Whaddya Mean, “Are You a Missionary?”

soldierEver since I started talking about my recent Czech mission, a number of brothers- and sisters-in-blogging have asked the same question: “Are you a missionary?”

I know what they mean: am I a long-term evangelist. Nope; the trip was only two weeks long (though I’ve returned a few times).

But what I wanted to say (without being rude – I love y’all) was, “Aren’t we all missionaries?”

(Most people, including the folks who have asked me this question, would totally agree with what I’m saying. But that doesn’t mean we can’t discuss it again!)

My church teaches variations of this theme: there’s a certain danger in treating our earthly residence as “home”. It’s the danger of mistaking our true situation. We are all behind enemy lines; none of us are home yet. It’s thinking of this earth as “home” that gets our focus off of heaven; it’s thinking of our personal comfort zone as “home” that causes us to miss opportunities to share the Gospel with those in our workplace, our school, or our street.

I’m as bad as anyone else. My focus are constantly on earthly goals, so much so that I have a hard time dreaming about anything else.

But when I consider thousands of people plunging daily into hell, well, it becomes a burr in my shoe. Hopefully more.

Because it’s actually harder to witness in America, precisely because of the fact that I live here.

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My and Paul’s Longing for a Harvest

pragueI was reading through Romans from the beginning while I was in the Czech Republic. The first thing I ran into? An apostle Paul who very much shares my mind on the desire for a harvest.

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.

I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles. – Romans 1:8-13

For all Paul’s reputation as a man of echoing words and fist-pounding exhortation, it’s a little surprising to see him opening his letters in such a tender and plaintive way.

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We Must Never Become Black Holes

holeI can’t express how stoked I am. In order to convey my illustration, I have to be geeky – I have to accurately explain the nature of a black hole.

“Hole” has always been a misnomer (leading to a lot of inaccurate artists’ renderings over the years, corrected only recently for the mainstream in 2014’s Interstellar). A black hole is an exotic star, one collapsed so far and grown so dense that its gravity out to a certain spherical distance is strong enough to restrain all light emanating from it. Since an object is only seen by the light it reflects to your eyeballs, that spherical region of a black hole appears, well, black to the outside observer. The star itself is still inside, but forever hidden from view because its light can’t reach you.*

For a long time, I was a black hole. Sucking everything in, emitting very little. God was slowly working on my strength, changing me from the inside, but it was a process.

Then, a few years ago, I chanced into a dating relationship. We had a good five months together before she called it off. That’s okay. It happens. (She’s engaged now.) But it was a revealing time for me. I got a chance to see how such companionship affected me, what it brought out, what it exposed.

Amongst the discoveries was this: while we dated, I started taking risks I hadn’t taken before. I found a greater enthusiasm for people, asking how they were, hearing their stories. And later, after the relationship ended, I found myself tempted to revert to my usual introversion. After some self-reflection, I realized why.

Emotional gravity.

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Do You Trust God to Reward You for Your Sacrifices?

jumpThe Jesus you love will cost you, millennials.

That message has largely been lost in this age of emotional Christianity. But Jesus himself said it so insistently, so repeatedly, that we can conclude this: if sharing the Gospel is not costing you, you might want to ensure that it’s really the gospel you’re sharing.

The Jesus who did so many wonderful things – ate with outcasts, railed against Pharisees, whispered “neither do I condemn you” to the adulterous woman – also said some other things, difficult things, which many Christians my age hesitate to accept. He compassionately asks us to release cherished sins. He urges us to put his Word before our deepest feelings and most precious relationships. He commands us to look to him, not the world, for our definition of love. He speaks of hell. Often. He calls us to tell decent, law-abiding citizens that their efforts are not enough, and that only turning to Jesus in repentance can save them.

Perhaps you already want to dismiss me.

But most importantly and hopefully, God offers to reward us for these sacrifices.

Would it make the Christian life easier if we were completely convinced of that last part?

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It’s Not About You, Christian Graduates

Graduation is upon you.

What a relief. To be freed from the hallways of the high school you’ve learned to hate and launched upon the world full of possibility. Just to be celebrated is a great feeling. Goodness knows we don’t get enough of that these days. Everyone is flying in from across the country just to attend your party, churches are holding banquets in your honor, and all of it is wonderful. It’s your moment in the sun. Bask.

The graduation speeches are exciting. Live your dreams. Reach for the stars. Realize yourself and your potential. Don’t let anyone tell you who you are or what you can’t do. Perhaps there is some truth there.

But we have a few problems here.

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When 1 Samuel 16:7 Rescues a Disappointing Life

crossingI’m not where I hoped to be.

That’s a common phrase amongst us, but there are seasons that echo it louder than others.

It used to be that when I looked around and saw others living larger lives than mine, I’d console myself with the knowledge that they were older than I. You’re young. Just give it a few more years, I’d say. Then I’ll be there.

Didn’t happen.

Well, I overstate. Getting a bachelor’s degree and being almost out of debt from it is an elephantine blessing. I could certainly be in worse health. I’m not desperately miserable at work. The list goes on. I’ve known for a while that there will always be someone better off, and that chasing that is chasing after the wind.

But the battle rose to a new pitch recently when I took another look around at the powerful men surrounding me and realized with a start…they’re all my age.

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Not Excited Enough

catA few years ago, I and my friends DJ and Sarah, married for 2.25 years, took a road trip to Seattle. We were visiting our respective families, and as a bonus, DJ and I were going to catch a Seahawks game (during what turned out to be their Super Bowl season).

As we drove along a remote highway with the sun just dawning behind us, I remembered that I needed to check something on our online tickets. I’ve never bothered keeping up with the Joneses, so I had no smartphone. I asked DJ if I could borrow his, and I went to Google to type in my mailbox’s address. Well, as you know, when you use Google, it brings up the user’s Google “search history”. Here’s how DJ’s search history looked:

“what to eat while pregnant”
“how to exercise while pregnant”
“maternity clothes”

My mouth dropped open. I showed the screen to DJ with raised eyebrows and in his classic aw-shucks form, he grinned, “Oh. Yeah.”

They were gonna have a kid!

I was ecstatic. Two of my favorite people in the world and now there would be more of them??? Hot dog!!!! The world could only be improved by this development.

But the cool part was – I was actually the first person to find out besides DJ and Sarah themselves. Their real purpose for their trip (Seahawks, psh) was actually to announce the coming baby to her family; his family hadn’t heard yet. By accident, I, just a friend, intercepted a giant gobsmack of very privileged information. It was humbling, but also quite sneakily cool. Now, of course, that gobsmack is a delightful little girl of almost three, running around the church sanctuary with hands in the air and jumping up and down on the pews during worship.

And as I sat in church this last weekend behind that very family, hearing about the mystery of the Gospel, a question occurred to me.

Why was I more excited about that news than I ever am about my salvation?

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