While preparing to deliver a talk on leadership for a set of interns studying and working in international sports ministry, I was struck right between the eyes by a new angle on a scripture which I have read for decades. As I have talked with these interns over the last few days I have been struck by how free they are. Many had gone to college and had completed their degrees without a dollar of debt due to their athletic scholarships and they are now contemplating a life of service to Christ in countries which they could not spell just a month ago. I was inspired by their liberty and took some time for personal reflection about my own pilgrimage over the last decade.
Peter began to say to Him, "Behold, we have left everything and followed You."
Jesus said, "Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel's sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last, first."
Peter and the disciples had all left their businesses and much more to follow Jesus. Until yesterday I had heard Jesus’ reply to Peter’s statement with little understanding or personal impact. That changed right away. I focused in on Jesus’ assertion that the disciples would receive these sacrificed items 100 times over in this present age (and persecutions as well), plus eternal life in the next.
After the last ten years of travel abroad investing in the sport chaplain and sport mentor community, I better understand this promise. The disciples were about to embark on exciting, perilous journeys and would follow Jesus’ instructions about how to travel, where to stay and how to receive hospitality (Matthew 10). They each, no doubt, wound up with homes all over their world as they carried the gospel of Christ from house to house, city to city, nation to nation. They, no doubt, found multiplied hundreds of people whose relationships with them were as dear as mothers, brothers, sisters and children. They, no doubt, also encountered persecutions which eventually took their very lives.
My wife and I live very modestly in an apartment in Carbondale, Illinois. We have two cars with over 100,000 miles on each one. My wardrobe is the subject of affectionate teasing as most everything has a logo on it (FCA or SIU), meaning I didn’t pay for it. Many of my contemporaries seem obsessed with the accumulation of wealth or at least the stuff which makes on appear to be wealthy. A few of them are truly wealthy and they have found that the wealth brings along a new set of stresses and problems.
As I sat at a picnic table in the early morning mountain breeze I realized that I have received gracious hospitality and have found homes in Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, Honduras. I have a home with my friends in Kingston, Jamaica. I have been welcomed, like I was home, in numerous states of the USA. In Melbourne, Australia I was made to feel as if I owned the place. The same has been true in Cuba, Singapore, Greece, London, Wales and now in Italy. I am the richest person I know!
As I have traveled internationally these last ten years, I have developed relationships with people on six continents and I cherish them as dearly as I do my brothers, sisters, my mother, father and my son. These total well over a hundred times as many relationships which have been lost to my pursuit of Christ’s call. My brothers and sisters speak Spanish and Chinese, Vietnamese, Patois, Farsi, German and French, Portuguese, Hindi, Thai, Swahili and many speak English with a wide variety of marvelous dialects and lovely accents. One lady who is as dear to me as a mother speaks Afrikaans and my thousands of children (in Christ) are scattered across the USA and abroad having come through sixteen years of Saluki Football, Basketball, Baseball, Softball, Track and Field, Volleyball and more. I have received of the Lord an immense, global family.
The remaining item which gives me sober pause is that I have yet to be visited by significant persecution. At most, I have been inconvenienced, misunderstood or resisted. Persecution has yet to cost me even a drop of blood (though it almost did in San Pedro Sula in 1994). The Lord’s faithfulness to the promises of multiplied possessions and relationships must be also applied to the sure to come persecutions. I trust that, upon their arrival, they will be seen as less than nothing as compared to the gracious gifts which the Lord Jesus has lavished on me over just this last decade.
I challenged the interns to charge strongly into their futures, casting caution to the wind and trusting Christ to fulfill His promises. I would challenge you and the man I shave each morning to do the same.