Our team’s last week before our first language evaluation has kicked-off, and, coupled with a million other things hitting us in life, we desperately need a clear, pointed picture of our all-sufficient Lord.
I’m writing this series because I have to personally. Writing allows me to organize my thoughts. This series is important for the local church as well: The struggles of the tribal missionary are unique, which means Christ can display His beauty and enough-ness in unique ways that are encouraging and edifying to those Stateside. The seeds of every possible evil lay in our depraved sin nature, and, unless Christ is our all and all, and we’re walking by faith while living and learning in a different language and culture, we’re capable of anything. As a tribal church planter, I have to come to the Living Water and drink, or I’ll settle for the poison Satan offers. Unless I repose in the finished work of Christ on the cross, I’ll lug around the weight of “self-righteousness” for everyone in my village to see, to the detriment of the Gospel.
In my estimate, two of the greatest struggles a tribal church planter deals with are self-righteousness and anxiety. Tribal church planters see some of the most vile manifestations of the sin nature that man is capable of producing, like wife-beatings, witch hunts, tortures, brutal fights, and abortions, and rapes to name a few. Without prayerfully allowing the Holy Spirit to remind us of what it means that God is Holy, and what we’re capable of when not trusting Christ, we’ll cloud the actual message of grace and the Gospel. Newton says, “My heart is like an open highway — like a city without walls or gates. Nothing so false, so frivolous, so absurd, so impossible, so horrid — but it can obtain access, and that at any time, or in any place.”
Anything can make a church planter anxious, really. Yes, we worry about big things like lack of food or finances, but it’s the non-stop train of little worries that can really put a kink in a missionary’s fruitfulness. We’re hit with anxiety when we’ve stopped trusting Christ for our needs in a specific area, bringing His character into question: “did God really say…” Satan knows that when we abide in Christ we’ll bear much fruit — thus he’ll become more and more ineffective — so lots of little spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional struggles are employed by him.
The Missionary must deal with both of these, self-righteousness and anxiety, by…you guessed it… looking more intently at Jesus Christ.
“…and the Word was with God…” —John 1:1b
The word ‘with’ is from a preposition meaning literally, ‘facing.’ The Word is a Person facing God the Father. The article appears before the word ‘God’ in the Greek, which indicates that the First Person of the Trinity is meant. So, John is speaking of the fellowship between the Word, Jesus Christ, and the Father — a fellowship that existed from all eternity and will exist to all eternity, and which was never broken except at that moment at Calvary when the Son cried, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’
‘And the Word was toward God’ = his face is not outwards, as if he were merely revealing, or waiting to reveal, God to the creation. His face is turned inwards. His whole Person is directed toward God, motion corresponding to motion, thought to thought.… In him God stands revealed to himself. Contrast the attitude of fallen Adam, with his face averted from God” –Mason, ‘Faith in the Gospel’
Since God actually created the universe, that would make HIM the expert and final authority on all things involving sin, righteousness, and happiness. Unfortunately, everyone without exception was born into a race that chose autonomy over God way back in Genesis. We were all born with our faces turned away from the Father, and subsequently searched for anything but Him for lasting happiness, opening us up to all kinds of anxieties and bouts of that evil self-righteousness. But Jesus perfectly satisfies the Father, even from eternity, therefore, He must be more than adequate to satisfy our deepest longings and needs. What Tribal Missionaries need most is vibrant fellowship with the One who satisfies the infinite, Holy Father. They need the One that, because He faced and mirrored God in eternity past, is able to lead them to an abundant, fruitful life and put to rest every worry.
Other than health-related issues, the number one reason missionaries leave the field is their relationship with their co-workers. James asks his readers, “Where do you fights and wars come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members” (Ja. 4: 1). Yep, the pleasures of quiet time, respect, not being made fun of, forgiveness, an apology, coming to supper on time, being right, having the best seat in the church service, borrowed tools returned in a timely manner — when missionaries don’t get what they want and their affections are unchecked, it’s all over. If Christ isn’t our pleasure, if He isn’t our affection, missionaries will turn to their spouse, children, co-workers, or men or women in their village to fill the void, and the effect won’t be pretty.
Take it from me. When I moved into the Kuman work, for the first few months I was dealing with serious culture shock. Everything was knew, and the only way I thought I could make myself feel better was by learning the language really, really fast. That would make me happy and more comfortable. So, I put 60-70 hours/week into learning Kuman. Making a really long story short, it took a huge toll on my marriage and co-worker relationships. Instead of seeing Christ as He truly is… everything, I made learning Kuman priority #1 instead of my relationship with Him. If God hadn’t of used the Body of Christ here in Papua New Guinea to speak truth into my life, who knows where we’d be right now.
God rescued us again through Christ and the cross, and that’s something I can now boast in. “The more vile we are in our own eyes — the more precious He will be to us! A deep rooted sense of evil of our hearts is necessary to preclude all boasting, and to make us willing to give the whole glory of our salvation where it is due,” says John Newton. Pray for tribal church planters everywhere, that they might die to themselves and their worldly affections, and live in newness of life!
No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him…John 1:18
God emphatically declared to the world, through Christ’s incarnation, the news about Himself: that man, when presenting his own merits, cannot approach the One in whom there is no darkness. Jesus could demonstrate this to the world because He Himself was God, with God, and pure. He eternally faced God within the Trinity, and brilliantly mirrored God’s character. The One who enjoyed uninterrupted fellowship with God was finally interrupted when He carried all of mankind’s sin to the cross, revealing both God’s wrath and hatred towards anything done outside of faith in Himself, as well as His perfect, unconditional love for the human race.
And now, O Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was…Jn. 17:5
So every word revealing Jesus Christ is for our benefit: for bearing fruit, for persevering, for growth. We are “in Christ” as Ephesians tells us over and over again, and whatever belongs to Christ (aside from things regarding His deity, obviously) belongs to you and I. We are co-heirs. All treasure, wisdom, righteousness, and redemption is found in His Person. In His sovereignty, God has designed life in such a way that in order for human’s to experience any fulfillment of purpose and joy, if the human will please his or her Creator at all, He must first be united to Him, draw from His resources, and by faith walk in obedience to His instruction.
The anxious church planter, his mind filled with concerns about his wife, children, family at home, his speaking ability, his standing in the community, has only One Person to please, and that’s the Father. The anxious church planter will receive exactly what He needs from his Father, so he doesn’t need to worry — he only needs to walk in obedience by reposing in Christ. His burden is light.
The self-righteous church planter needed the One-Who-Mirrored-God to die on the cross for him, experiencing loneliness and isolation for the first time ever. His condition is that terrible, so terrible that his flesh, along with his co-workers’, had to be condemned at the cross with Jesus. Self-righteousness dies at the foot of the cross.
Like CH Spurgeon prayed,
Oh, to love the Savior with a passion that can never cool; Oh to believe in God with a confidence that can never stagger! Oh to hope in God with an expectation that can never be dim! Oh to delight in God with a holy overflowing rejoicing that can never be stopped, so that we might live to glorify God at the highest bent of our powers, living with enthusiasm, burning, blazing, being consumed with the indwelling God who worketh all things in us according to His will! Oh that we might live so near to the great Shepherd as to be familiar with His voice, to know its tones, that so a stranger we may not follow, for we know not the voice of strangers.
Jesus faced and mirrored a joyful, loving, righteous God in eternity past, is now sitting at the right hand of the Father as a sinless member of the human race, and, is united with us through His Holy Spirit. Isn’t this what every tribal missionary needs above all else?