Life on Mission

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By Brian Sharpe

Imagine being on a trip with 16 other people in two cars, traveling through 11 states in three days. Imagine the number of hours you would be in the car. Now imagine doing this with no electronics. You had music to listen to, but no cell phone or movies. That’s the trip I recently came back from. It was an amazing trip. The conference was well done. I know God was at work in the hearts and the minds of the students and leaders, and I loved watching Him do so. I am excited to see the lasting effects of this trip.

It is easy to go on trips with students and think that they are just for them. However, I needed to be open to hearing from God. I do believe He spoke and taught me a lot. This Sunday, you will hear more about what God taught me. One of the lessons I wanted to share is that if you are open to hearing from God, he will speak while you live life with others. On this trip, I watched God break down barriers. He brought students and leaders together to have conversations that were amazing. God helped the students feel connected with each other, and the key ingredient to that was time together. It was proximity.

That is something that a lot of people struggle with in the church. They feel alone. They see other people connecting and they wonder what is wrong with them. That becomes a reason why people leave churches.

I really believe the remedy for this isn’t a new church. I believe the remedy is proximity. Who are the people whom you are inviting into your sphere? Who are the people whom you are choosing to run with? We call a person like this your Barnabas. These are the people whom you live life with and live on mission with. The “on mission” is really important. Are you on a mission to point each other toward Jesus and the ways of Jesus? When we are not inviting people into our life or living on mission, we are losing out on what God has for us. We can live life with people and not be on mission and it can be good, but it will be lacking. If you live on mission alone, you will feel like no one is as committed to Jesus as you are. But when you live life with people and live on mission, you will see God at work all around you.

Living life with others is you being willing to let others into the mess of your life. They are people you would have over at a moment’s notice, even if the house is a mess. They’re the people with whom you will share the highs and lows of life. They are the people whom you are in close proximity to in life.

Being on mission means you are living in a way that is honoring to God and you are seeking to walk with others on that same journey. It doesn’t mean you are perfect at it, but it means that you are seeking to honor God in everything. You are seeking to know God and depend on Him in prayer. You seek to love others well and live your life as an act of worship. That is what it means to live on mission.

See, one of the things that the Challenge conference taught us is that we are all sent out as missionaries. We have been placed in this world for a reason, and it is to live life with others. It is to live on mission. It is to share Jesus with everyone with whom we come into contact.

So the question is, who are you living life with? Is your life focused on the mission of God?

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Why Does God Send Worms?

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By Larry Short

“The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” (Job 1:21)

I don’t know whether women struggle with this as much as we men do, but, as Americans, I think we are all way too performance oriented. Whenever something good happens to us, we have a tendency to feel a bit buoyed up. We may think, “Yes, I deserved this.”

Conversely, whenever something bad happens, we are deflated and frustrated. We also may think, “Yes, I surely deserved THIS.”

Scripture provides great anecdotal perspective on these, our very American tendencies. In the fourth chapter of the book of Jonah, we find our reluctant prophet—who so far in the story has struggled with massive disobedience issues, prejudice, and lack of compassion—acting like a spoiled child, disappointed because God has given grace to his enemies, and sitting alone on a hillside overlooking Nineveh, hoping for fire and brimstone while a spiritual revival of historic proportions is going on in the city below him.

“But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, ‘Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.’

“But the Lord replied, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’ Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city.”’

As Jonah sat and sulked, two very interesting things happened:

“Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant.”

“But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, ‘It would be better for me to die than to live.’ But God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?’ ‘It is,’ he said. ‘And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.’

“But the Lord said, ‘You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?’”

Jonah 4:1-11 NIV

As Elim’s young adults group, Pulse, was studying this chapter, God sent a worm to take away a shade tree I had enjoyed for 22 years: my job at World Vision. I’ve had the privilege there of doing enjoyable, meaningful, and rewarding work for more than two decades. I can’t remember when I last felt bored at work. I started an Internet program that is now the third-largest online nonprofit fundraising platform in the world, pioneered online products that now raise hundreds of millions of dollars and save or change countless thousands of lives, and enjoy a huge amount of respect and a significant sense of accomplishment.

Then along came a worm. I was informed that I was being laid off on August 3.

World Vision is a wonderful organization, despite being staffed by fallen human beings like me, and I’ve learned not to take such things personally. I’ve gone through a lot of challenging transitions in my four decades of adult work life, and each and every one has ultimately proved the truth of Paul’s words in his letter to the church at Rome:

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28 NIV

It’s awesome news … we, too, can claim this promise if we love God, knowing that we have been called “according to His purpose!”

I know many of you reading this are going through far tougher things than I am right now: cancer, heart disease, family or marital struggles, addictions, or financial challenges. But God’s promises are true. The same gracious and loving God sends both shade trees and worms. He cares more about building Christ-like character in us than He does about making us comfortable.

I am praying for you as you face whatever “worms” God sends your way. Thank you for praying for me as well!

P.S.—One quick insight about the worm God sent Jonah. The Hebrew word for that worm is a very specific one: Tolah, the crimson worm who, throughout Scripture (as in the messianic Psalm 22), represents Christ Himself! Our suffering Saviour is present in a very real way in the midst of whatever sufferings God brings our way to build our character. So chew in that one for awhile!

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Wisdom of God

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By Jeff Foerster

What did you take away from Sunday’s sermon? What is God telling you; what is He shaping within you as you heard His word preached? How are you becoming different, different than you were and more like God’s Son?

Let’s take a look back at what Martin shared with us. There are two places one may seek wisdom: “the world” and the LORD. The world’s “wisdom” is seductive, in that it feels right and satisfies the inner longings of significance and self-determination. It focuses itself upon “what works” and the surface level of life. This is satisfying for all who want to “get results” and take pride, joy, comfort, and even rest in a job well done.

Faith does not play a substantial role in the wisdom of the world. Instead, circumstances and status become indicators of success and can even lead to a warped understanding of God’s blessing. We see a negative picture of this in John 9, as the disciples query Jesus to tell them the origin of the sin that led to the blind man’s circumstances.

Where the world focuses on circumstances and outward things, true wisdom, coming from God Almighty, digs deeper and cultivates a heart that can weather any circumstance. God doesn’t make the climate around you calm, He strengthens you for, and in the midst of, the storm. The Scriptures speak of being purified by the fire of testing and tribulation (Isaiah 48:10; 1 Peter 1:7; Revelation 3:18). If you belong to Jesus, if you are a son or daughter of God, then God is at work, changing you for your good and, more importantly, for His glory.

What to do: Repent! In humility, ask God to reveal your sin. Seek His forgiveness and that of others, and turn away from the desires that worldly wisdom would have you pursue. Ask God to teach you (James 1:5). Then, listen to the Lord—sermons on Sunday, talking through what you heard with another, listening to sermons on radio or online, reading the Scripture, asking God questions and waiting for His response—through His Word and through others speaking His Word.

You have to know this: God loves you to death! He loves you just the way you are, and He loves you too much to leave you that way. Join Him on this exciting journey and you will be transformed before your own eyes, and the eyes of others.

The cost: all that you hold dear. The benefit: peace regardless of circumstance, everlasting life, and more than you could possibly imagine!

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America and Me

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By Tom Chase

shutterstock_112860445As I sit to write, I hear the sound of fireworks, the beginnings of celebration in my neighborhood. When this is published, most celebrations will be a memory. I want to write about our nation and the great God who gave us all we have. From our beginning, how dependent we were on Him. God blessed America! I love that about our nation. But I find my heart crying this July 4 as I think about how far we have strayed from our beginnings and from the One and Only who established us. I think that is our problem. We have left our God.

We, the Men’s Bible Study Group, have just begun a study in the book of Jeremiah, the last prophet to Judah prior to the pouring out of God’s judgment, the exile, and the destruction of the temple. God said to Jeremiah,

“I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

Jeremiah 1:9-10

What a call … what a negative message, it seems! So, up and to this point, I’ve been asking, “Why?” Why send Jeremiah? The judgment is a done deal. It’s already on its way. Even if they turn and repent, it will still come. I am discovering at least part of the reason. God used Jeremiah to lay out His charges against Judah again. Not to convince Himself that they deserved it, but to convince them that they deserved it and needed it. There comes a time for God’s judgment. It is right and in line with what He has previously communicated—yet, even though the punishment is coming, He longs to communicate and help those who need His judgment, to see the reasons why it is needed and necessary.

God showed Judah with images, such as an unfaithful wife, just how poorly they had treated God. They had chosen chunks of wood and rocks in exchange for their glorious God. It’s ludicrous and almost laughable (almost). Yet God sent Jeremiah because Judah and Israel needed to see ultimately how superior He (God) is to anything else they could choose. We need that too.

After all Israel’s and Judah’s faithlessness, listen to the heart of God. God says to unfaithful Israel, who had already been exiled years earlier:

“Return, faithless Israel,” declares the Lord,
“I will frown on you no longer,
for I am faithful,” declares the Lord,
“I will not be angry forever.
Only acknowledge your guilt—
you have rebelled against the Lord your God,
you have scattered your favors to foreign gods
under every spreading tree,
and have not obeyed me,”
declares the Lord.

Jeremiah 3:12-13

Punishment was needed and sent, yet restoration was still on the heart of God.

I understand that the nation of Israel and America are profoundly different. Israel has a covenant relationship with God and America does not. So I am not taking God’s promise to Israel and trying to make it apply to America, but I see the heart of God and a little more of who He is from how God has dealt with Israel.

So, what about America? Are we at the point of needing punishment in America? It would seem so, and certainly time will tell. There are many similarities as to how America has treated their God and how the nation of Israel treated theirs. God has already been gracious to us, much and the same way He was and has been to them. But what about the restoration piece? I don’t know the plans God has for America. When I read the last chapters of the Bible, it appears America is nowhere to be found. My heart is for America to return to her God. We need Him!

So, if possible, how does a nation return to God? I could begin stating many things that the nation, our nation, has done wrong. It would be easy for me to point out here or there, the things that America needs to begin to do (or to stop doing). I could get caught up talking about all the evil out there and forget all about my own heart. If America is to return to its God, to be revived, it must start with me. It begins in my heart! Where have I been like Judah, choosing wood and stone? Where have I been unfaithful and compromising? God, would you search me and know me? O God, would you start with me? The part of this story that I have been writing about found in Jeremiah 1-6 (take a read if you like) that I think really applies to you and me is the heart of God for His people. I love the heart of God!

“Return, faithless people,” declares the Lord, “for I am your husband. I will choose you.”

Jeremiah 3:14

As you let that sink in, I have included the lyrics to the following song, “Ode to a Lost Innocence,” by Silverwind. I think it is both a call to America and to us as individuals to return to Him (listen to the song here and follow along with the words below).

Ode to Innocence Lost

By Silverwind

Think about the days when you were just a child

When your thoughts were pure and your heart was undefiled

You always stood for what was best no matter what the test

And everybody knew you were different from the rest

 

Remember when the truth you knew was still a flame

And your simple honesty gave you a name

But something happened deep inside to swell you up with pride

The day you left your sovereign guide is the day your conscience died

 

So return, return to the innocence of your youth

And recall, recall the purity of truth

Oh revive, revive the freedom you knew then

And put your trust in God again, America

 

You used to fight to bring all evil to an end

But then you let that enemy become your closest friend

If you would open up your eyes

You would realize the pleasure that you idolize

Is a trader in disguise

 

So return, return to the innocence of your youth

And recall, recall the purity of truth

Oh revive, revive the freedom you knew then

And put your trust in God again, America

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