by Carter Cox
Over the next 6 months I began intentionally reading my Bible for the very first time. It did not take long for the Spirit to break me under the weight of my sin, and need for a savior. The veil was pulled back from my eyes, and Jesus was unearthed as a treasure worth selling my whole life to gain. That June, of 2009, I knelt at my parent's bedside sobbing and begging Jesus to take control of my life, and to use me for His purpose - for these “greater things” that had yet to come.
The following day I was baptized in water by my father - yes for third and first real time. And though I had said for years, “I will never go into the ministry.” God made it abundantly clear through the message that day, that I would be serving Him and living sent with His gospel to others for the rest of my life.
The question was no longer, “what do I want to be when I grow up?” The question became, “What is the Father’s heart throughout all scripture, for all people, in all places, and what does Hewant me to do in participation with what He has been doing long before I was born?” The love I was told of Jesus for me, for the first time, began to extend outside of me to others. Boldly sharing the gospel with all my friends became the norm. Weekly we gathered at Rider’s home for an informal listening of God’s word, prayer, and accountability. We didn’t know what to call this gathering, so we just called it “The Group.” Joy crept into my heart with every step of obedience to Jesus’ commands. My affections began to change. My pursuit became obeying Jesus and teaching others to do likewise. I am new, brand new.
On paper it sounds nice. It sounds fast, just a few descriptive sentences apart. But in reality this took time. It took discipleship, and discipleship is messy. Even after becoming a born again follower of Jesus, with a new zeal for His Word, I was failing forward to say the least. I struggled to battle strongholds of sin, and did so kicking and screaming for the Spirit’s help.
With a passion to “go into ministry” (though looking back I was in the midst of an amazing ministry) I wanted formal training. That's what was modeled for me, so that's the model I followed. A door opened to move to Texas, and four years down the road I had run undergraduate degree from the College at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and began my masters at Southeastern. Throughout these four years the majority of my discipleship came from David Platt sermons, seminary professors, and theology textbooks.
Learning about God became my new hobby, I loved it. And I bet you can very well guess what kind of disciple I turned out to become, a disciple who thought he knew all there was to know - an Academic Theologian. This did not mean I was not attempting to obey Jesus, I was trying. I was trying to make disciples of the youth group I was shepherding. I was trying to share the Gospel. But with deeper and more complex theology filling my head, my passion began to wain. There was something I was missing in the midst of my academic pursuits; something beyond being groomed for the American ministry dream: Find a full time pastorate position at a large church, full salary with benefits, and time to bury myself in the commentaries and original languages to exegete, craft, and exposit exquisite sermons from a pulpit Sunday to Sunday. Again, this is what was modeled for me in seminary, so this is what I pursued.
Now, please don’t hear me saying that being a full time pastor, who preaches God’s Word is a bad thing. I can just see the faces of some of my relatives in full-time ministry reading that previous paragraph with disgust. Hear me out. Jesus proclaimed the Word of God, as did the Apostles. But even through learning to preach, and weekly hearing some of the best expository preaching around, I was in a growth slump. My intimacy with the Father was waning, as was my obedience. I have no one else to blame for this slump but myself. However, I do not think the seminary or local church ministry atmosphere helped the situation. The fire I first had to share His Gospel had dwindled to an an occasional spark. And I began to ask myself, “Is this the greater things God was talking about?”
In June of 2013, I was given a new position at MacArthur Blvd Baptist Church. This was a position with the goal to reach Hindus and Muslims. Needless to say, I felt way out of my league for the task. I knew there wasn't going to be a revival in the biblical languages anytime soon, so my strategy to make disciples was shot. Shortly thereafter I was invited to a discipleship and church planting training at e3 Partners headquarters in Plano, TX.
This week long training began with a former IMB missionary named Jeff Sundell training in a tool he called “The Father’s Heart.” There was nothing incredibly special about his presentation, or eloquent about his speech. He simply wrote up on the whiteboard 12 different scriptures spanning Genesis to Revelation and asked us to go read through the scriptures answering these two questions:
1. “To whom and how far does God’s mission extend?”
2. “Who will God use to accomplish His mission?”
The answer is essentially this: The Father’s heart throughout all scripture, is to bring redemption to all people in all places. And He uses all believers to accomplish this mission until there is literally #NoPlaceLeft.
In tears Jeff began to plead with us, snapping his fingers every one and a half seconds, “Each day 38,000 people in India enter a Christless eternity, that’s 1 person every time I snap my fingers.” He continued to snap. You could hear a tear drop, and many dropped in that moment. “Are we content,” Jeff asked, “to sit idly by with the greatest news in the world, while unreached people here and around the globe enter hell every moment without ever hearing the name of Jesus?”
Needless to say, the Spirit was moving in everyone's heart that first day of the training, but especially mine. “These are not simply the greater things Carter,” the Lord said in my heart, “this is the greatest thing...the only thing. Will you listen to me, obey me, and share me with others until there is #NoPlaceLeft?”
“Yes Lord, here I am. Send me.”
Throughout the day Jeff proceeded to train us on some simple ways to engage people far from God, pray for them, share a simple gospel presentation, and call them to respond. I was rife with excitement about the new knowledge I was receiving, but nothing prepared me for what Jeff said next:“Okay, you've learned and practiced some simple tools for evangelism and discipleship, you've come to see the Father’s heart throughout all scripture, now it's time to obey.” Immediately a lump in my throat developed, and hypothetical fears raced through my mind. “Pair up,” said Jeff, “2x2, just like Jesus sent His disciples in Matthew 10 and Luke 10, you too will go out into your communities to apply what you learned today. Don't come back tomorrow if you haven't at least tried to pray for and share with one person.”
I was in shock, “Lord!” I said, “this is legalism is it not?! I don't know enough yet!” I was abruptly interrupted with the verse He brought to my remembrance, “If you love me, you will obey me.” (John 14:15) “If you want to understand My heart Carter, then you must obey what I have commanded...Go, make disciples.”
Up Next: The Greatest Thing
Sentergy: When Jesus, People, Practice and Theology Collide
Chapter 1: The Glory of God
Chapter 2: The Glory of God in Jesus
Chapter 3: The Glory of God in the Gospel
Chapter 4: The Glory of God in Disciple Making
Chapter 5: If You Love Me You Will Obey What I Command
Chapter 6: Monday Morning Disciple Making
Chapter 7: Monday Morning Disciple Making Part 2
Interlude: The Father's Heart
Conclusion: The Lump In Your Throat