Sunday, December 23, 2007

A Christmas Story- The Wrong Version

I love the Christmas story. I know, that is really trite, everyone is suppose to say that. Nevertheless for me the story of God coming to earth to redeem fallen and rebellious man is a great story. The Muslims here tell the story a little differently though. Many of you probably know that Muslims are very offended by the idea that Jesus is God's Son. A couple of years ago I had long discussion about it with a good friend of mine who is a Muslim. In frustration he gave me a movie that was produced in a Muslim country for Muslims about the birth of Jesus. He felt that it would clear up all my misunderstandings- in a sense it did.

The movie opens with Mary in the temple in Jerusalem. She is a highly respected member of Jewish society. She is well known for her work with the poor, for her spicial purity and grace, and for the miracles and healings that she could do. She stays with her uncle, Zachariah who is one of the priest. There is no mention of Joseph. Mary is discovered to be with child. The rulers and the priest feel betrayed and they accuse Mary of immorality. She knows she is pregnant by God's Spirit but no one believes her except for Zachariah- and he only half believes her. She is yelled at and disgraced and finally when Zach can no longer defend her she flees into the wilderness where there is an abundance of loud dramatic music and moving scenes of sand and rock. She then goes up to a strange pillar of rock leans against it and gives birth to a chorus of more loud dramatic music. She goes back to Jerusalem and takes her baby to the steps of the temple where she is greeted by a crowd of bitter old angry men dressed up as priest. They mock her and scold her. They asks her the baby's name and she replies that they should ask him themselves. They mock her some more and one of them says, 'So, the baby can talk can it? I will just ask him myself shall I? Hey kid, what's your name?' To everone's great shock the baby replies in a deep voice that he is Jesus and he is a great prophet sent from God. All the old men fall down defeated and ashamed.

What I like about this movie is that they describe Jesus' parenthood nearly exactly like we do. One of the big arguments from Muslims is that Jesus could not be God's son but they do in fact acknowledge that Mary was a virgin and that God's Spirit made her to be pregnant. Very interesting. But there is much that I hate about this movie. In addition to the ridiculously dramatic music there is the character and nature of Mary herself. In the Muslim view Mary is beloved by God because of her exceptional nature. She is better than everyone else and that is why God chose her. But I like the truth much better! The truth is that Mary was the least of the least. She was an uneducated, poor, unremarkable village girl from the smallest town in the smallest most oppressed country in the world. She was completely powerless so what better person could God use to change the entire world? I said Mary was unremarkable but that of course, is not quite true. She was nothing in the world's eyes but what she was could move heaven and earth. She was one of the only people confronted by God who didn't argue with him. You will bear a son.... Ok, do what you will. Moses didn't give that answer. Gideon didn't give that answer. Most people when confronted by God look at themselves and say, 'But Lord, I can't. I am not able.' No such foolishness from Mary. She told the angel that GOD COULD DO whatever he wanted- and she is so right.

So, what about you and me? God is here today and He is asking us if we will let Him move in our lives. What is your answer to Him. I pray that my answer will always be like Mary's, the unremarkable village girl whom the whole world will always call blessed. Have a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year. I thank each one of you for praying for us, giving money to Lottie Moon and the Cooperative Program, and for being obedient to God in all the ways He is forwarding His Kingdom.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

High Trust

I work with some really great national guys. Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pipen, Balin, and others are some of the best. We often talk about discipleship in our line of work. Discipleship is what we are commanded to do- we have to be a disciple and we are called to make disciples. To be a disciple of Jesus is to be a follower of Jesus. It means to walk in His ways, to do His will, to have faith in Him that whatever happens His plan is the one we are sticking to. In order to be a disciple we have to know what His ways are. We have to study under Him to know Him well. Too many people stop here. They learn about Jesus but they don't walk His walk. Knowledge without life is more than useless, it is death. We need to learn about Him so that we can act just like Him. In the West too often discipleship is thought to be a one hour Bible study or reading a good book. These things could lead to discipleship but as yet they are far from it. Following Jesus actually becomes real as we make decisions based on our relationship with Him. This has far more to do with going left instead of going right for the sake of Jesus and His Kingdom than how many Scriptures one has memorized. I have seen many very good men and women pour their lives into others only to see them become dependent, hesitant, faithless, gutless non-followers of Jesus. Why?

I think the crux of the issue is this; we make followers of Jesus and not followers of ourselves. I have told all the guys who work with me that we are not to refer to other people as 'our' disciples. We are to make disciples of Jesus. The best way to insure this is what some people call high trust. High trust means that we invest others with a lot of trust and control. We do not control others, we pray for others and let Jesus be in control. If you think about the kind of leader that Jesus was I think you will understand what I am talking about. Jesus sent out his men to do ministry long before they were what we would call ready. He taught them truth, lived truth in front of them and then sent them out. They went out proclaiming the Kingdom and healing and casting out demons even before they saw his resurrection. They let him down, they were faithless, they even deserted him, but that did not stop Him from entrusting the ministry to them. They taught, healed, baptized. It is impressive if you think about it. This is the kind of leader, discipler I want to be.

One day I was out with the team and we saw a house burning. We stopped and it was an amazing scene. Two rooms of a large home were engulfed in flames. Two boys- perhaps teenagers at most- were pouring buckets of water on the fire. A huge crowd of at least thirty or more neighbors were gathered around standing there watching with their hands in their pockets. I surveyed the situation and then I called the guys as they came in behind me. I had them get all the neighbors into a bucket brigade and then I found the breaker box and turned off the electricity (it turned out to be an electrical fire and no one had thought to turn of the fire source). We put out the fire before the fire department even arrived. We left and the guys took away a lesson far better than a one hour study could provide. Since that time we have helped in two other fires, taken countless sick men and women to hospital, and generally served wherever we have seen a need. I say we but really the guys have done most of this without me. Each week I send them out to do the projects, share their faith, and make a difference in the villages we work in. I hold them accountable but I trust them to do the job, spend the money, get the receipts, and make the reports. I modeled for them and now they do- and do and do and do.

In many ways this sounds simple. But in reality this was years in the making. It took time and hard work to follow God and let Him create for us a situation where we could work together like this. I credit my own leadership as well. It was Southern Baptists who sent me out with a God-sized task of getting to Gondor and impacting it with the Gospel. My boss did not think I could do it but he believed fervently that God could and he sent me out with his blessing. Over the years I have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars. I have been held accountable for how I spent it but I was always supported to spend it how I thought it would be most beneficial. Sometimes we did things that were illogical or appeared non-strategic, but if I said that God was moving us to do something then I was supported to do it. This is high trust. The result has been that I am more than I was when I started this job. The men I have worked with are certainly more than they were when we began working together, and the men and women they work with are becoming the Children of God even as I type. High trust comes with high risks but if you want to see God move in peoples lives there really is no other way to do it.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A New Look at an Old Story

I was talking to some colleagues of mine about how to share the Gospel here in Gondor the other day. Now, you might be thinking that since I have been a follower of Jesus for 33 years now and I have a Seminary degree that surely I know all there is to know about the Gospel. Here is what I know: God is so big that there is always more to know! And here is something else I know: The way that I heard the Gospel and responded almost never works here among Muslim people. My story, like most Western Christians, goes something like this. I felt guilty. I worried about eternity and what God wanted from me. I felt inadequate and hopeless. I finally, through reason and logic, understood that Jesus died in my place, for my sins. Often at this point we throw in a court room illustration with God as judge and us as defendants and then Jesus enters and defends us- not by claiming our innocence but by taking our punishment on himself. We thank God for His mercy and grace and we are so overwhelmed by gratitude that we choose to follow Jesus anywhere He leads. This is the truth, it is awesome and everyone should be excited about it. But everyone isn't. Muslims here in Gondor are profoundly disinterested in such a story. The courtroom story misses their hearts by a million miles. Some acknowledge the truth to the claims of Christ we present but they are not overwhelmed with gratitude- they don't even seem terribly interested. Why not?

The answer is that we Western Christians live in what some sociologist call a 'guilt-based' society. We understand reality by categories of right and wrong. Sin is bad- wrong- and must be punished. Here in Middle Earth Muslims operate on a different system. Their reality is dictated by 'honor and shame'. An act is either 'honorable' or 'shameful' and shame must be dealt with or it affects the whole family. A very good friend of mine from Mordor lost his father when he was a young man. Enemies came to his house at night and stole his sister to be a bride for one of their men. The father fought with the men and lost. After they left he had a heart-attack and died. My friend's family was shamed by the actions of their enemies. In order to restore honor he should take his revenge on them. Now, a very interesting point here is that it does not count if these men are punished some other way. If the police had arrested these men and put them in jail that would not count to bring honor back to the family. Only a family member could exact the necessary revenge to restore family honor. The trouble was my friend had just become a believer and refused to act in this matter. He forgave the men who did this act- the man who married his sister died violently a couple of years later but not at my friend's hands. In Mordor many of people still think that my friend acted shamefully by forgiving his father's murderers. My friend is at peace because he knows Jesus. But how do we tell the old old story of Jesus and his love to people who think like the people of Mordor and Gondor and throughout Middle Earth?

Back to my discussion with my colleagues. So, one of my friends told a joke to illustrate honor and shame. Once there were two Oxford professors who went down around the bend of the river from their school in England to go skinny dipping. After swimming with no clothes on they laid on the bank of the river to dry off and fell asleep. They awoke to the noise of rowing and voices and looked up just in time to see a boat full of students coming around the bend of the river. Both men stood up with their towels. One put his towel quickly around his waist and the other put the towel over his head. The students pointed and laughed. When they had passed by the teacher who had put his towel around his waste said, 'How will we be able to stand before our students in class tomorrow- and why didn't you cover yourself instead of covering your head? The other professor answered, "My students know me by my face!"

Well, the point is clear I hope. With shame-based cultures what you do is not as important as how you are perceived. This is shocking for those of us with a guilt-based culture but you will be surprised at how forcefully the Word of God speaks to honor and shame. Instead of Jesus the trial lawyer picture Jesus the redeemer. Muslims have pretty hard time seeing Jesus as God or God's Son but what if we put it this way? Man's family is shamed because Man has behaved foolishly and allowed our great enemy Satan to shame us all. Man cannot defeat Satan, only God can do that. So, God sends His Son to become Man and He thus joins Man's family. Jesus defeats Satan at the cross and blows open the gates of Hell defeating Satan's Kingdom. Man's shame is covered and honor is restored by the redeeming work of Jesus. As you look through scriptures see if you do not see honor and shame being played out again and again. Many people believe that Muslims are resistant to the Gospel but what if they are not resistant? What if they have not yet heard the story that God has been so clearly telling all this time? What can we do about that right now?

Monday, December 03, 2007

What's in a Name?

Last week my back went out and it is still keeping me down even as I type with the smell of Ben-Gay wafting through the air. I smell like, like, like old people.

I don't remember the name of the movie but it was an old Frank Sinatra movie with (I think but could be mistaken) Danny Kaye and Fred Astaire.
Frank- What do you see in that girl anyway?
Danny- She's the most beautiful girl in the world and she has the most beautiful name!
Frank- A name! What's in a name, what's in a name?!? Why I once knew a girl named Virginia!

The Bible seems to have a higher view of names than Frank does. We see again and again men and women whose names get changed. Abram to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, and even Saul to Paul are all name changes that changed the courses of these men's lives and indeed the course of history itself. I want you to think about the power of identity in the Kingdom of God today. Jacob the supplanter, the one who deceived, and grasped, and connived became Israel the overcomer, the one who strove with God and men and overcame. Seen from God's eternal standpoint this is who Jacob really was all along only Jacob didn't know it yet. Jacob didn't feel like an overcomer when he was his father's SECOND favorite son. He didn't feel especially victorious even when he deceived his way into the blessing and the birthright of his brother- in fact he ran away at that point. He did not feel like he was 'overcoming' when he worked for Laben for more than fourteen years and he certainly did not feel like a conquering hero as he returned at the end of the camel train to face his brother again. His children let him down a lot and when he lost Joseph he must have thought that the name Israel was a cruel joke after all. But in the end he births the twelve most influential tribes in the world and a nation stands today on the map bearing his true name- Israel. Of course, this political name on the map is nothing compared to the reality of the heavenly Kingdom which bears the name Israel and is made up of men and women from every tribe and nation on earth.

I was speaking to a friend once about a liberal activist in the West who was especially irksome to my very conservative friend. My friend mentioned what an egotistical fraud this man really was and how he wished everyone could see him for who he really was. I responded that it would be better if HE could see who he really was. Regardless of this liberal activist current status in the news or in his own mind God had a plan for him and a position that was better, more glorious, and certainly more eternal than this man could ever dream of. It is unfortunate that he has believed the lie about himself and has followed a road of self-adulation and self-fulfillment. It is more than unfortunate, it is tragic. You see, it is easy for us to identify with the oppressed in the world today. We know that they are wronged and we cry out for their justice. But, did you know that the oppressors are equally wronged? Do you understand that their real names are not oppressor, villain, backstabber, politician, scoundrel, but rather God longs to name them peacemaker, rescuer, lover, and friend? When men and women settle their identity on less than God's grace they have settled for a lie and walk in darkness.

When I started this blog I had a problem. If this were truly 'Tales from Middle Earth' then I could pick any character I wanted to to represent myself. Aragorn came quickly to mind but Aragorn is the King. He is tall and majestic. He is wise and valiant. He is a conquerer, a warrior, and a hero. I am none of those things- or at least, I am not comfortable wearing any of those descriptors. But then I fell on Strider. Strider is a name given to Aragorn in the story by people who do not know nor trust him. It is a name for a wanderer of no or questionable reputation. That fits me pretty well. For now, I am very happy to be Strider- a man who wanders on a journey until the King of Kings choses to make him Aragorn.

Many times people have asked me what my name was in the language that they speak in Gondor. What do people call me here? Usually they call me by my western name, sometimes with a 'Mister' in front of it though I don't like that. But about two years ago something happened that I rarely talk about. I have hesitated to tell this story on this blog because it is very personal and it puts me in too good of a light. I am much more comfortable telling you stories of how I screwed up- it boost my humility right? When I first went down to Anfalas I saw a people who were struggling to survive in a plight worse than I had ever personally witnessed before. I helped them with one project and then another. I sat with them, I listened, I listened, and I listened some more. I acted on what I heard and I cried out to God on behalf of this people often and long. One day when I went down to the village I met with the team. Frodo, Sam, and Merry were working on a project and we had dinner that night and prayed together. Merry said to me, "Strider, do you know what the people here call you when you are not around?" I was afraid to know! He said, "They call you 'Didor'" Didor is a word in the language of Gondor for 'the one who sees'. Merry went on to say that Anfalas was poor and many aid agencies and government agencies went to visit it and take pictures but only Strider really saw them. Only Strider really knew who they were and how they suffered.

Well, you can see why I don't like that story. One, it makes me look good, like some kind of hero or something and two, it really isn't true. I don't know them that well. I wish I was that guy, the one who sees, but really only God can bear that title honestly. Still, am I made in His image? Is He not recreating me to be His true child? Can I become the one who sees in earnest? I think that is what he wants for me. In Revelation 2:17 Jesus says that he will .... give a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it. Could it be that one day I will receive a stone with my new name? And what will it say, Strider or Aragorn? Didor or Sleeper? What is your name? Your actions could determine that today. Let go of the name that the world has given you, it is a lie. What is your new name? Who is the King making you to become? What does your new name direct you to do today?

Thursday, November 22, 2007


I am very thankful today. Not only is it Thanksgiving Day and I have just cooked the most awesome looking turkey you have ever seen but it is my birthday today. 45 years ago today was also Thanksgiving Day prompting my mother to remark that she had a turkey for Thanksgiving. Thanks Mom, you earned the right for the jab!

I have been reading in 1 John lately. This is a very challenging book. Love one another, love one another, love, love, love- I can't take it anymore! Ok, I don't measure up, lighten up already.... But then of course, John's point is not that we should all weep with guilt for our lack of love but to encourage us to find the love that is available. Tucked away in the beginning of chapter two is this little gem, '... but if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.' The whole world? That's a lot of sin. That's a lot of sacrifice. That's my God! He is enough. Do you see what this means? Stop just looking at yourself. He says that Jesus' sacrifice is enough for the sins of the WHOLE WORLD. Sin still happens it just can't stop relationship anymore. You and I can not sin a sin that would separate us from God ever again. We do remain separated from God but not because of our sin- it is dealt with- but because of our delusion that our sin still matters. If I am truly becoming like Jesus it also means that you can not sin a sin that would make you my enemy. Jesus loves everyone. Why? Because in spite of the fact that they continue to sin and hurt themselves and others He sees them as He can now create them to be. Saints. This is not just true of a few really good people but it is true of the whole world. Forgiveness can happen now because sin is dealt with forever. It not only means that within the great family of Faith that we can have relationships that are deep and meaningful but now we can have such relationships with the whole world. His sacrifice was enough. The irritating neighbor, the disloyal friend, the persistent enemy, the corrupt government official, the radical Muslim cleric, everyone can now receive the love of God- and your love too. What a God we serve. I am thankful today that my sin is dealt with. But I am equally thankful that He has dealt a deathblow to the sins of the whole world. They only have the power of delusion now. Delusion is powerful indeed. I am not talking about Universalism here, delusion destroys relationships. It can make a man believe that his redeemed brother is his enemy. It can lead a man to believe he is not welcome in the presence of God. It is a lie and our job is to announce the good news that the lie is false and powerless. We do this in many ways but mostly we announce this lie by living as if it were a lie. We love others sacrificially in spite of their sin which the world insist matters so much. Go out today and live a loving sacrificial life and put to death the lie that sin matters. Jesus has dealt with it forever- Praise Him forever.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Fighting out of the Paper Bag

I have said before that perseverence is one of the most important qualities for the true follower of Jesus. Life gets in the way of everything we think we are supposed to do. There is a team staying here with us in Minas Tirith who wants to be in Rohan. Rohan is particularly difficult these days and getting there just hasn't happened for them yet. In the end, the team will have to settle for living in Edoras when they wanted to be in another city altogether. Their team leader assures them that they can make frequent trips to Helm's Deep, where they want to be, and continue their quest to reach that very dark, lost city. They asked me recently if I thought this was a realistic plan. This reminded me of a story....

When I was living in Rohan myself and wanting to move to Gondor I had to make frequent trips to set things up. I didn't get much help. I traveled by myself 18 times across the Gondor/Rohan boarder in 1997 and was hastled every single time. The 19th time across the border was an epic journey in itself as it was not only long and arduous but I had my wife and two children with me (I wrote this up in the post 'Too Stupid to Quit' March 11, 2007). Anyway, one day I was getting ready to leave with a friend who said he would go with me but when I called he told me he was too busy and couldn't make it. I was going to have to go alone again. I got up early the next morning picked up my bag and walked to the door. It was like swimming in molases. As I approached the door to our home I thought of what was going to happen. I was going to get a taxi to the nearest border crossing and it would be same song twentieth verse. "Hi, I am going to Minas Tirith." No you are not.... Yes, I am.... No you are not.... Yes, I am... on and on for an hour and a half or so until they get sick of me and then they would let me across. Then I would negotiate a taxi over a rough mountain pass and ten short hours later be in Minas Tirith. It was not fun, it was dangerous and there were always really good reasons why I should not be there doing what I wanted to do. It was just too much. I couldn't face those guards and that trip again. I went back to bed that Friday morning and slept all weekend. On Monday morning I got up picked up my still packed bag and went to the border. It was as bad as I thought it would be, but I made it. In the end, we moved to Gondor and even started working in Mordor as well.

There is a saying that goes, 'He couldn't fight his way out of a paper bag.' Spiritual warfare is like that. We are in a paper bag- all the enemies tools are lies and deception- but we can't fight our way out most of the time. The Rohan team will go to Edoras and there will be a good reason everyday why they should not go to Helm's Deep that day. Will they go? Time will tell. It will depened on their ability to fight their way out of a paper bag. Most of us don't you know. Most of us sit in front of the TV and think that the weather will be better tomorrow, we will be better prepared tomorrow, the family, the finances, the job, the everything will be more conducive to go..... tomorrow. And so we sit. Yes, even I, the great advernturer Strider who tells lots of travel stories spends most of his days in his office trying to get over the inertia of sitting there so he can go back out there one more time, so I can fight the good fight one more time, so I can make a difference in someone's life one more time. From inside the paper bag all is dark and difficult. When we push through sometimes with ease, other times with effort we always wonder why we didn't do this before. Why don't we do this everyday? Perseverence comes hard. If it is crossing a border to an unreached nation or crossing the street to a family in need or even just crossing the line in a conversation to admit you really care, really love why does it seem to take such a Herculean effort? It does. I think that tomorrow I will travel to a village and tell people that God loves them. Tomorrow I will get out of the paper bag. I think that team will make it to Helm's Deep- and I think it will be harder than they think. What about you? Will you fight your way out tomorrow or will you turn on the TV and hide in your bag? HEY!!! Wake up! The bag is a lie. Go and fight the good fight.

Friday, November 09, 2007

A conversation with Balin

I was talking with Arwen the other day and we were discussing our frustration at how little we knew about how to share the Gospel effectively here in Gondor. I must admit that after ten years of working here I had hoped for a little more illumination than we currently had. Arwen, my lovely wife suggested that I talk to Balin about this. Balin is one of the most effective national evangelist we know. He has worked with us for over five years in our prison work and for the last year and a half he has worked with his church as a traveling evangelist.

I asked Balin how he shared his faith in Chirst. As I expected he did not hesitate to answer. He did not need to think over what he would say. Balin is one of those individuals who do not need to think before answering- he speaks straight from his heart. He said,

Strider, what people need to know about God is that He loves them. Just last week I walked into a local market and saw a woman selling grapes. I asked her how she was and she told me that she was really struggling to sell her grapes. She was poor and needy and she needed to sell quickly and it just wasn't happening for her. So, I told her that God loved her very much and that he cared about her and her grapes. I prayed for her that God would reveal himself to her and that she would sell her produce quickly. I came back an hour and a half later to see that she was selling the last of her grapes. She smiled broadly as I walked up and she thanked me for praying for her. I told her all about Jesus and how he not only loved her enough to help her sell grapes but he died for her. This is what people need to hear. They need to know that God loves them and they can only know that if you show that you genuinely love them.

He told several stories just like that in quick succession. Each time he listened to people in need, prayed for God to meet that need and then assured them that God had most truly loved them through Jesus Christ. This is both simplistic and extremely complex. It is simplistic because as a formula this simply falls short. You can not just do this as I have written it and expect any results at all. You see, actually this is a very difficult formula to follow because what Balin actually does is to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in what He is already doing. After going through a couple more stories like this he stopped and looked at me very seriously and said, 'Don't misunderstand me here, Strider, I don't do this everywhere I go. Many times I go somewhere and look around and I don't say anything to anyone. Sometimes the Holy Spirit just does not want to me speak to anyone at a given time.' Ah, so it is not all up to us! Well, I thought that but sometimes you wonder. Sometimes you see a great evangelist talking about how he leads everyone he knows to faith and you think, wow, I sure am a loser. No, it is not all up to us but as you read the Word they spend a lot of time pleading with men and women to repent and follow Jesus. Like I said, it's complicated. What it is really about is a relationship. A relationship between you and God Almighty. As you go deeper with Him He fills you with His love and compassion and power. He fills you and annoints you to go out and share with others, yes so they will come to know Him to, but also so that you will get to know Him better.

If you ask me that's what this whole messed up world is all about. It is a giant, violent, difficult adventure for us to share with Him. As we share the adventure together we bond, we love, we grow and change until we become His true children. Children whom He is pleased to call home and sit down at His table and eat and drink with. Children who are growing up to be just like dad, full of faith, and hope, and love. As I learn to be this kind of child He will work with me to be a part of a community of faith. A community that proclaims the love of God in such a compelling way that even strict Muslims can't help but sell all, pick up their crosses and follow Him.

The Funeral

He was 35 years old when the civil war began. He was a small man working for a farm in the rural south of Gondor when the call to arms came. The Islamic fundamentalists had been plowing through the countryside terrorizing everyone. Their ideologues were declaring all things modern to be anti-Islamic. They were destroying everything and they were headed for the main hydro-electric power plant in the country. He grabbed a rifle and headed up the mountain to the dam and they saved the plant- for which I am most very thankful! Then seven men from his town took control of the situation. These were violent fearful men. The government was in complete disarray so they emptied out the prisons, reorganized the armed forces with the new recruits and got to work. They went house to house through village after village killing and plundering the Islamic fundamentalists who had just a few months before been killing and plundering themselves. One night he was taken by these men out to a village that was favorable to the Islamic opposition. They broke down the door of a home and dragged out an old man with a long white beard, his daughters screaming and begging for mercy. The men told him that this man was a fundamentalist and he must shoot him. He raised his rifle, tears streamed down his face. He heard the cries of the women, the shouts of his friends. He put the gun down and walked out of the yard and went back home. In my eyes and the eyes of his sons he never stood as tall as he did that night but he never forgave himself for not being able to kill that man. His seat at the table of power and position was given to someone else. Later on, after the war was over and over one hundred thousand men and women of Gondor had lost their lives he drove a car for some of these men. It was all the work he could find.

I met him through his second son. I gave his son a job and then helped him get a better job. I recognized that his son was a special and talented young man and I continued to mentor and aid him as I could. I spoke to him about God and spiritual things but he didn't hear me. The only thing that mattered to him, to his father, and to his whole family was to make up for that one mistake, to prove to the whole community that this was a great and honorable family. So, they worked hard and they built a nice house. My friend had a great wedding with hundreds of guests. He is now a businessmen working with an international business.

On Wednesday we buried his father. He had been sick for about a month but then was completely better so the heart attack caught them completely off-guard. He was fifty years old when I got the call to head for the village immediately. I drove with a friend the two hours over the pass to the small town where they live. As I walked into the yard I heard the normal wailing of the women who always cry loud and long during funerals but I was surprised that the men where also crying and wailing. My friend was beside himself with grief. His father, a good man, was gone forever. I held him but had no words of comfort to offer. We took his father up on the hill and laid his body in a hole and filled it in. For those who do not know Jesus Christ death is a very final and bitter reality.

This family is responsible for its own eternity. God has given us the power to choose and this man has chosen. I told him the truth and I lived the truth before him. I have no regrets about how I conducted my life in relation to them. But somehow that is not good enough. How do we really release the saving power of Christ into the lives of men and women who are bound up by the lies of power, prestige, and pride? I think that God is moving among us and teaching us more and more about how to join Him in the work that He is doing. He is redeeming men and women. He will make the kingdom of this world into His very own Kingdom. Transformation has happened, is happening, will ultimately happen. In my next post I hope to deal more thoroughly with the topic of evangelism. In the meantime, everyone around us is dying. Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life. Somehow, these two realities must meet, sit down together and have tea.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Breaking the Chain

It was Beth Moore night again tonight with my friends. We are studying her Patriarchs series. In tonight's lesson she pointed out some things about Ishmael and his descendants. In Genesis 16:12 God tells Hagar that her son Ishmael will be against everyone. In Genesis 25:18 it says that his descendants where against all of their brothers. From he to they. It is a chain. It got me thinking about my chain and my debt to my father and mother. My family tree is neither physically nor spiritually illustrious. Poor farmers and railroad men from America's Midwest my father's family settled in Nebraska and my dad grew up poor, in a broken home on the wrong side of the tracks. I have just a few memories of my great grandfather. He was a gruff old man who sat in his recliner chair and watched sports on television. He was not a very spiritual man and I don't know that he ever thought about God even though he went to church every Sunday. My early memories of my grandfather were of a rough man who was loud and quick tempered. I admired his strength at the time but as I grew up I realized that he made one bad decision after another. He continually gave his strength away and remained small and bitter. Late in life he found faith in Jesus and he radically changed. He found faith because my father shared Jesus with him. It was my father who broke the chain. An endless line of poor broken men ended when my father accepted the free grace of Jesus and was adopted into a new family. A family of powerful heritage. A family of strength, and honor, and dignity. A family with Abraham as its patriarch and Jesus as its head. Sometimes I think that I still see a poor farm boy in my father's eyes. Sometimes I see a boy who wants to be on the other side of the tracks so bad it hurts. But I see a man redeemed to be much more than all those whom he has envied for so long. My father has become much more than his upbringing ever gave promise to. Because he broke the chain I am proud to stand on his shoulders. Because he broke the chain I have followed in his steps and accepted adoption into the only family worth being in. I am a child of God not because I am wise or clever or even lucky. But because my father's lost and useless family has been swept up in a story that is as old as Genesis itself. I am not a poor directionless man wandering aimlessly across America's vast Midwest. I am a blessing in the hands of Almighty God to bring hope and light to dark distant lands filled with hopeless people. This is God's own doing, what He delights to do.

These people here in Gondor are a part of this epic story. They believe that they are the sons and daughters of Ishmael. They believe that Ishmael is the child of promise. They are deceived. Islam means to 'submit'. Their heritage is that of the bondwoman Hagar who is Mount Sinai (Romans 4). They are trapped by the law that they believe will save them but it only brings death. I am here to call them to break the chain. I have been sent by God- by virtue of his great mercy- to call them to leave their father's house and join the Family of Promise. They are called to join the family of Isaac and establish the new Jerusalem. Not a city on a hill in the Middle East, but a Kingdom whose beginning is full of faith and valor and whose end is glory everlasting.

Who are you? The son or daughter of a merchant? A blacksmith? A soldier? If you are a follower of Jesus you are a child of the King. A powerful force in the world today. Live it.

Friday, October 12, 2007

One Year but Who's Counting?

Well, clearly I am not counting. It was actually October 7, 2006 when I put the first post up on this blog. My intent in beginning the blog was to talk about what God was doing in a positive and thought-provoking way. I had felt that in the SBC blogworld and maybe in the Christian blogworld in general that we were getting out a really negative message, that by focusing on all that was wrong we were missing all that God was doing. I don't know how effective I have been in influencing the blogosphere but it seems that a few faithful readers have been blessed and for that I am very thankful.

So, for the coming year I will continue to put up as many stories as God permits me to witness as His Great Story unfolds. You are always welcome to come by, comment and share in the journey. One of my favorite 'travel' songs was done by the all too secular artist Dan Fogelberg when I was still in High School. As best as I can remember it I will put it below for you to ponder. And thank you again for stopping by.

Along the Road by Dan Fogelberg

Joy at the start
Fear in the journey
Joy in the coming home
A part of the heart gets lost in the learning
Somewhere along the road

Along the road your path may wander
A pilgrim's faith may fail
Absence makes the heart grow fonder
Darkness obscures the trail

Cursing the quest, Courting disaster
Measureless nights forbode
Moments of rest, Glimpses of laughter
Are treasured along the road

Along the road your steps may stumble
Your thoughts may start to stray
But through it all a heart held humble
Levels and lights the way

Joy at the start
Fear in the journey
Joy in the coming home
A part of the heart gets lost in the learning
Somewhere along the road
Somewhere along the road

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Triumphal Procession

Things go wrong here in Middle Earth once in a while. But not all the time. If everyone was always late, if the electricity was always off, if the water was always brown then that would be predictable. Life here is not predictable and in order to maintain a proper state of unpredictability sometimes things go right. One day things went really really right. I thought I would tell you about it.
The year was 1999 and we were tired. We had started the office here in Minas Tirith, we had begun the work in northern Mordor, we had started a house church, and we had our third child. I thought that was a pretty good first term all round. But we were worn out and in need of some good time with friends and family back in the West. The trouble is that the very hardest thing we do here is travel. People often ask us how long it takes us to get here and the answer used to be about a week. We have a direct flight to a major airport out in Grey Havens now but back then we could not get very far and the layovers were always measured in days instead of hours. We had a guest come two weeks before we were to leave and they hassled him pretty good on his way out. I stuck up for him and got him through without paying any kind of bribe but I made a few customs guys pretty irritated in the process. I kept thinking that I was going to be here with my whole family and a lot of luggage in just two weeks and they were not going to make this easy.

We packed up and headed to the airport. Several friends went with us. When we got to the airport everyone was there. I had seen other people leave with a large procession of grateful nationals and honestly I never thought our leaving would be like that. But the King was good as always and many were there to see us off- except our secretary. She was supposed to be there and was not. We went to check in and there was a guy with a big broom handled mustache standing at the door. I had seen him there before but I don't ever remember speaking to him. He greeted me and then turned to the large room with all the customs officials and the passport control people and announced in a loud voice, "This is a very good man! He speaks our language, only use our language with him. He is a great diplomat!" I was in shock. I humbly said thank you to him and walked in. I went to customs and I asked to fill out the forms and begin the arduous procedure of checking in. The man looked at me puzzled and said you are a diplomat- go on. Ok. Everyone in our entourage followed us passed customs and then passed passport control which they should not be allowed to do. It was like a big party. Then we went out on the runway and said goodbye to everyone. We boarded the plane and waited. And waited. We wondered why we were waiting so long then it was announced that something needed to happen. I didn't understand. Suddenly the front doors of the plane were reopened and I was asked to go forward. I looked down and there was our secretary on the runway saying goodbye. The airport officials had held up the plane and let her out on the runway to say goodbye to us. Unbelievable. But this was stage one of a long trip. Things were sure to go wrong when we went north to one of the most difficult and corrupt airports in Middle Earth. Nothing happened. We arrived. People were not only nice, they were downright helpful. It was eerie. I kept looking over my shoulder waiting for someone to come along asking for money, or trying to be nasty. It didn't happen. We got our onward tickets and we went on the US of A. I don't usually get too place specific in this blog but I will go ahead and say that we landed in Atlanta, GA- we went on from there but that is where we went through immigration. As we walked up to the line a large black man in a uniform and a big smile was waiting for us. He took our passports and looked them over. He said, "So, you're a missionary!" I had not used that word for three years. We never use that word. Sometimes we call it the M word but that is as far as we go. I looked around to see who was listening and I said, "Is that tattooed on my forehead?" He looked at the various visas in my passport- places many of you have never heard of- and said, "It's tattooed in your passport. How long have you been away?" I told him that we had been out of the US for three and a half years. He handed our passports back and said, "Welcome home!" I almost cried.

There are days when everything goes wrong. Plans fail. I almost never go to bed having accomplished what I set out to do that morning. In our work we say flexible is not enough, you have to be fluid. But our King is a most gracious King. He gives us just what we need when we need it most. The psalmist said that though weeping endures for a night, joy comes in the morning. Here in Middle Earth it often waits until lunchtime but it does come. 2 Cor 2 says it this way: "But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him." That verse is jam packed with meaning. In June of 1999 it took on a newer and grander meaning than I had seen before. It is true everyday even though I don't feel it every day. Life does not always feel like a triumphal procession, but it is. How I feel or what the next set of Government officials do to me can not alter the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ in me. So, I will march in this triumphal procession even when it is lonely, and dark, and full of troubles. Come with me.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Hope of Love

In a previous post I mentioned working with Boromir. There was another guy whom I also worked with at that time whose name I will call Ted. Ted spoke some English, was educated, had been a believer for over nine years and had a wife and three children. He came and participated in our Disaster Management Course and I knew that I had found a great asset to the team. What I liked about Ted, what made him so compelling was that he would cry quite easily when talking about deep emotional things. He had a lot of those kinds of things to talk about as it turned out. The more I got to know him the more I realized that he was really messed up. He had been treated very badly by some of the Churches that he had gone to. He had been thrown out of his original Church because when he got married- to a Christian girl- his parents gave him a Muslim wedding. The pastor felt he had not objected loudly enough to this so they excommunicated him. The next church he went to tried to help him but soon grew tired of his many needs and they too threw him out. He wandered from Church to Church after that trying to find a place to belong but could not. I, being who I am, was sure that I could help him.

I started to study with him and Boromir on a regular basis. As we studied together, prayed together, and worked together many things came to light. Boromir was an alcoholic. Ted had other problems. Ted was trapped in the worst marriage you have ever heard of. He was trapped in the lies of his own making and it was tearing him apart. Sin is like that you know. The enemy is not content to let us just wander cold and miserable down the wrong path, he wants us to suffer much more than that. If we let him the enemy will tell us lies to bind us up until we are nothing more than animals with no control over any aspect of our lives. This was Ted's predicament. His wife came from an abusive family and Ted married her partly to get her out of it. But she is now a very damaged individual. Their life together is really something to see. She yells at him, baits him, and antagonizes him until he finally hits her- which is the only way that she feels she has been heard. He then feels terrible about it and goes out and seeks solace with a prostitute. She hates him all the more for that and the cycle repeats. It has been repeating like this for nine years. She leaves him- often and then comes back to him because there is no where else to go. He repents and swears his love for her often but it never last long and he is back in the worst kinds of sin and self-hatred. Enter Strider with his big Bible and truck full of wisdom based on Open Windows. (Cue Mighty Mouse theme song, "Here I come to save the daaaaaaayyyy!") Yes, yes, I already know. I am an idiot.

I plead with God to take these guys away. I didn't want to work with an alcoholic or a wife-beater no matter what their situations were. All through that fall and through that winter I would get up in the morning and tell God He had the wrong man- there was no man- for these guys. Let's just cut our losses and move on to more productive people. I already told you what happened with Boromir, how he cleaned up at first and became really productive. I began to think that Ted would never get it. He would never understand what I was talking about. We went through John Eldridge's Wild at Heart book and talked about what a real man was suppose to be. We discussed what Ted should be doing to truly love his wife. He used what we taught to justify his outrageous behavior. Then in the Spring his wife left him- again. This time it seemed for good as she took the kids up to her parents house in the North. Ted came in and suddenly there was a lightbulb over his head. He said to me, 'I get it! I understand what you have been saying all this time. I know it will be harder than ever to fight for my wife and restore our relationship but that is exactly what I have to do.' He left the next day for her city.

Now, I have to be honest. I thought two things simultaneously: One, great, he finally gets it. God bless the boy. And two, he's gone. I don't have to deal with him anymore.
A few months later I heard he had found work. He was seeing his wife regularly. He was trying to be active in a church there that was related to his first Church. He repented of all his sins in front of the whole congregation. Then a few months after that his wife left her parents house and started to live with him again. There were some struggles at first but then everything seemed to turn out great. I was happy for him. Then she left him and the kids and ran off to Arnor in the far north. He came back down to Minas Tirith with the kids in tow. He was shattered and his parents decided they would finally intervene. They set him up to marry another girl. He got an official divorce. I and other friends told him not to marry this non-christian girl that he hardly knew. It would be a disaster. The second marriage lasted four days. Then his first wife came back. He left the second wife- her reputation and life destroyed- and rejoined his divorced wife. I saw him shortly after that. I felt that I couldn't just condone all this. I had to be firm. I had to lay it on the line. I spoke harshly to him and condemned him for destroying that young girl's life. He took my words pretty hard. He left and I didn't see him for a long time. He is back up north again. Living with his wife and children and working in a new Church start. He hasn't been back to prostitutes for 2 years nor has he beaten his wife.

So, here is my point. God is a lot more patient than I am. His mercy and grace are amazing beyond our ability to comprehend. I must grow even more in this area. I need to be able to love more truly. Love hopes all things. What does that mean to you? To me it means that despite the reality of sin and stupidity love knows that better things are coming. Love knows that the walls of sin and selfishness can and will be destroyed. Love knows that the captive can be freed. We separate from our brothers and sisters so easily and it is a testimony to our lack of faith. Our Lord is at work in people's lives. He will overcome every work of the evil one. We need to confront evil in others not out of anger at them, to separate from them, or to show our offense at them. We need to confront the evil in others by inviting them into closer, deeper, truer relationship. I blew it when I cast Ted out. I should have confronted his sin and invited him in and proclaimed my love for him at the same time. My Father does this. I must do it too. But we are afraid to do this. Afraid that if someone else sees us they will think we are soft on sin, that we condone what others do. That is what Jesus was accused of. If I am not accused of this is it because my actions are so good that they are not misunderstood? Foolishness. If I am not accused of loving sinners and being misunderstood as Jesus was then it is because I am not like Jesus and I am not loving others as He does. God make me misunderstood like Jesus.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Wrong Part of Town

I live in Minas Tirith, the capitol city of Gondor here in Middle Earth. I didn't always. My life now is very different than the life I knew when I lived in Rohan. Today I drove over 150 miles over two mountain passes and forded a river to get to a village where we are doing a water project. When I lived in Edoras in Rohan I didn't have a car and I taught English as a second language at a language Institute. Yeah, I know, it doesn't show. Anyway, I like to tell stories on this blog which make a point about my relationship with God, or Church Planting, or Discipleship. Today I will tell a story about one day in Rohan and while I think it is a good story I don't think it has much point. But you can be the judge of that.

All the experts will tell you that after about six months in a foreign country you really hit culture shock hard. In Middle Earth most Westerners get culture shock after about six minutes but you get over it, you recover, and let's face it; you don't have the language or know-how to get a ticket home right then anyway and that is a good thing. So, after six months of being in Edoras I was missing a few things about home. On really bad days we would list food that we missed, or even just the names of restaurants that we would love to go to. We might be sitting around on mats on the floor drinking green tea and someone would say, 'Chilli's!' And then I might say, 'Arby's beef and cheddar!' That kind of thing. It's pretty sad. At that time we could get almost no imported Western things at all. It was in this mood that I set out one morning to go to a section of town called Central Station. I had been there before by taxi but I wanted to figure out how to get there by bus. I went down to the bus stop and I asked a driver what bus I should take to get to Central Station. He told me that his bus was going that way so I got on. We went right at first but then slowly I thought we were going too far west. We went a long ways and everything became less and less familiar. Finally, in the middle of a strange neighborhood that looked nothing like Central Station the driver stopped the bus and told me I was to get off here. I asked him where Central Station was and he told me. See that narrow alleyway to the right? Just go down there about a mile and you will find Central Station. I was pretty mad but as I didn't know any swear words in the local language I just said thank you and started walking.

I walked a long way. It was an interesting street with lots of buildings and shops I had not seen before. I was looking up at an interesting building when I walked straight into a pole that stuck up about two feet out of the middle of the sidewalk. It probably had a purpose at one time but today it just sat idle waiting patiently to destroy my knee. It hurt a lot. I choked back a cry of pain and hobbled off to one side of the road breathing hard and hoping nobody would notice. Nobody had noticed my foolish brush with inattentiveness so I lumbered on slowly taking deep breaths. I came to a small store and decided that a candy bar would ease my pain and I went in hoping to find a good western candy bar and maybe, with a lot of luck, a chair or a bench to sit on and eat it. Upon entering the doorway I was transported. I stood with mouth wide open and eyes bugging out of my head at the scrumptious array of product before me. Shelves and shelves of Cambell's Soup, Spice packets of every kind, breakfast cereal, breakfast cereal, more and more glorious breakfast cereal, cake mixes, jars and cans and jams, and what was that on the bottom to the right? A large bottle of Pace Picante sauce which had only expired two years previously! Had I passed out? Did I die? No, I was conscious and the proof was that everything there was water damaged. Some container must have fallen off a ship somewhere and the contents salvage and sold by weight. Everything was sold by weight and it was all dirt cheap! I bought a few things and then hurried to our team meeting which was just about to take place all the way back across town. I entered the meeting slightly late and with great gusto proudly proclaimed my magnificent find. I announced that our ship had sunk three times but by golly it had finally come in! Everyone was very excited and we all ran off to the store to purchase as much as we could carry. Well, everyone was excited except our team leader who had been in the middle of a some profound point when I came in. He just said that he hoped we could one day be as excited about church planting as we were about Lucky Charms. His wife told him to grab his wallet and get moving.

Two weeks later the store was gone. No, we didn't buy everything. The whole lot was packed up and taken away for someone else. We have a saying in Middle Earth that if you want something then you buy it when you see it. No bargain shopping here. Tomorrow it will be gone never to be seen again. Life is like that here. Impermanence is the fabric in which we live.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Inviting Speech

I was in Rohan the other week when I took my daughters to fly out to boarding school. On my way back home my friend and I stopped in Edoras to encourage some of the local believers there. They are having a pretty rough time these days as the king in Rohan is outlawing all things religious. It is now illegal to preach in Rohan. I asked them what the Government's definition of preaching was. They said that anytime, anywhere you speak to people- even in your own home- with a Bible open in front of you and non-believers are present then you are preaching. The fines are astronomical and several have had trouble with this fun law already. But that was not what was discouraging the leaders there. What was really getting to them was the fact that many local believers were beginning to grow weary of the struggle. They were growing cold and indifferent toward God and other believers. One of the leaders asked me if he should continue to work with one of his church members who seemed to have drifted away. This person was still coming to meetings but was not bearing any fruit and seemed to be permanently immature in his faith. Should he give up on such a person and work with others who would bear more fruit?
I replied that this was a common problem everywhere in the world today and that many people had varied opinions on this. Many people quote 2 Tim. 2:2 believing that we should focus our time on giving the message to 'faithful people who will be able to teach others as well.' This is of course, true but looking to Jesus as our model I like to tell the story of the Prodigal Son. What does this story have to do with who we work with? I believe this story is critical in understanding what a 'godly' attitude towards others is regardless of who the other person is.
As you recall the story found in Luke 15 there is a man with two sons. The second son, the 'Prodigal', leaves the father to find pleasure and satisfaction in the world. The first son stays but toward the end of the story we discover that in his heart he too has left his father's house. He stayed, but began to think of himself as a servant and not a son. He was bitter, jealous, and ungrateful. When the younger son repents and returns the father receives him and invites him into a great banquet. When the older son hears of this he is enraged but the father pleads with the older son and invites him into the banquet as well. You have doubtless heard many fine sermons on this parable and indeed there is much that can be gleaned from this story. But I will focus on just this; The younger son's character was that of a man who looks for pleasure in worldly things, the older son's character was bitter and thankless, but the father's character was constantly inviting in. I see myself in all three and indeed I have been all three characters. I have and continue to seek pleasure in the world far too often. I have been the thankless older brother who is ungrateful and jealous. And, even I, am learning to become like the father. In fact, all children should grow up. We begin like the older or younger sons- usually a combination of both- but we must grow up. When we do we invite others in. It is in the heart and nature of our Great Heavenly Father that he invites us to join him. We must become like this if we are truly followers of His Son.
Jesus was constantly inviting others to join him. We remember when He invited the little children to come to Him and we smile thinking that is how He thinks of us. But remember that in the parable the father represented God, the Prodigal represented the outcasts and sinners, but the older son represented the Pharisees and the religious of Jesus' day. Yet, in the story he too was invited to the banquet. We are not told if he went in, but even he was invited. I will put it to you that in everything Jesus said and did, even when dealing harshly with His enemies He was inviting them in. He never casts anyone out who came to Him. He told them the truth. He did not sugar coat what He said with flattering speech but He was always inviting.
We must be also. I counseled the young leader not to cast out anyone but to speak the truth clearly- always inviting. Many will leave our ranks in the end. The love of many will grow cold. We must not pander to them or cheapen the Gospel for them in any way. Jesus never chased anyone down nor did He beg others to follow Him. But we can and we must speak the truth in a way that invites them into relationship with us and our Father. They too are welcome at the banqueting table. There is room. Be like the father today, grow up and invite them in.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Feet of Clay

Personal Note: My girls are safely back in boarding school and we are back to work. I will try and start doing posts at least weekly again. Well, I say that but my home computer- usually used by my wife but also by me in the evenings- has died a violent death. I don't know when I will be able to replace it but pray for us, I am looking into Macs.

He was my knight in shining armor. He showed up for my disaster management team training and I knew that he was just what I was looking for. He was ready to serve, he was intelligent, he had been a lawyer, he spoke English, he had been a Christian for many years and he was active in a local Church that recommended him to us. His name was Boromir and I loved this guy. But then I loved him less. We did the two month team training and he told stories of his evangelistic exploits. He told of his own conversion to faith in Christ and how God had miraculously saved him from his addiction to drugs. Then after the training was over, after two months of being together for 8-10 hours a day and several overnight trips he showed up to my office drunk.

Ok, he had had a tooth pulled and the dentist had suggested alcohol to kill the pain. He made a mistake, no big deal. I told him if he ever showed up to the office drunk again he would never work for our organization- he would be off the team. The next week there he was again. Then the guys- his friends began to fess up. Boromir was an alcoholic and everyone knew it but me. Typical. That was it, he was off the team, he was history, I would not work with this clown. The King had other ideas. God gave me a project to work on concerning John Eldridge's book 'Wild at Heart'. I was to take it and use it to disciple some men. But I needed translation help. So, God in His infinite wisdom asked me to use Boromir and another man to do the job. Both of these guys were seriously flawed. I argued with God every day. I have never worked with an alcoholic before. I knew nothing about this. I had lots of other guys to work with at the time and too many other projects to do. But I was in the end, obedient. It was not fun. As we worked through the concepts in the book, concepts on how to be a real man according to what God wanted in a real man, the guys did not get it. They misunderstood at every turn. The other guy used some of the concepts to justify his domestic violence and chasing prostitutes. Boromir just plowed through the material as if nothing could touch him. As if everything in his life was just fine. I prayed a lot during those days. I kept arguing with God. Then after about three months of this nonsense, just after New Year's Eve, Boromir stopped drinking. He began to make sense. He began to fight the spiritual battles before him and more than that he began to win.

He ask if I could help him get his lawyer's license back. He needed books to study for the exam and he needed money to make it all happen. I helped. We had a vision for a Christian law firm and one was registered only a year before- only we still didn't have any Christian lawyers in it. From January of 2004 on into the summer he stayed completely sober. I was wary and watching him. We studied together several times a week. I met with his parents and helped him share the Gospel with them. They were overjoyed at the difference in their son. Then he got his license and began actually practicing law. We live in one of the most corrupt countries on this planet. I know every expatriot worker thinks that but Transparency International has backed us on this consistently ranking Gondor in the top 5 - 7 for the last five years. Hey, at least we are consistent. I think that a lawyer in any country is tempted to be unethical but here in Gondor being totally above board is not even an option. Boromir told me that the judges just want money and the prosecutors just want to intimidate people with their power.

He began to help the helpless. He began to pray and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit and he began to win. He shared Jesus with judges. He managed to reduce bribe payments by 70%- 80% to 100% for families facing unimaginable injustices. I was proud of him. Everyone was coming to me and exclaiming that Boromir had never looked healthier and happier. He found a girlfriend and began a house church in her home. One day in early October he tried one of the biggest cases he had so far. A woman who was a member of a local Church had an unbelieving husband who was a drug dealer. The police knew that she had nothing to do with his business but when they arrested him they found out she was a Christian and assumed that she had links to foreigners. Links that would get them lots of money. So, they arrested her and held her for the astronomical sum of $3500. No one here has that kind of money. Boromir went to work. Talking sense and preaching boldly about justice and God's will he brought down the amount of the bribe to less than $500. When the woman's Church went to pay it they found that the judge refused their money and let the woman go free. He sited his respect for Boromir and Boromir's God as his motivation.

Those of you with experience understand what happened next in a way I could not. Boromir celebrated. After nine months of sobriety he fell off the wagon with a huge thud. I was not totally caught off guard by this. I knew it could happen but here is what I did not expect. He never got back on the wagon again. I went to the West to be with my wife as she had our fourth child. When I returned I found a still drunk Boromir whose hands were shaking, who had drank all of his money and the money of several of his clients, whose mind was virtually destroyed and who had fallen so far that he was incapable of telling the truth about anything. He stayed drunk for a year. I saw him sporadically, usually he had some scheme to try and get money out of me. I gave him none, though I frequently gave his mom and dad food.

Last January I heard he had sobered up. I heard that he was working for some relatives and doing well. I heard that he was getting healthy again. I sent messages to him through his family asking him to come by and see me. In March I got word that he went to the hospital with what I think must have been a stroke. The next morning he was dead. I went to his parent's home and prayed with them. It has taken me from then until now to be able to write about this.

I tell a lot of stories about the people we work with. I never sugar coat what happens. God does incredible things, miraculous things in my life and the lives of those around me. But there are many things that I don't understand. I don't know how people can fail so catastrophically. I don't know why God has protected me from moral failure and yet Boromir who loved Jesus just like I do sank so low. There is a lot of talk in seminaries and in Churches about Calvinism and the idea of God being sovereign over all or Arminianism and our ability to choose. These debates make sense to the debaters as they sit in front of their computer screens or in the classroom. But out here in Middle Earth I can make no sense of it at all. God moves in my life and the lives of those around me, this is clear. I and those around me screw up all the time. This too is painfully clear. At the end of the day we face Romans 7 and look to Paul to answer our questions for us. He simply says, "Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God- through Jesus Christ our Lord." At first glance I am very disappointed in this answer. I want more. I want a winning formula that will guarantee my spiritual prosperity. Like the crowd I want to call out to Jesus and say, 'What are we to do to do the works of God?' Jesus. That is the simple and the complex answer. As I think about it I like this answer more and more. It gives hope to me and to Boromir. Jesus loves us both, Jesus died for us both, Jesus calls us both. Jesus, he's more than enough for me and for Boromir. How about you?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Redeeming Communities

Tomorrow I will take my girls to Rohan where they will get on a plane and fly off to boarding school. We have done this for a couple of years now but it seems to be getting harder. I wont be back until late next week as we hope to spend some time encouraging discouraged believers in Rohan. They are having a rough time these days so I look forward to this opportunity to see them. Until I return I offer you the following:

Revelation 11: 15 Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.’

Sounds pretty dramatic huh? The trumpet blowing and loud voices and everything. But I think that there is a subtler side to this. The kingdom of the world has become… It’s the ‘has become’ that has my attention. You see when God decided not to blast Adam and Eve into nothingness for their disobedience he made a plan. He decided to recreate man in His image. He did not decide to make another man. He took the same broken clay and reformed it through the blood of His Son. This is what we call salvation. We think we have some understanding of this but what about ‘kingdoms?’ Kingdoms, as far as we are concerned are fallen communities based on injustice and with the possible exception of our own country they will all be blotted out in favor of a new Kingdom that is coming soon. But what if we have misunderstood this? What if the Great King is going to recreate Kingdoms the same way He has recreated us? Would that change the way we live and work? In almost all Church Planting efforts for the last two-hundred years missionaries have sought to take people out of their communities of sin and brokenness and build new pure and wonderful communities. We here in Middle Earth have done our work a different way.

Kili and Fili have been followers of Jesus for a year and a half now. They remain active members of their community which is the small village called Anfalas. Anfalas was a broken difficult place from the start. Transplanted families from the mountains came down to a desert plain to try and build a life. What they found was heat and trouble. We helped them by showing them a different way of life, a life that revolved around the worship of God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Kili and Fili and their wives have followed our example and are living out their faith in the village. This Spring there was an accident. Fili was down in the village well clearing out the silt when the cement ring walls slipped and his foot was crushed. He lost the two end toes of his right foot. But there is a cool side to this. The whole village took a collection and sent him to the hospital. They kept someone at his bedside 24/7 for three weeks. They paid for everything. Now several months later Fili is home but still can not work. Kili works as a day laborer and he has worked for both families all summer. He does it joyfully. He is a great inspiration to me and to the whole village. Now many of the good Muslims in this village are wondering what it is about Kili and Fili that make them so joyful, a great asset to the community, and yet they have forsaken their faith in Islam. Many others are cooperating and working together as well. The community is already transformed and yet only four out of 300 people have professed Christ! I believe that more will proclaim Jesus as Lord but not because of a logical argument or a glorious miracle- even though they have seen both- no, they are being transformed by the leaven growing and expanding in the lives of Kili and Fili. I don’t know about you but I want to see this happen in my community and in communities around the world. Can we do that? Revelation seems to say He will do that.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Forgiven to Forgive

I am back in the West this week running around in the woods doing some training. It has been great but I miss my family who has stayed in Gondor. One of the really great privileges of doing what I do is who I work with. Overseas workers are frail and human like everyone else and yet I believe that our King has created some truly remarkable people to go and do what we go and do. This week I have met some great folks. One man I have met this week is yet another study in the transforming power of our great King and with his permission I would like to tell you about him.

Thengle is a small man with a huge smile. He was born in the far east of Middle Earth in a war torn part of the world East of Dale. When he was just twelve years old his father was killed by an old family friend who turned him in so that he could save himself and increase his own fortunes. Thengle was separated from his family and forced into the army. He served as a child soldier for a short time before rejoining his mother and escaping to the refugee camps of a neighboring country. To their surprise his father’s murderer was also their in the camp. Thengle and his family made a plan to murder him in revenge. At that same time however, Thengle began listening to some interesting volunteers in the camp. These people were very different from anyone he had ever met before. They talked about Jesus and a God of love and grace. Thengle hungered for such a God in his life. He and his family became followers of Jesus. They prayed about how to kill their enemy. They believed in the verses that were taught to them that God would give them what they asked for so they asked God to kill their father’s murderer. God spoke to Thengle one day and informed him that vengeance belonged to God alone. Thengle was content. He believed that God would kill his enemy for him.

Thengle and his family moved to the West. He was educated. He grew in grace and love of the Lord Jesus and forgot about his enemy. Then God called him to go back to Middle Earth and proclaim His Kingdom. As he prepared to go Thengle was encouraged to tie up any loose ends in his life. Unresolved relationships could cause bitterness that would cripple his effectiveness. He went to see his mother one day and she told him that the man who killed his father was still alive. He had not thought about this man for years but was amazed to hear that this man was not only alive but he too lived in the West. In fact, he too was a follower of Jesus now. Thengle’s mother went to see this man and last year she sat next to him in his Church and told him that she forgave him. Thengle forgave him as well and rejoices at the goodness of our heavenly father.

Thengle trusted God to kill his enemy and God was faithful to do so. Thengle’s enemy is well and truly dead and in his place God has raised up a brother in Christ. May heaven be filled with men and women like this.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

And he gave gifts....

Personal note: I have been really busy with projects and travel so I have not been very involved in blogging lately. Tomorrow I will go to the West for two weeks of training. Arwen and the kids will remain here in Gondor so we appreciate your prayers. I will be pretty much off-line until I return.

Last week I traveled up to Andros to celebrate the completion of the project there. It was an exhausting but very rewarding journey. Halbarad and his wife were already up in Andros finishing the project when I grabbed his driver, Sam, and my daughter Luthien and we headed up over the twelve thousand foot pass and into the Cair Andros valley. It took us seven hours. After arriving we went and talked with the Emergency Services Director. We ended up spending the evening talking. Finally, I went to bed but not for long as we were back up at dawn and out to the village to for the end of project celebration. I did an interview with the Governor of the area for the local TV station. After all the big wigs left we got to sit with the villagers and I let Sam make a speech in the local dialect which he knew. We then went back into town to be shown around the area looking at potential projects.

That afternoon we met with some Christian workers from another organization. They detailed the difficult situation in Andros. Most of the male leadership of the three or four local groups have renounced Christ. One of the more important leaders gave into heavy persecution and now he has a commercial on the local tv station detailing how he became a Christian and is now a Muslim again. The local mullah interviews him and makes the point that foreigners should be avoided and there is nothing to this whole following Jesus thing. That's tough ground to plow in.

We went back out to the Emergency Services guy and spent the evening with him again. His leg is injured- possibly a pinched nerve- and he went to see the Mullah for their folk medicinal mumbo jumbo. We prayed for him but the Lord spoke quite clearly and said that He would not heal him at this time. Not the same day the Mullah did his thing. Luthien got a marriage proposal. It seems that the Emergency Services guy's wife thought she would be perfect for her son. She isn't, but she was flattered. Sam then proclaimed Christ in a very bold and direct manner for about 15 minutes. Halbarad's driver then gave his testimony, then I gave mine. We talked alot and the Emergency Services guy is very interested. We will keep praying for him.

I talked to Sam afterwards and ask him about his direct Gospel presentation. I told him that the content was great but didn't we have an indirect method that we used? He said, "I know, I talk about this all the time with Frodo and Merry but honestly sometimes I just can't keep quiet any longer!" Ok. I am always happy to hear the men of Gondor proclaim the Gospel in their own language. That makes my day everyday.

It rained that night in the mountains and the road was washed out over the pass. They are constructing a five kilometer tunnel and we tried to go through that but that road was washed out as well. We waited for about five hours and when they finally let us through the tunnel had almost three feet of rushing water through it. It was a remarkable journey. After 13 hours on the road we made it home.

Here is the thing I would like to point out. Halbarad is learning and growing in his role as an apostle to the Cair Andros valley. In a very short time he has learned the valley, the people, the language, how to run projects, and how to share his faith effectively. He is not a pastor. He is not a teacher. He is not an evangelist. He is not a prophet. He does not operate in any of these giftings at all. He is an apostle- and a very good one. He delights in breaking barriers and bringing hope to those in utter darkness. I am proud to work with him. I am honored to be a part of sending him and enabling him there. This too is an apostolic role. It is not for everyone, and it is not for so-called super Christians. It is for those whom the King calls and gifts to do it. I pray that you will be about your calling today. For the sake of the lost, and for the glory of God.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

TCK's are totally cool

TCK means Third Culture Kid. It is the new descriptor for MK or missionary kid. TCK refers to all children who grow up outside of their cultural home. I was a TCK myself growing up. My father was in the Air force and we lived overseas most of my teen years. It is interesting that now that I have been trained as a cross-cultural worker I know understand much of what happened to me as a teen. I never saw the connections at the time but my grades alone tell an interesting story. My sixth grade year we moved East and my grade dropped from A's and B's to C's and D's. Then my seventh and eighth grades report cards showed almost all A's and a couple of B's. My ninth grade year we moved to the West. My grades were almost all D's. Then tenth and eleventh grades saw report cards with almost all A's and a couple of B's again. We moved back to the US my 12th grade year. You guessed it- all C's and a D or two. Clearly I was affected by the moves, by the lifestyle, by the stress. I tell you this because I want to describe my own kids to you. I want you to understand them as I see them. Before I do that I need to tell you one more story about myself. It was not all difficulty and maladjustment for me overseas as a teen.

We arrived in Okinawa, Japan when i was 12 years old. Our plane landed at night and we were
whisked off to a hotel off base in Koza City. It was a dream. We were tired and jet lagged and I remember very little of the trip. The next morning we awoke in a strange hotel and went out to see where we were. Those first moments are etched on my brain. I walked out on to the street in a light rain in January. There was strange dissonant music loudly playing, there were people everywhere, the smell of the 'benjo' ditches was sharp. Strange things were hanging in all the shop windows and everyone was speaking a language I could not comprehend. It was electrifying. I was mesmerized. This was fantastic. It was a call. I would never be the same again. I would never look at downtown USA and think, 'this is all there is' again. The world was much bigger than I imagined, than I could possibly conceive and I was very grateful to see even the small piece.

My first born was a girl I here name
Luthien. She was born in Texas but she is not from there. She landed in Middle Earth when she was just five. She has been home schooled, cooperative schooled, and now boarding schooled. My second daughter was born in her Grandmother's town in England. Goldberry was just three when we moved to Rohan and four when we went to Gondor. Many people say that kids learn the language and culture quickly. Not always. The second day we were in Rohan we were walking down the street and a group of kids were playing in a field nearby. Our girls said to us, 'We don't want to talk like those kids'. We were surprised. But they refused to learn. They played everyday in the street with 20 different boys and girls and learned very little of the language. Sure, they could say a few things but for the most part they could not converse. One day I sat down with Luthien and told her that we were going to be here for awhile and if she was going to be happy she needed to learn the language. She said, "Nope, I am going to teach them all English!" She didn't succeed but it was interesting watching her try. All the years of her growing up have been very difficult. She was very difficult to teach. She was an extreme introvert with no attention span at all. But slowly, with a lot of work on her mother's part especially, she has changed. We baptized her a few years ago in our home Church in the West. We were not totally convinced she was ready. What was she really thinking? This was always hard to tell with Luthien. Two years ago we ran out of schooling options for her. Home school was not working anymore, Internet school was a disaster for our family- it requires a lot of discipline! So, we sent her off to boarding school three timezones away. We didn't know if she would make it but she blossomed. I am irritated to say that now that I have sent her away my introverted, non conversant daughter is now an extremely interesting person to be with. She reads the Word everyday and makes her decisions based on it. We are really enjoying having the girls home for the summer. This week I took Luthien to the village to see one of our projects. It was a difficult road up over the pass and a long long day the next day as we evaluated the project, met lots of people and government officials and looked over new project possibilities. While we stayed up late one night witnessing to a local official Luthien was proposed to by the wife of our host. She had a young son that she was sure was just right. Luthien didn't think that she would be a very good daughter-in-law in Gondor culture. I am sure she is right. But she did help cook the meal that night and the whole discussion was in the language of Gondor which she supposedly doesn't know very well!

Goldberry is the opposite of Luthien. She is vivacious, fun, and outgoing. We knew she would do well at boarding school but there was something we did not take into account. While Goldberry is much more interactive and aware than Luthien she is also much more emotional. She really struggled this last semester being away from Mom and Dad. She failed algebra and that hurt her emotionally too. One day she told me that she was not good at anything, she was not talented, was not intelligent, was not special. I lost my temper. I told her in no uncertain terms that grades, clever tricks, or physical ability meant nothing in the Kingdom. Love was everything and no one could love others like Goldberry. She is sensitive to others, she includes others, she is a good friend. No, she does not juggle or play soccer well. But she is great in the Kingdom and I am grateful for such a daughter. She wants more than anything- at the moment- to be a cross-cultural worker like Dad and Mom. She wants to tell the world about Jesus.

The boys come next.
Elladan was born in England in 1999. He is wiry, strong, and thinks he is a gymnast. The fact that all the furniture in our house is broken is a testamony to this. He is not crazy about school and Arwen is going to home school him this next year to see if she can motivate him better. He stays locked away in our yard too much of the time. The neighborhood boys just throw rocks at the foreigner whenever they see him out. He has a bad attitude about the people of Middle Earth even though it is the only home he knows and would not want to live anywhere else. He loves camping and I try and take him out to the villages when I can. Elrohir was born just two years ago and is a small tank in motion. He is a chunk of a kid with the sweetest attitude you could ever hope to see in a child. He loves to sit and play quietly with Woody and Buzz of Toy Story fame and play for hours. Probably due to the dual language issues he does not speak at all yet. The only thing he can say with any consistency is, "To infinity and beyond!" of course, quoting Buzz.

I guess the purpose of this post is obvious. There are great advantages to raising kids here and there are great challenges. The kids will never be the same as a result of what we have done to them by bringing them here. I think that our Father is going to take them and make them exceptional humans as a result of being here. They don't know their grandparents or extended families at all. They don't like the US and don't feel 'at home' there. The truth is they, like me, will never 'feel' at home anywhere. This might be the best lesson of all. We are taught theologically that this world is not our home. Most people around the world do not understand this.
TCK's know it all too well. They understand that they do not belong anywhere in this world and for most of them it drives them to seek somewhere else. A Kingdom not made with hands and ruled by our mighty King. When we get there many of us may have to deal with culture shock. If you do, just look up a TCK, they will proudly welcome you home.