The Message of Paul's Angry Email

New Years Eve at midnight, we were flying over the International date line. I’m fairly certain that we were some of first folks in the world to see in 2014. (Our flight was made up pretty much of Renee’ and I and a small Vietnamese village. Lot’s of kids. But not as bad as it could have been…) We arrived in Ulaanbaatar on New Years Day, and I dove back into the preaching waters at our international church this past Sunday.

I’m heartened with Cornerstone Church of All Nations. It’s becoming a truly solid church, I believe. I’m personally encouraged with it becoming stable and now that it’s registered with the local government, we are moving forward with calling a full time time pastoral couple. One of our team members from the Philippines will be taking on the job beginning in March, and I am confident that this church will continue to be salt and light and strength in this city.

I preached a message from the book of Galatians. A mentor and homiletics teacher once told me to “preach what you most smartingly do feel” and I will say that the message of Galatians has been “smarting” with me lately. Of course the main message is that being a Christian means following Jesus by faith, trusting in His grace and it’s not about keeping someone’s code of conduct. Grace. Not works.

Simple. Seminal. Foundational. Critical. Truth. Gospel.

However, while working through this little epistle for last week’s message (and again for this week’s, as well), I’m finding an important missiological principle rising out of these pages. One that I and every other person who desires the transference of the Gospel to every culture in the world needs to be keenly attuned.

Galatians, at least from an historical angle, is indeed a book about missions - in that the Gospel is being tranfered from one people group to another people group: in this case from those who had been culturally Jewish to those who were culturally Greek or possibly Roman. The false teachers in the Galatian churches were essentially requiring those Roman or Greek believers to become culturally Jewish in order to be followers of Jesus (or, as in some cases, to be “true” and “better” followers of Jesus). That’s what sets Paul off to writing what I think is “the angry email” that is the book of Galatians, with all of it’s crudness and cursing. Paul was “smarting”, as well.

The Gospel is meant for every nation. A quick Google search will reveal pages of blog posts and articles about the Christian missionary endevour having “Western Imperialism” as it’s center motivation. While the propigation of the Gospel has faced many days of unbiblical and nationalistic incentive, I don’t think it’s quite fair to paint everyone with the same harsh lines, and many of these voices are historically and biblically uninformed. However, Paul’s “rant” that today we call the “Book of Galatians” is a loud warning to all who are involved with the modern missionary endeavor, which includes myself.

It’s so easy to assume that the Christian church will have the same caviats all over the world, everywhere. This is not the case. We kind of know that. But Americanism (and Englishism and Koreanism and whatever-country-you-may-be-from-ism) is deeply entrenched and not easly navigated around. In fact, nationalistic bias will always be … well … a bias. Biases are not wrong unless they are ignored.

Jesus is not a tribal deity. He is for all peoples. When the Gospel is allowed to move without addition from one culture to the next, truth takes on various cultural forms and thus the church in Zambia looks and feels very different from the church in Krakow which also looks and feels very different than the church in Xi’an, China. The Gospel is the same. Jesus is our righteousness and everything depends on Him. The forms of the church will take on the million variations of the world’s cultures. That’s beautiful.

And, for many, disconcerting.

Here’s the thing: those who are doing what I’m doing around the world, need to be really careful to let the Gospel be the Gospel - and make no other requirements of people beyond that. The day that I require people to become culturally American in order to be a Jesus follower, is the day I should banned as a false teacher.

I think this includes things like making people follow our forms of discipleship, church, prayer meetings and Bible studies. It may work for Americans to sit around in a coffee shop and share our feelings, or to have a “12-week-small-group-study on how to pray for your spouse” (although, I’m not entirely convinced of the virality of these things in America anymore, either). If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past eight years, it’s that cross cultural work involves WAY more lstening and learning than it does teaching. Results in our reports back home must never become more important than understanding the simplicity of the Gospel and the complexity of the way a culture will embrace the Gospel. It’s going to look different from me and mine, and I need to get over it.

We have to let the Gospel happen as it will happen, which leaves us (the foreigners) out. But really, the less control I have on these things the better for everyone involved.

If we spent more time listening to, learning from and loving people and less time worrying about whether they are meeting our standards - I’m fairly certain we will see a greater transference of the real Kingdom of Jesus (which is invisible and subversive) and the values which go with that Kingdom … and face less accusations of missionary imperialism.

Preaching again this Sunday on spiritual fruit (Galatians 5) … which again comes from the same principle. The same root. Gospel.


My hope is built on nothing less Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness



Life Like Vinyl

After a year of no physical contact, it has been pure joy to see my kids again over the 2013 Christmas holidays. Our time here has slipped by like a Swiss ski master on a smooth downhill, and we are now preparing, once again, to return to our post in Mongolia. In the meantime, reuniting with friends, family ... and children in particular, has been a huge blessing and privilege. Staring the dawn of 2014 squarely in the face, I'm grateful. 


It's been nearly eight years since we arrived in Mongolia. Eight years brings a lot of changes to a person's life. And changes to a person. Changes to me. I am finding that I'm a very different person than I was eight years ago. There are many reasons for this. Aging. Years. Ministry. Mongolia. My children have grown up. Relationships have developed, some positively, and unfortunately, some negatively. Nearly everything about my life is different than it was eight years ago when I faced 2006 squarely in the face and told our congregation in Franklin, TN that I was resigning and taking my family to Mongolia.  Plenty of life's curious mix of joy and sorrow since then.  I'd like to say there are no regrets, but that would be a lie. I do have some regrets. Things I wish I'd done differently. Things I'd change if I had a do-over. Things I'd probably try to digitally remaster, if life were as simple as data on a hard drive. 


I walked into the apartment my children share with another roommate and a dog named "Maeby" and almost immediately noticed my daughter's thrift store treasure: A stereo with a turn-table, circa 1981. With this stereo she also has a vinyl copy of Rumours by Fleetwood Mac , what I consider to be the best album of all time in music history (Okay, so maybe there are better albums to you, as musical preference is a subjecttive matter. But no one who listens to this record can deny that it's not pure musical magic...) I sat in my children's apartment listening to an album that I listened to as a child facing my own teenage years, and so many memories came back to me with every beat of Mick Fleetwood's drum. I soon realized that it wasn't just the music. It was also the media, the LP record album itself. There is something to the way vinyl feels in the hand. The tactile necessity of physically placing the needle on the record as it spins at 33 1/2 rotations per minute. The occassional pop and crackle of imperfection as I listened to Stevie Nick's whispy, enchanting voice was ... well ... perfect. 


Life is a lot like vinyl. I'd like to join William Borden's spirited and bold, missionary bumper sticker statement "No reserve. No retreat. No regrets." It sounds nice to hear. Nice to say. I think I've even said it before. But it's not true. Not true for me, anyway. There are things I have said and done that I wish I hadn't, things I wish I had done, and life doesn't have repeats. The imperfections of poor choices and neglected relationships and missed opportunities are going to pop and crackle on life's soundtrack no matter how hard we try to hide and digitally remaster our choices. Regrets are real. But regrets don't change the music. The music is what it is. 




Grace somehow makes beauty of imperfection. Music out of pops and crackles. Peace out of turmoil. From a fall, a stepping stone. 


I so appreciate the fact that my daughter has a turntable. I plan to acquire one, myself. 


More than that, I'm thankful for grace that makes beauty out of imperfection. May you know and demonstrate the grace of Jesus in simple and profound ways during your 2014 soundtrack. 


I'm also glad that my daughter listens to good music. You go Cori. (I actually like a lot of Jonathan's music, as well ... it's nice to share a few simple things with grown-up kids...)


Happy New Year. 


Time makes you bolder
Even children grow older
And I'm getting older, too ... 



Where Have All the Fathers Gone?

Before I get into this particular post I want to note a few housekeeping issues.

  1. I have not posted on the blog in a LONG time. I have some lame excuses. Busy with work and ministry. Completing my Masters dissertation (the completion of which brings me indescribable happiness and joy). It's cold in Mongolia. The Holidays (been preparing since August, you know. Not really). In any case this post is the breaking of a long silence, that I hope will not ever be quite so long in the future.
  2. I intend to upgrade this Website from Squarespace 5 to Squarespace 6 while we're in the US over the Holidays, as fiddling with web design is a great thing to do while awake at 3:00 AM trying to overcome jetlag. This will mean a couple of things. Possible "look and feel" changes to the site. It may also mean possible downtime. Not that this will ruin anyone's day. But DO check back.
  3. After the upgrade, and the holidays, I am committed to working on more consistent content. I haven't decided what I will be committing to, yet. But, in the process of finishing a dissertation, I've found that the creation of habits and routines to be one of the MOST powerful tools for productivity that I've come across. So, I'd like to make the habitual addition of content to this website as a means for more writing and and photography in my life. If anyone likes it and wants to follow, great. If not ... well that's fine to. Always your choice.

So there you have it ... housekeeping in order ... on to the post that I've felt the need to write for about two weeks now.

Last week I was meeting with a Mongolian pastor friend of mine. We were talking about some rather serious issues which he is facing in his church right now (the details of which I will not go into here ... but please pray for them). In the course of the discussion and trying to get to the heart of the difficult issues, we both reached an agreement.

Mongolia lacks fathers.

One young man saw his father commit suicide when he was a teenager. Another has a dad he never sees and rarely talks to because the "old man" stays drunk most of the time. Yet, another was disowned by his father as a young man. Another's parents (both father and mother) left the country when he was two years old and he hasn't seen him since. Most of the young girls who work with us at the Grain of Wheat Center have fathers who are either dead or dead drunk. I'm not making any of this up. These are all real scenarios of real kids who frequent the Grain of wheat. Most don't know a real dad. This is the story of almost every Mongolian young person I know.

So where have all the father's gone?

It's a heartbreaking condition, really. In the past I've simply wept with them, not really knowing what I could do.

Until this week.

One of these young men told me: "You have been like a father to me. Thank you."

His statement gave me pause. It actually made me think about our ministry with students in completely different terms.

I've always enjoyed being a dad. I love my kids. I miss them tremendously and am most excited to see them in less than a week from the time I am writing this post. I've never really thought of myself as a "great" dad, but what dad does? Growing older has brought some new bridges to cross with my children, especially with them being so very far away. The work of fatherhood is never finished, it just evolves.

That said, I've never thought of myself as a "father figure". In fact, I've always kind of felt repulsed by that. I don't want to be an old guy, really. I like to at least give the false impression that I'm still young and able to do everything I could 20 years ago. This is false, indeed. In working with Mongolian young people and reading an excellent and interesting book with a cheesy title by Richard Rohr on male spirituality (it's called From Wild Man to Wise Man: Reflections on Male Spirituality ... like I said, cheesy title. Good read.), I see this very real universal "deep need for masculine approval." I do believe there are no exceptions. Men and women. Young and old. Perhaps most especially young men. I see it my own life. One of my happiest memories as a new father was when my father said he was proud of me. I needed that. I still need that. All children need that. Dad's approval. If there is no dad, then I do believe it will be sought out elsewhere. I have found this need to be no less real among our Mongolian students ... and in fact, I see the father-hunger here to be deep and potent in Mongolian kid's lives.

I still don't think of myself as a "father-figure". That sounds almost pretentious to me. However, when I have the opportunity to lovingly speak truth into the lives of young people; when I can accept them in the middle of their mistakes and sins; when I can give a hug or an approving hand on the shouler or a smile and an extra-loud applause after an open-mic night performance; when I can sit down with a few of them and talk through the application of words from our mutual Father - it's then that I know why I am here, and why this work is so important. And if that means being called "dad" by a young person who has no one else to call by that honorable and holy title ... I'm actually okay with that.

Pray for these kids. They are the future and hope of the Mongolian church and the next generation of Mongolian families. Especially pray that the young men will rise up and that there will be a new wave of Mongolian fathers for generations to come.


Tales from the Open Mic: Peaceful

Every week at the Grain of Wheat Center in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia the microphone is open. In conjunction with UBean Coffee House, our Grain of Wheat staff seeks to connect with the 250,000+ Mongolian students and young people living in the city. From this event, we've seen a small group of young men take steps toward walking with Jesus. These are their stories.

"Peaceful" started coming to the Grain of Wheat Center about two years ago, as a junior in High School. He began to take guitar lessons and he, along with three other friends, formed a band and began to perform every week at "Open Mic Night".  After several months of coming to "The Grain of Wheat Center" nearly every day, "Peaceful" was introduced to Jesus, while learning the Fmaj7 chord. Some time after that, he began to follow.   

"Peaceful" began coming to the wednesday night student fellowship, and he and his friends began to study the book of Mark together and learn about Jesus for the first time. His personality fits his name. But it turns out that he has not always been this way.   

One Wednesday evening, "Peaceful" gave a testimony about his home life. His parents left Mongolia when he was two years old, and as an eighteen year old, he's not seen them since. He lives with his grandmother and his older sister. "But," he shared with us, "My grandmother is very angry all the time." Then he paused. "My sister is also kind of angry." Another one of "Peaceful"'s awkward pauses. "We have a dog that's also really angry, too." Then he smiled. "I used to be angry, too. But I'm not any more."  Jesus has made "Peaceful" ... well, peaceful.  

Peaceful is another great example of the work the Jesus has been doing through the Grain of Wheat Center, and specifically through Open Mic Night. Please pray for "Peaceful" as he enters his first year of University this year. Pray that his faith will increase and grow, and that he will stand. Pray that "Peaceful" will grow this year in the grace and knowledge of Jesus.   


Tales From the Open Mic: "Pasture"

Every week at the Grain of Wheat Center in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia the microphone is open. In conjunction with UBean Coffee House, our Grain of Wheat staff seeks to connect with the 250,000+ Mongolian students and young people living in the city. From this event, we've seen a small group of young men take steps toward walking with Jesus. These are their stories. 
A young man named "Pasture" has been coming to Open Mic Night for over a year now. He sings a smooth tenor and loves to sing American and Korean pop music. After coming to Open Mic Night for several weeks, he and his friends began coming to the Grain of Wheat Center during the week, getting to know our staff and working with the two young men we have hired as music teachers.   
"Pasture" soon began attending a youth fellowship and Bible study that is held on Wednesday evenings. He comes from a family with a completely non-Christian background, thus his first night at youth fellowship, he confessed his ignorance of things that have to do with the Bible and the Christian faith. "I don't know much about Christianity," he confessed, "But I love coming to this Center and I love being with all of you."    
So "Pasture" continued to come every week and relationships deepened. His mother has told me several times how much she appreciates him coming to the Grain of Wheat, and is thankful for the positive influence she sees our center and center staff are having on his life.     
Last week, while at a youth camp, "Pasture" came to one of our staff music teachers and said, "I now believe in Jesus." It's a first, but important step in learning to live by faith. We rejoiced together about that last night at our Grain of Wheat Center all-staff meeting.     
We ask that you'd pray for "Pasture" as he begins being discipled and learning more about God and His Word. Also pray for "Pasture's" family, particularly his parents. We don't know what kind of familial repercussions there may be, but we are praying that because of the work of Jesus in "Pasture's" life, complete transformation will take place in his family.