Friday, December 17, 2010

Release of my book, "Embracing the Baobab."

Hi friends,
I wanted to let you know that Life Publishers has published my book "Embracing the Baobab" and that it is available for purchase either on our website www.keepingupwiththeirelands.com or by emailing me directly (jerry.ireland@agmd.org).
The book is basically a collection of blog entries arranged in devotional format. The book also contains some additional material not found in the blogs that I hope will be a blessing to you!
Let me know if you would like to order a copy (or several) and I will get it in the mail right away. There is still time to order for Christmas presents.
Paula and I pray you all have a wonderful Christmas and experience the joy and peace of Immanuel, God with us!
Also, we would like to request prayer for a new court date for the custody hearing of our recently adopted daughter Charis Jordan. The hearing is scheduled for Monday morning and we are praying that all goes well, that the birth mom is able to make it to the hearing and that there are no complications. Thanks so very much and God bless!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Child of God


It has been two weeks now since Charis Jordan entered our lives and hearts; two weeks since our world was gloriously and wonderfully turned upside-down, or rather, turned right-side up. We are continuing to wait for a court date, though, for a custody hearing that will finally allow us to go home to Springfield with our new daughter.

I’ve never been good at waiting. I’ve at times been said to have patience, but having patience and being good at waiting are not really the same thing. A patient person is just someone who is perfectly happy to never be anywhere but where they are and never do nothing but what they are doing. People who fish are patient. But waiting, putting everything on hold until some event transpires that releases you to get moving once again, that allows you to resume life as you know it, that I am sure, is something hardly anyone really likes.

But, we wait. We wait, and we wait because what we wait for is worth waiting for. Not everything is. Babies, though, are because of what we know they will do and are doing to us and in us. We look at a baby and wonder about not only the life that awaits them, but also the life that awaits us because of them. A baby has a way of reordering our world and our priorities that seem to so often get out-of-whack.

I have struggled a lot this week with the waiting part. I have wanted so badly for this part to be over, for the custody to be official because in the waiting there is a degree of uncertainty and that uncertainty, if you let yourself dwell on it, can be terrifying. That’s because there are few guarantees in life and the possibility that things might turn out far worse than we hope always looms large, perhaps especially so after the loss of Josiah. And I’m not sure I could survive the loss of this little girl who has so captured my heart, who at 19 inches and some 8 lbs. or so, stops the world.

Since Charis came into our lives, my favorite time of day has come to be around 3 a.m., when it’s just me and her and the stillness of the night, when nothing is there to call me away, when I can dote on her and talk to her—not baby talk, but adult talk, daddy to daughter––about life and about diapers and Binkies––all the things that really matter. Of course, its not all glory and good conversation. There is another side of those 3 a.m. moments and I know now why they call it the “wee” hours of the morning.

During one of those times recently, I looked down at Charis, and overwhelmed by how much I love her, said out loud, “No one will ever love you as much as I do!.” And I meant it too. Immediately, though, I knew that it wasn’t true. Immediately I knew that God loved her more than I do and I could hardly fathom that. I knew too that God loved me more than I loved Charis, and that too was something I found impossible to get my head around.

And as I sat there on the couch with Charis, I couldn’t help but think about the twin realities of both God’s love and his waiting (and perhaps for Him, waiting and patience are the same because for God the outcome is never uncertain). I was struck by the fact that because we have a loving God, we also have a God who waits to finally bring us home. And, free will being what it is, there are no guarantees that all of us actually will come home. Some will choose to turn away from the One who loves them most.

As Christmas approaches, I find it overwhelming to contemplate that God sent His only Son to die on a cross, and finally lead us all home. I find it overwhelming to contemplate that God became an infant, and in doing so said truly, “No one will ever love you more than I do.”

For God so loved the world…!

This Christmas, I am reminded that in Christ we have all been given a Child who, if we allow Him, will gloriously and wonderfully reorder our world and our priorities as only He can. Because in Christ being born we see the love of our Father most fully expressed. In Jesus, we find hope because in Him we become God’s children (John 1:12).

Merry Christmas everyone!


Friday, December 03, 2010

Grace, Flowing Down.


Even though I feel very much at a loss for words, and very certain that I will not come close to expressing all or even most of what is in my heart right now, I have to at least try. I have to try because—one, I want to follow the advice of a friend and not let this moment slip by. But also, I have this sense that there is more to this moment than I understand, that it is beyond even the miraculous event we know it to be.

Monday morning at about 11 a.m., we got a call from the adoption agency we have been working with. They wanted to know how soon we could get to Tulsa because a baby had been born at 8:30 that morning, and her mother––a single mother of four, was not going to be able to care for her and would be placing the baby for adoption. The mother had left it to the agency to choose an adopting family, and that family happened to be us. After we picked our jaws up off the floor, we rushed home, through some clothes in a suitcase and headed for Tulsa.

Three hours later we arrived at the hospital in Tulsa, and were met by a friend from the adoption agency. They took us in, and in a matter of minutes we were holding the most beautiful little girl we have ever seen—a perfect little baby, wrapped tight in a blanket––a baby burrito the nurse called her. At a glance, this would seem to have been the most simple adoption to ever take place. We woke up that morning expecting just another November day. We went to bed that night as the parents of beautiful Charis Jordan.

The truth is, though, this process has been anything but easy. It has been a tumultuous roller coaster of a ride. Several times it appeared an adoption was coming together, and yet it never quite seemed to work out. That in itself was emotionally draining and left us despairing that an adoption might never happen. We were to be in the U.S. now for only a short time, and we had an acute awareness that if something didn’t happen fairly soon, it would not happen at all. Our window of opportunity was very narrow.

Recently, we had been feeling the combined pressure of this narrow window and past disappointments (including the loss of Josiah), very acutely. Our hope was fading and we both were beginning to grow weary of trying to hang on to hope that never seemed to materialize into reality. It began to seem as though it might be better to simply abandon hope all together and just give up. Before doing that though––which was never what we wanted to do, only what we feared we would be forced to do––we decided to spend some time really seeking the Lord. And so, in the week just prior to our receiving Charis, we both committed ourselves to a several days of fasting and prayer specifically for God’s guidance and direction regarding adoption. Our prayer was that God would either close the door completely, or that He would throw it wide open and make it clear what He had planned for us. We felt we really needed to hear clearly from God in order to continue in this process.

One of the things we were wrestling with was that we had lately begun to consider embryo adoption as a possibility. After looking into this, and meeting some wonderful people involved in it, we thought this might be something that could work for us. In some ways, it seemed safer than traditional adoption. Paula would carry the baby, and so we would know that the baby was not being exposed to drugs or alcohol. So, we starting moving forward with this, and made an appointment to see an embryologist in St. Louis. Long story short, there was a medical complication that brought that whole plan to a screeching halt. Another dead end, another disappointment, hope deferred yet again. It was feasible that a simple procedure would have had the ball rolling again with embryo adoption, there was no guarantee. We just began to get overwhelmed by the choices and decisions to be made, and felt we completely lacked the ability to make those decisions. Hope was starting to feel like a ball and chain that we drug around with us wherever we went, rather than something to look forward to. And I was starting to think that the best thing we could do was to cut hope loose and just move on.

But after our time of prayer and fasting last week, Paula and I both sensed peace in a way we hadn’t in a long time. Paula one morning during her devotions felt the Lord speak to her specifically when reading the story of the birth of Samuel, when Eli said to Hannah, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him” (1 Sam. 1:17). After that morning, Paula felt sure that God would do something, and that we would have a child. As for me, I wanted to be sure, but I found myself bogged down with past disappointments.

We had no idea that in less than a week’s time, we would be holding a precious baby girl––our very own daughter, Charis Jordan. We are still in shock somewhat over all that has happened in the last three days. But we marvel at the impeccable timing and guiding hand of God that has brought us to this moment. If we had gone ahead with the embryo adoption (which we continue to believe is a wonderful program!), we would have had to close the door on traditional adoption. In other words, if were not for a medical complication in that process, we would have gone ahead with it right away and in doing so we would have effectively shut the door on becoming Charis’s parents.

And so now, as I write this and contemplate all that we feel God has taught us over the last two years, several things come to the forefront. First, the one truth and hope that we must cling to always, is that God is good and that His plans endure forever. “I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him” (Eccl. 3:14). Difficult and challenging times will come when it seems that God has completely forgotten us. And though that is never the case, most of the challenges and difficulties we go through (perhaps all of them) cannot be solved simply with a clever Tweet.

Hope is not a ball and chain that we drag around, but it is of utmost value because it carries us through the darkness and tells us that a brighter day is coming. It tells us that a brighter day is coming, not because we deserve it (we don’t!), and not because we’ve earned it (we can’t!) but because God loves us, and desires to give us that brighter day. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full,” Jesus said. I don’t for a moment pretend to understand the darkness, or to know why the valley’s can seem so incredibly low. But this I do know. The valley is not where we are meant to stay. It is a part of the journey, but it is never our destination. And the key to getting through the valley is not to abandon hope, but to hold to it with all that we have, with prayer and fasting, with tears and crying out to God because it is God Himself that we need to encounter, it is God Himself that is our hope. Our hope is really not that our prayer will be answered, though God does that too, but our hope is that we would in clinging to hope, cling to God.

Charis means “grace” and Jordan means “flowing down.” As we look back over the gift of Josiah, and the journey of the last two years, we can think of no more appropriate words to describe our situation, both then and now. Grace. Flowing down.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Traveling Songs


There’s only one good thing about driving 25 miles across the city of Lusaka at the peak of rush hour traffic. And that is having a car packed full of Zambian men and women singing high praises, in rich harmonies, from the bottom of their hearts. Your all-time favorite worship CD doesn’t even come close.

I remember the first time I came to Africa, and entered a worship service in progress. Acapella voices filled the tiny mud structure and transformed it into a holy place. Though I didn’t understand a single word, my eyes filled with tears, and I was sure I was hearing the music of heaven.

Many times since then have I tried to comprehend the rich dimensions of African worship.  Is it the sweetness of hearts that have learned to prize Jesus above earthly treasures? Is it a familiarity with suffering that has laid hold of things eternal? Is it the song of those who, amidst great darkness, have caught a transforming glimpse of Christ? Is it the timbre of those who desperately long for and confidently expect His coming? Or is it just a special gift from heaven?

I can’t say. But I do know that pure worship can only flow from a heart that has grasped the infinite worthiness of Christ. And the response to that Worthy One is the unconstrained outpouring of the heart to Him, whether in joy or in pain. And that is something of the majesty I hear in Zambian voices raised in worship and in prayer.

Today I am leaving Lusaka and its traffic behind as I fly to the USA to join Jerry for a season of itineration. Every missionary understands the tearing of the heart that is felt as we say goodbye to those we have come to love and be loved by in the land of our calling. It’s yet another thing I can’t explain.

The singers and songs of Zambia will remain in my heart. Reminding me that the open doorway into the presence of our Great God is entered with a worshipping heart.


Thursday, August 05, 2010

Twatotela


This morning we had our bags packed and were heading out the door to Chirundu, a small border town about two hours from Lusaka. Jerry and I visited Chirundu’s newly planted church for the first time a few months ago, and were struck by the remarkable spiritual hunger of the saints there. They sat on crude benches made from mud, and insisted we continue teaching from morning til evening.
We weren’t invited to the pastor’s home for lunch, and later discovered why. They were destitute – taking only sugar-water for their midday meal. 
This same church has started a community school for sixty-something local children who can’t afford the government school. No trained teachers, no textbooks, not even a chalkboard – but a heart for children. Seems to me that’s something like faith, hope, and love.
With grand plans for several days of ministry to children, youth, and adults, some friends and I were heading out the door to visit our Chirundu friends when the phone rang. The pastor’s twenty year old son had just died of cerebral malaria.
We knelt to pray for them – Mrs. Mulenga, Linda, and I. I found myself starting to weep, and asking, “How long, O Lord?” How long must things be as they should not be? How long these assaults, this suffering? Mrs. Mulenga was weeping also. Mrs. Mulenga, who buried her husband a year ago.
She led us in the song, “Twatotela Lesa” – “thank You Lord.” In that moment, it was hard to sing that song. “Thank You Lord” – for what? For another needless death, in this land where life is so fragile? For unspeakable heartache, for this dear pastor’s family struggling to do Kingdom work? We prayed for some time, inviting Jesus’ presence into this sad situation, crying out for His Kingdom to come, for His sustaining mercy, for His name to be magnified. And as we poured out our hearts, His peace came.
Afterwards Jerry and I were reflecting on how much our prayers, and our praying, have changed over the past two years. “We pray differently, don’t we?”  “Yeah – we feel so much more acutely.”   And that brokenness, we are coming to realize, is the heart of prayer.
Twatotela” began rising in my heart again. We are thankful – not for the dark circumstances, but for the presence of Jesus, and the unfailing love of God, in the midst of them. There is a “fellowship of sharing in His suffering,” an intimacy with God that is found only in deep brokenness. In this sad place, and for this life-giving and transforming communion with Christ – Twatotela Lesa.


Monday, May 31, 2010

Some Thoughts on Hope



One might expect that in Africa, where life is wrought with hardship and uncertainty, hope would be in short supply. However, the very opposite is true. Here hope, at least among those who follow Jesus, is one thing that can be found in abundance. 

And I think that in this, the African Church has understood something of hope that most of us miss. Over the last two years since we lost our son Josiah, we have simultaneously grieved and tried to maintain hope that all of it would somehow be redeemed. But the challenge in such a loss is that one can become quite afraid of hope. This is simply because hope plants seeds of expectation, and if those expectations are not met, then one inevitably reaps a harvest of disappointment. In order to avoid more of the overwhelming disappointment with which we had become all too familiar, we learned to keep hope at arms length. 

As human beings living in a temporal world, we tend to be event driven. We measure our lives as a procession of events and we tend to face life’s challenges through the simple knowledge that time, as they say, marches on. What we are experiencing today will not last forever, and we look to have our present disappointments eventually eclipsed by things we anticipate in the future. Tomorrow’s expectations are the shelter under which we weather today’s storms. 

The problem with this approach, though, is that we end up building hope upon uncertainty. Tomorrow is always only a potential. It can never be a promise. Because of this, I have come to believe that God uses disappointments, suffering and catastrophe in our lives to move us out of an event oriented hope, and into a Person oriented hope. For as long as we hope in things that are tenuous, then we will never have genuine hope at all. We will only have the illusion of hope. 

Yet, our lives themselves are inherently tied to the clock and to temporality. From the day we’re born we begin our slow march toward the grave. Time is our constant stalker. And so nothing we can do can cause us to move from that illusory event-centered hope to a God centered hope. Only God himself can bring about that transformation. And the whole process begins with the loss of the events themselves. Only when the event in which we had hoped––whatever it may be––has been lost, and we have surrendered ourselves to its oppressing blows, do we begin to discover hope in God Himself. We are hoisted out of an event-centered hope only be being totally and desperately cast upon the mercy of Him who was hoisted on the cross. It is there at the cross that all our hopes find life, because it is there, and there alone, that we ourselves find life. 

At the cross, we truly begin to discover that, as the song says––“our hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. We dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus name.” 

In God alone, do we find hope that is worth having. This is because goodness and mercy are His very nature and therefore it is God’s nature––not some event that may or may not come, that is the promise to which we cling and the essence of genuine hope. And so, James’ sometimes perplexing admonition to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds”––begins to make sense; “because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything” (James 1:2-4).

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Anonymous


Anonymity can be hard to come by for an American living in Africa.

As we drive through the shanty compounds, kids shout “Mzungu, mzungu!”––which roughly translates “hey what’s that crazy white guy doing here?” Here, there is no disappearing into the crowd, no blending into the scenery. We stick out like the proverbial sore thumb.

Thankfully though, Zambians are as gracious as a people could ever be, and make us feel right at home. They kindly ignore our ineptness with their language, forgive our social faux pas, and generally treat us as one of them even though we come about as close to being one of them at times as we come to being a hippopotamus.

It is strange to me that here in Zambia, where we Americans are often something between an odd curiosity and something curiously odd, I find myself longing for something I have seldom longed for in my life––namely anonymity!

For the most part, when I day dream (and I often do), I dream of rather grand things. I dream of saving the world, or of discovering a cure for professional wrestling, or of harnessing a natural form of clean energy, like those gigantic blasts of wind generated by certain elected officials. I have big dreams!

But I don’t ever really recall dreaming of anonymity. I remember in fifth grade, when our teacher had us all write down what we wanted to be when we grew up, I said I wanted to be a comedian. She thought that was pretty hilarious. I guess it was.

The whole idea of anonymity though, seems completely contrary to human nature. Facebook, if it is anything at all, is the ultimate anti-anonymity device. Through the magic that is Facebook, we can now make public our deepest and most underdeveloped thoughts, to a bunch of people we hardly know. And they will very likely, “like” it.

We watch American Idol, not to see who will be the “next big star,” but because that show has a way of breathing life into our own clandestine hopes for notoriety. Because if it could happen to that guy…

The truth is, all of us are like Jesus’ disciples James and John, coming to Jesus with our hat in our hand, asking for seats at the head table (Mark 10:37). We are pretty attached to the notion that significance and status go hand-in-hand. And so, we make our way through life trying to maintain that ever-so-delicate balance between outward humility and inward ambition.

But the reality of the matter is that true significance never comes from our achievements. Significance comes only because Jesus gives it to us. He gave us significance at creation––when he created us in His image. And, he gave us significance at the cross, when he died for our sins. None of our achievements would ever matter in the least bit were it not for the fact that we were created in God’s image, and redeemed at the cross. Because apart from those two events, man is but dust, destined for the waste bin.
Our only hope for true significance, that is––significance that will endure throughout the ages, significance that is not faddish, or fading, but that is both fixed and forever, is to lose ourselves in the plans of Christ, and to embrace anonymity.

As Jesus said, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt. 10:39).

Friday, April 09, 2010

Stuck in the Mud!

God always knows precisely where we are.

This was illustrated quite dramatically for me recently after preaching a sermon on Jeremiah 38. In the passage, Jeremiah is lowered into a dry cistern by some unsavory characters who don’t like what he is preaching––even though he’s only preaching precisely what God had told him to say. The key verse reads:

So they took Jeremiah and put him into the cistern of Malkijah, the king’s son, which was in the courtyard of the guard. They lowered Jeremiah by ropes into the cistern; it had no water in it, only mud, and Jeremiah sank down into the mud.  Jer. 38:6   

In the end, Jeremiah is rescued and hauled out of the cistern, and his time in the cistern ends up shaping his future ministry. For he later prophecies to the King saying:

All the women left in the palace of the king of Judah will be brought out to the officials of the king of Babylon. Those women will say to you: “‘They misled you and overcame you — those trusted friends of yours. Your feet are sunk in the mud; your friends have deserted you.’ Jer. 38:22

After the service, we found out a most incredible thing that had happened to the pastor and his family.

A few years prior, the pastor of this church and his wife had been living in a house that was situated sort of in a gully, at the bottom of two steep hills. During a particularly heavy rain one evening, the pastor, his wife, and their four children were all sitting in their living room. Suddenly, there was a loud crash of lightening outside and the power went out. A few minutes later, they heard a loud noise, and a massive wave of water and mud caming crashing through their front door. Within minutes they were up to their chests in water and up to their knees in mud and garbage that had washed in from the street. They were completely stuck and were unable to move. The could do nothing but stand in that water and mud all night long, until morning when someone came and rescued them.

That night was a night of both miracles and misery. Had the power not gone out, they would have surely been electrocuted. But, because of the mud and water, they lost everything! All of their money (most Zambians can’t afford banks), all of their clothes, all of their furniture, family pictures, keepsakes. All of it, gone.

In preparing for my sermon that week, I had no idea how relevant it would be to this pastor and his wife. I could not have possibly known. I had only recently come across this passage in my daily devotions and was moved by it and thought it would be an encouragement to those going through hard times.

And now that I know what this family went through, I am vividly reminded that God does not forget, that he always knows precisely where we are, even when we’re stuck in the mud.  And just like Jeremiah, God often uses our time in the mud to shape our life and our ministry for the future.

And perhaps, that formation could never really take place if our feet always stayed firmly planted on solid ground.

Today the family is in a new house.  A lady who saw them being rescued on television gave them her furniture. The pastor’s wife was recently healed of what appeared to be a terminal illness. A few months ago she was in a hospice, and thus today, they are out of the mud, in more ways than one.

It is likely, that they, like all of us, will be in the mud again some day.

But I am increasingly convinced that truly effective ministry flows from primarily two things: our time with the Lord, and our time in the mud. And we should be careful not to neglect the importance of either one.


Sunday, March 07, 2010

The Hope of Heaven


We often see and hear about the ugly side of Africa.

Turn to your favorite news source, go to the international section, and under “Africa” you are most likely to see stories about Jacob Zuma dancing around in a loin cloth or Robert Mugabe declaring his willingness to have free and fair elections (so long as “free and fair” mean he is free to have the opposition arrested whether they think its fair or not).

News outlets give you the idea that the whole of Africa is an endless parade of war, corruption, famine, and AIDS when, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

Even up close Africa sometimes seems like a place seething with despair and tragedy, where beauty has all but vanished. Every time I drive through the shanty compounds, and see children hauling buckets of water on their heads and women bent over sweeping the dirt around their tiny mud-brick homes, I wonder if these people have ever seen anything truly beautiful in their lives. Their whole world seems blanketed in brokenness. It seems all they know, and all they have ever known, is a world of dirt and disrepair.

But these are the thoughts of an outsider.

It takes about five minutes with a Zambian to realize that they know beauty in ways we probably never will. Today while teaching a class on the second coming of Christ, we had taken our morning tea break, and as the students were getting their tea and slice of bread, they spontaneously broke into song about heaven.

They sang in vernacular, and at first I wasn’t sure what the song was about. But I knew it was a joyful song. One young pastor started it all. With a toothy grin, he just started singing as he was pouring his tea. Without hesitation, and without waiting for an invitation, the others immediately joined in.

I sat in rapt amazement as eight students suddenly became beacons of joy and seemed to comprehend something of heaven far beyond what I ever have. And my earlier question then and there turned on me, and I wondered If I had ever really known the meaning of true beauty. Because beauty was right there in front of me, and I had almost missed it.

It is true that in some ways Africa is a broken and troubled continent. But brokenness and trouble may not be the enemies we often think they are. For at no time do we put as much hope in heaven as when we are troubled and broken.

And, from watching my Zambian friends, I am increasingly convinced that the more we invest hope in the life to come, the more beauty we bring to the life we presently live.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Wall Fences

As missionaries in Zambia, we live behind high wall fences. These barriers are somewhat of a catch-22. They provide a sense of security, and an equal sense of being an inmate. They are both protective and prohibitive.

Personally, I have a sort of a love-hate relationship with our walled fences. I hate them because coming and going is never as easy as I want it be. And, yet, I love them because frankly, there are times when I want to escape from Africa––from the kamikaze mini-bus drivers, from the poverty that seeps through at every seam and crevice of life, and from the needs that I know I cannot meet. I also want, I suppose, to escape from myself sometimes, because I realize that I don’t always want to meet the needs here. There are times, when my own needs seem more important.

There is a part of me that is forever gazing inward, focusing on my goals, my dreams, my hopes, my desires. And yet, Africa makes it very hard to think too much about any of those things, much less ask God for them.

Can I really pray, Dear Lord, help me find personal fulfillment, and by the way, help my Zambian friends have full stomachs?

Compassion is a wearying thing and it has a way of unveiling our selfishness in an irrefutable way. Visiting the sick forces us to visit ourselves. It reminds us that no matter how loving and kind we may think ourselves to be, our greatest love and kindness is ultimately reserved for ourselves. I suppose this is what Jesus meant then when he said, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 19:19).

Through the prophet Isaiah, God said:

If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.  The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. (Isaiah 58:10-12)

I can’t help but think, after reading this passage that my desire to retreat behind our walled fences, is in some way a reflection of my own broken-walled life. By that, I mean that it is my own shortcomings, my own failures (real or perceived) that are the driving force behind the “my” mentality I sometimes struggle with. Yet, the remedy, according Isaiah, is not to hind behind walls, but to become one who repairs them. And that we accomplish, in acts of compassion and service.

Somehow, as we loose ourselves in caring for our fellow humans, we find the wholeness we so desperately seek. 

Friday, January 22, 2010

Guest Blogger: Jess Bousa "The Discipleship Dare"


My friend Jess Bousa (he and I were in Teen Challenge together, and were room mates at Valley Forge Christian College) has written a book called the Discipleship Dare. Like Jess, I am convinced that discipleship––genuine discipleship, is perhaps the greatest need in the Church today. Many thousands of college students, in American and around the world leave the Christian faith every year, not because the arguments against Christianity are better than those for it, but because Christianity has never really become their faith. We hope to one day use this book as a resource in Zambia for youth discipleship. Check out the link for the The Discipleship Dare below, and consider if this might be helpful to you, your church, or someone you know. God bless you as you follow Christ.
Jerry
By Jess Bousa (Guest Blogger), author of The Discipleship Dare: Living Dangerously for God

The American Church is in the middle of a discipleship crisis. In Dallas Willard’s book, The Great Omission, he concludes that the Church is full of undiscipled disciples. Instead of making disciples, we have made converts and instead of baptizing them into the Trinitarian community, we have baptized them into church membership. When the discipleship process is reduced down to converts and church membership, it often takes the real challenge out of following Jesus through our everyday lives. Without the challenge to be pushed to the Biblical standard of discipleship, the world will be full of unChristian Christians, which is the general consensus of outsiders to the Christian faith the Barna Group discovered in their extensive research project reported in the book,UnChristian.

Marines are challenged to thrive not only survive at all times no matter the costs. Every year approximately 38,000 Marines receive their basic training, which is far more challenging than any other branch of the military. Most Marines testify that going through the twelve weeks of boot camp to gain entrance into the Marines is the most challenging thing they ever had to do in their lives. There is no such thing as an unMarine Marine. If the Marines were filled with such a person, they would not be known as being the most elite armed forces in the Military. Their reputation is the result of their training process. Without a training process that challenges every area of life, they would not perform the tasks necessary.

The process determines the product. What if the process of training disciples in the local church has been sidetracked as a result of mass producing discipleship for the crowds? What if discipleship starts and ends with the personal development of a few? Without a tool that builds a bridge from the preaching and teaching in the local church to the real life of a disciple through the week, “real disciples” will continue to be sidelined.

To combat the discipleship crisis in the American Church, I created an experience called: The Discipleship Dare. It is a journey that lasts for 40 days. It can be used alone or in the context of a group. I designed it to jumpstart the lifestyle of a new disciple or revive the lifestyle of a veteran disciple. It can be used as a companion guide for a sermons series, small groups or Sunday School classes. What if the biggest risk in life is not taking any risks for discipleship? I dare you to experience the 40 day Discipleship Dare challenge and dare others to do the same!

For Free Resources & To Purchase, The Discipleship Dare,

Please Visit @ www.TheDiscipleshipDare.com/ 

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Friends


Friendship without self-interest is one of the rare and beautiful things of life.
            —James F. Byrnes

Finding truly good friends can be like trying to find hope at a pessimists convention. Good friends are a true rarity. They are the diamonds of human relationships. They are usually forged under pressure, and often emerge from what was at one time as plain and common as coal.    

So what is it about true, genuine friends that make them matter to us so much? The short answer is––they care. They care enough to listen, cry, mourn, and rejoice, even amidst their own crying, mourning and rejoicing. True friends have a way of setting themselves aside, putting their agendas on hold, in order to be with us. And it’s really that, the ability to be with us, that is the mark of true friends.

Pseudo-friends and wanna-be friends can be around us, near to us, in our vicinity, but they are almost never really with us. They tend to come to us with the desire to show us something of themselves. They want us to notice their learnedness, their eloquence, their strength. Genuine friends, though, come to us and bring only a desire to hear us, love us, and show us something of ourselves. Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote:

The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand, nor the kindly smile nor the joy of companionship; it is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when he discovers that someone else believes in him and is willing to trust him.

True friends show us that we matter as people, that we have value inherent in ourselves. And, this is most often accomplished not in displays of strength, but in displays of weakness.

Our best friends, often emerge from our shared experiences. Recently we were in South Africa at retreat for missionaries, and I couldn’t help but feel an almost tangible––something, between all of us. Some of these other missionaries were close friends. Others, I had never met before. And, yet when we gathered for worship, or simply for a meal, there was a unity among us, a bond that was uncontainable in either our persons, or in the spaces in which we gathered. It was a bond that transcended us, and refreshed us.

And it wasn’t just that we were in the company of one another. It was that we were in the company of one another, and simultaneously in the company of Christ. Because only by encountering Someone—namely Christ, who can genuinely help us to become what we were created to be, can we truly find joy in being ourselves.

In his book “A Reasonable Faith: A Case for Christianity in a Secular World,” Tony Campolo argues that secularized man longs for humanness, for a sense of self-actualization. Campolo describes how as a sociology teacher at University of Pennsylvania he was constantly confronted with a single question by his students (sometimes in various forms). The question was, “What does it mean to be human and how can humanness be achieved?”

Campolo asked a student what he meant by being human, to which the student responded, “It means to be loving, infinitely loving; sensitive, infinitely sensitive; aware, totally aware; empathetic, completely empathetic; forgiving, graciously forgiving. I could go on but I would only be elaborating on the obvious.” Campolo then asked the student how it is that he came to have a knowledge of these traits even in a limited fashion. “Were you born with them? Were they part of your biological makeup?” The student grew agitated at the questioning, knowing that Campolo knew full well where the traits came from.


“You know that whatever qualities of humanness I possess are obtained by the process of socialization. If I am forgiving, it is because I associated with forgiving people and took on their traits and likeness.” The student argued that Campolo, as a professor of sociology knew all of this. So why the line of questioning? What Campolo was trying to do was to remind the student that “Socialization is the process whereby a homo sapiens becomes human.” He reminded the student that his entire being was the product of interaction with other people. Had he been separated at birth from all people and raised by wolves he would have none of the qualities that he possesses that mark him as human. Ultimately the conversation led to the student despairing that if his humanness, his achieving his full potential depended upon his ongoing interaction with someone who possessed in superior measures all the forms of humanness (love, compassion, emphathy, awareness of others) then he was doomed, because no such person exists. With this, Campolo directed the students attention to Christ, as FULLY human, fully present, and desiring just such a relationship. The student was converted to Christianity.

This, I believe, is what missions is all about. We go to places like Africa, with the message of God’s friendship (John 15:13-15), we go to share in the struggles of our brothers and sisters around the world, because in sharing the same experiences in the presence and company of Christ, we all are “born again.”

Apart from Christ, friendships can only help us to become like the person we are friends with, and help them to become like us. But in Christ, our friendships shape us all into the image of the One we serve. The imagio dei, the image of God, imprinted upon mankind from the very beginning, is revealed in our love for one another, and in our simultaneous love for God. It is revealed when we sacrifice for one another and give of ourselves because of the inherent value of one created in God’s image.

As Paul writes, “We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may be revealed in our mortal body” (2 Cor. 4:10-11).

If we truly understand that we have friendship with God, through Christ, then we can begin to comprehend the immeasurable importance of being a friend ourselves. This is not only what humankind most desperately wants, it is what humankind most desperately needs. And Christians, ought to be the world’s largest supplier.