Give Me a Good Map

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Every week I use the Global Positioning Satellite system (GPS) to get me where I need to be. Most of you are familiar with GPS and you use it too. It’s quite remarkable when you consider how it works and the accuracy of the system. Missionaries even use GPS to pinpoint remote church locations where roads don’t exist.

As much as I appreciate GPS, it hasn’t completely replaced a good map. My favorite map is the National Geographic Atlas of the World. Its 138 pages contain maps on world climate, population, and food. There are even energy and minerals maps, as well as maps of the moon, the solar system, and the heavens, together with the standard maps you would expect.

The reason I like maps is because they help put my location in perspective. When I look at a map I can see where I am, where I’ve been, and where I’m going. On a map I can view the totality of my travels and pinpoint special places along the journey. Maps give a perspective that GPS can’t give.

As Christians we have a perspective that unbelievers don’t have. The Bible provides us this perspective by giving us the roadmap of history. We know how things started and how things will end. We know that Jesus Christ stands at the center of history. This means that the purpose of life, and even daily happenings, find ultimate meaning in their relationship to what God is doing and has done through Jesus Christ.

For example, as soon as the Fall took place in the Garden of Eden, God directed man’s mind to the coming of Jesus by promising that the seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15). From this beginning, the Bible unfolds God’s plan in Christ, revealing His will and purpose through the Old Testament prophets, the New Testament revelation, before the end of history when Jesus Christ returns.

Because Jesus provides us with perspective and purpose in daily living, Hebrews tells us to keep our eyes on Jesus as we run the race of life (Heb. 12:1f). Jesus enables us to “stay on our feet” and continue moving forward with Him, even as we navigate life’s daily trials.

Contrast the perspective that Jesus gives the believer with that of those who don’t know Christ. For the unbeliever, history is going nowhere and life is absurd because there is no perspective-point, and thus no way to place the events of the day into history’s purpose. We see this reflected in our media, and especially in our news, where the focus is on the politics of the moment or the sporting event of the week. For the unbeliever, life is about tragedies and triumphs, ups and downs, but without the perspective of the Bible, and without finding one’s center in Jesus Christ, it all becomes meaningless.

Without Jesus, life is only about winning and losing, and we all ultimately lose in the end. Some lose by virtue of the situation into which they are born. Would you like to be born a girl in ISIS controlled Syria? You’re in trouble from day one. Or what if you were born infirmed in India, where karma teaches that handicapped people are suffering for misdeeds in a past life? For the unbeliever, the best that can be hoped for is that I might have a little peace and happiness during my days “under the sun” (born an American, for example), but there is no ultimate purpose in this. Without Jesus I have no roadmap in which I can place my life’s journey in the context of the entire earth and all of history. I only have GPS coordinates. I know where I am, but where I am has no connection with the past or the future, and do I even have a future?

What does this mean for us? It means that we must keep our eyes on history’s champion, Jesus Christ, and not get derailed by the politics of the moment or the passing pleasures of sin. Love your neighbor. Be a blessing to your city. Demonstrate in word and deed that God’s plan in Christ is history’s great story. Jesus was and is and always will be. Kings come and go, but King Jesus will prevail. Indeed, He already has! As Paul wrote from the dungeon, shortly before his death, “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to guard what has been entrusted to me until that day” (2 Tim. 1:12).

What of Those who will never claim the Prize?

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I’ve been reading through Deuteronomy the last few weeks during my morning devotional time. This amazing book records Moses’ final spoken words to Israel before his death. It is rich with content and contains a powerful message for us today, multiple messages really. But one that has stayed with me for many days is Moses’ plea to God that he be allowed to enter the Promised Land. In Deuteronomy 3:23-28 we read that Moses “begged the Lord … please let me cross over and see the beautiful land on the other side of the Jordan…. But the Lord was angry with me … and would not listen to me. The Lord said to me, ‘That’s enough! Do not speak to me again about this matter’ … But commission Joshua and encourage and strengthen him, for he will cross over ahead of the people and enable them to inherit this land.”

There is great emotion and sadness in this story. For 40 years Moses had led God’s people. With humility and faithfulness he led them and prayed for them and protected them. But in the end, only two men above the age of 20 when they left Egypt were allowed to enter the Promised Land – Joshua and Caleb. All the others died. The wilderness was littered with their corpses for 40 years. Then, when all above age 60 were dead, save Joshua and Caleb, Joshua led Israel into the Promised Land.

A question that came to me is this: What did God do in Israel during those 40 years in the Wilderness? One thing He did was enable those who died to prepare the generation that would conquer and claim the land. Moses and the others fathered children, multiplied their numbers, then raised them, taught them, trained them, made disciples of them. They taught the younger generation to trust God and follow God. Moses taught Joshua leadership skills and built strength into him for the task that was to come. Then, after 40 years of funerals, when the elders were dead, the people were ready to claim God’s promise.

Imagine living your whole life knowing that you will never achieve your dreams. You will never have what God had wanted to give you, if only you had remained faithful to Him. That was the situation that Moses and the elders faced. Their sinfulness and rebellion caused them to miss a tremendous blessing. And when it did, their purpose became that of preparing their children to claim the blessing.

No one knows what tomorrow holds for any of us. But I do know this, if Jesus’ return is delayed for another decade, or century, or millennium, nothing we do is more important than making disciples of the next generation of God’s people. When I think of the lostness of the Northwest, I think of the little ones who don’t have moms and dads teaching them to love Jesus. I think of college students, 625,000 of them in the Northwest, most of whom are giving no thought as to what God wants for their life.

Whatever we are doing, we had best do all we can to teach our children and grandchildren how to walk with God, and we’d best teach the neighbor kids how to walk with God as well. Our schools and universities are mission fields. We may not live to see the next Great Awakening , the Day of the Lord, or the Glorious Day, in which case our greatest work may be the investment we make in those whom God will use on that Day.

As I see it, that was the task of those whom Moses led out of Egypt. That’s what God did through them. They lived and died so that others could conquer.

Last week I read an excellent biography of Thomas Jefferson titled American Sphinx by Joseph Ellis. One thing that Ellis noted was that the remarkable leadership of the Founding Fathers was due in part to “the self-conscious sense that the future was watching,” thus it “elevated the standards and expectations of all concerned. At least in a small way, we are complicitous in their achievement because we were the ultimate audience for their performances” (p. 300f).
As parents, pastors, leaders, it will serve us well to remember that the future, and God, are watching what we do. It is also comforting, in a way, to know that we have a part to play in the great drama of building God’s Kingdom, even if our part is preparing those who themselves will claim the promise.

Executive Director’s Annual Report for the NWBC, November 2015

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Among the most moving and challenging passages of Scripture are those in which the Apostle Paul speaks personally about his life and ministry. One reason these passages are spiritually and emotionally powerful might be that Paul often wrote from jail. He wrote about his suffering, his fighting “the good fight” and finishing “the race” well.

I have noticed that when Paul speaks personally about his life that he often references the “day of the Lord.” As he served Christ, and when he suffered for his service, never far from his thoughts was the certainty of the coming day when “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10). He even anticipated that he would “boast in the day of Christ” that he “didn’t run in vain or labor for nothing” (Phil. 2:16).

Paul’s belief that he could labor in such a way as to “boast in the day of Christ” is something I’ve been thinking about quite a lot. Almost daily we hear new accounts of brothers and sisters giving their lives for Christ in North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia. Occasionally we are privileged to learn that they died boasting of Jesus, praising Jesus, with anticipation that they will soon look into the face of Jesus. As the Bible says, “We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8).

If you are able to attend the annual meeting of the NWBC on November 10-11, 2015, I pray that the reports you hear represent a faithfulness to Jesus about which we can boast in the day of Christ. The frontline work of disciple-making, baptizing and teaching believers to obey Christ is the work of each local church. Still, we believe that only through believers and churches working together, supporting one another, cooperating in the great missions task before us, can we accomplish all that we hope to boast about in the day of Christ.

Consider some of what we have accomplished in the Northwest as we have worked together. Together we have engaged new language and ethnic groups through planting churches among Mandarin, Spanish, Korean, Bhutanese, Native-American, African-American and other peoples. More than 130 of our 466 churches worship in a language other than English. Increasingly we are seeing second-generation churches formed. These are churches comprised primarily of ethnic peoples who worship in English. One of the “miracles” of cooperation is seen in the diversity of our convention of churches.

In leadership training we have seen well over 1,000 people participate in various regional and convention-wide training events. This includes over 200 pastors in pastor cluster groups, transitional pastor training, mission and evangelism training, Contextualized Leadership Development (CLD) and other specialized opportunities. The greatest single evangelism ministry of our churches is Vacation Bible School. This year 552 leaders were trained in VBS and hundreds of professions of faith were recorded by our churches.

MY316 Evangelism Training is used by many of our churches, with some of the curriculum now available in Spanish and Korean. The impact of helping each new believer learn how to share their faith, and identify those in their life who are unchurched and most likely lost, is the single most important thing a church can do for a new Christian. Well, it’s difficult to put anything above teaching new Christians to pray and meditate on Scripture, but you get the point. And remember, MY316 Evangelism Resources are available to all of our churches without charge. Your Cooperative Program gifts have already purchased those.

In 2015 many of our churches continued the westward journey until they arrived in East Asia. Our partnership with the IMB has blossomed as Northwesterners travel to faraway places where there are few believers and little access to the gospel. Our IMB leaders have asked the NWBC to bring 200 Northwest Baptist people to serve 1,300 IMB missionaries and their children in Pattaya, Thailand from August 1-10, 2016. What a privilege!

Although the Northwest is not immune to the financial struggles and disappointing evangelistic results of our greater Southern Baptist family, we are thankful that we experienced an increase in baptisms and church attendance last year. From the reports we are receiving, we anticipate experiencing growth in baptisms this year as well. In addition, missions giving through the Cooperative Program saw the largest increase in our history last year, with NWBC churches giving $185,000 more in 2014 over 2013, for a 7.47 percent increase. Through the first nine months in 2015 we are $44,867 ahead of last year, for a 2.27 percent increase. With a strong fourth quarter we could make budget for the first time in almost 20 years.

It is no empty slogan to say that Northwest Baptists serve Christ from our neighborhoods to the nations. Our pastors and churches are engaged in the joyful task of loving their neighbors, blessing their communities as “salt and light,” and sharing the life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ. In addition, we are sending and sustaining missionaries the world over. Many Northwesterners are even joining them on mission in foreign lands.  And increasingly we are serving the nations who have come to us. International students and immigrants from many lands are now our neighbors. For this we are grateful. It truly is a good day to serve the Lord in the Northwest.

As I meditate on Paul’s references to “the day of the Lord,” I am moved to consider that day myself. Will my life and work stand scrutiny on that day? Am I stewarding my witness, gifts and finances in a manner worthy of Christ? As I consider the coming “day,” I am less concerned about the opinions of others and more committed to pleasing Christ, and Him alone if necessary. On “that day” nothing else will matter, which means, in fact, that nothing else really matters today.