Did you miss me at all? You got to Graceway last Sunday and I wasn’t there. Kent Liles did a fabulous job in my absence, though. So, what was I doing and why wasn’t I there? I’m not really gone that often, but the past couple of months have been crazy.
Well, I was in San Salvador, El Salvador. I rarely accept an invitation to be gone on a Sunday, but in this case I made an exception. Why? I was pastor of the Iglesia Bautista Miramonte from the mid 70′s until 1984 during that nation’s horrible civil war. It was also a time that saw explosive growth of the Gospel in general and that church in particular. Last weekend was the 42nd anniversary of the church and they invited me to speak. I found it very hard to turn down that invitation and hope you understand.
Contrary to what some might think, I was not sitting by the pool sipping piña coladas and working on my tan. No! Here’s a brief summary of how that time broke down. I left KC at 0600 Wednesday, November 28th and returned home last Monday evening, December 3rd, averaging 4-5 hours sleep a night.
- I spoke 15 times from Wednesday night to Sunday and filled much of the remaining waking hours with consulting and conferencing with leaders.
- Wednesday though Friday evenings I had two hours each night to teach on making disciples.
- On Thursday morning I went to the city of Santa Ana and taught two hours on making disciples and God’s global mission to a group of pastoral and mission leaders.
- On Friday morning I had another two hours with yet another group of pastors and leaders to teach about God’s global mission.
- Saturday morning I spoke and did a Q&A with key leaders, while on Saturday afternoon late I spoke to the youth.
- Sunday morning I spoke to both services.
- Sunday evening I spoke to a meeting of the family of churches that have been spawned from the main church – about 30. The auditorium was filled with people from various locations around the country.
Oh! And I did some very fine eating while I was gone. You might have suspected that. In addition, I stayed in the World Trade Center complex where there is a coffee shop run by the guy who is the current world champion barista. Of course I had to check him out just to be sure his coffee was really up to par. No problems! It was a bit of a sacrifice, but I’m happy to report he checks out OK.
Some of the things for which I am most thankful:
- When Cheryl and I arrived in the early 70′s, El Salvador was classified among the least-reached with around 2% of the population professing faith in the Gospel. Today, that percentage is above 30%. The Miramonte church is a large, mature church that has given birth to many others representing thousands of people all over the country and around the world.
- The church has sent out missionaries to the least-reached in many different places, supported primarily by the local church. Here are some places where they serve and have served: Spain, Mexico, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, India, Morocco, Albania, Romania, Macedonia, Iraq, Australia and the United States. In the process the church has become a model for other Latin American churches and their leaders have served in important international positions of leadership.
- When our girls were little, we hired a young 17-year-old from the countryside to work in our home. Today, she is faithfully serving in the church alongside her husband who has been a police executive and they have a couple of wonderful young men as their sons. Great story, and it was great to see them!
- The Miramonte church and her leaders deeply want a growing relationship with Graceway. We are exploring what that might look like in the future. I find this very satisfying and fulfilling.
Now you know why I have been trying to catch up this week. Sunday I’m back in the pulpit at Graceway and the Luke study. Really excited about that!!!!
Thanksgiving is in the rear view and the Christmas season is upon us. Yeah, I know … commercialization, materialism, envy, greed, over-zealous marketing, etc. I’m certainly not wild about that stuff either. But, I seem to remember it being around in September, and June, and May, and …
I am a self-confessed Christmas freak. Love it! With all of the excesses I still love it that many are focused on our Savior’s birth – whenever it may have been. And, I love pine trees, wreaths, lights and all the rest. Walking through the Graceway lobby the other day I was musing on how beautiful the seasonal decorations are. That thought connected in my mind to a verse from my Bible reading earlier that morning.
Then brought he me the way of the north gate before the house: and I looked, and, behold, the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD: and I fell upon my face. (Ezekiel 44:4)
Any human decoration can only be the most remote suggestion of God’s glory that decorates not only the Heavenly Temple but all of creation. The awe of it moved Ezekiel to fall on his face before God Almighty. Isaiah had a similar reaction in Isaiah 6.
Connecting the dots in my head and heart, I remembered Paul’s word to the Colossians that Christ in us is the hope of glory (1:27). On earth today, God’s glory is manifest in the church. Peter admonishes women to decorate their lives with their inner character along with a humble and quiet spirit. Paul exhorts us all to put off our former nature and put on Christ.
As we admire some of the beautiful decorations of Christmas, may we be reminded to allow the glory of God to flow forth from our lives in such a way as to provoke awe!
I’m not very good at it – being thankful, that is. Well, in my heart of hearts I often reflect on how thankful I am for everything from family, church, friends, freedom to whatever I can imagine. But, how to get that thankfulness out in the open to God and all the people for whom and to whom I am thankful – I often struggle with that part.
So, here’s to you, all of you who are part of my flock, family and friends – thank you for being you. I love you and thank God for you.
In my last post I was reflecting on President Obama’s recent visit to Myanmar and suggested that we be thankful today for our freedoms and pray for brothers and sisters in Burma who have suffered immensely and give thanks that there seems to be a glimmer of hope of change in that nation.
Also, I neglected to share a link to another blog that actually got the thought process rolling in my head that resulted in that post. Tina Lewis Rowe is a friend from high school and I’ve mentioned her here several times. She recently revisited a post of hers from a few years ago on the old Burma Road from World War II. It’s a fascinating and moving story and I appreciated her insertion of editorial comments on what she had written in 2008. It’s a short and easy read and I hope you’ll take the time to check it out here.
OK, we could get all mushy with this Thanksgiving stuff. So let’s get specific for a minute. Other than mentioning God, eternal life, family, friends, church, the Bible, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, air, water, flowers and birds (I think most of us can agree on all that), what are things this past year for which you are thankful just because you like them and they are fun?
Here’s a short, off-the-cuff list:
- Good coffee. Thanks Ben and Benetti’s crew, Aaron and Portico and other wonderful, local providers of coffee. Oh, and Emily who always know how to make a good cup in the office.
- The arts in Kansas City. One day we may be thankful again for the Chiefs or the Royals, but I’ll be content with our world class museums, orchestra, ballet, opera, jazz, gazillion live theaters, street musicians and the amazing new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. I’m thankful that our city fathers are trying to relocate UMKC’s great conservatory of music and dance downtown.
- Growing diversity in the heart of America. This is a different city that 30 years ago. We are enriched by the addition of cultures that span the globe.
- Fabulous food in our city. I’m thankful that I could eat in different, unique, tasty, imaginative and wonderful restaurant every day for a year without ever once setting foot in a chain or fast food joint. Oh, and I’m still thankful that Napoleon Bakery relocated to a mile from my house to give me a super sandwich option at noon or morning pastry. Thank you, God!
- Friendly people in our city. Putting aside the druggies who like to shoot each other frequently, the overwhelming majority of people here are loving, friendly, hospitable and go out of their way to help. I hear this all the time.
With no particular order, that’s my list of five things I’m thankful for that give me great pleasure. The list could go on and on. Why don’t you add to it.
Lost in the many other events of the week is something that followers of Jesus should notice. In the dangerous conflict between Israel and Hamas, the protests in Egypt and all the rest, something took place that should be the object of prayer. For the first time in history an American President has walked on the soil of Burma (Myanmar).
I use the name Burma intentionally instead of the official Myanmar as established in 1988 by the oppressive military regime that has ruled that nation for the past five decades and made it one of the most closed societies on earth. Burma, you see, is where Adoniram Judson, one of the first cross-cultural missionaries from the United States, ministered for almost 40 years.
Judson and his family went through excruciating trials. During a time of war between Burma and the UK, Judson spent 17 months in a horrible prison. Not long after his release, he was off in another province where the Gospel message was about to take root when his wife Ann died alone following a 21 month bout with sickness and stress. Their third child died a few months later. After burying another wife and several more children, Judson pressed on to leave over 100 churches and 8,000 believers in a movement that would continue to flourish long after his death at sea in April of 1850 at 61 years of age.
The spiritual descendants of Judson and others established a strong and vibrant faith community. To this day, most inhabitants of Burma are animists or Buddhists. Christians and Muslims are a minority. About one half of the 50 million inhabitants of Burma are ethnic Burmese with most of the rest belonging to eight other significant ethnic groups.
During the half century of military rule, more than one minority group has experienced barbaric persecution. While Christians in Burma have been oppressed, persecuted and killed, I mention the various ethnic groups and religions of Burma in order to avoid the impression that the persecution is a simple matter of the government versus the Christians. Muslims and even some Buddhists have suffered horrifically as well. The ethnic, religious, linguistic and cultural layers of this region are far beyond the ability of most outsiders to even comprehend. Simple solutions and bumper sticker theology do not apply.
Adoniram Judson, his family and many others had a strong biblical conviction that there would no true justice in this world until the Good News of Jesus Christ was made available to all the peoples of the world. They were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for the peoples of Burma to have the Gospel accessible. Graceway has taken a position to give emphasis to minister among those peoples of the world who are least-reached. Your giving and prayer enable us to take on some of the hard cases. Even in Myanmar Graceway has had contacts and peripheral involvement in what God continues to do among those peoples. For security reasons I can tell you no more than that. But I tell you this much so that you understand that our knowledge of suffering, injustice and oppression is not limited to reading cold statistics on a computer screen, but comes from real people with names, families and real lives.
I fear that a significant sector of the American church is in danger of forgetting the mission – making disciples of the nations, not preserving the American way of life. Making disciples of the nations is what we are tasked to do. The Greek wording in Matthew 28 is panta ta ethne, or literally every ethnic group.
Please don’t respond by saying this is why we need to preserve the American way of life – so that we can continue to send missionaries to the world. American resources and personnel continue to be vitally important in God’s work around the globe and are still wanted and needed. American workers, however, make up only a small percentage of those on the front lines of service among the least-reached peoples. Today, no one place can make a claim to be the center of God’s missionary movement. God got along just fine before the United States came along, and he will survive long after our demise. God doesn’t need America; America needs God. God uses nations and politicians of all stripes; his chosen instrument in this age is his church, empowered by his Spirit and guided by his word.
I find it ironic that right after this bitterly-contested election, with all the name-calling and verbal venom, right after many Christians are writing America’s obituary and preparing to fall of the “economic cliff,” President Obama goes to Burma. Among the chorus of questions (many of them good), one I seldom hear is this – what might God be doing in this to advance his kingdom? How will this visit affect positively or negatively our brothers and sisters in Burma, some of who are hunted like animals?
God does do that, you know – use governmental officials to advance his kingdom. He even uses “pagans” like Babylon’s Nebuchadnezzar. When Peter wrote that we should honor the king (1Peter 2:17) the infamous and insane Nero was on the throne. Paul had quite explicit instruction about this matter in Romans 13. An old Hebrew proverb says that the king’s heart is in God’s hand and he turns it any way he wants (21:1).
President Nixon was not an overwhelmingly popular President. Even his staunchest supporters would not describe him as giving them warm and fuzzy feelings. Yet, in 1972 Nixon went to China. China was closed, oppressive, dangerous and mysterious to the West. Nixon’s visit was loudly criticized, analyzed and debated. But Nixon went to China and the world changed.
I have no idea what was in President Nixon’s mind, heart or soul in making the decision to go to China. What I know is that the window to China was opened and we are now aware that despite the persecution the church in China, whose foundation was laid by the sacrifice of previous generations, is now the largest church in the world and growing at a dizzying rate. God didn’t use Nixon because he was a Republican, but because he was there. It took years to recognize the true significance of this visit. Indeed, we are still learning of its significance. There is little question, however, that it is one of the significant events of the second half of the past century.
President Reagan went to Berlin and made a public and famous request to the leader of the USSR. The world was changed. God didn’t use Reagan because he was a Republican, Bible-believing, born again Christian, or who stood for biblical values, but because he was there. God does that, you know. He uses whoever he wants, when he wants and how he wants and irregardless of their political positions or values. He does that because he is God. It’s his right.
President Obama went to Myanmar. This visit is criticized by many as being too soon, too late, too much, too little and about any other criticism you could imagine. I have no idea what is in his heart, mind or soul in making this visit. How will this affect God’s kingdom? I have no idea. I do know this – God is just as much in control today as he was last week, and God is still just as much in control over the United States of American as he was before the first Tuesday in November. Oh … and I know that the mission in God’s heart is still the same today as it was in Genesis 12:1-3, and it’s all about blessing the families (nations, ethne, ethnic groups) of the world.
To the delight of the military rulers, Obama used the name Myanmar for the first time. The US State Department, in protest, has preferred the more traditional and historic name Burma. On the other hand, he met with and praised opposition leader and Nobel Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi who spent years under house arrest. This is the dawning of a new day in Myanmar, but too early to know whether the day will be cloudy or filled with sunshine.
Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States. May thoughts of Burma give you pause to offer thanksgiving for the blessing of living in free country. Truly God has blessed America. Whatever our political preferences, we have much, so much for which to be grateful to God.
As you give thanks around the table Thursday, maybe you could also pray for the many oppressed and suffering in Burma and many other places in the world. Maybe you could ask God how he might want to use you and your family to bless the peoples of the world and make the Gospel accessible to them. Maybe you could find it within yourself to pray for the President of the United States, that God would bless him and use him as his instrument to advance the kingdom, though his political views may be far different from your own.
I have some great news! But first, let us all observe a moment a reflective silence in honor of the wonderful team up at Justus Drugstore in Smithville. I’ve heard about this place for quite some time and finally Cheryl and I had the opportunity to visit yesterday evening. Thanks, Rich and Jan! Rick and I both have August birthdays, and this was a birthday celebration. … I know. That’s how crazy my schedule is. Can you imagine? Celebrating an August birthday in the middle of November. I’m sorry.
No one would expect a world class restaurant in Smithville of all places! The story is the stuff of movies – incredibly talented chef returns to his home town and converts a drugstore into one of the top farm-to-table restaurants in America, drawing national reviews and raves. Seriously. How would you make this stuff up?
The unpretentious setting nullifies the intimidation factor for those wanting to sample food that will hold up to any meal prepared in the most elegant of urban restaurants. The service is educated, attentive and professional without even a hint of stuffiness. Every item is described and explained as it is brought to the table. The flavors are explosive, creative and fascinating. You wonder, “How in the world did someone think to put all this stuff together?” But it works!
This is not a “drop in and grab a bite” place. This is a culinary adventure that will stretch over 2 to 3 hours – perfect for a birthday celebration. You can read more about Justus Drugstore here.
Now for the second installment in the “Who would have ever thought … ” category. Cheryl heard it rumored from a friend that there is a new bakery in Raytown.
“She said it was really good,” Cheryl told me as I reasoned in my mind why this simply could not be so.
“Yeah, it’s supposed to be in that strip center in the 5200 block of Blue Ridge Boulevard where the McDonald’s is.”
I’m not even sure the address is really Raytown, as this is in that strange vortex, that local version of the Bermuda Triangle where Raytown, Independence and Kansas City mysteriously intertwine and no one is really certain where one ends and the other begins. This is where werewolves are said to appear on foggy nights and where small pets sometimes vanish without a trace.
This is also right on my daily jogging path. So, as I am soaking up the great weather this morning, I remember to glance over to see if there really is a new bakery in town. At this point I’m still an unbeliever. That’s when I see the new listing on the center’s sign by the street. It said, “Napoleon Bakery.”
“This is just simply impossible,” I thought to myself. Napoleon Bakery was a staple in Westport for years, a favorite of the college crowd and Midtown urban hipsters. Cheryl and I used to love to drop by for lunch. They have a short but potent list of wonderful sandwiches, desserts and other good eats. There was great weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth when it shut down a few years ago. To this day I still feel an emptiness in my stomach when we drive by the vacant shell in Westport.
I resisted the urge to rush right in with all my sweatiness. I finished my run, showered, grabbed Cheryl and we headed straight to the scene.
“Welcome to the neighborhood!” I said as we entered the door. “How long have you been open here?”
“Two weeks,” replied the sweet young woman behind the counter filled with tempting pastries.
“I just have to ask. Are you the same folks that used to be in Westport?”
I’m still in shock.
This is great news. I wouldn’t put it on the level of the NASCAR raceway coming to Wyandotte County, but it’s something like that.
I’m not sure what this means. Could it be that Raytown is becoming hip? God forbid! But, with anchors like Benetti’s and Napoleon Bakery, can a Raytown Art Fair be far behind? Or, could this simply be the realistic reflection of cheap rent in an old strip center in Raytown? Maybe it’s the lack of competition. Think about it. Their only competition that I can think of is the Dolly Madison Day Old Bakery.
Napoleon Bakery is worthy of you giving them a try and welcoming them to the neighborhood. Big Moma’s fled to Crown Center and now we have a second chance set a new direction for Raytown. Show your support today.If you’re not in the Kansas City metro area, move here! Their lunches are reasonable and delicious. Their pastries are yummy. The parking is free and plentiful. They have free wifi. What’s not to like?
So, what’s you favorite bakery in Kansas City?
I was SO ready for this election thing to be over! I’m thanking God that I was almost a month in Europe and couldn’t get American TV with all the hate ads and creepiness. Sunday night I was trying to take a nap and got four political calls in a five-minute span. Crazy!
But I voted yesterday. Yesiree! And it was a good experience even though I waited in line almost an hour. I was dreading it, having driven by the polling place twice, hoping the line would back off – it didn’t. I finally thought I’d just bite the bullet. But I was wrong. It was all good.
It was a blast. Really. It was like a slow-moving block party, but without the beer and brats. The election judges frown on that. The diversity was amazing – ethnic and generational. People were going out of their way to be nice, and it was working.
Oh! And I was standing in line with Jeff Foxworthy. Yeah, really! … Well, maybe not exactly him, but he was a redneck for sure and funny as heck! He had a loud, obnoxious voice and talked to everyone who even came within sight, whether they wanted him to or not. But he was hilarious. He was telling stories about his dog, his mom, his life, his lost loves, his pickup truck and more stuff than I can remember. He kept us all entertained.
Recently-naturalized citizens stood in line, obviously voting for the first time. I thought of some of our Gracewayers who have only recently become citizens and thought about them voting, too. I get a bit misty-eyed just thinking about it. This is America; this is a great country!
All during this election season, though, I’ve been wrestling with this ugly little feeling in my gut. At the risk of being completely misunderstood, sounding judgmental and/or being delivered up to be crucified upside down, just let me say that I am increasingly uncomfortable with what used to be called years ago the Moral Majority, then the Religious Right, and whatever they are called now. You know what I’m talking about, right?
They speak as though God were a right-wing Republican and the Great Commission is to “take back our country.” To hear them speak, all true, born-again Christians must vote alike, think alike, look alike, talk alike and share the same tastes and preferences. It’s our biblical responsibility to take back our country. God is on our side, you know.
OK, this is a rant and I probably have a bad attitude. So, if that bothers you, stop reading now.
I’m all for the political process and have no problem with people being passionate about their political views. And, don’t assume for a moment that what I just said means that I’m a Democrat, Libertarian, independent, Socialist or Communist. I just don’t like it when we play the “”God card,” whatever our political views may be. Does God live in a red state or a blue state? This is a problem in Graceway where I suspect that the difference between red and blue might pretty much mirror that of our entire nation. Not only do we have red and blue, we have black and white, yellow and brown – and God loves them all, all the children of the world!
When God is a member of our party, whichever one that may be, then that means by implication that the other party must be of the Devil. When it is God and us versus them, it’s no wonder “they” aren’t listening too well when we “share our faith.” In fairness, people on the left side of the aisle are also capable of playing the God card.
Last night I was listening to a candidate give a concession speech filled with more religious clichés than a Baptist preacher could throw up in an hour-long sermon. You could hear people in the background shouting “Amen” and “Hallelujah.” I’m sorry, but that stuff gives me the heebie jeebies. I was embarrassed. I wanted to shout, “Was it really not God’s will for you to win the election, or could it just be that the majority of people don’t agree with your political ideas? Could it be that most people don’t want you trying to legislate your “Christian” values? Could it be that the majority of people don’t think you are competent enough for the job? Could it possibly be that there are more options other than simply it is or is not God’s will? Stop blaming God for your loss!”
I’m not just picking on politicians. I’m uncomfortable when athletes give God glory for winning the game, point toward Heaven, drop to a knee or do the Tebow maneuver – the losers that day obviously didn’t pray hard enough or sold their soul to the Devil. Tim Tebow is undoubtedly a nice guy and I don’t question the sincerity of his faith. Come on, you jocks! Just be the best damn ball player you can be and live out your faith both on and off the field. Do that, and you’ll have plenty of opportunity in normal and natural settings to express your faith and it will have a ring of authenticity.
Can moral or Christian values be legislated? Is the way to become or live as a follower of Jesus a matter of law? Does not the Bible say that we are transformed by grace though faith? This is what our forefathers fought against – the forced imposition of religious values on others who do not share them. Aren’t these the same people who complain about Iran where religious ideologues have “taken back their country” to impose their Islamic values on everyone alike regardless of whether or not they share them?
To say that we are going to “take back the country” and are going to “restore our Christian values” puts others in a position of thinking that to put their faith in Christ means a political and cultural transformation in addition to new life in Christ. Wasn’t this the issue in the first century when many believers from a Jewish background insisted that Gentiles could follow Jesus, but only if they also became Jews?
Is a democratic republic an entitlement? Is it the only way of government found in the Bible? No, democracy is not a biblical institution. To live in a democratic republic is a privilege, fought for and paid for with the blood of many heroes, many of whom were NOT Christians. They fought for a nation where people were free to worship as they choose. For this we should be grateful – both to God and to the many believers and non-believers who fought for our nation.
The United States represents about 5% of the world population and most Christians do NOT live here. What about the majority of Christians who do not live in a democracy? Are they out of God’s will? Have they just not prayed hard enough? Those poor ignorant savages!
If you want my vote you have to show me that you are the best person for the job of governing – integrity, honesty, intelligence, leadership, communication, etc. Other than that I don’t care if you are a Jehovah’s Witness, a Buddhist or an agnostic. I really don’t.
I remember when JFK ran for office. The uproar was deafening. Many “Bible-Believing Christians” were convinced that if Kennedy, a Roman Catholic, was elected, the Pope would take over America. This is America, folks, where people vote for the one they consider the best candidate for the job – African American, Hispanic, Mormon, Roman Catholic, female or whatever. Show me what you are by the way you live. I will listen to what you say, and I will believe you when you live it. Want my vote for President, Senator or Governor? Show me you are the best qualified candidate for the job.
Did your candidate win? Did your candidate lose? No matter who wins, does our mission as followers of Christ change? Is our primary mission to preserve the American way of life, or is it to advance the kingdom of God? Would to God more believers were as passionate about reaching the unreached with the Good News of Jesus Christ as many are about preserving the American way of life!
Is God’s ability to bless America limited by who wins an election? The election is over and there will be another. God bless President Obama and God bless America.