I wrote a blog post a few weeks ago about learning what it means to live locally. This followed after I began to read Zack Eswine’s book, Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being. Eswine writes, that we are “merely human and only local.” We forget that only “Jesus is human, but not merely. Jesus is local, but not only” What then are the implications for me (us) if we admit that we are merely human?
This requires a choice. To be merely human means, in contrast to Jesus, that we are not God. Most, if not all of us know this theologically but many of us resist this practically. To be human means that we accept that we have limits. It means we cannot do it all, we cannot know it all and we cannot be everywhere. Eswine’s writing should liberate us, “Being human does not mar greatness; it informs it and sets its noble boundaries.” 351
Sadly for ourselves and for those we live with and minister to, our refusal to accept and live within these limits only creates insurmountable problems, “Trying to be an exception to the human race encourages arrogance among most of us and burnout among many of us.” 246 We have bought into the serpent’s lie in the Garden, “You will be like God” (Gen. 3:5). Our grasp for attributes that only belong to God gets us into trouble and in the end prevents us from loving others. Again Eswine nails it, “As ministry leaders we endeavor to give of our lives in such a way that every neighbor we minister to will know that we are not God. The Serpent’s invitation to celebrity, immediate gratification, and using people to advance ourselves as if we are God poisons the air.” 652
We can only be at one place at one time. “We will resist and want to act like we are omnipresent. But he will patiently teach us that as human beings we cannot be, and this admission will glorify God. Others will likewise resist Jesus and want you to be omnipresent. They will use his name to praise or critique you accordingly, but they too will have to learn that only Jesus can be with them wherever they are at all times. This fact is actually good news for them and for us.” 766
We cannot do everything that needs to be done. “Jesus will teach us to live with the things that we can neither control nor fix. We will want to resist Jesus and act as if we are omnipotent, but we will harm others and ourselves when we try. Others will also resist Jesus. Using his name, they will praise or critique us according to their desire that we fix everything for them and that we do it immediately. But they will have to learn too that only Jesus can fix everything and that there are some things Jesus leaves unfixed for his glory.” 771
We are unable to know everyone or everything. “Jesus will teach us to live with ignorance, our own and others’. In other words, we are not omniscient. Jesus will require us to stop pretending that we are. Others will resist Jesus and in his name praise us or critique us on the basis of their estimation of what we should know. They will have to learn that only Jesus knows everything they need; his invitation to faith and to trust in his knowing is a good one.” 777
In what way are you most tempted? Thinking you can do it all? Thinking you can know it all? Thinking you can be everywhere? Eswine asks us, “What do you feel you will lose if you stop pretending in these ways and entrust yourself to Jesus?” 782
While these make great and perhaps entertaining commercials, they mask the reality that most of us are very ordinary and all of us are limited.
We are “merely human and only local.” We forget, says Zack Eswine, that only “Jesus is human, but not merely. Jesus is local, but not only” (Sensing Jesus: Life and Ministry as a Human Being). What exactly is Eswine saying? Two things. I must not forget that I am human; I do so to my own peril. And second, I must live locally. I resist both of these truths. To understand what it means to live locally, let me quote more from Eswine.
In the Garden, Eswine writes that God gave us three things,
- We were to love God.
- We were to love each other
- We were to recognize the goodness and sacredness of the place, the creatures, and the things that God had created and to watch over these good things.
And Eswine highlights three core truths that he states are necessary for us to enjoy God,
- God has given you himself to surrender to and love.
- God has given you a handful of persons that you are meant to love.
- God will give you a place to inhabit, which means that you get to become attentive to what is there where you are.
In both of these, the last line about living locally stands out to me.
I have been a missionary for twenty-six years. It has been a good life. I continue to be a missionary but my location will soon be based in the United States, in Texas, in College Station, at Parkway Terrace, at 3514. Why do I find this so hard? I miss my friends and the ministry I had in the Philippines over all these years. But I think it is hard because it has been a long time since I lived locally. Yes, even in the Philippines. I have been coming or going somewhere for most of my life. And now, I find that I must learn to trust God to be present somewhere.
I expect that most missionaries will tell you that the first question people ask him/her when they arrive in their home country is, “When did you arrive?” The second question, “When are you leaving?” Well, I am not leaving anymore. I am struggling
- With a loss of uniqueness, a loss of celebrity that comes with being a foreign missionary
- To understand how someone could attend an aerobics class for ten years
- To build a history with a tennis group that has been together for many years.
- With the loneliness I feel after attending church and I know no one around me and no one speaks to me
- To discover what it means to live in community with a home group
- As I seek to learn how to be a neighbor in our community
I guess I am saying that I have been so globally focused that I do not know how to live locally. I have lived so long with my identity as a missionary that I am afraid of what will happen when people get to know me as a person, apart from my role.
Eswine suggests that in order to make a global difference, we must be present in the local place to which God has called us.
“No matter how great or gifted we are, God invites us to himself for the sake of local people in a local place with the long learning of local knowledge in Jesus until he comes. This means that if you are wearing yourselves out trying to be and do more than this, Jesus is calling you to stop all of this tramping about and come finally home. The great work to be done is right in front of you with the persons and places that his providence has granted you.
Here is where he has called me. Here is where he is working. Here is my post, my place, my life, his glory.”
I need to live by faith as much now as when we lived overseas. Trusting God as I open myself up to others and become a friend to them and allow them to be a friend to me. Trusting God as we build traditions. Trusting God as I learn to care and nourish the roses in our garden and maybe even a tomato or two. Trusting God in the mundane and ordinary. Living life with Him and others in a local place.
Maybe I will even buy a pair of cowboy boots.
As I prepare to speak on 2 Cor 5:21 for this weekend, I have been looking at Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, one of my favorite theology texts. I found a footnote by Grudem that I cite here in full regarding the meaning of Justified.
One sometimes hears the popular explanation that justified means “just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned.” The definition is a clever play on words and contains an element of truth (for the justified person, like the person who has never sinned, has no penalty to pay for sin). But the definition is misleading in two other ways because (1) it mentions nothing about the fact that Christ’s righteousness is reckoned to my account when I am justified; to do this it would have to say also “just-as-if-I’d-lived-a-life-of-perfect-righteousness.” (2) But more significantly, it cannot adequately represent the fact that I will never be in a state that is “just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned,” because I will always be conscious of the fact that I have sinned and that I am not an innocent person but a guilty person who has been forgiven. This is very different from “just as if I had never sinned”! Moreover, it is different from “just as if I had lived a life of perfect righteousness,” because I will forever know that I have not lived a life of perfect righteousness, but that Christ’s righteousness is given to me by God’s grace.
Therefore both in the forgiveness of sins and in the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, my situation is far different from what it would be if I had never sinned and had lived a perfectly righteous life. For all eternity I will remember that I am a forgiven sinner and that my righteousness is not based on my own merit, but on the grace of God in the saving work of Jesus Christ. None of that rich teaching at the heart of the gospel will be understood by those who are encouraged to go through their lives thinking “justified” means “just-as-if-I’d-never-sinned.
I appreciate Dr. Grudem’s comments here. God has done much more for us than any wording can possibly explain and as long as we live here on the earth, we continue to be aware of our need for his applied payment for our sin and his applied righteousness in our life!
“Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith– that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Philippians 3:8–12 ESV)
If you have been in ministry, whether in your local church or in an overseas context, you will know that ministry can be discouraging. We can be tempted to give up or to use a Pauline phrase, “to lose heart.” Paul says he does not lose heart in 2 Corinthians 4:1 because he remembers that the ministry that he has been given is because of the mercy of God.
The Message provides an insightful wording of the verse, “Since God has so generously let us in on what he is doing, we’re not about to throw up our hands and walk off the job just because we run into occasional hard times.” I am sure that some of you, like me think, “occasional” hard times? But remember Paul’s perspective later in 2 Cor 4:17 when he calls his struggles, “momentary light afflictions” compared with the “eternal weight of glory.”
Back to 2 Cor 4:1. Paul says we have this ministry because we have received mercy. You and I are not in ministry because we went to Seminary, because we volunteered, because we have been faithful, because we are at the right place at the right time. We are in ministry because we have received mercy from God. In other words, it is not about us, it is all about God! That is why Paul says “For what we proclaim is not ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord” (2 Cor 4:5). He initiated things and continues to take the initiative with us. We are able to love God and others only because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). That is good to remember when we get tired and feel like we are the ones who seem to always being the initiator in ministry and in relationships.
Ministry is tough even at the best of times and we will be tempted at times to give up. But when we remember that we are in ministry only because we have been shown mercy, maybe we will remember that there is a world out there that is in desperate need of this same mercy and grace and we will keep going. Again, Paul says it best in verse 6, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” As we have been shown light, may we be light bearers to others.
Question: What is discouraging you about ministry today? Meditate upon the mercy shown to you by God that enables you to be in ministry.
If you are like me, you like your coffee hot! And, should I get distracted for a few minutes and take a sip and find that my coffee is lukewarm, there is nothing to be done except to toss it out and start over! To be honest, I do sometimes reheat lukewarm coffee in a microwave. Hot coffee or cold (iced) coffee but never lukewarm coffee. In the same way, John writes and Jesus says in Revelation 3 that there is no place for a lukewarm Church or a lukewarm Christian.
In my first post on the topic, I gave some biblical background on the words for lukewarm, hot and cold and gave the first four descriptions of Lukewarm Christians that Francis Chan provides in his book, Crazy Love. In working on this post, I found some other goodies. Darrell Fusaro gave me permission to use his cartoon on how to keep your coffee hot. I found a site called lukewarm coffee and a hilarious and much tongue-in-cheek article called Coffee as a Means of Grace by Michael Svigel–who just happens to be the author of RetroChristianity, a book I have just begun reading. I am glad to say, much good has come out of these reflections on Lukewarm Coffee whereas as you will see, Chan leaves no room for escape for those of us who fall into the Lukewarm Christian camp–no escape except for a fleeing into the arms of the Lord Jesus. Numbers that follow are from the kindle numbering system
- LUKEWARM PEOPLE are moved by stories about people who do radical things for Christ, yet they do not act. 1376
- LUKEWARM PEOPLE rarely share their faith with their neighbors, coworkers, or friends. They do not want to be rejected, nor do they want to make people uncomfortable by talking about private issues like religion. 1394
- LUKEWARM PEOPLE gauge their morality or “goodness” by comparing themselves to the secular world. 1404
- LUKEWARM PEOPLE say they love Jesus, and He is, indeed, a part of their lives. But only a part. They give Him a section of their time, their money, and their thoughts, but He isn’t allowed to control their lives. 1415
- LUKEWARM PEOPLE love God, but they do not love Him with all their heart, soul, and strength. They say that “total devotion isn’t really possible for the average person; it’s only for pastors and missionaries and radicals.” 1431, 1436
- LUKEWARM PEOPLE love others but do not seek to love others as much as they love themselves. 1442
- LUKEWARM PEOPLE will serve God and others, but there are limits to how far they will go or how much time, money, and energy they are willing to give. 1469
- LUKEWARM PEOPLE think about life on earth much more often than eternity in heaven. 1483
- LUKEWARM PEOPLE are thankful for their luxuries and comforts, and rarely consider trying to give as much as possible to the poor. 1503
- LUKEWARM PEOPLE do whatever is necessary to keep themselves from feeling too guilty. 1523
- LUKEWARM PEOPLE are continually concerned with playing it safe; they are slaves to the god of control. This focus on safe living keeps them from sacrificing and risking for God. 1547
- LUKEWARM PEOPLE feel secure because they attend church, made a profession of faith at age twelve, were baptized, come from a Christian family, vote Republican, or live in America. 1562
- LUKEWARM PEOPLE do not live by faith; their lives are structured so they never have to. Their lives wouldn’t look much different if they suddenly stopped believing in God. 1579, 1588
- LUKEWARM PEOPLE probably drink and swear less than average, but besides that, they really aren’t very different from your typical unbeliever. They equate their partially sanitized lives with holiness, but they couldn’t be more wrong. 1601