Greetings Friends & Partners,
It seems the news inside Ukraine, Russia, and Belarus is getting increasingly unpredictable. One theme seems to be emerging, that Putin’s internal grip on power is in question. The humiliating defeat two weeks ago in the Kharkiv western regions cannot be underestimated. The global theater is shifting, allies once beholden to Putin beginning to distance themselves, especially in Central Asia. Russians respect power, and the seemingly unquestioned narrative that Putin has spun is being questioned, even overtly among former supporters of his regime.
As I write this update, +1,500 protestors have been arrested in the past 24hrs for opposing the mandated new conscription inside Russia. The Russian government suggests 6,000 of their soldiers have been killed in battle, but most outside of Russia recognize this number to be well over 40,000! Imagine the mothers, fathers, and countless grandparents who’ve yet to hear from their sons, week after week, month after month. Now, with the recent ‘partial mobilization’, thousands of young men are fleeing Russia by plane, train and automobile, as this ‘special military operation’ comes-a-reckoning.
I’d like to be writing about something other than the war. However, it’s impossible to paint a legitimate picture of life and ministry without the backdrop that continues to permeate everything. Even I have what they call, “Ukrainian fatigue.” What’s helped me, especially in the past few months, has been to more intentionally root myself in the meta narrative of Scripture.
Our western narratives, as you’ve likely noticed, are quickly deconstructing. We’re quickly losing the binding, unifying story that cultures rally behind. National ideologies are held together, for better or worse, by heroes and rituals. When those heroes are exposed, or the rituals questioned, we lose the glue that unites us. Those same narratives can begin to divide. Whether it’s the Slavic story of origins, or the American/Canadian founding narratives, the story tellers seem to be the power brokers. The victor, as they say, gets to write history. In Russia, it’s a desperate fight for control of the narrative, as it is in Ukraine.
Controlling narratives, now a popular buzzwords, is nothing new. It’s as old as God’s question to Cain after he killed his brother, “Where is your brother?” (Gen 4:9). Instead of answering truthfully, “He’s over there, I killed him” Cain answers, “I don’t know, am I my brother’s keeper?” Our stories can serve our self-interest, as much as they elevate lofty virtues. The dizzying perspectives spun by masters of the trade from these political leaders seems designed only to confuse, divide and make us throw in the towel in any pursuit of objective reality. Many of us come away from news outlets these days scoffing like Pontius Pilate, “Truth? What Is Truth?” (Jn 18:38).
What is our truth? We can all agree it’s a mess, but what’s the solution? What’s our uniting story we can bring to this world? Are we simply to run around sharing a message, hoping some accept it so they can get a ticket outta here? When I watch some of the ministries inside Ukraine, you’d think that was why Jesus came, to get us out of here. Packages of food are being exchanged for church attendance, scores of heads bowed, prayers prayed, boxes checked. Sigh. This is not our story, is it?
In times of distress, our theology gets actualized, it comes out. I confess my own faith was sadly lacking in the first months of the war. As we ran along in hero mode, my own personal story came unglued. However, it forced me to wrestle afresh with my own ‘over-arching’ gospel story narrative. Stepping back, and seeking God in solitude brought me back to the grounding narrative that ushered in a refreshed sense of peace, and ultimately, joy.
But what’s our story as disciples of Christ? Do we have a vision of the world the way it should be?
Scripture’s Meta-Narrative: Creation. Fall. Recreation.
This world is fallen, but it’s being mended, healed, restored. Jesus loves this world, that’s why he came to it, and us. We, not just me, are the joy of his heart. He’s coming again, and all things will be renewed, not destroyed and burned up. Until then, we are part of the Creator’s great renewal project. It’s the story of the Father, in the Son, and now through the Spirit.
Through this narrative lens, I see Putin as a godless hoarder of power, much like Lukashenko in Belarus who began this week jailing pastors again for holding prayer meetings. Power is so ugly when it’s not divested in the pattern of the Son. Power is a gift to be shared, to co-create culture together. Throughout history men, in particular, have continued to look for ways to dominate one another by force. As much as the the humanistic mind would like to celebrate progress, figures like Putin only undermine the utopian fantasy and hurl us all back to an important reality check; we humans are desperately broken, fallen, and quite easily do, and permit terrible things when we disregard Christ as our Creator who’s come to earth to save us.
How quickly we forget both Russia and Ukraine are equally God’s; it’s his dirt, we create nothing ex nihilo. The earth is the Lord’s and ALL it contains, right? When God comes to earth, through His people, He comes in the same pattern of the Son. When we serve one another through awareness and compassion, restoration happens. Neighbors reconcile, and nations experience peace. We, the church, are not to be wrapped up in national identities to the point we are unable to traverse the manufactured and temporary boundaries between them.
The way of the cross moves towards those that oppose it.
So let’s get back to the story.
There’s a why we do what we do as believers. Doing good things is not enough. It’s never enough. This is why Jesus said many will come expecting heavenly rewards for their good deeds, but sadly rejected.
The why of Christianity defines our values and tells or story.
As a Christ follower, I’m not for Ukraine and against Russia any more than I can love the neighbor to my left while hating the one to my right. I love my Ukrainian friends, but I love my Russian ones as well. God has created each and every soul and determined us eternally valuable! Only God knows the depth of the demonic power structures in place that have oppressed and pillaged the imago Dei for generations within Slavic culture. Now it seems to be Putin’s turn to play the puppet of ugly power. We can see the same strings being pulled in Western nations, where history seems to be neglected and democracy hangs in some cases by a thread.
Yet, I believe what we’re experiencing in 2022 has as much in common as the year 1022, or in Christ’s day. Things are not getting worse, as crazy as this past season of Covid and war have been. History is a treasure trove of humanities continued plight of bring broken, being mended, and moving to restoration. The story continues, by God’s loving mercy, and while we might throw our hands up in anger with our lot, the very act of being alive to be defiant is a showcase of His enduring love over us.
One day soon, the garden of God’s kingdom of righteousness, peace and joy will blossom fully. If Christ indeed resurrected, as the Slavic community loves to recite with each Easter Sunday morning, than He will return. Until then, God’s story continues in our day. It can seem quite hidden, I admit, but as we detach ourselves from the political narratives of nations, I believe we can navigate this world like the body of Christ before us. The grand narrative of Scripture can help us, as we each experience this life changing love in Christ, and enlist in God’s recreation trilogy.
The first Adam has been restored in the person of Jesus. Let’s not get tangled up in the corruption of the first. Adam’s story of brokenness and oppression is all around us still. His legacy is found in the sham elections in Eastern Ukraine and lies of a corrupt thug currently hoarding power in Russia. As a follower of Jesus, I choose to move with God’s story line. My vision for the world comes through the eyes of Jesus, and it is good, and it’s going to get even better.
May His story continue to unite us as His global body. The world sure needs us all.
Settling into the autumn weather in Cluj, Romania. We’re navigating some changes as a family, our roles, future. It’s been a much needed season of prayer, listening, processing together.
We feel God at work, and sense the invitation to trust (see my blog below about ‘Surrendering Outcomes”). We’re settled here in Romania through December, then will fly back to the US to visit friends and family for Christmas. After that? We’re not entirely sure, but leaning towards coming back for 2023 to Romania. Our lives are literally spread out in 3 countries.
We are planning a retreat in Western Ukraine in October with friends and staff at Lighthouse. It will be the first time we’re all together since the war began. We’re also hosting quite a few guests in the next month.Waiting on documents for the family so we can leave and come back in to Romania. Living as permanent residents in Ukraine has been so nice all these years, back to being ‘short term’ missionaries is a lot of extra work, you spend a couple months per year just trying to logistically stay legally.
I’m going to try and get back to personally blogging, and feel a joy to start focusing on our family and less on the charity we’ve been overseeing the past few years. I’ve gotten a little lost in the mechanics of running a charity, especially during the war, it’s been intense. Stepping back into the focus of a missionary feels a little strange, and scary. God keeps calling us out of boats, the invitation to walk on water continues for all who dare follow Him 🙂
Family is healthy, we really miss our kids in the US and Byron our grandson.
Romanians love hammocks! They are found in the parks, and yes, in living rooms!
In the coming months we hope to be sharing more about the direction and ministry focus of our family. Until then, we covet your prayers greatly.
Thank you friends and family! – Bruce & Deb
When we plan, we have an end in mind, an outcome. These outcomes become drivers that help us stay focused and motivate us. Very few of us do anything without an outcome in mind. Whether we’re going to the store, or going to bed, we’re anticipating certain results.
In philosophy, this concept of a goal, an end-game, is referred to as teleology (gr. telos). When we live our lives, we who are reflective and consider the end and not just the beginning or middle, would be considered teleological thinkers.
Some of us are really wired, and perhaps even gifted to sift through many possible outcomes. If we have a big decision to make, we envision the potentialities, the outcomes. Will this make us happy? What will my life look like when the dust settles on this decision, or that decision? For many of us, to simply forge ahead impulsively and not consider the teleological end would be the very definition of insanity.
Enter Jesus, and a depth of Christ following that I’m only just beginning to live into. I can say, without a doubt, that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed mapping out my life to date. I left the comfort of my rural Canadian farm life at the ripe age of 18. It was exciting, risk filled, and under-girded by a desire to detach my story from any sense of predictability and safety. After marrying, Deb and I found ourselves taking wild left and right turns, from Louisiana, to Mexico, Texas, and ultimately Ukraine. It all was going well, until it wasn’t.
The way we navigate life as we age, changes. As you sojourn through this mid-life phase, there are some rather sneaky things that begin to take place, often buried quite deeply in the soul. They aren’t as obvious as one might think, they require isolation, solitude, and a bravery that makes impulsive risk taking seems like a piece of cake. You see, for the broken, which I suspect is all of us, our teleological end game is skewed. We aren’t truly living for the kinds of virtuous endings we’d like to think.
We’re afraid of this life, because if we’re honest, we’re terrified of death.
How do I know this to be true? Well, my end game, my focused outcome wasn’t as much about enjoying the present or the Creator that made it, as it was co-authoring a story that would impress me, others, and the Creator that just might be weighing some scales. The motivations of my life were driven, therefor, by fear. This wretched thing called fear takes so many shapes! It’s most damning effect, I think, is in it’s insulating work. Fear drives us into the past, and into the future, because the present is terrifying.
The past and future are, in effect, illusory figments of the mind. There is no love there, for love can only take place in the present. We can’t love our future friend, lover, or God in the future. The present is where the action is at. The present moment, the present click of the keyboard, the present smell of burnt toast, the present grinding of my son Noah’s electric guitar in the basement. This gift of of the present, has been for me the hidden treasure I’ve spent the first half of my life overlooking in the chase of the teleological end of a life well lived.
Do you see the problem?
Deb and I are no longer motivated by what instigated us forward in the past. Why? Well, quite simply, we’ve been reckoning with the deep love of Jesus. This love, while comfortably lodged in our prefrontal cortex these many years, has been re-inviting us to consider its demanding, holistic work.
The good news, if you haven’t heard, is that we are loved by an everlasting, perfect love of a Father.
This love comes us to us in the present. We may have experienced this love in the past, and we will inevitably experience love in the future, but love is intending to balm and heal us now, in this moment. As we posture our hearts for this reality, this love, we face our deepest fears. Our narratives, our efforts, our attempts to run from the present are confronted. We need a deeper faith to confront our deep insecurities, and sense of unworthiness.
So, let’s close with this whole idea of surrendering our outcomes. Caught in the throws of this war in Ukraine, our family has relocated to Romania. The narrative, the calling to mission, the Crowe family running about doing crazy things for Christ, well, it’s taking a beating. As we come increasingly aware of this profound love come to us in Jesus, we’re sensing the invitation to surrender all these formulated outcomes. It’s death, it’s crushing, it’s a cross.
The cross is not just a symbol or event somehow detached from the nature of God instrincially. The cross is a place of self emptying, of implicit trust. Jesus, if truly the Son of God, could have at any time changed his outcome. What an outcome of his life!? He wrestled with this, and we’re given the inside look into his soul’s anguish as his fully human self embraced, by faith, the fully divine mandate from the Father. He was suspended, between the earth, and the sky, in a place of utmost trust in the trustworthy character of God the Father.
We too are called, to these mini-crosses, these places of surrendered outcomes. We may have the so called wisdom, the practical experience, the skills to pay the bills to navigate our own way through valleys of indecision. The cross, however, doesn’t ask us to living into particular futures. We’re already loved, perfectly, and this love liberates us from holding particular outcomes with a fierce grip.
We are invited to surrender the outcomes, and thereby participate in this cruciformity of Christ.
These are becoming more than words. They are not new words, being crucified with Christ, or giving our lives to Christ. Something happens, however, that defies all previous experiences on this journey when the words become a prayer, a surrender of trust, and love in the present moment moves in. We become the grain of wheat that dies and enters the earth. This is the miracle of Christ following, it’s a pattern. When we die, we yet live. We who serve Christ have a resurrection faith, and the power of this new life can only be found on the other side of surrender.
I still plan, I consider outcomes, and I think I’m really good at it too! I have to purposefully stop myself from going down the limitless paths before me. What’s different, or what’s becoming different, is that when I reach one that I really like and feel the clasping hand begin to close around a particular outcome, I see Jesus smiling, and directing me to a cross of trust.
I can lay things down and truly surrender the outcome when I am liberated from fear, living into the present and being filled with His love.
Have you ever pondered the offensive nature of Jesus Christ? What does humanity find in Christ so repulsive that his name is substituted for, or as a form of cursing. Our family was watching a family friendly movie the other night, and I was surprised to hear Jesus name invoked in times of anger and frustration by the lead actor.
The next morning, I was reading from the book of Matthew, where John the baptizer from prison reaches Jesus disciples with a question to pose to the Rabbi.
“Are you the one?” John is now stuck in prison, his death impending for calling out Herod’s divorce and re-marriage to his niece. With John probably sensing his impending end, he’s looking for some hope, was this all for naught?
Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”
Jesus seems to be saying, as recorded by Matthew, “Let my actions speak for themselves.” Not only were these actions all impossible for any mortal to accomplish, but this answer is a fulfillment of prophecy which echoes through the writings of the prophets like Jeremiah and Isaiah. The promise of the Messiah was to liberate, to emancipate, to heal and resurrect that which was left for dead on the margins of society – the poor.
What good news indeed for the wretched, the broken, the imprisoned, the sinner, the dead.
The next verse struck me, in light of this idea of Jesus being so offensive.
“Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” This word for stumble is an interesting word. It’s translated offense, or place of falling, or fall away from an intended trajectory. Jesus uses this to describe the Pharisees several times, their religious trappings represented an offensive stumbling block to those trying to pursue a path of true righteousness and connection with the goodness of almighty God.
This passage is so interesting, because nothing listed in Jesus reply to John is offensive, is it? What is offensive about healing or mending someones plight? It got me thinking about the narrative, the overarching story of Christ’s ministry in the world. How beautiful was it, really? He was patient, merciful, loving. His days seem to be filled with selfless compassion. Jesus lived from the inside out, the perfect human, really. If Jesus were alive today, how would he be judged up against say, a Mother Theresa. The only ones finding offense it seems, are those refusing to consider that He just may be who He says He is, the Father, eternal Creator in the flesh.
So why has his name been aligned with angry or belligerent cursing? I can understand using the name Hitler, or if the West started using the name Putin in their repertoire of cursing. But Jesus? The life that was spent in service to others, and not just those in power, but the oppressed, and needy, helpless, the poor. What exactly is going on here?
I’ve come up with a few options.
- Ignorance: maybe folks who curse using Christ’s name are simply in the darkness as to the nature of his life, mission, and suffering death.
- Hypocrisy of Jesus followers: The church, particularly as it’s been wrapped up in various cultural forms through the ages, confusing the Spirit of Christ for domination and exterior symbols, hasn’t had the best track record at times. Maybe folks curse in Jesus name as a defiant rebuke to all that is religion and considered inauthentic.
- Social conformity: why do we use any of the metaphors, and forms of speech anyway? It’s all learned to a degree. I started using the word “Ratatouille” a few years back whenever I was frustrated or stubbed my toe (which happens more than one would think!). It was an interesting social experiment. My kids started laughing at first, then they were confused, then, occassionally, I would hear them yell, “Ratatouille” from across the house. Yes, we sometimes just copy without much thought.
- Disbelief: Jesus represents unfathomable love, come to us. This love, this reality, perhaps is a direct confrontation towards the other ways we all seek affirmation, and meaning. Could it be that Jesus, the proposition that God has come to earth and IS love, that we ARE valued beyond all material things, startles humanity to the core. Rather than process this idea, ruminate anywhere close to this idea, it’s better to push down the idea in a manner that might keep us focused on the house we are building, the life now being erected on sand.
I’m not sure why folks curse in Jesus name. I suspect there’s a measure of truth in all the reasons mentioned above. I do think, however, that love, God’s love, is terrifying when centered around the selfless, compassionate Savior who lived, and died in absolute consistency with the pathos, suffering nature of love. That Christ, is a rock we are told, and our lives built on this revelation of a Loving and all powerful God will end very well for us! However, the great exchange required, the leaving behind the house built on sand, the identity we’ve worked so hard to live into, cannot be held as Christ the healer and lover of our souls is considered.
Keep God aloof, disinterested, sovereign to the point of detachment from this material reality. That God is easily rejected. Stay ignorant, refuse to read the historical narrative this Jewish teacher, that keeps Jesus flying off our lips as some expression of detesting. Lean into Jesus the person, look at his ministry, death and resurrection, and we’ll come face to face with a terrifying reality; The Creator knows who we are, loves us despite our participation in the rebellion.
Who do we say He is? There really can be no answer that skates between the poles. Is He a fake, joke, curse word, or the center of the universe suspended on a cross of shame in our place? Go tell John, the good news has come. Blessed are those who don’t stumble over this reality.