Saturday, December 4

If You are in the CoC, Your Brain is About to Explode




I just finished a paper about Alexander Campbell and Barton W. Stone. You know those guys. The ones who led the Restoration Movement. You know, our claim to fame in the church of Christ. You know.

But what you didn't know MAY SHOCK YOU!

Though they teamed up to lead the same movement, AC and BWS were as different as Cher and Willie Nelson. Their personalities were different, their worldviews were different and their lifestyles were different. A lot of learned folk say this is why there was an eventual split in the Movement in 1906 that resulted in two groups being formed: the Christian Church and the Church of Christ. My paper was about one of the many differences between these two ancient manfolks: Their radically different views of the millennium.

Have you thought about what you believe about the "millennium" talked about in Revelation? Maybe you've read those Left Behind books. Maybe you've never heard of this millenni-thing. What do you think about life after death? Straight to heaven or hell? I don't know. But I know what AC and BWS thought.

Campbell was of the opinion that before Jesus returned to earth, there would be a 1,000 year period characterized by peace, justice, good weather, easy farming and general warm and fuzziness in which everyone in the world would be a Christian. He wrote that this Millennium would start because of human efforts. He thought his Restoration Movement could be the spark that started the 1,000 year period. He thought that all of the advances in technology made in his lifetime were indicative that human progress was reaching the pinnacle of greatness that would usher in the Millennium. That's why he came out with a journal called Millennial Harbinger, which means, "Bringer of the Millennium."

Stone, however, was convinced that Jesus could come at any time, and that only the return of Jesus would start the 1,000 years of peace and plenty. He carried a worldview that was a little more pessimistic toward humanity than Campbell's. Stone looked around and saw slavery, poverty, arguing among Christians and other social ills that led him to believe that the world was crumbling and had been dying since it was born. To Stone, humanity would not be the bringer of the millennium, but God alone.

Each of these guys lived a totally different lifestyle that probably contributed to the way they interpreted Revelation. Of course AC would be optimistic about the world- he was rich (when he died, his estate was worth the equivalent of $20 million today) and popular and important. Barty had every reason to be Eyore, since he was poor, unknown and had given his everything to the promotion of the Movement and the end of Slavery, only to see nothing come of it.

As the story goes, everyone eventually sided with Campbell's view and persecuted people who followed Stone's view. Then, when the Civil War came and the country started going to poo, they left AC's theory behind as well. As a result, today the Christian Churches and the Churches of Christ are not POSTmillennial (like Campbell) or PREmillennial (like Stonesie), but Amillennial (meaning, the wast majority of churches in these fellowships don't believe in a literal millennium). Most people in these fellowships see the second coming, judgment, the destruction of earth and assignment in heaven or hell all happening at one single millisecond (not a biblical conclusion).

To conclude, neither Stone nor Campbell thought that one's view of the millennium should be a test of fellowship. They didn't think this was such an important issue that it is worth arguing over and neither should you. However, you should take the time, as a Christian, to develop your own eschatology, that is, your view of last things, or what happens at the end of time. If you roll Romans and Thessalonians and Revelation and Peter Jesus together, you may be surprised about what they are all saying about the end.

If you have more interest in the millennial views of Stone and Campbell (you shouldn't), and would like to learn more (why?!) you can read some of the work done by Richard Hughes (don't!). Or if you want to read my 25 page paper (you don't) just leave me your email address (you are insane) and I'll send you a copy.

Pictured above: Barton W. Stone with spectacles hidden in his windblown hair, Alexander Campbell, probably the scariest father in-law ever, and the cover to the Backstreet Boys 1999 chart-topping album, Millennium which featured the #1 hit, "Larger Than Life," which is ironic because AC's eyebrows were larger than life.

Wednesday, December 1

That's the Power of The Home Depot


You might not have known that I work part-time at The Home Depot. I started working there at the end of August. I've never worked in retail before, and I'm enjoying it. I realized last week that it had been almost two months since my last post, so I promised myself a week ago that I would blog about whatever might happen the following week. I now fulfill that promise.

I work in flooring. Mostly, I talk to people all day about how to lay tile, how much it will cost them to carpet their house, what they should use to clean their laminate and why they should never put solid wood down in the kitchen. This past week, I did all of those things, but the noteworthy experiences happened outside department 23.

On Monday, a customer needed help finding picture hangers, so I took her to hardware and pointed them out. Then, as I made my way back to the flooring department, another customer reached up and touched my elbow. I stopped and she whispered in my ear, "You might want to watch that guy over there. He's acting drunk and reeks of beer." I thanked her and walked over to the man at the end of the aisle. I asked if he needed any help finding anything and he responded with a "No, thanks," that smelled like a warm draft from a pit of vipers writhing in crude oil.

I went around the corner and told Jack, the department head of hardware. Jack is the human version of a lawn gnome. Note that I did not say he looks like the human version of a lawn gnome. I said he is the human version of a lawn gnome. Four foot something with a huge gray beard, always wearing a Home Depot hat. Glasses. Gnome. Anyway, I told him about the guy and when he peeked around the corner at him, he saw the guy shoving drill bits down his pants.

Yes, we got thiefed. Since we'd be fired if we tried to stop the guy, all we could do is watch him and wait for a manager to come. No one came in time. He just walked out with drawers full of merch and we had to just watch him go. Thiefed.

The next big event happened on Tuesday. I went over to the kitchen and bath area because I heard someone raising their voice. It turned out to be a customer arguing with Kathy in kitchens about what product to use on a piece of granite. He somehow came into possession of a two inch thick slab of granite that he'd been using as a turntable. He was not satisfied, however with the inconsistency between the polished look of the top of the granite and the unpolished cut around the edges of the slab. Kathy told the man he should buy a granite polish to make the sides look right. He as convinced he needed to "make the sides wet," as evidenced by his repeated action of licking the side of one of our sample pieces of granite.

Kathy was getting nowhere, so I brought the man over to the flooring department and tried to explain to him that he needed to buy the polish. In the middle of my spiel, he saw a $20 bottle of sealer and became fixated on it, convinced it was he product he needed. And he kept licking the sample granite.

Finally, he said he knew he was right and he was going to buy the $20 sealer. "Ok," I said. Then he started to open it. I told him if he opened it, he would have o buy it, because we couldn't sell an opened hazardous material. He nodded really hard and said he just wanted to show me that he was right. You know what happened. He opened it. He was wrong. Then he put it back on the shelf and left. And he took the granite sample. Thiefed.

Finally, on Wednesday I was cornered by a lady on a Hover-Round who had just bought two cans of paint for her daughter's house. She started talking and just wouldn't stop. I learned she was 85 years old with a boyfriend who was a nice guy, but not as fun as the man she dated thirty years ago who took her fishing in the ocean, but that guy turned out to be a little scary, which reminded her of her traumatic childhood in which she was thrown in the cellar by her om's boyfriend and left for hours and hours and hours and hours all by herself for hours and hours and hours and now this post is starting to resemble our thirty minute conversation so I'll stop here.

My week at The Home Depot.

Friday, October 1

Discipleship


In an earlier post about balancing Knowledge and Obedience, I stated that following Jesus should be about obedience and not about knowledge. I also said the phrase "Obedience Based Discipleship" is a misnomer that can be misleading. This post will clarify that statement. It might all go down smoother if you re-read the post, called "Balance" before you read this post.

Those whose eyes have been opened to the power of radical obedience to God's word have a generally similar experience. They are immediately awed at the simplicity of putting God's word into immediate, measurable action. They quickly see improvement in their walk with God as they devote themselves to studying with a mind to obey. They also have an eagerness to share this discovery with others. Then comes a feeling of frustration because many of the people they tell either don't get it or pick it apart until they find enough faults to dismiss it.

For example, I recently spoke in chapel at Harding Grad. I presented the ideas in the "Balance" blog and an accompanying application of Matthew 7. Afterward, a faculty member politely noted that what I said sounded a tad legalistic. I was not surprised. I had heard it before. My internal response was, "What I said was no more legalistic than what Jesus said."

When we are communicating to other nonbelievers about obedience, they hear (rightly) that Christianity holds a high standard. When they make an acquaintance of Jesus in the context of his demands of obedience, they understand him (correctly) as someone who gives much and expects much. However, when we are communicating with believers about obedience, a red flag is lifted at the sheer mention of the o-word. Phrases flash through their minds like, "saved by grace through faith." To base discipleship on obedience, in their minds, is to strive to save oneself by works.

To their credit, there are some pitfalls to the obedience based mindset. For all its strength, it can be a slippery slope to some unbiblical attitudes.

1. Pride. I have seen this in others and been guilty of it myself. When we have this life-changing epiphany and realize that measurable obedience should replace a premium on knowledge, there can be a tendency to look down upon the "uninitiated." I'm not talking about lost people, but people beside us in the pews and in our Bible classes. We can forget that we were once where they are. We shake our heads sometimes because they have not arrived. We forget that although we may be a little further down the road, we also have not yet arrived.

2. Legalism. When the pendulum swings away from knowledge and toward obedience, the momentum can carry it too far. By legalism, I am referring to earning salvation and favor from God as well as making a false idol out of literal obedience. We have to remember that God loves the obedient and the disobedient. We are obedient not because we want to earn his love, but because we want to show our love and because he commanded it.

3. Weakening Scriptural Mastery. That sounds ridiculous, but I couldn't think of a better way of wording it. Often there are trade-offs when we do something a certain way. Before I began studying the Bible with a mind to obey, I studied for facts, facts, and more facts. My Bible time was about quantity, not quality. I considered volume a measure of success (hence the "read the Bible in a year" programs). After I changed my study approach, however, my sights narrowed significantly. Determined to obey everything I learned, it became more and more critical to read in small chunks. If I read five chapters, for example, I could never keep up with my obedience to all of the imperatives. As a result, I focused more on small sections of Scripture. Over time, this had a negative affect on my familiarity with the whole of the Bible. The trade-off of quality over quantity has its drawbacks.

The above warnings do not discredit Obedience Based Discipleship. Until I am introduced to a more biblical way to live, I will not change. As I disciple nonbelievers, I will continue to emphasize, as Jesus did, that obedience is not an option. We do the lost no favors when we make Christianity look easier than it really is. The above is simply a caution for anyone, including myself, who would attempt to place a premium on obedience.

On to the misnomer. I mentioned that the word "obedience" can be a turn-off to some believers because to them it reeks of legalism. Upon realizing this, I toyed with a few other names for it. "Faith Based Discipleship." "Discipleship of Faithfulness." "Radical Discipleship." In the end, though, they all sounded a little redundant. So, from now on, when I share with my fellow believers this way of life I am so passionate about, I will call it what it should have been called all along...

Discipleship.

Saturday, September 11

For Auntie Denise


I love my iPhone, but sometimes it it makes me call people on accident. The other day, I was trying to call my father in-law to tell him I was going to the grocery store and offer to pick up some peanuts for him. The man likes peanuts. And Skinny Cow Low Fat Ice Cream Snacks. Anyway, I went to my "Recent Calls" screen and accidentally touched my aunt's name instead of Mark's. It was no problem, because I caught it in time and I just hung up really fast. Then I called Mark, who did not want peanuts, but suggested I buy some lunch meats.

My wife has always wondered if I act out for other people or if I am a goofus all the time, even when I'm by myself. When she asked me about it, I could only guess at the answer. My initial thought was that I am fairly consistent in my behavior, but I could think of no specific instances in which I was goofin solo. So, the question remained an enigma... until the aforementioned day, after I left the grocery with various meats but no peanuts.

I was alone in the car, driving south on Rufe Snow, and "Jesus Take the Wheel" was on the radio. I don't know why or how it started, but by the time I got to my turn on Chapman, I was singing the chorus as loud as I could, purposefully hitting all the wrong notes. I was really getting into it and thinking about how funny this would be if anyone could hear it when I heard a noise coming from my left hand. Yes, I had accidentally called my aunt. Yes, she had answered this time. Yes, the phone was on speaker.

Yes, I pretended it happened on purpose.

I've recorded the transcript of our conversation below.


-----


Auntie: Ha ha ha ha. Ha. Ha ha. (this is what I heard while singing the line
"give me one more chance")

Auntie: What are you doing?!

Michael: Singing "Jesus, Take the Wheel."

Auntie: I can hear that, but you don't sound much like Terry Bradshaw.

Michael: You're right, but I think it's Carrie Underwood.

Auntie: Oh! Ha ha! You're right! Terry Bradshaw is the girl from Sex in the City.


-----



It was great talking to my aunt. I think we are a lot alike. Her name is Cindy, but for some reason, I have always called her Auntie Denise. Kris says I get my sense of humor from her. If you or anyone you know is interested in a beautiful, fully restored home in Panama City, Florida, she'll sell you one.

Saturday, September 4

Balance


The mark of a disciple is not knowledge, but obedience.

When I was eight-ish, my mom had me staying with a babysitter when she worked nights. The lady who watched me was Mrs. Ann Brady of Columbia, TN. We had a lot of good times together. Popcorn is my favorite food. I'm positive this is because she cooked it on the stove every night. We would eat it while we watched Murder She Wrote. Good times. Mrs. Brady was also a devoted Christian, and she did what she could to influence me. I remember she once had me memorize the books of the Bible. Old Testament and New. While writing them out for the hundredth time, I asked why I needed to know this information. She said, "One day, when you get to heaven, they might ask you the books of the Bible before they let you in."

I tell people about this and they laugh. But really, isn't it common for Christians to equate Biblical knowledge with righteous living? In a Bible class on any given Sunday, if the group was tasked with choosing a spiritual leader, would not most groups choose as their leader the individual with the most Biblical knowledge? I say this is not as it should be.

Most of us who grew up in American church culture know that a high premium is placed on knowledge. This was reinforced when we got a gold star for memorizing verses. Or when we got a plaque at Bible Bowl or a medal at Lads to Leaders. Or when a child was counseled by a parent or minister that she should not be baptized because "she doesn't know enough yet." Need more examples?

The troubling thing is that we have been conditioned to learn facts without immediately obeying them. For years, we have studied daily devotions, completed Read-the-Bible-in-a-Year programs, and taken copious notes in sermons and Bible classes. All the while, downloading facts for the sake of knowledge but not with a mind to obey. We all meant well, and the end we had in mind was closeness to God. Our intentions were pure. Unfortunately, learning something we should do, and then not doing it has become a habit. A habit we have to break!

Some have suggested that our study of the Bible should be done with a mind to obey. New imperatives should not be learned until you are practicing what you've already learned. The pattern would be learn-obey-learn-obey... as opposed to learn-learn-learn-learn-obey-learn-learn. You see that a new habit is being formed.

When put into practice, this can be so freeing. When we immediately obey what we have learned, we are expressing love to the one who said, "If you love me, keep my commandments."

Some have referred to this practice (and modeling/mentoring this practice for others) as "Obedience Based Discipleship." However, this is a misnomer that can lead to confusion. I'll discuss that in a later post.

In the meantime, don't sweat it if you can't think of what book comes after Lamentations. Or if you can't remember how many p's are in Philippians. In the entrance exam, I doubt they will count off too much for spelling. Simply don't allow yourself to accumulate knowledge without first acting on what you know.

Thursday, September 2

Security


We knew before we left China that it would be difficult to maintain the fervor and intensely spiritual perspective we had cultivated there. Two months after landing in America, we're seeing that prophecy unfurl into truth. One of the challenges we face here that we never considered in China was the temptation to bend the knee before the god of Security.

Kris and I were reading in 2 Chronicles 16 a few nights ago, where King Asa's legend is recorded. Evidently, he had a strong showing as a king of Judah. He commanded the people of Judah to follow the Lord and had all of the idols torn down in the land. Unfortunately, there is one blemish on Asa's record. Although he tore down the literal idols, he (like many of us) bowed to the idol of Security.

When another king made plans to attack Asa, he scoured his kingdom, collecting silver and gold to send to a neighboring king in order to buy his allegiance and stave off war. Asa's plan worked, war was averted and his enemies were defeated, but God was not pleased. Why? Because when trouble came, Asa "relied on the king of Syria, and did not rely on the Lord."

I know the feeling. Did you know that the Master's of Divinity (the degree I'm pursuing) is in the top five lowest-paying graduate degrees in the nation? It's true. What if there are no jobs available? And if there are, what if the salary's too low to support my family? Why not cut bait and transfer my hours to a more profitable degree? Kris and I are planning to go back to the mission field in about four years. That's a bone-head move financially speaking. When we come home from five or ten years of mission work, I'll be in my mid to late thirties, starting from scratch. Why not just stay here, get a good job and start building tenure? I mean, it's the safest bet.

One of the surprising things about Asa's decision to put his faith in Security instead of his Lord is that years before, in the infancy of his kingship, an army of a million Ethiopians waged war on Judah. Against those impossible odds, Asa cried out to the Lord, "O Lord, there is none like you to help, between the mighty and the weak. Help us, O Lord our God, for we rely on you..." That day, the Lord defeated the Ethiopians and their 300 chariots.

As I'm tempted every day to put my faith in myself or in my resources or my education or my connections, I need to remember the battles of the past. At the end of the day, my strength pales in comparison to His.

"For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose hearts are completely his."

Friday, July 23

Is, Was, and Always Will Be


I wrote this post for two reasons: To share how God's hand has worked in my life and to encourage you to look back on your story and see the hand of God. When we share how God has moved in our lives he is glorified.

I recently interviewed for a youth ministry position in Texas. In preparation for the interview, the head of the search committee asked me to prepare to tell my story in ten to fifteen minutes. His intention was to give the committee a chance to get to know me on a personal level, but the fortunate byproduct was that in preparation for the interview, I had the chance to look back on my life and see how God has blessed me over the years. It left me with a sense of gratefulness and awe- his hand in my life can be clearly seen and has made all the difference.

In college God revealed to me my passion for ministry. Through mentors, experiences and divine appointments, he hammered out some of my kinks and forced me to adapt and mature. Mission trips and youth internships were a tool he used to break down false ideas I held about what life in Christ should look like. All the while, he was uniquely gifting me for service in his kingdom.

Also in college I met my wife, built perfectly for me as sure as Eve was made for Adam. There are billions of women in the world, but none better suited for me, who shares my passions and whose personality is just the type to keep me on track. Kris is especially blessed with an ear for the Spirit and a compulsion to follow where it leads. I wish that I had the connection with the Spirit that she has, but at least I can be married to someone with this gift. Our union is the work of God.

Tim Frizzell invited me to Crieve Hall church right out of college. This, again, was the work of God. Nowhere else could our young marriage have grown so well. God used Tim as a mentor to show me, who grew up fatherless, what it meant to be a minister and a Christian man. Also in Nashville, Kris and I saw our relationship pass through the fire. In our first year of marriage, Kris suffered from intense depression that rocked our relationship. There was a time that was very dark and difficult for both of us. At 21/22 years of age, we had to grow up fast. In hindsight, this crucible was a blessing from God. We emerged from that time of darkness knowing that our marriage would last a lifetime. After a year of marriage, we had been through more together than many marriages face in ten years. I'm convinced that this was a time of preparation that strengthened us for the future.

Another divine appointment occurred when I was introduced to Church Planting Movements in 2008. Until then, I didn't understand what true discipleship was about. Until then, I didn't understand what it meant to be radically obedient to God. Through CPM, God convicted me of things in his Word that I had never seen before. It fundamentally changed my life. If it hadn't been for my exposure to CPM, I would be a completely different man, and a much less obedient man. I also wouldn't have gone to China.

The Spirit tugged at Kris more than it tugged at me to go to China. If it hadn't been for her, I think we would have stayed in Memphis. But the Spirit wouldn't let her stay in the States. God wanted us there for a specific purpose, and he overcame impossible odds to get us jobs teaching in Hangzhou.

Our experience in China proved to be another time of training for me and Kris. Through our experience, God taught us what missional living looks like. He continued to teach us how to be a husband and a wife. He showed us that reaching the lost is his mission, and all we need to do is show up. We learned the value of community, fellowship, accountability, and complete obedience to God. In the midst of our schooling, God used us to draw the lost out of darkness into light.

Now in Texas, God has revealed another way in which he has been pushing our raft down the river of life. When we were in Memphis, Kris really struggled with finding a meaningful job. In her first two years out of college, she had worked at a clothing store, a sweet shop, and a bank, contributing little to society and scorning her seemingly worthless college degree. We were devastated when she applied and interviewed for her dream job in Memphis but was rejected. How could God deny her what she wanted to do for his glory? Now, two years later and maybe ten years more mature, Kris has been hired for the same dream job she was denied in Memphis. God's response to our prayers two years ago was not "No," but, "Not now." If Kris had gotten that job, we would never have gone to China.

So here I sit, post-interview, waiting to hear back from the search committee. I don't know if I'll get the job. Will this be the one, or will I continue the search? With joy in my heart, I can honestly say I don't care, as long as his will is done. How could I look back on my life and not trust that God will choose the very best future? With or without this job, I will rejoice, because he who crafted my past already has the future mapped out. Praise God for that.

How has God blessed your journey? Take the time to look back on your life with an eye for the hand of God. Then share your story with someone for the praise of his glory.

Monday, July 5

David Goes to the Dentist


Well, we're back. And things couldn't be weirder.

Evidently culture shock is a two-way street. We've been in America for a week now and every day we have encountered things that make us feel like we got stuck somewhere between the Twilight Zone and the Bermuda Triangle. I thought I'd share some of those vertigo moments.

1. When we first got home, Kris' mom made me a sandwich. That sandwich had more meat on it than I would've eaten in a full week in China. She asked if I wanted milk to drink. I said, "Yes, thank you. Just a small glass." When I saw my glass of milk on the table a moment later, it was huge. I wasn't sure I could lift it to my mouth. I thought Debbie had surely given me her biggest glass, but I looked in the cabinet later and saw that she had indeed given me the small glass. It only seemed enormous because all of our vessels in China resembles glass thimbles.

2. When Kris thought of home, she thought of Annie. When I thought of home, I thought about food. Buffalo Wild Wings, Las Palmas, Lasagna, Fajitas, etc. The irony is that for the first five days or so back in the States, I couldn't eat a thing! My stomach was in knots all day every day and when my fleeting appetite appeared, I was only able to eat a small child's portion.

3. After my tumtum healed, we made it to Rosa's, a very fine Mexican restaurant in North Richland Hills. After forking out 20 bucks (140 yuan?!) for two dinners, I set down my fajita nachos on the table and went to the fixins counter for salsa and pico. I was amazed when I saw a huge vat of sour cream and an unlimited supply of individual Ranch dressing packets. My immediate instinct was to fill my pockets with Ranch dressing. In China, this was gold! Here, you just ask and they'll pour it directly in your pie hole.

4. Free refills on milk at IHOP.

5. Our worship in Hangzhou involved a very intimate number of eight to ten people who knew each other very well. This was not the case at Legacy church this morning. In a room of 800+, I felt like one of those chickens in a coop struggling to get the corn on the conveyor belt. This church culture is going to take some getting used to.

The moral of the story is that God did just what I asked him to do while we were in China. He changed me. Though there are friends and family members who will expect me to be the same person I was ten months ago, I am not that guy. Time has changed me, China and its people have changed me, God has changed me. I'll never see the world the same way again. I praise God for that.

Sunday, June 27

Homeward Bound


Can you believe it's time to come home? The van is coming to pick us up and take us to the airport in four hours. There were times this year when time moved like molasses, but now it seems like this year was much less viscous.

I want to thank all of you who followed this blog regularly all year. Your comments here and through other mediums has been encouraging. I really think this blog was a good outlet for me to see the spiritual formation God has been working on in me and I'm thankful you took the time to read along. You who followed this blog as well as Kris' have as intimate a connection with our experience as anyone. Thank you for the prayers you offered on our behalf and on behalf of the people we mentioned here.

I'm not sure of my plans for this space after our return to the States, but I hope to continue posting once we get settled. Thanks again for reading and participating in the mission of God.

Wednesday, June 9

Cambodia to Laos

There are so many things to report and not enough time at the moment. The team just landed in Laos after three days in Cambodia. We'll be here in Luang Probang for the next 48 hours or so. Although we've encountered a lot of obstacles and spiritual warfare, we have been blessed with safety and God's Spirit has put us where we needed to be when we needed to be there. We count it a blessing to encounter difficulty, becasue Satan's attempts to foil our plans only confirms that God is doing an important work. In future blog posts, you'll read all about frog attacks, airport misques, frustrations and successes. But I guess this post will serve as a teaser.

We're safe and happy in Laos for now. Pray that our hearts are open as God's Spirit blows us wherever he wishes. Love to you.

Saturday, June 5

Going Dark


Kris and I will be out of touch for the next ten days or so. We're finally going on the survey trip with our mission team. This trip has been on the calendar for two years now, so it's hard to believe it's finally here! I hope you'll join us as we pray for God's guidance as we visit Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand. May God's Spirit work and reveal the place and the people he has prepared for us to reach. Only he knows where his glory can be revealed the most.

If you're unfamiliar with our team, Kris has provided and introduction in her blog.

We'll provide a recap when we return on the 16th. Blessings!

Thursday, May 27

Goodbye, Students

A few weeks ago, one of my students told me that she was moving to Italy to be with her mother. I was shocked that she was leaving and felt a twinge in my heart. I realized then that it was going to be very difficult to leave my 200 students at the end of next month.

So I decided to make a video. It has two functions, really. First, it is a goodbye present for my students. I'm going to play it for them on the last day of class. Second, it is an opportunity for you to see some of the students you have been praying for. Not just nameless people "over there" in China, these are real people, real souls. Only a few of the students you'll see in the video know God. Many of them believe in "Science" or Buddha. If not, they believe in nothing at all. Please continue to pray that we'll make a difference in their lives in the final weeks.

Although these words are serious, the video is not. Enjoy!

video

Monday, May 10

Murder at HNU?


This post would be more fun to compose on a manual typewriter from another decade.

News of an unsolved mystery has permeated our quiet campus in the heart of Hangzhou. I will lay out for you the facts that I have confirmed involving this enigma. As the mystery as of yet remains unsolved, you can draw whatever conclusion you see fit.

Last Thursday, I was meeting with Nick, a Chinese believer, by the reflecting pool on our campus. He told me that it was widely whispered that someone had fallen to their death from a third story window in building five, and there was suspected foul play.

Later that day, Kris and I were to appear on a Chinese game show that was being filmed in building five. When we arrived that afternoon, the area was being guarded and there were picketers with signs and unhappy faces. We learned from our Chinese friend Chen Shu that the gentleman who fell to his death had flunked out of school, so it was likely that he had committed suicide. However, it was suspicious that his online account was cleaned out and there was blood found in the boy's bed.

More intriguing facts came in the next day: Evidently, the boy was found in his underwear, not fully clothed. Also, there might have been a knife wound on his person.

In spite of this evidence, the position of Hangzhou Normal University is that this boy's death was a suicide, not a homicide.

So here are my thoughts:

A. There are many, many buildings on campus that have ten floors. Even building five has six floors. Why would someone intending to kill himself jump from the third floor? You could be paralyzed or die a painful death this way, especially since all the crime dramas on TV say that suicides always jump feet first. I would go for a taller building. And how do they know he jumped/fell from floor three? Maybe that was the only open window?

B. There was blood in his bed and he had a knife wound. This could be explained away, but to me it screams foul-play.

C. The boy was in his underwear. Again, this doesn't jive with suicide. You would think that a person would want to maintain some dignity and wear modest clothing.

D. The online account was emptied. Where did this money go? Who withdrew from the account? Perhaps this is the party responsible for his death?

I need more evidence to prove my theory, but it seems likely to me that this boy was killed in his bed while sleeping in his underwear on the third floor of building five. Then, to make it look like suicide, the killer carried him to the nearby window and threw him out. That's much easier than carrying a heavy body all the was up to a higher floor, where suicide would be more believable.

The school has to save face now that one of it's students has died on its campus, so it is in their interest to mark it a suicide. For me, though, the jury is still out. What do you think?

Thursday, April 22

Alex and Jessie


Over the past six weeks or so, I have become close to a handful of students I call my "work out crew." I have them in class on Mondays and Thursdays and we always go to the gym together afterward to "do fitness," which translates to cranking out a ridiculous number of lat pull downs, their favorite exercise. Jessie and Alex are two of my closest friends in this group.

As I got to know Alex, I was surprised to find that he is a believer. He told me soon after we met that he believed in God. He bikes to a "gathering" every Saturday where about one hundred university students learn from a teacher and sing songs.

Jessie is different. Although he's very close to believing Alex, Jessie has never gone with him to a gathering. He doesn't believe in God and is not afraid to tell you. That being said, Jessie is one of the kindest, most genuine guys I've met in China, maybe ever. So I was puzzled... why has he never given God a chance?

The answer came at the lat pull down machine:

I had been praying for some alone time to pick Alex's brain. God answered that prayer when Alex and I were the only ones to show up at the gym that week. We started talking about spiritual things and I had the chance to ask Alex why he believed. He got a faraway look in his eyes and I expected him to move me with some touching proclamation of great faith. Instead, he said, "I believe, but not very clearly. My father believed, his brothers believed, so I believe." Every weekend he bikes a couple miles to a meeting of believers to hear a lesson and sing songs because "his father and his brothers believe."

Why hasn't Jessie given God a chance? Because his only witness of Christianity has been Alex, who devotes his Saturdays to something he only believes half-heartedly. Alex's faith is actually a hindrance to Jessie coming to Christ.

I shudder to think how many times I have been guilty of this very fault. In my lifetime, how many people have I turned away because the Christianity I showed them was a watered-down version? I can't overstate how much I am writing to myself here, and I don't mean to be too critical of Alex, who clearly cares about his friend.

All I'm saying is, let's be either cold or hot, because if we're wearing the Name but not living the Life, our message to the lost is that Christianity is nothing but a two mile bike ride on Saturday morning.

Sunday, April 11

Guest Blogger on Peaks and Valleys


I've had writer's block lately, so I decided to bring in a guest blogger. You might have heard of him. This is an excerpt from C.S. Lewis' book, The Screwtape Letters. The book is a series of letters written from a senior demon to his protege, Screwtape. Remember as you read that the perspective is that of a demon ("the Enemy" refers to God, etc.).

"Now it may surprise you to learn that in His efforts to get permanent possession of a soul, He relies on the troughs even more than on the peaks; some of His special favourites have gone through longer and deeper troughs than anyone else. The reason is this. To us a human is primarily good; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense. But the obedience which the Enemy demands of men is quite a different thing. One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for men, and His service being perfect freedom, is not (as one would gladly believe) mere propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself—creatures, whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become sons. We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself: the Enemy wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.

And that is where the troughs come in. You must have often wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to over-ride a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve. He is prepared to do a little overriding at the beginning. He will set them off with communications of His presence which, though faint, seem great to them, with emotional sweetness, and easy conquest over temptation. But He never allows this state of affairs to last long. Sooner or later He withdraws, if not in fact, at least from their conscious experience, all those supports and incentives. He leaves the creature to stand up on its own legs—to carry out from the will alone duties which have lost all relish. It is during such trough periods, much more than during the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be. Hence the prayers offered in the state of dryness are those which please Him best. We can drag our patients along by continual tempting, because we design them only for the table, and the more their will is interfered with the better. He cannot “tempt” to virtue as we do to vice. He wants them to learn to walk and must therefore take away His hand; and if only the will to walk is really there He is pleased even with their stumbles. Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger, than when a human, no longer desiring, but intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."

Some people might think that because we are on the mission field we are immune to the "troughs." That is, of course, not true. I hope you are as encouraged by this passage as I am.

Monday, March 29

Rubbish!


God's way just doesn't make sense.

Sometimes we try to incorporate biblical messages in our classes, just to see if we get a bite or a reaction on which we can follow up. Last week I wrote a proverb on the chalkboard for my Chinese majors to read, put in their own words, and contemplate:

"If your enemy is hungry, give him bread. If he is thirsty, give him water. You will heap burning coals on his head and you will be rewarded."

After hearing some of my students try to explain the meaning of this proverb, I asked if they liked it. Most of them said yes, it was a good saying. I asked what they thought of putting it into practice by showing kindness to people who had hurt them. They said that they would try it in some cases.

Then I wrote on the board the more famous maxim,

"An eye for and eye, and a tooth for a tooth."

They immediately recognized this saying and even told me the Chinese version, which also has a catchy ring to it. Then I asked them which of the two attitudes was better-- "bread and water" or "eye for eye"-- hoping there would be a breakthrough. I was careful not to insert my own opinion, because I wanted them to be genuine in their response and discover which was better for themselves. After some discussion, the class decided that it would be best to offer bread and water after the first offense, but if the person continued to hurt you, you should adopt the "eye for and eye" policy.

Finally, I decided to show them the way of Christ and see how they responded. I asked, "What would you think of someone who was hurt, but showed kindness in return? Then they were hurt again, and they continued to show kindness, over and over again forever?"

There was silence. Processing. Pondering. I had them thinking! I was excited. What would they say? Would a light bulb come on? Would they get it?

Then the silence was broken by a 90 pound Chinese girl in the back row (pictured above), who raised her fist in the air and shouted, "RUBBISH!"

Then the whole class joined in agreement. Anyone who allowed themselves to be run over time and again was a fool indeed.That's the thing about the gospel. If obeying God's way made sense, everyone would be doing it. Let people hurt me without seeking revenge? Give my hard-earned money? Take the lowest seat at the table? I'd have to be a fool to do that!

I was shocked at my student's response to God's way, but when I think about it they're right. From their perspective, someone who follows God's way is a fool. Maybe the ultimate challenge is to show people the eternal perspective. From that point of view, rather than being counter-intuitive, God's way is the only way that makes sense.

Monday, March 22

It Aint Cheap


Jesus' standards were much higher than mine. That raises two questions:

One, should I demand more from would-be followers of Christ?
Two, do I live up to his standard for a disciple?

Jesus traveled countless miles teaching and preaching about the kingdom of heaven for three years, at the end of which his following had waned to a measly eleven disciples. How did this happen? He healed incurable diseases, raised the dead, outwitted the religious geniuses, spoke words that amazed everyone who heard, fed thousands and cast out enough demons to require drastic expansion and renovation of hell.

Yet Jesus ended three years of ministry with only eleven disciples because they were the only ones willing to pay the high cost of following Jesus. Many would-be followers attempted to join him, but the price drove them away: "Sell everything you have," "Let the dead bury their own dead," "No one who follows me can look back," and so on.

If someone came to me and said they wanted to become a disciple, but they first needed to bury their father, I'm afraid that in my mind I would think, "Here is someone with an interest! I should do whatever it takes to bring this person to Christ!" I would spend hours with this person until they became a disciple. But that's not the way of Christ. He had no time to waste on those who were not immediately ready to follow him. Jesus' time would be better spent maturing the faith of the devoted.

What would history be like if Jesus, at the end of his ministry, had produced hundreds or even thousands of semi-devoted disciples instead of eleven disciples so devoted that they would go to their deaths for the sake of the kingdom? I don't think Christianity would've made it. So...

Should I demand more from would-be followers of Christ?

Other important questions: What about me? Do I follow Jesus without hesitation? Do I obey without question? Am I faithful in adversity?

If not, can I call myself his disciple?

Thursday, March 18

March Madness


March has really been blessed.

Kris and I have been overwhelmed with the way God has moved this month. We have enjoyed more success in the past three weeks than in the three months of last semester. Relationships are deepening, new relationships are progressing effortlessly, confidence is building, goals are being achieved. But why? What is so different about this term? I can only guess:

1. The Big Man is in it. It can't be denied that what we're experiencing is the work of his hand. He's moving the mountains. I'm just glad we have a front seat to watch the action.

2. Big prayer. Kris and I both have people thinking about us every day. Not only thinking of us, but of the people we are trying to reach, our students, our friends, all of the work. I know that is playing a huge role in what we're seeing. Thanks to our prayer networks, dozens of people pray for us. Some are praying for us one day a week. Others bring us before the Father every day. On any given day, there are 25 people praying specifically for us. In a week, that's 175 prayers. In a month, the number goes up to 700. Think that goes unnoticed Upstairs?

3. Hard work last semester. The majority of our work last semester was relationship-building. We tried to spread our influence and by our actions let people know what we were about and that we cared about them. I believe all that invested time and effort is paying dividends this spring.

4. Now-or-never-all-or-nothing-we-only-have-a-few-months-left-so-pull-out-all-the-stops Attitude. The clock is ticking on our time in China and we have no reason to hold cards. July is coming, like it or not, and all that will remain in August is regret. We have determined that we will leave China regret-free this summer. With this attitude, we can be more aggressive and that leads to more opportunities.

5 . Yes. This three-letter word is power-packed. We use it all the time. Want to eat together? Want to work out together? Want to play basketball? Want to walk together? Yes, yes, yes, yes. "No" gets you home early and extra time in front of the TV. "Yes" gives you a chance to make a new friend and maybe a chance to plant a micro-seed of the Gospel.

So praise God for March Madness in Hangzhou, even if it has nothing to do with NCAA basketball. For the record, though, I'm still hacked that Calipari went to Kentucky.

Tuesday, March 2

Say Something


Today after class I was standing in front of building 10 waiting for Kris to meet me. As I stood there at lunchtime near the center of our campus, there was a mass exodus of students coming from the classroom quad to the cafeteria block. Standing just a few feet off of the path, I began counting students. They were coming so fast that I had to count them in twos. Kris arrived after only a couple minutes, but I had already counted around 300 university students. All studying on my campus. All living on my same square mile. And this was only a fraction of them!

As I counted the students, I thought about their hearts. How many of the 300 would be open to a Good Word? How can I recognize which of these students is good soil and which is not?

Our strategy is to always speak with loaded statements. They are open invitations to talk about spiritual things. With creativity, these loaded statements can become second nature. As we become more and more accustomed to speaking this way, our speech changes from useless banter to purposeful communication.

"It's a beautiful day," becomes, "God has given us another perfect day."

"This food is so good!" becomes, "God gives us all we need."

"Goodbye," becomes, "God bless you."

"I'm sorry to hear that," becomes, "I will be praying for you."

Sometimes these micro-seeds of the gospel lead to conversations and future opportunities for sharing. Other times, they fall on seemingly deaf ears. However, I believe that His word will not return to Him empty-handed. At the very least, everyone we speak to will know where we stand. And they will know who to come to the day the Big Man finally breaks through to them.

Thursday, February 25

Just A Cup


In HangZhou, we're praying that God can somehow use our influence to radically impact people, changing them from ordinary folks to disciples and eventually to disciple-makers. This kind of influence takes time and exposure and a relationship that persists over weeks and months and years.

One of the problems we face in HangZhou is that most of the people we make contact with we will never see again. Maybe we meet on a bus or on the street or in a nearby city. Keep in mind that HangZhou and the surrounding area has more people than Oregon, Washington, Montana, Utah and Nevada combined. We meet new people constantly. Your situation is probably similar.

If your goal is to go into all the world and make disciples, what is your approach to people you may only have five minutes with before they pass out of your reach and into the sea of earth's billions? You could get a phone number and try to make contact in the future, in hopes that a relationship will develop, but that's only practical a small fraction of the time. At the other extreme, you could save your breath and keep your mouth shut when you know your time and influence with a person will be limited. I guess another option would be to run through the story of God and Christ in two minutes. Good luck with that.

Two days ago, Kris and I were trying to make sense of the Shanghai subway system. It's not too difficult, but it would have been easier if we understood Chinese. Kris suggested that we look for and English speaker to confirm our route before we shot off in the wrong direction. I looked to our right and saw a girl about the age of some of our university students. Something told me to go to her. She happened to speak great English and also happened to be going the same place we were. "Follow me," she said.

She was shy and didn't say much, but I liked that girl. She kept looking over her shoulder to make sure we were still behind her when we walked through crowded areas. The Maglev was quieter than the subway, and I had a chance to talk with her some. She was in Shanghai to meet a friend who had cancer. Her friend, whom she had know since childhood, was going to Canada to get treatment.

Of course I knew I'd never see this girl again, but I wanted to give her some kind of blessing. When we parted ways at the airport, I said, "I'm a Christian and I'll pray for your friend." She said, "Thanks," and walked away. I couldn't tell you her name.

Thoughts?

Sunday, February 7

Scarred for Life



No, I'm not scarred for life, but that little Vietnamese boy probably is.

Ok, I realize that is a scary first sentence in a blog entry, but hang in there. You might already know that Kris and I have been on winter break from our classes. We chose to travel with 9 friends though Southeast Asia. We had a great trip and had enough experiences to fill several blogs, but there was one time in particular, on our last day in Vietnam, that just has to be shared.

After spending nine perfect days in sunny Mui Ne, we decided to move on to Ho Chi Minh city, the capitol of Vietnam. Before catching our sleeper bus at 2pm, we had an early lunch at our favorite little diner where I branched out and decided to try the "beef with noodle" instead of my usual "tuna fish with samwich." Six hours later this would come back to haunt me.

When the bus came at 2, I settled in to a seat in the very back of the bus on the second level of seats. This was the last of about six similar bus rides we took as we leap-frogged from city to city through Vietnam. We always chose seats in the back, where most of us could sit together. I liked the seats on the top because the view was better and because I always wanted bunk beds as a kid. Not very popular for one-child households. Anyway, I found my seat and spent the first three hours finishing a crummy book about hidden clues in the works of Shakespeare, a knock-off of the Dan Brown novels.

One of the drawbacks of the back of the bus is that it is very bouncy and swervy. It's the best place in the bus to get carsick. Especially if you're reading. So after I finished the book and my stomach was feeling rough. I thought I was just a little bit car-queasy, but I found out later that night that I was poisoned by that Vietnamese beef.

As the need to hurl intensified, I was thankful that my seat had direct access to the window. I, like almost everyone else, hate vomiting, so I was taking deep breaths and trying hard to beat the beef. I actually made it pretty far. We got all the way to Ho Chi Minh. We got all the way to the street where the bus stop was located. We even stopped in front of our destination. Then the driver threw it in reverse. He was only backing up enough to parallel park, but it was enough to put my stomach over the edge- and my head out the window.

So I puked. And three things made it amazing:

1. Altitude. From the upper-deck window of the bus, mouth to ground was a good fifteen feet. New personal record.

2. Audience. Although my traveling companions inside the bus had no idea all this was happening, I had a huge audience outside the bus. Only a few feet away, one of the workers was guiding the driver. He might've been splashed on a little. At a distance of about fifteen feet, people were standing on the sidewalk with looks of disgust/horror on their faces. I tried to make it as enjoyable as possible for them, smiling and waving between convulsions, but...

3. Sheer volume. Upon viewing the carnage, I heard people make comments: "Oh my word." "Never in my life." "That is the most vomit I have ever seen." Needless to say, my ego was stroked a little.

Now this post has gone on too long, but I need to tie up the loose end- the Vietnamese boy. He was standing with his mother only a few yards away. While it took everyone else a few seconds to figure out what was going on, this child was locked in from the instant my head came out the window. I distinctly remember making eye contact with him as the impurities fled from my body. Then he reached for his mother's hand and opened his mouth and screamed. Then he inhaled. Then he screamed again. I'm no expert, but I think moments like these are what causes children to have issues. I'm sorry little Vietnamese boy. So sorry.

Friday, January 1

Power Perfected


A few nights ago we sat around a dozen empty dishes reflecting on 2 Corinthians 12 and trying to make sense of the phrase, "The power of Christ is made perfect in your weakness."

The answer is found in the 1994 family comedy, Little Giants.

I know you've seen this movie and I'm positive you remember in detail the final sequence, in which the rag-tag Giants face off with the muscle-bound, peachfuzz-bearded, fire-breathing pee wee force, the Cowboys. As you know, the Giants were pummeled in the first half, leaving them in the locker room at halftime with a 21-point deficit and very low spirits. After a rousing speech from Rick Moranis, the Giants took the field in the second half, in which they score repeatedly and execute a dramatic goal-line stand, resulting in a score of 21-21 with 00:01 on the clock and 99 yards to paydirt. Not enough time to get in pee-wee football field goal range. Only enough time for... One. More. Play. Which play? A trick play called "The Annexation of Puerto Rico." Stunned, the Cowboys can do nothing but watch as the Giants move the ball 99 yards to score the winning touchdown. Moviegoers across the country simultaneously reach for a tissue.

Why didn't producers cast more athletic kids to play for the Giants? Why did the writers stack the odds in the Cowboy's favor? Why give the Giants a 21-point margin to overcome? Why start the final play on the one yard line? Because no one notices when strength wins or when power prevails or when the 50-point favorite wins by 50 points.

But when weakness triumphs in spite of limitations, people stand up and cheer.