21 January 2019

The Power of Stories


The New Testament Scholar N. T. Wright said that stories provide a vital framework for experiencing the world. They also provide a means by which views of the world may be changed. “Stories are, actually, peculiarly good at modifying or subverting other stories and their worldviews.” -Vision of the Possible, p.275
            Myth and experience have a fascinating relationship. A culture’s experiences affect their mythology and myths affect a culture’s experiences. This cyclical process is always in flux. The dynamic nature of experience is a topic that is not often discusses in church planting conversations. Wright tells us that experience is scaffolded by stories (myths). The effect of this is that the same reality experienced by people with different mythologies can code distinctively different memories. Perception is highly impacted by the stories we tell ourselves. In fact, it takes intellectual effort and faith to hold to a singular understanding of reality.
            Why are memories to different within a group of common participants? This question is not easily answered. It is a complex problem where theologians, philosophers, linguists, psychologist, and neurologist rarely gain precious ground. The mysteries of human cognition do to not give up their secrets easily.
            Where cognition intersects our work as church planters is at the point of worldview. The conversion to Christ is a reorientation of one’s worldview core. Salvation requires a marked change in worldview or there is no rebirth of the soul.
            How is it possible for me to affect the unseen worldview of an individual? I cannot sway their soul or save them by my human will, but I can impact their story. Much of our world is mediated by language and humans are good at influencing the minds of others with the use of language. Language provides a powerful opportunity to present new stories, which are, then, either affirmed or negated by future experiences. However, new stories are not often completely rejected but refined through experience. New stories are not only affected by experience but from other stories already residing in the worldview. The deeper the story in a person’s worldview the more pressure it applies to new stories to get in line with the values and beliefs of the more established stories.
            This process of story integration is most active in evangelism and discipleship not in salivation, which is true revelation. Story integration is a slow process, whereby truth is organized and false truths are exposed. This can remove barriers to salvation and accelerate spiritual growth but is insufficient to save. Salvation is not a cognitive process it is a work of the Holy Spirit.
            I have, too often, seen evangelism as a formula. Teach good stories to expel the bad stories and God must save the person because my evangelistic expertise. This is far from reality. Early in my career as a missionary, I erred on the opposite side and presented an incomplete Gospel and expected that through prayer and the person’s desire to better their life, salvation was inevitable. A person cannot believe in what they have not been told (see Romans 10:14). Herein we see the interplay of our effort as ministers, man’s free will, and the action of the Holy Spirit.       

07 September 2018

Organic Farming and My Sex Life (3 of 3)

       The National Gardening Association reports that the average home garden in the United States yields $600 worth of produce per gardening family, with an investment of only $70. This converts into $21 billion not spent in U.S. supermarkets. This $21 billion pays little tax, no executive salaries, no transport or fuel cost, and no money leaves your home.1          
          What do you think a consumer based economy thinks of people choosing to produce that which they consume? Eating from your own garden is a threat to our present economy. Why? They need our money to keep the machine running. As a result of post WWII industrialism, family farms, which were at least in part subsistence communities, were forced to specialize. We were told to sell what we produce for paper money then go to town and buy from great big stores. Thus, American consumerism was born.
          Consumerism is aggressively targeting every aspect of your life. This is what we call advertising. The goal of advertising in our generation is to manufacturer discontent–to leave us wanting more. Producers want us to be dissatisfied with what we already have or could produce ourselves in order to entice us to buy their products. And spend we do. We buy clothes to portray an unauthentic image and eat food for entertainment alone, but they didn't stop there.
          Now my generation is being attacked by a wholly destructive industry–Pornography. 
          Each year the porn industry makes no less than 10 billion dollars off of Americans alone.2 There's big money to be made in the sale and consumption of porn and porn-related products, as well as, huge advertising profits in generating traffic to "free" porn sites.
          Can you imagine the threat healthy marriages are to this multi-billion dollar industry? The pleasure you produce and enjoy does not directly participate in a consumer based economy. It is produced locally and tax-free. No wonder my email receives a constant trickle of trash trying to seduce me into paying for my pleasure. 
     Porn is the bottled water of sex. I have a tap in my kitchen, which produces the water I drink, but I have to fill the glass; or not, for a small fee, bottled water comes pre-filled and ready for consumption. As consumers we prefer to exchange revenue for the goods we need. Growing a garden takes a lot of work, as a gardener I know. But our vegetables are sweeter and less contaminated than the supermarket's; and so is our bedroom.     
     The effect of our love moves beyond us. The love or lack of love we produce becomes the garden we raise our children in. It is the back drop of every other relationship in our lives. The love of a husband  only produces fulfillment when expressed to the wife it was designated for. 
     Poets, artist, and theologians have described the nature of love from every angle. Literature and music are filled with the reverberations of humans trying to cope with the love bursting within us all. But love is not homogeneous. The love inside my heart is made up of a spectrum of loves. The challenge of existence is knowing our loves to the point of knowing which direction they each point and then releasing our love in that direction. 
     Consumerism is not concerned with helping you understand your loves. They'd rather tell you which of their products you should love. So much heartache has been experienced by people tying to love the right object with the wrong love. My children-directed-love doesn't work on my wife and my God-directed-love doesn't work on anyone but God. Love comes with labels. Our loves are like Christmas gifts under a tree. We must take the time to read the name tags.
     Sadly, many people have given out the wrong gifts. The wrong gift to the right person creates frustration. My friends are not my wife and my wife is not my God. 
     If you don't declare your loves, consumerism will declare them for you. You will be tossed by fads and trends, not only in what you wear, but in the friends you pick and the values you affirm. Never has a culture touted itself as a comprehensive worldview with only empty promises and products due to be obsolete by next Christmas.  
     Pornography does not fulfill it entices. It is designed to always leave you wanting and wanting more. Love fulfills. It fills us up. That is what it's designed to do. Every true love draws us in a God-ward direction because every true love is loving God. Pornography thrives on our lust, not only for sex, but for what is next. It is a prison and misery makes the bars. Love is freedom. In marriage, we are given the canvas upon which we create our own masterpiece. In marriage, we are given the pages upon which we write our own love story. We are the artists. We, above all, value our art. It is ours, unique to us. May we never plagiarize.  
     Live in the garden of your love and love the garden you live in. It is yours. Your gift from God.                                                     

1 http://www.gardenresearch.com/files/2009-Impact-of-Gardening-in-America-White-Paper.pdf
2 http://www.covenanteyes.com/2012/06/01/how-big-is-the-pornography-industry-in-the-united-states/

01 August 2018

The Two Shall Become One (2 of 3)

          10 years after the event and I find myself telling "our story" as often as ever. Someone says, "So how did you and your wife meet?" I just smile and ask, "Do you want the long or short version?" I love telling either and if you have the time, I'll show you the pictures. These past ten years have been a wonderful adventure of life together with Maridith. We have had failures, victories, pain, and joy.    
     Our marriage is not easy because marriage is not easy. If you know us, you know we are fire and ice. It doesn't take much to put us into a free-fall as we try to hold on to each other but are pulled in different directions by this marriage's great antagonists... us.
          We are the ones that push each other away. We are who we have to fight to make this thing work. The pride and selfishness that festers within us can be defeated.  And this is what we do. This is what I have learned.

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.-Genesis 2:24

     The idea that we are now "one flesh" provides spouses a great advantage, if we can truly see each other as one flesh. But, more often then not it is me and my flesh against my wife and her flesh...this we call an argument. 
          Our marriage is at its best when we are on the same side in the battle against our flesh and the troubles of this world. I can be a real meanie some days when my emotions put me at odds with Maridith. Yet, the victories are found when I realize that we are one flesh and I step over to Maridith's side and we work through the problem together. This is never harder than when the problem is me, but still I have to hold tight to Maridith and realize that we are on the same team. She is the help that God has given me and together we can work though any difficulty together. 
          So, I'll keep telling our story, which is getting longer and more beautiful with each passing year. 

15 February 2018

Husbands, Wives, and Potatoes (1 of 3)

          What does it mean to be a husband? Well, if I can geek-out a bit, the etymology of the word is a combination of two Old Norse words. The first word Hūs, simply means house. The second word is bóndi; a really cool and complex word. A bóndi was a term identifying a man who farmed his own land. This is in contrast to a farmhand or sharecropper, who farms land owned by another. If you worked the fields of another man you were not consider a bóndi. 
     As I write this, I'm reminded of my grandfather–a man who farmed his own land all his life. Many years ago my grandfather gave me this piece of advise: "Son, love has got to be cultivated." And he was right. 
          Now, in my tenth year of marriage and two small boys, I'm learning the severity of my grandfather's words. 
          When my papaw used the word cultivate it had a different meaning than today's usage.   Cultivation for my grandfather's generation was something a farmer did continuously. It was a cycle of affection and respect for the land that God had blessed him with in stewardship. I'm not being dramatic. My grandfather dearly loved the land he lived on and he did live on the land not simply above it, like so many today. 
          He saw his efforts in partnership with the land. He cared for the land and the land responded to his care. In his day they talked about soil husbandry, not soil science. He was the husbandman of his land. This might sound trite to farmers who consider themselves agribusinessmen and view their land in terms of economics and industry. But, I digress.     
          When I was about 10 years of age, my grandfather gave me a row in his garden–a great honor indeed. I planted the mess of potatoes my father had given me. I enjoyed that single row of potatoes and liked the responsibility. 
          One day, I went to water my little plants and noticed something dreadful; potato bugs were eating the young shoots. I ran to my grandfather and told him what had happened. He said, "Well, go pull the bugs off". I didn't like this answer and asked him for "some chemical" to kill the bugs. He snapped at me and said I shouldn't use a chemical for a job that I needed to do myself. He was teaching me real cultivation, true husbandry. So, I went out and squashed the bugs. I'd go out twice a day and kill dozens of parasites. 
          I was defending my little potatoes from pests. This was my row and my grandfather made sure that I cultivated it from planting, to harvest, to preparing the soil for the next year. This was my responsibility. I shudder when I hear machines referred to as cultivators and chemicals used in place of available labor. Twenty years later and I still cultivate a garden in the backyard and in the home. I am the husband. I am the hūsbóndi. I can't leave the leadership of my family to a person, book, pastor, chemical, or machine and still call myself the husband. 
          Sadly, many men don't feel the same way. They reduce the responsibility of the husband to simply making money and paying others to influence their wives and raise their children. And even more tragically, some men are working fields that don't even belong to them. Men, we must cultivate the love of our wives, maintain our own homes in love, train our children with affection, and at times, defend them from the pests.                  

22 January 2018

Religion, Science, & my Personal Philosopy on a Christian's Education

Education is impossible to avoid. We don’t choose to be educated or non-educated. The only options we have are what we are educated in and the level of education we obtain. The human brain is an amazing creation. The brain can process massive amounts of information from multiple sources. Our brains are constantly coding information into our storage systems while refining sensory modules to process information more efficiently. We have the ability to naturally learn our first language with amazing speed and effectiveness. We can call multiple factors to the fore of minds, reconcile schedules, relationships, preferences, and past experiences as we work up the courage to ask a friend to lunch. But our brains are far more than computational processors or storage devices. Our brains produce beauty and evil. The same species that is responsible for the hydrogen bomb also produced Handel's Messiah. The Imago Dei which rests upon every human being is by its own nature creative. Education should magnify the image of God: what we produce becomes more godly as we become more educated.

It is the educational responsibility of the believer to seek alignment with the mind of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). This is not easy. The world we live in is opposed to our conformation to Jesus. The development of our minds is a battle ground where holy and unholy ideas compete. Education, when done properly, enlightens our minds to God’s truths affirmed and found in Scripture: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing, you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

A Christian worldview is difficult to develop as biblical truths must be learned in order to counter unhealthy thinking. The Spirit of God is pressing us to become a more perfect image of Jesus. The world we live in imposes an opposition pressure to be conformed to the culture of our surroundings. Education is the holistic development of the person through moment by moment sensory input. The information processed by our senses molds our being into an image of our mental content. May the believer follow the admonishment of the Apostle Paul to think on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praise worthy (Philippians 4:8).

My philosophy of education is founded on my philosophy of existence. I believe the world to be more than the complex interplay of energy and matter. God is a force that supersedes our materialistic universe. God can interact with his creation at will. In his interaction with humans we are taken outside of a mechanistic universe as we move beyond the natural forces that effect the world. This is not an unusual occurrence and the supernatural working of God happens every time a human is brought into fellowship with him through salvation in Jesus. Salvation is a special type of education, which is the illumination of God in man.

The pursuit of knowledge is a pursuit of God. Again, the Apostle Paul says, “in [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). The truest wisdom and knowledge is found in Christ and made known to man through divine revelation. God makes himself known to every human through his created order (Romans 1:20). However, this general revelation of God to humans teaches us about God and how he works but doesn’t show us how to have a relationship with God. This only comes through God’s specific revelation of Jesus as Savior recorded in the New Testament (Hebrews 1:1-2).

It is my educational philosophy that every believer, after he or she is illuminated through God’s special revelation of Jesus, should pursue knowing God better through his Scriptures and his creation. By studying nature, we study the nature of God. His creative works reveal what type of God we worship. By studying the Social Sciences, we study God’s special creation and understand better the human condition. Humans produce an array of languages and cultures. By knowing more about human social systems, we know how to better win the members of these systems to Christ.

Before the ascension, Jesus told his followers that “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). The church has been given a great commission to make the Gospel accessible to every people group. By studying human societies and cultures, the church will know how to best to communicate the Gospel and fulfill the command of Christ to “go and make disciples of every nation” (Matthew 28:19). My educational philosophy is based on the church’s responsibility to take the message of Jesus to all the world. The reason why we educate ourselves is to know God more. The reason why we educate others is that they may know God more.

Educating others is required by Scripture. Paul states that Christian leaders must be able to teach: “The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2). Every believer, like every other human, is in a constant state of cognitive development. It is the responsibility of Christian leaders to teach from a Christian worldview. Many of those within the church have a severely underdeveloped Christian worldview. The average church member has a worldview more in line with others of the same political party than with those of the same faith. A Republican Christian’s worldview has more in common with a Republican non-Christian, than with a Democrat within the same church. This anecdote brings to light a failure of the church to educate in a way that impacts not only how we act but how we think.

A Christian worldview should permeate our teaching. A student should have a fundamentally different experience in relation to the faith of the teacher. A Muslim, Christian, or atheist will teach the very same subjects from a different worldview. This is not limited to religious education but should be evident in any subject including the Arts and Sciences. Christians in every academic discipline should press hard to discover what God has hidden within these fields, which will bring glory to him. As a church planter, I have benefited greatly from modern advancements in Anthropology, Sociology, and Ethnography. Woefully, much of what missionaries use today in cross-cultural ministry was given to the church from the Academy.

If we are teachers, what should we teach and is the scope of our teaching limited? The approach of our teaching must be twofold: we must keep Scripture as our authority and we must seek to understand the world we live in. The authority of Scripture is foundational and serves as ballast in our lives keeping us upright before God. Our devotion to scripture serves as a counterbalance to all other educational pursuits. With Scripture as our equipoise Christians can pursue all fields of knowledge with courage.

Because I believe in the security of the believer I do not fear that any educational direction can separate me from my relationship with God. My study of Linguistics and Anthropology has made me a better Christian. My desire to study the Social Sciences requires me to deepen my understanding of Scripture to maintain a balanced view of the world in relation to biblical truths.  

16 January 2018

Let me introduce myself. I'm Robert and this is the story of my life part-one...

     I look back on the early part of my life with little regret and a grateful heart. My family has been blessed with a strong Christian foundation. Both my grandfathers were Christians. These men were faithful believers whose faith in Christ greatly influenced me in my childhood. Also, my mother and father were powerful examples of lives lived in devotion to Christ.

     I was born in Fort Worth, TX while my father, Bob Lane, was a student. I’m the youngest of four, the only boy, and deeply grateful for my three older sisters. Each would later marry full-time ministers. They all remain ministering families to this day. My birth certificate identifies my mother as a homemaker and my father as a grocery clerk. We were a humble family, living in a small house near the Seminary. Money was tight, as it still is, but we enjoyed the closeness of family and the joy that comes in service to Christ.

     Shortly after I was born my father and mother decided to return to Memphis, TN, where we moved into a house near my paternal grandparents. I have many fond memories of these small years. During this time my father served on staff at two large Baptist churches, but he knew that God had called him to a senior pastor role. This was confirmed when my father was called to pastor a small country church in Tipton County called Faith Baptist Church. I was four-years-old when we moved to Tipton County and my real boyhood began.

     In the summer of 1989, I attended our church’s Backyard Bible Club and it was there that I first remember hearing the story of Jesus Christ. As our neighbor told the simple Gospel story my mind and heart were opened and I was impressed with the desire to give my life to Jesus. I talked with both my mother and father about this. I remember my father walking me through what the Bible teaches on salvation and what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. I was ready. On August 8, 1989, I was baptized in the presence of Faith Baptist Church. My life had been changed and the joy I found in Christ was to follow me throughout childhood.

     I remember the first person I led to faith in Jesus, his name was Dennis. He was my fifth-grade friend and I was amazed when he asked Jesus into his heart in the back of class before the bell rang. I tried to live out my faith during these school years and found great encouragement when other friends would come to faith in Jesus. In high school, I volunteered with my Church’s children’s department and I led Bible studies in different places in my town.

     At eighteen, I felt a different calling coming from the Lord. I knew that God wanted me to do something but I did not know what. I had recently graduated high school, found a job as a warehouse worker, and started night classes at a local community college. My life was to change when I met a local minister, Phil Wade, who was teaching a Bible study at my college. Pastor Phil began to challenge my way of thinking and helped me to look at ministry in a new way. I assumed that a call to the ministry gave me only two options: youth pastor or preacher. Neither of these positions seemed right for me. With the advice of Pastor Phil, I left home for my first great adventure. I moved to Andrews, NC and began a lifelong relationship with a Christian camp called Snowbird Wilderness Outfitters. I arrived the day after my twentieth birthday. I was immediately impressed to see young men and women living out their faith in a truly authentic way. I realized so much of my Christian life was underdeveloped.

     At Snowbird, I was taught how to memorize and study the Scriptures. I grew in depth and maturity. I felt that every part of my being was being challenged. I had never had this level of mentorship and intentional accountability. During my first summer at Snowbird, I heard of something called an unreached people group. Previously, I figured that everyone had at least some idea of who Jesus was. I was wrong. The fact that there were millions of people still lacking in their understanding of the Gospel cut me to my core. I had to respond. At the end of the summer, I called the IMB. I don’t remember who picked up the phone, but I told them my story. I thought there was no way I would qualify with my few community college classes. The lady on the other end of the line told me to apply for an ISC position–these were Journeymen-type jobs without the educational requirements. I was elated.   

     I set a two-year timeline for myself. During this time, I worked hard in ministry and mentorship, I studied mechanics in college, and took a semester off to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. All of these activities helped to ready me for the mission field, but none more than being part of a small group of people that would plant a Church that today has become a sending church to the uttermost parts of the earth. The church is called Red Oak (SBC) and as been my sending church since my first mission trip. I was a young member of the church and had little to offer, but I gave all I had. I watched as God took a small group of men and women and formed us into a church for his glory with global consequences. I was sent out from that church in May of 2006. I was heading to the Jungles of Peru to work with the IMB’s Extreme Team for the next two years.

     My time in the jungle was the most difficult thing I had ever attempted. I was given four month of training; all with nationals–none of whom were English speakers. And then I was given two words: Yaminahua and Jurua. The first was the name of an unreached unengaged people group and the second was the river where they were known to live. My partner was an indigenous man from Columbia named Efrain. Efrain and I would become dear brothers and remain so to this day. We were flown out to the Jurua in a small bush plane and arranged a time to be picked up at that same remote airstrip four months later. This was the first of three trips into the Jungle where my life would forever change. We lived in an elevated hut near the river. We hunted for our food. The Yaminahua are a foraging society which meant we had a lot to learn. Like all the men we took game with a crude shotgun and shells were used like currency.

     We studied their language and later began to teach Bible stories among the few believers in the community who were helping SIL/Wycliffe to translate the Scriptures into their language. Gradually, I became more comfortable in the local language and knew that God had called me to study linguistics in the future. After completing my two years, I was eager to return to the field but I knew there were other things to do first.

     Earlier in the story we met Pastor Phil. Well, he had a daughter; Maridith, who I had developed a deep respect and attraction to. We had worked together at Snowbird and while I was in Peru she was in Honduras helping to start a bilingual Christian school in Tegucigalpa. We returned to the US at the same time and in the summer of 2008 Pastor Phil became my father-in-law. 
     Maridith and I were married in Andrews, NC in the presence of our church, family, and friends. This day was the happiest of my young life and we were off to attempt great things for Christ together. Our adventures in following Jesus continue to change my life. Maridith has been a wonderful companion and challenging influence in my life. My love for her is deep as I am deeply indebted to her refining love for me... Cont.

02 August 2016

A Poem to My Boys

My daddy, he loves me 
He is very strong
And he will protect me all the day long 

But there is another
Who's stronger than him 
Jesus, my Saviour, who saves me from sin