Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Leaving Eden


 There is a time for everything, 
and a season for every activity under heaven...
...a time for war and a time for peace.


Our time away from the place God has called us to is coming to a close.  As I think about leaving, it feels a bit like having to walk out the front gate of Eden.  You don't really know what's on the other side, but you do know that it feels pretty appealing to just stay put in a tranquil place of peace, beauty, and safety.

But, somewhere deep below that feeling, is an exciting certainty that our Master is heading down the path and it's time to follow.  My heart skips a beat at the opportunity, as a mere human--and a very flawed one at that--to participate in what God is doing to reach the far corners of this planet.  The thought that the Creator of the universe somehow bids me to participate in what He's doing takes my ordinary life and moves it to a hyper-real level.  

On January 5th we'll leave on the jet plane for Papua, with stops in Singapore and Jakarta along the way.

We have nothing but gratefulness to the Lord and to the numerous folks who have made this time away from the front lines possible.  We will always carry memories of the peace and beauty of this corner of God's creation called Vermont.  Or is it Eden?


Every sunset was a new masterpiece.

Sledding

The cabin.  Our home of the past four months.

I think I'll most remember Miles Pond as a place of peace

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Waiting For The Kingdom

Luke 23 again.

Jesus is dead.  These are the darkest hours our world has ever seen.  And in this dark hour we're introduced to Joseph of Arimathea (another post here), the man who, after the humiliation of the cross, brought the dignity of a proper burial.  I wish that we knew more about this man named Joseph, but he seems to me to be the kind of person you'd want as your close friend, a man who when the worst happens doesn't implode.  He was still thinking, still working, still doing the right thing.

There is one other small piece of information that Luke gives us when he introduces Joseph to the narrative.  He uses this little phrase to describe Joseph:

...he was waiting for the kingdom of God.

Camp on that for a while.  Here's a man who, even though he was a member of the ruling elite and apparently had status, power and wealth, saw through the vapor of all that and knew that this present reality wasn't what he was ultimately designed for.  He knew in his soul that there was an entirely 'other' world out there somewhere, and because of that, he was not putting roots down in this current one.  Like being at an enjoyably pleasant party, but not really being there, because you're constantly glancing out the window looking for a car to pull into the drive, anticipating the person you're in love with to come and take you away.  He was waiting for, hoping for, praying for this vision of a new reality to indeed become reality...for the kingdom of God to come to men.

When Jesus pulled up, Joseph knew that what he had been waiting for had finally arrived.  He bought in, and entered in.  I think he left the party.  Jesus brought the kingdom of God to earth for men to enter in to.  A kingdom that Jesus told us was not of this world.   A spiritual realm...but a very real realm.

At the moment when Joseph was calmly stepping up and playing the man in a crisis, another of Jesus' friends was imploding.  Peter was not a good man in a crisis.  But the amazing thing is that Peter eventually got it, and just like Joseph, using the passport of faith, he stepped into the kingdom of God.  There, in this new realm, the Spirit of God gave him the backbone he'd never had.  And later, it would be Peter who would refer to folks who had eyes of faith, like Joseph of Arimathea, as 'strangers in the world.'

I want to become a good and upright man like Joseph, to be deeply unsatisfied with the party thrown by the kingdom of this world, to be hungry to live my moments in the kingdom of God.  It's right here, all around me...Jesus tore the heavens in two to make it so.


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

More Mountaintops

Growing up in Nepal, the majesty of the Himalaya are deeply ingrained in my memory, so I was mesmerized by this video I found on Justin Taylor's blog.


Mountaintops

Been absent from these pages for a few weeks.  Working on some other projects and traveling a bit.

We plan to return to Papua in about a month.  As that return date approaches, I've been reflecting a bit on this time that the Lord has given us away from the front lines.

In particular, I've been thinking a bit about how often Jesus retreated to the solitude of the mountains during his tumultuous ministry years here on earth.  Despite the fact that some of the tumult in my own ministry is of my own making, my family and I have been incredibly fortunate to have had an opportunity to do some of the mountain thing recently.  As I've noted before, by God's mercy, we've been ensconced in a cabin on a lake in Vermont for the past few months.  

It's the kind of place you never want to leave.  And yet, we know that this place is not our home, it's a way station on our journey, a mountaintop to which we've retreated.  It would be a hard thing to leave this mountaintop, except that we came up here to be with our Master--and we have met Him and enjoyed Him fully--and now it is He that is heading back down the mountain and we'd be crazy not to follow.  Jesus always comes off the mountain.  Jesus called us to simply follow...what a tragedy it would be if we stayed on the mountain after our Master had made His way back down.  Without Him up here, this mountaintop would become a cold, windy and desolate place.  

At times, I have felt far removed from the battlefield that life and ministry can feel like at times in Papua.  I've struggled to not feel guilty as my colleagues continue to fight the good fight while I have retreated from the front lines for a while.  That said, I find that if I stay in the battle too long, I lose focus...I'm still fighting, but I'm swinging blindly, ineffectively.  Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Jesus showed us the "work hard - retreat deeply" model that He lived by.  It is amazing to me that God, from the very beginning--as in the second chapter of the Bible--modeled this work-rest cycle for us.  These weren't simply instructions from the Creator to the creation...the Creator followed the pattern in His own work and creativity.

It is also fascinating to me that in a perfect, pre-sin world, we were designed to work hard, then rest deeply.  Like everything else, sin screws up this perfect balance and we either end up working too much or resting too much.  

And so we'll drink deeply of the solitude, be refreshed by the beauty all around us, not as an end in itself, but as a time to be still with God, gain His perspective on the valley below, and follow Him back down the mountain, filled with joy...not just for the time on the mountain, but also for the anticipation of what the path ahead holds...because He's on it.    

Thursday, November 10, 2011

An Atheist With Integrity

Mathew Parris is a former MP in the British Parliament and currently a columnist with The Times of London.  He's a professing atheist. If part of integrity is recognizing good in the opposite camp, even when it weakens your own position, then Mr. Parris demonstrates such integrity in the fascinating article below.

I first read this piece a couple of years ago, but was reminded of it today by an article in Christianity Today by the Bishop of the Methodist Church in Malaysia, Hwa Yung.  (That piece is very much worth the read: here)

Originally published in The Times in 2009, here's Parris' take on the impact of missions:
Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it's Malawi, and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity working there. Pump Aid helps rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I went to see this work.
It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I've been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I've been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Giving The Pagans A Run For Their Money


Jesus once said,

the pagans run after all these things
And so do we.

Doing volunteer work, I'm poorer than your average millionaire.  But, in the context of Papua, I'm much better off than most of the people that I live among.  And that is exactly not the point.  Anytime we focus on our relative economic standing, we're looking down the wrong path...and it's a shortcut to unhappiness.

I'm fortunate to rub shoulders with people from all levels of the economic strata and find that in every sector, from dirt poor to filthy rich, you'll find people who have serious cases of contentment.   And, you'll also find, across that same spectrum, others who say they are following Jesus but appear to be running full tilt after 'all these things.'

The former group of people have a passion for life.  The latter, a passion for stuff.  The contented crowd tends to be very free with whatever stuff they end up entrusted with, be it a big pile or a widow's mite.  The running crowd tend to be so focused on getting that they miss out on both the delights of what they already have...and the fun of giving some of it away.

One of the interesting things to me is that when Jesus spoke those words (Matthew 6:32), the 'things' that He observed the pagans running after weren't BMW's or McMansions...no, these pagans were stressing about the necessities of life.  You can sense Jesus' sadness and pity as He watches these folks sprinting after Casseroles, Cokes and Levis like panicked refugees trying to get on the last flight out of Saigon.  The wild thing is that Jesus says that God knows that we need our Casseroles, Cokes and Levis.  I can imagine Him saying to us, 

Relax.  Pursue me.  Pursue life in my invisible realm...
and I'll make sure you're fed, watered and clothed. 
Be content.

One of the greatest gifts we can ever receive is the gift of contentment, and like most good things, I'm finding it flows freely into our lives out of a connectedness to Jesus.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Paul Westlund, In His Own Words

Paul's been gone for over a month now.  Not a day goes by when I don't think about Paul, the difference he made...and the price he paid.

Here's a short clip where Paul shares the passion that drives us.

video


If you'd like to read more about Paul's life and passion, see the earlier post, Muddy Dancing Shoes.

thanks to jerrett roy for the video

Otter

I get such a kick out of the amazing breadth of creatures that God has designed.  Yesterday morning Cameron hollered for me to come to the window.  We just caught a glimpse of an otter as he disappeared into the rocks and brush at the pond's edge.  We knew that otters were around...but this was the first one we'd seen.

This morning Cameron again yelled for me to come to the window, "The otter's back!"  This time I was able to get out on the deck of the cabin and snap a little footage of the little guy.  The video is grainy and unstable, but I still enjoy watching the grace and agility of this little animal.


video



Thursday, October 27, 2011

Dead Ends


Most days Sheri and I take an evening walk down the gravel road that winds through the woods along the lake.  Towards the far end we come to this terrific sign:  

I can't count the times in my life I'd have given somebody else's right leg for a sign like this.  My unerring judgment will lead me down a primrose path to a pretty and proper dead end.  I'll have to put my life in reverse and back out, generally getting stuck in the ditches a few times in the process.  

So how do you know when a path will lead to a dead end or not?  Don't ask me.  Not sure we'll ever figure that out.  But I'm at least making an attempt to avoid the dead end the Amish call too quick old, too late smart...so I'm trying to learn from the dead ends I've gotten myself into.  When faced with the two divergent paths through the woods (which generally don't come with helpful hand-painted signs), I'm trying to ask,

which one is my Master taking?

Typically, it's the narrow one.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Clarity

Am I comfortable with paradoxes?  Mystery?  Having things in life that are unknowable?  Not being able to understand all the reasons for why things happen?

The Apostle Paul had such a lock on the truth of the Gospel...but he also recognized that we've only been given so much.  Mystery, wonder, paradox and unanswered questions still float through our lives...a bit like a beautiful mist moving over the calm of an early morning lake.  


Of what we are able to see, Paul said,

for now we see through a glass, darkly

The other day my folks mentioned a passage they had heard quoted from Brennan Manning's book Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin's Path To God.  I looked it up.

When the brilliant ethicist John Kavanaugh went to work for three months at the "house of the dying" in Calcutta, he was seeking a clear answer as to how to spend the rest of his life.  On the first morning there he met mother Teresa.  She asked, "And what can I do for you?" Kavanaugh asked her to pray for him. 
"What do you want me to pray for?" she asked.  He voiced the request that he had borne thousands of miles from the United States: "Pray that I have clarity." 
She said firmly, "No, I will not do that."  When he asked her why, she said, "Clarity is the last thing you are holding on to and must let go of."  When Kavanaugh commented that she always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, she laughed and said, "I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust.  So I will pray that you trust God."

Trust the God of the mists.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Demise Of A Category

The Scriptures are rich.  There is so much there for us.

Take one little paragraph in Luke chapter 23.  Jesus has just died.  Luke introduces us to a man named Joseph who was

a member of the council, a good and upright man, 
who had not consented to their decision and action.

Rats.  This screws up everything.  Members of the council were not supposed to be good and upright.  I had just figured out that the Pharisees were the bad guys.  Pharisees are the self-righteous idiots in the stories that Luke tells.  And I liked it that way--keep people in neat and tidy categories so I know who to love, who to hate, who to respect and who to despise.  The Democrats are the bad guys, the Republicans the good guys...or is it the other way around?  Doesn't really matter, I just need to know who's who so I can decide without thinking whether I like you or not.

But the stories told throughout Scripture continually mess with my categories, and no more so than those told in the Gospels.  And here's one of the secrets about the narrow path that Jesus calls us to:  it's full of surprising people who we'd never think would be on it...and conspicuously absent are some of the people we thought for sure would be.  Categories mean nothing...a person's heart is everything.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Live Free Or Die

We feel extremely fortunate to have been given the opportunity to spend a few months in northern New England.  We're currently in Vermont and my folks live a few miles away across the Connecticut River in New Hampshire.  Cameron attends school in Jefferson, New Hampshire, in the shadow of mountains named Washington, Adams, and Madison.

The Presidentials from Jefferson Meadows, New Hampshire.
The area has an abiding sense of honor for the early leaders of this country.  New Hampshire's motto isn't some catchy new hook to pull tourists.  When you see a NH license plate, you're looking at words that were penned over 200 years ago...by a guy named John Stark, one of the area's Revolutionary War heroes.


Live free or die.  That'll pull the tourists in.

General John Stark
But actually, from a license-plate-motto perspective, it gets worse because we're not getting the half of it.  Stark's full statement, sent in a message to encourage his fellow patriots, was:

Live free or die; death is not the worst of evils.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

In Paul's Memory

If you've been moved by Paul's life and death and are looking for a way to respond, here are a couple of ideas.

A memorial fund has been set up to help Paul's family.  An email to the following address will give you details on how to participate:


Also, we are in great need of more aircraft to be used in reaching the isolated peoples of Papua with the Good News.  Paul's family welcomes gifts towards purchasing two more Pilatus Porters for Yajasi.  More information here:



Monday, September 26, 2011

When All Is Said And Done

Paul in the village of Noiadi, 2009
photo by Tim Harold
In a few hours, people will begin to gather in an open air structure at the foot of Mount Cyclops in Papua, Indonesia to thank God for the life Paul Westlund.  As many of you know, Paul died in an aircraft accident last Thursday.  For those who knew Paul, these past few days have held such profound sorrow.  There's not much one can say or do to mitigate the sadness of losing a friend...and I sense that God would have us fully embrace the sadness.  And yet, even as I do just that, I find my spirit encouraged and comforted by glimpses of the Master's redemptive hand beginning to use Paul's death to do some truly beautiful things.

One of the ways Paul would get his shoes muddy was using video to bring to life what God was doing at the very end of the earth for far-away-others to see.  Paul shot this video a number of years ago.

He'd want you to watch it with a soft and open heart.




Friday, September 23, 2011

Muddy Dancing Shoes

Paul took life's bumps with a smile.  He often said
"You just can't ruin my day."  We worked together
a full day on a misbehaving airplane back in March.
One of God's greatest gifts to His followers are the encouragers that He gives us.  Papua lost one of God's gifted encouragers on Thursday.  My friend and fellow pilot Paul Westlund perished in an aircraft accident, along with his two Papuan passengers.  Our hearts are heavy.  We do not grieve as those who have no hope...but we do grieve.  I ache for Paul's wife Lavonne, their grown daughter Joy, and their teenage son Mark.

As God now has Paul with Him, I suppose there's some danger for those of us left behind, that as we remember Paul, we glorify the person and God gets lost in all the accolades for the one He created.  But God also gave us each other to "spur one another on to love and good deeds," and as I remember Paul, that is exactly what my spirit is longing to do...follow the example that Paul set for me in so many ways.

Paul was without a doubt the most encouraging person I've ever been around.  God would plant harebrained ideas in Paul's head about how to love on someone and, unlike me, Paul gave the matter no further thought: he simply went out and did it.  He would walk into my office with no other purpose than to say a kind word to me...and then leave.

Can you read my favorite verse?  Langda 2007
Having worked with Paul for almost 14 years, I can say that he was one of the most upbeat and carefree people I've ever known.  One of his favorite parts of the life God gave him was participating in the celebrations when a people group received God's Word in their language for the first time.  At the celebration Paul would always get a copy of the newly printed Scriptures and begin grabbing everyone he came upon and ask them to read his favorite verse.  Then he'd have them sign their names in the front of the Bible.  His favorite verse?  I Peter 5:7

Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.

Paul was locked into that amazing truth...God cares for us.  And what a gift that promise is to those of us left behind.

At the end of my last post, written four days before Paul's death, I wrote the following:

Thanks!
So I live my life here with the knowledge that my days on this planet are limited.  My opportunities to fully submit and follow hard after God, in this place, are numbered.  I can tread water until that day when my body quits, living an average life, on a pleasant path of my own choosing.  But what an opportunity I have to make the most of these short days to enjoy the adventure of following Him fully.
Paul fully enjoyed the adventure that God laid out for him.  He was just your average American, living an average American life, when a man walked into the motorcycle shop he was working at and challenged him to follow God into a life of missionary service.  Paul didn't give the matter another thought.  He dropped his tools and followed Jesus down the path.

How about you?  Is Jesus calling?  Are you giving it thought?  Or, are you, like Paul, ready to drop everything when the Master calls, and follow Him?

The path ahead?  Who knows.  That's what an adventure is all about.  You're following Jesus, not blazing your own trail.  His path is one of satisfaction and significance...a deep sense of meaning in a broken and chaotic world.

I'm convinced that God is calling more Paul Westlunds out from among His people.  Don't turn away in sadness like the rich young ruler...take a deep breath, get off your path, take Jesus' hand and follow Him.

-------------------------

If you've read this far, you may be wondering what does Muddy Dancing Shoes have to do with all this?  I'd like to leave you with a beautiful piece that my friend Scotty Wisley wrote yesterday.  I post this with Scotty's permission and his express desire that God get the glory.
Every time Paul Westlund landed his Porter in Bokondini I smiled.  He was one of the most positive, upbeat, enjoy-life-to-the-full guys I’ve ever met.   I never thought about it till yesterday, but it was sort of like he was dancing through life.  I would never think of him as a dancer.   Pretty much every time I saw him his shoes were muddy and he had part of his shirttail hanging out from a long day of work.  He would uncoil his lanky body out of the little cockpit and say something like “you should have seen the waves we had last Saturday, your brother got one of the longest rides I’ve ever seen.”  You didn’t have to spend much time with Paul to see that most of his enjoyment of life was cheering others on.  The next time he would land he would say “hey Scotty, I just had the coolest experience, I got to haul in a whole bunch of people for a Bible dedication in this tiny village in the middle of nowhere.  Those guys now have God’s word in their own language.  How cool is that that!!”
Paul often got his shoes muddy giving kids 'free flights.'
I don’t know how many times Paul has pulled us out of Bok.  Each time I looked forward to sitting next to him.  I was always drawn to Paul because of his positive attitude, I wanted  some of that to wear off on me.  I am so negative and critical and so easily discouraged and then comes Paul, brightening up my day and just showing me that it isn’t nearly as bad as I’ve made it out to be.  This last year Paul shared with me how he had been terribly hurt and wronged by a fellow missionary a number of years back.  He didn’t share enough details to make it gossip but he shared enough that I could see myself in his shoes.  Then he shared his path to forgiveness and how God freed him from lugging a load of anger and resentment.  He hadn’t always danced through life.  Paul’s positive attitude and joy were not just natural, it was a choice.  He intentionally chose how he was going to live and then he did it and we all benefited from that choice.
In The Mission the bishop dude says “this building of a paradise on earth, how easily it offends.”  One time when I was bitter and angry Paul showed up all happy and positive.  I laid into him.  “You are just happy cause you have everything you want.  You love your wife and there is nobody on earth you enjoy more than your son.  You live in a mansion, you have all the money you could want.  You get to surf every weekend and there is nothing you would rather do than be a jungle pilot.”  Paul just shrugged his shoulders, “what’s wrong with that?”  And Paul was right.  My theology that we are suppose to suffer and be miserable to somehow earn something or do penance had no place in Paul’s world.   Paul’s world was one of joy, a place where every set of shoes he owned were for dancing.
And those shoes have left footprints in all of our lives.  I don’t know how many tiny villages in the middle of nowhere Paul regularly landed at but he brought a little joy to each one.  Paul impacted the lives of many missionaries.  Maybe none are as bitter and angry as me but I know I want to be more like Paul.  I want to change shoes and get into a pair like what Paul wore.  Paul loved life.  His boy Mark was the apple of his eye and there are few kids on this earth who have had more great dad time than Mark enjoyed.   I didn’t really know Paul’s wife but he never said a negative thing about her and it was clear in every conversation that he loved and respected her.
When Paul died yesterday in his little plane with two passengers, I know he was bringing joy.  I know right now he has got on his dancing shoes before the King and he is doing what he did best on this earth.  He is cheering God on and totally enjoying his new life.   Paul Westlund danced through this life and he is still dancing.  I can just about see him leaning over to the guy next to him and saying, with that big smile on his face, “did you see what God just did?  How cool is that!!”
Please praise God for Paul’s life as a good husband, dad and jungle pilot here and please pray for his family and friends who grieve his death.  Please pray for the families of the two passengers who died with him.  

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Life Is Terminal


I wrote the following post on September 18...four days ago.  I woke up this morning to the news that one of our pilots, my good friend Paul Westlund, had perished in an aircraft accident in the mountains of Papua.  I'll post more about Paul in the near future...but for now, here are the words that I am reminding my stunned spirit are still as true today as they were four days ago. 


------------------------------------


Recently Sheri and I spent part of an afternoon walking through an ancient cemetery in Stark, New Hampshire.  We wandered through the markers, reading the names, while a warm wind blew through the huge pines.  Fascinating.  Some folks didn't make it to their 9th birthday.  Some lived into their 90's.  Some of the gravestones, dated in the mid-1800's were so weather-worn they were hard to read.  Some markers were brand new.  Some people, judging by the size of the rocks stuck in the ground, were wealthy.  Some were poor.  Some were kids, some were soldiers.  All of their lives had one thing in common: they ended.

Why is it that the one thing I know with certainty will happen to me I spend so little time thinking about?  I know almost nothing about the future, but, intellectually at least, I know my days are numbered.  But my response to that knowledge isn't what it should be, I think.  If I knew for certain that a stock was going to rise 400% I think I'd probably spend some time rearranging my meager resources to try and make them less meager.  Knowledge of the future influences our actions today.  Yet, there's only one thing I really know will happen in the future and I don't let it have the influence on my day to day activities that it should.

Life on this planet is terminal.

To be a little more precise, life in the skins we're in is temporary.  Life itself isn't temporary...only our skins are.

Cameron, when he was around four, asked me what dying was.  I told him, 

Cameron, you will always be.  But someday, your body is going to stop working.

And I think this sense of continuity is what brings the proper perspective to death.  J.R.R. Tolkien blessed us with a few profound sentences when, at a particularly dire point in one of his stories, when there was almost certainly no hope, Gandalf turns to Pippin and says:

The journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take.  

So I live my life here with the knowledge that my days on this planet are limited.  My opportunities to fully submit and follow hard after God, in this place, are numbered.  I can tread water until that day when my body quits, living an average life, on a pleasant path of my own choosing.  But what an opportunity I have to make the most of these short days to enjoy the adventure of following Him fully.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Two Murderers

note: this was originally written in November 2010




Final approach to Daboto is always an edge-of-your-seat affair. The short shelf of dirt rushes up at me at 75 miles an hour. Clouds on my left block the escape route. I’m committed to land.
Lord, help me not to bend this thing ... especially in front of all these people.
Seems like well over 100 Moi people have converged on the Daboto airstrip this morning. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than 20 here before.
Stepping out of the airplane, I see Rich and Karen walking up the airstrip. Funny, their feet don’t seem to be touching the ground. They are beaming. “What’s with all the people?” I ask.
“God is doing an amazing thing among the Moi!” says Rich with a face-splitting grin.
After years of language learning and preparation, the missionaries among the Moi were finally able to begin their chronological teaching through the Scriptures. They started with the creation story and were moving through the narratives to end up at the resurrection of Christ. People had come from all the far-flung hamlets of the Moi territory, some hiking five days to get there.
The initial plan was to have teaching sessions five days a week. Soon after beginning, though, the Moi insisted that the storying be done six days a week ... and they refused to return to their hamlets to tend their gardens and get food.
The people were literally going hungry so that they could hear the Good News.
On the day I arrived, they were finishing up the teaching of the Law ... and the Moi were profoundly convicted of their sins and convinced that they stood under God’s judgment. They were urgently pushing the process forward so that they could get to the part about the promised Redeemer they kept hearing mentioned in the stories.
“Nate, we’ve got all the people here, and I don’t think any of them understand why you came to them with the others in that first helicopter 10 years ago, and I don’t think they have a clue why you keep coming back here. Would you share your story with them so that they might understand what drives you?” Rich puts me on the spot.
Backtrack to the year 2000. I’m standing in a small clearing in the rainforest, high on a ridge in Moi territory, without another human being in sight. An hour earlier we’d gingerly dropped out of a helicopter onto a knife-edge ridge that a lightning strike and fire had cleared of trees. I’m waiting for my GPS to pick up a satellite fix. The rest of the team has hiked ahead, slowly clearing a path on a compass heading that we hope will someday turn into an airstrip to reach the Moi.
The hairs on the back of my neck rise as I sense that I am not alone.
I turn to find that a Moi man has crept up behind me without me ever hearing the slightest snap of a twig. I am the first outsider, the first white man Piato has ever seen. Now as I stand at the top of the Daboto airstrip, in a crowd of Moi, I turn and find, once again, that Piato is standing right behind me. I put my arm around this warrior, and my heart begins to speak while Rich translates into Moi.
“Some of you have murdered.” An image of Piato finishing off one of his wives with an axe flashes across my mind. “I have not killed. But I have hated others in my heart, and the Redeemer has said that I am guilty of murder—I lacked only the axe.”
One murderer embracing another, I continued.
“My heart was black, and I stood under the judgment of the Creator. But I have met the Redeemer, and He has paid my penalty for murder and washed my heart clean. This is why I have come. This is why I keep coming back. So that you also may meet this Redeemer and have Him carry off your sins ... that you may walk with Him in the light.”
I released Piato and picked up a tiny little boy at my feet, buck naked. Made in the image of the living God.
“I have come also because I have a dream that this little boy will be part of the first generation of Moi to grow up in the light, free from the constant fear and oppression of the evil spirits. The Redeemer will give you victory over the evil spirits. Please, listen to the stories and follow the Redeemer when you meet Him.”
Praise the Lord. The word we continue to hear out of Daboto is that the vast majority of the Moi are embracing Jesus and breaking free from bondage to evil spirits. The Light has come!
Watch testimonies of Moi people who committed their lives to Christ as a result of these teaching sessions. (Filmed by missionaries from New Tribes Mission, which helps plant churches among unreached people groups.)
Read more about the first contact with the Moi in "Getting There" ( Rev. 7, Spring 2006, pages 4–6).

Friday, September 9, 2011

What Dying Men Talk About

Imagine that you knew you only had a few hours left to live.

Imagine that you got to spend those last moments with Jesus.

In what has got to be one of the most fascinating interchanges in the entire Bible, Luke records the words of two men who got to do just that.  Two criminals hang on crosses, the life slowly seeping from their bodies as they pay for their crimes.  Between them hangs this Jesus, also dying.  You'll find these words in chapter 23:

One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him:

"Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" 

But the other criminal rebuked him. 
"Don't you fear God," he said, 
"since you are under the same sentence? 

We are punished justly, 
for we are getting what our deeds deserve. 
But this man has done nothing wrong."  

Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." 

Jesus answered him, 
"I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." 

In the chaos that led up to Golgotha, it's as if God handpicked these two men to die with Jesus to again show us the two ways men respond to Jesus.

The first bad guy, knowing that he has but a short time to live, doesn't soften his heart but remains hard and unbelieving.  His insults are laced with unbelief and his spine is stiff with unsubmission.   Men still approach God the same way.  

You're God, huh?  Prove it.  Heal my kid!  

We've got blood all over our hands but we approach God as if He owes us something.  The way to God is a faith that's marked by humility, brokenness and gratitude.

The second bad guy is, well, a bad guy.  But facing the end of his days he is much afraid.  And, he believes.  One simple statement, packed with meaning:

Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom

With these few profound words he recognizes that this really isn't the end--that there is something more waiting for him after he takes his last breath.  He also recognizes that Jesus is the true King.  And, in this same little sentence, he entrusts himself to Jesus, placing his eternal destiny into the hands of the man dying beside him.

One of the things that continually strikes me as I read the Gospels is who gets it, and who doesn't.  Most of the highly educated religious establishment of the day didn't get it.  Even this late in the story, it seems like some of Jesus' own disciples didn't get it.  A poor blind man on the road to Jericho got it.  And a dying convict got it.

No pit too deep.  No moment too late.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Chaos

I'm reading Luke's account of Jesus' crucifixion in chapters 22 & 23 of his book.

Sometime sit down and read this story like you've never heard it before.  Chaos is in absolute control.  Ever been to a riot?  I've been up close and personal with a few in some of the far corners of the world.  Reading Luke's story I get that same pit of the stomach sense of something taking on a scary life of its own, with no idea of where this thing is headed next, but knowing that it's going to be awful.

Out of control.  I know that if I had been a groupie through the night and morning that Luke describes, I would have been convinced that God was nowhere in the neighborhood.  Random chaos.

And yet...millenia before the night of chaos, God had carefully thought through an audacious plan to pick up the tab for the sins of the world by allowing a mob scene to throw Him up on a cross.  In the middle of events spinning out of control God was there.

And this brings great comfort to my soul.  It reminds me that when my life feels like chaos and I know instinctively that God has vanished because He certainly wouldn't be party to the looting, burning and teargas that's shredding my life...He is there.  I know this to be true, because when the smoke cleared three days later, the most beautiful thing had happened.  The world, quite literally, was a different place.

Looking back on those lost times of chaos in my own life, I'm prone to think that it is precisely the dark nights of chaos in my life, when God seems to have gone AWOL, that produce the most profound and positive changes.

God is there.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Letters

A number of years ago I stumbled across a book that changed my life.  We were in a cabin up in the mountains and, looking for something to read, I pulled a thin, dull looking paperback off the bookshelf, plopped into a rocker and began to read.

Letters by a Modern MysticThe book was Letters by a Modern Mystic.  Don't let the title throw you.  But, if the word mystic does make you nervous, I guess I feel the need to ask: what is more mystical than following a God who made Himself a man for a while, died, but wouldn't stay dead, and then sent his spirit to live inside us? If you're a follower of Jesus, get over it...it's mystical.

Letters is a collection of some of the correspondence between Frank Laubach, a missionary to the southern Philippines in the 1930's, and his father.  The beautifully written letters chronicle Laubach's journey through an experiment to intentionally call God to mind as he walked through his days...to walk in the moment by moment presence of God.

For me, this was so much more than a book--it introduced me to a new way of living in a conscious awareness of God's presence.  It had a profound impact on my life.  So how am I doing?  Have I succeeded at this?  By no means...in fact, in the past few months I have let my practice of God's presence slide so far that I felt compelled to set aside some time and basically reset things...and part of that is re-reading Letters once more.  And that prompted this post.

If you long for the joy, power and peace of communing with the Creator, I would highly recommend this book.  Here's the foreword, written by Dallas Willard (who also wrote a fascinating review here.)

Monday, August 29, 2011

Off The Grid...On The Pond


Been delightfully offline for the past couple of weeks.

Our travels have come to a much anticipated end.  And what a place to end: northern New England.  We plan to spend the remainder of this year here before heading back to Papua in January.

Through the incredible grace of some fellow followers of Jesus, we have been given the use of a quiet cabin on a lake in Vermont.  We're still in awe of this tender mercy the Lord has shown us.

The beauty that surrounds us and the miles between this world and the world we normally live in have already begun to wash some of the weariness from our souls.



I'll probably begin writing stuff in these pages a little more regularly now that we've gotten back on the grid a bit by having internet run to the cabin.  Was that a sacrilegious thing to do?  It almost feels like it.




Friday, August 12, 2011

A Much Harder Thing

I came to the story of the rich young guy in Luke 18 and honestly, I breezed right through it because I had already spent a fair chunk of time chewing on Mathew's account of this story a few months ago (here). But after my initial breeze-through, I forced myself to read it again...a couple things caught my eye.

You know the story: rich guy comes to Jesus wanting to know what he needs to do to 'inherit eternal life.' Jesus gives him a tract with the four spiritual laws. Oops, sorry...that's what we do. Jesus, on the other hand, completely forgets everything he learned in Sunday School and answers our man's question by telling him he needs to, get this, obey the law. Let's google it: see if we can find me a modern evangelism course that starts off by teaching people they need to obey the Ten Commandments. And yet this is exactly what Jesus does. Honestly, I don't have that one figured out yet. In any case, while it gives me significant pause, it didn't bother our rich guy one bit—he's got this Ten Commandment stuff in the bag and he tells Jesus as much.

Jesus doesn't dispute his claim to having been a good boy. He simply adds one more thing for the rich man to do. And this one thing puts the kabosh on his whole get-into-heaven quest. But wait, is it one thing that Jesus asks of him, or two? Jesus tells him

Sell everything you have and give to the poor,
and you will have treasure in heaven.

Then come, follow me.

My guess is that Part One—the garage sale idea—was enough to derail our guy. Getting any of us to part with our filthy lucre is a pretty tall order...and the more we have of it, the more attached to it we tend to be. But I really wonder what might have happened if Jesus had left it at that—just get rid of your stuff and you're good to go. Here we have a rich guy in complete control of his life. If all Jesus gave him was Part One, and our rich guy managed to pull it off, then all we'd end up with is a poor guy in complete control of his life. To me, Part Two—follow me—is the much harder thing.

Part One is expensive. Part Two is ruinous.

Part One bankrupts your wallet. Part Two bankrupts your self-determination.

Monday, August 8, 2011

'Tis Mercy All

Luke includes in his book the story of Jesus healing a blind beggar on the road to Jericho (18:35-43). I've read this story before, but for some reason I found some fresh things there this time. Three things.

The first is that we followers of Jesus haven't changed much over the years...we're still a mess. When the blind beggar tries to get Jesus' attention,

those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet

Not much has changed in the intervening two millenia. We who follow Christ can be completely out of sync with Him. We think the focus is getting to Jericho. We think the focus is building a huge church building so that we can "be more effective." His focus is the drunk we pass on the way into the church parking lot.

The second thing that strikes me as interesting is that when the blind beggar hears the crowd going by and asks what's going on, he is told that the one passing by is

Jesus of Nazareth

He is given the earthbound identity of Jesus. Of Nazareth. It's a town. Over there. Jesus of Nazareth...there's Fred of Nazareth walking behind him and over there is Susy of Nazareth. So that's who our blind guy has been told is going by. But when he cries out for him, he doesn't call out for Jesus of Nazareth, instead he hollers for

Jesus, Son of David

The guy was blind. But he saw things so much clearer than those who had good eyes. He could see exactly who Jesus was. He identifies Him with His kingly status. I think the blind guy saw that Jesus was indeed the Promised One from the line of David. Doesn't it seem like Jesus always responds dramatically to people who see Him with eyes of faith instead of fleshly eyes. People like this have stepped off the earth and into the kingdom of heaven...and so they see things differently. The Centurion in Luke 7 is another example of this.

The final thing that really strikes me about this story is that this blind guy obviously has a need. His eyes don't work for crying out loud! He obviously would love to have them fixed. So, you'd reasonably assume he'd yell out something like

fix my eyes!

But he doesn't. Instead, it's

have mercy on me!

Blind as bat and yet he sees perfectly. He knows that the ability to see isn't his right (everyone else can see, why can't I?). He doesn't demand that Jesus restore his right to see. I think he understood his rights very well. The text doesn't tell us explicitly, but by his simple cry for mercy, I think this man knew his rights...his sin had purchased him the right to hell. So he pleads not for his sight, not for justice, not for his rights, but for mercy. And that's exactly what Jesus gives him.

And this is exactly what I need. Mercy. As I write this, the sun is filtering through a forest still dripping from an overnight rain. The birds are singing. A woodpecker taps in the distance. Deep in the woods I can hear the brook tumbling down the mountain. I don't deserve to have ears to hear these things or eyes to take it in. This is mercy.

'tis mercy all, immense and free

--Charles Wesley

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Fire Man


I'm not a very good fire starter. Sometimes it takes me a half hour to get a fire going...using newspaper, kerosene and a lighter. Come camping with me sometime and you'll see what I mean. Gotta be bad kerosene. Occasionally I hang with some folks that really aggravate my complex about my fire starting abilities.
------------------

As I approached the mountains one hundred miles south of home, the early morning skies were crowded with heavy, wet clouds. Large areas of what filled the airplane's windshield were grey with rain. Still, when I called my destination on the radio they reported that their tiny little pocket of a valley was open. And so I pressed on, weaving my way around the rain in seams of decent visibility. I called the village several more times on the radio—and each time received the same assurance that the weather there was still open.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Imagining 'Well Done'

Been thinking a lot lately about a little phrase that Jesus uses in Luke 18:14. He's finishing up His story about the prayers of the pharisee and the tax collector (missionary and abortion doctor) and He makes this statement:

...everyone who exalts himself
will be humbled,
but everyone who humbles himself
will be exalted

Jesus inverts things on us again. But that should not be new to us—you can't read very far in any of the Gospels and not catch that the realm that Jesus describes as the kingdom of God runs very differently from the world we normally live in. What is curious to me here is that Jesus is stressing how the humility or exaltation happens. There's a humility born of our failures that comes our way whether we seek it or not. Likewise, we can have our nose to the grindstone, minding our own business and find that our work meets with some level of success—and a level of acclaim is thrust upon on us whether we're looking for it or not. But this is not what Jesus is talking about here—he carefully chooses His words and is specifically targeting our passionate desire to see ourselves honored and exalted. It's he 'who exalts himself' and he 'who humbles himself' that is in focus.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Mercy Me

One thing I've noticed as I've read through Luke's gospel this time is how often Jesus tells designer stories. He targets a specific audience. The mark of a true teacher...He doesn't have a canned message that He repeats verbatim irrespective of the context...He knows his audience and knows what they need to hear. The story that Jesus tells beginning in the ninth verse of the 18th chapter He told specifically to be heard by a group of people who were

confident of their own righteousness

That has got to be the definition of ugly. And Jesus wants them to see it. Beyond that, He wants to turn their definition of beautiful on its head. Two guys praying. One a pastor...ok, let's say missionary...that's a little closer to home. The other an abortion doctor (worse, I think he may even have been a Democrat). The missionary confidently looks God in the eye and, with a straight face, thanks God that he is being used of God to reach the lost. Speaking of the lost, he expresses his profound gratitude that he's not like them...especially not like that lost guy over there with so much blood on his hands. Special section of hell for him.

As per Jesus' habit, He turns everything on its head. The righteous dude, despite his Mdiv and impressive list of evangelical credentials (a copy of which he presents to his Creator) isn't righteous at all...and it's the unrighteous dude that ends up able to stand in the presence of the Holy God. What gives? The abortion doctor sees no righteousness in himself, and unable to look God in the eye, he hangs his head in shame and, clinging to his pebble of faith, pleads,

God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Just a few words, packed with meaning...and beauty. Words that the pharisee writing these words needs to utter much more often. The amazing thing, and it almost seems criminal in my evangelical worldview, is that the abortion doctor

went home justified before God.

It's the 'missionary' that God rejects.

Lord, strip me of my confidence in my own righteousness. Have mercy on me, a sinner.