Monday, August 31, 2009

Going out of the Camp

When reading Francine Rivers' book,"The Warrior", which was a fictional account of Caleb's life I was struck by a larger truth. The Israelites were given an important task, a command to take the promised land. They stopped short. By the end of the book of Joshua we see that the Israelites had won all the battles but failed to take the land. Several towns which had been taken were even abandoned and then the Canaanites had moved back into them. It must have been really hard to keep after the task year after year. I can't imagine what butchering people day after day would do to man a but of course, the consequences of not finishing the task costs Israel centuries of disobedience and hardship.

We have been given a task as well. We are to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. We have for 2000 years so far fallen short! Yes, it is hard. There are a lot of reasons to stop short. We are comfortable in the camp. We want to build up communities and organizations that we can hide in. We call it 'being fed' or 'being not of the world'. We stay busy 'loving' the brethren so much that we don't have too much time for more conquests. Beth Shemesh is a darn big and scary town. Maybe next year. Caleb had to make the offer of his own daughter's hand in marriage to the guy who would finally take it. Well, you can't have my daughter but what is it going to take for you to get out and take the next town?

I was reading in Hebrews the other day in chapter 13 and it reinforced this point for me. Hebrews 13:11-14 says,

For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. Therefore, Jesus also suffered outside the city gate in order to sanctify the people by his own blood. Let us then go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

People talk about being far away from God all the time. Some people feel disconnected from Jesus and if you go into any Christian book store you will find shelves and shelves of books on what is wrong with you and how you can fix it. I think the issue is right here in these verses. 'Let us go to him outside the camp'. We sing songs, read the Word, listen to other's sermons, etc etc but where is Jesus? Outside the camp with the needy and poor is where we will find him every time. If we will stop trying so hard to make our home here and seek for a better home in the age to come perhaps we will at last fulfill his calling and go out and complete the task He has for us. It is very hard and costly. In fact, we won't be able to do it without Him. Apparently, we can find Him if we go outside the camp and serve others as He did.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

God's Timing

Work here is slow going a lot of times. It seems that no matter what I do people just take a long time to move from point A to point B. That goes for both humanitarian and spiritual things. It seems also that God is never in a hurry. We wait on Him to move and He does move.... in His own time. I have seen what I thought was the 11th hour come and go and yet when He moved everything was made right. His purposes were fulfilled even when I thought all was lost. He is like that and part of my sanctification is to learn to see His timing and be content.

Sam and I went to Osgiliath before I went on vacation. We did a major project there and it failed. Then we did another project and it finally succeeded resulting in a village with no access to clean drinking water being supplied with some of the sweetest, cleanest water in Gondor. After our initial failure most in the village lost faith. On the day that Sam and I stood next to a running tap and prayed a blessing over the village in Jesus' name a man came up to me and said, "You need to come to my house now." He explained that he had told his neighbors that water was never coming to this village and if it did ever come he would kill a cow. The cow was now dead and I was invited to go help eat it! Before we went in to eat the cow he told a story in front of all the other villagers. He said that after he had lost faith that the water would ever come there were only four people left who would go up the mountain to work on the pipe. One was a young unmarried women who was in bad health. As she toiled day after day she exclaimed that she would not live to see water in the village. She died two weeks before the water came. Many villagers around us had tears in their eyes as he told that story. I know I did. What kind of woman keeps working for her people when everyone else has given up? The kind of person who might listen to the Gospel? We will never know. When we went in to the man's house to eat the cow several talked about God and His will, and their very fatalistic view of life. I told them that the religious bully's of Jesus' day tried to manipulate people. Jesus said that he knew what God was really like and he told them the story of the Prodigal Son. I shared the story and I said, 'Some of us are like the younger brother and some of us are like the older brother but the Father invites everyone to the banquet. Jesus' point is that the Father is inviting us all. He loves us all. They were all clearly moved at this. Sam then shared the Gospel and they received it well- but no commitments yet!

Sam and I will go back up to Osgiliath next week. When we do we will see how the seeds we have planted are growing. I still don't understand God's timing. I don't know what I will find or how much more work will need to be done before the Kingdom seeds take root and grow into a faithful Church. I don't know about timing but I believe that that is exactly what will happen as we remain faithful to love the poor and needy.

Monday, August 24, 2009

There and Back Again

I have been on vacation to the rainy cool United Kingdom and it was a great joy. We spent time with my wife's family- they are from Scotland- and had a very refreshing three weeks. At one point we took six days and went to Staithes in Yorkshire. It is a little fishing village and it is so remote that it does not have internet or cell phone coverage. Yeah, my kind of vacation! When I wasn't watching the boys play in the tide pools, eating copious amounts of fish and chips, or playing cards with my wife, her sister, and her Mum I read a couple of books and meditated on God's goodness.

The first book was Brennan Manning's newest effort 'The Furious Longing of God'. This book made its point again and again like a thundering sledge hammer. God loves you. This is all you need to know. The knowledge of God's love is what will change the world. Brennan writes passionately about this from the perspective of one who continually falls from God's grace and yet can never escape the God who is furiously longing for him. I needed to hear this for myself but also, I needed to see that all men and women everywhere are sought after by God. God is holy and that means that He is set apart from us, that He is not like us, that He is wholly other than us. Usually we take this to mean that He somehow does not have the emotions and passions that we have but I think that to the contrary it means that God loves more, is more passionate, is more emotional, is more loving than we can conceive of. Manning borrows his good friend Rich Mullins' phrase, 'the reckless raging fury that they call the love of God' and uses it throughout the book.

When I was up in Cair Andros a month ago I saw some crippled people. A hunch back with serious health problems, a few blind people, and several other physically and emotionally damaged people. I prayed to the Lord and asked Him if He wanted me to pray for their healing. He replied that if He healed these then how would I demonstrate His love for them? He longs for these broken people who are physically disabled but more importantly are in spiritual bondage. He wants me to show love and compassion for them. He says that that kind of love is what will transform the village. I am looking for ways to obey his calling. And this leads me to the second book I read.

Francine Rivers is my second daughter's favorite author. I have not read her before but I picked up her book 'The Warrior' from her Son's of Encouragement series. It is a fictional account of the life of Caleb who was granted to go into the promised land with Joshua when they alone of the 12 spies of Israel gave a good report to the people who rebelled against God and refused to take the land God gave them because of fear. When he was 85 years old he asked Joshua to give him the hill country as his share of the inheritance of his family even though that was some of the toughest country to take. While the account was fictional much of it was plausible. At the end of the book something really impacted me. Caleb had trouble motivating his sons and his clan to keep taking the land, to fulfill all of God's commands to them to totally wipe out and push out the former inhabitants and fully occupy the land. Finally, he offers his daughter's hand in marriage to the man who will take Kiriath-Sepher. This is biblical but we don't know why he felt he had to do this. In Francine Rivers' book he is compelled to do this because it is the only way to get his clan to keep on fulfilling God's command. It occurred to me that we also have a command to fulfill, to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth. It must have been exhausting for the Children of Israel to keep on fighting, to keep on destroying town after town, village after village. I don't know, and don't really want to know what that much fighting and death would do to a person. There were good reasons to stop short, to turn to farming and consolidating the land they had. By not fulfilling the task the Lord gave them they crippled themselves and condemned themselves to constant disobedience and lives lived far from the blessings God had intended for them. Are we any different today? The church in the West is huge and wealthy and has a thousand different calls on its time and energy. Does she have time to take the land? Does she have the strength and will to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth? Will we be faithful to fulfill God's commands or will we like all those before us hope that our children rise up in obedience where we have fallen short.

For me and my family we can say with Caleb, 'Give us this hill country' but of course that is because He has called us to a mountainous difficult land. Someone will need to take the valleys, the plains, the islands etc. So, I will continue this blog as a record of our battles here in Middle Earth. Join us when you can.