Sunday, June 24, 2007

Feasting in the Kingdom

Holy Communion. The Lord's Supper. The Eucharist. The Breaking of Bread. What do these words communicate to you? I usually call it the Lord's Supper myself but all of these are legitimate names. In today's post I would like to tell you what I teach when I teach on the Lord's Supper. It is my hope that you will be moved to reflect on this important tradition that the Lord Jesus himself has given us.

I went down to Anfalas to witness a baptism. We did a lot of teaching on baptism but I knew it was important to follow this up with the Lord's Supper. Both of these important traditions in the Church witness the same thing. They both portray Jesus' sacrifice for us on the cross. (By the way, I am using the word 'tradition' to describe these events rather than the theologically acceptable term 'ordinance' because it conveys an emotional force to me that 'ordinance' does not.) So, after we saw Kili and his wife baptized we went to their home. We sat on the floor around a cloth and I pulled out the box of juice and loaf of flat bread that is a major staple in all of Middle Earth. I showed them Matthew 26 and we talked about the Lord's Supper. Verse 26 is a small parable for me concerning the entire event. It says:

While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, 'Take eat: This is my body."

First, I should point out that this happened while they were eating. The New Testament knows nothing of a small cracker and an itty bitty cup passed out during some kind of theatrical show. They were in someones house eating a meal together. It was not a formal solemn thing. It was a significant life changing event that happened in the midst of normal life. I think most of our experiences with God should be like that.

Next, I explained to Kili and his wife the significance of the supper in the context of Matthew 26:26. What follows is taken from the table of contents of a book by Henri Nouwen. I can't remember the title of the book and he took these subjects in another direction entirely but the chapter titles stuck with me as I went through this verse so I will give him credit.

Jesus took the bread. He himself as the bread of life was chosen by the Father. Jesus was not someone who happened to be in the right place at the right time. He was God's specific instrument uniquely designed for the purpose God chose him for. So are we. We are called by the Father himself to be who he has called us to be. Isaiah 43, speaking of God's people says that he has 'called us by name', and 'you are mine.' You and I are not idly wandering through this world trying to do the 'best we can'. No friends, the King meant something when he meant you. You are called with a purpose. He has taken you just as surely as Jesus picked up that bread.

He blessed it. Jesus as the bread of life was uniquely blessed. To be blessed by God means that God has put his hand on his life in a special way. Jesus is empowered, gifted, cared for, loved, guided, protected, and placed as a cornerstone in the ultimate building not made with hands. So are we. He blesses us. He empowers us. Jesus prays for us and guides us into his unique plans that we may be a part of the building he is making; the Kingdom that is coming.

He broke it. Jesus was broken many times in his life and none more fully and finally than on the cross at Calvary. We also are broken. Many times throughout our lives we are broken down in the difficult circumstances of life. How many of your hopes and dreams have been shattered? Loved ones lost? All your efforts and labors come to fruitless ends? It happens to all of us. It must. The message of the cross is to be born by those who lead the life of the cross. We must die. This is the message of baptism. We die to our old life and we rise to walk in the new life. But the old life has a way of lingering on. More death is always necessary this side of eternity. I am a huge fan of brokenness. We need it if we are to carry the authority to proclaim the resurrection. Brokenness builds in humility, perspective, and most of all character. It is what Almighty God is using to recreate us back into his image. The journey begins with the death of Jesus but it always ends in our own death. I don't enjoy brokenness but I know without doubt that it is my friend.

He gave it. Once we are broken we can be given away. Jesus was broken on the cross and through his breaking the world was changed. The Kingdom o f God came new and we are set free as a result. This is the Good News. The bread of life was given to us. We in turn are given to others. In the Great Commission of Matthew 28 we are sent out on a mission to participate in the redemption of mankind. I told Kili that I was sending him out on mission with God. He looked at me with wide eyes. He understood well what that would mean for him as a former Muslim in a Muslim land. I can confirm that since then Kili has been more than faithful in going and he has suffered for it.

I went on to talk about the shed blood and forgiveness of sins. Through Jesus blood we are a new community and communities have traditions that give them cohesiveness. They have common experiences that build bonds of love and friendship. This is what the Lord's Supper is for. We remember Jesus together. In recognizing him among us in this way we worship him and in worshiping him we are transformed to become more and more like him. I will say that the Church in Anfalas does not do the Lord's Supper very often. The reason is simple. They imitate everything we did in front of them and we never did the Lord's Supper as a team down in Anfalas. We are working to fix that mistake. We are trying to recover what Jesus meant when gave us this tradition that would enable us to think of him 'as oft as you drink of it'. Do you really think that means once a quarter? It sounds a lot like he means every time we eat together. Let us break bread together often and in remembering Jesus together let us remember not only who he was, but who he is and who he is calling us to be. Let us not be sidetracked by issues such as who gets to pass out the bread and juice or who you will eat with in your own home. These issues are not mentioned in the scriptures. Let us focus on what is mentioned; that Jesus wants us to remember his sacrifice. We do not remember it out of some vain sense of sentimentality but out of a true love for him we live like him and love like him. His Kingdom is accessed through the cross. Let us embrace our brokeness and love a world that is dying without Jesus.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

In Hot Pursuit

Legolos is our BSM. This stands for Business Service Manager and it means that he oversees the finances for our team. His primary job is not Church Planting but because we are all followers of Jesus this is exactly what he is involved in. I have told the story some time ago about a young lady who worked in Legolos’s home and became a believer but was later tragically killed. Since that time many interesting things have happened in the story that the King is telling in that family. I thought I would update you all on what is going on.

The proud grandfather came to my door at 9:30 in the evening. He came with a 25 year old girl and a young boy. They wanted to come and plead with me to get his granddaughter back. I was unsympathetic. She had begun to consider Christ’s claims a few months ago but was shamed into leaving the study at Legolos’s house and went back to the village. They continued to treat her terribly and after a few weeks she had left them and come back to the city. They thought she was staying with Legolos’s family but they were wrong. I knew she was staying with relatives. The real trouble was that she had broken bread- become engaged- with a young Muslim man in the village and now for her to leave completely shamed the grandfather and indeed, the whole family. But I knew, even if they did not understand that this was not a situation where faith in Christ leads to family division. This was all about the sins of the Grandfather. He had allowed each of his daughters to prostitute themselves. He had allowed this abuse to come into his home and affect the grandchildren. He had made the situation intolerable for this young girl. The truth was that she had not brought shame upon his name in the village, it was already shamed. I challenged him, gently, about this. ‘Why did she leave?’ They said she was taken away by Lotho. ‘But why did she call him?’ They said he was usurping the Grandfather’s authority. What he did was not right. ‘But why would he do that?’ I asked. Again and again I put it back to them. Finally, we prayed and they left. I doubt that they heard me but the King is working in them. They don’t have honor, they don’t have respect, they don’t have money, they don’t have food. One by one the King has eliminated these things from their life. I think they are being pursued by God. It is a painful thing to watch. You see when the King reaches out in love He will get your attention any way He can. For proud, stubborn people that can often mean a series of devestating events. But be assured, the King is still about seeking and saving the lost.

In the meantime who is this Lotho you might ask? Why did he come to her rescue? Well, it seems that God is pursuing him as well. Elsie is my wife’s best friend and has been ever since we met in Rohan eleven years ago. She made a half hearted commitment to Jesus a long time ago and we have prayed for that commitment to deepen for years. In her early immature days she decided to marry a young Muslim boy. He was immature. He had no job, no character, no future, and no respect from me. He cheated on her the week after their marriage. He is not ‘evil’ per se, just useless. Please understand that I am describing him with human eyes. This is not what the King sees. Even I knew that this man could be more in the Kings hands. But it seemed very unlikely that he would ever give the King a chance. Rude and uneducated he didn’t like to talk to me much less was he interested in any truth I had to share.

A couple of years ago Elsie began working for Legalos. Lotho would come around to pick her up and drop her off. Occasionally, I saw him and one night in particular had a meaningful conversation with him. He was not a religious person but what he had seen of Islam was not appealing to him. This was the first time I had any idea that the King was working on him. Then Legalos came back from Stateside Assignment in January and Lotho’s whole family fell apart. This girl was abused by the family and Lotho and Elsie stepped in to help. He saw that his aunt and his cousin were radically changed by the power of Christ. His wife became bolder and deeper in her faith as the crises in the family escalated. An uncle died, a marriage fell apart, money was owed by the extended family in huge amounts. As this extended family unit fell apart several of the ladies began meeting and praying with Legolos’s family. They began meeting three times a week. Lotho began to meet with them. He began studying the Word. He not only listened as others prayed he began praying and asking for prayer. He is not a Jesus follower yet but you would not recognize him from even six months ago. God is pursuing this young man. His family is still a mess but he is looking to Jesus to be his rock more and more each day. Next week two more of the women will be baptized. Pray that Lotho’s faith is deepened and that the Spirit will move in his heart. Pray for faith to overcome the fear and hope to overcome the despair. Above all pray for love to transform a wasted meaningless existence into real abundant life. God is pursuing this family. I pray that they let Him catch them.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Taking Jesus with Us

Disclaimer- I have been exceptionally ill last night and today but I have been thinking about these things so I thought I would write them down. If I read this tomorrow and realize I was delirious then I will remove it.

I think that we can do ministry without Jesus. Don't get me wrong here, I don't think we should, I just think we often do. Now, why would we do that? I may have a partial answer here. The other day we had some guests from the West and I was, as usual, telling my stories. I told them about Kili and Fili and their wives down in Anfalas accepting Christ and starting a Church. One of the guests broke in and ask, 'Wait, if Anfalas is three and a half hours away then who will pastor and lead the new Church?' 'Exactly,' I answered. Who will? If not me, the seminary trained experienced pastor then who could possibly keep this group in line? Who could protect it? Who could guide it? After some discussion I told them, 'Jesus is building his Church. It isn't my job. His Spirit will gift the people and raise up the leaders they will need with the giftings they need when they need them.' It was a bold statement. As I have been thinking about this I have been challenged by others who have had great struggles in raising up mature leaders. Many have poured years of their lives into men and women who are shallow and immature. Many still struggle with weak faith and total dependence on the foreigners. One year since the baptisms Kili and Fili are as fiery a gospel witness as you could hope to find. These men and their wives are dynamic, growing, faithful, and utterly transformed. I thank God for them and well I might. It was Him. It was Jesus all along who has been in control and has transformed these families.

Many times I have had big discussions with Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pipen. They would love for me to just give them a blank check to go out and solve all of the problems that the people around them have. I continually remind them that we must serve people but we are not to be God to people. They must look to Him. We can not, must not solve all of their problems. I believe that God is using the brokenness of this world to bring people to Himself. When we solve the problems ourselves- apart from His guidance and direction- then we short-circuit the process. We end up making disciples of us instead of disciples of Him. I have instructed the team not to refer to anyone as 'their' disciple. We are to make disciples but not of us, of Him. When we do that, when we take Jesus out and set Him loose in the lives of people we love then we can expect to see the radically transformed lives that we have been waiting to see.

I know a group who a few years ago went to a town up north. Through a dynamic prison ministry which reached out to the prisoner's families they saw fifteen house groups start. It was a great time and we all praised God for it. Today none of those house groups exist anymore. A few of the families go to the mother church but the house groups did not continue. Why? Well, they would not say this but I will. The mother Church never let go of control. All decisions were made down here in Minas Tirith. They were only allowed to have the Lord's Supper when an ordained someone from Minas Tirith was up there to give it to them. The groups were completely dependant on the leaders of the mother Church and eventually they died. They died because no matter how good you are you can not change a heart. You can not change a life. You can not raise the dead. But the dead must be raised. It is our calling. So, I must take the only one who can raise the dead with me and let Him get to work. He is eager to do such work in the lives of men and women. The question is are you going to let him? Can we trust Him to be in control and not us?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Giving Freely

Disclaimer: This post has nothing to do with the previous post.

The second week I was here in Middle Earth I left the house to go in search of groceries. Half way to the shops I realized that I had changed my pants and left my money in the dirty clothes pile. So, being penniless I turned back to the house to retrieve the funds I would need to go shopping. Just then I ran into a man who was shabbily dressed and appeared to be trying to communicate with me. I spoke only English at that point and I couldn’t figure out what he wanted. Suddenly, I realized that this man was a beggar- a gypsy- and he wanted me to give him something. I told him- in English- that I had nothing. He looked puzzled. I pulled out the lining of my pocket and demonstrated that I was completely broke. He looked really concerned. He spoke much to me and very fast. I could understand none of it. Then he held his hands up in the position of prayer and instructed me to do the same. He turned me- presumably to face Mecca- and he prayed for us. Then he smiled at me and left. Now, for those of you with less overseas beggar experience this was pretty unusual. There were very few foreigners in Rohan at that time. In the city where I was there were only two other foreign families and I am sure that this man had never met a foreigner before. I think he really felt sorry for me and wanted to bless me with a prayer. I was bemused. I had come there to help these people and he was praying for me!

When we moved to Gondor the situation was very different. In the wake of the brutal civil war beggars lined the streets. They came door to door with stories of despair. We didn’t know what to do. After much prayer and Bible study our team came to some conclusions for the way we deal with beggars and those in need. I am well aware that there are godly men and women on other teams in other countries who disagree with me. That is fine. For us here, in this situation this is what we do and why.

In Matthew 5:42 Jesus gives us the foolish and ill-conceived words, “Give to everyone who begs from you.” Of course, he surely did not realize that there would one day be professional beggars who make a decent living by begging. He probably was unaware that many people beg for bread and then go out and buy alcohol. He couldn’t have known that there would one day be gangs of beggar boys and girls who would be forced to beg by some thugs who would take all they earned. You are likely unaware that sarcasm is one of my defining characteristics. Yes my friends, ‘Give to all who asks’ is an outrageous blank check and I think that Jesus knew it full well. Can we really do this? We are trying. It takes intentional preparation to be able to do this. In our country there is a coin that is just about the value of five cents and it can buy a loaf of flat bread. I try and give this to all who ask. That means keeping these coins in my pocket and being ready to give them. They are perfect for us in our context because anyone who is genuinely hungry can eat with this little coin. Anyone who wants alcohol or something else needs to collect quite a few more of these to get what he wants. But in the end this is not my business. Jesus has commanded me to give and I will give. You will notice he didn’t say what to give. I have had men approach me and demand that I give them beer. I didn’t. I gave them bread and if they turned and sold that bread for beer then that is between them and God. Between me and God the relationship is clear. He commands me to give and I give.

So, we always give. We do not always give what was asked of us. We always try and respect those whom we are serving. I usually try and give a quick blessing to the individual whom I am serving. We do not worry about being taken advantage of. The things we give are just things- easily replaced by a big God. Many times someone will say to me, ‘Yeah, but that guy is lying.’ I always reply, ‘Yes, but the truth is just as bad.’ But in the end this command was not given to us for the sake of the poor. It was given to us for our own sake. We are not to view the resources at our disposal as ours. We are not to be dependant on our riches. We are to be obedient to Jesus and expect that he will care for us and for the poor. At the end of the day who is going to bed praising God for something you did for them? There ought to be someone. Today make sure there is someone who is thanking God for you. Freely you have received, freely give.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Care Packages

The good folks over at have asked that we put out a post giving advice on sending care packages to M's around the world. This is problematic for many because such a post would look like we were begging for stuff but since this blog is fairly anonymous I feel safe to tell it like it is.

First, a little advice on packaging. Here in Middle Earth the postal service is not very dependable. The post passes through several countries who are all notorious for pilfering the packages and it is very often that our packages have been opened and much of the contents end up as presents for the children of the postal workers. Insuring a package is completely useless for us- and I suspect in many countries so don't bother. What you can do is go crazy with the tape. A thoroughly wrapped package is a nuisance to get into and they will move on to a softer target. Also, if you individually wrap each of the contents then that also adds a good measure of security. Finally, if you write a packing list on the inside flap with a big ol' magic marker they are less likely to pilfer.

Now, that is how to ship it- but what should you ship? I like Oreos. You know you can get a lot of cookies in this world but Oreos are unique to the USA. But other than that if you send package food stuff then often local postal workers don't know what to do with it and leave it alone. My personal favorite is Taco Bell Taco Dinners. I can't get anything like that here and it is so foreign that it always makes it through in the post. Mac and cheese stuff for folks with kids is always good. Condiment things like salad dressings are not usually available and much appreciated.

Now some things you might think would be a good idea but really it isn't is a cake mix. If you think about it a cake mix is heavy and cost you a lot to ship but it is 90% flour and hey, we can get flour. Some specialty mixes like a gooey brownie mix or something like that can be very nice however. Chocolate is not a very good idea as it never travels well. The only exception to this is Reeses Peanut Butter Cups. They don't travel well but you can't get them anywhere but the US so we eat them melted when we can get them. Oh, and personally I don't like mayonnaise. I am just saying.

Something else you should consider when sending a package is valuables. Don't do it. We had a family leave behind a young boy's favorite stuffed bear and they mailed it out to him. We never saw it again. Sad. If you don't want to loose it don't send it in the mail. Also, kids love toys and it is great to get them but again, the postal workers have kids too and the toys do not often make it. My mom sent us a package our first Christmas overseas full of Barbie Dolls for the girls and it never made it. It cost her a fortune and she decided never to mail us anything again. Please try again Mom?

Something that always seems to make it but you wouldn't think it might is CD's and computer games. We love Christian music and the latest movies. They are light so they are cheap to ship and you can buy us the discount stuff cause we haven't seen anything in the last two years anyway.

Well, I hope that this was helpful for those of you out there thinking of sending a package to someone. It means a lot to us to get a package. Even something small communicates much love and grace to us at the end of a long day. Thank you to all those who support M's this way. If you have any questions about what I have said leave a comment, I will be glad to follow up with you.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

It's Just Not Fair

Thanks to all the faithful folks who have been missing my blog this week. It has been a rough week to be sure. Our dog got very ill - distemper- and should have died. God had tremendous grace on her though and she is well now and eating everything in sight. My girls' travel plans have been tumultuous. We are trying to bring them back from boarding school but we could not get ticket confirmation until Friday- one week before they are supposed to fly. The stress was very great and our faith tested but He is faithful and Goldberry and Luthien are due to arrive next Friday at Midnight!
There is lots more going on as well but here is this week's story.

Kili went to Ithilian to see his father last month. He has been a believer for one year now and we wondered how he would present himself back home. Would he keep quiet? Would he be faithful? It would be a difficult test to be sure. He reached the capital of Ithilian and found that his younger sister was in the hospital and was very ill. He prayed for her in Jesus name. The doctors and nurses rebuked him but he proclaimed Christ to them. He then went to Gimli and Galadrial's house and met them for Sunday morning meeting. He wanted to go up to his father's village the next day and coincidentally (hah!) Gimli was going there to check on a project so they went together. Kili stayed for about a month. Early on in the month a neighbor died and a large funeral took place in the village. Kili stood up before them all and told them that they were all blinded to the truth. The Truth was Jesus and he proclaimed Christ loudly. Later that week four men approached Kili. He said that he could tell immediately that they were believers. He asked them if they met together to study and worship regularly and they said they did. He ask them how they came to faith and they said that Bill had come last year and told them about Jesus and had given them a New Testament. We cut in on his story. Bill? Bill Ferney? Bill Ferney the guitar player? Yes, that was him. But he isn't a believer! Frodo and Merry have known Bill for years and have shared much with him but he has always resisted the Gospel. Now we find out that he has been used of the King to bring four men into the Kingdom in a place that is completely dark- no Church and no witness except for the occasional visits by Gimli. My first reaction? It just isn't fair. We work hard, we share our faith, we serve, we pray and we strategize and in the end the King uses a coward like Bill who does not have the courage to stand up for Jesus in his own home to bring glory to Himself. It's almost as if God deserves all the glory, honor, and praise for the work that is going on in all the world today. I can live with that. To God alone be the glory. SDG. Oh, and I guess I am saying that if Bill can be used so can you and so can I. Let's be about the work of the Kingdom. It's coming!