Friday, April 22, 2016

Where Is My Super Suit?

There is a temptation for a missionary to think of herself as a sort of super hero, a savior, a rescuer. We kind of like being needed. And if we think that we have some indispensible wisdom, tool, or key to the Gospel, then we're quite likely to enter our host culture with our hands on our hips, chest puffed out, and a "Aren't you glad that I showed up!?!" attitude.

Afficher l'image d'origine

But then if we aren't needed, why do we go? 

Oh, but I think we are needed. The question is not "Is there a need?" The question is "What is the need?" And maybe even more importantly, we need to ask, "What is my best contribution?" Must the foreign missionary always lead the charge? Or might my best contribution be a listening ear, a helping hand, and a teachable spirit?

The challenge is that most Americans don't know how to show up just to be present and participate. We're typically trained, equipped, and sent as leaders, and by the US understanding of "leader," that means that we're going to have our own plans and vision and goals. We have mission statements! We have resources! We have know-how! We have funding! 

We come to do. We're comforable in capes.

R├ęsultat de recherche d'images pour "No Capes"

But what if we came like Jesus?

What if we asked more questions? What if we gave away our power? What if we dined with more sinners, washed more feet, and carried more crosses? What if we lived by the upside-down principals of the Kingdom, and really did take the lowest place? Will I enter in humbly, and only move to a place of honor and visibility if invited by my host?

I think there is a fear among us, those who go to foreign places for the sake of the Gospel. The fear is that if we aren't fixing and solving, we're failing. But what if we're called to participate rather than initiate? What if we're meant to be the servant rather than the leader? What if our presence is more valuable than our presentations? Will I enter into the work that robs me of my super hero persona? Can I have goals and ambitions for the Kingdom of God that don't put me on top? Can I write a mission statement that is based on yielding, listening, and joining?

Afficher l'image d'origine

Can we consider the possibility that as strangers, we might be wise to yield to our indigenous brothers and sisters? Or will we assume that God only calls us to lead? 

All the way back in 1907, during the height of the missionary era, V.S. Azariah, the first Bishop in India, said, "No country can be fully evangelized except by its native sons." He went on the speak at the first World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh saying,"Through all the ages to come the Indian church will rise up in gratitude to attest the heroism and self-denying labors of the missionary body. You have given your goods to feed the poor. You have given your bodies to be burned. We ask for love. Give us FRIENDS."

Can I be content to give love? To be a friend to the French Church? Or will I worry that I just won't have enough bullet points in my newsletter if I'm not running the show?

More recently, missiologists such as David Garrison of the International Mission Board have studied church multiplication movements and noted that whenever a movement happens, "local leaders, and not outside ministers or missionaries, give direction to the movement and take responsibility for it."

When French people ask us what we are doing here, we tell them that we are here to support the National Council of French Evangelicals' goal to have one church for every 10,000 people in France. We are here to join their efforts in facilitating a church planting movement. But then we are quick to say that we are not leading the church planting team here in Lyon. We believe that French people will plant the best French churches. We are here to help. To serve. To encourage. To bless. And we are thrilled to be in the helper roles. 

We hope to open a regional training center, to equip and empower French church planters, but even there we will work with and yield to French leadership. 

Does that mean that I no longer consider myself a leader? Of course not. I can't help being a leader. That is who God made me to be. But my understanding of what a leader does and how a leader can lead are definitely changing. I am leaning more and more into flat models of leadership and gaining a deep appreciation for collaborative work. There are venues where I am blazing a trail (I can't help it!) but I'm making sure that I'm building a coalition on the way, inviting other leaders in, and benefiting from mutual submission from the start. 

I am leading differently. I am listening more. And amazingly, I am seeing more fruit. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Ten Totally Trivial Tidbits

  1. It's the end of the term, so I am swamped with writing papers. I'm thinking about publishing one of them here on the old blog--but it's like 12 pages long! Would anyone want to read it? It is on an interesting topic. It's about a French village that saved about 800 Jews, mostly children, by hiding them throughout the Nazi occupation.
  2. We discovered an amazingly wonderful Thai restaurant in Lyon. I'm SO happy about it!
  3. Our church has found a building to rent!!! We have some renovations to do to it, but hope to be able to move in in July. It's just a couple of blocks from the metro station, right in our neighborhood. Hip Hip Hooray!
  4. Major bonus about city living: the pets have been completely flea-free since our arrival in Lyon.
  5. David has started running with me. He has one rule. I'm not allowed to talk. He can run much faster than I can, but I can go further. So we take turns setting the pace, and in a few months we'll probably both be going further faster. 
  6. Graham is going to come HOME for the summer! And we are all four totally excited about it. The downside is he won't be able to work (He doesn't have a visa that allows him to get employment in France). So  we're praying for a great campus job for him for the next school year so that he'll be able to earn his share of his tuition. But getting to be together as a family for three whole months sounds so very super dreamy to me!
  7. Chan and David both have birthdays within the next six days, and I don't have a clue what to get them. Any ideas?
  8. I just saw that a forty year old gymnast from Uzbekistan qualified for the Olympics. Maybe there's hope for me yet....
  9. Spring is in the air, and sadly, in my sinuses. I hate allergies. But I love Spring. Why must they always go together?!?
  10. I'm currently accepting suggestions for good FICTION summer reading. Go!

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Does my work matter?

So it came about when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed. 
Exodus 17:11

Moses stands on top of a hill, observing the battle. He's not in the battle, so to speak, but watching from a safe distance. Joshua is the one who's in the fray, leading the army in the fight. 

But Moses notices that when he raises his hands (in which he is holding the Staff of God), the Israelites dominate, and when he lowers his hands, the Israelites lose. Suddenly Moses is not just a distant oberver, but one who is affecting the outcome of the battle. 

What is going on here? Does God's power to help the Israelites really depend on Moses' stance? If God is, indeed, the omnipotent God of the universe, why in the world would Moses be required to do these hilltop aerobics? 

I've been thinking a lot about this story, wondering what it teaches about God's work and my work. I'm fairly Reformed in my theology, believing that God in sovereign over all; yet, stories like this tell me that God somehow invites, values, and even depends on human participation. 

It's the phrase "depends on" that makes me cringe--that challenges my theology. If God is truly sovereign, then can He depend on His own creation to enact His own will? Not must He, but can He?

Something in me really prefers to think of God as acting outside of and apart from human participation. Life just feels safer that way. I like the theology that lets me believe that everything depends on God and nothing depends on me. This is the only way that things can turn out right, right?

But Moses had to raise His hands.

And when Moses gets tired, God doesn't say, "No problem, Mo! I gotcha covered. Thanks for doing your little bit, but the hand business was just a gimmick to make you feel needed. Take a break, rest your weary arms, and I'll clean up this mess on my own." Moses is not let off the hook, even when the job exceeds his abilities. This is where Aaron and Hur come in.

But Moses’ hands were heavy. Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus his hands were steady until the sun set.
Exodus 17:12

The task that God gives Moses to do is too hard for Moses to do alone. So he has to get help. And in the end, the Israelites win. 

Why? Because God was with them. And because God worked through them. Time and time, throughout scriptures, we see this same phenomenon: God enacts His will through human participation. He's sovereign, so he doesn't HAVE to do it that way. But He's sovereign, so He CAN do it that way. 

And I think God is still choosing to enact His will through human participation. Which means that the way I spend my life matters. What I do and say matters. The things that seem small and insignificant are impacting lives and winning (or losing) battles. 

God is depending on me.

Dang, that sounds blasphemous for some reason. Why would God depend on creatures that He knows are flawed and broken and weak? Sounds like risky business to me! If I were God...

Yes, if I were God, I would do everything myself. Then I could be sure that things would be done perfectly.

But God, who is perfect, does not seem to need perfection from me. He chooses to depend on my imperfect participation. In fact, messy human participation is an overarching theme in God's great story--from Abraham to Jacob to Moses to Rahab to Ruth to David to Jonah to Peter to Martha to Paul. None of them did God's work perfectly. All of them participated imperfectly. Yet, all of their works have been woven into the story that continues still today.

So as I ponder the story of Moses and the battle of the Amalekites, I'm discovering some things that apply to my life and the way that God is asking me to participate in His work in the world: 
  1. The importance of self-awareness: Moses was aware of his stance, and the impact that his stance was having on the situation. Am I aware of my stance in any given situation? Do I pay attention to how that stance is affecting other people or the circumstances in which we find ourselves?
  2. The importance of community: Moses was unable to complete his task on his own. It had nothing to do with his willingness or his obedience, he simply did not have the strength he needed. He had to depend on others. When God invites me to participate in His work, do I take a Lone Ranger approach, or do I follow God's lead and choose to depend on others? Do I, like God, eagerly invite the participation of broken people? Will I value participation over perfection?
  3. The importance of intercession: Moses held his ground as an intercessor, he didn't run into the battle himself when things looked bleak. I can be tempted to try to get involved in battles that are not mine to fight. Often my role, like Moses', is to watch and pray, not go and fix! This is a place of great faith, believing that God will act in response to my prayer; trusting that holding vigil might be my best contribution to a victory.
  4. The importance of praise: At the end of the battle, Moses built an altar, naming it "The Lord is My Banner." Moses did not mistake his own participation for the reason that Israel was victorious. As Moses lifted up God, the Israelites won. The power for victory is only ever present when God is present and lifted up. Can I fully participate in God's work without seeking the glory for the outcome? Do I remember that God is always the perfector? And do I praise Him for every victory?

Moses built an altar and named it TheLord is My Banner. Exodus 17:15

Thursday, March 31, 2016

How will you vote?

What kind of a voter are you? I don't mean are you a Democrat or a Republican. I mean are you anxious or are you at peace? Are you mad or are you motivated? What's going on in your heart when you think about the coming election?

Can we take a minute and stop talking about Trump and Sanders and Cruz and Clinton and Kasich, and talk instead about you?

More than WHO you vote for, I care HOW you vote.

Please, oh please don't vote in fear! Don't vote for someone you don't even like just because you are afraid that another person would be worse. Make sure that you actually trust and believe in the person whose name is on your ballot, even if that means that you have to write someone in. The fear-mongers will tell you that you are throwing your vote away if you do that. You are not. You are responsible for your vote, not for the outcome. Make sure that when you vote, you have peace and a clear conscience about your choice. Leave the outcome to God.

Please, oh please, don't vote angry! I know that many people are struggling and frustrated with the current state of government. If you are overcome with righteous anger, then you have most likely already gotten involved at the local level in causes that you really care about. This is a good use of such energy. But if you aren't angry enough to have put your own blood, sweat, or tears behind the issue, then you're pretty much just a whiner who wants other people to fix things. Trust me, none of the politicians are going to do that for you. Some might do it with you. Sit down with people who care about the things you care about and find someone or something that you can be FOR, not just against. For a great resource about how to get involved locally to make an impact for the Kingdom of God, check out The New Parish.

Please, oh please, don't vote stupid! The presidential race gets all of the attention, but there are a ton of local races and ballot measures that are much closer to home--these matter too! Get educated about the issues, know how those measures will effect your community and your neighbors and your schools. Talk to your friends, but also try to hear the thoughts and ideas of a few people who think differently than you do. Try to understand all of the angles so that your vote is informed.

Please, oh please, don't have anything to do with the nastiness! Let's raise the level of the conversation. Don't post anything on Facebook that is cruel or demeaning. Don't belittle or demonize people who vote differently than you do. Write to candidates and tell them that the negative ads are unhealthy and wrong. Refuse to watch news stations that are incendiary.  We all hate the tone of elections, and yet they keep getting worse. It's time to say, "NO MORE!" Stop validating their bad behavior by sensationalizing it. And definitely don't retweet it.

We have a few choices to make--not just the WHO of this election, but the HOW. Keep your heart and your soul pure in the process, free from malice and spite. Because how we, the voters, conduct ourselves in this process may do more for the health and unity of our country than any single candidate possibly could.

Friday, March 25, 2016

A Friend of God

I've been spending some time trying to figure out what it means to be a friend of God. I have some idea of what it means to be a God's child, God's servant, God's beloved, and God's ambassador. But lately I've had the sense that God is inviting me to be His friend. And I'm not exactly comfortable with the idea.

To be God's friend would mean that I would have to grow up. Friendship carries a heavier responsibility, and I'm not sure that I can handle it. I much prefer the role of the "damsel in distress" when it comes to God. Friendship feels beyond me. Yet, something about the invitiation is compelling. It seems that God is asking me to discover a new way of interacting with Him, to explore an undiscovered aspect of our relationship. In essence, I think God is asking me to mature in the way that I engage with Him.

It's sort of like the transition I'm going through in parenting my young adult children. I'm still their mom. I'll always be their mom. But it would be rediculous if I still parented them the same way that I did ten years ago. We are making the bumpy move to an adult-adult relationship, and while it's a bit of an awkward dance for the time being, I know we need to keep moving in that direction, because there is nothing for us in the old parent-child relationship. We just can't (and shouldn't) live there forever. While it's silly and downright dangerous for parents to try to be friends with their eight year old children, it's just and silly for a parent to relate to an adult child as if the child were still eight. The relationship changes as the child matures.

Yes. And this is what I think God is saying. He wants to relate to me as an adult child--as a friend. It's time for me to grow up.

But how? What does friendship with God look like? I'm starting my journey to answer that question by studying the life of Abraham--because Abraham is the first person in the Bible that God refers to as His friend (see Isaiah 41:8). I'm particularly paying attention to the things about God and Abraham's relationship that are distinct from the ways a child or servant relationship looks. For example, Abraham obeyed God--but this is something a servant or child  would do, so it doesn't necessarily show how Abraham was God's friend. Abraham also believed God--his faith is legendary. But that, too, is something a child of God does. It is certainly a quality that is present in friendship, but it is not unique to friendship.

So one of the first places I see a friend to friend interaction between God and Abraham is in Genesis chapter 18. Having appeared to Abraham to announce the impending birth of Isaac, God says to Himself, "Should I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?" Reading the rest of the chapter, we quickly discover how God answers His own question--He decided to share His plans to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah with Abraham.

Sharing plans--that is something that friends do. Jesus makes this clear when he says to his disciples in John 15:15, "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not kow his master's business. Instead I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you."  So Genesis chapter 18 had my attention! God is treating Abraham like a friend by making His business known to Abraham. How will Abraham handle it? What does Abraham do to engage in a friendship with God?

Abraham certianly doesn't say, as a servant might have said, "Good plan, boss! How can I help?" Nor does he whimper like a child, crying, "Oh No! That sounds mean!" Instead, Abraham neogitates with God.

Audacious? Maybe. But Abraham isn't flippant or haughty in his negotiation. He is diplomatic and wise, and God welcomes the dialogue. Imagine the scene.
Abraham came near and said, “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will You indeed sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous and the wicked are treated alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?
First, I love how the passage begins with "Abraham came near...." When a friend confronts a friend, he doesn't pull back and put up walls, he draws near. He enters in. He says with his body, "I'm with you" even as he says with his words "I don't like your plan." A friend of God comes close.

Second, Abraham appeals to God's character, he reminds God of His own justice. Friends know each other well enough to say, "Your actions don't seem to be congruent with who I know you to be." A friend will ask the hard questions, will risk being rejected for the sake of speaking truth.

Third, Abraham mediates. He intercedes for the the people of Sodom; he intercedes for his nephew, Lot. And this may be the essential element of friendship with God. I think that THIS is perhaps the main reason that God shares His plans with His friends--to invite them to intercede. We see this again with another one of God's friends, Moses. God shares His plan to destroy all of Israel with Moses, and Moses intercedes for Israel. God wants friends who will act as mediators, intercessors, peacemakers.

God welcomed Abraham's plea. God bent to Abraham's request--all the way to agreeing that if just 10 righteous people could be found in Sodom, God would spare the entire city. But God knew that there were no righteous people in Sodom. Not even Lot was worthy of being saved. It was out His compassion for Abraham that God saved Lot (Genesis 19:16). In the end, God's plan stayed the same. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed. But God's justice and compassion were also revealed, and perhaps the decision to save Lot and his family were the results of Abraham's mediation.

This is not to say that I don't believe in the absolute sovereignty of God. It is to suggest that God chooses to enact His perfect will through the prayers of His friends. Perhaps my willingness to stand in the gap--to come near to God, appeal to His character, and mediate for His creation--is exactly what God is looking for in a friend.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

God is Building His Church in Vieux Lyon

Last Sunday, there were 24 adults and 2.5 children at our worship gathering. This is the church plant in Vieux Lyon...these people ARE the church. We started as a team of 5, and even though we haven't officially launched, people are coming.

Some people find our service time and location on our website and just show up. Some have been invited to come. One of our regular attenders has brought just about everyone she knows, and some of her friends have stuck around. 

We are careful not to invite people from established churches--we do not belive in church planting by division! Most of our current attenders are students and young professionals who have not yet found a "home" church in Lyon. They come from various denominational backgrounds, and most describe themselves as "young" Christians, that is to say, newer to the faith. Some had walked away from the church for a time, but were feeling a need to find their way back to God and His family. Some are seekers. We strive to meet each person where they are, and then invite them to take the next step towards Christ.

God is building His church in Vieux Lyon, and we are privileged to be a part of it.

Next steps? We clearly need a building as we have quickly outgrown the living room in the apartment where we are currently meeting. We have found a location that would meet our needs here in our neighborhood, but there are several hurdles in front of us--one of which in financial. Even just to rent a space in Vieux Lyon, there is a large sum that must be paid upfront. It is an expense that can be recouperated if we move, but we still have to be able to make the initial investment. Please pray that if this is that place that God has chosen for us, He will open wide the doors.

The location that we are considering would have enough space for a our daily prayer meetings, our weekly worships services, and a classroom for a Regional Church Planting Training Center, which we hope to launch in the Fall of 2017. It also has a large room that would serve as shared office space. We will be able to rent out several office cubicles to people in the comminuty who are in need of such a work space, and this will help pay for the monthly rent of the entire building. This is the type of model that is needed in France, where the average church size is 50-80 people. Small congregations cannot afford to pay rent, utilities, etc. By having an income source that will also offer a useful service to the community we will not only enlarge the breadth of our social network, we will also be able to afford a building that is centrally located.

God is on the move in Lyon! Pray with us for wisdom and grace as we seek to keep in step with the Spirit. May we do all things by His strength and for His glory!

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Silence is Golden

I am failing at my goal to blog twice a week. I'm struggling to blog twice a month. But given how many words are spilled onto the web every day, it's hard to imagine that my failure to contribute to the noise could posibly be missed. In fact--it might be appreciated. Yes, "Silence is golden, golden." It's a commodity that seems to have lost its value in our world. If I had any brains, I'd end this post right there.

Yeah, we all knew that wasn't going to happen!

I feel  the need to verbalize what I am learning about shutting up.

In the course of one day, I managed to rudely correct the same person twice. Both times the correction was not over something important or even relevant. The errors were teeny tiny. They were not critical to the information being shared. They need not have had any attention at all directed at them. They should have been overlooked. I should have shut my trap. Silence, while actively listening to the real heart of the speaker, would have been the most loving response.

Me? I interrupted with corrections. I stopped the flow a perfectly engaging story to quibble over non-essentials. Non-essentials that I didn't even really care about. Why? Why did I open my mouth?

I spoke before I thought. I blurted out something without even considering how my interjection would not only be rude, but might also have belittled the speaker. I did it without even recognizing what I had done.

And then I went running.

And while I was running, the two scenes (which happened within a 12 hour span) were replayed in my mind back to back. I saw myself as an outsider looking in--I saw petty, shrill, superior me. Yuck. Sin doesn't look so bad from the inside looking out. But when I see it from the outside looking in, it's repulsive. My heart sank. For the rest of my run, I let myself feel the sadness of God over how I had treated one of His own.

While I quickly repented of my bad behavior, and while I have had the opportunity to ask for forgiveness both from God and from the beautiful young woman I interrupted, I realize that the sin God has revealed to me goes deeper than I'd like to think. This isn't an isolated incident, it's a nasty habit.  A habit from which I want to be healed. In fact, I shudder to think how many of you are nodding your heads as you read, thinking, "Yeah, Jenn, that's been an issue for a while! Are you just now figuring it out?" Yeah. I'm suppose I'm a slow learner.

So once again, for yet another reason, I'm learning to hold my tongue. To ask, "Is it necessary?" before I speak. To consider if my words will build up or tear down before I hammer them out of my mouth. To see the beauty of silence. Yes, much love can be spoken in silence.