God’s perspective

The World Has Changed

©kentoh | 123rf stock photos Saying the world has changed may seem an understatement, an obvious one. But Paul Borthwick is a world-renown teacher and consultant on world missions, and this statement is the recurring theme of his book. He isn't referring to technology, nor culture per se. It's a declaration about global missions. And he ought to know, he has much experience to back it up .

While reading through his most recent book, Western Christians in Global Mission, I was both challenged and refreshed by his writing, research, and dialogue to western Christians involved in global mission, such as myself. As a cross-cultural missionary, I had a vested interest in reading this book and I was not disappointed.

I've already recommended it to others, and wrote a review on Amazon. But I wanted to make a recommendation here on my blog. The subtitle alone challenges the reader with a question too often unconsidered— What's the Role of the North American Church (in Global Mission)?Western_Mission_cover

Having been a church planter in the US and trainer of church planters and leaders in SE Asia, this is a vital question to be answered. Mr Borthwick does this well in several ways.

He begins with broad views of the church in North America and the Majority World, and how they fit into the state of the world. He sees Nine Great changes in the world that are Great Challenges for the church worldwide (pages 33-60).

  • The Great Transition— the worldwide church is primarily non-white, non-Western, and non-wealthy
  • The Great Migration— there are vast movements of people from nation to nation
  • 2 Great Divides— an Economic Divide and a Theological Divide
  • 2 Great Walls— the first being a wall between the gospel "haves" and the gospel "have-nots," the second is the effect of environmental impacts on the poor.
  • The Great Commission— the church has not done a good job making disciples, either in North America or the Majority World (making converts is not the same as making disciples).
  • The Great Compassion— seeing beyond the need of salvation to see people in their need of many things for daily life (yet without causing a dependency).
  • The Great Salvation— a personal worldview that serves as a reminder and motivation for going out into the world with the gospel.
  • The Great Celebration— having vision for the celebration in heaven of every tribe, tongue, and nation worshipping Jesus.

The author goes on to give "An Appraisal of the North American Church." It is one I found to be both confirming and challenging. Then "An Appraisal of the Majority World Church." This was both refreshing and disconcerting, and it confirmed my thoughts that the great need in the Majority World (I call it MOTROW) is the need for sound equipping of leaders.

A good portion of the book is dedicated to seeing how to move forward to meet these changes and challenges. There are plenty of open-ended questions and penetrating insights given by Majority World leaders to foster discussion and consideration. The author adds stories of his own that give vivid insight into the learning curve presented in this book.

His extensive experience in many countries and continents with various leaders and people groups qualifies him to not only make statements, but pose important questions. He gets into specifics and provides practical queries and guidance.

I found myself agreeing over and over again with the points made and the challenges posed. Not only does Paul Borthwick make his case well and graciously, it lines up with my own observations from experience on the mission field for the past 20+ years, including 15 years as a resident in the Philippines.

I don't just recommend this book, I believe it is a must read for anyone in North America who wants to keep in step with God's plan for His Great Commission, especially western-culture missionaries.

A continuing theme throughout the book is, "The world has changed." So has the church worldwide, and the world mission movement.

America has a role, but it's not out in front taking charge, directing, and funding everything. It's in a partnership alongside Majority World missionary leaders.

I hope you'll take time to read and thoughtfully consider all that's presented in this book. The world has changed and it's waiting for us to catch up with it.

Not Ashamed

Image credit: jgroup / 123RF Stock Photo You made me and formed me with your hands. Give me understanding so I can learn your commands. Let those who respect you rejoice when they see me, because I put my hope in your word. Comfort me with your love, as you promised me, your servant. Have mercy on me so that I may live. I love your teachings. Let me obey your demands perfectly so I will not be ashamed. (Psalms 119:73, 74, 76, 77, 80 NCV)

Realization of whom God is will change our heart and our life. Is your worldview confined to this world, or redefined by eternity? When we know God personally as our Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer, we can see things from His perspective. This will change our heart and how we live each day. ©Word-Strong_2013

"Have You Been Born Again?"

Image credit: compuinfoto / 123RF Stock Photo Back in the 1980's, I saw a news account of a group touting a new method of resetting a person's consciousness.

The person was to climb into a hot tub and close the lid, naked I believe. Then the person would be submersed under the water representing their mother's womb, though I'm not sure what instructions were given for when to breathe. (lol)

At some point their consciousness of the past would be cleared and they would come out of the tub. It was to be a new start in life and they were proclaimed as "born again." I'm not kidding, I really did see this on a news program. Where? In Southern California, of course!

The term born again

Charles Colson, legal counsel to former President Nixon, wrote his book Born Again in the previous decade. It tells his story of spiritual rebirth following his imprisonment. It's a clear, compelling book that I recommend.

Nothing against hot tubs, but Colson is more on target with what Jesus spoke of in the Gospel of John, when he told the Jewish leader Nicodemus that he needed to be born again. (John 3:1-10)

The term born again has been misconstrued and misused often. My story of the hot tub is a clear example. When Jesus uses this term Nicodemus is puzzled by the idea of being born twice, as many of us might be.

I've heard complicated and technical explanations, but they aren't much help for non-believers or even young believers.

Jesus gives His explanation

So how does Jesus explain it? He uses natural and simple words, and reinforces what He says as one simple truth. For me, I need to read and reread what Jesus says until I can see the simple truth with God's Spirit as my guide.

Two words form this simple expression of born again. The idea of being born isn't complicated, my grandkids can grasp that. New life comes as a result of birth, whether it's a person or an animal. So the first word doesn't require much explanation.

But the second word isn't as simple as it looks. The word again, as it's translated in most common versions, doesn't mean repeat or replicate. Nicodemus, a learned leader of the Jews, struggled with this expression. But Jesus pressed on and repeated what He said in different words to express what He meant.

Jesus talked to Nicodemus about life in God's kingdom. It is spiritual in nature, so a person needs a spiritual birth, different from the natural, physical birth all humanity experiences. This spiritual birth comes from God. It's from above. The basic meaning of the second word again is literally from above or anew.

How can we understand this term?

How does Jesus explain this to Nicodemus? He uses an illustration from nature and speaks of the wind which is invisible. We can't see it but we see the effect of its action. Then Jesus says, "That's the way it is with everyone born of the Spirit." (John 3:8 GW)

It helps to look at Jesus' words as reinforcement of one simple truth, rather than many details to be analyzed. Rereading through John 3:3-8 in other versions and translations will help with the process of seeing the simple truth Jesus intended.

Making it simple to understand

Here's the process I use. First, I read and reread the full Bible text where the word or phrase is found. Then I look for the simple and natural meaning intended by whoever spoke or wrote it. When I gain more insight, I write out (or speak) it in my own words (IYOW). Try it. If you have a simpler way, go for it.

Here's my attempt— God's kingdom is spiritual in nature, so I need a spiritual nature to see it and enter it. I can't cause this spiritual birth myself, but I can receive it from God by faith.

How would you tell someone who is a non-believer what it means to be born again?

I bet someone out there in web-land can do a better and simpler job than I did. Give it a try. Put your IYOW version in the comment section. I look forward to seeing your creativity!

Extended Family

Extended family living under the same roof is common in many cultures. It hasn't been so common in America the past few decades, but that's changing because of present economic realities. At Rainbow  we have an extended family on one compound under a few roofs. On special occasions (Christmas, weddings, despididas [farewell parties], we see other members of Rainbow's extended family join us.

Susan and I feel at home when we travel to the Philippines to rejoin our extended Rainbow family. It's a community of young and old (we're the old ones now). Each person has a place within this community, this family. This is what God intends for His family, the church, the Body of Christ [1 Cor 12:12, 14, 18, 25-26]. Seeing God's extended family, the church worldwide, is a great blessing for cross-cultural missionaries. When we are here in Dumaguete City, we rejoin our church family at CCD. It's been our home church for two decades. This past Sunday I had the privilege of sharing a message at another local church, pastored by my good friend, Oscar, who's also a good artist, and a skilled teacher and trainer of leaders.

I've enjoyed the privilege of worshiping with many church families over the years, in many different geographic locations and cultures. Several times I've been the only white face present, yet I felt connected with God's extended family.

I appreciate my experiences in these church families. Not because I get to travel or serve cross-culturally, which I love to do, but it gives me a better perspective of God's church. It is a worldwide community, one large extended family.

Living in America, in our very fragmented and isolated culture, we're myopic. We have a very narrow, near-sighted view of life and the world. Our news media is so controlled by popular interest, it's hard to find out what's going on in the rest of the world. It doesn't matter what network. It's frustrating when you know there's much more going on in the world, but it seems closed off.

This is how church can be anywhere. In America, we've refined this myopic focus of attention on ourselves, and it's sad. It's also very selfish and self-centered, and something we need to guard our hearts against.

When we're in the Philippines we get a much wider view of world news, and a better sense of the church international. At a small missions conference this past week, I heard my pastor friend John share about the underground church and Bible school where he visited and taught. This stirs my heart, it always does.

A great need exists throughout much of the world for training and equipping leaders within the church. This need has burdened my heart for many years. It's not that they need me, if anything I need them. But they do need what I and many other western leaders have to offer— experience and expertise.

In America, we (the church) have been blessed, and abundantly so. A lot of talk has gone on about redistributing wealth. The church worldwide doesn't need the material wealth of American churches, that would ruin them. What they need is our wealth of spiritual resources— training, expertise, mentoring, and the like.

We need to see the church as an extended family that shares what God has blessed us with, not keeping it for ourselves. There are millions, no billions, of souls who are waiting for us to do so. The idea of sharing and being a community, an extended family, is what we see with the first church [Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37].

This was the Lord's design and direction for His church. Why has it changed? Was it God who changed it or us? If you're not sure, just ask Him.

What, Me Worry?


Remember the Mad Magazine cover with Alfred E Neuman asking, "What, me worry?" Perhaps I'm reaching too far back for some of you, but his iconic face and this question were a popular sight in the heyday of Mad Magazine (1960's-70's). It was the first irreverent and satirical magazine to impact pop-culture. Now, we are deluged with irreverent satire in all sorts of media.

A few days ago I read through a familiar passage in the Bible. It's familiar to those in Christian circles. Something simple caught my attention this time. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7), Jesus gives insight and practical advice on how to live within God's kingdom. It's practical, yet spiritual. It's not mystical, but deals with motives of the heart and internal struggles. What do most people struggle with on a daily basis? Worry.

In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus' basic message is don't worry! Don't worry about what you eat, wear or what the future holds. His remedy is this—make life in God's kingdom and a good relationship with Him your priority. The rest will take care of itself. Actually, Jesus promises that God will take care of it. Of course, this requires faith in God and His faithfulness (Heb 11:6), but that's a whole other topic.

Here's what caught my attention— "Everyone is concerned about these things…" (Matt 6:32 GW). Other Bible versions express it differently, but the truth remains. The rich man worries about all his stuff (material wealth). The poor woman worries how she'll feed her family each day.

When I was a young believer, and new husband and father, I would often sit in my "worry chair." It was a big vintage-60's, wing-backed, turquoise chair inherited from my grandmother. I could spend an easy hour or so just worrying about how to support my young family, and what I should do with my life. After sitting and worrying, I would get up feeling worse than when I sat down.

Staring at me, on the wall across from the chair, was an artistic calligraphy of Proverbs 3:5-6, with a similar message as Jesus' on trusting God. These verses, their truth, are burned into my memory. That is a good thing.

But as I much as I know it, I still struggle with worry. Now I look back some 40-some years and wonder what the future holds. I've seen God's faithfulness over the years, so I don't doubt Him. But I worry about different things now and tend to doubt myself.

I'm not going to get into all that, because that's not my point. We all worry and we all tend to doubt God. God knows this. He knows us, even when we may think we're drifting alone in this life.

The resolve to worry is still the same, trust. Trust God. Use whatever smattering of faith you have and throw it in the face of worry and doubt.

What are you worrying about at present? Be honest with yourself and God! BTW, how's all that worrying working out for you? Maybe it's time for a change. 

“Don’t ever worry and say, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink?’ or ‘What are we going to wear?’ Everyone is concerned about these things, and your heavenly Father certainly knows you need all of them. But first, be concerned about his kingdom and what has his approval. Then all these things will be provided for you. “So don’t ever worry about tomorrow. After all, tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matt 6:31-34 GW)

Killing of the Innocents

Last week I saw a clip from a movie about the life of Jesus, one of the many shown each Christmas and Easter season. It is a disturbing part of the life of Jesus (Matthew 2:16-18) where King Herod orders the murder of all boys two years and younger. It is a prophetic echo from the prophet Jeremiah when he foresaw the destruction of Jerusalem hundreds of years prior to Herod (Jer 31:15). Herod orders the killing of these innocent children out of his own self-absorbed anger and jealousy. It was pure evil.

Reflecting on the recent evil killing of innocent children in Newtown, CT, I'm reminded how often such killing takes place unnoticed by the general population of the world. But it doesn't go unnoticed. Not by those parents, children, and communities who witness these atrocious and evil acts. Neither does it go unnoticed by God.

The Fix
I addressed this a bit in another post (Broken), but I have some further thoughts on the aftermath of the killings. A lot of debate developed over how to fix whatever problem caused it all. How to prevent such tragedies. I heard three general themes or issues through all the rhetoric—gun control, violence in the media, and mental and moral health management.

Gun control will be debated over and over, and some good points can be made. Two thoughts come to mind. Gun ownership is a right according to the Bill of Rights, and once a right is eroded in some way (like the current assault on religious freedom, ie: Christianity), it is a slippery slope for more erosion. Okay, I get that. 

But the 2nd thought is this—guns are instruments of destruction, pure and simple. That's their purpose, whether it's a target, an animal, or a human being. Yes, they can be a deterrent and means of protection (self-defense). Yes, others with evil intent must be restrained, whether individuals or people groups (nations). But, the ultimate question is how much is enough, and will it really be enough?

We do live in a violent culture. I see this obsessive fascination in the many forms of media that inundate our culture—movies, TV series, digital games, cartoons, etcetera and so on. It isn't normal and it isn't healthy, just ask the many men and women of the military returning from active war environments, to whom we owe a debt of gratitude.

This also can become another so-called freedom issue. But is it really? Do we really need all this violent input involving zombies, vampires, and people who take the law into their own hands. We (our culture) glorify violence, plain and simple. And if we think it doesn't have a lasting and impactful influence on our psyche, then we are in serious denial at best, or simple self-inflicted delusion.

Deeper down
The third general theme of discussion formed around people with mental health issues and the general moral compass of our culture. This gets much closer to the core issue. But alas, morality cannot be legislated. Well, it can be put into law, but it won't just happen because of a law, no matter how well enforced.

How about the prevention of violence by the mentally ill? First of all, who determines which people are at risk for violence? How does one go about doing this? It's a rather impossible task to accomplish. Too many variables and factors are involved, and the bigger issue would be those in contact with whoever could be considered potentially dangerous. Dr M Scott Peck looked into this issue in his book, "People of the Lie."

Determining who is bent towards violent, evil action is not easily discerned. Ultimately, it's a people problem. All of us have a certain capacity for doing terrible things. It's called selfish human nature. When self-indulgence and self-exaltation (and other self absorbed characteristics) go unchecked anyone can be self-destructive, and this can spin off into violence towards others.

A cursory view of un-rewritten history (think– non-politically-corrected) brings the reality of human evil into sharp focus. It is easy to blame tyrants such as Hitler, but what about the many people who played a part in his spectacle of evil? The problem of evil is an internal one. Whether we choose it or not, it coexists in our world with good—moral, ethical and spiritual goodness. 

External restrictions and controls will never fix this problem. It might slow it down a bit, for a while, but it won't solve the problem. It requires a change in human nature. An internal change. One impossible for humans to bring about on their own.

Can we fully understand the power and nature of evil? Perhaps not. Even so, it's real. When innocents are killed it is incomprehensible, regardless if it takes place at an elementary school, an island retreat (Norway), or the region surrounding Bethlehem.

The truly innocent One
The story of King Herod's senseless, brutal massacre stems from jealous insecurity, after hearing of a newborn king of the Jews (Jesus). But this innocent child escaped his terror. Later, willingly, Jesus submitted Himself to the murderous plot of Jewish leaders and the complicity of a Roman ruler. Even at 33 years old, Jesus was still innocent—sinless.

His innocence (sinlessness) was sacrificed for man's lack of innocence (sinful nature). This is the only solution for evil—an internal change, a change of inner nature. Only by trusting in Him and His work of redemption upon the cross can we hope to escape the power of evil. Will it remove the presence of evil in the world? Not until people's hearts are changed and they receive a new nature.

I look forward to the day when God will end evil's reign for good (Rev 21:1-4). Until then, I must continue resisting evil in my own life, and spread the message of the only solution I know. I choose to look beyond the killing of innocents to the only One I know to be truly innocent. He is the judge, not me. He is the One who will resolve all things in His time (Eccl 3:1-8, 11).

How will you process senseless violence? What will you, and can you, do about it? It is your choice, each of us, and it is a daily choice to be made.

Government

It is easy to lose focus and perspective when we get absorbed in one line of thought. Absorbed in a cause, a challenge, a debate, or an impassioned view of an issue. When you see the word government what comes to mind?

Currently, many issues may come to mind. For example, the recent violent murder of innocents at Newtown, CT, gun control and gun rights, the pending economic crisis and so-called cliff, international unrest, and so on.

But all of these are issues and concerns of human government. By now, as you read this on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, you might be wondering, "What kind of Christmas message is this?!" "How about something uplifting and hopeful?" Exactly my point!

Having lived outside my native culture and nation for 15 years (90's and early 2000's), I have an appreciation for my own country and government that many Americans may not have. And yet, long ago, I stopped hoping in human government as a means of bringing world change. Not cynicism, but realism.

Keep in mind that I came of age during the 60's and was somewhat a part of the cultural revolution (of sorts) in that era. However, that experience brought great distrust in big government, and I'm a fan of localized government—that is, community-based government. The kind I see in the first church (Acts 2:42-47; 4:32-37).

Where does this somewhat utopian government come from? Here's a prophetic view of it—

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Sound good? Too good to be true? If your only view of government (national, local, or even church politics) has brought cynicism, then it might be hard to believe. But this government was inaugurated when Jesus was born nearly 2000 years ago (see Luke 2:8-14). 

I don't want to go on and on with a laborious commentary on the above Scripture, but I'd like to point out a couple things that might help with the cynicism.

Jesus (God as a man) came as a child—a humble beginning in a rustic and humble environment. He is God's Son, so He represents and makes visible the very nature and power of God. A nature and power to bring redemption—a real rescue and transformation of human nature and life. 

The government will be "on his shoulders," that is, not on on the backs of people (think real freedom and liberty) [see Matthew 11:28-30]. His government (ruling authority) is based on and brings peace (think genuine harmony), justice (think mercy and fairness), and righteousness (think true integrity and goodness).

And here's the best part—it may begin humbly and simply, but it will increase more and more into eternity. So, how does one come under this wonderful government? Humbly and personally, just like Jesus came (see Mark 10:13-16).


Broken

Once again, hearts are broken with news of the shooting tragedy in Newtown, CT. The senselessness of it. The inevitable question why? The conflicted feelings of hate, love, outrage, compassion, hurt, and compassion.

How does one make sense of it? We can't, not really. The brokenness and emptiness that gnaws at the heart of families who lost children outstrips words and attempts to console or explain. Sadly, some will seize the event as a platform to clamor for change, seek blame, pontificate, or sensationalize. But tragedies such as this bring opportunity for reflection and compassion.

As with previous shooting tragedies, many Christian believers and leaders mobilize to pray and bring comfort to the victims and families of the community, and the students and staff of the school. This outreach of love and empathy will be overlooked by the media for the most part. This is a good thing, so it will not be spotlighted and sensationalized. The families and community will know and that's what matters.

Opportunity
Words fall woefully short in tragic times, so actions and presence must take their place. As a young pastor, I learned early on that the most valuable thing I could offer was practical assistance and a commitment to be present as needed, often in silence.

I saw how valuable those simple things were, as I watched family and friends and people in the church move into action with meals, practical help and silent comfort. My role was to assist with needed arrangements, pray, and console with silent presence, and a simple touch of compassion when appropriate.

Being at the side of parents who lose children in tragic accidents and events brings a helpless feeling, even though we want to sooth their ache. Time doesn't heal all hurts, but as time passes the ache can become endurable.

My wife and I have been on the receiving end of compassion after a senseless loss of life. We went through the shock, the sadness, the questions, and vacuous sense of loss. Yet we experienced immense consolation from God and the many who reached out to us with compassion.

Reflection
Whenever I have the responsibility and privilege of leading a funeral or memorial service, I see it as a time of reflection and assessment. Not just for those attending the service, but for myself as well.

Life is fragile, very fragile. Death is an enemy, a cruel indifferent enemy. Hope is a necessity in times of tragedy and needs to be genuine. Memories aren't what's left over, but treasures to be valued. Our whole life is a dynamic collection of memories, experiences, and relationships.

Those who were killed, especially the young children, were precious living beings cut off from life in a violent manner. No words remove the sting or explain the tragedy. We are at a loss, and as our president expressed, "Our hearts are broken."

This event may indeed be indicative of a cultural sickness of our nation's brokenness and lostness. But it's more of a worldwide human reality. Horrific tragedies take place throughout the world every day, but go unnoticed except by those immediately affected.

Hope
What hope is there to heal this brokenness? Is there a resolution to this vast lostness? Yes indeed, but it requires humility and trust to embrace it.

Is God just standing by watching it all take place while we struggle with such tragedies? No. He also has known the loss of a Son who was murdered unjustly, and He is able to relate to each of us personally (Hebrews 2:9-10, 14-18). God is love (1 John 4:16). God is merciful and compassionate (Heb 4:15-16).

God has made a way to escape the madness of a world that seems bent on destruction (Matthew 11:28-30). And He has and will resolve all the senseless tragedies and questions of life on this earth for those who trust in Him. One day it will make sense, until then we move forward by faith—our trust in His faithfulness.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Now God’s presence is with people, and he will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them and will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death, sadness, crying, or pain, because all the old ways are gone.” The One who was sitting on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this, because these words are true and can be trusted.” (Revelation 21:3-5 NCV)

Thankful?

What are you thankful for? Are you thankful? I know, Thanksgiving is past, but I thought I'd ask after all the hoopla of the weekend. Sadly, a holiday set aside for national gratitude and reflection has been usurped. It's typically referred to as T-Day or Turkey-Day and has become an excuse for excessive eating and spending, with a lot of football watching and beer drinking. 


It's easy to become cynical and pessimistic about the state of the world around us, which inevitably breeds the same in our heart and mind. It leaks out through our words and permeates our thinking. The only solution and resolve is choosing to be thankful—grateful for what is good in our life. This was the intent of the first national observance by President George Washington, and the later proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. [For more historical insight, check out Wikipedia's Thanksgiving link.]

Perhaps it's my 60's-era perception of it, but it seems like the whole weekend has become way too focused on materialistic pursuits. Black Friday used to start at 5:00 am, but now it's midnight. Sadly, I must admit that I'm not immune to it, but it still bothers me to be so pre-occupied and seduced by it all.

Sad or glad? It's a choice. I'll choose to be glad through gratefulness. One of my favorite verses in the Bible on thankfulness is found in Colossians 3:15-17. It intrigues me that in each admonition of all three verses (in most versions) is the exhortation to be thankful. The other practical element of these verses speaks to how we are made.

In the margin of my Bible(s) I wrote three words— heart, mind and body. The encouragement of verse 15 is to let the Lord's peace rule (like a football ref) in our heart— and be thankful. The next verse admonishes us to let God's Word dwell—live in and permeate—our thoughts in a full and deep way. And don't forget—with thankfulness! And finally, whatever you do (word or deed-wise) do it so that God is honored in your life example. Again, do it with thankfulness.

This isn't a self-help formula or DIY plan. It says "let...." That is, allow this attitude to govern and prevail in your heart, mind and actions. It's a choice. Have a Happy Thanksgiving every day!

What input do you choose for what rules your heart, mind and actions? The kingdom of the world around you, or God's kingdom? Cynicism or thankfulness?

I know what I choose, especially when I find myself drifting into the prison of pessimism. I choose the prism of praise. It's healthier and much more fun.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col 3:15-17 NIV84)

Who's to Blame?

Over the past couple weeks, even months, the news media has broadcast stories where questions abound. The questions boil down to— Who's to blame for...? You can fill in the blank— the election, the Benghazi tragedy, the Hamas-Israeli conflict, and so on. After the tragedy of September 11th, a commission was set up to determine which government agency was at fault.

The blame game seems at an epidemic level in our nation, but it's not limited to us. And it's not a recent problem, nor is it cultural. It's a human problem and not going away anytime soon.

Sorting out blame, aka responsibility, is found at all levels of life and in every corner. It happens between people of all walks of life. Husbands and wives engaged in domestic discussions (aka arguments) spend a lot of time determining blame. Even within our own mind, our conscience, the blame game rages.

But why?
What drives this search to assign blame? It's quite natural to us, we inherited this trait. This isn't just shifting blame backwards, it's reality. Was is it our parents, grandparents, extended family? Well, yes and no. We do learn patterns of behavior, and develop attitudes and prejudices from our family backgrounds. But we're all just passing on what's been passed onto us.

I like to go to the beginning of the book to see how the story starts. Any good story lays ground work for the plot at the beginning, then drops breadcrumbs to follow to the end of the story, the resolve.

So, where did all this blaming start? In the garden of God, paradise. Yep, even in paradise, problems exist. But it didn't start out that way. God set man and woman, the first ones, in a place of earthly perfection, but with one caveat. They could eat from any tree in the garden except for one—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Gen 2:8-9, 15-17). Of course, because of human free will, the inevitable took place—the man and woman ate of the tree. When they ate the blame game began (Gen 3:1-13).

Before jumping to conclusions to assign blame keep in mind that God warned the man first (Gen 2:16, 17). God asked the man about their problem (feeling naked), not the woman who ate from the tree first (Gen 3:9-11).

Here's the point—
The blame game comes naturally to us. We're programmed for it. But why do we continue it even when it resolves nothing? Good question! First of all, it's one of the ways we deal with guilt by putting it off onto others. As if we're not responsible, just innocent bystanders, victims.

It's also a way to justify ourselves as better than others. If I can pin blame on someone else to appear innocent, then I can convince myself and maybe a few others I'm better than all that. It's called self-justification. A lot of this goes on in our heads by comparing ourselves to others.

But the one element of blame we often miss is the ultimate focus of blaming others. It points back to God. Here's the simple view of it—

The man answered, “That woman, the one you gave me, gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” (Genesis 3:12 GW)

Do you see it? "God, it's your fault. You created the woman and she gave it to me."

When things go wrong in our life, or in the world (in our estimation)— we lay the responsibility at God's feet. Here's the classic example— "If God is a God of love, why is there so much evil in the world?" The basic problem with this is the limited perspective we (humanity) have of life, this world, God, ad infinitum. 

Honesty—
When you find yourself playing the blame game, ask yourself some honest questions.
Why is it so important to me to assign blame?
What's my part in all of this? What is my responsibility?
How am I finding fault with God?

How different life is when we stop blaming and forgive, even as God forgives us. God alone is faithful and blameless. He alone resolved blame, guilt, selfishness, and wrong long ago.

God had Christ, who was sinless, take our sin so that we might receive God’s approval through him. (2 Corinthians 5:21 GW)

At the Feet of Jesus

Last week someone wrote to call me out about a phrase I used, saying it seemed like Christianese. It was, but I did give a simple simile as explanation. But I thought it might be good to explain it a bit further. I said that if there's something you (anyone) is struggling with, "Lay it at the feet of Jesus."

As I mentioned in my book, The Mystery of the Gospel, Christian believers tend to use a set of words and phrases laden with meaning, but not understood by others. Even believers who use these expressions don't understand all that is said. Christianese is a general term describing words, cliches, and expressions used by people in the Christian faith. The use of Christianese isn't bad, it's just puzzling for those uninitiated to it. One of my favorite takes on Christianese is the short video produced by B.A.D.D. If you haven't seen it, it's worth the watch, funny and makes the point. Another good resource for understanding Christianese is a site called Dictionary of Christianese. If you click on the link, it will take you to a site where you can download a 30-page sample.

As I said, using it isn't bad as long as the words and expressions are explained for those who don't understand. These expressions are a form of figurative language, the use of figures of speech. All of us use figurative language in one form or another. Why? Because it paints a picture and becomes an abbreviated way of saying things. In fact, a figure of speech can make a point more clear than a lengthy (often tedious) explanation (think—listing off statistics versus illustrations of comparison).

A couple of stories So, back to the expression of "lay it at the feet of Jesus"—what does this mean? The best way to describe it is found in a couple of stories that illustrate it. Many stories could be used, but two stand out to me.

In Luke's gospel (Luke 7:36-50), Jesus goes to the home of a Pharisee (religious leader) to eat. While He's there a "woman of the city, who was a sinner," comes and anoints Jesus' feet with oil, and washes them with her tears and hair while kissing them.

Jesus is reclining at a table with His feet extended out, and she comes to express her appreciation and devotion to Jesus—at His feet. This, of course, causes the Pharisee to judge Jesus, which leads Jesus to tell the man a parable about forgiveness. Do you see the picture? Reading the whole story may help the picture come into focus better.

A second story involves two sisters well known to Jesus, Martha and Mary, and is found in Luke 10:38-42. Martha is busy with the work of the household (as to be expected), but Mary "sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching." The place of women in that day was to serve in the household. The place of men was to listen to the teacher. It's as if Mary has forgotten her place.

Martha complains to Jesus, but He doesn't give the response she expected. Instead He tells her, "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her."

Coming to Jesus isn't just about laying our needs before Him, but of being with Him, listening to Him, worshipping Him. It is an expression of trust, of implicit faith in Him. Sometimes we may need to bring whatever it is we struggle with to lay it at His feet, to entrust it to Him. But our trust and confidence to bring our needs to Him this way is built up as we spend time at His feet.

And so, the more we are like Mary than Martha, and more like the woman of the city, the more confident we will be to entrust our life, our needs, our heart to Jesus. Then we will also find Him stepping in on our behalf when others accuse us, including the enemy of our soul (the devil). The illustration (above) from one of Dore's woodcuts gives us a picture of the Lord's intercession. It depicts Jesus' forgiveness for the woman caught in adultery (see John 8:1-11). He defends her against her accusers and extends mercy to her.

Jesus shows us great mercy and blesses us with immeasurable grace, especially when we learn to trust in Him in greater and greater ways—as we learn to sit at Jesus' feet and to lay our lives at His feet.

Stop it!

©123RF

Bob Newhart has a hilarious comedy skit as a psychiatrist. His therapy is a simple, two-word solution for problems—"Stop it!" If you've never seen it, click on the link ("Stop it!") for a good laugh, but keep reading!

If only solving life's problems were that simple! Well, in some ways it is. But, alas, many difficulties in life continue to trouble us. Why? Why don't we just stop doing some things, or start doing other things? The Apostle Paul addresses this in his letter to the Roman church (Rom 7:15-19). What got me thinking on this line was my reading in the book of Hebrews. It's a comprehensive look at how Jesus Christ fulfilled and superseded all that is written in the Old Testament Scriptures. After remembering the many heroes of faith in Israel's history, a strong exhortation is given in the next chapter.

Since we are surrounded by so many examples of faith, we must get rid of everything that slows us down, especially sin that distracts us. We must run the race that lies ahead of us and never give up. We must focus on Jesus, the source and goal of our faith. He saw the joy ahead of him, so he endured death on the cross and ignored the disgrace it brought him. Then he received the highest position in heaven, the one next to the throne of God. Think about Jesus, who endured opposition from sinners, so that you don’t become tired and give up.  (Hebrews 12:1-3 GW)

Over the years I've found that many Christian believers try to live as good Christians. My advice to them is—Stop it! Many might say, "But aren't we to lead lives pleasing to the Lord?" Of course we are, but we go about it the wrong way.

Being a Christian is not about trying to do better, it's about being. The popular saying of the Jesus Movement of the early 70's was, "It's not about religion, it's relationship." My children are my children, regardless of their behavior—they just are. They were born into our family, and although there was some labor on my wife's part, they did nothing to become our children and do nothing to maintain their place in the family as our children.

Over the past 20+ years, Susan and I have worked with abandoned and abused children and young women. Without exception, the most important thing for each of them was being connected to their family. In many cases, they needed a substitute family through adoption. It is amazing how strong a bond this is—the bond between child and parent.

In the case of the abused girls or young women, Susan and I, along with the extended family at Rainbow Village, became a surrogate family. This was and is important. We are known as "Mama and Papa" because of the relationship we have with them. This has been an important element in their recovery from abuse.

It works the same way with believers within the Body of Christ, the church community. It is an extended family. It is to be a place of healing and restoration. A place of nurture and growth. A place of belonging.

OK, so what about moving forward in this relationship with the Lord Jesus? Is it possible to just stop it when it comes to our struggle with sin and personal issues? This text in Hebrews (above) indicates this—at first glance.

Go back and look at those three verses (Heb 12:1-3) and observe it more carefully. There are a couple important keys to running the race and growing in faith. Next week I'll go over this. In the meantime, if you're trying real hard to be a Christian—stop it! Just be one. Just be a child of God who trusts in Him.

What the World Needs Now

A popular song in the mid-sixties went, "What the world needs now—is love, sweet love..." sung by Jackie DeShannon [http://tw.gs/Way9d for more info see– http://tw.gs/Way9g]. It's still one of my favorite songs from the sixties and the YouTube video (first link) captures the innocent hope of the sixties for a universal love. Another one of my favorites songs was by the Youngbloods called, "Get Together" [http://tw.gs/Wayba], which became somewhat of an anthem for the peace movement of the sixties. The sixties were a tumultuous time of expectant hope and altruistic (at first) belief in the goodness of humanity, with a divergent mix of protests and campus unrest, a war overseas, economic change, and a moral and spiritual vacuum.

The sixties came and went, and a certain naive hope seemed to die with the close of the decade and the beginning of the "Me Generation", the seventies. We seem to be in a time of another divergent clash of expectations, but without innocence. In fact, there's a whole lot of mud-slinging and name-calling, but it's not just the fury of another divisive election. It seems what the world needs now is humility. At least some civility.

When you look into the heart of God, who is love (1 John 4:7-8, 16), the nature of His love is humility. Out of His great love He gave His Son—for the whole world (John 3:16). And looking to the Son we see humility. The apostle Paul points this out as he exhorts the church in Philippi to be unified (Philippians 2:1-4) through humility towards one another. Then he points them to Jesus for an example (Phil 2:5-8 GWT)—

Have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Although he was in the form of God and equal with God, he did not take advantage of this equality.Instead, he emptied himself by taking on the form of a servant, by becoming like other humans, by having a human appearance. He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, death on a cross.

Jesus, the personification of God's love, said this about Himself in Matthew 11:29 (GWT)

Place my yoke t over your shoulders, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble. Then you will find rest for yourselves

We in the American church, including all evangelicals whatever their distinctives, are too often caught up in being "right" (and I don't mean politically). The focus of teaching and practice (how we are to live) is more on upholding moral standards and protecting our rights and freedoms. Having good moral standards is honorable, and it is the great privilege of living in America to enjoy certain rights and freedoms (see US Constitution for more details– http://www.usconstitution.net/const.html). But with privilege and freedom comes responsibility. And morality is based not on human goodness, but the nature of God.

I fear we (the church) are moving faster and faster in the direction of becoming modern-day Pharisees— self-righteous and hypocritical, and lacking in mercy, grace and humility. The Jewish leaders who longed for their messiah to come deliver Israel missed Him when He did come. They condemned Him and found a way of putting Him to death. They were to caught up in themselves and maintaining their sense of rightness.

How can this be reversed? Can it be? If it can't be we are hopeless. Ah, but a solution exists. Change comes one life at a time, one heart at a time. Then, and only then, will lasting significant change take place in our churches, our nation, and the world.

Jesus said, "Come learn of Me..." and He also called all believers, all true followers, to deny themselves (selfish ambitions, pride, self-centeredness, etc.), die to themselves (take up their cross), and then follow Him (Matt 16:24)—simple, relational, intentional, and personal discipleship. This has always been the Lord's "solution" to world peace.

It requires no degree or certificate or special training. It's a matter of sharing the life we have in Jesus with others. Really, it's that simple. But, it's an investment. It requires discipline and commitment. And it requires humility. Are you ready for a change?

A Startling Event

On my first solo journey to Thailand I experienced a genuine sense of isolation. I traveled to other countries before and lived in the Philippines for many years, so being in a new environment didn’t bring this isolation. My family and I resided in the Philippines where English is spoken often, but I didn’t understand the Thai language. I moved through the Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports smoothly because many signs were in English and most of the staff spoke broken English. But the airport was an international island within Thailand.

Arriving in the city where I resided for the week, I stayed in a local hotel and ate my meals at the restaurant downstairs. Virtually no one spoke English in this hotel. The desk clerks spoke some broken English, but it was hard to understand. I survived the week and carried on with the teaching ministry I came to do. But the isolation brought a strange depression and disorientation. Impromptu sign language doesn’t convey conceptual truth, and a simple gesture is easily misunderstood.

The Thai language has five distinct tones and each one varies the meaning of words. So, one word has a certain meaning with one tone, but the same word may convey a different meaning with another tone. I watched an American missionary friend, fluent in Thai, struggle while he interpreted for a visiting American pastor. I asked him why it was so hard and he told me, “he’s using theological words we don’t have in the Thai language!” Many words in English have no Thai equivalent, as is true in most languages.

When I traveled to Ethiopia and moved about the capital city of Addis Ababa, I felt little isolation as I had in my Thailand experience. But then we traveled a day and a half to a remote village in southern Ethiopia—once again I felt isolated. I was the only white face in the entire village, probably the region since it was so remote. The food was very different, but good. We stayed in fairly primitive rooms with no private toilet, air-conditioning, English television, Internet connection, or telephone available. We were hundreds of miles across desert lands from the airport I had flown into and from where I would depart. But I had Ayele who proved to be a great help. He was far more than my interpreter and guide—he became a good friend.

My friend Ayele is well educated and articulate in English. He is a bright and capable young man, and was a great partner in the ministry there. Ayele had grown up in the village where we traveled to, but they spoke a completely different dialect than the national language, Amharic. The teaching materials I sent over were translated into Amharic for Ayele, while I spoke in English. In the first teaching session it became apparent Ayele needed to translate things into the local dialect. It was difficult for him at first, since he had not spoken in it for many years.

Since the materials were not in the local dialect, I also needed to adjust. How could I have them refer to the workbook more suited to a western mindset, if I didn’t adjust? It would be a waste of time—theirs, Ayele’s, and mine. I used stories from the Bible to explain certain truths, and interpreted the workbook’s lessons into simple wording. Ayele interpreted my English into Amharic in his mind, then into the local dialect. God helped us through the process and the people were blessed. It was one of the most memorable and favorite teaching experiences I’ve had.

The book of Acts opens where the Gospel of Luke leaves off—Jesus gives His apostles important instructions and exhortations before He is taken up into Heaven. His final command is to wait in Jerusalem for “the Promise of the Father.” This Promise was the indwelling presence and power of God’s Spirit—the Holy Spirit. He would enable and empower the disciples as the Lord’s personal representatives on earth—His emissaries, if you will, of the Kingdom of God.[i]

Growing up in a traditional church with centuries old traditions and liturgies (forms of service), the church seemed like a great institution. A person could become part of this impressive organization, but there were certain guidelines for behaving within it. When I became of age (twelve years old), I endured many Saturday mornings of formal training to be confirmed as a member of the church. After the training, a formal church service publicly confirmed those who completed the training. The Vicar laid his hands upon each of us to receive the Holy Spirit.[ii]

Unfortunately, I went through the training and laying on of hands without understanding what took place. I was immature and ignorant of the meaning and value of the training. What takes place in Acts 2—the outpouring of the Holy Spirit—the giving of “the Promise of the Father,” was what I was to experience through the Vicar’s prayer. Years later, when I experienced this outpouring in a genuine way, I understood the value of that public ceremony. I finally realized the great privilege and blessing of God’s presence and power living inside me.

The birth of the church happens in Acts 2:1–4. The 120 believers, who experienced this outpouring of the Holy Spirit, began to function as the Lord’s living witnesses on earth from this day forward.[iii] This supernatural event takes place during one of Israel’s great feasts, the Feast of Pentecost. It was a celebration of the nation’s harvest time in early autumn, seven weeks after the Feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits—when the Lord Jesus was crucified and resurrected.[iv]

The event in this upper room with one hundred twenty believers caused quite a stir. Many visitors crowded into Jerusalem to attend the Feast of Pentecost, men from many nations who spoke various languages. The rushing sound of the mighty wind and the believers speaking in various “tongues” or languages caught their attention. But they didn’t understand what went on, as verses 11–12 tell us, “We hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

What took place had never occurred before. Picture the simultaneous confusion and amazement these “men from every nation under heaven” experienced. It startled and unsettled them. Many people have this same unsettling experience when they first encounter Christian believers or attend a church. The Christianese (Bible phrases and cliches Christians use) can baffle nonbelievers or the uninitiated new believer, sounding like a foreign dialect of English.

Spiritual truth must be understood in a spiritual frame of reference. This won't come from intellectual reasoning and analysis, it must be the work of God's Spirit, the Holy Spirit. As the story of Acts 2:1-40 unfolds, Peter addresses the men gathered from many nations and explains what took place (in Acts 2:1-4). Because Peter was filled with the presence and power of God's Spirit he could explain things in a simple clear way.

This is the responsibility every Christian believer has whether professionally trained or not. How is this possible? Knowing God personally and having His Spirit dwell in you. Knowing God's story and being familiar with the truth in His written word (the Bible). It doesn't need to be complicated, it just needs to be real. People long for what is genuine.

Is your faith genuine? Is your relationship with God visible to others? When you relate to others unfamiliar with God's kingdom do you relate spiritual truth to them in words they can understand and that don't sound foreign? These are honest questions all true believers need to ask and answer for themselves—if we are going to be a genuine reflection of God's love and kindness.

[Here's another excerpt of my book, "The Mystery of the Gospel"]


[i]Reference– Acts 1:4, 8– This Promise (the Holy Spirit) was spoken of in John and Luke’s gospels. The promise speaks of an abiding or continuing presence of God’s Spirit within a believer.
[ii]Initially I was raised in the Episcopal Church (of America) with a similar catechism as its sister denomination, the Anglican Church of England.
[iii]In Acts 1:15, it speaks of 120 believers gathered for regular prayer from the time of Jesus’ ascension (going up into heaven) until ten days later at the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). This is seen as the “birth of the church” because the Holy Spirit stayed in the believers, and 3,000 believers were added after Peter’s message and exhortation (Ac 2: 41).
[iv]In that specific year, those three feasts (Passover, Unleavened Bread and First Fruits) fell together on consecutive days corresponding to the Lord’s death, burial and resurrection (see Leviticus 23 for a list of feasts).

The Hitchhiker and The Cross

On a hot summer day, I drove across the lower desert valley towards Palm Springs. In the lower desert, summer days can be exceptionally hot! Summer days in the southwestern desert of America are intense—like opening an oven set on high, then sticking your head inside it. If you’re out in that kind of heat it can do some harm! It dries you out quickly, causing heat stroke or worse.

I was a Christian believer involved with a nearby church and retreat ministry and spotted a hitchhiker along the road. I decided to have mercy on him. I also saw it as an opportunity to share my faith. He got in and we exchanged the usual greetings. As I drove, I asked him about his life and if he knew the Lord. I had plenty of witnessing experiences, but was unprepared for what unfolded.

The young man took great exception with what I said and began arguing with me. Actually, he began cursing my religion and me. He shouted at the top of his lungs, “How can you believe in a God who would kill His own son in such a bloody sacrifice?” As we approached a busy intersection, he opened his door and jumped out of the car before we had stopped. Walking across the adjacent lane, he continued shouting and cursing at me. His reaction stunned me.
Many people find it difficult to understand why God would allow His only Son to die a horrible death upon the Cross. Plenty of people reject Christianity for this very reason, though not as vehemently as this hitchhiker. The whole concept of Jesus’ blood cleansing someone of sin is hard to comprehend, especially in our day of advanced technology and education. The idea of a blood sacrifice was not hard to accept in Jesus’ day, and was common among ancient people. Even today, people in other cultures are familiar with sacrifices involving blood.

My personal observation is that many believers do not understand the essence of Christ’s death. Many focus on His physical suffering and gruesome death, but it is the spiritual truth—the purpose for His death—that is most important. In theology, it’s called the Atonement of Christ.

His death is the pivot point for understanding Jesus' great reconciling work on the Cross. The text of Hebrews 9:11–10:18 sheds light on the uniqueness of Jesus as a Savior, portrayed as the High Priest who offers a perfect sacrifice for the atonement of sin. He is the very sacrifice Himself.

A deeper significance to this atonement is His blood—the requirement for true reconciliation according to the Old Covenant. His blood establishes a New Covenant—a new relationship of commitment between God and those who trust in Him by faith. This change in covenants moves relationship from a requirement of obedience to empowerment—from restriction to freedom.*

The Father's redemptive heart demonstrated through the love of His Son Jesus upon the Cross encompasses more than forgiveness of sin. It certainly includes forgiveness, an all-inclusive forgiveness for the world (John 3:16). But it is also a turning point in how people can be in relationship with the one, true, and living God. Though often misunderstood and misconstrued when viewed through the lens of humanity, it is a powerful expression of love beyond our full comprehension.
There is both a simplicity and depth to the reconciling event of Jesus' death on the Cross. It's seems too simple a solution. And yet, when a person begins to understand some of its depth and fullness, it is humbling.
What's your view of the Cross? How has it liberated you? How does it empower you in your relationship with the Lord and in daily life?

*another excerpt from my upcoming book, now in it's final editing for corrections process

A Spiritual Encounter

During the sixties and seventies hitchhiking was common for young people searching for adventure or the meaning of life. An urban legend among the Jesus Generation featured an angel of God visiting people as a hitchhiker. The story goes like this—someone is driving along a road, spots a hitchhiker and stops to pick him up. As they travel along, the hitchhiker turns to the driver and announces, “The Lord Jesus is coming back soon!” In the next instant, the driver turns towards the hitchhiker but he’s vanished. The meaning of the story was simple—be ready for the Lord’s return! I did my share of hitchhiking in those days, and I picked up plenty of hitchhikers, but I never had this experience, nor could I verify the story of the visiting, hitchhiking angel.[i]

Recently, a good friend of mine gave a first hand account of a visiting angel. This is no urban legend, but his own account of someone who visited his mother in a hospital in Georgia, as she lay ravaged by cancer. Mario was near the end of his training in Navy flight school in northwest Florida. When it was clear his mother was near death, and against the advice of his instructor, he abruptly took leave to visit his mother before she died.

Mario’s mother read the Bible every day for as long as he could remember, but she didn’t have a personal assurance in her heart of God’s forgiveness. It was a Saturday morning, and the hospital chaplain had promised to stop by for a visit, but something came up and he couldn’t make it. Another pastor, an African-American man dressed in a red shirt and blue jeans, arrived at her room unannounced with balloons and flowers. He told them they were for someone else who was already released from the hospital. Mario’s mother, Frances, was in a room near a nurse’s station at the end of a closed corridor. Another nurse’s station sat at the other end of the hallway where the elevator was located, with a waiting room and the only access and exit door for the floor.

As the pastor came in the room, he saw Francis was near death. Greeting her by her first name, which was not posted anywhere outside or inside the room, she rose up in bed and smiled. This alone amazed Mario since her body was riddled with cancer, with her spine no longer able to support her. The pastor asked her if she was ready to meet the Lord, and she admitted her uncertainty. When he offered to pray for her, Mario’s mom gladly accepted his offer and entered into a personal relationship with the Lord that morning.

The pastor completed his visit and went out of the room, off to whatever else required his attention that day. As the hospital door shut behind the pastor, Mario followed right after him. Opening the door, he didn’t see the pastor in the hallway. He went to the nurse’s desk to ask where he had gone, but they hadn’t seen any “man in a red shirt and blue jeans.” Puzzled, my friend proceeded to the other nurse’s station, near the waiting room with the elevator. They had not seen the man, nor did they have any idea where he went.

My friend and his sister went over and over the details of the pastor’s visit. They had seen him, talked with him, heard him greet their mother and pray with her. How could he just disappear? Even to this day, Mario and his sister talk with reverence about this encounter with the mysterious pastor. Was he a visiting angel? They never tracked this man down to verify it, but their hearts tell them he was.

In my book (now in final editorial review!), this is the introduction to what I call the encounter on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-33. Jesus appears and joins two of His disciples on their way from Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus about seven miles away. The disciples don't recognize Him until they later break bread (eat supper) with HIm. Then their eyes open but He disappears from their presence. They realize it was HIm all along because their "hearts burned" while He explained the Scriptures related to His death and resurrection.

Maybe you haven't experienced a visiting angel (Heb 13:2), then again, maybe you have. But have you ever had a sense of God speaking to you "after the fact?" At the time He spoke you didn't realize it. There wasn't a loud speaker or sign in the sky, but later you realized God was revealing Himself, a truth, or He giving you some insight.

Belief is not a matter of intelligence quota or lack thereof. It is a deeper spiritual knowledge. When it's a belief in the one, true and living God it's called faith. How does it develop? The more we know Him, the more it deepens. How do we know Him? Through revelation by the Holy Spirit, understanding of His written word (the Bible), and living our lives in faith—an implicit, developing trust in Him.

Have you had any spiritual encounters like my friend Mario or these two disciples? Maybe it wasn't quite so obvious or dramatic, but if you have, if your heart has "burned" with the presence of God, appreciate it. It's part of how God makes Himself known and real in our lives.


[i]“The Vanishing Hitchhiker” is an urban legend having different versions with some history — http://goo.gl/35tZl | http://goo.gl/3aHCp

Planting or Transplanting?

This past week I shared a couple of posts I saw in Missions Frontiers on social media (http://www.missionfrontiers.org/). The first article speaks of 5 lessons American churches can learn from the Church Planting Movement (CPM) in the rest of the world (http://tw.gs/VbSa0). The second is how these things can be adapted to work in American churches (http://tw.gs/VbSaC). One addresses a need in typical American churches across the board (denominational and non-denominational), while the other gives examples and insights how these changes can be implemented. Most church plants in No America tend to draw from the existing pool of believers. However, many studies show that new pioneering church plants are more effective in reaching nonbelievers with the gospel (re: evangelism) than established churches. Yet, a fair amount of the people involved with new church plants are "transplants" from another church. Much has been said about the right and wrong of all this, but most of it is philosophical rhetoric (imho).

I've viewed the church planting experience from two perspectives, that of a church planting pastor, and as a member of a new church plant (currently). In the (hot) summer of 1978, my wife and I planted a church in the high desert area of So California. Brilliant timing, huh?! We survived the initial startup, which is another story in itself, and the church is flourishing to this day (thankfully). My original vision and heart for the church was reaching the unreached and unchurched. I'm thankful God graciously brought that about then and now.

Currently, Susan and I are involved with a new church plant in our present home town. Most of those attending are younger than us, a lot younger. We are the old folks in the back now. The church vision is similar and reminds me of the early days we experienced in the Jesus Movement of the early 70's. And BTW, the music is loud (lol)!

Here's my observation—the vision for reaching the unchurched and de-churched is essentially the same, but many who attend (including us) are transplanted from another existing church. This is not a bad thing—it's necessary—good experience is valuable.

But here's the challenge—How do we (the church) keep from falling into the same rut as so many churches. A lot of work is put into getting people to come into the church, and even more effort to keep them in it. Then the command of Jesus to go out to the world is set aside, except for those specially trained to go. But things are different now, or are they?

My heart to reach the unreached and equip those who desperately need training remains. I'm not a senior pastor, nor a missionary serving on the field full-time. Yet, I'm not absolved of my responsibility in God's kingdom. This is perhaps the most difficult hump to get over—removing the separation between clergy (ministry professionals) and laity (people in the congregation).

Lots of reasons exist for this separation, but that's another tangent. What's needed is training (discipling) for the believers in the church to go out to reach the nonbelievers. This requires intentional, relational discipleship—the method Jesus used to establish His church at the beginning. The very thing I experienced as a young believer.

This is why I appreciate these articles. They bring us (the church) back to our roots. In the early years of the Jesus Movement, discipleship was a natural part of the Christian life. There was little specialized training or organizational leadership. It was organic. Was it messy? Yes. Did it bear fruit? Yes. Has the church in America improved on it? No.

If this sparks any interest at all, please take time to read those articles. If you have a longing for discipleship in your own life or to disciple someone, these articles are well worth the investment of your time. Finally, what is your personal experience with discipleship? If you were discipled,  pass it on. That's how Jesus did it.

Our Story and God's Plan

 

The movie, “The Passion of Christ,” surprised many people with its success, especially its strongest critics. It’s vivid portrayal of Christ’s death stirred strong emotions and was spoken against by believers in Christ and nonbelievers. Its purpose and intention was misunderstood by many people.
Some spoke blasphemous, sacrilegious things about the movie and its content, while others saw it as sacred. It impacted all who saw it one way or another, shocked by the graphic portrayal of the suffering and death of Jesus the Messiah. Many were moved to great emotion both during and following their viewing of it, and it took a personal toll on the director-producer and the star who portrayed Jesus.
Similar reactions can be seen in the account of Matthew 27:27-56. My question is, what follows the reaction? What impact lasts beyond the reaction? Unless it is understood, a person may be left with unresolved questions—What does it all mean? What makes this so significant? This story needs to be heard by the heart.
My wife and I have collected many stories over the years, while ministering in the Philippines and working with abandoned babies and children, and abused girls. Each child, young or old, has a story. Some stories are intensely heart wrenching. Freddy’s saga is an incredible story of neglect, tragedy, and disappointment, with an extraordinary resolve.
Freddy is one of three brothers who came to Rainbow Village. His older brother, Wilmer, was deaf and could not speak clearly. Both the younger brothers spoke with the same guttural, indistinguishable sounds as the oldest. When the brothers came to us, they were quarantined for a week out of concern for infectious hepatitis. Their father died of hepatitis after their young mother abandoned them. Their elderly grandparents cared for them the best they could, but locked them inside a small nipa hut all day as they went to work.
These boys had never seen white-skinned people before our family, nor electricity or indoor plumbing, and were unprepared for living in a clean, stable environment. They were scared, terrified, and they freaked out! Thankfully, we all survived that first week.
Not long after they arrived, we discovered the oldest brother had a major heart problem that required surgery we could not afford on missionary support. Amazingly, God provided the means for the surgery. It was successful, but there was a long recovery, and only a few months afterwards, a tragic fire swept through our new building. Freddy’s two brothers were among five children lost in that fire. We were all devastated, but Freddy had lost his only family.
Within a month after the fire, an Australian mission team arrived to help with the rebuilding process. One of the Aussie’s had taken a real liking to Freddy and believed he and his wife were to adopt him. Because Freddy was older (five years at that time), the Australian government wouldn’t allow a normal adoption. It’s a long convoluted story, but the only workable solution required Helen and Ferg to move to the Philippines for processing the adoption.
They were committed to it, so Ferg sold his business, moved his family to Dumaguete City, and worked alongside us for a couple years. Ferg and Helen were a great blessing, as friends and coworkers, but the adoption hit another snag. The Australian government was still unwilling to accept their case because of bureaucratic red tape. They were disconsolate and moved back to their home in Australia with their hearts torn out, as was Freddy’s.
Because Freddy’s case[i]had gone on so long, the adoption board insisted on matching him with a family, even if the family was not a great match. Freddy was excited—at long last he would have a family of his own! The wait was excruciating for him, for all of us. Finally the day came for his family to arrive, but the union did not go well. Nevertheless, Freddy put his best smile on and went off with the family, leaving his Rainbow Village family and home.
Less than two weeks later, the mother decided she didn’t want Freddy. Although rare, failed adoptions happen. Once again, Freddy was devastated. He was kept in Manila for therapy and placement, but we prevailed for his return to Rainbow with much pleading and intercession. Freddy returned, but a noticeable sadness and disappointment lingered in his heart.
One day, Susan sat on our porch watching the children play in the yard. Freddy ran up to her, handed her a crumpled paper, and ran back off to play. Scrawled on the paper Freddy had written, “I miss my mommy, my daddy, my lolo and lola (grandpa and grandma), Jesan and Wilmer (his brothers).”
Susan’s heart sank as she wondered, “How can I encourage him, Lord?” The story of Job came to mind, so she searched through the children’s Bible storybooks she had, but couldn’t find Job’s story—it’s not the usual child’s story. Eventually she found a readable version to share with Freddy. He listened to Job’s story of loss, injustice, and grief followed by great restoration. He turned to Susan and asked, “Does this mean I’ll have my own mommy and daddy and family again?”
“Yes! Yes,” Susan exclaimed! Freddy ran off all smiles with simple trust in this promise.
Soon Freddy was his usual charming and mischievous self, as he grew through puberty. And yet another twist in the story came, as if scripted for a movie. At a conference, the head of adoptions in Australia met the head of the international adoption board of the Philippines. Freddy’s case came up and they began to work on a solution—surely there was a way to legally place this young man with a family who loved him and never gave up on him. Amazingly, after much heartache and loss, Freddy had a family!

It was quite the reunion when Ferg and Helen traveled from Australia! Everyone at Rainbow was thrilled, though a little sad to say goodbye after so many years. We had a great sending off party, and Freddy and his folks have since returned for several visits. It is a remarkable story of hope lost and restored. Of course, there are many questions as to why God allowed so many roadblocks along the way? But, God had a plan all along.

What's going on in your life story? Are you wondering if God has a plan at work, or does it seem like your life is a random set of circumstances? Nothing takes God by surprise, though we are often unsettled by what takes place in our lives. Faith requires trust. Faith enables us to see beyond circumstances to see God's hand at work (Hebrews 11:1, 6).

This is another excerpt from the book to be published soon.


[i]Each child that comes to Rainbow Villageis under our care through the authority of the Philippine government’s Dept. of Social Welfare Development. Each child has a case file that tracks their life until they are adopted or reunited with their biological family.

God Speaks

Times_Times-Changing_collage I came of age during the tumultuous sixties. The Vietnam War began in the middle of that decade. Prior to this, America was immersed in a promising rise in economic power. The growth of the middle class was the engine that powered the American economy after decades of depression and wartime economies.

Along the way, America seemed to lose its soul. Social protests marked the latter end of the sixties and became a cultural undercurrent against racial injustice, materialism, and a war far from home.

This undercurrent created a spiritual vacuum, and nature abhors a vacuum. It was quickly filled with a myriad of philosophies, religious movements, and lifestyles.

A culture shift

The range was staggering—eastern religions and philosophies, a resurgence in witchcraft, experimentation with illicit drugs, communes, and along came the Jesus Movement that challenged the traditions and status quo of Christianity.

This cultural shift wasn’t restricted to the US, but found its way throughout the world.

The Beatles mystical involvement with Transcendental Meditation and drugs led them to India for an audience with an Indian yogi. Their songs reflected this personal and famous cultural shift, while visiting the infamous Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco.[i]

Prior to this, songwriters like Bob Dylan and other folk singers challenged America’s status quo on issues of social conscience, and Time magazine announced the spiritual vacuum with their cover declaring—God is dead. Inside this issue noted theologians touted the loss of America’s spiritual soul.

These were some of the prophets of that decade.

A breath of fresh air

In the midst of all the protests came a breath of fresh air spiritually. Waves of young people dropped out of the middle-class march and pursued all that reared its head at the time—including meditation, drug use, and free love.

Out of this move away from middle-class America, many turned to God and joined the Jesus Generation that launched what became the Jesus Movement.[ii] Although more well known and popular on the west coast, it took place across the nation, and spilled over to the next decade and into other nations.

The Olympics of 1972 (in Munich) were tragically marred by a terrorist attack on the Israeli Olympic team. But God’s counter was to send a ministry called YWAM (Youth With A Mission), which sent well over a thousand young people into the midst of millions from all over the world, and shared the love and hope of Jesus.[iii]

The Second Coming

A primary influence of this movement was an interest in the return of Jesus Christ—the Second Coming—when God returns to bring those who love Him to heaven, and also brings a final, apocalyptic judgment upon the earth.

It paralleled fears about over-population, famine and environmental ruin. Once again, God brought an answer to the world’s self-destructive spiral into despair—hope in His Son’s return to save the world from itself.

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,

but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.

After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Heb 1:1-3)

Are you ready for the Lord's return to earth?

If so, how are you using your time and living that shows your readiness?

If not, what hinders you from opening your heart to God?


This is an excerpt from my book. Thanks for reading!


[i] The Haight-Ashbury district became a famous staging ground for the hippie movement, especially known for love-ins and hallucinogenic drug use

[ii] The Jesus Generation was a name given to the (primarily) young people in the Jesus Movement

[iii] For background on YWAM see this link– History of YWAM

What Scares You?

All of us have certain things that scare us. They may be things that "go bump in the night"—the vague, unknown and mysterious. Think of the continuing flow of alien and vampire stories in books, movies and TV series. Nowadays there are vampire romances! Think about it, would you want your daughter dating a vampire?! I don't think so.

Perhaps something specific scares you like spiders or a fear of heights. My wife was bitten by a dog when she was young, so she has a fear of dogs. Many people are afraid of the dark. And I have a fear of heights, even though I painted houses for a living, and  used scaffolding and hung over the roof to paint the eaves on a 3-story building. Conspiracy theories and a fear of the government might also be justifiable.


Some fears are so irrational and indefinable they paralyze people emotionally, and sometimes leave them physically paralyzed or impaired. Some fears make sense and some seem unwarranted. But whatever they may seem to others, they're real to the people who have them.


I venture that most of us have some fears attached to relationships—a fear of rejection or non-acceptance, or of being let down or left hanging. Many times relationship fears are tied to life experiences. When it's a fear related to people it naturally affects and impairs our relationships with everyone. Relationships can be risky and messy. Actually, they are often just that.


So, what got me thinking about all this? The lack of a fear—one all people need to have.


I'm currently reading through a book we're discussing in our men's study (http://tw.gs/VyU6Z) on Thursday nights. The book is "The Explicit Gospel" by Matt Chandler. It's a straight forward theological view of the gospel as it's presented in many American churches. When I say straightforward, think confrontational. It's not an academic treatise, nor a Sunday School version of the gospel.


Last week we discussed the topic of "man" (humanity). A good portion of our dialog focused on the fear of God, which is not a common topic taught in most churches today. It ought to be, but isn't. Here's some of Jesus' thoughts on the subject—

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28, also in Luke 12:4-5)

The fear that's lacking for many of us is a healthy fear of God. I've heard people minimize and reduce it to respect and awe. It is that, but more. Our sense of God ought to be He's so powerful and mighty that He scares us. But isn't He's a loving and merciful God? Yes He is. But He's also the only One who can create and destroy a soul. If He isn't that powerful, He isn't God.


Our relationships with others can impair our relationship with God. Many people who have had poor, even abusive relationships with earthly fathers have difficulty relating to God as Father. Countless relationships that involve infidelity or some other violation of trust make it hard to trust anyone again.


I say, let your fear work for you. What I mean is, instead of letting your fears cower you into a corner, let them move you to surrender and worship God. He is the only One who is absolutely trustworthy and faithful. Everyone else, including you and me, will let others down at some point.


What are you afraid of? Who do you fear? I hope none of those fears exceed your fear of God. That's what I'm shooting for in my life.

“Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you— majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders? Exodus 15:11 (NIV84)

For who in the skies above can compare with the Lord? Who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings? Psalm 89:6-8 (NIV84)

The Lord is exalted over all the nations, his glory above the heavens. Psalm 113:4-6 (NIV84)

He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. Isaiah 40:22 (NIV84)