Archive for November, 2006

Beirut Postponed

Thursday, November 30th, 2006

 Articleimages Lebanon Protests Beirut Web

I was scheduled to be in Lebanon this week and then on to Egypt. The travel has been postponed.

With all the turmoil and unrest in the region as a result of the assassination of Pierre Gemayel, the purpose of going was defeated. The ability to travel, move around the city, meet with people, etc., is next to impossible. Our folks living and serving in the region wrote:

“After several contacts yesterday and today with many people who are very well connected with the different factions in the country at the highest levels, we were informed that the upcoming week is very critical and it is most likely that Beirut airport would be closed due to the planned demonstrations and actions. Once things start it is not clear when and how it will end. The situation is very critical and outcomes could go any direction.”

Change

Tuesday, November 28th, 2006

Change[1]

“If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” —Woodrow Wilson,

“It is not merely that changes in our world demand new responses from us. The very foundations of society have changed.” —Craig Van Gelder

“A church which pitches its tents without constantly looking out for new horizons, which does not continually strike camp, is being untrue to its calling… (we must) play down our longing for certainty, accept what is risky, and live by improvisation and experiment.” —Hans Kung

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” —Alvin Toffler

“Uncertainty is the only thing to be sure of.”—Anthony Muh

“If you don’t like change, you’re going to like irrelevance even less.” —General Eric Shinseki

“If things seem under control, you’re just not going fast enough.” —Mario Andretti

“It is generally much easier to kill an organization than change it substantially.” —Kevin Kelly

“There will be more confusion in the business world in the next decade than in any decade in history. And the current pace of change will only accelerate. —Steve Case

Critiques of the West

Sunday, November 26th, 2006

Qutb

Sayyid Qutb is considered the father off modern Islamic radicalism. An Egyptian writer and poet, he was executed by Gamal Nasser in 1966. Yet what he wrote still reverberates throughout the Islamic world and profoundly affects Muslim perceptions of Western culture. About the U.S. (where he studied as an exchange student), he wrote in a famous polemic,
The America I have Seen:

“This great America: What is it worth in the scale of human values? And what does it add to the moral account of humanity? And, by the journey’s end, what will its contribution be? I fear that a balance may not exist between American’s material greatness and the quality of its people. And I fear that the wheel of life will have turned and the book of life will have closed and America will have added nothing, or next to nothing, to the account of morals that distinguishes man from object, and indeed, mankind from animals.”

Compare that perspective and the striking similarities with these passages from Pope Benedict XVI in his 1990 book, In the Beginning:

Pope Benedict Xvi

“The good and the moral no longer count, it seems, but only what one can do. The measure of a human being is what he can do, and not what he is, not what is good or bad. What he can do, he may do . . . And that means that he is destroying himeslf and the world . . . [The question] ‘What can we do?’ will be false and pernicious while we refrain from asking ‘who are we?’ The question of being and the question of our hopes are inseparable.”

Both works are biting critiques of the bankruptcy of Western culture. It is not unlike the extensive treatment that Protestant theologian, Os Guinness, produced 30 years ago entitled, The Dust of Death, which articulately dissected the same spiritual poverty. Or consider the works of Alexander Solzenitzen which do the same.

While intellectually understanding such critiques, the emotional impact was driven home to me on my first visit to Beirut several years ago. Particularly jarring was the visual displays of wealth, materialism, sex and sensuality that were everywhere in the so called “Christian” enclaves. I saw, and actually felt, for the first time what devout Muslims must see and feel when confronted with the decadence of Western culture. It is a decadence that I suspect I have become numb to because it is the social and moral ocean in which I swim.

Perhaps it takes a Benedict, a Guinness, or a Solzenitzen to jar us to reality. Or a Sayyid who helps give us insight into the passions that motivate devout young Arabs to strap explosives around their waists and blow up soldiers from Western nations.

(The comparison between Sayyid and Benedict are based on an article by John L. Allen Jr. in the 11/16/06 Op Ed section of the Los Angeles Times).

Why the Spread of Christianity?

Saturday, November 25th, 2006

Jesus In The Sisiine Chape
I believe the History of Christianity by Kenneth Scott Latourette, the esteemed Yale historian, is the most comprehensive and rich overview of the Christian movement ever written.

The genius of the work is in its perspective. Unlike reading dry church history—which for me is akin to eating sawdust—Latourette is dynamic and vibrant. He brings to life the great epochs of the Faith and views Christianity through the twin lenses of expansion and decline. His is a history of a movement.

In his first volume, he outlines an array of reasons that led non-believer to embrace the Christian faith. In summary, the reasons are:

Signs and wonders, supernatural healing and demonic deliverance.
An explanation of the purpose of life.
People’s religious hunger and a sense of moral impotence were met.
The discovery of ‘truth’ in Christ.
Christian churches were the most inclusive and the strongest of all the various associations in the Roman world. They cared for the poor, the imprisoned, the aged and the infirmed. Solidarity of fellowship.
Inclusive of all races and classes, both men and women
Combination of flexibility and uncompromising adherence to its basic convictions.
Constancy of the martyrs.
Christianity lived the moral transformation which it demanded. High morality.
Miracle of moral rebirth.
Immortality by pointing to the historic Jesus.
Committed fellowship and a community of worship and mutual aid.
A faith sanctioned by immemorial antiquity as it pointed to the long record preserved in what it termed the Old Testament.
Intellectual satisfaction by presenting literature prepared by some of the ablest minds of the day.

    But he leaves the best for last. He points to one feature that stands out above all else. He writes:
    “Careful and honest investigation can give but one answer, Jesus.

    It was faith in Jesus and his resurrection which gave birth to the Christian fellowship and which continued to be its inspiration and its common tie. It was the love displayed in Christ which was, ideally and to a marked extent in practice, the bond which held Christians together.

    The early disciples united in declaring that it was from the command of Jesus that the Gospel was proclaimed to all, regardless of sex, race or cultural background. The new life in Christ might express itself in many forms, but its authenticity was to be proved by high, uncompromising moral qualities as set forth by Jesus. Hence the combination of flexibility and inflexibility.

    As against the mystery religions, those cults which had so much superficial similarity to Christianity, it was partly belief in God, partly a theology, a metaphysic, which gave the latter its advantage, but it was chiefly that as against the mythical figures at the heart of the mysteries, Christians could point to Jesus, an historical fact.

    Through the Holy Spirit promised by Jesus came the moral transformations which were so marked in the Christian fellowship. The loyalty of the martyrs was to Christ, and his example and the promise of eternal life through him sere their sustaining strength. It was through the sign of his cross or by the use of his name that miracles were wrought. It was a true insight, even if exercised in derision, which named the members of the new faith Christians and in the city where non-Jews were first won in large numbers. Without Jesus, Christianity would never have been and from him came the distinctive qualities which won it the victory.”

    *Painting is Christ at the Last Judgement, Sistine Chapel, Rome.


    “A History of Christianity: Beginnings to 1500” (Kenneth Scott Latourette)


    “A History of Christianity: Reformation to the Present (Volume 2: AD 1500 - AD 1975)” (Kenneth Scott Latourette)

Cry for Lebanon

Thursday, November 23rd, 2006

Lebanon Demonstration

CRM has several families living and serving in Lebanon. This is the latest from the leader of the team, a Lebanese national:

Once again Lebanon and the Lebanese have fallen victim to the vicious hand of evil!

You no doubt have heard of the assassination of Pierre Amine Gemayel. His murder may easily trigger civil unrest particularly at this very sensitive period in the history of Lebanon.

Directly after his murder, many Lebanese flooded the streets blocking roads, burning tires and photos of political opponents… In several parts of Beirut, the Internal Security had to intervene to stop fights between people affiliated with opposing factions. The funeral is scheduled for tomorrow and hundreds of thousands are going to take the streets.

This comes at a time when we embarking on new ministry opportunities and many doors are opening in normally closed communities. While our country and people have grown used to times of crisis and difficulty, our hearts are burdened with sorrow. Nevertheless, we are not afraid knowing that our God is in control.

Please pray for Lebanon and the Lebanese; for wisdom at all levels and the avoidance of reactions that lead to further strife in the country. May God have mercy on our people and country.

Traits of Good Leaders

Tuesday, November 21st, 2006

Soaring-Eagle

At the turn of the century, TIME magazine ran an article on
“Managing to be the Best …The century’s smartest bosses have influence beyond their companies.” These observations stood out:

“Do these four share common traits other than their leadership and superb business acumen? (the four are Coke’s Robert Goizueta, GE’s Jack Welch, GM’s Alfred Sloan, and Panasonic’s Konosuke Matsushita). Yes.

They were curious folks and hence lifelong learners. And they paid attention to people, realizing that the potential of any enterprise hinged on giving subordinates the maximum opportunity to succeed. Even in the 21st century, these characteristics will still be required of great managers.”

Spiritual Formation and Spiritual Disciplines

Sunday, November 19th, 2006

Potter And Clay
Richard Foster comments in the November Renovare newsletter:

“We refuse to think of spiritual formation in terms of various practices . . . ever.

In another era those practices were things like ‘a quiet time’ and Bible study of one sort or another. Today it is Lectio Divina and ‘journaling.’ May I say as clearly as possible: Christian spiritual formation has nothing essentially to do with such practices. Many practices can be genuinely helpful in their place, but they are not ‘it.’

What is ‘it’ is LIFE—life with Jesus, interactive relationship with the great God of the universe, inner transformation into Christlikeness.

Now, this reality can happen with Lectio and with ‘journaling,’ and it can happen without them. It can, and it does!

The tendency today, unfortunately widespread, is to think of spiritual formation exclusively in terms of practices of one kind or another. Please, dear friend, do not fall into this trap. It will only produce legalism and bondage, and it utterly defeats spiritual formation. Many of the familiar practices are useful, to be sure, and some more than others. But none is essential. We all are to walk with the living Christ and then ‘in humility regard others as better than yourselves.’ (Phil. 2:3).”

Send Cash?

Thursday, November 16th, 2006

The Poor

“Dangling money in front of desparately poor people is very hazardous. it is generally safer and more effective to send loving workers than cash.”—Missiologist Ralph Winter, Mission Frontiers Magazine, Sept/Oct 2005, pg. 12.

Being the presence in word and deed of Jesus is the most powerful means of transforming lives and society in any cultural setting. While the generous and wise use of information, resources, technology and money cannot be ignored and have their proper place, nothing speaks as potently as the good news of Jesus lived out as a personal, on-the-ground presence among those in need.

Of course the prime example of this is how God himself deals with humanity when he ‘”became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” (John 1:14)

Unfortunately for those of us in North America, such a reality grates against some of our deeply imbedded biases. We trust technological solutions and too often believe throwing gobs of money at a problem—apart from presence—can solve almost anything. And the time, effort and agony required of incarnation is a sacrifice most of us are unwilling to make.

American Christianity is sadly enamored with a cross-cultural missions ethos dominated by short-term experiences, shallow spirituality and naive missiology, all awash in enormous amounts of cash, the sum of which is a fleeting panacea for the desperation of the human condition

Leadership Issues in Asia

Tuesday, November 14th, 2006

Singapore Skyline
I just returned from Asia. Singapore to be exact.

Although I don’t feel like a novice in this part of the world, every cross-cultural experience generates fresh insight and understanding and this trip was no different. As I look at the enormous complexities facing the Christian movement in Asia, several observations and questions emerged such as:

The Church in Asia continues to step up in assuming its rightful place and contribution to the worldwide Christian movement.

One cannot help but be impressed by the zeal and passion that characterizes Asian Christianity.

In settings such as Singapore (where this trip was concentrated), materialism has steadily acquired a vice grip on the culture and exercises a stifling effect on the missional vision of the Church.

How can new generations of leadership emerge in contexts where status, shame and saving face are such predominant values?

Authoritarian leaders who abuse their followers are unfortunately the norm, not the exception in this part of the world. How can such a dysfunctional cultural paradigm be replaced by biblical, servant leadership?

Related to the fixation on status is the compulsive drive for formal education. Too many people are sidelined from an effective contribution to kingdom involvement because of perceived inadequacies due to a lack of formal and advanced education. Sad.

There is significant emotional wounding, particularly in the lives of children. The obsession to achieve exerts enormous pressure.


I realize these are gross generalizations and not all Asian cultures are the same. Nevertheless, while the Church throughout Asia continues to grow in influence and stature on the global scene, zeal cannot paper over some of these deeply rooted issues. Unless honestly faced by Asian leaders, such issues will limit the contribution their nations can make to the Christian movement and a transformational influence on their own societies.

Ralph Winter on Holism

Monday, November 13th, 2006

 Acm Images Winter
“The most shocking, tragic and incredible delusion built right into contemporary Evangelicalism in many areas is the idea that we are here on earth simply to get more people fixed up for eternity.

That aspiration is basic, of course. But it’s preliminary to a life lived 24/7 in an all-out battle against those things that dishonor God: evil things, disease germs, corruption, dishonesty in industry and government. I John 3:8 says, ‘The Son of God came for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the Devil.’ And, as the Father sent Him, so He sends us!

In fact, glorifying God by fighting evil is the best way to win people to Christ. Jesus Himself, fought evil, dishonesty and greed—and disease. He did this to reveal to us the character of our heavenly Father.

It is no merely a case of overcoming evil with good, as when we run up against ‘flesh and blood.” We must also deliberately seek out and destroy evil in order to defend and confirm the character of our Father in Heaven.”

In Mission Frontiers, November, 2006.

New Book by Alan Hirsch

Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

Alan Hirsch
Alan Hirsch has just come out with a new book that I highly recommend, “The Forgotten Way: Reactivating the Missional Church..

In it, he makes a compelling case for the inherent spiritual DNA—what he calls “Apostolic Genius”—that exists in every individual who follows Jesus and in every community of such individuals.

It’s important reading for anyone serious about the future of the Christian movement and what is necessary for us to participate with the Spirit of God in the type of spiritual dynamics that can, and should, affect the course of history.


“The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church” (Alan Hirsch)