I learned about ultimate generosity in the eleventh poorest country in the world...
I took my first ever trip to Togo, West Africa in December of 2016. This was a trip that affirmed the call God had put on my life to go and be a part of the 6 Degree Initiative and join a team that would help start churches where there are none.
While I was in Togo, I had the opportunity to preach at two different churches. One of those churches was pastored by Pastor Koffi. It was a church in a small village up in the mountains of Togo. Pastor Koffi and his family had served faithfully in this region for years with hardly any resources.
After I had preached, Pastor Koffi invited me and the other missionaries to his house for lunch. We went to his small, duplex like home and his wife and son prepared a meal for us to enjoy. The meal he prepared us would cost more than his ten dollar a month rent that he struggled to pay each month. To put it in perspective, the three bottles of soda that he bought for us to enjoy cost him twelve dollars alone.
They set the table for us, served us and then left us to enjoy our lunch. I was overwhelmed by this family's generosity. I had never seen poverty like this and I had never seen a generosity like this.
Pastor Koffi inspired me to live a life of ultimate generosity! He inspired me to not look at giving as a burden on my finances but as an opportunity to honor and bless someone. He inspired me to not only give generously but to live generously. I think about my one life and the thousands of lives in Togo and Benin who have never heard the Gospel. If my life can be used by God to see many people go from death to life, I will gladly give it all for that opportunity.
One, simple act of generosity changed my life forever. What about you? Is God asking you to give? Or is God asking you to go? Whichever it is, I hope you are as inspired as I am by a family who has nothing but gives everything for the sake of the Gospel!
It's the week of Thanksgiving and like most people, I am spending it with family and friends. The holidays are always a great time to be with the people you love and it creates a place to sit back and reflect over the past year and beyond.
Through the festivities, preparing and eating a Thanksgiving meal together, laughing and joking, and competing at the card table; I find myself reflecting over the past few years.
A lot has changed these past few years. I graduated college, joined a church planting team in Africa, joined a mission board and raised money to move to Africa. I started jobs and ended jobs. Built new relationships and ended others. I traveled from coast to coast and put thousands of miles on my car. I have a niece, a nephew and another on the way! I have a new sister-in-law and a couple of younger siblings growing up before my eyes. I lived in five different homes in two different cities...
As you can see, a lot has changed!
There have been some real ups and some serious downs.
And you know what I realized as I sat and reflected?
I have been living in a season of transition since I graduated college.
One thing you need to know about me is that I LOVE to look ahead to what is next... but that sometimes makes me a bit restless in the now.
This has been one of the best seasons of life and one of the hardest as well!
Here is what I am learning about living in a season of transition...
It is really uncomfortable! Like, really, really uncomfortable...
There is nothing fun about patiently waiting on what you are so excited to do. I mean, have you ever seen a toddler who's been told that she is going to Disney World someday soon? (lessons from my sister)
Yeah, I am kind of like my three-year-old niece...
As I continued to reflect, I thought about how much God has grown me in this season.
And I realized something... He had to move me to a season of transition to show me I don't have as much control as I think I do. I actually have none! News to me...
It is in this season of transition that I am forced to rely on God. And when I finally relinquished control, God moved.
He has broken things in me that needed to be broken.
He has built up what needed to be built up.
He has revealed the ugliness of my sin and showed me the beauty of His grace and love.
A season of transition may be uncomfortable but I am learning to love it and welcome it. Yeah, it's uncomfortable, but when you step into the discomfort, you find Peace, Love, Grace, and Forgiveness all wrapped into one. Jesus.
I am addicted to being uncomfortable, because when I am, I get to see God do incredible things! When I am in a position that makes me so vulnerable that the only way to get through is to trust God more, something always happens.
Idols are destroyed. Sin is broken. Relationships are mended.
I am reminded of the passage in James 1
"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing."
Now, let me be clear... I do not believe that I am facing any trial of the sort he was speaking to when he was writing to this church in particular. However, "various kinds" includes moments of discomfort.
It is these uncomfortable seasons that the Lord is using to make us complete.
In the West, we are pretty comfortable. It is our instinct to run from discomfort but we should be praying for it in our lives.
Nothing will change you more than Jesus. Jesus saw the discomfort and he walked toward it. Nothing will feel more uncomfortable than letting go of your control and trusting Him more. And you will never be the same when all of you, is all of Him.
So yes, I am currently living in a season of transition and probably will be for the next couple of years. I am so thankful for this season and I am excited to see what God will do in me and through me.
Let's stop running from discomfort and allow the Lord to use it to reveal His ultimate Glory.
What are the uncomfortable things that you are running from?
Is it a sin that you are fearful of revealing?
Is it a conversation you know you need to have with someone but you are afraid of what they will say?
Have you felt lead to give to a person in need but are concerned about your own finances?
Do you have a wound that you don't want to talk about because it would be too uncomfortable to deal with?
Get down on your knees and ask God to give you the courage to step into the discomfort... then take a step. Watch what He will do. Then Worship Him for His faithfulness and His Goodness.
Every time I am in Togo, West Africa, I notice something in every village we enter in to.
They all look different. Some look like a blob of cement or clay and others are a little bit more detailed. No matter what, every village has one.
These idols represent a deity that the people in that area sacrifice to. It's like when you enter your neighborhood and there is a sign with the name of your neighborhood on it. This sign represents where you live.
The difference is, you probably don't give up the only meat that you and your family will eat that week, to this stone image.
You don't look at that sign for protection or peace.
You probably aren't concerned with your sign not being pleased with you and as a result becoming cursed.
This is a daily worry and responsibility that these people deal with.
It is so easy to see how the enemy works in this area of the world. I mean we all know the ten commandments, right?
"Thou shalt worship a stone image"?
Kids are born every single day in Togo and grow up thinking that they have to please this stone and the deity that it represents to have a prosperous life. They will worry about not having the proper amount of food to sacrifice to this idol and go without food themselves.
It is so easy to sit back and think, "wow! How could they live that way?". "How don't they see how foolish this is?"
I grew up as a pastors kid and am so thankful and blessed to have been brought up in Gospel centered family that shared the love and hope of Jesus. One day I made my own decision to follow Him and was forever changed.
The reality is, these people have not. They have grown up in a family that clung to the hope of an idol. They don't know about the One True God who created them. They don't know about His only Son who sacrificed Himself for them so that they will never have to sacrifice anything to find favor. They don't know that they can have hope, peace and freedom in Christ.
Romans 10:14-15 says,
"How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
Can you imagine living a life trying to please someone and never being able to live up to the demands? Can you imagine living in fear and desperation, just looking for some hope? Can you imagine being so lost that you just didn't know what to do any more?
The answer to all of those should be, YES!
Because before you knew Jesus, that was you.
Maybe you were lucky enough to not grow up in the eleventh poorest country in the world. What a blessing!
Yeah, your life before Christ may have looked a little different than someone who has grown up in a voodoo culture.
But the result is still the same. You. Were. Lost...
Now, you're not! Now you have a hope! You have Good News to share with those who don't know!
Never take for granted the gift of salvation.
West Africa has a dark history of wars, colonization and slavery. The coast stretching from Ghana through Togo, Benin and Nigeria was formerly known as the Slave Coast. This area was conquered by the French, British and Portuguese all at different times throughout the salve trade. The countries of Togo and Benin saw over 10% of the entire western slave exportation.
It has been a dark past as you can imagine.
Years removed from this horrible past and there is a different bondage today. This area has become the birthplace of voodoo. Lomé, Togo is the leader of all fetish sales in the world.
Every year on January 10th there is a massive voodoo festival. On the beaches of Ouida, Benin thousands of people will gather together standing in the exact place their ancestors boarded crowded ships to be shipped somewhere to the west.
In their freedom today, they will commemorate their ancestors by sacrificing goats to idols and participating in other rituals led by voodoo priests and priestesses. People come to experience the supernatural and often to participate in it.
As I stood there on those beaches taking in my surroundings, I couldn't help but feel an incredible weight on my body. Things seemed to move in slow motion and those scenes will be etched in my mind until the day I die.
I saw free people celebrate their freedom by worshiping deities in the form of idols. They were seeking a supernatural power that would save them and were becoming enslaved to it.
In this specific area their main deity is the python. People, in service to this deity, will cut slits in their forehead and cheeks to mimic the breathing holes of the python. This is an act to signify that they are in service to the deity of the python.
Even today as I sit back and think about those scenes, I can sometimes feel the heaviness of that day.
These people have overcome years of exportation of precious human life and now choose to enslave themselves to a supernatural power in the form of an object or animal. It is so clear to see the foot print of the enemy here.
This is why I am going. I have been set free by the blood of Christ and I can now live freely! By the gift of grace, it cost me nothing! It is free and I am free in Christ. That is a message that needs to be shared with the people enslaved that have never known or heard. What an opportunity to bring the Good News that they can find freedom in Christ and be forever changed!
Have you ever questioned your "calling" in life?
"Calling" is a hot topic in the church because it is so important but sometimes we over complicate it.
This message walks alongside Moses and his journey to discover what God had for him.
Learn how to discover your calling!
Anybody feeling very stuck in life?
Like you aren't really moving forward or going anywhere?
Anyone having a really tough time?
Your circumstances right now just seem as bad as they could possibly be?
Life is just kind of hard and it always feel as if it's getting worse and worse.
You are probably trying to remain obedient and faithful to God through it all, but you keep asking yourself if God is playing a sick game with you.
It is probably really difficult to remain faithful and obedient in this season....
I am here to say, hold on!
I was reading in Genesis the other day and God spoke to me through His Word. It was a story I know very well but this time it seemed like something was jumping out of the text and slapping me right in the face.
You have to love how God does that right?
Genesis 40 and 41 picks up half way through Joseph’s story and it has been a pretty wild ride thus far.
Joseph was in a large family and he was the youngest and favored by his father. His father made Joseph a beautiful robe to wear and his brothers were not very happy with him.
On top of all of that, God would speak to Joseph in dreams and Joseph would share these dreams with his brothers. These dreams always showed Joseph in the center of his entire family and they would bow before him.
As you can imagine this didn't make him any more popular than he already was with his brothers.
They plotted to kill him but instead they sold him into slavery.
Joseph eventually found himself in Egypt and bought to be a servant for Potiphar.
Joseph maintained his faithfulness and obedience to God through all of this. You can see this by the way Potiphar treated him.
Potiphar promoted him to be head of all of his servants. He was over everything except Potiphar and his wife. The problem was Potiphar's wife had a bit of a crush on Joseph.
Joseph remained faithful and obedient to God and his master by refusing to sleep with Potiphar's wife. Unfortunately, despite his obedience he found himself locked in prison for something did not do.
Somehow, even now, Joseph remained obedient.
In prison he found favor with the guards. They put him in charge of all the prisoners.
That's crazy! Joseph is still faithful and obedient to the Lord despite his circumstances.
While in prison, two other servants of Pharaoh had dreams. Joseph, giving credit to God, interpreted their dreams.
When he interpreted the cup bearers dream, he found a possible way out of this crumby circumstance he found himself in. As soon as the cup bearer was restored to his job with Pharaoh, he could mention Joseph and he would be set free.
Unfortunately, the cup bearer suffered from short term memory loss or something and completely forgot about Joseph.
Joseph remained in prison, that same unfortunate circumstance, for another two. Full. Years.
Surely, Joseph is fed up and will curse God, right?
After the two years, Pharaoh had a dream that he needed interpreted. After he had all sorts of magicians attempt to interpret his dream, the cup bearer’s memory was seemingly jogged. He remembered Joseph and Pharaoh sent for him right away.
We all know how the story goes... Joseph interprets the dream correctly and makes Joseph his right-hand man.
Joseph went from prisoner to the most powerful man in Egypt aside from Pharaoh.
I love Joseph’s story! His faithfulness and obedience are incredible. Despite the circumstance he found himself in, he remained obedient to God.
I really wish I could say I have just as much faith as Joseph, but I honestly do not see how I could have remained obedient through all of that.
Here is the problem with me... I think that obedience produces immediate blessing.
If I obey God through the hard times today, then he will bless me tomorrow. And when he doesn't, my confidence in God seems to fail.
I can survive some hard times for a little bit, but two years is too much.
The reality is that God's faithfulness does not change despite how obedient/disobedient we are. He remains constant through it all.
Look at Joseph’s life! If God's theology was the same as mine then Joseph would never have found Himself in the position He did.
If God would have blessed Joseph based on his obedience then maybe the cup bearer would have remembered Joseph immediately and he would have been released two years earlier than he was... but then where would he have been?
Certainly not the second most powerful man leading the charge through the worst famine the world has ever seen.
The other problem with obedience resulting in immediate blessing is that it is very selfish. It turns into me "obeying" God simply for myself, rather than obeying God because He is so Worthy of my obedience.
Joseph’s blessing through His obedience wasn't the fact that he was wealthy and powerful, it is that he got to be a part of something no man could have ever accomplished.
He was directly used by God to deliver so many from an awful famine.
I don't know about you, but in hindsight, I think two more years in prison is worth it to experience God the way that Joseph did.
So, while our circumstances seem difficult and hard to remain faithful and obedient, hold on!
God is beyond Worthy of our obedience and I never want to miss out on the blessing of seeing God do something no man could ever do.
In culture today, we are so careful to be politically correct for fear of offending someone.
No matter what is done or said, it seems to offend someone these days. Anything is considered offensive now if one person claims to have been offended. That's all it takes.
We are so careful to be offensive to someone or be offended ourselves. Especially when it comes to religion.
I think that is so interesting when the Gospel we believe in is the most offensive. If we don't feel personally offended every time we read scripture and allow it to analyze our hearts and lives, then we are reading it wrong.
In John 6 we find a story of Jesus preaching in a synagogue. What he is teaching makes quite a few people upset.
Jesus claims that He is the "living bread" in verse 51. He then says that "this bread is his flesh" and that you live forever when you eat it. Then he goes on to say to drink His blood. I can only imagine what this crowd was thinking.
Jesus is asking a lot from them. This is how they respond to all of it...
On hearing it, many of his disciples said, 'This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?'
These followers of Jesus were just confronted with something that didn't quite make since. It made them a little bit uncomfortable.... well maybe a lot.
Jesus has quite clearly offended the crowd. He's about to offend them even more...
Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.”For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
Jesus calls out the ones that are questioning him. He is about to see who is here to just to see some cool things and who is really here to follow him.
These people are now confronted with the decision to allow this offensive truth filter through their life and put their faith to action... or give up and leave.
The truth of the Gospel always demands a decision and it always weeds out the spectators from the players.
From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
Only the original 12 remained.
It's scary to see the response from these so-called followers. They were amazed at what Jesus just did by feeding the 5 thousand earlier in this chapter... but as soon as Jesus said something to make them uncomfortable it changed everything for these followers.
I am concerned for our own churches today. I am so afraid that we have so many spectators that are just hanging around for all the great things that God will do, but the moment it becomes a little hard to obey and follow they will give up and leave.
You know, it's interesting that as Christians we call ourselves "followers of Christ". To follow means you have to actually be moving and pursuing Christ. Following takes action. So, if being a Christian means to follow Christ and there is no active movement is there a Christian?
I am so frightened that our churches hold far too many people who are watching Jesus and they think that's good enough.
The Gospel is offensive! It creates tension in our lives not to bring us down, but to build us up. This tension is called conviction and conviction is when we allow the Truth of God to be a mirror into our life. Once we see the ugliness of our sin we can claim victory over it in the name of Jesus and grow.
I am burdened for the ones that do not allow conviction to change them. They run away and hide from it as if ignorance is bliss.
We can't afford to water the Truth down. We can't afford todays culture of political correctness to stop the True work of the Gospel and the Holy spirit in our lives. It's not supposed to be easy. It's not supposed to be comfortable. It's just simply supposed to be Truth and that Truth moves us closer and closer to our Creator.
We were created to live in unity and community.
Theoretically, that is the same thing because community is simply common unity. It is all throughout the bible. We belong together, and we are better for it.
Paul talks about this in Ephesians 4. In verses 11 and 12 he talks about how Christ gave us our guides in the faith.
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
Christ gave these people so that they may help build the entire body of Christ. They are equipping us as followers of Christ to be able to equip others with our own gifting to continue to build the body of Christ.
So, Paul first talks about community being built through teaching and equipping.
He gives the reason why in verse 13.
until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Paul packs verse 13 with so much great content! The point of coming together to learn from the equippers is to bring unity and grow in our knowledge of who God is. When we experience this kind of unity, Paul says we start to attain the full measure of God.
This means that when we are not in one of these Christ centered communities then we are missing a part of Christ.
Paul gives a great illustration of this in verse 16.
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work
Paul uses the example of the body fitting together like ligaments. These ligaments are what helps the body function as a whole because we are uniquely designed to fit in our area of the body. When one ligament is not attached the body can't function properly. But when it is attached properly all functioning the way each part was designed we see an incredible picture of movement.
The Christ centered community that we are in should move together in love as it grows and matures.
If you aren't in this kind of community, you need to be!
1. You are choosing ignorance
Paul says in verse 11 and 12 that our community is meant for us to know more about God. By not being in this type of community, you are choosing to not know Christ on a deeper level.
Some of you may say that you can learn all you need on your own time. You really can learn a lot and you should strive to know him more on your own time as well. But each of us was designed for a specific purpose. We all have different ways that we think, process, live. We have different backgrounds, personalities and stories, and everyone offers something.
When we are in a community we began to see God in everyone’s eyes and I believe God reveals Himself to us more through that.
2. You are missing out
In verse 13 Paul talks about this unity that comes from Christ centered community. It's a unity that builds us up together with the purpose of "attaining the full measure of Christ".
When you aren't in community than you are missing out on knowing Christ on a whole other level!
3. You are choosing to limp
Paul uses the perfect picture of the body of Christ in verse 16. It's a picture of all the perfectly designed ligaments coming together to create action.
When you aren't in Christ centered community you are choosing to limp through life. You are not the whole body! You are a piece of it that is losing out. Not only are you personally losing but you are making others lose as well.
You were created for a purpose and that purpose was designed to function in the Body of Christ. So, if you aren't attached the rest of that body is missing a vital piece.
Community is key, and you cannot afford to not live in this type of intentional, Christ centered community.
The latest mega church, moral failure is no secret anymore. Bill Hybels and Willow Creek church have been plastered all over the news.
It is yet again a hit against the church but more importantly a hit against Our Creator whom we represent.
Bill Hybels is credited for a lot of great accomplishments and one of the biggest ones is the Global Leadership Summit. This leadership conference has touched the world and is probably more well known then Willow Creek is.
Bill will be remembered for his quote...
Everything rises and falls on leadership
Hey, I've even been known to quote this one. It sounds so great!
But ever since light has been shed on his past... I can't help but say the quote in my head and now something just sounds wrong.
Clearly EVERYTHING does not rise and fall on leadership.
I think we are using the wrong words. The more I think about it and look into it, the more I see a lack of integrity.
These situations always make Christians ask what went wrong and could this happen to me? And we should ask those questions!
The answer is, we are human and yes it could happen to us. We need to look into our lives and begin to ask God to reveal to us where we lack integrity in our lives.
My dad always told me and my siblings to "do what's right, when it's right, even when nobody is looking". This is how I see integrity.
So let's start to look into our lives now. It's the little things that matter really. It is the things that we know are wrong, but we don't think are a big deal, or we think we can handle it.
Once we make a little decision that doesn't seem like a 'big deal" or we just think that people are up tight... we start down a slippery slope.
I have been known to say stuff like that. But the more I see these types of failures in life the more I wonder if it all started from one little decision that wasn't a "big deal" for them.
Maybe everything doesn't fall on leadership... Maybe everything falls on Godly integrity and character.
When little decisions come up in life that require an opportunity to sacrifice your integrity, just ask this question... Is it pleasing to God?
It's so simple! You aren't being over spiritual either! If you have trouble saying yes, then don't do it!
Ask yourself this question and then commit to the answer. I am not claiming to have all the answers, but I do know that something needs to change. We can't afford to miss the little things anymore because they more turn into something bigger.
Everything rises and falls on Godly integrity and character.