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Loving to the End

I remember as a child in a small mill town in the Southeast being struck with fear over a couple of things: one was foreign armies hiding in the cars of the freight train that rumbled through my backyard all hours of the day and night, 365 days a year. I imagined that one day heavily armed soldiers would invade my neighborhood, as if we were somehow a strategic target for the cause of communism. Even more terrifying than atom bombs and fascists was the second thing, the end times. My mom was the only one in my small world bold enough to bring it up, and everytime she did I listened in silent dread to her sober, hushed suggestions of how it would all play out. The memories are too vague to retro-struct her theology, but I know she believed that unspeakable acts of evil would be perpetrated by the antichrist. She was also confident that her Lord would ultimately be victorious and that, in her words, “the devil can’t touch me!” She was a fiery one.

Decades would pass before I began to consider eschatology in a serious way. My disposition at the outset was clouded by the fears of my youth. The first thing I discovered is that Believers who are alive for the Tribulation won’t be spectating from a cloud which, in turn, caused more fear to set in. Biblical literacy and greater observation of world affairs brought together in my mind the Ancient Text and the present age. I could see things happening in the news that made sense in light of biblical prophecy and especially the words of Jesus in texts like Matthew 24. Don’t we all come to that point in our faith when we realize that the Bible is no joke?

It all added up in my mind as bad news and gave me all the more reason to escape to a safe place, as if there was one. Fear reigned.

I’m now years down the road and working for a missions organization that works primarily in the Middle East, center stage, you might say, for the eschatological narrative. I still tremble when I consider the trials that are coming to “all who dwell on the face of the earth,” according to Luke 21. Jesus will confront all that is evil and this confrontation will involve real human beings who will fall on one side or the other of global conflict. The spiritual forces of darkness in the heavenly realms will not give up without a fight. The church will face persecution. Some will be “delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you will be put to death” (Luke 21:16). Indigenous Believers and long-term missionaries in the Middle East will be in the center of the End Times storm. Although Jesus and all who are faithful to the end will ultimately triumph, the Church will suffer. These will be glorious but troublesome times.

Some in the Church ignore eschatology (hey, I did for a long time) in the same way they might ignore a film genre they don’t prefer or understand. Or maybe they lump it together with things like giant meteors striking and destroying the earth: it could happen; it probably won’t, at least in my lifetime; and I can’t do anything about it anyway, so why bother.

Jesus, on the other hand, clearly teaches that we should be very attentive to the signs of the times, that we can and should discern the season we are in, and that we can and should prepare for the last days, lest we get caught with our pants down. The parables of Matthew 24-25 give us insight into how we should carry our hearts and spend our life’s energy in light of His return.

The fact that Jesus tells us how to prepare implies that individuals, families, churches, and perhaps whole cities and regions will have vastly different experiences in the End Times based on how they respond to His wisdom. In considering again recently what it means to be prepared for His return, the following statement from the mouth of Jesus struck me: “And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:12-13). What should concern us about this season more than what can happen to our physical bodies is what can happen to our hearts, what will, in fact, happen to many hearts, according to Jesus. Should we be afraid of the End Times? Yes, I believe healthy fear is appropriate – the type of fear that causes us to examine our lives with sobriety and course-correct. We just need to fear the right thing, that is, the propensity of our weak, human love to collapse under pressure.

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Every organization has its own culture. Whether by design or by default, culture happens. Families, workplaces, churches, and business establishments all embody methods, values and attitudes that can be discerned with even casual observation. I work for a start-up missions organization that is working diligently to create healthy culture. “Culture” is on the agenda of every meeting, day after day, week after week. A few days ago in prayer we stumbled upon another piece of our culture puzzle right out of Matthew 24. As an organization that plans to have thousands of missionaries working in frontier environments in locations all across the 10-40 window; that plans to be laboring in the Middle East for the great end-time harvest until Jesus returns; that plans to remain faithful to Jesus in the midst of demonically empowered, government sanctioned lawlessness, we must be a people who really know how to cultivate and maintain high-quality, steadfast, unshakable love. Jesus’ warning in Matthew 24:12 by all means has application for individuals. Every believer should take this warning personally and begin cultivating a life of unshakable love so that when the day comes where “the love of many grow cold,” we are able to remain steadfast in Jesus and “endure to the end”. But I also believe the individual who plans to “love to the end” must do so in the context of a corporate reality that embraces the value of sacrificial love and seeks to live it out in small ways daily. This sounds easy enough; however, the natural bent of the human heart is to dismiss an unthinkable reality such as rampant lawlessness and to assume that the power to overcome will suddenly manifest when that hour comes.

I experienced this first-hand doing relief work in Nepal after the major earthquake of April 25, 2015. I was traveling with a team of Nepalis delivering supplies to a remote village when a second earthquake hit. Our day of glad-hearted ministry suddenly morphed into a dramatic fight to stay alive amidst deadly aftershocks and landslides. The road was now impassable and vehicular travel of any kind too risky to attempt. The way to “safety” was a rigorous hike back up to the village from which we had come. This “hike” amounted to sprinting past crumbling rock outcroppings, walking short stretches to catch our breath, and otherwise running to the highest village in the vicinity. One life lesson is forever etched into my being after that experience: When crisis hits, it’s too late to top off the tank. Your mental, physical, emotional and spiritual capacities are what they are in that moment. Whatever you’ve genuinely cultivated in your life and what you’ve failed to cultivate become blaringly obvious.

A friend of mine, a devout believer, was working for a major movie production company on 9/11 in New York City when tragedy struck. His crew set up the first lights that allowed relief work to continue into the night. He was a first-hand witness and participant in the early hours of search and rescue at Ground Zero. He testifies that in the midst of the crisis and consequent trauma, he was unable to remember one Bible verse. He would call his mom and have her recite verses to him over the phone.

My point is that the maturity we desire to walk in five or ten years from now must be intentionally cultivated today. Jesus teaches this in Matthew 25 through the parable of the ten virgins. Five of them were wise and had a supply of oil on hand at the midnight hour, allowing their lamps to stay burning as the Bridegroom approached. The foolish were not so fortunate and could neither buy oil at the last minute, nor borrow from the supply of oil the wise had stored up. What they had was what they had when spiritual crisis struck.

It is worth noting that the parable involves ten virgins as opposed to two. In other words, Jesus seems to be pointing to a corporate application. One group was ready, one group was not. What had the five prepared individuals built in their life together that resulted in readiness when Jesus came? Perhaps they strengthened one another, worshiped together, prayed for and encouraged one another, built momentum together, and shared a life in common that resulted in their shared success. Their love for Jesus, which always results in love for others, was cultivated together and, in the end, celebrated together.

The most important thing we can do to position ourselves to love well under pressure is to worship and pray together. I was recently privileged to hear a missionary friend from the Middle East preach. He serves in a frontier environment that has been ravaged by the presence of ISIS. Hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees live within 60 miles of his headquarters. Every day he and his small team face the pressures of the tremendous human need that surrounds them. However, the first priority of their ministry is to be a house of prayer. According to him, “If the prayer and worship is weak, then the rest of the vision will be weak.”  The power to live out the second great commandment, to love others, is resident in the first commandment, to love God. And the power to love God well is in receiving His love for us, all of which is manifest profoundly in a culture of prayer and worship – that is, in an environment in which human hearts are intentionally set before the heart of God in divine communion, day after day, month after month, year after year. God is trumpeting corporate worship and prayer as a missions strategy. We see the wisdom of this in light of how it changes the atmosphere over a region, creates an open heaven, moves angels and demons, and empowers evangelism. But I believe a significant component of the wisdom of God in corporate worship and prayer as a missions strategy is that love for God and others is best cultivated in this environment. More than our zeal, our giftings, our programs or our talents and abilities, God wants to put love on display among those unreached by the Gospel. Ultimately, a community marked by love is what will attract the lost. My missionary friend often faces the temptation to abandon the priority of worship and prayer in order to devote more hours of the day to outreach. The voices within us that urge us to prioritize human need (the second commandment) over worship (the first commandment) are similar to the voice of Judas Iscariot in John 12, which questions the value of extravagant, sacrificial love.

When the acute pressures of rampant war, famine, racism and natural disaster that Jesus outlines in Matthew 24 confront us, our physical, mental, financial, emotional and spiritual reflexes will take over. When gametime comes, the season for preparation will quickly become history, and habits will take over. Jesus peeled back the curtain to reveal what lies ahead, both in terms of the troubles coming upon the human race and in how to prepare to be fully alive in love. Those who abide in His love and unite themselves to spiritual communities that prioritize corporate worship and prayer as expressions of first love will be among those who joyfully endure to the end and remain relevant to the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

 

T.C. Carter

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Fighting To Surrender

In the kingdom of God, surrender is fought for. The cost must be counted, and the yes must be found valuable enough to strengthen. Are we willing to invest our hearts in the battle even at great personal cost, for the sake of walking worthy of the calling we have received?  

When I got to the destination of my second midterm trip, things did not go as I expected. My first midterm I loved, in fact I would consider those months some of the best times of my life so far. Yet, my second mid term did not contain the instant ecstasy and joy I anticipated. Subconsciously I had begun to expect that if God was in it, then surely it would come easy. I expected it to be easy and to feel glorious like the first time. Yet it was not easy. Here is an excerpt from my journal. “It’s only two days in, but I don’t like it yet. In the natural, this place isn’t a good fit for me. I’m tired, disappointed, discouraged and I just plain don’t like it here so far.” To my dismay these feelings dragged into the tript longer and longer.  

I loved the location of my first midterm, so there was a strong temptation to compare or settle into disappointment. But a wise man once said comparison is the thief of joy. It may not have been what I expected, but often the biggest moments of growth come from unexpected places. Sometimes we learn more in the difficult than we learn in the easy because it forces us to get over our self-reliance and express our dependence on God. Maybe God was looking to test my yes to Him and my willingness to go anywhere.

I found it easy to look at the difficulties. I am an introvert, I get anxious in crowds and cities, and so being thrust into a global city with constant noise and chaos was overwhelming to say the least at first. I craved silence and the feeling of being totally alone. But maybe God wanted me to practice what I preach, and let my peace be more rooted in Him than in my circumstances. Maybe God brought me there because He was looking for a context to weed out roots of self-reliance and pride that had been hiding in my heart. So it was hard, but maybe God was looking to teach me that hard does not have to equate unfruitful or not worthwhile. Maybe I needed to learn to have a bad day and still be able to with confidence say it is well with my soul. In the chaos of the city I found a God whose peace was bigger than the storm. In the end it was more than worth it all.

There came a time on the trip that I had to make a choice. I could not keep expecting my joy to return only when my circumstance changed, and I could not keep serving God without a heartfelt love for the people I was ministering to. But my heart was stubborn. I wanted to love them and enjoy it, but try as I may, I could not conjure up feelings of love for the place or the people. I could not guilt myself into sincerity. I had to surrender all of my feelings and expectations, and fall into the embrace of my Father. I had to confess my weakness and dependence on Him. At the end of the day, I only had one choice. It all came down to, do I say yes or no. I am either fully in or I don’t play the game. Christ gets everything, or He gets nothing. If I conditioned my yes to whether or not I like it or feel it suits me, then I would be merely be saying yes to my own comfort and not to the glory of God. I could no longer dictate to God what saying yes to Him must look or feel like. I was either going to live fully surrendered to Him or I was going to live for myself, because living surrendered until I think I know better is merely using God. So every day I would wake up needing to choose again to love, and love says yes. Love necessitates a fully surrendered, unconditional yes.

So I committed to wrestle with the yes and fight to live surrendered. Every day I got on my knees and on my face and asked God to change my heart. I told Him that no matter the cost, no matter what I felt, and no matter what it looked like I would choose to say yes to Him. I asked Him to show me what He felt for nation in which I lived. And the strange thing is, once I said yes, I began to love the people of the land. Individual by individual God began to change my heart.

There would be moments when Holy Spirit would bring to my mind images of my Jesus on a cross. And in those moments I would break. In those moments everything I did or did not feel would shatter. I found that more than I loved a feeling, I love my Jesus. It is not okay that the nation I was in did not sing to Him. When I think of my Jesus hanging on a cross everything changes. He is enough. He is always enough. Within this revelation I found my heart began to overflow with emotions deeper than words can express. The worth and beauty of Jesus birthed a joy in a my soul that nothing in the world can compare to. No amount of worldly comfort, satisfaction, self-pity or even grandeur can compare to the glory of His face. When I said yes, when time after time I got on my knees and surrendered, He would come and take my face in His hands and meet my gaze. As I would look into His face, the childishness of the moments before would begin to dawn on me. Oh how hard I felt I fought, how grand I thought my efforts, when in reality I had done nothing in comparison to what He had first done for me. My battle to say yes was nothing more than letting go of filthy slime in exchange for a treasure greater than I could ever have imagined.

It is this revelation that will sustain me and keep me from burnout. It is his revelation that will teach me to rest and be still even in the midst of the chaos of a city far from God. It is this revelation that will keep me steadfast for 5, 10, 20 and even 90 years. It is this revelation that will keep peace and hope rooted in my soul no matter what is against me. It is this revelation that will sustain me regardless of what my eyes may see.

It is good to learn that an unconditional yes is something that is fought for. Both in its establishment and in the maintaining it is worth the cost. But in the end what I most learned, that as much as we fight to surrender we will never fight as hard as He Himself has fought for us. As much as we work to give Him a yes that is wholehearted and unconditional, we work knowing that He first gave us His yes and His all. We give all knowing that what we get is greater than what we give, for we can never outgive God. He is worthy of it all.

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Global Shaking From A Different Perspective

Arab Spring. Iranian Protest. The Great Refugee Crisis. Civil War.

Masses of people in worlds of uncertainty. Unsure of where to call home, their country borders called into question. For many -this would cause great fear and panic to overtake their heart. In fact, Jesus says that “men’s heart shall fail them for great fear and for looking after those things that shall come on the world…” (Luke 21:26). With the events that will transpire in the future men and women will be crippled, paralyzed with terror. However, in the midst of these shakings we as believers are not only to have peace-we are actually to be able to advance the Kingdom of God.

How is it that believers as mere men and women should be exempt from falling aptive to this paralyzing fear. I believe the answer is also found in the text of Luke 21. The scriptures that their heart will fail, because they are looking after those thing. I believe that the fear or the peace comes from what we behold and look at. We know we are to look, behold, the One who sits on the throne-who is far above and beyond all that we see and do not see We are to desire to sit and gaze at the One Thing. I am convinced that as we look at Him, we begin to see how he sees-even how He sees these shakings. These shakings-although not His design- are used in His hand to produce the greatest of all goods-salvation.

In Acts, Paul addressing the people at Mars Hill -talked about the “unknown God”. He said He is the God of all mankind. And it is He who determines the boundary lines in which men should dwell. And He does this-so that men may grope for him-and seek Him, though he is not far off. So I believe in the midst of moving boundary lines, the moving of people groups, that in the midst of that tragedy that God is doing the ultimate miracle. He is giving men and women a groan for salvation, a desire for Himself.
I witness this during my first trip into a new region in the Middle East. Over seventy refugees were crammed into a townhouse, house of prayer and home to our host. They were living there. Forced from their homes. All that they had, left, deserted, they had nowhere to call home. Yet they were the most welcome guest of our host. We witness the first time he addressed these that he allowed in his home “My most honored guest….” his remarks went on for a long time. It was not the traditional gospel message. It was one explaining that from the beginning that God was using these shakings to intervene in their life and given them a chance of meeting with God. Most people listen with great intensity. They wanted God. So many of them stood to make this declaration that at one point-our host in disbelief made them sit back down. He re-explained to them-for surely they must not be understanding-this Gospel may cost them their life, they may be persecuted, isolated, shamed—and yet once again-with clear determination they stood. They wanted Jesus!

As I witnessed this, I realized that I have faith that during the greatest shakings -that Jesus has a reward. When I read Matthew 24 and I read that at the climax of history and with some of the greatest shakings on earth, with massive destructions–that this Gospel will be preached to all the ends of the earth and then the end shall come. I have become convinced that God will have his way in the deepest, darkest shaking. He will have His glory. The real question is will I have enough faith, enough determination to look at Him long enough to maintain His perspective over CNN’s. If I can do this-then I have the privilege in participating with Him in the reaping of the greatest harvest yet to come. In the midst of race riots, war, famine, migrations of people, I can stand with Him in the midst of great fear—and introduce them to the Prince of Peace.

Oh what a privilege!

Ronnette Cooper, MAPS Leadership

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The Harvest is Plentiful but the Laborers are Few

“The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few, therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest field.”

Matthew 9:38

Jesus spoke these words 2,000 years ago, and they still ring true today- the harvest is plentiful! It is true! Our report from the mission field must be joy-filled and life-giving, because we simply are laborers in HIS harvest field. He is the one who upholds the universe by the word of his power, He is the one who received all authority on heaven and earth. He said those words, and then told us to go. We go under His authority, His dominion, to extend His kingdom.

Do we face challenges? Yes. Is it difficult to move into a new culture? Absolutely. But we don’t go alone, we go under our King’s authority, with the anointing of the Holy Spirit. And we should expect to find the world as He told us- as a field ready for harvest.

Testimonies from the mission field support this. In every country I’ve been to, the harvest is plentiful. Souls are saved into the kingdom. Lives are transformed. The sick are healed. New churches are planted.

In Jerusalem, we met a college student who was raised in a conservative Jewish family. She told us that growing up, she despised “Messianic Jews” and had ended friendships with friends who came to Christ. Her heart was cold to the Gospel. In college, she set out to prove through the Old Testament that Jesus was not the Messiah. Through this journey, she actually became convinced that Jesus must be the Messiah, and she put her faith in Christ. Now she says that so many Jews around her have come to faith in Jesus, and God is moving supernaturally by His Spirit across her nation.

In the midst of the Syrian Refugee crisis, a young Muslim man attends a worship meeting at the invitation of our team. With open eyes, he sees a vision of Jesus walk into the room, and place his hand on this man’s chest. For three years he had asked Allah to reveal himself to him, and in a moment of opening his heart to Jesus, Jesus met him supernaturally. This man now is working to reach others in his community with the gospel.

In another Muslim nation, college students enjoy life in a mega-city as they experience western culture and new-found freedom. Approached by girls on our team, they swap stories of life and cultural differences between the east and the west. These girls are the first Christians that the students have ever met, and they excitedly talk about spiritual things and the differences between Islam and Christianity. They love the idea of praying together, and as our team members pray, they say with amazement “Wow, it is like you are speaking to your best friend when you pray to Isa (Jesus)”. The seed of the gospel is planted through this conversation.

Stories like this are not rare. In these nations that have yet to be reached, you are always the first Christian that someone meets. Though we are conditioned to think these nations hate Americans and the gospel, we find that most are surprisingly open and it is easy to share Christ with them. Nations that once seemed hard to reach, now have a growing number of 1st generation believers and churches. Jesus said that the harvest is plentiful, and that is what we have found. But the need is still for more laborers, so the question is will you go?

 

Jonathan Shinkle, MAPS Global leadership

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12,000 Feet Up And Nothing To Offer But Jesus

“Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the end of the earth, you who go down to the sea, and all that fills it, the coastlands and their inhabitants. Let the desert and its cities lift up their voice, the villages that Kedar inhabits; let the habitants of Sela sing for joy, let them shout from the top of the mountains. Let them give glory to the Lord, and declare his praise in the coastlands.”
‭‭- Isaiah‬ ‭42:10-12‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Do I believe that every nation and every people will sing to Jesus, this Bright, fiery-eyed Man whom I love? Do I believe that this Gospel that was first preached to the Jews is indeed the saving grace for all of the nations of the earth? Do I believe that what Jesus is doing in America is just a small part of His global plan for the Church? Am I willing to give up all I have known here for the sake of the world?

I don’t know the slightest bit about the nation of Nepal and the people groups that live here, but here I am 10,000 miles away from my home, climbing 12,000 foot mountains, on a journey asking Jesus to show me the place in His heart for people that I have yet to see or know.

This is what I was thinking as I hiked in my sandals on a rocky, dusty trail that weaves its way through the majestic and terrifying Himalayas. I was on my way to a remote village of Tibetans with nothing to offer but Jesus. I stumbled upon a carpentry shop where two men were carefully shaping pieces of wood with their rudimentary tools to fit together into a cabinet. Despite me not speaking a lick of his dialect, the shop owner motioned for us to follow him into his candle lit home, where he sat down to brew us tea.

We had an audio bible on an SD card, but his Nokia phone that looked like it was from the early 2000s could not read it. Yet we continued to talk. As he showed us photographs of his family and explained with the little English he knew that his wife had passed away years ago, our hearts grew in love toward one another. A flame flickered in the corner of the room and illuminated a statue of Buddha with an offering in front of it. As I thought of the pain and suffering this man has gone through, my heart hurt because he did not have Jesus to walk him through it. Yet I also had an immense sense of joy because I knew today he would be introduced to Jesus, my beautiful friend and companion who had led me here today.

My friend opened the door and sat down with our translator. As we shared more about our families and he, his, joy filled the room. After at least three rounds of tea, this man shared how he needed healing in his stomach and his knee. We took the opportunity to share the Gospel with him and pray with him. As we opened our eyes, he was smiling and said confidently, “I know your Jesus will heal me.” My eyes welled up with tears as I considered this simple, profound statement. He sipped some more tea and then declared “I will follow Jesus”.

My world exploded. How humble is Jesus that He was allowed me to participate in the declaring the Gospel to this man? Beyond that, He lets me see with my own eyes he and others coming to know Him. As I processed this experience, I could not help but reflect on how big of a heart and plan Jesus has for the earth. He was serious when He said that every people will hear of Him

I walked away from that moment with a new resolve. I don’t want to abdicate my chance to be part of Isaiah 42. I want to look around the throne room John saw in Revelation 4 and 5 when I make it up there someday and know that my life had a part to play in that glorious chorus ascending to Jesus. If that means hiking into remote places of the world or spending year immersed in a culture that is not my own just to get the opportunity to make Jesus’ name great, let it be so. There is nothing more glorious than a life laid down for the greatness of His name.

Luke Jeffery, VP of Finance and Operations