Reveling in the Cultural Kaleidoscope

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Kaleidoscope 3 from Flikr

Image: Rudolph Ammann / Flikr

Reveling in the Cultural Kaleidoscope: The Different, Beautiful, Broken Destiny of Every Culture

By Shane Bennett

The view out our kitchen window here in southern Colorado is so beautiful it could break your heart; a constantly changing variety of color, light, and brilliance. The residents of our fair valley, however, vary less. While handsome and strong like our mountain, we tend toward uniformity: white, agrarian, conservative, paunchy, and maybe a little suspicious of outsiders.

I love these people and I love living here, but sometimes I’m jealous of those whose lives blossom amid smells and sounds of people both foreign and familiar. I’m also a little concerned about what seems like growing xenophobia in my country, along with polarizing opinions that either our culture is the best and everyone should adopt it or our culture is the cause of all the world’s pain and we should abandon it.

Here’s a refreshing, hopeful way to think about you and whoever your people are, along with all the rest of the peoples of the world.

1. All Cultures Are Different

I bet you’ve heard a rookie short termer freshly back from ten days in a not-far-off land say with far more confidence than the time away would merit, “What I learned was that underneath our skin, we’re really all the same.”

Bless his heart. (And I mean that in the snarkiest way!) There are global commonalities. I get that. It’s hard to find anyone who doesn’t go a little soft headed over a baby. And everyone everywhere works hard to ensure that this breath is not their last breath. Beyond that, the reality is that we’re exceedingly, exceptionally, excruciatingly different. Not only are we not “all the same,” but underneath our skin we’re so different it’s surprising we haven’t all wiped each other out. It’s a testimony to the power of the way of Jesus that his gospel has spread, for the most part non-violently, from that little band of Galileans in Palestine, from culture to culture to culture until it intersected your family some branches up the tree.

I once bonded with a Muslim guy in India around our mockery of a particular Hindu celebration. It was the fellowship of the minority monotheists in the shadow of the mystifying but huge Hindu majority. We were brothers as we laughed at the odd and incomprehensible practices unfolding around us.

To be clear, I don’t advise this, nor do I think Jesus endorses it. I’m not proud about it. But it does nicely illustrate my point: Cultural differences are huge! Some so much so that they can make an Indian Muslim and an American white boy feel like we could double date to the prom.

Even nearby cultures and common language can conceal deeply different approaches to life. One time when our small organization was preparing to move from Holland to England, a kind Londoner agreed to answer our questions about how to thrive in the UK. One of us piped up, “If I want to greet someone I don’t know on the street. What is the appropriate thing to say?” To which our English tutor replied, perhaps before he could catch his tongue, “Greet someone on the street? Are you mad?!”

Underneath our skin, even if that skin looks pretty similar, we are all quite different.

2. All Cultures Are Beautiful

I was born into a rather American part of America, right in the heartland: rural Indiana. I love America. Some parts of American culture are flat-out impressive. For instance, Americans have a deep conviction that we can fix stuff or make it better. We’re reluctant to roll over and accept things as they are. And we do fix things. Sometimes the fixing causes messes we didn’t see coming, but on the whole this is good, and maybe even a cultural gift from the Creator.

Every culture has its gifts. Have you ever prayed with South Korean or West African believers? There is beauty there running deeper than style; a passionate fervency connecting disciple to master.

Maybe you’ve been on the receiving end of the winsome hospitality that characterizes many Muslim cultures. Some years ago a friend and I were hanging outside a little mosque in Konya, Turkey, wondering how many had shown up for Friday prayers. As the service let out, a dear old man found us, exhausted our combined 18 words of Turkish, and invited us home for lunch. Before we knew it we were sitting on his living room floor under the kind and attentive gaze of his wife, polishing off a delicious lunch of fried eggs and bread. She cleared the dishes but left us with our forks (a good sign almost everywhere!) When she returned from the kitchen she brought a still warm-from-the oven pan of baklava! Beaming, she set it down and said, “Afiyet olsun,” which roughly translates, “Dig in. This is likely going to be the best thing you’ve ever eaten!” It was.

Like the author of Hebrews, I lack time and space to speak of curries in Bradford, kindnesses in Pune, and the staggeringly beautiful creations of Italian sculptors, Dutch Masters, and French Impressionists to which I’ve been introduced by traveling. Nor do these limits allow for suitable reflection on the peace and pleasant calm that pervades a Malay kampong lying just beyond ear shot of the fervent, smoggy bustle of Kuala Lumpur.

A wise and good God has built beauty into each and every culture. These beauties are gifts for them of course, but also for us and perhaps mostly for him. As cultures are redeemed, these presents are unwrapped and spill forth their unique honor to the Creator.

3. All Cultures Are Broken

Since it seems unkind to speak poorly of other cultures and because Jesus was pretty blunt about the whole “log in your eye” parable, let me mention a way in which my own culture is broken. You can extrapolate from there!

Americans have a crazy love affair with stuff. We want cool, shiny things. As we get older we fully expect to acquire more, better, and bigger stuff. According to NPR, the average American house size has more than doubled since the 1950s. But even that’s not big enough for our stuff: Josh Becker says, “Currently, there is 7.3 square feet of self-storage space for every man, woman, and child in the nation. Thus, it is physically possible that every American could stand—all at the same time—under the total canopy of self-storage roofing.”

I’m not immune to this. The computer I’m typing this on stays serviceable longer than almost any other. Even so, whenever the wizardly engineers in Cupertino come out with a new version… Well, lust is probably not too strong a word.

We’re not alone in our brokenness. Stare into the searching eyes of a Gambian girl sold away by her family. Hold the hand of a young mom dying of AIDS. Stroll through the slums of India, or hike the concrete canyons of Houston. Even if your discernment is as stunted as mine, the brokenness is palpable. I don’t often pause to let that weight of lost beauty settle on me. Brokenness brings immeasurable pain. But somewhere, maybe deep, deep down, a spark of hope remains.

4. All Cultures Are Destined

Early on in the story of the Bible, God has a most amazing conversation with Abraham and Sarah. He talks of wealth and real estate, honor and lots of kids. He invites them into a partnership with the audacious promise of divine blessing being pressed into every family on the planet. Do you get this? God’s promise means that every culture is destined to experience his goodness. This includes the nasty ones we don’t like every bit as much as it includes our own!

In Acts 17:26, Paul, reflecting on the sweeping promises of God says, “he made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us.” God decides when and where peoples will live, where cultures will be found. And he does this for his purposes, to keep his promise to Abraham, to press his blessing into all families.

In Colossians 1:19-20 Paul promises this will happen. In Revelation 7:9 John sees that it has. Bizarre, beautiful, broken cultures are destined for it: redemption. Let us delight, with great hope, in the diversity around us. Let us advocate for the beauty and inherent value of all peoples. And let us sow broadly this good news for which we have been made ambassadors.

The day is coming when, destiny reached, only beauty and fascinating variety will remain. With the Creator of this kaleidoscope of culture, we’ll have a good long time to explore, learn, and delight in this great work of God. Can you even imagine curry in the kingdom?

Subversive Mobilization: Mobilizers Go to the Movies

What missional movies do you love? Can you tell us about a favorite movie you use to inspire people to follow God and his purposes for the planet? Maybe it rings with redemption. Maybe it wrestles with cultural intrigue. Maybe it tells the story of people we might overlook but whom God loves dearly.

» Post your suggestions below  or email them to me, and look forward to an upcoming Missions Catalyst column, “Practical Mobilization at the Movies”!

Twelve Things You Can Do in 2016: A Dozen Ways to Dent the World

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Image: Flikr/Wikimedia Commons; Sedina Sand statue sculptor at work.

Twelve Things You Can Do in 2016: A Dozen Ways to Dent the World

By Shane Bennett

Don’t you love a big splash, a huge harvest, a radical shift in the right direction? I sure do. But we also know that life more often consists of many small steps along the correct path. As impressive as it is to take a stick of dynamite and blow off a chunk of mountain, there is also beauty in taking a resulting piece of stone and shaping it into an enduring piece of art. Think of how many chips, scrapes, rasps, and rubs Michelangelo applied to the block of marble that eventually become the Pieta.

I want to change the world and I want you to change the world. Perhaps this year you’ll blow a hole the size of the Hoover Dam through an impenetrable problem. Along the way to that, can I offer you a dozen ideas (one per month) you can use to pick up a chisel and a small hammer and take a chip in the right direction. If enough of us do this, the world will look more like the Pieta by the time we get around the sun again.

1. Grow in knowing God’s global purposes.

I know of nothing better to mold a person to God’s purposes for the world than joining a like-minded band of intrepid followers for a Perspectives or Pathways course. Many start this week and next all over the U.S. Grab a friend and visit a class. Tell them Shane Bennett sent you and you need to check it out. You’ll likely look back on it as the best investment you’ve made in your life with Jesus to date.

2. Build a bridge.

If you’ve already taken Perspectives, then grab a handful of people who trust you, buy the DVDs, and host a Bridges Course. In six weeks, probably less, you’ll watch people exchange apathy, fear, and anger toward Muslims for love and engagement. This is one of the first, best things a lot of us could do to shift the sentiment of the American church and open new doors of loving connection to Muslims in our midst.

3. Give a gift.

You could give a Muslim a present for Eid al-Fitr. This end-of-Ramadan celebration falls on July 5 this year. A box of chocolates or some flowers will make a nice impression. This little act of kindness and recognition will mean something. Multiplied over enough times it will going to make something truly beautiful emerge.

4. Pray with your pastor.

Invite your pastor to lunch at a Middle Eastern or East African restaurant. Pray for refugees when you pray for the meal. Many of the refugees flooding into Europe this past year, and likely this year, are from the Middle East and Eritrea.

5. Cultivate compassion.

Watch The Good Lie movie to nurture compassion for refugees. Watch it with a couple of buds (and a couple boxes of Kleenex), or, better yet, schedule a showing for your whole church. Costco has a good deal on Kleenex in bulk!

6. Be a “Sarah” to a stranger.

Read Sarah’s story and keep your eyes open for refugees who make it to your country, your town. When you find them, treat them like Jesus would. This opportunity will arise for more of us since there are presently more displaced people than ever before in history. “One in every 122 humans is now either a refugee, internally displaced, or seeking asylum. If this were the population of a country, it would be the world’s 24th biggest.”

7. Make your coffee count.

Drinking copious amounts of coffee will help you check more items off this list! And buying it from a group like Share Collective, being launched by my friend and hero Steve Helm, will “honor God by empowering the poor in every dimension, leveraging the people of faith with expertise in agriculture, medicine, business, education, nutrition, and finance.”

8. Engage your imagination.

While you’re enjoying a steaming mug of Share Collective coffee, immerse yourself in Steve Smith’s new thriller, Hastenings. I enjoyed it. And I love the idea of communicating important, timely concepts in an exciting, fictionalized account. Will you help me seed this book throughout the church? I think God’s going to use it to advance his kingdom.

9. Make time for a missionary.

Want to make a difference? Find a missionary who’s temporarily back in their home culture, but them a coffee and listen to their story. A home assignment or an unwanted sojourn back at home is a precarious time for many cross-cultural workers. Without forgetting the ones still far away, let’s rally around those who are temporarily nearby.

10. Lift up a laborer.

Maybe the best way to care for those far away is to pray faithfully, diligently, and knowledgeably. Start praying regularly for a cross-cultural worker. And let them know you’re praying. I don’t think you’ll lose your reward if you’re humble about this and I’m pretty sure they’ll be encouraged. If you really want to do this but are at a total loss as to who to pray for: Pick me!

11. Prayer walk your own neighborhood.

No normal sports team only plays “away” games. Couple prayers for far-away ministries and missionaries with prayer walks to seek God for what he wants to do in your very own neighborhood.

12. Apply for your passport.

You can’t even go to Mexico without one anymore. If God asks you to go somewhere really exotic like Canada or Mauritius, you gotta have one. And since I’m hoping you’ll go with me to Sicily to care for refugees there, you’d better get the process rolling!

Thank you for reading this and for joining me in slowly, intentionally and gracefully making a dent in the planet in 2016.

» Let me know how it goes and what other cool, dent-making endeavors you’re up to or tell us all about it on the Missions Catalyst website.

ARTICLES: A Year of Practical Mobilization

Source: Missions Catalyst

Did you miss any of our 2015 Practical Mobilization articles? Check them out through the links below or browse all the Missions Catalyst archives.

  • January: The Power of Slacktivism: Inviting Thousands to Take Their Next Step
  • February: Sowing among the Seedless: Learning to Love Jesus among the Unengaged
  • March: Safe, Significant, and Cheap: Middle School Missions Experiences that Work
  • April: Become a Smaller Target: Seven Ways Short-termers Can Lower Their Profile, Not Get Robbed, and Return Home Alive
  • May: Too Many Needs. Too Little Time (and) Don’t Let Media Wreck Your Mission Trip
  • June: Engaged, Unengaged: What Can You Do for Those Waiting for Their Day to Come?
  • July: Beware the Florida of the Mind: Your Story Is Still Being Written
  • August: What’s Your Status, Gladys? Setting a Course for Global Engagement
  • September: Saying “Yes” to the Pope: Could You or Your Church Host a Refugee Family? (and) Family Mission Trips
  • October: Through The Eyes of Spies: Five Lessons for When You’re Overwhelmed by the World
  • November: Your Service Has Mattered: Honoring the Faithful, Retiring Heroes of the International Mission Board
  • December: “We Though We were Going to Die”: The Story of One Refugee (and) Starting Spiritual Conversations

“We Thought We Were Going to Die”

The Story of One Refugee

By Shane Bennett

“My dad participated in a military coup in our country. His side won. He got a nice position and life was good for us for a time. Then another coup was launched. His side lost. Instead of a nice position, he got his name on a list of people to be killed for their connection to the previous administration. We all fled for our lives. That’s how I became a refugee. I was five years old.”

“Siddiq” told me his story this evening as I sat with some friends in a cafe near Catania, Sicily. I thought you might want to hear it, particularly in this season as we celebrate the birthday of Jesus, who was both God incarnate and a young refugee.

From West Africa to Libya

“Our family moved from Guinea-Bissau to Nigeria to Ivory Coast,” he went on, “never staying too long in any place. As a young adult I heard that things were pretty good and jobs were to be found in Libya. I’m a painter and they said there was work for painters there. People said the trip was easy, so I paid the money and started the trip across the desert.

“It was terrifying. The driver made us give him our money and phones so robbers wouldn’t get them. When we arrived he told us, ‘I’m not giving you back your money and phones, but you should thank me. My job is to turn you over to kidnappers who will hold you until your parents bail you out. But since I have your money, I’ll just let you go.’”

Friends or Enemies?

“I found a job in Libya and things were going okay. But after Gaddafi was killed, Arab Libyans who didn’t like him began turning on blacks like me. Gaddafi’s pan-Africanism made us his friends and therefore their enemies. It got to the point that sometimes a black person would just be shot in the street by someone driving by.

“About this time, I got a job painting a house for a Libyan. The owner hired me and a Gambian guy for a nice contract. When we finished, we reported to the owner and asked for the four thousand dollars we were owed. The man said he wouldn’t pay. He told us to go away, but we stood our ground. When he went into the house and came out with an AK-47, I said we should go. I pleaded with my Gambian co-worker, telling him this wasn’t worth dying over. He stood firm and said he needed his money. The owner shot him! I ran and jumped over the fence. I don’t know what happened to him.

“That night in my bed I decided to leave.”

From Libya to Italy

“I couldn’t go back across the desert, and I had no other place to go to. So many people had talked about making the crossing from Libya to Europe. I decided I would get a boat to Italy. I made contact with a man who would get me across. He told me to pay the money and I could get on a commercial boat, not an inflatable zodiac raft. I went to the river at the appointed time and place to meet the boat. They lied: It was a raft!

“We were told to get on. I looked up and saw men above the river bank with guns. We had no choice but to get on; they didn’t want us to leave and tell others about the lies. They gave us a little food and water and told us it was a three-hour trip. The GPS broke. The gas ran out. We thought we were going to die. Some of the people on the boat lost their minds. One wanted to puncture the raft and all die together with courage. But amazingly, after three days, we were rescued by an Italian merchant ship.

“Sadly, I was one of only 35 of the 100 on the boat who survived.”

Asylum Granted

“We were taken to Sicily and I was placed in a home with six other migrants. We each began to work on our applications for asylum. Somehow, I don’t know why, the others’ applications were all rejected. Only I have been given refugee status. I can work throughout Italy, although there really aren’t any jobs.

“At least I’m alive.”

Many More Like Siddiq

Join me in thanking God for preserving this man’s life. Although from a Muslim background, Siddiq is finding himself more and more surrendered to Jesus. Ask God with me to move through Siddiq to extend the life of Jesus to many, many more Muslims.

To further inform yourself about the situation that millions like Siddiq face and to consider how followers of Jesus should wisely respond, please take advantage of this offer to download and read Facts, Fears, and Faith in a Migrant Crisis, by Patrick Johnstone and Dean Merrill. This digital single is excerpted from their upcoming book, Serving God in a Migrant Crisis: Ministry to People on the Move to be published by GMI Books in 2016.

» Want to take action now? Go to We Welcome Refugees to learn how your church can get involved, particularly in recognizing National Refugee Sunday this coming weekend (December 13).

» You can also shoot me an email so we can scheme and dream together for the millions of “Siddiqs” waiting to meet Jesus, or add your comments below or on Facebook page.

SUBVERSIVE MOBILIZATION: Starting Spiritual Conversations

I need your help! From time to time I’m in a situation where I’m talking to a Muslim I’ve just met. The conversation will likely only be able to last a few minutes with no promise at the outset of a future connection. As we start to chat, I’d like to know if they have any spiritual interest. If they care about the things of God. If they might like to talk about Jesus or hear a story he told. Sometimes it’s hard for me to move from, “How many kids do you have?” to “Hey, let’s talk about real stuff for a minute.”

On the slight chance I’m not the only one, could you do me a favor? Share, below, your best tips on how to do this. Or to post a link to the article I probably should have found on my own. Or maybe, if you’re feeling tremendously empathetic this Christmas season, just say, “No way, me too! I hope a lot of people are nice enough to tell us how to do this.”

Thanks!

Practical Mobilization

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Your Service Has Mattered:
Honoring the Faithful, Retiring Heroes of the International Mission Board

By Shane Bennett

The smoke and roar of the traffic were sufficient to beat back jet lag as our tuk tuk buzzed across Bangkok. My team leader and I, just a few days in the city, were on a quest to meet Bill Smith, destined-be-a-hall-of-fame missionary. After we found the right house, his wife Susan, also a hall-of-famer in the making, led us to Bill’s office. After cursory greetings and explanations, he sat on his roller chair in the middle of his file-cabinet kingdom and said, “Ask away.” For the next hour we pitched questions related to our church planting research. With each inquiry, Bill would kick off one cabinet, roll to another, and pull out a file with relevant documents.

We ran out of questions long before Bill ran out of information. But what he shared shaped the course of our team’s research for the next three months. The cashew chicken that Susan served following the interview remains the best I’ve ever had. And that was almost thirty years ago.

Bill and Susan were the first Southern Baptist missionaries I’d ever met. They set the bar pretty high. Over the intervening years I’ve become friends with dozens more around the planet. I tell classes and churches in the U.S., “I know almost nothing about Southern Baptists in America, but the ones you send overseas are amazing. In so many ways, they’re leading the rest of us.”

Changes at the IMB

I bring it up because you may have heard of the recent decision, at the same time both forward-thinking and gut-wrenching, made by the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, David Platt, to offer a voluntary retirement incentive to their missionaries over 50 years old in order to reduce their ranks by 600-800 staff. This is part of a multi-pronged effort to rectify an ongoing budget shortfall of multiple millions per year.

Platt writes, “For the sake of short-term financial responsibility and long-term organizational stability, we must put ourselves in a position in which we can operate within our budget, which necessarily means reducing the number of our personnel.”

“Words really can’t describe how much a sentence like that pains me to write. For ‘600’ and ‘800’ are not just figures on a page; they are people around the world. For many of you, they are your family, friends, and fellow church members. They are brothers and sisters whom I love, and brothers and sisters whom I want to serve and support. I not only want as many of them as possible to stay on the field; I want multitudes more to join them on the field. But in order to even have a conversation about how to mobilize more people in the future, IMB must get to a healthy financial place in the present.”

Let’s Raise a Glass

While this decision has been and will be discussed and debated ad nauseam, that is not my purpose here. Rather I want to raise a metaphorical glass to my sisters, brothers, colleagues, and heroes who have given long, good years to Kingdom service under the banner of the International Mission Board and now find themselves taking early, voluntary retirement.

My friends: There may not be a single reader of Missions Catalyst who has not been led, helped, or blessed by your collective labors, even if they do not know it. You have shown the way, not by simply pointing it out, but by sacrificially walking forward and calling us to follow in your steps. You have gone to the most challenging places and willingly raised your children there. You have embraced and implemented new ways of thinking and working. You have modeled the love of Jesus by deeply loving people who are deeply different from you.

We honor you. We are in your debt.

As you move into a new stage of life, I wish these things for you:

1. May you get the rest that you need.

I don’t know how this works out in reality, but I see you sitting on a porch on a winsome autumn afternoon, drinking coffee, enjoying a book you’ve long wanted to get to, sighing contentedly from time to time. May God help you know what you and your spouse need and how to get it. If it would help, you can come and stay for a few days for free in our garage apartment. We’ll feed you and give you some space.

2. May you have an accurate sense of your identity.

Your time has been well spent. Your value does not diminish even though your paycheck does. And you’re an ambassador of Christ regardless of who signs your check or even if you get paid for your ambassadorial service! You have mattered and you still do.

3. May you be able to maintain whatever ongoing connection to your work that you desire.

And by “work” I mean not only the job you did, but the people you’ve worked with, for, and among. Maybe it’s a relief to cut ties; I don’t know. But if you dread that, I pray God makes a way for bonds to remain.

4. May God appoint people to care for you in the way you need.

He appointed a fish to rescue Jonah, so there’s precedence! May he give you some people who know how to ask good questions then be quiet and let you answer. May he give you people who will help you re-adjust to American culture. (We’ve let some things slide while you were away!) May he bring people who will help you in all kinds of ways, particularly opening doors for the ministry God has ahead for you.

5. May hope and peace fill every molecule of your being.

Maybe you have financial concerns: I pray for abundant provision. Perhaps you’re concerned about relationships: I pray for friends and mentors, and for your marriage. If you’re concerned about what you’ll do with yourself, I ask God to fill you with a fiery, fresh sense of purpose.

Thank you for your work, your life, and your example. The world is better for your contribution. I am better. You have served your King well, and I look forward hopefully to serving shoulder to shoulder with you in future ventures.

Someday your race will be over, but today is not that day. May God grant you health, vitality, and opportunity commensurate with your skill and experience. May your long years of faithful service bear new fruit in the fresh soil of emerging work and workers. May you sense deeply the smile of Jesus as he puts his hands on your shoulders, looks deep in your eyes and says, “Well done my good and faithful servant… Now let’s take another lap!”

Conclusion

If you know an IMB worker, would you mind forwarding this to him or her? If you have connections to a Southern Baptist Church, please pass it along to them. Thank you.

If you would like to provide jobs, housing, vehicles, or other means of support to help returning missionaries, please email the Transition Team.

» Add your comments on our website or Facebook page.

Through the Eyes of Spies

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Through the Eyes of Spies:
Five Lessons for When You’re Overwhelmed by the World

By Shane Bennett

Well, the blood moons have come and gone and we’re still here. At least I am. And you are, if my assumption is correct that if you were in the world to come you’d have better things to do than read Missions Catalyst. But the level of craziness afoot in our world today seems higher than normal, and sadder, and more intractable just now. Is your Facebook feed, like mine, filled with stories of the imminent demise of civilization or at least the destruction of all good people?

Sometimes if I look closely, it can be overwhelming. Do you ever feel the same way? How can we follow Jesus in these days? And as mobilizers, how might we follow Jesus in terms of influencing others to do likewise?

I find help in one of the stories that has informed and shaped much of my adult life. It unfolds in Numbers 13-14. Remember it? God instructs Moses to send spies into the soon-to-be Promised Land. He does as God asks. The spies do as Moses asks. After forty days they return and report to the nation. Ten of them say it’s a no-go, but two intrepid scouts give it a thumbs-up.

Let’s try looking at our world through the eyes of Caleb and Joshua. Granted, the spies we love didn’t receive the warmest reception to their report and wandered with the rest for forty years until the nation finally caught up with them. Yet following their example in five ways might help us face the world as well as our calling to call the world to God’s purposes.

1. Get some skin in the game.

The last thing I want to be is someone who comments enthusiastically on stuff that I’m afraid to really be a part of. Joshua and Caleb actually signed on for the trip. They did hard things and went to scary places. Granted they didn’t have to deal with jet lag and long security lines, but, on the other hand, they saw giants. Giants!

One way to process a world gone off the rails is to move toward the issue or problem of your choice. Scout out the land. Attend a service at a mosque. Grab some buds and visit a refugee camp. Meet a few people who are in the middle of the craziness that concerns you. Engagement like this doesn’t supplant reading everything you can to understand what’s going on and what to do about it. But it adds credibility by the bucket-full and can give you no small amount of empathy and understanding.

2. Be honest about the giants.

In a poignant and feisty epilogue to the Numbers 13 and 14 story, Caleb will tell Joshua, forty years on, that he’d still like the hill country. He says, “You yourself heard ten that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the Lord helping me, I will drive them out just as he said.”

My go-to sentiment is often, “Hey, c’mon. This is going to be great!” And no doubt it will be. But I’m trying to be more honest these days, admitting that, yes, there will be pain along the way. I hate that but can’t change it. For instance, I think the U.S. should admit a ton of Syrian refugees. As a Christian, I think this is what Jesus would do, and I think it’s an accurate reflection of my country’s core values, culture, and history. Some of them will be bad people who will do bad things. Again, I don’t like that. But there are giants. The fact that there are giants didn’t dissuade Josh and Cal and it shouldn’t stop us. But let’s be honest.

3. Question your information sources.

In the ten spies’ second version of their report, basically a rebuttal of J. and C.’s words of hope, things looked considerably bleaker. They bemoan, “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” Their fears and assumptions began to shape their story: We can’t do this. We should be afraid. We’re in big trouble. Our wives and children will be taken as plunder! Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!

Can I ask two things of us?

Let’s mind the origin of our information.

Let’s be a little more thoughtful about who’s saying what about the world and why they might be saying it. Can we listen less to voices that say the world’s going to hell in a hand basket? There are good reasons to think that may not be the case. God may be up to something! (See next point.)

Can we all agree to just not watch televised news?

You may disagree with me on this one, but I think it seems designed to make your stomach hurt so you’ll need the antacids advertised between the stories. There are other ways to get your news (and spend your time).

4. Wonder what God is up to.

I’m not talking about the “What in the world are you doing, God?!” exclamations that sometimes come from my mouth when trouble comes to my door. But rather, let’s ask how God is at work in current situations to accomplish his purposes. In Genesis 12 he tells Abraham his intentions to bless all the families of the earth. And through Paul in Acts 17, he says he causes people to live when they do and where they do so that they might reach out and find him. Caleb and Joshua were somehow able to see beyond the grapes and the giants to this unseen hand of God: “Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the Lord is with us. Do not be afraid of them” (Numbers 14:8-9).

Don’t be afraid of them. Sometimes I wonder if we fear for our countries, our tribe, and our way of life more than we should. I want to be someone so totally devoted to God and his purposes that they take precedence over everything else, including my homeland. I certainly don’t have this figured out, and I’m often way too nervous about moving counter to my culture. But may God give us grace to, in the words of Mark Heard, “see the strong hand of love hidden in the shadows.”

5. Speak out and dodge the rocks.

When called upon, Josh and Cal gave it everything they had. They proclaimed, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord” (Numbers 14:6-10). At a time of crisis and widespread confusion, the good scouts spoke with passion and decisive clarity. They pointed out God’s way in the midst of the craziness.

The crowd response? Guys with serious weapons (they were former brick makers, remember?) got ready to pound them with rocks! When I talk about God’s purposes, especially among Muslims, I’ve endured some angry words (infrequently), pitying gazes (more often), and the occasional long rant about how bad Islam is. But never rocks!

These guys laid it on the line. I want us to as well. You have something to say. If you’ll say it with winsome humility and authentic reliance on God, maybe you’ll provide some real hope for people. There’s a lot of angst around these days. Your words about a God at work in the midst of the madness may be a lifeline of hope for some. And just maybe you’ll get a positive response sooner than the forty years Caleb and Joshua waited.


ShaneAbout Shane Bennett

Monthly Practical Mobilization articles are written by Shane Bennett. Shane has been loving Muslims and connecting people who love Jesus with Muslims for more than 20 years. He speaks like he writes—in a practical, humorous, and easy-to-relate-to way—about God’s passion to bring all peoples into his kingdom.

Contact Shane.