It’s not often that a person has an experience that profoundly changes who they are and how they view the world but when those moments happen they leave a lasting impression. 5 years ago, around this time of the year, I came home from just such an experience. I had left the country to spend 11 months overseas as part of the World Race (you can read the details here) and while I learned some important things about myself and the world around me the hardest part of the trip was transitioning back to life in the United States. In fact, I would say that it’s one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to do in my life but even in the midst of that there are some valuable things that I’ve learned:
1. Growth doesn’t stop away from the mission field.
Life on the mission field isn’t easy, most of you know that, especially if you’ve been overseas for an extended period of time. Even in the midst of that difficulty there’s a sense in which it’s fairly easy to grow spiritually during that time. While that is mostly out of necessity due to the nature of the work (you’re talking about Jesus one way or another for a significant amount of time so great effort is made to keep your spiritual tank full.) it’s easy to let that aspect of your life slip once you’re home and, I confess, I let it slip in a major way. Between the distractions of home and attempting to process the Race my growth, in a sense, became stunted. It was difficult to sort out the many thoughts that were going through my mind but in the last 5 years I’ve realized that the way to continue to grow is to push through it, to pursue growth even when there is no visible reward. The truth is that Jesus wants me to be more like him, regardless of what it takes to get there.
2. Use frustration to spark change.
One of the biggest frustrations that I have had over the last few years, and even before I left for the Race was the way that some of the most marginalized people in our society are looked upon and treated. I don’t mention that to set up an upcoming rant or start a debate but as an example of one of the things that has touched my heart as a result of my studies in graduate school (at both UTK and Phoenix Seminary). I think often about what Jesus did when he went in to the temple and found the tax collectors and money changers there, his anger led to action. He called out the sin for what it was and demanded repentance and we should do the same thing. It’s ok to be frustrated. It’s even ok to be angry. It’s not ok to do nothing with it (with the exception of committing sin yourself). Throughout history some of the greatest moments of change have occurred when individuals used their frustration to make a difference and I continue to learn to do the same thing.
3. America needs Jesus too.
We hear it all of the time, America is a Christian nation. The reality is that we’re not. Don’t believe me? Watch the local or national news one night. Notice how we talk, think, feel, look and act. While we have our roots in Judeo-Christian principles we have become increasingly secular. While I agree with the idea of separation of church and state it has allowed some to ignore, or even persecute, those who are religious and seek to live out those beliefs. The upside is that all of this presents the church with a golden opportunity, one that we must take advantage of. Our nation desperately needs to see Jesus for who he really is. It needs to know that it loved by a God who desperately wants a relationship with each and every individual regardless of their past or present circumstances.
There are many more things that I could’ve mentioned but these are the biggest things that stuck out to me as I look back on the last 5 years. My experience on the World Race challenged many of the beliefs that I held most dear but there is one thing that was confirmed, the power of the church to make a difference when it reaches out to the world and allows the Holy Spirit to touch hearts. May this truth be the driving force behind everything that we do and motivate us to be more like Jesus every day.