Why we accept every invitation we get…and perhaps you should too

In our day many of us live with calendars full to the brim and our lives have very little time for anything outside our regularly scheduled daily or weekly activities (which are often very fine activities). Over the years our family certainly fit this category although we have always been very selective in how we use our time our days and weeks have tended to fill up fast. However, Betsy and I have always had an almost unspoken policy that whenever we receive an invitation to spend time with others we do everything we can to be able to accept.

It was not until the other day that we realized that we operated this way which prompted us to think about why that is especially in light of the fact that many of us are exhausted at the end of a “normal” day. In other words, why make time to accept invitations that will certainly add to the tiredness and often take their toll on our daily family dynamic?

Life and Ministry Are All About Relationships
Deep and meaningful relationships do not just happen. They take work, sacrifice and time.  We see some excellent examples of this in Scripture. First, our God is a relational God. He is not a God who values rituals or works to belong to him, rather, he values relationship. Hence, he is called our Father and his people, his children. We see this relational picture painted throughout Scripture. Furthermore, he speaks to us through his Word so that we may know him personally and we can even cast our burdens upon and speak to him from the heart through prayer.

Secondly, Jesus was the personification of God’s value on relationships. Jesus spent his time with people. He spent countless hours walking with his disciples talking with them from place-to-place. He went to wedding feasts, spent time around the table eating and conversing with good friends as well as those he just met. In fact, I cannot think of a time that Jesus turned down a sincere invitation to spend time with someone. Of course, the relationship between Jesus and his people is that of a bridegroom and a bride – the closest of relationships.

Third, the early church carried this relational pattern out. Even a cursory reading of the New Testament shows us that they met often, they ate together and they generally met in homes which is the most natural context for relationships. In fact, the “one anothers” are all about driving godly relationships. It is certainly no coincidence that one of the biblical qualifications for pastors is that he must be hospitable (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8).

Again, the New Testament makes it clear that life and ministry are about relationships because God is a relational God.

Accepting Invitations Makes an Important Statement
As I stated before, most (all?) of us live very busy lives and are usually tired when our normal routine ends each day. Therefore, when we accept an invitation actually says a lot. It says that spending time with that person is important to us. It says that we are willing to give up other things, such as family time or other forms of leisure, for the sake of building the relationship. It says that we appreciate the effort, planning, and thoughtfulness that goes into extending an invitation and showing hospitality. Finally, it tells our children that relationships are worth sacrificing for. In all, accepting an invitation speaks volumes to the one who is doing the inviting.

In fact, now that we live cross-culturally accepting invitations seems especially important because it takes much more effort (on both ends) to make friendships with nationals) than someone from our own culture. Moreover, the sign of appreciation is amplified ten-fold particularly because in Latin American cultures relationships are of great value.

What if I am an Introvert?
I can already hear my friends who may be more introverted than me stating that it is much easier for me, as an extrovert, to accept every invitation I can (and it probably is easier for me). However, this is where Betsy, who is an introvert, can be very helpful for me. Betsy would almost always prefer to spend any extra time we have together at home with our family which is a good balance for me. However, Betsy is a great example of one who places her personal preferences and tendencies aside for the sake of building relationships and investing into the lives of others. As a result, she has reaped the reward of some really amazing relationships with other godly women.

I have a missionary friend who, himself is an introvert, state, “If you are an introvert in ministry, you have to overcome your introverted-ness for the sake of loving and shepherding others well.” He went on to point that “overcoming your introverted-ness” does not mean abandoning who you are or how the Lord created you, rather it means that you must die to self in this area for the sake of having a fruitful ministry because fruitful ministries are built around fruitful relationships.

Our Experience: Deep Relationships
What have Betsy and I have experienced in our 11 years together using this approach? First and most important, we have been blessed with several deep, lasting and profound relationships over the years. Of course this has not only come through accepting invites but by being intentional about extending them as well. Secondly, our lives are richer because we have spent special times with people who we may not have otherwise had the privilege of spending time with. Although it can be a little nerve-racking, we always love when someone we would have never have thought to spend time with invites us to do something. Third, we see a love of people being developing within our children. We have tired to work hard at modeling and talking with them about the principle that people are more important than routine, preferences and things. At this point, it seems to be a lesson that is actually sticking.

A Warning and a Challenge
In closing we would like to issue a warning and a challenge. First the warning: If your daily and weekly schedule leaves you no time to extend or receive invitations or if it leaves you too exhausted for this, you need to change your schedule. In fact, if your schedule falls into this category it is hard to imagine how you can be living out the life or relationships that we are called to in Scripture. Will pulling out of some commitments be hard? Probably, but the relationships that you will gain will far surpass anything you had going before.

Next, we would like to extend a challenge to you: Accept the next three invitations that come your way, even if you have to make some sacrifices to do so. If you do this, we are confident that you will see the Lord bless those times and perhaps bless you with some incredible friendships.

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Trust the Process – The KC Royals, Spanish and Sanctification

royals failureTen years ago the Kansas City Royals made a move that would radically change the organization from that time forward – they hired a new General Manager by the name of Dayton Moore. At that point the Royals were beyond sad when it comes to Major League Baseball teams. In fact, they had lost at least 100 games in a season four of five seasons between 2002-2006 and when Moore was hired they were in a 13-game losing streak with no prospect of a turnaround.

Beginning in his very first press conference Dayton Moore began talking about “a process” that he had – a process to build the team from the ground up, starting by building the strongest of minor league systems that would eventually come to fruition in the major leagues, not just with a competitive team but a championship team. “Trust the process” was a phrase that was repeated a lot over the next several years by Moore.

In fact, as the Royals continued their meager ways it became a saying that was received with much disdain by the ever-faithful KC fanbase. For the first several years of Moore’s tenure as GM the team remained near the cellar of their division and fans were growing disgruntled and impatient with the “trust the process” rhetoric. Perhaps, things came to a boiling point when Moore had the audacity to trade their Cy Young Award-winning pitcher, Zack Greinke for a couple mediocre players and some prospects.

However, under the surface things were not as they appeared above the surface. The Royals were steadily improving their record year-over-year although not by the leaps and bounds one would typically look for in a team that was going places. They were making excellent draft picks and developing them through their minor league system. This development, again, was going far slower than the fan-base wanted to see. And they were rated the top minor league system a few of those years. Beyond that, two of those prospects they got from the Greinke trade were two future All-Stars for the Royals.

royals championsOn surface, progress was frustrating and far too slow but underneath the surface “the process” was working – one of the worst franchises in MLB was being transformed into a championship team.

Fastforward to 2014 (eight years after Moore’s hire) and the once lowly Kansas City Royals were American League Champions and lost in the World Series by the narrowest of margins. Add one more year and the city of Kansas City would see “the process” come to full fruition when the Royals won a World Series championship with a team made up in large-part of homegrown talent.

It was a slow and, at times, painful process that although it was not always clear, it was moving toward the goal and ultimately achieved the goal. Believe it or not, the Royals’ story has a lot to do with learning Spanish and our sanctification.

Over the last six months Betsy and I have been going through the difficult and at times painful process of learning Spanish. Much like the Royals we often have far more development happening behind the scenes than we immediately see. However, over time we begin to see this development show itself often in small advances. Sometimes it is easy to wonder about the approach the teachers are taking but in the end we must “trust the process.” In fact, at this point it is incredible to see how far we have come in such a short time (even though it does not always feel like it has been a short time). Because of this we will continue to “trust the process” and look forward to the day when we are speaking with the higher level of fluency that we desire.

Perhaps the most important lesson we can learn from the illustration of the Royals is that of our sanctification – the process by which we become more like Jesus. Yes there are times when we experience rapid growth but much through much of the sanctification process the Christian must simply “trust the process.” By this I mean that we must day-after-day work to live out the Word of God trusting that by the power of his Holy Spirit he is changing us from the inside out. Therefore, we may not always see dramatic changes in our character or holiness from a day-to-day perspective and we may even go through difficult and painful experiences which seem to set us back rather than progress our sanctification.

But often when we step back and survey what the Lord has done in us over years of faithfully seeking to live out His Word we realize that He has done much more in us than we even thought possible. And, of course, one day we will see the full realization of our sanctification when Jesus returns and makes all things new and sin will be no more (Revelation 21-22).

I want to close with this charge: “trust the process.” Most great accomplishments are hard won. They take time, incredible effort, perseverance and the grace of God. This is true with our language learning (or whatever goal you may be working toward) and with our sanctification. With the latter, we have the promise of the Holy Spirit to help us knowing that our sanctification is the will of God for us in Christ Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:3). So may we press on and may we “trust the process” of our sanctification knowing that someday it too will produce a crown and a reward (2 Timothy 4:8).

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Are missionaries self-centered?

“Wow, I could never do what you are doing! You are giving up everything to go serve people you do not even know.”

“You are the most selfless and radical people we know.”

“You are my heroes.”

For many missionaries these kinds of comments are often heard when talking with well-meaning, encouraging ministry partners, friends and family in the US. Of course, any missionary will tell you that it is both embarrassing and convicting at the same time and for the same reason – they are just not true. And in fact, these statements can unintentionally feed into one of the most subtle temptations to sin that missionaries face – self-centeredness.

Missionaries, self-centered? How could that be? As stated above they give up everything for the sake of serving people in another culture, that speak another language, whom they do not even know. So how is that missionaries are tempted to be self-centered?

Any good athletics coach will tell his team that is in the midst of a successful season, “Don’t believe your own press.” Coaches know that when a good team starts to believe all the great things people are saying about them they become vulnerable to overlooking their weaknesses and begin to think, “they have arrived.” Whether in sports, career, or life in general this is a dangerous place to be. In fact, this is a vulnerable place to be. This is a place that missionaries can easily live.

Think about much of the communication that missionaries have with those who love them – it often revolves around casting vision for the ministry, telling adventurous and exciting stories and sharing about themselves. Now these are not necessarily bad things. In fact, often they are good because they bring awareness to the gospel-needs around the world, get people excited about God’s mission in the world, and help form ministry teams that consist of those who send/support and those who go.

However, even for those who struggle with talking about “themselves,” these things can lead to the subtle temptation for the missionary to become self-centered and self-focused. After all, everywhere he goes he is asked to share about his life and what God has called him to. Everywhere they go they go the missionary family is told about how great and courageous and godly they are. Everywhere they go, whether it is an informal dinner with friends or to present their ministry to a church, they are often the center of attention.

At the same time the missionary’s flesh is being subtly seduced to believe his own press. Of course, in his mind he knows he is not as great or godly as everyone says he is but the battle against the flesh is much more difficult in the midst of the heightened exhaustion and fatigue (mental, emotion, and spiritual) that most missionaries live with everyday.

Before the missionary family knows it they may start to think, speak and unintentionally believe that the world revolves around them, their work and their goals. As with the temptation, the manifestations of this self-centeredness are often subtle and can easily be masked by religious language.

So what are some practical ways missionaries can combat the temptation of self-centeredness?

  • When talking ministry, focus on the accomplishments of Christ in the lives of people rather than what “I” have accomplished.
  • Pray for specific needs of those who partner with you in the US. This, of course, necessitates that the missionary is intentional about reaching out to their team of ministry partners.
  • Pray for other missionaries regularly and specifically. Make it a point to learn about what they are doing and their current needs.
  • Financially partner with other missionaries.
  • Promote the ministry of others in the US and around the world.
  • Be a biblical Christian with those around you by going out of your way to encourage others, even those you who may not be in your daily contact.

Thus, if missionaries are to overcome the temptation of self-centeredness we must work diligently to go out of our way to focus on learning about, building up and encouraging others.

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Missionaries Must be Self-feeders

Bible-and-coffeeSeveral years ago Bill Hybels, senior pastor of super-duper mega church, Willow Creek in Barrington, IL, rocked the evangelical world by confessing that one area of discipleship Willow Creek had dramatically overlooked was helping their people to become “self-feeders” on the Bible. In other words, they were excellent at reaching out to the community, getting people in the seats, getting people involved in programs, and even seeing many people coming to know the Lord but they had never taught these disciples how to feast on the Word of God on their own. The Willow Creek leadership had realized that their people were dependent on church programs and Sunday services to grow and be edified which according to their internal surveys created a growth plateau in their people.

At that time the blogosphere and social media were ablaze with “I told you so’s” directed at Hybels. However, in reality Hybels and his team at Willow Creek put their finger directly on a huge issue not just in his church but in evangelicalism today. Many of our churches are over-programmed and focus too much energy on professionalizing Sunday services rather than helping our people to become better disciples by becoming “self-feeders.” The point of training up “self-feeders” is not to isolate people or elevate personal time with the Lord over corporate time with the Lord, but rather the goal is to enhance their experience of spiritual growth within the community of the church. Therefore, we must help our “self-feeders” to contribute to the spiritual growth of the local and global body of Christ.

So what does this have to do with missions? Maybe more than you think. My lovely wife recently pointed out to me that perhaps more than anyone else, missionaries must be “self-feeders.” Why is this? Many places throughout the world are simply devoid of doctrinally sound, biblical churches and are led by men who have never had any form of discipleship or training. Therefore, many missionaries simply cannot count on a strong local church to help feed them spiritually. Furthermore, if one is newer to the mission field they may not have the language skills necessary to really understand a sermon or other teachings in their new language.

Thus, missionaries must be “self-feeders” – able to grow in their love and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ apart from programs and dynamite Sunday sermons.

Finally, if our churches are serious about training up and sending out missionaries we must be serious about teaching our people how to feast on the Word of God apart from programs. We must not just teach our people how to study the Bible for the sake of gaining theological knowledge but in stead, teach them how to engage the Scriptures with a heart that not only thirsts for God’s truth but also in a way that will bring about the sanctifying and satisfying work of God’s Spirt in their lives.

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Ethan and Titus on David Livingstone

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Ethan and Titus on George Müller

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A Video Tour of Our House in Costa Rica

Editor’s note: In the opening of the video you may hear me say 2015 instead of 2016🙂.

First floor:

Second Floor

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