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Mission Trip Recap – Ruined In A Good Way

About a month ago I took a trip.  It was a trip out of the country.  I cannot say much about the actual trip for security reasons.  I will simply say I went to a place to meet with some men and women from other places to learn what they go through on a daily basis because they love Jesus.  I spent a week in that place.  It was my first trip like this.  I have been back home for over three weeks and I cannot get the people I met with out of my mind.  I cannot get the place I went to out of my mind.  I cannot get this burden for those people off of my heart.  I cannot stop being consumed with a desire to share the cause of the persecuted Church!  There is no ceasing in sight of my obsessive passion to see the Gospel of Christ taken to the ends of the world, and I pray that never ends!

The passion for Jesus I saw in these people was amazing.  He is all they have to cling to and that is a beautiful thing.  They have given up everything to follow Him.  It has cost them dearly.  And they would say it is the greatest thing in their life.  They cannot stop talking about it.

This is where this trip really wrecked me.  I talk a lot in a given day.  I talk to my wife.  I talk to my kids.  I talk to friends.  I talk to family.  I talk to coworkers.  I talk to random people.  I talk to myself.  I am normally constantly communicating in some form or fashion.  Yet what is it that I am communicating?  Work, random events, tv, sports, food, traffic, weather, etc.  You see I talk all the time.  Yet I seem to rarely use this amazing privilege to talk about the thing that matters the most.  I neglect to talk about the Gospel.

You see I have this ever growing yearning to be a part of taking the Gospel to the thousands of unreached people groups in hard to reach and dangerous places, yet I cower from taking the Gospel to my neighbor or friend or coworker.

The people I met with and learned from in that place face real legit danger for talking about Jesus and the Gospel in the places where they live.  In some of those places sharing the Gospel or giving someone a Bible is worse than terrorist activity.  They talk about Jesus and they lose their house or job or extended family, many times they are beaten or imprisoned.  Still they don’t stop talking about Jesus!  I am not going to lose my job or be cut off from my family or lose my house or be beaten or jailed.  If I talk about Jesus I might have people have a different opinion of me.  It might not fit the bill for the people pleasing person I normally am because it is off the normal script.  I don’t face real persecution for talking about Jesus yet I let fear prevent me from doing so far too often.

Maybe you are stronger and less of a coward at heart then I am but I highly suspect you are in the same boat as me.  So where do we go from here?  Where do I go from here?  How do I change?  How do I stop being a coward and use the amazing freedom I have to talk about the Gospel?  To begin with I need to pray.  To pray for courage and boldness.  To pray for wisdom.  To pray for discernment.  To pray to be led by the Spirit.  Then I need to act.  To tell.  To let the remembrance of the depth of the grace shown to me in the Gospel cause me to be consumed with sharing that same Gospel with the world.

I do feel as a result of my recent trip that missions will be a much larger part of my life than ever before.  I also think how I live and act and see things in my everyday life here and now has changed because of this trip.  I have nothing more important than to share the Gospel with those around me.  I pray you do the same.

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Posted by on July 8, 2015 in Life, Ministry, Missions

 

The Great Adventure: 20 Years In Ministry

Earlier this week my wife and I had a uncommon occasion where we were alone in the car while we drove to my parents to spend the evening with them at a couple of different events.  Since my mom keeps Bo and Lorelai during the day they were already there.  Stephanie and I took advantage of the rare drive with no DVD blaring from the backseat (I can probably quote all three Madagascar movies in their entirety even though I have never actually watched one of them) and at one point listened to a really old Steven Curtis Chapman cd.  This particular cd came up because Stephanie had tried to accuse me of singing the wrong lyrics to The Great Adventure right before we left our house.  Now I may have no clue who Justin Bieber or Drake or Ariana Grande (sounds like a Starbucks drink, I mean should I be ordering that right now instead of a venti pumpkin spice latte with two pumps hazelnut and two pumps cinnamon dolce?)  are and wouldn’t recognize a single song from any of them, but I do know old school contemporary Christian Music.  As we sang and laughed and told stories of growing up in our different youth groups I began to reminisce.  The next day I listened to the song some more, as well as a bunch of other music from that time in my life and from the last almost twenty years since high school.  As I did so I began to reflect on the past twenty years since September 04, 1994.

September 04, 1994 was a Sunday.  I remember it well.  It was Labor Day weekend.  My sister was home from college for the first time.  I had just started my junior in high school.  We (the MHS Buffs) had lost to Enid on Friday night.  On Saturday I had gone to a third birthday party for my pastor’s son at the caboose in the McDonalds parking lot in McAlester.  It was one of my Dad’s weekends to stay with Grandpa and take care of him.  We sat in a different place at church that Sunday.  It was just Mom, Julie, and me (dad was bringing Grandpa from Haileyville to our house in McAlester for lunch).  We were a typical Baptist family and had our normal spot; it was on the section to the right a few rows from the front.  But that Sunday we sat in the middle even closer to the front, right in the middle of the youth section.  I couldn’t tell you what we sang or what Dr. Adams’ sermon was about but that day I quit fighting with God about the course and direction of my life.  For over a year I had been wrestling with God over ministry.  The previous summer I had gone to Centrifuge youth camp at Glorieta New Mexico with a small group of youth from the church.  In the prayer garden one night I began to feel God tell me that I would be used by Him and be in ministry.  I fought that hard for the next 14 months.  On that Sunday I said yes to God and publically surrendered my life to ministry and it has been an adventure ever since.

I began meeting with my pastor (Randy Adams) once or twice a week and learning from him.  We would talk about ministry and life.  He would take me on hospital visits and he helped me increase my prayer life with how he drove his 1964 Mustang.  I learned so much from him.  I have continued to learn from him over the years and am thankful for God using him in my life.  One thing he told me back then that I have never forgotten is that ministry is not about the glamour or prestige.  I have not always lived that truth but it has been in those times where I have learned the depth of this truth in at times painful ways, but more on that later.

Besides meeting with Dr. Adams I was also one of the youth leaders of a local youth breakfast we had at our church every Thursday morning called Good Morning World.  An older Italian gentleman (Art Quadracci) in our church led Good Morning World and he would always pick one or two youth to help find devotional speakers and to invite groups like the football or basketball teams.  I also was a leader for our local FCA and help organize events and huddle group activities, although looking back we did not meet nearly as often as we should have.  During my senior year I started teaching in the RA’s and helping with the kid’s ministry.  I also had the opportunity to preach my first two sermons that year.  My first sermon was at First Southern Baptist Church Crowder, Oklahoma, which is where I was baptized in 1986.  My second sermon was at First Baptist Church Haileyville, Oklahoma.  It was the church where my dad grew up, where my parents were married, and where my mom’s dad that I never got to know, my grandpa Jim Boyd, preached.  Having that opportunity to preach in both of those places was a tremendous blessing.

When I graduated high school I went to Oklahoma Baptist University and continued my adventure in ministry.  I had my first few ministry positions while at OBU which included serving as a youth minister at a rural church about an hour away from school, working at the largest youth camp in the USA, and working at my parents’ church in Ardmore, OK with the youth and college students.  Since college I have served in full time roles, bi-vocational/part time roles, and unpaid/volunteer roles.  Some of the time I have found my income from sales and retail management jobs during the latter two seasons.  I have learned from and been blessed in every season of ministry I have experienced.  I have worked with kids, youth, college students, young professional singles, married parents, and senior adults.  I have been a youth minister, college director, intern, interim, missional pastor, and senior pastor.  I have preached to a congregation of 4 and been on stage to lead a prayer in front of 7,000+.  I have shared the Gospel with groups while sweaty and dirty on a high element ropes course, preached in a suit and tie, and everything in between.  I have had the privilege to marry people and the responsibility of bringing comfort at a funeral.  I have held young babies and sat with those taking their last breath.  I have baptized young and old including in a pond that might have had snakes in it.  My first sermon was a ten page typed manuscript that took just over 5 minutes, and I have shared with no notes at all for over an hour.  I have worked in really small churches, really big churches, really old churches, and with one church from the birth of it up till it was ready to launch.

Some of the greatest high points of my life have come from ministry as well as some of the lowest of low.  Apart from my wedding day and the birth of my kids the greatest memories I have are from ministry, but also a few years ago as I had an almost complete nervous breakdown on the side of the road while driving to children’s camp I thought ministry was going to kill me.  As I reflect back to those highs and lows I really see something profound.  The lows came when I started to think too much of myself and forget what ministry is about it.  They came in part because of my own pride and my own issues with control and power.  The highlights of 20 years of ministry are definitely people I have gotten to know and spend time with.  That Thursday morning breakfast I helped lead, Good Morning World, well one of my tasks was to find speakers.  A lot of times I didn’t find anyone and I would wind up speaking.  I cannot tell you a single thing I talked about or a single verse I used.  I know I used scripture each time.  I can, however, tell you the names of three younger guys I gave rides to each week – Adam, Ben, and Stephen.  Adam kept doing that after I graduated.  He would go and pick up other kids and give them rides.  He is married and is a dad, he has been teaching in Korea and is in the process of moving back to the US.  Ben is a great dad and just moved from Michigan to Austin.  Stephen, he was the annoying kid I was never excited about having to take, he was Ben’s little brother.  He is now a tremendous worship leader and an author too.  God has used him amazingly since Jr. High.  There is also the group of guys I used to hang out with at Ardmore FBC and spend time talking and sharing about life.  One, Matt, is a worship leader at a church campus here in OKC and is just a great young guy.  Another, Brett, is a pastor and church planter in Muskogee, OK and if it was not over an hour away I would go to his church to hear him preach and have him as my pastor.  God has used these two and others from that small group of guys immensely and it has been my joy to watch.  A few of them are struggling in life and not living for God and I pray for them daily.

Now I am not taking any credit at all for Stephen or Matt or Brett.  I doubt I had anything to do with their spiritual development.  I just hung out with them.  On the flip side the times I have been power happy and concerned with my image too much and wanting to be seen as a leader because of my title or position have brought about those low and gut wrenching times.

So to bring this all together I would unquestionably say that if I have learned anything over the past twenty years it is what Dr. Adams taught me all those years ago.  It is that ministry is not about the glamour or the prestige.  It is about loving God and loving people and seeking to love people by serving them.  Jesus told us this when James and John’s mother wanted them to be the greatest.  He replied:

You know those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  But it shall not be so among you.  But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Mark 10:42b-45.

The last twenty years have without a doubt been a great adventure and I hope the next twenty years and the next twenty years beyond that are even greater still.

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2014 in Bible, Family, Friends, Life, Ministry

 

The Value Of A Smile

Have you ever been somewhere, perhaps a coffee shop, or a bookstore, maybe out on a date with your spouse or shopping for groceries and you receive really great service but the waiter, or barista, or cashier never smiles? Kind of makes the service less than memorable doesn’t it? Now what about the reverse, how many times have you received less than the best service but with a constant smile and you were able to overlook some minor things. Now what about horrible service and no smile; that you definitely remember. I bet you also remember the times you got great service complimented with a good smile.

There is something about a smile that leaves a lasting impression on others. It can brighten someone’s day. It can also be a conversation starter that can give you an opportunity to share the Gospel with others. So today share a smile with all you can.

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2012 in Culture, Life, Ministry

 

Quarrelsome Nature & Ministry

I know quite a few quarrelsome people.  In fact more than a few people would even say that I might be one, depending upon what point of my life they knew me.  I admit I have a very stubborn nature and always want to be right.  I am seeking daily to bring that more under the Gospel and to let God change me in that.  Sometimes I read verses that make me wonder if people who are quarrelsome should be in ministry or not.  Here are some of them.

1The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.2Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,3not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.  1 Timothy 3:1-3

23Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.24And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil,25correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,  2 Timothy 2:23-25

7For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain,8but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined.9He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.  Titus 1:7-9

Not quarrelsome.  The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone.  He (the overseer) must not be arrogant or quick tempered.  I think this is a fairly clear issue.  Those in ministry that have the office of Elder, or Overseer, or Pastor should not be quarrelsome.  We should not go looking for a fight.  Now we do need to ferociously protect the sheep, but we should not always be getting in silly and petty arguments.  I wonder how this would change our blog posts and tweets and status updates if we really took this too hard and sought, as Romans 12:18 tell us, to live at peace with all men.  I think we would be able to squelch many of needless fights and focus more on spreading the Gospel.

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2012 in Bible, Ministry

 

Success In Ministry

How should one define success in ministry?  I think this is a very tough and very hard question.  To answer it I am simply going to share a passage of scripture, then some thoughts.

20Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something.21And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.”22Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.”23He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.”24And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers.25But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.26It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,27and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,28even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Matthew 20:20-28

The great among you must be your servant, and the first among you must be your slave.  This tells me that success in ministry is vastly different than anything else we know or see in this world.  We do not judge success the same way as the world.  Our success is not in just numbers.  Our success is not in budgets.  Our success is not even measured very quickly.  Rather it is how deeply did we penetrate the place to which we were called/sent with the Gospel or how much did we serve the people in a way that drew them into the Gospel of Christ.  These are not things easy to quantify.  They are hard and difficult, but they are the questions we should be seeking to answer as we evaluate ourselves.  Not just our crowds and offering plates.

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2012 in Ministry

 

The Gospel & Justice Ministries

We hear a lot about how the Gospel anymore and we hear a ton about this thing called social gospel or social justice.  What do they have to do with one another if anything?   Yes and no.  I am not sure you can have one without the other.  You can try, but that would be a misrepresentation of Scripture.  To just have the Gospel and it not affect how you live is to have a shallow Gospel.  To just care about the poor and needy and not deal with your own sin before God is to have no Gospel at all.  To have a complete and whole Gospel, we need one that presses deep into our sin and restores us with Christ.  However when that happens it will change our hearts to make us more in tune with God and His heart, which is a heart for the poor and the oppressed.  We have to get the Gospel right though, otherwise we are just spinning our wheels.

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2012 in Ministry

 

My Influences

Today I wanted to post about those that have greatly influenced me, my life, my theology and ministry.

  • My Grandpa – Cleadis Robert Gragg Sr.
  • My Step-Grandpa – Warren Pingleton
  • My mom’s dad (he passed away before I was born, but his legacy has impacted me) – Jim Allen Boyd
  • My dad- Cleadis Robert (Bob) Gragg Jr.
  • Joe Ray Land – pastor that baptized me
  • Bill Hart – pastor and denominational leader  in the McAlester, OK area that had a close relationship with our family
  • Randy Adams – my pastor in high school
  • Jimmy Williams – high school basketball coach
  • Bobby Kelly – one of my professors at OBU
  • Warren McWilliams – one of my professors at OBU
  • James Lankford – my former boss and mentor
  • Monte Dean – my brother-in-law
  • Jeremy Johnson – my best friend
  • Thomas Brewer – friend and accountability partner
  • Tommy Haines – former pastor and boss

Now for some public figures that have had an influence through writing and speaking ministries, both living and dead.

  • John Calvin
  • John Knox
  • Richard Baxter
  • Charles Spurgeon
  • Jonathan Edwards
  • Martin Lloyd-Jones
  • James Boice
  • Michael Horton
  • John Piper
  • Mark Driscoll
  • Matt Chandler
  • Matt Carter
  • Jared Wilson

I know none of these men are perfect.  I learn from them as I seek to grow in Christ.  I urge you to do the same with the influencers in your life.

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2012 in Ministry, Theology