This is a presentation I gave here at Sunday evening service on the 12th, so I’ll eventually backdate it to that day.
When I told people I was going to join Wycliffe Bible Translators, they would all ask “Oh, what languages do you speak?” My response was “I speak nerd.”
My name is Matthew Lee, and I work in the Linguistic Software Training department with Jenni Beadle. I’ve always loved teaching computers and technology to adults, but the real story of getting here is not the technical journey, but the spiritual path. It is a story about giving up control to God and following him with immediate abandon. I could sum it up with this line buried in an unlikely source, Herbert’s series of science fiction novels called Dune, which incited a revolution in my heart.
Every faintly evil thought must be put aside immediately before it takes root.
~Liet-Kynes (Dune: House Harkonnen by Brian Herbert)
The word that really caught me was: “immediately”. I knew that Herbert often uses lines lifted from scripture in his books, so I went looking for the origin of this idea. It actually is paraphrased from an ancient Chinese text, the I Ching, but the idea is sound in Christian theology. In Mark’s Gospel, he uses the Greek term Euthys (Euthos), usually translated as immediately, straightaway, or next, as an adverb 40 times.
This word “Immediately” precedes obedience to Christ,
Mark 1:18 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.
Immediately precedes miracles,
Mark 1:42 Immediately the disease left him, and he was healed.
Immediately precedes professions of faith,
Mark 9:24 Immediately the father of the boy cried out, “I do believe! Help my unbelief.”
and more frighteningly, immediately precedes works of the Devil and demons.
Mark 4:15 These are the ones along the path where the word is sown: when they hear, immediately Satan comes and takes away the word sown in them.
This word is a signpost for everyday events that become life-changing or world-changing. The adjective form of Euthys, as if this Greek word could be even cooler, means upright before God, straight, proper, or right. There are weeks of Bible study bound up in just this one word, both a time and a method.
So how did I get to Cameroon? I’ll tell you it wasn’t through immediate obedience. I’m slow at everything I do: work, reading, and making decisions because I second-guess, wait for a better option, or just plain get distracted.
Though I grew up in a God-loving family, knew the Bible stories, and was heavily active in the church, I missed out on starting a personal relationship with Christ until 10th grade. I’m not saying I was a terror, in most situations, I’d settle on the right thing, but I was like a soldier cut off from my chain of command. Even then, often I felt prideful that I knew better than God what I needed, and I wouldn’t escape the ungodly situations I kept getting into in my relationships until so much damage was already done. I was positive that I was strong, and that I could walk the line between faith and fulfilling my own desires. A steamy moment, a compromising situation, or a moment of weakness…and I would slip further from my God, one little step at a time. I was not grounded in the Word. My hypocrisy and pride kept me from forming many close friendships with other Christians so I had no accountability for my actions.
Proverbs 14:12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.
Probably more dangerous, my actions were a stumbling block for several non-Christians. Thoughts became desires. Desires became action. Actions became barriers between me and God. What I didn’t realize was that both thoughts and actions, were sin.
“Virtue—even attempted virtue—brings light; indulgence brings fog.” ~C.S. Lewis
In a moment of clarity and…well…foolishness, I challenged God to break my pride that I could control my own life…and He apparently took it as His personal project. Relationships, class-work, guilt, friendships, work, priorities, and health all crashed my senior year of college. Needless to say, I hit rock bottom several times, finally crying out for help and realizing that I didn’t know what I wanted or needed. I left college recovering physically, spiritually, and emotionally from a catastrophic burnout. Yep, be careful what you wish for. That’s when I picked up the Euthys principle.
“Every faintly evil thought must be put aside immediately before it takes root.”
I finally realized the life-and-death implications of that slippery slope I’d been walking. Sin was destroying my heart. I found that habitual sin could more easily be avoided by starting early, setting and following boundaries in the light of day, rather than trying to do a U-turn at the last moment.
Proverbs 4:25-27 Let your eyes look forward; fix your gaze straight ahead. Carefully consider the path for your feet, and all your ways will be established. Don’t turn to the right or to the left; keep your feet away from evil.
Each time an ungodly thought would arrive, my newfound duty was to pray, give it to God, and replace that thought with scripture. Turning selfish thoughts directly into focused prayer…what a concept! The Spirit started to did wonders in my heart and I began to trust more and more. My life began to change and I even began to give Him control, though not always immediately. The scripture hidden in my heart wouldn’t give Satan a handhold or let me head down the same dark roads. As I read the Bible with new urgency, my relationship with Christ grew. I started to focus my prayer on removing whatever fog or idol or barrier I’d put up between God and myself. For the first time in my life, I entered into spiritual warfare.
2 Cor10:3-5(4b-5) For although we are walking in the flesh, we do not wage war in a fleshly way, since the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments and every high-minded thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.
Some of you know that I can still be awfully stubborn, prideful, or self-important. I still have quite a few moments where old authority issues creep in, but I’m happy for people to call me on it and God is happy to hammer me down again. Obedience opens the way for blessings. Blessings fuel thankfulness, and thankfulness promotes more obedience…and communication through the Living Word and Spirit is the key to that relationship. Recently, I came to realize that I had been trying to limit God, because even in prayer, I didn’t expect immediate responses. Even joining Wycliffe was not an immediate choice. I held onto the application for months while God worked hard at rebuilding my heart from those “pridebusting” experiences I’d asked for. I’ve long expected that I still have a long recovery road ahead, but in the wake of several small miracles, recently it’s struck me that God could heal me IMMEDIATELY.
Back to speaking nerd, I’ve known since elementary school that I wanted to teach computers to adults…incidentally, that’s when I started doing that. God has gifted me in that area. As you see, it was much later that I realized the true importance of scripture for growing in relationship with God. This position, though I still have so much to learn, is the fusion of my old and new dreams. I get to work with both beginner and experienced users to solve technical problems…all with the goal of providing scripture that can be held in the hearts of all people. Doing all this while living in Africa…that’s an unexpected bonus. I have no doubt that this is where I’m meant to be. I’m living proof that God can patiently guide a person where he wants them, even if they choose the long way.
God is good, and I recognize His blessings more and more every day. He blessed me with friends, a loving family, and partners that are behind our goals. I can’t help but wonder how much more God could have accomplished and how much damage could have been avoided had I followed him “immediately” instead of dragging my heels. The little decisions you make right now determine whether you give the Devil a handhold or whether you continue to follow your Lord in the future. The best part is that you don’t have to do it alone. Christ or the Devil are both ready and waiting to work in your life…right now. Just choose your next step.