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

From Saint Augustine’s Confessions..

Whenever I need a good book to read, I just ask my son Jordan. He reads theology for fun, has great taste in literature, and is always reading several good books at one time. It’s been a while since he told me to read Augustine’s “Confessions.” Since he reads allllllllll the time, he gets through a lot more books than I do in a year. So I’m a little behind. I just started reading it this week and was hooked from the first page when I read this, which is often quoted..

The thought of you stirs him (man) so deeply that he cannot be content unless he praises you, because you made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.”

And then I found this when I turned the page, I found this..Needless to say, now I can’t put this book down.

What, then, is the God I worship? He can be none but the Lord God himself, for who but the Lord is God? What other refuge can there be, except our God? You, my God, are supreme, utmost in goodness, mightiest and all-powerful, most merciful and most just. You are the most hidden from us and yet the most present amongst us, the most beautiful and yet the most strong, ever enduring and yet we cannot comprehend you. You are unchangeable and yet you change all things. You are never new, never old, and yet all things have new life from you. You are the unseen power that brings decline upon the proud. You are ever active, yet always at rest. You gather all things to yourself, though you suffer no need. You support, you fill, and you protect all things. You create them, nourish them, and bring them to perfection. You seek to make them your own, though you lack for nothing. You love your creatures, but with a gentle love. You treasure them, but without apprehension. You grieve for wrong, but suffer no pain. You can be angry and yet serene. Your works are varied, but your purpose is one and the same. You welcome all who come to you, though you never lost them. You are never in need yet are glad to gain, never covetous yet you exact a return for your gifts. We give abundantly to you so that we may deserve a reward; yet which one of us has anything that does not come from you? You repay us what we deserve, and yet you owe nothing to any. You release us from our debts, but you lose nothing thereby. You are my God, my Life, my Holy Delight, but is this enough to say of you? Can any man say enough when he speaks of you? Yet woe betide those who are silent about you! For even those who are most gifted with speech cannot find words to describe you.”

 

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.