My 2019 Reading List…

I recently heard someone say, “Humans largely remain the same except for the people they meet and the books they read.” As a Christian I believe there’s more to it than that, namely the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in one’s life, but the point is reading books leaves a big impression on one’s life.

In the past I have shot from the hip with most of my reading, jumping into books that I’m interested in or that seem beneficial to my life and ministry. But I have begun to realize the lack of balance and shortsightedness this can bring to the content entering my mind and heart.

So this year I have taken the time to create a comprehensive reading list for 2019. I’ve done so by researching new books, looking at “best of” lists, soliciting recommendations from others, looking at classics from the past, etc. And in doing so I have sought to bring a balance of themes and content to my reading list.

Below is an inventory of the books I plan to read in 2019. My goal is to read 60+ books, but the exact books could change to some degree depending on circumstances throughout the year. I will do so by reading many of these books on Kindle, some hard copy, and a few on Audible. But because I find that there is minimal help in cyberspace for Christian reading lists with balance and depth I wanted to share my plan for 2019…

 

1. Administration 1: “Death by Meeting” by Patrick Lencioni

 

2. Administration 2: “Church Business” by Nathan Freeland

 

3. Administration 3: “The Effective Executive” by Peter Drucker

 

4. Apologetics: “Apologetics at the Cross” by Joshua Chatraw & Mark Allen

 

5. Christian classic 1: “The Confessions” by Augustine

 

6. Christian classic 2: “Orthodoxy” by G.K. Chesterton

 

7. Christian classic 3: “The Mortification of Sin” by John Owen

 

8. Christian history: “Christianity at the Crossroads: How the Second Century Shaped the Future of the Church” by Michael Kruger

 

9. Christian living: “The Pursuit of God” by A.W. Tozer

 

10. Church 1: “When Narcissism Comes to Church: Loving God and others in the culture of a personality disorder” by David Orrison

 

11. Church 2: “An Unstoppable Force: Daring to Become the Church God Had in Mind” by Erwin McManus

 

12. Church history: “Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity” by Mark Noll

 

13. Counseling: ”Biblical Counseling Basics: Roots, Beliefs, and Future” by Jeremy Lelek

 

14. Culture 1: “Gay Girl, Good God” by Jackie Hill Perry

 

15. Culture 2: “The Coddling of the American Mind” by Greg Lukianoff & Jonathan Haidt

 

16. Culture 3: “How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics in a Divided Age” by Jonathan Leeman

 

17. Discipleship: “Eschatological Discipleship: Leading Christians to Understand Their Historical and Cultural Context” by Trevin Wax

 

18. Finance 1: “The Church Money Manual: Best Practices for Finance and Stewardship” by J. Clif Christopher

 

19. Finance 2: “Not Your Parents’ Offering Plate: A New Vision for Financial Stewardship” by J Clif Christopher

 

20. Eschatology: “Middleism Eschatology: An Answer to the Preterism Heresy” by Stephen Whitsett

 

21. Ethics: “Ethics for Christian Ministry: Moral Formation for Twenty-First Century Leaders” by Joe Trull & Robert Creech

 

22. Evangelism: “Evangelism in a Skeptical World” by Sam Chan

 

23. Gospel: “A Gospel Primer: Learning to See the Glories of God’s Love” by Milton Vincent

 

24. Heaven & Hell: “Unseen Realities: Heaven, Hell, Angels and Demons” by R.C. Sproul

 

25. Holiness 1: “The Holiness of God” by R.C. Sproul

 

26. Holiness 2: “The Knowledge of the Holy” by A.W. Tozer

 

27. Holy Spirit: “The Holy Spirit” by Sinclair Ferguson

 

28. Human Resources: “HR Matters: What you don’t know can hurt your ministry” by Cindy Powell

 

29. Humility: “The Blessing of Humility” by Jerry Bridges

 

30. Leadership 1: “Replenish: Leading from a Healthy Soul” by Lance Witt & John Ortberg

 

31. Leadership 2: “The Preacher’s Portrait” by John Stott

 

32. Leadership 3: “Good to Great” by Jim Collins

 

33. Leadership 4: “The Pastor: A Memoir” by Eugene Peterson

 

34. Marriage & family 1: “Give Them Grace” by Elyse Fitzpatrick & Jessica Thompson

 

35. Marriage & family 2: “The Disciple-Making Parent” by Chap Bettis

 

36. Marriage & family 3: “The Marriage Builder” by Larry Crabb

 

37. Marriage & family 4: “Hero: Being the strong father your children need” by Meg Meekers

 

38. Missions: “A Light to the Nations” by Michael Goheen

 

39. Morality: “Disciplines of a Godly Man” by R. Kent Hughes

 

40. Old Testament 1: “Is God a Moral Monster?: Making Sense of the Old Testament God” by Paul Copan

 

41. Old Testament 2: “A Tale of Three Kings” by Gene Edwards

 

42. Origins: “Six Days” by Ken Ham

 

43. Personal Growth: “You Are What You Love” by James K.A. Smith

 

44. Prayer: “Praying the Bible” by Donald Whitney

 

45. Preaching 1: “Preaching: Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism” by Timothy Keller

 

46. Preaching 2: “Why Johnny Can’t Preach: The Media Have Shaped the Messengers” by T. David Gordon

 

47. Productivity: “Do More Better” by Tim Challies

 

48. Sexuality: “Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality” by Nancy Pearcey

 

49. Shepherding: “Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense” by Paul David Tripp

 

50. Soteriology: “The Extent of the Atonement” by David Allen

 

51. Spiritual gifts: “Spiritual Gifts: What They Are and Why They Matter” by Thomas Schreiner

 

52. Spiritual growth 1: “Spiritual Growth” by Arthur Pink

 

53. Spiritual growth 2: “All that’s Good: Recovering the Lost Art of Discernment” by Hannah Anderson

 

54. Spiritual growth 3: “Identity Theft: Reclaiming the Truth of our Identity in Christ” by Melissa Kruger & Jen Wilkin

 

55. Stewardship: “Smart Money Smart Kids” by Dave Ramsey

 

56. Theology 1: “The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments” (on-going read throughout the year)

 

57. Trinity: “Delighting in the Trinity” by Michael Reeves

 

58. Through the Bible 1: Chronological

 

59. Through the Bible 2: “Foundations for Kids: A 260 Day Reading Plan for Kids” by Robby Gallaty (Family Worship Time)

 

60. Worship: “Worship: The Ultimate Priority” by John MacArthur

 

ON THE RESERVE SHELF…

“The Matheny Manifesto” by Mike Matheny

 

“Killing England” by Bill O’Reilly

 

“Bringing Up Boys” by James Dobson

 

“Shepherding a Child’s Heart” by Ted Tripp

 

“Fools Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion” by Os Guinness

 

“Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand

 

“Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters” by Meg Meekers

 

“The Kings Cross” by Timothy Keller

 

“The Gospel” by Ray Ortlund

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

My 2018 Book Recommendations

C682AFBA-370A-436D-8497-BA2206880CC7

 

As I’ve discovered, quality books lists and recommendations for pastors are lacking in cyberspace. While I certainly am not the authority in Christian literature I wanted to take the time to categorize the books I have read in 2018. I have categorized them into four degrees of recommendation. For a detailed review of these books you will have to look elsewhere, but perhaps this will be helpful as you think about your future reading.

 

MUST-READS

“Through the Bible in 90 Days” Bible Reading Plan (Reading the Bible in large chunks over a short period of time will give you a better understanding of our great God, His work, and His will)

“12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You” by Tony Reinke

“A Praying Life” by Paul Miller

“Surprised by Hope” by N.T. Wright

“The Storm Tossed Family” by Russell Moore

“Through the Bible in 90 Days” Bible Reading Plan

 

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

“Didn’t See It Coming” by Carey Nieuwhof

“From Weakness to Strength” by Scott Sauls

“God, Marriage and Family” by Andreas Kostenberger

“High Impact Teams” by Lance Witt

“Lies Pastors Believe” by Dayton Hartman

“Parenting” by Paul David Tripp

“Pastoral Helmsmenship” by Harrison, Klick, Morris

“Sacred Marriage” by Gary Thomas

“The Potter’s Promise” by Leighton Flowers

“The Tech Wise Family” by Andy Crouch

“The Trellis and the Vine” by Colin Marshall & Tony Payne
MODERATELY RECOMMENDED

“Amplified Leadership” by Dan Reiland

“Can These Bones Live?” By Bill Henard

“Christ’s Call to Reform the Church” by John MacArthur

“Confessions of a Church Felon” by Harrison, Klick, Miller

“Holy Discontent” by Bill Hybels

“How Not to be a Broke Pastor” by S.L. Potts

“Letters to the Church” by Francis Chan

“Minding His Business” by Don Corder

“Money Matters in the Church” by Aubrey Malphurs

“Portraits of a Pastor” compiled by Jason K. Allen

“Smart Church Management” by Patricia Lotich

“Supervising and Supporting Ministry Staff” by Kevin Lawson & Mick Boe

“Sustainable Youth Ministry” by Mark DeVries

“The Last Adam” by Brandon Crowe

“The Prodigal God” by Timothy Keller

“The Root of Sin Exposed” by Steve Gallagher

“The Story” edited by Max Lucado

“Unspoken: What Men Won’t Talk About and Why” by Johnny Hunt

“You Can’t Make Me” by Cynthia Tobias

 

TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT

“Church Growth Flywheel” by Rich Birch

“Irresistible” by Andy Stanley (Read only if you are interested in knowing the context for Andy Stanley’s “unhitch from the Old Testament” comment)

“Just Do Something” by Kevin DeYoung

“Prepare to Build” by Stephen Anderson

“Supernatural Power for Everyday People” by Jared Wilson

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Simple.

Simple

It had almost become like a game, a competition of sorts. First the Sadducees, then the Pharisees…back and forth they went, attempting to make Jesus stumble with His words. If only they could get Him to say something, anything, that undermined or conflicted with the Law of Moses it would disprove Jesus’ claim on Messiahship.

 

On the heels of many unsuccessful attempts, immediately after another failure by the Sadducees, the Pharisees stepped back up to the plate: “And one of them, an expert in the law, asked a question to test Him: “Teacher, which command in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “Love the Lord God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” (Matthew 22:34—40) 

 

The question, “which command in the law is the greatest?” is like asking, “Jesus, what is the greatest, most important thing we can spend our lives doing—which, of all 613 commands, should we be most focused on fulfilling?” With the Jews hoping He might defy Moses, Jesus does exactly the opposite by quoting part of the Shema as recorded in Deuteronomy 6:5: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Then, without missing a beat, Jesus gives this expert in the law more than He asked for by quoting part of Leviticus 19:18: “love your neighbor as yourself.” Finally, so that no misunderstanding could be felt, Jesus puts the stamp of divine authority on His answer by stating that every part of the Law of Moses is summarized by these two, virtually inseparable commands. In fact, in 1 John 4:20—21 we read: If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For the person who does not love his brother he has seen cannot love the God he has not seen. And we have this command from Him: The one who loves God must also love his brother.

 

These two commands are Christianity simplified. Because God has reacted to sinful humanity by accomplishing salvation through Jesus for all who will receive it, so too has He given those who trust in Jesus for salvation simplified purpose for this lifetime: to love God and love others. So simple are these commands that if one were to fully live them out there would be need need for the 613 commands in the Law of Moses; they would already be perfectly fulfilled!

 

And there are no strings attached. Love for God is unselfish, loyal, and kind intention and commitment to God. It is a covenant love; an unbreakable love that never ceases to exist. To love God with heart, soul, and mind means generally to love God with everything you are, in every possible way, and to prefer nothing or no person over Him. Love for people indicates a concrete responsibility; the act of being useful and beneficial to all others. It is an unconditional commitment to an imperfect person in which one gives oneself to another to bring the relationship to God’s intended purposes—to help them live as God has designed life to be lived. Love for God and others is not overly complicated, but it does require great humility, selflessness, intentionality, and perseverance.

 

So rather than than failing to fully relate to God, or make him the center of our lives, or guard ourselves against the Enemy’s attacks; or becoming bitter, jealous, resentful, divisive, judgmental, or hateful, we are to love God and love others. How? If you have trusted in Jesus for salvation, being reconciled to God and filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, you are to simply put forth every ounce of effort to fulfill these two commands as an act of worship to God and expression of thankfulness to Jesus for salvation.

 

So how about it? Rather than pursuing meaningless endeavors and pursuits during this lifetime, how about we pursue our God-given purposes? Though such a pursuit, both individually and corporately as the church, may God be glorified and the church be unified and lost souls be brought to trust in Jesus Christ for salvation.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Why I love the Church

church.steeple.cross

In Matthew 16 Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” The disciples responded by sharing what folks around Jerusalem were saying. Not satisfied, Jesus asked, “But what about you…who do you say I am?” Never-slow-to-speak Peter responded with his strongest declaration recorded in Scripture: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” About this declaration Jesus went on to say, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18)

 

Indeed, the gates of Hades have yet to overcome the church of Jesus Christ! The church, instituted by Jesus, launched with the great commission, and sustained by the Holy Spirit has been attacked (from without and within), harassed, spoken ill of, subjected to never-ending criticism, and misunderstood for over 2000 years, yet she stands as strong as ever on the rock of Jesus Christ and His mission and purposes.

 

Despite the reality that many in our modern world think ill of the church, including many Christians, I love God’s church for the following reasons:

 

  1. The Church belongs to God, not man. The church, universal and local, exists because of God, for God, and empowered by God. Though the church is made of people, the church does not belong to people. While I often say things like, “this is MY church,” the reality is that the church belongs to God alone. And if the church belongs to God, in His timing and according to His will He will defend and extend the church until the day that Christ returns.

 

  1. The Church is made of people. The church would be a boring place if I were the only person present in it. Thankfully, the church is a gathering place for those who have trusted in Jesus for salvation. As such, the church is a diverse body. A body in which people from different places, backgrounds, and seasons of life, with different preferences and gifts and abilities can converge together in Holy Spirit initiated unity for the sake of glorifying God, growing up into mature followers of Jesus, and fulfilling God’s great commission. The church is the place in which I, with fellow Christ-followers, can engage in the worship and purposes of God.

 

  1. The Church is NEVER-changing and EVER-changing. The church is NEVER-changing in that the rock on which the church is built and the mission for which it exists has and will never change. That Jesus is the rock, and that God’s purposes as revealed by Jesus in the great commandment and great commission (evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, & worship) are without expiration, guarantee that the church’s reason for existence is NEVER-changing. But the methods through which the church accomplishes its reason for existence are EVER-changing. While Jesus is the rock, and He established the purposes on which the church is built, the methods through which the church functions have not been specifically prescribed. The core components of musical (AND lifestyle) worship, preaching & teaching of the Word, fellowship, and missions & ministry are commanded but not spelled out in detail. Why? As Paul described in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, the context and world in which we live will always be changing. And as changes occur, the methods through which we accomplish our God-given purposes can (and should) change too. As a result, style changes, but the truth of God’s Word and command to worship does not. Facilities shrink and grow larger, but the charge to go and make disciples does not. Programs start strong and fizzle out, but the ministry or mission that they accomplish does not. The rock on which the church is built and the mission and purposes for which it exists is NEVER-changing, but the methods through which they are accomplished is ever-changing.

 

While there are many reason why I love God’s church, these are a few that top my list. What are additional reasons for why you love God’s church?

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Stuff that Drives Me Crazy

One of the things I enjoy about streaming music on Spotify is that on the radio setting it causes me to listen to all kinds of songs and artists. Such was the case this morning, when during my workout, Francesca Battistelli’s song “This is the stuff” came on (my Audio Adrenaline station might I add). The first two lines of the chorus go, “This is the stuff that drives me crazy, This is the stuff that’s getting to me lately.” Those lines sung over and over throughout the song caused me to begin thinking about the stuff that drives me crazy.

Since I was at the gym it only seemed appropriate to begin there: it drives me crazy when someone swipes the weights I am using. It drives me crazy when the restroom has no paper towels in the dispenser. It drives me crazy when the house music is so loud that I can hear it over the John MacArthur sermon coming through my ear buds. Then I extended my lamenting: bad drivers drive me crazy. Period. Cardinal losses drive me crazy. Botched coffee orders drive me crazy. The fact that my house does not remain pristinely clean drives me crazy. The fact that I’m a time oriented individual and my five year old doesn’t always operate according to my schedule drives me crazy. The lawn requiring a cut every week drives me crazy. The bees that invaded my backyard drive me crazy. Still, I went deeper. Casual Christianity drives me crazy. A false teacher leading folk’s astray drives me crazy. Majoring on the minor and minoring on the major in church life drives me crazy. Criticism, backbiting, and negativity among Christians drive me crazy. Pouring into students in hopes of being used of God to transform them into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ only to see them walk away from the Lord drives me crazy. Seeing some neglect the truths of God for the sake of personal preference and self-satisfaction drives me crazy. Wow! What a list, and it kept mounting up. This is the stuff that drives me crazy, this is the stuff that’s been getting to me lately…

Then, through the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit, God called my attention to Matthew 16:24: “Then Jesus told his disciples, If anyone wants to follow me, he must deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow me continuously.” Perhaps you are different, but I have a tendency to “settle into” my Christianity from time to time. That is, I experience incredible stretches of growth, but then become comfortable with where I am. And every time I become comfortable, things start to drive me crazy. During my “drive me crazy” lamenting and focus on Matthew 16:24 I began to realize for the first time that the reason life begins to drive me crazy is because when I grow comfortable in my faith I have most likely ceased carrying out the daily assignment of Matthew 16:24: deny myself, pick up my cross (die to self), and follow Jesus continuously (daily).

Salvation in Jesus Christ is much more than what most of modern Christianity says it is. Salvation IS God’s initiative towards humans, it IS forgiveness of sins through Christ alone, it IS a newly restored relationship with the God of the universe, and it IS the promise of dwelling eternally with God in heaven after this earthly life passes away. But it is more. It is also enlistment into a process, a process called sanctification, which takes place between the moment one trusts in Jesus for salvation and the moment their earthly body ceases to draw breath. It’s a process of God, through the Holy Spirit, putting the broken pieces of a sinful human’s life back together. It’s a process because it is not instantaneous, nor is it automatic. It’s a process in which God does all of the work within the context of the individual’s willingness and availability. What willingness and availability? That of Matthew 16:24: that I deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Jesus continuously. When continuously stops, when I stop denying and dying to self, when I stop following Jesus…life begins to drive me crazy because at that point I’m living outside of the purpose for which I have been created and saved for.

I desperately needed this God-ordained lesson today. In one respect I want to always be driven crazy by the things that matter in the scope of eternity (such as the last several things I mentioned in my lamenting above). But on the other hand I want to live above and beyond the little things that drive me crazy. I want to live in the realm of denying myself, taking up my cross, and following Jesus continuously all the while putting others above myself. The reason this lesson is so important for me is because sanctification is a never-ending process on this side of heaven. And unless I want to be driven crazy by every little quirk of life, I must keep my eyes on Jesus, denying myself, taking up my cross, and following Him daily.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

I Believe in Miracles

Family Tree

Contemporary Christian music group Newsong once recorded a song called “I Believe in Miracles.” The chorus went like this:

And I believe in miracles
I’m a miracle myself
And I believe the good Lord hears
The ones who cry for help
And after all that He has done for me
I believe, I do believe in miracles

Based on that same song I can relate to the first few lines of the first verse:

I never saw a man that walked on water
I never heard a voice that could calm the sea
Raise the dead or feed five thousand
But in my heart I do believe

I firmly believe that God always has been, is, and will continue to be The Miracle Worker so long as this physical and fallen world exists. I believe that I am a miracle myself. That King Jesus would step out of heaven in obedience to the Father’s command to fulfill everything necessary to save wretched sinners such as I is the greatest of miracles. That this same great God would desire to and enlist His forgiven and redeemed children to join Him in the mission of saving the world is a miracle. And while we may not see Jesus walking on water, calming the seas, raising the dead, or feeding five thousand (with very little resources), I believe that God is preforming miracles all around us each day.

One such miracle was confirmed for my wife and I this past week. Sarah and I have been married for almost 11 years (May 29th) and we have one child, a beautiful and amazing little princess, Madi, that is 4 (soon to be 5 in June) years old. The fact that Sarah and I have been married for so many years but have only one young child has not been by choice. Our desire and attempt to have children has been a difficult journey. Prior to Madi being born we had waited over 3 years for her conception and birth. During that time we waited and prayed and agonized, all the while knowing that in due time God would provide. Just when we began to lose hope, even visiting an infertility specialist, God did indeed work a miracle and provided our beautiful Madilyn Faye on June 17th 2010.

Fast-forward a few years. Sarah and I decided we were ready for a second child and began asking God to provide. We found ourselves in the exact same place as before. After almost 3 years of asking God for another child and waiting, we again visited an infertility specialist. Upon this visit and based on the result of some ensuing blood work, the specialist told Sarah and I that at this time it would be impossible for us to have a child. Might I add here that when a human being uses the word “impossible” I have learned and grown to the point of always weighing it very carefully. When the disciples asked Jesus who could be saved Jesus responded by saying, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26) While Jesus was speaking to the disciples in a specific context, if salvation is possible for God, and it is, nothing else can be impossible. The visit with the specialist in which impossibility was declared was 5 weeks ago. This past Friday Sarah and I visited a local doctor and received confirmation that Sarah is 6 weeks pregnant.

I believe in miracles. I’m a miracle myself. And God is preforming miracles every day in my life.

I must say that I am heartbroken and deeply sympathetic towards those ultimately unable to have children. While Sarah and I have waited long periods of time, in the end we have been blessed with two gifts of life that some couples never receive. Sarah and I have gained just a small glimpse of the hurt that comes with questions like, “When will you have children?” or “When will you have your next child?” all the while knowing that we deeply longed for it but were not receiving it. Why some couples never receive the blessings Sarah and I have received is beyond my ability to answer. While I am deeply grateful for the existence and beauty of adoption, I also agonize with and pray for couples in this situation.

But as for the story of John and Sarah Howard and our pursuit of children, it has been absolute miracles of God. My only response to these most recent events is to bow my knee toward heaven and praise the God of the universe. Certainly we have learned many lessons in faith, patience, and thankfulness. While I can honestly say I am thankful for these tests that have propelled Sarah and I closer to God and each other through these years, I am deeply thankful that God has heard our prayers, given us the desire of our hearts, and provided at this time and in this way. Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen. (Revelation 7:12)

2 Comments

Filed under Family

Lessons from Madagascar

Recently I returned from an experience of a lifetime: a mission trip to the African island-nation of Madagascar. Madagascar is located in the southeast region of Africa in the Indian Ocean, 225 miles off the main African continent at the closest point. The island is roughly the size of Texas and has a population of twenty-two million. Americans are most familiar with the nation from the animated film “Madagascar.” I must say there are no penguins in Madagascar, but the lemurs are incredible!

I went on-mission to Madagascar with a group of ten other individuals from my church. Our ministry work was unique: we planned and led a cluster meeting for all IMB (International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention) missionaries and their families currently serving in Madagascar. Life in Madagascar is difficult. It is a third-world country (evident from the time you step off of the airplane) full of ethnic, religious, geographic, and linguistic diversity. Ethnically, the nation is 75 percent comprised of 6 different ethnic groups while the other 25 percent is a wide variety of small ethnic and tribal groups. Religiously, roughly one-half of Madagascar’s population practices a “traditional” ancestor worship type of religion while the other one-half claims to be Christian, both Protestant and Catholic. Many of the Malagasy people that claim Christianity have mixed-in elements of ancestor worship. Islam is also practiced in Madagascar, constituting seven percent of the population. Geographically, Madagascar has a large central plateau, dense forests, swamps, desserts, and coastlines. The climate ranges from a very hot rainy season to a dryer semi-arid cool season. Furthermore, as is the case in third world countries, sickness and disease run rampant. The Malagasy people, and even the missionaries serving there, often live continuously with some kind(s) of illness or disease. Linguistically, Madagascar has a base language (the Malagasy language) that is spoken throughout the island, but numerous dialects are found all over the nation that are often unintelligible to outsiders of any given tribe or people group. Conclusively, Madagascar is a challenging place to be a missionary. It is both physically and spiritually challenging. Thus, there was great need for our team to serve with excellence in pouring into, encouraging, and reviving the IMB missionaries in Madagascar.

For several days our team poured out every ounce of love, encouragement, and fresh breath possible into these missionaries and their families. Several of our team members loved on the preschoolers, others led elementary-age children through a genuine Vacation Bible School experience, I and another team member led the teenagers through an authentic youth group experience, and our senior pastor preached to and loved on the adult missionaries and their spouses. While in America we take opportunities like these for granted, for these missionaries it is a once a year (or even once every two years) experience. These families had the opportunity to worship in English, engage in English preaching, converse with one another, be together and have fun. The adults had the opportunity to enjoy some downtime away from their children, and so much more. For some of these missionaries warm water (or even the presence of running water altogether), a meal being served to them, and a comfortable bed were luxuries. While our team may not understand how meaningful this time was for these missionary families, from the outside looking in, this was a vital ministry.

My time with the teenagers was transformational. Place yourself in the shoes of a teenager whose father and mother have been called to international missions. Mom and Dad obediently submit to the Lord’s calling, not knowing where they might go to serve. Consequently, the family is assigned to Madagascar: a physically and spiritually challenging place on the other side of the world. Try to imagine the implications this would have for an American teenager moving into this context. Reactions such as resentment, anger, a desire to part ways with the family, and more might be expected. If any of these reactions had taken place in the teenagers I led, God had worked them through it. The seven teenagers I led through several days of a youth group experience were some of the most humble, godly, and spiritually mature young people I have ever had contact with. A summary statement of the collective group of these teenagers came from the youngest of the group: “The most direct way I can be obedient to God right now is by loving my family, supporting them, and engaging in the ministry they have been called to.” Incredible. I have heard the cliché saying all my life, “on a mission trip you hope to bless others, but you end up being blessed the most.” This rang true for me more deeply than it ever had before.

In light of my mission trip experience, there are two overarching lessons I learned in Madagascar:

  1. Genuine followship of King Jesus must permeate every ounce of a Christian’s experience. Sure, we know this to be true in theory, but do we live it out? During the few days I spent with these missionary teenagers and their families I heard and saw this being lived out. In our American version of Christianity it is easy to follow Jesus when it is convenient. This is even sometimes true of the most committed Christians, leaders, and even pastors in America. The missionary families of Madagascar (and all over the world, no doubt) eat, sleep, and breathe followship of Jesus Christ. It permeates every ounce of their being. While God calls all kinds of people to all kinds of contexts to live out and accomplish His overarching purpose for human existence, the model of 110 percent followship that those missionary families live every day of their lives was motivating, convicting, and a blessing. It causes me to ask questions such as these: What evidence of total followship of King Jesus is there in my life? What areas of my life are often void of total followship? Do I sometimes “lay aside” or “turn off” my followship? Is there any justification or excuse for anything less than total followship? If I were to give an account to King Jesus RIGHT NOW for the completeness or incompleteness of my followship, how embarrassed would I be?
  1. Relentless pursuit of God’s mission and purposes must triumph over secondary and meaningless matters. What are missionaries in Madagascar (and all over the world) trying to accomplish? The same mission and purposes as the Apostle Paul and King Jesus Himself. The missionaries in Madagascar have a simple mission: Go, make disciples, baptize them, and teach them to be obedient to King Jesus. This approach seems familiar. Oh yeah, they are the marching orders Jesus left with His disciples before He ascended into heaven! Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19—20). Once this begins to take place, individuals converge as local churches to then repeat the process together. God is blessing the work and the missionaries doing the work in Madagascar. Lives are be saved, discipled, and released to serve according to the mission and purposes of God. Churches are beginning, growing, and reproducing. God empowers the work and workers when the mission and purposes are His. The mission of God, His Church, and individual believers is not complicated. It has never changed. What has changed and what is complicated is what humans have made of God, His Church, and Christianity in America and other places in the world. Rather than being heart-broken over lost souls and sold out to God’s Great Commission and purposes; rather than relentlessly pursuing total followship of King Jesus; rather than aiding towards the building of GOD’S Church and GOD’S Kingdom; we become more focused on and consumed with our personal desires, preferences, and selfishness. Consequently, rather than pursuing the Great Commission, we pursue personal preference. Rather than celebrating the opportunity to follow Jesus in totality as His children and pursuing that very thing; we argue, complain, and become emotional over secondary and even meaningless matters. We turn the will of God upside down and make Christianity and God’s Church more about me, myself, and I rather than God and other people. As a result, American Christianity and Church life is often a far, far distance—even unrecognizable— from what God ordained and willed for His people and His church. It does not have to be this way. My experience in Madagascar caused me to fall on my knees before King Jesus, confessing and repenting of sin in my own life: of all the ways I have let secondary and meaningless matters (personally, in my family, and in my ministry) take the place of God’s purposes and mission. You can do the same by asking yourself, answering honestly, and appropriately reacting to these questions: What secondary and meaningless matters (when compared to the purposes of God; see Matthew 22:37—40 and Matthew 28:19—20) have I made primary in my life and my church? In what ways have I stifled the mission and purposes of God by my actions towards others and/or my church? What attitudes and/or actions must I confess and repent of in order to be fully in the center of God’s will for my life and church? What system of accountability will I set up to ensure that God’s purposes triumph over secondary and meaningless matters from this day forward?

 There is much more I could say about the ministry, conversations, travel, sightseeing, and life in Madagascar. Ultimately, the opportunity that God allowed me to serve His servants and the life-lessons He has taught me are such that I cannot offer enough worship and thanks in return. The experience and lessons learned in Madagascar were transformational and will mark my life, family, and ministry for the rest of my days here on earth.

2 Comments

Filed under Missions, Student Ministry