Monday, December 22, 2008
However we should never forget that there are many people who don't have the privilege of experiencing such things. There are a lot of people out there who either don't have family to spend the holidays with or would rather experience a root canal with no Novocaine than spend time with the family they do have. Then there are those with family that they know and love but because of a slowed economy, they will forgo gift giving in lieu of just trying to keep their heads above water and simply pay the bills.
But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord."
Do hard times, broken relationships and trials erase the good news of great joy that is announced by the angel? A closer look at the New Testament would indicate that hard times and struggle are to be expected in this life. The good news of great joy is not deliverance from all pain, heartache and struggle in this world. The good news is that the Savior is born. He is the One who has overcome the world. This good news involves a reality beyond this world. It's a reality that can bring peace in the midst of even the greatest struggle.
Does the truth mentioned above absolve us from any obligation to those who are experiencing these difficult times? Absolutely not, it actually puts more weight on those who would call themselves Christ followers. We would all do well to remember that this good news of great joy is often made known through those who know the Savior.
Let's not forget those around us who are struggling during the holidays. We should all look for opportunities to reach out to those in need. Maybe you could invite someone in your home who would otherwise be alone this Christmas. Give a gift to someone who is struggling or volunteer time at one of the many local organizations that are serving those in need.
In doing so we just might have the opportunity to bring good news of great joy to those who desperately need it right now
Monday, November 24, 2008
With that said I will simply pass on a portion of a recent email I received from my friend and brother Brock Johnson in Guatemala. We are helping a family that he is currently reaching out to.
"This has been an exciting and emotional project. They are such a sweet family and genuinely thankful. Their family members (parents, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews) all gather around frequently to watch the construction.
The family has many needs. They frequently go without water. They get very cold at night and the boys are currently sick. We've given them lots of blankets... 3 days ago, manuel emelio went into convulsions and had to go to the hospital. It was a combination of the cold, and the constant breathing in of the coal fire in their house that they cook from. Yesterday i asked them what medicine he was on and they said "nothing, we have no money for it." So, i am going into the city today to get his prescription filled. this project has been a combination of joy and heartbreak.
love to all! pass along our thanks to the journey family!
That reminds me... every time i see him, luterio (dad) says repeatedly "gracias hermano brock, gracias a Dios, y gracias yurney" (thank you brother brock, thanks to God, and thank you Journey). awesome...
I am speechless as I sit in my comfortable home watching Monday Night Football and posting this as my children sleep in their warm, comfortable beds.
Why was I born here in a land of plenty while these precious people struggle to survive? Could it be that I have a responsibility to help them? Could this have something to do with why the Bible has so much to say about loving my neighbor, not storing up treasure here on earth and loving the least of these? I don't know, but it is scary thing to think that Jesus said "whatever you did not do for the least of these you did not do for me" and then to wonder if it is "Jesus" who needs water, a blanket and medicine in Guatemala...
Thursday, October 23, 2008
For some, the solution might be easy. Just do a capital campaign, raise some cash and rock and roll. Unfortunately I have this thing where I really don't think that God needs pastors to be fund raisers. Not to say it's wrong or that someone else shouldn't do that, I'm just suggesting that God can provide other ways. Call me idealistic, stupid or whatever, that's fine it's just my conviction and for now our Leadership Team is in agreement.
Anyhow, we are still waiting and praying and honestly watching some people come and go in the process. Who knows if it's because of the facility being full or simply the fact that the I don't wear a tie and our worship leader has tattoos. Regardless, it's our reality.
In the midst of this we have recently connected with some missionaries in Guatemala. As a result we have learned about how some of our brothers and sisters in Christ are living in extreme poverty. We also learned that for $3000 we can build a house for someone in desperate need. So we said, "what if we decided to build a house a month for the next 12 months for some people who need it much more than we need a facility?"
The next Sunday we introduced the idea to the church and people seemed genuinely excited. Until you see that kind of poverty put on display and have some kind of connection with it, it's easy to act like it doesn't exist. Our people were genuinely moved.
Over the last three weeks we have seen God do some incredible things. Right off the bat we had a member of our leadership team commit to funding a house. Then the day after we made the announcement, I got an email from a friend that I haven't seen or spoken to in over a year. Among other things he said, "We want to support what you are doing and I have a check here at my office for $2500, when can you come by?". He has never been to our church and had no idea about the project. When I told him that we would put the money toward a house for a family in need he responded "That's great and count me in for two more."
There are other stories of generosity that are just blowing me away. We recently had a first time visitor who is a professional poker player commit to raise money among other players to build a house. In fact one of the guys he contacted expressed interest in going on one of our trips to Guatemala.
As I see all of this progress, I wouldn't be surprised if God provides in such a way that we don't end up spending any money from our regular budget on this project. It also wouldn't surprise me a bit if we see God provide a new facility for us in the right place at the right price, sometime in the near future.
I will keep you posted on how everything plays out and if you are interested in knowing more about the 12x12 Love Project click here
"I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me." - Jesus
Monday, September 29, 2008
Then when things get a little tough our tendency is to be like "Oh God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!" That's right, we even get religious enough to pray in King James.
Why do we do this? And where is God when the chips are down?
Maybe the answer actually has a lot to do with the chips. Not Lays or buffalo. In case you were wondering, "When the chips are down" is a reference to betting. What do we do when the chips get low and we are losing? How do we respond and react?
Well that depends what kind of hand you have. If you have a royal flush, which is the best poker hand possible, then you bet it all and don't sweat it because you can't lose. If you are holding a pair of Kings you might have some confidence but most people would still sweat it, especially when the chips are down.
Well as of today, the chips are officially down. The Blue Chips that is. While our economy has been shaky to say the least, today we saw the largest single drop in the Dow in history. As a result, there are many people who are struggling and some that are surely asking the question "God where are you?"
So what do we do when the chips are down? Well to go back to the earlier illustration, it depends on what you are holding. What is it that you are trusting in? Do you have a sure thing? If our trust is in anything other than Christ, it's time to sweat.
If our hope and trust is in Christ alone then we simply cannot lose. Now this might sound like the trite, idealistic answer but I don't think so. I think it is actually very realistic and it is times like these that show us where our treasure truly is.
I mean what is the worst case scenario in a situation like this? You might think "well our economy collapses and we see times equal to the great depression." That could be a realistic concern I guess, but again, where is our trust? I can't help but think about the fact that even if I were to lose my house and what little savings I have, I would still be better off than how some brothers and sisters live on a regular basis.
At our church, we are currently in the process of helping to build a home for a family in Guatemala. They are followers of Christ, in fact the father is a pastor, and they currently live in a shanty that you can only imagine if you were to see it. They rarely are able to eat meat with their meals and often have only one meal a day. This is everyday life for the Mundo family, who believe in and serve the same Jesus as I do.
So, where is God when the chips are down? He is still on the throne, in complete and total control, reminding us daily that this world is not our home. Our hope and trust should be in Him and if that is the case we simply cannot lose.
Don't get me wrong, like everyone else I enjoy the luxuries that we experience in the good old U.S. of A, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, when our hope and joy in life are tied to that, then we are in trouble.
Like Christ himself, believers throughout history have struggled and faced trying times. In fact, I think there are no better words in times like these than that of the Apostle Paul who wrote in his letter to the Philippians:
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
This command is not circumstantial and neither is the promise found at the end. May Christ alone be our hope and as we fully trust in Him, may he be our peace. Even when the chips are down...
Monday, September 8, 2008
So I go to the website and couple of things catch my eye. First off, they have this promotion where you can sign up once a day to win a free plane ticket anywhere in the U.S. and they pick a winner like once a week up until the time of the conference. Although I went ahead and signed up, because I am a sucker for free stuff, I have to admit this raised some questions in my mind.
Why give away plane tickets to get people to come to your conference?
I wonder what you could do with the amount of cash spent on 5 plane tickets anywhere in the U.S.? ($2,500?)
Another thing that I noticed is that the conference was a little bit pricey by my standard. Now I am admittedly cheap when it comes to these things but 3 bills for a conference plus gas and hotel for a couple days adds up quick. If you take a couple people you are dropping $1500 fast. But I guess if this is the conference to be at and if you really want to be on the cutting edge then maybe it's worth it.
So I decided to check out the speakers. To my surprise the conference that has been noted for being a forerunner among next generation christian thinkers and leaders, had a lineup that was more like a typical Willow Creek leadership conference. Can you say sell out?
For starters I see Jim Collins (author of Good to Great) among the main speakers. Now that's fine I guess, but I didn't start a business, I planted a church. Not to mention I have already heard him speak at a Willow Conference, which left me asking the same question. And listen, I know that all truth is God's truth and blah blah blah so save it. I'm just saying this doesn't seem like anything new to me.
So all that to say I decided to save God's money. But as I said earlier, I did sign up for the free plane ticket. Well, apparently I didn't win that, but I got the consolation prize...a personal phone call from some confernce pusher trying to get me to buy their stuff.
After some hey bro's and small talk, I told him that I wasn't planning on going and he asked me why. I went on to explain my disappointment with what was being offered and that I would be saving God's money this year. He was real quick to let me know that they had a real hot up and coming leader who was going to be speaking and he was a name that I was going to be hearing a lot from in the near future. So he asked me if I had heard of this guy. "He pastors a church that has grown to over 3,000 in two years!" like that is everyone's goal and this guy should be my super hero or something. I felt like saying...well I probably shouldn't write what I felt like saying, let's just say I overcame the temptation.
What in the world is going on with the church today? Is it all about who is the biggest and how to grow the fastest? Adding video venues seems to be what's "hot" now so let's all jump on that band wagon or better yet why not stay home in your pajamas and just watch it on the TV or internet. Honestly that is what I would rather do. Why get up on Sunday morning and go somewhere to watch TV when you can do it at home in your skivies while eating donuts and checking in on Sportscenter during the boring parts?
Really, what's next? Holographic virtual pastors? Drive through communion windows? ATMs in the church, oops too late that one's already been done!
Ok, now I am rambling or maybe venting, so I guess I should stop. There just comes a point where you say enough is enough, will someone stop the madness? And just as soon as it seems like you find someone who will take up the mantle, they either sell out for the cash or start believing crazy stuff like Bin Laden is going to be in heaven or that Oprah is actually a prophet of God!
Alright I better pray, God keep me humble and help me to simply do all that you have called me to do in the midst of the madness. May we never think we are better than anyone or that we have all the answers. May we respond to wolves, critics, frauds and fanatics with the same love that you showed those that you encountered. And may we represent you well as we just try to figure this all out. Thank you for your love and grace which we all desperately need.
Monday, August 11, 2008
The problem is that as a result we have become spoiled (again, myself included). Therefore when we experience a small trial or the need to step out by faith into the realm of the unknown, we struggle. It's as if we are stretched to the limit and we wonder how we will ever make it.
Now in no way do I want to minimize our struggles, but rather help us put them in perspective. We tend to forget that there are people in this world who genuinely don't know if they will have food to eat the next day. There are those who have seen friends and loved ones maimed and even killed for the same faith that we have the freedom to enjoy publicly day in and day out. Some of these people treasure mere pages of the Bible because it is nearly impossible to own a Bible in their countries.
Do we really know what it means to trust God?
I dare you to do the following:
Go to this link and try this simple one question test:
Then pray this prayer found in Proverbs...
"Two things I ask of you, O LORD; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, 'Who is the LORD?' Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.
Surprised by your ranking? Scared to pray the prayer?
God help us to trust you more as we learn what it means to give ourselves away just as you did for each of us.
Monday, July 21, 2008
Of course my vivid imagination immediately conjured up the marketing piece for this product. The scene is the pearly gates and there is Peter with a long line of people waiting their turn to stand before God and upon entering Peter cordially makes the offer "Testamint?"
I wish that were the end but of course Testamints were followed by other ingenious offerings such as Scripture cookies, the "Christian" version of fortune cookies, and a whole array of treats offered by the "sweet Jesus confection company". Don't get me started, oh yah I guess I already am...
So what is the purpose of this post? I guess to pose a simple question; what is it that makes something "Christian"? Is it the fact that we slap some label on it? I don't think that works with people let alone candy, music, movies and the many other things we lump into this category. Furthermore, why do "we" need such things? Why is it that Christians need their own candy, coffee shops and what next, maybe commodes?
I know that we are to be in the world but not of the world but aren't these things in effect taking us out of the world? We now go into a "Christian" bookstore to buy our books, music, movies and treats. At some churches you can also buy such things, along with a latte and a pastry but don't worry they take visa.
Anyhow, I think Scripture clearly teaches us to not be "of the world" but doesn't it also teach us to be "in the world". In fact Jesus prayed this very thing in John 17 where He asked the Father not to remove his followers from the world but to protect them in the midst of it. His prayer was that we would be protected from the evil one and that the Father would "sanctify us by truth" and He goes on to say "your Word is Truth".
To sanctify is to set apart. We are to be set apart by truth, not by labels and our own "Christian" subculture that we create. By doing such things we have in effect set ourselves apart and limited our effectiveness in reaching this world. But we are proud that we are set apart, untainted by this world.
Does it mean anything that Jesus stepped out of the perfect place in heaven with the Father to enter our world, full of sin, selfishness and hate? I believe He did this to not only pay the price for our sins but to also leave us with an example. He stepped into our so that we would follow His example and step into the world around us. In fact, He tells us so much...
"As you have sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world"
Jesus (John 17)
May we be people who follow the commands of Jesus as well as His example. There are people all around us who are waiting for someone to step into their world and offer them...not a testamint or some other trinket...but love and hope! Jesus prayed for the Father to protect us, we should be OK at Starbucks, Barnes and Noble or the local pub for that matter, if it that is where God leads us to go and make His presence known.
Therefore let us be people who are willing to obey the call to be in the world but not of it. May God give us grace and wisdom to know how to EFFECTIVELY do this very thing, for His name and His cause.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
My guess is that if you were to survey a group of Christians to see if this passage accurately represented the way they feel as a result of their faith in Christ and involvement in their local church, the results would be less than favorable. In fact if I were a gambler I would lay fat wad of cash that this is the case.
Why is it that so often the things that Jesus speaks of, promises, and personally exemplifies and represents, end up foreign to our modern day Christian experience? Could it be that Jesus' life and teachings are so radical and counter cultural that often his own followers and the very institution that claims to represent him, find it hard to believe and teach such radical claims? Has Christianity become more about us and our agenda rather than about Him and His mission? As a result who is it that benefits and who is it that suffers?
When we water down, change or alter the message of Jesus in any way, everyone loses. The Church has done a great job of telling people what their responsibilities are and what it means to be "radical" for Christ. We are reminded that the "faithful" are those who are at Church every time the doors are open and who serve in 12 different ministries.
As a result we have become a very religious people and religion makes you tired and sometimes bitter and mean as well. Jesus confronted religion and the one's who taught such things and put such heavy loads on people in the process. Look at what he said about them...
"They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. "Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them 'Rabbi.'"
So what am I saying, what should we do? How about we begin by following Jesus and His Word? Let's be sure that our focus is His focus. If this is the case, then we should experience joy, freedom, fullness of life and rest for our souls.
If you are spiritually tired I would suggest you ask yourself a few questions.
-Why are you doing the things you are doing? Out of passion or obligation?
-Who are you trying to please? Jesus or someone else?
-Are you doing too much? If so, prayerfully consider what should go.
-Jesus is gentle and humble in heart, is that represented by those in leadership of the fellowship you attend? If not, find somewhere else to go.
-Lastly, are you motivated by love?
We love Him because He first loved us. His love is unconditional. For those of us who know Him, we should know that we are accepted and loved, not because of what we do or don't do but because we belong to Him.
May His love motivate us to do what we do and may His love allow us to accept ourselves just as He accepts us. Find rest in Him, for His yoke is easy and His burden in light.
Oh and sorry for the month between posts...I needed rest.
Grace and peace.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
What I want to say is that I am not surprised in the least bit that many people today are walking away from the institutionalized "church". Religion has done a lot of damage in our day and there are many people, pastors and ministries that have given Christ and His Church a bad name. As a result there are scores of people who have become disillusioned with the organized "church".
That being said, I am not one who has lost hope. In fact I believe that there are those of us who God has called to help renew hope in our day. Not hope in religion or hope in the institutionalized church, but hope in Christ and His Church. When I say "His Church", I mean His people, those who are His followers and who live out the very example of love that He set before us. It is our responsibility to represent Him and we should represent Him well.
A little over a year ago I had the opportunity to sit down with Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church, and ask him a few questions. Although I may not agree with everything he says, writes or preaches, I must admit that I am in agreement with his answer to my question below...
As a pastor what would you say to someone who has become disillusioned with organized church or what they have seen of Christianity?
I would wager that the things that most turn them off are the things that most turn Jesus off. There is not one instance in Jesus’ teachings where he gets angry with somebody who isn’t a follower of his or someone who doesn’t love God. His anger is always for religious people who claim to speak for God but live in another way.
So if you find hypocrisy absolutely revolting so did Jesus. If you find people who think they are the moral police of culture repulsive, so did Jesus. If you find people who are ready to throw stones at the next sinner very hard to take, so did Jesus. And if you think that people who use Jesus to accumulate political power, to coerce people to live according to their laws, well Jesus had a problem with such things as well. I would say that your anger is shared by Jesus. He’s angered by all the same things.
Maybe it's hard for you to think of Jesus being angered by these things. I have been reading through the gospel of Mark recently and I found it interesting that on more than one occasion, Jesus did get angry at the stubborn, hypocritical religious people of His day. Read Mark 3:1-6 and you will see Jesus frustrated and angry with these people.
It is important for us to realize that Jesus was angry but never sinned. It's O.K. if legalistic people frustrate you. There is nothing wrong with being angry when people represent Jesus in ways that would not be true to His character or teaching. The key is to heed the words of Paul in Eph. 4:26, "...In your anger do not sin."
So when we meet people who have written off Christianity or have given up on the church we must be very slow to judge. They may be frustrated by some of the very things that frustrated Jesus. For this reason I would suggest that we follow His example. He showed unconditional love to all people and never once compromised the Truth. Truth expressed in love makes all the difference.
May we be people who hold fast to the Truth and love those who are desperately in need of it!
Sunday, June 1, 2008
I believe all of this to be true but even so, I must admit that there are times that I forget the deep reality of this. Do you know what I mean? You believe something to be true, try to live it out, and maybe even teach it to others but somehow you lose the depth of the reality of that particular truth. Then God does something to remind you in a powerful way just how real it is.
That is what happened to me today. I had the opportunity to sit and listen to testimonies of How God had used regular people to show Himself to others in the midst of difficulty, pain and struggle. One woman shared the names of those who had really been a blessing to her and went on to say that they were really just codenames for Jesus. In other words it was Jesus who met her in her time of need and He did it through these individuals.
Wow! Now that brings the reality of this truth home in a powerful way. When you hear something like that and see a person who has experienced the love of God expressed through His people, you cannot help but be both encouraged and challenged.
It is true that God still uses people today to accomplish His purposes! He often reaches out through regular, everyday people just like me and you. That being said, I can't think of anything more challenging. Not only do we have an opportunity to make an impact but we have a responsibility to do so. As those who know and follow Christ, we must consider the importance of how we use our time, gifts and talents.
Are we available to be used by Him? Do we make a point of purposely building relationships with those God has put around us? Lastly, is there anyone we know who might say that _______ _______ (fill in your name) is really just a codename for Jesus in my life? I am challenged to pray and strive to be this kind of person.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Friday, May 23, 2008
Can it be that we really have the opportunity to do things for Jesus as we serve and help those marginalized by our society? How incredible is it to think that if I take the time to minister to or simply serve someone who is in need that I am doing that for Jesus. I think if we were to orient our lives to a more biblical perspective we would find ourselves less burdened by the needs of those around us and more encouraged by the opportunities.
Our spiritual community has made a commitment to doing things for "the least of these", since that is one way specifically that we know that we are doing something for Jesus. There are a lot of things that we do in "church" today that make me wonder who or what we are actually doing them for. However when we do something for those in deep need there seems to be no question that this is done unto Jesus.
With all of this said I must admit that it is still easy to walk by, overlook and forget about the many needs all around us. For this reason we have decided to be sure to at least do one large project each year that engages our whole community in this type of service. This year we will take two weekends to help a man that we have been introduced to through a great ministry here in Jacksonville called Builder's Care.
Last week I had the privilege of meeting Freddie, the man we will be helping. Freddie has cerebral palsy and spends much of his time in a wheel chair. He lives in the house that he grew up in here in Jacksonville which now is basically coming down around him. I can't tell you how humbling it was to stand in his living area looking up at the large hole in his ceiling where water had recently been running through and thinking, "I don't know many people who would live like this or let someone they love live like this". That thought was followed by "this is someone that Jesus loves and surely He doesn't want him to live like this."
There is no way in a brief post to explain what it was like to meet Freddie and to know that I am a part of a community of people who are going to be helping to make a life changing difference for him. I know there are people who will say things like "but what good is it to help someone physically if you aren't preaching the gospel to them?" I would begin by suggesting that these people ask Jesus that question, since He told us to do it. Secondly, I would be sure to remind them that there are many ways to preach the gospel and words do not always have to be the first part of the equation.
Freddie actually already knows and loves Jesus, which makes his situation all the more humbling. Here is a struggling brother in Christ living with holes in his roof, no AC, sewage backing up into his tub...need I go on? Nothing needed to be said to him in order for the gift of our service to evoke genuine praise from his heart to God. We haven't even done anything yet and I have seen first hand the fruit of our offering.
I believe the impact this project will have on us as a community can be as powerful as the impact it will have on Freddie. I hope and pray that it becomes a catalyst in each of our lives to make us more sensitive to the needs that are all around us, that we often overlook. I have begun to see this already in my own life and it is both exciting and very challenging.
There is nothing like being on mission with God, especially when you know that the things you are doing are pleasing to Him. To some that may sound arrogant but I am just referring to the biblical truth mentioned above "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it for me."
Together, let's do more for Him...
(If you are interested in being involved in this project, it will be on Sat. June 14&21. Just check out www.jcjax.com for details)
Friday, May 16, 2008
Paul, an apostle-- sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead-- and all the brothers with me, To the churches in Galatia: 3 Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. 6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel-- 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!
1 Thessalonians 5:19-22
19 Do not put out the Spirit's fire; 20 do not treat prophecies with contempt.21 Test everything. Hold on to the good. 22 Avoid every kind of evil.
1 John 4:1
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
May Christ always be the center of our lives, our ministries and our churches. May His Word, love and character be that by which we measure the fruit of all that would represent Him and bear His name.
Just a simple reminder...
Wednesday, May 7, 2008
Today I met some guys at Starbucks to talk about a few things, one of which was the current state of the church in America. As we were engaged in a lively discussion about where the American church is and where it is headed, we were interrupted a few times by an amen and a little encouragement from a guy sitting alone behind us. He was one of those guys you look at and you don't know what to think. Sitting alone, drinking his coffee and smoking a cigarette. Cowboy hat laid on the table revealing his bald head, complemented by his scraggly santa like beard. Anyhow, we had some brief interaction and then carried on our conversation for another half hour or so.
When we got up to leave I decided to go and introduce myself to the man sitting alone, his name was Paul. As I got close to him I noticed that his bald head revealed a large scar stretching from ear to ear over the top of his skull. I also noticed that on the front of his cowboy hat he had sketched three crosses, a large one in the middle and a smaller one on each side. He began by telling me that he heard us talking and that he agreed that God is everywhere waiting for people to come to Him. He said they called Jesus a wine bibber just because He went where the people who needed Him most hung out.
Then Paul started to tell me his story. How he retired from the Navy, became a truck driver and is now retired from that as well. However his recent retirement was not voluntary. He shared with me that about a year ago he started doing some strange things and his friends and family became concerned about him and urged him to go to the doctor, which he reluctantly did after some time. After a CT scan the doctor realized what was wrong, he had a tumor about half the size of my fist on his brain. In November of 2007 the doctors removed as much of the tumor as possible. He learned that untreated this type of cancer is usually fatal within three months.
Paul looked me in they eye and said "Most days I'm ok with it, today is one of those days". He went on to share that although he doesn't understand why, and he still has many questions, the Lord has given him a sense of peace through it all. He also said that they recently discovered that the tumor is growing again. I asked him if they could do any more surgery and he said that it depends on what direction it grows. "If it grows to one side they can go back in and trim some of it away. If it grows to the other side, it's up the Lord how long I have."
Paul got a little emotional as he talked but it was amazing to me the sense of peace that this man had. It was obvious that he had a real relationship with Christ, but he was the kind of guy that most Christians would walk by and not say a word to, let alone think that he might be a brother who they would one day spend eternity with.
I asked Paul about his relationship with God and he said "Do you have some time, let me buy you a cup of coffee." I didn't accept the coffee offer but I had some time, so I sat and listened to his story. He told me that his brother was a pastor and that he visited his church one time about twenty years ago and he has never been back. "Those are some of the most judgmental people I have ever met" he told me. Then he went on to share how in the course of conversation with a friend he expressed his faith in God, although he didn't attend church or know that much about Him. This friend gave him a Bible and said well if you believe in Him then you really should read this because it's His Word written to us. So Paul did just that. H read the Bible in about three months and one night about four AM alone in his truck, he cried out for Jesus to save him.
At some point in the conversation Paul asked me what I did and I told him that I was a pastor. I shared with him how we have this small community of believers who are just trying our best to love God and show that love to others. I told him that we want to experience a sense of connectedness with God and one another, kind of like family, to which Paul said "I'm still looking for mine". I invited him to come sometime and just check out the community of believers at Journey, to which he responded very positively. I hope Paul comes, I hope experiences the love of Christ and maybe he will find acceptance among brothers and sisters who can lift him up and encourage him in his journey.
I don't know how to explain what God did in me today during this brief encounter. I just know that He was there and through Paul, God revealed things to me about His love and His nature. Before I left Paul said to me "Can I pray for you?" I thought "that's the pastor's line" but I simply said, "please do and let me to pray for you as well". So we prayed for each other, wiped our eyes, shook hands and departed.
Paul has learned something about life that I have yet to learn. It seems that he understands on a deep level the words written by another Paul "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength."
God give me the faith of my brother Paul...
Friday, April 25, 2008
Consumers are people who are product driven, they buy what they feel will meet a perceived need. The question that has haunted me over the last week is; how much has this affected the church in America? Have Christians become "spiritual consumers" and has the church been reduced to a product that is to be consmed?
Indulge me for a minute here. Could this be why the attractional church model is the most popular way of structuring ministries? The attractional model focuses on the Sunday morning experience, trying to make it as appealing as possible to the masses, sparing no expense. I was talking to a friend the other day who is on staff at a church up north. He told me that their church was going to launch a second campus where the pastor would be beamed via video to preach the message. During the planning they talked about how all they had to do was to be sure the worship was top notch and they wouldn't have to worry because, and I quote, "we will be the best show in town".
Since when did church become a show? The answer to that question is harder than you might think because it's actually been a while now. If this is not the result of our consumer based society I don't know what is. With all honesty, can we find anything in the Scriptures that would remotely suggest that our main focus is to put on the best show in town? Don't get me wrong, I agree with excellence and we should pursue it in all we do, but how has this become the focus?
That's not all, it even affects us in more subtle ways. It's not just what some would call "seeker sensitive" churches that are affected by this. It seems that many people are driven by what church can do for them and how their needs can be met. Is the worship "annointed", how good is the preacher and are my kids happy? I am not saying that people shouldn't enjoy the church experience but should it really be like shopping for ice cream? Just find your favorite flavor and for that matter it may just be the flavor of the month.
When did church and the Kingdom of God become about us? Jesus seemed to always call his followers to lay down their lives and take up their cross. Maybe the reason it is so hard for people to find a church to their liking is the lack of willingness to engage in the mission of God.
Could it be that what is missing in the equation is you? Could it be that it is not that we need more gifted teachers and worship leaders, but rather people who are using their God given gifts and talents to be the "church" in everyday life. The hopeless, hungry, disillusioned and broken hearted people of this world ultimately do not need a place, they need a people. They need someone to show them the love of Christ and an organization cannot do that; only a person can.
Paul understood this when he wrote, "For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again." 2 Corinthians 5:14-15
No consumerism here. Paul says don't live for yourself, live for Him! Ultimately it's really not about us, it's about Christ and His Kingdom. I believe that if we really want to experience the fullness of what God has for us it will not be found in the next best thing the "church" has to offer, it will be discovered in the times when we lay down our lives and give ourselves away. This is the way of Christ and it is what the world so desperately needs...the church at its best.
Monday, April 21, 2008
Upon registration I was given a the typical bag full of "stuff" that you receive at these sort of things. In that bag were two important items, my badge for the conference and the schedule of events for the next four days. Also in that bag were no less than 32 pieces of advertising from people trying to peddle their wares to the newest "up and coming" church leaders. I have to admit that some of this stuff is pretty slick. From the "Brown Cow" creative design flyer to ELI (emerging leadership initiative) whose flyer highlights a dude who looks like he could be straight out of the next power pop band and a cool girl with more ink than kinkos, both next to the line - "are you one of these leaders?"
Don't get me wrong, I know this is going to be a great conference and I believe that God is going to teach me things and speak to me while I am here, in fact that process has already begun. However, I do find myself asking questions like "how did the apostle Paul and others ever make it?" I mean, what did people do when they were trying to start churches before there were things like "Church in a box" (yes that was a real display I saw) and these great flyers that promise to show you how to increase attendance at your church if you will simply stop by their booth.
I don't know how Paul and Timothy did it. It must have been pretty tough to have nothing more than God's Word to guide them! Forgive my sarcasm but I do find it humourous to see so much being peddled, even at a conference like this. Then again, should we be surprised? We do live in a consumer based society and church leaders are the consumers and this stuff is apparently necessary to start the next best thing on the block.
What if we didn't need to be the next best thing? What if it didn't matter how cool we were? What if people were more important than processes and communities more important than cathedrals? What if all we had was Jesus? Would that be enough?
Just something to ponder...
Sunday, April 13, 2008
Even those of us who acknowledge our responsibility as Christ followers to love the "least of these" and be a part of God's plan to free the oppressed can fall into the trap of believing that this is something we do, more like a project, than who we are called to be in everyday life. It is one thing to talk about helping those in need but it is a whole other experience to immerse yourself in doing so.
Through a series of events, in the last three days I have had face to face conversations with individuals who are experiencing life in a way that I cannot even begin to imagine. One family tells of what it is like to flee their country in fear of being persecuted and killed because the name they carry is identified with people from the "south" and the government now sees them as a political threat. Imagine what it would be like to be arrested and then finding favor with someone who graciously sets you free and says "go down that road and keep going, don't turn to the left or to the right and whatever you do, don't come back here." That was ten years ago and they have never gone back.
Another family tells a different story. A story of homelessness and struggle. An experience just last night that is so horrific that it would render many of us literally incapacitated for weeks. One so painful and personal that I can't even write about it. However somehow they carry on, with their lives literally in two garbage bags and a back pack.
I feel humbled, convicted, ashamed, thankful, hopeful and determined.
Paul said in the book of Philippians "I press on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of me". As I have experienced these last few days I have come to believe that this is part of the reason that Christ has taken hold of me. That somehow, in some small way, I could be Christ's expression of love to people in need that He brings across my path. I find myself compelled to do so and I will encourage all who will listen to do the same.
We can't take the weight of the world upon us, but we can open our eyes to the world around us. When God brings real people into our lives with real needs and we have the ability to meet those needs, I believe we have some responsibility.
I am so thankful that I walk with people who are committed to helping in situations like this. It was the sensitivity of individuals who decided to stop rather than drive by, that brought these people into my life. I simply pray that more of us (including myself) will have a deeper sense of responsibility and sacrifice when it comes to the world around us.
Jesus help us to love as you do, unconditionally, expecting nothing in return.