Deeper (Field Training Post #3)

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Ethnography. Big word.  Medium-big idea.

It’s more or less a focused, intentional version of people-watching. We addressed the idea in one of the sessions at our recent Field Training.  But there was a central truth to Ethnography that has a big pay-off.  Wait for it.

People do interesting things. That’s particularly true if they are from a different culture than you.  How they stand as they talk together.  How they greet.  How they share meals.  How they show attention, affection, respect.
Sometimes people’s actions are difficult to understand. Why do they treat their children that way?  Why did their words sound so rude?  Why is that guy smiling so much for no reason?  (He’s probably American.)

If we only pay attention to actions we fall into a trap. If while observing a new culture we go no deeper than actions, we gain no understanding and the best we can do is judge.  If while raising children we go no deeper than actions, we raise Pharisees.  If while sharing the gospel we go no deeper than actions, our gospel is Grace-less and legalistic.

Go deeper. Actions come from values.  What you do is the best indicator of what is important to you.  When you learn someone’s values you can befriend them.  But if we only pay attention to values we fall into a trap.  If while observing a new culture we go no deeper than values, we gain no appreciation and the best we can do is fit in.  If while raising children we go no deeper than values, we raise indoctrinated puppets that are likely to rebel.  If while sharing the gospel we go no deeper than values, our gospel is preachy and moralistic.

Go deeper. Actions come from values, values come from beliefs.  Those things that are most important to you declare what you believe.  What you actually believe, not just what you give lip service to.  When you learn someone’s beliefs you can appreciate them.  But if we only pay attention to beliefs we fall into a trap.  If while observing a new culture we go no deeper than beliefs, we gain no voice in their lives and the best we can do is live in harmony.  If while raising children we go no deeper than beliefs, we raise children of faith but shaky foundations.  If while sharing the gospel we go no deeper than beliefs, our gospel might be good news but difficult to relate to.

Go deeper. Actions come from values, values come from beliefs, beliefs come from worldview.  Underneath the myriad of things we believe is a foundation.  That foundation is our understanding of what is real – our worldview.  When you grasp someone’s worldview you can know them.  If while observing a new culture we dig down to worldview, we can communicate heart-to-heart.  If while raising children we aim for their worldview, we raise children with a faith on a foundation.  If while sharing the gospel we deliver a complete worldview, the news is good and transformative.

So, how does that look practically?

While sharing the gospel  – don’t just tell people what they should DO (actions), don’t just tell them what is IMPORTANT (values), don’t just tell them what is TRUE (doctrine), SHOW them WHO is REAL.  Your life and the stories of Scripture demonstrate reality – the One Who is Real.

Same for raising children – our target is their worldview, and we hit that target with our lives, the stories of Scripture, and inviting them with us into the presence of God.

As for addressing a new culture (like in Slovenia) – . . . we’ll be learning practical application there for a while. But at least we know that actions come from values, values come from beliefs, beliefs come from worldview.  At least we know to go deeper.

 

(This post originally planned with the title Target: Worldview.)

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Smooth (Field Training Post #2)

Several of the sessions at our recent missionary field training concerned security. Those were rough sessions.  Good practices with electronic devices, bad practices with electronic devices.  How to lower the risk of kidnapping.  What to do if you are taken in for questioning.  Or are kidnapped.  Or are raped.  Or witness child abuse.

It came to a head when they asked for DNA samples from each of us and our children for identification purposes.

Before this slides into melodrama, let me say that our family is heading to an area that is in general safer than the United States.  And those sessions did not introduce us to possibilities that we were previously ignorant of concerning bad things that can happen in this world.  What those sessions did, and I think were at least partially intended to do, was make us look those possibilities in the face.
I’ve already been on a journey of looking life in the face.  It has been during this journey to Slovenia but not necessarily caused by it.  There have been concurrent heartaches and tragedies.  There have been tears.

Life’s true form is revealed through tears.

And sometimes in the tears our idols are revealed as well.
I had thought that I was immune to the American Dream.  I’ve never been particularly concerned about how much money I made.  Certainly not interested in scrambling and sacrificing in order to earn more.  I’ve also never seen myself as being vocationally ambitious.  I’ve never pursued a climb up any of the corporate ladders available to me.
But the view through the tears revealed my version of the American Dream.  I wanted to pretend that life was basically smooth.  Sure, there have been bumps and rough spots.  But I wanted to pretend that they were anomalies.  My idol was an inherently smooth life.  Disasters and tragedies happen, but are detours from real life.

This is a lie.

Life is not a playground.  Life is not an idyll.  Life is not smooth.
Life is a warzone.

The tragedies and disasters are not detours from life.  They are the life mankind – we – chose when we rebelled against God.  There is a great deal of truth in the quote, “Life is pain.”
Now I have another choice.  I can try to find “a separate peace.”  I can try to deny the nature of life.  I can try to create a dreamworld in my head that only sees the smooth parts and denies reality.  I can try to use money as padding and insulation from the war.  I can try to create an illusion of control and grab for enough power to annul the war in my life.
Or I can face with God this life of war.  I can look kidnapping, rape, child abuse, alcoholism, divorce, suicide, injustice, hatred, apathy, disaster, hunger, illness, death  – SIN –  in the face.  I can pick myself up out of the muddy trench where I spun daydreams of a smooth life.  I can stand weak, broken, and powerless and say with tears in my eyes, “Lord, here am I, send me.”

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Nothing (Field Training Post #1)

car                As we prepare to move to Slovenia to plant churches, there are many Bible passages that ring with the same finality as the sound of tireless rims scratching up asphalt.  This is one:

John 15:5 “I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.”

There is a finality to that last phrase that is devastating.   I can do nothing apart from Jesus.  Nothing is hard to grasp.  Nothing is emptiness – a list with no entries, a vacuum, a Null set.  It looks like this:

 

 

 

 

 

And that’s precisely what I accomplish every time I act apart from the initiation, leadership, principles, character, and empowering Spirit of Jesus Christ.
And that’s precisely why the topic we discussed, learned about, and practiced the most at our recent field training was connecting with Jesus through Spiritual Disciplines.  You can say, “Well that seems like a pretty basic topic to be focusing on in a special missionary field training course.”  Yep.  Basic.  Basic as in, if you don’t have tires on your vehicle, the rims will make that metal-on-concrete screech of death sound I mentioned before.  Basic.
Basic as in, if you are not connected to Jesus, all the training in the world, all the skills in the world, all the giftedness in the world will accomplish nothing.  NOTHING.  Basic.
So basic that the field training was built around its focus on connecting with Christ through Spiritual Disciplines.  Every morning we took turns leading the entire group in worship.  Every morning our first learning session was on different Spiritual Discipline topics:

Rhythms of Personal Devotions
Journaling
Listening to God
Intercessory Prayer
Fasting
Meditation
Worship
Solitude
Fellowship

We also prepared for and spent a day alone with God, practicing what we had been learning.
By no means was this new information.  By no means was this an emergency patching of empty spots in any of the missionaries’ training and experience.  This was basic.
So basic that none of us want to spend our lives working to plant churches only to have the summation of our lives be, “Apart from me you accomplished nothing.”

 

Having Been There

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Joan and I went with a small team to Slovenia in October. It was an amazing trip!

And it changed us.

The effects of travel upon the traveler are axiomatic.  Since I like G.K. Chesterton, we can insert the gratuitous quote here, “The whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one’s own country as a foreign land.”

Loses its punch when your aim is to make that foreign land your country, but yeah.  Keep in mind that in Chesterton’s  day you didn’t travel overseas for just a week.  It took a week just to get there.  So is it drama or self-absorption or limited scope of imagination to claim to have been changed over the course of a week-long trip?  What kind of changes are we talking about?

We have met our team-members. Before this trip we had met only one family of four out of the team we are going to join.  We had Skyped a handful of times with our team leader and once with one of the other missionaries.  Most of the team were pictures on prayer cards or at most talking heads.  Now we’ve hugged them!  Now we’ve prayed with them!  Now we’ve worked with them, both in outreach and even physically.  We’ve even cried with one of them.  We’ve seen them get frustrated, we’ve seen them tired, we’ve worshipped with them, we’ve held one of their infants.  Do we know them yet?  Not even close.  But now they are real people – and real people change you.

We have met Slovenes.  Before this trip we learned, and often related to you, statistics about Slovenia and its people.  We read books about Slovene culture and articles about Slovene food.  Do I even need to finish this paragraph?  I don’t think we were presumptuous – we knew that we knew nothing of Slovenes.  That was a large part of the reason for making this Discovery Trip!  Now we have met a few Slovenes.  The lady selling produce in the market;  the couple that runs the inn where we stayed.  The server at the inn who was so surprised when we thanked her for serving us.  The baristas at the coffee shops who were interested in conversing with the Americans.  The lady whose shelves we assembled one morning who was a prolific artist.  Do we know the Slovene people or their culture yet?  Not even close.  But when we think of Slovene people we no longer see numbers pop up in our heads, we think of Vladimir and Sandi and the gentleman who quit his job to run a vineyard and the computer programmer who competed internationally at chess when he was younger.  Now we remember real people – and real people change you.

We have met some of the Slovene church.  A thriving, growing, self-sufficient church is the end goal of our moving to Slovenia.  What that means and how to move towards it is defined in very concrete terms.  But that church is an abstract concept.  It’s not real.  Now we have met some of the Slovene church.  We worshipped with one gathering of believers.  We shared a meal with them, and through conversations and observation we glimpsed some of the joys, struggles, failures, and brilliance of that small body.  We talked haltingly with many of the members, and what each of us was saying was obscured by the language barrier. But in many of the church members’ faces Christ and His glory shone unobscured.  We spent an evening in the home of one of the young elders.  He and his wife expressed their hearts for their fellow believers, some of their dreams and frustrations.  We heard their testimonies and prayed with them.  We met some elders from another gathering.  We heard their testimonies and saw both the eager joy in walking with Christ and the eager desire to see Christ accomplish more in their gatherings.  Do we know the Slovene church?  Well, actually, in Christ we are one with them and in many small ways we experienced that oneness.  But that is an area we look forward to growing in.  And now the church in Slovenia is real to us – and real people change you.

So how have we been changed by knowing, in small ways, so many real people?

We’ve lost whatever we had of the “isn’t it fun to be preparing to move to Slovenia – isn’t it a grand adventure” feeling.

We have invested some of our selves in people in Slovenia.

We miss them.

We ache to go back.

The Centurian Truth

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Jesus said of the Centurian, “I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.” (Matt 8, Luke 7)

WOW! So, can I do what he did?

A Centurian sent emissaries to Jesus to intercede for his servant. Jesus started toward the Centurian’s home and the Centurian sent others to dissuade Jesus from coming all the way to his home.
This is what the Centurian said:

Luke 7:6b  “Lord, trouble not thyself: for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof:
7 Wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed.
8 For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth [it].”

Notice the word, “also.”

The Centurian’s authority came from being under his commander’s authority. His submission gave him authority. He recognized that Jesus was submitted to the Father and therefore had authority. Jesus praised him for believing that Jesus was submitted and therefore had authority. Believed, as in accepted the truth so completely that he actively trusted in it.

So what does that have to do with walking in The Way?
We have very succinct marching orders. If we are to walk with Jesus on This Way that He has trail blazed, there are many ways He will manifest Himself through us, but there is one primary command. And it is couched in the terms of authority:

Mat 28:18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.
19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, [even] unto the end of the world. Amen.

(Luke 7:8 “authority” is same word as Matthew 28:18 “power”.)
Notice the chain. Jesus has all authority. That is the foundation of all that comes after. Jesus commands us to Go, Teach, Baptize. If we submit to this command, we have authority.

What is our confidence in telling our neighbors about King Jesus and His Kingdom? All authority.
What is our confidence in teaching all nations to observe all the commands of Jesus? All authority.
What is our confidence in going? All authority.
If we just submit to The One who submitted.

How poignant then, is Philippians 2:5-10. It exhorts us to have the same mind as Christ Jesus. “What mind?” we ask. Servant form, humility, and obedience. “And what was the result?” Highly exalted, name above every name, every knee bowing, every tongue confessing as Lord. Submission leads to authority.

Oh pray this for us! We are Going. Going to Slovenia. We are Teaching. Teaching everyone in Slovenia who will listen about King Jesus and the gospel of His Kingdom. We are Baptizing. Baptizing Slovenes into the body of Christ. So please pray that we will be submitted! And pray that as a result of our submission that our walk will be marked by and covered by the authority and power of Christ.
I will ask again. Please pray that our hearts will be submitted to Jesus and our Way radiating the power and authority of Jesus.

And I exhort you, in the power and authority of Jesus Christ, walk in submission to Him!
“As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.” John 20:21

Little Toe

Experience clarifies truth that we’ve already absorbed.

God chooses to use life experiences to open our eyes to the depth, texture, passion, or solidity of a truth we’ve already learned from His Word.

God is currently teaching me more about how His church operates as a body. Not necessarily more data points – God’s already used many faithful men and women to teach me the Scriptural content concerning Christ’s “whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth.” But there’s a flavor, a pervasiveness, a breadth of application that I am being forced to understand.

Up until now, my experience of being connected in the body of Christ has been more of what I’d imagine a blood cell experiencing. Gushing around the body, the blood cell jostles other blood cells of the same function, jostles other cells in the blood of various other functions that it regularly observes and of which it has some understanding. It rushes on its business touring widely various parts of the body. But unless that blood cell is at the right place at the right time – a cut in the body that needs blood cells to clot together to patch the cut – its connection to the body is one of immersion.

The same cannot be said of the little toe.

The little toe is out there. Exposed. Very aware of the joints that supply whatever is necessary to keep it joined to the body. Very aware of the great impact the next step ordained by the brain may have on it. Literally.

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I am a little toe now. I am a small exposed part of the body that can only operate alongside the muscles, tendons, ligaments, blood, and nerves that I’m attached to. Not only can I do nothing on my own (I’d fall off!), any motion or positive result is completely a team effort.

Take our Discovery Trip in October. It is completely a team effort. Joan and I are going with JT and Sheryl Turner of One Way Ministries (http://1wayministries.org/) and two other dear friends to Slovenia for 8 days. Our goal is to lay the foundation for future ministry. We want to develop relationships with the SEND team there and some of the Slovene church leadership. We also want to scout the appropriateness of short term mission trips to the area.

Everyone connected to us is contributing to this Discovery Trip, and every positive result is theirs. If you are part of a missions team like ours, any glory gained for God is because of you.

Wade and Joan will be paying for their expenses for the Discovery Trip in October out of monies given by this team. If you are our financial partners, every relationship initiation in October, every stepping stone laid for future ministry is yours. (The four others going with us are raising their own funds to go. Listen to God if He’s stirring your heart to partner with them also and give here: https://www.gofundme.com/GoodNewsSlovenia.)

The team relationships and the relationships with the Slovene church leadership are key. If those relationships do not develop in God-honoring ways the ministry there will be hampered. We go in October to work on those relationships. If you are our prayer partners, every God-honoring conversation, every word of edification and fellowship is yours.

The Turners will be scoping out the current ministry in Slovenia, the cultural environment, and the possibility of short term mission trips that would join well with the Slovene church’s current direction. They will also be building relationships with an eye to solid teamwork across cultural lines for future short trips. If you are planning to partner with us through short term mission trips, your investment in Slovene hearts starts this October. It is because of you that the Turners are going.

Our friends in the US office of SEND International and our Advocate Team here in Birmingham round out the full team that has come together to Plant Churches in Slovenia. This Discovery Trip in October is a team effort.

Together, jointly, we are bringing glory and praise to God through this trip. The fact that you and I and all of us are supplying what is necessary to join us together and compact us in itself honors God. Only His Holy Spirit could do it.

All praise to Jesus!

The Way

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In Acts, the life of the early Christians was called “the way of God” or just “the way” around eight times. Relax – I’m not going to suggest overturning current terminology.  I don’t think I’ve even changed my own way of talking. But in thinking through how to express what I’m learning about life in Christ, particularly as that life in Christ is moving my family towards Slovenia, the idea of The Way stuck out.

Why?

  1. Our Life in Christ is a journey.
    The Bible describes us as traveling strangers, pilgrims, sojourners, exiles. Hebrews 11 in particular describes patriarchs we should emulate as “strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” When I apply this idea to my family’s journey to Slovenia, we see that we will not become “strangers in a strange land” when we move. We are strangers/pilgrims/exiles moving from the strange land of the United States to the strange land of Slovenia.
  2. The Final Destination of Our Life in Christ is certain.
    Hebrews 11 then said of those patriarchs, “For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country . . . a better country, that is, an heavenly [one].” 2 Corinthians 5 says it this way, “For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” So on this journey to Slovenia, the ultimate destination for me and mine is not Slovenia. Our ultimate destination is to arrive, with you, in the presence of our LORD forever. Selah.*
  3. Intermediate Destinations of Our Life in Christ are not certain.
    God redirects.
    He doesn’t tell us every stop along the way to getting to His presence. Sometimes it looks like He’s taking us toward one goal, then leads us to take a hard right turn. Read about Abraham, read about Joseph, read about Paul. Sometimes in this walk there doesn’t seem to be any intermediate destinations. Take the time to read Numbers 9, the whole chapter. It contains the best picture in Scripture concerning this point – Israel being led in the wilderness by the pillar of cloud/pillar of fire. This describes our life in Christ. The conclusion? “At the commandment of the LORD they rested in the tents, and at the commandment of the LORD they journeyed.”
    Is God going to redirect my family away from Slovenia? God knows. He has given us a burning desire to be in Slovenia. I think He’ll let us get there first. SEND International thinks He’ll let us get there first. Our Advocate Team thinks He’ll let us get there first. But Slovenia is NOT the final destination. God’s presence is.
  4. The most important part of the journey is Who You Follow.
    In the gospels, Jesus consistently called His disciples to “Follow Me.” That is what He has called each of us to.
    The most beautiful picture of this is in Exodus 33. God promised Moses that he and the Israelites would get to their final destination, the land promised. God promised to drive out the inhabitants to make room for them. God promised prosperity when they got there, “a land flowing with milk and honey.” But He said He would NOT go with them on the journey, “lest I consume thee in the way.”
    Moses’s response was basically, “If You do not go with us, don’t send us. Without Your presence on the way, all of it – the land, the open door, and the prosperity – just isn’t worth it. We would rather die in Your Presence on the way than have a guaranteed arrival and success and rewards at the end of a journey without You.”
    Shouts of joy! Does your heart not burn at those words?
    In this journey through Slovenia (Slovenia is not the final destination) I want to go with the Presence of God or not go at all.

 

*Not sure exactly what Selah means, but it’s in the neighborhood of, “That thought right there is worth taking a minute to pause over. Probably take a praise break. With musical crescendo thrown in for good measure.”