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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

What Does It Profit The Kingdom To Build A Great Ministry And Forfeit Your Children?

     The missionary home is a breeding ground for unhealthy levels of stress. Here are ten suggestions to help mitigate the effect of stress on your MKs. These are things you probably already know. Consider them reminders in the middle of the craziness of life
  
  1.    Develop routines and traditions: Friday pizza night, Waffle Wednesday, Afternoons at the park, whatever fits your family. Adults and students alike function better when they have an idea of what to expect. And try your hardest to keep traditions you had before moving. Guard these with everything you’ve got!

  2..       Always take a deep breath before reacting responding in anger or frustration. Always good to do—but crucial in these moments. Are your kids acting up out of rebellion, or a call for attention? Many kids don’t know how to process what’s going on around them and the unprocessed stress results in behavioral outbreaks. One day just try and offer them a hug and help them find the words.

     
    3.       If you’re in Language School, stay out of ministry that demands responsibility. Everyone hates this. Really. But your family needs you more than XYZ ministry.

  4.       Realted to that, don’t fill up your plate. Every time you say ‘yes’ to one thing, you say ‘no’ to something else. In the heat of transition stress, you need time to process and debrief. Every. Single. Day. No matter what you were used to. And your family needs you more. Every. Single. Day. Make it your ambition to live your first year abroad as un-busy as possible.

  5.       Take your Sabbath as if it were commanded by God (Oh, wait…). I do not know one single missionary who does this well (as far as I know). Turn off your phone. Don’t touch the laptop. No ministry. No emails. No meetings. No homework. God, Rest, and Family.  

Photo from Huffington Post
  6.       Do not have a ‘Discussion’ in front of your kids. You and your spouse have mountains of things to talk about. Trouble with finances, trouble with the sending organization, trouble with other missionaries, trouble with the family, trouble with ministry, trouble with friends or family back home. DO NOT have these conversations in front of your kids, whether they’re 2 or 18. They don’t need to carry that. Even infants pick up on parental stress. Go on a walk, go on a date, wait until after bedtime—FIND A WAY TO MAKE THIS HAPPEN! You can worry about modeling how to fight well later.

  7.       Find situations that are OK for them to control, and give them the freedom to make as many  decisions as possible. These don’t have to be big (although the bigger the better). But kids of all ages in transition are completely out of control. Like you. At least you were the one who decided to move and where to go. Give them two or three options of what to eat for dinner, let them pick the family game or the movie, give them the option of picking the next family activity let them decorate parts of the house... anything to give them the feeling of not being absolutely out of control.

  8.       Schedule in family play time during the week. Your kids need you. Even if they’re ready to graduate. Give them time during the week, not just on your day off. Don’t be on your phone at the dinner table, and don’t study the hour before bedtime—both things I have been guilty of, by the way. Sometimes I have to schedule it on my calendar to make sure it doesn’t get moved. In our society, the calendar is sacred, and nobody challenges a calendar appointment! (Although it might be different in the culture you live in now!) What makes you all laugh? Do THAT. Laughter, Biblically and scientifically, is proven to lower stress.

  9.       Try and bring your kids into the loop whenever possible. At the end of the day, debrief it with your kids, and then go over the following days’ events so they have a chance to process the day and know what to expect. All of us adults know how hard ambiguity is to live with, and we forget that kids live with 10 times as much as us!

  10.   Keep Christ the center of your life. Not just theoretically, or doctrinally, but pragmatically. Guard your time in alone with the Lord. The demands of the family are loud. Ministry is so needy, will eat your soul if you let it. You can only be as good a parent and as good a minister as you are a disciple. How are you really doing? Your kids know whether or not you’re spending time in the Word and in prayer. Invite them to join you sometime. 

     BONUS: Don't yell at your kids. Everything that needs to be said can be said without yelling. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Commencement Speech for Suzi's Graduation

June, 2016

I am much honored to be asked to share some thoughts as we celebrate Suzi’s graduation today.


Suzi has been an instrumental part of Youth Group. Ever since we moved here almost 3 years ago, we’ve been friends. Suzi joined our student leadership two years ago, and her dedication, focus, and hard work have been an example not only for other youth group students but also for me. She would bring focus back to our student leaders meetings when the rest of us would be running off on rabbit trails. She would leave little room for complacency among her friends. Suzi is a passionate person.
I can honestly say, I don’t know what I’ll do without you. If any of you are familiar with the AMCA International Youth Group, you know that things tend to change often. In the midst of the comings and goings, all the hellos and goodbyes, Suzi has been a constant factor, not just in Youth Group, but in my family’s life. Suzi I want to say Thank You for touching me and my family.


One of the qualities that is most important in a person is that of a moldable and teachable spirit. To realize that there is knowledge and understanding far beyond what we have achieved, and to learn both from your own experiences and from others. A love of learning will get you far in life. The willingness to learn is strengthened when kept in place by firmly grounded convictions. Not blind opinions or prejudices, but calculated, well-thought-out convictions. And the more embedded in the Word of God these convictions lie, the stronger you can hold to them. Biblical convictions will last longer, and carry you farther. Convictions anchor us in the chaotic sea of relativity. They keep us from learning and adopting wild and ridiculous notions. If a teachable spirit is like a river rushing you forward, your convictions are like the banks of that river, giving it boundaries and direction, and distinguishing river from marsh. We learn and accept truth within the boundaries of biblical truths and convictions. Suzi, over the last two years, I watched you walk this tension of being teachable, yet holding fast to the authority we find in Scripture. We’ve had many discussions and conversations over the years. We’ve sat by campfires, rivers, waterfalls, and pools, in this room, and in forests. And now as you graduate and fly into a new adventure I appeal to your teachable spirit one last time; allow me to leave you with two last thoughts that the Spirit has laid on my heart for you.


In ancient times, a King named Asa ruled the land. He was a young king who had inherited the throne from his Father. The land he ruled was plentiful and he had a kingly duty to protect it from those who would seek to come and conquer the land and enslave his people. So he built strongholds in the land, and he raised up an army of strong and brave men. Half with large shields and spears, and the other half of bowmen. His mighty army was 600,000 strong. A deadly force to be reckoned with.
But there arose out of Ethiopia an even greater army. An army of one million soldiers with resolve to take the land out from under the young King, to enslave the people and plunder the land. No fortified city could stay the surging sea of this massive force. It would be like a sand castle on the tide line as the ocean comes in. One moment it’s there in all its glory. The next, it’s washed away, leaving no trace that it had ever existed.  And the ancient chronicles tell us that Asa, King of the southern Kingdom of Judah cried out to the Lord and said: O Lord, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you, and in your name we have come against this multitude.[1]

And the Lord honored his cry. And the men of Judah crushed the Ethiopian horde. And they chased them down and filled the treasury of the temple with the gold and silver they plundered.
And the young King grew into his role. He took courage and destroyed idols of all kinds, even dethroning his own mother from being queen when she began worshiping a false goddess. Here was a man sold out for the LORD. Someone who was making a difference. And for a long time there was peace. But after a time, after Asa had ruled for 36 years, the king of the Northern Kingdom of Isarel crossed the border with an army and began building a stronghold to control a large part of Judah. He held many hostage, no one could get out, no one could get in.


Asa by now was a seasoned King. He had experienced much of life. He had ruled a nation for decades. Gone was the inexperienced baby face. Now his face aged by war, impossible decisions, and the burdens of safety, economics, international relations, and internal politics. Think of how the president of the United States has aged in the last eight years, and add another 30 years on top of that.
So the king made a brilliant decision drawn from his experience and wisdom. He made a treaty with another king, the king of Syria, and sent him a vast sum of money to attack Israel. That way Israel would have to move its army out of Asa’s land, and he could move his forces in. Asa not only won the battle without spilling a drop of his people’s blood, but he removed all of the stones and wood that had been used to build the stronghold, and used it to build two other cities in his kingdom! What a move! What a king!


Why then did Asa hear the footsteps down the corridor? Why did the court start whispering? Why was the prophet coming to see him?


“Because you relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Syria has escaped you. Were not the Ethiopians and the Libyans a huge army with very many chariots and horsemen? Yet because you relied on the Lord, he gave them into your hand. For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him. You have done foolishly in this, for from now on you will have wars.” [2]

And like that, after 36 years of glorious reign, the king began a downward spiral. Asa died a bitter old man.


I tell this story to share two things: The first is a warning. Just because you are walking with the Lord and God is using you for great things does not guarantee that this will always be true. If you do not place your trust and reliance on the Lord, you will be trusting and relying on something else. In Asa’s case, he used money dedicated to the Lord (probably acquired during his earlier famous conquest) and relied on one of his enemies, the king of Syria, instead of the Lord. The Lord would have given Asa another glorious victory over both Israel’s king AND Syria’s. But somehow Asa stopped trusting primarily in the Lord. Strategy, methods, wisdom, council, these are all valuable things. But if you rely on any of these in your time of need rather than on the Lord, you will be sorely disappointed. It is easier to trust the Lord when you know little and are in trouble. But what about when you have everything under control? The church today is in grave danger of this with all of their balanced budgets, strategic plans, qualified staff, and leadership development. How easy it would be to depend on these rather than on our King! Let Asa’s story serve as a warning to you, Suzi. You’re heading off to college with everything going for you. You’ve got a wonderful family and proud parents, a great scholarship, you’re bi-lingual, you study well, you are personable and people like you, you’re a thinker and a learner. Don’t rely on these things to get you through. I beg you, put your trust in the LORD. Declare to yourself and to him over and over how much you need him—I need thee, O I need thee, every hour I need thee! He will do so much with you Suzi if you can bring yourself to lose your independence.


The final thought I leave you with is one of comfort. It’s found in the prophet’s rebuke of the king from our story. 1 Chronicles 16:9 says, For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.
The prophet’s point was this—why did you go looking for help elsewhere? The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless, or, completely his. Whose heart is fully devoted to Him.  This isn’t even a promise directed at a specific or general audience, it’s a description of a truth that is found throughout the Scriptures:
Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength they shall run and not grow weary; Ask and you shall receive; cast all your cares upon Him because he cares for you; be anxious about nothing, but in everything with prayer and petition present your requests to God. The hope of this truth is that if you seek him with your whole heart, a committed heart, He will find you. An He will support and strengthen you. I believe with all my heart that God is sovereign. And I believe with all my heart that your actions have consequences. Because of this I urge you with all my heart to add to your river bank of convictions these truths, for they will guard your steps.


Suzi, it is my dream that you would go farther in life and in faith than I have ever gone or could ever go. You can be certain that my thoughts are prayers will be with you wherever you go. May God make his face to shine on you, and may you ever rest in dependence on your King.



[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (2 Ch 14:11). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (2 Ch 16:7–9). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Who Sends The Missionary?

In response to Missions Agencies Send No One, posted yesterday on The Gospel Coalition, career missionary Ross Hunter (my dad) wrote these thoughts. Now I love Training Leaders International, (the author of the TGC post is their president), and I think Darren Carlson was writing toward a vision of what should be, not what is currently. So read the article, and then entertain an alternative perspective:

Who Sends?
by
Ross Hunter

"Missions agencies send no one." 

Practically speaking, in my experience it is not quite so simple. There is an interesting dynamic going on in the missionary sending process of this century. God is using the universal church (in many cases "churches", "individuals", and "sending agencies" of whom many rely upon Bible Schools and Seminaries outside the church for training), to send out his missionaries. Exceptions are recognized. 

The mission agency essentially sends the missionary, through the recommendation of an individual church who provide minimal support in relation to the overall support package, trusting individuals or other churches to provide the majority of their support.

Churches often work through a plurality of priorities and goals that vary from other churches, agencies and individuals who are involved, often times putting an emphasis on personal relationships. I believe agencies and churches try hard to work together, yet from the seat of this individual missionary, there is simply not the resources available or philosophy of sending, that enables a local body to send individual missionaries efficiently and quickly to the field.

It is a sobering fact that without the individual missionary enduring to raise support (in faith missions) the mission agency nor the sending part of the local church would exist, outside of international partnerships, which require similar funding. The missionary often enters a 1-3yr journey of life to sustain his physical needs while to seeking the provision to live overseas. While this may seem depressing to some, it actually works to strengthen the missionary's faith and test their endurance that one day will be tested on the field.

The wide sources of giving help missionaries soften disruptions in giving patterns when some have to withdraw their support. I think all this leads to one fact for today's church:

It is God who sends the missionary through the sending agency (which sometimes is the local church itself), or independently, and the [local] church's role has become one of affirmation and commissioning where they recognize, set apart and support in some fashion, missionaries for this calling.

It is also God who burdens the hearts of people to pray and give to the missionary.

And it is God who prepares the soil for people to hear the gospel.

How God uses the church is up to Him…

Yet on the other hand, it is man who limits their resources towards missions which affect the missionary's source of support, the people he/she is sent to reach, and the richness of their own faith when they do not obey and engage in God's heart for mission. In addition churches focused heavily on internal ministry do not have a missionary to encourage them and keep alive what God is doing overseas!

I often wondered what our church would look like if their staff and pastors were asked to raise their support from individuals and other churches in the same way they ask their missionaries to. In turn I often wonder what the mission field would look like if the church supported their missionaries like they do their staff and pastors! 

I have mixed reactions to the article. My conclusion is that we should take a balanced approach, encourage the church to engage, and look to God for the resources and direction in our journey to and on the field. 


Ross and Mary Hunter are career missionaries with Pioneers. They moved to Ecuador in 1994 and have served the Quichua people in Ecuador since then through discipleship and pastoral training. For more information on Ross and Mary's missionary service, visit www.EVministry.org

Monday, September 21, 2015

We Cannot Afford to Lose Our Missionary Heroes


Three missionary friends I greatly respect, who do not know each other, recently shared Amy Peterson’s “Farewell to the Missionary Hero”, published in Christianity Today on September 14th, 2015. I encourage you to read it. She has some great thoughts such as this one:

We need to hear stories about the real struggles and joys of missions work. These kinds of stories have the power to improve our missiology; unless we are honest about the challenges missionaries face, we won’t find realistic solutions. But if we are forthright about what the job requires, we’ll stand a better chance of attracting the right people and preparing them adequately for long-term service, rather than sending them home early, disillusioned and depressed.

In the article the author praises writings such as the following saying, “In unedited and unmediated forms, missionaries can tell their stories directly to a wider audience than ever before.” I hope to provide an alternative perspective than the one Peterson offers concerning missionary heroes.

Introduction

The “Mighty Mo” (USS Missouri) dominates Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii. I had never been on a battle ship before, and the feeling of standing next to the chains alone that secure the ship to the wharf makes one feel small. Very, very small. This is an historic ship. It was commissioned in June of 1944, and on September 2, 1945, the Japanese forces formally surrendered aboard the Mighty Mo. She was decommissioned in 1955 only to be commissioned a second time in 1986. She carried men into battle, carried president Truman and his family on two occasions, fought in the 2nd world war, provided support in the Korean war and the First Persian Gulf war, and was finally decommissioned for the second and final time in 1992, where she sits in Pearl Harbor today, a heroic reminder of the cost of war, and the bravery of the sailors who manned her station.
But she is not without her scars. Not without her casualties. A charred burn pattern plainly visible from the main deck has survived these 60 years, left from kamikaze pilot who flew his plane into the side of the boat. But she did not go under.

(photo found at ussmissouri.org)


I know of no heroic figure without their scars or failures. In fact, it seems to me that without some sense of scarring, one can scarcely be called a hero. For what is a hero, but someone who has stood up to insurmountable odds when others would faint away? One who has sacrificed much for the sake of others? I take issue with the key idea that Peterson presents.

I write because I believe one spiritual battle at stake with missions is one of ideas. The internet is filled with personal ideas, those worth listening to and those worth throwing out. The reader can decide what to do with this author’s. But the overwhelming majority of voices coming out of the mission field are ones like those heard by Peterson. I wish to propose several things, and one of them is that those who shout the loudest are heard the most. If you have a contingent, however large or small, of missionary individuals crying out louder than others, their voice is given credence as speaking for many. The same thing has happened in politics with the gay rights movement these last several years, and in the case of the recall of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker back in 2012: crowds of angry citizens called for the end of Walker’s career, but in the end he was re-elected by more votes than he had back in 2010 when he was then elected into office! But the media attention was centered on the voices of the few, because they yelled louder than those who didn’t feel like yelling. The battle is one of ideas, and there are those who are comfortable and confident in missions, who look to missionaries who have lasted decades on the field and finished well as a visible picture of God’s faithfulness, will not be those to speak up because they’ve seen others make it through, and their hope is in the promises of God. Meanwhile in the American church we’re calling for the destructuralization of missions. I write for the church, who cannot afford to lose the heroes of faith we’ve found in overseas missionaries. Because when we’re all equal, and no one is great, what then are we to do other than be lost in our own mediocrity? I wish to propose two ideas in defense of the missionary hero. First, that it is short term missions which have created false expectations for many today—not missionary biographies, and second that a life filled with heartache, struggles, failure, and conflict doesn’t detract from heroics in Christianity.


Romanticizing Missions: Where does it come from?

For most Christians living in the United States, the missions experience is a romanticized one. But I would propose that Short Term Missions (STMs) trips, not missionary biographies, have re-defined the very essence of what missions means and what it means to be a missionary. One acquaintance asked us, “You’re long term missionaries? So how many trips do you take a year?” She was visibly shocked when we explained that we live in Costa Rica all year round. We met a woman at the mall here in San Jose—“it’s so good to hear English! I miss hearing English SO much! By the way, why are you here in Costa Rica?” “We’re missionaries here.” “Oh great! I am too! We’re here for eight days to pass out tracts in the park!” An eight day missionary, passing out tracts (in English-to Spanish speakers). Something has been missed. Or imagine our shock when a friend shared with us that they’re going into long term missions… for 12-15 months. I don’t want to get into a discussion about whether STMs are effective or not. Regardless, people who go on STMs trips actually never feel culture shock, because they never leave the honeymoon stage. 

STMs has promoted, I would argue, a romanticized view of missions far greater than any missionary biography. And if we lose our missionary heroes, who will we have left to point us to something greater, something longer, something requiring more endurance? Do we want to change the way that that we talk about missions, as Peterson says, reflecting Charmicael’s vision? I’m on board- but we should not start with dismissing those missionaries who are our heroes, rather with the way that we educate our brothers and sisters about missions. 

Every time someone gets on a plane for a week, or a month, or a year (yes, a year is still short term), they learn something about missions, be it true or not. Once we as a church have lived our own romanticized version of STMs, which is catered to the needs and life change of the goers, rather than the serving and building up of the national church, why then are we long term missionaries surprised that we must, as Michael Oh so aptly describes, "try to put on a good face, try to make a great powerpoint, tell great stories—those are our marching orders when we walk into your church—‘impress us or we might drop you!’”

STMs can give us a vacating mindset. Now it is common to hear someone who is going to ABC location, to accomplish a set task, “for three years”. It is easy to come and go. It is hard to stay when leaving is so easy. The attrition rate among missionaries is abysmal.  In my organization, “long-term” is considered two years or more. Two years. Two. One has to learn the language, the cultural dynamics, and more. What can we expect to actually accomplish in two years? We tend to spend at least that raising support to get to the field! One thing we should have learned from missionary biographies is that time is one sacrifice involved with the many others. Why are we so surprised that it seems like nothing is done in two, three, or four years? 

My parents have ministered among the Quichua (not Quechua. The reader will forgive the personal importance—in Ecuador, there are no Quechua; the Quichua do not have that ‘e’ sound in their dialect, and it is important to distinguish between the languages, and therefore people groups) in the Ecuadorian highlands for twenty-one years and running. And they’ll attest that it took at least ten of those to really begin to learn the culture. Most who have spent a decade or more with a people group  will say they are still learning. And yet, we have fields flooded with people expecting to arrive, accomplish a task, and leave, thinking that they’ll have the language and culture down sixth months to a year, or worse, that they don’t need those two things to accomplish that task. Anyone who has worked in a Latin, African, or Asian culture could attest to the negative impact that this in-and-out attitude has in the culture. This pressing need to see what missionary work can accomplish, I would argue, comes more from STMs today than missionary stories from fifty years ago. My heroes are people who started fifty years ago and who have pushed through these barriers for their love of God and love of the people they’d come to serve, and who laid down their lives for them, perhaps not in martyrdom, but in a lifetime of ministry to one people group. People like Bub and Bobby Borman who spent decades translating the Bible into Kofan, a people group of only several thousand, or Duane and Lois Holmes, who spent a lifetime in area of the jungle not accessible by bus or boat. Or Frank and Marie Drown whose mission to then prominent headhunters in Ecuador put their safety on the line day in and day out. All of these I personally met and whose lives are a great encouragement to me. Why do we rob others of this encouragement?

Scars Don’t Disqualify Heroes

Over the last couple years I’ve noticed the increasing trend of blogs and articles like, “10 Things a Missionary Will Never Tell You”. Increasingly, missionaries journal on their blogs sharing their hardships and struggles. I appreciate this, because many of these shared struggles are real in my life as well. It’s almost as if there’s one desperate voice calling out from the field to churches back ‘home’. It is a voice that the US church needs to hear, legitimize, and respond to in love. A call for transparency as we want people to try and understand what’s happening in our lives. But I wonder if sometimes we’ve taken it too far. Unless you’ve lived abroad, you just won’t understand. Period. Anyone who has lived abroad, on their own, for any significant period of time will agree. Before our deployment to Costa Rica, I had coffee with a gentleman who had lived in Western Europe for several years working for his business. “It’s a full time job just living,” he warned me, “Just to get through day to day life, and you haven’t even factored in the actual job yet.”
But why are we more focused on toppling pedestals because we feel guilty and humble rather than spurring on others in faith? In the post Peterson references by Rachel Pieh Jones, Jones writes:

One of the problems with saying ‘it is no sacrifice’ is that it leads people to put international workers on pedestals. Have you ever had someone say something like:
“You are so holy because you don’t care when your hair falls out from the brackish water and searing heat.”
“You are so much more spiritual because you don’t struggle when you aren’t able to attend your grandfather’s funeral.”
“I could never do what you are doing because I couldn’t send my kids to boarding school.”

No and NO! We are not all so different, we simply live in different time zones. I cry when I see handfuls of hair in the drain and when I watched my grandfather’s funeral three months later on a DVD and I weep with a physical pain in my chest over the miles between here and my kids at school. I am not more holy or spiritual or stronger than anyone, I feel the sacrifice.

Yes Ms. Jones, acknowledge it’s a sacrifice, but don’t shy away from the opportunity to share that you follow in obedience; and that is the essence of faith! Everyone needs an example, someone to look up to in something, and every person they look up to, apart from Christ, is going to be a sinner; is going to be someone who struggles; is going to be someone who fails today and will fail tomorrow. 

I lead an international youth group. One of the biggest burdens I carry is having a crowd of teenagers look up to me. How can I use that to challenge their walk with God? How can that influence be used to speak truth into their lives? Of course I’m not perfect, and I fight with my wife, and I yell at my kids, and there are stores I cannot go into because the way they function makes me furious at the culture and I’m afraid of what I’ll say if I frequent them again. But this honesty, these mess-ups, my scars don’t disqualify my students from looking up to other things in my life. 

People see that there is a step of faith that a missionary takes when they raise support and move abroad that they’re afraid they couldn’t take. It disrupts family, shocks church communities, it breaks apart friendships. If you’re on the receiving end of these well-intentioned comments about how much holier you are then they, it’s your primary job to point them to Christ. It’s not about the pedestal. If you can do it, they can do it. If Christ can do it in you, He can do it in them. That’s what draws us to heroes. If they can do it, maybe I can do it too. If they can have the courage to step out in faith and treasure Christ over life itself, maybe I can one day too. If God supplied for them, maybe he’ll supply for me. What Jim Elliot said, ‘he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose’ takes on another dimension because he lived this. Sure he fought with Betty, sure he struggled with cultural disappointment and I guarantee there was mission stress. But do those things take away from the example he set? 

It strikes me how the book of Judges is filled with failures. People who did great things for God, like Samson and Gideon, but then had so much of their own failures to contend with. And many people today are quick to point out that these weren’t godly people. That they’re not the heroes we pretended they were in Sunday school. But I was struck last night when I turned to Hebrews chapter 11, and sure enough, there they are. Heroes because of their faith. The list in Hebrews 11 is astonishing. We remember the failures of Moses, Noah, Rahab and all of these people. But they are commended for their faith nonetheless.

Scars do not disqualify our heroes. They defined them. Because walking in faith seems to inevitably leave scars. Amy Carmichael understood this better than most. She wrote:

Hast thou no scar?
No hidden scar on foot, or side, or hand?
I hear thee sung as mighty in the land;
I hear them hail thy bright, ascendant star.
Hast thou no scar?

Hast thou no wound?
Yet I was wounded by the archers; spent,
Leaned Me against a tree to die; and rent
By ravening beasts that compassed Me, I swooned.
Hast thou no wound?

No wound? No scar?
Yet, as the Master shall the servant be,
And pierc├Ęd are the feet that follow Me.
But thine are whole; can he have followed far
Who hast no wound or scar?


I do not wish this to come across as an attack on Ms. Peterson. I would never do that. I have not even met her. I greatly respect Taylor University, and I have friends who teach English in Southeast Asia. I can tell from her writing that she has a love for truth and a love for missions. While I encourage the dialogue of taking short term missions off a pedestal and replacing it with reality, I believe that if we topple the proven heroes of the church in found visibly in missions, we will find ourselves in a despondent state with fewer, if not void of examples or inspiration. And we just cannot afford to do that.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Sojourn Academy Commencement Address, Class of 2015

This thing all things devours;
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats mountain down.
Time.  

We divide time into three clear categories-past, present, and future. And I think that there are three types of people here today, each relating with one of these: The Dreamer, the Reminiscent, and the Reactor.

I’ve been each of these. In much of high school I was the Dreamer. I lived in the future. Dreaming of the mountains I would climb, the day I could drive on my own, what it would be like to have a girlfriend, and what I was going to do with my life. I would memorize entire outdoor catalogs and knew the order of the gear I would one day buy for my hobby. I dreamed about what life on my own would finally look like. What life would be like in college, and figuring where I would live afterwards. I was homeschooled, but I would spend an embarrassingly long time dreaming. My mom could never understand how I could just sit and stare at the blank wall above my desk for so long. I’m pretty sure she conducted social experiments on how long I’d sit there before she said anything!
But the future is vastly uncertain. For example, what was the first thing you ever wanted to be when you grew up? For me it was an astronaut!  I wanted to fly through the stars and walk on the moon! How was I supposed to know that something as inconsequential (yet daunting) as math would stand in the way of all of my flight plans?

No one really knows what the future holds. In James chapter 4, James calls people who plan their future with utter certainty arrogant, because they don’t factor in the variable of almighty God. The rich man in Luke 12 stored up grain and had plans for the rest of his life. But that night, Jesus says, his soul was required of him. He is called a fool because he relied on wealth to keep him alive. But just like that man, we have no idea when our souls will be required of us. We might make it to a ripe old age of 97. Or we might not make it past this year. The future is so uncertain.  
But the uncertainty makes the future exciting! The future is an untainted canvas where anything can happen, and, aside from the laws of physics, your imagination is the limit! I get dreamers. I love to dream. I dream still today. But dreamers are rarely content with today, because it’s tomorrow that holds excitement, intrigue, danger, and the ever-present hope that “tomorrow is gonna be better”. The dreamer lives in the future, not in the present or the past.

Ironically when I got to college, I abandonded dreaming and became the Reminiscint. I had just  spent four years dreaming about being done with high school, and now all I could think of was how much I missed being back home. So I lived out my first year of college with my thoughts in a different hemisphere. I would dwell both in my achievements and in my regrets.
Funny things, regrets. And how I can regret spending so much time thinking of past regrets. Don’t drown yourself in your past regrets. The only thing that can be done was finished 2000 years ago by someone much more powerful than you or I.

I stayed in touch with old friends via skype and instant messenger—anyone remember what that was? We’re talking back when facebook was only for college students. I would skype my friends, or call those who had come back to the US. I would lie in bed hours into the night just remembering and wishing with my whole being that I could go back and do it all over again.

It’s tempting to live in the past because it’s safe. It’s comfortable. And, as time moves on, we naturally begin to forget some of the difficulties in life, and so if it’s not regrets you’re dwelling in it’s a long list of good things. Safe and familiar things. Often, the past feels more like home than the present ever can be. But then a year later, when we move on, we find ourselves quite ironically thinking back to where we just had been and how much we loved it. It’s as if we can only find familiarity and comfort in the rear view mirror, in spite of the fact that we had just finish living the reality of that reflections. And during reality, we were too focused on looking at the previous reality, and so it is a cruel game we play with ourselves! I so get Reminiscents. I’ve lost myself in a world of memories against the backdrop of photographs and 90s songs. I’ve scoured the facial expressions in those photos, recalling the temperature, the emotions, and the security of it all. If you live in the past, you’ll never find a home, a place you belong. If you spend all your time keeping up with old friends you’ll never make new ones. We hate saying ‘goodbye’s, and only like saying ‘see you later’s. But if some connections aren’t severed, new ones can never be made. You’re not responsible for keeping up with every friend you’ve ever had. And you’re not letting them down by saying goodbye.

When life gets busy, and we ignore the past and the future, we face the danger of becoming the Reactor. The Reactor is constantly only reacting to the present, reacting to life as its happening. Like playing dodgeball without seeing who threw the ball; we only see the ball when it’s about to hit us—barely in time to leap out of the way. And usually this reacting is filled with mundane routine. Go to school, go to work, write a report, do chores, pay bills, toil through the day and sleep at night. The same routine every week. The sun comes up, and goes down, up, down, up, down. The rains come, and the rains leave. Birthdays and holidays come and go. Discomfort, uncertainty, stress of the to-do list, pressure from work, family, school, until we escape into slumber, only to awaken to all this the next morning. That isn’t living. It’s simply reacting. And I say this to myself before I say it about anyone else: He or she who lives in the present with no regard for past and no direction towards the future is an aimless fool.

Past, present, and future. To live in the past or furture, and only react to the present is to cheat yourself.

I think people tend towards one pendulum or the other—dreamer or reminiscent, future or the past. But my challenge to you is to live today. Don’t react, live. 

Today is the only time to effect one or the other. Today is the only time we can make memories. If you don’t get out and live, you’ll wind up reminiscing about the day would you think back to the good old days! “I remember my life in Costa Rica, when all I would think about was how good life was in the US. When I was there, I had a great time remembering what life was like back in Ecuador. Ahhh the good old days!”

Today is also the only time you can work towards your dream in the future. If all you do is plan and dream and plan and dream, you’ll wake up one day and find that all that planning and dreaming got you no closer to achieving your dream than running on a treadmill gets you closer to the finish line of the marathon. You might have a great technique and endurance, but if you never get off the treamill, you'll never get anywhere.

The present is the only time that you can make decisions that direct the future.

Hear Me:
History has much to teach us. And Proverbs tells us that only the fool refuses to remember. Our past, our memories, shape who we have become. Hold your memories dearly, but don’t live in the past.
Dreaming into the future gives direction and purpose. It is where ideas, innovations, and progress originates. It is where passion and hope are found. Dream big and daring dreams. Don’t let the realists and the pessimists stomp them out. But don’t live in the future, don’t live in your dreams—live your dream.

But today is the only time to act. The decisions we make today count. And every decision you make is made once—time only moves forwards. We only get one shot at this life.


So learn from your past. Aim for the future. And seize today.