Mission or Margin?

Christmas reminds us that even before Jesus’ birth, his mission was clear. He would bring redemption to a lost world. Every aspect of Jesus’ life was built on this mission—from his birth, marked by the signs in the heavens, to his death and the darkened skies. Even at 12 years old he was about his father’s business (cf Lk 2:49). Can you imagine Jesus’ living any other way than devoted to his mission?

We too are called to live on mission. We’ve been given faith that we might follow Jesus. We’ve been entrusted with the gospel, treasure in jars of clay (as Paul describes in 2 Cor 4:7), and adopted as sons of God. We’ve been equipped by the Holy Spirit to be part of the body of Christ. The destination of our mission is filled with such wonder that even the apostles found it hard to describe with words.

Some of you are familiar with Jim Elliot. He was a missionary who went to the Aucan Indians, a remote people in South America. Sadly, he was killed during their first visit. And yet, his life was not wasted. Many followed after and now many among that remote tribe are devoted followers of Jesus. His journey was so fruitful that he has inspired thousands if not more to live their life on mission. His journal opened the eyes of many to see how great life could be lived on mission for the Lord. He did his best to give expression to the “inexpressible joy” Peter describes in his epistle that results from the gospel. His wife incorporated much of his journal in a short book entitled “The Shadow of the Almighty.” I highly encourage you to read it.

What keeps you from experiencing this same measure of joy?

I think one reason is that we live our faith in the margins rather than on mission. What do I mean by that? I mean, we try and fit our “Christian activities” into the margins of our time, if we have any leftover. The same goes for our talents and treasure. We give of our talents and treasure as long as it doesn’t get in the way of other things. I write this not to make you feel guilty, but let you know that marginal faith is marginal because you are looking for joy in other places. That’s why those other places are primary in your life. How do I know? Because where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (and the lion share of your time and energy). Why expect to experience the “inexpressible and glorious joy” of living on mission for Jesus when you don’t live on mission for Jesus?

Perhaps the pandemic has added another reason to marginalize your faith: fear.

Peter’s story might be of help. After the miraculous feeding of the 5000 Jesus went up on the mountain to pray by himself and sent the disciples in the boat to cross the Sea of Galilee. They were far from shore struggling against the wind when they saw a startling sight.

in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.” And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.

Mt 14:25-29

Here was a great moment for Peter. We see what is possible when you step out in faith. I can imagine what that first step was like as his heart fluttered at the reality of what was happening. He probably let out a shout of glee, his eyebrows raised and his mouth open. But it was short lived.

But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Mt 14:30-33

Perhaps we are more familiar with the sinking than the walking. This was not the only moment of disappointment in Peter’s life. After Jesus was arrested Peter followed him from a distance and when he was questioned as to whether or not he knew him, Peter denied it; 3 times. Even after Jesus was resurrected from the dead, the apostles did little because of their fear. But something remarkable happened days later. The Holy Spirit of God came down upon them and they went from hiding in fear to boldly living on mission. What did the Holy Spirit do? He equipped them for embarking on the mission that Jesus called them to be about. This did lead, eventually, to Peter’s death. He was killed on mission for Jesus. But he knew that joy that he described as “inexpressible and glorious.” Paul knew something of that too, though he suffered often at the hands of haters and was eventually killed. He wrote,

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

2 Cor 4:16-18

We are invited to live on mission. What will you change to make that a reality? Jim Elliot is attributed with some other memorable quotes.

  • “Wherever you are, be all there! Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”
  • “When the time comes to die, make sure that all you have to do is die!” 
  • “I pray for you, that all your misgivings will be melted to thanksgivings. Remember that the shadow a thing casts often far exceeds the size of the thing itself (especially if the light be low on the horizon) and though some future fear may strut brave darkness as you approach, the thing itself will be but a speck when seen from beyond. Oh that He would restore us often with that ‘aspect from beyond,’ to see a thing as He sees it, to remember that He dealeth with us as with sons.”

And my favorite,

  • “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”