Friday, October 17, 2008

Thoughts on Surrender

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.

Philip James Eliot, better know to us as Jim Eliot, was born in Portland, Oregon in 1927 to a chiropractor mother and a Baptist minister. Professing faith at age six, he grew up in a strongly Christian environment. He attended Benson Polytechnic High School, studying primarily architectural drawing while developing an incredible speaking ability, which he used regularly to defend his beliefs.

In 1945, Eliot entered Wheaton College, a private Christian college in the western Chicago suburbs. Feeling that he had been called here by God, he intended to use the time to prepare for ministry. He did not, however, highly value the majority of his studies, considering them to be mere distractions to the Christian seeking to follow after God. This mindset can be seen in a letter written to his father.

You speak of [education] as 'rounding out one's manhood'. It rounds it out, all right, but I'm afraid sometimes it's more in the style of I. Corinthians 8:1, 'knowledge puffeth up'. 'Culture', philosophy, disputes, drama in its weaker forms, concerts and opera, politics---anything that can occupy the intellect seems to turn aside the hearts of many here on campus from a humble life in the steps of the Master, though we sing about this most delicately! No, education is dangerous, and, personally, I am beginning to question its value in the Christian’s life. I do not disparage wisdom --- that comes from God, not Ph.Ds.

A statistic that deeply impacted Jim’s heart for missions was this: “There is one Christian worker for every 50,000 people in foreign lands, while there is one to every 500 in the United States.” Burdened by a call to evangelistic work, Jim spent a summer with a missionary family in Mexico. It was during this time that he made the decision to minister to the lost in South America.

While in the latter years of college, Jim became friends with a Elizabeth Howard, a girl one year older than himself who also desired to become a missionary. However, they did not feel God’s calling for marriage by Elizabeth’s graduation, and thus parted. In a later letter to Elizabeth Jim wrote:

There is within a hunger after God, given of God, filled by God. I can be happy when I am conscious that he is doing what He wills to do within.

In 1948, he was elected president of Foreign Mission Fellowship. That year he wrote in his journal:

God, I pray Thee, light these idle sticks of my life and may I burn for Thee. Consume my life, my God, for it is Thine. I seek not a long life, but a full one, like you, Lord Jesus.

Jim was accepted to Camp Wycliffe, a linguistics program in Norman, Oklahoma, where he learned the skills necessary to transcribe spoken language. It was at this camp that he first heard of the Auca, or Huaorani, tribe of Ecuador – a tribe that had never had any friendly contact with the outside world. Immediately, Jim felt a desire to minister to this people.

Due to various circumstances, he was unable to travel to Ecuador for over a year. During this time, Jim worked with youth in Indiana and Illinois while hosting a radio program, “The March of Truth,” along with Ed McCully and Peter Cathers in Chester, Illinois.

Eliot eventually made his way to Ecuador, initially working to evangelize the Quichua Indians. On October 8. 1953, he and Elizabeth Howard were married in Quito. After a brief honeymoon, they returned to Ecuador to continue their work.

Jim and his wife were joined by Ed McCully, Pete Fleming (Jim’s college roommate), Roger Youderian, and their pilot, Nate Saint, in the effort to reach out to the Huaorani people with the Gospel of Christ. Because of the pronounced hostility of this people, all contact was made by airplane over a loudspeaker. As they flew over the Auca villages, they would drop baskets of gifts and photos of themselves in order to establish a certain amount of cautious familiarity before approaching the tribe personally.

Their work was rewarded after the group was approached by a friendly band of Indians and even gave one of them, “George” (whose real name was Naenkiwi) a ride in the airplane. These peaceable visits encouraged the missionaries, who at last began preparation to enter the village center of the Auca tribe.

They never had the opportunity to meet the natives. On January 8, 1956, the men were discovered dead, killed by a small group of apprehensive Huaorani.

Their wives, upon learning of the tragedy, replied only this – that "The Lord has closed our hearts to grief and hysteria, and filled them with His perfect peace."

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.

This now-famous quote from the journal of Philip James Eliot became his life, his testimony, and his legacy. Jim dedicated – and ultimately sacrificed – his very life to further the kingdom of Christ. 1 Corinthians 15 says this:

For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the Lord, knowing that your labor is not vain in the Lord.

And the work of Jim Eliot was not in vain. His personal testimony coupled with his legacy of love for the lost spurred his wife and several others to continue the work he and his companions began. The Auca tribe was reached with the gospel of grace, and many – including his killers – came to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

There is another reason why the work of Jim Eliot was not in vain – one that perhaps touches closer to the heart of the 1 Corinthians passage.

I received a greatly challenging letter this week from a friend. In it he wrote:

It is very important, Ian, that you give yourself over daily to the mission of Christ. I do not mean you should give yourself to some specific calling, like becoming a pastor or social worker. I mean you should offer up your heart, your life, your soul, your all, to God – wherever you are and whatever you do. The specifics will work themselves out.

If you’re reading this, T, there is lot more about this that I want to discuss with you later. For the rest of my readers, though this is similar to what we hear from the pulpit and read in the Bible frequently, it is unquestionably important that we give ourselves over to Christ. We are called to daily surrender our all to Him – in this we grow in His likeness and in greater obedience to the Father.

We are not fools to give what we cannot keep -- our time, our resources, our earthly pleasures, our wills, even our very lives -- to gain that all the eternal joys of knowing that our work glorifies God; that we of all people have been called children of God; and ultimately that we partake in the resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.

Undoubtedly, surrender to Christ is difficult. It takes time. It goes directly against all that our fallen hearts desire. It involves trial. It means that we take up our own crosses and follow Him at whatever cost.

But in the end, there is no greater reward.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Fall - Then and Now

For my first real post on this blog, I would like to start with something that I have been thinking quite a bit about over the past week.

This Sunday morning in the youth class, our teacher, Josh, taught on the Fall. Regardless of whether my readers hold a literal or figurative interpretation of the early chapters of Genesis, this ancient chapter of the Bible presents a powerful and timeless picture of the human heart. I thoroughly enjoyed our discussion both with Josh and at our individual tables. For those who were not there, here is a small part of my notes with some clarification and further explanation.

Genesis 3:1-6 What tactics does the serpent use to tempt Eve? - appeals to the flesh, eyes, desires - challenges God’s character - challenges God’s authority, wisdom. The serpent, who is identified as Satan much later in the Scriptures, used a very basic approach in the deception of Eve. He showed her how pleasant the fruit was physically. (v.6) Surely something so obviously good and attractive can’t be wrong? Perhaps even more persuasive was Satan’s direct assault on God’s character in verses 1 and 4-5. When we cannot trust the personal character of those who have authority over us, where now is the motivation for heartfelt obedience? What did Adam and Eve do wrong? - doubt - desired power - lacked trust, questioned authority - exchanged truth for lie - sought themselves above all.

I am of the opinion that the true sin was not “mere” disobedience. The action of eating the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was, like all sinful actions, only a symptom of the much greater disease. Adam and Eve could only have disobeyed if they lacked confidence in He to whom they owed their obedience. They valued their wisdom above God’s own. They mistrusted God’s ability to give good gifts to His children. They failed to realize the truth of Isaiah 55:9 – “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”

They used their own reason to determine what would be best for themselves and thus said in effect: “I have concluded that I, the creation, am better able to determine for myself what is right and wrong than is my sovereign Creator.” Incredibly, they believed that they were better suited than God to judge right and wrong before they even had the power to know one from the other! How foolish is the human heart! How arrogant! The extreme lack of discretion here would almost be amusing could it not be found in my own heart.

Most people who know me very well know of my frequent references to C.S. Lewis. I have found so much in his work that has strongly shaped and impacted my thinking that I have taken to reading his work almost fanatically. I do not agree with everything he writes; in fact there is much that I wholeheartedly disagree with. But I love his work for the sake of the great good to be found within it. If you follow this blog, be prepared to hear a great deal from our friend Mr. Lewis. My favorite work of fiction is Lewis’ Perelandra, second in his not-so-well-known Space Trilogy. Without going into too much detail, this work is a poignant picture of the fall. It is, as the Narnia books, not an allegory, but a supposal.

The basic premise of the book is this: “Let’s take the first five verses of Genesis 3 and turn it into a novel of several hundred pages. Let’s put it in modern times. And while we’re at it, why don’t we put this story on another planet? Venus will do. And why not send someone from our own world to mediate the interaction between Eve and the Serpent? Finally, must this Eve succumb in the end?”

This book does a fantastic job of analyzing the Biblical narrative from a multitude of perspectives. It shows the temptation in light of the innocent, ignorant Eve. It elaborates on the methods used masterfully by the Devil. It tells the story from the perspective of one who has seen the effects of one Fall in his own world. Finally, it paints a stunningly accurate portrait of just how easily the heart is swayed. Perhaps more than anything, Perelandra revealed to me the similarity between the deception behind the fall of man and the struggles I face in my own life thousands of years later.

How often do I reach out for evil, believing that God is withholding from me some greater good? How often am I tempted to listen to the twisted truth of the Devil, perceiving it through my own corrupted reason as wisdom? How often do I seek fulfillment in other than what God has ordained should be satisfying? When will I cease to see myself as anything other than a fallible human being? When will I finally understand that I cannot begin to comprehend the mind of God?

Once we realize just how much we are like poor, deceived Eve, our confidence in our own wisdom evaporates. At the same time, our utter dependence on an infinitely wise, infinitely knowing, infinitely powerful, and infinitely loving God is reinforced. All truth, all wisdom, all goodness comes from Him alone. Let us live with a renewed confidence that God knows what is good for His children.