December 6, 2010
Saint Nicholas: On this date, many of my Dutch heritage celebrate "St. Nicholas Day," a tradition I enjoyed also as a child. St. Nicholas of course doesn't belong to the Dutch, or to anyone else (with the possible exception of Turkish citizens), but to the world. It's upon St. Nicholas's life that the legend of Santa Claus was developed.
Nicholas was born in 280 AD, in Patara, a city of Lycia in Asia Minor (modern Turkey). He served as a Christian priest and was appointed Bishop of Mrya in the early 300s. Nicholas inherited great wealth when his parents died, but kept none of it, choosing instead to sell his goods and give gifts to the poor. The process by which he did this earned him fame in the Catholic church and subsequently in legend.
While it is difficult to validate each of the many stories flowing from his life, the consistency and abundance of these stories illustrate something the heart of this early church leader and have influenced many others through history.
In one such story, Nicholas came to the rescue of a poor family. A single father was destitute and had been sending his three daughters to beg on the streets to survive. Nicholas heard of their great need. He passed by their home at night and tossed a few small sacks of gold through the open window. Some accounts of the story say Nicholas, so they might have a dowry, hid the gold in the toe of socks the daughters had washed and hung by the fire to dry.
Nicholas became known as the gift giver in the region. Some themes and events of his life:
He wanted to give anonymously. He preferred not to be recognized for his gifts and generosity. His gifts, therefore, were often given late at night so that the giver's identity would remain secret.
He paid a particular interest in the needs of children. St Nicholas was eventually named the patron saint of children, sailors, Russia and Greece.
He participated at the Council of Nicea 323 AD, a great moment in the history of the church clarifying doctrine surrounding the humanity and deity of Christ.
He was persecuted and imprisoned for a time (in the early 300s) by the Roman emperor Diocletian.
Nearly 400 churches were dedicated to Saint Nicholas in Europe during the Middle Ages.
You may be interested in more...
But the point is this: behind the Santa story - told now in some version in almost every land on earth - is God's gift of Himself in the Gospel of Christ, the source and motivation of the giving of Nicholas of Turkey and the source and inspiration for the "holiday" (a contraction of "holy day") celebrated around the world, including myriads who know Him not. May it be our joy and privilege to tell the full story and introduce those who do not yet know him, to the Saviour, the giver of grace and restorer of all things!
December 1, 2010
Christmas Surprise! The surprise of Mary encounter by the angel's announcement or that of the shepherds is often missed in what may become rather routine in our celebration of His birth. Further we have largely acquiesced to society's insistence that our celebration of Christ's birth be pushed to the private margins so that we rarely expect public expression of joy. Witness an expression of Christmas surprise as it was intended! Can you think of other ways to bring surprise and joy? I'd love to hear about them! Joy to the World!
November 11, 2010
Who can say what is "Right" or "Wrong"?
When a person asks, sometimes restraining anger, "Who is to say if (a certain behaviour) is right or wrong - or if right and wrong even exists?" I sometimes wonder if they mean, "Who are you to say that my view or behaviour is wrong?" No one likes to be confronted with that possibility. Often this scenario arises when the subject relates to 'hot buttons' - abortion and the nature of marriage. Even more offensive in the context of post-modernity's generalreluctance to make moral distinctions, rooted in it's broader rejection of philosophical or moral absolutes, is the concept of consequence.
Yet the thought of
human trafficking, child labour, or the realization that prototypes of
Hitler's death camps were developed by Kaiser Wilhelm II in Africa prior to
World War I1 cause
sane humans to shudder and rankle. Why?
The world cannot
actually live with the moral schizophrenia
of a rejection of personal moral absolutes in the 'micro'
and the demand for justice from governments, corporations and history in the
'macro.' The fact is good and evil, right and wrong, remain powerfully
evident in the world, both in the 'micro' and the 'macro.'
- The question then is rather 'what
is the line between good and evil, right and wrong, and
That line, I would suggest, exists, is defined
That line, I would suggest, exists, is defined by God's righteousness, and expressed as God's law, e.g. simply diagrammed ...
The natural consequence of crossing the line, by which God distinguishes evil from good by virtue of his own character, scripture calls judgement. Consequence (judgment) takes place, according to scripture, both in history and after history.
It is interesting to me that many who rightly rankle at injustice, rankle also at the concept of consequence (judgment) for injustice. This inconsistency may be rooted in the assumption that we can bring justice better than God, or may revert to the view that the difference between good and evil doesn't exist, and therefore consequence (judgement) should not follow.
But every human effort in history to dismiss God's definition of right and wrong has resulted in cruel totalitarian regimes in which power alone rules, or a society in which 'every man does what is right in his own eyes' (Judges 21:25) resulting in the collapse of family life and social order.
There are two other critical differences between human efforts to define good and evil, and God's definition flowing from His character:
1. We are incapable of living up to either our own standards or God's standards (Romans 7).
2. Human political regimes, based on human definitions of right and wrong and utopian visions (e.g. French revolution, communism, western liberalism), are incapable either of a) acceptance of those unlike themselves, forgiveness and reconciliation (resulting in the 20th century in 160 million killed in 57 declared wars + genocides)2, or b) of rescuing those who cross over the line they have defined.
And into thishorror and human inability comes, to those who will accept it, the grace of God in Christ. In Christ God became flesh (John 1:14) to pursue us, across the line depicted above, in a love and rescue mission where we had crossed over into evil, dying in consequence.
"Grace be to you and peace from God the Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father: to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen." Galatians 1:3-5 (KJV)
1 David Olusaga and Casper W. Erichsen, The Kaiser's Holocaust: Germany's Forgotten Genocide and the Colonial Roots of Nazism (Faber, 2010)
2 "Century of
Death" National Geographic, January 2006 (Click
October 27, 2010
The New Humanity in Christ: My artistic side isn't as developed as I would like but I love art of many kinds (cf. blog of Nov.25, 2009). This depiction, by an artist from Guatemala who I was privileged to meet in Cape Town, speaks beautifully to me of the global mission of Jesus in which we share, and of the new humanity in every culture being brought into fullness by His sacrifice for us all ... (click to enlarge):
October 25, 2010
The Lausanne Movement: I returned to London on the overnight flight from Lausanne III in Cape Town, weary but stimulated. The 2010 Congress theme was "God in Christ, Reconciling the World to Himself" (2 Corinthians 5:19) and how to bear witness to Jesus Christ and all his teaching ... Over 4000 mission leaders from 197 nations gathered to wrestle with a wide range of related issues (see program overview in PDF, or on-line with links to video & details here). As inevitable in gatherings of this size, the experience was a multi-faceted overload of sights, sounds, issues, agendas, side-meetings and networking in the context of a vast number of old friends and new; an extrovert's paradise! Ok, ok, I'm not an extrovert but I tried to keep up!
Access: One significant difference between this experience and Lausanne II in Manila in 1989 is the internet. A wide variety of video clips are now available and I encourage you to peruse areas of interest here.
The Cape Town Commitment: Lausanne has produced statements which have shaped the evangelical movement (Lausanne Covenant, 1974 and Manila Manifesto, 1989) and Lausanne in Cape Town will be no exception. "The Cape Town Commitment" is still in draft form but Part I is available in PDF and on-line. I've not yet studied it in detail but like what I've seen. (Note: the full text is now available here [as of 1 Feb. 2011])
Church Planting: I connected with church planting leaders in a variety of settings - breakfast, lunch and coffee meetings, a GCPN information meeting which went well, and more - looking always for regional leaders with the heart and capacity to mobilize church planting in entire nations or regions. (These are being invited to Turkey next spring for prayer and training to develop teams to resource mobilizers at both levels.) It was encouraging also to see the distribution of pen drives to all Lausanne delegates containing background and link to a research survey which is part of a GCPN partnership effort towards identifying towns and villages globally where disciple making communities are not yet inviting people to follow Jesus.
A helpful strategic input in my view was a paper presented by Paul Eshleman highlighting the need for coordination between what have sometimes become mission specialities. A diagram of his 10 mission foci towards completion of the Great Commission can be seen here.
Then there is personal impact. A teammate asked me to summarize and I would focus on two words:
Integrity and Suffering: Integrity has to do with the right to offer the world the reconciliation of the Gospel. We were confronted in Cape Town with the reality that too often the lifestyles of those who claim the name of Jesus are too little different from the lives of those around us. If we are to speak of reconciliation, we must live in reconciliation with one another. If we speak of newness of life in Christ, we must live in the newness of communion with Christ as His obedient disciples. Too often those who claim the name of Christ seek power, wealth and success in the same terms as the world. This is not that to which we have been called. We have been called to be servants, lording it over no one, givers rather than takers. Integrity requires that repentance begins with us before we speak of it to the world. To the degree to which we become indistinguishable from the world we lose our right to speak of Him.
This is especially true in regard to suffering. Let us stop asking, 'where was God when I hurt?' as if the point of the Gospel is to avoid suffering. Rather let us seek to absorb more suffering of the world than we inflict on others. If we suffer, let it be because our Master suffered and we are following Him. Let us not find suffering a surprise or seek to avoid the cost of following Him. If we are persecuted let it be because of the consistency of our lives with the Gospel, not because of our lack of integrity. If we suffer, let us suffer for our integrity with the Gospel and let us live in integrity with the Gospel.
The Lausanne Movement may be the most influential evangelical mission movement of the last 35 years, and likely longer. In the perspective of history, it could be argued to be the greatest legacy of it's founder, Dr. Billy Graham.
October 17, 2010
The Essence of Christian Leadership: Many resources to develop leadership exist in the Christian community today. Leadership is of course critical to every church and mission - see how much Jesus invested in developing 12 leaders. Christian leaders however are too often in trouble. Not for shortage of skills, as important as they are. The greater need and shortfall is too often Jesus.
I recently wrote the following to a team of leaders with which I'm privileged to work: "Most importantly, let me encourage us all to continue to press into the Lord. We need to stay deeply rooted in Him. I've added Malcolm Webber's reflection below because I believe the truth he highlights essential as we press into what undoubtedly will include further challenges and spiritual warfare. The Lord is with us and is unequivocally committed to our growth in Christlikeness. Malcolm's comments relate particularly to leaders of ministries which is growing and effective:
From our perspective in working with Christian leaders in some of the fast-church growth areas of the world, the greatest single need for indigenous leaders is a return to the preeminence and centrality of the Person of Jesus Christ in their daily lives and ministries. Ministry growth very naturally creates more responsibilities and more activity. However, if leaders are not diligent, they often fall into the trap of neglecting their own spiritual lives. They also neglect their own marriages and families. Out of sincere responsibility and genuine zeal on one hand and ministry ambition and addiction on the other, a destructive but common pattern of higher and higher levels of activity and greater consequent burnout ensues. For too many leaders, their only prayer is for the success of their ministry projects, their only time in the Word is to prepare a teaching to give others - they have lost the consistent practice of personally connecting with God for their own lives. The biblical solution to this vicious cycle is a return to our first love - a practical embracing of union with Christ as the core meaning of the Christian life and the only Source of true ministry (John 15:4-5; 17:3).
Malcolm Webber, LeaderSource
October 4-7, 2010
Making Disciples: Our last four days were devoted to sharing with 50 leaders in England a training model for church planting focused on making disciples. It's well worth noting that Jesus didn't call on his disciples to plant churches so much as to make disciples (Matthew 28:17-20; John 20:21). Planting churches is intended to be a means of making disciples, true. But a church planter may gather a crowd with good music, teaching which connects or use other personal skills to assemble a congregation. If new churches gather people to reflect on Christ that is a wonderful thing of course. But Jesus makes clear His primary purpose in making disciples was that his followers make more disciples.
What is a disciple? This is more challenging than one may think. Those in non-western settings may have historically thought more about the nature of discipleship (reflections of a friend from India) than those of us in the west because the cost of discipleship forced on them in their setting has been higher than ours. Nevertheless it is increasingly clear to those of us in the west that the cost of discipleship is rising in tandem with hostility towards the Biblical worldview in our setting also.
Even so, the nature of
discipleship doesn't come from our culture but from Jesus. Following Jesus
means to be obedient to him and to call others to do the same (Matthew
28:20). It's our kids who introduced me to
Shane Claiborne, The
Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical (Zondervan, Grand Rapids), 2006 .
More recently f
. More recently friend and OC colleague Dave de Vries has served us well in inviting us to align our lives with the mission of Jesus. Its a lot easier to go to church than to be a disciple. But then Jesus didn't say much about church - but a great deal about being a disciple. Re-read the Gospel of Matthew asking yourself how Jesus made disciples of those following them. And ask him your next step.
September 18, 2010
What Majesty! Today Carol and I returned from an amazing week with friends Dick and Kathy in Switzerland, drinking in the vistas of God's creation with hearts full of praise. During the experience we hiked, shared, prayed and found our spirits often resonating with Brian Doerksen's "Creation Calls" expression of worship. Upon returning we were delighted to find the version below, with images from BBC's Planet Earth series. (For a higher resolution version suitable for sharing with a larger group, please click here.)
August 30, 2010
I Don't Believe in ... You may have heard a wounded soul say, "I don't believe in love" and find reinforcement in the fact he or she is unable to find love. I find the outcome of this circular logic tragically unnecessary and sad. The negation "I don't believe in marriage" of one divorced likewise leads relatively predictably to not engaging or failing in a future guarded effort at marriage, as expected. We've all heard people say "I don't believe God exists" and, sure enough, report they've not been able to find or relate to the One who calls and loves them. None of these examples are surprising.
What is surprising to me however is that any given negation is broadly assumed to be an adequate justification of itself. Yet the negation alone guarantees only itself. And the declaration that one doesn't have faith in love, (God, marriage, those in public office etc.) closes the door to discovering otherwise.
An affirmation of willingness to live as if love, marriage, Jesus as Messiah, the worth of hope and self-sacrifice etc. are so, does not make it impossible for one to conclude he or she was wrong. That option always remains to one who chooses it. Rather faith makes it possible that one will find the truth entailed in the positive hope affirmed. And hope is necessary for life.
Negation and faith are not equal options. Negation is only able to close doors, faith rather opens possibilities negation cannot conceive of. This is a vitally important truth in a cynical generation.
August 18, 2010
Melanie and Ryan are Engaged! This summer Carol and I decided to use our air miles to make a special trip to Canada, arriving August 2, to enjoy our adult children on their journey of parenting and other responsibilities. The day we arrived Ryan and I had a coffee during which he asked our approval of his intention to ask Melanie to be his bride. Today he proposed to Melanie and she accepted, making the commitment to share their lives together. Carol and I, as we gratefully approach the celebration of our 35th anniversary, are excited and grateful for their love, commitment and maturity as they begin this adventure together! (For details and pictures please click here.)
August 8, 2010
Marriage is for Adults: Much has been made of our societies growing inability to sustain marriage and increasingly even to agree on what marriage is and why it's a better alternative than cohabitation of various kinds. Some now suggest this inability is as foundational as western society's inability or unwillingness to distinguish between youth and adulthood. Youth by most cultures has been seen as a season of relatively carefree and protected living before engaging in the responsibilities of adulthood which include marriage and parenting. The challenge to this historically universal view in the west / post-modern world is the notion that the carefree attitude and independence of youth is not a stage on the way to maturity but a permanent and desirable way of living. This in turn leads to people marrying (or not) and in turn to having children without themselves having a commitment to growing beyond the independence and self-absorption of childhood. But since marriage is for adults rather than children, the shell of marriage cannot be sustained.
There is much in this analysis to commend itself and much in the call of the Gospel to self-sacrifice to overcome the deficit inherent in permanent youthful narcissism.
Modes of Communication:
It's not often a once-in-a-lifetime event comes along. Less often an event which is a once-in- 500-years event. Yet our generation has witnessed more than our share of even these. And many of us may not have recognized their profundity. Take communication for instance. One of the first modes of communication was spoken language, followed centuries later by written language. The next major development took thousands of years: the printing press in the 1500's which made possible books and magazines.
Now, just prior to our generation, humanity witnessed the harnessing of electricity which in comparatively rapid order has made possible telephone, recorded music, radio, television, movies and the entire digital revolution. Yes, in our lifetime!
The impact of this revolution may not yet fully be understood by most; we are still too close to it. But we have an inkling...
What does all this mean for communicating the Gospel? Many wonder and a few are experimenting. Many Muslims now explore the grace of God in Christ in the relative anonymity of web access. A small number of Jesus followers are using digital means to offer the Gospel in reality, i.e. with greater substance than "God loves you" (which in our sound byte world communicates less than those offering it may imagine).
What next? I don't pretend to know. But I hope followers of Jesus will grow bolder - in the number of quality websites available (remember every poorly done site can do as much or more harm than a good site), in the number of Christ-followers who use social networking media to point to Jesus meaningfully and often, in those who point others to the means of communicating the Gospel they find most effective.
And yet...yet the greatest and best means of communicating the Gospel remains you. Yes, you. God chose the Word to become flesh (John 1:14) and this personal connection remains the means God uses most often and that which can least easily be counterfeited. So step out in love and don't underestimate what the Lord of the Harvest would do through His Word demonstrated in your personality.
July 20, 2010
Population Explosion: In my youth, social trends suggested the biggest problem of the future would be population growth. (e.g. Paul Ehrlich, Population Bomb). Trends however to the surprise of many are almost never permanent and society is rarely ready for the inevitable reversal. This one proves to be no exception. Just as the world becomes firmly committed to the proposition of inevitable population explosion the future changes. Why? Essentially not because of a projected shortage of global food production (which has not materialized, but inequitable food distribution), but rather because of urbanization. Urbanization is linked with a change in worldview expressed in declining fertility rates pointing to increasing percentages of elderly and a declining global population. Surprised? You may want to read more (external content)...
Neither Indispensible or Dispensable: Charles de Gaulle once commented: "The cemeteries are full of indispensible men." He appeared to be commenting on the view - sometimes out of ego and sometimes out of respect for remarkable achievement - that some people cannot be replaced.
It's true of course that in one sense each of us are unique and, as parents or marriage partners for example, cannot be replaced.
I remember for instance in our younger days as pastors in Canada, the sudden death of a key leader and friend and how many people it took to pick up the immense number of roles and areas of service this friends contributed. At first I thought it would be impossible. Sometimes I'm even tempted to believe that I am indispensible to my roles and responsibilities. Yet it is not so. Only the Lord is ultimately indispensible and our sufficiency is in Him (2 Corinth 2:16). The belief that we are indispensible can result in drivenness and many other dangers.
Yet on the other hand is the even more dangerous view - leading to deadly practice - that some or all people are dispensable. All too many politicians, armies, and those willing to apply their survival-of-the-fittest philosophy to human community have demonstrated this cruelty and loss of humanity when the Gospel is lost or ignored. The poor, sick and unproductive are likely first victims of this heresy. Sometimes we see this loss of value applied to a marriage partner or discarded friendship. The result, whether expressed in subtle and violent ways, is always tragic and an affront to the Gospel.
The fact is we humans are neither dispensable nor indispensible and we can never treat ourselves or others as either. Rather the reality is that in God's grace we are unique and unrepeatable miracles of God, utterly dependent on His grace in Christ, and as such channels of that grace to fellow pilgrims on the journey. May we have, always, a right measure of ourselves and of others.
June 30, 2010
An Imbalanced Contest: I've been struck increasingly with the heartlessness of business, banks, and social systems including institutionalized bureaucracies designed to help people such as socialized medicine, services to the poor etc. In fact, the forces against the Gospel are formidable - beginning with the inclination of the human heart to self-will, through organized crime, power-hungry politics, corruption drawing aside resources intended for aid, violence, persecution and a myriad of ruthless structures and systems the scriptures call "the world." At the same time those following Christ are urged to forgiveness, humility, fairness, turning the other cheek - none of which the opponents of the Gospel value or reciprocate. It's an imbalanced contest.
But for God.
The Gospel opposes deceit with truthfulness in innermost places (Psalm 51:6), the ruthlessness of Roman crucifixion with resurrection, oppressive darkness with dawning light, injustice with the Innocent willing to take the place of the guilty, a heartless "system" with the loving heart of the Father for eternity. And despite the apparent imbalance, as with unarmed believers against gladiators or lions of Diocletian's fancy (below) and modern innovations, the outcome is nevertheless certain (Colossians 2:9-15) so we follow in the mission and train of Jesus in unconquerable hope.
June 21, 2010
Croatia: Every country has stories which should not be forgotten. Recently travel took us to Croatia where we learned the city of Split originated when Diocletian decided to take early retirement as Caesar of the Roman Empire in 305AD (a wise decision, since most Caesars didn't survive to old age) and built the palace depicted by an archaeologist in 1912 and still viewed by professionals as highly accurate). Diocletian's persecution of Christians, which was one of the most severe of the era, was motivated by the fact they wouldn't worship Diocletian as the god he viewed himself to be. Consistent with his view, Diocletian built temples to three of his gods within the palace wall and a monument to himself which was larger than each of the temples. The monument to him is the highest structure in the photo and one of the few original buildings in near original condition. I'm often amazed with the engineering and construction techniques of ancient peoples - in this case the whole palace being built by slave labour in 10 years. Another walled city of Croatia, Dubrovnik, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was shelled in the early 1990's as part of an attempt to force annexation to Montenegro (Wikipedia account; Youtube video) and amazingly Europe (Austria being 15 miles at some points from the Croatian boarder) didn't lift a finger. Our ride to the airport was significant also as we got a first hand narration from our 33 year old driver, who shared personal experiences of the Serbian scorched-earth policy we'll long remember. Which stories of your country's past must not be forgotten? Have you shared them with the next generation?
June 3, 2010
Releasing Control: It's been quite a week! May 24 leaders from each of OC's sending bases converged on Worthing for a gathering which will be seen as the most significant in the mission's 60 year history. It was to be the "hand off" of leadership from Colorado Springs, from where the mission had been capably led for many years, to the circle of comparatively smaller sending bases around the world, now to be known as the "OC Global Alliance." It was a free and voluntary "hand off" to de-centralize and empower smaller bases to advance the mission of Christ in the world. A risk, yes, but we trust the Holy Spirit!
The same week I "handed off" leadership of the Europe Area Carol and I have had the privilege of leading since April 2006. Teams in 7 countries will be cared for by the capable hands of my friend and associate, Stan Downes, and teams in 3 other countries by Ric Escobar. The teams will do well in their care. Why the change? So that I will be able to give more attention to the development of a Global Church Planting Network (see entry of March 1, 2010) with the purpose of connecting needs and resources to accelerate church planting in as many countries as possible around the world.
Transition is always a bit disconcerting - as when Dad lets go of the bicycle seat when we were children and suddenly we're off on our own. But the transition is also good because then we're able to fly! In each of these transitions we release hold of the bicycle seat and trust the Lord for greater things for His redemptive mission in our broken and needy world. How desperately the world needs the spirit of our Lord Jesus! Small risks and discomforts are nothing to that end.
May 24, 2010
The Normal Christian Life: I'm convinced that what is "normal" is not the same as what is broadly "usual." This was the point of Watchman Nee's book by this title and the point of the video by Darren Wilson (below: "The Finger of God" (Pt 2) in which he shares examples of what he believes reflect God's radical intention in the Love and Rescue story which is the Bible and should be more broadly "normal" as followers of Christ engage our needy world in the power of Christ today. Prepared to be challenged. I share it not because I can document or defend every segment, but because I've come to believe that God's love and power is more radical than ours. That shouldn't threaten us, but simply make us hungry and thirsty for more...
May 15, 2010
The Trip that Is!: Shortly after my return to Worthing, our eldest son Chris, set out on his own adventure. He left May 8 with Julie's family on their 50 foot Porpoise. Plans are to sail from their home in White Rock, BC to Hawaii, to Alaska, back to Vancouver - a three month journey-of-a-lifetime! The good ship is off to a good start with somewhat limited contact with those who love them, but with the aid of technology we can track progress here. Julie and Kai will fly to visit when their family arrives in Hawaii, thinking that three week open-water stretch might be it bit much for our grandson. Check back, we'll keep you posted...
And here are Chris's reflections after 23 days at sea and some of Cap'n John's journal entries along the way: May 7, 9, 11, 13, 17, 2010. You're going to love them! The latest has just arrived!
May 5, 2010
The Trip that Wasn't: Every now and then you have a trip like this one. But hopefully not often. Early 1 May I set out for Brazil, 17 hours away by air, plus a 9 hour layover in Newark, NJ. Actually it's the kind of trip I like because the long hours on planes and in airports allow me to get a lot of work done. In opening my laptop 10 minutes into the flight from London however I discovered however a computer hard drive failure I wasn't able to repair leaving me entirely unable to work. Then in the Newark airport after the long layover, I learned I would be denied access to my flight to Sao Paulo due to a lack of a visa, now required, but news to me. After two days waiting for the Brazilian consulate in New York to open and a day of standing in lines and jumping through hoops, I was told the visa application would take two working days to process, which by then made the trip to Brazil pointless since the conference would be concluding. As close to Brazil I got during those days was the sign at the right, taken outside the Brazilian consulate. It was a frustrating, embarrassing, tiring experience I hope never to go through again.
But the Lord had a point. He always does. So I asked Him. Several times. What then was He showing me in this "non-trip" experience?
My limitations: It's humbling but necessary to own my limitations. I had to acknowledge that despite my best efforts on many fronts I couldn't get the needed visa in time or get into Brazil in a timely way. The result humanly speaking was wasted time and resources and lost opportunities for important meetings with leaders there. I had to own the fact that I hadn't even considered the possibility that Brazil might have a different approach than the most recent countries I visited (Columbia and Turkey, who sell visas in-country) and that I'd brushed off an airline check-in agent's question in London (who didn't know either) as to whether a visa was needed and pressed ahead without giving it another thought.
Solitude is a valuable gift of God in which He speaks: It was in fact very good to be forced (no laptop, no trip) to slow down and just be present to the Lord, and the Lord to me. The slowdown was long-overdue and I used one of the days as a full day of silence and solitude as I asked the Lord a series of important questions and reflected deeply on what I sensed to be His responses. The Lord usually speaks in a "still small voice" as He did to Elijah and it was a rich time to which I will return more frequently than I have of late.
Scripture memory: Some of the "extra" time I invested in scripture memory, choosing a key verse or so from each chapter of Galatians (1:3-4; 2:20; 3:14; 4:4-7; 5:5; 6:14) outlining key themes of this foundational letter to commit to memory. I jotted them onto small cards (planning to add a key verse from each chapter encountered in my "quiet time" in days ahead). I found almost immediate applicability. For instance, Galatians 2:20 spoke often when I was frustrated, tired, angry; Gal. 6:14 of the folly of even considering the offerings of the world which are off-limits.
April 21, 2010
Ephesus: Carol and I are in Turkey for a gathering of European Evangelical Alliance leaders. The morning before meetings began we visited Ephesus, site of one of the seven churches of Revelation 2 to which Paul's letter to the Ephesians is also written. Upon arriving at the harbour Paul would have walked this road facing the amphitheatre where many Christians would die in one-sided "blood games" against wild animals or gladiators. The city was also home to the temple of Artemis (Greek) / Diana (Roman) goddess of fertility challenged by Paul in Acts 19. Ephesus, destroyed in an earthquake in the 8th century was largely abandoned, but Christians used many of the stones of the amphitheatre to build a 130 metre church (6th largest Christian structure in Europe) honouring the apostle John. Asia Minor (Turkey) was overcome by Muslims in the 12th century and the church used as a mosque. Another earthquake destroyed the structure approximately 1380AD and the entire city was covered over until "re-discovered" in the 19th century. At that time 20-25% of the population was Christian. Today this figure is less than 0.3% (<200,000 of 70 million) due significantly to the Turkish massacres of Armenians in 1894-96 and 1909 and the more systematic genocide of 1.2 million Armenian Christians under cover of the "Great War."
Why is all this important? For several reasons:
The transformational power of the Gospel in any generation cannot be assumed to be permanent. Europe was largely lost to the Gospel since World War II and North America is in that process while India and China are being won. Assume nothing, but work and pray.
Followers of Christ have often been the object of violence, not only in "more violent times" but in all generations. Today 165,000 Christians die in the process of living out their witness to Christ annually.
The lessons written by Paul for the benefit of the church in Ephesus are as relevant today as then. If you've not read the letter lately, you might do so again with this broader context in mind.
March 28, 2010
As Carol and I returned to England, we stopped in Ottawa to see a long-time OC ministry colleague and friend dying of cancer. Glenn was diagnosed more than 2 1/2 years ago and has had much time to process and prepare.
Glenn observed that though a person who is dying generally needs to talk about it, he has found visitors are often uncomfortable, fearing perhaps their friend will be emotionally upset by a conversation about death. Glenn wasn't that way.
He spoke of the importance of leaving nothing unsaid. He had the opportunity to think about relationships, to express gratitude for what has been, sometimes to express regret for what will not be. Glenn suggested to me a book, "Nothing Left Unsaid" by Mary Polce-Lynch, which helped him think through this important process. (Available on Amazon here)
Glenn spoke of having learned to face death without fear. Three times in his struggle with cancer he was told his death might be imminent, three times he was given more time. With increasing certainty Glenn said that, while he wants to live, he does not fear death. Glenn knew himself to be "chosen, bought and Christ's." (March 10, 2010 entry below)
Glenn passed into the more immediate presence of the Lord April 10, 2010.
March 18, 2010
Melanie's Graduation: What a joy it is the celebrate our children! Those who are not parents may not understand this fully, but it's true. Carol and I returned to Vancouver following meetings in Colorado last week to celebrate Melanie's graduation from the nursing program of the British Columbia Institute of Technology, which she achieved "with distinction!" That's the academic term. To share a story of the human side of this term: As a student nurse she was assigned to a man dying without physical cause, but dying he was. Through her care and kindness (ask Carol or me sometime about the details) hope was restored in his soul and his battle for life resumed, leading to his recovery and life today. Isn't that what nurses are supposed to do? Yes, but (with the demands of a full case load it is sometimes difficult to resist the pressure to get through the list of things to do, and take time to nurse with a human touch). Carol and I rejoice in what Mel is bringing to her profession, and pray that in the demands of each day, the memory of that man will shape her choices. Melanie was also working the shift in November during which Julie gave birth to Kai, a difficult delivery, and walked the line between professional and sister-in-law with character and, well, distinction. Happy and proud parents? You bet!
March 10, 2010
Chosen, Bought and Christ's: When you or I walk through a car lot or house or apartment and purchase a car or home we have no difficulty understanding that we own that car or home, and that it is ours. In fact, the more we pay for that car, home or item the more certain we are that it has become ours. Few dispute this reality.
However when it is we who are purchased and therefore owned by another, this reality is not as easy for us to fathom. Marriage comes the closest perhaps. Some who say "I do" understand the profound reality of no longer being entirely his or her own, having transferred "title" to our heart, body and future to the man or woman standing across from us.
Recently I found myself reflecting again on the foundational reality that Christ purchased us on the cross and we are His. "None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. (Romans 14:7-8)" The reality that Jesus bought us - gave Himself for us so that we now belong to Him - is difficult for some, but wonderfully true! This reality has profound implications. Here are a few:
1. His choice, not ours: To start, we become Christ's not by choosing to follow Jesus but by acknowledging that He chose and bought us. Our choice becomes either to rejoice that we belong to Him or to reject His ownership of us. We may say, "You've redeemed me (the term means simply "paid in full") and you have the receipt (the blood stains on the cross) but I refuse your legitimate claim on me." Or we may say, "Thank you, Lord!" There is no middle ground.
2. Secure in His love: Because He has already redeemed me, there is no longer any doubt that He loves me and has made me His own. Some struggle with fear that they are not chosen, or not loved by God - He has already answered those fears on the cross - He has died to redeem all of us, the One freely giving his life for us all.
3. For and not against us: When we accept the reality that we are His, we are settled, secure and at peace. Striving to prove ourselves, impress (ourselves or) others, earn acceptance, demand recognition or rights mercifully is over. Our status is secure. We are loved and Christ's. When difficult days come we fight only Satan, not God. Satan may seek to "kill, steal and destroy (John 10:10)" but God is for those who are His and not against us (Romans 8).
4. Desiring the will of the Beloved: Christ's purchase of us on the cross means also that the Christian life is one of God's grace and our obedience. By obedience I don't mean legalism (external compliance by which we earn acceptance) or licentiousness (by which we do as we wish) but love responding to love. Christ so loved us He gave Himself for us on the cross. "We love because He first loved us. (I John 4:19)," and love is expressed in desiring the will of the beloved. (John 14:15-27)
March 1, 2010
Incredible! India is the Indian government tourist slogan and indeed India is incredible. Carol and I return with two sets of impressions: those of India and those of the church planters we went to encourage.
Images of India are burned into my heart. I can mention only a few: a woman in ragged clothes hunched beside a food stand, her eyes empty and hopeless, the bloodied body of a woman in a bright sari on the highway where she died in a needless car accident, the magnificent Taj Mahal surrounded by hawkers pressing hard to eke out a living. Everyone is trying hard, many desperately hard; the concept of justice is in most people's mind an unexpected, distant vague hope. The worldview in which the Hindi language developed gave it no reason, to this day, to create a word for "thank-you." There are many reasons to leave one's own culture for a season. I have long suggested everyone save and plan to do so a minimum of very five years. Don't go to the tourist spots, go if possible where the tourists aren't.
Images of church planter remain also: numerous gifts of hope and transformation, homes providing safety and vocational training for high-risk, poverty-stricken young women, images of limbs severed in persecution of those unwilling to turn back from following Christ, the anticipation of beginning a translation of the Bible into the last language yet without the scriptures by 2025.
The photo to the right reminds me of the joyous mix of cultures in Christ - in this case Brazilian, Bangladeshi and Indian - in a training centre for church planters focusing on a northern state of that nation-continent. The challenges are many, the cost high, the joy in the eyes of those in which Christ is seen who is the hope of India and the rest of the word.
February 19, 2010
Global Church Planting Network: We're off in a few hours to India for a gathering of church planting leaders representing most continents of the world. To get a sense of comparative needs for church planting by nation please click here, or for more detail here.
The missiological goal is sometimes worded this way: "working towards a gathering of Bible-believing Christians within practical and relational distance of every person in the world - every class, kind and culture of people - so penetrating and transforming every neighborhood with the saving love, care, truth and power of Jesus Christ - that "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea (Habakkuk 2:14)."
However you express or envision this goal, please pray with us that end!
History would suggest that until Christ is incarnate through His people every class and kind and location of people group, broader goals of justice, peace etc. will continue to remain elusive.
Rich or Poor? A Hebrew sage once asked of the Lord:
8 Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, 'Who is the LORD ?'
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God. (Proverbs 30)
The balance is not an easy one. It seems the poor easily remain poor. And even difficult economic times seem to provide opportunities for the rich to find bargains whereby they become richer, while the poor feel helpless and unable to defend themselves. Even at "higher" levels, governments easily go into debt to pay for political promises while large private banks gain at the expense of short-sighted governments. (If you're not familiar with this relationship of governments and banks, take the time to learn the history of money: "The Money Masters" audio or video - I recommend it very highly!)
While the odds may seem "stacked" the challenge can be overcome with realistic understanding, a workable plan, and the discipline to stay with it.
When our children were younger I gathered material I believed would be helpful to them (in PowerPoint or PDF).
Discipline is the hardest part because it is a matter of the heart. Yet even this can be helped by coming to see a worthy goal clearly and keeping it in focus as you work out your plan.
Materials which may be helpful in developing your plan are posted here.
Please let me know what you find useful or where these resources could be made clearer or more helpful...
The Call to Marriage and Mission: This week brought to my awareness the latest example of "boy feels called to missions - boy meets girl - girl indicates "openness" to mission - boy marries girl - girl doesn't feel openness to mission - boy doesn't follow his call to mission." (The gender roles are of course as often reversed.) Why is this scenario so familiar? One reason I believe is that marriage is first viewed in romantic terms, defined by Hollywood, rather than as a calling, as defined by scripture. This has two affects:
1. For some, the pursuit of romantic feelings trumps their acknowledged sense of God's call to mission. This is sad because the person who misses God's call in this regard remains aware the rest of her/his life that she or he has made that decision, and lives with a sense of the possibility they may have settled for less than God's best.
2. In some marriages based on the pursuit of romantic feelings rather than the call of God, when one or both partners experience ebb in Hollywood-defined "romantic" feelings, one or both conclude their marriage must be over. It's not. When marriage is not however from the beginning viewed first as a calling from God it is far more easily abandoned when inevitable challenges arise.
God calls - sometimes to service in singleness, often to marriage - and normally to some expression of mission. Our basis of action should then always be founded first on seeking and following God's call to us. This call, when it involves marriage, will not be inconsistent with God's call to mission. If it appears to be in conflict, I would encourage you to continue to seek God's call until both the call to mission and the call to marriage (or singleness) line up.
Lions and Tigers: I learned recently about the difference between how lions and tigers fight. In single combat a tiger will almost always defeat a lion. However lions have learned to develop teams while tigers continue to fight alone. Lions therefore attack one tiger at a time and win. Tigers do not fight in a team and therefore loose. Now I'm not a fighter but this experience of nature has clear application as we engage the "powers of darkness" (Ephesians 6:10-18.) In fact, scripture speaks of a mortal enemy who "prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (I Peter 5:8). What is interesting to me is that this verse speaks of the potential victim as an individual rather than a group.
Over the years I've known many who view themselves as Christians but leave their local church and decide to "go it alone." As I observe the outcome of this strategy I find my friends who choose it over the years become weaker in their battle against the "powers of darkness" - both in the sense of personal resistance and lifestyle, and in the sense of their effectiveness on behalf of others in the "love and rescue" mission" to which we are called in Christ.
When I hear those who consider themselves followers of Jesus expressing their concerns about something someone said or did in an expression of the church with which they are familiar, I affirm their desire to see the church be all we can be together in Christ. Even if my friends choose not to continue however, I encourage them to find others with high standards, or even themselves to initiate an expression of missional community in their own community or sub-culture - but don't "go it alone." The stakes are too high.
January 13, 2010
Yes, Another Birthday!: With thanks to one of my favourite sister's-in-law, here's a pictorial representation of Carol and I celebrating my 61st birthday. Actually it wasn't that bad! Carol and I were in Spain leading two days of partnership meetings for a project bringing together several agencies to develop a leadership training facility for those coming to Christ from the Arab world. We're grateful for every day of life and the ability to live it fully for Christ!
Time: The first mechanical clocks appeared in the 13th century bringing the concept of exact time - no longer just dawn, noon, mid-day - now 6:03, 12:00, and 3:20. Today our ability to divide and measure time has grown, for example in a cesium clock, to divide a second into 9,192,631,770 parts. In so doing, amazing as is that accomplishment, we may also miss something important. Modern clocks subtly suggest time to be cyclical, i.e. after a day and the next morning, when we wake, our clock says it's the same time again. Time can then seem an infinitely repeating cycle, but it isn't - time is linear and never returns. It is in fact precious in a way that cannot be measured.
Perhaps for this reason in my growing up years, each New Year's Day or the night before, my father would read Psalm 90 which includes the request of God in v. 12: "So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom." Being reminded of the importance of using time wisely is an important gift as we launch into this next segment of our lives.
Even before becoming a follower of Christ the concept of "killing time" had seemed to me to be a waste. Now even more so my desire is to be "redeeming the time" (Ephesians 5:15-16), making the most of our limited time by focusing on those things that are most important in God's Kingdom.
I can't of course tell you exactly what that is for you. (It's interesting that only monotheist worldviews - Judaism, Christianity and Islam - view time linearly.) In the end it is only God who can teach us the value of time and how best to use this wonderful gift. I've shared however some of how I've sought to wrestle with time here.
Please join me in seeking His face for direction, not only for this year, but each part of it.