When It Gets Hard, Remember This..

A few months ago, Curt and I spent some time in South Asia encouraging church planters serving in one of the least evangelized countries in the world. One of my favorite times during our trip was when I got to share with the women on the team. Its so easy for me to encourage overseas church planters because I truly love them and wish i was back overseas with them doing that work RIGHT NOW have a wholehearted passion for that work. So talking with a group of very mature and cool ladies about what we all love while I am actually sitting there among them? Totally fun. Especially in a warm and beautiful place!

One of the best things Curt and I saw during our time there was the workers truly being the Body of Christ to one another. Ohhh how I miss that depth of relationship and fellowship that has been so difficult to duplicate in the States because of our highly individualistic culture. While the two of us have a very high view of what good teaming is and should look like based on our own exceptional teaming experience, it was such a joy to see that being lived out in South Asia. When you are a member of the Body of Christ, being FAMILY to one another should be a no brainer. We are brothers and sisters after all. But sometimes that feels pretty optional here in the States, unlike on the field, where it is essential for survival! I know the willingness to intimately share life like this is something that comes more naturally to some than others, but it is absolutely critical for everyone to be invested in and intentional about. Not only does it communicate Gospel love to those you are living among, but its how we are called to live and show love to one another as the Body of Christ. The sad truth is that the number one reason why people leave the field is because of difficult teaming issues. We need to do better than that, so well done, South Asia team, Curt and I are grateful for and encouraged by your example.

But even though its an honor and a privilege to serve the Lord using the gifts He has uniquely given you in one of the richest cultures and coolest places in the world, and even more so on a high functioning team, the reality is that you are living and working in enemy territory. And Satan is constantly trying to take you down. Constantly.

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.” (1 Peter 5:8-9 ESV)

On the field you really get a sense of what a daily battle that is. Whether its distraction, discouragement, laziness, ants, roaches, sickness, interrupted plans, missed opportunities, rats, frustration, unbelief, temptation, power outtages, pride, corruption, culture shock, and the list goes on and on, he is constantly vying for your attention, affection and joy. So when its hard, remember these things…

God is with me in this.

DSCN4985On some days, that is all you are going to have and that is OK because that really is enough. I know. I have had those days.

“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:8, ESV)

Being here is not my right, nor is it my misfortune. That I GET to be here is an honor, a privilege, and a blessing.

Remember that. Because it is.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9, ESV)

Never ever lose sight of the “Wow” factor.

IMG_3026Every day you will likely see or experience things that are completely foreign to what you previously knew as daily life in America. Sleeping under an active volcano? Holding hands with an orangutan? Playing in a waterfall in the middle of a rainforest to cool off on a hot day? Snorkelling in a coral reef that feels like I am in “Finding Nemo?” Eating freshly caught grilled fish that cost $5 USD at the edge of the ocean on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world? Uh yeah, I got to do all that…and so much more. America is quite the letdown in comparison. Just being honest..And that doesn’t even touch the surface of how incredibly exciting it is to share the Gospel with those who have never heard before. What a thrill, what a privilege that is. Its life transforming and you get to be a part of it. It doesn’t get any better than that.

But, as it is written,“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9 ESV)

But the most important thing to remember when its hard and even more importantly, when its easy (are there days like that on the field?!), is…

THE WORD IS MY ANCHOR.

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,  that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, ESV)

Read it daily, no matter what and no matter what side of the world you find yourself on. Remember verses that encouraged you during difficult times and come back to them. The verses that God uses to speak to you during your times of deepest pain will likely be ones that will encourage you the most during times of struggle because they will remind you how close and personal the Lord is, and how He carried you through before and will carry you through again. He will. He’s God.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Psalm 119:105, ESV)

Yes, it is.

I have found it especially helpful to have what I call a “compass” verse/chapter/passage. Your compass verse is the one that reminds you what is true, that points you back to the Gospel during times where you need reminding. For me, Isaiah 55 is my compass.

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters;and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food, hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. 

Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. 

For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the LORD, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 55 ESV)

Looking back over my now 50 years long life (WHAT. FIFTY.), some of the times of greatest spiritual growth and maturity has come from some of the times of my deepest pain. I remember the first few months we were on the field, with alllllll of the dramatic changes that were going on, transitioning to such a different culture in one of the darkest places in the world, it literally brought me to the end of myself. And that was one of the best things that ever happened to me, and it was absolutely the best thing that ever happened to my kids because it destroyed the sin, idol, and illusion of self sufficiency, and made us so wholly dependent on the Lord and every one of His promises. Being broken makes you desperate for God and allows you to know Him, trust Him and submit to Him in deep, intimate ways. When I say, “His grace is sufficient,” I mean it because I have intimate knowledge of that Truth from personal experience. Besides, its in the Bible so that makes it true regardless of my personal experience 🙂 But…we tend to live our lives trying to avoid pain and brokenness, trying to look like we have it all together, not wanting anyone to see “the real me.” We skim along the surface of relationships because we are afraid to “go deep,” to let others see our weaknesses and struggles or to let God break us.

Don’t just “hang out” with Jesus or each other. We weren’t created for that. Go deep. Love Him and love each other wholeheartedly. You will be blessed.

One of the Reasons Why I Love Being With Church Planters

“O God! Thou hast made us for Thyself and our souls are restless, searching, til they find their rest in Thee.” St. Augustine

Curt and I spent this past weekend with some great friends, Peter and Jennie, who have served the Lord in Southeast Asia for many years. We first met them as we were preparing to move overseas back in 2006 and they’ve been a huge encouragement to us ever since. We’re great friends, but more importantly, we’re family.

There is something about being with other “sent out ones” that makes them my very favorite kinds of people to spend time with. There is an indescribable instant bonding that happens in our hearts that doesn’t happen in the course of how traditional friendships typically develop. I have tried to explain this before and always seem to fall short. It really is supernatural when God yokes hearts together.

But, today I came across some notes I took after I read, “A Shepherd’s Look at Psalm 23” by Phillip Keller, and in doing so found a beautiful description of why I love being with Peter and Jennie so much.

“I have known some of the wealthiest men on this continent intimately – also leading scientists and professional people. Despite their dazzling outward show of success, despite their affluence and their prestige, they remained poor in Spirit, shriveled in soul and unhappy in life. They were joyless people held in the iron grip and heartless ownership of the wrong master. By way of contrast, I have numerous friends among relatively poor people, people who have known hardship, disaster, and who struggle to stay afloat financially. But because they belong to Christ, and have recognized Him as Lord and Master of their lives, their owner and manager, they are permeated by a deep, quiet, settled peace that is beautiful to behold. It is indeed a delight to visit some of these humble homes where men and women are rich in spirit, generous in heart, and large of soul. They radiate a serene confidence and quiet joy that surmounts all the tragedies of their time. They are under God’s care and they know it. They have entrusted themselves to Christ’s control and found contentment.”

Do you really believe that?!

By Curt Alan, Pastor of Missions, The Summit Church, Raleigh-Durham, NC, and…Hilary’s husband

DSC_0057-001While our family was in SE Asia, we lived near a mass grave. Actually, to be specific, we lived within a 15-mile radius of more than half a dozen mass graves. Mind you, these were not big cemeteries with headstones and neatly manicured landscaping. These were plots of land where a big pit had been hastily dug and thousands of unclaimed and anonymous bodies were literally dumped and bulldozed over. Eventually, some had stone fences and memorials built around them but others have been left as unmarked mounds.

Periodically, I would visit one of these places for a time of prayer and meditation. This particular grave was said to contain between 10,000 and 12,000 bodies in it. It is hard to describe the feeling of standing beside the remains of so many people whose lives had been extinguished in a terrifying matter of minutes. It was sobering, challenging, devastating, and overwhelming — all at the same time.

At the entrance to this grave is a plaque that reads:

“Here reside the victims of the tsunami natural disaster of 26 December 2004.
May it be that their souls have been received to the side of God.”

As it is, they are likely all separated from God’s side for eternity.

We brought some visitors from the US to this site while they were in town and Hilary happened to say something to that effect to one of them while standing there.

The person stopped for a moment and, with a look of shock and disbelief on her face, said, “Do you really believe that?!”

Absolutely.

If I didn’t believe that, how could I reconcile verses like John 3: 16-18, John 14: 6, Romans 10: 9-15 and so many others. If I didn’t believe that with every fiber of who I am, what was I doing there? What had I done with my life? What had I done to my family by moving them away from the familiar and the comfortable?

Prior to the tsunami, there were only a handful of followers of Christ in this place and even fewer who were courageous enough to bear witness to the gospel to others.

For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But how are they to call on him in whim they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him 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: 13-15a)

I was once one of those that questioned the wisdom of international work. After all, “Why would anyone travel halfway around the world when there is so much need just down the street?”

Looking back, my own selfishness prevented me from asking the question from His perspective – “Ok, then what am I doing for those in need just down the street?”

The Great Commission is not an option. It isn’t reserved for those followers of Christ that go and live and work overseas. Wherever we are, wherever we are planted, we are to proclaim him. To be honest, if we aren’t grateful enough for what has been done for us to the point of wanting to share it (across the room, down the street or across the globe), we haven’t really begun to grasp the awesome beauty of it.

As I reflect on my visits to the mass graves, the memory becomes increasingly personal. It’s highly likely that my family and I now know the relatives of some of those buried in those mounds. We became part of their lives and had the privilege of being among those sent to preach of them.

Charles Spurgeon once said, “Someone asked: will the heathen who have never heard the Gospel be saved? It is more a question with me whether we — who have the Gospel and fail to give it to those who have not — can be saved.”