Cultivating Daily unto the Nations: @AnnVoskamp shares her mother’s heart upon her oldest son’s leaving & returning from international missions.

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Ann Voskamp, author of One Thousand Gifts and blogger extraordinaire on aHolyExperience.com, recently wrote her heart onto page regarding her oldest son’s first international mission service experience. He left. She prayed. Little bit of worry. He returned. She shared her reflections the whole way through.

In the context of cultivating daily unto the nations, I thought this was worth sharing. Worth sharing for anyone learning grace and love and service. Worth sharing for any mom and dad facing the notion now or later of “letting go and letting God” have your kids, and worth sharing for anyone encouraging those who serve internationally.

Hoping these three blog posts will encourage you as we cultivate the near love of Jesus by going near to the nations.
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Here is the post Ann wrote as she was preparing for her son to leave:

What a Parent Needs to Say to a Child Before They Leave

Here is the post Ann wrote as her son was gone:

When you’re worried while they’re gone: What to do in Hard Times

And here is an excerpt of her reflections upon his arrival home. She was reflecting upon the fact that he certainly was no prodigal for going away in this way, but her mind went to the heart and emotion of a parent eager for a child to return home. What if we parented like a “Prodigal Parent?”

Check this out:

I know there are no guarantees that anyone comes home again.

I know sometimes what messes our life up most — is the expectation of what our life is supposed to look like. Entitlement can leave you feeling entirely empty.

I know the He only means everything to reshape us and nothing to reduce us.

“Just…” I reach over to pick up his bag at the top of the escalator and I don’t know how to say this or why it even matters because he’s just come home from a mission’s trip and his eyes are all lit and he can’t stop smiling.

He’s hardly the prodigal but I want to kill the fattened calf and celebrate the miracle of return and how do I make sure he always knows?

“Just — no matter what story you’re carrying,” We pause at the top of the stairs and I reach over and grab his arm, the closest thing I’ve got to a bone marrow transplant. “Know you can always, always, always come home.”

Who, if you knew their whole story, wouldn’t you love?

He nods and forget wondering if maybe someday, some son will be a prodigal. Forget wondering if someday some prodigal son will come home again.

Forget that.

Because I”m the Prodigal.

I’ve been the Wayward Prodigal Parent. Prodigal in the negative sense. The wasteful one. Irresponsible in my spending.

The Prodigal Parent who’s extravagantly wasted too many gold moments, too much priceless time, too much of my spiritual inheritance on the blinking and the shiny and the fleeting. He takes his bag from my hand and I have no idea how his shoulders got so broad. We only inherit so much time.

How do you live so that when your kids think of the Grace of the Gospel, they think of you?

That’s the crux of the thing: By being the Wholehearted Prodigal Parent. Prodigal in the positive sense. The lavish one. Extravagantly, sacrificially abundant in my giving.

The Prodigal Parent who extravagantly loves, recklessly spending on sacrifice. The Prodigal Parent who wastes time waiting up, listening for, praying long.

The Prodigal Parent who lives this lavish mercy, this opulent, offensive grace.

I look over at my boy come home. Why hadn’t someone told me that parenting was less about avoiding prodigals but more about becoming a better Prodigal parent?

You can read Ann’s entire post by CLICKING HERE.

Thanks, Ann, for blessing us with your gracious heart and practical thoughts of living out a Father’s love as we cultivate daily.

-jason

Cultivating Daily unto the Nations: how @TimTebow’s comeback against the Dolphins caused one couple to want to serve in Zambia…

It was all Tim Tebow’s fault.

He seems to get a lot of credit and blame lately. This is for something pretty cool, though, that hopefully in time will have as much impact as he and his family have in the Philippines.

Tebow’s first start was against the Dolphins back in October. It was the start of a winning streak that included 15 points in a little over two minutes. To be there live was amazing!!!

I am not gonna lie. I prayed hard in that 4th quarter for the Lord to give Tebow and his team the strength to pull that comeback off, trusting that Tebow would not steal the glory from the One who gave him this platform in the first place. I even cried when they scored the go-ahead 2-point conversion. You might say we were into the game! :)

My son and I had gone down to Miami for the game with some friends of ours from the church family of which we are a part, along with this guy named George. We picked him up on the way down along the Turnpike.

No, seriously, he was visiting with our family from Zambia. I had met him earlier in May, 2011 at an event I was teaching at in Philly. We really connected, and I was so grateful for his encouragement and new friendship. When he was in the states again, he was gonna come and visit with us. It happened to be last October when that happened, and it happened to be the weekend we had planned to go down to see Tebow and the Broncos face the Dolphins.

Equipped with his brand new Tebow T-Shirt, George accompanied this little section of the Westpoint family down to Miami.

The night before the game, we ate at an Outback Steakhouse. I like their croutons, but that is not important in this story. A husband and wife who were with us had been praying specifically for the Lord to show them a way that as a family they might give themselves away globally in a long-term, impactful way, impacting hopefully the folks they would serve but also understanding the impact it would have on their family. Well, who knew that the Holy Spirit wanted to have dinner with us at Outback just north of Miami. I guess he likes their croutons, too.

By the end of the dinner, that couple looked at each other with that “I guess Zambia is it” look.

Fast forward to today. In fact, to exactly an hour ago at 3:30. That husband, along with another husband that walks with them as family of God together, flew out on a jet-plane to Africa. They will be there for a few days exploring possible partnerships and opportunities. PLEASE PRAY FOR THEM AND THEIR FAMILIES, FOR SAFETY, WISDOM, AND DISCERNMENT.

I can’t wait to see what comes of this!!! How cool is it that God not only put His love on display for us, but also invites and involves us in getting to give His love away into others, even around the world. And how awesome that God loves us enough to invite us to experience what it is like giving His love away, understanding that we fully live when we fully love, as He has loved us.

May we continue to listen to God and do what He says, cultivating daily both among neighbors and nations, inviting a few other folks along for the journey with us.
-jason

Cultivating Daily unto the Nations: a comment about the #SBC name-change thing, a group whom I believe definitely cares about the nations…

This past year, a team was formed to research alternatives and make recommendations for a new name for the Southern Baptist Convention (the SBC). The announcement from this team’s findings were released Monday night. The recommendation was NOT to change the legal name of the the SBC, but rather to offer an alternative name for churches and leaders to use along with the legal name. That alternative name recommended is “Great Commission Baptists.”

Now, some of you may not have even known that my background is Southern Baptist. I grew up in the home of a very gracious, authentic, loving, wise Southern Baptist pastor. He has served with the New Orleans Baptist Seminary since the mid-70s. His humble and authentic following of Jesus alongside his faithful commitment to serve and train Baptist leaders is probably a very significant reason why I still associate in Southern Baptist networks and even pastor a local church expression that participates with our local Baptist association.

And if you know anything about the SBC, you know that historically we have emphasized three things: the Bible, the Great Commission, and the autonomy of the local church. We assert that the Bible is the living, inspired Word of God to be held sacred and taken seriously as God’s story of His everlasting love displayed for us through Jesus and a cross. We assert that the Great Commission is a call on every follower of Jesus to make disciples among neighbors and nations, baptizing and teaching in the ways of Jesus. We assert that the local church is autonomous, held accountable because of relational association with other local church expressions. In its purity, the SBC is not really a denomination. It is simply a very intentionally focused and cooperative group of local churches unified around the mission of God to love as Jesus has loved us. At least ideally.

The two main reasons, at least as I saw them, that the SBC was even looking to change our name were very understandable:

  1. the founding of the “Convention” was in the context of affinity around slavery, something the “South” historically is remembered for.
  2. 21st century partnerships and ministries throughout North America and around the world that are not in the Southern USA have had difficulty communicating with locals in their contexts why they are connected with the SBC, and it has even been a hindrance at times (according to what I have heard over the years).

These are good reasons. Might I add another that is important to me.

We also need a name change because our current name does not speak to our purpose.

Our current name does speak to our geography. It does speak to our baptist affinity. And it does speak to our convening. But it does not speak to our purpose.

Our current name also says several things without stating them directly. Our current name reminds us of our founding past, for which we officially apologized in a recent summer convention. Our current name declares our distinctiveness, often unfortunately exclusiveness, because we are more apt to work only with Baptists and give Baptist stats for the needs we perceive rather than cultivating for “on earth as it is in heaven” in the cities where we live. Our current name implies our convening and cooperation, but most leaders if you asked them would assert that we cooperate less in unity than promotion would indicate.

Thus, the team was formed to research options and make recommendations. And they did.

Here’s the concern I have with what was recommended. It was not bold, clear, and intentional, in my opinion.

First, it was not bold because the reason given for offering the alternative name while keeping the legal name was that it was a safe approach to a very risky proposal. I cringed when I read that. Safe? Not risky? This is not the stuff of movement and mission and transformation. Furthermore, I am concerned that disunity and territorialism could potentially increase from some local churches calling themselves GCB and others SBC. This is detrimental to the cooperation that we promotionally declare as a value. The indecision of this alternative name is especially unfortunate during a year when Fred Luter, a black pastor from New Orleans and someone I respect greatly, will likely be elected President of the SBC. This will be the first time a black pastor has walked in this leadership role. This is a bold move that declares hearts of reconciliation and cooperation and a new day in the life of the SBC. The media will have something of cooperation and reconciliation to report. Hopefully, the potential disunity and bickering that follows over a nickname will not diminish this historic event.

Next, even though the words “Great Commission” are in the alternative name, it concerns me that this new suggested name will not be a clear description of our purpose. Why? Because there are so many different labels and definitions given to the Matthew 28:18-20 verses commonly titled “the Great Commission.” Some say the Great Commission is evangelism. Some say it is missions. Others assert that it is discipleship. Might I suggest that all of these alone are wrong. It is very clearly a call to MAKE DISCIPLES, as this is the only subject (an understood imperative “you”) and verb (make) and direct object (disciples) in the three verses. Three modifiers go along with this directive. “As you are going” is commonly translated into English as “Go.” “Teaching” is commonly translated into English as “teach.” And “baptizing” is commonly translated into English as “baptize.”

The implication is that we are to go and live out the ways of Jesus together among the lost. Jesus will go with us there. We are to with Him and together with one another (John 13:34-35) love people so that they might see the near love of God in and through us and thus desire to become a learner of His ways along with us. We are to MAKE new followers then learn His ways as they also make disciples among the lost of our culture. Our togetherness in love and unity around mission brings growth in our own loves as we love the lost and lonely. This is not evangelism alone. It is not missions alone. And it is certainly this intellectual, self-development mechanism that we have labeled “discipleship.” It is simply making disciples.

Making disciples among the lost would indicate a more Christ-centered approach to what is normally called “discipleship.” Indicative in this understanding of the Great Commission are three crucial elements of mission: (1) that Jesus spent the bulk of His time living out the rhythms of the Kingdom among the lost, (2) that discipling happened for Jesus in 100-plus week relationships, not just 10-week studies, and (3) that the church must move beyond being LEARNED in a classroom to being LEARNERS in the daily.

Could this be the Great Commission. Until we as the SBC become clearer about this, we will not be a unified around mission kind of people. Fortunately, however, God does this really cool thing called sanctification and makes use of our love for Him and for others in gracious, miraculous ways anyway :)

Finally, this alternative name is not intentional, in my opinion. When I talk with young leaders, there is a more and more common sentiment and more and more impassioned desire for what Jesus prayed in John 17 – maturity of oneness around the mission Jesus gave to us. Unity. I was really hoping that this new name suggestion would not only call us to a unified purpose, as it did with the words “Great Commission” (but again that needs to be clarified), but that it would also rally us as Great Commission Churches rather than Great Commission Baptists.

Prioritizing unity would be evidenced by ministry strategies that included a vision for “on earth as it is in heaven” in a city rather than success for one local church, an effort that included all Christ-centered leaders and ministries of a city rather than Baptists only, and a result that decentralized strategy-making beyond clergy into the daily rhythms of followers of Jesus together in homes, schools, offices, and communities.

Just yesterday, I was reminded of limitations that “Baptist money” creates for our churches and organizations who are funded by Cooperative Program giving. There may be a non-Baptist leader who is loving the lost and seeing amazing transformation in a context, but because he or she is not baptist, we can partner with them in significant ways to cultivate the Gospel and see new local church expressions blossom. Why? Because we say that we have to stay distinctive as Baptists to honor the “baptist money” given. Well. we may want to reconsider, and remember that it is God’s money, not Baptist’s.

And Jesus prayed for “on earth as it is in heaven.” And it goes without saying that Baptists will not be the only ones in heaven.

So, why this long diatribe about something on which I normally avoid even making comment? Because I genuinely felt like this name change was an opportunity to rally us all together, remind us of our roots, and call us into the future to grow in unity around the mission of the God who became Emmanuel.

Isn’t that what the Bible teaches as Jesus’ intent for His church? Isn’t that what the Great Commission demands, if I take the Great Commandment (Mark 12:30-31) along with the “New Command” (John 13:34-35) along with the Great Commission along with the story of “on earth as it is in heaven” (Acts) coming alive among a very disunified world (Jews and Gentiles) brought together by the transforming love of Jesus (Ephesians 2)? Wouldn’t that turn heads – otherwise self-absorbed local churches uniting together in a city to love the people of the city together in hopes of seeing new followers of Jesus?

Bible. Great Commission. Associational, unified autonomous local churches.

Sounds pretty baptist to me. More importantly, sounds like what Jesus might want.

May we be willing to lay down all that is SBC in order to take up all that Jesus intended. May we be committed as unified followers to this mission that to me is very clear. May we be catalysts as Baptists for the work of God in our respective contexts, not just preservationists of Baptist ways.

After all, if we are honest, we have been talking about being Great Commission Baptists since those founding days in that southern city of Augusta.

We shall see. But we shall not see if leaders like you and me spend all of our time in blog dialogue and not enough time cultivating the Gospel together with all its implications among neighbors and nations.

So I’ll stop here…

Much love.
-jason

Cultivating Daily unto the Nations: how a picture on the fridge and a letter to a stranger and a prayer from a child can love the nations.

 

So organizations like Compassion International and World Vision and others get criticized sometimes for being too big and too many admin costs and not enough local leadership and local economic stimulation around the world. But sometimes I wonder if we criticize organizations for not doing it all the way we would want to or think it should be done, when maybe we ought to be more grateful that they are doing something that includes great resources, loads of relationships, and evidence of transformed lives.

I sponsored a Compassion kid back in 1993 while I was a college student. I wasn’t quite sure how I was gonna send that $30 every month, but I sensed that I should, no matter what. That child graduated from the Compassion program to move on into adult life with an education and some skills he might not have had otherwise. Most importantly, he graduated walking with Jesus.

My wife and I continue to sponsor two kids with Compassion. The most meaningful part to us, besides that those two kids are hopefully being encouraged and fed and taught from people who love them with the selfless love of Jesus, is to watch our kids grow in their awareness of the needs of other kids around the world.

Our kids see the Compassion kids’ pictures on the fridge. Our kids write them letters and draw them pictures. Our kids even pray for them from time to time.

And they may not realize it, but their Jen and I are intentionally cultivating into their growing hearts a love for the nations. We pray it will bear much fruit.

We also pray for the fruitfulness of the lives of those two Compassion kids. And how cool would it be for our kids to actually meet them one day! For now, the letter and picture relationship will have to be enough. But hopefully, our kids will think far beyond a college diploma and a good job and a spouse and kids.

Lord, we surrender our kids to you. May they love both neighbors and nations. May they give away what has been given to them, dreaming Your dreams and loving like You love.

Grateful. Hopeful. Both for the futures of those Compassion kids as well as our own.
-jason

Cultivating Daily unto the Nations: one couple’s story of how they love the nations from right where they are…

My friends Chad and Cindy got wrecked by this transforming love of Jesus that compelled them to love neighbors and nations. They began to pray for specific, relational wisdom as to how they would could love the nations from where they are with their precious family. I asked them recently to answer a few questions that I thought would encourage the rest of us as we seek wisdom on cultivating daily unto the nations from right where we are.

Here are their responses:

:: you decided to use your everyday energy and resources to cultivate the near love of Jesus unto the nations, specifically to people in Ethiopia. Why did you do that?

Over several years, God gave us compassion for the children of Africa. From the child soldier in war ravaged Uganda, to the poorest of poor in Ethiopia, and to families to lack clean, safe water. Over time, that feeling of compassion and ever evolving understanding of the Gospel led us to action. Understanding (as best we could) the saving grace of Jesus Christ compels us to love our neighbor. For us, it’s a form of worship. We are so thankful for the blessings God has given us and want to share those blessings and the Gospel with those neighbors.

:: what have been some of the challenges along the way?

Some challenges were trying to discern between the general call to love the poor and the specific calling on our lives and how God wanted us to specifically respond. We strive to be faithful to God’s call. Also challenging is helping fellow Christians understand the need to love globally. Americans in particular need to look beyond our cities and our needs; we need to respond locally and globally. Ultimately, we know it is the Holy Spirit who must spur someone to act in love toward their neighbor.

::  what are two stories of fruit you have seen from what you have cultivated so far?

First, we were absolutely thrilled to be a part of the Advent Conspiracy in 2010. Many churches raised funds for a well at Chapa School in Awassa, Ethiopia. Many sites struggle for years to raise necessary funds and the Churches of West Orange did it in two months! The well was installed in June 2011 and I’ll always remember the absolute joy at the thought of what that clean, safe water will mean to that community.

Second, Chad and I felt compelled to raise money for Living Water International for more opportunities for clean water by running a half-marathon in January 2012. We set our goal for $1300, which would mean clean water for 13 families for an entire generation! We hit our goal and the funds went to the most needed places, particularly the Horn of Africa where there has been a horrible drought and famine. It felt wonderful to run for someone else! And drinking water at those water stops along the way of the race was very meaningful to me. I will never look at water in the same way again.

::  what would you suggest to someone wanting to get started in doing this themselves?

Just do it. Maybe God has been pushing you toward a particular action. Don’t be afraid to step out in faith with action. Some excellent books in understanding the need and how you can respond are:  Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt, Fast Living: How the Church Will End Extreme Poverty by Scott C. Todd, PhD., and Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just by Tim Keller

:: any specific ways someone can support what you are doing right now?

We are always looking for people willing to sponsor children at Chapa School. Children’s HopeChest (hopechest.org) is the sponsoring organization and they have many needs. Also, Living Water International (water.cc) is an excellent organization that a person could support.

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Thanks Chad and Cindy. So grateful for you. You can read more about Chad and Cindy at the “Go and Do the Same” website, the name of the ministry they started to love the nations.

May we go and do the same.
-jason

Cultivating Daily unto the Nations: a few thoughts on loving the nation that happens to also be our neighbor…

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It seems so far away from Orlando. And yet it’s only about a 2 and 1/2 hour plane ride. In today’s world, that makes them our neighbor. In terms of countries, in terms of states and provinces, they are. Canada to the US. The northeastern states to Quebec. And the largest city there is Montreal.

If I told you that demographic data states that less than 1% of the population there claims to be Jesus-followers, would you believe me, or would you think I was mentioning an eastern country that is far, far away from these “Christian” nations of the west?

If I told you that there were cities, not just communities, in Quebec that did not have a visible church presence, would you think I was speaking of another continent than our own?

This is where the water hits the wheel for me. This past summer, I began to ask myself what my belief in Jesus really means to me. Because if I really believe that the lost can be found in Him, that purpose is defined by Him, and that hope arrives in our lives because of His presence and His love, then would I not be burdened to take His love to both the neighbor next door and even the nation next door?

Or is this “Christian” stuff just for me and my wife and kids and our betterment and our blessing?

Please pray with me. I am not suggesting that we all need to learn a polished presentation and be armed with a truthful tract and go declare a meaningful message to a people we don’t even know. I guess what I am praying is that the Lord will awaken me, awaken us, to how His love given compels the one to whom it is given to live with personal presence embodying God’s glorious truth displayed via consistent compassion in the midst of ongoing relationships among a people we are really wanting to know. A people whom we care more about what they are becoming than about our own betterment.

This is what God did. The presentations of previous messengers had not been enough. Truth declared alone had not restored. But God in skin delivering truth in the embodiment of love, that was enough.

The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 HCSB)

And Jesus said to His followers:

As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” (John 20:21 HCSB)

We do not save. But we are sent. And sent together simply to “make disciples.” To go be the family of God in the midst of the lost and lonely like Emmanuel has done with us. And we go as a learner of His ways empowered by His Spirit to be a lover in His way that those who have not found their way may find Him and simply believe that they are loved by a near God.

How might we embody both truth AND grace to both our actual neighbors (those in our daily pathways) as well as to our neighboring country?

Please pray, if you sense His leading to do so, for wisdom and response that we all might feel compelled to give the love that has been given to us.

-jason

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