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!

Monday, February 24, 2014

5 Parting Shots From James 5

1. The words you use to respond to suffering or success are a reflection of your heart. Is your heart full of yourself? Do these experiences cause you to turn to God?

2. You can always choose to speak positively.

3. Setting ourselves apart for God's service is extremely difficult but extraordinarily important.

4. If you want to know what God's plan is for you, pay attention to how He answers your prayer.

5. Confession without repentance is like a Twinkie without the cream filling. It looks good on the surface but it's really just sticky and hollow.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

5 Reasons You Should Be More Generous

You can always give without loving, but you can never love without giving.  ~Amy Carmichael

1. God’s creation was GENEROUS. Instead of just creating a functional, mechanical world; He gave us an amazingly creative, colorful, complex yet simple world. The variety and beauty of creation is a constant reminder of God’s GENEROSITY.

2. The most beloved characters in the history of the world are those who were viewed as GENEROUS by their contemporaries.

3. The hero of every story is the one who GIVES AWAY for the good of others.

4. The best meal is one that is prepared by a GENEROUS chef (delicious is important, but useless if you only get two bites)

5. The single greatest act of all time was the GENEROUS gift of life, given to us by God through His Son, Jesus.

Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed. 
- Proverbs 19:17

Saturday, February 22, 2014

5 Guidelines for Healthy Disagreement

Have you ever found yourself in a discussion with someone who refuses to listen or have a civil conversation? It doesn't matter if they are right or wrong, they don't convince anyone because of the manner in which they debate.

Sometimes we need to disagree with people. When those moments arrive, consider these 5 Guidelines for Healthy Disagreement:

1. Be Gentle, not harsh.

2. Listen well before you formulate your answer.

3. Weigh your answer, don’t immediately gush.

4. Give answers that reflect Scripture.

5. Don’t endlessly debate with a fool.

These guidelines came as the result of studying this topic in Proverbs. Below are some of the verses that helped inform these thoughts:

Proverbs 1:28 - “Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me.

Proverbs 15:1 - A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Proverbs 15:28 - The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.

Proverbs 18:13 - He who answers before listening— that is his folly and his shame.

Proverbs 18:23 - A poor man pleads for mercy, but a rich man answers harshly.

Proverbs 21:13 - If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.

Proverbs 22:21 - teaching you true and reliable words, so that you can give sound answers to him who sent you?

Proverbs 24:26 - An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.

Proverbs 26:4 - Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.

Proverbs 26:5 - Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.

Proverbs 26:16 - The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who answer discreetly.

Proverbs 27:11 - Be wise, my son, and bring joy to my heart; then I can answer anyone who treats me with contempt.

Reading these verses is a challenge to me regarding my own skills in answering graciously. Especially after preaching about seasoning my “truth” tendencies with grace, I’m aware that this is an area I need to keep developing. I’ll continue working on answering THIS way, I hope you will to. Below are a few nuggets of wisdom I gleaned from these great verses:

Monday, February 17, 2014

9 Character Traits of God Worth Remembering

On Sunday, we talked about James' statement that God is "compassionate" and "merciful". Of course, He is also much more than that! Check out these thoughts from a prayer in Nehemiah 9 which remind us of several more of God's character traits. While you patiently wait for God to act on your behalf, use these to remind yourself that He is indeed compassionate, merciful and much more!

God is sovereign -- "You alone are the LORD"

God is faithful -- "You have kept your promise because you are righteous"

God is a savior -- "You divided the sea before them, so that they passed through it on dry ground, but you hurled their pursuers into the depths, like a stone into mighty waters."

God is a provider -- "In their hunger, you gave them bread from heaven, and in their thirst you brought them water from the rock"

God is forgiving -- "But they, our forefathers, became arrogant and stiff-necked, and did not obey your commands...But you are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love."

God is compassionate -- "Because of your great compassion, you did not abandon them in the desert."

God is generous -- "You made their sons as numerous as the stars in the sky, and you brought them into the land that you told their fathers to enter and possess."

God is long-suffering -- "But when they were oppressed they cried out to you. From heaven you heard them and in your great compassion you gave them deliverers, who rescued them from the hand of their enemies."

God is patient -- "And when they cried out to you again, you heard from heaven, and in your compassion you delivered them time after time."

God is merciful -- "in your great mercy you did not put an end to them or abandon them, for you are a gracious and merciful God."

If you read Nehemiah 9, you can match up each of the above attributes with one paragraph of the recorded prayer.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

10 Pieces of Advice for Every Young Person (and old person!)

I came across these tonight. They are from my study of 2 Timothy a few years ago when I was preparing for a Family Camp at Barakel.  They seem to be fairly relevant for today…

  • Don’t ever be ashamed of doing the right thing.
  • Don’t ever be ashamed of doing the thing God gifted you to do.
  • Don’t ever grow tired of doing the thing God gifted you to do.
  • Be very ashamed of following the wrong pursuits.
  • Be very ashamed of following the wrong people.
  • Finish the race.
  • When you are absolutely positive about who you are, it is no longer embarrassing to act like yourself.
  • If you are not content to let people think you are wrong, you will embarrass yourself by pursuing silly arguments.
  • Embarrassment for Christ’s sake is far better than popularity for my own sake.
  • A Christ-centered life will never bring me shame.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Just Sit Down and Let Jesus Do His Thing!

"Have the people sit down" (John 10:6)

This was Jesus' response to the disciples doubts about Christ's ability to feed the crowd.

Jesus had told his disciples to find enough food for more than 5,000 people who had come to hear Him teach. Andrew had found a small amount of food, but wasn't sure it would do much. The disciple's were stressed that they could never find enough food to feed everyone.

Jesus' simple response to have everyone sit down was all that was necessary.

Sometimes, we're so busy running around that we don't allow Jesus to do his thing. We are, like the disciples, doing everything we can do to "make things happen", but we don't realize that things will happen when HE MAKES THEM HAPPEN!

This command is a good reminder to us that it is good sometimes to simply sit and be patient.

Take some time to just sit down and allow God to do His work in you.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Learning Patience from Aaron Rodgers

Patience is a big theme in the Bible. We touched on it last Sunday, and we'll focus more on it this week. I wrote this nearly six years ago. Brett Favre was still a Packer. Turns out things worked out okay for that "discount double check" guy...

My advice for Aaron Rodgers?

Poison Brett Favre's food.

Just kidding.

I feel for Aaron. I really do. It would appear that the Green Bay Packer organization has made a decision that it is time for Rodgers to step up and replace Brett Favre. He's been waiting for this day patiently since he was drafted several years ago. After being a highly touted college QB, he's quietly taken the back-seat, watching, learning, waiting until it was his turn to shine. The coach and team executives have made it clear that the future rests in his hands, but it's been a long time coming.

Finally this year, Favre retired and Aaron prepared to take the reigns. Now it looks like he may have to wait again... and even if he doesn't, he's going to have the enormous pressure of justifying the team's decision to pass (pun intended) on another season of Brett.

Never mind that maybe Rodgers is better. Never mind that Favre is on the down-side of his career. Never mind that maybe the Packers as a team will be better with Rodgers running the show. Never mind how unfair it will be to compare Rodgers' 2008 season with Favre's career, perhaps the Packers know that Favre doesn't have enough left in the tank. Never mind all that. The simple fact is that this guy has waited patiently for something that was promised to him, and now just when it was within his grasp, he might have to wait some more.

My advice? Remember King David. He was anointed (like Rodgers) to be the future king, but had to wait years. While he waited he was chased around the wilderness by the sitting king who wanted him dead. When it finally looked like he was going to be king, he had to wait seven more years for Saul's son to lose the throne (and his head).

In the end, though, David's patience paid off. He eventually became known as the greatest king Israel ever knew. His throne was established forever.

I might be wrong on this, but I think Aaron Rodgers has a great career ahead of him. I think that the Packers know this and that is why they are okay not having a washed up Brett Favre anymore. But it may turn out that Aaron Rodgers has to wait one more year, and if he does he should look to the example of David.

And so should we.

We're all waiting for something (although sometimes the things we are waiting for are not necessarily the "right" things). While waiting, we would do ourselves a great favor to learn the patience of David. Those who cannot be patient, will become frustrated.

"But wait!" you say. "I am not like King David or like Aaron Rodgers. They've both been promised something, and so waiting is easy for them. It isn't so easy for me to wait, I don't even know if God is going to give me the thing I'm waiting for."

You want a promise? Try this:

being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

That's a better guarantee than Aaron Rodgers has. Whatever the good work God is doing in your life, he's going to finished. So that painful waiting you're experiencing is a result of being unfinished. The solution is not to try to finish yourself, but rather to be patient, to pay careful attention to what God is doing in your life, and to allow him to do his finishing work. He promises to complete it.

And if you need to be reassured, read 1 Samuel 16 - 2 Samuel 5. Consider what David had to endure while waiting for God to do his finishing work, and realize you probably don't have it as bad as you think.