Are 18 hours of travel, a temperature jump from 0 degrees to 81, a missed connection courtesy of Delta, a mad dash from Ft. Lauderdale to Miami, a divine intervention with LAN & TSA worth it for 8 days in a foreign city in a foreign nation where I can’t drink the water? Bucaramanga, Colombia, a city of 1.2 million people is not a vacation spot or a tourist destination but that’s not why I went. I went to see God at work and I was not disappointed!
During our 8 days, we visited a women’s prison (including some babies and kids), a neighborhood school (where the visiting “gringos” were treated as celebrities and asked for pictures and autographs), a church sponsored day care, 3 local churches and went house to house in a nearby town praying for people. We were also able to pray for pastors and leaders. I was amazed by the openness to God and the willingness to receive prayer even in the street. The worship music was loud & enthusiastic but passionate. The leaders are young and I was impressed by our interpreters who helped us – they are college students and emerging leaders in their nation. Most special to me was to see them stretch themselves and watch God work through them.
I could make a long list of how God showed up with his power and love. A few examples will suffice: 2 women we prayed for felt sadness leave them. A young lady with pressure in her right ear reported it disappeared. 2 older men with little vision said they were seeing much better after prayer. Serious back and abdominal pain left. In contrast to usual results in the U.S. these happened quickly, easily and were repeated in the testimonies of other team members and many had far more dramatic healing to report. In contrast, praying for people in the U.S. is tough & visible answers are rare. Why that is of course the million dollar question. The U.S. Church is still so dominated not only by skepticism and unbelief that stems from the legacy of Western enlightenment rationalism, but the entertainment oriented pro-technic “big show” way of church expected by consumers leaves little room for God to act, besides show up.
There is nothing quite like being in an environment where God is visibly active & people are being transformed by his power. While I went to see what God would do for others, God was working on me. My heart is all too easily weighted down by people’s seemingly intractable problems, the lifelessness and sterility of the church, my ragged track record of leadership, my own struggle with self-worth and my myriad other short-comings. So even as I watched others encounter the living God, I did as well.
There is also real need in Colombia. I know a few days does not make me a missiologist and forgive me if I’m presumptuous but I saw quickly that new believers need to be grounded in the faith. There is a need for an understanding of how God heals the wounded heart since there is a sad legacy of all kinds of abuse and abandonment from the distorted masculinity of “machismo.” However, God’s Spirit is burning brightly and the fire will grow and intensify.
Sadly, there are some self-appointed critics who feel they need to pontificate about the short comings of short-term mission trips & feel their calling is to discourage anyone from trying one. I believe the benefits far out way the supposed detriments. The blessings of short-term mission trips include:
-establishing unity in the body of Christ in different nations;
-breaking down stereotypes and walls between believers of different cultures;
-exposure to the realities of life outside the comforts of the First World;
-enabling more effective prayer for the church in the nations after first hand experience;
-challenging one’s faith beyond consumer churchianity;
-awakening an understanding of the reality of spiritual conflict and the victory of Jesus Christ and his power and authority;
-encouraging and assisting emerging leaders in stepping out of their comfort zone;
and last but not least…
– doing the stuff Jesus did.
Don’t let the nay-sayers stop you from what most likely will change your life!
The film work of M. Night Shyamalan (Signs-2002; Unbreakable-2000) has always caught my attention. His 2004 film “The Village” (Warning -plot spoiler just ahead!) tells the story of a group of villagers who seem to be living an idyllic life centuries ago but are threatened by hostile and frightening creatures who live in the forest at the edge of the village. The fear of the creatures and what is beyond the village keeps the children in line, afraid and prevents them from exploring – for awhile. When one young girl must go beyond the village into the forest for a medical emergency she finds what she thought were the limits of her world are not real but only imposed by the village elders out of their fear. She comes to a wall and finds the rest of the world beyond it – strange, frightening but far more than she ever imagined.
Shyamalan’s story connects to the experience of people who are raised in highly controlled families, social groups or communities that use fear to dominate & control members such as Jim Jones’ “Peoples Temple” or the Hare Krishna commune of New Vrindaban, “The Message” adherents of William Branham or numerous others of all types and persuasions whose numbers are legion. They paint the world beyond the group as dangerous, threatening or evil and departure from the group means loss, exclusion, excommunication or worse (in some cases murder has actually been the result). The group member who strays or wanders beyond the control boundaries usually finds that beyond the walls of the group the world is a much different place than described. Such an experience is liberating as well as disorienting. Old definitions of one’s self, roles and rules are modified or abandoned. The uncertainty of the future can make one yearn for the certainty of the past – yet the past cannot be returned to any more than the knowledge of what’s beyond the wall can be erased from memory.
Another parallel I have noticed is with the person emerging from drug or alcohol dependence. The nature of addiction is like a self-perpetuating, self-reinforcing and self- limiting feedback loop that drowns out or covers over other options or possibilities. While the examples above are more about controlling groups, with addiction, the control comes through the combination of the addictive nature of the substance, and the feelings, thoughts, behaviors that feed it or feed off it, the consequences of dependence and the forming of manipulative and exploitive relationships exclusively based on supplying and getting more of the substance. The end result is very much the same – the person is convinced that the limits of the “village of substance dependence” is the only possible world and beyond is danger – even in the face of the ever-increasing destructive consequences that addiction brings with it. This is even truer for the person who was raised in a family where substance dependence, criminal thinking, anti-social activity or survivalist living was considered normal.
What moves a person beyond the limits of the village? That’s the million dollar question! For the person in a controlling group sometimes it’s a crisis or when time after time the behavior of leaders doesn’t match their sermonizing. It may be when emotional and cognitive dissonance between “the ideal community” builds and the advantages of belonging to the group wears thin. For the substance dependent, sometimes it’s when the promises of the substance are seen for what they are –empty or the negative consequences outweigh the supposed benefits. It may be when one encounters the first nibble of freedom and wonders what’s beyond the wall. Sometimes it’s the experience of true grace and real love that are neither conditional, performance based or require checking one’s freedom or brains at the door as the price of admission. There is life beyond the wall. And if you see someone who has just climbed over and looks somewhat dazed and disoriented it can be an act of love to stop and lend a supportive hand.
Your blood speaks a better word, than all the empty claims,
I’ve heard upon this earth, speaks righteousness for me
And stands in my defense; Jesus it’s Your blood
What can wash away our sins?
What can make us whole again?
Nothing but the blood, nothing but the blood of Jesus
What can wash us pure as snow
Welcomed as the friends of God?
Nothing but Your blood, nothing but Your blood
Your cross testifies in grace
Tells the father’s heart to make a way for us
Now boldly we approach; not earthly confidence; It’s only by Your blood
I have two good friends who over the years have added much to my life. They know of each other though they don’t know they have my friendship in common. The truth is they really don’t like each other, even though their contact has been rather superficial. They live in seemingly different worlds. They would probably be surprised that they have my friendship in common – but far more importantly, I am convinced they have Jesus in common.
One of them loves to explore, understand and think about God, faith, truth, & spiritual matters. My friend enjoys clarity of expression and orderliness of thought in line with the historical faith which he treasures.
My other friend loves Jesus no less but in a different way. This friend values experience, action and the down to earth practicalities of faith-filled living.
Sadly, when they talk about each other the first describes the second as emotional, flakey and flighty; the second describes the first as rigid, cerebral, dead and boring. Even far beyond such supposedly profound, weighty & decisive matters of disagreement as whether to sit in a pew on Sunday morning in a building or sit on a living room couch on another day of the week; paging through a hymnal or staring at a projection screen; or a dozen other items of dispute, they are poles apart. They have concluded because they are so different that the other really doesn’t know, worship, serve or love God.
I honestly wish my two friends could know each other better since they add so much to my life – I can’t help believe they would add much each other’s. Here’s my problem – they both want my friendship to be exclusive. They claim to know each other – at least on those matters on which they disagree. They have both kept a long list of where the other is wrong, un-biblical, heretical or worse and why no one (truly their friend) in their right mind (or right belief) would befriend the other. The truth is what they agree on is much greater than their disagreements – but listening to them you would never know it.
Who are my two friends? They are not simply two people but actually many people I have met over the years that represent two spiritual heritages and traditions – the first that emphasizes a grasp of theological knowledge, holding on to the historicity of the faith and the development of the understanding as a foundation for growth in grace. The other emphasizes the power of God, the joy of the Holy Spirit, the presence and reality of the victorious Christ and a vital affection for God. Why am I friends with such as these? Not only because I have learned to value and appreciate their differences; but because they also mirror two aspects within myself that alone and isolated are unbalanced but working together provide a counterweight to my extremes. Therefore, I refuse to choose either one over the other. Still, I find the situation extremely sad. The one man, formed from Jew & Gentile through the sacrifice of Christ’s life (Eph. 2: 14) is torn asunder and the dividing walls of hostility are rebuilt with a vengeance. In “Surprised by the Voice of the Spirit” Jack Deere calls this a “costly divorce.”
Somewhere along the way the church has encouraged a silent divorce between the Word and the Spirit. Divorces are painful, both for the children and for the parents. One parent usually gets custody of the children, and the other only gets to visit occasionally. It breaks the hearts of the parents and the children are usually worse off because of the arrangement. Many in the church today are content to live with only one parent.
They live with the Word, and the Spirit only has limited visiting rights. He just gets to see and touch the kids once in a while. Some of his kids don’t even recognize him anymore. Some have become afraid of him and some even accuse their parent of being sent from Satan. Others in the church live with the Spirit and only allow the Word sporadic visits…So we have become a divided family growing up with separate parents. One set of kids is proud of their education, and the other set of kids is proud of their freedom. Both think they’re better than the other.
I find Deere’s analogy convincing. Divorcing the Word and the Spirit are separating what God has joined together, like asking an airplane pilot which wing on their aircraft they’d be willing to give up – no one will be going anywhere if they do or if they try someone’s going to crash.
What will heal the rift? What will reverse the divorce? At times I’m not sure my friends see their estrangement as a problem. Like the age old, generational cycles of conflict and destruction that characterize tribal hostilities the parties seem to know no other way to relate to one another except as “the enemy.” Plus, the situation offers multiple opportunities for puffing one’s chest out and crowing loudly in public about one’s exclusive possession of the truth and unparalleled spiritual purity!
However, in this hostility, the true enemy externally is not each other but rather, as Jeremiah Burroughs points out in his helpful book “Irenicum: Healing the Divisions Among God’s People” the devil and he’s doing quite well with his appointed task of causing divisions and enmity among the saints. The truth is “all the devils in hell could do us no great hurt in dividing us from God or one another were it not for the corruption of our own hearts” – a corruption that manifests in pride, self-love and envy.
I wish there was an easy solution. Some divisions are centuries old and reconciling warring parties is difficult work. Law enforcement officers know the risk of intervening between people that are fighting – often the mayhem is turned on those who would stop it. Burroughs points out the dangers: “He who meddles with the divisions of the times may expect to be divided himself, to have his own name and his reputation cut asunder and thrown this way and that. It is a thankless work to meddle with a divided people. A man may with as much safety put his hand into a nest of hornets.”
To refuse to choose sides, to refuse to identify exclusively and separate with one side or another is often taken as evidence of weakness, disloyalty or doctrinal indifference. Yet that conclusion perpetuates the fallacy of false choices between the Word and the Spirit, or choosing between God-sent friends. Frankly, I’m weary of every item of discussion turning into a life or death litmus test of allegiance. Tired of the carnage, moving beyond scoring debate points or retaliation in kind, ready for a ceasefire and recognizing that mutual assured destruction is not the path to pursue, Romans 15:7 seems worth practicing – “welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”
The best idea I can come up with for now is to have my friends over sometime for dinner, simply to spend the evening together. They may say “no” or “too busy” or it may be a disaster. Or, after some initial discomfort, by the grace of God, they might come to the realization they not only are they both my friends, but they might look over the wall they’ve built and see that they are fellow friends of Jesus.
It’s difficult to write a review of a book which has been a best seller and has found wide acceptance in the evangelical church. Obviously, John Eldridge’s “Wild at Heart – Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul” has struck a chord that has resonated in many men. However, the evangelical sub-culture has a habit of jumping on bandwagons a bit late. Poet Robert Bly’s male “mythopoetic” movement manifesto “Iron John” was published in 1990.While it has been revised and updated this year, Eldridge’s book published in 2000 was a 10 year late adaptation of Bly’s book that covered the same basic themes of the disabling of masculinity, the male need for initiation and soul healing. Having read Bly’s work in the 90’s and plowed through the Jungian archetypal underbrush of other authors such as James Hillman, Robert Moore, Thomas Moore and Sam Keen; I find nothing much new with Eldridge’s work. It’s a basic re-hash of the 90’s men movement with some God talk and a few, rare Bible references thrown in despite its almost messianic claims to bearing “utterly phenomenal” spiritual fruit.
Eldridge relies heavily on popular movie figures such as Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart” and Russell Crowe’s “Gladiator” and other archetypal dramas and myths to support his claim that all men have a universal, God implanted desire for battle, adventure and romance. Unfortunately, Eldredge adopts a Nietzschean critique of Christianity and has wholly adopted a primitive, romantic view (ala Rousseau as well as Hollywood’s) of what men need – that since fictional portrayals of historical figures lived brave, daring, adventurous lives, we also ought to every minute, day and year and anything less is unfulfilling, and sin of all sins, boring.
The most serious problem with this book is its utter lack of biblical and theological foundation – while the male dilemma is diagnosed with brief reference to Genesis and a cure promised, it leaves out the essential dilemma for all humans, male or female, which is not a boring life but being born an enemy of God (Romans 5:10) and a child of wrath (Ephesians. 2:3). The solution to that is first of all to hear and believe the good news of Jesus Christ, to be born-again by the Holy Spirit, to repent and confess their sins, to receive the forgiveness of their sins, and be reconciled with their Creator. To some that may sound very simplistic but at the core it’s the problem of current evangelical churchianity – a gospel without Christ. Jesus is strangely missing as well as his gospel from the pages of this book. Even the chapter “Healing the Wound” no where mentions the basis for healing, forgiveness, reconciliation with self or others or God – which is the saving mission of Christ and his atonement on the cross.
Do many men have a hard time finding their place in today’s society? Yes. Does the church give conflicting messages to men about their role and obligations? Yes. Has masculinity too often been reduced to being nice? Yes. Do many men have to reconcile what they didn’t receive from their fathers? Yes. Are these new problems? No! Is painting my face blue, putting on a Highlander’s kilt and thumping my chest robustly the answer? Nope. These problems are as old as Adam. But Adam’s problem was greater than not having enough adventure, fatherly validation or romance and it was not resolved by relying on action movie formulas – it was in the bloody death of God’s Son, who in his incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension is still the best model of true masculinity for any age. In Jesus Christ I find all that is necessary to know who I am as a man and to live a life that is truly fulfilling and pleasing to God.
It’s sad that such a popular work within the church is so silent about the church’s Lord and Savior. I am tempted to conclude that many have become bored with the real Jesus and thus look for substitutes in false gospels even the outdated archetypal, mythopoetics movement. Without the true Christ at the center and core of my being, being wild at heart is a spiritual dead end.
That said, feeling the desire to express my inner caveman, I think I’ll go arm wrestle the neighbor or lasso and hog tie the dog.
Have you ever felt that the values of church culture in the US are out of whack? Celebrity-cult of personality-consumer-fad of the moment -hype driven for example? Here’s a story from the NYT of a simple, everyday saint who you wont find on God Tube, Amazon or in the conference listings at the back of CT or Charisma magazine.
In Harlem, a Minister Serves Those Who No Longer Can
By Trymaine Lee
“It was about 20 minutes after lunch at the Northern Manhattan Nursing Home on 125th Street in Harlem, and the sounds of feet shuffling and wheelchairs squeaking in a ninth-floor hallway seemed to fade as the Rev. Olevia Stewart-Smith began to read aloud the Lord’s Prayer. ‘Our Father,’ she read, her voice rising, filling a large room at the end of the hall. In little more than a whisper, Florence Berry, a 96-year-old deacon at Harlem’s Canaan Baptist Church of Christ, with side-swept gray hair and a sweater the color of cotton candy, mouthed along, ‘who art in Heaven.’ It is a staple of pastoral work: visiting the sick or the shut-in. And there are scores of ministers and church elders throughout Harlem who have been doing it for decades. But across the years, when the ministers and elders themselves have taken ill, they have often been neglected. Ms. Stewart-Smith, day by day, visit by visit, works to prevent such isolation, becoming, in a sense, the caregiver to Harlem’s caregivers. As the chairwoman of the sick and shut-in committee of the Baptist Ministers’ Conference of Greater New York and Vicinity, she visits ill members of the 111-year-old fellowship, made up mostly of black clergy members and church elders from Harlem. She offers prayer and Holy Communion, flowers, cards and candy, anything to show them, she said, that they are not forgotten.
‘God didn’t call me to be in the pulpit,’ said Ms. Stewart-Smith, 66, a member of Canaan Baptist who attended the seminary after a career as a social worker with the city’s Department of Aging. ‘He called me to be in nursing homes and the hospitals and bedsides.”
Read the rest here.
(The title “Grace to provide tender care” is from Steve Crosby’s excellent book “Healing- Hope or Hype?”)