Back to South Sudan (March 14-25)

I will be leading a team of 10 people back to South Sudan next month for the purpose of evangelism and discipleship training. This trip will be very similar to the previous trip I took back in September, where we will be working alongside EPC and their members with the work. Our goal and heart is not to do the work alone, but come alongside the church and under their leadership to do this together.

Last year we saw boatloads of immediate fruit. Somewhere around 120 people gave their lives to Christ, and of those about 100 joined the church and were baptized in the following weeks. How encouraging is that?! The Lord is doing a tremendous work through the EPC in Yei, and praise God that He allows us to be a part of it!

Our TVC team will split into 2 groups of 5, and each group will be joined by about 20 EPC members. Then, each team will go out into nearby villages together in Yei, South Sudan to share about Christ with all that will hear. The best part about this trip to me is how it’s set up – before our team gets there, EPC will have 4 or 5 of their leaders go out into their communities to talk with their neighbors about what we will be doing, what we are about, and will ask them if they want us to come speak. Then, if they say yes, they set up an appointment for our team to come share. I can’t stress to you the beauty of this! We are not “brainwashing” anyone, or forcing anyone to believe anything – we are sharing Christ with those whose hearts have been softened to want to hear!

I would really appreciate a lot of your prayers for this trip. Here’s a list of a few things you can pray for:

  • For me:
    • humility
    • servant’s heart
    • boldness to share
    • peace for Courtney while I am away
  • For the team:
    • humility
    • safety
    • favor from the Lord
    • flexibility

I’m looking for 10 people who will commit to activelypraying for me and for my team. Is this you? Also, if you want to help support the team financially, please let me know as this is definitely a need.

And now for the sizzle factor, here are some pictures from my last trip in Sept.

 

 

How to Share the Gospel

I found this on a blog from someone at Austin Stone, a missional community church in Austin, TX.

 

Following up on Sunday’s sermon I thought it would be helpful to write an article providing practical ways to share the gospel. We preachers spend a lot of time conveying the need to share the gospel, but we don’t always give listeners the tools to get started. Sharing the gospel does not need to be as intimidating as we make it out to be. Being someone who consistently shares the gospel does not mean we run around our workplaces heralding “turn or burn.” I hope to lay out a blue print here that will help you strategize and implement regular gospel sharing in your everyday life in a natural and seamless way.

Before we get into the “how to” of evangelism I want to stress that in order to be an evangelist in your sphere of influence, you must be intentional. I think sometimes we have romantic notions of people coming to us, falling on their face, crying for us to tell them the path of salvation, but we must remember that Christ told us to “go”, not to wait. So it is imperative that we set our hearts to do fulfill the mission that Christ has called us to. If you don’t think it’s necessary to share the gospel, forget about reading this article; read your Bible instead. But if you have a heart to see more worshipers of Christ in your places of influence, read on and think deeply about how these steps would look in your life today. I would highly encourage you to read this with pen and paper in hand, following along with these steps as we go. That way, at the end you will be all ready to hit the ground running.

Step 1: Identify the top 4 topics that come up in regular everyday conversation

This is not the time to over-spiritualize. For most of us we will have answers that look like work, family, school, types of leisure, hobbies, health, politics, relationships, TV, movies, etc. These are the things that in everyday conversation, we will talk about 99% of the time with the people we encounter. Think about those “shooting the breeze” type conversations you have with people everyday at work, your neighborhood, or on the bus. What are the topics that are normally brought up? Probably something of the types listed above. The four things that I have the most conversations about would be family, work, sports, and health.

Step 2: Divide those 4 things into smaller parts

This sounds more difficult than it really is so let me use myself as an example. Here’s how I would divide my top 4 things:

Family: Wife, children (if I had any), where I grew up, where I live now
Work: (Keep in mind I work at a church) Teaching, meetings, leadership development. When you think about it for yourself, think about those work things that regularly come up in conversation; things like clients, sales, profit, ethics, whatever work topics you discuss most.
Sports: hockey, tennis, and basketball (these are the sports I talk the most about)
Health: Working out, eating right (When I have health conversations, those two are all I got)

99% of all the conversations I have on a daily basis, whether it is with strangers, acquaintances, friends, or coworkers, involve these things to some degree.

Step 3: Pick one of the major topics you listed in step 2 and practice connecting its smaller parts to the gospel.

Again, for the sake of clarity I will use myself as an example. This is where the rubber meets the road. You’ll need to think deeply about these issues. The question you need to ask yourself is how can I connect those everyday things in my life to a gospel conversation? Think about it: if we are Christians, then every single thing in our life should relate to Christ and the gospel in some way, and our goal is to think about what that connection is, then speak it. I will use my family topic to illustrate this step. Also keep in mind there could be a myriad of transitions from each of these topics so I am just including a couple for examples.

Wife

“Yeah, my wife and I argue a lot too. Sometimes it’s really hard to get past it and let things know, but when I consider that Christ’s love for me is limitless even though I offend Him every day, it seems ridiculous that I would hold a grudge against my wife.”

Children

“It wasn’t until I had children that I fully realized the love that God has for me. Because of what Christ did for me on the cross, the Bible says that I am really a child of God and all of those feelings I have towards my children, God has towards me in even greater degree. That’s amazing!

Where I grew up

“I grew up in Detroit, MI. It’s as bad as everyone thinks. The poverty there was horrendous. When I think of the people there with no hope, very little government assistance, forgotten in a lot of ways, it’s unbelievable to think that that is a perfect physical picture of what my life was like before I came to know Jesus.”

Where I live now

“I live in south Austin, near I-35 and Slaughter. The best thing about that place is Southpark Meadows shopping center which is the largest retail area in Austin. I love to go to the Borders there and sit and read on my day off.” (This is where many will ask what you like to read) “I’ll go there and spend some time reading my Bible or some other theological book that talk about how great God is and how beautiful Christ is.”

Practice, practice, practice

Invite a Christian friend, roommate, or spouse to have mock conversations with you about the things you listed above, then practice making transitions to the gospel. There are a host of transitions from a variety of angles so get creative. This does take practice, but it will definitely give you confidence and show you how easy it is to make simple gospel-centered statements in everyday conversations.

Step 4: Next time it comes up in real conversation, make the connection!

Realistically speaking, if you do not make a mental note to make these connections, you will probably squander the opportunity. A couple of things to keep in mind here: first, BE INTENTIONAL! If you do not set your mind and heart to share the gospel then it will just fall by the wayside. Pick a couple specific people each day, pray for God to allow you a conversation, and then make the commitment to speak the gospel into their lives. Secondly, we must remember that Jesus is an offense to a lot of people. It would be misleading for me to convey that you won’t have any awkward conversations. To some we will be the aroma of death and to some we will be the aroma of life (2 Cor. 2:15-16) and which means it is important to remember that not everyone will be receptive and accommodating to the truth of Christ. But be intentional and let God do what He desires to do.

Finally, chances are in the beginning you will be much more timid and apprehensive about making the gospel transitions. Don’t get down on yourself, pray for more boldness, and live another day. God will always be faithful to provide us with opportunities.

Step 5: Repeat steps 3 and 4 for the rest of the topics you listed

Simple as that. Think about it: if you are faithful to complete these steps, you will have a gospel presenting arsenal that targets every single one of your daily conversations! I do not want to imply that speaking the gospel is as easy as falling off a log, but it can be much simpler than we make it out to be. God is the one who saves yet we must be intentional to speak the gospel saving truth to those around us; now go out there and make disciples!

At a loss…

These last two weeks have been a bit of a beating. I was preparing for a South Sudan meeting one Sunday and caught wind that there is a mandatory staff meeting in a few minutes and anyone on campus needed to attend this. I walked downstairs and immediately knew something was up by the looks on people’s faces. My first thought, of course, was “reorg? again?” but I knew this couldn’t be the case because it was too somber. “Oh no, Bill..” Bill Seal, Spiritual Formation Pastor down at the Dallas campus, was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer a couple months ago, and so I assumed this was what this meeting was about.

I started to prepare my heart for the impact of whatever blow was about to come my way about Bill, not knowing that that I was about to be thrown the largest curve ball ever. Matt Chandler started reading from the Word. I don’t remember what passage he was reading from, or even what it was about, all I was thinking was that he was softening us up for something big. And I will never forget how those next few words sounded: “Last night, Mo Murrey took his life…” It usually takes me a while to process things, but this cut me to the core. Immediately I started huffing and puffing (which was very odd to me) and tears just began to flow from my face for about an hour (which was always very odd to me).

Mo was not just a co-worker of mine at The Village, and not just a friend – he was a deeply loved member of my home group. He was a guy that we had been walking with closely for several months now, and we were constantly encouraged by the growth we had seen in him. He was a man that struggled for sure. It was a daily battle for him to allow Jesus to compete with the suicidal thoughts in his head, from the moment he woke up in the morning to the moment he fell sleep at night. These thoughts of inadequacies, of shame, of guilt – some days they just wouldn’t go away. He knew Jesus, and he knew Him well. He knew more than most of us his need for a Savior, and he desperately desired the Lord’s return. But in the end he gave in to a lie. Mo shared with me on more than one occasion about all of this, and how he had thought of ways to do this, but assured me it was only a struggle and that he would never act on it. I was hesitant at first because these statements are nothing to take lightly, but Mo never seemed like a guy that would actually do it. He convinced me that these were just thoughts…

I spent the first few days in shock, in horror, in pain, and in disbelief. As his home group leader there was a huge potential for feelings of regret or “I should’ve done this” or “If only I would have done this…,” but the Lord was gracious to me and protected me, as well as our home group, from all of this. Our home group took this news hard, and we mourned together for days. I can’t even begin to express how close I now feel to these men and women, and I don’t know how I could have gone through any of this without them. They feel like family to me now, and I love each of them tremendously.

Our emotions have been all over the map the last two weeks – sadness, pain, confusion, anger, compassion, nauseous, numb. I usually don’t feel much of anything as it takes a lot for things to get to me, but I feel that again the Lord was gracious to me in allowing me to feel all of these emotions. It was a weird deal to me, and I cried more in those first few days than I have in the last 5 years.

All in all, it has been a very tough 2 weeks, but the Lord has never left me. I go through waves of feelings – I’m grateful for the hearts and souls of those in our group, I’m saddened by the loss of someone I deeply loved, I’m confused as to why he didn’t reach out to us, I’m grieved at the length he went to to silence these lies, and I’m angry at the selfishness of the act and how all of us will carry this with us for the rest of our lives.

Mo left a lot of things behind – loving friends, a great church, a mourning family, and a slew of unanswerable questions. Why did you do this? Why didn’t you fight? How long have you been planning this? Didn’t you know that you were loved?

But in the end, these questions don’t matter. None of them will offer peace, and none of them will bring back my friend. The only thing that will bring comfort is knowing that the Lord saved us despite the evil we are capable of. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). He doesn’t love a future version of you; He loves you right here and right now, and there’s nothing you can do to change that.

The Lord’s Love For Us, And The Lengths He Goes To Show It

Here’s yet another story of how much the Lord loves us, and what crazy lengths He goes to show us:

 

My wife is in Kenya right now serving alongside the Mendonsas at Naomi’s Village (orphanage) and before she left, she needed to raise partial support for her trip. The Lord faithfully provided the majority of the funds needed, but when she left she was $200 short. We had already contributed a rather large contribution to this trip, and so the remaining $200 had to come from our savings and to be honest this stretched us a bit.

This week, as I was checking the mail, I came across a rather unusual piece of mail. The return address just said “Lozano v. Twentieth Century Fox.” Thinking that this was most likely junk mail, I set it aside to throw it away later. Curiosity got the best of me and so I ended up opening it. Evidently there was a lawsuit filed against Twentieth Century Fox about unwanted advertising, and somehow my wife was unknowingly a part of this. Apparently in Sept 2005, a lot of people (my wife included) received a text message advertising the movie release “Robots” and so everyone that got this received is now receiving a settlement. How much was this settlement? Any guesses? That’s right. $200.
A random text from 6 years ago started a chain reaction of lawsuits and court hearings. How sweet is the Lord that of all the time between now and then, this is the time He chose to have these checks sent out? You can’t make this stuff up people…

Which Kingdom Are We Building?

After a week-long Perspectives Intensive course, I was challenged by this very question – which kingdom are we trying to build? Are we trying to build the church’s kingdom, where our heart and goal is to get more and more members into our body, or is it the Lord’s Kingdom,where we seek to transform entire communities throughout the world with the gospel?

Hear me out in this: I adore the local church. I truly do, and I think it is imperative to the growth in Christian maturity. But if you were to travel around the world there is one thing that is painfully clear – no one does “church” like Americans do. It is not about the building, it is not about events, and it is not about the programs. It is about advancing the Kingdom of God. People relinquish their comfort for the sake of the gospel, keeping what is of most importance ahead of them.

Here’s a few ways to show which kingdom we are focusing our efforts in building:

Church Growth:

  • The church in mind – the church is central, and so we focus on creating a comfortable environment for people to come into
  • Discern needs – what do our people need? comfy chairs? more programs? childcare during events?
  • Individual conversions – how can we tailor the message to meet each person where they are at?
  • Believer’s turf – staying where it’s comfortable to you, and inviting people into this. (Church softball leagues, church basketball courts, church coffee shops)
  • Find Christians – Christians love to hang out with other Christians where everything they do is around other people that think like they do, act like they do, and value the same things that they do.
  • Large group – people are OK with keeping their definition of church to be Sunday morning gatherings filled with numerous amounts of people, where they do not have to know or be known by anyone.
  • Scripture for knowledge – we soak in the Scriptures and obtain a sort of spiritual obesity, where we can spit off theology like crazy with little influence or effect on our lives. 
  • Build programs – we create ministries, events, and programs for our people, creating a dependence within the body on the church organization in order to obtain maturity.
  • Build buildings – We outgrow our space, so we build larger buildings. Then, we outgrow that space, and have add-ons to the building. Then, we build even larger buildings, and so on, and so on….

Kingdom Advance:

  • The Kingdom in mind – the local church is pivotal, but it is not the end-all, be-all.
  • Group/family conversions - we desire to see the entire family saved, and not just individual members.
  • Unbeliever’s turf - we go to them, we don’t just hope that they cross out paths. we learn what’s important to them, we learn their culture, we learn where they are coming from. does your friend like the arts? then learn about film, music, dance, etc. does your friend like basketball? then learn who the stars in the league are, and keep up with how teams are doing. does your friend like nascar? then learn why turning left for three hours is exciting.
  • Find “person of peace” - when in another culture, look for the man that the church can be built upon. work your way out of a job there so that you will turn the ministry over to them – the kingdom is NOT reliant on you!
  • Small groups - discipleship cannot be done by coming to a building filled with hundreds/thousands of people once a week.
  • Scripture for obedience – we read as an overflow of love and gratitude for the Father, with the desire that it will radically transform our lives.
  • Build disciples – don’t seek to make people feel good or comfortable – discipleship costs.
  • Train leaders – doesn’t structure ministry in a way that is dependent on you or the church organization. work yourself out of a job, and at some point you will need to turn the ministry over and leave.

The Red Balloon

I wanted share with all of you about something very personal to me, something a dear friend said to me several weeks ago that has really impacted my life. He said that he had a picture for me that he wanted to share. He saw me holding this little red balloon. He was watching me let go of this balloon, and afterwards my arms became wings like eagles and just saw me soar.

I didn’t really understand what he was talking about, so I just thanked him for his encouraging words and moved on. Later that night I was praying and just told the Lord “I’m tired, I’m done doing this all on my own.” I was letting go, and afterwards I physically felt the release. Ever since then I feel like there’s been a huge weight lifted from my shoulders of years of trying to do everything on my own, and I just have had an incredibly sweet season with the Lord because of this. For the last 6 weeks I have been trying to figure out where all this happiness and joy in the Lord has come from, but kept coming up blank.

Then, this morning, it hit me. It was the red balloon.