January 30, 2009

Disrupting the Influence

During Paul's 3rd missionary journey some trouble stirs up in Ephesus. Here's the short version: A businessman who profits from idolatry and materialism realizes that the Gospel is bad for business and that it is apparently robbing their "goddess" of her warranted prestige. In his words, "the great goddess Artemis will lose its influence...". Shocking, isn't it.

We are not even remotely inclined to place ourselves in the same category with a corrupted pagan businessman like Demetrius. He makes a living off of other people worshipping things that he makes with his hands. Rightly so - maybe we're not guilty of such a travesty. But here's something to think about: When the Gospel truly penetrates a life - YOUR life - all the other "gods" in our life will begin to "lose their influence". Painful, isn't it.

The hunger for more "stuff" will begin to fade. The need for bigger and better things will begin to seem futile. We'll start to see the one-day moth-eaten rust-destroyed things of this world for what they really are. Now please, make no mistake - this will NOT happen instantly. And if you're like me you will wrestle with it on a regular basis. But that's the point for us as followers of Christ - to do the wrestling - to not be afraid to struggle with it or have to cry out to God for help to overcome it. The problem occurs when we begin to be unaware or oblivious to our return to idol worship. Acts 19 tells us that when the riot broke out in Ephesus - when the mob gathered to defend their idol worship - "most of them didn't even know why they were there." Don't let this happen to you!

Do you need that new TV? That new cell phone? Are you thinking before you buy, watch, listen, horde, stockpile, and shop? Are your idols coming to visit you? Are they waiting for you at the store? Around the corner? Mine do. They know just where to hide, sneak up on me, and how to try and entice me into cozying up with them once again. But I know their names. I know how they operate. And I'm not going down that easy. What about you?

May our lives disrupt the influence of all other gods.
May the Gospel shine through us and expose every Artemis around us.
May God bring the Kingdom into every area of our lives!

January 26, 2009

Character Building 101

And this is how it all unfolded:

Saturday - while the rest of my family was at the movies - I took the Jeep to get an oil change. I only have to do this once every 6 months because of the short distance it's driven each week. That's the one nice thing in the story! When they change your oil they also check the air pressure in your tires and fill them accordingly. Apparently when carrying out this simple task the mechanic damaged the valve stem. How do I know this? Because when I went out into the garage to head to Olivet yesterday my back left tire was flat as a pancake. [Valve stem damage verified by mechanic at tire shop].

Oil Change (w/2 new wiper blades) = $60

Yesterday, with the help of my trusty friend Brent, we put my spare on. This is a task in itself b/c the spare on my Jeep is full size - enormous! This morning I took it in to get the tire fixed. The spare was in the back of my Jeep. Apparently (that word will be used more than once in this story) when pulling the tire out of the back of the Jeep the mechanic pulled the back window out a little - in other words, the zipper came out of it's track. As I'm about to leave I notice this, so I try to fix the zipper. This did not happen. Instead, I broke the pulley completely off the zipper track, cracking it to the point that it is rendered useless. So the back window of my Jeep is now inside the Jeep. And I'd like to point out that it's 15 degrees and the snow is on the way!

Flat Tire Fix = $14.59

I get to my office and call Off Road Motorsports. They tell me, "You need to call an upholstery shop for that!" So I got out the trusty Yellow Pages and found Upholstery Repair. After 3 phone calls I am coming to grips with the reality that zipper repair is a profitable industry. I now have an appointment for Wednesday - which will take all day - to have my zipper replaced.

Zipper Repair = $150

I share this ridiculous chain of events with you for several reasons. First off, hopefully you can laugh. There are moments in life that are either laugh or cry, and my feeling is those moments are even better when they're somebody else's. I grant you full permission: laugh it up! Second, I've wondered if everyone down at Lou's Oil Spot would appreciate this story enough to realize that they are ultimately responsible for all this havoc raining down on me over the past 48 hours? I'm going to save some time and energy and guess, No. But most importantly I think this little episode is a prime example of what we can call God's Character Building 101. Here's what I mean.

We face situations and circumstances like this and - if we're being honest - we want to scream, "God! Why? Are you not paying attention? Do you think I need this right now? Can't you see I have enough to worry about? Don't you love me? WHY?" We really just want someone to blame for the mayhem and since He is in charge of the universe and all, God usually seems to be the easiest target. We're also tempted to think that it's now become our turn once more to take God's Character Building 101 class - we think that He has nothing better to do with His day than to shape our character. I'm not saying that He doesn't shape our character or even that He doesn't have time to focus on us. But I think the bigger picture is this: God doesn't rein down havoc in our lives to build or shape our character - He allows these things to unfold in front of us to REVEAL our character. When the dominoes finally stop knocking one another down in my little story, He wants me to see how I've reacted, how I've treated people, how I've maintained self-control, and continued to keep in mind that there are other people in the world starving and homeless. What a revelation! This is life.

So now I'm looking forward to the fact that my shifter, clutch, transmission, or something that allows me to shift gears is "apparently" breaking down and I will soon be forced to shell out another undisclosed ridiculous amount of money. And once again, I'll get to find out what I'm really made of!

January 19, 2009

An Unknown God

There's a story of Paul in Acts 17 where he's been taken to Athens for his own safety. He's waiting there for Silas & Timothy to arrive and so he's checking out the local flavor. He begins to be troubled by all the idols set up in the city so he heads to the synagogue to see if he can strum up some conversation. First he debates with the Jews & "God-fearing Gentiles" and then moves on to the "Epicurean & Stoic philosophers". Naturally, trouble finds Paul. He winds up standing before the Areopagus, being quizzed about this "Jesus" nonsense he's preaching. In other words, this council of philosophers opens the door and Paul steps through it!

Paul politely tells them that he's noticed they are "very religious", that they have altars set up everywhere, and that they even have one set up to "an Unknown God". Is it just me, or does Athens sound a lot like where we live? Paul is noticing that these people are searching for something to fill the void - they are "seeking after God" - they just don't know WHO He is or HOW to find Him. Again, this is sounding familiar isn't it?

There are people all around us who are trying desperately to fill the void in their lives - and many of them are reaching and grasping for anything that even looks like it might bring fulfillment and satisfaction. You and I know that if that something isn't Jesus Christ...it will eventually run dry or come up empty. But how do we communicate this today? How do I share this truth with my neighbor or my friend or my coworker? My thought is...do what Paul does!

Paul simply told these men of Athens that God "himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need there is." So, what was it you were looking for again? What was it you were so desperately in need of? Peace? Hope? Joy? Satisfaction? Comfort? Purpose? Yes! He has that! Remember, "he satisfies every need there is." Paul goes on to tell them that "His purpose in all of this was that the nations should seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him - though he is not far from any of us." This sure seems to be reverberating Jeremiah 29:11-13!

Do you know someone who is seeking - someone who is looking for God, but looking in the wrong place? Then you're called to share with them that "God overlooked people's former ignorance about these things, but now he commands that everyone everywhere...turn away from idols and turn to him." And let's be honest and real: not everyone that day fell down, repented, and trusted Christ. But "some joined him and became believers." Aren't those "some" worth us speaking up? Isn't just ONE worth telling?

I encourage you today: look around, take notice, and with eyes of compassion, words of life, and a heart of love...SPEAK UP! Let them know who this "Unknown God" is that they're really looking for - that He has made himself known - and His name is Jesus Christ.

John 14:6
Acts 17:16-34
Matthew 16:24-26

January 15, 2009

The Macedonian Man

Over the last 5 years our church has partnered with Casas por Cristo to build homes for families in Juarez, Mexico. I'm not sure if you're aware, but over the last year the violence in Juarez has risen to an alarming rate - mainly attributed to gangs, drugs, and money. The murder rate soared in 2008 in this border town and officials (in TX & Mexico) are working diligently to get a handle on the violence.

These last months, as we have been making plans and deciding whether or not to return to Juarez next summer, you can imagine that there has been a little resistance and apprehension. There are many who think that our youth should not be put in this dangerous position, and that it's a risk far too great for us to take. Without question, there are certainly important things to consider in making this decision, both for our church and for us individually. But one thing should influence the decision more than anything else.

This morning I was reading in Acts 16. Paul and Silas had set out on what we know as Paul's 2nd missionary journey. They meet Timothy, decide to take him with them, and head north. Something interesting about their travel method: they had no GPS, no compass (at least that I'm aware of), and probably not even a decent map. They also had no International Mission Board or travel agent they were working with to guide them in their itinerary. But what we do find is that several times on this leg of their journey they changed directions because "the Holy Spirit had told them not to go...". And we also read that "again the Spirit of Jesus did not let them go." Think about the communion and fellowship one would have to have with the Lord to be this in tune with His Spirit. Well, that communion and fellowship is offered to me and you.

Going a step further - after they encounter several divine stop signs - Paul has a vision. He sees a man from Macedonia begging him, "Come over here and help us". So what do you think they did? They left for Macedonia "at once, for we could only conclude that God was calling us...."

So what of Juarez? What of these people - these families living out of cardboard boxes and buses and the trunks of their cars? Is it too dangerous? Is it worth the risk? Ultimately, yes! As Mark Batterson says in Wild Goose Chase, "When did we start believing that God wants to send us to safe places to do easy things? God wants to send us to dangerous places to do difficult things." But at the same time, this is something that each of us must decide ourselves. I can't tell you whether or not God is calling you to go. And you can't judge that the person who hears and sees the plea of those in need and is compelled to go is foolish. If you do this, you are placing yourself in dangerous company with those who see the Gospel "as foolishness". If the Gospel of Jesus Christ is YOUR Gospel, you are called to "Go".

If you're a parent and your teenager is considering this, you ought to be on your knees asking the Lord for wisdom. If you're a college student or adult and there's this holy nagging that has you thinking about Juarez, maybe this is your "Macedonian Man", calling out to you, "Come over here and help us". If so, my prayer for you is that you hear that calling...and you go.

January 14, 2009

Bring It On

My heart and life are forever tied to music. It fuels me, excites me, often comes up with what I have no words to express. Sitting in my office this morning I was rockin steady to the glorious tunes of Lenny Kravitz. His newest album, "It Is Time For A Love Revolution", is smothered not only in spiritual overtones - it is just outright expressive of his faith. You must listen. I wanted to share with you the lyrics of one of my favorite tunes on the album, "Bring It On". Enjoy!

"Bring It On"

I'm gonna walk by faith, gonna raise my sword
I'm gonna fight my battles, gonna praise my Lord

It's getting heavy, but I'm ready, to take on this world and rock steady
So come on, bring it on

I'm gonna face my demons, gonna take them down
I'm gonna keep on moving, gonna make my sound

It's getting heavy, but I'm ready, to take on this world and rock steady
So come on, bring it on

[Big Fat Nasty Lenny Guitar Solo]

Bring it on! Bring it on!

January 9, 2009

The Answer

About the time the Apostle Paul's ministry was getting started - he hadn't even changed his name yet - the Apostle James was reaching the end of his. This is the same James that asked Jesus for some special props in Heaven, a special seat next to the King. The same James (along with his brother John, and Peter) that walked up a hillside and witnessed Jesus pull the veil back for just a moment, revealing a fraction of his glory. This is James, one of the "Sons of Thunder", son of Zebedee, one of the 12 disciples.

In Acts 12 it reaches a time when King Herod Agrippa decides he needs to impress some of the Jews who want this message of salvation in Christ silenced. Acts 12:2 tells us that Herod "had the apostle James killed with a sword." He was martyred for his faith and his boldness to speak the truth about Christ. I don't mean this crassly or insensitively, but for a moment I think James might have received that "special recognition" he had asked for, long before he really understood what he was asking. I'm sure he was met with the applause of Heaven and the arms of his Savior saying, "Well done, good and faithful servant". 

But here's what gets me about this story. One verse later something happens that thrusts us into the position (as we are so often in our relationship with our mysterious God) of asking "Why". Herod has James killed and then, for some reason, "he arrested Peter...and imprisoned him." Herod's intent was to drag Peter out during Passover, publicly try him and humiliate him, and then (most likely) execute him. But this never happened. The church prayed for Peter, an angel busted him out of jail, and he was free. If you don't know this story you truly need to read it (Acts 12:1-19). But this is not what has snagged my heart's attention this morning.

Here's the big question: Why did God allow James to be executed...and Peter to be saved? While I'm sure that everyone in the church praised God for His angelic intervention and Peter's freedom, I'm fairly certain there had to be someone close to James wondering, "Why not James? Why didn't God intervene on his behalf as well?" WHY?

Just weeks after my Dad's funeral (and reflecting on everything he went through the last 5 years of his life - brain injury, coma, rehab, cancer, surgery, chemo, and so on...) it would be very tempting for me to begin shaking my fist and demanding an answer to this question from the Lord. And many of you have been through these situations and circumstances that have left you blank and wondering. At some point, for some reason, we all want to ask "Why?". And my apologies, but I can't answer that question for you - no one can. But I think God's Word give us insight into how our heart moves to a place where we're not so hung up on asking this question or demanding an answer.

In Philippians 1:21-22, Paul says that "living is for Christ, and dying is even better. Yet if I live, that means fruitful service for Christ. I really don't know which is better." The NIV says that "to live is Christ, but to die is gain". Let's cut to the chase. I believe that when your heart finally arrives at a place where you can know and say with certainty that your life is meant for "fruitful service for Christ" and that your entire existence and breath is "for Christ", you begin to understand and embrace that death is not the enemy any longer. And you are definitely a whole lot less tempted to stomp your feet and demand some answers. I have a difficult time believing that James entered the gates of Eternity - reunited with Christ - and let everyone know that he really wasn't ready. And even though I miss my Dad, I know that when he finally saw Jesus face to face...one question he most certainly did not ask...was "Why?". 

It's OK sometimes to ask. Just know that if the One with the answers, the One, True, Holy, Sovereign Lord attempted to explain it to you - you would never be able to wrap your feeble mind around it. And if you could, He would not be God.

I encourage you, that when you want answers - when you just don't understand the "Why" - that you search to know the heart of God. Pursue Him. Search the depths of His Word. Stop searching for answers...and start searching for HIM! 
He is the answer you're looking for. 

January 7, 2009


Yesterday I was reminded of the story of Jonathan and his armor bearer - or as the NLT titles it, "Jonathan's Daring Plan". Then the story came up again last night while I was in a meeting. I love this story. I remember when it was really first called to my attention, how the inherent courage and reckless faith of this young man caught me off guard. As this new year begins I think there is no better time to be spiritually awakened by the implications of this event.

If you don't know the story, read it in 1 Samuel 14:1-15.

As Jonathan proposes this seemingly haphazard plan to his armor bearer the thing that stands out the most to me is his faith in uncertainty. He says, "Let's go see if those pagans want to fight. Perhaps the Lord will help us...." Perhaps? As in maybe, possibly, there's definitely a chance? I don't know about you but most of the time in any situation where my neck, my reputation, my success, and especially my life might be on the line I want better odds than "perhaps". But you see, this is the essence of courage. "Perhaps the Lord will help us, for NOTHING CAN HINDER THE LORD. He can win a battle whether he has many warriors or only a few!" The faith and the courage increase when you know the One who will truly be fighting the battle.

God is probably going to ask me to do something this year that will have uncertainty written all over it. He will most likely be placing an opportunity in your lap that on the outside looks like trouble and smells like an enormous risk. What will we do?

God will be asking people who are comfortable with "safe" to go to dangerous places to advance the Kingdom. He will be opening doors for his "warriors" to build houses, dig wells, teach English, transport medical supplies, humbly love the unloveable, reach out to the unreachable, and to preach the Gospel to those who have not yet heard that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. And the reality is, "Perhaps" is waiting on the other side of every one of those doors. Jesus made it clear that "the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and violent people will attack it." We don't know what's waiting when we climb up that hill, draw our sword, and advance. But we'll never know if "perhaps" is our stumbling block.

Maybe the real question for many of us is, "How well do you know this One who has called you? How intimately are you in tune with His heart? How committed are you to truly follow through with the calling He set before you from the beginning?"

Will you risk? 

Your reputation? Your finances? Your stuff? Your ambition or success?

Will we live by courage or fear? 

"Come on, climb right behind me," Jonathan said to his armor bearer, "for the Lord will help us defeat them!" So they climbed up using both hands and feet, and the Philistines fell back as Jonathan and his armor bearer killed them right and left. They killed about twenty men in all, and their bodies were scattered over about half an acre." 

And do you know where King Saul - Jonathan's father - was during all of this? 
Sitting under a pomegranate tree.
What a legacy.

Your opportunity's coming. Our story is yet to be written.
"Perhaps the Lord will help us...."