A lesson from London: Who could stand?

Kari writes:

The British Museum. Four enormous statues of Buddha lined the far wall. They towered, enormous, yet frozen in place. Mere idols. Powerless. I turned the corner to head out, into another gallery, then noticed that Jeff was intrigued by something else, clicking a photo with his phone.

Two tall statues stood on either side of a walkway. Shiny with glaze, standing tall and proud with Asian faces and elaborate Chinese dress. The one on the left held a hefty book, probably 8-10 inches thick, like two or three phonebooks all put together. His face looked severe, judging.

The other statue held a slim booklet, more like a magazine, rolled up into a small cylinder in her hand. The plaque explained that in the first century AD the concept of hell was introduced into China. From where it was unknown. But from that time on it was clearly understood that after death there would be judgment. The severe statue with the thick phone-book type volume was holding the person’s evil deeds. The statue with the magazine rolled up was holding the person’s good deeds.

The statues:

Final judgment statues from the Meng Dynasty in China, housed in the British Museum. Statue on the left holds large book making note of "evil works"; statue on right holds small magazine with record of "good works."

They got that part right.

If You, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O LORD, who could stand?
—Psalm 130:3

Where, I wonder, have we lost the reality of guilt? Today guilt is a dirty word, something we’re encouraged to shake off, leave behind, free ourselves from.

But isn’t guilt a critical component of the gospel?

Isn’t guilt the black backdrop that allows the glorious diamond of the gospel to be seen in all its glory?

If I didn’t understand guilt, how could I understand grace?


Uk trip: Renfrew. Finding hospitality in a royal burrough.

I’ve been remiss on writing up a reflection of our final day in Scotland. We arrived back in London late on our anniversary, It’s a challenge to move all these people around this island without some delays, and so we braced for a few. There were some sweet moments (like finding Kari’s sunglasses at the check-in desk as we boarded the plane — someone was kind enough to put them there after finding them someplace nearby). And there were some funny moments (like when about 100 newspapers previously handed out as we boarded the plane were eventually tossed into the rubbish bin; as an avid recycler from the ‘crunchy’ Pacific Northwest, I cringed). As I told the conference attendees, I am a people-watcher. Apparently, I watch what they throw away as well.

More fun than all that rubbish is watching what people value, that is, where they focus their time and energy to see cultivated. I mentioned the Burns family in Glasgow, who is endeavoring to see Glasgow flourish by the preaching of His Word and the praising of His Name (true to the city’s motto).

Our stay in Scotland was a quick jaunt, a mere 48 hours perhaps. The first half with the Scott and Monica Burns was followed by a night and day with Brian and Shauna Luse (and their amazing five kids). Brian was actually the first person we saw as we got off the plane in Glasgow on Sunday evening. With a smile and a hug we hopped into their van and headed to downtown Glasgow, on the west side. The Sunday night gathering of RE:HOPE was winding down, and we caught part of the closing responsive worship time. About 21 hours later Brian picked us up and we were off to Renfrew to get a glimpse of their life.

Although brief, both visits have stirred my soul. They let us peek in on their lives — and gave up much of their time — and we are better for it. I pray we were a blessing to them as well.

A sunny day in Scotland

There were many highlights at the Luse ‘mance,’ such as:

  • Grilling up sausage on a grill donated by our home church; seems like we cooked up every sausage in the UK.
  • Talking through life and ministry with Brian and Shauna late into the evening on Monday.
  • All the kids choosing to sleep in one room, so we could enjoy a guest bed.
  • Waking up Tuesday morning to Brian preparing pancakes and bacon and sausage; they celebrated our being there like it was a Saturday morning. All the kids stayed home from school to give us the full experience. (We missed our own kids all the more!)
  • Playing Thomas the Train, imagining how I would relish the opportunity to do the same in short order with our son.
  • Marveling at how Shauna cares for five kids (sixth to be born shortly!), and how they care for one another. Siblings were serving one another.
  • The kids creating us KARI and JEFF necklaces out of their letter toys. Inventive and creative. (And generous.)
  • Getting a sneak preview of Brian’s birthday present created by little artist Caileen, a couple days before the day.

In short, I left that time resolving to be a more intentional father, loving, caring… present. Brian loves his kids, leads his family, and set an example for me to follow. This is where discipleship takes place.

Renfrew is a royal burrough, which from what I am told, means back in the day they had unique authorization from the monarchy to organize a marketplace, for the buying, selling, and trading of goods. It would become a happening place to be, and a privilege to live there. Just down the River Clyde from Glasgow (westward, towards the sea), Renfrew these days looks positioned for a comeback. Business is booming; there were malls and construction all around, and it seemed that young professionals will want to settle down in this attractive city.

We are praying for the leaders and saints of Renfrew Baptist Church to be faithful to Christ’s call to be and make disciples, and for God’s grace to be upon them as He prospers them to be in the city, and because the Gospel is good news for all who encounter Christ, they shall be for the city.

UK trip: a visit to Glasgow. How about pressing Snooze 17 times?


View from the Burns' flat

After the Single-Minded conference wrapped up, we said our goodbyes and take a ride with some new friends to the Stansted airport. Sunday night we hopped on a plane bound north to Glasgow, Scotland.

The story goes on, but I would be remiss to mention that on Monday morning I apparently hit ‘snooze’ on my phone 17 times. A normally-would-be-sleeping-in 7:00 AM alarm turned into a 10 AM wakeup. Apparently the jet lag was finally being overcome! We were spent quite well from the conference, which was a pure joy. And the second leg of our journey had begun. In Glasgow we are visiting two missionary families, friends we know from the States, and who serve alongside one another albeit in two uniquely different church contexts in neighboring cities.

The ever-joyful Brian Luse picked us up at the Glasgow airport and drove us to join the end of the Sunday evening service at RE:HOPE Next Generation Bible Church in west Glasgow (Partick neighborhood). There we joined in the worship gathering until greeted with a hug by our gracious hosts, Scott and Monica Burns. We met “Scottica” when they were two single seminary students back in Portland at Multnomah Biblical Seminary. As God crossed our paths, our hearts were knit, and we knew that any trip to the UK must involve a glimpse of life and ministry of both faith-inspiring families.
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A quick update from London (day 1).

I think we are now a bit rested, though we have been on the go every since we left for the airport at noon on Thursday. Right now it is 5 PM here, though it is 9 AM back home in Oregon. A hour ago we video chatted with our kids, as they begun their day. Nana is taking great care of them! (Plus, we are so grateful for some really helpful technology!) One great piece of technology was inadvertently left at home — our new digital camera is waiting for us on the kitchen counter. (Oops!) So, as a result we likely will not have many photos to share.

The Single-Minded conference is going very well. A full group of singles from around England, representing I think a dozen churches. They are eager. Eager to listen to the Word, to learn, to grow, to encounter God. I dare say that they are rubbing off on me too — and not just because the voice in my head as I type this is narrating in a British accent! They’ve shown me what it means to be a people of the Book. They’re eager to hear God’s words, because they want to know God’s will, His ways, His worth. They want Him. We’ve spoken much about how Christianity is a Person, not a set of principles. You can apply yourself to all the principles in the world, but they will not in and of themselves change a person. We need the power of a new affection; we need Jesus. We need to rescue (save) us, and to change us. And so we are seeking to do what one friend on our missions team reminded me before we headed this way: “make Him famous.” He is worth being known, and we are seeking to make much of Him. May His name be great in this place!

I’ve really been struck by the community-minded nature of our fellows Brits. Someone said they would be stand-offish. Uh, nope. At least not these Brits. In our brief time with this group, we’ve notice how friendly they are, welcoming even. They are not into pretense and especially not overly into themselves. What a cup of cold water this is for this foreigner come across the pond to speak with them. They have welcomed us like old friends.

For the conference, our text has been Psalm 27. We’ve been all over Scripture but the main text in the first three sessions (see summaries by scrolling down under the “London” tag) have taken us through the first five verses of Psalm 27. In a couple hours we will pick up verses 6-9 in our fourth session — WORSHIP: the joyful sacrifice. I must especially applaud our hosts, Matt and Diana Kottman, who are as gracious as they are hardworking. They labor to shepherd this group well. Wow. They are brilliantly generous and full of courage.

London » HOPE: the courage to wait.

What makes waiting so hard?

Psalm 27:13-14:

13 I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living!
14 Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart take courage;
wait for the Lord!

We mentioned the first five themes for the Single-Minded conference we are speaking at, beginning tomorrow near London: confidence, vision, beautyworship. and consistency. The final theme:

#6 Hope: the courage to wait (Psalm 27:13-14).

We all are waiting for something. Not just singles. But it is true that many perhaps deep down still have the ache and longing for that glorious counterpart hand-picked by God. Whether waiting for a wedding or a job or a ministry opportunity or a change of scenery, we spend much of our life waiting. So we must learn how to do it well. God’s word is replete with exhortations to wait, and wait well. Will we wait on God or wait on circumstances? What is the difference and how can we tell? Here we’ll learn how to wait for the Lord with expectancy without expectation. With confidence and security we can be strong and let our hearts take courage and wait, wait for the LORD.

Married people can tell us how waiting for a spouse is a fruitless endeavor, for both husbands or wives make awful gods. Single people are not ‘waiting’ for their life to be meaningful, as if having a spouse is the end-game. (Or being in a relationship is all that matters.) Waiting for the LORD is the true joy; and because our Maker is our Husband, we can daily encounter the most loving, generous, courageous, and supportive spouse ever.

As Kari frequently writes, there is a world of difference between having expectations and living in expectancy.

London » the level path.

Consistency and stability are undervalued in our day. Why is that?

Psalm 27:10-12:

10 For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
but the Lord will take me in.

11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
and lead me on a level path
because of my enemies.
12 Give me not up to the will of my adversaries;
for false witnesses have risen against me,
and they breathe out violence.

We mentioned the four themes for the Single-Minded conference outside London: confidence, vision, beauty, and worship. Here’s a preview of the fifth theme, with one more to follow.

#5 Consistency: the level path (Psalm 27:10-12).

Few characteristics are more critical to the Christian life than consistency. In our experience, the single life can sometimes be characterized by extreme ups and downs, difficulty finding balance, and a challenge to develop the kind of structure and consistency so necessary for long-term growth. Certainly married folks struggle here too, but are often forced into structure and consistency due to the fact that a family depends on it! The “freedom” of singleness can be both blessing and curse. Too much downtime can lead to sin or unhealthy habits. Lack of accountability can lead to laziness. Freedom and flexibility in a schedule can lead to haphazard patterns of life. So ask, “Teach me your way, O Lord,” and we pray that He will “lead us on a level path.” A level life is a life of joy and stability, the soil where godly fruit can abound.

Verse 10 has been included with this session, for a related point shall be made: no matter our family of origin, and even the effect in our lives of years of hurts, habits or hangups along an un-level path, we can become new people with a new trajectory — and a level path — in life. What ‘has been’ does not have to remain the norm. The Gospel takes the can’ts and wont’s and remakes them into new people — who are being made new daily by the Spirit. The Father has welcomed us. We are His children. He will teach us His ways. In this session we will look at the daily practice of abiding in the presence of the Father, and preaching the Gospel to ourselves continually.

London » The joyful sacrifice.

Worship is our joyful sacrifice.

Psalm 27:6-10:

6 And now my head shall be lifted up
above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

7 Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud;
be gracious to me and answer me!
8 You have said, “Seek my face.”
My heart says to you,
“Your face, Lord, do I seek.”
9 Hide not your face from me.
Turn not your servant away in anger,
O you who have been my help.
Cast me not off; forsake me not,
O God of my salvation!
10 For my father and my mother have forsaken me,
but the Lord will take me in.

We mentioned the first (confidence),  second (vision), and third (beauty) themes for our speaking in London. Here’s a preview of the fourth theme, of six:

#4 Worship: The joyful sacrifice (Psalm 27:6-10).

Like beauty, we’ve missed the meaning of true worship. True worship, in Spirit and in truth, should encompass all of life. We worship through our work, our words, and our witness to the world (1 Peter 2). And as God delivers us from every evil, on a daily basis, our response should and will be a joyful sacrifice of praise. A loud sacrifice of praise – one of shouts and singing. We see from Psalm 27 that worship should be 1) Sacrificial, 2) Joyful, 3) Musical. The greatest battles have been won by worship in God’s Word, and our greatest battles demand that we not forsake this critical spiritual discipline in our daily lives.