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dutch speed skatersThe Olympics bring out the nationalism in all of us. We love to see the Americans win, stand on the podium with a tear in their eye, trying to remember the words to the national anthem.

But I have to confess something:  I love it that the Netherlands has won 22 medals in speed skating so far!!  I love their devotion to orange! And I love that the king and queen are there in their orange sports attire, cheering their skaters on!

Now Norway has more medals, but I don’t really have the same feelings for Norway. The Russians and the Canadians feel to me like long-time rivals, so I don’t cheer for them either.  I do love to see the Germans do well, but they are a powerhouse country, so they should do well—maybe better than they are doing!

So why do I love the Dutch? I’ll come back to answer that question in a minute.

Let’s move to a different plane and switch from talking about national sport teams to talking about which countries God loves.

Sometimes we Americans think that God is an American and that He loves all the other countries, but just wishes they were like His special country!  That’s pure jingoism—and not really harmless nationalism.

Some people think Israel is God’s favorite country!  But Jesus said, And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham” (Matt. 3:9). God does love the children of Abraham . . . the true ones.

We don’t have to guess about this: here is our final answer!  The final answer is “God so loved the world that He gave His only Son . . . .”  Red and yellow, black and white—and all the colors in all the flags—and all the people standing and singing all those foreign anthems.

So now we can get back around to the Dutch:  maybe if I can figure out why I love the Dutch, then I can better understand what it will take to love the Norwegians, for instance.

From a lifetime of being involved with the world, here are some tips I have learned about how to learn to love the world:

Travel to other countries, but not with a bunch of other Americans. If your only experience in other countries is disembarking from a cruise ship for a few hours, or flying over, traveling to all the sights in a bus with your former classmates or some other affinity group, then you may have had a great trip, but you have not given yourself a chance to really fall in love with other people.

Go to one country at a time—not as many as you can squeeze into seven days.  From the Netherlands you can get to Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, France, and the U.K (by hovercraft) in less than two hours, so it is tempting to use Amsterdam as a jumping off point to “see it all.”  But then you won’t love the Netherlands!

Just within an hour of Amsterdam are Haarlem, Leyden, Alkmaar, Zaanse Schans, Keukenhof, Marken, Vollendam, Delft, den Haag, and a lot more wonderful and fascinating sites and places. If you take a one-hour canal tour of Amsterdam and then leave for the next country, you have missed almost everything!!

Get to know some local people! This may not be as easy as it sounds. Here are some tips that might work for you:

  • Go to church on Sunday.  That’s where Christians are on Sunday, so if you want to meet local Christians, go where they are. Be prepared to accept an invitation to eat with them afterwards.
  • Go with a short-term mission group that interacts closely with local people. In Let’s Start Talking projects, you can sit and talk with locals all day long!
  • Stay at a bed-and-breakfast instead of a tourist hotel.  If you are young and brave enough, the youth hostels are also a great place to meet people.
  • Travel by train instead of by car.  Cars insulate us; public transportation throws people together.
  • Go to a “small” event.  We have gone to high school soccer games, local school performances, local church-sponsored concerts, auctions, flea markets, for instance.  You just have to appear to be open to meeting new people and they will come up and introduce themselves to you.

Learn about the country: history, culture, current events, art—not in order to become an expert, but because we don’t care very much about things we don’t know much about! I hardly know anything about Norway; that’s the problem, isn’t it!!

And here is the big secret I have for you:  you will begin to love every country where you begin to know people who live there!  I’m quite sure that national boundaries have very little to do with why God loves the world.  He loves the world because He loves the people of the world.

One of the comments that we hear often from LST workers coming back from their short-term mission trip is “I used to always pray for all the people in the world, but now I know some of those people, so I pray for them by name.”

If you only love Americans, you have not begun to tap the capacity of your heart for loving people.  God made your heart big enough to love the world too!

 

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little leaguerFor weeks now we have been listening to the almost vicious rhetoric of Washington politicos as well as their radio and TV surrogates, attacking the other party, predicting catastrophe, twisting truth to their own advantage, and leveraging the economic welfare of the entire country for the sake of their political ideology.

Even after the last-minute aversion of going over the brink, the pundits were talking about the visceral “hate” directed toward the President and/or toward the Tea Party. No pejorative, no twisted truth, no ad hominem seemed to be off-limits.

Today all of the morning shows are highlighting the very sad case of Rebecca Sedwick, a twelve-year-old girl who jumped to her death from a tower as the result of being bullied by girls at school. The bullying took the form not only of verbal insults across a variety of social media, but also words like “You should kill yourself,” and “You should die.”

The conclusion on the morning shows is that mean girls are getting meaner.

Does anyone else see a correlation between this adult hate-mongering and our children doing the same thing with their peers?

When I was in high school at a private Christian school, we started a music club for the high achievers in the school’s music program. Certain standards were set for membership: a high grade average, a certain number of performances, etc.  But we also included a “blackball” rule.  It only took one member’s “No” vote to keep someone out of this school-sponsored club.

In today’s world, this sounds pretty bad, but I’m just remembering all the country clubs, sororities and fraternities, and other social groups which had similar rules at that time.  We kids were mirroring in our immaturity the behavior we knew to be common in the “best” circles.

Is it possible that our children are simply mirroring the aggression that they hear at the dinner table or on the ball field or on the car radio as we drive to church?

Try these questions and see if they make a difference:

  • Would you use the same descriptive words about your spouse or best friend with whom you disagree as you use on those who offend you politically?
  • Do you really want to expose yourself AND your children to the ratings-oriented rantings of radio talk shows?
  • Do you want your children talking to teachers and school authorities like you talk to referees, umpires, and opposing coaches?
  • Do you really want to teach your children that a person’s relationship to God hinges on whether they approve of universal healthcare or not?

Are these verses still in our New Testaments?

 All of you must yield to the government rulers. No one rules unless God has given him the power to rule, and no one rules now without that power from God. So those who are against the government are really against what God has commanded. And they will bring punishment on themselves. . . . This is also why you pay taxes. Rulers are working for God and give their time to their work. Pay everyone, then, what you owe. If you owe any kind of tax, pay it. Show respect and honor to them all. Romans 13

Yes, I know that in a democracy we participate in government and, in fact, ARE the government, if you buy into “of the people, for the people, by the people,” but I don’t think that fact gives permission and certainly doesn’t require citizens to be mean-spirited or aggressively disparaging towards those with whom they disagree.

If anything, I think it suggests that we Christians have a greater obligation to be “peacemakers,” to “honor the king,” and to “do good to all men.”

And if not for our ourselves and our country, surely we agree that we should not teach our children to be mean!

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Sunday mornings I seem to find myself humming hymns as I make the coffee, take a walk, and start getting dressed for church.  Maybe it’s the new year, maybe it’s the time of life, or maybe it’s just God’s Spirit, but I woke this morning with the old hymn Hold To God’s Unchanging Hand in my head.

Our older son Philip was not an easy baby to put to bed. It seems like we would spend hours rocking and patting and singing quietly to him to coax him to give up and go to sleep.  We had the usual repertoire of lullabies that parents our age knew, but because we had to have LOTS of songs, we often slipped into some of the older, quieter hymns from our childhood.

One of Philip’s favorites from those old songs was Hold To God’s Unchanging Hand. The chorus almost  pulsates with the emphasis on each word, and even baby Philip quite quickly picked up the refrain and would start singing it with us—much to our chagrin, since we were trying to get him to go to sleep! But it was sweet as well.

Hold To God’s Unchanging Hand was written by F.L. Eiland, a 19th century pioneer of church music in the Restoration Movement.  He not only wrote many hymns himself, but he, along with others, published hymnals and started  Southern Development Normal in Waco, Texas, a school for educating those who would learn more about music.  You can find out more about him at http://www.therestorationmovement.com/eiland.htm .

I have always loved the song because in music and lyrics, it speaks truth about God’s faithfulness, especially His steadfast love!

Time is filled with swift transition! If the days were short in the 19th century, imagine how much shorter they feel to us in the 21st century! Our electronic calendars delete the days, weeks, months, and years of our lives with very short keystrokes!  Fifty-year-old neighborhoods are knocked down for new houses, five-year-old Ipods are throwaway toys for our grandchildren as we move on to Ipads. You realize one day that everyone in your favorite old movie is dead now!  Naught of earth unmoved can stand!

Trust in Him who will not leave you, /Whatsoever years may bring, /If by earthly friends forsaken/ Still more closely to Him cling.

Sherrylee and I were driving the other day and talking about how many of the people with whom we were closest twenty-five years ago are now not part of our lives any more. One or two have died, some have moved—actually we moved away—some have changed, some are divorced and remarried, and a few just don’t like us anymore!

The emphasis on relationships and community that postmodernism has reintroduced to us is absolutely wonderful and certainly more godly than an every-man-for-himself society, but we are foolish if our faith is in relationships with people instead of God! Only God will never leave you!

When your journey is completed . . . I could never remember the third verse because the tradition in our church was always to sing only the first, second, and last verses. Life has a last verse too and it comes so quickly that you wonder if you haven’t skipped a verse or two in life as well.  Brevity makes it even more  important to sing the last verse well!

Build your hopes on things eternal. Hold to God’s unchanging hand! 

Next time you see one of those cute pictures of an old couple, or a dad and his daughter, or a baby and its grandmother holding hands, let it remind you of God holding your hand. And don’t be afraid of all those changes and transitions and new chapters and abridgements—because He will never let go!

Hold to His hand, to God’s unchanging hand!  Let that pulsating refrain be your heartbeat –and you’ll sleep better every night of your life.

 

 

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modestyWe may need a new word for whatever we are trying to describe when we talk about modesty.

At lunch the other day in our office, I was eating with our mostly female staff and one of them started talking about how some of the women dressed at the church where she attends, that is, how immodest they were.

I, playing the devil’s advocate, started asking questions, trying to suggest that modesty is a very difficult concept to define at any particular time.

I remember the story my grandfather told me many years ago. He was born in Kansas in 1883, played basketball when they still used peach baskets for goals and was a cowboy in Arizona before it became a state.

He told me once that when he was a school boy, he would drop a pencil on the floor, so that he could lean down below the desks and get a look at a girl’s ankles. Not excusing my Granddad for his own responsibility for his thoughts, but does that mean that skirts that came up above the ankles might have been considered immodest?

Have you ever been in the art museums and wondered why all the women captured in portraits during the 17th and 18th centuries had high foreheads and large eyes?  I asked our tour guide once, and she told me that women then plucked their foreheads back because high foreheads were considered beautiful.  The large eyes were probably the artist “touching up” the pictures to beautify the woman as well.

Now many of these same women in these portraits also are showing a good bit of cleavage.  Sherrylee’s mother used to say with great principle: “Cleavage . . . (emotional pause for emphasis) is for the bedroom!”

So, which is more immodest—too much forehead or too much cleavage??  Too much ankle or too much thigh?

I was in an antique store the other day and they were playing “oldies.”  Purple People Eater has that sexy little musical insert of girls singing:  “Who wears short shorts? / We wear short shorts!” thrown into the middle of a pretty ridiculous song, but it did make me think the other day that what in 1958 were short shorts are pretty standard wear today.

If someone came up to you and suggested that any girl or woman in your family was dressing immodestly, I suspect everyone reading this would be first shocked, then offended!

So, here are my two questions: does anyone know what anyone else means by modest –and, perhaps more pertinent, does anyone really care about modesty anymore?

To underline my point challenging modest as a viable word, I suspect most Christians will be surprised to discover that every dictionary’s list of synonyms for the word modest as : humble, unassuming, unpretentious, along with the actions that accompany these adjectives.  None of these synonyms addresses directly the idea of how little or how much clothing someone is wearing.  Well, then what do Christians mean when they talk about modesty?

Dressing to be stylish?  Dressing to be attractive?  Dressing to be sexy? (Is there a difference between attractive and sexy?)  Dressing to be suggestive (for me at least, a step further than being sexy, i.e., like a street prostitute—and, yes, I’ve seen these all over Europe.)?

And how much does modesty have to do with appropriateness?   One of the first arguments Sherrylee and I had when we were dating was over her comment about a modest swimsuit. I argued that there was no such thing.  My understanding of modesty at the time had everything to do with how much clothing covered how much skin and nothing to do with intent, nothing to do with context, and nothing to do with appropriateness.

What word could we use that would include intent, context, and appropriateness

I’ve thought about chaste, but chastity seems to be forever tied to virginity.  I’ve thought about purity or perhaps even holy, and while those words speak to intent, they don’t really seem to address context or appropriateness.

Well, as you can see, I don’t have the answer, but I do think we have to have a conversation because there is a virtue here that needs to be described.

Hey, what do you think about virtuous?  

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Christmas-PageantThat’s the last thing my kids need! All they think about is Christmas!

I know what you mean. I remember one of our grandkids who, as a three-year-old, took all the toy catalogues that came in the mail and circled everything in each one that Santa should bring!  And, of course, almost everything was circled!

I just wonder if doing some things intentionally with our children to help them remember Jesus might counteract some of the overwhelming advertising that they see every day? 

Let’s do this first:  without any framing or context, just ask your kids why Christmas is a holiday. You might do it like this:

1)      Hey, kids, why do we have Christmas anyway?

2)      Does anyone know how Christmas got started?

3)      What’s the best thing about Christmas?

I’m guessing that at least 50% of the time, you’ll get something about presents. Older kids may mention Jesus, so if they do, here are some follow-up questions for you to try:

1)      So what does the birth of Jesus have to do with Christmas?

2)      Do you think most people are celebrating the birth of Jesus?  What do you think most people are celebrating at Christmastime?

3)      When do you think about Jesus at Christmas?

That’s just the starting activity for you as parents to find out where your kids are.  Knowing what they think will help you prepare for the rest of Advent.

Of course, I don’t know what your kids will say to these questions, so I’m just going to share with you some different activities that you might try to help your kids think about Jesus during this season.  You pick and choose what works for your kids–or discard completely and substitute your own ideas.

 

This first week of Advent is almost over, so use these ideas Saturday and Sunday and on Saturday, I’ll post the second week of activities, and then each week, I’ll give you some more ideas for that week. I’d love to hear the ideas that you add to these. Please share them with all of us.

First Advent Week      God So Loved the World

The Big Idea:

From the beginning, God loved us so much that He planned to send Jesus—to the whole world!

Ideas:

  1. You might find an inexpensive globe—any size—and use it to talk about God making the whole world and loving every single person in every country.  You could take some modeling clay and let your child make a big Earth of clay and then “populate” it with dots.  Message: God planned when He made the world to send Jesus to help us because He loves us so much!
  2. I love advent calendars—you know, the ones with 25 little windows that children can open each day before Christmas. The typical ones have little pieces of candy behind each window.  Candy is part of God’s goodness, so I wouldn’t avoid those. There are also Christian advent calendars that have verses behind each window—or pictures of some nativity person or event.  You can find them at Christian bookstores or online.
  3. I saw a great idea for making your own advent calendar while we were in Germany.  They took a simple length of rope—maybe 4-5 feet long—and then they used very small children’s mittens, one for each day, hung on the rope by a wooden clothes pin.  I don’t think you put 25 up, rather 7 for each day of that week, and then you can put a little verse, a little picture you have cut out, a little figure perhaps—and don’t forget a little piece of candy!
  4. If your kids are a little older, you might try reading Isaiah 9:6-7, and talk with them about the fact that Isaiah is telling about Jesus 700 years before Jesus is born. God loved us so much that He began His plan hundreds of years (really thousands—you can go back to Abraham’s promise(Gen 12:1-3) —or further to the first prophecy of Jesus to Eve (Gen. 3:15).  Then, I’d suggest asking your older child, what could they do that would bless someone in the future, maybe someone who would be born 100 years from now—and let them do it!

I want to suggest some good music each time as well. I myself am a big believer in exposing kids to good classical music, so the first song I’d suggest is from Handel’s Messiah, “For Unto Us A Child Is Born”—one of my favorites.

If you need something lighter, but still classy, Mary Chapin Carpenter’s song “Come Darkness, Come Light” is one that has great words, a simple melody, and it will be new to your kids.  You can find both of these easily online.

That’s enough for the first week of Advent. I’ll have more for you for next week on Saturday.  Let me hear how this first week goes.

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SikhsIn an article that appeared in August web-only edition of Christianity Today, Abby Stocker wrote about “The Craziest Statistic You’ll Read About North American Missions.”  Her article opens with this paragraph:

One out of five non-Christians in North America doesn’t know any Christians. That’s not in the fake-Gandhi-quote “I would become a Christian, if I ever met one” sense. It’s new research in Gordon-Conwell’s Center for the Study of Global Christianity’s Christianity in its Global Context, 1970-2020. Missiologist Todd M. Johnson and his team found that 20 percent of non-Christians in North America really do not “personally know” any Christians. That’s 13,447,000 people—about the population of metropolitan Los Angeles or Istanbul—most of them in the United States.

The study shows that it is not the atheists and agnostics clustered together in academia or Hollywood or the liberal unbelieving media whom evangelicals love to hate that make up the majority of those who do not know a Christian.

No, mostly it is the immigrants and those they live among.  Here is the chart that was published with the study:

stats

And although Christians make up one-third of the world’s population, eight out of 10 people in the world do not know a Christian.

Sherrylee and I just went to a wonderful Journey to Generosity retreat and in the opening session, we were confronted with the fact that Americans hoard much of the world’s wealth.

So is it worse to be poor because we hoard our wealth—or to be LOST because we hoard Jesus??  I’m not so sure it is not the same thing if looked at from our side of the equation.

So why do you think that 79% of the Sikhs in North America don’t know any Christians?  It’s not because of a scarcity of Christians; it’s not for lack of churches they could visit?

Well, how many Sikhs do you know?  How many Buddhists from Asia live in your community?  How many Chinese?

Just last week there was a Chinese couple in Wal-mart and I could tell they were searching for something that they couldn’t find, so I asked them if I could help.   They were looking for that kind of ice cream with many flavors in it, so I found the Neapolitan and they were quite pleased.  I wish I had been even friendlier and asked about them and . . . .who knows what might have come from a little conversation about ice cream.

They might already be Christians!!  But I don’t know because I didn’t take the time to even offer to get to know them.  And because of that they may still be one of the many Chinese in our country who don’t know any Christians.

I’ve quoted this verse before in describing the reason for the FriendSpeak program, that we offer churches through the Let’s Start Talking Ministry.  But surely the convicting results of this study should make us question whether we truly believe the verse to be inspired by God—or not!

26 God began by making one man, and from him he made all the different people who live everywhere in the world. He decided exactly when and where they would liveActs 17:26 (ERV)

Immigrants are in North America for the same reason you are—because God decided exactly when and where they would live.  And Paul says the reason that he put people in the same place was so that they could find Him!

It’s not just “foreigners”  who cluster in ghettos.  Christians do too!

What could you do to reduce the number of people who don’t know a Christian?

  • Make a point to speak to people of other origins in public places.
  • Find meaningful service projects to join or to launch in ethnic ghettos.
  • Adopt an international student from a local university!
  • Host a Thanksgiving meal at your church and invite the immigrant community nearest you, specifically!
  • Inquire about beginning a FriendSpeak ministry at your church (www.friendspeak.org)  and volunteer to be a part of it.

What can you add to this list?

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campfire songsHave you noticed that kumbaya has turned into a verb!

When I was barely a teenager, I was invited one summer to one of those all-city teen devotions that travels from church to church each week. (Do they still do those? That’s how you got to know the teens from other churches.)  Anyway, on this particular night, we were actually in some big park, and there was a young man from Thailand giving the devotional talk.  In the middle of his talk, he asked if any of us knew the song Kumbaya?  No one knew it, so he taught it to us—as a song of mission.

His version of the song’s story was the one where the African missionary is on his way to some place when he hears natives by the river singing, “Kum ba yah, my Lord, Kum ba yah,” which he translated as, “Come by here, my Lord, come by here.”

Then each verse is a reason for the missionary to stop there:  someone’s singing, someone’s praying, someone’s dying . . . . I think it was one of those songs to which you could add an endless number of verses.

It might have been three or four years before I went to any devotional after that where Kumbaya was NOT sung. It was that popular.

Of course, the early 60s were also the moment in musical history when folk music was the rage, so I’m pretty sure that Joan Baez recorded Kumbaya  and a little later Peter, Paul, and Mary included it in their repertoire as well.

Most of the folk singers took spirituals or spiritual songs and presented them as political songs, most often about freedom.  That’s what happened to Kumbaya.  It went from being what we called a “devo song” to being a “camp song.”

Camp songs were the songs sung around the campfire, usually with an acoustic guitar—simple, not elaborate melodies, often pretty repetitive.  Think of songs like Michael, Row the Boat Ashore or Where Have All the Flowers Gone? Anybody could play them, and everyone could sing them.  We could sing them at Bible camp, but also at Boy Scout camp, Campfire Girls Camp, or YMCA camp.

The evolution to a camp song, however, pretty much assured that the song would no longer be appropriate as a “devo” song.

By the mid-90’s, cynicism in American politics overwhelmed the song, and suddenly Kumbaya  became a symbol of a naïve innocence that was no longer viable reality.  Listen to what Rick Santorum is quoted as saying in a 1994 statement addressing the idea of paying young people for national service:

Someone’s going to pick up trash in a park and sing ‘Kumbaya’ around a campfire, and you’re going to give them 90 percent of the benefits of the GI Bill! That’s a slap in the face to every person who put their butts on the line in a foreign country. … That’s not what America is all about.”

Within ten more years, the metaphor is firmly entrenched into the sarcastic rhetoric of politics, suggesting that the harmony and mindless unity of sitting around a campfire and singing Kumbaya is not unreal, but not the desired reality either!

NPR quoted the White House Press Secretary Jay Carney recently as saying,

“I don’t think that anybody expected or expects Washington to be a campfire where everybody holds hands together and sings ‘Kumbaya,’ ” Carney said. “That’s not what the nation’s business is about.”

We were watching the new Denzel Washington movie 2 Guns the other day when his character came out with something along the line of “We are not going to be able to kumbaya our way out of the mess we are in.”  At the time, I thought to myself, “That poor song.  Does anyone remember at all its original meaning and sentiment?”

But then I started feeling worse for a people who laugh and scoff at innocence, for a people who feel that contentiousness is a greater virtue than consensus, for people who can’t trust anyone, and have no one greater than they are to follow.

Is it empty nostalgia to long for simple faith, to hold “naïve” confidence in the goodness of other people, or to be willing to trust those who lead us?

If you are a Christian who finds yourself too disappointed, too disillusioned, or just too cynical to believe or trust or follow, you might want to hum a little Kumbaya, and think about where you are looking for goodness, for certainty, for truth, for trust.  If you aren’t finding anything good where you are looking, then you are looking in the wrong place!

Try adding the words then to the melody of Kumbaya:  “Come by here, Lord, come by here,”   and make it your prayer.

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volcanoSherrylee and I were watching a Netflix movie last night about a rogue oil company that drilled too deep and hit a pocket of magnum. By bursting into this pocket of magnum, they created not only a catastrophic volcanic eruption in Oregon, but also a chain reaction with all the other volcanoes on the Pacific Rim.

The geologist who explained what was happening to everyone in the movie called it an ELE, an Extinction Level Event, meaning that if all of these volcanoes went up at the same time, the dust and ash would block out the sun for so long that life on Planet Earth as we know it would die out. Of course, he saved the world from the ELD and got the girl, so you can rest easy tonight!

Or can you?

I started thinking about churches/congregations and what an ELE for them would be.  For churches, this was my short list

  • The last young family with children leaves your church because you have no viable children’s program.
  • Your church only has two men willing to be elders and lead the church, and one of them quits and the other has an affair.
  • Your church overbuilds in a burst of faith-based optimism and then does not have the resources to repay the debt.
  • A church hires a divisive preacher and doesn’t get rid of him fast enough.
  • Your church makes the decision that it is too small or weak to be concerned externally, so God just wants you to take care of the flock already in the building.
  • The church’s vision is the same as the budget report!

Nothing can destroy the church of God! No power in this world or the invisible world!  But the lampstands of some individual expressions of God’s church will be removed (Revelation 2:5), if they don’t repent.

Interestingly, almost no one in the Oregon town of the movie believed that the ELE was possible.  And most of our churches don’t think it could happen to them either.  It might be worth one church meeting to just brainstorm the question: what could happen that would destroy this congregation.  Some natural events are both unpredictable and unavoidable.  Churches die naturally like people do.  But too many may die early deaths which could have been prevented.

In last night’s movie,  it took a single person being willing to risk his life in order to place a bomb in the right place to seal up the volcano, and only then was the world saved from extinction.

What might be the metaphorical bomb that needs to be put in the exact right place to save your congregation?

Who might be the person in your church who has to take the big risk?  You?

 

 

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Crucifixion of St. Peter by Caravaggio

Crucifixion of St. Peter by Caravaggio

“Christian convert from Islam shot dead in Kashmir.”  “Christians live in fear of death squads.”  These are real headlines about real Christians in our own times. Such persecution makes our complaining about discrimination towards Christians in America seem a little whiny to me!

Could it come to death squads in America or Christians in Guantanamo?  That hardly seems likely, but then it was probably just as impossible an idea for the people of Germany in 1932 as well, the year before they brought the National Socialist German Workers Party into the government.

The privileged political status that Christianity has enjoyed throughout American history seems to be coming to an end.  Changing attitudes toward Christians by large numbers of other Americans has begun to make us afraid that someday it might not be that we can’t pray in public schools, but that anyone caught praying could be thrown into the lions’ den.

How are Christians to respond in the face of suffering or persecution?  This may become the most pressing conversation we can have in the next century.

Graciously, God used His Spirit to guide his servant Peter to write a little short letter to Christians who were facing some suffering, and in this first letter Peter elaborated perfectly God’s Way with suffering as a Christian.  Here are a few of the instructions that we American Christians may need to know someday!

  1. Why should Christians ever expect to suffer?  “  . . . you have had to suffer various trials so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed..” 1:7
  2.  How do Christians prepare for this time of suffering?  Therefore prepare your minds for action; discipline yourselves; set all your hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring you when he is revealed.. . . purify your souls “by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.”1:22
  3. How do Christians live among those who would persecute them?  Conduct yourselves honorably among the pagans, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge. 2:12
  4. What should your attitude be toward a government that oppresses Christians?  For the Lord’s sake accept the authority of every human institution, whether of the emperor as supreme, 14 or of governors, as sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to praise those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. 16 As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil. 17 Honor everyone. Love the family of believers. Fear God. Honor the emperor. 2:13-17
  5. What should Christians do about employers who discriminate against them because of their faith? Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust.19 For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. 2:18,19
  6. What should Christian wives do who suffer at the hands of their non-Christian husbands?  Wives, in the same way, accept the authority of your husbands, so that, even if some of them do not obey the word, they may be won over without a word by their wives’ conduct, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.3:1-2
  7. What does it look like when a Christian woman accepts the authority of her non-Christian husband? . . .  they [husbands] see the purity and reverence of your lives.  . . .  let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God’s sight.” 3:2-4
  8. What about husbands who might suffer with non-Christian wives?  In the same way, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered. 3:7
  9. What about unmarried Christians, in fact, all Christians?  . . .  have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing.3:8,9

Peter encourages these first century Christians then, not with the promise of release from suffering, but with a framework for it:

Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14 But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15 but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. 3:13-15a

It’s not that Christians can’t defend themselves; Peter says to be ready to defend yourself . . . but pay attention to what that means to him:

Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. 17 For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. 3:15b-17

I suspect these are hard words for American Christians—but were they any easier for those first century Christians in the middle of their persecution and suffering. Are we supposed to be more protected from suffering?

Peter’s conclusions drive this point home clearly!  The Word should speak into our hearts as well as it did theirs!

12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you. 15 But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, a criminal, or even as a mischief maker.16 Yet if any of you suffers as a Christian, do not consider it a disgrace, but glorify God because you bear this name. . . . 19 Therefore, let those suffering in accordance with God’s will entrust themselves to a faithful Creator, while continuing to do good.

Did you know that traditionally Peter was crucified head-down for his faith?

When the world gets so upside down that God’s people suffer and die for doing good, no army, no vote, no march, no legislation, no petition, no guns, no talk shows are going to make things right again. 

No, Peter’s final word to us today tells us that only God can stop suffering—and He will!

Resist the Evil One, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. 10 And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.

 

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babe ruthBases loaded! One run down! Bottom of the ninth! Two outs! And you, the team captain come up to bat! Best player!  Most dependable! Cheerleader for the whole team!

And you strike out on three pitches!

I’ve read that one of the most difficult things for great baseball players to accept as they move from being a high school or college superstar to playing professionally is the inevitable and frequent disappointments—even failure—that is part of the game.

Hall of Fame players only get hits 30% of the time!  That means 7 out of 10 times that they bat, they make an out!

The big sluggers, the home-run kings, strike out more than anyone else, and only hit a home run about 1 out of 15 times at bat.

What do you do as a church/ministry leader when you “strike out?”  What do you do when you make a bad financial decision, the wrong hire, a damaging strategic decision?  What do you do when you and everyone in the whole stadium know that you just struck out on three pitches?

  • Some players blame the umpire, the fans, their wife, the team spirit—everybody but themselves.
  • Some players just throw the bat and slam their helmet down in rage. That helps everybody on the team feel better!
  • Some players give up on themselves; they quit.
  • Some players play cavalier—just pretend like it didn’t make any difference!

If these are not productive ways to respond when you strike out, what might we do:

  • Admit that you struck out!  Don’t try to pretend that you didn’t.
  • Don’t blame other people! Even if the pitcher is GREAT, he’s not striking everyone out, so somebody is hitting him!  The umpire is not calling everyone out on strikes.
  • Seek to understand the reason you struck out. Did you guess incorrectly? Were you too aggressive, too impatient, too unfocused? Did you irritate the umpire?
  • When you think you might know why, you might think about whether this is an area that you can improve upon with training, with practice, with coaching, with self-control—and then do what you need to do!
  • If you can’t figure out what you did wrong, then ask other people to tell you—and listen to them.
  • Get back up to bat as soon as you can.  Fear of failure is really bad! Once that gets into your head and takes over, it is increasingly difficult to succeed again.

In church leadership and ministry, even the best leaders are going to make dramatic errors. I’m not talking about moral choices or integrity issues, I’m just talking about bad decisions.  These decisions affect people’s jobs, people’s lives, and sometimes even people’s faith because so much of what people believe is wrapped up in the leaders they follow.

That is why it is so painful, just gut-wrenching when you make big, wrong decisions.

The Bible is full of great men who made terrible decisions:

  • Abram passes Sara off as his sister to Pharaoh
  • Jacob steals the birthright from Esau
  • Joseph can’t keep his dreams to himself
  • Moses kills the Egyptian in rage. Later he gets so frustrated with his people that he overstates his own role in satisfying their needs and offends God.
  • Samson, Jephthah, Eli—the judges God chose made big mistakes.
  • King Saul, even David, and especially Solomon

Haven’t you wondered as I have about the great heroes of faith in Hebrews 11, that is, how some of them made the list?  All of these were leaders—but all of them only got hits 3 out of 10 at-bats!!

After that list of great heroes in Hebrews 11, the writer says thatout of weakness [they]were made strong “ (v.34).

You will strike out!  Maybe a lot!  But if you can acknowledge your weakness and respond to it in a godly way, He can still make you a Hall of Fame player!

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