Exiles, seeking a better country

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I’ve been thinking about these two passages recently in light of everything that has been going on in the news, and in our communities lately.
“Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”  Jeremiah 29:7 
“Instead, they were longing for a better country–a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.”  Hebrews 11:16 

We are called to live, and love like exiles, seeking a better country. We don’t love the cities we dwell in or the nations we are apart of well when we act like this is all we have and all we are.  As if we have to defend or justify everything that it is doing.

Every generation that follows Jesus, those who identify themselves as God’s people are called to into the world they find themselves and out of it at the same time.

We are called into the worlds we find ourselves in.  We are called to pray for and respect its Leaders, we are called to know and care about our neighbors, we are called to take seriously our responsibility as citizens, and be involved in our communities, because as it prospers so do we!   You see God was reminding the exiles in captivity, brutally stolen from their homeland, that He had a plan in leading them there.  Even as they were being marginalized, used and vilified, they were called to settle in and be a blessing where they found themselves.

Yet..

We are also called out of the world.  We know the end of the world, we know the end of every earthly kingdom.  We are sojourners looking for our way out.  Sojourners don’t derive their deepest identity from a race, party politics, from certain professions or socio-economic niches.   Exiles together, pilgrims all, we walk together in this reality.  Christ must redeem the cultures we come out of, He must challenge what is wrong, He celebrates what is good.

Fellow exiles,  I beg you…

Obey the King.  (the President, your teacher, the police, etc..)

But never, never worship them.

Love your country. (your city, your neighborhood)

But never, never stop looking for a better one.

Comfort the oppressed.

But never, never stop confronting the oppressor.

Your deepest loyalty, to a country yet to come, means you lovingly, truthfully, prayerfully, and boldly engage the wrongs of your age.  Not as politicians do, ever maneuvering, ever lying, always believing the ends justifies the means.  Seeking any way possible to seize some bit of power.  As if this old world was our prize!  But as ambassadors of the most powerful countries  do,  representing the values of the heavenly kingdom, in the confidence of it’s coming and it’s power.  As pilgrims do, putting one small foot in front of another,  bearing witness in the covenant community of what that Kingdom looks like.

5 stupid reasons we suffer.

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Suffering is unavoidable in this life. Despite the cons of a lot of wackos, you can depend on the words of Jesus. “In this world, you will have trouble” ~ John 16:33. ANYONE telling you if you follow their program, you will no longer suffer is (1) trying to sell you something and (2) disagreeing with Jesus.

I’ve thought a lot about how to deal with unavoidable suffering. I’m even gearing up to lead a study on the book of Philippians, to explore how we can learn to be content when suffering breaks into our lives. However, here, I just want to share with you 5 stupid reasons we suffer. These 5 are all avoidable, but I’ve been there for each and every one of them. Feel free to add your own in the comments section.

5. You are way too big on yourself.

You think what you are doing is so important, you stay in a situation that is just terrible for you, or the people you love. This is just pride. Learning to take God seriously means we are freed up to take ourselves lightly and chill. If you haven’t learned that, maybe you’re doing it wrong. Are you suffering today because you’re too big on yourself?

4. You haven’t learned to listen.

“Nobody understands me!” Nobody? Really? Maybe you haven’t slowed down enough to listen to what people are saying. Listening is one of the most difficult skills to develop, but one of the most important. Are you suffering today because you haven’t learned to listen?

3. You are living in unrepentant sin.

I remember the story of a notorious woman in our old neighborhood. Her world included adultery, prostitution, performing illegal and unsanitary abortions, murder, witchcraft and constant manipulation. However, she would share in tears that she was devastated she could not see biological children live with her. Then our friend bravely challenged her, telling her “how can you expect anything good to come out of your life with the way you are living?” The Bible and personal experience both teach us that we “reap what we sow” (Galatians 6:7). Are you suffering today because you are living in unrepented sin? Or is your life the living embodiment of Social Distortions’ song “Bad Luck”?

2. You don’t have boundries.

It’s funny how the same action from two different people can come from opposite motivations? Take for example the instruction Jesus gave us on how to throw a party. “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.” (Luke 14:12-14) Now what if you took to heart Jesus’s instruction to not let ‘repayment’ or climbing the social ladder be your motivation, but did exactly what He says, but your motivation wasn’t primarily to love, but to be loved? When you find yourself taking care of everyone and your own life is falling apart.. when you make promises on the fly with everybody but break promises regularly to your own kids.. You have lost ability to have the stability God wants for you. God wants you to not be like some philly weed tree that shoots up fast and is easily knocked over by the wind, but a redwood. Are you suffering today because you don’t understand how to have boundaries and take care of yourself?

1. Ignorance.

Ignorance is the cause of a massive amount of suffering in the world. One day some good friends of ours were at the pool, and a maintenance guy was about to fasten a metal bar into the side of the pool as a safety rail. The only problem was, this was in a part of Africa, where being a worker at the local pool, didn’t mean you went to school, the pool was full and he was half in the water, along with a bunch of kids swimming and was about to drop his corded drill into the water to fasten the rail! Unfortunately, the saying ‘what you don’t know can’t hurt you’ is dead wrong. Electricity is real, and water is a terrible conductor of electricity whether you went to school to find that out or not. There are tons of areas in life we need others to guide and enlighten us in.

No matter who you are, or how good your education and upbringing was.  For example, there are surely some relational, financial or spiritual skills that you could still learn, and would make your life better.  Are you suffering today because of what you don’t know?

 

Discipleship for disciple making.

I have some significant disagreements with Hirsch, but I’m %100 with him here.

 

From Rwanda to Gloucester City?

After a crazy year of challenges that didn’t include any blogging, I’ll be serving full time in Camden & Gloucester City with Epiphany Fellowship in just a couple of weeks.

New posts on this blog are to come as well!  My series of posts will be about  my personal history and thoughts related to race in America.

Click on the image below to hear our story.

toNJ

 

The Danger of Prayer Letters.

Writing prayer letters can be dangerous, especially for ministers who live by faith gifts from those who read those letters! There is much good in this kind of communication, in celebrating what God is doing, in calling others to partner in His work, in sharing our lives and ministries. However I can see these dangers.

Our reward is robbed.  Jesus said in affect that our lives ought to be for an audience of one. When we live our lives before an audience (ie old fashioned prayer letters, facebook, twitter, and blogs) we loose an opportunity keep our motives pure.

You can’t tell the whole truth. Most updates don’t feature things like ‘Here are the folks we didn’t baptize, or here are the pastors we’ve trained who have relapsed into the world, here are the unhealthy habits and sin patterns I can’t seem to beat, here are the ways we misused our time and resources, here are the ways our family is living in totally unresolved struggles.’

There are all kinds of pitfalls in writing prayer letters.  Here is some advice on how to avoid at least some of them.

Don’t share all your victories. By God’s grace you’ve conquered some bad habit in your life, or led a friend to the Lord? Are you fasting, praying, organizing for some new work? Let some of the things you are doing be unsaid. It is not wrong to give people a window into your private life, your family life, and your ministry, in fact its our job, and can be very useful for helping encourage others. Yet for your own soul, for the sake of humility and for the Lord alone, keep some things you do all in areas of your life a secret, just because you love Jesus. Let the woman or man be more than the hype, not the other way around.

Don’t share all your defeats. Jesus said don’t cast pearls before swine. Its a vivid image, but God doesn’t want us to be unwise and foolish with our hearts. You need close friends to process the defeats in your life, don’t unload to your prayer supporters every single detail, as some kind of self-therapy. Your letters have a purpose of mobilizing prayer for the work of God, its purpose is not for you to vent. On the other hand I say don’t share ALL your defeats, by implication you must share some defeats. We must give a real picture of life. No life, certainly not missionary life is an endless succession of victories.

This was true even of our Lord, how much more for us? As God’s spirit leads there are times when it is right and responsible to open up in our prayer letters and seek the prayers of our friends and there are other times when its simply venting.

Make it a matter of prayer. Pray that God would protect your heart! Search your soul, as you post, tweet, or click send on that email it is good to ask yourself  “Is it for God’s glory or for your own?.”

Take God seriously and yourself lightly. You may be (and really ought to be!) very excited about the work you are involved in, but please remember, God’s words describes you as a blade of grass. You are not God’s only or even main strategy for bringing salvation wherever you may be.  On the other hand don’t undersell the value of serving the Lord, or his power. Listen, you can’t save the world, that job is already taken, so relax and enjoy the place God has given you in His plan.

Doesn’t AIM take out a lot of the money?

vey-simple-questionsOne of the most common questions we get as we raise support is, “doesn’t your mission take a big cut of the money?” We get it, people want to not only support the ‘mission’ they want to support us, as people they personally care about. There are times when yes we even would agree, sometimes it does feel like it would be helpful to get direct support.

You can click here to see how support is broke down, you’ll notice if you follow our prayer updates that our support targets are high, and what we actually get in the bank to live on is a fraction of what we raise, but why?

Let’s back up, its both true and its not true that we don’t get most of the funds you send in, its true only in the sense that we may not see that money in the bank each month as our personal allowance. Most of the money you send to us gets split up in so many ways. It pays for our rent directly, it pays for travel to conferences, it pays for us to come home, it pays our language teachers, part of it goes towards our retirement, lots goes to taxes, which we raise both employer and employee portions, it goes to pay our medical insurance and a host of other things. No matter how you look at it missions in Africa is an expensive endeavor, and honestly the more remote, the greater the logistics. We are proud to be a mission that sends us (and all its missionaries) out at relatively ‘basement bargain’ prices in comparison to many other agencies. Our standard of living might not always match others around us, but that has given us great opportunities for the Lord as well.

Yes, so some your support goes to keep the offices running (like the international office in Bristol, England or our home office in Atlanta) but let me tell you something those offices exist to support us, and lead this mission and we can’t imagine doing life and ministry in Africa without that support, and most of the full time workers in those office raise all their support too, so its not like we are carrying the burden of all their salaries.

So in answer to the question, if you wanted to give us a one time gift, sometimes it is helpful for it to be a personal gift. But our greatest need right now is to get pledges of support, that come monthly, quarterly or yearly, pledged and given through the mission. That regular support is what keeps us on the field, and our focus on the ministry that God has for us. We are grateful that you would consider our ministry worthy of your investment. I hope this helps answer some of your questions, but if you have more please do not hesitate at all to send us a message at joe.marlin@gmail.com.  For information about giving, please check out sendthemarlins.com/give.

5 ways working at NCM has been better than I could of imagined.

JB teachingOkay let me admit I started out with high expectations of NCM, which stands for New Creation Ministries, the organization I work for as a teacher before coming to Rwanda.  I mean I wasn’t going to move half away across the world, with my young family to a developing country without being apart of something doing a challenging and significant work for the Lord.

But sadly, often when you move closer to the heart of any or organization like a school. church or business, you find that the closer you get to the center of it the less it lives up to the hype.  Sometimes you can even become disillusioned by it.  However I can say the more I get involved and work at NCM I find that truly the reality is greater than what it seems to be. Here are 5 ways working at NCM has been better than I could have imagined.

  1. Students aren’t just taught they are pastored.

At NCM we have the opportunity to lead a majority of the students who come to us to the Lord.  How in the world can it be that normally two out of three pastors testify to being converted at school!? Well its the reason NCM exists! To talk about the history, context and needs of the Church in Rwanda would take away longer that I can write in this post. Let’s just say you are a lot better pastor when you know for yourself what you’re preaching, knowing personally the love of God in Jesus is a huge step. But so many of these guys have not been pastored. I remember vividly sitting next to someone who asked ‘How can an orphan know how to raise a family, how can we shepherd others when we ourselves have never been shepherded?’ I am stoked to be apart of a school that not only teaches good content, but prayers with students, visits students in their homes, walks with them for four years, with a responsibility for them, not only for coursework as teachers, but for their souls as pastors, and often the first real pastor they have ever experienced.

  1. Students aren’t just graded they are followed up with.

Yes we give grades, and see broadening their horizons and stretching them academically ascritical, but more than that we follow-up with our students. Yesterday we sat in the office with three students we visited in the village just a couple of weeks ago. We talked with them individually how they are doing training up their deacons, and elders, we talk to them about how it seems their children and wives understand the gospel and the basics of what it means to follow Jesus. We don’t just teach them principles about how to start a children’s ministry, a ministry for widows, or a small group based in various communities, we go and see what they are doing and show them what they are doing right in their own lives, with their family and in their churches and what they still need to work on. Man, do they have a long way to go so often, but even though they may not reach all our goals for them while they are with us, even if they hit half of them they have revolutionized their family, their farms, and the churches for the Glory of God in their villages.

  1. Students aren’t just counseled they are mentored.

It’s typical for a school to give career advice, and to occasional counsel students when they get stuck. But at NCM we have the opportunity to come alongside these guys in a special way. In times of prayer every morning and on special days of fasting and prayer every term we model how to pray and live out of God’s word, which itself is a massive part of what it means to follow Christ. We also sit with the students in small groups and one on one, and work out with them what to do for example when visiting preachers come and try to destroy all they have built with lies, and scams to take people’s money, how to build up leaders when all the available leaders in their churches can’t read or write, and on and on. We are looking to strengthen and extend this ministry through launching a small magazine full of practical biblical wisdom written by our teachers, to further equip students and the many folks who have already graduated who have been hungry to continue to be mentored by NCM in their lives and ministries

  1. We work not just for the success of our students in their coursework, but for success in their everyday life and that of their wives, children, churches and communities.

For example an agriculture program (with demonstration gardens, pigs, rabbits and chickens, etc..) designed to help pastors be blessed by biblical principles, so that they learn to be good stewards and not just feel like victims of fate, so that they learn how to make the most of all that God has given them as Pastors who are also subsistence farmers. Not so they can just increase in wealth but also to increase in generosity. Every year we bring the wives, and teach them, and at the end of the program the women and the men study together. Through this process many difficult things come to light, like abuse and infidelity. But Jesus came not for the healthy but for the sick, and if he can heal these marriages, there is hope for all in the villages the pastors represent. We fight to help our students understand the importance God gives to the least in society, like children and the disabled, and see God raising up a completely counter cultural mindset in our Pastors who rearrange their churches to serve as the body of Christ.

  1. We aren’t just a school, but a catalyst for a Gospel movement.

Since NCM has been ministering in Rwanda since 1992, there is 24 years of momentum behind its ministries. Now we see students who come from churches connected to former Alumni. We have seen students band together and pray for each other, support each other and preach in each others churches to strengthen their unity in the Gospel. We have seen students willing to lose their livelihoods as pastors as they stood with integrity about what the Gospel is and stood up to corruption they face in their churches. What we are seeing God do, is bring a small but significant movement of the Gospel through Rwanda through NCM that has impacted the lives of thousands. It is a beautiful thing. Sometimes on visits to pastors you can stand on one hill, and point to hills near and far, where you know NCM trained pastors live and serve, from dozens and dozens of different denominations. Behind each of those students are stories of lives transformed, of husbands reformed, of wives whose eyes have been opened to their value on Christ, of children coming to Christ, of hundreds leaders being trained by our students, all within a region you can see with your own eyes standing on the top of one of the many beautiful hills of Rwanda.

These are just five distinctives I could keep the list going, like how all our teaching is funneled through the context of needs our students have and in the language they understand, like how our team of Rwandan and Expat staff enriches the whole ministry each person bringing such unique gives to the table. I could describe how incredibly unique and blessed it is to work in a ministry where staff meetings are also run in kinyarwanda, which means us newer foreigners need to rightly learn from both our wise Rwandan teachers and those who have put in many years in Rwanda, because we can’t just drop our fresh ideas down without filtering them through wisdom, experience and ability to articulate them in a language that is still new to us! What a blessing!

However, here I will stop and I will ask you to pray for NCM. Pray for our Pastor Training School and the 50+ pastors currently being trained and the hundreds that have passed through our school over the years. I also ask you to pray for CLIR, the new degree level program we are launching at the start of next year. Pray God would bring a great class to start and that all that this new program would be another tool to continue to catalyze movement for Jesus in Rwanda.