Being a World Christian

My church has overwhelmed me with the response of obedience to this season of global mission giving. This is how we fulfill the Great Commission: together. The unity and faithfulness expressed in this offering is so encouraging!

I want to conclude this season of emphasis by saying this is not the conclusion. Giving of our resources is only the beginning of the call to give our lives. This is about being a World Christian. Not worldly Christian, World Christian.

If we want to be consistent in laying down our purposes in exchange for His purpose to reach the nations, it’s going to have to come from God and the Word. Lots of Scripture gets overlooked because we focus on the part about us. And the task becomes ignored or daunting. Either we don’t want to do it, or we don’t know what to do or how to do it. But God is not concerned with our ability, but our availability.*

We live in an age of unprecedented access and wealth. That’s why we need to look at leveraging our lives for the Kingdom. We can’t allow God’s blessings to become the very things that hold us back because we aren’t willing to sacrifice them. What if our children became arrows we shoot into the darkness, rather than setting them up to pursue the American Dream? What if our jobs become the entry-point into limited access countries? What if our time in retirement isn’t meant to be spent coasting out the remainder of our lives on the sideline?

We are each where we are in this time and this place to reach our neighborhood, our city, and the places God sends us around the world. I want to end by reading an excerpt from a book by Dr. Todd Ahrend, who is a mission mobilizer right here in Arkansas.

“The World Christian is a believer who has discovered the truth about God’s unfulfilled global purpose and His desire to reach all peoples… [Who] have reached the conclusion that God’s Word is a missions book… [Who] see the world through the filter of this biblical theme, which inevitably causes them to grow in knowledge and personal application… [Who] embraces a lifelong commitment to God’s purpose, doing whatever it takes—going or staying—to be strategically involved…

“The breadth of World Christianity [is this]: giving financially, interceding on behalf of the world, taking personal responsibility to care for those on the mission field, and personal missions education. Being a World Christian has nothing to do with location, profession, spiritual gifting, or calling; it has everything to do with the fact that we love and serve a missional God.

“If loving the nations feels too radical, redirect your love to God. He loves the nations and we love Him. That is enough.”*

God will accomplish His plan to reach all nations. Will we be a part of this privilege in willful obedience, being able to joyfully say in the end we have finished the work He gave us to do? Or will He accomplish the task by another means, and we find ourselves facing Him at the end with nothing to show for our faith in this life? Let’s not miss this. He is worth it!

(Quoted from The Abrahamic Revolution, by Dr. Todd Ahrend)

Being a World Christian

Out of the Overflow (Part 4)

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”  And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”  Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” -Isaiah 6:1-8

Our devotional book, written by the folks of base camp, started on day 1 with this passage from Isaiah. On our last day, I returned to it. It was a fitting book end. The Lord’s holiness and glory is what compels us to do what we are doing. The devo and many conversations with base campers have imparted to me such wisdom from this passage.  There is more to this passage than a glimpse at the glory of God. There is a progression here that is vital to see.

  1. The glory of God is seen. In Piper’s book, “Let the Nations Be Glad”, he says missions exists because worship does not. The kind of worship he describes is a complete satisfaction in God through Christ. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. Where worship does not exist, God’s glory is not being proclaimed. Everything God does in existence is for the purpose of glorifying God. The completeness of His glory is found in the praise of creation.
  2. In encountering God’s glory, Isaiah expressed woe and lostness. Man is so far from God that His glory is unapproachable. His holiness would utterly destroy us in our depravity. If one thinks about the magnificence of the temple that the throne of God resides in, how much more is the holiness of God that this part of His character can shake its foundations? We are unclean in our sin and we are surrounded by uncleanness. In terms of the Eastern culture were in, we brought shame to our Creator in our sin, and nothing we can do can restore that honor.
  3. From the glowing embers of the altar of the Lord of Hosts, to the lips of Isaiah, here we see that God makes us clean. There is no indication that Isaiah can make himself clean. The seraphim flew to Isaiah, touched his lips with the coal, and announced his sin atoned for. His shame was removed by God. This is an act He initiated. I see the compassion and love of God, and the foreshadowing of Christ. From seeing the glory of the Most High God, to despairing in our utter depravity, to being made able to stand clean in His presence…
  4. And then the voice of God calls for obedience. And Isaiah responds with willing eagerness, to be sent by God to fulfill His will. Our satisfaction in God is found in an obedience of faith that makes Him look good and brings about His glory to the ends of the earth. That is His design. Apart from the seeking of His glory, we will be dissatisfied. The base campers’ consistent message is that they serve out of the overflow of the fullness God has given them. Perhaps we find ourselves lacking in obedience because we are not allowing God to fill us to overflowing. A passion for God is what fills us and if that is lacking, there is no passion for going because there is no overflow from which to serve and go. But the abundant life Jesus spoke of is just this: being filled–that’s our joy–and overflowing.

The seeking of the glory of God is the going with the proclamation of the gospel. Everything associated with this mandate–the suffering, the sacrifices, the weaknesses, the struggles–compels us toward God and away from the world, in order to find our satisfaction in Him. We encounter His glory, we recognize our depravity, we receive His grace, and we go in obedience. This is what the Holy Spirit has revealed from this passage and what I believe Piper is trying to communicate in his book–the reason why the motivation for missions is tied intimately to the glory of God.

I find my satisfaction in God through Jesus.  I’m not even talking about having satisfaction in the gifts and blessings God gives. I’m talking being satisfied in God Himself.  That’s it!  We need to think about every single thing we have–material, intangible, relationally–and if we can be satisfied without it because we have God.  The person who has Jesus and nothing else has everything.  Jesus clearly explains the costs, including possessions, lands, family, money… anything.  Will it feel like no sacrifice at all to give these things up because He is our satisfaction?

I’ll say it again.  If disciple-making does not make sense, if missions seems like it is for someone else, then what else is satisfying you?  Are the fears and possible sacrifices driving you away from God, or are they causing you to rely on Him?  Because I have found the only response, when it’s not about me, to an encounter with the glory of God is joyful obedience, just like Isaiah discovered. That’s the place where I can receive His blessings that are for my good and for His glory.  He fills me with joy and grace and mercy when I live the way He says I should.  And then He gives more so that I start overflowing, and by which I give to others.  Praise God.

He reveals Himself through His Word and that is why we must dedicate ourselves to the daily intake of the Word.  Simply letting a preacher and a Sunday School teacher feed it to us will not produce the growth or the greater understanding of God’s character that is required to move from taking in milk as babies, to eating meat as spiritual adults.  We’ll hold on to our children in safety rather than shoot them out as arrows into the darkness.  We’ll sit back in the comfortable walls of our churches continuing to keep God for ourselves.  We’ll miss out on the privilege of being considered worthy to be used by God to spread His Name.  And we’ll find ourselves caught unawares at His return, ashamed that He found us asleep rather than being about the work that He left us to do.

I used to think heaven sounded like a drag, to be honest.  It wasn’t a picture of sitting on fluffy white clouds with halos and harps.  But it was something that I really wondered if I would enjoy, kneeling and worshiping God forever and ever like a slave forced to bow to His master.  How awful my thoughts were.  That is, until I began to understand being in the presence of the glory of God and how absolutely amazing that sounds!  He showed me the true nature of His love and compassion, and now I can’t wait to get there and see His face!  Not only that, but I’ll be there with every tribe, tongue, and nation singing His praise! Oh come, Lord Jesus, and let us finish this task to hasten Your return!

Out of the Overflow (Part 4)

Out of the Overflow (Part 3)

The picture doesn't quite do justice to how tall my hair was on top of my head after getting styled.
The picture doesn’t quite do justice to how tall my hair was on top of my head after getting styled.

What you see here is the result of getting a little New Year’s gift in the form of head shampoo massages.  For a mere $4 we were treated to this for a half hour.  It was really awesome, but for some reason out of the six of us who did it, I am the only one who also got “styled”.  The guy who did it spent a good 15 minutes blow drying it into a bouffant, then meticulously placing every hair exactly where he wanted.  I was sure my team put him up to it, but they assure me they did not.  That hair was an immovable mountain!  Haha!

Well, after our journey out to our family’s city, we returned to base camp and debriefed.  Our three days there still require processing to this day.  But in this we are sure.  We are called to this place and these people to partner in the disciple-making efforts going on.  This leads to the question: how can we do so?

The first and foremost need is prayer, immediately followed by feet on the ground.  I quoted Romans 10:13-15 in a previous post, and also when I spoke to my church.  These verses came to the forefront of all our minds.  I said that if we start praying for the laborers of Matthew 9:37-38 we just might find that we are the laborers we’re praying for.  This is where the Lord has led us.  We asked R&J how we can be essential partners in the work to do here.  My desire and hope is that we begin sending teams at least annually, maybe more often.  Ultimately, I hope my church can be in a place financially and spiritually to support someone there full time.  But while we are home and they are there, they need point people to keep the church mindful and prayerful for the gospel work being done.  It is too easy to be out of sight, out of mind.  They told us how they send out newsletters routinely and rarely hear anything back.  How just a simple reply of “I’m praying for you” means so much!  To receive packages that just remind them that they are not alone and that can bless them in some small, tangible way.  To advocate for the cause of the unreached so that we no longer tolerate the existence of such a thing.  For R, he particularly sought the raising of the next generation–including his own children–to be arrows shot into the darkness of the unreached places rather than being taught to grow up into the comforts and securities of the American Dream.

As I listened to these things, and understanding that God was possibly calling me to be in a season of sending, I was personally feeling affirmed in this choice, yet I struggled with it, as I’ll talk about in a bit.  But I came to a firm agreement with God and the others on my team that this is where we are called to be, however that looks.

In the latter days of our time with them, we all had the opportunity to do a Reddit style “Ask Me Anything” of all the worker families.  This was another very meaningful time.  This is when I asked about how they keep fighting in the face of the pervasive darkness.  Our pastor asked what message they would want him to go home and tell the church.  The answer was simple:  tell them God is worth it. (Watch his message by clicking this link.)

Another poignant moment was when R posed a question back to us.  “Why not?” he asked, in response to going.  It’s a good question.  Why is our mentality stay unless called to go?  That’s not what the commands of Christ say.  We are told to go.  So what reason do we have not to?  Why can’t we, say, take what we do here and go do it there.  Just changing the location but continuing to live life with the intention of reaching the unreached?  Again, I’m not diminishing the importance of local evangelism, reaching our neighbors and coworkers, and discipling in our context.  But we have access to the gospel here; they do not.  We have virtually no barrier to bridge the gospel; they have almost every barrier.  So what’s our excuse?  They are doing it, and every single Christ-follower is called to no less.  There are so few laborers; so why not?

As I continued to read “Let the Nations Be Glad” and experience all that God was giving me, I really started struggling with my path.  It almost didn’t feel right that I felt called to send when I fully expected to be called to go long-term.  Especially with the fears I have, I worried that maybe I was convincing myself it wasn’t for me, rather than it coming from God.  In particular, Piper’s section on the sacrifices and struggles of obedience hit me hard.  Staying home is certainly much easier.  The Bible is clear that the more obedient we are to Christ, the more we will suffer for the gospel as He did.  But I look at the workers and certainly didn’t see suffering.  They certainly don’t feel like they’ve sacrificed anything.  All that they have sacrificed was done so joyfully!  I’m not trying to look for suffering by any means, but it seemed to me that the correct path would automatically be the one of greater sacrifice.  So why was I feeling like I was being set on one with less sacrifice?

I got to meet with another worker, B, who has been on the field for over 6 years.  And this conversation was the culmination of what God was teaching me about Himself and this mandate to mission.  My desire is to obey Christ and therefore I can expect sacrifice and suffering.  There is also a clear biblical teaching about those who do so more will receive a greater reward in heaven.  This is getting pretty deep here, but my understanding of Scripture is that the reward of our salvation and obedience is God Himself.  Therefore, the greater reward spoken about means that we will be able to enjoy God’s glory in some greater way in heaven for the suffering we endured in this life.  Not that there will be any kind of jealousy or longing in those with a “lesser” reward.  Every person will be fully satisfied in the presence of God!  But I look at that and think–perhaps rather selfishly–I want to experience as much of God’s glory as I can.  But if God’s will for my life is not that of greater suffering (e.g. even martyrdom), then am I destined to a lesser reward?

This bothered me and I talked through this with B, who I quickly found to be a man rooted very deeply in the Word.  So I trusted his Spirit-led discernment in the matter.  And he taught me that it’s not about different degrees of suffering as we perceive it, but rather obedience within our context.  He encouraged me to seek the blank check, not suffering and sacrifice.  If God has called me to stay and send, am I being obedient in that?  What I am called to do, lay it all out there.  Just as I don’t feel like I’m sacrificing as much by staying, he doesn’t feel like he’s sacrificed to go.  So in the same way, maybe in someone else’s perspective, I’m sacrificing a lot, even though I don’t feel like I am.  It’s my life willingly and joyfully given.  It’s being obedient in my context.

Alongside with that, he said it was pretty easy to give up the externals, but what’s really difficult is getting rid of the hidden idols in our hearts.  You better believe that the number one greatest challenge of being on mission is that Satan is going to attack right where we are most vulnerable.  Those little issues that we keep tucked away are going to come raging in full force when we are on the front lines of gospel work.  This spoke very much to my journey of the past year and why God had me deal with a major sin issue in my life before I could really start discerning His specific path for me.  As He gave me victory in that place, I began earnestly seeking, and found myself in this place of doubt about the choice to actually stay!

I can’t get paralyzed by trying to narrow down God’s will to a pinpoint before I get in the game.  Nor can I become immobilized by thinking I’m going to mess up God’s plan by making the wrong choice.  Mine is to trust God to give me the right thoughts, to make good decisions, and to course-correct me when I don’t. There is confidence in knowing the One who makes all good decisions.  Freedom to serve in obedience comes from trusting God and understanding I cannot mess up His plans.

I immediately started of thinking of ways I could be more intentional in my context.  My mind kept returning to the IFO and the tremendous ministry to international students.  From conversation club, to friendship partnering, to setting my spare room for incoming students who need a temporary place to stay, we can go right here and reach the nations.  And if God wants me here as a sender, then I am going to be the leader and advocate my pastors need to direct our lives to obedience in fulfilling our mandate as the Church.

How God spoke to me is just filled with grace and love.  I can summarize my thoughts from a passage we read on our first day. It really set the precedent for our entire time there.  I committed it to memory and it speaks to our primary motivation.  It’s Isaiah 6:1-8.  And I’ll conclude my account of this journey with it in my next post.

Out of the Overflow (Part 3)

Out of the Overflow (Part 2)

Before I continue, I want to interlude with a few fun anecdotes.

Firecrackers!  Oh my goodness, were the firecrackers relentless.  Thousands and thousands of them going off any time, day or night to celebrate whatever that person felt like celebrating.  They would echo through the high-rise houses in the city at 3 pm or 3 am.

These guys lit off so many in the park, they caught bushes on fire.
These guys lit off so many in the park, they caught bushes on fire.

Stares.  White people!  Whoa!  We were pretty deep into the country, probably the equivalent of someone coming to the U.S. for the first time and for whatever reason stays in Little Rock.  It’s just a cultural difference we were told to be prepared for and had to deal with.  People would stop in their tracks and gape at us.  Some would take photos, intrusively or politely.  A few even grabbed at us.

Food.  What wonderful eats we had.  The workers definitely knew the best places and boy did we eat good!  There was nothing I didn’t try that I didn’t like.  I did keep it tame.  No duck head or chicken feet or wild dog meat.  But aside from the day I caught a 24-hour virus of some kind, I absolutely loved the food.  I’m grateful to J for having some “normal” breakfasts to break it up a bit, and there was also a KFC at base camp, but I did not burn out on Chinese food at all.

Base camp families had nicknames for their favorite places. This was a fantastic noodle place we ate at regularly.
Base camp families had funny nicknames for their favorite places. This was a fantastic noodle place we ate at regularly.

R-isms.  We picked up a few fun phrases from our family.  Particularly, we noted his abundant use of the word “whence”, which he says comes from watching too much Sherlock.  Ha.  When they are having a bad day, they just affectionally remind the other that it’s just “life on the field”. When they are frustrated with the culture or the people (it happens), they are having a “China Day”.  If you are having bathroom issues, which can be fairly common (we won’t go into detail), you are riding the “D-train”.

Alright, so I want to talk a moment about the darkness where we were.  It was overwhelming.  To know that every person we saw in passing was lost.  To know that only 4 families are serving an area of over 4 million people who are considered less than 0.1% evangelical.  The darkness is palpable.  It is so easy to be overcome with emotion because of the compassion for the people.  But there is a deeper God-given sense of grief that there yet exists a place on this planet where His name is not being renowned.  In a Q&A with all the base camp workers near the end of our trip, I asked with tears in my eyes, how they are able to see past the seemingly insurmountable work to be done.  Yes, I understand and believe fully that God’s victory assured, and these people will be represented before His throne, but how do they keep going without drowning?  They told us they just work one at a time.  Whatever it takes, no matter the cost, through all the hardships, even if they talk to 500 people a year and maybe 1 is receptive, God is worth it.  (This is a recurring theme that will come up again.)

I read John Piper’s “Let the Nations Be Glad” during my time there and the theme of his biblical study is that missions exists because worship does not.  This is what drives us to go to the unreached.  We cannot be satisfied that anything less than global glory for God is acceptable; we cannot tolerate the term unreached when we have the answer to eternal salvation within us.

Two days after Christmas the rest of my team arrived and we set about the work of seeking God, gathering information, and praying for the province.  We traveled to our family’s “thread” city for a few days.  The sending company that all the families in base camp serve under is moving to a team-based approach, where the Christ-followers live in a city together for fellowship and accountability, and they each also have their own threads, or people groups, to reach out to.  Our family had just recently moved from a city about 3 hours away from base camp.  They had prayed for either additional workers or for God to move them.  He chose the latter and it has been such a blessing for them.  But they are still laser-focused to this city and this is where we traveled to for 3 days.  It is a beautiful place, tucked amongst the mountains, far more compact than what we were accustomed to in base camp.  We had the opportunity to meet a few folks who they had already been investing in, including an 18-year young man and a couple of ladies.

Our team meets YoYo. He was so excited to see R&J again, and especially their kids.
Our team meets YoYo. He was so excited to see R&J again, and especially their kids.

Unfortunately, this is where I went down for the count.  I got some bug that left me riding the “D-train”.  Nothing to do but let it run its course and get out, but it took all my energy, and in the end, I was down to Sprite and crackers.  But on the second day, I was determined to go up a mountain with the others.  In the middle of the city was a stairway about 30 stories high in my estimation; thousands of stone steps up to a monument and park overlooking the city.  With several stops along the way, I did make it.  The reward was worth it.  We separated after a while of photoing and chatting, settling in to intimate times of prayer and worship.  For me, to overlook the city as I prayed for it was so powerful.  And I believe this is where we were affirmed to God’s calling for us as a church to partner, support, and equip the workers reaching this area.  I pulled out my iPhone and played Chris Tomlin’s “God of this City”.  Wow.  “You’re the God of this city.  You’re the King of these people.  You’re the Lord of this nation.  You’re the light in this darkness.  You are hope to the hopeless.  You are peace to the restless.  Greater things have yet to come and greater things are still to be done in this city.”

Thousands of steps up a mountain that overlooks the city.  Even though it did me in for the rest of the day, it was worth it.  Definitely the signature moment of our time.
Thousands of steps up a mountain that overlooks the city. Even though it did me in for the rest of the day, it was worth it. Definitely the signature moment of our time.
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My panorama overlooking the city of 200,000+ people, all of whom are lost. As far as I know, only a few people have had gospel seeds planted in them. (Be sure to click to enlarge.)

Praise God He assures a people will be saved from amongst them.  I pray with urgency that this happens soon so that no more than already have will perish.  I pray that God would lead our friends to persons of peace who will receive and believe and will be raised up to lead a secret study, then multiply out from there into the surrounding areas to reach their neighbors.  Two people cannot reach them all.  But together the body of Christ can when He is our basis and example for reaching the unreached.  Two becomes four, four becomes eight, eight becomes sixteen… 1,048,576 becomes 2,097,152, which becomes 4,194,304.  That’s just a simple one-on-one discipleship model.  And everyone in that province can be reached.  Multiplication rather than addition.  It’s really not that insurmountable at all.

Beautiful cultural architecture in the park on the mountain where we stopped and prayed over the city.
Beautiful cultural architecture in the park on the mountain where we stopped and prayed over the city.
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Prayer walking along the river, we were encouraged to give names to the people who we saw and pray for them.

But what will it take? That’s the heart of my journey that I’ll explore in my next post.

Out of the Overflow (Part 2)

Out of the Overflow (Part 1)

How can I do justice to all that God has and is accomplishing in His global kingdom purposes through my life?  I’ve struggled with how to convey my thoughts.  So I will just share the story as it comes to my mind, and pray that you will be blessed and your heart will see the same call to obedience on your life.  May we all live lives of faith evidenced by our good works in making disciples of all nations.

I opted to go ahead of my church’s team, an extra 10 days, for two specific purposes.  One, I wanted to experience life on the field just as it is day-to-day.  Two, I wanted to engage specific conversations with our missionaries (this is the one time I will use the word, but I do not prefer it; I’ll use the word ‘worker’) on the field about their lifetime calling.  The time was not wasted.  I was privileged to be invited to stay with one family (who I’ll use just initials R & J for their safety) and experience their life.  We had several good talks along the way.  Life on the field is not some super-Christian feat.  I’m not sure what I had in my mind about what life is like, but it wasn’t quite the picture I had.  My mind had fixated on workers just constantly and exhaustively trying to reach people and teach the gospel, and if they didn’t make some quota of believers, they’d be sent home.

Talk about not being what we expect. This is our base camp city, filled with high-rise housing towers, most of which sit empty.
Talk about not being what we expect. This is our base camp city, filled with high-rise housing towers, most of which sit empty.

Here’s the wonderful truth.  Their life is no different from ours except for their location.  They live life, just like I do in Little Rock, AR.  They run errands, do laundry, go to Walmart.  One worker said his typical week looks like going out into the community in the morning with his older kids and meeting people, building relationships, and bridging the gospel.  In the afternoon he studies language and/or the Bible.  In the evening, it’s family time.  Others are there working jobs, usually teaching English.  Just taking what they could be doing here and moving it over there.  My weekly life involves going out into the community (via work), I have time set aside for study.  I am involved in intentional reaching ministries.  They have an event called English Corner, where they invite nationals to come practice their conversational English.  We have an outstanding organization right here that does the same!  We can call obedience to Christ “radical”, but here’s the truth:  it’s just the ordinary Christian life that we are meant to be living.  Oh for the day when this is not considered radical!

Going out into the community.  This is a wet market, where you can find freshly butchered meat of several kinds (pork pictured)...
Going out into the community. This is a wet market, where you can find freshly butchered meat of several kinds (pork pictured)…
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…and fresh fruits and vegetables of routine and exotic kinds.

They follow the command “as you go”, making disciples.  We’re called to do nothing different where we are.  What saddens me is the difference in importance we place this command.  Our busyness and pursuits blind us in ineffectiveness.  The American Dream is landing us right where Satan wants us, complacent in our comforts.  Global disciple-makers are not super-Christians, they just take the command to make disciples seriously because God takes it seriously.  Life is intentional.  I was particularly struck by R’s thoughts on retirement.  I’ve been conditioned to think I need to set myself up for comfort in the end of my life, when maybe God still has purposes for us.  It’s not time to pass the torch until we leave this life.  Am I pouring too much into myself (my future) right now when it is better served in the kingdom, with the express intent to continue work as long as the Lord wills it? Am I more concerned with my 401k more than making disciples?  It’s worth prayer and unbiased biblical insight in the very least.

Another aspect of their life that really struck me was having family worship time.  I’ve come home extremely convicted about this.  Every morning at the breakfast table, R would read a short study, sing a song together, describe an unreached people to pray for, and then offer God thanks for their many blessings.  If only we would be doing this in the American homes where we are not, what might happen for the kingdom’s expansion and God’s glory across the earth?  Rather than relying on the church to be responsible for the spiritual growth of children, parents take ownership of it and start the command of making disciples in their own homes.  It’s not complicated and doesn’t need to be.  What they did was simple and sets the tone for their family’s day and indeed, life.

I have a lot of fears when it comes to considering moving overseas, as I’m sure just about anyone would have.  But I have done my best to give a blank check to God.  I went with an open heart for God to confirm that is the path He has set me on.  But as we (meaning God and me, and R and me) talked, my passions kept steering me differently.  Yes I absolutely want to support efforts to the unreached.  My heart is unequivocally pointed to the places that have no access to the gospel.  I am also very passionate about equipping and motivating my brothers and sisters in Christ to this same calling.  You don’t have to read my blog long or hear me speak at length to know that.  I want to pour into Christ followers what God has poured into me.  To call us out of our comforts and complacency, with a sense of urgency and humility.

Having gone to China expecting to be led to stay there, I find myself affirmed to continue the path of sending for now.  Not saying one day I won’t go, but for now, I confidently believe I’m called to be here, supporting and sending through motivation and move into leading short-term teams.  So those of you afraid I might be moving, take a deep breath.  And if you’re disappointed I’m sticking around (ha), well, maybe in due time.

The plaza where the government set up the eyeglass clinic.
The plaza where we conducted the eyeglass clinic.
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We saw almost a thousand people. The goal was to improve vision, not necessarily get the perfect lenses. Though we were not permitted to share the gospel at this event, a team went back later to take with the locals.
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There was a registration area, a waiting area, seven stations checking eyes, and the dispensary. The crowd surged on registration at one point and the Americans were pulled out. But the dispensary was all smiles as folks left with better sight!
Caroling before a crowd in the shopping plaza.  We'd sing a couple songs then disperse to meet the crowd, then do it again.
Caroling before a crowd in the shopping plaza. We’d sing a couple songs then disperse to meet the crowd, then sing some more!

I can relate briefly some specific events that occurred during this time.  I’ll focus on an eye glass clinic we did in a town a couple hours away from base camp.  Through a partnership with the government and a worker’s company, we served over 960 people with prescription eyeglasses.  The event was purposed in giving face to the government with the people; and it also makes  the workers gain legitimacy in staying in the country.  For a short time, I actually tested eyes with a rudimentary lens system, but most of the day I got to work the dispensary where glasses were handed out.  As mobbed as we were, and as pushy and impatient as the massive crowd was, I was in the best place because I got to see the smiles and receive the “shie shie” (thank you, in Mandarin) as they were able to read or see at distance.  I had a great sense of spiritual purpose here.  Talk about “blind but now I see”.  Perhaps this was literally true that day, but what an avenue to bridge to the gospel when a team returned a few days later to engage the town people again!

The other CIC team I traveled with had several events, including a Christmas program out front of a major shopping complex where they performed a skit of the true Christmas story, visiting college campuses, and going caroling.  I helped carol a little bit.  I was overwhelmed in that place by the words of songs that we are all too familiar with and easily grow quite tired of each year.  “To save us all from Satan’s power when we have gone astray” becomes very real in a place of complete spiritual darkness.  Through watery eyes, I prayed as I sang that Satan’s power would soon find it’s hold shattered in this place, where hundreds of thousands of people live and will perish into everlasting darkness unless they are told of and receive the good news of Jesus Christ.

More to come soon…  If you haven’t, scroll up to the top and look on the right for a place to enter your email to subscribe.

Out of the Overflow (Part 1)

Why I Go.

In an age of technology and internet there are still billions who have never even heard the gospel.  When the Bible uses the word “nations” it does not mean geopolitically bordered entities.  It is describing people groups gathered under the commonality of culture and language.  We call these groups of people who have not heard “unreached people groups” where less than 2% are identified as followers of Jesus.  These are people with no access to the gospel.  They are born, live their entire lives, and die, having never heard the good news of Jesus Christ.  As an example, there’s an area in India where the mortality rate is some 5,000 people per day.  They are 0.01% evangelical, which means 4,950 people each day in this area alone are plunging into an eternal hell while I sit here with my casual association with Jesus and play the game of checking off my religious boxes.

Or recently, I learned of an area in Nepal where a follower of Christ was on mission.  While hiking down a trail, he came to a sacred river where the dead are placed on pyres, lit ablaze, and sent down river in order to find safe passage to reincarnation.  In those moments of watching the bodies burned, his heart was broken with the realization that even as their physical bodies burned as he watched them pass by, so too were their souls burning for all eternity because no one ever told them there was a park to avoid it.  We wait for the second coming of Christ while they have not even heard of the first.  Followers of Christ, we cannot be satisfied with this status quo any more.

There are approximately 6,500 people groups in the world who are unreached.  Of those 6,500, some 3,500 have no one actively working among them.  We call those “unengaged.”  A majority of them live in what is known as the 10-40 window, an area on the globe from latitudes 10 to 40 where more than 3 billion people live.  I want to share with you some stats, but in doing so, want to make clear that I am not diminishing the importance of local ministry efforts.  The importance of reaching our neighbors is just as high, but today I want to show you the disparity and the gap of advancing the kingdom into unreached areas.

5% of the world’s population lives in North America yet more than 90% of Christian ministry efforts are carried out here and 95% of all giving goes here.  For every $100 given, 5 cents is for church planting efforts among the unreached.  We spend nearly $10,000 per convert in the American church versus 10 cents in developing countries.  We have some 300,000 seminary trained pastors whereas there is maybe one pastor per 50 congregations.  Millions upon millions are spent in buildings, and programs, and elaborate concert-style conferences, while brothers and sisters risk death just for owning a Bible.

The question I ask myself is: “How can I sit here in my comfort and complacency, consume the parts of the gospel that benefit me, and complain when I don’t have them anymore?  Yet people around the world risk their lives just for the chance to get together as a secret house church.”  I cannot tolerate this for my life any longer.  It breaks my heart.

But there is hope because the Church is waking up to fulfill our mandate.  Evangelical Christianity is the fastest growing religious movement in the world, growing at a rate of 7.5%.  More people have come to know Jesus in the past 100 years than the previous 1900.  At the same time, more people have been killed for their faith in the last 100 years than ever before.  Think there is not a high cost to this command?

Church, I believe with all my heart that we can see the fulfillment of the Great Commission in this generation, if we long for and love the Lord’s return more than our own lives.  There are some 50,000 Southern Baptist churches alone, to speak nothing of all the other denominations who are also evangelical.  That means if just 12% of this one denomination would say yes to God with a blank check and go to an unreached people, we would complete our mandate in this lifetime.  Just 12%.

Our responsibility as the Church is to multiply disciples.  As individuals, we reproduce disciples of Jesus, and as a church, we reproduce self-sustaining churches.  And I believe that we are poised to be this missional force; the foundation is already in place in our life groups, if we’re willing to balance our purposes, radically change our lives in obedience to Christ’s command, forsake our comforts, and be courageous for this gospel without having all the answers.  God will reward our faith, which is the joy of being a part of spreading God’s glory.

Surely, we do not want to miss being a part of this.  The thing is, we don’t have to pray for and wonder what God’s will is.  We know His will.  We need to pray for how we align our lives to His will.  We don’t have to hang ourselves up on all the supposed signs of the end of the age.  We’ve been in the end of the age since Christ ascended to heaven, and it is on us to see to His return!  If we long for Christ’s return, this is our driving purpose.

“…this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”  -Matthew 24:14

“God has not saved us to sideline us for his global purpose,” Dr. David Platt, President of the International Mission Board said.  We need to see every day life as a part of God’s global purpose.  To surrender daily to however he wants to use us in that purpose.  Some it will be right where you are; some periodic going; some to take their work here and use it over there.  But to do this we cannot be mired in ineffectiveness with our toying with sin and temptation, nor live in complacency and consumerism in our religion.  We will consider the costs to ourselves and our families and move where the Spirit of God is working.  What does this look like?  The Bible gives us three choices.  Let’s talk about those.

First, we can be go.  We go into our neighborhoods and workplaces, we go into our community, we go across the world.  Local and global.  The harvest is everywhere.  We are trying to pull people in when we should be training up ourselves to go out!  Our direction should be like that of Paul’s:

“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” – Romans 10:14-15a

“…and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I built on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, ‘Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.'” – Romans 15:20-21

Whether daily lives, short-term or long-term missions, or lifetime overseas work, we all have the opportunity to go.  If we’re going to take the gospel into the front lines, then we must be strong of faith and grounded in biblical truth.  That’s the cool thing about how God rigged discipleship.  We can’t make disciples unless we become disciples.  Our own discipleship is a by-product of the purpose to make disciples.  The spiritual battle for lives is unlike anything we experience here in America, where the worst ‘persecution’ we face is the risk of offending someone.  Being on mission is a serious and solemn undertaking where the risks are real and the reward is eternal.  For these efforts to be effective, they must be saturated in prayer and grounded in biblical obedience.  We have to live out the gospel, yes, and we also must be ready to speak it with grace and truth.

Going doesn’t necessarily mean moving to a mud hut in Africa.  Maybe God has not shaped you for overseas.  Here’s the cool part.  God brings the nations to us too. There are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of international students right here in Little Rock.  While they are visiting, we have the tremendous opportunity to reach them for Christ.  We have the opportunity to build a relationship with them and a bridge to proclaim Christ to them.  And we have to be ready and understanding of the cultural differences that present challenges to speaking the truth to them.

We go motivated because we want our King to come back.  We go not because we feel guilty after everything you’ve heard today; we go because we want God’s glory.  We go yes, to help and serve where we can in areas of social justice, but even then, the primary responsibility is to go to share the gospel.  Dr. Platt reminds us, “Jesus said when we go, they will hate us and they will kill us and we will be resisted by the powers of hell.  But we go nonetheless.”

Second, we can send.  There are people who cast a vision for the work that must be done and the joy of accepting God’s invitation to be a part of it.  There are many organizations big and small, or simply churches themselves, that mobilize teams and aid in their support and safety.  Senders support financially and prayerfully, and make it their ambition to further the work of others through creative means.  Mission work must be saturated in prayer and fasting.  Jesus illustrated this when he described the vast harvest with so few workers.  Farmers don’t gather in the barn, they go out to the fields!

“Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.'” -Matthew 9:37-38

We need to be careful of the “out of sight, out of mind” trap, and be praying for the unreached.  At the very least, if we are not willing to pray for the Spirit’s movement among the unreached, the great commission will remain stagnate.  A very useful tool is at unreachedoftheday.com.  What could happen if we as individuals, classes, and life groups committed to praying for the unreached?  Would we find that maybe we are the laborers we’ve been praying for?  Start praying and see if God doesn’t open your heart to loving these people and desiring them to know Christ.

The third option is to disobey. When Christ calls us to His mission, we can respond in one of two ways. I can illustrate this with two biblical encounters with Jesus found in the book of Luke, the rich young ruler and Zacchaeus.  When Jesus said “follow me” the rich man walked away sad because he couldn’t give up his “blessings”.  When Zacchaeus received this invitation, he received Jesus joyfully and salvation came to his household.

One man checked off the religious boxes but walked away from Jesus because his heart was not really in it.  One man was moved by the power of the gospel and gave what he had for the glory of God.  One had a saving faith; one did not.  It is the same choice before us today.

At the end of this life, I want to say that I laid it all out there for the sake of God’s name.  I want the joy of being counted worthy to suffer for the sake of the gospel.  The Bible is clear that our exposure to suffering will increase in proportion to our obedience!  And that’s okay!  What’s the worst that could happen?  I get killed for my faith?  Great!  You know why that doesn’t matter?  Because I’ve already died to Christ!

The aim is a Biblical one; that is to be a part of the assured victory in Revelation,

“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'”  -Revelation 7:9-10

We can use trendy words like “radical” to describe how we should live, but really, all I’ve described today is just the normal Christian life as Jesus taught it to be.  Unreached people must become totally intolerable to us.  God’s aim is to see his glory proclaimed by all these people.  This is the purpose for why Jesus died.  “Global mission is not a compartmentalized program in the church for a select few people who feel called to it,” said Platt.  “It’s why we are on the planet.  It’s the purpose for which we have breath.”

Let us give of our time, our talents, our treasures, let us not love our lives more than the gospel but fix our eyes on heaven, let us hasten the return of Christ.  Let’s give our lives—lose them if necessary—for the sake of the gospel, because that’s what it means to be a disciple.   I don’t want to get to the end of my life and say to God “I missed the point of why you put me here.”  How do we know when we are done?  I gave some stats, but personally, I don’t want to get caught up in definitions and numbers.  I heard this quote by George Ladd during a class called Perspectives:

“God alone knows the definition of terms. I cannot precisely define who all the nations are. But I do not need to know. I know only one thing: Christ has not yet returned. Therefore the task is not yet done. When it is done, Christ will come. Our responsibility is not to insist on defining the terms, our responsibility is to complete the task. So long as Christ does not return our work is undone. Let us get busy and complete our mission.”

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Information for this post is attributed to these resources: radical.net, perspectives.org, desiringgod.org, and imb.org.

Why I Go.

Disciple Making in Southeast Asia

Sorry for the duplicate.  Something went wrong in the post and sentences at the end of each paragraph were cut off, so here it is again.

I am very excited to share that I will be traveling to southeast Asia this holiday season.  Below is my sending letter.  I wanted to share it here and also let you know that I will be traveling ahead of the team from PPBC (with another IMB team) on December 17.  This will afford me the opportunity to spend some one-on-one time with God and my friend who is serving in this area, as well as experience some additional opportunities to reach the unreached.  The numbers are staggering.  Three couples for over 4 million people who have not heard of Jesus Christ!  In a few weeks, I will have the opportunity to share with my church about how God broke my heart for the unreached.  It’s kind of a “part 2″ to my testimony from the spring (which you can watch/read here).  In unity, let us send and go to our neighborhoods and to the nations!  The only other option is to disobey.

Dear Reader,

According to www.joshuaproject.net, there are 5,924 people groups in what is known as the “10-40 Window” (the most unevangelized area between latitudes 10 and 40) who would qualify as unreached with the gospel. This means they are born, live their entire lives, and die, having never heard the good news of Jesus Christ. That is almost three billion people. As we at PPBC follow God’s command to make Fully Devoted Followers, we feel God is calling us to do our part in global disciple-making to change this situation.

A discovery team from Parkway Place will travel on mission to Southeast Asia, December 25, 2014 – January 6, 2015, joining with International Mission Board (IMB) missionaries to help strengthen their work of taking the gospel to those who have never heard. The team will be trained to share the gospel cross-culturally. The team will be Allan Greer, Megan Greer, Benjamin Peacock, Bit Stephens and Joel Studdard.

Our mission includes:

  • Share the real meaning of Christmas to people who are aware of Santa Clause and how some Americans celebrate Christmas.
  • Encourage and strengthen the work of our IMB missionaries on the field.
  • Travel to surrounding villages to prayer walk for gospel penetration and learn the culture.
  • Explore opportunities of how we can partner long-term with the missionaries to plant disciple-making churches.

Global disciple-making involves going and sending! Would you prayerfully consider being a part of our sending team? This is a two-fold responsibility. We need prayer support for ourselves, the missionaries on the field, and the people we are engaging. We will be entering a spiritually dark culture with the gospel of light! The Bible is clear we will encounter spiritual resistance! Your prayers will provide spiritual encouragement, protection, and provision for our team. While we are on mission, a prayer guide will be made available.

Secondly, if you feel God leading you to support this mission financially, please do so. The cost is approximately $3,400 per team member. All funds received assist the entire team. All donations are tax deductible. We are each personally contributing to our journey. If you would like to make a contribution, make your check to “Parkway Place Baptist Church” or go online to www.ppbc.com (click on “Giving” in the top right portion of the homepage.) Make the memo or description “Asia Mission 2014.” You do not have to put my name on it.

In sending, you are a vital part of this global disciple-making journey. Thank you for partnering with us to be light bearers to these dear people whom God loves!

Making His Name known to all nations,

Benjamin

P.S.  Stayed tuned to this site–and subscribe in the upper right to receive emailed updates–for prayer and fasting requests up to and during this disciple-making journey, as well as journal-style updates of God-at-work experiences.

Disciple Making in Southeast Asia