Answering The Call is an international missions organization dedicated to reaching people in difficult to reach places.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Flickering Flame of Antioch

I sometimes wonder if it is still OK to be a man in America. Please don't misunderstand. I am not suggesting that aloofness and insensitivity are definitive of manhood. Anyone who knows me would testify that I am not aloof and the older I get the more I cry in movies. I'm just suggesting that in the wake of political correctness it seems no longer socially acceptable to be a man in public. I can think of several examples at this point but at the risk of embarrassing my wife I'll pass. I also find this to be true at times on Sunday mornings in America. I fear we have reduced our warriors to greeters, ushers, and even worse a checkbook.

One of my favorite things to do as I travel is to shed the shackles of political correctness and go hang out with some men. This is easier than you might think. I find this gathering of men at the local barbershop. All over the world barbershops are the same. One guy working, several guys hanging out, and always filled with spirited discussion of not so important matters. Hopefully, no offense at this point, but I would have to add, that women are not there telling a man how he should get his haircut. I have been to the barbershop in more countries than I can remember and they are all the same, both outside of the United States and Western Europe.

So, I headed out today for my traditional haircut and guy experience here in Antioch, Turkey. This barbershop experience rivaled the best one I have ever experienced. The best was in Ukraine but this one was a close second. True to form there where five guys sitting and one guy working. A unique feature of this barbershop that I particularly enjoyed was the presence of a young boy of fifteen who was there assisting his father and learning the craft. He handed over instruments and cream with the precision of a highly skilled surgical nurse.

The barber was a lighthearted man with a warmth in his eyes. He was a man who enjoyed his profession. He seemed to know that the giving of a haircut was an act of art rather than a mere job to be done. With great skill he trimmed my hair and then without discussion moved on to my beard. He was not in a hurry nor was he slow. After the main goal was accomplished he paid great attention to the details. He would not be satisfied with his final product until even my ears and nose were adequately attended to. Try and find a barber in the States who will do that!

This brings me to my favorite part. The final touch was heated shaving cream and a straight razor shave. See what I mean! The lawyers in America have made this part a distant memory. And by the way, lest you think I'm living to high on the hog as a missionary, all of this cost ten dollars, including a tip to the barber and a tip to his son that was more than generous.

It led me to a question as I climbed out of the barber chair. What in the name of Heaven has happened to the barbers in America? I can't find one!

And now, an even more serious question. What has happened to the church in Antioch? I am here to tell you that as of now the flame that once burned bright here is barely flickering. I'm not being critical. I just feel that I need to give an honest report.

Yesterday I climbed a mountain to look into a cave where Peter and Paul met to discuss the urgent matters of the early church. I felt as though I was on hallowed ground. I will never read the book of Acts quite the same. This vision is forever etched in my mind. The understanding of the courageous nature of these men was almost palpable. I can't imagine greeters or ushers or even checkbooks in this scenario. I could however, conjure up a picture of men who understood determination and sacrifice.

But, as the nearby Mosque blurted out the call to prayer, I was hammered with the question, "What happened to the church here?" How is it this special place has become a shrine controlled by Muslims who charge Christians five bucks to take a gander at their own heritage? A strange turn of events is it not. I must report to you that the current state of the body in Antioch is far from the history of this place.

Now, rather than a church whose trademark was courage, you find a body that is shaking with fear. This fear is interesting in that it's not a fear of a current reality but instead a fear of what could happen. I am reminded of the acronym for FEAR, False Evidence Appearing Real. No longer is the body here in Antioch characterized by men who come together allowing iron to sharpen iron, and then before the Lord come to unity in their differences. Instead, the body is marked by division as men worry about the health and financial viability of their own fiefdoms rather than together engaging in kingdom activity. The division and the fear here are all too familiar and have brought kingdom activity almost to a standstill.

Well there is the analysis. Does it make you feel as cheery as a brand new haircut in a mens barbershop? Don't despair. The final chapter has not been written in this place. As I was considering all this I received an email from a friend that was a simple Bible verse. It was Romans 15:1. It says in essence that we who are strong have the responsibility to help out those who are weak rather than to live life for ourselves. There it is. There is a response fit for a man. It is basically a call to humility and to consider, as Paul writing Philippians would suggest, that the needs of others are more important than our own needs. I am not discouraged by the state of the body here. I am well aware that God is not finished here. The grandeur of the movement that was once here will be again. In fact, I am sure that He will use the people He has called, this fearful and fractured body in this place to usher that glorious Bride into existence. He will be faithful to complete what He has started. Now, here is the interesting part. He may even allow some of us "stronger" brothers and sisters in the West to come alongside these "weaker" brothers and be a part of what He is doing rather than simply living toward our own interests. Wouldn't that be cool. I have already told the Lord I'm in if He so desires. I would love to go to that barbershop again.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Love In Any Language

It may surprise some to realize that I am Baptist enough, and old enough, to remember the song “Love in any Language” by Sandy Patty. I am not necessarily proud of it, my age that is, but it's true. I can remember singing this song loudly as I listened on my bootlegged cassette riding down Interstate 77.

I am currently in Turkey and as I think upon songs of old, I am a bit ashamed of my taste in years gone by; however, I am reminded of the truth embedded in this particular song. I suppose that for me it’s affirming. In the last few years I have become increasingly convinced both theologically and experientially of the centrality of love in the "good news". My youngest son has suggested that this is a decrease in my production of testosterone. I disagree, thinking it to be maturity instead.

In the once great bastion of Christendom here in the city of Antioch there currently exists only four small evangelical churches to serve this city of some 250,000. It might be said that the church bells are drowned out by the speakers calling Muslims to prayer five times a day. If said, it would not be true because the love of God expressed in His Son remains.

After church I sat and talked with the pastors wife. We drank tea while several others stood around and stared at me. Her English was sufficient to the extent that she could share her testimony with me. She explained that growing up Muslim her relationship with god was really no relationship at all. In fact, all she felt for this distant and uninvolved deity was anger. In her way of understanding at the time it is probably true and the anger was somewhat justified.

She grew up in a family with a father who had little regard for a daughter. She explained to me that in her culture women are less than second place. The phrase I think she was looking for was that women are property. They are cared for and kept around so long as they are useful. I can imagine that when they are no longer useful they are disregarded. As her father's property she was denied her dream. A simple one really, she wanted to go to school. She understood that the order of things was established by God. While she dared not verbalize it to others, she did begin to tell him that she was in fact very angry with him. Being as distant as he was he did not respond.

As she grew up she did what was most useful for others and married. While she served her purpose she found herself in a relationship with her husband that sounded to me like her relationship with her God, one characterized by another party who was distant and uninvolved. It is not hard to see why her anger continued to grow and even seethed.

At a particularly difficult point in all of this she described through many tears crying out to God and unleashing her anger on Him. This time His distance evaporated and rather than being uninvolved He was quite engaging. She explained that He spoke to her. She was quick to point to her heart and say, "Not here", and then pointed to her ears and said, "here". To be sure I understood I asked her with some surprise, "Are you saying that you heard the audible voice of God?” "Yes!" she responded with some excitement over an event that had occurred many years ago. I asked the obvious question, "What did He tell you?" She beamed as she answered simply, “He said, ‘I love you’."

In this new found context of love she was free to explore Him. He was safe. She read the Quran and the Bible to gain further understanding of this love. The Bible fully explained this love and the ultimate embodiment of it in Jesus. Her distant husband has also now has been transformed. As a pastors wife she now leads a womens' ministry in Turkey where others are finding love and stepping into freedom.

So, now you see my reminder of love as the central theme in the good news that is to be spread around the world. The essence of our message is love. Powerful, in that it sets captives free. Can we remember that true repentance is most often a response to Love? Sometimes I think we are tempted to believe that guilt and control are really more expedient.

This reminder also gives way to some wanderings in my brain. It makes me wonder how many woman here in Turkey still labor under this same strategy of the enemy that my new friend broke free from. It makes me wonder how many women in the states also operate under the oppression of this same spirit. It even makes me wonder if utilitarian religious systems in the states, unknowingly at times, provide bars to a similar prison. I'm starting to wonder if a gospel not based in love is really good news at all.

Probably, most of all, it makes me want to hear the audible voice of God because I find I am no longer afraid of what He would say.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Testimony to all Nations

Jesus said in Matthew 24:14 “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations and then the end will come.” Evangelicals have done a good job preaching a gospel of salvation; however, this is not the same thing as preaching the gospel of the kingdom. Salvation is important and is our entrance into the kingdom. But what are the implications once we have been rescued from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of God?

We have typically understood the gospel of the kingdom to be about salvation and church life. Jesus rarely, if ever, talked about church life. This is not to say church is of no importance. To the contrary, the church is very important to God, more important than most of us realize. However, we must have an understanding of the kingdom of God before we can fully understand the role of the church.

Jesus' primary message while on this earth revolved around the kingdom of God. Even after his resurrection, Acts 1 records that he presented himself alive appearing to many for a period of forty days speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God. The kingdom is what he brought with him to earth. Heaven literally invaded earth and would from that point forward advance until the day when the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our God.

The kingdom of God literally means the rule or government of God. So, when Jesus said the gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as “A TESTIMONY”, (evidence in support of a fact or statement; proof), we can presume that there will be demonstration of this kingdom in all nations which will give testimony (evidence in support of a fact or statement; proof) to the authority and rule of our great King. It is not just a message of good and persuasive words, but a message accompanied by a demonstration of the power of God.

Every kingdom has a King. The Kingdom of God has a king and His name is Jesus. The King has come. He brought His kingdom with Him. The King is good and just. The King has loosed the chains of the enslaved, bound up the brokenhearted and proclaimed the captives free. The King has been given authority over principalities, rulers, powers, governments, disease, sickness and even death. This is the good news of the gospel of the kingdom! And this will be the testimony, (evidence in support of a fact or statement; proof), given throughout the world.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Summer Newsletter

We have just returned from our retreat center, Refugio Solte, in Costa Rica after spending the summer teaching and living the kingdom of God. We were with various mission teams from Texas, Virginia and Florida. We hiked deep into the jungle searching for the indigenous people groups, the Guyame and Talamanca Indians. We also hosted our Generation of Promise discipleship program with 12 college-age students. It was a great summer of missions, ministry, discipleship and fellowship.

Jesus said that the “Gospel of the kingdom would be preached in all the world and then the end would come." We have typically understood the kingdom of God to be salvation and church life, but it is so much more. It literally means the rule or government of God. Salvation is our entrance into the kingdom but once we have been rescued from the domain of darkness and transferred to the kingdom of God what happens? David and I will be writing on the kingdom of God and posting it on our Answering the Call blog, so stay tuned.

To view our summer newsletter double click on the image. We continue to press on that we may lay hold of that for which we also were laid hold of by Christ Jesus. The world is waiting!


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

By Faith ...

It has been a busy spring for Answering the Call. Several trips to the Middle East and to Central America, along with the responsibilities of daily life, has interfered with our blog updates. We are currently in Costa Rica with our Generation of Promise discipleship group. There are 12 college-age students here with us. We are focusing on the love of God and what a good father He is. We are going through the workbook, Supernatural Ways of Royalty, which deals with the implications, privileges and responsibilities we now have as a result of our new and true identity as a child of the King and a citizen in the kingdom of God.

The girls are reading together aloud through C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters. It is a great read for helping us recognize the schemes and techniques of the enemy, the lies he speaks to us and how we can combat those schemes with the truth of God. We have also incorporated a missions component to the program in which they will all be involved.

We covet your prayers for these young people. They are the upcoming generation who are called to take the love of God to the world and make disciples of all nations. The enemy has come after them with a vengeance. He has ravished them with drugs, alcohol, abuse of every kind, pornography, divorce, eating disorders, materialism, cutting, self absorption, casual sex, along with rampant technology to the point many of them don’t even know how to have a one-on-one conversation with peers.

We have a responsibility as older brothers and sisters, as mothers and fathers, to teach them the ways of God and disciple them in the truth of the Word. In spite of the enemy’s schemes, David and I have seen a tremendous hunger and move of the Lord in this generation. They want more than just a college degree, nice income, two-kids-and-a-dog, along with a house in the suburbs. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with these things. But this generation has been given everything and they seem to know that all they have is not enough. They seem to know that there is more, something bigger than themselves and they want to be a part of it. What a privilege it is to come along side of them.

God has a kingdom calendar and He set it in motion before the foundations of the world. We are a part of His kingdom plan. In His divine sovereignty He appointed today as our day. What will we do with our lives in the time allotted to us? As mentioned in Hebrews 12, one day we will join that great cloud of witnesses which currently surround us. By faith may our names be recorded in the hall of faith along with Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, Sampson, David, Samuel, Rahab and men of whom the world was not worthy.

Joy Fuller

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Ripe for the Picking

It has been said that appearances can be deceiving. I have decided that is more true now than ever before. It is possible that it’s not and that I am just getting more confused in my old age.

Jesus talked about a time like this, a time when we were to make certain that no one lead us astray. He said “false prophets will arise and lead many astray.” We later find that even “satan disguises himself as an angel of light.” Its a bit daunting to realize the level of deception that bombards us on a constant basis.

Some of it is spoken into our spirit by the enemy. Deception can come even well meaning friends and family members. These days it seems that many are anxious for us to be one with them in whatever agenda they deem important. I have come to see, (no new revelation here), that our own press has agendas and are not at all disturbed by presentations that are deceptive in order to win us to their particular agenda. What about our own government? I’ll let you be the judge on that one.

Anyway, I was thinking on some of this on a recent trip into a critical Middle Eastern country. Not having been on the mainland of this country before I was sure that I was about to encounter some things that would confront the notions that I had of this place and more particularly these people.

Instead, I found a country run by fanatical Islamists but seemingly void of this extremism in other sectors of the population. My impression was that even the fanatics who are in charge are much more concerned about power than the will of Allah. I saw a lot of almost empty mosques on Fridays. This seemed in concert with many who in hushed voices told me they were Muslim in name only. In fact, if I were to label the religious spirit of the place I would call it humanism. There is a great deal of post modern influence there that give the cities a dead secular feel.

Flying into this country can engender a rise of fear in your gut. This is not without good reason. Certainly there are many who have met their demise there. The government appears to be subtle but brutal when needed. At least that was my impression. And, by the way, I did see a couple of “I hate Israel” bumper stickers around.

Beyond this however, may I suggest that contrary to what the media presents, the general population is very pro western. People were very receiving of us and quite hospitable, particularly when they learned we were Americans. Maybe I missed something but I never got the impression that it would be like this from Fox News or CNN.

Can we move to a spiritual observation? Perhaps, contrary to impression, this is a people and a country hungry for truth and anxious to explore the claims of Jesus. In the populations hatred of the government, many have rejected the governments stated Islamic world view as well. It has left a spiritual vacuum. They are searching, several, even fearfully, were anxious to receive a bible in their own language. One reported she had prayed for two years for a bible. The increasingly young population is hungry for all things western, including Jesus!

I think what I am trying to say is that from a Kingdom perspective it is a country that is ours for the taking. It’s low hanging fruit provides for easy picking; I suppose we just have to decide whether we want it or not.

David Fuller

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Redemption Is So Much Better Than Perfection

It’s the title of a song by Kristene Mueller. The title alone speaks volumes and moves me every time I think about it. So often we struggle for perfection when God is all about redemption. Think about it. Which is more beautiful, something perfect and in need of nothing, or something that has been devastated, broken beyond repair and put back together to such a condition that the brokenness is not even evident? We are tempted to take the credit with perfection. God gets the glory in redemption.

I was thinking just this morning about a situation in my life many years ago. David and I were living in another state working in inner city ministry. It was a difficult place to minister. At that point in our lives we didn’t even know what spiritual warfare was. We were so naive. We thought we could do inner city mission work, which had consumed our lives, without a spiritual covering. We were on a merry-go-round. Our marriage hit an all time low. Then I found out I was pregnant. Let me say loud and clear that I believe children are a blessing, but talk about timing. I had a few things to say to God about the matter. He surely did not know what He was doing.

Many years later I continue to marvel at the goodness of God and how He used that child to bring redemption in my marriage. I stood again this morning with tears in my eyes reminded of His goodness as that child spoke to a crowd of teenagers about being a servant of God. I could see the calling on his life. I could see the perfect timing of his life. I could see the blessing he is to so many. I could see today what I couldn't see many years ago. God didn’t just redeem and restore my marriage, He gave me a beautiful gift that I can look at everyday as a reminder of His great love for me; His goodness; His redemption.

Things lost, stolen, broken, thrown away, and used up are the things He works best with. They are like fresh clay in a potter’s hands. He doesn’t do much with perfection; except maybe humble us. If you find yourself thinking “it’s too late”, I pray you’ll be encouraged because there is One who longs to redeem your rubble for treasures.

The darker the night the brighter the day

The fiercer the fight the stronger the faith

So I place my hope in you

The deeper the sin the stronger the blood

The more to forgive the more reason to love

So I place my hope in you

In your ways oh God, redemption so much better than perfection

In your ways oh God, redemption so much better than perfection

over and over you prove yourself faithful

over and over you prove yourself a redeemer

So I place all my hope in You

Song by Kristene Mueller

Joy Fuller

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Why Go?

Not long ago as I prepared to leave for a particular country in the Middle East, I was confronted with a question. The question came in many forms but the essence of it was always the same. The question rose from several sources, however it primarily came from church folks. The question had two parts to it and was generally asked in the midst of what appeared to be a state of shock. The question was, “You are going where? Why?”

Now, I understand the nature of this question even if I am not in total agreement with it’s premise. My tactic was to seize the moment to make a point. My wife tells me this is not one of my finer qualities. I assured her I gave a Jesus-like response with “Why not?” You see how much like Jesus this is? When you read the New Testament quite often Jesus answered a question with a question. Sometimes He still does this when I ask Him something. I am convinced I was providing a WWJD response. My wife says I was being a smart alec.

Moving beyond just a “why not” answer I think the question really does deserve a response. Why would one go to a country known for it’s fundamentalist Islamic extremes? Why would one go to a country that is basically in an undeclared war with our country? What reception could one realistically expect in such a place?

In reality the why is simple. Jesus provides this example in the gospels as He traveled to every town and village. There were some towns He went to where crowds gathered in adulation. In other places He was basically run out of town. Still He went. He went to every town and village. He went to proclaim that the kingdom had come and the offer of becoming a citizen in that great kingdom was open to all who would come. He went to display this kingdom bringing healing and deliverance so that the nature of it might be understood. The “why go” is pretty easy to understand. We go for the same reason our master and model went.

The harder question is actually “how?” This is implied in the questioning I get. When you go won’t they do harm to you? Isn’t it true that people have been abducted or even killed in that place? How will you go to such a place and do anything constructive much less kingdom building?

I don’t mean to be cavalier with the response but I think it’s important to understand the how. The how is in fact rooted in who we are. Far more important than the strategy of how to go is to go with the understanding that we are the sons and daughters of the King! A King whose kingdom is superior to all others. A King to whom all others must bow. Consequently, we who are His children have inherited every spiritual blessing of this kingdom and in fact, are co-heirs with this King.

I am still here to testify that there are physical and/or natural repercussions to this spiritual and supernatural truth. We walk in a different realm. I have noticed the reality of this absurdity. I have noticed it when seeing eyes are blinded to articles brought through customs. It was noticeable as Imam’s welcomed the word of God in their mosques. I have noticed it as we worshiped and prayed for fundamentalist Islamic soldiers. I saw it on the last trip as devout Muslims befriended us and helped us.

The cool thing about all of this is the recognition that all of us are free to be involved with our King in His work. No matter where and at what point that invitation is extended, we can accept the invitation without fear. We can accept the invitation with confidence. Not confidence in and of ourselves but confidence in a King who rose from the grave and is seated at the right hand of God in heavenly places far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named AND in a King who has seated us with Him in the same heavenly places.

David Fuller

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Sound of Chariots

I hope you are off to a good start for 2011. I have wanted to post something on the blog for the past few weeks, however, I need quiet and solitude in order to write and frankly I don’t get much of either. We had all of our kids home for Christmas and I must say we had a blast together. David, the ultimate cook and let-the-good-times-roll-kind-of-guy, prepared an eight day feast for us. He planned the entire menu for eight days, appetizers and deserts included, and emailed it to all of our kids ahead of time. They were asked to cast their vote on a couple of things. For instance, which 2 out of 5 soups they would prefer. One night he prepared a whole tenderloin with a fresh horseradish and dijon mustard rub. May I just say I really love having a husband that considers cooking one of his passions.

I am inclined towards two very different views when reflecting on 2010. One is to complain about how difficult it was; the other is to stand in awe with a heart full of praise and thanksgiving. With respect to financial stability, both personally and professionally, 2010 was take-a-deep-breath-and-hold-on-tight kind of year. Along with this pressure we had to make some tough decisions regarding ministry direction, which is never easy because it involves people you love. It was a year full of change and uncertainty; two things I don’t do very well.

I am just home from Houston where I met up with David, who was on his way back from the Middle East. We spent the weekend with one of our partner churches. While there I had the chance to visit with a friend. She and I went to Starbucks where we drank coffee and talked for the better part of 4 hours. I treasure the time the Lord gave me with her. As we reflected on what God has been doing in our lives she shared something that hit the nail on the head in regards to how I felt about the year 2010.

After the death of every first born in Egypt, Pharaoh urged Moses to take the enslaved Israelites and leave the land. Moses obliged and we read in Exodus 13:18 that God led the people out of Egypt “by the way of the wilderness to the Red Sea....” Well wouldn’t you know it, Pharaoh had a change of mind and decided to go after them. Scripture tells us that Pharaoh chased after them with six hundred SELECT chariots and ALL the other chariots of Egypt. The entire Egyptian army pursued them. The place where the Israelites were camping was in between two mountain ridges that butted up against the Red Sea. Imagine yourself in the camp of the Israelites as you hear the sound of the chariots coming from afar? The sheer terror that must have seized the people. No way out, no running, no escaping, no hiding. Totally exposed in full view of their enemy.

It’s times like this that we beg the question, “Where are you God?” We don’t understand how He could lead us to our Red Seas exposed and vulnerable with no way out. We tend to turn our heads up and shout like the Israelites,“Why have you dealt with us in this way?!!" And like the Israelites we see no solution and no possible way out.

But God.

Something they could not foresee or ever imagine was getting ready to take place. They were about to see the salvation of the Lord which He alone would accomplish. From out of nowhere God swept the sea back by a strong east wind and provided dry land for them to walk across.

I’ve heard the chariots coming after me. I’ve been struck with panic and fear. I have scrambled for answers. I have been walled in with no foreseen way out. And I have seen the Lord part the Red Sea. We can’t imagine how He will do it. We have probably never seen it before. We look for practical solutions and sometimes there just aren’t any. Sometimes He just chooses to be honored through impossible situations, Pharaohs, and their armies so that the world, including you and me, will know that He is indeed the Lord. He alone is our salvation.

Joy Fuller