My Mission Trip to Russia

Very soon I will doing the scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I am asking family & friends to be my partners in it.

Over the past 18 months, God has been stretching personally and professionally more than any other time in my life. At work I launched a project that took over a year to complete, and it’s no exaggeration to say that there were many moments during that time when I felt like I had given my all and had nothing left to give. It was in those moments that God reminded me that He’s equipped me to accomplish things I wouldn’t have thought possible, which inspired me to take the plunge and start writing the book that I’ve been wrestling with for the past five years. In very practical ways, God has been inviting me to experience new kinds of adventures with Him.

Against this backdrop I’ll be part of a mission team from Gateway Community Church in Austin going to Russia this summer to work with teenagers from the city of Volgograd. For the past few years, Christ the Savior Church in Volgograd has hosted a summer camp that serves two purposes: 1) helping teens develop their English skills through interaction with native English speakers, and 2) introducing young people to Jesus in a more personal way. I’ll be responsible for leading a drama activity each day for a small group of the kids, which I’m really excited about because I love to ham it up and express myself through drama. We’ll be in Russia for two weeks, leaving Austin on July 28.

Nearly three-fourths of Russians identify themselves with the Russian Orthodox Church, but the majority of them rarely attend a local church. There are very few Protestant or evangelical churches like Christ the Savior in Russia. After decades of living under an atheistic regime, the Russian people are still learning what it means to live out their faith in their everyday lives, so by building into the next generation, this church and its partners around the world are beginning a process of cultural transformation, through the power of the Gospel, one willing heart at a time.

I am inviting you to be a part of my mission team through one or both of these critical roles:

1. Please commit to praying for me and the rest of the team. Pray for our growth as a team, that each of us will seize opportunities to use our gifts and skills to make an impact, and for strength and safety while we’re away from our home and loved ones. Please pray in the weeks ahead and throughout the trip, until we are home on August 11.
2. Not everyone can go on a mission trip, but many people participate in mission trips by supporting those who are sent. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to help cover the cost of my trip, which is $3000 USD (includes airfare, lodging and meals).

If you would like to participate, you can give online at www.gatewaychurch.com/goteams; just click on the “GIVE” link. If you prefer to send a check, please send me your mailing address and I will send you a SASE made out to Gateway. Please let me know if you will be supporting me by July 15.

Thank you for taking a few minutes to read my story, and for considering being a part of my team. This will be my second mission trip through Gateway, and having a network of family & friends supporting me on this trip makes it a lot easier to step into the unknown. I can’t wait to see how God shows up among and through us. Please feel free to call or email me with any questions you may have.

Jae

Being a Christian Requires Action

But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have confessed so well before many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:11, 12 NLT)

Run…pursue…fight…hold…the truth of Christianity and the teachings of Jesus require purposeful action. Jesus is not a guru who shares aphorisms to be contemplated or riddles to be unlocked. His words are a call to action, both to be more like Him, and to be His hands and feet in the world. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t spend time in reflection; in some cases it’s not clear what God is calling us to do. But when it comes to loving Him and loving others, Jesus was unequivocal about us pouring our whole beings into those commandments. And we must be active, not passive, because there are many competing voices & worldviews vying for our attention and affection.

Perspective

It was a year ago yesterday that my blog had its most views – 82 in one day, which still seems like an enormous number to me. I had only posted a few things and my ego was immediately gratified. I felt as if I was well on my way to becoming a new kind of leader, a 21st century, Fast Company-Twitter-feed kind, who used social media to expand his influence and gain huge advantages at work. It was all a snare, a fiction I couldn’t live up to, and it hurt me deeply in the actual performance of my job.

This year feels different because writing, which has felt like a chore in the past, is laying a fresh foundation for something awaiting me in the future, as opposed to being an indicator that I’ve achieved something in the present. What the enemy intended for evil, God is using for good in my life and in the lives of others, through the redemption of my motives and the realignment of my desires.

If you reject discipline, you only harm yourself;
but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding.
Fear of The Lord teaches wisdom;
humility precedes honor. (Proverbs 15:32-33 NLT)

All Your Strength

And you must love The Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5 NLT)

How do you love God with all your strength? Strength measures one of two things: external power or internal fortitude. Personally my physical strength doesn’t amount to much, but one way I honor God with that strength is remaining committed to exercise and staying fit, and any time I’ve run on the treadmill longer than I thought possible was like a prayer of thanks.

As a rule, people don’t know just how strong they are (or aren’t) until they find themselves in the midst of a crisis. In my career I have seen way too many people who claimed that they couldn’t concentrate on their work – or even come to work – because of their personal issues, and all too often they end up adding unemployment to their list of problems. As a leader, what is my responsibility to help other people find or develop their inner strength? It doesn’t require belief in God to see that strength of character and strength under pressure are essential tools for coping with life, and that people who lack them will never fulfill their potential because they’re always running away from or folding under adversity.

We love and honor God both when we use what strength He gives us, and when we acknowledge those times when our own strength is insufficient. There have been many times in my career when I felt like I lacked the strength to accomplish a task, or have a difficult conversation, or overcome a failure. Help was always there, but ego often kept me from asking for it, both from other people and from God, who knows our limits and invites us to allow Him to be our source of strength when our own strength falters; rather than chiding us for weakness, He blesses our reliance on Him.

The Lord is my strength and my song; he has given me victory. (Psalms 118:14 NLT)

In your strength I can crush an army; with my God I can scale any wall. (2 Samuel 22:30 NLT)

For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (Philippians 4:13 NLT)

Stuff I Learned in 2012

What I really wanted for Christmas was a device that would read my thoughts and organize them into coherent sentences for me, sparing me the trouble of having to write them myself. My fingers usually can’t keep up with my brain, whether I’m hand-writing or typing, which is why I often avoid writing. I want to change that in 2013, and it seemed like looking back on last year would be a good way to find inspiration. Here are some of the big ideas that resonated with me the most, copied in no particular order from various things I wrote over the course of 2012:

God wants me to spend my time helping people grow & prosper, not checking email.

Fear & timidity are signs that I am not trusting God enough with my circumstances (see 2 Timothy 1:7).

Hand-written thank you notes have a profound impact on the people who receive them, it’s been fun & rewarding to write them.

“Accordingly, the practical aim of the one who takes obedience seriously is not to obey, but to become the kind of person who easily and routinely does obey as a result of devotion to Jesus and consequently of taking him as Lord, teacher and friend. The practical aim is to know him, to be devoted to him, in this inclusive manner.” – Dallas Willard

Jesus dying for the world is more than just for the world, but it’s also for me as a person…He died to set ME free, and so when I think about freedom in Christ I have to remember what a high price was paid for it.

How can I be anxious about work when I consider 2 amazing facts: 1) the Creator of the universe loves me and wants to be the most important person in my life, and 2) He blessed me with gifts, talents, skills & passions so that I could actually do stuff for Him.

Comfort

“And all my words come back to me
In shades of mediocrity.
Like emptiness and harmony,
I need someone to comfort me.”

“Homeward Bound,” Simon & Garfunkle

“And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever….”

John 14:16 KJV

“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.”

2 Corinthians 1:4 NLT

Seeking Freedom

The Bible promises that, if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed (John 8:36). Even as (especially as?) a Christ-follower, I have found it challenging to live life like that’s true. The things which have held me bound are myself & my self-imposed limitations.

If God truly has me in my job for a reason, He is going to empower me to do the work. Freedom in that context starts with me getting out of His way, allowing Him to work on changing those aspects of myself that prevent me from realizing my potential. It’s a bit of a paradox – surrender to God to be free – but what I want is not unlimited freedom to do whatever I want, but rather freedom from the baggage that I carry from past failures which have stunted my growth as a leader. We can’t read enough books or attend enough seminars to do that for ourselves. And God has done amazing things in my life over the past two months as I have bent my knee to Him and tasted what true freedom is like.