Archive for May, 2012

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Waiting for the Children of God

05/29/2012

Whenever our church goes to pick up trash heaps around town, we always begin by reading the following text.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:18-21 NIV)

I am glad that we use this text because of how it obviously speaks to God’s redemptive purposes for all of creation, including trash piles alongside the road. But, I also love using this passage because it is at the core of my theology of mission in general. Let me explain.

I am unapologetically and unwaveringly committed to Christ’s church and her essential role in God’s redemptive purposes. I neither say that lightly nor without the awareness of atrocities committed in her name. Despite her shortcomings, I love her.

I love her because I see the unique and powerful role she plays in God restoring all creation. In verse 19, Paul writes that “all creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.” This is an amazing claim about God’s people. Creation is enslaved and groaning under the weight of death, sin and suffering. And what creation is longing for is the emergence of the children of God–that is, people who are living out the way of Jesus for the sake of the world. What the world needs is for some people to be willing to die for it. Even if the world doesn’t believe the gospel, the world will move towards liberation because the church is living out the gospel in its midst. Liberation will come when a group of people begin giving away their second shirt to the one who has none. Liberation will come when a group of people practice radical hospitality to sinners and tax collectors. Liberation will come when a group of people take care of widows and orphans while also loving their enemies, and loving them as Jesus loves. Liberation will come when a group of people take up their crosses and follow him.

This is why I believe that being the church and inviting others to be the church is at the heart of mission. There are lots of ways to improve communities and serve the world, but the church is essential because new creation is only possible when kernels of wheat fall to the ground and die. The church, as as she participates in Christ’s death and resurrection, is able to live in a radically alternative way. When the church lives as if death no longer has a sting, we will then see death lose its sting before our very eyes.

That is what propelled me to come to Thailand. I want to love the people of Phayao like Christ loves them. I came thinking that this part of creation was eagerly waiting for the children of God to be revealed.

I still believe all that, but I have also begun to read this passage in a slightly different way after being here for almost three years. Before, I always read myself in the place of the “children of God.” However, I now resonate with the other side of the equation. I am creation, eagerly anticipating the children of God in Phayao to be revealed. I long for a group of Phayao people to live out the gospel in community with us in order to bring liberation. I am groaning. And I can’t wait to see the children of God.

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A Hundredfold?

05/28/2012

I need a little help with something. I have read Mark 10:29-31 numerous times in my life, heard sermons on it, and even taught it to half-awake freshman in college at 8:00 a.m. But, I must confess, I don’t understand these words.

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” (Mark 10:29-31 NIV)

There was a time in which I thought I had it figured out, but that time has passed. I’ve recently read a couple things about this text and listened to a sermon podcast that mentioned it. They all used the text in the same way I once did, but I don’t read it that way any longer. In fact, I am perplexed by it. Can someone please explain to me what in the world Jesus is saying? Seriously, I would love to hear what you think.

Here’s the thing. As a missionary, few verses have been uttered to me more often than this verse. I mean, this is a missionary’s verse, right? Missionaries up and leave friends and family and home, thus it makes it sense that this verse should apply. Because of that, I have often heard people encourage us in the midst of leaving our home with the promise of receiving a hundredfold. And I was encouraged.

The problem is that my experience has not aligned with this promise. I am not aware of a hundredfold of anything, whatever that might mean. I left, and, honestly, nothing has replaced those things, not to mention a hundred times over. It’s not that it is so hard to be away; it’s just that I want so much more here.

Some might say that I just need to be patient. Possibly. Maybe my hundredfold has a 5-year maturation period. I might just be jumping the gun. But, if we’re honest, I don’t think that’s the case. Because (and here’s the real problem with how this text often gets used) if we really did believe that we will receive a hundredfold by leaving, then who wouldn’t go? That is Investing 101.

I started wrestling with this a few months ago when each member of our team took a day to spend in solitude. We were to reflect on the “You’ve heard it said…” passages in the Sermon on the Mount. Our task was to come up with a new “You’ve heard it said…” that would call us to even greatest discipleship. We were to think of common ideas we hear, and think about how Jesus might recast them.

As I thought about these passages, I realized how we have often done to Jesus’ own words what people in Jesus’ day did to Torah. We have taken radical words of Jesus and domesticated them, rationalized them, and sentimentalized them. So, I started to think about what Jesus might say to us if he preached the Sermon on the Mount in the 21st century. These were my first couple of drafts. “You’ve heard it said, ‘Blessed are the poor.’ But I say, “Let’s not be silly, this is not about you. I meant blessed are those who are actually poor.” Or, “You’ve heard it said, ‘Love your enemies and turn the other cheek.’ But I say, ‘No seriously, I meant that. Love them. For real. That didn’t mean love them in that I’m-gonna-kill-you-if-you-mess-with-me kind of way.”

After a few other attempts, I began to focus on the Mark 10 passage and started to wonder if we have missed something. So, I wrote, “You’ve heard it said, ‘Go, leave all those things and you will receive a hundred times more. The first shall be last and the last shall be first.’ But I say, ‘Go, leave all those things. The first shall be last and the last shall be first.'”

I wrote this because I wonder if we, or more specifically if I, would still go without the hundredfold. Is it worth leaving all those things without the promise of a return on your investment? Is going just because you feel sent reason enough to go and sufficient to make you stay? If we go only because we will reap some benefit for ourselves, then we may not have a reason to stay when we don’t see a return.

With all that said, I still wonder what that passage means? Any ideas?

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Our Friend From Down the Street

05/22/2012

His name is Moodang, and he messed up my life.

I know this will come to a surprise to some of you, but I am an introvert. Shocking, right? But, seriously, I am a casebook introvert. I am solid “C” on the DISC profile. I am your model INTP on Myers-Briggs. Therefore, I like my time alone and my time at home with just the fam. After a day of being with the people (and for me, that means one or two conversations with actual human beings), I want nothing more than a quiet evening at home.

Therefore, it is frustrating when my outgoing, compassionate wife disrupts my schedule by showing love and hospitality. This was the case a few weeks ago, and things have not been the same since.

After the school year ended in February, we noticed that a young boy was hanging around our tiny street. We knew that he was staying three houses down with an older man who lives by himself, but we knew nothing about why he had entered our little neighborhood. He would ride his bike up and down the street at all hours of the day, in search of anything to break up the monotony of his day. Occasionally
he would ride by while the girls played on their swings outside, but he would only smile when we greeted him. He was obviously shy, or just slightly confused as to why two blonde-haired girls lived at the end
of his grandfather’s road.

After a couple of weeks of silence, Ann finally broke through when she told him that he is welcome to play on our swings, even when we are not home. He said, “Thanks.” I appreciated Ann’s effort, but there was no way this little boy was ever going to step foot on our property. But, then again, I’ve been wrong before.

The next day I came home from work, and Ann told me that the little boy swung for a while while the girls ate lunch inside. He didn’t stick around for long, but a threshold had been crossed.

Over the next few days we saw signs that the boy had been swinging while we were gone, but he still wasn’t ready to engage with this strange family. At this point I was feeling good about our radical hospitality and hoped that he enjoyed playing on our swings occasionally. Apparently, Ann thinks hospitality should involve more than occasional sessions on play equipment, and this little boy thinks my need for peaceful and orderly evenings is not that important.

It might have been a Tuesday, but I’m not sure. I arrived home on my motorcycle and saw the fam playing out front. I was eager to hear about their day, push the girls on their swings and relax around the dinner table. What I didn’t expect to see was that little boy pushing both girls on their swings, with laughter and smiles from all three billowing out from underneath our carport. I looked at Ann with a mixture of confusion and surprise. She just stood there beaming, enjoying her labor of love. After I parked she introduced me to Moodang, our new friend from down the street. He greeted me with a respectful, yet hesitant, wai. Ann proceeded to tell me about our guest. He is 12 years old and attends a boarding school outside the city. (Ann and I both guessed he was eight because of his size. He is a Thai version of me at that age.) He is staying at his grandfather’s house during the “summer” break and would return to his school when the new semester started. His mother worked long hours selling noodle soup, so needed help with caring for Moodang. His grandfather worked some, so he spent his time looking for a little fun. He obviously found some based upon the sounds coming from the swings section.

Now that the ice was broken, life around the Reese house began to change. A couple of days later, I called Ann during the day, and I heard lots of noise on her end. She said that the girls and Moodang were having a pillow fight in the living room. He was inside our house, and it seemed he was here to stay.

We saw a lot of Moodang during the next few weeks. It started with a couple of hours a day. However, it quickly turned into an all day affair. He and the girls would do puzzles, play on the swings, ride bikes, run circles through the hallway, and wrestle on the floor. Moodang would often eat lunch with us and, at times, stay through dinner as well. The big day came when he finally got the courage to go on an outing with Ann. She had promised the girls a trip to the ice cream shop, and Moodang jumped in as well. Ann loved taking her four kids out for a treat.

Moodang’s life is not the easiest; enough said for a blog. Thus, Ann felt an ache in her heart for that little boy who rode up and down the street and wanted him to know that he is loved. And he soon became a great friend to our girls. It was truly a joy having him around. He is respectful. He cleans up after himself. He plays so gently with Brynn and Meg. And they love laughing and giggling with him. Brynn’s Thai has improved immensely after spending so much time with Moodang. And Meg loves getting piggy-back rides from him. We joke about how fun it is to have 4 kids in our family.

I have to admit that I wasn’t thrilled the first time I came home to Moodang in my living room. I was tired and ready for some downtime. I’d like to think I highly value the practices of hospitality and compassion, but, in reality, it is mostly in my head. I value them as long as they don’t intrude on my expectations of ease and order. But, I now realize, that means I really didn’t value them after all. Because hospitality will only be an act of grace when you free some space in your world in order to welcome the other. And that means it’s going to cost you something, especially when you are an introvert. So, I am glad there are Anns out there to push me outside of my comfort zone. Without her welcoming spirit our lives would never have been blessed with the presence of Moodang in our home. And though Moodang did  interrupt my life, I have been blessed a hundredfold by “our oldest” playing with the girls, eating meals with us and joining us for ice cream. In the future  hope I can be more interruptible for others like that little boy who rides up and down our street.

Epilogue: The new school year snuck up on us, and we didn’t get to say goodbye to Moodang before he left. He’s not around, and we all feel the vacancy. Almost every time we drive past his house  Meg will yell “Mooooodaaaaang.” We are already looking forward to the next school break.

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Heroes of the Faith–Friends of Refugees

05/21/2012

Living in Thailand these past few years has increased my appreciation for the condition of immigrants. While my circumstances are not extremely difficult, it is a struggle learning to live in a foreign land. There are so many rules and laws and customs of which I am unaware. It is a beating trying to get a driver’s license or a visa renewed. Plus, my long-time community of friends and family are not around to help out. That makes living here a challenge at times.

This experience has made me more sympathetic to the challenges facing immigrants, and refugees in particular. I can only imagine what it feels like for a person to move to a new land, seeking peace and asylum, and then be greeted by language barriers, bureaucracy, loneliness, unemployment, and discrimination. It is wearisome to live on a steady diet of frustration and hopelessness. And, thus, I am sure it is a great joy when that rare person steps out and offers love, help, and companionship in the midst of an overwhelming situation.

In light of that, when it comes to my heroes in the faith, I immediately think of people who are willing to disrupt their lives in order to bring peace into the lives of refugees. This is a great work, and these are great people. I am extremely grateful for people like Jonathan and Jessica Goudeau, Chad and Summer Walters, and Jody and Donna Lee. In the midst of full-time jobs and raising families, they have given up countless hours to bring some good news to strangers in a foreign land. They have provided employment opportunities, taught English, housed children, welcomed them at church, provided meals and much more. They embody radical hospitality in a world of self-reliance and independence. For them, and for others like them, I thank God because caring for a refugee is as close to the heart of God as anything I can think of. I will surely follow people like this.