Spiritual Genealogy

This month we celebrate Father’s Day, in which we honor the men in our lives — dad and grandpas — who brought us life. This special day may cause us to reflect on the marvelous truth that we are but one link in an eons-long chain of ancestors that directly connects us to Adam and Eve. It is awe-inspiring to take a moment to ponder the many generations of the human family that have led, in God’s sovereign design, from the world’s first parents all the way to your parents, and now to you.

As fascinating as our family tree is (and I feel especially blessed that, thanks to my uncle’s diligent investigation, I know my ancestors all the way back to 1000 AD), the matter of our spiritual genealogy is even more wondrous. Remembering the people God has used to grow His family can be very encouraging.

For example, in 1858 a Boston Sunday School teacher named Edward Kimball led D.L. Moody to Christ while Moody was at work, wrapping up shoes at Holton’s Boot Store. Kimball later wrote that he, “made what I felt afterward was a very weak plea for Christ . . . I simply told him of Christ’s love for him, and the love Christ wanted in return.” Right there at the back of that store D.L. Moody gave himself to Christ.

In 1934 Billy Graham accepted Christ during a series of revival meetings in Charlotte, North Carolina. It is said that evangelist Mordecia Ham left town discouraged, since his meetings had only one solid convert, the teenage Graham.

In 1947, twelve-year-old Luis Palau was confronted with Romans 10:9-10 at a summer Bible camp. As he sat outside in the early morning, with a soft rain coming down, he received Jesus Christ as his Savior. The camp counselor with his arm around young Luis at that crucial moment was Frank Chandler, an English missionary to Argentina.

We know of the impact Moody, Graham, and Palau have had on their generations. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see a copy of God’s family tree, to see all the limbs and branches and shoots that have their origin in the much lesser-known Edward Kimball, Mordecai Ham or Frank Chandler?

In March of 2007 I had the opportunity to attend Luis Palau’s ExpoMinisterios in Monterrey, Mexico, and I heard him describe his affection for Frank Chandler. His voice broke with emotion as he remembered the man who led him to Christ.

In a similar fashion, this Father’s Day as we honor the men in our families who gave us life, let’s also take a moment to recall those whom God used to bring us into new life, into eternal life, through the Gospel. Perhaps a phone call, or a note of encouragement, would be an appropriate way of encouraging someone you might consider to be your spiritual parent.

Jesus is the Same

Cuba always inspires me, in many ways. Today I thought I would share something I wrote as I was flying home from my last trip:

Jesus is the same whether you make $12 per hour in the USA or $12 a month in Cuba. Jesus is the same if you are communist, socialist, or capitalist. Jesus is the same if your skin color is chalk or chocolate.

Jesus is the same whether your health is excellent, poor, or somewhere in-between. He is the same regardless of your gender or your nationality. He is the same whether you look attractive at the beach or not, whether you have a college degree or not, whether you have a loving family or not.

Jesus is the same if you are coasting along or if you are hanging on for dear life. Your heritage and credentials do not impress Him and your addictions and imperfections do not deter Him.

He does not care where you were born, just that you be born again. Regardless of your success, failure, confidence, or fear, you are on the earth because of Jesus, by Jesus, and for Jesus. Jesus is the same for everyone, but if you give your life to him you will never be.

“your Father who is in heaven . . . causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:45, NASB)

Leading a Missions Team is Like Pitching Batting Practice

As my children were growing up and learning to play baseball, I threw a lot of batting practice. I loved it. The sun would go down long before my arm would grow tired.

I noticed that when my kids were younger they had very different swings and very different strike zones. My son Alex, for example, liked the ball low and away. That was his “wheelhouse.” If I pitched the ball in that spot it usually ended up over the fence.

When Christian was just taking his first tries, his swing was really high — almost over his head. If I threw a pitch in a normal strike zone, it would zip right past him.

My technique, then, at each batting practice session, was to say “show me how you swing the bat.” I watched the swing and then adjusted my throws to where the bat was going to be. That’s what a batting practice pitcher does. His aim is to pitch home run balls, not strikes.

Organizing a successful missions trip reminds me of those times. The technique I learned in the backyard works just as well for short-term teams. It is my job to figure out what a home run is for each member and then adjust as much as possible to make that happen.

It is a lesson I have learned the hard way, by making the assumption that everyone enjoys the same type of missions experience that I do. For example, I always plan my trip itineraries to be as jam-packed with preaching and teaching opportunities as possible. Many conference speakers and authors I travel with appreciate that, since their time is short and the cost of traveling is high and they want to absolutely maximize their time.

But not everyone considers that a home run.

Some people like to be involved in a large event, reaching as many as possible. Others would me more content visiting small churches. Some find sightseeing to be a time-waster. Others find it exciting and educational. Some are content with fellowshipping with their translators and the other members of the mission team. Others hope to develop deep friendships with the people we are visiting. Some like to see as many places as possible in our host country. Others prefer to arrive, set up shop, and invest heavily in just one location.

I am endeavoring, therefore, to be a better mission team leader, by asking each member the following questions:

• What would make this trip a “home run” for you? (What is the key to making this a successful missions experience for you?)

• What are some specific things you desire to accomplish during our time together?

• What is at least one thing that you secretly hope to do, place you want to visit, experience you dream of having? (Write it down even if you think we won’t have the time, money, or team-wide interest to do it. What is it you are hoping for?)

May the Lord continue to help me improve my pitch!

Ministering to Jesus Christ

When I was a new Christian, perhaps a year or two into my walk with the Lord, I read an article that differentiated between serving the house of the Lord and ministering to the Lord Himself. The distinction was made between our activities to help and bless the church and the separate and higher calling of ministering to Jesus the Head of the church directly.

I believe one scripture the article referred to was from the Gospel of Luke, where we meet the prophetess Anna, who “never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers” (Luke 2:37, NASB). Anna was held up as an example of someone ministering to God directly, through spiritual devotion, and not only serving “the house of the Lord” — the church.

At the time I read it, to minister directly to the Lord sounded like a deeply spiritual distinction, pointing out a higher calling. However, as I have served as Cuba Ministry Coordinator for the past three years, a foundational philosophy has been birthed in my heart: serving the church is ministering directly to Jesus Christ. There is no distinction. If you want to express love to Jesus Christ, you love His people. If you want to express gratitude to Jesus Christ, you bless His people. All of the love for the Lord that is bottled up within you, awaiting your face-to-face meeting with Him, He wants you to uncork right now and pour into the lives of His people.

This realization has helped me cope with the awareness that my sympathy, empathy, and concern for my pastor friends in Cuba will wane. They will do things I disagree with and my affection for them will dip. Collaborating with them will reveal weaknesses and even faults, causing me to admire them less. I know I cannot sustain that initial love for them that comes at the beginning of a relationship, when all I saw was their warmth and joy in the face of persecution and poverty. After three years the motivation of pity grows colder, and the motivation of esteem and admiration is tempered by an awakening to the fact that – surprise! the pastors in Cuba are human and struggle just like me.

But my ministry to them and my desire to bless them grows, even as my love and appreciation of the Lord Jesus Christ grows, because by serving Cuban pastors I minister directly to the Lord Himself. This is a foundational philosophy of ministry that can sustain me even when my human love and compassion fail. And it is a foundational philosophy of ministry that is amply taught in scripture.

The Lord does not distinguish between acts done to Him and acts done to his followers.

On the road to Damascus, Saul is confronted by Jesus, speaking from heaven and calling him to account for his persecution of “the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1, NASB). The phrasing of the question Jesus asks is amazing; it is not “Why are you persecuting those who follow me?” but “Why are you persecuting Me?”

Saul had not been targeting just the “elite” Christians, the leaders or super-spiritual, but was bent on capturing and imprisoning “any belonging to the Way, both men and women” (Acts 9:2, NASB, emphasis added). It is humbling to realize the Lord completely identifies with His people — any and all of His people — in spite of our shortcomings and faults. Nevertheless, it is the truth. In Matthew 25:40 the Lord emphasizes this point by saying, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, event the least of them, you did it to Me” (NASB).

It therefore does not matter if you like or dislike the believer you are serving at any given moment, or if that brother of sister strikes you as being particularly “spiritual” or not; it is a plain fact of scripture that all ministry, service, helpfulness, kindness, and generosity you focus on that Christian is in fact ministry directed at the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. We have His word on it, and should therefore rejoice that He has given us this tremendous opportunity to lavish our love on Him until we see Him face to face.