Origin Story Part 2

A little while ago, I turned out the story of this blog’s origin, or at least its title’s genesis. As I think about it further, and my experience engaging with people in conversation and watching others do the same with different approaches, I think of how we do this on Social Media too.

Enjoy part 2 of the origin.

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As the weeks turned into years of doing this thing called, Ask The Blind Pastor, I made some observations.

  • Sometimes, the Christians are overly confrontational. I had some of my biggest arguments with Christians wanting to change me or get me to think more correctly. Also, a Christian activist came on campus to overtly share his message against sin. Sadly, most were turned off by his offensive presentation style and demeanor and missed the beauty of the gospel message he shared.
  • Most people were not interested in a conversation. I am not sure why, but much of my time there consisted of people walking around me, talking to others in the quad or simply hanging out. The issue of God did not seem like a relevant topic. No matter if I changed the topic to Life or anything else, the pastor word either intimidated or unimpressed the majority of students who saw the sign.
  • Many still stopped to see what was up. Nonetheless, the efforts of being present and available to talk at their level allowed for many, many conversations to happen. Most were of a single conversation, but others came again to continue the dialogue another week. I still fondly remember one cynic who would faithfully met me to debate. I believe we formed a friendship. I wish I could have stayed in better touch with him after I went to Thailand.
  • Consistency mattered. One important part of something like this is being consistent. I have no empirical data to back this up, but can say with certainty it mattered that I was there on a regular basis. An expectation began among the students that I would be there. Thus, when they needed someone to talk to, or they had an issue from a class pop up, they knew they could come find me.
  • Curiosity brought people in. Often, those that were most interested were not the skeptics bringing the debate, but those listening in. I remember one girl who came to Jesus through this ministry was going through a big issue personally. She sat listening as I talked about God’s love in such a compelling way to a skeptic that when I was through with him, she wanted to know more. It is cool how we are still Facebook friends to this day and how she is loving Jesus more and more.

This exercise in putting yourself out there for dialogue, debate and deep conversations did many things in me as I did impact some and see a handful come to Jesus. First, I know that I am not an evangelist. The gift is not on me to see people simply come to Jesus. But, that does not stop me from being evangelistic and watching some come to Jesus. Second, we can all do something to engage the harvest, or witness of our faith, or whatever you want to call it. No one is exempt.

Finally, I learned a lot about the people living in our community, the people I wanted to reach, the people far from God in that young adult age range. I heard why many were no longer in church, or why others were so skeptical. I heard what many valued or cared about. I listened to those who talked with me, as well as those who talked around me. Sometimes, I would simply engage in conversations around me. I began to understand the way people thought and felt about the world around them. And my heart broke more for them. I wished I could do more to draw them to see Jesus.

This is what I meant a few weeks ago when I talked about “Ask The Blind Pastor” on steroids when I had a chance to consult on a TV show with religion as the backdrop, Hand of God with Ron Pearlman.

But out of this sign that I carried with me and kept safely on my desk birthed this blog in which I get to continue the conversation. I get to talk about God, life, culture, mission and the like here. I get to exercise how to articulate what I feel is important, and I hope a few people enjoy it along the way.

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Origin Story Of The Blog

This has probably taken too long to come about, but alas we are here with an origin story of the blog.

Well, more an origin story of the name. This is more exciting than a story of why I jumped into the trend of blogging.

I love dialogue, and I love questions, so there we go with the ask part. Oh, maybe we should give a better picture than a word by word understanding of my nature and values.

The title flowed out of a posture I took many years ago while leading a young adults group. Maybe I should phrase the term beginning a young adults group rather than leading one. The group started mostly out of my passion to connect with young people in the area. We had a couple or three or four besides my wife and I in a healthy vibrant mostly young families church with a strong Hispanic mix.

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Our church building was basically around the corner from the local community college, Saddleback College, which claimed some 10s of thousands of students. My passion for these students grew as I took the bus in to work each morning. The bus I rode into work stopped at the community college only a couple of stops ahead of my stop for the church office.

These young people were in that wonderful time of early adulthood, a time full of possibilities, loaded with potential, energy and availability like no other station of life, and fraught with insecurity, drama, and the unknown. This is a wonderfully unstable time of life as young people want to be significant, part of something significant, going somewhere and pretending they are somewhere as they figure out where and who they want to be. I simply love it.

My heart broke for these students. How could I connect them with the story of God and what he was wanting out of their life. What more could be done? We did not have any students from the college among the few young adults we had at our church. And I wanted to get out of the office and into the community.

It was like a match made in heaven. But what to do to connect me to this beautiful and open field for conversations.

Through several brainstorming sessions with my pastor and I, we came to the conclusion, I needed to get on campus to make connections. I could enroll as a student in some fun class like pottery, a language arts class, creative writing, or something else. In the end, I decided to go straight out for my purpose, to connect with students as a local pastor, graciously, noncombatively, relationally and open-handed. However, as a blind person, I struggled with how I would connect with students. What might I do?

The strategy took form.

I would take a sign with me. A sign inviting conversation.

A sign to let people know I am blind. For me, people often miss my blindness as I have eyes that look normal. And with sight for 20 years of my life, I still look like I see with them even as I don’t. More importantly, a sign would help me as I could not simply observe who might be open to a conversation. Furthermore, I wanted students to engage me, and not to perpetuate the stereotype that witnessing is getting up in people’s business.

My sign took various adaptations but primarily read, “Ask The Blind Pastor Anything About God” The key was Ask The Blind Pastor. About life, about doubt, about anything at all.

I placed the sign on a table or in anything near the bench I sat on in the quad. And this created space for conversations.

This sign started something for me that helped me engage with people, people outside of church, something that has turned into a blog and constantly learning, listening and dialoguing. I went a couple of times a week, week-in-week-out. This became my passion. I made sure my office assignments could be flexible, so I could be out in the community. If anything, I did not want to be stuck inside the office as the world went by outside. The world often gets neglected as we pastors stay in our church work bubble, and when we forget the importance of modelling a missional posture to the world, it is no wonder evangelistic engagement slips in our churches.

If we wonder why the church is struggling to reach the world, we must ask is the church attempting to reach the world? Some are, some people are, and some churches are doing exceptional at this commission from God. However, too many are simply leaving the task up to someone else, up to the professionals, up to God and his sovereignty, or simply worrying about other things. And with the gravitational pull of working in and for the church, it is easy for leaders to simply stop being present in their community, their neighborhood, their city.

For me, I created an opportunity to dialogue, and I learned a lot about those who were not in church, their values, their passions, their reasons, and simply who they were. I loved it, and I have never forgotten the importance of listening and dialoguing with people outside of the church.

What are ways that you engage with those outside of the church bubble, outside of your bubble?

Clinging To Hope

We had a glimmer. A glimmer of hope. We felt we heard a word, a word that gave us hope to keep holding on.

Holding on like one day those Cubs will win it all. As a Cub loyalist, you get used to saying, maybe next season. Maybe

Maybe next time.

This is what it is like when you are trying to get pregnant, when getting pregnant is not easy. We often said, Maybe next time. We waited and hoped and waited longer as merely one couple who had difficulty in this area.

There are a multitude of reasons why couples struggle to have children. Some are easier to diagnose than others. For me, I had a low sperm count, so each cycle we hoped, maybe this time. The hoping and waiting can really tear at the fabric of your humanity. We are created to reproduce, so what do you do when that doesn’t happen? We even met with a fertility specialist, a doctor in Thailand while we were living there. He helped us try some interventions short of IVF, but each time fell short. However, on furlough from our mission’s assignment, we thought, let’s just take a break. Let us simply let the stress of wondering and hoping and yearning to get pregnant not be a part of these three months of crazy schedules and travel. Let’s take not only take a furlough from the work in Thailand but also a furlough from working at making a family.

We were six years into our marriage, and the question of when are you going to have a baby seemed to hit a little harder. The answers strained a bit more to come out.

‘It is all in God’s hands’

‘It is up to God’

‘We’ll see’

And so on.

The emotional pain ground at our soul as we navigated our friend’s desires for us to have children. We were now two-and-a-half years into trying. Trying to do what should be natural. What should be God’s design for marriage, for family. But still nothing.

In all of this, we held onto a promise. A promise we received around our first anniversary.

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We were at Foursquare’s Missionary training in Los Angeles at the Historic Angeles Temple property.  We were soaking in the history of our movement, and the heritage to disciple the nations. In the two-week intensive, we found our heart growing in our desire to fulfill our calling to mission.  At this point, we had no idea that Thailand would be our destination, but we were grabbing our destiny.

At the conclusion of the training, they had a commissioning service in which they prayed over each of the candidates for missionary service. For this divine moment, they had invited a special guest to pray over each of us. One of the pillars of our movement, Gene Darnell, began praying over the different couples who were preparing to go overseas to far flung shores or lands. We listened intently as she prayed prophetically over each person. As she drew near to us, our hearts raced in anticipation of what she might pray over us. We hoped for a word of how God would do a mighty thing through our lives in the place we would go, wherever that was to be. We wanted to hear of the divine purposes God had over our life. As twenty-something’s, we knew the world was at our fingertip, and we knew God had big plans. And His plan would overshadow our biggest dreams.

When she came to stand in front of us, we couldn’t hide our eagerness to hear what God would say through her, even as we stood stoically ready to receive a word.

And we could have never anticipated what she would say next.

We would have never guessed it in a hundred years.

Not ever.

She said that she did not have a word for us. But… those words faded off as my heart dropped. God did not have a word for me in that moment. Wow, oh wow. Talk about feeling deflated, letdown, or having the rug pulled out from under you.

But she did have more for us.

well not us.

She said that her word was not for us. However, she had a word for our son. Inquisitively, she asked if we were expecting. Quickly, rw replied, nope, we were not even trying at that point, not even imagining a child as we were still newlyweds in our minds. The little glint of a baby was not even in my eye.

Nonetheless, God had a word for our son and for his future ministry.

Wonderful as having a special word for our future son was, we didn’t give this word much thought over the next couple of years until…

Until having a child became difficult.

Now, back to our furlough, our time in the US after three years in Thailand. After much discussion and inner-turmoil, we decided to let go of the stress of not getting pregnant for a few months before reassessing our plans going forward. To make a long story short, in that break, God blessed us with a miracle. We found ourselves pregnant days before returning to Thailand and couldn’t have been more ecstatic and nervous. We didn’t want anything to go wrong since making the first one was such a slim shot. I didn’t have confidence to say, I could just make another one.

We were blessed in March of the next year with Eliana
 who is now four and as rambunctious, curious, and sweet as could be.

Yet, we still had this promise, this word, this hope for a son. In no way did this diminish our love or joy for the miracle that was Eliana. We knew God blessed us richly with her and would be satisfied if we only have had her.

But a glimmer of hope began to peak up in our hearts. We thought about having two children, maybe more depending on how God blessed us. And so we started trying again, and again, and again.

Quickly, we were back in that old pattern of saying, maybe next time. The pain of waiting 27, 28, 29 days only to have the cycle start again. I held out hope, optimistically believing this could be the month only to have those empty hopes come crashing down again and again.

But we had a promise. We knew that word had come from God. I am not sure how, but we knew that word resonated in our hearts as from God. But now we were nearing our 10-year anniversary. This word was becoming faint as it was nine, long, pain-filled years old.

The picture in my mind of how this word even came at that meeting many years ago was becoming blurry as old memories do. The word and promise was fading, but I was ever-clinging to hope. This thing called having a baby happened once, so surely getting pregnant could happen again. Couldn’t it?

Anything is possible, right.

At the point where hope feels so dim, and you are only reminded of it every 28 days, you start ignoring the longing to have a another child the rest of the time.

I still remember that night when Tina came to me on the couch to share the good news. Since I thought we were waiting one more day before testing, so the surprise pretty much bowled me over. I was speechless and elated all at the same time.

The promise was being reborn in me as the baby was beginning its life.

At the big ultrasound, we found out that this baby was going to be a boy. And the promise was going to be fulfilled, even if it took 10 years. God is not slow in working, but time sure seems to move slow in waiting for God’s timing.

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On April 9, 2015, our little boy was born, healthy and beautiful. We waited to name him until we met him, but there definitely was one name that had to be the one for him—Zachariah Kenneth Opie. Zachariah means God remembers which couldn’t be more true to our story and waiting. Our clinging to a promise.

Are there things in your life, you are still waiting to see take place.

A Life Well Lived

Last week, we celebrated a life well lived at the Foursquare Convention in Anaheim. And as I know this man well, his life has left behind a wake of God’s touch on the world and waves and waves of impact in a family with ongoing influence through the generations.

And this is as good of a reason as any to get back into the swing of blogging after an extended hiatus. His heritage has left a huge imprint on his family.

One of the sweet things I look forward to each year at convention is when our movement pauses for a moment to honor those who have served in ministry for a lifetime (50 and 60 years). I love stopping to say thank you to those who have stayed in the game for the long haul. These men and women are the people I want to live like, far more than the convention speakers.

On Tuesday morning of the Anaheim Convention, Tina’s grandfather, Gary Robinson, was honored among these pillars of the Foursquare Church. Each and every one of these people have given of their life and served people and followed Jesus’ call day-by-day with the longview in mind. They not only started strong but finished well. From my vantage point, that matters far more to me than someone who burned bright momentarily only to burn out. I respect them all, but this year there was one of the honored elders of our movement that I had a special connection to as I have gotten to see his life from an inside view.

To me, he is one of my heroes. Why? Because he lived like his faith mattered.

Over the years, I took Gary on as my own grandfather as he loved me like his own grandson. As I got to see him as a person, I grew to admire Gary more and more for his passion. His passion for the Lord was not just a thing seen in public but a thing he carried deep in his heart. His faith, his relationship with God simply exuded from his being. When you spent time with Gary, you knew you were with a man who spent time with the heavenly father.

But it didn’t start this way for Gary.

As a young man who grew up as a thug street gang leader in the 40s, God and godly living were not on his mind. The great story made short goes like this: God got a hold of Gary and never let go. Once this teenage hooligan decided that God was right and true, he gave his whole life over and never looked back. He determined to live his life like it counted. He decided either the stuff in the Bible is true or it isn’t, and he decided to live like it was true. And he saw God show up again and again in powerful, powerful ways throughout his life.

He has incredible stories of the miracle-working God.

Listen to this great message he recently gave sharing the stories of a man of faith. Click here for podcast.

  • He saw God stop the rain.
  • He saw God raise a dead woman when he laid hands on her.
  • He saw God do extraordinary miracles such as: Blind eyes seeing, crippled walking, the sick being made well, and many, many more.

Gary lived a life of faith with God showing his faithfulness time and time again.

Legacy

But to me, the most impacting and powerful story of Grandpa’s life is his legacy. A man who grew up far from God without family or friends with a godly heritage. All of that changed when he determined to live a new way with Jesus as his Lord. He married a beautiful woman who was saved off of the street as a child. Together they saw God transform their life and their families trajectory. They determined to live full on for God, to live with abandon in the way of Jesus with no holds barred. This was not a life of faith exhibited for public or only on Sunday morning but a life of deep faith at home.

His story has been shared again and again as it gets passed on through his children and grandchildren.

His son followed in his footsteps and has pastored for decades, well on his way to a 50-year pin.

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But the best of all is what you could see in the picture here (not including one grandson who had to leave early). Gary had two kids and four grandchildren. Each of his grandchildren are serving God in ministry. My wife, his eldest, and I were missionaries and serve on staff at a local church. The next granddaughter serves as an executive pastor. His eldest grandson is on a pathway to plant a church in the near future while his youngest grandson recently came back from two months in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya for a medical mission.

The family gathered to celebrate a life well lived, but the reality is that his life will continue to live on in his grandchildren and great grandchildren. We love you Grandpa.

Stay Off The Grass

This post will take me back to my new series on things that make you go hmmm. And this one not only makes me go hmmm, but also makes me shake my head.

We must be living in a society that has solved all the big issues. We no longer need to worry about poverty, racism, fatherless children, war, terrorism, the threat of a nuclear winter, famine, drought, the outbreak of an incurable disease, or an alien invasion.

Why?

We are able to use our free time to make and enforce laws that keep dogs off the grass of public areas in our suburban cities.

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Yes, the grass. No, I am not talking about keeping the droppings picked up. I am literally saying, they cannot step on the grass with their doggy feet. Not even one foot.

We love to take our dogs for walks around the neighborhood and even down to the beach. Our daughter, Ellie, loves getting out as much as we do, and she even loves walking the little dog, a black & white Bichon-shih tzu hybrid mix. Sometimes this little dog walks our daughter. She is trying, but the dog has a lot of heart and energy.

This really becomes a problem when we get to the little grassy patch between the street and the parking lot in front of North Beach by our house. This patch includes a trash can and a picnic table, oh and a small stretch of grass. I want to say decoration rather than grass with the zeal in which it is protected from getting denigrated.

When we walk the sidewalk that touches this grass, we have to be sure that Ellie keeps her dog from touching the grass which prompts her to ask the famous three-year-old question, why?

We try to remind her that we could get in trouble, big trouble.

This all goes back to one day. One day as we were walking along this path, and the dog stepped “over the line”, we were warned. Yes, warned against allowing our dog on the grass. I was shocked. I wondered if there was a practical joke going on. I wondered if video cameras would come out to say I was punked.

This is how it went down. At that exact moment, the pet patrol was driving by. I am not sure the actual title of this nice, middle-aged man. He was so gracious, almost as though he really did not want to enforce this ridiculous city ordinance. He told us we would have to pay $150 if our dog even steps foot on the grass. That is right. It is not a matter of defecating on the grass that would get us in trouble. Nope. Just the threat of making a mess will get us in trouble. And, no I am not talking about some cranky miser living next door who wants us off his grass.

This is public grass. Did I say grass. This is not a marble floor in the foyer of a mansion. This is not a plush carpet in the living room. This is not some posh neighborhood. NO, this is grass next to a picnic bench and public receptacle for trash. And if a little dog even steps on the grass, we could receive a ticket, a pretty hefty ticket.

Just say this out loud. We do not want dogs walking on the grass. Say that again. How does that sound coming out of your mouth? It almost feels inhumane. But let’s protect this grass, this precious grass from doggy paws.

This makes me want to bring a character from late night TV down here to my neighborhood to protest with me. I am reminded of the Conan O’Brien sketch of the insulting dog who would take things and insult them by saying this is good…good enough for me to poop on. But in fact, this grass is exactly that to a dog.

 

Maybe that is why dogs are prohibited from the soft place for their furry paws. Why not insure their doo-doo gets picked up? Nope, lets draw the line bright and distant from anything resembling sanity. Now, the strong arm of the neighborhood posh patrol has extended once again into silliness. Well, it is what it is, so we insure that our daughter and little dog stay clearly on the sidewalk and not the grass.

I am just curious, what person is so worried that a dog’s feces could be the undoing of society that they pass a policy that needs to be enforced. Are we really without a backbone to stop such invasions of our freedom?

I am not saying that I want dog doo all over my neighborhood. Is it not good enough to enforce people picking up after their dog? Now, we must enlist more draconian laws to keep dogs off of public grass.

What is next? No smoking in public?

But seriously, Could we do something about the foul language that gets spoken in public? Now, that filth gets into my daughter’s ears when she walks in the parks with me. That is hard to  clean out once it has gone into her ears.

For real, what is next?

No dogs in public?

What did these nice dogs do to mess with these people? Dogs are man’s best friend. Dogs are so kind, and in tons of YouTube videos just being cute as can be. Can we please have some sanity, and let our dogs walk on the grass once again.

What are some of the crazy ways that your neighborhoods have exercised their authority?

Questions And Answers And More Questions

I can’t get into too many details, but I had one of the most rad experiences of my life recently.

handofgod1I got to be a consultant for a new TV show coming out next year on Amazon Prime, “Hand Of God”. This show stars the incredible Ron Pearlman as a morally corrupt judge who goes through a mental breakdown after his sons (PJ) suicide attempt. We find PJ on life support.

The twist: The judge, (Pernell) found God in the midst of losing his mind, and now he feels compelled by visions of God to seek out the mystery killer of his son. The show includes a shady pastor (Julian Morris) and others who have questionable motives. This show delves into the deep waters of faith, morality, ethics, hearing God’s voice, and much more. With the judge as the main character, they will look at how we like to find ways around the rules.

I am stoked for my cousin, Ben Watkins, writer and creator of the show. Formerly, he wrote and produced the fast-paced drama, Burn Notice. About a year ago, I was at dinner with my cousin and asked what was next for him as Burn Notice wrapped up. He was excited to share some of the projects on the horizon, but unsure about saying something about all of them. The controversy of Hand of God caused him to feel the nerves of telling his cousin, the pastor/missionary about this one, which was his brainchild. But he went for it, unpacking the plot and drama of the show.  Immediately, his pitch grabbed my attention. I loved the fact that this show would deal with issues, ask questions that don’t often get asked in pop-culture. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up with anticipation and hope that this show might get off the ground. You never know.

As my insides spilled with excitement for his idea, I said something to Ben that stuck with him as he went to work on the show and pitching it to the studios. What I loved about this idea is that it asks questions when most shows that deal with religion give answers, simplistic answers, this concept begs us to think and ask questions. This story will give compelling drama, while drawing us into the narrative and cause us to ask questions we don’t often feel comfortable asking. This show will walk a razor thin line of entertaining and disturbing us.

Oh, and I am a big fan of Ron Pearlman.

As Ben told me about his show, and we talked about the God issue in the show, he suggested I might be able to help down the line as things unfold. And things did unfold, slowly as they do in LA. The show got pitched, green-lighted for a pilot, and eventually picked up by the studio.

Fast forward a little more than a year. Now, they are working on writing nine episodes for the first season. This is where I received an invitation to help them in the creative process. The writer’s had questions about Theology, ethics, and the practical nature of building a church. Ben asked me to come talk with the writers about upcoming storylines, those lines that dealt with the issues of God, the Bible and the young preacher.

I had the privilege of dialoguing with some bright, energetic and super creative folks developing a story. I got to see behind the curtain of how something gets brought to life from that place in the ether, the void of our mind’s eye to the TV. I was like a kid in a candy store wanting to ask so many questions. But I was there to give answers.

My job: Talk to the writer’s room about this show. I felt like this was “ask the blind pastor” on steroids. I had no idea what I was getting into or who I was going to talk too much like when I first started this thing that spawned the name of this blog on a community college campus. Apparently, I have not told that story here. Note to self: Write a story or two about the origins of this blog title.

I came to find a few minutes before going into the writer’s room that of the seven writers including my cousin, only Ben was a Christian. The others were primarily Jewish in background with one being a former Christian and now a Buddhist. This gave for a beautiful pallet of diverse views when it comes to the God topic.

Since,  I did not know them, and they did not know me, we needed a common place to begin. And with the backdrop of this show dealing with religion, why not start there. I decided to get these guys and gals looking at the Bible with questions about what the Bible says about violence, marriage, divorce and more. I hoped for more, but the first two questions sparked plenty of conversation points including curiosity, the provocative, and the sublime. I loved one guy who said he had read the Old Testament, the Jewish Bible , but it had been a long time. He is reading the Bible again for the show. He quipped, don’t tell me how it ends. And that made me smile.

At one point he brought up a section he had been reading in Genesis 34 when Jacob’s daughter Dinah was defiled. In response, her brothers, the patriarchs of Israel tricked the people of the city into all getting circumcised. While recovering in pain, the brothers of Dinah took out the people. This writer asked about violence. What do we do with a story like that? On the one hand, it is brutal, devious, conniving, and so wrong.  But those people did rape Dinah, the sister of Jacob’s 12 sons, so they got what they deserved, he thought. We were talking about the Bible, the ethic of God, and really digging in. It was fantastic as we dove into our session of sticky topics that often get treated as black and white while we live in a grey world.

As things progressed, we moved from the open dialogue which helped me get a sense of their background to talking about the storylines. We had great questions and interchange of discussion. The 90-minutes flew by in the blink of an eye. It felt like we ended as soon as we started. So much ground had been covered, and yet so many more questions were hanging out there waiting to be handled. Would there be more time, another opportunity?

Questions led to answers which led to more questions. I love the mystery and the open space the Bible gives us. I also loved the opportunity to share God’s heart behind the designs he has on us, the grace he has and love for all peoples. In every way, I took the opportunity to paint God as one who loves the world and wants us to know him deeply.

But the end was only the beginning as we sat down and talked more over lunch. Here, I really got to answer questions about my faith. Whatever went on in the writer’s room must have opened their hearts to more questions. I sat with one of the writers and a writer’s assistant at lunch as they dialogued openly and vigorously for another hour plus. I loved when  this writer said to me that he had never met a pastor before. What a privilege for me to be the first pastor this witty, smart writer could meet.

As we sat talking over lunch, one of this writer’s first questions to me was do many people in my field have a similar interest in the arts like I do. Sadly, I thought, no. In between taking bites, I told him that most in my field either uncritically consume the arts of movies and television or condemn it as filthy or unfruitful. Pastors often talk about the stuff of TV as unedifying and ask their people to stick with things that build them up. In fact, until the last 10-15 years, the arena of the arts was often completely overlooked by the evangelical church. We did not dialogue over the stories of the movies, the meanings, the messages, the questions raised in this medium. We did not talk about ways in which we could engage the culture around us through conversations about film and TV. We did not talk about the shows that brought us flawed characters like House, Batman in the latest installment of Christopher Nolen’s version, Clint Eastwood’s cranky character in “Grand Torino”, and many more. We have not often found ways to use the arts as a platform to talk about faith.

In fact, as I grew up in the church, I often felt an aversion to the arts, to the discussions of metaphor and symbolism. I felt uncomfortable in the ambiguity of questions and possibilities. However, over time, I have enjoyed getting into conversations about story. I have enjoyed how story can capture our imagination and open space for discussions about so many more things. I felt thrilled that I could now be on the inside talking about story and how story can shape how we see the world. I had the chance to help shape a small part of this series and the story undergirding what will come of this show. I sure enjoyed the time I had with these writer’s and wish them the best with their new venture. I look forward to more opportunities to contribute as more scripts are being written.

I would love to come back here and there to this experience as a fertile ground to dialogue further about their questions–What is a pastor? Why do we try to get around the rules, what does the Bible say about slavery, violence and so much more.

What are your thoughts about the arts and faith?

Real Faith

Hudson Taylor famously said, “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.”

I know a man who embodies this. Maybe a Hudson Taylor sized biography that has to be written. Nonetheless, I want to share one of the miraculous stories that illustrates the supply God provides to his people doing his work.

This man I am talking about is the pig farmer turned pastor/missionary, Ted Olbrich. Yep, this guy who was called to ministry while studying to be a pig farmer. A man who became a pig farmer at one point. A man who first stepped into the mission field at the age of 52 in 1998. The one who God put to work with his skills in farming and people skills…and his passion for the fullness of God to change a nation.

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In 16-years of serving as missionary to Cambodia with Foursquare, he has seen a move of God sweep the nation. The Foursquare church is the fastest growing church in the world in any nation, any church. In 16 years, Ted has seen 6,000 churches/home meetings planted, 106 church/orphan homes established, 18,000 orphans raised, 1 million+ salvations, and the miracles mentioned in the book of Acts over and over again. Yes, that includes the dead being raised, demons cast out, the sick healed and much, much more.

I can speak with some authority that this man is a man of faith. I don’t mean the “faith” teachers that spoil the term. I don’t mean the name it and claim it type of faith. I mean the Hudson Taylor type of faith. The man has always had incredible vision for what God can do. He could see it even as my pastor in a small, rural Chicago suburb. He saw things that no one else did and worked in partnership with God to see them come to fruition. Now, what happened on the scale of a local church in middle America, he is saying on a grand, nationwide scale in this little Southeast Asian country which at the time he arrived was the poorest nation in the world.

He was my pastor, the pastor that sent me to Bible College. I owe my spiritual growth and incredible faith to him in large part. He is a true hero of mine. You know the kinds of heroes that you actually know. They are close enough to you that you know them for the good and bad—not those heroes that are so distant and elevated on pedestals, the people who allow you in and enter your life with mutual benefit.

One reason he is my hero is the incredible strong, raw and sincere faith he has. He lives it. He walks it, and it often stretches him thinner than humanly possible.

In a ministry that cares for thousands of orphans at a time and no constant income stream to count on, the dependency on God to take care of the orphan is faith. Oh, dependency is one of the missiological things we try to avoid. Yeah, avoid like the plague. But how does one avoid this when babies are placed on your doorstep? When this is such an issue in God’s heart, how do we turn away the most dependent the world can offer?

Sometimes dependency is simply unavoidable. And to be honest the ministry in Cambodia is breaking all the rules, or maybe making a whole bunch of new ones, depending on your perspective.

It takes a lot to feed and clothe kids. But they do a fantastic job of working to avoid dependency as they have started 100’s of micro enterprises such as fish ponds, rice fields, pig farms, tractor repair shops, and on the list goes. They are developing these kids into an army of Cambodia’s most fervent followers of Christ. They are meeting urgent needs, and producing a mature person in the process.

But this takes money.

All of this takes money to fund ministry that rescues kids from poverty and much worse. Money to mobilize a church that is growing exponentially. Money that supplies such amazing ministry. This is the exception to the rule of dependency. But where does the money come from.

It comes from the one Hudson Taylor said would supply it.

The best story that illustrates how God is in this came a few years back in this endeavor. Money was thin, and hungry mouths were plentiful. Ted was beside himself on how to keep this ball rolling before the bottom fell out of this dynamic and huge mission that was transforming Cambodia, just read about what kind of nation this was 16 years ago compared to what it is today.

Ted was at the end of his rope, the end of his faith.

The end nearly came when the phone rang.

He picked it up not knowing who was on the other end. Even after talking a moment, he did not know. The man explained that he had recently been on a trip to Cambodia to observe the homes and the ministry happening in the country. This man then went on to explain who he was. Keep in mind, as a missionary who sees many teams come through, it is hard to keep everyone straight. People come and go, and there is no way to keep them all straight, especially when the urgent needs arrest your attention as the bills pile up.

This man who came with a team from Hong Kong explained that he was the Vice President for the Asia branch of the largest bank in the world at that time. He would have called a day earlier but wanted to confirm the funds in the deposit first.

That is right, funds. That magical word. So one starts hoping for a significant number as they continue to listen to the story.

The VP went on to explain what happened the previous day, the day after he returned from Cambodia.

One of his wealthiest clients came for her monthly meeting a few days later than normal. She came later since she had to wait for him to return from his business out of town. So she started asking what it was that the VP was up to.

He explained how he joined a trip observing a ministry that cares for orphans in Cambodia. Her interest was piqued. She thought this was a wonderful place for her philanthropy. You see, this wealthy client was a Singaporean with significant real estate holdings.  She wanted to help the children.

The VP objected saying, you see I am a Christian, and we were visiting a Christian ministry. You are a Buddhist. I am not sure you really want to do this. She insisted. The VP went on to describe Ted. He is a crazy man, doing incredible things like taking Buddhist kids and converting them into Christians. She said, stop it. I want to help.

The VP went on saying this man is wild. He wants to save the whole nation of Cambodia. He wants to destroy your religion.

She started to get a bit more insistent, you know the kind that makes the VP of a massive bank start to get antsy. This guy started to worry that he might lose his client, so he changed his posturing. He made sure that she was sure of what she wanted before working out the details.

Now, he is on the phone telling this story to Ted. He says this wealthy woman from Singapore who has no relation to the gospel, no relation to Ted, and has never seen the ministry wants to help.

Help is good, Ted thinks as he waits to hear how.

The VP said how. She is immediately sending one million dollars.

You could have blown Ted over with a feather. Even a man of faith gets blown away from time to time.

There was one condition. The VP relayed to Ted that she never wanted to have her name given or to have to come to Cambodia to meet Ted.

As Ted tells the story, this stuff doesn’t happen, it is unbelievable. But it did happen. He is the recipient of God doing it. This kind of story is meant to build faith, and sometimes it seems to only overwhelm those of us with normal faith. We say, this will never happen to us.

I am not telling this story to set up some kind of formula for God’s blessings. I am telling this story to encourage the hearts of those that follow a missionary God. I want to say what Hudson Taylor said.

“God’s Work Done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.”

What are you believing God for?