Sunday, October 12, 2014

What Is Your Label?


What Does The Label Say?

I have discovered something since moving to the mission field.  It is really quiet profound. It was something that I did, that my culture (most of your readers) does, and that I have started the process of not doing.

It is labeling. We love to label because it frees us from loving the person.  Let me give you an example.

I spoke to a group at a conference in the States a few years ago.  It was not a mission conference but I was asked to speak on mission work and specifically our mission.  Then came the Q & A time.  Here are the first two questions that I was asked.  Now remember, the topic was on missions in the world and the illustrations and stories were from our own missionary life. This are not direct quotes but here are the questions.

Question 1:  Are you a Calvinist?

Question 2: Are you a charismatic?

What do either of those questions have to do with missions in the world?  
What do they have to do with taking Christ to the lost?  Nada. Zilch. Nothing.  
They are simply labeling questions.

I was facing a dilemma and I knew it.  If I said that I was a Calvinist, then the label was attached to my head and all of the non-Calvinist could ignore everything that I had just said…and vice/versa.  If I said that I was a charismatic, then all of the mainline denomination folks could now ignore my call to go to the mission field…they could label me and therefore my message as a little whacko.  If I was not a charismatic, then all of the charismatic people could label me as not Spirit-filled, therefore my message to go and make disciples was not Spirit-led.

The label game was on!

In the States, we label everyone and everything.  We don’t just insist on putting labels on our food or warning labels (signs) on everything that could possibly affect us.  We label each other.  We start with race, but deny our racism.  We don’t see people, we see the color of people. Then, we make assumptions based on that color.  We put labels on everyone that we see. If you are walking down an alley in NY and a middle aged white man is walking toward you…what do you do?  Is it the same reaction that you would have if it were a 25 year old African American? Or an 18 year old Latino? 

We also want political labels.  Are you a Republican? Tea Party? Green Party? Libertarian? Democrat? Constitution Party?  You see, as soon as I can label you a member of the opposing party, or of a different party, then I know how to treat you.  Tell a staunch Republican that you are a hardline Democrat and see how much love is in the room…even if they both wear the label of Christian.  

We look at appearances and put socio-economical labels on people.  Do you shop at Macy’s or Wal-Mart? How old and what type of car do you have? Where do you live? Is that a real leather purse? We even do this in the church.  Here is an insightful question: How many ‘poor’ elders serve on the elder board of your church?  Why is that? Could it be that we think our socio-economic label carries spiritual weight? 

In the illustration above when I was at the conference, I showed how we LOVE our theological labels in the evangelical church. (see, I just used a label, ‘evangelical’. :) ).  Are you young earth or old earth? We all know that young earth creationist believe the Bible and old earth people…well, who knows?  Are you a dispensationalist or a covenant person? As soon as I know, then we can decide on fellowship or not.  Do you speak in tongues? What do you think about women in leadership? Do you follow the Law?  I need to know your label in order to know what to do with you.

Here is the handy thing about a label. A label tells me what to expect and lets me choose what to do.  Think about your pantry full of cans with no labels.  You have no idea what is in the can.  How can you cook?  Now envision the same pantry with all the cans labeled.  Ah…now that you can see the labels you know what to do.  

We do that with people.  A label tells me who is my friend, who I can be with, and who I can hate.  I don’t admit it.  I will deny it.  However, how many people do you choose to place in your life who wear a different label than you?  I said, ‘choose’ to place in your life.  We are forced to work with those weirdos and all of us have them (family) in our lives, but how many different labels do you ‘choose’ to include?  What do you do with the ones who don’t have your label?  We hate them, ignore them, or just think that we are better than them. 

Labels let us ignore the Bible verses on loving others. 

Labels justify our disdain.  

You see, the difference between the pantry illustration and people is that people are all the same…they are eternal souls needing to know and love their Creator.  The label keeps us from seeing the soul and allows us to disdain the person.

Labels are everywhere.

I said that I am learning to change this. I think maybe it is because of necessity. I know that in Bolivia the Bolivians label each other by race, gender, education, and socio-economics.  However, when I came I saw them all as Bolivians.  One big label that covered everyone. I did away with my myriad of sub-labels.  It was wonderful.  Now, my label has even changed to be one of more precise—Christians or people who need to know Christ?  When I go to the jungle, I don’t see this tribe or that tribe…I see people who need Jesus.  At my church, I don’t know what group this person belongs to or that person aligns with…I see people who need to know God better.  It is such a great thing.

My missionary friends have also had a label reduction placed upon them. When I was in the States I was in the micro label community.  A church had to not only agree with us on the essentials of the faith, they had to agree with us on everything.  You can believe in salvation by grace through faith alone….but if you thought it was okay to drink alcohol we had a problem.  However, on the mission field there are a small group of us trying to reach people for Jesus.  You may want to baptize them a different way than I do after they are saved, what matters most…that they are saved or that I believe in dunking them?  On the mission field the label doesn’t matter.  I actually have a friend who I have served with for over 7 years here and just recently found out his denomination.  The name on the label of his jacket doesn’t matter if he is rolling up the sleeves of it and working with me to help people know Jesus.

Labeling.  Wouldn’t it be great if we could try to live without it?  What if there were only two types of people in our eyes…those that know Jesus already and those that we can help to know Him?  What if we were willing to take all the micro labels off and honestly just keep the ones that really, truly, matter.  I have found that the older I get, actually I believe the more mature that I become, the more Jesus matters and the less the other stuff does.


How about you?

Leia Mais…

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

More Good Stuff About Being A Missionary

More Good Stuff About Being A Missionary



My last blog was “10 Things Your Missionary Won’t Tell You.”  It received more comments, private emails, and Facebook shares than any blog that I have ever written.  99% of those comments were in agreement to what was said. I am following that blog up with some brain dump good stuff items.  Here is part 2.



Expanded Worldview
We may not realize it, but you have been programed to think a certain way about almost everything.  This indoctrination has happened over your life and is what makes us creatures of our culture.  It is your worldview…how you see and interpret the world.  So much of what we think and perceive is from our culture.  This is true even when it comes to studying the Bible.  We do not remove our cultural lenses when it comes time to read God’s Word.  One thing that has happened to us since leaving for the mission field is that we have had an opportunity to look at things differently. We live in a culture that does not see things the way that we have always seen them.  That has challenged our thinking.  The way that we do things does not always mean that it is the only way, or the right way.  We get to evaluate things.  I believe that living in a different culture actually helps us understand life, our own culture, and the Bible better. 




Molehills Do Not Become Mountains.
There is a tendency in the States to define ourselves and then narrow our definition even more until we reach a point where only those who agree with us in every area can be friends…maybe they are not even christians. :)  Charismatics do not associate with Baptists. Baptist choose their specific group to hang with…such as Freewill, Sovereign, North, South, etc. and pretty much do nothing with anyone else.  And don’t get me going on the Presbyterians. :)

We have gone from the foundational doctrines being what we build upon to using all of the little doctrines to destroy each other.  Every molehill is a mountain.

However, on the field we are foxhole buddies.  We are in this together.  What matters is Jesus.  We focus on the essentials of the orthodox faith and do not choke to death on what you believe about the end times.  It is great.  We can be friends, good friends, with people who disagree with us on the minor doctrines.  I have friends who are pentecostal, others are ‘really’ charismatic :), then I have my über Calvinist and my evangelical Methodist.  There are the conservative Baptist who never say nothing about my wife wearing pants, and the non-denominational that love being at my parties. The molehills are easy to step over when you are climbing a mountain together.  




Helping The Poor
You know that you should help the poor.  You really do know that.  The only problem is, that most of us that live in the States have had two things happen to us.  The first is that we don’t really know anyone who is poor.  The second is that our culture (see the worldview section) has convinced us that helping the poor is hurting the poor.  When I was a pastor in the States, I had two Bible verses that formed the entirety of my theology of the poor.  The first was, “the poor you have with you always’ and the second was “If a man doesn’t work, then he doesn’t eat.”.  That was it.  

Things are different here in the poorest country in all the Americas.  The poor are not some enemy of culture or lazy people trying to live off of the government, both of whom are nameless straw men designed to make us feel good for not helping them.  Nope, the poor are real people. They have real stories. They have names. They have families. They are alive.  99% of them are hardworking and trying the best that they can.  To be honest, they are you, my dear reader, if you had been born here instead of there.  

I get to help the poor. It is so satisfying.  I have been able to feed people that had no food, to clothe people that had no clothes, to pay for surgeries that saved lives, to buy medicine for those who couldn’t, and to give dental treatment for the first time ever to others.  I have had the joy of building 12 homes and two churches for the poor and for poor communities.  It is wonderful.  I love helping the poor in Jesus’ name.





Cool Experiences With My Family
This is way up there on the awesome list.  I mentioned in my blog that missionaries won’t tell you that many times we feel like our children suffer because they don’t get to do all the neat things that your kids do.  However, the flip side of that coin is that they do get to do some fun things.  They have camped in the Amazon forest while serving a poor community and building a church. They have canoed down Amazon rivers and had monkeys jump on their shoulders (one had a monkey pee on him, how cool is that?).  They have climbed a mountain that is 17,000 feet high and driven motorcycles through the city.  They have built homes for the poor and pulled teeth with dentist.  We have had so many wonderful and neat experiences together.  I love being able to do these things with the fam.



Speaking Another Language
There is a joke that goes around in other countries. I have heard it in three different ones.  Here it is:  What do you call someone who speaks three languages?  Trilingual. What do you call someone who speaks two language?  Bilingual. What do you call someone who speaks one language?  An American.
That is funny because it is true.  I have to say, I love speaking Spanish.  I am a lifelong student now and know that I will never be GREAT.  My accent is poor because I did not start learning until I was almost 45, but I am fluent.  Being able to talk in another language is just cool.  It makes me feel smart, and I need all the help that I can get in that area.  :)


Still more good stuff in my next blog.

Leia Mais…

Friday, October 3, 2014

Good Stuff About Being A Missionary


Good Stuff About Being A Missionary


My last blog was “10 Things Your Missionary Won’t Tell You.”  It received more comments, private emails, and Facebook shares than any blog that I have ever written.  99% of those comments were in agreement to what was said.

However, to be fair, I want to follow up that post with some good stuff.  I love being a missionary!   The following list is not a Bible Study, it is a personal experience of life after being on the mission field for almost 8 years.

Disclaimer:  This list is not in any order whatsoever…just a brain dump written down while sitting up in bed one night.  

Disclaimer 2:  This is sharing my experiences and how I feel.  It is not a judgement nor an indictment about living in the States.  It is just what I like about living here.





Friends
One thing that I discovered after coming to the mission field is that before coming I really did not have that many friends.  I knew a lot of people.  I had a lot of acquaintances.  However I really did not have the ‘call me anytime, no out of bounds, I am here for you, it is not a sacrifice to help you, I want to know you better’ type of friends.  On the field, among other missionaries, there is more of a foxhole mentality.  We are here together.  We are serving the same Lord. For the first time in my life, I have really experienced the ‘one-another’ type of relationship that you see listed in the Scripture.  I said that I am not putting this list in any order, but when I asked my wife beside me to give me a list of what she enjoyed about being a missionary, this was the first one on her list.  It is a big deal to have really great friends who love you and Jesus and show it to you.





Impacting Lives
I have been in ‘vocational ministry’ since 1988.  It has been a blast.  I have loved serving as a pastor in the States and have been the Sr. Pastor of two GREAT churches there.  However, it was not until I came to the field that I truly felt like I started impacting lives on a real scale.  Don’t get me wrong, I had a good ministry in the States.  I loved teaching the Bible. I had the joy of seeing hundreds of people give their lives to Christ.  Yet something is different here.  The best way that I can illustrate it is like this.

Suppose that God called me and gave me 5,000 bottles of water.  He said that I could pass this water out to anyone that wanted it.  I could choose where, when and how to give them out.  Once they were all passed out, my job here was done.  I picture two scenarios in my mind.  The first one is setting up a tent at the local reservoir and water supply in the burbs.  People come to the lake to have family picnics, to fish, and to water ski.  They all have a great time and no one is doing anything wrong.  People see my tent, and stroll by to get a bottle of water to help take the bite off of the fun in the sun day that they are having.  They are appreciative and grateful for my water because it saved them a trip to the local store to buy some.

A second scenario would be for me to load up my water in the back of my four wheel drive jeep and then start scouring the desert looking for people dying of thirst.  It is more work, and takes a lot more energy and effort.  The up side is that every person that I give my water to is more than appreciative.  They are alive.  The water bottle was the difference between life and death.  

That is how I feel. I believe that God has given me a certain gift mix.  He has given me a few talents.  He has also given me some time.  I feel like what I am doing here is making an impact in the lives of people.  I am doing more than helping fellow Christians learn a little more doctrine (although I am still doing that as a pastor and Bible teacher).  I am being used by God to reach souls for eternity and save lives for now.  






Focusing On What Matters
Living on the mission field, especially when you live among the poor, has a way of allowing me to truly prioritize my life.  I cannot speak for anyone else other than me, but in my life I had allowed materialism, consumerism, greed, coveting and a desire to please others creep in unawares.  There really is no other way to explain why I was living such a luxurious lifestyle in the States.  I had adapted to the culture of ‘bigger, better, faster and more’.  Life was about success.  After coming to Bolivia and having the joy of being in a different culture, of being with the poor, of seeing life apart from comfort and consumerism, I began to realize what was really important.  I was able to leave some bad habits and then even repent of hidden sins and allow God to change me.  Life is not about what you think of me, or how much money I have, or the level of comfort that I can attain.  Life is about Jesus.  It is about helping people know God better and love Him more.  It is about sacrificing my rights in order to help others.  People matter to God.  I need to focus on people.  Living on the mission field keeps that priority in line.  What is eternal?  The Word of God and the souls of men.  That is our focus.  




Living On My Strengths
Okay, the next three things are way up on my favorite list. When I say living on my strengths what I mean is that being on the mission field allows me to do what I do best.  I am not a ‘cog’ in some machine simply doing a job description that has been handed down to me.  I am able to choose what I do and maximize my return by doing what I am good at and by limiting my time and energy in areas that I am not very strong.  For example, I am a pretty decent communicator and Bible teacher.  I am also a people person and love to evangelize, disciple, teach, and mentor.  I can focus on that.  I can do that.  I do not have to attend a myriad of meetings in order to keep the bureaucracy or organization going.  I can teach.  I have taught in a Christian school here, helping 9th-12th graders learn the Bible.  I have taught in seminary.  I have taught in a mentoring school for pastors and church leaders.  I have taught leadership and church conferences, marriage and parenting retreats, and led Bible studies.  I am able to spend as much of my time doing this as I want to.  In other words, instead of spending 30% of my time investing in what I am good at and 70% doing what is necessary for the organization.  I am able to spend 70% of my time at what I am good at.  I love to evangelize and share the story of Christ.  I have opportunities every day do to that.  As I told one pastor who was here on a short term trip, “In seven years I have never had to go to a deacon meeting or discuss the color of carpet or meet with the painting committee.”  :)





Multi-tasking
This flows out of living on my strengths.  I am not GREAT at anything other than loving my wife (got some points out of that one), however I am capable in several areas.  As a missionary I am able to do more than one job description.  I teach leadership and one of the things that we talk about is leading or managing.  Neither one is more important than the other, they are just different.  A leader can see what needs to be done and how to do it.  A manager gets it done.  In my gift mix, I am better at leading than managing.  I tell my wife that I am really good at the 80 meter dash….too bad that the finish line is up there at 100 meters.  However, if I can leave the dash and join a relay…if I can have someone to hand the baton off to, then I can go to another race and run another 80 meters with enthusiasm.  Living on the mission field allows me to do that.  I am able to help start ministries, to encourage missionaries, to invest in healthy networks and relationships.  I have been able to preach the gospel to an Amazon tribe who had never had a missionary visit them before, help orphans and orphanages, build churches, start small businesses, feed the poor, provide surgeries for people, help dentist and doctors serve the impoverished, evangelize one-on-one and preach to large groups.  I love doing a project or an event, and then doing something else.  It helps me maximize my 80m dash.  






Being With My Family
While I was a pastor in the States, I had a work week of 53 hours. That was my schedule.  That did not include any power lunches or driving time.  Now, as a missionary, I work on average 48 hours a week.  However, the cool part is that I am never more than a couple of miles from my home.  I have an office, and I also have an office at home.  This allows me to be with my peeps a lot.  I mean a lot.  Bolivian culture does not do ‘power lunches’ like we do in the States.  They just eat lunch and take care of business later.  What this means to me is that everyday I eat lunch with my family and/or my wife.  Since I am able to live on my strengths and avoid too many after work meetings, I am able to eat with my wife and/or my family every night.  Last year, I took David and Josh with me to the office everyday and they did their school at a desk next to mine.  If I need to run to the hospital or drive to someone’s house to help them in some way, I take some kids with me.  When short term teams come and we build churches and houses, my kids work alongside of me.  We went to the jungle for a week and the family went with us.  Everyone from Mercy to Caleb (Seth and Jacob were in the States) lived in a tent in an Amazon tribal village and helped minister and build everyday.  I love my family.  They are my favorite. I get to be with the people that I love doing the things that I love.  





Walking By Faith
I have taught for my entire ministry the importance of living by and walking by faith.  However, the truth is that I never really understood what it meant.  When you serve and live in a place where your next paycheck is always guaranteed, necessity is a word that you hear but do not personally know, and that focuses on improving comfort; it is hard to walk by faith.  I do not mean that walking by faith is focused on money.  What I mean (and am currently teaching at my church) is that walking by faith is hearing what God has to say through His Spirit and Word and then doing it.  It is believing that God can and will use you.  A wonderful example to me was Mary. When she heard that she was going to give birth to Jesus and was shown Scripture as a proof, her response was, “Okay.”.  She simply believed that if God was going to use someone, then it might as well be her as the next person.  Walking by faith is really believing that God wants to use your life as a blessing, hearing what He wants to do, and then acting on it.  That, for me, was much more difficult to do in the States.  It was hard to hear God speak to me in the middle of so much other noise.  On the mission field when life is scaled down so to speak, the voice of the Holy Spirit has been much easier for me to listen to.  This goes with an earlier point about focusing on what matters, but now I can see more clearly that God’s purpose in my life is not to give me comfort and possession.  His goal is to receive glory from me as by faith I obey Him.  






Seeing God Work
I love not only walking by faith, but actually experiencing God at work.  A long time ago there was a study that became kinda famous.  It was called “Experiencing God”.  The idea of the study was that God is at work around us.  We need simply keep our eyes open to what He is doing and then join Him in His work.  Living on the field allows us to do that.  We have networked with a lot of other missionaries.  They are serving Christ and doing an incredible job.  We are able to see God working and then say, “Hey, lets be a part of that!”.  For example, my friend Tony is a mission pilot with a heart for reaching jungle tribes.  He shared his renewed vision with me of starting 10 churches in 10 villages in 10 years.  As I heard him speaking, I could sense that this was of God.  So, I joined God and Tony.  I have volunteered to do any pastoral training necessary and to build any churches when they are ready to be constructed.  We have built one church and will be doing a village church leader conference later this month.  God is working and I see it.  I love that.  I can look at my co-laborers in Christ, at my own ministry, and at the work of my Bolivian friends and see that God is working here.  


More To Come In My Next Blog

Leia Mais…