Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Who Are You?

I was sitting on the platform ready to be introduced when the pastor leaned over and asked, “How should I introduce you? You’re not a missionary anymore, are you?”

It was true, I recently moved from Kenya to the states to establish the Center for Intercultural Training in North Carolina, but I had never thought about my title.

“I’m involved in missions more than anytime in my life,” I replied, “so I guess I’m still a missionary.”

Since then I’ve thought about how to explain, in a word, what I do. The function of what I do is many things.

EDUCATOR/TEACHER? I do teach and I do try to educate people on how to do their work in a cross-cultural environment. However, a teacher leaves the impression of a sterile classroom environment. More than academics, my classes are dynamic with real life illustrations of how to take the Gospel across cultural boundaries.

COACH? A coach doesn’t actually hit the ball or throw a pass. He’s on the sideline giving instructions on how to best play the game. In many respects that’s what I do, but unfortunately my coaching is for a limited time, not on their playing field, but in the locker room before they hit the turf.

TRAINER? It’s a popular term and I do try to train people to think through the issues of their ministries. But a trainer, much like a coach, has the connotation of being alongside the trainee.

CONSULTANT? This is a good description of my role. In teaching or coaching, I am in fact consulting people, giving them advice on how to best do their ministries. But the term doesn’t sound quite ministerial and too secular.

So, what am I? Probably a missionary consultant is the best portrayal of what I do. However, no matter the title, I’m more involved in missions than anytime in my life.

Monday, November 15, 2004

A Dog Named Spot

My Dad and I were watching TV sometime back and during a commercial break there was a rather obnoxious character selling furniture. After the commercial Dad commented that there must be good money in selling furniture, as they sure run a lot of TV ads. We then talked about what goofy things people do to sell products…especially cars. Seems like every local car dealer on TV is yelling, running around the parking lot, waving their arms just to get you to see their ad, and “come on down” and take a look at those fabulous deals!

When I was a kid growing up in Los Angeles I remember the Cal Worthington commercials --“HERE’S CAL WORTHINGTON, AND HIS DOG SPOT.” “Spot” was a camel, monkey or elephant that cowboy Cal would ride . All that to sell a Ford! (go to www.calworthington.com to enjoy his commericals)


Last week a friend of mine came through the country and I called him at the airport hotel where he was staying. He was telling me about the conference he and two members of his church had attended. He was excited to tell me there were over 9,000 adults in attendance and that those national pastors were planting churches all over the nation. He was excited. I was excited for my friend.

When he asked me how I was doing I felt embarrassed. “I’m doing good, “ I replied, hesitantly. “I just finished teaching 23 M.A. students at a leading seminary in cross-cultural studies; I’m writing more material and getting ready to go to Cambodia to teach.”

“Sounds interesting,” he said in a tone that sounded less than interested. I hung up the phone and thought, “I need a dog named Spot.”

Okay, I admit, my work is not as glamorous as others. And yes, I do wish people would understand and even appreciate what I do. Those 23 students I teach will one day be the leaders that will put on the events that my friends will pay $10,000 to be a part of for four days. The nationals who attend those conferences are the ones I have had a part in shaping and forming to take the Gospel across cultural barriers. Important and vital work? Yes, but no balloons.

There are all types of analogies I could give, but it would sound self-serving, or perhaps more accurately, self-protective. Deep down inside most people recognize that “big” is not synonymous with “anointed,” in spite of how they interpret the “Prayer of Jabez.” Jesus' ministry didn't have the look of a clearance-sale, though the crowds were forever asking Him to show them another miracle. The reality is, in God’s sovereignty He uses the big talkers, like Peter, and those people like Thaddeus, who no one knows anything about. Saying, “It isn’t fair,” is a waste of energy and a bit whinny. The world is thus and nothing is going to change it.

My friend really does get it, for which I am grateful. He’s been in the “business” long enough to know the difference between hype and reality; between those who faithfully serve Christ with little fanfare versus those who can’t say much about their ministry because they really aren’t doing anything. I do wish there were more discerning Christians like him, and, I must admit, there are moments when I really do wish I had a dog named Spot.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Birthday Note

At my age, 58 today, birthdays are not fun, but challenging. I’m at that stage in life where time seems to fly and I can’t quite keep pace as I use to. The noting of another year of life that has passed is, like New Year’s, a time to reflect. It’s also a time for resolve. If God gives me my three score and ten, I have 12 years left. Grace may give me more; the frailty of body and unpredictability of life may see me fall short.

Today I am reminded that each day should be lived the same. Courage, discipline, a sense of humor, gratefulness. In looking over my collection of quotes, I found this one and found inspiring for the first day of my 59th year. Walter Anderson in his book, The Greatest Risk of All, interviews Andrew Vachss.

“If you were asked to advise someone on how to take a risk,", I asked, "what would you suggest?"

"I'm sure I'd ask him whether he knew what his net was."

"His net?"

"Yes, there's a big difference between being on a tightrope with a net and without a net. The trick is to reach into yourself to discover what your net is. Take you for example. You take a lot of risks as an editor. Let's say one of them causes you to lose your job. You'd still be yourself, still have your family, your talent, your experience—your NET. Also, you would know what you have at risk. No one should take a risk unless they truly understand what's at stake. Blindly leaping out of a window is not risk-taking. It's suicide, period. The question is, what are you willing to lose? When kids ask me about fighting, I give them simple rules: If you can take the worst possible result, then fight. If not, run."

As a Christian, my “net” of course, is my faith in the Master. Everything I am or hope to be rests in my relationship with Him. I say that with a bit of hesitancy, as I am not presupposed to determinism, reductionism or flippancy. To not recognize Him as my “net” would be dishonoring, arrogant and foolish.

Not knowing the time when we will be “no more”, as the Indians like to say, is not the issue. The crucial question is what I am willing to risk as I finish out my course? As I chart my steps forward I pray for wisdom, knowing that no matter what the future holds I have THE net who is always there to break the fall.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

Emotional Abuse

Reading the messages on a group-list of pastors recently, I came across this post.

“Tonight my wife and I are going to a Sandi Patti concert and tomorrow night we will have ‘The Nations of the World Children’s Choir’ coming to our church.”

My immediate thought was, “Do people still pay money to go see Sandi Patti?” Why not? I’d still pay, though not much, to hear Fats Domino sing or go to a Clint Black or Eagles concert (I have a very eclectic taste in music). Patti does, or did, have a wonderful voice, but I couldn’t see my wife dragging me to a concert hall filled with arm waving women for two hours.

My second thought was, “This pastor is high on emotion.” Two nights of bawling for Jesus is just a bit much. Uplifting, no doubt, but I would think emotionally and physically draining.

I am not against emotion as it’s a part of who we are as God’s creation. However, today’s church has become addicted to emotion to the detriment of having reason and a sound mind. In Christianity today if the worship service doesn’t grab you emotionally the pastor’s sermon has little chance of reaching the soul of the congregation, or so goes the theory. I concede that good singing can make up for bad preaching, but it’s also possible that good preaching can be overshadowed by the performance that precedes it.

I am especially incensed by the “Nations of the World Children’s Choir.” I have no idea who they are sponsored by as there are many such road shows touring the states these days. They go by different names, “African Children’s Choir,” “Romanian Orphans Choir” etc., and they are brought into churches for one express purpose, to raise money by raising emotions.

My brother’s church had such a choir last year at their mission’s conference. He said it was pitiful as the kids “all stood up like trained little monkey’s.” At the conclusion of their performance one little orphan came to the microphone and said in his broken English (which is a sure wallet opener), “I love Jesus, and I love you, too.” At that point they all jumped off stage and went throughout the congregation giving people hugs. The church was awash with sobs and, of course, at that poignant moment, the leader makes his pitch for supporting missions.

There is something unseemly about any person who emotionally manipulates people to support a cause, even a worthy one. It’s even more despicable when the shepherd of the flock fleeces his own sheep by exploiting kids from developing countries. Certainly the Church isn’t the only culprit in emotional manipulation. The Red Cross, United Nations and the Peace Corps, all work from an emotional position to raise funds. It just seems to me, and you can call me heartless if you’d like, that the Church shouldn’t have to stoop to emotional tactics to do what they should do for sake of the Gospel.

In an ideal world, you could argue, we all should do what’s right and not have to be tricked into doing right. But people don’t give to missions because it’s right, they give out of what they can see and feel. No doubt those who have these children’s choirs have raised a lot of money for the kingdom (though I’d love to see what percentage of the money raised actually goes overseas), but do the end always justify the means? Have missions now just become the art of raising funds based on who can touch the heart? Have pastors become so frustrated by the lack of commitment by their people to the Great Commission that they must manipulate them to do what they should be doing anyway? It will take someone with a great deal more wisdom than I have to answer these questions. I want my heart to be in the right place, but I will guard it against those who want to coerce it for their cause.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Post Election Thoughts

I guess I’m like many Americans, I’m so glad the elections are over. The pre-election commentary was exhausting. As an expatriate, there is not much sympathy for a conservative like me as world opinion is solidly against GW. Not that anyone really cares that much about Kerry, anybody but Bush would do.

A rather balanced discussion a day before the election was insightful. While most of the panel took the popular position, Bush bashing, there was at least one European who seemed to get it.

• North Korea was a problem before Bush, so is Iran. Kerry wasn’t going to reduce the threat from these two rogue nations, which some liberals seem to ignore.

• The Europeans aren’t going to engage in Iraqi, no matter who is president. They couldn’t help if they wanted, as he said, “The Belgium army has more hairdressers than special forces” (I don’t know if it's true, but thought it was a great line.) The French are never going to fight for what they believe in and they have national policy that is solidly anti-American and anti-Israel.

• Europeans don’t understand American’s faith and religion. A nation that is deeply religious is an offense to a post-Christian continent where less than five percent of the population ever bother going to church. Our faith is not the problem, it is their abandonment of faith.

One commentator said that the Germans were “ecstatic” with Kerry. “He’s like a rock star to many, because he is so European.” Another great reason for me to vote Bush.

I don’t agree with Bush on everything. I have my doubts about Iraqi, I hate large deficits and I disagree with him on trade policies and immigration. While I do not believe that God has His special hand on W, I feel more comfortable with putting my confidence in him than I do with a party that, not only has no solid answers for the world problems, but makes light of what I believe in as a matter of faith. The liberals in America and their European cousins may conclude I’m shallow and ignorant. When they come up with an intelligent alternative I will listen. If they want my vote in the future they are going to have come up with a better argument than “you’re stupid if you don’t vote our way.”