What if You’re Already There?

For some reason, most of us grow up thinking that all of the good stuff happens somewhere else. I grew up in Huntsville, and when I was in Huntsville, everything was happening in Birmingham. When I went to school in Birmingham, all of the good stuff had moved to Atlanta.

Why is it that the good stuff is always happening somewhere else?

Maybe it’s not. Let’s face it. We’re all creatures of habit. We drive the same way to work, take the same elevator to our office, and buy our coffee at the same shop. Because we’re doing these things out of habit, we don’t really pay attention to what’s going on around us.

For instance, the waitress at your favorite restaurant—what’s her name?
Your bank tellers—what are their names?
The clerks at your dry cleaners—do you know their names?

See what I mean? We have all kinds of people around us every day. We just don’t see them. We don’t pay attention to them. We don’t recognize the circumstances around us where God is working. We just aren’t that aware.

So, what if?
What if you’re already at the place God wants you to be?
What if you already know the people God wants you to reach?

What if you’re already there—but you just don’t see it?

Living sent means being aware of where you are and who’s around you. Who knows? You might already be exactly where God wants you to be.

When Matthew 25 Scares You to Death

For several years, our church has had a partnership with John Thomas and Living Hope in Cape Town, South Africa. For those of you who may not be familiar with the ministry, I urge you to take some time and look over their website. To say it’s inspiring is an understatement.

Anyway, over the years, John and I have become pretty good friends and so, a few years ago, I flew down to see him. John had been begging me for years to come, and I really did want to see the work.

But I had another agenda. I wanted to know how a church 1/3 the size of the one I serve could start and sustain a ministry like Living Hope that is literally impacting the world and how HIV/AIDS is addressed in communities and the church. Now, I know you’re thinking I’ve overly hyped their ministry, but I haven’t. When you’re invited to the President’s office to talk about your work, as John was, you’re making an impact.

So, over dinner, I asked him, “How did you do it?” His answer? “Matthew 25 scared me to death. I could just see myself standing in front of Jesus, and Jesus saying to me, ‘John, you did well with that little church I gave you, but what about the thousands of people who are dying in Masiphumelele across the street?’”

In case you don’t remember, these are the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:

31“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on the left. 34Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat;

I was thirsty

and you gave Me something to drink;

I was a stranger and you took Me in;

    36I was naked and you clothed Me;

I was sick and you took care of Me;

I was in prison and you visited Me.’

37“Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You something to drink? 38When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or without clothes and clothe You? 39When did we see You sick, or in prison, and visit You?’

40“And the King will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.’ 41Then He will also say to those on the left, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels!

42For I was hungry

and you gave Me nothing to eat;

I was thirsty

and you gave Me nothing to drink;

43I was a stranger

and you didn’t take Me in;

I was naked

and you didn’t clothe Me,

sick and in prison

and you didn’t take care of Me.’

44“Then they too will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or without clothes, or sick, or in prison, and not help You?’

45“Then He will answer them, ‘I assure you: Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for Me either.’

46“And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Jesus was pretty blunt in His teachings. If you love Him, you’ll care for the neediest around you. That’s why people like Mother Teresa get so much attention. Everyone in the world, believer and unbeliever, knows these words, knows what they mean, and recognizes the real deal when they see it. John Thomas is the real deal.

I’m trying. I guess we all are. With so much hurt and brokenness in the world, it’s hard to figure out where to start. Refugees by the thousands are trying to escape the battlefields in the Middle East. Thousands are trying to get into our nation from countries to the south of us. And that’s just the obvious hurt and pain. Go down any street. Go into any city. You’ll see the same heartbreak. Homelessness, addiction, crippling poverty—it’s overwhelming. Where do you even start?

Right where you are. If someone is hungry, feed them. If they’re thirsty, give them something to eat. Jesus doesn’t make anything about how the person got into the shape they’re in. He doesn’t talk about blame or fault. He talks about people in need and our obligation to respond. It’s the reason poverty, healthcare, and education are cornerstone ministries of the Middle Tennessee Initiative. In our cynical world, people won’t listen to our message until they see our ministry. People are still looking for the real deal, and they know it when they see it.

I know there’s a lot of debating going on about refugees and border security. Of course, a nation has the right and the responsibility to protect its citizens and borders. There are responsibilities given to governments by God.

But I’m not a politician. I’m a pastor. And like John Thomas, I’m sitting in the middle of thousands of people who are hurting.

And Matthew 25 scares me to death.

In the Middle of the Middle Tennessee Initiative

From the beginning, we’ve understood the facilities at 7777 Concord Road are a base—a place where people are enlisted, trained, and then deployed to places of Kingdom service. As growth has continued, we’ve known we would establish regional campuses (forward operating bases) that would be nearer different people and opportunities of ministry.

We knew this was going to happen. We just didn’t know it was going to happen this fast. In the past several months, we have begun construction of the new facility at our Station Hill campus. We’ve remodeled and opened the facility for our Avenue South campus. We’ve brought two congregations into our church. Woodbine Baptist Church and West Franklin Baptist Church are now The Church at Woodbine and the Church at West Franklin, respectively.

In a matter of months, we’ve gone from 2 campuses to 5!

Now, we are busy putting the infrastructure in place to support our continued growth. At the time of this writing, we’re ready to bring in a young man as the potential pastor of The Church at West Franklin. Then, we’ll turn our full attention to developing the opportunities present at Woodbine. Woodbine is going to serve several purposes for us. Not only will it be the base through which we reach the lost in and around that church, Woodbine will also become a training ground where members and residents in training will get their exposure to the realities of transformational community ministry. Right now, we can see where this campus can host several congregations reaching a lot of different people groups. How exciting it will be to see all of this unfold.

Right now, we’re working with several institutions to design and implement a leadership pipeline to identify and develop leaders for not only our congregations, but also churches throughout the region. The postmodern setting of the North American church means we have to train our future leaders in different ways so they’re ready for the different world in which they’ll be working.

Most importantly, we’re working on a process to engage more and more of our members in ministry opportunities presented in all of these congregations and communities. Our church is filled with talented and committed people who want to make a difference. What’s lacking is a process to identify the gifts of our members and then find them a place of service where their gift sets can make the biggest Kingdom impact. We’re looking at PLACE on steroids. This is a critical piece of the MTI. Without the involvement of lay leaders, we’ll never be able to do all that we need to do.

One of the most frustrating and exciting aspects of the MTI is that it never ends. We’ll never be done. We’ll never be finished. From now until Jesus returns, we’ll be busy.

I’m so excited about what God has in store for us. God is up to something in the MTI. Find your place in it and get there!