Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Holy Fear

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,

And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Proverbs 9:10

There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Romans 3:18

I suppose it is should not shock me that a world so lacking in reverent fear of God would also be suffering from a serious deficiency of wisdom. 

After my last blog post, my sister pointed out that perhaps the problem isn't fear, but misplaced fear. The Bible is clear: those of us who live by grace through faith in the saving work of Christ should be set free from every sort of fear, save one--the righteous and holy fear of the living God. 

This is a fear that reminds us that God is God, and we are not. It is a fear that keeps us humble, grateful, and hungry for justice. It is a fear that refuses to forget that there will be a day of reckoning. And it is a fear spurs us on to love and good deeds as the "out-working" of our salvation.

And while I believe we are invited to experience the lavish riches of God's grace, convinced that we can neither earn nor improve upon its merits, I wonder if we haven't wandered from the work that His grace is meant to accomplish in and through us. We delight so deeply in the love of God--as well we should, but have we neglected his Holiness in the process? The point of our salvation is not to give us a nice, cozy, happy life for all eternity. The point of our salvation is to make us into the image of Christ for the glory of God and the sake of the world. And this is to be done with a level of fear and trembling!

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling;  for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
Philippians 2:12-13

Thankfully, the work is not ours alone. Paul reminds us that it is GOD who is at work in me. But it is precisely because God is at work in me that I should have a sense of holy fear. 

This idea is more easily understood if we put it in human terms. Imagine that your boss was always standing right behind you at work, listening to every phone call, reading every email, viewing every website you visit, watching every game you play, seeing every eye-roll, hearing every sigh. Imagine that this boss is actually eager to see you succeed (not fail!), but that she also has a better understanding of the company's vision, strategy, and goals than you do. In fact, she's the CEO, the CFO, and the Board of Directors all rolled into one. So she's offering you input along the way, feeding you helpful hints, and making sure you have every resource that you could possibly need at your fingertips so that you can do the job that you were hired to do. Might the presence and provision of your superior change the way you work? Of course it would! Because with that type of boss, you'd have both a sense of security that you couldn't fail (grace) and an eagerness to please the one who gave you the job (fear). 

So I agree, a big part of our problem is misplaced fear. We are often too worried about all of the stuff that God has under control (safety, provision, resources) and not concerned enough about the call that God has given us (do justly, love mercy, walk humbly). 

He has shown you, O man, what is good;

And what does the Lord require of you

But to do justly,

To love mercy,

And to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

Jesus exemplified this charge, proclaiming the year of jubilee by working justice on behalf of the oppressed, by extending mercy to the masses (which he saw as helpless and harassed), and by living in constant, humble, submission to the Father. This is where the fear of God and the freedom from all other fears converge. 

If I fear being treated unjustly and don't fear God, I won't be free to seek justice. The Bible teaches that the justice of God is found when I relinquish my rights ("Why not rather be wronged?" I Cor. 6:7), relinquish my possessions ("Go and sell all that you have and give to the poor" Mark 10:21), and relinquish my power ("For God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong" I Cor. 1:27). 

If I fear being treated unkindly and don't fear God, I won't love mercy, I'll tend towards cruelty. The Bible teaches that the mercy of God is given to the undeserving ("He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy" Titus 3:5), the mercy of God is limitless ("His mercies never come to en end" Lam. 3:22), and that mercy is found in giving it away ("Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy" Matt. 5:7).

And if I fear being overlooked and I don't fear God, I won't walk humbly with my God, I'll seek to elevate myself. The Bible teaches that the way up is down, ("Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up" James 4:1) and that I should seek what is best for others ("...each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself" Phil 2:3). 

As I decide NOT to fear anything except GOD, I will become an agent of His justice and a lover of His mercy. Only then will I be humble before him, eager to work to please Him. 

Tying this to the last post, then, I suppose I need to ask myself, "What would it look like to put a fear of God at the heart of gun debate?"  "What would it look like to put a fear of God at the heart of the immigration debate?" "What would it look like to put a fear of God at the heart of the Black Lives Matter movement?"  How do I, a follower of Christ, engage my culture on each of these issues in a way that exemplifies a right and holy fear of God without giving any room to fear of another kind? These are good questions, and again, I'm not sure I know the answers. But I want to wrestle with these thoughts and seek the peaceable wisdom of God so that I might discern His good, pleasing, and perfect will. 

Monday, July 11, 2016

Reflecting on Current Events

What a week you've had, my fellow Americans.  And how very far away I feel from it all.  Yet, you are near to my heart. I am one of you.

It's moments like this when wordsmiths like me are out like mad on the web trying to make pithy statements or dazzling observations. Facebook lights up with soundbites and hashtags. All of us, trying to make sense of a world that seems senseless.

Knowing my words won't add anything new to the conversation, I can easily retreat to silence. But there is danger there, too. Because silence can communicate contentedness with the status quo, complicity with all that is wrong. So while I do not expect to add anything new, I must say something.

The first thing that I will say is that I am ignorant, which means that the best thing I can do is shut up and listen to those who are less ignorant than myself. As a white American, I have privileges and opportunities that I don't even realize I have. I cannot understand what it is like to be a minority. It's not that I don't want to understand. It's that I can't. So when I am tempted to spout off solutions or to claim that my experience is representative of another person's experience, I do not reveal my wisdom, I reveal my ignorance. This is not to say that I should not try to understand, but I must realize that I am only going to be able to achieve an intellectual level of understanding and not an experiential level.

At the intellectual level we can study statistics and trends, we can talk about "equality" and "opportunity." We can make laws and sign petitions and have debates. Even better, I can lean into my friendships with minority people in an effort to hear and learn from their experiences. I can stop listening only to the voices of those who sound like me and listen to the voices that challenge my paradigm. These voices may not change my mind, but they will expand my heart and help me to have compassion. And I need to really listen. Listen to understand, and not just to refute. I need to imagine the possibility that there are things I don't yet know, haven't yet encountered, or have wrongly dismissed. Such listening might open me up to a new perspective. It could help me to think more deeply and sincerely about the complexity of the problems. It could lead to better solutions.

Oh but that IS such hard work. And we live in a world that prefers quips and tweets. We're all looking for that one meme that is going to bottom-line it for us. Deep thinking is no longer valued. And, sadly, we evangelical Christians can be more about categorizing issues into black and white, right and wrong, than wrestling with complexities. Why do we do that?

Remember how angry Jesus would get at the Pharisees, who were tithing down to the tiniest cent while failing miserably at loving others? They were working so hard at being right that they failed to seek true righteousness. Mercy can't be measured, so it fell off their radar.

The second thing I will say is that  from a distance, at least, the United States appears to be a nation gripped by fear. Given the challenges and difficulties of life, fear is a natural human response. But fear is not a God-honoring response. Fear begets hate. I'm pretty sure that's why "Fear not" is the most repeated command in the Bible. But the inverse is also true--perfect love casts out fear. So if you really need a black and white barometer, why not use this one: "Am I being motivated by love or by fear?"

Fear, unchecked, will be the death of us. It is becoming the guiding force of political and social issues, and it is not healthy! Fear is at the heart of the gun debate. Fear is at the heart of the immigrant debate. Fear is at the heart of racism. Fear is at the heart of the bathroom debates, for heaven's sake! And fear is at the heart of the all the election rhetoric.

Look at the fear-mongering that goes on, particularly from Evangelical Christian leaders. On his own website, James Dobson defends his support of Trump by saying, "Hillary scares me to death." This is not good leadership, it isn't even Biblical, for he is rooting his decision in fear. Ben Carson, a man many of us respected, has said things like "Hillary is of the devil." And fear of Trump is worn like a badge of honor by, well, just about everyone. Both sides are trying to garner support for their candidate by painting the scariest picture of the other person. Fear. On all sides.

Let's not take our fear to the voting booth or the pulpit. Let's take our fear to Christ, confess it as sin, and ask for His wisdom and discernment to be our guides. Let's step back from the hysteria. Listen to the words of James chapter 3:
For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
Here we have a filter to determine if what we are doing or thinking is aligned with God's wisdom or not. Don't ask "Is it scary?" Ask "Is it pure (or is it impure)? Is it peaceable (or is it hostile)? Is is gentle (or is it harsh)? Is it reasonable (or is it rediculous)? Is it full of mercy (or is it cruel)? Is it unwavering (or is it faltering)? Is it without hypocrisy (or is it hypocritical)?" And then consider how you share your views. Are you sowing in peace (or are you sowing  in dissention)? And just an aside--there is not a single news station in the US that is NOT sowing dissention. So maybe turn off the TV and the radio and read more newspapers. Most are available online these days, and this access to the written word allows you to search out all sides of an issue while refusing to support the inflammatory, baiting, fear-mongering rubbish that permeates the airwaves. Try to find facts, and take time to think constructively about the facts that you find.

Let me end where I began. I am ignorant. But I also have the advantage of viewing things from outside the American arena--which offers a unique perspective. I have so much to learn, and the more I learn the more I realize how much I don't know. So I'm simply sharing what I think to be my best contribution to the important conversations that are swirling all around us. Two things I am committing to do: Listen more and fear less.

The following are links to articles or books that I have found helpful. None of them are perfect, and I do not agree with everything that is found in them. But I do find that reading these things is helping me to understand the complexity of these issues, to think more deeply about solutions, and to consider what my best contribution might be. Believe it or not, there are a lot of very smart people of integrity on all sides of these issues.

Here is a link to a short article that explains why #AllLivesMatter may be an uninformed and unhelpful respose to #BlackLivesMatter.

Colleen Mitchell, a Catholic missionary in Costa Rica, speaks truth in her article, "10 Reasons Why I Don't Want to be You White Ally."

This is the best article I've read on why Trump is so popular with evangelicals.

I really appreciate this insightful article from a woman with a black son and a husband who is a white police officer.

If you haven't yet read The Same Kind of Different as MeI highly recommend it. It's an easy but poignant book.

I was challenged by bell hooks' book Where We Stand: Class Matters. Some of her writing is inflammatory and she does not provide sufficient research to support her harsh judgements; however, I must admit that some of her claims ring with truth and have made me think twice about the ramifications of our consumerist culture and how consumerism is linked to racism and sexism. This book is hard for a white middle/upper class audience to read because it is highly critical. But if you read it, seek to leave room for conviction and try not to dismiss all of it just because some of it is over the top.

Another good book on consumerism is William T. Cavanaugh's book Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

Renovations Have Begun

The Evangelical Church of Old Lyon has begun renovations on the building that we are renting!!! For our first event in the building, we hosted an evening of Prayer and Worship. Sitting on bags of concrete mix, we invited the Spirit to take his place among us. 

We won't be having services in the building until September because we have a lot of work to do to prepare the space to serve it's multi-purpose function. Do you see the word "co-working" on the door? 
Our plan is to offer shared workspace to entrepeneurs (M-F), where networking and community-building will  happen organically. There will be a living room-like meeting space available for use for those who co-work in the building, but this same space will be used for our community prayer times and devotionals Monday- Friday from 7:00-7:45 am and from 6:00-6:15 pm. 

On Sundays, the desks will fold up (like Murphy beds) and the space will be used for weekly church services. All prayer meetings and church services will be evangelistic in nature and open to the public, and our hope is that the space will become a place where the Kingdom of God is visible and active in all aspects of life. 

Because the average size of an established evangelical church in France is about 80 people, it is difficult for congregations to be able to sustain the costs of a building. The co-working space will not only allow us to reach and bless our community M-F, it will enable the young church plant to be viable financially for the long run. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Where's the Fruit?

Are you a disciple of Jesus Christ?

Where is your proof?

Disciples don't get club cards for their key chains. They don't have T-shirts with "Fishers of Men" logos. They don't get special name tags or wrist bands. So how are we known? What evidence do we have?

It turns out Jesus did give us a calling card. He said it so plainly we easily miss it. The proof is in the fruit.

 My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. 
John 15:8 NASB

Let's be clear, fruit is not a requirement for salvation, but it IS evidence of discipleship. 


Because according to John 15 (and like a bazillion other verses) if I am a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Spirit of God lives in me. The very God who created the universe cannot dwell in a living human being without leaving traces of His presence. Those traces of His presence are called "fruit." 

Sometimes fruit manifests itself through our character:
 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness,self-control; against such things there is no law. 
Galatians 5:22-23
And sometimes the fruit manifests itself through our actions:
For this reason also, since the day we heard of itwe have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God...
Colossians 1:9-10

But the point is, there is fruit. Or there should be. And if there isn't fruit, we should be alarmed.

And maybe we are. But what is our response?

I think that I go into problem solving mode. I read books and go to conferences and scour the web to find Five Quick Fixes for Fruitlessness or Seven Easy Steps to See More Fruit. These "helpful" resources often talk about things that we think we can do to in order to produce fruit in our lives, to prove that we are true disciples. They tell us how to improve bad soil, how to protect ourselves against lousy weather, or how to deal with pest problems. I roll up my sleeves and get to work, missing one very  important point: IT'S NOT MY JOB TO PRODUCE THE FRUIT. 

I'm only called to bear the fruit!  

God produces the fruit. And everything I need in order to bear fruit comes from the vine. If I'm connected to the vine, I WILL bear fruit. If I'm connected to the vine, I can't NOT bear fruit. So I can't blame the soil, the weather, or the bugs. The only reason Jesus gives for fruitlessness is disonnectedness. Therefore the only solution is to abide in Christ.

 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. 
John 15:5

But me? I would rather be pulling weeds or spraying fertilizer. These things are so much easier to do than just abide.

Why? Because "abiding" is never done. I can never check it off of my checklist, because it has to be lived 24/7/365. We can't achieve it, we can't obtain it, we can't complete it. We can only live it. Minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. 

In fact, if I'm not bearing fruit, it is likely because I'm busy doing things that I think will produce fruit and forgetting to abide in Christ. I get impatient with the process, and like a kindergartener who buried a bean in paper cup full of soil, I grow weary with the waiting. 

It's important to pay attention to fruit. Not just to prove we are disciples, but to know if we are abiding. The funny thing is, I'm not sure I even know what it looks like and feels like to abide. I'm better at being busy. I'm learning to abide. I have a long way to go, but here are three ways that I attempt to "abide in Christ" each day. 

  1. Silence: I begin every day with 10-20 minutes of silence. I sit still, in the presence of God, and I say nothing. I let my swirling thoughts quiet down, and I wait on the Lord. I don't read anything, I don't have music on, I don't pray, I don't write. I just listen. And whether God speaks or not is less important than the fact that I have spent time with Him. Abiding in very literal sense. 
  2. Community: I take time to pray with others. Together, we abide in Christ by reading His word, singing His praises, confessing our sins, and seeking His guidance. For some reason, I used to see abiding as a solitary endeavor, but clearly if we are to do it all the time, then we need to be able to abide in community as well. 
  3. Slowing: I'm active and decisive. I like to go fast. In so doing, I often rush ahead of the Spirit, trying to produce fruit. For some of you, you will need to pick up the pace to keep in step with the Spirit. Me? I need to slow down. When I purposefully match my steps to His, then in all that I do, I abide.
All of these are hard for me. And all of these are good for me. And the promise is sure: IF I abide, the fruit is guaranteed. If I abide I can't NOT bear fruit.  And when I bear it, it is so completely holy, so perfect, so pure, that it proves that God lives in me. 

Then I know I'm a disciple.

What fruit are you bearing these days? How do you abide in Christ?  

Friday, June 17, 2016

Ten Totally Trivial Tidbits

1. This week I visited Geneva for the first time. While there I went to the famous Reformation Museum, and I bought this replica of a 15c board game, which is a sort of Calvinist form or "Chutes and Ladders." The instructions crack me up, and include rules such as "If a player landing on square 24  knows the principal quality attributed to King Solomon they can move forward two squares. If not, they must contemplate their ignorance whilst losing a turn." We've played it once. I spent most of the game stuck on square 31 "lamenting with Jeremiah." I never made it to paradise. I'm glad the game does not have the power to predetermine my eternal state!

 2.  I'm working on a baby blanket for Virginia, my assistant. She's due in October with her first baby. It's a great pattern, and I'm sure I'll use it again. No photos for now...but I'll post some once it's completed.

 "Assistant?" you ask. YES! Because sometimes God does even more than we ask or imagine! I've been praying for a few months for an assitant--a bilingual person who could volunteer about 5 hours a week to help me with marketing and communication for Elan, the French association that I am in the process of launching. One day, about two months ago, Virginia came to our church with her husband. They live in the neighborhood and were looking for a local church that they could call home. She is a young French woman with a Masters in English who is currently not employed. When she found out she was pregnant, she put her job search on hold, deciding that she did not want to dive into a new career on the brink of motherhood, At the same time, she felt like she had way too much time on her hands and had been praying about ways she could spend her time that would be beneficial for the Kingdom of God. When I told her that I was looking for an assistant, but that I would not be able to pay her (at least for a year) she said that she would be interested in the position. We sat down and did a semi-formal interview. She was captivated by the idea of helping missionaries to transition to the field and delighted with the possibility of being able to use her language skills.  We clicked, and Virginia agreed to work for me on a volunteer basis for about 5 hours a week. So at least one morning a week, Virginia comes to our home and works alongside me, answering emails, creating contact lists, and doing some translation She will also help create a website and market Elan to missionary sending organizations. Virginia is becoming a dear friend, and I am so thankful for her partnership in ministry.

3. This week I hosted a day-long meeting with French partners and missionary leaders to talk about Elan and officially create the organization. I had twelve participants, an even mix of French and non-French. It was a productive day!

4. It is SO MUCH FUN having Graham aand Chan BOTH in the house for the summer months. Since David and I are still working full time and I am still in classes, we have asked the boys to each plan and prepare two meals per week. They are doing a great job, and we are eating well! Chan has made pork chops with blue cheese and pears, and Graham has made japanese dumplings! 

5. While in Geneva, I had some time to lay down and watch the clouds go by. As I lay, I looked up and saw this lovely sight. It's like God was saying, "Hey there, little one. I love you." 

6. I'm currently taking a class on American Church History. My professor is a Native American of Cherokee descent. Let's just say that the class did not begin with the arrival of the Pilgrims. It is ironic to me that so many settlers, who were fleeing religious persecution, quickly became religious persecutors. The things that were done in the "name of God" are beyond comprehension. And yet, in the end, the Republic that was born offered more religious freedoms and boasted more religious diversity that had ever been found in one place.

7. I now officially wear glasses. Not just reading glasses, all day, every day glasses. My friend who is a Fashion Consultant advised me to go with a neutral color for frames. Which makes a lot of sense. I picked pink. Which kind of goes against the general understanding of the word "neutral." Oh well! I liked the pink ones best. 

8. I've been taking a calligraphy class this year at the local community center. I'm not very good at it. I can spend three hours practicing a single letter, and still not get it just write right. But here is my first attempt at writing out a whole quote. This is a favorite quote from Ijeoma Umebinyuo in "Diaspora Blues" and it resonates with me deeply, as an expat. It says, "So, there you are. Too foreign for here. Too foreign for home. Never enough for both."

9. The weather has finally turned warm here in Lyon. Which makes me want to eat ice cream. A lot. Every single day.

10. The European Cup (or Euros) is currently going on, and France is the host country this year. The Euros is a once every four years Europe-wide soccer tournament. Matches are held in all the major cities of the host country--which means many matches are being played here in Lyon. Fans from all across Europe and flooding into France, and there is a general spirit of excitment in the air. We are watching at least one match a day, and loving every minute of it. So far, France is undefeated! Allez les bleus !

Monday, June 13, 2016

La Place la Moins Importante

***Traduction de l'article "The Least Important Place," publié 26 mai 2016 sur Four For France
Par Virginia LE BIHAN

Quand j’étais adolescente, ma famille est allée en thérapie. A l’occasion de notre première visite, le conseiller familial avait placé dans son bureau des chaises de taille et de confort variés. Lorsque nous sommes entrés, il a porté son attention sur la manière dont chaque membre de notre famille a choisi son siège. Avant qu’aucun de nous n’ait pu ouvrir la bouche, le conseiller était déjà capable d’analyser certaines dynamiques de notre famille rien qu’en observant la manière dont nous étions entré et nous étions installés. Moi par exemple, étant la plus jeune, j’ai souvent été reléguée à la table des petits ou sur une chaise pliante selon les contextes. Pour cette raison, bien que je fus la première personne à pénétrer dans son bureau, j’ai choisi le siège que j’ai perçu être le moins confortable. 

Le conseiller en a pris note. Dans le chapitre 14 de l’évangile de Luc, on voit Jésus faire des observations similaires. Alors qu’il était invité dans la maison d’un Pharisien haut placé, et que les autres invités arrivaient, il remarqua comme ils entraient et prenaient les meilleures places à la table. Le maître sait reconnaître un moment d’enseignement quand il en voit un, et offrir une leçon d’étiquette, qui s’applique aux invités comme aux hôtes. 

Récemment, j’ai été amenée à réfléchir à cette histoire à travers le prisme de la mission. En tant que missionnaires, nous sommes des invités. Les habitants du pays dans lequel nous nous rendons, les hôtes. Je pense que les remarques faites par Jésus en Luc sont pertinentes pour nous, primordiales même. Après avoir passé l’année dernière à étudier la productivité et la durabilité de la présence missionnaire, je décèle des connexions avec cette histoire biblique. 

Le passage commence par Jésus remarquant «la manière dont les invités choisirent les places d’honneur ». 

Quand j’ai lu ça, je me suis demandée « Jésus ne ferait-il pas la même observation des missionnaires arrivant sur le terrain ? » N’avons-nous pas tendance nous aussi à débarquer et à adopter des rôles de leaders ? Arrivons-nous avec un certain degré de suffisance ? Considérons-nous que ce que nous avons à offrir (l’Evangile !!!) nous donne le droit d’occuper des places d’importance et de plus grande visibilité ? 

Nos motivations et notre hâte peuvent bien être saintes, mais notre manière de faire est douteuse et défaillante. Oui, nous avons reçu un appel. Oui, nous avons une mission à accomplir. Oui, nous avons un message à délivrer. Oui, nous avons une vision à offrir. Et pourtant, nous restons des invités. Et notre manière d’entrer va nécessairement impacter la façon dont notre message va être perçu. 

Si nous arrivons en nous attendant à être écoutés, attendus pour répondre à un besoin, respectés, et valorisés ; si nous avons confiance dans nos ressources, nos outils, et nos objectifs, nous graviterons naturellement aux places les plus hautes. En tête de classe. Au devant de l’église. Nous serons tentés de dire à nos hôtes comment ils devraient gérer les choses, proposant des cours et des séminaires… comme si nous – les invités – devions servir le plat principal. Alors que ce n’est même pas notre maison. Pas notre fête. Pas chez nous. Alors comment devrions-nous entrer ?

« Lorsque tu es invité par quelqu’un à des noces, ne te mets pas à la meilleure place, de peur qu’il n’y ait parmi les invités une personne plus importante que toi et que celui qui vous a invité l’un et l’autre ne vienne te dire « laisse-lui la place ! » … Mais lorsque tu es invité, va te mettre à la dernière place … » 

Que se passerait-il si les missionnaires arrivaient et prenaient la place la moins importante ? Pourrions-nous entrer en scène et servir ? Pourrions-nous offrir ce que nous avons en adoptant une posture plus humble ou d’égal à égal, plutôt que de manière supérieure ? Pensez à Jésus, le premier missionnaire interculturel, qui a choisi de naître dans une étable, a grandi comme un enfant quelconque, a été ministre auprès des pécheurs. Il aurait pu se positionner comme grand prêtre à la synagogue locale. Mais à la place, il a touché des lépreux, parlé à des femmes à la réputation ternie, lavé des pieds ! Je dirais que Jésus, de bien des manières, a pris la place la moins importante. Et c’est ainsi qu’il illustre la vérité de son message. Même lui est venu pour servir et non pour être servi (Marc 10 :45). 

Jésus a donné un chemin exemplaire. 

A mon avis, cela veut dire que moi aussi, je dois intervenir humblement, reconnaissante du privilège d’être ne serait-ce qu’invitée. Je dois me mettre en retrait, pour observer et apprendre discrètement. Ce qui ne veut pas dire attendre mon heure, jusqu’à ce que je puisse sauter dans l’arène. Ni attendre un moment de flottement dans une conversation pour enfin y prendre part et proposer mes idées. C’est mettre mes plans et mes objectifs de côté – pour un temps au moins. Observer et apprendre, c’est poser plus de questions et proposer moins de solutions. 

En prenant le temps d’observer et d’apprendre, je pourrai m’émerveiller devant la sagesse et la perspicacité de mes hôtes. Je donnerai mon temps, mon énergie et mes ressources pour servir leurs projets. Je travaillerai à leur succès. Je prendrai conseil auprès d’eux. J’adopterai leur manière de faire les choses. Et c’est ainsi que je commencerai à voir les faiblesses et les défauts de mes propres plans. J’encouragerai mon hôte à me donner des retours, à m’aider à modifier, préciser, ou même abandonner certains objectifs. Jusqu’à ce que je sois invité à agir autrement, je resterai à la place la moins importante – à laver des pieds et à mourir à moimême. 

Mais il y a une autre facette à cette histoire. L’hôte aussi a un rôle à jouer. 

Et voici les paroles de Jésus concernant les hôtes : 
« … afin qu'au moment où celui qui t'a invité arrive, il te dise: ‘Mon ami, monte plus haut.’ Alors tu seras honoré devant [tous] ceux qui seront à table avec toi. » 

et … 

« Lorsque tu organises un dîner ou un souper, n'invite pas tes amis, ni tes frères, ni tes parents, ni des voisins riches, de peur qu'ils ne t'invitent à leur tour pour te rendre la pareille. Lorsque tu organises un festin, invite au contraire des pauvres, des estropiés, des boiteux, des aveugles… » 

Le rôle de l’hôte est d’inviter les autres, et même les rejetés, à entrer. Celui qui reçoit doit être en mesure de connaître les forces et les dons que chacun des invités possède, et chercher à installer ces invités aux places d’honneur. Jésus sait que nous avons tendance à nous sentir plus à l’aise avec ceux qui nous ressemblent, et nous pouvons donc souvent construire nos vies et nos ministères au sein de groupes d’affinité : nos amis, nos frères, nos proches parents, les personnes de même nationalité que nous … Jésus invite les hôtes à regarder au-delà de leur réseau habituel pour voir aussi ceux qui sont différents. 

Les habitants du pays d’accueil sont les hôtes. Ils sont les seuls à pouvoir ouvrir la porte de leur culture aux missionnaires. Ce sont eux qui peuvent désigner à quelle chaise chaque missionnaire peut s’asseoir à la table, afin que chacun puisse donner sa meilleure contribution au travail dont le Royaume de Dieu a besoin dans ce pays. Les missionnaires peuvent et doivent apporter leur énergie supplémentaire, leur perspective et leurs dons à leur terre de mission. Et si ces richesses sont abandonnées à languir à la table des petits, alors c’est gâcher les ressources du Royaume. Les membres des églises doivent aussi chercher à comprendre et à découvrir les richesses que des personnes extérieures peuvent apporter à la table. Car ils peuvent eux aussi choisir l’humilité pour mieux reconnaître les brèches et les faiblesses que comportent leurs propres systèmes, et ainsi accueillir le missionnaire comme un envoyé de Dieu pour combler ces brèches. 

Si le missionnaire s’installe dans un pays où il y a déjà une présence chrétienne, il doit se soumettre aux locaux. Nous sommes leurs invités. Ils sont nos frères et sœurs en Christ. Nous devons commencer par leur témoigner du respect, de l’admiration, de l’intérêt et notre capacité à nous laisser enseigner par eux. Nous devons établir une relation de confiance et d’amitié sincère. Nous avons besoin, oui vraiment, de nous asseoir à « la dernière place » jusqu’à ce que nous soyons invités à monter plus haut. Et nos hôtes doivent eux aussi apprendre à donner ces invitations. 

Et s’il n’y a pas de présence chrétienne dans notre pays d’accueil ? Même dans ces cas-là, je dirais qu’il y a une période obligatoire d’observation, d’apprentissage, et d’écoute de la culture locale avant de se lancer dans la réalisation des nos objectifs … Quand Paul est arrivé à Athènes, il s’est imprégné de la culture avant de commencer à prêcher. 

C’est pour cette raison que je travaille actuellement en France à la création d’une association multiculturelle qui accompagnera les missionnaires dans leur adaptation au terrain. Cette association s’appellera ELAN, et je vous en dirai plus dans les semaines et mois à venir. La vision de ce projet est née du désir de mon cœur de voir une plus grande collaboration et coopération pour l’avènement du Royaume de Dieu. Mais elle est ancrée dans la croyance que Dieu nous appelle à la communauté … autour d’une table … où l’étiquette a de l’importance.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Now and Not-Yet Kingdom of God

For the past three years I have had the joy and the privilege of working with and learning from these 49 men and 2 women. Representing at least nine different evangelical denominations, we met together every six months with the goal of accelerating the rate of church planting in France. Among the participants, there is a vision to plant ninety new churches over the next three years...some denominations planting as many as 30 churches in that time frame, some as few as 4. All seeking to make their best contribution towards seeing God's kingdom come in France.

I was not on a denominational team for this project, but on the team that was facilitating the gatherings. My specific role was to plan and lead the times of spiritual reflection and formation. The facilitation team had decided early on that we wanted each gathering to be marked by a spiritual rhythm, so we did not simply begin and end each day with prayer; rather, we paused several times each day to read scripture, intercede for each other, and listen to God.

One of our final spiritual exercises was to build an "Altar of Remembrance." First we read the story of Moses and the battle of the Amalakites. At the end of the story, Moses builds an altar to the Lord and calls it, "The Lord Is My Banner." I talked about how the name given to an altar expressed both gratitude for what God had done and hope for God would do in the future. I then asked each person to consider what name they would give to an altar that was built to commemorate what God had done in and through us over the past three years. Next, each participant was given a card that had his or her own photo attached to it. They were asked to write the name of  their altar next to their photo. Finally, each person was invited to come to the front of the room to share the name of their altar, and then to add their card to our communal altar. In this way we proclaimed together what God has done AND declared our hope for what He would continue to do. Here was how our altar turned out:

It was a holy moment. We concluded by singing several songs of gratitude and praise together. So there's a small peek at one of the ways God is working in France. To Him be the glory!