Sunday, January 25, 2009

Mission is Love

Really, does time go by that quickly? Is January nearly over already? It's been two months since I've posted anything on this blog, and yet it only seems like two days...

So I've been doing some thinking. Thinking about a lot of things lately (what's changed?), but we won't go into all that. One thing I have been contemplating, though, is the web address that this blog occupies. Now, I happen to like that address, and I don't plan to change it anytime soon. Just been doing some thinking about it. I suppose the thoughts were spurred by a blog post by my friend Kristi Sweeney.

Kristi's post caused me to consider more the unfortunate ability we as Christians have of being able to substitute religion and religious activities for a real relationship with God. I know that many of us are prone to doing this; I know that I myself am. Why is it that we cheat ourselves? When we have offered to us the most unbelievably rich relationship with our Creator and Redeemer and Lover, why do we refuse it for a cheap imitation religious life based on only obligation and guilt? God longs to be in relationship with us! He created us in his own image, with hearts and minds and souls, so that we could commune with him, not so that we could wrench ourselves from his loving arms and put distance between ourselves and him, saying, "I know you just want to be near me God, but no thank you; I'd prefer self-flagellation for my guilt and subservience to this set of ideals which, if I keep it perfectly and unquestioningly, will, I believe, redeem me in your sight or at the very least make me a good person." But time after time we do just that, pushing away the possibility of real intimacy and meaning in our relationship with God. What was meant to be a "sacred romance" (thank you Brent Curtis and John Eldridge) is abandoned for an admittedly easier but much less fulfilling attempt at a partnership, which will in the end get us nowhere.

So what in the world does all that have to do with the location of my blog, you ask? This girl is crazy; why is she rambling about something that makes no sense? Well, it may not make much of any sense to any of you, but I suppose that's because you're not me. You haven't seen what I've seen when it comes to God working in me these past few years. Sometimes I honestly haven't even understood it, and I have definitely questioned God about it all many a time. Anyway, back to the subject at hand... When I began this blog close to four years ago, I settled on "missionsminded" as the web address. Appropriate, I thought, given my interest in mission work. I'd been on a number of spring break and summer mission trips with the RFCs and was even considering dedicating a chunk of my life to long-term foreign mission work. I'll tell you right now that I wouldn't change any of that. I'm thankful to have had the experiences I did on those mission trips, I am still very interested in and dedicated to foreign missions, and I'm glad that I did settle on that name for my blog. The thing is, my concept of missions had been shaped a good deal by what I was talking about in that paragraph above -- the tendency I and many of us have to substitute religion for God. Now I'm not saying I wasn't genuine in my desire to serve God. I'm not saying I didn't wholeheartedly mean the things I've posted here on this blog. And I'm not saying that I was wrong in doing the things I did or even in doing them for the reasons that I did them. What I am saying is that God has changed me. He's helped me grow; he's brought me to a place of greater, though still incomplete, understanding. I can see now that my thoughts on the mission of God needed some tweaking.

Besides having the distinct possibility of becoming an idol or a way of self-respect and redemption for me, based on what I could accomplish instead of what God could do in relationship with me, my concept of God's work in this world was too limited. It needed to be expanded and yet at the same time simplified. There's a verse in Scripture that perfectly describes God's mission in this world. It's one that I'm sure most all of you could quote endlessly without trying, perhaps even in your sleep. It's one of those verses that you hear so much that you almost forget what it means. You are desensitized to the magnitude of its words: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." Good old John 3:16. Whenever I thought of mission, what came to mind, and likely what I was mostly referring to in "missionsminded," was the experience of traveling to an unfamiliar place and working in a foreign culture to improve the lives of the people I would encounter, bringing them whatever it was that they needed. That's not a bad description of missions, not even a bad description of what it is Jesus did for us. And maybe it's the part of me that so desperately craves and even needs adventures and the opportunity to make a difference that influenced me into thinking along those lines. But when such a powerful word is pigeonholed into such a limited meaning and not allowed to express the fullness of what it was meant to express, we are missing out on so much!

Another look at John 3:16. One bit at a time. God loved the world. He loved it so much that he willingly gave up the one who was most precious to him, willingly separated himself from the one to whom his relationship was otherwise inseparable. By doing this, he opened up the possibility for those of us who believe in him to not perish. Think about that! Everything that we know perishes! All we see around us is fading and will someday soon be gone. But not us. Not if we believe in Jesus. And not only that, not only will we not perish, but we will have life everlasting, life to the full as mentioned elsewhere in Scripture. All by believing in him. And all because God loved. That is the mission of God. LOVE. Love so strong that God is willing to give up his most treasured bond with his son in order to even have the possibility of relationship with us. Love which encompasses life and conquers death. Love which gives all of itself just because it can.

It's not that my definition of missions was wrong. Just not complete. It's like how all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares. Building houses for people who need them, feeding the hungry, providing opportunities for people to better their place in the world, teaching about Jesus and his ministry, baptizing people into Christ and seeing God forgive their sins -- these are mission. But mission is not these things. It encompasses but also transcends these things. Mission is God coming to us because we couldn't and wouldn't come to him. Mission is partaking in the purpose of God in this world. Mission is loving others even especially when they don't deserve it. Mission is not a frenzy of religious-looking activity, even religious-looking activity sprung from the purest of intentions and a good heart. Mission is resting in the heart of God, becoming one with its purposes and plans. Mission is throwing oneself wholeheartedly into relationship with God, leaning on him, learning from him, and trusting in him. Mission is recognition of God's own mission in this world -- to reconcile his people to himself and to be reunited with them in spirit. Mission is love.

No comments: