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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Spending the Day With InterServe

I don't know if you've noticed this in your life with God, but I have noticed that periodically God opens me to people and spiritual or theological experiences that deepen my understand of him, his people and the way I come at life with him. Sometimes they are disturbing and convicting; other times they are inspiring and catalyzing.

A week ago Saturday I had one of those remarkable days.

I was invited by my friend, Dave Teague, a pastor who's also been a missionary with his wife, Sally, to speak with him on the theme of Spiritual Formation and Prayer. He was doing the keynote sessions, I would do a workshop on Spiritual Formation, and then we'd collaborate on a Panel Discussion at the end of the day.

I had never been to Toah Nipi and I looked forward to working with Dave and spending time with folks who bring the love of Christ and the Gospel to people who live in very hard places like Afghanistan and Pakistan. Truth be told, missionaries have always been heroes of the faith to me, so hanging out with them looked to be a gift.

It was . . .

Perhaps the most clear conviction I settled into after spending the day with these folks was the necessity of all Christ-followers having to be global Christ-followers in some manner. Perhaps all of us shouldn't spend long periods of time away doing Kingdom work in foreign lands, but all of us must be closely aware of what God is doing in the world for the sake of the Gospel. While writing a check is an important way to fund God's work around the globe, we must see the global Church of equal importance to our local churches. We are all of one tribe as someone said to me recently. When we don't, our vision gradually narrows and ends in a sad spiritual myopia. The missionaries I was with a week ago have just such an expanse of perspective, and while it's refreshing I think it's close to where God wants all of us to be.

Second to the first conviction, and a close second, is the critical importance of praying for global missions and missionaries. Doing so should be a vital part of our prayer life. Because so many of these folks' challenges and hardships fall outside the norm they need our prayer. Because so many go to very tough and dangerous places they need our calling out to heaven on their behalf for protection and provision.We become connected to them through praying for them. And shouldn't we want to see God's Kingdom come all across the earth? Prayer opens holes in the darkness and establishes the ways and means for God's redemptive work to take hold. God makes it all happen, but we have a peculiar influence in that regard. So we need to be praying for peoples, countries, missions organizations and missionaries. If you're not already so engaged, ask God to direct your steps to the people and places he wants you to fight for on your knees.

I think our churches also must to be supporting and sending churches. I know many are, but many are not beyond the yearly denominationally-driven "One Great Hour of Sharing" events. I'm not knocking those at all. But I think it more energizing and inspiring for a congregation to directly support individual missionaries or missions organizations so they enter into real-time relationships with flesh and blood people who depend on their generosity to continue the work. It is all our obligation in my mind. My deepest hope, though, is every local congregation would create an atmosphere where the missionary-mindset is established, people go on short-term missions as part of the church culture, and gifted people are identified and sent on behalf of a local church in full-time service. I know there are churches that do all of it, but I'd like to see every church do so, no matter how small. I know part of imagine/Northampton's vision is to create this missional culture. We'll get there.

Being with the Interserve people made me aware of the cost of following Christ full-bore and the heart it takes to do so. God opened me to lift my head to look to the horizon where my brothers and sisters are laboring with love and skill and courage because God called them to it. They are walking the walk, and with the news today about medical missionaries being murdered in Afghanistan, sometimes paying the ultimate price with their lives, it seems all the more compelling to take up the yoke with them in some way.

Curiously, one of the docs killed was the husband of someone who spoke to the group last Saturday. There was another family there who lost a son as well. This woman told her own harrowing story of almost dying recently because of a surgery infection she suffered while in country. She was within a few hours of dying. She planned to return soon to rejoin her husband. 

I hope what I experienced last Saturday will penetrate deep into my heart and permanently expand my vision for God's Kingdom well beyond Northampton. I think he had me at Toah Nipi to begin just that. Now I need to follow him in the direction he leads. I want to and will watch for how he continues to open me to his global work.

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