Thursday, October 28, 2010

A Loose Leash

Meet Nelly. For the past two months, she's been working her way into our hearts a little more each day. One of the (many) things I love about her is that she reminds me so much of myself. She really, really wants to be good - she loves us so much - but sometimes she just can't bring herself to do it. After a lot of  "good" in one day - maybe she's obeyed my husband's every command and had a great night at obedience school - she is likely to "blow it" by expressing her pent-up energy in a number of unacceptable ways. At those times I look at her and say, "Nelly, you only have so much good in you for one day, don't you?" or, "It sure took a lot of energy for you to be good all day, didn't it?".

I'm learning so much from training her. We take her to obedience classes for some basic commands (our local shelter gives 6 free group lessons when you adopt). She's learning things like sit, down, heel, and climb (see left). But I think I'm the one getting the most education.

Our trainer/teacher, Amanda from Dogtastic, does a great job teaching the owners how to be good leaders. One of the things she taught early on is that it's important to keep a loose leash when training a dog, except for corrective techniques. Many owners make the mistake of keeping a dog on a very tight leash, and the dog certainly learns to heel or sit or down when the owner gives them no other choice. The problem is that when the owner wants to move away from keeping a leash on the dog at all times. Then, the dog often appears to forget everything that has been taught, and the owner things that leash training has failed.

Walking with a loose leash while teaching the commands, however, enables the dog to truly learn to choose to obey the commands. The owner is right there to protect by reining in the leash in case of danger or distractions, or to utilize corrective techniques when the dog doesn't obey, but the dog ultimately learns to choose to obey and gradually can be weaned from the leash so the commands work anytime, not just when walking on a leash (which - by the way - you should ALWAYS do even with a well-trained dog).

It didn't take me long to make the spiritual connection. I've sometimes wondered why God lets me mess up and have to deal with consequences. But I'm a lot like Nelly, and I probably wouldn't choose obedience if I didn't go through the process of understanding what happens when I follow my way instead of His.

The law was a lot like a tight leash - people "had" to obey and never learned heart-level obedience. Grace, however, places us in a whole different relationship with the obedience God asks of us. We obey out of love, out of relationship, out of an understanding that His ways are better even when we don't understand the details. We obey from a loose leash instead of a tight one.

I'm glad to know that God is there to rein me in if there is a danger or big distraction approaching. But I'm also glad to know He loves me enough - and understands my nature enough - to teach me obedience in a way that allows me to choose. And at that place where my obedience comes from the heart, I line up with His will and find that beautiful union of free will and sovereignty. It's rarely easy - but it's always right.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Why you should pay attention to Lausanne 2010

Every Christian in the world should have his or her eyes on Capetown, South Africa this week.

The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization started Oct. 17 and continues through Oct. 25. Based on the reports I'm hearing from those attending, it could be every bit as significant as its two predecessors for the global cause of Christ.

Lausanne I, in 1974, began a massive shift in thinking among missiologists and eventually churches from political "countries" to ethnic "people groups". Lausanne II, in 1980, produced the Manila Manifesto, a document affirming commitment to and expanding the Lausanne Covenant, a draft of which was produced through Lausanne I. Most major evangelical associations have affirmed most or all of this document, which was written with the idea of uniting diverse denominations and approaches around core emphases in missions. Lausanne II also challenged missionaries to focus on the "resistent belt" -- what we now call the "10/40 Window". Both previous gatherings came in the context of challenges from within Christianity that the time for missions had ended and a shift needed to be made away from the proclamation of the Gospel message. Both focused on intentionally seeking unity amidst diversity and finding common ground for the comon message of the Gospel.

What will come from Lausanne III? It's hard to say at this point, but the emphasis is on 2 Corinthians 5:19: "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself" So far the speakers haven't shied away from calls to seriously engage the world's injustices as part of an incarnational ministry of reconciliation. They have also made strong challenges to continue to hold forth truth and not waver on the importance of proclamation of the Gospel message of salvation through Jesus the Messiah. In fact, one of the keynote speakers observed that we have to do away with "this or that" thinking and see that truth and incarnation go hand-in-hand.

That's all well and good, you may be thinking, but it's not for me to worry about. I'll let the missionaries and missions agency leaders and maybe even my denominational or church network leaders sort those things out. It's even okay with me if my pastor spends some time on it, as long as he doesn't get off balance and forgets to focus on the upcoming harvest party, the Christmas cantata, and his hospital visits. But it's not for me to think about. At the end of the day, why should you pay attention to Lausanne? Let me highlight 10 reasons (in no particular order):

1. What's happening in Capetown is a microcosm of our world today. Did you know that almost 200 Chinese house church leaders were prevented from attending the conference, and that cyberattacks from 66 locations in China hit the Lausanne network which allows the conference a worldwide reach? Did you know that many of the sessions can't be broadcast on Lausanne's extension website due to security concerns for the people and places mentioned? Those are only two examples of the very real issues faced by Christians in the world today. When we pay attention to a global gathering of this scale -- 4000 people from 198 countries -- we can find out a lot about what's happening outside our borders.

2. What's happening in Capetown will probably be coming to an evangelical church near you. No matter how big or small your church is, if it is evangelical (meaning at a minmum that there is a focus on the importance of the proclamation of the Gospel message), what happens at Lausanne will likely filter down to your church. 36 years ago no one spoke of the Hausa people, the Punjabs, the Kui ... except the Hausa, the Punjabs, the Kui, and those who knew they weren't Hausa, Punjab, or Kui. Today it's a rare evangelical church that doesn't recognize its missionaries reach specific people groups or heart languages or some smaller breakdown than we knew about 36 years ago. 25 years ago the 10/40 window was primarily a term that mariners or geography students knew about. Today, even tiny churches have 10/40 Window banners hanging on their missions walls. Whatever comes out of Capetown will work its way into your church -- and when it does, you'll understand it much better if you pay attention to what's going on now.

3. What's happening in Capetown shows the bigness of God. It's hard not to get excited when you read accounts of worship in different styles and languages, when you hear speakers mentioned from places you've never heard of, or when you hear stories of God sending dreams to women in North Korea. Putting aside the missions emphasis for just a moment - if you have a struggle in your life that would be helped by a new focus on the bigness of God, Capetown 2010 is a great place to get that focus.

4. What's happening in Capetown shows the risks others face. Today's summary from Libby Little's story of her husband and his team's death in Afghanistan is a perfect reminder of the realities of spiritual warfare -- and missionaries and believers in hostile countries are on the front lines. In the US we like to "support our troops". Well ... if you are a Christian, these are our troops.

5. What's happening in Capetown shows the importance of Scripture - and the need to present it in ways people understand. Do you love digging deeply into God's Word? There is some great expository teaching going on every day at Capetown ... and that's because Scripture is crucial to doing hard thinking about missions and evangelism. The book of Ephesians if the emphasis for the week. The teaching videos are posted - and so are teaching dramas, a great reminder not only of different learning styles within our own culture, but also of the different ways people learn across our globe. I'm sure there are hundreds in the room that reflect on those dramas as deeply as I would on a study unpacking the Greek of John 1:1.

6. What's happening in Capetown will help you better support your missionaries. Do you ever wonder about your church's missionaries? Do you want to communicate with them, but don't know where to begin? Do you want to ask questions about their work, but don't know what to ask? Do you wish that you knew what they meant when they talk about "chronological Bible storying" or "incarnational ministry" or other types of methods in their newsletters? You'll find that and a lot more at Capetown. Just reading summaries of the sessions will give you lots of conversation starters and help you understand their world a little better.

7. What's happening in Capetown will help you better support your pastor and church. Wherever your pastor and your church happens to be on the missions spectrum - from "highly missional" to "bare minimum" - you'll find ways to support, pray, encourage, exhort, and overall be a better church member. The nature of the church is missional. Many of the problems faced by missionaries are faced by your pastor every day. The challenges of living in a postmodern, pluralistic society are not only realities dealt with by missionaries in western Europe -- your church likely has raised many of the same questions. Urban ministry isn't just for New Delhi and Paris .. it's one of the fastest growing ministry segments in the US as well. Your heart for ministry doesn't have to be halfway around the world to be impacted by what's happening in Capetown. The conversation impacts every Christian.

8. What's happening in Capetown will help you make wise decisions at the ballot box. What? You thought I was only talking about "spiritual" things? The reality is that the Gospel is not a divided message. It impacts all areas of life -- and the thinking about serious injustices in the world should impact not only our churches but how we seek to influence our elected leaders. Participants in the Lausanne global community have produced papers on issues like bioethics, education, globalization, and refugees. This type of serious thinking will cause you to ask different questions than you've ever considered when you are decided how to vote next month.

9. What's happening in Capetown is part of church history. Ever since the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, periodic gatherings of church leaders have marked significant points in the story of Jesus' church. While the impact remains to be seen, Lausanne is part of the stream of gatherings that Christ has used to have a significant impact on His church.

10. What's happening in Capetown is glorifying to God. Jesus' heart, expressed in John 17, was that His believers be in unity to show the truth of the message. We don't see that often enough ... but it's seen every minute in Capetown. There is so much diversity - of skin color, language, and worship styles, even of terminology and theology. But there is a core belief in the Gospel and the importance of taking it to the world, and an intentional setting aside of things less important. And I believe God is smiling at that unity.

So how can you follow Lausanne? If you're like me, you're working 8-9 hours a day, sleeping 6-8, and taking care of family and other responsibilities the rest of the time. I can't sit and watch hours of videos (although I really, really hope that Lausanne leaves them up for a while so I can get around to several of them!). Here are some of the best "summary sites" that I've found I can check in a few minutes a day. Then I can go back and watch specific videos, read position papers, and study Lausanne III more indepth at a later time. (Lausanne's official blog) (follow links in farthest left column to find his daily updates)

Twitter tags: #lcwe and #Capetown2010

Additionally, to make sure I'm grasping a few key ideas every day, I summarize some "top tidbits" on my Facebook page every night. And I pray for Lausanne - often and deeply. I want what comes out of this gathering to be beneficial to the kingdom of God and His glory among the peoples of the earth. They are, after all, His.

include justin's link
include "Yours" video

Friday, October 08, 2010

Parallel Lines

I learned a basic principle in high school geometry. When we studied parallel lines, someone asked if parallel lines ever meet because of the curvature of the earth. Our teacher explained that some mathematicians theorize that parallel lines do eventually meet somewhere in the universe, but not in a way we would ever see. She used the analogy of a railroad track to explain how parallel lines work from our perspective: We see that lines look like they are meeting, but when you get up to that point on the horizon, the parallel lines continue side by side. 

That principle was the same analogy that I heard early in my walk with God to explain the sovereignty of God and the free will of man. Like parallel lines, the two concepts go along together, meeting at some point beyond our human understanding. For years, the train track analogy helped me keep my questions about sovereignty and free will to a manageable level. I rested in Deut. 29:29 (NASB): "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law."

Sometimes God surprises me with unexpected answers to questions I've chosen to leave in His hands. Today was one of those days. Reading John 14, I was first reminded of the link between obedience and love: Our love for God should result in our obedience to God - and conversely, our obedience to God should be motivated by love for God. A new insight, however, came from Jesus' words to His disciples regarding His own obedience to the Father:

John 14:30-31 (NET): "I will not speak with you much longer, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me, but I am doing just what the Father commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father."

God, in His sovereignty, planned the cross as His way of redeeming the world. Jesus, of His own free will and to show His love for the Father, submitted to the cross though He could have called legions of angels. Satan had his own evil purposes for the cross - destructive purposes. But in Jesus' total obedience to the Father, the cross became the place where the sovereignty of God and the free will of man met -- and the enemy's plans were stripped of their power. 

In my own life, when through the power of the Holy Spirit and motivated by love for God I submit to His plans over my own, I too can experience that meeting of sovereignty and free will. His will becomes my will, by my own choice. Love enables me to take up the cross on which I die to self. And once again, the enemy's plans are stripped of their power. 

I don't know of any way to experience this amazing meeting of sovereignty and free will apart from drawing closer to the place where it all started - closer to the cross. An old hymn has taken on new meaning for me today as I reflect on this new insight. May you be blessed by Caedmon's Call's fresh rendition of this old song. 

I am Thine oh Lord I have heard Thy voice and it told Thy love to me
But I long to rise in the arms of faith and be closer drawn to Thee

Draw me nearer nearer blessed Lord to the cross where Thou has died
Draw me nearer nearer nearer blessed Lord to Thine precious bleeding side

There are depths of love that I cannot know till I cross the narrow sea
There are heights of joy that I may not reach till I rest in peace with Thee

Draw me nearer nearer blessed Lord to the cross where Thou has died
Draw me nearer nearer nearer blessed Lord to Thine precious bleeding side

Consecrate me now to Thy service Lord by the power of grace divine
Let my soul look up with a steadfast hope and my will be lost in Thine

Draw me nearer nearer blessed Lord to the cross where Thou has died
Draw me nearer nearer blessed Lord to the cross where Thou has died

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

"Didn't I tell you?"

Jesus said, “Take away the stone.”  Martha, the sister of the deceased,  replied, “Lord, by this time the body will have a bad smell,  because he has been buried  four days.” Jesus responded,  “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you would see the glory of God? - John 11:39-40

We don't have to walk with the Lord very long before we realize that His timetable varies quite significantly from ours. We think that something clearly needs to be done NOW; he recognizes that in the bigger picture, the greater glory comes from waiting.

Mary and Martha, as well as the disciples, learned this lesson dramatically when Lazarus fell ill. Jesus didn't immediately go heal him. He didn't just say the word that could bring healing without even traveling to him. Instead, he waited until Lazarus had been dead 4 days. It was, from a human perspective, too late. But Jesus had a bigger purpose - a revelation that He is the resurrection and the life. A lesson that can be learned only after a death.

Most of us have heard sermons or read devotionals from this passage. It's one of the most popular passages, with good reason. It's one of those that can be hard to read for new insights, because it's so familiar that we anticipate the verses before we get to them. For this reason I like to read through different translation in my daily Bible reading. A different translation can cause me to slow down and let the words soak in. Currently, I'm reading through the Bible in the New English Translation, and as I read John 11 yesterday, God caused the verses above to jump off the page.

Ever-practical Martha pointed out that Lazarus would stink.  Jesus’ response was “Did I not say to you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?” That caught my attention because so often that’s how I am – “but God, what about ….” And He’s saying “What did I just tell you?

The reality is that when He chooses to wait, He is able to take care of all the consequences of what we perceive as a "delay". Stinking body? That's nothing to the Maker of heaven and earth. 

Maybe you are in a season of waiting. Perhaps you've been called to a country but the funds aren't there to go yet. Maybe a ministry vision only exists in your head and on scratchpads of paper. Or you're stuck trying to discern the next step. You get frustrated at the work that isn't getting done. But think about it: God is the person most interested in fulfilling the Great Commission and advancing His kingdom purposes. He wouldn't have you waiting if He didn't have a reason for it.

Or perhaps your waiting is more personal. You've longed for a husband, or a child, or release from a job. You can think of dozens of  reasons why there is "no time like the present" for God to step in. In fact, you reason that there are lots of adverse consequences just building up while you're sitting here waiting. It's so easy to forget that God is FOR us, and withholds no good thing from His children. He just doesn't always release them on our timetable. :)

Are you in a place of waiting today? What is the "stinking body" that you have been wondering how to deal with when the waiting ceases? Trust Him to deal with all the consequences of your waiting season. Hasn't He told you He will?

Monday, October 04, 2010

Darkness and light

But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; (1 Peter 2:9, NASB)

I found myself reaching out my hands to grab hold of something, anything, in the midst of the deepest darkness I've ever experienced.

Only minutes before, I was lying in bed waking up leisurely and chatting with my husband. A severe leg cramp caused me to howl in pain and, without thinking, jump up to try to put pressure on my leg and ease the cramp. The sudden change in position nearly caused me to faint. Although my eyes were open, everything around me went completely black. My husband grabbed my waist from behind, and my arms reached forward to find something on which to steady myself.

I can't recall ever being in utter blackness. Even those times I've visited a cave and the lights were turned off don't qualify because then I was engaged enough to realize that this was a temporary, controlled condition. The blackness I felt myself entering as I was wavering between consciousness and fainting was different. There was no penetration of light, no logical awareness of control.

Later, after I recovered from this very brief episode, God brought to my mind an unforgettable application: those unengaged, unreached people groups - those with absolutely no penetration of light into their utter darkness. No one holding out a candle of hope.

We forget how much our country has been influenced by the light of Christ. Even though there are individuals and even pockets of people here who haven't heard the true Gospel, there is a cultural heritage that reflects Jesus' teachings, even among unbelievers. Concepts of forgiveness, redemption in the form of second chances, helping the less fortunate, and using positions of power to make a difference all have threads traced back to our Christian heritage. Don't get me wrong - there are other threads that contribute to our heritage as well, and some of these concepts are present in other religions. But at a worldview level, we have been influenced by the light of Christ in ways that we take for granted.

It's not that way everywhere. In 2020 Vision, Bill and Amy Stearns present the image of those without Christ as caught in threads of deception - threads that can become a web so thick light cannot penetrate. Darkness that is beyond what I experienced so briefly yet powerfully.
Some groups are "reached" - not that everyone accepts the truth of the Gospel, but the opportunity to hear is definitely present. About 6700 groups are "unreached" - there is no significant church, but someone is intentionally seeking to take the light of Christ to the people. Someone wakes up every morning with a heart to peel back the darkness and pray without ceasing until this group is reached.

In a number of these groups however - an uncertain number due to the many smaller groups, but including at least 632 groups with a population of 50,000 or more - there is no intentionality at this point. No individual or group is seeking to learn the group's language and present the Gospel in their heart language. Nobody has "adopted" the group with an intentional purpose to find a way to make a difference among them. These groups are among the darkest of the dark - and they are grasping for anything to make sense.

These numbers can be overwhelming, and I was nearly overcome when I first realized the lesson behind my brief experience of darkness. Yet God is so faithful. He didn't leave me in a place of despair but encouraged me. There are so many amazing groups trying to make a difference, researching the unengaged, rallying prayer for them and moving them into an engaged status. (See for example: Finishing the Task, the International Mission Board, Global Frontier Missions, or Wycliffe's Vision 2025. If you feel called to pray, sign up for Twitter just to get the daily prayer for unengaged from Rom1520.)

But the most encouraging thing to me was the reminder from one of my favorite missions books, Let the Nations Be Glad. I include this extended quote below as a reminder to all of us whose heart beats for the nations: We must never see reaching the nations, even the unengaged, as the highest call on our lives. We are called to worship. God just wants us to invite others to join us in the process as we learn to know Him and make Him known.
Missions is not the ultimate goal of the Church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.
Worship, therefore, is the fuel and goal of missions. It’s the goal of missions because in missions we simply aim to bring the nations into the white hot enjoyment of God’s glory. The goal of missions is the gladness of the peoples in the greatness of God. “The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!” (Ps 97:1). “Let the peoples praise thee, O God; let all the peoples praise thee! Let the nations be glad and sing for joy!” (Ps 67:3-4).
But worship is also the fuel of missions. Passion for God in worship precedes the offer of God in preaching. You can’t commend what you don’t cherish. Missionaries will never call out, “Let the nations be glad!” who cannot say from the heart, “I rejoice in the Lord…I will be glad and exult in thee, I will sing praise to thy name, O Most High” (Ps 104:34, 9:2). Missions begins and ends in worship.”
–John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993/2003), 17.
 Personal note: Thanks to those who checked on me over the past couple of months of absence. I just completed the busiest time EVER at my job and frankly haven't wanted to see a computer most evenings! I've also been praying about God's intentions for my writing and truly seeking Him deeply. I'm glad to say that things have settled down to a dull roar and work, and God has released me to continue blogging as He leads (as well as some other writing and teaching projects), so you should see me back on here more or less regularly. Thanks for your continued prayers and support.