The Danger of Seeking the “Extraordinary” Work of God

As a pastor I read over all the reports/updates from all of the missionaries and missions organizations our church supports and after reading through many of these I’ve found a trend.

“______ has been healed!”

“______ has had a dramatic spiritual encounter and no longer has convulsions.”

“______ was completely healed of all ailments.”

“In ______ the Holy Spirit is moving miraculously.”

“Demons came out of ______ last week.”

“______ prophesied over the city and felt God’s plan to heal the nation.”

Get the gist?  It seems the trend in most of the missions reports these days are seeking to let us back home know that God is up to miraculous things in the world.  People getting healed, speaking in tongues, prophesying, getting exorcised, all while we hear vague spiritual language about God doing extraordinary works among them.

This is just the trend I am concerned with, the desire to seek and experience the “extraordinary” works of God.

Now, while God does do things we don’t expect and does work miracles in this world – notice the one thing missing in all of these mission reports?  The gospel.  Where is Jesus?  Where is salvation?  Where is the Word of God being preached?  Where are people growing in faith?  Where are people spreading the gospel and how are they doing it?  How is the gospel moving forward into this nation, or this people group?

It seems that we have a desire in these days for God to do the “extraordinary” thing among us.  I have issue with this because I think when we seek the “extraordinary” we miss the “ordinary.”  We miss God working through His Word preached.  We miss God working through His gospel.  When did we come to believe that salvation, people growing in faith, the Word being preached, or people spreading the gospel to a new city is not extraordinary?  We have been duped.

Phillip said a similar thing in John 14:8, “Just show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”  Phillip wanted Jesus to do an extraordinary thing and seal his faith for good.  He wanted to see God.  How did Jesus respond?  “Have I not been among you for so long and still you don’t recognize that when you see Me you see My Father?” (John 14:9-10) Apparently Phillip thought Jesus was too ordinary.  He needed something more.  Jesus rebuked him.  Do we need the same rebuke?

The extraordinary work of God is God’s ordinary work – saving sinners.  This is extraordinary.  Perhaps when we visit our missionaries we should be seeking to encourage them in God’s “ordinary” works.

Edwards Resolution-athon: Day 7

Before I comment on Edwards, I want to note that today is the day Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Roger Youderian, Ed McCully and Pete Fleming were speared to death by the tribe they were trying to reach with the gospel in Ecuador (January 8, 1956).  I thank God for these men.  Their example is one following in the footsteps of Jesus.  They loved the people they were trying to reach, and gave their lives to work with them for their joy in Jesus (2 Cor. 1:24), and just like Jesus who “came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him”, these people killed Jim and his friends.  Their wives and children were left in a nearby village.  But God was working for the good, and now because of the spearing and the faithful witness of their wives and children, the tribe knows Jesus.  Although these men are now among the group crying out to the Father in Rev. 6:9-11, they wouldn’t have it any other way.  Jim Elliot’s journals have long been a guide for me in my life.  Watch this short video on my previous blog reflecting on them, I hope you see Jesus in it.

Resolution 7:

Resolved, never to do anything, which I should be afraid to do, if it were the last hour of my life.

This resolution follows nicely with today being the anniversary of the spearing mentioned above.  Why would Edwards be afraid to do something if it were the last hour of his life?  Simple, in the last hour of your life there will be a fear of what is to come.  Even if you’re a Christian, your flesh and the devil will lie, telling you that you’re not holy enough to go to heaven.  In that last hour you want to spend your time on what matters most, not on what you would be ashamed of doing if God were to bring you back during that action.  This bears a massive weight on the present moment.

I think Edwards means to say that he wants his hours now, to be filled with what he would most love to do in the last hour of his life, because he does not know when that hour will come.  Thus every hour matters, because after all, any hour could be the last.

Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Roger Youderian, Ed McCully and Pete Fleming knew this.  Jonathan Edwards knew it.   Do you?

Cross Conference Videos and Summaries

Justin Taylor:

Only time will tell, but it seems that the first annual Cross student missions conference was a historic event, perhaps a key moment in mobilizing God’s people to help the nations be glad in him.

Here are all of the main sessions—summarized with video. (I assume audio will be forthcoming here.)

Trip Lee Kick-Off

Summary: Before speaking of how and why to share the gospel with the nations, CROSS wanted to make clear what that gospel was. Trip Lee began CROSS 2013 by doing just that by teaching throughout his rapping on the truths of the gospel.

John Piper: “The Chief End of Missions: The Supremacy of God in the Joy of All Peoples”

Summary: “The chief end of missions is the supremacy of God in the joy of all peoples.” These two ends are of an identical essence, totally and completely inseparable, for the only gladness that lasts is a gladness in the glory of God. This reality frees us from choosing either the glory of God or compassion for the lost as the primary desire for missions.

Manuscript here.

Panel: Mark Dever & John Piper

Summary: Mark Dever interviews John Piper about why he’s not a missionary, the relationship between marriage and missions, and what tricky terms like “missionary,” “unreached,” and “calling” actually mean. This discussion helps clarify the distinction in role between the individual Christian and the local church, while also giving Piper the opportunity to squelch the notion that Calvinism kills missions and evangelism.

Thabiti Anyabwile: “Beauty from Ashes: The Plight of Man and the Purposes of God”

Summary: In Romans 1:13-18, the apostle Paul describes a life unashamed of the gospel, eager to proclaim Christ in places where He has yet to be named. Paul is eager because the gospel is the best news in the universe, containing divine power and providing in Christ the singular salvation from God’s holy, righteous, and personal wrath. The only thing that turns away the wrath of God is Jesus.

Kevin DeYoung: “Five Surprising Motivations for Missions”

Summary: Far from being obstacles for mission, Kevin DeYoung shares why the five points of Calvinism are surprising motivators for missions. In fact, belief in an electing, sovereign, all-powerful God is the only thing that keeps one humble in the midst of results and hopeful when there are none. Many may ask why anyone would go if God has only called some. But the Bible asks, “Why would anyone go unless God has certainly called some?”

Conrad Mbewe: “The Death of Death in the Death of Christ: The Good News of a Bloody Cross”

Summary: To speak of God’s wrath evokes all different sorts of emotions and reaction in people. Yet the horrific death of Christ and his glorious resurrection is the greatest news that mankind could ever hear given that with each day, humans store up God’s righteous judgment and wrath. Believing this news necessitates announcing it.

Richard Chin: “Seeing Jesus Properly: The Lord to Gladly Obey Forever”

Summary: Richard Chin preaches from Mark 8 in order to show that a proper view of Jesus demands a proper response to Jesus. Because He is the Son of Man whose kingdom will never end, His followers confidently and joyfully take up their cross and obediently take the gospel to those who do not know Him.

Mack Stiles: “The Call of Christ: Inspired, Informed, Confirmed”

Summary: In this session, Mack Stiles upholds biblical criteria one should use when discerning a “call” to missions. Mere inward and emotional certainty is not enough. The missionary’s call should be inspired by the Word of God, informed by the content of the gospel, and externally confirmed by the church.

Panel: Mack & Leann Stiles, Zane & Catherine Pratt, and Mark Dever

Summary: What are some realities of missionary life? Why should or why shouldn’t a person become a missionary? Who determines this? Mark Dever interviews missionaries who have spent decades on the field to answer fundamental questions like these.

Matt Chandler: “The Life Worth Living for Christ Is a Life Worth Losing”

Summary: Matt Chandler unpacks the life of the apostle Paul as proof positive that there’s no such thing as a person beyond God’s saving mercy. In fact, his post-conversion commitment to evangelism and, even more, his Christ-exalting fearlessness in the midst suffering depicts the truth of his words in Philippians 1:21: “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” May the same be said of all God’s people, that a better day is coming where we will receive our reward and see — finally — our treasured King face to face.

David Sitton: Testimony

Summary: David Sitton of To Every Tribe Ministries shares his testimony of how the Lord saved him over 30 years ago and then called him to serve among the unreached peoples in Papua New Guinea. This same Lord saves and calls today, and it is a privilege—not a burden—to join Him in this work.

Michael Oh: “What Do Cross-Cultural Missionaries Cross Cultures For?”

Summary: Michael Oh of the Lausanne Movement calls Christians to care about all types of global suffering, especially eternal suffering. In this, the church functions as both prophet and servant — boldly heralding the truth of God’s Word while simultaneously seeking to serve others’ needs in showing the compassion of Christ. Individual Christians, too, will suffer and should use these moments — as often as the Lord brings them—to endure in faith and to hold out the gospel as the only true and lasting alleviation from suffering.

D. A. Carson: “The Church as the Means and the Goal of Missions”

Summary: D.A. Carson preaches on the social dimensions of both sin and the gospel. Sin doesn’t just send you to Hell, and the gospel doesn’t just save your soul. Each has necessary social, personal, and horizontal ramifications, culminating in the existence of and a commitment to the church, the bride of Christ, for it is in the church where the love of God is made known and reflected to the nations.

David Platt: “Mobilizing God’s Army for the Great Commission”

Summary: To close CROSS 2013, David Platt delivers a clarion call to all Christians, imploring them to consider what their obedience to the Great Commission looks like. For many, it will be as stateside senders; for some, it will be as lifelong goers; for others, it will be as offerings poured out en route to give the gospel to yet-to-be-reached peoples. In every scenario — in going and sending and even in dying—God is achieving His incontrovertible purpose: the supremacy of the glory of God in the Christ-exalting joy of all peoples.

Jim Elliot’s Brother, Bert: The Hero You Don’t Know

10734383-largeA helpful piece from Trevin Wax on the brother of the missionary we all know.

Last month, I had a conversation with Michael Kelley about his book, Boring: Finding an Extraordinary God in an Ordinary Life. Michael tells the story of Bert Elliot, brother to missionary Jim, as an example of what faithfulness over a lifetime looks like. For those of us who are not “meteors streaking across the sky,” it serves as a reminder of how we can be a steady light for the gospel no matter where God has placed us.

Jim Elliot, the Missionary

The story of Jim Elliot has been told and retold with good reason: It’s an amazing account of unswerving courage and faithfulness to the gospel. He was a standout both academically and athletically during his days as a student and was presented with opportunity after opportunity to go and do most anything he wanted to be.

But as his education continued, Jim became convinced of God’s will and purpose for His life—to push back the darkness in the world by preaching the gospel where it had never been preached before. So he began his preparations to spend the rest of his life sharing the gospel with the previously unreached people of Ecuador known as the Auca.

Elliot, along with four other missionaries, began making contact with the indigenous people through a loud- speaker and a basket to lower gifts from their airplane. After several friendly encounters, they made plans to visit the people they thought they had befriended.

But on January 8, 1956, the missionaries were attacked and killed by a group of ten warriors from the people they were trying to share the gospel with. Elliot’s body was found downstream in the river, along with those of the other men. His life purpose and vision was immortalized by his journal entry for October 28, 1949, which expressed his belief that missions work was more important than his life. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”

It’s an amazing story that sent ripples through the Christian and non-Christian world. Life magazine published a ten-page article about the missionaries. Jim’s wife, Elizabeth, not only published two books about her husband but continued the work among the very people who had killed her husband. Thousands upon thousands of people were not deterred by the danger but instead committed themselves to the work of the gospel overseas. Few events in modern history have been used more powerfully by God to send people out into the world for the sake of the gospel.

Perhaps you have heard the story; you may have even read the books or seen the movie. I have; in fact, the quote above is written on my wall.

Have You Heard of Jim’s Brother, Bert?

Jim Elliot’s story is a familiar one, but have you heard of Bert? I had not. But by God’s grace, I have now, thanks to a message given by Randy Alcorn fifty years after the men died on the beach in Ecuador. Bert is Jim Elliot’s older brother. He’s the one who isn’t famous.

He was a student at Multnomah Bible College in 1949, and he and his young wife were invited by a missionary to come to Peru and join the work there. Other than an occasional furlough, there they have stayed. Now in their eighties, they are still there.

According to Alcorn, if you Google Bert, you find less than seventy entries. But over the years, Bert and Colleen have planted more than 170 churches. And when asked to reflect on his brother, Jim, Bert’s response is stirring: “My brother Jim and I took different paths. He was a great meteor, streaking through the sky.”

Bert was not. He did not go streaking through the sky. Nobody lined up with their telescopes to watch his life. Instead, as Alcorn puts it, he was the faint star in the distance that faithfully rises night after night, always there. Always faithful. Always doing the same, boring thing.

Streaking Meteors and Faithful Stars

In the kingdom of God, there is a great need for streaking meteors, but most of us won’t be that. We will instead be faint stars—husbands and fathers, wives and mothers. We will be accountants and teachers, business people, and students. We will go through life, day after day, doing very much the same thing tomorrow that we did today.

The important thing for us to remember is that we are needed. There is a great need for people willing to chase the little donkeys of life, not because it’s exciting but because they believe in the constant presence and purpose of God. There is a great need for people willing to stand in the midst of the boring, convinced that there is no such thing as ordinary when you follow an extraordinary God.

Rise and stand. Then tomorrow, do it again.

God is Calling, Will You Answer?

Often times I feel Christians forget that missionaries are missionaries because they are being supported by a group of people committed to the cause they're spreading.  If those people are not present to give their money to fund these missionaries (not to mention prayer to uphold them) the missionaries cannot go.  Below is a video of such a couple, called by God, seeking to embark on mission, waiting to go.  God is calling, will you answer?

“Though You Slay Me”

One of my best friends, Ross Floyd, is in the process of raising support to move to Bogota, Columbia for missions with his wife Angela.  He posted this on their blog today, and it is moving to say the least.  I’ve re-posted it here for your joy and benefit.  If you feel so inclined, please do support them, all the info is on their blog, click here.

Though You Slay Me

I just finished watching this video not 2 minutes ago and it really cut to the core.  Many of you are familiar with some of the pain that Angela and I have experienced through the past years with loss of our two children through miscarriages.  It is something that I feel the pain of everyday.  I find myself at times struggling with understanding why Christ chose us to go through this suffering.  Through these times of struggle I am admittedly very critical of people when I see posts on social media praising God when things are going well.  Why do I never see posts about God’s faithfulness during times of pain, and well, HELL?  Why do I feel like people are only willing to show off our God in times of victory and joy?  And then it hits me.  Where was I when Angela and I were suffering?  Was I posting about God’s faithfulness?  Was I praising Him and His sovereign grace during the times of hell?  No, I was cowering behind the pain and hurt hoping for pity and comfort, instead of proclaiming that Our God is Sovereign and there is nothing that happens outside of His will.  He planned the miscarriages for His glory and honor.

Right now, Angela and I are in the midst of raising support to be missionaries in Bogotá, Colombia.  I never thought that it would be as hard and as challenging as it really has become.  We struggle everyday to be motivated to call people and ask them to support us on this journey.  We struggle with comparing ourselves to others; it seems they have not struggled in raising the support like we have.  But one thing that I know is true, Christ intends this time of struggle, this time of doubt, and pain for His glory.  He is sovereign in the timing of when we get to 100% and are able to go to Bogotá.  So we are to honor him in the way we work towards that goal.

These past two years have sucked.  There has been some extreme hurt and disappoint in our lives.  Though we may be slain, Christ is ultimately glorified and given praise.

“Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.  GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s;  he makes me tread on my high places.” ~ Habakkuk 3:17-19

~ Ross

Is John Piper a Hypocrite?

Matt Smethurst:

Following his TGC13 Missions Conference plenary message, “The Heart of God in the Call to Proclaim: Our Goal: To Please Him” (2 Cor. 5:1-10), John Piper sat down with Mark Mellinger to discuss God’s missionary call on the church.

Are most American missionaries prepared for what awaits them? It depends, Piper suggests, largely on what kind of church they’ve been in and what kind of preaching they’ve heard about suffering. “If you’ve heard a pastor come to terms with suffering over and over again, and relate the sovereignty of God to it,” Piper says, “you’ll be so much better prepared than if suffering has always been seen as an intrusion into the God-intended life of comfort and ease.”

Mellinger also asks the former pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church about his remark that the numbers of unreached, unengaged, and untargeted people groups are relatively small. “There are 98,000 evangelicals for every unengaged people group,” Piper explains. “If we have the will, this is doable.”

Nevertheless, the Devil is (quite literally) in the details. In fact, he’s a major reason “why churches find a thousand good things to do, yet don’t do this. Satan hates this mission more than anything.”

The conversation concludes with Piper sharing about his own “annual” wrestling with a calling to the field. When it comes to missions, he insists, pastors should be asking the same questions of their own lives and futures that they’re asking of their people. Otherwise, it’s all too easy to develop a hypocritical sense of exemption from the possibility God just might be calling them, too, to go.

God’s Missionary Call from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

‘Be a Bean’ for Our Best Friends

Ross and Ange Floyd are two of my favorite people.  In fact, my wife and I count them as some of our best friends God has ever given to us.  Because of their presence in our life, we know God better and enjoy life more.  We love our friends very much.  THEREFORE, I have to show you this video because Ross and Ange are doing the hard thing in a hard place for the glory of God.  They are raising support to move to Bogota, Columbia to be missionaries.  Please do watch, pray, and….BE A BEAN!

Introducing Retreat from the Street / Church on the Street

I am thrilled to be able to introduce you to my friend Gary Tucker, and the ministry God has and is birthing through him in Midtown Atlanta.  It began as Retreat from the Street, now named Church on the Street, and I got the privilege to spend two years close to Gary and this ministry while it was in its infancy.  God is moving, that is obvious, and I loved being near Gary.  He is stud, a man of God, and I adore his heart for those in need, whoever they may be.

Enjoy this video and please do give or donate if you can.  Thanks!!

Some Missionaries Ought to Join the Peace Corps

Have you ever been on a mission trip, to another city or country where some or all of your time was spent doing some kind of physical labor? I ask this question because most of us would answer yes without hesitation. Pause right here and ask yourself a simple question: is that a good thing?

Is it a good thing to leave your home to go on a “mission trip” somewhere in which you do hard physical labor for a week only to leave without sharing any kind of gospel witness or having any gospel building relationship? No, this is not a good thing and it is my opinion that we ought to stop planning and partaking in such “mission trips” simply because there is no gospel mission involved at all.

Biblically these so-called ‘mission trips’ are sinful to the core. I say this not because doing some kind of physical labor for people who need it is bad. That is great, and we should be doing that! But that is not all we ought to be doing. When we only hard labor without sharing the gospel that is sin. Just as it would be sinful to only do evangelism to the neglect of helping out those in need. Why can’t we merge the two and find a proper balance? Think about it, aren’t we trying to open a door to share the gospel by doing the labor in the first place? Isn’t the labor just a vehicle we use so that we will reach a destination with those were working with where we can share the gospel?

Let me ask you straight: is there really any difference between a ‘mission trip’ that only does physical labor and the Peace Corps? I think not. If you are into this kind of ‘mission trip’, where you only do physical labor while withholding from doing any gospel word labor, you might as well join the Peace Corps.