A lot of people want to know more about our Iris values and “DNA.” I know I’ve written about these before, but I think in the Lord that it would really help if I sent you this. It’s a very fresh and to-the-point description that is a transcript of an interview I gave awhile ago. May Jesus take these words and richly touch you. More power, love, peace and joy for you today in the Holy Spirit!
These five core values have been absolutely necessary for Iris to continue to function and exist. If we didn’t have even just one of these core values, we wouldn’t still be in missions, much less in Mozambique. We might not even be saved, we would be so discouraged! We have been at that point, you know. There have been times when Heidi and I would quit the ministry every three days because of incredible difficulty. So what are those specific things that keep us going, the things that keep the Christian life exciting? What are those things that give us motivation to keep following God?
These things could be expressed in so many ways. I spend weeks teaching on these things in Harvest School. And I only have a few minutes here, so here we go! This is the Reader’s Digest condensed version!
1. We understand we can find God, and can experience intimacy, communication and companionship with Him in His Presence, if we share His love for righteousness.
You know, there are lots of exciting things about the Christian life. One of them is actually doing the stuff. Doing signs and wonders, seeing God do miracles, transforming the world around us and making the world a better place. But how do I express the fact that for us that is just absolutely not enough? We need God Himself. Not just to see a place fixed, not just to see miracles happen. Not just to see our bank account increase, not just to see people get out of the hospital. So yes, they’re out of the hospital, but what shape is their heart in? What’s their state of loneliness? What happens when they die? Life is short, you know. There are issues much bigger than your bank account.
The real issue is eternity. But what good is eternity if you’re lonely? Not many people are that excited about heaven. They think, “Yeah, it’s a nice place with gold streets, but what’s the big deal?” The fact is, we are love-starved. We need somebody, and not just anybody. We need the person who can satisfy us. Actually, we need more than that; we need the person who made us. We need the person who is the only person who can make us happy. Of course all Christians will say you need Jesus, and that He is the only one who can fill that hole in your heart. But then the controversy is, to what extent? To what extent can you find Him?
What usually happens, especially in missions, is that people reach a certain point — they come to God deciding they want to serve Him, to please Him, and they want reward on Judgment Day. So they become missionaries. And then their aim is to be a successful missionary, and to really bless people, heal them and get them saved, into church, and discipled. And the whole missionary program then becomes their focus. And their heart is set on their missionary work — being a good missionary, getting support for it and being successful. So the “job” of doing good works and serving God becomes your god. It becomes what you set your heart on. It becomes a lot like business and every other occupation — you wake up in the morning, you go down to your office and do a good job. In this way mission work becomes an academic enterprise, and we begin to study missions. We study missionary techniques, and approaches, and methodologies, and rationalities and models, and we begin to set attainable goals to make sure we are not a failure at the end of the year. We come up with fundraising ideas and strategies and all kinds of things. And then, studying missiology becomes your life. However, statistics are that some 90% of professional, trained missionaries of that sort don’t go back a second term.
Take my grandfather for example. He was a straight-A student in college, he did everything right, he had scholarships, was screened by a mission board and went to China like a good missionary following all the rules. But after five years he found himself completely broken, discouraged, down and out. Heidi was like that too twenty years ago. The point is, there’s a whole lot more to life than just working as a Christian and doing ministry. The greatest promise in the Bible to me is in Jeremiah and one other place, “You will seek me and find me,” God says, “when you search for me with all your heart.” God is the point of everything. And to cut to the chase, Jesus is in particular is what I want. God the infinite, invisible Spirit communicates to us by His Son, by a human being with whom we can relate. He comes as a lover, as a bridegroom — the highest form of love of all.
We’re seeing God transform Mozambique; we’re seeing Him do things we never dreamed He could do. The economy, the growth of the churches, everything, is more spectacular than we could have ever dared believe we would see or experience in our lifetime. But, that’s not what I really want! That’s good, but it’s not top of the list! What I really want is just plain Jesus. Not just the stuff He can do. Not just the success He can bring. Not just the signs and wonders, not just the anointing. Not just the Spirit. Not just the success. Not just the power, not just the friends. I just want Him. That’s all I really want. That’s controversial because people say, “Well, you’re so heavenly-minded you’re just no earthly good. And what good is that to anybody else? There are people to feed, things to do, stuff to earn, things to fix. You can’t just live with your head up in the clouds with Jesus.”
Well, that’s not the Gospel. Jesus is the Gospel. He is all you need. He is everything you need. All the transformation, all the money, all the power, all the anointing and all the influence — that’s in His hands. He includes everything. If you don’t have Him, you don’t have anything. And if you have Him you have everything. Family, friends, church, nothing is going to do it for you. It’s just Him. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus. He is the one who died for me; He’s the one who became sin for me. He is the one who suffered for me, and He’s not out of my life! People can teach that it’s the finished work, it’s a finished job, that He has nothing to do now. But actually, Jesus is our ongoing, present lover. He is how God wants to be to us — a perfect lover. Paul’s first prayer in the New Testament is that we may grow in the knowledge of God. What makes our core value distinctive is that we actually believe that there’s no limit to how well we can know Him, and how close we can be to Him. And that’s what makes every new week exciting!
What usually happens is teachers teach, “Look, we live by faith and not by sight. This isn’t heaven yet; it’s an ‘already, not yet dialectic,’ and so there are some things you can’t expect, so don’t get your hopes up.” This creates a “grit your teeth and wait for heaven” mentality. And therefore people begin to think they will just have to tough it out and get the job done somehow. In fact, I’ve seen entire mission books written on that topic. But that’s not romantic. We would have died out a long time ago with that idea. We would have fizzled out, burned out, dried up a long time ago. But what keeps us going is that there’s no limit to how well we can know God and how much He can mean to us. Transformation is a side-effect, a fruit of this movement toward union.
And yes, we want lots of fruit. Of course we do, but the real question in the Christian life is how much time do we want to spend actually seeking His face, seeking Him, and how much time do you want to spend serving Him and doing things? That’s a question that every Christian has to decide. Are you going to put most of your time into doing the stuff, or are you going to seek Jesus? Yes, there comes a time when we need to wash dishes, we need to pay the bills, we need to fix the equipment, prepare the messages, feed the kids, but all of that would collapse in Iris if Jesus wasn’t the one thing, and the only thing we truly want. And that’s our core value, “I just want you Jesus. Everything else is great, but I just want you.” Period. No competition. No Jealousy. No distraction. No division.
It makes things very simple, very sharp and very clear. Yet most Christians are still scratching their heads, trying to figure out what it is they really want. What kind of influence they want to have, what it is they want to do. But fundamentally, those things are our celebrations of our marriage to God. Those things are not life itself. Those are celebrations of our marriage to life itself. Jesus is our life. So I don’t just pray, “Oh God, please give me a fun life with you in Africa.” No, “It’s just You I want, Jesus.” It’s very clear. And so what Iris really wants to do is maintain our direction toward Jesus. He is the destination, not just the way to some place. Not just the power behind something, not just the person we serve. Not just the person who rewards us later. Not just the one who died for our sins, not just the one who’s an example for us of a man filled with the Spirit. He is our destination, not just the way to where we’re going. He is where we’re headed in case we get lost. We know where to go! We’re not just trying to engineer revival and get ministries to work. He is the goal; we trust Him for everything. And that leads to our second core value.
2. We are totally dependent on Him for everything, and we need and expect miracles of all kinds to sustain us and confirm the Gospel in our ministry.
Our aim is to trust Him for everything — every check, every bit of food, everything. I think most Christians have the idea we have a lot of things under control most of the time, but when we get into a lot of trouble Jesus will come in and do something miraculous to save the day. And that happens — not often — but time-to-time, and it’s amazing. But our attitude is that there are no coincidences. There’s no such thing as “chance.” Our lives are the field of the activity of His mind. He’s in us. We are living what’s going on in His mind and heart. He’s not deistic. He doesn’t just look at us, check us out and reward us if we’re doing well. He’s in us. “Christ in you” is the mystery that was kept hidden for so long. He’s in us, and there is no such thing as an accident. Everything is a miracle. Especially beginning with money, which is something that Jesus contrasted with Himself more than anything else. You can’t set your heart on money and Jesus both. You just can’t. Yes, we are called to do business, but your heart can’t be set on it. Yes, we are called to save the world, but we can’t set our heart on that. Yes, we are called to transform society, but we are not called to set our heart on that.
What scripture says is, “Set your heart on things above where Christ is.” The things we see are temporary and the things we don’t see are eternal. Our hearts are not in this world. Our hearts are somewhere else. We are strangers and pilgrims on the earth. We are like Abraham living, waiting in tents, waiting for a Kingdom not made with hands, but a Kingdom being kept safe for us, to be revealed at the revelation of Jesus Christ. We have an inheritance that is now being constructed as we speak. It’s just perfect! God has called us to prove in this world that our faith and our love are genuine. He wants to prove to the devil, and the demons, and the evil opposition that we have all around us that we really do love our God. Our calling is not just to enjoy heaven right away without any opposition and testing. Our calling is to become more than conquerors, to prove ourselves worthy of the Gospel, because of who Jesus is in us. That’s an extremely high calling; it’s a love affair. We are called to have the greatest possible love affair in all of eternity. That’s where we’re headed. And that’s what Iris is all about, a huge celebration of our marriage to God. And we are willing to go through anything and everything that it takes for God to have His way. That’s how I define the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is not just some protected sphere where we are insulated, entitled and spoiled wimps in a bubble. The Kingdom of God is where God gets His way! Where His purposes are served. And in many ways His purposes may be different in this world than they are in heaven. In heaven we don’t have disease, we don’t have evil opposition, we don’t need faith, we don’t have intercessory prayer groups, we don’t have healing crusades, we don’t have evangelistic meetings. What are we going to do in heaven? We’re going to have to enjoy it! We’re going to have to have fun!
3. Look for revival among the broken, humble and lowly, and start at the bottom with ministry to the poor. God chooses the weak and despised things of the world to shame the proud, demonstrating His own strength and wisdom. Our direction is lower still.
This third value is expressed in the way we started our ministry. Our third value is looking for revival and beginning ministries — not always, but as a general rule — at the bottom and not the top. It’s going to the least of these, going to the poor and the unwanted. It means going to the people most churches don’t want to have anything to do with. The people others have given up on. We’re now living in Mozambique ministering to the Makua. But when we first came to Mozambique, that four-million people group was considered by missiologists with their scientific research methods as unreached and unreachable. We were told by the most educated missiologists in the world that we were wasting our time, that we needed to go where the fish were biting. And that had been their history. The region was 99% of another faith, embedded with witchcraft and demon possession. In the beginning they would just as soon throw rocks at us as listen to us preach. That was what it was like when we first got there.
Now there are almost 3,000 churches among them, and the province has become mostly Christian in ten years’ time. So, that’s our third core value: go to places that everybody else has given up on. Go to places that nobody cares about but God, and then God gets the glory! That is when He can say, ‘Look, here’s my grace, here’s my goodness. I have grace and love and goodness where nobody else does; that’s me. I have love that is only mine.” And that’s how He glorifies Himself. So, we’ve just learned to do that.
And, we are always learning to stay more humble. “Lower still” is one of Heidi’s mantras. I think the greatest single message she ever preached was in Pensacola during the Brownsville revival. The Holy Spirit so took over. Considering who we are as created, fragile human beings, there is no response we can give to God other than to go lower still. Lower still is the only way forward. It’s impossible to be too low. When you go lower still, the only thing to do after that is to go even lower. My grandfather used to say the same thing, “Take the low road.” I even think of Gandhi. Someone asked him once why he traveled third-class on trains. And his answer was because there was no fourth class. It’s a different approach than the apostolic approach people have these days.
Yes, God does bless us. We’ve learned to abound as well as to be abased, but fundamentally our value is lower still. Go to the least of these. Start at the bottom. Be a vessel of the kind of love the world has never seen before. Don’t copy other people, don’t do things the way other people do them. Don’t start where most people start. Don’t go along with most strategies. Aim for impossible things. Aim for the things that only God can bring about. Go to the very bottom of the heap. Go into the dark places, the hard places and the dangerous places. Give away your life, jump off the cliff! Don’t be presumptuous. Faith is not being presumptuous; it’s knowing God well enough to know what He wants you to do in a given situation.
4. We understand the value of suffering in the Christian life. Learning to love requires willingness to suffer for the sake of righteousness. Discipline and testing make saints out of us, and produce in us holiness, without which we will not see God’s face and share His glory. With Paul we rejoice in our weaknesses, for when we are weak we are strong.
It’s not exactly a picnic to go to a war-torn country with no economy, and people trying to shoot you. Heidi was shot at five or six times, hijacked with guns to her head, and had contracts out on her life, but it didn’t stop her at all. Her mother was furious for years. She hated me for exposing my wife to all those dangers on the street. We were criticized. People would say, “Oh, Rolland, the only reason you let your wife out at night on the streets is that you want to tell scary stories to get more support.” But that’s a huge core value to us. We think sometimes it is God’s will that we suffer according to His power and will, because it proves our faith, our perseverance, our love, the quality of our character, what we think of our God. We are not about to tell people that if they get into tough stuff that they are doing something wrong.
You need to find out if you really know God and if you really appreciate His purposes for us on earth. It may not be heaven right away, but it’s coming soon enough and it will last forever. We can afford to do without a few things if necessary to see God have His way. The problems is, sometimes we make up our idea of what His way is. Of course we want His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. But His purposes down here are what we want to know. And His purpose is for us to know, and learn by experience, what are the differences between good and evil; to develop His character and His quality, and to have something to celebrate.
The Bible tells us that we will share Jesus’ glory to the extent that we share His suffering. And some people might teach that He suffered so that we won’t have to. But we in Iris don’t feel that way. We feel that He suffered so that He could save us from our sins and give us a heart like He has so that we can live the way He lived among evil opposition. And then we get our reward. And then we can enjoy heaven. And we do get down payments on heaven now, and I would like lots of those! We would like our bases to be as much like heaven as possible. But I recognize we also need to be willing to be proven to the glory of God if necessary.
5. The joy of the Lord is not optional, and far outweighs our suffering! In Jesus it becomes our motivation, reward and spiritual weapon. In His Presence is fullness of joy, and with Paul we testify that in all our troubles our joy knows no bounds (2 Cor. 7:4). It is our strength and energy, without which we die.
This last core value is almost falling out of favor in the renewal; it’s like we’re almost embarrassed by it, and that is the joy of the Lord. I keep asking people, what would you rather have than joy? That’s not an expected question, and I see people scratching their heads, not really sure. And you could say, Well, aren’t the really important things Jesus and love? Well, yes! But, if you have Jesus and His love, guess what you’re going to end up with? Joy! And if you don’t end up with that, you have a truncated, curtailed gospel. The end goal isn’t just to cry and repent and sob. That’s something you go through, but that’s on the way, that’s part of the journey. That’s not where you end up. The outcome of the Christian life is joy, and, in particular, the joy of a child who is not worried about anything.
Imagine going to a place like Africa that is torn up by severe problems and talking like this! That’s what makes it so controversial. People tell me all the time, “That’s no place to laugh. That’s a time to get serious and focus on problems.” But it was the persecuted Christians in China who taught me that joy is the energy of the Holy Spirit. It’s the joy given by the Holy Spirit that kept Christians going in prison, solitary confinement and torture in China. If they needed it, and if Jesus needed it to go through with the Cross, then we need it too! It’s for the joy set before us that we are willing to follow Jesus, whatever the cost. Without joy, life is meaningless.
You could say, “Well, no, it’s not joy; it’s just Jesus.” In fact, somebody wrote me once after a conference where there was a lot of joy, saying, “Look, I don’t have to be happy and you can’t make me.” No, it’s not joy we chase. You don’t get joy directly. Joy itself does not hug you in the night. You have joy because you have Jesus. So, we don’t chase joy directly, but the church ought to learn that neither do we chase money directly. Neither do we chase influence directly. Neither do we chase success, or evangelistic church growth, or signs and wonders directly either. Signs and wonders, and all these other things, are just tools from God that we use to love people. We don’t love the tools; we don’t set our heart on the tools. Some people are chasing the anointing and power, and so wanting to do the stuff all the time that they don’t care about the people they are praying for as much as they should. They mostly want to see something amazing happen. No, it’s Jesus we want. And He gives us tools to love people. So we don’t set our hearts on those things.
In the same way we don’t set our hearts on joy. When you meet people who just want to be happy, it’s really frustrating. But when they ditch that and they just want Jesus, and when they find Him and get to know Him, then joy is an inevitable, unavoidable, non-optional outcome without which we wouldn’t be in Africa and Iris would not still be functioning. It’s a matter of valuing it. It’s our energy, our power, and a tremendous gift. I used to think God’s toleration of our sense of humor was a concession to us. But, actually, sometimes in visions our kids watch Jesus rolling around on the floor in the throneroom in heaven telling worse jokes than I tell! And angels slap their knees! Heaven is a very happy place, and if you don’t like to laugh, you’re not going to like it! Joy to us — holy joy and laughter — is exceedingly important. Love without joy is a killer. The perfection of heaven, and of the gospel is that Perfect Love which results in joy, and that’s the whole entire outcome of everything! So, our fifth core value really marks Iris.
All five of these things are important, and without all five we wouldn’t be here at all. I hope that helps you understand us a little more. I pray we all grow richer and better in the Lord together!
Huge love in Jesus, always,