How South Africa Clarified My Call

For the first few days of 2014 I got to lead a conference for missionary kids.  It was an amazing experience, and Megan and I are so glad that we got to be a part of it.  Growing up, I went to these things, and they truly impacted my eternity as I watched guys like Greg Beggs, Brent Hanson, and Dick Brogden show what it meant to be a man of God.  I wanted to be like them.  They were my heroes.

At South Africa 2014, I didn’t want to be someone’s hero, I just wanted to impact eternity.

I went with no confidence, at all.  A few months prior, a pastor I respected told me that while I was “good with youth,” youth was not the best group for me to work with.  I had just spent a year and a half putting it all out there as a youth pastor, and when it was time to leave I just figured he was right.  What was I thinking? I’m not a youth guy!  Now, how in the world am I supposed to go to South Africa and speak to a bunch of students.  Missionary kids at that!

But we went.  God moved in a powerful way, speaking through me into the lives of these young men and women.  Then God spoke to me, and made it clear to me that I wasn’t supposed to believe the lie that I couldn’t work with students because that’s who He called me to work with.  They are who He has crafted me for.

So God called, and I answered yes to be a missionary.

In South Africa, God clarified the call: To go be a missionary to Third Culture Kids!

Of course….I said YES!!!

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When God Provided!

Last Thursday, Thanksgiving, after the food coma from my mother’s wonderful cooking subsided, and the football game was over, an interesting conversation began.  I don’t know what got me to ask this question, but I simply asked Dad how in the world we survived financially back when we first moved to Springfield so that he could start at AGTS and we could begin the process to become missionaries.  Mom and Dad began to tell us story after story of how God provided.  They left a thriving church in St. Louis, South Side Assembly of God, to pursue that which God had called them to do, so they knew God would take care of them, and He did.

There was the time when Dad went to the bank to get some money out on a Friday because we were going down to Texas for the week to minister.  There was no money in the account.  He thought about going over to a local church to borrow money, but sensed God leading him to just go on.  We stayed at one of my great Aunt’s house on the way down, and before we left on Saturday morning she had made us a bunch of sandwiches so that we wouldn’t have to purchase food.  Somehow, some way we got the greatest gas mileage in the history of gas mileage.  The tank just would not empty.  It was on E for over 100 miles, but dad was able to keep driving on it.  At the end of the week of revival Dad was given an offering, and boy did we need it, since all he had was 33 cents.  God called, Dad answered Yes, and God provided.

Then, there was the time we only had a can of green beans in the counter before we were going to go to Gideon, MO for a weekend of revival.  As the pastor was going up to the pulpit to introduce Dad, he felt God urge him to have the church bring food for us to take back to Springfield.  We ended up having such a full trunk that the back end of the car was weighted down so much that it almost looked like we were doing a wheelie all the way home on HWY 60!  God called, that pastor said yes, God provided.

So I heard all these stories.  Stories I know, and have heard many times.  As I sat there, still discouraged and wondering what, if any, impact I had at Life360, I just found myself hearing these stories and while Dad was talking, I just said a quick prayer. “God, I need something like that.  I need to know that Megan and I are going in the right direction because right now things are hard. You called. I answered. Will you provide please?”

When we got home, even though I knew there had been no mail delivery that day, I hadn’t checked it the day before, so I decided to check it then.  In it was a letter from a mom of one of the students who had only started going to Life360-Youth in the last two months I was there:

Shawn,

Thank you so much for all you’ve done for my girl in your ministry at Life360. May God bless whatever your next steps are in His will for your lives.  Here is something to help you on your way.

            God called. I answered. He provided!

The Hypocrisy Syndrome (Final Part)

Do you practice what you preach?

            Paul then confronts these Jews with very pointed questions. “If you teach others, why don’t you teach yourself? You tell others not to steal, but do you steal? You say it is wrong to commit adultery, but do you commit adultery? You condemn idolatry, but do you use items stolen from pagan temples?” What a call out!? What I would have paid to see their reactions! These men and women knew the law, they knew what God wanted from them in their lives, but instead of doing it, they merely talked about it.  They talked a good game, but they didn’t walk it.

What a tragedy.  They nibbled around the edges, but never digested the bread of life. They wetted their lips on the living water, but never experienced real life. That’s no way to live!

            If we’re honest, as we read Paul’s indictment of the Jews here, we will see ourselves, because we’re all prone to hypocrisy. We all easily fall into the trap of trying to impress others with how spiritual we are, while our hearts are far from God. So we need to apply these verses carefully to our own hearts! Paul shows three ways that the hypocrite is deceived:

THE HYPOCRITE IS DECEIVED BECAUSE HE KNOWS GOD’S COMMANDMENTS, BUT DOES NOT OBEY THEM ON THE HEART LEVEL.

It’s good to rely on God’s Law, if you truly obey it. It’s good to know His will and be morally discerning. The problem was that the Jews relied on the fact that they had received God’s Law as if it would magically protect them, even though they didn’t obey it.  They got so wrapped up in their appearance.  They wanted to look the part.  So while they obeyed the commandments, they focused on the ones where others could see them.  Hypocrisy is all about maintaining outward appearances, with no regard to obedience from the heart.

THE HYPOCRITE IS DECEIVED BECAUSE HE BOASTS IN GOD, NOT TO HONOR GOD, BUT TO HONOR HIMSELF.

So boasting in the Lord is good, if our aim is to give Him all glory for our salvation. But Paul’s Jewish readers were boasting in God in the sense of elevating themselves above the pagan Gentiles, who did not know God. It was a form of spiritual pride, where they said, “We know the only true God, but you don’t! We’re better than you are!”

That kind of reminds me of when I would go visit friends at CBC when people would find out I was from Evangel.  I can’t tell you how many times people would come up to me and tell me that they would pray for me, that I would see the truth.  I would get angry, but then, when a good friend of mine decided to transfer to Missouri State from Evangel, I was certain he was going to hell in a hand basket!  He obviously did not love God as much as I did!  While at the same time I was living a secret life behind closed doors, which showed how little I did love God.

THE HYPOCRITE IS DECEIVED BECAUSE HE CONFIDENTLY TEACHES OTHERS, BUT DOES NOT APPLY THE WORD TO THEM.

Everyone who teaches God’s Word must first apply it to himself. Knowledge without obedience puffs us up with pride (1 Cor. 8:1), which is the root of hypocrisy. Spiritually proud hypocrites who have a lot of knowledge without obedience look down on the blind, foolish, and immature that they teach. But when you apply the truth to yourself first, it humbles you as you realize where you’ve come from and how much you still need to grow. You realize that if God had not graciously shed His light on you, you’d still be in the dark, too!

I don’t know why Paul picked these three sins specifically, as you can read commentary after commentary and get a ton of different reasons why.  He may have been picking especially shocking sins as examples to argue that the Jews did not keep the Law they possessed and taught (Schreiner 133-134). He could be saying that although not all Jews did these things, the fact that some do them illustrates that having the Law and teaching it does not spare you from God’s judgment if you don’t practice it. The implication, then, would be, “Maybe you don’t do these sins, but do you keep the whole law? Are you without sin?”

            So what are the results if we live in this Hypocrisy Syndrome?

The Results from The Hypocrisy Syndrome

It damages unbelievers

I believe one of the biggest reasons why people do not come to know Christ is the inauthenticity of those who claim to be Christ followers.  Because they do not allow themselves to display the realness they experience in their everyday, ordinary lives, people watch them, and see them for the fakes they are. 

The point is, if we tell others that we’re Christians, but we’re living in disobedience to God, unbelievers will mock the Christian faith. If a professing Christian is dishonest in business or immoral in his personal life or abusive towards his family, the world concludes, “Why follow their God? Who needs that kind of life?

It dishonors God

The main reason we should want to obey God is not to be blessed, but rather, to honor Him. The main reason we should fear disobedience is that God’s holy name would be dishonored. He is infinitely worthy of all honor and glory and praise. So we should fear the sin of hypocrisy, of putting a veneer of godliness over disobedient hearts, because we do not want to dishonor the all-glorious God who saved us for His glory.

            So how can you break free from the Hypocrisy Syndrome?  First, you have to be real.  Be honest and humble towards other, but also be honest and humble to yourself.  Second, maintain that reality with God.  Meet with Him in the Word and in prayer, not to check off that you did your “quiet time,” but to come before Him and expose everything in your heart to Him. Confess your sins and your struggles. Seek His strength. Let Him examine your heart.  Finally, when you read the Bible, see how you can aim it at yourself.

Don’t let the sin of hypocrisy deceive you, damage unbelievers, or dishonor our glorious God!

BREAK FREE FROM THE HYPOCRISY SYNDROME!

The Hypocrisy Syndrome (Part 2)

Romans 2:17-24 (NLT)

17 You who call yourselves Jews are relying on God’s law, and you boast about your special relationship with him. 18 You know what he wants; you know what is right because you have been taught his law. 19 You are convinced that you are a guide for the blind and a light for people who are lost in darkness. 20 You think you can instruct the ignorant and teach children the ways of God. For you are certain that God’s law gives you complete knowledge and truth.

21 Well then, if you teach others, why don’t you teach yourself? You tell others not to steal, but do you steal? 22 You say it is wrong to commit adultery, but do you commit adultery? You condemn idolatry, but do you use items stolen from pagan temples? 23 You are so proud of knowing the law, but you dishonor God by breaking it. 24 No wonder the Scriptures say, “The Gentiles blaspheme the name of God because of you.”

What is Paul saying here?

            So what is Paul saying here? In the first sixteen verses of chapter two, he shows how outwardly moral people have violated their own standards and thus are guilty before God. In doing so, he quietly sneaks up on the Jews, who prided themselves on their special standing before God. But he doesn’t mention them by name until verse seventeen. Up to this point, they have nodded in approval as Paul indicts the Gentiles.  “Oh Yeah Paul! Preach it!” But now, he springs the trap on them. He reminds them of their identity.  Who they are!  However, their responsibilities are greater because of what they know and who they are.

            The Jews will not escape God’s righteous judgment because they were Jews and possessed the Law, unless they obeyed the Law, which they did not do. So he exposes their hypocrisy and shows the spiritual devastation of The Hypocrisy Syndrome!

Hypocrisy deceives the hypocrite, damages unbelievers, and dishonors God.

 These Jews had advantages that others in Rome did not have.  Because of their education, and the religious knowledge they possessed they were steps beyond others, or at least they were supposed to be.  They were able to rely on the law, and boast in God, which resulted in knowing God’s will.  Because of this, Jews must minister to the Gentiles. The Jewish conviction that they were to exercise a priestly ministry to the Gentiles was correct.

The tragedy in this passage is that these Jews studied the scriptures, but they missed the point. The tragedy in my life is that I had missed the point. I loved hearing people tell my parents what a great kid they had.  I loved people thinking I was some great Christian. But the Jews in Rome were missing it.  I was missing it.

I knew what to say. I could teach a Sunday school lesson at the age of 5.  I had all the head knowledge anyone could ever ask for.  These Jews, they had the head knowledge.  They knew how to teach about the law, but what was their life reflecting?  What was my life reflecting?

Part 3 (Coming Soon)

The Hypocrisy Syndrome (Part 1)

I grew up in the church.  If the apostle Paul was the Pharisee of Pharisees then I was the AGee of the AGees.  Before we moved to Africa, I was the picture of what a good Christian boy should be.  I had all kinds of patches on my Straight Arrow vest.  I even got Buckaroo of the month once.  I could recite Scripture after Scripture.  I could beat everyone but my brother in Bible trivia.  I had the look.  I knew when to raise my hands during worship.  I knew how to tell a testimony that would make the entire congregation cry.  I had it all.  Then I didn’t.

            My junior year of high school I got expelled for a whole list of accusations which ultimately were untrue.  I couldn’t prove my innocence though, so I was forced to come back to the states with my family, live in a tiny two bedroom apartment, and go to a counselor for 6 months in Akron, Ohio.  One of the big things my counselor made as a requirement was to be in church every time the doors were open.  I had known a single missionary in Kenya, and his dad pastored a church in Akron, and his best friend from college was the youth pastor, so it was clear that was where I should go.

            The first time I stepped into the youth service, my Hypocrisy Syndrome came out in full force.  I looked up on stage and the guy playing guitar on the worship band had super long hair, earrings and tattoos.  I looked around and I saw tons of guys wearing hats in the sanctuary.  I thought to myself, “Shawn, this youth group is so blessed to have you in it.  You are going to be such a positive influence on it.  The youth pastor is probably so glad a great kid like you is in here.”

            Later on in that service, just like we do every Wednesday night, everyone got into different prayer groups.  So some guys invited me to be a part of theirs, and wouldn’t you know it, the heavy metal guitar guy is in my prayer group…AND THEY ASKED HIM TO PRAY!!!  I thought, “Well, this should be interesting.  Don’t they know that they got a guy sitting right here that could bring the house down?  And they’re gonna have this tatted up dude pray?”  Then he prayed.  I heard a passion in his prayer.  I heard brokenness in his prayer.  I heard something different in his prayer.  And I sat there that night and realized something:

I wasn’t a Christian I was a hypocrite.

            I looked the part.  I knew the law.  But I didn’t have what all these other students had.  I had no joy.  I had no hope. I knew I had to change.

This Hypocrisy Syndrome is what Jesus accused the Pharisees of doing when He said, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5: 39– 40). Jesus seemed to be saying to me, “You still seek knowledge of good and evil, as if somehow you’ll reach God. But what you need is me! I am the bread of life, the tree of life, and the living water! Ingest me!”

Part 2-coming soon

Book Review: Gray Matters: Navigating the Space between Legalism & Liberty by Brett McCracken

The gray areas of the Christian faith continue to cause frustration and controversy in every church and faith body today.  How should a Christ follower, one seeking to become like Christ in true discipleship, take in culture?  Especially in those areas which either do not receive coverage in the Bible because they did not exist at the time or in the case of alcohol and food, the message sometimes causes confusion.  Where does the line between legalism and liberty exist? Brett McCracken seeks to find that answer in his book Gray Matters: Navigating the Space between Legalism & Liberty.  He writes to help one think about how a healthy consumption of culture honors God, enriches the Christian’s life, strengthens community, and advances the Christian mission (McCracken 14).  He accomplishes this by tackling four key “gray areas” which exist for a Christian today: food, music, movies, and alcohol.

            Within those four areas he highlights five themes.  First, he argues to best consume culture  in a way which pleases God, a Christ follower should partake of all these areas within a community.  Thus consuming it with others best serves the disciple in all aspects and becomes an act of worship.  One enjoys food much more when partaking of a great meal with friends, rather than eating alone.  The intrinsic value of listening to an album or watching a movie increases when done with others.  At this point discussion of the music or movie happens.  Not only the appreciation of the art takes place but one also consumes it in a way which results in greater community.  While he does not argue against the use of alcohol, he strongly urges against the use of alcohol outside of community. 

            He encourages thoughtful consumption of these areas.  Eating food can become an act of worship when done this way.  When eating this way one tastes the food, thinks about where it came from, and this results in enjoyment of the meal.  The same can be said of alcohol. Should one drink, he or she must ask themselves, “Why am I drinking?”  If ones does so to get drunk, that obviously goes against biblical principles.  However, further still, to do so in an act of rebellion or to prove to others how anti-legalistic one is, this too does not display an attitude of becoming like Christ.

            Out of the above, a final theme of McCracken’s comes through.  He argues that critical thinking about these areas honors and worship God.  Instead of simply giving answers and providing the reader with a list of do’s and don’ts, McCracken skillfully provides the reader time to digest and think about the Christian way to consume culture.

            Ultimately, Christians must engage culture.  They should not always go to the extreme response. One generation pushes the pendulum to legalism and the next liberty.  Can there not be a middle ground?  Yes there can.  It happens when the Christian sees culture for what it is: God’s creation to enjoy and consume thoughtfully as an act of worship.  Food becomes more than fuel or something to do.  One will no longer separate music with the border between secular and Christian.  One can watch movies regardless of their rating.  Unless one lives in a community which strictly bans the use of alcohol, one may even drink a glass of wine.  By consuming culture in this thoughtful way, the pendulum stops. In this book, McCracken’s voice represents the pendulum on cultural engagement stopping. If the Church heeds his advice, it will thrive in the midst of the tension between enjoying liberty and pursuing Christlikeness

God Calls, I Answer, ?

God Calls

It’s amazing how life happens.  We can be going along in our everyday ordinary lives, when all of a sudden something changes.  God intervenes, and transforms our lives, and establishes our destiny.

          About a year and a half ago, I was comfortable.  Life was going well.  Megan and I were figuring out our post-Army life finally.  I was doing well in school.  Softball season had started, and home runs were flying over the fence, sometimes even off of my own bat.  It was awesome.

          I took this class, called Mission of God, and on the first day we were to introduce ourselves.  In the introduction we were supposed to do the normal seminary introductions, but in addition to that, we were supposed to say how we saw our future ministry lives as it pertains to missions.  I was in the middle of the class, so I got to hear one after another talk about where they wanted to go, and what they wanted to do. My friend Maile talked about going into missions and working with Project Rescue.  My hero Matt Wilkie was in that class and he talked about the work he had done with Book of Hope and now Convoy of Hope.  Then, eventually, it got to me.

          I said, “Hi, my name is Shawn Deal.  I’m pursuing a Master’s in Divinity,” and then with all the cockiness that I’ve learned from watching 30 years of professional wrestling, I said, “and I’m never going to be a missionary. I grew up as a missionary kid, so I know how much it stinks, so there’s no way I’m ever going to do it.”

          Why did I open up my mouth?

          The next morning I was driving to class, listening to the Jim Rome show, laughing and lighthearted.  Just feeling good!  Then God spoke up.  Now, some of you have never heard God speak to you in an audible voice.  Some may even believe, sitting in this church that this doesn’t happen.  It does, though.  We don’t know when it’s gonna happen, but if you are constantly seeking His Kingdom, and His will, God will speak to you.

          God said, “Shawn, you know why I have never asked you to be a missionary right?” Suddenly, it was if Jim Rome was no longer on my radio, and all I could hear was that question over and over. I finally answered, why? “Because you’ve never even let me.  Will you just let me have the possibility of asking?”

          I couldn’t speak. All I could do was cry as God began to soften my heart and break down the wall I had put up in my heart.  Each day, during the 8 hour class for the rest of the week, that question would constantly pop up in my mind, but I couldn’t bring myself to answer yes.  I couldn’t do it.  I love the United States of America.  I loved ESPN, but now I love Fox Sports 1 even more.  I love Cheddars, and I love Brenton Miles.  I didn’t want to even think about leaving.

          On the final day of the class, we spent an hour in the prayer room there at the school.  Dr. Rance started the prayer time with this: “If God has been speaking something in you this whole week, go ahead and pray it out right now.” Next thing I knew, my mouth was open, and I began to pray out loud: “God, I’m sorry.  I’ve let fear, I’ve let my hurt from my life as a missionary kid, I’ve let my selfishness, and I’ve let my comfort keep you from even asking me to be a missionary.  I’m sorry.  If you want to ask, go ahead.”

          Then……He didn’t.

I was in the clear! I could stay in the states.  I could keep eating at Taco Bell! I could keep hitting Horton Smith Golf Course with Mike when Jarinda lets him go with me! I was good to go!

Boy was I wrong!

          A few months later, I’m sitting over there on the third row, like I did every Sunday, watching all these new missionary candidates get gifts, when out of nowhere, God spoke to me again.  “Shawn, someday, you’re going to be up there getting gifts as a new missionary!” He didn’t even ask.  He just called.  During the same service, as Mark and I were reading off the names of the different missionaries and where they were going, God spoke to Megan, as well.  We barely had time to talk about it, though, because I had thirty minutes to get back to the house, and go to youth camp.  I hadn’t even packed yet!

So what was my answer?

I Answer

          I don’t know.

          I got comfortable.  I loved being the youth pastor here.  I loved being able to speak into the lives of the students every Wednesday night.  I loved working with, and for Pastor Ted.  I loved being a part of the church I pastored at.

          Sometimes, God speaks to you directly, and sometimes he uses others.  I mean, sometimes, he even uses a donkey.  In my case, he used Todd Churchill, a missionary I had never met until two and a half weeks ago.  We began to talk about the future.  I told him about the call God had placed in the hearts of Megan and I, but also told him about my fears and insecurities.  He was having none of it.  He punched me in the gut, not with his fist, but with his words.

“When God calls you to do something, to go somewhere, whatever. Your yes, or your no, impacts somebody else’s eternity.”

          When God calls you, your yes or your no impacts someone’s eternity! While I didn’t think I was saying no, my “God, can you wait for me to do this first. And then I want to do that. Finally, when I get all that done, I’ll go.” That was a no! My no was impacting someone’s eternity!

          As I sat in Sunday school just a few days later, I opened up my kindle to 1 John 3, so we could talk about Brandon’s message some more from the previous Wednesday, which we often did for Sunday school, when my mouth just started talking.  Megan was trying to elbow me, but what was happening were the results from 2 straight days of prayer and I couldn’t stop.

God Called

I answered

YES

When God calls you, your yes, or your no, impacts someone’s eternity.  What is your answer?

 

 

          God called.  I answered.

YES!