Saturday, February 22, 2014

Turn Outward in our Outreach

My TIE Value: Commit your way to the Lord

     During my years at Talbot School of Theology the ping pong table was a gathering point for competition, study and conversation. Yes, we did parse our Greek declensions to the rhythms of ping pong. Me and a good friend were waiting our turn at the table on this particular day. We were studying as we waited. However, our study of what I am sure was an important aspect of theology came to a halt when the conversation of the players in front of us caught our attention. 

     One student said, “Hey your youth group got a sweet new ride, what did you do with your old van that was always breaking down?” The other student responded, “We gave that old van to a missionary in Mexico. They are thankful for anything that we can’t use anymore. I am so glad we can help the missionaries.”

   Me and my friend turned to each other and quietly said, “Whaaaat?” Then we eavesdropped on the rest of the conversation to hear more about how the youth group could go to skiing, camping, and more fun activities in comfort because of their new ride. I felt embarrassed as I heard this conversation unfold. There seemed to be good intentions shrouded in gross ignorance about the perceived needs of local church ministries and the needs of missions.    Don’t get me wrong. I am sure that all the youth activities extended God’s kingdom through growth in fellowship, deepened conversations, and faith enhancing experiences. I am sure teens came to know Christ through this new van. However, there was an opportunity missed in blessing the Mexican missionary who serves the impoverished in his community with a reliable ride that would also bring people to know God.  What does this “give the leftovers to our missionaries” attitude say about our heart for missions?
My TIE Moment:

     Then I had a more concerning thought that has haunted me ever since this experience more than twenty years ago. “At least these guys thought about the needs of this missionary to do something for his ministry.”

     Unfortunately, I have sat in on too many conversations about church budgets that are more focused on their buildings and programs than growing God’s kingdom in places where encouragement from His people are desperately needed. Even worse, I have heard too many conversations about church missions more focused on getting people on to Short Term Missions (STM) than investigating how the church can best help those who are doing the mission on a daily basis. 

How do we change our attitude?

We need to Turn Outward and Do Something

     It all begins which way we face. Like the advice for reaching new heights from my drill sergeant on the tower of faith, “Turn outward” (on Blog #7).  Our perspective changes dramatically when we turn outward. We begin to see our world with a greater vision for God’s mercy on those tramped by their sin. We begin to see the purpose of our church programming is to be equipped for the greater Kingdom of God rather than the kingdom of our church. We begin to see how God has placed us in the perfect position to impact a segment of our world with His glory.

     However, seeing is not enough. We must take action to do something because of God’s love.  The familiar verse John 3:16 will help us to initiate an outward movement in our outreach. “For God so loves the world that He gave His only unique Son…”  God’s heart is a continual outward movement of His love for people. God gave his best in Jesus Christ for the benefit of people to be spared from His judgment because of their sin. We often forget that verses 17-21 is a revelation of God’s urgency in saving people from being condemned because of their evil deeds. Verses 20-21 also shows the disposition of people who live in darkness will hate God’s light. Therefore, there needs to be a turning and movement towards God’s light.  The outward focus of our church’s purpose, budgets, programs, and missions is essential in order to align our eyes and action with God’s revelation found in John 3:16-21.

We need to Question our Motivations for Ministry through the Light of God’s Truth

Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.  - John 3:20-21 (NIV)

     We need to be serious about “whoever lives by the truth comes into the light…” in the first part of John 3:21 when we are planning our church programs as they relate our ministries and our missions. If we want the Gospel to change our church then we need to live according to this light. If we want people to change from their darkness to God’s light, then we need to be living witnesses who are committed and take delight in God’s truth. I believe our world needs more churches to be in position for people to get caught up in God’s revelation of John 3:16-21 so they can be exposed to the goodness of God’s love.

     Here are some questions that God has been putting on my heart about focusing our best resources outward:

(1) Are we showing our love to people who have less in common with our own preferences?

(2) Are we spending more of our resources in equipping people for God’s outward mission?

(3) Are we exposing our motivations for serving our church and world through God’s light rather than our own spiritualized lens?

(4) Are we giving our best resources to extend God’s Kingdom through our existing missions partnerships?

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