My name is Jeff and I'm a pastor of a small, local, Christian fellowship

It's a wonderful thing to love your work; to know that when you do it you are doing something that you were born to do. I am so fortunate to be both. I don't say I am the best at what I do. God knows that are so many others who do it better. But I do feel fairly lucky to be called by such a good God to do work I can only do with his help, to be loved by a beautiful woman, and to have a workshop where I can work my craft. These musings of mine are part of that work.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The essence of discipleship

YWAM Baguio
 "He appointed twelve...that they might be with him..." (Mark 3:14, NIV)

A month or so ago, at the regular gathering of the deacons of our fellowship, our conversation centered on addressing a certain leadership issue affecting our congregation. At the present time, other than myself Refuge has only one elder and our discussion that evening focused on how it is we grow that circle? "How do we disciple new or up and coming elders?" was the essence of the question. In the days following our gathering, I thought on that question a lot and then it occurred to me how we "do it" at Refuge at the present time. New leaders - be they deacons, elders or ministry coordinators - are groomed and fashioned by being  in relationship with the leadership circle that is presently in place. At Refuge, the Deacons meet monthly to address matters of a practical nature of our fellowship and then later in the month Troy (our elder), the deacons and various individuals who are releasing or overseeing ministry and myself gather together to nurture and pray for one another and the fellowship we are a part of. Both gatherings are necessary. In fact, the "nurture gathering" is more important than the "business" meeting for if relationships are messy it is difficult to do the business of the fellowship. This is "discipleship" Refuge-style: relationship, care, nurture and ministry together be it the weekly worship gathering, the Service of Healing, the weekly gathering of The Focus or any other ministry venture we may be a part of.

In that monthly nurture gathering, more and more of which are held in someone's home, we pray for one another, encourage one another, speak prophetically into each other's life and generally strengthen each other in the work that affects us all. It's in this way that we mentor each other in what it means to walk in the Jesus-way. It's not a linear educational process. It's more "caught" than taught, as it were.  I don't usually do any teaching (maybe I should) but in our sharing we usually "consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds" (Heb 10:24) and encourage each other in this walk that he calls us to. It's not didactic. It's not "Me teach. You listen." It's not classroom work but it is a classroom of sorts. And in that circle of individuals we begin to recognize giftings and affirm each other in the pursuit of sharing those giftings so all may be blessed. Over time, love and trust develop and when those two factors are at work, congregational health is generated. Of course, it's not a perfect structure. It has it's shortcomings. But it's the one that we are employing currently to grow and "vet" new leaders.

Jesus called and invited twelve individuals to "be with him." He was their rabbi but his rabbinic school was a mobile one - in fact, they never knew where they were going to be from day to day. On one day he told them that they had to pile into a boat, cross the Sea of Galilee, endure a sudden squall and, once on the other side, have a power encounter that made them all sit up and take notice. But when it was all over, they didn't set up shop and begin a ministry outreach center called Eastern Shore. Nope, they piled in the boat and went back. "Here endeth the lesson." This was his way. "Follow me" was more than an invitation; it was the essence of his school. He "went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness" (Matt 9:35) and within a prayer, he was commissioning those he had gathered around him to go out and do what they had seen him do (Matt 10). He was very consciously and intentionally schooling them in his way, the way by which the Father wants to bring blessing to all the peoples of the earth. It is about knowing right doctrine. But it's equally about knowing and comprehending his heart for others as knowledge alone - even biblical knowledge - is inadequate.

Duane with some of his current students
 Duane & Lois have invited me to spend a week with their students here in Baguio City, Philippines, teaching on these things and reflecting on the meaning of "lifestyle" evangelism. I don't know what they're getting out of it but for me it's an opportunity to be with some very eager students who are highly motivated to know God and make Him known and in the process know Him better myself. It's a long way around the block (something like a 17,000 mile walk) to learn something (or be reminded of it) but it gives me greater focus of what I am supposed to be doing back in Chetek. One thing is for sure: being around Duane is like being around a master discipler who over time has mentored pastors, church planters, evangelists and disciples of Jesus Christ as he is in relationship with them.  Here (along with his wife, Lois) are world-changers humbling going about their work and blessing the nations as they do so.            

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Travel light?

Traveling so far you're right off the map
It's early Thursday morning and my ride to the airport will be here in a few hours. I'm packed - mostly - and I'm still trying to decide which backpack for my carry on. I'd prefer the red one because it's smaller but I may need to bring my blue one instead in order due to the growing number of books and magazines I'm thinking of bringing along with me. The last time I flew to the Philippines my backpack was full of reading material. Little did I realize that after a few hours of flight time your butt grows numb and the words blur a lot on the page. But with 12 hours separating me from Minneapolis and Tokyo, I dread the thought of just staring ahead at the seat in front of me for hours on end. And what will the movie be? In 2004 when I made this flight I saw Sea Biscuit on the way to Japan and on the way to Manila. On my way back I was less than thrilled to be treated to a viewing of it again. So the boy scout in me says, "be prepared", but the thought of just lugging around a bag of books so that my arms will hurt later says to that little khaki dressed kid, "you don't need all that crap." Who do you listen to?

I wish I had my own lap top. I could work on my upcoming lectures (or play solitaire, at least). I wish I had a cell phone or a blackberry (they come with games and lots of apps, don't they?) But I have neither. Just books, paper and magazines...and my camcorder...and my camera...and my flashdrive...and my reading glasses...and my contact case and solution...

Crap. It's the blue one.

At least then I'll have room for my Big Book of Crossword Puzzles.

So, it's off to Baguio by way of Manila-Tokyo-Minneapolis. By 9:30ish Chetek-time tomorrow morning, I'll be on the ground.

Lot Looked: How following the wrong vision leads to a bad end

Lot left Zoar and went into the mountains to live with his two daughters; he was afraid to stay in Zoar. He lived in a cave with his daughters.” (Genesis 19:30, Msg)

When we first meet Lot he makes up part of his grandfather’s Terah’s entourage that is emigrating up the ancient trade route which connects the cities of the southern Mesopotamian plain with the communities far to the north. Like everyone else in his party, he is from the city-state of Ur, a sprawling metropolis of wealth, culture and influence, the center of military might in the region. Among the company traveling up the Euphrates River are his uncle and aunt, Abram and Sarai. They have no children and Lot’s father is dead. Between them a bond of filial attachment has grown, Abram the surrogate dad and Lot the hoped-for son.

When Abram receives the call of God to leave Haran, where the clan had settled until Terah’s death, Lot chooses to accompany his uncle on this pilgrimage south into the land of Canaan. Of Abraham’s journey the biblical author simply tells us “and Lot went with him” (Gen 12:4, NIV). He is there when his uncle takes his first steps on the road whose end they cannot say. Wherever their caravan stops, he is in camp when his uncle offers a sacrifice to this Unknown God who has called Abram into such a life. He is there when they move south into the lush grazing fields along the Nile to escape the famine that grips the land. He witnesses the subterfuge that his uncle successfully carries out against the king of Pharaoh to escape his untimely demise. And when inexplicitly Pharaoh finds out about the little ruse of his uncle playing off Aunt Sarai as his wife, Abram is evicted from Egypt and once again “Lot went with him” (Gen 13:1).

But neither of them leave empty handed. In fact, they emerge from their stay in Egypt far wealthier than when they had come, their herds and households built up with the goods received from Pharaoh as part of the dowry he had paid for Sarai. Inevitably, this is what leads to their need to separate from each other. In the arid region of the Negev where they dwell following their stay in Egypt, there is just not enough pasture land for their growing herds. And when tension begins to rise between their herdsmen it is time to part ways. As family head, it was Abram’s prerogative to choose first but maybe because he loves Lot as the son he and Sarah seem not to be able to produce, he offers his nephew first choice. It’s the choosing that reveals the man.

Lot looked. He saw the whole plain of the Jordan spread out, well watered (this was before God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah), like God's garden, like Egypt, and stretching all the way to Zoar. Lot took the whole plain of the Jordan. Lot set out to the east.

That's how they came to part company, uncle and nephew. Abram settled in Canaan; Lot settled in the cities of the plain and pitched his tent near Sodom.
(Gen 13:10-12, Msg)

Lot looks and is captivated by the green of the fields below him, the sunlight sparkling on the waters of the Jordan and envisions larger and fatter herds in his near future. The choosing is easy and so he embraces his aunt and uncle and moves his company into the plain of the Jordan.

How fateful is that choice. The narrator foreshadows the folly of being captivated by such visions as prosperity and wealth for he alludes to how the plain used to look before the future cataclysm that will consume the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. What’s more, Lot pitching his tent near Sodom, a city already renowned for wickedness, is a counterpoint to his uncle living near the Oaks of Mamre and devoting his life to Yahweh. Though related by blood and lineage, these are two different men being shaped by two very different visions.

From the heights above the plain where he and Abram part company, the view must have been tantalizing to a young man intent on coming out of the shadow of his uncle and making a name for himself. But now that he is a resident of the valley he learns that he has entered a region rife with political tension as well. Sodom is part of a confederation of city-states that are subject to Kedorlaomer, a regional overlord. When Sodom and her sister city, Gomorrah, along with the other members of their alliance, decide to rebel against their rule, the lush fields of the Jordan turn red with blood as war ensues. In the following conflagration, Lot and his family, who are now residents of Sodom (14:12), are captured and like everyone else from their city, are driven north to receive the penalty for their rebellion. Lucky for him, his uncle has become a man of some stature in the hill country and organizes a rescue force that is successful in routing Kedorlaomer’s forces and returning not only Lot and his family but all their friends and neighbors as well. Once again, the author juxtaposes Abram’s heroic conduct with the king of Sodom’s mealy mouth fawning.

Perhaps at this juncture of Lot’s story he could have thought twice about his choice of residency and approached his uncle about returning to the hill country or to the wide open spaces of the Negev. But the dye has been cast. He returns to this sin-sickened city and takes up his life there once again. The next time we read about him is in the fateful chapter of Genesis 19. The angelic messengers meet him sitting in the city gate which is a biblical euphemism to say he has become a man of standing there, perhaps because they owe their lives to his uncle’s involvement in the former war that ravaged their homes. Peter refers to him as “a righteous man” (2 Peter 2:7) but what kind of morality is it when a host offers his very own daughters so that the unruly mob at his door does not molest his guests? And, as I have I pondered before, why would any father (even a morally bent one) need to be dragged from such a place? Wouldn’t you on your own accord get your family out of there before things got any further out of control? Apparently not.

Most of us know the rest of the story. He and his family get out of Sodom before the heavens rain fire. Though warned not to look back, his wife does and perishes in the cataclysm. He and his daughters reach the safe-city of Zoar but afraid to remain there they move up into the hills and take up residence in a cave. At this point he has lost just about everything – wife, possessions, friends, standing. And shortly he will lose whatever moral standing left to him as his daughters get him liquored up and in that condition he impregnates both of them.

The formation typically referred to as Lot's wife
 What went on through his mind as he watched the growing bellies of his daughters? Fear? Dread? Shame? Embarrassment? Certainly not pride of a soon to be grandfather who, in this case, is also the father. Wouldn’t you just drown in self-hatred? Wouldn’t you put as much emotional distance between you and your daughters at the time when naturally there ought to be the growing bond of paternity? Think of those residents of Zoar when a messenger from Abraham arrives looking for the whereabouts of his nephew:

 “Where is Lot formerly of Sodom?
(Reply): “Oh, you mean the crazy man who lives in the hills in a cave having his way with his daughters?”

Such is Lot’s legacy. His descendants (the Ammonites and the Moabites) will live in the shadow of their father’s infamy ever after.

Lot and his wife will become by-words of righteous people who “look back”, who gaze in the wrong direction, who look upon the world’s fare and pursue that vision as opposed to the one which Abraham follows – of “the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb 11:10). Of his wife, Jesus himself said:

Remember Lot's wife! Whoever tries to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. (Luke 17:32-33, NIV)

Again, Peter, admonishing the faithful to remain so as the Day of Christ draws ever nearer reminds us

And He [God] condemned to ruin and extinction the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, reducing them to ashes [and thus] set them forth as an example to those who would be ungodly;

And He [God] rescued righteous Lot, greatly worn out and distressed by the wanton ways of the ungodly and lawless

For that just man, living [there] among them, tortured his righteous soul every day with what he saw and heard of [their] unlawful and wicked deeds—
(2 Peter 2:6-8, Amplified)

Old Testament scholar Derek Kidner has some instructive comments about the end of Lot. Of Abraham and Lot’s parting of the ways in Genesis 13, Kidner says

The sequel for both men is instructive. Lot, choosing the things that are seen, found them corrupt and insecure; choosing selfishly, he was to grow ever more isolated and unloved. Abram, on the other hand, found liberation. (p. 118)

“Lot’s cave (30) is a bitter sequel to the house (3) which had dwarfed his uncle’s tent, and the little trio is pathetic after the teeming crowd of 13:5ff. The end of choosing to carve out his career was to lose even the custody of his body. His legacy, Moab and Ammon (37f.), was destined to provide the worst carnal seduction in the history of Israel (that of Baal-Peor, Nu. 25) and the cruelest religious perversion (that of Molech, Lv. 18:21). So much stemmed from a self-regarding choice (13;10ff.) and persistence in it.” (p. 136)
(Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary, p. 118)

This is enough to provoke me to pray that I continue to look in the right direction lest I wake up one day and find that my vision is confined to a very small space no bigger than Lot's cave.

Lot's cave