The Night Holiness Rolled In

Posted: December 11, 2012 by Lincoln Brunner in Uncategorized
Photo: Andreas Praefcke

Photo: Andreas Praefcke

My wife and I have a favorite Christmas carol. It’s “O Holy Night.” It’s a lilting, earnest song, all at once elegant and majestic. It wouldn’t seem like Christmas without that song.

The song’s story is beautiful, too: A King enters a desperate world to free the people there from their bondage and pain — not as a conquering soldier, but a tender baby born in the middle of nowhere, to nobodies. He acquainted himself with weakness and poverty inside time and space so that he could relate intimately with us and our situation here.

“The King of kings lay thus lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.
He knows our need, our weakness is no stranger,
Behold your King! Before him lowly bend!”

But the song and the story don’t stop there. Jesus came to start something you might call a holiness movement. He came to roll out a campaign of peace and love that would overpower the death and sadness that the devil used, and still uses, to keep people wrapped up in their anger and hopelessness and fear.

“Truly He taught us to love one another,
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Chains he shall break, for the slave is our brother.
And in his name all oppression shall cease.”

That one holy night that Christ came was just the beginning. He came to usher in a new way of life, one in which people could know God and become more like Him — the perfect human. Alan and Debra Hirsch describe this way of life, this holiness movement, nicely in their book, Untamed:

“A Hebraic understanding of holiness suggests that all of life is actually in the process of being redeemed and brought into the sphere of the sacred: Holiness begins with God, flows into our own hearts and our lives, moves from there into the community, and eventually reaches every aspect of life in the world.”

Wonderful, isn’t it? And if not a wonderful reality in the world yet, at the very least a wonderful hope for everyone. And that hope, as Pastor Brian Berg of Woodlands Church explained this past Sunday, is defined not as the desire for a future uncertainty, but rather an “anticipation of a future reality.” Christ came here and lived here and died here and rose from the dead here. Then he went home to prepare a place for us to live with him forever — if we’ll have him. He made our reality his reality for a short time so that he could make his reality our reality forever.

And it all began one holy night a long time ago. I’m very glad it did.

 

No, It Doesn’t Make Sense — And That’s OK

Posted: November 26, 2012 by Lincoln Brunner in doubt, fear, missional living
Tags: , ,

Acts 10 tells an earth-shaking story — angels, terror, visions of animals moving up and down on a big sheet like a linen dumbwaiter from heaven. Maybe you’ve read it.

It’s trippy stuff, but at the end of the day, it’s just about two guys obeying God when it makes no sense to do so. And it ends up changing the world.

On the one end, you have Peter, the head of the first Christian church, being told to kill animals clearly labeled unclean in the Law of Moses — and then to stop labeling things “unclean” that God has made. It’s clear later on that Peter understands this to mean people; but for the moment, that’s all he’s got.

On the other end, you have a Roman centurion in Caesarea named Cornelius being commanded by an angel to send for a Jewish guy named Simon Peter who was staying at some leather worker’s house in the city of Joppa. OK … Peter. Simon the Tanner. Joppa. Got it.

So the Roman official sends for the Jew to come before him. Peter’s seen this game before.

But this time, Peter’s gotten a sneak preview. God’s calling an audible, and Peter understands the new route. This isn’t Jesus before Pilate. And it won’t be a Roman handing down death this time — it’ll be a Roman accepting new life.

This is the first short-term cross-cultural missions trip. Paul gets all the props with the whole Antioch-to-Cyprus adventure — he did have to take a boat, after all. However, Peter was the true pioneer with his Joppa-to-Caesarea trip — a distance of only about 30 miles by land, but the distance traveled was far more than Peter had to walk. There was no precedent for this, no doctrinal basis by which to measure actions. There was just God telling Peter and Cornelius to trust Him.

On parchment, it made no sense — a Jew visiting a Gentile, and a Roman at that. But God had chosen his players carefully, two men willing to obey at the drop of a hat, sensible edict or not. And even then, he had to shock them into it. To one he sent an angel which frankly scared the pants off him. To the other he sent an acid-trip vision of animals he was supposed to kill and eat on the spot. “Paging Hunter S. Thompson … report to the killing floor immediately.”

No, God wasn’t messing around on this one, because too much was at stake. The gospel was sequestered within the Jewish community. It had to get out. Jesus had tipped his hand right before the ascension, and now he was putting legs under His game plan — Peter’s legs, to be specific. “Go, Peter, and don’t call them unclean. I made them. Got it?”

So Peter goes, tells them the story, preaches the gospel, and Cornelius and all his household get saved. Just like that. Even the die-hard skeptics back in Jerusalem, when they got Peter’s report, couldn’t do anything but praise God for the beauty of what happened that night at Cornelius’ place. What started out sounding crazy ended up looking amazing and wonderful — kind of like the gospel itself.

So if you find yourself being led to do something for God that sounds nuts to the people around you, even to yourself, don’t listen to conventional wisdom — listen to the voice telling you to do it. If it sounds like the same voice that’s comforted you in pain, answered you when you’ve called out to Him in the past, and led you to where you are now, ask yourself:

Is it crazier to do this, or to not do it?

 

Something special happened last week at the National College Media Convention in Chicago.

As some 2,000 students and advisers came to the Sheraton Hotel to sharpen their journalism skills, network with each other and accept awards, one track of faith-related sessions took things deeper. A lot deeper. In fact, I believe we are seeing the beginning of a movement of God.

In one session, photographer Darrell Goemaat from the Regular Baptist Press showed how God has placed him and his incredible skills into a full-time ministry position. Other sessions featured two fairly recent journalism grads who now work for a Christian relief agency; the Chicago Tribune’s religion reporter; and two veteran advisers helping students through the challenges of covering news on a Christian campus.

The deputy managing editor of Christianity Today, Tim Morgan, took a full hour to walk through several gospel passages and show students and advisers that Jesus can indeed be their role model as a journalist. I’m willing to bet that it was the first time anyone ever exposited scripture at a journalism convention.

Lincoln Brunner and I talked about our career paths, how God has called us to missionary journalism … and what it might look like for students seeking to follow God in that direction. While we expected that the students would be interested in what we had to say, their level of buy-in absolutely floored us.

At one point as various students – from both public and private colleges and universities – were talking about their desire to serve God with their vocations, a question popped into my mind. Again, it was one that may never have been asked at a journalism convention. But, what the heck.

“How many of you are sensing God tapping you on the shoulder and prompting you to do something specific?” I asked. Most of the hands in the room went up. Probably the closest I’ll ever come to an altar call.

So we talked through some of those promptings. Many felt called to some form of missionary journalism. Others mentioned humanitarian work … sharing their faith with someone … doing video documentaries … “speaking for the unspoken.”

In response to our potential missionary journalism internship in Costa Rica, one graduate student emailed us later: “I cannot describe the tug in my heart, nor the beckoning I feel toward this opportunity. I only know that it is of Him and that I’m ready to take a risk for Christ.” She also blogged about the convention’s Faith track and how it impacted her.

All this at a college journalism convention. We certainly claim no credit. It was sure fun to have a front-row seat, though. God is beginning to open doors, and minds, to amazing possibilities: Telling stories of what he is up to around the world, and how people can get involved.

Seems to me that is a recipe to help start a revival. Or at least to cover one.

The Wedding Veil

Posted: October 18, 2012 by Jim Killam in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about thin places – places or moments when the veil between heaven and earth is especially transparent. That was a few days before my daughter Lindsey’s wedding, when my kids and I got to experience another one.

First, of course, it was the joy of seeing my beautiful daughter in her wedding dress for the first time, and getting to walk her down the aisle and give her to her new husband, Cory. But during those scripted moments came one that was special and very unscripted.

The wedding was held in a very small, old church. With the audience seated, all the attendants walked in and took their places. Then my two married sons, Ben and Zack, who were the ushers, closed the sanctuary’s two heavy wooden doors. Lindsey and I came up the stairs from the dressing area. Suddenly it was just the four of us, alone there in the vestibule – Lindsey holding my left arm, Ben and Zack looking at us and smiling warmly. No one needed to say a word.

At that moment, all the years of parenting, of being responsible for the care, safety and well-being of my kids, were ending. Another era was beginning. Our family has been through some heartache these past few years. But in that private moment with my kids, it all melted away as we exchanged those knowing smiles. It only lasted 30 seconds at most, but 25 years of memories flashed through my mind.

And then Ben and Zack slowly opened the doors, revealing a beautiful bride for her groom. Lindsey and I slowly walked down the aisle. I took my place beside my own beautiful wife, held her hand, and together we watched the season of our lives change before our eyes.

From a beautiful wedding and a great day, that quiet moment in the vestibule will stick with me the most, I think. We don’t always recognize or appreciate life’s biggest moments until much later. But in this one, I could feel God whispering, “Everything is all right.”

And momentarily, that veil between heaven and earth seemed about as thick as my daughter’s wedding veil.

Faith in a Drought

Posted: October 9, 2012 by Jim Killam in disillusionment, doubt, fear, missions, nature

A stiff, cold wind blew in yesterday. It took our spectacular fall color and whipped most of it to the ground. That’s a harsh reminder of one season ending and a long, cold Illinois winter perhaps starting early.

The cold wind also bookends a terrible drought year, when it was tough for anything to grow and thrive, and when dirt and dust covered just about everything around here.

For my wife and me, the drought extended into most of life. It’s been an especially dry season of raising support for our upcoming missions work. With a couple of notable exceptions, possibilities that had looked promising simply dried up and blew away. I worked hard all summer and, like the farmers around here, I saw little payoff for all of that toil. Just a lot of indifference, outright rejection or simply being ignored. Plus, unlike the farmers, we didn’t have crop insurance. If God doesn’t come through, we are sunk.

Didn’t I just sacrifice a career? Didn’t we just sacrifice our home and comfort, to follow God’s clear calling on our lives? Aren’t we living in a shed? And the result so far is … frustration and disappointment? Really?

A drought becomes a vivid reminder that so much of life, and even our ability to sustain life, is beyond our control and incredibly fragile. A dry season turns us to God in a way that abundance does not. It’s human nature to tell God “please” a lot more than “thank you.” Our need for him, and the fallacy of self-reliance, becomes so much more obvious in a drought.

A drought favors plants with deep and healthy root systems. It favors good soil rather than shallow, rocky soil (Matthew 13:6, the Parable of the Sower – “But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root.”) Things that we relied on, but were far more fragile than we realized, get stripped away. Only those things with the deepest roots survive – and even they sustain some damage.

So, what was stripped away for us in this year of spiritual drought? First, our nice home. Then our comfortable income. Both of those were voluntary steps of faith, and though we didn’t say it, I think we expected a reward. Instead, our modest savings dwindled. We lost comfort and convenience – the ability to simply take a shower, or cook a meal, without planning. We lost confidence in our abilities to restore that comfort and convenience. Pride in accomplishments evaporated. All of that admiration received when I quit my job to follow a calling? A distant memory now. Ultimately, we lost confidence that, in response to our steps of faith, God would act when and how we wanted him to act.

And now, 10 months into our spiritual drought, what remains? What has grown improbably?

Our faith looks different today. Tired of comfort and safety, we willingly (if not always enthusiastically) ceded those things. There is no more predictability to life, and that can be frustrating. That sense of adventure and excitement we were counting on does show up more, but it isn’t constant. It’s sometimes punctuated by serious doubt, as in “What did we just do?” And this after some previous dark seasons where hope seemed only a hollow promise.

We have learned, far more vividly than ever before, what it looks like to rely on God for absolutely everything – how, when comfort and convenience are stripped away, God becomes more visible.

But, while visible, God also can be frustratingly silent in a drought. Often, our cries for help seem to go no further than the ceiling. We found ourselves with the unspoken feeling that God owed us success in raising our support after we took such a big step of faith. And the “reward” was … days and weeks where no one – and I do mean no one – responded to my letters, phone calls and emails about the calling God has given me. (Do you know how discouraging it is for missionaries when people won’t even return a phone call or a personal email? Even a “no” is better than being ignored.) Meanwhile, bugs, vermin and bad smells remind us that we are indeed living in a farm shed. What once felt like an adventure is now a lot harder and less fun.

But we cling to God anyway, because we’ve received a calling and we have nowhere else to go. Like the Spanish explorer Cortez, we have burned the ships. There is no turning back, and there are no guarantees of safety ahead. I think of a line from Pete Sommer’s book, “Getting Sent”: “The road we are sent on is not smooth, but it goes Godward.”

And I start to realize … maybe this is what faith really looks like.

Living a Real Life

Posted: October 5, 2012 by Lincoln Brunner in Christ's example, fear, missional living, missions

photo by Chensiyuan

I just got off the phone with one of the most courageous men I’ve ever met.

This guy — I tell you what. Talk about guts. He’s a pastor, and he walks into favelas (slums) in Rio de Janeiro that are ruled by drug lords and patrolled by traffickers toting machine guns, and he talks to them about Jesus. And he often goes at midnight, to their block parties, when they are most likely to be out on the street.

And here’s the kicker — he’s not alone. Dozens of people from his church go with him, singing and praying and breaking up into small groups that go out and evangelize the dealers and their customers.

And they do this regularly. This is inner-city ministry at its best, and its riskiest. Just the other day, one of these midnight care envoys got caught in the crossfire between a drug gang and one of the special forces police squads that hunts traffickers down and kills them. They were right in the middle of the whole thing. Not one of them got hurt, praise God, though many of them easily could have gotten shot.

Perhaps not surprisingly, this guy’s church has grown from four people, including him and his wife, to more than 700 in four years. Why? Well, there’s probably lots of reasons why, beginning with the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives, followed by the church’s insistence that Christian faith means discipleship — which means going out and reproducing believers. But how do they bring themselves to carry that out? Courage.

I think it’s plain and simple courage that drives this church forward and upward. They walk with courage born of a deep belief that Jesus has their backs and will empower them to go reach lost people, even in crime-ridden slums. Especially in crime-ridden slums.

This is a faith worth having. These are lives worth living. Scared? Sure they are. But being scared isn’t an excuse for a Christian not to do something. For Christians, courage means obeying the God who says “yes” despite the fears that say “no.”  We can trust God’s “yes” over Fear’s “no” any day.

I love hearing stories and watching movies about people who overcome fear to do something that they know they must do. Donald Miller talks a lot about this in his fantastic book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (easily his best, I believe). Think of a movie worth watching — I can almost guarantee that the story is basically about someone fighting through or overcoming some fear or obstacle on their way to getting something worth having. In fact, a story really isn’t a story without that.

That’s what made my hourlong interview with this guy seem like 10 minutes. It was the constant feeling I had that this guy’s life is going to make a great story — that this guy is living a real life. (Look for the article soon on reachglobalnews.org).

I feel bigger after I talk to someone like this pastor. It’s a feeling of “If he can do that, surely I can (fill in the blank with a much safer task).”

Living a real life means doing what you know you have to do despite your fears. In other words, living with courage. I’m really looking forward to meeting this guy someday. And I sincerely hope it’s in Rio before heaven.

What in the World are We Looking For?

Posted: September 30, 2012 by Jim Killam in nature, the poor

The Celtic spiritual term, thin places, refers to where the veil between heaven and earth seems thinner, more transparent.

These may be physical places or particular circumstances. They’re different for everyone. But whether we realize it or not, we all look for them. Sometimes we seek desperately, without a clue as to what we’re really looking for.

When John Denver wrote the line, “Talk to God and listen to the casual reply,” he was talking about thin places.

So was Geoff Moore in his song “Out Here”:

I’m high above the timberline
Where the sky and mountains meet
Up where the air is very thin
Somehow it’s easier to breathe

These are a few thin places for me:

  • Hiking along the edge of the Continental Divide in Montana. Being enveloped in God’s grandeur.
  • A really fun wedding feast, because it foreshadows the ultimate wedding feast.
  • Any close encounter with wildlife: a grizzly bear, a moose, a bald eagle.
  • And surprisingly, after great tragedy. My wife and I spend a week working at an orphanage in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake. Amidst unfathomable pain, surrounded by kids missing assorted limbs, we saw Jesus more clearly than we ever have before or since.

I believe people are wired to seek God. When we encounter thin places, we’ve come a few steps closer. And that is why we explore.

What are your examples of thin places?