Wednesday, March 30, 2011

World Vision Wednesday

From World Vision comes a true story of a young girl tempted by a job offer to good to be true. Unfortunately, it really was too good to be true and quickly became a nightmare. To read this account go here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Peek Inside

While reading Wild at Heart this afternoon, I was struck by a particular passage where John Eldredge quoted Winston Churchill's statement that all his past life had been a preparation for the trials Britain was going through in World War II. Eldredge then went on to state, "The same is true of you, your whole life has been preparation."

This is what I wrote in response:

Father, is it true? Has all my life up to this point been preparation? For what? What is it that you want me to do that it has taken fifty five years of preparation? You have told me that I am a Gideon. I want so badly to be the kind of warrior who is willing to go up against insurmountable odds, armed only with your power. Let me be a clay jar, plain and unassuming, but a deadly weapon when filled with you. Gideon led others to freedom. That is what I want to do. I want to be an agent of your grace. I want to help others break away from the chains forged by the lies they believe. I want to be in the battle and watch what you will do.

I want to hear your voice in the midst of all the noise around me. I want to be dangerous, the kind of man who can't be labeled, who can't be controlled because he is doing what you tell him to do. I want to live abundantly, to love with abandon, to fight with every fiber of my being for the freedom for which you have set us free. I want to go when you say go, to fight when you say fight. I want to stop and watch you work and to rest when you tell me. I want people to take notice - of you, and the greatness of your grace.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

World Vision Wednesday

I received an e-mail the other day from a World Vision representative who is in Japan. Here is the e-mail:

I arrived in Japan just 40 hours after the giant quake and tsunami that became one of the most heartrending disasters in the country's history. One thing I'll never forget is that people in Japan don't seem hopeless; they are resilient and are determined to move forward. The World Vision Japan staff members, specifically, have tremendous faith, and it's encouraging to see them respond with such passion.

World Vision's response in Japan started with an assessment team deployed to Sendai — the hardest-hit area. The team brought an initial supply of relief items, and talked with local leaders and families to find out what their greatest needs are. That gave the team a much clearer picture of how to move forward.

In the last couple of days, World Vision has delivered blankets, bottled water, and sanitary and hygiene supplies for more than 6,000 people in urgent need in Minami Sanriku and Tome, two devastated towns where thousands were evacuated to shelters.

In the coming weeks and months, World Vision plans to continue providing essential items — including hot food rations — to survivors in Miyagi Prefecture, and begin establishing Child-Friendly Spaces to help respond to the emotional needs of children who have survived so much.

Please keep the people of Japan in your prayers. I was speaking with one of our World Vision Japan staff members, and she expressed her gratitude for all the donations that have poured in from around the world. "But more important to us," she said, "is knowing that people are praying for us."

Monday, March 21, 2011

Christian Identity

A few days ago, I caught a preacher on a local radio station, preaching on identity as a Christian. As a starting point for his talk, he used the verse in John 10, that speaks about the thief coming to kill, steal, and destroy. He then proceeded to rant about how the devil wanted to steal our identity as Christians. I actually agreed with that part.

The preacher then went on to fill the airwaves with the same stuff I used to hear growing up in fundamentalism, that our identity as a Christian is tied up in how we dress, the music we listen to, the friends we have, the church we go to, and the version of Scripture we use. This type of teaching is nothing but a big, stinking pile of bovine excrement. Worse than that, it is the same thing that the Judaizers were saying during the first century. They were telling folks that their identity in Christ included circumcision, and keeping the ceremonial laws. I really don't see a whole lot of difference between that and what this guy was preaching.

It is true that the thief comes to steal our identity in Christ. One of the things he uses is preaching like this that tells a Christian that their identity is in a certain list of behaviors. Look through Scripture and you will find a lot of passages that deal with who we are in Christ. You will not find one that refers to dress, or behavior (unless you take an Old Testament passage out of context). Our identity in Christ is not in anything we do or don't do. It is in Christ. Period. We are who we are because of Whose we are. We children of the living God, and our Father loves us and is pleased with us.

Our identity does not rise out of what we do. It rises out of who God is and what Christ has done.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Weekend Wanderings

Here in the sunny South, it seems we are going to skip spring and go straight to summer. It's been in the high 70s, low 80s the last few days. Josh and I went into Charlotte today for the St. Patrick's Day Parade and festival. The parade lasted almost 2 hours, so we skipped the last part of it and went in search of food and beverage. I had a corned-beef sandwich and washed it down with a Guinness, followed by a Black and Tan. I've never had one of those before. It was quite tasty.

There's been a lot going on this week, from the continuing problems in Japan to the military action in Libya. Sometimes it seems that all that ever happens in the world is war and disaster, but thankfully that's not the case. Here are the links for the week:

Martha of Ireland has some good things to say about celebrating St. Patrick's Day.
John Dyer's thoughts on blogging. Chaplain Mike's response.
Is evangelicalism at a tipping point? Scot McKnight weighs in.

Jesus at ground zero.
Jesus contends with religion.
Jesus of the Scars.
The original formula.

Alan Knox on adorning the doctrine of God.
Matt says that nobody really loves freedom.
Dan Allen has a good series on depression. The first post is here.
Jared Wilson says we need to change the subject.

Pray for American troops involved in the military action in Libya, and for the Marines in Japan helping with the growing nuclear disaster. Gave a great weekend.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

World Vision Wednesday

World Vision is putting relief efforts together to aid the people of Japan after the devastating earthquake and tsunami. To read more and learn how you can help check this out.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Place to Be

The language arts class in which I assist just finished reading Maniac Magee, by Jerry Spinelli. Because I leave halfway through the class each day, I was only able to catch bits and pieces, but I was able to get the basic idea of the book. It's about a boy who is orphaned at age three, and spends the next few years of his life trying to find a place to call home. He bounces from place to place, never allowing himself to feel comfortable at any one of them because he is afraid to settle in, afraid to let himself get too close, afraid of losing anyone else.

As we finished the book today, I started thinking about how that is so like those of us who follow Jesus. We're afraid. Afraid to let others get too close, or to get too close to them. We're afraid that we won't be accepted once people discover the real us. I think our biggest fear is the fear of being hurt. I know that fear personally, and there have been times when I have tried to not get too close to folks in certain groups, because I have been hurt and don't want to get hurt again. I understand those who have to deal with that.

I believe that these fears are one of the reasons churches are not what they could be. Many are looking for a safe place, but they don't let themselves get too comfortable or too close to the people in a church. In a large church, they can hide. Eventually though, they will get the vague feeling that something is wrong, that the church is not meeting their needs. They will then look somewhere else, like Maniac Magee. Unfortunately the cycle will continue to repeat itself, or they will give up on the whole church thing altogether. Or, they may come upon a small to mid-size church that bills itself as a place "where people matter." They soon find out that people matter as part of a program, not as individuals. Conflicts may happen, and then, out they go. Some spend their whole lives looking for a place to belong.

Even those who are part of simple churches are not immune to these fears. Again, they are perfectly understandable. If one of the goals of a simple church is to know and be known, there will inevitably be conflict. Too many folks have the idea that if they can just "do church" the way the early church did, all of their problems will be solved. Have you read the letters the Apostles wrote to the early churches lately? It seems that a large part of those letters were written to address problems that the people were having with each other. I have yet to be in a church where a man was sleeping with his father's wife.

Anytime we deal with people, there will be conflicts. Life is messy, and the deeper we let people into our lives, the better the chance that we will be hurt. That hurt makes it hard to believe that we are safe, that it is really possible to live in community. Some return to the old routine of moving from place to place, never allowing themselves to get comfortable or to love again. Others will give up, and try to go it alone. Both approaches have problems. The first puts us right back into the system that hasn't produced the community that many look for. The second forgets the fact that the Church is the Body of Christ, that we need each other as the body needs each of its parts. When a limb is amputated, the patient experiences a phantom limb, feeling pain in a part of the body that isn't there. The same thing happens in the Body of Christ.

Living in community is hard. The conflicts happen, and the wounds they leave are real, and sometimes deep. I don't believe the answer is to hide our hearts deeper, or refuse to be vulnerable again. Loving and being loved is hard, messy, and painful. It can not be accomplished in our own strength, it can only be done in the power of the risen Christ, the One who has told us to love each other as he loves us.

Be encouraged. Community and love can happen. It is what Abba wants. It is how others will know we belong to Jesus.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Weekend Wanderings

The recent earthquake in Japan showed that good planning, and strong building codes can go a long way toward keeping a disaster from being much worse. It also showed that there is only so much that man can do when confronted with the power of nature. Please pray for the folks in Japan and other areas hit by the earthquake and tsunami.

Here are the links:

Here are some good Lenten reflections from Bert Montgomery.
I don't know. Do you think there might be a bit too many Christian conferences?
Andrea Krook has some art for Jesus.

Jonathan Brink has a question to ponder.
Ronnie McBrayer on servanthood.
Matthew Paul Turner has the bad Christian t-shirt of the day.

This was written for the day before Ash Wednesday, but it's good for every day.
Damaris Zehner on the resurrection of hope.
Here is another iMonk classic.

I need to show this to the principal at my school (HT: iMonk).
Lent in Narnia (HT: iMonk).
Goop post from Eugene Cho (HT: Scot McKnight)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

World Vision Wednesday

Last year in Romania, a group of brave teenagers put together an exhibition of photographs that they had taken, exposing the evil of human trafficking in that country. To read about their work and see some of the images visit this site.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lent

The following is a repost of something I wrote last year, with some updates:


Tomorrow is the first day of Lent. Ash Wednesday is celebrated by Christians around the world with a service that includes the placing of ashes on the forehead of the worshippers. The ashes are to remind that we are made from dust, and to dust we will return. That is one part of the Lenten observance that I have not yet participated in, as I have only been observing Lent for the last four years. In the tradition in which I grew up, Lent (like most of the church calendar) was not even on our radar. We celebrated Christmas, Palm Sunday, and Easter. I had a vague notion that other days were observed in other traditions, but we were taught that those days were not important. So, I'm a bit new to the keeping of the church calendar, and still learning.

As I approach the Lenten period, I am struck by the fact that our bodies are formed from the dust of the ground, and to that dust they will return. Because of the brokenness of Creation, we face the inevitable decay of our physical selves. Anyone middle-aged man who has tried to compete in sports at the same level he did when he was in his twenties can attest to that. At some point our bodies will wear out and no longer be useful to us. When they are then placed in the ground, they will return to the dust from which they came. As we look around us, we see that decay in every part of our world. Ash Wednesday and Lent are good reminders that we are broken and in need of a savior.

Thankfully, that is not the end of the story. During this time, we take a good hard look at our humanity and our brokenness, but we also look ahead to the time when our Savior will return and will restore Creation. We look forward to the resurrection and the Kingdom of God coming in all its fullness. When I think about Ash Wednesday, and the symbolism of the ashes on the forehead, I think of the song, "Beauty Will Rise." In that song Steven Curtis Chapman sings,

"Out of these ashes... beauty will rise
and we will dance among the ruins
We will see Him with our own eyes
Out of these ashes...beauty will rise
For we know, joy is coming in the morning...
in the morning

...This is our hope.
This is the promise.
That it would take our breath away
to see the beauty that's been made
out of the ashes..."

As we go through this season of Lent, contemplating our sinfulness and our need of a redeemer, let us remember that we do have a Savior who has made us a new creation, and who will one day make all things new.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Peace

One morning a few years ago, the pastor of the church we used to be a part of was teaching from Isaiah. In chapter 2, verse 4 Isaiah speaks of a time when, "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, now will they train for war anymore."

Now, I realize that the ultimate fulfillment of this will come when Jesus returns. But, the question I have is, "Why don't we who are the people of God strive to bring this about in this life, in this world that we live in? Obviously, because of mankind's sin, there will always be those who will steal, fight and kill to get what they want. But there has to be something that we can do to bring peace. If nothing else, we can be peacemakers in our communities and neighborhoods. We can take steps to support groups that minister to people in other nations and cultures. We can support government policies that promote the well being of others .

Jesus said that the peacemakers are blessed. Those of us who claim to belong to Christ should take a long look at how we go about our day-to-day lives. Are we trying to bring peace wherever we can, or are we letting our selfish desires rule us? What can we do to at least partially bring Isaiah 2:4 to fulfillment?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Weekend Wanderings

Spring is on its ways here in the sunny South. March came in like a lamb, the daffodils are blooming, and the trees are getting ready to leaf out. Softball has started, and even though the team I coach is not the most talented, it should be a enjoyable season.

I like each by itself, but together? I don't know. Who knew you could use your smartphone to beat a speeding ticket? Speaking of smartphones, here are some rather strange ways to use one. Jim Martin knows 10 things he doesn't have time for. I don't either (HT: Scot McKnight). Matt wants to be a universalist in his heart.

Do you consider yourself typical? Russ Masterson has written a theology of tears. Matthew Paul Turner puts Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 in his own words. Dan Edelen is rethinking evangelicalism's tropes. Donald Miller says the biggest temptation is self righteousness. Here is a question about form and function.

Jon Acuff tells a secret. Us-them theological battles. This is a pitiful display. The iMonk classics keep on coming. What the soul is in the body, Christians are in the world. Mark Galli tries to make sense out of the Rob Bell controversy (HT: iMonk). Why doubt isn't a dirty word.

Please pray for the folks who are still getting slammed by winter storms, and for those that will face flooding when all the snow melts. I hope what's left of your weekend is great.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

World Vision Wednesday

Recently, the House of Representatives voted to cut spending in a number of areas. While I am normally in favor of less government and lower spending, I believe that some of the cuts should not have been made. According to World Vision president Richard Stearns, the budget "shrinks global AIDS, malaria, and hunger programs by 41 percent. It slashes funding for humanitarian emergencies by 67 percent. By comparison, other budget accounts are reduced by an average of just 8 percent. To put this in perspective, the existing U.S. budget for international humanitarian programs is only about one-half of 1 percent of the total federal budget."

There are undoubtedly many things that should be cut out of a bloated budget. Humanitarian aid should not be one of them. While I believe that the church should be the primary agent of humanitarian giving, there are some places where the need is so great that government aid is needed along with private aid.

If you agree that this spending should not be cut, please contact your senators and ask them to vote to restore the funds for this needed humanitarian aid. The vote is on Friday, so time is of the essence.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

You Are More

In our gathering Sunday, we were discussing who we were in Christ. We were talking about how we often react to certain situations and people according to old scripts that tell us we are this or we are that. We listen to lies that people have told us, saying that we are worthless, that we are stupid, that we are unloved. Because we believe those scripts, we have a hard time believing that God really loves us, and we are not free to love ourselves or to love others as Jesus has loved us. One of our brothers played a song by the group Tenth Avenue North titled "You Are More."

Here are the lyrics:

There's a girl in the corner
With tear stains on her eyes
From the places she's wandered
And the shame she can't hide

She says, "How did I get here?
I'm not who I once was.
And I'm crippled by the fear
That I've fallen too far to love"

But don't you know who you are,
What's been done for you?
Yeah don't you know who you are?

You are more than the choices that you've made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You've been remade.

Well she tries to believe it
That she's been given new life
But she can't shake the feeling
That it's not true tonight

She knows all the answers
And she's rehearsed all the lines
And so she'll try to do better
But then she's too weak to try

But don't you know who you are?

You are more than the choices that you've made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,

You've been remade.

You are more than the choices that you've made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You've been remade.

'Cause this is not about what you've done,
But what's been done for you.
This is not about where you've been,
But where your brokenness brings you to

This is not about what you feel,
But what He felt to forgive you,
And what He felt to make you loved.

You are more than the choices that you've made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You've been remade.

You are more than the choices that you've made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You've been remade.

You've been remade
You've been remade.
You've been remade.
You've been remade.

You are more. More than what you have done, more than what has happened to you. You are more than what the old scripts tell you. You are a beloved child of the Creator, a co-heir with Christ. You are made in God's image, more than simply a "sinner saved by grace." You are free! Let me repeat. You. Are. Free! Free to love your Father with reckless abandon, knowing that he loves you the same way.

You are more. So much more.

A Poem: Home Again

I wrote this one a couple weeks ago. HOME AGAIN It’s been said that you can’t go home again I decided to see for myself, so ...