Category Archives: Missional

The Many-Sidedness of Christ

This morning I was reading in The Way, a devotional book by E. Stanley Jones.  Jones is so incredibly insightful and intuitive that it doesn’t take me long to get into deep thought about one of his topics.  Today this one caught my attention:  

“The straightforward, open proclamation is the best method. Jesus appeals to the soul as light appeals to the eye, as truth fits the conscience, as beauty speaks to the aesthetic nature. For Christ and the soul are made for one another.” – E. Stanley Jones

I began thinking about how Christ appeals to us in our differences, our gifts, and the purposes He has called us to, and the questions began to fill my mind.  So how does the landscaper consider Christ?  How about the cook, the writer or the educator? If God is the Creator of all things and has a plan and purpose for us, then how does He expect us to see and understand Christ through the lens of our gifts and interests?

Not more than two hours later, my daughter and I were cleaning out some storage bins and I happened across an old news clipping from the Gospel Advocate dated January 22, 1925.  I found the clipping years ago in an old book and tucked it away in a file.  I’m not sure what attracted me to the clipping then, but this day it spoke right to the very questions which lingered in my mind earlier this morning.  As you read, consider who Christ is to you in your gifts and occupation.

Jesus challenges the attention of the world by his many-sidedness.  He meets the needs of all classes and conditions of men.  As deep answereth unto deep, so does He respond to the movings of each soul of man.

Call the roll of the world’s workers and ask, “What do you think of Christ?” Their answers amaze us by their revelation of the universal appeal of Christ.  Someone (whose name has been lost) has collected the following examples of this universality.

  • To the artist He is the One Altogether Lovely.
  • To the architect He is the Chief Corner Stone.
  • To the astronomer He is the Sun of Righteousness.
  • To the baker He is the Living Bread.
  • To the banker He is the Hidden Treasure.
  • To the biologist He is the Life.
  • To the builder He is the Sure Foundation.
  • To the carpenter He is the Door.
  • To the educator He is the Great Teacher.
  • To the farmer he is the Sower and Lord of the Harvest.
  • To the florist He is the Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley.
  • To the geologist He is the Rock of Ages.
  • To the horticulturist He is the True Vine.
  • To the judge He is the Righteous Judge, the Judge of all men.
  • To the jeweler He is the Pearl of Great Price.
  • To the lawyer He is the Counselor, the Lawgiver, the Advocate.
  • To the newspaper man He is the Good Tidings of Great Joy.
  • To the philanthropist He is the Unspeakable Gift.
  • To the philosopher He is the Wisdom of God.
  • To the railroad man He is the New and Living Way.
  • To the preacher He is the Word of God.
  • To the sculptor He is the Living Stone.
  • To the servant He is the Good Master.
  • To the statesman He is the Desire of All Nations.
  • To the student He is the Incarnate Truth.
  • To the theologian He is the Author and Finisher of our Faith.
  • To the toiler He is the Giver of Rest.
  • To the sinner He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
  • To the Christian He is the Son of the Living God, Savior, Redeemer and Lord.

This is certainly not an exhaustive list, and was taken from what appears to be an interview of many people over a course of time in the mid-1920s.  How did this information strike you?  Who is Christ to you?


Fearing the World

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” –John 16:33 (NIV)

Theresa stood behind the counter going over my purchases when a friend of hers walked in and said hello. We three chatted a little about the heat and I made some comment about being a runner but having to stay indoors for my runs because of the humidity. Theresa’s friend teased her about her upcoming triathlon, and they both laughed about that as a future prospect. But Theresa quickly became serious and said that the hopes of any triathlon were nonexistent because “we don’t have much time left.” She looked away as she totaled my order.

As a Christian, I hear that a lot. As a matter of fact, I’m quite certain the whole world heard about that not too long ago with the false prediction of the end of the world on May 21st. Just in case, I checked in on the other side of the world at 5pm and it was still intact, so I knew we were okay–at least for one more day. There have been other predictions, and there are more to come with a huge community of people who have formed focus and support groups, many believing that the world will end in 2012. A simple Google search for “2012” and “the end of the world” brings up nearly 300,000 hits. And YouTube hosts more than 65,000 clips informing and warning viewers about their fate in 2012.

Theresa’s prediction was based the earth’s core shifting, something she watched on TV, and no doubt, researches in the Internet. She also believes that we have less than a year left. I tried to make light of her seriousness and encouraged her to do that triathlon before the final countdown. Her friend chimed in and said she should make a final announcement on Facebook. Theresa didn’t like that either. “Oh,” she said, as she handed me my change. “That’s not good either. Anyone in their right mind should get off Facebook right away.” I immediately thought of the resources and friends I would miss.

As I drove from the store, I began thinking in hindsight how I missed the opportunity to ask Theresa what she plans to do in her year left on this earth. Or better, encourage her to live in joy, not fear; to know Christ and love and serve Him. I could have invited her to lunch to discuss her future plans for the next 365 days. And then I began thinking of all the counter clerks who fear the world. I imagined they work their eight hours, count the change, close the store and go home to another episode of Discovery Channel. They review the calendar and pencil in important things to do before the end of days. They feel a rumble under their feet and wonder of the impending doom. They know it can’t be reversed, so they warn us between transactions because, deep inside, they’re scared. And in a way, they’re right.

Honestly, I don’t like getting philosophical with counter clerks I don’t know, but I think I missed an opportunity to share Christ here. Whether or not Theresa knows Christ is unknown to me, but it is apparent she is thinking of human mortality, and if she’s willing to say these things out loud to a perfect stranger then I can only imagine what unspoken questions she has when the lights go out each night.

I thank God that I don’t fear the world and all its danger. I don’t even fear death, but I’m not foolish enough to think that the world could not stand still on its axis or that the days I plan have an expiration date. With God, anything is possible. In the meantime, I do ask that God make me strong enough to remember those who are lost and live in fear. They live without peace or hope, and whether they have one day left or a hundred, they are not far from truth which can set them free from the bondage of fearing the world. This world has nothing to offer and nothing to promise any of us. Jesus tells us in John 14:27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” Even in trials, Christ is near. He left His Holy Spirit to give us comfort and hope when the world offers shallow responses to questions contemplated and left hanging over the counter.

It is the soul reconciled to God which no longer lives in fear. Our only hope for these days–one or a thousand–is in Christ. We anxiously wait for His coming, but He patiently waits for us to share with those who still need to hear. This is a race but it’s also more than that. It’s a responsibility. And if we are ones who are reconciled to God, then we are given the responsibility to share Christ with those who live in fear.

When I return to the store in late August I plan to stop by and say hello to Theresa. And this time, I’ll invite her to lunch.


Bitter Reflection

“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” -Philippians 2:3 (ESV)

I was having lunch recently with a group of ladies and found myself in a lively conversation with a friend across the table about bread.  I had just received a bread maker for my birthday, and was getting ready to share a really funny story about the first loaf I made, which ended up looking somewhat like fried chicken.  Clearly, it wasn’t what I was expecting, and I was having fun retelling my experience.  But there was someone sitting with us who is a bread expert and began sharing a litany of reasons why my bread turned out so terribly.  Of course, I knew it was probably this or that, and truthfully I have made great loaves since then.  I was simply sharing a funny story.

The woman continued talking about her experience as a bread maker, using her own grain, milling it, making bread often for her family, etc.  She definitely knew her stuff and received a lot of respect for her knowledge.  But what she didn’t know was that I’ve been there, and I’ve done that.  As a matter of fact, I believe I still have a 10-gallon bucket of Prairie Gold Wheat stored away in my basement somewhere.  When I had more time for such domestic pursuits, I enjoyed the labor of making bread from scratch.  And it’s not that I don’t agree that freshly milled wheat is healthier than anything store bought or otherwise, it’s that my story was washed under the table by a bread baking expert, and I was left feeling as if I just lost a battle of domestic one-upness with the resounding, unspoken opinion that one isn’t a serious bread baker unless she mills, kneads, forms, punches and bakes her dough by hand using the Bread Beckers’ no-fail 5-loaf recipe.  I assure you, competition is fierce in the kitchen!

But this is one example of many that I’ve noted these past few weeks.  I wonder why I’m just now beginning to see things from this lens?  I don’t read the KJV, therefore I’m not a real Christian.  I take my car to an automatic carwash, therefore I’m ruining the paint.  And occasionally I accidentally grab the dinner fork to eat my salad.  Sometimes I just like living dangerously.

Last year I have been told that I don’t breathe right, that I should let my hair go gray, and that I should not wear heels.  I’ve also been told that my camera is mediocre, that I work too hard and don’t weigh enough, that I should have more children, that my children are sheltered (really?), that I’m too old to run, and that I must turn off all electronic equipment as I board the plane.  Okay that last statement was a rule, not an observation or opinion, but what consistently amazes me are the people who feel brazen enough to express such opinion of what I need to do to be a better person, or at least a person who is good enough for them.

What’s really at the heart of this is that I not only am victim to such judgment and criticism, but I have also been the perpetrator.  How sad, when I look back, that I may have offended or belittled someone because they didn’t meet a standard of living that I should expect of them.  My own comments and observations are no better than those thrust upon me, and I find myself swimming right along with the sharks looking for the next person to give my “good advice” to and form into my image of who I think they should be.  Perhaps that’s why I’ve taken note of these things lately.  Perhaps it’s time to swallow the pill of bitter reflection and chase it down with humble pie.  It certainly doesn’t taste like cheesecake, but it’s good for the soul.

Yet I think we sit in a majority pool of judges. We go to bed with a great idea and wake up with an ego.  We spend weeks perfecting a subject and become experts overnight, elevating ourselves to places no man should ever tread.  We fall prey to sins of aesthetics, materialism, knowledge and ideals.  We judge.  We determine that the Holy Spirit has left the building and it’s up to us to right the world, when in reality, we have kicked the Holy Spirit from the throne and put ourselves in His place.

And who are we to judge?  Evidently, we forget.

There are a lot of theological responses and practical applications I could make here, but the verse which continues to resonate in my head as I form these words is from Philippians 2:3.  Paul warns that we should do nothing out of rivalry or conceit, but consider others more important that ourselves.  This is exactly what Jesus is talking about when He challenges us in Matthew 22 to love our brother as ourselves.  But Paul goes further in Philippians to not only look out for our own well-being, but also the well-being of others.  If you define the word well-being, you will see that it means comfort, joy, abundance, and contentment.

Think about life on a pillar.  Judgmental man cannot possibly reach the ground and wouldn’t want to anyway.  He likes the pillar.  It took him a lot of training and hard work to get there.  He earned it.  Plus, you can’t beat the view, especially at the dawning of a new day or the resting of the sun on the horizon.  People are amazed he ever made it up there, so they look upon him in awe, and that’s the part he likes best: to be admired.  It doesn’t take long, however, for him to get a sense of loneliness.  And while he’d love to just climb down that pillar and join the rest of society, he can’t.  He’s an expert, you see.  He has made a name for himself.  So instead of reaching down to his brother, he begins making observations from his place on high.  And then, from his view, he believes that if everyone just lived life the way he does, then they would all be happy.  So he stands tall on that pillar, pulls out his bullhorn and begins making judgments, one after the other.  Some are funny, and people laugh.  But his judgments fiercely grow.  They are brash, bold, determined and presumptuous.  He forgets God because he has become his own god.  He is no good to the people and certainly no good to himself.  Sadly, he has forgotten the God who loves him so and left his first love, trading it for a very shallow love of himself.

Paul was warning the Philippians in chapter two not to become high and lofty, to leave their judgments of others behind.  He uged them to look out for others, providing them with encouragement so that they too could enjoy a life of cheer and abundance.  Oh, how we tear down the frailest of hearts when we wrongly judge or accuse others!  How we rob others of joy and peace of mind.  God forgive us!

Paul gives a few more final commands to be obedient for God’s will and good pleasure, and to do things without grumbling so that we will be made blameless and presented without guilt.  We are to hold fast to the word of life until the end of time, until the day of judgment, so that we will not be guilty of vain pursuits.  We are to shine! And this is the exact recipe for living a life of humility and allowing the Holy Spirit to do His good work not only in the lives of others, but especially in our own lives.

So this is a new year and a new day.  It marks an opportunity for humble reflection and genuine transformation.  Let’s all strive to make it a year of humility and simplicity as we look after the well-being of others, building them up and considering them better than ourselves.  Let’s make it our year to shine!


Petunias

Returning from Russia brought many happy moments, and some sad ones, too. My poor garden wasn’t doing so well when I left, and the eleven days of neglect while I was gone produced weeds in abundance and dry, brittle twigs where flowers once were. I shook my head as I gazed on the dead petunias. As beautiful as petunias are, they aren’t as hearty as they look. Their deep jewel tones and delicate blossoms delight my eyes in the Spring, and I plant them in abundance. But they don’t stay that way, and I’m hopelessly deceived into thinking that they are stronger than they really are. These dear flowers need pruning, watering and weeding more than any flower in my garden. More than that, they need protection from the rabbits who live in the bushes and find their blossoms to be a delicious treat. I don’t always consider these things when I plant petunias. I am enchanted with their beauty alone and assume they will grow and remain alluring simply because that’s what I expect of them. I don’t consider all the work it will take to keep them beautiful and thriving.

And such is the way with people. God gives us a gentle lesson with the petunia. Are we too eager to fill our lives with the beauty of others yet so blind that we neglect the care and keeping of them? I think we certainly believe that people need right relationships with God, but we fail to realize that phileo love is just as important to God as agape love. God created us for one another for accountability, fellowship, companionship, intercession and love so that we can be in authentic, life-changing relationships with one another. He delightfully shines through us to affect each other in the most incredible and penetrating ways. And like the petunias in my garden, it requires a lot of work, but the returning beauty of the blossom resonates a life filled with love.

This is a great lesson for me as I strive to fulfill the role of friend and mentor in a way which pleases God most so that we can all grow to know and love Him more. By caring well for others I believe we can change the world, one petunia at a time.


Immobile

Merriam-Webster’s dictionary describes the word dysfunction as abnormal or unhealthy interpersonal behavior or interaction within a group. The prefix, dys, means bad, abnormal or difficult. So we can say that dysfunction is the impaired functioning of something or someone. It can happen out of trauma or tragedy, but in a human it can also occur out of disobedience, oppression and depression as well as trauma and tragedy. The outward behavior becomes the dysfunction making one immobile in some areas either physically or mentally. It is the inability to grasp some realities of life. And very often, it becomes a safe and protected prison.

The Visit
God inoculated me to the horror of her standard of living, which has seen very little joy in quite a many years. It’s incredible how dysfunction can sometimes literally make one un-functional. We walked in to 2, 3 and 4 feet of trash strewn all over the house. Dirty dishes filled the kitchen which has long passed in seeing a home-cooked meal. A hall bath was so decrepit that an out-house would have been a kingly choice. Television and computers are their only source of entertainment. A 150lb dog can only lie on a tiny spot on the floor, embedded in her prison of trash and decay. Tufts of dog hair float by on the little walking paths and cling to our shoes as if looking for a way of escape.

Cleaning House
Our first trip was made in the evening, our second in the daylight. It’s amazing how light can reveal what the darkness hides. We learned that she got angry one day and threw away all the trashcans in the house. People were there all day long on that cold winter day. The neighbors were stunned. An informal neighborhood meeting was called. Janis was not invited. We quickly surmised that in this neighborhood people don’t come to help. It’s easier for them to huddle in their garages and talk up a story. Outlandish and preposterous would be the idea of helping a neighbor, and one would nearly be ostracized for suggesting such a thing. They watch us from the windows of their homes as condemnation and disgust flow from their chimneys of judgement.

Family Life
Mrs. Greer is in a nursing home, becoming weaker each day with Alzheimers disease. She calls me Angie, and I don’t correct her. I only know her as the roommate of a friend I visit weekly in that hospital. I bring Mrs. Greer chocolate kisses and talk to her about the news. I touch her tiny hand and smile. I see fear in her eyes, but lately she sleeps a lot. Lately she doesn’t eat. She may not make it to the end of the year. Janis weeps over her mother’s situation. I took her to see Mrs. Greer last week and the entire floor was alive from the cleaning personnel to the nurse’s station, shocked that Mrs. Greer had a visitor. Everyone came around to see. No one knew it was her own daughter.

Janis’ husband left when the two boys were young. He doesn’t visit them. They, too, are immobilized in this prison. We gave her food, prayed with her and invited she and her two sons to church. One attends, the older one, angry and confused, refuses. The boys cannot drive because there’s no money for car insurance, and they don’t work. The older one has a small income from his work on the computer. He stays in his room most of the day. The younger, more attentive to his mother, is eager to earn a living outside the home; eager to change. A friend of mine paves the way for teaching, mentoring and employment.

Blame-Shifting
Janis blames everyone for her situation, from the doctor to the plumber to the neighbor next door. And anyone who has gotten into a situation like that would blame others. Like alcohol to a drunkard, it is the steady consummation of denial which soothes the wretched reality of dysfunction. The home starkly reveals her story and voices of anger and misery cry through heaps of trash. Apathy and hopelessness is the reply. Tears stream down her face. She is ashamed. I kneel before her and pray.

Expectation
It’s a really tough place. I have seen worse, but in the expected places: the poor and homeless areas of town or the slums of Mexico. Not in a place like this, though. Not on Scotch Road. And I am humbly reminded that none of us are too far from these places. With our hells and our heavens merely separated by a thread we walk the fine line of paralyzing dysfunction every day, every moment, and with every choice we make. Our only hope is intentional and deliberate obedience and intimacy with Christ. What we witness in Janis’ home is the outcome of slow decrepitation. We only see the results. The process of declination must be a living hell.

We will visit often; there is much work to do. But we have hope in Christ that He will bring joy to these sullen hearts and, like a fresh wind, breathe new life into this home.

A movement is beginning to occur in our hearts and theirs. May we serve Him with irresistible anticipation for the extraordinary.  May the neighbors take note.

Oh Lord, make us all sensitive to the hells of others. The trials and tribulations which affect the kingdom can wreak havoc on our souls.  May we not turn a blind eye to those in need, to those living in constant shame. Fill us with courage and strength, patience and expectation.  Give us words to share and ideas to embrace as we, in turn, embrace those who so desperately need a touch of your mercy and loving-kindness.  Make us willing vessels.  Humble us to serve your kingdom.


Do You Love Me?

I am reminded this week of Christ’s words to Peter just before He left him for the last time. “Do you love me?” He asked. It seemed almost rhetorical. “Yes,” Peter said. I’m sure Peter didn’t expect Jesus to ask again, and again. And the third time totally and completely touched this man’s heart to the very core. It riveted him.  One can nearly feel the emotional weight of the question–of Peter’s grief that although he sinned, this God-man was willing to reinstate the love and sow into Peter’s heart the seeds of mercy and forgiveness.

It’s the same question He asks of us over and over again. These challenges in our lives are not without purpose; not without reason; not without response. They are set in place so that we will be frustrated by them and find our broken hearts at a crossroad. Then He reinstates us with His simple, but profound words.

“Do you love me?” He asks.

It is rhetorical. Christ knows the answer. He wants us to know it and to own it. He wants our hearts to be His.

“Yes Jesus, I do. Please show me how to love you better.”

My answer is humble and simple, but in it bears the weight of responsibility.  It’s time to feed the sheep.


The Stones will Cry Out

stones

But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if they become silent, the stones will cry out!

As most of us who run in circles of mission work have heard, there is great need for prayer and mission work in the 10/40 Window.  This is the rectangular area of North Africa, the Middle East and Asia between 10 degrees north and 40 degrees north latitude containing enormous amounts of people who have never heard the gospel.  Many things keep them from hearing such as location, anti-Christian religion, law, oppression, etc.  These are people who range from the nomads to the wealthy, the young and old.  They are part of large systems of belief which hinder the spread of the gospel, sometimes by their own culture of religion (e.g. folklore, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, etc.), sometimes by oppressive political systems and sometimes by war and bloodshed.  In any case, it is an all-out war between the rulers of darkness and the Lord of the Heavens.  The 10/40 window is a spiritual blockade, pushing against the Gospel and keeping its inhabitants in darkness.

The vision in Luke 19:30-40 is powerful and profound.  Jesus has secured a donkey to go into Jerusalem, and as He headed toward the city, the crowd was overjoyed. It says, “When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”  Well this didn’t sit well with the Pharisees, and they were insulted that the king who comes in the name of the Lord would come seated on a donkey.  They turned to Christ and asked him to quiet the crowd.  Instead, Jesus pointed out that even if He did quiet the crowd then the stones would cry out!

I am praying for friends in a nation of the 10/40 window who are working as missionaries, feeding the hungry, ministering to the poor.  Ethnic cleansing is beginning to occur in the region where they work, and my friends may be forced to leave or they will be killed.  As I was in prayer over them recently, it occurred to me that whatever the outcome, they have done well.  They have been obedient to God’s call on their lives and moved where He would have them work.  And whether they count it as loss or gain, God counts it all as gain.  And whether they go or are killed, we cannot deny the words of Christ that even the stones would cry out in their absence.

But these truths do not mean we mustn’t go, send others to go, pray or mobilize people under the commission of Christ.  After all, Jesus did not squelch the praises in His name and the joy surrounding His presence.  He simply stated a penetrating truth that even if He did quiet the crowd then His very creation would magnify and glorify Him!  Jesus was profoundly stating that God will accomplish His plan to redeem the world and bring glory and honor to His name whether man obediently participates or not.  Isn’t it incredible that even though He doesn’t need us to carry out His plan, that He chooses us be involved and allows us to participate?  How humbling to part of this great movement.

The oppressor of this world can push back the gospel from the 10/40 window only so long. He and his dominion can have spiritual stronghold for a time only allotted by God himself.  They are bound by scripture, and the end of the story tells us that they will one day be cast into the lake of fire for eternity.  While they give a false impression that they have control over these nations in the 10/40 window, we know they in fact are only biding their time.  They know the end of the story, too.  They know their time is limited.

So this knowledge calls us to a greater awareness of the world in which we live and the places where the Gospel is incredibly thwarted.  Our response is prayer, intentional and deliberate prayer.  And whether that prayer leads us to go, send or mobilize, it is still powerful and paramount to any action we might take to further an awareness of Christ and His Supremacy in the 10/40 window.  If you are not praying for these nations and these peoples, then you must start right away.  There is no greater need for prayer in the 10/40 window than now.

I’ve listed some resources below to help you get started.  These are just a couple, and while there are plenty more, I find these ministries to be consistent, dedicated and solid in their research.  If you are using other means to pray for the 10/40 window, please comment below.  I’d love to know what other people are doing to pray forth the Gospel to the darkest places of our world.

Beverly Peagues’ entire life is devoted to the 10/40 Window. There she does an incredible job to keep us all informed politically, religiously and prayerfully on the countries in the 10/40 Window. If you join her email list, you will receive a new country to pray for each day. You can also download a monthly calendar called the WIN Reporter which highlights two countries per day for prayer. The web address is www.win1040.com.  Click “subscribe” to join the mailing list.

There is also the Global Prayer Digest which you can purchase via subscription for $12/year. If you cannot subscribe they also publish the prayers online each day. GPD focuses on people groups in the 10/40 window. The focus for November is South Asia. http://www.global-prayer-digest.org/

If you’d like to get your group interested in people groups, please download this 20-minute activity that a friend and I developed for our Perspectives classes. Though it was specifically created to help our adult students overcome the inhibition of doing a research paper as part of the course syllabus, I find that it’s also a great way to promote awareness and prayer in any venue. http://www.box.net/PerspectivesPeopleGroups

I pray that God will expose you to new ways to pray for the nations of the 10/40 window. I encourage you to create cell groups in your church or school which will commit time each week to focus on nations and people groups in the 10/40 window. On that note, I am working on creating a curriculum of sorts to help people initialize prayer groups for the unreached, and will load it here when complete.

Grace, peace and thanksgiving to you and your household. May you be blessed as you walk obediently with our Lord Jesus Christ.