Tuesday, August 2, 2011

ramadan- do you hear the call?

It's Ramadan.

Most of us have heard this Arabic term, a reference to a special time for the Muslim world.  Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and the month in which the Qur'an was revealed.  It is the holiest month in the Islamic calendar, a time for fasting, prayer and devotion to God. 

Throughout the month (August 1-30 this year), Muslims will refrain from food and drink during the daylight hours, and will attend services in the evenings, along with eating together throughout the nights.  Their aim is to draw closer to God, finding favor with him through these disciplines, and using introspection and devotion to become more consecrated.  They recognize fasting as a means to develop greater self-control, as well as a way for greater recognition of the needs of the poor throughout the world.  Ramadan is a time for the Muslim community to draw closer to God and to each other.

As the Muslim world prays, what will Christians do in response?  My hope is that the community of Christ-followers worldwide will lift their Muslims neighbors before God's throne, asking Him to indeed reveal himself in power and in truth to those who are seeking his face.  Unfortunately, the sad reality is that too many Christians find little impetus to pray for Muslims.  We too often view them with suspicion, fear, or from a safe distance.  After all, it's easy to not really care about those you don't really know.  But a recent comment from a friend put it all in perspective.  He told me, "I have a friend who's a Muslim and he's a great guy. I sure don't want him to go to hell."  That's the key isn't it?  To change your heart, your attitude, your outlook, you must enlarge or change your circle of friends.  Because you gain a completely different perspective when someone you never knew, maybe never cared to know, becomes connected to your life.

Why not use the month of August to pray for followers of Islam, to pray that they may find the truth and hope for life in Jesus?  Pray that God may reveal himself in dreams and visions to Muslims who are looking for a closer spiritual connection. Pray that walls of separation that exist between Muslims and Christians may begin to crumble.  Pray for your own life and your opportunities to share the love of God with Muslims around you, that God will bring you into meaningful contact with someone from Islam, that you will learn to see these people as God does.  

Because it's Ramadan...and it's time to pray.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

australia's aboriginality

As we round the final turn and begin our run toward the finish, our Australia team has been blessed and sometimes overwhelmed with all God has shown us here in Queensland. A good portion of our last two days has been spent with the indigenous (aboriginal) community- observing, interacting with and learning from them as they live out lives straining toward a greater recognition and equality in this setting.

"Deadly" is a good term here!
  We spent the better part of Friday at NAIDOC(National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee) which celebrates the indigenous cultures of the aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.  It is a festive, carnival-like atmosphere with much joy and thankfulness for the heritages presented.  We watched dances, heard singers and speakers, and interacted with organizations and vendors providing social services information for those in attendance.  

This afternoon we learned to throw boomerangs (some learned better than others) with Goma Conlon, an indigenous pastor and good friend.  He also demonstrated the playing of the didgeridoo (way cool) and talked about what it mans to be a follower of Christ in the aboriginal setting.  Following this, we hopped over to the church at which he and another indigenous pastor are working an shared evening service with them.  It was a great blessing to gather and worship with them.  Josh drummed for their worship team, Don and Alexis shared testimonies and Alexis sang.  What a rich history of stories and struggle were present  among those members!

I thought you might like to share one more collection of photos of this great team:

NAIDOC festivities in downtown Brisbane

Josh and Luke made a new friend

Papa Fresh in da house!

Time for chocolate fondue at Max Brenners

Don sharing testimony at Saturday night service
Remember these guys?! They were the bomb!

Josh and Alexis with Saturday night worship team
Please pray for our last hours here.  I'll preach Sunday morning at Ann Street, and Josh will speak for their Youth Church in the evening.  We want more chances to share the hope that's within us before we leave these shores.  Will you ask God to provide them, and for us to boldly speak of what He's done with our lives and what He wants to do for all who come to Him?  Thanks!  

We'll see youse soon- good on ya!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

eidsvold doesn't sound australian

Our 2011 Australia GO! Team has had an incredible experience so far!  We just returned from 4 days in Eidsvold, a small community about six hours from Brisbane.  Our goal was to serve the Christian Center there, along with its new pastor, Mark, and his wife, Alex.  We had such a great time with kids and adults alike, playing sports, working through Bible lessons and crafts, singing, eating and running around together.  We also got better acquainted with different adults in town, learning much about the issues and circumstances surrounding this small community of both white and aboriginal residents.

It's tough to quantify our take-aways from this experience, or the impact we were able to have.  One local businessman did tell me that he appreciated our group being there, even for a few days each year, because he saw positive influence in kids' lives from our interaction with them.  He told me that our presence is a reminder of normality (imagine someone referring to us as normal!), that the world is bigger and more functional than what is seen only through the local lens of the town.  He thanked us for coming again, and offered his encouragement for our return next year.

The following are some more snaps of our last couple of days.  I'll write more about Eidsvold and other good stuff a bit later:

Pastor Mark and his wife, Alex

Prayer circle before leaving Eidsvold

Captain Luke, superhero of the crafts debris!

Lianna mixing it with kids during crafts

Craft Woman Leslee and her monkey

Beautiful Eidsvold kids

Josh and Clinton

Which way back to Brisbane?!

Alexis singing to an appreciative audience

Don (aka Papa Fresh) and the girls, Leslee and Daun
Please keep us in prayers as we head into our final weekend here.  Pray that we'll finish well and will take every opportunity to share the most important message on our hearts.  Pray that we will remain focused on the task at hand and not too distracted by thoughts of getting back to our "regular" way of life.  And pray that God will speak to us, even as He speaks through us, concerning lessons He's been showing us while serving here.  We just can't afford to be the same people when we return as we were before we left.

And those around us can't afford that either.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

GO! Australia in Fine Fashion

Wow! it's been a whirlwind first week here in Brisbane for our team. We've tried to update our activities via Facebook, but our long days/evening schedule has hindered blogging up to this point.

Ann Street Church
We made it here with no worries, surprising our missionary (Daun) with her father (Don)!  It was great to see her stunned expression at the airport as he came out the ramp! More than anything throughout this week, we've been impressed with the need and opportunity for relationships.  The young people of the Ann Street Church are so open for friendships, and those connections matter to them.  People with whom we've come into contact are also open to finding more about us and connecting with us on some level.  These opportunities are abundant and fairly easy to negotiate- something all of us are able to do!

Community BBQ
We've been to an island off Brisbane's shore with the church, visited a zoo, cleaned and begun repainting Ann Street's Fellowship Hall, eaten kangaroo, served a Community BBQ (like our Community Supper), dined at the Pancake House in the city at midnite, attended a farewell service for Ron Tatum (visiting for a month from Southside Christian Church in Inglewood), and prayer walked in the city...just to mention a few things. Tomorrow (Sunday), Mike will preach a combined service (Ann St. regulars and their Korean church), then we'll pack up and head to Eidsvold, a small, predominantly aboriginal community 6 hours from here.  Chances are there'll be no way to blog there, so we'll catch you up on our return next Thursday.  Meanwhile, thank you for your prayers and love (keep 'em coming!), and enjoy a few recent snaps:
Daddy Don
Luke the artist
Josh and St. John
Alexis and the Ann St. mob

Work crew gettin' it done

In 'N' Out training pays off 
Beach bunnies!

Mike keeping an eye out
We've experienced a lot in a short time, and there's more to come!  Pray for opportunity and boldness as we represent our God here.  We love you all

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

up close and personal

I had lunch recently with Mike from Mustard Seed Global Fellowship, a church-planting team working in Japan.  We caught up on the progress of the young urban church in Nagoya with which he's working, and the new church project that they're planning for early next year in Osaka.  And we talked about what's been going on since the horrific earthquake and tsunami that impacted the country recently.

As he told me about the destruction and its aftermath, of MSGF's relief efforts, and of the feelings that now touch everyone there, I thought of a scene I'd watched on TV following the disaster. Some international Christian missions organizations whose workers had come to labor alongside the Japanese people and to point them to a greater hope were now being evacuated in this new face of danger.  Those who had counted the cost and had heard God's voice to go, now heard a voice telling them to leave.  My heart was saddened by the thought that not only had these people relinquished their voice among those they once believed they were called to serve, but they may have actually broadcast a message of discouragement and abandonment.

Please understand, I'm not trying to be unfairly critical or judgmental about anyone's decision to remain in a place when circumstances go awry.  After many years living with my own family overseas, and surviving a bucketful of issues like disease, military unrest, natural disasters and the like, I know that no one can tell anyone else how long they should stay somewhere.  I get that.  But I also understand that if we truly believe that we heard God's voice at some point telling us to go, don't we believe that He knew what uncertainties were going to befall us even before they happened...and yet He called us anyway?  Are we too quick to assume that if things suddenly go south, it's the cue for us to leave?  After all, most of those people to whom we've gone won't board a plane and get out of town.  They'll suffer through the aftermath of untoward circumstances.  But what about us?

I thanked Mike and his team for their willingness to remain in Japan and deal with whatever comes, just as those they're serving must do.  I thanked him for making the tough decision to stay, when common sense, logic and maybe friends would tell him to go.  And I thanked him for being like Jesus to the Japanese people, because it's in John 1 that we read that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.  I appreciate the translation of The Message here, because it phrases these words like this: And the Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood. Moved into the neighborhood.  When Jesus left the glories of heaven, he chose to hang with us for awhile.  He walked with us, lived with us, struggled with us, dealt with our issues, survived the calamities we did...and in so doing showed us the purpose and presence of God's love.  

That's the beauty, the power of incarnation. And perhaps more than anything else, I believe that's the message God wants to give through us, as we choose to "move into the neighborhood" of those he calls us to reach. A friend of mine who, with his wife, has chosen to take up residence for awhile in a local motel so they might more effectively reach out to those living there, put it succinctly: You may impact lives from a distance, but you truly influence them when you are up close.

Up close.  Thanks, MSGF, for staying up close with the Japanese people.  And thanks, God, for coming up close to us.  May we come and remain up close to those around us we're called to serve, regardless of circumstances.

Because it's being up close that makes the difference.

Friday, April 8, 2011

what's in a name?

     I don't know if you heard, but Compass Bible Church in Orange County made the news recently in a special way. They produced a 30-second trailer to run in a local theater. They wanted to advertise upcoming Easter services and paid the theater's management $5,000 to show the ad before coming attractions.  Much to their surprise, the corporation informed them that the spots couldn't run. Told them that the piece was too controversial.  Why?  Because it mentioned the name of Jesus!
     Really? The church was told that people might be offended at the name of Jesus. Imagine that!  I bet they didn't fret about being offensive as they raked in money with movies like "The Passion of the Christ." And you know that if certain other groups were denied advertising if they wanted to promote a spot involving their religion's founder, there would be public uproar and cries of discrimination. And come to think of it, most theaters give no thought to showing material that a great many of us find offensive. C'mon, really?
     Some are crying foul on behalf of the church, calling the action prejudicial and unfair. And I think they're right. Some are calling for letters to be written and boycotts to be executed. And I think they should act according to their convictions. But you know what I really think, deep within my heart? That we ought to expect this kind of response. Really. I think we've fooled ourselves into believing that our faith could peacefully co-exist with the attitudes and feelings of the world, assuming that we could live side-by-side with those whose values are (supposed to be) diametrically opposed to ours. We've thought this so long that we've allowed a spirit of d├ętente to infiltrate our own lifestyles, hoping that we all might just get along. But really?
     Then something happens to jar us out of our little bubble, a reminder that we're actually living in hostile territory and serving a kingdom designed to be at odds with our very culture. Someone takes exception to us and we're taken aback. How dare they? Don't they know who we are? Sure they do. They absolutely do and that's why they take exception.
     What did we expect? Didn't Jesus tell us that if they hated him, they would hate us as well? That he came not to bring peace, but a sword? And Paul says in 2 Corinthians that we're the aroma of life to some and the stench of death to others. So why do we keep trying to cozy up to those who are repelled by the person to whom we claim to pledge our allegiance? Are we trying to have the best of both worlds without really choosing sides?
    It's time, past time, to live what we believe and understand that there's going to be pushback. Peter reminds us to not be surprised at the fiery trials we encounter, as if they were something strange. Expect them. Live with a distinctiveness (don't just be weird) that stands out and causes people to choose sides. Decide that you'll never let yourself be squeezed into this world's mold. And if people find you offensive because of the name you wear, well, you can take that as a compliment.


Saturday, April 2, 2011

feel the burn (the qur'an aflame)

You've probably heard the news by now. Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who threatened to burn the Qur'an (Islam's holy book) last September but changed his mind (check my previous post, http://edensdust.blogspot.com/2010/09/burn-baby-burn.html), changed his mind again and followed through with his threat earlier this week. Unfortunately, his decision triggered a response from Muslims in Afghanistan. A NATO base was attacked and three rebels were killed. This came after a U.N. compound was besieged by hundreds protesting the burning by Jones. The storming of the facility left at least 11 people, seven of them foreigners, dead. And two of those foreigners were beheaded in the attack.

Jones says he bears no responsibility for the actions of Muslims on the other side of the world. That he's sorry and he regrets their response, but that he was simply speaking truth as he understands it and was exercising his freedom of speech.  And, at least according to many sentiments, there are many who either agree with his actions, or defend what he did in the face of the repressive nature of Islam.

Jones, and those like him, have the right to speak as they feel led. That's protected in our country- something not afforded to all people in our world. But just because Jones can do something like he did, should he?   
Jones may not see himself responsible for what overzealous people in another country did, but that doesn't absolve him. He may see himself free to say and do as he pleases, but that doesn't mean he has no boundaries or limits. With freedom comes responsibility, understanding that our actions have the power to impact people for good or for bad. Therefore, we must weigh carefully what we say and do, because we really do influence those around us (and even those around the world).

The passage of Scripture that kept rolling around in my head last night regarding all this is 1 Corinthians 10:23,24- "Everything is permissible"- but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"- but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.

Paul's words tell us that just because we can does NOT mean we should. That we've got to consider the power of our lives because they really do matter. Jones may not see himself as part of the Afghan situation, but he does share responsibility and culpability in the deaths of those U.N. workers- his actions touched off a firestorm that consumed far more than paper and ink.

As long as we keep acting the way people around us act, they won't see Jesus in us, but only reflection of themselves. And that's just not good enough. As long as we burn books, lash out and condemn, we look remarkably like our adversaries. So why would they join our ranks if there's no measurable difference between our actions and theirs? I'm not saying that we never make a stand for what's right; but that we make sure our words, our attitudes, our actions tell those opposed to us that we're guided and motivated by a God who loved them so much he chose to offer his son as a sacrifice for their sins. That he craves a relationship with them. And that his concern for them can be seen, felt and understood...through us. It's hard to burn someone's holy book if you really care about the people of that book.

Hmm, come to think of it, maybe that's why it's so easy for some to strike a match.