Life on the Border
In Monday’s update for Church on the Edge, I shared some of my travels over the last couple of months. Belgium, France, The Netherlands, Upstate New York, and Alabama. You might scoff at my inclusion of Alabama, but I want to tell you there is a reason this southern state is often referred to as Alabama the Beautiful.
Of course, each of these places is unique in its people, scenery, and culture, and I thoroughly enjoyed my experiences in every one of them. Like many of my subscribers, who have lived abroad for long periods of time, I’m a better person because of my travels.
I’ll be the first to admit that travel is not always what it’s cracked up to be. I remember a post on my Facebook page a few years back. I was about to board a plane just after midnight in Bangalore, India, on my way back to Seoul, Korea. I was scheduled to catch a second flight in Bangkok, Thailand, after a twelve-hour layover. One of many red-eye flights and long layovers I’ve experienced throughout the years!
“Ahhh, this international life,” I wrote on my Facebook page, “so filled with excitement and intrigue!”
I’m going to share something with you that I’ve never shared with anyone but my wife and Kerey Smith, who served with me as Executive Pastor at Seoul International Baptist Church — I never looked forward to any of the many conferences I taught throughout Asia.
I managed on very little sleep. I taught and preached for hours each day. In fact, I regularly found myself crying out to God before my next speaking engagement and saying, “I can’t do this. I don’t have anything left. Help me!” And time after time, God’s Spirit filled me and used me in ways I can only describe as miraculous. And as difficult as those trips were, I can honestly tell you I am grateful to God for every single one of them. And it is very possible that one of these days, I’ll be back at it again.
All of this is prologue to what I want to share with you today about Christian maturity. And I’d like to do that using a metaphor.
To become a Christian is to embrace Jesus’ good news about the kingdom of God. After he emerged victorious from his temptations in the wilderness with Satan, Jesus began his public ministry. Matthew describes it like this -
“From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’” (Matthew 4:17)
As we confess and repent of our sinful lifestyles and attitudes and place our faith in Jesus as Lord, we are born again, entering into a new life and, if you will, a new kingdom. “Our citizenship is in heaven,” Paul tells us in Philippians 3:20.
I like to think of it this way — the moment we were saved, we crossed the border into that wonderful country, that blessed kingdom, the kingdom of God.
But that’s just the beginning. It’s a vast kingdom, this kingdom of our Lord. There is so much to explore and experience. There are mountains to climb, valleys to explore, vineyards from which to drink new wine. So many things waiting for us in this new kingdom we enter through faith in Jesus.
But the problem with all too many people is they remain at the border. They never make any real effort to experience the vast riches awaiting them. They pitch their tents, content to remain right where they are, thank you very much. They’re comfortable and safe and, frankly, disinterested in making any effort to travel any deeper into the kingdom which their Lord has given to them.
Meanwhile, others set out on the journey. A journey that is not always easy, and at times, filled with deep and difficult struggles. But as they engage in these trials, they discover along the way the awesome beauty and joy-filled living that comes from their journey. And they begin to see God and others (all others) with new eyes, eyes enlightened by grace and wisdom.
Psalm 23 is a great description of the journey. We can read Psalm 23, as many do, as a general description of God caring for us as we make our way through life. But that’s now what David is describing. The shepherd king is determined to follow his Shepherd wherever he leads.
I want you to read the six verses of Psalm 23 today, and as you do, think about them using the metaphor of God’s kingdom as I’ve just described it . . .
The Lord is my shepherd,
I will not be in need.
He lets me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For the sake of His name.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Certainly, goodness and faithfulness will follow me all the days of my life,
And my dwelling will be in the house of the Lord forever. (NASB)