Lately, I’ve been intrigued by the doctrine of reconciliation. I don’t pretend to fully understand it, but as I have read several key passages throughout Scripture pertaining to this doctrine, I have attempted to piece it all together as I see it. I think this doctrine is very important for every believer to understand. Because, as Paul states in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 we have all been tasked with the “ministry of reconciliation”. That is, telling others about what Christ accomplished on the cross, namely reconciling the world unto God.
Reconciliation means, “having made peace between two conflicting parties; ending an estrangement”. Reconciliation requires two or more parties at which enmity or conflict exists between them. In 1978, in what is known as the Camp David Accords, then President Jimmy Carter was instrumental in negotiating a peace agreement between the countries of Israel and Egypt. And, in 1979 leaders from these two countries signed the peace treaty known as The Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, effectually ending years of conflict between these two countries. The two countries were thus reconciled.
There is another conflict between two parties far greater than what Israel and Egypt once encountered. This conflict, or separation, occurred between man and God. It first started thousands of years ago in the Garden of Eden in which sin first entered into the world as a result of man’s disobedience towards God. In other words, man was the offending party and therefore death began its reign. This separation and estrangement continued on for thousands of years. To be clear God never separated himself from man. Instead, man separated himself from God. But, God took the initiative towards reconciliation.
Beginning with Abraham, God set out on a plan towards reconciliation which culminated in one single and momentous day on some obscure hill in Jerusalem. Upon this hill known as Golgotha is where God’s one and only Son was crucified and died on a cross, becoming the sacrificial offering for all of man’s sins. Essentially erasing all of man's sins and making a clean slate. This satisfied what was needed to not only atone for all of man’s sins, but reconciled all men to God. In other words, God did His part in taking the necessary step involved in bringing back together what was a broken relationship.
However, there are two parties involved, and since God has already done His part in reconciling man to Himself, now man must respond in kind by reconciling himself to God. This can only be accomplished by accepting God’s free gift of salvation, God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Any man who accepts this gift becomes fully reconciled to God resulting in a redeemed and eternal life as originally intended when God created Adam in the Garden of Eden. However, if a person chooses to reject Christ, he is not fully reconciled to God and will continue to spend all of eternity separated from God, both here on earth now and life thereafter.
"If reconciliation is God’s chief business, it is ours—between man and God, between man and himself, and between man and man." (E. Stanley Jones)
American Christians have for centuries envisioned a Christian utopia in which their society is governed by Christian officials with Christian laws and morality in place. After all, this is what the Puritans from an oppressed Europe envisioned as they made their way toward the New World during the early 17th century. The vehicle through which American Christians both yesterday and today often use to attempt to create and maintain this utopia is not through the church, but through the American political system; to which they also believe was divinely orchestrated by the very hand of a Christian God. Any deviation or opposition to their perceived Christian political or social order is considered evil, ungodly, or even Satanic; often branded with the label of “liberal” which almost always have negative connotations to them. These Christians often resort to exclusion and isolation as the means to distance themselves from others who either oppose or simply think differently from them. This often leads to a form of “us vs. them” tribalism causing strife and division. Sadly, much of this envisioned utopia is driven and powered by fear-based rhetoric and propaganda. They claim that if their society does not submit to or agree with their political and social order, then surely their country will crumble, ultimately falling into the very hands of the Devil himself.
This brand of Christianity comes from the idea that God will establish His kingdom on earth. It will be established through human power and might leading to a form of theocracy in which the Christian God will rule their nation through divinely elected Christian men and women. This is the very same ideology that permeated 1st century Judaism as they waited in eager anticipation for their prophesied Messiah to deliver them from the great oppressor and establish a great Jewish utopia. When Jesus the true Messiah came to Jerusalem not on a majestic steed with pomp and circumstance, but instead on an obscure colt with only a few ragtag disciples trailing behind, the Jews were most assuredly disappointed. Only later did they witness this Jewish King being flogged and ultimately executed upon a Roman instrument of death known as a cross. Little did they know that the Kingdom of God was indeed in their midst. But, the way in which Jesus became King and Lord over all was not by might, power, and politics, but through the sheer love, grace, truth, peace, sacrifice, and service toward others. Not a single sword was raised, nor a single political action signed; His kingdom was ushered in by individuals willing to love and serve others at the expense of sacrificing their own lives just like their King.
How many American Christians today envision their utopia in much the same way in which 1st century Jews did? We Christians seek to establish a Christian kingdom through our elected officials, political action committees, and social protests, turning a blind eye to the King who sits atop a colt in our midst. But, it is only when our society witnesses the true kingdom power of Christ in the form of holistic, incarnational ministry, and evangelism will our society truly be transformed. When we Christians seek to love and serve all people from all walks of life, even those who we may deem our enemy, will the true power of Christ radiate like a beacon of light on a hill capturing the souls of those who need Him most. Until then, the American church has a lot of introspective soul-searching and idol-smashing to do... namely the idolatry of the American political and government system found within the confines of the American church.
Politics and government in of themselves are not evil; in fact they are established by God himself (Romans 13:1). But, when they become the vehicle, or the alternative, for which the Christian church should be otherwise interacting with and engaging our society, then it becomes evil. For then it merely becomes yet another government imposed policy. And, we know lives are not changed by forced policies, but only by the voluntary freedom of the soul. After all, the reason why the American government is so large today, is not because of some liberal socio-political agenda or conspiracy, but because we the church have delegated Jesus' command to "love thy neighbor" to Uncle Sam. It’s time we the church give Uncle Sam the boot and change our society not through the might of Caesar, but through the power-under, servanthood, and humility of Christ. Not through the institutionalized civic religiosity of Constantine, but through the down and dirty, in-the-trenches, relational aspect of kingdom Christianity.
This past weekend marked our one year anniversary here in Albania. It seems like it was just yesterday when we stepped off the plane at Rinas Airport and were picked up by our teammates. Now, it's already been a year and my how time flies when you're having fun. As we look back over this past year it's neat to see how God has worked in and through our lives. Here is an opportunity to reflect on some of these things and project where we think God may be leading us in future ministry here in Albania.
Shortly after we moved into our home in June, Greg had established many new relationships with teen boys in our neighborhood. After several months it seemed a new ministry was developing right in our own backyard. With limited language abilities, we asked a local youth pastor to come speak at our house each week about matters relating to faith. He agreed, and a new ministry was formed called, The Loft. Six months later this ministry is still going strong where we see 10-20 young men show up at our home each week to hear a message from the Bible. Greg will continue to invest his time and energy into this ministry, but also feels led to begin branching out to 20-30 year old Roma men in our neighborhood. However, language learning will continue to be his primary focus at this time while at the same time continuing to develop new relationships.
Marcella’s main job at this time is language, but as time allows, she has been able to explore and participate in various ministries. In October, Marcella was approached to consider helping (very part-time) at the ABC Healthcare Center, a local Christian medical clinic and training center. Even though it is only 5 hours per week, she has thoroughly enjoyed supporting the administrative staff, including participating in the interview process of a new Executive Director. She continues to work at ABC and supporting their new Director these few hours per week. As her heart’s true focus is still the Roma, she sees many ways for her ministry with the Roma to connect with the ABC ministry. In addition, Marcella has been prayerful about finding skills to teach the Roma women in her neighborhood and will likely begin implementing these opportunities over the next few months.
As a family it seems everyone has adapted really well. Two or three times a week we ask our kids where their "Happy Meters" are and almost always they are near the 10 mark. All three kids enjoy going to school at GDQ and each have their own group of best friends. They seem to really enjoy living here. Drayton loves to play soccer and has become really good at it. Morgan loves her best friend Anita and often has sleepovers. And, Coleman loves a new group called The Bridge for missionary kids. As a family, we have had several opportunities to take breaks and travel to various places in and around Albania. We have also welcomed several visitors from the States, including Marcella's Mom, sister, and two leaders from our home sending church. We often receive care packages from friends and family back home, always full of goodies that we can't buy here. Please keep sending those Chocolate Fudge Pop-Tarts and Oreo Cookies. They seem to go fast.
Last but not least, we thank you to all of those who invest in our lives and our ministry here in Albania. These include those who support us financially, prayerfully, and tangibly. We are truly blessed to have a wonderful support team back home. We truly couldn't do this without you.
It's been a couple of weeks since we last updated our blog. This has been somewhat intentional because there has been nothing new to report. At this point in our ministry we are solely focused on three things: learning the Albanian language, developing relationships with those in our community, and seeking specific ministry opportunities. Our lives have consisted of language lessons, personal study time, and interaction with others. This will likely be the case for the next year or so.
We did, however, pass our Level 1 Language Assessment this week. The assessment included the invitation of a local Albanian into our home, showing hospitality, and having a short conversation with one another. This was then followed with instructions to take a taxi or bus into town and meet our language coach at an unknown restaurant. We then had to ask for a menu, order food, and pay. Next, we went to a local market to ask for the price of certain food items, then purchase these items to bring home. All of this was spoken in Albanian of course and our language coach made his observations. The good news is that we both passed and we now move on to Level 2 Language Acquisition.
Level 1 primarily involved survival language learning (i.e. introductions, greetings, basic common words, numbers, days of the week, how to ask the time, how to get around town, and make purchases). Level 2 will involve lemuch more complex language skills (i.e. grammar, conjugating verbs, sentence structure, etc.) We look forward to moving on to the next level in our language development as we continue to equip ourselves to one day share and show the the love of Christ to many.
On another note, we move into our home in just a few weeks. Preparations are already underway. The landlord has repainted the exterior of the house with blue paint. We now call our home the Smurf House. And, roof repair has been completed. We will likely begin painting the interior soon and some of the flooring will be replaced. There is also a host of other smaller items still needing to be repaired. If all goes accordingly we will move into our home the first week of June. We would by lying if we didn't tell you we can't wait. Although we have been very appreciative and thankful for the apartment we now live in, it is small for a family of five (800 sq ft) and we can't wait to move into a bigger home where we can stretch out a bit and Greg can wrestle with the kids on the floor.
On a closing note, please continue to pray for our language studies and acquisition. Please pray we continue to meet new people and build relationships. And, please pray for our health, family unity, and spiritual vitality.