Monday, January 14, 2008

Something to Brag About

Personal Note: We just got back from the Grey Havens today. It was a great trip with great weather, good family time, and a great conference with Neil Cole- esteemed church planting guru. We arrived early this morning to sub-zero temperatures and snow on the ground. I am wearing my winter hat even now as I type. It is really cold outside and fairly cold inside. Oh well, back to work.

But the subject of today's post is the Kingdom of God; or more accurately how we perceive the Kingdom. I am sure that everyone thinks they have their priorities right- if they didn't they would change them. But are they right? Are our priorities- yours and mine- correct? There are things that I would love to hide from you. There are sins that I hope you will never find out about. I am sure you feel the same. But I have learned that we should not judge ourselves by the things we try to hide as much as by the things we brag about. What do you brag about? What is it you feel is really wonderful about you and your life? I think that when it comes to the Kingdom of God this is a critical question. It came up recently here when some friends did something that surprised us. I will tell the story.

Legolas and I work together here in Gondor. He and his wife have started a small church in their home made up of the extended members of a very dysfunctional family. Several have become believers and their redeemed and transformed lives have been a rock of stumbling for others in their family who are clinging to sin and selfishness. One young lady has been a real beacon of light in the darkness here. She also worked for a family who are with a different organization. They are from another denomination and look at the work of church planting differently than we do. I have always liked them and enjoyed their fellowship in spite of doctrinal and methodological differences. Last year they went back to the West. Last week they paid big bucks to sponsor this young lady to move to the West to live and study. Legolas and his wife are furious. I am very disappointed. At this point some of you may be wondering why we are upset. The answer is very important. It has to do with the very heart of the Gospel itself. Let me contrast the two views here so that we can clearly understand what is at stake.

View One: Legolas and his wife believe that God has called all Christians to join Him in His great work of establishing the Kingdom of God among every people, tribe, and nation. They shared the Gospel with this young lady believing that God wanted her in His Kingdom and had paid a huge price at Calvary in order to make that happen. Eternity is a long time and Legolas and his wife have given up a good paying job in the West and taken their five children to a hard place to live because they believe that the Kingdom of God is far more valuable than any earthly rewards. They further believe that God desires to reach the people of Gondor with the people of Gondor- or as we like to say, the resources needed for a harvest are in the harvest. So, they believe that what this young lady needs more than anything is a deep discipleship relationship with God that teaches her to obey everything He commands her.

View Two: What our other friends have demonstrated is another view altogether. They believe that the Kingdom of God means material benefits that translate into a higher standard of living. It is simple really: If you love God He will love you by giving you a more comfortable life. Since this young lady has come to faith in a poor and struggling country what needs to happen is that we must get her out of there right away so that she can reap the rewards of her good decision to follow Jesus. In this view our job of discipleship has less to do with obeying Jesus and more to do with providing every material benefit we can to those in need.

Now, let me be clear here, I am a humanitarian aid worker. I help people everyday. I believe in our responsibility to care for others with all the resources He supplies. But I also believe that the greatest joy of any believer should come as they lay down their lives for the one who calls us all. This happens in small ways and large every day. I am sure that my friends think they have done a good deed in taking this girl to the West and 'rescuing' her from a difficult life in a broken country- it goes without saying that she is way warmer in the West than here right now! But I will not boast of lives rescued from suffering. I will boast in my Lord who calls all of those whom He loves to come and die. His ways are not our ways but they are the best ways. They are the only ways that spell hope for the people of Gondor, for the peoples of Middle Earth, for the peoples of the whole world. Oh, and for you and me too.


marie said...

I pray this young girl does not come to the West and find that the "American" form of Christianity is irrisistable and forsake her homeland for the materialistic way of life that leads to death and destruction. I pray the Holy Spirit will reveal the Truth to her and open her eyes to see with God's perspective.

And, may we all view the Kingdom of God as our call to "come and die" and be resurrected to the life of Jesus Christ. To be Ambassadors in this world where we are aliens. To shine out as ONE IN CHRIST so the world sees Jesus.

God's richest blessings on you and your family, Strider.

GuyMuse said...

How interesting about the Neil Cole conference all the way out in your part of the world! How did you guys manage to coordinate such an event? I went to his conference in S. CA last year and benefited much from the experience.

As for your above story, it is all too common. We deal with it constantly ourselves. What we try to stress is before accepting to move, to really pray about it. Is God leading them to the "new life" or is it the money. This is a tough choice for many who have lived their lives in poverty. While most end up going if given the opportunity, there are a few who choose to stay. One of these brave ones who has chosen to put first the Kingdom is our team's leader.

Anonymous said...

Having a little trouble with this one Strider. How old is she? Don't you think it may be possible for her to return to her country one day? Anyways what I think is we are all in this together in one way or another no one person is greater than another. So I will leave you with this I fully intend on saying a prayer for the girl. Angie.

Anonymous said...

Marie, I submit to you that the American way of christianity is a good one. Yes it is true there are some that teach too much on materialism but I trully believe there are more good Christians here in The West than bad. Not trying to be argumenitive just wanting to point out the good! Angie.

marie said...

Hey Angie! There certainly are good Christians here in the West! :)
I was mainly referring to the shallow Christianity one sees exhibited on T.V. and in a lot of churches here. There are not many pastors teaching the whole truth of the Kingdom Gospel - that is, as Strider has mentioned, the call to die to the world and self in order to live in Christ. Also, the prosperity in America makes it hard for many Christians to live by the "Faith of the Son of God" (me included!).
Many blessings Angie!

Anonymous said...

Hello Marie, Thanks for your kind response. I do agree there are some that do not get out the full message. I feel very deeply that there are no big I's and little You's in Gods eyes he Loves us all the same. We should try and never take our eyes off the central message. Take Care, Angie.
p.s. Strider has managed to open another door in here for communication with others :-)

Strider said...

Sorry not to respond earlier. I have been ill and with negative 10 degree temperatures and electricity cuts I have been preoccupied.
Anyway, Thanks to all who commented. I did not intend this post as an anti-western church post, just an opportunity for all of us to evaluate our priorities so I think Angie and Marie have it right in the end. The issue for me concerning this girl is not prosperity or no, but the fact that the best interest of the Kingdom were not, are not, even considered. It is assumed that her going to the US is what is best when the truth is that even if she returns she will be considered an outsider and her influence will be minimal.

To Guy- Neil came as a part of our region's annual meeting. It was great to hear him but I was sorry not to get a chance to interact with him more- too many people you know, that is why we promote small groups!

Anonymous said...

Strider, I certainly hope you are feeling better by now!!! Angie.

Strider said...

Ok, Angie, I get it! I am working on a new post! But seriously, I am delayed a bit in blogging because we are buried in snow, we have had no water for eight days now and all the pipes are frozen, and they have just announced that in nine days the hydro-electric dam will be dry and all of Gondor will undergo a 20 to 30 day blackout. This wont be nice for us or our national friends. Pray for us.

Bryan Riley said...

I pray that the way you have characterized their belief of the Kingdom isn't accurate, Strider. Anyone who equates worldly success with the Kingdom is clearly misunderstanding the call of the gospel of the Kingdom and Christ's cross. Sigh.

At the same time, God works in amazing ways, and her trip to the US may be just what many people need, including her. Perhaps she can be a missionary to the US, where she will be a cross-cultural ambassador of Christ. I pray so!

Bryan Riley said...

I always enjoy your writing btw. It's just, well, very good.

Jody said...

Wow and to think a few weeks ago we were impressed with how tough football players were for playing a game in the cold. Hope you guys are hanging in and we're praying for you.