Friday, April 30, 2021

City Notes | We Died Before We Came Here: Sacrifice & Hope


You know that phrase "God will never give you more than you can handle?" It's not true. But do you know what is true? God will never give you more than He can handle. + Emily Foreman, We Died Before We Came Here

In nearing my 40th year of life, God knew I needed to read We Died Before We Came Here, another book alongside A Time to Heal that I know is going to shape 2021 most likely more than I know right now. Here is a little background to this heart-piercing story:

If not you, who? If not now, when? This was the challenge answered by "Stephen Foreman" and his wife, "Emily," when they chose with their four children to go live among newfound neighbors and friends in the deserts of North Africa. Stephen had given Emily a well-read copy of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs on their first date, a telling foreshadowing of the ultimate cost he would pay when, at 39, he was shot and killed. His life and death planted a seed in the hearts of neighbors and friends in North Africa, and this seed would grow and multiply efforts to help reach the very goal that Stephen was willing to give his life for―glorifying God and seeing His Kingdom come among the people he loved. In this memoir, "Emily," left with their four kids and an undying calling to continue to love and walk alongside their Muslim friends and neighbors while introducing them to Isa's (Yeshua's or Jesus's) words and Way, recounts their story. Stephen did not die in vain, and you will see why when you read We Died Before We Came Here (Because of security issues and the need to protect others in the North African country where the "Foremans" live, the book employs pseudonyms for all major characters, including the authors.)

Allowing the Lord to Mend and Heal and Bring Everything Together

Each time we felt we were making progress, we'd be tempted to look over our shoulder to where we'd just sowed, anxiously searching for signs of fruit ... but the results seemed too few. One week a friend would seem interested in Jesus, and the next she would be completely against even discussing spiritual things. Some days the battle against discouragement was overwhelming. Are we doing this right? Are we doing enough? 

During those times of questioning I struggled to really love the people, and many times I simply lost the desire to even be there ... Some nights I would lie awake, too frustrated and discouraged to sleep. At times like these, it wasn't particularly easy to "love my neighbor as myself" ... Then it dawned on me. I needed to ask God for His love for them. He had promised to supply all our needs, and I was in major need of a good dose of love to share. So I prayed, Lord, You know how annoyed I get by things ... You know I'm tired and I'll have to force a smile. I know I should go and see them because I need to be a good friend, but I just can't do it ... Please, give me a love for them. Give me Your love for them. Just wash over me what You feel for them. ... God, I'm so sorry. I've been leaning on my own understanding, and on my own strength. It's not enough, I need Yours. 

As I collected my whirlwind thoughts, I sensed a floodlight come on in my clouded mind. I could do nothing in my own strength. And God didn't expect me to. I had been trying to live out my faith through my flesh instead of His Spirit. 

Like a needle with no thread, all I can do alone is poke holes through the fabric of others' lives  but with the divine thread securely attached, I can weave God's love and power in and out of the lives of others, allowing the Lord to mend and heal and bring everything together for His glory. I just simply need to submit, stitch by stitch, until the grand tapestry of His design is complete.

This realization wasn't a one-time thing. I had to keep submitting, keep asking, keep dying daily to myself and my flesh and allowing God's Spirit to live and work through me. Many times when I went to visit someone, I'd start off feeling aloof and unconcerned, and I had to ask the Lord again to set the tone for His Holy Spirit to work through me, to keep breaking my heart for these people and helping me fall in love with their country.

Trust me: Submission like this isn't always easy, bu the more we invite God to love through us, the more He answers our prayers. He certainly continued to answer mine, to the point where my heart wanted to burst with my love for the people.

It can be so tempting to strive to achieve the transformation we hope to see in others. Stephen and I were wearing down, overcomplicating the simplicity of the message of the Kingdom and in the process losing our joy in God's call. Then the Lord gave us a simple solution:

Stop striving. All you need to do is love them. How had we lost sight of that simple guideline? All we needed to do was follow God's two basic commands: Love the Lord your God will all your heart, soul, mind, and strength―and love your neighbor as yourself. It didn't matter if we had the right points, the right arguments, the right "evangelism style." There was no perfect formula. Christ had brought us here so we could be agents of His love and blessing to these people.

Of course we didn't ignore strategy altogether―there's wisdom in planning, and we discovered that certain methods seemed to bring more fruit. But like the apostle Paul wrote, we could speak with the tongues of angels, but if we didn't do everything from a starting point of love, we'd be nothing better than clanging cymbals. Embracing this truth brought such peace and freedom. We had to come to terms with the fact that sharing the love of Christ didn't belong in a category or slot on our calendar. It was a lifestyle that summed up our purpose on earth. As long as we were loving God and loving the people around us, we'd stay on track. God was refreshing our eyes to see a little more clearly what He sees. We saw the crowds of people in our city differently now, and we were moved more than ever with compassion.

And we were beginning to understand our mission and what it would cost us. To love our neighbor as ourselves meant opening not only the door of our home to them but also the door to our lives. This would cost us our time and maybe our comfort and security. It seemed too radical, but did Christ in His ministry on earth do any less?

Remembering What Is Worth Living and Dying For

I'm often drawn back to a message that Stephen gave at a gathering in the US only a few days before returning to North Africa and giving his life only months later:

When James Calvert went out as a missionary to the cannibals of the Fiji islands, the ship captain tried to turn him back, saying, "You'll lose your life and the lives of those with you if you go among those savages." To that Calvert replied, "We died before we came here." That's my question for us again tonight. Are you dead yet? Dead to yourself, dead to your own desires, dead to fear? Are we alive in Christ (ex. Romans 6:7-8; Colossians 2:13)? My desire is that when people see your life, when they see my life, they will see Christ, and Christ alone. Let us live our lives as if they weren't our own lives. To truly be strangers in this world. To be aliens in this world. Our citizenship is in heaven (ex. 1 Peter 2:11-12; Philippians 3:20).

Our citizenship is in heaven. Stephen lived those words, and died in those words – and lives in those words again. Although the loss of Stephen is one that will never leave us and has changed us completely, we hold on to the promise that God is glorified and that lives are being eternally changed because Stephen died before he stepped off that plane in the desert. And we have to continually answer the question that Stephen wrote shortly before his death:

Do we have something worth dying for, living for, moving for?

The content above includes sections from Chapter 10: Talking About Jesus and the Epilogue: The Rain Continues in We Died Before We Came Here: A True Story of Sacrifice and Hope by "Emily Foreman" (pseudonym for safety). 

And here's a song to sing about trust and hope in the midst of sacrifice:

The Story I'll Tell
Maverick City Music, 2020 A.D.

The hour is dark and it’s hard to see
What You are doing here in the ruins
And where this will lead ...
Oh but I know that down through the years
I'll look on this moment, see Your hand on it, And know You were here ...

And I’ll testify of the battles You’ve won,
How You were my portion when there wasn’t enough.
I'll sing a song of the seas that we crossed,
The waters You parted, the waves that I walked ...

Oh, my God did not fail! Oh, it’s the story I’ll tell!
Oh, I know it is well! Oh, it's the story I’ll tell!

Believing gets hard when options are few,
When I can't see how You're moving
I know that You're proving You're the God that comes through!
Oh, but I know that over the years,
I’ll look back on this moment and see Your hand on it
And know You were here ... (Pre-Chorus + Chorus)

All that is left is highest praises,
So sing hallelujah to the Rock of Ages ... (Chorus)

Here are links to previous City Notes books:

Christ is all,

Rev. Mike "Sully" Sullivan

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