Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Life of Christian Action

by James (Jim) Richard Milstead

On September 19, 1968, missionaries Stanley Dale and Phil Masters prepared to depart from their mission outpost in Korupoon, Irian Jaya. They would be leaving behind their wives and children at the mission base as they traveled to a region where the gospel of Jesus Christ had never before been preached. Kissing their wives and children goodbye, Stan and Phil shouldered their packs and prepared their native guides for the trip.

Phil Masters, 36 years old in 1968, was a farm boy from Iowa whose parents were devout Methodists. Stanley Dale, then 52 years old, had grown up near Brisbane, Australia, as the son of an alcoholic father who embraced atheism. Although Phil's appearance, personality, and upbringing were much different from Stan's, their devotion to Jesus united them in their mission. They had both been called by God to serve as missionaries in Irian Jaya to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to all the unreached peoples they could find. They had faithfully lived and worked amongst hostile Yali tribes for eight years and had begun to see a number of tribesmen accepting Jesus Christ and abandoning their worship of idols and evil spirits. Therefore, they felt the time had come to venture over the forbidding mountains into the Seng Valley, a valley so remote and isolated that the stoneage inhabitants still practiced revenge killings, human sacrifices, and cannabalism.

The grueling journey through rugged mountains and dense jungle would take many days and would be frought with danger. For the Yali shamans in the Seng Valley had heard rumors from tribesmen in neighboring regions that foreigners were corrupting their people with beliefs that challenged their own. Despite this ever-present danger, Stan refused to be intimidated. After all, he had survived the war, a ruptured appendix, and a previous attack by hostile Yali warriors which filled him with five arrows! No, Stanley Dale had long ago determined to spread the gospel to unreached peoples, even at the expense of his own life. Because of their deep love for Jesus, Stan and Phil had a passionate desire to make Him known to all people—especially those Yali living in spiritual darkness in the Seng Valley.

Stan and Phil's sudden appearance at the Seng Valley's first Yali village startled its inhabitants. Shouting wildly, warriors scrambled for their weapons while women and children popped into their huts. Then, fully armed, the warriors formed a line and drew their bows. Stan and Phil continued on their way, seeking an empty hut for their four guides and a place to pitch their own tent. But each time they approached a dwelling, a loud outcry and a threat of drawn bows forced them back. Warriors followed behind them and erased their footprints from the trail—an ominous sign.

At one point it seemed that the hostiles were at the point of releasing a volley of arrows at the travelers. Stan opened his pack and took out three small Chinese firecrackers. Moments later, a hundred startled warriors withdrew in frantic haste as the firecrackers popped over their heads.
One of the Yali tribesmen serving as a guide to Stan and Phil understood the danger they were facing. He told them, "A sign has been given that we are to be killed." The missionary group immediately left the area and hurried across a pole bridge to the west side of the Seng River followed closely by hundreds of warriors.
As Stan and Phil crossed a shallow river bend they encountered an open area of beach, with steep cliffs all around them. Hundreds of menacing Yali warriors surrounded them, slowly closing to within striking distance.

My name is Jim Milstead and the title of my talk is "The Life of Christian Action." This talk is not about Stan Dale and Phil Masters, but about following Jesus. I'm sure that if Stan and Phil were here today they would say that they did nothing compared to what Jesus did for them, and for us. But their lives do exemplify lives of Christian action. There is a world of difference between planning and action. Planning is a proposal for action; action brings about change. Planning is talking about changing reality. Action is what it takes to change reality. Committees routinely do "studies" of situations, but apart from action those situations never change.
Seven years ago our church, First Presbyterian Church of Frankfort, felt God was calling us to adopt an unreached people group somewhere in the world—a people group much like the Yali, who had never before heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. After much planning and months of intense prayer, we decided to partner with a Presbyterian Church in Moyobamba, Peru, which had a vision to reach the Aguaruna Indians with the word of God. The Aguaruna, like the Yali, had been headhunters and cannibals for thousands of years. And though the Aguaruna no longer lived this way, they remained isolated and living in spiritual darkness without the word of God.

In August of 1999, a friend and I made an exploratory mission trip to the Amazon region of northern Peru to establish relationships with the leaders of the church in Moyobamba, Peru and with the leaders of the Aguaruna communities. After two full days of hard travel, we finally reached Moyobamba. That night, we sat around a table with the pastor of the Moyobamba Presbyterian Church planning the trip into the jungle the following morning. We were to travel upriver ten hours in a small boat to the Aguaruna village of Nueva Vida where we would spend the night. The next day we would be walking through thick jungle and marshes in order to

get to the more remote village of Kusu. The pastor said that they had seen a large boa constrictor in the water as they were crossing a log over the marsh a few days before. He must have seen my eyes widen because he said, "Don't worry about the boa, he will only eat one of us. But he does seem to like the taste of gringos." His laughter wasn't very reassuring! I had a fitful night of sleep that night as I dreamed of crossing marshes infested with boas and Anacondas. More than one I asked myself "What in the world am I doing here?" But there was never a doubt in my mind that God had called me to take this action for His Kingdom.

Our journey into the jungle was indeed long and arduous, but we survived by the grace of God and with the help of our new Peruvian friends. I could tell you many stories about that jungle adventure, but I would rather focus on a few Peruvians who have touched my life in a dramatic way. Victor and Elizabeth Vargas, members of the Moyobamba church, accompanied us on our jungle trip. Victor had lived amongst the Aguaruna in the past and was able to serve as guide and handyman, even with one hand broken from a recent motorcycle accident. Elizabeth prepared our meals and "mothered" the two gringos, who were frequently in need of medical care and advice about what to eat and what not to eat for example, "The armadillo soup is O.K., but avoid the grubs." Also on the trip were

Victor and Elizabeth's son, Hans, and daughter, Leslie. Hans was only 17 at the time, just a slightly scrawny young pup, but 1 was immediately impressed with him as a Godly young man. Little did I know at the time just how God might bless our families through this initial encounter! As a result of this trip, the leaders of the Moyobamba church and I were able to begin a relationship with Aguaruna leaders from several communities with the goal of having the gospel preached to all Aguaruna as soon as possible.
Two months ago, I was privileged to lead a mission team to Peru for the seventh year in a row. There are now about a dozen Aguaruna communities with churches and hundreds of people who have given their lives to Christ. We have also been working to improve the health of the Aguaruna through a holistic approach—clean water, sanitation, nutrition, health care, etc. A clean water project was finished in Nueva Vida in July involving the pumping of spring water, using a solar-powered pump, up a 150 foot incline to a water tower, filtering of the water, and the dispersing of water to each hut throughout the village. After years of treating the Aguaruna for intestinal parasites over and over again, now we can hopefully prevent these terrible life-threatening diseases.

I had no idea what the results would be when we first began a plan to adopt an unreached people group. But had we not taken action as we did,

and joined God in what He was doing in Peru, think of the blessings we would have missed! Over the last six years, the Vargas family has opened up their home to mission team members, including my daughter, Angie. Angie actually spent the summer of 2002 living with Victor and Elizabeth while teaching English at a Christian school in Moyobamba. During this time God introduced her to the man who would ask her hand in marriage three years later. More on that later!
In John 14:6, Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life."
Yesterday we heard a talk about The Way of Relationship—God's Call to Love Him With All Our Hearts.
Earlier today we heard a talk about The Truth Through Study— God's Call to Love Him With All Our Minds.
The Life of Christian Action is God's call to give Him our lives to bring the world to Christ.
Christian action becomes a way of life for the disciple of Jesus as we realize how much He loves us. One of the purposes of these three days is to experience an even deeper realization of this fact.
I love to use the Experiencing God model as outlined by Henry Blackaby in his book, "Experiencing God—Knowing And Doing The Will Of God". The following are 7 spiritual truths he wants us to recognize:

1. God is always at work around you.
2. God pursues a continuing love relationship with you that is real and personal.
3. God invites you to become involved with Him in His work.
4. God speaks by the Holy Spirit through the Bible, prayer. circumstances, and the church to reveal Himself, His purposes, and His ways.
5. God's invitation for you to work with Him always leads you to a crisis of belief that requires faith and action.
6. You must make major adjustments in your life to join God in what He is doing.
7. You come to know God by experience as you obey Him and He accomplishes His will through you.
It is only natural to want to share God's grace with everyone else. But sometimes we have to learn how to do it. Many Christians truly don't know how to share the gospel with others, or they are afraid of being rejected. As a new Christian, I identified with both of these traits. However, when someone explained to me "The Four Spiritual Laws" method of leading a person to Christ, this daunting task became much easier. I have given each of you a track containing "The Four Spiritual Laws" to look at and discuss at a later time. Hopefully, this will make it possible for you to lead others to Christ in a more effective manner.

It is a great privilege to give to others what God has given to us—to introduce them to the love and grace of Jesus. The miracle of sharing our faith not only blesses another person, but also grows the loving reality of Jesus within us.
The evidence of a life that is being transformed by god's grace is the fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
In I Corinthians Chapter 13 Paul tells us that love is the greatest of all spiritual gifts. Love is the motivating power behind all true Christian action.
A life of action flows naturally from us as we are filled with the Holy Spirit and seek to share God's gift of love.
God always gives us the freedom to choose whether we take action or not. Therefore, our response to His love is an act of both freedom and responsibility.

We have received blessings from God so that we may bless others by sharing the gospel of Jesus and the love of Christ with others. This gift is just too good to keep for ourselves!
You do not have to go to Man Jaya or Peru to share Christ with others, unless this is what God has called you to do. Consider opportunities to share Christ with individuals you naturally come into contact with such as family members, co-workers, and friends.
Action is preceded by prayer and planning—praying about who God wants us to reach, then talking and thinking about what we will do. We must not settle for mere planning, however. Nothing changes until we take action.
I have always been a "man of action." But for the first thirty-five years of my life, the action was always self-serving and self-centered. I was raised in a small town in central Illinois in a middle class working family. My parents made sure I went to the Methodist Church down the street each Sunday, even though they were not believers themselves. I grew up believing that there was a God, but I certainly had no personal relationship with Jesus, nor did I understand that such a relationship with Jesus was necessary for me to be a Christian. Three days after graduation from high school in 1971,1 joined the United States Air Force. After basic training, I volunteered for a flying position as a B-52 tailgunner because I wanted to have the most exciting and challenging job available to an enlisted man in the Air Force. After extensive flight training for nearly a year, my crew was sent to Guam and Thailand in 1972 and we subsequently compiled 59 combat missions over North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. At the time I really thought I might be in heaven. As a 19 year old blonde-haired, fair-skinned, blue-eyed boy in a land of black-haired, dark-skinned, dark-eyed women- 1 was definitely in demand! I lived offbase amongst the local Thai people and learned something of their culture and their language. These experiences and relationships had a profound impact on me then, and in later years, as well. I also began to see the hardships the Thai people suffered in this third world country, including the sad state of medical care for the poor people. I decided then and there that I would become a doctor after getting out of the military and return to Thailand to provide medical treatment for the most needy. My experiences as a B-52 tailgunner during the Vietnam War led me to believe that I could achieve anything I put my mind to. One airman performance report even stated I had a "can do" attitude. That kind of determination and discipline carried me through more than ten tough years of college, medical school, and residency.

However, in my medical practice, and in my personal life, eventually I was confronted with many situations I couldn't control. Feelings of emptiness and a lack of meaning permeated my life. Nothing I tried—alcohol, drugs, work, money, sex—could fill that terrible void inside me. Then, in 1988,1 finally surrendered my life to God and asked Jesus to be my Lord and master. What a relief! Why did I try to do everything my way for 35 years? I can still remember feeling like a giant weight had been lifted from my shoulders as I prayed for Jesus to enter my heart. Since that time, I have learned to seek God's will and join Him where He is at work. I am still learning, but I feel I am coming to know God by experience as I obey Him and He accomplishes His will through me. I have never yet made it back to Thailand, but the Lord has allowed me to join in His work in other areas of the world where the needs are as great or greater.
I have come to realize that it is important to stick to your plan, but also be flexible. Remember that the Holy Spirit is your strength. Difficulties or obstacles may arise, but God is at work even in our failures.
Jesus reminded us in John 15:5 when He said, "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
Pray for God to show you how to keep your priorities in order.
Remember that we are not called to neglect our family, job, church, or community to "do the Lord's work.' Our essential commitments cannot go into paralysis just so we can pursue The Life of Christian Action.
Likewise, Christian Action shouldn't be put on the back burner while we address life's necessities. Balance is essential.
In the end, "Christian Action" is not designed to be a special set of activities that we do a la carte or on the side.
God intends that everything we do—every relationship, every activity, every opportunity—be woven into a single, seamless life of Christian Action. Christian Action is every action a Christian lives. Colossians 3:23-24 says, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men."
The following is a model for Christian Action:
Make a friend - Take the initiative by establishing a relationship. Seek to understand this person well. Be an active listener.
Be a friend - Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Let them see how your faith is making a difference in your life.
Bring a friend to Christ - For this to happen in a natural and authentic way, your friend will need to have seen the reality of Jesus in your life. Remember to speak to god about your friend before you speak to your friend about God. In other words, Pray!
Keep in mind that Jesus was always working to bring others to Himself. He met people right where they were and took advantage of each opportunity.
In John 1:35-42, when Andrew was curious about Jesus and asked, "Where are you staying?" Jesus answered, "Come, and you will see." Andrew accepted the invitation, chose to become a disciple, and then recruited his brother Peter as well.
In John Chapter 4, Jesus reached out to a social outcast—a Samaritan woman at the well who had experienced five divorces . After experiencing the "living water", which is Jesus, she then became a source of God's good news for her neighbors.
Jesus even reached out and brought into the kingdom the repentant thief who was crucified beside Him as is stated in Luke 23: 39-43.
Being a man of action who has led many mission trips and participated in a number of others, I was very excited when Jack asked me to speak about The Life of Christian Action. However, after studying the

model - Make a friend, Be a friend, Bring your friend to Christ—I reflected that I am not sure I have ever completely led anyone to Christ. I have had numerous people accept Christ as a result of being involved in a mission trip I have lead. I know of other people who participated in our trips who have led people to Christ during the trip. And an unexpected blessing has been to see new life breathed into stagnant congregations as they have joined in our mission efforts in Peru and elsewhere. However, even my own daughter and her husband required the spiritual guidance of our associate pastor to finally commit their lives to Christ a few years ago. I was filled with doubt about my ability to lead others to Christ based on my experiences. The Associate Pastor graciously explained to me that my wife and I had done all the hard work and he was just the "closer." He quoted I Corinthians 1:6-9, where the apostle Paul is writing to the believers in Corinth, saying, "I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor; for we are God's fellow workers."
I have come to recognize that God has given me the awesome privilege of being a "starter" on His team at this time in my life. I'll try to "go the distance" each tune He sends me out, but I can rejoice knowing that
He always has "closers," empowered by the Holy Spirit, who will ensure ultimate victory. I also stand ready to come out of the bullpen, like a John Smoltz or Curt Schilling, if He needs me more in that role. The bottom line is you have to get in the game.
Make a Friend.
Be a Friend.
Bring that Friend to Christ.
That is the message of this talk. God calls us to change the world by loving Him with all our strength—our hands and our feet. We can't just go through the motions. His call is to establish and pursue a plan of action that will bring the world to Christ.

Return with me to the isolated beach in the Seng Valley that September day in 1968, with missionaries Stanley Dale and Phil Masters surrounded by hundreds of menacing Yali warriors. Picture this scene as viewed by the saints in heaven. Dozens of arrows began flying through the air piercing Stan's flesh. Stan faced his enemies, steady and unwavering except for the jolt of each new strike. He pulled the arrows out, one by one, broke them and cast them away. The warriors began to fear that perhaps these foreigners were indeed immortal as fifty or sixty arrows penetrated Stan's body. Other warriors turned their wrath on Phil in a similar manner. Phil made no attempt to flee or struggle. He followed Stan's example, and it took almost as many arrows to down Phil as it had Stan. End of story? I think not.

Stan Dale and Phil Masters answered God's call and changed the world. Within just a few years after the tragic deaths of Stan and Phil, all the Yali tribesmen in the Seng Valley gave their lives to Christ. How could this happen? Only the power of the Holy Spirit of God could have changed the hearts of those sinful, hard-hearted people. For God loves the Yali people just as much as He loves you and me. What an awesome God we serve!! We need to realize that we may not be given the chance to see the success of own efforts. God, however, calls us to be faithful to His Kingdom no matter what.

A few years ago I had the privilege and honor of meeting Phyliss Masters during our annual mission weekend. She told me that she and her children had felt called to continue ministering to the very people who had taken Phil's life. She has missed her husband terribly for nearly forty years now, but still says she wouldn't change the way God worked in their lives to bring the lost people of Irian Jaya to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

If you follow baseball at all, you know how rare it is to pitch a perfect game. There have only been seventeen official perfect games recorded in about 130 years of major league baseball. And only once in history did someone throw a perfect game on the biggest stage in baseball, the World Series—Don Larsen on October 8, 1956. I think Stan and Phil had a perfect game that September day in 1968 on the biggest stage of all. Hebrews 12:1 exhorts us as follows, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." The saints in heaven were surely watching over Stan and Phil that day as these two martyrs fixed their eyes on Jesus and finished the work God had called them to do. May each of us endeavor to do the same.
Oh, yea. Remember that 17 year old slightly scrawny young pup named Hans Vargas I told you about. Well, he's now a fully-grown man of God working as a computer analyst for IBM in Peru. But more importantly, he is engaged to marry my daughter, Angie, next year. That's the rest of the story!! God has truly blessed our family as we have taken action and joined Him in His work!!