When events happen that make it seem as if there is no order, I find it encouraging to watch the creative design of God, even in small details.

Recently I found some beautiful pictures that depict God’s creativity and attention to detail.  (I got these from https://www.flickr.com/photos/cymaii/ )

Bläuling (Lycaenidae)

“For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible….”

Streifenwanze (Graphosoma lineatum)

…And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (The Bible, Colossians 1:16,17)

Color Tube

These water splash photographs are by Heinz Maier. (also from https://www.flickr.com/photos/cymaii/).

Red on White

His macro photography catches in stop action the physics principles which God has established. If God watches over butterflies and water splashes with such skill and detail, can I not — must I not– entrust my situation to Him?  Would I really want to seize control and take things into my own hands, when I have a God who does this continually?

I do not always see the beauty of His work. Sometimes it is marred by sin and sickness. But I choose to believe, as do we as a family, that God is good and mighty good.


Along this line,  I wrote in a similar vein in speaking of fractals.

In Romans 5:1-11 the Apostle Paul describes a glorious spiritual life. Here are the highlights:

…justified by faith, peace with God through Christ, access by faith into His grace, rejoicing in hope of the glory of God, glory in tribulations, love of God poured in our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us, God’s love demonstrated toward us while we were yet sinners, now having been justified we shall be saved from wrath, rejoicing in God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

My question to you is this: Who is this glorious life for?

Most of us would answer: We who believe.  But the fact that nearly everyone of us in the church give this wrong answer is perhaps the main reason thousands of people are not discovering salvation in Jesus Christ. As I read the first chapters of Romans, I believe the best answer is: The kind of sinners who don’t deserve it.

The assertion I want to make in this article is this:

The single greatest impediment to the advance of the Christian faith among all peoples is the prideful entitlement of those who already believe — an attitude which results not only in apathy but judgmental exclusion of those whom God loves.

I realize that is a very bold statement, one which I hope to prove. Immediately preceding Paul’s glorious description of life in Christ in Romans 5:1-11, he has laid down four chapters confronting his Jewish readers about their presumption of an inside track on God’s favor. To this group of Jewish insiders, the “Gentiles” or “Greeks” were undeserving outsiders.  Paul warns them of this dangerous thinking, correctly teaching that the gospel is for all. The climax in chapter five is that the blessed life in Christ is expressly intended for those who once were outsiders, and whom insiders even to this hour consider unworthy, uninterested, and  unreachable.

I cannot speak about the church globally, but my opinion is that the church in America has fallen prey to the mistaken notion of our entitlement just as had first century Jews. We have come to consider ourselves as the insiders and relegated as outsiders a variety of people, such as Arabs, Muslims, lower class, undocumented, gays, disabled, prisoners, refugees, elderly, demented, trafficked and traffickers.

Romans chapters one through four must be studied with new eyes, and must lead us, who consider ourselves to be insiders, to sorrow that leads to repentance. Imagine the joy in the heart of God in these results…

The Arab justified by faith,
the Muslim at peace with God through Christ,
the poor man having access by faith into His grace,
the undocumented rejoicing in hope of the glory of God!

I believe this is the kind of fruit that God desires and Paul wrote about.  But we will not see much of this harvest unless we confront our sense of entitlement.

But how do we do that? I will continue this discussion in a future post…..

I am looking forward to once again participating in the North American mission leaders conference. This year it is in Atlanta during Sep. 25-27.

It will be a privilege to co-present with Ken Baker a workshop on Saturday morning on “Intercultural Unity: An Organizational Imperative” (What it is, and why it matters).

The Ethnic America Network is a sponsor of this year’s conference, and “Immigration and Migration” is one of the tracks. This is an exciting development. Please pray that we will all be encouraged in our thinking and implementation of the “signs of the times.”  I have written about this reality, calling it The 10-40 Mirror, because the nations of the 10-40 Window are now reflected in our great global cities!

I’m also excited to announce that we are changing our public name from One Challenge USA to NEAR FRONTIERS: Partnering to Love the World Next Door.

Many  who once were geographically far away are now near. So we are excited to partner among churches of all kinds in these ways:

  • serve the underserved
  • embrace all cultures
  • welcome the nations

This U.S. ministry, which I am privileged to lead, remains under OC International, the ministry family Lyn and I have served with, and loved, since 1989.

If you are at the conference, stop by the EAN table and pick up a flyer with a bit more info on our new focus.  Thanks!



When the Spirit weeps

I am speculating, being an unlikely source for explaining God beyond what is explicitly stated in the Bible. But I want to pass along an observation I have made.

This last Sunday in the corporate worship at our church, there was a familiar member of our congregation present who has been stricken with cancer which has left him fatigued and without successful diagnosis or treatment. He has lost a lot of weight, yet still comes when he has the strength and participates in our worship.

At one point during the service, a young woman who is also well-known in our congregation, and I believe known to be a very spiritually-hearted believer, made her way over to the man and sat down beside him to pray for him. Before long her voice raised to a volume such that everyone stopped to listen. At first with words unintelligible, then progressing to intelligible words expressing (as I recall) things such as “God is faithful,” “It is already done,” and “God is worthy.” During this time of praying and wailing, the man and young woman were embracing each other in a holy way.

After she expressed her heart in this way for three or four minutes, during which time the pastor stood and oversaw the situation, the pastor thanked and praised the Lord that He was at work, then proceeding to the rest of the planned service.

I have sought to understand what meaning we may take away from this experience. There is nothing about it that I feel was inappropriate. What I am thinking at this time is that the sadness and grieving which this young woman felt was a reflection of, if not an expression on behalf of, the Holy Spirit. God is by no means powerless to heal the man’s cancer. I pray that He will. But whatever God chooses to do, He is grieved by sin, suffering, sickness, and death.

Perhaps what we experienced on Sunday was similar to Jesus hearing that his friend Lazarus had died and weeping over the news–weeping over the sadness that it caused Mary and Martha. (Jn. 11:35)

Over these past weeks I have had a heavy heart over the Ebola plague in west Africa.  I have felt nauseous and helpless at the beheadings by radicals in the Middle East. Who can fix these mega-problems? Somehow, the crying woman in our church helps me. God is terribly sad at sin and disease. In the heavenly places, the Spirit and the angels watch with disgust. Does this mean that God is helpless to heal and deliver? No, but these sufferings are evidences of our race and planet fallen into the grip of sin.

I believe God’s anger at these evils is accumulating. My recent re-reading of the book of Revelation has reminded me that God is hopping mad at evil-doers. He sees what the enemy is doing to people. And the wrath of God is being stored up for a judgment on evil that will literally destroy the world as we know it. The powers that have a heyday now will fall under the crushing judgment of God. And God will make all things new, and peace and health will reign supreme forever. This is the promise of God’s Word. And because the promise is waiting fulfillment, we are called to share in the weeping of the Spirit.

a crossWhen does one acknowledge that we have entered an extraordinary period of history? I am prone to downplay statements which say these are unprecedented times. But it seems we would be wise to acknowledge that we entered an age of extremism several years ago, and extremism only seems to be increasing.

The 9/11 attack is the iconic event of this extreme era, but the sentiment is diffused globally and over many years.  Every nation places itself in the center of all things important, and America excels in doing so. So now the focus is on how Americans who went to fight for the Islamic State may return to America and commit acts of terror on our soil.

I have begun to ponder how I, one who aspires to follow and emulate Jesus Christ, should think about the possibility that a fellow American citizen could open fire in a shop or restaurant in which I am sitting. Should I begin to suspect everyone around me, especially those of black or brown skin, especially those with beards? Should I buy a pistol and keep it near me at all times? Should I move my wife and extended family to a remote area of the country, construct a fortress, and live out my days as a recluse?

As I reflect on this, and interact with other Americans, it seems we have adopted the belief that to be an American is to be safe. Wars are fought “over there” now. Not only can we send soldiers over there to fight to keep us safe, but we can do more of it with drones and rockets than ever before.

But I think I have been duped. My desire to live for Christ has been polluted by this American ideal of safety. Thomas Jefferson and friends, Adams and Franklin, gave an ideal of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This Declaration of Independence has been wonderful to enjoy, but it is not good Christian doctrine. It is extreme humanism, or at best, deism.

And so this age of extremism is calling Jesus-followers to respond accordingly. I wish it could be all of us, but the myth of safety and happiness so possesses the Church that I am sure it will be only a Christian remnant that will change.

Jefferson prophesied for us “life.”  Jesus blesses us with life abundant.

Jefferson declared for us “liberty.”  Jesus calls us to servanthood.

Jefferson envisioned “the pursuit of happiness.”  Jesus relishes the pursuit of righteousness.

If anything, I sense that the call of Jesus is a call to risk. He said that anybody who desires to follow Him must deny self, take up the cross, and follow. I am called to an extreme love for my enemies which, to the degree it emulates Jesus, ends in death.

And some other words of Jesus help me envision how to be an extreme Christian. He told us (Matthew 10) to be wise as serpents and harmless (or innocent) as doves. To be innocent as a dove means to avoid evil, to commit no sin or crime, to continue to look at others with love and optimism even though I may be taken advantage of or harmed.

To be wise like a serpent is to know the danger of the times, to stay razor-sharp in faith, to know the wickedness of the human heart and not give my allegiance to any political or economic saviors but to Christ alone.


The elements of story provide a fresh way to understand your city or town. Consider these elements as you reflect on a city that you care about. Use your answers to pray for the Kingdom of God to come there in greater measure. This could be a good group project too.




The reason there is a city in this place

It resources (natural, geographical, etc.)

What anniversaries, parades, museums and monuments tell us of this place?

What is the historic relationship of Seattle to its surrounding cities/competitors? How is it viewed?





The indigenous peoples; what kind of foundation did they lay?

Early pioneers; what were they like; what was their motive in coming.

What kind of relationship did the indigenous and pioneers have?

Who were the builders; what dynamic did they establish

who were the villains? heroes? revolutionaries?

What has been the role played by the “character” called the Church? What role could it play in the story?




What here the clashes and what do they reveal of the story?

What monuments are left of the crises, the heroes?

What crises/conflicts have been cyclical?

If a social tragedy were to heppen, what would it likely be (and what does that tell us about the city’s storyline)? Or, what ethnic/economic tension might break into violence/protest?

What do regional politics tell us?




How must righteousness reign?

How must this city heed God?

How would Jesus desire to redeem the city?

If the Church of this city was spoken of in Rev 2-3, what would the Spirit say about it..its main achievements, its main shortcoming?

The lay person’s explanation of a “fractal” given by wikipedia is:

fractal is a natural phenomenon or a mathematical set that exhibits a repeating pattern that displays at every scale. If the replication is exactly the same at every scale, it is called a self-similar pattern.Fractals can also be nearly the same at different levels.  Fractals also includes the idea of a detailed pattern that repeats itself. (accessed on July 25, 2014)

Appolian Gasket - miqel.comHere is an example of a simple fractal made of circles which are “nested” in an orderly pattern.

(source: miqel.com)

There is some very complex mathematics which explore the design of fractals.

But what intrigues me about fractals is that we see them appearing all throughout God’s creative work.

Let me show you some examples.




fern fractal - maxresdefaultNote the repeated pattern in this fern.

(source: maxresdefault)





Edible Fractal Romanesco -a cross between broccoli and CauliflowerFractals form the design of many of our foods, such as cabbage, lettuce — any leafy vegetable. Can you think of other foods that have fractals as their structure?

This picture is of Romanesco -a cross between broccoli and Cauliflower.







Let’s look under water for fractals. They are abundant! Here are some sea shells (source: webecoist).

sea shell fractal - webecoist
















fract-coral-seaweedAnd here is a graphic depiction of seaweed and coral.














Now look to what God has put in the heavens. Looking down on cloud formations,we see natural fractals forming.

Natural Cloud Spiral Fractals














Even lightning, when caught in the act, shows the branching effect of fractals.

lightning- webecoist











Whirlpool Galaxy (source: Hubblesite)

Whirlpool Galaxy (source: Hubblesite)











Have you ever flown over a scene like this. Look how the tributaries form like a huge leaf.

Have you ever flown over a scene like this. Look how the tributaries form like a huge leaf.















In establishing principles of mathematics.
In that which He created in space, in plants, in the sea.

But I have discovered a spiritual fractal that, I believe, God has designed for the growth of every one of His children.

The original is found in the core work of Jesus Christ, and it is replicated in every one of us who follow Jesus.

The fractal is sometimes very small– as in the thought of a moment, or a decision we must make.

Or it may be the design of an entire day, or year, or decade.

It is a phenomenon that, like a fractal, exhibits a repeating pattern that  displays at any scale. Only it is not natural. It is transforming.

What is the pattern?

It is Surrender, Death, Burial, and Resurrection

SURRENDER — a Gethsemane-like experience where our desire confronts the will of God and, if we are to move forward, we must surrender our desire to His.

DEATH–a Golgotha-like experience where that which we have surrendered must be put to death.

BURIAL–a Tomb-like experience where that which we have put to death leads to grieving, loss, waiting, while maintaining hope.

RESURRECTION–a God-given outcome which gives greater manifestation of the living Christ in and through us.

I believe you will recognize this design as the core of what the Apostle Paul called the gospel:

“Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you… by which also you are saved…For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ DIED for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was BURIED, and that He was RAISED on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (1 Corinthians 15:1-4, NASB, emphasis mine)

If you begin looking for this gospel fractal in Scripture, you will discover it in many places (especially the New Testament).

And if you begin looking for it in your life experiences, whether big or small, you will see its design in all the trials which have caused you to mature, and in all the commitments which you have made to Christ.

This repeating pattern, though often difficult, has changed you for the good. For it is in God’s beautiful design of the gospel fractal that you are transformed into the likeness of the Original.

You might be interested also in the post Beautiful in His time.




I occasionally enjoy reflecting on the little volume Ministering Cross-Culturally (by Lingenfelter and Mayers, Baker Academic). While I always profit from these discussions in the context of foreign mission, I now cannot help but reflect on issues of culture through the lens of the multiculturalism of the USA and the West in general.

Lingenfelter writes, “Acceptance in our groups comes at the cost of exclusion from the groups of others. An attempt to belong to groups whose standards are in conflict with ours produces emotional stress within us and antagonism in our relationships with others. For this reason, most of us choose to belong only to those groups within which we find people who have standards and values similar to our own. As a consequence of our choices, the communities we form include some and exclude others.” (p. 21)

Intentionally intercultural churches are therefore a challenge because we must reverse this tendency to exclude so as to include those who are different, whose values and behaviors clash with our own.

At the same time, as a community hailing from different cultures work together over time to understand, appreciate and draw from each other, a new kind of meta-culture can form among them. In the same way that every person ultimately has their own unique personal culture, surely every church (including multicultural ones) has its own unique culture.

Here is another quote: “The cultural bias we share with others in our communities becomes a consensus we use to protect ourselves from others…. The comfort of our community becomes a bias toward [against?] others and a blindness to viable relationships different from our own.” (p.22)

This is where the Homogenous Unit Principle (HUP)  turns ugly even as it does its good work of community preservation. Shared culture shuns those who are excluded and thereby misses the opportunity to learn that there are aspects of other cultures that are actually worth evaluating and even adopting. People who leave a multiethnic church because they are not willing to consider the benefits of other cultures have made a decision to stay within the safe fortress of their community. I cannot fault them for this because I (and all of us) do the same thing, we just choose different levels of risk. I may take some risk in living in Kenya, or joining a primarily African-American church. As a result I might consider myself superior to someone who stays in their comfortable church made up of people much like themselves. But I have also limited my risk in that I have not gone for 50 years to a city that is 100% muslim or Hindu; I have not sold my house and gone to live in a pre-historic village in a forest somewhere. We all make self-preserving choices.

For those who are willing to attempt the risk of multi-ethnic church, read this next quote (in which the author speaks to the cross-cultural missionary) from the standpoint of building trusting relationships across cultural lines in your multiethnic local church: “The practice of incarnation (i.e., a willingness to learn as if we were helpless infants) is the first essential step toward breaking this pattern of excluding others. Missionaries, by the nature of their task, must become personally immersed with people who are different. To follow the example of Christ, that of incarnation, means undergoing drastic personal reorientation. They must be socialized all over again into a new cultural context. They must enter a culture as if they were children–ignorant of everything, from the customs of eating and talking to the patterns of work, play, and worship.” (p. 22-3)

One of my concerns in the multiethnic movement in the USA is that many of the practitioners do not seem to have this missionary mindset. Of course I don’t know what is in their hearts. But if the movement is to include deep reconciliation, leaders will need to pave the way and have this sacrificial, incarnational commitment. If the multi-ethnic pursuit is seen primarily as a way of better reflecting the changing neighborhood around the church, or if it is basically an implementation of the Biblical passages that call for it, without this deeper issue of self-denial to the point of incarnation, then the efforts will stop short of their potential as external witness and internal transformation.

I think an interesting question to discuss this would be: Must incarnational church life be a special calling from God, or does He expect it of all His children?

Another would be: How is my community life helping me learn “drastic personal reorientation” that comes with doing life with those of different cultures than my own?


My thanks to colleague Joel Madson for putting together this collage of our ministry trip in May.




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