We are all quite screwed up. Since his earthly death, Brennan Manning has been referred to often as he touched and encouraged so many screwed up followers of Jesus (me). His life was one of a messed up individual continuing to pursue and glorify God and His grace, while having no inhibition to admitting his screwed-up-ness. I am so encouraged by genuine people who readily proclaim both their passionate love for Jesus and their flawed human-ness. So many believers glorify themselves, their work, their knowledge, their transformation, etc. So many are afraid to be radically honest and admit/confess their weaknesses and errors. We relate, however, to flawed people (because we know well our own errors, blemishes, scars, weaknesses…) and will be most impacted by those whose lives demonstrate passion for Jesus combined with a “real” perspective on themselves. This combination is rare, beautiful and will impact more lasting change than any smiling and self-righteous “christian” mask that the real, screwed up person hides behind. Will you join me today in communicating with someone both your genuine love for Jesus and how you are genuinely flawed and/or weak?
I see little anxiety and depression in the people of rural Angola, where there is no TV, electricity, or running water. Their expectations of themselves and of life are real, and they don’t try to portray something they are not. They take pleasure in each other and in simple things. They are incredibly genuine people, and when we are genuine before both ourselves and others, we are healthy. We are healthy when our expectations (of ourselves, others, circumstances, etc) match reality. When we see God as beautiful and we recognize ourselves, and everything and everyone else, as flawed yet beautiful… When we worship the Creator and appreciate, yet don’t place our value in, anything created. When we place our value in our Father’s view of us and His passionate love for us. His view of us is that we are quite flawed and quite beautiful, both motivating Him to come to earth and die on our behalf. Most of us older folks can remember the love we had for our obviously flawed, and so very precious 2-3 year old children. He allows some of us to be parents so that we can gain a greater appreciation for His heart for those He created…
At Mukwando (the people group living in a dormant volcano) this month, they cut down many small trees and made two private rooms with the branches and laid a tarp on the ground for exams. It was beautifully done (see photos), took a lot of work using only machetes, and functioned well. They have demonstrated their appreciation for our monthly visits in so many ways beyond words. Isn’t it true that our words really mean little compared to how we say them and the actions of our lives that either validate or negate what we say? A local man who considers himself an “evangelist” came and expected to have a platform to speak, but when we told him that he could sit and speak individually with the people, encourage them, etc (that he would not be allowed to speak to the group), he walked away. So many church leaders love the attention and adulation of the crowd, but won’t love and invest their time and effort in building relationships with a few individual people (the front lines of Kingdom work).
We just completed a week-long retreat in the “bush” (4 hr from the closest town) with fellow Angolan missionaries and we all had so much fun (see photos). Each day was full of intimate worship, rich interaction (much time around the fire) and fun activities for kids and adults alike. We had a car race on a trail through the desert, line danced (some of us), had a campfire with traditional campfire songs, wonderful mealtimes always with a different person, a talent show, so many conversations around the fire… As a group, the adults worked our way through Paul’s letter to the Philippians (the 22 teens worked through James and our kids loved it – Thank you Amie and Daniel!).
We were reminded that our principal goal is to “know Him” (3:8-11). Nothing is more important and, by comparison, we are to be uncommitted to all else. The interaction, confession, humility, and encouragement were rich, especially because our beautiful leader, Edwardo, a physician from Brazil who used to live and work here, invited so much participation from the wisdom and experience of the participants (40+ adults). I left challenged by the lives and humble, devoted hearts of those I work with in this very challenging country. Bets and I are very glad to be part of this missionary team, which includes people from about every type of denomination and background, adult ages from mid-twenties to mid seventies, from several countries, working all over the country of Angola, like-minded in purpose, humble in character, and devoted to knowing and loving Jesus and the Angolan people. It is truly a remarkable (and imperfect) group of people and it was such a treat to “live” with them (and learn from them) for a week. We had so many special moments.
A few personal challenges from the week:
- Are we leaders, trainers, disciplers, teachers, healers, builders, messengers of the Gospel/Good News, etc or… are we foot-washing, humble, honoring servants of the Angolan people? Do we work from a motive of love for the people we serve or do we serve to feel good about ourselves?
- We sang a worship song from Habakkuk 3:17-19. If I had no provisions, food, hope for change, etc, would I still rejoice? Paul issued the same challenge to the Philippians.
- Our flesh wants to be “right” (our own opinions can be way too important). As christians, we often study, argue, rationalize and justify our opinions/lives in order to be “right”, all the while living in the flesh. Jesus wants us to live in humility, surrendered to Him while considering others’ opinions/lives as more important than our own. Our conversation changes radically when our motive is to love instead of arguing a point, seeking a convert, preaching the truth, etc.
- Paul counted all good things as loss in light of his pursuit of knowing Jesus more intimately.
- Downward mobility, becoming less important, more of a servant, less known, etc is our journey with Jesus… less worldly successful, less prosperous, less known, less esteem from people… more unheralded (no one knows) serving and giving, more actions with less words, more genuine, more time loving individuals…
- At times, Paul was harsh with sinners and those preaching error, at times gracious. The key is being in tune with our Father (led by His spirit) and responding in each situation as He would respond.
- It is far easier to begin well than it is to maintain and finish well. Christian ministry is full of people who love the thrill of beginning new works and ministries. The part of any race/work/relationship where we feel the best (more energy, more grace, more enthusiasm) is the beginning. Our preparation and commitment are tested later in the race/work/relationship.
This week reminded me of the value of “getting away”, of refueling, of informal interaction in a setting away from work and “to do’s”. Have you taken a “retreat” lately? Our cross-cultural work has “forced” us into some very healthy activities that we might not have done while working in the States. I sure recommend at least once/year leaving your home and work and “retreating” (alone or with people) for the purpose of reconnecting with your Father, refocusing. Though we connect with Him daily, it is quite special, as well, to connect with Him over a dedicated period of time.
We are vacationing for a week in Namibia and the first 5 days are in the beautiful little town of Swakopmund, on the coast (see photos). On the way, we drove for several hours through the game park of Etosha (about the size of South Carolina) and thoroughly enjoyed seeing so many spectacular animals (see photos). I am writing in our campground, listening to the waves on the shore as I type. Though it is winter here (water temperature in the 50s), the beach is beautiful and there are miles of sand dunes we will soon explore. We are not in Angola anymore… There is grass, 24 hr electricity, drinkable water from the tap, little trash on the ground, hot showers and we can flush toilet paper! Our dirty, dented, scratched and scuffed truck looks so normal in Angola and here seems quite out of place among all of the cars made for pavement.