Monday, January 25, 2010

We're On A Mission From God

If you’ve never seen The Blues Brothers, here’s a crude synopsis: John Belushi and Dan Akroyd play Jake and Elwood Blues. Upon Jake’s release from prison for armed robbery, he and his brother visit the orphanage where they grew up, which is about to close unless they come up with 5 grand in property taxes. While visiting a church, Jake has a revelation that they can raise the money by reuniting their old band. On their journey to accomplish this mission, they’re met by resistance from a bitter ex-fiance, a group of neo-nazis, a country-western band and a large portion of the Illinois Police force. But nothing… nothing deters them from accomplishing their mission.

Yes, like Jake and Elwood, ex-AIMers are on a mission from God - one that that has been forming in us since birth. It led us to AIM and has never left us. Certainly God can and does use AIM to open us up to possibilities of expressing this sense of purpose in life through short-term missions. But for some of us, it doesn’t stick. Only one out of the 5 people on my AIM team is currently involved in full-time mission work, and it’s not me.

But I’m still on a mission from God. There’s still something within me that will not let me rest and cannot be neglected. Before AIM, going to church seemed to quell the gnawing. After AIM, it’s more complicated. But what I learned and experienced through AIM is still very relevant.

After AIM, I found myself stuck between two worlds which produced a crisis of faith that’s best described in these Sara Groves song lyrics:

"I’ve been painting pictures of Egypt, leaving out what it lacked. The future seems so hard and I want to go back. But the places that used to fit me cannot hold the things I’ve learned. And those roads were closed off to me while my back was turned. The past is so tangible. I know it by heart. Familiar things are never easy to discard. I was dying for some freedom, but now I hesitate to go - caught between the promise and the things I know."

I acutely felt this when I first returned from the mission field. So, I very quickly re-entered the AIM environment as a staff assistant. And that did help me regain a bit of vision for my life. But because I knew I didn’t feel called to foreign missions, it was really just prolonging the inevitable struggle of figuring out my life’s mission…

Mission work isn’t an event. Your mission from God is an expression of who you are in Christ Jesus. And my mission has evolved over the years, but basically it’s this: I’m loved. And I’m love’s ambassador to those who don’t feel comfortable sitting on padded pews. I find an easy camaraderie with those who have been burned by religion, or those who struggle with homosexuality, people who deal with divorce or pornography or anything that might make them feel marginalized by mainstream Christianity… And it’s good to know that about myself and be released from the guilt of not conforming to a traditional missionary standard. The Spirit guides me, and nothing can deter me from living my mission. Things like dissatisfaction with organized religion, theological disagreements or liberalism vs. conservatism cannot even touch it.

But I’ve found it does stagnate on occasion and begs to be reinvented. I’m feeling that right now, and all those Sara Groves lyrics come rushing back to me. God’s word sharply convicts me. I know it’s time to be propelled forward again. So God and I are re-working things. But He comforts me with this sweet revelation: If evangelism feels too hard, you’re probably not doing it right.

Your mission may include foreign mission work, relief work in war-ravaged countries or disaster-stricken Haiti, medical missions, working with Habitat for Humanity or financially supporting any worthy causes like those. Or you could be called to the equally challenging task of following through with someone God has placed in your path, shepherding with or without a holding that particular title, preaching and teaching with or without a pulpit, ministering to youth. Wherever the body or soul is in crisis, there is a place for you.

But nothing will feel quite right until you really know who you are in Christ. Open yourself up to God’s leading and embrace the adventure of your personal mission.

I’ll conclude with a question that might help reveal your natural state of evangelism. Where do you find easy camaraderie? With the elderly, with foreigners, people who are in the same stage of life as you, college students, people who deal with depression, atheists? Who do you most enjoy?

- Angie Burns

Monday, January 18, 2010

AIM is perfect!

AIM is perfect!

How many of you laughed at the title? Of course, when we assert it in such a manner the absurdity seems obvious. Yet as I hear some of us share our experiences I’m saddened at the emphasis often given to our negative experiences. I am struck with the thought that to remedy everything that we complain about would require the program to be perfect. All pain ultimately comes from the disappointment of expectations. So when we are experiencing pain, we must ask ourselves what our expectations were. Though this won’t make all pain go away, it can clarify things and help us in our healing. As a point of comparison, consider the following:

Let’s imagine you were an embedded reporter from the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry and somehow remained objective and only reported what you saw. Now imagine you are near the end of Jesus’ ministry and are a witness to Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. There you observe as one of Jesus’ inner circle betrays him and the other 11 desert him. Later on one will commit suicide, one will deny even knowing him and only one ends up being present at the crucifixion. After his resurrection, which should be the most compelling evidence of all time, his followers are all caught off guard that Jesus is rumored to be alive and one aggressively challenges the idea, demanding proof. Acts 1 clearly demonstrates they are completely unaware of the goal of His Kingdom and then, quite astoundingly, on the way to witness the ascension it says that some doubted.

So, after over 2 years of intensive training with the very Son of God and witnessing proof after proof that should have sealed the deal and caused them to be exceptionally strong in their faith, you end up with all of them experiencing serious doubt and faith weaknesses, struggling with cowardice, ignorant of the overall goal of the “program” and signs of serious sin issues: lying, arrogance, selfishness, hopelessness and suicide. From the outside looking in, do you want to send your kid to be part of Jesus’ program?

Blame is a powerful tool that the Devil uses to keep us from experiencing healing and growth in Christ. As long as I focus on someone else’s weaknesses, I lose access to God’s strength. This leads to feeling powerless and eventually bitter. In order for me to heal I must face these facts: AIM is a group of flawed Christians, trying to provide a growth opportunity for other flawed Christians so that they can go work alongside other flawed Christians. And, as we learn quickly, flawed Christians tend to have flaws in their Christianity. This means people get hurt. This hurt always happens, whether you are in AIM or not, but since AIM is a “professional Christian organization” we somehow expect the normal things that happen in everyone’s life not to happen there.

Since the AIM staff is not perfect, as Jesus was, we should expect them to have a poorer track record than Jesus did. It is truly not within any program’s ability to provide a guarantee that I will remain faithful to God and have a thriving relationship with Him. God gave each person free will. Jesus trained 12 men for over 2 years and all of them initially failed and one failed miserably. Was Jesus’ training flawed? Because of who Jesus is, we would say no. Because we know the rest of the Apostles’ story, we would say no. We, though, are still writing our stories. How amazing it will be to read them when they include stepping away from the chains of negative experiences and stepping into the freedom of God’s strength and power to bring good from all situations.

- Jason Thornton