Thursday, January 31, 2008

Joy in a Blade of Grass

Sharing homely stories about my family will never be normal fare on this blog. That said, I was cleaning up my email account the other day and reread a note my eldest daughter sent recounting one of those 'small miracles' we all experience from time to time. It's a great little story on all by itself but see if you don't also appreciate our Lord's goodness a little more as a result of reading it. Camryn is my first grandchild and quite fun to be around because she really is filled with a certain joi de vivre!

"A few days ago, Camryn proudly carried a cup of soil into our home. She told me that Jesus would make these grass seeds grow, complete with a demonstration of the process, as she squatted down to the ground and slowly grew and grew, until her arms raised in the air and wavedback and forth (just like the grass would wave in the wind). I thought the seed cup had the best chance of growth if we left it outside in the sunshine but the next morning, it rained a Kansas downpour (note: this is a lot like a flash flood if you've never been there) and I knew those little seeds were doomed. Several days of rain came to an end and Camryn noticed her cup overflowing outside on the porch. In pure childlike form, she insisted we go see if her grass was growing yet. I opened the door and sadly stepped outside. I knew that somehow I would have to explain to my daughter why Jesus - who made the mountains, the seas, and everything else in this world...didn't make her grass grow. I gently poured out the standing water and lowered the cup to her eyes so she could see for herself. And that's when we BOTH saw the most amazing sight! A single blade of grass standing tall in the middle of the saturated soil. Joy burst through us in pure laughter as we stood staring at the green miracle we held in our hands. I will always remember today as the first time I've ever truly thanked Jesus for a single blade of grass!"

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Azusa Street Mission and Revival : The Birth of the Global Pentecost Movement

Cecil M. Robeck Jr.'s book on the Azusa Street Revival is an important work especially in light of the shift in Christianity's heartland from North America to South America, Africa, and Asia and the growing reality that the criterial Christian of the 21st Century is a pentecostal in some shape or form. Other writers would take issue with the idea the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles is the "Jerusalem" from which all other pentecostal movements emanate opting for a more multi-stranded view of it's origins, but Robeck proceeds with this view and delivers it with a plausible historic explanation. What is heartening about the story of the Azusa Street Revival (1906-1909) is that it was far deeper than people rediscovering the gift of tongues. The revival was able to cut across denominational, racial, and even gender boundaries of the time and Christians were able to love and serve one another in ways that DO seem reminiscent of the first Christians at Pentecost. There was also a strong emphasis on prayer, worship, holiness, and evangelism that is not widely seen in today's Church. And of course there was the emphasis on faith missions. A huge part of having the gift of tongues was that it was believed these were actually unlearned existing languages and if you had this gift, you were to take it to mission field for preaching. Many, many Pentecostal believers took this seriously and without monthly support or even a round-trip ticket went forth the preach to Gospel to all nations. What many found when they got overseas was their languages were unknown and they were terrifically unprepared for cross-cultural living. But their influence did spread in the form of bringing the principles of the revival to existing bodies of Christians and other missionaries who in turn influenced the culture. As wonderful as this revival was, it began to degenerate within 3 years by means of Church politics, division, prejudice, and of course the corrupting influence of lust and money. Robeck ends his account with the people of the Azusa Street Mission having a huge disagreeement and throwing their hymnals at each other in disgust and contempt. It is an inauspicious way to end the story but he uses it effectively to set the stage for a reminder that revivals are the special work of God to reawaken His Church but they are not intended for us as a long-term way of living. When we take something that is a temporary measure of God and try to establish it as a permanent mode of proceeding we are going to be disappointed. Revivals must give way to living awake in the structures of the Church that may be less exciting but sustainable over the long-haul.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Global Recordings Network

The 21st Century is certainly an exciting period of innovation in the art of spreading the message of Jesus Christ around the globe. One group that I really appreciate is Global Recordings Network. For 70 years they have been learning and preserving the thousands and thousands of tribal languages of the world and then providing a recordings of Bible teachings to those groups who would like to learn more about Jesus. What makes them stand out is that they are able to reach smaller groups of people for whom Bible Translation is almost out of the question (translations of the entire Bible are time and cost prohibitive for groups smaller than a million) and also because languages continue to die out or fall into disuse as our world becomes more and more a global village, they have a hand in preserving the cultural and linguistic heritage of our planet. Another dimension of their ministry that continues to grow is their online library. While many people groups live so primitively that internet is not even an option, the reality is that many are migrating to larger cities in their own countries or are immigrating to the United States and other Western nations. Evangelists equipped with a simple laptop computer and blank CD's now have the ability to meet people from all over the world and within a couple of minutes burn a Gospel presentation for them in their own language through a simple internet connection. This group also works hard to provide devices that will play recordings for people in remote settings. 50 years ago they developed a record in a cardboard sleeve that could basically be played with a pencil. Today they are working on digital players which are hand-cranked for power. If you want to see more about what these pioneering folk are up to check out their website:

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

God's Judgments by Steven J. Keillor

I must confess that generally I write off most statements made by Christian leaders concerning God's judgment of America. A couple examples may explain why. Consider the group of Christian leaders that labeled Hurricane Katrina as God's judgment on New Orleans for its promotion of homosexual tourism in their fine city. Problem: the French Quarter was mostly unscathed by the hurricane and the damage was mostly to the homes of poor people. Why would God whoop on the poor people just because homos like to visit the French Quarter? Another of my favorites is that all the social problems we have in our schools is a direct result of the Supreme Court outlawing prayer at the start of classes during the 1960's. If you have ever read the prayer that American boys and girls used to recite in public school, you know it was the most milquetoast, watered-down, generic prayer possibly ever uttered by human lips. If anything, I think God might have been directly behind its excision just because He couldn't stand to hear it anymore! The problems in the Public Schools have more to do with the teaching of Darwin over a sustained period of time not because kids don't mumble some empty prayer every morning. This brings me to Steven Keillor's excellent book God's Judgments: Interpreting History and the Christian Faith. The essence of the book is a simple question: Is there any reason to believe that God judges nations in this present epoch as He did in the Old Testament? The answer is a well-reasoned theological and historically nuanced yes. Even though we live in the Age of Grace, God judges the nations for their misdeeds in the present. The implication of this is that Christians living in a nation that is under judgment will suffer as well but of course will be spared from final wrath in the hereafter. The book moves a bit slow as Keillor makes his carefully reasoned biblical case, but you need this material to fully appreciate the historic examples he uses such as the Civil War, War of 1812 and 9/11 disaster. One is left at the end with the realization God has visited judgment on our nation and will do so again until we mend our ways. The problem is if we are nationally oblivious to God's judgment we are going to try to employ public solutions when we really need to repent and this is the hubris of modern man. I would recommend this book especially as a balance to the many books on American history from a Christian perspective which tend to celebrate our national story while largely ignoring our darker moments. This is a message on judgment that is worth paying attention to.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Jerome--A Story of Contrasts

Eusebius Sophronius Hieronymus is known to the world today simply as St. Jerome. The big deal about Jerome is that he was an early Bible translator taking the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments and translating them into the common language of the West. His Bible, known as the Latin Vulgate, stood as the official Bible of Europe until the Reformation. But beyond his great contribution to the Church and Western Civilization, Jerome was a bit of a study in contrasts. For instance Jerome was a respected scholar and a very learned bookworm, yet at the same time was very loving and relational with the people around him. Few scholars have both qualities. Jerome is known to be quite vicious in his writings to and about heretics and false doctrine, yet passionately loved the Church and the people of Christ. Another contrast is that he lived sequestered away in a monk's cave in Bethlehem where he could find isolation and yet had visitors come to meet and learn from him from all over the world. Finally, at one time or another he lived nearly every major city in the Roman Empire; Alexandria, Rome, Constantinople and yet Jerome considered the deserts of Israel to be his personal paradise. Jerome is a real paradox--a relational scholar, a socializing monk, equally passionate in his love and hatred, living in the middle of nowhere and yet known the world over. If there is a lesson for us about Jerome's life it probably would be that God transforming power in our lives is what makes us useful to Him. He takes what might look like a disadvantage or quirk of personality and is able to refashion it into something He can use for the Kingdom.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Marcia Ford "Traditions of the Ancients"

I picked up Marcia Ford's book the last time I was a Powell's Bookstore in Portland and it is a real gem. There has been a lot of ink spilled in the last decade about the historic practices of the Christian Church as evangelicals have begun to discover their historic roots. Most books of this kind focus on the tried and true basics of the monastic tradition such as fasting, sacred reading, scripture memory, constant prayer, and even mindful labor. Ford's book includes these but is set apart by the inclusion of spiritual disciplines practiced by the Jews, the Greek Orthodox, and the Old Catholic Church. For example one spiritual discipline she considers is properly grieving the dead where she explains some of the practices of the Jews in this regard such as rending your garments and what this actually means. Another chapter covers prayer postures. Obviously a particular posture is not required to pray, but Christians pray in a variety a ways each of which make a beautiful devotional statement all their own. One practice I really liked was the "night watch". Ford explains that many of the Church fathers made it a practice to rise for prayer in the middle of the night. They did this to cover the Church while they were sleeping but also because it is so quiet that it is easier to seek the Lord without distraction. She provides some great ideas for how we might approach this when we find ourselves awake in the middle of the night. There are certainly meatier books on this subject in print such as Dallas Willard's The Spirit of the Disciplines or Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline, but Tradition of the Ancients is a great introduction to the topic and holds its own with material not usually given much consideration.