Month: August 2011

An Experience Vs. An Investment

Jerky from Wray & Gwen: always a welcome package to find on our doorstep.

Michael and I spent the week before last in Houston with my family. As expected, it was a bittersweet time for me. You can never spend enough time with those you love before you say goodbye.

A month from tomorrow we will be moving to India. I have to stop when I say that because it’s still so incredible to me. When I look back on my life I don’t believe I ever once entertained the idea of living in another country — let alone India.

Backpacking through Europe? You bet. Moving to India for a year or more? Not even on the radar.

But Westerners have always been drawn to the East. We have these caricatures of entire societies made up of belly dancing girls, snake charmers, elephant-riding sultans, endless varieties of exotic spices, and all other lures of the orient.

And I guess those ideas aren’t created in a vacuum. But popping in and out of a culture for a few experiential trinkets is a lot different that setting your down roots in one.

I think there is a lot of room for romanticizing and setting up false expectations (it is India we’re talking about after all). When you watch shows like “House Hunter’s International” you get excited for these couples moving to Bulgaria, Rome, South Africa, or wherever. But you never get to see if ten years down the road their investment paid off. You only get to see their initial experiences.

The difference in moving to another culture for an experience verses going to make an investment simply boils down to the difference between a contractual mindset verses a covenantal mindset. Or to put it not-so-nicely: Moving for selfish reasons verses moving for selfless reasons.

Really, if you think about it, whether it’s a new box of markers or a new romance, anything new is exciting to us. But ‘new’ inevitable becomes ‘old’ and it’s at that point the immature and superficial leave. The mature and steady will push through and remain.

A contractual mindset thinks in terms of conditions and (usually) personal conveniences:

  • “If he cheats on me, I’ll divorce him.” 
  • “If I have to write a twenty-five page paper for this class, I’ll drop it.”
  • “If I don’t get that raise, I’m quitting.”
  • “If I get tired of India, I’ll just move back home.”

But a covenant mindset has no terms or limitations; it completely negates the “if” in the equation:

  • “No matter if cheats me, I’ll get help, but I will stand by his side until the end.”
  • “No matter if I have to write a twenty-five page paper for this class, I will give it my best and complete the task.” 
  • “No matter if I don’t get that raise, I will continue to perform my responsibilities as well as, if not better, than before.”
  • “No matter if I get tired of India, I will remember I’m not here for me, I’m here for a purpose that is yet to be accomplished.”

My own “work and creativity zone”.

In short, a contractual mindset doesn’t have to cost you anything. But a a covenant mindset will always cost you something, if not eventually everything.

There is a lot of novelty to India…. but there’s a lot to be frustrated by also. If we want to endure things for the long haul, we have to look at India as an investment. Just like in financial markets, there will be losses in our emotional, spiritual and physical “markets”, but the long-term yields eternal dividends.
It’s exciting to think about finding a flat in Delhi and romanticize the expatriate life. But what will we do six months into it when the routine sets in? What happens when we wake up homesick and realize things break, the food tastes bad, and the traffic sucks?
We’ll remember that India is more than just a temporal experience. India is an eternal investment.

India is God’s investment, and God’s credit is good. God is so sure this investment will pay off that he’s given us his Son’s inheritance in advance. What a rich and generous a Father we have!

Do you catch yourself jumping from one “high” to the next? Which mindset (contractual or covenantal) do you think is the most prevalent here in America?

Obedience Has Nothing To Do With You

I’ll just come out and say that for the past couple months I’ve lacked passion in my relationship with God. It’s not that I haven’t had much to be thankful for or that there haven’t been amazing things God is doing in my life, but we all go through times where it can feel like we’re just going through the motions.

I think it’s really important to remember a few things when we enter “seasons” like this:

  1. It’s not about you. It’s about Jesus.
  2. Obedience is not based on your emotions or circumstances.
  3. You have a job to do and the world doesn’t pause until you feel passionate about fulfilling the Great Commission again.

I’ve noticed that whenever I get in these places, 100% of the time it’s my fault. Somewhere along the line I started thinking more about me than God. And my prayers will reflect that shift in focus: “I’m sorry God, I just don’t know what’s wrong with me. Why can’t I just be more loving? I don’t know why I can’t just be obedient and read my bible more. I feel like such a lousy servant.” Me, me, me, whine, whine, whine.

At some point, when I’m done throwing my little pity-party, a light bulb will go off and I’ll remember a truth I forgot: It’s not about me. It’s about Jesus.

It shouldn’t matter if I woke up late, spilled coffee on favorite shirt, ran out of deodorant and have a run in my hose. Obedience isn’t dependent on my mood or circumstances. This world and everything in it was created by and through and for Jesus, and if He says love thy neighbor, then it’s my responsibility to do it. Jesus is the main character, not Ashley Crist. He is who my focus and attention should be on. Paul explains in his letter to the Galatians:

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal  2:20)

Again, who here is the center of the Story? Me or Jesus? It’s a “no duh” that the Old Ashley is disobedient and naturally self-focused. The Old Ashley will probably never want to sacrifice her time for others or want to obey the Great Commission. And if there had been some way for the Old Ashley to be repaired, Jesus wouldn’t have crucified her in His body two thousand years ago:

“Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with [Jesus] in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” (Rom 6:3-6

The Old Ashley was crucified with Christ, but now the New Ashley has been resurrected and her life is now hidden in Him. There is no more of this: “I don’t want to do that.” There is only: “Christ in me, I shall!” Me has been taken entirely out of the equation, there is only Jesus the Christ. Jesus is my righteousness. I put on Jesus and everything that’s in and apart of Him, is in and apart of me. His blood is my blood. His DNA is my DNA. His works are my works. His passions are my passions. “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (Jn 15:5)

“For the death [Jesus] died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. 

Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but grace. 

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaved of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free form sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” (Rom 6:10-18)

That means I’m not running this show. Jesus isn’t working on my terms. I’m working on his. I am a slave to Righteousness, not a slave to sin. I don’t get to run red lights just because I’m having a bad day, and neither do I get to ignore the Great Commission because I feel like it. I’m no longer entitled even my own life. I surrendered my rights, my very life the moment I said “yes” to Jesus. I entered into a covenant with the Son of God that says: “You are both Lord and Savior and my life is yours, I am your bond servant. I will live my life bringing Glory to your Name.” A covenant is not based on conditionals like a contract. Just because I do not like something or have found some “irreconcilable difference” does not allow me to walk away from my relationship with the Lord. “It’s no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

The world is waiting for this to hit home. Shall I turn the hungry away because I (Old Ashley) would rather play video games? Shall I say “no” to the poor because I (Old Ashley) would rather spend time at the pool with friends? Shall I not read my bible or pray because I’m not “feeling the presence” of the Lord? No! Did Jesus turn away his followers while He was yet in mourning over his cousin John’s execution? No, until the very end, he denied his very divinity. God in the flesh was spit upon by his own people. The Creator was humiliated, rejected and crucified by His own creation. And in return he poured out His blood, His life, His very love all for them.

The sick, the hungry, the destitute are waiting and dying every day. Who is going to them? Who is going to share Jesus with them? Can I deny them simply because it’s inconvenient or emotionally taxing? Before Jesus was arrested, He spent the night sweating blood in a garden and asking the Father for another way – if it was the Father’s will. You think that wasn’t inconvenient for him? You think Jesus enjoyed being slapped in the face by the children of His beloved Abraham? He bore the sins of entire world in His body on the cross. You think He didn’t spend the last hours of his life in utter agony, sorrow and grief? So if the Son of God endured such torment as He did, what makes us, His servants, think we’re somehow exempt from the same treatment?

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:5-8)

While we were enemies, Jesus the Christ died for us. Not out of some emotional high he was experiencing, but out of obedience to the Father. He didn’t wait to “feel” like it was time to be crucified. He made himself nothing so that the Father could exalt Him above everything. So there is no “me” or “you” in the picture. There is only Jesus. And Jesus commanded us to heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons – regardless of whether you’re being wrecked by the Holy Spirit or just going through the motions.

The Gospel of John shares the story of Jesus washing the disciples feet. In this, Jesus gave them an incredibly accurate and effective summary of the past three years of His ministry on earth. Jesus lived in complete obedience to the Father and so displayed the purest and most abandoned form of servitude. Then he tells the disciples they are expected to go and do likewise: “You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” (Jn 13:13-15) Notice he doesn’t say, “Well, I mean, only serve when you have time in between church and lunch at Luby’s. Or if you’re feeling up to it.”

It’ not my will, but His will be done. Period.

Who will count the cost and count Him more worthy? Who will be obedient despite themselves? Who will be made a fool in the eyes of the world to be counted as wise in the eyes of the Father?

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