Tuesday, June 21, 2011

up close and personal

I had lunch recently with Mike from Mustard Seed Global Fellowship, a church-planting team working in Japan.  We caught up on the progress of the young urban church in Nagoya with which he's working, and the new church project that they're planning for early next year in Osaka.  And we talked about what's been going on since the horrific earthquake and tsunami that impacted the country recently.

As he told me about the destruction and its aftermath, of MSGF's relief efforts, and of the feelings that now touch everyone there, I thought of a scene I'd watched on TV following the disaster. Some international Christian missions organizations whose workers had come to labor alongside the Japanese people and to point them to a greater hope were now being evacuated in this new face of danger.  Those who had counted the cost and had heard God's voice to go, now heard a voice telling them to leave.  My heart was saddened by the thought that not only had these people relinquished their voice among those they once believed they were called to serve, but they may have actually broadcast a message of discouragement and abandonment.

Please understand, I'm not trying to be unfairly critical or judgmental about anyone's decision to remain in a place when circumstances go awry.  After many years living with my own family overseas, and surviving a bucketful of issues like disease, military unrest, natural disasters and the like, I know that no one can tell anyone else how long they should stay somewhere.  I get that.  But I also understand that if we truly believe that we heard God's voice at some point telling us to go, don't we believe that He knew what uncertainties were going to befall us even before they happened...and yet He called us anyway?  Are we too quick to assume that if things suddenly go south, it's the cue for us to leave?  After all, most of those people to whom we've gone won't board a plane and get out of town.  They'll suffer through the aftermath of untoward circumstances.  But what about us?

I thanked Mike and his team for their willingness to remain in Japan and deal with whatever comes, just as those they're serving must do.  I thanked him for making the tough decision to stay, when common sense, logic and maybe friends would tell him to go.  And I thanked him for being like Jesus to the Japanese people, because it's in John 1 that we read that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  I appreciate the translation of The Message here, because it phrases these words like this: And the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. Moved into the neighborhood.  When Jesus left the glories of heaven, he chose to hang with us for awhile.  He walked with us, lived with us, struggled with us, dealt with our issues, survived the calamities we did...and in so doing showed us the purpose and presence of God's love.  

That's the beauty, the power of incarnation. And perhaps more than anything else, I believe that's the message God wants to give through us, as we choose to "move into the neighborhood" of those he calls us to reach. A friend of mine who, with his wife, has chosen to take up residence for awhile in a local motel so they might more effectively reach out to those living there, put it succinctly: You may impact lives from a distance, but you truly influence them when you are up close.

Up close.  Thanks, MSGF, for staying up close with the Japanese people.  And thanks, God, for coming up close to us.  May we come and remain up close to those around us we're called to serve, regardless of circumstances.

Because it's being up close that makes the difference.

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