My House Shall Be Called

by Jonathan Trotter on April 16, 2014

Photographing weddings got me through college. It also taught me about the Church. Sometimes, your day is spent with really happy people. Sometimes, it’s spent with really stressed out people. Sometimes, the really stressed out people turn into the really happy people.

You get to be around radiant brides, people who dance but really shouldn’t, and people who sing but really can’t. And you get to photograph all.of.it.

You and your camera are invited behind the scenes. You’re paid to capture the excitement, the preparation, the emotion, in pixels and jpegs.

Oh, and there’s usually good food.

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I really like weddings, and I think God does too. In fact, I think God’s planning one.

In his book, The Prodigal God, Tim Keller says, “The climax of history is not a higher form of disembodied consciousness but a feast.” He’s talking, of course, about the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, vividly described in Revelation 19:6-8. The Church is the Beloved, the Bride.

During the Last Supper, Jesus pointed to the Great Supper and said, “I will not drink wine again until the day I drink it new with you in my Father’s Kingdom.” (Matthew 26:29) Mere hours before his crucifixion, Jesus points us towards that day, the day of his Wedding.

How we think about that day greatly impacts how we live this one. And what we talk about when we talk about the Church (the Bride) has tremendous bearing on missions. If we’re embarrassed by the Church, it’s sure going to be hard to plant it. If we see the Church as optional and only vaguely connected with the Gospel, we’re neglecting something that is very close to the heart of the Father. We’re also ignoring something that enthralls the heart of the Son.

What do we think of when we think of Church? Are we a group of people longing for a party? Are we longing to see our Beloved, face to face?

When we speak of the Church, do we speak of beauty and mystery and the Bride of Christ? Do we speak about God’s Kingdom, here, now, as a great force for good in a desperate world? Or do we speak of something else entirely?

The truth is that the Church is a gloriously magnificent idea straight from the heart of the Father.

The Church is a strong entity that will not lose, even against the full forces of hell itself.

The Church is the Bride of Jesus, stunningly radiant.

The Church carries the priceless message of salvation in Jesus alone, proclaiming that everyone’s invited to the imminent feast.

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But if you’ve been hurt by the Church, by people in the Church, those last few sentences were hard to stomach.

I’m convinced that one of our main obstacles to loving the Church like Jesus loves the Church is that we’ve been hurt within the Church. (And for the record, we’ve probably hurt people too.) Pain from within the Church sours the whole idea and tempts us to run away. It makes us angry at the Church. It makes us ashamed of the Church.

Sometimes the pain comes from rude comments and mean spirits. Sometimes it comes from rejection. Sometimes the pain comes from outright abuse.

This should NOT BE.

If you’ve experienced pain from within the Church, I.Am.So.Sorry.

Please, hear the voice of Jesus, clearly, and with great compassion, as he says, “My House shall be called a house of PRAYER, not a house of PAIN. Those people did NOT represent me. They were thieves and robbers.”

Look at this picture of a loving Bridegroom defending his Bride, and may it be to you a source of solace and comfort and healing. After showing up in Jerusalem to die, “Jesus entered the Temple and began to drive out the merchants and their customers. He knocked over the tables of the money changers and the stalls of those selling doves. He said, ‘The Scriptures declare, ‘My Temple will be called a place of prayer,’ but you have turned it into a den of thieves.’” (Matthew 21:12-13)

People are still thieving and robbing in the House of God. They turn a place of prayer into a place of pain. They’re messing with the Bride and ticking off the Groom.

But here’s the thing, Jesus doesn’t just kick out the bad guys and tell everyone to stay away from the Temple. He shows up in the place of pain and turns it into a place of peace and healing.  Right after he expels the “thieves,” we’re told that “The blind and the lame came to him, and he healed them there in the Temple. (Matthew 21:14)

Right there in the Temple! Why would he do that? Because he is passionate about His people, His Bride.

If you’ve been hurt in the Church, may you also find healing in the Church.

May our churches and teams, mission orgs and NGOs, be full of healed people who heal people. May they be full of loved people who love people. May we be so satisfied in Him, so amazed by Him, so filled with joy because of Him, that we are longing for that day as much as He is.

The day of our Wedding is coming, made possible by the passionate pursuit of a dying Savior who didn’t stay dead. Alleluia. Come Lord Jesus. Come for your Bride. 

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What does the idea of the Church as the Bride of Christ mean for you? What do you do with negative experiences within the Church?

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College was a long time ago, so these photos are by my friend  Cherish Andrea and used with permission.

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Dangerous Riches

by Rachel Pieh Jones on April 14, 2014

I wrote last month about the troubling ways we sometimes talk about the poor – assigning the simplistic emotion of happiness while not allowing them a fuller, more complex array of human emotion. And about the way the poor are presented as inherently holy, simply because of their poverty.

Today I want to talk about the troubling ways rich Christians handle our wealth and our steadfast resistance to identifying with the poor, our endless and dangerous pursuit of riches, and the example Jesus set before all of us, poor and rich and everyone in between.

dangerous riches

I saw a commercial a few years ago that encapsulates the god of consumerism:

A man hands a boy a vanilla ice cream cone. The boy says, “And…?” The man adds sprinkles, hot fudge, and whip cream. The boy happily licks his treat.

A young man is offered a good job. The man says, “And…?” The interviewer gives him stock options, a corner office with a window, a month of paid vacation, and a major signing bonus. The man happily accepts the job.

A man spots the sexy butt of a woman wearing blue jeans. The man says, “And…?” The woman turns around and is gorgeous. They happily hop into bed.

A man drinks a Coke. The man says, “And…?” The Coke turns into Coke Lite. The man is happy.

This reminds me of the story in Luke 12. A farmer kept building bigger barns. He looked at his harvest and said, “And…?” And God struck him down dead. If that Coke commercial were in the Bible the ending would have been much different.

How much are we like the man, the farmer? We never have enough, we are never satisfied, we are never happy, we are never content, we are never as well-off as the person a few tiers above us. Gluttony, greed, discontent, comparison, envy, hoarding…they barely register as the serious sins they are. We take fighting poverty seriously (at least in word) and we explode over theological differences regarding the end times or marriage but we continue to consume and consume and consume and fail to recognize the danger to our souls. And just because I live and work with people of little to no income doesn’t mean I am exempt from this. Far from it.

I’m proud and I think: look how good I’m doing. I live at a lower standard than so-and-so. Or: compared to many Christians in the US, I look pretty good. As if holiness were based on how other people lived instead of being based on an absolute standard. And in the very next instant I can be self-pitying and think: I better get a good reward for this in heaven. Or: why can’t I just live in America where my standard of living would look poor and I could feel proud of my scarcity instead of ashamed of my abundance?

Lord have mercy.

There is a very real way in which the poor are free from the concerns of wealth, worry over protecting and maintaining their stuff, time wasted on managing bank accounts or caring for the goods that money buys. The Bible is clear that money is a hindrance to faith, contentment, and joy, that God has special concern for the poor, that the last will be first, that where our treasure is there our heart will also be. Did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the Kingdom, which he promised to those who love him? (James 2:5)

A wise woman wrote this to me in response to last month’s essay, “I believe that when my tangible resources are fewer here, I have at least the possibility of depending on God in quite a different way, and I think that can reap powerful and eternal benefits.”

And this, “To discard the link between poverty and holiness, and between poverty and happiness, I think does overlook some inconvenient truths for our own lives.”

I struggle with this, I feel obscenely wealthy in Djibouti. I wonder what a ‘reasonable’ standard of living is. Is a generator for power cuts when it is 120-degrees excessive? Is it excessive to run an air conditioner, to eat meat, to have a refrigerator? when so many around me don’t? I struggle to be content in cold showers or while sharing a bedroom with my entire family while we run that air conditioner.

There is an inconvenient truth in my heart that I like comfort and ease. And yet, when I am comfortable and life is easy, I do not cast myself on God. I don’t beg and plead and demand that Jesus make his presence palpable. I don’t cry for miracles, I am less desperate in prayer.

I want more than this:

To know Christ and the power of his padded bank account, the participation in his glowing accolades, becoming like him in his affluent lifestyle, and so somehow, to attain to the comfort of treasures here on earth.

Jesus didn’t take on the nature of a ‘reasonably’ comfortable human. Though he was rich, for our sake Jesus didn’t become middle class. He took on the nature of a slave. For our sake he became poor.

While I challenged us not to oversimplify the experiences and personalities of people in poverty, I also challenge us to be like Jesus and to let go of the idol of wealth. To hold our stuff and money loosely, to be generous to the point of excess, to live unreasonably, to know, and live like we know, that godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into this world and we can take nothing out of it.

How do you deal with economic disparity where you live? How do you address this issue of wealth and poverty in your own heart?

*image via Flickr

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Reflections of God

by Chris Lautsbaugh on April 11, 2014

Many times in missions, we speak of the difficulties with greater frequency than the good things.

We talk about racism.
We speak of our various phases of culture shock.
Stories of being hurt by those we work with abound.
Even at times, we venture into difficult topics like trauma or loss.

What of the positive?

I don’t mean newsletter stories of lives changed or projects completed.

What do we love about the people we work with?
What traits are present in the cultures or nations we work in which serve to glorify God?

Since all human beings are made in the image of God, there are glimpses of the Almighty which shine through in all peoples, cultures, and nations.

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We can easily point out the negatives of a culture, but what of the positives?

When people meet me as an American, they are quick to point out all our deficiencies and failures as a nation. But, what of Americans generosity and value of human life resulting in simple things such as customer service, free speech, and freedom of religion.

It is so easy to see all you do not like.

Can we take a moment to pause and see the hope and treasures our nation or people reflect of God?

In South Africa, I work in a land rift with horrible crime statistics, corruption, and an all too often broken family structure.

But as a land, South Africa and her people reflect these traits of God as they are made in his image.

- A peaceful transition to democracy.
- A land of opportunity and hope for all of Africa.
- It’s people have incredible abilities in the arts, such as art, writing, and most of all singing.

People will often look at the development here and say, “This is not real Africa”. Essentially we are saying Africa can not develop and must remain poor. This nation reflects a God given ability to “take dominion” and make things better. I love that about South Africa.

And its natural beauty in many areas is second to none.

How about you?

The only rule here is – only positive things!!! (and no criticizing or critiquing others positive statements- no one can debate what I love about America because it is how I see God through her people and my nation)

So let’s go!

Share.
Rejoice.
Learn.
Worship.

What do you love about the people you work with? How do they reflect the image of God?

What are your favorite things about the cultures or nations you serve in?

Photo By Sylwia Bartyzel

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We, the People of the Globe

by Laura Parker on April 9, 2014

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We are the people of the Globe. Not a city or a state, or even a single country, but the whole wide world–

the one He’s got in His hands.

We are a people made tender by airport goodbyes and flexible by the travel we log after those tears have dried.  We are those who open Christmas presents over Skype, who sleep in foreign beds in our home countries, who taste the pain of the missed funeral, the birth, and the regular family dinner after church.

We are a people not of roots like the Oak, deep and strong, but a people of roots like the Aspen, wide and connected, whose strength is in its breadth.  A people who taste the bitter and the sweet of yet another transition, those that wrestle with the belonging, those that understand-deep that we are all really aliens and foreigners on this mass of dirt we call earth.

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We are a people whose compassion runs deep because we’ve seen with our own eyes the orphan, the starving, the slave; “those” people have become “our” people, in fact. We might be men and women of last year’s fashion, but we are also people of this year’s front line.

Our kids may not be on the cultural cutting-edge, but they have walked the cliffs of big-faith and hard-truths and they have witnessed a God who shows up.  Again and again. And again. 

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We are men and women whose hearts bleed for those with different skin, and we are people that experience the Bride in houses and underground and among mud walls. We are those that struggle, that fail, that adventure, that hope.

People of both dramatic stories and mundane survival; people that go and let go.

We are those that have tasted life outside the boundaries and walk forever marked.

And we will continue to walk all over this whole wide world–

the One He still holds, in His hands.

*****

I wrote the above as I struggle with what it means to fully embrace this idea that missions is planted-deep in my heart. I believe fully that God can and does work in all corners of the globe, from suburbia America to African hut, and I do not belittle those that stay home by any means. It is honorable work to follow Jesus and love well, wherever that journey may lead. However, I am personally finding a new confidence in accepting that for whatever reason, God has birthed a heart for the globe in our family. And there is great hope in knowing that I’m not the only one. 

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Third Culture Kids in the World of Faith

by Editor April 7, 2014

A topic dear to many of us is third culture kids and with good reason. We either are raising them ourselves, know someone else who is raising them, or we are them. If that sounds confusing it’s because the whole topic can feel confusing! In our guest post today we hear a new voice – [...]

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The Existence Of Poo (On Shame, Part I)

by Lisa McKay April 4, 2014
Thumbnail image for The Existence Of Poo (On Shame, Part I)

Almost four years ago now, on a velvety Friday night, my husband, Mike, and I had a hot date. We’d been married a year and a half by that stage, and living in our new home-town of Luang Prabang, Laos, for three whole weeks. We decided to go somewhere special to celebrate. That somewhere was [...]

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Say Less, Listen More, Love More

by Tara Livesay April 2, 2014

The world is a garish, noisy neighborhood. Decibels and pixels abound. The phone in my pocket spews more information in hours than I can assimilate in years. I’m reminded of my college speech prof who counseled tongue-in-cheek, “Shout louder if your argument is weak.” There’s a whole lot of shouting these days.  -My Uncle, Rick [...]

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Romance, Science Fiction, and Missions (or, I Dreamed a Dream)

by Elizabeth Trotter March 31, 2014

What motivated you to go into missions? What keeps you going? Romance. I don’t know about you, but romance is what drove me into missions. The romance of being a great missionary, of changing an entire people group, of seeing a whole country turn to Christ. This romantic idea was first kindled during my children’s [...]

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Giving Good Gifts

by Kelley Johnson March 27, 2014

The Batwa people live on the edges of Burundian society, marginalized in their own country. Local humanitarian workers tell tales of these people who thwart good gifts and show little gratitude, making them notoriously difficult to work with. One organization generously gave corrugated metal roofs for the thatch-constructed homes. But soon after the installation, the [...]

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The Hard Questions

by Marilyn March 26, 2014

It was late afternoon and the sun was slowly setting across the solid blue, desert sky. The call to prayer echoed across the city of a thousand minarets. My blonde-haired 7-year-old looked at me, her deep blue eyes serious. “Is Faiza going to Heaven?” We were living in Cairo, Egypt and Faiza was our baby sitter [...]

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Home Assignment Blues

by Richelle Wright March 24, 2014

I remember when I used to think that teachers had the best job in the world BECAUSE they had a whole summer vacation. Many of my Nigerien friends think that that distinction actually belongs to missionaries on home assignment BECAUSE they have a whole YEAR vacation. Halfway through our home assignment year, halfway through our [...]

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Please Don’t Say, “They Are Poor But They’re Happy.”

by Rachel Pieh Jones March 21, 2014

Katherine Boo talks about the western ‘conceit that poverty is ennobling.’ Tracy Kidder, in his book Mountains Beyond Mountains, quotes Paul Farmer, “There’s a WL (white liberal) line – the ‘They’re poor but they’re happy’ line.’ They do have nice smiles and good senses of humor, but that’s entirely different.” I am of the opinion [...]

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