Tough

29 08 2013

tough

 

Yesterday evening I went out for a 9 mile run. The heat index was 101 when I started with a humidity of 50%. I ran a single track dirt trail the entire distance. Because we had a fairly wet summer, the bugs were in full force: mosquitos, gnats, hornets, seed ticks, chiggers, biting flies, etc. It was miserable, but I finished. As I was running, I began to think about what it means to be tough. It was probably more stupidity than toughness that started me on that run yesterday, but once I was on it, I think it was toughness that saw me finish it. I was also motivated to go run yesterday because of an article that I read in Oklahoma Sports and Fitness online magazine entitled “What a Rush!” written by my good friend, Will Blanchard. The article was his review from running the Leadville Silver Rush 50. Yes, that’s a 50-miler! Here’s a portion of what he wrote…

A major determinant to finishing any ultra distance (any distance more than a marathon) depends on a person’s ability to keep moving forward and adapt to the inevitable highs and lows.

Will goes on to explain that he reached one of those low points at miles 37-40 on a steep uphill climb to 12,000 feet. He said that his body began to rebel and it took him 90 minutes to get that distance, but he kept moving forward. This is a great definition of toughness.

As I was running yesterday, I began to think about and pray for the missionaries I know and love. I realized then that these are some of the toughest people that I know. Not only is the spiritual battle grueling for them, but so is the physical battle. I have had the incredible opportunity to spend time in Colombia with an awesome team. These families literally live in the rainforest on the banks of the Amazon River. It is hot and muggy year around. When they go out on the river to the people they are working with, they must deal with the brutally hot sun, insects galore, the dangers of the river, etc. I have gone out on the river along with guys like Peter Davis, Jeff Crawford, and Ryan Martin, and we have seen how tough it is to just make it one or two nights. On the other side of the world in Central Asia, our missionaries deal with being cold all winter with little to no electricity, being isolated from the outside world for months on end, and dealing with some of the hardest hearts in the world towards the gospel. These missionaries are tough!

It is time for our American church to get tough, both spiritually and physically. One of the reasons that unreached people groups are still unreached is because they are difficult to get to. It takes a certain amount of toughness to get on a plane for 20+ hours and then a car ride on the worst roads known to man for another 6 hours. In Tanzania this June, our team found out that one of the reasons the Pare Tribe is unreached is because they live in a steep mountain range. It was hard getting there, and once there, it was hard just walking around along the steep trails. In order for someone to effectively go on one of these trips, they need to be physically tough. We have to realize, too, that this physical toughness does not just happen. It is developed through training. God gave us our bodies, and we are to be good stewards of them, not for the purpose of vanity, but for the purpose of completing the Great Commission which is a physically demanding task.





Give Recognition

15 08 2013

recognition

Now we ask you, brothers, to give recognition to those who labor among you and lead you in the Lord and admonish you, and to regard them very highly in love because of their work…
1 Thessalonians 5:12-13

Not too long ago we hosted a couple who are missionaries to a country in Central Asia in our church. I had the opportunity to interview them during the morning worship service. At the conclusion of the interview, I shared the above passage of scripture with our church and asked our congregation to help me honor them. Our church gave them a LONG standing ovation for their service and work for the Lord. It was an incredibly touching moment as I watched as our church gave recognition to these two unsung heroes of the faith. After the clapping died down and we all were seated again, with tears in their eyes, this missionary couple gave all the glory to God and rightly so. I know this couple personally, and I know how humble they are, so they certainly did not expect this outpouring of love. I simply stated that we were doing what the Word of God told us to do.

One of the top reasons for missionaries leaving the field and pastors leaving the ministry is simple burnout. When we lived overseas, our closest Christian, American friends lived more than three hours away. I understand how lonely it can be for our missionaries. It is only on rare occasions that they are able to come together and worship in their heart language with other believers and just talk about everyday things. Paul understood this as well, and that is why, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he wrote this passage of scripture.

Our church has the opportunity to partner with some fantastic missionaries all over the world. Our number one reason for participating in these partnerships is to come alongside them in their work to reach the unreached people group that they are working with. Our second reason for participating in these partnerships is to encourage them and to keep them going strong. I believe that if we can help to increase the longevity of our missionaries on the field, then we can increase the work. I tell all of our short-term teams that are heading out that I want it to be like Christmas morning when you arrive. Our teams going to Central Asia, for instance, will never be able to share the gospel to someone in their own Central Asian heart language, but they can encourage the missionaries that are there and do know the language. In verse 13 of our passage it says to regard them very highly in love. To me, this means that we should encourage them, pray for them continually, remember their birthdays, do something for them on holidays when it gets really lonely, keep up with their children’s lives, email them notes, and even go and visit them just to visit with them. You may be wondering if we actually spend thousands of dollars in airfare just to go and visit our missionaries, and the answer is a resounding yes! Paul tells us that we should regard our missionaries highly.

In light of this scripture, what can you do to encourage our missionaries and ministers and pastors? Can you go on a mission trip to hang out with the missionary kids? Can you write your pastor an encouraging note? Can you send a gift to one of our missionaries on their birthday? God’s plan is not for lone rangers to go out into the mission field and work it by themselves, but to have His church come alongside those who are following Him to the uttermost parts of the earth and participate as co-laborers and encouragers.





God Created the Nations

2 08 2013

created

So from there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth…
Genesis 11:8

When Noah and his family exited the ark, God told them to be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth (Genesis 9:1). They did the first two really well, but they completely disobeyed the third command to fill the earth. They certainly were fruitful and multiplied according to the record in Genesis 10, but instead of scattering all over to fill the earth, they found a valley in the land of Shinar and started building a city with a tall tower as the centerpiece. God came about that time to see this city and the tower that they were building. God decided to make them obey this first commandment that He had given to Noah by confusing their languages and scattering them over the face of the whole earth. Thus we have the creation of the nations or tribes.

As Christians it is important for us to remember that God created these different tribes, people groups, cultures, languages, and ethnicities. It is also His desire to see a representative from each of these tribes redeemed and worshipping before His throne (Revelation 7:9). This means that as God loves His creation, so must we. Certainly these cultures, just like our own, were affected by the Fall. They are full of sinful attitudes, sinful traditions, and sinful superstitions. But we must recognize the fact that God has called us to love them and be a witness to them, and that eventually we will live with them forever in eternity for those who follow Jesus. We tend to think that eternity will be made up of just our culture group with Chris Tomlin leading the worship. This is called ethnocentrism. This malady causes us to lose sight of anyone but those in our own culture, and in its worst form causes us to be racist. God is calling us to love the nations, not to despise them. This includes the Northern Pashtun Tribe who predominately make up the Taliban. We have made enemies of them, but God still loves them fiercely and calls us to do the same.

As Christians, we are called to be in this world but not of it. This means that what we do as followers of Jesus does not always make sense to the world. One of these things is to love all the people of the world so much, that we would lay down our life for them. Christians will say that they love the Vietnamese. What they usually mean by that is that they have the best soup kitchens, but how many Vietnamese do they even know personally? Do they consistently pray for the Vietnamese people to come to Christ? Would they be willing to move to Vietnam in order to reach the millions of Vietnamese that have never heard the gospel? This is a different way of living. As followers of Jesus, we are not afraid to make friends with our Muslim neighbors and to attend their mosque with them. We intentionally frequent international food restaurants with the purpose of meeting representatives of unreached people groups. We can point to places on a world map that most people have never heard of. We invite international students to our homes during holidays. We go to some of the most dangerous places on the planet.

If God truly created the nations, what should our response be to that? Our lives will look different than even many people who attend our churches and racist jokes will no longer be funny. Since God created and loves the nations, He sent His only Son, Jesus, to the nations, who in turn sent His followers to the nations. This is God’s pattern. The question, then, is are we participating in that pattern or merely acting like the rest of the world.





Why the Unreached Are Unreached

31 07 2013

whyunreached

 

I just spent a week in Wyoming on the Wind River Indian Reservation among a beautiful tribe of people called the Northern Arapaho. I have been to a South American country to work with Indigenous Tribes along the Amazon River Basin. I have walked among a completely unreached, unengaged tribe in the isolated mountains of Central Asia. I have even lived for three years working with an unreached tribe in Tanzania.

Before I get to the topic, some things need to be defined first. What does it mean when we say, “Unreached?” When speaking about a tribe of people being unreached, it is universally recognized by missionaries and missiologists that the tribe in question has 2% or less of their population being evangelical Christians. This is no arbitrary number. It has been studied that in most cases a tribe that has more evangelical Christians in its population than 2% of its total has a viable church that has the opportunity to spread the gospel among its own tribe. You might even go as far as asking why this is important. In Matthew 24:14 Jesus says, “This good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the world as a testimony to all nations. And then the end will come.” The word “nations” in this passage of scripture literally means “tribes” or “people groups.” Therefore, Jesus is saying that before He returns and ushers in the end of this age, all of the tribes will be reached. We see a glimpse of the future in Revelation 7:9 when John writes about seeing a “vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language…” (italics mine) If this is true, and I tend to believe in the truth of the Bible, then this makes unreached people groups a priority for churches. With only an estimated 6,900 people groups left unreached, we are literally seeing the end in sight. It is possible that we could be the generation that has the blessing of ushering in the return of Jesus Christ.

With all of our technology, communication advances, and transportation ease, why are these last unreached people groups still unreached? I believe, having seen it firsthand, that there are many common reasons that all play a role as to why a group is still unreached. First and foremost, we have to recognize that Satan is still very active in this world and maybe more so as his time runs short. He has had these groups and their land in his grasp for generations and generations, and he will not give them up without a fight. Many of these tribes remain unreached, because the church has not engaged in the spiritual battle. Individuals may have fought in the past, but it will take the effort of many praying for extended periods of time before the battle can be won. I am encouraged that more and more churches are recognizing the fact that it will take more than a 3-year partnership to see these remaining peoples reached. We can no longer afford to move on to another people group after just three years and know that we have accomplished anything. This brings me to the next reason these tribes are unreached. Most of these groups are calloused or hard-hearted toward Christianity. The Muslim Tribe in Central Asia sees it as a Western religion, and if one converts, that one is considered a traitor to his family and culture. The point is that in different ways, Satan has gained a deep foothold in these people both individually and culturally. These are holds that only God can break, and through His mercy, He has chosen to use you and me to be His ambassadors and soldiers.

Although not as important as the spiritual reasons, there are also physical reasons why these groups are not reached. Many of them are very difficult to get to. When I lived in Tanzania, it still took me hours driving on treacherous dirt roads along cliff edges to get to the majority of the people group. We had a team earlier this year go to Ecuador to work with an unreached tribe. Once they arrived in the country, they still had hours and hours of driving on horrible roads, boating on a dangerous river, and living in the rain forest. Not only are these groups, in many cases, physically distant, but they are also culturally distant. The languages are difficult to learn. The cultures are completely foreign to us and hard to understand. The food makes us sick. These and more are all reasons why these groups remain unreached, but if we believe the Bible, then we have to believe that these reasons must be overcome.

In these last days, God is looking for individuals and churches that are spiritually and physically tough to finish the task.





The Unreached Among Us

16 04 2012

I had the great pleasure of speaking with Chris Read on the phone late last week. He and his wife, Cheryl, are working with a large group of refugees from the country of Bhutan. Since 1989, the heavily Buddhist government has cracked down on anything that is not Buddhist, including Nepali Hindus and Bhutanese Christians. According to the book, Operation World by Jason Mandryk, “…Proselytism and incitement to convert are illegal. Church buildings are not allowed, and Christians are not privy to many of the state benefits available to Buddhists, such as free education.” Because of this persecution by the government, led by King Wangchuk, many people have been displaced out of the country with a large population of them finding themselves in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

In many cases, the first friend that a Bhutanese refugee will meet once they enter the United States is Chris or Cheryl Read. Chris and Cheryl are both very normal people who have an exceptional, Godly love for the refugees from Bhutan. Both of them are volunteers and are striving their best to put food on the table and support their own children through college. Cheryl is a school teacher, and Chris works for a telephone company. Yet in their “spare” time they reach out to a people that are hurting and helpless. In my book, they are heroes, and I am excited about the possibility of our church working with them and the newly planted First Bhutanese Baptist Church.

It is hard to imagine that just 5 hours away from us, God has provided us with an unreached people group. We certainly live in a day of blessing – a day when God has said that if His people will not go, He will bring the nations to them. God could have just decided to forget about us, because of our disobedience. We would have deserved just that, but instead, right here in Fort Smith, Arkansas, we have people from Vietnam, Laos, Mexico, Peru, Guatemala, India, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Korea, etc. As believers, we must open our eyes! The unreached people groups of the world are living among us, and we cannot afford to waste this opportunity! God is giving us another chance. The question is whether or not we will take that chance.

In Tanzania, one day, I received a call from a local pastor/friend who told me that a village elder called to ask us to come, because his village was ready to receive the Lord. That is fruit that is ripe and ready to be picked! I believe that God has planted an amazing diversity of fruit trees in America with a lot of fruit that is ripe for the harvest. The job for us now is to, first, recognize those trees, and, second, to pick the fruit. That seems to be the simplest job in the world, yet how many will rise up to it?

Here is one simple thing that you can do this week to get started… Instead of going to eat another meal at a fast food chain restaurant, find a hole-in-the-wall mom-and-pop ethnic restaurant, and commit to go there at least once per week. Get to know the wait staff and the cooks. Complement their food. Ask them to teach you how to greet someone in their language and use it the next time. This can be a fun way to meet a person from another culture and open your eyes to all those that are ripe for the harvest.

Please be in prayer for Chris and Cheryl Read as they continue this important work among the Bhutanese refugees in Texas.








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