Flat Tire, Elated Grace

Flat Tire
Last week Monday started out as any other regular Monday. I got out of bed a bit later than intended, but still early enough to call it really early. After the usuals I walked down to my car, got in, started the engine, started the CD player (Dream Theater’s latest is a great way to wake up), backed out of the parking lot and was on my way to work. By the second turn I noticed something was not right. It felt like I was leaning a bit to the right and when making a turn it felt weird. I turned the CD player off, drove on, and found out quickly that I had a flat tire on the right front. The road I was on did not give me any possibilities to make a full turn and drive the 500 meters back home, so I decided to try to make it to the closest gas station, driving on 20 km/h with the alarm lights on (good thing it was 6 am in the morning with the road being empty). I barely managed to reach it. My aim was to try to put some air in the tire, drive to my car dealer one kilometer down the road and have them fix it for me. Yet, no such luck. For some reason I could not get any air in the tire, so I decided to park my car at the gas station (with the aim to come back there in the afternoon to replace the flat tire with the spare) and make my way to work with public transport. Think this a bad start of the week? Read on.

During the summer months they are doing some maintenance (for the new North/South connection) on the metro track between Amstelveen and Amsterdam. Now, normally I could easily hop on the metro and within 25 minutes plus a 5 minute walk be at my work, but now I had to take a bus to station South/WTC (20 minutes), take the train to Duivendrecht (10 minutes), take the metro to Spaklerweg (5 minutes) and then walk 5 minutes to work. All in all, about a one hour ordeal. Think this a bad start to of the week? Read on.

At work I called my car dealer and asked if I could come by this afternoon to get my tire fixed (meaning get the flat tired replaced and put the spare back in the trunk). They told me they would have to look if they had the tire on stock and would call me back, which they never did. At the end of my working day I made my way back to the gas station in the same manner as that morning, yet I accidentally took the wrong metro back (and I only noticed that when I was one stop away from the final stop – which meant adding another 25 minutes of traveling), and was ready for a first time ever replacing of a flat tire. My lovely wife was so sweet to come and support me (having more experience and expertise in this field). So, we jacked the car, removed the flat tire, got the spare out of the trunk, but when trying to put it on we realized quickly that the spare tire (which had been in my trunk for 10 years!) did not fit as the spaces between the screw holes were different. So, I called the Mitsubishi Service Desk, and their advice was to tow my car, which I really didn’t want as it would take a long time and cost a lot of money, so I gracefully declines their offer. Instead I decided to retry putting air in my flat tire (which failed before when it was still on my car) and see how fast it deflated. This was successful and it didn’t deflate immediately, so I decided to quickly put the “flat tire” back on my car, and drive as quickly as possible to my car dealer so they could take care of the problem. Think this a bad start of the week? Read on.

The car dealer told me that they did not have my type of tire on stock so they needed to order it and would come in a day later. Considering I couldn’t do much about this I had to accept the situation, and left my car there overnight. But then, they called me on Tuesday that they made a mistake in the order and I had to wait another day for the tire to come in. This means now three days in a row taking the huge public transport 60+ minutes detour to work (instead of a 12-minute car ride). Oh well, not much I could do. So, on Wednesday I waited and waited for a phone call from the dealer telling me that my car was all fixed again, but it never came. So I went to the car dealer at the end of the day, and I saw that my car was ready, but just didn’t call me. Lucky enough I was able to get my car back, yet I still don’t have a new spare tire in the trunk (considering the current one is useless).

Elated Grace
So, long story but where’s the grace? Well, obviously not getting a flat tire while driving is grace. Not getting in either an accident or my flat tire running off the wheel while driving to the gas station is grace. But, “real” grace happened on Monday afternoon on the way back home with the public transport. Remember I told you I got on the wrong metro? Well, it turned out that when I ended up at the end of the wrong line and got on the metro back to my original stop I was minding my own business, staring out the window, when all of a sudden next to me a guy stood up and started preaching (proclaiming Jesus!) right in the middle of the metro. It was a big African-American guy with an old-fashioned King James Bible in his hand. Now I have sort of a love/hate relationship with street preachers because I don’t know who they are and what they’re up to, but this guy was something else! He didn’t do the usual “you’re all gonna burn in hell” preaching, but showed a genuine heart for the people in the metro, sharing the Good News of Jesus with passion and love, then starting singing a hymn, and ended his time with a powerful prayer which literally brought him to his knees. I was impressed!

We happened to get off at the same stop, and when I walked passed him he asked me what I thought of the words he spoke. I shook his hands and said: “Amen, brother! Jesus Christ is LORD!” I could see the complete surprise on his face. Here we are, in the heart of the “black” district in Amsterdam, and a white guy says he loves Jesus. We started talking and I found out that he is an American missionary, who’s been in Amsterdam for about a month, started a church in Amsterdam South-East (called “New Wine Christian Center”) and his main ministry is metro preaching, which he has been doing for years in different parts of the world. It was really great to see a brother with so passion for the Bible. We ended up exchanging contact details. I thanked God for sending me intentionally in the wrong direction so I could meet this guy.

So, although it was obviously quite a bad Monday and following, I think I will treasure this meeting for the rest of my life as a beautiful moment of experiencing God’s grace, sovereignty and presence in my life.

The Charge!

He who carries the Sword.

May you wield it with grace and mercy.

May your heart be filled with the power and love of God so that you have the strength to love and serve all.

May the Lord be your wisdom.
May He be your leader and teacher.
May your heart be humble and contrite, trembling at His Word and fearfully obeying His decrees.

Let the glory of the Lord ring forth from Jerusalem, that all may declare His praises.

In Christ our Lord.

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns.’” (Isaiah 52:7)

Confusion Explosion

For the last couple of weeks nothing less than an explosion of confusion has manifested itself in my head. Sounds lovely, isn’t it! The funny thing is that although there is much confusion there is much clarity on what the confusion is about. In other words, the confusion explosion is not an all encompassing confusion across the whole line of my life, but is quite focusing itself in one particular area. And that area is called my life with Jesus (no, not my life in Jesus. There is no confusion there). It is my life with Jesus and how it manifests itself in life and what we call the local church (as opposed to the universal church). I am sure by saying this that you are as confused about what I am talking about as I am about what I am confused about, so let me try to explain (hoping that by explaining my confusion the Holy Spirit is able to shed some light).

Several events led up or contributed to my confusion. These are: church structure discussions with the deacons, listening to a missiology teaching by Jeff Vanderstelt, participating in a three day European Church Planting (ECPN) conference, re-reading Neil Cole’s book “Organic Church,” preparing a teaching on being a disciple of Jesus, and a serious look at my own life in reflection to all of the above. The point is actually quite simple. What does it mean to be a true disciple of Jesus? What does it mean to “do” church? These are the two questions that are pounding inside of my skull for the last couple of weeks, forcing its way out the hard way.

What does it mean to be a true disciple of Jesus?
Without giving too much away from the forthcoming teaching, I have been challenged on my definition of a disciple. Maybe I should say that my definition has been stretched or has become clearer in the process of studying it out. It is not that I had a wrong definition at first, just an incomplete one. But I have been challenged by the question to what extent I actually am a disciple of Jesus. Sure, I believe in Him and I make feeble attempts to study His words and imitating His life. But this is not wholehearted submission to Him, right?! It’s a 21st century version, an extract of a lesser kind, customized and contextualized to my convenience, made fit to be part of my life, but certainly not be a starting point or center point from which my life emanates, right?! This is not about trying and failing. This is about not having Jesus at the center of my life. This is about not deeply studying, meditating on, and applying the Bible in my life. This is about about not trying to imitate Jesus’ life, character and ministry in every aspect of my life, regardless of cost. This is about “doing” the 21st century Christian thing: believe in Jesus, read your Bible, go to church, do the programs, get immersed in ministry life, be busy with all these things, and in the mean time Satan is laughing his butt off, because in all the doing you forget about being a Christian, being a disciple of Jesus. This sounds all very similar to a post from little over a year ago, called “I Wanna Be!” I am doing so much. My agenda is completely overbooked with all Christian activities, but because of that my relationship with Jesus is swept under rug for the sake of ministry. I am reading books which count as input to my activities or discussions or meetings (examples: I read “Clusters” for the ECPN conference; I read “Feed My Sheep” as input for ongoing discussions about the necessity of preaching in the church; I read “Vintage Church” for ongoing discussions with the deacons about church structure). Now, these are all great books, but all the hours reading these books are hours I am not reading the Bible. And Satan is laughing. In all the activities which should facilitate making disciples I forget being a disciple. And it’s frustrating the heck out of me… Now, you may ask: “what’s the confusion here?”. And that would be a good question to ask. My answer would be that the confusion is how to change it around. At the ECPN conference I learned to ask two really important questions. What do I need to start doing? What do I need to stop doing? I need to start to center my life on being a disciple. The confusion is about what I need to stop doing in order to facilitate the start doing.

What does it mean to “do” church?
This is a much more confusing question to be sure. Although I have no church background growing up, my input and experience so far has been the “traditional” model of “doing” church on Sunday and “doing” church through means of a small group on a weekday. Both are church, meaning the church gathers on Sunday for preaching and worship and scatters throughout the week for living life in community. Lately I have been really challenged in this whole concept. Why? Simply by asking myself the question about fruit. In other words, the good seed on the good soil. And the point is, I don’t see it. I fail to see fruit on many different levels. And so I am asking the question whether this is because of good seed on bad soil or because of bad seed on bad soil or because of bad seed on good soil. And I haven’t figured that one out yet, but my first guess is that it is to some extent bad seed on bad soil. To some extent. In any case, I feel that my life has been taken over by programs and meetings and is completely void of any form of natural or organic Kingdom living. Everything is planned out, programmed. And I feel it’s sucking the life right out of me. And I cannot imagine that this is what Jesus had in mind.

So what am I saying really? Well, let’s go from big scale to small scale. On a big scale there is the “church” gathering (traditionally on Sunday). Why do we have these gatherings? What’s the purpose of the “church” getting together? Is it not to raise up holy hands worshiping  the LORD our God? Is it not equip, edify, correct, encourage the local body of Christ? Is it not to experience the body at large? Then why do we program it all? Why is there a worship band practicing to “perfect” the songs instead of musicians getting together to simply worship through music? Why is there a professional teacher/preacher in the pulpit who spend 15 hours preparing his notes, based on preaching schedules and series, in order to share instead of those leaders (read: elders) who are gifted at teaching naturally arise to teach the body (for “let the elders who rule well be considered of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17))? Why are there serving teams and greeting teams and cleanup teams, etc., instead of a natural outworking of these things for if we disciples of Jesus we are servants of all and thus each other as well. Why is there so much programming needed and so little natural or organic outworkings because of who and what we are in Jesus?

On a smaller scale there is the outworking of what are called community groups or gospel groups or cell groups or home groups or something like that. These are groups of people coming together based on either geographical location or based on missional focus or just based on existing friendships, and experience the Christian life together. Here again I ask the question. What is the purpose of it? Does it need to be programmed or should it be naturally flowing out of our identity and desires in Jesus? By that I mean, it is clear that the early disciples of Jesus came together in houses to “devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42), but was this not something natural that happened instead of something programmed? By programmed I mean there is a designated leader or facilitator who prepares a teaching on some occasions, and on other occasions there is an evening of prayer and worship and communion organized, and on another occasion we organize an evening which focuses more on sharing our feelings, etc. How did the early disciples in for instance Corinth organize themselves? I find it hard to believe they planned and programmed it all out. My guess instead is that they naturally came together in houses, based on geographical location – because why travel all across town, and did whatever the Holy Spirit led them to, and just lived out community together, seeing each other every day because they were simply neighbors or co-workers etc. I doubt that all the “leaders” of these house groups would gather themselves for mutual edification, but that it found its outworking in city-wide gatherings (in temple courts), and that these leaders where actually the elders/pastors/shepherds/overseers which is talked about in the New Testament. Not a hierarchy of leaders, but apostolic leaders, like Paul, instructing his apprentice apostolic leaders, like Titus, to appoint elders in every town (Titus 1:5).

On an even smaller scale, there is what Neil Cole calls “Life Transformation Groups” (LTGs) which are same-gender groups of two or three people who come together regularly (read: weekly) to hold each other accountable for reading the Bible, confessing sins to one another, and pray for there non-believing friends. Excellent principle and very much needed in itself, but why turn it into a program that has to occur on a weekly basis? Are LTGs nothing more than friends getting together and having fellowship with each other. Should Bible reading not be something you want to do out of a passion for Jesus and His Word instead out of necessity or guilt for not wanting to disappoint your LTG buddies? Is confessing sins to one another not a natural outworking of your life with Jesus (James 5:16)? Is praying for non-believing friends not something you are doing out of a passion for Jesus and a desire to share this with others?

All of this should be happening out of a love for Jesus and a love for your neighbor. If it needs to be programmed because otherwise it doesn’t happen then there is something terribly wrong and I dare say that if the latter is the case then maybe it is better to just stop it all and start from scratch (meaning, becoming a disciple of Jesus, and out of that let Him be the one who runs the program. He is far better at it for He is the only one who has the grand overview.

I must that I have no clarity yet on a couple of things in particular: a) how did true leadership and leadership gifting (E4 gifts – apostle,prophet, evangelist, shepherd, teacher) work itself out in biblical times (within a city, for a city, and for a region)? b) what about preaching and teaching – especially dealing with false doctrine and church discipline – in an organic structure? c) what about the mission and vision of the local church (i.e. should their be)? d) what about paid professionals – for the Bible does talk about financial enumeration for elders only.

So, what does this all mean? I don’t know. I don’t have the answers (hence the confusion explosion), but I have stopped being afraid of asking the questions for the sake of “tradition” or “because it is like it is” and instead put Jesus above it all and right in the center of it all, for He is my prophet and my priest and my king. Programs and structures are not. Does this mean I stop/drop everything I am doing for the sake of organic outworkings? No, but there is an order to things. First, I am a son of God, second I am a husband, third I am a father. Only after these come other things. And if either of these are lacking or failing for something which is outside of the top 3, then will not hesitate to have the order restored.

The Year Of

The year of 2009 (According to our Gregorian calendar)
The year of the Ox (According to the Chinese calendar)
The year of discipline (As this is much needed in my life)
The year of the Cross of Christ (As I need to “feel” its weight more in my life)
The year of the ESV Study Bible (As I ordered one yesterday and really look forward reading it)
The year of CCIE (Will I decide to go for it? Will I pass?)
The year of Barack Hussein Obama II (Will he be He to many, or just stay he?)
The year of Canon EOS400D (Will I actually start having a hobby this year?)
The year of 35 (That old? Yes!)
The year of budgeting (I hope)
The year of #2 (We hope)
The year of Jehoshaphat (Well, only for two weeks actually)
The year of preaching (Or at least an attempt to)
The year of choosing a structure (I sincerely hope)
The year of repentance (much needed)
The year of humility (much needed)
The year of finally getting it (much needed)

In Between

In between Christmas and New Year’s Eve
In between my first and possible second attempt of passing CCIE
In between my current job and my possible next
In between studying Jesus and studying CCIE
In between sanctifying the workplace and leaving it as it is
In between getting healthy and enjoy
In between kiss and make up
In between moving and staying
In between rental and buy
In between doing less and having to do more
In between having one and wanting another
In between a girl and hopefully a boy
In between chaos and structure
In between convincing and letting go
In between know-it-all and humility
In between remember and forget
In between hard hearts and hard words
In between conviction and repentance
In between dependency and hitting snooze

I don’t like being in between. It makes me uneasy. It does not feel like me. I am structured. I am a goal setter. I know what I want. Yet most of the time I seem to be an inch short of achieving my goal. Sometimes even more than a foot. This is not me. I think being between conviction and repentance is my most predominant and urgent state I am in. I feel I am losing myself for the sake of Jesus (which is exactly what He said needs to happen), but I am not sure yet what the new identity is like. I know it must be good, but I feel hesitant to embrace it, holding on too tight to things I should have let go already or never should have hold on to in the first place. Maybe I am just being silly, for I am a sucker for new beginnings and long with all my might for the new year (usually to get disappointed by it relatively soon after that).

I know this post will probably not make any sense to most if not all who read it, but I felt the need to publish it anyway… I guess what I am trying to say is that I need to get things in order and make some pretty big and definite decisions soon, and I don’t think I feel spiritually prepared for it. I am in between.