Archive for July, 2013

I want to propose a hypothetical scene. It could be any host of issues, pro-life, racial equality and harmony, the relationship of the church to gays, or a number of other subjects. It is hypothetical, but it could be happening in any city across America, and for that matter around the world. The Bible teaches that there is a “Way” to God, and that Jesus is that way. The Bible declares that the road that leads to destruction is wide and many travel on it.

So let’s assume those last two statements are true. (I believe they are, but I hope some read this who may not). So people are traveling down that road headed to destruction, and on each side of the road are people who claim to be followers of Jesus. On one side are the folks with the signs, “God hates . . .” and you fill it in with the particular group. Let’s say for illustration purposes, “God hates gays,” or maybe even more derogatory terms are used, “God hates fags”. And sprinkled throughout are signs that say in a proliferation of ways, but the message is, “You are going to hell.”

On the other side of the road are some folks who have set up tents, and who have ice coolers with bottled water in them. The only signs are hung on the sides inviting anyone to stop and have a cool drink. Inside they are greeted by folks with warm smiles and handshakes who are willing to share a story of hope. God loves you and we love you. We want you to know that we are all sinners, but God has made a way for us to know Him. Would you like to hear about it?

Now I have given a brief synopsis only of two very different approaches. And I am not inviting a response that tells me whether I am right or wrong about an issue. I am asking, if you claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ, which side of the road would you rather be standing on?

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Friends

Posted: July 30, 2013 in Uncategorized

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One of my favorite verses of scripture is “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Prov. 17:17).I have been blessed with some real good and true friends through the years. Some of them have been seasonal and while we have a good relationship we are separated by time and distance. Some of my best of friends are with the Lord, now.

What grabs my attention about this verse is that a friend loves you all the time. A friend will know your faults, understand that you often stumble. They love you anyway. They love you unconditionally. They love you in the good times and the bad times. They know when to encourage you and when to rebuke you. But what they never do is not love you because they love all the time.

Perhaps nothing hurts more than the sense of loss when you discover someone that you thought was a friend demonstrates that they are not. King David experienced some of that and wrote about it in his Psalms. Some can’t love unconditionally because they are not living in the overflow of God’s unconditional love.

I can remember a speaker a number of years ago at a pastor’s conference making this statement. He was talking about so-called friends that had let him down. They say one thing, and do another. So he said, “I wish I was a country western singer, and then I would write a song entitle, That’s why ‘I love you brother’ is fightin’ words to me. I thank God for the good friends I have had, and I am praying that God help me be a better friend to others in my life.

As I ponder this, I am reminded that there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.(Prov. 18:24)When I consider that in light of Jesus’ words, John 15:13, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” In light of those two verses I believe there is no greater friend than Jesus. I praise God that Jesus is the friend of sinners, because I am one.

I just had this on my heart. I think it is true, in order to have friends, you have to be a friend. That is the only side of the equation I can do anything about. So today, I am going to work at being a better friend.

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I woke up at 3 am this morning. That is not all that unusual for me. At my age I wake up often in the night to go to the restroom, and then usually go back to bed and fall back asleep. This morning I could not go back to sleep. Sometimes I have found that means God is calling me to prayer and that He may have something to say. So at 3:30 I climbed out of bed, got a cup of coffee, and began to pray and read my Bible. I didn’t hear any voice from heaven, or see any vision, or even doze off and have a dream.

But as I prayed, and as I read the Bible, in the midst of the silence of the house, I heard this, “tick,tick,tick . . .” Just as steady and precise as it could be. I wrote an article on logs turning into crocodiles in yesterday’s blog, so I cannot help but think of Captain Hook and his fear of clocks ticking, assuming it might be the crocodile that bit off and swallowed his hand coming (it having also swallowed a clock.)

This ticking, however, was coming from an orange battery powered clock that sits on the table beside the chair where I have been praying and reading. After prayer and the scripture, I read the last chapter in a book entitled, Dreams and Visions, by Doyle. He has a section in that chapter with the title I have given this article. He speaks of time running out. So all of that in the way of introduction to acknowledge that reality.

Time may not really fly, although it speeds by, but it certainly continues to “tick” off of history. Our lives move us second by second close to our own death. History moves second by second closer to the consummation of the ages. As time goes by, the reality is that all around the world there are people who have little or no access to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They will die and spend their eternity in a Christ-less eternity. As I have quoted others before, “The Gospel is not Good News if it doesn’t get there in time.”

Early this morning I have been on the websites, International Mission Board, Frontier Mission, Finishing the Task, and the Joshua Project, to mention a few. The numbers are a “moving target” which is ultimately a good thing. We are making a difference for many. But those who are Unreached with the message, those who have no access to the message, and those who are even under-reached are staggering in volume. And ultimately the problem is there are simply not enough workers in the fields of the harvest. Jesus said that over 2000 years ago, and as the population of the world has mushroomed, the lack of workers is still an issue.

Who will go and tell? Someone else has said, “God is calling more than are going.” We can all pray. Almost all of us can give financially to support the work. Many, maybe even most of us, can go in some form or capacity. For some that might be a career call, for others it may be as a volunteer on shorter trips. But God has called every single church to this task. Pray that we hear and obey. Pray that all will hear before time clicks off and there is no more opportunity. One life indeed matters. Every life indeed matters. You can make a difference.

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My African friends in the bush country of Mali love proverbs. They have one for just about anything that they face in life. One of my favorites is quite simple: “No matter how long a log floats in the river, it never becomes a crocodile.” So I thought, “Why not use the proverbs to teach the Bible?” We had just finished a “feast” celebrating our five years working in the village. We gathered the crowd to share the Gospel.

I reminded them of their proverb. I asked, “What does that mean?” They told me that it meant a person cannot be or become something that they are not. They had often told me the only way to heaven was on the road of righteousness, a very Muslim concept as well as Christian. So I asked, “How can a sinful man become righteous?”

I asked, “If I leave a log in the river for 100 years, can it become a crocodile?” “No,” came the chorus of responses. “If I carve the log to look like a crocodile, and carry it to the witch doctor, can he make it a crocodile?” “No,” the chorus came again. “So there is absolutely no way for a log to be changed into a crocodile?” I asked. “No way.” came the response.

I was holding a large and straight stick in my hand. “If I throw this on the ground, can it become a snake.” “No” came the chorus of voices again. “Are you absolutely sure,” I asked. “Yes, we are sure.”

“You have said to me that a person can never become something they are not. That, is what the Proverb means, you said. If God requires righteousness to get into heaven, we have a problem. We cannot become what we are not.’ “Sine,(a leader) stand up here and help me,” I asked. He stood beside me. I turned him sideways, as I turned sideways and stuck out my belly. “Is there anything different about us,” I asked. “He is fit-te-nay, fit-te-nay.'”, which loosely translates, “a little skinny butt.” they said, “You are ‘billy,billy,bah.” (That translates big and fat.)

“Can Sine ever become ‘billy,billy,bah?” I asked. “If you will feed him,” they said. I used some other silly comparisons they gave. Then finally one said, “He is black, and you are white.”Can I ever become a black man, or he a white man?” “No” they all declared. “In the same way,” I said, “it is impossible for a sinner to transform into a righteous person.”

“I want to tell you a story. This is a story that comes from the Word of God. It is true. There was a prophet named Moses who stood before Pharaoh, the king of Egypt one day, many, many years ago. Egypt had held the people of God in slavery, making the work hard and diligently. God’s people had cried out to God for help, and God sent Moses to deliver them. Moses said to Pharaoh, ‘Let the people go.’ When Pharaoh asked for a sign, Moses too the shepherd’s staff in his hand and threw it down, and it became a snake, just as God had promised. Then Moses picked it up by the tail and it became a stick again.”

The smiles on their faces told me they were getting it. “Only God can do that,” one declared. Quickly I brought them to this place, “Only God can transform a sinner into a righteous man.” And I shared the story of Jesus. “Therefore if any person be in Christ, he is a new creation,” the Bible says.

I have given the Reader’s Digest version of this event. But it illustrates that an average church person without language skills and huge resources can communicate cross culturally with a little planning and effort. You can do this. Your church can do this. I can help you.

Having been in the ministry more years of my life than I haven’t, I am exposed to a lot of points of view. Having been in more of an itinerant ministry for the last few months I have had a lot of time to visit churches, and I have visited all kinds, big and small, traditional and contemporary, and blended worship and in between sizes So I share this blog post from the perspective of those two realities. One other ingredient I want to throw in the mix. I read two different blog posts this morning that were exact opposites. One could be described as a reform fundamentalist perspective, and the other was nothing short of emergent and syncretistic. Both found lots of fault with everyone outside their perspective.

Over the last few months I have worshipped four different times at Newspring Church, a multi-campus church with a home base in Anderson, S.C. Last week I heard an Anderson resident criticize the church from two points of view. First, they said, “There is not a single Christian symbol in the whole place.” The other comment was, “I think it is just a cult.” When I had the audacity to ask this question, “Have you ever been to a service there?” I was told emphatically, “No, and I never intend to.”

I have to confess that I have honestly looked for things to be wrong at Newspring with what I see when I worship there. And I am sure someone reading this blog, maybe several some ones will be more than glad to give me a list of faults. I am sure that it doesn’t matter to many what my point of view is, but in this blog post I want to give four reasons that I cannot dislike the church. Each time I have attended the church I have been impressed with the fact that the church has learned a skill of communicating the message to a lot of people in our post modern world. The atmosphere and music lend themselves to attract people who have grown disillusioned with the forms of church that are so often found dotting the landscape. Those that they attract in turn are bringing their lost family and friends like Andrew brought Peter to Jesus. They are inviting them with lines like, “Come and check it out, it’s different.” And guess what? Some of those are becoming followers of Jesus, in fact, a lot of those. Some will suggest that they might not all be real decisions, but guess what, that is true everywhere, and who are we to decide what is and what isn’t. Last time I checked, God has the book of life in His keeping.

Secondly, I have heard good sound teaching from God’s Word each time. Two of the times I have attended in recent months it was their lead Pastor Perry Nobles, and the other two it was a teaching pastor, Clayton King. Both did masterful jobs of dealing with the Biblical text and declaring it in an effective and life- changing manner. Today’s message was on the importance of prayer, and it was awesome. I took notes and found areas of my life that I need to let God really help me correct.

Third, I have two daughters, two son-in-laws, and three grandchildren attending the Columbia campus of Newspring. I have watched their excitement for church increase, and more significantly, I have seen personal growth and move toward more Christlikeness in their lives. What parent and grandparent cannot appreciate that?

Finally, the enthusiasm of the people who are a part of that church family is contagious. The greeting in the parking lot, at the doors, and for that matter everywhere you turn is energetic, heartfelt, and exudes warmth and welcome. The joy on the faces is real. It won’t speak to every person. Some won’t see past their traditional views of what church should be like. Some may succumb to a jealousy that sees them as competition. Are they perfect? No, of course not. Can someone come and get lost in the crowd? Absolutely. But guess what, the numbers I keep reading are that only about 10% of “members” of most churches actually do most of the work. I suspect the numbers at Newspring are much, much better than that.

So let me wind this blog post up this way. What can we learn from Newspring about making our message relevant in the style of our presentation while NEVER compromising the message in the process? How can we celebrate the diversity of worship styles and celebrate those who are successful. Thank you Pastor Perry for the difference you make and for not being distracted from the main thing. Let me issue a caution. Let me offer a caution to other ministers and churches. In my opinion, when you offer a criticism of someone else’s ministry and you pass on points of view that you heard from someone else, well, that sounds like Gossip to me. And when you consider that Satan is the accuser of the brethren, it sounds to me like you might find yourself doing the devil’s work for him.

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Western culture is one where we seem to always want more. When asked, “How much is enough” most of us seem to think, “a little bit more.” But what if Jesus was all that you had? Would He be enough? Most Christians will be quick to answer that question with words like, “Absolutely.” Our theologies speak of the all sufficiency of Jesus.

Someone has said, “You will never know if Jesus is enough, until Jesus is all that you have.”</em Rarely do we allow ourselves to be in that position of total dependency. And yet brothers and sisters of faith live that way all around our world. This morning I was reading of the life story of an Afghan believer named "Mateen". He is often beaten, jailed, or persecuted in some form. And yet he says, ‘I will not stop bringing Jesus to my people.”

While a Muslim, he was known as a man of prayer. He would slip out of his city and find a secluded place to pray, and in that place Jesus began to appear to him, as He is doing often among Muslims these days. Now a faithful follower of Jesus, Mateen says, “I am told that because I love Jesus so openly one day I will die for my faith in Him.” No wonder the 2011 Operation World report tells that Iran and Afghanistan have the two fastest growing church to people ratio in the world. Are you as surprised at that as I was when I read it?

As I write this today, I will worship this particular Sunday in a church with every convenience. Easy access parking will greet me. A climate controlled worship center will welcome me. A very professional praise team will lead worship, and a comfortably dressed preacher will challenge me with a polished message for me to file away in my mind already filled with more sermon challenges than I have applied successfully. So what if it was really different?

What if today, you were faced with the challenge to meet under the cover of darkness in a secret location known only to believers? What if it were a room lit only with a kerosene lantern, and the heat was stifling? What if . . . and you can supply so many descriptions. Here is my point. What if, not in theory but in reality, Jesus was really all that you had? Would He be enough?

history

History is all behind us, right? And although many writers are re-visionists and in a sense they “re-write” history. In reality they do not change what happened, but they change what those removed from the events by time perceive to have happened. But that is not what I am talking about. History, in my humble opinion, is His Story. It is God’s Story.

You and I have the opportunity to be a part of God’s Story. God is moving in mighty ways all around the world. We are hearing that at least 25% of Muslims who become believers have had visions where Jesus appears to them. We are hearing of healings and miracles all over India, China, and many other parts of our world. In fact, it might be accurately said that God is acting in our world in such momentous ways that they are unprecedented.

But think about the impact of one life. Consider for example, Andrew. Andrew was one of the first followers of Jesus. We are introduced to him very early in the Gospel of John. We don’t know much about him. But when Andrew met Jesus, the Bible says that he went immediately and found his brother Simon. Well, brother Simon is the one Jesus renamed Peter, and Peter is well remembered for his impact on Christianity, and thus all of history.

Who knows what might come out of what you choose to do for God? DL Moody heard someone say that the world had not yet seen the impact of one person wholly surrendered to God, and he said, “I will be that man.” What would be the impact of you or me being 100% available to God, fully surrendered to him? What if you only touched one life, but that life was a Billy Graham, or a Abraham Lincoln, or a Martin Luther King, or for that matter a Martin Luther?

His Story is partially recorded in the Bible. I believe the Bible is complete. I don’t think it is ever to be added to. But His Story is still being recorded on the pages of time and life. You and I can be a part of that. Since Jesus Christ changes the course of history in people and even nations, you alter His Story by obeying His call on your life. Like Isaiah, will you say, “Here am I, Lord, use me.”