Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.Eph 5:1-2
Beloved isagapētós: esteemed, favorite, worthy of love. It is the same word the Father spoke immediately following Jesus’ baptism.
“And behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved (agapētós) Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Mat 3:17
God’s love in John 3:16“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son…” is agapáō love in a social or moral sense, to be fond of, to love dearly.
The difference is subtle but profound. Agapáō in John 3:16 is the love with which He loved us even when we were dead in our trespasses…by nature children of wrath. Eph 2:1-3. This is a statement of God’s character. He loved us because of who He is despite who we were. In contrast, Agapētós in Eph 5:1 is a statement about us. As believers made alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised up with him and seated with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,Eph 2:5-6 we are now esteemed as His favorites, worthy of His love.
The reason for the change in our status remains the same. For by grace, you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.Eph 2:8-9 Nevertheless we have been promoted to the rank of favored children with Jesus and seated with Him as if we’d been there the entire time.
Let that sink in…
When viewed correctly this revelation should provoke both
Gratitude and Fear.
Historically, believers embrace one or the other. We are consumed with Rom 7:15-25 “Oh what a wretched man I am! Who will save me from this body of death?” Or we redact Romans 7 completely in lieu of Romans 8.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.Rom 8:1-2
Mind you this is Paul the Apostle speaking about himself. He went a step further in 1 Cor 4:13 when he described himself as the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. He said this in the context of addressing what I call “celebrityism” beginning in chapter three.
So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.1 Cor 3:7
“Celebrityism” is born of the “self” that Jesus requires us to deny. Mat 16:24 “I” becomes doctrine such that “My identity” supersedes His wherever “self” is not slain. It is so subtle, so seemingly normal that most do not give it a second thought. The doctrine of “I” is most clearly seen in an obsession with “My Ministry”, “My Calling”, “My gift”, “My significance” etc.
I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against another. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?1Cor 4:6-7
“Celebrityism” begins with a sincere desire to be used by God and becomes idolatry when we idolize those we wish we could be in the world. “Celebrityism” is pride unwittingly instilled by culture. It is carnal- a work of the flesh. 1 Cor 3:1-4 It is a desire to be something or someone in the world in Jesus’ name. It is a fruit of immaturity, comparison, performance, and a perverted understanding of what it means to be
Many believers wrestle with the paradox of identity IN Him. Either we are so consumed with beholding our reflection in His eyes as we imagine it that we can not even see Him. Or we are so consumed with guilt, shame, and condemnation that we can not see Him. Either way, the enemy doesn’t care if we are consumed with narcissism or self-hatred. He only needs us to be focused on the unholy trinity of
Me, Myself and I
It’s been the same game since the fall when Adam and Eve’s attention went from perfect fellowship with God to an obsession with self when their eyes went from Him to themselves and they realized they were naked. Gen 3 The enemy doesn’t need us to choose sin. He just needs us to be focused on sin. He is perfectly happy to have me indulging with impunity or shamefully struggling in the flesh to avoid it. If only we would realize that all of us are born addicted to self, that
We’d understand our identity as beloved children and be free.
That identity is a dead child of wrath revived, redeemed, and now beloved because of who God is, not because of who I am. He does not need me. He wants me. His plans are not contingent upon anything I do or fail to do. My participation is an undeserved privilege granted to me as a beloved son. If I rule and reign with Him it is only because my life is in Him. Today, I do not regret the past or wish to shut the door on it because it is covered by the blood of Jesus. Hence, my brokenness has become my blessing, my rap sheet my resume. I don’t need to affirm my or your identity in Him because the “I” is dead or still needs to be slain.
It’s been more than three years since I’ve been back home to Kauai and just over two for Cathy. We’ve made the journey twice in the last five years. This has been the longest period we’ve been away from
I used a question mark because on one hand, I have no permanent home, not on earth anyway. On the other anywhere I lay my head is home.
“Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:11-13
Our friend Nick Franks who runs, among other projects, the Into The Pray podcast and Fire Brand Notes blog out of Edinburgh Scotland with his wife Mairi recently asked us a poignant question. It was in the context of a conversation about our coming out of the literal and proverbial wilderness.
“What will you bring with you?”
I didn’t have an answer. The question hasn’t left me and I’ve tried to answer it several times since arriving on Kauai.
Transition will do that…
It’s been over five and a half years since we stepped out of the confines of careers and the comfort of regular family and social life in pursuit of an obscure calling to deny self and pick up a Cross that we barely understand. We chose a life of relative poverty to love God and others. We did our best to stay connected with the past as Facebook likes and comments waned with prior illusions of intimacy. Some family and friends resented our decision and wrote us off completely. Others dismissed us on theological grounds. Soon no one seemed to notice that we were gone. It was in many ways a foreshadowing of our eventual transition from life on earth. Some call it death. We have experienced many deaths. I’m not whining or being melodramatic. Most people never have the opportunity to apprehend the superficial and vaporous nature of all they hold dear in this world.
Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. James 4:14
We’d entered as sojourning strangers into strange lands. I went with childish dreams of improving the vapor in His name. Little did I know that I was being sent to serve for my sake more than anyone I aimed to fix. We aimed for love, community, and impact. We landed in the depths of loneliness and at times despair. Again and again, we came to the end of ourselves and found that
Here in the vapor buildings crumble, farms decay and human bodies do the same. Meanwhile, God whispers as He builds His house from His throne in eternity. You don’t have to travel to the third world to find the wilderness and the truth it reveals. But it’s a whole lot easier to find it and abide in it there. Perhaps the biggest difference between the wilderness in the first world and that of the third is in the number of anesthetizing distractions. Most people choose anesthesia where it’s available.
One thing is certain.
It’s harder to hear His voice on Kauai. That may sound counterintuitive if you are prone to confusing the creation with its creator. Most everyone arrives here in what I call the Garden of Eden 2.0 with fairytale expectations of encountering some transcendent peace in its sunsets, rainbows, and waterfalls.
Today the irony of the life I left behind seems clearer than ever.
I keep asking people here about their endgame.
It occurs to me as I emerge from the wilderness and step into the land of Netflix and retail that a vast amount of human labor, what I call “monetized life” in the first world involves insuring our comfort against “the fellowship of His suffering”. There’s car insurance, home insurance, flood insurance, fire insurance, medical insurance and medical savings accounts in case we don’t have enough insurance. There is dental insurance, and life insurance, and unemployment insurance to ensure we don’t lose our insurance if we lose our income. We insure ourselves against future suffering with Social Security insurance then insure ourselves against the failure or inadequacy of that insurance with IRAs, and 401Ks. Everyone knows we will need to supplement our Medicare and Medicaid insurance with private medical insurance. We buy identity theft insurance to ensure no one steals our insurance. We purchase security systems and fire alarms. We buy organic vitamins, supplements, food, and water filters. We invest in exercise memberships and equipment, heart monitors, Fitbits and weight loss plans to ensure we don’t use our insurance before we get to enjoy the fruits of it for ten or fifteen years. We call this retirement. It is the ultimate goal of human life. When the appointed day of our death, the existence of which we’ve done all we can to deny finally arrives, someone else takes the proceeds of our insurance and buys insurance for themselves.
It would be comedic if weren’t tragic.
Meanwhile, eternity continues and God builds His house. 1 Cor 3:9, 1Pet 2:5
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:10-11
The inherent narcissism that plagues all of fallen humanity in varying degrees tends to block the realization that our compliance or defiance has zero effect on the final accomplishment of His will. Our participation in His plan is a wonderful and sacred privilege for us not a necessity for Him. That’s a hard red pill for anyone bent on fixing the vapor in His name. At the end of the day, our only real hope for finding meaning, and purpose as we sojourn through the vapor is to learn to abide in Jesus. We do or we produce more rags that endear us to the world. Isaiah 64, Rom 3
Yearning for Jesus is what causes us to abide. We don’t truly yearn until we realize that nothing in ourselves and the world suffices.
So much of our missionary journey has consisted of learning this.
So what do I bring?
“A whole lot less than what I left with.” is my first response. You might think people would be interested in the lessons we’ve learned in the context of a life lived in a manner so foreign to that in the US and especially Hawaii. Yeah well…not so much. I’m not shocked or offended. It’s just an observation. COVID fear, or should I say terror has wreaked havoc on the souls of people in pursuit of worldly bliss. Six years ago I’d think twice before going into the local Walmart. “Did I really have time to negotiate the gauntlet of conversation in every aisle?” Walmart was a community meeting place and “talking story” was a cultural expectation. Only “haoles” (foreigners) ignore the presence of others. Ironically “haole” means “without breath”. According to Hawaiian lore, the spirit is in the breath. Anyway, need bread and milk? Make sure you have at least an hour. That’s how it used to be. This time I went with the sole purpose of seeing who I might see. I was pretty excited after three years. No one even looked me in the eye. They just scurried along with zombified stares. One woman stopped short as she entered an aisle in which I stood alone. She sighed and appeared rather flustered before turning around and choosing an empty aisle.
It seems she was afraid to share thespace.
A few weeks ago I got to share at Puka’s Ministries. “Puka” means “hole” in Hawaiian. In this case, it refers to the piercing in Jesus’s hands, feet, and side, that He endured for our transgressions. Services are held under a tarp across from the beach. It’s how Cathy and I always thought church should be done on Kauai. I mean why does any church need a building with a sixteen thousand dollar per month rent bill or an eight hundred thousand dollar mortgage? There are plastic chairs, the kind that guys like me need to be careful lest we lean back and they break. There’s a make-shift plywood stage and the dirt floor turns to mud when it rains. There are two porta-potties across the field and they serve a free lunch after the service. If nothing else you will know Puka’s by their love. The worship leader and Pastor are old friends and supporters of ours. They are familiar with brokenness. Hence, their ministry is mainly to the broken. “A broken spirit and a broken and contrite heart, God will not despise”. You won’t find a better church on the island. There are former inmates, addicts, jail guards, rag-tag surfers, homeless, and successful business people who might not seem as familiar with brokenness. Their humility tells a different story. I showed our most recent video that no one could see due to the glare of the morning sun. We tried to cover the gaps between tarps with a blanket to block the light. But to no avail. So I began with my own broken roots to include addiction and jail lest anyone be tempted to place the visiting missionary on a pedestal. I spoke about missions, God’s call, ongoing repentance, and the obedience that is the antidote to fear. I felt like a river overflowing its banks. Cathy said she’d never heard me speak so fast and…so scattered.
“Next time slow down and maybe say less.” She said.
I realized as I began that I am an overfilled wineskin ready to burst. I probably sounded like a machine gun. Turns out the answer to Nick’s question is
“apparently a whole lot more than I can share in forty-five minutes.”
In addition to bursting at the seams, the Lord has given me a renewed love and burden for the Bride of Christ. That might sound strange if you are a regular reader of mine.
We’ve been out on the fringes alone, forerunning and pursuing the Lord and His most lost sheep for so very long that we figured the wilderness was our one and only calling. But then I have always said that Psalm 37:4 “Delight your self in the Lord and He shall give you the desires of your heart” is not about us getting what we want as much as it is about Him placing His desires in us. It’s as surprising to us as it is to anyone that He would be calling us back with a renewed passion for a ragtag blemished harlot destined to become a spotless bride.
It was only in October that we were looking at the condition of the United States and the blatant apostasy in so much of the church and saying,
“We don’t know if we even want to visit again!”
Still, I think it was Augustin who wrote, “The church is a whore but she’s my mother.” Hosea married a whore named Gomer. She was a type and shadow of Israel and the contemporary church.
Alas a man makes his plans but the Lord directs his steps. Proverbs 16:9
This past November we were sitting on a rock by our blessed river – the one into which the landslide fed our home and all our worldly possessions exactly a year before. The waters of our preservation and our stripping had remained our most sacred place to worship and pray. It flowed onward unimpeded in spite of us like the days of our lives. Bits and pieces of roof and fluorescent yellow flooring were strewn all around us. And God spoke. Cathy and I looked at each other with tears in our eyes and simultaneously said,
“We have to go back.”
It was just like the moment in December 2015 when we stood on opposite sides of our bed in Kauai, looked at each other, and simultaneously said,
We thought we were headed directly to Honduras. Ten months later we were in mission school in Africa.
Anytime God moves us He reserves the right to change the course and direction. Understanding this would save more than a few from the snare of offense.
We arrived back on Kauai on December 7th, Pearl Harbor Day, and started our ten-day quarantine. Ironically the department of health official at the airport seemed to think she’d busted us for having a fraudulent COVID test. “She’s the type that will be guarding the camps,” Cathy said. We went out once or twice after quarantine and immediately got COVID. “Praise God!” Cathy exclaimed. That’s a blog in itself. The point here is that it was during that time that God guided us and repeatedly confirmed that He was sending us to Greenville TN.
We’d replied to a call for help by Will Hart on the IRIS Global alumni Facebook page. IRIS runs the mission school we attended in Pemba Mozambique. The more we learned about what God is doing in Greeneville the clearer the vision became. I should also point out the fact that the growing clarity followed our decision to be obedient. Lord willing and unless something radically changes, I will be working at the Holston United Methodist Home for children. My role will be similar to the one I had as a counselor at Hina Mauka Teen CARE on Kauai. The difference is that discipleship is the goal instead of the risk I faced in a public school setting. I will have ten to twelve boys to disciple. In addition, the unlikely partnership between a charismatic ministry like IRIS with a United Methodist Church and a 100-year-old children’s home seems proof enough that God is disrupting what Nick calls the “denominational maze”. We aren’t sure exactly what Cathy will be doing. But I suspect it will involve stopping for the one and maybe some involvement with the equine therapy they do at the school. We are excited.
Still, the transition is bittersweet.
Our tears at the river were partly a result of the fulfillment of our faithful waiting in the wilderness with no visible direction other than to put one foot in front of the other and trust God. They flowed because of His love and faithfulness. They flowed because we are leaving the people we have grown to love as our family.
I married Josh and Paulet in 2018 and they have joined the ranks of our many adopted spiritual children. We planted and watered. Now it’s time for God to give the increase as only He can. We had waited and trusted and waited some more and never gave in to the confusion the enemy tried so hard to sow into our lives and our marriage. Trials that are known to destroy marriages on the mission field only brought us closer together. We came out more solid and more in love with God and each other than ever before. I am more in love with and mesmerized by my bride today than on the day we first met. She only becomes more radiant and beautiful as the years pass by like the rushing waters of our river in Cerro Azul.
I think the Lord may be trying to tell me something about His own passionate love for His bride.
If you haven’t seen it yet, our final video is posted below. It begins with our rehabbing the 380 sqft cabin in Cerro Azul and ends with its destruction in the landslide. The shots of the people in between are a window into the lives and souls of the Honduran people we have grown to love so very much. We will continue to glean the lessons the Lord taught us through them for years to come. We remain part of Hope In Time Ministries and will help Josh and Paulet. We will continue to serve on the board and I will help with the website and newsletter. We will visit Honduras again as soon as we can. Who knows? Perhaps one day we’ll bring teams of kids from Tennessee.
We would like to thank all of our supporters through the years and especially our four monthly supporters. We could not have done it without you! We never did much in terms of raising money for ourselves and we never asked you for money. Instead each and every one of you heard from the Lord and came through at the midnight hour. Not only did you help us financially but you each played a major role in the growing of our faith. That you heard so clearly from the Lord about our need should build your faith as well. Those who donated immediately after the landslide saved our lives, our mission, and countless Honduran families in the aftermath of two back-to-back Hurricanes Eta and Iota.
We are eternally grateful.
That said, I will be archiving the Gray Hope Donorbox campaign at the end of February. Monthly donors will receive a “donation failed” message after that. You don’t need to do anything other than mark it as spam to avoid receiving the same email each month. Those donating directly to Hope In Time will remain unaffected. If anyone feels led by the Lord to support our transition to our next mission you can click here; Gray Hope Missionaries before our departure to Tennessee on February 28th, 2022. Thank you again for laying down your monetized lives here on earth for the sake of the Gospel and our mission to the people of Honduras. We love you and may God bless you. We pray that you know the peace that surpasses all understanding that we have come to know so well in this season.
The name “Gray Hope Missionaries” has occasionally caused a few eyebrows to rise. “What does that even mean?” they ask with a familiar reticence in their voice. I’ll admit it does sound a bit self-centered. I originally coined the title with the idea of it being a conversation starter. That’s manipulation code for initiating an evangelistic or “support us” sales pitch.
We all know God’s will requires funding.
Gray is the color between black and white, light and dark. It’s how I imagine hope. It’s also a Scotch Irish name that literally means hope. According to Google, the family crest which may or may not be my family crest, is an anchor.
That we live in the gray is another way of saying we see as in a glass darkly.
We need as much hope as we can get.
If you ask a missionary what life on the mission field is like you will often get an oral or written narrative along the lines of our most recent Hope In Time Newsletter, the ministry with whom we currently serve. Yes, we really do what we say. That’s not the point. Increasingly, we find ourselves cringing at what inevitably ends up looking like horn-tooting, self-promotion. It’s a Catch 22. We can’t be accountable to supporters without pictures of us doing what we say we do. But then it’s hard to direct the reader’s attention to God while staring at our mugs amidst a story about some tin we just nailed.
I’ve come to almost despise the drudgery of self-promotion if only because it’s not biblical. Mat 6:1-4 When I think back to the marketing videos I regularly produced until two years ago I am embarrassed that I cultivated so much narcissism and self-aggrandizement. Yet narcissism and embellishment are just good business these days. They are expected and even praised in our consumer culture. That this is accompanied by a corresponding subconscious distrust of anyone asking for money seems rather ironic. That we associate meekness and humility with failure, and grandiosity with success, may offer some insight into why our culture has so little wisdom and discernment and continues to select psychopaths as leaders.
But I digress.
In my experience, being a missionary has been more about coming to terms with things that people preoccupied with the first world rat race never have time or perhaps the desire to think about.
I liken it to peelingan onion.
We began with peeling away our previous assumptions about ourselves, missions work, God, His Word and the world, as well all the ethical dilemmas that result from pride-ridden dreams of being a “world changer”.
This is counterintuitive as we are taught that success is contingent upon one’s ability to portray it.
Next came a season of preaching one thing and doing another. In my case that looked like talking about abiding while franticly striving to live up to prophetic words about my being a “world changer”.
Turns out telling people they are “world changers” is also a marketing strategy.
This recurring motif frequently ends in missionary burnout. Either we learn that,
“His strength is made perfect in weakness. We would rather boast in our infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon us. For when we are weak, then we are strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:8-10
or we quit.
This may seem simplistic to those whose careers and prosperity are the fruit of their dependency on God. But try it after slaying prosperity on the altar. This is where we encounter our inner Judas.
Mary, therefore, took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was about to betray him), said, “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?” John 12:3-6
The temptation to do everything apart from the literal commands of Jesus can be strong. There’s always an excuse. I have learned that given a severe enough tragedy or perceived inequity, and there always is, darn near any worldly strategy can be justified in support of financing God’s will.
Yet Jesus assured us there will be no human solution to the world’s suffering and problems. That includes poverty, climate change, and injustice to name a few. The Christian walk is not about world-changing effort and success let alone how God uses the almighty “us” to do it. It’s about being broken as we learn we can not. Only brokenness teaches us to be utterly dependent upon Jesus.That is thekingdom definition of success.
It begins with accepting the abject silliness of our self-imagined significance. John 15:1-17
“You can do nothing” is not hyperbole. “Nothing” means “nothing”. Hence, I’m thinking a better word for “missionary” might be
“Abidinary” – one who abides in the vine.
In our case, becoming an “abidinary” has meant dwelling both literally and prophetically in the wilderness. This has been especially true since moving into the mountains when the entire world was locked down. Our driver’s licenses expired and we don’t have a car. Every time we are tempted to think it is coming to an end, another mutation and mutant worldly narrative kicks in. We are stunned and amazed at what the world has become and is becoming. It seems that everything we knew could happen – but probably wouldn’t – is happening. Maybe you can relate. Each time we learn that normal isn’t coming back the Lord brings us back into the Book of Exodus. We shed another onion layer as we look into the type and shadow of our own impatience, impertinence, and ingratitude. Sometimes we are at the Springs of Marah in Exodus 15 grumbling that the living water is not sweetened to our taste. Other times we are in Exodus 32 carving a golden calf 2.0. Our calf isn’t made of gold but steak dinners and dreams of RV living while touring the US.
Meanwhile, God keeps placing us at the proverbial entrance to the Leviticus 8:35 tent.
For the record, I am not claiming to be a Levitical Priest.
Rather there is just so much history and depth in the original Tabernacle and Priesthood. Leviticus 8 is about the consecration and ordination of the priests. Many believers discount the Old Testament, especially Leviticus. “That was the old covenant,” they say. “Only the new one applies today.” And let’s be honest. Detailed descriptions of donning one hundred pounds of priestly garb before tying a bull to the altar, slaughtering it in the heat, and spreading the blood and guts around can be boring and well…gross.
Still, everything points directly to Jesus and lends greater depth to our understanding of Him and our relationshipwith Him.
The bull was first and foremost symbolic of the priest tying himself to the altar. What took place there was a prophetic depiction of Jesus who would be both the final and perfect sacrifice as well as the high priest who offered it. It was symbolic of the depth of what is required if indeed we offer ourselves as living sacrifices. Rom 12:1-2.
Meanwhile, we sing “Come to the altar” as if it were an invitation to hug Santa Claus.
The altar is an invitation to tie ourselves up, be slain and die.
The tying, which is submission, is up to us. The slaying is a job for the High Priest. That’s Jesus. Anyone who has ever slaughtered a bull knows the sheer brutality, labor and gore involved. That the same sacrifice was immediately repeated with a ram only makes the scene seem more burdensome and intense. We may not slaughter animals as a propitiation for sin today. But shouldn’t our alter calls reflect the same sober intensity? Interestingly, Lev 8:3 lends deeper context to the scene when we consider that the entire congregation was required to be present.
This was church.
The Levitical Priests were just getting started.
“And you shall not go outside the entrance of the tent of meeting for seven days, until the days of your ordination are completed, for it will take seven days to ordain you. As has been done today, the Lord has commanded to be done to make atonement for you. At the entrance of the tent of meeting you shall remain day and night for seven days, performing what the Lord has charged, so that you do not die, for so I have been commanded.” Lev 8:33-35
There is mind-numbing, soul-shaking, typological, depth to this for those who understand. Suffice it to say that in addition to the wilderness, this is the place where God has repeatedly placed Cathy and me for the better part of two years. It is an uncomfortable place, albeit an often joyful place, a paradoxical place filled with futility and hope and the realization that our best efforts are analogous to a finger painting by a three-year-old presented to his father. Perhaps the desire to please God alone would qualify as an acceptable sacrifice. But then who can honestly say they do that? Hence, the bible says our best efforts are filthy rags. It seems more likely that our worldly displays before man for which people so often praise us has become our reward in full. Peeling the onion has shown us that
The counterfeit of true worship and sacrifice is the worship of one’s own reflection in the eyes of another and as we might imagine it in the eyes ofGod.
We are the tabernacle today. The tent entrance is symbolic of the place of coming to terms with ourselves as God reveals the deepest parts of ourselves in answer to prayer. Residual parts we don’t like and wish were not there. It is always parts we wish were not there that need to be cut away, discarded or burned. The altar is hard work. But the hardest part is in the submission to waiting.
The entrance to the tent is a most necessary place.
It is at the entrance to the tent of our tabernacle that we wrestle with drudgery, immobility, and loneliness. We are all strangers in a strange land. But Honduras is a place where no matter how low and slow we go we will never be seen as equal, a part of, or the same. We are gringos. We are opportunity and blessing, consumers and cash. Sometimes we are bipedal ATMs. The deafening silence so devoid of true fellowship at the tabernacle door can produce the temptation to retrieve what was slain and return to comfort in the land of the prospering dead. We are here for seven days, however long or short a time that may actually be, according to His will and “so that (we) do not die.” There may be a different season and assignment on the horizon. In the meantime, this is what it looks like to learn to abide. John 15:5
I know it’s Christmas and depending on the audience, “Merry Christmas” can be a sincere wish, an act of defiance, or a virtue signal. As for us, Marantha seems a more fitting greeting this year.
It’s been about a month since our little mission cabin was destroyed in an Iota landslide. In a few days, it will be exactly a year since God called us out of the City of Refuge into the mountains here.
To say that we loved our little cabin would be an understatement for sure. Of course, we always knew our time there would come to an end. That awareness only added to the sacredness. Ironically last year I wrote that Water brought us here. I guess it’s only fitting that water-soaked earth should take us out.
I ended that post with Proverbs 3:5-6.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.
Like a lot of people, we’ve had our times of wrestling with God this year. Perhaps you can relate. “Why Lord did you bring us here only to lock us down in our house for 13 out of every 14 days.” Yet “Why?” is the cry of spoiled children. “What are you doing Lord?” is the only valid one. The only thing that came to mind each time I asked was the word “preserve”. Cathy heard “worship me”. Meanwhile, each time we stopped wrestling with God over our situation, let go, and focused on Him and His word, He’d bring His purpose into our lives.
I can’t describe the confusion I experienced as I walked down the road that morning and realized that our house was completely gone then saw the two boulders laying side by side in the exact place where our heads would have been had we chosen to sleep there that night.
I did get part of an answer to my question for the year.
The Lord had directed our steps and preserved us.
The other part came from Jacob. The story of Jacob wrestling with God in Genesis 32 has always been one of my favorites. It was during our morning devotions the other day that the word “preserved” emerged again in verse 30. I’d never really noticed it before. We looked it up and found the original Hebrew word is “Natsal”.
It means to “deliver, rescue and save.
“Natsal” also means to strip.
We had been stripped of everything but the clothes on our backs and we were homeless in the third world. And yet a strange supernatural peace enveloped us as well as an even stronger bond between us as husband and wife.
That bond and peace remain with us now.
It is a peace that comes with the reassurance that His hand is indeed upon us and the understanding that true worship is trusting Him no matter what. We did. We do. If we leave this earth tomorrow it is only because our appointed time has arrived.
In the meantime, He will preserve us.
Like most full-time missionaries we’ve had our share of weird harrowing experiences. One thing we have observed is that life goes on as normal until suddenly it doesn’t. One minute your driving down the road singing silly songs then staring down the barrels of rifles or threatened with spears in the next. In any case, facing one’s imminent demise is always surreal. One thing is certain. All of life as we know it will one day be swept away. As our 78-year-old friend, Maria just said,
“He gives and takes away.”
“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” Mat 6:25-27
It didn’t take long for us to release all our worldly possessions that were buried beneath mud and wreckage. The ease with which we did this surprised everyone especially us. A few days later our Honduran friends asked us to come to their house. When we arrived we found clothing and other things that the community had painstakingly dug up and washed for us.
They even dug my drone and a pouch full of Cathy’s special heirloom jewelry she’d made 40 years ago out of three feet of mud.
The love was priceless and palpable even if our hearts sank under the renewed burden of stuff.
That sounds crazy.I know.
What are you doing Lord?
While we are certain more will be revealed, at this point, the joy of a James 1:2-4 testing that increased our faith and the contentment described by Paul in Phil 4:11-13 appear to be the biggest takeaway right now. It’s one thing to read and know the word. Living is is another.
Since then we’ve been consumed with helping those less fortunate than ourselves. If you follow us and or Hope In Time Ministries on FaceBook then you know what we’ve been up to. As for our welfare, we have a fully furnished house to stay in until March 1st.
We have no idea where we are going after that. Mat 6:25-27.
The devastation here can be mind-numbing and the temptation to check out is real.
Yet on this day, our hearts go out to so many in the 1st world. Those grasping for the material. Those praying that their old lives will be restored and those with all hope in a political candidate. Those with the same hope in a vaccine. Those who remain terrified and angry about so many things beyond their control. Those consumed by the cares of this world and are blind.
To those I say, “there is a better way”.
I’m not a prophet, fortune teller, or seer but I’m guessing that events in the coming weeks and years are going to draw many to the Lord and cause others to fall away. I believe there is a message in the recent events of our lives that applies to all.
Everyone on earth has a world view. Everyone frames their lives accordingly. Every world view is framed or bracketed by unprovable assumptions regarding one’s origin and destiny. It is on these assumptions that we all place our trust and fill the space in between. That so many today are thoroughly consumed with anxiety and fear over things that they can not control let alone understand is not the result of events between the brackets.
They are a result of bad bracketing.
Maranatha is an Aramaic word that depending on how it is pronounced means “Jesus has come” and “Jesus is coming”. It is the gospel of the Kingdom condensed into one word. It is the truth claim that brackets the life of every true follower of Christ regardless of how messed up things might be in the space in-between. It is the truth claim the brackets our existence and supports everything we do whether or not we have a place to lay our heads. Let’s face it. “Hard” is a relative term. This past year has been hard for everyone. Yet while Jesus did not promise freedom from suffering He did promise peace. That peace is contingent on the bracketing.
When people ask missionaries about missions the easiest answer is to give details about ministries and what we’d like to think we see God doing through us and around us. There have been times when our own reports sound more like an investment prospectus than a report of what God is doing. Most missionary blogs and newsletters do not begin with a list of failures and brokenness. And while the secular cults of personality and comparison have invaded the church and made the quest for personal significance and success into idols,
His strength is made perfect in weakness.” We would rather boast in our infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon us. For when we are weak, then we are strong. 2 Corinthians 12:8-10
Brokenness remains the key to missions.
Therefore we are always compelled to first qualify ourselves according to our failures and infirmities before we qualify any ministry we do. Our lives before Christ included things like addiction, divorce, suicidal ideation, and prison to name a few. I struggled with alcoholism for two decades and failed at everything before being instantly delivered from it and the buckshot coming my way amidst a point-blank shotgun blast. I wasn’t looking for Jesus at the time. I was looking to die. I did. Cathy was essentially looking to do the same when Jesus delivered her. John 15:16
The extent to which God uses us today remains a function of our brokenness and the utter dependence upon Jesus that flows from it.
That brokenness is not just historical.
Like most aspiring missionaries we had dreams of changing the world for Jesus when we began. That’s before we accepted that God may use us but He doesn’t need us to do anything for Him. He places us where ever He does because where He puts us is the best place for Him to conform us to His image. Rom 8:29 As easy it might be to tell tails of adventure and harrowing brushes with death, and how we are saving Honduras in spite of it. The fact is that while the adventure is real it is God and sometimes Hondurans who save us. If that weren’t bad enough, for the record, we have never led a single person to Christ. We have planted and watered a lot of seed. 1 Cor 3:6-8 We have also been present when people made the decision to surrender John 4:36-38. We have never healed anyone. We have seen God heal people when we prayed for them. John 11:4 I once saw a demon-possessed man set free on a short term mission trip as I prayed. But honestly, I only prayed because I was last in line in a fire tunnel and the pastor was yelling at me. I didn’t know what to say so I just started saying “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” over and over until he fell down sobbing at my feet. People said it was amazing. I was more amazed than anyone because I didn’t believe in any of that stuff at the time. When we teach we assume we are there for one person because most people usually don’t care what we say. As it turns out we frequently teach in tongues. Many times we hear, “Wow I really liked what you said.” Only we never said what they heard. My point is that our path was and is one of God accomplishing His will in spite of us rather than because of us. We are not spiritual special forces as some are prone to view missionaries. We are people that God uses to prove that He can use anyone anywhere provided they are a yielded vessel. He is the potter. We are His cracked pots. We just keep putting one foot in front of the other as His will and purpose unfolds before us.
Most times it feels like we are just along for the ride.
I realize this might not be the purposeful and intentional way in which many imagine the great the commission should unfold.
However, it does lend some perspective to Eph 2:8-10
There is a tendency in the contemporary body of Christ to pursue Mat 17 Mount of Transfiguration type experiences. Many Christians spend their entire lives chasing prophetic affirmations mostly about themselves and encounters with the manifest presence of God. Yet the mountain top is the place where God reveals Himself as the anchor to which we tether our faith as we venture into the valley below. It is the firey crises of faith in the valleys of life that burn off the dross and purify us.
Becoming a missionary is volunteering for the valley.
COVID was one such valley for us as we found ourselves locked down immediately after moving to a remote mountain village where we didn’t know anyone and many had never even met a gringo before. The State Department kept sending emails advising us to evacuate. When the border closed we knew we were committed and that we were on our own if we get sick. Several months in, depression and anxiety crept up on Cathy. A sense of futility bordering on apathy snuck up on me as I heard that familiar Gen 3 whisper, “Did God really say?…” “Did God really place you here? Or were we imagining things?” There were only two places to go to at this point. One was what AIM alumni know as the “Q” zone (the quit zone) deep in the valley of the “Project Mood Curve”. The other was deeper into the Secret Place.
Thankfully we were both compelled toward the latter.
Yet even that was a function of His grace more than it was our will and our choice.
That’s when His purpose opened up. God confirmed that we are exactly where He wants us.
Perhaps the biggest difference between full-time missions in the third world and ministry in the first is that missionaries have fewer options from which to choose before God becomes the only one. While the first world rewrites the book of Ecclesiastes, missions offers a short cut to the truth in chapter 12.
Never the less it is a paradoxical process of growth that He brings us through.
All that being said, “becoming” a missionary is simple. It is hearing and being obedient to God’s call regardless of whether it makes sense. It is counting the cost and laying down in faith whatever is, for what God’s word says could and should be.
“Being” a missionary is living in James 1:4 and sometimes enduring the reality of the verses immediately before.
Lately, it’s been walking through mountain jungles to deliver food because of the lockdown.
And filling the gap at our house because fear canceled school.
Of course, the true purpose is neither food nor school but opening doors to eternal Truth. More often it means planting in hope that another may harvest. One thing we have learned;
People don’t care what you know until they know how much you care.
We are into our fifth year on the field and our fourth year in Honduras.
Right now, we are in a fairly remote mountain location called Cerro Azul Meambar and in Luke 10 forerunning stages of a new ministry among partly Miskito Indian people. That means going low and slow, building relationships and trust, and becoming a part of our new community. We do a lot of children’s ministry. Children are great ambassadors between us and sometimes more skeptical adults.
Our real heart is for discipleship which among other things means involving kids ages 10 -13 in outreach.
The second aspect of forerunning is not as fun. It is finding and binding the Mat 12:22-30 strong man. In missions terms, the strong man is the person, issue, or situation that impedes gospel truth. It can be an individual, political party, or social issues like poverty, domestic violence, or addiction, etc. After nearly six months we are narrowing it down. Most children here only attend school up to the 6th grade at which point they might grow coffee and net an average $3 for every hundred pounds of beans they grow. If they harvest for someone else, they might make $2.
Hondurans are notorious for their stoic, and fateful surrender to hopelessness.
Our prayer is that the fateful become faith-filled.
That said, the strong man appears to be alcoholism here.
It makes perfect sense in the spirit. In addition to the two of us being former addicts, I was an adolescent substance abuse counselor and a clinical supervisor for a decade before I was a missionary. For fun, Cathy and I ran a faith-based co-ed transitional housing program for prison inmates. We lived with 5-10 inmates and sometimes their children for twelve years. As much as we have tried to get away and do something different, God continues to place this population in our path. It was our brokenness that led us to Christ. Apparently, it is still the same brokenness that continues to qualify us in ministry. Ok, Lord.