Missional. It's a word we use freely in church now and it conveys the idea that we are all to live as missionaries wherever we are: in our neighborhoods, at the workplace, in the grocery store. It suggests that we live our lives on mission every chance we get, whether we get paid to or not. We love, serve and pour ourselves out as Jesus did for us, because Jesus did for us. To live on mission is to be missional.
My family has come to understand what it means to be missional over the last 17 months. It started with a move across a very large city to help plant a new church with a vision for reaching our lost neighbors and friends. So, we jumped in the deep end and went out and met our neighbors and made some friends. We went from only having friends from church and not knowing ANY lost people to knowing only lost people other than the friends we had from church. Jesus moved us and made us able to respond, so we did.
The change was drastic. Two years ago, when the end of the day came, we closed our door and didn't think another thought about who outside of it might need Christ. Let's be honest, we didn't care. Then, we moved and sacrificed and it was hard and all I could think was, "If I gave up all that to obey Jesus, then I'm going to do it for real." And it wasn't just me; it was all of us.
The result was having a door that was incessantly knocked on. Really. At any hour. One in the morning even; for toilet paper. I'd conditioned myself to pull into the parking lot after a long day at work to find at least one neighbor who needed a ride somewhere. I quit trying to know how many would eat with us at dinner because if anyone in the complex was hungry, we fed them. It had become such a way of life that when my six year old told me he gave a neighbor at the door what she asked for one morning, he followed by saying, "It was the right thing to do, right?" And I cannot tell you how much I love that he's learned that in our home.
Yet, if I'm honest, even all that was a little shallow, for me at least. I have no problem digging into someone else's mess. I'll roll up my sleeves and help and serve and make sure they know how much I love Jesus. I'll even tell them that's why I'm doing it. And, the truth is, I mostly don't care what my lost neighbors think of that. I'm so pridefully confident I am blessing them that I foolishly think it outshines any misgivings they might have about Christ. And, even if it doesn't, I'm not that close, it won't really hurt me.
In spite of my faulty thinking, God has blessed our efforts. He's given us favor with a specific group of people in our community. They are kind of messy, they're rough around the edges, we don't see much fruit sometimes, and even when we do, we mostly can't take credit for it ourselves. And, often, our motives are misunderstood. People think we're just really friendly, and we are, but with purpose.
Nevertheless, at the end of the day, none of these people have access enough to my heart to make it really risky. I'll love them and serve them without condition because Jesus called me too and I will come to know that He has a plan even if He never tells me about it. I'll often remind myself of God's promise to Abraham that his descendants would outnumber the stars and that Abraham died without ever seeing the fruition of that promise. Mostly, I'm ok with that. I know it's what being on mission is about. And I revel in the freedom I have to love that way, because, for the most part, it's still pretty safe.
Then the call came. One Thursday afternoon my dad's ex wife called to tell me he had fallen and was in the hospital, in critical condition. When they asked who she was and it was known that they weren't married anymore, they asked for a next of kin. That was me.
I don't know how I would describe the relationship between my dad and I up until that point. He had been largely absent from my childhood but had resurfaced when I was an adult. He lived in Laredo, I in Houston. It was about a six hour drive and comfortable enough for me. Close enough to visit, but far enough to not be really involved.
Then, in one month, I had been there three times. Not just to visit, but to sign for and care for him. All of the sudden I was the adult child of a patient who needed care. In spite of the chasm between us, intimacy was demanded. I had to be involved. And I was faced with the reality that as much as I worried for my dad's physical condition, it was his soul that was bringing me to my knees.
The first visits were awkward. I was quiet other than to tell him I was there. I listened to the prayers prayed over him and was uncomfortable, not because someone was praying, but because I knew he wouldn't want them to be. As I visited more, I spoke more and even prayed a little. Yet, my experience with my neighbors had taught me that we'd need more than bedside prayers to win my father to Jesus. We were going to need a relationship.
Relationships are tricky with rough people. They know they can be scary and often capitalize on that. That's certainly true of my dad. We had learned, however, that real relationships are not rooted in fear, they are borne out of respect: something I had never shown my father. I'd tolerated him. I'd snarked at the jokes he told that I didn't like. I'd bit my tongue when he broached subjects I felt were not his place. I didn't ever really listen to him, yet, here I was, in his hospital room, hoping he'd listen to me.
As we learned more about his injuries it became clear that he was going to need some specialized care in a rehabilitative hospital. Initially we thought that would take place right where he was in Laredo. But Jesus was moving in my heart and turning it to see my father through His eyes and over the course of three weeks I developed a longing to love and serve him in much the same way I had done with my neighbors. With his case worker, we started exploring options to transfer him to Houston for the rehabilitative phase of his care. As the longing to love him in a new way grew, I realized that being missional was on the verge of becoming incredibly personal.
I don't know how I'd missed it before. We had learned that loving our neighbors did not mean trying to change them. We didn't spend much time talking about what was wrong in their lives. Not that those conversations didn't happen. They just happened after many conversations about the weather and family and jobs. They happened long after we'd shared our own failures, past and present. Those conversations weren't taking place with our Bibles open and marked by "Romans Road". They were taking place over dinner and maybe even a little wine. We had practiced serving and valuing our neighbors enough to gain their trust. In contrast, I was so busy not trusting my dad and judging him for his failures that I never got around to considering that I needed to convince him that he could trust me. And as I thought about how much I wanted to show him Jesus, I realized that I was going to have to let my guard down and get to the business of serving and loving my dad without condition. I was going to have to truly forgive the relational debt I felt he owed me and in turn offer him a true relationship with me; one that might even hurt.
And, even still, I wanted to bring him closer to me so I could do exactly that. Jesus had put a new love in my heart for my dad. My mission now included him. I saw how hypocritical I'd been by loving my neighbors and trusting the Holy Spirit to open doors with them all the while assuming that those doors were already open with my dad and if they weren't I was going to kick them in. I'd thought the same thoughts and said the same things that people had thought and said to him his whole life. "Stop that. Be better. Quit drinking. Don't smoke. Be kind. Take better care of yourself." I'd forgotten that without Christ my dad can't do any of those things and neither can I. And while he should stop drinking and smoking, those things aren't keeping him from Jesus, his hard heart is. I'd seen with my own eyes that the only cure for a hard heart is the wooing of the Holy Spirit and lots and lots of love. I knew that it was God's kindness that led and continues to lead me to repentance. I had trained myself to practice that with my lost neighbors and had completely missed that I needed to be doing that with my dad. The conviction was deep and I longed to have the opportunity to be kind to my dad. I am now still longing and praying and hoping that Jesus gives me the opportunity to be kind to and love and serve my dad.
He's not here yet and I realize that all this is easy to say before the real work begins. I'll need your prayers so that I can love him in obedience to God and set aside any selfish motives or expectations. I'll need to remember that it's the Holy Spirit who does the work in us and who will do the work in him. I'll need patience, and lots and lots of grace. Pray that the Holy Spirit would give me a love for him that is relentless. And pray that he can learn to trust me and know that I love him just as he is.
Empty me, Jesus, so that all that's left for him to see is You.