Surety of Scripture

For Stetson, the call of God to Italy was not a simple decision. He wrestled with the Lord for nearly nine months. The Lord used many scriptures over the course of those months to direct Stetson’s thoughts regarding God’s will and the many questions that surrounded it. Having the surety of scripture has been a great source of comfort and peace given the life altering decision to leave a successful career, sell their home, part from family and friends, and move to a foreign country. Stetson comments on how the Lord used the scriptures below to speak to him.

When Nothing Else Satisfies

“Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.” Jeremiah 20:9

An old disciple named Richard Sandlin advised me that if you can do anything else other than the work of the ministry then do it; but, if nothing else satisfies and you cannot escape it then perhaps God is calling you to the work of the ministry. I wrested with God for some time about His call on my life for the work of the ministry, but as Jeremiah, I was “weary with forbearing, and I could not stay.” Nine years past between the time I first surrendered to God’s call to when He gave me a specific direction of that call – to preach the gospel in Italy. I can do nothing else and be satisfied.

Serving God Where You Are

“Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 2:5

I needed to consider more deeply the priesthood of the believer. As I considered God’s definite call on my life I was once again questioned by a Brother Sandlin who asked, “In your heart of hearts, do you think of a layman as a full-time servant of God?” Often we hear people say things about “full-time” ministry; I have used that phrase myself. However, the fact is the born-again believer, whether God has put him into the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:11,12) or not, is in full-time ministry. All believers are to be ambassadors of Christ.

Too often we separate the sacred from the secular. We think only a pastor or missionary is in ministry when in fact the man working a secular job and teaching Sunday School class, etc. is in “full-time” ministry as well. I needed to get straight that there is no difference between a pastor or missionary and the laity (the person on the pew) in God’s eyes – in fact, He hates the attitude of those who would exalt themselves above the laity (Rev. 2:6,15). [I realize that the pastor, etc. is called by God to feed and lead the flock and should be respected and honored, etc.]

I had a problem for a while with “just” being a Sunday School teacher. I needed to realize that I wasn’t going to start serving God when I reached the field; I had the opportunity to serve God right where I was at. Whether a person is on deputation or on a foreign field or serving in America or working at the mill or in an office, the responsibility is the same – to “preach the gospel to every creature.” It is not a matter of where we serve God, it is a matter of when we serve God, and we must serve God now.

Follow Christ

“Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith… what is that to thee? follow thou me.” John 21:21,22

Missionaries are a blessing but I needed to understand that I must go or stay based upon the leading of the Holy Spirit and not because a burden was imparted to me by a brother in Christ or I was moved by an emotional plea. I must be my own man. What motivates my tears? God accepted the tears of Hezekiah but rejected those of Esau. The difference was the impetus that caused the tears in the first place. I must follow Christ where He leads me. I praise the Lord I know He led me to Italy.

The Call of God

“And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach,” Mark 3:14

What stands out to you in this passage? Is it that the Lord Jesus ordained twelve and then sent them forth to preach? Is that the primary thing? Notice what precedes the sending out… “he ordained twelve, that they should be with him.” Preaching and serving is secondary. The primary thing in life is that we should be with Christ. It is all about intimacy with Jesus Christ. May our heart’s cry be that of the apostle Paul, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection.”

The emphasis is to always be on the Master and not the ministry. The place of preeminence is reserved for the Saviour, not service. We are not to seek great things but rather a great God. I realized that I must not lose sight of Christ in my excitement to serve Him.

Are You Willing to be a Tentmaker?

“And because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers.” Acts 18:3

This is where the rubber meets the road. How many men would be serving in ministry if they had to work like Paul did making tents? Would I be willing to go to Italy and be a “tent maker” if I had to? [We can live and minister in Italy based upon the financial support of local Baptist churches in America but I believe the question is still an important one to ask oneself.]

If a person is willing to go to the foreign field and work a job while planting churches then what is the difference between that and them doing the same thing here? Why would I not keep my job here or find another job somewhere else in America and plant churches among people whose language I already knew? What is the difference between doing it on the foreign field or doing it in the States? For me, the answer is simple – because God told me to go to Italy.

A Burden Does Not Constitute a Call

“Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved.” Romans  10:1

“For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office:” Romans 11:13

Burdens can come and go but a call never leaves a person (Rom. 11:29). You can’t go by feelings and emotions. If a burden constituted a call then a person tender to souls would desire to go to every field that was presented to them. Where was God calling me? That is the issue, not necessarily a burden. Paul had a burden for the Jews but God sent him to the Gentiles. Jonah certainly did not have a burden for the Ninevites but that is where God called him to work.

A Double Minded Man Will Not Excel

“A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” James 1:8

“Reuben, thou art my firstborn, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power: Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel;” Genesis 49:3,4a

I could not be in Italy and excel while entertaining doubts of whether or not God put me there. It was strange but while we were on our survey trip to Italy in September 2007 I felt like God had closed the door. I was rather discouraged at the time but looking back I would not have it any other way. The Lord brought me through deep waters since that time and has caused me to reflect on His call in ways that I would not have otherwise. If I returned from the survey trip only to start deputation, how would I have handled doubts or fears that popped up? The Lord has caused me to work through many issues so that I can say with all certainty that God has called me and my family to Italy. I would not want to be double-minded about the call. Putting James 1:8 and Genesis 49:3,4 together we understand that a double minded man will not excel.

This is a subtle area where Satan might have been able to get a foot-hold if I had not become singular in my mind that the Lord had specifically called me to this field. I remember winning a soul to Christ just prior to the survey trip to Italy and thinking, “Why should I go to Italy when I can win souls here? In fact, I could probably win more people to Christ here.” Others reinforced this thought by saying things like, “You’ll just waste yourself in Italy when you could really be working for God here.” The hardest decisions are when both alternatives can be right. I praise the Lord that He tested and tried me in such a way as to give me complete confidence in His call.

Nothing Is Wasted When It is Poured Out on Christ

“Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat. But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste?” Matthew 26:6-8

I had several people tell me that I would win very few souls to Christ in Italy because of the hardness towards the gospel in post-modern Europe, etc. I was told that I would be wasting myself by going. The Lord brought this passage in Matthew to mind as the disciples watched in disgust as this woman “wasted” the precious ointment on Christ. Christ rebuked the disciples by basically saying, “Nothing is a waste when it is poured out on me.” This gave me great comfort. My desire is to see many souls saved in Italy but whatever the results, we will not be wasting ourselves and our labor will not be in vain – we will pour our lives out for Christ and for His glory and leave the results up to Him! Remember, Philip was obedient to the will of God in leaving a successful ministry in Samaria to win just one Ethiopian soul to Christ (Acts 8). Was this a waste? I think not.

Who Controls Your Finances?

“And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:59,60

For the longest time I believed that all of the debt my wife and I incurred through various college school loans had to be paid off completely before the Lord would call me to move to a specific field for the work of the ministry. One should not be careless in regards to personal finances nor should one neglect responsibility to pay personal debt but one should also not be negligent to the leading of the Holy Spirit when He desires a walk by faith in this matter. The Holy Spirit used this passage in Luke 9 to confirm in my heart that God controls my finances (Deut. 8:18) and He had moved me to the field of Italy even before all of my financial worries were settled. (It should be noted that we had paid a substantial portion of our debt off but we were not completely debt-free when we started deputation.)

It is reasonable to assume that the young man in Luke 9 would have known that when his father died he would come into his inheritance, as was the custom in the Old Testament (Num. 27:1-7; Prov. 13:33); and, when he came into his inheritance, he would have that which could sustain him as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Christ had just said in Luke 9:58 that, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but I have nowhere to lay my head.” So, when Christ invited this man to follow him, a mental process likely began to go on in his mind: “My father has an inheritance to leave to me and, when I receive that inheritance, I will be self-sustaining. Now, since Christ does not have material provisions to make for me, it would be wisest for me if I did not become a disciple until I can support myself; and, after I am independent, then I will become a disciple, completely committed to the person of Jesus Christ.”

This man would not or could not trust the person of Christ to meet his needs as a disciple. The man was self-sufficient, independent, and he did not want to be obligated to Christ. He would rather postpone the decision and the commitment to Christ until he did not have to depend upon Christ. A man’s desire to be able to take care of himself often keeps that man from committing himself completely and totally to the person of Jesus Christ.

You Will Always Have Shortcomings; Will You Always Be Willing?

“And who then is willing to consecrate his service this day unto the LORD?” 1 Chronicles 29:5b

There are so many times that I feel I have not done this or that or have failed in one area or another and therefore I am not worthy to serve God. A wise saint of God wrote to me and said, “Once you have consecrated yourself to God, that is it, He accepted your gift. You don’t need to be constantly scrapping your inward man to find short-comings. There will always be plenty of them!”

As a side note, there is no such thing as re-consecration or re-dedication. Once the sacrifice has been burned you cannot take it up again. The real issue is confessing sin after consecration. Many that walk an aisle would rather say, “I am re-dedicating my life” than say, “I was sinning and now I repent.”

Stay or Go? Whose voice are you listening to?

“And it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out unto his brethren, and looked on their burdens: and he spied an Egyptian smiting an Hebrew, one of his brethren. And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian, and hid him in the sand. And when he went out the second day, behold, two men of the Hebrews strove together: and he said to him that did the wrong, Wherefore smitest thou thy fellow? And he said, Who made thee a prince and a judge over us? intendest thou to kill me, as thou killedst the Egyptian? And Moses feared, and said, Surely this thing is known. Now when Pharaoh heard this thing, he sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh, and dwelt in the land of Midian: and he sat down by a well.” Exodus 2:11-15

“Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt. And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” Exodus 3:10,11

Moses wanted to “go” when he should have stayed and then he wanted to stay when He was told to go. How many people go to the mission field when they should have stayed home and how many people stay home when they should be going to the mission field? The difference between knowing whether to go or to stay is intimacy with God – do you hear His voice or yield to your own desires and motives? I struggled with God’s call for awhile, I wanted to make sure my motives were right. I praise the Lord for the perfect peace He has given me in regards to the field of Italy.

Are You Looking For a Sign or a Door?

“For the Jews require a sign” 1 Corinthians 1:22a

“I have set before thee an open door, and no man can shut it” Revelation 3:8

I did not look for a sign nor did I request of God a “fleece” (Judg. 6:36-40) to determine His call. The primary way the Lord directed my steps was through His word, His Spirit bearing witness to my spirit, as well as godly counsel. In the light of these primary ways God spoke to me I tried to observe if He was opening or closing doors (e.g. directing through circumstances).

Too many times we can not be objective when examining circumstances – our will often gets in the way. That is why circumstances must always be judged secondary in relation to the word of God and the leading of the Holy Spirit. For instance, if Paul looked solely at the circumstances I would imagine he would have second guessed his call into Macedonia since it resulted in a beating and imprisonment (Acts 16).

Having said that, there were certainly interesting circumstances that arose after I made myself available to be used of God in Italy in March 2007 at our mission conference…

A missionary to gypsies was home on furlough and recommended we take a survey trip. I had not planned on taking a survey trip for several years as I thought I would not be able to afford it for quite some time. Turns out, the Lord provided a way for us to take the survey trip to Italy in just six months (September 2007) after our mission conference through the generosity of our home church along with three other churches.

We had the privilege to fellowship with a missionary to Sicily and his family just six weeks after our mission conference in 2007.

The next Tuesday after our mission conference in 2007 I preached at a nursing home. Outside the activity room where I preached was a poster advertising an upcoming documentary on Rome, Italy. This was the first time any such poster had been placed outside the room since I had been preaching at the nursing home.

Someone recommended in the summer of 2007 that I get the book Operation World. I looked it up on-line and the website featured a different country every day. The very first time I went to the website the country that was featured was… Italy.

I visited a very small church in January 2008 that supported us on our survey trip. At this time I was still struggling as to whether God wanted us in Italy or not. I prayed that afternoon that God would provide $50 so that I could purchase an Italian language instruction CD for my car. Without telling anyone but God my desire, that night after the message a lady in the church gave me a check for $50.

I wouldn’t move my family to Italy based solely on any of the above; they are just circumstances that I observed. Looking back, I can see many instances where the Lord has opened the door as well as prepare me and my family for the mission field of Italy.

Where Are Your Priorities?

“Jesus saith… lovest thou me more than these?” John 21:15

Sandy, Isaiah, and I had the opportunity to fellowship with a missionary in Naples, Italy. I really enjoyed sitting in his living room and listening to him talk about the ministry and his experiences. He made personal application of Christ’s words to Peter in John 21. His words challenged me to examine how much I really loved Christ and if I was truly wanting His will to be done over my own.

A burnt offering consumes everything

“And Araunah said, Wherefore is my lord the king come to his servant? And David said, To buy the threshingfloor of thee, to build an altar unto the LORD, that the plague may be stayed from the people. And Araunah said unto David, Let my lord the king take and offer up what seemeth good unto him: behold, here be oxen for burnt sacrifice, and threshing instruments and other instruments of the oxen for wood. All these things did Araunah, as a king, give unto the king. And Araunah said unto the king, The LORD thy God accept thee. And the king said unto Araunah, Nay; but I will surely buy it of thee at a price: neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the LORD my God of that which doth cost me nothing. So David bought the threshingfloor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.” 2 Samuel 24:21-24

This is the last scripture I meditated upon before I had perfect peace on June 4, 2008 that God was calling me to serve Him in Italy. Araunah offered to give King David oxen and wood for a sacrifice. King David replied that he could not offer a sacrifice of that which cost him nothing. I have desired to serve God in the work of the ministry but what was I willing for it to cost me? The biggest thing I had to give up was family. It was painful to think of breaking the news to mom and dad about us leaving for Italy. It was very difficult thinking about taking Isaiah away from grandma and grandpa (Pearl wasn’t born at the time). How would this move affect him? Would he become embittered to leave grandparents, cousins and friends? It would cost us our family to leave for the field of Italy. Also, could I trust the Lord with how the life-change would affect my son? Was I really willing for service to my Saviour to cost me something? There must be nothing between Him and me, including family. I laid it all upon the altar.

As I reflected on this scripture, as well as the others the Lord impressed upon me in the past, everything crystallized and I now had peace that God was indeed calling me to preach the gospel in Italy and to move my family there.

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