Ep 15 – Preparing the Soil: Helping Liberian Cocoa Farmers be Fruitful

In this episode you will hear from three people who recently returned from visiting a rural Liberian village.  While there, they shared the gospel, discipled believers, trained teachers, dedicated the Mack and Pattie Hannah library, provided health education, and listened to local Cocoa farmers talk about what they need to be successful.

Out of those conversations, a vision has developed for a Christ-centered Cocoa Processing Facility that has the potential to change the lives of many families in the Gbansue village.

Check out episodes 6 & 7 of the Mission Life podcast for an interview with Jessy Togbadoya, founder of the Balama Development Alliance, the ministry featured in this podcast.

Also visit www.balamaproject.org



Day 40: The Kingdom We Need

“After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.”  Acts 1:3

“Now have come the salvation and the power
    and the kingdom of our God,
    and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
    who accuses them before our God day and night,
    has been hurled down.
 They triumphed over him
    by the blood of the Lamb
    and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
    as to shrink from death.”  Revelation 12: 9 – 11

The question isn’t what kind of world do we want, but rather, what kind of world do we need.

After 40 straight days (and over 43,000 words!) of blogging about the kingdom of God I am convinced more than ever that our world is subject to a weird brew of beauty and suffering so that we might seek something greater, more powerful than both.

We yearn for a world free from pain and suffering.  I watch as friends fight disease for one more day of life.  People protest in the streets demanding ‘justice’ without knowing where their dreams derive.  Thousands upon thousands of non-profits work with razor thin budgets to try and change lives and bring relief as best they can.  Families take in other’s children only to see more enter the system.

We know we are in a broken world.  Yet, so many pretend it is overcome with just a tweak here and there.  Do this.  Do that.  Sit this way.  Empty your mind.  Pay more taxes.  Distract yourself.

Yet results are temporary at best and promise more than deliver.

What then is our problem?  What is the solution?

Could it be that our deepest need in this world is not  comfort, security, or prosperity? Could it be that what we need most is Someone to be with us in this world and to overcome our selfish wills that strive to save ourselves?

Could it be that we have wandered off course?  And like the prodigal we need to ‘come to ourselves’, stand up, and go home?

Could it be that we are in need of a King and his kingdom?  Are our dreams so small as simply to imagine a ‘better world’ or even a world that suits our desires?

Christianity holds out a big hope for this world, for you and me.  We believe we were created for another kind of reality.

So when Jesus comes and announces a kingdom unlike any other has arrived, we take notice.  And when he describes life in that kingdom, something in us awakens.  It sounds good.  It sounds right.

It sounds like what we need.

Yet we struggle because in large part our problem comes down to authority.  Who is ruling our lives?  Are we chasing rulers who will finally set things right?  Are we hoping in ‘progress’ or technology?  Are we trusting only in ourselves?

If we stop our striving for long enough, we can hear the voice of one calling us to him.  He made us.  He knows us.  He created us for himself.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”  Jesus, Matthew 11: 27 – 29

We need his loving reign in our lives for he alone sees everything and knows what we need.  We were not meant to run our own lives or run this world for that matter.   We were meant to be loved and free.

We were not meant to play gods, splashing about in mud puddles thinking we are doing fine while we miss the vast ocean of God’s glorious Christ and his kingdom just behind us. 

We were meant to live with God and each other in his kingdom.  This is the world Jesus knew, saw, and described in his teachings and parables.  It was the hope of the law and the prophets.  Secretly it’s the hope of all of us.

But power and self rule are alluring.  Just try harder.  Keep improving yourself.  Elect the right person and all will be well.   Live how you want and do whatever makes you happy. God will understand.  Get back to a better day.

Don’t miss this.  A new day has come.  The long awaited kingdom has come.    It’s the world we need, the world for which we were created.

This gospel of the kingdom has become a main theme in my life and how I describe the vision of Christianity for this world.  My goal is not to populate heaven as if our need is to simply escape this sinful place.  My goal is not win people to my group as if God had a favorite team.

My goal is to proclaim what Jesus proclaimed, to teach and to demonstrate what his earliest followers did.  I speak it to others who have simply believed in an individualized gospel of escape that misses the glory and hope of God’s kingdom coming.

I speak it to followers of other faiths who are unsure of God’s love and are striving to save themselves. I speak it to busy people trying to maintain their own kingdom and who think they are good enough already.

I speak it so that people understand Christianity is not about going to church or trying to live good lives.  Our problem is much deeper.  The solution is much more glorious!

But, I speak it to myself first.  For I know the kingdoms that wage war in my own soul.  Kingdoms of self, of others approval.  Kingdoms of nation and pride.

But there is another kingdom at work, whose King is patiently fighting back the other kingdoms.  He reminds me that my kingdom is an illusion, that others are sinners just like me, and that every kingdom of this earth will eventually pass away.

So I relent daily.  My prayer has become thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Let this be true IN me first and then THROUGH me.

In seeking Christ and his kingdom I have found freedom, purpose, meaning, joy, power, and a source of love in Christ that goes beyond what I know of myself.

Repent.  Turn to Christ.  Be born anew.  Gain a fresh start.  Receive the King and his kingdom and let the seed grow in and through you.  Join the global movement of the people seeking God’s kingdom and his righteousness. 

No other king or kingdom offers the hope that Jesus and the kingdom of God does.

For this we were made.  This is the world we need.

“The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!”  Revelation 11:15

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe…”  Hebrews 12: 28

Day 39: The Kingdom Story

It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo.
The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were,
and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end.
Because how could the end be happy. 

How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened.
But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow.
Even darkness must pass. A new day will come.
And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.
Those were the stories that stayed with you.
That meant something. Even if you were too small to understand why.
But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now.
Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t.
Because they were holding on to something.

“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”  Mark 1:15

There was a moment when God created everything and called it good.  He created man and woman in his own image, giving them the responsibility to rule over creation under his own rule.

And for a time man and woman lived under the full reign of God.  They knew God and talked with him.  Nothing was hidden.  Nothing was broken.
But then a tempter came with the promise that they too could rule.  They could be like God if they wanted.  So, the man and woman rebelled and rejected God’s authority.  They became suspicious of God and each other.
As a result, they hid.  Their world started to break.  God came to them and asked what had happened.  They blamed each other, not accepting the full weight of their rebellion.
In turn, God sent them into exile, out of the garden he had walked with them in so many times.  Away from fellowship, now the man and woman would wander seeking to rule and be ruled.
But God had a plan to not only redeem the humans he created but also to establish his reign in their hearts once again.  He never stopped being King but humanity did not honor him as such.  So, how could he do fulfill this plan without destroying them, without simply making them surrender to his loving reign?
He watched as humanity misused its authority and how life in exile made them worship idols and pursue all sorts of corruption.  Yet, he saw one who was humble and decided that through him he would establish a great nation which would be a blessing to all nations.
Through this man Abraham and his wife God gave them a son and from this son eventually the new nation of Israel would come.  Israel would be God’s kingdom on earth.  She would demonstrate to the world, to those living in exile and rebellion, God’s character, power, and purposes.
Israel would be his people and he would be there God.  They would have no need for earthly kings.  But, alas, as in the time of the garden, once again humanity rejected God as king.
Israel begged for an earthly king just like all the other kingdoms.  So, God in his patience and wisdom, allowed them to pursue this folly.  He knew an earthly king would demand more than deliver.  He told his people as much.
And so throughout their history, Israel’s kings either led them toward faith and knowledge of God or away into idolatry.  But, there was one king that stood above them all.  His reign was like no other.  He would become the  greatest king Israel had ever known.  And through him a final king would come.
David wasn’t a perfect king but he was a man who pursued God.  And God promised that the throne of David would be established forever through a future king of kings.
So for centuries Israel lived under the rule of earthly kings and sought forgiveness from God through sacrifices, worship of God through offerings and remembering the acts of God through festivals.  Times were good.  Times were bad.  They were faithful to God.  Other times their kings thought themselves gods.
As time passed, prophets reminded Israel of their purpose to be a blessing to the nations and that a future king would come to establish the kingdom of God forever on the earth.   His rule would never end.  The might and glory of God would flow through Israel into every nation.
But when that would come nobody knew.  In the meantime, Israel, God’s people, the kingdom of God on earth, lived under the rule of other nations – Babylon and eventually Rome.
And the people cried out for deliverance.  But, once again, God had a plan.  He would demonstrate his glory and establish his reign through Israel even if that meant sending them into exile so he could do so.  Through their exiles, God would demonstrate his power to the most powerful nations on earth at the time.
Eventually God looked down and saw that the time had come.  The time for the Messiah, the king sent from God, had arrived.  Perhaps he looked at his son and said, “Go and do what I tell you.  Announce my kingdom has come. Show them how to live, really live, with me as their king.  Now is the time for my kingdom to spread through Israel to the nations as it always was planned.”
And so Jesus entered the world.  He was the promised king of kings.  The final king of the Jews.  But before he could go public with the good news, he had to be tested.  What kind of king would he be?
After having passed the test, he began going town to town announcing the kingdom had come.  He was the long awaited King.  But he was not what they expected.  He was not what most of them wanted.
Jesus came announcing the kingdom of God had arrived.  This kingdom which Israel had sought and anticipated for centuries was now here.  But, in what way?  What would it look like?   Were these just empty promises?
Some believed and listened to what Jesus had to say about the kingdom.  It was the topic of his ministry.  He announced it, demonstrated its power, and said that it had come near in him.
But, what he said and did was not what the leaders of Israel expected the Messiah to do.  They thought the arrival of the kingdom and the King would mean Israel’s vindication and liberation.  They thought Israel would finally be established as the great kingdom on earth forever.
To bring this about, some advocated separation and lived out in the wilderness so they could pray and seek God without interference.   Others sought armed rebellion against the Roman oppressors.  Still others thought compromise with the Romans was the best way forward.  Finally the Pharisees thought strict devotion to the Law was the way that God would have them live.
Life in exile can be confusing.  And figuring out how to live with God as your king while you are ruled by other kingdoms can be confusing too.
So when Jesus came announcing the kingdom had come in him, many people expected him to take their side.  Yet he did not advocate separation, or war, or compromise or legalism.  Instead, he taught another way.  He demonstrated another way.
In him God was establishing his rule in human hearts once again.  He was showing people the character, the power, the purposes of God that Israel was always meant to show.  He taught them how the law and prophets pointed to himself.
In Jesus we see what it means to live with God as your king.  It’s an upside down, counter intuitive way of living.  The humble, merciful, pure in heart, persecuted are blessed.  You love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.  You don’t worry but trust the God who takes care of flowers and birds.  You speak truth.  You recognize sin in your heart not just your actions.  You refrain from judgment because you too have a judge.
You can not buy your way in but must seek God above all things.  You can not religion your way in but must be made new.  You can not think you way in but must repent and seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness.
This is some of what it means to live with God as your king.  It also means abandoning your life and agenda for the life and agenda of God.  It may mean your very life to gain eternal life.
And to some, the announcement and demonstration of the kingdom of God in Jesus was good news, really good news.  But, to others it was a threat.
So, once again, the people rejected the King sent by God and had him killed.  Once again God would show his power to the most powerful nation on earth at the time.
God establishing his kingdom on earth meant more than ethical teachings. It meant more than miracles and concern for the poor.  It meant setting the humans free from their enemy, paying their debt, restoring their honor, and coming close to them once again through his Spirit.
So, God raised Jesus from the dead, gave hope to his despairing disciples, and firmly established that Jesus was now the world’s true Lord.  God’s kingdom had come.  Now it was time to take it to the nations!
God was ruling in Jesus.  He was now ruling in Jesus’ church, the ekklesia, the gathering of the kingdom on earth for the purposes of the King.  A new colony had been born on the earth, designed to spread naturally as a seed in dough or as a tiny mustard seed that eventually becomes the largest plant in the garden.
And the kingdom continues to spread until all nations hear the good news.  Then, Jesus will return to establish the kingdom in full forever.  Once again, God’s glory and reign will be reestablished over his creation.
The corruption, pain, evil, suffering, death, disease, poverty, crime, injustice, conditional love, broken relationships, oppression, addiction, depression that we know in this world will be done away with forever.  God has begun to make all things new in Christ.  The new creation has begun and will one day finally be completed in the new heavens and new earth.
Jesus taught that we will be with him.  But, our final place is not heaven.  No, its a new heaven and a new earth.
For God never stopped loving the creation he made, even though it continually rejected his loving rule.  And he found a way to draw people back to himself without forcing himself upon them or taking away their choice.
The kings and kingdoms of this earth are but a shadow of the kingdom we were meant to live in and the King we were meant to know.
All earthly kingdoms come and go.  But the kingdom of God will endure forever.
One day the king will return and pass judgment.  That’s good news in itself because the king is good.  But even better is the kingdom that will come once and for all.
Between now and then, those who seek God’s kingdom and pray for it are to announce it and invite everyone in.  For the long awaited kingdom of God has come.  May his will be done on earth as in heaven.

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.  ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”  Revelation 21: 1 – 5

Day 38: People of the Kingdom

He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man.  The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the people of the kingdom.”  Jesus,  Matthew 37-38

There is a reality about being a follower of Jesus that often goes unnoticed.  At first glance, people might identify a Christian by church involvement, beliefs, what they say, what they do.

But there is another reality at work.  We are citizens of God’s kingdom and wherever we go, the King goes.

Whether we go to the office, stay at home, travel to another country, live in a nice neighborhood or a rough one, go to high school or a University, are employed or unemployed, wherever we go we bring the kingdom with us.

Jesus described this in a parable about a man who sowed seed into his field but at night his enemy sowed weeds along with them.  Essentially bio-terrorism of that day, the owner decides not to pull up the weeds for fear of damaging the good wheat.

Jesus explains the field is the world and the good seed is the children of the kingdom.

Followers of Jesus have been sown out into the world to be a witness of the kingdom of God by how they live and grow.  We are not called to be separate from the world but to grow up alongside people who may not believe like us or even like us.

There is coming a time when Jesus will come and separate out his followers from the rest.  We may wonder at times why he doesn’t come back now and finally set things right.  We may wonder if he sees us and the trouble this world is in.

At the time, people anticipating the kingdom were looking for Israel’s honor to be restored and a separation of sorts to be made between them and the rest of the world.  God’s kingdom was Israel, or so they thought.  And once the Messiah showed up, judgment would come and God’s people would be finally set free, vindicated, and the wicked punished.

But Jesus’ version of the kingdom read differently.  He left his followers to live among wickedness in order to be a witness.  He sent the children of the kingdom to the Gentiles to bring them in, not judge them.

And so today we have the same identity and mission.  Those who have repented, are being born anew, who are seeking the kingdom of God and his righteousness, are children of the kingdom living in the field of the world.

As such we have a power available to us that many of the markers of being a Christian seem to lack.  We are not just “Christians’ in the cultural or religious sense.  We are not just living out categories of belief.

We are children of the kingdom, sons and daughters of our Father.  We need to remember this because we are often tempted to separate ourselves from the brokenness of this world in an effort to live what we think are Christian lives.

But where children of the Father go, there goes the kingdom.  We bring the kingdom with us into whatever situation we find ourselves.  The seed of the kingdom is powerful.  It has the potential to grow exponentially as any seed does.

We are seed, cast out intentionally into the world no matter what situation we are in or the people we are around.  We are not just “Christians” but children of the King and citizens of his kingdom colonizing the earth and bearing witness to his kingdom come.  Growing, living, shopping, working, playing, hanging out with fellow citizen and non.

Day 37: The King Passes Judgment

“My soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you. When your judgments come upon the earth, the people of the world learn righteousness.”  Isaiah 26:9

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”  2 Corinthians 5:10

“Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.”  Revelation 14:7

Since the earliest days of Christianity, it has been a strong belief that Jesus would one day return and pass judgment on this world.  Human history is headed somewhere.  As a result, our lives and our choices matter.

Is the judgment to come something to fear or is it a good thing?

In John 5, Jesus says that anyone who believe in him will not have to fear.  They won’t come into judgment.

“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life. Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.  And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.”  John 5: 22 – 27

At this point, the judgment to come is a good thing.  Throughout Scripture, in fact, the judgment of God is something to be anticipated and celebrated.

The judgment of God brought justice for Israel against her oppressors.  It brought truth and correction.

Then we should not fear the judgment of Christ.  Why?

Because of the character of the judge!

NT Wright points out that the one through whom God’s justice “will finally sweep the world is not a hard-hearted, arrogant, or vengeful tyrant but rather the Man of Sorrows, who was acquainted with grief; the Jesus who loved sinners and died for them; the Messiah who took the world’s judgment upon himself on the cross.”

We can trust this judge.  He can not be bought.  He shows no favoritism.  He hears the pleas of everyone.  He knows the heart.  He can not be fooled.

His judgment means joy and freedom for those who trust in him.

“so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
12 You will go out in joy
    and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
    will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
    will clap their hands.”  Isaiah 55: 11 – 12

But for those who think they can stand on their own works and who have not believed on Christ, judgment will come.  It is something to be feared.

But that too is ultimately a good thing.  In a world full of injustice, corruption, pride, anger, murder, genocide, oppression, slavery, greed, violence, arrogance, “the thought that there might come a day when the wicked are firmly put in their place and the those who trusted in Christ and sought his kingdom are given their due is the best news there can be.”

“The arrogance of man will be brought low
    and human pride humbled;
the Lord alone will be exalted in that day,
     and the idols will totally disappear.”  Isaiah 2:18

But judgment sounds so harsh to our modern ears.  We don’t like judgment.  We do like when Jesus tells people not to judge us.  But, we reserve the right to judge all we want.  We just don’t want God to judge us because we want to live however we want.

Judgment makes God sound unloving.  He should accept us as we are.  But, in a world like we live in, a loving God must pass judgment.  A loving God must do something to put things right.

This is the critique often lobbed at God – why doesn’t he do something?  Well, one day he will.  In fact he already has in Christ!  But, between then and his return, he is giving us chances to repent and enter the protection of his kingdom.

The ultimate judgment of God has been the anticipation throughout Scripture.  Wright notes that in Daniel 7 “one like a son of man” stands for Israel against the pagan Gentile nations.  The “Ancient of Days” presides over the court and rules in favor of the son of man against the pagan empires.  The son of man is then given authority and dominion over all the nations.

Wright continues to describe how this scene is transported into the New Testament.  There we find Jesus himself taking on the role of the son of man, suffering and then being given all authority in heaven and earth.  As in Daniel, Jesus receives from the Supreme Judge the “task of bringing judgment to bear on this world.”

“He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
    or decide by what he hears with his ears;
 but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
    with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
    with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
 Righteousness will be his belt
    and faithfulness the sash around his waist.”  Isaiah 11: 4 – 5

What will the result be?  Peace.  Wickedness and evil will be finally tossed aside.  Justice will reign.  The world will know righteousness.

“The wolf will live with the lamb,
    the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
    and a little child will lead them.”  Isaiah 11:6

Why doesn’t God do something about the evil in this world?  One day he will.  His judgment has already begun in Christ but will ultimately completed when we all stand before him.

History is headed somewhere.  Judgment is coming.  This is ultimately good news, even if it is not so good news for those who don’t believe.  For only through judgment can the world be made into what it was meant always to be.  Only through judgment can I become what I was meant to be in Christ.

And that day is something to seek, to pray for, to be about the Father’s business because we know it is coming.

“He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.”  Isaiah 2:4