American church

Dancing in Zimbabwe (and a snake for Holy Week?)

We have been in Zimbabwe and Botswana this week, talking to so many people, learning as much as we can. Which meant visiting a snake rehab center where a python took a liking to my hair. (This was a "haaaa!" and "yuck" moment both at the same time.)

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(No, at this point in the encounter, I think I'm well on the yuck side of the scale . ..)

But the best day was Sunday. In church. A Baptist church, of sorts. Some very kind people gave us a great gift there. They don't have much. They don't have cars; many don't have jobs. They don't have a church building of their own. Some live without electricity. But let me show you what they do have!

 

 

We got to be part of this joy and worship for 3 hours. We walked a long way in the hot sun to this gathering with the woman who cleans the house we are staying in. By the time we entered the church, in a concrete block building with concrete benches, the congregation was already in full voice.

They sang in several languages, only once in English, but I knew who they were singing about and I had some idea of what they were saying. No one could stay silent. There were "Hallelujahs!" and "amens!" everywhere, even trilling ululations floating high above it all. Nor could anyone sit or stand still. I felt at home here, shuffling, clapping, singing, swaying song after song. How else to praise the Lord but with our voice breath and bodies?

 

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After an hour of singing and testimony, and after being greeted with a hug and a handshake by every person there, the pastor called us down to the front: “Come down and share some words with us, Fields family!” 

 

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And he thrust a microphone in our faces.

Duncan started, thanking them for welcoming us so warmly. Thanking them for their music. Then it was my turn.

I talked about where we’ve been, about how we find God’s people everywhere. About the Apostle Paul, and how he suffered the most of all the apostles, but he also praised God the most. I finished with something like this:

“I have heard that things are difficult here, that the economy is very bad. I know there is much hardship. But I see how you worship God. It is so beautiful! We go to a Baptist church in Alaska. We sing too. And we praise the Lord. But we hardly ever clap. And we don’t dance! I think you are right.  We need to praise God with ALL that we have and are, and that is what you are doing! I’m going to tell my church back home about you and how you praise the Lord!”

Everyone clapped and cheered. As we sat down the worship leader said, ‘Thank you very much! We’re going to give you a gift right now. This is for you!”

And he called a few people to the front and the music began again, and here it was:

 

I will not tell you that the music was professional, or that the dancing was elaborate. Here, everybody sings. Everybody dances. It’s not about who is gifted in this or that. This wasn’t about talent. This was about celebrating God-with-us. God who died and rose again for us. This was about loving him back with all we are.  

After the dance, there was a sermon. A powerful sermon from the gospel of Mark. They knew the Word of God, these people.

Writing this now, watching the video brings tears. I think about the American church. And I wonder where our joy is.  I wonder why when it’s testimony time the same few people speak and everyone else is silent. I wonder why pastors have to work so hard to move an audience. I wonder why we’ve professionalized the “Praise Team” and sidelined the congregation’s voice. I wonder why our services are run by the clock. I wonder why sports and and every other activity we cram into our Sunday takes precedence over worship.

Maybe I’m wondering how much we need Jesus. We have so much of everything else, we Americans, we have only a little room left for a little bit of Jesus. That’s all we want, I think, just a scant sprinkling of a tiny touch of Jesus, an itty-bitty cherry atop our hot fudge Sunday.  . . .

Many of you reading this have lived and served in other cultures. You know about this far more than I do. But I too have seen in so many countries how those who need Jesus the most know Him the most. Love him the most. Praise him the most.

I’m thinking now of this Holy Week before us. If you don’t need Jesus then Jesus didn’t come for you. He wasn’t hammered to the cross for you. He didn’t rise from the dead for you. He didn’t bring everlasting life to you. He came for the sick, the sinners, the poor in spirit, the down and out, the sinners, the have-nots. But if you don’t have Jesus, you "have not." The poorest of all are those who do not know the God of All That Is.

What if you said yes to Jesus? What if you finally said a full, real "Yes" out of the deepest pocket of your soul? I think if you did, you might sing. You might feel as free as these dancers. You might find joy everywhere, (even in a snake curled in your hair.) The serpent, after all, IS defeated!

 

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He is Risen!

 

Do you know someone who might need these words, these joyous videos? Pass it on?!

So Gratefully,

Leslie

Missing the Eclipse & What the American Church Needs Most

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I missed the eclipse. Entirely.  My son came in from fishing saying, “Wow, did you see it? I watched the eclipse form the boat, through the clouds! It was really cool!”

My eyes went wide. “You’re joking! We’re not supposed to be able to see it in Alaska. I’ve seen the maps! Oregon is the furthest north to see it!” Now I am slightly angry. I love all things celestial and seeing this eclipse would have soothed my earth-and-politics-ravaged heart.

“Well, I saw it!” 

I conferred with nearby experts, my nephew and his wife, both science-smarties and sure enough, they watched it too, but safely, through a pin box.

I felt betrayed that I had missed it.

But that night, that very night,  the sun went down in flames, torching every mountain and sea around my island.  I grabbed my camera and for an hour, I breathlessly tracked its path across the beaches, up on the hills, on the cliffsides, over the water. 

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I

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I wish everyone I know and love had been there with me. And I imagine people gathered by families and communities to watch the eclipse together. What is better than this, for all of us together to tip our heads skyward, to remember we are creatures under the same sun who spin in the same orbit of the same planet. We are people who get wet under the same rains and who parch under the same summer sun. When we take our eyes off our hysterical screens and look at each other and peer together beyond our tiny roofs to the canopy of heavens above us-----maybe we will remember who we are.

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Maybe I have been burned by last night’s gold fire, but I hope for so much more than this. Because I must. Because otherwise I will despair.

I spent the last 3 years writing Crossing the Waters ----about following Jesus. This last week a film company flew up to Harvester to film a 6 part study based on the book. With multiple cameras in my face, I was immersed in those Scriptures, those moments when Jesus called those twelve men from their occupations, from their families, from their politics (Simon the zealot, who wanted to overthrow the Romans through violence. Matthew, through tax evasion.)

Again, I traced Jesus’ life through the gospels----from storm to feast to crucifixion to resurrection to his last words to us all: “Go and make disciples of all nations.”

Are we doing this?

While the (amazing) 5 person film crew was running circles around me, Charlottesville happened. After the week of filming, I felt deeply Holy-Spirit moved to say something. I joined my voice with thousands, millions of Americans exposing racism, neo-nazi-ism and white supremacy for what it is (here) because any form of any of these is in violent opposition to the gospel.      

But there was blowback on this basic human affirmation---from fellow Christians. Everywhere I see this: the drawing of lines, jutted chins, defiant gestures. From Christians.

Our obsession with politics has divided the Church and stolen our mission, and it worsens every day. Right now, we are not making disciples of all nations, we are losing disciples.

But a divided church is not new. It  happened in Paul’s day too:

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”;another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? 

 

 Paul’s rhetorical question should be ours as well: Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Was President Trump crucified for you? Was Hilary Clinton or Barak Obama or Joel Osteen or any other religious or political figure crucified for you? 

There is only one man who went to the cross to defeat sin and death. There is only one name that will drop every body and soul to its knees at the end of time. There is only one man worthy to open the scrolls of judgment at the end of the ages. There is only one man sitting at the right hand of the father.

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Those who love and follow this Savior bear His name: We are Christ-ians, “Little Christs.”  Our identity is not as republicans, democrats, liberals, conservatives. We are not Americans, Russians, Cubans, Koreans.  We are not Trump-ians, Clintonians, Reaganites, Sanderites or anything else. If we have been “baptized into Christ,” then “there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

I am praying the Church would be unified---around Christ, and no one else.

I am praying that we would remember our calling to disciple-making.

I am praying most of all that our anxious divided hearts would be overshadowed entirely by Christ.

Entirely.

That's the total eclipse I am praying for.

Would you join me?

 

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