Friday, July 29, 2016

Thorny as a thistle and ravenous as a rabbit

How country living makes me want God more

I used to dismiss the ideas I'd heard about how a rural life would bring us closer to God. It sounded like either a stuck-in-the-good-old-days bias, or hippie nonsense. After all, God assigns many people (currently, for the first time, the world's majority) to live in cities, and so it must be possible to live just as godly in an urban lifestyle as a rural one. And that is true, but I'm learning very profoundly about my need for godliness that I never felt before thanks to my husband's and my rural endeavors.

Our bushes are half-dead, and I'm less than half done pruning them. I just finished trimming the vines back from tearing up the eaves of the house. We spent I don't want to think about how many hours tilling, planting, watering, weeding, and putting a fence around our garden, and yet we still have more thistles, cocaburrs, devils claws, goatheads, and other assorted weeds than we do wanted plants, and the food-bearing plants are being eaten up by rabbits, birds, and bugs, while drying out in the heat. I've spent probably at least 10 hours training the dogs to watch over rather than kill the chickens, and then this morning I found them tormenting one that I had missed when I last gathered them into the pen. Plus of course they chew things they shouldn't, spread trash around when they think they haven't gotten enough attention, tear down the screen door, run off ...

Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground,for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
Genesis 3:18-19

All this trouble is the curse of sin. Christ reverses the curse, but how far the reversal goes for us today is up to us. There are stories of saints who were so close to God they could tell lions or bears what to do and they would docilely obey. There are theologians who theorize that without the fall men could not only do that, but even control the weather and such. Not so today; sin has broken our communion with God our Father, and with nature our charge. It doesn't obey us usually without force, and it would be a terrible thing if it did, because we would use that power destructively. We can do things about the thorns and thistles and problematic animals, but it is so much work. Exhausting work, that was meant to be pleasant. So having to do all this work makes me really wish I was a saint who could just tell my dogs once what to do, who could either make the weeds go somewhere else or make them become harmless, useful plants (maybe something the critters want more than our food!), and who could make it rain .2 inches every night.

While that doesn't sound like very pious reasoning (I want to be a godlier so life would be easier), it actually is the lesson I'm supposed to learn. The troubles of these living things reflect the troubles of me. My heart is thorny as a thistle and ravenous as a rabbit. I won't have the power to cultivate critters without force until my heart is cultivated, made a beautiful and vibrant sanctuary that praises God without dissonance. Agriculture makes me desire God desperately because it gives me a vision of what life is like if God reigns and fills it all. I hope my life, and the curriculum I develop, impart some of that desire to many others.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

When where we are is not good enough

What!? Traveling 6,000 miles just to pray!?

Yep. That's what Anthony, the founder of TEN3, is doing right now. He had once told his daughter he would travel across the world just to speak for ten minutes about the Lord. Soon after, he got an invitation to go to Ethiopia to speak for ten minutes! "What could I do but accept?" he reflects with a chuckle. It turns out, though, the invitation had a mistake; it was actually for ten days.

Even after that happened, though, he thought taking a big mission trip just to pray was ridiculous. After all, you can pray for anyone from wherever you are! Save the money and traveling exhaustion for what can't be done from a distance!

Oh how little we really know. If you've been following my blog posts, you know that this year is really stretching TEN3. It will make or break the vision we've been striving for all these years. And as we've been struggling to help our four locations get to a point of demonstrable viability, Anthony was impressed with the need to be physically with our partners in Africa ... to pray. But why? Why pray over there when we can just pray from home?

"Why" is usually not a good question to ask when it comes to prayer. Do we really understand why we need to pray at all? Prayer doesn't make God any more good or loving or just. We can't impose our will onto God. The wiser theologians I've read have all said that prayer is really about changing our hearts, making them line up with God's heart and thus able to receive and participate in God's grace active throughout the world. God lines up our hearts with His in prayer, and also in being together with our brothers and sisters, where we can see the hope in their eyes, feel the fears they face, hold them if they cry.

Jesus didn't save us from His throne in heaven. He saved us by coming to where we are, living and dying as one of us, and then rising from the dead that we may be with Him. So how can we think that we can save people from a distance? No, we must choose, as Paul did,

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.
(1 Corinthians 9:19-22)

It's somewhat a mystery, but God works through interaction, us being with Him and with each other. Please pray for Anthony and Rob, TEN3's worship leader, as they travel to Zambia and stay about ten days. They are taking computer equipment to help start a center as well while they are there, but their primary purpose is to pray with Pastor Collins Sakalunda and his colleagues who share his desire to reach their people through transformational education. I pray that in that time the Lord break down barriers that may be in people's hearts, that He grow brotherhood and resolve to serve, that He implant our vision of African churches overcoming the severe challenges they currently face and emerging as world leaders in education and the spread of the Gospel into everyone's heart whom He desires to be part of it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Excerpt from Pastors & Technology

As I mentioned a couple of entries ago, I have been working on material for a technology seminar for pastors. The first seminar was last week, and I'm eager to hear how it went. The seminar teaches pastors about the power that modern communication and media has ovr young people's minds, and warns them that they cannot simply condemn it because it can harm: once technology is here, it is here to stay. So, we teach them to use the tool with (as Tony Evans likes to call it) a Kingdom agenda. We teach them to use Bible software, do responsible Internet research, compose and share documents and slide presentations. We give them the Families & Media seminar, which looks at the different technologies that affect families, especially children and youth, and discusses ways to implement godly use of technology in the home. Finally, we give them ways they can use texting and social media to connect their members outside of the church's walls. Here's an excerpt:

We've shown you some tools that you can use to do what you do already in church with some extra resources and conveniences, and advised you how to use it to engage your congregants' attention rather than lose it. But one of the main reasons this seminar was developed was to discuss technology as a way of reaching out to young people. They may be mildly gratified if your church can use a computer to put lyrics or sermon notes on a screen, and it may reach them better because they are better able to follow along. But that makes little difference in keeping their interest in the church overall compared to social media.
The technology that has changed society the most since 20001 is the communication technology. We relate to each other and the world in different ways now than ever before. That is probably the most important reason for you to take this seminar. The minds of the young people in your congregation now are driven by texts and social posts, and so if you want to stay connected with them, you need to know how to communicate with them with their media.

We discussed in the story in the beginning of this seminar how powerful texting has become. Even older people who at first are averse to the idea, once they try it, find it a surprisingly desirable communication venue. It is fast and convenient, easy to store messages that might be forgotten over voice, easier to send out without interrupting other activities. ...
Emphasize that certain kinds of communication should only be done in person: apologies, condolences to a close friend who is going through tragedy, confrontations. A quick text is not sufficient for such complex matters. I (JennyBeth) recently offended a trusted teacher because I decided to express a delicate concern in a text rather than by voice. Without the extra sentences to explain myself, and the tone of voice and facial expressions to make it clear how I meant it, I did not realize until it was too late that it sounded disrespectful. Praise God, with some further communication later it was cleared up and forgiven, but learn from my mistake.
On the other hand, your church can make great use of texting. It is more useful than anything else for announcements that cannot wait until Sunday, for reminders, and for emergency prayer requests. People also make great use of texting all the time for just staying in touch when it's hard to catch other for a phone call. ...

Social media
Social media offers a great opportunity for discussing weighty issues that may not come up in regular conversation. For instance, in open discussion forums or pages, people invited into the discussion groups can post questions to which others can respond. This can lead to some very enjoyable and enlightening dialog, which is accessible to everyone in the group because they can read it one day, think about it overnight, and respond the next day; they don't have to be all in the same room at the same time, so the conversation can go on for days.
A constructive platform for social media would be a page or forum in which people could ask questions that the teachers of the church can answer. If people have questions about the Bible or theology or social issues or how to live, they could offer them there with the teachers then able to take time to compose a good answer from the Scriptures. This could be used to carry on conversations that members can ponder for days, rather than the shorter conversations in Sunday School that may be sooner forgotten. There would need to be good rules enforced, however, about who can contribute what, because while it's good to discuss opinions, there must be a clear line between who has authority to give answers and who can only give supplemental thoughts. Kay Arthur, a renowned Bible teacher, has said that the most destructive phrase in a church is, "What do you think?" when we should be asking, "What does God say?" If everyone is allowed to answer, then it could become a platform for ignorance rather than good instruction.

There's much more to it, obviously. We discuss much more opportunities to explore, and pitfalls to avoid. But I hope this served as a good peek into what we do. Don't forget, if you have a church, Christian school, or any other group in which you'd like to offer one of our seminars, we'd love to connect with you to make that happen!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Correspondence of the team hard-pressed but not crushed

From: Christie Dasaro
Subject: Pray for us
Dear Team, Pray for us, arm robbers vandalized EICT yesterday and took all our valuables. We need God's peace, because the trials are too heavy for us bear. We are grateful to God they did not harm anybody. Whatever God is doing, pray for us to stay focus and not to waver. Thank you very much for being there for us always.

From: JennyBeth
Subject: Re: Pray for us
Dear Lord, how many and evil are the afflictions which befall Your servants. We cry out to You night and day and yet they still come. Yet You are almighty, and Your word is good and sure. We pray that the evil these men have done may result in good, that EICT's ministry to Nigeria may recover better than it was, that the students may still get the education they are attempting, and that the perpetrators may be convicted and brought to repentance and faith in Your Son. For You daily turn the enemy's devices against him for Your glory. Use this incident too to draw our hearts to trust more in You; forgive me for all the things that I have worried about until this email reminded me that our only hope has to be in You, Lord.

From: Christie
Subject: Re:
Thank you very much JennyBeth for these encouraging words. Please continue to pray for our staff, because the incident has really devastated their morales, it is only God' s grace can help us to be strong again. I tried by God's grace to be strong in the morning, leading prayer sessions and many people visited to condole us, but I came home this evening with fever, my body aches. Pray for strength to be focused and productive this week as we have CTO graduation on July 3, 2016 which I have to travel to Kwoi and Pastors seminar July 4, 2016. God is Great and it pays to serve matter what satan brings our way. Thank you very much my dear sister for your prayers and encouragement.
Christie Dasaro, Head of TEN3 Nigeria