Dear Friends, If you don’t have time to read the encouraging story below, the top-line is that we received our Thai Visas and will be arriving in Bangkok Saturday night, April 17th, to begin a two-week strict mandated quarantine. Praise God and please pray as we discuss below. But I do encourage you to read the following powerful story, a reflection on 2 Kings 6.
“Alas, master! It was borrowed!” 2 Kings 6:5
I love the quirky story of the borrowed axehead in 2 Kings 6. This hapless young prophet is the patron saint of all those who lose their keys or their rings and who pray to the LORD for their recovery. Does the creator God of the universe care about our lost keys? Apparently he does. Still, it is an odd miracle at a time when miracles were rare, even for Elisha. Many lepers remained lepers, many dead sons remained dead, and many lost things remained lost. But here, when Elisha makes the axehead float, God shows mercy to Elisha’s young padawan and gives hope to all of us who have avoided minor calamities when we call out to God for help to recover a lost item, however precious or mundane.
The remainder of 2 Kings 6 shows that often the work of God is unseen. The king of Aram, knowing that Elisha is his enemy’s secret weapon, sneaks up on him in the middle of the night with an overwhelming armed force. Elisha is calm when it appears, but his servant, responding using the exact same phrase as the trainee prophet in the previous story, cries out in alarm at the urgent threat facing them. “Alas, Master!”
Elisha remains calm because he knows he is doing what he is supposed to be doing. He is trusting in his Lord. So he can see the imposing heavenly army on his side and fears no threat. But it is surprising that, seeing the armies of the Lord, he doesn’t assume they are there to slaughter his enemies. Instead, his divine perspective gives him the courage to walk up to the opposing army and offer to lead them to the “man that they seek”. They are blinded by the Lord and go on with Elisha as he walks them right into the walls of Samaria, to be completely surrounded by Israel’s troops with weapons.
The king of Israel assumes that he should kill his enemy’s troops, as he has them in his power. But Elisha once again, knowing his team has the military advantage, does not assume that advantage is given in order to use it for death and destruction, but rather he teaches the king to use it to pursue peace: welcome the army, feast them as friends, and they will become so! And that is what they do.
Elisha is the main character in this story, but two characters can serve as models when we face overwhelming odds or confusing circumstances:
But the forces with us are greater than those against us. God can use the divergence of our plans to carry out His Plan, while we can only see the next step. We asked recently for prayer for our Thai visas, and we received them, amazingly since it seemed that the consulate was scrutinizing and demanding, signaling a decision to decline to issue them. So God has left the door open to move ahead, and we believe that we will not be ashamed or endangered, but led to friends we have not yet met. God’s purposes for us and plans for our ministry will unfold over time.
From Lisa: We are sending a quick note with two specific prayer requests. First, we applied today for visas to enter Thailand. While our hope very much continues to be to serve in Malaysia, Thailand has opened its borders to tourists who are willing to quarantine for two weeks in a hotel. We had been waiting to pursue this until we were vaccinated. When we received our first shot, we quickly began to pray and work toward entry into Thailand, to at least get onto the same time zone where we will both be teaching courses this spring. The past ten days have been a whirlwind of efforts to track down the multiple documents required for the visas. The team at St. Paul’s Theological College in Kuala Lumpur continues to warmly welcome us, and they are very happy about this plan. They are hopeful Malaysia’s borders will open in the next 2-3 months.
We are so grateful that we were able to pull all the documentation together before we leave this Wednesday for a visit to my newly vaccinated mom and our daughter and son-in-law in North Carolina, and Rich’s sister in Kentucky. If the visa application comes back with a green light, we will have just two weeks to pack, say goodbyes to friends, and be ready to fly on April 16. So, we would ask for your prayers for that Thai Visa approval and the many details it would set in motion.
Secondly, Rich will begin teaching his Sketches of Leadership courses in a few new places this spring and summer, and so is pursuing getting them translated into several more languages, including into Chinese and Hindi, both of which will be useful in Malaysia, and in other countries as well. This would greatly expand the reach of his curriculum and teaching. Please pray for these new opportunities, and for the teaching and translation processes which he is working on from a distance.
Thanks so much, and as always, we love to get notes in reply here.
Rich and Lisa
Recently I (Rich) have been teaching parables in the gospels and have taught Jesus’ Parable of the Sower from either the gospel of Mark or the Gospel of Luke, and every time, this verse draws much conversation: “For to those who have, more will be given; and from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.” (Mark 4:25, Luke 8:18).
I have been teaching these parables to church planters in India and seminarians and pastors in Nepal. This passage bothers them because they thought Jesus was speaking about wealth. But of course, though Jesus speaks much about wealth, its proper uses, dangers, and deceits, the context shows that he was not speaking about wealth in Luke 8 or Mark 4, but rather about response to the Word. He gives them a parable about how the word, his teaching, goes out and lands in various soils, the soils of people’s hearts. Some hearts are hardened to it, or just not interested, and it bounces right off, never even germinating. Some hearts receive the word but only superficially, not allowing it to really take deep roots. And some hearts receive the word and act on it faithfully, consistently, persistently, and it grows and bears much fruit.
I usually ask, “What type of soil are you?” Of course, we all want to be good soil. But I will then make the point that in fact we all are all the soils, at different times. Sometimes I hear a sermon in a Zoom worship service and I am distracted by whatever else is clamoring for my attention that day, and the seed goes out from the Zoom preacher into the soil of my heart, only to bounce off as I can scarcely remember what passage was being preached even just a few minutes later. Sometimes I will pay attention for a while, but the distractions come soon after my hearing of the word and I don’t really ponder it—it doesn’t really take root nor bear fruit. And sometimes I will hear the word, ponder it, try to work it out, allow myself to be surprised by it, and even humbled by it, as I realize it contains a message that I need that day, a message that softens my heart toward my wife after an argument or toward the poor after the social isolation of our current global predicament. The seed sown by the preacher has taken root and born good fruit.
Though this may not be a new idea to many of you, it is often a fresh idea for the people I am teaching, and a welcome one. They can recognize in themselves the same pattern I describe in myself. This prepares them to hear Jesus’ admonition, therefore, to “Pay attention to what you hear, for the measure you give will be the measure you get, and still more will be given to you.” The Indian church planters admit that they have often preached the latter part of this verse, using it to talk about money, the measure you give in offerings will be the measure that God returns to you in blessings. But, in context, that is clearly not what Jesus is saying. Jesus is warning people not to lazily hear the Word of God—when the word is being read or preached, “Pay attention!” We should do this because the measure we give (of attention) is the measure we will get (of understanding), and still more (teaching, words, understanding) will be given.
All this comes before the dramatic conclusion to this teaching, in either Mark or Luke, when Jesus says, “For to those who have, will more be given, and from those who have not, even what they have will be taken away.” Part of my role as a teacher is to coax out and engender interest in the text, in the word of God itself. Happily, most of my teaching is with very motivated students: seminarians, pastors, church planters, IFES campus staff workers and staff supervisors, or IFES student leaders. I have been blessed with many very motivated groups of people. (And Lisa is similarly blessed as well, teaching seminarians and advanced theologians who are ready to ponder the word deeply and to preach it thoughtfully.) But in any group, there will be those who have more (interest, attentiveness, eagerness to learn) and those who have, well, less. So my desire is to help people to grow in their moreness, growing in interest and attentiveness to the word. Then I am glad to, as Jesus did, give more (attention, teaching, coaching) to the people who have more (interest and attentiveness).
As to the meanness of “even what they have will be taken away,” I for one do very little taking away. But it is true that those who don’t listen well, or pay attention, or act on what they hear, or seek more understanding—for those people, over time, what little understanding they do get flies out of their brain as they turn their focus on to other things. It isn’t God, Jesus, or even the teacher being mean, it is just the way the brain works. (So pay attention to what you hear!)
I have been teaching six days a week, usually 1.5 to 4 hours/day, for the last seven months. That is far from full-time, so when I am not teaching, I am grading, or preparing. I’ve done a lot of writing of short teaching tools called Sketches of Leadership, which Lisa mentioned in the last letter. This has been tremendously satisfying for me. New ones (and old) can be found here.
But I have a number of relationships with people who, over the years, have had much and have sought more, and I am available to them because, as Jesus said, to those who have, more will be given. So I spend extra time answering questions about assignments, or taking calls from IFES staff in various parts of Eurasia, or praying for church planters in India through WhatsApp. Yesterday, I was on a call with Team Leaders in Ukraine, talking with them about the ministry of supervision and helping them to be better developmental coaches in their supervision role with the staff they lead. My friends in Ukraine have much and I am always glad to give them more, as they have appetite for it.
And in fact, in yesterday’s call, one of the principles of supervision I was talking about was, “To those who have, more will be given.” Because, though it can seem counter-intuitive or at least unfair, it is the principle by which Jesus invested in his disciples, and they in theirs, and it has made the difference in my own life, and indeed is right at the heart of the discipleship model of anyone successfully doing the work of passing along the ministry to the next generation. I am so pleased to be able to be fully devoted to this work.
So what are you doing with the Word you’ve heard recently? I hope that in this season of Lent, God is meeting you richly as you dwell in his Word.
Prayer Requests and Updates:
As you can imagine, we wish we could describe for you a clear plan and timetable for getting to Southeast Asia. The best plan we have is that we will book tickets a month or so out from when we get our first vaccination. At that point, if Malaysia has not yet opened to folks from the US, we will seek to enter Thailand. We are both teaching courses in Malaysia in the summer for which it would be really helpful to be in the same time zone, and Thailand would at least get us that. And it should be easier to enter Malaysia coming from Thailand than from the US.
In the meantime, we ask for prayers for health, patience, cheerful hearts, and that we would seize opportunities to serve from a distance as well as we can.
We are so grateful for each of you being on our team, and we would love to hear how we can pray specifically for you, so hit reply here and drop us a note!
Dear Friends, We greet you with the hope and peace of Advent!
A sketch is a good metaphor for our lives lately—we don’t have the full picture filled in, but we continue to pick up pencils and try to map out possible futures. We keep a lot of erasers handy! We are still in Pasadena, at the House of Rest, an apartment complex set aside decades ago as a place for missionaries between assignments. We are immensely grateful for this provision!
When we came in September, we knew Malaysia’s borders would be closed through 2020, but hoped to head there in early January. With the recent spike in COVID-19 cases, we have no idea when borders might open. Even if they do so soon, at this point we have made the decision not to attempt to leave the US without a vaccine (we hear your sighs of relief). We have promised my mom, daughter, and son-in-law another visit to North Carolina before leaving the country, so we are hoping for sufficient flattening of the curve for that travel to be deemed safe early in 2021. We are not holding our breath for any timetable, but we are, on our good days, walking that line of patience and hope, as we know all of you are needing to do in multiple areas of your lives.
“So, you’re basically in Rich Lamb Hog Heaven, aren’t you?”
…said a friend, after listening to Rich describe his life these days. Rich has stood out as the MVP of our little team for his capacity to make tasty lemonade of the lemons which life has handed us. I (Lisa) am so proud of the way he has sought out opportunities and said yes to invitations to invest in leaders, never complaining about the disruption of his sleep schedule.
He has taught this fall (via Zoom of course) in India, Moldova, Ukraine, and Nepal, with occasional sessions for St. Paul’s Theological College in Malaysia as well. Most mornings, he begins teaching at 4:30 or 5AM. After a brief nap, he starts in with gusto on the creation of new content. He will teach a new course, Gospel Survey: Ministry Insights from Jesus, for Nepal New Covenant College this winter. This has propelled a deep dive into the gospels, which he has enjoyed immensely, and the creation of over 30 new Sketches. For those not familiar with his Sketches, they are modules designed for flexible use in an adult Sunday School, small group, leadership training session, or as part of a more formal class, such as a leadership or gospel survey course. The format is simple: page one is a Bible study. Page two synthesizes that content in a paradigm for ministry or discipleship. Pages three and four are the leader’s notes. He has enjoyed working with a designer in Romania, and many of them have been translated into Ukrainian, Russian, Romanian, and Nepali, with more of that translation work underway now.
Each sketch is designed to be taught in an hour or less, so they are ideal not only for the classes he’s teaching, but for those leaders to take into their small groups, adult Sunday School or youth group settings, etc. It is multiplicative ministry at its best to hear that leaders in rural Nepal are tweaking them to fit their context and using them to build up their churches. And you are welcome to use them, too! Here’s a link that describes the Sketches and how to download them. If you’d like a walk-through of how to use them, he’d be happy to offer a Zoom/phone call and a quick tutorial—just not too early in the morning!
I (Lisa) have honestly had a harder time finding my lemonade-maker this fall. Life gave me lemons and I sliced one open and arranged half of it next to three other ones? It’s a start! I have felt like the limping member of the team, at times literally as I have struggled with a persistent knee injury. I probably took on too much, with two online Fuller courses and a small distance-learning-style course in Nepal. I have not enjoyed the real-time contact Rich has with students, and with IFES staff-workers he has known for years (in Ukraine and Moldova). My days have mostly involved grading, but there have been a few surprisingly enjoyable highlights. The best way I could contribute at St. Paul’s in Malaysia this fall was to help get some theology lectures recorded for classes that had to move online quickly, so I created lectures on topics as varied as Pneumatology, Atonement Theories, Free Church Ecclesiology, Preaching for Weddings, and Preaching for Funerals. While I never saw the students, it did awaken an interest in teaching systematic theology more in the future, so I may yet have that as a glass of lemonade with which to toast the welcomed end of 2020. I also very much enjoyed some opportunities to preach this fall.
Knee and Nancy Updates: My (Lisa's) right knee has had 6 episodes of swelling up a lot in the last few months. When this happens, it cannot bend or bear any weight, and is quite painful. Two orthopedists agree that it is not a matter for a knee replacement, and one rheumatologist believes it is in part due to an infection in the spring where the immune response never quite shut down, and settled on my mildly arthritic knee as a locale to go to work. An odd but plausible theory, with frustratingly no treatment plan but ‘take it easy.’
My mom, Nancy, is settling in well overall in Durham, a grateful diner at Becca and Avery’s table once a week. We sadly cancelled flights for a visit which would have been this week, but we talk almost daily.
Friends, we are so grateful for your prayers and support in this strange year. We pray that the gifts of Advent-hope, peace, joy, and the love of Christ--would fill your hearts and strengthen you to endure the challenges of this season. We’d love to hear what your lemons and hog-heavens have been this fall! Drop us a note with a quick update any ways we can be praying for you.
With love and gratitude,
Rich and Lisa
While we remain in Pasadena under all the continued constraints of the COVID travel lockdown, we have transitioned into a full fall schedule of teaching. I (Rich) do most of my teaching in the early morning hours.
his past Saturday, I was teaching the passage in 2 Kings 4:1-7, where Elisha is petitioned by a woman, recently widowed, whose husband was a member of the school of prophets. The prophet left debts behind, and she is desperate because people are going to take away her children to clear her husband's debts. Elisha says, "What can I do for you? What do you have in the house?" to which she at first answers, "Nothing!" but then she remembers that, well, technically she doesn't have "nothing" so she adds, "... except a jar with a little oil in it". He tells her to borrow vessels, "and not just a few" and then to go home and begin pouring the oil into all the vessels. This meant her asking, not just her two best friends, but that gruff man down the block who always yelled at her kids. She borrows vessels from people to whom she has rarely spoken. And as she continues to fill jar after jar, she sees the miraculous provision of God. It is a fun and beautiful story.
I have taught this passage many times before, usually making the point that, while this is just a miracle story and hence not a direct teaching, it can also be viewed as a parable, a dramatic picture of how God often works. 1) He uses what we have. 2) He calls us to act in obedience, taking risks which require faith. 3) He often works through our community. 4) He meets our steps of faith with his unmistakable power. So, this can be a picture of how God works in evangelism. We must gather the vessels (outreach events, conversations with non-believers) and God provides the oil (interested people in whom God is already at work, soft hearts ready to receive the message, the work of the Holy Spirit in people's hearts). It is an inspiring reminder of how God works, whether to grow student fellowships or churches, or to provide for his people in need. As a parable. Certainly a fair reading of this story.
But, when I was discussing this passage with about 15 church planters and evangelists in Odisha India, I wanted to make the point that this woman was not likely expecting her husband to die. Her husband was not likely an old man, nor was she an old woman, but a young woman with young children. Her husband likewise would have been young, not expecting to die. I asked the men on the Zoom call, "How many of you have young kids at home?" They almost all raised their hands. "The prophet who left behind this widow was likely about your age." They were struck by this in a new way, and soon I was hearing them share about how important it was to them that this widow was provided for by God through Elisha. These men intuitively identified with the man who had died, leaving behind a struggling widow. I must be honest and admit that I have never read this passage seeing myself in the position of the prophet who died. My widow wouldn't be without resources, our children wouldn't have been in peril. But these men are very like the prophet, living more directly by faith than I can reasonably claim to have ever done. It was no parable to them, and they didn't have to abstract the lesson of the passage in order to apply it. It was a comfort that the Lord saw them and would protect their wives and families in the case of an untimely death, especially in this COVID time.
I was humbled as we carried on the discussion. These are not simple men--they also understood the parable that the story portrayed, and we discussed how it challenges us to be people who "offer up more vessels" into which God can pour out the Holy Spirit and move powerfully in people. One man, K_______, asked for prayer for the Hindu family he's reaching out to this week. As I prayed, all I could see in his video feed was his ear, pressed up to the receiver on his phone, which was near his phone camera. Like many of them, his electricity often goes out at night and he proceeds with the study by candlelight on his cell phone. He was eager to hear my prayer for him, though his English was somewhat limited. I continue to pray for Pastor K this week and am eager to get the update on Saturday.
But my joy in the study was born out of a sense of what an honor and gift I receive each week, that I am able to study scripture with people who live lives very close to the context of the scripture we are studying, and from whom I can learn things I have not seen before because of that proximity. I know these men are grateful that I am spending time teaching them, and they are very motivated learners. But I count it a delight and a joy to be able to be with and pray with and for them! Please join me in prayer for the front line church planting work of these apostolic church planters in Odisha state.
Adventures in Online Cross Cultural Teaching Part 3
I love teaching about the power of narrative. The stories of Scripture have always been my portal of choice into the deepest truths of our faith. One of my favorite theologians said, “What Jesus did was as authoritative and as much revelation of God as what he said and taught. When Jesus healed on the Sabbath, the act of healing became a text by which a true theology of the Sabbath was revealed.” Neuroscience is confirming narrative’s power to evoke empathy and identification and allow us to take new perspectives. This podcast ( https://www.npr.org/transcripts/795977814) illuminates the concept of narrative transportation, whereby our minds really do enter a different realm and mode when we are swept away into the world of the story. We relate to the dilemmas even of characters we may not like much. That imaginative immersion is fostered by vivid scene painting, leaning into the tensest moments in the plot, and lively dialogue.
Even more than teaching on the concept of narrative, I love empowering students to excel as storytellers. A few of them walk in already conceiving of themselves as natural storytellers, but many surprise themselves with their ability to be creative in response to some of the tasks I hand them. One such challenge I give is to bring a fresh and lively retelling of a story from Scripture, from the perspective of a minor character—and not necessarily a human! In previous courses, I have enjoyed hearing one of the lost coins narrate her journey from stuck deep in the recesses of the bedsheets to found and treasured by her ‘lady,’ and I relished hearing a stone in a creek-bed describe the day it was pulled out and engaged to knock out Goliath.
My students in Malaysia rose to the occasion like champs. Karen became Aaron’s rod, recounting her many adventures in Egypt and the wilderness. Sheela spoke as Peter. She deftly sliced open the dejected moment when energy and hope was flagging in the upper room, shortly before the Holy Spirit came, then she walked us through his transformation to passionate preacher at Pentecost. Janice became Judas’ coin purse, and narrated with poignancy the moment she listened to her owner scoffing at the anointing of Jesus at Bethany, and had a sense her master’s heart was headed to a dark place. A few of them added creative backgrounds on Zoom—Janice spoke with this one:
 Anderson, Ray, The Shape of Practical Theology, Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2001, p. 13.
Later, in other speeches, we worked with the more deductive skills of teaching an aspect of Christian doctrine, persuading listeners to act towards justice and mercy in our communities, and bringing a word of wisdom and care into the challenges listeners are facing in the pandemic. But we all agreed that the storytelling challenge was our favorite!
If you would like to sharpen your own skills as a storyteller, these are some of my favorite resources:
Buster, Bobette, Do Story: How to Tell Your Story so the World Listens https://www.amazon.com/Do-Story-story-world-listens-ebook/dp/B00CT3JW6E
MacKenzie, Alice, Making a Scene in the Pulpit https://www.amazon.com/Making-Scene-Pulpit-Preaching-Listeners/dp/0664261566
McKee, Robert: Story https://www.amazon.com/Story-Structure-Substance-Principles-Screenwriting-ebook/dp/B0042FZVOY
Willobee, Sondra, The Write Stuff https://www.amazon.com/Write-Stuff-Crafting-Sermons-Convince/dp/0664232817/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=the+write+stuff+preaching&qid=1598146573&s=books&sr=1-1
Wright, John, Telling God’s Story https://www.amazon.com/Story-Structure-Substance-Principles-Screenwriting-ebook/dp/B0042FZVOY
Adventures in Online Cross Cultural Teaching Part 2
I thoroughly enjoyed the Filipino preaching students I taught this summer through the Asian Theological Seminary. A few of them were as eloquent as any students I have ever heard preach. All of them were sharp observers of their own cultures (plural because one student was Cambodian, and one Filipino was pastoring a church in Japan—one of the benefits of the Zoom classroom). They were also astute in their appreciation and critique of preaching in the Philippines, and they related the Scriptures to their contexts in striking ways.
At the end of our second session, after I had lectured on the purposes of the sermon as it has been conceived by the church through the centuries, I asked them to name some characteristics of preaching in the Philippines. Renz said, “Our preaching is halo halo--and we love it like that.” They all smiled in agreement, but this professor needed some translation! Halo halo, it turns out, is a favorite Filipino dessert made of a mixture of colorful flavors of ice cream, various fruits, and other toppings. It looks like the above appetizing image.
This was Renz’s way of saying that sermons in the Philippines can seem to meander a bit, moving in and out of story and more didactic modes, but as a whole the various elements form something delicious and a pleasure to hear.
On a heavier note, they did not shy away from bringing in the sorrows of their nation, relating themes in Scripture to those struggles. For example, to illustrate the vulnerability of the disciples on the sea in the storm, a student shared about the vulnerability felt by Overseas Filipino Workers, particularly women, who often find themselves at the mercy of cruel and abusive employers in parts of the Middle East and elsewhere. In 2019 there were 2.2 million Filipinos working abroad, as this report shows:
Another student, in a powerful sermon on Psalm 88 and the practice of lament, related it to the Filipino practice of tampo, a Filipino word which roughly translates to sulking, withdrawing, and pouting. He then made this excellent point:
“The language of Tampo or sulking, which is present in laments, is reserved for those who we share a close relationship with. We don't sulk against the mailman, we do Tampo to the people who are close to our hearts.” He went on to say that the psalms of lament show us prayerful engagement with God through the honest articulation of our struggles.
At one point or another they all spoke poignantly of the toll the Coronavirus and the nation’s strict quarantine is having on their economy. One student was recovering from it, and one had many ill family members. They regularly commented that the course itself was good for them, both as it allowed them to see partners in ministry they had not seen in person in physical classrooms for a long time, and because it stretched them to proclaim the goodness of God into painful circumstances. It was a privilege to teach this gifted group of emerging preachers (yes, all men—not typical for the seminary, just how enrollment happened this summer for some reason), and an education for me, as well. Now to find some halo halo here in Los Angeles—it does indeed look delicious!
Adventures in Online Cross Cultural Teaching Part 1
If you teach or lead groups of people, whether children or adults, in classrooms, corporate, non-profit, or congregational settings, you have probably felt like you have been playing ping pong with your best hand tied behind your back for the past few months. We who teach are grieving the transformative moments that can happen in the shared space of a physical classroom. In those spaces, we work hard to cultivate not only ‘aha’ moments within individuals’ minds and hearts, but gracious learning communities which spur each other on to growth. I have been reflecting on how we can still forge community and catalyze transformative learning experiences even when seemingly reduced to tiles. I offer my zany experiments in hopes they may encourage you and that you might be able to transfer the essence of an idea here, if not necessarily the specifics, to the good work you are doing this fall.
As a professor of preaching and communication I am particularly keen to build a sense of safety and freedom to experiment. It is a vulnerable act to get up in front of a group and speak about what matters. One on hand, the public speaking act is less frightening when one is merely speaking into one’s screen while seated. I saw no trembling hands and heard no quavering voices in my summer courses. But I knew that by the third session of the Effective Communication for Ministry course I taught to students in Malaysia and Singapore, they would be asked to share a Word of Witness, testifying to how God met them in a challenging season, and inviting us to trust the God who met them. This is a risky assignment, and I need them to trust each other for it to succeed. How to build that sense of community? This summer, I put my money on outrageous silliness.
First, I briefly introduced a classic model for a persuasive speech: Monroe’s Motivated Sequence. Many of you know this basic flow from Need to Satisfaction (or Problem to Solution), moving to Visualization (painting a vivid picture of the good that will come if hearers adopt your proposal/purchase your product), culminating in a call to Action. I told them they would be selling items to each other, inviting them to pretend they had somehow come into a large supply of these items and were genuinely convinced they would transform the lives of their fellow students. I tucked in the element of Testimony since it is so central to my understanding of powerful persuasive speech. Monroe’s sequence begins with getting attention, but I figured I had that covered with the items themselves! I called the name of a student, showed him or her a slide, gave a whopping 15 seconds to figure out what problem this item could solve, and then asked them to sell us the item for a minimum of two minutes. These were my favorites:
I will add that I modeled the vulnerability inherent in this exercise by going first. I invited them to pick a number, and then I bravely sold that item--I believe I got a tacky tiara. Then it was their turn. I had no idea how this would go—would this silliness transfer across cultures? Would they rise to the occasion or pack it in?
To my relief, what ensued was utter hilarity. The students bravely embraced the challenge, convincing us that our lives were on the brink of destruction because we lacked chicken tutus or squirrel finger extensions. They painted glorious scenarios of the better futures we would enjoy if we bought an under-the-desk hammock or a napping hat-- NOW! We laughed uproariously, deepening connection and affection between us in the process. Laughter was a gorgeous gift, an injection of lightness and grace into a somber season.
How can you inject laughter into a team meeting, class session, or congregational gathering this week?
What other practices might serve to build joyful collaboration among the teams, online classrooms, or congregations you lead or participate in, this fall?
"Social distancing" was very familiar to Jesus. Lepers lived their entire lives socially distancing, keeping away from others and never getting near to someone who wasn't already a leper, for fear of making the other person unclean. In Mark 1:40ff, a leper approaches Jesus, boldly declaring, "If you want to, you can make me clean." Jesus does want to heal the leper, but he gives the leper more than he asks for--he reaches out in compassion and touches him. The leper would never have held his hand out to Jesus, but Jesus reaches across the vast social distance between himself and this man, and not only heals him, but accepts him, greets him, gives him his care. Presence is powerful, and we are poignantly aware of the lack of it as we teach this month.
Zoom ministry, as exciting as it was 4 months ago, is getting a little old for everyone. The ability to see big groups of people, break them into small groups for discussion, and in general have an on-line session with most of the mechanics of a live one-- well, the thrill of that new experience is gone, replaced with a lingering sense of disappointment at not being present in person.
Nevertheless, Lisa and I are grateful for opportunities to teach multiple groups in Asia this summer. Here's what we've been doing this month:
With a Zoom class, one thing that is more difficult is getting to know people in the casual way it is possible to do in a live classroom setting. We have both sought several ways to build connection points, in introductory videos and emails, Whatsapp chats, etc.
This Saturday we will discuss student-generated case studies on the topic of leadership development..Students have created a case studies from their own life and ministry experience so that we can learn from both success and failure, strengths and weaknesses. (I stressed in advance that a story that is all about how well everything worked with no points of tension or disappointment may make for a good testimony, but not a good case study!)
Tuesday night we looked at Matthew 14, the story of Peter walking on water toward Jesus, as an example of "successful failure". The students shared that, in Malaysian/Asian cultural context, success is highly valued and there really is not any good model of considering failure successful, which means people are often risk avoidant because the cost of failure is seen to be too high. My goal is to help people "lean into redemptive failure" and to be willing to be a learner, even in front of their peers.
I am looking forward to discussions of the student case studies. I've seen a few of them--they aren't due yet--and I know that they are ready to share openly and to learn together. Even though we cannot be in the same room, or greet each other as warmly as we would like, we can still both cross the ocean of cultural distance and the natural hesitations that make vulnerability in front of peers or leaders a challenge, and build relational connections through our shared work and learning together. Please join me in praying for these women and men of Kuala Lumpur as we gather on Saturday morning their time to learn from one another.
Gratitude for Answered Prayer, and Prayer requests:
Rich and Lisa
Friends, you do not need me to tell you that this has been a horrendously difficult season for the United States. We have watched the fissures of our racial divisions and societal injustices exposed in painful ways. We grieve along with our brothers and sisters who are more directly affected by that racism. The wounds of our nation are raw. Underneath that, a global pandemic continues to cause immense suffering, both physical and economic, to many of us, and to those living in poverty around the world. We mourn along with those of you who have been touched directly by the virus or the ensuing loss of income, or even both. Amid all that, it can seem callous or trivial to share our hopes for the coming weeks. Yet, several have asked for an update on our plans. So, let me (Lisa) first share two glimpses of hope from the past week, then our schedule as far out as we know it, and a few specific ways you may be praying for us.
A Glimmer of Hope in the night: One evening last week, I stayed up late to join the staff prayer meeting of St. Paul’s Theological College. That same night, Rich and I got up at 4am to join their online chapel service. This is the college whose faculty I will join this fall, God willing. It was lovely to get to know them a bit better, and to chat greetings to the students in chapel. It was a little reminder of why we are so eager to join the good work of the vibrant church in Malaysia. This video of the churches of Malaysia singing God’s blessing gives a glimpse of that as well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9vJw3tZ7E0
Last Friday, ninety pastoral leaders from Malaysia and Singapore gathered on a Zoom call, thanks to the agile leadership of Dr. Siew Pik Lim, President of Alpha Omega College (AOIC). They shared in breakout rooms the greatest challenges of leading their congregations while under quarantine, and the surprising ways they have seen God at work. I then spoke for about forty-five minutes about a theology of hope in hard times, followed by specific, practical resources for preaching and pastoring online. To prepare, I read broadly about how optimism is affected by trauma, disasters, and constrained resources within organizations, and studies of people who display surprising resilience in the face of those challenges. I dug into the little gem of a book, On Hope, by theologian Jose Pieper, and meditated on key Scripture texts. I also read multiple reports from the field regarding what is working well in the strange new world of online preaching, and reflected on what has gone well and not-so-well in the dozens of sermons I have heard preached online for my classes this quarter. (Suggestions included: Preach as if to one friendly-but-struggling person, expect humor and vulnerability to be much harder, expect it to be more draining and less rewarding, and yet celebrate all that it makes possible. Listeners can still be moved, inspired, and galvanized to action by your words…more than you can imagine.)
The ninety-minute gathering was so inspiring! These pastors are passionate to serve their congregations well. Some are working in settings with limited or no internet, and most have experienced a loss in giving to their churches. They are persevering under more severe quarantines than many of us in the United States. They asked excellent questions and kept up a lively chat presence throughout the time. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Rich will do a similar workshop this coming Friday:
These workshops give us renewed hope that there is good work to do in partnership with the church in Malaysia, even if we cannot physically get there yet. We will both teach intensive online courses (Communication for Ministry, and Biblical Leadership) for Alpha Omega International College. In late May, we had to make an educated guess as to whether the borders would open for foreigners to enter Malaysia, and after much prayer we chose to seek housing in North Carolina, where we could teach these courses, which are scheduled for evenings in Malaysia, at 7am, rather than at 4am, from California. Housing there is also cheaper than in CA, and we are also of course happy to be a 4-minute walk from our daughter and son-in-law, Becca and Avery, for the month!
I will also begin a Homiletics course for Asia Theological Seminary https://www.ats.ph/ in the Philippines, two evenings (North Carolina mornings) each week for six weeks.
Here is our itinerary for the coming weeks, after we leave our current perch at an Air BnB in Pasadena:
Rich and Lisa
Rich and Lisa Lamb