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Monday, November 26, 2012

The Good News in the Book of Job

Sunday, November 25, 2012

             Here is good news.  We have the hope of new life.  Do things look bleak?  Is life hard, depressing, and unfair?  God promises there will come something better.  Are the troubles are due to our own bad choices?  Do we suffer from mistakes we have made?  There is one who will pray for us and God will listen when that one prays and we will receive forgiveness. 

            That’s the message the authors of the book of Job wanted to leave with the readers in the last chapter.  We don’t know a lot about where this book came from.  We don’t know if there was a man in history named Job or if wisdom writers in Israel or Jews in Babylon wrote this book.  The origins of the book are uncertain.  But we can look at the final product and see that this book intends to leave us – the readers – with an unmistakable truth.  God sees and knows us, including our worst flaws.  God will forgive us and invite us into fellowship.  The book of Job hits on an array of topics.  This idea of forgiveness and restoration is among the most important. We are left with this reality.  God is a forgiving, restoring God.

            In Job chapters 1 & 2, we see God and the Satan locked in a debate in some otherworldly place.  This is God’s first set of speeches.  The 2nd is the whirlwind speech in Job 38-41.  In what is one of the longest sets of God-speeches in the Bible, God recounts for Job His creative power and His creative interest.  The last of the speeches of God in Job is shorter.  It’s found in Job 42, verses 7-9.  God has spoken to Satan.  God has spoken to Job.  Now, once more God speaks, this time with one of Job’s friends, Eliphaz. 

            Eliphaz has along with Bildad and Zophar sat at the side of Job.  He grieved over Job’s pain.  For a full week, he was silent beside his wounded friend.  Then Eliphaz spoke, expounding theology they all trusted.  He knew of Job’s virtue, but he, Job, Bildad, and Zophar were committed to retribution theology.  If you are righteous your life is good.  If you suffer it is a sign that you weren’t righteous.  You must have sinned.  You must now admit your sin and repent.  Eliphaz preached this gospel to Job.  Job rejected it with everything that was in him.  In the end, God vindicated Job.  Uh-Oh.

            Now, God speaks to Eliphaz. 

Who wouldn’t want to hear the voice of God?  Who wouldn’t want to be Noah or Moses or Jonah or Paul?  God speaks audibly, or in some way that we can’t miss it.  That was the experience of Eliphaz.  The Lord spoke to Him.  The Lord said to Him, “My wrath is kindled against you.”  Uh-Oh.

             A few weeks ago, I mentioned in this series on Job that bad theology is a more serious error than we might think.  We can be casual with our speculations about God, but God takes speech seriously.  God puts a lot on the words of our mouths, thoughts in our brains, and the reflections of our hearts.  Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar had done a lot of preaching, said much about God.  Now God looks to them and says, “My wrath is kindled against you.” 

            What do we do with that?

            We spend a lifetime reading the Bible from a certain point of view.  Then, through prayer and new teaching, we discover that our reading has been so thoroughly mistaken, what we thought about God we now discover was the opposite of what is actually true about God.  We practiced misguided theology.

            We raise our families according to what we think Christianity teaches and we do this over the course of years.  Then we read the scriptures with greater care and we pray with more receptive hearts and it dawns on us that we’ve been horribly mistaken about many truths.  We’ve been living a mistaken faith.

            We make choices in life based on what we want – what we desire for ourselves.  We live and choose and construct a morality, and then when our lifestyle is confronted by the Gospel, it is clear we’ve been totally adrift, far from God’s ways in the major areas of life.  We have operated under false truth.

            Finally God speaks and speaks clearly.  “My wrath is kindled against you.”  At this point agnosticism sounds nice.  You know agnosticism – I don’t know if there’s a God or a Heaven or a Hell, and I am quite happy in my ignorance, thank you very much.  Eliphaz discovers, yes Virginia, there really is a God, and this God’s wrath is kindled!  Eliphaz doesn’t say a word which is good because this angry God didn’t invite a response.  God had heard enough from Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. 

“My wrath is kindled against you and your two friends for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.  Now therefore take seven bulls and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up for yourselves a burnt offering; and my servant Job shall pray for you, for I will accept his prayer not to deal with you according to your folly” (42:8).

What does God do when his anger is burning against these guys?  Is this a fiery, Sodom and Gomorrah situation?  Does God at least go Moses on Pharaoh and unleash some plagues on the three friends.  No.  He invites them to worship.  In the process God restores the very community their misspoken words disrupted.  They sinned against Job and against God by speaking wrongly about God to Job.  This sin is grievous enough to warrant a personal appearance by God. 

Probably, the writers of the story of Job were hearing all sorts of really bad prophecy spread throughout war-ravaged Israel and among the exiles in Babylon.  To combat such destructive theological speech, they presented God’s rebuke of Eliphaz, but the story does not end with Eliphaz writhing in pain that God has inflicted as a punishment for sin.  God allows the loathsome sores to fall on Job, the righteous one, the one who can take it.  Job suffers and his faith stands.  These weak-souled ones who spout erroneous ideas about God are invited to worship!  They mumbled uniformed thoughts about a God they did not know.  They are ushered into the presence of that God. 

Eliphaz has to tremble.  My wrath is kindled against you.  But then he is summoned to worship.  Worship is fellowship with God and with the community of God’s people.  God tells these three sinners to do what they had been telling Job to do: repent and turn back to God.

As we follow this movement – announcement of wrath, invitation to worship – we come to a key moment.  This is the human response.  Job 42:9 - “Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite went and did as the Lord had told them.”  We fall into trouble and are confronted in our sin.  That serious trouble becomes absolute, out-of-control calamity when our response to confrontation is to try to cover up, make up stories or excuses, or to shift blame.  When we do everything but accept the truth of our sin and when we try to escape the punishment, then our trouble mounts and builds until we are crushed. 

Job’s friends did exactly as God commanded.  They humbled themselves with a guilt offering and they asked Job, the one they’d sinned against, to pray for them.  The humble response of these three is extremely important.

So too is Job’s response.  The narrator does not tell us his words or his attitude.  Maybe a part of him was thinking, “O sure, you jerks.  Now that I am vindicated, you three clowns who did not suffer what I suffered – now you want me to pray for you, now that you’re in trouble.”  The narrator doesn’t say any of that.  He does not tell us Job’s speech at all.  We simply know Job prayed.  Whatever emotions boiled up in the man, he acted on behalf of his friends.  He prayed for them just as in chapter 1 he had sacrificed and worshiped for the sake of any sins his children might have committed. 

God accepted Job’s prayer.  God restored Job’s fortunes.  Friends and extended family came around Job.  His was a happy ending that included 10 more children. 

Much of Job topples the conventional theology of retribution – the righteous are rewarded with prosperous lives and the sinful are punished with bad fortune and bad health.  But that theology is operative in other Old Testament texts that are concurrent with Job.  And at the end, righteous Job is richly blessed.  Theology is never simple.  There’s never one set of ideas that disproves all others.  God is bigger and more complicated than that. 

But that reality – the complexity of truth and complexity of God – is all the more reason why this encounter with Eliphaz that begin with God’s wrath in the end is such good news for you and me.  Job the righteous man prayed, and God forgave.  One more righteous than Job prays for each one of us. 

In John 17, Jesus prays that God would protect his followers.  We read the scripture.  Because of the prompting of the Holy Spirit and the word we have from the scriptures, handed down from the first Christian communities, we are Christ-followers.  We are disciples.  Jesus prays that we would be protected from the evil one.  He says, “Father, I desire that those you have given me may be with me where I am, to see my glory” (John 17:24).

And we read in Romans,

We do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because[a] the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (8:26b-27).

 

 

            And in the book of Hebrews,

Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf (9:24).

 

 

            The community that preserved the story of Job for Israel knew, in spite of all the losses Israel endured, that God is good and that God’s anger is not the characteristic that predominates.  Yes, Israel had sinned, but in seeing Eliphaz and the others forgiven and restored as Job comes to a close, Israel can hang on to the hope that they will be restored and forgiven.

            Do we make the mistakes that Eliphaz made?  Do we produce wrong ideas about God?  Do preach when care is what is needed?  Do we try to force God into our previously held ideas instead of humbly seeking God daily?  We sin.  And it costs.

            But it is not Job who is praying for us.  It is Jesus, the Son of God himself.  As we close the book on Job for now, we open the book on hope. We look to Advent, the season of celebrating Jesus’ birth and anticipating his coming at the end of time.  We know God will do new things in our lives – as individuals and as a church. 

            Job’s life is doubly blessed.  In Job we see that that God is unpredictable.  We also see that God can be trusted.  Life is full of twists and turns, ups and downs.  In all of it, God forgives, calls us into worship, and into fellowship with Him and with one another.  When we forget that, Jesus steps for us.  We have the Holy Spirit calling both us and the Father back together because God truly wants relationship with us.  That is the good news of Job and it is the witness of the entire Bible.

AMEN

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Invited to God's Life


Sunday, November 18, 2012

 

            As Christians, a major point of our self-definition, a question we either ask or have asked and answered is a question that does not concern Job.  Christians are not the only ones who ask this question, but the question’s importance is central in Christian faith and theology.  From the book of Romans, “there is no one who is righteous, not even one. … All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:10, 23).  In the book of Acts, the warden in the Philippian jail says with great fear, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”  Paul and Silas respond, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30-31).  This question of salvation is a New Testament question.  We believe all people are cut off from God by our innate sinfulness and by our sinful choices and actions.  To die in that “cut-off” state is to be destined for Hell.  We want relationship with God and we want a Heavenly eternity.  We need to know how one is saved and we need to know if we are saved.

            Job is an Old Testament book.  The story belongs to Israel and is read as the word of God for the Chosen People.  They don’t fret about being saved.  They’re already the people of God.  Job is not asking about salvation.  His concern is purpose.  What is the meaning of innocent suffering?

            We come to Job, but the question shaping our faith is how can I know I am saved?  Job welcomes us.  But, he’s not telling how to be saved.  He’s asking – is there meaning in suffering?  Has this led to a frustrating misunderstanding on the part of many Christians who want to read Job and hear the word of God. 

            We must move past the “how do I get saved” question, but we must not diminish the importance of it.  Salvation will always be central in our story of relationship with God.  Without it, there is no relationship.  Until the salvation question is answered, we are stuck in our sins and the pain they bring.  But we “how?”  Again, the man who imprisoned Paul and Silas in the city in Philippi and then fell impotent before them when a force of God ripped open the prison walls.  Trembling he asked, “What must I do to be saved?”  “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.”  This is the gospel.

            The question of purpose is the next question.  As we have seen, Job is the story of a man of true faith.  He was the model of worship; the model of confession.  If he lived today, he would be the ideal Christ-follower.  His relationship with God is completely right. 

But his life falls apart.  He loses everything.  His responses to his suffering are varied.  David Clines has observed that in his 11 different speeches, Job adopts a different theological posture each time (World Bible Commentary, vol. 17, p.xlii).  Is Job patient?  Yes.  Does Job complain endlessly?  Yes.  Does Job become suicidal?  Yes.  Does Job hold onto hope and life with everything that is in him?  Yes.  Job’s experience is complicated and his speech is varied.  All of his lows are a part of his tortured quest for meaning.

            The Philippian jail warden baptized by Paul (Acts 16:34).  What’s next? We have had several baptisms lately.  All who follow Christ come the journey by stating their faith and being baptized.  What comes next?  Baptism is a climactic moment that begins a story.  What happens in the rest of the story? 

            Our experience of reality, and in reality, changes.  We previously lived for ourselves.  Now we live in Christ.  The world around us, our culture, provided a frame of reference for how we made decisions, what we valued, why we thought the way we did.  Now, our frame of reference and our moral motivation and what defines us is the kingdom of God.  Once we are saved, at Paul says, we are new creations, born again.  From salvation we move to the question of meaning.

            Job’s quest for meaning was born in his suffering.  Not all of us come to Job’s story as sufferers.  Some do.  Some readers resonate because as they read they are in the midst of pain and turmoil.  Or they’ve lived through significant periods of very real suffering.  They read Job and they say, “Yes, I can relate.”

            Others though, have not been in Job’s shoes.  To say it in a ridiculously simple way, some readers of Job are people who have happy, good lives.  Things have mostly gone very well.  The difference in experience with suffering creates distance.  Still, all readers can glean from Job inspiration for the pursuit of answers to the question “Why?”  Job shows us that we can, ask God why?  Job also shows us that God answers and Job shows what happens when God answers. 

            Imagine Job’s ragged robe, only it covers not him, but you.  You are Job’s place before.  You’ve dared to pray boldly, demandingly, courageously, and through tears, and now God answers.  Now, God is the speaker and you the listener.  Out of the whirlwind, God bellows, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?”

            All confidence evaporates.  Naked?  Yes.  Scared.  Oh yeah.  No place to hide?  No place to hide.  Who are you to stand before God? 

            The booming voice commands.  “Gird up your loins.  Stand up like a man.  Stand your ground like a woman.  Be the human being you were made to be.  You will answer me.  You will answer my questions.”

            The questions that follow are impossible.  No one could answer.  Is God just making a point of showing how big God is and small and insignificant we are?  I don’t think so.  If Job were so unimportant, why does God even bother?  The God of the universe is taking time to give Job individual attention.  It is true that the speeches in chapters 38-41 accent the awesomeness of God and the smallness of Job and of all humans.  God says much and never once mentions humanity.  But, God does not take time to explain himself to horses or to leopards or tigers or anacondas.  Pick your favorite animal.  God doesn’t deign to speak to that one, not in the way God speaks to human beings.

            In the Bible, over and over, the Almighty steps out of eternal glory and into our time-bound experience in order to relate to humans.  Job is blown away, but this whirlwind speech is a personal gesture on God’s part.  While Job is never told why he suffered, he is re-created and given new life.  He is invited to God’s life.

            “Gird up your loins.  I will question.  You will answer.”  God invites Job to conversation – and us too.  The invitation shows the special place of humanity in the creation.  Think back to Genesis 1:27.  “God created humankind in his image.”  Whatever anyone can ever say about you, you are made in the image of God.  You and I – we are God’s image bearers. 

Flip over to Genesis 2:18.  “It is not good that man should be alone.”  God is relational and God made us relational beings.  God made birds and animals and brought them to Adam to see what Adam would call them.  Look closely at Genesis 2:19.  God waited to see what the man would name the animals and whatever name he came up with, that was the animal’s name.  The way that verse reads, God did not know a turtle was a turtle until Man looked and said, “mmm … turtle.”  Before that, God has created a bunch of these slow, shelled creatures, and an angel says, “Lord, that’s kind of a dopey looking thing.  What do you call it?”  God kind of shrugs.  “I am waiting on Adam.”  And Adam is there thinking.  “Oh I don’t know.  Turtle … terrapin .. tortoise … God what do you think?”  “Adam it’s up to you, but we have a lot of animals to go, so could you kind of get on with it?”   Genesis 2:19 tells us God brought everything living thing to the man to see what he would call it and whatever he called it, that was its name.

Now we are in Job.  He’s cowering even as God tells him to stand.  God’s command, if we remember it in terms of Genesis, is for Job to be who God made Job to be.  The questions of Job 38-41 cannot be answered.  “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?”  Job and you and I have to mutter and sing, “You, O God, are creator, and we are nothing.”   But we are not nothing.  God gave us work – name the animals.  Have dominion.  Manage my creation.  Be who I made you to be. 

Throughout these words God unleashes on Job like a tidal wave, there is the refrain, “Can you?” 

“Do you know the ordinance of the heavens?  Can you establish their rule on earth” (38:33)?

“Can you lift up your voice to the clouds, so that a flood of waters may cover you” (38:34)?

“Can you hunt the prey for the lion” (38:39a)?

More poignantly, God turns to the mythic monster of chaos that filled men with complete dread.  “Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook, or press down its tongue with a chord?  Can you put a rope in its nose or pierce its jaw with a hook” (41:1-2)?  Leviathan represented every sea-dragon ever thought of in any ancient myth, every Greek titan that stepped on humans as if they were ants.  The only thing the ancients did in reference to Leviathan was run away.  And if they were out on a boat, lost at sea, and they fell under Leviathan’s attack, they considered themselves dead, without hope.

If we are tempted to dismiss this ancient literature and say, “Oh, we’ve sent submarines to the deepest parts of the ocean.  We know there is no Leviathan. That’s just a myth.”  If we do that, then we miss the power and truth in it.  God’s words to us, along the same lines could be, “Can you blow a hurricane the size of Katrina or Sandy as if you were blowing out a single birthday candle?”  The things that totally overwhelm are as playthings to God.

No, we cannot establish the rules of the heavens.

No, we cannot hunt the lion’s prey for him or fish out Leviathan with a hook.

No, we cannot command the clouds.

But wait a minute.  We are in God’s image.  We are called to work – God’s work.  To be human is to have vocation that is rooted in our relationship with God.  If our sins block the way and make impossible for us to do God’s work, well, God has done something about that.  In Jesus, God has made a way – a way for salvation.  God has made a way for us to be sons and daughters of God.  God has made a way for us to do the work we were created to do as God’s image bearers. 

God says, “Can you?”  We say, “No we cannot.”  But Jesus could and did.  He commanded the clouds to stop raining and they stopped.  He died, and in the resurrection, pushed death aside.  If we put Jesus in Job’s shoes, and he went through the impossible quiz of Job 38-41, and God said to him, “Can you,” Jesus would respond, “yes Father.  I can, and I will.” 

Moving from salvation to meaning, we follow Job.  We follow Job and in our own lives, as saved persons, sons and daughters of God, we search for meaning.  We search for God’s purpose in our good times, in our suffering, in our losses, and in our triumphs.  When I say that we are made new so that we can live out God’s vocation for us, I hope you know the specifics of living out God’s vocation are unique to each person.  In your life, God will show you what it means to be the human He created you to be. 

But there is this warning.  Once we go where Job went and we stand before God, the whirlwind swirling about us, about to engulf us, we will die – die to self.  Death is crucial in salvation and in the search for meaning.  We die in our sin.  This is seen in another “Can you” type of question.  This one was asked by Jesus. 

He had predicted his suffering and violent death.  Two disciples, James and John, completely ignoring the death part, said, “We want to sit at your right hand and left hand in your glory” (Mark 10:37).  These guys were at this point operating in the limited worldview of Job’s friends.  Eventually, James and John would die to self and in being born again, they would surpass even Job in Heavenly wisdom, but at this point, they were seeking their own glory.  And Jesus invited them into the whirlwind.

“Can you,” he asked, “drink the cup that I drink?”  Can you sacrifice yourselves for the Kingdom of God if that is needed?  Jesus was arrested and they fled in terror, cowards running wildly in the night.  These guys thought they were going to be at side of the King.  At the first site of danger, they booked it out of there.  Then came the cross.  Then the empty tomb.  After resurrection, James and John stopped asking about sitting at Jesus’ left and right hand.  They were in Jerusalem preaching salvation, which leads to meaning, and they preached so hard, they got imprisoned and exiled and beheaded.  And they smiled all the way because it is better to be in prison if that is part of God’s vocation than it is to sit on a royal throne and not know why you are there.  And what about those thrones anyway?  Read  the final book - Revelation.  There the 12 disciples sit on thrones.

But what about Job and you and me?  Where does all this leave us?  The God life is different for each person.  I know this.  Sin keeps us from God.  But if we’ve put our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, then we have salvation.  If we have salvation, then we are invited into the whirlwind.  We are invited to that terrifying moment where we are asked to name the animals and drink the cup and preach the word.  We are invited into relationship, and in that relationship, where we live God’s life, we have purpose.  We – you, me, each one of us – we have that moment.  The unspeakable splendor of the Almighty fills all existence until it is just you and God and he says, “Gird up your loins.  I will speak.  You will answer.”

Monday, November 12, 2012

Your Eden Temptation (Job 33, 32-37)


            Come back in time with me.  It is year 1.  We are in Eden.  What glories do you see in your mind’s eye?  The sweet juices of some unknown fruit runs down my chin.  Under a warm, vibrant, sunny sky, your bare feet feel soft earth holding you up as a gentle breezes caresses your skin.  Eden.

            We are with Adam and Eve.  And the serpent.

            No.  We aren’t with them; we aren’t “we.”  You are alone in Eden, drinking in beauty you cannot imagine.    Walking, you almost feel like you are floating, gliding along a ground that is just perfect.  You see it – the wondrous tree of knowledge.  No splendor here surpasses the brightness of this tree.  “Come, climb me,” it quietly sings to you. 

            But you do not.  God has forbidden any contact with this tree, especially the consumption of its fruit.  To eat would be to disobey.  You are not sure why you are even looking at it.  You know it is forbidden.  You are also not sure how long the serpent has been beside you.  You’re startled by his presence.  He’s quietly doing what you were doing, looking at the tree.  What is that look in his eye?

            “God won’t let you eat from this tree.”  Whoa.  The serpent has never spoken to you before.  “He’s banned this tree, hasn’t he?” 

            “God said if we eat of this tree, we will die.”  You reply.

            He smiles an odd, discomforting smile.  “No you won’t.”  I won’t you, wonder.  I won’t die.  Why would God say I would die if it is not true?

            The serpent looks away from you and back toward the tree.  “God knows that when you eat of this tree, you will know all that God knows.”  You look from the serpent to the tree, back to the serpent, back to the tree.  Once more you look to him, but the serpent is gone, as unexpectedly as he slithered up.  Now, once more, the tree; it is so inviting; so beautiful; your eyes can see its deliciousness.  What do you do?

 

            In the book of Job, the speeches of Elihu put us in Eden, in Eve’s place.  Knowing what we know now, we can say, “No, no, don’t bite, Eve.  Walk away.  That serpent is liar.”  But even knowing that, we would still be tempted beyond control standing before that tree.

            For us, Elihu is the serpent.  Job goes through his disaster in chapters 1 & 2.  He and his friends go through their exhausting dialogue in Job 3-27.  Job 28 is a poem about how impossible it is to have wisdom.  No one knows who the speaker is in Job 28.  Job is the speaker in chapters 29-31.  There he reiterates his claims of his own innocence.  The basic tension of the book is that an innocent man went through horrific suffering for no reason.  His ignorant friends blame him for his plight and say his only hope is to confess his sin.  He steadfastly holds onto his innocence and holds out hope that he will have an audience with God. 

            He gets that audience in chapters 38-41, where God speaks out of a whirlwind.  Job, blown away by awe at God’s speech, repents at the opening of chapter 42.  However, for over 2000 years, readers have debated exactly what Job was repenting of.  In the remainder of Job 42, he is vindicated by God and his fortunes are restored.  He gets back all he has lost. 

            But what of Job 32-37?  This is a speech that runs for 6 long chapters.  Elihu is never mentioned prior to his appearance.  In his speech, there is no dialogue.  Job never responds to Elihu or in any way acknowledges what he said.  After chapter 37, we never hear from Elihu again.  So why do we bother with it?

            We bother with it because this is our scripture, given to us by God.  The Apostle Paul says all scripture is inspired by God and given to teach.  What is God teaching us in Elihu’s speech?  I believe God is teaching us how to discern God’s voice.  As people of faith, we must learn to know both the truth in the message and the truth in the speaker who delivers the message.

            Is the serpent a liar?  Yes.  Are his lies obvious?  Sometimes.  Sometimes not.  God told Adam and Eve they would die in the day that they ate of the tree of knowledge.  “No, you will not die,” the serpent said.  “Your eyes will be opened.”  What happened when Eve ate, and Adam joined her?  Did they die?  No.  Their eyes were opened.  Who lied, God or the serpent?  It’s not as easy or obvious as we might hope.  We have to pay extremely close attention to every word.

            The serpent said, “You will not die when you eat.”  They did not die.  The serpent said, “Your eyes will be opened.”  Their eyes were opened.  Oh man, he just keeps nailing the mark.  Everything he says is right.  We have to listen to this one.  “Your eyes will be opened. …”  “…  You will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  There it is.  That’s the lie, hidden underneath truth.  When Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened, their first act was to get dressed.  They had been naked and unashamed.  They lived in something we cannot even conceive – a world completely free of shame, sin, guilt.  And as soon as they did the opposite of what God said, a whole new world was opened, one previously unknown.  This was a world of sin, of loss, of shame.  In that world there is death – something that did not exist in Eden, not for Adam and Eve.

            Job was a throwback kind of guy – he was an extreme throwback.  He lived an edenic type of life.  He ived free from shame and guilt.  It is said over and over in chapters one and two.  Job was blameless.  What does the blameless one do when he is jerked out of Eden by pain and loss?  Does Job sin?  Not really.  He challenges God saying he’ll use God’s own laws against God in court.  Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar, Job’s friends, try to put him  in his place.  But his unblemished character and raw, unfiltered honesty overpower their shallow reliance on tradition theology.

            Then Elihu comes along, out of nowhere.  He’s been listening all the while.  Now he has something new to say.  I caution patience with him.  Elihu admits his own youth.  He spends most of chapter 32 just telling Job how much he needs to speak.  “Listen to me; let me also declare my opinion” (32:10).  “I will also give my answer; I also will declare my opinion” (v.17).  “I must speak, so that I may find relief; I must open my lips and answer” (v.20).  “But now, hear my speech, O Job, and listen to all my words.  See, I open my mouth …” (33:1-2a).  Elihu, enough already!  Out with it!

            By the way, every verse I just read was a different verse, not a re-reading of the same one.  He spends an entire chapter telling he’s getting ready to talk and that he’s mad at the three friends for failing to answer Job.  Then when he finally gets going, much of what he has to say is irritatingly similar to their speech.  So how, exactly, does he function for us as the serpent functioned for Eve.  Listening to Elihu, you might be annoyed, but not tempted to disobey God. 

            That is true until we come to Chapter 33, beginning in verse 22.  He’s running along the judgment tract, just like the self-righteous three friends, but then he brings in something new.

22Their souls draw near the Pit, and their lives to those who bring death.23Then, if there should be for one of them an angel, a mediator, one of a thousand, one who declares a person upright,24and he is gracious to that person, and says, ‘Deliver him from going down into the Pit; I have found a ransom;25let his flesh become fresh with youth; let him return to the days of his youthful vigor.’26Then he prays to God, and is accepted by him, he comes into his presence with joy, and God repays him for his righteousness.27That person sings to others and says, ‘I sinned, and perverted what was right, and it was not paid back to me.28He has redeemed my soul from going down to the Pit, and my life shall see the light.’

29“God indeed does all these things, twice, three times, with mortals,30to bring back their souls from the Pit, so that they may see the light of life.

 

 

That sounds more like the New Testament than what we’d read in Job.  God rescues people – sinful people – from the pit of death.  That person, says Elihu, acknowledged his sin and God redeemed him.  He doesn’t use the word “mercy,” but that is what this sounds like.  “He has redeemed my soul … my life shall see the light,” says Elihu.  John 8:12: “Jesus spoke to them saying, ‘I am the light of the world.  Whoever followes me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’”  Elihu is speaking the Gospel.  This forgotten one, the overlooked voice in Job, is closest to our understanding of the truth we have from God.

And yet, in the book of Job, the story does not end with this Gospel of Elihu.  In fact it is ignored, and the one who ignore this young man, Job, is the one exonerated by God.  Elihu, the narrative implies, is so wrong and so off base, he doesn’t even warrant a response.  Like the ranting of a 3rd party candidate who gets a few votes but no air time in CNN, Elihu is disregarded as inconsequential, unimportant, and wrong.

Gerald Janzen gives 8 reasons to read but not heed Elihu.  (1) Job, in chapter 26, has anticipated what Elihu would say.  There, he’s rebuking his friends, but his words work to turn back Elihu as well.  They – the friends and Elihu – claim authority, but Job says the human being cannot even understand a whisper of the outskirts of God’s ways (26:14).

(2) The fact that God never, not once acknowledges Elihu’s existence much less his speech acts to undercut the legitimacy of his message.  (3) In the epilogue of the story, Job is restored.  His friends are forgiven for speaking wrongly about God, a charge more serious than we might suppose.  Their forgiveness after Job prays for them.  But three characters are never mentioned when the story is wrapped up – the Satan; Job’s wife, and, Elihu. 

(4) As fervently as Elihu insists he won’t repeat the foolishness of Job’s three friends, much of his speech is exactly like theirs, and just as off.  (5) When Elihu promises an angel will intercede for Job, he is promising something he knows nothing about.  It is akin to a totally healthy person standing over the hospital bed of one in terrible pain and saying, “It’s not that bad and it will definitely turn out OK.”

(7) In chapter 35, Elihu says, “God does not hear an empty cry” (v.13).  But Job’s cry is not empty.  In fact, as the dialogues progress, Job’s prayers and complaints grow in richness and depth and sophistication.  Elihu’s statement that God does not hear an empty prayer is right, but his implication, that Job’s prayers are worthless, is way off.  Without meaning to, Elihu affirms Job’s approach to God.  (8) A final undercutting of Elihu cited by Janzen is the motivation that drives his speech.  Elihu thinks he is voicing God’s anger.  But the reader knows God is not angry with Job.  Elihu is venting anger – his own. 

These arguments presented as they are by Gerald Janzen illustrate why Elihu, though some of his speech sounds great, is not to be trusted.  He’s speaking what he does not know, standing on authority he does not have, and offering help that is not helpful.  So why is Elihu in here?  We’re right back to the Apostle Paul’s claim, that all scripture is designed to teach us about God.  What is God teaching in the Elihu speeches?

Janzen offers this purpose, and I think he is spot on.  He says, the Elihu speeches “stand beside the diving speeches [in chapters 38-41] to create a situation in which Job must decide which revelation is from God” (223).  Eve had that moment: she remembered that God said if she ate of the tree of knowledge, she would die.  But it looked so good.  And the serpent seemed so smart.  What was right?

Job knew the theology: if you are righteous, then your life will go well.  If you suffer and your life does not go so well, then it must mean you weren’t so righteous.  But he knew he was righteous.  Now this Elihu speaks word … many words … flowery, hopeful words.  And then the blast from the whirlwind.  What, of all Job has heard and experienced, is the truth?

We open the Bible looking for God.  Of the voices we hear, how do we recognize his?

Elihu shows that it is not enough to just read the Bible.  When we read, we have to learn to read carefully.  Maybe this means going back and reading the story again; maybe in different translations.  Maybe we have to read in a group where we get to hear how others hear it.  Just as living a life of faith requires something from us, reading the Bible requires mental and emotional investment on our parts.  We have to work to understand God’s word.

Elihu also shows us that while theology is valuable it must be read in context.  There is truth in some of what he said just as some of what the serpent said is true.  But in the overall picture of Job’s story, Elihu’s words are ill-timed and without foundation.  We have to know the truth to speak it.  For us that means we have to know Christ before we can tell others about him.  And when we read theology – writing about God – it has to fit in God’s story.

Finally, Elihu shows that when we read the Bible, reading it carefully and considering the overall story, we have to seek God.  “Open my heart as I read, O Lord, so I will hear what you are saying to me.  Make my heart responsive, O Lord, so when I hear what you have given me, I will live my life in obedience and I will be in your plans.” 

We don’t read scripture so we can say we read it.  We don’t read scripture so we can know answers or formulate theological stances.  We read scripture hoping to meet God. 

Eve followed the wrong voice and ended up cut off from God.  Job ignored the deceiver and ended restored and redeemed.  We end this morning turning to God in prayer.  Last week we concluded praying for wisdom for America.  Today we conclude praying that God would grant discernment to us as a church, a body of worshipers, and to us as individual Christ-followers.  We will hear all kinds of voices.  The noise is constant cacophonous as never before.  O God, help us filter the noise and hear you.

AMEN

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Rethinking Your Gospel - Sustainable Short-term Missions


I am going to talk about “Re-thinking Your Gospel.”  This notion covers a a range of topics in which Christians in America in 2012 try to regain an understanding of the Good News we have in Jesus Christ.  I will not, in this talk, attempt to define “rethink your Gospel.”  Rather, I will demonstrate a model which promotes a renewed and deeper understanding of rethinking and reconnecting with the Gospel.  This model, at is core, is about doing ministry with children who are materially poor but exceedingly rich in Spirit and discovering in that ministry that all participants are poor and when it is done right, all get fed.

            I begin by recommending to you the book The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons.  Lyons was invited to the office of a movie producer who wanted to tap into the Christian market.  She asked him to make sense of the 21st century American Christian (p.29).  Haley, the producer was not herself a Christian, but she was very interested in Christians as consumers – in this case as movie-ticket buyers.

            Lyons explained that his research on the book he co-authored with Greg Kinnaman, UnChristian, led him to several groupings.  There is not just one prototype Christian, but a variety of types.

            He begins with a group he calls the Separatist Christians.  First among these are the “insiders.”  They listen to Christian radio, drink coffee from Christian mugs, send their kids to Christian schools, and watch Christian films.  They don’t smoke, cuss, drink or chew, and they don’t go with boys or girls who do.

            Lyons’ second group among the separatists he refers to as Culture Warriors.  They want the 10 Commandments displayed on the courthouse walls, abortion to be illegal, and marriage to be between a man and a woman and no other arrangements are acceptable as far as marriage goes.  These Christians are determined that America will be a Christian nation.  And they’re willing to fight for that.

            I should say as an aside, I agree with the position taken by culture warriors on many topics.  I am pro-life.  And, like the insiders, I wear witness wear clothing and I drink Jesus-coffee from Spiritually inspired mugs.  In each of the categories Lyons presents, I see some good things.  But their emphasis and their methods are sometimes different than mine, sometimes very different. 

            A third category of separatist Christian according to Lyons is the evangelizer.  These folks want to win souls for Christ no matter the cost.  To illustrate, Lyons tells of a zealous evangelizer who moves into a new neighborhood not knowing that neighborhood’s strong sense of unity and fellowship at Halloween.  Without learning that community’s value system, he hands out gospel tracts to trick-or-treaters.  His intention is to share Jesus with his neighbors.  But those neighbors were completely turned off.  In his zeal, he alienated those he wanted to see saved.  It was because of his method. 

            Insiders, Culture Warriors, and Evangelizers are all what Lyons describes as separatist Christians.  A second category Lyons has observed are cultural Christians.  The first category in this group is made up of what he calls blenders.  As their name indicates, they want to follow Jesus, but they want to do it in a way that will allow them to be the same as everyone else.  Lyons writes, “Complete with a Starbucks style coffee shop, Disney-like children’s programming, and a worship experience that rivals a Coldplay concert,” they want to do church in this culture’s language.

            Besides blenders, in this second category, the Cultural Christians, Lyons lists philanthropists.  Their main concern is to make the world a better place by doing good things and giving money to worthwhile causes.  They tend to say very little about the salvation we have in Christ, the importance of the cross and resurrection.  They kind of live in the Sermon on the Mount.  Their favorite verse might “when you do unto the least of these, you do for me.” It is in these parts of the gospel that the philanthropists find their drive.

            Again, let me reiterate, I agree with much of what the blenders and philanthropists say.  We should translate the gospel so that it is intelligible in our culture.  We must give to good causes.  And, we must also remember these five categories come from Gabe Lyons.  I happen to like his writing a lot, but he’s a guy like us.  He’s reading the Bible and the world around him and trying to make sense of it.  We can be inspired by his ideas and we can challenge at the same time.

            The reason I begin with his observations is I do think he does a good job of showing where these approaches to following Jesus are flawed.  His sixth category, obviously the one he is promoting, is the Restorer.  He says,

“Restorers exhibit the mindset, humility, and commitment that seem destined to rejuvenate the momentum of the faith. … Telling others about Jesus is important to them, but conversion isn’t their only motive.  Their mission is to infuse the world with beauty, grace, justice, and love. … Restorers seek to mend the earth’s brokenness.  They recognize that the world will not be completely healed until Christ’s return, but they believe that the process begins now as we partner with God.

 

            This idea that restorers are, as the book is titled, The Next Christians, or more specifically, the Christians who will do the most good for the faith in the world in this new century is an idea that appeals to teens and 20 and 30-somethings.  Can we find holes in Lyons’ book?  Probably.  But whether or not what he says is completely right, I think a lot of young people either in the faith or open to Christ think the way Lyons thinks.  They won’t be argued into the faith by a talented apologist.  They won’t be attracted by a tearful emotional appeal.  They won’t be follow Jesus just because their parents were church goers.  But they do want to be part of something meaningful.  I think what I share this morning is one example of the type of meaningful activity that will (1) attract talented, energetic people to Jesus and His work, and (2) will by the grace of God and leadership of the Spirit accomplish much for the Kingdom.

 

            Keeping the view of restoration in mind, I turn to another book, this one written around 65 AD.  I am talking about the Gospel of Mark.

As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”  18Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.  19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’”  20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”  21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”  22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

 

 

 

 

 

            The man who ran and kneeled before Jesus asked a basic question that most people asked.  How can I live forever?  We might frame it differently, coming from a worldview so shaped by medieval thought.  How do I go to Heaven when I die?  However it is asked, the basic notion is the afterlife.  Is this life all there is?  Is there more?  Is that “more” whatever it might be, better than this?  If it is better, how can I be sure I’ll get it?

            Jesus’ interlocutor felt pretty confident.  You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 

            “No sweat, Jesus.  I have got it covered.”  He’s thinking his own righteousness is secure.  His eternal life is a slam-dunk.  The Jesus delivers the pop he didn’t see coming.    The man is feeling pretty good, but Jesus says, not so fast, my friend.  “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”  At this point Mark says, the man went away grieving.  Why?  He had many possessions.  He was a rich man.  He wanted eternal life but not at the expense of his possessions.

            Please note, the primary lesson here is not that we should give all our possessions to the poor and follow Jesus.  Anyone who would qualify as middle class in the United States qualifies as wealthy in most countries in the world.  This is not a talk damning the wealthy.  In this passage from Mark, Jesus does not damn the wealthy.  In fact, he loves the man and he sees that it is the man’s wealth that is preventing him from having the riches God offers all of us.  Giving his possessions to the poor would have been a freeing act.  Once that wealth was out of the way, the man would be freed to follow Jesus. 

            What Jesus calls each of us to do is to remove the stuff in our lives that blocks the path between us and him.  For a lot of Americans, that stuff is our material stuff – our money and our possessions.  All of it should be used for God’s glory and for expanding the kingdom.  If my possession don’t have the potential to be used by God and if they, and I include money in this, occupy God’s place in my life, then it all has to go.

            What did Jesus say the man was to do after he gave all his stuff away?  He was to come and follow Jesus.  He ran up all desperate to know the secret to getting into Heaven or the key to eternal life; Jesus said forget that.  Follow me.  That is the essence of Christianity and the only hope for any kind of life.  We must follow Jesus.  And we must get rid of anything and everything that prevent us from following Jesus.

 

            To review – we have Gabe Lyons telling us that 21st century Christians, especially those who are under 35 (rough estimate), are going to be restorers who try to partner with God and mend the earth’s brokenness.  We have Jesus telling us in Mark’s gospel we need to follow him and remove anything that impedes our efforts to follow him; and I suggest for a lot of Americans the materialism that defines a middle class life is a major impediment.  Where are we then?  How do we get rid of the stuff that blocks our path to discipleship and once that’s removed, how do we partner with Jesus to mend the earth?

            That question is key when we imagine what it is, “it” meaning the Gospel.  We cannot understand “Gospel” until all the junk that impeded our path to following Jesus is cleared away.

 

            The model I will propose can play a major role in clearing away the junk that clogs the way to discipleship.   It is a model that I know you can repeat in your church. 

Before I get to that, though, I have to talk about mission trips.  I have always liked the idea of going on a mission trip.  When I was in college, I heard about people in youth ministries and campus ministries going all kinds of places – places I had not been.  And somehow I got it in my mind that my Christianity was not robust enough and radical enough unless I went on mission trips.  To be a really super Christian I needed to go on several.  I was born in Germany moved from there when I was just 6 months old.  My dad was in the U.S. army and was stationed there and that’s why Frankfurt is my birth city. 

My family’s from Michigan.  I lived there from 6 months to 12 years old, with one year in Texas, again because of the army.  At 12, we moved to Roanoke, Virginia where my parents still live.  So, when I was in college and heard about all kinds of wild mission trips, I was a novice traveler.  I had been to exotic places like Ohio and West Virginia.  I even went to Atlanta once.  Wow!

I had to go on some trips, man!  I did that.  With the Virginia Baptists and with my seminary, I traveled.  I spent a week preaching in Mexico City.  I spent a month shadowing a missionary in Bolivia.  During this time and the decade that followed, I learned to think critically.  I read a lot about Christian missions.  And I came to a conclusion I am sure many of you have heard and realized.  The amount of money it takes to send an American overseas for one week could go a lot farther if it were sent directly to Christians in Mexico or China or wherever.

Additionally, what good can someone do if they know nothing of a culture?  When I went to Mexico, I had never been outside an English-speaking country.  I had no experience preaching.  The Virginia Baptists sent me down there to preach 6 revival sermons.  I can only assume the pastor they had for the trip had to cancel last minute and they had to send someone and I was willing.  Years later, as these questions rolled around in my mind, I had to wonder if short-term mission trips have any value at all?

Then I read one of the most important books I have ever read besides the Bible.  It is called When Helping Hurts by Corbett and Fikkert.  First off, this book confirmed my worst fears.  Many short term Christian mission trips do more harm than good, and I had been on trips like that.  With the best of intentions and desire to die to self and follow Jesus, I have in my life participated in trips that at least from a structural perspective did not do much good.  In the same way that God speaks even through lousy sermons, I suspect God accomplished something on those trips, but in spite of me.  So were my days of missions trips over?

A second benefit from When Helping Hurts is the definition of poverty.  The authors write, “Poverty is the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable.  Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meanings.”  By this definition, the rich man in Mark 10 is poor – suffering from poverty of relationship and poverty of values.  You and I are poor when we objectify our neighbor who is Libyan.  He must be an Islamic extremist who longs for the death of Americans.  We are poor when we generalize about Chinese Communists.  They all desire to dominate the world economically and they’re all Hell-bound atheists.  We are poor when we demonize those who support one political candidate: he’s trying to make America a socialist nation.  Or the other: he’s an elitist who doesn’t care about the poor. 

When we understand that poverty is defined by broken relationships and all are hurt, our approach changes.  I am not a wealthy American trying to give my money to help a starving African so he can have money and have wealthy American life.  I am a broken sinner and I am seeking God’s healing and I know I’ll understand it as I love my African brother.  Part of my salvation story comes in me loving him.  Part of his salvation story comes in him loving me.  That relationship-building: that’s where God is at work.

“Salvation story,” sounds odd, doesn’t it?  Don’t American evangelicals think of salvation as a moment?  If “salvation” refers to the moment I realize Jesus died for my sins and in that realization I put my faith in him and thus assure myself of a Heavenly eternity, then, yes, salvation might thought of as a moment.  But Jesus sent his disciples out to help other people become disciples.  We are not on a mission to get people into Heaven.  We’re on a disciple-making mission.  Following Jesus does not happen in a moment.  It is a lifetime, a story.  I am proposing that a major part of that story demands that Christ followers leave their comfort zones and familiar environs and head out into the world to meet Jesus in places that had previously visited.

But this demands more than just heading out into the world.  There has to be purpose and direction.  Once Corbett and Fikkert establish that poverty is about broken relationships and is a result of sin, they identify three forms of poverty alleviation: relief, rehabilitation, and development.  One of the biggest reasons so many mission efforts fail is they provide relief when development is needed.  Those they are helping never grow independent or even have the chance.  The system of help renders the poor dependent and they don’t develop.  So, they stay poor.  Offering relief when what is needed is development leads to helping that hurts those who are helped.

The good news from this book, for me, is I knew what to look for: ministries of development.  I didn’t know if this would ever mean overseas trips for me, but I started down a path that has landed me in place where I go to Ethiopia every year.  And I firmly believe what we are doing truly helps and has long-term potential.

This path began when I got married to an extremely mission-minded woman.  From the start I was impressed by my wife Candy’s dogged determination to help poor children.  I was also grateful for her amazing attention to detail.  We were in our 30’s when we married and when a child did not come that first year, we decided adoption was the way to go.  In 2005, we adopted Igor from Russia using the America World Adoption Agency.  Through same organization, we adopted Henry from Ethiopia in 2009 and Merone from Ethiopia in 2011. 

International adoption is a great thing, but it is another talk for another day.  It helps – that one kid.  It does not change the community or the broken systems that landed that child in an orphanage.  However, international adoption did lead me to learn about Children’s Hope Chest.

This group is a smaller version of World Vision and Compassion International.  Hope Chest provides child sponsorship.  A financially able person contributes $34/a month.  That money goes to provide a child with a school uniform and supplies and also a meal each day.  For many kids in the program it is their only meal of the day.  When you’re a sponsor, the very minimum participation is your monthly contribution of $34.  You want to do more than the minimum.  So, you write letters and people in Russia and Ethiopia and Uganda and wherever translate those letters into the native language so they can be read to the child you sponsor.  As that child advances in school, he learns to read your letters himself.  As he advances more, he learns English and eventually, he writes to you in his own hand, without aid of translator. 

Your participation is letter-writing.  You send your money.  You send care packages with simple gifts.  You pray. Oh, you pray for your child.  And the benefit of this not just for your child but also for his community and country is he stays there.  He is in school, because of money you send, he gets educated, and after 12 years, he’s ready for college.  He is equipped to stay right there and be an agent of positive change in his little Asian of African town or village. 

What I wondered is this.  How could our participation go deeper than just the financial contribution, the prayer, and the letter-writing?  In 2009, my wife went with a group on a Hope Chest trip.  They visited a dozen care points in Ethiopia.  When she came home we prayed about our church “adopting one of those carepoints.”  In early 2010, someone who was from one of those care points, someone who converted to Christianity there and was disciples by a man who had come out of Isalm to be a Christ-follower was in the United States and we had him speak in our church. 

That day that he spoke, 50 people in our church signed up to sponsors.  All the sponsors were connected to children in the same care point – one Candy had visited.  I had the vision.  We would go beyond the contributions, the letters, the prayer.  We would travel to Ethiopia and spend a week with these children.  We would spend a week laughing with them, loving them, and providing support and encouragement for the adults who cared for them.  Those Ethiopians were all evangelical Christians.  The care point is called Grace Baptist Church.  We could connect with them and we could come back and visit every year. 

Would it work?  When Candy and I adopted Merone in 2011, we visited the site.  We asked the pastor of Grace Baptist and the leadership team who cares for the kids – “Do you want us to come?”  This is a crucial question.  We Americans should not assume our presence makes things better.  I tried to ask this question of Pastor Tefera in as clear terms as possible.  He emphatically said, “Yes, come, spend a week with us and these kids.”  OK, so, we’ll come, but what will we do for a week?  I came up with a simple plan of a Bible school.  We’d have games, crafts, and a Bible lesson.  We would buy some sheep and slaughter them and give the kids a feast.  Pastor Tefera, “Is this plan OK?”  He is the leader.  When we all get on the metal bird and fly back to America, he’s the one who is with those 160 hungry kids every day.  He has to be the leader through and through.  We come to serve, love, and support him as he serves, loves, and supports these kids.  “Pastor, is this plan OK?”  Yes, it is OK.  Come. 

We have now done it once, April of 2012.  The trip was amazing.  And for me the confirmation that we’re on the right track came when I met our sponsor child Zeyiba.  My wife Candy handles most of the letter writing.  She sends Zeyiba letters and photos.  Immediately, Zeyiba showed me a picture Candy had sent, pointed to Candy, and said her name.  I have done sponsorship for years through Compassion International.  I have at times wondered, does this make any difference at all?  Does my money really go to help this kid in Rwanda or Kenya or wherever?  When I stood there in Kombolcha, Ethiopia with Zeyiba, and she held a picture my wife had sent and she knew Candy’s name, I knew we were on the right track.

My dream is to go back every year and stay with it and stay with Zeyiba until she graduates from college.  Over the course of that time, she and I will help each other recover from our poverty of relationships.   Together, we will learn what it means to follow Jesus.  She will help remove some of the stuff that blocks my discipleship path.  I will make sure she stays in school. 

My dream is to take a group from my church back to same spot to be with same kids every year.  When I addressed the children during our week there, I asked them, “Am I looking at the future president of Ethiopia somewhere in this crowd?” 

I firmly believe this model of a group of people in one church sponsoring a group of kids in the same care point and visiting those kids each year for a 10-15  year period is a repeatable model.  It is a model that can be copied by churches large and small.  It is a model that participates in evangelism.  Many in our care point are from Muslim families, and they come to Christ.  It is a model with the potential for long-term good in that it provides not only evangelization but also education.  It is a model that puts the power where it belongs; in God’s hands working through indigenous leaders with American visitors in a servant’s role.  It is a model that if you participate in it will expand your view of who Jesus is.  He is a lot bigger than what we can see looking through our small North Carolina window.  Our window is not a bad view of Him, not bad at all.  But, I want to see more of Jesus.  And sometimes doing that means spending significant time with people very different from me. 

I recommend this model wholeheartedly.  In it or a mission like it, we meet God in new places.  We follow Jesus where he leads instead of fitting him into our lives.  And we learn the Gospel in dramatic new ways.