Wednesday, May 31, 2006


As I am writing at the computer, I am able to gaze through the back-of-the-house window and take in the beauty of our "rock garden" (bottom picture). Julie and I, on pleasant evenings and weekends, will spend some time planting, weeding, watering and "upgrading" this special place.

Right now I can see the deep purple irises (second and third pictures) standing snooty and tall and royal. Behind the irises to the right about a yard are three lime-green, florishing hostas and behind the hostas are the "show offs," the look-at-me cherry-red weigelia flowers (top picture). Off to the right of this area about 6 yards are some lavender bearded irises, looking like a gathering of old men talking about Medicare (next to last picture). We also have ribbon grass, thin white and pale green blades looking like soldiers, serious and on duty. And I really like our rich green day lilies who pretend that they're fireworks shooting up out of the earth. "Oooooo-Aaaaaaaaa."

Around behind the rock garden is our hardy myrtle, spreading like a horseshoe-shaped, emerald green glacier. The myrtle's petite lavendar blooms are disappearing now, but for some weeks they really put on a rousing show. Along the front edge of the garden we planted phlox, but the myrtle is mercilessly encroaching on it. "Help, Myrtle is killing me!" the phlox seems to cry out.

Racing in and out of the rocks and plants are busy little chipmunks and rowdy, fat squirrels. And inches below the surface are the ubiquitous, mysterious earthworms. Robins and finches, sparrows, cardinals and bluejays (and many other Michigan birds that we can't identify) regularly visit our S-shaped, artificial stream with its 3 miniature "waterfalls."

No window that ever appears on this computer can match the wonder and beauty as I gaze out my house window. Real world beats virtual world every time.

"This is my Father's the rustling grass I hear Him pass, He speaks to me everywhere."

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


(google image)

Once in a while I'll hear something that is crucial to the Christian faith take on new meaning and depth and wonder. This happened this past Sunday as Julie and I heard Rob Bell of Mars Hill Bible Church, Grandville, MI, speak about the Eucharist, or Communion, or the Lord's Table.

Evangelicalism has a penchant for flattening everything out; of ironing the wonder out of the faith; of bleaching out the mystery in order to get a good, analytical grasp on things. Rob in a clear and simple talk resurrected the wonder and mystery and impact of the Lord's Table.

I hope you will take time to hear Rob's talk. I'd be interested in your comments.

Listen here. Scroll down to May 28, 2006 "There's a Bit More Going On Here"

Saturday, May 27, 2006


Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner is the first Afghan novel to be written in English. Hosseini gives us a story about fathers and sons, about friends and brothers, about the wealthy and the poor and about betrayal, tragedy and redemption.

The story, taking place over a period of thirty years, draws us into the turbulent history of Afghanistan as it draws us into the lives of Amir who is Sunni and Hassan who is Shi'a.

The title of the book comes from the traditional tournament for Afghan children in which kite-flyers compete by cutting the kite-strings of their opponents with their own razor-sharp, glass-coated strings. To be the one who wins the tournament by downing all the other kites -- and to be the "runner" who chases down the last losing kite as it falls to the earth -- becomes the city champion.

Hosseini guides us into the Afghan culture without either losing us or overwhelming us. The part of our world that broke into national American consciousness through terrorism, the Taliban, and war is made human and vulnerable and respected. We walk for a time in Afghan shoes, live in Kabul, hear the children, taste the food, run for our lives, visit Pakistan and come to America...and return on a passionate mission in very dangerous circumstances.

A good summer novel if you're looking for one.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Thinking about God's Dream for the Planet

To have a community of voluntary lovers is the creation dream of God.

From the beginning God dreams that those who bear God's image would love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength; and love their neighbor as themselves.

As we know, the first couple blew it for themselves and for all of us. Yet, instead of giving up on the dream, God hunkered down and willed it to come into reality. Even though there was universal wickedness, God chose Noah and his family to start again. God put up with the brazen pride of Babel. God, working through human beings, then through the nation from Abram, then through Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, and now through the Spirit-empowered community, God is calling out and creating the dream people of God.

The birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus, while extremely important events in themselves, were preparation for the colossal event---Pentecost---when the Father and the Son kept their New Covenant promise to pour out the Spirit of God on all people--old and young, men and women, Jew and Gentile, rich and poor--God will have a borderless community of voluntary lovers.

How great is our God!

He loves and loves and creates and recreates and loves and renews and forgives and chases us down and embraces and loves and loves.

The Spirit, always working with humanity in light of the cross and resurrection, does not count people's sins against them. The Spirit is free to work unhampered on this side of the cross, joyfully preparing "good soil" for the seed of the good news of the kingdom of God.

God enlists us, the followers of Jesus of Nazareth, to spread the good news that "God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their sins against them!"

How great is our God!


For a fun and funny affirmation of the Christian witnessing community, click on....

REAL CHRISTIANS OF GENIUS and then click "play" arrow on audioblog window.

Sunday, May 21, 2006


(google image)

Don't miss the thrilling sequel to The Da Vinci Code. To see the stunning film, click on...


(note: opens with a trailer and then the film.)

Thanks to my blogger friend, Susan Arnold, for the link.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

The "Duh!" Vinci Code

Thank you, Ron Howard! I, for one, am glad that your movie, The "Duh!" Vinci Code is finally in the theaters.

"Why?" you ask?

Because The "Duh!" Vinci Code movie will neutralize any impact that Dan Brown's novel, The Da Vinci Code, has had on people's thinking about Jesus Christ and Christianity.

What seemed to flow in good, logical sequence in the book gets confusingly jumbled up in the movie.

By now you know "the gospel according to Dan Brown." Jesus Christ was not divine; he married Mary Magdalene and had sangreal children. Constantine, that pagan Roman emperor, convened a council and declared Jesus divine and picked and chose the politically correct gospels. The "real" gospels, the ones that reported Jesus as only human, were suppressed. The "sacred feminine" was forced underground.

Books allow for our own vibrant imaginations to work. I could hardly put the novel down. Movies create all the...yawn...visuals for us. I could hardly endure the meager pace of the movie. (I did like the site-seeing the movie allowed me.)

I'm not quite sure that Tom Hanks and Audrey Tautou really wanted to play their characters in The "Duh" Vinci Code. Was there some long-forgotten, latent Judeo-Christian value haunting and muting their otherwise good acting skills? On the other hand, Sir Ian McKellen as Teabing was very good. "Silas" was Ron Howard's flimsy tribute to Mel Gibson's The Passion torture scenes.

If The "Duh!" Vinci Code causes any serious Christian to lapse in faith, then I say, pshaw! on the faith they received and on those from whom they received it. Once again, we Christians have created a tempest in a teapot. Goody, goody for us.

I think our own American brand of McChristianity is more of a threat to the faith than The "Duh!" Vinci Code. But, hey, that's just me.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Bill, a blog friend of mine and owner of Bean Book Services, sent me a copy of Eugene Peterson's brief and very readable book Living the Resurrection: The Risen Christ in Everyday Life (NavPress: 2006). Thanks, Bill.

It's no secret that I have been greatly influenced in my vision of Christian ministry by the person and writings of Eugene H. Peterson. Eugene, to my very happy surprise, wrote the Foreword to my book Jesus the Pastor: Leading Others in the Character and Power of Christ (Zondervan: 2000).

The book unfolds in 3 chapters with an appendix of resurrection Bible texts from The Message.

Chapter 1- Resurrection Wonder

Peterson unpacks the meaning of Sabbath.

Chapter 2- Resurrection Meals

Peterson unpacks the meaning of the Lord's Table.

Chapter 3- Resurrection Friends

Peterson unpacks the meaning of Baptism.

While the book is vintage Peterson, pulsating with his discerning observations about being Jesus-followers in a consumer-based, expert-ordered, self-centered culture, his best stuff, in my opinion, is his discussion of laypersons. "Smart Devil."

"The Devil does some of his best work when he gets Christians to think of themselves as Christian laypersons. In the ordinary use of our language, the term layperson virtually always means not-an-expert. ... Following Jesus gives way to following Jesus-experts. ... I'm a religious consumer, that's true, but a consumer all the same--a soul condition deeply marred by passivity" (89, 91). Accepting layperson status is the grievous sin of "betrayal" (92).

I appreciate Bill making me aware of this book and I hope you'll take the time to read it.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


The national hero, the "George Washington" of Ukraine, is Taras Shevchenko. What makes this unusual? He was a poet, not a military leader, not a politician, not a wealthy businessman, not a philosopher. A poet. (I'm standing by his statue, one of hundreds in Ukraine, in the city of L'viv.)

How many nations have a poet as their hero? Not many. In most Ukrainian public school rooms you will see a picture of Taras Shevchenko. The first picture (above) is a self-portrait. He was a painter, too. He died at the age of 47.

I searched several bookshops and finally found (in Kiev) a book of Shevchenko's poems in English. Here's a sampling of his passion for Ukraine to be free from Tsarist oppression:

"O my Ukraine, my lov'd Ukraine!
These are your children dear,
These are your blossoms, fair and young,
Smothered in ink, I fear,
And steeped in henbane Muscovite
And trained by Germans deft,
Weep, O Ukraine, unhappy land,
A childless widow left."
-- from "The Dream," St. Petersburg, July 8, 1844

L'viv is "the city of lions." There are over 5000 lion monuments in L'viv. According to the ancient chronicles, Lviv was founded in 1256 by the Prince of Qalicia and Volyn Danylo Romanovych, who named the town in honour of his son Lev ("lion"). With a much stronger European spirit than Russian, L'viv reminded me of Salzburg or Innsbrook in Austria. L'viv boasts of having the 3rd most beautiful opera house in Europe and it is the first Ukrainian/Russian city to introduce coffee to its people (the coffee was a gift from the Turks to a Polish military leader).

After a 1 day conference in Lutsk on May 2, I went to L'viv for four days and visited with and learned from the staff of Hosanna Church. I also attended their vibrant Sunday service and was asked by Dema, their energetic lead pastor, to bring a brief greeting and meditation from the Scriptures. I had a great time with Tim and Heather and their children, with Paul and Dema and Natalie, Zorin, and Masha, and many more sisters and brothers in Christ.

Monday, May 15, 2006


Will We Follow Jesus' Ways?

Dallas Willard suggests in The Divine Conspiracy that we need a "green letter" edition of the Gospels to go along with the "red letter" editions. The words in green would be all the behaviors of Jesus. Jesus commands us to not only listen to what he says, but to "follow" him--to live the way he lives.

Each of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) record Jesus' instructions to the Twelve about spreading his Father's reign of relentless love: "These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions..." and "After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee" (Matthew 10:5 and 11:1).

Do we find these instructions compelling today?

Part of our mission is: "...and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:20).

This series has been a fly-by of Jesus' instructions to the Twelve. I hope these reflections will provoke more and better thought and strategy about how to partner with Jesus in spreading the "good news of the kingdom of God." Of course, on the one hand, I don't think there can be a 1 to 1 correspondence between 1st century Second Temple Judaism culture under Roman empirial rule and our own culture, but I don't think, on the other hand, that we can jettison Jesus' instructions to the Twelve and just make things up as we go.

Niel Cole, in his book Organic Church: Growing Faith Where Life Happens, is the first person that I have read who takes Jesus' instructions seriously for church-planting in our time and culture (and world).
I, for one, think Cole is on to something.

Sunday, May 14, 2006


Part 4: Catalyzing Deep Commitment

"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." Matthew 10:37-39 NIV

In a fleeting few seconds of artistic beauty, Mel Gibson in his film The Passion has Jesus pick up his cross and as Jesus does so, he hugs the cross with an expression of love on his face. This is after the horrific beating and in the midst of continuing Roman cruelty and frantic Jerusalem crowd hysteria. It is at this time a visual moment of both purpose and peace shapes Jesus' face. The torture does not define or deflect him; the rioting mass does not defeat or delay him. Something deeper interprets his life. Loyalty.

Loyalty is love enduring as love in the midst of hate and all else that is unloving.

Jesus compells us to get in on the chance to live deeply loyal lives. With all its authority of compassion, its surprising relational connections, its simplicity and generosity, even its dangers, the relentless reign of God is marked by supernatural, enduring, unrivaled love. Ironically, in the name of political justice (powerful Rome) and religious devotion (zealous Judaism), Jesus experienced the worst evil that the world can inflict on a human being. These powers wanted so much for Jesus to fight back. Jesus chose a better way: he loved back. And in the presence of that kind of love, the world was stunned to find itself stripped naked and shamed; its vaunted power unmasked as impotence and its fierce hatred was flimsy as smoke.

What energy is this that when provoked by ridicule and mockery, blesses? When rejected, invites friendship? When beaten bloody, heals? When viciously hated, amazingly forgives?

Who is this that embraces his cross as the emblem of eternal, enduring loyalty?

Life, real life, is only found on the road of loyal love.

Saturday, May 13, 2006


Part 3: Taking Us To "The Danger Zone"

What are the vital energies fueling the spread of God's relentless reign of life-changing love in a culture bent on acting from religious hate and oppressive power?

In Jesus' directions to the 12 and the 72 (see Part 1 for the biblical references), we will consider the next to last energy: danger.

Danger. Please read these texts: "I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. ... Be on your guard against men; they will hand you over to the local councils and flog you in their synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. ... Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another. ... Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. ... a person's enemies will be the members of his own household. ...anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. "

Note that this is all part of the instructions to the Twelve in establishing outposts of the kingdom of God (see Matthew 10. The instructions end in Matt. 11:1).

Jesus is a realist. His Father's kingdom radically, yet subversively exposes the evil of human kingdoms and opposes their use of dehumanizing power, whether in the forms of fanatical, fundamentalistic religions (Judaistic factions of the 1st century) or politico-economic-military control (empirial Rome).

Compassionate demonstrations of God's life-changing love that turns upside down and strips naked the ways of the world creates very hostile opposition. "The king has no clothes on." And the kings of this world do not like being made aware of their psychic nakedness being seen by all. They cover themselves with leaves and spout, "What is this malarky about 'the last shall be first and the first last' and 'whoever wants to be great, head-honcho, 'lord' must be servant and slave of all' ? Get real."

Kingdom loyalties divide families and turns sisters and brothers and mothers and fathers into little Judas Iscariots, ready to betray one another because of the danger of being outed as a Jesus-follower. Tribunals and courts and drive-by shootings will join hands to stop this embarrassing unmasking of worldly power and control. Blood will be shed.

Google "the persecuted church." Jesus' words are as accurate today as they were in his own era. I wonder if the reason the church in America is so "blessed" to not be persecuted is because rather than confronting the dehumanizing powers that be with "the Jesus Way," we have nestled up to the powers that be and begged, "Keep us safe and keep us secure and keep us fed and entertained and keep us comfortable and keep us narcotically consuming all that you market to us with no conscience whatsoever for the poor of the world"? We know for a fact that our King exposed all the earthly powers to open shame at the cross, exposing them for the sham they are. But Jesus' words in Matthew 10 about the message of the kingdom of God messing up things for us, even our families, here in the good old U.S. of A? No, we adamantly will have none that.

Next: the last energy--the power of the kingdom to catalyze deep commitment to Jesus and his Way even in the face of danger.


Part 2: Jesus was very smart.

We're considering the instructions Jesus gave to the Twelve and to the Seventy-two (see previous post) as he sent them out to spread God his Father's reign of relentless and renewing love. Have you ever seen a concrete sidewalk broken and buckled by the root of a tree? A tiny seed grew quietly and steadily and no human-made power or obstacle could keep it down. "The kingdom of God is like a farmer who went out to sow 'mustard seeds'... ."

From Jesus' instructions we can detect some of the energies in the tiny seed of the-kingdom-of-God's arrival. Let's consider just one of the most startling and unsettling energies that extend God's kingdom of serving love into a culture of religious hate and oppressive power.

--Little or no expense. Jesus was saying bluntly, "You don't need money." "Don't think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start. You don't need a lot of equipment. You are the equipment, and all you need to keep that going is three meals a day. Travel light" (Matthew 10:9-10 The Message). Or, as the NIV translates Jesus here, "Do not take along any gold or silver or copper coins in your belts... ."

Now, this is where it gets dicey. This is where good old, pragmatic American genius takes over. Paraphrasing a line from the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding, "What you mean you don't need no money? He said, 'We don't need no money!'"

I love Eugene Peterson's line, "You are the equipment... ." Classic. Jesus is apparently saying, "Money? Do leave home without it." But again Jesus was not an American and perhaps here is where his brilliance falters. Y'think?

The more expensive the cost to plant and grow outposts of the kingdom of God, the less reproduction of those outposts there will be. It's an axiom you can bank on. In American culture a big budget is a status symbol. Even kingdom-of-God-people and ministries get culturally absorbed here. Jesus was not into status. He was into faith and simplicity. He knew that his kingdom enterprise would choke and die the more it got caught up in "the desires of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth... ." Thorns; don't you just hate those prickly things? Guess what just happened? I went to another website to check on a word spelling and a pop-up ad erupted...for a credit card with low interest and no fees! How American is that?

Talk to any missiologist. Missiologists are deeply saddened by the costs of maintaining the USAmerican church to the almost sheer poverty-level giving to globally extending the kingdom of God's relentless, hope-giving love to those who need it.

Let me say this less I am misunderstood. I serve as a non-resident missionary to Ukraine. Many people are helping me financially to serve young Jesus-followers there who are aggressively about extending the reign of God's love in this former Communist nation. I am deeply grateful to those who give; some I know give sacrificially. My point in this post is that the more expensive the costs to plant kingdom outposts, the less reproduction of those outposts we will see. Jesus understood that.

Talk to any missiologist. They will tell you that in countries of expansive poverty, the kingdom of God outposts are mushrooming. Tiny seeds are planted, grow, produce fruit and more seeds drop. India, China, Africa. Jesus-followers in those countries apparently believe Jesus' instructions. Maybe Jesus was smarter than we think on the issue of money and mission.
"...for the worker is worth his keep," Jesus said. "Those who spread the gospel will live by the gospel," Paul the Apostle would later write. "Seek first God's kingdom and righteousness and all these other things will be taken care of as well."

Next we'll consider the last two energies: the dangerous nature of the kingdom mission and it's amazing ability, even in the face of danger, to catalyze commitment to the Jesus Way.


Part 1: Jesus was an undeniable genius.

For example, in a culture of factious, often violent fanatical religion and under the oppressive military empire of Rome, Jesus gave instructions about how to spread his Father's relentless reign of love. His way was the very opposite of religious control, social revolt or escape, or ruthless empirial power and it seemed the odds were heavily against him and his followers.

Why have we drifted so far from Jesus' instructions? Why do we think we're smarter than Jesus? We can't even extend the reign of love in a culture of convenience, comfort and with relatively little opposition.

Jesus' extending-the-reign-of-love instructions are found in Matthew 10:1-11:1, Mark 6:6b-13, Luke 9:1-9 (the Twelve), Luke 10:1-24 (the Seventy-two). From these instructions we can discern some specific dynamics for spreading the Kingdom of God, his reign of world-transforming love.

The Authority of Compassion. Jesus imparts an "upside down" form of power. It is not power to control; it is power to extend life-changing compassion; an ability to directly confront that which threatens human life: demons and disease. The first question someone might ask these disciples is, "Does God really care for us? In this hell-hole of a society where religion is reduced to factious debate and Rome has its ugly foot on our necks, where is the God of our fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?" The answer: "Buck up, friend. The kingdom of God is near you."Why have we turned compassion into "Who has the better argument for reality?" Why has the faith been reduced to a placid mind game? Why do we have to trump every thought of the world with a Bible verse? Why has the love of God been mutated into just another power play?

Vibrant, relational community. Sending the 12 and the 72 out in pairs, Jesus did not say, "Set up a screen on a panel truck and a sound system and preach on the street corners." No, we, in our brilliance, came up with that tactic. No passing out tracts, no slick marketing plan. "Find a person of peace, stay with him/her and use that mustard-seed base to plant the spreading reign of love. Stay with that welcoming person. Nurture that relationship because it is a doorway into the village. Don't run around trying to find and win over the town big wigs and powerful 'influencers'."

Was Jesus smart, or what?

Two and one, two and the family of the one, two and the relatives of the family of the one, two and the neighbors of the family of the one.

Relational, receptive community where the "seed" of the word finds good soil: the existing relationships around "the worthy person" (Matt. 10:11). Covered with Galilean dust and hungry and thirsty from the mission, these two disciples and the welcoming "worthy person" become the residence of God extending Trinitarian, world-changing love. "Where two or three are together in my Name, bingo! You got it!" (Frye freelance paraphrase)

Particularly localized and strategic. This dynamic is a spin-off of the "search for some worthy person and stay at his house until you leave" (Matthew 10:11). Imagine these Jesus-followers doing as Jesus said. Doh! From town to town, village to village, house to house, they seek out the person of peace, the worthy person, [Greek axios]. Tell me Jesus did not understand contextuality and specificity. No mass media, no evangelistic blitzkrieg (gospel "lightning war"), no, thank God, televangelist with cotton-candy hair! Jesus' way: incarnate particularity! Just an ordinary, local person with relatives and friends in the town. This person accepts the "greeting" or "blessing" of the two. There's a built-in camaraderie, a oneness of spirit; a deep longing for the same thing. They find someone who is willing to affirm that Jesus of Nazareth is right and his ways are right, even though stunningly unlike anything else being peddled as "hope," as "a way out" in that culture. When"hope" spreads by the edge of a sword-blade or at gun point, it is, in the long run, a false hope.

To be continued....