Eight Reflections on Urbana 15

Urbana FamilyMy family arrived home at midnight last night after an amazing five days in St. Louis at Urbana 15, a gathering of 16,000 students and leaders who are interested in missions, specifically what God is doing around the globe.

It’s impossible to encapsulate the Urbana experience in a short blog, but here are eight reflections upon our five days in St. Louis.

    1. Urbana is a great place to hear from God.  Through challenging speakers (Christina Cleveland, Francis Chan, David Platt, Patrick Fung, and many more), international worship, and manuscript Bible study, we had many opportunities to hear from God. One of my favorite speakers was Allan Matamoros, a man from Costa Rica whose name means “Muslim killer” and yet he’s given his life to love and minister to Muslims.  Click here for videos of the General Sessions.
    2. Seminars are a blast. My seminar was on God Behaving Badly. Apparently my fears of low-turnout were unfounded, as the 400 chairs filled up quickly, with people forced to stand or sit around the edges of the room. (I think they confused me with David Platt.) They had to shut the doors 5 minutes early. Afterwards, they sold out of both my books.  I loved talking about troubling texts with curious students, and was happy to see Nate and Noah in the audience. Click here for an audio of my seminar (112 minutes).
    3. Manuscript Bible Study is still powerful in big groups. I’m used to doing manuscript study of Scripture in groups of 10-20. However, Shannon led a study of 800 people on four passages from Matthew’s gospel and it was phenomenal. The 16,000 attendees were divided into “small groups” of 200-800. How did the discussion work? Great question. Each study leader had a team of helpers. Shannon had 7 “minions” who facilitated discussion, ran mics around the room, and in my case managed technology and synthesized students’ questions. Noah came to Shannon’s study (Nate went to a different one with Swarthmore friends). The students loved it and kept saying they wanted to study Scripture like this with friends back home.
    4. It’s impossible to control gifted, prophetic speakers. Several times one of the speakers made an unscripted, controversial comment. However, we shouldn’t be surprised when prophetic people state things in insensitive ways. If we make the mistakes the focus, Satan wins. Let’s keep the focus on what God is doing around the world.
    5. The Directors of Missions for IV-USA (Tom Lin) and IV-Canada (Steve Colby) have something in common.  My brother, Rich Lamb helped bring them both on IV staff.  Rich was staff at UC Santa Cruz in the mid-1980’s when Steve Colby was a student, then at Harvard in the late-1980’s and early 1990’s when Tom Lin was a student.  Thanks Rich, for investing in these two quality leaders.
    6. Christians need to pray for the persecuted church. The freedom of religion we in the West take for granted cannot be assumed in many other parts of the world. Over 75% of the world live in areas of religious restriction. At Urbana we heard stories of men and women who, despite persecution and imprisonment, prayed for and loved their persecutors in costly ways. Click here to learn more about Open Doors, a ministry to persecuted Christians.
    7. I’ve missed Urbana. I went to six Urbanas as a student and as a staff (’81, ’84, ’87, ’90, ’93, ’96), but haven’t attended over the past twenty years. During this period, Shannon attended most of the Urbanas because she was on staff with IV, the organization that runs the event, but since I was no longer on staff I stayed home with the boys. This time it was awesome to attend as a family of four.
    8. Driving 900 miles to get home in one day isn’t too bad if you have four drivers. We were eager to see our dog, Tiglath.

Where you at Urbana 15? What did you think?

CT’s Top Articles of 2015

Top 20 CT articles of 2015Christianity Today just posted “The Top 20 Most-Read Articles of 2015.”

Number 14 was “David was a Rapist, Abraham was a Sex Trafficker.” I guess people do want to read about sex in Scripture, or at least hear what God’s word has to say on the subject.

If you’re intrigued, and want to read more on this subject, check out Prostitutes and Polygamists: A Look at Love, Old Testament Style.

Scripture talks about sex.  Many men and women after God’s own heart had serious problems in the area of sex and sexuality, and the Bible doesn’t avoid these subjects, so we shouldn’t either.

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Three Lessons from the Five Wise Men

Why three?  I think there were five.

We Five Kings of Orient Are…

Matthew 2 narrates the story of the wise men, sometimes called magi.

Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem…10 And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was.  10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. 11 And going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. 12 And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way. (Matthew 2:1, 10-12)

Notice, Matthew never says how many wise men there were.  In Eastern Christianity, the number is often twelve, according to Wikipedia (which is never wrong).

Why do we think there were three?  There were three gifts (2:11). We assume each wise man brought one gift–one brought gold, one, frankincense, and one, myrrh. But just because three things listed doesn’t mean each brought something separate. Five magi could have gone in on three gifts, or there may have been three separate gold gifts.

Do any of you who are parents ever go in together on a gift for one of your children? In the context of these wise men, it makes more sense to give communal, not individual gifts.

I think there were five.

At our church (Calvary of Souderton), a few years ago there was a Christmas competition where teams had to answer questions about the Bible. One of the questions asked, “How many wise men were there?” Possible answers: 2, 3, 4, or unknown.  My son Noah’s team instantly said, “3.”  Noah said, “We don’t know.” They didn’t believe him at first, but he continued, “Trust me.  My dad’s a Bible nerd.” Noah’s team was the only one to get the question right. Sometimes it pays to be a Bible nerd.

Why should we care if there were three or five? I’m really not trying to ruin it every time you sing “We Three Kings” I like the song, and there may have been only three. But I think it’s important as we reflect on the Christmas story to read our Bibles carefully, to not make things up, even things repeated in a popular song. We should expect to learn something new about Jesus’ birth at Christmas.

What unexpected lessons can we learn from the story of the five wise men?  I see three (not five).   

First, wise men, and wise women, follow God’s direction. These wise men followed a divinely given star at the beginning of the story (2:2, 10), and a divinely given dream at the end (2:12).  Let’s expect God to guide us in unexpected ways this Christmas season.

Second, wise men, and women, travel to meet Jesus. These wise men came from lands east of Jerusalem. We’re not sure where they were from exactly, but lands east of Jerusalem today include Jordan, Iraq, Iran, and Syria. Some of the first people to meet Jesus were from lands that are now Muslim. They still need to meet Jesus. These countries are often considered to be our enemies, but even if they are, thirty years after his birth the Prince of Peace told us to pray for our enemies. Over a quarter million people have died in the past few years in the war in Syria. Let’s pray for peoples east of Jerusalem this Christmas season, particularly ones in Syria, and ask God to guide us (see lesson #1) how he wants us to care for them.  (More about Syria in the next blog.)

Third, wise men, and women, fall down and worship Jesus.  That’s what these wise men did.  Ultimately, the story is about Jesus and our adoration of the incarnate king, born to serve, die, and rise again.

Expect the unexpected when Jesus arrives on the scene. For Christmas, you might be planning for three guests, but get five instead.