Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Contextualizing the Messenger

"Are your efforts to contextualize the gospel all about you?" asks Eric McKiddie in a recent article for The Gospel Coalition. Like many who hear about the concept, those words brought to mind the goateed, hipster urban church planter or the foreign missionary in native dress. Contextualization was, well, kind of cool. And here he was moving from a somewhat stuffy church in the heartland to a more casual, trendy church plant in the Bible belt. Score! Preaching without a tie!

But as much as Eric enjoyed adapting to his new context, he came to realize he had yet to learn some of the lessons from 1 Corinthians 9.
Though I had read this passage countless times, I noticed something I never saw before: sacrifice was the hallmark of Paul's contextualization. Verse by verse, the Spirit began to show me that my enjoyment of my next context—even if not in egregiously sinful ways—betrayed more of a concern for my preferences and pride, not the lost.
Are You Serving Others or Yourself?

"I have become all things to all people" (1 Cor. 9:22) is a theme verse for contextualizing the gospel. Paul determined to meet people where they are. If we are not willing to bring the gospel to unbelievers in the midst of their mess—just like Jesus met us—then it will be hard for unbelievers to see that Jesus can save them out of the mess they are in.

But when you scan your eyes up a couple verses, you see the way Paul becomes all things to all people: "I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them" (1 Cor. 9:19, emphasis added). Contextualization starts with service. Becoming all things begins with serving all people.

Over and over Paul shows how he set aside his preferences to see others believe the gospel.

Are You Contextualizing to All or to Some?

In every sport I've played I've been coached to stay on the balls of my feet. Back on your heels, you are unprepared to react. But if you stay on the balls of your feet, you are ready to move toward the action. For Paul, contextualization was about doing gospel ministry "on the balls of his feet." He was ready to serve anyone at any time in any way.

This is different from how I often hear people discussing contextualization. People often talk about aiming at one context: the poor, the city, the university students, and so on. But Paul was ready to contextualize the gospel to anyone at hand:

To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. (1 Cor. 9:19-22)

Wherever you live—whether city, suburb, or rural—are you willing to contextualize the gospel to all, even people you don't like so much? Or are you merely willing to become some things to some people, that by some means you might save some?

If you have an overly defined segment of the population that you are trying to reach, it is possible you are merely trying to reach people whose company you prefer.
Jesus Served Us

In Philippians 2:7, Paul describes the incarnation as Jesus "taking the form of a servant." At the outset, Jesus looked to the needs of others. Moreover, Jesus was a servant through his death, "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:42). These bookends show that Jesus' entire ministry—from birth to death—was marked by giving up his rights as the eternally begotten Son to serve sinful people like us.

How do we respond to the way Jesus served us? By giving up our rights and serving others, whomever they may be, to bring them the gospel. It will require sacrifice, to be sure. But that sacrifice does not come without a reward, as Paul says, "I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings" (1 Cor. 9:23).

Read complete article.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Taking your cultural "strengths" overseas

In the last two weeks I've visited seven Perspectives classes to teach lessons on mission history. Before my spring "tour" is done I will attend a mission conference in Portland, participate in a week of meetings around a forum for church leaders in Orlando, spend a few days in Southern California, and then, March 31 and April 10, teach two more Perspectives lessons. Those are a culture lesson. In pulling up my notes about crossing cultures I remember how much fun this material is to teach. It's more personal. And much less "sage on the stage." I'll step more fully into the mode of "guide on the side," raising questions and inviting the class to discuss their own experiences and concerns and come to their own conclusions.

I'm also reminded how easy it is to believe that working in a cross-cultural situation is hard because of problems with the other people's culture. But that's not a very helpful conclusion. It's no use going around expecting other people to change on our behalf. Far more effective to acknowledge and examine our expectations and look for ways to adjust them along with our thinking and behavior. Those are the only thing over which we have at least some control.

I like the way Kenyan pastor Oscar Muriu describes these tensions:
Americans have two great things going for them culturally. One is that Americans are problem-solvers. Every time I come to the U.S., I like to spend a couple hours in a Wal-Mart. I find solutions to problems that I never thought of!

The rest of the world, even Europe, isn't so intent on solving inconveniences. We tend to live with our problems… Americans don't easily live with a problem—they want to solve the problem and move on…

The second great thing for Americans is that your educational system teaches people to think and to express themselves. So a child who talks and asserts himself in conversation is actually awarded higher marks than the one who sits quietly.

Those two things that are such great gifts in the home context become a curse when you go into missions. Americans come to Africa, and they want to solve Africa. But you can't solve Africa. It's much too complex for that. And that really frustrates Americans.

And the assertiveness you are taught in school becomes a curse on the field. I often say to American missionaries, "When the American speaks, the conversation is over." The American is usually the most powerful voice at the table. And when the most powerful voice gives its opinion, the conversation is over.

I tell Americans: "We're going into this meeting. Don't say anything! Sit there and hold your tongue." When you sit around a table, the people speaking always glance at the person they believe is the most powerful figure at the table. They will do that with you when you're the only American. And at some point, they will ask you: "What do you think?"

Don't say anything. If you say anything, reflect back with something like "I have heard such wisdom at this table. I am very impressed." And leave it at that. Affirm them for the contribution they have made. Don't give your own opinion.

Americans find that almost impossible. They do not know how to hold their tongue. They sit there squirming, because they're conditioned to express their opinions. It's a strength at home, but it becomes a curse on the field.

(Source: Problem-Solving, Opinionated Americans from Leadership Journal, The African Planter: Nairobi Chapel pastor on mission trips, and working well across cultures. An interview with Oscar Muriu (quoted in Leading Across Cultures: Effective Ministry and Mission in the Global Church pgs 110-111)

Thursday, February 13, 2014


This morning I made Daniel a couple of peanut butter sandwiches. Haven't done that in a while.  But it got me thinking about the social dynamics around this simple act.

When Chris and I were dating, I was a little horrified that he made his kids' lunches. Usually breakfast too. And though his mother, who they lived with, often made dinner, Chris showed himself more than adequate to take care of that as well. On one hand, part of me secretly hoped that after we were married he would serve me (and the kids) in those same ways, and sometimes he has. But I knew it was more likely that those kind of responsibilities would shift to my shoulders. As that happened I've received it with mixed feelings. I enjoy many of the tasks of housekeeping, but I'm a professional with a full-time job, too, and it's hard to do both. 

In my family where I grew up, making your own lunch was like making your own bed - a sign that you were a responsible person - or deciding what to wear - not something you'd want to delegate to another. It was your lunch, not your mom's lunch, and you should make it.

Turns out, in the family I married into, making your kid's lunch was a way to say "I'm here for you. And I love you."

It's hard to let go of one story and accept another, or accept both of them as valid. I'm regularly surprised and disappointed how much my self-righteousness asserts itself to defend my preferences, my ways, my ideas about how things are done or what they mean.

But I love Daniel, and not just because I love Chris. And I've recognized one way of showing it is to feed him.

Family dynamics have shifted, and Daniel usually makes his own sandwiches now. But I've learned to make them the way he likes them, as I did today. A thin layer of peanut butter on both pieces of bread, carefully spread to the edges. Generous layer of jelly or honey on top of that. Some assembly required, but no slicing. (That surprised me: I remembered that my dad always sliced sandwiches on the diagonal, my mom on the horizontal. Yet here was another option!)

In her book, Loving Someone Else's Child, author Angela Hunt says that stepfamilies, despite their problems, can give kids some unexpected benefits. A larger/blended family includes "more people with diverse personalities and styles and backgrounds and so there are more sources of social and cognitive stimulation for kids. In the long run, kids in stepfamilies could be developing more effective ways of dealing with a greater variety of people..."

"Children with 'step-in' parents usually have multiple role models. They will observe different parenting techniques and will have more models from which to choose when they are parents someday... they learn that it pays to be flexible."

In the long run, set-in-their-ways stepmoms may experience the same benefits, too! 

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

2013 Santa Clara Fire Department's Volunteer of the Year

Serving with our local volunteer fire department costs Hubs - and costs our family - a lot. It can also be quite rewarding. Sometimes at the same time. We were dismayed when the pager went off just before a big family dinner Christmas Eve. Minutes later Chris was saving the life of someone else's wife, mother, and grandmother, not returning until she was in the capable hands of the ER doctors and staff. Somehow after that opening Christmas presents did not seem such a big deal. He came back reeling from the tsunami wave and trough of adrenaline that comes at such times. When we fell into bed after the candlelight service that night, we were both exhausted, thinking about and praying for the other family and wondering if they'd have a greater loss before morning.

This Saturday was the annual awards banquet for the fire department. Had a hunch Hubs would be honored. Indeed he was. There's a nice plaque to hang on the wall, with his name added to one that hangs in the station. There were pictures and lots of hugs. A shoot for promotional photos is scheduled for next week. Long, loud, standing ovation. Lots of people came up to us that night to say they thought the recognition was a long time coming.

Last year's Volunteer of the Year, a good friend, read the following kind and honoring comments before presenting the award to him [edited slightly for clarity and a more general audience]:
It is my honor and pleasure to announce the 2013 Santa Clara Fire Department's Volunteer of the Year. It is something we all look forward to each year as it represents why many of us do what we do as volunteer firefighters and EMTs in our community. We work hard, and this is a very special opportunity to thank and praise someone special for their dedication and hard work in department. The award represents a wonderful appreciation and honor from your colleagues and your peers.

Our Volunteer of the Year is decided upon by the three preceding Volunteers of the Year. When we sat down to decide who it was going to be, there was no conversation or doubt as to who it was.

This volunteer has been unwavering in their dedication to our department since [he] joined us in 2007. Statistics and numbers can mean a lot; and if you look at this volunteer's numbers, they speak for themselves.* [He has] been in the top five responders every year since he joined, and rarely misses a drill. [He] will come down for calls in the middle of the night, on the weekends, middle of family dinners, and early mornings.

This year's Volunteer of the Year does something very special for our department and our community that sets him apart: he serves as our department chaplain. He stays with family members after a difficult call where a patient dies or suffers traumatic injury. He offers a shoulder to cry on for wives who have just lost their husband or comforts a parent as we take care of their sick child. He prays with people when they need a prayer. These duties often leave him on the scene of a call long after us other responders leave and go back to our homes and our families; he stays.

He also offers support and friendship to all of us here at SCFD. He has a talent for keeping an eye out for our well being and offering an ear if we need to talk about a difficult call we have been on.

I should also mention that this year's Volunteer of the Year has done all of this all while working a full-time job, being a father to his children, and a husband to his wife. This person included a special part of his wedding ceremony to "turn in" his pager to our Chief so he could spend extra time with his new bride … But I remember pretty clearly that we had a house fire the next weekend [after he was back], and lo and behold, when we came out of the fire, there he was running our rehab unit. And to top it all off, he is also is nearly done with his Master’s Degree in Clinical Chaplaincy.

Now that I think we all know who I am talking about. It is my honor to announce Chris Wade as Santa Clara Fire Department's 2013 Volunteer of the Year.

Congratulations, Chris!

* In 2013 Chris responded to 244 9-1-1 calls.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

February/March Travels

Unpacking from last weekend's overnight trip to Portland, I'm realizing I won't be moth-balling my suitcase any time soon. (Wait, does anyone still use mothballs?) Yes, it's nearly time for my usual springtime spate of speaking gigs. I'm exited about it; I do enjoy the chance to get out there and shine. Though I need to make sure I'm on top of the deadlines for my writing projects and the more mundane stuff at home. I should also be sure to replace the aging battery and balding tires on my car, lest they cause unexpected adventures along the way.

I'm teaching eight Perspectives classes in three states. Last year it was a different lesson each time, but this time I'm playing more to my strengths and should be able to get by with just blowing the dust off three of my better lesson plans.

Add in one overnight conference thing in Portland, and another of those eight-day trips to Florida for meetings with my Pioneers team, and here's what we've got:

Feb 20 - teach Perspectives lesson 7 (Bend, OR)
Feb 23 - fly to Louisiana
Feb 24 - teach Perspectives lesson 7/8 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Feb 25 - teach Perspectives lesson 7/8 (Lake Charles, LA)
Feb 26 - teach Perspectives lesson 7/8 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Feb 27 - teach Perspectives lesson 7/8 (New Orleans, LA)
Feb 28 - fly back to Oregon

Mar 2 - teach Perspectives lesson 7 (Richland, WA)
Mar 5 - teach Perspectives lesson 8 (Portland, OR)
Mar 7-8 - Muslim ConneXion (Portland, OR)
Mar 15 - fly to Florida
Mar 16-21 - agency meetings (Orlando, FL)
Mar 22 - fly back to Oregon
Mar 31 - teach Perspectives lesson 10 (Portland, OR)

Friday, January 17, 2014

The weird world of stepparenting

Is any of this OK for a stepparent to say? Maybe it's
not ideal for a parent, either!
If someone were to tell you they never yell at their kids or speak harshly to them, you'd wouldn't think them completely honest, would you?

But being a step-parent, loving someone else's child, is a different kind of relationship than parenting, and exercising power and discipline (except over oneself) are really not part of the job description. Certainly, losing your temper or exerting your will (because "I am your mother") seems really inappropriate, along with parenting "techniques" like nagging, giving commands, issuing ultimatums or punishments, and withholding privileges. I don't recall either of my stepparents doing those things either, ever, at least not with me. (Though I'm aware of a few times they pulled such strings through my parents.)

And for their part, my stepkids are almost unfailingly polite to me. That's also how I tend to respond to them, as well as to my own stepparents. Eye-rolling, sarcasm, and battles of the will seem saved for the parents-in-the-flesh, if they are around.

Might be different if the kids were younger or living with us full-time. But signing up to marry someone with teenagers seems to mean seeking to be their ally. And, to the extent they welcome it, friend. Maybe that's a better job description than a parent gets, though it's certainly a less intimate one. I will never experience the contrast for myself, and I don't know what kind of ("real") parent I would be if I had the chance.

Don't get me wrong, things aren't bad in our house or in my relationships with the kids. But it feels like as a stepmom I'm simply not allowed to be mad at them (and show it) the way one does with a spouse, sibling, or parent. Nor can I discuss them with my husband the way I might they were "ours" in the traditional sense. Complaining to him about his daughter would be like complaining to him about his mother, not a good idea - better to listen supportively to any of his frustrations, but keep my own opinions more or less to myself.

So being a stepparent is a weird thing. It tries to tie the hands and make you bite your tongue. Our relationships are marked less by the tough love of family, more by the service and civility of  housemates, coworkers, or friends. Perhaps that's a good thing. The challenge of being a mother is not one for me, but I know how to be a good housemate, coworker, and friend.