The Church Under (Re-)Construction

I sense the Holy Spirit is doing a new thing in the world in his church. Not unlike the first century church in Acts where Luke demonstrates the acts of the Holy Spirit to stir his church to go to the world with the gospel. We are still living in “Acts 29” days.

Because the world is changing there must of necessity be a new iteration of the church. Global mass communication, ease of travel, and interdependent economic systems coincide to make this new iteration possible, even imperative. The convergence of these world conditions, the hunger in the heart left in the wake of the modern’s approach to church with its heavy emphasis on personal fulfillment, creates the driving force for the church worldwide to experience God in a new way.

There are some, such as Christian Schwarz in Germany, who interpret church history as having 2 Reformations with yet a new one in our times. The first is recognized under the great men of Luther, Calvin and Zwingli. The Pietistic movement followed to give more attention to the personal spiritual dimension intended by the first but not fully realized. There is today a 3rd Reformation, one of a reforming of church structures.  We are being pulled back to a time that embraces the early church fathers and recasts the outcome of what church looks like, how it functions, especially in its form of worship. The modern form of church, even of church buildings and physical structures is undergoing change. The arts also, are being re-embraced after centuries of estrangement and exile after the first reformers unwittingly enacted what we might call a form of ecclesiastical pogroms. The unintended consequences of the actions of the earlier Reformers resulted in an anorexic church almost devoid of artistic expressions of worship. Happily today, artists and their artistic expressions as aids to worship are slowly gaining welcome in the church. There is a hunger and cry from the spirit of man for freedom of expression. Freedom to be who God created them to be and allowed to express themselves to God in the way he formed them.

This re-structuring is taking place worldwide. I’ve seen new forms of life emerging, much like a caterpillar soon to be the butterfly. It’s a painful process to give birth. It’s also painful to go thru a change of DNA. Both are evidenced in today’s worldwide church. New forms now are emerging of house churches, free and unrelated formal structures, coffee houses, club meetings, etc. Many of the countries of the world have partly forced this redevelopment by prohibiting formal church structures to exist in their country. By church structures I mean both physical structures as well as church polity and governing structures. Nefarious visa laws and various protectionistic acts of countries around the world have redefined the terms of living among them and thus caused missionaries to redefine what they do and how they do it. In much of the world ex pats are restricted from entering or staying long term in these countries. This forces missionaries in to a more appropriate role of partnering with the national church, facilitating the nationals in the discharge of their role of participation in the Great Commission.

The church has become universal in that it exists in most of the inhabited world. The need to do pioneer church planting is less an imperative than prior to the 21st century. It would be incorrect, however, to say there is no need to do pioneer church planting. But the main focus now is to help the church mature and strengthen itself. There is a need to expand the influence and the reach of the church in those countries where the church is still out of reach for many of its citizens.

What I see happening is that God is preparing his people to enter this new church. What the new form will look like is still in formation. God is simultaneously using the political issues of the day to his advantage as he prepares his people to participate. Artists are being summoned to his clarion call in ways few of them understand or even perceive. They engage in their art, often oblivious to the macro picture, that of the new reformation in which they exist, to which they are called to minister. Theirs is the opportunity to bring a strong influence to help shape the new church that emerges from this current reformation. We need people who can read the times and respond with courage. We need men like Ezra who stood against the tide of conventionality and became instrumental in the redirection of the people of faith of this time. We need artists who are willing to give of themselves without reserve, without thought of personal hardship or inconvenience. We need artists who are willing to pay the price of what it means to be like Ezra, who are willing to be used of God to change the course of church history.

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Why Europe?

Why Europe?

(written for CBSI Europe newsletter)

 The question often comes up, “Why is Europe a mission field?”  After all, they have many churches and beautiful cathedrals. Pondering the question causes me to entertain several thoughts. Mission strategists have for the last twenty-five years helped us to focus attention on the 10/40 Window, or that part of the globe that is largely dominated by Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. The motivation for giving attention to that part of the world was to challenge us to address the need for evangelism and church planting among “unreached people groups”. That’s a good thing. However, Europe is mostly out of that window. While the 10/40 Window is important, so is Europe. The truth is Europe today is far from being Christian. Actually, Europe is the least evangelized continent in the world.

I suggest a different definition for “unreached people groups”. It seems to me the better definition is one that asks, “Who is furthest from the gospel?” The peoples of Europe today are ones who know little about Jesus Christ, little about his Word – if anything at all. An interesting fact is that some of the largest churches in Europe today are ones that are immigrants from Africa and Asia.

Likely, you’ve heard it said that Europe today is post Christian. By that people usually mean there has been a move away from the faith of their parents and lack of interest in spiritual things. My experience in Europe after living there for fourteen plus years and working among them for more than twenty years, is that Europe is “pre Christian.” By saying it that way I am emphasizing that Europeans and the peoples of Europe (there are myriads of immigrants in Europe too), no longer have a Christian framework, a Christian value system and don’t know of Jesus Christ or His intention to have a personal relationship with them.

CBSI exists to empower the peoples of Europe. We do not seek to send out missionaries, as other mission agencies do. Our mandate is quite different. We want to raise up national leaders who understand and embrace the Great Commission for themselves and thus participate in reaching unreached peoples in Europe. Our unique approach is to establish communities of faith where people can experience and encounter the living Christ through the study of His Word and interaction with others of like faith.

In Acts 17, Luke records the vision of Paul of the man from Macedonia who said, “come over to Macedonia and help us”, concluding, “God had called us to preach the Gospel to them.” With this intervention by the Holy Spirit in the direction of Paul’s life, the Gospel went west, to the Roman world, not east as Paul had planned. Europe was on God’s heart a long time ago. I’m convinced Europe still is on God’s heart and in His time we will see new things. “Look among the nations! Observe! Be astonished! Wonder! Because I am doing something in your days – you would not believe even if you were told.” Hab 1:5

So we invest in Europe as we wait for the harvest. Europe deserves our attention as much as any place in the world. Wherever there are people there is a need for spiritual input. Please consider joining us in prayer and financial support to resource the growing ministry in Europe to the peoples of Europe.

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What’s in a Name

Our name is important to us. When someone uses our name it means a lot to us, gets our attention, communicates to us certain value and worth. (I once was told some native American tribes would name their child for the first thing they saw after the baby was born. Thus Running Horse, or Sitting Bull. I never saw a bull sit, but maybe?) There once was a detective tv show about people where the opening line gave a disclaimer saying “the names have been changed to protect the innocent.” Using a phony name protected the person whose story was being told. Names communicate a lot.

We put a lot of significance in our name. Our name distinguishes us from the crowd. We think of ourselves as more than being a number. The line in the old Cheers tv show theme song said, …”you wanna go where everybody knows your name”. Why was that? Because, as the song said, “making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got;

taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot. Wouldn’t you like to get away? Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name and they’re always glad you came…you wanna go where everybody knows your name.”

Cheers was an artificial environment, but one that existed to help people feel secure, affirmed and valued. That desire is in the heart of every individual. All of us see ourselves as more than another penguin in the rookery. (To us homo-sapiens they all look alike; and to them, well, maybe we all look alike?)

Moses had a profound experience with God. There is an insightful exchange for us in this conversation between Moses and God, recorded in Exodus 33. Afflicted with self doubt, (been there, done that), … Moses is looking for affirmation of who he is and assurance of what God has asked him to do… to lead a great nation. He was intimidated to go before Pharaoh and demand he let Israel go, … or else. He pleads and gets that assurance when God says to him … 1. you have found favor with me,  & 2. I know you by name.

“You have found favor”. We can understand  from this that God chooses to respond out of his compassion, even though he is not obligated. Then to say “I know you by name” is reassuring to Moses that he matters. In other words, God is saying, I assure you I am intimate with you and you may know that as evidenced by my calling you by name. Knowing his name is much more than if God were saying, I know your name because I’m omniscient and know all things. Rather it’s a confession of intentional intimacy by God to Moses. God was well aware of what was communicated  when he said I know your name. These are sweet words of affirmation and acceptance. This intimate God is also the one who says in Luke, the very hairs of your head are numbered.

God goes on to say to Moses, “there is a place near me”.  This was a place where he would choose to reveal himself. It was a place “in the cleft of the rock”. It was a place of intimacy. A place where God drew him and covered him with his hand, otherwise Moses would have been consumed in the presence of the almighty God. Revealing himself, covering us, are his provisions for us.

In this brief vignette is a picture of what God does with all of us. He draws us to a place near him where he speaks our name and communicates value, worth, significance; where we are affirmed and nurtured. This was for Moses a place of intimacy where God communicated all this by the use of his name.

So what’s in a name? Everything. Is the use of a name important?…only if you want assurance, security, affirmation, worth, dignity and value.

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Our Creative God

As I sat on the back porch of our mountain cabin, observing little critters, bugs, birds, and a plethora of foliage, I pondered the infinite variety of creation…the wonders of God who created, who creates today and who will continue to create in the future. Yes, I said what I meant, for if creation is part of his nature, why would he not continue to create? He cannot NOT do what is in his nature to do.  Creating, worlds without end. Critters galore. Variety, ad infinitum. So since he created out of nothing, that makes him the original abstract artist. 

We are the highest form of his creation. God has created us in his image, breathed in to all human beings the very breath of life.  And here’s more good news. Whatever he creates does not diminish our worth or his commitment to us. Certainly he does not love us less. Certainly his promises to us have no less meaning, nor fulfillment. God is no less intentional to us mortals, (we who are also his creation). I mean, think about it. He established a nation of people through whom he would provide a Savior for all mankind. That nation would have an enduring throne on whom the first king named David would sit. He would one day restore it. He then established his Kingdom of Priests for Jew and Gentile alike to be his people. He gave us his Word in written form to demonstrate his plan and purpose among mankind to bring a people to himself “from every tongue, tribe and nation.” Wow! Talk about creating, owning, promising, fulfilling. This creative God, who is likely even now creating worlds and infinite variety, is also our wonderful God. In fact the triunity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all actively engaged in our lives, working on our behalf.  Talk about intentionality. That’s intentionality with a capital I!

Filled with praise, I needed to release it. (I can’t say the trees and critters cared what I was seeing and understanding.) I felt compelled to express my gratitude and offer worship to our Creative God. I wrote these words as one attempt to express thanks. (I don’t expect to win any awards for my poetry. But it’s my song of praise to my Lord.)

Nothing Over Which

There is nothing over which you are not Lord –

nothing exists that you did not create,

earth, fire, wind, water and all of life,

all the elements your genius radiates.

Man recreates from your creation,

while you create out of nothing, with no imitation.

If nothing is the absence of something…

then everything you create is abstract intention.

Your design in creation is that of infinite variety.

Your ownership includes all somethings, yes, even all nothings,

it extends to all propriety.

From nothing to something!

Your genius is true.

From something to something,

man’s efforts renew.

With you Lord, nothing is impossible!

For man? With you, something is possible.

As mortal, it’s your glory I reflect. Out of my nothing you make something,

Thus your praise I’ll not neglect.

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Life’s Meaning

Recently I began pondering the meaning conveyed by a bumper sticker I saw, “what if the hokey pokey IS what it’s all about?” At first I laughed. I love a good twist of a phrase, the subtle double entendre that this phrase suggests. It sounded silly at first, but it suggested to me that the meaning of life is undetermined, and maybe undeterminable, at least by the one who embraces that saying. So…if uncertainty about life exists, how can we come to resolution on the question?

While pondering this thought, I came across this passage of scripture in II Chron. 17:9. After becoming king in Judah, Jehoshaphat appointed a group of officials and Levites to go throughout Judah…”taking with them the Book of the Law of the Lord; they went around to all the towns of Judah and taught the people.” These “circuit riding preachers” kept the body of the truth of God present in the daily living and practices of the Israelites. The importance of the Levites going on their circuit throughout Judah can be seen by juxtaposing Judah and Israel. Without a commitment to God and His Word (the Law), Israel rapidly descended in to moral and spiritual debauchery and evil of every kind. Unfortunately Judah was right behind their northern cousins because they did not keep up a belief system with God and the Law at the center of their culture and daily lives. A society without a firm anchor of truth, without the boundaries and signposts of God, His plan and purpose for mankind and their adherence to that purpose, easily becomes decadent and depraved.  Everyone can decide for himself what is true, what is real and what is of value. Without God and His Word, morality is determined by Godless humanistic standards.

In that context, the question “what if the hokey pokey IS what it’s all about?” becomes an expression of the hopelessness one experiences living in a society without morality rooted in the absolute truth of God and His Word.

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Wait

 

Wait

I doubt that anyone of us likes to wait. There are certain personality types for which waiting is more difficult than others. Waiting to me is especially repugnant. I want to see and accept the task and get on with solving it, then move on to another task. Waiting only serves to slow me down. Aha! That’s a good reason to wait. Going slower, being more methodical and intentional helps me make better decisions, … (sometimes it can even make it appear I know what I’m doing.)

It seems to me there are 2 kinds of waiting. There is passive waiting and active waiting. Passive is the picture of a man sitting on the porch until something happens for him to respond to. He is not engaged in any way and expends no energy as he sits idly. Active waiting is more like treading water. In the pool with no where to stand the only way to stay afloat is to actively pump ones feet so as not to go under. This is not moving forward just engaging in the process of waiting with ones whole being. It’s the picture of the actor who is waiting backstage listening intently for his cue to come on  stage to deliver his lines.  Or it’s the pregnant mother to be who is preparing for the day she gives birth.

Active waiting is preparation! It’s taking initiative to be ready to move at the direction of the Lord, when the time is right. Understanding the difference between these two and engaging at the appropriate level matters…a lot!

There have been times in my life when I really struggled with the concept of waiting. Sad to say, I haven’t always done it well. In my latter years I have begun to see the difference and become willing to engage in active waiting. No amount of pleading or cajoling the Lord has resulted in God being pressured to act on my behalf. In fact, I have come to recognize his sovereign work in my life and what he is doing in the lives of others who are  praying similar prayers to mine. In the sphere of people whose life is intertwined with mine God takes us all and does his “mix and match thing” in his own time to bring about his divine will. I see that his time is that which is done “on earth as it is in heaven!”

My poem here tries to express this truth and how I have grappled with it.

Worth the Wait!

When life comes reigning down, and all seems less than solid ground, I cry to God, and He says, “Wait”!

It’s a challenge for me, the impatient one, to embrace His answer: “that is, in His time”. He asks that I trust Him and wait to see how events unfold, … what for Him is normalcy.

In my selfishness and naiveté, I assume life will be good if only God will solve my problem my way, as I design, and I figure, NOW is a good time! I rationalize and fantasize how it could be to extol his virtues to everyone I meet.

I reason, surely it’s better for me to praise Him or the rocks will cry out. No one in the grave, no, none of the wicked will His virtues entreat.

But He calls me to praise in advance, to not wait for some later chance. In truth, I must project that time ahead when He solves my problem or gives me grace to endure. After all, this is a choice I have – to be happy when things go my way; or in spite of it not, to trust Him for sure.

The best use of my time when waiting is to engage in reflection, not self pity. To evaluate myself as to motive and attitude – not speculate or moan and indulge in apologies for Him, or other pious platitudes.

Yes, I must see myself, not as a victim of fate and thereby engage in practical atheism. But a worshipper of the Triune God, the Lord and Sovereign over all His creation.

Though often I feel as though I’m in a bubble and life keeps bouncing me around – oh what trouble I bring on myself- my head is in a muddle – until, …. Until He enlightens me enough to see He is there inside my bubble and all around.

Oh, how profound! A transcendent God. The imminent, pre-imminent One. He is the Magnificent! My God is beneficent! I cried to Him and He heard. He has my interest at heart.

I stand in awe, overwhelmed at His love and care. Reminded again He is Lord over His church of which I am a part.

My soliloquy ends where it began. So what for me has changed? At first, feelings as though a victim of fate. Now I’ve discovered, and now I know, it was Worth the Wait!

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To lead or not to lead, that is the question

I’ve heard and used the saying many times, (although I don’t know it’s origin, so can’t give credit), “He who thinks he’s leading when no one is following, is only taking a walk.” I often ponder what leadership is all about. I’ve read scores of books on the subject over the years. Many people have written on it and offered definitions, many of them profound. But I’d like to get down to the basics of it. Sort of the street level of what leadership is.

How about this, leadership is leading someone? Simple? Certainly. I’m not trying to be profound. Yet, often simplicity IS profound! For the one who would lead the question he or she must ask himself is, “What am I trying to accomplish in my leading?” There are 2 objectives in leading others, one has to do with getting them to follow the leader, ie to do what he wants the follower to do, (maybe it’s the leader’s agenda); the other objective is to lead in order to empower the follower. I have come to believe in empowering others. There can be a rightful place for leading others to accomplish the leader’s agenda. But, I think those occasions are few. Empowering others is a way of investing in them… in essence for the leader to multiply himself.

When a leader seeks to empower his followers, he does so on the basis of helping the follower to determine his own God given talents and understand what it is God is asking of him. Another way of saying this is to say the leader is discipling the follower. Empowering others is to recognize and give honor to the dignity God has given them. The leader accepts his role in the chain of God ordained events and people to shape a life. So in the end, the opinion the leader has of himself is of ultimate importance. If he needs his strokes he may be losing his reward, since leading is not about the leader, it’s about the follower. In other words, the best kind of leader is one who sees himself as a “servant leader.”

Being a servant leader is not minimizing the leader, to the contrary, it’s highlighting his importance because it affirms the significant role he plays in the life of the follower. The follower may never reach his potential if he has no leader to believe in him, see in him what he does not see in himself, bring out those disparate parts of himself that lie in disarray or are otherwise latent and unattended in himself.

This is the kind of leader I desire to be. A Barnabas who saw in John Mark what the Apostle Paul did not see, or didn’t have the patience to pursue. Barnabas, the Encourager, who lovingly guided a young man who might have been fragile, yet by skillfully and lovingly coaching and mentoring, giving him time, he eventually became a stalwart of the faith, author of the 2nd Gospel. Christian tradition says he eventually became the one who initiated the Christian movement in northern Egypt. The Copts today claim to be his descendants.

That’s where my heart is on the matter. I told you it was simple! Simple, yes, but hard to enact.

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