Creative Biblical content at the intersection of life and faith.

Brian is the author of #TheWalk, a contributor to the Faith, Hope, and Love Daily Devotional, a pastor, and teacher.  Brian speaks regularly for various groups and events.  FeelMyFaith.com began as a writing project in 2007 and has expanded into the media outlet of Brian's ministry.

VBS at Liberty 2013!!!

High night of 447!  Way to go crew!!!
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One Direction Call

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Raising Wimps

Maybe it's the cyclist in the park, trim under his sleek metallic blue helmet, cruising along the dirt path... at three miles an hour. On his tricycle.

Or perhaps it's today's playground, all-rubber-cushioned surface where kids used to skin their knees. And... wait a minute... those aren't little kids playing. Their mommies—and especially their daddies—are in there with them, coplaying or play-by-play coaching. Few take it half-easy on the perimeter benches, as parents used to do, letting the kids figure things out for themselves.

Then there are the sanitizing gels, with which over a third of parents now send their kids to school, according to a recent survey. Presumably, parents now worry that school bathrooms are not good enough for their children.

Read the rest at:  http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200411/nation-wimps
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He Tames the Chaos

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep.  And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters."  Genesis 1:1-2
There is certainly a place for the discussion of how God created the earth.  Is it young or is it old?  How long is a day?  How do we reconcile the Bible and science?  While these topics may be profitable, it is vital that we do not lose God in the debate.  The author of Genesis is not as concerned with how God created the world as he is about telling the story of the God who created the world.
After introducing God (Gen. 1:1) the author introduces the world (Gen. 1:2).  The news is not good.  For the ancient readers of the narrative the choice of language is sinister and unmistakable.  The earth was without form and void.  It had no meaning.  There was nothing but chaos.  There is no surprise here because it seems that the earth is the victim of an evil realm, the darkness and the deep. 
Readers of ancient Mesopotamian mythology can sympathize with the terror here.  The darkness and the deep are the lairs of evil.  The abyss of the sea was the chamber of the underworld.  The darkness was the breath of demons.  Man lived life in constant fear trying desperately to ward off these evil forces but to no avail.  Not even the gods could tame the chaos of the darkness and the deep.  In the Mesopotamian mind Genesis 1:1 is just the name of another God, because Genesis 1:2 is the end of the story.  No god can overcome such evil.  Life is hopeless.  Chaos rules.
The author brings us an early note of good news.  The Spirit of God is hovering over the face of the waters.  The creator God is not from the darkness or the deep.  The creator God is not threatened by the darkness or the deep.  He hovers over it.  What we should expect here is a great battle to ensue.  The evil spirits of the chaos rising up and victimizing yet another god of the pantheon; but there is no battle.  The creator God simply speaks and immediately the darkness is gone and there is light (Gen. 1:3).    As he speaks the world comes to order and where there was once only dark, deep, formless void there is meaning.  The creator God tames the chaos. 
There are many spirits rising from the evil of the abyss with which we must contend.  Each of them seem to interrupt an otherwise enjoyable existence by introducing chaos.  Globally we deal with terrorism, government conspiracy, and economic instability.  It seems there is growing chaos in our environment.  Every few years there seems to be a contagious virus we cannot tame.  We have always had storms, but they seem bigger now.  More people are dying due to the weather.  The Fujita scale is used to measure the intensity of a tornado.  They calculate it based on the damage to human life a storm causes.  Some of us seem to always be living life at F-5, total chaos.  As bothersome as the agents of global chaos may be, they are not nearly as concerning as the personal ones.  Darkness is bad, but when the darkness is near you; in you . . .  We are no match for this sort of evil.  We all want a happy life,  but somebody, something inevitably walks in with chaos.  We need rescue.
Left to itself the world descends quickly into chaos.  An abandoned building, an untended garden, an orphaned life; all of these are the easy victims of chaos.  Even with our constant attention there seems to be some forces in life for which even the best of men are no match.  The deep reminds us we are in over our heads.  The darkness we may not see, but we certainly feel.  We are in desperate need of someone greater than we who can give life meaning and offer hope.  Without an advocate we are easy victims.  The good news is that there is a creator God who is not from the evil.  He is not of the evil.  He is not even threatened by the things that threaten us.  His Spirit hovers over.  He is working to tame the chaos.  The more he speaks the more life means.  The chaos is controlled easily by three words, "And God said."  We grossly underestimate the power of God's Word.  
God has spoken.  This is good news.
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Filling Up?

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Is the Gospel Worth It? (Random Thoughts on Friday)


When Paul writes Ephesians 3 his life is not at peace.  He is suffering for the gospel.  The gospel is the story of God's redemption of mankind for His glory.  Through His son God has not only paid the penalty of sin, but He is calling unto Himself a people who through repentance and faith, live for Christ in the final season of redemptive history.  After rehearsing the implications of the gospel story for his readers, Paul makes a simple request of them:

"So I ask you do not lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory (Eph. 3:13)."  In this simple request there are some deep considerations for us about the gospel.

  1. The gospel requires suffering.  Even though it is an amazing story, it is met with great resistance. This will require some degree of suffering from every person who receives the gospel.
  2. The suffering required by the gospel will cause some to lose heart.  Whether it seems unfair or unfitting that God would allow such difficulty, the reality of the suffering required by the gospel is something that we are not well prepared for, nor are we well equipped.   Why?  Perhaps it is a mixture of bad theology and American idealism, but if it does not require us to suffer we cannot rightly say it is the gospel.
  3. The suffering required by the gospel is for the benefit of others.  Paul said that not only is he suffering for his readers, but it is for their glory.  Initially, a thought like this makes us angry.  It makes us angry when we find out that those who pay taxes are funding the lifestyle of those who do not.  It makes us angry when we pay higher car insurance premiums because of those who do not.  It is making us angry now that we are finding out that those who are paying for health insurance are going to have to pay even more next year because of those who have not.  Yet the gospel requires us to suffer for the glory of others.  How do we reconcile this in our already angry American minds?
  4. The suffering required by the gospel is worth it?  What is it that Abraham, Paul, Jesus and countless sufferers have found in the gospel that makes it worth the suffering it requires?
I hope you can join us Sunday at Liberty Baptist Church www.libertybaptistchurch.ws.  


This weekend my wife turns 29 again.  Next week my firstborn turns 13 for the first time.  This is MardiBranam weekend.  Party!

On Sunday night Caleb Waid will be at Liberty.  I am really looking forward to seeing Caleb, Brittany, and Finn.  Caleb was a Junior in High School when I went to Ridgecrest in 2002.  I have spent a lot of time with Caleb over the years both pouring into him and just enjoying serving Christ with him.  Caleb makes me laugh.  He keeps me humble.  He reminds me why I love what I do.  I can't wait to hear him preach again and see the fruits of our labors together.


Crazy Love by Francis Chan
Practice Resurrection by Eugene Peterson
Listening to the Language of the Bible by Lois Tverberg and Bruce Okkema
Fusion: Turning First Time Guests into Fully-Engaged Members by Nelson Searcy and Jennifer Henson


Haggai 1:7, "Thus says the Lord of hosts: Consider your ways."

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He Knew What Was In Man

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The Great Commission as the Mission of a Man (Men, Avoiding the AWOL Life)

I want to offer a series of posts over the next week or so about the dangers of men living an AWOL life and how they may recover a sense of meaning and fulfillment in the Jesus' Great Commission as recorded in Matthew 28:18-20.  For sake of brevity I will need to chop them into smaller portions.  I hope you take the time to follow along.  (this is part 4)
In this command (Matt. 28:18-20) is a mission that will give a man purpose and keep him from living an AWOL life.  How does a man avoid going AWOL?
  1. He must surrender all.  (All authority)
  2. He must challenge his comfort zones and expand his sphere of influence. (All nations)
  3. He must commit to radical obedience.  (All I have commanded you)
  4. He must practice the constant presence of Christ.  (With you always)
You may object in thinking that the whole thing sounds too “churchy”, as if the only way a man can live a fulfilling life is to become a preacher.  I am a preacher and I can testify to you; there are other ways!
The key to understanding what the Great Commission has in it for men is in the “going.”  When Jesus said “Go” He didn’t necessarily mean to leave what you’re doing, although that may be the case for some.  What Jesus meant instead is to “go” do what you are doing, but do it under His command; as an expression of the mission.  The sense of the word is, “As you are going.”  As you are working, fathering, voting, eating, driving, shopping, building, bowling, fishing, hunting, flying, helping, . . . go now through life with a purpose on a mission that can give you a definite sense of fulfillment.  
But before we expand on this idea there is another pertinent question.  Why did this one statement of Jesus make such an incredible impact on these 12?  Why were they so willing to risk all for all?  What had they heard or found in the teachings of Christ that suddenly made them so ready to go?  The key, again, is in the command.
Jesus commissioned His disciples to Go and teach the nations, “all I have commanded you.”  In the context of Matthew, I believe the commands point to five major teaching passages Matthew selects to be the framework of his book about Jesus.  Each teaching covers a topic that is critical for any person, but especially for men who desire to be disciples of Christ.  Here is a rough outline of these teachings:
Matthew 5-7 - Character
Attitude - foundational dispositions of the disciple’s soul.
Transparency - living a life that inspires others.
Purity/Hidden Sins - living a life that has no secrets.
Hypocrisy - living a life that is honest before others.
Spiritual Disciplines - learning to feed the soul.
Conversion - making the most critical choice of all.
Matthew 10 - Calling
Authority - how to keep oneself from becoming spiritually anemic.
Courage - facing opposition.
Commission - a mandate for the mission.
Matthew 13 - Kingdom
Christ stories - Simple stories that help us grasp the deeper truth of how the Kingdom of God works in the current culture.
Matthew 18 - Community
How do we confront one another?
How do we contend for what is right without destroying one another?
How do we forgive one another?
How do we restore a fallen brother?
Matthew 24-25 - Coming
Perspectives on suffering.
The end time agenda.
The danger of apostasy.
The nature of the judgment.
Being well versed in the teachings of Christ, once the disciples received the command they immediately engaged in the mission.  Going AWOL wasn’t even a consideration.  The only way a man can live a fulfilled life is for him to higher than himself sense of what it is he is supposed to do with the life he has.  A man needs to know what it is that he was born to do.  These men who followed Jesus knew their destiny.  As a man, do you have a strong sense, a sense that is higher than yourself, of what it is you are supposed to do?  You can.
They had a high sense of expectation and understood the measure of accomplishment.  They knew how to be rewarded and they knew the danger of losing their reward.  As a man do you have a strong sense of what constitutes failure and what constitutes success?  Do you have a strong grasp on what leads to waste and what leads to eternal reward?  You can.
They key to avoiding an AWOL existence is simple.  Take command.  When we take the commands of Christ and apply them to our “going,” suddenly everything about us is seen through a different lens.  Some things that we gave so much of ourselves to, that ultimately lead us nowhere, will become of little importance.  And they should.  New things, that we have never given much of ourselves to, will begin to take precedent.  And they should.  Knowing what really matters is foundational to being a fulfilled man.
Avoid living an AWOL existence.  Follow the command of Christ.
Continued next week . . .

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Living Fulfilled (Men, Avoiding the AWOL Life)

I want to offer a series of posts over the next week or so about the dangers of men living an AWOL life and how they may recover a sense of meaning and fulfillment in the Jesus' Great Commission as recorded in Matthew 28:18-20.  For sake of brevity I will need to chop them into smaller portions.  I hope you take the time to follow along.  (this is part 3)

How did Paul go from AWOL to living a life with a clear sense of purpose and a measurable sense of accomplishment?
Paul found his meaning in the same place that 12 other men found meaning.  Yes, the simple Sunday School answer here is “Jesus”, but allow me to take it a step further.  Paul and the apostles found meaning in Jesus’ command.  “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).”  If a man is to have a mission, he must be able to take orders.  How does a man avoid living an AWOL life?  He obeys the command and engages in the mission.
The 12 men to whom I refer are the apostles.  11 of them Jesus called early in His ministry.  One was added just before Pentecost.  Paul was added later (1 Cor. 15:8).  However they are numbered, the result of their lives is unquestioned.  They turned the world upside down for Jesus Christ (Acts 17:6).  These men went from being fishermen, tax collectors and in Paul’s case a spiritual terrorist to making what is arguably the greatest contribution to human history in the birth of the church.  Because of them, the gospel has gone global.  Why the change?  It can all be traced to the command that was given to them.  They did what Jesus said for them to do.
The command is all encompassing.  “ALL AUTHORITY in Heaven and on earth has been giving 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 (Matt. 28:18-20).”
In this command is a mission that will give a man purpose and keep him from living an AWOL life.  How does a man avoid going AWOL?
  1. He must surrender all.  (All authority)
  2. He must challenge his comfort zones and expand his sphere of influence. (All nations)
  3. He must commit to radical obedience.  (All I have commanded you)
  4. He must practice the constant presence of Christ.  (With you always)
More to come . . .
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Men Without Mission (Men, Avoiding the AWOL Life)

I want to offer a series of posts over the next week or so about the dangers of men living an AWOL life and how they may recover a sense of meaning and fulfillment in the Jesus' Great Commission as recorded in Matthew 28:18-20.  For sake of brevity I will need to chop them into smaller portions.  I hope you take the time to follow along.  (this is part 2)

As I stated before, fewer and fewer men are attending church.  I would also argue, that for the men that do, fewer of them actually embrace what is going on in the church.  What’s the problem?
Men are mission oriented.  A man without a mission is a man who will waste his life.  He has no directive, no purpose, no goal, and no measure of accomplishment.  But is it even possible for a man to assess himself as he is, in his current station in life, and to answer with confidence, “So far, have I done what I was born to do?”  What’s a man’s mission anyway?
In 2 Timothy 4:7 Paul writes to Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”  Paul, as a man, expressed not only confidence, but a total sense of accomplishment.  “Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day (2 Tim. 4:8a).”  Paul goes further.  He invites others into the same experience, “And not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing (2 Tim. 4:8b).”  
Indeed Paul’s principle of the living a fulfilled life is not gender exclusive.  Women should avoid living an AWOL life as well as men.  I am not intending to exclude the women in the sense of suggesting that God has nothing for them, my intent here is merely to address the men.  For men a sense of mission is critical.  If a man loses his mission, he loses his sense of manhood. Paul was a man with a mission who went from an AWOL existence to living a life full of meaning, purpose, and a great sense of accomplishment as he looked forward to his reward.  
How did Paul go from AWOL to living a life with a clear sense of purpose and a measurable sense of accomplishment?
More to come . . .
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Where Have All the Men Gone (Men, Avoiding the AWOL Life)

I want to offer a series of posts over the next week or so about the dangers of men living an AWOL life and how they may recover a sense of meaning and fulfillment in the Jesus' Great Commission as recorded in Matthew 28:18-20.  For sake of brevity I will need to chop them into smaller portions.  I hope you take the time to follow along.

The term AWOL is a military acronym that means Absent Without Leave.  It describes a soldier who has failed to report for duty.  A soldier who is AWOL stands in blatant disobedience to his orders.  By his absence he stands in rebellion against authority.
Whether out of intentionality or ignorance, more and more men are going AWOL in every venue of life.  One of the most common examples of men going AWOL expresses itself in the family.  Men are not only leaving marriage but they are failing to take responsibility as fathers.  Even if a man has not physically abandoned his family, many men spiritually and emotionally check out of their home.  There is a man in the house, but no man of the house.  
A simple statistical search reveals that the AWOL issue for men has become epidemic.  Fewer men are working.  Fewer men are attending church.  In civic life in general, fewer men of integrity are taking responsibility to serve and to lead.  In the United States fewer men than women volunteer their time.  Each year fewer and fewer men are going to college.  From community to education, men are going AWOL.  Simply Google the phrase “Fewer men are _________” and you’ll see what I mean.   
Where have all the men gone?   
While some may simply account for this cultural disparity as the gains women have made in the same social venues, the danger here is exposed when we flip the question.  If men are doing less; what is it then that men are doing more?  Men are giving a ridiculous amount of time to video games.  More men are living single.  Men are becoming more violent.  Men are spending more time in prison.  More men are suffering from addiction.  More men are committing suicide.  Men are becoming more gender confused. 
Men are in great danger. 
So men are becoming more of a societal burden rather than societal builders.  Why?  What’s behind the change?  A purely secular argument of the reasons that may account for the fall of man could point a finger at a myriad of causes that would only engender more arguments.  Most of them are arguments that are warranted in the public square.  Here’s my take.  There is no longer a strong sense of gender, authority, meaning, or need for men.  Over the past thirty years the leadership responsibilities of men have been critically challenged and we now live in a society that is simply asking, “Who needs a man?”
I may not be an expert to offer the answers to what is happening in society at large, but I can sympathize with how men are feeling - wasted.  Yet, what we see happening in society at large is also influencing the behavior of men in the church.  To this, I can speak.  Of all men, Christian men have greater reasons not to go AWOL.
To be continued. . .
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J.I. Packer on Grace

From p. 129 of J.I. Packer's Knowing God

"To be sure, there have always been some who have found the thought of grace so overwhelmingly wonderful that they could never get over it."

Throughout the history of the church there have always been those who would fight for grace.
Many have suffered for grace.
Grace has inspired some of our finest and most deeply felt songs.

"With Paul, their testimony is, 'By the grace of God I am what I am' (1 Cor. 15:10), and their rule of life is, 'I do not frustrate the grace of God (Gal. 2:21).'"

"But many church people are not like this.  They may pay lip service to the idea of grace, but there they stop.  Their conception of grace is not so much debased as nonexistent.  The thought means nothing to them; it does not touch their experience at all.  Talk to them about the church's heating, or last year's accounts, and they are with you at once; but speak to them about the realities to which the word grace points, and their attitude is one of deferential blankness.  They do not accuse you of talking nonsense; they do not doubt that your words have meaning; but they feel that, whatever it is that you are talking about, it is beyond them, and the longer they have lived without it the surer they are that at their stage of life they do not really need it."

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Sin and the Law

">Sin and the Law from Brian Branam on Vimeo.
The law ultimately reminds us of impending condemnation through the necessity of constant sacrifice. It also shows us the willingness of God to provide a substitute so that we may not be condemned for our sin. However, the law failed to change the human heart and eventually man lost passion for the law. One man, Adam, has ruined our lives by introducing sin. Yet, one man, Jesus, has saved our lives from the penalty of sin.
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The Land

">The Land from Brian Branam on Vimeo.
In this first message of a new series, we look at the theme of land in the Bible. This may seem like an odd place to start, but it is one of the Bible's paramount themes. If you don't understand the importance of land in the Bible you will not only fail to fully understand the story of the Bible but you will also fail to understand much of what you see happening in the news today.
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Mission My Town, From Rodney Calfee of the Upstream Collective

In writing a series of posts on how mission trips help us think missionaly in our hometown, I asked my friend Rodney Calfee to contribute.  Rodney is an amazing worship leader and one of the most progressive thinkers on connecting local churches to missions that I know.  Rodney works with an, the Upstream Collective, an organization committed to doing the very thing this series of posts is about - taking people on cross-cultural mission trips to help them be more missional at home.  I asked Rodney to share a few things he had learned along the way:


It was a short-term trip to Taipei, Taiwan that changed things for me. Those 10 days exposed me to truths about mission I had never considered. They also exposed me to truths about myself I had never considered. That particular trip literally helped me understand my own identity, which changed the way I think about why I am here (both literally “here” in Birmingham, AL and ethereally “here” - alive and walking around). 

On my first major foray into overseas mission, I got lost in literally the worst part of town in a huge foreign city whose language I did not speak. I was with a group of 12 or so folks in the “red light” district of Taipei learning about some missionaries who were working within the brothels there. There were several huge street markets where we were and there were people everywhere. I was taking some video and one of the guys in the group pointed out a particularly cool shot to try to get on camera. It was a nice shot, so I went to get it. After filming for a couple of minutes, I turned around to begin to celebrate the awards we would certainly win for the masterful work we had just done, only to find a sea of Taiwanese people. 

All my friends were gone. I remained there. Utterly alone. In a city of millions speaking a language I did not know. I couldn’t read a sign or say anything useful. For a moment, I was lost and scared out of my mind. I pulled myself together and wandered the area for about an hour or so looking for some sign, any sign, of my friends. I finally found a police officer who spoke broken English. He drug me into a shop and began talking with the shopkeepers who began searching the internet looking for my hotel. They hailed a cab, put me inside, said something in Mandarin to the driver, and off we went. Where? I had no clue. I was just along for the ride. 

After a brief stop at the wrong hotel, a conversation with a kind concierge, and a shocking revelation that I should not have talked to the police in that area of town (I apparently found the one officer in that area that was taking the night off from being corrupt- I was told I should have found a gang member instead. Comforting...), I finally made it back to my hotel and my friends. But that night began a journey for me; one that has taught me what it means to be an outsider, and why that matters.

If I could narrow down a “top 3 things” I have learned through short-term mission that have effected the way I do mission locally, it would be these:

1. Culture is critical. There is no such thing as acultural. Many people have taught that the Gospel is simply some words we say; the same words in any culture. They believe that mission is simply translating those same words into a new language and speaking them to the people in a certain place. The problem is that people do not live in a cultural vacuum. People are products of the culture in which they live. Their worldview is shaped by that culture. 

The Gospel certainly is an unchanging truth, unshaped by culture; but the way we speak about it must be shaped by the culture of the ones to whom it is spoken. Mission must be incarnational. It was necessary for Christ to come to us and become like us in order for us to relate to the gospel of the Kingdom. In the same way that He came, He has sent us out (John 20.21) to become like others so that we can live the character of His Kingdom in ways that they understand. 

2. All mission is cross-cultural. If we believe that culture shapes the way we speak about and live the character of the Kingdom, then we must also believe that it effects every iteration of our efforts. When we follow Jesus, we give allegiance to a kingdom with its own culture, characteristics, and norms, all of which are in opposition to those of the kingdoms of this world. We become strangers and aliens - outsiders to the Kingdoms of this world (Heb 11.13, 1 Ptr 2.11). Our worldview is different. Our character is different. Our culture is different. Even in our own hometowns, in the places we grew up, and in the cultures we know so well, we are outsiders. You may be just like the people around you, culturally (wear the same clothes, have the same hobbies, employ the same crazy slang/accent); but if you follow Jesus and they do not, you are an outsider. You belong to a different culture; the one in which you currently reside is not your home. So for you to live on mission even in your hometown is a cross-cultural endeavor. You need to think like a cross-cultural missionary. You are one. 

3. Mission is not something you do; it is who you are. It is an identity. Paul, speaking of our earthly bodies in 2 Cor 5, says that they are temporary. Just a tent. Our real home is not here. But we are here temporarily to persuade others; to reconcile them to God. He says that when we follow Jesus, the old things pass away, and we are made new. He then gives a name to the new creation that we become - ambassador (5.17-20). All who follow Jesus are ambassadors- representatives who live among a foreign people representing the character of God’s Kingdom here on earth. 

Ambassador-ship is not something you do. It is something you are. Think of it- an ambassador doesn’t live in another country and work a 9-5 job. An ambassador lives the very best of the country (kingdom) that is home for him in full view of a foreign people. People who see American ambassadors in foreign countries see them as just that - Americans. That is their identity. Their mission in those countries is to represent America well as Americans. That is not a job, it is an identity. 

All the same, neither is mission a job for us. Our mission is to be representatives of God’s Kingdom in whatever places He has sent us, whether in our hometowns or around the world. You are an ambassador- a missionary - right where you are. 

Know that. You are a missionary. 

Understand the unchanging Gospel and “bear witness” to the Light that has overcome the darkness. Understand the culture in which you have been placed and live the culture of the Kingdom in full view of the people there. That is who you are...

Rodney Calfee is a part of the Upstream Collective, a group of leaders and churches committed to thinking and acting like missionaries locally and globally. Learn more at theupstreamcollective.org. He lives as a missionary in Birmingham, AL with his wife and 3 daughters. 
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Mission My Town, Thinking Culturally

continued from part 1, Mission My Town

How do mission trips help me become a better missionary in my town?

Mission Trips Help Me Think Culturally

I can’t remember where I read it, but the author defined culture as, “The water in which we swim.”  As you may guess, his metaphor was that of a fish. The fish becomes so accustomed to water he is oblivious to the fact that it is there.  We do the same thing with air.  We also become oblivious to our own culture - until we are exposed to a different one!
The first mission trip I ever took was to Russia.  I lost six pounds because I don’t eat cow tongue.  It was the first time in my life I needed a translator just to help me do simple things.  It was also the first time in my life I realized that common mannerisms and gestures I use everyday may be highly offensive, sexually provocative, or explicitly crude in another culture (that is a story for another day).  At the time, going to Russia helped me to realize that not everyone grew up watching the Dukes of Hazard, addresses other people as “y’all”, or knows what a Herschel Walker is.
Mission trips help you realize you are a cultural product, an international anomaly, an alien everywhere else but home.  But there is a positive reverse effect.  By seeing what an alien you are in other worlds, you begin to slowly begin see the water in which you swim.  You see the culture of home.  
Cross-cultural missionaries invest years trying to cross cultural barriers.  At home, you are already way past the line.  You swim in your world without thinking about it.  But think about it.  Think about what makes your town tick?  What are its shaping historical influences?  What are your town’s major events?  Who runs the sports leagues?  Who owns the local diner?  Where do the sages of the community eat breakfast (you know what I mean, the table of old men who know everything about everybody)!  If you want to reach your town for Christ - eat pancakes with its tribal rulers - the dudes with the gossip!   
On mission trips we gawk and awe at other cultures.  We study them.  In some respects we pompously judge them laughing at their quirks and pointing out their flaws.  But the mission trip ultimately turns our gawking at other lands into observations of our own.  Missionaries try to not only overcome cultural barriers, but they try to find veins within a culture in which the gospel will freely flow.  What are those cultural veins in “my town?”
to be continued . . .
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Mission My Town

I have been on numerous mission trips.  I have never been on one in which I was not profoundly changed.  Each of them have left markers in my spiritual walk that have shaped me toward Christ-likeness.  That said, I do not want my following comments to be a condemnation of the “mission trip.”  But I must be honest, currently, I am doing nothing in any of the cities to which I have been whether it be in the way of missions support, partnership, or ongoing work.  Not that I haven’t tried.  In every place I have been I had a passion to support and to return, but I am currently batting .000.  I have yet to return.  I have no ongoing relationship with any of the missionaries, planters, or pastors in those locations.    It is no one’s fault.  Others have made ongoing, fruitful connections, but I have yet to do so.  This does not mean I am not appreciative of what they have added to my life, nor does it mean I fail to pray for them.  It just means, people are busy.  Pastors, missionaries, and church planters are all well intentioned people, but staying connected (sort of like breaking up), it is hard to do.
Again, this does not mean that I think mission trips are a total waste of time.  In fact, I think they make an incalculable contribution to our souls; far greater than the money or time we invest in them.  Mission trips, especially cross-cultural ones, help us expand our vision for the Kingdom of God.  They convict us at the point of selfishness.  They help us become better stewards of our resources, wasting less and investing more in the spread of the gospel.  They challenge our calling.  They make us listen to the voice of God.  They expose our cultural blind spots.  They make us want to go again!
While all of this is profitable, for me, none of these positives sufficiently represent what is for me the most important point of mission trips.  Mission trips help me become a better missionary in my town.  
Allow me to make further clarification before I speak to missions in my town.  This is not a missional cop out statement.  Many people justify their lack of giving and going by pointing to the need of the gospel right around them.  The hypocrisy here is that while they say they realize it, they do nothing about it.  The end result is that they are missional nowhere.  What I want to challenge you to do is to go somewhere else, anywhere else.  Learn from missionaries in a cross cultural context how to be truly missonal.  Then come home and take a look around at your town through the lens of what you learned.  
Another end I want to avoid is the heresy some participate in in which we are only misisonal elsewhere.  Many people will spend great resources and time on mission trips, but are virtually invisible and ineffective in their own town.  This too is hypocritical and should not be so.  Missions is incarnational.  You do not go on “missions” as if the gospel is something you are to meet up with and start doing in another town.  The call of the gospel is global, universal, timeless - your zip code is not exempt.  
In any scenario, missions is a “where you are proposition.”  The thrust of the Great Commission is to baptize the nations and teach them all things Christ commanded, as you are going.  Christ never meant for missions to be scheduled.  He never meant for us to think of missions only in chunks of time, effort, and energy we call “trips.”  On “trips” we should go, but after “trips” we should not stop.  If anything we could say about this, we could say that mission trips should take us to another place in our town.  When we return we should not be in the same place we were when we departed; metaphorically speaking of course.
What I want to do is to encourage you to take a cross-cultural mission trip this year, if for no other reason than to be able to learn how to think missionally about your town.  Over the next few days I want to share with you what I have learned on mission trips that help me think missionally about my town?  
to be continued . . .

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For the Girls, For the New Year, For All of Us

Here is a great article via The Gospel Coalition Blog by Jen Wilkin on cultural expectation and the gospel in light of the pressures of the new year.  The primary audience is women, but there is a good message here for all of us.


A new year is upon us, and unless this one is much different from others, our conversations will be laden with talk of fitness goals and holiday diet missteps. The new year is traditionally a time for resurrecting our self-control, so this is no surprise. But this new year I have a different form of self-discipline in view---one with potentially longer-lasting effect than dropping a dress size.
Last year about this time I came across an article showing ads from the 1930s and 40s selling products to help people gain weight. The ads made claims that sounded completely comical to our modern ears: "Add 5 lb of solid flesh in a week!" "Since I gained 10 lb . . . I have all the dates I want!" I showed the ads to my daughters, who responded, "Mom, I don't think those are real. Have you checked that on Snopes?"
But they're real, all right, despite how preposterous they seem. My first reaction, I am ashamed to admit, was that I was born too late. How great would it be to live during a time when well-padded women held the glamour-girl title? (As long as I'm being honest, I had a similar reaction to learning that in South America women get implants in their bottoms to achieve their culture's ideal shape. By some cruel twist of fate, had I been born on the wrong continent? Why couldn't I live where hips were hip?)
But of course, to seriously entertain these thoughts is to drink the Kool-Aid served up to women since the dawn of time: the belief that ideal physical beauty exists and should be pursued at all costs. For much of human history, the curvy beauty has prevailed. Statues of women from ancient Greece and Rome, much like Renaissance art, celebrate a body type we would call "plus size" today. Historically, padded women were considered beautiful, because only the rich and idle could achieve such a figure, and because curviness indicated fertility. For women of past generations curviness was extremely hard to achieve unless you had the money to eat well and work little. Thanks to trans fats and high-fructose corn syrup, this is no longer the case. Ironically, the rich and idle of today strive to look undernourished and overworked. And the rest of us rush to follow suit.
So would it have been better to live during a time when well-fed women were hailed as beauties? I doubt it. Because the issue is not "fat versus thin"---it is "perfect versus imperfect." Women have always defined themselves by (enslaved themselves to?) some ideal of physical beauty. Though its definition may change across the centuries, one element remains constant: it is always a definition of beauty just beyond our reach. We want what we cannot have. If curvy is hard, we want curvy. If thin is hard, we want thin.
The expectation of physical perfection hits modern females early and often. In middle school, girls cut themselves to deal with the pressures of conforming to the ideal. In middle age, women do, too---but allow the surgeon to hold the knife. We carve the record of our self-loathing into the very flesh of our bodies---a self-marring, a literal carving of an idol. Increasingly, physical perfection is the legacy of womanhood in our culture, handed down with meticulous care from mother to daughter, with more faithful instruction in word and deed than we can trouble to devote to cultivating kindness, peacemaking, and acceptance that characterize unfading, inner beauty.
In this as in all things, there is hope and good news for the believer: one day we will be free of our self-loathings and live in harmony with our physical appearance. We will be given new, incorruptible bodies---bodies that are no longer on a collision course with the grave. We dare not reduce this future hope to that of an eternity with thinner thighs or a smaller nose. We must celebrate it as the day when vanity itself is dealt a fatal and final blow.
But how should we live in the meantime? By all means, we should steward the gift of our physical bodies---but for the sake of wellness, not beauty. Two women can step onto two treadmills with identical fitness goals and widely different motives. Only they will know the real reason they run.
January is typically a time when we talk a great deal about calories, work-outs, and weight loss. What if we didn't? What if we didn't talk about body sizes at all? What if we made it a point not to mention our own calorie sins or victories in front of our girlfriends and daughters? What if we started living in right relation to our bodies now, instead of waiting for the resurrection? What if every time we looked in the mirror and were tempted to complain we said, "Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven," laying claim to the future hope that our bodies will one day celebrate function in right relation to form, living in the glorious truth of that future hope now?
What if in 2013 we decided to fast not from food but from body-talk? Sure---hit the gym, eat the Paleo diet, run six miles a day, wear Spanx from neck to knee. Just stop talking about it. Stop telling your friend she looks skinny---instead tell her you love her sweet spirit. Choose compliments that spur her to pursue that which lasts instead of that which certainly does not. If someone comments on your own shape, say thanks and change the subject. Banish body-talk to the same list of off-limits topics as salaries, name-dropping, and colonoscopies. Apply the discipline you use to work out to controlling your tongue. Do this for your sisters, and by the grace of God, we could begin a legacy of womanhood that celebrates character over carb-avoidance, godliness over glamour.
Sister in Christ, physical perfection is not within our grasp, but, astonishingly, holiness is. Where will you devote your energy in the new year? Go on a diet from discussing shape and size. Feast on the Word of Truth. Ask this of yourself for your sake, for the sake of your friends and daughters, for the sake of the King and his kingdom. On earth as it is in heaven.
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Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas
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Define the Relationship

">Define the Relationship from Brian Branam on Vimeo.
Mark 3 reveals several groups and how they relate to Christ- the crowd, called, critics, common, and the chosen. It seems that the common thread in Mark 3 is about defining the relationship.
We often portray Jesus as a needy lover who will take you in a relationship any way he can get you. We really believe Jesus is good with that. I don't have to go to church to be saved, and Jesus is good with that. How do you define your relationship with Jesus? Ultimately He defines the relationship and there is one measure of it - do the will of God. It is based on obedience. It is not enough to see His cause, not enough to be passionate, and fickle will never pass for being faithful. We must do the will of God.
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