What Sort of People Are You?

I continue to read through a biography of the mission work of Dr. David Livingstone.  The book, entitled The Daring Heart of David Livingstone, is written by Jay Milbrandt.

Here is an excerpt (pg.82-84) I spent much time thinking about…

“They came to rest in mid-July at a small village.  Not long after arriving, the group learned that a large slave caravan would soon pass through on its way to Tette – the first direct contact with the slave trade for the Universities’ Mission.  They anticipated the interaction with apprehension and curiosity.

“‘Shall we interfere?’ asked a member of the Universities’ Mission.  Discussion led to a decision, with Livingstone’s team coalescing: they would impede the caravan, if possible.

“Minutes later, 84 men, women, and children rounded a hill – hands bound and necks locked in taming sticks.  The slavers proudly drove their catch, marching triumphantly with their muskets in parade position.  The sound of horns rose up from the procession, announcing their arrival to the village.

“Then the slavers saw the European men (in Livingstone’s group).  Their proud ranks broke in all directions, fleeing into the forest with cowardly fear.  In their scattered departure, they disregarded the slaves, who now stood before the expedition, bound and abandoned.

“The 84 began kneeling to the ground, then vigorously clapped their hands as a show of thanks.  The expedition rushed forward with knives to slash the ropes binding the women and children.  The taming sticks proved more difficult.  They found a saw and, one by one, cut each man to freedom.

“‘An act of God’, the Universities’ Mission leaders declared, when they finally paused to offer an explanation.  Livingstone felt otherwise – the slavers had feared their fierce Makolo guards.  But with 84 lives newly under their care, they had little time to debate the source of liberation.

“An expedition member immediately gave instructions: take the meal you are carrying and cook breakfast for yourselves and the children.

“Their suspicious disbelief required coaxing, but jubilant enthusiasm quickly overwhelmed hesitation.  The newly freed men and women turned their former taming sticks into a hearty fire and began preparing a meal.

“As food and freedom set in, the victims began to tell of the tragedies they had witnessed.  The day before, the slavers had shot 2 women after they attempted to untie themselves.  Another woman could not carry her load, so a slaver ‘had her infant’s brains knocked out’.  They murdered another man with an axe simply because he fell down in fatigue.

“Soon, a young boy approached Livingstone and the men.

“‘The others tied and starved us, you cut the ropes and tell us to eat; what sort of people are you?’ the boy asked Livingstone.  ‘Where did you come from?’

“‘[We are] English,’ Livingstone always liked to say, ‘and the English neither bought, sold, not held black people as slaves, but wished to put a stop to the slave-trade altogether.’

“Although he spoke of ending slavery, Livingstone had largely avoided personally liberating slaves in the past.  Always on the move, he had no resources for aftercare.  The slaves often needed medical attention, transport, and, most importantly, protection.  Freed slaves left to their own devices would shortly be recaptured in the nearest village and sold back to the same slave raiders.

“With the Universities’ Mission present, the equation changed.  The Universities’ Mission had resources to care for victims, and they wanted a project to begin their permanent settlement.  The expedition gave those liberated a choice: freely go where they pleased or stay to join the Universities’ Mission’s Christian community.  All chose to stay.  The mission instantly had a membership.”

Tragic.  Yet, God was able to work it toward a better ending.

But, re-read that passage.  This time, don’t think of these as slaves to slave-traders but as lost people enslaved to Satan.  This time, imagine the church in place of this expedition crew.  And, this time, see a picture of how the church grows.

When the church acts as the church should, those in our community ask the same question as was asked by this young boy: “What sort of people are you?”

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The Magnifying Glass of Missions

Missionaries see the big picture… but they also see the close-up, magnified, ground-level view of the people around them.

A big-picture knowledge of your mission field is helpful for everyday mission, but it’s only half the story.  In order to engage people in meaningful ways, we must learn the ground-level picture, too.  You might know about someone; you can study them, learn facts about them, recognize them in a crowd.  But, unless you really know them, you might not have the depth of relationship required to get into a real conversation with them.  To reach the culture around you, you’ll have to get closer… getting to know people, their stories, their values.

Maybe you’ve determined your church cannot reach your entire community.  But, you could surely reach a neighborhood within your city!  Depending on the size of your community/town/city, there may be a wide variety of values, trends, and concerns.  But, people tend to gravitate toward like people, so when you get to know a particular area of your town/city you will find people of mostly the same values and interests.

Here are some questions you might consider, taken from the book Everyday Church, written by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis:

  • Where are the places/activities we can meet people?
  • Where do people experience community?
  • Are there existing social networks with which we can engage?
  • What are the patterns/schedules of our neighborhood?
  • How do people organize their time?  When are times we can engage meaningfully?
  • What cultural experiences/celebrations do people value?  How might these be used as a bridge to the gospel?
  • What sins will the gospel first confront and heal?
  • What is the good news for people in this neighborhood?

Some churches do what is called “neighborhood mapping”.  This is similar to prayer-walking, but is intended to show one more of what a particular culture/area/ neighborhood is really like.  Rather than praying, neighborhood mapping involves asking questions, seeking God, gathering data, and devising a plan with which to reach people in that culture/area/neighborhood.  As you walk, you might consider these questions:

  • What is God revealing to you as you notice the type/age/condition of housing in your area?
  • How many schools are there?  What might God say about the needs they have?
  • What government offices/facilities exist there – including police, fire, etc?  What are ways you might be able to serve, love, bless, or be involved?
  • What kind of businesses are there?  What businesses are noticeably lacking?  Is God stirring anything in you to help?
  • How safe do you feel?  Are there hazards for children?  Is it safe to be out after dark?  What might God be calling you to do?
  • What health, social, and human services exist in the area?  Is God impressing anything about these to you?
  • What buildings or people does God seem to emphasize in your mind?
  • As you walk, what impulses/thoughts might God be giving you?

Little Room for Coincidence

One of the books I am currently reading is a biography of the life Dr. David Livingstone, the famous missionary/explorer to Africa.  The book is entitled, The Daring Heart of David Livingstone, and is a good read.

A small paragraph from the book…

“Livingstone’s religious faith left little room for coincidence.  The waterfalls and rapids of the Zambezi (River), he believed, existed to redirect him.  Livingstone concluded the expedition had not failed, but hit a turning point toward its divine purpose.  Perhaps God had guided them to the Shire’ (River).”

How involved do you see God in the activities of YOUR day?

How involved do you see God in the conversations of YOUR day?

How involved do you see God in the direction YOUR day takes?

Does your “faith” leave room for “coincidence”?  Is there such a thing as coincidence?

When Micah Was Born

On Saturday, I woke up… expecting to move more boxes into the home we’ve lived in for 3 weeks.  I expected to empty those boxes, putting things where their new spot would be.  Later on Saturday, I expected to check out the “new” Spider-Man movie, that is now so old it is about to leave the theaters.  On Saturday evening, I expected to study my sermons for the next day… preparing for another Sunday.  That’s what I expected would happen last Saturday.

Then Micah was born.

Micah is my first grandchild.  A girl.  My daughter’s daughter.

My daughter was sure Micah would never come (though she actually came 5 days early).  Life was expected to continue as normal.  But, Micah had other plans.  And, at 6:01PM, after a day 2 families spent together in a hospital waiting room, those plans became a reality.

19 inches long.  5lbs 15oz.  10 fingers.  10 toes.  Petite perfection.  And she already wields such power!  It seems that everything already revolves around her!  Adults act goofy… and talk goofy… and smile goofy.  And, at the first whimper or squawk, everything goes silent… until the adults begin to talk to her in a goofy way again.

And beyond her small world, think of how things have changed with those family members closest to her.  Her birth turned a young married couple into parents… just that suddenly.  And turned parents into grandparents… just that suddenly.  She, without actually doing anything other than being born, began a new generation.  A whole new generation!  Just think of that…

If that’s what Micah was able to begin when Micah was born, there’s no telling what she will do throughout the course of the life still before her!

How Well Do You Know Your Town?

Most of us think we know our community/town/city.  Most of us think we have a pretty good grasp of the culture in which we live.  Yet, when we’re asked to describe our own neighbors – those people who live closest to us, many of us struggle to give even a short list of their interests and personalities.  A few months ago, my Sunday morning schedule was altered in such a way that I was able to run a quick errand in a large store on my way home from an early church service; I was surprised by how many people were not in church (and did not appear to have been dressed as one might expect to see at most churches) and had adopted Sunday morning as a shopping day.  This might come as a surprise to many of our regularly-attending church-goers.

If you were a missionary sent to your community, you would get to know the mission field you’d been sent to.  So, since – as a believer – you ARE a missionary and you HAVE been sent to the community you live, shouldn’t you get to know it?

Where would you go to learn more about your town/neighborhood/community/city?  You might check the statistics given on your city’s website, the kind of cultural events and clubs that are present, Wikipedia, etc.  All of these help paint a picture of the places God has sent us.

You might even engage in a conversation with your neighbors… or the people in your community… or the people who live closest to your church building.  You might ask them about their family history… the things they like/dislike most about their community… what they spend their time and money on… what they value most… etc.

Take a look at what Paul did in Acts 17.  As you read, notice the things about the Athenian culture Paul knew.  Paul understood he had been sent as a missionary to the people of Athens.  So, he did some homework.  He discovered there were both Jews and Gentiles living there… and he knew where he could find crowds of them at any given time (v.17).  He knew there were philosophers there… and that Athenians liked to learn and discuss new things (v.18-21).  He knew there was a statue in the Aeropagus dedicated to an “unknown god” (v.22,23), and he used that fact as a point of connection to share the gospel (v.23-31).  In the midst of sharing the gospel, he showed he knew some of the local culture by quoting Athenian poets (v.28).  Historians think Paul only spent one winter in Athens.  Yet, look at all Paul learned about the people he’d been sent to?

How long have you been on your mission field?  Did Paul know Athens better than you know your own community/town/city?

Let’s follow the example of Paul, the greatest missionary in history, and get to know the facts and everyday routines of our own mission fields!

Saturday Was Move-In Day

Many of you have been following our recent adventure of moving to Conway.  Through many twists and turns, we sold our home in Lonoke… camped out with great friends and family for a week… and signed the papers (hundreds of them!) for our Conway home.  We moved in on Saturday!

As I sit in my recliner (now on the other side of the room), I think of this new home we now live in…

“God… You know how many times we have asked You over the past few months about this event.  We have asked You for wisdom, for direction, and for confirmation… and we have moved forward believing this is the right thing at the right time.  Over the past several weeks, our life feels like it’s been lived from boxes, but things are starting to settle in… and we thank You for that.  We have experienced other larger changes in our life as a family, but change is still change… and change can be difficult.

“On this day, as on other days of transition, Lord, I am reminded of Your enduring faithfulness.  I look around at these still-pictureless walls and feel a sense of gratitude. You will continue to be with our family in this new house.  You will continue to grow our faith in this new house.  You will continue to bring us closer together in this new house. You will continue to dry our tears, hear our laughter, cheer our successes, and love us through our failures; You will do this in our new house just as You did in our last house.  The houses may have changed, but You have not.  You are still God.  You have been with us – and for us – through sickness and health, through joy and heartache.

“If our old walls could talk, Lord, I pray they would give testimony of a family trying to center their lives around faith in You.  And now, as we settle into a new place, I pray for the family that has occupied our previous space.  I pray they might grow as we grew, to have an ever increasing sense of Your greatness.

“For us, Lord, as we move forward, I pray that we might find ourselves in a place where we commit ourselves to the extension of Your grace… not only to each other but to those who walk through the doors of our new home.  Let our new home be a place where the stranger is made into the friend, the lonely have a place at the table, and downtrodden find the joy of hope, and a family has the security of belonging.  May this home, in so much as it can, serve as a reminder of our greater home in Heaven.

“But, at the same time, Lord, I pray You would guard us from being too comfortable.  Keep it at the front of our minds, Lord, that we are not long for this earth and that our true citizenship lies elsewhere.  I pray that – even through the regular frustrations of home ownership – that you would do something redemptive, bringing to our minds the fact that our true security, inheritance, and dwelling is not in a house that needs a plumber, an electrician, or new paint on the wall, but one that will not decay for all eternity.

“May it be so for Your name, for You ultimately are in whom we find our best home.  Amen”

From the Jaws of a Lion

One of the books I am currently reading is a biography of David Livingstone (a missionary to Africa in the mid-1800s) entitled “The Daring Heart of David Livingstone” (written by Jay Milbrandt).  Here is an excerpt from chapter 2, early in his missionary life…

“His most infamous narrow escape (referring to Dr. Livingstone) had come at the jaws of a lion.  In an African village paralyzed by the beasts, terrified villagers ran to Livingstone seeking his hunting skill to kill the lion.  Livingstone had encountered lions before – he once helplessly witnessed a woman ‘devoured in her garden’.

“At the villagers’ request, Livingstone set out, gun over his shoulder, to track the lion.  As he walked alone across the valley to track the beast, the lion found him first.  Livingstone lifted his gun, aimed, and fired both barrels.  BANG!  A direct hit.  But not a kill shot.  Startled, the giant cat turned in defense.  As Livingstone rushed to reload, the lion rushed him.  Pouncing with a great leap, the lion’s teeth sank into Livingstone’s left shoulder as it tackled him to the ground.  Growling, the beast violently shook him ‘as a terrier dog shaking a rat’.

“‘It caused a sort of dreaminess,’ Livingstone recalled.  He felt no pain or terror.  ‘I was quite conscious of all that was happening… It was like what patients partially under the influence of chloroform describe, who see all the operation, but feel not the knife.’

“Livingstone thought the moment would be his last as he painlessly watched his approaching death in slow motion.

“Unexpectedly, an old African man appeared on the scene with a gun and fired both barrels.  The gun jammed.  Yet the noise distracted the lion from Livingstone, drawing its attention to the old man.  The lion released Livingstone, leaping at the man and driving its teeth deep into his thigh.  Then it turned to attack another native, biting him in the shoulder.  Amidst the commotion, the lion succumbed to the wounds inflicted by Livingstone’s initial gunshot.

“The beast fell to the ground and Livingstone rose to his feet.  Shattered and bearing 11 permanent tooth scars, his arm would never fully heal or again rise higher than his shoulder.  Despite injury, the attack transcended the physical – Livingstone became fearless.  Death no longer scared him.

“‘The shake annihilated fear,’ Livingstone reflected, ‘and allowed no sense of horror in looking round at the beast.  This peculiar state is probably produced in all animals killed by the carnivore; and if so, is a merciful provision be our benevolent Creator for lessening the pain of death.’

“Punctuated by the lion encounter, Missionary Travels (a report written by Livingstone for his people back home in England) sold an astonishing 70,000 copies.  Livingstone was not only famous, but fever gripped England.

“A best-selling book now made Livingstone not only famous but rich as well.  He set aside money to take care of his family, who had mostly lived in squalor while he was away.  From rags to riches, Livingstone now possessed financial security, social respect, and modern comforts.  He had it all; he had become an icon.”

It had appeared to be the darkest day of his life… but resulted in the opportunity to do the mission work he would do for the rest of his life.

You may be going through a tough time today, but hang on.  This day may be necessary in order for tomorrow to be the great day of opportunity it may be!

A Missionary’s Biography

One of the books I am currently reading is a biography of the life of Dr. David Livingstone… entitled, The Daring Heart of David Livingstone, written by Jay Milbrandt.  Dr. Livingstone was a fascinating man.

On one occasion, as he stood before a group in order to explain his work in Africa, he spoke of his call to be a missionary:

“Can that be called a sacrifice which is simply paid back as a small part of a great debt owing to our God, which we can never repay?  Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter?  Away with the words in such a view and with such a thought!

“It is emphatically no sacrifice.  Say rather that it is a privilege.  Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger now and then with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause and cause the spirit to waver and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment.  All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us.  I never made a sacrifice.”

What a perspective!  Would that we would all… including myself… view our lives and  ministry in such a way!!

2 Ways to Live On Mission with Your Family

If our family… our immediate family who lives under same roof or our extended family we may see every day, every week, or at family reunions… are those closest to us, then they are certainly those to whom we can most often show and share Christ.  How do we do that?  Depending on the relationship, we can:

  • Be Instructive to Children

When it comes to a parent’s role in a child’s life, he/she is the primary discipler.  Not the pastor, not the youth minister, not the children’s minister… but the parent.  We cannot delegate our child’s spiritual growth to a church, school, camp, or trip.  Others can help, but WE are responsible to teach and model the gospel to our kid.  Remembering Deuteronomy 6, we demonstrate the good news to our children… in everyday ways, using everyday objects and stories.  We help them understand the motives behind disobedience.  We pray for them… and with them… and encourage them to pray themselves.  We explain baptism and communion to them while they watch as we partake.  We read the Bible… sometimes out loud, we have family devotions, we pray.  As the opportunity arises, we explain how much God loves them… and what Jesus did for them on the cross… and why He did that.

God has placed us on mission to those He’s most-closely entrusted to us.  Our own children are part of our mission field.

  • Be Faithful to Adults

In the 10 Commandments, we are told to “honor” our parents.  But, the New Testament also speaks to adult relationships… echoing these words over and over in different ways.  The Bible tells servants how to behave toward their masters (employees to bosses?), wives toward unbelieving husbands, husbands toward unbelieving wives, and every Christian toward those in authority.  As Jesus faithfully laid down His life for us, we are sent to the unbelieving adults in our family.  As Jesus revealed the character and work of God through His actions, death, and resurrection… so we can reveal God’s character through our own words, actions, and death to self.

God has placed us on mission to those He’s most-closely entrusted to us.  Those adults in our family are part of our mission field.

Your Closest Neighbors

Jesus told us to love our neighbors.  When asked to specify who those neighbors are, He implied that EVERYONE is our neighbor.

The greatest act of love from a believer is – of course – to show and share Christ with those who are lost.  And we should be willing to show and share Christ with EVERYONE.

Everyone includes our families!

The largest group of people we interact with on a regular basis are those under our own roofs.  They are our closest mission field, and – sadly – often the most forgotten mission field.  There’s no one with who we share our lives with more than our spouses, our kids, our parents, and our siblings.  Being on mission cannot skip over those closest to us in order to get to those around the world.

After giving the Shema in Deuteronomy 6, God commanded Old Testament Israel to teach these important truths to their children in as many everyday ways as possible.  This sentiment continued throughout the Old Testament, as God instructed His people to make His ways known to their “children and their children’s children”.  Later, in the New Testament, Jesus encouraged children to come to Him (even as His disciples attempted to keep them away).

Unless your family is uniquely blessed, there are likely those within your immediate or extended family who do not yet know Christ.  Some of them may be rejected Christ outright.  Do your best to live on mission with your family.

As we enter into this season of summer of mission trips… and Vacation Bible Schools… let’s do what we can to share Christ.  Let’s share Christ around the world… and in our community.  But, let’s also show and share Christ in our own homes… with our own families!