A wedding is one of those life events that tends to draw out the totality of sentiments from those getting married and those attending. Undoubtedly there is an abundance of joy, excitement, anticipation, and an overall sense of celebration. There is usually an element of solemnity and reverence, due to the covenant taking place in the presence of God and all the witnesses. For some it is a bittersweet occasion, delight mixed with sadness as one era ends and a new one begins. There may even be envy or concern, but no one dares to mention it on this day. Young people watch and wonder, mostly about their own futures and dreams.
Another sentiment is one that I have observed at every wedding that I can remember, whether it's mentioned by the minister, talked about around the reception tables, or seen through actions of various married couples in attendance.
Nostalgia. Nostalgia and renewal. Married couples inevitably think back to their own weddings. "There was so much we didn't know."
"We were so young and crazy."
"If I had to do it all over again, I would still choose you."
As the vows are read, I've seen husbands take their wife's hand and she looks at him lovingly, thinking about all they've been through together. Wives lean in closer to their husband as he puts his arm around her while the couple repeats the phrases "for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health." It's beautiful, really, for the married folks to remember their own vows, initial commitment, and be able to enjoy the shared experience and soft music that heightens the senses of nostalgia and renewal.
I've been in or sat through a number of weddings over the years. As a matter of fact, I had a couple of great ideas for my own wedding, one of which was to have my bridesmaids wear my old bridesmaids dresses. When the movie 27 Dresses came out, I was disappointed that I couldn't use my idea anymore without people thinking I was copying from the movie. Anyway, I suppose I shouldn't have assumed that my idea was original! Nevertheless, my days of wondering when my time will come have fizzled out, and I can happily attend weddings and fully share in the joy around me as my spirit prays "Your grace is enough." But I digress.
A few weeks ago, a Spanish friend of mine, Alba, was being commissioned by her church to go to the mission field. She is a member of a Christian Missionary Alliance(CMA) church here and she is heading overseas to work in Bible translation. Her commissioning service was going to be live streamed through Zoom, and so I signed in to watch. This particular evening, however, I was working on something else and thought I would have her service on in the background and listen/watch for the two hours that were planned. Honestly, I wasn't emotionally engaged as the minister began to welcome everyone attending, both in person and those of us online.
I noticed right away that there were a lot of people watching online, some from Spain and some from other parts of the world: USA, Canada, Mexico, Guinea-Bissau, Australia, England, and others I can't remember. Everyone was smiling and you could feel the excitement, even over the video call. At the church, the service began and they started off with some worship songs. I hummed along and sang the words I could remember, but mostly stayed focused on my work at hand.
Shortly after that, some gentlemen got up to speak. They were the leaders of the CMA churches in all of Spain. They had driven to Granada from Madrid (4-5 hours) for the occasion. They spoke with such delight and joy. They were so proud! Turns out, Alba is the first missionary that the CMA churches are sending out from Spain!
Whoa. All of the sudden, the significance of the event made me pay closer attention to the screen. Another friend of mine in attendance got up to read from the Bible, and she read about Samuel's submission to God's calling on his life, "Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening," and Isaiah's "Here I am. Send me." She went on to read other verses from the New Testament, including the Great Commission. All of the sudden, I felt funny in my chest. And my eyes wouldn't stop watering. Person after person stood and voiced their support for Alba.
"We are praying for you!"
"We've got your back."
"Go be faithful to God's calling on your life!"
The minister who gave the commissioning sermon didn't mince words. He warned her that there would be really hard times and that there would be times that she would want to give up. He encouraged her to stay faithful to the LORD and to persevere because people needed to hear the good news about Jesus Christ. He talked about how this decision affected her whole family, and he encouraged Alba's parents to stay faithful, too. Jesus is worth it. I swallowed hard and my eyes were stinging as I tried to hold back the tears.
The two hours passed by quickly and they ended the service by praying for Alba, her parents & family, and anointing her with oil to commission her to the life & task ahead. It was an absolutely beautiful service.
After the service was over, I found myself unexpectedly overwhelmed with emotion, nostalgia and renewal. And the tears flowed freely. As I participated in this life-changing day for Alba, you can bet it took me back:
Beechwood Christian Church (Alliance, Ohio)
John Hannum, minister
Elders/Family/Church Family surrounding me
Laying on of Hands
"We are praying for you!"
"We've got your back."
"Go be faithful to God's calling on your life!"
In a way, it looked a lot like what I wrote above:
"Undoubtedly there is an abundance of joy, excitement, anticipation, and an overall sense of celebration. There is usually an element of solemnity and reverence, due to the covenant taking place in the presence of God and all the witnesses. For some it is a bittersweet occasion, delight mixed with sadness as one era ends and a new one begins. There may even be envy or concern, but no one dares to mention it on this day. Young people watch and wonder, mostly about their own futures and dreams."
21 years ago, my vows might not have been in the context of a wedding, but the life circumstances that have followed are the same. There have been better times, there have been worse times. There have been sick times, and healthy times. There have been times with plenty of funds and times where I have been in great need. I promised to be faithful, 'til death...
Oh, how I needed that evening of celebrating Alba's new life ahead! I needed to be reminded of my own calling from the LORD, my commitment to Him, and all that we have been through together. He's worth it.
There was so much I didn't know.
I was so young and crazy.
If I had to do it all over again, I would still choose You.
I don't know about you, but I have had an interesting relationship with Keeping Up With the Joneses. (K.U.J. from here on out)
Like most kids, I didn't really know too much about K.U.J. before middle school. My childhood was routine oriented; Monday through Fridays were sleepy morning Bible readings, school, Little House on the Prairie, playing outside until supper, winding down after supper, and early bedtime. On Saturdays, we were sent outside to play after watching a cartoon & finishing our chores, of course. After Saturday night baths we got to watch HeeHaw before bed. Sundays were fun days: running around the church building before & after Sunday School, imitating the grown ups during the service and sometimes listening to the sermon more than I'd originally anticipated. Sunday afternoons were big lunches, books, playing outside and cereal for supper. It was a pretty light & free childhood. (Except for having to work in the garden during the summer. Torture.) Anyway, if my parents ever struggled in their own relationships with K.U.J., I never knew it.
I became more aware of K.U.J. in middle school and high school. I think K.U.J. also went by Peer Pressure during those years, now that I think about it. However, I still didn't see what the big deal was. It seemed to me like K.U.J. involved actions that could ruin my life, and I just didn't find it too attractive. I was busy having fun with my friends, playing sports, and trying to be a good student. Every once in awhile I would think that I was missing out on something, and I would feel the pull to K.U.J., but for the most part I lived in my own world.
Keeping Up With The Joneses began to look a LOT different in college. As a student in a Bible College, the majority of the student body shared a desire to grow in Christ and it was, to this day, one of the most favorite seasons of my life. But, looking back, this is when I became aware that even among Christians there were different ways of doing life and it seemed that I could choose which Christian "group" to belong to. I found this to be difficult, especially when I looked up to and respected many professors and friends who had different ways of viewing the same situation. Sometimes those views really put them at odds with one another, and I began to feel the pressure of having to choose a side, even though nobody was telling me to do so. K.U.J. had suddenly gone spiritual, and it would influence my life over the next 23 years.
As I reflect on the last two decades, I can recognize that I have struggled when it comes to decision-making within the Christian community. If I am trusting that each person/group is trying to obey the Lord the best that they know how, how do I make personal decisions? After looking first to Scripture, then to whom do I listen? Whose advice do I take? What place does submission to authority have here? Two people whom I love dearly see this issue from opposite sides - how do I proceed with this decision? What role does the Holy Spirit play in this? How do I resist individualism but move forward boldly when I feel the Holy Spirit raising red flags in my heart?
One good thing that came out of Crazy 2020 was that I had ample time to FINALLY sit down and reevaluate my life in ministry. I had been feeling a change coming for a couple of years prior, and even though I had already taken the first step of preparing for a move to northern Spain, there were still changes that needed to be made regarding ministry. And sometimes the truth hurts. I had to face the hard reality that I had been following certain ministry practices mostly because of two reasons:
1. People I love are hard-core into it and "what would they think if I wasn't?" (K.U.J.)
2. I wanted to prove to those above me that I was following their wishes enthusiastically. (K.U.J.)
These motives are, well..........embarrassing, to say the least. Which also proves why the previous 3 years had been miserable. I had turned into a person that I myself couldn't stand, and it was obvious that others felt the same. That's hard to swallow. But that's a story for another day.
Back to the Crazy 2020 lockdown: I prayerfully came to the conclusion that I was tired of Keeping Up With the Joneses (Missionary Edition).
For so long there had been pressure from all around, always pushing at a pace that was unsustainable. When that was taken away, I found myself getting my bearings for a moment. But then, there came this growing realization/feeling that I hadn't had in a long time, and it was accompanied by a deep sense of joy..........it was freedom! Freedom in Christ! Freedom from a specific ministry system, freedom from comparison with other mission teams, freedom from a prepackaged way of life. Instead, there is joy in obeying the Word of God, peace in discussing life in Jesus with loved ones, and delight in following the Gentle Shepherd. I have a new hunger and respect for the Bible, a deeper love for the Church & its place in society, and renewed trust in the Holy Spirit to lead and to guide.
(A little disclaimer here: All of these changes have been in regard to different views on ministry and strategies in missions and how they have affected me personally. I am not talking about the indisputable essentials of the gospel. May the Lord bless every effort to make his Name known!)
I do not know what the rest of my life holds, but I do know this: my days of Keeping Up With The Joneses are over. Oh, I am not so naive as to think that my mistakes are over - that is only a hope for heaven! But my new aspiration is more along the lines of what Paul says to the Galatians: "Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit."(5:25) And although keeping in step with the Spirit often seems harder than keeping up with the Joneses, the grace & joy that comes with it allows for a reasonable pace. Well, at least for this slow gal. 😁
**Just for fun, I looked up the origin of the phrase "Keeping up with the Joneses," and found that it was born out of a comic strip by Arthur R. "Pop" Momand that ran from 1913-1940. Enjoy a piece of it below!