#gettrekt16 – “why you came?” (entry 4)

On good days when our Daa finds himself in a good enough mood, he will crack jokes with us, teach us some Thai words, and practice his choppy English vocabulary. On one of these seldom days, he kept saying this one phrase over and over, “Why you came!” Michael and I looked at each other and laughed. We’re still trying to figure that one out, my friend. We’ll get back to you on that one.

 

If God is all powerful, why does He call us into Mission? Clearly, He can just do it all Himself. If He wanted to, He can bring the Kingdom of God to the earth, fulfill the Great Commission, and it would be a cakewalk. So why would He call us, messy human beings, to do His work when He is perfectly capable of doing it Himself? That doesn’t sound very efficient to me. Is God really perfect?

The trek is quickly coming to a close and it’s about that time that we start taking inventory of the things that God has done and is continuing to do. If the trek were to end tomorrow, what can we point to and give God glory for? What testimonies will we hold onto and savor in the years to come? What convictions and lessons will we carry home?

Here at the Ruth Center, God has shoved us beyond the limits that we defined for ourselves and taken us to places we would have never dreamed of going on our own. He has shown us what His cup of suffering really tastes like. He has taught us how to love those we have forgotten how to love, even ourselves. I personally received deep inner healing last week when my team dedicated a couple of hours of their afternoons to pray for me.

But wait a minute. What about the things that changed in Thailand? What about the difference that we made in the peoples’ lives here? As we reflect, we are forced to wrestle with a realization that may be startling to some. It seems like Jesus was doing a lot more work in our lives than the lives of our hosts. As far as I can tell, we spent a lot more time dealing with my long-forgotten childhood trauma than that of the Thai people. What’s up with that? Jesus, what exactly did I sign up for?

As difficult as it is to admit to ourselves and our church friends, Bangkok isn’t going to go through that much transformation by the time we leave. If we are being truly honest with ourselves, we didn’t change Thailand that much. What am I to say to my friends at my InterVarsity chapter when I come home? What am I supposed to tell all those people who donated so that I could afford this trip?

It is a scary place to be, when we are no longer able to hide behind our accomplishments or a nicely-packaged testimony. But that is exactly where Jesus wants us. Because it threatens our source of self-worth when we live and breathe a culture that has idolized achievement and success like golden calves. Because we can no longer shield ourselves behind the damaging notion that the poor need us as much as we would like to believe. Because it is in this place of vulnerability and nakedness that we are forced to face who we truly are.

When God called me to commit to a short-term mission trip this summer, He was not inviting me to change Thailand. He was inviting me to confront the brokenness of my own heart. Is the North American evangelical church ready to face such a scandalous truth that they are just as broken as the third-world countries they so fervently claim they are called to serve? It is easy, even comforting, to point out depravity when we walk the Red Light Districts of Thailand but are we willing to let Jesus walk through the depravity of our own souls? Are we willing to let our consciences be disturbed when Jesus reveals to us that the sin we see in the consumers of the sex trade is the same sin that plagues our own hearts?

That is what Jesus is doing in my life and I firmly believe that is why He asked me to drop all my plans and travel halfway around the world this summer. Yes, to see the messiness of sin in Thailand, but more so, to see the messiness of sin in my life.

Jesus doesn’t need us to complete the Mission. We need the Mission for Jesus to complete us. Because it is in the Mission that we find not only the healing of the nations, but also the healing of our hearts. It is in His perfection that He calls the imperfect to do His perfect will, thereby perfecting them.

 

Why you came?” Whether out of genuine curiosity or just to give us some laughter, Daa poses a serious question that has haunted us the whole summer.

Maybe it’s not so much about us missionaries bringing change to Thailand. Perhaps we’ve forgotten that Jesus is already doing that, with or without us. Maybe we’ve romanticized the short-term mission trip so much in the church that we’ve forgotten that Jesus is on a mission after our hearts. Maybe we’ve obsessed over the idea that “the poor need us” and lost sight of the reality that we are just as in need of Jesus as they are. Maybe our stories of redemption are actually intertwined and we’re just in it for the ride. Together. Maybe that’s all Mission really is. Not the rich saving the poor, not the missionary changing the world, not even the churched converting the pagans. Because to both the Rich Men and Lazarus’ of the world, Jesus is the true Savior, the true bringer of change, and to our greatest surprise, our true reconciler. So maybe Mission is just Jesus’ invitation for us to learn something we’ve forgotten how to do with Lazarus: to share a relationship together.

 

#gettrekt16

#gettrekt16 – dying incarnationally (entry 3)

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Me.”  –Mark 8:34

Ever since Michael and I arrived on-site at Daa’s household, we have been gradually compiling a list of “deal-breakers” that would send us home immediately. It was a fool’s errand. Every time we added something to the list, we would unexpectedly find ourselves doing that very thing we promised ourselves we would never do, only a couple days later.

On the fourth day, I told myself that if I fell into the trash-filled black swamp water of the slums, I would quit. Send me home, Lord. Within a few days, I fell in. Two days later, Daa told Michael to climb into the trash dump to fetch firewood. There have been nights when we’ve woken up 5+ times to unload diarrhea because of food poisoning. Other nights, we’ve been rudely awakened by monster cockroaches inside our mosquito net and we had to beat them to death with our water bottles. Just a few nights ago, I woke up with 48 mosquito bites on my right arm alone. The list goes on. I’ll leave you to your imagination.

In essence, we were creating boundaries for where we were willing to go and every time we drew the line, Jesus would take us there to cross it. He tends to do that a lot. It’s pretty annoying.

One thing I can be sure of now is that following Jesus into a ministry of Incarnation is much harder than I anticipated. Scott Bessenecker was right in saying in his book (The New Friars) that the Incarnation is not merely a one-time decision that we make when we fill out the online application to the Global Urban Trek. We must choose into the Incarnation daily. And that is no easy task.

I often laugh to myself whenever my friends and family ask me what I’m doing in Bangkok this summer because, quite frankly, I still don’t know the answer to that question. I know Jesus has called me here but as to why He has called me, I am wrestling with that question even as I write this article. It doesn’t help that all we are doing is taking care of grandmas and grandpas and getting harassed by tropical insects all day. In times of stress, exhaustion, physical and emotional pain, I get especially impatient with God and I want to shortcut the process of finding answers.

The past week has been particularly strenuous on both my body and my soul and in the midst of the pain, the Holy Spirit has illuminated some profound truths to me. Sure, our site (Ruth Center) may not have a program or “agenda”, per se, but our mission is to learn how to love our Daa and Yaay’s (grandpas and grandmas), as aforementioned in the previous post. Other sites may have more intense programs, such as dealing with victims of trafficking, but our site has one of the most difficult living situations by far. But I think that’s the point. Our living situation IS the program.

If love is the mission, then living with Daa is our ministry. It is the vehicle with which we must learn to navigate in order to embrace the Mission. Just as Jesus incarnated and dwelled among His people as an outward expression of His love, we live and dwell with Daa to communicate Jesus’ love to him and to make Jesus’ love our own.

It has dawned on me this past week that in order to choose the Incarnation and live with the people, I must first die to myself. That is why it is so hard to live with Daa. To choose into living the life of Jesus is to also choose into the death of myself.

Since coming on the Trek, there have been many opportunities for me and my team to “check out” and mentally quit the Mission. Needless to say, the temptation only intensifies in moments when Michael and I check off items on our deal-breaker list. But those moments are not just opportunities to quit. They are opportunities to let those parts of ourselves die for the sake of continuing the Mission of Jesus. To let our love of comfort die when we are getting eaten alive by mosquitos in the shower. To let our need for other people die when no one visits our Daa. To let my need for verbal affirmation die when all I hear is rebuke and disapproval. To let go of the reality that I’m probably not going to leave behind a tangible legacy when I leave Bangkok. To let my accomplishment-driven, task-focused ministry paradigm die when I realize that I won’t be able to measure the impact that I made in someone else’s life because that’s not the point. Opportunities like this come on the daily and each time they come, we have to ask ourselves: will I choose my own life or will I choose to die to it? Will I choose the Incarnation? Will I choose Jesus?

 

I think I may have found the Way of the Cross. The road marked with suffering. I don’t quite see Jesus yet but at the very least, I think I found footprints.

“Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds… Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, my servant also will be.”  –Jesus [John 12:24,26]

 

#gettrekt16

the inclusio of scripture

[here’s a little article that’s dedicated to the bible-lovers]

inclusio – a device in literature where a section of text is bracketed off.  the story is placed within a frame, so that it begins and ends the same way.  like a sandwich.  inclusios are everywhere, in books, music, movies, you name it.  we often overlook them the first time we read, listen, watch them, but when we look back, we realize that they’re there and it’s quite mindblowing sometimes.

in onerepublic’s most famous song “apologize”, ryan tedder begins and ends the song the same way, with the words “i’m holding on your rope, got me ten feet off the ground”.  inclusio.  jason mraz both opens and closes “the sunshine song” with “if there’s a light in everybody, send out your ray of sunshine” [excellent song, btw].  inclusio.

in movies, they’re not as prevalent but there still are some out there, such as mission impossible iii.  in the opening scene, ethan hunt is strapped to a chair and watches in agony as the heartless antagonist owen davian counts down to the second he pulls the trigger of the gun pointed at hunt’s wife’s head.  turns out it was a flash.. forward? and the audience does not get to see davian finish counting.  2 hours of intense, spy action sequences later, we revisit the interrogation scene once again, only this time, davian finishes counting as a desperate ethan hunt attempts to negotiate with him.  inclusio.  in forrest gump, both the opening and closing scene show forrest gump [and forrest jr] waiting at the bus stop in greenbow, alabama as a white feather is carried by the breeze into the sky.  inclusio.

i find it weird that i enjoy writing blogs and whatnot but i’m a terrible reader.  i don’t read too much but anyone who knows me well would know that my favorite book of all time is the bible.  just about a month ago, i’ve been made aware that even the bible, the living word of god, has inclusios in it.  if you look in the gospel of mark, there is a very subtle inclusio hidden in chapters 1 and 15.

in chapter 1, we witness the baptism of Jesus [by John] in the Jordan River.  pretty epic moment.  in chapter 15, we witness the death of the messiah as he breathes his last on the cross.  overwhelmingly epic moment.  though baptism and death are two concepts that one would most likely find contrasting to one another, these are the two elements that make up the big juicy sandwich of the “gospel inclusio”.  but how, justin?  how do the baptism and death Jesus make up an inclusio if they’re not even the same thing?  you be trippin, man!  well, let’s take a look at scripture.

1. “At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”    -Mark 1:9-11

here is the scene when Jesus gets baptized.  what observations can we make?  Jesus was getting dunked in the river and as he rose from the water, the heavens opened.  i’d like to say i have a vast and vivid imagination but the imagery in here is simply unfathomable.  i try to picture some large crevice splitting open and creating a divide that breaks some invisible, metaphysical boundary between heaven and earth.  and wind.  lots and lots of gushing, loud wind.  then, the holy spirit makes its way down from the other side of this momentarily fractured barrier and the voice of God thunders from it: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”   holy cheeseballs.

2. “With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.  And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died,he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”    -Mark 15:37-39

fast forward 15 chapters.  Jesus dies.  what observations can we make?  as Jesus let out one last sigh, the curtain of the temple tore completely, from top to bottom.  so what temple is mark talking about anyways?  in case you didn’t know, it was the temple of Jerusalem [Herod’s temple, if i am not mistaken] and inside this holy temple, animal sacrifices were made as well as worship according to the Law of Moses.  there was also a room called the Holy of Holies, in which the presence of God resided.  it also contained the Ark of the Covenant [yes, the one in indiana jones].  this place was so sacred that no one could enter into this inner sanctuary except the High Priest once a year to make atonement for the people’s sins.  this room was separated from the rest of the temple by a curtain.  and this wasn’t just any old window curtain that you put on for decoration.  it was a 4-inch thick curtain with such strength that even horses tied to each side could not pull apart.  oh yeah, it was also 60 feet tall.  pretty buff curtain.  but not buff enough.  when this curtain tore in half, even the Roman centurion instantly knew that Jesus was certainly the son of God and he was so sure about it that he felt like he had to say it out loud.  holy cheeseballs.

okay, now it’s time to connect the dots.

EXHIBIT A

in mark chapter 1, jesus was baptized by water.  while one may think that this is just something that all believers must do as a public profession of their faith and acceptance of God as their heavenly Father, baptism also has another meaning.  “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.” [Romans 6:3-4]  baptism, in essence, means death.  so what was Jesus up to at the end of Mark?  oh yeah, dying.  bingo.

EXHIBIT B

after Jesus’ baptism, the heavens OPENED!  after Jesus’ death, the curtain OPENED!  well..  tore in half.  if you haven’t already got it, the curtain wasn’t just an extraordinarily buff curtain, it was a symbolic representation of the separation of God and Man.  separation of the Holiest of Holies and the rest of the temple.  of sinless and sinful.  of light and darkness.  of the heavens and earth.  when Jesus died for our sins, the impenetrable barrier between us and God was shattered.  bingo.

EXHIBIT C

after the heavens opened, we hear a voice from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” [Mark 1:11]  this is the voice of God, and He is proclaiming that Jesus is His beloved Son.  after the curtain ripped open, we hear a voice from a bystander: “Surely this man is the Son of God!” [Mark 15:39]  this is the voice of a Roman centurion, and he is proclaiming that Jesus is the Son of God.  bingo.

i don’t know about you but when i first realized all of this, i was completely mindblown.  the entire gospel story of Jesus Christ, wrapped in a big, delicious sandwich.  wickedly cool.  personally, this revelation served as a reminder of just how amazing God’s Word is.  the bible is a truly remarkable book and i think we all ought to spend more time reading it.  trust me, it will change lives.  and lastly, i would like to give a big shout-out and thank you to the fantastic mr. jimmy l., who did such a phenomenal job at sharing God’s truth with me and the other highschoolers at ev.  personally, this was one of the most memorable bible lessons i’ve ever been taught in my entire life.

PRAYER:  heavenly father, thank you for your word.  thank you for this amazing book of life, because through it, we may grow spiritually and learn more about you.  thank you for God-breathed scripture, for it is useful in teaching, rebuking, correcting and training others in righteousness.  it is your truth that we cling on to and it is our double-edged sword.  thank you for revealing yourself in it so that we may see a glimpse of just how great you are.  Lord, please help me grow a desire and eagerness in reading your word.  move my heart and let me have an inclination to hear your truths each and every day of my life.  God, I want to grow in you.  i want to know you more and i want to love you even more than i already do.  help me become a better son.  as always, i am eternally grateful for your gift of love and i will forever praise you.  and it’s in your Son’s most precious name that I pray,  amen.