One of the many reasons I love Spurgeon…

“Once more, he who really has this high estimate of Jesus will think much of him, and as the thoughts are sure to run over at the mouth, he will talk much of him. Do we so? If Jesus is precious to you, you will not be able to keep your good news to yourself; you will be whispering it into your child’s ear; you will be telling it to your husband; you will be earnestly imparting it to your friend; without the charms of eloquence you will be more than eloquent; your heart will speak, and your eyes will flash as you talk of his sweet love. Every Christian here is either a missionary or an impostor. Recollect that. You either try to spread abroad the kingdom of Christ, or else you do not love him at all. It cannot be that there is a high appreciation of Jesus and a totally silent tongue about him. Of course I do not mean by that, that those who use the pen are silent: they are not. And those who help others to use the tongue, or spread that which others have written, are doing their part well: but that man who says, “I believe in Jesus,” but does not think enough of Jesus ever to tell another about him, by mouth, or pen, or tract, is an impostor. You are either doing good, or you are not good yourself. If thou knowest Christ, thou art as one that has found honey; thou wilt call others to taste of it; thou art like the lepers who found the food which the Syrians had cast away: thou wilt go to Samaria and tell the hungry crowd that thou hast found Jesus, and art anxious that they should find him too. Be wise in your generation, and speak of him in fitting ways and at fitting times, and so in every place proclaim the fact that Jesus is most precious to your soul.”

-C.H. Spurgeon

A Word From Molly…

My guest blogger today is my 18 year old daughter…

When I chose to follow Christ, it meant that I began a life of surrender. Surrender of my own comfort, plans, dreams, and desires. As my parents were obedient to God’s calling to our family to move halfway across the world following the 2004 tsunami, I got my first example of what true surrender meant and looked like. My family began a life-changing journey that brought each one of us to our knees, and broke of us of our own self-reliance. My time overseas living in a strict Islamic culture without a doubt made me the person that I am today because every day as we lived in an area that was so incredibly spiritually dark, we were forced to rely on the power of God’s Word and His Gospel. But as I left many things in America that meant so much to me the day we boarded the plane, I never could have imagined all that God would show me, teach me, and break me of. Yes, it was surrender, but it was never a sacrifice.

Since living overseas and growing in my understanding of the Word of God, I have begun to realize what matters on this earth- what I want to devote my life to. I now long for my life to have eternal value and significance because otherwise, a life not lived in servitude to Christ is a life wasted. While living in Southeast Asia, God began to show me what it is in life that truly matters. I was taken away from American public school, church, and youth group, and was instead surrounded by men and women who were so burdened for the souls of these lost people that they would devote their lives to making His name known. As I saw my parents pour out their lives for the Muslims of Southeast Asia in the name of the Gospel, it compelled me to step out of what was previously convenient or comfortable for my first-world self. Every day was a leap outside of my comfort zone, whether it be not having power or running water for days, or even something as small as trying an unfamiliar food at a local’s house. My eyes were suddenly opened to a whole other world that existed outside of our fifty states- one where I was a social, ethnic, and religious minority for the first time in my life.

Yes, those three years were the best three years of my life, and yes, it was absolutely the most intensive learning experience of my life, but there were parts that were incredibly hard. Each day in times of great doubt I had to claim the promises of the Bible for my life- promises that He is faithful, He is good, and He provides. And on days when I was unable to do so for myself, my parents claimed them for me and reminded me of what is true.  Our family’s favorite verse became Proverbs 3: 5-6 which says, “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.” It was my three years overseas that I really learned to trust God with my whole life. He showed me how to lay all of my own desires for my life at His feet, and learn that without a doubt His plans are so incredibly better than mine. As John Piper says, “Every significant advance I have ever made in grasping the depths of God’s love and growing deep in Him has come through suffering.” While I would not say that I ‘suffered’ during my time overseas, I definitely relate to the idea of having to be broken before being molded. All that I have learned about God’s character during my walk with Christ has come through times of being broken and fighting through feelings of unbelief. God’s Word became so real to me, because I watched as He was so incredibly faithful, to both me and my future.

As the Dutch missionary Andrew van der Bijl said, “Jesus didn’t say, ‘Go if the doors are open, because they weren’t. He didn’t say ‘Go if you have an invitation or a red carpet treatment.’ He said, ‘Go’, because people need His word.” Because my parents were first obedient to God’s calling, I was then able to follow them and be shown how desperately our world needs Christ. I wasn’t reading about these people in books, and they weren’t just a number to me in the estimated 4,194,493,061 people who are living in countries with a population of less than 2% evangelical Christians- they were friends. Real people that my family and I grew to love. And while we laughed together around the dinner table, it became clear to me that no matter how many times a day they knelt on their prayer rugs, Jesus wasn’t Lord of their lives, and their souls destined for an eternity in hell.

People need Jesus, and now as I contemplate how I want my life to have significance, there seems no greater purpose than to devote your life to mission work. As a family, we often talk about how when we were serving overseas we felt that our lives mattered. We were a part of something that was so much greater than just ourselves- and everyday as we surrendered our lives to the will of God, He moved and worked in miraculous ways and did the inexplicable. What a pleasure and privilege it is to be used by God for the glorification of His name. One of my favorite quotes from John Piper’s Desiring God is “Jesus promises to work and be for us so much that we will not be able to speak of having sacrificed anything”, and that is exactly how I feel. God really was all for us- He was so incredibly all-sufficient to us during our time overseas, in the tangible and intangible.

In my Bible, I keep my original one-way plane ticket from Raleigh-Durham to Southeast Asia from 2006. As a reminder,  it is bookmarked next to one of my favorite verses which reads, “Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us”, (Eph 3:20). Yes, Christ calls us out of what’s comfortable, what’s convenient, and what’s safe, but I have continually learned that obedience to His calling and will is best. May I never forget to always see the immeasurable worth of knowing Jesus as my reward, and be willing to give of myself to gain even just a little bit more of the greatness of Christ, wherever in the world He leads.

 

Ministry is a Life Lived Together, Not “Your Husband’s Job”

Warning..I’m going to call out the women in this one. Which I can. Because I am one. And I’m 50 too. Which means I have been a woman for a long, long time, so I know some stuff. And I’ve been a mother for 22 years and a wife for almost 28, so I know some stuff about that too.

Recently Curt and I spoke on a panel about living overseas. Our audience was prospective international church planters. When I learned about a very serious issue facing the global organization we worked for when we served in Southeast Asia, I jumped at the chance to address it. The problem? The prevalence of families serving overseas who (in the organization’s words) “want to recreate a middle class American family existence overseas where the wife stays home and the husband does the ministry.” In short, they are finding that wives do not want to be held to the same expectations as their husband when it comes to learning language and sharing the Gospel. They want to have the freedom to stay at home to raise their children, be a housewife, and leave the “work” to their husbands.

WHAT?!

Since you can always count on me to have a strong opinion (I wasn’t born and raised in NYC for nothing), let me preface this the way I did that night to the people in attendance: In the 22 years that I have been a mother, I have been both a working mom and a stay at home mom. And yes, I believe that being a stay at home mom was the far more rewarding role and the one that absolutely was best for my family. So this is not a stay_at_home_Mom_hater post. Read on.

When you become a follower of Jesus, your life is no longer your own.

” Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24 ESV).

In addition, all of Jesus’ followers are called to make disciples.

 “And Jesus came and said to them, All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV).

Although disciple-making is something every Christian husband and wife is called to do, when you are called into full time ministry, and become “professional Christians,” 😉 you don’t take on a new job, you begin a new life. If you then compare your husband’s work  hours with someone who has a 9-5 corporate job, it won’t be long before the “overworked and definitely underpaid” aspect will get to you. Don’t ever look at it as a job. Remember, its a life, and one that is being well spent!

But that applies no matter what side of the world we find ourselves on. So specific to those serving overseas, I broke my response down into 5 of the roles that I now play..

GIVER

My family and I financially give as generously as we possibly can to the organization that sent us overseas for one reason.. so that unreached, unengaged people groups can hear the Gospel. Remember that. Your salary and benefits are a result of people giving “sacrificially.” (I’m not such a fan of the whole ‘sacrificial giving’ description..Jesus is the only one in every equation who made a ‘sacrifice’) As international church planters, you made a committment to devote your lives to seeing the Gospel transform entire people groups. In the case of our sending organization, both the husband and the wife sign the contract. No one financially gives so you can transplant your American life overseas, brag about being “bilingual” to your friends back home, and post exotic photos on your blog.

SENDER

In Curt’s role at the Summit Church of training and leading international church planters, he will not send anyone who is not a well equipped disciple maker fully committed to the main thing, male or female. People who are not already actively engaging unreached people in their own culture won’t do it in a foreign one. We expect both husband and wife to be doing this, while they are still in America. There are only missionaries, not ‘missionary wives’ (which sounds like a bad reality show). If you aren’t both called, then you aren’t ready to go, because you don’t yet fully understand calling.

WIFE

As Curt’s wife of almost TWENTY EIGHT YEARS, I was designed by God to be a helper to him. That’s why I participate in helping him train and equip others to take the Gospel to places where Jesus is not yet known outside of America. Although I still have a child at home, who is homeschooled, I don’t use that as an excuse not to join my husband in the work God has called us to do. As my husband and spiritual leader, Curt is called to encourage me in my own giftings in our ministry. We are one another’s first partner in the Gospel.

MOTHER

None of us lead single focus lives. For example, I am a Christ follower, a wife, a mother, a homeschooler, an author, a pregnancy care center director, a volunteer, a friend, etc. I want to model for my children what I hope to see them do: make disciples. That is not “Dad’s job,” it’s who we are as a family. And before you say, “Oh Hilary, you don’t understand how HARD it is to learn language and do ministry when you have babies or little ones.” Yes I do. First of all, Jordan and Molly weren’t born awesome teenagers. They were babies too once. Secondly, I lived alongside wives and mothers who were actively engaged in what we were all there to do. Finally, don’t forget that during my term overseas, I transitioned a middle schooler and a high schooler who had lived their whole life in the States up until that point, and were having to be homeschooled for the first time in their lives while I did language and ministry. That was not easy or relaxing. When I was home with the kids in Southeast Asia,  I made my house helper my best language teacher by talking to her for extended periods of time every day. She was the first person I shared the Gospel with in SE Asia. In addition, Curt made sure I had time every week to get out of the house and be with friends that I was actively sharing the Gospel with. Your husband can and should do that too. And think about the great mothers who have gone before us all…Ann Judson, Elisabeth Elliot, Maria Taylor, Betty Stam, just to name a few..were they sitting at home while their husbands did the work? Definitely not.

 

TEAMMATE

I’m so thankful to have served on a highly successful and highly functioning team in SE Asia. Although we were (and still are) FAMILY, we were also employees of the same company. And as someone who has years and years of work experience in many different roles, one thing was the same no matter where I worked: employees don’t get to pick and choose what part of their job they will do. They call those people, “former employees.”  In our organization, during the first year we are paid to learn the language and culture so that we can share the Gospel in the local language and in culturally appropriate ways. If you make excuses about being too busy or tired with the kids to learn, then you are taking money for a job you were hired to do that you aren’t doing. Besides, in the part of the world where we lived, males and females were segregated for the most part. It wasn’t appropriate for Curt to share with a woman. So if wives don’t learn language and culture, how will the unreached, unenaged women hear? I wouldn’t want to be on a team with a woman who wasn’t actively engaged with the language, culture, and ministry.

In short it comes down to two questions..

Are you going overseas to facilitate a specific lifestyle? If so, do that on your own dime.

Or are you going overseas willing to do whatever God asks you to do so that unreached, unengaged people groups can hear the Gospel? Fifty percent of the unreached and unenaged won’t hear the Gospel if fifty percent of those sent to proclaim the Gospel are silent. So learn the language and culture and share the Gospel because ministry is not “your husband’s job.”

An Insanely Great Book (that isn’t Sent)

I love this story, and the book, wow. A must read (after you read Sent of course). I got to sit under Nik’s teaching several years ago and I have never thought of international church planting or persecution the same way since.

Some of my favorite quotes from the book…

“I knew that God had never promised to reward obedient sacrifice with measureable success. At the same time, I wondered why our sacrifices had yielded so little. Maybe, I wondered, there were results that we could not see.”

“This was not the kind of inspirational testimony that we love to celebrate; this was raw, biblical faith.”

“Jesus is worth it. He is worth my life, my wife’s life, and He is worth the lives of my children! I have got to get them involved in what God is doing with me!”

“The greatest enemy of our faith today is not communism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Atheism, or even Islam. Our greatest enemy is lostness. Lostness is the terrible enemy that Jesus commissioned His followers to vanquish with the battle strategy that He spelled out to them in Matthew 28:18-20 (“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”) He was addressing this same enemy when He plainly clarified His purpose in coming:  “I have come to seek and to save those who are lost.”

“Those believers have also taught me a whole new perspective on persecution. For decades now, many concerned western believers have sought to rescue their spiritual brothers and sisters around the world who suffer because they choose to follow Jesus. Yet our pilgrimage among house churches in persecution convinced us that God may actually want to use them to save us from the often debilitating, and sometimes spiritually-fatal, effects of our watered down, powerless western faith.”

“After almost 20 years of walking through this world of persecution and talking to hundreds of believers who suffer for their faith, we can say without a shadow of a doubt that the primary cause of “religious persecution” in the world today is people surrendering their hearts and lives to Jesus. For decades the western church has been taught to pray and work for an end to the persecution of fellow believers around the world. We enlist our congregations, our denominations, and even our government to speak out and pressure oppressive regimes in hostile nations to end discrimination. Sometimes we even demand that persecutors be punished.”

“We seem to forget that Jesus himself promised that the world would reject and mistreat His faithful followers just as it rejected Him. Could it be that the only way that Almighty God could actually answer prayers asking Him to end the persecution of believers … would be to stop people from accepting Christ as their Lord and Savior? If people stopped accepting Christ as Lord and Savior … persecution would end immediately. That would be the only way to end persecution.”

“We have seldom encountered a mature believer living in persecution who asked us to pray that their persecution would cease. We have never heard that request. Rather, believers in persecution ask us to pray that “they would be faithful and obedient through their persecution and suffering.”

That is a radically different prayer.”

Yes it is..

10 Essential Characteristics of an Effective International Church Planter: #2 Calling

Curt and I have already blogged about “Calling” in previous posts, so I will keep this one brief.

A Christian is someone who believes in, trusts, and obeys Jesus as Lord and Savior.  And what was one of the commands that Jesus gave his disciples? Follow Me.  This command is repeated 23 times in the Gospels.  So it should come as no surprise that our calling as Christians is to Follow Jesus..where ever He leads.

But all too often, potential church planters tell us of their supposed calling to a particular people group or a particular place in the world.  This is an important distinction to make.  If we serve because we are “called” to a particular people or place, rather than serving the Lord who called us to Follow Him, then our calling is misguided. Our service to a particular people or place is a response to our desire and “calling” to serve Christ first and foremost.

For those who are called to take the Gospel to unreached people groups in an overseas context, we ask three questions of them:

a. Can they communicate a compelling personal calling? Do others recognize their call?

b. Are they ready to work hard to see this calling fulfilled?

c. For couples – does their spouse share their call? Do their children support their call?

While following Jesus may indeed take you to a specific place or people, which may or may not be limited to the United States, calling is not defined by geography. When we willingly surrender our lives to Christ, we do so without condition.

Lord, I will follow you where ever you send me and do whatever you tell me to do, regardless of what that means. That is our calling.

Next: #3 Healthy Marriage and Family

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.”