Saturday, May 28, 2016

Should Missionaries Ask for Financial Support?

(This old post of mine encourages me today. I hope it encourages you also.)

Having raised financial support for the last 18 years it comes as a surprise to me when otherwise strong Christians question the legitimacy of missionaries raising financial support.

As America faces more and more if its own problems, I believe it is essential that missionaries continue to put God's heart for all the nations front in center in all the recruiting and support raising they do. Support raising isn't about raising money, it is about raising a team of like-minded people who are passionate for the all the nations to be reached.

1 Corinthians 9:13-14 says,“Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.”

Paul’s epistle to the Romans was a support letter. Check out Romans 15:22-29. He was writing them that they might glory in the gospel and share in his zeal for taking this same message onward to Spain. He needed teammates! Note a couple of key phrases… “to be helped on my journey there by you”, and “I will leave for Spain by way of you”.
Here Paul is not even asking, he is expecting support to come from gospel-centered Christians. He is expecting that the believers will want to help reach their neighboring country with the gospel.

3 John 1:5-8 says “Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth."

For those who do not see missionaries asking for financial support in the Bible – the prophet Elijah even asked a poor woman for support - for food and water in 1 Kings 17. God wanted to test her faith. I think he also wants missionaries to ask for support in order to test the hearts of His people. Do we love money or do we love the mission of the gospel?

In Nehemiah 2 Nehemiah prays and then asks the king for support to go on a mission to rebuild Jerusalem. He knew that God could even use even a foreign king to further God's kingdom.

As a missionary I know that I cannot do it alone. I am not a "superman of the faith" while other Christians can just easily go to the company and expect money. We all work by faith. Just like everyone else I am also called to WORK through faith in order to build a team of people (from the rest of the body) with a like heart to build the kingdom of God, to reach the nations and make disciples in them, just as Christ commanded each and every disciple to do. Teaching and preaching are the means we use.

We do not expect fish to jump into the boat. We put down nets and God brings the fish. In the same way, we missionaries (with great humility) call for the teamwork of the other members of the body who have the same calling from their Lord. We cannot do this alone, nor are we meant to. We are simple sheep just like the rest. The apostle John (who was also a missionary) tells us that we are to support such people who go out for the sake of the Name. He probably learned this from Jesus while walking with Him for three years. Jesus and the twelve, including John, were also supported by the women who followed Jesus. (Luke 8:1-3) How humbling!

Let us not be slack in our calling as senders or goers. Let us not be slack in our calling to send or slack in our efforts to call forth senders and goers! While some missionaries today do go out without asking for any support, this is in no way commanded or even recommended in the pages of Scripture. We must be very careful concerning our Biblical understanding of this all important work.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Worry: The Other Side of Arrogance

Worry has been rearing its ugly head around me lately and tempting me to stress out about my future. This was a great refresher for me to read from John Piper. I hope it encourages you too.

"Let us remember how wonderfully secure we are in the confidence that it is God who finally governs our lives - God and not chance, God and not our enemies, God and not disease,...You are immortal until God's work for you is done.

James 4:13-16 says, "Come, you who say 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade a make a profit' - yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? You are mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will we will live to this or that.' As it is you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil."

It is arrogant not to believe in the heart and confess with the lips that how long you live and what you accomplish are ultimately in the hands of God."

Saturday, May 14, 2016

For Nothing will be Impossible for God

(Listen to the audio and see the slides here.)

For years Maki and I have wanted to buy our own house.

We desired a place where we could invite more people and practically show them more of God's love, while also providing a lasting investment for our kids.

But five or six years ago when we began searching, God closed all the doors on that idea.

Not only were we not finding houses that matched our vision or our budget, but we ran into a big wall at the bank.

They looked at our missionary income (which comes through churches and friends in America) and politely told us that that part of our income would not be recognized!

Fast forward five years to last fall.

We were continuing to pray for land to build a new house on that would be within our budget and that was close to KIU, and close to Maki's parents so we could help them.

Long story short: God not only worked to give me favor through a conversation with a bank official to get us a loan, he miraculously gave us land nearby that was within our budget.

Basically, as we were searching, it was clear that land in Kyotanabe was not within our budget.

At one point, Maki echoed something that we had both said before, “It is impossible for us to afford buying land in this area!”

That was true, but then I remembered Luke 1:37 , which we will look at today.

I said, “But this is not impossible for God, so let's just pray specifically for God's glory to be shown, and then God will choose what He thinks is best for us.”

We prayed that night as a family that God's glory would be revealed no matter His choice for us, and we repeated our desires to stay in this area in order to be a blessing to others.

Two hours later, we get a phone call from the real estate agent who tells us he has a nice piece of land that was just right outside our window!

Amazingly, we negotiated for a price within our budget and, Lord-willing, we will start building soon and move in by November!

So, I hope you can all come over to visit someday!

Now maybe like us, you also have had a dream, and not just a selfish one, but a dream to help and bless others.

And maybe you have been praying about it too, and yet for years nothing seems to happen.

Or, maybe you are struggling with some problem today that has lasted for years and you feel that the situation is just impossible for you to change or even deal with much longer.

Perhaps you have felt a lack of hope in finding a good solution.

Maybe you have prayed a lot about it too, but God just seems silent.

My prayer is that God would encourage you through His Word today, so you can keep giving your heart in prayer to a big God who loves to reveal His glory at just the right time.

Nothing is too hard for Him.

So let's walk again through Luke 1:5-37 today, and I'll give some comments along the way.

In the days of Herod, king of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, of the division of Abijah. And he had a wife from the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. And they were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord. But they had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were advanced in years.

Now as we have seen, Luke is the investigative gospel.

Luke loves to give many details that demonstrate how well he has researched the exact truth so that we can have certainty about what we read here.

But Luke isn't just some book of facts.

No, God, who inspired Luke to write, wants us to personally know Him and His ways through this book and be encouraged ourselves today!

So, we witness here the deep, personal pain and struggle that Zechariah and Elizabeth experienced in not being able to have a child.

Surely for years they had prayed, and even though they were faithful and righteous before God, he had not answered their prayers.

Through this, God is speaking to us today also-- He is whispering to us that He knows our pains and struggles as well, and that He tenderly cares for His children in the midst of it.

Now while he (Zechariah) was serving as priest before God when his division was on duty, according to the custom of the priesthood, he was chosen by lot to enter the temple of the Lord and burn incense. And the whole multitude of the people were praying outside at the hour of incense. And there appeared to him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of the altar of incense. And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared.” And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.”

Or as the Message paraphrase has it, “How do you expect me to believe this?”

Now before we blast Zechariah for being so hard of heart, let's think a bit more.

Righteous Zechariah had been praying and waiting for so long, possibly for 30 or more years, that I think he could no longer bring himself to even hope that God might give them a child.

He was hurt, and yet that doesn't excuse his sin of not trusting God and His messenger.

And  our hurt or disappointment is not an excuse for us if we lack trust in God's Word today either.

And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home.

After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people.”

So Zechariah and Elizabeth walked with the Lord and though far from being sinless, they were honorable and blameless people.

Even so, God saw it fit to withhold for a time something that to them seemed very good.

In that culture, it was very shameful to be married for so long and not have children.

After years and years of prayer, perhaps Zechariah felt that it was okay to give up hoping about something that just seemed so impossible and so hopeless anyway.

And maybe you know the feeling.

You have prayed for years for a family member or friend to know Christ, but so far they have not shown any interest.

Maybe you have prayed for healing, or for God to fix some issue at work, or a relationship with someone, but so far there has been no change.

Or maybe you wonder, like we did about our request, “God, isn't this a good request?”

Indeed their desire for a child to love and care for was a good desire.

Praying for the salvation of a friend or family member is also a very good desire.

And yet God always waits for the best timing to reveal His grace and glory in His own way.

God was going to show Zechariah and Elizabeth His glory through these struggles so that the greatest number of people could enjoy His amazing work of grace among them, including us.

In the same way, let our focus and desire be for God’s glory more than any other hope we may have.

Being God, He knows much more than we do about what is best.
Zechariah’s son John would not just be a regular man, he was the one God had chosen to prepare the way for His own Son, Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world.

John would be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth, as it says here;
to show the greatness of God's grace and power, not the greatness of Zechariah or John.

The people of Israel had prayed and waited for 400 years for the salvation from their enemies since Malachi the prophet had delivered God's promise to them.

Malachi had wrapped up his prophecy, and the entire Old Testament with these words:

Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children...” (Mal. 4:5-6a)

And finally, through the direct Word of God through Gabriel the angel, this prophecy was going to be fulfilled in God's timing and in His power, through the life of John the Baptist. (see Luke 1:17)

What a gift of grace to Zechariah and Elizabeth, to John, to Israel, and to the entire world!

And from Genesis and now to the New Testament, we are beginning to see God's great work to accomplish His whole good and sovereign will to reveal His great grace in history.

Job 42:2 says, “No plan of yours can be thwarted,” and God wants us to know that also.

Let's go on to the next part of the story.

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

Again, Gabriel is dispatched to tell good news of more fulfilled Old Testament prophecy, but this time it is even bigger and greater news than before.

Mary's son was to be called Jesus, meaning, “God Saves” and He was to be called, “the Son of the Most High”.

I cannot imagine a more wonderfully shocking news story to hear – that you, barely a teenager and not yet married, will give birth to the Son of God who will rule forever!

But God had promised this in 2 Samuel 7- that one of King David's descendants would reign forever and ever as King.

Yes, in fact, the whole O.T. had pointed to this coming Messiah, or Christ, who would save His people from all of their enemies and bear all of their sins in His death and resurrection.

And shockingly, this descendant, who everyone was hoping for, would be born through a poor, young girl from the countryside!

God loves to surprise us and amaze us with His grace.

It is a wonder the young Mary didn't faint at such news!

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

Though surely flabbergasted, Mary does not question the angel like Zechariah did.

She simply stands amazed at how God could be so gracious and do such wonderful things through such a lowly person as she!

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

It is impossible for a virgin to give birth to the Son of God, just as it was impossible for the aged and barren Elizabeth to give birth, until we remember who God is!

With our good and all-powerful Creator God, all things are possible!

And He will accomplish all of His sovereign plan because He is God over all!

Does this remind you of anything?

Way back in Genesis, God graciously chose Abraham and promised him that he would be the father of many nations, and that through his offspring all the nations would be blessed.

In Genesis 17, God promises Abraham and Sarah again that though they were nearly one-hundred years old, and even though Sarah was barren, that they would have a child.

When all human resources are exhausted, when Abraham and Sarah are reduced to laughter at the sheer incredibility of it all –

it is then that God delights to fulfill His promises.

You see, it was the perfect timing for God to reveal Himself so that even today we can see and enjoy Him and His ways in His Word.

God waits until it is humanly impossible for the child of the covenant to be born, in order to show that it is not by human effort or goodness that the covenant people will be created.

It is a work of sovereign grace in order to show His power and His glory alone.

And in seeing His glory, we experience His great love and are filled with joy.

God says in this context in Genesis 18:14, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?”

The  answers is obviously “No!” and God wants us to see that.

He wants us to see that by His Word and in our experiences as we continue to look to Him.

Because God is so so much greater than any of His gifts, and He has chosen to love us,

He does it so we can know Him and treasure Him more than the things of else of this world.

In the New Testament, we see this same concept as it relates to our spiritual barrenness.

In Mark 10, a rich young man comes running up to Jesus to ask a question that is burdening his soul.

He asks, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17)

Jesus points him to his hopeless condition apart from a complete heart change.

Lovingly, Jesus tries to help the man to treasure God and His goodness more than his own good works or material possessions.

But the rich man hangs his head and goes away sadly, since it is impossible for him to see what is right before him: that he is really spiritually poor and not rich, and that he greatly needs God.

And it is impossible for any of our wicked hearts unless God works in us to see that we need Him and that we need to embrace Him as our treasure above all else.

How do I know that? 

By what Jesus says next.

And Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! ... It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

It is impossible for those of us who think we have worldly wealth or moral riches on our own without Christ to receive Him as our Lord and Savior.

Until our blind eyes are opened to our neediness, we will never turn to the true riches of Christ.

And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.”

Just as a barren woman cannot physically give birth to a child, we cannot experience new life in Christ unless God does a great work in our barren hearts first.

We humans value ourselves and the things of this world more than God, unless God begins to heal our hearts by His Spirit to bring us to new life and faith in Jesus Christ.

We are spiritually barren and dead in our sins, with no real love for God, unless God Himself does the impossible for us.

Just as the Spirit of God overshadowed Mary so she could give birth to the Son of God,

and just as the Spirit of God hovered over the waters and created life at the beginning,

we also need the Spirit of God to do a miracle in our hearts through His Word so that we can   see His greatness there and desire to receive Him as our Lord and Savior.

2 Corinthians 3:18 says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

As we read or hear God's Word, by His Spirit, we begin to see God’s goodness and glory in the gospel, and in seeing His goodness and glory we are drawn to Him and are transformed.

And as we continue to see more and more of His goodness and glory in His Word, by His Spirit, we continue to be transformed to be more like Him through faith.

And that is why God had Luke write this book, and that is why we preach God's Word here each Sunday, so that by God’s Spirit we can see and know Jesus better and be transformed!

If you are a Christian, you have experienced some of this transformation already.

Saving faith in Christ is not just a mental assent to the truth of the Gospel, it is a change of heart – a seeing of beauty and worth in the good news of Christ that you could not see before.

Ezekiel had prophesied about it.

In Ezekiel 36:26 God says, "And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

In the New Testament this transformation is called the new birth or becoming new creations in Christ.

In Luke's second book, Acts he writes to Theophilus again,

In the first book (the gospel of Luke)... I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach until the day when he was taken up” (1:1-2a)

The implication is that Jesus began to do and teach during His life on earth, but He continues to “do and teach” through His Spirit working through His inspired Word today.

So more than any other prayer, let's pray that we could continue to be taught of the Lord through His Word to learn to love Him and His great and amazing ways more.

And in having the Spirit of God in our hearts, and in learning His Word as new creations in Christ, we will begin to pray the kind of prayers of faith that God delights to answer.

And even if we have to wait decades for the answer, God will always do what is best for His own dear children who, however imperfectly, put their lives and trust in Him.

By His strength, we can trust Him as our loving Father who can do more than all we could ever ask or imagine.

Let us pray.

Thank you that nothing is impossible for you!

You say, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,'” (Is. 46:9-10)

Lord help us to always keep in mind who you are and what you have already done in history when we face our own struggles and hardships.

Help us to learn to trust you more as we study your Word and see your continual faithfulness and goodness to us.

Lord, we thank you for your love and salvation that we can receive today by your grace.

Help us to see reality: That you are more valuable than all the things of this world and be able, by your Spirit’s power, to embrace you fully as our Lord and Savior.

It's in your wonderful name we pray, Jesus, Amen.