Taking a Missions Course

Kim and I signed up for the Perspectives course for next January. The Perspectives course is a missions 101 type class. We’ve heard great things about it from various people over the years, and always thought “hmm, maybe one day. . .” Well, you know us- we never wait for anything- so we signed up.

You might think it rather odd that former missionaries are signing up for a missions class. What’s the motivation? We’ve been off the mission field for two and a half years now. Our experience was pretty intense and it’s been healthy to step away for this amount of time. It’s taken us a while to re-acclimate to American culture, find a church, buy a house, and just now we’re finally sort of at the point where we want to pursue ministry opportunities again. Man, it’s taken us a while! Not that we’re signing some sort of dotted line with a new missions org or anything. But I see this as a decisive first step back into a much larger world- a world we used to know so well.

Something our pastor said a couple weeks ago really hit home to me. We were talking about giftings and he said he will always be a pastor. It doesn’t matter what he does- he could be flipping burgers at a fast food joint, and he’d still be a pastor. It’s just who he is. That hit me like a lightening bolt. I feel and have felt the same way about missions. I feel that no matter what I do I’ll always be a missionary. It’s just who I am now. It’s a part of me. I may not be overseas right now and I may be working in a tech office, but it doesn’t change who I am. Something inside me just lights up when I think about sharing Jesus with someone who has never had the opportunity to hear about it. To me there’s nothing more important.

So we’re taking a missions course. . . and slowly, ever so slowly coming around to the idea of getting involved again. We’re not sure even what it looks like yet or when. Could be months. Could be years. But we’re willing to follow whatever path God has for us.

Faith and Assurance

I’ve been doing a personal Bible study on salvation. I’ve been studying scripture for the better part of a year in an attempt to understand the ideas of lordship salvation vs. free grace or ‘easy believism’. If you’re not familiar with these terms, it’s okay, neither was I. Terms aren’t important, but they represent two very different understandings of what salvation is and it’s important to know the difference, and what’s at stake.

Some people frame the debate between lordship salvation and easy believism as a debate between works and faith, as if one is works and the other is not. The opponents of lordship salvation claim that by making Jesus your Lord you are “working” and therefore doing something more than faith. An extra step if you will. But I’ve learned that this debate isn’t really about works- but about faith- and what true faith really is. The opponents say you’re working to secure your faith. The Bible says you are secure and your works prove it.

It comes down to this fundamental question: Is there a connection between obedience and faith, and if so, what is that connection? To put it another way, is obedience required for salvation or do we just need to ‘believe’ and that’s all? This is a fairly personal question. For most of my life I was taught that all we needed to do to go to heaven was to accept Jesus into our heart, believe, and we would be saved. It apparently didn’t matter how I lived or what I did. But the crucially important thing, apparently, was that I accepted Jesus into my heart. My assurance of being saved therefore could be traced back to an event I did a long time ago when I was a kid. I said the prayer- I’m in. However, is this really what the Bible teaches? Is this the pattern we see in the scriptures?

Well, no, actually. There’s nothing in the Bible that suggests a one time act is all that’s expected or required of a genuine believer. Rather we see a ton of scripture that talks about bearing fruit, confessing your sins, repenting and turning to Jesus, obeying His commandments, loving one another, walking in the spirit, following our shepherd’s voice, picking up our cross and following Jesus no matter the cost. . . These aren’t one time occurrences but rather patterns (fruits) in the life of a person who is truly saved. Jesus says “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.” – John 15:4 Abide means to remain in. It means walking with Jesus, knowing Him, loving Him, and being like Him. Abiding in Jesus and bearing fruit is a continual thing, and is evidence that we truly know Him.

I’m not trying to downplay the importance of asking Jesus into your heart. Coming to know Jesus as savior and Lord can be a moment in time. In an instant our eyes are opened to the truth of the Gospel. Jesus and the Bible all of a sudden taste really good in our mouth, we believe and are saved. Hallelujah!

However, it can’t stop there. As great as that is, it’s equally important to live out our faith- to continue doing good for God, bearing fruit and growing. James 2 says faith without works is dead. If your faith doesn’t show forth and is not evident in your life what good is it? Faith like that is useless. The parable of the sower teaches us that faith can’t be a shallow thing. Our faith (the seed) has to go deep, take root, and produce fruit. Only then will it stand the test of trials and tribulations, distractions, and the deceptions of the devil. So here again we see that faith has to have substance. It can’t be claimed in a moment, packed away, and brought out only when we need it. Jesus says to be ready, and to those not ready, “I do not know you.” – Matthew 25:12. Faith has to be lived out. It has to produce something. “You will know them by their fruits” Matt 7:16.

So there is a connection between obedience and faith. Obedience doesn’t save you, but the Bible says that without obedience you’re not really saved. You have a dead faith- a fruitless faith that gets gathered up with other dead branches and destroyed in the fire. Obedience produces fruit and this more than anything else is evidence that you are saved.

This is not a debate about works versus faith. Everybody agrees that we are saved by grace through faith. The question hinges on what kind of faith we’re talking about. Is it an easy faith? A faith that doesn’t require or produce any fruit? Is it not accompanied by a repentant heart? Does your faith exclude Jesus as Lord of your life? We can see from a wealth of examples in Scripture that this is not the kind of faith God wants us to have.

“The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar , and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected.” 1 John 2:3-4

Faith alone saves you.
But the faith that saves is never alone.

What is Normal? From Sumatra Villages to Corporate America.

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When I look back over my life over the last two years I am just amazed at God’s provision. I’m amazed at how quickly Kim and I can jump from one thing to another. How one day we’re living full on in another culture, immersed in the heat and language barriers, bugs, weddings, and customs entirely different from what is ‘normal’. And then I open my eyes again, and this time God has me working in an office, in Madison, Wisconsin, surrounded by caucasian white collar tech workers. I sit in my cubicle, coffee in hand, and chat with coworkers over video conferencing. I live a double life, and nobody here seems to notice.

The experiences I have taken from my other life are like a secret now. Not to me, necessarily, but hidden and unknown to all the people around me. I must look perfectly normal to my coworkers when I go into the office. Oh how I blend in. But I confess that I don’t recognize myself in this setting. I think about the person I was just a couple years ago, and I look at the person who I am now, and it seems quite illogical to me. These two pictures don’t resolve in my head in a way that makes sense. I can’t draw a straight line between these two points and say, “Ah, that’s how that happened.” The course of my life has taken many unexpected twists and turns. Something dramatic and noteworthy has happened here.

The only explanation I have for this is this. Many years ago I gave my life over into the hands of a God who is trustworthy; into the strong hands of a God who works miracles. I told God that my life wasn’t my own anymore but His, and He could do with me what He wanted. So maybe I shouldn’t be surprised when my life is illogical, and it doesn’t follow a normal straight line, predictable, kind of path. It’s evidence of a life surrendered to a God how does crazy illogical things. God doesn’t follow a predictable pattern. He has a unique plan for all of us. May we all have the strength and courage to follow Him in and out of what is “normal”.

Gloriously Ruined

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Gloriously ruined is being different. Gloriously ruined is seeing things differently. Gloriously ruined is about being changed for the better.

Kim and I are gloriously ruined, and I’m okay with that. Ever since we came home from the mission field we realize more and more that we’re different, and can’t ever go back to being who we used to be. This is a by-product of being immersed in a different culture for so long.

Reverse culture shock is measured in the amount of time you’re overseas, the amount of exposure you have to the culture, and how much things have changed back home. So really it’s a formula:

Amount of time overseas + degree of exposure + factors back home = amount of reverse culture shock

We’ve been exposed to a lot. We’ve seen alternate ways of doing things. Does that mean we’re better? No. It only means we have options, and we’re not limited to one way of thinking.

So we’re ruined. . . for the better. And it means we may never really fully fit in with America culture anymore. We’ll always have that different perspective. This different perspective is manifested in the way we talk to people, the way we respond to events, the way we view church. . . It shows up in how I treat people at work, the way I interact with my apartment neighbors, and how I feel about family. It runs deep.

It also effects my understanding of God. I’ve seen how much of a global God he is. Not that all roads lead to God, but that there is a road, a very small, narrow road that mysteriously manifests itself in the most unlikely places. That is one reason I know God is real. He shows up in the least likely places. And I’ve seen how we in America so greatly complicate the issue. We put so much doctrine and rules in front of God that we forget Jesus’ simple command. “If you love me you will obey me”. Wouldn’t it be great if we were less concerned about salvation, and more concerned about loving Jesus and being His disciple. And doing what He says? Yes, that would be nice. To me God is both simple and great at the same time.

So I confess that I’m gloriously ruined. I see things differently. May I have the courage and wisdom to apply this perspective in the right places at the right time for His glory.

“Lord, use our perspective for your benefit. May we speak the appropriate word at the right time. May we love other people in a way that you want us to. May we not be encumbered by the status quo, or the limitations of our culture, to do the right thing. May we be your followers in the simplest possible ways. Thank you Lord for what you’ve done with our life. You’re not finished yet. We trust you. Amen.”

Seeing God Provide

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Dear Jireh,

I wanted to write you a little note and tell you about some amazing things we’ve experienced lately.

We’ve been praying about your adoption for a long time. And just recently God has provided an answer to some of our prayers, which gets us really excited about moving forward. God gave us a new job. I know that probably doesn’t mean much to you, but we’re just praising God right now for His faithfulness and kindness to us. We have felt in our hearts that we were supposed to adopt you. We love other cultures, so bringing you into ours and mixing our lives together is a God-given joy. But now that we have this job it’s really affirmation that we can go ahead with our plans.

You see, adoption is really expensive and was much more money than we had. But we had faith that somehow God was going to provide the money. We had fundraisers planned. We were going to make and sell things. We were going to sell coffee, and ask for donations – because we believed we were supposed to move forward. I guess that’s what faith is all about- stepping into the unknown, trusting. That’s why we gave you your name. Jireh means, “God provides”.

And we’re seeing Him provide in pretty miraculous ways. I wasn’t looking for this job. But God brought it to us and I’ll take it. It’s a real answer to prayer. Now we’re just one little step closer to bringing you home. We can’t wait.

Love,
Daddy

Fruitfulness

I was reflecting on John chapter 15 this morning, the passage that talks about the Vine and the Vinedresser. Here it is:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“I thank you Lord for bringing your discipline into my life. Help me Lord to see hardships and adversity as your way of pruning me. Please strip away the things in my life that are not bearing fruit. Let me be fruitful before You, bearing fruit in my life and the life of others. Thank you Lord. Amen”

Thoughts about faith, salvation, and works.

Here are a few notes/thoughts I’ve compiled the last few weeks that have helped me understand the relationship between faith and works.

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Faith IS obedience.
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves, it is a gift from god. Not by works so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

Works don’t save you. But a work is done in you at salvation and works follow afterwards that show you are really saved. (Such as obedience, faithfulness, love, commitment, etc.) fruits of the spirit.

Faith alone saves you, but the faith that saves is never alone.

“May I suggest to you that James and Paul are not standing face to face in a confrontation but they’re standing back to back fighting two common enemies. Paul is fighting those people who want salvation to be by works. James is fighting those people who want a salvation that doesn’t demand anything. Paul is saying salvation is only by grace. James is saying that salvation only by grace produces works. There’s no debate here.” MacArthur

Works are the fruit, not the root, of faith.

“But, to be clear, the lordship controversy is not a dispute about whether salvation is by faith only or by faith plus works. No true Christian would ever suggest that works need to be added to faith in order to secure salvation. No one who properly interprets Scripture would ever propose that human effort or fleshly works can be meritorious —worthy of honor or reward from God.?

The lordship controversy is a disagreement over the nature of true faith. Those who want to eliminate Christ’s lordship from the gospel see faith as simple trust in a set of truths about Christ. Faith, as they describe it, is merely a personal appropriation of the promise of eternal life.

But Scripture describes faith as more than that—it is a wholehearted trust in Christ personally (e.g., Galatians 2:16Philippians 3:9). Not merely faith about Him; faith in Him. Note the difference: If I say I believe some promise you have made, I am saying far less than if I say I trust you. Believing in a person necessarily involves some degree of commitment. Trusting Christ means placing oneself in His custody for both life and death. It means we rely on His counsel, trust in His goodness, and entrust ourselves for time and eternity to His guardianship. Real faith, saving faith, is all of me (mind, emotions, and will) embracing all of Him (Savior, Advocate, Provider, Sustainer, Counselor, and Lord God).” MacArthur

My fullest understanding or definition of salvation is this: we confess and turn away from our sins in repentance, and turn to Jesus in faith. We are forgiven and Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us (we are justified) and saved. As a new creation in Christ we are called to bear fruit- to follow Him, obey Him, and make Him Lord of our life. This fruit is a good indication that we are truly saved.

Reading my Indonesian Bible

I love to read the Bible in Indonesian. This morning I pulled out my Indonesian copy of the New Testament, the Kitab Suci Injil, and had a quiet time. I know enough of the language that I can still read mostly fluently and get meaning and understanding out of the text. It’s nice to read God’s Word in a different language because it helps me see new and different sides of the story- stories I’m so familiar with. But yet the different rendering of it helps me see it in a new light. I can appreciate it afresh.

I also like to read the Bible in Indonesian because it reminds me that God speaks so many languages. Here is a Bible translated for a people very different than me. And yet God speaks their language. When I read their version of the Bible it’s like I get to see God, or understand God, from their perspective. I’m reminded of their worldview. I’m reminded of the rice fields. I’m reminded of the morning coffee and the roosters outside our door. I’m reminded of the mountains. It brings me there. And when I read the Bible in Indonesian I see God from their perspective. And that’s a perspective that enriches my life.

I’m convinced that God used the tower of Babel incident for precisely these reasons- so that God could reveal Himself in new an unique ways through all the cultures of the world. God divided up the languages and cultures so that each would have a slightly different view of Him. It was a judgement, but a blessing in disguise. We get such varied and unique worship styles all over the world. When I read my Indonesian text I definitely get a sense of that. One version certainly isn’t better than another. Each one flavors it just a bit differently.

My heart goes out to all those who don’t have God’s Word, God’s story, in their language.

Calm the Storm

“Sometimes He calms the storm
With a whispered peace be still
He can settle any sea
But it doesn’t mean He will

Sometimes He holds us close
And lets the wind and waves go wild
Sometimes He calms the storm
And other times He calms His child”
– Scott Krippayne

Longevity Chart, Adam to Joseph

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This is a really interesting chart if you’ve never seen this before. If you look at the ages in the Bible from Genesis 5 and 11 you can construct a genealogy chart from Adam all the way to Joseph. The Bible tells us how long each person lived and at what age they had children.

This is an interesting chart for many reasons. It tells us roughly how old the earth is (6,000 years). It shows how long people lived before the flood (900 years) and the sudden decline afterwards. And the most interesting point on this chart to me is #10 which says:

The first 2,157 years of history were covered by three men whose lives overlap (Adam, Methuselah, and Shem).

Shem (Noah’s son) lived 500 years after the flood and could have told the creation story to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Pretty amazing if you think about it.

Feel free to download and use this chart in your personal devotionals, or print and share it with friends.