Recently one of our family members came out of their room frustrated saying, “I don’t have anything to wear!” For many of us we have pretty strong opinions about what we wear. We have our favorite outfits. We feel frustrated if the clothes we want to wear aren’t available And worse yet, we get upset if someone like our spouse tells us we can’t wear that!
I’m part of a very diverse church that includes men who wear suits, women who wear hats, men who wear shorts and crocs, and women who wear jeans. Occasionally I will hear conversations and opinions about “What is appropriate for church?”
Recently I was reading about a missionary to China named Hudson Taylor. He struggled in obscurity and isolation for many years. “One day a man asked Taylor to explain why he had buttons on the back of his coat? Taylor realized then that his western-style dress was distracting his listeners from his message. He then decided to dress like a Mandarin, a Chinese teacher. He was amazed at how dressing Chinese allowed him to travel more freely and be accepted more readily by the people. Taylor’s goal was not to have the Chinese become like English Christians, but to have them become Chinese Christians.”1
This presents many questions for me as an American pastor. The first set of questions may include…Do I expect people who come to our church to dress like me? Do I show respect for God when I dress up for Him, or do I show respect for the gospel when I dress down for someone who doesn’t know Christ? Do I show respect for God when I judge what someone else is wearing as legalistic or disrespectful? And are dressed up Christians more reverent than casually dressed Christians? Or are casually dressed Christians more relevant than dressed up Christians? And should we come to a conclusion on those questions and pick one or the other and expect everyone at church to dress that way? Or are we all missing the point?
In reflecting on Hudson Taylor’s ministry I think the second set of questions may be, “Am I willing to change the way I dress so someone could come to Christ? “Who are the lost people God is calling me to bring to church and how do they dress?” And what do they hear by the way I dress?
I confess for me honestly, I get so distracted debating the first set of questions, I don’t think I know the answers to the second set of questions. And maybe that is what is really disrespectful to God and His Gospel?
In 1 Samuel 16:7, when Samuel saw who he thought he was supposed to anoint as the next leader, God intervened and said, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” -1 Samuel 16:7
This is what I know, I hear a lot more about what man looks at than I do about what God looks at…
For other articles by this author see http://www.choosemercy.org
As we’re planning a family vacation my kids asked, “Are we going to sleep in the car?” I’m sure most of you would hope the answer is no. But I asked them if they wanted to, and they went crazy saying, YES!!! When I consider driving straight through the night I feel like groaning, but my kids feel like celebrating.
In his book, Ministry Mantras, J. R. Briggs shares a story about when his son was three years old and he helped plant vegetables one morning. When his son woke up from his afternoon nap later that day his first questions was, “Are the vegetables ready yet, Daddy?” He responded to his young son, “No buddy, that’s not how vegetables work. It takes a long time.” Briggs is challenging and encouraging the many of us who get impatient with God’s seemingly long and slow plan. He says, “Much of ministry is learning to plod along faithfully, even when we aren’t seeing results. As Eugene Peterson writes –quoting German Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche –a life committed to ministry is a ‘long obedience in the same direction.’”1
Over the many years of staff devotions, there are two I will never forget. One was a challenge from my dear friend Tom Zillman, who after reading Isaiah 6 asked this question, “If God calls you to an unfruitful ministry, will you be faithful to it?” Well God would never do that right? And how could it be ministry if it’s unfruitful? And then Pastor Tom pointed out God told Isaiah to preach to those who would not listen, perceive, understand, or respond. And when Isaiah asked God how long he would have to do this, God said until the cities are empty and the homes are desolate.
Hudson Taylor, missionary to China, is a great example of perseverance: a long obedience in the same direction. He wrote in his early years in China, “At home, you can never know what it is to be absolutely alone, amidst thousands, everyone looking on you with curiosity, with contempt, with suspicion, or with dislike. Thus to learn what it is to be despised and rejected of men…and then to have the love of Jesus applied to your heart by the Holy Spirit…this is precious, this is worth coming for.”
As Paul Harvey would say, The Rest of Hudson Taylor’s story is.. “Taylor’s daughter died from water on the brain; the family was almost killed in the Yang Chow Riot of 1868; Maria, Taylor’s first wife, died in childbirth; his second wife died of cancer; and sickness and ill health were frequent. Yet, the China Inland Mission continued its work of reaching China’s millions for Christ. By 1895 the Mission had 641 missionaries plus 462 Chinese helpers at 260 stations. Under Hudson Taylor’s leadership, C.I.M. had supplied over half of the Protestant missionary force in China. During the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, 56 of these missionaries were martyred, and hundreds of Chinese Christians were killed. The missionary work did not slack, however, and the number of missionaries quadrupled in the coming decades. Chinese Christians proved remarkably resilient under Communism. They did not die out but multiplied many-fold in one of the greatest expansions in church history.”2 Praise the Lord for Hudson Taylor’s persistence!
I’m sure on our long road trip at some point I will groan and my kids will whine and ask “are we there yet?!” But I’m learning to “apply the love of Jesus to my heart by the Holy Spirit.” Maybe even with a beef jerky and Diet Dew at a gas station in the middle of the night. Then it’s on the road again!
For other articles by this author see http://www.choosemercy.org
1 Ministry Mantras, JR Briggs and Bob Hyatt, pp 84
While talking about road trips with our dear friends Dick and Bev, Stephanie and Bev were laughing about how Dick and I hate to stop while traveling. “Do we have to stop here or can you hold it until the next rest area?!” Why don’t we like to stop and rest?
At our house, we often have the most conflict over bed time. “Really, I have to go to bed (like this is the first time we’ve ever done this)?!” “Can’t we stay up?!” And you can ask my dad and mom, I faught bedtime and naps everystep of the way growing up too. Why are we so resistant to rest?
Genesis 2:1 says that God “rested on the seventh day from all His work that he had done.” Does this imply that Almighty God was tired? I don’t think so.
A collegue asked me to listen to a message by Tim Keller entitled “Work and Rest.” Keller suggests physical rest won’t do anything for us if it is not accompanied with soul rest. He said, “Entering God’s rest is being completely satisfied with what’s been done and who we are in Christ.” He points out that at the end of the days during creation, “God saw that it was good.” Keller suggests we find the meaning of God’s rest in Genesis 1:31, “And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.”
This was a light bulb for me! When we have time to slow down and rest, a key component is being able to take a step back and see that life is good! God has “blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3)
Recently I have been with a family by the bedside of their deceased loved one. I have sat across the high security glass of a friend in prison. I have talked with a dear friend estranged from family members who refuse to talk with them anymore. And I have prayed with a dear friend who struggles to understand why God would ask them to work at such a difficult job. All of these situations are heavy and overwhelming, and I would not have been surprised at all if they could not see the goodness of God in their lives.
But each of these friends have told me how good God is to them! They are thankful for the work God has completed for them in Christ Jesus (forgiveness, the peace of the Holy Spirit, the hope of heaven). We can also be thankful for what God has provided for us each day. And we can be thankful for the good things God has prepared for us to do each day. The friend in prison is sharing the gospel with those they interact with there.
How bout you and me? What circumstances, disappointments, or frustrations compete to keep our souls from rest? Can we enter the rest God has for us and see that life is good right where we are?! Next time my kids tell me they’re not tired, I’m going to ask them to go lay in their beds, and think of how many things they could say, “Life is good!” That is the rest of God.
for more articles from this author see http://www.choosemercy.org