Tuesday, November 25, 2014

To Those That Stand in the Trenches

This time of year is quite difficult. Social media is filled with calls to help the needy and commentary on what big business should be doing about the holidays and what government should be doing about the homeless. Meanwhile church folks will double park cars in sealed garages and fall into a cushy couch watching a flat screen t.v. while bedrooms go unused and leftovers hit the garbage.

We value our security and comfort over the call of Jesus to show mercy to the poor, orphans, and widows, and even to make disciples. We somehow believe that the gospel doesn't really apply to us if would mean that we would have to be at risk, or if our children were at risk. We proclaim how things should be, of how people should act, of what someone else should do, because we are no longer personally seeking first the face of God.
Volcano Pacaya
How many among us could endure the life of Paul and proclaim, "to live is Christ and to die is gain?" How many of us could say that everything we have, everyone we know, all that we've accomplished... is simply garbage when compared to the knowledge of God? Do we love Him more than our father, mother, sister, and brother... or do we silently whisper that we only have to love Him when we're safe? 

The condition of the world is a direct result of the conviction of those who claim to be followers of Jesus. Do we live with mission as our existence? Do we walk the earth daily with a willingness to lose everything for Him?

My first time as Baptizer
I am convinced that the evil one uses the good things in our lives to regulate our potential with our creator. It may be difficult to tempt you to commit an egregious sin... but oh how easy it is to keep you from loving the outcast if I remind you that it might harm your children.
My youngest daughter. I'd die for her.
My children are not worth more than my relationship with God. Neither is my wife. Neither are my parents. If I seek to guard those relationships above my relationship with Christ... I lose sight of my identity, my salvation, and the purpose of my creation. I cease being who I am created to be... and I lose everything including my eternal relationship with my creator. Nothing can separate.
Me and Pop Mathis - He was a preacher
I long for the day we as followers of Jesus stop praying for safety, and exchange it for a prayer of boldness. Losing my children in service of the King is acceptable. This world is not our home. There is nothing here that I want to cling to. I long to be reconciled to the God who pursues me. No matter what our earthly relation, we all remain children of God. We are formed by the hand and breath of God. We are either on His mission, or everything is vanity. It is time for self-proclaimed Christians to be willing to suffer. The mission of God is worth some pain. And so what then is a missionary?

A child in a village. What is her worth?

I tell you that this simply can not be simplified into a single set of "to do" instructions, and yet I also say to you that it is profoundly simple. I cringe when someone identifies him or herself as a missionary. I have no idea what that means. I've seen variance from one extreme to the other. Personally, missionary always brought to my mind figures like Mother Theresa and cannibalized victims in the Congo.

I don't see too many folks living like that.

Roasting marshmallows over a hurting city
Too often those who call themselves missionaries are living in safe compounds and living on the sacrifices of friends and family while they make little impact with timid living in a foreign land. 

I want to be a person who says yes to the voice of God. If He says talk to the lady in the check-out at the grocery, then do it. At that point, you are participating in the missionary task. Before coming to a foreign nation to be obedient to God, I had to become obedient to God in Middletown, Ohio. 

This was my path. Some others are different. Was Jonah obedient to God before he ran from the Ninevah command? Did Daniel wake up and decide to stare down some lions? No, I just don't think that anyone in their right mind wakes up and decides to be a missionary. It is more about a deep desire and a desperate passion to seek the face of God and to follow in obedience. An understanding that their is nothing else that compares. There simply is no other path.

I'm not a missionary. Maybe I'm an apostle? Maybe I'm just a wretched beggar desperate to be filled. Maybe I'm the leper calling out for mercy from a distance. Most days I'm just a thief on a cross... sometimes the bitter one, sometimes the grateful one. Each day is a refocusing on this following.

I was talking with students today about Christ followers who are commanded to renounce their faith at the end of a gun. We watched video of christ followers proclaiming faith in God and Jesus even though they were executed and the enemy then danced over their bleeding bodies. The students expressed deep sadness. I challenged them to rejoice in the great faith of sons and daughters of God going home into the open arms of a God that promises to us that nothing can separate us from His love.

Those who fell in that video answered the call, "Here am I, send me." There was nothing that was greater than their love of God. Nothing.
Me & Sterling at Labor de Falla School

When we reach that point... I believe we understand the missionary task. To follow Jesus is to abandon all else. Follow Him first and the rest will be in alignment. 

To those who stand in the trenches:

I know I am just a pea-brain on the sidelines, and I can't understand the full weight of what you are bearing... however I recognize that it is suffocating and unescapable. I can't give you advice. You are the pro because you are on the battlefield. 

But, if I can offer some perspective from a person who isn't under constant fire... the only thing I can point to is Paul. Somehow he was able to take his suffering and shift the focus to considering that his suffering was for the good of others (that it was worthwhile for what he valued) and that his refusal to take vengeance brought glory to God. Paul saw this as bearing out the behavior of Jesus Christ. 

I know you probably want me to shut up. I really don't claim to know any better. I think in many ways your wisdom and knowledge surpasses my own. But I also acknowledge that you are in the thick of battle and it can be hard to see. Each blow that you take is a powerful statement. You are standing. So many are not willing to stand. Because you are standing, it enrages the enemy. Somehow... if you can, turn it over to God? Don't let the bitterness swallow you. 

Know that you are standing for good and that every hit you take is worth it. I swear... the more we walk in the will of God, the more difficulty we face. I am praying for you twofold: for boldness in the face of your trials, & for the favor of God to find you in your obedience. If I'm off base, forgive me. 

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