Every time I travel to Ghana I come back more amazed at how God works. Nothing in the world brings me greater joy than being able to serve our God by being His hands and feet in a land 6,000 miles away from where I call home.
There was no way I could have ever imagined how God would use me on the most recent trip to Ghana. In the course of six days God’s glory was seen, my eyes were opened, and He gave me a boldness like I had never experienced before.
Here is the quick summary of what God did through us in just six days, and as I begin to compile His mighty works my mind wonders what he would do with 365 days and what he wants to do with my life.
-Found a girl who sits in the dirt all day because she is handicapped and God provided a way for us to get her a wheel chair that will forever change her life.
-Carried around all kinds of medicines from the clinic God led us to build in 2011. Rubbed prescribed lotions on the worst ring worm situations I have ever seen, gave antibiotics for various infections, bandaged and wrapped up sores, and prayed like crazy for healing.
-God provided shelter for two of His orphans, Yaa and Adjoa, and their caregivers.
-Had the opportunity to share the gospel with nearly 500 youth
-Shared the gospel with a guy that tried to sell me weed
-Saved a girl from a slow, painful battle with malaria
-Helped a little boy travel to Accra to get medical care for his heart
-Saw false idols and met a high priest (this stuff is actually real not just something in the Bible)
-Was able to play a part in helping a mother of 7 with breast cancer
-Sponsored 50 children in Asikuma to get health insurance
-Saw three women’s lives forever changed due to small business donations
-God brought me to a main site of child trafficking
-God brought two new incredible pastors into my life
-Fed hundreds of children
-Sponsored school fees and provided hope
-Led Bible studies
-Saw 18 American teachers get the experience of teaching in rural African schools
-God brought me to a place where drugs are rampant, sexual immorality is out of control, and people live for the night
God worked in such powerful ways during the entire trip. I could have never done these things on my own accord. I would have never dreamed of doing such things. Just nine years ago I did not know God. Just five years ago I did not know what it meant to pick up my cross.
Am I special? No. Did God choose me to be His hands and feet? Yes and No because in reality He has chosen all of us, but He gives us the choice. What is my role in this all? Simple obedience to His Word. All I am supposed to do is obey and God orchestrates the rest. He is the one who orchestrated the needs of the children. He is the one who brought Pastor Light to the hotel. He is the one who provided shelter for the orphans. He is the one who provided the wheel chair. He is the one that allowed me to sit in the middle of drugs, sexual immorality, and hopelessness, but not succumb to any of it. He is the one who sent Jesus and He is the one who goes before me. All I am supposed to do is to accept God’s invitation, take up my cross, and hate my life.
Now if it was only easy to say “yes”. My flesh wars against my entire being, doing everything possible to get me to say “no”. Because of Satan’s evil ways my mind can always rationalize me turning from the cross and saying “no”. Satan has allowed my mind to master rationalization of why I can’t I go and why I can’t follow.
As this most recent trip began there was nothing in my flesh that wanted to go. It was two months ago that we brought our daughters home. Both of my sons had basketball games during the ten days God was calling me to go. I really dislike going to Africa without my wife. I was in charge of leading a group of students from Drake of which I did not know. I had never led a trip like this and what if it failed and everything did not go as my mind had planned. I completely and totally hate flying. This trip fell in the middle of a very busy time at work with the opening of our new Kingdom Hoops facility and two of the biggest tournaments back-to-back weekends in January.
Any of these reasons would have been very sufficient reasons to say “no” to God. All of the reasons would have allowed me to stay in the comfort of my house. Any of the reasons would have prevented me from having to pick up my cross. I could have showered with warm water, not have had to worry about malaria, not sat on a run way for three hours, and could of stayed home and eaten as much ice cream as I would have liked along with the rest of my favorite foods. I would not have had to miss ten days of work and 10 days of loss income with no individual training lessons. My flesh was saying stay and God was saying go. Who would I choose?
God gave us a free will to choose Him or to not choose Him. As I was praying and working through the emotions of all of this I kept God’s Word close to my heart and near the tip of my tongue. In my mind I wonder what the disciples must have thought the day Jesus approached them at their homes and at their jobs to come and follow Him. I wonder, would I have said “yes”? In my head, with the knowledge of scripture, I believe I would have said yes to Jesus, but then I wonder again…would’ve I? It's in these moments when I wage war with my flesh and choose to say “yes” to God that I am making a choice to be a disciple of Jesus. I love how Francis Chan puts this in his new book ‘Multiply’...
What does it mean to be a disciple of Jesus Christ? As you will discover, the answer is fairly simple, but it changes your life completely.
The word disciple refers to a student or apprentice. Disciples in Jesus’s day would follow their rabbi (which means teacher) wherever he went, learning from the rabbi’s teaching and being trained to do as the rabbi did. Basically, a disciple is a follower, but only if we take the term follower literally. Becoming a disciple of Jesus is as simple as obeying His call to follow.
When Jesus called his first disciples, they may not have understood where Jesus would take them or the impact it would have on their lives, but they knew what it meant to follow. They took Jesus’s call literally and began going everywhere He went and doing everything He did.
It’s impossible to be a disciple or a follower of someone and not end up like that person. Jesus said, “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher (Luke 6:40). That’s the whole point of being a disciple of Jesus: we imitate Him, carry on His ministry, and become like Him in the process.
Yet somehow many have come to believe that a person can be a “Christian” without being like Christ. A “follower” who doesn’t follow. How does that make any sense? Many people in the church have decided to take on the name of Christ and nothing else. This would be like Jesus walking up to those first disciples and saying, “Hey, would you guys mind identifying yourselves with Me in some way? Don’t worry, I don’t actually care if you do anything I do or change your lifestyle at all. I’m just looking for people who are willing to say they believe in Me and call themselves Christians. “Seriously?”
How do we prevent ourselves from giving into our flesh and only identifying with Jesus but not actually following? As a basketball coach I always tell my players that in order to get better we have to pinpoint and understand our weaknesses. In the case of following Christ we have to understand the things that eat at our flesh and keep us from becoming a true disciple. I believe God already knew this would be a struggle for man and He helped to point out many of these things throughout scripture.
Luke 14: 25-27
Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters – yes, even their own life – such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
- Our children: There is nothing harder for me than when I have to leave my children for a period of time because God is calling me to follow Him. I love my children so much and have a unique relationship with each of them that it brings me great pain when it is time to leave. I am pretty sure God knew this was going to be a battle for all of us that want to be His disciple, so, He gave us very strong words to keep on the tip of our tongues and in the fronts of our hearts. Luke 14: 25-27 tells us that we cannot be His disciple if we don’t hate all of those people so close to us including our children.
I know Jesus was not referring to “hate” like we so often think of it today when we completely dislike and despise another individual or thing. He was simply trying to get across to the crowd that was following Him in those days, and the crowd that follows Him today, that we cannot love anything more than we love Jesus. He is telling us that Satan will use the love we feel for our children and family to prevent us from obediently following Him wherever he calls us for whatever amount of time. There is never a day that I don’t have to take a step back and check myself with God in this area. Those times when I have to leave it is an all-out war against my flesh.
- Our spouses: To leave my wife is another part of the battle I face as she is the most supportive and God fearing wife that any man could desire. When I am gone I feel bad about leaving all the responsibilities of five children for her to bear. I miss our late night conversations. I miss her companionship and positive feedback she gives me in the small things.
Again, Jesus is quite clear in that same part of scripture from Luke that our wife (and you could substitute husband in there) cannot be more important than following God wherever He calls. However, the passage that always boggled my mind prior to God calling me to Africa in 2009 was the following words from Paul in 1 Corinthians 4:8.
Now to the unmarried and widows I say; it is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do.
Paul never gives much extra detail on why it would be good for them to stay unmarried, however, I believe Paul feared the marriage relationship would hurt the spread of the gospel more than it would help it. That a husband and wife would learn to only rely on each other rather than relying daily on the strength of Christ. Paul goes on to say what a wonderful thing marriage is and that a marriage centered on Christ is a beautiful image of the gospel; but, I think we all need to ask ourselves if our spouse directly or indirectly causes us to only identify with Christ and not really follow Him.
- Our life: In this same passage in Luke, Jesus tells the crowd that if we are going to follow Him we must even hate our own life. I believe in Christian circles we see that part of the passage and we think it means to be willing to physically die for Christ. Of course that is true, but as people in the United States we can say we would be willing to physically die for Christ, all the while knowing that we will probably never be in a situation where we have to choose life or death for Christ.
The question then becomes - what did Jesus mean when He said we have to even hate our own life? I believe the answer for us in the United States - where we don’t face life threatening persecution - can be found in in the story of the rich man in Matthew 19:16-22.
Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments. “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.” “All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
I believe this biblical example is what Jesus was talking about when he told us we would even have to hate our own life. What does this look like today in the United States? It could mean that God wants us to sell everything and give to the poor. It could also mean that he wants us to be willing to give up the good things in our life for even just a short period of time. This could mean no hot showers at night, no air conditioning in your room, a toilet that won’t flush, water you can’t brush your teeth with. It might mean touching sick people and rubbing lotion on them with your bare hands. It could mean sitting with drug dealers. It could mean bus trips for five hours, airline flights for 20 hours. It could mean food we don’t like, starving kids hovering over our shoulders, and dirt covering our whole bodies.
The question becomes: Are we willing to give up the comforts of our lives - even just for short periods of time - to follow Christ? I believe this is one example of what Jesus meant by us having to even hate our own lives. Yesterday a good friend stopped in my office and was looking at some of the pictures of the basketball camp we were able to host in Cape Coast. This individual looked at me and said, “When I see these pictures it just makes me want to go with you to Africa, but I would only go if we were doing basketball camps. I wouldn’t want to be cleaning toilets or anything.” I looked at him with a fake smile and left my office with a sad heart that day because that mindset is exactly what Jesus does not want of His followers. The Jesus I know came down from a place of comfort to be born in a dirty manager, lived a life on earth with no home, and then died a disgusting and brutal death for all of us; yet we don’t want to hate our own lives to follow Him.