Wednesday, March 26, 2014

10 Things I Think About World Vision

If you don't know what all the stir is about, that's fine. You don't really need to; your eternal destiny doesn't depend on it. If you must know, google "World Vision".

Essentially it's this:

  • World Vision announced they would no longer oppose employing people who were in gay marriages.
  • Then they changed their mind.
  • In the midst of that, a lot of people got really mad.

I wasn't going to post anything about my thoughts on this, but I decided to... not because I think it is so important that I say something about this issue, but because I really want to say something about the more important issue which is:

How we talk to each other. How we talk about each other. How we listen to each other.

When I first read of World Vision's decision, I knew instantly what would happen. It was predictable. A huge amount of people who were loud and visible took the easy route. They responded in ways which lacked the grace and nuance necessary to appropriately represent Christ as ambassadors of his kingdom.

Generally, the easy responses were this:
1. World Vision is run by terrible Christians and I'm withdrawing my support from this organization.
2. Anyone who would withdraw support from children because they don't like gay people is a terrible Christian.
Predictable. Sad. Easy. Wrong.

I don't know everything, but for what it's worth, here's where I am:

1. I currently support financially many organizations, including some which have no obvious Christian affiliation (Kiva, etc.)

2. I don't currently sponsor children through World Vision.

3. If I did, I wouldn't have pulled my support of those children because of this decision. (I do not believe gay marriage is part of God's plan for humanity, as He revealed it in His Word.)

4. Initially, I thought anyone who pulled their support of World Vision was wrong, that they were choosing the wrong battle and the wrong hill to die on. In my heart, I judged them as less discerning as myself and labelled them as overly fundamentalist.

5. Today I was presented with evidence which proved me to be in the wrong. I was shown a compelling arguments for why it was appropriate for someone to pull their support of World Vision based on this decision.

6. The argument I heard did not convince me to change my own opinion. I still would not pull my support.

7. The argument did convince me that there were many Christians who agonized over this decision and sincerely wrestled with their conscience before making a very difficult decision.

8. I chose to assume that everyone who pulled their support from World Vision did so because they were convinced in their heart that honoring God required them to do so. (I got that idea from 1 Corinthians 13 which says, "love believes all things")

9. I also chose to hope that everyone who pulled their support from World Vision found another place to invest that money so that children around the world could continue to benefit from their generosity. (I also got that idea from 1 Corinthians 13 which says, "love hopes all things")

10. Finally, I decided to remain silent on this issue because I didn't want to add my voice to the cacophony of Christian voices sowing discord across the kingdom.

Then I thought perhaps I could just say this...

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

and this...

So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.
So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.
For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.

Monday, March 24, 2014

4 Ways to Serve Like Jesus Did

Jesus was the greatest servant of all time. His life defined service. From yesterday's sermon, here are four ways we can serve like Jesus did:

Wear your Jesus Goggles
Jesus was always aware of what was happening around Him. He viewed interruptions and inconveniences as God's interventions. Where others saw problems, He saw opportunities. Ask yourself, "What is God doing around me?" Consider who God has brought into your life? What situations has God allowed you to deal with right now? How can these become opportunities to serve others?

Choose to see the best in people
It's easy to see faults, or to view people as needy - hangers on - takers. Instead, ask yourself "what can I give to help that person become all that Christ made them to be?"

Choose compassion over judgment
You will never have maximum impact if your first instinct is to find fault. When others don't behave as we would prefer, It is easy to be annoyed or feel angry with those around us. We need to learn instead to have the heart of Jesus. Jesus shed his blood for that person. Can I give them a little of my time?

Use what God has given you
The parable of the talents is a reminder that everything (your time, gifts, family, home, energy, money...) you have has been given to you by God. His expectation is that you will use those resources as He would. In Ephesians 4, Paul taught that all gifts are given so that the church may built up. In 1 Corinthians 12, he reminded the church that every gift is important. The body suffers when some choose to not use their gifts. In Romans 12, he encouraged everyone to use whatever gift you have to the best of your ability.

We may think our gifts are small or insignificant, but in the hands of God even small things are capable of great victories. God used Moses' stick to enable the birth of a new nation. He fed 5,000 people with just a couple loaves of bread and fish. Our "not enough" is always plenty when we use it in God's service!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

You Are Representing Someone or Something With Your Life. What or Who Is It?

I don't like Madagascar. Even before the animated movie came out, I didn't like Madagascar. I disliked Madagascar when most people didn't even know there was a Madagascar. Some people are surprised by this. They wonder why I have such strong feelings about a place I've never been. There are really two reasons.

Typically, I'm anti-island. I don't think islands should get to be their own country. I think islands should be owned by other countries. Hawaii understands this. They are part of the United States. The Falkland Islands understand, they are a part of Argentina. Some islands are really big, and qualify as continents. If you are big enough to hold more than one country, I don't really have an issue with you. Australia is really pushing it.

(Right now, some people are getting really mad. They might be frothing at the mouth and drooling on these pages. "Hey, moron!" They're shouting at me, "Haven't you ever heard of Japan?" They think that I've really gone over the edge this time. Hang in there, I'm going somewhere with all this.)

There are plenty of quality countries on the Southeast coast of Africa. I'm sure any of them would be willing to take in Madagascar as a part of their country. I just don't think that an island the size of Madagascar should get to be its own country. Perhaps I'm a bit neurotic.

The real reason I don't like Madagascar is the high concentration of lemurs on the island. Unfortunately, the animated movie portrayed lemurs as lovable clever little animals. This may be the second greatest lie ever perpetrated on humanity (after the whole serpent in the garden thing). Lemurs are in reality a combination of the two scariest animals on the planet, raccoons and monkeys.

Typically masks are worn by thieves and other common criminals. People wearing masks are not to be trusted. Raccoons are the mask wearers of the animal world. It is impossible to know whether or not you can trust a raccoon because they are always hiding behind a mask. Raccoons are also one of the most ferocious animals alive. You don't want to wake up one morning to find a raccoon sharing your bed.

I don't need to spend a lot of time explaining why monkeys are frightening. I just need to mention three words: "Wizard of Oz".

What could be worse than a monkey or a raccoon? A combination of the two, a lemur. Madagascar is host to a higher concentration of lemurs than any other country in the world. Just the thought of Madagascar gives me nightmares. Terrifying.

Just kidding.

I don't really hate Madagascar.

I don't even think about it that much. (I am frightened of lemurs, and you should be too)

But what if I did hate Madagascar. What if I hated it so much I started an organization known as AMSA (Anti-Madagascar Society of America)? What if i spent millions of dollars getting the message of AMSA out? What if I created t-shirts and bumper stickers and put up billboards and had a killer web-site? What if the popularity of AMSA grew so that we opened chapters all over the United States? What if the catch phrase of AMSA became, "Blow that little island right out of the water"? What if "Blow that little island right out of the water" started showing up on the sides of buses and trains? What if the catch phrase was on the radio and on television?

And what if you were from Madagascar?

And what if you lived in America?

And what if your job was to be Madagascar's Ambassador to the United States?

How would you feel about me? How would you feel about AMSA?

I think if you were the ambassador from Madagascar, you might not want to attend the fund-raisers. You might not buy tickets to the rallies. You might not even wear the t-shirts. You would probably make it a point to not support the organization. You probably wouldn't be best friends with me, the founder of AMSA. But if you were a good ambassador, you would still engage the members of AMSA. You would be kind when their telemarketers called. You would talk to the AMSA protestors outside the UN building. You would invite them to meet you at Starbucks. You would spend as much time with AMSA'a members because you wanted them to change their mind. That's the job of an ambassador.

An ambassador represents their homeland to others. The heart of their mission is to lead people to think well of their country.

Your ability to successfully accomplish your job will be tied to how you perceive yourself. This is a true statement no matter what job you have.

While I was in high school and college I spent many hours of my summer break working at Burger King. The level to which I was able to fulfill my purpose in that situation was directly correlated to my perception of my identity. (Remember that statement, I'll say it again.)

My purpose as an employee at Burger King was to deliver a fulfilling dining experience. I know that sounds a little far-fetched for a burger joint, but if you love Burger King, nothing is more fulfilling than one of their beautiful flame-broiled burgers. If you've ever been to Burger King, though, you know that most of the employees are not all that excited about delivering a fulfilling dining experience. You're probably happy just to get out with most of your order being correct. Why is that? It's because most of the employees at Burger King haven't bought into their identity. They don't see themselves as Burger King employees. Perhaps they think of themselves as students or athletes or something else, but their goal in life is not to be a Burger King employee. I was the same.

Because I never really wanted to be defined as a Burger King employee, I was typically unable to effectively deliver a fulfilling dining experience. Because my perception of my identity did not match with the organizations definition of my purpose, things didn't work out. Eventually I became a lifeguard.

If you were the ambassador of Madagascar, the level to which you could fulfill your purpose (representing Madagascar to the world) would be directly correlated to your perception of your identity (a citizen of Madagascar).

Peter wrote a letter to Christians in which he appealed to this principle. He suggested that our identity as believers in Jesus is like the ambassador to Madagascar. We are "aliens in a foreign land." He also suggested that our purpose is to live in such a way that we give a good representation of God. Like every Burger King employee, and like the ambassador from Madagascar, the level to which we fulfill this purpose is directly correlated to the perception of our identity.

In other words, my ability to appropriately represent God will be directly tied to my willingness to embrace my identity as a foreigner in this culture.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Why I Called an Audible This Sunday

This Sunday I called an audible. I set my sermon notes aside and talked about one of my favorite passages, 1 Peter 2:11-12 (AMSA, lemurs, you know the drill...).

I am always happy to talk about these verses, because I think they are a great summary of what it means to be an ambassador of Christ... But, it wasn't the sermon I was supposed to preach. The schedule called for me to open up our new "The Truth About the Son of God Series. Here's why I changed the plan:

1) We had low numbers. A majority of the churches in Dayton were closed yesterday (I'm still not sure I understand this whole "snow emergency" thing... I don't think there was one yesterday and still churches were closing down). Our team felt it was fine to go on, and the churches in our near vicinity all stayed open so we went ahead... But many didn't come because of the weather (and that's okay. No one should have to deal with weather-induced anxiety while driving to church).

2) This is an important series to me. If we are a "Christ-centered Church" then it is extra-critical when we focus on His life that we do it right. I'm looking forward to this series because I think it is going to be an opportunity for many people to see Jesus in a new light. I hope He becomes much more real to us as we work through this.

3) This week's message is foundational to the rest of the series. Having confidence that the Gospels provide a reliable account of Jesus' life gives us great freedom to explore his teachings and actions. Moving the life of Jesus from "historical fiction" or "nursery stories" into the realm of ACTUAL HISTORY should be life-altering. I hope it will be.

Therefore, I decided to wait until next week. So... if you missed church this Sunday, that's okay, we're launching the Son of God series next week. And if you were there and didn't get the sermon you were hoping for, that's okay, we were all challenged by Peter to represent Jesus this week. I hope you'll do that.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

No One Can Lead a Church on Their Own. Team Leadership Is the Biblical Pattern.

God functions as a TEAM 

John 16:13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he h ears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it know to you.

As believers, we do not function ALONE 

John 17:20-26 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. “Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that yo u have sent me. I have made you know to them, and will continue to make you know in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

Ephesians 4:12-13 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 

Romans 14:7 For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone.

Our relationship to God is tied to our relationship with ONE ANOTHER

1 John 3:10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother. 

I John 4:20-21 If anyone says, “I love God, “ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, who he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.

I Thessalonians 4:6 and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. 

1 Corinthians 12:13-14 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body – whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free – and we were all given one Spirit to drink. Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.

Matthew 5:23-24 “Therefore, is you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

Our relationship with each other provides a platform to REACH the WORLD
Mark 6:7 “Calling the Twelve to him, he sent them out two by two and gave them authority over evil spirits.”

Matthew 28:19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” 

John 13:35 “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” 

The body of believers (as a group) is the new TEMPLE of GOD on EARTH

1 Corinthians 3:16-17 Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is 
sacred, and you are that temple.

2 Corinthians 6:16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are 
the temple of the living God. As God has said, “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” 

Ephesians 2:19-22 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

1 Peter 2:4-5 As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by men but chosen by God and 
precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Ten Creative Approaches to Breathe Life Into Your Daily Bible Study

A while back, I came across an article about studying the Bible. I borrowed 10 of my favorite thoughts and pasted them below. If you want to get better at studying God's Word, here is a starting point! You can read the whole article here.

1. Survey the Word
Whether it be the whole of Scripture, an entire book in the Bible, or a given passage, capturing the big picture makes a deeper engagement of the Word more accessible and productive.

2. Discuss the Word
Discussions about meaning, interpretations, doctrinal substance, and sheer trivia can be a productive means of engaging the Word and driving it more deeply into our hearts.

3. Hand-copy the Word
Hand-copying the Word slows the brain down and synchronizes the mind with the meaning of a passage. Bible on one side. Journal on the other. Copying the word is a tremendous way to nourish the spirit and align the mind with the thoughts of God. Take. Eat. Enjoy!

4. Cross-reference the Word
Cross-referencing one passage with another related passage can release as much light into the soul as opening into the night the door of a lit room. Use a concordance. Use in-line references found in a study Bible. Use a computer search capability.

5. Paraphrase the Word
Good translation can be defined as taking the meaning from one language and capturing it accurately in another language. Paraphrasing is like that, only it is capturing the meaning of a passage and re-expressing that same meaning with different words. The paraphrases don’t have to be of publication quality. Though, if you come to like this type of exercise, you might be surprised by some of what you write and want to share it with others.

6. Sketch the Word
For the right-brain artistic types among us, sketching the Word is something that is second nature. But even for those of us who do better with straight lines and right angles, sketching the Word can be a rich experience capturing the big idea of a passage or even details best highlighted with a picture or illustration.

7. Memorize the Word
David said he hid the Word of God in his heart to avoid sin (Psalm 119:11). Scripture memorization is a foundational exercise on which many other forms of Scripture meditation are based.

8. Display the Word
Some passages are just so wonderful they are best artistically displayed in some fashion. Such passages might be Bible promises to keep in front of us or reminders in our walk with God. Consider commissioning a calligrapher to artistically transcribe your favorite verse in a frameable drawing or painting. Or create a colorful depiction of it yourself in PowerPoint, print it on a color laser printer and have it framed.

9. Share the Word
What would it do for your own Scripture focus if you were to give away one Bible verse to a different person each of the next 30 days? I encourage you to try. A friend who was studying with me at Wycliffe’s Summer Institute of Linguistics caught fire with God’s Word and could hardly contain himself. Brian would constantly hand write verses on 3 x 5 cards and leave them in our mail boxes. The personal touch brought these verses to life and I remember feeling like I had received numerous personal messages from God himself. And Brian himself grew deeper as he shared with so many of us. Sharing the Word with others engages us in it more deeply ourselves.

10. Do the Word!