Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Walking The Afflicted Road

The classic book “The Pilgrim’s Progress” (the first on my list of “must reads” for 2016) is the story of the Christian life pictured as a treacherous journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City on Mount Zion. It is a strait forward allegory that powerfully makes its point. There is a particular scene where a group arrives at a hill called “Difficulty.” The strait way on which they were instructed to follow goes straight up the steep and rocky hill at a horrible and painful incline for a distance that will take a man the greater part of the day to climb. To the right and left, however, there are other roads that go around the hill rather than over it and make for easy traveling. While the faithful Christian follows the instructions and stays to the path, enduring the pains of the Hill Difficulty in obedience to the Lord, the others take the easier ways that lead them to their untimely demise.

Jesus Himself used a very similar image in His famous sermon on the mount. “Enter through the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the road is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who go through it. How narrow is the gate and difficult the road that leads to life, and few find it.”
(Matthew 7:13-14). Consider how often the New Testament pictures life this way. Like Jesus words about the two roads, the whole of the New Testament speaks of two ways of walking. There are those walking according to the flesh, walking in darkness, walking according to their desires, and the like. This is the path of the world. There are also those walking in light, walking in the Spirit, walking in truth. This is the way of Christ. The narrow and afflicted way. The way of life. Indeed, we see often in the Book of Acts that in the days of the early church our faith was often called "The Way." Life is a journey, and we are promised that a Christian life will not be an easy one.

In a previous post, we looked at the biblical reality that in this present age of sin and corruption as we await the triumphant return of our King, we are to see ourselves as temporary residents in a hostile foreign land, as sojourners and pilgrims of a distinct and peculiar people. Similarly, Jesus also wants us to picture our lives as a difficult road, as a treacherous and narrow mountain pass which we must rely on Him to cross safely to the other side. God delivered his people out of Egypt and brought them by way of a deadly wilderness on a journey to the Promised Land. Even when they reached their destination, God desired them to maintain a sense of their identity as desperate traveler’s dependent on Him. Every year they were to eat the Passover feast loins girded, their sandals on their feet, and their staff in their hand as if ready to fly in the wilderness anew joyfully following their deliverer. They were never to forget. It is directly from this imagery that we
were given the communion meal, our feast of remembrance by which we keep before us our great deliverance and remember that we have not yet arrived in our promised land, but still trust Him in this wilderness while we await His return. 
They were also to celebrate the feast of booths, where they were to leave their homes and sleep in tents and temporary shelters and remember those days in the wilderness when God fed them with manna from heaven and water from the rock. We are reminded, too, that Jesus is our manna from heaven (John 6:30-33) and is our living water giving rock (John 4:13-14). In fact, Paul warns us in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 tells us that Israel’s wandering in the wilderness with all their struggles and all their failures was written down as a warning and reminder to us! We must remain faithful amidst this perilous path, letting this vision of our lives reshape our priorities and letting the inherent struggles drive ever back to our dependence on Him.

This should reshape our priorities. When you are traveling a difficult road, luxuries become a burden. You carry only what you need. You sleep in modest shelters easy to carry rather than comfortable ones more suited for longer stays. You share what you have equally and bare one another’s burdens, lest keeping to much in your own hands you wear yourself out and stumble off the mountain to your demise, or else leaving all the work to another he should fall under the weight, taking all the precious supplies with him, and your ruin is as great as his! You keep focused on the destination, and don’t let the things on the way deter you. If this life is a journey to the kingdom of God, all your priorities change. You live differently, not because comfort and abundance is of itself wrong, but because it is not appropriate for such a journey. You will enjoy it later at the destination. As Jesus said:

“Don’t keep striving for what you should eat, what you should drink, and what you should wear, and don’t be anxious. For the nations eagerly seek all these things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek His kingdom, and these things will be provided for you. Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Make money-bags for yourselves that won’t grow old, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:29-34)

Luke Wayne is a bi-vocational Baptist missionary in Utah and the chief editor for Perilous Trails. He holds an MDiv from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and an MA in Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist College. He has served as a church planter in Olathe, KS and a Homeless Shelter Manager in Kansas City, MO. He is also a husband, father, fisher, hiker, security officer, and raiser of livestock. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Post Adoption Reflections of a First Time Mom

My wife and I recently came home from Bulgaria with a beautiful two year old girl who has joined our family. The following are the thoughts that my wife journaled in the first couple weeks home with her. I present them with her permission and without further comment

So I wanted to write down some of the more serious and thought provoking things that I have been pondering over (in the few brief moments when I can have the time for introspection lol) during these last few days with Lexy.  I knew being a mother would change me in so many ways, most that I don't even know what they will be yet.  But I've already learned a few things about myself and about God and His care for me as His adopted child through the work of Christ Jesus...  For anyone who cares, I thought I'd write it down and share and also so that I wouldn't forget it.

One of the first realizations happened in an odd way.  So we were walking around town in Sofia, and I went to place Lexy back in her carrier after she had been walking with Luke for a bit (holding his hand, getting some exercise).  Her leg got caught in one of the straps and I didn't realize it immediately until she started to cry.  That was the first time I ever heard her cry; that was very hard. This caused me to think about discomfort in my own life.  When (not “if” lol) I mess up in some way in caring for Lexy, all I can do is try and do  better afterwards, I can't provide any higher purpose/meaning for her sake in those moments of discomfort or difficulty that I accidently cause her.  But God, my heavenly Father, first of all will never make mistakes in caring for His children in Christ.  When difficulties or painful things come into my life, it is for a purpose.  God in His sovereignty will bring meaning from any trials I might go through in this life.  Unlike me, He isn't scrambling to make up for past parenting failures or trying to come up with a plan B for an unexpected situation.  As I read in James Chapter 1:

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.  But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.  That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord.  Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position.  But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich will fade away even while they go about their business. Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him."

The second thing that I've realized over these last few days is how much I want to make everything all right for her.  I want her to be happy, healthy, safe, warm, well fed, clothed, have things and others to play with, not grieve, feel loved, all the time.  That just isn't possible, no matter how much I try.  There will be many outside things beyond my control that will happen and like I said above, I will make mistakes that will compromise that goal.  But when I think about the day of Christ's return, He really will be able to make all things right, completely.  There won't be any aspect of life that He can't make perfect on that day; even on my best days, I can never do that.  And He won't just do that for one person, but in His power He will accomplish this for all His children in Christ!  That, at least to me, is such a beautiful comfort and realization and until I had Lexy, the weight of that hadn't really hit me.  It is definitely a reason for joy!  I couldn’t help but think of Revelation 21:

"Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and He will dwell with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.  Those who are victorious will inherit all this, and I will be their God and they will be My children."

Third, I have come to a greater understanding and am more in awe of Christ's selflessness in His coming to earth and sacrifice.  During these last few days, I have done all I could think to do to show Lexy that her needs are above mine.  Sometimes this put me in uncomfortable positions, like on the plane, positioning myself in a way that would allow her to sleep comfortably but made me unable to.  I've sacrificed sleep and sometimes not eaten immediately when I was hungry so I could be there for her.  I'd love to say that I've done all this with a humble and non-complaining attitude all the time, but that would not be true.  It is a struggle sometimes, especially when I am tired or frustrated/confused because I don't know what she wants/needs or why she is upset.  And she is so young that she can't have any appreciation for all I am trying to do for her.  For many years to come, I will do my best to show her true selflessness and sacrifice for others, but I will fail many times, if not outwardly in action, definitely inwardly in my grumbling thoughts or attitude.  One of the best things I can do to show her true self-sacrifice and service to others is to point her to Christ, the Son of God, both God and man.  He lived the perfect sinless life that we never could; He came to earth, leaving His throne and glory for this messed up world, full of people who did not appreciate in the least who He truly was or all that He was doing for them.  He was mocked, betrayed, lied about, spit on, beaten, stripped naked, and killed by crucifixion on a Roman cross to take the guilt of our sin against a holy God!  The creator of the world humbling Himself beyond imagination for an ungrateful people, that is the pinnacle of selflessness!  I love Paul's description of this in Philippians 2:

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion,  then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, He made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

Lastly, I have learned that God truly does give us what we need to make it through each day. Often I wake up (earlier than I'd like, considering when I went to bed) and wonder how I will make it through another day.  I have quickly realized that on my own strength/will, I won't.  But each day I realize at the end of it that I did make it through, and that is due to God's kindness.  As Paul put it so much better than I could in 2 Corinthians 12:

"Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.  But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong."

 As I was laying in bed at the hotel in Bulgaria the night before we were to get on a 6:40 AM flight, trying to sleep, the Rich Mullins song "hold me Jesus" kept coming to mind. I was struggling with my exhaustion (and we hadn't even left Bulgaria yet) and worry over how the flights would go and how she would do and I was also thinking about the next 18 years or so and how I would be able to parent. I can say I definitely have a greater appreciation for and understanding of this song now. I'd suggest a listen.

Luke Wayne is a bi-vocational Baptist missionary in Utah and the chief editor for Perilous Trails. He holds an MDiv from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and an MA in Theological Studies from Midwestern Baptist College. He has served as a church planter in Olathe, KS and a Homeless Shelter Manager in Kansas City, MO. He is also a husband, father, fisher, hiker, security officer, and raiser of livestock.