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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.
Here is the post Ann wrote as she was preparing for her son to leave:
Here is the post Ann wrote as her son was gone:
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.
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.
Helen Lee guests blogs today for “Cultivating Daily” with four suggestions for cultivating the near love of Jesus daily into your neighbor. She is the author of The Missional Mom: Living with Purpose at Home and in the World, available on Amazon.com, and she blogs at TheMissionalMom.com. Both are very much worth the read.
Below are Helen’s wise suggestions and insights on how we, as followers of Jesus, can love our neighbor. Thanks so much for sharing these with us, Helen!
1. Expand your definition of the word “neighbor.”
“Neighbor” is not just the person who lives next door to you, but the person whom God brings into your path at the time He appoints. It could be the fellow mom walking to school to pick up their child at the same time as you. It could be the person at the checkout lane in the grocery store that you see every time you are there. And certainly, it could be the lonely widower who lives next door to you. Who does God bring into your line of sight and into your life on a regular basis? Consider that person your neighbor.
2. Take intentional steps to be a light to that “neighbor.”
Once you have a greater openness to the people God is bringing into your life, the people he wants for you to see as your neighbor, start taking steps to reflect the light and love of Jesus in your interactions with that person, however brief. In all his interactions with people around him, Jesus was unforgettable; be that person who radiates God’s joy, peace, and kindness, trusting that even the shortest of those divine appointments will make an impression.
3. Pray regularly for those “neighbors.”
Pray specifically that the Holy Spirit would use your time with your neighbors in a purposeful way, revealing more of Jesus to them every single time. Cultivating the Gospel into your neighbor is not merely about transmitting words and ideas about who Jesus is; it is about introducing them to the person of Jesus as he resides in you, and as you share his love to those around you.
4. Take relational risks with those “neighbors.”
This is the hardest part: once you have made a relational connection with that neighbor, pray for an opportunity to take the relationship one step further. Perhaps it would be to ask if you could pray for them in some way; perhaps it would be an invitation to coffee or dinner. And if the person declines, continue the earlier steps and to pray that another opportunity will arise to take the relationship further. But be patient–relationships can take time to build!
Great suggestions and insight from author and friend Tasha Levert. So grateful she was willing to share this with us. I will have another post from Tasha in a couple of weeks. If you want to read her awesome book that encourages moms with an engaging mix of wisdom and humor, you can get is on Amazon by CLICKING HERE.
Thanks Tasha for sharing this with us. Give your sweetheart Tim a big hug from me, too :)
Cultivating Daily with Elbows on the Table
Suppertime has not always been the highlight of our day. Tim and I have three daughters, and when the girls were younger, the hours between 5pm and bedtime were crazy around our house.
Each night, reality would waltz into our dining room and crush my Focus on the Family inspired visions of quality time at the dinner table as peas were chucked, milk was spilled, and tantrums were thrown. I remember feeling so discouraged one evening that I wondered if chucking my own peas would make me feel better. It didn’t.
Today, our girls are 11, 9, and 7, and while their table manners are still up for debate, I can say proudly that we have made it through the pea chuckin’ phase (all of us ;)! In fact, suppertime has actually become one of the best parts of our day.
Our tradition is to eat supper at the table with the television off (gasp!), and when we gather, we ask one of two questions:
:: What was the best part of your day?
:: What has God said to you lately?
We ask the first question every night (even if we’re hosting guests). I love this question: “What was the best part of you day?” The question gives all of us a chance to see a glimpse of each others’ life. Tim and I get a snapshot of what’s going on in their world, and the girls get a picture of ours. Some of our moments are blatantly Kingdom focused. Some aren’t. Regardless, the time spent sharing connects our hearts and our lives in a way that I think makes Jesus smile.
The second question, “What has God said to you lately?” is one that we only ask every few months. Our goal is to help the girls learn to hear God’s voice and to know that a HUGE God has something beautiful to say to everyone, no matter how small. Sometimes they can answer the question. Sometimes they can’t. If they have nothing to report, we don’t freak out, nor do we jump into a 10 week family devotion on discerning the voice of God. We simply encourage them to remember to listen for His gentle whisper as we dive into our dessert.
There is something right about breaking bread together. Take time to share a distraction-free meal with your family. Whether you’re chucking peas or sharing your God moments, the Father is pleased.
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.
Continuing today sharing some insights from a friend, this time about how he is cultivating daily in the marketplace. Rod is an attorney and a good friend of mine. I am very grateful not only for his friendship but also for how he encourages and challenges me to live to help others know that they are loved by the God who came near.
Below, my questions are in bold. Rod’s responses in italics. Hope they encourage you and others you know who are cultivating the near love of Jesus daily at work.
:: why do you think it is important to cultivate the near love of Jesus daily in the marketplace?
Because He asked us to do so. Jesus wants us to love our neighbors, like the good Samaritan. In other words, love those that are on our paths. For those of us on the path daily in the market place, we need to cultivate love where we are.
:: what are two examples of how you have done this?
Being that I am a lawyer, I will give a general response to this specific question. At our firm we try to regularly engage in bible study together, to pray for each other and to allow our respective lights to shine. I think it is important for every Christian leader in the marketplace to try to encourage an environment that results in people feeling comfortable to share their Christian values, and at the same time, foster a loving environment that for those that are not Christian, they too would feel loved and encouraged. (How about that for a lawyer answer!)
:: what are three encouragements you would give to someone wanting to live sent in the marketplace, understanding the challenges that come with it.
1. Remember that you play to an audience of one. You should be less concerned with what those around you may think about you and strongly consider what He thinks about you.
2. Keep an eternal view. I think Solomon or one of those old testament guys said this life is all smoke. What we do in this life matters, but only in as much as it effects our eternity.
3. You never know what impact you could have on someone on your path, what you say and do can change someone’s life.
Thanks Rod. Much love.
Over the next couple of weeks, I will be sharing some guest insights from folks whom I have asked to share four suggestions for cultivating daily into family, into neighbors, into the marketplace, unto the nations, and for the sake of unity, respectively. Today the suggestions come from husband, father, professor, Bible scholar, avid reader, and all-around great dude – Dr. George Guthrie. Make sure and check out Read the Bible for Life as well as Reading God’s Story, both works that He either authored or compiled and invaluable resources as we all continue to learn and live the ways of Jesus in the daily rhythms of life.
He was my professor and mentor in college, is my friend, and will be a blessing to you I am sure as he has always been to me. I asked him for four suggestions for cultivating the near love of Jesus into family, based upon what he and his wife lived and did with each other and their kids. Thanks Dr. Guthrie for doing that.
Here is what he shared:
1. Cultivating space for our relationships with the Father. The good news is that God wants to know us face-to-face and has paid a price to make that possible. Among other dynamics, the new covenant involves us all knowing God. So, we have made time with God priority for us, and we have taught our children to have such time as a normal rhythm of life.
2. Cultivating our family relationships with gospel conversation around the table. As family members we also need face-to-face time with each other, and meals tend to be a great time to communicate. For our family, we have seldom done conversation about the Bible as a program; such conversation has tended to happen naturally as an outgrowth of our individual times in the Word. Our children have consistently asked sincere (and sometimes very difficult) questions about the Bible. The conversation is in the air we breathe as a family.
3. Cultivating our hearts and minds with good media. When the children were small, they were only allowed to listen to “Jesus music” (e.g. Michael Card’s “Sleep Sound in Jesus” CD) or the Bible (either in dramatized form or just being read) as they fell asleep at night; they did watch or listen to other types of materials at other times. We really worked at only allowing age-appropriate movies as they were growing up. We placed strict limits on video games. On the other hand, we have made reading central to our home (rather than a TV). We and our children have been exposed to lots of great theology and stimulating stories that have developed our thinking about God, the world, and ourselves.
4. Cultivating space and resources for ministry to others. Ministry in and through the church has just been a normal, consistent part of our lives. We have involved our children in giving from their earliest days. We constantly have people in our home, either to live with us for a time, or to feed and minister to them for an evening (we currently have 15-20 students over for a meal every-other week). We are not naturally great at cultivating relationships with our neighbors and still are learning how to do that more effectively, but we have tried to develop an “others focused” mentality for our family.\
Thoughts? Questions? If you do have questions for Dr. Guthrie, comment here and I will ask him to interact with you when his time allows.
Hopefully these suggestions have encouraged you as you cultivate daily into family.
Yesterday, I posted a post that included a lot of language about unity around mission and how important this is to Jesus. So important that He prayed for it specifically in the Garden of Gethsemene:
18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 I sanctify Myself for them, so they also may be sanctified by the truth. 20 I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in Me through their message. 21 May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me. 22 I have given them the glory You have given Me. May they be one as We are one. 23 I am in them and You are in Me. May they be made completely one, so the world may know You have sent Me and have loved them as You have loved Me. (John 17:18-23, HCSB)
Well, I genuinely am not one to try to pimp a book I have written, but I thought it important to share with you that in case you want to read more of my thoughts about unity around mission and why this matters in the work of God among us, you can do so. I wrote beyond MY church, because I felt led to share a message that had big-time wrecked me and the local church expression I am grateful to pastor.
Hopefully this will share more insight on why I am so burdened to see Southern Baptists along with all followers of Jesus come together around the mission of God so that the work of God will come alive among us.
Or like my friend @JonTyson says, to see “on earth as it is in heaven.”
May we follow Jesus, listen to Him, and cultivate whatever He leads us to cultivate so that “on earth as it is in heaven” may come in our cities.
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:
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…
Enough of my writing for a change :) I want to hear from you if you have the time to share a few thoughts. Here are the questions:
May we persevere as we cultivate daily the near love of Jesus in the marketplace, loving others as He has loved us.
When I read the following article, I had many interesting reflections. One of them was simply how essential these three vital rhythms are for church families to actually love our neighbors. It is a post by Ray Ortlund on the GCM site, neither of which I know much about, but I do know that this article is worth the read.
Enjoy. Be challenged. Be encouraged as we cultivate daily…
GOSPEL. SAFETY. TIME.
It’s what everyone needs. Everyone. Gospel + safety + time. A lot of gospel + a lot of safety + a lot of time.
Gospel: good news for bad people through the finished work of Christ on the cross and the present power of the Holy Spirit. Multiple exposures. Constant immersion. Wave upon wave of grace and truth, according to the Bible.
Safety: a non-accusing environment. No finger-pointing. No embarrassing anyone. No manipulation. No oppression. No condescension. But respect and sympathy and understanding, where sinners can confess and unburden their souls.
Time: no pressure. Not even self-imposed pressure. No deadlines on growth. No rush. No hurry. But a lot of space for complicated people to rethink their lives at a deep level. If we relax, trusting in God’s patience, we actually get going.
This is what our churches must be: gentle environments of gospel + safety + time. It’s the only way anyone can ever change.
Who doesn’t need that?
Dr. Ortlund is Lead Pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee. You can click here to read the article at its original site.
May we live the Gospel with one another, live loved and secure offering a safe environment for grace to abound. May we be patient as Jesus is making us all to become His church as He intended.