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Waiting for the Children of God

05/29/2012

Whenever our church goes to pick up trash heaps around town, we always begin by reading the following text.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:18-21 NIV)

I am glad that we use this text because of how it obviously speaks to God’s redemptive purposes for all of creation, including trash piles alongside the road. But, I also love using this passage because it is at the core of my theology of mission in general. Let me explain.

I am unapologetically and unwaveringly committed to Christ’s church and her essential role in God’s redemptive purposes. I neither say that lightly nor without the awareness of atrocities committed in her name. Despite her shortcomings, I love her.

I love her because I see the unique and powerful role she plays in God restoring all creation. In verse 19, Paul writes that “all creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.” This is an amazing claim about God’s people. Creation is enslaved and groaning under the weight of death, sin and suffering. And what creation is longing for is the emergence of the children of God–that is, people who are living out the way of Jesus for the sake of the world. What the world needs is for some people to be willing to die for it. Even if the world doesn’t believe the gospel, the world will move towards liberation because the church is living out the gospel in its midst. Liberation will come when a group of people begin giving away their second shirt to the one who has none. Liberation will come when a group of people practice radical hospitality to sinners and tax collectors. Liberation will come when a group of people take care of widows and orphans while also loving their enemies, and loving them as Jesus loves. Liberation will come when a group of people take up their crosses and follow him.

This is why I believe that being the church and inviting others to be the church is at the heart of mission. There are lots of ways to improve communities and serve the world, but the church is essential because new creation is only possible when kernels of wheat fall to the ground and die. The church, as as she participates in Christ’s death and resurrection, is able to live in a radically alternative way. When the church lives as if death no longer has a sting, we will then see death lose its sting before our very eyes.

That is what propelled me to come to Thailand. I want to love the people of Phayao like Christ loves them. I came thinking that this part of creation was eagerly waiting for the children of God to be revealed.

I still believe all that, but I have also begun to read this passage in a slightly different way after being here for almost three years. Before, I always read myself in the place of the “children of God.” However, I now resonate with the other side of the equation. I am creation, eagerly anticipating the children of God in Phayao to be revealed. I long for a group of Phayao people to live out the gospel in community with us in order to bring liberation. I am groaning. And I can’t wait to see the children of God.

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