Obedience is NOT “Radical”

I have been doing a lot of radio interviews lately for the promotion of my book, Sent.  Its been a lot of fun and reminds me of the radio shows I did in Southeast Asia.  No matter how many radio interviews I do in America, I will always remember that I got my “start in radio” in my beloved province on the other side of the world. 🙂 Except on those shows I was the featured “native speaker,” helping locals improve their English skills by listening to me talk about a particular topic, and then talking with the listeners who were brave enough to call in and practice their English on the air.

I am very grateful for the opportunity to talk to people around the country about my family’s experience in leaving behind a “comfortable” American life to follow God to the ends of the earth. But one comment keeps coming up that I take every opportunity to correct..

It usually goes like this..

“Wow, what a story! What your family did was so radical in selling your home, quitting a great job with a prestigious company..” etc.

And I always answer with this..

Obedience is NOT radical. Its a response. A response rooted in love. From a right understanding of a relationship. That relationship being mine with God. Who He is in relation to who I am. To be perfectly clear, He is God and I am not. He is Lord and I am not. He is my Father and I am His child. He is my shepherd and I am just a dumb sheep. He is all knowing and I know nothing. I think you get the picture..

A Christian is someone who repents, believes in, trusts, and obeys Christ.  A Christian is someone who has surrendered their life to Christ. So does it even make sense that you wouldn’t obey and follow someone you had surrendered your life to? How can we say “Jesus is Lord” and not then put our YES on the table to go where ever He tells us to go, and do whatever He tells us to do? If that YES comes with conditions, then there is a misunderstanding about who really is Lord.

In the simplest terms, if Curt and I ask Jordan and Molly to do something and they then do it, would we say, “Wow! You kids are so radical for obeying your parents! That is awesome!” Sorry, Jordan and Molly but you know you would never hear that response from me and Dad 🙂 Its what we expect from them, based on a right understanding of our relationship.

The other wrong I want to right here in this one blog post is the idea that somehow we made some kind of  “sacrifice” in doing what we did.

Obedience is never a sacrifice.

The only one who made a sacrifice was Jesus, who laid down His life so we could be reconciled to God.

Following the Lord in obedience to Southeast Asia was never a sacrifice. It was a privilege, an honor, a blessing. God did us a favor when He called us away from SAS Institute, from our big house, from our self absorbed, materialistic, superficial cultural Christian lifestyle.

The bottom line is obedience is easy when you believe and you trust. It doesn’t mean the process of obedience will be easy. Mine sure wasn’t. Believe God is who He says He is in His Word. Trust that God is who He says He is in His word. And then put your YES on the table. That’s obedience. It is not radical and it is never a sacrifice.

10 Essential Characteristics of an Effective International Church Planter: #1 Spiritual Vitality and Maturity

#1 Spiritual Vitality and Maturity

One of the responsibilities my husband Curt has, that he enjoys the most, is overseeing the training of prospective international church planters sent out by the Summit Church. He wants to make sure that every Summit member that goes to the nations is a well-discipled disciple maker. “That’s the local church’s responsibility,” he always says. 

A few years ago, Curt and his team, along with some of us who are mentors/coaches within the program, came up with a list of ten characteristics we believe to be essential to the success of an international church planter. We compiled these based on our collective field experiences and then had that list reviewed by multiple people who have spent their lives serving overseas. These characteristics are what our church teaches and disciples to within our training program. Typically, prospective planters will participate in this assessment and equipping program for 1-2 years before they either go on to additional training by their sending organization or directly to their overseas assignment.

photoThe first characteristic we focus on is spiritual vitality and maturity. That one may surprise you. Isn’t that stating the obvious? Wouldn’t someone need to be spiritually mature and vibrant before they were ready to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth? Exactly. So how do you know how you measure up? We ask these questions…

Do you give evidence of a Gospel-centered life?

Do you possess a passionate love for Jesus and a vibrant devotional life?

Do you exhibit Godly character?

Are you growing in your understanding of the Gospel and Christ-likeness?

A simple “yes, yes, yes, and yes” to these questions is not what we are looking for. Taking the Gospel to dark corners of the world where there is little to no Gospel witness is stepping into enemy territory with both feet and therefore not a great idea for those whose relationship with Christ is not yet mature.  If you go in your own strength, well, you will, fail. Having an already established mature walk with the Lord, as evidenced by the patterns that are already in place in your life through the spiritual disciplines that you have developed and display – before you leave – is what will help sustain you during the times of trial that will undoubtedly come.

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
(John 15:4-5, ESV)

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,”
(Ephesians 6:10-18 ESV)

Cultivating and nurturing your mature walk with the Lord before you leave is critical. Don’t make the mistake of assuming it will come once you are in your area of service as if those patterns will be established just because you’re on the field, or just because you are a missionary. They need to be established before you go. They’re important now and will be that much more so once you are there.

Next Characteristic: Calling

Looking Back as We Looked Forward

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.”
Ecclesiastes 3:1

IMG_2650Three plus (cringe) years into our being back in the States, I came across this… Curt’s reflections on our final house church gathering as we prepared to leave SE Asia and return to America..Three years (sigh) in and I still get a lump in my throat when I remember this day, or when I do things like look at pictures of our life there or think about my house helper and beloved friend, Natalie. Curt’s pictures of us saying goodbye on our last day together still bring me to tears…

We’re in a season of “lasts” here right now. The days are passing all too quickly and we are realizing that the activities, places, and routines that have been so usual, so normal, for us over the last 3 years are quickly coming to an end. Our last visits with certain friends, our last team meeting together, our last trip to the beach, and so on are on the horizon. Ordinary activities in this extraordinary place have taken on an even greater significance and urgency.

So, while our arrival back in our home culture still seems a ways off, the reality is that our time here, in this place, is nearly over.

One such “lasts” happened on Sunday. Our house fellowship met for the last time with its full, current, membership. One of our other members is leaving this week to attend a wedding in the US and won’t return until my wife has already left. So, we spent some time reminiscing. Our membership has changed a lot over the last few years…our family is the final remaining founding members of our house church. As others have come and gone, we’ve remained the constant thread. We’ve had lots of goodbyes. Now it is our turn.

As the date of our departure(s) approaches, I admit to feeling a whole range of emotions…

Sadness. It is difficult for all of us to leave people and places that have become so much of our lives over the last several years. There is unfinished business here and it is difficult to admit that our direct role in that work has come to an end. Our departure is clearly hitting my wife the hardest. Her heart now has deep roots here and she’s established deep connections in many people’s lives.

Worry. What will our transition back to American culture be like? I know we’ll all struggle at times with the difference between the pace, depth, and intensity of life stateside compared to that which we’ve lived with for nearly 3 years. We’re returning to a country that has changed a lot since 2006…at the same time, we return very different people than the ones that left.

Happiness. I’m happy for our kids. They are different from many of the kids that have grown up in this type of work because the bulk of their lives have been spent in America and they are returning to the culture that is most familiar to them. They’ve grown and flourished here and matured in ways they never could have in the States and can now return with a greater appreciation for the wonderful things of our home culture and with the gift of an amazing perspective on the life before them.

Excitement. I’m thrilled to be able to return to a role that connects me to the work and task that burdens my heart. I’m amazed at how God pulled us out of our former lives, carried us across the globe for His service, and is now carrying us back to continue that service. We knew that God would not lead us back to a resumption of our former lifestyle and we’re incredibly blessed to be given the opportunity to serve Him in new and exciting ways.

As we sat and worshiped together with our house fellowship the other day, we were each asked what verses God was putting on our hearts during this time of transition. The responses my family gave blew me away…

My wife read Isaiah 26: 3-4, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You. Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal.”

My son cited Jeremiah 17: 7-8, “But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

My daughter chose Deuteronomy 10:12-13, “And now, O Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good.”

And I returned to the passage that has sustained me each day for the last 3 years, Proverbs 3: 5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.”

What an amazing testimony this is. Each passage that my family chose reflects an awareness of our daily need to trust Him who sustains us. We give Him all of our emotions and know that He will carry us through.

So, in this our “season of lasts” we all recognize that our foundation is a “life of Trust.”

Amen.