Saturday, March 27, 2010

On Rabbits and Being Real

A couple of days ago I did something I rarely do. I read a children’s book. Don’t worry, it wasn’t for remedial purposes—I just wanted to read a simple story. My regular reading diet often includes selections like biblical commentaries, theology books, sermons, occasionally a novel or biography—but rarely do I ever read a children’s book!

I thought it was time—time to break out of my reading rut and introduce a genre of reading that I’m less familiar with—a child’s book. The great thing about juvenile literature; it doesn’t take as long to finish. My book of choice: Margery Williams’ classic The Velveteen Rabbit. Long before Pixar produced Toy Story, Margery Williams used vivid imagination to personify a “fat and bunchy” rabbit whose coat was “spotted brown and white and his ears were lined with pink sateen.” Williams delicately portrays how the velveteen rabbit was naturally very shy, often overlooked by its owner and frequently snubbed by the more expensive mechanical toys.

But there was one toy in particular who took notice of the rabbit—the Skin Horse. He was old, bald in a few places, and had been around long enough to see a lot of the mechanical toys come and go. One day the Rabbit asked the Skin Horse, “What is REAL? Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?” The Skin Horse replied, “Real isn’t how you are made, it’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but really loves you, then you become real.”

Nowadays it seems a lot of people are asking the same question the Velveteen Rabbit asked the Skin Horse, “What is Real?” As proof that the question is very much on the minds of many, our culture has fallen in love with a popular entertainment offering called, “Reality TV.” Frankly, I find most reality shows hardly seem real to me at all! Nevertheless, we are very interested in what it means to be real these days.

The Skin Horse is right: the moment any of us truly become real is the moment we understand just how deeply we are loved. “It’s a thing that happens to you.” This is the Gospel—a real man born in real time in a real place. He lived a real life and died a real painful death. And then judging by the countless numbers of people he appeared to after his death, he REALLY rose again. God’s proof of love is this: He sent the Lovely One to die for this very unlovely one. Moreover, when unlovely people suddenly discover they are deeply loved—there is no need to become anything other than REAL!

One day the Rabbit asked the Skin Horse, “Does it hurt to become real?” “Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

C.S. Lewis once said, “As an adolescent I would have been ashamed to have been found reading fairy tales. Now that I am 50 I read them in public. For when I became a man, I put away childish things especially the fear of childishness.”

When I was a child my heart was filled with wonder. But when I grew up I needed something else—I need the Gospel.

S t r e t c h e d

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Ripple Effect

For two days I’ve been in San Jose, Costa Rica learning about a ministry that’s pioneering new and creative ways to train and equip church leaders throughout the Spanish-speaking world. It’s called ProMETA and the word “ProMETA” is a Spanish acronym for Programas de Maestria en Estudios Teologicos Accesibles. In short, it means, Master’s Programs in Accessible Theological Studies. All the study programs offered through ProMETA are conducted entirely through the Internet. They are leveraging technology to create virtual learning communities all around the Spanish-speaking world. Not even ten years old, ProMETA is already successfully training experienced and seasoned leaders in 24 different countries with minimal overhead and impressive results.

Thorough research indicates that Christianity’s center of gravity has shifted dramatically in the past fifty years from the northern hemisphere centers of influence (North America and Northern Europe) to the southern hemisphere centers (Asia, Africa and Latin America). In 1980 there were roughly 17 million evangelical believers throughout Latin America. Today there are more than 60 million evangelicals. Studies indicated that everyday throughout Latin America some 8,000 people come to faith. If you do the math, that’s a staggering statistic. But here’s the challenge. While the Spanish speaking church has exploded with growth, there is a disproportionate growth in leadership to meet that growth demand. And unless there is a strategy of multiplication, that disproportionate statistic is likely to increase.

A strategy of multiplication works like a ripple. A small drop of water released into a larger pool thus creating a ripple effect. The larger and weightier the drop of water, the larger the ripple effect. This week I’ve heard numerous examples of the power of a ripple effect. I met a young Venezuelan leader this week named Samuel. His English was certainly better than my Spanish, but through an interpreter his story managed to move me deeply and illustrate the “ripple” of multiplication. Samuel is a key Latin American leader in his country. He is enrolled as a distance learner in ProMETA and recently took an online Master’s course in church planting. He ministers in a city with a population of 1 million people. After he completed the course he decided to take what he learned and share it with 100 pastors whom he oversees in his denominational setting in Venezuela. Samuel reflects the Apostle Paul’s strategy, “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others” (2 Tim. 2:2). They met for a week, unpacked the principles of church planting, discussed strategies, videotaped each session, closed with prayer and returned to their homes. Days later someone suggested they place the training on YouTube. Within days Samuel was flooded with over 500 requests throughout his country to come and conduct the same training in their area. He did and as a result of multiplying his influence, 20 new churches sprung up on Venezuelan soil. That’s the “ripple” of multiplication. Technology has not only created a “flat” world, it has created an “open” world too.

It is true that sometimes technology can be used in ways that actually detracts from our message and hinders our effectiveness. But before throwing the proverbial “baby out with the bathwater,” I need to reflect about all the ways technology is helping to advance the Gospel and strengthen the church across the world. And a good place to begin is to consider ProMETA ( I learned this week that when godly men and women blend the science of technology with the truth of Scripture powerful kingdom-sized ripples result.

Speaking of technology…. I think I’ll sign off,

S t r e t c h e d