Tag Archives: Christian

What Did You Come Out Here To See?

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve now been back from Ethiopia for about three weeks. I’ve had time to go through the pictures, and more importantly, I’ve been able to go through some of the hours of interviews I took of Ethiopians who are going out into the villages and towns in some of the most difficult circumstances imaginable. They are telling others about their faith and are suffering alienation from their families, physical violence against them, and some are paying the ultimate sacrifice. And yet they continue, because they know that God is worth it. They are seeing people freed from addictions and all kinds of things that destroy lives, and they’re seeing their communities changed because of it.

It’s very hard for me to convey what the gospel means to these people when I come back to the United States. We often have a very different view of what the gospel is in the United States. Just as in many areas where Christianity has been introduced, they have combined Christianity with their traditional beliefs, so we in the United States have largely combined Christianity with other beliefs. We combine our faith with politics, or with hedonism, or with capitalism, or any number of other beliefs. If we’re honest about it, these other beliefs often take precedence over our faith, and we end up changing our faith to fit these other beliefs rather than the other way around.

There’s a scripture that’s puzzled me since I first read it, and only since this last trip to Ethiopia am I beginning to understand it. It’s from Matthew 11, and in it, Jesus is looking at the crowds who had come out to see John The Baptist, and now that John was in prison, Jesus was addressing them. You have to understand that there was a large crowd of people out in the desert. He asks them, “What did you come out here to see?” He goes on to speak about John’s ministry that had started only about a year before. The verse that puzzled me was this one; “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force.”  What did Jesus mean by “the violent take it by force?”  Were John’s disciples violent? The answer is no. What Jesus was talking about was a descriptive picture of the crowds that had come out to the desert. They resembled an army besieging a city. They pressed in on all sides and would let nothing stand between themselves and John’s message, which was that the Kingdom of God is at hand. They were hungry for God’s Kingdom, as if they had been waiting since the beginning of the world for the message that was now before them. Truthfully, they had been waiting that long. They were taking hold of that message of salvation and repentance and the coming of God’s Kingdom as if, if they lessened their grip just a little, it would be gone.

It was only as I interviewed these Ethiopian pastors that I began to understand this scripture. The Kingdom of God belongs to people who turn their whole hearts toward it, who are willing to completely give up their old lives and take hold of it with a fervor that nothing can break. To reiterate his point, Jesus goes on to say,

“But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions,  and saying:

‘We played the flute for you,
    And you did not dance;
We mourned to you,
    And you did not lament.’

 For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ But wisdom is justified by her children.”

Jesus was referring to the current religious generation, who heard the voice of the prophets, but were untouched by the message. They were so sure of themselves that when God and the prophets finally came, they saw only something to criticize. It is also what is referred to in 2 Timothy 3 “always learning, but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

As I go through hours of video, I am planning to put together a longer video of the testimonies of several people. Their stories are unique, but remarkably similar in that each of them has given all for God.

 

 

A Shield Only Works When Facing the Enemy

As this year comes to a close and I assess all that has happened with missions and travel, I am reminded of the spiritual warfare that has happened throughout the year. I realize that all things work out for the good of those who love the Lord, but that doesn’t mean that the trials are any easier. Only as I learn more and experience more, I worry about it less and less. I am no longer blind-sided by it as much. I am still continually surprised by the ways in which it shows up, but it’s timing can be almost always timed down to the day shortly before something big is supposed to be happening. As I start counting down the days before I go to Ethiopia again, I can expect more warfare.

Lately I have been reading The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. It’s been decades since I last picked this up, and I am enjoying it if nothing more than for the word pictures it contains that give clarity to a lot of abstract concepts. During my pondering about this book, the subject of the armor of God came up. We find the subject of the armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-18.

 “Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.  Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.   Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness,  and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace;  above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God;  praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.”

The thing that occurred to me when I read it this time that I had never noticed before was the choice of armor; helmet, shield, sword, breastplate, etc, and specifically what they have in common. The thing they all have in common is that they are only effective when you are facing and engaging with the enemy. A Christian who either has his back to the enemy or has not engaged the enemy has lost. God gives us the tools with which to fight, but we have to decide whether to fight or not. I wanted to talk specifically about the shield. When the apostle Paul wrote this, he modeled the armor after the Roman legion, which used a large curved shield called a scutum. Our faith is that shield. It is what allows us to stand up to what the devil and the world throw at us and allows our faith not to be shaken. But it does more than that. The scutum not only protected from the flaming arrows of the enemy, but when the combat got close, its size allowed its bearer to knock the enemy back. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that this metaphor was chosen, because it’s only in the thick of spiritual warfare that we get close enough to knock the enemy back on his heels. James 4:7 completes the thought. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

This of course runs counter to our culture. We call ourselves Christians, but we refuse to engage the enemy. The evidence of this is in where we spend our missions dollars. 24% of the world has never heard the gospel. Yet those areas receive 1/2 of one percent of our missions dollars, whereas 94.5% goes to areas that are already filled with professing Christians. This makes absolutely no sense. Jesus said “Look, the fields are ripe for harvest, but the workers are few.”  We keep going to the same fields that have already been harvested looking for a speck of grain that someone dropped, while the field next door, though harder to get to, has been completely ignored.  Parents with children in the military are proud that their children are serving in conflict zones in Afghanistan or Iraq or elsewhere, but how many would send their children or go themselves to share the saving grace of God in those same areas? We somehow think it’s less important, when nothing could be further from the truth.   Someday the sun and moon will fall from the sky, and we’ll all be long gone. At that point the only thing that will matter is whether and how we engaged the enemy. Is it a harder way? Yes. But as we see the world falling apart around us, don’t think the destruction that has fallen over Syria or Afghanistan or Yemen or Libya will fail to come to us simply because we failed to recognize that the enemy was not political factions but rather the prince of this world, the devil. We MUST engage the enemy, or we too are lost.

I want to make one final point about the shield of faith. If faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen, then we are taking something that cannot be seen and has no substance and turning it into substance and evidence, both of which are tangible things. It is only when we use faith, and faith becomes action, that action turns into something of substance. As James said, “show me your faith without action, and I will show you my faith by what I do.”  The opportunities are there. We must have the courage to engage the enemy.

You can only throw the enemy down when he gets close enough to touch.
You can only throw the enemy down when he gets close enough to touch.

Children of Agreements

In my last post I wrote a bit about agreements. It’s been a while since I’ve written, but the subject is still on my mind. Now that I’ve become aware of it, I have become more able to see what kind of agreements people make (including me) that we shouldn’t enter into.

In the movie “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” Tommy is telling the others about how he met with the devil at a crossroads and agreed to give up his soul in exchange for being able to play the guitar.  Delmar responds with, “You sold your ever loving soul to the devil for that?”  To which Tommy responds, “Well, I wasn’t using it.”

The agreements we make are frequently not made so explicitly, but they are made nonetheless. I’m finding that most of the agreements we make are made not because we met with the devil at a crossroads, but because bad things enter our lives, and rather than fight them, we become comfortable with them over time, until we finally fail to see them at all. Then, even when we are given an opportunity to be free of what plagues us, we’re so comfortable with our affliction that we choose not to give it up.

This blog is mostly about Africa and missions, so let me give you an example from that vein. I will shortly be going back to Kibera, Kenya. I’ve been to a lot of places in Africa that seem hopeless, but Kibera is possibly the worst.  The filth alone is enough to completely overwhelm. People live (and I use that word loosely) on less than two dollars a day. Disease is rampant. Sewage runs between all the shacks. Children are abandoned during the day as mothers go out looking for work. There are constant fires because of electrical shorts from spliced wiring as people steal electricity from neighbors. Garbage has literally formed layers like a geological feature that you can see from the past hundred years.  When you ask people what they have hope for, they literally come up with nothing because hope is a distant relative that died a long time ago. For some people poverty is a temporary thing; a temporary setback until they are able to get back on their feet. Kibera’s poverty is something much worse. It’s poverty that is over 100 years old. It’s no longer simply a lack of resources, it’s now a pervading state of mind. It’s old, generational poverty.

Many people living in Kibera do not have what it takes to extricate themselves from the slum, but some do. These are probably the saddest cases, because they have made an agreement that Kibera, as bad as it is, is ok. The first time I was in Kibera, after about forty five minutes, I literally felt like I needed to get out. From that point to being so comfortable with it that you decide not to leave even if you can is almost unfathomable to me.

Now, I’m going to preface my next statements by saying that I have a real problem with prosperity doctrine, which is unfortunately popular both in the United States and Kenya. It teaches basically that if you have enough faith, God will bless you and make you rich. I could go on for an entire blog about how this is wrong both scripturally and in the real world, but I won’t. While I don’t believe it is God’s intention to make us rich, I do believe he cares for us as his own children, which we are. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11.  ““Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Luke 11: 11-13

The bible frequently talks about how we will suffer along with Christ if we follow him, but if we realize that we are beloved children of God, when he sends the opportunity to be freed from bondage and suffering, it hardly makes sense to then say, “No, that’s ok. I’m good”. While we are called to suffer with Christ, we are not called to make agreements with the devil simply for the sake of taking on suffering. “My marriage is bad, but it’s ok.”  “I live in filth, but it’s ok.” “My children are starving, but that’s just life.”  These are all agreements from the pit of hell. Something I have been learning is that I don’t pray big enough. I pray for something but cut short the full extent of what I need, or the needs of someone I’m praying for. When you realize you’re praying to an infinite God, it suddenly seem stupid to put limitations on your prayers. I met an Ethiopian pastor recently who said “I always pray for something, then double it.”  He’s not praying for riches, he’s praying for the lost to be saved, for the captives to be set free, and for a bit of God’s kingdom to show up here on Earth. The first step in that process is to stop accepting the physical, spiritual, and mental squalor that we have agreed to live in.

A child of agreements in Kibera
Children of agreements in Kibera

What Is Kingdom?

I haven’t written much since getting back from Ethiopia. It’s not because I don’t have a lot to write. Frankly, it’s because it’s hard to put it all together. It’s hard to describe the things I’ve seen and make it seem relevant or even believable to western readers. There’s a point where you no longer are able to convey the amazing things that happen somewhere because you cross the line where people simply dismiss what you’re writing as fanciful drivel. So today I’m going to try to convey what “kingdom” is, and I’m going to quote such seemingly unrelated sources as Nate Saint and Douglas Adams.

Nate Saint, who was martyred by the Huaorani people in Ecuador in the 1950’s, said, “People who do not know the Lord ask why in the world we waste our lives as missionaries. They forget that they too are expending their lives… and when the bubble has burst, they will have nothing of eternal significance to show for the years they have wasted.” While Nate himself was not able to personally bring the gospel to the Huaorani people, his courageous wife went into the lions den, to the people who had killed her husband, and brought the gospel of Jesus to that tribe. The consequences were staggering. The tribe was on the verge of extinction because they lived such a violent lifestyle. There was no word for “grandfather” before the gospel came, because no man lived long enough to become one. All that changed because of people who believed in kingdom. So what is kingdom?

In the “Lord’s prayer” Jesus teaches us to pray, “Our Father in Heaven, Holy is your name. YOUR KINGDOM COME, YOUR WILL BE DONE, ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN.” So what does he mean by that, and what does “your will be done” have to do with kingdom. Well, imagine it this way. To an earthly ruler, anywhere that ruler’s will is done is their kingdom. Consequently anywhere where God’s will is done is his kingdom. I think this is where Christians in the west have gone completely off course. We’ve been taught that kingdom is what we experience when we die. Consequently, following God becomes a set of rules we follow as we go about our business with the final goal of going to heaven. It becomes a very inward-focused faith that doesn’t touch the world around us. It leads to such statements as, “my faith is a personal issue”. Imagine if you started working for a company, but you were only there for the retirement benefits, and never intended to actually do anything during the 30 years or so you were there. This is what kingdom looks like if you see it as only heaven when you die. If, on the other hand, we recognize that kingdom is not only what is to come, but what is also here now, our focus changes from the inward to the outward. In Colossians 1 it says, “all things have been reconciled through Christ, whether on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of his cross.” How long have we ignored the part where “all things on earth have been reconciled” and just moved on to the heaven part? Admittedly, it’s easier to ignore that part because it takes work, and it takes faith.

Douglas Adams in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy states that there are three kinds of people. There are thinkers, doers, and everybody else. I believe this is true, to an extent. Ideally I’d like to be both a thinker and a doer. When you take prayer, and add thinking and doing, that is where visionaries come from. Many of the people I met in Ethiopia are visionaries.  Being either one or the other frequently causes problems, but there are too many of us content to be the “everybody else”, neither a thinker or a doer, especially when it comes to our faith. Let us be the visionaries, the thinkers, and the doers, not the spiritual equivalent of a forty year old living in his parent’s basement playing video games.

I got back from Ethiopia about three weeks ago. While I was there,  I was able to see kingdom in action. 175 church planters were there for training, but the great thing about being with these people is that we truly learn from each other. Two or three of them weren’t able to make it because they were in prison for preaching the gospel. Several people from their churches were also in jail for being Christians. We interviewed every one of those pastors, and every one of them faces persecution. They’ve been beaten, had their lives threatened, had stones thrown at them when they’re preaching to their churches, had their families attacked when they’re away to keep them from leaving, and had phone calls in the middle of the night threatening to kill them.  The sobering thought is that it is very likely that some of the church planters we send out this fall will be killed for their faith. I am not exaggerating at all. These men and women understand kingdom, and if you told them your faith is a personal thing, I think they’d look at you dumbfounded, because where they are coming from, that is not even possible. In their prayers, and in the way they speak, and in their entire demeanor, it is evident that they are all in. And this is what kingdom is all about. It is about expending yourself to make the world the one God intended it to be; one where the gospel is preached to the poor, where the brokenhearted are healed, where the captives are set free, where the blind are given their sight (both literally and figuratively), and where the oppressed are liberated. That is what kingdom is about. I see a movement coming in this country (we’re rather behind the much of the world here) where people put the old “fire insurance” version of following Christ to bed, and start recognizing that kingdom is not only coming, but is now.

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The Foolish Things

I’ve been back from Ethiopia for almost a week now. My head has been full of all the amazing things I saw there; the people I met and the amazing events that are going on. I’ve tried to sit down and start writing a number of times, but I haven’t had a rest since getting back. Between editing pictures from the trip and getting ready for my biggest time of the year, I haven’t had a spare minute. Well, I finally have a spare minute.

Do you remember in school, there was always that kid that had some kind of a disability, whether it was a physical deformity or usually a speech impediment of some kind? Do you remember how the kids treated him or her? Kids can be cruel, and more often than not, that child was treated as if they were an outcast and stupid despite the fact that they were often very intelligent.

Last week, I met that man, all grown up. He was a man who had a severe speech impairment, such to the extent that he literally had difficulty forming words at all. You might be wondering how he could be a pastor with such a disability. That’s where the real miracle lies. During his interview, he managed to get across how he knew that God had called him to be a pastor and an evangelist despite the fact that he had such a problem with speech.

The story of Moses speaking to the burning bush came to mind. God told Moses to go to Pharaoh and speak on behalf of the Israelites. Moses came up with all kinds of excuses. I’m too old, I’m nobody, I stutter. All of Moses excuses started with “I”. God’s answer also started with “I”. “I have promised to rescue you.” “I will lead you to a land flowing with milk and honey.” “I will raise my hand and strike the Egyptians.” “I will cause the Egyptians to look on you with favor.” Moses was under the assumption that it was about him, when it was not. His excuses were useless at that point. God was not looking for someone with special abilities. He was looking for someone willing and obedient, who would bring glory to God, not to Moses.

Which brings me back to the Ethiopian pastor I met, and to the real miracle of what God had done in his life. When I came in on the interview, it was almost over, and the interviewer and the interpreter were both praying for this man. You see, God had made good on his promise to make him a pastor and an evangelist, but the twist was this: When he preached or prayed, he could speak with clarity, but as soon as he stopped, his speech was as bad as it had ever been. He was asking for prayer that he would be able to have normal speech at the other times as well. His burden was palpable, and all three of them were crying. But the fact remained that God picked this man because every time he gets in front of a church and preaches, or every time he prays for people, he is pointing to the power and the goodness of God. People who know him know that it is not in his abilities, but in the ability of the one who sent him. And that is why he is more effective than someone with natural charm and speaking ability.

There may come a time when God lets this man speak with clarity, but I suspect that when that time comes, it will also point directly to the power and goodness of God. I’m reminded of 1 Corinthians 1:27, which says, “Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.” I don’t envy this man for his disability, but I admire him because he is able to point people straight to God every time he is obedient and stands in front of a church. I’ve said it before, God is not looking for the über-capable. He is looking for the über-willing. This man was willing, and God used him. How is God calling you? Are you making excuses like Moses, or are you saying, “not by my ability, but yours?”

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Banning “Bossy” And The Christian Walk

Recently a public campaign came out called “Ban Bossy”. I am all for empowering girls and women, but in my opinion, this is one of the most misguided public campaigns since margarine was pushed as heart healthy food. The basic idea is that when girls do something others consider “bossy”, it should be seen that they are displaying leadership skills, and no one should call them bossy. Here’s the big problem with that; bossiness is a leadership skill like cruelty or manipulativeness is a leadership skill. Don’t believe me? Last time you filled out a resume, did you list bossiness as one of your skills?  If you did, you didn’t get the job. The reason is that people are bossy not because they have leadership skills, but because they have a need to control, and feel that they lack it.  No one wants to follow someone who is bossy. If your boss is bossy, he/she is a lousy boss, and a lousy leader.  Just look around at our elected “leaders”. There is a tremendous leadership gap in this country, not because we have a shortage of people who are bossy, but because we have a shortage of people who know what leadership skills actually look like.

A good leader has traits that make other people want to be like them. On the other hand, a great leader brings out the best things that are already inside of other people. None of this comes by brow-beating or yelling or imposing their will over people. It comes when other people look at a person and say to themselves, “I want whatever they’ve got”. Leaders are great when other people WANT to follow them, not when they demand that others do what they say. So if you want to raise up the next Caligula or Hitler, by all means go with the whole “ban bossy” thing. If on the other hand you want to raise up the next Abraham Lincoln or Mother Theresa, then instill in kids character traits like selflessness, hard work, respect for others and themselves, compassion, and wisdom. Great leaders are the first ones to jump in when something needs to be done. They don’t just dictate from on high. They inspire people to be their best. A bad leader rules through fear and manipulation, and they are quickly abandoned when someone better comes along.

This brings me to Christians. Many Christians feel that our witness is best expressed by loudly proclaiming our beliefs, without love or respect for whomever it is we’re proclaiming at. When others push back, we stand on our rights to say whatever it is we want to say. “We have our first amendment rights”, don’t we?  Essentially, we’re saying “ban bossy” will work for us. But it works the same for Christians as it does for girls. If you want someone to follow Christ, act like he did. Don’t just yell about what he did. Once again, you are far more of an influence because of who you are than by what you say.  Saint Francis said, “Preach often, and if you must, use words.”

Whom did Jesus oppose more than anyone else? It was the Pharisees, not because they were any worse than anyone else, but because they saw themselves as superior and let everybody know it. Matthew 23:15 says, “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you cross land and sea to make one convert, and then you turn that person into twice the child of hell you yourselves are!” If we don’t think this applies to us, we are sadly mistaken. We must constantly be in a state of asking ourselves, “Is the man (or woman) that I say I am the same one that everyone else sees?” If we’re not, well, then I guess we could always go back to “ban bossy”.

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To The Uttermost Parts Of The Earth.

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere–in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” These words of Jesus were the last he spoke before he was taken up to Heaven. I am blessed to have been able to go many times now to the uttermost parts of the earth. Tomorrow I will buy airline tickets, and soon I will go to even more uttermost parts than last time. I won’t be specific as to where yet, but I will be in  Ethiopia again.

Some people say they don’t hear God’s voice. I have to say that I do. Sometimes it’s in the form of thoughts that I know in my knower are the truth. Other times it’s in the voice of someone else, or in dreams, or in things that I read. There are many ways God can speak if you’re listening. But you do have to put away all the busyness of the world around, let the distractions go, and listen for that voice that comes when you’re paying attention.  I spoke with God recently, and my first question was, “Lord, am I supposed to go back to Ethiopia?” As soon I asked the question I felt a bit foolish, not because I asked it, but because I asked a question that, had I been thinking about it, I would have already known the answer. The answer I got was, “I have given you many opportunities now; I’ve given you a passion for this, and a passion for people and the gospel. Most of your funds are raised even before you started trying to raise them. I’ve cleared your schedule at the specific time you would need to go. I’ve given you a wife who is supportive of you in all these things. Do you really need to keep asking if you’re supposed to go? I’ll tell you when you’re NOT supposed to go.

I’m excited for this trip. Frankly I’ve been excited about all of them except for one, but that’s another story. We’ll be covering some new territory, but also some familiar, and building on the relationships we’ve already established. All the while I will be documenting again, so there will be plenty of pictures. I won’t be specific on places and times until I’m already there, but I will be putting my thoughts down all the while, even if I don’t publish them until later. I learn more about myself than I do about Africa every time I go. I expect this time to be no different, and look forward to sharing what I’ve learned.

The sun rising over the crosses of an Orthodox Church in Addis Ababa.
The sun rising over the crosses of an Orthodox Church in Addis Ababa.

On Fathers, Children, And Lovers

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“We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.  And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.”

The book of 1st John sums up the love relationship between God and his people very well. There are various places in the bible where the love relationship between God and his people is described. In many places, we’re called children of God, but in other places the description is like that of lovers or a bride and groom. These seem like contradictory or even opposite descriptions of God’s love, but they’re not. I believe they do, however, tell more about our end of the relationship than about God’s.

I’ve heard lots of people say, “I’m a child of God.”  But what are we really saying when we say that?  Being a parent of three, I know a little bit about relationships between a father and his children. Children can be immature, selfish, manipulative, and needy. Despite all this, I love them unconditionally. Ephesians 2: 8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”  This is a great description of God’s love for us as a father for a child. I loved my kids unconditionally even when they had done nothing for me, and it’s the same way with God.  But if we stop there and just consider ourselves children of God, we’re really missing out. We’re saved through faith, but just as I love my kids even though they have all of the bad traits I listed, I hope that some day they will move out of that. In fact, if my children were thirty years old, living at home, and still only motivated by discipline and not by love and respect, I would know that there is something terribly wrong.  Children are motivated through love, but they also frequently have to be motivated through punishment and discipline. God disciplines those he loves, but I would hope there is more to it than that.  1st Corinthians says, “When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things.”

The other description we get of our love relationship with God is that of lovers, or a bride and groom. In fact there’s an entire book of the bible, “Song of Solomon” that is, in addition to the literal meaning, an allegory of the relationship between God and man. This is the more perfect love that we have with God. Just as it says in the opening verse,  “If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love.”  Children often behave out of fear of punishment. It is not the same thing with lovers. Just as no one needs to instruct lovers how to act towards each other, no one needs to instruct a lover of God how to act towards God, and consequently towards people, who are made in God’s image. These two types of relationships sum up how we can be saved by grace and not by works, but at the same time why works matter so much. This is the duality that is so prevalent throughout God’s word. Some would call it contradiction, but it is just our western minds trying to place a “this is true and therefore”, when so much of the time it is, “this is sometimes true, but sometimes the other, and other times both.”  It speaks so much more about us than it does about God. God loves us even before we know him, as a father loves children. As our love for God builds through faith, we become less and less like children. Our relationship with God is now not a one-sided relationship based on one giving and one receiving; on punishment and fear. The relationship is now based on  both giving and receiving, and on respect and bilateral love. This relationship is for adults.

The other thing about lovers is this; lovers sometimes do things that make no sense to anybody else. 1st Corinthians says, “Instead, God chose things the world considers foolish in order to shame those who think they are wise. And he chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful.”  This to me is the most awesome and profound thing. How many songs have been written with words like “I would die just to be with you one more moment”?  At face value, this sounds, well, stupid.  It also sounds short sighted, naive, foolish, and probably mentally deranged. What could be that important?  But this is what lovers do. This is the relationship that causes the missionaries from 100 years ago to travel on ships with their casket in their luggage. (seriously). This is the relationship that causes people to give up everything and follow God; to put themselves aside for their Lover because, yes, it’s just that important to them. They do it because they find the place where they end, and their Lover begins. They find that the less of themselves there is, the more of their Lover there is, and foolish as it is to those who don’t understand it, it makes perfect sense to them. This is the kind of relationship that missionaries are built upon, and by God, this is the one I want. 

The Snake Woman And The Blind Man

A couple of years ago, I was in Juba, South Sudan. I heard of a recent ‘event’ that had happened in the city. The story was, that there was near panic in part of Juba, because a woman had reportedly turned into a snake. How this was supposed to have happened and why, I don’t know, but the fact was there that in addition to the panic, there were apparently a large number of people that came out to see the snake woman. Ridiculous we would say. To add to it, we’d probably go on to say that it was simple-minded people believing in superstition, if we were to speak out loud what was going on within our heads before we remembered it’s not politically correct to pass judgement on what anyone believes.

Now let me tell you another story. The same year, there was a semi-homeless man that I would run into frequently as I’d walk my dog in my hometown. I would occasionally speak to him, and got to know him a little. One day, I saw that he had a patch over one of his eyes. I asked him what had happened. He said that his retina had detached, and his doctor told him he was losing his vision. I asked him if I could pray for him, and he agreed. I prayed that God would restore his vision to him and heal his eye, and we both went on our way. About a week later, I saw him again, and he was no longer wearing the patch on his eye and could see out of it.  I asked him about his eye, and his response was, “My doctor says he misdiagnosed it.”

One culture believes in all things spiritual, the other believes in nothing spiritual. While faith is the evidence of things unseen, what do you call it when you see something with your own eyes and still manage to rationalize it away? We in the supposedly Christian west write off all things spiritual as superstition or the figments of simple minds.  The fact is, that in my experience, it’s only in the caucasian west that we manage to convince ourselves that all things spiritual are such figments of a desperate imagination.

Go to Africa, and you’ll find that even the educated believe not only that God is able, but that he WILL intercede if we pray and act on the authority given to us in the Holy Spirit. Most of the book of Acts, and a good bit of 1st Corinthians deals with the subject of spiritual gifts. Jesus says in the gospel of John, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

“Greater things than these” are the words used. So as Christians, do we believe this, and if not, why not?  I’ve seen things that would blow the minds of such deniers. We don’t believe, because we don’t want to believe. We would have to live differently. We would have to take God at his word on a lot of things we currently ignore. I hear the question a lot, “How do you know which religion is correct?”  When an entire Muslim family in Ethiopia is instantly and miraculously healed, they know what is correct.

When a doctor tells a man he is going to lose his vision, the doctor has to be pretty sure about his diagnosis. When I see a man’s vision restored anyway, I know what’s correct.

If we profess to be Christians, it seems to me that there is the choice to take the whole package or nothing at all. Why would we want to follow Christ if what he said was a lie?  There’s any number of liars I’m free to follow, and most of them don’t require such things as abasing the human nature and pride, or putting others before yourself, or any of the other myriad of unpalatable things Christians are called to do but rarely do. In fact, most of them tell you to follow your heart and do what feels good. The book of Proverbs speaks directly to this and says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” On the other side of things, if everything Jesus said is true, then why WOULDN’T we want to follow him? Yes, it requires a lot of you, but it’s so much better a way than the half-hearted, half-believing version of following that the church generally does now in America. Jesus says in Matthew 10, “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”  That is the version of following Christ that I want.

A woman who received her sight back after two years of blindness while I was in Ethiopia.
A woman who received her sight back after two years of blindness while I was in Ethiopia.

Jimmy Buttons

I met James on my last trip to Kenya in September. He has an incredible heart for lost kids; kids estranged from their parents, kids in prison, kids estranged from God. He used to have his own television show in Kenya, but gave that up when he was presented with the ultimatum to either give up his show or give up ministering to lost kids. Here we might say we work on a shoestring budget. Jimmy has no permanent employment, and his budget is whatever God gives him through faith. This week James wrote about one of his recent trips, and his message really spoke to me, and it goes right with the spirit of this blog. When God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, he asked him, “What is in your hand?”  Moses had a staff, and God used it in amazing ways.  In James’s hand are two sewing needles, a ball of string, a bible, and a pile of buttons.  Here is James’s message from this week.

“Are We There Yet?

As I prepare to leave for ministry with our girls, I keep thinking about my trip to Baragoi. That trip changed my life, the way I look at ministry and my personal plans. It was the best way to conclude a fruitful year of ministry in 2014.

I wake up everyday with the intention of bringing a smile to the faces of the children and young people we minister to and mentor. The recipients of our programmes are children who need a lot of encouragement and opportunities. I used to have a list of people and a grand plan of how I wanted to get them involved.

Going to Baragoi had not been in my plans, in fact I had prepared to attend two weddings in our church. Yet when I heard about the trip, my mind was set and made up. I have done so many things on a zero budget. But going to Baragoi was the first time I wasn’t going to worry about provision because everything was provided. I left home with my Bible, a pair of scissors, hundreds of buttons, two balls of thread and two sewing needles. These were the tools I was going to use while ministering to children in Baragoi.

As our journey progressed, I kept asking, “Are we there yet?” Two days after leaving Nairobi I was asked to share the Word of God at the Full Gospel Church and so began my ministry. By the time we were leaving, I had run out of sewing thread and buttons. I also, reluctantly, parted ways with one of my needles after one of the mothers asked for it.

On our way back to Nairobi, God shown me how He can grow my network. Like I said before, I used to have a list of people I would like to have in my network. I still do. But after Baragoi, I have surrendered and have entrusted God with building my network.

As I was getting off the bus at Uthiru, a lady whose contacts I had been trying to get in 2014 called out to me. “From today you shall be known as Jim Buttons,” she said. “Here is my number. I would like us to talk more about your ministry with young people. May God bless your button ministry and see you soon!”

Perhaps you are a young person who desires to be used by God and your worry is provision and not knowing the right people. Or maybe you are worried about not being qualified or ready. Let me tell you something. God wants to use you – right now and right where you are – with what you have available.

I met a young woman who is now rubbing shoulders with doctors, lecturers and even politicians simply because she is willing to travel to places like Turkana, Samburu and the rest of Kenya just to deworm children and talk about nutrition.

I don’t know about you or what you are waiting for. Sign up for mission and outreach in your church, campus or let us know if you are looking for mission and outreach opportunities. Venture out and help reach out to a person that needs your smile, hug and time. Your life will never be the same again.

Look at where sewing children’s torn clothes and replacing buttons is taking me. I may lack the money I need for my big picture and vision. But at the end of the day, I have my Bible, pair of scissors, needles, thread, buttons and my passion to reach out to children. What about you? What do you have at hand?”

James teaching girls at a reform school about the value they have in God's eyes.
James teaching girls at a reform school about the value they have in God’s eyes.