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.

The 2 Suitcase Rule and the Backpack Goal

suitcasesCurt and I have a rule for Summit Church members going on a short term trip to visit an overseas church planter.

Ya gotta take 2 suitcases.

No whining about baggage rules and weight limits now. Most airlines will still allow 2 bags per overseas ticket up to 50 pounds. Without mentioning any names,  American Airlines, if you do incur a small baggage fee on your domestic flight, consider it your opportunity to practice Biblical generosity and simply pay it without complaining.

Why the two bag rule?… Don’t pilgrims travel light? Go minimalist? They certainly do, because just one of those bags is for you and your stuff, because the other is for the team you are going to work alongside. And that one needs to be filled right to that 50 pound weight limit too because its going to be chock full of stuff the team wants from the States. Not junk that you found when you cleaned out your pantry that you don’t want but you’re sure the people serving overseas would “because they should be grateful for anything,” but rather the entirety of their wish list, because you’re that thoughtful and awesome.

In the months leading up to your going, you will have emailed the team on the ground and asked, “What can we bring you from the States?” That question will have been posed to everyone on the team. And then your job will have been to pass along their wish lists to your small group, their small group, or anyone else you can involve in “blessing the missionaries” in a very western way — by doing what we do best in America — accumulating stuff!! Another way you can bless them is to provide your home address for them to pass on to their parents who may want to send a package to your home to be brought across the ocean.

I will never forget the first team that came to visit us in Southeast Asia. We had been on the ground for 6 months, living in a place where there was no mall, no Starbucks, no Target, no western anything really. (How DID we survive? After a while it was really rather easy. We just made do and learned to like what was available).

That first team had 6 people on it and all 6 brought 2 suitcases. Yes, they brought us SIX SUITCASES worth of cereal, pancake syrup, tennis shoes, Old Navy pants, cooking spray, brown sugar, chocolate chips, shampoo that wasn’t Pantene or Dove, toothpaste that didn’t have formaldehyde in it, ibuprofen, and other first world comforts that we couldn’t find in our city. I have never oohed and aahed so much as I did that day over things that we all take for granted because they are so readily available. It truly made our hearts sing to have western comforts brought all the way to the other side of the world for us. Even more so, it was so encouraging to us to hear about all the different people back home who had spent time gathering alllllllllll of those things for us. It felt like one big hug from our church back home. We felt very loved. So Curt and I want all of the Summit people serving overseas to feel that same kind of materialistic western American love, cuz it feels great when you are very far away from your familiar.

And for those of you who are realllllllly hard core, and want to take being like Jesus to a whole ‘nother level, you can take 2 suitcases and a backpack on your next short term trip. That backpack is what will hold your stuff, leaving you with two suitcases to bring stuff to the team.. Some people are just cool like that. I haven’t quite pulled that one off yet, but next time I go, I am going to try.