The Biblical Context for Missions – Part 1

The following text was originally intended as a short booklet with which we could communicate to our friends and partnering churches the basic Biblical context for missions that has helped to motivate us to take part in cross-cultural ministry. Since a document sitting dormant on my hard drive for three years (that will likely never see print) does little to serve it’s intended purpose, I have decided instead to publish it here in a four part series.

Before we start, I would like to acknowledge that there are many authors with far more knowledge and certainly more eloquent writing that have tackled this subject, and my intent is not to present a complete theology of missions so much as to invite you to follow with me along the paths of God’s Word that have cultivated my heart’s longing and propelled me onward toward the goal of missions – God’s glory among the nations. If you will engage God’s word with me through this brief text, I hope you will be likewise encouraged to begin your own pursuit.

Introduction

For many years I thought the Bible’s mandate for missions was based on (or more likely extrapolated from) a few key New Testament passages like Matthew 28:18-20 (called the Great Commission) or Acts 1:8 (“to the ends of the earth”).   It is true that those passages give a clear mandate for the church to be involved in evangelizing the world, but the Bible has much more to say about missions than just a few proof passages.  My goal for this study is to show that missions is a mandate rooted in both the Old and New Testaments, initiated in the first book and culminating in the last; it is a core element of God’s interaction with humanity. ((My basic outline has been heavily influenced by Jeff Lewis’ Bible study booklet, God’s Heart for the Nations (Littleton, CO: Caleb Project, 2002)))  I will argue that God’s entire redemptive program is not primarily for our sake (though we definitely receive great benefit), but for the sake of His glory being professed by people of every nation, tribe, and language.

Two Themes

The key to approaching missions with a Biblical perspective, I believe, begins with an examination of two Biblical themes: 1) God’s glory as motivation; and 2) mankind’s blessing and resultant purpose (this will be tackled in part 2). These two themes are key to our understanding of missions because they point us toward the fact that God is the real missionary in our history.  When we grasp God’s zeal for his own glory we understand his underwriting motivation for redeeming humanity, and when we grasp God’s purpose in blessing humanity we are able to more fully comprehend our own past, present, and future role in God’s plan.

The Glory of God

See if you can finish Psalm 46:10 from memory:

“Be still, and…”

How did you do? It is no surprise that most, if not all of us, got as far as “Be still, and know that I am God.”  Those are comforting words, after all; we like the idea that we can rest in God knowing He is in control.  Probably, though, a fair number of us missed the rest of the verse: “…I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” This may seem like a minor detail (dropping the end of a familiar verse), but it begs an important question. As Christians, how aware are we of God’s motivation for acting throughout the Bible? How easy is it for us to be totally ignorant of God’s zeal for His glory, instead operating under a theology that “places man at the center and ignores God’s purpose in the world?” ((Ibid, 3.)) This is just one verse, but I will admit that the first time someone walked me through Psalm 46:10 like we just did, I was amazed at having so easily disregarded the context of the passage.  Psalm 46 is about God’s glory and steadfastness in the midst of Israel’s chaos; I had stolen its emphasis by making it about my comfort.  And in my theology, I found that was the norm.  I had read God’s Word extensively without ever taking note of the basic concept that in the Bible, God often declared His glory as His motivation.

Israel’s history provides us with some prime data by which we can evaluate this claim.  What was God’s motivation?  Let’s take a little quiz.

Q – Why did God call Israel out of slavery in Egypt?

A – David’s response to the Lord in 2 Samuel 7:23 (ESV) – “And who is like your people Israel, the one nation on earth whom God went to redeem to be his people, making himself a name and doing for them great and awesome things by driving out before your people, whom you redeemed for yourself from Egypt, a nation and its gods?” (all emphasis mine unless noted)

Q – On their way out of Egypt, why did God save Israel from Pharaoh at the Red Sea?

A – Psalm 106:8 (ESV) – “Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, that he might make known his mighty power.”
Isaiah 63:12 – “[He] caused his glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses, who divided the waters before them to make for himself an everlasting name.”

Q – Why did God judge Israel’s sin while they were in the wilderness?

A – Ezekiel 20:9 (ESV) – “But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they lived, in whose sight I made myself known to them in bringing them out of the land of Egypt.”

Q – Why did God lead and guide David as King of Israel?

A – Psalm 31:3 (ESV) – “For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me.”

Q – Later, when Israel was in full rebellion against God, why did God delay His wrath against Israel instead of wiping them out immediately?

A – Isaiah 48:9-11 – “For my name’s sake I defer my anger, for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off. Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.”

God loved Israel.  He certainly intervened throughout their history in ways that brought great benefit to the nation.  But Israel (or protecting Israel from harm) was not God’s primary motivation; God’s glory was God’s primary motivation.  Steven Hawthorn applies this idea to broader humanity in his article The Story of His Glory.” ((Steven C. Hawthorne, “The Story of His Glory,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, 3rd ed. ed. Winter, Ralph D (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1999), 36.))  Referring to believers saved by God’s grace, he asserts, “The ultimate value of their salvation is not to be seen in what they are saved from, it is what they are saved for that really matters.  People are saved to serve God in worship.  In this respect, we can say that world evangelization is for God” (author’s emphasis).

That God’s chief motivation is His own fame requires some justification.  Why should God be allowed to exalt himself?  Is it not the height of arrogance for God to demand worship?  To put Himself, His reputation, before even the survival of a nation?  If you or I were to go around with that sort of pride in our own worth we would be labeled a narcissist and laughed out of every room we entered (or more likely scorned out).  Why is it different for God?  I believe the following two reasons are sufficient.  First, God is the supreme thing in all the universe.  If we, as humans, are to praise something, it should be that which is most worthy of praise.  Would you not find it strange if the post-game show following the Superbowl focused primarily on the losing team – or worse, a team that didn’t even make the playoffs?  Those teams may have some merit as professional football teams – even Superbowl contenders, but everyone recognizes that the winning team should have the spotlight.   How much more would God, as the thing most worthy, be wrong to encourage the praise of anything except himself?  There is no offense in His pursuit of His glory because we should not be content to worship a lesser thing.  He is supremely worthy of praise because He is supreme.  Second, as C.S. Lewis observed, “In commanding us to glorify Him, God is inviting us to enjoy Him.” ((Reflections on the Psalms (London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1958), 97.))  I love how Michael Lawrence said it:

“But when we realize that God freely created us for his glory, we finally realize that the story of creation is fundamentally a love story.  God didn’t have to create us, but he did.  He didn’t have to create us as bearers of his image, but he did.  And in doing so, he gave us a unique ability – the ability to take joy in the highest, most beautiful, most desirable thing imaginable, the glory of God.  God himself loves nothing more than his own glory.  There is nothing better or higher to love.  There is nothing more beautiful to fall in love with.” ((Michael Lawrence, Biblical Theology in the Life of the Church (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2010), 125.))

God’s motivation for His glory is also His motivation for missions.  John Piper unpacked this idea in the first chapter of his book Let the Nations be Glad.  He concluded, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” ((John Piper, Let the Nations be Glad (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003), 17.)) Think about what that means. We were created to glorify God, but since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden mankind has walked through history in rebellion against Him. As a race we have exalted ourselves and laid our worship at the feet of earthy things. ((See Romans 1:18-23)) “We are half-hearted creatures,” says C.S. Lewis, “fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” ((C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory.))  We have lowered our standards, content to give our worship to things inherently less worthy of it.  But God is on a mission to restore our worship to its proper place (Himself), and He will see it through.  Missions exists because there are people groups ((The Lausanne Movement defines a people group as “the largest group through which the gospel can flow without encountering significant barriers of understanding and acceptance.” These barriers are typically differences in language, culture, geography, etc.)) in the world that do not worship God.  Missions will cease once all people groups are represented before God’s throne – a future event shown to the Apostle John and recorded in Revelation 7:9-10 (ESV):

“After these things I looked, and here was an enormous crowd that no one could count, made up of persons from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb dressed in long white robes, and with palm branches in their hands. They were shouting out in a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God, to the one seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’”

Our history is moving steadily toward that day when God’s throne will be surrounded by men and women representing every “nation, tribe, people, and language.”  We will all praise Him, and in our praising Him, enjoy Him fully.  Our mission is for God’s glory.  Yes, a complete Biblical theology is much more complex than this single concept, but it cannot stand without it.  We must acknowledge God’s motivation if we are to understand our purpose.

Continue on with Part 2.

Noah Lawrence

Noah was born on March 8, and we are all in love. Hudson expressed it well when he sweetly said, “Noah, you’re da best widdle brudder I ever wanted.”

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We’re fortunate to have Jim’s family close by, and Rachel’s Mom stayed with us (read: “spoiled us”) for about a week. Below, Hudson is bringing some different animals that he thinks Noah might want to play with.photo 2

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  “It’s okay, Noah, calm down.” photo 1


Big brother has even been serenading his new little buddy.

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Welcome, 2014!

For about the past 5 years, 2014 has been our target for heading to Asia Pacific, so we readily welcomed in the new year! We are in Denton, TX, and have been for over a month now since we completed our training in Missouri. We have since found some language helpers (from our future country) at the University of North Texas a few blocks away, and are excited to have gotten started learning language! The other big event we’re anticipating in 2014 is the approaching birth of our second son! T-minus two months in the pregnancy, and it cannot go by quickly enough! 

We hope you had a special time over the holidays with those dear to you. Below are a some pics of our time with family over the past few weeks.

Hudson loves all things trains and was seriously glued to the windows at the exhibit at NorthPark mall.

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Of course, what isn’t fun when the grandparents and cousins are involved!

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Here, we had just seen an animatronic T-rex, and couldn’t resist a little reinacting while posing for the camera.

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Making a gingerbread house with the cousins was too much fun! It didn’t last very long before the demolition began, but of course, that’s what it’s all about when you’re 3, 5 or 7!

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Taking notes with Nana  =)

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About to lay the smackdown on Uncle Jess in the annual Christmas football game.SAMSUNG CSC

 

Making some cookies.

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And we ended all the festivities with a delightful wedding!

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Recommended Reading: Prophecies of Pale Skin

Note: From time to time we read books that we think are worth sharing. These typically relate to the things we are passionate about, namely missions and missions mobilization. Check out our Recommended Reading category for more, and of course, we invite your feedback and suggestions!

I just finished the book Prophecies of Pale Skin by D.S. Phillips – a thrilling read! This is “the true story of a young couple who stumbled across a fierce, murderous, stone-age people group in the remote jungles of Indonesia only to find that they were the fulfillment to prophetic dreams given to the tribe long before their arrival.” (from the Amazon description)

I would recommend this book for two reasons: First, it’s an exhilarating story of God working mightily among the Dao people through two normal people who are simply being obedient to His call. I couldn’t put the book down, and I highly recommend you read it yourself!

Second, the Phillipses are fellow missionaries working on the exact same island that we are headed toward! This book documents their journey, and if you are interested in getting a better picture of what we’ll be doing (and supporting their ministry in the process), this book is a must read!

Find it here in kindle and paperback editions.

Hudson on a Mission

I am excited to announce my new book, Hudson on a Mission, available for pre-order today through CMM Press. This has been an exciting project for me, because its a natural outflow of our ministry as parents, missionaries, and mobilizers. My desire from the beginning has been to produce a book that will be a useful tool for helping our son (and other missionary kids) prepare for the sort of major cross cultural shift that is a part of international missions, as well as provide families with a fun tool for teaching their own kids about what God is doing among unreached people groups throughout the world.

We have partnered with Weave, a ministry of the Center for Mission Mobilization, and CMM Press to offer a first run paper back version for pre-order shipping December 2nd. Check it out today!

Autumn in MO


We finished up our time in Oklahoma, and are now back at the Missionary Training Center in Missouri for a few weeks to complete our Linguistic write-up of the Cherokee Language. That means, of course, that we are actually back in OUR. HOME. Whaaat? 

This girl has SOO enjoyed being back (first time since May). Since we got back a week ago, there have been moments when I actually start to believe we lead somewhat “normal” lives…but that feeling never seems to last very long.

Here’s a glimpse of some of the things we’ve enjoyed now that we’re home:

Art projects on our child-proof table

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Baking with my favorite sous chef. (He does make the most delightful-looking frosted pumpkin cookies I’ve ever seen)

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Fishing. We live close to a lake here, and we’ve missed this. Hudson has been asking to go fishing for months.

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And oh yes, I mustn’t forget about the write-up. We have spent hours upon painstaking hours every day at this desk working through our data. Lots of info to analyze. Lots of nerdy discussions regarding vowel length, pre-glottalized consonants, and what to do with that pesky voiceless lateral fricative.

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We went to a fall festival last weekend with some good friends. This will be our last Autumn both north of Texas and outside the tropics (read: last true Autumn EVER), so I am relishing the Fall colors that are starting to set in (and enjoying my fill of apple cider and pumpkin cookies).

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I’m also relishing these last few weeks at “home” (it’s funny how that term can be so fluid for missionaries). Three weeks from now, we’ll pack up the apartment and head back “home” to Texas, where we’ll be until we make the move to Asia Pacific and set up our new “home” there.

On a more heartfelt note, sometimes I find myself (perhaps it’s the Mama in me) wanting to cling to an idea of what a “home” should be. But, it’s when I remember that, as a Believer, my real home is not in this world, that I feel set free to do without and head into a lifestyle that surrenders those things that my humanity wants to cling to. I definitely wouldn’t be able to do it without the “secret” Paul speaks of in Philippians 4:12-13.

But. As long as I have them, I will still thoroughly enjoy the Fall colors, our cider-and-pumpkin-scented apartment, and the memories we make here.

 
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Reflections on Moving On (again)

For the past four years the majority of my free time has been spent in the company of Jared Weichert and Noe Martinez. Half a year ago – upon the completion of our NTM missionary training – Jared and his family packed up and left for the green pastures of California to begin the next phase of their lives. With the NTM Linguistics training nearly in the rear-view mirror, today was Noe’s turn to overload an SUV and move his family one step closer to church planting among an unreached people group a world away.

I’m not nearly as outgoing as I appear at times (or maybe as I imagine I appear). My friendships tend to be few and deep, with most other relationships relegated to the friendly, shallow depths of casual acquaintance. I dealt with Jared’s move by attaching all the more deeply to my friendship with Noe. With Noe gone, I’m not sure what I’m going to do.

It occurred to me this afternoon that having to say goodbye to best friends may be a part of life for most people, but for missionaries it’s a regular consequence of obedience. I find myself wondering if Paul might have added to his list in 1 Corinthians 9, “Do I not have the right to the proximity of close friends?” Any other career would allow for this. But already I have left friends and family behind, only to make new friends and leave them behind as well. The future promises more of the same as my family descends further from home into one of the most remote regions in the world.

Of course, I owe a debt of gratitude to the Apostle Paul for reminding me that there is a bigger story being told. I have been set free. Because Jesus Christ died for me, I am free to live for him even when it is not convenient. I am free to say goodbye to dear brothers because I am loved by the One who gave me a nature that is relational at its core.

It may never get easy to say goodbye, but brothers, it is worth it. I’ll see you on the other side…

 

 

Happy Independence Day!

This past weekend was the Cherokee National Independence Day celebration, and we got to join some of the local festivities!

Saturday we hit the parade, followed by various exhibits and games.

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Can you tell which one is Jim?

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Okay, just kidding – it’s another picture of the parade.

There was a traditional bow and arrow shooting competition early in the morning. Once we arrived, Jim and our good friend Noe learned that there would be a recurve (type of bow) division that afternoon, and being that the two of them recently made recurve bows for themselves, they sped drove back to our cabins to grab their bows, then entered the competition. The target, a pile of cornstalks, was 100 yards away, and both of them hit the target at least once!

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  It was a fun weekend. We’re having a great time here in Tahlequah, OK as we work on our Linguistics Practicum.

 

 

 

Home Sweet Home! (for a couple months, anyway)

Just days ago we arrived in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, capital of the Cherokee Nation!  After being on the road all Summer, we are happy to be in a place we can call “home” (even if our digs are a little unconventional). We are staying at Tenkiller Baptist Assembly (a campground, and ask us sometime for the story behind the name!).

 

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Our crib.

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Our kitchen and dining room (the twenty of us coordinate meals together).
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Me and my two favorites.

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We have a great group here, and Hudson was all too excited to see his buddies again! (And apparently superheroes love kittens)

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We are here in Tahlequah for two months to complete the Practicum for our Linguistics course. This morning Jim and I had our first session with our language helper, Mr. Dreadfulwater, and we are excited about all we’ll learn while we’re here!

This is Darn Good Water, Y’all

“What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can” Timothy Keller

There’s nothing like working in the hot Texas Summer sun to make you thirsty. Jim and I (well, okay, mostly Jim) helped do some home-improvement work for family a few days ago, and there were times that it seemed I just couldn’t drink enough water to satiate my thirst (the nutritionist in me says, “b/c your sodium level was low, dummy”, but that’s beside the point here). 

I was reminded of John 4, where Jesus offers a woman “living water” that would make her “never thirst again.”  Now, the idea of “living water” is one that has taken me a while to really begin to understand. I mean, I’ve always thought it was a neat concept and all. What Christian doesn’t? The idea of God satisfying us fully, and we “never being thirsty again” (whatever the heck that really means, right?).

Well, this past year especially, God has been showing me how much I loooove non-living water, the stuff that leaves you to get thirsty again. Much like chemical dependencies, it only pleases at the moment you take it, and it guarantees that you will have, let’s just say, not-so-fun cravings for it when it’s not available, which, mark my words: non-living water is guaranteed to not be available every time you want it.

What is this non-living water? Well, for each person it may look a little different. But what’s equally important are the thirsts that we try to quench with this water. The thirsts that I personally have are all over the map. Sometimes it’s the thirst for love or affection. Sometimes the thirst is to feel appreciated, or important, or respected, or valued, or …

You know. It’s the things we all want, and some that we need and were even created to need.

So the key is: What water are we drinking to satiate those thirsts, those emotional needs?

Unfortunately, I often try to drink from the water-well of those who are dearest to me, to their detriment. When I want deep, perfect, selfless love and affection, I often try to ring that water out of my dear, precious husband. The poor guy is only human, and the expectations I sometimes put on him can be flat-out ree. dic. u. lous. There is nothing. And I mean nothing, that can meet my outrageous hopes and desires except my Savior, Jesus. Only when I truly understand and bask in the truths of all He did for me on the cross, and all He does for me daily as I walk with Him, will this deep desire to be loved and pursued ever be met. This is no slight to my husband (he is superman, after all – but don’t tell) I can 100% guarantee you that no man or woman out there can fully and incessantly satisfy the deepest longings of your heart or mine.

The thing is, though, that non-living water does appear to satisfy. We might even be able to say that it does satisfy – but only for a moment! But then we get thirsty again, and this time when we run to the water that we got a drink of the last time, it doesn’t satisfy! So maybe we run to another source. Soon enough, though, we are left parched because the water wasn’t living water, and it didn’t last.

When we try to get this water (satisfy our deep emotional needs) from others, we get manipulative; we try to force them to give us the water we so desperately want, and then we blame them when they don’t meet our needs.

But they were never meant to meet our needs.

I believe we were given the desire for affection so that we would be drawn to the One who loves us so much that He gave His very life for us (John 3:16).

I believe we were given the desire for acceptance so that we would come to the One who has accepted us just exactly as the filth that we are and has adopted us as His own (Rom 5:8, 8:14-16).

I believe we were given the desire to accomplish great things so that we would turn to the only One through whom we can accomplish anything of any significance (John 15:5).

I believe we desire security so that we may run to the great I Am, who is unwaveringly sovereign, and good, and trustworthy (Prov 30:5).

Finish this sentence: “I would be so much happier if only my spouse/kids/friends would ______.” This usually helps reveal what our emotional thirsts are (although, there are many desires we have that just flat-out come from our sinful nature, and these just need to be surrendered: for example, the desire to be in control of every aspect of our lives, and others’ lives; the desire – stemming from our self-blinding pride – to be acknowledged as always being right; etc)

Stop trying to use people and things to satisfy your God-given emotional thirsts, and instead turn to the Source of Living-Water. Drink deeply.  I guarantee you won’t be disappointed (not to mention you’ll be much more pleasant to be around).