InnerCHANGE Romania

November 25th, 2007

Innerchange Romania-1
The focus of CRM’s InnerCHANGE team in Romania is Steps of Hope, a well-designed and led ministry to the younger generation which is making a substantive difference in breaking the crippling cycle of poverty among the poor.

Diane Moss leads this team and brings some great experience to bear after her eight years of work in Cambodia.

I’ve traveled throughout Romania since 1984 and have seen great changes throughout this land during these years. But despite now being part of the EU and other cosmetic advances, the vast majority of the population remains locked in the grip of poverty and hopelessness. These InnerCHANGE staff sow seeds that in years to come have the potential to be like the mustard seeds in the parables of Jesus. While almost unrecognizable to begin with, these seeds can eventually grow into something that will bring radical kingdom transformation to those at the bottom of a society in great need.

Moldova

November 20th, 2007

Dan Onu Moldova-1

Now the poorest nation in Europe, Moldova is struggling to overcome its communist past. However, the degree of social pathology and brokenness that exists in this nation can be overwhelming.

Dan Onu, pictured here, leads a team of Romanian missionaries who are generating a movement of new churches in Moldova. He and his apostolic band of pioneers have already planted three new churches and are putting in place an innovative “school for church planters” that will work with a dozen leaders at a time who can give birth to new groups of believers throughout the country. I had a chance to see it firsthand in early November.

CRM has been honored to work alongside Dan for many years. Also, CRM’s Enterprise International businesses in Romania have been a source of local funding to support these efforts. It’s been a powerful model.

Norway

November 19th, 2007

Oslo Cathedral-1

I just returned from Norway.

90% of Norway’s 4.6 million people are registered as members of the Church of Norway (the Lutheran Church). But beyond being sacramentalized (baptized, married and buried), only around 6% actively attend the services of this “state” church.

While all the signs are there—and increasing—that the age of Christendom is over in Norway, this particular institution is proving to be quite resilient. What sets it apart from other state churches, such as the Anglicans in England, are probably two factors. First, is the small size of the country and secondly the relative homogeneous make up of the population.

Power, privilege and position are rarely relinquished without a struggle and some considerable pain. This is beginning to happen in Norway as finances and steadily declining numbers are beginning to get the attention of the ecclesiastical powers to be. Whether they can respond in time in any way that can alter what seems like the inevitable trend in Western Europe, is a long shot.

But from my superficial observation, I think there may be hope, albeit slight, that the Church of Norway, or portions of it, could be given a new lease on life and that the winds of spiritual renewal and missionality could quite possibly blow again in this body. I suspect so for two reasons:

1. At its center, there remains a core of Lutherans deeply committed to the historic confessions of the church and its mission. There appear to be some godly, thoughtful people who make up a sizeable percentage in this body. Some of the younger leadership is particularly impressive although it includes many who are justifiably skeptic that anything can be done to save this sinking ecclesiological ship. There may be some Charles Simeon’s lurking in the shadows.

2. With its posture in Norwegian society, this church may have a unique opportunity to stem its decline and missionally reinvent itself. If the will is there, the resources may still exist to pull it off. My take is they are on the precipice of the cliff and about to fall off. Whether the leadership has the guts to make such wrenching changes is up for grabs. The historic vote this week by the Church of Norway to ordain openly practicing homosexuals is not an encouraging sign.


There is a lot to admire in Lutheran theology. But there are also aspects, particularly in its polity, that are contributing to the free fall that is occurring in Norway.

What is encouraging is that God and his kingdom purposes are not bound by such institutional limitations. As he has done repeatedly throughout redemptive history, God may work through and/or bypass such moribund structures and bring new life and fresh expressions of his presence to a people in need. May it be so in the land of fjords, brown cheese, and Pinnekjøtt.

Cross-cultureal Leadership

November 16th, 2007

Hungary Conext 07 Hungary Conext 07 #2
These are scenes from this year’s CoNext meetings held this past week in Kovagoors, Hungary, south of Budapest. Attending were seven nations where nationals lead CRM ministries: Australia, Venezuela, Hungary, Africa, the UK, the Middle East, and the US.

Keith Uebele, senior strategist with Intel and a member of the CRM-US board of directors did an excellent presentation on distributive organizations. Sessions were also spent delving together into topics such as recruiting and funding in our respective nations.

Most impressive was the depth of camaraderie around a sense of common calling and vision that superceded significant cultural and geographical differences. These are the men and women who are making it happen all over the globe …empowering leaders for the Church and multiplying the structures that can replicate an apostolic movement among the nations. It’s a privilege to be part of such a company of the committed.

From Iasi

November 11th, 2007

Iasi
As I write, it is early morning and I am looking out of the window of my room as a light snow begins to dust the ground here in Iasi, Romania.

Up in the Northeast corner of the country about 25 kilometers from the border of the former Soviet Union, Iasi has been one of the primary sites of CRM’s ministry in this country since the late 80s. Our focus here has been threefold over the years: a strong, individual discipling and mentoring work among younger leaders, business for mission, and an InnerCHANGE team.

The results of this patient, steady ministry these past two decades is nothing short of remarkable. It is a testimony to the power of presence. Some heroic people have given their all to help make it happen here on the ground, and others have faithfully partnered with us behind the scenes in prayer and through giving.

The results are transformational and are already altering the fabric of this society. It is a wonderful case study of the power of Jesus kingdom and how, despite human frailty, discouragement and sometime fierce opposition, the Spirit of God can bring new life in the midst of utter hopelessness.

Deo Gloria!

Urban Cultural Creatives

November 4th, 2007

Germany

I recently spent several days with these skuzzy characters in Germany to get acquainted with a missional community south of Heidelberg.

What we saw and experienced is a fascinating case study of an emerging church uniquely crafted for Europe. It is led and populated by young, urban, cultural creatives.

Every generation has had men and women like this, but as Western culture staggers into the 21st century, the magnitude of this demographic is significant and growing. The future of the Christian movement in a setting such as Europe depends largely on how historic faith leans into, and is absorbed, by this cultural milieu.

  • It is all about the creative arts …music, design, graphics, film, art, dance …

  • Music particularly is the lingua franca. It is the poetry and vehicle of emotional expression that crosses culture and speaks to the heart. Luther may have changed the world because of the printing press. In our day, it’s the iPod.

  • Media reigns. Film and video are no longer elitist but accessible to all in a flat, virtual democracy which provides unbounded outlets to creativity

  • It’s a profoundly urban phenomena influenced by all the swirling complexities of “the city” in which the majority of the population in the West now live.

No generation in human history has had the leisure time or the affluence that allows for young, urban, cultural creatives to become such a sociologically dominating class. Even when such individuals were elitist and in the past lived on the margins of Western society, the effect on the culture was powerful. How much more so today when the margin is now the center and by sheer numbers dictates the direction of popular culture?

For serious followers of Jesus, the real issue has become how expressions of the imago Dei are fully integrated into the missio Dei. The future of the West hangs in the balance.

The Township

November 3rd, 2007

Group

Soshanguve is a massive township north of Pretoria, South Africa. It’s hard to get an accurate count of how many people live there. Some say a million. Some say more. The name itself speaks volumes ..it’s a combination of the Sotho, Shangaan, Nguni and Venda peoples who were forcibly resettled in this area of Gauteng.

The group of men I’m with above come from all these different tribes, but they represent the hope and future of what God is doing in this place. They’re in their second year of meeting together and have been coached and mentored by CRM NieuCommunities staff.

Two Comfort Humble Leader

I was impressed with the maturity and the depth that I saw when I was with these younger leaders. Most of all, they have the potential for being catalysts around which fresh movements of new churches could emerge in this township and beyond. Men like this are the hope of Africa.

Back to the UK

November 1st, 2007

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Patty and I are living and working out of London for October and November.

Highlights so far include:

  • Living in Camden: Halloween is everyday in parts of this London borough.
  • Being consistently identified as a Canadian. I’m flattered. I’m also learning that it’s a better move to say “I’m actually from California” than to use the word “America.” The latter is not exactly popular in the European scene. Reminds me of that irritating ditty my grandparents used to say: “Oh, for the grace to see ourselves as others see us!”
  • Spending evenings in the clubs and pubs of Soho, Camden and Shoreditch, trying to learn and understand what life is like for the multitude of young, urban, cultural creatives who call this home.
  • Seeing more of the institutional church and why it’s struggling to not only to connect with a deeply secularized, post-modern culture but to actually survive.
  • Trying to get used to those baked beans in the English breakfast and the food combinations that are intriguing to Yankee taste buds.
  • Experiencing rugby mania and being grateful I never played such a bone crushing game. Those guys are huge!
  • Flying to South Africa with a 747 full of South African rugby fans after they won the world cup. Interesting.
  • The folks running the coffee shop were French, the lady next to me on the bus was Polish, the guy dishing up our soup at lunch was from Ghana, the doctor was Chinese, the therapist working on my sore knee was Portuguese, our friend and former landlord who came to lunch was a Turkish muslim, the lady taking my money for groceries was from India, the conversation on the tube was in Russian, and the Pizza Express waiter came from Sardinia. Kind of an aberration when one finally hears a “proper” British accent in this town.
  • A blocked up sewer in our building which meant the little patio in our basement flat became a flooded cesspool with all sorts of floating excremental delicacies.
  • Being told by a London cop, when asking for directions, that “You colonials don’t know how to talk.”
  • Discovering that Westminster Abbey has been a place where Christians have gathered to worship every day for the past 1,000 years.
  • Coming close to meeting my maker several times when I looked the wrong way crossing the street.
  • Trying to grasp how such a society combines lots of rules, understatement, a penchant for the “proper,” moral license, stiff upper lips, ethnic tolerance, resistance to change, no guns, clear social stratification, few orthodontists, and marvelous pubs, all into one cultural stew-pot. Fascinating!

Divine Contacts

September 25th, 2007

Divine Contact

One of the ways God exercises his sovereign leading in a person’s life is through what J. Robert Clinton and others refer to as “divine contacts.”

While the concept may seem embarrassingly obvious, it is the simplicity itself that makes it easy to overlook and consequently miss the powerful and intentional way God often leads through such a relationship.

Clinton defines a divine contact as:

A person whom God brings in contact with a leader at a crucial moment in a developmental phase in order to accomplish one or more of the following:

1. to affirm and encourage leadership potential
2. to give guidance on a special issue
3. to provide insights which may give guidance indirectly and broaden the leader
4. to challenge the leader God-ward
5. to open a door to a ministry opportunity
6. to help an emerging leader make guidance decisions
7. to move the leader toward greater commitment


Without being alert to divine contacts, I can miss out both when God has placed such a person in my life or when I serve as such a person for others. Recently, Bobby wrote about how this works personally for him.
“I know from past experience that God will bring me in contact with people for whom something I say will make a significant difference in their lives—in other words, I may precipitate a pivotal point in their life. Because this has been true in the past, I am alert to it and actually pray God would make me a divine contact. Usually I will ask for a specific number (in a particular setting or event).”

God, make me alert to those you send into my life and for those to whom I am sent.

White Martyrdom

September 4th, 2007

 Haggerty Exhibitions Past Brink Job

“Some of us are called to a white martyrdom.”

The phrase grabbed my attention last week when I heard it from a friend in Denver. It was a phrase a spiritual director had passed on to him regarding suffering. The spiritual director had used this term to describe a martyrdom that is not instantaneous in one dark moment but is lengthy and may even stretch over many years.

I know people like this, who are called to suffer and do so over extended periods of time. I don’t necessarily understand it nor do I know how to reconcile it with the nature of God, but it consistent with the overwhelming testimony of scripture regarding the role of suffering in the lives of those who follow Jesus.

We often joke of how the “gift of martyrdom” gets exercised only once, but if white martyrdom is a reality, that gift is probably much more widespread and practiced than I ever imagined.

The Dysfunctional Status-Quo

August 30th, 2007

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A good friend in his late 20s emailed me about his frustrating dilemma:

“Our ‘community/organic church’ has been working to define ourselves, our mission, and overall purpose. In the meantime, we are trying to work through some tough issues with one of the local churches that all of us have been previously associated with to one degree or another.

They approached us about a month ago requesting us to consider taking on the responsibility of starting a ‘postmodern’ church service, under their umbrella. Basically, they’re stuck and realize that they aren’t effectively reaching people under 35.

All us have close relationships with various people in the leadership of the church. However, all of us in our ‘community’ are very reluctant to fall under the umbrella of such a local church and we’ve been fairly vocal about that.

Just last night my wife and I had one of the couples in our community over and they informed us that they Read the rest of this entry »

Radicalizing Our Children

August 25th, 2007

 Nca June21-2000 English Images Children
“If you really want to keep your kids safe, middle-class, responsible people, keep them away from the gospels which will radicalize them. Don’t expose them to Jesus unless you want them to be martyrs.” —Alan Hirsch to CRM staff, August, 2007

I see all too often: parents who want their children to have enough Christianity to be respectable but don’t want their offspring to go overboard and become too committed.

Where this “enough but not too much” attitude may show up blatantly is when the son or daughter makes the jump into vocational ministry, particularly a missionary calling, and they have to raise financial support. Then the fat can hit the proverbial fan!

“I don’t want you begging for money!”
“Don’t ask our friends to support you”
“What are you going to do about retirement?”
“Can you really live off of that?”
“Do you really think this is a good way to use all that education we paid for?”
“You mean you may move overseas? When will we ever see the grandkids?”

Somehow the real Jesus who makes statements like Luke 9:23 gets lost in the well-meaning but mis-directed scramble to protect and preserve those whom we love from a God we do not really trust:
“If any person would come after me, they must deny themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me.”

As much as we may want to sanitize it, the cross is still a cross.

The Essence of Movements

August 23rd, 2007

Movement1-1

Sociologists Gerlach and Hines are often referred to because of their landmark work regarding change and the nature of movements. Simply stated, they argue that successful movements have five necessary components:

1. Structure
2. Recruitment
3. Commitment
4. Ideology
5. Opposition

Any movement can be evaluated on the basis of this criteria …Christianity, Islam, communism, pentecostalism, environmentalism, the emerging church, etc … When one of these elements is weak or non-existent, the movement is hindered and momentum and effectiveness can be lost. It simply runs out of steam. History is littered with such.

This theory can be descriptive or it can be prescriptive. I can use it to understand the nature of a movement or I can use it to help steer a movement and insure that it incorporates these essentials.

Demons and “Place”

August 18th, 2007

 Gallery Albums My-Snapz Ghosts.Sized
The demonic is real.

Some people have gifts in discerning such spiritual realities. I’m not one of them. Nevertheless, I have no doubt as to the existence, the influence, or the power of such beings and have had numerous experiences over the years where the demonic has manifested itself.

One such manifestation that we see in scripture and in reality is that demons can be attached to people, objects and places. Recently, I have been in situations where we took seriously the issue of “place.”

John and Deanna Hayes who lead InnerCHANGE, the order among the poor within CRM, have moved with their two girls to Tower Hamlets, a borough in the east end of London. The flat they are renting is part of “estate housing”—the British term for tenements—that house an amazing and wonderful cultural menagerie. Their immediate neighborhood is predominantly Bengali Muslim.

Along with John, Deanna, and the girls, Patty and I spent time praying through, and cleansing, their new digs. We went room by room, anointing each doorway with oil, commanding, in the name of Jesus, any residual spirits to be gone, and then asking the Spirit of God to fill each room with his presence, making it holy ground. We also prayed for the function of each room to be sanctified and empowered by the Spirit in every respect.

I would do this as a matter of course for any new home or lodging. I frequently do the same thing when I enter a hotel room for a night. Who knows what’s gone on in such a public place!? At least while I’m there, I would like it to be filled with the presence of God and be a safe island of rest.

While I may not necessarily see the overt results of such prayer, others may. A few years back, we were traveling and another couple stayed in our home. The wife has definite gifts of spiritual discernment but the husband doesn’t—he’s kind of thick like me. Nevertheless, both of them, apart from one another, had visions in the middle of the night of demons trying to scale the walls and parameters of the property but with no success. It was “protected” and holy ground.

I’ve also seen what happens when these realities are not taken seriously. For example, when CRM first sent people to serve and minister in Russia after the fall of communism in the early 90s, they stepped unprepared into a spiritually dark and profoundly oppressive setting. When demonic appertains began appearing overtly in their apartment, they thought they were loosing their minds.

While our rationalistic western world-view makes it hard to buy into such supernatural goings on, it’s very real. It’s unfortunate that sometimes this whole thing gets sensationalized and consequently dismissed. But we do so to our peril.

The Power of Modeling

August 12th, 2007

Fractured Face

“Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.” – Albert Schweitzer

As our good friend, Bobby Clinton so succinctly puts it in his commentary on the Gospel of John:
“Leaders can most powerfully influence by modeling godly lives, the sufficiency and sovereignty of God at all times, and gifted power.”

1. A leader models what he/she wants followers to embrace.
2. A leader should proactively use modeling to influence followers.
3. Servant leadership values are best seen through modeling.


The fact is that we reproduce what we are. The best materials, processes, or presentations have little efficacy if they are not representative of a life that speaks with consistency. Life transformation is not really accomplished through the transference of information. It occurs through in the proximity of authentic relationships.

That’s why throughout CRM we value coaching, mentoring, and doing life together in some form of community as our primary methodology in the development of leadership for the kingdom. It is one of our values that distinguishes us from formal educational settings.

However, I confess that I have two ongoing struggles with this truth.

First, is my own inadequacy and unworthiness to be a participant with the Spirit of God in such a divine process. The older I grow, the more I see things in my own life that cause me to groan. There is so much that I don’t want to reproduce. I cringe to think that my sinfulness, which inhabits every part of my fallen personality, is what others would emulate. Ugh.

Secondly, I sometimes struggle with the intentionality of modeling. If we are honest, I think it is a challenge to say, “Imitate me as I have imitated Christ” without promoting ourselves in an unhealthy way that lacks humility. It can be an ego trip camouflaged by a spiritual veneer. Modeling becomes unhealthy when it is subverted to be more about me getting strokes and being the center of attention verses having the focus on those I am called to serve and the One for whose presence I am but a conduit.

Despite these reservations, I still want my life to exemplify the power of this biblical reality. I find that I do this best informally. Jesus called the 12 “…that they might be with him.” I usually get my best traction in such a process while traveling, over a cup of coffee, in the midst of some mutual activity or recreation, or sharing an adventure or memorable experience. I’m not the best coach, as some are, over the phone or in a structured environment. Knowing ourselves, knowing in what contexts we do this best, and being consciously committed to such a priority are keys to modeling being an effective ministry methodology.

I like how Bobby Clinton paraphrases Hebrews 13:7. My aspiration is to be, in some small measure, the type of leader to whom others can look and to live a life worthy of their imitation.

“Remember your former leaders. Think back on how they lived and ministered. Imitate those excellent qualities you see in their lives. For Jesus Christ is the same today, as He was in the past and as He will be in the future. What He did for them He will do for you to inspire and enable your leadership.”

You can see it in their eyes …

July 30th, 2007

Mona Lisa
It’s hard to quantify. Hard to describe. It simply happens whenever we gather together a group of folks serving with CRM from anywhere around the world. There is a unmistakable sense of something that permeates such gatherings.

There is a kind of energy and passion about our shared calling that works as a mystical bond. Even when we may not have seen one another for months or perhaps years, there is an intensity that pervades the relationships and things quickly go deep. As one person commented this past week in Vancouver, “You can see it in their eyes …” There is a quality and contagiousness that is tangible, a commitment to the pursuit of God and his kingdom agenda. These are people with whom one is invariably drawn to do life and ministry, to love, fight, laugh and perhaps die with.

Underlying it and perhaps the real reason behind it all is simply the supernatural anointing of God. The Triune God has for reasons beyond my understanding chosen to rest his hand of blessing and his supernatural presence on these people. It’s what the old-timey saints called “divine unction.” And it is an umbrella of spiritual reality and power that has permeated this outfit since 1985.

May it never lift. May it never cease. May it only grow and deepen so that the name of God may be renowned among the nations.

Conversation on Holism

July 29th, 2007

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This was the scene today in Vancouver, B.C. where 20 CRM staff from around the world gathered for a four day Theological Conversation on Biblical Holism and the Recovery of the Gospel.

That’s a mouthful. But what we are focusing on is simply the totality of the good news in the bible and how our own cultures can act as unintended filters to keep us from seeing what these implications are both personally and corporately. We are also considering how this applies to CRM as a whole around the world regarding the types of leaders we mentor, coach and train and the types of churches that we want to see evolve and emerge from our work.

In the photo, we’re wrapping up an afternoon of labor in a community garden that our NieuCommunities staff are cultivating in an urban neighborhood which is having multiple layers of impact on those who live around them.

One of the best parts of this conversation was the variety of perspectives in the dialogue from folks living and ministering is places as diverse as South Africa, Cambodia, Australia, Hungary, and various locales throughout North America

Bodies of Water CD

July 25th, 2007

Bodiesofwater-1
This is an unabashed commercial for the new CD that just came out by Bodies of Water, the indie rock group that includes David, our son and his wife Meredith. One industry review said:

“Orchestral indie pop group Arcade Fire is on top o’ the pops lately, and fans of such music would be well-advised to check out the shimmering gospel hymns of Californians Bodies of Waters. The group’s full-length debut, Ears Will Pop & Eyes Will Blink, self-released through the band’s own Thousand Tongues label. Like a less mockable version of The Polyphonic Spree, Bodies of Water has concocted an hour long sermon of peace, love, and pop music with the epic Ears Will Pop & Eyes Will Blink. – wonkavision

The review in paperthinwalls put it this way:
“A different husband and wife team put out a Neon Bible this year, but it’s Bodies Of Water’s David and Meredith Metcalf who really nail the concept of a spiritual album with music so good it glows. Both uplifting and humorous, the Metcalfs take turns helming vocals instead of just a Sufjan or Daniel Smith fronting the choir/band. For every serious moment aimed at higher power, there’ll be another capturing something mundane: “When you bend over into the fridge and try to grab some Tupperware, I’ll surprise you and pour the half and half, onto your newly sunburnt neck.” Ears Will Pop & Eyes Will Blink is also startling in its ability to conjure bits of Pink Floyd, R.E.M. or the New Pornographers for the band’s gospel purposes without soiling any linens.

“Doves Circled The Sky” was inspired by a story of the Holy Spirit coming down from the heavens the form of a dove (John 1:32-24). To reach an appropriate level of grandeur, Bodies Of Water open it with an epic western feel, á la the The Good, The Bad And The Ugly theme, replete with strings and twang. When the vocals kick in, the clouds part over the arrangement, and it burns hot without feeling hymn-y. “Chords rang out warm and clear, sweet major chords, and they were ones and fours and fives,” the choir sings, narrating their own proceedings. Pleasure swells as the males and females bat lines back and forth, leading up to the final stanza: “Now, rehearsal is done, open the gates, let heaven’s floodgates open wide.” At this point, the album is only at the halfway, but it’s already shaking the temple enough to tear it down. Naturally, with plans to rebuild it three days later.”


The record is available now at http://www.bodiesofwater.net/ or at insound It is also available on their myspace page http://www.myspace.com/bodiesofwater and is soon to available on iTunes. An interesting array of other reviews and interviews can be found at http://www.bodiesofwater.net/reviews&interviews.htm

Spain

July 24th, 2007

Spain
I just spent an intense week in Spain surveying it out as a potential site for a future CRM team.

Along with Alex Galloway (who leads CRM’s Staff Development and Care Team) and Danny Aanderud (Spanish prof at BIOLA who is checking out potential CRM ministry opportunities in Europe among other things), we spent time in Madrid and then on the southern coast near Malaga.

We had a steady stream of appointments with church and mission leaders across a broad spectrum. While our learning curve is steep and we’re just scratching the surface in getting our arms around what God is doing in the Spanish context, there were a variety of commonalities expressed throughout the conversations. Some of our initial observations include:

  • Spain is a nation rushing headlong into post-modernity and secularization.
  • This rush toward the future is a reaction, in part, to the social, political and cultural stranglehold of the Franco years and the tragedies of the 20th century such as the Spanish civil war.
  • The aversion to Catholicism is extraordinary to the extent that the Catholic Church has become irrelevant for the overwhelming majority of Spaniards.
  • Most evangelical church expressions are small, anemic, and culturally marginalized. Few would have any appeal to Spaniards under 30 years old nor do they know what to do with the emerging generation.
  • There is spiritual receptivity and vitality among the immigrant segments of the population.
  • Latin Americans are at the forefront of the most vibrant ministry initiatives in the country but are neither well-received or respected by most Spaniards.
  • Spain, but almost any criteria, could be characterized as “resistant” ground to historic, biblical Christianity. Most mission efforts either take a long time to bear any fruit or are ineffective on their face.

The Beqaa

July 18th, 2007

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It’s called the Beqaa. The massive rift valley in the center of Lebanon separated from the coast by the Mount Lebanon range to the west and from Syria on the East by the Anti-Lebanon mountains. In this picture, Syria is straight ahead over the mountains in the background. The Beqaa forms the northeastern-most extension of the Great Rift Valley, which extends down the spine of East Africa.

While historically the bread-basket of the region, today it is a harbor and a crossroads for the drug trade, money laundering, and terrorists of many stripes …Hezbollah, Iranian jihadists, and Syrian infiltrators into Lebanon to name the more well-known. It figured prominently in one of the first Tom Clancy novels I ever read years ago as a hotbed of intrigue and espionage.

As I was driving through it with one of the Lebanese who serves and ministers with us in Beirut, he mentioned that he used to be in the Beqaa several times a week and he pointed out the places where groups of believers in Jesus met.

I continued to be amazed at how God establishes his presence and signs of his Kingdom’s reality even in the most inhospitable places on the planet.

Assasination

July 15th, 2007

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Lebanon continues to teeter on the verge of war and chaos. One of the major destabilizing factors contributing to the present situation was the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri in February of 2005. His death further catalyzed the “cedar revolution” which resulted in the end of Syria’s overt influence in Lebanon.

We passed over the place where a bomb blew up Hariri’s car on a Beirut thoroughfare. The blast, equivalent to 1000 kgs of TNT, gouged a 30 foot hole in the pavement and the evidence of the magnitude can still be seen from the destruction of the surrounding buildings in the photos above.

While the UN investigates and the labyrinth that is Lebanese politics continues to swirl with intrigue, life in Beirut is characterized by fear and uncertainty. Such instability can make life hard, but it also means people grapple with the significant and the deeply personal much more readily than those whose lives are immune to such trauma.

Beirut is a contemporary example of what historians and missiologists have always known; that spiritual receptivity can be the silver lining of social/political upheaval. The search for God and ultimate meaning takes on a new urgency when all hell is breaking loose around us. What I have seen firsthand in places like this is that the good news of Jesus is profoundly transforming when communicated humbly and lived out authentically. Such sovereign intervention by God, mediated by those on the ground determined to follow Jesus, is the only hope for Lebanon.

Cedars of Lebanon

July 14th, 2007

Cedars Of Lebanon
This is one of the few remaining groves of the famous cedars of Lebanon. I had a unique chance to wander in this remote grove up in the mountains recently during time in the Middle East. These trees are remarkable …huge umbrellas with massive trunks, some which were alive during the time of Jesus.

Wood from these trees were used in ancient times by the Phoenicians to build their trade and military ships, as well as their houses and temples. The Egyptians used its resin for mummification, and its sawdust was found in the pharaoh’s tombs. Jewish priests were ordered by Moses to use the bark of the Lebanon Cedar in circumcision and treatment of leprosy. Kings of neighboring and distant countries asked for this wood to build their religious and civil constructs, the most famous of which are King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem and David’s and Solomon’s Palaces. In addition it was used by the Romans, Greeks, Persians, Assyrians and Babylonians.

The Face of War

July 13th, 2007

Lebanon Destruction
One gets a very different picture of the realities of life and ministry in the Middle East when on the ground in the region. Particularly stunning is the perspective on the state of Israel shared by many of those who are followers of Jesus and who live in the region. What I found is dismay at the uncritical, and what they perceive as naive, posture held by many North American Christians in their unequivocal support of the secular Jewish state.

The facts are that that almost all of those who name the name of Christ in the Middle East are also Arabs. The cannot understand the theological and/or geo-political justifications that American Christians—particularly some evangelicals—give to political Israel and Zionism. It makes no sense to them biblically, historically, or politically.

What is happening in this region is incredibly complex. And the only long-term solution is the present and future rule of the Prince of Peace and his Kingdom, which has no bias regarding family of birth, ethnic group, or possession of land.

(The pic above is of a major bridge destroyed by the Israelis in northern Lebanon during last summer’s war. I had the chance to see it up close and personal. Bombing it severed a major artery between Beirut and the western part of the country and inflicted great suffering on innocent segments of the population. Its destruction had little strategic or military value).

Cry for Lebanon

July 12th, 2007

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We have people serving and ministering in Beirut who, with their families, lived through the trauma of the war last year.

When visiting with them, all things trite and insignificant pale in light of their circumstances and gravity of the Middle East context. They minister in a crucible where there is indescribable pressure from every side: radical Sunni Muslims, militant Palestinians, Hezbollah and radical Shiites, Syria, “Christian” militias, pressure from the majority Marionite Catholics, and the ever present threat of Israeli incursions, bombings and retaliations in which innocent people are invariably hurt.

In this unbelievable cauldron of political, religious and social turmoil, they are following Jesus with perseverance and integrity. Their quiet, steady ministry in Lebanon and throughout the region is making a profound contribution to the Christian movement on the soil of the lands where it first originated. The honor is all mine to serve alongside them.

On the Nile

June 30th, 2007

Cairo Night

This is my view this evening of the Nile in the heart of Cairo.

It’s been a day packed meeting with folks here who are doing some thrilling things when it comes to representing Jesus both far and near. I’ve learned much. The diversity and magnitude of what God does to see His name renowned among the nations and the worship of his Son extended is astounding.

During my day, I’ve seen again that the missionary purpose of a gracious and ever-redeeming God can never be put into boxes or relegated to a limited number of human structures. His persistent pursuit of a wayward humanity is staggering to the imagination, not just that he would do it but that he would do it with such infinite creativity and accommodation to our limitations.

Deo Gloria!