Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Dwimorberg

The other day I went up to the Dwimorberg. The Dwimorberg is a group of mountains in the middle of Gondor. Through those mountains runs a valley that is sung about by travelers here in Gondor. Last week I made a day trip up there with Frodo and the Team to see a guy about doing a drinking water project. Three years ago I went up there and it changed me.

Three years ago I was working with Oin and Gloin. They were not then and still are not now followers of Jesus but I love them and continue to pray for them. I guess you could say that praying for them is what began this whole story. I had not spent any real time with them in a while so I was praying that the King would put us together. Two days later I needed to make a trip up to the Dwimorberg. The Team was down in Anfalas so I called up Oin and Gloin and invited them to join me on a short half-day trip. We would go up to the regional capitol, introduce ourselves, and get permission to do some projects in nearby villages. A nice relaxing day for me. I needed a relaxing day. It had been a while since I had had a vacation and as a matter of fact I was planning on taking the family camping the very next week. We just needed to do the closing ceremony on the Anfalas project (the next day) and then I could take a break.

We drove out two and a half hours to the Dwimorberg and had a good meeting with the area leader. After the meeting I asked him about a good camping spot for my family and me. He said that there was a beautiful spot just up the road. In fact, a local guy from that village was here and he would be happy to show us. I met the guy and to my surprise he was a truck driver who had helped us on one of our projects before. He told me about a beautiful waterfall 56 kilometers up the valley that was one of the most beautiful sights in the country. He said we could camp right across from it and it would be great. I asked if we could go see it. He inquired what kind of truck we had and I replied that we had a small locally made vehicle. I suppose you would do well to imagine a 1976 Ford Pinto with four-wheel drive. He thought it would be ok so off we went.

We climbed up and over one pass and then on to the next district. I was confused- why were we going so far east when we should just go north? I later found out that only the big trucks could go the short way. We went up and up and then the little car started having problems. We thought maybe it was the fuel filter so we cleaned it out with the air pump that everyone keeps in their car for just this purpose. It seemed a bit better but I was concerned. It didn’t feel right. Still, we drove on. Down a two-mile stretch of road that ran long and straight and steep to the bottom of the valley. Then the car really started having problems and several times I suggested we go back. Each time our guide insisted we were almost there. Just a little bit further. When a situation begins to get desperate it is amazing what you will believe.

The car surged and died, surged and died, surged and died in a rhythm that was driving us mad. I prayed many times for the car’s miraculous healing. I bargained with the King, “Just think of the glory you would get if I called out to Jesus and the car was suddenly fine.” I called out but there was no reply. Slowly, my prayers changed, “Lord, will you please just help me keep my temper so that I will not embarrass you?” It reminded me of our University basketball team. We never cheered for them to win, just not to embarrass us too badly. But finally, the car died on an island in the middle of the riverbed, which was this valley. In case I forgot to mention it, we left all semblance of road behind at the bottom of the valley and now we were criss-crossing the river stream amid one of God’s largest rock collections. As we sat there with no idea how to tune a carburetor in the middle of nowhere two guys came up on horseback. They told us they were great mechanics so I gave them the wrenches and I took the reigns of their horse. I road around the riverbed for a while talking a lot to the Boss from a top of the horse. I plead with Him to get me out of there. He replied short and to the point as He often does. “I am granting your request to spend more time with Oin and Gloin so stop complaining and get over it.” The day wore on. I walked the horse over to the car. As I looked down the entire top of the engine was covered with tiny pieces of carburetor. I was not encouraged. Unbelievably, the guys put the whole thing back together and the car started again. It ran exactly as it had before. Surge- die, surge- die, surge- die. I was exasperated. I told the guys we were going back (it would not have been possible anyway) but the trucker told us that we were almost there. I lost it. No, he was lying we have been almost there for over 60 kilometers and this was only supposed to be a 56 kilometer trip. He replied calmly. He said look up the river valley. See that clump of trees about four kilometers ahead? That was his village. Ok. We went for it. Surge- die, surge- die for four kilometers. We reached the village and the car surged up on to the bank of the river at the foot of the village and died its last.

I was totally exhausted and totally irritated. It was five in the evening and we were stranded miles and miles from home with no vehicle and no communication. We had no phone or radio and everyone back in Minas Tirith would have no idea why I went to the Dwimorberg for a few hours and never came back. They would be very worried I was sure. So, as we sat there drinking some fruit juice and munching on some bread Oin said, ‘Hey, we have come this far do you want to see the waterfall?’ I really didn’t but they did so I asked how much farther it was. It was just a mile away. Fine let’s walk. No, the trucker’s neighbor had a truck we could use. It was- and I am not making this up- a 1970 Fire Truck. It was gutted out in the back to take passengers around. The neighbor took out the crank, turned it hard and we went up the river. The waterfall was as beautiful as they had described. Three natural springs on top of the mountain poured water cascading down through the rocks and trees. We stayed until dark and then climbed back down to the Fire Truck. It wouldn’t start. Finally, I cranked the crank while the driver fiddled the knobs and off we went. We slept out on the porch and enjoyed a beautiful starry night and then got up at 4:00am. Village life. Ugh.

So, you can imagine that they don’t get lots of visitors and before too long everyone was coming around to see the guests. Gloin is a very strict Muslim and he was loving this place. Everyone there was very devout and as we waited for the trucker’s son to go up the valley and find a vehicle we could use they all got into a debate about what the most important thing in life was. As they concluded that the most important thing in life was to know what is clean and unclean. They defined it in several different ways to show how very clever they were. I was irritated. I thought how James 1:27 declares that true religion takes care of widow and orphans in their distress. Finally, the village leader asked who I was. Gloin was somewhat embarrassed at that point. He had portrayed himself as a very devout Muslim and here he was traveling with me, an unbeliever. He said, ‘Oh, this guy? Well, this is Strider. He is a very good man. He doesn’t drink, or smoke, or touch his wife in public. He is here to help people. He uh, he uh.’ The leader cut in, ‘He is like us!’ ‘Uh, no. He is um…. um…. um….’ I finally said, ‘I am a follower of Jesus.’ ‘Yeah, that’ he said. But the village leader thought this was fine. He asked me a couple of questions about what the West is doing in Iraq and Afghanistan and then when he was satisfied with my answers (too long to retell here) he said, ‘Will you give us a teaching this morning?’ I was floored. But of course, God had already told me what to say. So, I told them about James 1:27 and how God is much more concerned with how we care for one another than what kinds of rules we keep. That led to Matthew 25 and the parable of the Sheep and the Goats, and that led back to the opening line of that parable, ‘When the Son of Man comes in all his glory….’ So, I told them all about Jesus. They listened very patiently- even eagerly with some good questions- but when I got to the crucifixion they said that I was wrong. Jesus did not die on the cross- a real prophet of God could not. He was taken directly to Heaven. I told them that I disagreed but I would not argue with them here in their own home. They really respected that and although I have questioned in my own mind whether that was the right thing to say the result was very good. They seemed to really receive my teaching and moved a few steps away from legalism. They had never heard any truth ever before. This was totally unexpected and a great double blessing because not only did I get to share about Jesus in a completely unreached village but Oin and Gloin were sitting right there listening to it all as well.

Finally, a big truck came and drove us off down the valley. We stood up in back of the old…. how should I describe it? It was like a 40 year old dump truck that had seen too much abuse and didn’t dump anymore. At any rate it only broke down once and propelled us up the valley at the speed of two friends on a casual stroll. We came to another small village but no better transport could be found so we lumbered on. Just after noon we were overtaken by my own Nissan Pathfinder. Legolas and our driver had come looking for us and found us at last. I was much relieved to climb out of the very uncomfortable truck and get in my own car. I radioed back home from the car’s radio that the guys had found us and we should be back in a couple of hours. We then rounded a corner and sank the car straight in the river. Yes, apparently by following the truck tire tracks that had gone before us we had gone where we ought not have gone. The car was hung up on some rocks under the front end. The engine continued to run- God bless diesel engines- but we could not move. I tried the radio but realized that even if it worked I would not be able to tell as the speaker was under water already. I could not open my door for the rush of the river against it and climbed out the window instead. I swam around under the car for a while and cleared out the rocks but now that the vehicle was full of water it could not reverse up the bank and it could not go forward into even deeper water. We prayed and waited. After a little over an hour a truck came along. We convinced the driver to pull us across. He did but cautioned us that there were three more places like this that we would not be able to cross. I paid him $50 to turn around and lead us out of here. It took three more hours and he did have to pull us out three more times before we made it to actual road and could head on to Minas Tirith unhindered. It was dark by that time and the headlights shimmered eerily on the road, as they were more than half full of water. They stayed like that for almost a year.

When we reached home my wife, Arwen, declared there was no way we were going camping up that valley with no road. We went up over the pass instead- in the Toyota- and camped at a beautiful lake. We stayed there a week while Oin and Gloin and our driver climbed into our own truck and went up to get the Pinto back. The last day we were there it rained all night. We were soaked to the skin and everything we had was wet. We piled in the Toyota and headed home. When we got over the pass and down the mountain we were stopped. The road was washed out for sixteen kilometers in landslides and floods. We stayed two more days in nearby village where I had more opportunities to share my love for Jesus with our impromptu hosts. Finally, on the third day we left the Toyota and walked across the washed out places. After a couple of hours of walking Legalos and our driver caught up to us and we made it to the Nissan which had mostly dried out from the week before. As we came into Minas Tirith for the second time in two weeks without the car we went out in Legalos said that perhaps we should not drive out anymore. I told him that if he didn’t have the heart for spiritual warfare then he was in the wrong business.

Truthfully though, I am not some M on testosterone. I am a regular guy who is not all that much of a mountain man. But this much the King has taught me: We will arrive. It will not be by the road we choose. It will not be by the plans we have made. There will be unexpected twists and turns but we will get where He is taking us. And it will be fun. The darkness does not like the light. It will not go down easily. There were four Mazars- holy places- that we passed up in the Dwimorberg and every one of them had real spiritual power to keep people in bondage. There is a battle to fight. Last week we went up there and looked at the rushing river and decided not to cross. But next month we will cross that river and then maybe I will have another story to tell. Not the story of a macho man and one heck of a Nissan Pathfinder, no. But the story of how God is undoing the works of the evil one by shining light in dark, dark places.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Teaching Baptism

I love baptism. It was through an understanding of baptism that God reached out to me and found me and saved me. I was raised in the Lutheran Church and was baptized as an infant. When I was twelve we moved to a new town and there was no active Lutheran Church there. My parents had both been saved in the past few years in what was known as the Jesus Movement in the West so they wanted to go to a Church that was vibrant and alive. A Southern Baptist friend of ours kept inviting us to go to his Church but my father was hesitant. He was pretty wary of SB doctrines- especially concerning the debate between the cessassionists and the continualists. I won’t discuss that here. But finally we did go and it was a wonderful Church.

One day I was standing in the hallway outside of the auditorium after Sunday School, before the main service began, and I ask an old deacon (he was probably the age I am now), “What is this ‘believers’ baptism?” I asked the right guy. He heard me asking about Jesus and not about the ritual and that is what he explained to me. I knew immediately that although I had believed there was a God my whole life that I needed to choose to follow Him and commit my life to Him. I went forward that morning- coincidentally with my parents and my brother- and we were all baptized that night.

Because the understanding of Baptism as a dying to self and a raising to walk in the life of Jesus was so important to me I thought I would share with you what I teach my local team and the villagers whom we work with. Over the last year in some circles of Southern Baptist life there has been a lot of debate on Baptism. Here is what God has taught me and done in me.

I am a story teller so I like to start at the beginning. Now, the beginning is not quite where you think it might be. The first recorded instance of baptism is when John the Baptist started baptizing people along the Jordan river shortly before Jesus began his ministry. But according to 1 Peter 3 the story begins long before John.

20 who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. 21 And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you- not as the removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

So, we see that Noah and his family’s ordeal ‘prefigured’ baptism. What is the Lord trying to teach us here? The word baptism means to submerse under water. But obviously the Lord is not so much interested in the water as He is in something else. Noah and his family went through a life and death ordeal. They placed their lives in the hands of God and let Him take them. As the flood came upon the earth it was a violent, terrifying event. They obeyed God’s command and gave up their lives to do exactly what He said. They sacrificed their own lives for 120 years of ark building to align themselves with His plans. The picture that this paints is one of God Himself saving them through the waters of death. The water was actually the test that showed the ‘good consciences’ that God had given them. The ordeal did not save them. It revealed their salvation.

Next we see Moses who, according to 1 Corinthians 10:1-5 also demonstrated baptism.

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the sea, 3 and all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. for they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.

Verse six goes on to say that these things were and example for us. It is clear that in the typology of the Old Testament that Israel is God’s people and Pharaoh is a type of Satan. The four hundred years of slavery represent man’s separation from God and enslavement to sin. God sends Moses as a type of savior to His people. It is very interesting that God calls going through the Red Sea a baptism. It doesn’t look like my baptism at all. But it is a baptism none the less, a baptism ‘into Moses.’ They moved from outside of ‘Moses’ and into ‘Moses.’ They were slaves of Pharaoh and they moved to ‘Moses people.’ I think this is a key in understanding baptism. Moses was the ‘Christ’ figure in the Exodus story. The people were baptized ‘into’ him. They moved from being slaves to being his. In the bigger story that God is telling we are now baptized into Christ Himself. Just as Romans 6: 3-4 says:

3Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we have been buried with Him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.

It is interesting to note while everyone would acknowledge Romans 6 as key verses on Baptism yet water is not mentioned. What is talked about is not the symbol but the reality. In each case, Noah, Moses, or us today what is important is the reality of Baptism. So, what is the reality? Death. In each case what was needed and what is emphasized again and again in the Word is that we must lay down our lives and die to ourselves so that the resurrection power of Christ can be experienced. There are many many verses on this but I will let 2 Timothy 2:11-12 stand for them all.

11 The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him;

12 if we endure, we will also reign with him;….

John the Baptist came asking people to repent of their sins. He went on to say that the one who came after him would baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. We have such a phrase in English, ‘A baptism by fire.’ What does it mean? It means that trial and difficulty come and purify us. We are being pursued by the great lover of our souls. Just as Moses and his people were chased around until they were cornered by the enemy so we are pursued and seemingly trapped by God. Does it not seem so in your own life? He pushes us to a place where we must die to all our sin and selfishness. All our vain ambition, our hopes, our dreams, our lives, they all must go to the cross and be crucified. When this happens to a person who is outside of the family of God then he or she goes through the real baptism, a Baptism by fire. At that point, a choice is made. The person either charges headlong into Pharaoh’s army and remains in slavery forever or he goes through the deep water of death. When someone decides to accept death he lays down his own life and aligns his will with the work of God. He is not a follower in the passive sense of the term- perhaps thinking he will mill around at the back of the crowd while God’s plans and purposes go forward. No. His life is forfeit and he is aligned with the King’s own plans for His Kingdom. He moves from being outside of the family of God into ‘Christ.’ He moves into the eternal family.

Some have compared the baptism ceremony with a wedding. I think that is a great comparison. A young couple from two different families come together and decide to become one family. Jesus has said that the spiritual reality of this is deep in the Father’s heart- even declaring that what God Himself joins together no one can separate. But what about the ceremony- is it just ‘symbolic?’ Try explaining that to the bride! And as long as I am at it I have a pet peeve- when should a new believer be baptized? Which pastor consults with a young couple and says, “Well, you two look like you are in love but I am not sure. Why don’t you live together for about six months, take some classes together and then we will see about a ceremony.” I have never heard a good Baptist pastor say such. But I have heard that same counseling over baptism. Think about it for a minute. We are commanded to baptize (Matthew 28: 18-20) and we are commanded to be baptized (Acts 2:38) but we wait. I submit that there are many reasons for waiting but they all pale in comparison to the damage done. The damage is that the very first lesson in discipleship for a new believer is that we can set aside the King’s commands. A dangerous lesson to teach indeed. Knowing the right time to push for baptism is very difficult. It requires real discernment as the spiritual reality is only known by God himself. But when the individual or the Church sense that a person’s baptism is a reality in the heavens we should immediately take action on earth. If it is inconvenient then that teaches the lesson all the better that we are now in Jesus’ Kingdom, He is Lord, and we do what He says.

All followers of Jesus were commanded to baptize (Great Commission). Jesus own disciples baptized but Jesus himself did not (John 4:1-3). Paul had those he worked with baptize but he himself baptized very few (1 Corinthians 1: 14-16). If the position of the baptizer was important then Jesus and Paul would have done it themselves since they clearly carried the greatest spiritual authority. They did not, and I believe the reason they did not is that the issue was not the baptizer (consider that Judas was likely baptizing along with the others!) but rather what they were baptized into. Christ. There is no mention of being baptized into a local church. We can be a part of a local church because we are baptized into Christ. For anyone to claim that baptism ‘belongs’ to the local church- worse, their church- is stealing from God himself. The Word is clear. Noah and his family were baptized by God’s will by God’s own hand into the family of God. Moses and the Israelites were taken by God and baptized by Him into a new family created by and for Him. We are also baptized by God Himself at the cross of Christ into Christ own Kingdom. It is not that the local church does not have meaning or importance it is just that the gift that is the baptism ceremony is God’s alone that he allows the local Church to enjoy. For me and my own experience of the mystery of salvation this much was clear: I had to lay down my own life for Christ even as He laid down His life for me. As I died with Him, I rose with Him. Let us all be about proclaiming this message of humility and death that those around us might know the life of Christ and be joined to our eternal family.

This post is long but hey, I usually take two to three hours to teach all this so this is clearly the condensed version.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Bordering Insanity

I found my journal from 1997 yesterday. It was very interesting to flip through it and see where I was spiritually and emotionally. It was the year we moved to Gondor. I have felt that I have been coasting over this last year. Just humming along, not working really hard and not really passionate about anything. It has been frustrating. Reading the journal reminded me of who I was, and maybe a little of who I am suppose to be.
You know I crossed the Gondor/Rohan border 19 times between April and July of 1997? 19 times. Yes, and after years of therapy I am much better, thank you. One weekend I traveled up the middle way to see if I could get on a plane just across the border and fly into the capitol city. The plane didn't fly so I taxied all the way back to Edoras and then twelve hours taxi again along the southern route to Minas Tirath. I thought I would try the plane again on the way back- as it turns a twelve hour journey into a two hour journey- and this time it flew. Boy did it fly! I went from Minas Tirith straight up over some of the most beautiful snow capped mountains in the world. The pilot saw that I had a nice camera and he invited me up to the cockpit. He would point out a small mountain lake and swerve over to it so I could take a picture. Then he would zoom back over so I could take another picture. We flew like that back and forth over the mountains until we came down to the small town we were to land at. I said that maybe I should sit down and he said that no, from here I could get a great picture of the airport and the town. A hundred feet off the runway I sat down and buckled my seat belt. I was the only one on the plane who had fastened their seatbelt but hey, I am a man of the West.
We landed and I walked through the small airport with everyone else. A militia guy pulled me aside and asked me to wait a minute. The Secret Police wanted to talk to me. Ok, I thought- as long as they hurry up. I didn't want to miss the last taxi leaving the little airport. Well, I waited and waited and then I left. As the last taxi pulled out with me in it the militia guy ran out and stopped us. I was to stay. The Secret Police hadn't talked to me yet. Fine, he had the gun. So, I got out and the taxi drove away. Finally, he came and searched all my stuff. He ask a lot of questions. I was in a good mood after flying over the mountains so I was not concerned at all. Then he and the militia guy found a $100 bill that I had in my bag. They picked it up with great fanfare and dropped it on the table, shaking their heads and clicking their tongues. I had to laugh- not a good thing in hind sight- 'Hey, what's up? You guys afraid of this little bit of money?' I taunted them as I picked up the note and waved it in their faces. Give me a break, they did make me miss the last taxi! So, they said that I needed a certificate for that bit of US Currency. I said that no, Gondor had no such law. But wasn't I traveling to Rohan? I would need a certificate and I did not have one- big problem! Of course, it was a lie. I would get a certificate upon entering Rohan. But they wanted money. The Secret Police walked away and the militia guy said, 'Come on man, just give him a few dollars and you can go. He just wants a little money.' But now that they had annoyed me there was no way I was giving them anything- yes, that was prideful.
We went down to the Secret Police Headquarters. The Secret Policeman was getting more and more impatient with me. I remembered that I had an old certificate from Rohan in my bag. I showed it to him but he pointed out that it did not have a stamp. I don't know why it didn't have stamp but it didn't. Like I said before, it shouldn't have mattered as this was Gondor. Finally, in frustration and irritation the Secret Policeman told me he was doing me a big favor by stamping my document with a Gondor stamp and letting me go. I thanked him, gave him no money, and walked on into town to get a taxi to the border and on to Edoras. General rule of thumb for world travelers in this situation: If you have time you don't need money. Never show them that you are in a hurry.
At the border the guards were their usual pleasant selves. They searched through my whole bag. Twice. Then I noticed that my camera was gone. That rotten Secret Policeman had stolen my camera! I told the guards what happened. They laughed at me, felt slightly sorry for me and let me go. I went on to Edoras and told Arwen, my wife, what happened. I tossed my bag on the bed and unpacked. There was my camera. So, it was a miracle. But what kind of miracle do you suppose? Is the Secret Policeman wondering what happened to his camera or did the King blind the eyes of the guards so that they could not see the camera and I could get through the border easier? I don't have any idea.
Just when you thought this story had an ending I went on another trip to Gondor the next week. I had a good week in Minas Tirith looking for houses etc. Then I returned by going through the Southern Border. I never did like that Southern Border. It was not so far from where all the fighting was during the civil war. There were a lot of young kids with guns and they were all undisciplined and incompetent. Not a good combination for armed young men. Well, this time they had a new game. They asked me if I had any dollars on me and I truthfully told them yes. A 'no' would have been suspicious anyway and I was not interested in having my body searched which thing had happened to the less truthful in the past. Anyway, they then declared that I needed a certificate for my money or I would have to give it all to them. There were about twenty of them gathered around me- all with semi-automatic weapons. They were passing my passport around and all of them having a good look at it. I told them that Gondor did not use such certificates and that they were not necessary. They told me that that was not their problem. If I didn't have a certificate then they would take my money. Just then I remembered that in my bag was the certificate that the Secret Policeman had stamped two weeks before. I told the boys, 'Hey, I do have a certificate.' They replied that I couldn't have one. I showed it to them and they said no, that was from Rohan. I told them to look at the seal on the stamp. It clearly said 'Gondor' on it. They went to pieces laughing. They called their commander over and showed it to him. They all laughed and shook my hand for the great joke. Then they let me go. With my money.
I guess I wont soon forget 1997. It was a long year and there are many more stories to tell. But first, I think I will get busy in 2007 and see what the King has in store for this year. If it makes a good story I will tell you all about it. I am sure it will be good, being a part of the King's own story is always the best story to tell.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A World at War

In the lower council chambers here in the halls of Minas Tirith there was a meeting. The International Council was there. The Prince Imrahil and his wife, Legolas and his wife, Gimli and a few others were in attendance. Before the council started Legolas' wife came to me and ask if we could discuss team unity. I thought that was a good topic of discussion and admittedly we had been working separately quite a bit lately. Not a terrible thing but obviously we wanted to support each other as much as possible.

The meeting began amicably enough and we discussed a few mundane things that one seemingly must discuss in meetings like this even though everyone knows there is no eternal value or significance to any of it. Then I brought up the topic of unity. I invited Legalos' wife to speak to the several ideas she had that would help us work together better. She began to lay out the problem that we all had good ministries going on but that very few of these overlapped. We were all working separately and needed to take steps to support each other.

The Prince was the first to speak. He challenged Legalos and his wife to see that they were in fact the ones separating from the rest of us. Then Legalos responded, then his wife, then the Prince, then the Prince's wife. Each was saying things to try and hurt the other. It escalated in a matter of a minute or two. I started to intercede when one of the volleys meant for Legalos' wife hit me. I was stunned. I sat there thinking, 'I know he did not mean to insult me, but I am insulted.' I knew then that this was an attack from the evil one- and a mean one at that. I sat there reeling in anger and confusion. I knew it was not real but I couldn't say anything. The 'discussion' escalated. I looked over at Gimli. He was sitting quietly with his eyes closed and his head bowed and resting on one hand. I knew he was praying for Jesus to retake control. I knew he was praying for me.

I sat forward with my elbows on my knees and with a HUGE effort I called out, "STOP." "None of you have intended this. None of you have wanted to hurt each other. This is not from you. Let's pray." And then we prayed and then I ended the meeting. People went up to each other and offered quick apologies. Several made efforts over the next couple of days to make sure relationships were right. I was exhausted. I felt like I had just sprinted five miles. If you want to know the truth, I was tired- bone weary tired- the whole next day.

So, for your meditation today, what was it that we faced that day?
Have you faced it before? And more importantly, are you ready to face it again?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Basic Principles for Delivering Humanitarian Aid

The following are principles that we follow in responding to natural disasters. They are also applicable to the community development work we engage in. This won't be obviously interesting to many of you but for those of you involved in development work I encourage you to read carefully and comment if you would like.

  • Most of the resources necessary to prevent, withstand, and recover from a disaster are to be found in the local community.
  • A community working cooperatively is more valuable and effective than any amount of humanitarian aid. This follows on our basic understanding that the nature of poverty is relational and the cause of poverty is spiritual- Brent Myers.
  • Effective leadership is the most valuable commodity that can be imparted in a humanitarian aid program.
  • Imparting values to people will more effectively elicit change than simply exchanging information. A Bible study is a good thing, but working together on a common project is a great thing.
  • Local volunteers can bring about real change more quickly and more effectively than teams of trained outsiders.
  • The Government through the Ministry of Emergency Situations, International Organizations, and Non Governmental Organizations all have roles to play during the times of disaster but their work is made much more effective when the community is prepared to work in cooperation with them to help alleviate suffering and return the situation to normal as quickly as possible.
  • The Holy Spirit knows what these people need. Ask him.
  • To avoid the ‘rice Christian’ problem always give aid to an entire community. Never give to individual families. If a family is hungry they are rarely alone. Make a distribution list and serve their whole community.
  • No Small Visions.
  • Luke 10. Read it and follow it.
  • Pray for the sick. That’s in Luke 10 but it bears repeating.
  • Pray before you go, when you go, as you go, when you get there, with everyone who will allow you, after you leave. Pray without ceasing.
  • Communities do the projects, we just aid them and encourage them. Local ownership is not an option.
  • Avoid new technology. It is better to improve on what they have rather than introduce something new. Time again we have found that their grandfathers knew how to solve the problem. They just forgot, we need to remind them of what they knew.
  • Servant leadership is essential for all workers on the project. Do not assume that your national workers are following your example when you are not around. Train them and follow up. They must be Servant Leaders.

These are just a few thoughts on what we do that relate to some discussions I have had with folks on other blogs.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Too Stupid to Quit

I have often joked that I would write an autobiography one day and call it 'Too Stupid to Quit'. I think it sums up my life pretty well. You see, the smart man knows that the odds are against him, that he should give up and go home, it isn't safe, it just won't work, no sense in beating your head against a wall. But the stupid person is oblivious to such well rationalized thoughts and keeps going. Well, that's me. Here is a story to prove it.
When we first came to Middle Earth we went to Rohan and stayed in Edoras for a year and a half. Our company did not have anybody in Gondor and really did not know how to get anyone there. I remember going into the head office back home and speaking to our area director. I had a ton of questions. How were we to get to Gondor? What would we do there? If we went with an aid agency which one? With the banking system down because of the civil war how would we get funds? How would we communicate? I had alot more questions than that but these are just a few. He looked at me across his desk and said, "We are looking forward to your going there and then calling us and telling us the answers to these questions." It was of course, the very best answer he could give. Only somebody really stupid would take on a job like that and he knew I was the man for the job.
So, once in Edoras I began making short term trips across the border (which I described in an early post) and began making contacts that would lead us to join an aid agency and go to Gondor. There were three routes to Gondor. We couldn't fly in from Rohan as they had no flights so we had to cross by land. But, with a civil war going on the borders were not pleasant. I had tried them all and those are some great stories that I have yet to tell here. The Southern Border was full of young guys with guns who acted rude and irresponsible. I didn't want to take my wife and two young girls that way. The Middle Border was just plain mean. They hastled me and tried to turn me back everytime I went so I did not want to put the girls through that. The Northern Border was not bad. Trouble was, it only led to the northern city of Cair Andros. It was a long way and two high mountain passes from the capitol city of Minas Tirith. But there was a flight. So, we decided to go that way. We taxied up to Meduseld- Capitol of Rohan- then spent the night with friends. The next morning the guy that we had arranged to take us across the border didn't show. So, we spent an extra day there. The next day he did turn up and he drove us to the border. We then walked across the border with our two small suitcases and got in another taxi to go to the airport. It was only about a four hour journey. We got to the airport and found that the plane had left an hour before. The next one would not be until tomorrow. But why did the plane go early? "Oh, we changed the schedule," she said. When? "Yesterday." Great.
It was mid-July of 1997. It was hot. It was darn hot. I went over to the hotel next to the airport. "You guys have any rooms?" I asked. Oh yes they did. "Electricity, water, fans, anything?" Nope. So, we could sweat here all day long and spend a sleepless miserable night fighting fleas or..... what? Just then a taxi driver came up to me and offered to take me and my family to Minas Tirith for a mere $150. That was thirty dollars cheaper than the plane. Then it occured to me. We could sweat here all day and be miserable and still be... here or we could taxi over the mountains all day and be miserable and then be there. But would Arwen, my lovely wife, buy it. She had seen my video of that second pass before. She might not want to do it. I pitched it and she went for it.
We climbed into the little taxi which was a small car- kind of like a 1970 four door Datsun only brand new- and headed off down the road. We made great time all the way to Argonoth. Argonoth is an ancient city in northern Gondor. Why people have wanted to live there for the last three thousand years is a bit of a mystery to me. Hot, dry, nothing green in sight. We stopped there. Why? "Oh, my brother has a much better car for going over the passes than this little thing. Oh no, you don't want to go to Minas Tirith with me, you want my brother and his wonderful car." Said the not very honest taxi driver. So, around the corner came his brother in a .... well it was... a .... I don't know how to describe it. It was like a 1956 four door Chevy after my cousin had got a hold of it for a few months. It wasn't nice. We had no choice seemingly and got in. It backfired, belched and guzzled down the road toward the first pass. A mere ten thousand feet up and over the mountains of Gondor.
The mountains of Gondor are unique. They are rugged and tall and completely barren. If you see anything green you know there is a village there. We swerved back and forth and back and forth up and up and up the winding road. The car was not up to the task. We stopped more and more frequently at small springs to cool the tired motor. It was clear to me the points were pitted and it was equally clear that the driver didn't know what points were. Finally however, we crested the top and then coasted down and down and down to the river valley below. It was beautiful and majestic and I was stressed and irritated. At last we reached the bottom where there is a small village and a militia post. We stopped at the militia post where the car died for the last time.
I was not too concerned at first. There are four bridges over the river that the road to Minas Tirith crosses over from that point and they are always in bad shape. The first one was closed for repair so no one was going anywhere and the cars were backing up at the post. Surely someone would give us a ride. But no, they were all full. We sat there for most of the afternoon. Just before six I began to get concerned. There was nowhere to spend the night if we were stuck there and if we traveled over the pass at night that could get nasty as there was still a civil war going on. I was not so much concerned about rebel soldiers as I was about difficult militia post who would welcome the opportunity to hassle foreigners traveling at night.
My two girls Luthien, who was seven and Goldberry, who was six complained that the two young men who were building a mudbrick wall near the post were making faces at them. I went over and talked to them. "Anyone in this village have a car?" "Yep, we do. The only car in the village." Great. "Could you take us to Minas Tirish today?" "For $80 sure. We get off work in twenty minutes then we can clean up and go."
We walked to their house where they got cleaned up and then got into their car. It was sort of like an old Volkswagon Beetle without the comfort or charm. It probably was not as big as a VW bug either. But it ran. And the bridge opened up. And off we went. The twenty year old kid driving, his friend in the passanger seat and Arwen, Myself, our two daughters, and two suitcases in the back. It was kinda cozy. I knew there were seven major post from there to the City. As we approached the first post the kid sped up, put on a big mock salute and blew right through it. I thought we were dead. But as the militia turned and looked startled they realized who it was and laughed and waved them through. Apparently, being the owners of the only working car in the valley meant that they knew everyone and more importantly had given everyone rides from time to time. I was encouraged.
Then up we went. Back and forth up the winding roads up and up toward the Great Pass. 11,600 feet is not the highest of passes in this world but this one is unique in that you leave anything like a road, pavement, guardrails, or your mind behind long before you get to the top. Just before you get to the final push to the top there is a little valley and a pretty little stream. It was ten o'clock when we reached it and my head was killing me. We were wearing all the dust of Middle Earth and we had not eaten anything since the morning. I was really concerned that I was torturing my daughters after we had planned so hard to make this trip easy for them. Luthien got out of the car and looking at the pretty little stream she began to run up and down next to it. "Look at at the river! Look at the river! It's beautiful, it's beautiful! Look Daddy, look Mommy! It's beautiful!" Ok, so the girls were not having that rough of a time. The moon was shining in the river and through the fog of my headache I could vaguely make out that it was a pleasant scene.
Up we went. Now the going gets rough. We got as much speed as we could get and went as far up as we could and then as the poor little car lost power and could go no further the kid's friend and I got out and pushed the car up over the steepest spots. Then we would run behind until the road flattened out enough for the car to slow down and for us to get back in. We did this several times. The last time was the longest and we walked about a kilometer before we found them. It was an odd feeling watching that kid drive away with my girls and leave me and this young stranger in the middle of no where but there was no need to fear. He couldn't get that much farhter without needing us to push him again. It was also disconcerting to see the wrecks of vehicles that didn't make it. They were strewn along the road from where they had rolled down from the switchback above. It was good that it was dark but there was still way too much moonlight for Arwen.
Finally, at about 11:00pm we were up and over the top. As we came down into the valley that leads to Minas Tirith I thought maybe now there would be some problems. Surely these kids didn't have friends on this side of the pass. We were sure to be hassled. And we would reach the City at about midnight which was not a safe time to travel there. We came up on the biggest post. I was dreading this one. There was always a big tank and lots of obnoxious soldiers there. We pulled up and the driver jumped out of the car. He put a small bill worth about 25 cents into the hand of the first soldier he saw and said, 'Sorry friend we don't have time.' Then he jumped back in the car and we took off. Another soldier waved his gun at him and called out but he just shouted out the window, 'Hey, I paid that guy back there.' We went on and the kid said to his friend, 'There's just a bunch of women at that post.' Arwen said to me, 'Were there women at that post?' I said, 'No, the guy on top of the tank with a machine gun didn't look like a woman to me.' I think we just learned another slang word.
Anyway we did indeed arrive at the City gates at midnight. The kid jumped out of the car and did the same stunt again. As he drove off suddenly he stopped the car. As I turned and looked it seemed that the whole post had come out after us. Leading them was a big guy with a white shirt uniform and gold on his sleeves- the commander. He was carrying the 25 cent note in his hand. Our driver jumped back out of the car grabbed the money out of the commander's hand told him thanks and got back in the car. He knew him. Unbelievable.
We finally reached my friend's house just after midnight. Celeborn was waiting up for us. I asked him where his roommate was and he said, 'I knew you were coming. When you didn't come on this morning's flight my roommate said you would wait and come tomorrow but I told him no way. I knew you would get here today no matter what you had to do.' I always appreciated him for that.
You see, this is a too long story to make an important point. There are lots of characteristics in the Kingdom. Holiness, honesty, creativity, humility and dozens more maybe. But the one that you HAVE to have, the one that will get you there in the end is endurance. You just can not quit. Ever. This has become a defining principle on our team. We never quit. There is a lot that we could do better. There is so much I need to learn. But what sets our team apart is the fact that we will not quit. Endurance is the premium characteristic for making it in the Kingdom of God.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

On Being Apostolic

Balin tells incredible stories of what happens in his prison ministry. He is a little too charismatic for me and this makes me skeptical about some of his stories. In case you have not run into it before let me just say that charismatics generally have really poor math skills. So, when Balin tells me that he regularly gathers four hundred women together and preaches to them and that they have a small building that they call a church and that they have around twenty five or so women who regularly gather there to worship I don't take any of this at face value. One day I said, 'ok let's go to the prison together.'
Let me tell you some things about Balin. He is young. This means that in our Muslim society he has no respect because he is not married yet and has no children. He is loud and gregarious. This means in our conservative society that he must be immature, unintelligent, and ill-mannered. He is a mad man who meets everyone Jesus first and proclaims Christ in the most inappropriate ways I have ever seen in a Muslim Country.
We pulled up to the imposing prison gates and as we did the whole place came alive. Guards on top of the walls were shouting, "BALIN! Balin is here, Balin is here! Open the gates, call the director, Balin is here!" They were pretty excited to see this guy. We went in and I met with the director of the prison. He was one of the slimiest, most corrupt men I have ever met. He could not stop going on and on about how much he loved Balin and how much they appreciated his ministry with the women. We went in and gathered the women at the church. I played a couple of songs and Balin preached. It was clear these ladies knew the Word. There were a couple of really mature leaders there. Many of the guards crowded around to hear him as well. Then he called out, 'who wants prayer?' Many cried out different request. He prayed for all of them, blessed them, and we went out.

Let me add here that Balin has zero training to do what he does. But there is no one like him in the world. What he is is simple. What he does is anointed by the King. Not just anyone can get physically into the prison. Not just anyone can get permission to put up a room and call it church. Not just anyone can shine spiritual light into what I consider one of the most hostile spiritual places on earth. I believe that Balin is an apostle. An apostle specifically to the prisons of Gondor.

Well, now that we come to it what do I mean? What is an apostle? I could say that Balin is an evangelist and everyone would nod their heads up and down and say, 'hmmmm I think so too.' But he is not just an evangelist. The evangelist is a specially gifted person to be able to speak truth into the darkness of a lost soul and see it respond. I am not one and I appreciate very much those who are. I speak truth and sometimes it seems to bounce off the brick walls of men's hearts. An evangelist comes in and all of a sudden there are tears and repentance all over the place. We have all seen this. We understand this. But what then, is an apostle?

An apostle is a ‘sent one.’ He is given a specific task for breaking down barriers and he carries a ministry across the barricades that the enemy has erected to spread the light of the Kingdom in a previously dark place. The key difference for the apostle from the other ministries is the concept of barriers. Paul was sent to the Gentiles. This was cross cultural ministry. He went (physically) from where he was to a different place and culture with the Good News. Peter was an Apostle to the Jews. He was a Jew. He did not in one sense cross a barrier in that he was who he was sent to reach. But in another sense he crossed an important barrier. The Jews had rejected Jesus. Peter was ethnically a Jew but he became a citizen of the Kingdom and then was sent back to the Jews. He was in a sense re-crossing the barrier he had come across. Crossing barriers is important to apostles.

Another characteristic is the ministry. A preacher can preach anywhere. An evangelist evangelizes everywhere he goes. But they are not apostles. An apostle brings a ministry with him. He is not just a team leader. He is a team empowerer. Because he is called to cross the barrier he is given the authority to do the job that the King has called him to. As with all gifts in the Kingdom it only has meaning as it is given away. An apostle gives his authority to others that they may expand the ministry. I have seen this many times in my own ministry here in Gondor. I go out with the team. We meet with the local leaders in the village we go to. I bless them and give them my authority. Then I move on and get out of their way. If I don’t go in the first place the team is powerless to act. If I stay too long I keep the power to act to myself and leave the team ineffective. I need to go, bless, and get out of the way. We see this over and over again in Paul’s ministry. He lands in a place, shares the Good News, then (usually because of persecution) he gets out and leaves the work for Timothy, Titus, and others. In my initial story above this is Balin’s greatest weakness. He has trouble sharing his authority and acts alone too often. We are working on this.

In our Southern Baptist theology the role of the apostle is not understood or even rejected as unnecessary. This has hindered us greatly in understanding our roles as the King has assigned them. In the IMB we have guys called SC’s or Strategy Coordinators. The original seven SC’s were all apostles. Since that time I believe we have lost our way in appointing and training SC’s but I am probably exceeding my authority in judging such. Never the less, God is raising up apostles to cross the final barriers that exist on this earth. We live in exciting times as the Kingdom is expanding in unprecedented ways around the world. Apostles are needed. Let’s pray they rise to the challenge.

What I have written here I have not seen in print anywhere else. If anyone has better ideas please share them. If you have concerns with what I have said I would greatly welcome a dialogue in the comments section.

Friday, March 02, 2007

The Grey Havens

Sorry not to be posting more often but I am out with Arwen and my youngest son to the Grey Havens here on the edge of Middle Earth. We are in a conference with workers and nationals from across the region and it has been really great to see how the King has been moving in spite of great opposition.
We heard a story that I thought was funny. A church planter trainer in western Rohan was speaking to a group of persecuted beleivers. He said that God is training us through three important methods.
Theology- The study of God through His word
Parentology- The persecution we have through our families
Police-ology- The harrasment and imprisonment that they experience from the state.

He said the King used all these things to build them up and make them mature in Christ.

Don't you wish you lived in Rohan and had all those good discipleship tools?