Monday, December 27, 2010

Everything we need, or, how to live above the fray

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. 2 Peter 1:3-4

Sometimes, like the old Calgon commerical said, we just want to get away.

Something in human nature longs for "otherness" -- something beyond what we see. Even when we are passionate about our work, serve people we love dearly, and have deep relationships, we're susceptible to a longing for "otherness" when we see the reality of evil in the world. At times the evil seems far away. Other times we learn it was closer than we ever imagined - around the corner, in a hidden part of our neighborhood, in an otherwise nondescript office. Worst of all are the times we see glimpses of the evil in our own heart; these glimpses will either drive us to despair or bring us to our knees.

How wonderful, then, that God gives a means of escape. Certainly eternal escape - He offers us the hope of heaven and the gift of salvation when we embrace all that He is for us in Christ as a result of His sacrifice. But He also gives us what we need to escape that worst of all evil, the evil within our own hearts.

Writing to Christians about the Second Coming, Peter actually starts by focusing on a more immediate opportunity for escape: how to escape the corruption in the world. This corruption, caused by evil desires, can overwhelm us at times. Peter refuses to allow his readers to focus entirely on the perfect world that will come when Jesus returns. Instead, he exhorts them toward kingdom living NOW.

All desires aren't evil. Peter's focus is on evil desires and their fruit, corruption in the world. Corruption seen in our own hearts and in broken relationships with other people, with creation, within society, and of course with God. Peter teaches that we can escape this corruption and instead participate in the divine nature - not becoming divine, but becoming a new creature. In 1 Peter 1:23 we learn that we are reborn of "imperishable seed" - we are born of God, as John 1:13 emphasizes. And we are being conformed to the image of Christ.

How does this happen? Through the "very great and precious promises" which God has given to us because of His glory and goodness. What promises? In Peter's context, certainly the Second Coming: "But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells." (2 Peter 3:13). In light of His coming, we can live differently today. Why? Because nothing of "the world" that could be attractive to us will last. It's all temporary. John Piper, in his book Future Grace, defines sin as a desire for something that is stronger than our desire for God. When we realize that our "evil desires" are for things that are fading away, and that He has promised something better to come, we find the power to say no to sin and yes to God.

Certainly there are other promises as well. Promises like "I will never leave you or forsake you". Like "with every temptation He will provide a way out". The New Testament is filled with promises and we are wise to equip ourselves to draw from those promises when we are fighting a spiritual battle. And yet Peter's focus on the promise of the Second Coming is especially significant when we desire to live above the fray of this world. When we long for escape, we need to embrace that He has promised us that and much, much more.

How do we begin to draw on this promise? Peter starts this passage by telling us everything we need for life and godliness is already ours through our knowledge of God. Not through a general knowledge, but our knowledge. It has to be personal. We have everything we need. But we only begin to know that to the degree that we know Him. "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent," Jesus said to the Father (John 17:3).

Whatever corruption your corner of the world faces tonight, whatever realities near or far you wish to escape, whatever is hanging over your head that you wish weren't there ... you have everything you need to live a godly life in the face of it. There is a hope that goes beyond this temporal world. He is risen. He is coming. We will rise with Him one day. Because of this very great and precious promise, we can overcome through Him today.


Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Magic, Christmas Miracles, Christmas Mystery

One of the ways God reminds me the He's in control is by asking me to trust Him when He asks me to be flexible. In general I'm a planner and in general God uses my strategic approach - after all, He made me this way. But He knows I can easily treat my list and plans as masters instead of servants, and become enslaved to a schedule. Over the years I've grown used to schedules that change, unexpected interruptions that turn out to be divine appointments - you get the idea.

What I wasn't expecting was yesterday's sudden change of Christmas plans. Potential inclement weather in our area changed our Christmas plans from Christmas Eve to Dec. 23. I could deal easily enough with the practical logistics of the change - I managed to get out the door quickly and only forgot one item. What took a little adjustment was getting internally aligned with God's plan for our extended family's Christmas celebration.

While I know in my head that Christmas is all about Jesus, and that it's just a date we choose to celebrate because we don't know when He was "really" born, and that the traditions sometimes distract us from the main focus of the season, the reality of this human heart is that much of what we call "Christmas magic" is wrapped up in those traditions. Certain foods cooked certain ways ... attending services at certain times with certain family members ... listening to specific stations when traveling because you know they have the best Christmas music ... late nights spent with family members in a cozy living room ... none of it bad, all of it precious, all wrapped up in those "Christmas magic" moments for my family. You have your own "Christmas magic" moments.

Yesterday it took some work for "Christmas magic" moments. Most stations along the way weren't playing Christmas music exclusively (making me appreciation 101.1 KLRC all the more!). I forgot and left our reindeer antlers behind (one of our traditions is wearing them into gas stations and restaurants at our stops along the way to make people smile). We had already finished our traditional Christmas novel. The trip was, by necessity, rushed. And yet at the end, it was just perfect. Precious time with family, a gift from my brother of Handel's Messiah which gave us the perfect music for the trip home, reading some Christmas short stories, just being together.

As I've reflected today, though, I realize that "Christmas Magic" moments are always tenuous at best. Looking back over my life, many "Christmas Magic" moments have changed. The grandparents who used to be a big part of that for me are now with the Lord. I no longer pretend to believe in Santa Claus so my little brother doesn't get disappointed. There are no Christmas light tours with Pawpaw, pretending that I believe the airport navigation light is Rudolph's nose. My parents don't live in the house I grew up in. New "Christmas Magic" moments have arisen in their place, precious traditions that we've grown to love such as attending a Christmas Eve service with Bob's son and wife. Yet as this year reminded me, even these traditions are subject to change.

Ah, but the Christmas Miracle. That never changes. As I've refocused away from the Magic and onto the Miracle, I've been reminded of the awesomeness of the story. It's not just a sweet tradition. It's the Greatest Story Ever Told. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory." Immanuel, God with us ... the One who, although He existed as fully God, emptied Himself and took on flesh. Not just any flesh - but a lowly baby of a poor family in a forgotten corner of the world. A birth unheralded by the world but so important to God that He sent angels to announce it and a star to mark the location. Like any proud Father, He wanted the world to know all the vital facts about His Son.

And there enters the Christmas Mystery. How could Jesus be fully God and fully man? How could all the fullness of the Godhead dwell in this infant's body? Why did God choose this method for salvation? As a contemporary Christian song says, "This is such a strange way to save the world." Strange, but true. And for those who believe, the Christmas Mystery never loses its awe.

You may be struggling today at feeling the "Christmas Magic". Whatever circumstances have you down, wherever service to God's kingdom has led you that may not feel a bit like 'home', remember the Miracle and Mystery of His birth. Our human attempts to make this holiday special are only dim reflections of the heart of God who heralded His birth like none before or since. He will give you a way to make this day special.

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Book review: Unto the Hills by Billy Graham

Much of life is lived in the valley, not on the mountaintop.

With this reality in mind, 25 years ago Billy Graham compiled 365 daily devotionals out of his more than 50 years of Gospel ministry. This volume has been updated for clarity and accuracy and re-released by Thomas Nelson Publishers. Unto the Hills is traditionally structured, with readings for each day of the year along with a scripture passage and suggested prayer.

Graham’s life message is quite simple: The Gospel of Jesus Christ is worth believing, and is sufficient for anything life might bring. That life message is also the message of Unto the Hills: From the valleys, we can still look to the hills, as David did in Psalm 121:1, and be reminded that our help does, indeed, come from the loving hand of God Himself.

Graham compiles some of his best-known anecdotes and quotes in this volume, and for those familiar with his ministry the result is a devotional that feels familiar even if you’ve not previously read it. The focus is not Billy Graham, however. On every page, the reader is pointed to the Word of God, His character, and the sufficiency of Jesus Christ. Like Graham’s ministry, the author is secondary to the Author.  

Unto the Hills avoids the non-essentials of the Christian faith and just reminds readers of the simple yet profound essential truths. It’s a great book to give a new Christian, to build on the foundation Christ has established in his or her life. It’s also a great devotional to refocus on the fundamentals of our faith … the “old, old story” of redemption through the blood of Christ, the message that never grows old.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Kingdom lessons from Hogan's Heroes

I'm not going to pretend that my love for the 60s TV show "Hogan's Heroes" is primarily spiritual in nature. Its actually my "mindless entertainment" - my way of unwinding and sharing a laugh or two with my husband. As I've blogged before, I love it because good and evil are clearly defined and in every episode, the evil Nazis get their comeuppance at the hands of the good Allies.

But I can't help noticing that there are some real parallels to being on mission with God. Tonight's episode was no different, but it left me reflecting in new ways on this journey to be a World Christian, a kingdom-focused believer in the world but not of the world.

The basic premise of the show focuses on a handful of prisoners of war in a German POW camp. These Allies from England, France, the U.S., and occasionally Russia volunteered for an unusual assignment when they were captured: Rather than escaping at the first opportunity (the SOP for POW's), they committed to not escape and instead use whatever means available to help other prisoners escape and undermine the German war effort. Here are just a few of the kingdom lessons I've observed watching Hogan's Heroes:
  • What bonds us together is more significant than our differences. The Heroes are defined by their commitment to a common goal: defeating a common enemy. Their differences are very real and often come out during their good-natured ribbing at each others' cultural quirks. But Hogan never lets them forget who the real enemy is. Scripture reminds us of the same truth. In Mark 9, Jesus taught His disciples not to get distracted by unimportant issues: Mark 9:38-40 (NASB) John said to Him, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to prevent him because he was not following us." But Jesus said, "Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is for us."
  • It takes a team. The prisoners in the camp have different talents. There's Hogan, the leader; Newkirk, the complaining safecracker; Kinch, the quiet radio man; Carter, the nerdy ammunition expert; and Lebeau, the proud French chef whose apple strudel can distract a guard in a heartbeat. There's also the frontline underground, who risk their lives in ways the prisoners can't, the coordinating team in London, as well as the military personnel still fighting. Yet they back each other up and never forget they are on the same side. Similarly, being on mission with God is a team effort. Whether we are on the front line, working "underground" in a secular environment, gathered with teammates or working alone, in a support role or a primary leadership responsibility - we are all on the same team. It's been said that everyone on "the field" needs at least 12 back home actively engaged in prayer and practical support roles (as well as financial supporters). Whether you are the one or the 12, we have to remember we're on a team.
  • Don't major on minors. In tonight's episode, the team's goal was to obtain top secret troop movement information. To do that they staged a boxing match. Kinch lost the match intentionally, and the guys who bet on the match lost a lot of money to the German guards. They were complaining about the losses and Hogan reminded them "We have something more important - pictures of those maps". Often we get distracted by the minor elements, the staging ground God lays out to accomplish His bigger purpose. As we lift our eyes to Him, He will shift our focus and help us stay aware of what really matters. Keeping a kingdom perspective is crucial to being on mission with God. 
  • Evil comes in obvious - and not-so-obvious - clothes. Sometimes the evil in Hogan's Heroes is easy to identify. We know that the truck carrying German weapons represents the evil Nazis. It might take a while to determine whether the beautiful girl is really with the underground or actually Gestapo. In Hogan's Heroes, the enemy knows the weaknesses of the prisoners and tries to exploit them. The same is true of our enemy. If he can get to us as an "angel of light" (2 Corinthians 11:14) then he never needs to bare his teeth and show us his full demonic nature. Unfortunately we discover that later - often too late 
  • There is more going on beneath the surface than we will ever imagine. Hogan's Heroes have built an elaborate underground structure - tunnels that contain storage areas, radio rooms, fake printing presses, even food. The enemy walks on top of these tunnels daily, usually without suspecting a thing. Similarly, what God is up to in the world is beyond anything we can fathom. He is orchestrating the movement of nations and people, the minute details of life and the big picture of the world, for His glory to open doors for the Gospel to all people. Habakkuk never could have imagined the kingdom purpose God had for Babylon surrounding Israel - but God was definitely at work. Habakkuk 1:5; 2:14 "Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days - you would not believe if you were told....For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea." As Paul noted to the Romans (Romans 11:33) "Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!". When the enemy prowls about like a roaring lion, He has absolutely no idea what God has planned just under the surface of what's going on. 
Whether you're a Hogan's Heroes fan or not, I hope this quick look has encouraged you in thinking about God's kingdom purposes. I like to say that no one will ever be more passionate to fulfill the Great Commission than God Himself. He has a purpose and invites us to join Him in it. Our assignment might look a little out of the ordinary - and it definitely won't be as safe as escaping to heaven would be - but the rewards are eternal. May you be encouraged today to stay in the battle - if you're on mission with God, you are one of Heaven's Heroes!

Advent Week 2: Peace

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 
(Isaiah 9:6, NIV)

Peace. We often know it most by its absence. We can go for weeks or months resting well at night and easily take peace for granted. We don't think "Wow, I feel really peaceful today". We recognize immediately, though, when it is absent.

An unexpected medical diagnosis. A middle-of-the-night phone call. A child who doesn't come home one night. All things that throw us into immediate anxiety. In crisis mode, peace is naturally elusive.

As much as we might wish otherwise, Jesus didn't come to erase all challenges to our peace. God never promises the absence of struggles. Instead, He gives us something much greater: a Son - one who will be called "Prince of Peace".

The Son, of course, is Jesus. Jesus came first of all to bring us to peace with God. Romans 5 says that we were God's enemies, but He sent Jesus to demonstrate His love for us so that we could enter His peace. Secondly, Jesus came to be peace between people. Ephesians 2:14 says "For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups [Jews and Gentiles] into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall ...". The presence of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, brings peace to individuals and to people groups. When we unite around Jesus, we find that He brings peace into situations we thought were hopeless.

Then when we do face those inevitable struggles of life, we have the guarantee of His presence. Like Peter, who slept while imprisoned, or Paul and Silas, who led a worship service at midnight from jail, we can find peace despite our circumstances. Not because of the absence of challenges, but because of the presence of a Person.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Advent, Day 1: Threads of Hope

Now there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon who was righteous and devout, looking for the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. So Simeon, directed by the Spirit, came into the temple courts, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what was customary according to the law, Simeon took him in his arms and blessed God, saying, “Now, according to your word, Sovereign Lord, permit your servant to depart in peace.For my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples: a light, for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” So the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “Listen carefully: This child is destined to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be rejected.Indeed, as a result of him the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul as well!”

There was also a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old, having been married to her husband for seven years until his death. She had lived as a widow since then for eighty-four years. She never left the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment, she came up to them and began to give thanks to God and to speak about the child to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:25-37)
I never cease to be amazed at God's way of weaving together the different threads of my Bible studies, ministry preparation, Bible reading, devotionals, and even my pastor's sermons. It's as though He has a kingdom calendar and determines that these different threads will coalesce into something logical on a day that makes perfect sense. Today was one of those amazing days.

It's the first Sunday of Advent. I've been eager for this season of focus and anticipation. I've grown to love the practice of being intentional about keeping Jesus at the forefront through a daily Advent calendar Scripture reading and the symbolic candles. This year God led me to add a reading plan from our local Christian radio station and a devotional/reading plan from YouVersion. In what I thought was an unrelated note, I started a Bible study 3 days ago on the fruit of the Spirit. Today, as I worked through the devotional, these threads all came together for me around the focus of today's symbolic candle, hope.

The first week of Advent emphasizes Waiting. Advent remembers the waiting on the Messiah's first coming and reminds us to be ready and waiting for His second coming. In the years leading up to the first coming, two precious individuals waited on the Messiah. Simeon and Anna remind me of two dear saints in the Lord from my own family, my Pawpaw and my mother-in-law Jeanne. Both are with the Lord now, but if I can think of two people who reflect the intimacy with God we see in Simeon and Anna, it would be those two.

Think about it. What intimacy with God must have preceded Simeon's proclamation that Jesus was God's salvation, a light for the Gentiles and the glory of Israel? Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit was upon him and actually directed him to go into the temple at the moment that he did. I don't know what Simeon was like, but I am so overly analytical that I often talk myself out of times the Holy Spirit might redirect my steps. "Is this a distraction or a divine appointment?" is a question I often ask myself. I think it's a legitimate question, and I don't want to overspiritualize Simeon by assuming he was so saintly that he never wondered such things. What I do see is a man who had walked with the Lord long enough to go in the direction of the Spirit - and as He always does, the Spirit led Him right to Jesus' feet.

And what about Anna? What depth of relationship must this widow have had to become one of the earliest witnesses to the first coming? I see in Anna a woman who poured every bit of her loneliness into worship - and was rewarded beyond measure when the Messiah was born.

The first step to experiencing Jesus more is being in His presence. I must pursue Him intently, giving up what needs to be laid down and taking up only what is permeated with His presence. I may not always feel incredibly spiritual. Sometimes, the waiting on fruitfulness might seem endless. But it will never be pointless. Like Simeon and Anna, one day all the threads of hope will come together.

This first day of Advent, may you find your hope in Him, even when you don't know how long the waiting will last. The Holy Spirit will reveal Him to you. That's His job - to point to Jesus.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Where [there is] no vision, the people perish (Prov. 29:18a, KJV)

I've just visited a website of a church with a vision to be intentionally multi-ethnic. Just before that, I browsed a new site for a ministry designed to guide believers into connecting globally through  groups focusing on a specific social justice issue. On my Facebook feed, I keep up with the number of rescues daily for a trafficking rescue group. At one point I was on no fewer than 7 daily prayer point lists -- all with unique visions and emphases. I truly value vision.

But over the course of my time as a Christian I've probably fallen off the horse on every possible side on this issue. I look back and see times I've been:
  • The apathetic Christian - focusing on myself and my own relationship with God without seeing the spiritual or physical needs of the world in which He placed me.
  • The overly-distracted Christian - attempting to give equal attention to every vision and feeling condemned for not feeling more passionate about things.  
  • The irritatingly-focused Christian - thinking my vision was seemingly ultimate and trying to convince everyone else it should be their vision too.

What I'm learning is that as with anything else, there is a Biblical balance to be found when talking about vision. What God has increasingly convicted me of is that what I perceive as "my" vision (or calling, or whatever word you use) - or even His vision for me - must always remain secondary to His big-picture purpose, and His "vision" as revealed in His word. Other translations of the well-known Proverb use the word "revelation" instead of "vision" and that helps me keep my own "vision" in perspective -- it's always secondary to His revelation as given in His Word.

Please don't think I'm diminishing the importance of vision. I love the visionaries in my life and a single-minded focus on a God-given task is critical in the work of the kingdom - without it we would have no completed Bible translations, to give just one example. The challenge comes when the single-minded focus turns myopic and we begin to view the focus as ultimate, rather than seeing it as one of many links in a chain far too complex for us to understand this side of heaven. That's why one of my all-time favorite missions quotes is this one from John Piper, which reminds me that even though the Bible exudes missions on every page, even that God-ordained vision is secondary to a greater purpose:

Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Mission exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever. (From Let the Nations be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions)

My paraphrase of that - my vision is not the ultimate goal of my life. Worship is. If I ever find myself pushing my cause of the month or minimizing certain ministries in my own mind, I need to stop and get on my face before God. Because He is doing something bigger than I could ever imagine, and it requires children's teachers and church kitchen ministries and water bottle distributions and food pantries and rescue missions and Bible translators and frontier missionaries and ... you get the picture. If it's based in truth and focused on His glory, it doesn't matter whose name is on it or whether it fits "my" vision. The disciples learned this one directly from the mouth of our Lord:
Mark 9:38-41 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him, because no one who does a miracle in my name will be able soon afterward to say anything bad about me.For whoever is not against us is for us. For I tell you the truth, whoever gives you a cup of water because you bear Christ’s name will never lose his reward.

I think there is much to be learned from losing ourselves in someone else's ministry. In recent weeks I've read of a missionary wife who left a country she loved so her husband could take a position for which he was uniquely gifted. After struggling to find "her ministry" she sensed God calling her to help others with their visions - just make herself useful in a variety of ways. Another couple is praying for a young woman who is in the process of giving up to a year to come to their remote tribal village and just be helpful with the children so the missionary wife can learn the language. In fact, if you read the New Testament there are a lot more Priscillas and Aquilas and Epaphratases and Onesimuses (helpers) than there are Pauls and Timothys (front line missionaries). Some missions strategists say that for every missionary on the field there should be a dozen "helpers" - not all on the field, some at home doing practical things like keeping up mission houses and cars that can be used on furloughs, managing financial accounts, sending mailings, posting new updates at church, and a thousand other tasks.

Have you been trying to find where you fit in this whole missions thing?  Giving is a great place to start, prayer is essential, not optional -- but when it comes to action, maybe God has a servant's role for you. Maybe He wants you to be on someone's team or to serve the larger cause of missions in some way. Examine your gifts and those things that stir your heart. Talk to your pastor or missions leader at church. Pray for open doors. And sit back and watch what happens when you commit to being a part of God's vision as revealed in His word - taking the Gospel to every tribe, tongue, nation, and people group.
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. (Rev. 7:9, NIV)

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

A Paralyzed Body

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor in turn can the head say to the foot, “I do not need you.” On the contrary, those members that seem to be weaker are essential, and those members we consider less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our unpresentable members are clothed with dignity, but our presentable members do not need this. Instead, God has blended together the body, giving greater honor to the lesser member, so that there may be no division in the body, but the members may have mutual concern for one another. If one member suffers, everyone suffers with it. If a member is honored, all rejoice with it.
-1 Corinthians 12:21-26 (NET)

Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body.
- Hebrews 13:3 (NASB)

Part of the body of Christ is suffering tonight. Throughout the world, there are Christians facing different types of persecution. From limitations on freedoms to imprisonment to outright murder, there are plenty of areas of the world where the body is suffering and ill-treated.

The challenge for us in the West is how to respond to persecution. Do we ignore it, as so many do, hiding the reality under appealing layers of "winners-circle" theology - implying that those who suffer must not measure up in some way? Or, having become aware of the reality and condemned by our own relative ease, do we instead glorify the persecuted church - thinking that persecution must bring nothing but good?

Most evangelical churches today have at least some awareness of the persecuted church. As I've surveyed reactions in discussions about persecution, I've found at least 5 myths that are important to debunk in order to truly find a balanced Biblical approach to the persecuted church. If you see your mindset reflected in these myths don't feel bad - I've thought every one of these true at one point or another.

Myth 1: "Real" persecution is always because of evangelism and involves physical harm. The reality is that political, cultural, national, economic, moral, and personal motives merge to create a confusing blend of reasons for persecution. Persecution is best viewed on a continuum from dislike, social pressure, political policy, to arrest, torture, and possible martyrdom. It can be broadly defined as any suffering that would not occur apart from a radical commitment to Christ - a radical commitment that attracts an intentional pursuit of the Christian in a spiritual war.

Myth 2: Persecution is always good for the church. While persecution does have a purifying effect, it has also wiped out entire Christian populations, leaving no Gospel witness (such as in Japan in the 15th century). Intense, prolonged persecution can cause a church to turn inward in a fight for survival rather than outward to reach the world. Persecution can bring questions of apostasy and disunity as well. From the earliest days of the church, persecution brought opportunities for both spiritual growth and spiritual warfare. Churches in the Roman Empire were bitterly divided over whether to accept back into the fold those who had betrayed the Lord Jesus at the point of a sword - a battle that still rages in some parts of the world today.

The early church experienced long periods of peace punctuated by intense regional persecution. This allowed the church to gain strength and recover its missionary zeal, rather than merely focusing on survival. Additionally, not every area was under intense persecution at the same time, allowing some parts of the body to support, provide for, and encourage those parts being persecuted. THIS is the persecution that purified and drew the worldwide body of believers closer together.

Turning inward is also happening in the Middle East, where it can be hard in some countries for a new Muslim-Background Believer to find a pastor who will baptize him. Typically, Christians practice their faith with other Christians whose families have historically been believers. This is usually allowed - but the conversions are what "stir the pot". It doesn't help hat pastors have been burned by "false converts". Hence, increasing numbers of MBB's meet with each other raher than in unity with families who are historically Christian (for more, read Brother Andrew's books Light Force and Secret Believers). Open Doors fears the church in the Middle East is in danger of disappearing, as increasing numbers of Muslim Background Believers are fleeing to the West. It is not always wrong to flee - Paul's example includes both times of fleeing and times of staying. What is concerning is the rate at which many MBB's are fleeing.

Myth 3: God reserves persecution for spiritually elite believers. The reality is that the New Testament clearly teaches that persecution is associated with living a Christ-centered life. Rather than suffering being the exception, it is a part of normal Christian living; in fact, only 3 books in the New Testament do not deal with persecution. The idea that persecution is in some way a consequence for a lesser faith OR that it is reserved for those with superior faith is clearly unbiblical.

Myth 4: Persecution is the world's reaction to the church on a human level. Persecution is NOT of this world. It is part of spiritual warfare - the intentional pursuit against the unbeliever. This theme runs throughout the New Testament. Revelation particularly has been called a "martyrological document", with persecution setting the tone for the entire book. Brother Andrew, who ministers to the church in the Middle East, answered God's call from Rev. 3:2: "Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God." He has said, "World evangelism means spiritual warfare. When we enter into spiritual warfare, we begin to understand why whole areas of thew orld are closed off from the preaching of the Gospel, why whole nations seem to be in the grip of the evil one, why there is persecution."

Myth 5: We should not pray for persecution to end. While it's true that some persecuted believers don't ask us to pray for persecution to end but instead to pray for faithfulness and perseverance, others ARE asking us to pray for an end to the extreme persecution that is killing their witness by placing them in "survival mode". Praying for protection from evil is Biblical:
  • "Deliver us from evil" (or "the evil one") - Matthew 6:13
  • "Finally brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not all have faith." (2 Thessalonians 3:1-2)
We can and should pray for deliverance for those in chains for the Gospel, for those in severe persecution, for healing of those parts of the body of Christ that are suffering. I think of it this way: If I have a headache, or even a broken arm, I can probably work though my effectiveness might be hampered a bit. However, if I have open wounds that never heal, two untreated broken legs, and paralysis in my spine, I'm going to be completely focused on my suffering. That's what extreme persecution is like - and that's why we should pray for deliverance so the "word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored".

So - what should we in the West do in light of the persecution that is being faced by believers throughout the world. Scripture points us toward several responses:
  • Identify. First and foremost, the Scriptures above show us the importance of identifying. In different ways, both passages call us not to a spiritualized response but an intensely personal one. Until we begin to see the impact the persecution is having on the global body of Christ, we will not fully give ourselves to other efforts.
  • Pray. Throughout the New Testament - in the passages noted in point number 5, as well as many of Paul's letters - the Apostle noted the difference that prayer made in his ministry circumstances. Yes, God is sovereign - but He has ordained prayer as a means of making a difference in the earthly realm. And yes, the ultimate victory is spiritual - but He wants to make a significant impact in our circumstances as well.
  • Encourage. Hebrews is a book written to encourage believers in a persecuted situation to stay the course, keep the faith, and stay together. Those messages remain relevant today. If you have the opportunity to talk to someone from a country where Christianity is the minority religion, just assume they need words of encouragement. It doesn't matter if you don't know what to say; the author of Hebrews has given us some great words. Read the book and let the Holy Spirit remind your friend of these age-old truths.
  • Advocate. The entire Bible was written while Christianity was still a minority faith, but I believe the example and teachings of Paul demonstrates another way that Christians in non-persecuted areas can help persecuted believers - advocacy. Paul's team collected offerings in parts of the Empire to take back to the most-persecuted believers in Jerusalem. Paul advocated for himself based on his Roman citizenship and right to a trial. While we must clearly understand our weapons are not of this world and this is a spiritual battle, I believe we are remiss if we ignore the opportunity to advocate. "Honor the king" Paul said - and in a democracy, the people are in one sense the king, the final authority of the land (under God, of course). We can contact our elected officials to put pressure on other countries to honor the "freedom of religion" clauses in their constitutions. We can keep the names of those imprisoned before our leaders (Voice of the Martyrs will send you emails with specific names of prisoners and links to email your officials.) We can also be informed about global issues such as the current attempt to rally support against the "Defamation of Religion" resolution before the United Nations.
  • Remember - and love. Most of all, the persecuted church needs to be remembered (the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church is Sunday, Nov. 14, but they need to be remembered all the time). They will be victorious - Scripture makes it clear - but the need to know that they are not cut off from the body of Christ. Ask God to give you an overwhelming love for His body, including the persecuted church. Then follow that love wherever it leads - to the ends of the earth.

"And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for their loved not their lives unto death." - Rev. 12:11

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Loose Leash

Meet Nelly. For the past two months, she's been working her way into our hearts a little more each day. One of the (many) things I love about her is that she reminds me so much of myself. She really, really wants to be good - she loves us so much - but sometimes she just can't bring herself to do it. After a lot of  "good" in one day - maybe she's obeyed my husband's every command and had a great night at obedience school - she is likely to "blow it" by expressing her pent-up energy in a number of unacceptable ways. At those times I look at her and say, "Nelly, you only have so much good in you for one day, don't you?" or, "It sure took a lot of energy for you to be good all day, didn't it?".

I'm learning so much from training her. We take her to obedience classes for some basic commands (our local shelter gives 6 free group lessons when you adopt). She's learning things like sit, down, heel, and climb (see left). But I think I'm the one getting the most education.

Our trainer/teacher, Amanda from Dogtastic, does a great job teaching the owners how to be good leaders. One of the things she taught early on is that it's important to keep a loose leash when training a dog, except for corrective techniques. Many owners make the mistake of keeping a dog on a very tight leash, and the dog certainly learns to heel or sit or down when the owner gives them no other choice. The problem is that when the owner wants to move away from keeping a leash on the dog at all times. Then, the dog often appears to forget everything that has been taught, and the owner things that leash training has failed.

Walking with a loose leash while teaching the commands, however, enables the dog to truly learn to choose to obey the commands. The owner is right there to protect by reining in the leash in case of danger or distractions, or to utilize corrective techniques when the dog doesn't obey, but the dog ultimately learns to choose to obey and gradually can be weaned from the leash so the commands work anytime, not just when walking on a leash (which - by the way - you should ALWAYS do even with a well-trained dog).

It didn't take me long to make the spiritual connection. I've sometimes wondered why God lets me mess up and have to deal with consequences. But I'm a lot like Nelly, and I probably wouldn't choose obedience if I didn't go through the process of understanding what happens when I follow my way instead of His.

The law was a lot like a tight leash - people "had" to obey and never learned heart-level obedience. Grace, however, places us in a whole different relationship with the obedience God asks of us. We obey out of love, out of relationship, out of an understanding that His ways are better even when we don't understand the details. We obey from a loose leash instead of a tight one.

I'm glad to know that God is there to rein me in if there is a danger or big distraction approaching. But I'm also glad to know He loves me enough - and understands my nature enough - to teach me obedience in a way that allows me to choose. And at that place where my obedience comes from the heart, I line up with His will and find that beautiful union of free will and sovereignty. It's rarely easy - but it's always right.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Why you should pay attention to Lausanne 2010

Every Christian in the world should have his or her eyes on Capetown, South Africa this week.

The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization started Oct. 17 and continues through Oct. 25. Based on the reports I'm hearing from those attending, it could be every bit as significant as its two predecessors for the global cause of Christ.

Lausanne I, in 1974, began a massive shift in thinking among missiologists and eventually churches from political "countries" to ethnic "people groups". Lausanne II, in 1980, produced the Manila Manifesto, a document affirming commitment to and expanding the Lausanne Covenant, a draft of which was produced through Lausanne I. Most major evangelical associations have affirmed most or all of this document, which was written with the idea of uniting diverse denominations and approaches around core emphases in missions. Lausanne II also challenged missionaries to focus on the "resistent belt" -- what we now call the "10/40 Window". Both previous gatherings came in the context of challenges from within Christianity that the time for missions had ended and a shift needed to be made away from the proclamation of the Gospel message. Both focused on intentionally seeking unity amidst diversity and finding common ground for the comon message of the Gospel.

What will come from Lausanne III? It's hard to say at this point, but the emphasis is on 2 Corinthians 5:19: "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself" So far the speakers haven't shied away from calls to seriously engage the world's injustices as part of an incarnational ministry of reconciliation. They have also made strong challenges to continue to hold forth truth and not waver on the importance of proclamation of the Gospel message of salvation through Jesus the Messiah. In fact, one of the keynote speakers observed that we have to do away with "this or that" thinking and see that truth and incarnation go hand-in-hand.

That's all well and good, you may be thinking, but it's not for me to worry about. I'll let the missionaries and missions agency leaders and maybe even my denominational or church network leaders sort those things out. It's even okay with me if my pastor spends some time on it, as long as he doesn't get off balance and forgets to focus on the upcoming harvest party, the Christmas cantata, and his hospital visits. But it's not for me to think about. At the end of the day, why should you pay attention to Lausanne? Let me highlight 10 reasons (in no particular order):

1. What's happening in Capetown is a microcosm of our world today. Did you know that almost 200 Chinese house church leaders were prevented from attending the conference, and that cyberattacks from 66 locations in China hit the Lausanne network which allows the conference a worldwide reach? Did you know that many of the sessions can't be broadcast on Lausanne's extension website due to security concerns for the people and places mentioned? Those are only two examples of the very real issues faced by Christians in the world today. When we pay attention to a global gathering of this scale -- 4000 people from 198 countries -- we can find out a lot about what's happening outside our borders.

2. What's happening in Capetown will probably be coming to an evangelical church near you. No matter how big or small your church is, if it is evangelical (meaning at a minmum that there is a focus on the importance of the proclamation of the Gospel message), what happens at Lausanne will likely filter down to your church. 36 years ago no one spoke of the Hausa people, the Punjabs, the Kui ... except the Hausa, the Punjabs, the Kui, and those who knew they weren't Hausa, Punjab, or Kui. Today it's a rare evangelical church that doesn't recognize its missionaries reach specific people groups or heart languages or some smaller breakdown than we knew about 36 years ago. 25 years ago the 10/40 window was primarily a term that mariners or geography students knew about. Today, even tiny churches have 10/40 Window banners hanging on their missions walls. Whatever comes out of Capetown will work its way into your church -- and when it does, you'll understand it much better if you pay attention to what's going on now.

3. What's happening in Capetown shows the bigness of God. It's hard not to get excited when you read accounts of worship in different styles and languages, when you hear speakers mentioned from places you've never heard of, or when you hear stories of God sending dreams to women in North Korea. Putting aside the missions emphasis for just a moment - if you have a struggle in your life that would be helped by a new focus on the bigness of God, Capetown 2010 is a great place to get that focus.

4. What's happening in Capetown shows the risks others face. Today's summary from Libby Little's story of her husband and his team's death in Afghanistan is a perfect reminder of the realities of spiritual warfare -- and missionaries and believers in hostile countries are on the front lines. In the US we like to "support our troops". Well ... if you are a Christian, these are our troops.

5. What's happening in Capetown shows the importance of Scripture - and the need to present it in ways people understand. Do you love digging deeply into God's Word? There is some great expository teaching going on every day at Capetown ... and that's because Scripture is crucial to doing hard thinking about missions and evangelism. The book of Ephesians if the emphasis for the week. The teaching videos are posted - and so are teaching dramas, a great reminder not only of different learning styles within our own culture, but also of the different ways people learn across our globe. I'm sure there are hundreds in the room that reflect on those dramas as deeply as I would on a study unpacking the Greek of John 1:1.

6. What's happening in Capetown will help you better support your missionaries. Do you ever wonder about your church's missionaries? Do you want to communicate with them, but don't know where to begin? Do you want to ask questions about their work, but don't know what to ask? Do you wish that you knew what they meant when they talk about "chronological Bible storying" or "incarnational ministry" or other types of methods in their newsletters? You'll find that and a lot more at Capetown. Just reading summaries of the sessions will give you lots of conversation starters and help you understand their world a little better.

7. What's happening in Capetown will help you better support your pastor and church. Wherever your pastor and your church happens to be on the missions spectrum - from "highly missional" to "bare minimum" - you'll find ways to support, pray, encourage, exhort, and overall be a better church member. The nature of the church is missional. Many of the problems faced by missionaries are faced by your pastor every day. The challenges of living in a postmodern, pluralistic society are not only realities dealt with by missionaries in western Europe -- your church likely has raised many of the same questions. Urban ministry isn't just for New Delhi and Paris .. it's one of the fastest growing ministry segments in the US as well. Your heart for ministry doesn't have to be halfway around the world to be impacted by what's happening in Capetown. The conversation impacts every Christian.

8. What's happening in Capetown will help you make wise decisions at the ballot box. What? You thought I was only talking about "spiritual" things? The reality is that the Gospel is not a divided message. It impacts all areas of life -- and the thinking about serious injustices in the world should impact not only our churches but how we seek to influence our elected leaders. Participants in the Lausanne global community have produced papers on issues like bioethics, education, globalization, and refugees. This type of serious thinking will cause you to ask different questions than you've ever considered when you are decided how to vote next month.

9. What's happening in Capetown is part of church history. Ever since the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, periodic gatherings of church leaders have marked significant points in the story of Jesus' church. While the impact remains to be seen, Lausanne is part of the stream of gatherings that Christ has used to have a significant impact on His church.

10. What's happening in Capetown is glorifying to God. Jesus' heart, expressed in John 17, was that His believers be in unity to show the truth of the message. We don't see that often enough ... but it's seen every minute in Capetown. There is so much diversity - of skin color, language, and worship styles, even of terminology and theology. But there is a core belief in the Gospel and the importance of taking it to the world, and an intentional setting aside of things less important. And I believe God is smiling at that unity.

So how can you follow Lausanne? If you're like me, you're working 8-9 hours a day, sleeping 6-8, and taking care of family and other responsibilities the rest of the time. I can't sit and watch hours of videos (although I really, really hope that Lausanne leaves them up for a while so I can get around to several of them!). Here are some of the best "summary sites" that I've found I can check in a few minutes a day. Then I can go back and watch specific videos, read position papers, and study Lausanne III more indepth at a later time. (Lausanne's official blog) (follow links in farthest left column to find his daily updates)

Twitter tags: #lcwe and #Capetown2010

Additionally, to make sure I'm grasping a few key ideas every day, I summarize some "top tidbits" on my Facebook page every night. And I pray for Lausanne - often and deeply. I want what comes out of this gathering to be beneficial to the kingdom of God and His glory among the peoples of the earth. They are, after all, His.

include justin's link
include "Yours" video

Friday, October 08, 2010

Parallel Lines

I learned a basic principle in high school geometry. When we studied parallel lines, someone asked if parallel lines ever meet because of the curvature of the earth. Our teacher explained that some mathematicians theorize that parallel lines do eventually meet somewhere in the universe, but not in a way we would ever see. She used the analogy of a railroad track to explain how parallel lines work from our perspective: We see that lines look like they are meeting, but when you get up to that point on the horizon, the parallel lines continue side by side. 

That principle was the same analogy that I heard early in my walk with God to explain the sovereignty of God and the free will of man. Like parallel lines, the two concepts go along together, meeting at some point beyond our human understanding. For years, the train track analogy helped me keep my questions about sovereignty and free will to a manageable level. I rested in Deut. 29:29 (NASB): "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law."

Sometimes God surprises me with unexpected answers to questions I've chosen to leave in His hands. Today was one of those days. Reading John 14, I was first reminded of the link between obedience and love: Our love for God should result in our obedience to God - and conversely, our obedience to God should be motivated by love for God. A new insight, however, came from Jesus' words to His disciples regarding His own obedience to the Father:

John 14:30-31 (NET): "I will not speak with you much longer, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me, but I am doing just what the Father commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father."

God, in His sovereignty, planned the cross as His way of redeeming the world. Jesus, of His own free will and to show His love for the Father, submitted to the cross though He could have called legions of angels. Satan had his own evil purposes for the cross - destructive purposes. But in Jesus' total obedience to the Father, the cross became the place where the sovereignty of God and the free will of man met -- and the enemy's plans were stripped of their power. 

In my own life, when through the power of the Holy Spirit and motivated by love for God I submit to His plans over my own, I too can experience that meeting of sovereignty and free will. His will becomes my will, by my own choice. Love enables me to take up the cross on which I die to self. And once again, the enemy's plans are stripped of their power. 

I don't know of any way to experience this amazing meeting of sovereignty and free will apart from drawing closer to the place where it all started - closer to the cross. An old hymn has taken on new meaning for me today as I reflect on this new insight. May you be blessed by Caedmon's Call's fresh rendition of this old song. 

I am Thine oh Lord I have heard Thy voice and it told Thy love to me
But I long to rise in the arms of faith and be closer drawn to Thee

Draw me nearer nearer blessed Lord to the cross where Thou has died
Draw me nearer nearer nearer blessed Lord to Thine precious bleeding side

There are depths of love that I cannot know till I cross the narrow sea
There are heights of joy that I may not reach till I rest in peace with Thee

Draw me nearer nearer blessed Lord to the cross where Thou has died
Draw me nearer nearer nearer blessed Lord to Thine precious bleeding side

Consecrate me now to Thy service Lord by the power of grace divine
Let my soul look up with a steadfast hope and my will be lost in Thine

Draw me nearer nearer blessed Lord to the cross where Thou has died
Draw me nearer nearer blessed Lord to the cross where Thou has died

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

"Didn't I tell you?"

Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”  Martha, the sister of the deceased,  replied, “Lord, by this time the body will have a bad smell,  because he has been buried  four days.” Jesus responded,  “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you would see the glory of God? - John 11:39-40

We don't have to walk with the Lord very long before we realize that His timetable varies quite significantly from ours. We think that something clearly needs to be done NOW; he recognizes that in the bigger picture, the greater glory comes from waiting.

Mary and Martha, as well as the disciples, learned this lesson dramatically when Lazarus fell ill. Jesus didn't immediately go heal him. He didn't just say the word that could bring healing without even traveling to him. Instead, he waited until Lazarus had been dead 4 days. It was, from a human perspective, too late. But Jesus had a bigger purpose - a revelation that He is the resurrection and the life. A lesson that can be learned only after a death.

Most of us have heard sermons or read devotionals from this passage. It's one of the most popular passages, with good reason. It's one of those that can be hard to read for new insights, because it's so familiar that we anticipate the verses before we get to them. For this reason I like to read through different translation in my daily Bible reading. A different translation can cause me to slow down and let the words soak in. Currently, I'm reading through the Bible in the New English Translation, and as I read John 11 yesterday, God caused the verses above to jump off the page.

Ever-practical Martha pointed out that Lazarus would stink.  Jesus’ response was “Did I not say to you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” That caught my attention because so often that’s how I am – “but God, what about ….” And He’s saying “What did I just tell you?

The reality is that when He chooses to wait, He is able to take care of all the consequences of what we perceive as a "delay". Stinking body? That's nothing to the Maker of heaven and earth. 

Maybe you are in a season of waiting. Perhaps you've been called to a country but the funds aren't there to go yet. Maybe a ministry vision only exists in your head and on scratchpads of paper. Or you're stuck trying to discern the next step. You get frustrated at the work that isn't getting done. But think about it: God is the person most interested in fulfilling the Great Commission and advancing His kingdom purposes. He wouldn't have you waiting if He didn't have a reason for it.

Or perhaps your waiting is more personal. You've longed for a husband, or a child, or release from a job. You can think of dozens of  reasons why there is "no time like the present" for God to step in. In fact, you reason that there are lots of adverse consequences just building up while you're sitting here waiting. It's so easy to forget that God is FOR us, and withholds no good thing from His children. He just doesn't always release them on our timetable. :)

Are you in a place of waiting today? What is the "stinking body" that you have been wondering how to deal with when the waiting ceases? Trust Him to deal with all the consequences of your waiting season. Hasn't He told you He will?

Monday, October 04, 2010

Darkness and light

But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; (1 Peter 2:9, NASB)

I found myself reaching out my hands to grab hold of something, anything, in the midst of the deepest darkness I've ever experienced.

Only minutes before, I was lying in bed waking up leisurely and chatting with my husband. A severe leg cramp caused me to howl in pain and, without thinking, jump up to try to put pressure on my leg and ease the cramp. The sudden change in position nearly caused me to faint. Although my eyes were open, everything around me went completely black. My husband grabbed my waist from behind, and my arms reached forward to find something on which to steady myself.

I can't recall ever being in utter blackness. Even those times I've visited a cave and the lights were turned off don't qualify because then I was engaged enough to realize that this was a temporary, controlled condition. The blackness I felt myself entering as I was wavering between consciousness and fainting was different. There was no penetration of light, no logical awareness of control.

Later, after I recovered from this very brief episode, God brought to my mind an unforgettable application: those unengaged, unreached people groups - those with absolutely no penetration of light into their utter darkness. No one holding out a candle of hope.

We forget how much our country has been influenced by the light of Christ. Even though there are individuals and even pockets of people here who haven't heard the true Gospel, there is a cultural heritage that reflects Jesus' teachings, even among unbelievers. Concepts of forgiveness, redemption in the form of second chances, helping the less fortunate, and using positions of power to make a difference all have threads traced back to our Christian heritage. Don't get me wrong - there are other threads that contribute to our heritage as well, and some of these concepts are present in other religions. But at a worldview level, we have been influenced by the light of Christ in ways that we take for granted.

It's not that way everywhere. In 2020 Vision, Bill and Amy Stearns present the image of those without Christ as caught in threads of deception - threads that can become a web so thick light cannot penetrate. Darkness that is beyond what I experienced so briefly yet powerfully.
Some groups are "reached" - not that everyone accepts the truth of the Gospel, but the opportunity to hear is definitely present. About 6700 groups are "unreached" - there is no significant church, but someone is intentionally seeking to take the light of Christ to the people. Someone wakes up every morning with a heart to peel back the darkness and pray without ceasing until this group is reached.

In a number of these groups however - an uncertain number due to the many smaller groups, but including at least 632 groups with a population of 50,000 or more - there is no intentionality at this point. No individual or group is seeking to learn the group's language and present the Gospel in their heart language. Nobody has "adopted" the group with an intentional purpose to find a way to make a difference among them. These groups are among the darkest of the dark - and they are grasping for anything to make sense.

These numbers can be overwhelming, and I was nearly overcome when I first realized the lesson behind my brief experience of darkness. Yet God is so faithful. He didn't leave me in a place of despair but encouraged me. There are so many amazing groups trying to make a difference, researching the unengaged, rallying prayer for them and moving them into an engaged status. (See for example: Finishing the Task, the International Mission Board, Global Frontier Missions, or Wycliffe's Vision 2025. If you feel called to pray, sign up for Twitter just to get the daily prayer for unengaged from Rom1520.)

But the most encouraging thing to me was the reminder from one of my favorite missions books, Let the Nations Be Glad. I include this extended quote below as a reminder to all of us whose heart beats for the nations: We must never see reaching the nations, even the unengaged, as the highest call on our lives. We are called to worship. God just wants us to invite others to join us in the process as we learn to know Him and make Him known.
Missions is not the ultimate goal of the Church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.
Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal of missions. It’s the goal of missions because in missions we simply aim to bring the nations into the white hot enjoyment of God’s glory. The goal of missions is the gladness of the peoples in the greatness of God. “The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!” (Ps 97:1). “Let the peoples praise thee, O God; let all the peoples praise thee! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy!” (Ps 67:3-4).
But worship is also the fuel of missions. Passion for God in worship precedes the offer of God in preaching. You can’t commend what you don’t cherish. Missionaries will never call out, “Let the nations be glad!” who cannot say from the heart, “I rejoice in the Lord…I will be glad and exult in thee, I will sing praise to thy name, O Most High” (Ps 104:34, 9:2). Missions begins and ends in worship.”
–John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993/2003), 17.
 Personal note: Thanks to those who checked on me over the past couple of months of absence. I just completed the busiest time EVER at my job and frankly haven't wanted to see a computer most evenings! I've also been praying about God's intentions for my writing and truly seeking Him deeply. I'm glad to say that things have settled down to a dull roar and work, and God has released me to continue blogging as He leads (as well as some other writing and teaching projects), so you should see me back on here more or less regularly. Thanks for your continued prayers and support.