Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A Balanced Political Perspective

The health care debate seems to have highlighted our nation's political divide. I continue to get emails, see facebook status updates, news reports, etc. - that make me cringe. Especially as Christians, I wish we could agree that the health care system is unjust. There are too many people who simply cannot afford quality health care. What saddens me in this is the ongoing ASSUMPTION that low income families and those who cannot afford health care are lazy. Where does this "I work hard for mine" and "they don't" mindset come from?! There is so much self-righteousness and so little grace in spoken and unspoken sentiments such as these. So whether we approve of a government run health care system or not, we should all agree that major health care reform is needed.

There are two blogs that I read frequently that recently posted write-ups on politics that I think are on point, well thought through, and gracious. Joel Hamernick at his blog entitled City Grace, wrote a post entitled "The Church Caused (and could undo) Big Government." Pastor Lance, at his blog entitled Blaque Tulip, wrote a post entitled "Divided By Politics."

I would love to hear feedback on these posts if you decide to check them out.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Praise Report For Friday

First of all, thank you for joining in prayer for the event that took place this past Friday in Washington DC. I got an email update from one of the ministry leaders that traveled to DC. (Note: He asked that I not share his name or the name of the ministry. He is a dear brother, and they are definitely working "in the trenches.") Here is what he had to share...

"Thank you for praying for the outreach efforts at the Muslims’ Jummah prayer at the Washington, DC Mall on Friday, September 25th. The leaders of the event advertised that they expected 50,000+ Muslims to attend. The real number of Muslims who attended was between 3,000 and 8,000 at its height.

One person estimated that about 75% of all the Muslims that were on the mall on Friday were offered either the Jesus DVD, the More than Dreams DVD, or other Gospel materials (another person estimated that every Muslim there was offered Gospel materials at least once, and many had multiple opportunities). Our outreach director also thought that at least 60% of the Muslims accepted these Gospel materials, some with great joy and gladness. The More than Dreams DVD (www.morethandreams.org) was particularly well received, sometimes even sought after by Muslims. We, and those we worked with, distributed over 2,500 packets of materials.

Among those our team worked with, and others too, there were more than 90 believers reaching out to the Muslims at this event with an appropriate attitude. Beyond the passing out of Gospel materials, there were many good and Christ-centered conversations with Muslims. Many on our team ended their day extremely excited about how they felt God was at work through their efforts among the Muslims. Truly, God heard your prayers. THANK YOU FOR PRAYING!"

I am thankful for ministries, churches, and missionaries that are burdened to see Muslims come to know Christ! Let's continue to lift these ministries up to the Lord!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

An Opportunity On The Washington Mall - Be In Prayer

This Friday September 25th, there is going to be an Islamic prayer event on Washington DC mall. It is anticipated that there will be 50,000 Muslims praying there and the website promoting the event says, "Our Time Has Come."

In light of this event, a Chicago based ministry (that we partner with) sees this as an incredible opportunity to reach Muslims with the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are driving a van and an SUV full of people to DC for this occasion and are giving a copy of the Jesus Film DVD to as many Muslims there as will accept them. These DVDs are in 16 of the most commonly spoken languages among Muslims. There are other Christian ministries throughout the country who will have a similar effort going tomorrow.

I recently received an email from a ministry staff person sharing the following prayer request. "Please, sincerely pray for this outreach on Friday. There will be another group of people there who are planning on rudely inciting Muslims' anger and we don't want to be associated with these people - surely this would be counter-productive. I believe that evangelism is a high form of spiritual warfare and we intent to be fully engaged. Again, please pray for all those working to get the message of Jesus Christ to the Muslims in DC on Friday."

This event is yet another in a string of recent events that has brought the religion of Islam into greater media attention. Just to keep things straight, Islam is the religion. Muslims are those who follow Islam (In the same way Christianity/Christians). Sadly man of us here in the US, and especially Christians, do not understand Islam. Like most things we don't understand, we fear it. Therefore we not only fear the religion, we fear Muslims (if we are honest in most cases). However, we must keep things in perspective. As followers of Jesus Christ we should hate Islam, but we MUST love Muslims. In other words, we must hate the religious system that keeps people in spiritual bondage and distracts them from the true message of Jesus Christ. At the same time, we must love Muslims and must be intentional about building relational bridges in order to share the liberating message of the Gospel.

For years in our churches we have prayed for the "1040 Window." The 10/40 Window is an area of the world that contains the largest population of non-Christians in the world. The area extends from 10 degrees to 40 degrees North of the equator, and stretches from North Africa across to China. Many of the nations and people groups within the 1040 Window are Muslim. These nations have been "closed" to the gospel, making Christian missionary activity illegal. We have been praying that God would open doors and allow missionaries to enter these places. I now believe that God, in His Sovereignty, is bringing these nations to us in the US. Acts 17:26-27 speaks to God's Sovereignty over the movement of people. It states, "From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us." In light of this verse, could the fact that we now have an ever-increasing number of "Muslims living among us" be in His Sovereign plan. I think this is the case.

So then the question becomes, do we view this as an "opportunity" or as a "threat"?

Romans 10:14-16 states, "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"

This is not the time to send emails that evoke fear. This is not the time to work towards tighter "border security." This is not the time to retreat into our "Christian bubbles." This is the time to dig into the Scripture and to know what we believe and why we believe it. This is the time to live intentional Christian lives. This is the time to be the Church.

(I know that someone is asking/thinking, "but what about Jihad?" What about Muslims that view us - Christians - as the enemy? Should we not consider them our enemies?" My response would be to remind them that Jesus gave us instructions in how to deal with "enemies." He commanded us to love them!)

Thoughts? I really would like to have discussion on this!

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Would You Still Seek Jesus?

Recently I have been reading through the book of Psalms. I have really been enjoying it! I love the transparency of David through all of his ups and downs. I also have taken note of His exalted view of God. He was a man who in spite of his issues and in spite of his circumstances truly sought after God.

It has reminded me of a message that Dr. Fuder gave at a CCDA conference a few years back. He asked a challenging and thought-provoking question to those of us serving in positions of spiritual leadership, those of us actively working "for Jesus." Here is what he asked, "If God (hypothetically) told us that (1)when we died we would go to heaven (eternal security/salvation) and (2)I will never use you again on earth, WOULD YOU STILL SEEK AFTER JESUS? Would you still seek to know Him? Would you seek His face? Would you still worship Him and to enjoy Him?" My response: Whew!

He then reminded us that Henry Blackaby defines spiritual leadership as bringing followers (those whom we influence & serve) into face to face encounters with Jesus. He exhorted us that "if we are going to take people deep into the things of God, it means that we have to be drinking deeply from that well." For those of us in spiritual leadership positions, we cannot call anyone to what we ourselves are not about.

In Psalm 43 David said that God referred to God as his "joy and delight." I have really been thinking on his words. Does my heart echo this? Does yours?

The thing that really challenges me is this. I know that I love to do His work, but I don't always love (and treasure, and cherish, and delight in)HIM with this same passion and devotion. By God's grace...

$3 Worth Of God

I have a subscription to Voice Of The Martyrs magazine(I highly recommend it!). Each month the magazine highlights various stories of Christians throughout the world who are facing persecution because of their faith in Jesus Christ. In the August 2009 issue, the opening article contains a quote that I thought was worth sharing. I am not familiar with the author or the historical context during which it was written, but I think it is relevant to us as Christ-followers today. Especially in this day and age within the American church where we have made comfort an idol. Here it is...

"I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please. Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I don't want enough of God to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant worker. I want ecstasy, not transformation. I want warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please. - Wilbur Rees

Monday, September 14, 2009

13.1 Mile Reflections

This past Sunday morning I competed/ran in my first half-marathon, the Chicago Half Marathon. I don't remember when exactly I decided to run, but it wasn't that long ago. I began training on August 13th, just after returning from our annual Montana trip. I began lifting and running on a much more consistent from that day up until the race. I actually really enjoyed the training, even though each "big run" was "the longest run of my running career."

I was nervous the morning of as I woke up at 5:50am. I couldn't believe how many people were there when I got to the start line - 20,000 runners. People had told me that the day of the race, "I would run on adrenaline," and they were right. It was really encouraging to see so many spectators out there cheering us on. The first part of the race felt great, but when I hit the 9 mile mark, things got tough. Thankfully, I was able to press through, and when I hit the 11 mile mark, I felt like I got my second wind. I finished with a time of 2 hours, 4 minutes, and 29 seconds. Out of 20,000 runners, I came in 2,989th place.

I am thankful for everyone that prayed for me! I am also thankful for everyone that made generous donations towards Sunshine Gospel Ministry's youth outreach programs.

Here are a few race memories/thoughts...

Most Memorable Sign: About 2 miles into the race, someone was holding a sign that said, "The Kenyans Are Behind You!" - classic!

Most Memorable Interview: I have to give a shout out to Brittney Rost and Nikki Blodgett for the live interview that they did as I ran.

Favorite Running Song In My I-Tunes: "Turning Point" by J'Son

Most Interesting Running Outfit: There were three guys that ran in a group that ran in "running skirts." These were not "kilts," these were skirts. Nuff said.

Devotional/Spiritual Thought: Throughout my month of training I was reminded of Paul's words in 1 Timothy 4:7-8 where he says, "Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives' tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come." Over the course of my month of training I disciplined myself to so many runs per week, and so many lifts per week. I changed my diet. I got up early for some runs, and others I carved out times in the evening. I was challenged during this process by the question, "am I training myself for godliness just as hard?" By God's grace, am I diligent and disciplined in my pursuit of Christlikeness? That is a convicting thought.

I am grateful to God for the health and the strength to run. I hope to continue to stay in this "half-marathon shape" and compete in future races.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Eleven Poorology Principles

I thought I would pass these on as I am working on a session for some trainings I am teaching this week. I have to give a shout out to my guy Dr. Fuder!!

Eleven Poorology Principles
Compiled by Dr. John Fuder – Moody Theological Seminary

1)God has special concern for the poor and neglected
-Psalm 146:7-9 = who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the sojourners; He upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

2)The needy are seeking and receptive to God
-Isaiah 41:17 = When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue is
parched with thirst, I the LORD will answer them; I the God of Israel will not forsake them.

3)Scripture expects and commands us to help those in need
-Zechariah 7:9-10 = Thus says the LORD of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart."

4)Ministry to the needy is the basis in Scripture of true religion
-James 1:27 = Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

5)Poverty, or the poor, is a testing ground for Christian love to be shown
-Matthew 26:11 = For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.
-Deuteronomy 25:11 = For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, 'You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.'

6)We show our love for the Lord by the way we treat those in need
-Matthew 25:40 = And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'

7)Ministering to those in need is the very basis of knowing God
-Jeremiah 22:16 = He judged the cause of the poor and needy; then it was well. Is not this to know me? declares the LORD.

8)We should respond in ministry to the poor knowing that we could have been born poor ourselves
-Deuteronomy 24:17,18 = "You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge, but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this.

9)God will bless and reward those who care for the poor
-Psalm 41:1-3 = Blessed is the one who considers the poor! In the day of trouble the LORD delivers him; the LORD protects him and keeps him alive; he is called blessed in the land; you do not give him up to the will of his enemies. The LORD sustains him on his sickbed; in his illness you restore him to full health.

10)We may end up poor ourselves if we don’t help those in need
-Proverbs 21:13 = Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.

11)We will be judged for not helping those in need
-Malachi 3:5 = Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts.

Reflecting on my Re-birth on my Birthday

From the time I was born up until about the 4th or 5th grade, my family was very active in our church – First Baptist Church of Paw Paw. My parents were youth leaders for a few years there, my dad ministered through music, and my mom was active in women’s ministry. I was faithfully in Sunday school and church. We also went to AWANA club (A Bible club for kids) every Thursday evening at the local elementary school. Church was very much a part of my life, and for the most part I enjoyed it. I loved the Bible stories. I liked the challenge of memorizing Scriptures. My life was impacted by several of the adult leaders at the church. I heard the gospel of Jesus Christ often – that He is God who became a man, lived a sinless life, and willingly died on the cross for my sins and for the sins of the world, and then raised from the dead 3 days later. I loved that story as a kid, and I understood that Jesus was the way to heaven (I wanted no part of hell.). At the age of 6 (approximately) I prayed a prayer of salvation, acknowledging that I was a sinner, accepting Jesus for who He was and his payment on the cross for my sins, and inviting Him into my life. My Sunday school teachers assured me that I was saved. However, in the next 2 or 3 years at a couple of different youth events – when they gave an invitation for salvation, I went forward again just to make sure that it had “stuck.”

Then in about the 4th or 5th grade the church we were attending “split.” There were sexual molestation accusations made by one family against another family. What was once a growing, healthy church was now split in half. Our family left the church. We began going to church in a neighboring town, but we never really got connected like we had been at our last church. If fact, our attendance became very inconsistent to almost non-existent at times. As I entered into junior high, although I considered myself a Christian, my faith in Christ had no impact upon my life. The things I cared about the most were sports, trying to fit in, and getting good grades – probably in that order. Those priorities carried over into high school. I had “hoop dreams” as I envisioned myself playing college and potentially even professional basketball some day. Then as I began playing high school football, I began to develop college football aspirations as well. I worked very hard, lifting weights, conditioning my body, working on my game(s) with a lot of intensity. I dedicated my high school summers to preparing for the football and basketball seasons that lie ahead. In the classroom, I pushed myself just as hard. At the end of my high school years, I had earned student and athlete of the year honors at Paw Paw High School. Those are great accomplishments. However, the problem was that my whole identity was wrapped up in who I was primarily as an athlete and secondarily as a student. God really didn’t fit into my equation. Oh sure, I thanked him after a good game and I prayed to him before a big test, but that is pretty much the extent. I had placed God in the backseat of my life, and only turned to him during emergencies. In spite of my distancing myself from God, I wasn’t necessarily living a “crazy, immoral lifestyle.” I was trying to be the “good kid.” However, I wasn’t trying to please God, I was trying to please my parents, my teachers, my coaches, etc. Truth be told, I was dead in my sins. I thought I was self-sufficient, I was giving into my lusts, and I was enslaved to people pleasing.

I headed to Albion College in the fall of 1996. The summer leading into that fall, I decided to give both basketball and football a try. I worked hard to earn a spot as a quarterback on the roster, only to have my position changed and to have a place on the “scout team.” In basketball, I came off the bench on the jayvee team (at Div. 3 Albion). In the classroom, I was challenged like never before and feeling very average. My high school girlfriend and I broke up. I gave the “party scene” a brief stint, but that just wasn’t me no matter how hard I wanted it to be or tried to make it to be. I even got caught with alcohol in my dorm and got placed in social probation first semester. I was broken and humbled and I was asking one main question, “who am I?” This is where God made the move on me. I believe that God in His Sovereignty removed the things in my life that I had elevated over Him. He brought me to a place where my notions of self-sufficiency were crushed. In the midst of this, he put key Christian brothers in my life. The guy across the hall named Donny really impacted me. He was a football player too. He could be found reading the Bible in the early morning, and sometimes in the late evening. He would also play his guitar and sing worship songs. In the football locker room he modeled integrity and character no matter what was being discussed. He was my same age, but he loved Jesus, and he lived for Jesus, and he stood out on campus.

I was at a crossroads. It was either time to truly follow Christ for myself, or to simply live for me. The faith of my grandparents and parents wasn’t going to cut it. My faith had to become my own. Jesus had to become real to me. That freshman year of college, Jesus rocked me. I didn’t do anything to earn my way to God, Jesus did it all for me. I began to learn that my true identity was “in Christ” – 2 Corinthians 5:17. My life has not been the same since. It has been an adventure. Jesus is so much more than a ticket to heaven, He is what makes life worth living. He has become and is becoming my life. He came down, He died for me, He forgave me, He raised me up, He adopted me as His son, and He has given my life purpose and joy (Ephesians 2:8-10).

I am thankful today on my 32nd birthday for all that Jesus has done and will continue to do in my life!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Professor Rah Interviews John Perkins

I am looking forward to this year's CCDA Conference in Cincinnati to hear both of these brothers preach and teach. If you have never read any of John Perkins books, I strongly encourage you to do so! I would start with his biography "Let Justice Roll Down." I also recommend "Beyond Charity," "Restoring At Risk Communities," and "With Justice For All."

Soong-Chan Rah, who is now a professor at North Park University here in Chicago, recently wrote a very important book for the Church here in America entitled "The Next Evangelicalism." I highly recommended it. It is a challenging and thought provoking read.

Christ-Centered Preaching

One of the blogs I follow is "Pure Church" by Thabiti Anyabwile. He recently had a post where he shared quotes by various men of God on Christ-Centered preaching. Here are a few that stuck out to me...

Martin Luther: "I preach as though Christ was crucified yesterday, rose from the dead today, and is coming back tomorrow."

Charles Bridges: "Let Him be the diamond in the bosom of your every sermon."

Charles Spurgeon: "A sermon without Christ as its beginning, middle, and end is a mistake in conception and a crime in execution.... When we preach Jesus Christ, then we are not putting out the plates, and the knives, and the forks, for the feast, but we are handing out the bread itself.... [Let us] preach Christ to sinners if we cannot preach sinners to Christ.... I wish that our ministry--and mine especially--might be tied and tethered to the cross."

For more, check out the rest of Thabiti's post.