For the Good News: Ashlee and Church Planting in Milwaukee, WI

Ashlee

Ashlee and her husband Jesse have been serving at Harvest Rockford since 2012 where Jesse was on staff as the Student Ministry and Outreach Pastor. They are currently transitioning their family to Milwaukee, Wisconsin where they will be planting a church through HBF Global. They have four children at home, and two who have gone to be with the Lord.

Lianna: Share with us how being sent as church planters helps the lost hear the proclamation of good news.

Ashlee: 1 Timothy 3:15 reveals that the church is “a pillar and buttress of truth.” It is through the church that God has chosen to fulfill His mission—the mission that we have all been given as believers—to make disciples. It is with this goal in mind that we are being sent as church planters. It is of the very heart of God that all nations, tribes, and tongues hear the truth of the gospel, and He has commissioned the church to accomplish this.

The idea of planting a church is going out in order to further the spread of the gospel. Our purpose is to engage with the people around us, build relationships, share the hope of Christ, and create a community where lost people are saved, saved people are matured, and mature believers are replicating this work for God’s glory.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where my husband and I are being sent to church plant, has a population of approximately 600,000 people. When I reflect on the sobering reality that likely over 80% of these souls are entering eternity apart from Christ, my resolve to fulfill the commission of the church is strengthened. The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few (Luke 10:2), and it is an incredible honor to continue the work that Christ began.

L: In addition to the very significant area of financial support, what are some of the most helpful ways you have been supported by the church?

A: One of the biggest ways we have been supported by the church is the constant affirmation we have received concerning God’s call on our lives to church plant. Our church family has given generously of their time and resources to support our calling to plant in Milwaukee. Some have even committed to move with us in order join us in this great work.

Our sending church has come around us in many practical ways. This year, we were without a home for the entire summer. Our church family opened up their homes for us to stay, continually provided food for us, and were constantly looking for ways to provide for us. It was an incredible blessing to me, as a momma to four little ones, to know that my family was being taken care of so well in this transitional season.

We are also a part of HBF Global, a church planting network. There is so much wisdom to be gained from men and women who have been serving the Lord faithfully for years. They have continually poured in our ministry, filled our hearts with truth when discouragement tried to creep in, and worked hard to equip us for the challenges that lie ahead. Planting a church is no easy task, but there is much comfort in knowing that as we go, we are being supported by countless others who love God, are passionate about His church, and deeply desire to sacrificially come alongside us as we go.

L: What have you learned about the power of prayer?

A: We can only move forward on our knees. Christ has promised that He will build His church, and it is extremely humbling to consider that He chooses to use us to accomplish this. I know that we are powerless to do anything apart from Christ. I have found myself increasingly in a posture of prayer.

  • Prayer connects me to my power source! As I turn again and again to God to meet my needs, and the needs of the church, I am tapping into limitless resources. There is nothing that is too great for God to accomplish.
  • Prayer keeps me humble. It is easy to accredit ourselves with the victories or successes we see in ministry. As I continue to call upon the Lord, it reminds me that all of this is God’s undeserved favor. It is God who deserves all the credit.
  • Prayer keeps my faith grounded. Prayer directs my focus back onto the Lord instead of on myself and the seemingly impossible circumstances that we are facing. When I am tempted to fear what lies ahead (or often what lies directly in front of me) I am able to recall God, who is greater than anything we face.
  • Prayer redirects my priorities. I have often found myself longing for the comfort and stability that we were afforded before we took the step to plant a church, and it is easy to stay fixated on those things. Prayer adjusts the desires of my heart, so that I am long for God to be glorified and lives to be transformed by the power of the gospel, rather than seeking my own contentment.

L: For those who sense a calling to be church planters, what wisdom would you share about how to prepare?

A: Pray. Pray often. Pray boldly. Church planting is exhausting, stretching, and humbling. Keep a journal of the ways you have seen God answer those prayers, so that you can easily recall His faithfulness in the seasons rippled with difficulty and discouragement.

If you sense God’s call on your life to church plant, is this calling affirmed and supported by others? Seek wisdom and counsel from those who are close to you. Don’t go in alone. Surround yourself with people who will support you in prayer, financially, and in the day to day work of the church.

Be on guard. The enemy will stop at nothing to discourage and defeat you. Stay rooted in God’s Word. Saturate yourself in truth. Arm yourself against the spiritual attacks that will certainly come. But don’t be afraid. God, who goes with you, will also fight for you.

As a wife and mother, my ministry to my family must come first. It is easy to lose myself in the demands of the church and begin to neglect my husband and children, but I must first watch over my own heart, and then seek to serve and support my family. As a pastor, my husband bears a heavy responsibility, and it is my great privilege to encourage him and help him in that role.

Preparing for Worship: Placement of Psalm 119

In a three-part series on approaching Psalm 119, I’ve considered the composition of the Psalm. The way it navigates through the alphabet indicates the totally sufficiency found for God’s people in the Word. And I have considered the kinds of words the Psalm ties together to describe the Scriptures, denoting its absolute truth predicated on the authority of God.

Another feature to note about Psalm 119 is its placement in the psalter—and how that placement teaches a practice of preparing for worship through the Word. As I understand it, the book of Psalms was compiled with an inspired editor; it is organized into books and has a true introduction and also an intentional flow.

Recalling the First Psalm

Psalm 119 recalls the first Psalm—the introduction to the psalter. Read Psalm 1:1-2 and Psalm 119:1 together:

“Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on His law he meditates day and night.”

Ps. 1:1-2

“Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the LORD!”

Ps. 119:1

Psalm 119 expounds upon a purpose statement Psalm 1 gives of living according to the law of God. In this sense, the content of Psalm 119 can be overlaid across every Psalm. As writers are crying out for God in their suffering, worshiping Him, declaring who He is, singing His praise, and petitioning for His help—every hope, joy, comfort, and help proclaimed comes back to this basis of submission to and dependence upon the Scriptures. Psalm 119 follows after Psalm 1, amplifying this introduction.  

Preparatory for Worship

Dr. Peter Lillbach teaches that Psalm 119’s placement especially has significance for the Psalms following it. Psalm 120 starts the “Songs of Ascent.” Three times per year, the Israelites would worship at the temple. These Songs of Ascent were sung on the way up Mount Zion. Psalm 119, the Psalm about God’s Word, can be viewed as the preparatory foundation leading to these times of scheduled worship.

Scripture holds promises to believe in and be encouraged by; it also holds instructions for conviction and conformity to God’s ways and thought as we seek to think His thoughts after Him and to obey. Our status as God’s true children, by grace, can never change, like the Word never changes. Having that confidence in God’s grace provides strength and perspective for heeding our warnings in Scripture and adjusting as needed. Psalm 66:17-18 teaches that if a person is unwilling to forsake and fight sin, God does not hear his or her worship.

I cried to Him with my mouth,
and high praise was on my tongue. 

If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.”

Ps. 66:17-18

Carefully Kept, as with Tender Plants

Yet, Psalm 119 teaches that those who keep His testimonies—who cherish them and collect them closely as treasures—are blessed in the worship of God.

“Blessed are those who keep His testimonies,
who seek Him with their whole heart,”

Ps. 119:2

While keeping in the Word as a receiver of God’s great grace and, thus, a humble learner, the human spirit is continually realigned to rejoice in the truth and hate what is false. Paul Bayne writes of the word “keep” in Psalm 119:2, “The word here used signifieth such a careful custody as that is wherewith we use to keep tender plants” (quoted by Charles Spurgeon). This tending work of preparation for worship lasts all of earthly life. That can be a discouraging truth, yes. On this earth, I will never be all I desire to be. But it is also a joy-filled message. For there is always more truth to learn and more of God to know, love, and honor. Carefully growing, watering, and feeding the heart and mind in such a way that His testimonies, precepts, ways, commandments, and Word thrive within is certainly worthy of a blessed lifetime of effort and humble, needy submission. 

preparing-for-worship-psalm-119

When walking in purity—opposing known sin, striving to hate all that God hates, and love all He loves—goodness, joy, and blessing ensue. It seems to follow from Psalm 66:17-18 that on this path, worshipers are heard by the Lord (cf. Rom. 12:1). And, best of all, God is extolled in all of His purity, holiness, and truth. For through submitting to the Word, His people acknowledge how important these characteristics and values are to Him—the Alpha and Omega who has spoken in law, testimonies, precepts, statutes, commandments, rules, way, and word. 

“I will praise You with an upright heart,
when I learn Your righteous rules.”

Ps. 119:7


For the Good News: Beth, Missionary in South Africa

beth-missionary-south-africa

Beth is a TEAM missionary serving in South Africa with her husband, Ben, and their three young children.

Lianna: Share with us how what you are involved with helps the lost hear the proclamation of good news.

Beth: Our family is involved in theological education and discipleship in South Africa. The faithful work of church planters for many decades has resulted in a robust passion for Jesus, but there is a lack of biblical understanding and theological competence, and as a result, much syncretism. We are so excited about the potential of Africa for the spreading of gospel and are thankful to be a part in preparing South Africans for faithful gospel witness in their own contexts. It is our privilege and passion to teach God's Word and come alongside national students in their pursuit of deeper faith. We see this ministry as one of multiplication, that as students are transformed by a deeper knowledge of God's Word and faithfully take it out into their contexts, as a result, their families, their communities, and their nation will also be transformed by God. 

A story might help to illustrate: few weeks ago, my husband and I were asked by fellow colleagues to tag along a few afternoons one week as the Children's Ministries class was putting a five-day club at a local school. They needed extra people to assess how the students led the children in memorizing verses, in Bible stories, and games. We loved being a part, seeing the children reciting Bible verses, and the students sharing about the power God has to change hearts. My husband and I both felt this was a great example of our vision for this ministry: seeing these students, personally impacted by God's Word, sharing the gospel with 150 children - praise God!  

L: In addition to the very significant area of financial support, what are some of the most helpful ways you have been supported by the church?

B: From early on in our process to pursue working internationally, we understood that the Great Commission is for the whole church, and it is essential that any effective ministry be rooted in and flowing out of the body of Christ. To that end, we don't see people who are committed to financially supporting us or praying for us as doing us a favor, but rather, fully participating in the Great Commission, and an extension of this ministry in which we are involved. We are all in this together—the spreading of the Gospel, the making of disciples, the teaching and discipling—and while our part is to go, we could not do it without those who have sent us. 

We have the best partners. It is an amazing encouragement to us to see who the Lord has brought forward to participate in this ministry with us, and we are constantly aware of and thankful for the privilege of working together in the gospel with so many faithful brothers and sisters in Christ. A few of the other ways that we have been helpfully supported by the church are regular Skype meetings with our pastor, personal emails and notes of encouragement, packages with Christmas and birthday gifts for our kids, and reminders from those who are faithfully praying. It is hard to articulate just how much these extra measures of support mean to us, how they strengthen, encourage, and equip us for the work in which we are involved. 

We literally could not do this work without the body. 

L: What have you learned about the power of prayer?

B: Since being here, I've been realizing just how anemic my own prayer life has been, and it's been a good challenge to be more committed in prayer. I truly desire to "continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving" (Colossians 4:2). There is a tangible spiritual darkness here, and forces of evil at work that are unfamiliar to us. 

A couple of months ago, an African friend confided in me about some issues she was having with her preteen daughter. One day, she even ran away from home and wasn't found for a long while. This friend indicated that her family believed it was her deceased father's spirit which was the cause of these issues and was planning to take my friend's daughter to a local sangoma (witch doctor). In that moment, I asked God what I was to say in response to this—my years of theological training hadn't exactly prepped me for this type of situation. He simply told me to pray for her, so I told my friend that I would pray for her daughter. The next week, when I saw my friend again, she said, "you won't believe it, but my daughter's issues have gone away, and I think it's because you said you would pray!" 

It's fair to say that I was personally amazed as well, and challenged that in my simple act of faithfulness to pray, God is faithful and powerful to answer, to overcome all sorts of evil. Which, as we know, he will do completely in the end. 

L: For those who sense a calling to be missionaries, what wisdom would you share about how to prepare? 

B: From a biblical perspective, our calling is simply to love and follow Jesus, whatever our current station in life. Beyond that, if God has burdened your heart for involvement in a particular ministry, here are a few thoughts from our experience.  

  1. Talk to your church. it is important that they see you as suited for the ministry in which you are interested. Does the church validate your gifting, your desire to serve? 
  2. Get proper training. If you were to be involved in supportive medical missions, you'd need some sort of appropriate training. Likewise, consider the ministry and invest the time and resources to be well-trained.
  3. Consider the practical elements. Be informed—take a vision trip if you discern that to be wise, evaluate schooling options for kids, consider how you would respond to the culture/weather/location you are thinking of committing to. 
  4. Pray. God, in his power and sovereignty, can open and close any door. Align your heart to his Word.
  5. Be obedient. There are times when I have felt like I didn't want to be overseas, but I was willing to go. And to give this willingness as my sacrifice to God, and let him take me wherever in the world he intended, for his glory, whatever the cost—this is a sweet treasure. 

But ultimately, we recognize that God will provide for all of our needs, and may often lead us to situations where life is not particularly comfortable, safe, or glorious. He does not need us to accomplish his kingdom purposes, but graciously allows us to be involved. As we simply seek to be faithful day in and day out, he will be glorified. And that's all that ultimately matters. Soli deo gloria.

Longing for His Rules: Words of Psalm 119

The “Mount Everest” of the psalter, a “rolling prairie without bound,” and a “continent of sacred thought”—are all ways Psalm 119 has been described. Through this three-part series, we are examining aspects of this Psalm that attest to its magnificent nature. Last week, we began by examining its poetic composition.

Another characteristic of Psalm 119 is its reoccurring use of words that hold different shades of meaning to describe Scripture. Dr. Peter Lillback teaches that you can tell what is important to a culture by the number of words it has to describe the same phenomenon; as an example, the Finnish culture has fifty words that essentially mean “snow.” The Psalmist here uses repetitive language to communicate significant truths about Scripture itself. They are “near synonyms” according to D.A. Carson that are carefully employed to convey nuance of meaning.

An Exquisite Collection of Words

Below are some of the words found in this Psalm, along with their meanings from the ESV Study Bible, D.A. Carson’s For the Love of God, Dr. Peter Lillback’s sermon, and Lawrence O. Richards’ The Bible Reader’s Companion. The Hebrew transliteration follows the English word in parentheses:

law (torah)
- instruction (ESV Study Bible, Carson)
- moral standards (Lillback)
- the whole body of Scripture’s teaching as found in Moses’ writings (Lawrence)

testimonies (‘edot)
- what God solemnly testifies to be his will (ESV Study Bible)
- God’s bold action of bearing “witness” or “testimony” to the truth and against all that is false (Carson)

precepts (piqqudim)
- what God has appointed to be done (ESV study Bible)
- connected with God’s superintending oversight, as of one who cares for the details of His charge (Carson)
- moral principles applied to life (Lillback)

statutes (khuqqim; khuqqot)
- what the divine Lawgiver has laid down (ESV Study Bible)
- the binding force of Scripture (Carson)
- legal positions (Lillback)

commandments (mitswot)
- what God has commanded (ESV Study Bible)
- clear, definite directives issued by God (Lawrence)
- predicated on God’s authority to tell His creatures what to do (Carson)
- obligations God places on man to obey (Lillback)

rules (mishpatim)
- what the divine Judge has ruled to be right (ESV Study Bible)
- the decisions of the supreme and all-wise Judge (Carson)

word (’imrah; dabar)
- what God has spoken (ESV Study Bible)
- a revelation, but also specifically the Ten Commandments God gave Israel through Moses (Lawrence)
- the most comprehensive term (Carson)
- God speaking (Lillback)

way (derek)
- a metaphor for the way of life believers are to live (Lawrence)
- what we are to walk in/ live out (Lillback) 

If you were to tell another person what the Bible is and why you read it, what would you say and what language would you use? Here, the Bible teaches us how to talk about the Bible—how to approach it, and how to understand it. According to Psalm 119, 

Scripture
is God’s spoken, revealed Word; 
is absolute truth based upon His authority;
places set, God-given obligations, laws, rules upon our lives that are binding and legal; 
is produced for us in accordance with God’s holy, moral will;
and is definitive and clear regarding how we are to walk.

For 22 stanzas, Scripture is spoken of as inerrant, absolute truth to know, believe, and obey. Is that what you and I find praiseworthy about the Scriptures? The Psalmist does—over and over. The Psalmist delights in the law, commandments, rules, etc. of the one true God.

In all the ways I do not yet delight in the law of God, I have some thinking and praying to do about why—and about what extra-biblical notions I have perhaps attached to my faith or, perhaps, what partial truths about Scripture I have used to overshadow this kind of language, thought, and praise.

Legal Nature of the Psalm and Salvation

Perhaps our society’s ethic can be described by the phrase, “anything goes as long as you don’t hurt someone else.” But God has absolute moral standards for His people that do not change with the times, as we see in this Psalm.

So, as believers, we have legal justification before God through faith in Christ who fulfills the law. We are saved not by our own works, but by His. As His people, we can see that the obligations of God so matter Him and sin so entirely unacceptable to Him that the death of His Son was required to justify us. Law-breakers are saved, making us lovers of the law-Giver for who He is. This includes loving all of His righteous and holy commands, rules, and ways.

Reading Psalm 119's descriptors of Scripture straightens me, sharpens me, and conforms me. They remind me of what Paul writes in Romans, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:2). As Psalm 119 concludes in verse 176, we who believe sorrowfully do sin: “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget Your commandments.” By God’s grace, we who have been given the gift of faith don’t forget who God is to us through His Word—we don’t forget the price Jesus paid, and we don’t forget who He is because we have the Spirit is within us.

Through Christ I can recognize that the righteousness in my life is all owed to Him—without whom I would still be lost. I praise Him for His righteousness and for the Word as it is and as I so need—and because of Christ, want—it to be: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for instruction, for conviction, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16, emphasis mine).

How Can We Look Away?

Look at this valuable Word and consider the thoughtfulness the Psalmist took to describe it in exquisite, righteous, holy detail. Awakened to this invaluable Word of truth, how can we look away from it, from Him?

My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times.
Psalm 119:20

True truth is foreign to naturally double-minded, wicked-hearted man. Is it not magnificent to behold? Awe-inspiring? Worship-producing? It is unlike anything else we can hold and see in this world. God has spoken. In what He has spoken—our pure delight. 

Longing for his rules, Psalm 119. Image of the Grand Canyon.

Next week, we’ll discuss Psalm 119’s placement in the psalter.