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We’re excited today as we get ready to go down to Lome to welcome my friend Tod Vogt,  his mother, and his daughter, Hannah.  They will be here for about a week and I’ll be spending much of that time with them in Benin, where Tod and I formerly worked together.

Carson Reed has reported on a dialogue that he has been having with some Christian leaders on missional thinking; specifically, what evangelism in the local church look like.  Here are some thoughts I put togther on the subject:

Rick Wood’s reference to Jesus’ “marketplace approach” got me to thinking about what this might look like for ministry today.  From his following comments, I know Rick doesn’t have “marketing the church” in mind, but unfortunately this is the approach the church usually takes.  Guder, Hunsberger, and others have lamented the role that the church has often assumed as a vendor of religious goods and services, which must compete with other vendors. 

(The marketing analogy does have some merits.  There is, in a sense, a marketplace of ideas.  People do make choices about worldview and ultimate allegiance.  In presenting Jesus, we try to persuade others to choose him.  What is ultimately Christ-denying, however, is when we follow the content-less approach of contemporary advertising and market the cross by covering it with a slick veneer in an effort to make discipleship appear less costly.)

I think that the African market may be similar to the marketplace in which Jesus interacted, for the market is not only a place where goods are bought and sold, but also a place where people come together.  In Togo, the weekly market day is a time to congregate, to share news, to make connections. 

The market is also a busy, hot, crowded, dirty, smelly place.  To tell you the truth, I don’t really like to go there.  I’d much rather be working in my office or meeting with a few mature church leaders who already know me and share my priorities.  I’d rather do my shopping in a clean, impersonal, air-conditioned supermarket.

Evangelism can be shared as good news, however, only when we are engaged in the real-life activity of the marketplace.  Peter says “Live such good lives among the pagans …” (1 Peter 2:12).  How much of our lives are lived “among the pagans”?

This is a particular challenge to those of us engaged in full-time ministry.  We have to be intentional about seeking out opportunities to live “among the pagans,”  because we may not have many opportunities if we do not.  In The Missional Church, the authors define the minister’s role as a missionary to the congregation, who in turn takes God’s mission to the world.  No doubt, that is a large and important part of our function.  But we cannot equip the church to minister in the world if we are disconnected from it. 

Connecting with those who visit the public meetings of the church is a good place to start.  To fail to do so would amount to criminal negligence.  But this may not lead us to “living our lives among the pagans.”  Always there is the time crunch.  We have to find ways, however, to present Jesus, not just through the show we produce on Sunday mornings (that’s what I felt I was watching when I visited Willow Creek—but I sure enjoyed the show!), but through the fruit that the Holy Spirit produces in our lives.  Otherwise, people will never witness the hope we have and demand an explanation. 

The “evangelistic effort of the local church” should consist primarily of equipping Christians to live lives “among the pagans” that put Jesus on display, lives that display hope, and equipping them to “give an answer” (1 Peter 3:15)—to verbalize why that hope is in Jesus and to invite others to put their hope in him.  And while it is true that “Our job is not to save, but to present Jesus,” our job is to pray passionately that people will see the Jesus who is on display, that they be drawn to him, and to provide direction for their search.

 

According to Dee, these “Word Clouds” are the latest thing. And if Dee has one, I know I want one too. I’ll save you the Google search. Go to Snapshirts.com. I don’t think I’ll be ordering a t-shirt, which is apparently their motivation for doing t his. The word clouds are supposed to show the most frequently found words on your web site. Anything to keep up.

We’ve had a rather full week. One of our big events was getting robbed in Lome, which you can read about on Maureen’s post, or see my perspective in this Grace Note.

We’re having our annual Watchi men’s conference this weekend, winding up Saturday morning. It’s been so good to see these men together as they take real leadership for the movement.

Both Maureen’s dad and mine have been in the hospital this week. My dad had a dye test and I just heard from my sister that he got a basically good report–no new blockages and his old stint is holding. Praise God!

This morning, we got up and were excited about going down to Lomé (the capital city) for our Valentine’s date. Just me and Anthony. Since we were going to take the car down to a mechanic to have some work done on the car, we decided to take advantage of having a meal at a nice restaurant. Arrangements have been made for our teammates to keep the boys after school.

We dropped off the car at the mechanic in Lomé and walked out to the main road to catch a taxi. We waited for a while and a taxi stopped. There were 3 other people in the taxi which is not uncommon. We just wanted to go down a little way to an art and crafts shop so weren’t too bothered about the cramped space. I started to go to the front seat but was told by the driver to get in the back. Anthony sat in the front seat beside the door with another guy in the middle. Not long after we got on the way, the front “passenger” was fidgeting about and started pushing the seat back. Anyway, the seat suddenly went a little too far back and the passenger beside me gave a big yell as his foot was “caught”. There was a lot of pushing and I asked the driver to stop but he kept on going. After a while, he stopped the car and asked that Anthony change places with the other front-seat passenger. Before long, the passenger started moving the front seat again and the guy whose feet was caught earlier fussed again. Then the driver stopped the car and told us that “it isn’t working and we had to take another taxi” The second we were out of the car, he took off. It was then that Anthony found out that not only his wallet was gone and but also the cash he had in his back pocket. It was with a sick feeling that we realized that we had been pick-pocketed. Obviously, the four guys in the taxi had been in cahoots.

You would have thought that after being in Africa for 13 years now, we would have known better. It was a scam and we fell prey to it. It reminded me what Peter said in 1st Peter 5:8 about being alert for the enemy; the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Just as we are pick pocketed because we let our guard down, Satan can attack us when we least expect it.

Despite the unpleasantness of the situation, we are thankful to God for keeping us safe. The men could have driven us somewhere and robbed and hurt us. Anyway, we found another taxi and went back to the mechanic to get our car and ended up at a small restaurant for a light meal. It wasn’t the Valentine’s meal that we had envisioned but we are thankful nonetheless for an unforgettable Valentine’s Day.

It’s been a while since my last post. At that time, my oven was out and I have been doing some baking over at the teacher’s and Brenda’s (one of my team-mates) houses. I just want to share with you that my oven, has since been fixed as from last Tuesday. Praise the Lord, it was an answer to our prayers.

What’s so great about an oven being fixed you may ask?

Over here in Togo, one does not get access to a repairman easily. Moreover, even if you find one, he may not have the necessary tools or parts to replace the broken part. Added to that, most of the repairs done are done through trial and error! We have a fridge which has been with the repairman for over 5 months now and he is still ”testing” it.

Anyway, we had someone look at the oven and after fiddling with it and tearing it apart, he told us that the thermostat was broken and that was the reason why the oven would not light up. He said that he could fix so that the oven would light up, but we will not be able to control the fire with the oven knob. That was a mistake as the oven smoked whenever it was lit!

So for almost 2 months, I tried to do as little baking as possible and when I did, I went to the teachers’ or Brenda’s house. It wasn’t a big deal, though a little troublesome. What bothered me was that the stove was to go to a sister here after we leave and I did not feel good with the oven not working.

Meanwhile, we contacted Maurice, our contact person in the States, and he ordered the part and sent it to us. We received the part after about 3 weeks. The repairman who checked the oven was out of town so Anthony tried to do it himself. On the first attempt, after he meddled with it for some time, it lit up but there was lots of black smoke.  After a couple of days, he tried again and it would light up and seemed to be working but when he put everything back together, it wouldn’t work. After all the time spent on it, it was a little discouraging.

Meanwhile, my teammates were thinking that since the teachers eat with each family 4 days a week and they do not do much baking, they suggested that we switch our stove. They suggested that, should the teachers wanted to bake, they could just go next door, where the Hollands live, to do their baking. I felt it wasn’t fair for the teachers to have to give up their oven to make it more convenient for me. And I really did not mind driving over there to do my baking. Anyway, I felt that if we switched the stoves, the suggestion would have to come from the teachers themselves so that they will not feel that they have to do it just because we asked them to.

On Monday, Jenna (one of the teachers) called me and offered to switch our stoves.  I said that I would think about it and will let them know later. I did not know why I was reluctant to do so but somehow felt that I should wait.

Anyway, the following day, Anthony dismantled the oven again and fiddled with it and, lo and behold, the oven worked!  I told him that he was my hero for working so hard on it.

A thought came to me then that the oven works because our God is Gracious. In His love and goodness, He made it work because He saw his children’s willingness to sacrifice something for others. He was able to work it out that neither one of us, the teachers nor I, needed to do without!  I do not think that it is a coincidence that the oven worked on the third attempt. I have no doubt that our Jehovah Jireh can cause and loves to work out everything for good to us who love him but sometimes it gives Him extreme pleasure to see us give up something of ourselves . He wants us to learn something to help us die to self and be more like Him.

He shows he cares for us even in little significant things like an oven!

May we continue to die to self that we may grow to be like our Lord Jesus.

Thanks to Denise, I’ve been tagged. For my readers who don’t know Denise, she was in the singles group at Homewood when I went there to get to know they church before they shipped me off to Africa. Being single at the time myself, we hung out in the same circles and had a lot of fun. Neither of us are singles now, but we’re still buds. It’s good to have re-connected through blogland. She’s now living with her family in one of the four places that I’ve lived (listed below).

So, here are my answers:

Four Jobs I’ve Had:
Grocery bag boy at Big Star supermarket in Florence, Alabama (and we even took them to your car!)
Deli clerk at Kroger in Nashville (Had to get a job once mom and dad had to start sending two kids to Lipscomb.)
Recreational Therapist at Abilene State School (I got to play with some really neat people for 20 hours a week.)
Secretary to a missionary-in-residence at ACU (Yes, guys can do that. Right, Alan?)

Four Movies I Could Watch Over and Over:
Chariots of Fire
Star Wars—episodes 3-6
Lord of the Rings—all episodes
Toy Story 2 – I have kids, so I have watched it over and over.

Four Books I Could Read Over and Over:
Matthew
Mark
Luke
John
I just LOVE the main character (‘cause he loved me first.)

Four Places I’ve Lived:
Killen, AL – born and bred
Auckland, New Zealand (They don’t call it GodZone country for nothing.)
Abilene
, TX – Grad school that changed my life.
Tabligbo
, Togo – Home for the past 4 ½ years and less than 3 months to go. After here, the adventure really begins!

Four TV Shows I Watch:
(Only when I can borrow the DVDs)
Alias
24
Lost
CNN News (on those rare occasions when I’m near a satellite TV)

Four Places I’ve Been on Vacation:
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park – This has become my family’s default vacation spot.
Tanjung Pinang, Bintam Island, Indonesia – Ask me to tell you a funny honeymoon story sometime.
Coconut Grove Beach Resort (Elmina, Ghana) – Best getaway place in West Africa
Dano
, Burkina Faso – No reason anyone would want to getaway there, except to see good friends.

Four Websites I Visit Daily:
My Yahoo – For news, sports, and weather
Bloglines – This is where I find out who has posted since my last check.
BBC News – Good way to catch up on the world and it loads quickly with a dialup connection
Mike Cope’s blog – Doesn’t everyone?

Four Favorite Foods:
(Maureen says I eat everything, so it’s hard to pick a favorite; but these are four I really like.)
Bak Qua – Spicy Chinese BBQ pork
Fajitas – or just about anything TexMex
Singapore Chili Crab
Fried Catfish

Four Places I’d Like to Be Right Now:
In bed with my wife (OK, I saw that someone else had said that, but it’s true. In fact, I’m going right now. I’ll finish this later.)
At home with my kids.
In Alabama, talking with my mom
Worship at Homewood

People to Tag:
Randy
Bryan
Murphy

When a rock star can preach like this? Talk about lay leadership!

Please, it’ll take a few minutes, but read Bono’s message at the National Prayer Breakfast or if, unlike me, you have a high speed connection, watch the video (link courtesy Greg Taylor).

Then, if you have the time, go back to the Matthew’s House Project homepage. I just discovered this site, but it looks like there’s some good stuff there.

I think that most of us have been stunned by the reaction in the Muslim world to the cartoons depicting Muhammad in less than honorable terms. If I understand correctly, Muslims would be offended by any depiction of their prophet, just as they would of any “graven image” depicting God.  Fair enough.

I was almost equally stunned this morning when I opened an email to a newsletter that I was somehow subscribed to.  It is called To the Source, and deals with issues of contemporary culture from an evangelical Christian/conservative Catholic perspective.  They often have a lot of good things to say.  But I disagreed with the gist of today’s article.

The author says that, just as Muslims object publicly when their beliefs are ridiculed, so should Christians.  Here are a couple of excerpts that I hope will represent fairly what the author, Dinesh D’Souza, a Stanford scholar, was saying.

Obviously, in the Muslim world, blasphemy is a big deal. But if Muslim intolerance has gone too far, have Christians taken tolerance to excess?

But what is striking about conservative Christians is how passive and invertebrate so many of them are when their deepest beliefs are violated. The distinguishing quality of the Christian seems to be niceness, and I don’t mean this as a compliment. When a man calls your wife a whore it is not a virtue to respond with niceness. When your religion is mocked and blasphemed, it is sign of cowardice to pretend not to notice.

Sound reasonable?  Perhaps.  But I think that it’s easy to miss that this is a key distinction between Muhammad and Jesus, and why their followers are on such divergent paths.  Jesus taught his disciples to expect to be in the minority, to expect persecution, and to accept it as the normal state of affairs.  He himself set the example of how his disciples respond to insults—“he opened not his mouth.”

Muhammad, on the other hand, taught his disciples to expect to be in the majority, to dominate, and to resist persecution.  He regularly led raids on neighboring tribes.  In the spread of Islam, persuasion was considered the ideal means of conversion, but those who were not persuaded were taxed severely and commercially isolated.  Islam is a religion of the majority.  Its adherents cannot accept anything less than cultural domination as normal.  I do not say this to insult Muhammad or his followers, just to point out that Jesus and Muhammad taught different things, and therefore their followers respond differently to insult and injury.

This is not to say that Christians do not seek to influence society and the culture surrounding them.  We follow the example of One who revolutionized the world, but who did it through peace.  Of course it hurts and even angers us when we see and hear our Lord insulted, but we honor him best by responding as he did, not in following our instinct to strike back.

I read this amazing quote this morning on Chris Chappotin’s blog. Chris is doing church planting in the Ft. Worth area.

I Think I See a Plank in my Eye

If you are looking for some sobering words, read this quote from Philip D. Kenneson’s Life on the Vine: Cultivating the Fruit of the Spirit in Christian Community:
“If all God cared about, for example, was
that people were fed, then presumably God might have chosen to distribute [the world’s] resources more equitably. But God also cares deeply about the way people get fed. To see why this might be the case, entertain the following thought-experiment. Imagine that you are going away for the weekend and you need to provide for your five children in your absence. You could, if all you cared about what that they were provided for, give each of them a large box of breakfast cereal and instruct each to take care of him or herself in your absence. But you could also make one of the children the steward of the cereal with instructions to make sure all were provided for, knowing that this would require the children to learn to interact with each other in ways that would be unnecessary in the fend-for-yourself strategy.
What if God has entrusted to some of us much more than we need, not as a sign of God’s favor or as a ‘blessing’ to be hoarded, but as a call to reach out to those in need that they might be provided for by the One who loves them most? It may be that too many of us have taken the large box of cereal, written a check for 10 percent of its volume to the church, and then gone off to enjoy one heck of a big breakfast. Surely this is not stewardship.” (pgs. 52-53)

Living in Africa, it’s hard to forget what big box of cereal I have. Last night, about 7:00 p.m., just as I had started the bedtime routine by reading a chapter from The Chronicles of Narnia to Jeremy, our neighbor came to our gate. She said that her sixteen-year old son had broken his leg at 5:00 p.m. and needed to go to the hospital. She wanted to take him to a Catholic hospital, about 45 minutes from us, so that it would be set correctly.

I made some quick preparations to take them and pulled my car across the road to their house, where a large number of neighbors had gathered around the injured boy, who was lying on a concrete slab. Someone had made a splint for his leg. A man who seemed to be in charge (I learned later he was a school principal) was saying that we could not take the boy yet because the father had gone to get a taxi to take him to the hospital, and we couldn’t take him without the father’s permission. We waited around for a while; I asked my guard what he thought was going on, and he said that the father was probably out looking to borrow money so they could afford the hospital bill. Then the principal came to me and suggested that we go ahead and load the boy into the car so he would be ready when the father returned.

We got the boy and his mother loaded into our car and the father returned almost immediately afterwards. As the four of us left for the hospital, it seemed to take forever even to get out of Tabligbo. Knowing that the boy in the back seat had a broken bone made me more conscious than usual of all of the bumps and pot holes in our town’s dirt roads. Even once out-of-town, the paved road is badly potholed for about the first 15 km. Then it gets a little better.

We arrived at the hospital and drove up to the “emergency room.” They brought out a gurney and the boy’s parents and I lifted him out of the car on to it, and wheeled him in. The emergency staff consisted of a couple of nurses who checked his temperature and blood pressure and then slowly registered his personal information in a large notebook. The emergency consultation cost 3,000 francs—about $5.50—which I saw the father slowly count out from a bag of small change he had brought. Eventually a medical assistant came and took a closer look at the injury and began a medical file. Nothing could be done until the next morning, when the family would have to pay a deposit of 45,000 francs ($85, or a month’s salary for our housekeeper) to cover x-rays, a cast, etc. before treatment would begin.

I asked the father how much he had, and he said that he had 30,000 francs, and that he would return to Tabligbo with me that night and try to bring the rest of the money the next morning. (I knew that meant making another round to his friends and relatives to try to borrow more money.) As I watched the parents slowly count through the stack of change and 1,000 franc bills they had brought, I shared some of my cereal box with him.

Of course, a broken leg would set you back a lot more than $100 in the States, but proportional to this family’s income, this costs a lot more to treat. And insurance? It’s unheard of.

Already this morning, two other people have come to my gate needing help. One, a known scammer, I turned away. The other I helped.

I’ve often said that the most difficult thing about living in Africa is not the malaria and it’s not being separated from family—it’s being a rich man in a poor society. During my earlier years here I really resented the burden. But over the past few years I’ve learned to look at it differently. God has entrusted me as a steward, not to save the world (that’s His job), but to bless those I can within my sphere of influence. And in giving me a bigger cereal box, he is teaching me more about how to let go of myself and serve others.

I’m not ready to unconditionally adopt the pacifism advocated by Lee Camp in his book Mere Discipleship (see my Dec. 19, 2005 post).  But reading his book certainly made me more sensitive to the contradictions which Christians easily enter into in advocating war-making.  I thought this paragraph from last night’s State of the Union address was a good example.

Lacking the military strength to challenge us directly, the terrorists have chosen the weapon of fear. When they murder children at a school in Beslan – or blow up commuters in London – or behead a bound captive – the terrorists hope these horrors will break our will, allowing the violent to inherit the Earth. But they have miscalculated: We love our freedom, and we will fight to keep it.

Obviously, President Bush was referring to the Beatitude, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5).  Not the violent, but the meek.  How then do we move to the position, “we will fight to keep our freedom”?  It’s amazing how easy it is to weave in allusions to Jesus to defend a position that Jesus would never have taken.

We just celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and now we mourn the passing of his widow, Coretta Scott King.  Surely the path of non-violence that they advocated presents a more Christ-like alternative.

I am thankful for the freedom I enjoy as an American, and I realize that this freedom was bought with blood, often shed in violence.  I have trouble rejecting the use of force in all circumstances.  But I do think we need to be careful not to twist Jesus’ words to justify our own agendas.