Observations and Perspectives…

 

We are currently driving through Namibia to Angola (Bets is driving as I write) after a delightful three weeks in the US with our family.  Along the highway we’ve seen many warthogs, baboons and zebra!  We had a wonderful Christmas with Tim’s family and then the six of us were able to seclude ourselves for about ten lovely days of discussions, games, and rest.  The geographical distance between us and our adult kids loses significance when we are able to see, face to face, that they are well.  What a joy to see/hear them making wise choices and voicing passion for meeting global and local needs.

 

Following are “brief” summaries of some personal vacation conversations with our Father (each message directed firstly to me and, perhaps, to you) about our work/life at this point on my journey (my next post will resume stories from our work):

 

That we are on a journey is a key to understanding our Father’s kingdom… each of us on a unique journey with our Shepherd.  The more closely we journey with our Shepherd is dependent on how much we abandon or diminish other pursuits and desires (we – I – try so hard to serve many masters).  Each journey passes through seasons pleasant and unpleasant, and involves turns (decisions) made wisely and poorly…

 

Our respective journeys (with our fellow man) have apparent similarities, but only for a season, like two people crossing paths (we have paths in rural Angola instead of streets or sidewalks).  Where each came from and where each will go is completely unique to the other, and we can do much harm in assuming that the perspective/journey of another is similar to ours.  It is always far more different from ours than it is similar…

 

There is a solid “why” behind every one of my Father’s commands and every bible passage has spiritual and practical implications.  For example, Jesus admonished us to “deny ourselves”.  A primary and practical reason for this command has become increasingly clear to me as we have worked among those with great needs.  If I primarily focus on my own life/blessing, the lives and needs of others are primarily disregarded.  If I disregard myself, others receive what otherwise would have been mine.  Since my Father promises to care for me, I can give to others what He gives to me and trust His continual care for my needs.  We all benefit greatly from our Father’s “other-focus” and His Spirit in us is always seeking an outlet…

 

I believe this is where the pervasive (it’s in every church/denomination) health and wealth movement of today has missed our Father’s heart.  Jesus emphasized that we are conduits, blessed to be a blessing.  He knew (and communicated repeatedly) that abundant life consists of possessing nothing and blessing others abundantly.  To focus on one’s own happiness/“blessing” is to miss Jesus, while to empty oneself of personal ambition and to focus on benefitting others is to become full.  This is a kingdom paradox that remains hidden in our superficial church age, often characterized by the pursuit of “personal” fulfillment and “healing”.

 

It seems that the only time I hear someone speak positively of sacrifice (a four letter word these days) is in relation to how good, or how much satisfaction, the one making the sacrifice will feel.  When we first left for cross-cultural work among the “poor”, I can’t tell you how many people said to us, “I hope you find fulfillment” or “I hope you find what you are looking for”, because this is the mindset of our American culture (and church).  Our journey over these ten years has confused many who have not embraced Jesus’ emphasis for His people (which was His own motive): go and give your abilities/energy/life for the sake of others, for the sake of others, for the sake of others…   He left His home and gave His life to meeting the needs of others

 

The emphasis in the church today is so often about my salvation, my fulfillment, my joy, my faith, my health, my peace, my ministry, my doctrine, my achievement, my, my, my…, while the Kingdom emphasis has always been… “they”/“their”.   Like Jesus, we are to live for their salvation, for their healing, for their peace, that their joy may be complete, that they may be one, that they may know Him… they/their

 

 

Superficiality (emphasis on the seen and on what money can buy), arrogance (the humble are always seeking/learning; the arrogant always “know”) and distraction (our attention diverted by the bombardment of the superficial and temporary) will define this modern age.  That we are a pornographic culture is evident in that in so many ways we would rather experience (and purchase) artificial and immediate gratification, than pursue (over time) the beauty of the deeper, unseen relational fruit of Kingdom life.  Are you and I a product of our age/culture or set apart?

 

In the west we make decisions based on our emotions and what we perceive will bring us pleasure (make us happy).  This cultural phenomenon is (and always has been) found only among the extremely wealthy.  On our journey, we’ve been able to see first-hand that the poorer cultures don’t have this liberty, as they must do (regardless of the resulting emotions) what is necessary (for themselves and the community) or they won’t survive.  Expectations from life are minimal and desires beyond the necessary are not considered relevant.  Only in extreme prosperity can one consider “happiness”, or the pursuit of the same, as relevant to life.  In all cultures since the flood (until very recently, historically), working (hard) for needs has been the priority, rather than even considering “wants”.  “Happiness” in the west consists of an accumulation of wants/desires, as no one would be “happy” with having only their needs met.  Contentment (different than happiness) in rural Angola is found in many who have nothing more than their basic needs of very simple food (same meal -grits- twice/day), water, clothing (debatably necessary, depending on the tribe) and shelter (a roof under which to sleep in the rain and to store dried goods).

 

The pursuits of personal happiness and prosperity necessitate very different decisions than those made so that everyone in the community (or world) has their needs met.

 

This world lacks no resources (even for six billion people), but the hording of resources by those chasing “happiness” is the primary cause of global poverty (lack of basic needs), and always has been.  It has been my observation over years that desire for, or pursuit of, anything more than our needs promotes ill health over the long-term, even as it gives short-term pleasure (like overeating, which we now know is as chronically unhealthy as under-eating).   Prosperity promises much and yields fatigue, frustration, anxiety and emptiness.  There is an epidemic of anxiety and depression among those living in the wealthiest cultures in history, where the pursuit of happiness is the cultural norm.  Is there a correlation?

 

Personal, community and global health would be realized if we disregarded, rather than pursued, desires beyond our basic needs.

 

Living in a culture without mirrors and photos has opened my eyes to the fact that mankind was designed to see others, to look at others, to focus on others… and to have difficulty seeing, looking at, and focusing on himself.  We were created to be unconcerned with our own image and our own appearance.  Showers, dentistry, varieties in clothing, razors, scissors, mirrors, etc are all relatively new and have allowed us to become preoccupied with our own image/appearance.  With the addition of selfies, cameras, movies and Facebook, self-image has taken on great psychological significance.

 

The age-old struggle to see people as distinctly beautiful, whole “persons” rather than as objects has become more profound as we see even ourselves as comparable commodities rather than as uniquely and purposefully gifted creations.  Becoming “comparably better” has replaced embracing and valuing “uniquely beautiful”.  Realizing and valuing the uniqueness of each person eliminates comparison, while seeing people as objects invites comparison.  Everything, including people and churches, are analyzed by comparison today.  Are we healthier because of it?

 

The bible speaks of the self-focused, never-satisfied, five-senses “flesh” (the physical body) and how it has the ability to destroy the real, inner person, which is “housed” in the body.  The emphasis in much of the church today on the appearance and health of our body and on what we experience with our senses (the flesh), is a concerning emphasis indeed, and evidence of our embrace of the superficial…

 

Rural Angola is a world of margin.  There is never hurry or “too much to do and too little time”.  There is always time for a conversation or interruption.  Everyone gets plenty of sleep, as they follow the design of the day, typically resting or sleeping for 11-12hr/day.  Again, our attractive technology and “progress” has promised leisure, margin and happiness and has caused over-commitment to the irrelevant, resulting in stress unknown in rural Angola.  Productivity in the west has yielded an ever-hungry covetousness that no previous culture has known.  I marvel (from Africa) that some of the candidates in this year’s presidential election in the US are appealing to the voters by communicating that the US economy needs improved.  The richest country/population in history

 

I’ve come to realize that with virtually every purchase we make (or consider), we add superficial distraction to our lives (“worried and bothered by so many things”), which moves us further away from our Father’s unseen Kingdom and the conscious appreciation of His presence.  I’ve heard so many American Jesus-lovers (including me) over the years wonder why they don’t know “peace that passes understanding”, and I believe the answer lies in the overwhelming distraction that inevitably accompanies prosperity.  This rural Angolan culture knows little of distraction, as the people here make almost no purchases at all (our village has no store) and peace is more prevalent here than in the US, even in the midst of great need and suffering.

 

I’ve lived among people experiencing profound tragedy, significant loss (including death of a loved one), severe acute and chronic pain, and none of these pushes us away from our Father and the life for which we were created more strongly than does material prosperity.

 

When the “seen” becomes our passion, we have turned our back on our Father’s Kingdom (can’t serve two masters), who has designed this life like a parable, where only those hungry for Him will seek out and find Him (to seek one thing requires the neglect/abandonment of other pursuits).  The riches of this life are unseen (God himself and His fruit – Gal 5.22-23) and when we focus on the seen, we are distracted from the unseen.  To “walk in the Spirit” is to follow an unseen God, to listen to a “still, small voice”, and to emphasize the unseen priorities of His kingdom.  Would our priorities, our passions, our purchases, etc change at all if God’s Spirit left us?  It was for our benefit that Jesus said that one cannot serve God and money…

 

Humility is such a necessary component of a Jesus ministry.  We are not called to have all the answers, to fix all the problems, to lead crusades, or to have it all together, but rather we are called to be witnesses of the impact of encountering the risen Jesus and living in His presence.  I must remember that, in the eternal scheme of things, I am quite insignificant (many people in Angola haven’t even heard of the United States, let alone me).  It’s taken me more than a few years to realize and embrace this insignificance, and to see that we are called to have a small impact on a few insignificant others, all of whom are cherished by our Father.  Little opportunities to make a small impact on a few are always before us…

 

We will encounter on our journey a few who are hungry for Jesus, and it is to these few that we must devote ourselves.  Jesus prioritized Peter, John and James and we, also, are called to deeply impact a few…  Let’s keep our eyes open today for the one or two… the one or two that we can befriend, who will receive from us, and who we would die for.

 

When we are serving Jesus well, we won’t know how we are making an impact, as we won’t be interested in counting our fruit (numbers), but we will be consumed with the others’ benefit and our Father’s pleasure.  Humility isn’t interested in personal success or ambitious goals because its focus is “other” (it won’t even remember what it did yesterday because there are many to serve and encourage today).

 

An outward, today focus is the key to kingdom life!  This focus is not the key to happiness, as it quite costly, but it is in this focus that we find our Father’s pleasure (quite different from personal happiness).  Many of the early disciples suffered miserably and lost their lives while in their Father’s pleasure…

 

There is much criticism of churches today, but Bets and I have benefitted greatly (too much for words) from the encouragement of our friends in the church (the body of Jesus) and we have gained much appreciation over many years for the fact that it is simply impossible to passionately serve God and others alone.  We can do “lukewarm” and “cold” alone, but no hand or foot can function well singularly.  So much in this world aims to steal our passion for Jesus and we need help to maintain “our first love”.  We aren’t necessarily empowered by Sunday speeches, rituals or programs, but from sober connection with like-minded Jesus-lovers we will always find encouragement.  This encouragement from kindred spirits pushes us… to further abandonment from the superficial pursuit of self-fulfillment, and will empower us to continue to follow hard after Jesus, no matter the cost/hardship/pain.  Who can you join with today to encourage, helping each other to give your lives away for the sake of another?

 

4 comments

  1. Tim, your literary skills are amazing. I actually read your paragraphs twice as I don’t feel like I absorb all the meat the first time around. Thank you for sharing your life, your thoughts and the people of Angola. Your letters always humble me so, and make me think strongly about the life I lead. Bless you!

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