Monday, December 31, 2007

India 2007

Back in 1974 I first visited Brazil. It was my first time to be in another country and really be able to see another culture in action. That first experience of another culture was life changing. My world expanded on that day and I would never be the same.

I have just returned from 8 days in India with my dear friends Mani and Pam Maken and my world has expanded again. Truly, India is nearly beyond description for me. The purpose of my trip was to preach the dedication service of a church building the Makens financed. It is the first Christian structure in the entire history of the city called Deri Bassi.

I have spent my entire life working with the inner life of people in the Americas. Often people in the Americas don't even seem to know they have an inner life. Indians know the inner life exists!

Seeing and experiencing India opened a window on an entirely new level of religious life and thought. Never have I been in a culture that was so openly and passionately religious. I am sure it will take a while to process it all. It was overwhelming.

Here are some preliminary observations....

1. Religion will continue to shape our world. The west (USA and Europe) with their bent toward secular thinking will not be able to stop the religious momentum that continues to build in the east. Getting rid of Christianity will not stop religion from coming west. Getting rid of Christianity will only make the eastern momentum pick up speed. A religious tsunami is headed west.

2. Christian leaders who hope to be relevant in India must address the inner spiritual life questions that eastern religions address every day. Going to heaven when we die is not the question being asked in India. How to have a happy marriage is not number one on the list either. Their arranged marriages for the most part do last. They think heaven and hell are here on earth.

The question I saw being asked was about what does life mean right now and how do I connect with the very real spiritual realm to benefit me today. Hinduism, Sikhism and Islam have clear, if confused, answers for the Indian population. I did not sense the Christian community was truly in this discussion in India. That may be the effect of only being 2% of the population, but I just did not sense the Christians were taken seriously. I know 8 days is not time enough to know this for sure, but my contact with non-Christian Indians made me feel like they don't think we have anything to offer from the west except capitalism.
The non-Christians wanted to talk to me about commerce and capitalism (and Brazilian soccer) but they looked on my title "Pastor" as not very impressive when compared with "Iman", "Priest" or "Guru". No non-Christian asked me to explain Christianity's claims for today. When I tried to get in the discussion they looked at me as if the people from the west have no clue.

3. Ideas have consequences. Indian society is tragically chaotic and unjust. Shocking is not a strong enough word to describe it. " The poor are poor because they need to be poor to learn what they need for their next life" is an idea I heard repeated by some very intelligent religious leaders. This idea has left the poor on their own and it shows. 7 million live in the slums of Delhi where I spent my last night in India.

Interestingly, this idea about poverty being deserved made for a safer environment than Brazil. I guess the poor have accepted their lot in life and do not use their poverty to justify violence toward those who have more. I was in places in India that I would have expected violence to be rampant and found myself being told by Indians who were with me to calm down and relax. In Brazil I would have been looking for a quick way to escape.

4. The Abide Message fits India perfectly. The word satisfaction was made for India. Moment by Moment and 24/7 ring true in India. The door to the Abide Brazil ministry is open in India because abiding is about NOW.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

My Father The Farmer

I have just returned from three days teaching the Satisfying Life course and the Six Metaphors of a Happy Marriage series in a nearby state. A small seminary and camp ministry hosted the conference. The group was small but the openness was huge.

As I was teaching at the camp, the farming community that surrounded the camp allowed me to see something entirely new about John 15. It is hard to put into words how this new insight blessed me, but here goes.

Think for a moment about the massive, eternal and revolutionary importance of Christ's teaching and life. Nothing ever has happened that even comes close to God with us in human form. Imagine the last day of Jesus' life. He washes feet, comforts his disciples and prepares them for His coming death and their future of oneness with Him and His Father. Was there ever a more important day to describe everything exactly right?

As Jesus begins John 15 He begins with these words... " I am the true Vine and My Father is the Vinedresser..." There it is.
Everything that has happened through Jesus' perfect life has qualified Jesus to tell us that His Father is a farmer. A farmer. Not a judge. Not a ruler. Not a conquerer. A farmer.
My Father is a farmer, says Jesus, and Jesus is excited about it!

When I saw this, I caught my breath. Have I really understood that God did all He did in Jesus so He could successfully farm here in the world?

Farmers believe they can produce a certain kind of fruit or crop. If they don't believe a crop will come in, they don't plant. Farmers have taken into consideration everything in the environment and they plant believing the harvest can come no matter the circumstances that come. They don't change the environment, they know they can overcome it and harvest.

I mentioned to the students at the seminary that no one plants until someone proves it is worth it. The first to plant a new crop is always accused of being wrong. Jesus was God's proof that sustained human love could grow in this world again. A second Adam had been found. Now with Jesus in us the fruit can appear worldwide. So now God plants us everywhere and we bear Jesus' fruit.

I wonder how different the history of Christianity would have been if the church had always related to the world not as conquerers or judges but as branches of the Farmer? Who do farmers threaten? Who do Vine and branches threaten?

God is farming in this world. Let that thought sink in. Human love can grow right here if Jesus abide in us and we abide in Him. Amazing.

Take a few minutes and think about your concept of God in this world. If you see Him as judge and ruler you must surely be disappointed with what He is not doing. If you think of Him as love's Farmer, keep your eyes open and you will His fruit appearing all over the place.

I am sure the first disciples thought it strange that Jesus would be excited about having a farmer for a Father. Still, when you think about it what more important thing is there to do than sustain and feed the souls of men and women who hunger for love?

2nd photo: Seminary group
3rd photo: Recently planted Vine at the new Abide Center. Click on photos to enlarge.

Monday, December 03, 2007


During a recent trip to central Brazil a pastor took us to see one of the wonders of nature here in Brazil. It is a fruit tree like no other I have ever seen. It is called a jabuticaba tree. The fruit is delicious when eaten right on site.

As Pam and I ate our fair share of this marvelous fruit, we witnessed discipleship in action. The pastor took us to a small farm where a young couple that has just come to Christ met us. They had with them their small son. The pastor wanted us there to influence this young couple. The young couple was hungry and ready to learn.

As you look as these pictures you will see the discipleship process illustrated as Pam and were learning to harvest jabuticaba fruit. The pastor was teaching the new converts. The little boy is learning just like a new Christian must learn to feed himself on God's abundance.

We were all very satisfied!