Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Least Important Place

When I was a teenager, my family went to counseling. On our first visit, one of the things that that counselor did was place chairs of various size and comfort level in his office, and as the family entered, he paid attention to which family members took which seats. Before any of us opened our mouths the counselor was already able to analyze some of our family dynamics by observing how we entered the room and which seats we chose. For example, I, a youngest child, had often been relegated to the "kid's table" or the folding chairs in any given setting. For that reason, even though I was the first person to enter his office, I chose what I perceived to be the least comfortable seat. The counselor took note.

In the fourteenth chapter of Luke, we see Jesus making similar observations. He had been invited to the house of a high-ranking Pharisee, and as the other guests arrived, he noticed that they were coming in and taking the best seats at the table. The master recognizes a teachable moment when he sees it, and he offers a lesson in etiquette--one that applies to both guests and hosts.

Lately I was drawn to consider this story through the lens of missions. As missionaries, we are guests. Those in the countries to which we go are hosts. And I think the points that Jesus makes here in Luke are relevant to us. In fact, I think they’re critical. After having spent the last year studying missionary effectiveness and sustainability, I’m seeing some connections to this story.

The passage begins with Jesus noticing “how the guests chose the places of honor.”

When I read that, I asked myself, “Might Jesus make the same observation about missionaries arriving on the field?” Do we, too, tend to come in and assume leadership roles? Do we enter with a sense of self-importance? Do we consider that what we have to offer (the Gospel!!!) entitles us to occupy places of prominence and visibility?

While our motivation and urgency may be holy, our means are messy and broken. Yes, we have a call. Yes, we have a mission. Yes, we have a message. Yes, we have vision. And yet…we are guests. And how we enter will necessarily impact the way in which that message is received.

If we come expecting to be heard, needed, respected, and valued, if we have confidence in our resources, tools, and agendas, we will naturally gravitate to the highest places. To the head of the class. To the front of the church. We will be tempted to tell our hosts how it should be done, offering our classes and training seminars, as if we—the guests—should serve the main dish. But it isn’t even our house. It’s not our party. Not our place.

So how should we enter?

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, because a person more distinguished than you may have been invited by your host….But when you are invited, go and take the least important place.”

What would happen if missionaries arrived and took “the least important place”? Could we come in and serve? Could we offer what we have from below or beside, rather than from above? Think about Jesus, the first cross-cultural missionary, who chose to be born in a barn, raised as a commoner, minister with fishermen. He could have stepped into a head rabbi position at the local synagogue. Instead he touched lepers, talked to scandalous women, and washed feet. I’d say, in most ways, Jesus took the least important place. And his means of sharing his message only helped to illustrate its truth. Even he did not come to be served, but to serve (Mk 10:45).

Jesus modelled the way.

For me, that means I, too need to enter humbly, grateful for the privilege of even being invited. I need to sit back, quietly, watching and learning. This is different than biding my time until I see a place that I can jump in and take. It’s different than waiting for a lull in the conversation when I can speak up and propose my ideas. It’s setting aside my plans and agendas—for a time. When I watch and learn, I’ll ask more questions and offer fewer solutions.

When I watch and learn, I’ll marvel at the wisdom and insight of the hosts. I’ll give my time, energy, and resources to serve their plans. I’ll work for their success. I’ll take their advice. I’ll adapt to their way of doing things. And as I watch and learn, I’ll begin to see the weaknesses and flaws in my own plans. I’ll invite the host to give me input, to help me modify, refine, or even scrap my plans. Until I am invited to do otherwise, I will stay in that “least important place”—washing feet and dying to myself.

But there is another side to the story. The host has a role to play, too.

Here are Jesus’ words to the hosts:

“…when your host approaches he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up here to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who share the meal with you.”


“When you host a dinner or a banquet, don’t invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors so you can be invited by them in return and get repaid. But when you host an elaborate meal, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.”

The role of the host is to invite the other and outsider to come inside. The host is to recognize the strengths and the gifts of the guests, and seek to provide those guests places of honor. Jesus knows that we tend to be more comfortable with people who are like us, and so we can often build our lives and ministries around our own affinity groups. Our friends, brothers, relatives, fellow nationals. Jesus invites the host to look beyond her normal network to those who are different.

The nationals are the hosts. They are the only ones who can open the door into the culture for the missionaries. They are the ones who can pull out a seat at the right place at the table, so that each missionary is able to make his best contribution to the Kingdom work that is going on in that country. Missionaries can and should bring valuable energy, perspective, and gifts to the host countries. And if those gifts are left to languish at the kiddie table, then Kingdom resources are sadly wasted. Insiders, too need to seek to understand and discover the contributions that outsiders can bring to the party. They too, could benefit from a dose of humility that acknowledges gaps and weaknesses they have in their own systems and welcomes the missionary as an emissary sent by God to fill in those gaps.

If going to a country where there is a Christian presence, the missionary must submit to the nationals. We are their guests. They are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We must start by showing respect, admiration, interest, and teach-ability. We must build trust and genuine friendship. We need, yes need to sit at the lowest place until we are invited up. And the hosts need to extend those invitations

But what if there is not a Christian presence? Even then…even then, I would say there is a mandate for a period of watching, learning, and listening to the culture before we begin to implement plans. When Paul arrived in Athens he made observations about the culture before he began to preach.

For this reason, I am working to create a multi-cultural association in France that will accompany missionaries in their transition to the field. That association is going to be called Elan, and I’ll be telling you more about it in the weeks and months to come. The vision was birthed out of my heart’s desire to see greater collaboration and cooperation for the sake of the kingdom of God. But it is rooted in the belief that God calls us to community…around a table…where etiquette matters. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Outreach in Old Lyon

All of the evangelical churches of Lyon are working together in a two-week long initiative called "Un Coeur pour Lyon" (A heart for Lyon) in an effort to touch the people of our city with the love of God. As part of the initiative, our church plant hosted an event on Sunday for families in our neighborhood. It was so much fun!

We had a workshop where children could make mosaics from painted eggshells. Parents sat and visited with us while their kids created mini-masterpieces. It was our first official outreach activity as a church, and we really enjoyed getting to know more people in our neighborhood.

David and another church member made balloon swords and balloon animals, much to the delight of many littles. Adults were invited to write messages on postcards, and then attach the postcards to helium balloons to send off to unknown recipients. People wrote simple words of encouragement such as "you are beautiful" and "you are loved" and then released their words to wherever the winds might take them.

We served homemade cakes and cookies, and as people enjoyed the goodies we shared a bit of our vision for the neighborhood. We also handed out invitations to evangelistic events (similar to a Billy Graham crusade) that will be held next weekend in a large stadium in Lyon. 

 It was pure joy to be out in the sun sharing the love of the Son with the people in our quartier. And it was a geuine team effort--with new members of our tiny church plant taking the lead in planning and executing the endeavor. This is what it means to BE the church. We look forward to doing similar events in the future. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

A Colorful Break

Last week was my break between my Spring and Summer semesters. Plus, because of the Ascension holiday in France, we had a four-day weekend from work! So I took full advantage. I started the week by finishing a baby blanket for a dear friend who is due next month. With some extra yarn I made a little monster that turned out so cute I almost kept him!

One sunny evening I met this cute boy for a pre-dinner drink. We thoroughly enjoyed being out and about in the city we now call home. Lyon is lovely, and we love being able to walk from our apartment to riverside cafés--living like locals. 

David brought some beautiful rhubarb home from the market one day, and I quickly turned it into a crisp that we devoured with great big scoops of vanilla ice cream.

And I spent a delightful afternoon with two friends from church, painting eggshells that are going to be used in an outdoor outreach next weekend. We are going to offer (among other family activities) a workshop for kids to make mosaics out of eggshells. After being painted, the shells were smashed into tiny peices, to be used as the "tiles" for the mosaics. 

I also spent several hours relaxing on the couch with these cuties and a good book. I'm rested and refreshed and ready to dive back in to school and ministry.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Le Chambon-sur-Lignon: City of Refuge

On a remote plateau in the Haute-Loire department of France, the residents of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon and its surrounding villages sheltered and protected hundreds of refugees during World War 2, the majority of which were Jewish children.  The hospitality of the plateau stands in sharp contrast to the violence and bigotry that permeated Europe, and their efforts—though illegal at the time—garnered the praise of the French and Israeli governments decades after the end of the war. 

-This is the introduction to the research paper that I wrote for for my Christian History and Theology class. For those who would like the read all twelve pages, simply click on the link below.

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.

Résultat 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