Feb 25 2013
On the Chair Next to You

Each Sunday morning, Kumar sits on a folding chair, waiting for the rock band to start up, and the preacher to give a seeker-sensitve sermon. The chairs are partly filled, in a school gymnasium, just outside Washington, D.C.

He's a small man, from Chennai, India, and here, in the rows for the audience, he's part of someone's Big Vision. Like many others, the church start-up has a visionary, who hopes it becomes the next Big Thing, even hoping to buy 40 acres in suburban D.C. (Anyone got a half-bil for that?)

And Kumar, who's 36, drives each day to his office job at Sun Microsystems, where he spends a lot of time checking urgent email from very far away.

Friday night, I walked with Kumar, and our mutual friend, Woody, to a crowded Whole Foods Market in Alexandria. I made a salad about four times bigger than his, but when we got back to the hotel room, it took him a couple hours to finish. I kept asking questions. He kept answering.

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Kumar was on a crowded bus in Chennai, India. He heard God's voice. "Unmistakeably," he says. I heard God say, twice, 'Seek Me.' That was it. Twice."

Just "Seek Me"?

"Just 'Seek Me'. And I knew it was God, but which God? I was Hindu. Was it Vishnu? Calli...? No idea. I just knew it was God. Somehow, I knew it. Unmistakeable."

And Kumar isn't the gullible type. He has multiple advanced degrees in Aero Engineering and Physics, for starters, from the M.I.T.-equivalent in India.

He studied and researched, but just wasn't satisfied that it was one of his familiar gods, and eventually found a friend with a Bible -- a "good luck charm" -- and traded a textbook for it. He started reading, got confused, but eventually was pointed to Jesus.

He became a Jesus-follower.

Costly decision.

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His parents weren't happy. They scheduled an arranged marriage. Kumar met his wife-to-be on Friday, told her and his parents on Saturday about his Jesus decision, and got married on Sunday. "They thought it would blow over," he says. It didn't.

Six months later, there was an intervention. Her family, his family, neighbors, friends -- 150 people strong -- all telling him to repudiate his faith. He refused.

His parents, fearing for their reputation, said he should leave the area immediately. They would tell everyone that he was dead.

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Kumar took a job in the states. He drove to a big church building. "I didn't know what else to do," he says. "Nice cars everywhere. I liked that."

He walked in, and was taken aback. "It was a fancy church, and everyone was a black person, and they were quite animated. They were walking on their chairs around the room. I was confused, but they were happy.

"They had a testimony time, and I like microphones, so I got up and told them, 'I am so happy about Jesus! I do not want a Mercedes or a BMW! I want to go back to India to tell people about Jesus!' Everyone applauded me! I was the center of attention! But I had just lied! I did not want to go back. Actually, I did want to be rich. I did want a Mercedes."

But some brothers took him to a room and prayed with him, that his return to India would happen. "I did not want to go back to India..."

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A few years later, he went back to India. Kumar took his vacation from Sun, and headed over... with no plan. He just went door-to-door, and told people about Jesus.

The first day, 45 people decided to become Jesus-followers. How'd THAT happen?

"I don't know. I just went door to door, and neighbors would introduce me to others, and I was amazed."

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Kumar still takes his vacations, two weeks a year, and heads to India. But things have grown. From those first 45, and from his trips over the past seven years...

More than 100,000 conversions. 139 communities. More than 100 pastors. Model orphanages for children suffering from AIDS Schools for Dalit children, the lowest-of-the-low in India. Shelters for little girls, now rescued from prostitution. Food. Medicine. Jesus.

They want to name projects after Kumar. He does not allow them. He spends hours every day, after work, praying and communicating and wondering what the next move is. He doesn't raise financial support. Not his style.

"God always provides. Children are dying in a project, because all we have is rice for them, and not much. Woody gave us some money for a down-payment on four acres with hundreds of coconut trees, and then several families who know us each called me, unaware of what we were doing. 'God woke us up last night, and we can't get you off our mind. Here's five thousand dollars...here's a thousand dollars...we got the forty-thousand we needed to buy the land. I am always amazed."

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"Kumar...I don't get it. We made a quantum leap in your story. 45 people decide to follow Jesus, and now more than 100 thousand. Wha...? How...?"

We sit at our table in our hotel room, and Kumar starts laughing. I laugh, too! -- and then, I realize, he's not laughing. He's crying, and he can't speak.

"So many have died..."

Who has died?

"So many of our pastors, so many of our people..."

I look at Woody, who knows the stories, and he bites his lip and nods.

"They are beaten to death, they are killed, because they are talking about Jesus. It happens all the time in India, but the country is very concerned about image, very concerned about foreign investment, they pretend it doesn't happen.

"They are the reason this growth has happened. Their blood. I ask God, 'Why do you let this happen to these people who love you?' They have nothing. Our pastors are not paid. There is no money. But I realized, God is releasing them, at last. They have nothing, they are beaten, they are hungry, they live on the ground, in the streets, and God finally releases them to go home."

Pause. And I can't talk, either.

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Woody, who met Kumar at that seeker-sensitive church in suburban D.C., says I should let Kumar eat his salad. He's right. It's getting late.

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If you're reading this on a weekday, Kumar is sitting in a little room at Sun and doing his job, and answering far-flung emails while he prays. And on Sundays, he sits on a folding chair in a high school gym, and hears about the church's big plans. It will be costly, but just think what could happen, with a new building!

He admits he wonders sometimes...

"They have now added us to their missions budget. They give $1,000 per year. I guess I am happy for that, but..." and his voice trails.

But...the church has other priorities, and a Big Vision for another affluent suburb that, need we remind, needs Jesus, too.

 

Jan 23 2013
Marriage is Body and Soul

I've edited this email. Changed the name, some of the circumstances, etc. I showed my response to Sherri, our producer, and she thought a lot of people might want to read it, because so many deal with this sort of thing.

I don't claim to have "all the answers", ever.  I do know that God loves "Vanessa", and her boyfriend, more than I can put into words.

 

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Hi Brant,

Four years ago, I met a man who was a Christian, and we started dating. Eventually we became intimate, and I've felt horrible about this, and my relationship with God has almost come to a total standstill.

I am feeling extremely convicted and even fearful of what God will do because of our disobedience. When I bring it up he gets angry and says that why do I choose to obey this and why not everything else the Lord says?

He gets my mind going and makes me think that maybe I'm wrong to think that shouldn't be a part of our relationship especially since we have already had that be a part of our relationship. He says we're going to get married anyway, so there's nothing wrong with it.  I'm confused what the Bible says about this, based on what he's telling me.

Please help me. I'm tormented because I feel like I'm putting my boyfriend before God and I don't want to go to Hell for this.  But if I don't give in I feel like maybe I'm being foolish to try and change things now. 

Thank you for reading this!

Vanessa

 

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Hey Vanessa,

THANK YOU for your honesty.  I'm not sure if I'll provide the best guidance, but I will be as honest as I can be, while I'm typing hurriedly!

There are no sins worse than others.  They're all tragic, and represent rebellion against the only true, lasting love we'll ever have.

I've been married nearly 23 years, and have a dynamite marriage, and it's still true: He's it.  Marriage is a wonderful analogy, or shadow, of the love He has for us, but it's not the full picture of the love God has for us. 

Rebelling against that love is painful for awhile, and then ultimately numbing, because we become less human, less the way we were supposed to be.  We stop feeling, and things lose their joyfulness, and their color.

Will you go to Hell for your sexual sin?  Jesus told the "righteous" people, whose hearts were proud, that tax collectors and prostitutes would enter the Kingdom of Heaven before them!  The real question isn't, "Will this sin send me to Hell?" It's "Do I want the Kingdom of Heaven?  Do I even WANT God in charge?" - because, guess what, that's who's in charge when everything is restored. If you do want Him in charge, and you have made Him king NOW, demonstrate it.  As I type that to you, I type it to myself. There will be plenty of proud, upstanding, moral people in Hell. Too proud to want God as King, really.  We all sin, and Jesus has already paid the price for that. It's a question of the heart, now.

This said, some sins are WAY more impacting than others.  Marriage is saying, "I commit body and spirit to you."  And sex is a commitment of body, but outside of marriage, it's not backing it up with the lifetime commitment of the soul.

It's been proven, particularly for women, that sexual contact forges an intimate bond that goes WAY beyond mere physical exercise.  You are sharing your soul with someone who is not returning that exchange.

I suspect we all know this deep down. His body is writing a check that his soul is not willing to honor, not now.

This is very, very UNLOVING.  Very selfish of him, and, frankly, if he doesn't understand how a woman works, how a woman's heart works, or the link between sex and your very identity… Why would he be a good husband?

Marriage is ALL about putting AWAY your selfishness.  And he's demonstrating he wants to have his fun regardless of cost to you, so far as I can tell.  I don't get it.

All sin is equal rebellion against God, but sex is ridiculously powerful, and the consequences are identity-changing.  You become less YOU.  

If he's not willing to serve you in this area, to honor your desire to please God, to guard your own heart - and you should, you're NOT married - I'd dump him.  Perhaps after explaining it, lovingly, he'll "get it", and respect this, and you can make a new start, with pre-marital counseling involved.

I'm always amazed, too, at the "Well, we're GOING to get married," defense. Sometimes people do wind up getting married, sure, but if it were a sure thing, why aren't you already married?  Finances are used as an excuse, often, but it's usually CHEAPER for two people to live together than apart.  So…?  

Maybe there's a lingering sense that a commitment like marriage isn't the best thing right now…?  Fair enough. No sex until your soul will cash that check your body's writing.

That's my take.  And yes, the Bible is quite clear that sex outside of marriage is sin, just as lust is, according to Jesus.  (The commandment against adultery is often given a crafty "Well, this doesn't apply to us" spin, but there it remains. In our modern culture, we just can't STAND the idea that God wants us to live with sexual limits, because we worship sexual autonomy above all other things, no matter the cost. But yes, God cares about our sexuality. It'd be odd if He didn't, as powerful as it is!)

We're all sinners, but we can't use that as a justification to just keep doing what we want to do.  If he's a "believer", great.  "Even the demons believe," it says in James.  Does he have a heart for God, a desire to grow in love? He's demonstrating he values his own urges more than you, and that's not a good prescription for a long-lasting marriage, that's for sure.

Even if he doesn't agree, Biblically, a good future husband would protect the heart of a woman he loves, control himself, and quit taking advantage of her weakness. He'd help her get where she wants to be.  

And that's what marriage is, as it turns out.  Clearly, much as he wants the sex part of marriage, he doesn't want the part where he has to be a man and take responsibility for the wonderful gift he could have in you. You can bring that man out of him, perhaps, by saying, "This is the way it's going to be, or we're done.  Now, what do you want?"

God bless you, and I'm praying he grows up.  

Either way, you're playing with a strong hand.  Your longest-lasting, best, most passionate lover, body and soul, is with you, and will never leave you.

Best,

Brant

Dec 17 2012
An Ultimate Question: Will God Protect My Kids?


Brant, my dog growled last night and I thought of this question and decided I'd ask you.. My husband travels a lot (like 2 weeks a month) and so I am home alone with my two babies, my dog, and my two cats, and all the scary noises and shadows that make you wonder how safe you really are.. I normally follow my dog's lead when I get worried as his hearing is better and he is very protective of us.. I read a prayer book to my babies at night (just a collection of prayers) and a couple of them contain "Protect my family", "watch over us", etc.. but here's my hiccup.. God lets bad things (horrible things) happen to good people.. to HIS people.. People are raped and murdered every day so how is trusting God to keep us safe supposed to happen?? Yeah, Daniel may have walked through a den of lions unscathed, but I'd be willing to bet Stephen felt every stone that was thrown at him.. So how do we sleep at night knowing the world is full of evil and that sometimes (a lot of times) that evil hurts good people?? Just wondering what your thoughts are on this topic..


Amy

 

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Amy,


Okay, here are my thoughts, such as they are. And I hope you don't mind the picture up there. I have no idea who that is. I just like putting pictures next to blog entries. Thank you. But back to the question, and I think a LOT of people are asking it, even if not out loud.

As a dad, I think the answer to this is scary. And this may not be true for you, it may not be exactly YOUR inner conversation, but the conversation can go something like this:

Honest question: If I am a good Christian, and have faith and stuff, will God protect my children?

Honest answer: He might. Or He might not.

Honest follow-up question: So what good is He?

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I think the answer is that He’s still good. But our safety, and the safety of our kids isn’t part of the deal. This is incredibly hard to accept on the American evangelical church scene, because we love families, and we love loving families, and we associate Godliness, itself, with cherishing family beyond any other earthly thing.

That someone would even challenge this bond, the primacy of the family bond, is offensive. And yet...

Jesus did it. And it was even MORE offensive, then, in a culture that wasn’t nearly so individualistic as ours. Everything was based on family: Your reputation, your status -- everything. And yet He challenges the idea my attachment to family is so important, so noble, that it is synonymous with our love for Him.

Which leads to some other spare thoughts...

We can make idols out of our families.

Again, in a “Focus on the Family” subculture, it’s hard to imagine how this could be. Families are good. 

But idols aren’t made of bad things. They used to be fashioned out of trees or stone, and those aren’t bad, either. Idols aren’t bad things, they’re good things, made Ultimate.

We make things Ultimate when we see the true God as a route to these things, or a guarantor of them. It sounds like heresy, but it’s not: The very safety of our family can become an idol.

God wants us to want Him for Him, not merely for what He can provide.

As wonderful as “mother love” is, we have to make sure it doesn’t become twisted.

And it can. It can become a be-all, end-all, the very focus of a woman’s existence. C.S. Lewis writes that it’s especially dangerous, because it seems so very, very righteous. Who can possibly challenge a mother’s love?

God can, and does, when it becomes an Ultimate. And it’s more likely to become a disordered Ultimate than many other things, simply because it does seem so very righteous. Lewis says this happens with patriotism, too.

Mother-love, even when disordered, and placed before a desire for God Himself, always looks perfectly justified. And that’s why it’s deadly.

Children are truly gifts from the Lord. And, still, God wants us to want Him for Him, not His gifts.

This is the whole point of “trust”.

We say “I trust Jesus”, or “Trust in the Lord, and...” and all that stuff. But here’s where the words actually mean something.

What if... the worst happens? Do you still trust Him? Do you believe it’s really the end of the story, if it does happen? Isn’t that the point of trust, itself, is that you’re stepping into mystery?

Job is the classic example. He had no idea what was going on, and he was left with only one thing: His trust in God, Himself. He did not know the big picture, and yet he believed... there has to be a picture, here, and it’s one that I can’t see. As we know from the story, he was right. There was a backstory, he just didn’t know what it was.

Do we really believe that God is good, and will ultimately set things right? The real “trust” comes, I’m afraid, when what we think is “right” in our present reality doesn’t happen.

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Not long ago, my wife and I visited the mom and dad of a little girl who was the victim of an unspeakably horrible crime. A relative was in their home for Thanksgiving, and went on a shooting spree, concluding with deliberately taking the girl’s life while she slept in her bed.

We sat in the little girl’s room, days after the shooting. The dad sat on her bed, and pulled down a beautiful, embroidered picture that was on the wall above it. He was crying, and pulled down the picture, and showed the back of it to us.

He still thinks God is good. Somehow.

“I feel like we’re only seeing this part right now, where it looks like chaos,” he said. “But someday we’ll see the front, where the stitches make more sense, and it will be beautiful. It doesn’t make sense, but I have to trust God.”

There are those who would say he’s naive, but I think this is the very essence of trust, and the whole point of it.

We see dimly now, and we know in part now, but we will someday see it all. This is trust.

And one last, radical thought:

By becoming a Christian, we say we are giving our lives to Christ. If that’s true -- if we’ve given our lives to Christ -- we’ve given it all. Everything.

And if that’s true, it includes -- and boy, is this tough to say, as a dad -- it includes our very children. They’re His.

No one can take anything, or anyone from His grip. They can take from ours, but not His.

So watch them sleep, and thank God for them, and know that they’re on loan. He loves them, more than you, even. And whatever happens, He’s got the big picture, we don’t.

That is trust.

Not sure if that helps... but those are some thoughts, for what they're worth...

Best,

Brant