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Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Challenge of Being

My team loaded with clothing donations

My team loaded with clothing donations

This past July, I took my first mission trip out of the country. I traveled with seven others to Madrid, Spain, where we worked alongside four missionaries serving North African Muslims. The missionaries asked us to host an English club for the children and a clothing distribution for the mothers. On the other hand, they told us to not share the gospel or bring up conversations on Jesus, the Bible, and Christianity.

What strange instructions! Are these missionaries only interested in humanitarian efforts and social support? Were they opposing the Great Commission to “make disciples of all nations” and teach all Jesus has commanded (Matt. 28:19-20)? In fact, no.

On the second day of our visit, one of the missionaries sat us down to explain why we were invited to come. Dan told us that most people go on short-term missions asking, “What can I do?” But he could get anyone “to do” what we would do that week. Instead of focusing on doing, he had invited us there “to be.”

The missionaries knew that the people we’d meet needed to see the impact of Jesus in our lives. They needed to see that life with Jesus transforms us and makes us new. So doing things like teaching English or sorting donations wouldn’t cut it. It would require more from us than just going through motions. In Galatians, Paul says that the Holy Spirit grows in us certain character traits. By the Spirit, we become loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and disciplined. These are what Dan wanted us to “be.” Dan wanted us to be models of sincere Christians in love with Jesus and filled with God’s Spirit.

Almost immediately after he explained this, I began to draw shorter breaths. What had I gotten myself into? Despite what it may seem, “to be” is a much greater challenge than doing something. “To be” has to do with identity. Being a Christian is not about keeping a set list of rules and “doing” the right things. It’s about becoming someone new.

God was accurate in calling us his bride. When a man proposes marriage, we know he wants his love to say, “I do.” But we hope the proposal isn’t about asking her to do things like cook, clean, or raise children. If he is a honest man, he wants her to change her identity. He asks for her heart and everything of who she is. He asks her to change her name. And God asks us to change our names. He wants to adopt us, marry us. He wants us to give up our former identities and take on his through Christ. Unlike doing, being requires commitment. It means surrendering all we have to God. And surrendering takes courage. As I listened to Dan, I wondered if I had what it would take.

One of my teammates resting after a long morning

One of my teammates resting after a long morning

My team was pushed that week, but we pulled through each day triumphantly. We worked well together, with each person rising to help wherever needed. We met unexpected challenges along the way and yet collected a staggering list of reasons to praise God. Sometimes in our group prayers, we could not finish thanking God for his blessings.

But by Thursday morning, I had reached my breaking point. Each team member had their struggles–whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually–but mine was probably the most noticeable. Little things, insignificant issues on their own, had started to pile on top of me. Suddenly, the weight became overwhelming; I couldn’t stop the tears. And I rarely cry. Just before the English club started, the arriving children watched as I had to leave my team. One of the missionaries escorted me to her apartment, where I could eat goldfish crackers and rest in front of a fan. At the time, I was convinced that I was under spiritual attack. The missionary, however, thought my distress could be from another source. She suggested that I was experiencing God’s discipline.

Forced to rest, I couldn’t “do” anything. While I waited alone in the apartment, away from the distractions of programming, I could rest with God and be. When I focused on “doing” things for God, I lost how to be with him. And without his Spirit filling me up, I lost all ability “to be” anything but a stressed mess.

We can do all we want on our own, but without God making us new from the inside-out, our doings mean nothing. Being in Christ is the only way others will see real life that comes by Christ’s salvation alone. By the end of the trip, it didn’t feel like we did much, but the families we met thanked us for being there. And I thank God for using us in his work with the community.

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Posted by on October 23, 2013 in Other thoughts

 

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“Here I Am”

After my boss told me about the company layoffs, I realized that I have the time to write this post. For one reason or another, I made other priorities. But now that excuse is no longer valid.

My job required frequent reading and study of the Bible. Some months back, I can’t remember exactly when, I came across Isaiah’s call to be a prophet. Recorded in Isaiah 6, the prophet has a vision of God’s throne. Isaiah is overwhelmed by his unworthiness to be in the presence of God. One of the creatures worshiping the Lord purifies Isaiah with a coal from God’s altar, thus making the prophet able to stand before God’s throne without guilt. Then in verse 8, God speaks from his throne, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”

Isaiah volunteers without hesitation, like a child eager to please his father. “Here I am! Send me.”

For the child, any opportunity to work with his father feels like a special mission just for him. It is an honor. Isaiah doesn’t know the job description yet. All he knows is that God has accepted him, and now he will take any task from his Father.

As I read this scene, it reminded me of God’s call to Samuel. He responded in a similar way even before he realized he had heard God’s voice. In 1 Samuel 3, the boy runs to his guardian, Eli, crying, “Here I am!” Confused, Eli sends the boy away. This happens twice more before Eli guesses that the Lord is the one speaking. Samuel had mistaken the voice, but he still had the right response. He got up from bed every time to obey the call. He came to Eli ready for whatever the priest had to tell him.

“Here I am.” These three words stuck with me ever since. Recently, I decided to see where else it appears in the Bible. It turns out that Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, and lesser-known Ananias all used this simple prayer. In each case, these words mean more than, “I’m listening.” Three short words succinctly express a willingness to hear God and a submission to his direction. These are words of obedience and service. The longer version would be: “Here I am, ready and willing. What do you desire or request? Say the word. Everything I am is yours.”

This prayer is not for the faint of heart. Abraham was told to sacrifice his heir and beloved son (Gen. 22:1-2).

Jacob was sent to his homeland, which he had fled in order to escape his brother’s vengeance (Gen. 31:11, 13). Later in his life, Jacob prayed this after hearing that his son Joseph was alive and a ruler of Egypt. God tells him to not be afraid to go to Egypt, where he would die and his descendants later became a nation in slavery (Gen. 46:2-3). Several generations later, Moses prays the same way when God calls to him out of a burning bush, and God sends him into Egypt to free his people. When David’s son Absalom rebels against him, David is forced to

A reminder I made for myself

A reminder I made for myself

retreat from Jerusalem. But he trusts God’s judgment and tells his priest, “If I find favor in the eyes of the Lord, he will bring me back and let me see both it and his dwelling place. But if he says, ‘I have no pleasure in you,’ behold, here I am, let him do to me what seems good to him” (2 Sam. 15:25-26, emphasis added). Finally, there’s Ananias: the disciple in Damascus whom God chose to visit Saul of Tarsus, the Jewish militant arresting Christians (Acts 9:10-12). Ananias essentially says to God, “Are you kidding me?”

With these “encouraging” stories to guide me, I decided to take up the challenge. I re-evaluated my life and asked where God wanted me to go next. I prayed, “Here I am.” Pretty soon, God presented me with the opportunity to be a small group leader with students at my alma mater. The offer took me by surprise, and I had to stop and ask if it was really God’s voice. Sure, I had said the prayer, but this wasn’t the response I had expected.

Then this past week, my boss told me the bad news. Another surprise. Several positions, including mine, had to be cut from the company budget. Suddenly, I didn’t have work the next day. One phone call, and I had 40 extra hours of free time each week.

So here I am, Lord. Say the word.

 
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Posted by on October 8, 2013 in Other thoughts

 

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