Your mission, should you choose to accept it…

Last night, my wife, Dianna, and I saw the latest Mission Impossible film. The Mission Impossible franchise is based on an orginazation called IMF (Impossible Missions Force) that embarks on the kind of missions that nobody else can do. Ethan Hunt and the other agents are presented with missions using the phrase “Your mission, should you choose to accept it…” If they accept that mission, then they set out to do the impossible. They set out to do what no other group can do. They are missional. They are on mission.

If you want to sound hip and cool, just tell people that your church is missional. Actually, I like the term missional. In fact, I really like it. It’s fresh sounding and provocative. It also implies that the church has a mission. But unfortunately it seems that there are numerous definitions to this term. In telling our church that we are called to be “on mission”, I must underline what we mean by mission, lest I fail to clearly communicate our mission.

For many when they hear missional, they think social, you know soup kitchens, taking care of widows, stopping sex trafficking, helping people become better stewards of their finances… This is not what I mean by mission. This isn’t to say that these things are unimportant. I would say that these are important, even commanded in Scripture. But when we make these things the mission of the church, we then define the mission ourselves.

To help us gain an understanding of biblical mission, we need to understand the word mission. “Mission” is from the Latin word missio which means “sending”. It is a sending. In other words, if we are on mission, then we are sent, and the question is who sent us? Jesus’ words in John 20:21 are a clue; we are sent by Jesus, as Jesus was sent by the Father. In other words, Jesus defines our mission. After Jesus commissions his followers, he begins to reveal to them what the mission is. The mission is the forgiveness of sins (John 20:23). We know Jesus is the one who saves. Jesus isn’t implying that we go on our own rescue mission. We join him in his rescue mission. The mission of God is to bring people into a right relationship with God. Our mission then is to serve his mission.

When we make the mission social, we strip away the distinctiveness of God’s saving work. The mission God gives the church is unique. It is our Mission Impossible. The mission has to do with declaring God’s saving work to a lost world. If the mission were social, there is nothing unique about God’s mission. The church’s mission becomes just like anyone else’s. Here’s a question. If it can be done without Christ, can it be God’s mission for the Church?

The fruit of a people in alignment with God’s heart, being changed by his grace will be love for neighbour and pursuit of moral purity. These things are not the mission, but they spring forth from missionaries (people on mission).

We are not on Christ’s mission, if our mission is soup kitchens. But, it must be said that if we are on Christ’s mission, we will care about hungry people. Why? Is God’s great plan to feed people food? No, Jesus rebuked the crowd that followed him for physical food (John 6:26). But because God’s mission of salvation is fuelled by his love for those he created in his image, so too, we should actively love people. So our social action is not the mission, but accompanies it.

For some, this may seem like semantic chicken and egg stuff, but we need to get this right. The particular mission of Jesus for the church is to preach the forgiveness of sins (Acts 13:38). No charity, no club, no philanthropist can carry forth this mission. However, if we are on Christ’s mission, we are going to love people in their deep needs (social) as well as their deepest need (spiritual). But if we lose the cutting edge of Christ’s mission, we are no different from any other charity or club. Our mission is impossible for man, but possible from God.

The Loss of Community – Reconcile, Week 1

Pastor Miles DeBenedictis

Reconcile – Week 1
The Loss of Community



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Radically Subversive Living – Daniel Fusco

10 things on my mind this week…

1. Blessed to hold the hand of and pray with a sister about to step from this life to the next after a battle with an aggressive cancer. Her words to me, “I want to live.” You will, because Jesus is the resurrection and the life, let not your heart be troubled.

2. Like eating Greek far more than reading Greek. Prepositions, participles, imperfect, active, indicative, third person singular… O my (or perhaps ομαι, which would of course be a deponent ending). Not sure just how well I’m getting it, but Greek class is mind bending. So wish I would have paid more attention in high school English class.

3. Find it interesting that it’s “wrong” to write an article in a public venue (i.e. blog) that can be openly challenged, but it’s perfectly acceptable to privately circulate a dozen page+ letter among ones peers and associates condemning and falsely labeling them, without their knowledge.

If someone has issue with something I’ve said or written they can comment here, email me, find me on Facebook, twitter, google+ or call my office.

4. Amazed by the spiritual insights gleaned from (1) raising Ethan, Addie & Eva, and (2) pruning the grape vine in my backyard.

5. So blessed by my mom and my wife as I approach Mother’s Day.

6. Intrigued by President Obama’s non-evolutionary “leap” to supporting gay marriage this week.

7. Thankful for the men God has put in my life that challenge me to be a better follower of God, husband to my wife, father to my kids and pastor of Cross Connection Escondido.

8. Excited by the several projects I’m collaborating on in multiple spheres. Am regularly blown away that I get to do what I get to do.

9. Consistently surprised by the graciousness of people to bless me and my family in very tangible ways that express their genuine love for us.

10. Praying for wisdom in unearthing and implementing a new paradigm in Christ honoring community for CCEsco.

Big Church, Small Church = Same Church

As many of you know, I am a blogging veteran. It dawned on me recently that I have been blogging for over 10 years at this point. But is also interesting is that I find myself interacting on them less and less (although ironically, this article is on a blog). Why? Well because I have little bandwidth these days for incessant arguments. When I think about some of the most common arguments about church on blogs (whether ministry-minded blogs like CrossConnection or other Christian blogs), it is the church size preference argument. Most of the arguing, as I have thought about it, is actually from people who prefer smaller churches and then vilify larger churches. Although I don’t know of any larger church pastor starting a blog argument over church size, it is far to common to hear a mega church pastor speak down about a smaller church. I once stood in horror as a large church pastor asked a faithful brother of a smaller church, “How is your little work going?”. The work of God in salvation and in His people is never little. It is always huge.

But, for me, I feel that I have a unique vantage point on this because of how the Lord has led me. I have been involved pastorally in 4 churches (3 as the church-planter and senior pastor). The three churches I planted were turned over to other pastors with less than 100 people. Now I pastor a very large church. Here’s what I have learned. Simply stated, the church is the church. Whether large or small, the church is the people of God together in community. Every church is flawed in some way, yet being grown up into her head, Jesus. All churches have budget problems, building (or lack thereof) issues, committed members and folks who just come and go. On every level, the church is the church.

This was brought into stark focus for me recently as someone asked me how it was to teach at a large church. I said simply, it’s exactly the same, just more people hear the message at one time. I haven’t changed, the only difference is that now, if I look to the left or the right when I’m teaching, I’ll see myself amplified on jumbo screens (a terrifying sight). I still study the same, deliver it the same, pray that God uses it the same. After service, just like in a smaller body, some folks head for the doors and other folks want to spend time and talk. There are all the same people issues. In any church, large or small, most people have 10 truly close friends. That doesn’t change. A large church is not any less intimate than a smaller church. Why? Because intimacy is a heart issue not a size issue. Again, it’s all the same church.

So why do I write this? Well maybe it is my hope that people will be okay with simply stating their preference for church size and dynamics instead of seeking to justify the preference by vilifying the other side. I also say this because as a church planter and smaller church pastor, I also tried to vilify larger churches. It don’t think I did it maliciously. I did it naively. But my experience has taught me that the church is the church, no matter how many people are gathered together. We are all one big family in Jesus. I, for one, am grateful for that.


Recently I’ve been reconvicted all over again on the issue of motive in mission.  I’m not generally one of those guys who struggles to have joy in ministry.  My problem is that I don’t always do ministry from a place of having joy in enough of the right things.  I love studying the Word, preaching the Word, training up leaders, designing discipleship processes, and so on.  My joy can terminate on those things in and of themselves.  It isn’t inherently wrong to enjoy those kinds of things.  But I need to do what I do in response to more than the joy I experience over performing those functions alone.  What is the great motive from which all my activities should flow?  How about love for God and love for people!  Take it from the Bible:

 “And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This [is] the first commandment. And the second, like [it, is] this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31)

 “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have [the gift of] prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed [the poor], and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

 There it is!  Love for God and people must be the motive for everything I do.  If my motive for doing what I do isn’t love for God and people (even if my activities are amoral) they are of no credit to me in the perspective of God.  My problem is that I can enjoy building systems, preaching sermons, counseling people, and raising up leaders, while thinking and feeling next to nothing for God or people.  I simply enjoy the processes inherently.

So let’s be honest with ourselves today.  God knows the truth already, so hiding is of no value.  Why are excited to preach that message this week?  Why are you looking forward to that meeting with those leaders?  Why are you looking forward to that upcoming ministry opportunity?  Why are you buzzing with zeal on the inside over expanding the scope of your mission?  Is the foundational motive of your mission love for God and people, and the knowledge that these other things merely facilitate the expression and expansion of that love?  Or is the foundational motive of your mission and activities simply an enjoyment of the processes, roles, and opportunities themselves?

Let’s take a love test.  If the verses were expressing your motive for mission, how would Mark 12:30-31 read?  Would it be, “My motivation for the mission comes from loving the ministry my God (processes, sermon, study, counseling, opportunities, prestige) with all my heart, mind, strength, and soul.  And I don’t think much of my neighbor, but I love myself.”?  Or would it read, “My motivation for the mission comes from actually loving THE LORD MY GOD and MY NEIGHBOR as myself.”?  Think about it.  Pray about it.  Respond appropriately.

The ‘One Another’

Nehemiah 4:19

“Then I said to the nobles, the rulers, and the rest of the people, “The work is great and extensive, and we are separated far from one another on the wall.”

There is the very tangible reality in our daily lives that we are separated far from one another “on the wall”.

There is no doubt that the “work” we are involved in as the Body of Christ is vast and extensive from our point of view. As we look at the “walls” that lie in disrepair and comprehend that its “breaches are many” (Isaiah 22:9), we begin to understand the scope of all that has been done, and begin to understand the reach that still has to be accomplished in our own communities, to the ends of the globe.

What greater thing is there than pouring our very lives that have been redeemed from the slimy pit and have now been washed clean, purged from the stains of our guilty consciences and shot-out lives, into the great and eternal “work” that we have been called to and given gifts by His Spirit which enable us to engage ourselves in this work effectively and profitably for the renown of Jesus’ name.

There are those that each of us know and love and care for in the Body of Christ that are fighting and laboring and toiling, expending spiritual and physical blood, sweat, and tears in this “work”. They are the ones that fill the seats on Wednesdays and Sundays, falling asleep, nodding off during our sermons, not making it to the discipleship classes, the home fellowship or mid-week study all the time, “‘cuz I’m just plumb wore out”.

They are the ones who are directly involved in the “front lines” work of the ministry. They are the ones forging ahead day in and day out into the vast hordes of men and women, young and old who don’t believe. And it is at those moments that we feel so separate from one another in the work that God has set before us to do.

And here in Nehemiah 4:16 we see the position of the leaders in the “impossible” work in Jerusalem…namely repairing the breaches, rebuilding the wall. The leaders are positioned squarely behind the “frontline”. Yes, they are also directly involved in the work themselves, fighting, laboring and toiling alongside.

But they are also functioning “behind the scenes”, watching, directing, re-directing, encouraging, equipping, etc.

With this picture in mind, one thought stands out. There is the necessity that we must teach, by our lives and by our words, that in the work of the Lord and in the service of the Lord, in desiring to accomplish the task that is before us, there is a needed balance, with which we will be able to be most effective in our watching and in our working.

We, as pastors, have been separated from “waiting on tables”, so to speak, and strive to be constant in our giving of ourselves, our entire lives, to the ministry of the word and to prayer. Our desire, our goal, our calling, if you will, is to excel in being the leaders that God has gifted us to be so that you might be the best equipped, as you each are laboring and toiling on the front lines, rebuilding the walls.

It is the Body working together, every part functioning in the role and giftings that the Lord has given each of us.

Ephesians 4:11-16

We have been given the grand opportunity to glorify God in coming alongside one another in this Great and Extensive work that He has called us to, gifted us for, and given leaders in His Body as He has seen fit to equip us for the work He has prepared beforehand for us to walk in.

1 Corinthians 12:27

“Now you are the body of Christ (corporately) , and members individually.

Helpless and Hopeless without God’s Word

Jesus said:

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:27-28)

Years ago I broke down and bought a GPS navigation device for our cars. We figured that given all the driving we do in places we’ve never been, it might be a great help. Also, for other kinds of searches (restaurants, places of interest, etc.) it has great information. In some ways this GPS has been wonderful, but in other ways very frustrating. It’s been sort of a love/hate relationship.

Early on, I decided I needed to name the female voice coming out of this device … the voice that told me—so smoothly—where I should go and when I had to turn. I decided upon the name “Wanda” for some reason. But when we decided to take Wanda on our trip to the East Coast, I decided to pronounce her name with an East Coast accent. “Wander” is how it came out.

“Wander.” How disturbingly appropriate—because that’s what kept happening under her driving instructions. Have you ever argued with a machine? Well now I can say that I have. “Wander” and I would go back and forth on numerous specifics. When it was obvious she was wrong, she was entirely unyielding—even when it was clear that she was adding an additional ½ hour to our trip.

Fortunately, we had a map in front of us, and in some cases, some local knowledge. My wife had lived on the East Coast for a number of years, so she was savvy re: many routes we needed to take. Combining map knowledge with local knowledge, we were able to defeat the occasional unwise counsel of Wander.

In my own spiritual life, I can recall a number of instances where the counsel of “Wander” came my way. If I listened, my journey would be waylaid. If I discerned and went the way of God’s map—the Bible—and the way of my knowledge of His ways in Christ that I’d learned over the years… then I’d be fine and I’d not lose my way.

Let me give you some examples of Wander’s counsel:

  •  (From almost 35 years ago), the teaching that all sickness was due to personal sin… therefore all I need to do is pray against the sin, and physical healing is guaranteed.

Refuted by John 9:1-3.

  • In a class at school, being taught that in order to receive God’s anointing, we must fast for a prescribed time before each sermon, avoid relations with our wives, and keep ourselves from some of the things in the OT law pertaining to the ideas of ceremonial uncleanness.

Refuted by the absolute absence of such instruction in the NT, and by passages like 2 Corinthians 3:3-18, Hebrews 7:21-22; 8:6-9.

  • Church growth is best accomplished by basing the church’s operating philosophy on the exercise of spiritual gifts, especially signs and wonders.

Refuted by the fact that Jesus commands pastors to feed the flock of God with the Word of God. Spiritual growth and equipping for ministry take place only through the Spirit’s application of the Bible to the heart of the hungry believer (2 Timothy 3:16-17). People are saved through the gospel, not through signs and wonders (Romans 1:16-17; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

  • When the church grows, we need to adopt wise management structures (i.e., organizational charts and lines of corporate reporting) to ensure ministry effectiveness.

Refuted by the fact that the church is an organism, not an organization. We are the living, breathing Body of Christ, and church structure needs to be relational, not structural. There is no NT evidence that the NT church organized itself using worldly methods of organization.

I could go on and on … suffice it to say that the only wise course of action—ever—is that which results from the Spirit’s direction through the Word of God. We need to hear God’s voice. When other voices cry out to us for our attention and obedience, we must always measure them against what the Bible teaches, and what our relationship with God in Christ has taught us through the years about the character and ways of God.

When I’ve listened to Wander without Biblical or spiritual discernment, I’ve fallen into a temporary ditch of some sort or another. When I’ve tested Wander and followed Jesus’ voice, which He promised that we would hear in John 10:27, then I’ve avoided the traps of unwise counsel which divert me from my spiritual journey.

In the flesh, we’re all prone to Wander. In the Spirit, we do very, very well.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.   
(Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing (Words by Robert Robinson, 1758; Music: Nettleton, Wyeth’s Repository of Sacred Music, Part Second, by John Wyeth, 1813)

The U.S. military…a useful analogy

I’m sure I’m not the only pastor and/or teacher of the scripture that is constantly on the lookout for a good analogy or illustration that can help bring clarity to one or more of the truths contained in God’s word.

In my search for just the right analogy to describe the Christian life in general, especially in the way it contrasts with the way everyone else is living life, God has given me one that both believers and unbelievers have told me is the most understandable they’ve ever heard.  I’d like to pass it on to those of you who read this blog to see if it might be useful to you.

Before I continue though, please know that this analogy is most effective for those in a culture and a country that has a governmental and military structure somewhat similar to what is found in the U.S.A.

Here it is:  The all volunteer military– it’s characteristics and it’s members interaction with the government and other citizens not in the military.  This is what I mean:

1.  A person must choose to become a part of it, just as a person must make a conscious choice to surrender to Jesus as Lord and Savior.

2.  To choose to join, by necessity you must also choose to turn away from pretty much everything else that has been a priority in your life, which includes the right to do the work you want to do, the place you want to live, and many other things that you no longer have control over….because you’ve chosen to surrender to an authority higher than yourself.  Easy to make the connection to the follower of Jesus here, right?  Repentance.

3.  But, you don’t stop being a citizen of the U.S.A. or being governed by it’s laws and you’re still subject to the punishment that is the result of disobeying those laws.  Sort of like the dual citizenship and the responsibilities that go along with each citizenship that was clearly expressed by Jesus in response to whether taxes should be paid, and by Paul in Romans 13 and Phil 3:20….for example

4.  Instead, you not only must remain a good citizen of the U.S.A., you must also live obediently to the new government that you have chosen to live under.  That new government is called the Uniform Code of Military Justice, (UCMJ).  Certain actions will be a violation of the laws of both governments.  But other actions that you are free to do as a U.S.A. citizen without violating the law, are actually violations of the laws of the UCMJ and you will be held to that higher standard and punished if you violate them.  The followers of Jesus, although free to do things that the culture or the government doesn’t consider unlawful, nevertheless don’t participate in those things because they are living with an accountability to a higher law.  And when a follower of Jesus violates the principles of the kingdom, other members of the kingdom hold him accountable.

5.  Those who are not a part of the U.S. military, are free to choose what the ultimate goal of their life is.  Those in the military are not.  Everyone in the U.S. military shares one common, ultimate goal:  to obey the commander-in-chief as he makes decisions that have the best interests of the whole country in mind.  That obedience will at times require the individual soldier to surrender life itself for a cause greater than his own interests.  For the follower of Jesus, He is the commander-in-chief and His goal of glorifying God through self-less love does at times require His follower to give up his/her life too.

6.  Every person that voluntarily joins the U.S. Military is required to go through a basic training.  For Americans, basic training exists to destroy the individualism and independence that are at the top of our cultural mountain.  Individual identity in the military, although recognized, is subjugated to finding your identity as part of a group/community.  For a soldier to think and act independently and to place individual needs/wants above what is best for the group, cannot be tolerated.  To tolerate such behavior is to potentially cost the lives of others.  As followers of Jesus, we enter the kingdom as individuals, but we are actually newly born into a “body” that has many parts with many functions and all are interconnected.  We have a crucial role to fill, but never in a manner that is disconnected from other members of the body and the body itself.

7.  Although some war situations will cause a U.S. military member to only interact with other members of the military, that is generally only for short periods of time.  But at some point it will always be the case that every member of the military will have to interact daily with civilians–those not living under the UCMJ.  And regardless of how contrary civilians live in contrast with the standards of the UCMJ, the military person will willingly give up his life, if necessary, for those living so opposite of the standards he lives with.  The follower of Jesus won’t just die for other believers, he will be willing to die for those who hate Jesus and hate him because he loves Jesus.

Although there are other angles that can be extracted I think these are sufficient for now.

Let’s be thankful for the U.S. military…in perhaps more ways than we have in the past.