How I ended up working pest control

In another event of God’s providence, I find myself working as a Pest Management Professional, aka bug exterminator. Of all the surprises the Lord has had for us this last year, this is one of the most fascinating.

Let me start at the beginning.

Last fall, Hannah and I id some support raising after returning from The Netherlands and the hit from covid. Both events resulted in a decrease of mission support, so we set out to see how God might provide. The result was everything remained status quo – we raised some new support, and we lost some support. So as we entered into the new year of 2022, we were praying consistently about what would be God’s solution to our financial provision, since it seemed like He might have something else in store.

In late February, on an uncharacteristically warm day, Hannah walked out the front door and through a rising swarm of disturbed box elder bugs! The infestation was so bad they were finding their way into the house and covered a significant portion of the front of it. Using the front door became out of the question.

So I called the landlord and he directed me to call a pest control agent. After doing a quick search I called Maurice from Indeed Pest Solutions. When he arrived, I greeted him and told him the situation. We continued chatting and he asked what I did. When I mentioned I worked for a missions organization, He got excited and the conversation shifted to spiritual things. I found out that Maurice was a believer, who was in his second year of starting his own business after 14 years in the pest control industry. God had given him a significant nudge out of his old company and lead him to start his own business. All the while we were talking he was treating the house for the bug infestation. We ended our pleasant conversation with him saying he’d be back in two weeks to double check and make sure the pest problem was resolved.

Fast forward two months. It bears repeating that we now live in Virginia, which is mostly covered in forest and consequently there are many insects here! A while before all this I had been invited to Oregon to speak, and Hannah warned me that I was not allowed to leave if there was a significant chance of spiders or other crawling things finding their way inside while I was gone. So I called Maurice again and during our phone conversation he interjects, unsolicited, “hey Brad I got a new truck and it’s yours if you want it!”

I was completely caught off guard! Why was Maurice telling me this? Why would I want a pest truck? I pressed him more about it, thanked him for the offer, and resolved to be curteous and tell him I’d think about it – though at the time I didn’t really think he was serious, nor that there wasn’t some catch. I assumed he was telling everybody the same thing. It had seemingly come from out of the blue. I wasn’t going to stop working with Communitas, that was certain. So when he showed up to treat the house in preparation of my trip to Oregon, we talked more about it and he seemed to be not only serious about offering me a position alongside him in the company, but happy with all my stipulations (which wasn’t more than that I was only committed to working two days a week – and I wouldn’t be easily coerced out of that position). As he was leaving I asked him why he was offering me the job. He responded, “I just have a sense you’re the man for it. Let me know, it’s not going anywhere.”

So I began to pray earnestly and consider whether this position might be from the Lord as something he was doing, not some distraction. After asking a few of my mentor’s what they thought of it, I had better clarity. One helped shift my thinking so that I could see this as “tent-making” and how it would allow me to literally see the area, the insides of people’s living situations, and be invited into their houses, all on someone else’s dime. This would give me critical interpretation of the spiritual climate I could get no other way on the reality of the city, the people in it, and what’s going on at a physical and spiritual level. We call this neighborhood exegesis, and I was going to get a crash course on it through the onslaught of seeing living situation after living situation after living situation.

But a few days later I still found myself wavering. I had a moment of insight in the shower where the Lord stuck in my head John 8:31-32. So I coached myself for a moment, “What is the truth about this position?” The truth was that we had been praying for God’s answer to our finances, I had applied to a few other positions like at nearby grocery stores and coffee shops and none of them had opened, I had not asked Maurice for a job or told him that our support was low, Maurice was a believer who felt God had lead him to offer me the job, he was fine with me only working 2 days, the position allowed me to get to know the city and offer people tangible help, and the position would cover our support deficit. What was I still wavering for? The truth does indeed set one free. I called Maurice the next day and told him I was in.

And that’s how I arrived at taking a position in pest control.

What I couldn’t know then is how Maurice is trying to build a company and it needs leadership development, something I have experience in. He didn’t know that either when he offered me the job but he’s seen it now! Another surprise that’s been a breath of fresh air is the community I’ve been dropped into when we drive around the city together. Maurice is about my age and was born and raised here in Richmond. The vast majority of our clients are also home-grown Richmonders, and I’ve had such a fun time getting to know this new area and culture. Hannah and I would not have had this kind of access to it without God putting me in this position.

So I find myself exploring and adventuring with the Lord again. It’s good, honest, blue-collar work, and I’m having a blast doing it!

I could not have imagined this while we were waiting for God this past season. Maurice jokes that I went all the way to Europe, then followed God back to Richmond, Virginia… to spray some bugs!

All teasing aside, we see how God has done a masterstroke of aligning many different threads of life and ministry all at once: This new position fills our financial needs, gains us access into a new culture, teaches us about the city of Richmond, gets me invited into people’s lives creating opportunity for relationship, and I have made a great friend through it already in Maurice!

What does it all mean? Wait for the Lord!

Our Heavenly Father knows how to give good gifts to his children. We are blessed, and I’m so thankful we weren’t deterred and held out for God’s answer to our needs. It’s bizarre, but it’s better than we could have imagined. Who knew I would find bugs so fascinating!

God knew.

Coming off the mountain

The mountaintop.

The mountain top got a bad rap when I was growing up. I remember often going into the Sierra Nevada mountains to a camp called Hume Lake and having some of the best experiences of my life. I was challenged, encouraged, had incredibly moving moments with God, and had as much adventure as I could handle.

One phenomenon I noticed with post-Hume Lake life was the “let down,” that six-months-later-period where so and so who made a real proclamation of faith was now back to his or her old ways. Or perhaps it was me, where the elation of a closeness with God seemed to disappear like watching the sun slowly sink beneath a California ocean horizon (if you haven’t experienced it, sorry, I’m a little wistful for my State of upbringing, it’s truly something special).

I remember in christian circles people I looked up to terming the phenomenon the mountaintop experience. That is, that some how we could keep and retain all the emotion and rest and peace of the mountain top and simply relocate it into our normal existence, and that if we weren’t able to, we simply had a “mountaintop experience.” Of course, at that point in my life I accepted this definition and chocked my lack of God’s presence up to not trying hard enough to keep myself on the straight and narrow. I think “try harder” was one of the main tenets of my walk with Jesus in High School. It’s a miracle I ever figured out what the gospel actually is.

I think however this is a common experience in christian circles. And for some reason we become judges who besmirch the real declarations of faith of another when their lives seem to fall apart some months after that special experience.

Or we total the whole event as just that – an emotional experience where nothing of substance ever actually happened. We forget that the emotions are not independent of reality and are reflective of something happening on the inside.

I’ve come to love the mountaintop experience, no doubt I cherish it! I even learned to prioritize it while in France. I would go once a quarter to the top of the little mountain near our city, Mont Sainte-Victoire. I would climb up a ways with my bible and a list of problems and sit there with God until I got some kind of answer from him. Anything would do and I learned to look forward to getting away from everything and getting alone with God in this way. I look back on these times with new eyes, chuckling at my brazenness. I’m grateful God put up with me and actually spoke anything. I suspect he honored my desire to connect with him, if only to receive something from him, until I was ready for deeper truths.

Moses was also called up the mountain a few times. One of those times he was given some of the most influential rules for living ever, another time He saw God… His backside anyways.

Yet even Moses struggled off the mountain. Nor could he stay there forever.

While doing a Discovery Bible Study with two gentleman in France one time, I had a revelation reading Psalm 23. A little chunk of it stood out to me like someone highlighted two lines I had never thought to connect before. Connecting them changed everything.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

He leads me beside still waters,

He restores my soul.

He leads me in paths of righteousness

for his name’s sake,

Psalm 23:1-3

All good so far. There is (usually, depending on translation) a break in the text, a space separating two seemingly different ideas. Let’s continue:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death

I will fear no evil,

For you are with me;

Your rod and your staff,

they comfort me.

Psalm 23:4

Hmmm. Things went south a little bit. It’s easy to look at the first half of this Psalm and rejoice at God’s great provision. We are lying down in God’s goodness. We’re resting in His Presence and are thankful for His righteous leading. Life is good. How could we not to get on board with this?

But what happens if you connect the end of verse 3 with the beginning of verse 4?

He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Psalm 23:3b,4

Hold on… does David mean to say that the path of righteousness is actually down through the valley? Is God actually meaning to lead us through it? Was that his intent all along, to lead us off the mountain into the valley… of death? This all of a sudden sounds terrible.

I’ve heard some people say that the shadow of death is purely figurative in this passage. I don’t agree. The Hebrew translates out as literally “death-like shadow.” So basically, it feels like death and it’s complete darkness. The Bible is full of references to darkness being actual danger, and in any case, it’s impossible to see in complete darkness. A shadow is only cast by something that actually exists. I don’t think the Psalmist is referencing an illusion of danger. To the contrary I think he is saying it feels like death and I can’t see where I’m going. Words like confusing, disillusioning, disorienting, overwhelming, all come to mind. Let’s also not forget that complete darkness and isolation is used as a form of imprisonment for really bad dudes.

The valley is starting to sound like a terrible place. Don’t let the writer fool you into thinking it’s not so bad, he’s simply “not afraid” because God is with him. We have no indication that he knows where he is going or that he can even see! A better translation for “the valley” might be “the trench.” A parallel Psalm is 44. It’s a bit more bleak and graphic in it’s depiction of the valley experience:

But you have rejected us and disgraced us and have not gone out with our armies. You have made us turn back from the foe, and those who hate us have gotten spoil. You have made us like sheep for slaughter and have scattered us among the nations. You have sold your people for a trifle, demanding no high price for them. You have made us the taunt of our neighbors, the derision and scorn of those around us. You have made us a byword among the nations, a laughingstock among the peoples. All day long my disgrace is before me, and shame has covered my face at the sound of the taunter and reviler, at the sight of the enemy and the avenger. All this has come upon us, though we have not forgotten you, and we have not been false to your covenant. Our heart has not turned back, nor have our steps departed from your way; yet you have broken us in the place of jackals and covered us with the shadow of death.

Psalm 44:9-19

Yikes! What the heck God!?! This is downright tragic. We can distill from this is one of three things:

  1. The Psalmist is dramatic and things aren’t actually that bad
  2. He’s lying and they have sinned and God is punishing them
  3. He’s telling the truth and for some reason God is not evident and allowing them to experience extreme hardship.

Did you catch the end? Who’s way have they not turned back from? God’s. Who’s covenant have they not departed from? God’s. This is pretty terrible treatment for the one who is trusting God to take care of them. If we look at the two passages together, there’s only one right answer and it’s not the one I used to believe.

God leads us into the trenches. We see the principle in Psalm 23. We see the reality of it in Psalm 44.

It’s too strong to say I didn’t believe this as a youngster. In truth I gave it lip service. I couldn’t have understood it. I used to believe that I was missing something in Psalms like this, that there was some secret that neither I nor the Psalmist could see, that it couldn’t have been just death and sorrow all around. And I conveniently decided that Job’s experience was some exception to the unwritten rule of holy living, that is; if we follow God, things get better!

When we read proverbs, it teaches us to believe that if we do the right things we’ll get the “right” results. And God is good, so He can’t possibly actually want me to suffer… can he? I just need to pray harder, or confess a hidden sin, or be more obedient? Do you see how easy it is to step back onto the slippery slope of “try harder.” This is works! This is religion. This is superstition. Not grace through faith.

While we’re on the topic of suffering, let’s not forget the rod and the staff. Now a staff for a shepherd was used to retrieve sheep and get them out of unfortunate predicaments and situations. Praise God for the staff! A rod, however, is mentioned in other places as being the means of discipline. Paul exhorts us to endure discipline. Somehow I didn’t make the pain connection with that word, but who has to “endure” fun?

So God leads us through the valley on purpose. The valley is filled with pain and frustration and questioning and danger. Why does God do this?

Psalm 23 can be read as seasons of a believer’s walk with God. These seasons don’t suggest sin. They suggest a good God who is guiding us through different seasons of life. He’s not going with us, we are going with Him! We haven’t taken him along, he’s taking us along! He’s holding the rod and the staff.

Season 1 is the mountain top or rest period. The believer’s provisions are met in such a way that she learns to trust God to an extent that she commits herself in some way to the Lord.

So, God good as He is, now leads the believer through the valley, that is season two – a season of testing. He tests whatever commitment was made. The greater the consecration, the greater the test. Jesus fasted alone in the desert for 40 days following his baptism. That’s a gnarly test. Nevertheless, we should expect testing. But why?

Training. It’s not testing like God doesn’t believe us. It’s testing like purifying a metal, or a component that has been created. When an engineer wants to design a product, the product is sent through multiple testing phases it see if it actually works as intended. We’re not products, but as believers, we are pruned. We don’t do more than surrender and let the gardener prune off everything that isn’t working to His desire. The Holy Spirit (the sap) flows through us to produce the fruit. It’s not the green pasture where this training-testing happens, it’s the valley. In testing a product, the point is to break it. In training for a race, a runner breaks down the muscles through use so that they can be rebuilt more effectively after the breaking period to be dedicated to winning the race. The rest happens in the green pasture, but the training and developing take place in the valley. There’s a quote out there about a ship captain not being made in the harbor or something like that. Same idea.

What are we being trained for? God’s glory. Through that experience, the believer comes to see God in his presence regardless of his surroundings, and his dependance moves from a God who provides tangibles, to God who provides the intangibles. Goodness, mercy, and presence are in the end better than the physical provision of the mountain, which is a quiet and peaceful life. Good as it is, God is on mission. So he moves the disciple to the presence of his enemies, and reveals himself to them through the now broken and fully entrusted to the Lord disciple. We find our enemies on the other side of the Vally, not up on the green pastures of Swiss Alps. The person who has passed through the trench is ready for witness. The broken disciple is the anointed disciple. Through our brokenness, and only through our brokenness, the light of God truly shines. Why? Because it’s in our brokenness that we come to the end of ourselves. This is the only way God truly uses us, where we have nothing of ourselves to offer. In our brokenness, God’s healing is clearly visible to the world. We stand not on our achievements or ability or ambition. We stand on his grace and mercy and healing in our lives. God’s mission begins where human self-effort ends. The places where we’ve been emptied (pruned) are the starting points for the world to see God in us. And he will bring us to the table, filled with those who have yet to know him like us, and they will see God through our brokenness.

The unbroken disciple, however, is still striving for the green grass and quiet stream of the mountain top. The broken disciple knows in her body God’s goodness and grace and mercy, not as something externally given, but flowing outward from within.

“You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil;

my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life;

and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord

forever.

Psalm. 23:5-6

Season 3 is about fulfillment. But let’s be honest, this still sounds a bit lacking if our worldview is centered around feeling safe and comfortable. According to the Psalmist, God is our safety, not the mountaintop. He leads us through the trench, only to put us in the presence of enemies… and there anoint us with blessing. Raise your hand if you’ve felt safe in the presence of a big group of people who you didn’t know – they may or may not have it out for you. But David was king – his enemies would have been trying to kill him.

The person is not anointed in the church, or on the mountaintop, or in the “assembly.” She is anointed in the presence of her enemies. God has become visible to those that need him, and through the valley, she has learned He is safe, no matter what. This is the whole point – to bring both the person who knows God closer to God in depth of trust and dependence, and for God to reveal himself through the person to the world.

What did she do to earn it? Suffered in the trenches, was “comforted” by the rod of discipline, let the good shepherd pick her up out of the ditch when the rod wasn’t enough.

Do you see what’s happening here? This whole Psalm is actually about God’s leading and blessing. The writer has very little to do with any of it. And thus we arrive at the point. God leads us through mountains and valleys in his time for his purpose. We have little to do with any of it, accept to surrender and let him lead us. If we do, we experience new levels of his grace and peace in our lives. Our faith is strengthened, and our trust in Him deepened. That’s what He does! He leads us to places where he can show the world how good his love is. We now have experienced a depth of his love so that we can say, “Yes it was awful in the valley, but God was with me ands presence was so good that I wouldn’t trade the comfort I had on the mountaintop to not experience his presence in the valley!” This kind of testimony requires the valley.

If you’re living in a season of the mountaintop, Praise the Lord! But a valley is coming. If you’re living in a season of the valley, hold fast, anointing is coming. God anoints the one who is set-apart, or consecrated. That means all he is and has has been given over to the Lord. God has become Lord. If you’ve gone through a valley experience, you realize this to be true. God is proving to us to see for ourselves our commitment level to his purpose. It can be truly awful sometimes but it’s true.

Resist the temptation to abandon your trust in God. It’s ok to be upset. God can handle it and knows it’s hard. It was hard for Jesus too! In surrender, you will find God’s transforming presence.

It’s painful but it’s entirely worth it. The reward on the other side of the valley is worth every amount of suffering endured to arrive there. On the other side of the valley isn’t necessarily another mountain, but there is deep awareness of God’s love, faithfulness, and kindness. This is where there is true joy. The Psalmist says “my cup overflows.” He can’t contain how good God is proving to be in his life, his joy is overflowing out of him. He says like Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and come to know that you are the Holy One of God.”

We aren’t meant to live on the mountain. We are meant to live in the presence of the Lord. Fortunately we don’t have to go anywhere to have that anymore thanks to His Spirit, Praise God the Father and our Lord Jesus! The experience of the mountain is valid and necessary, and we shouldn’t judge people who are having a hard go of life after the mountain top. They are in the fight. And it is God who leads them there. We can call it pruning, the trenches, discipline, or whatever you want, but the reality is it’ll feel like death and it’s really messy. But where we die, God brings life.

The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.

Proverbs 17:3

but [God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Hebrews 12:10b,11

Be strong and take heart. The trench is coming, but it won’t last forever. God loves you. Sometimes it hurts. Nevertheless, it’s worth it. I would not trade the relationship I have with him, having been proved, for anything I gave up to arrive where I now am. On the contrary, I crave his leading more than ever. Leave me in his presence, one day there is better than a thousand elsewhere.

Nothing else even comes close.

Good Friday

I was reflecting on Good Friday this morning, and an awareness came to me. I have a tendency to try and fix problems straight away, to hide in busyness from feeling their weight. I considered a problem only a problem so long as it can’t be fixed… so if you can quickly fix it, then the problem is gone!

I’ve always tended towards this reaction. It has its pros. Self starting and getting things done for example. But there is a dark side to this character trait. In fact it’s really ugly. I was confronted with it this morning while I was sitting with the Lord.

While there’s no problem with running off and trying to fix things, per se, there is a huge problem with busying yourself to fix an error when that error is sin. It’s actually a form of escapism. When I’m confronted with the reality that I have sinned and it has caused a problem for me (when does it not?) I immediately, and often frantically, set out to fix it. In doing so, I can compartmentalize the damage done by fixing the thing, and thus avoid experiencing the full effects of the reality as it is. So I can escape the feelings of grief and wrongness associated with the knowledge that I in fact royally screwed up by setting out to make it right, right away. No worries. No biggy. Yet this is sin as well. Because we can’t ever fix sin nor will we ever be able to – that’s why Jesus came! In fretting to fix the problem at all I have already denied his work on the cross! Nee says it this why, the difference between trying and trusting is the difference between heaven and hell. Sobering.

The only solution is to start by sitting in it.

This is really an extension of the post I did on forgiveness. Without acknowledging the full weight of a sin done to you, you end up carrying and storing whatever goes unacknowledged.

In this case, without feeling the full force of the pain and hurt caused by our sins, we doom ourselves to repeat them. Until we can say with certainty and complete brokenness, “my sin caused someone to die,” we haven’t fully understood the weight of our error. In avoiding the pain and grief, we doom ourselves to repetition.

Because someone did die because of your sin. Praise God that He has already hid us with Christ in his death, freeing us from death, and raised us up with him, giving us life. Our old man is already dead. Most of what is our new man will be fully revealed once we finally shed this body.

But I think in general we are too quick (at least I have been) to move straight to thanks to God for his resurrection. Of course I rejoice in the reality that there is an afterlife with God awaiting me. But I realize today, that unless I am willing to sit in the reality of my sin, I doom myself to minimize it.

The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. “

Jonah 3:6

This is the appropriate response to sin. Perhaps the tip of the iceberg. This wasn’t a formality for the king, it was an outward demonstration of the truth that had set in. He, and all his land, had been so wrong. He didn’t minimize it. He didn’t brush it aside and tritely say, “no problem we’ll just serve God from now on.”

He sat in it. And he let himself sit in it. He grieved.

This is so appropriate! How often in our culture are we running around trying to fix problems, when we really should be sitting in them and experiencing their full weight first? There will be a time to fix things, but we must start with grief.

Because someone did die because of my sin. There was no quick fix. No just move on. No it’s not a big deal.

Without Christ’s death for my sake, I’m still a slave to sin, I’m still convicted under the law of righteousness, and I’m still without hope for eternity. Doomed to keep repeating the same mistakes over and over, proving I’m a slave to sin and death.

Because of Jesus’s death in my place, through God’s great mercy, I have been crucified with him. Christ’s blood counts for me now, so that God see’s me and says to the accuser, my Son’s blood is enough, paying for the sins I’ve committed, am committing, and will commit. He is my covering. God placed me on the cross, bringing death to this body, thereby dealing with the sin factory that it is, and through my death with him I am now made free from the bondage of sin and death, both for the past and for the future, satisfying the law in righteousness, and yet granting grace and mercy.

Through Jesus’ resurrection, the Spirit was released to earth, and in faith I, believing that He is Lord, receive His Spirit which brings life to my spirit, and transforms my heart and will to conform me to Christ Jesus.

What’s more, He has already, in the same manner as hiding me with Christ in His death, seated me with him in Heaven! All the life-giving power of God is mine, and I sit in the presence of God, no matter where I go or what I do! This is amazing news! I don’t have to try to defeat or fix or overcome sin. I’ve already been delivered from it! I am free! All there is to do is praise God and surrender to the Spirit, when He prompts… hence this blog.

But how can I experience new life (rebirth) if I am unwilling to acknowledge the death that my sin brings about? There is no resurrection without death.

One cannot receive this until the Lord breaks him. There is no other way. Praise God for His Spirit, which brings His Word, which is sharp enough to cleave the spirit from the soul. When in God’s grace he allows you to see the distinction of your own soul from the reborn spirit made alive by Him, it brings true brokenness because you see now in the light just how far off you are.

The question is, how will we respond to our broken state when the Lord brings it about? Will we run off and cover it up as Adam did? Will we avoid the pain? We will try and escape it by instantly committing (vainly) to solve it as quick as possible? Or will we sit in it, lament over our dead selves which still hold some sway in our lives, and await God’s deliverance? God’s revelation needs God’s solution. His solution is Himself – the Spirit of life!

This blog is a testimony to that Spirit, the Holy Spirit. This blog did not come from reading a book. It did not come from reading the Bible. It did not come from some one speaking or telling it to me. It did not come from my own intuition or intellect. I am not capable of making these deep profundities. It came directly from God, by his Spirit to my inner being, sitting alone with him this morning. And I saw it, recognized it as truth, have now seen the light of my own behavior in regards to the truth, and put it into words.

Praise God for His discipline. This is what makes Good Friday good. Someone took my place and died because of my sin… so that I have access to God the Father. Someone fulfilled the requirements of the law and died for all humanity. Some put to death once and for all the demands of the law. Otherwise there’s nothing good about Good Friday. On it’s own, it was the end of a movement. Like Paul says, if Christ is still dead, then so are we. Yet because he was raised, I live, through faith in him. Because of that faith, I am sealed with His Spirit. And that Spirit gives me life by revealing the ways that are death in me. By letting those ways die, I experience new freedom and life. It’s a bit of a cycle.

How do we let those dead ways die? We sit in their reality, experience the full weight of their wages, that we may turn completely and not go that way again.

What does removing your robe, covering yourself in sackcloth, and sitting in ashes look like to you?

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;

a broken and contrite heart, O God,

you will not despise.

Psalm 51:17

Data Collection

Whenever we land in a new area, we start by collecting information. No matter what you bring into an area you will find that your ideas may be just that, your ideas. That’s a problem if God is actually going to do something through you. I was much more hesitant entering Richmond with any ideas than I was heading to France. I still am. It’s too early to fully tell what God would have us do and how he would have us do it.

How do we figure that out? There’s a process for that. We EMBED. When wanting to do anything of a missional nature, we start with looking at our immediate surroundings, asking questions, and getting involved.

Missionality begins with looking at the culture and asking questions like: What is working in this culture? What does God want to show me? What are some needs represented here? Where can I bless the people around me? Where is God already at work in the area?

These are very basic questions and I’ll dive further into what it means to Embed in a culture in a future post.

One thing I am generally interested in is people’s response to the Bible. While I was in France, I found that in general French people had an ambivalence towards the Bible. If they knew you, they may be interested in it. In The Netherlands, I found that people were largely opposed to the Bible.

As I learned more about the cultures, I found that because a large percentage of people in France were Catholic or of Catholic background, they had very little historical interaction with the Bible. I had a frenchman say to me once, “I am French, so of course I am catholic.” Therefore if you were a friend and willing to walk through the Bible with them, they were generally receptive – but not always. This was my experience.

In The Netherlands, my experience was the opposite. I didn’t find one person except a very mature believer willing to read the Bible with me. Even then, I found that many Dutch have a skepticism with relying too heavily on the Bible. Now, I absolutely love reading the Bible! I think it is fascinating! Many Dutch I talked to didn’t have the same regard for it. I even had one christian gentleman whom I respected tell me he was wary of relying too heavily on it.

Is this even possible? Yet it made more sense as I learned about the history of the region. The Netherlands has a long history of strong Reformed theology and what some might call extreme Calvinism. This tended to be very dogmatic with a touch of “us vs. them” and very little room for theological mystery. Many were spit out of the church who had no transgression other than disagreement on the minors, and consequently, too many Dutch have received a Bible beat down. This is not helpful for anyone.

Understanding the “why” of any issue helps you get a clear idea of how to solve it or work around it. In The Netherlands, we had much more success training people to have spiritual conversations. In France we had more success with DBS. Both will lead a person to Jesus.

Now we find ourselves in Richmond. In the hopes of having a spiritual conversation or two, I set out to learn something of my new Richmonder culture’s view of the Bible.

I went downtown with two questions but I didn’t start there. I tried to stop two places before going downtown. I was encouraged to start closer to my house neighborhood, yet I knew another area I thought more people would be out and about – a more plaza-like environment. As I got into my car I asked the Lord to show me were to ask questions, thinking a local grocery store was actually a great place to get a wide demographic of opinion. I thought He said to go to Carytown (downtown-ish), and so I asked him for clear confirmation. I headed first to the Walmart around the corner. I asked a worker if I could hang out and ask people questions and he directed me to the manager who immediately scowled at me and said, “absolutely not!” Confirmation number 1. I then headed to the other grocery store close to my house, and found in multiple places “no soliciting” signs posted near the entrances. Confirmation number 2. At this point I drove to Carytown, parked the car and started walking towards the center where there would be lots of people out and about. Before I got there, I asked a man passing by me if he had a second to answer two quick survey questions. He agreed and I asked him my two questions:

“Have you read very much of the Bible?”

“Yes.”

“Are you still reading it?”

“No.”

“Would you be interested to read it with someone if you knew you wouldn’t be judged or told what to believe?”

“Yes, but that’s not possible.”

An obvious open door, I followed it up with, “What makes you say that?” I found that he was grieving the loss of a recent relationship where his girlfriend had cheated on him, and then she managed to get some friends to use the Bible to tell him he needed to get back together with her. It is not uncommon to hear people using the Bible inappropriately in this way.

In our Revangelism training, we teach that there will often be times in conversations where we have to apologize on behalf of another for their mistreatment of either (or both) the person and God’s word. I apologized on behalf of the Lord and my brothers and sisters in Christ, and we continued talking about it. Turns out he had lost his job, and was getting low on income. For some reason or another he didn’t have a working phone, only a computer, and he had left the place where he was staying, his ex-girlfriend’s. As we continued to talk my heart went out to him and I asked him if there was anything I could do to help. He said a shower would be really helpful, so I brought him back to my house. On the way I got to learn a lot about him and why he answered my survey questions the way he did. His drift from faith has been a long, slow, separation. He couldn’t name the time he decided he no longer believed in Jesus.

When he had showered I gave him my old phone to help his job search. He was a broken man, but immensely grateful and I believe my kindness gave the Holy Spirit the opportunity to soften his heart so that I could share some truth with him. I am praying we meet again soon. While he has had significant experiences in church, I don’t believe he has ever really trusted in God. I shared some of my own testimony of the gospel with him as it seemed fitting in the conversation, but only as it related to his situation. I hope I have another opportunity to connect with him.

Though this “chance” meeting was more than enough to justify my trip downtown, I wanted to make a good stab at the survey still. One response is not enough to judge an area by, so I took him back to where we met near his car and headed to the downtown area to at least get 10 responses. In the next few hours I was mostly ignored by people not wanting to answer my little questions, but I did manage to get 13 responses.

What is interesting is that my first responder’s answers are fairly inline with the majority of respondents on one account. Now, true, the survey is a little biased because many people avoided taking it. Here’s how it breaks down so far:

7 of 13 people said they had read a significant portion of the Bible.

Of those 7, 5 were still currently reading it.

6 of 13 people said they had not read a significant portion of the Bible,

Of those 6, 3 would be interested in reading it with a non-judgy person.

Only 3 people had not read much and had no interest in reading it.

What this shows me is that there is a significant number of the people who have little interaction with the Bible and are interested in it.

What is the overall takeaway? Too early to tell, but Jesus said the fields are white for harvest. If 25% of the population are active followers of Jesus according to Pew research, then at least in Richmond, Virginia there might be another 25% ready for someone to reveal him to them. Who knows, the vast majority of people I reached out to didn’t have time to answer my little survey, so I really don’t know how well this represents the greater area.

I plan get back out there soon to try and get some more survey respondents and see how the data develops.

In any case, I hope you’re inspired to get out there and ask some questions. If you want help thinking up some questions for your area, reach out.

At the end of the day, this little venture created an opportunity to show a gentleman the love of Jesus. That’s all that really matters.

“Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life…” Jesus

John 6:27

Inspired Reading

A while back I posted about what I had been reading in preparation for going overseas. I have become an avid reader, and I would love to share books I’ve found immensely enjoyable with you. There are other inspiring books I probably need to share, but here are the one’s that I’ve read within the last 6 months that have stood out the most. All these books are well written and the authors display keen ability to draw the reader in and hold his or her attention. As a musician and artist, I find it hard to read books with little artistry or style to them (this goes for music as well). All the books I am presenting here I will likely find myself reading again. Each is full of truth and profound wisdom. If you end up reading any of them (or have already) let me know what you think!

The Lord of The Rings

This book (or books) needs no introduction, but if you still haven’t read these do yourself a favor and read them! While similar to the movies, the emphasis is entirely different. The movies are characterized by war and conflict, the books are characterized by intelligent beings’ relationships to each other and response to impending conflict. There is an external conflict taking place, yet that it is secondary to the story Tolkien really wants to tell. The last time I read these books I was in high school. To be honest I didn’t finish the series then. Now nearly 20 years later, and I find them to be some of the best literature I’ve ever read. If you have a love for masterful exposition of life experience and emotional intelligence, I just can’t see how you wouldn’t enjoy these books. The wisdom in these is rich beyond what I’ve read before in any other piece of fiction. I know that’s high praise, and honestly, I haven’t read a ton of fiction. Yet I know that I’m not the only one who thinks these are a triumph and masterwork of literature. What really made this book so interesting to me were the relational dynamics developed between characters, especially in the differing motives, needs, and desires of different species of beings all with a different relationship with the constant of time. I love how Tolkien represents each species’ relationship with time, since some live tremendously longer than others, their values and worldviews are very different. The whole world is highly developed and Tolkien interweaves deep biblical truth throughout, but also has a keen awareness of life experience that manifests itself in themes of brotherhood and solidarity, calling and purpose, courage and fear, pain and hardship, and faith and doubt, among others. I will happily read it again expecting to glean new truths from it. I doubt I’ll be disappointed.

The Normal Christian Life

I rediscovered Watchman Nee just as I landed back in Georgia and was going through books I left here in the USA. I may have read this book before, but if so I was too young (in my faith) to appreciate the gold I was given. What good is gold to a child? A good portion of the book deals with the Cross of Christ and its work in the life of the Christian. For Nee, and I agree with him, everything comes back to the work of Jesus on the Cross and his resurrection. He camps out here, from the reality of the redemptive work having been an historical fact that has been done once and for all, never needing repeating, to the continual work of the Cross in our lives, Nee takes us through a good chunk of Paul’s letter to the Romans and reveals truths of the power of the gospel with nuance I’ve never heard or understood before. After living abroad for the sake of the gospel, this book was a breath of fresh air that brought to light in me a clearer understanding of God’s good news, which always leads to deeper love and gratitude. It has also been super helpful for me to view the gospel through Nee’s Chinese lens, which has brought light to scriptures I never quite understood (the Bible is an eastern book after all!). This book has ignited a strong desire to become a pupil (disciple?) of Nee’s in a way, which has been very enriching. He is always challenging and thoroughly biblical. I’m thankful the Lord brought his work back into my life. If you have been reading a lot of self-help (christian or otherwise) take a break and read this.

Dirty Glory

This book is a fun read. If you feel like your prayer life is either a bore, a chore, or just lacking in general, I promise this book will inspire you to pray more. I think I read it in a few weeks, which is blazingly fast for me. I read like someone is talking to me so I tend to be slow. But I couldn’t put this book down. While Pete Greig’s views on biblical unity and incarnation living will challenge some, there is no doubt that you will be inspired by the stories and find yourself desiring to know God in a more intimate way through prayer. This is one of the most entertaining spiritual books I’ve read, and it’s on prayer! That alone should tell you something! I’m confident that if you read this book, it will stir your heart to pray with new fervor.

Let Us Pray

Speaking of prayer, Let Us Pray cleared up all kinds of questions I didn’t know I had about it. Because much of my learning and training has been “on the job” I haven’t always had words or defined boxes to describe what I’ve learned or experienced. Consequently, like a child who trusts his father to catch him, it was just “known.” Nee helped add language to much of my learned prayer experience. Even better that his language is biblical. Nee’s writing is lucid and engaging. His gift of clarifying complex biblical truth is well represented here. Presenting not only the imperative to pray, but the reasons why it’s so important for both the individual and the Church, he also shares some practices that have been used in China. Considering the movement of churches Nee started in the first half of the 20th century is estimated at over 2 million people now more than 50 years after his death, we would all do well to learn from him. If you want to be inspired to pray, read Dirty Glory. If you are looking for greater theological understanding of how prayer works and what it accomplishes, read Let Us Pray.

With

Skye Jethani brings a refreshingly simple way of looking at how we as humans relate to God. In breaking down our interactions with God to life over, under, for, from, and with God, he cleverly shows how we as Christians often try to manipulate God into doing our bidding, even if we don’t realize it, and how that, of course, neither gives us the result we want nor the relationship we actually need. This book is very easy to read and understand, yet the concepts presented have the power to unearth some long held and often unnoticed insecurities in the believer. If you realize that your life with God veers into religious territory, this is a must read (along with The Normal Christian Life!).

If you’ve read any of these let me know what you think!