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Tennessee Greasy Spoon

This morning I had a terrifying cross-cultural experience. I ate breakfast at the 1st Street Diner in Cleveland Tennessee. I'm here to do a wedding and Chris and the kids haven't yet joined me, so I was left alone to make these difficult decisions - like where to eat.

So I did a Google search for "local food" and it came up with the Diner. I drove on down and bellied up to the bar (literally). They cooked my eggs, bacon and pancakes five feet in front of my face on a sizzling grill with more grease on it than food. The waitress called me "honey" and all the men talked about God, guns and their truck. Every one made me look small.

I tried to look "local" and blend in, but I was outed when the man next to me flashed his toothless smile and said "Where ya from son?" I mumbled something and then he asked me what I was reading - I was the only one reading a book.

Here's the funny thing about the whole morning. I was reading a book I brought back from England called Distinctly Welcoming - Christian Presence in a Multi Faith Society. I just flew in from a very post Christian U.K. and now here I was - reading a book about how to live out our faith in meaningful ways in this new flat world we live in - but I was doing it in the middle of the most funny of places.

Don't get me wrong. I grew up as a gun-toting, God-loving, Republican, white male. (I still am several of those things, by the way). But when my new toothless friend asked me what I was reading - I really didn't know how to explain it. Maybe I underestimated him. Probably. But I just didn't think he'd understand. Here I was, a fish out of water in my own country.

Funny thing is, while in England, even though I was officially a foreigner, I felt quite at home. Partially because I was among friends, but also because I saw Muslims everywhere. Now back in the country where the passport control agent welcomed me "home," I felt very lost. Not quite at home either here or there.

What might I learn from my "Greasy Spoon versus England" encounter? This is what I'm thinking:

1. About 5% of people in the United Kingdom would say they believe in Jesus as the way and do something about it. Nearly 40% of Americans would say the same. But I'm not sure there's any substantial difference between the two places. America is far more "Christian" in culture but we are losing the same battles that they are - and at the same pace.

2. Here in the Bible Belt, where nearly everyone would call themselves Christian, the divorce rate is just as high as everywhere else. Drugs and alcohol are everywhere and yet the churches are full on Sunday (and their are churches on every corner). I just had lunch today with a local pastor in Chattanooga and he claims that his county is the most churched county in America and yet has an unbelievably high rate of crime and all the same sins as the rest of the country. Doesn't surprise me, but it sure seems weird.

3. In England, the church (the real body of Christ there) knows it is light in a dark place. I'm not sure the church here does. We're still hoping to get back to the good-ole-days when things were even more "Christian." But we're already more "Christian" and that isn't doing it. Are we being fooled by that word? Whether someone calls themselves "Christian" or a "nothing" does it really matter if they aren't actually following Jesus?

What if Jesus came to turn the world upside down? To give us new life, not just in a personal way, but also in a public way. To change our nations by fully changing our hearts. I know we believe this, but do we really? And if so, maybe the church in Great Britain is better situated then we are - they're not just happy "being Christian" - because they're not. They see the issues clearly and are preparing for a harvest.

Finally, I'm left wondering if feeling like an outsider is a good thing. We're not really at home here. Are we feeling a bit too comfortable? Where is home?

And maybe that's a part of being like Jesus - he wasn't quite at home here either. He was both a compassionate outsider and a prophetic insider. Can we be both?

We're not "Missionaries"

I was talking to our oldest, Anna, the other day about college scholarships (what else).  I mentioned that Taylor University might have some scholarship money for MK's - Missionary Kids.  

She looked at me funny and said "So...."  I think I replied with "Huh?"  And then she said "What." And so on...

I told her it could be free money for her. She had no idea what I was talking about.  "Why me," she asked, "we aren't missionaries."  

I acknowledged that technically speaking it is a little harder sell to convince the financial world we're officially missionaries now that we've been in America for nearly five years, but we were when we lived in Lebanon for sure.

I could tell she was so confused. Remember, this is our very bright 18 year old daughter who wants to be an international journalist.  

I asked her what she thought we were doing while in Lebanon. Her answer was as shocking as it was insightful.  "We were just living in Lebanon as regular people loving others in Jesus' name. All our friends were Lebanese. "Missionaries" don't do that. They don't hang out with the local people as much as we did. They do projects."

Wow.  I'm not sure she's totally right, but it was her perspective.  We were just "living with our Lebanese friends and loving people."  May it have been so.

Without knowing it, she summarized the style of life we've adopted. It is a bit strange, I have to admit. When people ask me what I do, I often say "build friendships around the world." Or I might say "try to follow Jesus and act like he acted - although not very well."

Chris and I (and the kids) take the great commandment as seriously as we can - love God and love people. There is nothing more or better to do than that.   

Friendships. Jesus.  Building real and lasting friendships around Christ is the most profound thing we can do.  Encouraging those friends to love other friends and simply fan the flames of God's spirit as he brings people together.  

This is what we do. In the Middle East. In Highlands Ranch.  Hopefully wherever we are. Is this being a "Missionary?"  Well, I hope it is for the sake of the college scholarship.   :)


Angry at Church and Christianity!

I hear that more and more.  Nearly every time I speak somewhere, I have a handful of people who come to me and share some painful experience they've had with the church or Christianity (whatever they might think that means).  What it really means is that they've been hurt by someone. People. Those darn people.  Thankfully, I'm not one of them.  :)  

There are several responses I see these days from the people who have been hurt by people:

1.  They leave the "church" altogether hoping that will help.

2.  They stay in the church but guard their hearts.  

3.   They go to a new church or start a "home church."

Guess what the problem is with each of these responses. Did you guess it?  It's obvious. There are still people wherever they go.  "People" is one thing you can't get away from.  Even you (reading this) might be one of "them."  A "people."  Not one of "those" types, but possibly some type.  

A wise man told me once that whenever I'm hurt or confused I should go back to the last thing that I think God said, and keep doing that.  Another way to say this is - stay put.  When in doubt, don't leave.  

Even a wiser man said (I think it may have been a Palestinian Jew a couple thousand years ago, but I think he may still be right) - that we should work things out. Go to those "people" who are being jerks and make it right. Even if it's not your fault (and is it ever my fault)?        :)

Stay.  Work it out.  You can't escape people.  And it might just be God's plan that we make the world  a better place through the pain and joys of relationships. Good old fashioned, sloppy, hard relationships.  Maybe.

Another Man's Bus

We left Bethlehem last Monday morning to go back across the border into Jordan to visit Rob who was in a serious car accident. From Bethlehem to Jerusalem is about 10 miles. From there to the Jordanian border is another 20 miles. (Down the valley and past Jericho). Should take about 45 minutes. But it takes several hours.

Rick and I planned to take a taxi from our hotel either all the way to the border, or into Jerusalem and then get another to the border. Neither worked out. Our hotel informed us that "Today there are no taxis into Jerusalem allowed." So we walked to the "security fence" (which is a 20 foot high and 6 foot wide concrete wall separating Bethlehem and much of the West Bank from Israel proper). To get through the wall we had to walk through several hundred yards of turnstiles and ziz-zagging fences which lead up to an airport-like security check. My friend Rick and I were the only foreigners - all the others were Palestinians trying to go to Jerusalem to visit family or to their jobs. They do this (both ways) every day.

It was my turn to put my things on the conveyor belt and pass through the metal detector. I buzzed. Oops. A young Israeli girl behind the glass yelled at me in Hebrew. I assumed it meant "go back you beeped" or something to that effect. So I did. I took anything else in my pockets out and placed them on the conveyor belt. I turned and walked back through the beeper thing, now conscious that all eyes were on me and waiting impatiently for their turn at this task. The thing beeped again. This time the yelling was louder with a more-than-annoyed hint in the voice. I looked at the girl with the Uzzi and raised my hands, palms up with an expression of "what do I do now." She must have recognized the dumb foreigner look as she then said to me in English, "Do you have a passport?" I held up my blue American one and she simply said "Go."

We then caught a local taxi - a Jerusalem taxi allowed only on that "side" of the wall - and went all the way to the border. Well, actually not ALL the way. He wasn't allowed to go any closer than about a mile from the actual border, so we got dropped off in the middle of the desert to get another taxi that could take us all the way "in."

Once through passport control we had to take a bus across the Jordan River and the no-man's-land to the Jordan side. Rick and I walked out of the passport office and there were two buses waiting there. I asked a guy "Which bus goes first" and he pointed at the one. We noticed as we were getting in that this bus was extremely dirty. Filthy actually. And there was no air conditioning.

As soon as we got on I noticed that they were all Palestinians on this bus. Immediately a lady holding her young son said to us in near-perfect English, "This is the bus for the Palestinians. You need to be on that other bus. It's for foreigners and tourists." I responded, "Oh that's okay, we don't mind coming with you". She said, "Well, thank you, but you can't. You HAVE to go on that bus."

Slightly embarrassed by the whole thing, we said we'd check and stepped off the bus. The other bus was clean and air conditioned. I asked someone else and they said yes, it was true that this was the bus we had to take. The other bus was only for Palestinians and it went to a "special" check point at the border that would take us hours longer - and anyway, we couldn't go on that bus even if we wanted to.

I went back to the dirty bus and told the lady with the son - and everyone else - that we were sorry for this. And that we felt with them and yet had to go on the other bus. They all smiled and said "thank you" and "we know."

I find myself asking more and more, what does God think about this? What does he think about injustice and how we treat foreigners and the least of these? How does he want us to treat the outsiders? The outcasts? The other?

I'm pretty sure I know what he thinks - so what then should I think? And do?

In Beirut

We're at the end of our third day in Lebanon. Incredible. We've literally seen 100's of people. Lebanese, Palestinians, Shi'ites, Sunni, Druze and Christian. From the north to the south. Lots of old friends and making some new ones.

Once again I'm astounded by the open hearts towards the good news of Jesus Christ. The pastors that we brought are also amazed by the openess of the people.

Please continue to pray for us as we travel tomorrow morning (Friday) to Syria and then on to Jordan.

Two of the guys are sick, so pray for them too...

I'll give details when I get back - but for now....with love and grace



Jonathan sent me this question recently:

"I understand most of what you are saying regarding following Jesus, however when do we draw the line on what's right and what's wrong? When it is "Ok" to confront someone when we see they are destroying there life? For example: I have had several openly gay friends who might call themselves followers of Jesus but they don't see a need to change their lifestyle and if they are confronted to do so they immediately get defensive if they are confronted and say that church people are hateful and narrow minded. (As a disclaimer I have never told them they are wrong and are going to burn) I guess what I'm saying is when is it Ok to confront? I am having a difficult time understanding what the Bible teaches regarding this matter. I do not however want to condemn and preach at people about what's right and what's wrong regarding this either."


Dear Confused,

Good question. When is confronting someone right? Is it ever good to tell someone the "full story" right up front rather than being nice and smooth and all slick....

Yes. That's the answer. There is a time. Clearly, if you look at the life of Jesus (which I hope we're all doing) you see times when he confronts. He tends to save the harshest confrontations for the religious leaders. But he can also be pretty hard on his disciples.

However, the one group that he's almost over-the-top nice to are the outsiders. Not just any old sinners (we're all that), but the lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors and the like. He lavished grace on them.

So....I think there are two keys:

1. Being led by the Spirit. Not having a set formula that we give to everyone.

2. Knowing the person. If they are a person who thinks of them self as an outsider, hurt or wounded - then pouncing on them with the 4 Spiritual Laws, might not be right.

Now your situation is a bit of both. Your gay friend is coming to church but still living in a life of sin. What do you do? I would say kick him out of the soon as you kick out the gossips, liers and adulterers. Jesus has a lot to say about those types. But as long as we're loving and accepting those sinners, we might as well accept your friend too...

This does NOT mean that you don't speak truth to him. Love him and point him to Jesus. Pray for him and encourage him to have the best Jesus has to offer. He's settling for less than the best. Call him to truly come out, but coming to Jesus! The feast is set for him and it's SO good!



I've always heard that fame, fortune or females can cause a guy problems. Not sure it's a fair thing to say, but I've often heard that.

I do know that my main female (Chris) has not only NOT brought me down, but continually lifts me up....but hey, that's not the thought I was going to share.

The first time I spoke publicly (and someone listened) was in our little church in Colorado Springs in 1992 the week before we left as a family to Beirut. I had never been asked to speak anywhere before. I was 30 at the time.

The most famous person I knew was my dad.

I had never seen more than a couple of thousand dollars and didn't know anyone who would be called a "Millionaire."

Not only was I not famous, I didn't know anyone who was or anyone who knew anyone who was famous.

I can remember sitting in churches thinking "I wonder what it's like to be able to stand up there and talk to all of these people out here and actually make sense?" I wasn't asking the question of myself - just a general thought. I never knew an author - well the first was probably Ted Dekker (and I tried to talk him out of it when he suggested that he wanted to write).

So it feels funny when people "know me." They've heard me speak. They listened to a CD or read my book - or seen some articles. And they know my name. I don't always know theirs, but they know mine. They say nice things like "I like listening to you." Or "I bought several copies of your books and passed them around."

But, strangely, I've found the loneliest place to be when I travel. More and more, I can't wait to be home. I've never been accused of being a home-body. Hardly. But I really have a handful of friends, and my family, who know me. Really know me. And it feels good to be known.

Fame (being "known" by a large number of people) is not bad - it just is. But it tries to fill the void of being "known" and doesn't succeed. It's fun having accolades and fans - I think I have a whopping 25 people who now follow this blog - but I need to know and be known.

And I love that it's Jesus himself who knows me best. It's not always comfortable knowing that, but it's good. And may I never trade the false "known-ness" of a large speaking deal for the realness of my closest friends and family....and Jesus!


I feel like I'm blind at least half the time. I can't see tomorrow or even the next minute. I haven't been to most the places I go - metaphorically speaking.

Faith is being sure of what you don't see...

That's the problem with faith. If you can see it, it's not faith. It's the reward of faith possibly, but not faith itself.

I'm realizing more and more that my problem really is a lack of faith. Here's how I "see" it:

We're working really hard and helping the people of Gaza, but so far haven't done anything but collect some money. Faith?

We're at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC for the 11th year in a row, but have we changed the world? Faith?

I first went to the Middle East to bring some hope and life from Christ in 1983. Is there now hope and life? Faith?

What if a good word-picture for faith is this... I'm blind. I can only see with and through the eyes of Jesus. I can't move without him. I can only see what he sees. Like a blind man being led by his master.

What if I was okay with that? And I didn't know all the results. I never knew the results. I walked blindly with Jesus. Would that be okay? Is that enough? Is there more?

Maybe that kind of "blind" is what it means to really see!


According to Isaiah in the 58th Chapter....

Fasting and other spiritual disciplines (prayer, studying the scriptures) are good and bear much fruit in our lives and work.

But there is another kind of "fast" that the Prophets talk about as well as Jesus (Matthew 25): that's the fast of taking action. It's to "loose the chains of injustice and set the oppressed share your food with the hungry."

I wonder if we, as the hands and feet of Jesus on earth should retreat less and advance more? More action, less thinking? Not so many strategy and prayer meetings, but a prayer on the go that God would speak! And he has. Go!

Remember Keith Green? He used to say "what part of the word 'go' don't you understand?" He was crazy eh? Or not...?

That's what I'm thinking about today for Gaza. What does it mean to "go?" What would be the True Fast for the people of God in response to Gaza?

I think I know what it means for me. Do you?


I'm reading three books at the same time (as usual). Two by Shane Claiborne and one by Rob Bell. They're not for the faint of heart. Not sure I'd even recommend them they're so radical. If you feel adventurous, they're called "The Irresistible Revolution," "Jesus for President"and "Jesus wants to Save Christians." All pretty wild.

The point of these books - and the Bible in many ways - is that Jesus came to bring a new kingdom. A totally different way of life. That religious business as usual was over and there was a new way, a new king, a new life. And it was pretty much upside down/backwards from all they had known. It still is today.

I am constantly asked what I think the "answer" is in the Middle East. I always say "Jesus" and then people laugh and say "No, but seriously." Hmmmm? How about "The way of Jesus." That's an even better answer. So...what's his "way" in a time like now?

Would Jesus kill the terrorists or root out the insurgents? Would he ask us to do that? Or is there another way?

What did he model? How did he live? How did he treat actual bad guys? What about Occupiers? How were the ones with the power to treat the ones without power?

These are real questions that he actually answered in both his teaching and his life.

So how do we answer those questions? There are answers we just don't like them. But they will bring life! Live or die? The choice is ours for our own lives and for the lives of others. Which do we choose?