A Video Tour of Our House in Costa Rica

Editor’s note: In the opening of the video you may hear me say 2015 instead of 2016 :).

First floor:

Second Floor

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My Goals for 2016

2016-new-year-ss-1920After being moderately successful in keeping up with my priorities and goals for 2015 I realize that I bit off more than I could chew. In other words, I was a little too aggressive in my action under my priorities. Therefore, in 2016 I will be simplifying my action items that drive my priorities. I will, however, keep the same priorities as I believe that they still need to be the main priorities I need to focus on. Finally, I am going to make a serious effort to write about my progress and the subsequent results I am seeing every four to six weeks. I pray that 2016 will be my most all-around fruitful year to date.

Priority #1: Having a strong, vibrant, RELATIONSHIP with the Lord Jesus

  • Wake up no later than 5:30 every weekday morning for personal worship
  • Keep a journal of prayers, reflections, meditations, etc
  • Read spiritually edifying books

Priority #2: Having a beautiful, honest, edifying, fun-loving relationship with Betsy

  • Maximize night time after the kids go to bed with Betsy (being intentional about reading, in-home dates, games, movies, etc).
  • Plan at least one date night every two weeks
  • Do one job for Betsy everyday that would serve her in keeping an orderly home

Priority #3: Loving, leading and enjoying my children

  • Have a heavily guarded weekly family night for games, movies, etc (Fridays)
  • Family worship every night after PJs are on
  • Participate in home schooling whenever I am home for it

Priority #4: Staying healthy and energetic

  • Run three days per week
  • Be in bed no later than 10:00 (M-Th)

Priority #5: Making good use of my free-time

  • Read at least 12 books in 2015 (one per month)
  • No surfing the web after 9:00 p.m. (M-Th)

My word of the year: Consistency – It is a lack of consistency that kept me from doing better on my goals last year. I was very streaky so this year I will be focusing my attention on being consistent.

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The Forgotten Sacrifice

In American culture we have days in our calendar that are set apart to remember the sacrifice of service men and women. Those days are often marked with parades, remembrance services at memorials, and prayers for our country. In other words, our country is a country that admires and appreciates the sacrifice of others.

We see this appreciation for sacrifice in our churches as well. Rightfully, we make much about the sacrifice of another type of soldier – the missionary. Our family has been the recipients of much love in this manner of the last few years and especially over the last few months as we prepare to leave for our first term abroad in just a few days. Surrounding us and other missionaries is talk of all that missionaries sacrifice for those whom they do not yet know in cultures and languages they do not yet understand. We often talk about the sacrifice churches make in sending out some of their best people to the mission field. It goes without saying that there is a lot of sacrifice that happens when missionaries are sent to the field.

However, we often forget about one group of people who make a large sacrifice when missionaries leave – the extended family. Grandparents give up their grandchildren; aunts and uncles give up their nieces and nephews; cousins give up cousins. Needless to say this is hard. But, perhaps, the hardest part of the extended family’s sacrifice is that they usually feel no calling to give up their loved ones. Instead, they are often told, albeit in a loving way, of the sacrifice they will be making.

Therefore, the range of emotions that extended family members must feel while their loved ones are away is often wide-ranging and turbulent. These feelings can range from joy – to sorrow – to being proud – to bitterness – to loss – to peace – to many other variations of these emotions. It is truly a hard sacrifice to make.

So, what are we as the body of Christ to do to honor the sacrifice of extended families of missionaries? First, we must pray for them. Pray for unconverted family members because they will never have true peace apart from Christ and the enemy certainly loves to pounce on this opportunity for disunity. Pray for peace and joy that is in Christ for the believing family members. Second, rather than asking the family members how their missionary relatives are doing, find out for yourself and then encourage the family member with how the Lord is using their loved one for the Kingdom. Tell them how much you appreciate their (the family member) sacrifice in all of this. Finally, if the family does not have the means to visit the missionary on the field perhaps you could lead the charge in the church to raise some funds for them to do so.

After reading the above let us remember to honor the sacrifice being made by the extended family of missionaries. Let us pray for them and encourage them. Finally, may this sacrifice no longer be forgotten but may it be appreciated and celebrated.

Our family…

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Uncle Aaron and Aunt Mandy and cousins: Kaylee, Jaidyn and Julia

 

 

 

 

 

Grandparents - Gary and Kathy Holloway

Grandparents – Gary and Kathy Holloway

Grandparents - Ed and Donna Elftmann with Uncle Eric and Aunt Aimee and cousins Grace and Gwen

Grandparents – Ed and Donna Elftmann with Uncle Eric and Aunt Aimee and cousins Grace and Gwen

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Overview of Teaching Genesis and Exodus

Below is an overview what, To Every Tribe staff member, Matt Taylor and I taught the missionary trainees at To Every Tribe a few weeks ago. It was a really enjoyable week and I am so thankful for the ministry of To Every Tribe. My favorite part about teaching these classes is getting the missionary trainees into the Bible and seeing them discover God’s magnificent truths for themselves. Their videographer, Randy Turner, made this video.

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Danger Zone: Competition in Kingdom Advance

competitorsOne of the things I love about watching the Kansas City Royals this year is their competitive edge. They never give up; they never quit and when the other team thinks they have them down the Royals just keep coming until they find a way to win.

So much of our culture in the US is built on competition. For example, our economy is built on competition in the market place, in my previous profession I was ranked against my peers in a way to formulate raises and bonuses, we get our kids in extra curricular activities that are based around competition (against others or themselves), we cheer on our favorite sports teams because we love competition, etc.

Our culture loves competition! In fact much of what has made America the great country that it is is a result of our nation’s competitive spirit. And I really believe that, for the most part, competition is a good thing and we have all learned a lot of great life lessons through it.

Competition Gone Bad
However, competition in the wrong context is a poison. For example, competition between siblings can lead to bitterness and jealousy, competition with our friends or neighbors to get the next big thing breeds covetousness which is idolatry (Colossians 3:5), etc.

But there is one area that competition is worse than poison; it is a tool of Satan – competition within the church. Perhaps no one battles this temptation more than pastors, missionaries and ministry leaders. The temptation to look at the ministry of others and compare, criticize and question is always beckoning. Finding faults and failures of others or other ministries often gives way to one giving themselves a spiritually couched “pat on the back” because, after all, “we do it right.” This type of sin is damaging to the perpetrator’s soul, their ministry, and the overall advance of the gospel.

Now, if you are not a ministry leader you are not off the hook. Have you ever asked a believing friend about their church only to respond why your church is doing things so much better? Don’t get me wrong, it is great to be excited about your local church, in fact we should be. However, there is a subtle difference between being excited about my church and being prideful about my church “doing things the way they are really supposed to be done.”

The Character of Our Conversation
When we find ourselves involved in a conversation about troubles or failures of another ministry where there is no heartfelt concern for how these things affect the advance of the Kingdom among the nations – there is a problem. If there is no call to pray for these organizations or the people whose lives are directly impacted by these troubles – there is a problem. If the conversation is characterized by a glow of victory because our organization has what those others do not – there is a problem. If the conversation has an undertone of celebrating that our ministry is on the right track while those others are not – there is a problem. If we do not grieve hinderances to gospel advance then we are indeed the ones on the wrong track.

A Call to Move Forward in a Christ-exalting Way
Therefore, I want to call you to join me in making a concentrated effort to view the advance of the true gospel the way heaven does, by rejoicing (Luke 15)! Yes, even rejoicing with those true believers who are theologically and/or methodologically different from us. I also want to call you join me in grieving for and praying for other ministries when obstacles come their way – yes, even grieving for and praying for ministries proclaiming the true gospel that are theologically and/or methodologically different from us.

Finally, rejoicing with and praying for gospel proclaiming ministries and people who differ from us on some things is not an endorsement of all they do or all they believe. Rather, it is a humble understanding that the Lord advances His Kingdom how He wants and through whom He wants. I mean, hey, He even does it through you and me despite all of our failures and shortcomings. So, we must remember that it is always right to celebrate the advance of the gospel into the lives of people.

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The Value of Acts in Mission Today

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As I had the privilege of leading the missionary trainees of To Every Tribe through the book of Acts I was once again reminded why it has played such a vital role in the lives of missionaries both now and throughout history.

In Acts, Luke recounts the powerful movement of God in which we see a band of 120 disciples gathered to pray in an upper room in Jerusalem mobilized to “turn the world upside down” with the saving power of the gospel. This is all set off by Jesus’ final words to the apostles just before ascending to heaven, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth,” (Acts 1:8). It is these words then that drive this narrative which covers about thirty years of history.

As we read this exhilarating story of Kingdom advance we cannot help but notice several important themes that develop.

Jesus’ words of Acts 1:8 come to fruition
The church and gospel message expand geographically from Jerusalem, throughout the Roman empire, and even to the heart of Rome itself. However, this advance of Christ’s Kingdom is not simply geographical, it is numerical as well. In fact, there are approximately 20 verses that indicate massive church growth (2:41; 2:47; 4:4; 5:14; 6:1; 6:7…). Moreover, we also see how the words of Jesus in Acts 1:8 come to pass in the gospel crossing cultures into a variety of people groups such as Jews (Acts 1-7), Samaritans (8:4-8), Ethiopians (8:26-39); Roman Gentiles (10:34-48), and Greeks (14:1) to name a few.

Witness driven gospel expansion is fueled by prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit
Directly after the ascension the early church was, “with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer,” (1;14). From here we see that prayer permeates everything the early church does. They pray in their church gatherings (2:47). The pray for boldness (4:24). They pray that others would receive the Holy Spirit (8:15-17). They pray for missionaries they send out (13:3). They pray in prison (16:25). They pray for those in prison (12:5). They pray for newly appointed elders (14:23). They even pray for guys they appoint to serve tables (6:6)! Clearly, the spread of the gospel through the early church cannot be separated from their devotion to pray to the Lord of the harvest.

Furthermore, the witness and advance of the early church was empowered by the Holy Spirit (1:8; 2:4). In fact, it was the Holy Spirit that enabled their boldness (4:8). It was the Spirit that provided visible confirmation that a new people groups were entering the Kingdom of God (10:44-48). It was the Holy Spirit that enabled success in evangelism and teaching (11:22-24). And it was the Holy Spirit that set apart and sent missionaries from the local church (13:1-3).

Rapid gospel expansion happens in the face of opposition
The apostles and the early church were mocked (2:12), threatened (4:21); arrested (8:1-3); beaten (14:19) and even martyred (7:54-60). However, no amount of opposition could stop  the gospel from moving forward and often times the Lord even used the opposition to thrust the gospel to new places (8:4; see also Paul’s missionary journeys).

It has also been said by many that Acts serves as a missionary handbook of sorts. This is very true, however, we must remember that Acts is a description of what took place and not a prescription for exactly how missionaries today must do all things. That being said we see that a missionary’s ministry is made up of primarily six functions.

6 Primary Functions of a New Testament Missionary

  1. Evangelize (Gospel proclamation and baptizing new disciples)
  2. Congregationalize (Bring disciples together to form local churches)
  3. Set the church in order (Lay a foundation of sound doctrine that leads to pursuit of individual and communal godliness)
  4. Appoint Elders
  5. Move on but remain available by pen, presence and/or proxy*
  6. Recruit/train/mentor new missionaries

In all we can see that Acts is not only a motivating and encouraging account for missionaries to read over and over again but it is also very helpful in distinguishing what missionaries are to focus their ministry on. Finally, the story of Acts leaves us with three important conclusions. First, the job is not yet done and therefore more missionaries are needed to complete the task. Second, just as in Acts, the local church is the vehicle through which the Lord has ordained to send those missionaries. Third, the success of the advance of the gospel to the ends of the earth is guaranteed.

 

*I am indebted to Jim Elliff (www.ccwtoday.org) for the phrasing of #1-5.

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Reflections on running and the Christian life

trevor and tito 5k finish
Most people I know HATE running and, frankly, I don’t blame them. In fact, in a recent conversation with a good friend who is an avid runner, he told one of my sons that the only part of running he likes is the finish line. Running is hard, tiring, and most of the time not all that exciting. Sure there are moments of runner’s euphoria and scenic views but most of the time involves just keeping one’s focus on reaching the goal ahead.

However, over the last few years, I have come to realize that running does have a few indirect spiritual benefits for me.

Running mirrors the Christian life in many ways.

  • I often feel great when I start out and think to myself that today’s run is going to be an effortless joy.
  • But, a couple miles in and my legs begin to get heavy and each hill looks more daunting than the last. The important thing at this point is the same as in moments like this in my walk with Christ, keep focused on the goal ahead and on the reward that comes with finishing well.
    • Hebrews 12:1-2 often comes to mind, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
  • Eventually, after periods of great joy and delight as well as difficulty and temptation to give up I see the finish line up ahead. It is a great feeling to make it to the finish knowing that I never gave up and that I battled through all the difficulty and temptation to quit.
    • Paul’s words to Timothy come to mind, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

Running is a great time to meditate on Scripture and direct my heart toward God.
I always listen to music when I run and every song I have on my playlist is one that exalts Christ. In fact many of the songs are Scriptures set to music – mostly Seeds Family Worship songs. Therefore, much of my time running is spent on reflecting on the glory,  majesty, grace and love of Jesus.

Running gives me much needed time to think and pray.
Getting some time away to think and pray is priceless. When I am running I am often thinking about texts or topics I am working on to teach, ministry situations, often times my best ideas come while running, I am able to evaluate important aspects of my life like how I am doing as a husband, father, sins I may be struggling with, etc. As I think trough different topics I usually pray about/for them as well.

Running provides great opportunity for fellowship and friendship.
Some of my best and strongest relationships have been forged through running with brothers in Christ. It is a great opportunity to talk about life, family, Jesus, prayer requests, our walk with the Lord, etc. In fact, running with my sons has provided a great time to talk and pour into them away from all the other distractions that surround us. Therefore, I will gladly pay the race fee for a 5K they want to run simply for the hours we will spend training together engaging in meaningful conversations that just don’t seem to happen as naturally anywhere else.

I am sure I could come up with several more spiritual benefits I have received from my time running but these are probably the most noteworthy. It is important to note, however, that these benefits can never outweigh or replace the necessity of focused time in God’s Word, fellowship within the context of a local church and times of stillness before the Lord in prayer. It is just as Paul wrote, “Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8).

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