Maranatha and Mission: Hearing the Gentle Whisper to Stay on Mission

This article originally appeared on The Exchange with Ed Stetzer. You can find it here.

Over the course of the last year, I have been training for triathlons. When I have a long training session or I’m in a race, there are two moments where I feel like giving up. First, I think about quitting when I experience a shortness of breath due to the physical activity. Second, there are times I want to throw in the towel when I feel the physical pain in my legs, calves, and shins.

In those moments, when my mind and body are telling me to stop, I hear this faint whisper: “Keep going; just put one foot in front of the other; you got this.” In other words, this faint whisper—in the sea of physical pain and emotional stress—exhorts me to stay on mission.

Maranatha moments, for me, are filled with the physical pain and emotional stress of life. All I want to do is cry out to Jesus…please come! And while he is more than likely not going to come back physically at that moment to make all things new and to right every wrong, I do believe he answers that cry and prayer in another way. He sends the Spirit to fill us as he lovingly whispers, “I’m here with you, I will never leave you nor forsake you; stay focused and stay on mission.”

It is the Spirit of God that brings comfort and peace in Maranatha moments. Not only does he bring peace and comfort, but he reminds, refocuses, and refreshes us to stay on mission.

What I’ve found in my own life, and what I suggest to you, is that Maranatha moments can serve as a catalyst for mission.

Here’s how.

First, Maranatha moments remind us that this world is not our home; we are sojourners between this broken and dark world and a world fully mended by the blood of Jesus and effusively lit by the glory of our King.

As John writes towards the very end of Revelation,

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more, grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away. Then the one seated on the throne said, Look, I am making everything new. (John 21:4–5)

While Maranatha moments might give us pause in this world, they do not paralyze us from courageously and boldly moving forward towards the next in the power of the Spirit.

Second, Maranatha moments refocus us, as believers, on the primary mission to share and show the good news of Jesus.

It seems that much of Christianity today—particularly in the West, and specifically in North America—revolves around squabbles of secondary and tertiary importance. My observation in contemporary evangelicalism is that we occupy our time by vehemently debating matters such as the role of the church in American politics and the role of the church in culture.

While these issues are important—and there is a time and place to have such discussions—the time, energy, and sometimes visceral, prideful, and declarative tone eclipse the primary issue of making Jesus known. It comes across as if we are trying to make our stance known.

Some believers reason that the role of the church in American politics is more critical and crucial than ever. Believing such, Christians will exert their energy calling out the other side in militaristic language. They’ll go after brothers and sisters who are on different sides of political policies. [Note that I said policies, not doctrine. For while one may hold a particular doctrine, that doesn’t mean he or she will necessarily hold to the same policy.] Some will even opine that a fight for conservatism is a fight for Christianity in America.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t engage in the political realm; what I am saying is that Maranatha moments should refocus us to engage in our primary calling of making Jesus known through both word and deed. As we beg and cry out for Jesus to come, we are reminded that it isn’t about an elephant or a donkey, but the Lion of the tribe of Judah.

Another issue that tends to eclipse the primary call of mission is engagement with and in culture. This is close to the previous point, but still unique by itself.

Here’s the million-dollar question: How are we called as Christians to engage a pluralistic, pagan land—even one that was founded in part by Judeo-Christian principles?

In reality, it’s only been in recent times where the church in America has had to wrestle with answering it. And because many Christians—both in leadership and followership—have not seriously wrestled with the theological and missiological understanding and application with such a question, we find ourselves reacting to the cultural typhoon we call secularism, pluralism, and rugged individualism.

As a result, we may find ourselves sounding like a clanging gong, expressing our position and point without doing so in love or humility.

Maranatha moments re-attune our hearts on the primary mission of making Jesus known instead of on transforming the world into our preference. We are reminded when we pray “Come, Lord Jesus” that he is bringing a new city adorned as a bride prepared for her husband.

Therefore, we don’t have the primary call and pressure of transforming this world. We can work, serve, and love the culture faithfully as we faithfully share and show Jesus’ love.

We can partner, in a spirit of common grace, with the culture working towards its flourishing. We can commit ourselves to a local faith community that seeks to embody and enact the coming Kingdom of God in our midst—thereby serving as a preview of the new city to come.

Third, Maranatha moments refresh our lives to give us the breath to breathe into others.

Maranatha moments arise when we are spent, exhausted, hurt, or in pain. Maranatha moments come when we are depleted and feel hopeless and helpless. The weight of life has become too much. However, while we are vociferously crying out “Maranatha!” because the struggle of life is too real, the Spirit is gently reminding us about mission because the need of the world is too great.

Here’s what we all know: Everyone has Maranatha moments. That doesn’t mean everyone is crying out for Jesus to come. Those who don’t know Jesus may be crying out for relief. They may be crying out, “Enough! Make it stop.”

They may be yelling curses to God. Maybe they are dealing with loss.

Maybe they are battling depression. Maybe they are struggling with an illness. Maybe they are in a crisis of identity.

Whatever it may be, our Maranatha moments can be leveraged to refresh our lives so that we can be aware of the needs around us that we might breath gospel life into their weary souls.

In closing, this is the tension we believers live with on a daily, weekly, and yearly basis. We are pelted constantly with the darkness and horrors of life in a fallen world. Such onslaughts leave us wailing, demanding, and even beating our chests, calling on Jesus to come quickly.

But on the other hand—amidst the train horn of brokenness, rawness, and vulnerability, Jesus sends his Spirit who speaks with a a still small voice, whispering, “Stay on mission.” Don’t lose sight of your planted purpose on planet earth—to demonstrate good news living and to declare the good news life.

As Peter quipped, “The Lord…is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). Therefore, while we wait, we work. While we somberly mourn, we stay on mission.

Mother’s Day: Hurt, Hover, Honor

Mother’s Day seems to be a roller coaster or a basketball holiday—where some people are emotionally up while others are down.

For many, it’s a day reminding them of great loss, including mothers that have lost children. For others, it’s a day reminding them of their misfortune of having a deadbeat mom; or conjuring up the pain of being estranged from their mom. And still there are others who are reminded of the complications that prevent them from biologically experiencing the joy of motherhood.

Such emotional lows remind us that we live in a fallen broken world that has been damaged by sin. As a result, a day that is meant for joy and honor, because of sin, is wrought with hurt, pain, suffering, frustration, and loss. The reality is that there’s nothing that I can write or express that will take away the hurt, the pain, or the sorrow that you may feel. But what I can do is point to the all sufficient grace of God, and say that wherever you are, whatever the situation, and whatever the pain, God will meet you there, love you there, and be ever present with you giving you grace, peace, and comfort as you live in the here and now.

I love what Paul says in Romans 8, which has helped me through times of pain, suffering, and loss, “And we know that for those that love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom 8:28). Christianity is the only faith that teaches that God is able to bring about good—to work good—in our life even in the midst of hurt and heartache. In addition, I love what John Piper asserts regarding God’s work amidst our pain, hurt, suffering, and loss. He exclaims that God is working a peculiar glory. Just as God brought good to the world (not to mention was glorified) through the suffering and death of His Son, so too can God work mightily through your pain and suffering to bring about good, not only in your life but in the lives of those God has placed around you.

While there are certainly those who find Mother’s Day difficult, there are those who see Mother’s Day as a blessing whereby they can celebrate and honor their mothers.

In the second verse of Scripture, Genesis 1:2, we read, “The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” The imagery of the Spirit of God hovering over the face of the waters is like a mother bird hovering over her eggs to awaken them and bring them to life. While Genesis 1:2 has nothing to do with mothers, it certainly uses imagery befitting of mothers. Aren’t mothers the ones who hover over their children in protection, provision, and presence, in an effort to allow them to grow to maturity and flourish in the world?

Isn’t this the type of portrait the author of Proverbs 31 paints? Read the following verses from Proverbs 31:

  • “She is like the ships of the merchant; she brings her food from afar. She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and portions for her maidens.” Proverbs 31:14-15
  • “She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet.” Proverbs 31:21
  • “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.” Proverbs 31: 25-26
  • “She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her.” Proverbs 31:27-28

The mother whose children rises and calls her blessed is a mother who “hovered” over her children—who cared for, provided for, protected, counseled, and played with her children.

Such actions of motherhood serve to bring life, maturity, and flourishing to their children.

I know that I can say today—beyond a shadow of a doubt—that God has greatly used the “hovering” of my mother to bring me to the place I am today. Her care, wisdom, love, support, protection, provision, and presence has been a chisel used by a sovereign God to craft me into the man, husband, father, and pastor I am today. For me I have no reservation about rising up today and calling my mom blessed! She is a rare and priceless jewel that has brought great value to and in my life!

Happy Mother’s Day to My Mom

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Just as God has greatly used my mom to shape me, I know that He is also using my wife to shape our children into the people He intends for them to become. The way she loves, cares for, provides, dwells, plays, and supports our children are second to none. I know that our children have a mother for the ages because I see the heart, passion, intensity, wisdom, and maturity with which she mothers. She definitely “hovers” in a way that enhances their lives and provides opportunities for them to flourish in this world. My children simply are better children as a result of their mother!

Happy Mother’s Day to My Lovely Wife

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I also would be remiss if I didn’t recognize two other amazing women who have served me (and my children) in a motherly capacity: my grandmother and my mother-in-law.

My grandmother is one of the most amazing women in the entire world. When I think of my grandma, Mother Teresa comes to mind. I don’t know if there is ever a time in her life where she is not giving. I think she wakes up every morning thinking about someone she can give something to. Over the last 33 years of my life I have greatly benefited from the generosity of my grandmother—whether it was the cinnamon toast and oatmeal she made me when I was sick or the financial and emotional support she (and my granddad) gave me while going through college and seminary.

My mother-in-law I think created a new cereal that she eats every morning called, Jesus Flakes, since she lives every second with the posture that Jesus is Grrrrrreat! (I know that was kind of cheesy J). Nevertheless, I’m grateful for her passion for Jesus. It’s a passion that not only has challenged me and my walk, but has greatly influenced my wife for God’s glory and her family’s good.

Happy Mother’s Day to My Grandmother

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Happy Mother’s Day to My Mother-in-Law

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In short, three words came to my mind this Mother’s Day: hurt, hover, and honor. Thus, today I pray for those whose hearts hurt, and pray that God’s grace will be sufficient and that He will comfort them with the peace that surpasses all understanding. Today, I praise God for the way my mom “hovered” over me and the way my wife “hovers” over our children. And today, I honor my mom, my wife, my grandma, and my mother-in-law and rise up and call them blessed for they have been a treasured blessing to not only me, but also to Caleb, Ellie, and Luke.

Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers! You are greatly loved and cherished, and today we honor you!