Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
- America’s role in the world, the “shining city on a hill,” a “Christian” nation
- The theology, goals, or tactics of radical Islamists
- The politics of the Middle East
- The statistics of radical to moderate Muslims
- The identity and status of Syrian refugees
Sunday, March 15, 2015
Monday, August 18, 2014
I've heard it said before, and thus far have seen it consistent throughout Scripture, that Satan is not an innovator as much as he is a corruptor. That is, he does not invent new evils or create new types of sin. Rather, he takes those things which God has given in good measure and corrupts them towards evil purposes. He takes the high value God has placed on man and makes man to overvalue himself. He takes God's good intentions for sexuality and tempts man to take it outside of the boundaries God has set. Could he also turn God's good purposes for work into overwork? Could he not try to corrupt God's faithful provision of possessions and turn it into selfishness and idolatry and "the love of money," which is the root of all kinds of evil?
Tuesday, July 8, 2014
I saw a post going around Facebook. It was actually a link that several missionaries I know shared on their pages. When I saw the title, I immediately wanted to read it, expecting to share it myself. However, once I was finally able to access it tonight, I really didn't like it at all! It sounded like it was written by a tired, burnt-out missionary who needs more than a little time on home assignment. I certainly identified with some of the things written on the post, but felt that the perspective was incredibly pessimistic under it's cover of "being real." So I thought instead to write my own post, aligned with the same 10 ideas, giving what I believe to be a better perspective on them (and perhaps to rescue us missionaries from being clumped into a group who all think like this man does). The original post is called "10 Things Missionaries Won't Tell You." You may read the article here for cross-reference: http://www.adammosley.com/2014/07/05/10-things-missionaries-wont-tell/
I've decided to call my post "10 Things Missionaries Don't Tell You Enough."
10 Things Missionaries Don't Tell You Enough:
1. We love to hear from you!
- There are not many things more encouraging that getting a short email from home saying, "Hi, how are you? We were thinking about you today. How is the family? We love you." It tells us that you had a moment, we were on your minds and in your prayers, and it meant enough to you to take a moment and tell us. In an age of instant communication, it doesn't take us any more than 5-15 minutes to reply to an email or Facebook message and we are more than happy to do that and stay connected with you back home. Perhaps don't ask us to write you back a full-blown theology of mission, but we are always blessed to hear from you - especially in response to a newsletter we've just sent (then we know you've read it!).
2. We look through every comment and every "like" on our Facebook posts.
- It is encouraging to see who is following our lives, even in the small, everyday matters. When I get on Facebook during my breakfast in the morning, I scroll through my notifications. I admit also that on nearly every post or picture I've shared, I read through all of the comments and usually look through the names of everybody who "liked" those posts. Am I a Facebook addict? I don't think so. It's just nice to know that people care about us, they follow us, they "like" us!
3. We are offering you the chance to invest in God's kingdom work.
- Yes, we too often see ourselves as Christian beggars, asking you to give us money so we can do something important for God. It is easy to feel guilty for that sometimes. But the fact is that we are offering you the chance to invest your money in something eternal - to "lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and rust do not corrupt and thieves do not break through and steal." We are giving you the opportunity to expand your sphere of eternal influence beyond where you can go yourself. Is that selfish? Is that begging? If it is begging, it is begging on God's behalf. It is begging you to do something eternally beneficial for yourself. You give your money to God. We give our time and service to God. It is a ministry partnership - both of us together for Him!
4. You don't want to or need to hear of our worst days.
- And we don't need to hear of yours either. There is no point in discouraging each other with a mutual pity party. Does anybody like to see those Facebook posts of "Oh what a miserable day I'm having. Like this if you are having one, too." We have difficult days over here. But I'll bet you have some difficult days, too. We haven't earned a special degree of bad days by going overseas; we probably just have different reasons for our days being bad. Apart from openness, vulnerability, and mutual support with those closest to us, we don't need to lay our problems on the world.
5. We take breaks and vacations - like the one you just finished.
- I admit to the difficulties of this area. Because our work is one that is supported very directly by others, we may struggle with feelings of guilt over "wasting" the money that people have sent to support us. We may think it unwise to post pictures on Facebook of our beachfront view hotel or our fancy dinner out. But apart from these concerns, we need breaks just like everyone else. And we take them! There is a fine line between considering the effect our actions may have on others and the fear of man, which "brings a snare." We see the pictures that all of our friends back home post of their vacations. We see the exotic locations, the fancy meals, the swimming pools, the cruises, and the mountain hikes. We see the pictures coming up for a week or more. But because those were financed by business income instead of missionary support, it's somehow justified. We, on the other hand, may post about the beautiful guest house we're booking in Durban next week. But we won't tell you it cost less than $60 per night, instead of hundreds. We won't tell you we were there for three days instead of a week. We won't tell you that we drove there for about $100 in fuel and not thousands of dollars in plane tickets. If we all held each other to the same standards, we would have no problem in showing you our vacation.
6. Hosting teams can be a benefit to our field ministries.
- I hope I'm not speaking beyond my ability here. We have not yet hosted "a team" in our overseas ministry. I'm sure that much stress can be involved in the logistics of planning to host a short-term missions team. But I would think that much of that difficulty could be avoided if we would have a proper view of STM's in the first place. Should not a STM team be planned based on its ability to further a field ministry and not only on the desire of the team to see the field ministry in person? Do not the missionaries have the right (I would say responsibility) to turn down a team who wanted to come visit if their visit would not aid the ministry and could even hinder the ministry for a time? Perhaps the need for finances and the promotion of one's ministry back home too often pushes a missionary to host a team they can't really accommodate. Better instead to refuse the team or limit its size to a manageable number who may actually be able to further the ministry. The movement critically called "voluntourism" may be getting out of control and can only be curtailed by somebody making the hard decisions.
7. Chances to go home are a tremendous blessing.
- Assuming the arguments already made in point 5 (we take breaks) and looking forward to point 10 (we miss our families), going home is not about getting rest. When we are on the field, we speak often of home. We recount memories of home. We daydream about what favorite restaurants we will eat at again when we get home. We miss our friends and we miss our families more. So when we have the opportunity to go home, we're not there to sleep! We're not there to hole up in our houses and say, "Ahhh! This was nice when I lived here." We want to see our people, attend our churches, tell people about the amazing things God is doing on the other side of the world. I felt bad many mornings at home when I slept late or when we were alone with nobody around. "Why are we doing this here? We can be alone while we're over there!" Certainly there is a balance and we don't want to be run into the ground catching up, traveling, and speaking. But every opportunity to visit home is a blessing and a refreshment, in spite of any difficulties.
8. We must work to make God our first priority.
- As mentioned above (point four), we're no different from you in this. Yes, there is certainly still a stereotype that missionaries are the most God-centered people in the world and must have no problem spending hours a day alone with Him. But that is largely a shattered lens these days, I believe. Our lives are busy; your lives are busy. We must make our relationship with God a priority; you must make your relationship with God a priority. There is nothing more to be said here.
9. We have some of the deepest life relationships with believers from other cultures.
- Few things I know of will knit hearts together more closely and more permanently than true intercultural friendships. One person alone may work hard to understand another person and may thereby develop a decent friendship with him. But when two people must put tremendous effort into understanding and appreciating each other, that bond will not be easily broken. This is especially true in the relationships between believers, where our mutual love for Jesus transfers into our love for each other and our likemindedness for God's cause in the world unites our desires and passions for the ministry. I doubt that anyone can fully appreciate this bond until he or she has experienced it personally.
10. We look forward to eternal company in heaven.
- Yes, we get lonely. That is one of the most difficult parts of being on the foreign field. But why do we do it? Family is the first relationship God gave us on this earth. Why would we abandon that family and move to another part of the planet, removing our children from those families as well? Because one day we became part of a bigger family. We became part of an eternal family. And the Head of that family asked, no, commanded us to go and invite into that family others whom He loves and desires. We leave our first families on one part of this planet because our new family (of which many of our first family members are also a part!) is all across the planet! One day we will be able to be together permanently, even eternally, as one big, happy family and that is what we look forward to. That is why we endure the loneliness now for the fellowship later.
These are the things that we missionaries don't tell you enough. But they are all true.
Saturday, March 9, 2013
These should perhaps be two separate posts, but feeling that the two often go hand in hand I've decided to cover them together. My first thought is this: Many doctrines taught in the Bible are very difficult to study. They are "hard doctrines" - either to understand or to accept. This will not be news to any consistent Bible reader and should not be a surprise to any of us because of the very nature of the Bible's divine origin and our fallen and earthly intellect. In many areas of theology, the Bible appears to hold or permit differing views. One of the most commonly known of these difficult areas is the matter of God's sovereignty and man's will. Other areas include the roles of faith and works in salvation, an understanding of the old and new covenants and Israel's role in history, the continuance of certain spiritual gifts, the "now and not yet" nature of the kingdom of God, and the future timeline of mankind and creation.
In my own life, I try to constantly be digging deeper into these areas - to read multiple and variant books on the topics and listen to deep, lengthy sermons discussing the relevant Scriptures. Often, I find myself further confused or "in over my head," but I believe it is a struggle worth making. I occasionally hear the comment, "Why do you keep going on that one topic? You'll never be able to fully understand it, so why keep studying?" Are they right? If there are certain doctrines I will never fully grasp, why shouldn't I just forget about it and "take it in faith?"
I have two concerns. Number one, as a minister of the gospel, a student of theology, a missionary to a lost world, and an instructor of pastors, I feel it is my duty to make every effort to understand clearly what the Bible teaches. Doctrinally, I believe that God is indeed black and white, that the Bible holds only one position on all matters, and that the Bible is sufficiently clear to communicate everything God wants us to know for life. Number two, even if I weren't a vocational minister, I believe it would still be necessary to make every effort as a lay person to equip myself with a correct understanding of God and His truth.
Now, the fact remains that some doctrines I will not understand until eternity, when my glorified body is separated from my fallen nature and I will know fully what I now know in part (1Co.13:12). In all our studies, we must be careful never to force our logic beyond what the Scripture explicitly states, for even our human reason is fallen and flawed and finite. We won't get the answer to every one of our questions. As one of my seminary professors liked to say, "The Bible is too short. It just didn't tell us everything we wanted to know." However, we cannot allow ourselves as Christians to retreat to "faith" as a cover for theological laziness. Too many times, I have been in discussion with another believer on a difficult doctrine over which we disagree and heard, "I can't explain why I believe that, I just take it in faith."
It is for this reason that I have really grown to dislike the phrase "agree to disagree." While I do respect that the intent of the message is to maintain unity amidst conflict, I feel that people too often rush there and hold it up as a shield. It seems to me a final resort to hold to an untenable position. It is the period to end a discussion without further pressing the matter.
This person will merely disagree - no further discussion is permitted and no passage of Scripture given to refute or defend. Or instead, they will dismiss - that's not really what the passage means or it doesn't really matter anyway. Occasionally, they will divide - suddenly you don't see them anymore or they relate to you only on surface issues. Or they will distract - the hard doctrine is avoided and the topic changed. Or they digress - well, this other person who agreed with your position also did this or said that. The correct response for the believer is to discuss and decide - bring up all relevant Scriptures, pray, study, seek counsel and wisdom from God and others, then take the more reliable position, allowing room for personal conviction.
Paul's exhortation to Timothy has grown to become one of my favorite passages as it refers to these matters. "Study! . . . to show yourself approved unto God, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, *rightly dividing the word of truth*" (2Ti.2:15, emphasis mine). Study is required of us. Diligence is used in other translations. "Do your best." "Make every effort." All of these carry the same idea. It takes hard work in God's Word to understand hard doctrines. But we must do that work to be approved by God! Then we will be workers who don't need to be ashamed and we will be able to rightly - correctly - divide God's Word.
This is why I persist in study. It's not because I have to know everything or have to always be right. It's because I sense that there is more in the Word that I do not yet know. When I am unsettled on a matter and another minister I respect is settled on it, I want to hear from him why. Where his reasons are valid and biblical, I will take up his position as well. May we always be diligent to learn more about God, and in knowing Him more, to love Him more!
It is said that some of the biggest changes a missionary will go through relate to culture. As a matter of necessity, one must observe, analyze, and adopt (parts of) the culture in which he will be ministering. In the process, he will lose or intentionally discard some parts of the culture to which he is native.
As our time in the States was coming to a close and our move around the world began to approach, I remember feeling a noticeably increasing disconnection from other Americans. As I would sit and have my lunch break at Chick-fil-A, I remember some of the conversations I heard around me (sorry, everyone; I eavesdrop). Two older ladies sat one day involved in what seemed like a deep, serious talk. "Oh, I just cant believe it!" they remarked in hushed tones. "I'm really going to miss him." "Oh, me, too. I just don't know if it will ever be the same again." I couldn't figure out what they were talking about. It sounded as if someone had died in their family. Then one of them said something like, "I don't know who they'll get to replace him. Those two always just interacted so well together! I mean he's been on NCIS since season 1!" I didn't know someone's life could be so wrapped up in a TV show.
Another day, I remember hearing a group of about 6 business people sitting at a table and chatting about their sports teams. It was amazing to me how much of their own identity seemed tied up in their college sports teams! "Last week, we lost to . . . " "It was our most embarrassing season ever!" "I couldn't be seen in public last week after that loss!"
I won't pretend to be completely innocent on these things. I loved watching Lost as much as anyone back when it was running. And I still love to follow American Idol (though less and less now). Actually, a few months before we left, I was at work one afternoon when two people were talking about "The Voice." They asked me who my favorite singer was and I didn't even know who was competing. I realized I was actually a little embarrassed to say, "We don't have cable." What I should have said was, "We canceled our cable, because I'm in seminary and don't have time to watch TV." I felt so weird, though - like I was already an outsider.
But life is just different now. It doesn't matter anymore. If I may share a personal struggle, it is very hard not to feel superior to others in my country now - as if their lives are so trivial and mine so spiritual. A short while ago, we missed the Super Bowl. Someone had mentioned the previous week that it was coming up, but we didn't even know who was playing until my news app gave me a notification that the Ravens had won. I didn't miss it. I mean, yes, Super Bowl parties are fun and I love having chips and queso and Cokes with all of my friends while we root for our opposing teams, but it just had no meaning on our lives whatsoever (maybe during World Cup we'll get some parties over here!). Then I got on Facebook and saw people raving about how amazing the raunchy halftime show was and I wondered, "Where is the disconnect? Is it just me? Would I have been just as caught up in the game if I had still been there?" I remarked on my Facebook that we'd missed the game and noticed several other missionaries said the same.
So, it's a lesson I'm learning. It's easy to get so caught up in my culture that it negatively affects my life, making it trivial at times. It's also easy to look at my culture without any discretion, merely taking in whatever it gives. In my foreign culture, I'm at the opposite point right now. I see many things in Africa negatively, wondering why the people don't use discretion in certain matters (pastors letting their kids watch American music videos all day). This is a developing process. I must learn to retain only those parts of my culture which are wholesome and meaningful and must learn to adopt any parts of this new culture that are beneficial without harshly criticizing the parts I believe to be negative (though tea time will definitely be adopted!).