Flip. Flip. Flip. Through the photos of this summer and I wonder how I stopped blogging. Each picture is a story of a person, a place, an event that captured my heart, defined something about this God and how He uniquely interacts and journeys with each and every one of us. Who can NOT write that story? Continue reading
Lazarus danced a jig. Well, he did.
Sometimes our scripture imagination becomes a myopia of what we see on the written page and we can begin to think that the entirety of Jesus’ life were the bullet points we find in the Gospels. Now, they are the authoritative version, verified by ancient counsels of Godly people who were filled with the Holy Spirit. Scripture IS our authority. Yet, we should not forget that there were events and conversations and laughter and tears that were a part of the personal life of Christ to which we are not privy. We may never know the rhythms of conversation and interaction that happened between Lazarus and his sisters and their Rabbi-Friend, Yeshua. But, I am willing to stake a lot on the fact that Lazarus danced when those grave clothes fell off.
It is late on a Saturday night and we pull into a little hotel on the Croatian coast. After driving all day, we are tired from the journey. The car is a tumbled mess of crushed crackers, blankets, books, pens, and girl paraphernalia ignored for the purpose of just sleepily grabbing the essentials and falling into bed. It is Balkan hot and there will not be any air conditioners in the rooms. There is probably no internet either.
The mosquitoes are zitzing around the windows thrown open; begging entry into this promised land that is ours for the night. Their pleas for mercy are drowned out by the beats of a dance. One by one, the Sunberg 6 slip from their sheets and make their way into the night, toward the light, just like those zitzing insects, because who can stay away from a wedding?
Jay is there first – arms crossed in the shadows, watching the bride in her quick movements as a caller gives a ‘woop’ in time with the beat. I wonder as I watch him, if he is bitter-sweetly imagining his girls in their someday weddings? Lexi says her Day will end this way, this Balkan way, with a woop and a circle and a rhythm of celebration.
Because, in the Balkans, we dance.
And the further south you go, the more we dance.
I find it nearly impossible to imagine that Lazarus did not dance the day he came back to Jesus.
THE CHURCH MUST DANCE
You see, a Balkan dance is all about the choice to celebrate in the midst of difficulty. It is a moment that you intentionally rescue and redeem.
An Orthodox theology says that God is in the process of faithfully, intentionally, fully redeeming ALL of his creation toward a complete whole-ness. A Wesleyan would say the same.
God’s kingdom is coming today. And, if the Church is abiding in God’s will, actively participating in His mission, then a dance is in process; a Balkan jig on a wedding day; a dance to celebrate a resurrected life; steps of joy for redeemed, second chances.
So, let me just ask you, when was the last time you danced? When was the last time you intentionally participated in someone’s journey from death into life?
It is NOT an option, you know.
‘I teach Sunday School.’
‘I play in the worship band.’
‘I clean the church bathrooms.’
‘I tithe 15%, give to missions, and hold a Bible Study in my home.’
Beautiful! Wonderful! Exactly how it should be, BUT …
the Church doing church is NOT the Church BEING the CHURCH.
There is not way to get around the scriptural fact that you and I, WE, are called to BE the CHURCH.
‘Well, I am not gifted in evangelism. My gifts lie elsewhere in serving.’
‘Well, I am not comfortable with people who drink or smoke or choose alternative lifestyles.’
‘Well, I have a demanding job and a family.’
It’s a funny thing, here in the Balkans. You pack up your missionary suitcase and you move into the culture, attempt to muddle your way through a language, come to love the food, learn how to drive on sidewalks and swerve potholes, and before you know it, you have an invitation to a wedding. There will be dancing. There is no earthly possibility that a dance will fail to ensue.
And, the missionary has a very important decision to make. A culturally, contextually, spiritually essential choice.
Soon after that music starts and the circle forms, right after the first few steps and ‘whoops’, the person on the end is going to offer you their hand in an invitation to join …
‘I don’t know how to dance.’
‘I am tired from the day.’
‘I have no rhythm and I will look foolish.’
‘I would rather sit here and watch and encourage you.’
And, all of your missioning, your missiology, your studying and trying and praying and theologizing become an impotent attempt of ministry. Because a Jesus who does not dance on the grave that he conquered could not possibly wear Balkan skin.
TREVECCA NAZARENE UNIVERSITY
Over the next few hours, 12 students and 2 professors will make their last run into a Nashville Walmart and begin to wind their way towards Central Europe. Meanwhile, the Sunberg 6 and Josh will stuff ourselves and 7 backpacks in a black, VW Sharan and cut a path through Transylvania, destination stop #1, Sighisoara, Romania – home of Vlad the Impaler – Nazarene community of hope. They dance there. They dance a lot – with the Roma, with the orphaned, with the elderly – they dance in a place called ‘House on the Rock’ that sits in the middle of that ancient Romanian citadel.
You should join us.
Click the RSS feed. Email a friend and tell them to follow the dance. Join our CENTRAL EUROPE FIELD Facebook page.
But, much more importantly … find a jig … answer the call … move out of your comfortable zone, intentionally join your journey with somebody that desperately needs to find their way back to life,
so Lazarus can dance.
The photo below is from our own home, here in Budapest. Along the Danube, there is this bronzed shoe memorial of the Holocaust. Countless Jews were brought here, to the edge of the Danube, and shot so that their bodies fell into the cold waters and washed away. Someday, these shoes will dance again, like Lazarus. The Church is the Church when we dance.
You get a lot of goodbyes when you go missionary.
Every other summer, we pack our bags and mixed emotions and leave our home for a summer in the States. The odd scorching days become a whirlwind of travel, speaking at churches, fast food, strange beds, long road trips, and great family memories. Along the way, you meet weekend soul mates and then you say goodbye. Continue reading
Let’s be honest. If someone asked, ‘What does a missionary do?’, most of us would dig deep and mumble something about learning languages and telling people about Jesus and smile that please-don’t-ask-me-more-cause-that’s-all-I’ve-got grin. The real truth is that most of us are not exactly sure what a missionary does and we are even more confused about this thing that missionaries periodically do with random names like furlough, deputation, and home assignment.
Sometimes people make the mistake of thinking that a missionary furlough is a vacation. This is a natural conclusion because one would assume that after a few years of snake-fighting, Bible-sword wielding, mountainside-preaching, a guy or gal might need a break. I understand why that assumption could be drawn. In fact, I think there is a lot of confusion about what a missionary does and how they do it. The term ‘furlough’ is itself misleading, which is why the powers that be have coined a new term ‘home assignment’. Of course, that very vague term leaves the non-church going community scratching their heads.
Furlough is a lot of things: exhausting, fun, challenging, hilarious, uncomfortable, memorable, a blessing (to name a few) but it is most definitely never a vacation. Missionaries are required to do home service and the vast majority do it with open hearts and and passionate spirits though it takes them away from their homes and the people that they are called to serve and love.
My hero today is an ordinary guy on furlough and one of the most committed missionaries I know.
Months earlier, his missionary partner agreed that the family would participate in a Nazarene kids’ camp service on Friday, 12 July. Now, the camp kids have been assembled all week doing various campy things and the furloughing family was invited to participate for the entire week but their funds did not allow that personal adventure. Having a good gig house-sitting for a cute Sheltie pup named Darby, they committed to just come by camp on Friday morning and share with the kids.
The 11th of July rolled around and plans were made for a next morning departure at 4:00 AM that would put them on course for a 5-hour one-way journey to speak to 160 kids for 30 minutes. Following the missionary presentation, the family was due to get back in the car and make that same 5-hour journey home.
Around 9:00 PM when the reality was sinking in, my hero called his partner into the hallway and said, “I don’t think we should ask the family to travel 10 hours in a truck. I will go it alone.”
This was not a parent caving in to loud complaints. On the contrary, the kids had great attitudes. This was a missionary dad understanding that the next three consecutive days had heavy travel attached and with wisdom beyond his years, he made a decision.
Lest we assume that his family were the only ones on his mind, let me quickly add that his impetus for making that drive in the first place was all about 160 squirming eight to eleven year olds in a make-shift chapel somewhere in the California mountains. One might ponder whether a 10 hour drive for a 30 minute sermon is a good plan when the logical conclusion is that while he speaks:
Some will be scratching their bug bites and others will telling jokes with their friends.
At least one little boy will be pulling a blonde girl’s pig-tails and she will be giving him the you-disgust-me face.
A piece of chewed bubble gum is going to find itself stuck to the underside of a chair and a brown-eyed 10-year old is going to doodle and re-doodle her name in flowers in the notebook meant for notes.
Yes. we know that this will happen. But, what we do not empirically know yet believe by faith is that in the midst of the frogs and the tadpoles, and the half-eaten snickers bars and the un-deodorized armpits, the Holy Spirit is going to be present. Quite often, the tadpoles bend their ears to hear the Holy One call their name and they respond.
That ordinary missionary knows this because he was called to be a missionary and a pastor at the age of 9. His missionary partner was called at the age of 14. And on and on it goes with God calling right there when you are wearing a t-shirt on its 5th day of use and wiggling toes that have begun to grow a mysterious mountain-stream fungus. By faith, we believe that God calls children and so that ordinary missionary on furlough went.
As I push the publish button on this post, he should be beginning that long journey back. May God grant him alert eyes and a peaceful heart as the tadpoles swim home to become ordinary missionaries in their own worlds.