Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The God beyond magic

I’m reading the first letters and updates from the missionary movement following the Pentecostal outpouring of the early 1900s. Two things amaze me: first, the courage and conviction of the early missionaries that sends them across the world in rickety ships, on donkeys and camels, and carried over treacherous ground by native bearers. Second, the naive and uninformed decisions that lead to tragedy and harm.

An appeal in the Sept 20/1913 issue of Word and Witness warns those who want to be missionaries to test their calling, not to rush out on impulse because it is a desperately hard life. The author tells those who speak in tongues that they still must learn the indigenous language because God will not magically give them understandable native speech. And the writer adds that life will be difficult beyond imagination – culture shock of foreign food, ill health, and persecution is to be expected. Only those with a sure call will survive. And many of them will die trying to tell others about Jesus.

As I read of entire families wiped out by tropical illness or starvation, of assassinations and cruelty to those who were sharing Good News, and of the hardships faced each day, I think of the heartbreak, the disappointments, and the grief those messengers experienced.

Yet God works through the uninformed but willing. Without them, the gospel will not be planted in new areas. Many recruits will return after six months or a year, broken and angry. But others stay all their lives, investing for eternal gain, sharing living water and the bread of life across culture.

A hundred years later, it’s pretty amazing to read the missionary updates and newsletters. It’s like opening an issue of Time magazine or Newsweek to read current heroic and extraordinary faith adventures that are turning the world upside down. Entire cultures of corruption and brutality are being transformed. Customs like foot-tying (China), ritual prostitution (India), and inhuman killings (Africa) are being put aside because of missionary care and service. Today’s anthropology owes much to the early missionaries, who keep records of various peoples, create written languages and teach people groups to read them, and bring improved sanitation and medical care to desperate, dying cultures.

On the ground, it isn’t always pretty or easy. But as I read, I see how God is beyond quick, magic fixes. He does what he always has done, partnering with ordinary men and women to do the extraordinary.

Read more:
*He [Hezekiah] did what was pleasing in the LORD's sight, just as his ancestor David had done. He removed the pagan shrines, smashed the sacred pillars, and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke up the bronze serpent that Moses had made, because the people of Israel had been offering sacrifices to it. The bronze serpent was called Nehushtan.

Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before or after his time. He remained faithful to the LORD in everything, and he carefully obeyed all the commands the LORD had given Moses. So the LORD was with him, and Hezekiah was successful in everything he did. He revolted against the king of Assyria and refused to pay him tribute. . . .

At that time the king of Assyria exiled the Israelites to Assyria and placed them in colonies in Halah, along the banks of the Habor River in Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes. For they refused to listen to the LORD their God and obey him. Instead, they violated his covenant—all the laws that Moses the LORD's servant had commanded them to obey. 2 Kings 18:3–7, 11–12 NLT

*"Where, O Death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! H gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves
fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain. 1 Corinthians 15:55-58 NIV

*But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:4-7

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