Saturday, October 14, 2006

We're on a Mission from God!

So said the Blues Brothers many years ago, but my spiritual siblings and I are serious.

The idea in our heads is only this: We want to grow in Christ. We want the maturity that has been available to us from the beginning but which we have turned down for far lesser things. We want to be empowered by an obedient heart to not only make right choices, but also to serve in this world the way God intends. We are learning that obedience begets obedience more and more joyful in hope.

This is why we want to envision our presence in the world as a mission trip. We know that we are here only temporarily and that we are commanded to spread the Word. Does that not sound like a mission trip? We know that heaven is our true home, and that, when the mission is over, we shall go to our home (I can't quite say return).

As an example, on a mission trip in 2005, all of our time was devoted to God. We had so little time for distractions and temptations and were happily committed to this level of devotion. We want this to be our modus operandi everywhere, all the time.

We asked, "How can we make our everyday lives more like a mission trip". Our interest is not in changing the appearance of our lives, but in changing their substance. In order to answer, we recalled our activities on missions in other countries like teaching & preaching (both formally and informally), prayer walking, and visiting the homes of believers and praying for them, and Evangelistic Bible study, which has begun. We were also reminded of the practice found not only on the mission field of 'praying on the spot' when asked for prayer. Why pass up such an opportunity for fellowship in the Spirit? We are preparing ourselves with a mind-set for seizing opportunities to do these things.

There are challenges of course, and we discussed them at length. They consist primarily in the necessity of mundane tasks (likely boring, stressful, or both), isolation, and the various and sundry distractions not present in less prosperous regions of the planet.

We resolved to remember that, as the 'tent-makers' we must be, we work at our respective jobs in order to support our missions. If we lived in a far away land, we would likely work in some capacity, either to justify our presence in less than open countries or to provide support for ourselves or both.

Not only so, but I have recently been reminded from a number of different sources in a short period of time that work is ordained by God, it gives him glory, and in our culture the opportunity to performed skilled labor and those who engaged in it were more respected and sought after than celebrity and wealth are now. By these reminders and their chronological proximity, I conclude that God is, in his way, reminding me of the truth that work is part of his plan for history and, as such, it need not be shunned, but embraced.

We resolved also to support each other by talking every day on the phone when talking in person is not possible. With the technology available to us, there can be no involuntary isolation. We have the ability to easily communicate and, in so doing, encourage and remind one another of our mission. We are committed to it.

We are still stumbling through this, trying to figure it out and to remember and implement what we think we've learned. But the very simple act of thinking in these terms has had a tremendous impact. We have more hope and joy in even the most trivial of activities that we must endure because we see now what has always been true, even these trifles are part of our mission that lead us to and contributes to the success of the more exciting parts. We also see all kinds of distractions and temptations more clearly as the hindrances they are, and more easily resist them. It is no exaggeration to say, though imperfect in our persistence, we each have our chin up and a spring in our step.

However, there have been challenges, and interestingly they have varied according to our weaknesses. One has struggled because he has been overwhelmed with assigned work and associated deadlines, another has been, quite the opposite, inebriated with leisure. All the more reason we must continue to be consistent to "spur one another on".

The Lord willing, we shall.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

How Will I Know?

I never cease to be amazed by the devotional book My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers. The entry for 10/10 in particular is humbling because of its profound wisdom and its combination of sophistication and brevity, but also startling because of its immediate relevance to what I have been thinking and saying about sanctification and obedience. Please read and consider Oswald Chambers' teaching: How Will I Know?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Daily Repentence

You may have heard it taught, as I have, that sanctification is a life of daily repentance. I believe this is true because this conclusion acknowledges the fact that we are not perfect and will likely sin sometimes (rarely, we hope). So, if we Christians do sin, then repentance is required again, not in order to reapply for justification, but in order for us to continue in the process of sanctification.

In fact, if this were not so, sanctification would not be necessary at all, for we would have achieved perfection. How can we ever hope to grow in holiness except to repent of particular sins for which we have not yet offered repentence and to repent of that to which we have returned whether by premeditation or impulse?

This daily repentance can encourage us to persevere against any sinful habits we have. Not only so, but we should not feel defeated or discouraged from a genuine pursuit of sanctification by occasional (or perhaps even habitual) 'back-sliding'.

"What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God -- through Jesus Christ our Lord!" ~Romans 7:24-25

"Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." ~Hebrews 2:18

"Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world." ~John 17:24

Trust and Obey

The very texture of my life has been stress, anxiety, guilt. At this moment, living feels a bit oddly vacant because this ever-present texture has retreated to reveal space and the light of hope.

This is all very nice and poetic, perhaps even narcissistically grandiose. But what happened? Did I have some kind of psychological breakthrough? Did I discover some long-suppressed memory from my childhood? Did I learn "I'm OK, you're OK?"


I learned I'm not ok. I've known this, but I know it now a little more thoroughly than before. And, I believe I know it because of joining with brothers and sisters in a conscious pursuit of obedience in things previously excused. So it is with the blessing of sanctification, "being made holy". Sanctification requires humility in increasingly greater measure, which explains my natural aversion to it.

My job, debts, commute to work, 'emotional baggage', I commonly say are stresses in my life. These stresses I now understand have never been the external influences I imagined them to be. They are stressful only because I make them that way in my self-reliance, greed, lust, and pride.

Idolatry, every one.

How can faith in Christ and faithfulness to the one, true, living God lead to anxiety? But, rebellion against God is stressful.

"The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace;" ~Romans 8:6
"The wicked man flees though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion." ~Proverbs 28:1

Anxiety and guilt are God's blessing to me. The alternative is being numb to the evil of my sins and given over to them.

"No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it." ~Hebrews 12:11

Our circumstances do not dictate our demeanor. As we turn our hearts toward Jesus, putting our trust in his provision, not only forever, but also even for now, we find peace in obedience that is in no way oppressive, but rather liberating. Obedience that comes from faith really is joy sublime.

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." ~Philippians 4:6

Friday, October 06, 2006

Hang in there!

Who says, "hang in there!" to someone who just got a promotion or won first prize in a competition? Why should we need encouragement when things are going well?

Something occurred to me this morning while I was putting on my shoes. I've been less stressed out and less troubled for the past 2-3 weeks than I had been previously. The reason for this is beyond question. Having determined that I should be living as a missionary right here, right now, I have put much more trust in God regarding all areas of my life. Not only so, but I can see that God has worked in a number of other ways as well in order to shepherd me into this transformative thinking. I have more faith, less fear; more joyful hope, less dread. This is wonderful, though not nearly complete.

We are not yet in Heaven where there is no sin and no temptation. Here in the world, there is still danger. As I reflect on the past couple of weeks, I see a tendency in my behavior toward complacency. It's striking because I expect a trend toward action driven by joy, excitement, a renewed sense of freedom. All those things are present, but my flesh is still at work also. I believe, based on what scripture teaches about human nature, that such gravity toward complacency during times of peace, prosperity, and blessing is exceedingly ordinary.

But I don't want spiritual growth to cease or even to slow down! While the troubles of this world provide a strong temptation to turn to idols of all kinds, even the blessings of God can be turned around in my childish mind to become a temptation to idolatry. It may even be that they are a greater temptation, because in striving for God, we must sometimes release our hold on the peace and prosperity that he has graciously poured out, but this is not only contrary to our flesh, but also to our common sense. In my immaturity, it is precisely for peace and prosperity that I seek God. But it should not be so. God himself is our very great reward.

So, perhaps even moreso than at other times, in times of peace and hope that come from spiritual growth, we must press on persistently in fervent prayer, scripture reading, and the encouragement of one another in the Spirit. These must remain our commitment to God in order to continue to fulfill our mission.

After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:
"Do not be afraid, Abram.
I am your shield,
your very great reward."
~Genesis 15:1

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. ~Philippians 3:12-14

It's All Relative

Mt. Chimbulak, Almaty, KZ

Sunday, October 01, 2006

An Encouraging Greeting

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,
To God's elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood:
Grace and peace be yours in abundance. ~1 Peter 1:1-2

Peter identifies himself and he identifies the recipients of his letter. He is an apostle of Jesus Christ. In identifying his readers, Peter uses multiple synonymous phrases. In so doing, he gives definition to God’s elect. God’s elect are a) strangers in the world and b) chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.

But Peter also says that his recipients are scattered throughout [regions of what is now Turkey]. But if this is intended to be definitive, Peter must believe God’s elect reside nowhere else in the world. This seems highly unlikely. So in naming the places his recipients live, he must have another purpose. Perhaps the point is not that the elect live only in these regions, but quite the opposite: the elect are scattered and may be found anywhere, but are placed broadly and mixed in with the world. Perhaps alternatively, while the elect can be found beyond the regions mentioned, Peter expects only the elect in these regions to receive his letter.

In all three of these definitions, we are encouraged. First, calling us strangers in the world, Peter prepares us for his exhortation to holiness. But we are also reminded why we are strangers: we are God’s elect.

Second, while we may feel isolated and alone, we are not. There are many like us, though we may be spread thinly among the pagans.

Third, we have been chosen by God. Therefore, his hand is at work in us and around us, for surely he would not abandon what he has claimed as his own.

Peter also tells us for what purpose we were chosen, which encourages us further because it is a grand purpose that can only be fulfilled by God’s hand. We know then that he must be with us in order to see it to completion.

This purpose is twofold. First, we are chosen for obedience to Jesus Christ. Second, we are chosen for sprinkling by his blood. God’s choice is not made through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, but this is how the purpose of obedience is fulfilled. These purposes are not only an encouragement, but a call. We not only must strive for obedience and holiness (sprinkled by his blood), but also we are able to achieve it because of God’s choice and the work of the Spirit.

To close his greeting, Peter blesses us with abundant grace and peace. Grace may be in demand all the more when there is no peace, as in times of suffering detailed later in Peter's letter. But, Peter wishes us peace as well. Not only so, but he blesses us with both and in abundance so that, whether or not in times of suffering, we have each overflowing and overlapping.