How Psalm 22 helped me lament suffering

2 04 2021

I wonder if, like me, you sometimes get discouraged with all the bad news in our world.

On a recent morning, I decided that rather than open my laptop and tackle the day’s correspondence, I would just sit and reflect on my life, our world, and any thoughts that God would bring to my mind.

I decided to review the headlines. I noticed a brief video of two Syrian women giving a 10-year lookback to the civil war in their country. They reported that dictatorship continues to oppress the Syrian people, and that the pro-democracy revolution has not yet brought about the freedoms for which the people long.

I pray most Thursday mornings with a few mission-minded believers, and we often pray for the parts of the world where the people are suffering due to war and oppression. Sometimes I feel as if our prayers as so tiny compared with the gargantuan problems faced by humanity.

As I sat with this sadness, it dawned on me that the Bible helps us deal with the reality of grief and fear. Many passages honestly lament at the way things are, while longing for the way God intends them to be.

Could I tell you what happened then?

I thought of the psalm that Jesus must have read so many times that He had it memorized, because He knew it described His life purpose. It gave words to the loneliest hours of His life:

“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping Me, and from the words of My groaning” (Ps.22:1)?

I read those words and I felt as if Jesus was feeling sadness for the Syrian people, and for all those who feel abandoned today. I kept reading the lament of David, the lament of Jesus:

“They pierced My hands and My feet; I can count all My bones. They look and stare at Me. They divide My garments among them, and for My clothing they cast lots” (Ps. 22:16-18).

The Word of God was connecting the suffering Messiah with the starving women and children in Yemen. The lament of the crucified Savior was, in my prayer meditation, sympathizing with refugees who had to abandon their clothes closets and flee with only a carry-on bag of essentials.

Then, these words jumped out from the page and spoke to me: “You have answered Me” (Ps. 22:21b).

Suddenly, I felt included in the lament. Though I did not know that I was asking for anything, the Holy Spirit had heard the sadness of my heart. And God answered me.

“You are in the fellowship of His suffering”

That’s what God whispered to me. I was now in a three-way prayer circle:

  • Those suffering right now
  • The suffering Savior, alive again and paying attention right now
  • And me, a struggling disciple trying to cope with the sadness in the world.

I sat with the wonder of this for awhile. I felt an acceptance from God as if He said, “This is often the best thing you can do with all the hurt. Bring it to Me. I feel it too.”

I am convinced that lament is an essential spiritual practice for all we who long to make disciples of all nations but know that every hour people are passing into an eternity without knowing of the Savior.

I’m almost done.

The psalm which gave Jesus the freedom to grieve must have also given Him hope. It did me.

“All the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You. For the kingdom is the LORD’S, and He rules over the nations (Ps. 22:27-28).

Now my lament turned to petition. I asked the Holy Spirit to appear, in that moment, to suffering families in the Middle East. Most would be sleeping at that time, so I asked Jesus to appear to them in dreams, and invite them to Himself. After all, “The poor shall eat and be satisfied; Those who seek Him will praise the LORD. Let your heart live forever! (Ps. 22:26).

I write today on “Good Friday.” The fellowship of His suffering is intimate today and tomorrow. The Word of God is alive. May Jesus meet you there as He did me.





New watercolor series: Jazz Combo

17 02 2021

Please check out my collection of watercolor paintings here.





What’s a mission “field”?

9 02 2021

We say, “She went to the mission field.” Or, “They’re back home from the field.”

Why do we use this term?

I don’t know who revived the phrase, but I expect it originated with Jesus, when He told the disciples, “lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already ripe for harvest” (Jn. 4:35).

From this picture, we now speak of the “harvest field” and the “harvest force” — the field being the people needing to hear and grow in the good news, and the force being the workers who bring the gospel.

The analogy leads to strategy. The Apostle Paul says the harvest cycle proceeds through stages of plowing, planting (seed sowing), watering, and harvesting (1 Cor. 3:7). In hard spiritual ground, the plowing may take many decades. Seed sowing may not lead to visible crop in a lifetime. Prayer waters the seed and never goes unheard by God.

You may have been living a winsome witness, praying faithfully, and sharing the love of Jesus for decades without any noticeable response. Your efforts are not in vain, for as Paul says, it is “God who gives the increase” (2 Cor. 3:7). We have to trust God for the results He determines. Remember, the gospel seed is powerful and always at work.

THE “FOREIGN FIELD”

We often hear the expressions “foreign field” and “domestic” or “home missions.” Before Jesus ascended to heaven, he charged the disciples to be witnesses locally and even to “the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Believers are still pursuing this command, by leaving home for foreign lands. This is essential!

Increasingly, mission strategists have sought to clarify what parts of the earth are farthest from the gospel. They are called “unreached (or least reached) people groups,” meaning they are cultural-linguistic peoples who do not have an evangelizing church among them. Currently there are 17,400 such groups! So the “foreign field” is in dire need of “harvest force” workers to leave home, learn a new language, translate portions of the Bible, and live among the people as a witness of the risen Jesus and the abundant life He gives for all eternity. Most of these peoples are in Central Asia and India.

One important factor, easily forgotten, is that some nations that were once vibrant in following Jesus and were sending missionaries to foreign fields have now grown cold and are again least reached. Germany, France, England, and Japan fit this category and are in vital need of fresh plowing and sowing gospel seed.

“HOME MISSIONS”

Often, ministry in the home country refers to “outreach” efforts such as assisting the poor, visiting prisoners, and caring for the sick and disabled. There are differing opinions as to whether or not in-country ministry should be called “mission” because it was not cross-cultural and did not require leaving home or learning a new language. But a turning has occurred in recent decades as local churches began talking about a “missional” thrust, or being “on mission.”

The idea has met with mixed reviews. Some with a burden for least reached peoples think it waters down the hard callings to Papua or Afghanistan. Does it really deserve the term “mission” when all you’re doing is lowering the lights, setting up coffee bars, and playing trendy music so as to attract 20-somethings who don’t want to feel like they’re in a church? Is that at all cross-cultural?

Personally, I celebrate every effort to bring the amazing grace of God in Christ to those who have not yet experienced it. The Bible doesn’t define “mission” precisely — in fact the word is not used in the Bible. The Biblical terms include “go and make disciples,” “be my witnesses,” and “proclaim Christ.” Do this everywhere, at all times, in every way.

Having said that, we must prioritize going to the hardest places. Why are they least reached? Because they are the hardest to reach, locked in traditions, cultures, and religions which result in super hard ground.

“DIASPORA MISSION”

I conclude with the coolest thing God is doing today (Yes, I’m biased). Throughout human history there have been great movements of people, and you and I are living in the midst of one of the greatest diasporas of all time. In fact, visitors from the “end of the earth” are moving into cities in North America, Europe and Australia! Members from least reached peoples are seeking opportunity (as “immigrants“) or fleeing trouble (as “refugees“) constantly.

The diaspora is building a bridge between the foreign field and home missions! In a real sense, you live on the mission field.

If you view this mainly through the lens of partisan politics or economic advantage, these new neighbors seem a threat or undeserving. But Jesus put harvest spectacles in the hands of His disciples and said “lift up your eyes and look at the fields.

People who are least reached are moving within proximity of nations that are most churched! What an opportunity. It’s divine!

But what’s the needed element? What’s the factor that has such a vital role to play?  That’s right. The church must see this opportunity, and respond.

What would Jesus say to us today? Look around you with the hope and perseverance of the farmer. Plow up the soil by love. Plant the seed of good news. Water with heart-felt prayer. And see what I, the Lord of the harvest, will do.





What migrants say about church

25 01 2021

I browsed the article and thought I was reading about America. It said that

  • forms of unity across cultural differences are desirable, a sign of the work of the Spirit, and
  • multiethnic churches have a particular missional role to play

Well, the research was actually done in a small town in the UK, but it could have been talking about the U.S. The interviewer asked migrants from Africa, Asia, and Europe how they were experiencing their small church in the UK. Here are some tidbits you may find interesting:

They described the church as ‘home,’ ‘family,’ ‘belonging,’ ‘community,’ and ‘hospitable.

Asked about the importance of place and people, some indicated that sanctity and sanctuary were meaningful; a place of holiness, awe, and wonder aid in worship and bringing humanity closer to God.

One described church as a watering hole, where an essential element for life could be found and then shared.

Why does a migrant choose to attend a church? To get involved in the local community; to nurture my faith; to form friendships. One said, “You feel that people know you and you end up feeling that you know almost everyone who is here.” (the attendance at her church is around 100).

Since the relational nature of church is important, migrants interviewed were conscious of the way they were initially welcomed; one noted the genuine interest shown; another was pleased that if they missed a Sunday someone noticed and asked about them.

Informal contemporary style of worship appealed to most respondents; some wished the singing was more animated (had to have been the Africans!); some appreciated the number of songs from around the world. Some appreciated being asked to participate, while not being forced.

Aspirations for children were significant motivators for several parents; the activities provided spiritual nourishment, helped with integration, and upheld the values their parents appreciated.

Most found it novel that they could contribute to Jesus’ mission in a unique way.

Respondents described mission as being a good neighbor, talking about one’s faith, praying and using remittances to support relatives, and helping the disadvantaged in their homeland.

Some suggested they could provide a link between host country church and immigrant churches so as to develop a partnership with them in mission. Another suggested that travel to other cultures helps with appreciation of diversity.

The focus which the church had on integration and unity helped migrants enculturate their faith with their new homeland; they expressed a desire to understand the culture and act appropriately within it, rather than openly challenging its values.

Isn’t it interesting to view church life from the viewpoint of immigrants? And does it not make us more aware of how important it is to be friendly to someone new?

While not the focus of this research, another side of the story is the benefit which the host congregation experience because of the immigrants joining them. The article did, however, make this observation: “the local congregation considers itself enriched by a growing multiethnic profile which provides a more complete image of the universality of the body of Christ.”

One of my friends likes to say, “Everyone who belongs to Christ belongs to every other person who belongs to Christ.” That is one amazing implication of belonging to the body of Christ. Jesus sees us all together as His body; His love flows through every joint and ligament, from one part to the other.

    Robert Rasmussen

P.S.  Is this a topic of interest to you? Please email me and let me know what questions or topics you would like me to take a crack at.


Blog contents drawn from, “The Experience of Migrants in a Native British Church: Towards Mission Together,” by Emma Wild-Wood, in Global Diasporas and Mission, edited by Chandler H. Im, and Amos Yong (Regnum Books International, Oxford, 2014), pp. 175-190.





Nation, Tribe, or Kingdom?

31 08 2020

There are at least three voices beckoning you today.

 

Your nation wants your heart.

“We are inside. They are outside. Let’s stay together, take care of each other, protect our interests.

Keep them out. Buy our own goods.

They intend harm; take us down; steal our stuff; influence our votes.

Nation first.

 

Your tribe wants your heart.

“All who are “us” are not of us. Some weirdos got in here, too bad.

But we know what’s right, you and me. Gotta stick together. Gotta stick it to them.

Color, creed, party, issue, our guy. Come on you know what we have to do.

The survival of our nation depends on us doing our part; getting it right, and fast.

Tribe first.

 

Your Kingdom wants your heart.

Trouble is, the voice is only a whisper when compared.

It cares about nation. It can embrace tribe. But of a different kind, the kind that gets hated.

“The kingdom of God is near, in your heart. Seek first the kingdom of God.

What we forgot:  It takes a revolution to keep …

Kingdom first.