May 10, 2006

Cost of discipleship

Luz Maria and our neighbor Jaime It happened late one night this past week. Jaime, one of our neighbors, had cleaned his gun and was reloading when it accidentally fired. The bullet hit concrete and sent a big chip flying back to shatter Jaime's right arm.

Jaime was able to find someone who could drive him to the hospital (there is no 24-hour ambulance service here). Most of his arm had to be amputated below the elbow. This may well have serious consequences for Jaime, who is about 30 years old, and his family since he had been earning his living as a welder and metalworker.

Luz Maria and I visited Jaime shortly afterward. We listened to him and stated our belief that while it is hard to understand, sometimes, why bad things happen, God in His love and wisdom can turn misfortune to good. Jaime agreed that it was important to have faith at times like these, and that he did not at all question why God had allowed this to happen. He only gave thanks that
he still was alive (the concrete chip could have struck his head). Furthermore, he was confident that God would show him a way to support his family even without his right hand.

This willingness to bear up under adversity is something one often sees in Venezuelans. It is inspiring and yet something of a challenge to us who claim full assurance of God's mercy and consider ourselves called to communicate this Gospel to others. If this man can lose his right hand and not be dismayed, how much less discouraged should we be by minor obstacles in our path, when God has opened doors for us and blessed us beyond measure?

Often these days I recall reading "The Cost of Discipleship" by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The German Lutheran pastor wrote this series of meditations on the Sermon on the Mount some time before he was imprisoned, tortured and executed by the Nazis. He could have avoided this fate.. Before the war Bonhoeffer lived and worked abroad. He chose to leave a comfortable life in the United States to return to Germany and minister to his countrymen.

In "The Cost of Discipleship" Bonhoeffer coined the term "cheap grace", by which he meant an allegedly Christian belief-system which does not take seriously the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. The term is widely used nowadays as a synonym for the antinomianism that has crept into Christian churches; the idea that God is an indulgent uncle (maybe He looks like George Burns) who overlooks our unrepented sin because He is just such a generous and all-around great guy who does not sweat the small stuff. However, I do not think that is what Bonhoeffer had in mind. It is hard to imagine that he could have imagined the ordination of homosexual clergy, the acceptance of abortion and easy divorce, the gospel of "living your best life now" and the

Rather Bonhoeffer was addressing something he saw particularly in his own Lutheran tradition: The tendency to think that having received the Gospel of Christ, one may continue one's life as before, only with an extra spring in one's step and a sparkle in one's eye from knowing that the just shall live by faith. Bonhoeffer said that to be a Christian is to be a martyr. In fact,
the English word martyr is derived from a Greek word which means "witness" (cf. Acts 1:8 "...and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth"). One cannot recognize the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and go back to a normal life;
it is the depth of the changes in our lives that are our witness to the world. But change means loss and to begin the new life in Christ, one must be willing to lose all, not just the obvious bad habits but also the seemingly good things in life that may draw us away from our God and the mission that He has for us.

Serving as a missionary in a foreign land, I have found, makes one acutely conscious of how short one falls of the glory of God, and exactly what baggage one does or does not need on life's journey. But to die in Christ is to live, and what a just and merciful God takes away, he replaces in greater measure. I have been given my wonderful wife, Luz Maria, and the support of
her large family. For this reason alone I cannot imagine going back to the life that I once had.

And we have been given financial and prayer support by our friends and family in the United States. We thank God for all of you. Luz Maria and I plan to visit the U.S. for about three weeks in August. We want to bring as many people as possible up to date on what we have been doing and raise money for our future plans.

I have been notified that my status as a volunteer missionary with Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod World Missions will not be renewed. The Synod's volunteer missionary program provides opportunities for laypeople serve on assignments that normally last from six months to two years. I have been on volunteer status for three years. What this means essentially, is that LCMS
World Missions has been paying for my health insurance as well as travel and some miscellaneous expenses. I will have to my own provisions for these expenses in the future. But our project has the support of the Lutheran Church of Venezuela and the Venezuela Lutheran Mission Partnership, an independent mission society. So we will continue as the Lord wills.

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