Mission is a hot word in the Christian world, and it means a lot of things to different people.
For me, mission is about movement. It’s purpose. It’s intention. It’s hard-thought and hard-fought acts of service and love for the greater good.
To give it a clear definition, I’d say mission is intentional action that fulfills an important purpose. And the truth is, we always live life “on mission” in various ways.
You can be on mission when you go to the grocery store to get food (intentional action) so that you can feed yourself, your family, or others (important purpose; after all, we’d starve if we didn’t eat). You can be on mission when you cheer for your team: buy the shirt or ticket to the game; paint your face; yell loudly; boo the refs; invest your heart and soul; or donate your money to the college (intentional action) so that your team will win the game/championship (important purpose).
Mission is what gives us a sense of purpose and meaning in life. It also has a very important relational dynamic to it as well.
One of the ways I think about mission is similar to the game “6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon." In that game, you pick an actor and then connect that person back to Kevin Bacon by the fewest relationships (degrees) possible.
Mission can also be thought of in degrees, and perhaps it is useful to recognize we do serve others in varying degrees. Here’s what I mean — consider this a 3 Degrees of Mission (stay with me because I start at 2 degrees — you’ll see why).
2 Degrees of Separation
Here I help others to help others.
This is perhaps the most common way we can serve other people. We give money, donations, or gifts to an organization, church, or nonprofit. We give clothes to a local shelter, food to a food bank, money to a favorite nonprofit, tithes to a church, financial or material support to missionaries, and so on.
In this realm, we are really 2 degrees away from the people who receive the help. You might think of this as a way we empower people to help others by giving wind to the sails of others' efforts to help people.
At the end of the day, we invest in other people, who in turn are doing the work of serving others.
1 Degree of Separation
Here I help others.
I give of my time at the food shelter or food bank. I personally assist a family in need. I hand out a meal or money to someone on the street. I mentor at a younger kid at their school. I build the ramp for a family, clean the gutters of the elderly.
Here I am personally engaged with those I am serving. There is no middle person; rather, I am giving what I have to the benefit of others firsthand.
An important distinction here is that there is still a bit of disconnection between me and those I serve. This will make sense as we look at the next degree.
0 Degrees of Separation
Here I am the others I am serving.
This is incarnational ministry, which means I am living in the world with those whom I am serving. In one sense, this might simply mean my family, my co-workers, or my neighbors. It’s those people in my small group or circle of friends.
Here there is no "us and them." It’s all us. I am in the same boat as that person. Their concerns are my concerns because we inhabit the same world. Here service is very much based in relationship. It’s not about giving away money or resources (though that’s not excluded). It’s not about building something for someone (though that’s no excluded). Things are much messier here than in the first two degrees because this is real life. It deals in relational currency, and because I can’t escape into another place I must face conflicts and tension in my ground zero world. This is perhaps the most difficult and most rewarding world of serving others.
Another way of this becoming a reality is that those whom I serve in the 1 degree world become my 0 degree world. Instead of assisting the people who live in those apartment homes, I move to live in those apartment homes. Instead of going into the neighborhood to offer help, I move into that neighborhood. In doing this, I have become part of the world in which I seek to serve.
We need each degree in our lives. To live fully into the missional calling means I consider how I serve in each of these degrees. As I move closer in degree, I must be more intentional and focused on why I am serving who I am serving in that world. I can’t be incarnational with many people, only those in my neighborhood or walk of life. And so each circle gets smaller as each degree demands more of me in time, energy, and resources.
So, I’m asking these questions: Where am I serving in these three areas? Could I fill in an organization, group of people, or person in each category?
What about you? What does each degree mean for you, and how is it lived out in your life?
Written by Mark
The other night I was watching Jimmy Fallon, and part of an interview jumped out to me. Jimmy had Terry Crews on his show. For those of you that don’t know, Terry is an actor who first became famous because of some strangely funny Old Spice commercials and has since become a well known movie actor as well.
On the show, he’s talking to Jimmy about break dancing (which is comical in of itself because he’s a huge muscular guy) and then Jimmy asks him where he gets all his energy. His answer? Gratitude.
Terry Crews is no expert on life, just like none of us really are, but I think he’s right about this. Giving thanks unlocks something within us. It breaks down walls and unleashes life.
Just type “the effects of gratitude” into Google and you get article after article about how it improves your social, psychological, physical, and spiritual health. Over and over again, studies show that gratitude opens us up to a better life.
In 1 Thessalonians, Paul says something similar to Terry. He says, “give thanks in all circumstances.” For Paul, giving thanks was key to the way he lived life. Paul was not living some extraordinarily fine life either. He was often thrown into prison, beaten, and persecuted. So to say “give thanks in all circumstances” carries a lot of punch coming from him.
So what’s Paul giving thanks for? For him thanksgiving is grounded in the assurance of God’s love. We often call this salvation, and for Paul, salvation wasn’t just a postmortem reality but an in-this-very-present-day kind of reality. No matter the circumstance, Paul could look around and give thanks for the blessing of God’s love and purpose in his life.
I think gratitude reminds us that every day is a gift. It reminds us that we are always connected to others for various reasons - that where we are today was due in part to the help, generosity, and goodness of others and God. And when we put on this lens, everything changes.
Not only that, but when gratitude is unleashed, generosity is right on its heels. I’ve heard that gratitude is the gateway to generosity, and if Terry Crews and all those articles are right, then this too would make sense.
We are more generous with our time to others.
We are more generous with our compliments.
We are more generous with money and resources.
So if Paul, Terry Crews, and all those articles are onto something, then gratitude is an art to be developed. Paul and Terry seem to be pointing to another important thing about gratitude. It’s not just about what I feel thankful for, but what I can find to be thankful for.
If I’m just waiting for the feeling of gratitude instead of looking for reasons to give gratitude, then I’m missing it. Again, Paul’s words remind us that gratitude is something we can always be seeking out in every circumstance.
I wonder what a little gratitude every day would unlock for me? Maybe my patience in Houston traffic would increase. Maybe my generosity to strangers on the street would increase. Maybe my love for my wife when I got home would be more caring. Maybe something I never dreamed of in the morning would become a reality because gratitude unlocked a hidden potential in me that day.
What might gratitude unleash in you?
Written by Mark
This month our contributors are sharing their favorite Bible verses.
Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
Over the years, this verse has kept me grounded in my faith. As a teenager, when my faith was just taking root, this verse jumped out to me. It was the words “fight the good fight” that always inspired me. In junior high, I was undersized, and when it came to sports, I always felt like I had to play harder to compensate. So when I read the words “fight the good fight of faith” it became my mantra about what it meant to live with passion, determination, and heart. It meant that I did it the right way and never gave up.
Somewhere along the way, this life mantra began to take new shape for me. As I began to learn about Jesus more and more, I began to realize that the way he fought the good fight is very different than how I originally applied this scripture to my life.
One example of this can be found with a simple Google search for the phrase: “fight the good fight.” Many of the images that come up have boxing gloves and swords. Some even a knight in full armor.
Growing up these were the same kind of images I thought of too. But now, images like these risk missing the point because to fight the good fight means fighting like Jesus would fight. And as I’m learning, Jesus fought in a way that was very different than throwing punches or swinging swords.
I don’t think Paul had in mind inspiring athletic performance when he wrote this letter (though admittedly when I play sports, it still inspires me to play hard). He was talking about a much bigger mission: what it means to live life as a follower of Christ. For me, this is where the verse has grown more depth and appreciation as I continue to learn how Jesus fought.
Jesus’ way of fighting the good fight of faith was to heal the sick, free the captive, love the enemy, and care for the lost and lonely. A Jesus fight acts for justice, seeks mercy, and walks humbly. A Jesus fight walks toward the mess not to obliterate it, but to restore and heal it. In the most clear picture of a Jesus fight, we see a man willing to bear the cross so that others might live.
There’s certainly a grittiness to the way Jesus fought the good fight. It was real and authentic, but it was also very subversive. To fight like Jesus is to do the hard, and often meek, work of serving others. It really is quite simple, but certainly not easy.
So yes… this verse still reads like a life mantra for me. Having fight is still about living with passion, determination, and heart. It still means moving forward in the face of opposition. However, as God continues to work in me, I’m learning to also fight as Jesus fought.
Written by Mark
This post continues part 3 of our 3-part series based on Matthew 22:36-40:
About three years ago I started back with on old habit from my childhood... reading Calvin and Hobbes.
There’s something especially unique about this comic strip. Partly it’s the animation - the use of color and imagination in the comic strip itself. Partly it’s the honest and often hilarious, sometimes even deep, portrayal of reality through the eyes of 6-year-old Calvin.
More than anything else though, Calvin and Hobbes captures the sense of adventure and imagination I remember having as a young kid.
I’m reminded of how Jesus would tell people things like - “Have childlike faith.” What’s that supposed to mean, anyway? Well, I’m sure it means many things, but I believe one of those many things is to retain a sense of childlike adventure.
A playground is not just a playground to kid. It’s an imaginary world of some far off galaxy or a western landscape begging for you to find its lost treasure. Even a box isn’t a box to kid... it’s a spaceship, a time machine, a duplicator, a transmogrifier...
In life and faith, it’s a sense of adventure that helps us feel alive. It’s what can bring us a sense of hope and wonder. Even if you don’t believe in any of the stuff that Jesus talked about or claimed, his advice to have a childlike adventure is great for us all.
“...nothing is more unnerving or disorienting than passionately pursuing God. And the sooner we come to terms with that spiritual reality, the more we will enjoy the journey. I cannot, in a good conscience, promise safety or certainty. But I can promise that chasing the Wild Goose will be anything but boring!”
But I would also add - I don’t think there’s a greater adventure than that of being a Christ-follower or going where “the Wild Goose” may lead you. So, more than anything else… try asking God what’s next… then get ready to go.
You could see the desperation in his eyes. He was so ashamed and embarrassed. He was seeking help as a last chance effort. So I did my best. I got him in contact with someone that could help, and together we took Rusty to the hospital.
From there, I moved on. All I knew was that he detoxed at the hospital and they got him connected with a rehab facility in Missouri. Honestly, I was just glad he made it through the night.
Not a week later I saw Rusty again. I needed to pick him up at the bus station because he was coming home to get his car that he left at the church. He’d spent maybe 5-6 days at rehab in Missouri...
Sometimes the Glory of God is overwhelming. Sometimes God shakes us to the bone. Sometimes all you can do is smile because of how great God is. Words simply do not work.
When I saw Rusty the second time, it could not have been a more opposite situation. Transformation at its best! Rusty was radiating with joy. It was contagious and amazing. He sounded like a man who had sat with God for 5-6 days.
As we drove back to the church, he described what he was going through. He talked about how God had changed him. The old had gone, and the new was beaming through! It remains the most beautiful comeback story I have personally experienced.
This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
But the truth is, I really am as desperate for God as Rusty. I may not realize it most days or want to admit it, but just as much as Rusty needed the power of God to work in him, so do I need God’s power to work miracles in me.
I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!
It’s my desire that I would be as desperate for God, as self-emptying of myself, and as renewed by God’s power as I witnessed in Rusty. And so this is my prayer: “God, less and less of me, and more and more of you.”
We’ve all sat in a meeting/class/small group that felt like you needed to just get up and do something rather than talk anymore. You’ve talked and talked and talked and by the end of it...your head is numb.
Often those meetings have another side effect: numb legs. If I sit for too long, my legs go to sleep and my lower back feels numb. The worst part is when you attempt to stand up and walk it out. You try to get up and walk only to have that horrible tingly feeling all over as you wobble around until your legs are normal again.
This is true in other areas of life as well. I can sit all day reading on social media or news websites about what is going on in the world: the hurts, struggles, and disasters. As I read, it may stir something in me, but the longer I sit there and mine down into the internet abyss, the more it becomes just another story about something happening somewhere that is kinda sad. I've become numb.
If there’s one emotion that is the opposite of numb, it’s love. When you’re “in love,” you are overwhelmed with emotion. When you’re compelled by love, you live passionately. When you see a loving act, it moves your soul. Love is the antithesis of apathy. In fact, some acts of love can radically change your world in a moment.
Hundreds of students and teachers from many faiths, races, and varying backgrounds joined together.They laid on the ground showing with their bodies and voices that they laid down their lives to lift up the lives of those who were experiencing injustice. Jesus’ words in John 15:13 rattled in my head...
I watched and was moved to tears.
I can’t tell you all the emotions I felt at that moment, but as I watched, my heart broke. It broke for my fellow brothers and sisters who have been told their lives are not quite as equal as other lives. It broke because I realized my apathy for so long was part of the injustice.
My mind had been numbed for so long, but now as I watched and eventually joined in raising my voice with them, I was being awakened by loved. Like when your legs wake up, it was awkward and it tingled, but as I began to let my heart be changed by their love, the numbness fell away and I was able to begin to move and act in love with them.
My hope for you reading this is that you would get up, work out those awkward first steps, and go where love compels you to go. If you can get up and engage into the world, it will change things. It can be awkward and hard as your legs tingle and you wobble around until feeling is restored, but it will wear off and you’ll be able to move forward once again.
I’m sure that special gift was nice, but the reason it was extra special had to do with something other than the actual gift. I bet the reason (the why) for the gift was more meaningful than the gift (the what) because of who gave it to you or why they gave it to you.
The opposite is true as well. Even a good gift, given with no love, can leave us feeling sour. I think that’s because when it comes to giving and receiving gifts, “the why” behind the gift always matters more than “the what.”
This time of year it’s easy to let “the what” replace “the why.” We hang lights. We go to parties. We give gifts. But when Christmas becomes more about the lights, parties, and presents, it begins to lose its magic.
So what’s “the why”? Well for me it’s captured quite well in a popular verse: John 3:16.
Have you ever received a compliment that really mattered to you? It’s one thing to hear a compliment from an acquaintance, but another to hear it from someone near and dear. When a parent, coach, spouse, or deeply respected peer says “good job,” it echoes in our souls longer.
In the New Testament, God is described as Heavenly Father - the perfect parent. The one who cares for us deeper than we can imagine. The one who cries when we cry. The one who celebrates when we succeed. The one offering a hand and some hope when we fall down.
The gift of Christmas begins with the quality of the one giving - God.
“For God so loved the world that he gave”
If the person giving wasn’t enough, the reason for God’s gift should be. Giving and generosity are at the heart of what it means to celebrate the arrival of Jesus. God gave because God loves. And it's not just a general love, but a personal one -
for the world.
A friend once carved for me a personalized walking stick (sounds weird, but it was really cool). All over this walking stick were my favorite verses and other tidbits that had been carved by hand. Partly I loved the gift itself, but mostly I loved that my friend took the time to make the gift. Over a decade later I can still look at that walking stick and feel the echo of being loved in my soul.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…”*
The truth is God could have given anything and it would’ve been great because of who gave it and why it was given. The amazing thing about Christmas is it combines the greatest of all three: the who, the why, and the what. The person behind the gift is a Heavenly Father desperately in love with the world he created. The reason behind the gift is the very love driving the Father to give all he can to what he loves. And of course, the gift itself - a Son sent to redeem the world.
It’s hard to say “the what” in this scenario outweighs “the why” because it’s “the why” of Christmas that makes “the what” so special. Even still, it’s one incredible gift!
*The rest of this verse is quite good as well - worth a read.
In the church, we call this time of year Advent. It’s a time where we anticipate something very different than deals and markdowns. We look forward to a brighter day and a greater future. We await a gift far better than anything Best Buy or Amazon can offer.
So what if during the season of Advent we stopped thinking about material gifts we want to receive and focused on using our God-given gifts to bless others? In this blog series, our contributors will explore just that. Stay tuned.
The 12:12 Project is sponsored by Katy First United Methodist Church.
Book Of Mark
Favorite Bible Verses
Fruits Of The Spirit
Gratitude & Generosity
Love In Action
Series On Matthew 22:36 40
Walking By Faith