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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Well Done Thou Faithful

On Sunday we had the joy of attending a baby dedication at Mamlaka Hill Chapel, a vibrant center-of-Nairobi church where many students and young professionals find fellowship.  It's the kind of place where the worship rocks with passion, and you leave feeling hopeful that with a remnant of these hundreds of God-seeking Kenyans, the country can't totally disintegrate.  The worship leader made a comment that has stuck with me, as we long to hear the words the master speaks to his servants in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25, "Well done thou good and faithful servant".  She pointed out: notice he does not say "successful" but rather "faithful".  Depending on how one views the purposes of God, the focus on faithful rather than successful can come as a merciful relief, or a disappointing frustration as power and prosperity slip through our fingers.
This billboard promises "Power and Prosperity" at another church

On the other hand, after 5 "unsuccessful" pregnancies, a mom's faithful willingness to persevere looks beautiful.

In this week of remembering the final days of Jesus' life leading to the cross, we watch him walking with determination but a growing awareness of the horror and cost.  Meanwhile his followers, like us, were still stuck on success, who would be greatest in a Kingdom marked by triumph.  They over-estimated their own courage and capability, while Jesus washed their feet and prayed for their resilience in the hours of fear and loss that were looming.

Perhaps successful and faithful present a false dichotomy, which hinges on the definition of success.  Luke records Jesus' response to their dispute:  leadership in God's kingdom is not a matter of title, privilege, honor or power.  The invitation to feast in the Kingdom is conferred and not earned, and the response should be to serve our fellow feasters.  We enter and thrive, not by maiming the opposition with a well-placed sword to the ear, not by forcing our position to be acknowledged, but by walking the cross-path of fellowship in his sufferings.
This mom found me to show me her preemie, back for a check-up.  I would call that a success, I hope Jesus calls it faithful.

I confess I'd rather have a trusty sword or a seat at the high table most days.  Walking around in a towel dealing with filthy feet feels slow, tedious, and even unfair if I confess the truth.  But the word "faithful" gives me perspective.  A faithful servant uses the talents well.  For some that might mean a very visible position of responsibility; for others that might mean decades of hidden small kindnesses that die like seeds before any fruit is seen.  I think we as missionaries really need to grapple with this.  A faithful servant does not simply tread water to maintain the status quo by burying gifts beneath a pious insistence on not rocking the boat.  That can be fear more than humility.  Nor does a faithful servant blaze into the room and reorganize the party to his advantage.  But faithful can mean a dramatic healing, a rousing speech to a crowd, a threatening challenge to evil in authority.  Jesus' path to the apparent "failure" death of a criminal involved all of those points of "success".  Faithful can mean preemies surviving, the hungry fed, the Gospel preached widely, students passing exams or winning games, a job well done.

Faithful can also mean slogging up mountains and through swamps.  For those not on our email list, the good news this weekend was that our Ranger Student passed the second phase and is on to the third.  And our Medical Student persevered through his Step 2 Board Exam then used his free days to encourage his siblings.  I wish all four of them more worldly success than is probably healthy, but when push comes to shove, I am thankful that they are faithful.
The three, cheering on the fourth in their hearts and prayers.

Faithful is a hard metric.  We can't measure our own hearts, let alone anyone else's.  But it is a good goal.  Pray for us to be faithful, and leave the success in God's hands.

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