Dorothy, Kansas, Timelessness...

Watched the Wizard of Oz with my kids the other day. Classic holiday viewing. I couldn't help but think back to watching the same movie with my mom and dad when I was a kid. Then, I thought about the fact that my mom sat with my grandmother and watched the same movie when she was young. Then, I checked the date of production and was blown away to see that the film was released in 1939. For those of you keeping track, that's 70 years ago! Before the Second World War, before the Cold War, before the Holocaust was public knowledge, before the tumultuous 60's, before the explosion of Rock and Roll, before the Cuban Missile Crisis, before so much of what has marked us. Fresh on the heels of Depression-era catastrophe this movie was released. Then I began to ponder all who had seen that movie in the theaters. Men and women who, like my grandparents, visited the local theaters in the late 30's as teenagers and enjoyed the very first color pictures in moving film. The men who sacrificed their lives on D-Day and the resulting conflicts in Europe, Asia, and Africa. I wonder how many of them had watched Dorothy's trek through Oz, nestled in next to their girlfriends in their hometown theater. And then I wondered how many more years families, like mine, would snuggle up on a couch during the holiday season in their pajamas and for, a couple of hours, be caught up in a classic story, journeying down the Yellow Brick Road with Dorothy and her rag-tag band of companions. How many more little girls will dream of going "Somewhere Over the Rainbow?"

Then my mind began to drift again - this time away from Kansas and Oz and the Emerald City; away from Dorothy and her rambling band of ineptitude to other far away places and timeless stories - tales of Creation out of nothing, of a Good garden, a beautiful Paradise, a tempting and crafty nemesis in the form of a serpent, of a Fall, a Curse, and glorious restoration. Timeless stories of another rag-tag band of inept pilgrims and strangers - men like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob (all of whom turned their courses and followed God), wandering through strange places, growing and developing along the way. I thought of heroes of a bygone era - men like Noah, Moses, Joshua, Caleb, women like Ruth, Naomi, Esther. I was caught up in stories of roving Apostles and missionaries, carrying the glorious gospel of Jesus to the ends of the earth, facing persecution, trial, beatings, death; these men were those whom the author of Hebrews described as men of whom the world was not worthy. How many countless thousands, millions have enjoyed these tales together, drawing encouragement and hope for their pilgrim-esque, wandering lives? How many of past eras have also enjoyed fellowship with God through His Son, having their paths lit by His word? How timeless is this faith that we are privileged to be caught up in. Truly, there is more to this family of God, than my mere "three score and ten" years allotted to me! Truly, we are part of something much larger than we can ever imagine. Truly, we are not in Kansas anymore. May we today draw encouragement and confidence from the legacies, heritage, and example of our "cloud of witnesses." May we be reminded that, although our lives feel somewhat unstable at times, we are tethered to a timeless community of faith in the Risen Son of God, to men and women who for all time have been recklessly wandering along their own "yellow brick road," as pilgrims and strangers in their worlds, and we are rooted and grounded in an Eternal God.

All that from a pretty farm girl, and her little dog, too.


This past week, among other things, I had the privilege of sharing with Union College's Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship a brief message on the meaning of Christmas. After the carols had been sung, the food devoured, and the white elephant gifts exchanged and stolen (I got a great gift for my kids - Moon Sand - stole it from Paul. Tough luck, dude - my kids love it!), we got to spend some time connecting with the students, some of whom follow Christ, some who do not. What a blessing. Here's what I encountered:

Ian - I spent about 45 minutes discussing the problem of evil, the existence of Original Sin, the apparent difficulties with understanding the Old Testament and New Testament "miracles," and the perceived conflict between the Sovereignty of God (specifically his ability/inability to intervene in my life) and my exercise of the divinely-given Free Will. What a conversation! These students are incredibly bright, have amazing abilities in logic and reason, and are desperately searching for what is true and real. I felt like I was in over my head at times, but had a great time - my head hurt by the end, I'm not going to lie. I had the great honor of pointing Ian to the Scriptures, explaining that some of his issues and "problems" were not nearly that significant as the Scriptures had directly answered them in plain language (for example, he was struggling with the parting of the Red Sea and how God would break his own laws of nature, "bending the rules," to accomplish that. He was surprised to see that God, according to HIs word, used a "strong east wind" to part the waters - nothing outside the realm of natural forces).

I was on my way out the door when I was drawn into another conversation with a young man who claims to be a functioning atheist yet is willing and open to searching for "god" through different faith systems. We had a great dialogue about the definition and nature of God. His hangup is that God seems too human. I was privileged to drive him to the Scriptures and counter that maybe God isn't made in our image, but we in His (this is, after all, the explanation the Bible gives us). This man believes that religion (specifically Christianity) is driven by the natural fears of men - fears of death, fears of a useless and meaningless life, fears of being alone. Christianity is, in his perception, a way to cope with the harsh realities of life. He believes that my God is a crutch, a figment of Western imagination, to allow us to deal with things that we are too scared to embrace. I spoke with him for almost another 45 minutes and was able to say some very pointed and difficult things in a respectful and non-combative setting. Praying for a great breakthrough in his life and in his heart.

But here's what really struck me - the questions that people are asking are changing. The barriers to the gospel are in some ways different, but in many ways still the same - hearts are hardened, minds are futile, understanding is darkened. The only hope for these people was the only hope for me - the glorious gospel of Jesus. Pray for my friend Jibu as he ministers to these wonderful college students and pray for God to open eyes and illuminate the scriptures that some might come to faith.


spirit and flesh; power and attraction

I had the great privilege of attending a pastors' conference in Troy, NY last Monday. The Acts 29 event was hosted by Terra Nova Church in downtown Troy and was just a joy to attend. The Acts 29 network focuses on church planting and so most of the men attending were new church planters, seasoned church planters, or aspiring church planters. However, it was a great feast for my soul personally. Among all the great things that were proclaimed and sung and discussed, there was one particularly profound statement that struck me above all else.

One of the pastors, JR Vassar, from Apostles Church in NYC, encouraged us to not "settle for the manifestations of the works of the flesh, but instead to pursue and expect the manifestations of the Spirit." Read that again and make sure you do it slowly this time. That was timely advice. There is a tendency in American Christianity (brought on by our specialized culture and our incessant need to hyper-analyze something to death) to reduce church growth and development to a series of nuts and bolts, systems, and curricula. If pastor "a" would simply insert cog "3" into system "x" and if the planets align at just the right spot, then your church will triple its size in a matter of 7 minutes without any conflict. If you want your church to "grow," then send us $19.95 for an instructional DVD to solve your ministry issues. If you act now, you can even get a tremendous discount on a jumbo coffee grinder/brewing system guaranteed to give your Sunday School ministry the needed spark. The reality is quite simple - church growth isn't rocket science, if you define that by gathering a crowd of people. People tend to be "attractional," they'll go places to see things. But growing the church of Jesus is something so different than attractions.

Attractions are prevalent, but what we have to offer people isn't. The work of the Holy Spirit of God, moving through His inspired Word, opening the eyes of people's hearts, convicting them of sin and rebellion, leading them to Christ for forgiveness and restoration - that isn't offered anywhere but the church. And those things - those works of the Spirit - are things that natural abilities and skills and slick programs simply can't produce. I was convicted that too often pastors (and let's be honest here - I'm talking about me) put an over-emphasis on the works of the flesh and forget that the real power in the church of Jesus is not her marketing or fund-raising or programs or teams of greeters driving golf carts through the parking lots. The power in the church of Jesus is the Holy Spirit of God working through His people to bless the community of faith and to invite those outside to come in. For that, there is no substitute.

Much more was said that day and all of it was helpful, but nothing stood out to me more than that great piece of counsel. I'm praying that God would pour out His spirit on this place and allow us to see and experience His power to change lives, to build up His body, to grow His church.