What happened in Newtown, CT this morning was evil. Pure and simple – evil. There is no way to sugarcoat anything. There are no excuses, no explanations, no free passes. You may not even believe in Hell, but this morning in a small Connecticut village a window of Hell was opened.
There ARE situations that can be addressed by enhanced security, legislation or other efforts. What happened today was not one of them. The Sandy Hook School appeared to have good security measures. The little town is about as tranquil and unassuming as exists. No one could have reasonably expected this to happen and, honestly, there probably wasn’t much that reasonably could have been done to prevent it. It was evil.
There is evil in the world. It’s time to admit that it exists and decide which side we want to be on. There is also good in the world; God is good. Count your many blessings – the manifestations of good are far greater than those of evil. But when the evil appears it tends to fixate our attention.
Cheryl and I were doing Christmas shopping and heard the news over the car radio as it was breaking. This is not the first time for public shootings, of course. There have been seven horrific examples in our country just this year. This one was especially heinous because twenty of the victims were small children who should have been dreaming of Christmas this evening. As we continued listening to the news reports throughout the day, Cheryl fought back emotions with comments like, Those poor little babies! My style is to be very quiet, reflective and try my best to process the information – not easy to do in this case.
Writing a little something on this blog is part of my processing. This is not a time for sermons, bumper sticker theology or politics. This is time for a sick nation to grieve. I can’t even begin to imagine the pain in Newtown. No one in Newtown will ever be the same again because of an evil young man. I pray that they will find solace and comfort in the arms of God; they will probably never find answers or reasons. Our hearts are broken and yet, as a very emotional President Obama reminded us today, scripture tells us of a God who heals the brokenhearted.
I’ve got a lot of stuff floating around in my heart and mind right now. There are some things I would like to say, but I won’t. Maybe I’ll feel better about doing that another day. For the moment, hug your kids or grandkids. Love them. Be thankful.
Pray for the hurting families in Connecticut.
Right from the start you need to know that I am a huge fan of technology. Love it! Love gadgets! Can’t think without my cell phone. It’s like a 3D tattoo on my hand. I sleep with it beside me. I confess that I take it with me to the bathroom. I know … more than you wanted to know.
Anyway, bring on the technology. These ARE the good old days!
Catch the drift?
So yesterday morning I’m doing my daily Bible reading and come across those teeny little letters at the back of the New Testament – second and third John. Here’s how John ends his second letter.
Having many things to write unto you, I would not write with paper and ink: but I trust to come unto you, and speak face to face, that our joy may be full. 2John 12
It was early, the letter is very short and I kept reading. Here’s how John’s third letter concludes
I had many things to write, but I will not with ink and pen write unto thee: But I trust I shall shortly see thee, and we shall speak face to face. Peace be to thee. Our friends salute thee. Greet the friends by name. 3John 13-14
Many centuries passed before people learned to write to each other with paper, pen and ink. You might say that it was cutting edge technology in the first century. Surely there were plenty of people who thought that writing a letter to a friend with paper, ink and pen was pretty doggone cool. I’m just as sure that there were others who griped and complained about how writing words on paper would destroy both language and culture. John was probably hip. He was the youngest of The Twelve. the last to die. If anyone was open to new technology, it would be John.
However … BIG however … no matter how powerful letter writing might be, John knew that there are some things that can only be communicated face-to-face. The existence of Johns letters in the Bible is proof that he knew how to take advantage of technology, but he also understood the limitations. You just can’t replace face-to-face contact among human beings.
For years social observers have predicted the emergence of the cyber church, the First United Church of Internet, FaceBook Fellowship.com and all that. Technology is awesome. But even today there is no way to replace that face-to-face stuff. In fact, I personally think it is more important than ever. Even among those who actually come to a brick and mortar building where the church assembles, seeing a guy on the omnipresent video screen and hearing his voice modulated and transferred to the ears of the congregants by a high-tech sound system will never replace face-to-face. Sitting in the back of a large adult Sunday school class where no one knows your name will never replace face-to-face. This is one of the motivating factors in moving from more traditional Sunday school classes to small groups.
Around 1200 or more of you at @Graceway already get it. Thank you!!
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.