Rescue is coming!
Posted May 22, 2010
I was driving on the 5 freeway this morning in a not-so-friendly part of town, thinking about the sad look of the surrounding city. It was grey morning and I can’t remember one smile on any of the faces I saw. Then a song came on and I rolled down my windows to let the words blast over the city:
Rescue is coming, Rescue is coming, Rescue is coming, Rescue is coming.
The song stirred emotion in me because it is such good news for every person: rescue is coming. Rescue from depression; rescue from abuse; rescue from emptiness; rescue from apathy; rescue from narcissism; rescue from terror; rescue from hopelessness; rescue from isolation; rescue from pain.
This is the good news that Jesus was talking about, isn’t it? Rescue.
In my philosophy class Thursday, we spent the entire three hours talking about the ethics of Jesus laid out in Matthew 5-7. My professor stunned me a bit when he explained that many of us have been taught to witness to people with a theology of the atonement as the good news. Our explanation sounds a bit like this:
So, there was this man, who was also God, who came to die for your sins, because you are sinful, if you didn’t know that, and yes, he died and that restored your relationship with God, and now you are free to live a life of godliness. Isn’t that good news?
As my professor explained, this is good news, but it takes training for people to understand the theology of atonement and this isn’t the gospel Jesus announced in Matthew 5. The good news was this: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
In essence, Jesus was telling an audience of outcasts and religious rejects that all of God’s resources (the kingdom) are available to anyone (at hand) who is willing to rethink his or her thinking (repent) about what it means to live the good life (like the house on the rock).
This has massive implications (and once again I give all credit for this interpretation to my philosophy professor, Gregg TenElshof) for us, because we have something to offer that no one is going to refuse. People may not be looking for religion or even for someone to save them from their sins, but I can assure you they are looking for security, meaning and acceptance.
Jesus wants to say through us to the world, “Is your life shifting around like a house on sand, unstable and terrorized by the circumstances around you? There is a way to rebuild on a solid place and anyone can accept the offer.
When we evangelize, we offer exactly what Jesus did to that crowd of Jews on the mountainside: hope that rescue is coming, and in fact, rescue is here.
To pray or not to pray?
Last night I was at a prayer meeting for the persecuted church, hosted by SMU. I haven’t been to a prayer meeting in a long time and after looking into prayer on campus, it seems many Biola students haven’t. The prayer groups that started in the 1920s for nations and unreached peoples have all but fizzled out.
Why don’t we pray?
It isn’t because we don’t have time. It’s because we don’t make time. It isn’t because we don’t care about other people. It’s because we care about our own concerns more. It isn’t because we don’t see the need. It’s because we don’t understand our connection to that need.
These are harsh words, but I know they are true, because I see them in myself.
I will make an even more disturbing claim. The day I stop conversation with my Father in heaven for the advancement of his Kingdom is the day I have lost connection with his passion and purpose.
We have all been asked to pray, told to pray, begged to pray, explained to death why we should pray. Ultimately it comes down to passion and connection with the Father through Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
If you have no passion to pray, understand that this is not a good place to remain for a long period of time but also understand that its okay! God is the creator of passion and the giver of understanding.
In making no room for those who want to pray but do not, I along with many of you are forced from the middle of the road to make a decision: Pray or don’t pray. Jesus does not make room for empty promises or desires.
“Simply let your 'Yes' be 'Yes,' and your 'No,' 'No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one,” he says, not giving us any wiggle room.
I am not inviting you or myself into a legalistic practice of prayer. In some ways, our conversation of God is a measure that we can always look at to see the truth of what is in our hearts. If we can say that we watch a certain television show more consistently then we pray or that we know more about the latest upcoming band than we do about our God, there is something wrong.
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. - _Ephesians 5:15-17, emphasis mine)_
Made to be stewards, and stewards still
Posted May 7, 2010
This week I have been reading and thinking about stewardship, one of the scariest words in the Christianese dictionary.
When I hear the word stewardship, I picture the weasel of a guy who buries his bag of goodies in Jesus’ parable of the talents. The worst part for me is when he gets the boot from his boss, because sometimes I wonder if I am the weasel.
Am I the fool or the “sloth” (what a horrible name for anyone to be called) from wisdom literature who “squanders his wealth” and “invites ruin?"
There is another passage that, in all seriousness, makes my whole being halt when I swallow the words. It is this:
“So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.”
No matter how many times you read it, there is no way to squirm out of the reality that time is currency and that we will report all of our spending to the One we fear and love.
In John 21, Jesus questions Peter’s love three times, and when Peter confirms his love, Jesus then tells him to feed his lambs and care for his sheep. In these statements, Jesus ties the identity of steward and missionary together. He is passing instruction as a master of his estate — the universe — to his steward, telling him to care for the people who are Jesus’ inheritance.
Human beings were always intended to be stewards. God gave Adam and Eve all the Earth to tend and rule over. After humans fell from their position as stewards, Jesus restored the role to us, but we are not in the Garden of Eden anymore.
As stewards we now work and live on an estate that is under attack. People, the prize and portion Jesus claimed, are in our care even as they are hunted by evil. Beyond the estate we have been entrusted with, our enemy is out to destroy our very identity as stewards.
If we see stewardship as an activity of love, the fear of reporting to God one day drains away. One trend I have seen in myself and in this generation is a shallowness of love, especially in terms of commitment. We need to ask God for devotion to him and actively fight what Paul calls “the flesh” that tells us to be distracted, lazy, passive and apathetic.
When you look God in the face and go over the details of your life, Jesus’ blood will perfect all of your mistakes and mishaps. What he cannot do for you, however, is choose your loyalty as a steward. Fortunately, after we choose a wholehearted pursuit of God, he is ready to step in and teach us everything we need to know about using our resources of time, relationships money, and creativity in the best way.
Keep your eyes on the horizon
Posted May 2, 2010
If you were looking at a landscape of global missions, you would see in the foreground the millions of activities in motion amongst all peoples and nations. As your eyes moved further through the middle and background, you would see the future missions movements that spring up from the movement of the foreground.
Thus far, the scenes would be all very familiar, full of everything human under the sun. But, if you step back, you see a light dancing about the fore, middle and background, and the light takes your eyes back to the horizon line, where a red sun rises over the entire scene.
In a landscape, specifically using one-point perspective, the horizon is the point that determines all guidelines and alignments for correct proportion. Everything is moving toward one point on the horizon.
A Son is rising over the entire global landscape, and his coming light is revealing and restoring all over the earth. Jesus Christ is our point on the horizon, who makes all and is all.
It is the horizon line that can become distant and fuzzy to us, I think. What, with so much going on here in the foreground and so much to think about in the middleground, it's no wonder we think here and now.
And our father, being the wisest, knows this, which is why he yells “Hope” and “Heaven” to us throughout the entire scripture, pointing directly to his Son on the horizon.
All of this horizon business came about after I read Phillipians 3:20-21:
“But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.”
I thought: I’m a citizen of the United States and I know quite a bit about life here. I’ve mastered the language, culture and customs. I know my president and what my rights are, and I could tell anyone who asked what a day in America is like.
Could I do the same for heaven? Am I as familiar with the image of Jesus as a ruler as I am with Barack Obama; with the government of heaven as I am with democracy; with the language of heaven as I am with English; with the adoration of God as I am with the adoration of pop icons?
It is all too easy to fixate on our present activities and thereby forget the current underneath them running straight toward eternity.
Mission is foreground activity that happens in the context of the coming Kingdom of Heaven and reign of Christ. And while we work and live, we are to have an upward gaze toward the horizon; toward the Son that will soon rise before our faces.
People and their stories are the true currency of life
Posted April 25, 2010
New York City. Skyscrapers stand like mountain ranges, towering over street-carved valleys where thousands of smells swim around the people who never seem to stop spending, speaking and stepping.
I can say poetic things like that because I went to New York last week, and that bold city stomped its big tassel-shoed footprint on my heart. We (Biola Chorale) went to sing at Carnegie and found ourselves with heaps of free time to inhale the Big Apple for five days.
Ironically, one of my most significant experiences was a five-minute conversation with a couple in Central Park on my last day in the city. Paul and Lola travel across America selling yarn handicrafts, which they are covered with themselves. A standout from New York’s sharply dressed crowd, they are often met with stares, flash photography and many a cold shoulder.
Paul, a willowy black man with afflicting eyes began describing freedom to me, explaining that most people think they are free but blinded to the patterns that enslave them. He said people think they are working for what they really want, but they miss out on life in the process of accumulation.
I remember Lola adding gently, “Money can’t buy what you really want.” She went on to say that people and their stories are the true currency of life.
It’s this notion of patterns and their trickery I want to get at. I thought about what Paul and Lola said about the blindness of most people to the things that consume their lives. It made me wonder what automatic pilot programs are operating in my system. And when I think about it, there are probably thousands.
Patterns rule the world; they ebb and flow with every passing century, decade and year. They rise as their popularity soars and fall as their hypocrisy and stupidity is revealed. We can find patterns as large as the overt racism against African Americans in the twentieth century all the way down to small ones like way we interact with strangers in public on a daily basis.
Most patterns are insidious things, which take away the value of the individual moment by emphasizing its repetition. And this is why the intersection of missions and patterns is a hard one to find; God does not approve of our patterns.
“Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is -- his good pleasing and perfect will,” says Paul in his letter to the Romans.
The fact is that God prefers his patterns, which are so infinitely complex and beyond us that we do not see them as patterns at all.
Human beings, left as they are, naturally live conformed to the pattern of this world. As a redeemed human being, however, you have been called to a life of mission, which is by definition free from the pattern of this world and bound to the mysterious pattern of God’s wisdom. Your action here is to stop and acknowledge that this is true and allow the renewing of your mind by God himself.
God’s pattern for us will certainly always involve bringing people into that unfathomable pattern with us -- and isn’t that what the missionary does? It strikes me as funny that the more I write about missionaries and missions, the more difficult I find it to distinguish “missionary” as a vocation.
In honor of Grandparents Day
Posted March 21, 2101
Eugene and Helen Werner live on a few acres of land in Clarkfield, Minn., where they’ve been farming for more than 40 years. Margaret Ritter resides in Dow Rummel Village in the northwest corner of Sioux Falls, S.D., just minutes from schools where she used to teach music. These three loved ones are close to me this morning as I sit by the mailboxes watching my peers walk arm in arm with their own grandpas, grammas, papas and nanas.
It’s Grandparents Day at Biola, and for me, a phone call will have to do.
Next to my mom and dad, my grandparents have given me some of the purest love I have ever known. In strong resemblance to my love for God, I love them because they have loved me first -- over and over again.
About two years ago, I was riding in a combine (that’s (KOM-bayhn). And for those of you west coasters who don’t know, a combine is a machine you use to harvest crops) with my Grandpa Eugene, and he began telling me about his earlier days. Stories of the Army and meeting Gram Helen and mischievous early school days came steadily from the tall, strong man driving the tractor.
My grandpa’s stories inspired a deep sense of honor for his life; all of the years stored within him have molded a constant, godly, compassionate man. I realize that not only do we love grandparents -— we need them to live well ourselves.
As followers of Christ we have spiritual grandmothers and grandfathers whose years are stored up and waiting to teach us; people who have lived for Christ all over the world through years of war, social uproar, tragedy and uncertainty. Our generation is being released to a field our papas and nanas have been plowing, planting, tending and harvesting for decades. We are called by God to live with honor for those who have gone ahead of us.
If we stomp out into the world without receiving the wisdom of our biological and/or spiritual grandparents, we set ourselves up to repeat their failures and fall short of their strengths. As a wise friend of mine once said: “Why build off the ground when you can stand on the shoulders of the generation before you and build even higher?”
While America sets its eyes on the young and upcoming, it may be time for us to climb inside the combine and have a long talk with Grandpa.
Reexamine your perspective of mission
As our annual missions conference approaches, I find myself excited for three days of talking about the coming of God’s kingdom. But my conversations with several peers about the conference were mostly about alternative weekend plans, heavy homework loads and the overwhelming burden of mission work.
By no means will I say that most Biola students do not care about missions -- that would be a gross misstatement. What I did realize is that working at the Student Missionary Union has caused me to be immersed in the vitality of missions in a way that other students may not be.
You are not a heathen if missions conference does not excited you. And you are not a saint if it does. I suggest that we all need to take these three days offered to us to examine our perspective. There is a reason why Jesus addresses the narrowness of the way that leads to his kingdom:
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it,” he says in Matthew 7:13-14.
He warns us: don’t miss it. Don’t miss the gate. Don’t study and pursue a career that will put me in a corner of your life. I want to be the source of your passion. Don’t walk the Biola campus for four years talking about me but never experiencing me. I came to be known by you personally. Don’t call on me when you are in need and then continue living in patterns of darkness, neglecting my kingdom.
The passages that straddle the narrow gate talk about persistence and authenticity. Jesus tells us in verse seven to keep on asking, seeking and knocking. In verses 15-22, he says that our fruit determines our allegiance, and those who falsely claim allegiance to Jesus will be sent away from his presence.
If the kingdom of God that Jesus introduced to the earth is not present in your life and your heart, you need to stop and talk with him about it. Missions Conference is not about missionaries or other countries or even the great commission. It is about God and the coming of his kingdom. And that subject is worthy of our attention above anything else.
Find the hungry among us
The Associated Press reported that a stampede in India killed over 60 people at a religious gathering Thursday when a temple pillar collapsed. Estimates of the crowd at the temple range from 5,000, according to the NY Times, all the way up to 10,000, as reported by CNN Correspondent Bhupendra Chaubey.
“In India, it’s a very common thing. It’s a routine thing for roundabout 3 to 4,000 people to be assembling, say, at the drop of a hat, in a temple or on a specific day, which could be of some kind of religious significance,” said Chaubey in a CNN video report.
The temple, located in the northern province of Uttar Pradesh, was giving out free food and clothing in honor of leader Kripalu Maharaj’s deceased wife, according to the AP.
Several reports hearken back to a similar incident last summer that killed over 150 people at another temple gathering.
Such reports are strange to the western ear -- the word stampede is more closely associated with cattle than any modern human tragedy. You don’t typically see thousands of Americans flocking to churches and temples for handouts and religious enlightenment. We are far too sophisticated for such nonsense.
The Indian people show themselves to be hungry, many obviously for food to fill their stomachs, but perhaps more achingly to touch the divine. They may also be identified as the poor in spirit, who are promised inheritance of the kingdom of heaven by Jesus himself. But the apostle Paul asks us,
“How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”
This summer, eight Biolans are answering the audacious questions of Paul and the hungry cries of the Indian people. The coed team will be traveling to central India on a short-term mission to work in a children’s home and a hospital, and to present the gospel in local villages.
While we pray for this team we can ask ourselves where the poor in spirit are present in our lives. People here in America may not be crowding our church sanctuaries for religious handouts, but they are flocking to porn sites, liquor stores, television series and fast food stops to dull the ache of their hungry spirits. The kingdom of heaven, reality, is near to the hungry, and with the food right in our hands, we have a lot of work to do.
Scientology highlighted in Haiti
In the wake of the debacle involving Baptist missionaries in Haiti, news agencies turned their eyes to other religious activity on the recuperating island, following Church of Scientology volunteers. A post on The Lede, a New York Times blog, identifies the positive work of the yellow shirt-wearing scientologists in Haiti, featuring a video from the Today Show that shows a volunteer performing touch assist, a method of relieving pain by connecting mind and body.
“We don’t even mention Scientology. We’re here to help people,” says volunteer Nicole Greenwood on the video report.
The Lede does provide a link to Gawker.com, which sketches a bleaker portrait of Scientology efforts, but I don't point to The Lede to highlight competing religious groups or to complain about biased negative press coverage of Christian activity. Greenwood’s quote and the “touch assist” method of the Church of Scientology actually point significantly to our concept of mission.
Isn’t it interesting that Greenwood guarded against the connection between goodness and religion? I will boldly say that she is not alone in her desire to cut the strings between benevolent acts and a benevolent God, because if that relationship exists we are forced to respond to God. People want goodness without God, mostly, I think, because many people do not think he is good at all.
There is an existing fear that good works, done in the name of God, are simply the means by which people are shackled into cold, mind-numbing religion. And yet, we long for goodness, for alleviation of bodily pain, for repairing of damages to our hearts and minds. What is “touch assist” except Scientology’s remedy for hurting humanity, which screams to be whole and well?
Our lives function missionally in that we are agents of wholeness in a fatally injured world. The good works and attitudes of Christians are inspired and empowered by God. We have the spirit of God, an expert on all things good and whole, in every fiber of our being, ready to heal lives. It is our choice how much we let him administer goodness directly through us. We must be obedient to the spirit of God when he wants to heal bodies, minds, and hearts through our hands, our words, and our presence.
Jesus’ commission of his disciples in Matthew 28 was a call to reconcile the world to God through God. He tells us to baptize people in his name and to teach them his ways. And rather than fastening chains in an act of religious imprisonment, we break them in an act of acquaintance with Goodness himself.
Am I willing to suffer for Christ?
Robert Park, a missionary from Arizona, just returned to the U.S. last Saturday after six weeks of detainment in North Korea. Park, 28, was reported by the New York Times to have crossed the border on Christmas Day with intentions to protest government violations of human rights, saying he would “die with political prisoners in the North if Mr. Kim refused to free them."
Most news articles contrast a formerly enthusiastic Park that strode into the hostile north with the "pale, drawn" man seen back on American soil. He has been quoted by news sources as renouncing his previous protests of the Korean government and even praising their religious tolerance.
What happened to Robert Park? Some assert that he was beaten into changing his tune about the North Korean government. Whatever his experience there, he returned silent and sullen. The truth about Robert Park will be told eventually, but his story turned my attention to suffering, especially on the mission field.
The most unsettling piece of Park’s story is his seeming surrender to the injustice he wanted to fight. Granted, many of his controversial quotes were collected en route out of North Korea. And, I do not shame Park for the nature of his withdrawal, nor for any of his statements. It took immense bravery to take on an entire political system -- bravery I know I could not own to at this point in my life. The question we all must ask, however, is this: Am I willing to suffer and die for Christ, whatever he calls me to?
We do not regularly experience suffering, especially of a physical nature. However, the cross, an instrument of suffering, is driven into the ground before the Christian, begging the question of suffering no matter our daily experience.
Romans 8:17 calls us "co-heirs with Christ...if we share in his suffering” in order to share in His glory. In Mark 8:34, Jesus emphasized to all of his followers the necessity of inheriting the cross. The way of Jesus, which stands against the injustice of cruelty in North Korean prisons and operations of evil in every part of the world, is an expressway to suffering. The world will resist acts of mercy and justice as long as hatred and corruption rule in the minds of human beings.
Now is the time to consider the place where God has called us to stand and hold up his light, because it is there where we will meet our cross. We pray for a willingness to suffer, which does not come naturally, and for courage to remain standing when the blade is at our throats. The heroes we remember are those who bowed only to Jesus. No suffering could disturb their allegiance, and I am convinced that if I do not choose the cross now, my knees will buckle when I am called to stand for the last time.
Mountaintop experiences in the mundane
Five mission teams returned to Biola this week from Europe and Africa, where they spent their interterm break. My roommate, the leader of Team Russia, was gushing with stories of the people and places painted into her life. Her enthusiasm carried me back to the country of Oman, where I spent two weeks of this past August praying through the streets of the coastal capital Muscat and exchanging many a Salaam with the sun-tanned Omanis.
Something I remember distinctly about Oman was the intensity of our focus as a team. We set our intentions, emotions, and even our physical bodies toward the goal of channeling the triune God to the Omani people. And God not only showed up — he took notice of the spacious intensity we offered and flooded in with his presence and guidance.
I have always wondered at the experiences in my life, like youth group summer camp and mission excursions, where it seems that I meet God in a way unique to that small period of time. The phrase “mountaintop” experience might apply here. I used to attach the special-ness of those experiences to the location and the activities being done. But now that I think of it, it was the increased space I offered to God that allowed me to experience more deeply.
A friend of mine says that God has made all of himself available to us, and so the limiting factor is not how much he gives but how much we accept. I draw from this that we are to be like Isaiah in setting ourselves on God:
“Because the Sovereign LORD helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore, I have set my face like a stone, determined to do his will. And I know that I will not be put to shame.” – Isaiah 50:7 (emphasis mine)
The greatest desire God has for this world is reconciliation, and he has passed this onto us as a mandate to be the channels of that desire to the world. The intensity we supply to mission trips, and even “spiritual” experiences, should be poured into every day. This means setting our activity, our focus, our purpose, our energy on the people and places God has called us to in our current season of life. And it is in that habit of setting our faces like stones, where mission is born into our lives.
Live simpler, and give to God's kingdom
Ralph Winter, director of Frontier Mission Fellowship, wrote something that knocked me on my back the other day:
The nearly two billion dollars American evangelicals give per year to mission agencies is one fourth of what they spend on weight loss programs. A person must overeat by at least two dollars worth of food per month to maintain one excess pound of flesh, yet two dollars worth of food per month is more than 90 percent of all Christians in America give to missions. If the average mission support is only five pounds overweight, it means he spends (to his own hurt) at least five times as much as he gives for missions. - (Perspectives, Winter and Hawthorne)
Later in his article “Reconsecration” Winter argues if we lived more simply, our resources would flow into God’s advancing kingdom. An honest look at the standard of living in most of our lives would uncover a number of false necessities. When compassion stays in the infant stage of emotion, it is absolutely useless. I have cried many tears for the pains of people around the world, and yet I am one of the Americans carrying extra pounds that Winter talks about.
It is the small choices along the way that mature emotion to action. I don’t need that $30 hair product this month, and I can make my own hot chocolate instead of going to Starbucks. These are the kind of sacrifices Jesus was talking about when he asked us to carry our cross daily, and they must be counted and accepted by us as deliberate sacrifices or we will slowly compromise back to comfort.
These small choices should fit into a larger goal for the investment of our resources. God wants His wealth, entrusted to us, to fund points of contact between people and his Kingdom. This means sending and supporting missionaries who will make God known as King and providing for people whose lives are ravaged by the darkness of disease and starvation (which are enemies of the kingdom of God).
Winter asks, “How hard have we tried to save others?” The question haunts person like me who looks back over her shoulder and sees that the greatest portion of her resources, time and money alike, have been poured back into herself. The moment I decide to sacrifice something I want to give life (in some way, shape or form) to someone else is the moment I obey the way of Jesus. And the piling up of these moments leads to a lifestyle of simplicity.
Common view of hell is too simplistic
In thinking about why we do missions, a place that comes to mind is hell. Now this may sound bleak, but isn’t it true that we are commonly encouraged to feel pity for those who are on their way to the land of fire and brimstone? The images of hell we have in our mind -- darkness, torment, fire -- all come from biblical images, even from the words of Jesus. It certainly exists, but these images seem far too simplistic, as does our concept of who “goes” to hell.
The general consensus seems to be this: bad people go to a place where they forever burn in fire and breath sulfur and wish they could go back. Most people would define “bad people” as a general lack of goodness. Christians for the most part define the damned as those who do not accept Christ. And so, this picture of hell leads me to think of a God who gives the thumbs up or the thumbs down, and the latter of the lot go to sit in the fire pit for eternity. Once again...too simplistic.
In my quest for the real hell, I stumbled across two C.S. Lewis works: The Problem of Pain and the Great Divorce -- both of which have something to say about Hell. Lewis does not claim a complete revelation of eternal places, but he does cast a worthy new light on the subject.
In The Problem of Pain, Lewis ties hell to the Fall of man, explaining that the first sin was that mankind wanted “to ‘call their souls their own.’ But that means to live a lie, for our souls are in fact not our own.” He later says that hell is the condition in which a lost soul “has his wish: to live wholly in the self and to make the best of what he finds there.”
Therefore, a “found soul” is one that has returned to the condition of living wholly in God, as humanity did before the fall, and this is a different creature altogether. With the fall came a new fallen creature, and with Jesus, the second Adam, came the rise of the new creature.
Mission, as we have said before, exists for the worship of God, which is wholly living in God, is it not? We do not go to the ends of the earth to offer eternal refuge from a pit of fire and sulfur. We do not even go to the ends of the earth to offer eternal rest in a cloud covered utopia. We go to speak the reality of fallen man and to impart the even greater reality of the new man, whom we can become through Christ. I would assert that the essence of heaven and hell lies not in location but in state of being.
What makes missions last in us?
As Americans, most of us have grown up always knowing about God, or at least being exposed to him. There are churches all over the places, signs and billboards with various biblical messages and even lots of people who talk about Jesus or claim to follow him. And that is why it is so hard to imagine a world that has never heard of our Jesus.
I hear the numbers: - 2.74 billion people unreached - 40.9 percent of the world’s population unreached - 9 percent of missionaries working with unreached people groups
In fact I feel bludgeoned over the head with these numbers, but I know why. Every time these numbers are given to me they come from individuals or agencies trying to communicate the need of a world I cannot understand; to remedy the disparity of effort going to that need.
In Romans 10 we are asked, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!'"
There are some things that stir me to compassion and others that flood my heart with guilt. The story of William Wilberforce stirs desire to fight injustice with undying passion. I see impoverished children on television and I think: "I have so much food, and they have none. And sometimes I eat more than I need. What is the matter with me?" These feelings are real, but they are not lasting, and they certainly cannot fuel a lifelong commitment to mission work among the unreached.
We will be able to swallow the numbers and digest them only after one very important thing happens in us: we realize God’s glory and we decide it is the most valuable, most beautiful, most precious thing to us. God’s glory is everlasting and eternal, and it is the only passion that will fuel a true, lasting passion for the unreached.
To preach or not to preach on the corner
Evangelism is one of the scariest words in the Christian dictionary (the lexicon we carry around to communicate spiritual things). We think of the raggle-taggle bearded man on the street corner whose body is littered with cardboard signs that say, “REPENT!” and whose mouth spits out scripture and warning of coming hell. Some say that there should be more of us doing that sort of thing; others say those dang street preachers are doing more damage to the gospel than good. Good or bad, nobody wants to be the guy on the street corner.
But what do we do with Matthew 4:17 and 23: “From then on, Jesus began to preach, 'Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near' and 'Jesus traveled throughout the region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom.' It seems Jesus might have had a lot in common with the street preacher.
The spread of the gospel through personal testimony and public preaching has been the central to missions for centuries, and yet even the mention of street preaching raises a stench among Christians and non-Christians alike. Could it be that we are afraid of evangelism in its traditional form because it doesn’t work?
Last night I listened to Shane Claiborne speak in Sutherland Auditorium, and he answered a question about preaching the gospel effectively, saying that preaching has a place, but the church needs to work on gaining back credibility before its words will be received again.
Isn’t it true that there is a stigma with witnessing, Christianity and even God in American culture? I will never tell anyone not to preach the gospel, but the conclusion I have come to is that we cannot preach in ignorance of the barriers between God’s truth and our fellow Americans. It is easy to forget to contextualize in our own culture because we forget that Christian ideals do not align with American culture.
Our evangelism cannot be blind -- even Jesus delivered his teaching in packages his listeners could easily digest. Perhaps rather than gritting our teeth to persist in an evangelistic form that must push through stigma, we should ask the Holy Spirit for a new package. What do people need? What do they love and enjoy? Let’s allow the gospel flow through open channels rather than those that are closed.
Evangelism is nothing more than the delivery of truth, and it should be ridiculously enjoyable.
What is a Missionary?
When I was in middle school, I remember getting very agitated on Mission’s Sunday, when a missionary would come in and share with our congregation once a month. I wanted the godliness of their lifestyle but didn’t find any application from their talks for my 6th grade world or my own life passions. My heart revolted against the idea that foreign missionaries were somehow living a holier life than the rest of us living in the suburbs of Minnesota.
As I result I decried the term “missionary” whenever the subject came up, insisting that everyone should be a missionary. Everyone should be living a holy, abundant life before God, I thought.
Well, looking back, I was very wrong and very right. Every Christian should live as a follower of Christ; this life includes holiness, adventure and deep love. But not everyone is a missionary. This may be elementary, but until this year, the term missionary has confused me to no end, and it will be helpful to all of us if we understand it well.
A missionary is someone who is called to go somewhere else other than where they live and make disciples of a people, baptizing and teaching them. Their full occupation is found within the great commission, including time, energy, resources and goals. The point is that they go; they are sent ones.
Now does this mean that only a missionary makes disciples, baptizing and teaching? Absolutely not. There are many of us who are doing the great commission through our current life situations; we live with missional intentions, but we do not have a missionary role in society. Lets look at these two examples:
1: Garret lives with his wife Katie in Bangledesh as a missionary. Katie and Garret have been living in Bangladesh for five years, but they are originally from Canada. About 10 years ago, Garret was studying linguistics in college when he began praying about where God would send him. After he met Katie, they began praying together and felt Bangladesh was the place for them. So they began raising support and studying the language so that they could work as Bible translators and teachers. They left their home in Canada and moved to Bangladesh to plant churches there and bring the gospel to an unreached people group.
2: Dana lives in New York and works for an advertising agency there. She is a part of a house church that meets in Brooklyn every week. Dana prays for her coworkers every day and has been talking with one of them about suffering and God. She often comes in early to pray and has invited others to join her. Dana’s neighbor in her apartment building is a single mom with three boys, so Dana often watches them for her in the evenings. At the advertising agency, Dana has been building a reputation of honesty and trust with her clients and superiors. Just last week, her boss asked why she turned down a client, and Dana was able to talk about integrity and her relationship with Jesus.
Hopefully it is obvious that the missionary is Garret, but you’ll notice that Dana’s life is no less missional. Garret’s occupation is mission work, and Dana’s occupation is advertising, but they are both advancing God’s kingdom in a way only they can. So, if you are supposed to be do missions as an occupation, then do it! If you are supposed to be a banker, or a physicist, or a stay at home mom, or a counselor, then that is what you should be. Our lives are missional by nature; a missionary’s work is missional by nature.
A still birth
I was at Torrey Conference last week, and I found something interesting. Tears fill my eyes at the sight and sound of suffering: an HIV-positive woman with sunken empty eyes, an African boy with an inflated belly, an Asian little princess working as a prostitute, a dying woman crying for someone to hold her as life fades quickly away. Yes, tears fill my heart and I think, Good, I am feeling. Something must be happening. Thank you God.
A week later I am deep in my own struggles, moving into the weekend with every intention of adding clothing to my fully stocked wardrobe and filling my hours with entertaining activities. My tears have dissolved, you see. The stirring in my heart for lost, hurting people had started to form a substance inside me, but it never saw the light of day. It died.
James speaks a haunting truth over us in his second chapter:
As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.
Funny, in the metaphor, the life-giving agents are the spirit and deeds, whereas the vessels are the body and faith. My first tendency would be to place deeds and body in one category, since they are both physical. But James says, “No, my sister! Your deeds fill out your faith. They are the substance.” If nothing happens in my life (deeds) after my eyes are opened to truth (faith), a stillbirth occurs.
I feel it is easy to get spiritually fat at Biola; in fact I’m pretty sure I’ve gained a few pounds of faith here. Deeds and faith work together like energy and exercise. Calories are energy we take in and activity utilizes that energy. No activity, the energy is stored away for later, unfortunately in the form of fat cells, much to our American demise.
If you are feeling itchy at this point in the semester to leave Biola behind and change the world with your two bare hands, I absolutely encourage you to do so. In fact, God in Heaven has placed us in a most dangerous mission field: Los Angeles, California. I will not spit facts at you (I’d rather you find out for yourself about your city), but I will tell you that darkness surrounds us, and we need nothing but to step off our campus to be in a place where light has not touched.
Perhaps you are drowning in my analogies, so I will speak plainly now. You are stirred at the state of the world. You see something must be done and hear God speaking to you (faith). Los Angeles is where you are right now. If you do not move here in this city now, you will be spiritually unhealthy and what was once faith will be a dead shell inside of you. Mission, which is deeds by faith advancing God’s Kingdom, happens here, now.
Have you ever been on a short-term mission trip? Like Professor Murray Decker says, missions trips have almost become a rite of passage for young Christians. Recently, SMU has been helping students form teams to go out over interterm to Belgium, Egypt, Uganda, Kenya and Russia. On November 11, all Biola students are invited to a meeting for the formation of Summer 2010 teams.
There is always great excitement surrounding a gathering missions team. Our generation is characterized by passion for causes and idealism; we are the ones who pick up and go at a moment’s notice. Most of us don't mind getting dirty, giving away our stuff or going off to a foreign country for a couple of weeks. The short-term mission fits us perfectly. But in our zeal, it may be wise to step back.
Everyone has heard about the “mission trip from hell”: illness, plans falling through, team members with bad attitudes, unreliable contacts, etc. Sometimes difficulty is inevitable, but recently I did some reading for my Foundations of Global Studies class that helped to realign my thinking about short-term missions. The main idea from the readings was this:
Short-term missions are effective and necessary when they are motivated primarily by the worship of God, oriented within the work that God is already doing, and submissive to the church body or a missions agency.
As students with opportunity for short-term mission, it is important that we go for the right reasons and teams align themselves correctly with the God's plan for advancing his Kingdom. If you are thinking of participating in a short-term mission, www.stmstandards.org is a great resource for evaluating yourself and your team. The site details the following seven standards of excellence:
2. Empowering partnerships
3. Mutual design
4. Comprehensive administration
5. Qualified leadership
6. Appropriate training
7. Thorough follow-up
These standards may read a bit robotic and overly planned, but something I have been learning this semester is that planning can be synonymous with loving. If we are to serve the people of the earth and the body of Christ through short-term mission, we need to plan well.
Obedience > Visions
I stood on a grassy sward, and at my feet a precipice broke and sheared down into infinite space. I looked, but saw no bottom; only cloud shapes, black and furiously coiled, and great shadow-shrouded hollows, and unfathomable depths… . Then I saw more streams of people flowing from all quarters. All were blind, stone blind. All made straight for the precipice edge. There were shrieks, as they suddenly knew themselves falling, and a tossing up of helpless arms, catching, clutching at empty air. But some went over quietly and fell without a sound… . Then through the hymn came another sound like the pain of a million broken hearts wrung out in one full drop, one sob. And a horror of great darkness was upon me, for I knew what it was the Cry of the Blood.
This dream belongs to a 17-year-old Amy Carmichael of Scotland. She vividly saw men, women, and children walking off a cliff and falling into hell. Carmichael is gone now. She died in 1951 and is buried in India where she lived and worked for 56 years. It took about 10 years from the time she received the dream to get to India, but something in her heart turned that evening, and she responded by reaching out to her own people.
After encountering the poor women in her neighborhood, Carmichael began taking care of them and teaching them about the Bible. What started as a small ministry grew into a gathering of hundreds in the city of Belfast.
We hear stories of the extraordinary men and women of missions past -- Amy Carmichael, Hudson Taylor, David Livingston, Mary Slesser, William Carey — and we marvel at their intensity. We desire to imitate their lives, to see the world their way, to care deeply, to do great works of God. Passion fills our hearts and we get up from our reading with some hope that we can now do what they did, and then…life sweeps us away. What is their secret? What is the key to an impassioned life for God?
Some think they need to have a stunning vision of hell like Carmichael, or maybe a life-changing encounter with the destitute. Maybe we are wrong in our thinking that one experience will impassion us for a life of loving God with abandon.
These heroes, fathers and mothers of mission had nothing in their blood more special than you and me. Much like our own lives, theirs were filled with moments of fear, dullness, and disorientation. God speaks to us the same way he did to Amy Carmichael over 100 years ago. He uses people, visions, books, movies, butterflies, and sorrow to turn us to himself. And our lives progress forward not by lasting passion but by intentional responses to every word God speaks to us.
Our heroes did this one thing well: they heard.
Who wants to be on the front line?
I asked if you wanted to get out of your world. I took you back to the
beginning of the human story and turned our attention to the hopeful end.
Perhaps we should talk about the middle where missions uniquely
We have a short span of years to be on a planet temporarily ruled by an evil dictator (2 Corinthians 4:4) whose purpose is capturing the human soul and killing it. As humans we can choose to live under the authority of this evil, or we can resist and follow the rebel, the true King of the oceans, continents, milky way and beyond: Jesus Christ.
If you place your allegiance with the eternal God, you are automatically a rebel. There is nothing about God that Satan does not hate, therefore your little Christ life is a slap in evil’s face -- and trust me, he’s one to fight back.
But, I don’t feel very rebellious. Do you feel rebellious?
There is nothing good about rebellion in and of itself, but it is a fact of our combined allegiance to God and our existence on this earth. There are two reasons Christians are not experiencing resistance from the enemy:
1.They are not really following the true King_. They may say it, but their life works well within the dictator’s rules, so in reality they stay in allegiance to evil.
2.They are safe and sound at base camp_. It has been long since the stark reality of the front lines has stared them in the face, and the details of comfortable life have consumed their attention. They cannot hear the cry of murdered souls.
We have given the term “missions” to this fight on the front lines of the battle for humanity. Wipe away the lazy "Mission Sundays" and the smiling faces on the flannel graph, and take up a new definition.
Human souls were made to worship the eternal God, and the evil dictator has
been at work stealing God’s worship, killing human movement toward
worship and destroying knowledge of Eternal God from human hearts (John
“Mission exists because worship doesn't,” said John Piper.
He is absolutely right. In our distinctive time on earth we are called by the
great King to be soldiers on the front lines. We fight for souls to find
their purpose in worshiping the everlasting God. A human soul that
chooses this worship will live, tied to the eternal one, and a human soul
that never chooses this worship will die, tied to eternal emptiness and
And so, the soldiers sitting drinking cokes at base camp stop after hearing
stories from the front. They forgot what they were fighting for, but now
they remember. So, they leave their cokes behind and take a walk over to
the commander’s office. Once inside, they stare in his eyes and say,
“We’re here. Send us.” (Isaiah 6:8)
Remembering life before the fall
It was a short time in the beginning before everything went wrong; at least short for us, given the space of only two of the 1,189 chapters in the Bible. Most of us do not often venture back before the fall of mankind. Subconsciously we think, “In the beginning, Adam and Eve failed, and because of that now I fail.” Our world is bad and human beings are bad. We just have to deal with it, right?
I think we are forgetting something very important. But before I tell you what that something is, I want to us think about our world now.
In our lives, pain and suffering are common, and intimacy with God is rare. We sit under a crushing pile of homework, relationship failure, emotional baggage, stress, fear, and we don’t think it’s possible to throw it off — much less be rid of it forever.
There is no doubt that this world is broken. The question is, are we okay with it? Is it all right to simply accept that life is hard, that God is far, that happiness is short-lived, and joy only happens on those lucky enough to find it? Perhaps we have grown too accustomed to this life on earth after the fall. There may be a cure for us in the beginning.
In the second chapter of Genesis we get a limited, but revealing description of life in the garden. In verse seven, it says that God's breath was the life of the first man, Adam. We are told that God spoke to the man directly and gave him instruction in verse 16. In verse 22 it says God brought Eve to Adam, perhaps he led her by the hand. In chapter three, we find Eve and Adam hiding as they hear God walking through the garden.
Our beginning as human beings is not marked by the fall; in our beginning human beings were with God, in every sense of the word. We heard him speak like we hear each other; we recognized his gait as he walked toward us; we held his hand in the cool of the night; his breath gave life to our bodies. God has not changed; in fact, he is moving full speed ahead to restore our closeness with him for eternity. And now, living after the fall, we must remember the very beginning so we can look to eternity with expectation and live our lives accordingly.
Henri Nouwen explains the importance of expectation in his book “Out of Solitude”:
The one who stayed with us in the past and will return to us in the future becomes present to us in that precious moment in which memory and hope touch each other. ... Maybe we can say now that in the center of our sadness for his absence we can find the first signs of his presence.
While we are here on this earth, we must keep our gaze up, all the while remembering the garden. Hope, as Nouwen says, will sustain us in a world familiar with pain, and it is in hope of our restoration to God in a new Eden that drives mission.
God makes man
If we are to understand God’s love for us, we need to understand our story. Mission exists because people exist, and in turn, many people are estranged from their true lover: the Holy One of Heaven.
I’ve always wondered at the first moments of our creation. What did it look like and how did it happen? I thought It was high time to take a stab at the story:
The idea had been brewing for such a long time, and now, as they watched the water spring up out of the ground, God knew it was time. How exciting it had been, setting the lights about the vast space, with his ones in mind; they would spend so many nights gazing up, and wondering at him, which was exactly how he wanted it. And the trees, they would love the trees and the coolness of the shade. Oh, and swimming and running up and down the hills and mountains and standing in the wind. Oh they could not wait any longer.
“Lets begin,” Papa said.
"Yes, I cannot wait any longer,” Spirit said, laughing.
“Come on you two,” Word flashed with a brilliant burst of color and warmth, and enveloped them in it.
They went to work, all at once pouring out ideas in streams that reached into the ground and came to life. Papa dug his hands into the earth and lifted it out of its resting place, laying a newly made head on his lap. Spirit dove into the chest of the being, weaving in and out of it with excitement. Word just sat for a moment, thinking as he stared at Papa, tears coming from his eyes. He reached over to form the pieces called hands, an idea he had been very fond of. The hand would reach and be held; it was the material manifestation of relationship. When he finished, he kissed the the palm, and set it down gently. He looked over and saw Papa still working, now whispering into the listener on the side of the being’s head.
Spirit had calmed himself a bit, waiting for his turn, and as a result Papa and Word had grown quiet, working. Their warmth shone on the skin of the being and they all look at him, knowing he was ready. Word replaced Papa, allowing the being’s head to rest in his own lap, meanwhile taking hold of his hand. Papa stood at the feet, looming over Adam, and he bent over, bringing his face just above the chest of the being. He began to blow into the air, and spirit jumped into the current, penetrating the Adam while the rest of the air entered the nose of the being, who breathed in for the first time and opened his eyes.
He just laid there for some time, staring into the face of the Word, who smiled at him, for the first time in a long time not having anything to say. Spirit had made sure every cell was given a bit of himself, and he now began to sing quietly so the man’s entire form sang with the sound of it. Papa put his arm around Word and placed his right hand on the cheek of the man. And then the man did something. He reached up his hand and placed it over Papa’s and closed his eyes to sleep.
Do you want to get out?
Hey, my name is Amy Ritter and I am the SMU Publications Editor this year. I love writing and God’s passion for missions is becoming mine, so I’m here on this small patch of the Web to conference with you and God about what he is doing on the earth.
You may have a country or a region that just won’t leave your mind, or maybe a group of people. Or, you may not think about the rest of the world very much at all; and believe me, there are many people in this category, including myself. “But wait, you work for SMU!?!?!” Yes I do, but really, when I compare my actual perspective to my idealism, it's apparent that I do not spend much time pondering the plight of the world. I joined the SMU staff with a central purpose to train myself in mission-mindedness.
Whatever you have on your mind, this is a place for you to read yourself right off campus and see the world. Sometimes it is easy to get tunnel vision here at school; the college life has a way of consuming us, which is all right, for a season. But, beyond the significance of our self-discovery is the eternally important discovery of God, whose desires include relationship with all human beings.
I love that the Bible says we are all created in the image of God. If we draw out the conclusion we get a large picture made up of billions of little snapshots. And the benefit: we display God to each other (Hint: More people=more images).
Did I mention that I suffer from individualism? It is a curable disease, and together we can expose the weakness in our worldview and adopt a God-centered perspective. When we find ourselves small, yet significant in God’s story, we can live as we ought: in peaceful humility.
If we want to form a perspective, let’s start with the facts. Numbers will help us to understand just about how big the picture frame really is. So, let’s have it.
According to adherents.com in 2005 there were about 2.1 billion Christians in the world, meaning that around 33 percent of the world claimed to follow Jesus Christ (This number includes Latter-day Saints and Jehovah’s Witness who claim truths outside the bible, so a little bit less than 33 percent). What does the rest of the world believe? The same site estimates 21 percent of the world is Muslim, 16 percent nonreligious, 14 percent Hindu, 6 percent primal religious (animistic/other religious practices), 6 percent Buddhist, and .22 percent Jewish.
What these numbers tell me is that there are a whole lot of people who have an entirely different perspective on life and, more importantly, who are not choosing eternity with God. Taking on a global perspective is like pulling oneself out of quicksand; thankfully, we have the muscle of the Spirit of God on the other end of the rope. The question is, do you want to get out?