Americans like mirrors. We check that we’re presentable, admire our perceived good-looks, bemoan our perceived ugliness, talk to ourselves, and gets sadder from there. In America’s obsession with self, you could say we worship at them like altars! In 2Corinthians recently, I noticed Paul the Apostle looks at a new kind of mirror than what we’re used to.
You see, in the ancient days of Israel God spoke to Moses “as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33.11). Exodus 34 records that when Moses would return from speaking with God, “the skin on his face shone.” The people were afraid at this (understandably, I would be too). Therefore, Moses put a veil (think Middle-Eastern head-covering, not some flimsy linen thing) over his face whenever he returned to the people from having the Law revealed to him from God.
In 2Corinthians 3, Paul draws on this story to say that if the Law, though not able to give salvation still “came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how much more will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory?” (3.7-8). The glory of Christ being the Savior that frees us from the Law by faith in Him, and His Spirit coming to empower believers, was the message of Paul and his missionary associates.
Paul was a successful man in the world before he became a Christian and Apostle. Being of a more upper class, he had access to reflective mirrors (unlike the poor) and probably saw a stately figure looking back at him. But nice mirors and all his other wealth left him when he became a Messenger of Jesus. Despite beatings, hunger, thirst, imprisonment, riots, and a host of other nasty experiences they yet had “great boldness in speech” to speak about Christ (3.12). How did he give it all away, going from the comforts and prestige of being a successful Pharisee to become “the dregs of the earth”? How did Paul and his missionary associates trade their health and looks for starvation and scars all over their bodies from the beatings? How did they get over themselves? Verse 18 reveals an answer:
“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.”
When you look at a regular mirror, you see yourself. But when you look at the truths and experience of God’s glory in His grace, mercy and holiness, you see all that Jesus is. And when one stares at this kind of mirror, the mirror called Christ, he or she begins to be transformed into what they see. Instead of transforming yourself by looking at yourself more, you look at Christ and Christ transforms you.
For these missionaries, their modus operandi was to behold the glory of their Lord Jesus Christ. The missionary’s inner well-being and action doesn’t form from doing nice things for poor people, although that is good – it is gazing intently at the glory of Christ, directing ourselves toward seeing, experiencing, and knowing God. If we want to be changed into better, more Christ-like people and to do effective missions, we look to Christ first – not to ourselves, nor to other people, or other ideologies. As the Scandanavian missionary Frederick Franson’s motto went, a missionary must have “constant, conscious communion with God.”
And of course, this applies to all Christians. In the book of Romans, Paul expounds eloquently on the grace and holiness of God for 11 chapters. When he finishes at chapter 12, he stops and says “Therefore, I beseech you . . . be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom 12.1-2). Then goes on to 5 chapters of the actual actions fitting for those saved by God’s grace. We renew our minds by setting our minds on the glories of the grace, mercy, and holiness of God. Yet too often we are looking in the wrong mirror. Tired of the evil you find in you? Desire to be loving, joyful, forgiving, not bitter, not unhappy, not quarrelsome, etc., etc.? And the most longing desire – to get to know God Himself? Let’s stop looking at the shattered mirror of ourselves and gaze at the glory of God in the face of Christ. And the more we look, the more we become like the glory we see.
I have been reading some sections of the book From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya: A Biographical History of Christian Missions. It contains the biographies of numerous missionaries from Paul the Apostle to today. I find their stories inspiring since I’m heading for missions myself! One theme I’ve noticed is that some excellent missionaries chose celibacy to be of maximum benefit to their work.
I’ve heard advice from some Christians saying that if you have the gift of celibacy, you’ll just kind of “know” and not have desires for marriage. If you desire marriage, it’s a given God wants you married, not celibate – so the advice goes. But looking at the lives of these missionaries goes against this modern advice. Some of these single missionaries experienced a good deal of suffering being single and really wanted a spouse and – but they never received one. Two examples –
- Henry Martyn. He had turned away an illustrious career in mathematics in Britain after experiencing a spiritual renewal and return to God. He set in his mind for a “single life” for “heavenly mindedness” but soon fell in love with a woman in Britain named Lydia Grenfell. But she didn’t share his missionary passion to go across the world and reach the unreached. Martyn wrote, “I felt too plainly that I loved her too passionately. The direct opposition of this to my devotedness to God in the missionary excited… tumult in my mind.” (236). He left Lydia and all, landing at India in 1806 to minister to Hindus and Muslims. He wrote her letters for six years asking her to come to India and marry him, to no avail. He completed a translation of the New Testament into Urdu and Persian, then in 1812 attempted an overland trip to England to persuade Lydia to come to India with him in person. He died of fever on the way, his last words having nothing to do with Lydia but a desperate dying prayer, “Let me burn out for God!”
- Mabel Francis. Became a missionary with the Christian and Missionary Alliance and embarked on a boat to Japan in 1909 and focused on evangelism and church planting. She originally wanted a husband, as she wrote,
You see, when I was so discouraged and the job seemed so terribly big, I thought, ‘Well now, if I was married, I could follow on with my husband, and there would be something doing, but what could a little person like myself do?’ I was just hopeless!
And then the Lord said, ‘You are on the wrong track. I have a plan for your life and it is for you not to be married. . . . Well, you know the whole thing passed out of my life like a cloud passing away. . . marriage has meant nothing to me since that time – nothing.’ (276).
She spent her whole life in Japan. When the Great Depression in the 1930s brought the mission agency to call back their missionaries in Japan, Mabel stayed. She continued her ministry even through World War II as the Japanese arrested her and put her in an internment camp. Even after the war she happily stayed in Japan, her celibate life ending at 83.
Having a desire to be married, or a desire for anything for that matter, doesn’t necessarily mean it will be fulfilled. God’s calling on some young Christ-followers is to go do overseas missions in another culture. This isn’t exactly the most popular thing to do, so it isn’t easy for them to find husbands or wives. And missionaries can be a crazy bunch, so compatibility is another hard find. Just ask Mabel Francis.
To put it simply, if someone is both heart-set on missions and heart-set on marriage, they may very well need to sacrifice the one for the other. But will we go beyond everything to be a witness of God’s fantastic news of grace to every language, tribe, and nation – or have the comfort and earthly joy of marriage? Both are good things ordained by God. But really, one of those is a lot heftier, at least to me. Having all our desires met in this life isn’t guaranteed, as much as we so badly desire a “happily ever after” story in this world.
But by God, there is an eternal “happily ever after” at the end of all this! And a great reward is waiting for anyone who exchanges a fairy tale life for making God known among the nations. The reward is when that day comes, and you see this sight in pure, boundless, exhilarating joy knowing you were an intimate part of it: “…. A great multitude which no one could number, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and languages, stood before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; and they crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (Revelation 7.9-10 ESV).
When that day comes and Jesus Christ, your Savior, Master, God, Lover, Faithful Friend in all those hard times on the field, smiles and tells you to your face, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your Master (!).” (Matt. 25.23) And then reign together with our King Jesus Christ in perfect fellowship forever?
Now that is happily ever after.
Have you ever had an earth-shattering moment where you realize you’re part of something that will change the world? The sort of feeling you’d get if you were at the Battle of Marathon seeing the decisive victory of the Greeks to stop the Persian Empire, or sitting with Johann Gutenburg as he demonstrates the first Western printing press?
I’ve had few.
Yesterday I went to the California Collegiate Mobilizer Network (CCMN) conference at Vanguard University. CCMN is sort of a loose alliance of missions departments within various Christian Colleges and Universities in California. They have bi-annual meetings, most of which I have been to in 2009 and this year. I was with students and staff from San Diego Christian College, sort of representing SDCC, but not really because I’ve graduated already but volunteer for missions and – well, it’s complicated. Anyway, it was a great time and really made me think a lot.
What struck me is how deeply critical and profoundly epic this task is – mobilizing young Christians to go to the least reached and poorest people in the world with the grand message of Jesus Christ. Being equipped with a college education gives the opportunities and tools needed to do the task. Being young is needed because long-term missionaries are needed to take the decades to learn the language, culture and relationships that are required to minister cross-culturally.
These student and staff representatives of missions from APU, CalBaptist, Vanguard, and Simpson University are passionate, dedicated individuals. As we talk and strategize about mobilizing students to go and the greatness of the need, and I see their dead-set commitment and realize there is no stopping them. They want to change the world. And they will. And they are. In a day when the world is falling apart, God is sovereignly working in the hearts of men and women like these to form a force of redemption and help to suffering, sinful, wounded souls. As I see this I’m caught up in amazement at the historic times these really are, and I feel as though I really were witnessing an earth-shattering battle. This is a quiet one for eternal souls in an eternal kingdom, not mere temporary political kingdoms.
I imagine it would be more impressive to be at the Lusanne Conference in Cape Town that just wrapped up, which is truly a more world-changing and far-reaching event. But this is where I am now. And in this strategic US state of California at top-notch Christian Colleges and Universities, I see God is on the move. This invisible Being who I’ve never seen, yet know and speak with daily is working in and through me – and millions of other Christians across the globe from California to South Africa – to redeem more and more people throughout the world to give the honor and recognition He deserves. And the Redeemed will see His face when it’s all over, “a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” singing worship to the God who saved them (Revelation 7.9-12).
Since my last post, things have gone well here in Thailand. First we had a little break from the long two weeks in the village. Dan and I drove up with Weetun and Wirasak to visit two youth hostels for children to live in while they are in school. The first we visited was smaller, maybe about 30 children. We had dinner together there into the evening. Dan and I didn’t realize until near the end that this Christian youth hostel was run by Wirasak and his wife. He said he started it to “show kids about God’s love.” We left from there with Weetun to a larger Christian youth hostel of about 80 children and spent the night there. That evening we joined them for worship and gave our greetings to them through Weetun’s translation skills. They were mostly Lahu children who were sent there by parents who live in remote areas and villages so they can go to school every day. You should also know, they have beautiful little voices! This hostel had help from ITDP for their agriculture project, which we had a tour of the next morning. That same day I had my phone interview for my TESOL school and was accepted into the program.This little adventure was about two days.
When we got back to Chiang Mai, we wasted little time in going out again. Dan, Adrienne, and myself came with Peyut, the ITDP staff member, to a new region ITDP is working in – Mae Long Thai. There are several villages in this area. The drive was long – the dirt road to the villages was well over three hours long, steep, and we drove it at night! We stayed in the home of the pastor of the church in the village of Kotah for five nights and helped with data-gathering surveys of families and photographs. We had good time with villagers sitting in his hut in the mornings and evenings. A highlight was Sunday, when we attended their church service and youth service, gave our greetings and answered questions through Peyut’s translation. Dan also gave an excellent sermon from Psalm 73. I was sick on Monday, but it was good for me to sit back at the hut for the day to pray and spend time with the Lord.
When we returned to Chiang Mai in late in the evening on June 8th, and I spent the next several days in Chiang Mai. Dan, Adrienne, and Cynthia flew to America on June 10th, leaving Britanni, Hannah, and myself still in Thailand. We spent time at the office trying to figure things out (at least I was) for a day, then had a weekend to relax a little bit and do things in Chiang Mai. I found out I don’t swim very well, and the girls like to shop a lot. Good times!
Monday the three of us left with other ITDP staff, Tawinsak and Jet, to Ma Oh Jo (where the team did work projects in May) to spend over a week there. Hannah taught English to students at the school from grades Kindergarten to fourth grade. Britanni talked to the villagers about the handicrafts co-op, gathered information and took photos of items the women – and a elderly villager named “Clay” – made. I did random things, like help with Weetun, Boonshu, and Suriyon on Agriculture testing, take video footage, and gather information for the Garden project (a project to give villagers, especially those who have volunteered their time on the building projects, supplies to start good-quality gardens). It was not as intense of work as when the May team was here, and we had some good relational times with each other, the teachers, and villagers.
Now, the 24rd of June, I’m at the guest house recovering from stomach ailment. I worked at the ITDP office yesterday and spent the evening losing lunch and sleeping. I am feeling better today though and trying to work on random things from here. Anyway, thank you all for your prayers and I will write more as soon as I can…
I have been in Chiang Mai for the past several days. I was in the villages before then. I planned to write a more detailed account than this, but I kept pushing it back. Now, I’m leaving for the the village of Ma Oh Jo tomorrow morning and will not have internet access while there until the 22nd of June. I will defer to Dan to tell the story of what happened since my last update in his well-written blog, including some great pictures http://dan-thailand.blogspot.com . It doesn’t have anything past June 10th, since he left for the states then, but that will have to do for now.
Thank you for praying for us. I will truly try to post more when we get back from the village; right now I need to get ready and go to sleep! But before that, I want to close with this verse. Steve Jenkins, the dean of San Diego Christian College and team leader for the American work-team in May, sent me this in an email. It really affected me:
“The weapons we fight with are not weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have the divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretention that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we make every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10.4-5).
Grace and peace!