Monday, July 30, 2012

Proof

What is the proof of your Christianity? Is it how you vote? Is it how busy you are on Sundays? Is it the Jesus fish on your car? Is it your choice in fast-food restaurants that serve chicken?

"By this all men will know you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:35)


Friday, July 27, 2012

Flashback Friday: Every Nation

This was originally posted prior to the Opening Ceremonies for the 2010 Winter Olympics. I figure I'd dust it off for the Summer Games.

***


Last Sunday [back in 2010] our evangelist showed this video of a soccer crowd in Turkey. A massive sea of people all chanting and swaying in unison. The illustration was for the question, what kind of fan are you?  But I couldn't stop thinking about how the writer of Hebrews describes the heroes of faith as a "cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1). I imagine this is what Elisha's servant saw when he was surrounded by "chariots of fire" (2 Kings 6:17). Now imagine playing a match with such a crowd? Encouraging if you're the home team, but indescribably intimidating for the visitor.
Tonight is the Opening Ceremonies for the 2012 Summer Olympics. I love the pageantry, the patriotism, the pride. These athletes aren't just representing themselves, but their entire nation.

We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. (2 Corinthians 5:20, emphasis added)

One of my favorite parts of the Olympics is the parade of nations. Seeing everyone united, dressed in such a way to identify their home, waving flags and waving at fans, always gives me chills. This moment reminds me just how big this world is, seeing the racial and cultural diversity and hearing the multiple languages spoken. At the same time, I see how small our world is, as each athlete has something in common with another, and they are all gathered in one place for the entire world to witness. At the opening ceremonies, the competitors enter with their countries, but at the closing ceremonies you see these same competitors mingling with their rivals, exchanging hugs and tears, pins and photos.

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

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

The Church on Earth is not limited by language or political borders. It is not held back by the global economy, war, or famine. We have no rival that God cannot overcome. We are under one Lord, and united in one holy nation. This world is both big and intimidating while small and taken for granted. But look around. See the crowds surrounding you, cheering you to victory in Christ Jesus.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Small World, Short Life

On April 20, 1999 I was driving down to Boulder, Colorado to look for apartments for school. Once I got a few minutes out, I couldn’t get any music on my favorite radio stations. I kept flipping around trying to find music and instead only heard breaking news. I didn’t want to hear breaking news so it took a little while before I actually stopped to listen. It was the news of the Columbine shooting. In the campus ministry where I was converted, many disciples had just graduated from there, and knew the victims. My home town was also personally hit as one of the victims was there the summer before for a football camp.

In 2007, a teenager opened fire at a mall in Omaha, Nebraska, killing 9. I was there the day before.

One week later a man opened fire at a Youth With a Mission office in Arvada, Colorado, just a mile or so south from the church where I spent many Sundays early in my spiritual walk. He would later go down to Colorado Springs and open fire during a service at New Life Church. Between both locations, 4 were killed and 5 were injured.

And of course, early Friday morning a gunman opened fire at a theater in Aurora, killing a dozen and wounding almost 60 more. One brother in the campus ministry tweeted that he was going to go to the movie, at that theater, at that time, but changed his mind last minute. One of the victims was from my community and whose mom works with a sister in my church.

It’s a small world.

While we search for answers, we need to accept the reality that it could happen here. It could happen to you. It could happen to me. I don’t want to be a downer, but the reality is Jesus could return any moment, or God could call you home any time in any way. We are not promised tomorrow.

In Luke 12, Jesus taught this parable:
“The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
“This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.” (v 16-21)

James 4 reads, "Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (v 3-4)

Finally, in Hebrews 3, we read: "See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts." (v 13-15)

For whatever purpose, a sovereign God has put you exactly where he wants you to be today. Do not harden your hearts to seek his will, for today may be your last opportunity to do so.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Forgiveness

Funny how things work. Long before the Aurora shootings, I was planning on these songs from Matthew West and Tenth Avenue North to be featured for a Music Monday post. But they take on a different tone now in the aftermath. All that I was planning on writing about these songs, forget about it.

Key verses:

Show me how, to love the unlovable
Show me how, to reach the unreachable
Help me now, to do the impossible
Forgiveness

***

Seventy times seven times,
Lord it doesn't feel right
for me to turn a blind eye,
though I guess it's not that much
when I think of what you've done...

Oh Father, give me grace to forgive them
Cause I feel like the one losing





And the important story "behind the music" to Forgiveness.



Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times." (Matthew 18:21-22)

A dozen lives lost. A number that could rise in the coming days as doctors struggle to keep others alive. Seventy total shot. That is seventy times seven people directly affected: parents, siblings, spouses, children, and closest friends. Then there are those indirectly affected but only removed by a single degree of separation (more on that in another post). Add to those a full theater of witnesses.

Forgiving seventy times seven times sounds impossible. That's the point. We need God's grace to overcome our own reactions of anger, hatred and revenge. It sounds impossible, but it's not. The video above testifies to the power of forgiveness. Another great example is that of the Amish in Pennsylvania who not only forgave a school shooter, but embraced his family through the pain of recovery. While that side of the story is well known, here's an update from the other side to show just how powerful forgiveness can be.

Can we forgive James Holmes to the same degree? Even if we cannot, there is a merciful Father in heaven who can, as hard as it may be to fathom. Jesus died for him too.

Father, give me grace to forgive him. Help me to do the impossible.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Can I Make Sense of the Senseless?

"'Put your sword back in its place,' Jesus said to him, "for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.'" (Matthew 26:52)

"He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore." (Isaiah 2:4)


How do you make sense of the senseless? This reminds me too much of the church shootings that happened in Colorado in 2007. Probably because that is my spiritual home, so to speak, and I take these events personally. I wrote about that trajedy here and here. But I'm not going to jump on some soapbox and try to find meaning or attempt to place blame. At this point, I am simply going to be quiet and pray. Because that's all really anyone of us can do.

12 killed and 50 wounded at Aurora theater

Aurora victim survivor of Toronto shootout

Paris premiere of Dark Knight Rises cancelled

Witnesses describe sureal, horrible scene

Authorities: suspect's apartment "booby trapped"

LA Police step up patrols in wake of violence

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Remember the Alamo!

Traveling to San Antonio a week ago I knew I had to write some kind of post about the Alamo. I was thinking something along the lines of demolishing strongholds or the Lord being our fortress. The problem is that battle was lost, everybody died, and the Alamo was not held.

(As an aside, isn't interesting how this is remembered by history? A monumental strategic gaffe which led to the death of hundreds is revered in history and William Travis is hailed as a hero while the Battle of Little Big Horn was a similar loss (though larger in scale) and George Armstrong Custer is remembered as a bumbling fool. It is a fine line between foolishness and bravery, I suppose- sounds like a future post to me, but I digress.)

I guess I could write from the perspective of Santa Anna, but as I am frequently reminded I better not "mess with Texas." So visiting the site and scouring through the history I was stumped with how to present a spiritual lesson from this historic battle. Then I found this little nugget at the end of one of Travis' many letters requesting reinforcements:

"P.S. The Lord is on our side. when the enemy appeared in sight we had not three bushels of corn. We have since found in deserted houses 80 or 90 bushels & got into the walls 20 or 30 head of beeves."

Less than two weeks later every single man fighting alongside Travis would be killed, and ironically Travis was one of the first to fall. But here he is proclaiming confidently, "the Lord is on our side."

The skeptic could look at that and respond, "see, there is no God!" The fundamentalist might respond, "there must've been unrepentant sin in their camp." Liberal Christians may point a finger at the Texians as oppressors that the Lord was ensuring would get their due, and The Christian Conservative is left speechless while clinging tightly to the flag.

There's a danger in confusing God's blessing with God's favor. Were they blessed to find extra food? Certainly. But by the outcome of the battle it would be hard to argue that they enjoyed any special favor from God. But we don't learn from history (or the Bible for that matter). Every small victory, every seeming blessing is touted as "God is on our side!" From sports, to international affairs, to even the mundane occurrences of our daily routine we look for any little blessing (or kiss on the forehead as my wife likes to call them) to comfort us that God is with us.

Tony Campolo recounts in his book Following Jesus Without Embarrassing God, how he was speaking for a prison ministry to a group of hardened lifers and a young woman leading worship shared that on her way there a rock nicked her windshield. This made her very upset, so she stopped, got out of the car and prayed that God would remove the nick from her windshield. And God answered her prayer. Now just imagine being incarcerated for something like murder and hearing this story. Would this encourage you or patronize you? Why would God act in such a trivial matter while you were suffering in prison begging for forgiveness? Would you want to be redeemed by a savior who fixes windshields while children are starving around the world?

How often do we hear in sports that God was with the victors? Does that inherently mean that he wasn't with the losers? Does God love one team, one quarterback, one player more than all the others? And does one team defeating another advance the Kingdom so much that it is worth God intervening to ensure victory?

And look around this political season. We have been spoiled for so long in America with wealth and prosperity, that it was a given for most that we are a "Christian nation" or that the United States holds some special favor with God. Yet now we are reaping what we've sown by living in excess as we look for someone to blame. Where is God's favor now? The same place it has always been.

Jesus says in his Sermon on the Mount that "[God] causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous." (Matthew 5:45) In context, Jesus is talking about loving your enemies, but he had just spoken about blessings and sin.

"The Lord is with us." Sure, but he is also with your enemy, your coworker, your neighbor. He may be actively blessing one with good fortune while refining another's faith through trial. God may be sparing a friend from cancer while a family member is suffering and about to die.

I've learned to be careful trying to read too much into things to find God's motives. What is important is not whose side God is on, but whether I am on God's side surrendering to his sovereignty. In hindsight it is sometimes easy to see blessings that are not obvious now. And what may look like blessings now may not be after all. God will do as he chooses. And the rain will fall on all of us.

Remember the Alamo.

Monday, July 16, 2012

I Hear God Singing to Me

Continuing my posts from the 2012 World Discipleship Summit- I am still singing some of the great worship songs in my head more than a week later. Of course, a personal favorite is the international version of Praises Heard Around the World below. But what was your favorite song from the 2012WDS? (Or if you didn't attend, what is your favorite worship song?)

[Found the bug in the poll! For some reason the buttons seem swapped or that your vote doesn't show up right away. Pick your songs, click "vote" go back by clicking the "vote on this poll link" and then click "show results". That is long and tedious, but seems to work best.]

What Was Your Favorite Song from WDS?



Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Thrill is Gone

Sorry I haven't been back to post since I've gotten back from the World Discipleship Summit. I get home, head back to work, and quickly slip into the daily grind routine. But that's how it goes, isn't it? We feed off of a short-term hype and lose that feeling as soon as "life happens" and the hype is gone.

I remember back when I was in a different campus ministry and we'd have our semester retreats. It would be a weekend full of fun, the Word, and little sleep. We'd worship together Sunday morning before heading back down the mountain (literally) and back to school. So what do you think the main topic of discussion was on Saturday night? Was it sharing the good times from the last two days or reminiscing on retreats gone by? No, it was planning the post-retreat party: who would host, who would pick up the keg, and whether or not the new couples that hooked up would consummate their relationships.

That dichotomy would be fresh in my mind every retreat afterwards when I would fight, and lose, against this hypocrisy. When I was baptized later in another campus ministry, I remember being skeptical of their annual campus retreat, fearful of history repeating itself. Yes the buzz from the retreat eventually went away, but here I was surrounded by a group who was committed to actually living out the commands of Jesus- which is what drew me to this ministry to begin with.

So it is now Thursday and San Antonio is 1400 miles in my rear view mirror. The hype is definitely gone. But is my commitment?

Maybe for you the commitment wasn't there to begin with. Maybe you were dragged to the Summit by some friends and weren't really into it. Or maybe you were engrossed in the hype and put on your best religious face to fit in but your heart wasn't really into it.

If you think that couldn't possibly describe you, let me ask: how were your quiet times while you were in San Antonio? Personally, my schedule was too packed, and I was too tired to make sure I took the time to spend quality time with my Lord and Savior. Yes I read my Bible. And yes I prayed... here and there. But I never once grabbed another brother and said, hey let's go pray! I never woke up early just to make sure my soul was refreshed before starting the day. And I look back and honestly feel like I missed out on something because of it.

Or maybe there is a sin that you keep hidden way down in the deep dark parts of your heart. There were plenty of opportunities to be open last weekend, but it's hard to seek freedom when you are enslaved. Consider the urban legend of hotel pornography rentals doubling whenever there is a religious conference (I tried real hard to find a source to verify this, and though I found this oft-cited anecdote all over I could not find any real data to back it up). Or the actual statistic (that I found in more than one place) of 50% of men viewing pornography within one week of attending a Promise Keepers event. (And if this is your struggle, I highly recommend visiting xxxchurch.com)

So again, it has been a week since we first worshipped together. How is your walk with God today? Where is your level of commitment to the purpose stirred in your heart "on the Mountain of the Lord"?

I am grateful for my family to keep me honest. My son, knowing I spent the past week at a church conference, has been peppering me with questions along the lines of what is God made of and where is the Garden of Eden. My wife, convicted not only from the worship she viewed online but also from her own personal study, is committed to sharing her faith daily. My family calls me higher. But you may not have that same blessing. Do you have roommates to keep you accountable? Do you have an unbelieving spouse that is skeptical of all of this to begin with? We are all in different stations in life, so it will take different efforts to not lose the inspiration we received last weekend.

So I ask again for the last time, how is your heart now that the thrill of worshipping together with 18,000 brothers and sisters from all over the world is only a memory? What are you going to do today to keep the glory of God, reflected by you, from fading? (1 Corinthians 3:12-18)

Monday, July 09, 2012

Decisions, decisions, decisions

As I drive back from the conference this weekend there are more thoughts running through my mind than I can fit in a single post. So expect a few more of these in the week ahead.

The first couple of days were a great time of fellowship- meeting brothers and sisters in Christ from all over the world, running into old friends, and making new ones. That time gave me a glimpse of the magnitude of God's kingdom.

But then the challenges started. The second full day was filled with classes covering a range of topics. By the end of the weekend, something like 215 lessons were taught or preached. I only wish I could've been at each and every one of them.

With the lessons come practical challenges and decisions to make. (the first decision I'm making is to dump this Blogger app and replace it with one that actually works) I attended classes on parenting, teaching, and community outreach. Then there were the evening worship and lessons; all of which challenged the status quo and called me higher.

So what am I going to do about it? I'm still reflecting, praying and reviewing notes but one change I know I need to make is in my intimacy with God. I admit, my prayer life stinks. As I sat through each of these classes on subjects I am deeply passionate about the Holy Spirit continued to convict me that "I do not have because I do not ask God." (James 4:2) I want a teaching ministry. I want a community outreach ministry. Most of all I want my children to grow up righteously in the faith and for my wife and I to stand firm setting that example. But I don't ask God for it. And Jesus promises, "you may ask me for anything in my name and I will do it." (John 14:14)

I firmly believe that God will work out the desires in my heart to his Glory, not my timing or vision. That is, if I humbly surrender those desires to him.

"On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided." (Genesis 22:14)

Friday, July 06, 2012

Great Among the Nations

Wow, what else can I say? This is the first time I've attended one of my church's conferences and I haven't hit the mainstream Christian conference circuit (Passion, Catalyst, Verge, NACC, etc) so I don't have a basis of comparison, but I cannot imagine a more inspiring atmosphere than what we had last night worshipping the Lord.

18,000 brothers and sisters in Christ from 90 different countries filled the AT&T Center in San Antonio, Texas to kick off the 2012 World Discipleship Summit. I was in awe seeing Chris Tomlin on YouTube sing How Great is Our God with Christians from several countries at the last Passion conference, but singing along as a Russian brother led that song in Spanish surrounded by 17,999 others literally brought tears to my eyes. Add to that our usual worship fare with verses in Swahili, the international procession, good news sharing from India, and a great lesson from a brother from South Africa and I got a taste of heaven where every nation will bow in worship before the Lord. (Revelation 7:9-11)

Following this service I rode the bus back with a brother from South Africa and later met up with a brother from South Korea for dinner to add to the international flavor. (and the day before I met a brother from Japan who knows a friend in Indonesia who was converted with me at college in Colorado- it really is a small world!)

So what is left to say? He will be great among the nations...

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Melting Pot

After almost 24 hours we finally rolled into San Antonio for our conference. Just enough time to check in to the hotel and head over to register right when gates opened. But we weren't the only ones with that idea as the lines were already almost out the door when we got there.

Looking around I saw all ages and all races. I saw families and campus students, seasoned leaders and eager disciples young in their faith. I saw one guy with a long goatee and full sleeve tattoos talking with an older man from southeast Asia. The crowd definitely represented a melting pot united by the lordship of Christ.

I met an author and scholar I admire as he was frantically unloading boxes and boxes of books to get ready and sell. And it hit me, he's just another guy just like me; tired from the trip and looking forward to fellowship and worship.

So as I look around at all these people, I'm reminded of what being a disciple of Jesus is all about: one another. Each person here heard the Gospel from someone and is a soul precious to our Lord. And this is only a fraction of the expanse of God's Kingdom while many still reside outside of His sovereign walls. The King is throwing a party and wants us all to come. (Luke 14:15-16)

I am praying that God opens my eyes in a new way while I am here. The conference hasn't even officially started and I am already being convicted by the Holy Spirit. I know I won't be able to meet every single person in attendance, but I know each one has a story to tell of how God has brought them to this place. And I have to wonder: is someone not here because I never shared the Gospel with him or her? All are precious in God's sight, and God wants a relationship with each and every one of us. It's up to me to invite as many as I can to his great banquet.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Bromancing the Stone

This week I won't be posting a regularly (6:00 AM PST at least a couple times a week) because I'll be attending the 2012 World Discipleship Summit to fellowship and learn from 18,000 brothers and sisters in Christ from all over the world. I'm actually leaving in about an hour to road trip out with three other brothers. Leaving the wives and girlfriends behind, I'm calling this roadtrip "Bromancing the Stone".

My plan while I'm at the conference is to live-blog from the classes and worship services as time and wi-fi access allows. So stop by periodically during the week to see pictures and updates from the event.

I'd also appreciate if you'd pray for safe travel. We're caravaning, but I know of many others who are driving or flying out today and tomorrow.