Every time I get a chance to read about how my passport country is doing, it is difficult to digest. Division seems to rule the day. One friend genuinely fears for her safety as a young single mother of two, afraid to walk her city. Another friend is marching across the landscape with her children, trying to be heard – trying to ensure their future safety. Online, people post cheap shots in both directions and true listening is elusive. Last night on a main-stream news from Wisconsin, two men from opposing sides faced off on the street. In the clip, one man shouts, “I just want a real dialogue!” When his ‘enemy’ responds, he shouts over him. They both shout over each other. Neither hears the other. Neither is listening to the other.
My Scripture reading of the day included Zephaniah 3:
“What sorrow awaits rebellious, polluted Jerusalem, the city of violence and crime! No one can tell it anything; it refuses all correction. It does not trust in the LORD or draw near to it’s God. Its leaders are like roaring lions hunting for their victims. Its judges are like ravenous wolves at evening time, who by dawn have left no trace of their prey. Its prophets are arrogant liars seeking their own gain. Its priests defile the Temple by disobeying God’s instructions.
But the LORD is still there in the city, and he does no wrong.
The remnant of Israel will do no wrong; they will not tell lies or deceive one another. They will eat and sleep in safety, and no one will make them afraid.”
Whatever the current state of your city, whatever the current chaos in the media, whatever your level of fear, perceived or real… there is hope. The LORD is still there in the city. He is where you are. And He promises a time when we can eat and sleep in safety when no one will make us afraid. It may not happen right here, right now. We may have to wait for eternity for that much peace, but there is HOPE now because we have the LORD with us in the city.
In the meantime, I pray Zephaniah’s ancient words of Truth for the Church: that we would not tell each other lies, that we would not deceive one another, that we would obey God, humbly accepting correction.
Listening to one another.
1 Peter 4:8 “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”
In this song When It Was Over, Sara Groves sings this verse after a fight between husband and wife, but I think it can easily apply to any division in human relationships.
For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ. (Col 2:1-5 ESV)
I heard a meditation this morning that included this passage, and it seemed to me very apropos for this time.
The point that shocked me the most (which really shouldn’t have but did) is that isolation ministry is by no means a new thing. Yes, we know that Paul spent a lot of time in prison, and that much of what we have in written from him in the New Testament is a consequence of that fact. Certainly Paul spent time with many people in face to face ministry, but for large chunks of his ministry, he simply couldn’t. Hence we have
how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face
He has extreme concern for these people and for the fruit of the gospel in their lives, and he expresses it in useful and powerful ways in his writing, though they have not yet seen each other face to face.…
So I think the point here is to take this time of isolation as a time of enforced creativity. What can we do now, because we must? One scholar in my field wrote a book while laid up with a broken leg. Bad for him in isolation, but it brought great results for our field. I’ve gotten to know WhatsApp a lot better, as that is my only contact with our local church here. One of my colleagues is even getting new language data through WhatsApp. Not something to do if you have alternatives, but I was encouraged to see him forging a way forward given that he didn’t.
The systems I would normally use for online collaboration didn’t get set up (between me and any Cameroonian language groups) before isolation orders came down, so one strategic change this will make in my work is that collaboration (including online data backups) will be the first agenda item in any work that I do. And it really should have been all along, but it just seems like one of those things you can let slide (until you can’t, much like backups.…)
The other point in this passage relevant to our time is one of the why’s Paul states:
I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.
I talk with my children about plausibility a lot, since it seems like an important concept in this phase of the information age. That is, in the time where what is actually true is less important than what sounds plausible. That is, if we hear something from a news source we trust (when did that become a thing?!?), if we can say “that sounds right”, then we believe it (or at least we’re more inclined to).
The result of this appears to be that the internet seems full of people saying all kinds of unproven (and at times unprovable) things, which align with one worldview/narrative enough that it can be accepted, because it “sounds right” from within that worldview. But is it actually true? We seem to have stopped even asking that question. So each one accepts only what sounded right based on assumptions and beliefs held before the information was ever heard. The consequence of this is the phenomena of echo chambers all around, with no one actually listening to opposing views, and no one (apparently) open to seeking or hearing the truth.
This is problematic for me, because I worship the Truth. He also called himself the Way, and the Life (John 14:6). What this means to me is that when I seek truth, it is part of my worship of Jesus. And when I ignore (or don’t care about) the truth, I ignore (or don’t care about) Jesus. So it is important to me to help push people into caring about the actual facts of a matter, before casting judgement on the basis of what is plausible alone.
But the phrase translated “plausible arguments” in the ESV actually has a number of different renderings in different translations: “well-crafted arguments” (NLT), “fine-sounding arguments” (NIV), “smooth rhetoric” (BSB), “persuasive argument(s)” (NASB/HCSB), “persuasive words” (NKJV), “arguments that sound reasonable” (CSB/NET), “false arguments, no matter how good they seem to be” (GNT). So whether the idea of plausibility means much to you or not, I hope it is clear that arguements that sound right but are not (by whatever means) are not good. And Paul is explicitly fighting against these arguments, as part of his Gospel ministry. And he brings this back to the fact that he is not physically present with them:
For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.
So perhaps what I’m saying is that I’d love the Christian church to be known, especially in this time, as people who take twitter and facebook (or whatever way we communicate other than face to face) as opportunities for ministry. That we would seek to make our communication based on reconciliation (between each other, and with God; 2Cor 5:20, Eph 2:14), and on truth –valuing it both in our own truthfulness, and in the reverence for the truth that we encourage in others. Because after all the online debates are done, after each viral video passes, the fundamental truth of our universe is that we should worship
Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Col 2:2b-3 ESV)
Joel has always been a drummer. I noticed it first in his high chair as a toddler. This past three years he has had his own drum kit in his bedroom (sorry, neighbors!) and he loves to jam out to his favorite songs. He was first chair in Symphonic band percussion all year, and enjoys playing every kind of drum.
We realized in packing up our house to move to Cameroon that he wouldn’t be able to bring his drum kit. It costs something like $14/square foot to ship sea freight across the ocean. And it certainly wasn’t going to fit in a carry-on! I had seen others travel with more compact digital drum kits, so we hatched a plan to sell his real kit & save for a digital kit. The problem came when he only got $100 for his on resale and used digital kits were $400-600.
We went to the music store in May to see if he liked the feel of the digital kit. He started with the highest caliber and played his way down to the cheaper sets. His favorite sound was on a mid-range set – the Yamaha DTX. The used one was priced around $550, so we left empty-handed.
The store had refused to return unopened replacement drum heads, so I posted them for sale on Facebook Marketplace during our garage sale to keep saving up. After a couple days not one person had responded to inquire about the drum heads. Halfway through our garage sale I got a message on them.
A worship band pastor nearby in Hurst needed them for the church drums and asked if I would consider donating them to his church for a tax deduction. My heart sank. Our whole life felt like a tax deduction. I responded with the background – “I’m actually trying to sell them for my son who is raising money to purchase a digital kit to move back to Africa…”
Carl responded, “This is a God thing! We have a digital kit that needs an easy repair that we are looking to get rid of, and I think I’m supposed to pay it forward and give it to your son!” Hope rose in my throat.
I asked for pictures. Sunday morning he sent me pictures of the dusty digital kit sitting in their storage closet. I couldn’t believe my eyes! It was a Yamaha DTX kit! Of course it was! Oh me of little faith…
Joel traded his $80 of new drum heads for a used $500 digital kit. He brought it home, spent 10 minutes fixing the missing piece, and drummed away in the garage (his room was newly painted). God not only saw us and provided for us, but He saw Joel. He saw Joel’s willingness to give up things he loves to move back to the mission field. He sees. And He cares.
Joel’s “Drum Kit from God” is all packed away now to be shipped via sea freight from North Carolina. Pray blessings for Carl and his worship ministry in Hurst. Pray it all arrives safely and quickly on the other side! Praise the God who provides! He is awesome!
Over Memorial Day weekend we held the biggest garage sale of our lives, and I confess – I am not a garage sale person. We have never lived in one home as long as we have in Texas, so every closet was full. We have never lived in such a big house as we have in Texas, so each kid had their own room full of stuff too. As we sorted and sorted and sorted, a verse kept running through my head:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…”
Kent prayed that our garage sale would be a ministry opportunity. I was doubtful. My hopes aimed much lower. I hoped someone would show. I had never conceived of a garage sale that ministered to anyone.
But God had good plans. He not only sent us buyers for hundreds of dollars, but so much more! We had so many neighbors we had never met come by to shop and wish us well. We had a passerby named Samaria stop to shop the first day. She had never seen homeschool books, and asked if she could interview our kids about their homeschool experience.
We answered her questions and talked while others milled around. Suddenly, Samaria felt convicted that she had condemned her sister in Georgia for homeschooling her nephew. She stopped there in our driveway with tears in her eyes to apologize and reconcile over the phone. They hadn’t spoken in weeks and the rift began to heal!
The next day a retired Army chaplain and his lovely family gave us extra cash after buying books & baskets. They stopped in the middle of the driveway to circle our family up and pray over us and our work. It was beautiful. And not like any garage sale I have ever been to!
I had posted some extra drum heads from Joel’s drum set online for sale and had another miraculous conversation I describe here. God provided all the buyers we needed!
Our calling involves moving internationally, and moving internationally requires traveling as light as we can. In order to run the race marked out for us (in Africa), we will cast aside all that hinders. All this stuff will slow us down. We need to run with perseverance.
It can be painful and difficult to let of meaningful belongings. Following Christ in obedience is worth the price, trading temporary comforts for eternal ones. Pray we can wrap up the sorting and selling well, ready to run our race!
Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.”
1 Samuel 7:12 (ESV)
For the last several years, it has seemed good to draw up a list of specific ways that God has helped us, as we reflect back on the ups and downs of a year drawing to a close. Some years we have needed that because we needed to see past all the more obvious and difficult things, and remind ourselves of the providence of God working all to Good, as we looked past the pain of each moment to the longer perspective. And many of those points have been more private than publishable, either because we’re not sure we wanted to lay those pains open to the whole of cyberspace, or else because the point of the joy probably just wouldn’t make sense if you weren’t there for the pain as well.
But this year, there have been many joys, and many of those joys are shareable, so it seemed right to do so, and give God glory for what has has done for us this last year (the following list us, as the secondary agents; God is the primary agent working the good out in us):
At the UT Arlington:
I took Statistics, and learned R (a statistics computer program).
I finished formal syntax, formal phonology, and formal semantics requirements, completing my coursework requirements for the doctoral degree.
I Presented the Mbo language (of D.R.Congo) at three different conferences in Feb-Mar: the UTA Student Conference in Linguistics and TESOL (UTASCILT), and the UTA Annual Celebration of Excellence in Students (ACES), and the Annual Conference on African Linguistics (ACAL)
I won an award for my presentation at ACES, talking about the integration of linguistic work and community development.
I had an awesome time at ACAL, reconnecting with some scholars, and meeting new ones, including people whose work I am building on.
My academic advisor took a job elsewhere, and I made a smooth transition to another advisor, with whom I’m getting along very well.
I presented the Ndaka language (of D.R.Congo) at UTA Linguistics department Graduate Student Showcase and the Metroplex Linguistics Conference.
I got broad departmental affirmation for my Metroplex talk.
I submitted an abstract (on Ndaka) for ACAL 47 in March 2016, which was accepted.
I fully drafted my dissertation proposal, and sent it to my committee for review.
In Personal health:
I spent far too much money on doctors and tests to find out that I needed to loose weight (which I already knew).
I lost 60 pounds, and I’ve kept it off.
I withdrew from teaching at church to focus more on our marriage.
I got back into teaching at church.
I got to enjoy some Christmas preparation.
I got to see Kim enjoy me enjoying some Christmas preparation.
I finished the fall term well, early, and in peace with myself, God and Kim.
In the Family:
We prepared and executed a trip to Oregon
We set up a website, and integrated it with Mailchimp, our blog, and our give page at Wycliffe.
We started leading a homegroup.
We celebrated James’ 13th birthday.
We got to see each of our children take major strides in trusting Christ.
We got to see each of our children excel in particular ways at school.
We got solar panels installed on our house.
We made lots of progress in our marriage, both in and out of therapy.
We successfully got each of our cars out of the shop (multiple times each).
Other ministry opportunities:
I got to lead a small group of constantly changing group of fifth graders every other week in Sunday school, where I get to teach a bit and pray for each of them.
I got to lead a boy to Christ in the 5th/6th grade class.
I have continued to pursue relationships at church and homegroup that do not respond as positively as I would like.
I finished CORPS (a training course at our local church) answering questions well on the final exam (incl some potentially divisive ones). I received a particular commendation on my respectful demeanour from our senior pastor, who lead the course (those who have interacted with me over the years may sense how much of a blessing this was to hear!).
Kim has helped make 10+ quilts, and through this ministry continues to raise up prayer for missionaries.
Kim started as a BSF group leader, leading 13 women (including non- and new believers) through a study of Revelation.
So odds are some of the above doesn’t make sense. That’s OK; maybe it’s more personal than I thought it was. Anyway, God has carried us through a lot this year, both in terms of things to bear, and things to enjoy. So it just seemed right to ring in the new year giving him the credit. To God be the glory, from whom all blessings flow!