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.