Just as a warning to anyone who will read this entire blog. This is a real transparent one….
These days are full of all those things that must be done in order to move your family from one continent to another: packing bags, getting international driving permits, getting documentation for immigration together, getting rid of things, giving hugs, saying goodbyes, and waiting for that all important visa to arrive! It involves a lot of letting go and looking ahead.
That moment when God calls you (like Peter and all the rest that have come since) to quite literally leave everything behind and follow him, is a momentous, scary, and exhilarating moment you never forget, especially if you know your response can be nothing less than obedience. I have told the story to many churches of riding away from our home with a statue of Peter in my lap, given by Trevecca Nazarene University when I was ordained as an Elder in the Church of the Nazarene. It is a sculpture of the scene of Christ calling Peter to leave behind his family, his home, his job, his plans, his future, and follow Jesus into an unknown and incredible story of surrender, of love, of salvation, and of mission! We rode in tears that day last year in August knowing we had surrendered it all. I felt close to Peter.
But surrender is not a once in a lifetime decision. It is not a one-time act of faith. I am learning, day by day, that to surrender is to live in expectations of great blessings, which will also need to be surrendered. It is to experience again and again that transformative moment when Christ calls us away from our security, our treasures, our fears, and our plans with the promise that on the other side of painful surrender is the promise of something better, the next wonderful movement of God. As the song, Light Shine In, by Wilder Woods says, “What you are trying to do is always better than what you just did.”
I sat last night and watched my wife sitting among our children’s toys. Toys from family and friends who love us. Toys that they love, that remind them they are loved, and that remind us of the people who care about our kids. I watched the tears quietly slip over her cheeks as she packed their one bag full of toys to take. She packed it tightly, including as many of their favorites and most meaningful as possible, and then she zipped it up and parked the bag next to the others that represent the stuff we are taking to Bulgaria. We sat in the living room and indulged in a few moments of looking at that pile of toys; symbols of people who love our kids and love us. Then, we put them into a bag and packed them in the car to be taken to a thrift store ministry. We stood in the kitchen and prayed, and wept, and surrendered all over again. We surrender because we are Jesus followers, because we follow in the steps of Peter, because servants obey, and because we have faith in the one who calls, that what our Savior is about to do in and through us is greater than what lies behind, even if something so so good lies behind.
I think we do our neighbors a great injustice when we whitewash the challenge that it is to surrender. I think we just might be minimizing the example of our Lord Jesus when we neglect the pain of surrender. After all, the most precious things are costly. But I think, if we neglect to paint a truthful picture of surrender to Christ, we are also missing the opportunity to tell stories of liberation, of freedom, to passionately follow Christ and thrive in the missions endeavors that he invites each and every believe into. People of faith, of surrender, are people free to live life to its fullest, to its maximum abundance, because we are a people transformed by a love and a trust in the Savior of the world, whose Kingdom is coming, and who invites us to dive into a full participation in its coming. When our hands are empty, we can hold others.
Sometimes, I am not sure that I am up to letting go. Is that alright? Maybe, somedays, I am a bit like that daddy in Mark who cried to Jesus, “I believe! Lord, help me overcome any of my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) But it is in those moments that faith is at its most powerful, not mine, but Christ’s. I am currently studying the book of James. Talk about a challenging message of surrender and transformative faith! In his commentary, Early Christian Letters for Everyone, N.T. Wright discusses the power of faith that takes action, that is obedient, that surrenders plans and children (like the faith of Abraham) and security and home (like Rehab) and the way it functions as the real proof of being right with God. This is how he describes faith and surrender: “Translating belief into action, even when it seems impossible or downright dangerous. That is the faith that matters. That is the faith that justifies (verse 24). That is the faith that saves (verse 14).”
When is the last time you surrendered? When is the last time, by faith, you were enabled to open up your hands and your heart and surrender? Yes, even painfully, with tear-streaked cheeks, and even if it seemed impossible. That type of surrender transforms you. It is what matters. It justifies and saves you by the grace of Jesus! This is a transformation for every believer, and certainly for our family these days.
Will you pray for us? We are packing bags, practicing on a 5-speed, gathering all the immigration documents, weighing bags, saying goodbyes, waiting for visas, talking with ministry leaders, and living in great expectation of the new thing God has called us to. The new thing! Oh, that new thing compels us because God has been so so good, and we know that whatever the LORD is up to ahead, it will be better than what lies behind.