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Christmas vs. hedonism
by Aramus Crane
"That...which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life--the life was made manifest, and we saw it and testify to it..." ---I John 1:1-2
Any holiday season away from home can be difficult and my dear wife worked hard to make Thanksgiving special. She cooked a large and tasty feast for us and for the three Romanian guests we invited. Indeed, we had a fun time and an opportunity to teach our guests the history of the special day. Soul-searching brought me special time with the Lord. First, we thanked God for the eight Romanians who testified of receiving new life in Christ through our website in November. We praised God for the great vote of confidence we have received from the people who have visited. Few of you who support this work have been able to visit us. But, those who have, Amanda, Francis, Geoff, Kati, Mark, Kristi, my mom, dad, and sister, have all joined the support team and brought others with them. This is a vote of confidence over 100%. They are witnessing that what they saw with their eyes and touched with their hands is worth the sweat of their brows. We humbly praise God for the quality and integrity He has put in this work. You can read about what they see through the link to the Annual Report by clicking here.
When we contemplate the birth of Jesus on Christmas, it is enough to make anyone frolic. It replenished strength in my struggle with the underemployment of my gifting in my present work. I was down, thinking of a career as an engineering manager that I had given up for God. Equally, Aurelia had been a television personality. It is difficult being on the far side of a career peak. In light of the story of the faithful stewards, I was asking God why He called us to set aside our talents to enter ministry. Would neglecting our 2 Master's degrees and choreographic talent lead THE Master to scold us as "unfaithful"?
"And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death."~~~Philippians 2:8
God seemed to respond, "Now you know what I suffered when the world did not appreciate My Gift, My only Son, when I sent Him as their Savior."
That renewed my thankfulness for His humbling Himself to suffer at the hands of sinners He created. He had His sights on the long-term benefit His obedience would have for us. Contrast that to the American culture of "girls (and boys) just want to have fun." Many missionaries have likewise adopted Cindy Lauper's perspective when they choose their mission field. Is that what motivated Jesus? Was He born in a manger because He thought it would be fun to feel prickly hay on newborn skin or because He enjoyed the smell of cow dung and donkey sweat?
Did our friends and relatives (like my cousin Walter, left) go to Iraq and Afghanistan to frolic? No, they received orders and are doing their duty. Do we consider the amusement value of a directive from our boss? Do we battle with personal sin only if it provides some jollity? With such a vivid daily picture of loyalty, let us remind ourselves to deal with personal and societal sins because we have received our orders to emulate Christ. Let us not make sport of spiritual battle or the investment of our lives.
Aurelia and I see little amusement in going to the hospital and smelling children who haven't bathed in a week, sitting on mattresses permeated by years of urine, or hugging sick orphans with grimy hands and faces. But that is where Adi is, a 4th grader who, before Aurelia's work, didn't know a single color. Also, there are children who wouldn't have a chance to escape poverty and the trap 30% unemployment if they didn't know how to use a computer. God's love for us makes us love them and want to glorify Him. Now, Italy would be fun.
Why is this so hard for Christians to understand? Why do missionaries consider it strange to ignore the stirring emotions of hedonism and obey the omniscent God of the universe? One of them told us recently that if we are motivated by obedience to God, he doesn't want to work with us. We gladly took that as God's warning not to join him, but now we are suffering the fallout. Not even my ultra-liberal bosses at the University of Michigan ever blatantly told me such a thing! Oh, if we just had the devotion to our God that the military has to their country. In the Navigators, we were impressed with the idea that, "If you are doing the right thing for the wrong reason, you will soon be doing the wrong thing." Although it gets me in trouble in with colaborers, I am thankful to God for how that slogan has kept me on track through the years of temptations. How many have taken a vision of Jesus suffering new experiences of pain, cold, and hunger, crying in the manger and replaced it with a K-Mart nativity scene that plays "Silent Night?"
There is nothing wrong with having fun, and I am not proposing that we beat ourselves like Muslims do. People are attracted to activities like church because they are fun and I don't want to deprive the Christian worker of his bread and butter. Jesus Christ is so attractive to me because love brought Him to earth, because he suffered for us, because He was obedient unto death. Is anyone attracted to Him because he came to have fun on the big blue ball that He created? I think if we want to attract people to a genuine life of obedience and love toward Jesus Christ, they must see love and obedience in us when times aren't happy.
Beyond the influence of our culture, perhaps missionaries must be motivated by fun because we have lost the idea that the gospel of God's grace and love can change individuals and society when it enters the heart. Even historians from Harvard like David Landes have testified of this fact. Yet an evangelical devotional from 1998 reads, "It is a mistake to think that the task of the gospel is to change our society for the better.... The gospel was never intended to improve people." Is the gospel valuable only as fire insurance?
On the other extreme, we all know people who take themselves too seriously, becoming prideful and stiff-necked, on a mission to save the world. Admittedly, we missionaries can manifest such characteristics as well as anybody. I remember Leroy Eims tell us Navigators a very potent truth that it would be a shame to reach the end of your life and realize that you had wasted it. As a naif 24-year old Army officer, I mistook that to mean that missions is the way to make my life count. Sometimes even in ministry, your hands are tied by Satan so that making a difference is limited to a few individuals who are able to touch the Jesus in you.
For those going through midlife crisis, let me encourage you that what is significant is that you are faithful, loyal, kind, loving, and have found your deeper joy and peace in our Lord. These things that can only come via God's gospel will make us a success in His eyes and will give us a better chance of success on earth. We should try to use our gifts, but God's message for me this holiday season is that I should not be ashamed to offer my talents to God as He offered His Son in a cold manger to be scorned and spat upon, and to die upon a hill that He lovingly sculpted with His own hands.
May the things that the word of life hears from us, sees with His eyes, looks upon and touches with His hands through us be a manifestation of Him and a testimony to Him on earth.
May God bless and comfort you with love,
---Laurent and Aurelia