Friday, July 31, 2009

God's garden

Summer is very pretty in Seattle. We've left behind spring's stunning contrasts of light greens against deep blue firs. But the mad gardeners of the Northwest are admiring landscape designs, the results of planting and weeding swaths of flower borders, new shrubs, and trees. Bright dahlias have burst into bloom. Vines curl up the siding and around the base of flowerbeds. Sunflowers tower against the garden walls.

We wore long sleeves on our 7am cycle to the grocer. The house has settled into a cooler, bearable temperature. Just in time for the overcast morning, my swim spa is full and functional again, thanks to the heroic efforts of a loving husband who built the side supports yesterday. How I look forward to swimming this summer and fall!

Our new canary (a Waterslager male) is still thinking about singing as he settles into the aviary. He was in a tiny cage in someone’s office and is now in a 3X3X5’ space. My other birds are being watched by a friend this summer so he’s lonely. It’s fun to watch him cock his year this way and that as he listens to the birds in our forest. I miss the pure clear song of our American Singer: the neighbor’s cat killed it through the cage wires the day after I left for Springfield.

The fish in the courtyard pond are lazing near the bottom except to pick off mosquito larvae. The fragrance of jasmine hangs heavy in the air as I head outside to work remotely. The little plant that languished under other plants for four or five years grew tall enough to hit the sun and exploded upwards to twine around our porch posts two years ago. It’s a lovely morning in the city. Reminds me of the verses on the spectacular bloom God has planned for us:

It is the same way with the resurrection of the dead. Our earthly bodies are planted in the ground when we die, but they will be raised to live forever. Our bodies are buried in brokenness, but they will be raised in glory. They are buried in weakness, but they will be raised in strength. —1 Corinthians 15:42–43

Thursday, July 30, 2009

GPS adjustment

Reuters printed an interesting article:
Tourists miss isle after GPS blunder: Tue Jul 28, 2009
ROME (Reuters) - Two Swedes expecting the golden beaches of the Italian island of Capri got a shock when tourist officials told them they were 650 km (400 miles) off course in the northern town of Carpi, after mistyping the name in their GPS.

"It's hard to understand how they managed it. I mean, Capri is an island," said Giovanni Medici, a spokesman for Carpi regional government, told Reuters Tuesday. "It's the first time something like this has happened."

Getting lost in Italy is one thing. But how many of us wander through life, hoping for fulfillment and peace but ending up with a litter of broken dreams in our wake? How many of us hurt those we love most with careless actions and personal decisions?

When we set our GPS (God Positioning System) to ourselves or other gods, we can’t possibly reach our destination. Jesus taught the Beatitudes as a series of alignments to God’s character. Following them is counter-intuitive to American culture. We learn to get all the stuff we can and put our own interests first.

From an Asian expat, I learned that Thailand is one of the world’s most violent countries. The façade of peace in its nationalistic Buddhism is a thin veneer over mean, fiercely aggressive interpersonal relationships. It’s a land of suicide, murder, robbery, and cruelty. “When you’re a tourist, everyone is nice. As soon as you are part of the group, they rip you apart, slash you to ribbons, and demean you.”

I was taken aback because of the American enchantment with Buddhism. I asked if I’d heard him correctly.

He replied, “Every Thai knows the front presented to the West is a façade. Living in Thailand is one of the most devastating experiences possible… unless you have self-worth based on a relationship with God rather than dependence of the words of others. If you need human affirmation, Thais will demoralize you completely.”

Many people in the USA compare the worst of Christianity to the best of other religions. People rightly call all of us imperfect Christians “hypocrites” when we don’t measure up to Jesus’ standards. At the same time, they assume Buddhism brings serenity. They do yoga, the practice of Hinduism with its factions of multiple gods and personalized rituals that demeans all but a single class of Brahmins. They study Islam for its best qualities, ignoring the requirement of jihad, accepted by every Muslim, which demands destroying every other system by whatever means to bring about “Peace” (submission to Islam.)

I want to set my GPS to God’s Word and his truth. Even when I detour, I know where I’m going. And Scripture’s compass is set to show us how to get there.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Two books

Two books are up for grabs this week:enjoy your summer reading - the first person to ask for each will get the book. I was looking online for the first and found - for all of you who are disorganized perfectionists. You like to get things done well, but love clutter in the process.

The first book is NOT that kind of perfect mess, but can be found here. The second book is written by a friend of mine who lives a big and influential life in her own community. She's written some great WWII stories after talking to veterans, as well as this latest on being a mom. Find out more below and here.

Book: A Perfect Mess
Author: Lisa Harper

Caught up in the self-imposed pressure to do and be all the things they think a Christian woman ought to do and be, countless women are working desperately to convince everyone, including God, that they have it all together. Few have any idea that the Creator of the universe looks at them with delight even when they yell at the dog, drive a minivan littered with French fries, or think bad words about that rude clerk at the store.

A Perfect Mess offers hope to every woman who yearns for a vibrant relationship with God but worries she isn’t good enough or doesn’t do enough to merit His affection. With characteristic authenticity, speaker and author Lisa Harper shares poignant stories from her own imperfect life to showcase the real-life relevancy of the Bible in the lives of modern women.

As she guides readers on a story-driven journey through selected Psalms, they will be inspired to experience for themselves how God’s incomparable love transforms the messiness of life into a gorgeous work of grace.

Author Bio:
Lisa Harper is a master storyteller whose lively approach connects the dots between the Bible era and modern life. She is a sought-after Bible teacher and speaker whose upcoming appearances include the national Women of Faith Conferences. A veteran of numerous radio and television programs and the author of several books, she also is a regular columnist for Today’s Christian Woman magazine. Lisa recently completed a master’s of theological studies from Covenant Theological Seminary. She makes her home outside Nashville.

Book: Blue Like Play Dough
Author: Tricia Goyer


In the everyday stretch and squeeze of motherhood, Tricia Goyer often feels smooshed by the demands of life. In Blue Like Play Dough, she shares her unlikely journey from rebellious, pregnant teen to busy wife and mom with big dreams of her own. As her story unfolds, Tricia realizes that God has more in store for her than she has ever imagined possible.

Sure, life is messy and beset by doubts. But God keeps showing up in the most unlikely places–in a bowl of carrot soup, the umpteenth reading of Goodnight Moon, a woe-is me teen drama, or play dough in the hands of a child.

In Tricia’s transparent account, you’ll find understanding, laughter, and strength for your own story. And in the daily push and pull, you’ll learn to recognizes the loving hands of God at work in your life… and know He has something beautiful in mind.

Author Bio:

I love Tricia - she's a personal friend who lives near our cabin in MT. She has heart and spunk! Tricia Goyer is the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, including Generation NeXt Parenting and the Gold Medallion finalist Life Interrupted. Goyer writes for publications such as Today’s Christian Woman and Focus on the Family, speaks to women’s groups nationwide and has been a presenter at the Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS) national convention. She and her husband, John, live with their family in Montana.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day
Hyperbole \hye-PER-buh-lee\ noun
Meaning: extravagant exaggeration
Example Sentence The food in the restaurant was quite good, but it couldn't live up to the hyperbole that had been used to describe it.

We have the tendency to exaggerate. A gourmet cup of coffee or tea is “superb!” A steep learning curve seems “impossible.” A refreshing swim on a hot day is “awesome.” When a child drops a favorite piece of glassware, we are “devastated.”

Really? Superb, impossible, awesome, devastated? Similar words slip off our tongues every day. With the overstatement of marketing, we're just intending to describe the thrust of an idea. We’re not comparing our surroundings and circumstances to ultimate reality. In the process, we demean things that are truly superb and awesome. Our language trivializes impossible circumstances and devastation where God’s intervention is our only hope.

Over the past year, we’ve been reorganizing our very full home, decluttering hospitality items, décor, and the accumulations of raising four children. The house is emptier since I started tossing, donating, and moving things around. Belongings once essential to our lifestyle moved out of the house without being missed. My peers and those ahead on the faith journey say the essentials become more important as the frivolous and trivial drops away. When I’m stumped about keeping an object, I ask, “Is this necessary? Does it reflect our values? Does it add to what God is calling us to do?”

Underneath this purge lies the question, “What is True?” What can be accepted by all without exaggeration – without the echo of advertising’s shout of “Buy me, keep me, dontcha know you need me?”

What is True? Beyond a doubt or shadow of human viewpoint? Only God’s inestimable worth, his fathomless wisdom, and infinite love. When we worship from the heart, we toss out all the trapping of language and pretense. We declutter our hearts for uncontaminated engagement. We open ourselves and speak the only words that have no subjective additions. We say, “God is Good. God is Loving. God is Kind.” And that is Truly True, without hyperbole!

Read more:
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin.

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:12-16 NIV

Sunday, July 26, 2009


After six weeks away, I'm back home. I'm resting my brain from texts. But there's not much rest from work - tomorrow I'll be going through emails, scheduling meetings, and catching up with my assistant.

It was a pleasure to see the 1960s alumni at their annual reunion this weekend. Elvin Huston had a dream a few years ago to connect his decade, and God has given him favor. He was student body president for a year at Northwest. (You have to have an influencer to get people back together.)

Alumni came from all over the USA and from around the world, some for the first time, others for the seventh year in a row. Hearing the 100 or so people singing and talking together was like stepping back in time. They sang the songs of the 60s and 70s and used the terminology of church when they were 20 years old.

God, who came into time and space in the context of Jewish subordination to Rome, left behind a message that translates into every culture. It's wonderful to see and hear a group reconvene to worship and sing and laugh in ways that takes them back to younger years.

And it's really special that God is present - Immanuel: God with us. Wherever and whenever we gather in his name.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Enough already

Springfield has been sunny, the people I've stayed with are fabulous hosts, and it's the last class together with my cohort. We're the first group through a new PhD program, guinea pigs for faculty and adminstrators and our own stamina. About ten of us have stuck to the schedule and taken every course, getting through as fast as we can. After this week, we're on our way to writing our dissertation proposals.

It's just about time to return to Seattle. Family, friends, and familiar surroundings tug at my heart. The weeks away were crammed with stimulating ideas. I can't believe how much a head can pack around, and how quickly details are gained and lost.

I spent three weeks in the library preparing to write comprehensive entry exams to our doctoral program. Friend and fellow student Paul agreed that we'd probably lost several years of life in the process of studying for it. For each of us, it was one of the most stressful experiences of our lives. And we don't know if we've made it through: the profs are busy and our exams aren't graded yet. "This would be the straw that breaks my back," Paul said. "If I didn't make it and had to rewrite, I think I'd be dead." He's a dramatic, funny guy with an Eastern European / New York background. But he might be right on this one. I don't know if I'd have it in me to rewrite.

Then two weeks of classes flew by: Evangelism, Discipleship, and Church Planting, followed by Cross-cultural Leadership and Research. This week, we presented outlines for dissertation proposals for the cohort and professors to prod and poke into workable directions. We have six months to submit the proposals before two to four years of research and writing. There's only one more required week in Springfield, capped by a monster exam and an oral defense at the far end.

Between, my office desk was updated and projects are rolling along. It's back to work Monday. The challenge always is to find time to study when the routines resume. Good thing we have the prayers of friends surrounding us, and a God who holds people, time and tasks in his hands.

He is enough.

Read more:
*Put your hope in the LORD. Travel steadily along his path. He will honor you by giving you the land. You will see the wicked destroyed. …Look at those who are honest and good, for a wonderful future awaits those who love peace. Psalm 37:34, 37 NLT

*(Jesus) "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one." John 10:27-30 NIV

*Be very careful, then, how you livenot as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.

Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:15-20 NIV

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Living green

There's something about living in the woods. They're green, private, and quiet. If you live 100 feet off the street like we do, it's almost like living in the country. We open our windows and breathe the night oxygen before sending the kids off to school. Our window vistas are bark and leaves and pine cones.

It's noisy, but we're not hearing traffic. The birds shout us awake in the early morning. Comes spring, the squirrels scold their young and the woodpeckers glide onto stumps to glut on insects. Summer breezes swish and sing through the treetops. The needles and maple "helicopters" rustle off their stems in an ongoing patter. Winter gales crash against the 100' firs near the creek. We can feel the trees shudder. A mild earthquake shakes our houses when they fall.

Neighbors watch each other's yards to make sure no one trespasses. A few years ago, we heard someone chopping wood. My former neighbor waded into the shrubbery, hollering and cursing some kids who were running around with a hatchet, playing Paul Bunyon. "Get outa there! I'm not sending the ambulance to getcha, and your parents won't be suing me when you trip and hurt yourselves!" Off they ran. And the woodland calmed again.

People sometimes complain about Seattle's strict zoning laws, wishing they could push over some of the timber to build a house here, carve out another lot there. They can't know and love the land the way we do. Living in the forest, we watch the seasons emerge and exhale. We turn off city streets after running an errand to enter green paradise. And we appreciate the foresight of city planners who made the area more beautiful by inviting us to observe rather than "improve" the landscape with our own ideas.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Holy Roller

You'll enjoy this read - a nice break this summer, sent to the first person who writes to tell me what surprised them the first time they went to a Pentecostal service. RK

Here's the publisher's description:
Julie Lyons was working as a crime reporter when she followed a hunch into the South Dallas ghetto. She wasn’t hunting drug dealers, but drug addicts who had been supernaturally healed of their addictions. Was there a church in the most violent part of the city that prayed for addicts and got results?

At The Body of Christ Assembly, a rundown church on an out-of-the-way street, Lyons found the story she was looking for. The minister welcomed criminals, prostitutes, and street people–anyone who needed God. He prayed for the sick, the addicted, and the demon-possessed, and people were supernaturally healed.

Lyons’s story landed on the front page of the Dallas Times Herald. But she got much more than just a great story, she found an unlikely spiritual home. Though the parishioners at The Body of Christ Assembly are black and Pentecostal, and Lyons is white and from a traditional church background, she embraced their spirituality–that of “the Holy Ghost and fire.”

It’s all here in Holy Roller–the stories of people desperate for God’s help. And the actions of a God who doesn’t forget the people who need His power.

Cover art:

Holy Roller

Author Bio:

Julie Lyons is an award-winning writer, editor and investigative reporter who for more than 11 years served as editor-in-chief of the Dallas Observer, an alternative weekly newspaper owned by Village Voice Media. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and a B.A. in English from Seattle Pacific University. She and her husband, Larry Lyons Jr., live in Dallas with their son.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Leadership is an interesting idea. A simplistic definition: "a leader is someone with followers." With so many seminars and courses on leadership and management, the world should be full of leaders. We should all be marching in a happy circle, each person leading the followers and following the leaders.

Many ideas on leadership are intuitive - of course if you are compassionate, can motivate people, and have vision you should be growing the company (or the church) and getting a good return for your investment. Sometimes it even happens that way. Every once in a while a new frenzy erupts around the latest method of getting the team rallied and profits up, and after the flurry of activity dies down, we're on the same track, doing our best to get the job done.

Today in class, our professor, who scanned leadership theories as part of his dissertation, gave us an overview on the primary secular methods and studies dealing with leaders. Academics spend years researching people groups and business models.

The conclusion? "No one knows nuttin' we didden know befor." Sometimes an idea works, sometimes it doesn't. In the end, the most logical, well-thought out theories are only a bunch of guesses suited to a certain personality and skill set. No one can really live out another person's model--not even in our Western culture. Transferring 1) 2) 3) and presto, you're a leader! to another culture is even more ludicrous.

The most famous speakers and popular writers on how to lead are people with good publicists: they make a good living on the dollars people are willing to spend for their few bullet points mixed with common sense. Most are also entertainers so their presentation is exciting and fun.

Do people come away from their seminars transformed into good leaders? Not very often. Is it worth hearing possibilities? Worth being inspired? Probably.

The idea that makes the most sense this week is that people, steeped in their worldview, will lead with their gifts and personality according to their culture and the expectations of those around them. Our default behavior in a crisis is probably going to be what we know, not what we learned from the last book outline. Dictators will drag their underlings into submission. Tribal leaders may confer with their community, Western leaders may leverage their team or power base, and the rest of us will jump on board or drag our feet in following.

The next book on leadership is still waiting to be written.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Chaos to clarity

Chaos. It's part of the process of reordering and renewal. A room looks its worst when things are being sorted before being put away. The storm breaks off dead branches and leaves a mess of debris that must be carried away to leave behind a clean, crisp landscape. A child's tantrum helps express feelings and insecurities.

I'm hoping that the chaos of the doctoral process - figuring out direction and collecting data in preparation for writing - will work itself out. We stayed in class for an extra hour tonight, getting instructions on writing our dissertations. Our professors argued about the trajectory of the degree, part of their process of creating a new program. The anthropological vocabulary of "sorting," "piling," and "coding" still isn't clear. There's a lot of insider language whirling around inside my head. I'm hoping to grasp it as the process of learning continues.

I am hopeful. Just as a room becomes tidy, rubble is cleared, and a child breathes a relieved sigh after the gust of emotions passes, I anticipate understanding what has been undertaken, creating questions that bring insights and answers, and recording the findings in a logical way. In the interim between chaos and clarity, I expect a lot of hours of hard work.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


It's the middle of the afternoon. I should have stayed home this morning to read and write on the texts for tomorrow's class. Instead, I went to an exciting Sunday service (JRA, Springfield MO) and a good Vietnamese lunch with dear friends. It's hard to tell how the stress of being behind in reading will balance the pleasure of time away from the books.

The dilemma of "stay" or "go" reminds me of the good angel and the bad angel who are supposed to be writing down the good and bad deeds for Muslims over a lifetime. In the end, whatever weighs heavier is what gets you to Paradise or hell. You can't tell until you're dead.

Getting behind in reading doesn't send us to an eternal damnation far from God. I'm willing to risk that being part of a congregation this morning was good for the soul, if bad for the academic schedule. However, I wouldn't want to gamble my salvation on the capriciousness of my own actions, especially on how I have acted over a lifetime.

Today, as I get back into densely written pages, my confidence and hope rests in the provision of Jesus. I know where I'm going because of God's promise. My destination doesn't depend on my own checklist coming out "better" rather than "worse."

Jesus is Good, and his Good was written across my file after his blood wiped it clean of what I had accomplished. A hopeful and optimistic balance indeed.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A trip to the mosque

A week of classes is over. The topic was Evangelism, Discipleship, and Church Planting. A team of eight people, headed for Eastern Europe to work among Muslims, joined our PhD cohort. Because of the combination of scholars and church planters, the class was an interesting blend of theology and application. The new thinking, with great success in the majority world, is that church plants should be clustered by starting several at once in urban centers, rather than being started one-by-one. The multiple groups meet in public spaces or homes. The network that emerges encourages each unit.

We attended the local mosque this afternoon after a study session on Islam. My missionary host home had loaned me a pretty peach and lime green Muslim outfit, but the scarf kept slipping off my hair. Our male classmates sat at the back of the gathering room, chairs leaned under the mirrored window to the women's room at the back. The female students went around to the side of the building, through a separate door, and into a little room that reminded us of a tiny nursery at the back of a church. We could see through the glass what the men and boys were doing, but they couldn't see and be distracted by us women. (There was little danger of us being distracted--or attracted--by them.)

Male or female, we took our shoes off at our doorways because Islam considers the meeting place "holy ground." Throughout the service, groups of guys wandered into the main hall quietly, all ages sitting and bowing in unison on the carpeted floor. It was very purposeful and focused, without all the distracting jokes and announcements of a typical Christian service. The talk was on avoiding oppression (injustice) of others, with Arabic readings from the Koran. When it was over, people wandered outside and visited together.

The women and girls were very friendly to us - they asked if we had questions, explaining that they (not Western women) had all the rights. They could say no if their fathers or brothers chose a man they didn't want to marry; they could stay home with their children because their men were responsible to provide for them; they were protected by their fathers, husbands, and brothers and wore scarves to show they were under manly protection and not interested in casual sex.

The discussion afterward was fascinating: the one Caucasian convert was our moderator, along with a Muslim gal who (like her husband) was a medical doctor. The man stereotyped Christians with all the bad qualities - they were immoral, had low standards, etc. Muslims, according to him, were peaceful and gracious. Allah, the only God, the merciful and compassionate one, had revealed himself in final form to Mohammad. All the Jewish and Christian writings had been corrupted over the years, but the Qur'an (Koran, which wasn't written down for decades after Mohammed received his revelations) was the eternally perfect revelation which corrected previous mistakes. Its rules, down to the clipping of the toenails, had to be perfectly followed.

Later in our class discussion, (after I had taken off the hot polyester freedom suit and gotten back to the bondage of my cotton t-shirt and capri pants,) we talked about how Christians sometimes do the same stereotyping. We compare our best features to the worst of others. We try to present our purest face and ignore our personal failures and the imperfections of the Church-in-process.

Our common ground with other religions is not dialogues or accommodation. It is this: we are sinners who stand before a just and holy God. The difference is that nothing we do can earn us God's favor. Every other religion relies on works and rule-keeping. Christians understand that only God himself could have bridged the gap between himself and humanity. He did this through his only begotten Son, Jesus.

Oh how grateful I was, walking away from the mosque with its hopes of balancing good and bad deeds, hopefully reaching the tipping point towards achieving Paradise. I was thankful to step into the perfect freedom and security of a life washed clean by God's grace alone! (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Send me?

We have another week or two of classes, talking around clean white conference tables with PPTs keeping us on track. Then this group of missionaries scatters again to the four corners of the globe. Most are 40-60 years old and have been on the field their entire adult lives. Many of them have become Marginal people, straddling several cultures without being completely American or foreign. Bilingualism and a call to missions are requirements for entry to the program.

There is some kind of orderliness among our interactions of stories, questions, and comments on life and textbooks. Everyone is respectful even when joking and poking fun. After two years of study together, we know Paul and John are the smart ones, Steve is the funniest and most relational, and Vance has the best missions background. He could stomp any of us to the ground in an academic free-for-all. A few of our initial group have dropped out or taken a pause in their studies. Because our cohort is small, they are greatly missed.

Today guest lecturer Alan reminded us that to Paul, being an apostle meant going where others had not gone. "Most missionaries today work among the churched, spend their time among those who have already heard, and support existing organizations. Who is going beyond the borders of the reached to tell the Story to those who have never heard?" Many of us work to prepare others who will go to unreached people groups in their countries and beyond.

As less long-termers sign up, a new strategy is being considered. Instead of asking anyone who would like to go into missions to volunteer for a short stay, perhaps it is time once again to ask who will commit their entire lives to missions. The recent trend of short-term groups has been hotly debated. Churches and individuals are putting most of their "missions" resources into quick group trips. Pastors define their churches as missional and think they have done their duty by taking a group somewhere to build a house or church, put on puppet shows and skits in a poor neighborhood, or sponsor a medical team for two or three weeks. Many such "missions" efforts leave no lasting impression on those they go to serve. But skimming the surface of a culture's needs by doing a project may cost 10 participants $20-40,000... or much more.

Raising the same funds to stay on the field costs missionaries-for-life long months or years off the field while they itinerate and travel at home. Cross-cultural missionaries notice how the short-term emphasis has sucked time and money away from career specialists.

Missionaries want to inspire and entreat the next generation to join them. They hope to pass along their passion and God's call. They long to recruit willing hearts to devote a lifetime to become embedded into an unknown culture. They want to encourage young people to learn the language of a people group. However, when career missionaries call a church, pastors are often so busy with their church agendas that they are unwilling to meet, much less give a missionary Sunday service time. "We have a full program and no time for one more thing," is a common response. Very often a church's administrative assistant refuses to let the missionary talk to the pastor.

"Who will go for us, and whom shall we send?" God asked Isaiah. (Isaiah 6:8)

"Here I am, send me," Isaiah replied. Tonight, I wonder how many of us would give God the same reply.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

What a story!

Sometimes it can feel like the suburban American church lives from Sunday to Sunday. We see the same people (at least we all look pretty much alike) when we walk in the doors and sit down in the chairs or pews. We sing familiar songs that make us feel good about being able to thank God for meeting our needs and wants. Once in a while we get a new chorus with similar words and another rambling tune that we can't remember during the week because it needs a whole band to make sense.

Usually we hear an interesting lecture based on a philosophy or idea about being Christian and how that works itself out, affirmed by a scriptural text where possible. If it's not connected to what we've been thinking about during the week, we have forgotten about it by the time we head to the foyer to shake hands before heading home.

I'm reading Church history and biblical narrative (OT Chronicles). It's a fascinating Story of intensity, heroism, pain and suffering, wrestling with life and death. Learning about the reality of "God with us" among struggles to find enough food and shelter while keeping one's children safe from kidnapping or starvation. God walking and working in the middle of languages, communities, and tribes.

This is the story of God's saving work in Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus. I'm examining the Church, composed of tradespeople and scribes and people who loved to argue (rabbis). As the boundary between Jews and outsiders cracks and breaks open in the early Church, Good News of the Mystery of God-with-us spills into a decaying society, exciting and enraging. It brings hope and heartaches.

Some books plug the holes of my scanty Protestant grasp of ecclesiastical history, which fizzles with Constantine and the rise of the popes and begins again with Luther. I'm meeting martyrs and great writers. Ordinary people show their love for God by working among the poor and dying, rescuing infants put on Roman streets because they are girls, not boys. I imagine dusty rooms echoing with the scratch of quill to page as neatnik monks write exacting alphabets to reproduce scriptures for another faith community. Small groups of believers are huddled in secret, praying and wondering if today is their last. Big cathedrals evolve from high human ambition and architect's dreams through rock quarries and carpenter shops to become awe-inspiring arches, domes, and stained glass.

The historical sweep of God revealing himself and wanting to be known is full of people like us. It seethes with human feelings, thoughts, and actions lived in ordinary days and days filled with terror and change. Most of all, history tells the scope of the glory of God among us. Amid human failure and self-will, our God does not abandon or turn away. He always nurtures and multiplies a faithful remnant who seek him with all their heart.

When I go to church week after week, I need the bigger picture. The faith community is more than enjoying the same concert or the same lecture series. Gathering is participating in the faithful retelling of True Story. It's the communion of the people of God in our times and our places.

As societies and cultures change, each local church must open itself to hearing God's word for the day as well as the ages. We need to invite those still outside to participate in the narrative and become part of the cosmic drama others will study in days still to come.

[My local church is actually pretty cool. Check it out. I'd love to see you there, any Sunday!]