Giving, Praying, Going—GROWING

Not all of the instruments play at the same time.

But they all have a part to play.

This morning the going section has taken the lead in this beautiful symphony of serving. But this is not the beginning of the piece… or the end.

This particular movement has been months in building with the generosity of the  giving section. Over and over we have made them aware of the need and the opportunity and they have given faithfully, liberally, and cheerfully.

It has built as we have drawn closer and closer to this day with the stirring and strengthening of the praying section. They have interceded continually and gathered around the going section to do so.

And the going section has itself given toward this and prayed over this and prepared hearts and minds and hands to do this.

In this giving and in this praying and in this going there is a common motif. We give and we pray and we go that the kingdom of God and the impact of the gospel and the people and churches involved will grow.

This morning we took this picture before we set out on our journey. In it you see givers that pray and prayers that go and goers that give. It’s not all of the folks that were there this morning just as it wasn’t all of the folks who made this possible. But it is a sampling of the magnificent orchestra through which God plays this glorious symphony for His own great glory.

Big group selfie as we set off toward CityReach 2019!

As these sections converge on a city in need of the hope of the gospel, we give thanks to all of you that have given to make our part in this symphony possible. We rejoice for the many who have been and continue to pray for the journey and the impact and the experience of this powerful cooperative kingdom effort. We lift up our partners who will meet us in Madison with hearts and hands ready to demonstrate the grace of our great God together.

And we look with hope for the dimensions of growth… as the kingdom of God increases, as the servants are stretched and strengthened, as the local partners are encouraged and emboldened, and as we all lean into the opportunity to join in where we see God at work. 

This is not a new idea at all. In fact, this growing by working together is exactly what Paul taught us about in his letter to the Ephesians:

“… we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body,… when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

Ephesians 4.15-16

When we each lean into our part, the body grows. That means that God’s kingdom grows—bigger, stronger, more effective. But, more than that, we grow into an ever more effective representation of Jesus himself.

As our Conductor has orchestrated the many parts together to ring out His own great praise, let us each play the part before us for His glory. Let us embrace our role in this work of obedience and honor… giving, praying, going—GROWING.

Bigger Hands

There are bigger hands at work here.

There is more to this than we can see.

As we travel on today and draw closer to our destination in the suburbs of Detroit, I know that there are a lot of parents and loved ones at home a little anxious about the admittedly dangerous reputation of the city we’re going to serve.

To be sure, the reputation comes from observable reality, but we’re not exactly street preaching on the legendary 8 Mile Road. But it’s a hard place. It’s a place with a lot of darkness and in desperate need of the penetrating light of the gospel of grace.

As we were making our final preparations for this adventure, a brother (thanks Steve!) shared this observation with me that has developed into this post.

He reminded me of one of my favorite accounts in the Scriptures—that of Elisha and his servant and a startling morning discovery. I encourage you to go and read it in 2 Kings 6.
The king of Syria had grown weary of his attack plans being fooled by someone warning his target, the king of Israel, of his plans. After searching his ranks for a spy, someone pointed out to him that there was a prophet of God that was warning the king of Israel of his evil plans. This dangerous king immediately sent an army to bring back that troublesome prophet, Elisha.

Elisha’s servant awoke early one morning and stepped outside to the terrifying sight of the entire city of Dothan surrounded by the Syrian army. Yes, the absurdity of sending an entire army after one prophet is significant, but the response of Elisha’s servant was understandable. He immediately did what most of us would do (and what some of us have indeed done when we thought about sending out kids to Detroit) – he freaked out.

Elisha, the prophet, who had a great and unique connection with God, said something strange to his servant:

He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” (2 Kings 6.16)

But as soon as he spoke these calming words to his servant, he prayed for him:

Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” (2 Kinds 6.17a)

Then God answered… and WOW what an answer…

…So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. (2 Kings 6.17b)

I am convinced that there is a spiritual reality around us to which only God can open our eyes. There are too many instances in Scripture that point to such things for me to ignore it and I am just spiritually aware enough to know that my understanding is limited and utterly incapable of fully comprehending all that God is doing around us.

As my buddy Steve well observed, God did not need a fiery army to protect his servant. He provided such and revealed it to him and his servant for their sake, not His own.

The story is fascinating, but it carries on with God striking the Syrian army with blindness at Elisha’s request and Elisha leading the blinded enemy army that had been sent to capture him right down to the capital and the king of Israel.

The king of Israel, recognizing the opportunity, at least has the sense to ask the prophet if he should eliminate this threat to his kingdom. Elisha gives counter-intuitive counsel:

“Set bread and water before them, that they may eat and drink and go to their master.” (2 Kings 6.22b)

You see, because of the intervening hand of God, the evil intended upon His servant Elisha and the people of Israel was turned away. The great result is seen in verse 23:

So he prepared for the them a great feast, and when they had eaten and drunk, he sent them away, and they went to their master. And the Syrians did not come again on raids into he land of Israel.

And so we come to a place that is not particularly hospitable to the gospel that we proclaim. We come to set before them the Bread of Life and the springs of living water. And we trust that, having come in obedience and desiring to serve in obedience, our God is with us. As the great worship song reminds us, the God of angel armies is right here by my side.

There are bigger hands at work here.

There is more to this than we can see.

Father, open our eyes to see Your hand at work… and let us join in.

The Starting Place of A Long Obedience

“The essential thing ‘in heaven and earth’ is that there should be a long obedience in the same direction; there thereby results, and has always resulted in the long run, something which has made life worth living.” (Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil)

Smarter men than I have wrangled long with this idea, but the words strike a chord of soundness despite their strange source.

A long obedience in the same direction…

When we consider these words through the lens of a follower of Jesus, it seems like the underscore of Jesus’ call to “deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Luke 9.23) He doesn’t just call us to embrace the hope of the gospel and in earnest obedience plunge into the waters of baptism only to come up and go on about life with a great cosmic advisor on speed dial when the sticky spots come along.

No, that thing to which we are called is a long obedience in the same direction—His direction. It is to follow Him every step of the way, to take the next step in obedience and the next and the next and the next and the next.

Continue reading The Starting Place of A Long Obedience