Numero dos… Mr. Silas!

In a previous post I introduced our oldest child, Lydia. Now I’d like to introduce you to the young lad who, if we lived in biblical times, would inherit a double portion of my estate: Silas Matthew!

Silas glassesSilas was born in Brisbane, Australia, while I was teaching at Queensland Theological College, so we like to call him the “honorary Aussie” of our family. As of this post he is 14 months old, and nothing short of tons of fun.

Having been born down under, this boy has already enjoyed the scenic beaches of the Sunshine Coast of Queensland, traversed the beautiful mountain roads of the south island of New Zealand (picture Lord of the Rings landscape, literally!), flown a trans-Pacific flight, and lived at four different addresses. And as you can see from the picture to the left, he’s done it all while remaining cool as a cucumber.

Being our first boy, Silas has successfully trained us to be on the lookout at all times, as he has a special knack for finding creative ways to get into anything andSilas Hebrew everything that a toddler probably should not get into. For example, with Lydia we were able to protect her from wall outlets by simply plugging in the child protector plugs. Not so with the man child… his skill at removing those has necessitated us replacing the outlets in our playroom with blank plates. This will work, I’m sure, until he figures out how to work a screwdriver.

As you can see from the pic to the right, he also enjoys raiding my bookcases whenever he gets into my office. Much to the joy of his Old Testament professor father, he tends to go right for the big blue Hebrew grammar book — a budding exegete!

We also call Silas the family clown, as he loves to make people laugh. He has the distinct ability to grin in such a way that he wrinkles his little button nose and absolutely melts his Mama’s heart — Caroline readily admits that she has no defense against his charms.

Silas bookAnd yet, inasmuch as he is very active, curious, and silly, Silas also enjoys sitting quietly and looking at books. We’ll often look into our playroom and see him sitting in the corner, with books strewn out all around him, his little blonde head facing down, peering into one of his board books.

Some of Silas’ other favorite things include eating bananas, wearing his big boy shoes, doing anything outside, and having lots of people around. He is a very social little guy, so he especially loves spending time at my parents’ house when all of his cousins are there running around and playing.

Silas LydiHowever, the person who tops the charts in Silas’ world is his sister. He absolutely loves playing with Lydia, and she is an incredibly sweet big sister to him. Although they have their little spats like all siblings do, it has been such a joy for us to watch them learn to play with each other.

She will often start skipping and dancing around the edge of the playroom, and Silas will join the fun by turning in a circle. The only problem is that he makes himself dizzy pretty quickly, so he soon topples over and lets out a huge belly laugh. Makes me want to be a kid again!

I was outnumbered by the girls in our family for a few years before Silas’ arrival. He has evened the playing field and added a respectable dose of masculinity with his frequent grunts and fondness for throwing things. We are so grateful for his life and pray that he grows up to be a young man who finds his value and identity as a son of the King.

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Five Ways to Support Missionaries When Your Budget is Maxed Out

empty-piggybank-290x340Missionaries have to raise support (at least most of us do!). As I connect with folks, share about the work that God is doing in Japan, and invite them to participate through prayer and financial support, sometimes the answer comes back, “We believe the work you’re doing is great, and we’d love to support you, but we just don’t have any money right now.” This answer can come from individuals and churches alike. And this is fine. When missionaries head out to raise support, we go knowing that not everyone will be able to participate.

However, if you do find yourself in the position of wanting to support missionaries yet not having the resources to do so financially, I’d like to suggest a few ways that you can support and encourage them without having to donate money.

(1) Still agree to meet with them.

It may seem surprising, but we missionaries still want to meet with you and share about God’s work in our country even if you can’t partner financially with us. You’re not wasting our time. The goal of support raising is not to get people to empty their wallets but to build relationships and share about God’s work in another part of the world. Yes, ultimately we do need funds to go, but by agreeing to meet with us you’re saying, “What you’re doing is important enough for me to take time to hear about it.” This is an encouragement to us.

(2) Commit to pray for them.

When we say we’re looking for “prayer and financial supporters,” that “prayer” part is not a pious appendage that we slyly affix to our request for funds in order to make it sound spiritual. We actually do want, need, value, and appreciate people who will commit to interceding for us in prayer. If you are able to commit to doing this, please let us know! This is a very real and much needed way that you can participate in the missionary endeavor.

(3) Invite them to share and/or preach in your church.

Not every missionary is a preacher, but every missionary can share about their calling in a church context. Ask your pastor or elders if your missionary friend can share during your Sunday school hour or worship service. If the missionary is a preacher, ask if he can preach in your service. You can serve as a bridge between missionaries and your church leadership, facilitating opportunities for them to share with people that they might not otherwise be able to.

(4) Invite them to share with your small group.

If you’re in a small group, arrange for your missionary friend to come and share with the group. This is another great opportunity for you facilitate meetings that might not otherwise happen. And if your small group feels so led, you can “adopt” the missionary and regularly pray for them and send encouragements such as birthday cards or care packages to them once they’re on the field. Such acts of support are a huge boost of encouragement for missionaries living abroad, even if financial partnership is not involved.

(5) Host a “missions dessert” in your home.

This is a particularly creative way to support itinerating missionaries if your personal finances are maxed. Invite people from your church to come to your home for dessert and coffee and to hear from a missionary. This is yet another way to serve as a facilitator, use the gift of hospitality, and provide an environment for the missionary to share about God’s work in their country. Be sure to inform invitees that there is no pressure to give – by simply showing up at the dessert they fulfill number (1) above. However, in such situations you never know whose heart God may move to participate financially as well.

Summary

The above five suggestions certainly don’t exhaust the opportunities that exist to support missionaries when your budget is maxed, but they are a start. Of course, if you are able to support a missionary financially, that is another very necessary element for them to get to the field — and one that we certainly encourage and appreciate! But don’t let lack of finances keep you from the privilege of participating in God’s global work. He has given you gifts and resources that you can use to assist the spread of the gospel across the earth for His glory.

Introducing… Lydia!

I thought I would take a few posts and introduce our kiddos, since they will be living the missionary life just as much as Caroline and me. I think and wonder often about what their lives will look like growing up in a foreign country. Their experiences will be vastly different from ours as children, and while there will certainly be challenges along the way, we also know that they will grow up with a much more global perspective than most of us had.

We are very grateful to God for blessing us with these children, and as I like to tell them, we think they are the “cat’s pajamas”!

Lydia parkFirst up is Lydia!

This sweet girl just turned 4 years old this summer. Lydia is a girl of many talents and passions. She has a particular affinity for bunnies, fairies, sprinkles, dresses, jewelry, using pretend names (she often prefers to be addressed by multiple other names each day), and yet, as girly as she is, nothing pleases her more than jumping in our playroom and “roughhousing” with Daddy. Don’t let the purple glasses and pink shoes fool you, this girl is scrappy when it’s time to wrestle!

LydiaArtRoomOne of Lydia’s specialties, however, is her love and gifting for drawing. Long ago she grew tired of coloring in the pre-drawn pictures that come in kids’ coloring books. Instead, she loves to freehand draw all sorts of pictures, usually of people. We have been amazed at the perspective she brings to the things she portrays.

We have labeled one room in our house the “art room.” This is a place where Lydia is able to keep her coloring materials out on a little table, and she will often spend hours in there drawing and coloring, putting on paper the various ideas that seem to emerge constantly from her imaginative little mind.

Due to her prolific output of drawings, our house is in no shortage of art for the walls. Below are a few of her most recent creations.

LydiaArt1LydiaArt2LydiaArt3

Lydia was our first child, and so of course her arrival really rocked our world as we began this journey of parenting. We can’t imagine what our lives were like before God gave her to us (how boring they must have been!). We are so thankful for her and can’t wait to see the ways that God works in and through her life.

LydiaPrincess

Radical: A Review

RadicalI’ve just finished reading David Platt’s book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream. Platt often speaks at the big evangelical conferences, and I had heard a lot about this book and read some responses, both positive and negative, so I was curious to read it for myself. Here I offer a brief review of the book, noting its positive contributions as well as some areas of disagreement.

Positives

First off, Platt writes in a very winsome and engaging style. He is clear and easy to read, and more importantly, he comes off as a very passionate yet humble person who views himself as still learning to live out what he is preaching. This humility provides an important tone for the book, since he also doesn’t pull any punches in his analysis of American evangelical priorities.

Second, I think his diagnosis of the priorities of the American church is very insightful and needed. He argues that American Christians have by-and-large exchanged the radical commitment to the growth of Jesus’ church advocated in the New Testament for a tame, decaffeinated version of Christianity. This alternate Christianity is essentially content to consume the gospel for one’s own spiritual health while prioritizing the pursuit of success, comfort, and security — a Christian version of the so-called “American dream.”

Third, several of his practical suggestions for how Christians can “take back their faith from the American dream” are as excellent as they are simple. He challenges the reader to take a year and commit to the “Radical Experiment,” which involves (1) praying for the entire world (using a tool like Operation World); (2) reading through the entire Word; (3) sacrificing money for a specific (gospel oriented) purpose; (4) spending time in another context; and (5) committing to living in a multiplying community (i.e., a vibrant church). Through this, one leaves the book not simply with a theoretical critique of American evangelicalism, but with practical, tangible ways to respond.

Areas of Disagreement

Although I think this is a good book and would recommend that folks read it, I do register a couple of fairly substantial disagreements with it.

First, throughout the book, the bulk of Platt’s argumentation for why Christians should be concerned about taking the gospel to the nations is fundamentally man-centered. That is, he grounds his appeals for global missions over and over again in how there are billions of people who have never heard the gospel, and if they don’t hear it and believe, they’ll end up in a Christless eternity. While I heartily affirm that we should have compassion for the lost, I would argue that this is a penultimate rationale for missions and evangelism. The ultimate rationale for missions should be a God-centered concern that Jesus be honored and submitted to as King of kings over every inch of His creation, for His glory. Missions and evangelism should ultimately be driven by theocentric rather than anthropocentric concerns, though of course the latter should not be absent.

Now, that said, my sense is that Platt would endorse this concept. Early on in the book he touches on the prominence of God’s glory for the church’s life and mission. However, the majority of his actual argumentation throughout the book focuses on the salvation of the lost, rather than the glory of God, as the driving force behind the church’s need to get radical. A clearer articulation of how God is increasingly glorified as His church spreads to every tribe and tongue would have strengthened his argument.

Second, Platt argues that to obey the Great Commission, every Christian should be “going” and making disciples of the nations. This interpretation finds its way into number (4) of his Radical Experiment: spend time in another context. Although I agree that it is helpful for people to leave their own situations and broaden their global horizons through things like short-term mission trips, Platt seems to suggest that the intent of the Great Commission is simply for every Christian to go and make disciples somewhere else indiscriminately.

The problems with this are that (1) it doesn’t distinguish well between Christians’ different gifts and callings, and (2) it is not strategic toward reaching every nation.

(1) Personally, I’m not convinced that Jesus intended for every Christian to cross cultures with the gospel. Since Jesus gave the Great Commission to the apostolic company, I would argue that it is addressed to the church as a whole. This means that it is not every individual Christian’s responsibility to “go and make disciples,” but rather the church’s responsibility to do so. Since the church is one body that comprises many parts (1 Cor 12:14-30), and since God gifts the different parts of the body differently (Eph 4:11-12), it seems better to conclude that some parts of the body will cross cultures with the gospel and some will send them (i.e., pray for and fund them). Some will minister primarily through preaching and others primarily through service. Some will be better equipped to minister through encouragement and others through sacrificial giving.

What we need is not for each individual to “go” as if the body were made solely of feet, but rather to discern how one fits into the body and operate accordingly so that the body as a whole is equipped to carry out its mission in a coordinated fashion. This may mean becoming an evangelist, but it may not (note that Paul says that God gifted “some to be evangelists” [Eph 4:11]!). This removes the guilt factor for those who don’t feel called to “go” elsewhere and enables them to embrace their calling as part of the missional body that is the church.

(2) Platt seems to suggest that as long as people are going somewhere else, that is Great Commission action. However, the fact that Jesus says to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19) should tell us that simply going somewhere else indiscriminately is not going to cut it after a while (especially after 2,000 years!). The church needs to assess the global landscape and see which nations have not been discipled and be diligent to extend the gospel into those areas. When I read Platt, I get the feeling that we could end up with people traveling this way and that, yet without a strategy toward reaching an all-encompassing global goal for the spread of the gospel.

Now, again, to Platt’s credit, he advocates for missions to unreached peoples both in his writing and in his speaking. But in this book I didn’t get a clear sense that the church should strategically advance into places “where Christ is not known” (Rom 15:20). More attention to a global strategy for world evangelization would help readers see that missions is concerned with taking the gospel to all nations as opposed to simply going indiscriminately to other nations.

Summary

In sum, this is a very well written book with a pastoral tone that deserves to be read and thoughtfully considered. Although I personally disagree with some of his approach, Platt has done the church a great service by identifying a significant issue and offering thought-provoking suggestions for how Christians should respond to it.

Anniversaries and the Gospel

Last week was our 9th wedding anniversary, so we celebrated by going out lunch. Since Caroline has been pregnant for the better part of the last two years, we haven’t had a lot of opportunity to enjoy sushi together, so we went to a nice little Japanese restaurant in downtown Raleigh and had some good (by American standards!) sushi.

photo(2)photo(1)

As our anniversary came and went, I was reminded yet again of God’s faithfulness to us in the gospel. Every year that Caroline perseveres in marriage with me — and all the sinful baggage that comes along with me — is a testimony to Jesus’ commitment to His church. Jesus’ commitment to His people is most fully demonstrated, of course, in His willingness to die for us, that through His death we might have life.

This is incredibly good news for people like us who are adept at rebelling against God. This is also incredibly good news for the nation that has mastered the art of making great sushi–Japan. Our prayer is that the good news of Jesus will spread throughout Japan, freeing people from the penalty and power of their sin and enabling them to live in the liberating light of Jesus’ commitment to His church.

The Struggle to Sacrifice

One of the aspects of Christian living that I find hardest to live out is self-sacrifice. Specifically, it’s difficult for me – and I’d wager to say for all of us – to be willing to sacrifice things that I love for the sake of the gospel. In my flesh I want to cushion myself with comfort, pad myself with pleasures, and avoid difficulty at all costs. I want to create a situation in which I can coast through life with as little turbulence as possible. Left to myself, these desires would guide my decisions and shape my lifestyle.

However, a passage that has been a huge challenge for me in this respect – and also a great encouragement – is Matt 10:37-39. Here Jesus says:

“Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (vv. 37-38).

Here’s what’s difficult for me as we prepare to go to the mission field: I love my parents. I would love to live near them for years to come. I love my children. I would love for them to grow up near their grandparents and cousins and aunts and uncles. But what Jesus says here is that I must love Him more than my parents or my children. And that means that if He calls us to move far away – which we believe He is – then we need to be willing to do so.

I also find it interesting that Jesus follows this statement about loving Him over close family members with the startling claim that only those who take their own cross and follow Him are worthy of Him. This means that we must be willing to sacrifice certain things in this life for His sake. For us this means not living near family or familiarity. For others it might mean sacrificing something else in life.

The encouragement comes, though, with the next verse:

“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt 10:39)

That is, those who seek their “best life now” will ultimately lose it, but those who live sacrificially for Jesus now – who “lose” certain things in this life for the sake of the gospel – will find true life. This is an encouragement because oftentimes I would prefer my best life now. I worry that by moving across the world I will miss out on things that my shortsighted vision for a good life says are most important. But the opposite is the case. By letting go of a life driven by my own desires and instead letting the gospel direct my path wherever it might lead, abundant life will follow.

Our prayer is that God would sustain us and help us believe this as we struggle to live this truth out.

Is the Church Fulfilling the Great Commission Strategically?

great-commissionIn considering whether or not the church is being strategic in fulfilling the Great Commission, we need to answer several questions.

What did Jesus intend in the Great Commission?

In Jesus’ famous last command, commonly known as the “Great Commission,” our Lord instructs His followers to “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19). The term “nations” here doesn’t refer to a discrete political entity, but rather to “a body of persons united by kinship, culture, and common traditions” (see definition in BDAG Greek Lexicon). This is what the apostle John describes in Revelation when he sees a great multitude worshiping God “from every nation, tribe, people, and language” (Rev 7:9). This is essentially what missiologists refer to as a “people group.”

In short, Jesus wants His church to spread the gospel–not simply to as many people as possible–but specifically to every people group in the world.

What is a “people group”?

unreached peopleA “people group” is a large grouping of persons united by a variety of elements such as language, religion, ethnicity, location, class, and situation. The Lausanne Movement has defined people group as “the largest group within which the Gospel can spread as a church planting movement without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance.”

What is an “unreached people group”?

A people group is considered “unreached” with the gospel when the evangelical Christian population makes up less than 2% of the overall population. This small percentage makes the indigenous church too small and without enough resources to reach the rest of the group and therefore in need of outside assistance for the gospel to spread.

The vast majority of these unreached people groups live in what is known as the 10/40 window.

1040window_map

What all of this means is that if we neglect to spread the gospel among unreached people groups, we will not fulfill the Great Commission.

How is the church doing?

Estimates vary, but there are currently around 16,750 people groups in the world, 6,921 of which are unreached. The shocking stats are what follow.

Only 2.4% of foreign missionaries are serving among unreached people groups, and only 1% of money given toward “missions” is used toward spreading the gospel among unreached peoples. The rest are laboring and giving toward evangelizing already-reached people groups.

To put it another way, if you were to gather a group of 100 missionaries, only 2 of them would be sharing the gospel with a people group that truly needs outside support for the church to spread, and only a penny out of every dollar given would go to support them. On the other hand, 97 of these missionaries would be laboring amidst already-reached peoples, with 99 cents on the dollar going to support them.

To many, this suggests that the church is not being very strategic in seeking to obey Jesus’ last command to us. We are heavily focusing our efforts and resources on evangelizing already-reached people groups. Our prayer is that the church as a whole will reorient its efforts toward being strategic in obeying the Great Commission. What each of us can do is be intentional and direct at least some of our missional time and resources toward the spread of the gospel where the church needs it most.