God is good for cross-cultural missionaries

Here is the fourth part of my course preparing people for cross-cultural mission. (Here are parts one, two and three.)

What do you think you will miss most?

  • friends and family
  • home comforts
  • familiarity (e.g. favourite foods)
  • entertainment
  • a professional environment
  • Christian community
  • corporate worship and teaching

What frustrations will you face?

  • inability to operate in an unfamiliar culture
  • slow progress with language learning
  • conflict with colleagues
  • lack of ministry opportunities
  • time-consuming, boring or annoying cultural customs
  • bureaucracy
  • inefficiency
  • corruption
  • injustice
  • set-backs
  • the special challenges and limitations on women in a patriarchal society

Choose to enjoy the city
Choose to enjoy the city and its culture. It is all too easy to become bitter or resentful or to despise the people you are reaching or the place where you live. ‘It is not like home.’ ‘They don’t do things “right”’. ‘They are resistant to our message.’ ‘They don’t enjoy the things you enjoy.’ So work hard to enjoy the city.

Sometimes this will be a choice. Make a habit of saying positive things about the city and its culture. Delight in the city. Be 100 percent there 100 percent of the time. In other words, do not live in the past or the future, looking back or forward to life at ‘home’. Make your home in the culture for as long as you are there.

ð            Make a list of ten things you like about the city and its culture.

Choose to enjoy God

Keep telling your heart that God is good.

ð            What behaviour and emotions might follow from not embracing the truth that God is good?

Again, think of the towel over the head. Take refuge in God. Find joy in him. Get your pleasure from knowing him and being faithful to him. Remind yourself of all that he is and all that he has done. Search the Scriptures each day for something that makes you rejoice in God afresh.

ð            Rewrite Psalm 84, either as a version adapted to your context or as a negative Psalm which says the opposite of the original

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God is great for cross-cultural missionaries

Here is the third part of my course preparing people for cross-cultural mission. (Here are parts one and two.)

God is great

What are the worries you have about doing mission in another culture?

The refrain we kept repeating when I visited missionaries in the Middle-East was: ‘fallen world, sovereign God.’

This world is full of broken people. It is full of people who are sad, needy, insecure; people who misuse their power; people desperate to prove themselves; people who are fearful. And that is just your team! Seriously, co-workers are often the main cause of grief on the mission field – perhaps because our expectations are higher.

You may be wondering, ‘Will I be able to adapt? Will it get easier? Will I find friends?’ Do not panic. It will come. You are not failing. You are normal. You are a frail, finite human being.

This world is fallen. It is a mess. It is full of corruption and injustice. It is full of lost people who desperately need a Saviour.

And you cannot mend it. You are not sovereign and you are not infinite. If you try to fix everything then you will burn out or break down.

You can only do so much. It is not just that there are some things you can not do. You cannot do all the things you could do! In other words, there will be many things you could fix, but you will lack the time or energy or emotional strength to address them. And that means there will be many things that are left undone; many suffering people unhelped; many lost people who do not hear the gospel.

That can be difficult to live with. The danger is that it will drive you to over work, over stress, over worry. Or you will push those emotions onto other people – making them feel guilty that they are not doing enough.

But I have good news for you. God is great. He is sovereign. He is in control. He is the great mission strategist. He will bring people into the lives of those he plans to save. You can trust him with the big picture. You are called to be faithful with the task which he gives to you and have faith in his sovereign control of the big picture.

Consider this: Jesus said, ‘I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.’ (John 17:4) Jesus could say that he had completed the task. Yet many people were left unhealed, many did not hear his proclamation, many were not fed. But he had completed the task that God had assigned to him.

Give up any notion of being a super-hero or a super-missionary. You are allowed to be mediocre! Forget your missionary hagiographies. This is not what you are called to be. You are called to be faithful, not fruitful. Keep telling your heart that God is great. He is in control.

Indeed if you try to be a super-hero then you will distort the message. ‘But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.’ (2 Corinthians 4:7) The message of the cross is proclaimed by weak people (1 Corinthians 1:18-2:5).

What behaviour and emotions might follow from not embracing the truth that God is great?

One danger is that you feel the pressure to say something so when you do it comes out in a burst of pent up frustration. This leads to unhealthy or destructive speech. Being free from the need to change other people or be in control allows you to speak freely and faithfully, entrusting the outcome to God. This creates healthy speech. Be slow to speak.

Your initial focus is on learning the language. Do not have any bigger ambitions than this. Take a day at a time. Have small expectations for each day. Be patient. Be content with slow living. God will use you as he chooses if you are faithful to him.

God is also in control of the situation back home. You can trust our great God for those you have left behind.

ð            Rewrite Psalm 27, either as a version adapted to your context or as a negative Psalm which says the opposite of the original

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God is glorious for cross-cultural missionaries

Here is the second part of my course preparing people for cross-cultural mission. (Here is part one.)

God is glorious

You are going to be very conscious of what other people think about you.

Your fellow team members

Do they think you are competent? What are they making of your progress? How do they evaluate your ability to adapt to the culture? How do they evaluate your ability to do ministry?

They will make many suggestions, mostly from a desire to help you. But they will often sound like criticisms – especially if you are already feeling insecure (‘You should have done this.’ ‘Don’t say that.’ ‘You should try doing this.’).

Your neighbours and friends.

You want to make a good impression for Christ. What do they think of you? What do they make of your strange ways? Are you getting the culture right? Are you reading their responses accurately?

Your supporters back home

People are giving to support you. Are they getting value for money? Will they continue their support? Will they be impressed by your reports? Do they value what you’re doing? What will you say when you have nothing about which to write home? What will you say when all you have been doing is slowly learning the language? What will they think when things go wrong?

Communication back home is difficult. You will be going through experiences that are hard to share, that are outside other people’s experience.

We can easily become controlled by the opinions of other people. This is one of the commons reason why we sin: we crave the approval of other people or we fear their rejection. We ‘need’ the acceptance of others and so we’re controlled by them. The Bible’s term for this is ‘fear of man’. ‘Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe’ (Proverbs 29:25).

The Bible’s response is a vision of the glory of God. We need a big view of God. We need to fear God. ‘He will be the sure foundation for your times,’ says Isaiah, ‘a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure.’  (Isaiah 33:6) The key to God’s treasure is to fear him. To fear God is to respect, worship, trust and submit to God. We tremble before him in awe. The fear of God is the response to his glory, greatness, holiness, power, splendour, beauty, grace, mercy and love. Often, in Psalms 18 and 34 for example, this is what the Psalmist is doing. In the face of some threat he is speaking the truth about God to himself. Keep telling your heart that God is glorious so that fear of others is replaced by trust in God. ‘I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.’ (Psalm 34:4-5)

What behaviour and emotions might follow from not embracing the truth that God is glorious?

Again, think of putting that towel over your head so you find refuge in God. Whenever you see someone who you fear or whose approval you crave, imagine God next to them. Who is the biggest? Who is the most majestic? Who is the holiest? Who is the most beautiful? Who is the most threatening? Who is the most loving?

Jesus says: ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul,’ says Jesus. ‘Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.’ (Matthew 10:28) The fear of God liberates us from being controlled by other people’s expectations. We are controlled instead by God’s expectations. We still serve other people. That’s why we’ve been set free (Galatians 5:13). We take other people’s expectations seriously because we want to love them as God commanded. But we’re not enslaved by them. We don’t serve them for what they can give us in return – approval, affection, security or whatever. We serve them for Christ’s sake. By submitting to his lordship, we’re free to serve others in love.

It is an act of believing the gospel to open up, to be able to say: ‘I’m having a bad day, please pray for me,’ to not feel the need to protect your reputation or project your best.

Rewrite Psalm 31, either as a version adapted to your context or as a negative Psalm which says the opposite of the original.

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God is gracious for cross-cultural missionaries

I recently ran a short preparation course for people about to go out as cross-cultural missionaries. We looked at some standard material on culture and contextualization. But half the course was based on a conversation with a missionary we have sent to the Middle-East. As we talked about what people need to know as they approach cross-cultural ministry it became clear that it added up to the ‘four Gs’ in You Can Change [available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk]. Here is the material I put together. First, God is gracious.

God is gracious

What gives you a sense of achievement?

All the normal things from which we gain a sense of worth, success, achievement, competence are stripped away when you move to another culture.

  • You will be unable to communicate because of your lack of language ability
  • You will be unable to relate because of your lack of cultural understanding.
  • You will be unable to do ministry or contribute to church life.
  • You will not achieve much because your work life is on hold for language learning.
  • You will feel incompetent to manage ordinary life. (Where do you buy glue? What do you say at a road block? How do you get your washing machine mended?)
  • Your self-justification framework is taken away. Your behaviour will be weird and your productivity will be low.

It is not wrong to feel a sense of achievement in these areas as long as your ultimate identity in found in Christ. The test of that is when the sense of achievement is taken away. What remains? Where does your sense of worth reside? You’re about to face that test.

Your true self will be revealed and exposed:

  • by the exhaustion of your routine
  • by the worry of ‘dramas’ in your life
  • by the pressure of ‘crises’ in church life and ministry
  • by the exhaustion of continually relating cross-culturally
  • Your marriage may come under pressure because you will have to cope with a different version of your partner and your self. The pressures of cross-cultural life will reveal new attitudes and behaviours.

Look at Luke 10:17-20. We are not to rejoice in success or in ministry. Nor need we be downcast by the lack of success and our inabilities in ministry. We rejoice that our names are written in heaven.

Look at Luke 10:21-24. We rejoice in God’s grace. We rejoice that we are God’s children.

Look at Luke 10:25-37. Why does Jesus tell this story? See verse 29. The lawyer wanted to justify himself. He wanted a checklist that he could tick off so he knew he had proved himself. But we cannot justify ourselves for the task is without limit.

Look at Luke 10:38-42. Martha wants to justify herself through her service. But the necessary thing is to sit at the feet of Jesus and to listen to his teaching – to hear his word of grace.

Expect less productivity. Expect cultural mistakes. Expect your sinful heart to be exposed. But when this happens find refuge in God.

The Russian tennis player Vera Zvonareva was a finalist at Wimbledon in 2010. She had previously had a reputation for cracking on court. She would often be in tears and her game would disintegrate. One of the techniques she used to turn her career around was to put a towel over her head during games. She would block out the world around her and focus on what mattered.

I want to suggest you do the gospel equivalent. When you feel the pressure, block out the world. Stop listening to its voice. Block out your own heart. Stop listening to its doubts and desires. Instead listen to the word of Jesus. Think of God’s word as a towel you can put over your head for a few moments. Keep telling your heart that God is gracious. This is the truth that will set your free and get you through. Say to yourself:

  • ‘Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’  (Romans 8:1)
  • ‘How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!’ (1 John 3:1)
  • ‘The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.’ (Zephaniah 3:17)

What behaviour and emotions might follow from not embracing the truth that God is gracious?

What do you want other people to see in you? When you’re struggling, when you’re having marriage difficulties, when you make mistakes, when you mess up – will you want to hide this from people – from your team, from your unbelieving neighbours?

What do you want other people to see in you? That you are a great person or that you have a great Saviour?

Rewrite Psalm 103, either as a version adapted to your context or as a negative Psalm which says the opposite of the original.

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Grieving the Holy Spirit

More quotes from Francis Chan’s The Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit, David C. Cook, 2009.

Available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

St Basil the Great: “What does the Spirit do? His works are ineffable in majesty and innumerable in quantity. How can we even ponder what extends beyond the ages? What did he do before creation began? How great are the graces he showered on creation? What power will he wield in the age to come? He existed, he pre-existed, he co-existed with the Father and Son before the ages. Even if you can imagine anything beyond the ages, you will discover the Spirit is even further beyond.” (63) [This quote blew me away. How can I grieve such an awe-inspiring God by ever sinning against him?]

“God created feelings. Sure, like anything else, they can be misused and abused. But the intent and purpose of feelings came from God. Since he created emotions, why is it difficult to believe that he himself has emotions? The Spirit is grieved when there is a breach in relationship, whether it be relationship with God or relationship with other people. When we are disunified, unloving, hateful, jealous, gossipy, etc., that is when we grieve the Spirit of God. And since he is the creator of emotions, I believe that the Spirit grieves more deeply than we can even understand … I pray for the day when believers care more about the Spirit’s grief than their own. In fact, I pray that some of you readers would be broken over the grief you’ve placed on the Holy Spirit. So broken that you actually put down this book and work to resolve any conflicts you have with other believers. ‘If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all’ (Romans 12:8).” (72, 76)

Here are some of things according to Chan that should be present in your life if the Spirit dwells within you:

1. The Spirit helps us speak in precarious situations.

2. The Counsellor teaches and reminds us of what we need to know.

3. The Spirit enables us to witness to others.

4. The Spirit empowers us to put to death the mis-deeds of the body.

5. The Spirit gives us an adoption to be God’s children.

6. The Spirit convicts us of sin.

7. The Spirit brings us life and freedom.

8. By the Spirit we abound in hope.

9. We are given a manifestation for the common good in community.

10. We exhibit the fruits of the Spirit.
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The soul of the body of Christ

More quotes from Francis Chan’s The Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit, David C. Cook, 2009.

Available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

St. Augustine: “What the soul is in our body, the Holy Spirit is in the body of Christ, which is the church.” (141)

“A while back a former gang member came to our church. He was heavily tattooed and rough around the edges, but he was curious to see what church was like. He had a relationship with Jesus and seemed to get fairly involved with the church. After a few months, I found out the guy was no longer coming to the church. When asked why he didn’t come anymore, he gave the following explanation: ‘I had the wrong idea of what church was going to be like. When I joined the church, I thought it was going to be like joining a gang. You see, in the gangs we weren’t just nice to each other once a week – we were family.’ That killed me because I knew that what he expected is what the church is intended to be. It saddened me to think that a gang could paint a better picture of commitment, loyalty, and family than the local church body.” (152)
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Living life out of your control

More quotes from Francis Chan’s The Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit, David C. Cook, 2009.

Available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

“I don’t want my life to be explainable without the Holy Spirit.

“I don’t believe God wants me (or any of His children) to live in a way that makes sense from the world’s perspective, a way I know I can ‘manage’. I believe he is calling me – and all of us – to depend on him for living in a way that cannot be mimicked or forged. He wants us to walk in step with his Spirit rather than depend solely on the raw talent and knowledge he’s given us.” (143)

“God wants the praise for what we do in our lives. But if we never pray audacious, courageous prayers, how can he answer them? If we never follow him to positions where we need him, how can he show up and make his presence known?” (150)

No matter where you live and what your days look like, you have the choice each day to depend on yourself, to live safely, and to try to control your life. Or you can live as you were created to live – as a temple of the Holy Spirit of God, as a person dependent on him, desperate for God the Spirit to show up and make a difference. When you begin living a life characterized by walking with the Spirit, that is when people will begin to look not to you but to our Father in heaven and give him the praise.” (156)

“A few months ago I was speaking at a summer camp, and I was speaking to one of the organizations there that sponsors children. This volunteer told me about a 16-year-old girl there at the camp who sponsors 14 children, on her own. I was astonished by this. Fourteen children (at about $30 a month for each child) is a lot of money for a high school student to come up with. I talked to this girl and asked her how she did it. She told me that she works year-round and she works three jobs in the summertime to pay for the child support. While other teenagers are saving for a car, she’s saving lives! Instead of spending her hard-earned money on herself and her future, she gives it to these 14 children because she believes God loves them just as much as he loves her. My prayer is that churchgoers will not dissuade her from this calling.” (163-164)

“Instead of thinking and telling people they are crazy when they feel like the Spirit is leading them into something that doesn’t necessarily make sense to us, we should join them in the discernment process. Instead of discouraging people, we should pray for more insight and boldness. Instead of deadening people to the Spirit’s leading with our words and our actions, we should celebrate and join the Spirit’s movements in and through them!” (165)
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Experiencing God, Experiencing Peace

Throughout this week and next I am posting a number of excerpts from the Good Book Company’s new booklet Experiencing God: Finding true passion, joy, peace and rest in Christ. The third study focuses on experiencing peace and relates to Mark 4 v 35 – 5 v 43.

The Big Idea

We can move from an experience of agitation and anxiety to an experience of comfort and calm through faith in God’s care.

Summary

The four stories in the passage begin with:

  • an agitated sea
  • an agitated man
  • an anxious woman
  • an anxious father

They all end up at peace. The sea is calmed (v 39). The man is in his right mind (5 v 15). Jesus says to the woman: “Go in peace” (5 v 34). The father receives his daughter back from the dead (5 v 41-42). In the process we see the complete authority of Jesus over the natural world, the spirit world, sickness and death. But not everyone is at peace. The disciples are terrified when the see the power of Jesus over the storm because they lack faith (4 v 40-41). The people of the Gerasenes are terrified when they see the power of Jesus over the demon-possessed man (15 v 15). The choice throughout these four stories is between fear and faith (4 v 40-41; 5 v 15, 33-34, 36). An experience of Jesus brings an experience of peace if we have faith in Jesus. The “punchline” is 5 v 36: “Don’t be afraid; just believe”.

Available here from the Good Book Company (US) and from the Good Book Company (UK)

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Forget about God’s will for your life

More quotes from Francis Chan’s The Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit, David C. Cook, 2009.

Available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

“I think a lot of us need to forget about God’s will for my life. God cares more about our response to his Spirit’s leading today, in this moment, than about what we intend to do next year. In fact, the decisions we make next year will be profoundly affected by the degree to which we submit to the Spirit right now, in today’s decisions. It is easy to use the phrase ‘God’s will for my life’ as an excuse for inaction or even disobedience. It’s much less demanding to think about God’s will for your future than it is to ask Him what He wants you to do in the next ten minutes. It’s safer to commit to following him someday instead of this day. To be honest I believe part of the desire to ‘know God’s will for my life’ is birthed in fear and results in paralysis.” (120)

God wants to listen to his Spirit on a daily basis, and even throughout the day, as difficult and as stretching moments arise, and in the midst of the mundane. My hope is that instead of searching for ‘God’s will for my life,’ each of us would learn to seek hard after ‘the Spirit’s leading in my life today.’” (120)

“The Spirit who raised Christ from the dead is not someone we can just call on when we want a little extra power in our lives. Jesus Christ did not die in order to follow us. He died and rose again so that we could forget everything else and follow him to the cross, to true Life.” (122)
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Obstacles to intimacy with God

More quotes from Francis Chan’s The Forgotten God: Reversing Our Tragic Neglect of the Holy Spirit, David C. Cook, 2009.

Available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

“It’s breathtaking to picture Almighty God saying, ‘I know Francis Chan. He’s my son. I love him.’ Are you confident this is what God would say if I asked him about you?” (105)

Having cited Galatians 4:4-7, Chan writes:

“Maybe you are reading this and thinking, ‘Well, I just don’t experience that kind of intimacy with God. The Spirit in me never cries ‘Abba, Father’.” If this is you, I don’t have a four step guide to connecting with the Holy Spirit. I would, however, like to suggest two potential obstacles for you to consider: comfort and volume.

“1. Comfort. Maybe your life is too safe. From my own experience I have felt closest to God when nearness to him was a necessity. The Bible says the Spirit comes through in situations where we would normally be afraid (Luke 12:11-12) …

Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as the ‘Helper’ or ‘Comforter’. Let me ask you a simple question: Why would we need to experience the Comforter if our lives are already comfortable? It is those who put their lives at risk and suffer for the gospel who are most will often experience his being with you always even to the end of the age as Matthew 28:20 says …

“2. Volume. Maybe your life is too loud. Multitasking has become the norm. When was the last time you have an uninterrupted conversation with anyone … In my quest to accomplish much I have lost the art of focusing on one thing or one person. This in turn has affected my prayer life as I’m sure it has affected yours. I find it harder to be simply with God, to focus only on him, while spending intentional time with him … Jesus certainly understood what it means to have multitudes of people pursuing at once … Because of the priority of his relationship with his Father, he found ways to escape. He took the time to focus and be quiet (Mark 1:35). He was willing to remove himself from people’s reach in order to pray and commune with the Father. Our lack of intimacy is often due to our refusal to unplug and shut off communications from all others so we can be alone with him … For some of you reading this book may be a form of noise that keeps you from him. You may already hear lots of sermons and read lots of books. What you need is direct communication with him.” (106-109)
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