(I’m happy to introduce my youngest daughter, Holly Dahlstrom, to you. Her joy, courage, and love of people inspire me. Her capacity to hear God’s voice and follow is a reminder to us all that “a better story” awaits, if we’ll but listen for the voice of our Maker and follow. You can follow all her Rwandan adventures throughout the summer here.)
CEZ, OVC, ‘letter of invitation’, MOU, developing world, US Embassy, PEPFAR, cultural assimilation.
These are words I never expected to use in a single conversation. Yet I found myself on the phone this morning speaking with the volunteer specialist for World Relief discussing the final details for my upcoming journey to Rwanda. How did I find myself here? The answer is simple. To some the answer I will give is frustrating and naive. To me it is merely the truth. I would not have found myself using these terms on skype this morning if it had not been for God’s calling on my heart two years ago to do something very new.
I sometimes think that “call” is a term overused in Christian culture. I always wondered how I was supposed to know if I was being “called” to do something or if I just felt like it. Was God going to speak to me from the clouds like He seemed to do in the Old Testament? Would it be through miracles and signs that I knew the feelings I was feeling were from God? I truly never understood the concept of “calling” until I was in the midst of my own call. One night I went to bed living my life as usual and the next day I woke up and realized that my life was never going to look the way I thought it would.
Graduation is in the air, and David Brooks’ excellent article about the wrong-headed speeches he’s heard this graduation season is a great jumping-off point for a very important conversation. Brooks makes the important observation that today’s generation is entering a world of unemployment and an unprecedented convergence of challenges on several fronts. But, as Brooks notes, “College students are raised in an environment that demands one set of navigational skills, and they are then cast out into a different environment requiring a different set of skills, which they have to figure out on their own.” In other words, having been raised in an educational zoo, today’s students are released into the “jungle” that is the real world. What skills are needed to navigate this transition?
The preponderance of graduation speeches all follow the same flow according to Brooks: “Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself. This is the litany of expressive individualism, which is still the dominant note in American culture.” Of course the problem is that this mantra doesn’t work for anyone… Christian, or not so much. This is because the hyper-individualism that built the American dream is presently running on fumes, as the middle-class disappears, prisons overflow, human trafficking continues nearly unchecked, soil erodes, water tables decline, and on and on and on it goes. It’s not that there aren’t heart warming success stories here and there; but our commitment to follow our dreams and passions, and each of us following our own inner drummer hasn’t exactly gotten us closer to shalom. There are other options:
Yes. Of course. Westboro Baptist church is planning a protest for President Obama’s visit to Joplin, Mo., to inflict a little hate and misery, in Jesus’ name. That the rapture didn’t happen this past Saturday was in the news as much as if it had happened. And people are still debating whether Rob Bell is saved.
This is the stuff that generates tweets, blogs, Facebook fodder, debates, ill-will, and the general opinion that people of faith are more interested in their own internal squabbles than doing much that’s meaningful in the world. It’s the stuff that’s good for readership because everybody loves a scandal, a controversy, a debate. The cumulative effect of this, though, has been to give our larger culture a caricatured view of Christ followers, painting us as self-absorbed, combative, fearful, arrogant—and painting all of us with these colors, as I shared here.
This not just a terrible pity; it’s a terrible lie. The truth of the matter is that God is making His good reign visible in some rather remarkable ways these days but, as is usually the case, the real redemptive work doesn’t get much press. It’s hidden, like a mustard seed. It’s there though: I think of my friend Walter, who’s focused on freeing women from sexual slavery in Ghana. Then there’s Curtis and his band, who make beautiful music and donate some of their profits to International Justice Mission. Let’s not forget Laura, whose movie has spawned the Rwanda Initiative. World Relief? One Day’s Wages? Aurora Commons? I could go on, and on, and on.
…and those colors aren’t personal peace and prosperity (“give me my stuff and leave me alone”), individualism, and “heaven when I die.” Or perhaps I should say, those aren’t God’s primary colors. I love how God has taken all the complexity of religion, and boiled it down to the essence, down to three imperatives, three colors:
Do justice – like my friends at International Justice Mission who are working to end human slavery, or my friend Walter who’s saving women out of slavery in Ghana, or my friend Eugene, with his One Day’s Wages campaign, or our church’s Spilling Hope campaign.
Love mercy – like Gahigi, whose story is told in this movie. He’s lost 142 family members to the Rwandan genocide, and yet, he’s now not only forgiven the perpetrators, he’s become a pastor who mediates reconciliation between perpetrators and victims in Rwanda. I met him this winter, and he’s one of the most joyful men I’ve met, wealthy in ways we simply don’t understand. The Mentoring Project is another picture of the color of mercy.
Walk humbly with God – With the debt and dollar crises, war and terror, unemployment and loneliness, it’s terribly easy to get caught in a web of fear, uncertainty, and anxiety these days. Others just withdraw, waiting for Jesus to come fix it all. I’m convinced that those who are yoked with their Creator are granted gifts, insight, and capacity to live not only fearlessly, but creatively, blessing this world with the colors of hope.
It’s time for people who follow Christ to get beyond arguments about emergent church vs. neo-Calvinist, and arguments about heaven and hell. It’s time to get beyond the polarizing language adopted from political dialogue, with people withdrawing into the their corners to shoot Bible grenades at the other side. It’s time to move beyond our reputation as being only AGAINST things, and become a people of hope, known by our passion for justice, mercy, and intimacy.
This is what my new book, available today, is about.
There’s a better way…a better story…better colors. Join the conversation here: click on like and download a free chapter.
The canvas of our world? It’s waiting for the right colors.
It’s available for all of us. It’s not contingent (thank God) on circumstances. It’s able to move us, faster than a glacier, but slower than jet, towards a quietness and confidence that enables us to be people of hope. Every. Single. Day.
I’m talking about the new covenant, which is the topic of our present sermon series at the church where I teach. Who’d have thought that, in the midst of career crises, housing crises, financial crises, global security crises on three continents, and personal crises of every stripe, there would be a way to live—not above it all (in some sort of Pietist separation with nothing more than a longing to get out of here and get to heaven), but in the midst of it all, as people of hope.
Paul exemplified this in the way he lived with such confidence and joy right in the midst of challenges and setbacks. The came could be said of my friend Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who lived so courageously right in the midst of all the darkness and insanity that was the Third Reich (if you’re in Seattle, don’t miss the play about his life). If Paul could exemplify hope in the midst of imprisonment, and Bonhoeffer in the midst of a culture plagued with a genocidal maniac, I’m thinking there’s got to be a way for me to exemplify hope too, right in the midst of my setbacks and challenges, which pale in comparison.
The principles of the New Covenant are simple to articulate:
1. Believe that Christ lives in you. Believe it enough to say “thank you” every morning for who you are, now that you’re “in Christ.” You’ve been given everything pertaining to life and godliness, so you don’t need to ask for things like wisdom, strength for your circumstances, or joy. You need to thank God for what he’s already given and believe that, in God’s time and way, these elements will find expression through you.
2. Thank God for the day ahead. Pray something like this: “Thank you God, that this is the day you’ve made. Thank you that you’ve given me everything I need in this day to face the challenges that will come my way. I commit the day to you, thanking you that come what may, I’ll be able to display your character in some measure.”
“What what happens if this doesn’t work?” is the question I hear all the time.
“And what happens if your kale doesn’t germinate in a day?” is the answer I give all the time. But Paul said it this way, and Jesus said it this way—so maybe you should check their stuff out first. All three of us are saying the same thing though: we’re all saying that transformation happens—but now as quickly or visibly as we goal setting, driven, objective minded, introspective, efficiency obsessed, people would like. Stick with the new covenant, and over time (I can say this now that I’m old) Christ in way will find a way to become visible through you—increasingly, eventually, patiently.
Learning this is more important than what you do for a living, what’s in your bank, who you will vote for, whether or not you believe in predestination, and even who you believe will be in heaven or hell. And yet, in spite of its importance, the simple truth of learning what it means that Christ lives in you remains in the shadows, while church conferences focus on the techniques of starting new church (80% of which will fail, according to statistics), and why it’s important to be “emergent” or “anti-emergent,” “Calvinist” or “Anti-Calvinist,” “mega” or “anti-mega.” These conversations have value in the same way that there’s value in debating whether it’s best to run barefoot or wear shoes. It’s a great debate if you run—but pointless if you don’t.
Hear me in this: If we’re not actively practicing the truth of the new covenant, we’re not even running!
Isn’t it time to get in the race? I welcome your thoughts.
PS: Though I don’t normally do this, but I commend my sermon on this subject to you, available here, because I believe it’s so foundational to everything it means to follow Christ. Please listen— and pass it on to others who will benefit!
In about 11 hours our team from Seattle will board a flight that will take us (eventually, by the 5th airport) to Seattle, and we’ll be home, our exploratory trip of this region completed. We came here in order to meet some people who are doing marvelous development work and to visit the sites of wells our church has funded, some of them completed already, and one just getting started on the day we arrived in Uganda.
We encountered so much in the previous 8 days that it seems like a lifetime ago when last I was in Seattle. Before we leave, I wanted to gather my thoughts for a brief few minutes and share them with you. Woven into the fabric of this trip there have been cords have new friendships, amazing conversations, wrenching poverty, and infectious joy. I hope to share much more from these categories in the days ahead. But above all else, this has been a trip of receiving, learning, and being challenged.
1. Development is different than Relief – Our team read the book “When Helping Hurts”, and learned, even before landing, of the substantial distinction between relief and development. Development consists of initiatives which will move people towards sustainability and independence. Relief is an intervention to stem a crisis. This is an important distinction and conversation, because as the book “Dead Aid” addresses, too much relief creates a dependency mentality and can ultimately have the effect paralyzing communities rather than empowering them. Armed with this simple principle it was tremendous to see local initiatives, supported by local village churches (usually working together ecumenically), to change the culture, leading their communities in next steps, not towards entrenched dependency, but empowerment. This doesn’t make relief an unimportant matter, but it’s vital, whether working on Aurora are in Rwanda, to see that the ultimate goal is empowerment.
2. Poverty is complex – One village stopped drinking from their new well because their poop suddenly became solid. For the first time in their lives they didn’t have diarrhea, but since diarrhea was their “normal”, the new normal was perceived as wrong. Getting to the “New Normal”, whether that means fidelity in marriage, drinking healthy water, brushing one’s teeth, practicing genuine democracy, or moving from self-interests and independence (our American normal) to interdependence and communitarian values, doesn’t just happen with a snap of the fingers. Whether it’s the poverty of relationships in our own country, or the material poverty we’ve seen these past days, it’s vital to understand that many factors have created the culture, that long term solutions take some time, that change is challenging.
3. Joy is available everywhere. In the midst of poverty beyond description, our team gathered for worship this past Sunday. After the offering, some began singing and within minutes most of the congregation was up dancing including me. Three little boys, less than 7 years old, made their way over to me and we danced together – pure joy on their faces as they lived in the only moment they know or care about – this one. Without the trinkets of civilization, I’m guessing billions know what we have a hard time perceiving, let alone believing; that joy comes from relationships. Without skiis or bikini waxes, without even a bicycle for transport, without sanitation or infrastructure, joy’s still available. Every time I travel outside the US I’m reminded of the truth that my material wealth blinds me to the reality of my relational poverty, and I’ve a feeling I’m not alone.
4. Step by step – The complexity of it, the immensity of it, the slowness of progress, the powerful interests that are threatened by movements towards wholeness combine to potentially paralyze our hearts. Yesterday I, and the rest of our team, were sitting on the platform with the 1st lady of Uganda (another story for later) and while she gave her speech (which included a thank you to Bethany Community Church for the wells we’ve provided) I was able to look, behind a thousand African faces, out to the hillsides beyond, where my eye caught two women walking, with loads on their heads. In all likelihood, they’ll never see anything within more than a five mile radius of their huts, maybe ten. As they walked with their loads, patiently, step by step, I realized that whether you are addressing global poverty, trying to live more simply yourself, seeking deeper friendships, or simply trying to pray five minutes a day, nothing happens fast!
There’s a saying: Americans are on time. Africans have time. Indeed – they’ve time to laugh, dance, sing their hearts out in joy, time to live. Movement and progress require patience. They’ve got it. I need it, maybe you do too.
See you, hopefully, soon.
Life, it seems, is coming at us faster than ever. Longer hours at work, more stress, commutes, repairs, exercise, relationships, and endless social connections that encourage us to remain linked in, with updated status reports and timeless tweets – add it all up and life can feel like a video game. It’s coming at you and you’re reacting. Reacting, though, is much different than living. When I’m reacting, I end up preaching because I’m expected to say something, rather than because I’ve something to say. I feel scattered, ineffective, stressed.
I’ve felt this way too much in 2010, and so I’m heading back to “first things”, foundational truths that are considered foundational precisely because life can be built on them. I Samuel 30 tells the story of a time in David’s life when he felt overwhelmed. After some enemies ransacked a village, stealing his wives and children, he was overwhelmed with grief. On top of that, his few faithful friends were so angry over the kidnapping that they blamed David for it and there was talk of stoning him to death. It was a bad week. We all have them, though not often to that degree.
The first thing David did, we learn, was he “strengthened himself in the Lord”. This is the best first thing any of us could do, before diet, exercise, yoga classes, new goals and objectives, or attending another seminar. Billions are made each year by capitalizing on our fundamental discontent – our sense of dis-ease that sends us looking in a thousand directions for ways to make life better. I’d like to humbly suggest that whatever you’re resolving to do differently in 2011, if you don’t have any habits that help you strengthen yourself in the Lord, start there. Specifically:
I resolve to pray 5 minutes a day – at least 5 days a week.
If that sounds overwhelming, here are five options for structuring your five minutes of prayer:
1. write your prayers in a journal. This helps you keep track of your prayers and see progress (or areas where you might be stuck).
2. meditative prayer means that you memorize a prayer, like the Lord’s prayer, or the 23rd Psalm, or the prayer of St. Francis. Then, having memorized it, you say it slowly, offering a phrase (aloud or silently) with each exhaling breath.
3. contemplative prayer – which means, practically, sitting silently and envisioning the reality that you are wrapped in the arms of a loving God. You don’t need to say anything, and when your mind wanders (it will) you simply return to pondering God’s loving presence. Another way of doing this is to repeat a word that God might give you. I’ll sometimes pray this way: “I receive your wisdom Lord – thank you” or instead of wisdom, maybe ‘peace’, ‘patience’, ‘courage’ or whatever is needed for the day.
5. talk to God – if you’re not a journal keeper, then just talk with God. If you need some structure to the conversation, try categories: a) Give thanks for a blessing you’ve experience (whether a sunrise, or good conversation, or….) b) confess where you’ve failed or are struggling, and thank God for his forgiveness c) request from God things that are own your heart, as you express your need for provision, direction, healing d) pray for others, asking God to respond to situations in your sphere of concern.
I don’t want to guilt anyone into this. I do want everyone who reads this to know that I’ve never met anyone who has grown into a sense of genuine intimacy with God who would easily walk away from their time with God in prayer. What’s more, habits of prayer have marked those whose lives have overflowed with blessing of Christ, for countless generations. You don’t “skip prayer” and know intimacy with God. Prayer has been foundational for millions, for generations. So simple. So transformative. So rare.
We’re in a state of information overload and as a result, it’s easy for us to end up worrying about many things in the world: money, sexuality, terrorism, which party is in power, how to lose weight, what will happen to the economy (and our jobs), singleness, marriage, children, aging parents. As we flit from worry to worry, the life gets sucked out of us, and we find ourselves weary, confused, overwhelmed – at least some of us do.
If we pray first, though, our answers are built on the foundation of intimacy with our creator. Can you think of a better foundation? Neither can I. That’s why I’m calling our church to develop habits of prayer in 2011, and I hope you’ll join us.
I hope we can help each other, in 2011, become people who pray.
Please share your own thoughts on:
1. why regular prayer times can be hard to acheive
2. what benefits you’ve found from regular prayer times
Thanks! I’ll be writing more about this after I return from Africa.
Over the past two years, the church I pastor in Seattle has invested well over 300 thousand dollars in providing clean water for villages in Africa. We do this through the excellent work of “Living Water International” because they don’t just provide water, they provide it “in Jesus name.”
I hope you’ll pause now and celebrate with me, as you look at this brief video that offers thanks to Spilling Hope (look, especially, at the 2nd half, with specific messages to Bethany Community Church), which is the ministry of providing water in Jesus’ name that our church began in 2009. It’s appropriate, at this season of gratitude, to pause and think God, not only for the rich blessings many of us have received, but to thank God, as well, for the profound privilege of living generously! Jesus said it this way: “Freely you’ve received….Freely Give”
As I look around the world today and ponder the work God is doing in reconciling enemies, healing bodies and families, imparting forgiveness and joy, transforming lives, giving water to the thirsty, and so much more, I realize that all of it – all of it – pours out of the abundance that is the risen Christ. His news is gladder, holier, more generous, more transformative and life giving than we can imagine, even in our boldest dreams. This profound change in the trajectory of persons, families, and even history itself began, not with a highly publicized launch party – but in the humility of a willing womb, and a cave on the outskirts of nowhere.
Thanks be to God, for this great gift!
May you enjoy the fulness of Him in these next days…. Merry Christmas!
Looking for a better way of being together than “Christmas Vacation”? read on:
“Dwelling” is a great word. It can mean the space in which we occupy our lives: “My dwelling was built in 1928, and leans a little bit downhill” (true statement). Or, it can mean something we do: “we’ll all be dwelling together this Christmas, 8 of us, a full house!” (also true).
There’s also a third way to use the word, and it’s tucked away in a prayer of Paul’s where he asks that “Christ would dwell in (our) hearts through faith“. How is this third use different, and what does it mean for us as we celebrate Christmas?
When my oldest daughter comes home from Europe today, she’ll leave the past days of motels and staying with friends in Germany. Finally, after days of snow delays, she’ll be home, and home will feel like, well, home. She’ll know where the chocolate is, where the extra sheets and towels are. She’ll know the password to connect to the internet. She’ll feel free to wake up early or stay up late, making French press coffee, watching movies, baking.
But there’s something more to it, even than that. There’s a relational sense of comfort, of belonging. Laughter, tears, honest conversations, are free to happen here because it’s safe. There’s an atmosphere she feels (I hope) that says, “we’re for you”, even as my wife and I know she’s “for us”.
I’m not romanticizing, not making this up. This is what “dwell” can mean, though we all know that, in our lesser moments, we miss the mark, even with those we love.
So here we are, most of us, getting ready to either “go home” or become a place of hospitality for those coming to our home, and the question that hangs out there is this: How can we “dwell” together is this way where grace, truth, laughter, tears, are all mixed together so that “home” is a place where we “dwell together” in the best sense, Paul’s sense, of the word, “dwell”?
1. It begins in the interior, in our hearts. It’s there that Paul invites us to learn how to ‘dwell’ with Christ, which means nothing other than learning to become perfectly comfortable with Christ, believing that he’s not only with us, but inexorably “for us”, that we’re “in the family”, and that we’re utterly free from fear of condemnation, even though we’ve crossed God’s boundaries and stepped into greed, lust, fear, rage, or so much more, time and again. Yes we’ve blown it. Yes, Christ still loves us. But the light is on, the coffee’s waiting, along with a good conversation.
We need to start here. Lots of people are trying to fix the outside, the relationships with children or parents that are mucked up, but haven’t yet learned to dwell with Christ. I’d suggest that becoming at ease with the only one in the universe who loves perfectly is the best possible starting point for creating good dwelling places. Jesus doesn’t need us to clean the place up before he feels at home. After all, he was born in a cave! Just start – right where you are, having coffee with God: a verse or two, a prayer, a moment of silence, or maybe reciting the Lord’s prayer in rhythm with your breath, slowly, as your force yourself to inhale and exhale deeply. Just get started.
2. After praying that Christ would dwell in our hearts by faith, he goes on to exhort us to live together, “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love.” This kind of humility, grace, and tolerance makes safe places for transformation, but they don’t happen accidentally. He goes on to say that we need to work at “preserving the bond of peace”. Know that Paul isn’t talking about being phony or covering up hard conversations. Rather he’s saying this: work at showing demonstrable love, encouragement, and affirmation whenever and wherever you can. This will provide the safe background for the hard conversations that each of us will inevitably need, not only to deliver, but to receive.
Soon our homes will be filled with people, real food, and lots of conversations. Capturing the vision of dwelling with Christ, and out of that intimacy, creating space of “dwelling” to bless others, can make this season rich and joyous.
Merry Christmas… may Christ’s life be your dwelling place, and may you be a dwelling place of grace for those you love.
Blogging has allowed me to meet people from all over the world, and I’m happy to introduce one of them to you in todays guest post. Joshua Becker is a blogger who is deeply involved in his church on the east coast, and writes a marvelous blog called, “Becoming Minimalist”, filled with challenging and encouraging thoughts about living simply. I hope you’ll check it out. Here’s his advent contribution to Fibonacci Faith. Thanks Joshua!