Recently, several people have asked me, “What are you thinking right now?” When I can answer, it’s usually something that has little to do with the present, or even related to why I am there with them at the moment. When I’m not actively thinking about something right in front of me, my mind gravitates toward big problems. Jobs with intricate details, people with deep issues, and Christian activity that is seldom ideal.
We live in a restless world. A few weeks ago, I was struck by a quote from Saint Augustine: “You have made us for yourself, oh Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”* Something in this was very relatable. At school, everyone either talks about painfully-difficult assignments, or anticipates big events. At work, customers only have us come when they aren’t OK with the way things are. When I think about people, a cloud of past pain and impossible futures fills my mind.
In the last year, I’ve become increasingly aware of my mental default positions. When I’m in bed trying to go to sleep, I think about everything I wish were different. I imagine a perfect world with specific situational and individual replacements that would make everything so much easier. I know it’s unrealistic and downright impossible, but I still think that way.
I specifically remember one night when I was desperately wishing everything were different. I was talking to God, telling him what I was feeling and it hit me that I just wanted to jump out of the present. I wanted to be with different people. I wanted to escape deadlines. I was tired of winter and would have been thrilled to time travel to summer.
As I prayed, I realized that God strategically promises his presence for a specific point of existence, right now—the present. He never meets us in the past or the future. As this reality sank into my mind, I was finally able to rest.
Jesus taught a clear doctrine of today,
“So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat? ’ or ‘What will we drink? ’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Matthew 6:31-34 CSB.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry and as he left, the present was the focus. The disciples were not instructed to look back and remember the times Jesus walked with them on Earth. Instead, he said, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20 CSB.
The theme of the present never comes out of focus in the New Testament. Paul instructs believers to give thanks and pray rather than worry. He then tells them, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself.” Philippians 4:11 CSB.
The Spirit of Jesus in believers is depicted beautifully in the book of Acts as the source of wisdom and the ability to answer present needs as seen in the stories of Peter’s and Stephen’s responses to crowds. It is very clear that confidence, hope, and peace are normal parts of a believer’s experience.
But we often forget this. I know I need frequent reminders to rest and trust. As Augustine stated, “Our hearts are restless until we rest in You.” As I observe restlessness in myself, in believers around me and even more distinctly in the culture I interact with, it is my prayer that I can experience rest and be filled with His Spirit of confidence, hope, and peace.
We offer a message of rest to a restless world. Yes, the overarching picture is eventual final rest in heaven, but right now we anticipate it as we extend Jesus’ invitation, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
Matthew 11:28 CSB
*Saint Augustine of Hippo 354-430, Confessions.
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John and I spent the first five months of our courtship on separate continents. We communicated by email on the weekends and staticky phone calls once a month. That was sixteen years ago, back in the Dark Ages before voice texts were invented. But despite limited and archaic communication, our relationship deepened until long-distance connection no longer satisfied us. We wanted to be together. To communicate through a look, a laugh, or even in silence. At last, we discovered being together was all we hoped it would be. Three months after I flew back to the States, I stood in front of a church beside the one who wanted me to be with him, and we were married.
Our story isn’t unlike the offering Jesus made to his friends: “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
Jesus’ desire for us to be in his presence doesn’t start only after we are safely in heaven. He said, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” Again, when Jesus prayed for us in John 17, he mentioned this togetherness: “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory.”
In Revelation 21, ephemeral shadows are rolled far enough away for us to see a glimpse of the eternal, enough for us to see into heaven and know that this goal of permanent togetherness will be realized: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.”
A missionary’s message, simplified, is 1 John 1:5-6: “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.”
In other words, find sweetness in your relationship with the One who is looking forward to spending eternity with you. Spend time with him today. Then, out of your own comfortable relationship with the Father, confidently call others into this fellowship. Come, and find your place beside the One who wants to be with you.
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The further we get from 1st century life and culture, the more the sense of mystery pervades our reading of the New Testament. But wait, you might be thinking, the Bible is God’s Word. Doesn’t that mean it’s true for all ages? Of course. And it’s also true that the Bible was written by human authors, for human cultures and time periods. In poetic rhythm to the book’s protagonist, the Bible is both divine and human. This means that our reading must include work—the hard work of understanding the context in which each author wrote. As always throughout the Bible’s history, those who seek best shall find most.
So what really was at the heart of the New Testament? Beyond the petty surface issues we often tussle over, what did the biblical writers most wish to communicate? What did they think was the whole point of the grand news they delivered?
In the first verses of Paul’s magnificent letter to the Ephesians, he gives them a glimpse of his prayers for them: “Ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers” (1:15-16). A quick look at Paul’s other writings shows that this was not coincidental, as almost every letter from Paul includes those two thoughts as the prominent reasons why Paul thanks God for them, or what he prays for them to understand.
Jesus, too, emphasizes faith and love constantly. He tells the rich young ruler that love for God and man is what the entire Law points toward. He constantly rebukes his disciples, and commends others, for reasons pertaining to faith. Think of the disciples after the calming of the sea, feeding the 5,000, and before healing the demon-possessed boy. Think of the many people Jesus healed or forgave because of their faith. And of the centurion who had more faith than the surrounding Jewish people.
Faith and love. What is so central about these concepts? Perhaps it is because both of them center around not abstract principles, but a Person. Jesus asks his disciples to have faith in him, and tells them to love others because he loved them. If the center of Christianity is found in a very personal faith and love, how should this shape our mission? Let me offer some ideas that might help us start living from this platform in 2022 in greater ways:
In 2022, we must learn, perhaps more than before, to live a Christianity of faith and love. There are a thousand distractions from our lifestyle goal, a million other social and theological and economic and political things that can drag us away from Christ. But there is only one really worthwhile pursuit: a family, imperfectly but significantly living out faith toward God and love toward one another.
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Of all the characteristics that set humans apart from animals, one in particular fascinates me. This distinction is that we are not bound to the present. Unlike the animal kingdom, people live in a world of displacement. We have the uncanny ability to think, communicate, imagine and anticipate ourselves to be somewhere else. It may be places we have never been to, times we will never live in, or even conceptions that may not exist. We interact with the not-present world with confidence.
Last night I was at an Indian restaurant. The smells of incense were distinct. When I used the washroom, the glitter plastered onto the walls struck me as unique. But far from being strange, it offered a welcoming appeal. After we ordered we had just enough time to anticipate what was coming next. The naan bread appetizer came with four different sauces that each took on a life of their own. The main course came with a colorful array of currys, and although we couldn’t name or describe all the flavors, we enjoyed them to the fullest.
I remember once when I was overseas. I was traveling with an interpreter and I had left a bar of soap out to dry at the place we were staying. It was cheap soap from some place like Dollar General. When my interpreter smelled it, he asked me where I had gotten it and told me I needed to bring some for him. He obviously appreciated it, not because of its cost or some advertising he had heard, but because the experience of something new and different was appealing.
In the narrative of Adam and Eve, anticipation plays a huge role. They succumbed to a promise of a world beyond their present experience. They wanted something more to fulfill themselves, ate the fruit, and were subsequently disappointed. From this story it could seem like that desire for novelty is a bad thing. After all, if they had been completely content with the garden God had given them, wouldn’t things be so much better? Isn’t it just so much safer for us too, if we find out all the rules, and just do them without thinking about anything else?
I argue that although anticipation has driven men to many bad ends, it is designed by God and pertinent in his plan of Redemption. Adam and Eve’s anticipation of meeting with God again was what brought them to their senses and made it possible for them to humble themselves and essentially receive God‘s mercy. From that time on, anticipation has taken on two forms, a good and a bad. A bad anticipation that only sees the near future and the immediate surroundings (self). The good anticipation sees further. It sees long-term implications. It sees others. It sees God.
As Christians, this is exciting. All of the good things that we believe exist, anticipate and long to experience are part of experiencing the goodness of God himself. We anticipate fulfilling our longings with Something beyond ourselves. We call this long-distance anticipation hope. Our core belief is that God deeply loves us, and we anticipate this will be indefinite. The psalmist prays, “May your faithful love rest on us, Lord, for we put our hope in you.”
Psalms 33:22 CSB.
I am learning to cultivate this hope. In those moments of enjoying things like Indian cuisine, smelling something very pleasant or seeing beauty around me, I am learning more of what it means to take them as tokens, as gifts of promise for something far beyond what I know now. The negativity and brokenness of the world around me threatens to become the biggest thing I see, but thanks to God, He puts that seed of hope in me, in us as people, and points us in the right direction, beyond the present, anticipating His goodness.
Let’s acknowledge that every aspiration and anticipation in humans is a display of the deeper hope that is designed by God to bring us to Himself. Let’s celebrate the desire to reach beyond ourselves, and in every situation we find ourselves, explicitly point people’s anticipation toward the ultimate Goodness, Love, and Fulfillment.
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We’ve all heard people who think the Great Commission applies only to the apostles. They point to the epistles as justification for “not putting so much emphasis” on missions. On the surface, one wouldn’t think that Paul prioritized evangelism. Few commands in the epistles talk about sharing the gospel with others. How many times does Paul actually discuss the need to “share our faith” with others?
Three Ways that Missions is Important in the Epistles
However, I argue that although missions may be less visible, it is no less present in the epistles. First, let’s remember that frequency of a particular truth does not necessarily correspond to its importance. Sometimes very important truths are assumed rather than stated outright. For example, no theologically conservative Christian denies that the existence of the lake of fire is taught in scripture. But we are given very little information about it, and it is not mentioned often in either testament. Does this mean it is irrelevant, or that we should ignore its implications? Certainly not.
Some commands are assumed, too. The Bible forbids gluttony and it is on the list (next to fornication and homosexuality) of sins that define those who don’t enter God’s coming renewed creation (1 Corinthians 6:9). But aside from those mentions, the Bible doesn’t have much to say about the topic. I would argue that Paul assumed that the church should be outreaching, so he didn’t command them to do so. Also, missions involvement flows from excitement around the gospel, so it makes sense that Paul would choose to talk about the nature of the gospel far more than he does about missions.
Second, we can learn what Paul desired concerning missions and the church by what he commends:
In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. (Philippians 1:4-7)
The primary reason Paul thanked God for the Philippian church was that they joined him in defending and confirming the gospel. Apparently, he saw missions as important not only for him but for the church in general. Similarly, Paul praises the Thessalonian church because through their witness “the Lord’s message rang out” to the whole region.
Third, the epistles explicitly call for the church to exercise herself in missions. Ephesians 4:16-17 contains the illustration of the church as a body where all the members need to function properly so the body can increase. Paul believed that a well-functioning church is one where new converts enter and are discipled, thus growing the body. Paul writes in the same chapter that God gives evangelists to the church, as part of the process to “build the church.” Clearly, a core function of the church is missions. It may be more straightforward in Matthew 28, but it is present in the epistles also, reminding us of our mission to bring the gospel to the world.
What are you doing about that mission?
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During a conversation about the recent political crisis in Afghanistan, a child said, “When I grow up, I want to be a missionary to Afghanistan.” He didn’t understand the implications of his choice, how hard it would be to deny himself to that degree. But nobody discouraged him. Perhaps he will grow up to have the faith and courage it takes to go to dangerous places. Others are going. On International Mission’s blog, Jerry Rankin wrote the following words.
During my seventeen years as president of the International Mission Board, I never got used to the funerals. Death wasn’t necessarily the result of violence or because of a missionary’s Christian witness. Missionaries succumb to disease, are killed in a carjacking, or in an accident while traveling a dangerous highway. Some were in the wrong place when a terrorist bomb exploded in a shopping mall or got caught in a mob of anti-American demonstrators. But there were those who were targeted because they dared to proclaim the truth of the gospel in a hostile environment…
Why would missionaries put themselves in harm’s way? Here are four reasons why missionaries are willing to go to dangerous places.
On December 30, 2002, three missionaries were killed by a gunman in a Baptist Hospital in Yemen. The response from the public, and even from churches, was a demand to bring the missionaries home. Some characterized it as a tragic waste of their lives. The media demanded to know why we could be so irresponsible to allow personnel to go to places where they might be killed.
But was the more than twenty years Bill Koehn and Martha Myers poured out their lives in ministry and witness there a waste? Are the seeds of the gospel that grow and eventually flourish among an unreached people not worth the cost? Certainly, it’s appropriate to pray for the health and safety of missionaries, but when that becomes the priority of our concern, we radically distort the call of our Lord who said being his disciple was a call to deny oneself, to take up the cross and die.
In the impressive roll call of faith in Hebrews 11, these heroes of the faith were characterized in verse 38 as “men of whom the world was not worthy.”
Missionaries go to places of danger for the sake of the gospel because they have resolved to not live for the comforts, security, and success of this world. Rather, they have surrendered their lives to make a difference for eternity. Like the missionaries in previous centuries who left the comforts of the West with their belongings packed in coffins because they did not expect to return from disease-ravaged lands, our sent-ones today take the eternal hope of the gospel to people in spiritual darkness because obeying the Lord Jesus Christ in his Great Commission is worth their lives.
In the 1980s, Muslim radicals had thrown Lebanon into chaos. In a protracted civil war in which Americans were being kidnapped, the US Department of State mandated the evacuation of all Americans. In this case, missionaries were brought home, though they wanted to stay and continue their ministry. They were not concerned for their own safety but desired to remain faithful to their calling.
In a more recent situation, where anarchy prevailed and nonessential American personnel were being evacuated, a missionary informed his family and the IMB they would not be leaving. They considered themselves essential personnel. They could not be disobedient to God’s call out of regard for their own safety, especially since the chaos and uncertainties created great opportunities for gospel witness.
Military personnel are trained to be obedient to orders no matter the danger. They readily go to war zones out of a patriotic devotion without regard for whether it is safe to do so. Neither should Christians consider it optional to obey the orders of our Commander in Chief Jesus Christ, who told us to go and make disciples of all nations. He did not qualify that mandate to go only where one could witness without opposition or risk.
Missionaries are willing to risk danger and opposition to engage unreached peoples with the gospel because they understand the consequences of lostness. I often highlighted the tragedy lostness in telling of the tsunami in Asia in 2004, when almost a quarter of a million people were swept into hell. Their lostness was not because they had rejected Jesus Christ but because as sinners they had never heard that he “is the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). That was just one event. Every day, people around the world die apart from Christ. The lostness compels us to give our lives and go (Rom. 10:13).
To insist that missionaries avoid dangerous places is to belittle the lostness of a world without Christ, to demean the responsibility of obedience to God’s call, and to succumb to a convoluted system of values that says one’s own safety and comfort is a higher priority than sharing the gospel. But the ultimate reason it is not only appropriate but essential for missionaries to go to places of risk and be willing to die to make the gospel known is a prevailing passion for the glory of God among the nations.
Karen Watson was one of four missionary personnel killed by a terrorist attack in 2004 in Iraq. With a heart that broke for the suffering of the Iraqi people, she had resigned her job, sold her house and car, gave away most of her belongings, and went into that war-torn country to minister to the people. Knowing the risk, she had written a letter to be left with her pastor to be opened and read if something happened to her and she did not return.
The two-page, handwritten letter began, “If something happens and I do not return, there are no regrets, for I am with Jesus.” She went on to say, “My call is to obedience, suffering is expected, his glory is my reward.” She repeated and underlined twice: “His glory is my reward.”
Why do missionaries go to dangerous places and even risk death? They are compelled by the lostness of people who have yet to hear the hope of the gospel. They are devoted to the lordship of Christ, the obedience to his call, and the desire to make a difference for eternity. They are not living for their own comfort, safety, and convenience but for the glory of God among the nations.
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I hung up the phone and sat down to process what I just heard. The caller, a close friend of mine, was severely questioning his decision to join a full time outreach program his church was sponsoring. My friend joined with hopes of having positive interaction with the other young people, however he was finding out that his team was everything but that. One young man was schizophrenic and gay. Another seemed to be bipolar and would completely lock up from time to time. My friend could not handle the questionable activities one of them was involved with.
I strongly encouraged him to be honest with the leadership about what was going on. He told me later that the administration of the ministry was proactively investigating the situation and making changes. But my thoughts were still unresolved. Why was this happening? All of these people had grown up in church. What had gone wrong? These young men knew their lives were messed up. They were reaching for more, but it seemed like they could not get past themselves.
This drama my friend was going through is not uncommon. Situations like this exist all around us whether we realize it or not. This case was unusually uncomfortable and forced into the open because of the ministry context, but it doesn’t take a deep search to realize that ministering in today’s world makes it necessary to interact with humanity caught in many different expressions of sinful brokenness. There are two poignant declarations in Scripture that speak directly to me whenever I am faced with messy situations like these.
In the shadow of the situation I described and many others, I cannot get this verse off my mind. It is preceded by a description of mourning and repentance; it is followed by a prophecy of drastic measures to maintain purity. Are the days of the Messiah here? Are these prophecies of cleansing and restoration being fulfilled? Is the church actually a fountain designated for “sin and impurity?” In his book God and the Transgender Debate (which I highly recommend), Andrew T. Walker states: “Too often our churches give the impression that the Son of Man came to seek and save good people, not the lost. Too quickly our church creates a list of sins that are more tolerated and excusable (these tend to be the ones we struggle with) than others (which, conveniently tend to be those that others struggle with).”123
The new covenant is for “sin and impurity.” Drastic repentance and unthinkable restoration is what Zechariah was envisioning. We believe this, but when we come into contact with individuals with deep mental issues or people from the LGBT community we often feel hopeless. Does God want to change this?
This comes from a story of a leper begging Jesus for cleansing. If you know anything about the Old Testament laws, touching someone with a contagious disease was forbidden. But Jesus touched him. If we think about leprosy as an illustration of sin, as it is often used in the Bible, this creates a good picture of how Jesus did not avoid getting dirty, but rather got as close as possible to those who needed him most and was an instrument of cleansing.
That’s Jesus. What about me? I know that as the Father sent Jesus into the world, he sends us too. Are we reaching into the most messed up, disgusting situations in our culture? Are we characterized by an outreaching, contagious holiness?
In my opinion, failure to realize that fountain Zechariah talked about, and failure to be in that uncomfortable proximity with the unclean, makes us ineffective to the world around us and woefully inadequate to address the sin problem among us. How are we doing? How am I doing? When I look at these realities and see my needs, this is what I pray:
“God, give me a high view of the new covenant, the tough love and the life-altering grace. Excite me with the possibilities of Your redemption. Don’t let me think any sin is too dirty for that cleansing fountain.
“Conform me to Your Son’s image. In the cases where it would seem much easier to be uninvolved, give me Your Spirit. Make me Your hands and feet to the outcast, ridiculed and awful.
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Although the Church may be suffering from the effects of political idolatry, sex scandals, and lethargic members, we must never forget the view that Paul and Jesus had of the Church. They did not view the Church—despite her major flaws in their day—as an unsalvageable wreck. Instead, they saw the Church as something unique and beautiful that must be fought for at all costs.
Jesus’ high view of the Church
First, Jesus chose to identify with the Church—to give her his last name, in effect. In Ephesians 5:28, it says that Christ “feeds and cares for” the Church. That is personal language. It also speaks of the Church as the bride of Christ in the ultimate marriage. Jesus tells his bickering followers that no one ever loved the Church as much as he does, when he said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” Jesus himself got down on his knees before the Church in the upper room to wash their feet himself. The picture still brings tears to my eyes. Jesus vested everything in the Church.
How Paul saw the Church
In case you thought love for the Church was reserved only for extraordinary churches, remember how Paul starts out his letter to the struggling church at Corinth: “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Then he thanks God for the grace that had been shown to them through Christ.
Paul makes the startling claim in Ephesians 5:32 that marriage, an institution ordained from the beginning and practiced for thousands of years by the Jewish people, was actually just a prefigurement of the church’s relationship to Christ!
One further example is how Paul builds his argument for unity within the body. In 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 Paul writes that the Corinthian believers “are God’s temple,” and that because of that, they were to be careful to not destroy that temple by quarreling and divisions. That is incredibly strong, to any Jewish person reading this statement. They would have immediately thought of the utter reverence they had as they stood inside the walls of the Temple in Jerusalem and saw the priests fulfilling their duties. No one would have dared to take a sledgehammer to the walls. Paul’s listeners must have been shocked at the reverence he had for the Church.
This is God’s plan for the world
Jesus leaves his disciples with one main command: to be his witnesses throughout the world, starting in Jerusalem (Acts: 1:7). This was Jesus’ plan for the Church—they were to act as heavenly couriers explaining the news of the Kingdom throughout the world. Despite the imperfection of the Church today, we must not forget two things:
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In June 2019, we rented a little yellow house from a man with thirteen children. It didn’t require a logic degree to know that our lease would be temporary. No surprise—a year and a half later, a son wants our house for his bride.
I immediately began making mental checklists of things to pack, but before I boxed anything up, I stumbled across Joshua Becker’s website, Becoming Minimalist. Intrigued by the idea—and perhaps motivated by the knowledge that I soon needed to pick up and carry everything I own—I read post after post. The extreme minimalism some people have adopted, such as paring all they own to 100 items or carrying all their possessions in a backpack, doesn’t appeal to me. But I was sold on the idea of owning less stuff to make space in my life for things that truly matter. Minimalism is deeper than decluttering your home, though it might include that. In Becker’s words: “At its core, being a minimalist means intentionally promoting the things we most value and removing everything that distracts us from it.”
Becoming a minimalist means we create white spaces in our life so we can devote time and energy to things we value. Cutting back on the time spent on our phones means more time is freed up for building relationships with people around us. Trimming back on excess calories means we buy a better chance of healthy living even in harsh climates. Spending less money on nonessentials means more money is available to support the work of God. Fewer things in our homes means spending less time cleaning and organizing, and more time devoted to what is truly important to us.
The problem is that we are bombarded with the temptation to acquire more, to upgrade our devices, or to update our home according to the latest trend. Digital marketing experts estimate that Americans see an average of 5,000 advertisements every day. On billboards, in magazines, on websites, through junk mail, in newspapers. Each ad is designed to grab our attention and get us to buy the latest products being offered. Learn to say “no.” Control the desire to buy more stuff. Take God seriously when he said, “Don’t covet what your neighbor has.” God knew that the more we are distracted by accumulating things, the less time we will have to focus on building our relationship with Him and sharing the Gospel with the world.
Become a generous giver. Living among a poor but generous tribe for two years highlighted how attached I am to things I consider rightfully mine. I didn’t feel generous towards my neighbors when they asked for nonessentials. Oil to add to a picky child’s food, for example, or powdered laundry soap for the woman who spent time in the city and now hated local soap. Nor did I feel kindly when someone permanently borrowed our water container. But the longer I lived in the village, the more I realized we were not singled out for unusual requests. Our co-teacher shared the last of his stew with people who didn’t need it, leaving him with no promise of food for the next day. Our village friends had no Bible and couldn’t read one if it were given to them, but they already lived out some of its principles. One of them was this: give without grudging, expecting nothing in return.
Perhaps everyone would benefit in some way from the minimalists’ mindset. But the person interested in sharing the Gospel with the world especially needs to guard himself against letting possessions dominate his thoughts and distract him from his goal.
Remain unattached to the things this world offers, and go serve the Lord.
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In 2020, l learned what it meant to stop. Although I love action and have no room for laziness, the events surrounding the COVID crisis taught me to value stepping back from my pursuits long enough to start thinking clearly.
In our culture, we have a thing we call a “break.” I can’t relate to this. When I’m working, there is no time for breaks. I find value in constant, focused action. Anything less than this seems counterproductive. I don’t have time to stop unless that break is taken to do something necessary.
In 2020, I learned that there is value in stopping for a break. Here are a few of the instances that stick out clearly in my memory.
I found clarity and direction when I stopped to talk to God about some specific things. I don’t know if I ever had a year with more decisions to make. Every part of my life was interrupted. I normally enjoy having my business calendar booked at least three weeks out. When the PA lockdown hit, most of my work was essential, but due to the financial crisis a couple big jobs were canceled leaving me with the freedom to do other things for a month. My school had an extended spring break followed by a tumultuous transition to online learning. In the middle of all of this, I had to decide what I would pursue for work, what I would do about the mask mandate, and how I would continue my responsibilities at the kids ministry.
I remember one specific stop where I was able to hear God clearly. I was on my way to a meeting and had the time to stop by the Dunkin’ at the end of our road. I had way too much indecision and needed direction. Alone at a table, I watched traffic go by and talked to God. In the quietness, I understood His purpose with a clarity I hadn’t known in a long time and left knowing what my next steps would be.
Stopping enabled me to return to deep worship. Over the Easter season the strangeness of 2020 was suffocating. Most of our family had gone to our old place in Oklahoma since Pennsylvania was shut down. The change of everything was too much for me. That time of year usually fills me with exuberance, but this year I was not even excited. I didn’t know what to do on Easter morning, so I decided to go somewhere and watch the sunrise. I went to my hometown’s brand new sports complex that now lay unused and walked in the silence of the ball diamonds. The sky was cloudy, so there wasn’t much to watch, but in the quietness as I thought about the resurrection my mental fog began to clear and saw the two thousand year old reality vividly. I could not be silent any longer. As I sang I Know That My Redeemer Liveth, I saw the light of the resurrection against the dimness of 2020 in a way I will never forget.
In the middle of the year, I stopped simply to rest. In July, a friend and I drove to California to attend a wedding. After the weekend of great times, exhaustion and 2020 tension, we started back. In the middle of Wyoming, we were both tired, so I pulled over at the next rest stop. There we found a picnic shelter that at least provided some shade. The dry desert wind, squeaking prairie dogs and scurrying mice etched themselves into my memory as I fell asleep for some much needed rest.
Among all the opportunities 2020 had to offer me were times when I had the chance to share in several churches. I found that an intentional stop to think and pray provided me with the clarity I needed to communicate.
One time I flew to Oklahoma for a weekend to take care of some things on our property. I was scheduled to preach that evening, but for some reason the trip hadn’t helped me prepare. There in the empty airport as I waited after landing, I found an inconspicuous place beside a glass wall that separated me from the runway. As I stared at the resilient pokeweed and anchored airplanes, I could think clearly and feel what I needed to communicate to my friends. By the time my ride came, I was excited to share that evening.
As I look back at 2020, I realize that I learned to value “stopping” in a way I don’t want to forget. Before this year, the story of Jesus telling His disciples to rest didn’t make much sense. I used to think it was just a nice thing to do, but now I’m realizing it’s not only nice, it’s necessary.
Regardless of the ministry, study, occupation or location God leads us to in 2021, be assured that He will lead us to places to stop. He will encourage us, refocus us, speak to us and fill us with His Spirit.
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