It's Not a Problem If It's Everyone's Problem

There are a lot of things in life for which the appropriate response isn’t to try and fix the problem, but just to recognize that everyone else has the same problem.

To realize we’re not alone in our experience or feelings.

On Formality

Suits and ties and expensive shoes. There are places where these are still prevelant, but they are less and less common. I had four job interviews recently and, while I wore a jacket and a tie on the off chance someone would care, I had a very large and slightly ungainly beard, and no one said a thing. Now, maybe I should wait until I actually get a job offer to assume it was fine—but it was fine. America always was an informal place (perhaps not on the same scale as Australia, yet still very informal), but formality is dying amongst the younger generations here.

Formality made sense in a world where you only saw your neighbor or church friends every few months. Where everything you (or any celebrity) said could be tightly controlled. You could put on a show. Wear nice clothes. Act proper.

But today there are tweets about poop every day. Formality is lost on us. We live in community, or something like it online, every day. And we can’t get over how funny it is.

Among non-Christians I would argue this is a culture shift in losing value for formality. Buzzfeed can write a terrible article about the attractiveness of male movie stars and then turn around and interview the president. Famous people, who could be held up on pedestals, are tweeting pictures of their messy bedrooms, or their making inappropriate comments on Facebook. We see the dark underbelly of everything because of social media and an “always connected” lifestyle.

Our generation of Christians has lost a value for formality because it wasn’t valuable in the first place. God sees our poop, and our attempts to hide our farts in crowds. He is not embarrassed by our bodily functions, he designed them. He knows we have a third nipple, or that our necks have an awkward bend in them, the tie hides nothing from God. So taking ourselves too seriously—in dress OR action—is like attempting to see ourselves as people who don’t have to scrub our own behinds in the shower to keep them from smelling. And even the richest CEO still has to do that. No matter how nice of a suit he wears on weekdays.

Don’t get me wrong—please continue to scrub your behind. But you don’t need to dress in a $1,500 suit to do a great job at work. You no longer need to appear perfect, because we all know you’re not. Your best foot forward, is increasingly, your authentic foot forward.

Formality is lost. And it isn’t coming back.

And I, for one, welcome the new world order.

Latest Greatest Methodology

Every few years there are some new trends that take the world by storm. Or, I suppose I should say, they take a little splice of white-collar American households by storm. There was an obsession with frozen yoghurt shops for a bit when really they seemed to do nothing new but sell the same product by weight instead of volume. It seems something called “essential oils” are now all the rage. I’m a bit confused why it took so long when they’re called “essential”, but I can’t claim to understand the minutae of American life.

Perhaps most obvious is there is always a new fancy diet coming down the pipeline. The first I remember being really aware of was the Atkins diet. Overnight steak and bacon became staples instead of something for a special occassion—and men everywhere rejoiced. Until those same men decided tacos really were better with a tortilla around them and that, if carbs are the devil, they may not want salvation. This was followed by variations on Atkins which kept certain amounts of carbs in the diet, or reintroduced them slowly. Then there has been preservative free diets, all natural foods, organic obsessions etc…

I get a particular kick out of something relatively new known as a “paleo” diet. The idea, as I understand it, is that we would all be much better if we just went back and looked at hour our ancestors ate many millenium ago. For some reason few of us believe we should go back to the way they handled santiation or sewage. No one really wants to hunt and gather anymore, but eating the way a hunter and gatherer would have is obviously the solution to all our problems.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m sure there are some significant merits to paleo diets, I’ve even met people who swear it changed everything for them. And I believe them. It doesn’t mean it’s what I want for myself, or even what I believe them to be universally good, but I understand and believe a considered diet can be helpful.

Christianity and missionary methodology has its own fads as well. But there is a big difference between diets then fads in Christian or missionary culture Folks who eat paleo may feel bad for you that you haven’t yet “seen the light” to do the same, but they don’t judge your character as a result. In Christianity we like to point the finger at each other and conclude that if a person doesn’t follow the latest fad that we ourselves have caught on to, it can only be because they haven’t really thought about it, or they’re living in sin. Maybe they haven’t been reading their Bibles enough. We think, “Obviously any person not living in overt sin would draw the same conclusions as me if they ever really considered it. ”

Obviously.

We simplify everything down to sin, or lack of consideration. This is obvious by the way we argue with one another. We try desperately to convince folks our way is the right way, but after we have made all of our arguments, if the other party doesn’t convert to our methodology we just write them off as sinners, or morons. We then assume they aren’t praying enough and move on.

Over the years this has been evidenced in missions theory first by way of missionaries exclusively doing evangelism. They felt if any time was spent doing any kind of social engagement it was just wasted time taking away from the real “lasting” work of evangelism. Later the pendulum swung to the other side until some folks argued for pure social engagment and ignored sharing about Jesus and His crucifiction. Some folks manage to find a middle ground, but each and every one of those who have considered this concept believe their conclusions are the only ones honoring to Jesus.

Jesus is so lucky to have me!

There are many other popular methodologies as well. If you’re a missionary to Muslims you are required to have an opinion about “Insider Movements”. Insider movements basically argue Christians are most effective in Islam if they don’t “come out of Islam” or leave the mosque when they convert, but continue on by becoming a follower of Jesus “from the inside.” Opponents of this methodology claim insider movement folks don’t understand that the word “holy” means “set apart.” Whichever way you lean, you simply must have an opinion, and the other side is clearly full of sinners or morons.

The thing I run in to the most is folks who live and die by Church Planting Movements (CPM) as a methodology. I’ve read several books on the methodology and understand the basic tenants and even really appreciate a lot of what is presented. In fact, I was all fired up about CPM when I first understood the idea, it was simple, seemed obtainable, and apparently was the method most glorifying to God (or so I was led to believe)—just look at the fruit it produced! I fell in love with the idea first when I was dealing with some church planters who moved at a speed I perceived to be painfully slow. CPM pushes for speed, almost above all else. In fact, speed seems to be the proof of success. Never mind the same denomination that made the methodology famous now has it’s own opponents.

The longer I’ve been in ministry the more the flaws in all of these things seem obvious. I’m not saying all methodologies should be avoided. That would be impossible. At the end of day everyone has to make a decision about what they are going to do, and action without strategy isn’t actually action. Even when a person doesn’t have a stated methodology, they are still following a specific stragey, even if that’s just walking around and talking to people. The problem is when we look down our noses at our fellow missionaries because they operate differently than us. Or when we refuse to work with people who think or act differently than us.

“If I’m not here for CPM then what I’m I here for?” One missionary said to me. I really respect the man, and even thinking highly of the work he’s doing, but I kind of wanted to respond, “How about proclaiming the glory of God? The resurrected Jesus?” CPM doesn’t save, but it’s strictest adherents might not want you to know that.

Just last month I met with a pastor who proclaimed to me the merits of CPM three years ago. As a church they refused to partner with any orgnaization that didn’t use CPM as their exclusive stated methodology. Now they don’t partner with any organizations because all the organizations are doing it wrong. Incidentally, they now believe DMM (Disciple Making Movements) is the way all ministry should be done. It’s exhausting really.

Praise God He is a diverse God and His church is diverse. Praise God His methodologies are diverse, and He will work through even the most incompetent of us as long as we’re seeking His will.

Like the paleo diet, there is a movement in Christian culture to get back to the way things used to be. Paleo adherents want to eat the way early man ate. Progressive Christian culture wants to worship the way the early church worshipped. Not all of it, mind you. I hope it’s over the top to imagine bringing back open sewers and wearing sandals around just so we can better understand the true meaning of washing one another’s feet. But while we don’t want to get crazy, we’d nonetheless like to have a church service which otherwise looks exactly like it did back in the time of Acts. Someone somewhere is, no doubt, requiring folks to dress in wrapped robes because if the early church did it it must have some spiritual significance.

I recently attended a gathering where the pastor stood up to introduce how this big church was different from other big churches in the area. “We began as house churches,” he said “because that is the Biblical way to have church—in houses.” Keep in mind he’s saying this to a room full of big-church pastors—nose firmly pointed towards the sky. As these house churches became more popular they began meeting on Sunday mornings in a refurbished strip center. This pastor explained, “What we’re doing is is Biblical because our Sunday morning service isn’t our church, that takes place at houses throughout the week. Our Sunday morning gathering is just a big gathering.”

This seemed to me an awful lot like most other churches but with different terminology. Normally a church would call their Sunday service “church” and their weekly meetings “small groups.” But they had turned it around, now the small groups were “church” and the Sunday service was “big group.” Brillaint! And way more Biblical (this is sarcasm, in case you’re missing it).

Fists are up and people are ready to fight. My diet is better than your diet. My oils heal better than your “capitalist pharmaceutical poisons”. My church planting method is more Biblical, more God honoring, faster moving, better looking, more racially diverse, AND sees a bigger number of converts than anyone ever. My evangelism method is so superior to using tracts it will blow your mind, and probably revolutionize missions agencies worldwide if they ever get wind of it. And my nose is raised higher in the sky than your nose and is therefore closer to God so neener neener neener.

As a person who has been there before, with his nose floating skyward, and on behalf of all missionaries everywhere, I apologize to future missionaries for the foolishness you will no doubt encounter. I ask your patience and pardon as we work through our theology regarding this particular methodology and force it on you until we find a “better” one. And I beg of you, occasionally at least, just put us in our place and move on.

Methodology, and those created by scholars or committees are painfully complex, because at the end of the day, faithfulness and obedience are the only measures of success in the Christian life.

Churches are SLOW

Goodness churches are slow.

Unfortunately, as much as it drives me nuts, I’m not entirely sure it’s a bad thing.

Now, first of all I should say, I’m an incredibly fast person. Once I discover a problem, or even something I’d just simply like to implement, I go about implementing it. Immediately.

And as a missionary with a parachurch organization and the blessing of my immediate supervisor (for some reason christianese dislikes the term “boss”), I could go about things quickly without issue. I simply made them happen. I would imagine the for-profit world is similar, sometimes.

But a church is different. At a church, it’s not just about the staff and what they want to do. In fact, it seldom is. The elders have to approve things and, sometimes more importantly, the congregation has to buy in. The primary goal of the pastors is well defined from the get go, and it doesn’t change: shepherd the flock. Not to come up with new directives and awesome projects, through that can be part of it—but it’s always second tier to the primary objective.

Shepherding is, you know, herding the sheep. Unfortunately the pastors can’t run ahead, out of sight up to the top of a mountain, and hope the sheep catch up eventually. The sheep might figure it out and get there eventually,* but it’s more likely they’ll get lost. They can lead, and point the sheep in a good direction, but they can only move fast enough to stay just out in front of the dang sheep.

I had concerns going to work for a church in America when I came back. And all of my fears thus far have turned out to be painfully accurate. But my fears were not so much that the whole system is broken, just that I might never be able to survive the system. That is certainly proving itself to be the case.

Goodness churches move slow.

*You’ll notice the metaphor God uses is sheep and not bloodhound. The flock (and I’m part of it), is not generally assumed to be particularly bright, or have any idea where it should go.

People Die on the Front Lines

I’ve been to the front lines and I strongly want to communicate, it’s not all that great up there. And without the people behind the front lines, there are no front lines. The smallest role is absolutely essential to what happens from the comfort of home, to the beach behind the lines, to the hospitals near the front, to the trenches.

I’ve been to the front. A cubicle, a 401k, and a water machine seems awfully comfortable from there.

Now I’m not saying no one needs to go, people need to be on the front lines. I am saying, however, that we romanticize it an awful lot in our minds and even our media.

"Mine!"

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, 'Mine!'” 

― Abraham Kuyper

Serving In the Mundane (Colossians 3:17)

And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3:17

A significant majority of meaningful ministry is done in the terribly mundane. The driving across town, two hours both ways, just to encourage someone. Or carrying things across a church building. Or having God-honoring interactions while standing in line to get your phone fixed.

Some people only believe they can honor the Lord when they feel they’re being used to their full potential. And don’t get me wrong, it’s an awful lot of fun to feel like you’re using your gifts for the Lord. But Jesus was a servant. And we’re called to serve. And the servant takes care of the mundane. From taking out the trash, to stopping and helping someone even when he’s in a hurry.

In the name of the Lord Jesus, and with thanksgiving.

Avoiding Foolish Controversy (2 Timothy 2:23)

Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 2 Timothy 2:23

Such talk leads either to a split in the church, or eventually to heresy. People start out arguing decent points about minutiae we can appropriately disagree on. But they end up, by way of arguing, digging in their heels and eventually forsaking the gospel in order to prove they’re right and the other person is wrong.

Have nothing to do with conversations crossing such lines.

When correcting people gently the Lord “may” grant them repentance (vs. 25).

But he might not.

Kingdom Kingdom Kingdom Kingdom

There is a YouTube video of Steve Ballmer (the then CEO of Microsoft) standing on stange and slapping his hands together saying, “Developers developers developers developers.” It was amusing enough to have become a pretty big internet meme with a four minute song made in its honor (a catchy one at that). Ballmer is a weird dude, but he was right, for Microsoft, at that time, it was all about developers.

A lot of my time is spent fighting against the common theme in churches where they want to see their name glorified. They want eleven campuses of Blue Hill Community Church. They don’t want to plant 10 churches, they want 10 churches all in the same network so they can look out and say, “mine”.

But it isn’t theirs. It all belongs to the Lord. He is the only one with the right to look out and say, “mine”. We, as churches, or organizations, or whatever, need to be kingdom minded.

Kingdom kingdom kingdom kingdom. We were not created to glorify ourselves. We do not live for the glory of the name of our church network, or head pastor, or to prove our elders are the best. We exist to glorify the name of Jesus.

We have to think Kingdom. Always.

And often that means giving up control we never really had, but nonetheless desperately cling on to.

First Day Fears and Lessons From My Daughter

I quit my job in January. Currently I have two things keeping me afloat, but I don’t know if either of them are long term solutions. Both potentially could be, but I’m not sure I’m interested in either one for the long term. One is working at a church to help them with their international missions connections. This church wants to set up new partnerships and I can probably help with that process.

The other job is a sales gig for a big manufacturing company about an hour from here. There is a part of me that believes I should probably be pretty good at sales. And there is another part of me that is terrified because I have no idea what I’m doing and will probably panic and fail.

When my eldest daughter started first grade (and her first time in school) in August of this year, I watched her walk in to the school slightly terrified and having no idea what was actually happening. She wasn’t sure where to go, how she should act, if she should talk to people and ask directions or try to get there on her own, and she didn’t know what to do once she got there. I kept telling her she’s awesome and she would do fine. And she did. But it was kind of sad to watch her walk in the building with so little confidence.

That was six months ago. She’s still not 100% confortable with school, but she knows where she’s going. She knows people there, knows how to act, knows what questions to ask, understands why she’s lining up, and even what’s next on the schedule. The first week she cried in the library time because she didn’t understand what she was supposed to do. Too much pressure.

It’s not like the teachers expect her to know how to act, she was just too uncomfortable to admit she didn’t get it. I think she figured there would be some kind of penalty for not knowing everything.

Well, here I am. Walking in to sales for the first time. Slightly terrified and having no idea what is actually happening. I’m not sure where to go, how I should act, or even if I should talk to people and ask directions or try to get things done on my own. I think I’ll probably figure it out, but I’m afraid of stumbling on the way. Being afraid is probably an appropriate reaction. In six months (if I’m still doing this), I’ll probably be much more comfortable, having an idea of where to go and how to get there.

I’m afraid there will be some kind of penalty for telling people I’m new to this or that I have no idea what I’m doing or how I’m supposed to do it. The problem is, I’m so new to it that everyone will be able to tell just by looking at me. Just like my daugther was the only one in her first grade class who hadn’t been to kindergarden, I’ll be the only guy doing sales at this scale who has literally never made a sales pitch—not about sheet metal products anyhow. I’ll be standing there just looking around and wondering where I’m supposed to be.

As I write this out, I’m pretty darn pleased with my daugther. She’s only six, and she walked in to that situation terrified, but knowing this was what she had to do. She went after it until she became comfortable. She was stressed about it at times, and I don’t blame her—it’s hard to not even know what you don’t know.

Now it’s time to lean on the Lord. I would much rather go do something I already know how to do. I want to enter a field as an expert. The problem is, the only place I can do that is in the mission field in China. I can literally go nowhere else and be an expert in any other field. Some of my skills will certainly transfer over, but I’m going to have to be okay with that being the best I can hope for.

It would be a lot easier if I knew this was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. Or even just the next two years of my life. I should be thrilled, however, as this is the kind of opportunity where I can give it a good English try. If I fail, everyone will be just fine. Myself included. If I succeed, well then hey, cool.

Here’s to trying to follow the example of my daugther, to walk in, terrified, but without hesitation. I used to feel so sad for her being overwhelmed and afraid of school, now I’m just proud of her for being an example to her daddy.

I'm a Better Missionary Than You

Somewhere today a missionary (or a million of them) is going to wake up feeling insufficient. They’ll wonder if what they’re doing is good enough, brave enough, or enough sacrifice for the Kingdom and the King. They’ll wonder if what they’re doing actually matters or if there is somewhere else they’re supposed to be and something else they should be doing. Part of the problem is there is always a more impressive missionary out there.

Whether it’s a good thing or not, and it’s not, ministers often rank each other on some sort of imaginary scale. The guy who runs the slides for the music on Sunday mornings feels superior to the guy sweeping the church hallways the Saturday before, but he feels inferior to the worship pastor. The worship pastor in turn feels inferior to the adult pastor, who feels inferior to the administrative pastor, who feels inferior to the speaking pastor. The speaking pastor is almost the pinnacle. But every speaking pastor feels inferior to the other speaking pastors at the churches bigger than their own.

When I walk in to a room of pastors they’re all looking around and sizing each other up. It’s like a Jr. High dance where every girl is trying to figure out where they fit in the ranks of the prettiest. In such places I’m the weird looking guy who clearly doesn’t know how to dress well enough to be speaking in front of a large crowd. This knocks me down a few rungs, and certainly I can tell by initial interactions with people, before they know who I am and what I do, that this is the way I’m percieved. Clearly I am not a dynamic pastor speaking in front of thousands every Sunday morning. On the other hand, I can play the missionary card and see some immediate change of heart. Sometimes it’s like a trump card, the pastor all of sudden feels humbled, like he’s playing junior varsity. And other times it’s the opposite, real ministers are folks with the social skills to survive in their home culture. And it’s true, I’m probably a missionary at least in part because I’m very socially awkward. And then there are always some folks that have no box to put me in and simply move on without acknowledging my presence.

I’m not saying I’m above this behavior, if anything I’m always curious where I fall in these hierarchys. Nonetheless, we are all very aware this behavior is foolish. The Lord isn’t ranking us on awesomeness so he can line us up in heaven and show us who we were better than and who we were inferior to. Hudson Taylor and Spurgeon aren’t benchmarks by which we will someday measure ourselves and find out if we’re among the “elite”. But observing the behavior of ministers, you certainly wouldn’t be able to tell we think otherwise.

In a local church, the greater the percieved influence, the greater the minister.

In the mission field it’s different from the local church. It isn’t how many people you’re speaking in front of, because numbers are much harder to measure than location. Therefore for missions it’s the greater the percieved difficulty of the work, the greater the missionary.

So we, embarrassingly, have a similar hierarchy. The missionary from Dallas to Houston is inferior to the one from New York to the American Indian reservation. Again, we all know this is utter foolishness, but you can tell by our behavior and treatment of each other that we all sort of, nonetheless, believe this.

Then the missionary to Italy is inferior to the one to Serbia. Saying I’m a missionary to China still often times garners immense respect. This is most obvious when you look at missions finances. Western Europe is one of the places in the world most in need of the gospel, but because of percieved ease of life, no one wants to support missionaries to go there. Very few churches have said they’re partnering with France because people don’t get excited about missions efforts there. China increasingly is a comfortable place to live, but because of percieved difficulty, it’s way easier to raise support to go there. I have internet on my phone, I ride an air conditioned subway around town and can afford heat. I can have McDonald’s for breakfast, and as of recently, I can even buy pants at the Gap. But people don’t know this of China, or don’t think it’s relavent enough to overshadow how difficult they percieve it to be.

Therefore if you’re a prospective missionary, China is a little higher up on your list of possible places.

Say you decide to join an organization and move to China. One day you arrive in Beijing and the missionaries remind you that Beijing has international hospitals and Burger King. “Real missionaries are in West China,” they’ll say. So you learn some Chinese and move West only to be asked by other missionaries which of the five most common Tibetan languages you’re studying. Apparently the real missionaries live in Western China just so they can prepare to one day head to Tibet. But be careful, because Lahsa is way too comfortable, and once there, you’ll be convinced the real missionaries live in mud huts on the border of China and Nepal near Mount Everest ministering to a people group which commicates through a complex language of only six noises—two of which are grunts. Their only currency is unwrapped Twinkies from the seventies smuggled through India and your foreign money is no good here so you’ll need to herd cattle for a few years before you aquire enough Twinkies to buy your hand-made tent, wool blankets, and food. This of course, all will happen in your night-time-sleeping hours because during the day you’re doing ministry. No foreigner has ever lived there more than two weeks without being martyred by way of cannibalization. But it’s worth it, because now, you are a “real missionary”.

There is always a tougher missionary. Always.

Interestingly enough this doesn’t stop people from trying to be the toughest. And for most, there is a minimum threshold which they feel they need to cross before they’re worth something in the Kingdom of God.

“We’re miserable here,” I told a friend after a few months of living in a place which turned out to be much harder than I anticipated, “how are you guys doing it? Do you or your wife have any real community? How is she handling it?” This friend looked at me like I was missing the whole point.

“A missionary is supposed to suffer,” he said, “are you reading your Bible enough?”

Well. Good luck with that.

I’m not saying we should all go to comfortable places, I’m just saying if your goal is to suffer I can introduce you to a place with less foreign influence. I can find you a harder language to learn with pictographic writing where no one has ever even attempted a Bible translation. I can find you an even more muslim nation, or at least a neighborhood with more strict muslim customs. I can find you a place with food so awful you won’t eat for a month just to make yourself hungry enough to be able to get down (and keep down) the maggots and tree-grubs.

Somehow we forget that we don’t earn more in God’s Kingdom by way of suffering. It’s true some of us will be called to tough places where the primary food source is turtle toes, and we hate turtle toes—not to mention we find the harvesting process painfully monotonous. But most of us will go places and survive in places where the Lord causes something about the local culture to revive our spirits and encourage us. He will often give us a unique love for the place, even if we hate living there. We are not however, better missionaries the more miserable we are.

Sometimes I wonder how many of us are actually in the field because we’re called to be, or because we’re really trying to work off some of our old High School sins, and we think two more years in that awful place might be enough to earn our salvation. Hopefully this isn’t true, but it sure seems like a good number of us are merit driven individuals completely rejecting the gospel truths we make a living of proclaiming.

If Christ really is sufficient, and really doesn’t need us, then why do we rank each other in our heads like seventh graders at a cheerleading competition? I think it’s because so many missionaries aren’t where we are because of calling, but because of a profound sense of insufficiency. This isn’t to say God can’t use our insecurities for His glory. Of course He can. It is to say, spewing our insecurities all over one another every time we gather together is probably not building the Church.

Likewise, imagining ourselves in our heads as being people worthy of great honor because of the sacrifices we perceive ourselves having made is not doing us much good. Storing up pride for ourselves in our heads is not the same thing as storing up treasure for ourselves in heaven.

The Lord calls whom he calls to go the places he calls them, and we’re not greater because we stand in front of a church of more people. We’re not greater because we planted more churches in more cities in India than any other foreigner since Thomas. We’re not worthy because we don’t buy a heater for our cement house in Siberia. We’re not worthy because our language is better than anyone else on our team. We’re not worth something because we went further than anyone else dared go before us.

We’re of worth because of the blood Jesus poured out for us in the profound sacrifice of the cross. We cannot die on the mission field for our own salvation. Jesus died already for us and anything more we do in ministry or the mission field ought to be out of an overflow of a love for Him. Not because we believe it makes us more awesome. Not because we want to be the prettiest cheerleader. I wish I didn’t have to preach the gospel to gospel preachers, but the truth is that we forget it as easy as those around us. The problem is, they will never understand the gospel if we don’t live it. And if we’re in the field out of a profound sense of self-salvation-by-way-of-suffering, our disciples will never see Jesus.

Christ, and Him crucified. That’s all that really matters. Your spider-ridden mud hut does not.

Speak Wisdom and Justice

I’ve come to the conclusion that my role in the Kingdom of God is to speak. The problem with being called to speak is that it’s one of the easiest things to abuse, esepcially when you think the Lord has called you to do it. I’ve had a friend who told me their job was to speak in to my life, to sharpen me, to make me more like God. It doesn’t sound bad on the surface, but it ended up meaning this friend is constantly looking for things in my life in which he can give input. Any action is presumed to represent character flaws, and then something which can be fixed.

Thank you very much, but I’d much rather just have a friend. Someone who would speak in to my life, and just be with me. Don’t get me wrong, there are times where our friends approrpiately need to rebuke us, but I don’t want a friend who sees himself as my “rebuker” full time. That’s just depressing.

-

Over the years a few verses have stuck out to me regarding this calling to speak. First of all, and perhaps most difficult to hear, was James 1:26 which tells me that if I do not bridle my tongue, my religion is worthless. I read this verse the day before I got on a plane to go give input to my organization’s leaders. That was a bummer. I realized I needed to bite my tongue rather than give overwhelming feedback. My opinions are, unfortunately, not inspired. They’re just my opinions.

Learning to bite my tongue is definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Although, I can’t say it’s something I’ve learned very well yet.

More recently I’ve been thinking a bit about Psalm 37:30, which says the mouth of the rightous is to utter wisdom and speak justice. God loves wisdom and justice, and wants us to proclaim those things. The problem is I love respect, honor, and money, and it’s easy for my words to proclaim such things rather than what they should be proclaiming.

There are many ways in which being Christ-like is difficult, but attempting to control your tongue is basically impossible (James 3:8), though that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

Personally, I find it exhausting to always try and control the words I’m speaking.

Then again, being Christ-like in any way should, by it’s very definition, be impossible. And that’s why we need the Gospel and the Holy Spirit.

I hope I can hold my tongue whenever possible so as to be heard when necessary. I pray my tongue can be used for the glory of the Lord, and for the edificaiton of His Church, and not my ego.

Farewell Trip

I recently got on a plane and flew back to China to shut everything down. Nearly ten years living as a missionary in one place, it’s every bit as difficult to leave as you might imagine. I’ve wondered what kind of job I’ll be able to get after having been nothing but a missionary since college, and I have yet to figure it out. I’ve been thinking I’d love to do something which would send me to China a few times each year, but then, on the plane back I questioned that thinking. Fifteen hours on a cramped airplane followed by two more flights can put things in to perspective, and I wrestle with wanting to have China as part of my life, and fighting insanity on trips that long.

Before I left, I imagined I would be in tears the whole time I was in China because I was saying goodbye. I thought I would cry uncontrollably at all the things I was giving up, all the things I was going to miss. Sadly, while I did cry, it was for much different reasons than I anticipated. There is a lot of cultural stress living in China, lots of things which make it difficult for an American, especially one with a mixed-race family. And while there were pressures wherever we lived in China (or anywhere outside of our home culture for that matter), they varied dramatically based on where in China we were living.

The last city we lived in was particularly hard on us for a number of reasons, most of which I never allowed myself to feel. I couldn’t handle the reality of the stress we were living under, so I simply ignored it. But on this trip back, to shut everything down, I was no longer under this stress and as a result I let myself experience the full weight of it. My family would no longer have to deal with this school, or that hospital experience. The lady at the grocery store who always wants to touch the kids will no longer even be in our lives. I’ll no longer be a two hour ride away from my wife and kids in a city where I have no confidence they are safe. And, in feeling all of this, I cried tears of relief. I can’t believe we lived there as long as we did. I can’t believe we survived as long as we did. The grace of the Lord in our lives is incredibly obvious when I look back on the years we spent there.

We have very little question that moving back to America at this stage in our lives is the right decision for our family. There are a million things we wont miss even a little bit, but that doesn’t mean leaving isn’t hard.

China is all I’ve known. I was 20 years old and right out of college when I moved to China. In those ten years I’ve lived in four cities, led three different teams, learned a new language, married, had kids, adopted two more, and labored alongside of some incredible people. I’m going to miss the ministry. I’m going to miss the people with whom I ministered. I’m going to miss fighting in prayer every day over such an overwhelmingly lost place.

I can stay connected in prayer, and I intend to. But it won’t be the same when I’m not prayer walking through the city. It will be different as I won’t be gazing in to the eyes of the lost every fifth step on the sidewalk, or surrounded by them on the subway. It will be different when I hear from the struggling pastors and elders about their ministry by way of email instead of over a meal. It will be different. And I’m going to miss it.

I’m thankful many friends made time to come see me on my final trip. Three even flew up from another city to come say goodbye. I finally was able to visit a restaurant built in an old bomb-shelter in the side of a mountain—one I’ve been wanting to see for nearly a year.

There were people I thought had seen no impact from our ministry who came forward and told us how we had affected their lives. There were stories of the gospel being preached in the some of the most difficult and persecuted places.

Stories which gave me great hope.

Ten Years a Missionary

Well, it’s been ten years and as of last week, I’m no longer a missionary. Well, I’ll always be a missionary, because like James Fraser said, true, lasting missionary work is done on our knees. I won’t be getting off my knees. But I will be looking elsewhere for employment.

It’s been a long complicated road to arrive at this conclusion. And there will be a lot I miss about working as a missionary in China. Hell, I’m gonna miss noodles like crazy. But, on the bright side, I can say hell whenever I want now.

Now I’m just going to be a Christian. No longer will I be a “professional Christian”. I can walk my faith, live and breathe the gospel the way I believe it should be lived and breathed. Not a whole has stood in the way of that before, but it wasn’t always easy. I have had an audience of many, not an audience of one. That’s part of the complication of living on support, which is often a huge blessing. But sometimes it’s utter foolishness. Now I’m excited to put the foolishness aside and be who I’m called to be in some secular workplace in America.

You know, assuming I can find a job.

Until then, I no longer have to binge eat donuts and burritos because I’ll be able to have them whenever I’d like.

I will, however, now have to binge eat noodles when I go back to China for a week next month to shut everything down.

China, you’ll be missed. Hopefully I can get a job that brings be back to you with some regularity. Hopefully you’ll always be a part of my life, not least in my prayers.

This is a big intimidating change. Not sure what to expect.

Pffffft

There’s a shocking amount of uncertainty in my life right now. Shocking because of how little there was six months ago. Shocking because I have always known who I was, where I was going, and exactly how I intended to get there.

It turns out the whole world as my apple kind of scares the hades out of me. I’d rather know exactly where I’ll be taking a bite and how, and where that will lead three years from now.

Instead I’m chasing away questions I’m unwilling to ask because I’m too overwhelmed by the ones I can’t answer. They pile up and I shove them under a rug and yell loudly at myself, “This isn’t a midlife crisis!” Hoping if I say it loudly enough I’ll grow to believe it myself. I beg myself to believe what I teach—what I believe—that God is in control and somehow has a place for this. There is a road yet ahead. Not just a cliff.

And hopefully there will be very few casualties on said road. I’m not sure I can handle it any other way. My hopes are fading with my burning desires. Desires burning to ash. Not desires not burning inside of me.