Would you rather give an African clean water or save his soul?

We say of course that salvation is more important, but our money says differently.

D.A. Carson’s recent research, for example, shows that American Christians spend five times more money on poverty relief efforts than on evangelism and church planting.

“Shocked that their fellow citizens are labeling them unloving and intolerant, and naively hoping to regain the cultural acceptance of a generation past, many evangelicals are hitching their wagon to the rising star of social involvement. Social action is safe. It avoids the scandal of the gospel. It allows churches to be active and to be accepted by the world. It’s the new pragmatism: the gospel needs a lead-in because it will never succeed by itself.” (Joel James and Brian Biedebach, Missionaries to Africa)

We’re not going to Papua New Guinea to liberate women, fight poverty, dig a well, save the orphans. We’re going to preach Christ. And believe it or not, the gospel still works separate from any other attachment.

“But people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care!”

Exactly. What better way to show someone you care than by caring for their eternal soul rather than the remaining 40 years of their life on a decaying earth?

We’ve got something way better than clean water to offer the poor. We have the living water.

I have yet to see one Christian ask for donations on facebook for their birthday (and since when is that even a thing?) to an evangelistic effort. Where your money is is where your heart is. And where your heart is is your treasure. When did it fall out of love with its first love, the gospel?

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A hundred fold

“Then Peter began to speak up. ‘We’ve given up everything to follow you,’ he said.

‘Yes,’ Jesus replied, ‘and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property for my sake and for the sake of the gospel will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and property – along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life.’” – Mark 10:28-30

Sometimes there are days when I think, is it REALLY going to be worth it? Nate and I have forgone our dream careers we finally had in order to go to a fringe people group and tell them about who God really is.

We COULD take the easy way out and show the Jesus Film in a few days, come back and continue our careers without skipping a beat (oops that might have stepped on some toes), or share the gospel through the country’s national language of English or Spanish or French and be out in a year, (oops), or speak through an interpreter and be out in a month (oops).

But instead we’re going to learn the tribal language of a remote people group, that no one in the history of the earth has EVER documented. It exists only on the lips of the people who speak it. So our team is going to figure it out and write it down, and give the people an alphabet and teach them how to read what they’ve only been speaking for thousands of years, all so that we can translate the Bible and they can read it in their first language – in the language of their hearts, the language that they’ve listened to as their mom spoke sweet words to them as she rubbed her belly: THAT language; the only language that can really speak to someone’s soul.

So I sit here on a Friday night at 10:00 working on analyzing a language from Ethiopia, trying to figure out if the people hear glottals, delayed-released stops, voicing, spirantization, geminate clusters and how they interpret syllable profiles, codas, onsets and a dozen other stupid things.

Does it really matter?

Yeah. It does.

I’ll leave the rest to my friend, John Calvin –

“What he promises about recompensing them a hundredfold appears not at all to agree with experience; for in the greater number of cases, those who have been deprived of their parents, or children, and other relatives — who have been reduced to widowhood, and stripped of their wealth, for the testimony of Christ — are so far from recovering their property, that in exile, solitude and desertion, they have a hard struggle with severe poverty.

But I reply, if any man estimate aright the immediate grace of God, by which he relieves the sorrows of his people, he will acknowledge that it is justly preferred to all the riches of the world.

The apostles, though they had scarcely begun the course, were hastening to demand the prize. And such is the disposition of almost all of us, that, when a month has elapsed, we ask, like soldiers who have served their time, to receive a discharge. But Christ exhorts those who have begun well to vigorous perseverance, and at the same time gives warning, that it will be of no avail to runners to have begun with alacrity, if they lose courage in the midst of the course.”

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What if it all burns up?

I sit in a room full of like-minded people as a like-minded senior missionary gets up and says, “There is absolutely no way you can do this without God’s help.”

While heads nod around the room, my heart whispers, yes you can.

Explorers have done it without Him (or rather, without acknowledging Him) for hundreds of years. Ungodly anthropologists and vile linguistic experts have documented many unknown languages. While staying enemies of God, they’ve made friends with the remotest and most unloved people.

What scares me isn’t that I can’t, but that I can. We all can if we’re gritty and stubborn enough. We can endure the repulsive smells and the harsh people and the vomiting and retching and fevers. Millions of people do it every day!  Most of us, with proper training, can learn to document an unwritten language and teach reading and translate books of the Bible.  

If I don’t set my mind on Christ and handle each day with grace and dignity, if I choose anger instead of compassion, if my heart stops praising and seeking and thanking, if I grow old out there with my burdens instead of His yoke, I’ll do it without Him. And no one will know!

I’ll come back a “missionary hero,” but at Judgment Day, I’ll stand in front of my straw house, sobbing, while I watch it burn up in front of my face.

All those years I could have been adorning my house with gold and jewels, but because I let sin creep in and rule, I built it all with straw. And here I stand ashamed before the God who bought me.  

Whatever you’re doing, don’t be afraid of what you’re building, be afraid of what materials you’re building with.

1 Corinthians 3 – 

“Anyone who builds on that foundation may use a variety of materials—gold, silver, jewels, wood, hay, or straw. But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.”

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Build the Wall

Sometimes we envision faith and action as opposing weights on a scale.

The trick is to get them in the right balance with one another. We don’t want to work too much because that tips the scale and we’re admonished for relying on our own strength. But we also don’t want to work too little because then we’re told we’re lazy and foolish. Godliness, we think, is when faith and action reach equilibrium. When we’re putting in almost double full time hours on a project at work or studying for hours on end, we’re made to feel guilty about it. We’re told we’re “striving”; that we’re working too hard because we lack faith, and if we’d just let go and let God and rest in who he is, he’d provide in miraculous ways.

Worship is not praying and waiting on a miracle when the miracle is within your grasp. Worship is acknowledging that God made things a certain way and then following those ways in willing obedience. Worship is praying and working because we’re supposed to work and use common sense; they’re both part of intelligent design. We worship fully when we fully engage each aspect of our faculties.

What a great example we have in Nehemiah (ch. 4)  and his rebuilding of the Jerusalem wall:

“When Sanballat and Tobiah and the Arabs, Ammonites and Ashdodites heard that the work was going ahead and that the gaps in the wall of Jerusalem were being repaired, they were furious. They all made plans to come and fight against Jerusalem and throw us into confusion. But we prayed to our God and guarded the city day and night to protect ourselves. From then on, only half my men worked while the other half stood guard with spears, shields, bows and coats of mail. The leaders stationed themselves behind the people of Judah who were building the wall. The laborers carried on their work with one hand supporting their load and one hand holding a weapon. All the builders had a sword belted to their side. During this time, none of us – not I, nor my relatives, nor my servants, nor the guards who were with me – ever took off our clothes. We carried our weapons with us at all times, even when we went for water.”

If we read this story with our modern views of faith, we’d chide Nehemiah for his lack of faith. But modern philosophy doesn’t determine biblical truth. Biblical truth determines itself. And this is an example of faithful action.

Faith and action are frequent biblical complements, so let’s worship with all our created faculties. Let’s strive. Let’s work. Let’s fight – not at the exclusion of our faith but for the completion of it. 

“Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come. This is a trustworthy saying and everyone should accept it. This is why we work hard and continue to struggle, for our hope is in the living God.”  – 1 Timothy 4:8-10

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Have your cake and eat it too

I miss being skinny. Three, four years ago while I was teaching I was a size 2, and occasionally I could squeeze into size 0 pants. I killed backpacking trips because I didn’t have a lot of resistance on me. But I was also sick and unhappy. My panic disorder had bested me as an adult, and my nonstop 100+ heart rate and nausea just killed my appetite.

Kids pay attention to the weirdest things. We’d line up to go down to the cafeteria and they’d clamor to see what I was bringing for lunch. “That’s all you’re eating, Ms. Clonch?” “Yep. Ms. Clonch just doesn’t get that hungry at lunch.” I wish I would have told them why.

I wish when a couple kids would go down for their weekly visit with the school psychiatrist, I would have put my hand on their back and whispered, hey, I go to a psychiatrist too.

Ah. so many regrets.

When I miss being skinny, I remind myself I don’t miss the crying and the throwing up and the anxiety. I don’t miss not being able to eat out with friends because of the stress. I don’t miss passing up on fun things because I was afraid.

I’m not disciplined enough to lose the weight I’ve put on (let’s just be real). I still hang on to my skinny pants, and maybe one day I’ll get the motivation to fit back into them. But for right now, I’m happy. my mental health is clear thanks to one tiny capsule a day. My appetite is back to normal. I can say yes to a piece of cake without fear that I’ll have a panic attack and throw it up later. I’m not at risk of dying of a heart attack, and I’m not a glutton. Having thighs has no bearing on my spirituality. My body is God’s temple, and your body is God’s temple too, regardless of our weight. In our love of skinny, let’s not make it an idol.

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The Buddhists do it better

“‘Is he actually an expert in religion?’ the Japanese Buddhist asked.  

I tried to explain that in the West it is not always considered essential that missionaries be well trained in Christian theology.

He replied, ‘I can only say that if we Buddhists send someone to another country to train the people in Buddhism, it is first required that they be experts themselves.’

There is some validity to the expectation of respondent peoples. They believe the one who is sent halfway around the world to convert them from religious systems that have commanded their faith for many centuries should be able to communicate alternatives intelligently and clearly.”

(From David Hesselgrave’s Communicating Christ Cross-Culturally)

_______________________

The Christian God is a God of great strength and power – a God that takes the lowly and uses them to make his name great, but God isn’t in the business of magic tricks and sleight of hand. He wants us to pray WHILE we’re diligent, not instead of it.

Think about the practical proof of this:

Do you lock your doors at night or do you pray instead?

O ye of little faith!

Dad, do you buckle your baby girl securely in her car seat or do you pray instead?

O ye of little faith!

Husband, when your wife is diagnosed with cancer, do you ask that a man of faith treat her and not a doctor?

O ye of little faith!

Pastor, do you study throughout the week for your sermon, or do you pray the moment after the last hymn ends that you’d just say the right things?

O ye of little faith!

What foolishness. Of course we don’t abandon all common sense in our everyday lives to pray instead.  So why don’t we extend this same thinking to our missionaries? Why can’t missionaries carry logic over to other countries too? Why are missionaries sent over to other countries just because they’re willing, even if they’ve had no preparation? Why are missionaries told in hard times: “Just pray about it. God will bless your work.” Why do missionaries have to stop using their brains in the name of “seeing God work”?

I’m glad that the banner over the gates of heaven doesn’t read “abandon all reason ye who enter here!”

It’s one of the biggest lies of our generation that hard work and faith are mutually exclusive. Where would we be without the combined MILLION hours of study from Zwingli and Calvin to Edwards and Spurgeon and Ravi Zacharias and everyone in between? Had they put down their notes and just prayed, would you have ever heard the messages or read the commentaries or even be half the Christian you’re striving to be today? Would you? Check your fear at the door. It’s okay to say no. It’s not that God’s not capable, it’s that he hasn’t chosen to work that way. Let’s honor him by working the way he’s laid out for us to. And that’s hard work and faith. Let’s be saints AND soldiers.

2 Timothy 2:16 – “Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the Word of Truth.”

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Inadequacy and Honesty

It doesn’t matter who remembers your name a hundred years from now, because Christ will never forget it.

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Your worth isn’t found in how many people clap for you as you walk across the stage to graduate.

Your worth isn’t found in how many guys like you.

Your worth isn’t found in how easily you get along with other people.

Your worth isn’t found in how many friends you have.

Your worth isn’t found in a number on the bathroom scale.

Your worth isn’t found in how much you can open up to people.

Your worth isn’t found in your ability to overcome shyness.

Your worth isn’t found in success.

Your worth isn’t found in the acne on your skin.

Your worth isn’t found inside or outside your comfort zone.

Your worth isn’t found in what your parents think of you.

Your worth isn’t found in how easily you make conversation.

Your worth isn’t found in how awkward you are.

Your worth isn’t found in your grades.

Your worth isn’t found in accolades.

Your worth isn’t found in how much of a leader you are.

Your worth isn’t found in how well you can sing, write, speak. run. work. exist.

YOUR WORTH IS FOUND IN CHRIST.

It’s not just found in Christ; your worth IS Christ. My worth is Christ. God, I am yours. And since I am yours,

I am loved.
I am loved.

I am good enough, because Jesus is good enough – because his robes are mine. I wear white, not because I’m pure, but because He is; not because I have no sin, but because He washed it away, and because He chooses to hold my hand.

God. holds. my. hand.

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