Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The rough edges of globalization


Hannan* is hanging on, unsure what tomorrow will bring.

A doctoral student from the Middle East, she studies at a university in a major European city. Her potential is unlimited, but her resources are razor-thin. She and her husband, also a student, live off a tiny stipend they receive from their home country’s government. But political unrest has increased there, and no money has arrived for months. They’re using up what they managed to save last year; funds are almost gone.

Hannan’s husband is completing his degree, but has no immediate prospect of a job — either back home, where things are falling apart, or in Europe. How will they survive?

A local church has befriended the Muslim couple, making sure they have enough food during the lean months. Moved by the love of Christians, Hannan and her husband have begun comparing the teachings of Jesus with their own beliefs. Their church friends hope they will accept a New Testament to learn more about the gospel.

There are millions of Hannans out there. They live on the periphery of a better life, but it often lies just out of reach. They are students, immigrants and their children, refugees, migrant and contract workers. They’re looking for prosperity or at least basic economic security. They’re also looking for purpose and hope. But unlike Hannan, most of them have no one to tell them about Jesus, even if they currently live in free societies.  

To echo a common phrase among economic and sociopolitical analysts, they live on the “rough edges of globalization.”

More than 200 million people are part of this global migration, according to John Brady, IMB vice president for global strategy. Some of them quickly find opportunities in the places they come to.

But many “are being left behind,” says Brady. “When I look at the unevenness of the benefits of globalization, I see a lot of the rough edges. And sometimes those rough edges are in pockets that are just a few feet away from the very smooth edges. We’ve got to find ways to get into those pockets just outside the wealthy core of the industrial world and the information world.”

First, these migrating millions want decent jobs. “But particularly in the populations that have vast numbers of young people, we see not only underemployment but just the sheer inability to be employed, so there’s a wasting away of human potential,” Brady reports. “They don’t have jobs; they don’t have hope; they don’t have education. They feel useless.”

Left on the edge of prosperity looking in, some turn to crime. Others turn to extremism if they fall under the influence of militant ideologies. Most struggle quietly with hopelessness and despair. That’s true for people who live close to opportunity but can’t quite grasp it — and for the masses who still live far from it.

“Pressure is building in many places over the world where there’s just this booming number of young people, and we’ve got to find a way to get to them with the gospel,” Brady stresses. “It’s not easy, but it’s essential. Utopia is not going to just appear out of the economic progress of the world. It’s not going to be an economic solution, though economics is important. It’s not going to be a political solution, though politics is important. It is going to be a kingdom of God solution.”

The practical ways to apply God’s solution globally are countless. But they always involve people reaching across barriers and differences in the love of Christ to make disciples.

“I see the nations, and I see His love for them,” says Brady. “I see His desire for those people in the highways and the byways and the hedgerows, all those people who are hidden away — the neglected, the least of these, the ones who are the most unlikely folks. He wants us to be obedient in passing what we’ve got to someone else. When the blessing goes to that person and through that person to the next person, it becomes unstoppable.”

*name changed

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

First things first


The new year had barely begun when the usual round of bad news resumed: terror attacks, atrocities, massacres, war.

Some folks respond to the ugliness of world events by ignoring them. They try to create their own safe little world and pretend the big bad one doesn’t exist. Sooner or later, however, reality intrudes. Bills. Unexpected illness. Family problems. Job struggles. Life.

Even life’s pleasures become burdens if we depend on them for happiness. We create problems for ourselves by trying so hard to avoid problems. We can’t control our lives, but we never stop trying. It’s human nature, a manifestation of our need for security — and our endless temptation to usurp God’s role in decision-making.

Christians are as guilty as anyone of playing God, sometimes more so. With great fanfare, we dream up brilliant ministry plans and ask God to bless them. We consult our goals and action plans more often than we seek direction in Scripture. Doing something, anything, is easier than praying and waiting for God’s voice.

Our tendency, observes IMB President David Platt, “is to miss Christ in the middle of mission, to get so consumed in what we are doing for Him that we miss out on intimacy with Him.”

There’s a better way.

As his first full year of IMB leadership gears up, Platt is asking missionaries and staff — and anyone else interested in making the most of each brief, precious day of 2015 — to renew their commitment to seeking God’s direction. 

“Life in this world doesn’t last very long,” Platt says. “When we realize this, it changes the way we live. It’s in this light that I want to implore you in the beginning of this year to stop and think: What does it mean to trust in God when I’m not guaranteed tomorrow?” (Listen to Platt’s podcast on the topic HERE. Subscribe to his ongoing podcast through iTunes HERE or download audio files HERE.)

The Apostle James addressed the issue when he rebuked early believers for making their own plans: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’ But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:13-17 NASB).

Platt draws two basic truths from James’ words when it comes to setting priorities:

 n  Faith is humbly submissive to the sovereignty of God.

“We can become so consumed with the material realm, so consumed thinking about our plans and our strategies, [that] we become blind to spiritual realities,” Platt says. “The problem is not planning in and of itself. The problem is planning in such a way that God has no place in the plans.”

James by no means counsels “passive fatalism” or sitting back and doing nothing until God acts, Platt emphasizes. The Book of James is all about action: Its 108 verses contain more than 50 imperative commands.

“James is talking about activity and action the whole book,” Platt says. “But he’s talking about activity and action that are humbly submissive to the sovereign God of the universe, knowing that every accomplishment, every activity, literally every breath occurs only by the sovereign grace of God. … The key is a mindset that says, ‘I need the grace of God, and I am dependent on the will of God in every facet of my life.’ This is a radically different way to live in the world — particularly in the busyness and the business of our lives. … James says in the middle of it all: Submit to God. Don’t live like you’re going to be here forever. Live and plan and work like your life is short and you don’t want to waste it on worldly things. You want to spend your life humbly submissive to the sovereignty of God, and ultimately live for the glory of God. Make your life — this mist that comprises who you are for the short time you are here — count. Be finished with self-sufficiency. Live your life in radical God-dependency.”

n  Humble submission to God’s sovereignty leads to wholehearted submission to God’s will.

Sin isn’t just lying, coveting and other evil acts on a long list of don’ts. We sin when we fail to do what God has clearly told us to do: Live holy loves, love others as ourselves, and make disciples in our circle of personal relationships and among all nations. Platt:

“Holiness includes what we do in this world, how we obey in this world, so we’ve got to think, ‘What has God said to do today? He has given me today. He’s given me breath. He’s given me life. He’s given me sustenance. What has He told me to do with it?’ That’s a good question with which to approach today and this next year. If the Lord wills to give you an entire year in 2015, make the most of that mist which is here today and will be gone before you know it.”

That’s the approach Platt is taking this year — not only in his own life, but in planning and strategizing with Southern Baptist missionaries and mission leaders in their global gospel enterprise.

Rather than recycling a stale set of new year’s resolutions, why not consider it for your own life?