Old stone house in Rennes, about to be torn down

I snapped this photo while I still could. A noble stone and brick house in Rennes peered sadly over the barrier being constructed. A sign indicated what would become of the lot it stood on for generations. In Rennes, beautiful homes like these are being sacrificed for the sake of apartments that look like cement cereal boxes. It makes me sad. The history and character of the city is being lost. That beautiful building could have been renovated into a multiple family dwelling. Just days later, all that was left was a hole in the ground. If it were up to me, that house would have been stewarded differently.

We have present day needs, sometimes terribly urgent. But our lives are like a breath rushing through the majestic forest of history. How we steward what is entrusted to us is a test. I just finished reading the book The Monuments Men, by Robert Edsel (no I haven’t seen the film yet). Their work to rescue and preserve artwork from Cathedrals to paintings to sculptures during the second world war was incredibly noble. History and culture are preserved and transmitted through such works! And I recently heard on the news that a Jihadi had been prosecuted for destroying mausoleums in Timbuktu, Mali. Can the 9 years he was sentenced in any way make up for the damage he was responsible for? Impossible. Of course, the human toll in these global conflicts is even more heartbreaking. The violence suffered in Syria and Africa are beyond our comprehension, and I would argue much more important.

Stewardship reaches broadly across our lives. I spent years remodeling our apartment, trying to be a good steward of our home. I dutifully wash our 15-year-old car in spite of the rust lining the wheel wells. We do our best to provide good meals to our growing boys. But how are we stewarding our finances? Our time? Our relationships? It’s easy to see how the stewardship of physical things can endure beyond our lifetime: the tree we plant or house we build or work of art we paint can live on. But I think how we steward things that are unseen has an even greater eternal impact. Every person – soul – we interact with is eternal. The mechanic working on my car is far more important than my car. What influence am I having on those around me? I think our conscience and emotions can be our eyes into this unseen world. When I feel embarrassed and ashamed because I lost my temper, I wasn’t being a good steward of relationships. When I have an opportunity to share the gospel and my whole being bubbles with joy, I was being a good steward. It’s good to stop and ask – why am I feeling this way? It might be related to stewardship.

“We look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:18.

“Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:20,21

Silas with and after braces

Anticipation can be a blessing. It allows us to be mentally prepared. The more we anticipate, the higher the value of what we’re anticipating. Seeing a loved one after a long absence or getting that diploma is the consummation of what’s envisioned, hoped for. Silas wore his braces for just a year, far less than back in the day! He was greatly anticipating having them removed, to chew freely – especially gum – and have a smile unencumbered by metal. I’m happy for Silas and his new smile.

Just this week he passed the last exam to be accepted into the professional track at the Rennes Conservatory. It’s another long anticipated event. After passing the music theory tests, he had to perform two songs for the final test, a Lalo and a Bach. He practiced for months and months. We purchased a damper/mute for his violin, a heavy rubber apparatus to slide onto the bridge, so he can practice without disturbing our neighbors. He woke up every morning at 6a.m. and practiced. When the day arrived, he performed beautifully. In three more years he could receive a diploma as a professional musician… yet another thing to anticipate.

What is inspiring watching Silas is that he’s working toward specific goals, and we share in his dreams. It makes me think about what I’m anticipating. It makes me want to pull out of survival mode long enough to dream. I would love to improve my skills on the bass guitar or photography or videos. I would love to see what I can do to make my relationship with May ever better. I would love to have a clearer vision of what Dan in the image of Christ looks like and work diligently toward it. Maybe you feel like me, tired instead of passionate, overwhelmed instead of driven.

The author of Hebrews tells us “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” There is a good amount of anticipation in this verse. So, it’s something I’m wrestling with – what am I anticipating? What things not yet seen am I hoping for? What about you?

Dan's old and new passports

 

Today I received my new passport. It's beautiful. Every page is a work of art, clean and untouched. My old passport from ten years ago had run out of pages. As I turn through them a flood of memories and experiences are held in a simple stamp or visa sticker. There are ornate visas for Germany, France, Russia, and Burkina Faso. The visa for Burkina is good until 2018, and I wonder if they'll transfer it to my new one. Entry and exit stamps litter page after page: many from France, and others from Hungary, Switzerland, England, Italy, Guernsey, Finland, Ireland, Denmark, and South Korea.

A passport represents identity. I am so much more than a name and number and issue date and a plain photo with wavy blue lines over it. A passport reflects what you do. I have done much more than slide my passport across a counter to immigration officers in various countries. The spiritual analogy is beautiful here. How much does anyone know about us, or we even know ourselves? Jesus is the discerner of hearts, knowing our deepest thoughts, desires and motivations. God sees what we do, even when we think we're alone. This is all scary and wonderful. He knows us, the real us, the depths of us, to the most intimate detail, and he loves us. When someone says their citizenship is in heaven, what could be more true? The US government knows my name, age, social security number, height, color of eyes and hair - I have to admit, I broke down and put grey this time. They know enough to issue me a passport. God knows us, sees our thoughts, weights our hearts, measures our faith, and gives us a new identity in Christ. To the church in Pergamum Jesus says that he will to the one who is victorious a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.

Ever wonder what your name really is? 

11cm long brown slug in my back yard

 

My brother Jason lives in Pueblo Colorado. It's a far cry from Rennes, France. Rennes is cool and rainy, green everywhere you look. Pueblo is hot and dry, a desert. We two brothers live very different lives.

Looking out our sliding window I saw something exceptional. It was crawling, stretching, oozing its way across our yard. We have slugs, dark brown, you know, the color of something else you really watch your step for. And this one was big, huge, gigantic. Silas and I rushed out with a camera and measuring tape. Check out the crazy long 11cm slug, almost four and a half inches! That's the excitement that happens around our house.

Only a few days later I see an email from my brother. It tells a different story. Attached was a picture of something he found in his yard - a rattlesnake. Wearing only his Birkenstocks and some shorts when he spotted it he grabbed a sand shovel, ignoring his wife's pleas to at least put on some boots. The snake would be a serious danger to his cats or dogs and he didn't want it to slip away from view. I imagine Jason looking like a gladiator, slowly approaching his prey.  "You really only get one shot at it," he told me. I'm really frightened of snakes and wouldn't want to mess up that one shot! Catching it off guard, its frightening presence in his yard was terminated.

His story makes the slug in my yard seem a little less exciting.

Doesn't it?

Rattlesnake my brother killed in his yard

A good friend from college, who roomed with me for a time, is now sharing Jesus' light in East Asia. We had a rare chance to meet in Red Lodge a few years back, catching up while our kids poked around on the playground. At one point he laughed and shared a funny thought which crosses his mind when he thinks of me. Apparently there is a Chinese proverb that says - you can put silk on a goat, but it's still a goat! Whenever he imagined me speaking French, this saying came to mind.

French is such a beautiful language. Its flow, tone, musicality... And that's a stark contrast to his vision of me. I get his point, Montana practicality and down-to-earthness was infused in me. I'm no frills, plain old Dan. I think of the person he knew seventeen years ago, cruising in a blue half-ton Chevy with country music seeping from the windows, that guy never imagined he would one day live overseas. Yeah, a goat, sure. Put something silk on a goat, teach him to speak French, for example, and he's still a goat.

Well, I have to thank my friend for that beautiful picture that I can't get out of my head. I know my French is far from silky smooth. For those of you who would like to see it for yourself, I was filmed presenting questions2vie.com, the French everystudent.com website. You can see and hear for yourself what a goat wearing silk looks like!

Projecting the Jesus Film in Burkina Faso

 

Context is important. I've been thinking a lot about context lately. During our missions trip to Burkina Faso we were able to approach students easily. They listened patiently, and were eager to learn. We systematically used the golden 4 spiritual laws booklet, and our team clearly shared they gospel with 88 people. Twenty six of them prayed to accept Christ...!

Context. Approaching a student in France is much different than in Burkina Faso. Imagine if 1 in 3 would receive Christ here. Just today I did a questionnaire with two brothers studying literature. They both said they were too rational to believe in God. One went so far as to say the idea of a higher power is revolting to him. Is God different in France? Why do we see more evidence of Him working in certain places?

We showed the Jesus film in a village outside of Ouagadougou. Villagers of all ages crowded around both sides of the screen, sitting in the red dust and peering up as Jesus spoke their native tongue of Mòaré. About fifty of them came forward and prayed aloud with the pastor at the end of the film. Receptivity, openness... context.

Canteloup is a show on one of France's main network were they report news and make fun of everyone and everything. France's president had a trip to Israel, so they decided it would be fun to show clips from the Jesus Film with a funny voiceover. For someone who has seen firsthand the power of this film to reach people for Christ it was shocking to hear jokes coming from Jesus' mouth and Peter swearing. Such a different context!

I think about Mark chapter six, when Jesus visited his home town and "could do no mighty work there... And he marveled because of their unbelief." Did Jesus suddenly lose his power? How could God come up short in his hometown? Context.

God never changes and is all powerful. He can do anything in accord with his character. It seems God is also gentle. If people are unbelieving, closed, hard, he's not going to force. God prefers fertile ground, faith filled belief, openness. This was the general context in Nazareth. But what about individuals?

In Matthew 14 we read about Jesus and Peter walking on water. One moment Peter is really walking on water! You've got to stop and marvel at that. Then he took his eyes off Jesus, became afraid and started to sink. Did God's power to hold Peter up suddenly waiver? No, it was Peter's doubt. It is mind-boggling the role we play in the work of God.

So the question I'm asking myself is this - how is the context of my life? How open am I to let God work in and around me?

What about you? How would you evaluate the context of your life?