The Ministry of Availability

Availability.  It’s not often mentioned in the list of important qualities of disciples of Jesus but in our strung out western world, it may well be the most important gift followers of Jesus have to offer a broken and hurting world.

Availability.  It is what Moses had when God called him to lead the people of Israel out of captivity.  He was not a gifted speaker.  He made bad decisions.  He wasn’t very brave.  But he was available and in his going back to Egypt he allowed God to work through him to rescue slaves unto freedom and to move God’s redemptive story forward.

Availability is what Gideon had when God called him to lead an army.  Granted, Gideon was hiding in a winepress when God found him, and he wasn’t exactly excited to jump on God’s bandwagon.  Once Gideon’s fleece was wet however, he obeyed even as God reduced his regiment to a hilariously small number that gave all the glory to God in victory.

And Rahab was available too.  She was a woman of ill repute, a foreigner and a prostitute who at the time we can assume knew nothing of the God of the Israelites except what she has overheard; that He had been victorious in recent skirmishes and miraculously parted the Red Sea.  She steps into God’s redemptive story when two of Israel’s spies step into her room and she risks her life to hide them.

If we survey the prominent characters of the Biblical narrative, few are chosen because they are highly qualified leaders.  A few were of course – King Saul, Judas, Saul of Tarsus, but most of these didn’t work out so well.  It seems the highly qualified often lean a little to deeply into self reliance and self reliance usually leads to trusting in man rather than trusting in God.

Relying on his own gifts and abilities and education, Saul of Tarsus was hunting down followers of Jesus to have them arrested and thrown in prison.  It was only when he left his highly qualified self behind that Saul became available to become Paul and the man whom God could use to build his church.

When we look through the hall of fame that is Hebrews eleven, the number one thing each of the faithful had to give to God was themselves.

They said yes.  They were available.

And while Jesus is highly qualified in every way, he models the radical availability that allowed him to say, “the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does, the Son also does.”

And that is why Jesus’ ministry looks so vastly different than the successful ministries of today.  His is the ministry of availability, of responding to the interruptions of the masses, of walking miles out of his way to heal a leader’s son, of inviting the children to come to him.

Jesus’ model is not that of the best leadership style but of availability.

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First and foremost, He models an availability to abide.   Despite an incredibly full ministry, Jesus routinely makes time to be with the Father.    He is part of the triune forever relationship of God and Son and Holy Spirit and this carries on into His 33 years on earth.

He is a master of scripture, a mastery that most certainly came from years of immersion in those same scriptures.  He is a master as well of prayer, of interceding on behalf of the sick and the demon possessed and the lost.  There is authority in his prayers.  And Jesus is the master at communing with God, of walking in a living relationship with the Father.  He is the master at abiding and he invites us first and foremost to do the same.  And so while the immediate needs of the masses continually pressed in around him during his ministry on earth, we see the clear model that, “Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

When Peter and John were before the Sanhedrin in Acts 4, the characteristic recorded for all posterity is not that of highly qualified leadership skills or a refined speaking ability.  It was that they had been with Jesus.  The Sanhedrin note that while they were “ordinary unschooled men”, they had been with Jesus.  Peter and John had become masters of abiding with God because it is the model that Jesus gave them.

And so at the forefront of the discipleship journey, we as followers of Jesus must learn to be available to abide with him.  Despite the chaos of our frenzied western existence, we must learn to set aside time to be with Jesus.   It is our first act of availability.

It was from this first lifestyle of abiding availability that Jesus’ ministry flowed.  And in his three years of ministry as recorded in the Gospel, He models again and again the servant heart that makes him available to engage hurting, lost people – even when they interrupt him.

It seems an almost regular occurrence that Jesus responds to a pleading father, a frightened and sick woman or a shouting blind man.  He is regularly going one way and then – in response to a need – heads another way.  It seems at times haphazard and yet it’s not.  His ministry is focused. He went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness.  There was purpose in his journeys.  He trained up twelve men who would go on to launch His movement.  He gave his followers what they needed – himself – to spread the good news of His kingdom.

Like Jesus we must live strategic lives of engagement with a clear goal in mind.  But the way to do that – as modeled by Jesus – is first and foremost to be with God.  To make knowing God our first priority.  We must set aside regular time to go away and sit at the feet of the Father.  We must practice listening prayer. Immersion in the scriptures needs to be a central part of our daily routines.

 

Repeating The Past

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The original Red Dawn, circa 1984.

It was the mid 1980s when I first saw the American movie classic, Red Dawn.  Set in a small Colorado foothills town, the movie is a classic good guys verses bad guys movie pitting the blood thirsty red army of the Soviet Union against an all American, self-relient cast of characters fighting a guerrilla war of a second independence.

I had grown up on a steady litany of stories of the propaganda machine that was the Soviet Union, of their brainwashed populace; of their inability to know the truth.

We had Hollywood.  And I wonder if Hollywood didn’t do a better job of brainwashing our populace than the Russian KGB did theirs.

They certainly had me.

I spent many a day throughout my elementary years planning the defense of my town from the inevitable invasion of those ‘red devils’, those commies who had plans to blow us off the face of the earth.  I had an active imagination but it had plenty of source material.

Ask anyone over 40 and they’ll tell you that there was deep distrust of the Soviet empire.

And no one knew a single Russian person.

We lived off of myth.  

And then the myth fell down.  It was the Berlin Wall actually, but it is hard to imagine now the fear that so gripped the west for so many years.

So afraid of the communist threat was our nation that we entered bloody wars, we propped up cruel and tyrannical dictators over those who were democratically elected, we pumped millions of dollars in support to the mujahadeen in Afghanistan and we allowed our daily rhetoric to be that of vitriol, hostility, culture assassination, exaggeration and hysteria.

This is not to say that there was not actually a threat.  I’m quite certain there was – competing ideologies by the world’s standards most always lead to confrontation.  And when the two groups holding the ideologies also have a lot of nuclear bombs, then the threats escalate.

I was sitting in a book store under an Istanbul mosque several years ago talking with my friend Serdar about politics and faith and we began talking about the tension between the east and the west.  I was trying to see a way forward, to see a way to better relations, to see some hope but Serdar stopped me.

“People always need an enemy.  If one goes away, they find another.  They need an enemy.”

He said it so matter a factly, as if it were true; gospel fact.

Is it true?  Do we need an enemy?  Do we look for a bad guy in order to make ourselves feel better?

I am not sure that we “need” an enemy but I am sure that we do have one.

Jesus tells us in John 10:10 that “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”  So yes, we do have an enemy.

But too often we mistake him for someone else.  Depending on your persuasion it could be the communist or the catholic, the Muslim or the Jew or the evangelical Christian, the right wing conservative or the left wing liberal.

We end up creating gross over generalizations of entire groups based on their very worst examples.  We vilify them as the enemy and neglect any real conversations that could lead to understanding and honoring relationships.

And we keep doing it over and over again.  We keep repeating the past.

 

Understanding Well: Reading From A Broad Range Of Perspectives

I have been reading Mustafa Aykol’s book Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty and it has been enlightening to hear the scope of Islamic history told from the point of view of a Turkish, Muslim scholar and journalist.  Aykol’s perspective serves to reinforce the value and importance of reading widely and from a broad range of perspectives, of reading patiently while waiting for a more nuanced, deeper understanding to emerge before casting judgment.

By way of example, Aykol’s handling of what we in the west call the Armenian genocide – for indeed it was a genocide – is framed in the historic backdrop of the rising tide of nationalism which was sweeping through Europe at that time.  What happened in Germany to the Jews because of this rabid nationalism had happened in the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Crimea twenty years prior as countries there waged wars of independence from the Ottoman Empire and in a victorious wave of nationalism, drove out or slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Turkish Muslims and Jews.  These atrocities fueled the Ottoman people’s own nationalistic impulses which led to the ethnic cleansing of Armenians in the second decade of the 20th century.  What happened in the Balkans in no way justifies their actions toward Armenians in Anatolia, but it does frame these terrible events in the complex context of the tension of those times.

Gaining a deeper understanding of the complexity of the historical and cultural context  helps us to have more meaningful and respectful conversations with those with whom we disagree.  Remaining outside of this place of deeper understanding leads to intolerant and insular positions bound up in the darkness of falsehood, slander, hypocrisy and injustice.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch tells his daughter Scout that, “You never really understand a person until you consider his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”  He might well have added historical events, people groups and even religions to his statement for unless we are willing to climb into the complexity of the historical and cultural context of those, we will never truly understand them.

Click here to find Islam Without Extremes at Amazon.

I Preached Today

I preached today.

Pastor Aaron left early to head down south for a class he is taking and he asked me a month or so ago if I could fill in.

I said yes and I am still processing the experience.

The process of prayer and study and writing the sermon was quite a good one.   It allowed me to come to new insights, to grow, to be stretched as I thought about the text – Luke 9 : 23 – 26 – and about how to share what I felt I was hearing and learning to a congregation who is not me.

And yet, I don’t know if I would  preach again.  I am just not sure it is worth the time investment.  I am not sure that my preaching affected any change, not sure if it drew anyone closer to the Lord, not sure if preaching in general is worth the effort.

This is something I am wrestling with so I am not writing off preaching.  I just don’t know that placing the Sunday morning sermon as the cornerstone of church discipleship is wise or helpful.

Again, I am processing aloud here so don’t take offense if you regularly deliver the message Sunday mornings.

But as I read the Bible I see Peter preaching to large crowds but then those crowds gathering in homes (presumably in small groups) to discuss and pray and worship and hold one another accountable, and to confess to one another and to meet one another’s needs.

I can envision discipleship taking place in that setting.

I am having a hard time envisioning discipleship taking place through a weekly sermon.

The best way to grow in Christ is not in a classroom and it’s not by listening to another sermon.  The best way is as Jesus taught, to follow him, and friends, we must surely know that Jesus is on the move.

But again, I am working through this thought process and because of that would love to hear what others are thinking, are observing in their own church setting or finding in scripture.

Oh, and if you’d like to see it,  here is a link for you to take a look at my sermon.

Sermon September 29 2013

Planting Potatoes

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Ready to be planted.

It has finally come to pass that we were able to plant our potatoes.

Our goal is to grow enough potatoes to last until March or April of next year – we did that once a few years before moving to Turkey and would like to do it again.

I’m not sure if we ordered enough seed though – it’s been a while since we’ve done this and so we lack the recent experience we need to know exactly what we are doing.

But we are keeping records so that we can keep track of what we planted, what did well and how much we produced.

At any rate, it was a lot of fun to prepare the garden beds and plant.

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Colorado Rose potatoes – we’ll see what these are like.

In so many ways, gardening and growing our own food is just another part of cobbling together a lively hood, a life here in the states.

It is a slow journey, one that recently has felt a bit buried in the darkness of discouragement and wondering if we can do this.

But there is something about digging in the dirt, about laying down seed with the hope – and the faith – that from that dark grave, new life will grow forth.

I believe.

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Planting peas as well.

Spring! Finally Here.

April 22nd?  Really?
April 22nd? Really?

Our winter here in South Dakota has seemed to drag on a bit further into spring than I would have expected.

It is our first spring in the states in over five years and so I have been looking forward to it with some excitement.

In Turkey, I always relished that first morning that I was able to comfortably enjoy our balcony for my morning routine of journaling, reading, prayer and quiet.

The birds singing, the air crisp and the feeling of fresh air a marvolous reminder of the beauty of this world.  I’ve been looking forward to that moment here as well.

We have a nice back patio too and I’ve been getting it ready; sweeping off the leaves, cleaning the winter grime from the few pieces of patio furniture we have, and waiting.

Waiting.

Waiting seems to be a theme in my life.  I’ve been back in the states now going on ten months and I’m still waiting to feel settled, to feel like I can settle.

I came across a quote from Paulo Coelho the other day that seems to mark my progress.

Waiting is painful.  Forgetting is painful.  But not knowing which to do is the worst kind of suffering.

Perhaps a little melodramatic but it in some ways gets to what I’ve been working through these last months.

For now I wait and hold to Charles Stanley’s words:

The Scriptures contain many stories of people who waited years or even decades before the Lord’s promises came to pass. What modern believers can learn from the patience of biblical saints like Abraham, Joseph, David, and Paul is that waiting upon the Lord has eternal rewards.

This morning I ventured out to the back patio for my first morning outside in the fresh air this year.  It is supposed to be 78 degrees today.

Spring is here.

Box Cars in Waiting

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Do they tire of ceaseless sitting,

of knowing their created purpose –

hauling loads –

yet remaining unused, unmoved,

unhitched from the engine that will move them?

Have they seen the schedule,

the timetable of upcoming action?

And do they know – in their waiting –

the calling that awaits?

Waiting without knowing –

a most difficult task.

4/22/2013

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More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity

Screen Shot 2013-02-09 at 8.46.06 PMI just received a free copy of Jeff Shinabarger’s new book, More or Less: Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity.  My receiving it free highlights one of the true advantages of the digital age – advanced copies of books are virtually free to give away and help spread the word.

I am excited about the book.  The endorsements and table of contents get me very excited. Living simply is a topic rich in the history of my personal journey and one that was put far back on the shelf when we lived in Turkey.

I’ll write a proper review when I finish it.

You too can get a free copy of the book if you would like.  [Click here to get yours.]

Now that we are working to settle back into life in the states, simplicity – living more with less – is a value I’d like to recapture and I am hopeful that this book will be part of that journey.

We’ve enjoyed nearly six months house sitting a grand home but will be moving into a new home at the end of the month.  We are looking forward to getting into our place that we can take a bit more ownership over, even as we rent to begin with.  We just today got a package in the mail filled with packets of heirloom seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom seeds.

Very Exciting.

[Sorry for the long intervals between posts.  Life is a bit crazy and I’m working really hard to develop the business over at The Everyday Language Learner.  I’ll try to be a bit more regular]