I ventured out to the new Whole Foods Market in Little Rock. What an amazing store. For the most part I’ll let the photos do the talking. (I wish I had a better eye for photography, though.) Click any of them to enlarge.
It’s a beautiful market and obviously I’m very excited about it being here! Definitely more convenient location and the size is so much better than the cramped space they were in before. Support healthy, fair trade, and local! I’m looking forward to it!
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” -Isaiah 6:1-8
Our devotional book, written by the folks of base camp, started on day 1 with this passage from Isaiah. On our last day, I returned to it. It was a fitting book end. The Lord’s holiness and glory is what compels us to do what we are doing. The devo and many conversations with base campers have imparted to me such wisdom from this passage. There is more to this passage than a glimpse at the glory of God. There is a progression here that is vital to see.
The glory of God is seen. In Piper’s book, “Let the Nations Be Glad”, he says missions exists because worship does not. The kind of worship he describes is a complete satisfaction in God through Christ. God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. Where worship does not exist, God’s glory is not being proclaimed. Everything God does in existence is for the purpose of glorifying God. The completeness of His glory is found in the praise of creation.
In encountering God’s glory, Isaiah expressed woe and lostness. Man is so far from God that His glory is unapproachable. His holiness would utterly destroy us in our depravity. If one thinks about the magnificence of the temple that the throne of God resides in, how much more is the holiness of God that this part of His character can shake its foundations? We are unclean in our sin and we are surrounded by uncleanness. In terms of the Eastern culture were in, we brought shame to our Creator in our sin, and nothing we can do can restore that honor.
From the glowing embers of the altar of the Lord of Hosts, to the lips of Isaiah, here we see that God makes us clean. There is no indication that Isaiah can make himself clean. The seraphim flew to Isaiah, touched his lips with the coal, and announced his sin atoned for. His shame was removed by God. This is an act He initiated. I see the compassion and love of God, and the foreshadowing of Christ. From seeing the glory of the Most High God, to despairing in our utter depravity, to being made able to stand clean in His presence…
And then the voice of God calls for obedience. And Isaiah responds with willing eagerness, to be sent by God to fulfill His will. Our satisfaction in God is found in an obedience of faith that makes Him look good and brings about His glory to the ends of the earth. That is His design. Apart from the seeking of His glory, we will be dissatisfied. The base campers’ consistent message is that they serve out of the overflow of the fullness God has given them. Perhaps we find ourselves lacking in obedience because we are not allowing God to fill us to overflowing. A passion for God is what fills us and if that is lacking, there is no passion for going because there is no overflow from which to serve and go. But the abundant life Jesus spoke of is just this: being filled–that’s our joy–and overflowing.
The seeking of the glory of God is the going with the proclamation of the gospel. Everything associated with this mandate–the suffering, the sacrifices, the weaknesses, the struggles–compels us toward God and away from the world, in order to find our satisfaction in Him. We encounter His glory, we recognize our depravity, we receive His grace, and we go in obedience. This is what the Holy Spirit has revealed from this passage and what I believe Piper is trying to communicate in his book–the reason why the motivation for missions is tied intimately to the glory of God.
I find my satisfaction in God through Jesus. I’m not even talking about having satisfaction in the gifts and blessings God gives. I’m talking being satisfied in God Himself. That’s it! We need to think about every single thing we have–material, intangible, relationally–and if we can be satisfied without it because we have God. The person who has Jesus and nothing else has everything. Jesus clearly explains the costs, including possessions, lands, family, money… anything. Will it feel like no sacrifice at all to give these things up because He is our satisfaction?
I’ll say it again. If disciple-making does not make sense, if missions seems like it is for someone else, then what else is satisfying you? Are the fears and possible sacrifices driving you away from God, or are they causing you to rely on Him? Because I have found the only response, when it’s not about me, to an encounter with the glory of God is joyful obedience, just like Isaiah discovered. That’s the place where I can receive His blessings that are for my good and for His glory. He fills me with joy and grace and mercy when I live the way He says I should. And then He gives more so that I start overflowing, and by which I give to others. Praise God.
He reveals Himself through His Word and that is why we must dedicate ourselves to the daily intake of the Word. Simply letting a preacher and a Sunday School teacher feed it to us will not produce the growth or the greater understanding of God’s character that is required to move from taking in milk as babies, to eating meat as spiritual adults. We’ll hold on to our children in safety rather than shoot them out as arrows into the darkness. We’ll sit back in the comfortable walls of our churches continuing to keep God for ourselves. We’ll miss out on the privilege of being considered worthy to be used by God to spread His Name. And we’ll find ourselves caught unawares at His return, ashamed that He found us asleep rather than being about the work that He left us to do.
I used to think heaven sounded like a drag, to be honest. It wasn’t a picture of sitting on fluffy white clouds with halos and harps. But it was something that I really wondered if I would enjoy, kneeling and worshiping God forever and ever like a slave forced to bow to His master. How awful my thoughts were. That is, until I began to understand being in the presence of the glory of God and how absolutely amazing that sounds! He showed me the true nature of His love and compassion, and now I can’t wait to get there and see His face! Not only that, but I’ll be there with every tribe, tongue, and nation singing His praise! Oh come, Lord Jesus, and let us finish this task to hasten Your return!
What you see here is the result of getting a little New Year’s gift in the form of head shampoo massages. For a mere $4 we were treated to this for a half hour. It was really awesome, but for some reason out of the six of us who did it, I am the only one who also got “styled”. The guy who did it spent a good 15 minutes blow drying it into a bouffant, then meticulously placing every hair exactly where he wanted. I was sure my team put him up to it, but they assure me they did not. That hair was an immovable mountain! Haha!
Well, after our journey out to our family’s city, we returned to base camp and debriefed. Our three days there still require processing to this day. But in this we are sure. We are called to this place and these people to partner in the disciple-making efforts going on. This leads to the question: how can we do so?
The first and foremost need is prayer, immediately followed by feet on the ground. I quoted Romans 10:13-15 in a previous post, and also when I spoke to my church. These verses came to the forefront of all our minds. I said that if we start praying for the laborers of Matthew 9:37-38 we just might find that we are the laborers we’re praying for. This is where the Lord has led us. We asked R&J how we can be essential partners in the work to do here. My desire and hope is that we begin sending teams at least annually, maybe more often. Ultimately, I hope my church can be in a place financially and spiritually to support someone there full time. But while we are home and they are there, they need point people to keep the church mindful and prayerful for the gospel work being done. It is too easy to be out of sight, out of mind. They told us how they send out newsletters routinely and rarely hear anything back. How just a simple reply of “I’m praying for you” means so much! To receive packages that just remind them that they are not alone and that can bless them in some small, tangible way. To advocate for the cause of the unreached so that we no longer tolerate the existence of such a thing. For R, he particularly sought the raising of the next generation–including his own children–to be arrows shot into the darkness of the unreached places rather than being taught to grow up into the comforts and securities of the American Dream.
As I listened to these things, and understanding that God was possibly calling me to be in a season of sending, I was personally feeling affirmed in this choice, yet I struggled with it, as I’ll talk about in a bit. But I came to a firm agreement with God and the others on my team that this is where we are called to be, however that looks.
In the latter days of our time with them, we all had the opportunity to do a Reddit style “Ask Me Anything” of all the worker families. This was another very meaningful time. This is when I asked about how they keep fighting in the face of the pervasive darkness. Our pastor asked what message they would want him to go home and tell the church. The answer was simple: tell them God is worth it. (Watch his message by clicking this link.)
Another poignant moment was when R posed a question back to us. “Why not?” he asked, in response to going. It’s a good question. Why is our mentality stay unless called to go? That’s not what the commands of Christ say. We are told to go. So what reason do we have not to? Why can’t we, say, take what we do here and go do it there. Just changing the location but continuing to live life with the intention of reaching the unreached? Again, I’m not diminishing the importance of local evangelism, reaching our neighbors and coworkers, and discipling in our context. But we have access to the gospel here; they do not. We have virtually no barrier to bridge the gospel; they have almost every barrier. So what’s our excuse? They are doing it, and every single Christ-follower is called to no less. There are so few laborers; so why not?
As I continued to read “Let the Nations Be Glad” and experience all that God was giving me, I really started struggling with my path. It almost didn’t feel right that I felt called to send when I fully expected to be called to go long-term. Especially with the fears I have, I worried that maybe I was convincing myself it wasn’t for me, rather than it coming from God. In particular, Piper’s section on the sacrifices and struggles of obedience hit me hard. Staying home is certainly much easier. The Bible is clear that the more obedient we are to Christ, the more we will suffer for the gospel as He did. But I look at the workers and certainly didn’t see suffering. They certainly don’t feel like they’ve sacrificed anything. All that they have sacrificed was done so joyfully! I’m not trying to look for suffering by any means, but it seemed to me that the correct path would automatically be the one of greater sacrifice. So why was I feeling like I was being set on one with less sacrifice?
I got to meet with another worker, B, who has been on the field for over 6 years. And this conversation was the culmination of what God was teaching me about Himself and this mandate to mission. My desire is to obey Christ and therefore I can expect sacrifice and suffering. There is also a clear biblical teaching about those who do so more will receive a greater reward in heaven. This is getting pretty deep here, but my understanding of Scripture is that the reward of our salvation and obedience is God Himself. Therefore, the greater reward spoken about means that we will be able to enjoy God’s glory in some greater way in heaven for the suffering we endured in this life. Not that there will be any kind of jealousy or longing in those with a “lesser” reward. Every person will be fully satisfied in the presence of God! But I look at that and think–perhaps rather selfishly–I want to experience as much of God’s glory as I can. But if God’s will for my life is not that of greater suffering (e.g. even martyrdom), then am I destined to a lesser reward?
This bothered me and I talked through this with B, who I quickly found to be a man rooted very deeply in the Word. So I trusted his Spirit-led discernment in the matter. And he taught me that it’s not about different degrees of suffering as we perceive it, but rather obedience within our context. He encouraged me to seek the blank check, not suffering and sacrifice. If God has called me to stay and send, am I being obedient in that? What I am called to do, lay it all out there. Just as I don’t feel like I’m sacrificing as much by staying, he doesn’t feel like he’s sacrificed to go. So in the same way, maybe in someone else’s perspective, I’m sacrificing a lot, even though I don’t feel like I am. It’s my life willingly and joyfully given. It’s being obedient in my context.
Alongside with that, he said it was pretty easy to give up the externals, but what’s really difficult is getting rid of the hidden idols in our hearts. You better believe that the number one greatest challenge of being on mission is that Satan is going to attack right where we are most vulnerable. Those little issues that we keep tucked away are going to come raging in full force when we are on the front lines of gospel work. This spoke very much to my journey of the past year and why God had me deal with a major sin issue in my life before I could really start discerning His specific path for me. As He gave me victory in that place, I began earnestly seeking, and found myself in this place of doubt about the choice to actually stay!
I can’t get paralyzed by trying to narrow down God’s will to a pinpoint before I get in the game. Nor can I become immobilized by thinking I’m going to mess up God’s plan by making the wrong choice. Mine is to trust God to give me the right thoughts, to make good decisions, and to course-correct me when I don’t. There is confidence in knowing the One who makes all good decisions. Freedom to serve in obedience comes from trusting God and understanding I cannot mess up His plans.
I immediately started of thinking of ways I could be more intentional in my context. My mind kept returning to the IFO and the tremendous ministry to international students. From conversation club, to friendship partnering, to setting my spare room for incoming students who need a temporary place to stay, we can go right here and reach the nations. And if God wants me here as a sender, then I am going to be the leader and advocate my pastors need to direct our lives to obedience in fulfilling our mandate as the Church.
How God spoke to me is just filled with grace and love. I can summarize my thoughts from a passage we read on our first day. It really set the precedent for our entire time there. I committed it to memory and it speaks to our primary motivation. It’s Isaiah 6:1-8. And I’ll conclude my account of this journey with it in my next post.