The Final Smile

There’s a popular television show in Indonesia called Minta Tolong!, which basically means “I need help!” Every week a hidden camera crew sends out a down-trodden person into the streets to ask for help from strangers. It’s sort of like the American TV show, What Would You Do?, with John Quiñones, but the Indonesian version has a twist of a reward at the end.

In the first episode of Minta Tolong! I watched, an actress playing a destitute beggar went from person to person, asking for a blanket for her child. She was holding a ratty newspaper and offered to trade it if they would give her a blanket. Person after person said no. She would plead with them, “Please, my child is cold and doesn’t have a blanket. Don’t you have an extra one at your house?” They would brush her off and she would then go on to the next person. After numerous rejections one kind soul finally said yes, giving the beggar lady a sling that was using for her own child. The beggar then gave her newspaper to the kind lady, and inside it was a very large sum of money. The crew came out and interviewed the kind hearted soul, who was overcome with emotion and didn’t want to accept the money at first. She finally did at the interviewer’s insistence as tears streamed down her shocked face.

How many of the people who said no would have said yes, if they knew that inside that dirty newspaper was a loot of cash? All of them of course! They would have gladly done a good deed if they knew they were going to be rewarded for it.

 

You are going to be rewarded for the way you live your life. It will happen at a point in time that the Bible calls the Judgment Seat of Christ:

 

So we make it our goal to please Him…For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.[i]

 

Paul explains what this “Day” will be like further in his first letter to the Corinthian believers:

 

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.[ii]

 

The foundation of our relationship with God is His grace, revealed in Jesus Christ and manifested at the cross. Jesus Himself laid down the foundation of your house of faith when he laid down his life. He endured that cross, despising its shame, for the joy set before him of bringing you to the Father.[iii]

 

But this doesn’t mean believers aren’t going to be judged, and this is where many believers get a little fuzzy. We’re riding on the train bound for glory with a free ticket in hand, and we kind of think it doesn’t really matter how we live this life, because we’ve got that golden ticket and we’re guaranteed to get in.

 

I’ve heard this analogy before by Jamie Lash, a Bible teacher who co-wrote an excellent book on the subject entitled,This Was Your Life! (Chosen Books, 1998). Jamie asked would happen on the first day of a college class if the professor said, “Hey, I just want everyone to know that you all get an A. It doesn’t matter if you come to class or not, do the assignments, or take any of the tests. Everyone is guaranteed an A.”

 

What would that do to the morale of the class? How many students would show up the next day? How many of them would even be brave enough to exit right then? Most believers assume we’re all going to kind of get an A. I’ve got my ticket, I’ve been saved by grace, and now I’ll go pursue my own interests, thank you very much.

 

But Paul points out, even though that foundation is a totally free, paid-in-full gift, how we build on it is totally up to us. “Each one should be careful how he builds.” Our task is to choose the building materials, and His task on that Day will be to test the “quality” of our work. That’s quality, not quantity. It’s not how much we produce in terms of Kingdom Domestic Product, but the quality of our ministry in the lives of people we’ve impacted. Jesus said, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” to the servant who received two talents and made two more, and to the one who received five talents and made five more.[iv]

The final exam of our lives sort of gives me a dry feeling in my throat, but keep in mind on that Day He will be looking for that which He can reward. I’s not pass/fail but rather an awards banquet. Every time we gave when no one else knew, every time we made a stand for righteousness when no one was looking, every small decision to follow Christ’s example because of our sheer love for Him. That little ministry deal you did so that those kids would be impacted? That was a big deal to Him and he wants all heaven to know. That’s the stuff that He intends to reward.

I remember as a boy cleaning up my room, or maybe an extra ordinary task like cleaning up the garage, the whole time imagining my parents’ faces when they got home from work. They would be so happy! They would be so proud of me! All this mucking around in this dirty garage was going to be worth it because they are going to appreciate and affirm me. We need to imagine our father’s face more when we are mucking out the garages of our busy lives. That smile on our Father’s face when He gets home will make all this work totally worth it.

The smile on the face of Jesus at the Judgment Seat of Christ will make all your work for Him more than worth it.

— Mike O’Quin, author of Java Wake and Growing Desperate

Related Blog Posts: Undercover Boss and Magnum Opus

[i] II Corinthians 5:10

[ii] I Corinthians 3:10-15

[iii] Hebrews 12:2

[iv] Matthew 25:21 and 23

Undercover Boss

What was the last novel, TV show or movie that made you cry?

John Eldredge says that we should pay attention to when art touches us so deeply that the tears peak out. That’s a big theme in his insightful book, Epic (Thomas Nelson, 2007), how we are wired for story. “There is a heart that God put within you and every story that you love,” he elaborated more on this theme in a Ransomed Heart Podcast, “and everything that stirs you to passion is reminding you of the life that you were meant to live, that you were created to live.”

This is slightly embarrassing to admit, but the show “Undercover Boss” gets me almost every time. If you’ve never watched it, it’s a reality TV show where the jet-setting CEO of a company discards his suit, disguises himself in blue collar working garb and mixes it up with the employees in the trenches to get a feel of what is really happening in the company he or she runs. At the end of the show the CEO’s true identity is revealed and the unsuspecting employees get rewarded for how they performed in the presence of their stealth boss. Great concept.

The first time I saw the show was on a long flight, and that’s when the first tears came, luckily hidden in the hum and darkness of an airplane at night. In that episode, the CEO and president of Directv, Mike White, pretends he is an out of work salesman named Tom Peters who is participating in a special company program where cameras will follow two job candidates around during their training phases in the large satellite TV company. Mike as Tom gets trained by different technicians and service representatives, all of whom evaluate his performance as a trainee.

Phil the service technician shows Tom the ropes and how important it is to go the extra mile with the customer. During a drive from a new customer’s house back to the warehouse, Phil shares about his own escape from drug addiction and his efforts now to serve troubled kids in a youth ministry he leads.

Tom is also coached by a customer service representative named Chloe who seems to always have a positive attitude with frustrated customers while troubleshooting with them on the phone. Over lunch she shares how her background of living in foster care inspired her to want to go into law or business in order help kids also from difficult backgrounds. She does her shifts at Directv to work her way through college.

The dramatic crescendo of the show comes at the end when Tom the trainee reveals that he is really Mike the CEO of their 23-billion-dollar company.

Mike praises a dumbfounded Phil for his excellent training and customer service and rewards him by offering to adopt some of his suggestions company-wide, and even more touching for Phil, gives a personal check of $5,000 toward Phil’s ministry which will enable his youth group to go on a mission trip.

During a follow-up interview Phil quotes from Proverbs: “Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men” (Proverbs 22:29).

“From the character of how you carry yourself one day you’ll sit among kings and here I am sitting among a CEO,” Phil said. “I feel real good about being rewarded right now for hard work, and the real work that I did, it was recognized.”

Mike also reveals his true identity to a shocked Chloe and raves about her positive spirit even with difficult customers. He announces that Directv is starting a scholarship program for employees and that she will be the first recipient. He also offers to meet with her regularly to help mentor her in her promising career.

Through tears she asks, “Can I give you a hug?”

Something moved me in how these simple people, struggling through their lives and trying to be decent human beings, were honored and rewarded by their bosses in a generous way.

Stories with spiritual undertones touch me the deepest, way more than a revenge motif in an action flick or over-the-tip CGI washes out of your system as quickly as caffeine. Stories with deep spiritual themes stay with us the longest because they are calling to us, as deep calls to deep. I really agree with Eldredge here.

That’s the deeper reason why the “Undercover Boss” episode gave me misty eyes. Believe it or not, you and I are living in a storyline in which our behavior and character will be rewarded by our boss at the end of the show. But he’s like no boss you’ve ever had. He has a true and noble heart, and He is looking for ways to reward you with heaven’s honor. In a previous blog post, The Final Smile, I try to unpack a little bit more the theology and inspiration of being rewarded at what the Bible calls the “Judgment Seat of Christ.”

In the parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus said that we will be rewarded in whatever way we served the hungry, thirsty, homeless, un-clothed, sick and imprisoned: “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me’” (Matthew 25:40).

We have an Undercover Boss. He’s got a sneaky smile on His face and a twinkle in His eye. His name is Jesus and he is impersonating “the least of these” every day, all around us. He is looking for that which He can reward, as He promised: “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done” (Revelation 22:12).

Let this truth move you today, more than just to tears.

— Mike O’Quin, author of Java Wake and Growing Desperate

Related Blog Posts: Magnum Opus, The Final Smile

Fret Not

When our daughter Naomi was a toddler, and it was time for a family outing, I would often let her play on the front porch until it was time to go. The family would pile into the car and buckle up, while I went back and forth to gather up our stuff from inside the house.

My intent was for little Naomi to have some fun during that prep time. When it was just about time to go, she would look up from the pile of shoes she was playing with, and interpret the event very differently.

Her two-year-old brained processed the event this way: “Hmm…mommy and daddy are getting into the car with my brothers and sister which means they are about to go bye-bye. The car just made that noise again which means it is about to move. The doors just closed. I am still here on the porch by myself which means…I AM GOING TO BE LEFT BEHIND. I WILL BE ALL ALONE. AHHHHHHH! WAHHHHH!”

Crying and screaming would erupt, which was the appropriate response had we in fact planned to abandon her that morning. Her only help in a dark, empty house would be house pets without opposable thumbs.

I would rush to her, pick her up, and wipe her tear-stained face. As I strapped her in, the rest of the family would invariably chuckle about this together. I mean, Naomi, sweetie, did you really think mommy and daddy were going to leave you behind all by yourself? How many times have we done that to you?

The answer, of course, was not once.

I also process events differently than my Heavenly Father, and respond in the same, silly way. I fear that I have or will be abandoned. There I am on the front porch, trying to figure out how to put these shoes on all by myself, and I look up just in time to see God about to drive away. Then I’ll be all alone in the world to fend for myself. WAHHHHH!

How many times has He done that in my life?

The answer, of course, is not once.

So instead of the joy of looking forward to a great adventure with my Father and His family, a dark cloud of worry envelopes my mind until I can hardly think about anything else.

There is a dark basement of our lives, filled with stress and worry, and the foundation underneath that basement is the fear that we have been abandoned. That darkness has a way of creeping upstairs into the rest of the house, disrupting our own peace of mind and damaging all of our relationships.

If we said the lie we were believing out loud, we would realize how ridiculous it is: I am alone in the world. No one bigger than me is around. I now have to fend for myself.

Time for some foundation repair. I can say to you, no you silly, you have not been abandoned. But that’s not enough. You still wouldn’t get it. You need to let your Heavenly Father scoop you up into His arms and look into His loving eyes long enough for you to say, you’re right…I am being silly.

As God told a stressed-out, tear-stained face people through the prophet Isaiah, “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

He is with you.

I’m going to keep staring into His calm and loving face until I believe that deep down. Until the foundation is repaired and the darkness of doubt is cleared out. I want to strap into this next adventure with a tear-free face. 

Alright Dad, you’re right, I was being silly. You got this…let’s go.

— Mike O’Quin, author of Java Wake and Growing Desperate

P.S. For more on this, how the reality of God’s nearness is even more powerful than self-affirmation, see my friend Clark’s recent blog post, The Greatest Weapon Against Self-Doubt.

The Hurried Samaritan

I blew past someone in the need the other day on the way to a church meeting.

They were on the side of the road with car trouble just ahead of me, obviously in distress, and I was running late. Sorry, no time to help. I didn’t think twice about leaving them stranded and un-helped, but I did make it to the church on time.

In his fascinating bestseller, The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell writes about how social epidemics are created, developed and spread throughout societies. In a chapter on the power of context and culture to shape us and our behaviors, he focuses on a social experiment that two psychologists conducted at Princeton University based on the story of “The Good Samaritan” of Luke chapter ten.

In the experiment, a group of seminary students were asked to prepare a short talk on a biblical theme and then walk over to another building on campus to present it to a group of undergrads.  In between the two buildings the researches placed an actor dressed as a derelict, slumped down in an alley, coughing and groaning. They then watched to see if the seminary students would stop and help the man or not on the way to giving their theological presentations.

Before the experiment a questionnaire was given to the seminarians as to why they were studying theology. The researches assumed that if their motivation to enter ministry was to help others they would more likely to stop and help the man. One group of seminarians was given the parable of the Good Samaritan to present during their theological talk. Surely that group would stop and help the groaning man.

The researches were wrong on both counts. It didn’t really matter if the seminarians were presenting a talk on the Good Samaritan or whether they went into ministry primarily to help out humanity or not. The only thing that mattered is whether or not they were in a hurry. To one group of students the experimenters would casually say, “It will be a few minutes before they’re ready for you, but you might as well head over now.” To the other group they would look at their watches and say, “Oh, you’re late. They were expecting you a few minutes ago.”

In the group that thought they had plenty of time, 63 percent stopped to help the man. In the hurried group, only 10 percent stopped to help.

Gladwell quotes from the experiment’s authors, John Darley and Daniel Batson: “It’s hard to think of a context in which norms concerning helping those in distress are more salient than for a person thinking about the Good Samaritan, and yet it did not significantly increase helping behavior. Indeed, on several occasions, a seminary student going to give his talk on the parable of the Good Samaritan literally stepped over the victim as he hurried on his way.”

What does this mean for us?  I think it means we have to slow down our frantic souls a few gears. The ticking sound of the clock in our eardrums easily squeezes out the “still, small voice” of God (I Kings 19:12), who gently points out little opportunities to bring His love to bear on the world around us. I feel like that so much of the time, rushing through my day just like those seminarians stepping over the derelict on their way to accomplishing ministry goals. Not just ironic but sad.

Lord, set our frantic souls to the rhythm of heaven. Open our ears to hear Your voice. Open our eyes to see the world with Your eyes of compassion.

— Mike O’Quin, author of Java Wake and Growing Desperate

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A Killy Bride

When our daughter Ana was four and still living in a delightful princess world, she loved to play dress up. One day she ransacked her dress up box and came out of her room wearing raccoon slippers, a white bride’s veil and holding a plastic police riot baton.

I said, “Oh, Ana, what a beautiful bride you are!”

“No,” she answered with a mean gleam in her eyes, “I’m a killy bride.”

A frightening thing for your four-year-old to say, granted, but it is an excellent word picture of who we are as the Body of Christ.

On the bride side, we are pictured in the Scriptures as fiercely loved by our champion groom. The poetic book Song of Solomon paints an intimate portrait of Christ’s intense, initiating love for us. The prophet Isaiah wrote, “My soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10 ). God delights in His beautiful bride like a lovesick groom.

As we meditate on that, gazing into His loving eyes, greater love for Him stirs in us toward Him. “We love because He first loved us” (I John 4:19).

But that’s not the only picture of our identity…there’s also the “killy” side.

We’re an army. We take new ground from the enemy on a heavily contested battlefield where the stakes couldn’t be higher.

The kingdom of God is movement. “From the days of John the Baptist until now,” Jesus said, “the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force” (Matthew 11:12). Force. Advance. Clash. Movement.

Jesus also said that He would build His church and that “the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). In this picture, the church is the one on the offensive, not defensive. We’re not trying to keep all those creepy people out of our nice, neat kingdom. Rather, we’re the reckless ones storming the castle, scaling the foreboding walls and ransacking the kingdom of darkness. The gates of hell eventually give way to the Kingdom’s forceful advance.

We’re both. A killy bride.

If you will, there is a feminine side to our relationship with God (tender intimacy) and a masculine side (forceful advance). A character in C.S. Lewis’ science fiction novel That Hideous Strength ponders aloud that in the presence of God, we all our feminine.

Ladies, let’s hear that warrior spirit. Guys, get used to being a beautifully adorned bride. That very lovely bride needs to be very skilled at wielding that police baton, too. Our souls, anchored in a tender intimacy with Christ, were meant to rise up and violently advance the kingdom of God against this present darkness.

The next time you feel squelched in a theology that solely focuses on your own individual relationship with God to the exclusion of impacting the world around you, show them that same mean gleam in your eyes.

“No!” you tell ‘em. “I’m a killy bride!”

— Mike O’Quin, author of Java Wake and Growing Desperate

Gawk Reflex

The first time my grandmother saw the Grand Canyon, she cried.

I can totally understand why now. I’ve heard about this gargantuan geological treasure my whole life, of course, but it wasn’t until recently that I saw it with own bewildered eyes.

We were on a long, epic road trip through New Mexico and Arizona with my family of six during the Christmas holiday. After a fun yet confining car drive, we parked at one of the many parking lots near the visitor center, bundled up for the cold weather, and headed through some snowy side trails toward the main South Rim Trail where the vista beckoned us.

It beckoned a lot of other people that day, too. Dozens of people like us were piling out of their cars and making their way to that unforgettable view.

Our family was giddy seeing all that magical white snow along the trails, but something even more breathtaking was just ahead. Every now and then we would catch a glimpse of vast openness through the trees.

The final bend, a quick scramble across the sidewalk, and there it was.

Whoa.

Wow.

Breathtaking.

How can anything be this big?

Look at this!

Every picture or painting you have ever seen of it, any verbal description anyone could give you, is just a poor rendering of its overwhelming majesty. You just have to see it for yourself and let it take the breath out of you to be captured in the full experience. All those photographic, artistic or verbal representations are just peeps through a narrow straw, a small capture of its beauty and glory.

It didn’t disappoint. The Grand Canyon is one of the few things in life that simply can’t be overrated. From the moment I saw it, I just stood there, gawking.

We gawked all day, in fact. Dozens of pictures and family poses in front of several different scenic views were taken throughout an unforgettable day, until a gently colorful dusk when we had to get back on the road. 

I thought afterwards, how long has it been since something took my breath away like that?

A long time.

My soul desperately needed that touch with transcendence, something infinitely bigger than me. Something to make me and my problems seem very, very small.

I think that’s what those other people on that trail were trying to get to as well that day—transcendence.

There are two things in life that are never satisfied, according to wise king Solomon (see Proverbs 27:20). The eyes of man make that very short list. On the car trip home, I didn’t say to my kids, okay guys, we are done with vacations and road trips from here on out…we’ve seen enough. Instead, all that Arizonian beauty awakened in me a desire to see more beauty. I want see the Niagara Waterfall for myself and feel its misty spray in my face. I want to touch transcendence again in the nearer future.

Deep calls to deep in us, and it always will.

Is your soul feeling downcast right now? Let me give you some advice from Solomon’s God-seeking father, King David:

My soul is downcast within me;

Therefore I will remember you From the land of the Jordan,

the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls;

All your waves and breakers have swept over me.

By day the Lord directs his love,

at night his song is with me

a prayer to the God of my life.

– Psalm 42:6-8

You and I live in the parking lot. We’re usually surrounded by man-made stuff. Garages. Traffic. Computer screens. Cubicles. Stores.

Internally, we are slogging through our to-do list, troubleshooting problems, dealing with relational problems and working through our own emotional struggles…head down, just grinding through, every day.

Our souls are downcast because they are pointed downward most of the time.

Therefore I will remember you.

Time to take a trip from your tight and cluttered parking lot and move along those side trials until you find transcendence. Turn your soul heavenward and let His glory take your breath away. How long has that been?

Deep is calling to deep…can you hear those distant waves and breakers and will you let them sweep over you?

By day He is directing His love toward you.

Breathe that in until His song is with you in the night.

— Mike O’Quin, author of Java Wake and Growing Desperate

 

Related Blog Posts: Glorious Whoa, Mr. Swan

Getting Unstuck (or why I started this business)

getting-unstuckOkay, this is embarrassing to admit.

I’ll just come out and say it.

Nine years.

That’s right, nine years. That’s how long it took me to write my novel Java Wake and get it published. I started it during a jet lag-induced, early morning writing session in April of 2006. Our family had just moved back to Indonesia after a long medical leave and I guess I had a lot of pent up creative energy. It just started pouring out of me that early, restless morning.

I kept on here and there, inspired by John Grisham’s daily goal of writing 1,000 words a day, and plowed through chapter after chapter.

And then I got stuck. Because I didn’t outline the chapters ahead of time, I didn’t really know where the story was going and I picked up too many characters along the way toward the book’s complicated climax. I wrote myself into a corner, not being able to figure out how to solve all the plot tensions I had baked into the many characters. The 100,000-word novel felt to me like a humongous knot impossible to untie.

I tried to tighten it up without untying the whole knot. But when I gave out early versions to friends, my suspicions were confirmed. Although they enjoyed the story and the backdrop, they couldn’t keep track of all those characters. I couldn’t blame them…I couldn’t either and I was the author!

And that’s where it stayed, for years. A big, tangled ball of knotted up string in the corner of my life. I felt embarrassed that I had started something so time consuming that I wasn’t able to finish.

Before I resolve that plot tension, let me say that’s how a lot of aspiring writers I know feel…stuck. They had this creative idea and they finally started writing it out in a semi-disciplined way. For a season they made it to the coffee shop and drank tall lattes of inspiration while getting more and more words down on that growing document. They gathered the courage to tell their friends and family that they had started writing a book. Wow, good for you! They started dreaming of actually finishing this toiled-over manuscript and getting it published one day. And then the stuckage creeped in. Now they hope those same friends and family don’t ask them about it anymore.

java-wake-white-boardI finally summoned the will power to get unstuck. I hung a white board right above my desk and outlined the chapters. I wrote down all the characters and plotted them all out on a big timeline. There were so many names and squiggly lines on that white board that one friend assumed it was an emergency evacuation plan for our community. That’s what if felt like to me…an evacuation plan out of my stuckage! The realization finally stared me in the face that I was going to have to take out of a bunch of those characters, who had become like my imaginary friends, and delete about the last third of the book. So long imaginary friends and all traces of you. That was tough. That was a lot of rewriting. A resolve rose in me though, that come writer’s block or high water, I was going to cross the finish line and get this book in print.

I think if I had a little help, someone to walk with me through the process, and show me a glimmer of light at the end of the long publishing tunnel, I could have done it a lot faster. I could have shaved a few years off that excruciatingly long process.

And that’s why I started this little business, to help aspiring writers cross that published author finish line.

I gotta say, it’s so worth it to get to that finish line. Having that first batch of books delivered to your doorstep is a bright burst of ecstatic joy. If you could somehow taste a little of that thrill ahead of time, I think it would motivate you to keep plodding through the stuckage.

Keep on plodding people! Get unstuck!

— Mike O’Quin, author of Java Wake and Growing Desperate and director of Mantap Publishing

P.S. Some people have asked me what “mantap” means. It’s an Indonesian word, pronounced mäntäp (like the “a” in father), which literally means steady, solid or sound. The connotation for that word in Indonesia is much stronger, though, used after things like drinking a delicious cup of coffee and wanting to express satisfaction in the fullness of its flavor. It’s said as an exclamation of delight: mantap! That is the essence I am wanting to deliver in this business, giving clients that same satisfying fullness of flavor when they finish and those books hit their doorstep. Ahhhh.

Drudgery Schmudgery

old-time-country-storeWhen I was 22 and newly married, I worked as an essay grader for a standardized test that the State of Texas inflicted upon fourth graders. My job was to evaluate, on a scale from one to five, how well 10-year-old students across the state could describe a picture of an old time country store that they were given and instructed to write about (using a number two pencil, of course). I evaluated at least 200 essays per shift along with about 100 other people desperate to find better jobs. After the first week I started keeping count on a little scratch pad how many times the essays would start, “Have you ever wondered what an old time country store looks like?” I very quickly stopped wondering.

The gig was temporary and the pay sub-par, but the job was at least enough to put food on the table, which for us at the time was a borrowed and scratched up end table we used as we sat on the floor and had our meals together. Those were the romantic honeymoon days—not a lot of straw in our nest but there was a lot of love. I enjoyed my home but dreaded my job.

A Bible verse kept my heart alive during those mind numbing work days, and I meditated on it often. It was Paul’s advice to the pitiless people who found themselves under an unfair yoke of tyranny:

“Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”  – Colossians 3:23-24

After every last old time country store essay had been evaluated, I got a job as a reporter for a new political magazine in Austin called Politics Today. It sounded a lot more prestigious than it actually was. The editor was an ambitious grad student who studied science but whose real passion was politics. He saved up enough of his own money for his start-up magazine that he would pit against Newsweek and Time. I was all in as long as I got paid (plus there were no old time country stores in the job description).

His limited budget allowed for one full-time reporter (me) and a one-room office in a seedy area of town. Across the street there was an adult book store, and from my office window I could see creepy looking guys going in and out all day. I worked 8-hour days and made a lot of phone calls to get interviews (these were the days before the internet made research much easier). No one had ever heard of Politics Today, of course, so I had to bluff my way through as many interviews as I could get over the phone. I did long pieces on things I didn’t know that much about and that very few people would ever read. My young boss, who only came into the office once a week, mostly complained that my work wasn’t in-depth enough. I felt it unfair for him to have all these expectations while offering no real resources. He hardly ever said a kind word to me. I did enjoy the creative part of the job, but as an extrovert I hated working in an empty office all day by myself.

I kept good ole Colossians 3:23-24 in the top drawer of my desk and pulled it out often to read it, eventually memorizing and personalizing it: I am working not for this unfair editor but for the Lord. I will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward for being faithful here, so I will do this job with all my heart. It is the Lord Christ whom I am serving.

I didn’t have to wait until heaven to get a reward from the Lord. Politics Today folded after just three issues and it wasn’t long before a found a much better job, one with a dynamic team of people and exciting new challenges. I loved it and worked there for years.

My true boss was never the State of Texas or an unfair grad student. It was and it is the Lord, and He is a rewarder of faithfulness. He who is faithful in little will be ruler of much, so goes the spiritual principle.

I love my job now. Maybe you love your yours, too, enjoying your co-workers, feeling energized in your work environment and admiring your boss. I sure hope so. Maybe you toil in a place drudgery, obscurity or unfairness. Whatever the case, know that God is watching you. He is watching for that which He can reward. Your sincerity of heart pleases Him, and you will receive a reward directly from His hand which delights to honor. He will promote you as one who has been faithful in little.

It is the Lord Christ whom you are serving.

Drudgery schmudgery. Take that, old time country store!

— Mike O’Quin, author of Java Wake and Growing Desperate

Forward Culture Shock

The Cambridge Seven, 1885

The Cambridge Seven, 1885

Culture is strong stuff. It’s always bearing down on us, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We usually don’t realize its shaping effect on our lives until we visit another culture. There we experience “culture shock,” because the way they do things is not the way we do things.

If we lived in that new culture long enough, we would be significantly reshaped. So much so, that coming back to our own home culture, we would experience what is called “reverse culture shock.” Hey, I thought this place was home, but I have changed so much that it doesn’t totally feel that way anymore! That was definitely the case for my family after calling Indonesia home for nearly 14 years, and then returning to the U.S. three years ago.

The culture of this world, warned Paul, shapes us in hidden, sinister ways. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world,” he wrote to Roman believers living in a godless empire, “but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Unless we swim against the current of our culture (at least the godless parts of it), we will simply not advance the kingdom culture of heaven upon the earth.

As revolutionaries, believers in a non-believing world, it is we who should be shocking the culture, not the other way around. Forward Culture Shock. I don’t mean blaring pipe organ music from our car speakers. I mean forward shocking the earth with the values of heaven. When we see injustice, we shock it with God’s value of justice. The poor we empower. The lonely we set in families. The lost we find. The broken we heal. Fear is met by faith. Generosity marks our lives more than greed. When we encounter the deeds of the flesh, we respond with the fruits of the Spirit. We are constantly at odds with the culture around us, shocking it with our sheer kingdom-culture audacity. Our lived-out kingdom values will cause the world to take a few reverse steps backwards.

Every now and then, a group of revolutionaries shock their culture so much that the world takes notice.

In 1883, a small group of college students in England forward shocked their academic culture. A visiting evangelist named Dwight Lyman Moody came to their campus of Cambridge University in England to bring some revival fire with him from what God was doing in America. As someone who had never graduated from college, Moody was reluctant to visit such a prestigious school but finally was convinced to come. The small group of students who came to hear this backwoods preacher mostly came to mock him. But there were a few in the audience who were riveted by his fiery words, one of them named C.T. Studd. Something Holy Spirit inspired happened to him during the course of those revival meetings, and by the end of the meetings 1,800 students were coming out every night and also experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit.

C.T. Studd, like most of his fellow students, came from the upper crust of English society. He enjoyed his privileged status, riding thoroughbred horses in the English countryside. He also became a well-known athlete on campus. But after those revival meetings he was never the same again. Many of his companions were scandalized that this natural-born leader on campus had gotten “saved,” but he shrugged off their condescending remarks. Eventually Studd influenced a group of them to become as fervent for the things of God as he was. This group of zealots became a cultural oddity on their campus.

Many expected C.T. to rise to the ranks of other famous English athletes, but instead he felt a call to move to China. Out of this band of disciples, seven of them committed together to move to China as a mission team together after graduation, a shock to the system of their sub-culture. How could these seven men throw away their promising lives on a prospect as dim and remote as China?  How could they throw away their promising lives?

They did move to China together upon graduation. They learned a very difficult language. They adopted the clothing of the local people. For ten years they labored there and were effective at reaching Opium addicts and other desperate people of society. They felt through it all that not one drop of their lives had been wasted.

Once C.T. became very ill and was forced to go back to England to recover. Once there, he started sharing the story of “The Cambridge Seven” which inspired countless college students to also give their live to missions. Their inspiring story was credited as one of the sparks that ignited “The Student Volunteer Movement.” On hundreds of campuses, thousands of college students signed a pledge card that read, “I am willing, if God allows it, (to serve Him) in a foreign country.” This volunteer movement lasted for over 50 years and launched 20,500 cross-cultural missionary workers to the nations over the next decades. Shocking!

One mind was renewed. Then many. One culture was forward shocked. And the world was never the same. Not bad for a bunch of thrown-away lives.

— Mike O’Quin, author of Java Wake and Growing Desperate

Sources:

“Europe’s Moravians: A Pioneer Missioary Church,” from Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, Fourth Edition, Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, 2009, William Carey Library, Pasadena, CA

The Creation of a Student Movement to Evangelize the World: A history and analysis of the early stages of the Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions, Timothy C. Wallstrom, 1980, William Carey International University, Pasadena, CA

The Reward of His Sufferings

I want to live inspired. Don’t you, too?

In this current toxic and noxious political climate, I find my stomach queasy over the political leaders being held up before us, and my heart is yearning for inspiring leaders who walk in humble integrity.

Time to take a trip back to the 1700’s and talk about a leader who lived out of such godly passion that he changed his world. His transformative life was shaped not out of selfish ambition but deep humility, all centered upon Jesus.

Nicholas Ludwig von Zinzendorf was born into a wealthy family in Germany in 1700. Though raised in a Christian stream of pietism, little Ludwig adopted the standards of the noble class he grew up with, becoming a spoiled nobleman unconcerned by the plight of his poor countrymen who served his estate. But once when he was 16 and visiting an art museum, he saw a painting of the crucifixion with the inscription, “All this I have done for you. What have you done for me?”

Nicholas’ heart was cut to the quick and he soon gave his life totally to Jesus. His relationship with the Savior grew strong and sweet.

When Nicholas was 22, a group of Protestant refugees from neighboring Moravia sought shelter from persecution at his estate in Hernhut, Germany. The count allowed them to move in to the large Berthelsdort estate. Soon after setting up houses and shops, there was much bickering among the stressed-out residents. Nicholas worked with the group’s leader, an itinerate carpenter, to try settle the quarrels and pastor the flock.

The two men led the inhabitants of the new village to cry out to God together. On an August night in 1727, God answered their prayer in a way none of them could have expected. The Holy Spirit descended one night in such an intense way that it totally transformed the community.

Spiritual renewal swept through the community and offended parties repented and asked each others’ forgiveness. Nicholas grew more madly in love for Jesus and His passion was infectious. It was said of him he would walk around the estate and could be heard muttering under his breath, “O fairest Lord Jesus,” just living moment-by-moment in intimate communion with Christ. He wrote hundreds of hymns of praise to God which the community sang together with gusto. He organized a prayer meeting started where shifts of these Moravian believers would pray around the clock seven days a week.

In 1731, Count Zinzendorf met a black slave from St. Thomas Island who pleaded with him and the community at Hernhut to send missionaries there. A missions fire was kindled in the fellowship of 300 people. Two men volunteered to go to St. Thomas Island and reach slaves with the Gospel. Many more followed their example, some even selling themselves into slavery so they could have closer proximity to the slaves they wanted to reach.

The Moravian motto became, “The Lamb is worthy to receive the reward of His sufferings.” As more Moravian believers left their familiar surrounding for foreign fields, they started a custom became to wave goodbye from their boats to teary friends and shout out, “The Lamb is worthy to receive the reward of His sufferings!”

This one fellowship in modern-day Saxony of Germany sent hundreds of missionaries to far flung outposts all over the world: the Caribbean islands, North and South America, the Arctic, Africa and the Far East. People in this community were trained in practical skills like shoemaking so that they could move anywhere on the planet and root down.

Their little mission’s movement in the following two decades sent out more missionaries than all Protestants and Anglicans had sent out in the previous two centuries! The prayer meeting that started during the spiritual renewal continued unabated, 24 hours a day, for 100 years! The prayer room became a furnace that stoked their missions fire and ignited passion in the hearts of the pray-ers. Within 150 years, this movement sent out a total of 2,158 of its members to countries all over the world. This was of course in the days when there was no electricity, computers, cars or airplanes. Nothing stopped them from making Jesus’ Name famous to the ends of the earth.

John Wesley, who started the Methodist movement, was converted after his contact with Moravians on a ship. Their passion for Jesus and willingness to pay any price for their beloved Lamb deeply impacted him and caused him to truly repent and fully pursue Christ.

A holy passion stirred in one man’s heart that ignited a flame in his community, which in turn spread out bonfires that lit up the globe.

“I have one passion,” he wrote, summing up his life’s mission. “It is He, only He.”

It all starts there. It always does.

O Lord, consume us with zeal for Your Name. Fill us up with a love and passion for You and Your fame. You are still worthy to receive the rewards of Your sufferings. Light that Moravian fire in us and our fellowships once again…to have that same driving passion for You and You alone.

— Mike O’Quin, author of Java Wake and Growing Desperate

Sources:

“Europe’s Moravians: A Pioneer Missioary Church,” from Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, Fourth Edition, Edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, 2009, William Carey Library, Pasadena, CA

Count Zinzendorf, John R. Weinlick, 2001, The Moravian Church in America, Winston-Salem, NC

All About the Moravians, Edwin Sawyer, 1990, The Moravian Church in America, Winston-Salem, NC