Here’s a pretty quick update video our team made here regarding the work we’ve been up to recently. It was made as an update for our home base in Florida (thus the “Florida” references), but it’s a good little snapshot of what’s been going on!
Although I don’t quite know how to put it into words yet, God has been doing something big in my heart and life over the past month. I haven’t blogged much because it’s been a month of question asking; there are a lot of things I’ve been trying to figure out, think critically about, and really take an honest assessment of. Once I get to a point where I feel I can decently convey through words what exactly is going on, I intend to share it in hopes that it may bless someone who reads this. But as for right now, will you allow me to ask a question? Hearing your thoughts and answers could help a lot towards me figuring out everything I’ve been trying to sort through. Here goes:
How do you live a life under grace?
One other small request: I’ve found that so-called “cookie cutter” or “stereotypical Christian” answers aren’t very helpful. While I welcome and appreciate hearing anyone’s thoughts, just do me a favor and try to make sure they’re just that – your thoughts and experiences, as opposed to something you heard once in church or read in a Facebook status or saw on Instagram. I’m not one for cliché answers; I love listening to people, but what’s the point of talking if we can’t be open and honest?
The following are unfinished thoughts:
I’m afraid there is a great big hole in our understanding of this thing we call the “Gospel.”
I’m afraid our churches and ministries are at least partially failing in their jobs to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry” (Ephesians 4:12).
I’m afraid our failure is making Jesus appear weak and irrelevant.
If the average Christian were asked what the gospel is, they’d probably say something along the lines of: “We’re all sinners, and the gospel is that God sent Jesus to die in our place so that we can be forgiven and go to heaven.”
Whoop-de-doo. So. What.
I’m struggling with a serious porn addiction. What’s that got to do with me?
My uncle has been sexually abusing me for years. What’s that got to do with me?
I get bullied at school, so I’ve been cutting myself to block out the emotional pain. What’s that got to do with me?
I think I’m fat, so I’ve been making myself throw up after every meal for months. What’s that got to do with me?
I’m a 15 year old guy and I think I’m gay. What’s that got to do with me?
My boyfriend wants to have sex with me, and I love him, so I think I’m going to say yes. What’s that got to do with me?
My parents are getting a divorce and I don’t want to have to choose sides between them. What’s that got to do with me?
My best friend just committed suicide. What’s that got to do with me?
My husband just lost his job and is drinking heavily to forget his problems. What’s that got to do with me?
I come from a rich family and have everything I could want, but am still not happy. What’s that got to do with me?
…I could go on and on and on. I’m willing to bet that most “Christians” wouldn’t have any idea how to respond if they came across situations like the above (in many of those situations, I’d probably be clueless as well). But here’s the thing: These are the real life situations that most people face.
- 70% of men my age visit porn websites every month
- Roughly 25% of girls and 16% of boys are sexually abused; over 90% of them knew their abusers
- About 1 in 5 teenagers self-harm in some way
- Roughly 1 in 10 teenage girls have some form of eating disorder
The statistics all back up the facts that it is a grim, messy, painful world we live in. But the problem is, we as Christians seem to either be ridiculously naive or just plain not care about the harsh reality of life in this fallen world.
In Matthew 9, Mark 2, and Luke 5, the same story of Jesus shows up. Jesus is hanging out with his tax collector buddies and other well known “sinners” of the time. If you’re unaware, tax collectors weren’t exactly fan favorites with the rest of the Jews in those times; tax collectors were typically Jews who betrayed their countrymen to work for the hated Roman Empire, charging hefty taxes to other Jews and pocketing anything extra they could collect for themselves. “Sinners” was a general term of derision by the Jews, used to refer to people who had reputations of being given to certain vices – it could mean known drunks, hookers, gamblers, etc. All in all, Jesus wasn’t exactly hanging out with the Jewish A-listers, and the “righteous” Jewish leaders were pretty upset about it. They started grumbling about it, and Jesus responded saying,
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32 ESV)
Jesus didn’t fit into the religious folks’ preconceived notions about how he should act or who he should spend time with. He went out and found those who were hated and had bad reputations; those who were sneered at and avoided; those who were overlooked and uncared for.
Jesus brought hope into those situations – hope to the messed up, struggling, sin-stained, desperate people of his time.
So why don’t we – his followers – know how to do that today?
Is it that the gospel can’t really speak to people in those situations? Is it that we’re afraid? Is it that we don’t care about people’s physical situations, as long as they “pray the prayer” and we can check them off as “converts?” Is it that we just don’t know how?
These are things we have to talk about.
We need to open our eyes; find the hurting, broken, desperate people (read that as everyone around us); roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty. We’ve got to learn how to apply the gospel to real-life situations, and we have got to stop pretending like life is all rosy and great. It’s not. It’s hard. It sucks, pretty majorly a lot of the time. Our world is broken, and if we don’t acknowledge that (in practice, not just in theory), we’ll never be able to rightly show how Christ is the answer.
I haven’t blogged in a long time. Almost exactly a month. Forgive me for that, but it’s been an insane month. Also, I think that sometimes blogging intimidates me; I feel like if I don’t have something special to say, I shouldn’t blog. However, on the other hand, I recognize that there are people out there praying for me and curious as to what God is doing over here (or at least I think there are…if I’m wrong, don’t tell me), and so for that reason I should be more faithful to post updates. Again, forgive me.
As I said, June has been a crazy month. In sum total, we’ve filmed 62 testimonies of young people around the UK. It’s been a phenomenally encouraging experience for me – I’ve seen myself and the team grow both in our technical abilities and know-how, but more importantly, closer to the Lord. Hearing story after story after story of how God is changing lives is a constant reminder of that He is active, powerful, and faithful.
This is Lisa. She grew up in a Christian family in Northern Ireland, but when she entered high school she really felt the burden of peer pressure and got involved in drinking and partying. On top of that, she was bullied a lot, which led to her developing an eating disorder that she struggled with throughout her teenage years. But then, right in the middle of that, she began to feel a strong conviction that the things she was doing were wrong. She turned to Christ, and now that she’s a Christian she knows that she can stand upon Jesus Christ as her rock. Her favorite verse in the Bible is Psalm 139:14: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full.” She’s come to know that she is beautiful in God’s eyes; so much so that God sent his Son to die in her place, so that she could come back to him.
And that is what most of my work entails these days. How awesome is that? God is good, and is certainly changing lives all over the place. Be encouraged of that! Even when you don’t see it, he’s at work all around the world, working and saving people from all sorts of different situations.
(Side note: We’re working on editing all of these stories now, but within the next few weeks or a month or so, hopefully I’ll have some awesome video samples for you to see!)
In other news, God has graciously blessed me with a lovely girlfriend. Her name is Melinda (or Mindy), and we’ve been dating for a month now. She loves Jesus, missions, God’s Word, and people; and for some strange reason she seems to think I’m pretty okay too. Here’s a lovely picture of the two of us:
If you could pray for wisdom for the both of us, we would greatly appreciate it. We want Christ to be at the center of our relationship, because He is what’s most important.
Other breaking news: I’ve also just recently been accepted to seminary! I’ve been accepted to study for my Master’s of Arts in World Missions and Evangelism at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. I’m pretty excited about it, and hoping to start my first class online this fall. I’ll probably be studying online at my own pace for the next few years, which works out very well considering how busy we are with ministry here. Pray that I’d learn much, that God would give me wisdom as I study and a great hunger to learn, and that the things I learn will be useful for the ministry I’m involved in.
Tangible needs and ways to help: As you can see in the last few paragraphs, there’s a lot going on in my life right now. Most of it is extremely new, and also extremely exciting. I’ve mentioned several specific needs I could use prayer for, but there are always more. I love hearing from you all, and so if you have questions or want to know more, please, ask! You can get in touch with me either through the comment section on this blog, or by emailing me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ve also got Skype: llbarker is my username.
Along with prayer, I’ve also got some pretty real financial needs that I’ve been praying about; seminary is unfortunately not a free thing, and I’m not going to take out any loans for it – I’ll be paying for it out of my own pocket. Along with that, there’s the incredibly high cost of having to spoil my girlfriend with all sorts of luxurious gifts…I’m kidding. She is also a missionary, and a very simple and beautiful woman – not high-maintenance in the least. But the fact is that the whole reason we’re dating is because someday we might like to get married. If/when that should happen, I want to be able to provide for my wife, and as a missionary that gets very complicated – I’m completely dependent on God’s provision, via people like you.
If I’m completely honest, I’m currently receiving roughly $50 less than I need to just break even each month, much less put anything away to save up for school or anything else. I have some money saved up which is currently filling that hole, but that is slowly draining away, month by month. I’m not worried in the slightest – if God wants me to stay here long-term, he will continue to provide. If not, I’ll stay as long as I can until the money runs dry, and then see what God has for me next!
I don’t want to paint a horrible picture or sound discouraged in the least, because I’m not. God is totally in control, and totally good. But if you have the means and feel like my mission here is something you would like to get behind and support financially, I’d love to hear from you. As I mentioned above, you can contact me via this blog, email, or Skype to let me know if you would like to join the team. You could also check out the “Support the Work” link at the top of this page. Even if you’ve just got questions about what exactly it is we are doing, I’d absolutely love to hear from you!
If you haven’t heard the news, this weekend marks the Queen’s “Diamond Jubilee” here in the UK. If you’re not familiar with what that means, it’s a celebration of the 60th anniversary of her reign. On February 6, 1952 Princess Elizabeth consented to ascend to the throne as Queen Elizabeth II, and she was crowned the following year on June 2, 1953.
Sixty years. That’s a long time. Here are a few other things that have happened in the past sixty years:
-Mount Everest was climbed for the first time
-The first man was put into space
-The first man walked on the moon
-The Vietnam War
-Roe vs. Wade
-The Internet was born
-The Cold War
-The humane genome was mapped
-The USA has had eleven different presidents
It’s absolutely extraordinary that the Queen has been reigning for such a long time. If her reign continues for another four years, Her Majesty will officially be the longest reigning monarch in British history. Lord willing, she’ll make it. I’m now at a point where I can genuinely say, “God save the Queen.” From everything I’ve heard and seen, she seems like an absolutely incredible lady and a real anchor for the British people.
Participating in the Jubilee festivities has provoked a few thoughts in my mind. Here’s a rough teaser:
Although I’m not advocating America moves to any sort of monarchy in the near future, I think there is definitely some merit in having a monarchy. You see, in America the government is in a fairly constant state of flux. Although we do have certain senators who have been in office for decades, the average American politician risks losing his job every 4-6 years. In some ways, this is a very good thing – if a man or woman isn’t really doing his or her job, it’s nice to have the ability to replace him or her. It’s our way of keeping politicians accountable to do as they have sworn to do. However, with that being said, here is a potential perk of some sort of longer-running monarchy: When a person’s political office isn’t under constant threat, that person doesn’t have the constant pressure of pleasing his or her “voter base.” “But wait,” you say, “Isn’t that the whole point of a democracy?!? The elected officials enact laws that please the general public!” Yes, sort of. But the flip side of that means that our politician has no “anchor” to keep himself or herself grounded. Any personal moral or ethical beliefs our politician has to bow to the ever-changing opinion of the general public. Romans 13:3-4 says, “For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain.
A perfect “ruler” or “politician” or “monarch” would have a perfectly biblical worldview and would perfectly understand and enforce God’s law for the good of all people. Because we are all rebellious sinners in need of mercy, the perfect ruler/politician/monarch does not exist. That is crucial to remember. However, if a ruler is meant to be “God’s servant for your good,” then we as citizens ought to have some measure of trust in our ruler. This is precisely where we tend to fall short: instead of trusting God’s appointing of our ruler and praying that the Lord would guide him and give him wisdom to make just and righteous laws, we tend to gripe and complain and then, in some sad state of resignation, we give up and look ahead towards the next election. We see our democracy as an opportunity to push what we think is best onto everyone else, instead of taking a step back and saying, “What would be best “for the good of all people?,” and then proceeding to elect politicians who have done the some and giving them some space to do their jobs.
I’m not sure how well I’ve expressed my thoughts here; I recognize that this is an incredibly complex subject and that as selfish sinners no perfect government can exist among us, but this past weekend has really opened my eyes to see the merits (and the flaws) in the different type of government. As I noted at the beginning, these are rough thoughts. I’m still in the middle of working through all of this (and probably will never fully finish that process), but it’s definitely interesting, and I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts!
“It is good to give thanks to the Lord…”
The psalmist is right. That’s a simple statement, but it’s so appropriate and so true. It is good to give thanks to the Lord. And it is something I don’t do enough, and so this post is dedicated to that purpose.
I’m thankful to the Lord for:
–Jesus Christ, for making himself nothing; for living, dying, and rising from the dead, so that I might live.
–His grace. It is incredibly undeserved, but abundantly evident in my life.
–The Holy Spirit. I fail often, but through the Spirit I am able to grow and change and know God more.
–The Church. If I had to try and live like Christ on my own, I would fail miserably. God knew what he was doing when he created and commissioned the community of believers.
–Mercy Hill, my home church. Though we are far apart, I know they love and support me in many ways. They are a huge blessing.
–My pastor, Johnny Hamstra. Few people have had a greater impact on my life. For nearly a decade he’s been a source of constant challenge and encouragement, love and patience. He’s always told it to me straight, and I appreciate him for that. His desire to see God glorified and Christ magnified has helped me set my life’s compass in the right direction.
–Johnny’s wife, Michelle Hamstra. She’s loved me and welcomed me into her home many, many times; and she’s been unafraid to be real and honest about what she sees in me and where I need to change. Through her own life, she’s been an incredible source of encouragement and challenge.
–My family. Not only do they love me despite my faults, but more importantly they love Him, because He first loved them.
–My Dad. He is the best example I know of a servant leader, and a true picture of humility and wisdom.
–My Mom. She is a saint. She is a humble prayer warrior, incredibly hospitable, and a loving teacher. I would not be who I am today but for her prayers.
–My brother Dave. As I’ve seen him learning to trust God more and more, I’ve been spurred on to do the same.
–My brother-in-law, Mike. His love for God’s Word has challenged me, and his love for my sister is a true encouragement to me.
–My sister Sam. Without her, I would have been lost as a teenager. She’s helped keep me grounded and humble for years.
–My brother Adam. His heart for people is challenging and Christ-like, and his desire to serve the church is a beautiful thing to see.
–My sister Mary. Her sensitivity to the Lord and to people is something I desire to emulate with my own life.
–My brother Matt. In many ways he reminds me of myself at his age, but his love for the Lord is much more evident, and gives me great hopes for what God has planned for him.
–My brother Josh. Like my dad, he is a willing servant and a great blessing to those around him. He challenges me to be unselfish and consider other people’s needs before my own.
–My brother Paul. As the youngest boy, he has endured more than his fair share of torturing and teasing. In spite of that, his genuine enthusiasm and delight for life often reminds me to enjoy the little gifts of God in my own life.
–My baby sister, Faith. Frankly, her intelligence at her age scares me a little, but her love for God’s Word and her imagination are a constant source of joy and laughter. She is an astounding picture of child-like faith (no pun intended).
–My job. It’s not always the easiest, but having the opportunity to lead this team and be a part of God’s kingdom advancing throughout Europe is a privilege and a joy.
–His Sovereignty. It’s such a relief to know I can’t screw up his plan.
–His Omniscience and his Goodness. It’s such a relief to know that he knows all possible plans, and he has chosen the best possible one.
…there are innumerable other things I could mention. This is just a brief selection, but a genuine glimpse into my heart.
It is good to give thanks to the Lord.
It’s currently May 22 at 5:36 PM, and it’s 72 degrees out (that’s 20 Celsius for any European folks who may read this thing). Seeing as how I’m in England, the weather probably isn’t going to get a whole lot better than this all summer long, and so I’m currently making the most of it. I’ve been wearing flip-flops as often as possible, I’ve busted out the cargo shorts, and we’re having a cookout this week.
While doing all of these summer-ish activities, I’ve also been planning the summer projects for our team here. Things are shaping up to be busy and chaotic, but by God’s grace things will go smoothly and turn out very very good.
Firstly, it seems like our flat is turning into Grand Central Station these days. Twelve hours from now I’ll be leaving to take my brother Adam to the airport; he has finished his year-long internship and is headed back to the States for a few weeks, before going on a Eurorail tour with a friend around the continent later this summer. He’ll then finish up his last year at Moody Bible Institute, and beyond that depends on what God has in store. I’m sad and excited to see him go; I know his summer is going to be epic, and I know he’s excited to get back and finish school. But I’m also very aware that he is the only “familiar” thing around here for me, and so I selfishly wish he wasn’t going. Here he is at the successful surprise going-away party we threw him last night:
Not only is Adam leaving, but we’re adding a number of people to the team in the next several months. Just last week a new fellow joined us, Mr. Samuel Massey. Sam will be a great asset to the team; he’s outgoing and friendly, organized, and he majored in English at school, so he ought to be a great help in writing content for the programs we are developing.
We’ve also got three new girls joining the team two weeks from tomorrow, although they’re only going to be here short-term. Mindy, Allie, and Kayla will get here on June 6th, and from there we’re going to do a good amount of traveling throughout the UK, filming testimonies for the UK program we’re working on. We’ll be spending time in Northern Ireland and Scotland, as well as traveling around England a bit (we’ve already been to Wales). The majority of my time these past few weeks has gone into planning this summer tour of ours, and things are shaping up quite nicely, if I may toot my own horn!
Later this summer and into the fall we will also be adding a few new team members (as well as a few volunteers for UCB, our partner ministry here), and so I’ve also been spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to fit everyone into our flat here. We may be playing musical beds for awhile, but it looks like we’ll be able to get everyone in. Although having more and more people come brings some small headaches with it (like trying to fit people), it’s really amazing to see all sorts of young people who are willing and interested to volunteer a year of their lives to doing ministry throughout the UK and Europe, free of charge.
God is most certainly worthy of it all, and the world and the church could certainly use more young people like the ones I’m blessed to work with.
Grace and peace,