Sunday, May 26, 2013

What we learned about the bible

Before we left Canada, Anne and I had a good idea what we were signing on to as students of the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry. Bethel pursues God with abandon. The people here aren't afraid of pursuing all of God, including the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, considering our past church history, it can be a little unsettling.

So it was with a huge sigh of relief when we heard our bible teacher, Dann Farrelly, speak for the first time. Dann is a graduate of Simpson College and holds a Masters Degree in Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary.

Dann is very funny and self deprecating. He was a pastor at Bethel before Bill Johnson arrived and before revival broke out. When the Holy Spirit started to move he resisted it, then grudgingly accepted it, then embraced it, then abandoned himself to God's passionate love.

In other words, Dann is me. Except smarter.

Here's what Dann taught us during his weekly bible classes. 

We learned how to interpret the bible
Everyone who reads the bible interprets it. Dann taught us skills to develop a consistent style of interpretation using both our spirit and mind. He taught us how to have value for what God has spoken and what He is speaking today. He prepared us to understand the interpretive ethic of fellow believers (reformed versus Catholic versus charismatic). 

"We are not the holders of all truth here at Bethel," said Dann. "God is doing many beautiful works across the globe. We don’t have a corner on the truth but we want to be as faithful as we can to the truth that God has revealed to us. We can disagree with our brothers and sisters and yet still realize we have way more in common than not."

We learned how to feed ourselves and how to feed someone else

Dann told us at the beginning of the year that his purpose was to help us know God and love Him more. He said all bible study ought to be devotional. He urged us to read the bible not because the idea you’re pursuing would make a cool bible study but rather just because God loves us and wants to spend time with us.

We learned how to do biblical research and find answers to difficult questions

Dann taught us how to make accurate, mature conclusions about biblical theology. He taught us to use Holy-Spirit empowered skills to bridge the historical, cultural and grammatical gulf between the "then and there" of scripture and the "here and now" of the application of scripture.

After spending a year with Dann Farrelly I feel inspired to read the bible everyday. He gave me a new passion for scripture. He urged us to read the bible constantly so we don’t get a pet theology that we then try and find biblical evidence to support. "When you're consistently reading the bible your life is consistently being reformed," he said. "It’s the unchanged thing that creates reformers. It's the standard that transforms us."

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Why I love my mother

My mother posted on her Facebook status that she didn't want anything for Mother's Day. I assume that includes a card or nice note. I want to respect her stance against the commercialism of Mother's Day. So I decided to take the indirect approach.

Yup, that's right Mum, I'm going to blog about you. And you can't stop me. :)

One of the many things I love about my mother is her legendary compassion. I have to admit, I haven't always been receptive when that care has been directed at me. It's possible that I've used the moniker "Smother" when trying to stave off her attempts to keep me safe and healthy. I probably shouldn't do that.

From the time she was little, my mum has nurtured creatures and nursed them to health. When she was six years old, it was birds and mice and snakes. In her early twenties it became psychiatric patients, then her three children (which wasn't much of a transition). Later it was women in distress. Now it's homeless youth and an excessively vocal Italian greyhound.

My mother has taught my independent little soul to care for people, practically and tangibly. One of my favourite weeks of my whole life was the one when she stayed with us right after Campbell was born. The overwhelming responsibility of keeping a newborn baby thriving seemed joyfully doable with my mum in charge. Amidst the enigma of my post-partum state, my mother's wisdom made all the difference.

My mum is one of the most fun people I know. Nobody can make a trip to the drug store an adventure like Mary Dunlop. In fact, she's the most fun person to shop with—ever. She fondles all the clothing and textures, admires the colours, expresses joy at an unusual purse or new scent. I don't generally like to shop but I love to shop with my mother.

My mother loves words. Right now, we usually have about three "Words with Friends" games going at  once and I'm ashamed to say, she beats the tar out of me more often than I beat her. But it's not just word games. She savours words like a foodie trying new dishes. I owe my vocabulary—and probably my writing career—to my mother's passion for words. She loves to tell stories and I appreciate her attention to the details. I really do. I tease her about it but I like to hear exactly how the events and conversations went down.

She loves beauty. From nature to technology, jewels to animals, she fully appreciates beautiful things in this world. In the post-Victorian Calvinistic era she grew up in, a love of beauty was sometimes thought of as vanity, but I think my mother's love of beauty is one of the most spiritual, amazing things about her.

My mother is a powerful, beautiful, creative, brilliant and fascinating woman. She sets the bar high when it comes to social justice and achieving one's dreams. There's never a dull moment with her and I don't tell her or show her nearly enough how great I think she is. It's too bad she didn't want gifts for Mother's Day because she deserves to be honoured with gifts. But I appreciate the strength of her stance just as I appreciate the strength of her personhood. I am so thankful that I've inherited many of her wonderful qualities.

If you happen to see my mum today, tell her how much I love and admire her.

Friday, May 10, 2013

We mourn and we rejoice

My friend Denise from Australia, the one many of you were praying for, died last week.

During the last few days of her time here in Redding, as she slowly slipped away from us, it seemed she was getting more and more glimpses of Heaven. While she couldn't carry on a conversation, she often sang what seemed like songs of praise. 

Miraculously, she and Wayne made it back to Australia to see their kids before she left this earth to be with her Lord. 

I would love to tell you all the things I learned from Denise and Wayne about love and radical faith and family and hope and healing and the presence of God. But it's not the time for expounding on theology or developing theories, it's a time to mourn and rejoice. 

But I will share the wisdom of my children with you. They had all been to visit Denise and had prayed for her healing with great faith. When we were discussing Denise's death, I asked them if they would hesitate to pray for someone so sick next time. 

Emma looked at me, mystified. "Why would we hesitate?"

Campbell said, "If we don't pray for people, they definitely won't get healed."

Cassie didn't say anything. She has taken it the hardest. I found her sobbing in her room last night, making a card that said, "I miss you, Denise." She met Denise when she was still lucid, and Denise prophesied and prayed for Cassie.

I miss Denise, too, and I only knew her for two weeks. As a wife, I can't imagine what Wayne is going through. As a mother, my heart breaks for Denise's five motherless children. I ache for my little daughter's broken heart. 

But I know that my Jesus cares for His little lambs. And I know that a deep desire to see healing has been birthed in Cassie and she will lay hands on the sick and see them healed. 

I also know we'll see Denise again, healthy and whole, in eternity. And I am still absolutely certain that God is good. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Lebanon: Forgiveness

Syria occupied Lebanon from the 80s until 2005. Now it's Syria that it's in turmoil and the Lebanese have a choice: To forgive or to get vengeance.

In the 1980s, one of the pastors of our host church in Beirut says the Syrians would hammer the Christian communities with artillery shells when they refused to fall in line with Syria's political wishes. He said his family would huddle at home, cowering as bombs landed all around. During one stretch, 3,500 shells a day landed in Jounieh, a Christian enclave next to Beirut. Do the math to figure out how many explosions that is per minute.

The shrine to the assassinated PM

The Christians from Tent of Praise host the Bethel team and share their faith with the Syrians. The Christians pass out memory cards for cell phones with sermons from Muslim converts and the gospel read in Arabic for these suffering Muslims, many who can’t read. The men plug the cards into their flip phones, testing the memory cards to make sure they work. People pray. Food packages are distributed.

These aren’t just old wounds. In 2005, Syria is believed to have orchestrated the assassination of the popular Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri. The bomb that killed him was so big it blew a crater 30 feet deep into the street. The shock waves were felt throughout the city. The heavily armored car transporting the prime minister and the vehicles making up the large security detail were vaporized.

Christians haven’t forgotten these offenses. But they’re choosing to forgive. Helping the Syrians is an act of humility and love. The small church in Beirut has paid for much of the supplies themselves, and they don't have much to give. It's sacrifice to break unforgiveness.

At another camp, a Bethel student asks to pray for an old man, probably a Sunni Muslim. The student feels the Spirit moving. His hand gets hot. The old man notices too, staring at the hand on his shoulder. The student speaks faster, feeling the Spirit pulling words out of his heart through his mouth.

The student calls the man’s spirit forward. The old man, broken but still proud, starts to cry. The student’s words come out fast, outrunning the translator trying to keep up in Arabic. But that’s okay. It’s the Spirit speaking -- right to this old man's heart.

Bethel students pray for Syrian refugees
The American missionary doing the translating is moved. He’s been in Lebanon for almost 35 years straight. “This is what we’ve been missing,” he says. “We need more people moving under the power of the Spirit. That’s what short term teams bring. They come in fresh, full of faith. They have a breaker anointing. They pray without inhibition.”

The Lebanese church needs people walking out their faith over the long term, even when they see little breakthrough. Muslims openly confess a love for Jesus only after considering the huge sacrifice they’re about to make. Sometimes things don’t end well for converts.

But the local church also needs others with fresh legs and hearts bringing in hope and faith from abroad. Both groups move with the Holy Spirit.

Sacrifice by those who have been hurt. Fresh passion from the outside.

It’s the Holy Spirit using teamwork to bring hope.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Lebanon - Peace is on the move

God changes lives. He certainly changed mine. 

But for a Muslim to make a commitment to follow Jesus means leaving family and friends behind... or worse. As a missionary you can spend years ministering in this part of the world and not see much fruit.

One of my favorite missionaries is a 55-year-old man who has lived there for 35 years. He and his wife raised their kids there. I think he's almost more Arab than American now.
Packing food for Syrian refugees

He's lived through a lot. One story stuck in my mind. He was remembering the worst days of the civil war, which ran from 1975 to 1990. The land was dangerous and Islamic terrorist organizations were targeting American and Christians spreading the gospel. A missionary couple was guilty on both counts and feared that they would be hit by a car bomb. So each morning, when the man left the house, the wife would sit in the car with him until he'd started the car. If one of them was going to die, they wanted to go to heaven together.

If there's a book about the history in the Arab world that this missionary friend hasn't read it's not worth reading. He's lead countless teams in evangelistic and humanitarian campaigns through the Middle East. He is now a lecturer, invited in to do short-term teaching engagements at missions bases across the world.

He's sacrificed a lot to be here. He regularly gets invited to speak at conferences but has to insist that the organizers not publish his name or picture or record his talks. This shyness limits his career. He's almost a hidden gem, speaking Arabic fluently, knowing the culture like it's his own. Recently he's spoken to the senior leadership at different Christian ministries, advising them on how to conduct their own evangelistic outreach to Muslims.

It's very difficult being a missionary in the Muslim world but things are changing.


A young American missionary in Beirut has a theory. He believes that the tragedy at the World Trade Center in New York woke the North American church to the Muslim world. At roughly the same time, God was instilling in the Church a renewed passion for prayer. A number of 24/7 prayer movements (, started in the early 2000s.

God is moving. The underground church in Iran is the fastest growing church in the world. Satellite TV and the Internet are opening doors to places the church has never been able to go. And God is moving powerfully through dreams and visions.

God loves us and God loves the Middle East. The people there are beautifully generous and open. I shared many cups of sweet tea in Syrian refugee camps, provided by people who don't have much more than that to eat or drink themselves.

A few Muslim leaders teach their flock to hate Westerners. But I bet that while sitting in a makeshift tent in a refugee camp, smiling, shaking hands, playing with little kids, the hate starts to feel irrational, especially when the Americans (and Canadian) in your tent just gave you big bags of food that you so desperately need.

As one Syrian put it, "in 1989 I hated you. I wanted to kill you. But how does it help if someone kills your son and you go and kills his? It just makes you a killer too. Better to say I forgive you."

Amen. God is on the move.