Forty one years ago

I read some Scriptures.

First one: "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God," This made sense to me, I knew I was imperfect, that I had no perfection inside I just needed to let out.

Second one: "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
The guy pointing these out to me said that what we could earn by our efforts was only death, but God offered us salvation as a gift. I'm not sure I believed all that in that moment, I've understood it more over the years.

The third one: "Behold, I stand at the door and knock ; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me." The guy said this was the invitation, we needed to open the door of our lives and ask Jesus in. When he asked if I wanted to do that, I thought I could give this a try and see what happened. So I prayed to receive Christ, and felt an astonishing sense of peace for an hour or two. Then the emotion faded.

I've heard preaching that this verse really is not an appeal to nonbelievers to come to Christ for the first time, but an appeal to believers to keep on doing what they are supposed to do. That makes sense, because the message to the church in Laodicea (Rev 3:14-22) is that they are not nearly as good Christians as they think they are. The larger context is an appeal, "stop thinking you're so great, you've arrived. Come to me again, you need me as much as you ever did." The call to relationship to Jesus is true whether we've been Christians for years or never been Christians at all before.

Forty one years ago, I came for a relationship with Jesus. I still keep coming back for more.

The sufferings of Christ

Paul says an unusual thing in 2 Corinthians 1:4,5. "[God] comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows."
What does it mean that the sufferings of Christ overflow into our lives? Isn't faith our ticket to health and prosperity? Didn't Christ suffer so we wouldn't have to?

While it is true that Christ's sacrifice on the cross spares us from suffering the wrath of God, it is not God's will to spare us all suffering. Verse 4 makes it clear that when we are troubled, and are comforted by God, that should prepare us to comfort others. So the notion that faith should make us always successful, never experiencing any major ailments or disappointments doesn't come from the Scriptures. Peter tells us too that trials come to refine our faith, and that when they come, we should not be surprised as though something weird were happening. 1 Peter 1:6-71 Peter 4:12.

We all want a comfortable existence, and we know God has the power to give us one, so it is probably all too natural that we should hope and wish for comfort with no trials. But trials and suffering are something God has for us: to refine our faith, to encourage us to trust Him, as we experience His comfort in our trials, and to enable us to comfort others.

A couple of years ago I re-read Hinds Feet in High Places. In the allegory, Much-Afraid's two companions are Sorrow and Suffering, and the three go through many painful moments before Much Afraid gets her hinds feet. When I first read this in college, I remember hoping that I wouldn't be one of the few that had to learn character through sufferings. Because surely that only applied to a few people, right? Coming back to the book years later, while I have not suffered in any dramatic way (no chronic illnesses, no tragic bereavements), I have known lots of disappointments, and the message seems a lot more relevant to me.

Another thought -- we're often told, both implicitly and explicitly, to not focus on our own problems but to focus on the problems of others. Certainly good advice, but perhaps Paul would modify that slightly. We should present our problems to God -- not because they are worse than anything anyone else goes through, or more important than what others go through, but because when we do and receive comfort from God, we will be better equipped to comfort others. Perhaps to say "my troubles are nothing compared to so and so's heartaches" can come out of pride. I won't admit my weaknesses, I will minimize my weaknesses, and just care for others because I am OK -- might that be prideful, not godly?

Leaders, replace yourselves

I'm convinced a key aspect of Christian leadership is that it reproduces itself. Leadership is not innate but a gift given by God. If God calls and enables you to lead, He will also call and enable others. You are not irreplaceable.
I see this idea present in creation: God makes humanity in his image, we are made to be like him.
The Bible is full of stories of unlikely people called and sent by God.
Another place is one of the hardest to believe or understand promises Jesus ever made. "Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father." John 14:12. If anyone could think of himself as irreplaceable, it would be Jesus,  the Son of God. But he believes and promises that the same works he does, each of us can do because he has gone to the Father.
The principle appears again in Paul's counsel to Timothy. "And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others." (2 Timothy 2:2). Christian leaders should be watching out for people who can be gifted to become leaders, and encouraging and training them, encouraging them to lead.

This reminds me of my recently discovered missionary hero, George Leslie Mackay, who did focus on replacing himself as the leader of the Taiwanese churches he planted.

Is there no escape?

“No!” says life. “You can't get away!”
“Yes,” says God. “I am with you. Even in the darkest moments, even in the dark that goes on and on, I am with you. And the light is coming!”

A missionary hero

I've been inspired learning about the history of 19th century Canadian missionary George Leslie Mackay. Mackay went to Taiwan in 1874, settled in the north of the island (where there were no other missionaries), and in almost thirty years of ministry saw many local churches started. He appointed local leaders for the local churches, rather than choose to lead them himself. Although sent by the Canadian Presbyterian Mission, he refused to establish formal Presbyterian government in the Taiwanese churches, saying this would be an accretion from another culture. (There is an irony here, his insistence that local believers ought to be free to organize their churches as they felt led is actually a vibrant example of the core Presbyterian idea that churches should be led by elected elders).

One biography concludes with this inspiring quote:
Possessing an authoritarian temperament, as his critics correctly charged, he exercised his power to carve out for the native Christians a degree of autonomy and freedom perhaps unparalleled among China missions of his day. That he is still lionized in Taiwan by Christians and non-Christians alike, long after most other Victorian missionaries have been forgotten or deconstructed, testifies to the enduring bonds that mutual affection and respect can forge between people of sharply different cultures.
"Authoritarian temperament" is probably a good academic way of saying he was a stubborn old coot, but if so, he was stubborn about good things -- to preach the Word, to adapt to the local culture and to believe God could guide and equip the local converts without importing church policies and structures from his Canadian culture.