Sep 14 2011
Going Where God Lives

Shaun Groves Third World Symphony iTunes-banner-125x1

I hope you've heard Shaun Groves

I don't mean that you've heard his music, though it's outstanding, and has landed him on the cover of the old CCM Magazine and blah blah blah. Or even his incredible new, indie stuff, from "Third World Symphony."  When I say I hope you've heard him, I mean, I hope you've HEARD Shaun Groves.  Really heard him. 

What he has to say, particularly with regard to God's heart for the poor, the marginalized, the weak, and the vulnerable, is wonderful news: for them, and for us.  As Shaun is fond of saying, we are not merely saved "from", we are saved "for", and that's to do the work of the Kingdom.  We GET to do this.  It's way more exciting than a teaching.  It's a mission.

So I hope you've heard Shaun, loud and clear, even if you didn't know he was a big-shot Christian pop star-feller.  Or is.  I don't know, or care.  I'm not sure he does, either. 

He asked some blogger-types to host a "blog-tour" with the release of "Third World Symphony", and to write about a bit of our own engagement with the "third world", and how we saw Jesus at work.  I've written much about this theme, over time, and as I say, what I've seen in developing nations hasn't just changed my mind on things, or how we spend our money, or my mindset on this or that.  It's done much more. 

It's helped me fall in love with God.

---------

Where God Lives

WRITTEN FROM NAIROBI, KENYA, 2008

(First, before today's blog entry, let me note that I'm typing to the strains of a tuxedo-clad young Kenyan on the piano in our hotel.  I'm sitting in the lobby, and he's regally playing -- of course -- "You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille", by Kenny Rogers.  Many things don't translate cross-culturally, but -- make no mistake -- Kenny translates.  Kenny crosses all boundaries)
 
Susan leaned over, from her seat in the van.
 
"Notice where the children are playing -- look out the left window," she said.  Susan knows this area well, she's worked for Compassion for years.
 
They were playing next to a pile of trash that's well over their heads, and seems to stretch for miles.  The stench hit us immediately.
 
"They put all these schools next to the dump.  All of Nairobi dumps its trash here," she said.  Children of Dandora -- another sprawling, Where-the-Streets-Have-No-Name-type slum -- scavenge through the refuse, looking for food, or something to sell.  Anything.
 
We stopped, and
walked in a Dandora Baptist Church, where children at a Compassion project were singing.  Their voices bounced off the walls, singing praises to God.  Then we met about dozen people in the church who are suffering from AIDS.  The whole community is suffering -- every family, one way or the other -- from AIDS. 
 
A young man -- they called him "Timothy" -- stood up to introduce himself to us.
 
We could look out the windows to the right and left as he spoke, and see children in the filth.  We could see dozens of vultures flying directly overhead, over the trash, over the dirt, over the disease-riddled, dark cardboard homes.  Welcome to Dandora.
 
"Welcome to Dandora, where God lives."
 
Where God lives?
 
Circling vultures.  Men, women and children crying out with disease, children searching through stinking trash for anything...where God lives.
 
Timothy has lived his whole life here.  Someone sponsored him through Compassion International, when he was four.  He's now in his twenties.  He's now has a degree in Computer Science.  He now teaches kids in the program about computers.
 
He knows where God lives.  He knows God does not run away from suffering.  He moves closer.  Dandora is suffering, and God gets His mail here.
 
He also teaches the children -- who are where he once was --about the love of God.
 
"I understand the love of God.  I understand how a God, whom I have not seen, can love me.  This is because someone, whom I have not seen, loved me enough to sponsor me.  I understand the love of God."
 
Where God lives.

Sep 07 2011
On Dealing with Crazy Christians

This was written for a Christian radio industry site, and certainly isn't for everybody.  But it might mean something to you, too, in your realm.

------

Dear Other Radio People,

First of all, thank you for your work as an Other Radio Person.  This is the hardest kind of radio to do, this “Christian radio” thing.  Most of us who’ve done other formats figure that out, the first time we say something that didn’t… come out… quite right.  We figure this out, subtly, because when we say something the wrong way in this format, someone calls and tells us we are masters of deceit, leading thousands of people to eternal punishment.

In another format, when we mess up, we’re just stupid.  And that’s it.

Anyway, I’ve had to deal with a lot of crazy people, and crazy people can take it to a new level of crazy when they dish out regular-brand crazy with a heapin’ helpin’ of Bible-talk.  Radio friends have even asked me, “How do you handle it?”  And I admit, I’ve gotten frustrated with people.  I wish they’d go away, but only after replacing their “‘Fireproof’ is the finest film ever made!” selves with chai-sipping N.T. Wright fans.

In other words, I wish they’d go away, and I’d be left with more people like… me.

That’s a problem.  If this is ministry, it’s not about me.  Nor is it about my elitism, my biases, or my desire to feel superior to the people who call to wrap up every discussion, every question, no matter what, with “Jesus”, “The Bible”, or “God”.

So here’s what I remind myself:

1)  These people are family.

Because they are.  Growing up, I said things many times that embarrassed my much-cooler brother.  But I was always his brother, and the church is — truly — family.  I’m glad he put up with me, and still puts up with me.  Family is like that.

2)  They’re family, but I will not let these people define Jesus for me.

Yes, there are horrible legalists in the world, and some of them listen to Christian radio.  But while they may embody a particular American church subcultural type, they are not the total picture of the word “Christian”.  The “median” Christian, statistically speaking, is not even American.  She’s a poor woman in Africa, and hasn’t heard of Casting Crowns, Night of Joy, or WWJD? bracelets.  Fine things, all, but I’m not going to confuse our products and subculture with Jesus.

3)  Some of these people are new to the faith.

And they’re excited about it.  They should be.  And they just turned on a Christian station, and they’re elated.  The songs are speaking to them, deeply.  They didn’t even know music could be like this!  They want to hear more about God!  And then I come on, and I talk about Jesus — or about what my dog ate last night.

There’s a reason for this.  The dog thing is life, too, and I’m going to represent life, highs, lows, and even the amusing mundane, on the show.  Christ fills everything with meaning! — but I’m not going to hold it against the listener, who may be a new believer, from not getting it just yet.

You and I have no idea how long that caller has been a believer, or if she even is one.  She may be merely playing church on the “church station”, and know no better.

4)  The church has always been full of freaks.

And thank you, Lord, for that.  Otherwise, I don't get in. 

I don’t know who said it first, but the Church has been described as H.C.E.:  ”Here Comes Everybody”.  The whole motley lot of us, sprinting and jumping and limping and being wheeled and carried in on a gurney.  Cool, uncool – doesn’t matter.  Just glad you’re here.  And it’s been that way since Jesus hand-picked his first disciples.

So why would we expect any different?  ”But some of my callers and emailers seem kind of simple and needy, and, even more so than typical people, and — ”

Well, Jesus’ message has always appealed first to the needy.  Always.  Don’t be shocked, and don’t be surprised, either, when you visit a doc’s office, and the people inside seem sicker than those outside.  Makes sense.  So we can quit reacting to it.

5)  Diminishing them is just a way for me to feel superior.

And I’m not.  And you’re not, either.

Thank God.  Here comes everybody, including you and me.

Aug 23 2011
Here's to "Religious Leaders", Jesus-Style

 

So Americans are losing faith in "religious leaders". 

I'm not.

I mean, sure, if "religious leaders" means office-holders at religious organizations who love being experts or "sought-after speakers" or CEO/visionaries or who build churches around their own personal awesomeness, well then, okay, you've got me.  Just being honest:  I have lost some faith in that kind of leadership.

But not leadership, Jesus-style.  No, for those people, those servant-hearted men and women whose names you may never see on a book at a Christian Bookstore (TM), I thank God.  I've not lost faith in them.  They've shown me how God is at work, and the way He works is shocking:  He raises the humble, the weak, the unlikely.  He says "THIS is how you lead", and then He washes the feet of a motley bunch of liars, betrayers, and sinners with no earthly status whatsoever. 

That's what Jesus called "authority".  It's upside-down style. 

So -- and I know I'll sound like the beer commercial, but:  Here's to you, Jesus-style leaders.  I may not know who you are, by name.  Not here.  Not yet.  Good thing God knows who you are, though, and He doesn't need you to be on a stage, or under lights, and He doesn't need to read your book, to know you. 

In my little list below, "Leaderman" will likely accomplish some impressive things, and earn some applause.  But -- speaking for myself, at this point of my life?   I can't get enough of the other kind.  So here's to you, servant leaders.

-----------


Servant Leader:  Has something to say
LeaderMan:  Wants a platform on which to say something


-----------

LeaderMan:  You almost feel you know his family, because he's your Leader
Servant Leader:  You allow him to influence you, because you know his family

-----------


LeaderMan: Wants you to know he's a Leader
Servant Leader:  You're not sure *he* knows he's a leader


-----------


LeaderMan:  Loves the idea of the Gospel, and the idea of The Church
Servant Leader: Loves God and the actual individual people God brings across his path


-----------


LeaderMan:  A great speaker, but self-described as, "Not really a people person."
Servant Leader:  Makes himself a people person


-----------


LeaderMan:  Helps you find where God is leading you in his organization
Servant Leader:  Helps you find where God is leading you


-----------


LeaderMan:  Gets together with you to talk about his vision
Servant Leader:  Just gets together with you


-----------


LeaderMan:  Resents "sheep stealing"
Servant Leader:  Doesn't get the "stealing" part, since he doesn't own anyone to begin with


-----------


LeaderMan:  Wants the right people on the bus
Servant Leader:  Wants to find the right bus for you, and sit next to you on it


-----------


Servant Leader:  Shows you his whole heart
LeaderMan:  Shows you a flow chart


-----------


LeaderMan:  A visionary who knows what the future looks like
Servant Leader:  Knows what your kitchen looks like


-----------


LeaderMan:  Everybody must be excellent!
Servant Leader:  Excellent at welcoming everybody, even the inept


-----------


LeaderMan:  Talks about confronting one another in love
Servant Leader:  Actually confronts you in love


-----------


LeaderMan:  Impressed by success and successful people
Servant Leader:  Impressed by faithfulness


-----------


LeaderMan:  Invests time in you, if you are "key people"
Servant Leader:  Wastes time with you


-----------


LeaderMan:  Reveals sins of his past
Servant Leader:  Reveals sins of his present


----------


LeaderMan:  Gives you things to do
Servant Leader:  Gives you freedom


-----------


LeaderMan:  Leads because of official position
Servant Leader:  Leads in spite of position


-----------


LeaderMan:  Deep down, threatened by other Leaders
Servant Leader:  Has nothing to lose