend time resting in the Lord. They help us become mindful of our day-to-day decisions and how they feed into our spiritual goals. They encourage us to create life-giving habits.

Which of these disciplines sounds completely foreign to you? Which ones might be a source of life and restoration for you? (

  • Bible reading
  • prayer
  • meditation
  • worship
  • community life (including accountability)

These are classic disciplines that shape our thoughts and set the tone of our day. They give us courage to say “no” more often so we can say a holy “yes” to things that feed our life in Christ. After all, God calls us to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, right? The means of grace are ways we can examine ourselves to see if we’re on that track. We know our lives are being shaped into the likeness of Christ when our conversation begins to be transformed by love and our reactions are filtered through the Holy Spirit. We know it is happening when our calendars aren’t so far beyond our limits that we can’t rest in the comfort that God’s got it.

Disciplines make busy people slow down enough to let their souls sink into Jesus. That’s where the real spiritual work is done — in the secret place, where deep calls to deep. Disciplines don’t promise to make our lives easier, but I can attest to this: they result in a kind of rest that pulls all the distracted, chaotic, directionless pieces of our lives together.

  • What are you sure of, and what doubts are creating spiritual anxiety?
  • What is pulling at you, and what distractions are keeping you from spiritual formation?
  • What does your calendar say about your life … and about how much you trust God?
  • How willing are you to make changes to your life not just for the sake of your own spiritual formation, but for the sake of others?

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The curse of the gap

Dr. Kitty Harris of Texas Tech University teaches that in order to mature emotionally and feel “normal,” people need these basic needs met:

  • Physical safety – I need to know I’m safe.
  • Emotional security – I need to know I’m heard.
  • Identity – I need to know who I am.
  • Competence – I need to know I’m capable.
  • Belonging – I need to know I have a place.
  • Mission – I need to know I have a purpose.

All these things are found in the Garden of Eden. Place. Purpose. People. All there.

We, of course, live east of Eden (way east), on the fallen side of things. That means any of us looking at the above list will discover gaps or barriers between our “real” and our “ideal.”

Something is missing. I struggle to feel safe. Or I struggle to feel like I’m heard. I don’t really know who I am. I don’t feel competent. I never quite feel like I belong. I don’t know my purpose. These are all fallen feelings. And that gap between where we are and where God made us to be – the gap between real and ideal – can create all kinds of pain and frustration.

That gap led to the original sin. The enemy of our souls got Eve to notice the gap that exists between imperfect people and a perfect God. Then, once she was focused on the gap rather than God, he said, “Isn’t that gap … painful?” And while it hadn’t been in the moment prior, it became so the moment she began to focus on it.

That’s the curse of the gap. The more we look at it, the bigger it seems. We become more and more aware of this nagging sense that something is missing. We develop a compulsion to focus on that feeling. To make the feeling go away, or to “feel normal” as Kitty Harris would say, we work too much, become needy in our relationships, get addicted to things that ease the pain (which then create more pain) or do other compulsive things we hope will “fix” it. None of these things will span that gap but that doesn’t stop us from trying.

Well-meaning Christians tell us “Jesus fixes the gap.” And in one sense, yes, he does. In the most basic sense of providing a path back to God, Jesus is our bridge. But slogans like “Just give me Jesus” don’t change our circumstances, don’t take the pain away, don’t erase our compulsions. Jesus doesn’t magically fix gaps. Reducing the power and presence of Jesus to a bumper sticker makes most of us feel less normal, more shamed.

Jesus does not offer instant pain relief, gratification or escape from bad circumstances. He does offer another way of seeing the world. Jesus introduces grace into the conversation about gaps and he challenges us to learn the difference between mercy and sacrifice. He offers holiness as a pathway to “normal” as God has designed it. He calls us away from our self-centered focus on the gap so we’re able again to focus on the power and provision of a mighty, loving, good God.

In other words, Jesus doesn’t make the ideal happen, but he makes the real safe again.

Hallelujah.

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The More Excellent Way

Following is an excerpt from John Wesley’s sermon, “The More Excellent Way.” This excerpt is included in a series of selections from sermons of twelve spiritual fathers, that can be found (free of charge) on Seedbed’s website. I post this today as a word of encouragement for those considering the role of money in life as Tax Day approaches. No one understood Matthew 6:20 (“Store up your treasures in heaven”) better than Wesley. What if Wesley (and Jesus) were actually right about money?

Giving money

There is one point that still needs to be considered, that is, the use of money. Specifically, we must ask ourselves, what is the way that Christians generally tend to use money? And is there not a more excellent way?

Generally, Christians tend to set apart something yearly for charitable uses perhaps a tenth or even one-eighth of a part of their yearly income or salary. I have known very few people who, like Zaccheus, have said, Lord, half of my goods I give to the poor. O, how pleased God would be to see an increase in such friends of humankind, such benefactors!

In addition to those who have set a standard amount of giving, there are thousands who give large sums of money to the poor, especially when a compelling and heart-moving story or situation arises before them.

I praise God for all of you who do this. May you never grow tired of doing such good! May God restore in your heart seven times more than all that you have given! However, let me still show you a more excellent way.

Blessed to be a blessing

God is the owner and giver of all things in heaven and earth. You may consider yourself as someone to whom God has given some of his goods, that you might give those goods away according to his direction. His direction is this — that you should see yourself as one of a certain number of needy persons who are to be provided for, and you should do it out of only a portion of the goods he has given you. You have two advantages over everyone else: one, that it is more blessed to give than to receive; two, that you are able to serve yourself first and then others. This is the light with which you are to see yourself and others. To be more precise, if you have no family, after you have provided for yourself, give away everything else that remains so that each Christmas your accounts may clear, and wind your bottom round the year.

A living example

This was the practice of all those at Oxford who were called Methodists. For example, one of them had thirty pounds a year. He lived on twenty-eight and gave away the other two. The next year, when he received sixty pounds, he still lived on twenty-eight and gave away the other thirty-two. The third year he received ninety pounds and gave away sixty-two. The fourth year he received a hundred and twenty pounds. Still, he lived on only twenty-eight pounds and gave away ninety-two pounds to the poor. Was this not a more excellent way?

Treasures on earth, treasures in heaven

If you do have a family, seriously consider before God how much each member needs for life and godliness. In general, do not allow them less and do not allow them more than you allow yourself. This being done, make it your purpose to gain no more. I charge you in the name of God, do not increase your standard of living! As it comes daily or yearly, allow the extra to go. Otherwise you lay up treasures upon earth. Our Lord forbids this as flatly as he forbids murder and adultery. By storing up such treasures, you would be storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.

But what if it was not forbidden? How can you, on the basis of reason, spend your money in a way that God may possibly forgive, instead of spending it in a way that he will certainly reward? You will have no reward in heaven for what you lay up. You will have a reward for what you lay out. Every pound you put into the earthly bank is sunk. It brings no heavenly interest. But every pound you give to the poor is put into the bank of heaven, and it will bring glorious interest. Indeed, it will accumulate for all eternity.

Who then is the wise person, and who among you is endowed with wisdom? With the Lord’s assistance, let that person resolve on this day, in this hour, in this moment to choose from what is stated above the more excellent way. Let that person steadily keep to the way with regard to sleep, prayer, work, food, conversation, and amusement. And may it especially be true in regard to the employment of that important item, money. Let your heart answer to the call of God: From this moment, with God as my help, I will lay up no more treasures on earth. This one thing I will do, I will lay up treasure in heaven. I will give to God the things that are God’s. I will give him all my goods and all my heart.

— John Wesley

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Pray that we will be kind.

I’ve been the pastor of Mosaic Church for more than fifteen years, so my relationship with many in our community is deep. We are a small but healthy church, with a core (but certainly not a majority) of people who care about the direction of the UMC. After the 2016 General Conference, we began holding listening sessions to help folks make sense of what was happening. In those conversations, we affirmed that we are a diverse group, as most any American congregation would be. We had solid, honest discussions together and many deep one-on-one conversations over coffee.

All this is to say that long before this year’s General Conference, those in our congregation who were interested or invested in the discussion had their chance to work out their own thoughts and our mutual relationships. I’ve been so gratified by our ability to work through differences with kindness and respect.

Placing my own theological leanings within the framework of a “centered-set model” seems to have helped us. Centered-set thinking allows us all to understand how we fit together. As appointed leader of our congregation, I teach an orthodox Wesleyan theology, understanding that others are on a journey, too, that may or may not put us in complete agreement. We all understand, however, that there is a set of beliefs at our center from which we can work. Even among newcomers, centered-set thinking has offered a comfort level for stepping into our community. Guests are welcomed as they are and where they are and don’t have to have it all figured out for us to love and respect one another.

As a church, we pray for the UMC and care deeply about the Body of Christ. Some of us grieved over the bedlam of St. Louis, but we haven’t allowed this crisis to define or control us. Not by a long shot. In fact, Mosaic has experienced a 20% increase in attendance since this time last year. Most of that growth is due to on-going vital ministries that invite new believers, non-believers and frustrated wanderers into a conversation about what they believe about the world and God.

These days, my prayers for our tribe are focused on theological revival. I believe the coming revival will be theological. If this year’s General Conference has taught us anything, it is that what you believe matters.  Spiritual awakening will happen as folks get serious about understanding what they believe and what makes us Methodist. Methodism is not defined by institutional unity. It is not our affinity for each other that binds us, though that is certainly a gift (I love my colleagues in ministry deeply). It is not our commitment to an institution, though I owe a great deal to the United Methodist Church for helping me live out my call. It is not even our commitment to serving folks, though the United Methodist Church has a marvelous missional arm that serves globally among poor and marginalized people.

What makes us Methodist is what we believe about the nature and role of Jesus Christ, the authority of scripture, our understanding of God’s grace, and particularly the role of sanctification in the life of a believer. This is what connects and distinguishes us. While I don’t believe progressive and orthodox United Methodists can remain in the same tribe due the wide theological gap between us (nor should we; it holds no integrity), I am praying with many others that our separation can look more like multiplication than division and that we can honor one another in the process. I am praying that our separation provides a witness that our staying together can’t. I’m praying that we can be gracious toward one another, finding ways to bless one another (as a colleague has so eloquently said) as we work through the details of a separation.

I pray that we will be kind. I hope you will pray that prayer with me.

I certainly hope this season can birth something new (and soon) that allows us all to move on in ministry with integrity, no longer biting and devouring one another but loving deeply, from the heart. Wouldn’t it be something if this separation/ multiplication actually exposes the Kingdom of Heaven in the process of its birthing? Wouldn’t it be something if we even saw the glory of God?

Wouldn’t that be just like our Redeemer? Beauty from ashes, the oil of gladness poured over our mourning, the spirit of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

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To Be a Christian in Africa (or, “God is not broke”)

Some of my best lessons have been learned from Africans, who experience this daily call to follow Jesus so very differently than I. I met a Nigerian a few years ago while I was in India who leads a vital ministry and teaches in a seminary there. He lives right at the center of Nigeria, in a town called Jos. Christians in Jos consider it their call and responsibility to hold the spiritual line between northern Nigeria, where Muslims have already taken over, and southern Nigeria where they have set their sights. Living in Jos puts followers of Jesus on the front lines of a spiritual battle being waged over the souls of his country.

My friend told us that in his part of the world, “We wake up every day prepared to die.” Our brother could talk with great seriousness about their situation and yet still display such joy when we worshipped together. There in a little chapel, he led us in an African chant that I believe ought to become the anthem of the next Methodism:

I must go with Jesus anywhere anywhere, no matter the roughness of the road. I must go … I must go …

My friend led us around, dancing in a circle, singing that song so joyfully, so hopefully, all of us clapping our hands as if rough roads were a great thing to be on. And in fact, they are, because those are precisely the roads that lead us toward the Kingdom of God.

Another colleague is a professor at a seminary in Liberia. Recently, he told me his story of how he came to be a pastor. He said he’d had the call for years but ran from it. He didn’t want to be a pastor because he had a college degree and was marketable. “Money can weigh heavily on an African’s decision to follow Jesus,” he said. “There is no money in becoming a pastor. You will be poor your whole life and have no way to take care of yourself in your old age.” Then, smiling, he went on, “But God kept after me.”

During the civil war in the 1990s, this friend tells me, he was escaping from one town to another, with all he had to his name in a bag he was carrying. When he was stopped at a security point, mistaken for a rebel by a guard, he was sure he’d be killed. They forced him at gunpoint to remove all his clothes. There he was, with his bag in his hand, standing before these guards in his underwear with a gun to his head.

He assumed this was his last moment alive, then they told him to run. He did. “While I was running,” he said, “I realized the only reason I was still alive was because God had a purpose for me. Right then, while I was running, I committed my life to him and have served him ever since. I have no retirement fund, and no way of taking care of myself in my old age. And you know? That used to scare me but then one day, I realized, ‘God is not broke!'”

Listening to my Liberian brother tell this story, I thought again about my friend in Nigeria, dancing in a circle with strangers in India. “I must go with Jesus anywhere, anywhere, no matter the roughness of the road. I must go! I must go!”

These men stand in the spiritual lineage of those disciples in Luke 9, who were told by Jesus himself to go out into towns and villages armed with nothing but the gospel. “Take nothing with you,” Jesus told them. Why? Because God is not broke. Because Jesus all by himself is worth everything. Because when Jesus commands us to go, he gives us power and authority enough to cover the need.

And Jesus is enough, even when the road is rough.

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Five ways to win the next generation to Christ

David Platt says the family has responsibility for children in the home, but church is responsible for the Great Commission. And the Great Commission teaches us to make disciples. Here are five ways you can increase your opportunity to make disciples of the next generation:

Pray. Pray for your child, with your child and over your child. Pray for Christian friends. Pray for God to remove bad influences. Pray blessings over your child. Contend for the children in your life in prayer. Cry out for them. And make sure your child hears you pray. It doesn’t have to just be your child you pray for. Pray for other kids, too, all the kids in your life who desperately need the prayers of the righteous poured over them.

Side note: Any theology that doesn’t acknowledge the spiritual battle is dangerous, because the enemy doesn’t do his best work when we fear him or even when we entertain him. He does his best work when we ignore him. He’d like nothing more than for us to believe he is not there, or that he is no threat. We know better. The evidence is all around us. Paul said to the Ephesians (Ephesians 6:12). He said our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. And how do you fight battles with spiritual forces? With spiritual weapons like prayer.

Don’t argue. Witness. Tell your story to a young person. Actually, it is the only thing of real worth you have to give. This is a treasure we have … this encounter with faith in God. So tell someone what your life was like before Jesus, what happened to change that and what your life is like now. Talk about Jesus at home like he’s real. I’ve discovered that people get turned off by evangelistic formulas but they really love to talk to other people who have had genuine encounters with Jesus. And kids are looking for answers to the same questions we wrestle with — things like why bad things happen to good people and why Jesus is the only way to God. I’m reading a non-Christian book right now with a young person just so we can talk about what happens when the world ends. Be courageous with your faith, be creative with your approach, and be prepared with an answer.

Show respect. Demonstrate love. No one likes a lecture. Respect someone enough to sit down and have a real conversation with them, one that honors their questions, rewards their curiosity, and loves them well enough to speak destiny into them. Remember: the only person who can save another person from hell is Jesus. You can’t save your child or any other kid, but you can point them toward truth and redemption and you can make them hungry for Heaven. You can also respect their journey, recognizing that most people are on one. There are many more processes  in the work of sanctification than there are events.

Know your Bible. The real power is in the Story. It is in the glorious news that Christ has died; Christ is risen; and Christ will come again. Get a habit of reading your Bible every day. You don’t have to drag out a lot of commentaries or learn Greek. Just read your Bible. Read it every day, even if you never talk to a kid. Read it, and let the Holy Spirit make it live in you. Few things are more attractive to a young person than an adult who actually knows and lives the Bible.

Here’s what is probably the best wisdom I know to give: Don’t hold them back. This is what I hear Paul saying to Timothy and this is such great wisdom. Encourage kids to go after it. Flat-out say to a young person, “Go hard after Jesus. Don’t let up. Don’t slack off. Go hard after Him because Jesus wants your heart, and Jesus is where the real adventure is.” Say that to your kid and to other kids. Say that often. Don’t hold them back by neglecting to call them out to the radical edge.

And don’t hold back the gospel. That stuff we’ve tried, when we said we didn’t want to be “pushy” with our faith? That didn’t work. Statistics teach me that each successive generation in the U.S. is becoming less spiritually aware. I place at least some blame on the Church that has dumbed down the gospel for the sake of being more culturally comfortable. Go hard after your own faith, then share it. The next generation deserves a fair account of the gospel.

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Sow extravagantly.

I’m thinking about the very familiar story in Luke, chapter eight, of the sower who goes out and sows his seed. He tosses it everywhere — on rock-infested ground, into weedy nooks, onto fertile soil, onto a well-worn path. The farmer just keeps tossing. I like picturing him as a happyMDG : Seed : Plowing a field and sowing seeds in Ethiopia man, tossing away, humming something happy, watching the clouds as he tosses without the first concern for the seeds that fall in unproductive places. He doesn’t weigh the seed or test the soil. He doesn’t prognosticate about the probabilities. He just tosses seed and smiles.

Make no mistake: this guy is a farmer, not some crazy man who has no idea what he’s doing. He knows the condition of a piece of ground when he sees it. He knows when the ground is hard. He knows the chances of something rooting in most of that soil are slim to none. But still, he just keeps tossing.

Hearing Jesus tell this story, I’m reminded of the time a woman crashed a dinner when Jesus was eating at the home of a leper (yet another thing to love about him). This woman who’d experienced great healing walked right into this person’s house and began to pour very expensive oil over Jesus’ head. This was once-in-a-lifetime oil. Precious and expensive. Far beyond her capacity to afford.

Someone said, “She ought not be wasting that expensive perfume like this. We could be feeding poor people with that money,” to which Jesus replied, “The poor are not going anywhere. If we cash in this oil and use the money to feed poor people today, they will be hungry again tomorrow. Some things just are. The trick here is in understanding the moment. What this woman is doing right now — in this moment — is beautiful. It points toward Heaven. Meals last hours; this kind of adoration is eternal. From here out wherever the gospel is preached, what she has done will be talked about in memory of her.”

He was right, of course. We’re remembering her even now.

Her story and the farmer’s both point to the same truth: resources are rarely the issue. In fact, our problem may be that we are not generous enough with our resources. In our quest for efficiency, we become stingy. We over-emphasize efficiency. We want the most bang for our buck, but it turns out that the Kingdom is not about efficiency. It is about effectiveness.

Extravagance.

Let me say that again: The Kingdom is more concerned with effectiveness than efficiency.

I suspect that far too often in this work of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ, resources are not the critical issue limiting our effectiveness. Faithfulness is the issue. What confines and confounds us is the limit of our own imagination. We don’t tend to honor extravagance, even when it is a holy extravagance.

I am not at all a fan of the prosperity gospel, but I do believe that we in the West don’t trust enough in God’s provision. God seems to have the ability to shift resources into the path of Kingdom work when people who are following Jesus step out in faith.

If you’ve been called to be a sower, you need to be tossing seed everywhere. Don’t hold back.

Sow extravagantly.

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