Walking in the Weeds | Practical Mobilization

Missions-Catalyst-no-tagline_largeRamadan, Refugees, and the Power of Walking in the Weeds

By Shane Bennett

Ever wonder what the coolest city in the world is? You’re going to know in less than three seconds: Catania, Sicily. Surprised? Me, too, but I’m shooting you straight. Although there is a slight chance I may be biased, inasmuch as this city, where I am off and on again this summer, has my heart. It’s a fascinating city at its core and is now home to a burgeoning population of migrants and asylum seekers from East Africa, West Africa, the Middle East, and pretty much everywhere else.

I’m writing this month from Catania and want to float out three quick topics for you chew on. Wait—it being Ramadan and all, let’s say, “mull over.”

1. Ramadan, Halfway Gone

I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but here in Sicily the sun rises early, burns hot, and hangs out late. Faithful Muslims don’t eat until the sun sets at 8:15pm. If you stop eating at 5am, that makes for a long stretch. Of course in some places the days are shorter; I suppose there’s no whining this year if you’re a Muslim in Cape Town.

Regardless of where they live, faithful Muslims are giving it a go this month (May 26 to June 24), exercising self-discipline, trying to honor God, and excelling in good works, charity, and gifts to the poor. I imagine you’re likely already praying for Muslims and the Muslim world this month. If you’d like a brief aid to prayer, shoot me an email, and I’ll send you a one-page Ramadan Prayer Outline.

God told Israel through Jeremiah that if they’d seek him, they would find him (Jeremiah 29). Scholars brighter than me might disagree, but I hope we can lean into that promise and apply it to Muslims this season: To the degree they’re honestly seeking God, may they find him in fresh ways.

2. Refugees, Like Never Before

This afternoon I played Jenga with some guys from Guinea-Bissau, Gambia, and Egypt. They’ve all fled persecution, abuse, and economic deprivation in Libya and/or in their homelands. As I write, two of our team members are leading a late-night discovery Bible study with a young guy from Senegal.

Christians now have an unprecedented opportunity to connect with Muslims from many of the most challenging places on the planet. We’re living through an epic shift in humanity which opens doors of staggering breadth for Christians, offering us a chance to act like Jesus toward people who have never experienced such and to extend Jesus’ invitation to follow him to those who’ve never heard it. What are you doing to engage this opportunity?

Of course, none of us is asked by God to do everything. But to the degree to which God is inviting you and me and our churches to this effort, let’s dream big, show up early, and work hard until the sun goes down.

If you speak French, Arabic, Bengali, or Italian, I’d love a chance to buy you all the cannoli you can eat right here in Catania! We feel like we’re wading knee-deep through Luke 10:2 right here, and our city is only one small part of the current global refugee situation.

June PM Pic

3. The Power of Walking in the Weeds

Finally, can I remind you of something you already know? Nothing will expand your view of the world like talking to someone very different from you. I know it’s fun to cheer with like-minded friends and have long conversations with people who agree with you; it’s good to hang with your tribe. But it’s also really good to get off the smooth path and into the weeds from time to time.

We were walking home late last night after celebrating Geralyn’s birthday at dinner. She’s the lone African-American woman in our group. We were carrying left-over pizza and hoping to give it away to some hungry people on the way to our vans. We passed some Nigerian guys prepping to sleep on the sidewalk and found out they were Christians. This, and their hunger, made them good candidates for our pizza, which was laden with pork.

As we shared it with them we talked about the road that led them to this place. Deep in the conversation someone mentioned it was Geralyn’s birthday, and then an amazing thing happened: They proceeded to sing Happy Birthday to her—from their pallets in the streets of downtown Catania, Sicily, hands greasy from leftover pizza. You just don’t get that in Suburb-istan. It will be a long time before Geralyn and the rest of us forget that birthday song.

Since most of us have had these moments off the beaten tracks, let’s be the best cheerleaders to provide such experiences for others. In fact, let’s actually take them along.

  • This Sunday after church, invite a couple people to go with you on their first trip to an Indian restaurant.
  • Grab some buds and spend an afternoon in an ethnic neighborhood.
  • Start planning now for a late fall or early spring trip to a place that requires a passport and a plane ticket.

And take care. When you get off the paved paths, there are thorns, bugs, and snakes. But few worthy adventures come danger-free.

Until next month,
Shane

Comment on our website or Facebook page or email Shane.

Waiting Tables with a Famous Evangelist | Practical Mobilization

Missions-Catalyst-no-tagline_large

Waiting Tables with a Famous Evangelist

Seven Reasons Why the Smart Also Serve

By Shane Bennett

Philip 2

When in last month’s Practical Mobilization, we left Philip the Apostle, he had stumbled grievously. Maybe, in the past four weeks, you have stumbled as well. I have. Rejoice in this with me: Stumbling does not mean disqualification. There is no mess too big for God, but the trick is to get back up when you stumble. God’s work to redeem all things includes you.

Now we move on to Philip the second, the one they call Philip the Evangelist. His career took off when, of all things, he was assigned to wait tables … and not because a hip new place opened on State Street and the tips rocked, but because a low-level ethnic conflict meant some dear old widows missed lunch!

Luke records in Acts 4 that the apostles, hearing about the problem, asked around for “seven men from among you known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom.” They found them, laid hands on them, and gave them the job.

Apparently, Philip and the others nailed it. I don’t think they’d take all the credit, but Luke does end the vignette by saying, in verse 7, “So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”

Things were going great for the deacons until one of them, Stephen, starting moonlighting by performing signs and wonders. Opposition arose. He was tried and killed. This uncorked major persecution and everyone—save the apostles—got out of Dodge. As for Philip, he made his way to a city in Samaria and began to go all “Stephen” on them. People paid attention. Luke tells us, “There was great joy in that city.”

When the apostles came down to certify this new ministry, an angel told Philip to hit the road, the desert road. He did, bumped into an Ethiopian eunuch, and was instrumental in the gospel moving into Africa.

The waiter! The waiter gets to play a brief, but crazily significant role in the advance of the gospel. (I’m going to start tipping better.)

There’s much to learn from Philip’s life, but I’d like to focus on his service. Without trying to read too much into the text, it seems that this was a foundational part of his character. Likewise, service is a significant part of mission mobilization, and often an overlooked part (if my own life is any indication).

Let me say here that some of the best servants I’ve ever seen have been mission mobilizers, and I’m thinking of Perspectives Course coordinators in particular. The last thing I want to do is load up your tired back with more burdens. If the Holy Spirit says, “You’re serving well, so let this slide,” listen! There’s always the chance I’m writing this mainly for me.

Still, here are seven reminders why picking up a towel and wiping some tables is a good idea for mobilizers.

1. Stuff needs to be done.

Before we get all spiritual about this, how about some practicality? A laundry list of grubby work needs to be tackled, including sometimes literally laundry! Things need to be put away. People need to be listened to. Cute little noses need to be wiped. These are kingdom concerns. Let’s do the ones that fall to us.

2. Jesus modeled service.

One episode in the life of Jesus that you hope doesn’t come to mind when you’re trying to dodge an unwanted service opportunity is when Jesus got down on the floor and washed those grubby apostolic feet. The one who made the dirt and fashioned the first feet said, “I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you.”

I suppose the list could stop at two items, but there’s more.

3. The Bible instructs us to serve.

Perhaps remembering his mini-bath debate with Jesus, Peter writes in his first letter, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” In many other places, we’re told the life of Jesus is one of putting others ahead of ourselves as we put God ahead of everything. This isn’t easy, but it is clear.

4. Serving trains us for further service.

Is it possible that Philip’s record of service somehow suited him for outreach in his Samaritan city? I don’t want to make too much of this, but Jesus did say that faithfulness in small things leads to opportunity for faithfulness in bigger things. I like to think that Philip’s time at the tables developed internal character, qualifying him to work effectively as an evangelist.

Credibility is a key payoff here. I love a volunteer who will put away tables, do data entry, and drive the van when it would be more fun to snooze in the back seat. If we haven’t logged some hours in the nursery, we may not be ready for the missions committee.

5. Service is a tangible expression of love.

In Galatians 5:13, Paul says to use our freedom to, “serve one another in love.” One of the clearest ways to live out “I love you” is to serve the one you love. They go hand in hand. As with Philip before us, simply bringing food to someone or clearing away their dirty dishes speaks a great deal. Some of my living heroes of the faith are those who see a need and quietly go about meeting it. Sometimes you have to be sharp to observe this because the good servants do it on the down low.

6. Serving models service for others.

Years ago I took a missions pastor role and moved to Indiana. My new church had a community service day just after our arrival—like hours after our arrival. I didn’t really want to go, and it technically wasn’t part of my job description, but my dad swayed me and got me there! When we arrived at the site I was pleasantly surprised to see the senior pastor, my new boss, pulling weeds alongside a church member who was the owner of a significant local company. That marked me. We didn’t always live it out 100%, but we were a community who served.

7. Serving is an antidote for arrogance.

Since you probably need no such antidote, let me just share about myself here: Sometimes when you read what I write or when people listen to me talk, I begin to think I know a thing or two. Then it’s a short jump to a confident sense that I do know what’s right. And pretty soon, I’ve figured out how nearly everyone else is off in their approach to missions, while I’m right on! Cleaning a dirty toilet tends to dial down my arrogance meter.

As you work out the calling God has given you, may you challenge the church boldly, love them deeply, and serve with great gusto, as one who has indeed been served by the King of kings.

» Comment on our website or Facebook page or email Shane.

Practical Mobilization

Adobe Spark (19)5 Mobilization Lessons from a Couple of Guys Named Phil

By Shane Bennett

Way too recently I realized the Apostle Philip was not the guy who took a carriage ride with the Ethiopian eunuch. Turns out there are two Philips! One is an Apostle, and the other a deacon and evangelist. Both have cameos in the beginning of the New Testament, though, and a quick look at their lives reveals some valuable lessons for mission mobilizers.

1. Called to go with Jesus

John gets Philip the Apostle’s story rolling in chapter one of his Gospel. He says two really cool things: “Jesus decided to leave for Galilee,” and “Finding Philip, he said to him, ‘Follow me’” (John 1:43).

I can still remember being in college and reading a mission book or article about this idea. It had a picture of Jesus with a backpack, looking over his shoulder, making a little “come along” gesture with his hand. The caption said something like, “Jesus is on his way to the nations and he’s inviting us to come with him!”

Campy? Yes. Effective? Yes, for me, at least!

I love it that Jesus decided to go to Galilee: to the hard places. To the overlooked people. And having decided such, he invited Philip to join him. This must have been a little tough on the boy. On one hand, “Jesus picked me!” On the other hand, “I’m pretty sure I promised Mom I wouldn’t go to places like that!” Apparently the invitation won out.

There is something powerful about a personal invitation. [click to tweet]

Jesus said to Philip, as he says to us today, “I’m going to the nations and I’d like you to come with me.” You and I are invited by the risen Son of God to participate in the blessings of God being pressed into every nook and cranny on the planet, being planted within every family. Can you even imagine that?

Sometimes we wonder about our part in it, though, don’t we? “I don’t measure up.” “Maybe God doesn’t use people like me.” “Maybe I’m just making all this up in my head.” This is why you should never take a short-term mission team of twelve people, by the way: Each person will at some point think they’re the Judas in the group! You’re better off leaving someone at home or conscripting someone at the airport!

Take heart. God has in mind to use you in ways that are stunning and glorious for his name. He’s your dad, he loves you, and he’s quite pleased to have you working at his side. [click to tweet]

One last thought. These are good days to be called. Seriously! If you’re going to follow Jesus, why not do it during times in which it really matters? When we see the disconcerting rise of nationalism, in the midst of an unprecedented refugee crisis, and when migration has brought the ends of the earth to the end of your street, you and Jesus might not need a backpack but be fine with an iPhone and a Clif Bar!

I’m telling you, these are good days to be a Christian. We have a message to bring. We have power that needs to be unleashed into the world, unleashed with humility, winsomeness, and the very love of Jesus.

2. Encouraged to bring friends along

Philip said yes to Jesus (probably the lesson from his life that we need the most). Immediately he went to get Nathanael. I wonder if there was a little bit of, “No way I’m going to Galilee without backup, Bro. You need to come with me!” At any rate, Philip’s response to this crazy-great invitation was to grab a bud to go along. I love that!

When Nate expresses some doubts about whether this guy could be the guy, Philip simply and brilliantly responds, “Come and see” (John 1:46).

That’s the ticket, my mobilizing friends: asking our friends to come and see.

  • See the invitation of God to join him.
  • See the power of sacrifice in the purposes of that great God.
  • Experience the fun of connecting with people from other cultures.
  • Feel the weight of honor of participation in the expansion of the Kingdom of God.

That’s why I say to people, “Come and see what God is doing among Muslim refugees in Sicily.” That’s why I invite people to sign up for my weekly email, Muslim Connect, to see how normal Christians can practically engage with these huge issues and the normal individuals caught up in them. That’s why I invite people to consider the hard places and overlooked people.

Look around in your sphere of influence. Who’s waiting for you to say, “Come and see”?

3. Not disqualified for stumbling

At this point in the story, the music goes all minor and foreboding. Philip, who started so well, falters at two key points.

We read, “When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Philip answered him, ‘It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!’” (John 6:5-7).

It was a test and Philip failed! Give him an F- for the cheeky hyperbole, “…for everyone to have a bite!” Apparently Philip had a hard time understanding what Jesus could do. I’m glad I never struggle with that. It must be hard and sad. Poor Philip.

Actually, I wonder how many tests like this I fail, too. Happily, the canon is closed; John is not taking notes on my life!

Later, and more poignantly, we read that Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?” (John 14:8-10).

Not only did Philip not understand what Jesus could do, he didn’t understand who he was. This seems to have been for Jesus a preview of the pain of the cross.

If Philip, walking with Jesus as he did, had such a hard time seeing clearly, what hope do we have? He failed the test, ate a hearty dinner, and then stumbled again! If my life heretofore is any indication, I’m going to stumble. You, too? We’re going to stumble.

I remember sitting in the living room of a Muslim neighbor in our town in England. As he shared his conviction that we’re all fine because we’re all finding our own way to God, I found myself nodding in assent! As if from outside my body looking on, part of my brain was shouting, “Don’t nod! You don’t believe that!” But I did. The conversation moved on; I drank my coffee and left. Stumbled. Big time.

Please remember: to stumble does not equal disqualification. An older, wiser John writes, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1-2).

There is no mess too big for God. The trick is to get back up when you stumble. Don’t lay in your filth! God’s work to redeem all things includes you. [click to tweet]

And should your friends stumble, help them up, lending a hand as someone who has stumbled or may likely stumble in a similar way.

Watch for the second part of this article. We’ll shift to Philip the Evangelist and watch as he responds to Jesus’s call, literally in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

» Comment on our website or Facebook page or email Shane.

Six Reasons to Bail Out of Overseas Missions This Summer

HereNowBy Shane Bennett

If you’ve read more than two of my columns, you know I have totally drunk the short-term missions Kool-Aid. You’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger advocate. In fact, I’m dying to invite you to come on a short-term to Sicily with me! But just for fun, this month we’re going to look at why you might not want to go overseas—why instead, you may want to do something just as cool but that’s within a stone’s throw (or a day’s drive) of your house.

So here are six reasons why you and your church should not plan an amazing trip to Faroffistan this summer, but rather do something equally strategic and helpful nearby. [Click to tweet this]

  1. Because you live here!

I for one have stood on the rooftop of my short-term housing in Faroffistan and wistfully watched planes fly away, whispering in the darkness of my own heart, “Someday soon I will be on one of you!” Being more spiritual than me, you probably have felt another kind of sadness nearing the end of a short-term assignment: something like regret that you couldn’t stay longer, a sense of tearing as new found relationships come to an end, a wish that you could complete or at least continue the work your team began.

Well, good news: If you do a short-term trip near where you live, you live near there! (Take whatever time you need to process that logic, then read on!) You can go back next month or next weekend. You can have your new friends over for a barbecue. No plane ticket. No passport or shots. Just gas money equivalent to the change you can scrounge from under the couch cushions.

  1. Everyone is “here” now.

For many of us, the key value of dropping into a foreign culture can be pretty much accomplished within driving range, sometimes walking range, of our house. If you arrange your efforts to focus on people different from you and to engage them in conversation, you’ll get at least a little bit of cultural disorientation (and connection).

Furthermore, if you focus well, and perhaps drive a little farther, you can serve unreached people. There may be communities near you representing whole peoples who’ve largely been overlooked in our sharing of the kingdom of God.

  1. We need to play the home games, too.

If you’re into missions, you may have heard this, “I don’t know about going all the way to Faroffistan. We have plenty of needs right here and the Bible says to bloom where you’re planted.” Well, we do and it doesn’t, but there is a point here. Steve Hawthorne said that being exclusively concerned about overseas stuff is like a team who only plays “away” games. It’s silly. God has placed us where we are and we do have a certain stewardship for our place. It would do us well to look around a bit and ask God what he’s up to here.

  1. You have kids! (Well, some of you do.)

And you’re telling me you’re going to take them overseas? Let them get groped by TSA along the way? Expose them to Zika? Probably lose them in a crowded train station in Calcutta? (Yes, I am reading your mom’s email!) I’m all for taking kids overseas, but I figure the effort required to shift the family is large enough to make a one-year stay the minimum for most families. And cross-cultural exposure is so important that if you don’t already live someplace like San Francisco or Amsterdam, you may need to make some special efforts to get your munchkins immersed among people different from them. If you don’t want to give Mum a coronary, doing that domestically may be a good start.

  1. Lower cost means more workers.

OK, work this out to its logical extreme and the cheapest thing to do is stay on the couch! I get that. But making a cross-cultural experience more accessible to more people is a worthwhile idea. For good reasons or bad, some of our friends cannot imagine finding $2500 to spend a week in Faroffistan. But they might pony up US$250 for a long weekend of immersion in a nearby city. And sometimes it only takes three or four days of hugs and hummus to change minds and knit hearts to newcomers. [Click to tweet this]

  1. Action beats whining … every time.

While I was writing this column, President Trump was signing a new executive order limiting refugee admittance and temporarily banning travel to the US from several countries. We may think the order is ill-advised and will do little to increase the security of Americans, but this much also seems true: We shouldn’t complain if we’re not willing to act. I feel a little foolish ranting and raving about my country not letting in refugees while I myself fail to drive across town for tea with some who beat the ban. This spring break or summer could be a really good time to go hang out with refugees.

Conclusion

What have you done to connect with unreached peoples domestically? If you were going to take a small group from your church to reach out to refugees nearby you, what would you do? I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences.

» Please take a moment to share them with us below or through Facebook.

If this kind of experience seems like a good idea for your church, but you don’t know where to start, let’s chat. A good bud and I are once again dreaming and scheming about effective, high-caliber, domestic, unreached-focused, short-term trips. And, well … we need some guinea pigs!

» Email Shane.

Subversive Mobilization: What’s the View from the Pew?

You’re smart, right? I’d like to hear what you think about a couple of things: What are Paul and Patty Pewsitter thinking about Muslims? What are their honest concerns? What’s behind their anger, if that’s present? How do you see them connecting or are they largely apathetic? And secondly, what will help shift them to more intentional engagement?

If you guessed that I’m asking as an effort to do some crowd-sourcing for Muslim Connect, you’re right. In case you missed our previous promotion of this new effort, it’s a 300-word drip feed to help us think about Muslims the way God does and to love them like Jesus. I’d love for you to subscribe and share it in your circle of influence. Together we can shift the foundation of thought and action toward Muslims.

» Comment below or on our Facebook page or send Shane an email.

Can Normal People Love Jesus, Muslims, and America—at the Same Time?

By Shane Bennett

If you live in America or you’re packing a US passport in a far-away land, you may be aware that we’re living through some crazy days here. Really, we talk about it all over, so even if you’re not an American you may be aware as well. I’m not super old, but I’ve never seen a situation like what’s going down here. We could argue ad nauseum about what’s right, what’s wrong, who did what first, and who’s just doing what was done to them. Pretty soon, we might look like a couple of fourth graders arguing over who should wash the dishes. Nobody wants that.

But we do want to follow Jesus, right? I was only sort of kidding when I said to a bud at lunch today that maybe it’s time to bring back “What Would Jesus Do?” And what would Jesus think? And how would Jesus love?

I think people who love Jesus and want to follow in his ways have a wonderful opportunity to do that in these days. Not an easy opportunity. One fraught with peril and risk, but equally or even more filled with possibility.

What if we rose up in the love and spirit of Jesus and set an example for others? What if we were asked to call our sisters and brothers to a straighter path? If God is calling us to that on large scale or if he’s just calling you to step into that in a low key and local way, how might it happen?

Well, you’ve come to the right place. I’m not going to tell you what to think. Land sakes, you’ve got Facebook to do that! But I’m going to give you five ways normal people like you can love Jesus, love Muslims, and love America. All at the same time. (In case it doesn’t quite “go without saying,” people who love Jesus, should love him more than both American and Muslims combined. We’re all cool with that, right?)

1. Separate the “political” from the “human.”

This solid insight came from my friend Tommy at MidIndia Mission. God’s kingdom and the American government have been linked of late in some awkward ways. In case you missed the Super Bowl, here’s the image that comes to mind.

As followers of Jesus, we need to discern the difference between what the government is called to do and what individuals who believe the Bible are called to do. Again, I’m not saying what you should think. But the two have gotten conflated of late to an extraordinary degree. Abraham Lincoln famously said, “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Let’s hope not, but let’s also realize that we are not our government. National efforts to keep terrorists out of our country perhaps do not need to be imitated on a personal level by advocating suspicion against Muslims in our communities.

2. Take advantage of your sphere of influence.

Who cares what you think? Who’s watching what you do? Besides the NSA? (I’m kidding. Just kidding!) Who around you has a sense that you know what it means to be a follower of Jesus? My hunch: More people than you suspect! Scary, isn’t it? But true.

If you were to say, “Hey, I had coffee with a Muslim guy today and it was sort of interesting,” who among your friends would reply, “Yeah? What happened?” Those are the people you might humbly, kindly influence to think in new ways in this national debate. That woman who just came to mind? Yep, that’s her. Talk to her. Does your pastor answer your texts? Send a couple. (Just a couple, please! I’m passing that on based on what my pastor tells me!)

God has given you influence for a purpose. I don’t suppose I know what that purpose is, entirely, but I’d sure love to see you leverage some it if to help us through this tricky time.

3. Recognize fear on both sides.

Happily, as followers of Jesus, we’re invited to pursue a fear-free life. But most of us aren’t there yet. Some Christians are honestly concerned that Muslims are taking over the world. It does no good to lightly gloss over that fear. Nor does it help to imply they’re stupid for being afraid. We must meet people where they are, fears and all, and look with them for a way out.

At the same time, let’s be honest: many Muslims in the US are afraid. A friend of mine recently related, “A young woman told me that after the election she stopped wearing her head covering out of fear. ‘Fear of what?’ I asked her. ‘I live in a neighborhood that is surrounded by churches,’ she answered.” Dang.

Let’s acknowledge what’s going on in people’s hearts and lives, but then let’s live and love, speak and write in such a way to show a better alternative to fear.

4. Get used to the sight of your own blood.

If you step out of line of the predominant political narrative these days, you may take some shots. Heck, if you oppose the predominant opposition narrative these days, you may want to duck! With Jesus (always) as our model and Peter wisely advising us to not get beaten for being stupid, let’s take some risks for what is right. With humility, patience, and winsome words, let’s invite our fellow believers to wrestle with what is right these days. We can love Jesus and Muslims and America.

5. Put your money where your mouth is, and take your friends.

OK, that metaphor may have broken down before it reached the end of the sentence, but here’s my point: It does little or maybe no good at all to wax eloquently about how much Jesus loves refugees and how he’d never institute a “Muslim ban” if he were president, when you’re not willing to roll up your sleeves and link your life with some of them. As papa John says, “Let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”

While continuing a lively debate on how many refugees should be allowed into the US and whether or not “extreme vetting” should include keeping one of their kidneys in a cooler, let’s do the relatively harder work of caring for the ones who have come. And as you do that, grab a pal by the hand and take them along with you. Visit a mosque with some skeptical friends. (Turns out, it’s not cheating on Jesus!) Enlist your small group to gather some clothes and take them to refugees. Compile a list of what normal people can do in your town, like my bud Tim is doing for Portland.

Speak passionately and act practically. We can, by God’s abundant grace and lots of work, show a good way forward. The love of Jesus is big enough to include both 320 million Americans and 1.5 billion Muslims and the seven million or so who are both.

Subversive Mobilization

A Serious, Once-every-decade Kind of Request

As part of my effort to go all Luke 10:2 on the American church (Send them out, Father!), I’m launching a weekly email. It will help us think about Muslims the way God does and love them like Jesus. It will help you understand what the heck is going on and will give you solid, gracious, and sometimes funny stuff to share with your friends, pastor, and Facebook friends. Would something like that help you?

Muslim Connect is a complement, not a competitor to Missions Catalyst. It’s a 300-word, weekly drip feed about you and me, Jesus, and Muslims. I’d be crazy grateful to have you sign up. If you do so now, you’ll get the next one that comes out tomorrow.

» Subscribe to Muslim Connect. Thanks.

» Read previous articles by Shane Bennett or respond to this one on Facebook, email, or the Missions Catalyst website.

Gifts, Questions, and Why the Magi Still Matter

Missions-Catalyst-no-tagline_large

epiphany-image

By Shane Bennett

Unless you go to a really cool church, Epiphany may have slipped by last weekend without notice. And that’s too bad. The speaker where I went on Sunday didn’t even mention it all (yeah, that was me!) But my friend Chris did, and he agreed to let me borrow liberally from his sermon. Which is good, because the story most of us commemorate with Epiphany, the arrival of the Magi to honor Jesus, is fascinating and chock full of challenge and hope.

Ever wonder how it went down?

There’s Mary, maybe making dinner, scolding Jesus for wearing his diaper on his head and pondering things in her heart, when the nosy neighbor kid from down the street barrels in shouting, “Hey, Mary! Hey, Mary! Hey, Mary!” She turns, raises her eyebrows and waits for the report. “There’s some weird guys and they look rich and I think they’re looking for you guys and I don’t know where they’re from, but they smell funny.” Mary wipes her hands, drops Jesus back into his nappy, and goes to the gate. When she opens it, her hand goes to her mouth. The towel falls to the ground.

Matthew doesn’t tell us what the magi said, but that they were both very happy and very humbled. That evening, with most of the town peeking in, they bowed before the boy, opened the goodie bags, and honored the king they’d journeyed so far to meet.

I like these guys for a few reasons. Not just because they logged a gazillion desert miles to see Jesus, while I sometimes won’t even open the Bible app on my phone!

1. They’re Gentiles.

First off, as far as we know, they were the first Gentiles to recognize who this kid was. They were the first outsiders to honor, worship, and adore the messiah. By doing so, they begin to live out what Paul would later say in Ephesians 2 and 3, that the “mystery of the gospel,” hidden from other generations but revealed by the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, is that through Jesus Christ, the Gentiles have been welcomed into God’s family. The walls of division between Jews and Gentiles have been torn down.

This happens, Paul says, because Jesus “broke down the dividing wall of hostility” and “reconciled us both [Jews and Gentiles] to God in one body through the cross.”

The gifts of the wise men foreshadow that reconciling death of Jesus. They bring gold because he is a king, incense because he is God, and myrrh because it is a burial spice, foretelling Jesus’s death.

2. They brought their unique treasures.

Secondly, coming from “the East,” the gifts the Magi bring represent the cultures and places of their home. Myrrh came from Arabia and Ethiopia. It was imported to Israel. Likewise, frankincense. This is significant as a picture of each of the world’s cultures offering to God their unique treasures. One day people from every tribe, language, people, and nation will worship Christ. They will do that in part by offering back to God the most beautiful aspects of their own culture. We see a picture of this in Revelation 21 where the “kings of the earth bring . . . the glory and honor of the nations” into the holy city. The best aspects, the treasures of every culture, are invited into the kingdom of God and offered back to the Creator who is the giver of every good gift.

What about your culture? What gifts have been planted deep in your tribe? How about in the people group you are working with? Of course it’s easier to point out the flaws of various cultures. Goodness knows mine has some issues: We think we can fix every problem. We’ve taken individualism to amazing heights (At least I have). And we seem to have an insatiable appetite for more and more stuff! On the other hand, I believe God has also knit into American culture special traits and abilities designed to contribute to his kingdom, to be offered to him in worship. Treading lightly here, I believe God has given Americans a deeply rooted sense that things can get better. We believe that suffering can decrease, hope can increase, and that we can be agents to that end.

Perhaps you’ve seen similar giftedness in your culture or cultures with which you’ve worked. I think of the depth and passion I’ve experienced praying with Korean believers, the warmth of family loyalty shared between a Memon mother and her kids, or the great hope and persistence that carries my Gambian friends in search of a safe and secure life in Sicily. The glory of God is reflected in the many thousands of facets of the peoples he has created.

The great missional hymn “Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun” wraps up with these words, “Let every creature rise and bring peculiar honors to our King.” Indeed. We’ve all been made in the likeness of God, but all with unique gifts reflective of our own place and time and people.

3. They asked the right question.

Finally, I appreciate the magi because their words, though brief, are most important: “Where is the one who has been born King of the Jews?” Certainly they said more. Imagine the words it must have taken to convince Mary and Joseph that they really could keep the gifts! (And I hope at least one of them played “I’ve got your nose” with Jesus.) But all Matthew sees fit to record is this question: “Where is he? Where is the one?”

Oh how I need to ask that question. Where is the king in my life? Where is the king in this current political climate? Where is Jesus when 65 million people, more than ever before in history, are displaced from their homes?

Even as I ask that question, here is my hope for this new year: That more people from more people groups will ask along with the magi, “Where is the one born king of the Jews. We want to worship him.”

May those of us who know him be on hand to show them.

Thanks to Rev. Chris Brown for his insightful thinking and gracious sharing. You’ll find his sermon here.

» Read previous articles by Shane Bennett or respond to this one on Facebook, email, or the Missions Catalyst website.

Practical Mobilization

Missions-Catalyst-no-tagline_large

In This Issue: How to Celebrate Like God Does

  1. The Partying God
  2. Good Reason to Celebrate
  3. Subversive Mobilization

How To Celebrate Like God Does

By Shane Bennett

So, you got a minute in the midst of Christmas craziness to read Missions Catalyst? Good for you! And thank you. We’re honored. As a measure of my gratitude, let me be brief and to the point: Party! Cut loose! Enjoy this season! Celebrate. As you’re able, enjoy your family, friends, and your God! There you go.

If you have only two more minutes, skip to the story (item #2) below. It’s really the best part. But if you have just a bit more time, let me flesh out the party injunction…

The Partying God

partying-godMy mom gave me a book recently that her book club read and enjoyed. It’s called The Partying God: Discovering the God of Extravagant Celebration.

I’m guessing most of you are not going to gravitate to a book with a title like that. Being smart, serious, and globally minded folks, you might be more apt to look for titles like Ignorance, Intention, and the Possibility of Forgiveness: A Study in the Remissibility of Sin in Second Temple and Early Christian Sources. (Sound like a doctoral dissertation? It is.) So in case your mom doesn’t give you this book, I want to give it to you. Or at least the main idea.The author, Robert Herber, invites us to see the joyful, celebratory aspects of God. This is a good time of year to do that.

Herber says God celebrates because he has to. It’s his nature. When the Prodigal Son comes home dirty, shame-faced and smelling of swine, the dad throws a party. He tells the older brother, “We have to celebrate. My son was dead and is now alive!” And in Luke 15:10, Jesus says, “There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” God is the King of Celebration!

When Jesus enfleshed this great partying God and walked among us, he celebrated: Jesus made wine at a wedding, he invited himself to dinner at Zacchaeus’s house, he asked another bad guy to be his disciple then went to a party the bad guy threw with a bunch of his bad guy friends (and presumably some bad girls as well). If we’re going to follow this Jesus, I guess “go to parties” and “host parties” need to go on our list along with “stop cussing,” “tithe,” and “drive no more than five miles per hour over the speed limit!”

One last thing Herber mentions, and this I love: God is insistent on inviting all kinds of people to his parties. Jesus tells a remarkable story in Luke 14 about a guy who throws a banquet and through an odd series of events ends up beating the bushes to urge all sorts of overlooked outsiders to come, eat their fill, and celebrate. I really like that about God. And I like that God puts a fistful of invitations in our hands and ask us to go fill up the party room.

Let me close with a party story that first appeared in Missions Catalyst more than a decade ago when some of you were still putting out milk and cookies for Santa Claus…