Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Over And Through The Mountains

On Friday morning we crossed over mountains and through a couple of tunnels that had been bored through solid mountains. Twisting, serpentine roads led us up and down lush green, rolling corridors. Several times we topped out on the mountains, and we could see for miles -- all the way back to the ocean. Our destination was the more densely populated areas of Caracas.

We passed barrios of different sizes. Some with hundreds of houses precariously perched on the side of the mountains. Every house had the same symmetry -- block shaped, and squished together on the steep slope of a mountainside. As far as I could determine, not one of the run down villages had a paved road. Every so often we passed by barrios cheerfully colored in pastels; they stood out in relief against the endless string of villages the color of terracotta.

Soon we were in the city where cars and motorcycles scurried along the streets like mice in a maze. It was survival of the fittest. We were traveling in an old 12 passenger van. Thankfully, it was one of the biggest vehicles on the road, so we were safer than most. Our driver took full advantage of our size, and like a big bully, we basically stopped and turned at will. Amid the constant honking of horns and the buzz of motorcycles, I was reminded that I should have updated my Will before I left the States!

Once in the city all the buildings were snugged close together and built straight up. Nearly every street was like driving through a canyon of buildings. It was 90 degrees outside and our ride had no air condition. That forced us to make a hard decision -- did we want to roast or roll down the windows and inhale the acrid smog that stung our eyes! We opted for cooler, if not fresh, air.

When we arrived at To God Be The Glory Church, Pastor DeEscoro and Gabriel, the church treasurer, greeted us with smiles. Soon we were walking through the building situated on a sliver of land shaped like a wedge of cheese. We carefully checked the building's infrastructure. Even though they said that an architect assured them the current structure could bear the weight of a second story -- we wanted to see for ourselves. We determined the bearing walls were stout enough.

After we discussed plans for the return trip in January, we were introduced to Carmen, Carmen, and Delia. In the cramped 8X8 kitchen, those 3 ladies prepared us a meal with enough food to feed 15 people (there were only 6 of us)! As I mentioned in a previous post, this church has been waiting for 27 years to get some help. We were treated like royalty!

On Sunday, November 4, I will be having an informational meeting with 14 men about our upcoming mission. Our team will be the first "all men" team sent out from Christ Community Church.

I love firsts!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A Great Commotion

And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way. Paul

My father worked harder than any man I have ever known to provide for 6 children and a wife. We were far from rich, but like most who are reading this post, we grew up having everything we needed. So, for me, it always takes a while for my senses to sort through what I see when I leave the United States and set foot in an impoverished or chaotic country.

When we disembarked our flight and entered the airport terminal you would not believe how many people converged on us trying to hustle a few bucks. Our taxi, which was a pickup truck, carried us down back allies, and the wrong way on one-way streets, to get us to our hotel. A hotel no one would choose if there were options. Heavy iron gates that stood between us and a roof over our head had to be opened before we could get inside. Once inside it felt like we had entered a prison.

In Venezuela, the Dictator Chaves is gaining power and causing a commotion. The country is split down the middle. Unrest is felt everywhere -- even in the churches. Yet in Caracas, a fledgling community of faith waits with excitement. Finally, after a 27 year wait, they will receive some much needed help. In Maturin, the largest protestant church in Venezuela, dozens get saved weekly. The church there grows larger and stronger in spite of releasing some of their most gifted and dedicated people to start 7 new churches!

I am no shrinking violet, but in Venezuela I never felt safe. Neither did my companions. Yet, I feel drawn to that kind of Faith Adventure. I guess it stems from the conviction that I no longer believe being in the Will of God is guaranteed to be a "safe" place. I challenge you to find one shred of biblical evidence that would lead you to believe that those who followed Christ with abandon lived a safe life.

In our day, it seems that the only places God is -- without question -- showing up are the unsafe ones. Here in our own wonderful country, it seems that God is only making appearances where He finds a desperate people. Only where there is risk that requires faith, or faith that requires risk.

I long for a worthy commotion!

Monday, October 29, 2007

Caracas To Maturin

When he [Barnabas] came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. Acts 11:23

Keith, Chas, and I are back from our advanced trip to Venezuela. Keith is the lead pastor at Christ Community, and Chas is praying and preparing to be a missionary to South America. The trip was all we hoped for and more. We arrived in Caracas on Thursday night. A taxi from the La Parada Hotel whisked us away to our hotel . . . or so we thought. To make a long story short, they were overbooked (in spite of the fact we had reservations) and we were rerouted to much less desirable accommodations.

When we awakened at 5 a.m., in order to meet our first contact at 6 a.m., we particularly enjoyed the cold shower. One of the important things about mission trips is to prepare yourself for unexpected adjustments to your itinerary. So . . . our contact arrived at 9:15. No problem. We made good use of our time and simply rolled with the punches.

After driving for an hour we topped lush green mountains and began descending into the outskirts of Caracas. Destination -- To God Be The Glory Church. The church property had recently been purchased (It used to be a "market," which was simply a cover for dealing drugs). Pastor DeEscoro and congregation have already done a remarkable job in converting the space into a very functional sanctuary. They have even added on an ell that provides them with a modest kitchen.

Before long we were climbing onto the main roof of the building from the lower roof of the Bano [bathroom]. Their little building needs a second story added to make room for education space. One of the great rewards of this project is the fact that we will be the first mission team that has ever helped this church in its 27 year history! So that means we get to be the advance troops, and expand Christ's kingdom into new territory! Come January I will be leading a construction team from Christ Community Church to erect that second story!

After surveying other parts of Caracas on Friday we were dropped off at the Domestic Airport and caught a flight to Maturin, a city of just under a million people. Arriving at our destination, we found ourselves looking at a second church sign that read, To God Be The Glory Church. However, this church is very well established with an approximate attendance of 500. Our objective for this church is very different. We were there to meet with Pastor Casto and a young couple who will be commissioned to plant another church (The eighth church to be planted by this one congregation).

Eleicer and Karolyes are a very gifted young couple. Eleicer has pastoral and business experience. Karolyes is an engineer. Together they are praying about starting a new church in another part of Caracas (Over 5 million people call Caracas home). Christ Community is committing whatever resources God asks of us to a long term relationship to reach Venezuelans. Once again, I found myself filled with joy knowing that we will have a part in advancing the kingdom into new territory!

This post gives you a general idea of our mission in Venezuela. I will use the next few entries to fill in some of the details of our experience there. Pray with us as we make plans to roll up our sleeves, and begin the adventure of constructing a second story for a fledgling church, and bring a second team to work in another part of the sprawling city of Caracas, Venezuela.

Boots on the ground in January!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sox And The Rox

It's the 5th inning and the Red Sox are pounding the Colorado Rockies. I have been saying that the Sox will sweep. My friend Richard I. is going to be buying me a steak dinner. The poor man. He should have more faith in this prophet. Let's see. Colorado is on their third pitcher already. Not looking good for the boys from the Coors brewing country.

Did I tell you that the same Richard I. told me the Indians would win it in five?

What's this? The boys from Boston just scored another run (11-1)! Unfortunately, the World Series will probably be over before I get back from Venezuela. Hold on! Wait a minute! Ellsbury just walked and another run scored (12-1). Did I tell you that the Red Sox have also set a World Series record for extra base hits?

Richard, I know you won't believe this, but Speir just walked in another run (13-1).

What's this? Am I beginning to feel sympathetic? No. Not at all!

Richard, I like my steak my steak medium rare. Of course, I get to pick the steak house!

Planting And Construction

Tomorrow I leave for an advanced trip to Venezuela. It will be brief, 4 days. Keith, Chas and I will meet with some church planters and work out the details to bring an evangelism team to help them get started. We will also meet with the leaders of an established church to work out details for a construction team. In January I will be leading both teams back to Venezuela.

This will be my first trip to that part of the world, and I am excited to see what God has in store. Sometimes I feel like I am in the middle of a really good dream. I find it hard to fathom the opportunity God has given me to plant churches and train church leaders all over the world. Lord willing, I will be in Greece, Bolivia, and quite possibly Bulgaria and China in 2008.

Christ Community Church has not forgotten where we came from. We are a church plant and radically committed to planting more churches. Along with sowing the Word around the world, we are also committed to starting more churches in Columbus and Alabama. We are ready to move as soon as God gives the word. God is putting a burning desire in the hearts of many believers to step out of their comfort and put their faith to the test. We are praying for spiritual discernment as we seek to assemble a band of maturing believers to form the core group for a new start.

Only one life, it will soon be past. Only what's done for Christ will last.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Happy Are The Unhappy

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:4

[As I mentioned last week, my blogs on the Beatitudes will be a recap of Keith's messages delivered each Sunday.]

All the "blesseds" of the beatitudes are counter cultural, but this second one presents the greatest contrast. Jesus says there is a blessing that comes with a condition. The condition is mourning -- the blessing is comfort.

Contrary to what we may think, the opposite of mourning is not laughter but instead denial. Comfort will remain illusive until we come to grips with the human condition. Since sin entered this world tears and sadness have been our companions.

Spiritual and emotional pain is catalyzed by at least three events. First, we experience the negative consequences of living in a fallen world. Things happen that are not our fault. Loved ones die, jobs are lost, sickness infects our body, and our world is turned upside-down in a blink. Terrible, cruel, and unexplainable things happen because the world is no longer in the order that God originally created.

We have all learned the hard way that people can inflict us with deep pain. Sometimes it is unintentional, friendly fire. Other times spiritual and emotional blood is let by a premeditated attack. When we experience pain the Evil one crouches at the door of our heart ready to pounce. Pain draws him like a magnet draws metal shavings. Pain, whether intentional or unintentional, may open the door to bitterness against people and God.

If you are reading this it comes as no surprise to you that we are also the victim of our own choices. Consequences of our own sin can bring a deluge of pain. As the old saying goes, You can make any choice you want, but you can't choose the consequences. Yes, we live in a world where we are destined to experience pain -- sometimes due to our own choices.

So what do we do? Well, we can live in denial, or we can accept the reality that sin -- no matter where it comes from -- gravely wounds us. We can come to the humbling conclusion that there is no human remedy to our dilemma, because at its deepest root pain is a spiritual problem that goes back to the Garden of Eve. Spiritual problems require a spiritual solution. Jesus' radical beatitude brings us to a crucial decision. Will we recognize our pain. Will we receive God's help? In the midst of our mourning will we go to God? For those who do -- God promises comfort.

Happy are the unhappy.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Salt, Light and Leaven

You are the salt of the earth . . . You are the light of the world -- like a city set on a hilltop that cannot be hid . . . The kingdom of heaven is like yeast a woman used in making bread. Even though she put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough. Matthew 5:13-14; 13:33

Stop for a minute. Think about Christ’s invitation to his first missionary prospects. The offer was not very complicated or sophisticated, Come, follow me and I will teach you to fish for men. Now think about how those disciples would have decoded what Jesus encoded. Do you think they would have interpreted Christ’s invitation to mean He was going to send them to unknown parts of the world?

Of course not! So why is it that when we talk about evangelism, we often hear people say, “but I don’t want to go to Africa?” The disciples assumed that Christ was going to teach them something he was already doing. This is how we are to understand evangelism. At Christ Community Church, my goal is to teach everyone how to return to Christ’s simple invitation—a commitment to follow Jesus, embrace his priorities, and join Him in the pursuit of His passion!

Jesus said that Christ followers are salt, light, and leaven! Think about those metaphors for a moment. What was Jesus implying? Salt preserves, stops decay, and flavors what it touches. Salt can even make you aware of a cut or wound by its stinging presence. Salt does what it does because it is salt! What about light? Does light have to be taught to drive out darkness? Is light useful in a dark place if it is not released? And then there is leaven. It is unnecessary to coax and coerce yeast to permeate a lump of dough—you can’t stop it from radically changing a mixture of flour and water!

So, sharing the gospel is not about learning a formula or developing a slick program. Instead, evangelism is a result of our new life! Becoming a person who shares the Good News comes about as we respond to the transformation that began with the New Birth!

What about global evangelism? For sure, it was on the heart of Jesus. Some believers are called to leave all that is familiar and be salt, light, and leaven in a world they have never before experienced. But initially, every believer is empowered to testify wherever their feet take them—maybe just across the street. As you put down this article and step out into your world—pay attention. You go there as salt, light, and leaven!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Life Found -- At The End Of My Rope

Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit

Keith began a series of messages on the Beatitudes this morning. I have heard a lot of sermons (I am reluctant to use the word sermon, but in good writing you shouldn’t use the same descriptive term in a paragraph twice, so I am calling his message a sermon), and I have read hundreds more. This morning I was privileged to hear the best lecture (although he did not lecture us) on Matthew 5:3 I have ever heard.

The main point of the message was “When you are at the end of your rope you are in the condition in which you can experience the blessing of all that God’s kingdom offers.” Kingdom living is not for the sweet by-and-by. Kingdom living is a blessing God tenders in the awful now-and-now!

For most of us coming to a place of crisis -- or the end of our rope -- is a place we want to avoid or get out of as soon as possible. Think of how many times you have wriggled out of a desperate situation, oblivious to God’s offer. Think about how many times you have given into resignation only to limp along in your own strength. Think about how much all of us disdain the thought of being seen as helpless, dependent, or weak.

Yet Jesus said that those are the very conditions necessary if we are to find the happiness that kingdom living alone provides. Remember that Jesus delivered His radical message soon after He emerged from the temptation in the wilderness. Most of you know that at the end of that 40 day fast -- Satan tried to seduce the Son of God to abandon the spiritual for the earthly.

The Deceiver offered Christ popularity, prestige, and power! Everything He would need for immediate relief from life at the end of the rope. Praise be to God that like Jesus, we, too, find the life and relief of God -- at the end of our rope!

Saturday, October 13, 2007

+ 7

I am sitting here in the den with my bride watching the Sox and Indians play game two of the ALCS. The boys from Boston just went up 3 to 1. Shill is on the hill for Boston, and Carmona is pitching for the Tribe.

Between innings I saw a most interesting advertisement. It showed a series of clips of dogs and their owners. Each frame was a heart warming endorsement of man's best friend. As I watched I was wondering what the point of the advertisement would be. Do you know what the point was? If you own a pet you can add 7 years to your life!

I groaned. Obviously those brilliant and creative Ad agencies have never spent any time with our dog, Bailey!

My pain deepens. Curt just gave up a 3 run homer! But no fear -- it's our year.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Accepted!

Sandy got a call from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. She has been accepted into their low residency MFA program in creative writing. It is a two year program and she will specialize in nonfiction. In that discipline an MFA is a terminal degree, but she plans on pursuing a PhD when she finishes at Lesley.

This may not be a record, but it is better than average -- 4 out of 5 in the Shorey family, Josh, Meagan, Bill, and Sandy are all in college! Josh will graduate in December, but the rest of us have a way to go. Meg is in her second year working toward a Bachelors degree in Psychology, and I am working on a Masters in Business Leadership! True, we will probably end up in the college tuition poor house, but what the heck!

Abraham Lincoln was quoted as saying, "I will prepare and be ready. Perhaps my chance will come." Sandy and I feel the same way. There is a great hunger around the world for college-educated Americans to come to their less developed countries and teach. For Sandy and me in particular, our degrees will provide us with income and a platform to do missions around the world. We may never leave our native soil, but regardless, we want to be prepared should the calling from above come.

The concentric circles that make up my life are shrinking down to the core purpose for which God saved me -- bringing the Kingdom to places where the King is unknown! I love my country, but I am finding that God has gifted me to go where others would be reluctant to go -- the thought of going to foreign soil thrills me.

In the meantime I have the privilege of passing on my passion to the church where God has blessed me to serve. At Christ Community I have found many a kindred heart when it comes to working outside the box! In two weeks I will set foot on the soil of Venezuela! After that I will be leading teams to Greece, and then on to Bolivia! At each stop the goal is to plant churches or to bring construction teams to build a modest meeting place to house a community of believers!

Sunday, October 7, 2007

The Spirit's Liberty

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. Paul's letter to the Corinthians

This morning I brought the second of a two-part message. Last week I talked about Releasing the Power of God, based on Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation.” This week I brought the other side of that truth, Releasing the People of God. The power of the gospel is released in people--God’s people are released into the world.

To emphasize one of the points of the message, I told an anecdote describing the impact Silas Fox had on me as a child. Silas was converted from Judaism to Christianity. Through a series of God’s interventions he became a missionary to India, and an itinerant evangelist. As I have said before, our new church family is diverse. When the service was over a family of several generations from India waited to speak to me. The Patriarch of the family told me, in his heavily accented English, “I heard Silas Fox speak when I was a younger man. He was a very captivating preacher. He would simply stop on a street, gather a crowd through magic tricks or singing, and begin to preach.” My new friends extended an open arms invitation to come stay in their home in India and evangelize their city!

Bringing God’s Word in my new environment -- to many people I hardly know -- can be difficult. But today, the Spirit of God was at work with all His liberating Presence! Our gathering reflected a freedom that is hard to describe. We all left the building with the sense that God had met with us in community. Free indeed!

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Unleashed To Live!

And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives . . . we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Romans 6:4; 8:37

I will be speaking again this Sunday at my home church -- Christ Community. Last week I brought a message entitled, Unleashing the Power of God. The message was based on portions of a letter that the apostle Paul wrote to a group of house churches in Rome. In short, he wanted those churches to know that the gospel is not just a message -- the gospel is the power of God unleashed! The power of God unleashed is the power of love . . . we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

This week the title of the message is Unleashed to Live! Did you notice that Paul said we not only live new lives, but that the life we live displays the power of God. We possess the life of Christ. Just as he conquered death, we, too, are conquerors in life. We are unleashed to live an extraordinary adventure!

I can't wait for Sunday (but I must)!

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Go Sox!

He has given us all things to enjoy. The Apostle Paul

Sandy, Josh, and I are watching the ALDS. The Boston Red Sox are in a best of 5 series with the Angels. It's the fourth inning, Beckett is throwing darts, Youk and Big Papi have homered! The Good Guys are leading the Halos 4-0.

I finished my Case Study just after the top of the first inning. The last I had checked the game was supposed to begin at 8:30. Sandy and I were proofreading my paper when Josh came in pretending to swing a bat and asked, "What am I doing?"

"Swinging a bat." I said.

"Dad, the game is on!"

The paper is not due until 11:55 tomorrow night . . . !