WHILE IN THE KUMAN TRIBE OF PAPUA NEW GUINEA, I HAD LOTS OF TIME TO REFLECT ON MISSIONS AND THE CHRISTIAN LIFE. HERE’S A LOOK BACK AT SOME OF MY THOUGHTS DURING THIS YEAR:

Among a secular culture that lives outrage to outrage, gentleness towards others through the power of the Gospel would be absolutely head-spinning.

Lately, as I’ve been reading through some works by Jonathan Edwards and reflecting on the two cultures I know best, the Chimbu culture and American culture, I’ve come to this conclusion: The Christian, no-strings-attached, lay-yourself-down-for-others love manifesting itself through gentleness could absolutely transform the outrage-addicted, pot-stirring, destruction-bent America.

 
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all gentleness…” (Eph. 4:1–2).
Paul named gentleness first here when describing to the Ephesian church what it looks like to walk worthy of the Gospel among a depraved city that had given itself to the horrifically pagan sex god, Artemis (Acts 19). Why didn’t he tell them to “Act Like Men,” and pick some fights out in the market place of ideas?

 
Weren’t some Christians just created to be brash, tempermental, mildly-offensive, Twitter trolls?

 
“Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.” (Phil. 4:5).

 
I guess not.

 
Jonathan Edwards knew why,

The eminently humble Christian is as it were clothed with lowliness, mildness, meekness, gentleness of spirit and behavior, and with a soft, sweet, condescending, winning air and deportment; these things are just like garments to him; he is clothed all over with them.

 
Martin Luther writes to Duke John Frederick, “God has promised great mercy to those who seek peace and endure guile when he says: ‘Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.’ War does not gain much, but loses much and risks everything. Gentleness, however, loses nothing, risks little, and gains everything.”

 
Here’s where, I believe, Christians are currently situated in America: we’re constantly at war for a country we’re not citizens of, and setting ourselves up as enemies of the very people we’re called to lay our lives down for. So, we’re losing everything: our testimony, our focus, eternal rewards, our churches — for the sake of a war we were never meant to wage in the first place. By not walking in an attitude of lowliness, we’ve declared ourselves, before the world, self-justified and self-made.

 
Our lack of gentleness on the web, the workplace, and time alone with family has made much of professing Christianity fruitless.

 
“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. (James 3:17)”

 
But how do we become truly gentle, lowly, kind, people? And why am I brash, often leaving people feeling deeply offended and uncared for?

 
“Nothing,” said Jonathan Edwards, “has a greater tendency to promote those amiable dispositions of mercy, forbearance, long- suffering, gentleness and forgiveness, than a sense of our own extreme unworthiness and misery, and the infinite need we have of the divine pity, forbearance and forgiveness.”

 
“He (the High Priest) can have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness. (Heb. 5:2)”

 
One “fruit” of a lack of understanding of our sin debt and depravity is a harsh tone rooted in self-deception. We berate because we haven’t seen for ourselves our own need for a berating. We don’t temper our zeal with love because we’ve taken our eyes off of perfect love which was so gloriously demonstrated on the cross. We fight back so furiously because we’ve forgotten that the war is over.

 
Francis Schaeffer, noted by Dick Keyes in Chameleon Christianity: Moving beyond Safety and Conformity, observed that it is relatively easy to show either one or the other of these two poles— either toughness or gentleness. But only in the power of the Holy Spirit can we be both at the same time.

 
The same man who wrote Galatians 3:1 (‘O foolish Galatians!’) and the searing tone of 2 Corinthians 10–13 also told the young pastor Timothy to engage his opponents ‘with gentleness’ (2 Tim. 2:24). Paul said, ‘Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men’ (1 Cor. 16:13), and he said repeatedly to do all things with gentleness (Gal. 5:23; Eph. 4:2).

 
“Gentleness is not summoned from time to time; it is what we are,” wrote Dane Ortlund. Jesus says he is “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matt. 11:29). When we talk about gentleness in the Christian life, we’re talking about embodying who Jesus is.
To be Christlike is to be, if nothing else, gentle.

 
F.T. McGill wrote this of B.B. Warfield,

 

 

“But if Dr Warfield was great in intellectuality, he was just as great in goodness. Over a long period of years this man stands out in my mind as the most Christ- like man that I have ever known. In spite of his brilliance of mind, there was no spirit of superciliousness, no purpose to offend the dullest pupil, no haughtiness of heart. . . . Rather there was always the spirit of humility and meekness and the spirit of kindness and gentleness toward others.”

 

 

Perhaps my favorite reflection from Dane Ortlund regarding gentleness and manliness comes from his work John Edwards on Christian Life:

If anyone was ever a man, a true man, he was. And yet while he could drive the money changers from the temple, he also delighted to gather up into his arms the little children whom his disciples tried to send away (Matt. 19:13–15). He dealt gently with outsiders. He wept over the death of a friend (John 11:35). He welcomed healthy, manly physical affection with his dear disciples. The apostle John, for example, was (to translate the text literally) ‘reclining . . . at Jesus’s bosom’ (John 13:23— the very relationship said to exist between Jesus and the Father earlier in John, at 1:18). The supreme display of Jesus’s manhood, however, was in his sacrificial laying down of his life on behalf of his bride, the church. When the apostle Paul defines what it means to be a husband, he can speak simultaneously of the husband’s headship and the husband’s sacrificial, Christ-imitating laying down of his life on behalf of his bride (Eph. 5:25–33). Such sacrifice is not unmanly: it is the supreme display of masculinity. Any immature man can be a forceful, unheeding, unloving ‘leader.’ Only a true man can be gentle.

 

 
When it comes to the reputation we seek in support of our witness, our gentleness toward others should stand out. Passion and zeal can just as easily be from Satan as from the Holy Spirit (cf. Rom. 10:2).

 

 
What is undoubtedly a fruit of the Holy Spirit, though, is gentleness. You just won’t find it anywhere else.

 

 
Trust me. The secular world will find brash, loud, and domineering people among their own ranks — they don’t need more of those. Let’s pray that during this unbelievably dark time in America, with the defaming of marriage and the killing of babies, they’ll find zeal for truth as well as gentleness when they rub shoulders with those “seated in the Heavenly places with Christ.” Let’s hope they find people resting in the providence and faithfulness of their loving Father, not panicking whiners.

 

 
Bring to light the evils committed by a world condemned and walking in darkness, but let your gentleness in doing so be shocking to their systems. Then give them the Gospel.

“In every minister’s life there should be traces of stern labour. Brethren, do something; do something; do something. While committees waste their time over resolutions, do something. While Societies and Unions are making constitutions, let us win souls. Too often we discuss, and discuss, and discuss, while Satan only laughs in his sleeve…Get to work and quit yourselves like men.”

–Spurgeon in his sermon: “Forward!”

September 27, 2016

While in the Kuman Tribe of Papua New Guinea, I had lots of time to reflect on missions and the Christian life. Here’s a look back at some of my thoughts during this year:

Does the heart language really matter that much?

I ask myself that question a lot when I walk around our village in the mornings.

Mornings are rough because I’m a night person. I need 3-4 cups of coffee in my system before I can think at a 10am level. But it’s 7:30am, and I have to try…I’ve been rehearsing this moment for the last twenty-minutes, so I should be ready to just let it fly. I want to be more like John Piper here, and less like the King in the King’s Speech — if you know what I’m saying.

“What are you doing?” Someone says, anticipating a response in their most precious Kuman language.
But it’s the morning.

“I…………………..want…………………………………….language………………….learn………………………..I came.”

“Ah, wait. I came inside because I want to teach you language.”

“Uh. No. That’s not right. I want to…”
Nevermind.
“Good day!”

That’s pretty much what it’s like everyday as I stumble through a language that New Tribes Papua New Guinea considers to be “Medium-Hard.” Thankfully, by mid-morning, I’m not really speaking cave-man anymore, but every single interaction is exhausting. Sometimes, if I’m not careful, I’ll find myself avoiding large groups of people standing around because I know they’ll put me on the spot.

Wait, did they just ask me a question? I think I heard the “ay” ending. Maybe I just thought I heard it. Did they tell me what they are doing? Darn, I wasn’t listening because I was talking to myself. Should I just tell them what I’m doing? Uh oh, they’re waiting for me to respond.

“Yes?”

Does teaching in the heart language really make that much of a difference? Yes. For a few reasons.

1. Language and culture are connected.

You’ve heard the saying, “That guy’s a machine.” It’s a compliment. That guy works, and gets his work done in a timely manner. If you used that around here, you’d get a ton of weird looks — it just wouldn’t communicate. You would have to understand a tad about American industry and mechanics to really know what that was suppose to mean, and many here don’t.

How about this: “Looks like you’re pulling the feathers off of a bird this morning.” Did that communicate anything to you? Do you feel deeply affected and brought to action by this statement? Nope. You don’t, because you don’t understand the Kuman culture, and this is nonsense to you. Are you suppose to be offended or happy?

How would you know that this meant someone was eating sugar cane unless you knew the culture?

2. Understanding culture allows you to reach the heart of the hearers.

I remember a few years back when Brad Buser, a New Tribes Missionary, spoke at a youth conference I went to. He made a statement that was so clear and gut-wrenching that I can still recall where I was sitting when I heard it.
“God shouldn’t be on the top of your list. He should be your list.”

Whoa. This hit me right between the eyes and started the long process of God breaking me, to the point that I was ready to leave everything behind and pursue “My New List.” But why did this communicate something so clear to me?

It was first the Holy Spirit, second the use of the English language, and third the use of a picture that had huge meaning to a High Schooler trying to get his life in order. I had a laundry list of things I wanted to do with my life, but God was just a piece of it, rather than the whole thing. “Seek first the Kingdom…” I was using God as a good luck charm, rather than seeing Jesus as Lord and Savior.

But to a Kuman, who doesn’t really have lists, and doesn’t really struggle with seeing spirituality (though in various forms) as important in everyday life, this would be meaningless. Brad not only knew my language, but also my culture. That’s why it completely shattered my “me-first” worldview.

3. Knowing the language and culture safeguards your people from the horrible effects of paternalism.

The Church belongs to Jesus, not to Western missionaries. Unfortunately, many Christians are communicating that church, when done the right way, looks just like a morning service in Chicago. Church needs to be done the “right way,” and the American’s are doing it…in English.

Especially in poor countries where the Class Gap is so enormous, the more money you have, the more powerful you are. When you get a chance to rub shoulders with a “rich,” “powerful” individual, who “knows how to do church right so God will bless you with more of the green stuff,” you gotta’ do it. You need to go.

Rather than the church being about the worship of Jesus and the Word of God, it becomes a cult that worships the Westerner. Paternalism has set in when the church listens to the missionary just because he’s a missionary, rather than for the truth that’s being taught.

It’s humbling to leave your first language and speak like a toddler, but by demonstrating that the Gospel crosses cultural lines, we desire to show that the focus is on Jesus and His power, and not our own English prowess.

We don’t want to be listened to simply because we’re a “rich Westerner.” We want to be listened to because the message of the Gospel is so important — and that involves relationships, being a humble learner, and a listener. The Gospel is relevant to a Kuman, an Indonesian, a Russian, and whoever, because every tribe, tongue, and nation has a sin problem, and all who put their faith in God’s perfect sacrifice of His Son for forgiveness will one day fill the Kingdom of God. The Gospel is so powerful that it brings the evil of every culture to the cross, and makes the beauty of every culture infinitely more beautiful. Our job as missionaries isn’t to destroy the culture. That’s what paternalism does.

Our job is to speak the truth of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection into every aspect of the culture as clearly as possible. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to change.

Monday’s Presidential Debate is the SuperBowl of politics, and it’s too bad we can’t suspend these candidates like dogs from the political arena like Roger Goodell did to Tom Brady. Here are some Proverbs to keep in mind while you watch these two face off:

1. “The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouth of fools pour out folly.” –15:2

When wise people speak, they make knowledge attractive and desirable. When foolish people talk, their words pour out (lit. “bubbles forth”), revealing their sin (v.28) and the idiocy they “graze on” (v.14).

2. “Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished.” –16:5

God hates pride (11:20) and lifestyles characterized by their independence from Him. Indeed, the constant wrath of God and fear of death abides on those who have not hated their sin and believed on Christ. God judicially gives over man to his indendepence and the degradation of his body and mind (c.f. Ro. 1).

3. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” –16:25

cf. 5:5, 23; 7:27; 9:18; 11:19; 21:25

Living without the renewing power of the Holy Spirit, Who teaches us how to live by bringing to mind the Word of Christ, leads to death. Man cannot get away with sin.

“If someone strays from God and His Word, in heart and choices and deeds, it reveals his true thoughts of God. He may be formally orthodox, or he may not. He may make lofty claims about his reverence of God. However, the life reveals the reality.

When a person elects to deviate from God’s Word, he is saying in effect, ‘God? No big deal'”¹

4. “An evildoer listens to wicked lips, and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue.” –17:4

All information relayed to you and I from the wicked is tainted, poisoned, and untrustworthy.

“A wicked doer giveth heed to false lips…. A man of an ill spirit, of a mischievous disposition, that delights in doing wickedness; he carefully attends to such as speak falsehood; he listens to lies and calumnies, loves to hear ill reports of persons, and takes pleasure in spreading them to the hurt of their characters…”²

5.  “Unequal weights are an abomination to the Lord, and false scales are not good.” –20:23

God has MUCH to say about dishonesty in business. (cf. 16:11; 20:10, 23; Lev. 19:35–36; Deut. 25:13–16; also note Amos 8:5).

“Can I forget any longer the treasures of wickedness in the house of the wicked, and the scant measure that is accursed? Shall I acquit the man with wicked scales and with a bag of deceitful weights?” –Micah 6:10-11

(cf. 16:11; 20:10, 23; Lev. 19:35–36; Deut. 25:13–16; also note Amos 8:5).

  1. Phillips, Dan. God’s Wisdom in Proverbs: Hearing God’s Voice in Scripture. Woodlands, TX: Kress Biblical Resources, 2011. Print.
  2. Exposition of the Entire Bible by John Gill [1746-63].