Friday, September 27, 2013

Dr. Seuss and Breaking Bad

In the dark theater, the audience watched in anticipation as the movie reached its climax.  On the screen, the antagonist hung precariously over the ravine and as the hero clutched the bad guy’s arm, he contemplated his choice.  Would he rescue his enemy or would he let him fall to a death he deserved?  While the audience held their breath, anticipating the hero’s decision, the silence was pierced by a little boy’s shrill voice hollering out his own judgment on what should be done with the villain:

“Kill him!”

I was that little boy.  Now while I do not think of myself as a violent person, that story reminds me how all humans hunger for justice and punishment.  As children, we cry out in protest if something isn’t fair.  As adults, we claim that we want people to get what they deserve… well, maybe we want other people to get what they deserve.   This, though, is not the gospel story...

To read more, check out the rest of my recent post at Story Warren. Then be sure and poke around their website - they have some great resources for encouraging creativity in children.

Grace and Peace,


Thursday, September 19, 2013

When heaven and earth have become one creation

During my recent trip to South Africa to get the new truck (again let me say thank you, thank you, thank you to all who contributed!), our three year old, Katie, accumulated a large pile of books for us to read together upon my return.  Some of her recent favorites are just plain silly and fun: the adventures of a snowman and a little girl and another one about a love bitten cat named Splat. But, one book that I’m glad has consistently found its way into Katie’s stack is called What about Heaven? by Kathleen Long Bostrom and illustrated by Elena Kucharik.  It’s part of the “Little Blessings” series of books.  A lot of Christian children’s books unfortunately have pretty bland theology but this set is really, really good.  Here is my favorite page:

Recent popular and more scholarly reflections on the topic of heaven have given more attention to the promise of a new heaven and new earth, and it’s encouraging to see this idea show up in books written for toddlers.  The perception seems to be shifting away from thinking about heaven as a place that we hope to escape to after we die and towards viewing heaven as the redemption and transformation of this world into the fulfillment of God’s intention.  One of my former professors, John Mark Hicks, says that “this has been God’s intent from the beginning.  He created an earth to be inhabited and filled by human beings who would image him and who would also share fellowship with him (Isaiah 45:18).”

Heaven shouldn’t be seen as the great getaway, fleeing to another realm up above.  Instead, heaven means the renewal of this one, down below.  It’s the answer to Jesus’ prayer for God’s will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven.   At the end of all things, we are told that “creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21 NIV).  In 2 Peter 3 we see that in order for that liberation to occur, the earth will be need to be purified by fire - not consumed, but cleansed and rid of impurities.  And this teaching is a source of hope - “in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of the righteous” (2 Peter 3:13 NIV).

One of the most dynamic, and perhaps misunderstood, passages is 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 where we learn that at the end of all things we’ll ‘meet’ the Lord in the air.  Rogers notes that “this word had a technical meaning in the Hellenistic world related to the visits of dignitaries to cities where the visitor would be formally met by the citizens, or a deputation of them, who went out from the city and would then escort him back into the city” (p. 479).  So, Paul tells us that after a joyous reunion in the air, we’ll accompany Jesus back down to earth as he takes his throne here on the renewed world.  It would be unfortunate if we focused so much on our going ‘up’ that we missed the point that God’s focus has been on coming ‘down’.

At the end of the Bible, we see again this beautiful picture of heaven coming down, crashing down, on earth (Rev. 21:1-5).  While this idea is painted in various ways (it’s a city, it’s a bride, etc.), the point is that God’s dream will be fulfilled and the Creator will dwell with his people (Rev. 22:1-5).

Certainly, we won't be able to understand everything on this side of eternity.  But ultimately, no matter how everything shakes out regarding ‘where’ we will be and ‘what’ the nature of heaven really is… the important question, the thing I want to make sure that Katie understands, is the ‘who’ - that in our promised eternal dwelling will be in the presence of the King.

Grace and Peace,

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Hobbits and Homes

I don’t have a radical conversion story.  Jesus didn’t rescue me when I hit rock bottom in a cold jail cell.  The decision to become his disciple was made when I was twelve in front of family and friends.

I haven’t struggled with understanding grace.  God didn’t have to shake me up to realize that he forgives me and loves me unconditionally.  I saw that modeled by pretty terrific parents who made it clear that they were sticking with me… no matter what.  

I didn’t grow up around people dominated by evil.  The Holy Spirit didn’t have to do miracles to reveal divine power for transformation.  God’s people have lovingly corrected me when I’ve made mistakes.

Now with this kind of ‘boring’ back story, I sometimes wonder what I’m doing here in northern Mozambique.  As I’ve detailed in other places (link) the Makua-Metto people struggle with rampant drunkenness, infidelity, poverty, and demonic oppression.

And these are not things I experienced as a kid on my cul-de-sac in the American suburbs.

Maybe that’s why I’ve found myself identifying with Bilbo Baggins.

At one point in the film The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, Bilbo is missing and the dwarves expect that he’s run off.  In fact, our main character has considered abandoning his companions, but thinks better of it. When Bilbo suddenly reappears, the Dwarf King questions his motives for returning.

Thorin: “Why did you come back?

Bilbo:     “I know you doubt me.  I know you always have.  And you’re right, I often think of Bag End - I miss my books… and my armchair… my garden.  See, that’s where I belong.  That’s home.  And that’s why I came back, ‘cause you don’t have one… a home.  It was taken from you.  But, I will help you take it back if I can.” 

On my best days, this scene captures the essence of why I’m here.  Like Bilbo, I feel unqualified, unprepared and honestly, I often just want to go home.  I miss my family… I miss my language… I miss my food.  That’s where I belong.  That’s home.  Now, I know the American version of Christianity isn’t perfect, but parts of it gave me great and lovely gifts.  And those sections, those places, are ones that I am glad to call home. 

So, as strange as it sounds, when I’m thinking clearly, it’s that strong sense of home which makes me want to stay over here. 

Instead of finding their home in the Kingdom of God, many of our Mozambican friends find themselves homeless, wandering through a land dominated by the forces of a different kingdom – one ruled by sin, death and Satan.

Like the dwarves in Tolkien’s story, the Makua-Metto people’s true home has been taken from them.

And that’s what makes me want to stay here… and do my best “to help them take it back if I can.”

Grace and Peace,


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Missionaries and Science Fiction

The weary traveler arrives by aircraft, landing on the outskirts of a bustling metropolis.  While in some ways this city reminds him of home, he is disoriented by the new language and strange clothing.  People stop and stare at him, touching his hair and skin.  He feels unsettled, wondering how he will be able to fit in and how he can find people who can help him accomplish his mission.

Another voyager awakens in what seems to be a different age.  She seems to have traveled back in time as the people surrounding her use antique tools and weapons.  They cook over open fires and prepare foods with strange names and smells.  She is intimidated, wondering how she'll be able to survive in this new environment.

The two plot summaries detailed above could describe the latest movie releases in the science fiction genre or they could be read as descriptions of the challenges facing cross-cultural missionaries.  There are a number of similarities between frontier mission work and science fiction stories; from encountering new cultures, to learning how to live in alien environments, to the significant potential for misunderstanding and unintended consequences, there is much they have in common. 

This is an excerpt from my recent essay, "To Boldy Go: Why Cross-Cultural Missionaries should read Science Fiction" in the Missio Dei Journal.  To read more click here.

Grace and Peace,

(Thanks to Brian Oliver for his picture of a Baobab tree)