Two Thousand and Fine

How was 2009? It was just fine. Compared to last year it was fairly un-dramatic for me, in a good way.

But of course serving the Lord never lacks excitement. It was the year of The Article, the year we learned that persecution actually grows a church. It was the year we moved to the Michaleks. The year of the gum grafts, so everyone got to see how anxious and obsessive I am. The year Neil took Perspectives—always a dangerous move. And the year we took our second stab at buying a house, but couldn’t.

Probably the biggest change for me was moving to the Michaleks. It was such a great decision, I can’t believe it took us so long to make the move! So thank you Dar for suggesting it, and Mark and Diana for having us! I would definitely recommend “married ministry houses” to anyone with the space. Or even if you don’t quite have the space, which is probably how the Michaleks feel, squished into the top story of their house with a baby—no, a toddler! It’s probably how my spaghetti feels, too.

Living with others revealed my sin, as I expected. Diana indicated she felt like I judge her. I wanted to ask, “Why do you feel judged by me?” But I caught myself as I realized the answer: because I was judging her! As much as I loved living with her, I couldn’t help thinking she was doing everything all wrong. It was stupid stuff, and I had to learn how to let it go and realize there’s more than one way to skin a cat. Apologizing to her and talking about it brought us closer, though. I’m not judgment-free, but it always helps to recognize it and remember how sinful and irrational I am, and how God graciously saved me from worse judgment than I know.

What I really love about living there is getting to hang out with Diana so much. For the most part we get a running commentary on each other’s lives, and I love it! Whenever we get back from a meeting or just hanging out with someone, we can share what happened. We always mourned that we didn’t get to live in a ministry house together but now we had this awesome opportunity. It’s also fun on the rare occasion that all four of us are home and get to talk. Now I’m glad our last house deal fell through. Seven-tenths of a mile is close, but eight doors down will be way better!

This year also taught me to let indigenous leaders lead their church. I should’ve caught the idea after stepping aside in the Michalek home church a year and a half ago, to their great success. But I must be a slow learner, as I was still micro-managing Word like we did back when they were in junior high. A word of advice: when the students start complaining about activities, it’s time to let them take over. We also allowed only a select handful of “experienced” students teach home church, and a swarm of a dozen adults hovered over their meetings.

With the help of Lina, Keith, Rolland Allen, and the students we slowly realized it was truly the students’ ministry. It never was ours and never would be. Still, it took a minute for the implications of our revelation to penetrate. We made a few attempts at delegation and succeeded in bringing on more students leaders, but we finally got it when the students decided to have home church every week, plan their own activities, and decrease the number of adults per meeting.

Next thing we knew, the home church was seeing forty or more students each week. We decided to split, at least for a while. Roland Allen says, “The wind blows where it will” (wind = Holy Spirit as per John 3). We never know where he’s going to take us next. No matter what home church you’re in, one of the best lessons you can learn is that it’s never really your ministry. It’s the Lord’s. We refer to it in first person possessive for simplicity’s sake, and that’s fine. But it’s never really ours to control, ours to grow, or ours to take our identity from. So think about where the Wind is blowing and how you can cooperate, and give others the chance to participate, too.

In related news, Neil took Perspectives class this year and we went to The Journey Deepens missions retreat. We didn’t conclude much, but I did learn a lot about my fleshly willpower. Keith confronted me about it (while I was trying to have an infantile argument with him). I always sort of thought my strong will was sort of a good thing (although I knew some drawbacks). I knew if I was accomplishing things because of my will and not God’s power, it was worth nothing, but I don’t think I really believed it. That I can function through tasks and get ‘er done isn’t actually a strength if I’m not relying on the Lord, because “when I am weak, then I am strong.” So my will needs to break, is what I really learned from our missions inquiry. We’re still on our “journey” to discern God’s role for us in missions, but we’re not charging ahead at breakneck speed anymore, and I’m content.

Slumdog Love Ethics

I just saw Slumdog Millionare for the second time and was struck by a scene depicting how real love works. When Jamal finds the grown-up Latika, married to a selfish, chauvinistic man who obviously doesn’t cherish her, he tries to convince Latika to run away with him. But she’s too scared. She’s an orphan who was forced to beg by a cruel overlord who sold her into this marriage. But at least now she’s relatively safe, living in a mansion with servants and some semblance of security. Certainly she can survive her husband’s rude and angry behavior if she is at least clean, clothed, and fed.

Like Latika, we feel safe in our sin. Whether it’s the decision to start a relationship with Christ or to take a new step of faith in walking with Him, the old way seems so much safer. It’s difficult to leave our pet sins, and even harder to leave the world of familiarity in order to follow Christ for the first time. Being rescued from slavery sounds nice, but will it really happen? And what awaits us on the other side of freedom?

Jamal longs to redeem Latika so he confides, “I love you.” But such effusions bear little relevance to her situation so she coldly responds, “So what?” She is hardened enough by the world to know romantic love alone cannot save her. But then Jamal demonstrates a different type of love when he promises, “I’ll wait for you at the train station every day at five, until you come.” He is expressing sacrificial, victorious love.

Jamal tells Latika what he will do, and how he hopes she will respond. But his act of sacrifice and hope does not depend on her actions. He will love her by waiting for her everyday whether or not she comes. He’s really saying, I will be there for you, no matter what you do.

Jamal’s sacrifice is no doubt mixed with his own interest in the beautiful Latika, and his power to save her is nearly non-existent. Yet his demonstration of love is similar to Jesus, who in essence says, “Here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to die on the cross for your sins. I’m going to offer you this free gift of forgiveness, a relationship, and eternal life. And all you have to do is ask for it.” He died for all everyone’s sin, knowing that most people would not accept His grace. But that didn’t change His decision to sacrifice for us.

So often I am too afraid to speak the truth to someone, or too selfish to love someone when it costs too much. I’m afraid of what the other person will do, or that they won’t do anything at all. But sometimes I’ve chosen to take the approach of Jesus and Jamal by letting someone know, either explicitly or through my actions, “I love you, and here’s how I’m going to show that. Here’s how I’m going to sacrifice for you.” Maybe it’s as simple as, “I’ll call you again next week.” Sometimes it’s setting boundaries: “I will hang up the phone if you continue this inappropriate behavior.” Other times it’s just being there, or broaching a difficult but necessary topic.

This is what 1 Corinthians 13 means when it says “love never fails.” It means love always wins. Victory isn’t getting someone else to do what you want. Winning occurs when we learn to love another, regardless of the person’s response. And so often God uses our acts of love to bring redemption in another person’s life. But that depends in part on the person’s free will, which is why Romans 13:10 says, “As far as it is up to you, be at peace with all people.” When we are willing to let God mold our hearts, we will experience the victory and power of real love.