Friday, December 20, 2013

a Christmas story for the rich and poor

Lately, I've had the privilege of teaching our mission team kids' weekly Bible class and we've read through The Story, looking at the major events in Scripture to help them get the big picture of the biblical narrative.  These kids are enthusiastic and so smart - they often have their hands raised to answer questions even before they've finished coming out of my mouth!  But, one question I asked had them stumped.

We read the story of the birth of Jesus and then I got them to imagine the places they thought kings should be born.  They decided that royalty should begin their lives in palaces or castles or maybe nice hospitals with all the latest technologies.

So, why then, I asked, was the Son of God born in a barn?

Silence.  Puzzled faces.

Jesus has many titles - Lord, Savior, Christ, Messiah, Prince of Peace to name just a few.  But, that day we talked about what has to be my favorite title for Jesus - Immanuel.  He is 'God with us'.  I love the way that John 1:14 is rendered in the Message: "The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood."

From the very beginning of his life we see that he isn't like other kings.  He willingly took his first nap in a manger because no one could find him a room.  He truly identifies with us - even in poverty and rejection.

He was born in a barn because as Ben Witherington says, God especially loves the last, the least and the lost.

What is fascinating to me is how the birth of our King is portrayed in the different gospels.  In Luke's gospel, where Jesus is consistently on the side of the poor, the first people to hear the announcement of his birth are lowly shepherds (2:8-20).  Instead of taking the good news of the royal birth to rich and powerful, the angels go straight to a group of men whose word wouldn't be accepted in a court of law.  That would be like choosing to make a PR announcement to people sleeping under a bridge instead of getting the word out on CNN.  So, the shepherds are the first ones informed and they are intrusted with spreading the news.  The rich and wise men (the Magi), though, aren't even mentioned in Luke's account.

But, in Matthew's gospel where Jesus is presented as a sage and a prophet, the birth narrative skips over stories of smelly shepherds and tells us only of wise and wealthy men, visitors from the East, who come to pay their respects to the baby King (2:1-12).  Their journey is certainly not easy though, they experience difficulties and danger.  Although they are able to meet with rulers on their way in, they have to head back home in secret.

What strikes me is that the New Testament contains two versions of the Christmas story.  One about the rich and one about the poor.

What holds these tales together, though, are these three things:

1. God is with us and humbly chose to move into our neighborhood.

2. God is on the lookout for people humble enough, whether rich or poor, to hear his invitation.  So the church that truly reflects the nativity, as Don McLaughlin puts it, will include all kinds of people from all socioeconomic and racial backgrounds.

3. And God especially loves the last, the least and the lost - which, whether we are rich or poor, ultimately describes us all.

So, Merry Christmas to ALL!

Grace and Peace,

Monday, December 16, 2013

after the break-in

On December 1st, armed thieves broke into our home, stealing money and our computers.  We are extremely grateful that no one was seriously injured or killed.  Our family and our team is committed to staying and working among the Makua-Metto people of Mozambique, and we have been blessed by an outpouring of love and support from friends and family all over the world.  Rachel and I are trying to be realistic about how we are doing and recognize that we are still in the middle of processing this traumatic event.  Many people have asked how we are doing and it has been hard to give a complete answer. 

We’ve been flooded with visitors. In the first few days after the incident we had at least a hundred Mozambicans come to visit and cry with us. They’ve called this kind of visit ‘okituwela’ which is the word to describe the visits you make when someone is mourning a death. They’ve come to grieve and encourage us. One of the Mozambican preachers was here within a few hours and cried with his hand on my shoulder as he prayed for us. At least 10 men came on Sunday from the Evangelical Assembly of God to pray for us and bring about 10 U.S. dollars to help with our losses. Others brought flour and peanuts and bajias (small balls made of fried bean paste) for the girls. A man that barely knows us sent over bread, jam and a jar of mayonnaise. Women sit and cry with Rachel. One man walked barefoot from a nearby town and started crying as soon as he saw me. Two other men rode their bikes from another town to check on us after hearing about it over the phone – “It wasn’t enough to just hear that you were okay, we had to see you with our eyes because the whole village is crying for you and we needed to be able to tell them that we saw you alive.” I have talked often with one of the Mozambican church members about the need to be ‘strong and courageous’ and I received that reminder in a text message from him as I drove to the police station Sunday morning. People have sat with us and told us their own stories of suffering and tales of God’s faithfulness in the midst of pain. One man who has been a follower of Jesus for just a couple years, rode his bike from another town to deliver a gigantic bag of flour and shared a testimony of Christ’s provision in hardship to me and the others present.

All these visitors have reminded me that we are really doing ministry ‘among’ or ‘with’ the Makua people. It is not just us doing ministry ‘to’ them. They are ministering to us as well and that is how it should be.

Rachel and I are still feeling a bit shaken.  This past week we resumed a more normal schedule but we still are feeling the effects.  We’ve both felt like it has been harder to hear and speak Makua.  It’s like our brains are moving slow, I’ve felt like we’re swimming in molasses and been harder to make normal decisions as quickly.

We are determined that God can be glorified even in this.  Our God has this amazing habit of turning bad things into something good.  He took 400 years of slavery in Egypt and turned it into a miraculous exodus for the Hebrews.  He took the betrayal and death of Jesus and turned it into salvation for the world.  So, we are resolved that this same God can surely redeem our recent experience – He can take it and use it for good.

Right now we are requesting prayers for healing of our hearts and minds.  We need prayers for peace and wisdom for our whole team, especially the teachers, Kara and Bekah, who have been affected by this event as well.

Thanks to so many who have been praying for us and carrying us through this experience.

Grace and Peace,