Wisdom in Waiting

I want to come back to a thought slipped into a recent post about Paul’s calling. A great book on Luke’s narrative of Acts got me thinking about mission calling. Let’s look at the idea of calling in Paul’s life again.

Paul’s mission calling consisted of two necessary components. Paul received an invitation to mission from Jesus in Acts 9, but Paul did not go until he received the second facet of his calling—the sending. In Acts 13:1-4, while the church fasted and worshipped, the Holy Spirit said to set apart Barnabas and Saul for the work I have for them. Many years earlier, God shared the big plans he had in store for Paul, even in his sending, he went out as an assistant to Barnabas. Likely, as most of us do, Paul had big ideas for changing the world. However, he waited his time before going, and didn’t skip steps on the way.

There is wisdom in waiting. Let me come back to this idea in a moment. When Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, his world changed. He went north to destroy the church, but returned ready to help build the church. Even though he received a paradigm shift of epic proportions, Paul need the appropriate time to process all God was doing in him. Before his encounter with Jesus, he was flying up the ladder to great things among the Pharisees, and then we don’t see him doing anything of significance for a longtime. Part of his paradigm shift must have included a patience and waiting on God to do the leading rather than leading his own life and looking for opportunities to advance his position like he did at the beginning of Acts 9 by going other Sanhedrin to receive letters to persecute the church. Now God looked for him and found opportunities for Paul to advance the name of Jesus.

In mission, the calling is the easy part. The invitations are numerous, especially too young people in that prime window of opportunity between 18-24. In my context of Bangkok, we are perpetually live in a cycle of inviting people to come serve with us. There is always more work that can be done and more hands on deck will help accomplish the mission of God in this city.

At the same time, we have seen some people come through here with an eagerness to enter into the calling they received from God without waiting for an accompanying sending. The role the local church plays in missions is vital. In the same way as the Antioch church sent Barnabas and Saul, we need local churches sending those called by God. Balance should be the watch word. I understand some churches are afraid to send their best and brightest overseas, because the local ministry has so much need too. Yet some churches let everyone go with little oversight. If a young person feels a burden for another country, they just go with a slap on the back. As young people, we need to have the blessing and support of our local church in order to succeed long-term. If we want more than an experience, we need to have a church backing us the whole way.

Let me give a few points to how our local church plays a significant role in our ability to succeed.

  1. Financial support. Without the financial support of a local church or partnering ministry team, one severely limits their long-term potential. I know people who just come to participate in the mission without fully tapping into a support base, and their long-term viability has limits. I understand the role of faith, and that is an issue for each person to work out between God, but if God wants us to be somewhere, he will make a way. Notice in Acts 18 after Paul arrived in Corinth, he worked at tent making until Timothy and Silas arrived. Then he devoted himself to the word and prayer. He became fully engaged when others supported him. The local church or a partnering support team makes it possible for a missionary to dedicate their time and energy to the mission that God has called them to.
  2. Prayer support. When we know that our church, and many others, pray for us regularly, we gain a confidence that God is going before us to make a way for the ministry. I have told people in our church that we know God is praying for us. We feel God’s presence when our church family lifts us up in prayer. In this way, our church celebrates with us when we do well, and lifts us up when we have struggles. And who doesn’t have struggles on the mission field.
  3. Sharing in the benefits. Our local church gets to share in the benefits of the ministry happening halfway around the world. They work to keep us well, as we represent them in mission.
  4. The little things…email greetings, birthday cards, packages, presents; little decorations for holidays all help us feel connected with our home as we live out a calling in a different context.

If we want to succeed, the support base that sends us plays a pivotal role. There is wisdom in waiting until God’s timing and sending. Don’t short circuit his plan by leaving to soon…

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Sweet Pea and Daddy’s Voice

Sweet Pea, our little bundle of joy, loves her routines even now, before she is born. When Tina eats food, about 30 minutes later, she starts to move around—all the more so when Tina eats fruit or food with a lot of sugar. She loves to wake up in the morning, even if Tina is trying to sleep in on a particular day, and kick around as well as move a lot in the evening and just before sleep.

One of her routines that I particularly enjoy includes me as the dad. I started making a routine of telling her a story every night before bed to prepare myself for all the bedtime stories she will hear after she is born. I also knew babies get comfortable with familiar voices and sounds while in the womb.

The stale facts that a baby can recognize voices came to life the other night for me. Tina was reading one of her books on babies just before we went to sleep as I waited for our regular pattern of telling a story to Sweet Pea and praying together as a family before we fall asleep. I know my wife never sleeps as well if she misses her nightly prayer with her husband. However, the long week of preparing to move and recently finishing a couple of intensive classes for my Master’s program caught up with me, and I started to doze off before Tina, something that rarely happens. I told Tina that Sweet Pea already heard me tell stories that evening as I preached for the Friday evening service at Our Home Chapel.

With that in mind, Tina let me off the hook as long as we still prayed together. Apparently, Sweet Pea wanted to be consulted before we made a change to her routine. She started kicking and moving around with a vigor to get her mommy’s attention and hopefully her daddy’s as well. Tina quickly nudged me, saying you didn’t tell Sweet Pea her story. Can you please tell her a story, so she will let me go to sleep? Sweet Pea kept on moving to let us fully know about her dissatisfaction in her bedtime. So I turned over and put my hand on Tina’s belly, which keeps on bulging out more and more, and told Sweet Pea a quick story.

Tina told me our little girl settled right down. Turns out that the research speaks accurately. Our precious little one already has bonded with me, and I with her.

Calling and Fulfillment Part 2

I wanted to revisit the idea of calling and fulfillment. Why does God call us so much earlier than when we begin to live out the calling in our life? It seems to lead to a lot of frustration from the gotta-have-it-now generation. I get the feeling through my own experiences and through conversations with numbers of young leaders that if we don’t see accomplishment early on, we are missing or unfulfilling God’s calling in our life. Remember how many years between Paul’s calling and Paul’s sending took place.

Let me postulate that God calls us early in our life to give us direction. He starts to point the arrow of our life down the path he wants us to take. He knows that we a full life time to accomplish all he has planned for our life. God understands the 50-60 years ahead of a teenager when he calls them into ministry. In the calling, God just is beginning the process and development toward ministry and mission.

In my life, God called me out for ministry when I was a teenager, around 17 years old. In my heart, I always knew ministry was likely to happen in my life. I always resonated with things that talked about ministry. Even when I was in 5th and 6th grade studying Catechism at the private Lutheran school I attended, I argued with the pastor over doctrines and philosophy of ministry like baptism, women in ministry and the role of the clergy. Going into the middle school years, my parents asked me if I still wanted to attend a private school or move to the public school. I jumped at the idea of a public school, so that I could be a light in the world. In a Christian school, everyone gets to hear about Jesus, but not so in the public schools. But I didn’t receive clarity to my calling until the summer before my senior year, a few years before losing my eyesight.

I pursued ministry opportunities, but I lived out a Thai proverb which literally says, “standing on the edge of two boats.” I tried to do ministry at the same time as follow my passion for sports. I wanted to be a sports writer or broadcaster like the guys on the Score in Chicago. I stood on the edge of two boats as I pursued a career in sports journalism and a role in ministry. I wrote for the sports section at the Northwest Herald , the local paper while working with the youth ministry at my local church. I didn’t go anywhere quickly, since I didn’t dedicate my life to one direction.

However, all of my juggling of dreams and goals came to a halt when I lost my eyesight at the age of 20. God catapulted me into maturity as I decided to take one path and that to ministry and fulfilling the calling on my life. As I lost physical sight, I gained focus for my life. I started moving in the direction of full-time ministry with one little stop on the way. I was the blind-intern for the Kevin Matthews Show, my favorite wacky radio show in Chicago. During that time, God sent a divine contact into my path. I asked what I needed to do to pursue radio and ministry. This veteran of Christian rock radio asked me what was my calling. I said, to be a pastor. He told me to be a pastor first, and after that I could pursue radio. I took that conversation to heart and jumped in with both feet in my pursuit toward ministry.

I still wanted to avoid Bible College as I didn’t want to move away and not come back to a place I loved and wanted to impact. I wanted to be discipled in the local church. My pastor, Ted Olbrich thought it better that I go to Bible College. I still count him as one of the most significant people in pushing me toward where I am today. He told me I would limit my future potential if I didn’t go to Bible College. Other pastors like to see the discipline of finishing something before recruiting you to work with them. As I look back, I see this advice as from God as my pastor hired people without Bible College training and in fact didn’t attend a Bible College or seminary himself. He directly gave me the advice I needed at that time to move forward. Now I get to intersect him occasionally as he leads a dynamic mission effort in Cambodia. I think of him as my neighbor while I live in Bangkok.

At 33 years-old, I see my life progressing more and more toward the calling God placed on me. As I look back, the calling became clearer through the perspective of wisdom and experience. I see the years between calling and action as character shaping through training (both Bible College and other). God tested me in a variety of ways with some passing and others retesting. I grew in experience with the more opportunities to lead ministry beginning with leading a Jr. High ministry while at Bible College.

God worked on me in relational skills and leadership skills thorough the different ministry opportunities I had. Timing is everything, and now I look forward to seeing some of the big dreams put in my heart by God come to fruition as we begin a church plant in Bangkok.

The Space Between Calling and Actualization

As we serve in mission whether in a local context or a cross cultural context, we often get caught up in the questions of success. We all responded to the call of God, and to each of us the call meant great things for the kingdom of God. We all want to end up in the library filled with biographies of great men and women of God. We want our life to count for something big, and I think we can learn a valuable lesson from the life of Paul. We can learn how God took this guy who was on the fast track to top of the Pharisaical hierarchy before his path suddenly changed one night on the road to Damascus. The paradigm shift seemed fast in our mind, but God worked something out in Paul over a much longer time period. Maybe we can all glean something helpful from those silent years when God worked on him in that space between calling and the grandiose ideas he likely had like many of us do and the actualization of God’s plan in his life.

Paul, a hero to many, should give us all reason to pause. Perhaps in Luke’s account of his role in the spread of the church from Jerusalem to Rome, we see a guy who is bigger than life and in no way can we compare to him. Just read his accounts of suffering in II Corinthians 11, and the bio-pic depicting his story would get nominated for best picture and the actor playing his character would also be up for best actor.

What we miss in Luke’s account of the story are the details. We have to remember that Luke is telling the story of the church in what could be titled the Acts of the Holy Spirit, and Luke takes us on a journey, a journey from Jerusalem to the ends of the Roman Empire as laid out in his thesis in Acts 1:8. We follow Paul who goes from Jerusalem to Damascus where he encounters Jesus and his world is forever changed. He travels on three missionary journeys, each time expanding the geographic boundaries of the church before he is compelled by the spirit to return to Jerusalem in order to get to Rome. Perhaps another post could argue that Paul set out on a fourth missionary journey to Rome and that Luke gave a valuable amount of space to the time in which Paul traveled to Rome. But for now, I want to talk about what Luke left out of the story.

Paul received his calling in Acts 9 while on the road north to persecute the church, Acts 9:5-6. Jesus personally met him on the road and called him to the ministry. I doubt many of us have a similar story when it comes to knowing our calling. Paul clarifies his calling during two different speeches later in Acts; 22:3-10 and 26:12-18. We know Paul’s calling and his accomplishments, but we know little during that space in-between the two.

What do we do in that season of our life between the calling as a youth and the move into fulfilling the calling. I think of people like Hudson Taylor who moved to the poor neighborhood and changed his sleeping routines to prepare for difficult situations in China and learned all about medicine as an assistant to a doctor. I think of Taylor’s faith tests before he left shaping his ability to rely on God while in China.

When we look at the life of Paul, we see Paul as a mighty man of God, raising people from the dead (Acts 20:7-12) , getting people into the kingdom of God to the end (Acts 28:23-31), baptizing people with the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:6), casting out powerful demons (Acts 16:16-18), and even sending his apron around the region of Asia Minor to see people get healed by its touch (Acts 19:11). What we don’t see in Luke’s narrative is that space between the calling Paul received directly from Jesus and the actualization of his calling. According to Paul’s own words in Galatians, he spent 17 basically silent years before he played a major role in the expansion of the church.

Paul met Jesus in a powerful moment on the road to Damascus, and he received a confirmation of the calling in Damascus with an unsung hero named Ananias, Acts 9:11-19. Then Luke uses these words to gloss over a three year period, after many days (Acts 9:23)…

If we look at Galatians 1:17-18, those many days consisted of a time in Arabia. Paul leaves that time ambiguous beyond the bottom line of downloading the message of the gospel from Jesus (Gal 1:11-12). After the mysterious three years in Arabia (I wonder if he found any flying carpets or magical genie lamps), he returns to a most unwelcome audience in Damascus. He sneaks out of town and returns to Jerusalem to be met by a hostile group of apostles still suspicious of his motives. But Barnabas welcomes him with open arms and sponsors him to the apostles (Acts 9:26-27). He then goes back to his home town of Tarsus in Syria and Cilicia. He spent 14 years in relative obscurity (Gal 2:1) before Barnabas needed help in Antioch, an urban church with exploding growth. Barnabas went to recruit a guy he knew to be qualified to help him disciple the new believers in this multi-cultural city (Acts 11:25-26). Paul spent another year in Antioch as basically a support member of the team.

Another post waits to be written here on the subject of calling and sending. Paul was called almost two decades earlier to be a missionary and to take the message to the gentiles, but in Antioch, he was set apart for the work of God by the Holy Spirit. There is a necessary local church element that needs to accompany anyone’s calling. We are never called to go it alone. There needs to be an invitation and a sending in any mission venture.

In our instant culture as westerners, we want results now. Top-notch football coaches are fired one year later if they don’t produce. We want immediate results, and thinking about what Paul went through before he even began to fulfill his calling must go against the grain in our thinking. Our success-oriented thinking (and that is where we need to get a right view of success), drives us to think we gotta start now, or we are going to be behind the eight-ball. We need to live in that tension between striving for all that God has for us and waiting on his timing and preparation in our life.  For another curve ball to our view of success look at John the Baptist. He spent his whole life preparing for six-months of ministry in the wilderness, and Jesus says he was the greatest. Six months of ministry before everyone left his teaching to follow Jesus. John replied in John 1, I must decrease so he can increase.

I am not saying don’t do anything for two decades. By no means…I totally think the training that comes in Bible College or a ministry school has great value, internships and staff positions help shape us toward future ministry. Even get out there and pastor a small church in your early twenties. A.W. Tozer pastored small rural churches for many years before he became a significant voice when he pastored in Chicago. Don’t wait to get involved, but work in God’s timing and along with his journey…

The most important  process in the space between the calling and the actualization is how God sharpens our character and works on refining the important areas in our life. We need those times to have God work on our heart and spirit. God is always more concerned with who we are than what we do.

Sleep and the Healthy Leader

Sleep is better than drugs, or at least that is what the doctors are saying these days. More and more, doctors are prescribing sleep to deal with ailments and sickness rather than giving out prescriptions for antibiotics. This is the thought along with perspective that is sticking with me through the week in my Foundation of Leadership class with Wheaton College.

As the class sets out to give leaders a solid foundation in the spheres of physical, intellectual, spiritual, emotional and so on, we talked about the importance of eating right, exercise and sleep.

I asked a question building off of that topic, saying I remembered Leonard Sweet touting a statistic in one of his books that average pastor’s sleep 8 hours a day while effective (whatever that means) pastors sleep 6 or less hours a day. Secondly, one of our books, Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald tells the story of how MacDonald worked to cut two hours of sleep off of his normal night’s sleep. This question shot our professor into an impassioned plea to say these guys, along with Oswald Sanders, push pure rubbish. The idea of sleeping less in order to have more hours in a day to work does not come out of scripture in anyway. The teachings of their day pushed this idea, and Sanders even says times of fatigue are to be expected. Our professor said, if they were here in this room as respected and revered as these leaders are, I would challenge them. I would ask where in scripture do they find this.

The medical world disputes the claims by leaders who value productivity over health that sleeping less and working more will get more accomplished. Powernaps actually bring benefits and proper sleep is better than not enough or too much sleep. http://stress.about.com/od/lowstresslifestyle/a/powernap.htm shows that short naps in the afternoon increase cognitive activity and alertness, too little sleep on the other hand triples the chance of getting into a car accident. http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/matters/benefits-of-sleep sows that sleep benefits one’s memory along with some video clips to illustrate the importance of proper sleep. http://www.better-sleep-better-life.com/benefits-of-sleep.html quoted below sums up the importance of taking care of our body by sleeping an appropriate amount of time regularly.

“According to the Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, your body manages and requires sleep in much the same way that it regulates the need for eating, drinking, and breathing. Extensive research has been done on the effects of sleep. These studies have consistently shown that sleep plays a vital role in promoting physical health, longevity, and emotional well-being.”

In our class, the professor pressed on to say that we must build in times of rest and sleep if we are to finish strong. We need to have those buffers and margins in our life. It is not like his peers from Australia who said in the pulpit or at conferences that I would rather burn out than rust out.

He continued through several stories of powerful leaders who burned out emotionally or broke down in other ways. He told the story of an influential pastor in his home town that invited him to speak one time. He stayed with him and saw his schedule. He woke up at 6 am and was off to work before the family woke up. He came home at 6 pm briefly and went off to more work. He came home at 11 pm to work more in his home office before sleeping at 2 am. This went on day after day. Our professor explicitly pressed us to not allow this in our lives. He talked about another pastor who didn’t give a Sabbath day off to his staff. This went on and on in his examples.

He said, all we have to do is open our eyes and see that this is not working. These pastors have a great reputation for burning out their junior staff. Often their families or personal health are in shambles.

Just look at these people who don’t sleep enough. People without enough sleep are irritable, rude, grouchy, and sometimes downright nasty with the way they treat others.

On the flipside, Jesus marked off days for rest. When the crowds came to him in Mark 1 after a full day of healings, they came to him in the morning after he escaped for times of prayer and solitude, he said  I can’t go back, and there are more towns that need the message of the kingdom. Jesus didn’t worry about man’s accolades, but about the mission he was endowed with. Another time, Mark 6:30-31 this happens: “The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.'”

Jesus just found out about John the Baptist, his relative and close ally, had been beheaded. Jesus responded in the midst of the hectic schedule that they should get away for some rest. Jesus was not lazy or slothful, but he knew how to ensure appropriate buffers in his life to process, reflect and recuperate.

Finally, John 17 shares the story of Jesus’ final prayer.

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal. life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”

How could Jesus say that the work was finished unless he had a balanced understanding of work. There were so many that yet had not heard the message, so many that still needed healing. There was still so much work yet undone. But Jesus knew intimately and completely what God assigned him. Success and effectiveness in God’s economy flows out of obedience to what God has called us to.

What has God called you to?