Thursday, February 27, 2014
It's Friday morning in Damoh and the two-day preaching conference is over. I got to preach twice to this group of pastors before we sent them back to the fields. I use that terminology because in the final sermon I preached from Matthew 13 and the three stories about seed planting in the kingdom of God. My simple charge was to sow as many seeds of the word of God through preaching as they possibly can. Don't worry about what kind of soil it may fall on - just plant seeds. Don't worry about the weeds the enemy (Satan) may sow along side - just plant seeds. Don't worry about how big the harvest may be in your particular field (the kingdom is designed to grow and only God can make that happen) - just plant seeds. It was interesting yet again to sense the connection between preachers even though my field is central Illinois and theirs is all over India and surrounding countries. When I mentioned that sometimes as a preacher I feel as though my sermons aren't that good, every face in the crowd acknowledged by expression that they felt that way too sometimes. After the sermon, we closed the conference out by celebrating communion together - another emotional kinship with these brothers and prayed over them as they went back to their places of ministry. Many of them were heading immediately to the train station and several days of travel back to their home churches. My prayers are with these men and the fields in which they plant. I pray that this Sunday's sermon is filled with passion and energy from our time together. I also hope that if heaven is like this, someday we'll stand side by side in front of the King and speak the same eternal language AND recall our time together here.
at 8:17 PM
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
"Yatra" is the Hindi translation of the book and study "Walk" we did at Eastview two years ago and God has now expanded it to over 600 pastors from five different nations for this leadership conference with CICM. To say that I'm overwhelmed is completely understated. Sara and I arrived yesterday for the afternoon sessions taught by J.K. and Jim - by the grace of God I was able to stay awake through both (no, they were not boring - my body clock was on 1:00-5:00 a.m. CST and I was tired after 37 hours of travel). Now it's 2:30 a.m. and I can't sleep..so I'm praying some, looking over my notes for today some, and answering e-mails some. My pastor's heart is so full even though I don't know what time zone I'm in. I met some brothers yesterday from the mountains of NEPAL (Katmandu is the capital - just go check a world map) who travelled 40+ hours by train to sit in 8 hours of daily teaching for two days and then return home to preach in their churches on Sunday!!!! Are you kidding me? How many American Christians would sacrifice so much to sit for the privilege of listening to sermons all day??? This may be the hungriest congregation I've ever had the privilege of preaching to (and I think Eastview is a church of great listeners!!) and I can't wait to preach to them twice today. The other countries represented are of course, India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Myanmar. I can't tell you how humbling it is to be with these great men of faith and yatra with them as we follow Jesus. I pray that I can inspire and encourage them today with two sermons from Jude 24&25 and Matthew 13. Hope you'll pray with me.
at 3:07 PM
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
Once again, I'm overwhelmed by the Christian brotherly love I feel from the hospitality of my Indian family. We get off the plane at the Indira Ghandi airport and three pastors along with Ajai's son and daughter-in-law (Abujheet and Katie) at midnight and they are there to greet us in typical Indian style with lei's of fresh flowers. Think about it, willing to get up in the middle of the night and make sure we are welcomed and transported to a hotel for a couple of hours! The love of God's family amazes me and the love of these family members reminds me that I am here to serve...even if it means lack of sleep. Father, make me a servant like your Son Jesus and like I have seen in your children here today. In half an hour (5 a.m. here on Wednesday) we'll head to the airport for a domestic flight to Jabalpur and then a two hour drive to Damoh and the leadership conference. J.K., Tyler, Jim, Jason, and Mark are already there and the conference begins at 8:00 a.m. Praying for these preachers and pastors to be encouraged and inspired!!!
at 5:01 PM
Monday, February 24, 2014
Sitting in Chicago's Ohare airport getting ready for a trip to New Delhi via Tokyo, Japan (go figure - taking that route - this made me study the world map again!) By the time Sara and I arrive, we will have lost Tuesday altogether in flights and airports, but we are excited to reunite with Drs. Ajai and Indu Lall and their family and ministry in Central India. My soul has just begun to refuel from yesterday's sermon and my mind turns to this incredible opportunity to preach (along with J.K., Jim, Jason, Mark, and Tyler - our pastoral leadership team) to over 500 preachers and church planters from all over the country. I'm completely humbled and excited for this open door for the gospel - four or five sermons in the next five days to: preachers, youth, village churches, and Ajai's home church. Two words come to mind: encourage and inspire. I know that I will be encouraged by the passion of these preachers who will ride trains for days and sit in teaching sessions for 10 hours at a time to grow in their faith. I know that I will be encouraged by the fact that many of them literally put their life on the line daily to preach the gospel. I know that I will be inspired by their love for Christ and their preaching. I will be inspired by seeing the world wide church in action again! The church of Jesus is prevailing and we get to be a part of that. My prayer is that somehow I can inspire the CICM workers, the preachers, and even Ajai and Indu. My prayer is that by preaching the word, hundreds will be encouraged to keep going in this work for the gospel. This is again how the church works. I'm flying to the other side of the world to encourage and inspire and I'm sure these brothers and sisters will inspire me more than I will them.
at 9:43 AM
Monday, February 10, 2014
There is no way to have a sincerely, truth-seeking conversation these days because of the ultimate trump card that everyone in this culture knows they can play. It is subtle, but used as a weapon to end the discussion - often delivered in anger or disgust at one's close-mindedness. The trump card - the phrase that pays so to speak - has many variations. Usually something like: "this is the way I feel", or "this makes me happy", or "I have always been this way". These are all true statements by the way. People actually do "feel" a certain way and some of those feelings make them "happy" and we all have at least a few emotional and mental realities which we assume we have always had. The problem with these statements is twofold. 1. The way we feel is not a legitimate reasoning technique for whether something is true (or even good)or not. People feel things all the time that are measurably not true (or good)..but they are true to the person who holds them. It is interesting to me that the same science-driven culture that demands Christianity prove everything also willingly applauds any post, tweet, or text that someone says is the way they feel or the way they are without any empirical evidence of said feelings. In other words, "I feel..." will not hold up in the science lab. 2. The way we feel avoids the real questions of right and wrong and true and false. Ultimately, if how you feel is your truth and how I feel is my truth we have confirmed that there is no real truth. No truth means no rules and absolute chaos for our world. If there is no truth, there are no laws, there are no crimes, and there is no recourse for changing the world for the better. If you don't believe that this is true,just try googling the Nuremberg trials after World War II in which Nazi war criminals basically argued that for them it was culturally right to kill innocent Jews. So how do we enter this cultural dialogue? I'm reminded that good questions (as modeled by Jesus)lead to Holy Spirit led conversations in the Christian life. That's all I can do is have one conversation at a time, but it's not to win an argument. It is to have a loving talk about how all the stuff I feel and think ultimately make sense in one huge truth: JESUS! So instead of coming up with compelling arguments, I'm listening, and I'm asking..."So do you believe that everything that everyone feels is true?" "Is there any way that your feelings have to do with past circumstances in your life?" "What do you think is the solution to all the world's problems?" [recently I received an email from a gay man asking what I thought about homosexuality - sensing a trap and a conversation ender, I answered "why do you care what I think?" - the dialogue continues]. Even as I write these questions I realize that they aren't very brilliant, but if I can enter the dialogue in a humble way - the Holy Spirit will likely direct the conversation. I'm praying for that because as a Christian, it's all I've got in a world where the conversations is often shut down by "this is how I feel" or "this is how I am". I'm banking on people really deep down knowing that how they feel is not what they want. Enter Jesus!
at 10:51 AM
Monday, January 27, 2014
Since i was a little child, I have been taught to pray (with closed eyes, bowed head, and folded hands mind you) to begin my prayers with "Dear Father" and end them with "In Jesus' name, Amen." To this day I end most prayers that way and of course, I have come to appreciate it not only as the form I learned but as the biblical pattern and practice of the early church. As I preached yesterday, there was simply nothing the first century church did that wasn't in the name of Jesus. Today I'd like to add an extra thought to doing "whatever I do in word or deed... in the name of The Lord Jesus" As I said, we are able to do everything in Jesus' name first by simply being aware of his presence in every situation (ie. Jesus is here). If we begin to realize how present he is in every conversation, every location, every task, and every activity then our words and actions may reflect his name in them. Secondly we noted that we can do things in Jesus' name when we realize we are his direct representation in every encounter. This bestows on us an incredible honor to actually speak words of encouragement and love on his behalf, to actually love and do acts of kindness on his behalf, to represent his presence in the most common of settings. Everything (and I mean everything) can be done in the name of The Lord if we are aware that he is there and that we become his voice and hands. What came to me today is that if we as Christians were to live like this, we could rightly end every conversation with the actual words, "In Jesus' name, Amen". We should be able to end every conversation with "In Jesus' name, Amen". If we are living out our calling, we can look at every relationship and every task as a prayer that begins by calling on the Father and ends with "In Jesus' name, Amen". I began thinking that my life should really be lived as a daily prayer that begins each morning with "Dear Father" and ends when I lay down for the night with "In Jesus' name, Amen." It's the middle of Monday now, and my life prayer is midstream, but even now I can call on God to Father me through it all and work as unto The Lord so that I can later say that this day was lived in Jesus' name. Amen.
at 1:18 PM
Monday, January 20, 2014
First off, let me give a shout out to Martin Luther King's birthday. His "I have a dream" speech remains one of the best discourses in human history outside the Bible. Still, he was promoting what Jesus came for - freedom. Praying that the church continues to be a place of freedom from all slavery, but mostly the slavery of sin that crosses all racial barriers. Now to football. I am a fan. I like sport and I like all the conversation and debate that goes with it. My wife does not. She's already tired of all the hype, debate, opinion, and argument from all the voices who will weigh in on the big game coming up in two weeks. I'll listen to much of it because it entertains me...but to my point. I have been particularly interested in how much attention quarterbacks get when it comes to winning games in the playoffs...I see some parallels between this high profile job and the high profile role of a preacher. Below are some observations. 1. Both the quarterbacks and preachers get way too much credit. When a football team wins, the quarterback is credited with the win, even though he may not have been the biggest contributor to the outcome and certainly wasn't the only contributor. Now, I must address the reality that there is no real tangible way to measure a "win" for a church. Unfortunately, our culture usually thinks of it in non-spiritual terms like attendance, offerings, and buildings - it's harder to define a "win" spiritually and since all churches are God's, winning is assured. But to my point, when things are good at a church, the preacher often gets the credit - this even though the Holy Spirit empowers it all, the staff and volunteers live out their callings and passions to make it all happen, and the living Body of Christ is designed for growth. In the Old Testament, God often helped his people during the reign of a lousy king, I suspect He still does the same thing with his church. Ultimately, people should never give too much credit to the preacher. The pastor himself certainly shouldn't buy the hype. He simply is not the reason churches grow. 2. Both the quarterbacks and preachers get way too much blame. On the other hand, when a team loses a football game, the quarterback often gets blamed for one or two bad plays. But considering there are 11 men each performing a number of functions on about 100 plays a game - there are thousands of opportunities for failure...and many of them go unnoticed. In the same way, when a church is not going well, the criticism mounts for the preacher and he often ends up losing his job. The truth is, there are hundreds of people with hundreds of conversations and hundreds of ministries, and hundreds of actions each week. If a church is not bearing good fruit, there are many root systems to consider. Jesus wasn't a hit in Nazareth, but not because he wasn't a great spiritual leader. 3. Both quarterback and preacher can reach their full potential without "winning it all". There is a crazy idea out there that a quarterback is no good unless he wins a championship (or several if you're a legend). In the same way, a pastor is often not seen as effective unless his church is in a continual numeric growth pattern, he is speaking at several national events, or he is writing spiritually ground-breaking best sellers. The truth is that God has gifted, placed, and used millions (perhaps billions) of preachers in history to change the world. They may not all make the headlines, but they are all effective as they are empowered by the Holy Spirit. There are great quarterbacks and great preachers, but winning and losing is about the team and the Body of Christ, the church is about all of the parts. Something to remember in a culture of hype.
at 10:58 AM