PREACH – Part 1 (Preaching and Teaching – What’s the Difference)

What is a Preacher?

Before reading this article, ponder these questions for a second.

  • What comes to mind when you hear the word “preach” or “preacher”?
  • Who, in the church, are those called to preach?
  • What is the difference (if any) between preaching and teaching?

 

Traditionally I always thought preachers were just charismatic Christian speakers. A preacher, in my understanding, was one who could pull the full range of emotional strings in an audience. They’d make you laugh, cry, and shout “AMEN!” all in one sermon. I thought that teachers, by contrast, were speakers who were a bit more dry and intellectual. Teachers in the church cared more about fleshing out the finer points of doctrine and took a more academic approach to reading the scriptures. If a sermon was particularly moving or convicting I would think “that man can preach!” If I felt more intellectually stimulated I would say “he’s more of a teacher than a preacher”. In my journey through the Bible, though, I would find these understandings of preaching and teaching to be false.

 

God’s Power to Save Rests in News

The word “Gospel” simply means “Good News”. In the biblical context The Gospel refers to the good news of Jesus defeating sin and death at the Cross and being raised from the dead to forgive all those who turn to Him in faith. Romans 1:16 tells us that The Gospel is “God’s power for salvation”. Not our good works, or a ritual, or a particular prayer, or baptism, or anything else – it’s the Gospel alone that has the power to save.

 

It’s interesting to think that our salvation rests in news; and this news must be told. The question, then, is who will tell people this news?

 

“But how can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher?”

Romans 10:14

 

The Gospel is a Message to Be Proclaimed

The word “preacher” can literally be translated as herald, public crier, announcer or proclaimer. The word is used 61 times in the New Testament, and always refers to the verbal proclamation of the Gospel of Christ. Some argue that we are to “preach the gospel always, and when necessary, use words”. Though that’s a nice sentiment, it’s impossible (and unbiblical) to assume that we can preach the gospel any other way than using our words. The Gospel is not simply a philosophy to appreciate and live by – The Gospel is a message to be proclaimed.

 

So, Who Are the Proclaimers?

So we’ve established that the Gospel is a message to be proclaimed (or news to be announced); and the preacher is the one who proclaims the news. Who, then, are these proclaimers of good news? Who are the preachers?

 

“Then He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.””

Mark 16:15

 

­The Great Commission has been recognized as the marching orders of the church for over 2000 years. As followers of Jesus we are all called to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), and as we saw in Romans 1:16 and 10:14 the only way a disciple is made is through the proclamation of the Gospel. Therefore, the call to believe is also a call to preach.

 

“And since we have the same spirit of faith in keeping with what is written, I believed, therefore I spoke, we also believe, and therefore speak.”

2 Corinthians 4:13

All to Preach, Some to Teach

Not many should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment…”

James 3:1

 

In explaining spiritual gifts to the church in Corinth, the Apostle Paul explains that “there are different gifts, but the same Spirit…” He then explains how each Christian is like a different body part, functioning in its own individual way to benefit the rest of the body. He asks the rhetorical question, “are all teachers?” with the assumed answer being no (see 1 Corinthians 12). In his letter to Timothy, Paul gives qualifications for leaders in the church, specifically elders and deacons. The primary difference between elders and deacons is that elders should be able to teach – a requirement not imposed on deacons (see 1 Timothy 3).

 

Biblically speaking, my previous idea of preachers being charismatic and teachers being academic was false. If someone is speaking to the church, reading from the scriptures and explaining what the text means and how it applies, they are teaching. There are many different flavors of teachers and teaching styles because there are many different flavors of people. Some teaching styles may be more charismatic, others more scholastic. Some styles are better than others, and some are just different. But it’s important to know the difference between preaching and teaching so that we avoid the mistake of thinking the role of a preacher is reserved for a select few.

 

Most Christians are not called to teach in the church because teaching is a high calling that requires a stricter judgement. Though the bible is clear that not all are called to teach in the church, it is equally clear that all Christians are called to preach the gospel to the world.

 

In Conclusion

To preach is to proclaim, and the teach is to explain. The teaching ministry is reserved for a select few in the church, but the preaching ministry is given to all. The Gospel is the central message of Christianity and every recipient of it has been commissioned by Christ to proclaim it; consequently the call to believe is also a call to preach. Therefore, GO!

 

GO! Introduction

An 8-part journey designed to move the church to PREACH the TRUTH with CLARITY, CONVICTION, and COMPASSION.

 

Introduction

Early on in my Christian walk I became passionate about sharing the Gospel. About a year or so into my faith I started to hit the streets on a weekly basis to intentionally talk about Jesus with strangers. When you routinely share the Gospel, it’s easy to treat it just like that – a routine. I would prepare tirelessly: watching videos, reading books, learning new methods. In my preparation I memorized a few different presentations, I had common objections and rebuttals nailed down and I was ready! Before I knew it, I was regurgitating a canned, scripted Gospel performance that seemed to come out with no emotion or conviction. I effectively grew numb in my presentation of the Gospel that saved my soul and transformed my life.

 

That’s when I started preparing my heart, more than my mind. I would spend more time praying that God would break my heart with the truth of the Gospel. I prayed that God would allow me to preach it as if it were my first time. In my prayer closet is where the phrase that is the mission statement for this series came from. Here is why each word of that prayer is important to me:

  • I knew that if I was going to preach, I wanted to preach the truth. Not my truth (as if there was such a thing), but God’s truth. Laying aside my presuppositions and learned theology, I wanted to accurately preach what God has revealed in scripture.
  • However, in my study of God’s truth I noticed myself becoming more philosophical and my Gospel presentation would become more complex. The Gospel is simple, and I was often over-complicating it, adding unnecessary stumbling blocks for my hearers. So, I prayed that God would allow me to preach the truth with clarity so that those I would preach to could understand.
  • Not only did I want to present the Gospel clearly, I wanted to preach with the same conviction that drove me to repentance the day I was saved. After sharing the gospel 100’s of times I often sounded apathetic. I prayed that God would amaze me afresh with the truth of the Gospel, and reignite the conviction in my presentation.
  • However, conviction from a loveless heart comes off as arrogant, prideful, and calloused towards the individual. When faced with opposition, I became proud and arrogant and often wanted to win the battle of the argument at the expense of the war over their soul. That’s why I prayed for God to allow me to share His compassion for the people He would call me to.

 

So that’s been my prayer for the last several years. “Lord, help me to preach the truth with clarity, conviction and compassion.” Each discussion topic in this series revolves around each of the key words in the prayer. Here’s an overview.

 

PREACH pt. 1

The Gospel is a message to be proclaimed, not merely a standard to live by. The Great Commission is for everyone – not just pastors and ministry leaders. While not every Christian is called to teach in the church, all believers are called to preach to the world.

 

PREACH pt. 2

The painful reality is that only 1/3 of the world’s population professes faith in Christ, which means that approximately 100,000 people enter Hell every day! There are at least three reasons Christians don’t share the Gospel: 1) They Don’t Care To, 2) They Don’t Know How To, 3) They Are Afraid To. We’ll explore each in this discussion.

 

TRUTH pt. 1

“What is truth?” This was Pontius Pilate’s famous question when Jesus said that He came “to testify to the truth”. We are living in a world that is becoming increasingly more offended at the idea that there is a singular truth that belongs to God and is not left up to man to determine. In this discussion, we’ll look at what the bible says about truth, and what our responsibility as a church is, in light of the truth.

 

TRUTH pt. 2

The Gospel is the most important truth there is because it is “the power of God unto salvation”. The word “Gospel” simply means “Good News”, but the Good News is only rightly understood with a proper understanding of the Bad News. Far too often Christians are quick to talk about the Good News without setting the stage with a proper understanding of the Bad News, thus taking away from how amazing the Gospel truly is. In this discussion, we’ll look at the beauty of the Gospel in stark contrast to the dark backdrop of man’s fallenness.

 

TRUTH pt. 3

What happens when there are objections to the proclamation of the truth? How are we to respond? The bible is clear that we are to “always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you”, but how are we to do this? Giving a defense of the faith is known as apologetics. There are two popular approaches within Christianity as to how to “give a defense” of the truth claims of the bible – classical apologetics, and presuppositional apologetics. In this discussion, we will explore both.

 

CLARITY

It’s our responsibility to lead people to the cross, it’s God’s responsibility to put them on it. It is not our obligation to make anyone believe the gospel – that is a work of God that He alone does through the faithful preaching of the gospel. However, no matter what context you find yourself in, it’s important to preach the truth with clarity so that your hearers can comprehend the message you are relaying. Jesus came as a man speaking a language that people understood and preached sermons using illustrations people could relate to. We, too, should seek to proclaim the gospel in words and ways that our context can understand and relate to, without compromising the essentials. In this discussion we’ll explore the concept of contextualization.

 

CONVICTION

We mustn’t present the gospel as a tired, scripted, canned message that we bottle up and regurgitate the same way every time we preach it. People believe those who are thoroughly convinced of what they’re proclaiming. Paul told the Corinthian church, “My speech and my proclamation were not with persuasive words of wisdom but with a powerful demonstration by the Spirit, so that your faith might not be based on men’s wisdom but on God’s power.” This is a power that we cannot find in-and-of ourselves – it comes from God. This discussion will compel us to seek God for the power to proclaim His message “with a powerful demonstration by the Spirit”.

 

COMPASSION

There’s a popular truism “people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care”. The Bible says “lust us not love in word or speech, but in action and truth”. The message of the gospel is always preceded and followed by genuine love for the people we’re reaching out to. In this discussion, we’ll explore what the bible says about compassion, and how it directly correlates to our proclamation of the truth.

 

Thank you for taking this journey with me. I pray that through it, God would do amazing things.

Sean

Race, Church and the Gospel pt. 1 – JACOB RAYFORD

Race, Church and the Gospel

I’ve been wanting to do a series of videos called “Word on the Street” where I’ll discuss different topics surrounding the church, culture and the gospel with different ministry leaders from different perspectives. When it came to deciding what topics would be included on the list of things to discuss, the issue of racism and social justice was a very early addition. It seems as though every week I see something new in the news or social media regarding racism – whether it’s Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the National Anthem or Lecrae leaving “white evangelicalism”.
Within the last few years I’ve been introduced to new terms and concepts I’ve never heard before, such as White Evangelicalism, Systematic Racism, New Jim Crow, White Privilege, etc… I have not been active in posting anything from my perspective about these issue because, to be honest, I don’t feel I would be adding much to the conversation. A lot of it doesn’t make sense, and I find myself asking more questions than giving answers. All of this is really new for me because I grew up thinking that racism was a thing of the past. I have a multi-cultural family (being the half-white son of a Filipino immigrant), I grew up going to a multi-cultural church, I’ve always had several friends from different ethnic backgrounds, etc.

 

Even though I don’t have any personal experience with racism, it’s blatantly obvious that I can’t (and shouldn’t) turn my head in apathy away from the conversation. So rather than ignoring it (or even worse – posting my irrelevant outside opinions on this subject), I felt it would be beneficial to ask questions and to learn from people who can give more insight from their unique perspectives and experiences. So I guess I’m inviting you to learn with me.

 

This first video was shot really on-the-fly. I was on the phone with my buddy, Pastor Jacob Rayford while I was at my office and mentioned that I wanted to do this video series and asked if he’d be open to do a video with me. He said “I’m actually free right now”, so he came over, we setup real quick and just had a conversation. In this video (and the entire series) I hope to demonstrate what Jacob mentions is the start of the solution to this topic – be humble, show love, and listen.

Empathic Listening – How It Helps Relationships, Business and Ministry

So I learned a new term after reading Stephen Covey’s book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People“. The term is “Empathic Listening”. In short, empathic listening is the art of actually caring about someone you’re talking to. The goal is to first seek to genuinely understand a person, and then to be understood. When someone discerns that you’re actually taking initiative to clearly understand them, it’s more likely that they’ll reciprocate the listening.

 

 

It’s easier said than done

This, however, is easier said than done. Most of us seek first to be understood, and don’t really care about understanding the other person’s point of view. This is especially true when we disagree. We spend most of our lives learning how to communicate our thoughts. We rarely, if ever, learn how to listen well. Often times, especially in disagreements, we wait for the other person to stop talking so we can share our point of view; rather than taking the time to genuinely and deeply understand theirs.

 

Though this term was new to me when I heard it from Covey, the principle is not. I’ve been practicing this skill for a few years now, and have experienced great results in all areas of my life.

 

 

How empathic listening helps my relationships

In The 7 Habits, Covey talks about “emotional deposits”, which essentially are ways to earn trust with someone. Basically the theory goes like this: when you make enough deposits in someone’s “emotional bank account”, you’re more free to make a withdrawal. Emotional withdrawals are things like disagreements, corrections, mistakes, failures, rebukes, reprimands, etc. Things that are often likely to hurt our feelings or pride. However, emotional deposits are things like affirmations, complements, follow-through, acts of kindness, etc. Covey points out that one of the biggest deposits we can make into a person’s emotional bank account is empathic listening – seeking to genuinely understand them.

 

I’m very much a type-A personality. So is my wife. That means there’s a lot of opportunity for clashing and “intense fellowship” (which is a nice way of saying all-out-brawl). Disagreements in my household are inevitable. If we’re not intentional about how we are to disagree then it can get pretty ugly. One of the rules we’ve tried to implement (imperfectly, but at least we’re trying) is allowing the other person the opportunity to clearly express their point of view. And listening doesn’t mean I just shut up and wait for the noise coming from her mouth to stop so I can chime in with the correct perspective. We truly want to understand each other. This doesn’t mean that we are going to leave the conversation in agreement – we often don’t. It means that we value our relationship enough to genuinely and deeply understand each other, even if we disagree.

 

 

How empathic listening helps my business

As the Lead Strategist for Butler Branding, Discovery is a huge aspect of my job. Discovery is where we seek to learn about the brands we represent as well as the users they serve. I literally cannot do my job without deeply listening to my clients. However, when I first started Butler, we were not a Brand Strategy agency; we focused primarily on Brand Design (making things look pretty). The thing about designers is that they’re a dime a dozen. With the state of the internet and how readily accessible design education and tools are, the supply of good design tacticians is abundant which drives the price for decent design way down. However, what’s not so readily accessible or easily attained is the ability to strategize, and especially to bridge the gap between strategy and design. What I’ve found is that the best designers are those who design from a strategy, and one of the primary keys to helping brands strategize their branding efforts is to know how to listen and what to listen for.

 

When I dove into the world of Brand Strategy, I dove into the world of professional empathic listening. This art has literally helped me differentiate my company from the competition. Rather than competing (offering a variation of something that already exists) I prefer to differentiate (offering something completely different). Empathic listening has helped us do just that, and the results include a 10X increase in our average size engagement.

 

 

How empathic listening helps my ministry

I love to share the gospel with people. I often go out with Fresno Street Ministry on the first Saturday of every month to share the gospel with complete strangers on the street. From the very first time I shared the gospel until now I have always been met with people of opposing beliefs. I’ve interacted with Atheists, Agnostics, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and all sorts of people from varying philosophical worldviews and religious beliefs. By virtue of being a Christian, it goes without saying that I disagree with a lot of people.

 

I’ve noticed many people in my evangelical tribe who also love to share the gospel, and who likewise come across people with varying beliefs. However, I’ve also noticed from some of these same people an attitude of pride and arrogance that displays itself with the assertion of truth apart from seeking to hear the people they disagree with. Before I go out to share the gospel, it is already assumed that I’m going to disagree with people. My goal is to remove any stumbling blocks that would hinder them from hearing the gospel. Seeking to be heard without seeking to truly listen is an enormous stumbling block that brings unnecessary offense, hindering my ability to clearly convey the message of the gospel.

 

Employing empathic listening when presenting the gospel isn’t a compromise of the truth, as I’ve been accused of. When I seek listen to the person I’m speaking with, I’m not saying “you’re beliefs are as true as mine”. What I am saying, however, is “I truly want to know where you’re coming from and feel what you feel before I make an emotional withdrawal”. I want to understand you before I disagree with you.

 

Few things are more annoying than listening to an argument where someone is disagreeing with something the other person doesn’t even necessarily believe. For example, I remember sharing the gospel with a woman who told me that she was a Jehovah’s Witness. I’ve had plenty of previous conversations with other JW’s and have extensively researched JW doctrine and theology. I was prepared for this conversation! Many evangelicals who have likewise studied JW doctrine would hear those words from this woman and start arguing with her according to their presupposition of what they think she believed. I chose, instead, to ask lots of questions. It turned out that she really didn’t know much about JW doctrine. She remembers that her mom was approached by JW’s when she was 11, and they attended Kingdom Hall for about 3-4 years, and then she stopped for over a decade. I knew more about JW doctrine than she did. I was able to bypass the anti-JW spiel and focus on the essentials of the gospel. She was very open and receptive to hearing what the Word of God said, especially after knowing that I genuinely sought to listen and understand her story.

 

 

So yeah – empathic listening.

“The beginning of the words of his mouth is folly, but the end of his speaking is evil madness. Yet the fool multiplies words.”

Ecclesiastes 10:13-14

 

“The proud speech of a fool brings a rod of discipline, but the lips of the wise protect them.”

Proverbs 14:3

 

“The proud speech of a fool brings a rod of discipline, but the lips of the wise protect them.”
Proverbs 12:15

 

“a wise man will listen and increase his learning, and a discerning man will obtain guidance–”

Proverbs 1:5

 

“…Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak…”

James 1:19

 

“Do you see a man who speaks too soon? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”

Proverbs 29:20

 

“A fool does not delight in understanding, but only wants to show off his opinions.”

Proverbs 18:2

2017 India Trip Recap

2017 India Trip Recap

On July 31st, 2017 I set out to visit my friends in India who are doing amazing work to reach the Indian people for the Lord. The objective was to document our journey and give an accurate picture of India from a Christian perspective. To help me accomplish this I brought photographer Chance James and film maker Manny Collazo. A short film documenting our journey will be released early 2018. The goal of this project is to display the breathtaking beauty of the people and landscape as well as highlight the spiritual darkness overshadowing the land, resulting in grievous social atrocities. The film won’t end on a bleak note, though – there is hope! God is alive and well in India, working through a faithful remnant to shine brightly in the midst of spiritual darkness and social injustice.

 

While in India we had 6 days of filming, visited 3 states, several cities, and a handful of rural villages. The following is a bullet point recap of our trip. I started the draft of this post on my cell phone on the way home from Delhi and completed 2 days after my return while it’s still fresh in my mind. For the sake of protecting the people and work in India, I’m omitting some names and places.

 

 

The journey from Fresno to India spanned 2 Days with 20 Hours of flying and 10 hours of driving with a couple layovers. We travelled over 8,100 miles in planes, cars, trains, buses, mopeds, auto rickshaws. The journey home consisted of a 3 hour drive to Jabalpur, an 8 hour train ride to Agra (where we visited the Taj Mahal), a 2 hour drive to Delhi, a 14 hour flight to Toronto, a 5 hour layover, a 4 hour flight to LAX, and finally a 4.5 hour drive to Fresno (40.5 hours of straight travel). My legs were swollen by the time I got home, and a visit to my chiropractor was immediately scheduled. Praise God I don’t struggle with jetlag from long travel.

 

 

 

Let’s just say we ate well. There’s nothing better than authentic creamy Indian Butter Chicken full of flavor that you just can’t replicate in America, paired with homemade warm-off-the-oven, perfectly crispy, slightly buttery naan bread. The mango and watermelon juice is sweetened by nature with fruit that was freshly picked that day. The spices in the chai are flawlessly blended and the cream is sourced from one of the millions of buffalo you see all over the place. There’s no such thing as a Costco Rotisserie chicken – when you order chicken from the market, you get a live animal that you must kill, pluck and clean at home. Everything is bursting with flavor. The sweets are either too sweet, or have different, often surprising spices, herbs and other ingredients you wouldn’t find in an American dessert.

 

 

Upon our arrival, we were greeted with an array of flowers to adorn our necks and a large vinyl banner with our names printed on it to welcome us. The people are extremely (almost overly) hospitable, sometimes to the point where it makes you uncomfortable. I found myself saying thank you about 100 times a day, as well as “no, please don’t worry about it”, as people are willing to go completely out of their way to accommodate your every request (or even your subtle suggestion). For example, when I passively mentioned that I would be visiting my chiropractor when I got home due to the travel, I had to stop my hosts from calling a masseuse to come to the home we were staying in.

 

The children we met in the safe havens, villages, and schools were so full of joy and life, especially the special needs children. It was a humbling reminder that material possessions are of little value in bringing true joy as we worshiped with people who quite literally had nothing, yet were more full of life than most people I’ve met in the USA.

 

Many locals have no regard for personal space or public privacy. It was common to be immediately surrounded by curious onlookers wondering who we were, where we were from and what we were doing. Though we all inwardly seek affirmation, the Indians I met were very open about it. The Hindu Sanskrit Scribes we met, for example, were anxiously awaiting our response to witnessing their worship service. When given something such as food or a gift, you’re likely to look up and see wide eyes, an ear-to-ear grin and the question “you like?”

 

I would describe the Indian people as laid back; go-with-the-flow.

 

 

Stunning… breathtaking… hard to articulate… must be experienced. We arrived during monsoon season, so the landscape was covered in lush, tropical greenery. Animals are everywhere; primarily cows, buffalo, monkeys and dogs. The weather was mucky, tropical, humid, hot. The AC was a refreshing relief from the damp heat.

 

The city was chaotic. Just imagine people everywhere zooming in and out of traffic with no regard to lanes or any discernable traffic laws. People are traveling on foot and bicycles as well as all types of vehicles from motorcycles and mopeds, to tractors and cars. You clench onto the car door handle and stare at the street wondering why there are no car accidents. Lanes are more of a suggestion and horns are a must. In America, you blow the horn to warn of danger, yell at someone to move, or express your disgust with their terrible driving; whereas in India blowing the horn is a common courtesy to let people know you’re approaching.

 

It seems like there are millions of tiny shops selling very similar things, making you wonder how anything stands out to be remembered. The city is very grimy, and the villages look like camping in the jungle. Most of the homes people live in would be considered unlivable in America, but they just make it work and are happy to do so.

 

 

Indian Culture varies depending on where you are. Some big cities are more westernized and modern, while the smaller cities are very traditional and conservative. It was strange to visit an obscure eating hole on the side of the road, next to a hotel consisting of outdoor beds made of logs and rope, and the owner of the place asking if he could take a picture and put it on Facebook. Some small jungle villages have cell phones and motorcycles, even though they have no electricity, cell towers or internet.

 

The predominant religion is Hinduism (80%), and it has deep roots in the culture. Idol worship is everywhere and the caste system, while not legal on paper, is still actively accepted as the way things are. While 90+ percent of the Hindus are warm, open and accepting of Christians and their work, there is a small number of radicals who unfortunately retain power in every sector of society (including upper levels of government), making it extremely difficult for Christian work to exist, much less flourish. The state of Madhya Pradesh (among several others), for example, has anti-conversion laws where it is illegal to baptize a Hindu, or for a Hindu to change religions. Therefore, much of the Christian work that happens must be done in the shadows.

 

 

The area we visited is in the heart of the 10/40 window – the most highly concentrated area of unreached people groups in the world. The ministry is massive. Humanitarian efforts and philanthropic work have built bridges to cross the religious chasm and opened doors to preach the gospel to many otherwise unreached people. Everything from education and medicine, to multimedia and benevolence is available; and all work is conducted at an elite level.

 

  • The K-12 school is home to over 2,600 students, many of which are top performing in their studies.
  • The college is home to over 700 students offering degrees in subjects such as science, math, commerce, post-graduation, teachers training, computer literacy, journalism and mass communication, to name a few.
  • The multimedia studio was one of the first to have an all Hindi text website (which happened to be Bible-based).
  • Audio/video productions are produced and distributed all over India, with 2 nationwide broadcasts per year featuring Christian media.
  • Village learning centers have educated hundreds of children who otherwise would have never received a quality education.
  • The safe havens have rescued over 150 girls from dangerous situations.
  • The disabled children’s program has given dignity and worth to people who are typically ostracized from society.
  • Dozens of pastors and ministers have been trained and sent out.
  • Hundreds of churches have been planted.
  • And hundreds of new baptisms take place each year.

 

The list goes on and on, and all of this is running on a shoestring budget. Financial contributions from the US help with child sponsorships, and profits from local initiatives are used to expand other ministries.

 

So far this post is over 1,500 words and as I said in the beginning – this is just a bullet point recap. This trip is truly something to be experienced firsthand, and is possible if you’d like to do so. Contact me personally for more information on the ministries we’re working with, or for information on how to book a short or long-term missions trip to India.

 

 

Photography by Chance James

Video by Manny Collazo 

Music by Sadhu Nityanand

Life, As Seen on Facebook

Today I had an encounter that was both encouraging and convicting at the same time. After church, a good friend of mine gave me a big hug and told me how proud of me he was. He is much older than me (old enough to be my dad), and we’ve been following Christ together for about the same length of time (I think we were even baptized on the same day back in 2007). He went on to say how he loved seeing my Snapchat Stories and Facebook Posts, and how he was impressed with how I am always on the go and manage everything in my life to God’s glory.

He said, “one minute you’re playing with your kids and the next you’re lifting weights at the gym. You spend a lot of time with your wife, and you’re always posting scriptures, and I can see that your business is doing great! I’m really proud of you, and how far God has brought you because I know we both started following Christ around the same time, and I know the life that God pulled you out of…”

On the one hand my pride was stroked and I felt really great about myself… for about a millisecond. Pride was pretty much immediately followed by conviction as I started to correct my friend and let him know that on social media I tend to put my best face forward. I don’t often share the “behind-the-scenes footage” of my struggles and issues. I was convicted of the fact that I may be guilty of portraying a picture-perfect life on social media, while covering up the embarrassing aspects of my life that I don’t really want to let others in on.

As my friend was sharing with me how proud and impressed he was with my life, I was thinking on the inside, “but, if you only knew!”. If you only knew how conflicted I am about the amount and the quality of time I spend with my family. If you only knew how fearful I was that maybe I was missing God’s will for my life in certain areas. If only you knew how I’ve had to live off of financial miracles because business wasn’t as prosperous as I made it appear to be. If only you knew the arguments Candace and I have about stupid stuff, and how often I still let my pride get in between our marriage. If you only knew how vigorously I have to fight my lusts, doubts, anxieties, laziness, fickleness, and complacency.

Most of us subconsciously know (partly because we’re guilty of it ourselves) that no one really keeps it 100% on social media. However, for me, this is a big deal. When I came to Christ I vowed to never be fake. I grew up witnessing hypocrisy in the church, and I was resolved to not be a hypocrite. You know – the one who seems like they have it all together and they put on a front as if they’re perfect, yet they have skeletons in their closet that would make a heathen blush. I was determined to be genuine; to be real. What you see is what you get. Yet my friend’s praises indicated to me that maybe I’m not being all that honest… so I guess this post is me setting the record straight – YES! I have weaknesses, too. If I can boast about anything, I’ll boast in that…

 

But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.; Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me” 2 Corinthians 12:9

 

Here are a few potential dangers that I see can follow as a result of Christians sharing a superficial display of life as-seen-on-Facebook:

 

1) We can convey hopelessness to those who struggle

As a Christian, when we only share “the good stuff” without being open about the fact that we have struggles and weaknesses it can be very discouraging to those who feel like maybe they’re just inadequate. When they see how “all-together” some people have it, they can feel as if they’re uniquely without God’s favor. Conversely, being forthright about our struggles and letting others know that “what you’re going through is very common” can be very encouraging and instill hope in others who struggle with similar things.

“He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 2 Corinthians 1:4

 

2) We can distract people from the gospel

Our seemingly perfect lives displayed on social media can become a distraction from the gospel. When all glory is deflected from Christ’s greatness onto our greatness, we become a hindrance to the gospel working in the lives of those we’re trying to impress.

 

3) We can give false expectations

If you follow Christ for any length of time, people will catch on. You can’t have a “personal relationship with God” in the sense that it’s so personal no one ever knows about it. It doesn’t work like that. If you’re a Christian, people will take notice, and often times pay attention (some for better, and some for worse). If as Christians all we post is the good, and never show the bad and the ugly, we may not be accurately representing scriptures like:

“In fact, all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 2 Timothy 3:12

 

“Dear friends, don’t be surprised when the fiery ordeal comes among you to test you as if something unusual were happening to you.” 1 Peter 4:12

4) We can encourage false motivations

It’s often said, “what you win them with is what you win them too.” Yes, God has been good to me and my family. Though this post is about boasting in my weakness, I can’t lie – I’m blessed. I do have an unbelievably beautiful wife who loves me and is committed to me. I have three amazing sons who look up to me. I have a business that I love and has been able to provide a lifestyle that most people in the world couldn’t dream of (relatively speaking, since 51% of the world lives off of less than $2 per day). Yes, every one of those things I just listed has their fair share of difficulties and ups and downs; however, I’d be lying to say that God hasn’t blessed me abundantly.

However, people often times equate correlation with causation, and consequently make rash decisions. In other words, one might say “Sean is a Christian. Sean has a comparatively great life. I want a great life. Therefore I’ll give this Christianity thing a try.” Then when things don’t pan out the way they expected, they jump ship, exposing their false motives for following Christ in the first place.

As Christians, we need to not give the false impression to those we’re trying to win that following Jesus means a life of ease and financial prosperity. We need to be open about the weaknesses and trials we face as believers, while pointing to the source of our contentment in all things – Christ.

I know both how to have a little, and I know how to have a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:12-13.

 

5) We miss out on opportunities to point to Jesus

The fact is we need Christ. Not only do we need Him for salvation, we also need Him for sanctification. When we paint pictures of ourselves as though we are in lesser need of Christ’s continual work to cleanse and heal us, then we miss out on opportunities to share the real ongoing, active work of Jesus in our lives.

“I am sure of this, that He who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion” Philippians 1:6

 

 

So, how then should we post?

Though this post is about being authentic on social media so as to not put on a false-front as if you have no struggles, I’m not therefore advocating that everyone should now take all filters off and share everything. I think we’ve seen that, too, and it’s probably worse. You know – the complaining griper who always posts negativity on their wall and usually shares way too much information in order to drum up sympathy from anyone who cares to comment. I’m definitely not saying we should resort to that.

I’m also not saying that we should post our deepest struggles and darkest secrets for the world to see. I believe there’s wisdom in having a close group of a trusted few who can speak into your life for those issues. In fact, I’m not saying that anyone should post a particular way at all. I happen to like the diversity I see in my News Feed, and it would be pretty boring if everyone posted the same way. This post was primarily a personal reflection for myself, so here are my personal takeaways:

  • I’m going to continue posting the types of posts I have been (good food, great coffee, time with my family, updates with Butler, ministry outreaches, etc.). These are all real parts of my life, and I give glory to God for all of them.
  • I’m going to periodically post things like this, hopefully giving a more balanced insight into who I really am.
  • I’m also going to be more transparent (as wisdom would allow) with some of the things that I have struggled through and wrestled with, but always with a message of hope and victory through Christ… because what’s the point otherwise?

 

My two greatest fears

If I’m being completely honest with myself, I have had two fears that have propelled much of my drive, but have simultaneously caused a lot of inconsistency and doubt in my life.  I’ve had these two fears in the back of my mind for years.  I can attribute much of my success and achievements to these fears; as well as some of my procrastination and hesitancy.  The struggle is real, but I’m not sure if I want the struggle to go away.  What do I fear the most?

The fear of settling

First, I fear reaching middle-age and having not accomplished much of anything in this world. I fear mediocrity.  I fear complacency. I understand the comfort of many people’s interpretation of the American Dream: the ability to live a nice, quiet, middle-class life with a wife and 2.5 kids living in a nice home with a nice job, able to retire at a decent age to live out my life in peaceful mediocrity. That dream terrifies me. I know God has put big dreams in my heart, but as I’ve pursued my dreams I realize that even though I see the opportunities to have them come to fruition are there, it’s hard work. Thomas Edison said that “opportunity is missed by most because it is dressed in overalls and looks like hard work.”

I remember being a young boy and seeing starry eyed people with big dreams excitingly pursue them. As I’ve grown older I’ve also witness them get beat up in the hustle, and out of weariness give up and settle. As I’ve been in the battle myself I’ve felt the temptation to give up as well. How comfortable it would be to just give in and be normal! However, the terrifying idea of living a life of complacency has always caused me to push through, just one more day.

As I’m writing this I am turning 31 years old this year. I feel young (and by most people’s standards I am still very young) and I have tons of energy and drive in me. But, my 20’s are done and gone and it seems like they went by in a flash. I still feel like I’m in my 20’s, but I’m not! As I’ve been pondering that fact, this first fear has been more prevalent in my thinking. It pushes me to work when others are resting.  It pushes me to learn and grow when others are playing and being entertained. However, this is just one of my fears.

The fear of wasting

My second (and more prevalent) fear is much more weighty. It’s the fear of reaching middle-age and accomplishing much in the eyes of the world – making a name for myself, building empires, winning friends, influencing people, traveling the world, living the dream… but accomplishing nothing of real eternal significance. A far greater tragedy than living a life of settling is the tragedy of living a life of greatness from the world’s viewpoint, but squandering it in the light of eternity. To “waste” something is to “employ uselessly or without adequate return”.

God’s word says,

“we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).

This is an incredible, yet terrifying truth when you think about it. First, it assumes that we were created for a purpose that transcends us. If God created us “to do good works” and if these works were “prepared in advance for us to do” then that means that we don’t get to determine what those good works are! Our job is to simply discover what those works are, and live them out. Second, it assumes not only is the purpose of our life set by God and not by us, it also assumes that since we are “God’s handiwork” then we are then held accountable by God to do these works He created us for.  God has blessed me with life and everything in it.  If I do not employ an “adequate return” on this gift of life I’ve been blessed with, then I have wasted it all.

The juxtaposition

Where these two fears intersect in my life personally stems from what I believe God has called me to.  Keep in mind this is what I believe (which means I could be wrong) that God has called me to do (which means that even if I’m right, it doesn’t mean God has called anyone else to this).  I’m just sharing my heart. Through lots of prayer, meditation on God’s word, and spending time in His presence I believe that God has called me to do four things with my life: discipleship, church planting, evangelism and world mission. Perhaps in another post I will explain each of these categories from my interpretation of them, but suffice it to say for now that God has called me to serve the church in those four areas.  In other words, God has called me to be a minister of the church.

As a minister, the way I see it, there are at least two biblical ways to fund your ministry and provide a decent living and income for you and your family:

1) Receive financial support from the church; “church work” is your sole vocation 

“For scripture says, ‘do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the gran,’ and ‘the worker deserves his wages.'” (1 Timothy 5:18)

2) Work in a trade as your vocation while simultaneously serving the church (bi-vocational ministry)

“…We worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone while we preached the gospel of God to you.” (1 Thessalonians 2:9)

 

How this relates to my fears

The dreams God has put in my heart for making an eternal impact in this world before I die require millions of dollars. Again, this is for me specifically (it requires ZERO dollars to preach the gospel to someone, making an eternal impact in someone’s life). I’m talking about what I believe God has called me to do. I also believe that God has not called me to do it on the church’s dime, but rather through the means of entrepreneurship. This is why I own businesses. This is why I’m willing work like a Hebrew slave. This is why I’m driven in my vocation.

However, as I’ve pursued success in entrepreneurship I have realized how exhausting it can be. I have hardly any mental capacity to think theologically as I once did, and have had to put practical church ministry on the back burner. In this current season of my life God is growing me as an entrepreneur which at present requires too much thought, energy, and time to serve the church well, as I once have.

This scares me! My heart is wanting to serve like I used to, study theology like I used to, attend functions like I used to, plan outreaches and go on missions trips and lead classes and disciple men like I used to. However, the pursuit of success as an entrepreneur is consuming all of that time and thought that I once was able to give in service to the church. Though I believe this call to successful entrepreneurship is from God and to be used as a means for the call He has on my life to pursue radical service to the church, I still have those two lingering fears. What if I reach middle-age and I don’t achieve the success I believe is required to fulfill what God has called me to do?  Would I have wasted all these years chasing the wind?  Or, what if I do achieve the success (and even surpass it), yet in the process my heart gets cold and I abandon the pursuit of radical service to God’s church?

The remedy

So, what do I do about these fears?  I believe I need to do three things… First, I feel these are healthy fears to have, so long as they’re subjected to what God says.  In other words, I need to take every thought captive, know where it’s coming from, and discern what God’s answer is to that thought (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Second, I need to continue in my resolve.

“A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:8)

A diligent man, however, sees a commitment through even when the feelings in which that commitment was made have left.  I need to stay the course, understanding that faith is never 100% (if it was, then it wouldn’t be faith!).

Third, I need to learn that I can experience God in every season of my life.  God is omnipresent – He is everywhere.  He is not only in the prayer closet and in front of the pulpit, He’s also at my cluttered desk and in the conference room.  I need to be conscious of God’s presence throughout the day, and aware of the opportunities He puts in front of me to be used wherever and whenever He wants to use me.

My prayer

Now that I’ve been transparent with you, whoever’s reading this, here’s what my prayer for myself has been… Feel free to join me, or send a prayer up for me as well.

Lord, you know my heart and understand my fears – even better than I do.  My desire is to serve you and to serve your people and make a lasting impact in this world by making a lasting impact for eternity.  I believe that you’ve given me direction on how to do this – but I need daily reminders that I’m doing the right thing.  I need you to confirm your word to me, and give me assurance and direction in the midst of carrying out what I believe you have called me to.

I also pray that in the midst of the busyness of life and all its demands you would help me see the doors of opportunity that are all around me to serve you and your people every day.  I pray that you would help my perspective change to realize that ministry is every day – not just what I know you put on my heart for the future.

I pray that in my pursuit of success in business you would keep me.  Stir a fresh fire in my heart and don’t let my passion for you grow cold.  Don’t allow me to lose myself – who I know you’ve called me to be.  Give me energy and strength and perseverance to run my race well.

Lord, the only thing I care about in this world is to know that when I reach the end of my life I can say with confidence “I have run my race.  I’ve completed the good works you’ve prepared for me in advance”.  I want more than anything to hear you say to me, “well done!”  Help me hear those words, Lord.  In Jesus’ Name I pray, Amen!

Reflections from Witnessing Encounters in 2009

I was rummaging through some old files in an archive hard drive of mine and came across some old journal entries and stuff that I used to type out.  I found this interesting journal entry about some witnessing encounters I had back in 2009.  At this point I was just over 2 years old in the Lord.  Here’s how it read:

Me, Chris Bean and Kyle Dunlap went to the Manchester Mall Bus Stop as we have done a few times in the past.  Terrified (as always), I started praying inside myself for courage to speak to the lost.  We walked around inside of the mall before talking to anyone, then once the courage was built, we headed for the bus stop.  I saw a sad looking African American man sitting by himself next to the benches.  He was wearing a dew rag, and all black; looked hardened, and lonely.  I asked him his thoughts on what happens after death, he told me only God knows.  I asked if he was a believer in God and in Christ, and he told me that he was and that he has attended Cornerstone Church for over two months.  His name was Reuben, and he said that he gave his life to Jesus two months ago… it also turns out that he had no idea what that meant.  I told him what it meant to give your life to God; I said that I don’t like to say “I’ve accepted Christ…” or “I’ve been saved…” rather, “I REPENTED”.  Reuben, downcast, told me “I’ve just got mental problems right now.  I’m homeless, my wife left me, I miss my baby, my mom just died; I’m going from house to house and don’t know what to do…”
I told Reuben “God wants you, God has a plan for you, and the Devil knows it!  He will do everything in his power to make sure that you don’t do what God wants you to do, and that is to KNOW HIM.  Sometimes the friends that seem to be helping you are actually bringing you down…”  Reuben halfway agreed with me, and I asked him if I could pray with him.  He declined, but I will pray for him from home anyways.  I gave him the 30 day challenge, and then his bus pulled up. 
I saw another African American man sitting on the seat back of the bus stop bench.  He was an older man, probably in his late 50’s that looked like he has seen a lot of anguish in his life.  I walked up and shook his ashy hands and asked him where people go when they die.  He told me “to be absent with the body is to be present with the Lord”… then handed me a track!   We talked for awhile about evangelism and encouraged each other from our past experiences.  He asked “how many of you are there here today?”  I pointed to Chris and Kyle and said “3”…  he told me to pray, then stood up and started open air preaching in front of everyone at the bus stop (ear distance of about 20 people)… he said “I just want all of you to know that Jesus loves you…” then started quoting scripture after scripture.  It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.  He spoke with such a soft voice, but at the same time loud enough for people to hear.  When he was done, he talked to me and Chris about how he was stirred up after talking with me for a brief moment, and then walked off excited and encouraged.  This was strange, as I felt he was the one doing all of the encouraging.
The whole time he was talking, I saw a white guy, about 18-20 years old; a big guy, probably 250 lbs with stubble as long as his hair.  He was standing about 10 feet away trying to act like he wasn’t listening.  I felt the spirit telling me to talk to him, but I didn’t know how to open.  So I went up and opened like I normally do and asked what his thoughts were on the afterlife, and he jokingly told me that for him, he hopes it’s a place covered with an obscenity used to describe women’s breasts.  I got him to be serious, and he opened up to me telling me that he has a problem with drugs.  He thinks about what could be out there sometimes, but never dwells on it.  There could be a God, but he never looked for him…  after a little touch on apologetics, a young Asian looking guy (probably about 20-25) walked up and started talking.  It sounded like he was downgrading the belief of God, and was misquoting scriptures, but said that he believes in the New Testament and has read it countless amounts of times.  After some counters from me, I moved my way back to Frank and the Asian guy left (I felt a presence of demonic power from the Asian trying to pull me away from Frank).  After talking, Frank told me that he was sick of the way he was living; he can’t handle it, and doesn’t know what to do.  I gave a brief testimony and instructions on how to find purpose in life through God, and the way to do this is to pray and read God’s word.  When Frank’s bus pulled up, he looked upset and said that he had to leave… I frantically looked for a pen, asked him if he had a cell phone (he didn’t), then opened my wallet and found an OLD business card that I forgot was in there… I gave it to him, told him to call my office on Monday, and gave him the 30 day challenge.  We’ll see if he calls. 

Faith vs. Science? Review of the film “The Unbelievers”

It’s almost midnight on September 13, 2014.  I just finished watching “The Unbelievers” – a documentary following Richard Dawkins and Lawrence Krauss as they travel the world speaking at different venues and events spreading their “gospel” of atheism.  From time-to-time I watch films, documentaries, speeches, debates, etc. created by people with different beliefs than me to make sure I have some insight into their worldview before I engage them in conversation.  After watching this documentary, I have a slew of different thoughts and feelings.

Growing up I remember having the feeling that it was wrong, maybe sinful, to ask difficult questions about the bible and the existence of God.  I may have had this feeling because when I did open up and ask, I was never provided with good answers.  Since religion wasn’t really a big part of my life (even though I would have claimed to be a Christian) I never really pressed the issues and I just left the questions alone.

However, when I was born again in November of 2007, everything in my life changed.  I knew God was real.  Before, I acknowledged that He was real, but now, it actually meant something.  I knew that Jesus was my savior, and that the Holy Spirit was transforming me into a different person.  My life would now be dedicated to follow Jesus by life or by death, no matter the cost or consequence.  However, old questions from my past doubts kept coming to my memory.  This time, instead of sweeping the questions under the rug, I decided to confront them face to face.

By this time the internet was fast, and easily accessible.  I had a whole world of information that I could plunder to find answers to questions I had always wondered, and I could stream hours worth of video with no load time!  I figured that if Jesus was “the truth” (as He said He was in John 14:6), then I had nothing to worry about as I sought out evidence.  I probably watched hundreds of hours of debates between Christians and atheists, agnostics and other religions.  My rationale behind watching debates, rather than just reading books or watching lectures was this: any great orator can persuade you to believe their point-of-view if they have the floor all to themselves… however, you see how air-tight their arguments are when put under the pressure of cross examination by someone of equal intelligence and talent.

I was stunned to watch debates from William Lane Craig, Ravi Zacharias, Dr. Michael Brown, and others.  Not only were they holding their own against “The Brights” from top universities, they were actually making them look foolish as they pressed them to take their worldviews to their furthest conclusions.  Documentaries like “Evolution vs. God” helped me realize the blind leap of faith atheists take to hold on to their beliefs.  I found many other Christian apologists, scientists and philosophers, and realized that questions were okay to ask.  I realized that I was right in thinking that if truth was on my side, I had nothing to fear.  It opened my mind to freely think of some of the hardest questions I could ask about God and the bible – not in an accusatory way, but in a way that was humble, open, and desiring to find the truth.

This discovery also opened my understanding to the fact that “faith vs. science was a false dichotomy.  Many scientists, doctors, philosophers, and brilliant thinkers from all areas of society are theists, and Christians.  Science is actually based on the idea that we live in an ordered universe.

However, when watching The Unbelievers, it seemed as though the whole thrust of the documentary was to espouse their hatred for God and religion, and to pit up belief in God as being unscientific.  The idea you are left with after watching the documentary is that there are two kinds of people:

1) Intelligent, educated people who believe in facts and science, and consequently believe that God does not exist

2) Delusional, dimwitted, primitive people who live in a fantasy world because they choose to believe in God despite the evidence, most likely because they may be psychologically imbalanced and they prefer to hold onto myths

To say the least, it was an egregious misrepresentation of theism (even though they primarily attacked Christianity).  The documentary built up a straw man and then violently tore it down.  Surprisingly, though the documentary followed two scientists giving speeches, none of the speeches were scientific; they were just anti-God.  I’m not saying this just because I’m a Christian; there were literally no scientific talks given in this film.

I’m glad I watched the documentary because it gave me a glimpse into the rationale behind some of the people I care about who don’t believe in God.  I don’t feel anger towards them by any means… but I do feel grieved.  Besides being unscientific, atheism (the way it was presented in the documentary) is such a hopeless worldview; as they said things like “there is no meaning to life” and “you are more insignificant than you thought”.  Though they attempted to add some optimism to the message by saying things like “since there is no meaning, you create your own meaning…” I felt it just exposed the real reason behind their hatred for God.  Autonomy.

I would encourage all of my non-believing friends to watch debates from William Lane Craig on issues about origins and morality before being quick to accusing all Christians and theists of being illogical or unintelligent.  Here are a couple of relevant debates:

Craig vs. Sam Harris on morality: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qcwJiF9nVjE

Craig vs. Peter Atkins on existence of God: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ssq-S5M8wsY 

Don’t Move Ahead of God – Verse of the Day: Joshua 2:23

VERSE:
Joshua started early the next morning and left the Acacia Grove with all the Israelites. They went as far as the Jordan and stayed there before crossing. After three days the officers went through the camp and commanded the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God carried by the Levitical priests, you must break camp and follow it. But keep a distance of about 1,000 yards between yourselves and the ark. Don’t go near it, so that you can see the way to go, for you haven’t traveled this way before.”
– Joshua 2:23


THOUGHT:
The Arc of the Covenant represented the presence of God.  Joshua knew where they needed to end up (in the Promised Land), but the journey to get there was filled the unknown.  The Israelites were instructed to let the Ark of the Covenant (the Presence of God) go out before them so that they could clearly see the way to go.    


As Christians we know our final destination, but our journey is filled with the unknown.  God has called each of us to specific work, and in our pursuit of accomplishing this work we will face opportunities as well as obstacles.  If we get out ahead of God, we may miss the path that God has in mind for our journey. 


APPLICATION:
It’s always necessary to move forward in your journey with God, but don’t get out ahead of Him.  Wait for the presence of God to go before you so that you can see the way to go, for you haven’t traveled this way before.  

PRAYER:
Heavenly Father, I am excited to walk this journey of life with you, and feel that you are calling me to a place in you that I haven’t been before, but I don’t want to get out ahead of you and miss the way.  Give me the patience to wait on you when I am unsure, and give me eyes to see where your presence is leading me.  In Jesus’ Name I pray, AMEN!