Lucia came over to ask about having a book discussion group. After weighing the merits of her proposal for half a heartbeat, I graciously consented. We agreed on some details and chose our first book (my favorite, Till We Have Faces), then settled into the living room for what I thought would be some small talk, relaxing and getting to know each other.
But she had big talk on her mind. She said that many people around her struggle to believe in God. Then I thought she was interested in my faith when she asserted (in an ironic sort of way) that of course someone like me never had any doubts. Did I?
I adjusted myself in my chair, cleared my throat, and prepared to expound on the vicissitudes of my faith, ready as usual to chatter on about me, when an odd idea popped into my head that perhaps Lucia was fishing in a different pond. I cut my Confessions off mid-sentence, looked straight at her and said, “You aren’t by chance struggling with your faith, are you?”
My social intuition amazes me. Or could it have been the prompting of the Spirit?
She waded in to her own story, which at first sounded tame enough—garden-variety fleeting doubts that anyone might have on a bad day. But the more we talked, the darker her revelations became, and the farther she seemed from God. She hadn’t prayed in more than a year. And she didn’t want to.
This was no passing shudder of insecurity, but a committed flight from the Lover of her soul.
So I told her of that Lover, and the sweetness of his love, and how empty were the promises of any other suitors for her heart. And our conversation continues.
Monday I hosted the first meeting of a new discipleship group in Mozaika, the church plant we are working with. Three other men and I reviewed a summary of “God’s story,” and then started telling our own. A young man named Marek punctuated his story with some questions about theology. As he went on, it became clear that his questions weren’t academic; like Lucia, the more he talked, the less confident in Christ he seemed, until he confessed he was at a crossroads: he needed to choose the world or Jesus, and he was leaning toward the world.
But he came to meet with us, so he must have had at least a mustard-seed-sized hope that he might hear something that would summon him back from self-destruction. So we talked, and he had questions, and we talked more, and first thing the next morning he sent a message to our group with another question. And another. And our conversation continues.
This month we mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 theses—which grew out of his own questions and wrestling with and doubt, his hunger for a certainty that God loved him and would always love him. None of his teachers—nor his conscience—could give him the confidence in God’s love that he longed for, so he was tormented by fear of damnation. I think it’s fair to say that his desire for assurance of salvation sparked that movement we now call the Reformation.
Lucia and Marek both find their faith hanging by a thread; they fear it will fall, and they will fall with it. Please ask Jesus to hold onto them; ask the Spirit to not only show them the unassailability of God’s love for them in Christ, but to convince and persuade their hearts. Ask the Father to give them faith that rests on Christ alone, and not on their own merit.
Jesus is their only hope.
Remember that I asked you to ask God to help me navigate a tricky spot I had run into in my relationship with our Slovak church planter. I didn’t explain at the time (and still won’t), but the trickiness involved what the pastor was requiring in their church-membership promises. I suspect that God has heard our prayers, because the pastor has now asked me to work with him and his elders to rework and develop their membership vows—and he even suggested that the results might be helpful for the whole denomination. That’s what I call a reversal. I should ask you to pray more often.
In a similar vein the president of the denomination last week asked me to work with him on the denomination’s theology of the office of elder. Once again taking half a heartbeat to consider his proposal, I said yes.
And I wonder what God is up to with all this. He certainly has me intrigued.
I also expect to face challenges in both projects, so I’m eager for more of your prayers. Ask the Father of glory to give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation (Ephesians 1:17), and to make us of one mind (Philippians 2:2), that we might together advance our understanding of these fundamental issues—issues inseparable from the question, “What is the Church?”
Back to our Slovak church planter: Now that we’re on board with him and he’s convinced that we want to help, he’s lost every shred of shyness about asking for help. In addition to the membership project above, he wants me to help prepare the preaching team to work through Ephesians after Christmas, to write daily devotionals on Ephesians for the church to work through during the preaching series, to help train their discipleship group leaders, and, in his words, “many other things.”
This is, again, an answer to our prayers for his trust in our partnership. Thank and praise our Lord with us! It also means reevaluating my current work, which I thought was already enough to keep me out of trouble. Please continue to pray not only for our working relationship, but for our friendship. And, in light of that, I’m going to stop calling him “our Slovak church planter,” and just call him Ervin.
Because that’s his name.
Paula has had her perpetually serving hands full all month with Mommy Club, the Roma kindergarten, her new small group in Mozaika, and especially with a week of caring for our colleagues’ eight children so they could both attend an MTW leadership conference in Athens. And she didn’t stop there: she’s on the other side of the country this weekend for a followup to the English camp she worked at this summer. How can I say enough about someone who would do that? About someone who would praise those eight kids when she returned them to their parents? Thank God for her with me, please.
This month’s family news includes a biggie: our youngest son Ethan got engaged a week ago to Katie Boerke. The wedding is planned for January 13th. Paula and I are thrilled for Ethan. Perhaps, in addition to congratulating him, you might pray for him over the coming year: graduating college, getting married, embarking on a career—several seismic changes in a few weeks’ time. Ask the Spirit to make him a husband who will more and more display the image of Christ and his selfless love.
You too are images of Jesus, showing his life to the world every day, whether you think about it or not. May the Spirit of Jesus himself refine your faith and shape your heart, so that your life really does look more and more like that of your faithful Redeemer’s. And may he preserve your faith through every trial, no matter how fiery.