Friday, August 31, 2012

"Heavenly Man" - Ch2

It is a struggle to not share all the miraculous accounts Yun tells us about in chapter two.  After all, we are often drawn to the spectacular.  Yet as with any miracle, the issue is not the miracle itself but what it communicates and how we should therefore respond. 

In a land of plenty it is easy for us to take the Bible for granted.  Many homes have more than one, quite often churches have some ready for guests, and bookstores have rows of them on their shelves.  Yet when Yun came to know Jesus (itself involving a miracle) at the age of 16 back in 1974, Bibles were scarce.  In fact, Yun wanted to know more about Jesus so he asked his mother if any of His teachings remained.  She replied, “No. All his words are gone. There is nothing left of His teaching.” (p26).  What she meant was due to oppression no one had Bibles anymore (or at least if they had them, they were hidden). 

For all intensive purposes Bibles were non-existent in China.  In fact, of those in Yun’s village, only a few old believers could recall even seeing a Bible many years in the past.  A former pastor in a relatively nearby village was rumored to have one, but out of fear he would not let the young and eager Yun (still known as Zhenying) see a page of it. 

So, how did Yun get a Bible?  Well, it was miraculous, but that account will have to wait for the next time. 

Yet between now and the next time I encourage you to spend some time reading in this amazing book we call the Bible.  Sadly, we live in a culture that is too easily pacified and amused.  We are often like little children running toward the empty desserts and other unhealthy things of a smorgasbord…leaving ourselves malnourished for the task of winning the world for our King – Jesus. 

Let’s face it; we need food to survive physically.  Can we say the same about the Word of God in our existence as His children?    

Oh God, give us – give me – a hunger for Your Word.  May we long to devour it like a hungry child devours food. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

"Heavenly Man" - through Ch1 [2]

So, is a lack of hardship for churches in our culture for the good or ill of The Church here?  Perhaps progressing through Yun’s story will give us some insight, or at least another perspective, on how to answer the question. 

In light of that possibility, I will call our attention to two additional accounts in the book’s opening pages before moving further.  In the preface of “The Heavenly Man” Xu Yongze, the chairman of the Sinim Fellowship of House Church Leaders in China, says, “I believe God allowed the atheist government to destroy the old structure of the Chinese church so that he could rebuild it according to his own purposes.  He started with little and has made it much!” (p8).  Then in chapter one we learn of the timing of a Lutheran Missionary’s arrival in China from Norway (Marie Monsen) on September 1, 1901.  Christians in Yun’s home province say she was used mightily by God to strengthen churches there. 

Let us look at the account of Ms Monsen first.  The timing of Marie’s arrival becomes alarming when we learn it was a year after “The Boxers” instigated a nationwide attack against foreigners in China.  These “Boxers” massacred more than 150 missionaries and thousands of their Chinese converts (p19).  In case you missed it, Marie’s going to China was in direct response to the martyrdoms of the previous year.  Her actions were either foolish or bold.  The Gospel shows us clearly which descriptor belongs to her actions – bold.   Yet what do we do with that?  How do we apply that same boldness here? 

The comment by Xu Yongze in the preface is intriguing.  It calls to mind the providence of God seen in various places in the Bible (e.g., the second and seventh chapters of Daniel).  In light of that, is God allowing (directing?) things in the U.S. Government (or our culture) to accomplish His purposes?  Are there signs of movement toward a destruction of “the old structure of the American church so He can rebuild it according to His own purposes”?  I will lay aside my disdain for the labels “Chinese Church” and “American Church” simply because they make the above statements more poignant.  Yet I will add there is only The Church, and she transcends national labels and identities. 

With that said, are there signs of God allowing things to happen here so that we are moved in a direction He knows is ultimately for the best?  What are some possible ways we can identify these moves?  Is doing this risky?  What pitfalls should we avoid if we attempt this? 

It seems to me the clearest way to see the work of God is after the fact.  After all, Jesus was missed by everyone; even His disciples did not fully get it until the ascension – and they were still slow in coming to grips with what God was doing and had done.  Therefore, it seems it would have been difficult to convince Christians in China that the oppressive Communist Government would ultimately serve God’s purpose.  Yet it did – God is amazing like that you know?  Praise His marvelous name!!!    

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

"Heavenly Man" - through Ch1

About two years ago, a good friend (Shane J. Wood) introduced me to the story of “Brother Yun”.  Shortly after hearing some about Yun I promptly ordered “The Heavenly Man,” which is basically his story.  I have already read the book once, but am reading it again and will share some reflections as I progress through the book this time.

The book’s title uses the nickname affectionately given to Yun, whose given name is Liu Zhenying, by brothers and sisters in China as a result of an incident back in 1984.  While under arrest Zhenying refused to endanger his fellow believers by giving his name while being interrogated.  As he yelled “I am a heavenly man! My home is in heaven!” local believers were made aware of the danger so they could flee and avoid arrest (p13). 

The first chapter gives a brief history lesson of governmental control in Yun’s home province of Henan.  The chapter tells of atrocities committed against Christians during the Communist government takeover in the mid 20th century.  While these accounts are awful, it is often hard for us to relate to such hardship.  However we should not ignore them.  In fact, it seems we ought to be led to ponder if a lack of hardship in America is for the good or ill of The Church here.  Granted, this may not be a popular question, yet it is worth considering.  Another way of posing it could be, “Is God more concerned about our comfort or the advancement of His Kingdom?”  Or is that too direct or inaccurate?    

Monday, August 13, 2012

Tire Changing Practice – and driving reflections…

As mentioned earlier, we had a recent trip to Colorado for a wedding.  It was a great trip despite some difficulties.  One difficulty, that actually happened two times, was that of tire changing practice. 

On one hand I do not really need practice changing tires.  Yet on the other hand it, well, they, allowed opportunity for reflection.  The first change took place between Ft. Morgan and Greeley in Colorado on the way to the wedding.  Long story short, a “goose egg” developed on the front driver’s side tire.  It was quite bad and by the time I finally stopped we were fortunate to not have it blow out.  After putting on our donut spare, we limped into Greeley and got a used tire.  Immediately I noticed Taurie (the name of our Taurus) pulling hard to the right; not good.  I sadly surmised she got knocked out of alignment between the tire going bad and me changing it.  However, as we found out a few days later on the way home, this hard pull to the right was because…the tire was bad.  It blew out about 20 minutes west of Salina, Kansas, on the way home.  Since we now have new tires on Taurie, and there is virtually no pull to the right, I do not know what to chalk the previous “rightward pull” up to other than a bad tire. 

Just prior to the tire blowing out on the way home, I started to feel a wobble and was actually in the process of slowing down because this seemed familiar (yes, I am quick aren't I).  I will admit this was a struggle for me because I wanted to get home and was thinking of the down time we were about to have.  Yet more than down time we wound up having damage to the front driver’s side of Taurie - bummer. 

Condensing the story a bit, we were set to stay with some friends in Salina because I was not about to drive the remaining two hours and twenty minutes home (at normal speed) at 45mph or so, which would have made that trip a lot longer…  Yet they graciously allowed us to borrow their car because he was headed to Emporia the next morning.  On top of that, Melissa’s Dad was already heading to Salina Monday morning for his business, so he was able to bring an old/spare tire that enabled Dustin to arrive in Emporia with Taurie mid-Monday afternoon. 

So, with all of those details, here are a few reflections:
1) Practicing thankfulness. 
Things could have been much worse.  The blowout could have led to a wreck. 
I am thankful for the body of Christ helping – both friends and biological family. 
Yet this also leads me to wonder.  Was this God watching over us?  It would be nice to think so.  Yet there are many people who love God, who have had similar situations, and have not been as fortunate. 
In situations like this I often land on being thankful.  Whether it was God directly or simply circumstances, I can thank God for things going as well as they did…I do not think this diminishes His involvement at all.   
2) Get over, please. 
If you do not stop to help someone alongside the road who needs help, at least get over in the other lane if one is available.  People traveling at Interstate speeds, just a few feet away if they happen to be on the white line, is not a good thing when you are changing a tire.  
3) Do not drive like a jerk. 
Driving right behind someone in a construction zone because they are going slow will not necessarily speed them up.  I realize it is tempting to think “Well, tailgating isn’t working, but I bet my super-bright, land a plane in the wilderness lights will speed them up!!!”  Yet Mr. (or Mrs.) Dodge Pickup Truck Driver, there is only so fast I will go with a donut tired on the front and my family in the car with me; sorry to slow you down a bit.     
4) I do not leave much space for “life”.  
I usually leave in just enough time to arrive wherever I am heading in just enough time (sometimes 10-15min ahead of time).  Well, for the wedding rehearsal that was not enough time to change a tire, find a used one, have it put on, and get there.  Maybe I will allow 20-25 minutes next time. 

Reflections on a reflection… 
I am amazed at how much of a jerk I can be when I drive.  I have made huge strides in my patience, but I am the CEO of “there ought to be a license for people who know how to drive and therefore get special privileges” club.  Well, even if it does not exist, I am certain there are others who share the same sentiment.  Among other things, people in this club have the ability to turn left at any intersection even if it is a left on green arrow only (why these are ever put up in newer intersections I will never know).  I know there are other privileges we would have...but they usually come to me "in the moment" - kind of like Calvinball.    

Fortunately I have not tailgated anyone lately…but I have not done city driving or a long trip since our return (confession).  Yet I can recall several instances when the slowness of others has really irritated me.  Fortunately I am mostly beyond this now…but a few that got to me.

1) An older Chevy Pickup truck in Salina about eight years or so ago.  I could not believe this younger guy was driving so slow and slowing me down in the middle of the day.  When I was finally able to pass him I saw a child seat in the front with him.  Wow, foolish me.  This guy was (I assume) enjoying time with his small son or daughter.  At the time we had no children…but I remember thinking I could likely be going slower when that day comes.  One, for safety and two, for the fun of talking to them. 

2) An older lady – again in Salina – driving extremely slow.  Yet this was not as big of an issue for me as I promptly remember wondering, “Would I want someone upset at my grandpa or grandma simply for driving slow?” 

So, when I meet people driving much differently than me my initial response is usually not one of frustration, but rather, “I wonder what the ‘category’ of people it is into which they fit.  Are they older?  Is it a young family?”  Yet I must admit, sometimes I wonder if it is someone who should have driving privileges suspended...or at least limited.  

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Beauty Where You Are...Circumstances

In the last post I ended by mentioning how, far too often, much beauty is not seen, or at least appreciated, until it is missed.  Before we look at a solution to this unfortunate reality, first a question – Why is this a problem in the first place?  If there is beauty all around us, then why do we either miss or not appreciate it?   

While there are many reasons why this happens, it seems a major component of this is that we spend far too much time wishing away our present circumstances, or at least longing for different ones.  Why?  We are creatures of comfort.  Furthermore, our culture conditions us to want more and more comfort. 

Air Conditioning.  Huh?  Air Conditioning is a prime example of culture conditioning us for comfort.  A generation ago AC was a luxury in homes and automobiles.  Today it is basically viewed as a necessity.  Let me be clear, my intent is not to dismiss deaths due to extremely high temperatures and a lack of cool air (this is tragic).  Nor is my intent to dismiss the real inconvenience of an AC unit stopping when temperatures have been near or in excess of 100 degrees for weeks.  Yet it is an inconvenience…right? 

TV (e.g., ‘basic’, Cable, Dish, etc.).  Once again, Huh?  I found it interesting that last May some of my Facebook friends had their lives thrown into chaos due to the tornado that ripped through Joplin Missouri.  Meanwhile, I had other Facebook friends who were complaining about their poor cable or Dish TV reception.  This is not to label those complaining about the inconvenience of TV interruption as petty, or evil or anything…but it is just that isn’t it – an inconvenience?  Interestingly, quite often it seems more and more people view multiple TV channels as a right, if not a necessity. 

Anyway, there are many more examples of being conditioned for comfort.  Yet why does this matter?  It matters because if we are not careful we run the real risk of wishing away the present and therefore missing the beauty of it all around us.  In the last post I mostly focused on beautiful scenery.  Yet here we will consider beauty in the common moments of life.  They are there, but we have to be attentive and live in the present.  Yet again, far too often we run the risk of longing for something better; either the “promise” of the future or “the good old days” of the past.  While memories and hopes certainly have their place in life, we need to be careful – and even intentional – to not allow them to crowd out the beauty and reality (that will never be experienced again) of the present. 

Our recent trip to Colorado for a wedding was a good one; yet it was far from perfect.  A simple case in point is the difficulty of a wedding day schedule for those who have small children (i.e., us).  Yet let us be honest, practically any event poses challenges to schedules and small children.  Therefore, what follows is in no way a critique of the wedding (it was quite wonderful – the whole day)…just some reflections and how reflecting both helps me to grow and exposes how much I need to grow.  

With an 11am wedding in a park there are limited nap options for Charis (who was one on May 27th).  Oh yeah, I need to let you know I can be quite protective of our children; i.e., I can get upset when things that could have been avoided make life difficult for them.  With that disclaimer, if I had focused my energy on how my little girl (Charis) was missing her nap I would have missed out on the pleasure of playing with both Ellei and Charis in the park while waiting for the wedding (we had to be there early for Melissa as she was involved in the music).  Furthermore, I likely would have kept to myself (something I often do when upset) and not have initiated a conversation with “Volcav”, who I found out is a student at Colorado State University from Serbia.  We had a delightful conversation, albeit shorter than I wanted, while I played with Ellei and Charis and he played with Llana (his 16 month old daughter). 

Weddings have pictures; for this wedding they were planned for after the ceremony.  This meant a gap between the ceremony and the meal.  Aware of this the bride and groom arranged for snacks at a nearby church building prior to their arrival and the meal proper.  I could have been upset about the time gap, concerned about my hungry and tired children, etc.  Yet rather than “wishing away the present” I sought to enjoy it.  Among other things this time gap gave me an opportunity to have a precious moment with Charis.  After our snack I found a room, turned on a fan, and laid down on a couch.  I will forever treasure this “Daddy-Charis nap” as I got some needed sleep and she slept on my chest for nearly an hour.  Later, after the nap and following meal, there was the enjoyment of (rather than being concerned how Ellei missed her nap) watching Ellei dance with “new friends” – using all of her energy (both normal and “tired” energy) to have a great time.  It was also quite enjoyable, no – it was beautiful, to join in dancing with Ellei along with Melissa and Charis.  One of the many things I love about Ellei…she is so “out there” if you will.  She is still tender and na├»ve to much of the world.  While this can (and does) lead to getting hurt (or disappointed), her view of life is also a great reminder that as adults we are often too guarded. 

There were other occurrences on the trip that made it enjoyable.  Not all of them were what would normally be called “good” or “pleasant” – but yet seeking to live in the present has a way of changing my perspective. 

The past is just that, the future will inevitably come, but the present is all we can experience right now – don’t miss it.  [and please keep this statement in context]