Saturday, December 28, 2013
Well, it's finally arrived. In a way, Sara and I have been anticipating this for a year and in a way we have been anticipating this for 25 years. Raising a kid is a journey, and the journey with Mikey has been like all of our life's journeys...filled with ups and downs. It's love that keeps the thing going. In a way that only parents can understand, there is a deep-heart longing for your child that gets past all the disobedient and disappointing moments to see the potential and wish for the best. The apostle nails it when he describes love in I Corinthians 13:7 - love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Sara and I have done a lot of "bearing" all things over the years...but that has not changed all that I believe about him. I believe that he is a child of God and learned long ago to let him be what God wants him to be and not what I want him to be. God loves him more than I do. Because of this, I hope great things for his life...and of course his marriage is one of them. I have prayed for Abby for 25 years. I didn't know it of course, until this day. But when I pronounce them husband and wife today, I will be looking at a 25 year old answered prayer in real life. Now, I will hope for them...for the joy of parenthood, buying their first home, growing in their faith, finding couple friends, etc... Love is also about enduring all things. The mark of real love is that it sticks around for the long-haul. Anyone can "love" for a while or when things are good, but the 25 years with Mikey means we have endured a lot. This is love. He, like all humans, has not always been lovable, but I love him more today than I ever have and I'm extremely proud of the man he is and is becoming. Now, I pray that their love will simply endure. That's the key to a successful marriage you know, just show up every day and never think of giving up. Before you know it, you've been married for 28 years. One more thing, when you're a dad you brag on your kids. I brag because I have a view of who Mikey really is. While others see flaws (or tattoos :-), I know the story behind the flaws and know why he has reacted and lived the way he has. I've seen the insecurity, the successes, the heartaches, and the milestones. I know him better than he knows himself. So I can brag on the truly unique things about him that are awesome. He is an incredible tattoo artist. I mean he has creativity oozing out of him. He sees and then can put into art form things that most can't. I'm amazed at his skills. Some may look at him and see a scary tattooed guy, but I still see a little kid with a mullet running around in shorts and boots creatively examining the world. He hasn't changed much in 25 years and he's changed quite a bit. Only a parent can truly understand that statement and fully appreciate what this day means. This is his wedding day and I am the preacher...but more than anything else, I'm just his dad. A very proud dad.
at 9:54 AM
Monday, December 9, 2013
It's not about a time or a place necessarily although a "routine" of both can be helpful. It's about going through life with a Lord who is in relationship with you. Most Christ followers pray before meals, before bed, first thing in the morning, and at church...but when are the other times I should pray? Well, Christmastime is a natural time to pray. See list below for when you should pray at Christmas...maybe this is what Paul was talking about when he says to pray without ceasing (I Thess. 5:17): *When I feel like a Scrooge mood - Pray for God to give me joy *When I taste a Christmas treat - Pray a prayer of thanks for good things *When I face a medical test/exam - Pray for God to grant me peace *When I go to Christmas gatherings with people I don't know - Pray for uplifting words to say and ability to hear with my heart. *When I celebrate Christmas with family who have hurt me - Pray for a forgiving heart and attitude *When I'm sitting at a table to eat - Pray thanks for God's provision *When laughing - pray for how light it feels *When giving gifts - pray a prayer of thanks for the ability to share *When receiving gifts - pray a prayer of thanks for the picture of Jesus as the ultimate gift. *When watching the snow - pray a prayer of thanks for how God has washed your sins away *When you see children on Christmas morning - pray a prayer of thanks for the innocence they bring *When you see the elderly sing a Christmas hymn - pray a prayer of thanks for God's faithfulness in the journey. *When listening to Christmas music - let your singing along be your prayer (think of the words) *When you feel the cold of the air on your face - pray for those who are cold spiritually and thank God for the warmth of soul you have in Jesus. *When you see the lights on your tree - pray a prayer to of thanks for the light of the world. Add to this list as you wish, but whatever you do...pray
Monday, December 2, 2013
Yesterday I mentioned in my sermon how sometimes our culture, our songs, and our nativities can place Jesus in a box during this time of year. In other words, we can worship Jesus as we like Him. He can be the savior we want him to be and not the one He truly is. Here are some thoughts to expound on what I said yesterday (NOTE: these are not thoughts condemning nativities, Christmas carols, or cultural impressions of the baby Jesus this time of year, simply some things to think about): 1. We like Jesus in a box. Subtly, when we place whatever Jesus likeness we have in the various manger scenes it may represent being able to control Jesus. It may be I like baby Jesus best because He is exactly where he belongs - in the hay, among the cattle, shepherds watching on, etc... I'm not as comfortable with him invading my life where he wants or him being something that I can't explain or don't like (eg. the guy throwing tables in the temple or rejecting a Phoenician woman's request for her daughter's healing) 2. We like Jesus "tender and mild". Jesus is pretty harmless in the manger. How much damage can a baby do? As a baby, he doesn't seem confronting or rejecting. It's as if, the baby in the manger is so cute and cuddly that he couldn't possibly have distinct teachings of right and wrong. In the manger he is lovable because this baby can't convict us or call us out for our sins...he simply smiles and coos and has soft skin. He is happy if I simply make faces at him and talk baby talk. We can easily forget that this baby grew up to preach the sermon on the mountain that spoke against our idolatry, our oath taking, our selfishness, our pride, our anger, and our materialism. 3. We like Jesus to be like us. Of course, Immanuel - God with us is the point. He became like us - human so that he could show us his love in a tangible human way. But he did not become human to show us that we were all right. He became like us only in the fact that he shares our flesh, our temptation, our hunger, and our thirst. But he is not like us because he did not sin. Often, I see Jesus as human and think - "oh he understands." Well, he does understand how bad I really am and that's why he came to face the cross. The point of Jesus as a baby is not that He has become like us, but that He died so that we could become like him. He was a baby, and I was a baby..but the comparisons end there. Just a few things to think about as the Christmas season kicks into full gear.
Monday, November 25, 2013
This weekend, especially Sunday was another reminder that God is moving and working all the time. Unfortunately, we often miss God's work by defining it as coincidence and brush it off with a "that was weird". Because God is calling all of us to Him and because He has a plan for everyone; it is evident to me that He is working in all of our lives all the time. Let me give you three examples, which may or may not line up with your theology. At least consider the possibility that God was moving/speaking. 1. I was doing my usual routine Saturday night wondering through the auditorium after I had practiced my sermon and praying for Sunday when suddenly a young man appeared (actually startled me). He said he was looking for his daughter who may have wandered in, but when he re-introduced himself (he reminded me that I had met him 10 years earlier) and I asked him how life was going - I knew God had an appointment in mind! He started crying and talking about his life and we prayed. I told him, God set up this appointment - pay attention God was pursuing. 2. A lady introduced herself after I preached yesterday. It was her first time to Eastview and she is an avid marathon runner. How God ordained was it that the passage from Philippians 3:12ff was about the Christian life as a race and I related it to a marathon of faith all throughout? It was a connection that made this woman feel as though God was speaking to her directly. Cool. 3. A lady came to the cross to tell me that she had been stirring spiritually lately and then she woke up at 1:17. Since she was staying at her brother Mark's house - she turned to Mark 1:17 (yeah, it's not what I would have done either..I would have been mad that I was wide awake at 1:17). Anyway, Mark 1:17 is Jesus' invitation to follow him and she took that as an invitation to go to church for the first time in many years. She was there and wants to follow Jesus, who am I to say that the Spirit didn't call her with a night time wake up call? My point? Watch your relationships, circumstances, and environments today - I'm convinced you'll see God in each of them!
at 10:33 AM
Monday, November 18, 2013
Twenty five years ago, I was a 23 year old youth pastor in Lexington, Ky when I held my firstborn son, Michael Robert Baker II. I think there are pictures with me in sweats and a mullet with a tootsie pop in my mouth and a grin on my face. I was thrilled to have a son and I still am. A lot happens in 25 years and unfortunately, I have to say the old man line, it goes by so fast. Since that time, another son was born, my father has died, ministry has taken us to three different states, I'm no longer a youth pastor, and thankfully I know longer wear a mullet. You have so many ideas about what your child is going to become when they are first born, and you realize along the way that you don't really control that. God does something special in each life and each person has millions of choices to make along the way. This means that at some point you have to let go. I never thought that my first born would have grown up to be one of the most talented tattoo artists imaginable, but he did. I didn't think he would get his high school diploma via GED, but he did. I didn't think he would fall in love with Normal, IL, but he did. I didn't think that I would have the privilege of him living in the town I ministered in for so long, but we did. I didn't know that he would find a woman to marry him that would be just right for what he needed, but in Abby he did. I didn't think that he and his brother would be so different and so highly admire each other, but they do. I wasn't sure that my church would love my tattoo artist son as much as my preacher son, but they do. I didn't think that after all these years, the tough journey would all be worth it, but it is. Twenty five years later, I must say that at the time I didn't think that God had a better plan for Mikey that I did, but He did. Happy Birthday son, I wouldn't change a thing.
Monday, November 11, 2013
The latest scandal with the Miami Dolphins locker situation is symptomatic of a culture that has a language problem. Interestingly enough, Jesus said, out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. I believe the problem that we see from some of the texts that have been released from Martin and Incognito simply reveal something about the words in our culture. Once again, the Bible, the word of God guides us by telling us to watch our words...if only we followed God's way with our language. Below I've outlined this culture's problem with words. 1. Our words are too crude. Howard Stern has been glamorized in our culture as a "shock jock" for talking about anything and everything. Very sexually dirty. Very vulgar. Filled with expletives. And he's not the only one...he's just the poster child. It is shocking to hear the curse words, the sexually explicit comments and filth communicated in our media, our schools, our workplaces, etc... This is true especially of a younger generation that has been weaned on crude talk and curse words. They don't even understand that dropping the "f" word as an adjective in a public place is inappropriate. The Bible encourages us to us words that are loving, and encouraging, and to remove filthy talk from our mouths. Our world would be better if we did. 2. Our words are too cruel. The onset of trash talking, bragging, and self promotion has lent itself to tearing other people down. Calling people fat or ugly - talking about their family heritage - or just being cruel about the way they look, or how poorly they perform on the field or in the office...We have become a nasty culture that easily uses harsh words to put others down. It is epidemic. We have become mean with our words, knowing fully how powerful they are. "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never harm me" is what our parents taught us about those who say mean things. The problem is that the saying isn't true. Words can be way more hurtful than sticks and stones. 3. Our words are too quick. Too many people say too many things too quickly. Part of this is our 24 hour news reality that is compelled to create grand headlines about half information and assumptions. Most of what we hear on the news is not as big as they make it with their graphics and music backgrounds. This is not to mention the ease with which anyone (and I mean anyone) can speak their mind via a tweet, post, or even a blog like this one. I'm reminded that James, the brother of Jesus wrote, everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak... Our culture should try this one. 4. Our words are overly scrutinized. Everyone, who has ever opened their mouth to communicate has misspoken. It is human to say things we don't mean, and even have words come out that are not part of our vocabulary. Yet even thought we know this, we tend to jump on every verbal mistake made. As a preacher of 28 years, I've said a lot of things I didn't mean to say - mostly they become jokes about my inability to communicate. But I have said things that in no way reflected my heart and passions...they were just misspoken words. Again, our social and paid media plays a hypocritical role of judging others by soundbites and gaffs when we have ALL made them. We should first try to contextualize it all before being overly critical of someone's words - we may need that same grace some day.
at 10:44 AM
Yep, I know it's been a while since I've blogged due to my traveling schedule...but I'm full of words today...so you may get two or three entries this week. Let's start here. Yesterday I started off my sermon with a make-believe infomercial to introduce our Ephesians 4:11ff text. It's not a real commercial, but all of the stuff in it is true. Here it is... Are you tired of that flabby prayer life? Wanna lose some of those unsightly sins you've been carrying around for years? Do you lack the energy to serve and love those around you? Have your friends noticed your lack of maturity? You need the body of Christ. All over the world, people are turning to the body of Christ to help them grow into the person they were created to be. Order now and we'll send you the complete disciple-making kit. This amazing offer includes: 1). your very own, one-of-a-kind spiritual gift. 2) Membership into a loving community. 3) Free admission into 5 million churches worldwide. 4) our exclusive 24/7 God hotline. And 5) a lifetime supply of measurable spiritual growth - guaranteed! How much would you pay for such an offer? $1 million? $2 million? $3 million? Don't be fooled by imitations! You may pay millions of dollars for worldly offers, but not get any of these results. But for a limited time Jesus is offering all of this to all who would follow Him absolutely free! That's right...absolutely free. He has paid the price for all who will just believe. But wait, that's not all. If you call in the next fifteen minutes, we'll throw in a year's worth of sermons from Deuteronomy and a "fearless at five" t-shirt! Now, how much would you pay? It's still free. Plus, if you order now, you'll receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and a Matt Ludwig worship c.d. Please hurry, this offer only last until Jesus returns, which could be at any time. Angels are standing by.
at 9:17 AM
Monday, October 21, 2013
We're all pretty familiar with the story of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness as he prepared for three years of ministry to save the world. While much of what went on for those forty days and forty nights in the desert is not revealed to us (we know he didn't eat and that Satan tempted him three times), we do know what happened when it was over. Matthew 4:11 says "Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him." The word "minister" is a Greek word that means to serve - especially associated with servants who performed menial household tasks like serving at tables, washing feet, etc... Well, I've got two questions about these angels and how they served Jesus on this occasion: 1. In what condition was Jesus that He needed them to do so. AND 2. What exactly did they do for him? Was Jesus physically spent? What he faint? Was he malnourished? Was he spiritually spent because he had faced incredible temptations? Was he emotionally stressed because of his ministry ahead? Was he mentally tired from thinking through the temptations and Scriptural responses to Satan? All of this is conjecture, but he was in need of some supernatural aid..so God sent angels. What did the angels do? Don't know. Maybe they made him breakfast. Maybe they gave him companionship. Maybe they sang songs of worship to strengthen his soul. Maybe they quoted Scriptures to fill his mind again with the word of God. So what on Monday morning? Well, if God sent angels to minister to you today, what would they do for you? Hebrews 1:14 says that "angels are ministering spirits sent to serve those who have inherited salvation". So, it seems that God uses angels quite a bit to help us. NO YOU SHOULD NOT pray to angels, talk to angels (unless one talk to you first), seek your angel, or think angels will save you! All of that is for God...they are at HIS COMMAND. However, it is a good question to ask. What is your condition today? Is is spiritual, mental, emotional, or physical aid you need most? Talk to God about it and take spiritual steps to restore your strength...who knows there may be some angels behind those Scriptures, songs, Christian friends, and physical rest. Again, focus on God and what He is doing in you today...but be aware of the spiritual realm.
at 10:53 AM
Monday, October 14, 2013
Have you ever considered that life didn't turn out the way Joseph planned? I'm talking about Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus who was just another Jewish guy in the first century trying to make a living through carpentry and preparing for marriage. Then BAM! Out of the blue - Mary's pregnant! We often move through this story too quickly because we know the ending and we race to the happy ending of Jesus was born on Christmas Day! Well, slow your roll. Joseph's circumstances didn't turn out as expected...... and neither do the circumstances of my life and yours! Think about it. How much that you have planned for your family, your future, your finances, or your faith actually turns out as you thought it would? Honestly, we'd have to say that life goes mostly not the way we planned it. So how do we get through it? Well in Matthew chapter one we see how Joseph coped when his fiance' turned up pregnant and it wasn't his. 1. Joseph reacted righteously - Just because he thought he had been wronged, he didn't lash out and lose his standards of doing right. He maintained who he was before God. 2. Joseph wasn't afraid - at least not in the long run. This is the word the angel gave him with the explanation of Mary's pregnancy. Don't be afraid. This is often our first reaction to circumstances out of our control...which is why the Bible reminds us so often not to be afraid. 3. Joseph was obedient - once the angel appeared to him, he did everything exactly as God instructed...including taking Mary as his wife, not sleeping with her, and giving his son the name Jesus. When circumstances go awry in life, it is best to stick with obeying God in what you know. Wait a minute. This all sound great on Monday morning from a pastor's reflection, but how do you expect me to act as Joseph did? Two simple realities make his response possible. 1. God has a plan (see the prophecy stuff in Matthew 1). God always has a plan. Nothing ever takes him by surprise, so even the most unexpected and painful circumstances have an outcome that will glorify God somehow. It's what HE does! 2. God is with us. The name Immanuel from the prophecy means God is near...actually with us. So whatever the circumstance today, we are never alone. How do we know? He sent his son.
at 9:31 AM
Monday, September 30, 2013
Yesterday in the midst of a very busy ministry day, I had an awesome opportunity thanks to our high school staff. I asked a couple of months ago if there was a way for me to meet with high school students that are interested in pursuing a career in full-time ministry. What we came up with was a "pizza with the pastor" event right after our third service yesterday morning. We ate some pizza and I told a little about my ministry journey and then I answered questions they had about going into ministry full time. I love this setting. It brought me back to my youth ministry days when I pastored students all the time. I love teen-agers! They are really thoughtful and ready to learn and ask questions. They asked everything from how long it takes to write a sermon to whether or not math is required for a ministry degree from school. We laughed together and spent about an hour and a half talking ministry and I walked away feeling great about this generation of Eastview Christian Church. I remembered how many preachers influenced my young life for ministry and I asked God if he might not allow me to be an example of faithful stewardship to these 36 students. I'm praying for them today-that somehow God will help them see past their personal limitations and into His great strength in their weakness. God has shown me over time that my limitations are most often used to point to God's great work in an ordinary guy like me. I'm convinced that same thing is true in the lives of all who sense a calling to do God's work.
at 10:32 AM
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
I just wrapped up another day of hanging with 15 pastors of churches who average more than 5,000 in attendance and I have learned a lot...and it feels like I should share some of it. Now, I really have to be careful with my comments here because the group of guys I have been hanging with the past couple of days are committed to being a safe place of ministry and support to one another. So..you won't get names or specific stories from me...just some observations that really warm my heart and hopefully will cause you to pray for your pastor no matter what the size of your church. With that in mind, here are some insights... Mega church pastors are less impressed with themselves than you think. Pastors of large churches get a lot of accolades and credit for their growing churches, but you need to know that they know who they are better than anyone else. They have no grand illusions about who they are. They are simply grateful to God for what he has given them. I'm blessed by the humility I have witnessed. Mega church pastors are want to learn and do not believe they have all the answers for how churches should be led. We all sit at each others feet for instruction. Mega church pastors are equally excited and scared about growing numbers of people who attend their church. It's true that sometimes the numbers can be seen as a measure of success and yes, we are tempted to feel good when we grow and not as good when we don't. But along with that excitement comes a huge weight of responsibility. We all answer to people but the strong realization of stewarding what God has given is the drive. "to whom much is given, much is required" is an all too present Bible reminder. Mega church pastors really do believe that Jesus, and only Jesus changes lives and do not wish for anyone to remain outside of faith. We are about sharing the good news. Mega church pastors really do want people to grow and not just sit in the pews (or theater seats, or stackable chairs). People may think we are okay with a shallow congregation, but we spend most of our time discussing how we can lead people deeper in their faith. Mega church pastors are real people with real issues. We have family issues that range from rebellious children to serious spouse and personal health issues. We have friends that have hurt our feelings. We have financial concerns and daily family routines. Our kids are getting married, going through high school, and seeking God's will for their lives. We deal with criticism and we often feel as though there is no one we can really talk to. God sometimes feels distant to us and we often are left to navigate spiritual challenges on our own. Mega church pastors are more often than not introverts (not my case and not a scientific fact, just my observation) Mega church pastors are strong, but not invincible. Tears come to our eyes as we face challenges. Well, I'll stop there. Hear me well on this. I and my colleagues feel extremely grateful for what we get to do. And this is not an attempt to secure anyone's sympathy. Just some observations that you can take or leave. I hope you'll take them and pray for them concerning all the pastors you know today!
at 5:31 PM
Monday, September 16, 2013
Here's to small groups! I know, just like the church they are imperfect, but when you see what I saw last night as we begin to embark on another all church study together, you can't help but be a fan of small groups. I happen to believe that small groups are biblical, practical, and theologically effective. Biblically, we know of many people who had others meet in their homes for church. And while many think that in fact the whole church was represented here, I can point to many public and large gatherings in the first church (not to mention the word we translate as church - "ekklesia" comes from a word that meant to be called out to public assembly). So there were small groups in the Bible. Practically, small groups are a great way to get people in the same spiritual growth and life stages to find true fellowship and accountability. Theologically, small groups encourage many gifts (hospitality, encouragement, service, teaching, etc...) to be used in a broad way and give opportunity for ministering to one another in an intimate setting. So, last night when I walked around and saw nearly 500 small group leaders gather for training and then hundreds of first time small group participants coming in to be asigned to various groups - my pastor's heart soared. What an opportunity for real partnership in the faith. What an opportunity for spiritual growth both individually and as a church body. What an opportunity for real harmony and unity as we all take a faith step in the same direction. What an opportunity for people to risk teaching, leading, learning and being vulnerable with one another. What an opportunity for us to learn how to share our faith. What an opportunity for those who are lost without Jesus in our community. Yes...here's to small groups and what God does through them. For his glory!
Monday, September 9, 2013
Well, I'm still reflecting on yesterday's big announcement at church that our "blank check" for the world now had a number attached to it. Yesterday, I was honored to stand with our Finance Pastor, Mark Zimmerman and reveal that we were giving away $467,000. We had been praying about this for four months and God moved in an incredible way. The video helped explain that we were giving this money away to our global partners in India, Dominican Republic, Kenya, Haiti and Morocco for the kingdom needs in that place. I'm still processing the ramifications of this gift, but here are the lessons I think God is teaching us: 1. God's generosity should be displayed in our generosity. The giving of the people in the church allows for giving in the name of God, but His provision allows for us to give in the first place. He always goes first with giving. For God so loved the world..HE GAVE. And so should we. 2. God's money is multiplied in the church. There are many causes who would love half a million dollars (trust me, I get requests all the time....all the time), but we believe that God's mission is the church - so our partnerships are with churches. Churches rescue orphans, feed poor people, preach good news, give hope, provide daily essentials, and change the society in which they are planted. So, we give to the greatest organization in the world - the Church of Jesus. By training, equipping and encouraging preachers and church planters with these funds, we are investing 25 years into the future. I'm blessed to think that in the year 2035 someone may come to Christ as a result of our gift! 3. God's money will not run out. The obvious dilemma for any church is that expenses never decrease for ministry. That means we will need even more money to accomplish our mission next year than what we needed this year. We could have saved the money. But giving it away is an intentional faith step. With this gift we say: "Father, you provided more than we needed for last year's budget and you can do it again. We don't trust savings for our future we trust God." 4. God's has more in store. I never get to the place in church leadership where I think that God is done. God is not done until he comes back to take us home...so He is going to keep doing miracles, healing, forgiving and maturing in our midst. Get ready. The blank check was awesome, but he has more in store.
at 10:34 AM
Monday, August 26, 2013
One of the unfortunate duties of a church pastor is fielding the many requests for how the church might spend it's money. It's unfortunate, not because people don't have some really great ideas, but because most of the time you have to say "no" to funding those ideas. I would say that I get an average of 10-12 requests a month for support from the church budget for funding. Here are three reasons I say "no" 1. Money in the church in not unlimited. I know some people have an impression that churches have lots of money - especially big churches. But the truth is that most churches have definitive budgets for the ministry they believe God has called them to. This not only includes outreach, but important things like paying the staff fairly and supporting the ministries within the church. Yearly, we make decisions on staff, ministries, programming, etc... based solely on the ministry God has entrusted to us here. There is no such thing as "extra" money. Churches usually plan beyond what they intend to take in (this is called vision) and either invest more fully in their ministry when resources are abundant, or cut back when resources are less than expected. 2. Saying "no" means saying "yes". There is also an impression (I assume from all of the requests) that some churches are waiting around for someone to tell them what they should be doing with their resources. However, a church that is moving forward with the gospel and the calling God has for them, will be very strategic in the ministries and missions they support. When I say "no" to a request to plant a church or fund a new bus for an outreach ministry, I'm actually saying "yes" to the ministries that God has laid on the hearts of the leaders here. I'm excited about what the Spirit is leading us to do and I want to pour all available resources into those things! 3. God is leading us too. The opening line in the brochure, phone call, or email for many is "God is leading me to..." I often want to respond by saying, "Well, God is leading us too". The point is that if we are paying attention to the Holy Spirit - He is leading all of us who are in Christ. However, as in the case of Paul and Barnabus concerning John Mark - he is often leading us in different directions. I'm not missing God's call just because mine doesn't line up with yours. Often, I can affirm God's calling for your passion - but sometimes, I wonder if the phrase "God's leading me.." is just a spiritual line to add weight to the what someone is getting ready to do. Once again, you must do what God is leading you to do, but I equally must do the same and if yours doesn't line up with mine, you have to respect that. Well, those are just some ramblings of a pastor on Monday morning, but at least consider these things before you suggest a spending idea to your pastor.
at 10:40 AM
Monday, August 19, 2013
Well, yesterday was another "vision" day at Eastview, and the excitement of many back in town and ready for school to start added to the electricity of the morning. I absolutely love sharing what God has led the elders and leaders of Eastview to prayerfully pursue - but admittedly it is tiring. Even a talker like me was out of words when three services were all over. Anyway, my favorite communication was the announcement that starting January 12th Eastview will begin a new worship service on Sunday evening at 5:00 p.m. Announcing it is the easy part. Making it happen will take the hand of God, but we move forward trusting Him. How did we decide on Sunday at 5:00? Well..... First, we asked the staff to give their suggestions in a meeting we had over a year ago. We had at least fifteen different suggestions - so much for consensus. So, then our leadership team got together and began to pray and ask ourselves some value questions. I admittedly have a bias against Saturday nights because I think it depletes staff and key volunteer leaders. So, we moved away from a Saturday night scenario. Then we tried to figure out how to do four on Sundays. Should we do two Sunday morning and two Sunday afternoon/night? Should we do them all on Sunday morning and shorten our services? Should we just add to our morning schedule and have a 1:15 p.m. afternoon service? After brainstorming these detail questions, we began to focus on what we think might help us most accomplish our vision here at Eastview. What time would allow the most people to be able to grow as Christ followers? Where could we foster ridiculous love most? And maybe most importantly, how could we get more evangelistic as "dangerous witnesses"? In other words, if the church at it's best is irresistible, then what time could we accommodate those who want to come into our fellowship? Remember that all the while, over a period of months (if not a year) we continued to pray. Then we heard of a church in the Chicago area that started a 5:00 p.m. Sunday service with great results. So we talked with them and determined that in spite of all the challenges - it just might be our best option. Think of these "wins" for an early evening worship service on Sundays. 1. Those who go out of town for a long weekend can still get back in town and attend church on Sunday. 2. Those who have custody of their kids every other weekend can now bring them every Sunday night. 3. Those who meet for small group on Sunday night (over 40% at Eastview do) can just meet before or after. 4. Families can have all day together with no sports or activities and still get their kids to church and home for school the next day by 6:30 5. Families who have children in traveling sports can come to church when they get back in town. 6. Those who work on Sunday mornings can now come to Eastview. Well, I wish I had seven because that seems more spiritual...but we'll leave it at six. Now we have four months to plant, water, and pray for God's growth. Can't wait to see what happens.
Monday, August 12, 2013
The passage I preached from yesterday in II Timothy 4 included those words, "the time is coming...when (people) will turn away from listening to the truth and will wander off into myths". This led to me mentioning several myths toward the end of our sermon which I will list again here: "science and Christianity are opposed", "abortion is about a woman's right to choose", "there are many paths to God", "the kids will be okay (in divorce)", "material possessions will make you happy", "living together before marriage will strengthen you marriage", "homosexuality is something you are born with", and "your value comes from outward beauty". I actually had many more listed, but the sermon was already long, so I stuck with this list. 1. Why did I stick with this list? These are the predominant things I see in culture that and a younger generation and many Christians have bought into. 2. Why did I have to be specific in the sermon? Because, the media and social blitz in our society is unrelenting in it's perpetual propaganda of unChristian values. At some point, I want to present the truth in such a way that maybe someone will at least consider that this world isn't right and God's Word is. 3. What has the response been? I haven't gotten any scathing e-mails yet this morning, but I think they'll come. Every preacher that has ever preached has been misunderstood...so we'll see. Ironically, it was three college students who thanked me for speaking the truth. 4. Why should someone who disagrees with me, listen to the sermon I preach? Because I sincerely believe what I'm saying is the truth of God's Word, and though imperfect in so many ways I'm honestly trying to live this Jesus following life, and I speak the truth because of my love for those who hear the Word of God. This morning, the world goes on inventing, promoting, and encouraging the myths of a culture hopelessly devoted to it's selfish pleasures, but the truth of God remains and so I'll keep preaching it.
Monday, August 5, 2013
Have you ever considered the complexity of the church? Whatever local church you attend is probably more complex than you probably realize. I know that in our setting there a literally thousands of functions that take place all the time to keep our church running. Consider these questions: Who prints the bulletins? who fills communion cups?who cleans the toys in the nursery? who writes lessons for 2 year olds? who help jumps the battery of the car after service? who puts batteries in the wireless microphones? who cleans the baptistery? who makes sure there are paper towels in the restroom? who gets coffee for the meeting? etc... I could go on. The point is that in the local church, people who are gifted for and have a passion for these things (and countless more)do them every week for the good of the body of Christ. I was reading I Corinthians 12 again today and I was struck with the complexity of the Body of Christ. I think the apostle Paul correctly compares it to the human body since it too is a very detailed entity. Think of the millions of cells functioning exactly as they were designed to keep the blood flowing, the oxygen inhaling, the food digesting, the brain thinking, the legs walking, etc... Paul's point is that just as God designed the human body to be a complex orchestration of many parts coming together to equal life - He also designed the church (His spiritual body) to be a complex design of many parts coming together to bring eternal life. And we are a part of it. I've come to think that we are probably a smaller part of it than we think. I have heard people humbly refer to themselves as the big toe, or ear lobe of the body of Christ, but I think we're probably smaller than that. When I consider the worldwide body of Christ, we are probably more likely microscopic cells. I'm not an earlobe in the Body of Christ, I'm a cell that makes up a freckle on the earlobe of the body of Christ. In other words, pretty small... BUT INDISPENSABLE! Paul is convinced in his teaching that each part of the body is appointed by God, apportioned by the Spirit, and necessary for the good of the Body. So the church is complex. And we are each a very small part. But the body wouldn't be the same without us. Think about the that you little cell. You are not the point, but God's point is to use you to make his!
Monday, July 29, 2013
Well, the vacation is winding down and that means in two days, I'll be home. For me, of course, it's back to Normal (literally the town I live in AND figuratively the routine of my family, life, ministry, and home. The good news is that I'm ready for Normal. I think this is the ultimate success of vacationing (or going on holiday as the Europeans say - I prefer this since "holiday" comes from "holy day" and ultimately getting away from the routine should be a before-God, holy time...but I digress) is that when it is over, you like the Normal you are returning to. For me that means I have a sermon to write for Sunday, an elder's meeting to approve the 2014 budget, and any number of unknown surprises at both my home and office. As for me, I love the "normal" I'm returning to. Here's why... 1. I love the people of Normal. I haven't seen my mom (who has lived with us for 17+ years) or my boys for 3 1/2 weeks. Really can't wait to catch up with them. There is also the awesome staff we have at church - the people I partner in ministry with - haven't seen many of them in a month. And finally, the church that is Eastview. I was so homesick visiting a church here in Phoenix yesterday that I couldn't stand it. 2. I love my calling to Normal. I am coming up on 18 years at Eastview and 6 1/2 years as Sr. Pastor. I'm still energized to do what God has called me and gifted me to do. I visit a lot of cool places, and frankly most of them are way more fun than Central Illinois, but the place I belong is Normal and Lord willing, I'll belong there for another 15 years or so. 3. I love the normal of Normal. A trap many of us fall into is to focus on the times of vacation and travel and miss the blessings of normal. Honestly, vacationing is just not real life. What seemed so cool 3 1/2 weeks ago, now is not enough to sustain my soul. For instance, I'm tired of eating at restaurants, living out of suitcases, and having no agenda every day. I'm looking forward to my normal Starbucks, my normal car, my normal house with it's normal blemishes, my normal kitchen table, my normal running route (Constitution Trail), my normal work schedule, my normal withering corn, and my normal ministry challenges. Ultimately, the design of a vacation should be to help one realize just how great "normal" is...and I have learned this truth once again!
at 10:48 AM
Monday, July 15, 2013
What does a preacher do on vacation? Well, I don't know for sure, and I don't know why anyone might care, but I'll tell you what I did on my vacation today in Indianapolis...yes, I am vacationing in Indianapolis...until Friday-then I'm going to Arizona. Anyway, here are some of the highlights, not in any particular order. 1. I ran five miles. Training for a marathon doesn't take a vacation. 2. I sat at an outdoor table of Starbucks and watched people while I sipped an Americano. This is one of my favorite forms of entertainment. 3. I read the local paper. I am one of those old-school guys who still reads an actual paper made of...well, paper. But I usually skim through it. Today, however, I read it all...even some obituaries. 4. I took a nap (while finishing a biography of John Wyclif - enough to put anyone to sleep). 5. I read from the Bible, read from a daily devotional book, journaled and prayed this morning. I know you're thinking, you have to put that, you're a preacher - but I really did...with no distractions...nice! 6. Gave $1 to a street beggar. 7. Sat in a park by a fountain without a cell phone - no agenda - just thinking about nothing. This usually evolves into thinking about church, or my family, or staring at a squirrel. 8. Listened to Sara read facebook posts about my son Caleb preaching at Eastview yesterday - proud father. 9. Studied for a sermon I'm preaching this weekend at Central Christian Church of Arizona - sometimes preachers preach on vacation. 10. Watched the evening news with my best friend and wife. Well, not too exciting, but I'm on vacation...hopefully tomorrow will be just as boring.
at 7:38 PM
Monday, July 8, 2013
First, I want to dedicate this blog post to my good friend Missy Wright, who when asked what she thought of my blog said, "you have a blog?" Thankfully, her husband (and apparently better friend, Brad) does read! :-) In 1971 right after church one Sunday, my dad, who had just finished preaching in his Indianapolis church, my mom and my sister piled into our family car - a VW Bug and headed for Dallas, TX and the North American Christian Convention. I don't remember much about the trip but it must have been long. I do remember it was 103 in Dallas when we arrived and my sister and I were in a place called Kiddie Land which is what they called the child care stuff back then. Fast forward 42 years. Yesterday after preaching three times at Eastview (it was an awesome day in the word and worship by the way - God continues to do some amazing stuff and His Spirit's presence is palpable), Sara and I headed toward Louisville and the North American Christian Convention. This will be my 24th out of 48 years of life...so I guess you could say, it's been formative for me. And as I head into the week, I reflect on just why I like is so much. 1. It's a place to catch up with long lost friends whose ministries have separated us sometimes for years. I'm sure at least once, I'll see a former school mate from Johnson Bible College (I know, I know - it's Johnson University now), or run into someone I met in my years at CIY, or the youth ministry years from Florida, etc... It's always a pleasant surprise to see someone, tell some old stories, and hear what God is doing throughout his kingdom. 2. It's a place for me to hear some great preaching. This convention particularly has been primarily a great preaching event for over 80 years and it becomes for me the one place every year where I stock up on preaching. It is a good place to nourish my soul. 3. It's a place to spend time with some very valuable ministry friends. There are some precious souls that Sara and I just enjoy being around. And again, because of ministry and geography we don't see them enough. But week's like this we have several opportunities to do so. 4. It's a place to learn and get some new ideas. Already, one of my friends has suggested a couple of books that I will add to my reading list and I'm sure some seminar or something will inspire me in some way. 5. It's a place to be encouraged at the breadth and depth of God's kingdom. It is encouraging to worship with thousands of people who come from all over the country and the world to praise the same God and declare our relationship to Him through Jesus. Something here makes me feel very small, but a small part of something very big - the worldwide kingdom of God. Well, those are reasons enough. Looking forward to another great week in Louisville, KY (pronounced - Loueeville, louavul, loovul, louisssville, etc...)
at 7:23 AM
Monday, July 1, 2013
I'm 48 now, not a young preacher no matter how you look at it. I used to say, if you want to be a good preacher - go preach 1,000 sermons and you'll be on your way. But where do you get a chance to preach that much? I was blessed in each of my youth ministries to have many opportunities to preach (mostly on Sunday nights) to our adult congregation. I can't thank Fred, Wayne, or Ross (they were the sr. pastors I served with) enough for allowing me so many opportunities to stretch my preaching wings. I have preached close to 1,000 sermons at this point, so I'm on my way to learning how to preach. But after this coming Sunday, I'll be out of the pulpit at Eastview for three straight weeks. It's only appropriate that I let some of the young preachers on our staff lead us from the word in my absence! Certainly, things are a bit different - I usually preached in front of 125 and they will preach to thousands. We didn't have a big video screens back then, and the worship was usually two or three songs picked out of a hymn book 15 minutes before church started. But when you remove all the externals, preaching is preaching. It comes down to opening the Bible and talking about what God is saying to us through it. The next three weeks the three youngest members of our preaching team will preach to our adults on Sunday morning. You may not know this, but our preaching team at Eastview consists of our Jr. High preaching pastor (Caleb Baker), Sr. High preaching pastor (Matt Fogle), college preaching pastor (Charlie Welke), our spiritual formation pastor (J.K. Jones), and me. We meet weekly to pray through, study together, and brainstorm the upcoming week's text. On most Sundays what is being preached in our adult worship services is also being preached in our Sr. High worship (ONE), our Jr. High Worship (EDGE), and in our college age ministry (formerly called FUEL). Of course, J.K. brings at least 35 years of preaching experience and over 20 years of teaching preaching in the university to the table and I have been a preaching guy for my whole life. In essence, it is a college level preaching lab every week. It is a blast and I can't wait to see the "projects" these three young men will "turn in" August 14, 21, and 28. In a small way, I hope I'm returning the favor that was afforded me all these years ago. Who knows what God will do with these guys in the future, but hopefully Eastview will be a place they find great nurture!
Monday, June 24, 2013
I truly am a midwest guy and one of the things that marks a midwesterner is that we are truly accustomed to four distinct seasons. Of course, summer is the season we are in right now and there are many things I love about summer - long days, ice cream as a social event, shorts and sandals, baseball games (Cincinnati Reds, Indianapolis Indians, Normal Cornbelters) and vacations - just to mention a few. But there are some definitely drawbacks to summer. Here are three things I miss most in the summer: 1. The people I love being together. This happens on two fronts. Our staff is so busy doing ministry during the summer, that our schedules are difficult to coordinate. There are some staff members, even those I work with the closest who I will not see for three weeks at a time. The other miss are the people in my congregation who have a variety of kids activities and vacations as well. I just miss the congregation and staff I love during the summer. 2. Sitting outside. There are too midwest nemeses to enjoying an evening on your back porch this time of year. One is the skin-melting humidity that absolutely makes outside unbearable and the other are these pesky little things called mesquitoes. "Why don't you put repellent on?" you say. So I can make my skin a greasy mess of sweat and oil? No thanks. Longing for those days in fall when the cool weather has run off the mesquitoes and a sweatshirt can keep me plenty warm. 3. Soup. Yes, I said it and I'm the guy who thinks that a meal doesn't count unless there is meat. But I also love a variety of hot soups, stews and chilis and you just can't eat them in the summer time. It makes my head sweat. Well, that's it. If you were reading this post hoping for something insightful...well sorry...maybe I'll think something brilliant when things cool off a bit.
Monday, June 17, 2013
Some things die hard, like old versions of the Scriptures for preachers who have notes, underlines, and coffee stains marking a favorite Bible or two (okay, I have 17 at last count). For 28 years I have preached out of the NIV (New International Version) that was brand new 29 years ago. At the time, someone said that it was written at about a fifth grade reading level making it very understandable. I was hooked. I've always leaned toward the simple. But it was not just simple, it was a good translation by some scholarly people. It has served me well over the years, but on June 30, I will preach my last sermon from this preaching companion. I'm switching to the ESV (English Standard Version) that came out in 2001. You may wonder be wondering why. There are three simple reasons. 1. The people at NIV came out with an updated version in 2011 and stopped production and sales of their 1984 NIV. I'm not a fan of some of the stuff they've done with the 2011 edition (who am I - not a scholar for sure, but I believe they compromised a little with some translating! These are not "crucial" issues. The NIV is still a perfectly acceptable translation of the Word of God and if you like it...keep with it. For me however, I began searching for another version. I considered the New King James Version because I grew up with the original (yes 1611 version) as a kid and like it poetic symetry. But alas, thou woulds't be more confused if I preached from it. I also like the New Living Translation - very readable, but it's not as scholarly. Hey, it's still the Bible and if you like it, go for it. It just leans more toward readability than word translation, so I searched on. Finally, I came to the ESV. I like it because we have become a going deeper in the word church and it is the most literally translated Bible on the market. You'd have to go to the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts to get closer to the original. 2. The people who publish ESV are easier to deal with in quoting their sources and reproducing them. The publishers at Crossway seem to give permissions to use their material with less restrictions than the Zondervan folks. Since we are using the Scriptures more and more for on-line communication, the Eastview app, and a whole host of publishing things, we find this a better fit for us. 3. Change is good sometimes. Honestly, I like my old familiar Bible. We have journeyed many sermon together. I have studied it's pages and still have notes that are useful. But a Bible can become too familiar. Since I've picked up my new Bible, it's like discovering the Word of God all over again. It's fresh because the pages are all free from notes, etc... I begin another journey with a Bible that I hope will last me another 30 years. The implication for our congregation is that you'll hear sermons from the ESV not the NIV. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BUY A NEW BIBLE! You may just hear some of the wording sound a little different. Well, that's enough for a Monday morning. Whatever the version, we are so blessed to hold in our hands what "regular people" never held in their hands for the first 1600 years of the church. The only versions of the Bible were in churches and synagogues. Don't take you Bible for granted today. It is a great gift!
at 8:10 AM
Monday, June 10, 2013
Heading to Lincoln today for two days of video teaching that our small groups will use for our all church study this fall. When we began to think about how we could teach our church to be more evangelistic or what we call "dangerous witnesses" the word "open" kept coming up. Things like open lives, open arms, open to all, open doors, open mouth...and so was born the theme for our faith-sharing teaching - OPEN. We began to think about those "open" signs in old cafe's back in the day and thought something like that would be a great place to film this. We were blessed to find an old cafe' in Lincoln that is no longer open for business. However,for the next couple of days it's going to be open for God's business as our graphic arts team, video crew, and my dynamic duo of administrative assistant and wife make it look like a real restaurant. All J.K. and I have to is teach 6 really insightful Bible lessons. I really enjoy this part of my job-the camaraderie and mental challenges bring the good kind of kingdom work that can only be described as joy. What mental challenges? Well, you know I can get a little distracted..and that means the cameras, people in the background, the coffee in front of me, and even J.K. just listening can be a distraction. Not to mention I rarely say things the same way twice...so when we cut and our director says - "say that last line, starting with _____, but with more emphasis this time." I usually say, "Huh?" So we pray, and we open the Bible, and we laugh at our mistakes, and we marvel at how the Holy Spirit pulls it all together. Honestly, I can't wait to see the finished product...it won't be long...September 22nd is our starting date. But God is beginning his work for our congregation today.
at 8:30 AM
Monday, June 3, 2013
I thinking about breathing a lot today, because in a few hours, I'm doing a funeral for Becky Stubbs - a great young lady who struggled her entire life with Cystic Fibrosis and never truly breathed deeply, but breathed deep of God's love through Jesus and the Spirit (breath) who lived in her. There was a breath of fresh air yesterday in our congregation as I announced that the elders have committed to give away the amount of money in our general fund giving that is over our projected budget need. As of Sunday, that total was around $350K and I can't wait to see what it is at the end our fiscal year (end of August). We are being generous because God has been generous with us and we are trusting He will be generous in meeting our future needs. I'm catching my breath ahead of a really busy summer in which we will start a new study (Unchained - study through Paul's prison epistles) in July, host the Global Leadership Summit (video site) in August, and vision Sunday August 18th. Even now we are writing and planning our video taping of the all church study for this Fall. whatever you're doing today...take a deep breath and thank God for it... Here is an excerpt from Becky's funeral sermon: Psalm 150:6 - "Let everything that has breath praise The Lord. Praise The Lord!" Becky may not have been able to breathe deeply, but she added her praise to God with every other breathing thing in this world. And today, in spite of our sadness at losing her in an earthly sense, we too can be those who breathe and praise The Lord. And we can be sure that because this breath, this wind of the Holy Spirit filled Becky's soul while she was with us, that His presence in eternity is allowing her to breathe more deeply of the love of God than you and I can even imagine. So we keep breathing and we wait for our last breath - that will actually be our first eternally in Christ!
Monday, May 20, 2013
It was around 2:00 p.m. when I sat down to lunch with my family yesterday afternoon...and though I had washed my hands, I noticed that there was still a smudge of oil on my hand from yesterday's services at Eastview (at first, I thought it was the greasy taco I was eating - yea...taco bell drive through - ugh). I was reminded of the powerful healing prayer time we held at the end of each service yesterday morning. With containers of olive oil, kleenex, and kneeling benches, the elders stood at the front of the auditorium and ministered as shepherds to the flock. And the sheep came...hundreds of them. And we prayed for healing... ...for a baby who is showing some developmental deficiencies...for an older woman who is losing her eyesight...for way too many depressed people...for marriages...for a little girl to walk...for healing from a recurring sin...for the habit of cutting to go away...for feelings of unworthiness...for a Down's syndrome child...for children with autism... I could go on. In a word, it was powerfully healing. You may ask, "was everyone healed?" I would say "Yes". Maybe they won't all receive the exact request in the exact way, but each did submit by faith to the only one who can save them. This is called faith and faith in God is healing in and of itself. When I turn to Him for my answers, for my pain, for my future - I know He loves me and will guide me and ultimately heal me! So I would say everyone who came forward yesterday was healed. And when I saw the oil on my hands, I was reminded of the pain I had prayed over. Perhaps I should put oil on my hand every Sunday to remind me that I'm preaching to people who are hurting. In fact, this is why I preach. We all need healing and have received it through Jesus...who has blood on His hands.
Monday, May 13, 2013
Not many are surprised to hear that I need visuals to think. In a crazy way, my ADD mind works best on a white board with scribbles everywhere. It helps me to eliminate and move and add things visually as thoughts pop in and out of my mind. So, when we go on retreat like I did last week, it's known that I'll need large wall post-it notes and markers. I have even been known to construct a big post-it from an entire pad of small ones! From the first meeting on, my hotel room is usually wall-papered with notes about anything and everything that we brainstorm together and ideas that make the cut. Fortunately in Dallas, our leadership team had some nice weather to put these notes on the windows of a back patio at the hotel. We spent hours thinking/praying/writing/dreaming for God. It was interesting to notice those around us (passing through the area) take note that our meeting resembled one of their boring business meetings, etc. we had Bibles, laughter, and passion! At the end of five days of planning we have 18 post-it notes filled with everything (everything I can think of) about Eastview Christian Church, both now and into the year 2030. The final one was one we titled "Holy Spirit Impressions". We prayed earlier that God would allow us to say, "It seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit" like the disciples did in Acts. Same Spirit, why not!? Any way, now we are listening to the Spirit as to what to do with these notes. In case you're wondering, I didn't lug these home, I simply took pics on my iPad for further reference.
at 10:36 AM
Monday, May 6, 2013
I'm reading through Joshua these days for personal(ie. not for writing a sermon, or writing a lesson, or searching for some good leadership stuff)time in the Word. It's giving me a lot to chew on and the story of Joshua and the Israelites taking the city of Ai in the Promised Land is filled with all kinds of lessons. You'll remember that the first assault on Ai failed in Joshua 7 because Achan disobeyed God and all of Israel paid for it. They got beat in their second battle in the land! But after they figured out why God didn't help them win, they got rid of the sin and went back for a second try! You can't win a battle for God without explicitly obeying God! That's one lesson. But wait, there's more. By God's command, they attack Ai again and as God promised they completely destroy Ai - this is not surprising, but HOW they won surprises and encourages me! They did it with strategy using real live men to accomplish the feat! This is incredibly relevant for those of us who want to obey God and be used of Him for the victories in His kingdom. Let's be clear, God won the battle, but the detail on how they won was extensive. Joshua chose the best fighters (30,000 of them) then he sent them at night to sneak behind Ai. Then the next morning, the rest of the troops took up battle in front of the city. The men of Ai came out to fight and as a decoy (planned in advance) the men of Israel fled. This caused all the fighting men in Ai to chase Israel and leave the city unprotected. Then the 30,000 men behind the city charged in and set the whole place on fire! When the Ai army looked and saw the smoke of their city -they freaked. When the Israelite army saw the smoke, they stopped running and started fighting. Result: Ai is wiped out! God's people win. Question: Why did the Israelites come up with such an extensive plan when God could have just taken out Ai with no army at all? Why the big strategy of ambush, when God could have just caused them to win in a straight up fight? Why would God let Joshua give specific detailed orders for the battle? Here's my conclusion. God is always the reason for the victory, but in His kingdom He uses specific people and their efforts and plans (as long as they are lined up with his will)to win his battles! This means that what we do matters somehow. God can win without us...He just doesn't! This is an astounding reality and blessing. So, I'm with our leadership team planning, praying, dreaming, praying some more,and visiting other churches this week in Dallas. Will God's church at Eastview prevail without our leadership? Absolutely YES! But will God use the stuff He guides us to do to make it happen. Yes. So God will win and some of the strategies we dream will be the details he uses to accomplish it. Don't ask me how...it just is!
at 5:33 PM
Monday, April 29, 2013
It is good to be back in Normal and almost normal sleep schedule. I'm fully immersed back into the ministry that God has called me to here, but below I offer some reflections from the India trip - some work the Spirit is doing in my heart as a result: 1. I am praying for Ajai and Indu Lall everyday. Their ministry and vision and impact for Christ is nothing short of amazing and I want to lift them up before the FATHER! 2. How long did it take for the apostle Paul take to recuperate from his missionary journeys that included ships, walking, beatings, jail sentences, riots, writing the Bible, and preaching until midnight! I'll bet getting back into the right sleep schedule was not his main concern. I also think that worship at his home church (Antioch) must have been pure bliss as worshiping with my family at Eastview was for me yesterday. 3. How can I have the evangelistic intensity of someone who might be killed for preaching when no one is really threatening my life? 4. The Bible really is the living Word of God...every nation, every tongue, every life is impacted by preaching of this word. 5. Communion with believers tears down every language, cultural, social, and racial barrier. There is nothing more moving to me in foreign countries than to partake of the body and blood of Jesus. No words necessary - totally equal under God's grace! Our unity is sealed in this worship moment. 6. Preaching in a korte is probably one of the most comfortable things to preach in even if my sons both said I wore a dress to church yesterday. 7. Strategy is not a bad word in church. The ministry of CICM accomplishes much for the kingdom because they really understand prayer and being led by the Spirit....AND they have a strategy for reaching millions with the gospel. Just because God is doing all the work doesn't mean that we can't make a plan. Somehow he uses our ideas for His purpose..don't overthink it, just do it.
Monday, April 22, 2013
Cleaning up a little after a 10 hours train ride from Damoh to Agra that I'm not sure I can fully describe. We were privileged to participate in the graduation last night of 50-60 young men who have trained and are now going into ministry. Seven of them were headed to Punjab, the state on the Pakistan border and some of the most dangerous ministry in the world. I was humbled to challenge these young preachers with a sermon that I felt needed to challenge them in a great way. It was an honor to preach with Ajai interpreting and I can't wait to have him in the states at Eastview in October. The ceremony lasted from 6:30 to 9:00 and then we ate dinner. Our train was supposed to leave at 12:45 a.m., but ended up not leaving until 1:30. So we were wiped out and then we boarded the train. I really don't mean to be insulting - so please don't respond as to how spoiled I am - I know it, but the car we piled inot was dirty, and smelly, and we each had a sleeping space that was really small. By the grace of God I got about 3-4 hours of interrupted sleep and then watched the countryside roll by as we made our way north. A short stop (3-4 hours) here to see the Taj Mahal and then we'll head to Delhi for one more day before heading home. It's going to take a couple of weeks for me to download all that my soul has taken in these ten days. I'm inspired, challenged, saddened, encouraged, etc... There are faces and experiences that I enjoyed at the beginning of this trip that I will have to review to remember in my prayers. This is where a journal comes in handy. As we headed into yesterday evening, I tried to pray for Eastview at the times of our service starting back home. Really missed being there, but glad to have shared ministry here. This is the most I have ever preached on a missions trip. I was able to preach five times to four congregations translated into four languages (Hindi, Bundeli, Burmese, and Nepalese). What an honor for a kid from Indiana who wanted to preach. One more cool part of the story from two nights ago...17 people gave their lives to Jesus and will be baptized in the following weeks. Someday in heaven I look forward to seeing how every person touched every other person in the kingdom of God to make an eternal difference. It's awesome to think that God would use us to reach us!
at 1:23 AM
Saturday, April 20, 2013
That's pronounced boon-day-lee and it is a language spoken in the central part of India. What we learned today is that there are an estimated 50 million people who speak this language, and until 2010 there had never been anything written about Jesus in their language! This is where the ministry of CICM comes in. Part of their operation here is to publish Christian books and materials for Christians in India. Most of this is in Hindi, which the majority of people speak, but three years ago, they initiated a translation project that gave the Bundeli speaking people a New Testament in their own language. So today, in their publishing house we saw actual handwritten manuscript translations of this Bible that were part of the process. Think about it..a language spoken for hundreds of years suddenly has the word of God and the story of His Son Jesus at their disposal. Anybody out there guilty of taking their Bible for granted? 50 million people did not have access to Jesus in their language and now they do!!! But wait, that's not all - the story gets better! Tonight we drove about five miles outside of Damoh to worship with about 150 people from two village churches. Several years ago, they were persecuted and driven from their homes because of their faith (their homes were burned) - but the church survived. But catch this, as I was getting ready to preach I noticed one of the Bibles from the print shop - a Bundeli Bible! I asked Ajai if these were Bundeli speaking people and they were and my sermon was translated in their language and they read from their Bibles! One more cool thing. The cover of this Bible has the pictures of several Bundeli speaking people and and older gentleman from the picture was worshiping tonight with us. He was the first convert of his village to Christianity and is now an elder in that church. For real..can't make this up.
at 10:56 AM
Friday, April 19, 2013
We arrived at the aiport yesterday morning and were greeted by Ajai Lall and his staff ahead of our two hour drive to Bal Bhavan. He is such a gracious man and so hospitable to us. We had some great conversation and took in the sights and sounds of central India as we did (even saw some black faced monkeys along the road where we took some pictures - something you don't see everyday in Illinois). A little after noon, we arrived at the children's home where 100 former orphans stay in a place called Bal Bhavan. The literal interpretation of these world are "children's palace" - Their tag line - where every girl is a princess and every boy is a prince. We were greeted by all children with the traditional flower necklaces and hugs. Very cool. Then we ate lunch and caught up with all of the staff. Ajai's children all married Americans and all of them are on staff in some capacity and my paths have crossed with some of them through my youth ministry days. Of course, Ajai and I have known some of the same people - including a couple named Philip and Margaret Ho who were missionaries who came to my church when I was a boy and are still living. Philip is in his mid 80's still preaching the gospel near Tibet! The rest of the day was emotionally tough. We sat for three hours as some of the pastors spoke of the conditions of ministry as they face persecution from militant Hindu extremists and others who would destroy their ministries literally. Yesterday we prayed over pastors whose wives had been killed, houses had been burned, father were killed, wives were raped, and families disowned them. Yeah....it's that real and it breaks your heart. But you know what is amazing?...none have given up on God or preaching about His son, Jesus. In fact all of them have baptized into the thousands of people because of their courageous faith. Our vision statement at Eastview is a "Fearless Church of Christ followers whose ridiculous love and dangerous witness are irresitible". I met some people yesterday who are the embodiment of this statement. And I pray that my faith is as strong. Well, the emotional gut wrenching of those stories was healed by the evening meal and children's presentation where the kids celebrated the end of their school year with singing, dancing, report cards, and presents. Also they celebrated the birthdays of the kids of that month. It was truly joyous to see these beautiful kids smile and laugh and be filled with joy. Even now, tears come to my eyes as I think of the redemption that has taken place in them through Jesus and his church here in Damoh. Someday in heaven, all of us in Christ - the persecuted, the unwanted, the unlovely, the hurting, the lonely - the forgiven children of God will meet Jesus face to face and there we'll be such joy - and we'll dance, and sing, and eat cake - and we'll stay there forever!
at 7:13 PM
Thursday, April 18, 2013
Yesterday afternoon we arrived at our hotel in Delhi in time to take a short nap and get ready for a visit to a church made up of Burmese refugees who fled the persecution of the government 8 years ago. They are not given any legal status here, just the equivalent of our green cards and so the only work they have is underpaid factory work where they are taken advantage of. Last night Pastor Halomon and his wife Zhiy assembled their church to worship with us and give me another chance to preach. I can't describe in words the traffic in Delhi at 6:30 p.m. I'm not exaggerating when I say it took us an hour and a half plus to go about 20 kilometers. This is in the city of New Delhi mind you. Simple more cars, taxis, buses, motorcycles, bicycles, etc. than you can imagine. Think Chicago rush hour traffic with 8 lanes and motorcycles making lanes wherever there was a space! Crazy humanity. Well, after we got near the location of the church (a rented basement looking room where 50-60 Christians were gathered and worshiping) we walked about 1/4 mile on narrow, dusty, broken streets with this cheerful and gracious pastor. The joy and love we felt as we clapped along to songs of praise we didn't know was a blessing. It was as if we stepped into a little section of a Burmese Christian village where the pain, poverty and hardships of the real outside world was removed. I shared with them that we all hope in the truth of the resurrection of Jesus (preached from I Corinthians 15). I suspect they hope in a different way than I do, and I'm challenged in my faith by them! It's almost 4:00 in the morning now and we're heading back to the airport and the school in Damoh in a few hours. More to come.
at 5:17 PM
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Today found us back at the Darjeeling International Bible Academy where about 25 young men are training to be in ministry. I was privileged again to teach these students in a classroom setting. My heart of course is large for preaching and to be able to encourage both the students and about 10 local pastors (by local I mean anywhere from 100 kilometers and in) in their preaching from II timothy 4 was a thrill. After teaching we had opportunity to sit and talk with these pastors through an interpreter. Each of there stories was of incredible family conversion from either Hinduism or Islam and most through miraculous healing in Jesus name! These men are heroes of mine, living out a tough ministry and filled with joy doing it! After the pastors, we got to meet each of the students and here their stories of how they became students at the college. Some are born in Nepal and Bhutan and heading back there to do ministry! I heard over 25 stories today of God's grace and work of salvation in the lives of people. A great reminder that God is the God of testimonies. He is working all over this globe! One last thing to share, one of the pastors taught me how to say "God bless you in Nepalese" - say it with me: Pravu tapailai ashish diyun. He blesses in any language!
Tuesday, April 16, 2013
Sitting on the patio with birds chirping and an attendant cleaning up from last night's rain. He is using a make shift broom from some dried palmetto branches to "sweep" the leaves off of the grassy courtyard. It really stormed hard last night, even lost the power around 3:00 a.m. We all slept well (the word coma comes to mind) but not all through the night. Steve Wadhams (my roomy) flipped on the lights around 4:30 a.m. or so. Then I introduced him to some of the best coffee in the world. Bottled water in these hot water maker (that basically boils the water of a coil in the bottom of the carafe - don't know what they call 'em, but I remember them from when I was in England - they use it for tea)over Nescafe' and one packet of sugar. Don't know if it's because it's third world or not, but it's really awesome coffee and a good wake up 4 hours before breakfast. Now, I've studied, read, written some and I'm ready to eat. Speaking of food, the food here is great (but I'm really not that objective I like food). Had some pasty red stuff yesterday that Daniel called "pickle" that was spicy and great on their version of omelets. Of course every meat here is covered in some sort of sauce that includes curry with rice and what looks like yellowish mashed potatoes. This stuff is smashed chick peas and is awesome (but I"m the only one who thinks so). Had some goat on the plane and some fish and they both tasted like curry. Last night we had some chicken and veggies served on a hot iron skillet (fajita style like at Mexican restaurants) but the king of the meal was the nan. The flat bread here that is fried and covered with butter. Looks like I'm not going to lose weight while I'm here! Great stuff...don't worry for me, I won't starve. Plus Steve and Tyler are loaded with granola bars and stuff. Man, is it time for breakfast yet?
at 9:30 PM
It's now around 8:30 Tuesday evening in Darjeeling India, and I barely made it through supper! I was literally falling asleep at the table which is cute when you're a one year old but not so much when the missionary is telling his story! I had to walk around to wake up! We figured it had been 40+ hours of travel with no real opportunity to sleep. We arrived at the hotel (a really cool Indiana Jones type place with palm trees and a courtyard) at 3:30 after the flight from Delhi hoping to catch a quick nap, but Daniel (the missionary who I was falling asleep on later) told us they had changed the church service to the afternoon instead of evening. So we went to church. Here's why I don't listen when Christians complain about music styles - everytime I'm on a mission trip, they don't sing my style (or my language) and the Spirit still moves me! Anyway, I preached through an interpreter and I'm pretty sure he made the sermon much better than it was. There are these times where you say five English words and then the interpreter rambles on for four sentences. Pretty sure he's cleaning it up! Got some tweets about some earthquake supposedly over here? Didn't feel anything, but you know how it is...when I travel there's probably gonna be something! Heading to bed...and I'll probably get up at 3:00 a.m. but at least I'm sleeping in a bed!
at 10:14 AM
Monday, April 15, 2013
Well, we arrived in Delhi at 3:30 a.m. local time and were greeted with traditional flower necklaces (think Hawaiian leis, but bulkier and roses) by some local pastors and some guys that work at CICM. Rai and Daniel seem to be the main leaders. Since we have about 9 hours until our next flight to Darjeeling, they drove us to a YWCA in Delhi to grab some shut eye for a few hours, a quick breakfast and then back to the airport. Initial impressions - the air quality here is really bad (I've been to Mexico City and I think it's worse) - looks like a smoky haze everywhere. Also, the pastors here are real servants. Everyone is in good health and good spirits thus far...just don't feel like sleeping at this point. Crazy how the body clock rules everything else. I'm going to try and write some and then read until I get sleepy. Hope that works.
at 6:21 PM
Well, we have arrived safely and are enjoying a very strong americano in an airport cafe'. We basically lost a whole day flying over here. We left Chicago at 8:50 Sunday evening (14th) and landed at 7:30 Monday evening in the United Arab Emirates. I don't know whether to eat a donut or a hamburger. Which time zone should my appetite be in? These are the important mission questions I'm sure Paul and Barnabus contemplated. Met a group of three Christian girls heading to India and then Nepal for a women's conference. Cool to have other Christians on mission in a definitively Muslim world. The flight even began with a prayer for travel safety from the Koran. Never have flown Etihud airlines before, but it was a nice plane. Of course, I tried the lamb for dinner last evening. Short layover here and then to Delhi. Check in again soon.
at 11:38 AM
Sunday, April 14, 2013
Usually, I write a blog on Monday mornings, but I'm getting ready to board an all night flight to a place I've never been, so I thought I'd take a few minutes to update the blog. Tyler Hari, Bill Troyer and Steve Wadhams are my traveling brothers for this trip to India to encourage our ministry partners through CICM and also listen for the Holy Spirit's movement in our hearts and the ministries God may be calling us to join with. By God's grace, I am going to be privileged to speak at the graduation ceremony of the academy in Damoh next Sunday to encourage some guys who really understand Dangerous Witness as they head out to preach the word and plant churches. I will do my best to give regular updates on this trip and hopefully share some cool cultural insights as well as how God is moving in our midst. By the way, I learned in security in conversation with an Indian man that you can't just jump out with I'm going to India to preach about Jesus (don't worry, I didn't), but I did kinda stutter my way through explaining why I was just going to India for seven days for fun! Tyler says he often says he's a teacher or religious teacher. I've decided I'm going to say I'm a translator of ancient sacred languages...unless of course I freeze again! See you on the other side.
at 7:26 PM
Monday, April 8, 2013
In light of yesterday's sermon where I spoke about being an alien in a strange land (Christians in American culture) and about the need for us to continue to tell the truth even when the culture doesn't (we don't speak the language); I thought it would be appropriate for a few words as to how exactly we can do this (without being jerks in the name of Jesus). The thing I have found to be most effective is to try and shift the conversation to the heart of the matter with gentle yet piercing questions and comments. Satan is good at using every tool available to shift the conversation in such a way that gains consensus with a selfish culture. Remember he is the father of lies according to Jesus...so his deception is his personality. Here are some ways in which he has shifted conversation in our lifetimes. 1) Abortion - shifting the conversation from murdering a baby to women's rights. 2) Homosexuality - shifting the conversation from harmful behavior to a civil rights issue. 3) Prayer in Schools - shifting from a basic belief in God by most Americans to the rights of atheists. 4) Church leadership - shifting from men and women called to serve God to the scandals of SOME within religion. 5) Christianity in general - shifting from the faith of two billion people worldwide that crosses every race to a plot by the rich and powerful to remain that way. 6) Sexuality - shifting the conversation from right and wrong and the harmful results of sex out of context to it is a fun game to be played by all. 7) Life - shifting from being thankful and content with what I have to an insatiable desire to continually need more. I could go on...but I'll stop there. Jesus was the master at getting the conversation back to the heart of the matter. I'll give one example. In Mark 11:27 the Jewish leaders asked him where he got his authority clear the temple. Jesus knew their main concern was to keep their power and that Jesus was a threat to that. So Jesus shifted the conversation towards God and his heavenly kingdom...by asking a question: "John's baptism, was it from heaven or from men?" In one sentence, he pierced their heart, got them thinking and talking, and pretty much kept them quiet. Here are some conversation shifters that spoken in the right tone have been valuable in shifting words and talk to the spiritual heart of things. There are more, just a few examples from conversations I've actually had. 1) "There is no God" - "That is quite the faith statement, when did you come to believe that?" "Why do you believe God doesn't exist?" "What do you think about people who believe other things?" "What if you're wrong?" 2) "I was born gay" - "How do you know?" "At one point you say, you thought you were straight, but not now, what has changed?" "What do you think the limitations are for a gay couple in regards to family?" "Why do you think God calls homosexuality a sin?" 3) "when a woman's life is in jeopardy, an abortion is okay" - "Do you think that unborn baby is alive?" "What if you knew that baby was going to be the next great doctor, world leader, or inventor?" "Do you think humans have the ability to determine which lives are more valuable than others?" The point is that as Christians, we know the truth, but to simply say, "you're wrong" is a conversation ender. Maybe we aliens should see behind the cultures language to it's heart and shift the conversations there. Praying we all will.
at 10:58 AM
Monday, April 1, 2013
I had the opportunity to be out of town this weekend and ran into a couple of demonstrations that have grabbed the headlines lately. Both were relatively small, but the messages grieved my heart as I thought of the Christ whose resurrection we were ready to celebrate. The first group at the state capital was made up of about 25 people with signs urging the Supreme Court to legalize gay marriage. They held a sign the said, "all love is love". Right next to them, were some guys with automatic weapons draped around their necks, American flags and a sign that said. "This is America and this is my right." How does a Christian respond to these protests and signs? Well, here are some thoughts that stirred in my spirit. 1. A culture in which everyone focuses on indidividual rights will be defined as selfish. In fact, this is what America is..we have become a people that are only concerned about getting what we want. Media cleverly has diverted many conversations to this mantra that is near and dear to the American heart. This was used to make abortion not about killing babies and about a woman's right. It is being used to divert the social implications of gay marriage into the rights of people to choose a lifestyle. It is being used to argue about who should have guns and what kind of guns they should have. Jesus, the most powerful person who ever lived gave up his rights to become a man and submit to death on the cross. His church is the answer for this problem of rights because in it's true form, everyone looks out for the needs of everyone else, not their own. 2. A culture which difuses the word "love" to mean any emotion that makes me happy will eventually not be capable of loving anyone. In fact, love is not love as defined by our music, movies, television shows, and entertainment industry in general. According to Jesus, love is not an emotion, it is a decision to put someone else first. Love is defined pretty clearly in I Corinthians 13 and can be used as a guide to determine if you are "in love" or not. True love must answer to all of these questions: "Is this patient?" "Is this kind?" "Is this out of envy?" "Is this self-seeking?" "Is this boastful?" "Is this rude?" "Is this easily angered?" "Is this keeping record of wrongs?" "is this delighting in evil?" "Is this protecting?" "Is this trusting?" "Is this hopeful?" "Is this persevering?" Answering one of these questions in the wrong way eliminates the emotion from being true love. Jesus said, "True love is this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Of course he did. So what should a Christian (or pastor) do when he sees people picketing for things they don't even know about? Pray for conversations that will allow us to talk about Christ with them. They will never give up their rights until they hear how Jesus gave up His for them and they will never know what love is until they are loved by Him. Jesus is the only chance this culture has. And that's why we are called to be witnesses for Him.
Monday, March 25, 2013
I was excited Sunday for the maiden voyage of what I am calling the "10 minute shepherd walk". As you Eastview Christians know, I routinely meet visitors, people newer to Eastview, and those in need of prayer at the cross in our auditorium after each service and while I love this, I found my extrovert heart needing more. It was suggested by a friend that I could walk through the halls of the church in about 10 minutes and still get to the cross to greet visitors. So I tried it Sunday and it was awesome! I got to say "hi" to so many people Sunday, giving each a high five, a hug, or a pat on the shoulder. There really isn't enough time to have long conversations, but long enough to share the joy of being in fellowship with each other! I still had time to get back to my office to pray, veg, and get ready to preach again. So now, every Sunday you can see me at "the well" or "the cross" - sounds very biblical and it was fun. Obviously, Easter Sunday is upon us and we celebrate because of The Christ who spent time at the well talking with people the rest of society had no time for and then went to the cross to die for the sins of all mankind. Are you praying for friends, family, and neighbors to be at some church on Sunday to here of the greatest thing ever - resurrection from death?!!!! If you bring an unbelieving friend to Eastview Sunday, introduce them to me I'd love to meet them, but more importantly I'm praying they are introduced to Jesus through the message and through His church celebrating His victory!
at 2:14 PM
Monday, March 18, 2013
Since today begins our annual "Power of the Word" conference at Eastview, I have been thinking a lot about preaching and why I preach the way I do. THIS IN NO WAY IMPLIES that the way I preach is the right way. One thing that intrigues me about preachers is the incredible variety and diversity in delivery, voice, background, personality, etc... I believe God uses everyone he has called to preach for His purposes...and here are some things I feel pretty strongly about: 1. I don't put Scriptures on our video screens because I think it causes people to rely on us to get their Bible reading. I prefer everyone having their own Bible - this is why we give Bibles away for free. 2. I hold a Bible (a rather large, old-fashioned black one) when I preach. It is a visual of authority - not mine, but the word of God - that an i pad just doesn't give. I use my ipad for notes, but read out of and hold the Bible. 3. I read the entire text every time I preach. It is the word of God and has inherent power simply in the reading...I'm not going to miss that! 4. I use Bible words to make the points and subpoints of my sermon. I think that using Bible words instead of my words again reinforces the Bible as the authoritative word. 5. I think the Bible is the story, so I don't use a lot of illustrative stories for application. Again, a story about my aunt is fine, but it rarely makes the point that the story of Scripture does. 6. I think each gathering of listeners for a sermon has a different experience even though I have preached the same sermon. This means that each of the three services I preach at on Sundays has a different feel and result. This is why we don't do "video sites" because it misses the live element of preaching 7. I think preachers should try and preach the whole Bible. There are many passages preachers will never preach unless they systematically work through a book of the Bible and tackle every verse. Of the six years I have been Sr. Pastor we have spent over two of those years in Deuteronomy and Genesis AND I have not gotten bored, nor has the congregation. God's word - all of it - it amazingly powerful and interesting. 8. I don't take many preaching breaks. I preach as much as I can because God has given me this gift and trust. Some say I should pace myself for the long haul, but I don't know how long I'll live..so I'm going to preach as much as I can now. 9. A sermon that is not "entertaining" is just as powerful (if not more as) as one that is less "exciting". I don't want people to say, "that was funny" or "that was awesome". I want them to say, "God has spoken" and not everything God speaks is "entertaining" - it's just true!
at 10:54 AM
Monday, March 11, 2013
My wife told me to just relax and not be critical, but I couldn't help it. I'm probably the only Christian in America who is not a fan of the blockbuster "The Bible" production on History channel. It's not that I really don't love the fact that much of America is tuning in to potentially see the Bible in action, it's just that I'd like it to be a little better representation. Again, I'm glad that the Bible is getting headlines..it is the greatest book in the history of the world and my favorite...but a few observations about "The Bible" miniseries verses the actual Bible. 1. The mini-series is not very bibically accurate. Last night I watched both episodes back to back and was absolutely dismayed at how they shoved many Scriptural realities into the same scene thereby changing the facts of the Bible. I don't mind "artistic license", but something simple like David being annointed by the prophet Samuel alone with the sheep is just not the story of the Bible - in fact it was before his father, brothers and all of the elders in Bethlehem. A serious miss and this is only one of them. In another, it was Samson's mother who influenced him to turn himself in to the Philistines when in fact the tribe of Judah bound him and turned him in before he broke the ropes and killed a thousand Philistines. I don't understand how the producers could decide to alter the facts of the Bible in order to tell a more interesting story. 2. The mini-series is not very historically accurate. I know we live in a "politcally correct" climate where every race needs to be represented, but Samson was Jewish, he was not African and Saul was not a white dude with an English accent. I actually appreciate the different races represented in the angelic messengers throughout because we are never really told what the angels look like (skin color) and we can assume that God has the same variety of angelic beings as he has in human beings. But if anything, the producers should pick one race for all Israelite people represented in this series and let them all look alike - they were all descendants of Abraham. 3. The mini-series is not as exciting as the actual Bible. The Bible does not need anyone's help in being intriguing, interesting, filled with action, etc... I felt that if this series just told the Bible story as accurately as possible the action would be so much better. For instance, Samson's first wife getting her father's house burned down only makes sense with him outwitting the attendants at his wedding. Well, there you have it...don't be too mad at me. I'm just ultra-protective of the Word of God and this doesn't cut it for me. But I'll watch the rest of them.
at 10:02 AM
Monday, March 4, 2013
Yesterday, I was privileged to lead an ordination service for one of our staff members. This is a time when someone who is called to ministry has the spiritual leaders of a church pray over them and set them aside to a life of working for the kingdom of Christ. We find Scriptural basis in Acts when the men of Antioch laid hands on Barnabus and Saul before sending them off on their first mission and Paul also mentions that they laid hands on Timothy near the beginning of his ministry. We really don't know a bunch about how the biblical practice went. There was physical laying on of hands and prayer to be sure. These days the ceremony is relative simple: A Scriptural challenge (Isaiah 52:7 was yesterdays text- beautiful feet of those telling good news), some questions of commitment about ministry (kinda like vows taken at a wedding), and then praying over the person with hands on their shoulders or head. Every time we do this, I flash back to my ordination 28 years ago this month! It is a truly humbling and scary experience. You feel like God wants to use you for his service, but you're not sure you're useful. Yesterday I was reminded again of God's faithfulness in the journey. As we prayed yesterday, I wondered what the journey for our staff member would be and how God would use them throughout the years. At any rate, it is a life-changing moment for sure.
at 12:01 PM
Monday, February 25, 2013
A couple of conversations the past two weeks have caused me to think about how many people hear a sermon. Often, based on a life circumstance or journey, a listener will focus on something the preacher says that is not really what the sermon is about. Let me give you an example or two: 1. In a sermon about the authority of God's word, a preacher my say, "We stand against divorce because God says he hates it". Now immediately those who have experienced divorce may be offended because theirs was "allowable" by Scripture and they may even take the preacher to task. 2. In a sermon on Christian family, a preacher may say, "God designed a family to have a mom and a dad and kids, and that is the best way to do family". Suddenly, single parent radars go off, feeling as though the pastor has made them a second rate family as they struggle to do their best. 3. In a sermon on struggling with sin, a preacher may say, "I sin every day even though I don't want to". Suddenly, people in the seats think everything from "I wonder what sins he commits" to "we pay him to be holy, why is he still sinning?" Suddenly the focus is on the sins of the pastor and not how the Holy Spirit guides us through these struggles of the flesh. My point is that there are always a multitude of things not said in every sermon because time does not allow for the preacher to explain in detail every theological nuance of the day's teaching. So, here's the best way to get past these distracting phrases and what is left unsaid about them. First, try to focus on the text and the points the pastor is making based on his week of study, prayer, and preparation. Often a word of The Lord is missed because we are listening for what we want to hear and not what God wants to say. Second, if there are things you hear in the sermon that are not fully explained, do some biblical research (eg. look up "divorce" in a Bible concordance and read the Scriptures where divorce is mentioned). I say often when asked about my opinion on some topic, "Whatever the Bible says about that, I believe that." Third, ask your preacher to explain but do so in love. Don't assume the worst of the preacher (ie. you have bad theology) but give him the benefit of the doubt (maybe he has a different context, or I heard it wrong). In short, don't allow the things not said in a sermon to drown out the things that are preached from the Word of God.