Tag Archives: Hebrews 12:1

I’m Hoping To Work My Way To Slave.

Simple homes on the banks of the Nile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over the past seven years I’ve traveled a lot. I’ve covered about a dozen countries, several of them multiple times. I’ve been to Ethiopia three times, South Sudan four times, and Kenya about ten or so. I’ve stayed in cities, towns, villages, and some places so remote that when you try to enter it into Google earth, you get nothing. The great thing about being a missionary is that whenever possible, I’m either staying with the locals, or at least somewhere very nearby. I’ve seen all kinds of living conditions, from a family of six living in a 3 meter by 3 meter room, to relatively affluent people living in modern houses with soft furniture and satellite television. Having seen all that, what I’ve learned is that poverty and wealth have very little to do with income.

I learned this week that the average individual, non-mortgage debt in the United States right now is $37,000. That’s the average of every person, not every family. One in ten have non-mortgage debt over $100,000. That is a staggering figure. Now I realize that for some people this is medical debt, and there’s not much that can be done about that. But for a lot of people, it’s just lifestyle debt; the desire to attain some fictitious standard that we’ve either been told we need to achieve, or that we’ve decided we owe to ourselves. It’s the latter that’s the most insidious thing. As we tell ourselves and our children that we can be and have anything we want, we seek to self-glorify ourselves through things. It is the end product of the hyper-individualistic American mindset. In the land where the winner is the one who accumulates, and the king is the one who accumulates more than anyone else, is it any wonder that we see success as having the most stuff?

Here’s the cruel irony. The inevitable end-product to individualistic self-glorification is that we eventually become a slave to someone else. Don’t believe me? Which of the following two people is richer? An Ethiopian who makes enough money to put a simple roof over his head, feed his wife and children, and is content with his life, or an American making $75,000 a year with a mortgage that is going to take 30 years to pay off, student loans that don’t disappear even if he goes bankrupt, two car loans, and a year’s income worth of credit card debt?  Who sleeps better? What good is having stuff if at any moment the bank can call in all my loans? Who has better security, if such a thing exists?

I write this today not as a condemning measure, but because for many of us, our paradigm is that this is the way it has to be. I’m here to tell you that it’s not, and in fact most of the world does not do it this way. Wealth is not just having a lot of things, it is also not having the things you don’t need. 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 says, “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”

For those of us who have chosen to make missions our lifestyle, this is doubly important. Hebrews 12:1 says, “let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” I can’t think of a bigger encumbrance than $37,000 of consumer debt. How can we be a servant of God, when we are already a slave to the bank? How can we give our time when our time is already spoken for to pay for our debts? Simple living is a virtue. I want to challenge us to learn from the African who lives simply, but enjoys his family and every blessing that God gives him. It’s not too late.

Distraction.

Running the race set before us.
Running the race set before us.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Hebrews 12:1

It’s now been over a year since I have been to Africa. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, but as with Paul in 1 Thessalonians, “For we wanted to come to you–certainly I, Paul, did, again and again–but Satan blocked our way.” This is the longest gap in my travels since 2012. It’s easy to lose focus during a time like this. It’s easy to forget what the race is, what the goal is, and just give up, or move onto something else. This is why I go back to Hebrews. “Let us run with perseverance.”  The fact that it needed to be written is evidence that others have gone through the same thing. I’d like to focus on the rest of that verse though as well.

With Christmas coming, the opportunities to give and to serve multiply. Go through the checkout at a store, and they will inevitably ask you, “Would you like to give to the International Fund to Teach Origami to the Poor?” or any number of other less fictitious charities. Go outside and the Salvation Army is ringing the bell and asking for donations. Churches and charities of all kinds give people opportunities to serve in one capacity or another. These of course are good things, because they give people who don’t normally give or serve an opportunity to do so. But for people who are running the race marked out for us, they are also an opportunity for distraction.

I’ve heard it said before that the good is the enemy of the best. In fact, even good things can be “the sin that so easily entangles.”  How is that even possible, one might ask. How can something that is good not be good? Something that is good becomes sin when it distracts you from what you are supposed to be doing, from the course marked out for you. My wife used to have a mug that said, “Stop volunteering for stuff”. If you have been given a vision to see something run to completion, and other projects, noble or not, are getting in the way of that vision, that is when good things become something that entangles.

Now before someone asks you to volunteer and you say, “Well, I would, except that some missionary on the internet told me I shouldn’t,” understand that’s not what I’m saying. I’m only saying that if you are following the Vision that God has given you, and other opportunities come up as they always will, it’s ok to say no if it will be a distraction. The Church and the mission field are full of burned out people who not only fulfill their Vision, but any of the other projects they’ve taken on. Studies have shown that in the workplace, after a certain number of hours worked, people become not only less productive per hour, but less productive overall than someone working less. It is the same concept in ministry and missions. People carry a lot of guilt over feeling like they should always be doing more, but this should not be received. I’ve seen a sign that said, “Jesus is coming back. Look busy.” How many people live that way? We are not called to busyness, we’re called to obedience. Often busyness is the opposite of obedience, as we chase after every squirrel that comes along in the form of volunteer opportunities.

In March, God willing, I will go back to Ethiopia. Other opportunities within the same vision are also possibly opening up. But in either case, I must not become distracted, or take on additional weight as I seek to run that race. I will do my best to live a life that is an act of worship, and not an act of busyness.