Called

I can remember reading the Bible for the first time.  I came to Christ at 18 years of age in a Kraft Food’s cheese factory.  My father had negotiated a job for me at the factory the last nine weeks of my senior year in high school.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is I had to work nights those last nine weeks of my senior year in order to go to college.  I worked from 7 PM to 3:30 AM five days a week and never missed a day of school.  Of course I was too exhausted and I remember the embarrassing day when I went to sleep in an 8 AM chemistry class and woke up in a different chemistry class at 2 PM for another group of students!  I found out later that the teacher had threatened her other classes with death threats if they were not quiet in order to allow me to sleep after discovering that I was working nights in the factory to make enough money to go to college that fall.

One night as I was working by myself in a remote corner of that factory, I heard the voice of God speaking to me. I did not recognize His voice until the third time I heard Him speaking audibly in my ear and to my heart.  That night I gave my life and any career to the Almighty.  As a redneck from rural Kentucky all I knew about Christianity was that if you were saved and called by God you had to become a pastor.  I found this such a depressing thought because I felt that my salvation call would chain me to rural Kentucky churches the rest of my life.  I gave up a scholarship to the University of Kentucky and my lifelong dream to be a veterinarian.  Added to my despair was the discouragement I received from my parents, sometimes pastor, and peers to fulfill what I had heard God demand of me.

Finally I received semi-godly counsel from a young pastor in my rural county who took me to Lexington, Kentucky to visit a Christian bookstore.  There he helped me purchase a 7 pound, annotated, Scofield Bible-it looked like and weighed as if it was meant to be on a coffee table.  It had more footnotes than it had Bible.  He also purchased for me seven sermon outline books which severely hindered my ability to understand the Bible on my own and creatively develop messages that might have been worth listening to.

Once I arrived at college, and having announced that I was a pre-ministerial student, I felt the time had come to read the Bible.  I can remember reading Matthew chapter 28 and coming to what I would later be told was the Great Commission.  There I read these powerful words, “Go ye into all of the world.”  I was captivated by the thought that the Almighty had commanded us to go everywhere, at all times.  I confess I had no clue how to leave Kentucky, let alone go to other countries of the world.  So I sort of shelved this Go Ye into the back of my mind where I could retrieve this command if and when they became actually doable.  During my second year of college a doctor who had served as a sent out one for 20 years in Thailand spoke in a chapel.  As I listened to him, my heart soared with the possibilities of a different future.

I ran up to him after his devotional and asked him, “Do you mean to say that I can serve God anywhere in the world and your mission agency will pay me to do that?”  He laughed and said, “Well I have never been asked a question like that before but I guess the answer is yes.  We will pay you and you can take the gospel anywhere in the world.”  I said to him, “Where do I sign up?”  Amused he informed me that it wasn’t quite that easy, before sharing some of the hoops that I needed to work through before serving overseas was a possibility.

Finally the day came when now my wife and I were being interviewed by a mission board in regard to our service overseas.  Ruth is the epitome what mission boards would want in a candidate for overseas service.  She grew up in a pastor’s home.  She came to know Jesus at an early age.  In the sixth grade she wrote a class paper on Africa and knew then she wanted to spend her life in Africa.  She could articulate a call to missions second to none, and the interviewers were so deeply impressed with her.

Then they turned to me.

They asked me about my call to missions, and I simply replied, “I read Matthew 28.  They looked at me strangely and replied, “You don’t understand.  To be appointed by this mission board you have to have a special call to missions.” “You don’t understand,” I shot back at them, “I have read Matthew 28 which told me to go to all the world and I’m just trying to go.”  These kind, godly men, dressed in such immaculate suits proceeded to give me a 30 min. sermon on the concept of being called.  They shared about a call to salvation, a call to ministry, a call to missions, and then a fourth call to a special place in the world.  Then they looked at me with pride and asked me what I thought about what they had shared.  I was still naïve enough to think that when they asked me for my opinion that they actually expected me to reply!

So I looked at them and said, “It is my opinion that you Baptist have created a call to missions that allows you to be disobedient to what God has already commanded you to do.”

That went over really well.

I looked at my wife to discover tears slowly sliding down her cheeks.  I realized at that moment that these Baptists have a secret code or password that you must know in order to go on the mission field and no one had ever told me what that password was.  I thought that I had ruined my wife’s chance to fulfill her childhood dream of going to Africa and that the search committee would dismiss us as candidates for the mission field.

Now 28 years later I still believe the same thing.  Honestly I don’t believe there is a call to missions.  There is a command to missions.  No one who is a follower of Jesus gets to choose whether they are called or not.  We just get to choose, through sense of the guidance of the Holy Spirit, where God wants us to live out our witness at this time.  Being a daily witness for Jesus requires obedience to the command from Christ himself.  A calling to a specific place of service always follows the command to go to all the people groups in the world; whether across the street or across the globe.

Do you want to know if you are called to missions or not?  Read Matthew 28.

My Son Died Today

It was 15 years ago when I watched my 16-year-old son die in Nairobi, Kenya, as a result of a severe asthma attack.

His death on an Easter morning wounded the hearts of an entire community.

People asked me, How can God allow your son to die on Easter? You were only seeking to serve and praise Him among peoples unreached and untouched with the Gospel. How can a father handle watching his son die long before his child’s dreams could be realized?

I imagine God’s thoughts when Jesus died on the cross could have been similar to this:

My Son was a skilled carpenter, but I knew that He was made for something more than shaping wood with His hands. He was made for shaping lives with His words, with a touch or even with His tears.

His life’s work was that of doing the miraculous — He healed the sick, fed thousands, allowed those without worth and unclean to touch Him and to be touched by Him.

He could weep over the death of a friend and almost in the midst of a sob call him from the grave to life again. People were enamored with the miraculous things He said and did. A few people begin to discern that it wasn’t what He did that was miraculous.

The real truth, they began to discover, was not that He did miracles but that He was The Miracle.

Others feared what they did not understand. I saw my Son arrested and ridiculed. Their spit ran down His face, their jeers rang in His ears and their tools of torture caused blood to disfigure His countenance.

Cheers from the days before when He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey turned to the jeering of a mob as they watched my Son drag His own cross up to a hill of death, where they raised His mutilated body, nailed upon a wooden cross, to the sky.

Today, I watched my son die.

The political and religious leaders of His day thought this was the end of the threat. Those who had followed Him believed their hope was dead, so they denied they had ever known Him. Both sides deeply believed this was the end of the story, this death, this killing of My son — once praised now, once and for all, crucified to death.

And here was everyone’s mistake, their misunderstanding. They believed that crucifixion was the end of the story, that death ended all things — the threat to the reigning government and the people’s hopes for an earthly Messiah.

Everyone was wrong. My Son was not to be defined by the waving palm leaves of the adoring multitude or by the shouts of the jeering crowd. Neither would He be defined by a crucifixion.

There was more to come — more to the story. This was my plan. The crucifixion by man was a prelude to the resurrection by the Father. I allowed and watched my Son die, to be crucified, to demonstrate my love and forgiveness for all people, for all times.

But I am not only a Father of love, I am a Father of power.

And while my love allowed for the crucifixion of my Son, my power would not allow Him to stay dead because I had determined that crucifixion was just the prelude to the resurrection.

For my family, the anniversary of my son’s death at Easter brings this bittersweet reminder — There is no shortcut, no easy way out, no way to avoid wounds made inevitable by living in a broken, imperfect world — but that isn’t the end of the story.

My family knows that this earthly life is just a prelude to the eternal life we can have through and with Christ because of His sacrifice for us on the cross. Jesus’ crucifixion was for a moment in time. His resurrection is forever.