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.
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.
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)…
…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.
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.
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)

Favorite Quotes

I hope you have enjoyed and been challenged into action by my last several posts.  If you are just joining us on this my blog, I really encourage you to go back to the post entitled “Complete the Task” and read back toward the present.  It’s a lot; but well worth it, if I may say so.  In this post, I’d like to share some of my favorite quotes from Perspectives.  I couldn’t have said any of these more perfectly.

Will we allow the very things God has given us to bless others to hold us back? – Todd Ahrend

We get the joy; He gets the glory. – Marty Brown

If I get today, if I don’t get what my sins deserve, then may I live a life so that God is glorified. – Mark Palfreeman

We can’t tell others what we do not know. -Ken Wilson

God is more sovereign than we think He is.  We are more responsible that we think we are. -Bill Parkinson

You are no longer about getting and gaining but rather spreading and proclaiming. You are not afraid of loss. You dare to even believe it a privilege to suffer and die for the spread of God’s glory. Your reward awaits you at the throne of your Creator.  -Floyd McClung (Apostolic Passion article)

Ordinary people become kingdom heroes by surrendering to God.  They do not love their lives in the face of death.  -Jamie Zumwalt

What seems impossible to man is exactly what God wants to do! -John Zumwalt

We’re to be light in the darkness, not light in the lightness. – Jamie Zumwalt

We’re not called to be the salt lick of the earth, but to be sprinkled and spread out. – John Zumwalt

We need to be less concerned with people making “decisions” for Christ and more for people becoming disciples of Christ.  -Bobby Gupta

We’ve got it backwards:  we’ve been inviting Jesus into our kingdoms (hearts), when God is really saying that He’s inviting us into His. -Stan Yoder

How long does it take to become a disciple? As long as it takes the nets to hit the ground. -Robert Brown

Christ asks, “I have done this for you, now what have you done for Me?”  Why do we do this?  May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering.  -Robert Brown

Favorite Quotes

World Christian Discipleship

Here it is. The capstone to a tremendous 16-week mind-bending, heart-changing, life-altering experience. I cite many articles this week, as well as the last lesson we had. There is truly no greater name for these lessons that “Perspectives”. Oh, how mine has changed. God has grabbed hold of me and flipped me right-side up and I never want to go back. I hope these recaps motivate you to look deeper into our reason for living. At the time of this post, I’m five weeks away from going to an area in South Asia that has not been reached with the gospel. I’m anxious, excited, scared, ready. While I mourn the 14 years I’ve wasted, I look forward to the part God has for me to play in completing the task of Him receiving global glory. Read on. Be challenged. Be changed. Be obedient.

A little over a year ago, I began a journey to refocus my life in pursuit of spreading the gospel. I was confronted with confounding realities of the American dream and the state of the Church. I intensely studied the Word to understand God’s redemption story. I took a course to better understand the world Christian movement. And for the last several weeks, you have read these recaps of all that God has been teaching me regarding our role in completing the task. I’m going to pose many questions to you here which ultimately can be gathered into the same question our last instructor posed to us as we closed out the course. He did not ask “has God spoken to you?”, for that is the wrong question. Of course, God has spoken. The question is: what are you doing about it?

Our imperative is to become disciples of Christ and to go make disciples of Christ. How are you and I becoming disciples? What has changed in this journey for you? The original disciples were confronted by Christ and given a choice. They sat working on their fishing nets and Jesus invited them to leave it all and become fishers of men. It’s the same choice we have. We can choose to follow Him or we can choose to disobey. Like the original disciples, it will take as long to become a true follower of Christ as it takes for our nets to hit the ground.

A disciple understands that the message of the Bible is God’s glory. A disciple of Christ is someone who has God’s heart for the world. A true follower is the person who throws off all things that hinder. He/she sees that yes, God so loved the world, but even more importantly, “God loves His Son and has a wonderful plan for Him, to bring all the nations to His feet as Lord of all, and He loves you and me enough to give us a place in it.” (David Bryant)

Unfortunately, we’ve made Jesus into a mascot. On Sundays, we hear messages that Jesus is with us to cheer us up, reinvigorate us, and reassure us. It’s just like we learned back in lesson 1, we’ve made it about God and me. Our ability to drop our nets and become followers is being destroyed by our affluence and our trivial pursuits. We are constantly surrounded by comfort, security, ease of life, and pleasures that we drown out Jesus’ voice, calling for us to take up our cross daily. So I ask each of us today, what comforts are we holding on to that we need to let go of? What trivial pursuits are you and I chasing, distracting us from eternal matters?

Our vain, over-abundant, affluent lifestyles must change. We need to adopt a wartime strategy in our lifestyles. There’s a popular story about a luxury cruise ship, the Queen Mary, that was the symbolic epitome of affluence in America. But when World War II broke out, it was turned into a troop transport. The survival of our nation depended on such an act. The survival of millions of people who do not know Christ also depends on us doing what it takes to fulfill the Great Commission. A couple of sobering statistics from an article by Ralph Winter. We send 1/4 of what we spend on weight-loss programs to missions. It takes just spending $2 extra in over-eating at meals to add an extra pound of weight. $2 is more than what 90% of American Christians give to missions. The point is, if we’d simplify our lives, we could live generously. We have hardened our hearts (and our arteries) with our lifestyles, accepting status quo living as biblical following of Jesus. In Revelation 3:15-17, He declares His distaste:

“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.’”

One of the most sobering verses, which God used early in my journey, speaks to the urgency of re-evaluating our lifestyles. Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus speaking, states:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Let me ask specifically at this point, in light of all God has taught us and with our commitment to South Asia, how are you doing? Are you living life with a new perspective? Are you reading God’s Word daily? Have you opted in to the People Group of the Day prayer guide to pray for the nations? How have you adjusted your time to be available to serve? Are you evaluating your circumstances now in order to free up vacation time and finances to go to an unreached area next year? What are you doing about the truth you have learned?

Several weeks ago, I shared with my small group—a church-plant out of Parkway Place—the reason I believed God called our leaders (Larry and Wanda Remington) to start Compass. Following the New Testament model, I believe we are to become the called-out team, much like Paul and his missionary band were. If all we do is continue to meet on Tuesday nights, then we aren’t being obedient. This apropos illustration from Todd Ahrend exemplifies this calling even further:

We really want God to give us step-by-step instructions for life. But that’s not what God is in the business of, because our faith will never be built. That’s because faith is built upon the experience of obeying His Word. “We cannot expect to get all the detailed instructions before we are willing to begin traveling the path. The Bible doesn’t lay out a ‘map’. It gives us a ‘compass’. God calls you to join Him in journeying in a steady direction [True North] toward a grand global destiny.” (Ahrend) Our yes must be on the table before we know the details. Maps only give you details of areas already known. But this journey with Christ calls us to point our compass toward unknown territories where the gospel has not been taken. So we must be focused on True North—to do whatever it takes to live strategically and purposefully for the completion of the task. This is the mark of a World Christian. (Not a worldly Christian, which would be quite the opposite.)

We can maintain ourselves as World Christians through the different seasons of life. There are several practices of a World Christian. First, we can be goers. Some us may never literally go to another country, but the reality of today is the world is more connected than it ever has been, and we ARE commanded to go to people with the gospel. We have opportunities right where we are to engage people of different cultures. This truth segues into the second practice, being welcomers. The nations are coming to us; that much is clear. While they are visiting, we have the tremendous opportunity to reach them for Christ. Right here in Little Rock is a very prominent organization called International Friendship Outreach. They host events such as Conversation Club, which allows international students meet Americans and practice their English. This practical met need builds the kind of relationship necessary to bridge the way to Christ. Third, we can be senders. We’re not just talking about financial giving and prayer support. These are vital essentials, but World Christian senders go beyond that and make it their ambition to further the work of others through creative means. Fourth, we can be mobilizers, 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. These recaps have been aimed at mobilizing you because I care for you and want you to experience the rich and fulfilling joy I have had in this journey.

As four of us prepare to leave on a visionary apostolic journey to South Asia, we do so with God’s mission in mind. This is a short-term trip to gauge the spiritual condition of the region and identify potential native leaders in church planting. Short-term missions can be key in completing the task; the reality is not all of us are going to go on long-term trips or be “career missionaries”. (But if God asked you to be, would you obey? Have you ever boldly prayed whether you should?) These STMs can be successful, as long as we 1) realize and connect God’s purpose as being already at work, 2) plan and act in culturally relevant ways alongside time-tested strategies, and 3) do not use the experience as a primary method of promoting personal discipleship. (Again, it’s not about us.) As we walk with the Holy Spirit, our vision is that multiple short-term trips will work alongside the full-time efforts to train obedience and leadership in native peoples.

With compass in hand, we stand at the “you are here” mark, our “yes” on the table, ready to embrace uncharted territories in our lives and in the world. How can we be confident in the choices we make? First, we must each walk in this journey together. The American Dream route of self-exaltation will not work. Let us grow together and serve together. Go back to your church and bring back like-minded brothers and sisters who want or need to be a part of this journey. We must first multiply disciples here before we’ll ever do it somewhere else. So if we’re not growing, something is wrong! Be the voice in a body of believers who have made it about themselves. Pray constantly. Not just genie-in-a-bottle prayers, but prayers that exalt who God is, thank Him for what He is doing, and ask Him to fulfill what is already on His heart, that the nations would come to glorify Him. God will absolutely say “yes” to these things and cause you to succeed. Simplify your life. We all need to be freed to give and live generously, of our time, our talent, and our treasure. We are blessed to be a blessing. It’s not necessarily about selling everything you have, but rather if God asked you to do so, would you obey? Nor is it about redistributing wealth. We are a people saved by grace and we should live generously that way. The reason a tithe is not mentioned in the New Testament is because Christ desires for us to live purposefully toward generosity. The tithe should be the floor of our giving, not the ceiling. Finally, be a willing learner. Stay in God’s Word. Reject the notion this book is about us. But not only that, be informed of the world around us. Push your perspective into new territories. In the end, the question you need to ask yourself is the same one found on a tombstone of a renowned missionary leader: “Are the things you are living for worth Christ dying for?”

We don’t have to have it all together. We just need to be willing. What part of our lives reflect God’s desire to be known among all peoples? How are we being doers of the word and not just hearers? Are you even suffering for Christ? The Bible assures us that the gospel message is dangerous. If we have dropped our nets and followed Christ, we can be assured we will endure suffering. Do not care for how you will be received or for any discomforts. In Acts, the early disciples counted it as joy to be considered worthy to suffer for Christ!

“Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” (Acts 5:41)

Christ suffered in obedience to God, all the way to the cross. How can we expect not to suffer for that same message? Are you waiting on a special calling? You don’t need it! The mandate is clear! Just have a heart of willingness. Be a goer, a sender, a welcomer, a motivator. As the body of Christ, we have all been given gifts from the Spirit to build each other up, serve in love, and glorify God.

If we truly grasp the depth of love God exhibited by enduring our punishment and making a way for us to be with Him even while we were His enemy, how can any other response but obedience be sufficient? I deserve death and separation from the holy, perfect, loving God, in whom there is supreme satisfaction and fulfillment and purpose. Therefore, He is worthy “to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:13) Christ has done this for us. What will we do for Him? He deserves all glory! And I get to help give it to Him! Why do we take joy in being invited as a part of completing the task? Here’s why: May the Lamb that was slain receive the reward of His suffering.

World Christian Discipleship

Spontaneous Multiplication

Rapid and spontaneous multiplication of the church.  That is our goal.  That is the mission we join God in.  Did you know that more people have come to know Jesus in the last 100 years than the previous 1900 combined?  God is at work.  We’ve moved from a time when the growth rate of the church was less than the birth rate.  At today’s rate of 7.5%, half of the world would be Christian within 25 years.  Today, 65% of the Church is from races other than Caucasian.  Truly, Christianity is now genuinely an international family of faith.

The type of rapid and spontaneous multiplication we’re talking about is dubbed a church planting movement.  Has anyone ever thought to ask what “church” really is?  Our definitions would probably include many things a church does.  Neil Cole defined it as “the presence of Jesus among His people called out as a spiritual family to pursue His mission on this planet.”  Reproduction of the church means multiplying, not just adding.  These churches are born out of indigenous cultural settings and will reproduce best along ethnolinguistic lines.  It becomes a movement when, like a dam finally breaking, there is no stopping or controlling it.  I’m not sure we really know what that looks like in America.  Our western style of doing church—with its big structures, lots of staff, multiple programs—is not rapidly reproducible.

Why is our focus on church planting?  Indeed, it is the biblical pattern we find in Scripture.  It ensures that the fruits of our labors are preserved.  It gives us a place to nurture multi-generational believers.  It is how we’ll reach the unreached and lay a foundation for discipling entire nations.  And it very practically gives us a measure of the completion of the task.  Listen, this is not just a short-term project we can take on.  We’re talking about a task that is much bigger than any one church can accomplish on its own.  We need God; we need the united Church.  The effort must be covered in prayer.  It requires accurate information and research.  And it is a long term process, not an event that has a beginning and end.

The focus is on discipleship.  This is no small statement.  To not just grow but multiply, a church must be obedient to Christ.  Not just hearers of the Word, but doers.  After all, that’s the Scriptural imperative: make disciples.  The problem is we’ve made teaching, baptizing, preaching, and all sorts of other things the imperative.  Those things are important, but the mandate is clear: make disciples.  This is going to require a lifestyle change for all of us!  We’re too busy to make disciples.  We’re too reliant upon pre-packaged programs and messages that make us feel better about how we’re living.  We’ve watered down the gospel and made the blood of Christ like kool-aid.  If a person will just pray a prayer and come to church once a while, we declare them fit for heaven.  They are top of the class if they even give some money.  The reality is praying a prayer is just the beginning.  You’ve just been introduced!  The focus must be on the discipleship that follows.

This is completely my own side-note, but I want to point out where I think our own discipleship must begin.  We don’t take sin near seriously enough.  We must absolutely repent of it.  Not just pray for forgiveness, but also truly turn away.  Repentance is the beginning of discipleship.  James 4:9, in regards to sin in our lives, says we must “Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.”  Not because we got caught or because it had certain negative effects, but because it separates us from God.  The Bible instructs us to run away from sin as fast as we can.  Do not allow temptations to fester and pull you away from your fellowship with God.  It warns us the dangers of miring our lives in it over and over.  In doing so, we make the cross work of Christ as nothing!  Does that notion not break your heart as it does mine?  Hebrews 10:26, 29: “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins…How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?”  Whatever it is we’re facing that we maybe think God just doesn’t understand or is simply too much for us to resist, remember what Hebrews 12:3-4 says.  “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.  In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”  What we’re faced with is nothing compared to what Christ endured on the cross, and He did so without sinning.  So run the race, flee from sin, crucify yourself daily, and follow Him.

Why do I digress into that?  Just remember, we cannot teach what we do not know.

A second requirement of multiplication is the development of leadership who are encouraged and trained in the Word.  Jesus focused on a few men and sent them out.  That should be our model too.  The huge rally strategy isn’t going to work.  A new church must be built up through its leadership.  Teaching them obedience to Christ is essential.  And it is important to distinguish between commandments, biblical practices, and human customs.  Allow the Holy Spirit to work through any cultural issues.  We must trust His guidance toward the people and the people’s ability to follow the Holy Spirit’s direction.  We’re not calling people to extract themselves from their cultural identity.  Remember, we’re there to help them become like Christ, not like us!  Another warning involves providing funds to support the leadership.  New indigenous believers need the opportunity to learn about generosity and stewardship.  Throwing money will create dependency, which will always freeze multiplication.  We should focus our efforts on a single people group to multiply churches, providing contextualization, avoiding syncretism, encouraging group decisions, and emphasizing community.

The cycle for rapid and spontaneous multiplication of the church begins with envisioning the task.  Then you mobilize through prayer and begin equipping those persons whom God has revealed as leaders.  A church is planted and leadership development takes place with an emphasis on obedience to Christ.  Those leaders then envision their role in the task and the cycle begins anew.  So where do we begin?  Dr. Bobby Gupta, President of the Hindustan Bible Institute, which has been responsible for planting thousands of churches in India, stated that the best place to start is by asking a simple but loaded question.  It’s one that I want each of you to ask yourself and what your role is for it:  what does it look like when the task is complete?

Spontaneous Multiplication