Therefore his life never got much richer
Than the day they took that picture
In his birthday suit on the day that he was born.
Safety Joe by John Prine
If you need status quo, humdrum, routine, feeling safe, creature comforts, staying close to mommy and daddy, a roadmap for your next 5 year plan… you’re not thinking like a pioneer… a new church project in a strange place might not be a good fit for you.
Truth be known, in our natural state, it’s never a good fit for any of us. By default we think first of ourselves… we protect our own interests. We resist anything that would undermine the safety net we’ve created. We’d prefer not to even think about jeopardizing it. We might as well tack the lyrics to “Safety Joe” on our fridge… have them engraved on our gravestone.
The reasons for the shortage of pioneers are not pretty… neither are the outcomes. Do we want to live and die without ever discovering the very best and first things God prepared for us long before we were even born?
Second best and humdrum will be our fate… unless we face our real reality head on.
The degree and length of our commitment to Gospel kingdom work have a direct correlation to the clarity of our conversion… and the quality of our surrender to the Lordship of Christ.
You don’t become a missionary by crossing the sea; you become a missionary by seeing the cross.
Dying for us on the cross… a vicarious sacrifice for our sin… conquering death and the grave... preparing a place for us in his presence for all eternity… We can say “Thank you” and “God be praised”, but it’s not enough. What he did obligates us. Surrender of our wills to his and implicit obedience to his words are expected… …and deserved.
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20, ESV)
…You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20, ESV)
Without getting too theological here, it’s still healthy for Jesus followers to remember: Assessing risk, while prudent, should never be allowed to undermine how we face up to our real reality. So, please… re-read Galatians 2:20 above and answer the following questions:
Since we’re already dead… should we be afraid of dying?
Since we’re already dead… should we care what happens to us next?
All we really need to know is that our paths are synchronized with the perfect will of God. “It is no longer I who live”.
and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:18, ESV)
We’re slaves now… slaves of righteousness… slaves assigned tasks in his kingdom. It doesn’t matter where he chooses to send us or what tasks he assigns us. We’re not our own anymore… we’ve been bought with a price. The one who bought us decides for us.
…If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23, ESV)
These principles are foundational. I mention them first because they are the only context in which choosing hardship and uncertainty makes sense. Without taking up this cross daily, God’s call to be pioneers will go unheeded… our sense of commitment will be ground to dust.
It’s the only way to explain why Linda and I kept on keeping on… even at the end of dead end streets… even with an empty bank account… even in seasons of unmitigated pain… . even without outside encouragement or anyone saying, “We’ve got your back.”
One mile into Mexico after my very first border crossing, I wanted to turn around and go home. Everything smelled different, felt different, sounded different…everyone talked different. The first meal served to me on the road south was almost a deal breaker. I couldn’t eat it. I went back to the truck to munch on saltine crackers and drink a Coke.
We thought we would spend the rest of our lives in Central America. A brutal civil war had a hand in ending that dream. Under pressure to declare where we would go next—“So your supporting churches don’t start dropping you”—we accepted an invitation to help a struggling mission not far from Veracruz, Mexico. That was the dead end street. Overwhelmed and broke, no affordable housing, no options… it was the only season in which we vocalized, “Maybe we should quit and go home.”
Back to our street corner Sunday mornings near a market in Cancun. By now, we had a place to live… a place to serve in a new town… and we could even afford the rent on our new church space. We were happy as larks… and we were so glad and relieved we hadn’t quit. So strong was this gladness and relief, it stayed with us for the rest of Linda’s life. Her funeral with our Alamos church family, brothers and sisters from our other congregations in the area, family and friends… was a sight to see. The video of the event speaks for itself.
What does the commitment to pioneering a work look like? I think it starts with a long-term, boots-on-the-ground mentality. What I’ve read on the subject jives with our own experience. It probably takes 8 to 10 years to blend in, to attain a general sense of the lay of the land, to feel comfortable in the community… for neighbors to take us seriously and not like one more outsider passing through.
Speaking the language as comfortably as your own is a huge factor.
How do I know I made a successful transition? I love hot sauces now. I even use them in my oatmeal.
LOL, you quoted John Prine. Safety Joe was not one of his I put on my play list, but I sure loved the man's songs and appreciate the perfect placement in this series. His last album was the only one to make Top 10 and perhaps prophetically it had the song, "When I Get to Heaven." Slighly irreverent but so enjoyable. See if you can find a way to fit it in a future writing. :)
When I get to heaven, I'm gonna shake God's hand
Thank him for more blessings than one man can stand
Then I'm gonna get a guitar and start a rock-n-roll band
Check into a swell hotel, ain't the afterlife grand?
And then I'm gonna get a cocktail: vodka and ginger ale
Yeah, I'm gonna smoke a cigarette that's nine miles long
I'm gonna kiss that pretty girl on the tilt-a-whirl
'Cause this old man is goin' to town.
Take care and I hope John Prine made it to heaven. I would love to hear "Grandpa Was a Carpenter" live someday. God bless