Friday, January 6, 2017

Finishing Strong

It has been a few hectic weeks since coming back to Peru from our furlough in the States.  A couple chocolatadas, Christmas, New Years, unpacking, preparing for family to leave, getting things back in order, dealing with major issues within the church and then not to mention the NFL playoffs are starting.  It has been a whirlwind.  I have to say, usually when New Years rolls around, I pretty much have a game plan laid out for the next year.  Not that I have all the details worked out, but I have a pretty good idea on what the end game of the year is.  Obviously I am not saying I plot my own course or think that I am sovereign over my days.  I take heed to the counsel of the Bible that it is wise to plan, but I also know that the purpose of the Lord will stand (Proverbs 19:21).  And when ever I plan, never do I want my arrogance to guide my steps or desires like the foolish man from James 4.  When I plan, I truly, as true as a sinful heart can be, say Lord if it is your will, as James instructs.   The Apostle James isn't telling us not to plan, He is telling us that our plans should be brought before the Lord and if it is the Lord's will, then we can proceed.  This is a lesson that I am learning on a deeper level than I ever have.  Over the last 8 years or so, we have made some life altering plans.  We always took them before the Lord.  We have been in difficult situations.  We have had our moments of asking the Lord what is it that you are doing?  We have had our seasons of confusion and doubt.  But one thing that we can testify through our own personal experience is that the Lord is faithful.  That may sound cliche.  Some might say that is so Christianese.  Some people don't like to use Christianese, and I understand why, but isn't that the language of a Christian?  How else or what other terms could we use to describe what the Lord has done?   When we look through the Psalms and prayers of the Bible and listen to how they spoke, they used terms that we use.  Before I was a Christian I didn't speak that way.  But now it flows because I am a new creation.  I speak the language of who I am.   Anyways, off topic, yes that may sound cliche, it may be Christian jargon, but that is the truth.  The Lord has proven faithful.

Over 5 years ago we stepped out of an airplane not knowing what exactly the Lord was going to do through us, in us and for us.  These 5 years have been the hardest of my life, in every aspect.  People we know will make comments like how easy life is in Peru or it must be nice or how pleasant things are.  Just ignorant statements.  Yes, there are aspects that are great.  I am blessed to be with my family everyday.  I am blessed to not have some of the cares of the world that are inevitable while living in the States.  But if it was not for my calling, I would not be here.  I would have left long ago.  This has been so hard for us.  For years I was in heavy construction.  Most of my time I was working with crews that would do highway resurfacing.  When we do resurfacing, usually it is just coming in, maybe fixing some bad spots on the road, but all in all the project was to just overlay the road.   To put a new surface on.  The issue with that is many times, if you didn't fix all the bad parts before you overlay, it won't last as long as it should.  It is almost as if it is only a temporary fix.  In my 17 years I redid several roads time and time again.  But when it was time to do a reconstruction, it was serious work.  Especially if it was on a road that had multiple overlays.  You would have to strip off layer after layer of asphalt.  You would have to remove all the base under that asphalt.  You would even sometimes have to remove native soil and then treat it.  Then put all new material and rebuild the road.  Street reconstructions would take time.  An overlay, maybe a couple weeks depending on how many lanes and miles you were doing.  But a reconstruction, takes time.  I was on one project well over a year.  My point in all of this is that the Lord has been doing a reconstruction in my soul.  Striping away layer and layer.  He has been pruning (John 15) those branches from my heart that are not becoming of Him.  And here I am at the start of a new year, not knowing what it is He is doing.  But the one thing I do know, is that He is faithful.  That He is good, that He is working in me His Son.   As I was contemplating on the Lord and what it is that He is doing, this strong impression was laid on my heart to finish strong.  The Lord doesn't need to give me the details.  He doesn't need to explain what He is doing.  The Lord doesn't owe me an explanation.  As we are told in Luke 17, He doesn't even need to thank me for doing what was commanded.  I am an unworthy servant who has only done what was my duty (Luke 17:7-10).  And what I am beginning to realize is that I haven't completed what it is He has for me here in Cajamarca.

4 years ago when we planted the church, I remember in our embryonic stages of the logistics and planning it out, I was told by another missionary, who didn't know we were planting the church, that Baños didn't need a church.  He told me they have had the gospel.  And all I can remember is thinking, "if they have the gospel, why is this place the way it is?"  There are broken lives, fractured homes, pagan worship masked as Christian.  There are people enslaved to religion.  Do you even understand what the gospel is?  It isn't like hey once people hear the gospel that's it.  Walk away.  Say this prayer and it's all done.  No the gospel is what we live by.  It is a continual thing.  We don't move beyond the gospel.  I need the gospel as much today as when I first heard it.  And so do these people.  Anyways that is a topic for another blog.  So last night driving into the city to eat one last meal with our family before they head out, I was just looking at the people.  I once again saw the brokenness of the community.  My heart was aching for those walking around not knowing Christ.  This is the same passion I felt when we decided we need to plant the church.  This is the passion that I need to continue to have while the Lord has me here.   The same missionary who told me we don't need a church in Baños also told me how Baños has everything.  He was meaning materialistically.  The community of Baños is much better off than most of our surrounding areas.  The region we live in, is one of the poorest regions in Peru.  Baños is like the Beverley Hills of this region.  We have running water.  Some of the houses are very nice.  The people in Baños tend to be better off financially than many of the surrounding towns and villages.  But here is my issue with a statement like that.  Are we are not to minister to these people because they have a better life materialistically?  It makes me nauseous  again as I think about it.  So basically when we bring this way of thinking to its logical conclusion we are saying we don't need to give the gospel to those who have materialistic blessings because they have had a good life.  We need to help those who don't have good lives (materialistically speaking).   Listen I am not dismissing what the Bible says about the poor and needy.  But lets be honest.  People would much rather do ministry in places that are less fortunate in the world's eyes.  People would much rather support ministries in places like that.  I could go and take pictures of the surrounding areas.  Kids who suffer from malnutrition.  Places that have no water.  I could raise serious money.  People's hearts are moved by that stuff.  But if I go and start a ministry in an affluent city, or area, people are much less likely to support that.  Why?  Because we think those people have it made.  They have good lives.  It is a such a worldly perspective.  We are fighting for souls.  To be honest, and I would love to discuss this if you would like, but from my personal experience and from my studying, those from affluent places are much harder to reach with the gospel.  My heart for this area was because they were lost, no other reason.  And I need to remember that and to view this community the same way I did 5 years ago when we got off the plane in this unknown land.  My point in this part of my rant, is that I need to make sure my motives are correct in this ministry.  That I have an eternal perspective and that I am focused on telling people about Christ crucified.  Isn't that what Paul's whole ministry was based on? "For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." (1 Corinthians 2:2)   Follow me to the logical end.  If I give this whole area food and water and don't give them Christ, what have I done.  I will argue until I am blue in the face, I have done worse for them than before I showed up.  I have seen it.  Listen, if I give someone a better life know, but do not give them Jesus, all I have done is made them more comfortable on their way to hell.  I want people to know Jesus.  Yes, there is a need for mercy ministry.  We do that, it is not our focus, but we do it.  But only as an avenue to preach the cross.

So as this new year starts, a new year of unknowns, I know that the Lord wants us to finish strong, no matter how long that is.  This Sunday I will preach on Hebrews 12:1-2.  About running the race that Lord has set before us.  About finishing that race.  I have a race to run.  The Lord Himself has set the course.  He has laid out the obstacles and set the finish line.  It is His race.  He is there, cheering us on, along with all those who have went before us and ran their race.  I want to finish.  I want to be faithful.  I am beyond blessed and grateful for the promise in 2 Timothy that tells us if we are faithless,  he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.  I have my moments of faithlessness.  No false piety here.  I have been faithless these last few weeks.  But the Lord has remained faithful.  He gave me eyes to look out the combi as we were traveling into the city to see brokenness.  To see lost souls.  To see a community desperate for the gospel.  To see a people who need to know Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  I am reminded of Paul while he was in Corinth.  "The Lord said to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city." (Acts18:9-10).  The Lord told Paul, keep preaching.  This is the same people Paul told "I decided to only give you Christ and Him crucified."  The Lord was telling Paul don't leave.  The Lord was telling Paul that He has people in that city who do not know of Him and His salvation yet.  People who the Lord died for.  I know the Lord has people here in Baños and they need to know of our great Savior.  This is why we started the church.  We wanted to proclaim these great truths.  And as I reflect on some of the changes that have taken place in the last couple weeks,  I understand that the Lord isn't done with me here.  My time is limited.  What that time looks like I do not know.  All I do know is that I need to be faithful.  I need to continue in the preaching of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.  Am I confused?  Sure.  Am I upset?  Honestly, probably a little.  Upset at what?  Honestly, probably the whole situation.  Am I questioning what God is doing?  Not so much anymore.  I know that God is doing a great work.  What more do I need to know.   Part of that work (probably a large part) is the work He is doing in my heart.  I know He is working in our national pastor's heart.  I know He is working in my wife's and children's hearts.  He is working.  That is the great thing.  It is not done.  So if God is working, I want to be part of it.  I want what He has for me personally and what he has for others.  This is becoming exciting again.  It is a new year.  It is a new beginning.  I can't wait to see what the Lord does in this coming year as we seek Jesus and as we seek to glorify Him and make Him known.  

Soli deo Gloria