Learning to put doubt where it belongs

trashIn my last post I mentioned that we were at 50% of our monthly budget, and I reflected on some of the things I’ve learned during the first half of support raising. The first thing I listed there was how unbelieving I have been that our budget will be met.

Today, only four weeks later, I am blown away that we are now (unofficially) at 68%! We have had several people register pledges this past month, and we received a particularly sizable pledge today that has left me absolutely awestruck at God’s providence.

As I sit here, grateful that God’s faithfulness and provision is not contingent upon my feeble faith, I’m reminded of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount:

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt 6:28b-33).

Applying this to myself, I should not be anxious, saying, “Where will our support come from? How is this ever going to happen?” Rather, I need to learn to put my doubt in God’s  provision right where it belongs–in the trash!

And so we continue to press forward, by God’s grace and in his strength, to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. Join me in giving thanks to God and praying that he will continue to astound us by his great providence.

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Halfway There!… And What I’ve Learned Along the Way

50-yard-lineAs of this week we are (unofficially) at 50% of the monthly partnerships that we need in order to serve in Japan! A big THANK YOU to those who have discerned God’s leading and have pledged to partner with us. We are so grateful for your generosity and your desire to invest in the spread of Jesus’ kingdom. It’s been encouraging to see God provide His people with resources and then move in their hearts to give those resources away for the glory of His name. Praise God!

We also continue to covet your prayers that God would reveal the right timing for those who have a desire to partner in this work but haven’t had a chance to pledge yet (which you can do HERE 🙂 ), as well as for future opportunities and appointments – that the Lord would raise up the resources we need to be fully funded.

In addition to this brief progress update, I thought I’d take a few minutes and share five things I’ve learned as we’ve voyaged through this first half of our support raising journey. There is more that could be said, of course, but these five things are some of the most prominent that come to mind as I reflect upon this process so far.

1. I am full of unbelief.

To be honest, I can’t see where the second half of our budget is going to come from. In my heart I have deep struggles believing that it will actually come in, and this often causes me to feel helpless and discouraged. I’ve come to realize that I find it easier to talk about trusting God to provide than actually trusting Him to provide. This season of gathering support partners has forced me realize that this well of unbelief has always been there in my heart, lurking below the surface, only now a spotlight has shone on it and brought it to light. Consequently, this season has been not only one of raising funds but also learning (read: struggling) to grow in faith.

2. I have a deep-seated love of control.

In line with revealing my unbelief, this first half of support raising has also exposed the white-knuckle control grip that I prefer to have on my circumstances. Simply put, I am currently not in control of my own timeline, and I have been surprised at what a struggle this has been for me. It’s not that I don’t like this season of life or am dying to get out of town–after all, we love living near family, we love our church, and we have great friends and community here–it’s that I am more clearly aware than ever that I am not in control of the success or failure of this venture that we are on. I am completely at the mercy of God’s provision and other people’s participation. Of course, at other times of life I have certainly not been in control of my circumstances the way I thought I’ve been–it was just harder to see this truth behind the veneer of self-control that I had erected. But now this veneer has been torn down and the cold hard truth has become evident: I am not in control, and it’s hard for me to accept.

3. I am very prideful.

This past year has been the first time in 20 years that I have not been employed somewhere “earning” an income. Ever since I started as a busboy at The Hamburger Factory at age 16 I have had a job, with only  a couple of brief “between job” stages. Now, technically I am an employee of Mission to the World, and technically I am working full-time gathering a support team for our service in Japan, but it doesn’t feel like I’m employed anywhere, and that has picked at my pride. Apparently I have been drawing much of my self-worth from my ability to excel at things that generate a living for myself, but now I am not doing that. During this stage I am dependent upon God and others, or perhaps better said, during this stage it has become more clear than before that I am dependent upon God and others, and this has been a challenge to my prideful thinking that I provide for myself.

4. I am often paralyzed by fear.

I am not fearful of speaking in front of large groups about our work in Japan and I don’t mind meeting one-on-one with folks and inviting them to invest in this gospel work–I actually quite enjoy these things. But what I am afraid of is failure. I have a fear that we will fail at this task (as if it were up to us anyways!), and I fear what people will think when we do. And too often I let this fear have a stranglehold on my joy and debilitate me. Now, at other times in life I’m sure that I have struggled with fear, though those times of struggle were clouded by my pride in my ability and perceived sense of control of my circumstances. In this venture, however, I have been forced to face my fear and realize that it is a byproduct of the struggles I mentioned above: my lack of faith, my lack of control, and my unrelenting pride.

5. The gospel is for people just like me.

Although the first four of these realizations are a bit negative, they have the effect of throwing my need of the gospel into sharp relief. Of course, I’ve known before this year that the gospel is for people like me, but given my new-found sparring sessions with unbelief, lack of control, pride, and fear, I’ve come to realize all the more how much I need the gospel. Because Jesus is in control and has promised to build His church, we need not fear and can have confidence that He will accomplish His work in and through us. Although my tendency is to try and operate out of my strength and ability, Jesus tells us that His “power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). This is a hard pill for me to swallow, to be honest, but it’s one that I need.

As my wife says to me, going through struggles such as these will help us realize, when God chooses to provide the resources we need to go, that He alone is worthy of all thanks and praise – that He alone has accomplished this work, not us. Our prayer is that this truth will characterize the second half of our journey to Japan.

MN

Toward a Theology of Supporting Missionaries

Since I’ve been engaged in the work of “raising support,” as it is commonly called, I thought it would be appropriate to offer a brief “theology of supporting missionaries.” The intent of this post is to encourage those of you who participate in missions through financial support, whether you do so in partnership with us or with others.

“Supporting Missionaries”: A Misnomer?

Now that I’ve introduced this post this way, I want to offer a slight critique of this common nomenclature that we use: “supporting missionaries.” To start off, I understand why we describe this act in this way. Missionaries are the ones who go to the mission field, and the people who provide the funds that enable them to go are “supporting” them. It makes sense.

Yet the more I’ve thought about this, the more I think this terminology is misleading. To say that the folks who stay home and sacrificially provide funds are “supporting missionaries” seems subtly to imply two things: (1) that they are not directly participating in the work of missions themselves, and (2) that the money they donate is being given to the missionary.

Support Raising Figure 1-page-001As you can see in the illustration above, on this understanding the conceptual line of giving goes straight from the supporter to the missionary, and there is no direct line from the supporter to God’s work on the mission field. It is only the missionary ministering God’s word in the foreign land who is viewed as directly involved in God’s work on that mission field.

When the missionary/supporter relationship is conceived this way, missionaries can often feel self-conscious asking people to give funds because it feels like they’re asking potential supporters to give to them. This incorrect understanding can also lead to the false view that supporters are somehow second-class citizens when it comes to the missionary endeavor, since they are allegedly not directly involved in the mission work. But all of these are mistaken conclusions.

The Biblical Model: Offerings Made to the Lord

In Numbers 18, God told Aaron that he and his sons, along with the Levites, were responsible for caring for and serving in the tabernacle (vv. 5-6). He went on to tell Aaron,

I myself have put you in charge of the offerings presented to me; all the holy offerings the Israelites give me I give to you and your sons as your portion, your perpetual share” (v. 8).

That is, the people were to give offerings to the Lord, which He then redirected and designated for the temple servants as their livelihood. Repeatedly throughout the chapter God reiterates this emphasis that the gifts brought by the people were given to Him yet used for the temple servants (vv. 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 19, 21, 24, 26).

Significantly, Paul uses this OT concept to ground his teaching that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from doing so:

Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel” (1 Cor 9:13-14).

Based on the OT precedent, the implication here is that church members who give funds toward missions are giving offerings to the Lord. These funds are used to provide for those who preach the gospel vocationally–the NT equivalent of the priests and Levites–but conceptually they are offerings given to God himself.

A Better Description: “Partnering with Missionaries”

Based on this biblical model, it seems that a better way to understand the missionary/supporter relationship is that of a partnership.

Support Raising Figure 2-page-001Viewed this way, both missionary and supporter are directly participating in God’s work on the mission field; one participates by going and the other by giving. The supporter is not giving his money to the missionary but bringing an offering to God, and therefore the conceptual line of giving here goes straight from the supporter to God’s work. Similarly, when “raising support,” the missionary need not feel awkward about asking people to give because they are not asking the potential supporter to give to them but rather presenting them with an opportunity to worship God and participate in His mission.

This makes the missionary and the supporter partners in the missions endeavor. Rather than the missionary being a player in the game and the supporter being a fan cheering on the sideline, both are standing side-by-side on the playing field. They play different positions, to be sure, but they necessarily complement one another, and no points are scored without both playing their part. Neither has a higher calling, and neither is second-class.

Of course, the funds offered by the supporter are functionally used to provide for the needs of the missionary, but by keeping these distinctions in mind we see that the ministry of “partnering with missionaries” is first and foremost an act of worship entailing offerings to God and therefore direct participation in what God is doing on the mission field.

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.