Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Next Christians

Gabe Lyons (bestselling author of UnChristian) new book, "The Next Christians" is a good read that captures the heart of a new generation of followers of Christ. I think some are in denial in the shift of Christianity for new generation Christians, some are excited to be a part of it, some think that there is no need for another "reformation" of faith, while still yet others wish we would just go away. Lyons proposes (and I agree) that the shift is irreversible.

The message at the heart of this book is that the next Christians are restorers. I couldn't agree more. Here are a few quotes from the book:

".....patterns of historic changes in the Christian faith taking place every 500 years. The first shift took place roughly 500 years after Christ's death when the Roman Empire fell and with it, Constantinian Christianity. 500 years later, the Great Schism of 1054 divided Roman Catholicism and the Orthodox Church. Finally, in 1517 the Reformation gave rise to Protestant Christianity. With history catching it's stride, the movement seems primed for the next iteration of Christian practice."

"Christians who engage the world - like the many stories I've (Lyons) shared and the many more I could have - are consumed by this "the way things ought to be" mind-set. They eat, drink, and breathe restoration. They see injustice and they fight it. When confronted with evil they turn it for good. They are motivated to bring the love of Christ into every broken system they encounter. Instead of being cynical and hopeless, they bring optimism and expectation. For them, the entire world has been flipped on its head. Their focus has moved from self to others; from problems to solutions; from failure to redemption; from brokenness to restoration. They recognize the broken, weak, fallen, and corrupt but can't leave them in that condition - they are moved to change things. The next Christians are offering a new way forward - a way to act, live, and bring others along with them into the new reality of how things ought to be."

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Advent Poem, by Marcus Goodyear

Every string of electric Christmas is a promise
begun across the ocean in a factory–run
by children maybe–that the light will shine.

You must be ready to make the unexpected
purchase in the midst of all the Jesus buys,
egg nog and rum, port, chocolates, toys and toys.

We conceive our lists by the spirit of something,
not just greed, not just the birth of God,
but mixed motives and sweet teeth
ready to sing and to feast.

The time is near.
Santa rides down Main Street on the back
of a fire truck.

We wave from the sidewalk,
wondering if our house lights will work
when Jesus rides up our street,
following Santa on a donkey.

At last, he is taking a stand,
running for office, stopping the stories,
starting the action.

There is a party at the red house
on top of the hill and Jesus waves to us,
hello, at least, a politician’s good cheer,
but maybe an invitation,
maybe approval of our colored lights,
each gripping the shingles with a plastic bite.
Or we hope too much
and the fourth strand pops the breaker,
burns the fuse in every plug,
leaving us in the dark
holding promises broken across the ocean.

Even so, the party still works like a party should,
drawing people, even people like us
whose houses are shadows between festivities.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Reimagining Christmas Traditions

The holiday is season is rich with traditions. I can think back to my childhood and pretty easily recall the various activities we participated in as a family, some key gifts I got, family dinner, church services (most notably red sweaters), Christmas trees and decorating them, sugar cookies, Santa, etc. I could go on and on.

I often wonder what early Christians did for Advent, for Christmas. My guess is that what I described above wasn’t really part of celebrating the birth of Jesus in the early days. Contemplating this sent me down a path of critical discernment about Christmas traditions, and specifically what Christmas traditions I wanted to lead my new family in. My goal in setting forth new traditions for Christmas included: presenting a prophetic alternative to mainstream American Christmas culture, maintaining the aspects of celebration (but also reflection), representing incarnation (both in message and deed), and downright fun. I wanted to share with you some (new) Walsh Christmas traditions. Maybe this will help spark some imagination, maybe you will (continue) to think I have lost my way, or a mixture of both!

Having the homeless over to our house on Christmas Day. Jesus once said, “When you have a party (dinner), do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back, and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind.” (Luke 14). When I read this passage previously, I could only think of college parties I attended or at the very most going to feed the homeless (please notice the seemingly small, but huge difference between bringing people into your home that are poor, etc. as opposed to going to them). Then I got to thinking, what greater party do we have as Christians than celebrating the Incarnation on Christmas Day? Surely, this yearly party we have with friends, brothers, relatives (the people Jesus said not to ask) would qualify as a prophetic time to open up our homes to the poor, maimed, lame, and blind. Right?

My wife and I have since invited a couple of homeless people over to our house for Christmas Day. We are excited and anticipate a rich time of solidarity with one another in celebration of Incarnation. I want them to stay the night as well, sleeping in our bed (sorry honey if you are reading this for the first time…still need to get my wife’s permission!!) while we sleep elsewhere in the house so they can enjoy the warmth and comfort, if even for one night, that we are afforded daily.

Redefining family. Jesus also did this. Christmastime has always been about family, and that is good and should be honored…however, I am convicted that family through relationship with Jesus is redefined. Now the poor….our neighbors….our co-workers….are all family. I want to teach Judah that our visitors for Christmas Day aren’t just visitors, but that we are all family. I will try to pound that message home to my son and purposefully try to reflect that conviction in my life as well...redefining family. See what Jesus says about family here: Mark 3:32-34 and Mark 10:29-30.

No Santa. Not much explanation needed here, as many of our friends and family are doing the same thing. Though this could bring of immense joy for Judah, waking up Christmas morning to find a stocking filled with presents, it is not worth the price of deflecting glory from Jesus. This is something we feel convicted on but understand that other Christians feel differently and that is ok.

“Advent Conspiracy” Gifts. We decided last year that Judah didn’t need more toys for Christmas. He has plenty. He has all he needs. But many kids out there do not. We asked family and friends to give to charity, or make something, etc. instead of sending Judah (toy) gifts. As he gets older, he may resent us for not allowing him to have gifts for Christmas..so, we are thinking that we can make sure people aren’t just getting him random toys and unnecessary things, but give him a handmade/meaningful gift that focuses more on the relationship and the giver than the item itself. We have also contemplated not doing gifts on Christmas Day, but rather New Years. But that may be a bit too much….I will let you know where we land. We also decided last year to give gifts to the less fortunate on behalf of our nephews and nieces. We know that they will get plenty of gifts from others, so we decided that giving a gift to a needy child or needy people on behalf of them would show our nephews and nieces that they impacted the lives of others. Are we sounding really crazy yet??

Rest assured, we haven’t changed everything…we still have a real Christmas tree with ornaments, play Christmas music at home, decorated cookies, have candy all over, go caroling, and to church…we have still maintained many traditions. However, I am ready to make some changes and the ones mentioned above are moving us in a different, counter-cultural direction for Christmas. What is left to be seen is if I am simply Scrooge, or if this is something fresh and meaningful. As my wife and I discussed all of these things, we both concluded it is a matter of the heart…and we are moving forward only if our motivations and passions accurately reflect the grace and calling of God. Please pray for us.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Advent: The Kingdom of God

Advent started on Sunday, November 28th. Did you notice? Sandwiched between cultural holidays Black Friday and Cyber Monday, Advent was easy to overlook. However, as Followers of Jesus we should be more in tune with our faith tradition’s calendar and less concerned with the world’s calendar. We should have far greater care for “the coming of Jesus” than “door busters”. So what is the significance of Advent and how should it impact us?

Advent simply means “coming”, as in Christ’s coming. The First Advent would be the Incarnation 2000 years ago, and the Second Advent, Christ’s return. Having said that, Advent is much more than a historical event to be celebrated every year…it is a truth, and it is about celebrating that truth…that God revealed himself in Jesus through the Incarnation.

Truth, huh? Celebration, really? Why do I (and perhaps we) find it so hard to keep Advent at the forefront of our hearts and minds during the Christmas season? Advent gets sucked of significance and meaning when we are easily distracted by things the world thinks brings significance and meaning during the holidays: consumption, busyness, ease, self-centered feel-good emotions, etc.

I recently noticed that some “Christian” things and traditions suck significance away from Advent as well. The other day I was with a group singing Christmas carols and found myself having a hard time with some of the expressions and sentiments of the songs. Let me give you some examples:

“All is calm, all is bright…..holy infant so tender and mild…sleep in heavenly peace…”
-Silent Night

“The little boy Jesus lays down His sweet head…the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay…no crying He makes…
-Away in the Manger

Seems like I am not the only one who is caught off guard by some of our Christmas songs. A recent article in Christianity Today highlights this issue: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/december/2.16.html . Trust me, I am not overly concerned by this…but its worth mentioning.

After we sang, we read some Scripture passages that reflect Advent. We read Isaiah 9:6-7 and Jeremiah 33:14-16. It was at this time that another foundational truth about Advent and the Incarnation that hit me….

We mostly connect Christmas with the aspect of the Incarnation linked to the redemption of our sins through Jesus (and the Cross). This of course is praiseworthy and amazing, yet fails to really embrace the fullness of Jesus coming to earth. If you read through Advent verses (like the ones I mention above) it is clear that the kingdom of God was the central message of Advent and the Incarnation of Messiah. Forgiveness of sins is an aspect of the kingdom, a huge aspect of the kingdom, but not the entire kingdom.

Both Isaiah 9 and Jeremiah 33 foreshadow the kingdom of God, using words like: government, righteousness, justice, judgment, throne, peace, etc. Certainly there are great Christmas songs that reflect this truth, but how many of us really focus on the kingdom of God during the Christmas season. Justice? Righteousness? What about presents? Family time? And lots of food? Yet the prophets foretold of this all-encompassing truth of the kingdom.

May the kingdom of God be at the center of our theology of Incarnation and Advent. May we seek to push forth His kingdom of “justice, righteousness, and shalom”. May we see through the eyes of Israelite slaves in Egypt as they cried out while being oppressed in hopes of deliverance from the injustice of the world. May Advent be marked by the expectation, anticipation, preparation, and longing for the kingdom of God: a King who will rule with truth, justice, and righteousness over His people and His creation in a world marred by sin and death.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Reflections on my Grandfather

My grandfather has been given a couple of days to live. A week back, he was hit with a huge stroke that has left him partially paralyzed and generally unresponsive to cues. He spends most of his time with his eyes closed, but occasionally will open them to the world. My family in Minnesota has been by his side, showering him with love and presence. My grandma, who has been married to my grandpa for nearly 70 years is by his side bringing love, but is struggling to overcome her own issues that naturally come when you know you are imminently going to lose your spouse and best friend. These have been trying days.

I shared the gospel with my grandfather a couple of times…I wrote him letters that I felt God wanted me to…and have prayed for him. Those in my family feel that he knew Jesus and relied on Him as Savior. I hope and have prayed this is true.

When I found out about his imminent death, I was overcome with grief. I haven’t lost a family member since my dad died when I was very young. I was too young to even remember him, so this is actually the first death of a family member I will have to process and find God in. I guess we will see where my faith lies when the rubber hits the road….God gave me a clear refrain to pray, that I have continued to pray even up to this moment: “God, have mercy…Lord, have mercy..” That has been my plea and petition this past week. I prayed to the Lord from the depths of my heart last night, forgetting using graceful words or eloquent speech..and that is the closest I have felt His presence for a while. God, have mercy.

My grandfather can be remembered for a lot of things. He was a self-made successful businessman, a faithful husband for countless years, a shining example of dedication and perseverance. However, I will remember him as a man who loved me and others in our family deeply. I was adopted into the Walsh family over 30 years ago, and not for one day have I ever felt like an outsider. And my grandfather is a big part of that. He loved me with a fierce and devoted love. When I think and reflect upon that reality, I am comforted that his love for me is representative of God’s love for me. I was adopted into my earthly family at birth, and have since been adopted into a heavenly family..for which I have nothing but thankfulness in my heart for.

Dear Grandpa,
I love you so much. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for loving our family. Thank you for all of the beautiful memories and loving-kindness you gave. You are in my heart always…I will tell my son Judah about the legacy and heritage you gave us. I will lead and love my family, through the power of Jesus, the way you lead and loved grandma and all of us.
Your loving grandson,
Grant

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Reimagining Repentance

John the Baptizer penetrates the heart with authority when he commands, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!”, in chapter 3 of the Gospel according to Matthew. These words are powerful and loaded with meaning.

We often hear of the idea of “repenting” or “repentance”. Many times the concept of repenting is simply equated with “personally getting right with God”, asking for “forgiveness of sin” or “individual cleansing”. While this is a correct and proper view of what is at the heart of repentance, it is also a narrow view and doesn’t fully encompass the biblical idea of the matter. The Greek word used here by John translates repentance as “changing one’s mind” or “turning away from one thing to another”, and in this case, towards God and his kingdom.

Back to John. After he says, “Repent!”, he then tells the crowds to “bear fruits worthy or repentance”. This is found in the Luke 3 passage of the same event. This highlights the definition given above, that John the Baptizer is expecting fruit or different outcomes/behaviors as repentance happens. The crowds fired back right away, asking John, “What then shall we do?” The crowds wanted to know what repentance looked like. John replied, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise” (Luke 3:11).

John is equating repenting with the movement from self to others. John is saying that repentance looks like helping those in need, the poor. The kingdom of God is at hand when we “turn away” from current selfish behavior towards the needs to the poor, marginalized, and oppressed. No wonder Jesus says in His first line of the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20).

Repentance does need to be individualized to a certain extent. We need to ask God for forgiveness of sin and be cleansed. However, to stop there is insufficient and unbiblical. Repentance also has corporate meaning within the kingdom of God. John the Baptizer said repentance looks like helping those in need. Repentance needs to bear fruit towards the commandments to “love God and love others”. Without fruit, it is worthless and idle chatter to God. The Lord in Isaiah (58) commented on empty ritual saying that fasting and prayers without concerning oneself with the oppressed or the poor or injustice is “meaningless”.

We need to embrace a comprehensive understanding of what it means to repent. I sit in my room at night asking for God’s forgiveness for having unloving thoughts towards others, or impure thoughts, or for not managing my time right…but I also need to repent for having a house full of food and a closet full of clothing. After all, John didn’t say if you have 5 pairs of jeans, give 1 away. He said if we have 2 we should do away with 1…early church fathers used to say things like, “If you have 2of such and such, one belongs to the poor.” Another thing that grabbed my attention about this passage with John is that after he “preached the good news” (funny that this is part of the good news as well) to the crowds, the crowds were questioning in their hearts whether John was the Messiah. Of course he wasn’t and John corrected them, but the point remains: this was a powerful and holy message.

In a world full of “financial security”, pension accounts, fancy cars and houses, and abundance of resources such as food at our overindulgent fingertips, it’s time to re-imagine repentance… not in a new way, but in a way as old as our faith. Please pray for me as I try to live into this life of simplicity, so others may see the love of Jesus and simply live. I will be praying for you as God leads you if you are convicted as much. If you are open to accountability, encouragement, etc. please let me know and we can journey this path together. In this with you!!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Colors of God

My book review as a contributor of such for: http://www.theooze.com/

When I first saw the title and cover for this book, my interest (and skepticism) swelled. They always say, "Don’t judge a book by its cover (or title)", but I couldn't resist. Then I read the subtitle, "Conversations about Being the Church" and immediately felt more at ease…I was interested.

“Colors of God” is a thought-provoking, compelling dialogue between 3 men trying to think about the convergence of faith, culture, and application. Author Randall Mark Peters is a former university professor who is now on television hosting a show and teaches at neXus church. He says this book shares his “journey away from religion into a world much larger and mush more beautiful.” Author Dave Phillips left the professional life of counseling and now teaches at neXus church (with Peters). The final author, Quentin Steen, works for the Christian Labour Association of Canada “making sure justice, respect, and dignity” are provided for all workers.

The format of this book is what I found the most refreshing aspect and interesting part of the entire reading. Like the church they are all tied to in one way or another, neXus, the authors use dialogue and conversation as the vehicle for sharing their convictions and message. NeXus church does this as well. The leaders at that church use an informal, conversational context for church teaching. And it has worked well there…it works well here….

The book describes 4 colors of God: Blue (the Gospel of Jesus), Green (Healthy Living), Red (community), and Yellow (Cultural Engagement). Blue is naturally the lead color and of which every other color stems from. The authors drive home the aspects of Jesus (only) as life-giver and definer. To my surprise, quite frankly, they speak of every fact of life only getting meaning from and through Jesus. They speak of grace much like Reformers would. It was quite refreshing. The rest of the book is built on that foundation, and it is good.

I would recommend this book. The format is inspiring and keeps one interested (the even have an FAQ after each section to answer questions critically), and these guys work off one another and complement one another nicely, so that you just don’t get one voice, one perspective on being the church. Granted, they often agree with one another, but it isn’t at detriment to the book because each has a unique story and perspective they bring.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

World Missions: A New Era

William Carey, missionary to India, and the “father of modern day missions” first had the idea of coordinating and hosting a World Missionary Conference. He had this idea in 1810. 100 years later, this idea was realized as many Protestant denominations and missionary societies sent 1,200 delegates to the “1910 World Missionary Conference” in Edinburgh, the first world missions conference of its kind.

This conference was driven by the goal of “evangelizing the world in this generation”, a noble and stretching cause for the world of missions in that day. This goal, indeed, is as noble and stretching for our day as well. Christianity Today states, “Edinburgh 1910 marked the culmination of a century of missionary passion, drew attention to Christians outside Europe and North America, and gave birth to the ecumenical movement and the World Council of Churches.”

In 1974, the First International Congress on World Evangelization was held in Lausanne, Switzerland. 2,700 Evangelical leaders participated in that conference with the theme of “Let the earth hear His voice”. This conference is most known for producing the “Lausanne Covenant”, one of the most influential documents in modern Evangelical history. This Covenant included many aspects of what is regarded as Evangelical doctrine, and also included specific statements concerning holistic mission, specifically through social justice/action (section 5). Initially, before the formation of this particular document, the proponents of this understanding of integrated mission were marginalized and branded “liberals” by their more conservative counterparts. They paid a severe cost. At Urbana 2009, the largest North American Missions Conference, 17,000+ people got to hear the stories of Escobar and Padilla (the main spearheads of holistic mission who were marginalized). The point was driven home – we were the fruit of their toil and labor, as the entire 5-day Conference revolved around issues of incarnation and social justice/action in mission.

It’s hard to believe that just 30-40 years ago, Evangelical leaders were being marginalized for their commitment to social justice/action in mission. But now “God is doing a new work” as one Urbana speaker stated.

This past June, in Edinburgh, Christian leaders gathered to discuss world missions once again…100 years removed from the first World Conference in 1910. The future of mission described by this conference - “deconstructing boundaries” in the church, including ecclesiological, political, economic, and so on. “Disturbed by the asymmetries and imbalances of power that divide and trouble us in church and world, we are called to repentance, to critical reflections on systems of power, and to accountable use of power structures.” (from “Common Call”).

In Cape Town in October of this year will be the next Lausanne Conference on World Evangelization. 4,500 Evangelical leaders, from various backgrounds (i.e. 10% had to be under the age of 30, 35% had to be women, etc.) will gather to discuss missions. The future of mission – mobilizing Christians for “global solutions” to HIV/AIDS, poverty, globalization, and other global issues.

Not all that long ago my brothers and sisters in Christ were taking a stand (and getting buried) against the notion that mission was only about “vertical” relationship with God (with limited horizontal implications) and that evangelism and social concern were “mutually exclusive” endeavors. Now, in 2010, the leaders, yes indeed the followers, of the current missions movement are integrating mission with social justice/action. I, for one, am thankful and feel blessed that God has called and convicted myself and my family to serve in this time, for “such a time as this”.

Monday, August 09, 2010

The Cost: The Story of Those in Afghanistan

Every time I read about Christians being killed in Afghanistan, which has been often, my heart drops. It always comes in the blink of an eye. I open up Yahoo and the headline is inevitably on the top. It always says something like this, “Christian aid worker(s) killed in Afghanistan”. Its right at this moment my heart gets anxious and nervous. The expat community in the country is very close, very family like. And having lived there I can attest that we are all brothers and sisters. And I know one of my family has been impacted.

Since I left Afghanistan in 2007, several aid workers have been killed there. I still have pictures on my office wall of the Koreans murdered by the Taliban in late July 2007. Gayle Williams’ picture, murdered in October 2008, is next to the Koreans. I was never friends with these people, but nevertheless were impacted like a friend would be with their untimely deaths. All died with purpose. All died with Hope. All are with Jesus.

This weekend I opened up Yahoo to this headline, “8 Aid Workers Killed in Afghanistan.” Like the other headlines I have read since 2007, I immediately became anxious. I read the story of these workers who calculated risk and moved out in Call and love. I knew what they were doing and why they were doing it. Love. I then read a subsequent article that released names. Then my worst nightmare came true….

Martyrdom is no longer an abstract reality. I actually know and have interacted on a meaningful level with one of those killed a few days ago. When I read the name…my heart sank…and it sinks still…I knew in the depths of my heart that someday this could happen to a friend in Afghanistan. But I wasn’t really prepared for the reality of it.

God can turn every evil into good. I believe that. I affirm that. That is not just an abstract reality to me or thought I have. I know it’s true. I believe God will work out the blood of these servants for His glory…somehow..someway…and truth be told, I have already experienced the tiniest fraction of what He is doing with this. I am moved. I am compelled even the more for Him.

My heart mourns. But we are not a people without Hope. My prayer is that what God is showing me through this, He will show others. And that is this: The world needs to see our love, and that love needs to be moved out in real and meaningful ways. Amen.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Reclaiming the (Whole) Gospel

The Gospel according to Luke has always been a book that I have traditionally paid less attention to. The Gospel according to Matthew has always been where I tend to read about Jesus' life, mostly because of the Sermon on the Mount…Luke’s account of miracles, healings, etc. really hadn’t moved me all that much…until recently.

Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church, made an intriguing statement that has stayed with me for a long time. We as Christians are constantly asking each other, “How is your spiritual life?” While this is commonplace in Evangelical Christianity, it is a question and concept rarely, if ever, found in the Canon (look up how many times the word "spiritual" shows up in the Bible). Bell goes on to state that if you or I lived in the 1st century and walked up to Jesus and asked Him, “How His spiritual life was”, we would likely get a confused look back. This is because in the Hebrew mind and worldview, there is no separation between physical and spiritual. There is no compartmentalizing. There is flesh/Spirit, but those passages are dealing with a whole different topic. So Jesus would likely respond, “Well, what do you mean by “spiritual”? We would reply, “You know…your devotions…prayer life…church…etc.” But the problem with that line of thought is that Scripture views life as a cohesive, non-compartmental effort. Your “non-spiritual” life, what we sometimes call work, rest, play, TV watching, working out, eating, vacationing, the way you drive, what you spend your money on, etc. are in fact very spiritual endeavors. The whole life is spiritual. That is why Scripture commands us, “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do it unto the Lord.” (Col. 3)

Back to the Gospel according to Luke. With this framework that, in fact, everything is spiritual, we can begin to appreciate the beauty of Luke’s Gospel. Jesus is healing. Jesus is reaching out to the marginalized. He is spending time with children. He is attending to the WHOLE person. And when one reads Luke’s account, it becomes quickly apparent that the whole book hinges on Luke 4:18-19. The whole person as it ought to be, the whole being, the whole world, is indeed this idea of the “Kingdom of God.” Jesus, therefore, sums His whole life and presence as this:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because He has anointed me
To proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
And recovery of sight for the blind,
To set the oppressed free,
To proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

All of this was fulfilled in Jesus, and His ushering in of the Kingdom. With these verses in mind as you read the rest of Luke, you begin to see that Jesus is not only fulfilling these verses spiritually (figuratively), but physically (literally). He is literally meeting the felt needs of those He encounters, and the brokenness of this world. Go ahead and try it…read Luke with these verses in mind…you will likely find, as I did, that all of what Jesus does points back to these verses.

We need to reclaim the “Kingdom of God” as our thrust in mission. To attend to one’s soul without care for the body (person) is neglecting what Jesus fulfilled, and now has called us to do. To only attend to one’s body without care for the soul is equally as unproductive and useless. It is the WHOLE Gospel we must seek and preach to the world. Because in fact, everything is spiritual.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Celebrate Inter-dependence Day

Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of us all being bound up in an "inescapable web of mutuality." He talked of how we have encountered half the world by the time we have put on our clothes, brushed our teeth, drunk our coffee and eaten our breakfast, as there are invisible faces that make our lives possible every day. That's why I've always struggled with "Independence Day."

Patriotism can be a dangerous thing if it leads to amnesia about the dark patches of our nation's history. And it can leave us shortsighted if our nationalism prevents us from seeing pain or hope beyond our borders. As an American, and especially as a Christian, I am convinced that a love for our own people is not a bad thing, but love doesn't stop at borders. Love is infinitely boundless and all about holy trespassing and offensive friendships.

We are taught to celebrate independence. But independence and individualism have come at a great price. In the wealthy and industrialized countries we have become the richest people in the world, but we also have some of the highest rates of loneliness, depression, and suicide. We are rich, sad, and lonely. We are living into patterns that not only leave much of the world hungry for bread and starved for justice but also leave us longing for the good life and for meaning and purpose beyond ourselves.

The good news is that we are not alone in the world.

This year, let's celebrate Interdependence Day -- recognizing the fact that we are part of a global neighborhood. Let's appreciate all the invisible people in our lives, and let's lament the fact that the human family is terribly dysfunctional.

It's not about being anti-American but about being pro-world. It's a beautiful thing to realize that we need each other and that we are not alone in the world. So, I've worked with some friends to brainstorm great ways to celebrate "Interdependence Day" this Fourth of July. Here's what we came up with:

1) Track down old teachers and mentors. Let them know the influence they have had in your life.

2) Babysit for someone for free, especially someone that might really need a night off and not be able to afford a sitter.

3) Try to go a whole week without spending any money. If you have to, barter or beg a little to make it through.

4) Hold a baby goods exchange where parents can bring toys and clothing their kids have outgrown and trade them.

5) Attempt to repair something that is broken. Appreciate the people who repair things for you on a regular basis.

6) Look through your clothes. Learn about one of the countries where they are manufactured. Do some research to discover the working conditions and commit to doing one thing to improve the lives of people who live there.

7) Look for everything you have two of, and give one away.

8) Dig up a bucket of soil and look through it to see the elements and organisms that make our daily meals possible.

9) Spend the Fourth of July baking cookies or bread. Give them away to the person who delivers your mail or picks up your trash the next time you see him or her.

10) Host a rain-barrel party and teach neighbors how to make and use rain-barrels to recycle water.

11) Spend a day hiking in the woods. Consider how God cares for the lilies and sparrows -- and you.

12) Gather some neighbors, and plant a tree in your neighborhood together.

13) Hold a knowledge exchange where you gather friends or neighbors to share skills or something they are learning.

14) Track to its source one item of food you eat regularly. Then, each time you eat that food, remember the folks who made it possible for you to it it.

15) Become a pen-pal with someone in prison.

16) Try recycling water from the washer or sink to flush your toilet. Remember the 1.2 billion folks who don't have clean water.

17) Leave a random tip for someone cleaning the streets or the public restroom.

18) Write one CEO every month this year. Affirm or critique the ethics of their companies. (You may need to do a little research first.) Consider starting with BP.

19) Wash your clothes by hand and dry them on a line. Remember the 1.6 billion people who do not have electricity.

20) Learn to sew. Try making your own clothes for a year.

21) Eat only a bowl of rice a day for a week (take a multi-vitamin). And remember the 25,000 people who die of malnutrition and starvation each day.

22) Begin a scholarship fund so that for every one of your own children you send to college, you can create a scholarship for an at-risk youth. Get to know his or her family and learn from each other.

23) Visit a worship service where you will be a minority. Invite someone to dinner at your house, or have dinner with someone there if they invite you.

24) Confess something you have done wrong to someone and ask forgiveness.

25) Serve in a homeless shelter. For extra credit, go back to that shelter and eat or sleep there and allow yourself to be served.

26) Go through a local thrift store and drop $1 bills in random pockets of clothing being sold.

27) Experiment in creation-care by going fuel-free for a week -- bike, carpool or walk.

28) Go to an elderly home and get a list of folks who don't get any visitors. Visit them each week and tell stories, read together, or play board games.

29) Laugh at advertisements, especially ones that teach you that you can buy happiness.

30) Go down a line of parked cars and pay for the meters that are expired. Leave a little note of niceness.

31) Connect with a group of migrant workers or farmers who grow your food. Visit their farm. Maybe even pick some veggies with them. Ask what they get paid.

32) Mow your neighbor's grass.

33) Ask the next person who asks you for change to join you for dinner.

34) Invest money in a micro-lending bank.

35) Start setting aside 10 percent of your income to give away to folks in need.

36) Write paper letters (by hand) for a month. Try writing someone who needs encouragement or whom you should say "I'm sorry" to.

37) Contact your local crisis pregnancy center and invite a pregnant woman to live with your family.

38) Go without food for one day to remember the two billion people who live on less than a dollar a day.

Add yours to the list.

May we celebrate Interdependence Day today and everyday. It is a gift to be part of this inescapable web of mutuality.

-Shane Claiborne

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Breaking My Heart, Reflections on Athens

There was one resounding theme that I came away with from Urbana this past year. It was in the conference’s repeated refrain, “break my heart for what breaks Yours (God’s)”. I still have that song (thought) in my head on most days, and it is has been a consistent prayer for my life since January.
I just got back from being in Greece for about 16 days (not sure the exact count). The first part of my trip was spent at the World Harvest Mission-Wide Conference in Eretria. I had the privilege of participating in the Leadership meetings during this time. I was blessed to sit and hear thoughts, ideas, and experiences from, in particular, three WHM families and I know I learned a lot during this time. At 32, I do not know much about leadership, however, I got a taste and glimpse of good, Christ-like leadership from those around me. I am thankful to God for what he taught me.

The second half of the conference was a time for the entire Mission to join together under the theme of, “Broader, Wider, Deeper.” We spent time hearing from a seasoned church-planter during devotionals, had an amazing time worshipping as a body, conducted breakout session on relevant missions topics, and spent many hours in prayer for our teams, fields, and the Nations.

After this conference, Christianne and I decided to take some time to see Athens since we were already in Greece. I thought my time with God was over, insomuch as we had just finished a huge missions conference….I was (thankfully) wrong.

We arrived in Athens and immediately the city captivated me. The noise level was the first thing I noticed. It was sooo loud, and I thought Philly was loud (but perhaps that’s just obnoxious Eagles fans..haha). There were people everywhere, walking the streets, hanging out, selling stuff, tourists, etc. My family went to the Acropolis area (the Plaka) the first day and had a wonderful Greek experience. The food is awesome…the people love babies (Judah)…and the culture is rich beyond description. We made our way back to the hotel that first day around 5pm and this is when God hit me over the head like a ton of bricks. Not being familiar with the city, we walked through the heart of an immigrant neighborhood, just blocks from our hotel. Undoubtedly, it was a neighborhood that we would have been told to avoid if we had asked…but we didn’t…and we were the only white people weaving our way through the massive crowd on the streets. God protected us though and there was no real danger. Right before we got out of the neighborhood, I witnessed several people on a corner shooting up what I supposed to be heroin. Literally, about a dozen people. Dazed and falling over…needles hanging out of every conceivable vein…moaning…passing out…Now, I have witnessed a lot in my life, living in Afghanistan and all…but I had experienced nothing like this. And to my amazement, only ONE block away was 2-3 cops just sitting there. My guess is that they were simply there to make sure this neighborhood didn’t get way out of control. In my experience, the whole city changed when the sun began to go down. At this time immigrants laid out there blankets on the streets trying to sell goods from their home countries. When a cop would drive by, they quickly picked up the blankets in fear of being arrested. It was an eye-opening experience.

I could go on and on about what I saw and experienced but I don’t want to lose you. That night when we got back to the hotel room I was consumed with the images in my head, and for the rest of my trip I could not shake them. At some point halfway through our “vacation”, I got the message from God. He was answering my prayers from the past 5 months or so. He was “breaking my heart for what breaks His”. This was no longer a vacation, or maybe it was, but I can honestly say this was the first vacation that I noticed the hurt around me, and not only notice it, but be consumed by it. Of course, I normally have taken the posture of enjoying myself on vacations and focusing on my pleasure. This was to my knowledge the first time God moved my heart to look beyond that to what He sees. And my wager is that I will never be the same. Judah, Christianne, and I prayed every night for the immigrant community in Athens. We prayed for God to touch their lives, and for them to know it was Him. We prayed for a church to start in this neighborhood. We prayed for freedom and life from addiction and death.

So you may ask, did you have a good time? I would say that we did, but in many ways the devastation around us made us sensitive to the suffering in Athens. So maybe that is the wrong question. I can say that the thing I enjoyed the most coming out of my Athens vacation is that I am no longer blind to the suffering and need around me, even on vacations. And I am happy that God is continuing to form my heart to His…

Lord, (continue) to break my heart for what breaks Yours.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Idolatry of Self

At the Mission I work at, we often talk about “idols” in relation to them hampering our spiritual walk and growth. The Old Testament talks a lot about idolatry, but the New Testament doesn’t speak much specifically about idolatry. There is a reason for this however. As I learned yesterday, the New Testament version of “idols” or “idolatry” is the idea or concept of “lust”. While the OT speaks of idols, the NT speaks of lusts…they are, in fact, to be taken the same way.

I have been thinking a lot lately about idols/lusts. As I contemplate this, I am reminded that idolatry is anything that turns my focus or heart away from God and His Glory. Of course, this can be any number of things, but what I have found out about myself is that I have ONE really BIG idol/lust in my life. The rest is periphery to this big one. The rest of my sin, actually, flows right from this ONE idol. You might be saying: yeah right!?!? How can you have only one idol or lust??

We are quick to pin the devil, the world, demons, etc. on our failures and sinning. While there is certainly some merit and reason to think this, it likely only makes up a fraction of our sin. For instance, if Satan is bound to be one place at one time, I highly doubt he is waiting for me to wake up each morning and then follows me to work and sits in my office to tempt me. Ha! I am not that important! I am thinking he would rather spend his time with, perhaps….politicians…hehe..What I really think is that most of my sin can be contributed to good ole me…my flesh…myself…So that got me to thinking about where my idols/lusts lay. And I boiled it down to one simple, yet big, conclusion. My big idol simply put is: SELF. Every other idol or lust simply flows out of my insatiable desire to please, protect, and advance myself. I am so selfish. I am selfish with my time. my money. my gifts. my energy. my lifestyle. I could go on and on. I want total, unilateral control of my life. I may say I believe and want God’s control and will for my life..that is wonderful lip service. But one need not look to deep into my life and lifestyle to find that I am the one who really wants to drive my life and lifestyle. Then, this idol of self gives birth to many different idols. But inevitably I can always trace back a sinful action, thought, desire, etc. to the fact that I care more about myself than any other thing, including God.

Certainly getting married has helped this. Having a baby has helped. Being involved in missions has helped. But none of these things in and of themselves have been able to break me of the care and self-love I have.

In times which the Spirit has truly led me, as opposed to my flesh, I have found freedom, mercy, love, grace, and redemption from my idol of self. I try to tap into my Spirit to guide and lead my days and actions, but also understand that the battle will be lifelong and often times labor in vain.

Oh how I long to slay you, self. I long to love you, Lord, above all else. I long to love others as myself. I long to seek first your Kingdom. I long to walk humbly, to love mercy, to fear the Lord. God, save me from this perishable tent, save me, I ask of you, from mySELF.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

(Ordinary) Radical Evangelicals

(Ordinary) Radical Evangelicals emerged in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s as a broad-based movement of Christians who sought to integrate evangelism and the work of justice, live incarnationally among the poor, form Christian communities and critique aspects of Western culture and the Church.

The term came into prominence at the 1974 Lausanne Congress of World Evangelization when some two hundred delegates calling themselves “The Radical Discipleship Group” drew up a Response to Lausanne which called for a greater focus of the work of justice and service to the poor (Langmead, 94).

This diverse and global Evangelical movement emerged due to a complex set of contributing factors. These included: exposure to the counter-cultural movements of the 1960’s; involvement in new forms of urban mission among people alienated from church and society; interaction between Third World Radical Evangelical theologians and practitioners and their First World counterparts; impact of Charismatic Renewal opening people to the creative work of the Spirit; and exposure to more radical theologies such as Anabaptist theology and that of the liberation theologians.

To get some sense of what this global movement is about, it is important to note some of the theological emphases of these Evangelicals. These centre around the following themes: salvation is both the gift of Christ’s grace and the call to serve God’s Kingdom purposes in the world; salvation thus issues into a discipleship that is expressed in an imitatio Christi that calls Christians to live the way of Christ in the world; salvation is never only personal in that it also calls us into community and solidarity; this community is the missional people of God sent by Father, Son and Holy Spirit to be a sign, servant and sacrament of the Reign of God; this community in Christ is a community of worship, formation and identificational service to the world.

(Ordinary) Radical Evangelicals place themselves in the whole story of Scripture since it reveals a God who is both wholly Other and who is wholly involved in the world sustaining it and redeeming it. At the same time, they are particularly impacted by the social justice vision of the Pentateuch; the OT prophetic vision of shalom, justice and the new community; the theology and praxis of the Jesus Movement as portrayed in the gospels; the in-breaking of the Kingdom in the power of the Spirit as told in the book of Acts; the Pauline Vision of new life in Christ in the new community beyond culture, class, gender and economic differences and the nature of the fallen powers that need to be exposed, resisted and redeemed; and finally the vision of hope in new heavens and a new earth.

In the light of these biblical and theological emphases, (Ordinary) Radical Evangelicals see themselves as a prophetic counter-community in the world while being wholly engaged in the suffering and brokenness of the human community. Thus they practice radical hospitality. They seek to be a healing presence. They are committed to peace-making and the work of justice.



credit: Charles Ringma

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Book of the Shepherd

My book review as a contributor of such for: http://www.theooze.com/

"The Book of the Shepherd" is a well written fable by Joann Davis. From the get go, I was motivated and intrigued by the subtitle, "The Story of One Simple Prayer, and How it Changed the World." I was asking myself, "What kind of prayer changed the whole world?" Of course, I already had a little list in my head going. But I was definitely curious to find out the secret of this particular book....

I was not disappointed, to say the least. The fable unfolds by weaving poignant messages/themes with powerful character development in a seamless storyline. Each character had his/her own unique story within the bigger story, and learns more about him/herself and the ways of the world during their integrated journey together of a quest to find timeless truth (i.e. the prayer that changed the world). I found myself engaged in the journey with them and pondering what self-discovery I was making, or how I could relate to each character's story. Slipping in and out of the story, I kept trying to figure out what the major theme was of the book. I wish I hadn't approached the book like this, it was not a good method. Reflecting back, I can now see that. as always, its more about the story and the process of the getting the answers than the actual end point itself.

I recommend this book if you need a break from didactic books, etc. It is entertaining. You will find yourself engaged in the characters and their stories and the bigger story that encompasses the entire fable. And in the end you will finally find out which prayer changed the whole world....

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Another World is Possible: Combating Gun Violence

This past Saturday I attended a prayer vigil coordinated and led by the Simply Way of Philadelphia. The event was so meaningful and emotional, that I wanted to share my thoughts and observations about it.

Gun violence is plaguing urban cities. In very recent years, on average, a homicide a day was happening in the city of Philadelphia. About two weeks ago, a young man, 19, was gunned down on the street that the Simple Way is located. “At about midnight we heard the shots ring out. My friend ran to the door and I heard him yell, “Shane (Claiborne), a kid has been shot, come down.” As we looked down the street we could see a young man staggering as he walked down our block. Then his knees gave out and he fell to the ground. We called for an ambulance, and ran outside to be with the boy. My friend talked to him tenderly, looking into his eyes as they struggled to stay alert. We could see the wounds in his chest, torn by bullets. I grabbed his hand and held it as we prayed… and as we hoped. The ambulance came and drove him off. The next morning we heard that 19-year old Papito died that night from the gunshot wounds, on February 5, 2010. Papito was the fourth shooting in the last few months within walking distance from our house (Simple Way).”

You have to start asking yourself, what types of solutions can Followers of Christ play a role in to combat violence, and promote nonviolence. Certainly Simple Way’s presence in Kensington is one. Incarnational ministry is arguably the most effective method of ministry to combat urban evil and injustice. Another way is making public and acknowledging suffering and death within these contexts. And that was what this prayer vigil was about. The gun shop the vigil was done in front of is called “The Shooter Shop”. “It appears the Shooter Shop has long been known to both law enforcers and criminals as a prime source of illegal guns to the street market in Pennsylvania and other states. According to an analysis of ATF data from 1969 to 2000, the Shooter Shop was among the 120 top gun stores in the country in terms of guns it sold that were eventually recovered from crime (Note: The Tiahrt Amendment to ATF appropriations blocks public access to more recent data). ATF calls such info a likely indicator of a gun store being a source of gun trafficking. Traffickers know which gun dealers will look the other way when a straw buyer seeks to make a bulk buy of handguns, so they frequent those stores. The Shooter Shop is in the portion of Philly gun dealers whose guns are consistently recovered from crime.”

I don’t know what I was thinking as I arrived at the event. For some reason, I pictured a small group gathered on a street corner praying, crying, singing, etc. Certainly this part of the equation there…but it was only half of the equation. Let me explain. My rough estimates is that there were about 100 like-minded individuals there for the prayer vigil. However, there were about 20 or so protesting our presence that were there also. This certainly caused a little bit of a scene. There were 3 police vans filled with cops, police on the streets, reporters, people filming the event, etc. all present. It was this I was na├»ve about. I am not sure what I was thinking, I was living in ignorance in this moment. Of course people would not like what we were doing, what we stood for. Every time we began to pray or sing, the counter-protestors, all brandishing their American flags broke out into, “God Bless America.” We were met with a bunch of other slander, but no need to restate those words here. Words can’t describe the contrast, but it was very real. The thought kept coming to my mind that I also had when I heard Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh’s comments on Haiti: I just felt bad and hurt for them. I felt so much pain that they chose to be malicious and tried to be hurtful towards us. While they were yelling at us, I silently prayed for them. This was definitely my Spirit interceding, as my flesh battled (but thankfully lost) to feel anger towards them. One of our fellow participants said (paraphrasing), “I think if they actually dialogued with us, they would see we have a lot more in common than they think.” This is very true. We weren’t there to dispute the “right to bear arms”, like many alleged. The purpose was in fact to have the store owner sign a Code of Conduct (http://www.heedinggodscall.org/content/code-conduct ) , a ten- point covenant created by a national association of Mayors committed to decreasing violence on the streets, not to stop selling arms period.

Unfortunately, the gun shop owner did not sign this covenant on this day. But I feel we were doing what God had called us to do at that time, and to do it for Papito and the hundreds of others who are victims of violent crime.

One such law we all are pursuing in Pennsylvania would limit the number of guns to “One Handgun a Month”. Part of the problem is that there are no limitations to how many guns folks can buy which is why the end up being resold on the streets by “straw purchasers.” We are not even trying to stop the “right to bear arms”, we’re just saying maybe one handgun a month is enough. And for those of us who are Christians, Jesus sure didn’t have a much to say about the right to bear arms but had a heck of a lot to say about loving our enemies… so we hope Christians of conscience can help lead this important struggle for peace.

It’s another piece of the puzzle to create a better world. It’s not the only, or whole solution…but it’s certainly a piece. Come, Dream with me: Another world is possible.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Beat the Defense Budget into a Plowshare

A wonderful, thought-provoking article by Shane Claiborne that I had to re-post.

Almost exactly 4 years ago, more than 100 faith leaders from around the country went to jail together as we prayed for a moral budget and lamented the current one. I think it may be time to do it again.

On Oct. 28, 2009, President Obama signed into law the $680 billion 2010 National Defense Authorization Act, the largest military spending bill of its kind, increasing the military budget 24 billion from the last fiscal year.

With all the hope for an end to the recession, military spending does seem to be the open wound of America (and perhaps no coincidence that the military budget is almost the same as the bailout package). The military spending is the elephant in the room any time we speak of health care for all or reforming the broken education system; one wonders how much good we can do when nearly half of every tax dollar goes to the military. Dr. King’s words ring truer than ever: “A country that spends more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching a spiritual death.”

The U.S. is now paying over $16 billion a year just to maintain its nuclear arsenal, an arsenal so big it takes the next 50 countries combined to even get close. I did a little research recently and talked to some folks in DC just to wrap my hands around the numbers. Using the Hiroshima bomb as a measuring unit (and remembering that this bomb killed 140,000 people in one blast, and 90 of these bombs could blow up all of Russia), the U.S. now has the equivalent of more than 122,000 Hiroshimas. How many times do we need to be able to blow up the world? It must break God’s heart. As Jesus wept over Jerusalem because it did not know the things that lead to peace, Jesus must be weeping over America today.

It is my prayer that we would have the courage and imagination to beat these “swords into plows” — to turn the things that have brought death into things that bring life. As the rate of soldiers dying by suicide has now outnumbered those dying in combat, it is time for us to say “enough” to the sword which we have picked up and died by over and over. It is time to choose another future than wars and rumors of wars. And perhaps it is time once again to pray on the steps of Congress for a moral budget… and to go to jail as we pray.

Shane Claiborne is a Red Letter Christian and a founding partner of The Simple Way community, a radical faith community that lives among and serves the homeless in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. He is the co-author, with Chris Haw, of Jesus for President.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Justice Project


My book review as a contributor of such for: www.theooze.com .

Increasingly, the voices for social justice in the Christian world are being brought forth and heard. One needs not to look very deep or far to find a book dedicated to the various topics of justice, faith, and what that means for Christians living in the most global of times. The Justice Project is a wonderful addition to this endeavor. Instead of hearing from one author on the topics, the book is comprised of several short essays, done by several different people, leading different walks of life, in different spheres of society, in different countries, but all with the same prophetic passion for justice.

This book tackles subjects such as, God’s call for justice, what it means to have just elections, just ecology, just business, just suburbs, just cities, and so forth. The book really does hit on several key facets of life, and because of this would be relevant to any person who read it.

This book sure did broaden my scope of understating justice, even if I didn’t agree with every single contributor. It made me think about issues and concerns that I would otherwise have been ignorant of. Truth be told, I learned that justice is more complicated and complex than I could have ever imagined.

One critique that I would have of this book is that, while I loved the format of having several short essays by many different writers, the book failed to really dive deep into any one topic. I was often left wishing I just didn’t hear about the core, fundamental aspects of the given topic, but also some in-depth wrestling and fleshing out of them. Having said that, however, I do realize that this perhaps was the goal of the book: to give an overview of justice.

Nevertheless, I feel this book does add a harmonious voice to the emerging issues of justice and faith. We are on the cusp of a radical (re)calibrating of faith, of which I am excited to be a part of. Jenell Williams Paris, professor of sociology and anthropology at Messiah College in Pennsylvania describes this well in her essay, “A Tradition of Justice,” saying, “I was raised in the twentieth-century polarities of social justice versus evangelicalism and evangelicalism versus liberalism. There is much in my heritage I cherish, but I must choose how to make the most of my life and generation. The emergent conversation offers hope for assessing and appropriating reigning, recent, and ancient paradigms and practices in wise ways, creating fresh ways to nourish ourselves and our world. In deconstructing reigning paradigms and pursuing new contextualizations of faith and life, we will by necessity learn from and appropriate practices from Christian brothers and sisters of all times and places. There’s nothing new about Christian concern for justice, but it’s a new day in which we may carry forward the cause.”

Read it. Apply it. Seek justice.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Urbana 2009: Final Thoughts, Part I

I am finding it hard to believe Urbana is already over a week old. I seriously wonder how long it will take before my spiritual “high” wears off. I remember having the same type of experience in 2003, and it was about a month or so and I was cooled down. I believe there are several reasons for this, including:

1. Lack of Community: 16,000 people who love missions 24/7 and being around the same co-workers constantly day after day has a way of building amazing community that is not easily duplicated in the "real world".
2. Sin: For me, its much easier to get back into sin patterns when I am in the routine of my daily life.
3. The Real World: Worshipping, learning, and encouraging God’s global cause is extremely awesome…and extremely rare! But sometime I had to go back to Philly and stop learning in order to start applying what I learned…that’s tough.
4. Laziness/Loss of Tenacity: I had some magical time with the Lord, and felt His presence during the Urbana week that is hard to duplicate. Having time focused away from God (i.e. everyday life) towards other things dampens my spiritual awareness.
5. Time: They say, time heals all wounds. Why is that? Because time has a way of making us forget on many levels. This will undoubtedly chip away at my high.

So the battle is ON! The question isn't whether or not I will lose this spiritual intenseness, but when. I am fully aware of that. However, until that happens I am tuned into God like I haven’t been in a while and am fully convinced He will teach and show me a lot in 2010.

God has given me some time to process and pray about the Urbana event. I wanted to share some highlights, but more than just my voice, I have also included insight gathered from other Urbana attendees. The amazing thing about Urbana is that it touched people in many ways. I thought for sure everyone would be moved to incarnational, missional ministry and learn about God’s heart for justice. But, as always, God is bigger than that…let me share.

Urbana is the largest North American missions conference. Students, missions staff, businesspeople, etc. all gather under one roof to concentrate on global missions and the challenges and issues surrounding the 21st century. So, I fully expected to learn only about missions and how to apply it to my life devoted to the undertaking. Well, this may have been the case for me…but for others, God touched them in different ways. One Urbana attendee mentioned that they heard from God and came away from Urbana with a renewed understanding of what it meant that Jesus came to “dwell with us”. “The theme, He dwelled among us, was a powerful and heartening message to me. To have the reminder that He lived here on earth as a human interacting with other humans in similar situations is overwhelming. This emphasized to me that He is here and understands my life experiences!” stated the attendee. Here I thought this conference would only speak to missions…yet this person heard God speak through such a personal, intimate encounter. God was bigger than my assumptions.

One dear sister decided to sign a commitment card saying she will do long-term missions. She is 1 of 2,500 who would make such a commitment. What a calling! She is dedicated to making Christ known among the nations. Could there be a better calling, a better commitment? I think not! She said, “I remember being at the Sending Center in August when I met you (Grant), I was so depressed and sad and bitter towards God for calling me abroad and then bringing me back that I was kinda done with it. But I'm so thankful you invited me to Urbana. So to start, I remembered my heart at Urbana, that I do care about global missions, that I have a calling in my life that I can't ignore.”

This was my second Urbana event. I am confounded on how much I have changed in the last 6 years since attending the 2003 event as a delegate, and equally as confounded about how little I have changed! I have definitely been challenged to start addressing areas in my life that need addressing. Another attendee who had also been to 2 different Urbana’s phrased it brilliantly, “(I am) being called out on my desire to be a part of everything while actually contributing nothing. In other words, wanting the results without the sacrifice. This covers many areas, from facilitation ministry to advocacy, but in reality it is all the same root problem.” I couldn’t agree more. I do a lot of reading, thinking, posturing and very little time actually contributing. This is something I fully expect to tackle head on in 2010…and I will encourage this other dear sister to do likewise. This is a beautiful aspect of Christian community: accountability.

So, God showed up…did you think He wouldn’t?!?! For some, He was the loving Father showing the enormity of the Incarnation. For some, He moved the Spirit inside of them to continue in this magnificent call of bringing the Gospel to the nations. For others, He showed us we aren’t alone being concerned for social justice issues. And others, He showed us areas we need to grow in.

“I feel like my time in Urbana was probably the closest thing to heaven I have ever experienced. To worship and come to the Lord's table with 16,000 others, singing songs in multiple languages. It was a taste of what to hope for. And the best line of the whole conference was when Greg Jao said "it's time to leave" and then when everyone moaned, he said in a serious tone, "FOLKS, if we stay here, we have failed as a conference. The point is to GO." The vision of our worship made me more inspired and gave me more of a purpose to GO, to participate with God's redemption of the world as He brings Heaven to Earth,” stated the Urbana 2009 delegate.

The Word Became Flesh and Dwelled Among Us. Urbana 2009. A Piece of Heaven on Earth.
Part II to follow…..

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Urbana '09: The Gospel, The Environment, The New Year, New Missionaries, DAYS 4 and 5



Truthfully I will confess that I got way to busy and consumed with the Urbana conference to keep blogging each day. But I want to be faithful in informing everyone of the amazing things that took place. To be a witness to what God did at Urbana. This post will share about day's 4 and 5, and I will write a final post in the very near future about the whole event and application of it. But I do need some more time to process it all....

DAY 4:
This was a unique day. The morning session was quite emotional as R. York Moore presented the gospel message. I sat there listening to the penetrating words. Even now it brings tears to my eyes. Moore, a powerful communicator to say the least, didn't mince words. The power is in Christ. Salvation is in Christ. Exclusivity is in Christ. Perhaps a sign and symbol of 21st century altar calls, Moore invited those who made a decision for Christ to raise a green glow stick in the air as a sign of their new faith. The guy next to me did so. In fact, when I remember the talk...the guy had is head bowed most of the session....writing...thinking...praying...digesting the Call. This man, an Indian student, became a Follower of Christ that morning. I grabbed and rubbed his shoulder and whispered to him, "My brother...." What a morning.

The afternoon was a busy one at the WHM booth. There were no seminars scheduled, as this was a day dedicated to allowing the delegate to do as they wish. This could mean praying alone...spending time with friends to process...meditating...or visiting different missions organizations! WHM decided to ship an additional 400 water bottles to Urbana for us to give away. We blew through those in a matter of hours. We had to save some for the final day, so we hid the last 30 or so for the final hour plus of booth time. The young lady I mentioned in my Day 2 post came back by our booth today to see me. She was visibly emotional and shaken. I tried to care for her and be gentle with her. She talked for me a bit. She had been to many booths and I could tell that the overall event was impacting her in tangible ways. I asked if she was ok. She had a hard time communicating to me at that moment....but before she left, she thanked me for praying for her the previous day. She said it meant a lot to her and that no other person had done that with her. She just wanted to thank me. I said, "Well lets pray again!!" We prayed again and she went on her way. Now, I am not saying I prayed with every person that came by the booth...not even close...but I did feel God telling me to pray with her, so I seized that opportunity (another Urbana theme) and did it and God blessed it. Its part of being incarnational...taking advantage of the moment God gives you, in that particular time and space. As she walked away I told her that God would use her for His Kingdom, to press on, to follow his lead. She waved good-bye. Who knows what will come of this. But at WHM we have a value to shepherd and pastor individuals, especially college students, in their calling. This is an example of what I tried to do this week.

The night session focused on environmental issues. I had a dinner with some WHM interns and did not hear the speaker. I walked in at the end of her talk and heard the resounding applause and figured out quickly it must have been a good sermon! Since I didn't hear it, I wont speak much on it, but I am thrilled and pleased that InterVarsity, a huge missions presence in the Evangelical world (i.e. 16,000 people at one conference!!), took the initiative to highlight this issue and that, as being Followers of Christ, the environment and the earth DO matter. Stewarding the earth is a biblical mandate. I am glad younger Christians all over the world are wrestling with environmental issues. When I was growing up the mantra was, "The earth is dying and going to hell anyway, so who cares about the environment!" I am glad God has delivered me from that self-absorbed, callous, nonchalant attitude towards the earth.

InterVarsity's modest counts said that about 400 people made decisions for Christ this day. Praise God for this! Thank you Lord! May your glory fill the earth!

DAY 5: The Final Day
The culminating event of Urbana: 16,000 people worshipping and praising God up until the turn of the new year at midnight. An innovative and thoughtful approach by InterVarsity to end the conference. My culminating feelings were that we have now been impacted and challenged by the idea of Christ's incarnation (i.e. He dwelled among us). Hwo would we respond? As 2010 is ushered in, how will this idea of incarnational ministry move you to change, to sustain, or to begin new efforts in this area. It will look different for each and every one of us...but God is calling us to act, the move out, to proclaim His message to the world.

The final day at the booth was memorable. Final estimations are that WHM added over 750 people to our facebook fan page, a far cry from the goal of 400 we had set out. Truth be told, it could have been much more if we had more water bottles, but nevertheless, God used this number for us to share what He is doing in WHM and to share the vision of ministry He has given us. We raffled away the remaining 25 or so bottles we had, a similar idea that other organizations were employing to end Urbana '09. I had more memorable interactions with those seeking out missions. As we would find out, over 2,500 people who attended Urbana made commitments to do long-term missionary service in their lives. That is truly amazing as God sends a new generation of missionaries to the field...with new callings and new ways of doing ministry. Long gone are the days of missions in which the soul is the lone focus of ministry. The body and soul (i.e. the spirit and flesh) are now on the minds of these students. As a presenter would prophetically declare, "Justice and missions cannot be separated." Amen.

We dismantled the WHM booth in record time. We then joined the rest of Urbana in the final hours of 2009 praising God. All of us WHM folk sat together for this last evening session. We heard testimonies of how God used little acts of faith to make giant-sized waves throughout His Kingdom. We just need to step out in faith and share Christ, and He will give the increase...that cannot be denied! We sang...we lifted our hands to God...we danced....we yelled...we cried...we laughed...and rang in 2010 praising God in Spanish song. What a beautiful display of Heaven come to earth, of the expression of all tribes, tongues, and nations before God. The Word became Flesh and Dwelled Among Us. He moved into our neighborhoods. He is redeeming ALL things. He is in the midst of us. Its time to ACT!