Theology

15 Books for 2015

15 Books for 2015

Happy New Year! In this special edition of the Team Arequipa newsletter we want to suggest 15 of our favorite books and tell you why we like them. In this day and age of fast information—140-character tweets and BuzzFeed lists designed to be quickly consumed and discarded—we believe the discipline of reading a book from cover to cover is important. In Peru we see the devastating impact of poor literacy and the lack of a culture of reading (which is why CUDA is working with Peruvian students, parents, and teachers to create a love for reading). Reading empowers. Literacy affects all areas of a society. Books provide opportunities for learning, whether you agree or disagree with the author's conclusions. We hope you'll pick a book or two (or fifteen!) from this list and resolve along with us to read more this new year.

Covenant

My family and I have been in Arequipa for just over 5 months now. During that time, I have accompanied Alfredo and Greg to a nearby pueblo in Mirador to assist in a community develop project that has since fizzled out. Also, I tagged along with Paty and Greg to listen to a business ethics class that our borrowers are required to attend. I have not yet taken the opportunity to be at the school for the library program, but the photos of the excited children provide a good assessment.
 
For my part, I have been involved primarily with CeDeTe, the center for theological development, as a student. This class is a great foundation for any new Christian or not yet believer. It is also beneficial for our Peruvian church leaders to increase their knowledge and their ability to talk about God.Thus far we have studied the story of Israel within the Hebrew Bible. We are just over half-way through the first trimester. Greg has done a wonderful job instructing, and I am increasing my biblical Spanish vocabulary. Just this week we discussed the covenant God made with David, and Greg pointed out how integral this occasion was for the people of God. In 2 Sam. 7, the prophet Nathan outlines the covenant God is making with David. I only want to point out two important features within this covenant. First in v. 13, God tells David that his son will build a temple and that David’s reign over Israel will continue forever through his descendants. Second in v. 14, God says that He will be a father to Solomon and Solomon will be his son. This language is powerful covenantal language from God who longs to dwell with his people (temple) and have an intimate relationship with them, never removing his love! This type of relationship between God and humanity was was to set in motion Israel’s calling from the days of Abraham to a blessing to all nations! Even in spite of her stubbornness, God, through the monarchy of David, would once again reign over Israel. And what would this kingdom look like? In Psalm 72 David prays for his son’s kingdom and his theme, I think, captures the essence of what CUDA stands for. Here is an adapted portion and may this be our prayer too.

May we judge your people with righteousness,
    and your poor with justice!
May we defend the cause of the poor of the people,
    give deliverance to the children of the needy,
    and crush the oppressor!
May we fear you while the sun endures,
    and as long as the moon, throughout all generations!
In our days may the righteous flourish,
    and peace abound, till the moon be no more!
For we deliver the needy when he calls,
    the poor and him who has no helper.
We have pity on the weak and the needy,
    and save the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence we redeem their life,
    and precious is their blood in our sight.
May there be abundance of grain in the land;
    on the tops of the mountains may it wave;
    may its fruit be like Lebanon;
and may people blossom in the cities
    like the grass of the field!
May people be blessed in us,
    all nations call us blessed!
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
    who alone does wondrous things.
Blessed be his glorious name forever;
    may the whole earth be filled with his glory!
Amen and Amen!
— Psalm 72, adapted

Is God Good?

One of the questions that can easily stop us in our tracks as evangelists is: “If God is good, why does everything around me seem wrong?” We don’t know how to answer, so we flee from the conversation or mumble something that sounds churchy, but in all honesty, that question is intimidating because we don’t exactly know how to answer it, right?
 
How about this?
 
Imagine that the world is a valley, and granted, it’s a mess. Everyone is scrambling to define their place and achieve something, all too often at the expense of others. Sprinkled throughout are the Christians, supposedly understanding the way they are to act, leaving behind the urge to prove something and instead, building life rafts. Everyone else laughs at them, not unlike those who laughed at Noah, not seeing the need for their work, not seeing the value of their preparation. 
 
What they haven’t seen, but the Christians have, is the dam at the top of the cliff. It is big and strong, and Christians know that means it holds back a great deal of powerful water. One shift and the valley will be forever changed. Not erased, but filled with a new way of existence. The earth-bound constructions and defined boundaries will cease to rule. The water will take every nook and cranny for itself, as is its nature. It will clean away the dirt and debris in its rush by, leaving only fresh water glittering in clear light. 
 
Christians know the better focus is to prepare for the coming flood and inform as many people as possible. They do so by showing them the power of water in small ways, trying to raise awareness of its importance and power so that others realize the need to be ready and the value of being part of this new way. 
 
Why is the valley still messed up? Because the water waits, letting those in the valley have a chance to choose its way. 
 
In the same way, God is good, God is love, and he is showing us this every day by not flooding in and filling the whole world with himself…not yet. The results would be great for those who are ready, and disastrous for everyone else, so he waits because he loves them too. As long as people have freedom of choice in how they live, their choices will inevitably have consequences. Often those consequences affect those around them, so that the circumstances experienced in the world are not God’s doing, because he holds himself back and lets us choose.  The very fact that we see the brokenness and pain of the world is why we see clearly the need for his love and power, and since we can recognize his love in the waiting, we allow him to first flood us, producing in us the changes that happen when his power comes. Not force, not demands, not rules, but real transformation. This is the message of the good news - the power of love to change the world by its presence. This is what we carry to a world still in need of it, the example of what can be.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
— 2 Corinthians 3:17-18

The Pastoral Gospel

There is a young woman that has been in and out of our meetings with the church.  She will come and participate for several weeks, and then we won’t see her for months at a time.  She is single, works a job in the center, and formed a relationship with one of our more mature Christian women some time ago.  She has never committed to following Christ, but everyone in our church knows her.  During my time home on furlough, I received an email from the Christian that has the strongest tie to this young woman, Paty.  This young woman started showing up to the women’s meetings, pregnant out of wedlock.  She was so very ashamed.  But our beautiful group of Christian sisters hosted a baby shower for her, and Paty was writing me to ask if I could pick up donated items for the baby from the states.  I brought this need before the Shiloh women, and I express with such thankfulness that such generous Christians support us and the petitions we bring before them.  I didn’t have room in my suitcase for many baby items, but these women provided cash so that we could buy things she needs here.
 
I had the privilege of going to visit this young woman this past Wednesday with Bethany (my new teammate) and Etelvina (one of our dear Christian sisters that lives close to this young mother’s new home).  Her little boy is absolutely precious, and the mother looked well, but the situation and the tears that she poured out before us that day were heart-wrenching.  I can empathize with a new mother.  I remember giving birth to our Anastasia.  Not only was the whole birth experience scary, but going home with that little bundle and learning so many new things about babies was scary.  I had family come to help, I had friends bring me food, I had a husband that shared the burden of night shifts and caring for the baby.  And I was exhausted.  I was so exhausted that I was on the verge of tears many days.  I share all of that with you to say that it came as no surprise to me that this young mother was in tears when we began our conversation.  But what I cannot empathize with is her situation.
 
The father of the baby is not present.  Her family has kicked her out of their house because of the shame.  The baby is less than 2 months old, and this mother is having to continue her job to make ends meet (how is that for a 6 week maternity leave).  We were able to count some of her blessings that day: she is in a “house” (it is one room with a little area outside to cook over a fire) and she only has to pay utilities; she is able to continue to work her job from the home; the baby is healthy.  But can you imagine!?  She was so appreciative of our visit.  We are going to go visit her every Wednesday, and we are going to read through the book of Mark with her (something she says she has never done).  When I shared with her that Christians from home sent a collection for her baby boy, she burst into tears.  She is so humble and grateful.  Etelvina, Bethany, and I laid our hands on her and prayed.  We prayed for strength.  We prayed that this young mother could experience the reality of family in God.  We prayed to have the eyes of Christ that do not look at others in shame but who see someone as completely unique and special in the purposes God has for them.

This is the pastoral gospel.  We share the message of Jesus not to save people from hell.  We share the message of Jesus because the kingdom is here and now.  He says to repent and change.  With transformation comes heaven on earth, and we experience this heaven with others that have confessed his name, his body, the church.  We, the church, are his hands and his feet.  We are his voice to the ashamed.  We are the light in the darkness.  We are the family to the fatherless.  Because we are Christ on earth.  His kingdom come, his will be done, on EARTH as it is in heaven.  Please keep the young mother, Sandra, in your prayers and keep your eyes open to ways that you are the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus.

What is Christmas Really About?

Christmas isn’t about baby Jesus.   It’s about Jesus, just not baby Jesus.
 
It’s about Jesus coming, showing up in the muck and mess of the physical world, assuming a position of no power and just walking around in skin like everyone else. 
 
The Advent season, the season of waiting for Christmas, isn’t about waiting for the announcement of the birth of the Savior. That already happened. It’s about waiting for the announcement of the return of the Savior, about acknowledging a continuing need for as much of His Presence as we can get.
 
For some, it’s with excited anticipation, made manifest in the jitters of small children who can’t fall asleep for the thought of what the morning holds. For such as these, it is joy in the gifts that are coming. 
 
For some, it’s with weariness, knowing that the current struggle or pain will someday be seen as fleeting. For these, it is determination to stand firm until it gets better, seen in the person of Mary, bearing through the shame cast her way, enduring a long journey and painful labor to birth her King, obedient through difficulty that was given as a blessing because of her faithfulness. The good and hard entertwined and impossible to separate, all taken as worthwhile for His purpose.
 
For some, it’s with a yearning for something they can’t put their finger on, even as they hold out hope for it. Though others around them might see it as foolishness to want the unknown, the story shows them wise and committed. For these, it is a search through the night sky, following a glimmer of truth, as seen in the “wise men” who pursue a star for long years in search of an unknown baby king. It’s an inner draw to what is real, whether it seems real to others or not.
 
For some, it’s almost an afterthought, the result of being in the right place at the right time and finding themselves stirred anew through the message of God. He’s fine working that way, delivering the good news directly to those who hadn’t sought it out, as He did to the shepherds. They were about their own business when He sent a whole sky-choir to change their focus for the night. He can find hearts wherever He chooses, and Christmas reminds us of that.
 
We remember Christmas to look back at God giving all of Himself to the world, a reminder that love means emptying yourself for the sake of the one you love. We give gifts to participate in this process, looking for how we can step into the act of making someone else’s life good. We choose selflessness and sacrifice and presence and kindness, because that’s what God did.
 
But we also remember Christmas to look forward to all that has yet to happen, to the day when these truths won’t be a passing season, but a fully enacted reality. We remember our hope in a world where Jesus shows up in the muck and mess of every day, acknowledging that for now He does so through us and will one day blast in and make it all new and better. He will flood earth with heaven and everything will be as it should be. That’s just what happens when His Presence and Love fill a place - everything is good. 
 
So if, for you, this holiday is about fun and laughter and singing and joy…embrace it and know that you are embodying the light of Christ and hope that won’t give up.
 
And if, for you, this holiday squeezes a little tight because you feel the weight of the world’s brokenness pressing down on you, giving the usual cheer a grating, off-tune feel…accept it and know that you are reflecting the reality of our need for Christ. 
 
And if, for you, this holiday feels empty and meaningless because life is just life and lights don’t change it, rest in it and know that the power of Christ depends not one bit on your tendency toward sentiment or joviality. 
 
Because at the end of it all, Christmas is about how Jesus arrives in the situation He chooses and it doesn’t have to make an ounce of sense to anyone. He shows up because it’s time and that’s that.
 
This Christmas, remember that this story is both a past truth and a future promise about the Presence of the King in the world. It’s cause to celebrate.

One Way to Look at It: A Proposal

It’s easy to think of people in terms of ‘us’ vs. ‘them’. That The World is an entity separate and apart from The Church, and the very basis of our identity is wrapped up in having a line drawn between the two groups. Then we imagine that if God were to choose a side, He would plant His feet just as firmly on our side of the line as we do and join us in glaring fiercely at those who refuse to cross over to our side. He rejoices in their struggles, failings, and pain as proof of their wrong position. 

Except, does that actually sound like Him? There has to be a better way to think about it.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
— John 3:16

Familiar words that pack a punch, though its power is often lost on us because we can rattle it off “by heart” without actually engaging the heart at all. Yet, it carries a great deal of meaning. 

It means that God wanted so badly to be in unity with each and every one of the people He created in His image that He proposed marriage to everyone who ever existed. He came in close, offered the promise of a committed life with Him, and asked if we would take Him up on it. As proof, He paid all that it would cost with His own life, giving that which was valuable to Him to His beloved. As a man presents a woman with an engagement ring, Jesus gave us Himself to prove His dedication and sincerity. 

And every single person who has lived or will live since then has the choice to merge their life with His, or not. Some of us have accepted His proposal and now live a mutual life with Him. Just like marriage, we don’t do very well some days, but the commitment is there, the base assumption that we live this life together. Others have not yet accepted His offer, but it still stands. It will stand until time ends. He loves each person so dearly that He will wait patiently for their answer. 

Do we really feel justified to look down on anyone else for where they fall in their process with Him? Do we truly think that God has assigned us the task of determining whether others have missed their chance? Or, when we really think about it, do we recognize that such an assumption makes no sense in light of the God who has shown us such grace, accepted us so freely, and continued steadfast in His love for us despite our own flaws? 

Who are we to write off anyone to whom He has made such an offer? Who are we to be stingy with love when we have received it abundantly? If we are His representatives here on earth, then we show others what this committed life with Him looks like, which means being open to those He has invited. After all, it’s His kingdom.

One Way to Look at It: A Masterpiece

Sometimes it is hard to apply what we know about God to the situations we face each day. We tend to get bogged down in “real life” which means the stuff that fills our stretched thin days and energy levels. All too often, it seems the world is spinning at a pace too frenzied to sustain. In the midst of this, trouble seems to hit hard. Life is disrupted by illness, financial struggles, interpersonal stress, work frustration, school issues, marriage, parenting, self-control...difficulties come in every shape and size, and as adults, we have to take the hit, recover and move on.

It can be very hard to understand how God is working. In this broken world fraught with pain and hardship and weariness, it can be hard to identify good things. We want to believe that God is good, that he works for good, and that he wants good for us. But we live in the tension between what we believe and what we witness in our walking-around lives. 

How can a good, loving, powerful God be taking part in all this mess? How is it not better, if he is?

One of the verses that gives us pause in this whirlwind is from Romans. 

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
— Romans 8:28

Sounds too easy, too good to be true. There has to be a catch, because an easy life evades us. But consider what came before that specific verse.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
— Paul, Romans 8


Paul makes this statement in recognition of the struggle for hope, not to denounce it. He acknowledges how much we need God’s hand in all of this, and announces confidently that we have knowledge of God’s good intention and action.

Can we understand this in such a way that it helps us live this life? Can God work for good even as bad things happen? How is that possible?

Think about it this way:

God is The Creator. We know this, but we forget that it means He is the first and best creative being. He took nothing...nothing...and made everything. If He can do that, He can take anything and make it good.

Imagine Him as a painter. He has a huge canvas and has begun a masterpiece. It will take ages and time to develop, with layers of color and life built into it. There has never been anything like it, and may never be anything like it again. He is the Master and sketches out his ideas, leaving background shadows and hints to be built upon later. He could take his time and create exactly what he wants. But he has a different plan.

Instead, he takes the paints and materials and shares them with every human being. Everyone can affect the outcome. Those who would learn from him and pursue his dream pay close attention, aiming for the guidelines he left on the canvas. Those who ignore his ownership of the entire work paint as they see fit. Sometimes their strokes closely mirror his own. Sometimes they run amok and cover hues intended for beauty. None can match his design perfectly. But he has chosen this as a collaborative project and rejoices in the opportunity to share in the process with whomever comes to take part.

But whether the paint is lovingly applied or angrily flung, he will produce a beautiful work. He would never voluntarily choose to have parts of his creation destroyed or erased, but he did voluntarily choose to let us choose, so sometimes it happens. He would never celebrate this, but neither does he feel as derailed as we humans tend to in the face of plans that go awry.

He just continues painting. He can incorporate any color, any stroke, any slash of a brush and develop it into something worth showing. It might take a long time for the colors to blend into something softer and worthwhile. He might brighten it immediately. But nothing we do counts for nothing. And nothing anyone does is beyond his repair.

Because, as we know, in all things, he works for the good of those who love him, even if we can’t see how. This does not mean guaranteeing good and preventing bad, but constantly working toward something redeemed and beautiful.

Church in Arequipa: CeDeTe

CUDA’s latest initiative is called the Centro de Desarrollo Teológico—the Theological Development Center.  Since the published (on Facebook) description of the program is in Spanish,  I thought supporters might like a translation and a little extra explanation.  

The Better Question

In 2005, Kyle and I flew to Lima, Peru for the Pan American Lectureships.  We hoped to gain some perspective on the Peruvian church and meet other missionaries from around Latin America.  We were aware that the “marriage-divorce-remarriage” controversy had split the Peruvian church.  In fact, in addition to the usual Lectureship activities, some of the visiting missionaries attempted to bring the two sides together for the first time in many years.  It was and is an ugly situation.

As observers still years from entering the mission field, we did not expect the controversy to touch us personally.  Moreover, while the conflict was clearly real, it all seemed caricatured—tales of preachers trained to travel around and insinuate themselves into congregations in order ferret out the false brothers; which is to say, in order to split churches.  Fixating on an issue or reducing salvation to a single conclusion is one thing–a historically typical thing—but a country-wide witch hunt was another thing altogether.  It was surreal.

Then a young Peruvian preacher who had heard were were planning to work in Arequipa approached us during a coffee break.  “I hear you are going to Arequipa,” he said.  “Yes, that’s right,” we responded.  “What do you think about marriage-divorce-remarriage,” he inquired directly.  There was no avoiding the confrontation.  It was already pursuing us.

Yet, we’ve had no part in that internecine strife.  Instead, our friends’ marriage struggles have confronted us.  What Scripture says about marriage has come alive as God’s own wisdom for living well in our most challenging relationships.  It is only by contrast that the tragedy of using Scripture as a bludgeon to defend one’s legal verdict.  The urgent question that comes from every direction is not whether one is allowed to get divorced or remarried but how to stay married despite the difficulty it involves.  The former is a question worth exploring, but the latter is far more important.  Jesus himself said that divorce existed because of hardness of heart—the same affliction that he diagnosed in his apostles—which leads me to believe that the more fundamental question in his mind was how to soften hearts.  Our friends who ask for biblical guidance to better their marriages are not asking which commandments they must obey but how to obey.  They are asking to be discipled; they are asking for softened hearts.  Imagine if the Pharisees had asked that instead.  Imagine if the Peruvian church had.

Requests for sound counsel led Abraham and me to offer a marriage seminar, which we recently completed.  For five Saturday evenings we explored the nature and purpose of marriage.  The sixth and final class was cancelled because of José Luis and Miriam’s wedding.  Preparations for the ceremony were more than they could manage alone, but the church members worked together to make it happen.  It was a tremendous thing to witness the church rally behind Miriam, who is a new Christian, and bless their union with service and love.  I much prefer to see the unity of the church upholding a marriage than to see a teaching against divorce dividing the church.

Presence

I am a missionary.  “Duh, I knew that.”  I know.  But what you may not know is what that means is different for me than you (probably).  

People ask me questions.  Lots of questions.  “Why do you do ?”  “Why don’t you believe ?” “How do I teach my children about ?” “How do I make so and so stop ?  And because I’m a missionary, it’s assumed that I know.

But I don’t. I’m a Christian wife and mother, and I’m slogging through this mess of a life just like everyone else.  All too often with a rotten attitude about it.

The questions used to rattle me.  Our American focus on education and testing means that when there is a question, we should have the right answer.  And if we don’t...bad grade.  I really don’t want to get a bad grade in being a missionary.
But now I imagine it this way: If I were walking up a hill behind someone and came to a difficult step over a rock, it would make sense to ask whoever had made it over that rock to reach back, grab my hand, and steady me so that we can continue on together.  And that’s often all the questions are really aiming for...requesting that someone provide a boost, a steadying presence in this continual climb toward growth and well-being.  They are asking, “Are you available to walk with me? Or am I in this on my own?”  

Now I’m not as thrown off by questions.  There are lots of things I don’t know, lots of answers that haven’t been mine to wrestle.  But I have already crossed lots of rocks, already asked God lots of questions and sought His redirection in how to think and live and love.  I can lend a hand. 

Folks, Jesus was all about giving a boost, being a steadying presence, and walking with anyone who approached Him.  

Therefore, we should be, too.  

It’s not about having answers.  It’s not about fixing people.  It’s not about condemnation, judgment, categorizing, condescending, managing, entertaining, legislating, or constructing.  No gimmicks, tricks, bullet points, illustrations, do’s, don’t’s, or how-to’s will suffice.

It’s about presence.  His in us.  Ours in the lives of others. His kingdom is wherever He is and how his arrival changes the world.  

They are hungry for Him and are asking us if He has come near in us.