Tag Archives: Great Commission

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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How to Lose Everything

Levi was an ordinary man with an ordinary desk-job. He worked for the government in taxes. He wasn’t well-liked, but it was a position that allowed for affluent living, especially if he exacted a little extra than the law required.

One day while at work, a man walked by Levi’s tax booth with a large crowd following after him. The man spotted Levi and simply said, “Follow me.” Levi stood up and left his work behind. He took the man to his house and invited others in his field of work as well as the people following the man to join them for a big dinner. Even though the community leaders criticized his choice of company, the man defended meeting with the corrupt government workers. After that night, Levi left his town to follow this man around the country as he continued gathering and teaching the ignored, shunned, and disadvantaged. Levi left everything he had and became known as the apostle Matthew.

Jesus repeated this scene several times, calling different people to join his disciples (Mark 2:14-17). What catches me, though, are his requirements. In one way or another, he says each time that his disciples have to abandon everything to follow him.

Luke 9:57-62 shows how Jesus calls three men. The first eagerly volunteers to follow him, no matter where Jesus travels. What is Jesus’ response? “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” Translation? “Even animals have their homes, but I have no home. If you follow me, you won’t have a home either.”

He then turns and tells someone else to follow him. This man asks for some more time before going with Jesus. I once heard someone say that by asking to wait to bury his father, this man’s father was probably still alive. He wanted to wait until he fulfilled the duty of burying his father after he eventually died. Who knows how long that might take? This second man didn’t want an extension for a day or two; he was stalling indefinitely.

The third man in this story has a much smaller request. He promises to follow Jesus, but he just wants to say goodbye to his family before taking off. There is no knowing when he may return, if at all, so he asks to first visit the people he loves most. Jesus takes a different perspective. He tells the man, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” Or in other words, “Either you are all in, without any doubts, or else you’re useless to me.”

These may sound like harsh words, but Jesus never said that the truth would be easy to swallow. He only wanted fully dedicated followers in his company, and even those still would doubt until his resurrection from the dead. Jesus chose one, Judas Iscariot, that would fall away in order to fulfill the Scripture (John 17:12). All the rest, Jesus kept close to him and prepared them to continue his work after he ascended to heaven. In his prayer the night before his crucifixion, Jesus says to God the Father, “As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (John 17:18). And going into the world turned out to be a tough job only suited for those who would exchange everything to work in the service of Jesus.

In my Perspectives class, we studied the many missionary eras and the inspiring people God called to his work. Hundreds of years ago, missionaries used to go off to foreign lands they had never seen and barely knew. They would pack up a few personal belongings and board a ship to who knows where, fully expecting to never return home. There were many who died of disease within a year or two. These faithful people believed that Jesus addressed the Great Commission to every one of his followers, including themselves, and they obeyed his call even while aware of the costs (Matt. 28:16-20).

Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission

Hudson Taylor, an 18th-century Englishman, knew God wanted him in China. He ended up spending 51 years there, starting the China Inland Mission and setting new precedents for future missionaries to follow. Taylor was strongly convicted by the lost souls in China and God’s call for Christians to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. He is quoted as saying, “It will not do to say that you have no special call to go to China. With these facts before you and with the command of the Lord Jesus to go and preach the gospel to every creature, you need rather to ascertain whether you have a special call to stay at home.”

According to Taylor’s thinking, missionaries are not the Christian exceptions, the rarities of the flock. Instead, missionaries such as the apostles are meant to be the norm. In the Christian life, staying at home should be unusual. Staying at home should be the “special call” or Plan B when God prevents you from otherwise going. The Christian life means to lose everything. When Jesus says, “Follow me,” we get up and leave behind our work, our homes, our families, and everything we know. We lose it all to gain life with him–true, fulfilling life that never ends.

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Posted by on May 10, 2013 in Other thoughts


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