Loving vs Sharing the Gospel

Skimming through my Facebook feed yesterday I ran across a sponsored article from Crosswalk.com and I stopped to read it (side comment: Facebook, you kill my productivity!). The article – 5 Signs Your Church Might Be Headed Toward Progressive Christianity – made me stop to think, especially slide #5 about “Love” and the red flag if a church teaches: “It’s not our job to talk to anyone about sin—it’s our job to just love them….”

My church talks about love a lot. Which is a good thing. We are called to love. Love God. Love others. Love is a fruit of the Spirit that should be evident in our life when we are full of the Holy Spirit. Rough estimate: I think my church’s sermons on love vs. sin/redemption are probably close to 85/15. And I think that is intentional because the church I attend has a mission of trying to attract people who don’t like church, people who have been burned by a church in the past, people who are new to the church, etc.

“Love” is a much easier pill to swallow than “sin,” “atonement,” and “hell.”

On the other hand, I grew up in a legalistic church that was all about sin and hell, at least that was my perspective as a child. We aren’t supposed to love on sinners. We were supposed to hand them a track and run, in case their sin rubbed off on us and we were corrupted.

The concept of loving people to heaven is very attractive. Just send money to Haiti. Volunteer at a food pantry. Pay it forward to a stranger at Starbucks. Pray for the unsaved from the comfort of my living room.

But what does the Bible say?

If you read through the entire Bible there is a clear theme:

  • Love
  • Sin
  • Punishment for sin = death
  • Sacrifice/Blood
  • Turning from sin to God
  • Forgiveness
  • Salvation
  • Obedience
  • Love

God absolutely tells us to love. We are to be hospitable. We are to be kind. We are to help the poor and the sick, the prisoner, the orphan and the widow. We are to love them because God first loved us.

But God calls us to take things another step. He called us to share the entire gospel message. Not just the love/heaven part. But the turning from sin part. The leaving your old life behind and following God, no matter what the cost. The penalty of sin is death part. Because you can’t get to the gift of God being eternal life if you don’t first address that the wages of sin are death.

Jesus said: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Mark 16:15-16

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:18-20

And that, my friends, gets me way out of my comfort zone. That makes me nervous sweat a little.

But I also know real love isn’t just sponsoring a girl in Ecuador or going on a missions trip to love on orphans. Real love is telling the truth. The whole truth. Because the gospel truly is the most beautiful love story ever written.

‘When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  Matthew 9:36-38

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Finding My Mission

I’ve been married for 13 years this August.  I’ve been a mom for over 11 years.  These are very important roles for me – loving my husband and children, taking care of them, providing for them, etc.  But sadly, they have often taken a back seat to my career and the busyness of life.  Several years ago God started to put on my heart that they are more than just my family.  They are my mission field.

In August 2014 I was sitting in a Bible study on Gideon (by Priscilla Shirer) at the Gretna United Methodist Church and I was praying for God to reveal his grand purpose for my life (and I was convinced it was grand) and it suddenly hit me:  My purpose was to be a missionary.  In my house.  To the man I married and the two children I love.

And I’m embarrassed to say, since then I’ve had a million excuses not take that mission seriously.  But God keeps bringing me back.  I keep looking for my grand purpose in my career.  Or a grand purpose through other “mission” work – service projects, church volunteering, humanitarian organizations, christian ministries, etc.  And while all that is important and good, God keeps bringing me back to that calling I heard several years ago.  He closed the door to my old life as a political fundraiser, so I took another full-time job in a non-profit organization.  He closed that door.  He is telling me over and over that my mission field is right here.  In this house.

My number one priority is to spend time with him every day and follow him.

My number two priority is to minister to my husband and children.

I get it.  I finally get it and accept it, but it is still a struggle.  I’m learning what it means to be a missionary; usually by way more trial and error than success.  I’m learning to resist the daily temptation to start chasing a “mission” that looks a lot more exciting than Mom/Wife.  But I feel at peace that I am finally in the place God wants me.  And I know he’ll give me the strength to run this race and will guide me to the end.

P.S. I’m reading through the Bible in a Year – using the YouVersion or Bible.com app.    My reading today was a good reminder on my keeping my priorities straight, following God’s direction, and the importance of observing the greatness of God and passing on that message to the next generation.  Psalm 48:12-14:  Walk around Zion, go around her, count her towers, consider well her ramparts, view her citadels, that you may tell of them to the next generation.  For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end.   (NIV)

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Togo Travels

I’m writing about my 2016 traveling a little out-of-order.  My November/December trip to the Dominican Republic is here, but back in June of this year I took a trip to Togo, West Africa, with Global Partners in Hope.

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The lovely Keryvonne hotel

Outside of a high school mission trip to Mexico (20+ years ago), my only international travel had been via cruise boat. My only glimpse of international poverty was from the window of a shuttle driving from the port of call dock to the beach. My real exposure to life outside of the United States, especially in a third-world country, had been little to none.

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Togo was a feast for the senses in many ways. Like nothing I had ever experienced. Fresh mango and pineapple. Street vendors lined every street, selling everything from mattresses to tires to goats and stereos. The rush of motorcycles alongside a beautifully dressed woman, balancing a baby on her back and a basket of fruit on her head. Singing. Drums. Ocean waves. Red dirt roads. Laughter. Shy and curious smiles from children walking on the side of the road. A sweet smell like Moroccan oil wafting in the breeze. Prayer mats pointing toward Mecca. Basenji dogs waiting for scraps. Children the size of my own children, smiling up at me and calling me “Maman” and giggling while practicing English phrases.

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Togo is beautiful.

To me, it was breathtakingly beautiful.

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But there is another side to the story. There is breathtaking poverty. And pain. And just like everywhere else, a need for the hope found in Jesus.

Driving downtown through the capital city of Lomé, the streets are filled with young people. Beautiful children and teenagers everywhere. But the troubling reason for this youth and vitality is the fact that the median age in Togo is 19.6. The life expectancy in West Africa is 55. The sad reality is that in a sea of hundreds of faces, I saw very few wrinkled with age. I saw very few backs stooped with years. Very few hands weathered by time.

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In West Africa, the complexities and burden of poverty and health issues are just as breathtaking as the beauty. High infant and maternal mortality rates. Lack of clean drinking water. Lack of basic health care and health education. Lack of medical care providers.

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The thing I learned most in Togo was how little I know or understand about the complexity of world poverty. And for me, how it is much easier to sit home and lament about poverty and discuss philosophical theories on how to solve it, than to actually do anything. To just discuss politics and injustice, rather than get my hands dirty. To ponder solving world crisis from my air-conditioned living room.

But Jesus didn’t call us to solve the world’s poverty. He didn’t ask me to take on the world. Jesus called me to feed the hungry and care for the sick. Jesus called me to love others. Jesus called me to help the widows and orphans.

In visiting Togo with Global Partners in Hope, I see quite clearly that no, we are not going to solve poverty in West Africa. No, we are not going to save every sick child or hemorrhaging mother.

But we can make a difference.  Through the work of Global Partners in Hope and similar organizations we can provide sustainable health care and clean water wells to serve thousands of people. We will help widows and orphans. We can share the Gospel with those who have never heard it. We can improve the infant and maternal morality rates. We can show Jesus’ love in a real, meaningful way.

Ask me about my trip to Togo and I will tell you I loved it. It is a beautiful country. And through the work Global Partners in Hope is doing, I know I can leave a small footprint of good in the red dirt roads. But even more so, I now know that Togo changed me…for the better.

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Traveling to the Dominican Republic

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San Juan de la Maguana

I love traveling, but probably even more, I love planning trips.  I love putting together the budget, researching and planning the itinerary.  Maps.  Travel time.  An hour spent on TripAdvisor or Sygic is an hour spent in my happy space.  I could daydream about traveling for hours.

Planning for our November/December 2016 trip to the Dominican Republic was pretty similar.  My brother and his wife and children live in the DR, so part of the trip was visiting family and seeing their work.  The rest of the trip was about relaxing, hanging out at the beach, eating good food and creating memories.

I also had big ideas about what we were going to experience and learn.

  • My spiritual life was going to blossom (and I was going to get great photos for my blog).
  • My children were going to experience new cultures and foods.  They were going to have their eyes opened to poverty and have a life-changing experience.  Probably they would come back to the U.S. and never complain about anything again after seeing how people live in real poverty (OK, I am half-joking . . . but part of me really hoped for this).
  • My husband was going to discover a love for world-traveling that would catapult our future travel experiences into a new realm.

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Reality was a little different.

Day one we flew into Santo Domingo, the capital and largest city in the Dominican Republic.  It was pouring rain and we were unsure if my brother was going to be able to pick us up or his migraine would keep him at home, which would mean we’d need to find our way from the airport to a taxi to a bus station to buy bus tickets (we don’t speak Spanish) and take the 3 hour drive to San Juan de la Maguana.  All by ourselves.

Fortunately my brother’s migraine cleared up enough so that he could pick us up and drive us to his home.

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The drive through Santo Domingo in the rain

San Juan de la Maguana was beautiful.  And not to sound biased, but I am pretty sure I have the most adorable nieces and nephews in the world.  San Juan de la Maguana is surrounded by mountains and hills.  Beautiful people.  Delicious food.  We visited villages where my brother and sister-in-law are working and met their co-workers.  Their ministry is pretty amazing – if your church is looking for a missions partner or if you are looking for a ministry to support, check them out:   Miguelandkristina.blogspot.com

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San Juan de la Manguana

My children did get exposed to different cultures and a different lifestyle.  No traffic rules (at least not enforced).  Being a minority.  Lack of hot water.  No air conditioning.  Not speaking the language.

They also got sick.  So did my husband.

By the end of day four of the trip I had dumped about 1,000 buckets of vomit.  I’m exaggerating.  But it felt like I did.  My 9-year-old thought she was going to die.  My husband wasn’t very happy with me and my status as an expert trip planner was quickly deteriating.

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Due to vomiting children our bus trip back to Santo Domingo was delayed by several hours, but armed with Ritz crackers and plastic bags, we climbed onto a lovely Caribe Tours bus and made the trip to the capital where we transferred to a private van to take us to Dreams La Romana Resort.

Here is the good, bad and ugly:

  • The vomiting continued.  We were very careful about not drinking water so I’m not sure if we had a bug or ate something bad.  But by the end of the trip we’d gone through lots of bed sheets and Pepto-Bismol.
  • The beach at Dreams La Romana was lovely.  They had free snorkeling gear, kayaks, peddle boats, etc.  I spent hours floating in the clear, calm water viewing fish, stingrays and starfish.
  • Even though we were staying at an all-inclusive resort they had sales people who tried (relentlessly) to get us to sit through a sales pitch.  We didn’t do it so I don’t even know what they were selling, but they got pretty upset that we didn’t participate.
  • The food was pretty good and there was a good variety.  We could have probably enjoyed more if we weren’t sick.
  • We did not do the upgraded “preferred” package and I thought the beach and pool-area were completely lovely without the upgrade.

After three days at Dreams we headed back to Santo Domingo and stayed at the Real Intercontinental which had just opened.  It is a beautiful hotel.  Fantastic service.  The pool is amazing and the food service was great.  Below is the view from our room.  Pretty amazing.

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Panoramic View of Santo Domingo from the Real Intercontinental

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The last day we went to the Colonial Zone (Zona Colonial) which is the oldest constantly inhabited city in “The Americas,” dating back to when Christopher Columbus arrived in 1492.  We only had a few hours in the Colonial Zone, though for a thorough exploration I’d suggest at least a day (or two) to tour everything.

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The Cathedral of Santa Maria la Menor

The Cathedral of Santa María la Menor; the oldest cathedral in the Americas, begun in 1512 and completed in 1540

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On this trip we created lots of memories – some good, some not so good.   Pepto-Bismol became my best friend.  My girls came home from the DR and still complain about “first world problems” but seeds were planted and hopefully their eyes were opened to a bigger view of the world.  My husband put his passport away.  I’m not sure if he’ll ever get it out again.

I think all of us have a better appreciation for what we have.  And we better understand what we don’t have.  And what we don’t need.

And that is something that all the trip planning in the world won’t prepare us for or provide.

So until next time (and hopefully there is a next time), “Adios” Dominican Republic.  Thank you for the memories!

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