Friday, September 29, 2006

More Missional...

I just finished reading the biography of the most influential missionary to China, Hudson Taylor. Talk about a man with zeal! He spent most of his adult life there, reaching out to the people of China.

At that time, missionaries did there work in there own westernized style. Taylor, however, was famous for adopting the clothing of the people he was ministering too. He wore native Chinese clothes. He was sensitive the culture of the Chinese people.

Taylor was a man that exemplied what today is called incarnation. Now, we all know about the Incarnation, that is, Jesus Christ becoming human, leaving his heavenly position, with all that glory. He "took on the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of man" (Phil. 2:7). Christ identified with us people when he became a man. He knew what it was to be hungry, to be tired, to experience human emotion. He knew what it was like to be impoverished. He knew what it was to experience pain. Finally, he knew what it meant to suffer death. The Bible says that he is "touched with the feelings of our infirmities". He knows what we humans go through.

Jesus also showed us what God is like. He told his disciples that to see and know him is to see and know the Father. Jesus put a face on God that we people could understand. He showed us God's grace, God's mercy. He demonstrated God's love.

That is what Taylor did. That is the whole key to being missional in our faith. Look, every company with a product or service has a mission, right? And they take their products to the people via advertising. We Christians do the same, but we must also be able to identify with the people we are trying to reach. We have to meet them on their plane. In some areas, like an inner-city, that may mean food, clothing and shelter, and a listening ear. Hearing their struggles, being concerned for them. In some towns, it may be in a coffee shop during open mic night.

But just as Christ used his incarnation not just to "feel our pains", but to show us the glory of God in him, so we too must show those around us who Christ is. By coming alongside others to get to know them, we open up a door by which they can begin to see God in us, and that God truly cares for them. We open up a door to demonstrate God's love to them.

As Pentecostal Christians, we believe in being led by the Holy Spirit. Friends, is this not what the Spirit of God empowers us to do? We were baptized in the Spirit not to have great church services, but to be witnesses of Christ. I believe that the Spirit of God will help us to come alongside a sinful world so that we can show them who Christ really is.

I am thinking outloud again in this entry today. It is a departure yet again from my usual writing style, but necessary in my own growth in Christ. It helps me to put these thoughts into writing to make sense out of what God is doing in my life.

Thanks for being a listening ear! God bless!

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Guess Who's 7?

September 27, 1999 is a day that my life was changed forever. That day my oldest kid, Machaela was born, about 3:20 in the afternoon. It's so hard to believe that seven years have now passed.

It seems like just last week, I was holding that precious little girl for the first time, with tears streaming down my face. I remember so clearly seeing her all wrapped up in a blanket, that tiny pink hat on her head. I remember talking to her and calling her by her name (we had already decided on Machaela). She focused in on me when she heard me talking.

It seems like just days ago we were dealing with teething. Now I'm having to pull those same baby teeth out as they hang on by a little thread of gum. It seems like we were just cheering her first words on. Now she talks circles around us, and even pulls out vocabulary words I didn't know till I was older! It seems that we were just rooting her on as she took her first steps at ten months old. Now she's learning to ride a 2-wheel bike!

Lord, what happened? Our baby is growing up! I know I can't stop it, so I may as well cheer her on like when she took those very first steps.

I could pull a sermon out of this, but I will spare everyone today. Today, I just want to honor Machaela. She is growing fast, but she will always be Daddy's little girl.

Machaela, Daddy loves you! Happy birthday!

*This post was done purposely in Machaela's favorite color, blue!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Missional:Theory to Practice (Personally)

A few day back I wrote a short article on what it means to be a Missional Christian. Well, lately I have been trying to come to terms with my calling and ministry in the light of realizing that true Christians are called to be outward-focused missionaries to those around us. I am realizing more and more that I have a growing passion to reach out specifically to the younger, post-modern generation. It's a passion for those who are in college, subjected more often than not to some professor with a captive audience that rails on about his wacky ideas, derailing the morals and beliefs of many instilled in them from the time they were born. I want to reach young families so they can know that there is so much more to life than pressing on toward the American Dream of wealth that leaves bitterness and emptiness. I want to reach young people that see no hope in this life, and show them the only true hope that we find in Jesus Christ.

Pastoral ministry is my heart's desire. It's almost like something is missing right now. Like a hole in my life that the Lord intends to fill with people that he has called me to love on, to pour into, to lift up and see them grow in the Lord Jesus. It almost feels like somewhere out there, there are people in need of me. Maybe those people are meeting in an established church. Maybe they've not yet come the Christ to be forgiven. But I know that God has people out there that he has called me to shepherd. I just don't know where.

Nor do I know why God has called me to do this. I feel like I can identify with the Apostle Paul's statement of being "less than the least of all the saints" (see Eph. 3:8). What do I have to give these people? What knowledge can I possibly bring? What accolades? I have no letters after my name. I have no degree. I have no real ability that I can readily see. But none of that matters with God. It doesn't make sense, but God's word tells me that he uses the foolish things to put to shame the wise things. He chooses the weak things over the strong.

I know what I do have. I have a willing heart. I am willing to do what God says to do, say what God says to say, go where God says to go. I have a love for these people that I don't even know yet. I have a desire to see them come to salvation in Christ, to see them grow in the faith. I want to help them become faithful ministers of Christ, not necessarily behind a pulpit somewhere, but to their families, on their jobs, at their schools.

This is where my frustration comes into play. The questions I keep asking God is "when?" and "Where?" But no answer. Even in my personal time of prayer, I can't get away from this calling. I sense it more strongly every time I pray. It is consuming my thoughts right now. I just can't shake it off. And whenever I try to pull a Moses and tell God he called the wrong guy, it comes back on me even stronger. I can't run from it. God doesn't call us according to our knowledge, our experiences, our talents, or our education. He doesn't call the qualified; he qualifies the called.

Pray for me, friends. I know that this is a serious departure from my usual blogging style. This entry is totally impromptu, and I'm sure it shows. I just hurt so much for this younger generation that has no anchor, nothing it can see worth holding on to. I wish I knew where to start.

God bless.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Getting the Roots Out

Last week I got an instant message from my wife while I was working. She was doing laundry, one of her most favorite things to do, when while the washer was draining, water suddenly started backing up into the toilet and bathtub. Soap suds and dirty, linty water was cascading out of the bowl, and filling up the tub. So great was the mess that I had to actually leave work a couple hours early to look at what could be causing such a problem.

I dealt with this all week, and we were really starting to wear down our stockpile of clean clothes. Finally, the light at the end of the tunnel was coming into view. Roto-Rooter, the plumbing service, came out Saturday morning. When the guy unscrewed the cap from the clean-out pipe, and shined a flashlight into it, he saw the problem.

The plumber went to his van and retrieved his sewer snake machine, and began rooting out our sewer line-literally! You see, what was causing all of our plumbing woes were tree roots. Our sewer line runs directly under a birch tree in the front yard. All those roots look for moisture to soak up so the tree can have plenty of water. Often, these roots find the needed moisture in the sewer lines that run through our yards, and the small roots find their way in through little cracks. They do this especially during times of drought and dryness. They can really cause a big mess.

I stood their talking with the plumber as he worked, and as we shot the breeze, I noticed the snake bring up a huge clump of roots. Then another. And then another again. Finally, when he could find nothing more, and the line was flowing freely, I paid the man and he went on his way. But I didn't just walk away with clean pipes; I walked away with an object lesson in maintaining our relationship with God. Let's read Galatians 5:16, from the NIV:

"So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature."

You see, just like that sewer line, things can "get into our pipes" spiritually. We are always going to be faced with temptation. Temptation is not a sin, even Jesus was tempted. But our trouble comes when we give in to that temptation. The more we give in to temptation and sin, the easier it becomes to do so. Before we know it, we are finding ourselves totally clogged with the roots of sin. I would say that especially when we allow ourselves to become dry spiritually, we are at risk to getting our hearts clogged up. When we step back from the life -giving Word of God, when we draw from his goodness and mercy less often, when we don't spend time in prayer and communion with the Lord on daily basis, we start to dry out. In our dryness, we look for something to wet us down.

So friends, I just want to encourage you to recognize when sin comes knocking on your door. As enticing as it may seem, shun it. Run from it. Keep feeding your spirit on God's Word, spend your day with Him, in close communication with him. Stay in God's presence. In so doing, you will help keep your heart clear of spiritual roots that will only damage you.

God bless!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

It's No Fad

*My thanks to Pastor Neil for making me think about this some more!

What are some of the fads you remember growing up? Fashion is always changing, and it has had its memorable moments. Being born in 1975, I don't recall really any of the '70s. But, I do remember the '80s. Just a movie on TV from the era reminds me of the now embarrassing things we thought were cool.

Who remembers parachute pants? These were nylon pants loaded with pockets and zippers. What about stonewashed jeans complete with manufacturer holes? And of course, we couldn't just throw the jeans on, we had to carefully fold the pant leg over at the ankle and roll them up 2 or 3 times. Then I remember the Hypercolor T-shirts that actually changed color when exposed to the heat or water. Talk about cheesy! We had the tall spiked hair and jean jackets, and we thought we looked so cool!

Well, we in the Christian church have had our share of changes, too. And I don't mean fashion. I remember the Brownsville Revival. God truly moved and saved many at that very long running revival. Yet, preachers would actually study what they did in that revival and try to duplicate it at their churches, hoping that God would bring a massive revival to their towns, too. But Brownsville wasn't about the setup on stage, it was about a praying people that sought God to touch the city of Pensacola, and God shook a nation.

I also remember the Purpose Driven phenomenon, about discovering your purpose on this planet. Or the Prayer of Jabez. How many folks went out and bought these books hoping to bring lasting change to their lives, me included? And we got some good stuff from them. They were certainly blessings, but as fast as they hit the Evangelical scene, they faded into obscurity. You just don't hear much about these teachings nowadays.

Well, now we have talk going on about the Emergent Church, or Emerging Church. While I don't fully understand what this is, the aim is to engage a post-modern, post-Christian society and meet them where they are at. And, some are yelling that this is just another Christian fad. I don't think that this is the case. But I am going to dig a bit deeper than simply talking about the Emergent Church. I want to talk about what drives them. The driving force is the realization that the church is to be missional. That is another buzz word being tossed around lately. I'm sure some are calling it faddish. But I'm not. I call it getting back to the roots of what being a Christ-follower is. Christ called us to reach out to the world with the Gospel. Just listen to Matthew 28:18-20:

"Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: 'God authorized and commanded me me to commision you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I'll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up the end of the age.'" The Message

I think that we get too inward-focused as Christians. We live for Sunday. We come in the back door of the church house, sing some songs, praise the Lord, listen to a sermon, and leave waiting for next week. We push through the week, concerned with our own issues and problems. How often do we think of our coworkers? Our extended families? Our neighbors? These people need to hear the life-changing message of Jesus Christ, but we pass them by. The church, from the text I quoted, is to be outward-focused. In fact, the Apostle Paul said we are to follow the example of Jesus, who left the glory of heaven to become a man and die a torturous death for us on a cross. He thought more of me and you than he did of his own comforts. How much more should we be more concerned with our neighbor than ourselves? (See Philippians 2) Being missional means being outward-focused, a missionary in our own sphere of influence.

So, I am a man on a mission. I have loved ones, friends and coworkers that do not know Jesus Christ. I can't sit any longer in a nice little Christian sub-culture, insulated from the world Jesus died for. I have realized my place as a missionary. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, I am going to show people who Jesus Christ is, through my words and through my life. It is time to emerge out of the four walls of the church to realize that we have been equipped to reach the lost.

So, friends, make no mistake. This is no fad. This is learning to become all things to all people so that we may see them saved (see 1 Cor. 9). This is learning to reach people in relevant ways that show them the love of Christ. I am missional. Are you?

God bless!

Monday, September 18, 2006

Modern-Day Psalm 46

Fearful. Anxious. Worried. How many of us could add some additional words to make a more complete picture of what life on earth has the potential to be? Humanity, it seems, is always finding its fair share of struggles. The book of Job puts it nicely: “Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble” (14:1). Yup, we people know how to find trouble. Or, sometimes the trouble seems to find us. Layoffs, divorce, cutback or cancer, we go through the storm. And such has been our existence since Adam and Eve decided that they knew what was best.

The days certainly to the casual observer seem dark. The problems we face can seem like such a cruel tormentor. And we Christians are not in anyway exempted from the storms of life. In the 46th Psalm, the writer also seems to be describing a time of trouble. Whatever that trouble was, the nation of Israel was under some kind of distress. Yet, the writer found himself looking above the battle to see the God that held them in his Everlasting Arms (Deut. 33:27). He reminded them that even if the world seemed destined to fall apart as the mountains shook and the waters roared, God was with them, and he was their refuge. He was the help they needed, always ready to come the aid of his people (vs. 1).

Not only did the psalmist speak of God’s hand helping them, he spoke of the joy of the Lord. “There is a river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God” (vs. 4). We New Testament believers can look at this and see its fulfillment in us as the Church. Jesus said that out of us believers would rivers of living water. He spoke of the Holy Spirit, who comforts us in all our trials. Friends, whatever the battle, we have the Spirit of God to bring us comfort and joy.

When I think about my problems, I often do what I can to help myself out of them. However, sometimes there is simply nothing I can do. So, what to do when there’s nothing to do? Do what God says to do, which is “Be still, and know that I am God”(vs. 10). Huh? How can I be still when the whole world is coming against me? But friends, according the Word of God, if all things are against you, you are still in great shape because the all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing God is with you! Sometimes, we just have to sit still, relax (really what that phrase, “be still” means) in God’s wisdom, and trust him to bring us through. When we do, we are really telling the Lord that he is big enough, smart enough and caring enough to know what to do, always with the promise that whatever he does will work out for our good (Rom. 8:28).

Perhaps it was a foreign army that was coming against Israel. May it was some natural catastrophe. But whatever it was, God made it clear that it was no match for him. So, whatever battle you find yourself in today, realize that God hasn’t forgotten you. He knows where you are at, and is more than ready to give you the grace you need. God bless!


I just realized that I seem to beating the same drum lately. But this was in my heart to write, so I pray that it is a blessing to someone, even if it seems a bit monotonous lately.

Monday, September 11, 2006

When Trouble Comes...

5 years ago today. I remember that day clearly. I was at work when someone came in the back door and said a plane hit one of the towers at the World Trade Center. At first it was thought to be a freak accident. We didn't know what was happening. At least till the other tower was hit with another jet, and the Pentagon as well. It became all too obvious what was happening. Terrorists had hijacked 4 planes that day. Three hit their targets, and the fourth was downed in a Pennsylvania field when passengers rose up and fought back against the terrorists that took over United Flight 93. It was thought that the terrorists that were stopped on that flight intended to hit either the Capitol Building or the White House in Washington, DC.

That day was a day that trouble came to both Christian and non-Christian alike. The monsters that took over those planes saw no differences in the people they murdered. And the effect was far-reaching. More than 3000 different families were forever changed directly because they lost a loved one in the attack. Many more were affected by the devastation. It didn't matter who they were, what standing they had in the community, or what faith they had. The victims all met the same fate, and the families all were crushed by the same grief.

What am I getting at? Simply, we Christians have the promised Holy Spirit, the Comforter that Jesus himself said he would send to us from the Father. He is sent to comfort us, encourage us, convict us of our sin, to embolden us to preach the Gospel. But, friends, the Spirit of God isn't given to those who don't know Christ. "And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ" (Rom. 8:9 NIV). To put it bluntly, friends, we have something the world doesn't, God himself indwelling us. We have Jesus Christ himself taking up for us before the Throne of God in heaven, as I talked about this past Friday. That should make us rejoice, yet it should also make us look out to those who don't know the Lord Jesus Christ. Consider this from Matthew's gospel:

"You have heard that it was said, 'YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." Matt. 5:43-45 NASB

I added emphasis to the last part of that passage to bring out something I don't think we pay much attention to. That is that everyone on the face of this planet has to endure hardship. Whether that is the death of an innocent child or victim like on 9-11, devastating natural disasters like the tsunami that killed over 200,000 people in Indonesia, or stresses like financial problems and depression. We all go through stuff. It rains on us all. But when it rains on us Christians, we don't endure it alone! We have a Comforter who will come alongside us and help us through. Literally, that word, comforter, is the Greek word parakletos, which means to come to one's side. When storms churn up our lives, we have One who comes to our aid and gets us through it. Friends, those who don't have Christ don't have this blessing in their lives, but they can. The mere fact that God comforts us should motivate us to reach out with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and tell people that there is hope!

I believe it was Benjamin Franklin that said there are two definite things in life: death and taxes. True words indeed, but he should have added one more, spoken centuries before by the Lord Jesus: "In this world you will have trouble" (John 16:33). Friends, we aren't promised tomorrow, or even the next minute. We are, however, promised that trouble will come to us at some time. So won't you take the time to go to someone today and tell them that there is hope for them in Christ? He doesn't promise to take away their pain and hard times, but he will forgive them and help them through this stormy life to an eternity on the other side where the storms will end and the tears will be permanently wiped away!

God bless!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Always on the Clock

I don't exercise like I should. I know, I just wrote about an exercise bike that was given to us and I still haven't gotten off my lazy rear to start riding it. But that is for another day. At times, I do get bitten by the workout bug. And when I do, watch out, because I dive right in to it. Maybe at times too hard, but that is for another day too.

It never fails. The day after I start exercising is excruciating. I know, duh! Of course it is. Those are the times when we press through the pain and keep going with the program. We're supposed to, anyway. But I don't. By the time my body aches have subsided and I can move my arms again, the desire that I had is gone. I should press through the lack of desire and keep going. But I don't. It's simply easier to be lazy and not work out. I fall away from the shape I want to be in because I won't endure the pain and work, and so it's easier to sit down and watch House on TV and eat popcorn.

Now, while I deal with the exercise bug spray of laziness, hear where I'm going with this today. The early church had problems of endurance, too. The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians that were facing extremely hard times because of faith in their Messiah, Jesus Christ. Most Jews hated Christ, and hated anyone who was a Christ disciple. They, along with the Romans, made things very hard for the Christian believers. Just read the book of Acts and see the things they went through. From prison to whippings to stonings to beheadings, they felt the heat. And that heat was starting to get to them. Many were starting to feel that it was just easier to leave the faith and go back to Old Covenant Judaism. "If I just turn back to the Law, I won't have these people threatening me anymore."

That's when Mr. Unnamed Author wrote a divinely inspired letter to them that we call the book of Hebrews. It was written to encourage these hurting Christians to continue in the faith. It reasons that if one thought Judaism was good, Jesus has it beat on all points. He is better than the angels God used. He was better than Moses. He better than the human high priest. The blood he shed on the cross was better than than the blood of the millions of sacrificed bulls and lambs throughout their history. Jesus was simply superior, because absolutely everything God used in the Old Testament acted as a sign to point us to Christ.

If there is one main idea that Hebrews puts forward, I think that this would be it: Jesus knows what you are going through, and he cares. This writing tells us that he is a great High Priest that is touched by our struggles. He is "touched with the feelings of our infirmities". He knows what we have to endure. He knows our temptations. In fact, he experienced temptation, and came out sin-free. So now we can come to the Throne of Grace and he will give us what we need. You couldn't get that from a man acting as high priest, because he had his own problems. But, Jesus is better.

In the seventh chapter, the writer in comparing Jesus with the earthly high priest, makes this statement, from the Message paraphrase:

"He's there from now to eternity to save everyone who comes to God through him, always on the job to speak up for them." Heb. 7:25 MSG

You see, not only does Jesus know your stuff, but he is always on the clock! How many times have I had a sick kid at night and had to call the doctor, only to wait for him to call back because someone else had problems, or he had to wake up? With Christ, there is no calling back! There is no leaving a message hoping that Michael the Archangel will post a sticky-note on Jesus' desk! There is no heavenly voice mail telling you that Jesus is on the celestial back nine playing a round with the 12 apostles! He's right there. He hears you when you call. He sees your tears. And he has something for you. It's called grace, and it's God's strength when you are weak yourself! (see 2 Corithians 12:9)

Friends, don't let the adversity of life, and the struggles we face, whether that is persecution for faith in Jesus, or just life land punches, beat you down. You have a immense well of grace to draw from. Jesus is waiting. Won't you let him pour into you?

There is another part to this message, but you'll have to come back for it. Look for it this coming Monday, the five year anniversary of the September 11th attacks.

God bless!

Friday, September 01, 2006

Michigan Mountains

Hey, everyone! I am not going to get too deep today. After all, it's the unofficial end of summer. At least the travel season. So, I have posted a picture of Lake in the Clouds, in Michigan's Upper Pennisula. It is in the Porcupine Mountains. How about that? Real mountains in Michigan! You all thought you had to go south or west to find mountains!

Enjoy this picture of God's beautiful creation. Have a blessed and safe Labor Day!