Monday, November 21, 2005

God at work

I have just returned from a pastor's conference in central Brazil. I visited a thriving Brazilian city which is the center of Brazil's booming farming belt.

A little over 25 years ago I visited this same city called Goiania with the thought of planting a church. God led us to Sao Jose instead. Now, after a 25 year absence I could see clearly how God has worked in this once small city. When I visited it in 1980 the presence of any kind of church where the Gospel of Jesus was clearly preached was rare. Today, the city is one of Brazil's most evangelized and discipled cities. The impact on the community is clear to see.

It is wondeful to see how God's workings go on and on. We are invited to join Him in the work. We are not the key--He is.

I shared the message of Abiding in Jesus with pastors and leaders who are working with God in Goiania. It was a wonderful thing to see how busy our God is in the lives of men and women across our world.

By the way, I have been asked to consult and counsel in the planting and development of a church in Goiania! I may get my chance to be a part of a church planting effort there after all. With our very active God we are never out of the plan.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Our gaze

Being so far from family and friends is the hardest part about being here in Brazil. If "absence makes the heart grow fonder", our family and friends need to know our love has grown greatly. It has!

One thing that helps us is the wonderful invention called e-mail--especially e-mails that contain pictures. Gazing at a picture that came from one of our "children" is like being with them. When we are together we get to see the same things at the same time.

Abiding is to be seeing Jesus clearly as our source of satistaction and purpose. Abiding depends on paying attention to the Vine. Abiding has to do with the direction of our gaze.

Yesterday Pam and I visited a mountain hotel where we spent a few wonderful days back in the ancient 80's. To gaze on the unchanging beauty of that place made our past connect with our present. It also gave great hope for the future. We were inspired as we gazed on what God keeps satisfying each day.

When we are abiding we are gazing at Jesus. When our children are abiding they are gazing at Jesus. When our friends are abiding they are gazing at Jesus.

How far away can we be from each other if we can all see the same wonderful person at the same time? I feel close to all I love when I gaze on Jesus. Can you see Him right now?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

The Space

My recent "blog" about the view from the pastor's home created a wonderful conversation. One person asked a great question. "Does living in a third world country mean one serves God better?" That may not be he exact question but it is close.

Where I live does not prove anything about whether I am serving God better or worse. The will of God is not a place. The will of God is a disposition or what I call "cooperating constantly with God's intentions." I can be in the will of God at any place and in any time if I am in harmony with the God's intentions and can, by His grace, sustain those intentions which began in Him. That sounds complicated!
In reality it is not if we use a metaphor. I love metaphors.

Think of a flower that is in my office at church. Poor flower! I am terrible with flowers. They all suffer if they are in my "care." Yet, I have never seen a flower stop being what it was made by God to be even though I mistreat it. It is what it is by its creation blueprint. It never fails to sustain its intention as begun by the Creator. No matter what I do. it keeps glorifying God where it is. It is what it was made to be no matter what I do or do not do. It suffers and may even die, but it will remain true to its Creator. That is why it is beautiful.

We humans have the capacity to choose. Someone once explained this to me in a helpful way. They said there is a "space" between stimulus (externals) and response (actions). In that space we live and make our choices. People who are successful in some way have mastered the space in such a way that their responses are predictable. We can count on them.

When I try to be "successful" in doing God's will I hear Jesus saying "without Me you can do nothing." He is so right.
I am far less successful than the flowers! I cannot sustain God's love toward my neighbor. I cannot cooperate with God's intentions like the flowers always do. The stimulus (externals) stop me. What can I do?

I must "abide in the Vine" in the space between stimulus and response. I must learn to let God's blueprint for humans (the life of Jesus) be my life. I must live in "oneness" with Jesus and then I will release the fruit of God's intentions no matter what the stimulus may be. Only then will I be predictable like the flower.

I do not believe my pastor friend in the poor area of Brazil is doing more of the will of God here than my pastor friends in the U.S.A. I believe my pastor friend here is like a beautiful flower where he has been planted by God. For me it was obvious that he abides in Jesus in the space between stimulus and response. I was impressed with Jesus' beauty in him where he lives.

Poverty is a powerful stimulus. Wealth is a powerful stimulus. The love of wealth is the more powerful stimulus in the world for wrong responses. (Remember that "love of money is the root" verse?) Since it is such a powerful stimulus, the toughest place to live God's will may be in the presence of great wealth. I do not know for sure if it is harder to do God's will in abundance or in lack. All I know is we must abide wherever we live in order to do God's will. First world or third world it is all God's world. With money or without it is still possible to abide.

The place where we should serve best will take care of itself as we abide. The Vinedresser will decide where we can best respond to the stimulus of this world and bear the most fruit. The point is, I saw a "flower" ( my pastor friend) in a place where I did not expect to see a flower so I pointed to him and said "Wow!" It was a lack of faith on my part to be so surprised. Why should I be surprised to see the power of God's will manifested in a poor neighborhood or on Wall Street? Abiding can handle it.

The will of God is to abide wherever we are. Be like the flower.

I pray you don't get assigned to a place like my office. If you do, God knows. Abide there even to the death. His will is the most important thing in the world--not the stimulus. Somehow I believe flowers who give their lives in my office receive special love from the Creator. I believe those who live near great and difficult externals receive special love to see them through.

Monday, November 07, 2005

The view from the Pastor's home

I have just returned from a wonderful time of ministry in Brazil's third largest city. Little by little God is allowing me to reconnect with pastors and their families across Brazil. What an education!

For the past three days I was hosted in the home of a dear pastor who lives and ministers in a humble, working class area of Belo Horizonte. This pastor, his wife and three children, ages 13, 18 and 21,treated me to the very best they have. I was blessed. What a family!

One thing that struck me was the difference between what this man has had to work with over the past 16 years he has led his church and what I have enjoyed over the last 16 years. Perhaps the view from his home captures it best. (see the pictures from my room) What he and his family look out on each and every day is what many call "the third world "

I am not sure where the term "third world" came from, but I know this. I have lived and worked in the "first world."
Basically to live in the first world is to work with the best the world has to offer. The best healthcare, the best police protection, the best schools, the best roads, etc. To live in the third world is to live with much less--perhaps 2/3 less.

Each day this family looks out on a world that is about 1/3 of what I have enjoyed. One third of the security, one third of the opportunities, one third of the privacy, one third of the books, one third of the space. Their tiny car with six of us jammed inside was definitely "third world."

To live in the "third world" is to live with less of everything unless you can create your own little "first world" as a few can and do. This pastor can never create a "first world" for his family. This is and will be his family's only world.

It is hard to see such a difference and not feel guilty. Yet, one thing became clear to me while in their home. They may live with two thirds less of everything materially, yet the inside of their home was one of the happiest most godly places I have ever been. I have seldom, if ever, met more godly young people in my life. The pastor and his wife have raised three of the most passionate Christians I have ever met. I have seldom met a more beautiful couple in ministry. All they could talk about was how they could better serve their people.

In the Kingdom of God there is no material advantage or disadvantage. In the Kindgom of God the first may even be last.
I, for one, know I will be hard pressed to match the joy and love for God I saw from my view inside the home. The view from the window was nothing to impress but the inside view was as good as any in the world.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

October Update