Phil and Emily are moving to Atlanta to plant a church. Their goal and their role is clear. And as I prepare to follow them, the most frequent questions I get are in regards to my goal and role. Why am I going? What am I going to do there? What are my long term goals? These are fantastic questions, and I find I come into more clarity each time I am forced to consider them. Recently, I have had some clarity on what my goals really are and am writing about the journey of discovery I am on. I’ve addressed this idea through the lens of a subject we have been talking through as a church plant team, and it has led me not only to realizations of my goals, but to a new discovery in what it means to follow Jesus.
That subject is Mission.
Together we have been reading a book about how Jesus is the lens through which we must view God, church, and the world. In Jesus, we learn that God is both the sent and sending God. In other words, mission is not just God’s will, it is part of his very essence. God sent many messengers in the Old Testament. They were angels, and they were prophets. But in Jesus, God has sent himself. He has identified himself with mission.
We who follow Jesus have also been identified with mission. It’s written on the wall of Mill Creek Foursquare Church; Jesus says to those who follow him, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21). How was Jesus sent? To lay his life down for a people. I don’t think I can atone for anyone’s sin, but I do think that there is a people for whom God will ask me to lay down my life.
There’s this phrase: “a hill worth dying on.” I think that Calvary was a hill worth dying on for Jesus, and that following him will always ultimately mean we walk willingly toward our own hill to die on. Our own city to weep over. Our own people to give everything we have for.
Our city may not crucify us, but it will be the death of us. It will demand the full relinquishing of our will. I don’t mean to be unneccessarily morbid. Scripture says that Jesus endured the cross for the joy set before him. The joy! The joy outweighed the suffering. For Jesus, it really was a hill worth dying on because he was in love with the people he was sent to. We will be too, when our day comes to die.
Truthfully, we all ache for a hill worth dying on. We want to live a life that counts. We want to make a difference. I submit that in it’s purest form, it is a basic drive in our nature, a piece of God’s image stamped on every human soul. We want purpose. We want a mission. But when we begin to move forward in that path, we discover that it is fraught with death to self. A life pursuing comfort and security becomes more and more appealing and mission is relegated to an afterthought to assuage our seared consciences. We love Jesus, so we keep saying yes to follow him, but we move so slowly toward the hill worth dying on, weighed down by fears and comforts, that we die before we get to the top.
About two years ago, I became convinced that church planting was the worthiest thing I could give my life to. I had a deep sense, however vague, that my hill would have something to do with church planting. I still don’t know whether I will be one sent out to plant my own church. Maybe I will. Maybe my hill looks a little different. Here’s what I do know: Atlanta is Phil and Emily’s hill. Phil was born in Idaho, and is honestly a bit out of place in the South. Recently though, he mused that this move to Atlanta feels like he is being sent home.
Our hills call to us.
Jesus of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem, was drawn ever onward to the city he knew would be the death of him. He inherited the age-old love of the Father for Jerusalem. A 33 year old man got the download of God’s 1000+ year old heart for the city, saying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!”
Yes, I believe Jesus is God, but I also believe that he was subject to all the limitations of a human body. In this view, he would have felt a deep affinity with the biblical narrative, but would not explicitly remember as having watched the history unfold before his eyes. His lament over Jerusalem then, was a human response to being overwhelmed with God’s aching heart for the city. This compels me, because I know what it’s like to get the download of God’s heart for something or someone, on a small scale. I think when I ascend my hill, I will feel a love too big to be contained in a human body.
This church plant in Atlanta is not my hill to die on, at least, not in the sense that it is for Phil and Emily. It is however, on the road to my hill. It is, for me, the next Yes to following Jesus. We know from the lives of the apostles that journeying with Jesus to His hill changed them forever. Though they abandoned him the eve of the crucifixion, 11 out of 12 ultimately did follow him, each to their own hill. I go to Atlanta not only because I believe in the mission of Phil and Emily, but because I know no better or faster way to come nearer my own.
So I have now realized my main goal in moving to Atlanta; to take my next step in discovering the hill Jesus will give me. A hill worth dying for.