I have reflected recently on how much insight artists seem to have on life. As they convey their own feelings, experiences and ideas through art they reach us in unexpected ways.
I used to think that I was primarily a philosophical thinker. While pursuing knowledge I began to feel like I was drying up so I picked up photography. I received so much affirmation from friends and family for my initial efforts that I began to lean back toward art as my primary form of expression. This may have been partially due to the fact that I was required to read and write for my education while art was purely voluntary and fun.
When I graduated from seminary and was no longer required to do so much writing I started to enjoy it again as a way to articulate what I was learning from life. Now I’m trying to find where these two vehicles of expression collide. I think and therefore I write. I feel and therefore I express. I want both my writing to convey art and my art to express truth.
It is sad how often we try to determine our own value by how much we feel that we have accomplished. There are several problems with this assessment. First, we tend to focus on this evaluation most when we feel the least accomplished. When things have not worked out as hoped in our lives we begin to reflect on our own apparent worthlessness.
The second problem is that the more often we conclude that we are worthless the more likely we are to live as if this is the case. Why try when nothing we endeavor to accomplish works anyway? This notion can be debilitating and can keep us from making progress toward our goals. Hope is one of our primary motivators. With the loss of hope goes the confidence that with time and effort our situation can improve.
There are certain points of pain that magnify our need for wellbeing. I think the one that impacts me the most is the social, which the book Wellbeing describes as “having strong relationships and love in your life.” I want to know that I am contributing to the lives of others, that I am a good friend and that I am loved by those in my life. When I returned from my travels I found that San Diego had become a lonely place. My group of friends it seems have scattered and moved on to new places or aspects of their lives and I have not done much for the last few years to replenish my relationships here.
When we don’t feel well connected to community we begin to beat ourselves up and to think that there must be something wrong with us or we would have more friends. The vicious cycle begins when we so dislike ourselves that we think others don’t care for us either. The more we retreat into isolation the more our insecurities are affirmed until we have walled ourselves into self-made prison cells of isolation.
There are seasons of life that demand so much attention in particular areas that we lose sight of others. Finishing up four years of seminary has caused me to think about this a lot in recent months. I learned to survive working full time and studying at the graduate level by a selective focus that allowed me to ignore areas that seemed to difficult to initiate or to maintain. The routines that I developed in survival mode have become harder to shake than I would have thought. Reentry from graduate studies into the rest of my life is not automatic as it turns out.
My last six months of seminary wore me down. It was all I could do to try to maintain a positive outlook on life. It seemed that several years of unbalanced living had caught up to me. Staring at the finish line awoke my senses to the rest of my life that was still there and needed to be addressed. In school mode I trained myself to focus on completing the next assignment, finishing the current class and making it through one quarter at a time.
A graduation is called a commencement, however, because it is only a beginning. Finishing a degree program is not meant to complete our pursuits but to ignite us to follow them with enligthened vigor. This overwhelmed me as I pondered how much of my life I had learned to tune out just to get by.
I am encouraged tonight by II Kings 6:16 where we are reminded “Don’t be afraid…Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Here in Africa I am beginning to feel a little overwhelmed. The magnitude of the need here and the countless arms reaching for help make me wonder if anything I do here will ever matter. It is hard not to feel somewhat depressed by the violent oppression that so often ravages this continent. Yet, I am reminded by this passage that although I may be overwhelmed, I am not outnumbered.
Staring at the vast Syrian army, the man in this story also felt overwhelmed and that nothing he or anyone else could do would matter. When his spiritual eyes were opened, however, he saw that the power of God was greater than all of the violent oppression that the Syrians could inflict. I’m thankful for the reminder that God’s power is not only greater than my own weakness but also greater than all that oppresses East Africa. It is true that by myself I cannot change anything but I pray that God, through his power, might use me to help bring needed changed to this beautiful but needy part of the world.
I’m sitting in one of the most appropriate places to reflect on the power and influence of writing; under the shadow of two of the greatest writers of the last century, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Overjoyed to find an empty table in the Rabbit Room at The Eagle & Child, I am enjoying a cup of tea and reveling in this place.
“For it hath pleased them of Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor saints which are at Jerusalem.” (Romans 15:26)
The regions of Macedonia and Achaia, or modern-day Greece, were some of the most wealthy areas of the New Testament world. It is likely that many of the Gentile converts in these regions, as well as the Jews living there, were quite successful in the world of trade and business. The Christians in Israel, however, suffered under intense persecution. They lived in a society where leaving strict Judaism to convert to Christianity meant giving up your place as a citizen of society in good standing. The Christians in Jerusalem, in particular, suffered greatly at this time.
Learning of their Jewish brother’s sufferings, the believers in Greece decided to make a generous contribution to the church at Jerusalem. When the apostles and other traveling ministers brought news to them of Christians’ needs abroad, they opened their hearts and gave.
We have a similar situation today for in America we have more wealth than anywhere else in the world. Our Christian brothers and sisters abroad, however, suffer lack in many parts of the world. Somebody needs to travel like Paul did, seeing each situation first-hand and carrying word of the needs to the rest of the Church. Somebody also needs to be willing to give to the needs of those who are part of our own body, shared with Christ as the Head. Just like we would not ignore the needs of our own family, we must not turn away from the needs of our family in the Lord. At Mission Focus our desire is to bring not only the testimonies of the Church abroad, back to the West, but also the needs. We pray that God will open our own hearts and many others, to provide for His people.
I just noticed that Paul emphasizes the importance of “one” six times in Romans 5. He repeatedly affirms that it was the offence of one many that caused sin and death to come upon all. Contrasting Adam’s failure with Christ’s perfection, he also states that it was the righteousness of one by which all receive life. As I reflect upon what I’ve experienced and what I’ve seen on this trip, one thing that I want to make sure that I do not forget is the power of one. Short of placing ourselves in the unique position of Christ or of Adam, there is a principle that one life carries unlimited potential, for better or for worse.
“Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea: Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.” (Acts 11:29-30)
From the earliest times in the history of the Church, the precedent has been set for churches to care for another, particularly in time of need. Recognizing that the persecution and resulting distress of the church in Jerusalem was stronger than elsewhere, the churches of other cities resolved to send support to them.
Certainly these other churches had their own needs. It would’ve been easy to justify that they could not afford to take any of the money out of their own collection to help anyone else. The attitude of Christ’s Church, however, is to be one of generosity. One which looks to discover and meet the needs of other believers who are in need.
As I travel throughout Eastern Africa and see the desperate needs that Christians have here, I am convicted by how complacent I have been about the needs of Christians abroad. Its much easier to simply give my tithe to my local church and not to think about anything else. How could I be so blind to the enormous needs in other countries? Christians are working extremely hard in critical situations both physically and spiritually all around the world, but we in the West frequently don’t even take the time to learn about them, much less care.
I truly hope that Mission Focus enables a change of perspective that results in more giving, praying and going to support God’s people abroad. May that change start with me.
I was reading Acts 1 this morning and found a story that pertains to what we are doing as Mission Focus. The story is of Matthias, the man chosen by the eleven disciples to replace Judas as an apostle. Many preachers have assumed that it was not God’s will for the disciples to choose a replacement. They generally base this argument on the fact that we hear nothing further about Matthias in the biblical record. It is as though his value as a disciple is dependent on how much we know about him.
The worth of God’s servants is not measure by how much we know about them but by everything that God knows about them. There are countless obscure and unknown followers of Christ’s whose works will live on in heaven although we may never know about them. I think of the Indian pastors who live on $12 of support a month and in poverty level homes, yet labor tirelessly to lead people to Christ. I think of the many women who devote themselves to the needs of children, both their own and others. We may never know about them but God does and their love will not go unrewarded.
Our goal at Mission Focus is to tell the stories of God’s servants. We want people to know what God is doing abroad in order to enlarge their hearts and to expand their sights into areas they’ve never considered before. We think Christians ought to focus on missions and that God’s servants are worthy of our recognition, appreciation, prayers and support. We will never be able to tell every story and discover every servant of God, but for those we have the opportunity to find we pray that the intersection of our paths will have a last impact not only for them but for the kingdom of God.
We don’t know much more about Matthias but let us never assume that the only things relevant to God’s kingdom are those we know about. His work is so much larger than our field of vision. What is relevant to God is far beyond what we value or appreciate. Lord, open our eyes!