(mallory ingram photo credit)
I’ve heard a number of missionary presentations, but two are written with permanent marker on my mind. One was from a young family living in the Middle East, another from the jungles of southeast Asia.
I was in wonder of how their talks were marked up in a hundred different ways by the bold grace, mercy, and sustaining power of Jesus Christ. These missionaries were living in surrender to Him, a stunning picture with the signature of the Risen Savior all over it.
Despite their humanity, they reflected the image of a lowly baby, coming to us without flashing lights or applause in order to serve in dirt, along the fringes of society, among the outcasts and the sinners, and in rebellion of the proud shackles of man-made religion. Beautiful.
Although I was still mentally scrambling to accept the lack of bathroom facilities and surplus of language-learning challenges, I recognized the Jesus-like standard in their testimonies – the marks of sacrifice, humility, and abandonment of all for His sake.
Likewise, in the midst of life, ministry, and missions here in the US, we are called to daily surrender to the markings of Jesus on our lives, all over us, in our speech, our relationships, our families, and our priorities. The marks are universal, for all who bear His name. It makes no difference if we minister in rural Iowa or a jungle village.
But what does an equally stunning picture, branded by Jesus, look like in the USA – the land bursting with indoor plumbing, automatic ice makers, three-story homes, and super-sized orders?
I’ll be honest, I believe it is impossible to live all marked up by Jesus in the United States of America, except for the grace of God. The passion of the Church can so easily be rubbed off in the lukewarm waters of self-promotion, materialism, and pride.
“I am wired by nature to love the same toys that the world loves. I start to fit in. I start to love what others love. I start to call earth “home.” Before you know it, I am calling luxuries “needs” and using my money just the way unbelievers do. I begin to forget the war. I don’t think much about people perishing. Missions and unreached people drop out of my mind. I stop dreaming about the triumphs of grace. I sink into a secular mind-set that looks first to what man can do, not what God can do. It is a terrible sickness. And I thank God for those who have forced me again and again toward a wartime mind-set.”
― John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life
Before us, we have a buffet line of countless self-indulgences, luxuries, and sources of false securities, all within an arm’s reach, just beyond the glass cover. They are familiar and comfortable, seeming so right and justifiable.
But, we’ll never find the signature of our stable-born, thorn-wearing King on what this world offers.
Instead, He calls us to turn away, deny ourselves, and then willingly stretch out our arms and request His marks be applied. And, not only must we walk away with less self on our plates, but we must opt for a rich helping of suffering – of humility, sacrifice, and abandonment of all– if we will rightly declare His name. We must.
“God is calling us to live for the sake of Christ and to do that through suffering. Christ chose suffering; it didn’t just happen to Him. He chose it as the way to create and perfect the church. Now He calls us to choose suffering. That is, He calls us to take up our cross and follow Him on the Calvary road and deny ourselves and make sacrifices for the sake of ministering to the church and presenting His sufferings to the world.”
― John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist
Here, humility might mean letting God crucify my need for social status. It might be becoming known as a Christian in my town, in my community. Humility might mean not just serving when it’s convenient for me, in areas that make me feel warm and fuzzy, but wherever I’m needed – even if it’s cleaning toilets. Humility might be not needing to be noticed at all in my service; it might mean doing the behind the scenes work, the work that doesn’t make it into a Sunday morning powerpoint. It might mean not needing the best, or the latest model, or the most beautiful for myself.
Sacrifice might be holding off on that new car and instead investing that money for God’s work. It might mean laying down my Friday night plans and being willing to walk across the street and meet my neighbor. It might mean seeing my well-honored schedule divinely disrupted by relationships, real people with real needs for Jesus Christ. It might mean saying “no” to some of the privileges of living here in order to have space and time to disciple, evangelize, and serve. It might mean “me time” becomes “God time” and what “I deserve and earned” becomes “what I can share.” It might be sacrifice of career, social circle, family, potential advances, education, and self-serving ambitions.
Abandoning all might mean laying down my future goals and dreams, instead letting Christ enslave me. It might mean the willingness to respond 100% of the time, rather than just on Sunday mornings. It might mean prayerfully getting over myself and my insecurities of “I just don’t know what to say!” and intentionally meeting someone from another culture. It might mean sharing the Gospel and risking rejection or a social status fall-out. It might mean holding my family, my house, my possessions, my education, my career, my lifestyle in an open hand – willing to let God be God over it all.
And, only by His grace, it can be done – over there in amidst huts and villages as well as here amidst picket-fenced homes and sprawling cities.
God knows that this country, as with any country, needs people who bear His marks of humility, sacrifice, and abandonment of all.
May the world see Jesus highlighted all over us.
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)
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