Friday, November 22, 2013

Religiousity and Dogma

I am someone who is a definite product of the Northwest. Rules, structure, buildings, plans are a part of church sometimes considered necessary, tolerated and employed but almost begrudgingly. I love the idea of a free flowing Jesus that doesn't need structure, that isn't trapped in a building that sits with people in town squares and parks unburdened by the details of a church. However I do reluctantly admit that Jesus did teach in Synagogues and didn't fully throw out order. He certainly taught that he was bringing new wine to a new wine skin but said you desire to loose neither. Certainly I see God is a God of order, a creator, an engineer with a clear plan. The fact that he gave us the book of Revelation whatever flawed view of the book you hold too (don't worry I think everyone is wrong including me) it makes it clear God has a plan with a beginning and end, an ordained set of happenings.

I say this to explain when I get frustrated with Christianity, with "church" I  am not advocating anarchy. Especially after living in Rio a city on the verge of complete anarchy. The police do a traffic stop here with two officers heavily armed, for war, standing guard while the other approaches the car. The other day we were caught in traffic, arriving at the end there were around 50 police heavily armed behind there cars. What appeared to be a bullet struck the ground in front of us than what appeared to be another sprayed the passenger side where Melissa and Alannah sat with little rocks. Chaos sucks, it leads to traffic, abuse of power, corruption, disaster. As I write this blog I do not want chaos in my corporate relationship with God.

What  I want is to like Jesus with the Samaratin Woman at the well, I want to bypass the image of religion and get to the heart of the issue with people. My frustration with Church is more that we have gotten so comfortable in a structure people I interact with can easily fake it. Everyone to whom I say "I am a MISSIONARY" knows what to say and how to act. To be okay, to be left alone, to feel important. It is so hard to get past the religiousity to just know someone for who they are and to be known for who I am it often feels impossible to accomplish the task of making disciples.

When she began to realize Jesus was a spiritual man, a leader the wall went up, the image. Your fathers say this mountain ours say this what do you think. I doubt at all she cared the least about religion in general. She cared about very little probably. A woman who had five husbands and living with another guy simply was just surviving, likely simply trying to survive.

This woman seamingly so uninterested in religion then leaves the conversation completely transformed, invigerated and passionate. So much so she was used by God to go back to her town give testimony of what had happened leading to the whole town going to see Jesus and believe.

Brazil is so over evangelized right now that it has been hard for me to know how to approach my "job" here. When I would say I was a missionary the look on peoples face was so apparent. I suddenly went from wearing shorts, being a bald buck toothed fat guy to a flashy suit, big hair, shiny teeth big boobed blonde wife spraying you in the face with water I prayed over for 50 bucks TV preacher. The image is all over TV, billboards on the front of churches, cars driving by with speakers blaring on the roof. As soon I become that guy in their mind they either run away or play the game. Fight or flight.

I am not saying there aren't many bible believing Jesus loving believers here in Brazil. Praise God even the worst prosperity doctrine churches have seen many people come to know Jesus.

What I am saying is I want to make disciples and that when something has become so common it becomes more difficult to find reality. We all make mistakes we all fall short but the problem when religion grows so prevalent in our Christianity, when the culture of the service becomes so routine we become in danger of becoming mechanical. Pray this, sit here every Sunday, hide your sin a bit and we are doing good. However often our building is full of people desperate to escape the bonds of sin just as much as if they never went. Everyone knows the right thing to say but still manages to go home to live with their girlfriend, be angry, fight, struggle with porn whatever it may be.

Disciples make all these mistakes too but begin to recognize change is good and that we need one another to do it. The idea of organized church should be to create an environment where we do this for one anther. Encourage, uplift, edify and exhort, confess our sins to one anther, teach and grow stronger that we might win more.

Recently I have began to make a switch in how I approach people. I tell them I am trying to open an English school or going to be offering classes next year. We will be. This doesn't mean we are no longer missionaries, that is the task in front of every child of God. We are simply adding something to the girls club, home groups, thanks giving dinner at church that hopefully allows to bypass that overly religious image and get to know more people more deeply.

A few days ago I began to see the success of this strategy or the potential success. I approached the owner of the kids school a few weeks ago about advertising and perhaps holding an English class there. I left missions out of the conversation. I offered and asked about teaching a PE class or two on American Football as a way to get more involved as a father and potential businessman. He jumped on it and had the PE teacher come out.

Thursday Melissa and I had the joy of a hundred or more kids piling around us excited to know us without fear of what we might want. We went and did a 2 hour class and played flag football, thanks Jody. It was great and the teacher had the most fun of all. He asked us to come next year for all the classes. The older kids that didn't have a teacher show even sat on the side and watched. Being themselves, a couple girls even dancing perversely for the boys. It was awful and awesome. We weren't the missionaries or the pastors to be avoided we were the Americans they want to know.

There are 1000 students at the school. They nearly all want to learn English. They represent about 600 families. They have fathers and mothers, brothers, sisters, step families. 

We believe this is going to be a big part of how we begin to spread the gospel here. At the same time we continue to do our traditional stuff getting involved in the community in this way allows us deeper access and more opportunity to witness to those who we other wise wouldn't. On a scale I am not sure we are prepared for. Pray for us, that our faith would come through. That we would build long lasting relationships that provide opportunity to speak into these families lives. That God would direct those that not only want to learn English but those that would be open to him our way.

We don't know what the end result of English lessons will be, of English courses but we know we can be ordered and strategic without being in a box. We know God is opening doors in the kids school through Football and that English can attract those kids closer. We just want to respond to what God is doing and what He has put in us.

Above all else, if you read nothing else pray for Melissa and her girls. She has been doing this girls club a bit over a month. Girls here have little to do and many end up pregnant at a very young age. She has one girl about 14 that has a 2.5 year old boy. She has met with them once this week, will again tonight and is doing a clothing give away together with them tomorrow. There is no person I know better at bypassing religion than her. She makes a heart impact on so many hurting people. This is a vitally important ministry. Pray for more girls to come and for some volunteers to teach dance, sports and above all disciple these girls.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Breaking Through

In the last blog I opened myself up perhaps more than I should have but I hope to always communicate with a bit more honesty than is perhaps traditional of missionaries. I have strove not just to give the stories of people coming to Christ or changing but deal with the realities of what we go through. To open myself up and share what I am learning about myself and my God as we seek to obey him. Moving here, learning to live in a city was tough. God however is always faithful and always has something more in mind than we can see.

How amazing it was to find out as I dealt with some frustration and began to grow impatient in our desire to reach out I discovered our church prayed for us 2 times a day during their advent conspiracy prayer focus. The week they were praying not only did the darkness break we began to see vision to add too what God was doing already. Prayer works!!!

In the last blog I shared my frustration in trying to really reach people and disciple them in such an overly religious nation. It was frustrating to do an English night, selling pizza and have it limited by too many Christians. What I mean is, the Christians want so much to participate and come that the ration gets thrown off. The people you want to reach don’t come in because of the wall of eager to evangelize believers sitting across the front of the building. It isn't bad and often people do wind up coming to know the Lord through those kind of events.

However Melissa and I have been long been drawn to those wounded by the church and or alienated from it. This can be a hard line to walk, we desire fellowship with believers, want to be a further extension of the body of Christ but in both our own events and those of local bodies we feel stifled by the things that often keep the non believers away. We do have two things that are working, that are connecting with those who don’t have relationship. Melissa has a growing girls club that has several girls who don’t go to church coming and learning Gods word. She is teaching them dramas and they in return have done them in the praca. Girls world wide are often left out and have far less opportunity than men. That is true here and this is a vital ministry.

The other thing we began last night is to go and join in playing soccer with the weekly Friday night group. Defiantly not your traditional church environment. Just neighborhood guys playing soccer. They didn’t talk much with us and were sure curious but no doubt this will pay off.

What we will be adding is something we have played with a little. We had an encouraging call with Jeff Jackson from Shepherds Staff. He spoke some things to us about pursuing English that definitely struck a cord with our hearts. This also was in the midst of the week of prayer from our church. We are now beginning to pursue some English students. We believe this is a way to build relationship with people based on who they and we are outside the presumptions that come with MISSIONARY.

Anyways we appreciate you all, appreciate your prayers and I appreciate your patience as I often have and will probably continue to open my heart to you as I process what is God doing and am I continuing to obey him rightly?