Friday, February 5, 2016

the refugee risk

It was missions Sunday, so naturally I issued a challenge to extend God's love to those outside the reach of the gospel. In this case, refugees.

What made this challenge a risk was its timing:

  • Less than three months after Muslim extremists carried out a series of coordinated terror attacks in Paris.
  • Less than two months after Muslim sympathizers of ISIS opened fire in San Bernadino, CA.
  • Just one month after refugees so generously welcomed by Germany returned the favor by allegedly sexually assaulting hundreds of German women.
  • Just one day before Iowa's caucuses and the start of the Presidential Primary election season, with its polarized and publicized debate on this issue, and Donald Trump's pronouncement still ringing in our ears (like it or not) amid the cheers of thousands. 

Let's face it. The refugee crisis will not be solved overnight.
As a nation, we do not see eye to eye on this issue.

And yet, I felt compelled to speak. Politics aside, the church is called to welcome the stranger.

As I sat waiting for my turn with the microphone, Sarah stood up with an announcement. Her arms were full of towels and she carried a plastic grocery bag laden with toothbrushes, soap, and combs. She issued a challenge of her own, calling for the collection of funds and supplies such as these . . . to be given to refugees.

I relaxed. Clearly the Spirit was already at work.

At the close of my message (an abbreviated version of which is here), Pastor Kevin stood and addressed the congregation, thanking me for my message and sharing that he had already offered to have refugees move in with his own family.

Beautiful. Already the congregation was mobilizing to help refugees far and near, refusing to allow campaign rhetoric define or limit their faithful obedience to God's call. I merely reinforced what the Spirit was stirring in their midst.

The hands and feet of the gospel cannot be bound.

Monday, February 1, 2016

refugees and religious extremists -- what to do?

Did you hear the story about the Christian man from Syria? To protect his identity, let's call him "Hanan." Unlike most of his neighbors, Hanan is a follower of Jesus. I don't know a lot about his life, but I know that being a Christian is dangerous in his part of the world. It's a volatile place, with various factions vying for control. Hanan is respected by his neighbors, even those of other faiths, but still he has to be careful. You never know who can really be trusted. One day Hanan had a vision. The Lord directed him to go into Syria's capital to a specific house and ask for a man by name. When Hanan heard the name, he shuddered. The man he was to seek out was a religious extremist, bent on destroying the Christian faith. He had made a name for himself capturing Christians, imprisoning them, and torturing them to the death. Would the Lord really ask Hanan to go into harm's way? This didn't make sense! He protested, but Jesus reassured him and so he obeyed. He went to the house he had seen in his vision, asked for the terrorist by name, and prayed for him, inviting him to surrender his life to Jesus.

Are you curious how the story ends?

Actually, I don't know how things turned out for Hanan. What I do know is that the terrorist he met that day was a transformed man. He went on to spread Jesus' teachings all over Syria, Turkey, Greece, and then Rome. He corresponded with those who came to Christ, and those letters were collected in the New Testament. We call him Paul. The man I called "Hanan" is Hananias, or Ananias, and we meet him in Acts 9. Did you recognize his story?

Acts 9 is a key chapter in the study of Paul and his writings, but we don't typically spend much time thinking about Ananias. All we know about him is that when Jesus called, he obeyed, even at risk to himself. That single act of obedience changed the course of history.

Our obedience does not guarantee our safety, but it gives us a front-row seat to watch God transform lives.

In the words of Jim Elliot, "The will of God is always a bigger thing than we bargain for, but we must believe that whatever it involves, it is good, acceptable, and perfect." Or in the words of the popular song, "Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders, let me walk upon the water, wherever you would call me." (c. Hillsong United, 2013)

Ananias was a peacemaker. He walked into danger at God's command and extended Christian love to a dangerous man named Paul. Because Paul had not yet encountered Jesus, his religious zeal was misplaced.

Syrian Refugees (Photo: Angelos Tzortzinis/Getty)
Even today, across the Muslim world, the risen Lord is appearing in dreams and visions to our monotheistic cousins. Some of them — driven by war or propelled by opportunity — will cross oceans and arrive on our own shores. Many are zealous for the faith of their parents. Will we meet them with scowls and tell them to go somewhere else? Or will we welcome them warmly, building bridges so that in this place of religious freedom and physical safety they can openly pursue a relationship with him? In other words, will we view this as a problem or as an opportunity?

A friend of ours who has lived and worked closely with Muslims in the Middle East and Asia for many years explained to me that Muslim extremism thrives wherever Muslims experience rejection and hatred from others. One of the best ways to prevent Muslims from radicalizing is to offer them a warm welcome and a place to call home. It's much harder to hate those who reach out in love. Muslims who encounter suspicion, fear, and rejection become vulnerable to the clever recruitment tactics of radical Islam.

Last month, Evangelical leaders gathered to pen a declaration of Christian response to the refugee crisis. They remind us, "the refugees fleeing this violence are not our enemies; they are victims." The statistics of this burgeoning humanitarian crisis are staggering: "Never have so many people been recorded as being displaced, put in danger, and sent on the move. In Syria alone, more than 13 million children and their parents need humanitarian aid. Nearly 4.4 million have been forced to flee to neighboring countries for safety."

I am not writing as a politician, or even as a politically active citizen. Our nation's leaders will decide how to handle the refugee crisis. Beginning today, American citizens can cast their vote to decide who is best equipped to make those decisions. My challenge relates to the 'now what?' If and when the refugees arrive in our own communities, what would a Christian response look like? Are we willing to welcome them in the name of Jesus?

Our obedience does not guarantee our safety, but it gives us a front-row seat to watch God transform lives.

Perhaps among the throngs of refugees there is another Paul, one whose determination to destroy Christianity is fueled by deep devotion to Allah and a desire to purge the world of untruth. At any moment, Jesus could reveal himself to one such as this as the Lord of all the earth. And when he does, would we be as responsive as Ananias? When Jesus calls, are we ready to step out in obedient faith?

Our single act of obedience could change the course of history.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

learning to see

Two events, miles apart and so very different, linked hands in plain view, inviting me to consider them side by side.

The first, a memorial service. I had only met the man once in church before a dreadful disease took hold of his mind and dragged him on a downward spiral that ended this New Year's Day. I knew only the severity of his illness and saw the sorrow and courage of his wife as she came alone on Sundays. We connected briefly, the day I learned of his condition, and I held her in my heart for the ensuing weeks. When I heard of his death, I had to be there. For Char.

... for Dear Life (Photo: C Imes)
In that hour I learned volumes about the man whose rich life was cut short. An optometrist by profession, Don spent decades helping others to see. And on weekends? He explored the outdoors — camping, fishing, hunting, hiking — toting heavy camera lenses everywhere he went. Before the service started we were treated to a sampling of his award-winning work. He had such an eye for beauty! Butterflies up close, wildebeests crossing muddy rivers, birds in flight. Anyone can whip out a cell phone and snap a picture of nice scenery. It takes a special "eye" (and sophisticated equipment) to get the angle and the lighting and the aperture just right so that the picture comes alive. Don possessed that special sight.

From the service I headed directly to Newberg to teach my class on Wisdom Literature. The order of the day was understanding how Hebrew poetry works, especially proverbs. We began by discussing a chapter from Leland Ryken's Words of Delight: A Literary Introduction to the Bible. One student spoke up, "I really like how he related proverbs to photography. That's such an interesting way of thinking about it. Aha! Indeed, Ryken refers to these "wisdom teachers" as "the photographers of the Bible" (316, paraphrasing Robert Short, A Time to Be Born—A Time to Die).

And it's true, isn't it? The writers of proverbs have an extraordinary eye for ordinary things. They look at the same ship, the same busy street, the same plants, but they see beyond the surface, making connections that enlighten our minds and dazzle our ears. Here's a glimpse through the eyes of a sage:
"The LORD tears down the house of the proud,
but he sets the widow's boundary stones in place." (Proverbs 15:25)
The images evoked by this proverb, chosen at random, are so vivid! See Yahweh himself, muscles gleaming in the hot Mediterranean sun, as he demolishes a stone house. See him cross the field with stone after plaster-crusted stone and place each deliberately as a boundary, while the grateful widow looks on, tears streaming down her face. See the proud man with arms crossed and furrowed brow, sputtering frustration, but unable to defend himself.

The sage could have said, "It is inadvisable to be proud" and "You should not take advantage of the poor." But here instead we have a living image, painted in words, that joins both ideas. Yahweh himself takes action. We watch him at work. We stand at the sidelines feeling chastened or grateful or energized -- depending on the state of our own hearts.

Captured Alive (Photo: C Imes)
And as we seek to understand this picture in words, we begin to see what the wise one sees. We are overtaken by wonder.

More than one person at the memorial service told us that they had one of Don's stunning pictures on display at home. They were grateful to have been given his eyes, to experience his love of creation, and to have had their own wonder awakened. Don, a modern sage, helped others to see the wisdom and beauty of God's handiwork.

Ironically, in the final months of his life, Don's eyesight faded until he was completely blind. His caregiver spoke about the doctor's blindness. As he lost physical sight, he began to experience vivid visions of glory. He would take the hands of those around him and ask, "Do you see it? Do you see Jesus in all of his glory?" Don was learning to see in other dimensions, and his faith grew in leaps and bounds over those dark weeks and months. The eye doctor who possessed such extraordinary vision in this life far preferred his new-found spiritual sight.

May we, too, learn to see.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

leaning in

I had heard about the book a while back. All good things. It seemed like the kind of book that could illuminate my journey as a woman in academia. But the dissertation didn't leave much time for extra reading, so I tucked away the idea for a rainy day.

Months elapsed. A year or two, maybe.

In December, after turning in another revised draft of my dissertation, I decided it was time. Thanks to its popularity, it was easy to find Lean In at the public library. Some of you will chuckle that I found time to read a book by the COO of Facebook before I found time to actually join Facebook. I know. That's so like me. (However, I did finally join Facebook last week, so feel free to send me a friend request if you'd like!)

It's not supposed to be a self-help book, but I found it tremendously helpful. It's not exactly Sandberg's autobiography either, but she opens up the windows of her life and lets us all look in. How does a woman lead well? How can she balance family and career? How can she navigate a man's world without losing her femininity? (It turns out that Evangelicals are not the only ones wondering about this!) Sandberg's big idea, the one she comes back to again and again, is that women need to lean in to the opportunities in front of them. Yes, sometimes women are overlooked, at a disadvantage because of our gender, hitting glass ceilings. But Sandberg says women often sabotage our own success by holding back. We are hesitant to walk through an open door because we aren't sure how we'll manage everything on the other side. Women regularly turn down opportunities well before it's necessary (e.g., a single woman avoiding a promotion because she imagines it will interfere with her future role as wife and mother). At Google and Facebook, Sandberg has observed this time and again.

There is certainly a time for "no." But saying "no" enables us to say "yes" when the time is right.

That time came for me sooner than we expected. I was ready to lean inActively praying about how God would have me serve now that I'm coming to the end of my PhD. Circling that topic in prayer. But my spring semester was still relatively open. On a fluke, Multnomah didn't need me. Aside from putting the finishing touches on my dissertation and defending it, I thought I might try to publish an article or two. Maybe paint some interior trim or catch up on the family scrapbook.

Then the phone rang.

The department chair from George Fox. Wondering if I could possibly teach a class . . . immediately. One of their adjunct instructors had backed out at the last minute, leaving him with a slot to fill. School starts next week. It's not an accident that he thought of me. I've been in touch with him for over 2 years, hoping that someday something like this would develop. It didn't take us long to decide. Danny and I had both been feeling that now was the time for "yes." I was eager to lean in. For four long days I crafted a syllabus, putting on the finishing touches yesterday.

Then, this morning in church, we sang a song that harnessed Sandberg's thesis in service of our ultimate purpose as believers: worship. The lyrics jumped off the screen. Written just for me. Exquisitely timed.




Spirit of the Living God
Spirit of the Living God
We only want to hear your voice
We're hanging on every word. 

Spirit of the Living God
Spirit of the Living God
We're leaning in to who you are
Everything else can wait.

After all, it's possible to lean in to the wrong thing, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons. Leaning in will only bring life when our deepest desires are shaped by worship.

Yes, lean in. But not just in any direction. Lean in to HIM. Let him transform your desires until the thing you want is the thing He wants.
"Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart." (Psalm 37:4)
The song continues . . .
When you come in the room
When you do what only you can do
It changes what we see and what we seek.*

This week I'm soaking in the grace of fulfilled desires. The "thing" itself pales in comparison to the presence of the Living God who has acted, and continues to act, on my behalf. 

May 2016 be a year of leaning in. Not to earthly success. But leaning in to the presence of God and embracing all He has planned. Everything else can wait.

*Vertical Church Band c.2015

Thursday, December 31, 2015

15 best blog posts of 2015

Are you counting down 'til midnight? Wondering how to stay awake for the rest of the evening?
Join me in re-living this year's highlights by re-reading some of my best blog posts from 2015.
Some of these had the most hits, while others are simply my favorites. It's been a good year.
Thanks for giving me over 13,000 reasons to write in 2015!

on the academic journey (and life in general)
Feb 20 - now is the time for no
July 18 - on being finite
July 9 - why bother writing a dissertation?

on finding beauty in the ordinary
Aug 23 - unforgettable day
Dec 8 - a beautiful thing

on life and ministry
May 19 - an unlikely blessing
Sept 15 - life in the middle of nowhere
Nov 16 - when you don't (think) you have what it takes

on parenting
May 11 - Best. Mother's Day. Ever.
Aug 7 - how I've failed my kids
Dec 11 - another beautiful thing

on the Bible
July 25 - bored by Leviticus or lost in Numbers? don't miss this
Oct–Nov - does the new NIV distort the Scriptures? (a 7-part series)

in loving memory
Mar 13 - a giant has fallen (tribute to Dr. Harry Hoffner)
Sept 7 - four things I inherited from Oma

Monday, December 28, 2015

what I'm reading


To a publisher it makes no difference whether I am a tenured professor or a newbie adjunct. If I have students, they want to get their books in my hands. That's good news for a bibliophile.

Zondervan leads the way in this "culture of generosity," but InterVarsity and Kregel are not far behind. I walked away from ETS/IBR/SBL this year with $534 worth of FREE books. I spent a grand total of $9.50, buying only the book on top of this stack. Some of these were free gifts to IBR members (2 from the lecture and 3 from the women's breakfast). Two are books I agreed to review for Academic Journals. Eight were given to me as potential textbooks for the Prophets class I'll be teaching at Multnomah in June. But get this: any professor who ordered FREE copies of books from Zondervan to consider using as textbooks was given their choice of another FREE book from the CounterPoints series. Really? A free book for requesting free books? Now you see what I mean about a culture of generosity.

You might insist that this is merely good marketing. I'm sure you're right (especially since I passed right on by publishers who were going to charge me half price for any books I didn't require students to buy). But for someone who is just starting out in this career, it's also a big boost. So thank you, publishers!

Monday, December 21, 2015

a Bible read-through like you've never SEEN before

I've already introduced you to the Bible Project videos -- the best set of videos on Bible books and Bible themes I've seen to date.

Now for the big announcement... [can I get a drum roll?]

Starting in January, you can join tons of other people in reading through the entire Bible with the help of these videos. Tim and Jon have committed to releasing all 36 remaining book and theme videos in time for you to watch them on your Bible read-through journey! Most people stall out on their Bible read-through by the time they get to Leviticus. But this time will be different. Now you have expert guides to walk you through this obscure book. The Bible Project video on Leviticus is so good, my seven year old says it's his "favorite," and he's watched it multiple times.

Tim and Jon have arranged the entire Bible into readings that will take 15–20 minutes per day, punctuated by videos introducing books and themes as you come to them. You'll end up with a rich course in biblical theology as you immerse yourself in the text.

It's all free. And you can get started right here.


Let this be the year you take the plunge. Join the community. Be transformed.