Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The cross in ministry

God's word is living and active indeed. Despite being spoken through his prophet Haggai in 520 B.C., his words are still having an impact on me.

Turkey was once where Christianity was officially given acceptance by the Roman Empire under Emperor Constantine. Amazing churches such as the Hagia Sophia were built here, and Jesus Christ was known and worshiped here for over a millenium. All of the churches to whom John wrote his apocalypse were here. Yet nowadays it stands as a nation of 72 million people, most of whom are cultural Muslims, with only 3500 or so known Turkish or Kurdish believers. "Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem to you like nothing in comparison?" (Hag 2.3).

It's a little disappointing to me to work here and see relatively little fruit. I know it's really early in the year, but still. I start making comparisons to ministry in the States, where so many of the barriers--most notably not living in an Islamic culture--are gone. Here churches have maybe fifty people.

God sent Haggai to give hope to people who were engaged in the Lord's work and worship in rebuilding the temple. Yet when they looked at how difficult their task was and how much smaller and less glorious the newer incarnation of the temple was, they were saddened and in despair (2.3; cf Ezra 3.12). But could it also be that they dreamt of being where the glory and action were? That's much easier than faithfully trusting God's call and provision regardless of how insignificant the work may appear.

Luther was right when he summed up Christian living as centered on a theology of the cross, not a theology of glory. Such applies here: (1) The life that embraces the cross embraces shame in the eyes of the world. While some pastors have megachurches--not a bad thing at all in itself--we instead get seven students to show up to a weekly "YY" meeting. Our work may be humble and unnoticed now, but so goes the cross. Yet glory will come later (Hag 2.6-9)! (2) This work also requires the cross in another way, namely, dying on my own. I want things to be easier, more comfortable, and more fruitful, but I don't get that. I remember back to the summer of 2003 when I surrendered and committed to coming here. It gave me a lot of peace. Now Christ calls me to take up my cross and die again. But only herein does he say I will find true, abundant life (Luke 9.23-24).

"Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Cor 15.58).

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