Tuesday, November 3, 2009

An Encounter with "Adam the First"

I would like to be writing these words about the events leading up to the journey of a life time as Mr. Faith. Instead, my life for the next three or four weeks after Geoff Ashley first spoke to me about the trip to Southern Sudan, was one of struggle. As a rule, when it comes to making some decisions I will give the matter some thought. Sometimes this process can occur very quickly and at other times, it is a slower. The decision about going to Sudan was going to be one a more thought out decisions. I wanted to have a sense that this is what God wanted me to do. So far so good. It is good to have a sense of calling. It is good to "stand still" and make sure about the ground you are standing on. However, this approach is not without risks. The first problem was not turning immediately to God in prayer and opening my heart for Him to work. Instead, I began to focus my thoughts on me. Fear, pride, a sense of loss regarding the financial cost of the trip and ultimately a sense of inadequacy concerning my role in the teaching mission became the rule of the day. These and other things began to complicate the process.

Throughout my life I have had to fight against taking the more comfortable way. I have also tended to sell myself short - another battle that I fight from time to time. These self directed thoughts were starting to gain a foothold. They will do that if we are not alert. I realize now that I really didn't get started with God. But that is where God always starts and sooner or later that will have to be acknowledged.

It is strange that after all these years, I can still be naive when it comes to how God works in a person's life. I know that He can and will call you out. "Do you really mean what you are saying?" "You have just made some critical statements about your life. Do you mean that?" "Are you going to obey in faith or retreat in fear or concern for yourself?" "Are you going to go on this trip to Sudan out of fear or in dependence upon Me?" "Do you really want things to be different in your life?" Self has been my problem through out my Christian life. I don't think that is unique with me. But here I was on the threshold of a real breakthrough in my life and self was once again trying to rule and reign. I know that for some this matter of going to Southern Sudan would not have been a struggle. I know also that what is a struggle for one person may not be a struggle for someone else. Given the right set of facts, I don't think anyone is free from struggle - at least some areas. This decision that I faced was a struggle for me. The more I wrestled with it or tried to ignore it, the more of a struggle it became. There were a number of undercurrents at work. It took me a while to realize what they were and admit that they were at work. Much about all this became clearer in retrospect. One of the first undercurrents to gain a foothold related to my own ill defined zone of comfortable obedience. I never realized how tight my grip actually was on that aspects of my life. This was true even though I was wanting things to happen in my walk with God that went far beyond anything I could ever achieve through my own effort. I was wanting things far beyond any previous comfort level that had existed in my life. Yet here I was wanting God to give me so much more in terms of life with Him but I was reaching out with a closed hand. There can be so much subtly in and around our resolve unless God shines His light on your life. When that starts to happen, God will start revealing things in your life that you thought you had resolved. He can use a matter like the one that was confronting me over the trip to Sudan. I was going to have to decide how serious I was about my walk with God. It would not be an academic or theoretical decision. God had just cast all of this into a real life situation.

I have started reading John Bunyan's book, "The Pilgrim's Progress." I hate to confess that I have never read the book. I bought it to take with me on the trip to Africa; but never could find it amid the small amount of belongings that I was able to take with me. Strange. I went through my briefcase several times looking for it. I had all of those travel hours that I could have read it since I wasn't sleeping any; but I never found it until a few days ago. I found it among the things I had taken to Sudan. Stranger still. I started reading through the book and came to the part where the reader is introduced to "Faithful." There is a dialog between "Faithful" and "Christian" where "Faithful" speaks of meeting a man at the foot of the hill called "Difficulty." The "very aged man" asked if "Faithful" would be content to dwell with him. The "old man" said his name was "Adam the First." This sounded awfully like what was happening in my life. When I was confronted with the invitation to go to Southern Sudan, it was like I found myself standing at the foot of the hill, mentioned in Bunyan's story, called "Difficulty." "Adam the First" was bidding me to be content to dwell with him. But another one, not recognizable at first, the One for whom "Adam the First" was but a type, Jesus Christ, was also standing there gently urging me forward. While I heard nothing audible and was not even aware of this at the time, I know that I was being urged on. That has to be the reason I kept going. So there I was. Whose bidding would I follow? Whose voice would I heed?

I know now that the struggle I faced was not about going to Africa. The issue went much deeper. It is easy to focus on surface issues as I was doing; but beneath the surface there is always the spiritual. God is constantly calling us closer and closer to Himself - constantly confronting us with where we are and where He wants us to be. That is where I had, by earlier pronouncements, wanted to go. His call to continue the process toward maturity will take many forms. For me, it involved a teaching mission to Yei, Sudan. The real call was a call from self to Himself - to press on toward the high calling. When that call comes, you would think "I will be like "Faithful." "I will refuse to be inclined to hear the call of 'Adam the First.'" But we are all prone to listen to "Adam the First" and he knows exactly how to speak in a way that we will listen. I was listening. Figuratively speaking, he spoke the words he knew would get my attention and keep me from hearing, at least for a while, the voice of Christ. In a way I am sorry that all of this unfolded as it did; but because of God's mercy, I got to see something of His glory and grace as He chiseled away at the grip I had on my life - a pull that was keeping me earthbound and keeping me from the all sufficiency of His grace.

It is interesting to look at the thoughts that come during critical moments in our walk with God - thoughts aimed at keeping us earthbound in our journey. When Geoff Ashley spoke to me about the trip to Africa, I got a sinking feeling. I thought, "Why did I say anything to him about teaching?" At first, I tried to put the thought out of my mind; but a number of questions began to pop into my mind. "Why would I, as a 72 year old be asked to go on a trip like this?" "What could I do?" "Can't I better serve by helping others in other ways?" I almost made that statement to him; but kept silent. "What could happen to me physically?" "How could Betty and I financially afford to do this?" This was a big one. We had been making some financial plans and the $3000 to $4000 costs for this trip would go a long way in helping us meet those plans. The financial cost loomed large at that point especially since my work does not permit me to ask for financial help. On several occasions when I would mention the cost, Betty would say, "If this is what God wants for us the money doesn't matter." But truthfully, it was mattering to me and that bothered me. Again, in looking back, I realize that God had already been preparing her for this moment. Eventually God would work me through that issue to the point that I would not see it as a financial loss. I would see it as gain beyond anything financial.

I had other nagging concerns. There were all those statements I had made about wanting a new direction for my life. There were statements about not wanting to retire in my walk with God. I had said a number of times that I didn't want my life to become one of enjoying the place called "the comforts of my age." I was very bothered by the fact that all this "good resolve" could be just talk. In Bunyan's allegory there is always the possibility of being like "Talkative" - like those described in Matthew 23:3 as "They say, and do not" or "They preach, but do not practice." John Bunyan had this to say about those who are just talk:

How Talkative at first lifts up his plumes!
How bravely doth he speak! How he presumes
To drive down all before him! But so soon
As Faithful talks of heart-work, like the moon
That's past the full, into the wane he goes;
And so will all but he that heart-work knows.

Such talk can come from a true desire to walk and dwell deeply with God; but it can also proceed from pride or easily be left to the operation of the flesh or "Adam the First." I was leaning toward "wane he goes" and about to miss the experience of "heart-work." I know that was happening because I tried to put Geoff's question out of my mind rather than face the issues that it had raised in my life. I wasn't even trying to think it through or commit it to God. I thought, if I hear nothing else about this, then maybe I won't have to decide or maybe he wasn't really asking me. That seemed to be the course of things. I heard nothing else for several weeks. I began to relax. Then on June 30, 2009, Geoff sent me an email and asked me again about going. He said, "I was not sure how interested you were in the Sudan trip, but I just wanted to give you some details regardless. The dates are October 5-17th. If you are interested, go on and fill out the application. The trip name is Sudan III." So there it was - no escape. I had to decide.

I wasn't entirely sure how Betty would react if I decided to go; but, as I have said, she was way ahead of me. In fact, she was gently encouraging me to go. I am not sure what it would have been like had she not had this peace about it. I am glad that I didn't get to find out. As word got out to some about me being asked to go on the trip, they were encouraging me to go and talking about it as the experience of a lifetime. That was not helping me at the time. It was only making me more acutely aware of the struggle and how different talk and action can be. Guilt was knocking at the door. So here I was having just proclaimed that I wanted Jesus Christ to be my passion and priority. I wanted to treasure the sight of His glory by faith. I wanted a Holy Spirit led life of obedience. I said that I wanted His life to be a refreshing drink to my thirsty soul and that I wanted to live the essence of the gospel. I hate to think that my life could come down to just talk. This clearly left me with two choices. I could either go on the trip and move forward in my walk with God or I could retreat and forever lose, no doubt, what God had been preparing me for all these years. Just one more step; one more step. There actually was a third choice. I could go but for the wrong reasons. I could go out of fear. I could go to impress others that someone my age would do this. That troubled me even more. Too much was involved for me to go in that manner. Either way I decided, I knew it would involve surrender - either to fear or to trust - to self or to God. At that moment I was not sure how I would decide or maybe I did know, but I was not to the point where it would have been a willing, joyful surrender. I am thankful that this did come later, but at that point the battle was joined. What would my surrender look like? Would I move forward or retreat? Would I move forward in faith or fear? Would I decline to go because of fear or would I go because of fear? Would my concern for financial cost win the day? Stir into that mix a little pride in being asked to go and you have the makings of a mess. I did not want to deal with all of this; but now it was full blown.

It still bothers me now that I had these thoughts and that it got so out of hand; but I can't deny that is what happened. I would have much rather been "Faithful" and have jumped right in without any hesitation. It is obvious though that I had much to learn before that time came. I would much rather have been writing about an instant willingness to obey. Instead I was trying to live out a new version of the tale of Jonah. I knew there was some progress being made because as I got closer to deciding to go, I was convicted that if I went, it had to be for the right reasons. I was concerned that it would not be. I was concerned that it might be the same old fear response that had so often characterized my life. Regardless of what was happening or would happen, I just kept moving forward. That brought me to the mission trip application required by our church - something I had not expected. I just assumed that when I decided to go that would be it. Not so. There was the application. As Geoff said, "It is called Sudan III." By now the deadline for the application had passed.

“Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

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