Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Not that a man has to be an Evangelical Christian to run the country, and I am sure that some well-meaning Christians are not even qualified to lead. Some are. I was preparing this post when I heard that Mitt Romney, a Republican candidate for President and practicing Mormon, was going to give a speech on faith. I was reasonably sure what he would say, and I was correct. It was a very eloquent speech about freedom, tolerance in American history, church and liberty with a subtle Universalist haze. Jesus was mentioned – a classic Mormon slight of hand - but it was a different Jesus, and most of all the One Thing was not to be found.
And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. 1 Cor 2:1,2
I must confess a little trickery here because this post is really about the church. For some reason there are leaders and church planters who use the exact same approach doing the same as the left-wing and liberals, but they are doing it in reverse. It basically says this: “Let’s talk about everything that we think they – non Christians - are interested in, but let’s leave out the One Thing. It might be too offensive. The less difference they see between us and them the greater chance they will come to our meetings.” Beneath this is hidden the fact that they know very few lost people; thus, the awkward approach.
I am honestly annoyed when people try to patronize me using my faith. They lose credibility in my eyes. They should simply say, “No, I am not a Christian, but I do think I can lead so please vote for me,” or “Sorry, I am an atheist, but this is still a good business deal.” I would respect that much more. (Actually, Mr. Romney was rather honest and true to his colors – vague colors I must add - unlike others who are election year chameleons.)
I also venture to say that non Christians must be annoyed when they see us courting them while trying to act like them and pretending to enjoy the same things that we think they enjoy. They might think, “Why are these guys hiding or even DENYING the traditional tenants of their faith just to get me to attend their meetings? I heard from my grandmother that they used to believe in something. What is it that they want so badly with me to make them do all of this?” (Beneath this is also hidden the fact that they don’t even know us, their neighbors and co-workers.)
Well, that is the question isn’t it? What is it we want with these people? Not votes. Are we driven by a success motivation to fill Sunday venues, catapult ourselves to Evangelical fame or are we driven to see people come to the Crossroad of the One Thing that will forever change their lives? By keeping the One Thing as an anchor of our creative evangelistic endeavors we can’t really go wrong. Removing it is disaster. Truth with love will prevail. It also helps to simply get to know people who are an arm’s length away. No artificiality, just …be as natural as Christ was.
but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 1 Pet 3:15
Moses, Paul & Seatbelts
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
I had put this topic on the shelf, but could no longer leave it there in light of the present debate concerning global warming. There are few areas where I really know what I am talking about, but I have a bit of an edge here. I have a firm foundation of math, Physics, Geology, Star Trek, Mr. Wizard and sometimes successful attempts to launch various household objects into neighborhood sub-orbit using homemade pyrotechnics.
Anyway, here are a few simple facts:
- The earth is heating up. Is it because of pollution or a natural cycle? I don’t know.
- The trees are the “lungs of the earth”. They breath in what we and our industrial complex exhale, and they in-turn are generous enough to give us a little air to breath.
- We are resecting the lungs of the earth by deforestation while increasing the amount of CO2 that we add to the ecosystem. Simple math comes into play here: More CO2 than can be absorbed > atmosphere heats up due to increased greenhouse gasses > the climate shifts, etc. etc.
- The polar icecaps are melting, and coastlines are receding.
Here are a few more personal facts. My wife and oldest daughter have asthma so pollution-based ozone really aggravates their health. We can no longer swim in rivers where we could as kids back in North Carolina.
Our friends on Topsail Island, NC showed us the beach where numerous hurricanes had hit. I remarked that there were some signs of erosion, but the houses seemed to have faired rather well. My friends then remarked that the beach used to be 100 yards further out and there were several roads and the footprints of former neighborhoods just under the breaking surf. While the erosion was not linked to global warming any rise in sea level will swamp these beautiful barrier islands.
What is the point of all my liberal ranting then? I have no political agenda. I am not a democrat. I am not a tree hugger. I did not vote for Al Gore, and I especially do not believe that he invented the Internet. I just want clean air to breath for my family. Is the earth heating up? Don’t know for sure. What I do know is that it stinks more than it used to.
Then the LORD God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it. Gen 2:15
How to get people Lost
Thursday, November 15, 2007
At the heart of the Autobots was an unchanging identity, an unchanging form and an unchanging mission. However, outwardly they had the ability to morph into any situation without changing who they really were inside. The Apostle Paul was sort of an Autobot Apostle of the ancient world while becoming “all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.” 1 Cor 9:22 What a heart! He was still Paul. I do not think his goal was to be all things to all men. He just wanted to reach and save some.
Concerning Transformers and machines many of us have taken something apart only to reassemble it with a few parts surprisingly left over. In cartoon fashion we wish the thing would still work without these parts, but we soon find out that it was not meant to be. Those parts had a purpose, and it is best to let them stay.
Many Christians are excited about new progressive ways to reach the lost, and in doing so they aggressively disassemble archaic religious practices only to reassemble them into something understandable. This can be useful, and I do it myself. Some go a little further and attempt to disassemble the church itself thinking that it too is an archaic hindrance to reaching people. This is already dangerous ground and the risk of amateurish mistakes runs high.
Then there is the radical who thinks that the message itself needs to be disassembled and reassembled. The result of this – and it is happening right now in Evangelical Christianity – is that the reassembled form has a lot of parts left out that for some reason did not seem to fit the new and popular paradigms. Well, these parts that have worked for many millennia also have a purpose, and the organism will not work without them. The authority of Scripture, the Virgin Birth, the very tenants of our faith are under attack from within.
This is not the Autobot Apostle Paul church that wants to see men saved by progressive outreach, but it is the Decepticon church. It is at its core humanistic and heretical. It is deadly. It is poison. I hate to even post about such things, but something must be said. There are certain truths that need to be dusted off from time to time, and here are a few.
I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! Gal 1:6-8
I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book. Rev 22:18,19
Thursday, October 25, 2007
This reminds me of an anecdotal story I heard many years ago about an ailing man living in a remote, frigid mountain village. He was pale and anemic from an unhealthy life, so his friends and doctor told him to go to Florida for some rest and sun.
Well, the idea seemed fine to our protagonist, and he soon found himself lying on sunny beaches eating lots of healthy food. However, he died in a few weeks. Sorry to end the story so soon.
The deceased was quickly embalmed and sent on a train back to the mountain town, and at his funeral his friends remarked in astonishment how much better he looked after his trip. “Oh, he has finally put on some weight, and he is not as pale and anemic looking since he got some sun.” “You know”, one woman exclaimed, “that trip to Florida really did him a lot of good!”
Does this sound as stupid to you as it does to me? It is equally ignorant to think that cosmetic change on a Sunday morning service will bring life when the real problem is that some churches are rather dead in either their walk with God or their desire to reach their communities. Outer changes simply enhance, but they cannot give rise to life.
Now back to my main point. Both the atheist writhing in his best-seller and some progressive church planters make the same mistake. It is not really archaic styles of worship and out-of-style clothing that make churches irrelevant. These are definitely barriers that need to be addressed if we are to reach a godless culture. However, the problem often lies with irrelevant Christians and those who call themselves Christians while saying and doing stupid things. Many of the criticisms from this atheist were not even related to Christian truths but to basic Christian behavior (or misbehavior).
A person who knows Jesus will love others enough to be motivated to make Him known. He can dress like Mr. Rogers or a punk rocker. In the end, it won’t make a very big difference. The lost will be attracted to the genuine life of Christ within us. By the way, Mr. Rogers was an ordained minister. I would not be surprised if punkers still watch his show when no one is looking.
The world needs a Resurgence of life through vibrant Christians following Christ in community.
A Great Blog:
How to Encourage Yourself 101
Monday, September 24, 2007
I learned a similar lesson a few years ago while attending a church in New York where the pastor preaching was projected on a screen so people in the back could see better. It just so happened that the camera captured the first row where I was sitting.
The lights were quite bright, and I became distracted by looking at how they reflected off the growing bald spot of the guy sitting beside me. Normally, the top of this guys head was not visible, but the camera, bright light and large screen changed that.
I also began to notice how this guy moved in his seat or nodded his head every time I did. He also seemed to be looking at the screen when I did. It was then that the awful revelation hit me; I had somehow miscounted who sat where and had been looking at my own head the whole time! Selah.
Scripture tells us to look into the mirror of God’s word on a daily basis so we can judge our spiritual progress by comparing ourselves to ourselves and not to others. Ultimately, we are really comparing ourselves to Jesus, and this should be enough to keep us humble.
My bald spot is not particularly large. It is just a spot, but when I am in a bright light the view from above reveals every detail. Since God discipled me with the video projector, I have tried to be less observant of the outward shapes of others and to even be merciful when their inner man was not shining in the best of ways.
You are planting a what?
Thursday, September 20, 2007
Several things instantly went through my mind like the worlds fastest modem. All the engineering, Physics and math that I could never remember suddenly and uninvitingly came to mind and reminded me that concrete is not supposed to bend. In other words, this building was going to fall like many pancakes, and we were going to die. The next revelation was that we were on the 11th floor; again, we were going to die. Then I recalled volumes of Bible study that said that I was right with God. My last thought as we sprinted down the stairs was that I hoped that the architects who built this building made good grades. Actually, since that time I have used this example to prove to my daughters why good grades are important. “Would you want to live in a high rise or fly in a plane built by someone with average grades?”
When our quake experience was said and done, it was on a minor shake of 5.9 on the Richter Scale, nothing too scary. There was another quake – a real quake – that was in the news in 1999. It was in İzmit, Turkey, and many thousands were killed from collapsing buildings. In the aftermath of that quake, engineers and investigators noticed something quite peculiar. Some buildings that stood side-by-side had different fates. One building was unfazed while another was reduced to rubble. What was even stranger was that these building were identical in design and suffered identical tremors during the main quake. A mystery was at hand.
When investigators dug deeper they could find no obvious difference in the way the buildings had been built, so they decided to test the materials by cutting two identical pieces of concrete from each building to compare. Again, they looked the same, so they decided to conduct a stress test by applying hundreds of tons of pressure to each piece in a hydraulic press to see if they could both withstand their design specifications. This is where the mystery ended.
The piece from the building that survived withstood the required pressure, but the piece from the collapsed building quickly disintegrated into dust. The dust was examined with the result that it was now clear that the builder had added much more sand than concrete mix in order to save time and money. He took a fatal shortcut that only became evident when stress was applied, and he did so knowing that he was in an earthquake zone.
As believers and leaders who raise up other leaders, it is a certainty that times of testing will come because this world is a spiritual earthquake zone. If we take shortcuts by focusing on exterior facades rather than internal character, we are dooming our building plan to a future cataclysmic failure. However, if we focus on the simplicity of laying firm foundations in our own lives and the lives of those whom we mentor we assure that when shaking comes we will not only stand firm but produce a testimony of God’s grace and truth.
Here are a few areas that will help secure us in our daily walk and assure long-term stability:
- The Lordship of Jesus: abide in Him daily by studying His word and seeking His face in prayer. You can do nothing without this. Jn 15
- Your family: In airplanes they tell us to put on our oxygen masks first so we can then put them on our children if the need arises. The simple reason for this is that you can save your kids but they cannot save you. Strong marriages make strong children.
- Reaching & serving others: Pattern your life and lifestyle around the purposes of God. This brings prosperity to you, salvation and help to others and drives you back to the first priority.
These are only a few. Don’t be afraid that you might mistakes while growing in these areas. The serious error is to not do them at all, to take shortcuts.
"Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell--and great was its fall." Matt 7:24-27
Monday, September 10, 2007
However, one day the driver was running late, and I was convinced that he could not make it to school in time. There was a traffic jam going into the city but – welcome to Ukraine – there was no traffic going out of the city. Well, logic dictates on the mission field to adapt so the driver switched to the left shoulder of the road while carefully swerving to miss oncoming traffic. He then drove around a concrete barrier which was meant to stop us from driving where we were, passed through oncoming traffic back to the right side and proceeded to pass as many cars as was mortally possible. He then asked if we were still late to which I answered, “yes”, but I was thinking that I had rather be late than to be “the late Mike Watkins”. Our driver goes slower now but takes the same shortcuts.
In ministry, especially in church planting, there is always an urgency to start something quickly and build something quickly. One positive motivation for this is to win as many souls as possible. A negative motivation is to catch up with all the other ministries that seem to be passing us. This is dangerous and often fatal both in driving and in ministry. I have passed several accidents this week caused by either speeding or driving on the side of the road. I have also passed a few church-planting accidents in our years on the field and am thankful we have survived our own fender-benders.
- My first priority these days is to stay strong in faith and character by staying close to God. This cannot be done in fifth gear. We need to park and listen.
- My next priority has been getting our daughters happily settled in school and creating a happy home life even while in transition. We will next shop for a nice car and then go apartment hunting for something more permanent.
- The next step is to start laying the practical foundations for outreach and the new church plant. We have exciting things planned, and we are already working on the details; however, taking shortcuts with the first priorities might cause disasters. Actually, shortcuts will definitely cause disasters. I will write more about dangerous shortcuts in my next post.
You know, God knows how to build His church, and He is not in a hurry. We can abide in His grace while working hard. The vision can still be big, but there needs to be a healthy plan that considers all of God’s priorities.
Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it;Unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain.
It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of painful labors; for He gives to His beloved even in his sleep. Behold, children are a gift of the Lord,The fruit of the womb is a reward. Psalm 127:1-3
Oh, one more thing. Anyone from the British Commonwealth is welcome here because you can choose which side of the road best suits you.
Friday, August 10, 2007
Dr. Seagondollar often gives lectures about his experience on the bomb team, and one such story – I might get a few minor details wrong here – is one that I often like to retell. The day before the initial bomb test in New Mexico Dr. S. and a small team had to drive to the other side of the vast test sight – some 30 miles – to set up test equipment for the upcoming blast. Such an explosion had never taken place on the planet, and some scientists speculated that it would be so powerful that it might set the earth’s atmosphere on fire. These young men set out upon their task using an Army 2.5 ton truck for transportation. All went well with setting up the equipment except for one small snag, they had a flat tire!
Well, they had a spare and a jack, so all seemed well; however, there was no lug wrench for the enormous bolts that held the tire on. Of course they could just camp out and be vaporized the next morning, but ingenuity and motivation quickly took over. The solution was to use a large ball-peen hammer to unscrew the bolts by beating them in a circular motion. After much work the tire was off, the new one was on and the once hexagonal bolts were beat back on never to be removed again by a wrench. The adventurous group finally made it safely back.
The next day Worth was invited to see the first Atomic Bomb test. He sat in a trench with the rest of the observers clutching an eye shield made from many plates of welders glasses taped together. A few seconds after the blast they all lifted their heads, and Worth’s first reaction was that he had forgotten to use his eye protection. It was reported that the light was so bright that a blind man over 50 miles away saw it. The atmosphere did not catch on fire, but the world has been more dangerous ever since.
Motivation and ingenuity in such circumstances know no boundaries. Motivation of this level cannot take “no” for an answer. With the crudest of tools these men saved their own lives. In God’s kingdom motivation in the extreme has led many Christians to do exploits for God using next to nothing while some of the best-equipped people never take the first step simply because of apathy.
In our desire to reach the nations the motivation to win for the Lamb the glory due His suffering must precede any form or strategy. We must begin with the thought that it must be done and that we must do it. We then proceed to the “how”. We will not be saving ourselves, but we will be leading others away from a Godless eternity.
I thank God for the many missionaries from different denominations who hammered their way onto the mission filed. Even though a great many tools have been developed since the early days of missions pioneering I hope we never fail to maintain the same determination that unlocked the nations for those of us who follow.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Heb 12:2-3
Thursday, June 14, 2007
I thought about this book again recently when I was reading Joey’s blog Discipleship & Listerine. This product’s ad slogan was “If it tastes bad it has to work.”
Speaking of taste our friend in the Seuss story would not try green eggs & ham no matter how it was served, with whom it was served or where it was served.
I do not like them in a box.
I do not like them with a fox.
I do not like them in a house.
I do not like them with a mouse.
I do not like them here or there.
I do not like them anywhere.
I do not like green eggs and ham.
I do not like them, Sam-I-am.
This guy was simply stubborn and self-centered, and I don't think he liked people very much. However, persistence finally wore him down, so he tried the awful-sounding food. He actually liked the food, and the rest is literary history.
How does this relate to a healthy church? Well, it doesn’t. I just wanted to fill some space. No really, for my many friends who are trying to solve complex church problems I would like to offer a rare savory dish: outreach!
- It will work in a box (a car).
- It will work in a house.
- It will work here or there.
- It will work anywhere.
- It will also get our eyes back on the thing that Jesus never takes His eyes away from: the un-reached lost that are both here or over there.
- It will drive us back to our knees to intercede.
- It will drive us to the Bible to be equipped.
- It will keep us at the foot of the cross.
Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest." Matt 9:36-38
Friday, May 18, 2007
There were two things that reminded me of the famous plate spinners from China recently. The first was Steve Murrell’s recent blog “Leadership is…Getting Out of the Way” The other was a web site I stumbled upon that would tell how many people in the US had the same name as you or I.
So, how many of “me” are there in the US? According to the site there are 2,192 people in the US with the name “Michael Watkins”. I also checked the names of a few of my friends, and the site said that there were none of them in the US. Therefore, you might not really exist.
Back to leadership: Not only was I not surprised when the acrobats broke a few plates, but advanced alien civilizations viewing in on satellite were probably wondering, “You know, if the earthlings were as advanced as they thought, they might get some help spinning those plates. Less would be dropped!” I also think that they had an affinity for spinning plates, probably something to do with their public transportation.
Anyway, and let me try to get back on track, the point of developing leaders is not to develop the one-man-show because sooner or later he or she will drop the plate, the ball or worse. It is only a matter of time. The more people we train to lead in the ordinary areas of life the more we will get accomplished for God’s kingdom and the less high-profile plate droppings we will have.
Here are a few insights that I gained from the silly website:
- Some leaders act as if there is only one of them. Sorry, but there are more, so we are not as important as we think.
- I need to develop other “me’s”. This is better understood as “developing others” as opposed to only developing myself.
- Who thinks up these sites?
The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. 2 Tim 2:2
Sunday, May 6, 2007
In September 1999 we had just returned to Ukraine after a furlough to a church that was under attack by forces outside and some who had sneaked in to wreak havoc. God had blessed us with purchasing our first home in Lviv, but I quickly found out that my visa status was in serious question, thus another summons to RA right after I arrived.
My blood ran cold with fear. This was not the fear of death but the fear of failure and getting kicked out of the country. I would also lose our new home. I started praying and confessing the word from Joshua 1 where God had promised to give me every place I set my foot and to not be afraid. I went to my favorite prayer place, a beautiful hill called High Castle that overlooked the whole city, but on this day altitude did not equal closeness with God.
God’s Word simply would not stick to my soul, so I went home in frustration to ask God a very different question. It went something like this: “Ok God, forget about this new house, my vision, getting kicked out! I just want to know one thing, and I am really sick of it. Why am I afraid?” Well, He answered me more clearly than I had ever experienced.
“You do not believe I will care for you and that I am for you no matter what the outcome of this trial.” This was unconditional love, and I was thunderstruck. I had been serving a different taskmaster, myself, until that day. The fear now vanished, my mind cleared and truths that had been read many times over exploded into my soul. This was God’s ultimate goal for me, not to do but to know. True fruitfulness is a fruit of knowing - knowing truth.
In 1st John 2:12-14 John writes to three groups of people who have various levels of maturity. He affirms them for what they have learned based on how long they have been walking with Jesus:
Little Children: You know the Father & your sins have been forgiven
Young men: The word of God abides strongly in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
Fathers: You know Him who was from the very beginning.
It is ok to be a child – when you are young. Unfortunately, many Christians never get past simple salvation truths. Their faith is only for themselves and getting to heaven. Young ministers also fall into a trap. They go into service while not knowing their God or His Word. They get beat up severely. Another mistake that they make is that they think ministry is the goal or the pinnacle of spirituality. It is not.
The fathers understand most of all because they have come full circle. God was using their ministry to others to teach them about Himself. They have come to know God in His fullness not simply through study but by experiencing God’s faithfulness in countless battles and adverse circumstances. I am so grateful to God for my trials as a missionary because without them I would have never begun to learn the fullness of who God is on my behalf. I am still learning.
Our friend, Asaph, in Ps 73 has also come full circle:
Whom have I in heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. Ps 73:25-26
- What are the lies that prevent God’s truth from sticking to your life?
- What are the hurdles that you can never get over?
- Are you asking God the right question?
Monday, April 23, 2007
I will let you read the article for yourselves, but suffice it to say that if one person can believe God to start something with nothing in the worst place in the world then what would happen if more than one would believe God for such things? True faith looks at the valley of dry bones and says God can speak life where there is nothing but death. Ez 37
- One is good, but two is better.
- Addition is a sort-term solution, but multiplication of laborers for the harvest is the ultimate answer.
- If Jane can do so much with so little what can we do with so much?
Thursday, April 19, 2007
We read about Hitler and others who seem not to be even human, and we will probably never meet such people. We read about this killer in Virginia and realize that, yes, it is possible to meet such an unstable person.
On a closer level we meet bitter and cynical people every day who are quite functional and would never hurt anyone. A larger category is our upbeat friends who struggle with insecurity at times.
Then there is the person who believes everything that God says about him and lives accordingly bringing blessing and life to those around them. The Hitlers of this world are quite rare, but so are the Josephs. I have tried to show a common theme in all these people. The degree to which we exhibit light or darkness is to the degree that we believe truth or lie.
- May we all endeavor to be like Joseph as we walk this journey in a foreign land.
- Let us also be quick to share The Truth with others who are bound to some degree by The Lie.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. John 10:10
Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers. 3 John 2
This is the first time in the life of Joseph where we get a hint of what he was feeling during all of his ordeals. He does not tell us directly, but does so in a more profound way. Many people of that day named their sons in a way that exhibited a part of the character of God or declared how they thought God was dealing with them. Joseph declares in the names of his sons that God has healed him from his pain and that God has blessed him in the midst of affliction. He is declaring that God is good.
How did God actually cause Joseph to forget his pain? I believe that it was by blessing him – this showed that God had not abandoned him even if his brothers had – and then by showing him God’s purpose in it all. (Rom 8:28; Gen 50:20). We ultimately forget what is unpleasant by remembering what is good, and in this case, Who is good.
This is in stark contrast to how his father, Jacob, viewed his own trials which did not even come close in severity to those of Joseph. God also blessed Jacob everywhere he went, but Jacob was in constant inner struggle. What is the difference between father and son? The condition of the heart.
Their father Jacob said to them, "You have bereaved me of my children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and you would take Benjamin; all these things are against me." Gen 42:36
For those of us who are not as spiritual as Joseph – this is my group - most of forgetting pain is tied up in forgetting the lies and torment of the enemy that was associated with the problem. This is also remedied by realizing God’s goodness. Not convinced, too simple? Just turn it around then. When all the dust is settled and you are healed of your pain – regardless of how long it takes – what would have been the solution? You would have had some encounter with God, and His truth would have flooded your soul saying that He is good and He cares for you.
There is no Plan B or magic pill for life, only God.
Monday, April 16, 2007
As Joseph went from his dream to a literal pit, became slave then prisoner all seemed lost. The plans of man seemed to rule supreme, and there was nothing Joseph could do to change his situation, not even encouraging an influential person with his spiritual gift. He was simply a forgotten novelty, good for a moment but not needed afterward.
So where was God when all this was going on? Frankly, right in the middle of it, and He was bringing Joseph, his family, and Pharaoh into a head-on collision with a problem that eclipsed any of their dreams or insecurities. It ultimately was not about any of them or their positions. It was about the salvation of the known world from a terrible famine. The need is the same today, but the famine is greater. It is spiritual.
In one day the only man who knew about the problem and had the authority to act was aligned with the one man who understood the magnitude of the problem and had the perfect solution from God. In rapid succession Joseph was remembered, found, washed and brought before Pharaoh. Joseph’s gift – it had never stopped working and had even brought him here – manifested in such wisdom that Pharaoh made him governor of Egypt and gave him a name that described his true calling, Zaphenath-panea, which is often translated “God speaks”.
Joseph was eventually reunited with his family as they traveled to Egypt for food. They were fearful when they realized that the one whom they had condemned was now the one who could save them. Joseph’s ultimate response was mercy. He was walking in the footsteps that Jesus would one day reenact on a much grander scale, with the descendants of the same brothers and ultimately with the whole world.
"As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”
A few simple truths from this story:
- God is in control even when evil seems to prevail, and His goals are always GOOD no matter what the circumstances. Rom 8:28
- Serving others during adversity gets our eyes off of ourselves and protects us from the lies of the enemy.
- It is ultimately not about us or fulfilling a personal dream. It is about God’s goodness and mercy to a world that treated Him like they treated Joseph. It is about saving the lost.
צצפנת פענח - He still speaks. He still saves.
Sunday, April 8, 2007
In the Dickens’ classic, “Great Expectations”, the protagonist, young Pip, finds that his advancement in life is not due to chance. It is due to the tangled, behind-the-scenes manipulations of characters with varied motives, some selfish and some good as we see in his benefactor, the convict Abel Magwitch. Still, even what is meant for good produces bad results in both character and position in life.
In our lives we often fall into several traps as to why we think we succeed or fail. It could be due to our abilities or lack of ability. It could be due to our strict adherence to a code of ethics that God might honor if we hit the mark. We may see ourselves as victims of circumstance or the decisions of others, or it could be that God has lost track of us in the crowd of over 6 billion souls that inhabit this sphere. It is a sad and lonely thought to be lost in the crowd or to be the victim of the crowd as we see in Dickens’ and our present world. We already saw that Asaph almost fell victim to this mentality in Ps 73.
However, it could be – and this is the truth - that our God is loving and active at a level of detail that incorporates our frailties into His plan. He detours opposition and produces an even greater good than our greatest expectations. In this light let’s look at another protagonist, Joseph, whose opposition was great but whose benefactor was greater, God, and let’s walk beside him with the benefit of knowing the end of the story from the beginning.
Joseph had a dream. It was from God, so this was a good start. However, the moment he shares this dream, things go horribly wrong. His whole family ridicules the dream, and after his brothers attempt to murder him out of jealousy, they sell him into slavery to people from another nation. Joseph is carried against his will further and further away from the fulfillment of his dream. In captivity his gifts continue to work, and he advances – as a slave.
In lesser crises we as Christians too quickly look to our circumstances and comments of others to interpret for us what has happened with our lives. The friends of Job are a great example. Here are a few thoughts, and think of Joseph’s outcome when you read:
- “I really thought that God wanted me to do that, but no one else thinks I am capable. Maybe I did not hear God or He does not think my life is important.”
- “My vision is big, but I just lost my finances. Friends think that I should be satisfied with what I have, with my station in life.” They say, “His circumstances show that he must not have the faith necessary to accomplish the task.”
"Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you." Deut 31:6
Thursday, April 5, 2007
My wife, Myra, and I just celebrated 16 years of marriage. She is my perfect match in every way. She is the one who encouraged me to write, but she is the better writer. Enjoy her insightful and encouraging thoughts: Change is constant, but so is God
Myra encouraged me to write, but Joey Bonifacio was the one who launched us all into the blogosphere. We call him the wizard of blog, but I know him as one who has made evangelism and discipleship a more joyous adventure. This post is one of my favorites: Discipleship & Strangers
I majored in physics at university and later worked as a research engineer. My fondest memories are the daily discussions with atheists, agnostics and some Christian professors. Read this article about one such professor – not one of my professors - who excels in his field: Why this scientist believes in God
Finally, my best and worst day of the week was Wednesday when I was asked to host visiting missionary, Bob Kraft, for lunch. I used the church van to drive to Makati to pick him up, and I was given excellent directions to the hotel. However, I am so tall that the top of the van blocked my view, and the little bit of usable windshield that I had was tinted. Then it started to rain. I was essentially a blind man driving as I put on my reading glasses to call for directions – all landmarks were higher than the windshield would let me see – juggled the cell phone and generally was comic relief for passers-by.
I finally made it to Bob’s hotel a half hour late. We then tried to backtrack to a restaurant for lunch, and I felt like Wyle Coyote in the Roadrunner cartoons as all the laws of physics were working against me. Road repairs at every turn blocked my return trip, and I was glad to find out that Bob had a big breakfast and was not hungry. We ended up sharing a coffee at the church cafeteria, and throughout this whole ordeal I found Bob to be a very patient guest. Why am I rambling about this? Because it feels good to vent my stress and laugh a little at myself! It is my therapy.
Anyway, back to Bob, he has a great ministry in the Professional Tennis Tour, and it is very clear that our paths will cross again in Eastern Europe because many on the pro tennis tour are from Russian and Ukraine. Take a look at his web site to see the unexpected ways God’s kingdom is advancing: Tennis Ministry International
Tuesday, April 3, 2007
The devil is not very original. He uses the same tactics with us today that he used in the beginning; however, his tactic – The Lie – is so subtle that we do not even recognize it at the first reading. Let’s follow along. In the beginning…
God was good – in the eyes of the first family – and evil was bad. The barrier to disobedience was enormous, and it had to be removed before Eve would even think of that which was bad. The barrier was GOD, so the enemy had to get Him out of the way. This is how he did it:
"…Indeed, has God said, 'You shall not eat from any tree of the garden'?" Gen 3:1
Lie #1: Has God really said anything?
“…You surely will not die!” Gen 3:4
Lie #2: If God did say something, He lied!
"For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." Gen 3:5
Lie #3: God lied because He wants to keep something good from you.
Summation: God must not be good, and that thing He was keeping from you is not really bad.
Now after this we see Eve’s new perspective: When the woman saw that the tree was good for food… Gen 3:6
Before the enemy’s lies God was good and sin was bad. After “The Lie”, God was perceived as bad, or less than good, and that which was bad became good. Communion was broken with God, man died spiritually and the compass of his soul and body now received all of its so-called truth from the world. This accurately describes the inclination of the unsaved world today.
When God gives our sprits new birth through Jesus we still have to deal with a body that is oriented towards the world. Our souls – mind & emotions – are caught in the crossfire between the lies of this world, what our flesh feels to be true and the The Truth that now resides in our spirits.
This awkward position is a terror to new believers because they do not understand what has just happened to them, and it is too often the source of a low-grade depression in older believers who find themselves trapped in the same realization that Asaph was in. (Ps 73).
Like Asaph, we can only come out of the haze when we come to the truth of God’s Word, and because the world and our bodies do not take a break from trying to contradict God we cannot afford to take a break from His presence or His Word.
Here are some encouraging truths that will sustain us in this battle.
- God sees us as being perfectly forgiven for all time – because we are completely forgiven - even though He is still perfecting us. Heb 10:14
- The inner battle that we have is common to all Christians, even to the Apostle Paul. 1 Pet 5:8-10; Rom 7:15
- Believing that GOD IS GOOD is the sentry at the door of our hearts that saves us from many attacks. Rom 8:28-39
- There is no condemnation for us while we are in this process of practical transformation. Rom 8:1
In my upcoming posts I hope to show you that the enemy uses the same simple attack today as with Eve. However, we can build a fortress of truth concerning how good and powerful God is on our behalf. This is our encouragement. He loves us, He is good, He is God.
Friday, March 30, 2007
“The” truth is that God is good, and “The” lie is that He is not, He is bad. Simple enough, isn’t it? Yet in this passage we see a man of God, Asaph, stating the truth while admitting that he almost stumbled in this truth.
Asaph goes on to state how he sees the wicked and corrupt around him prospering, and this troubled him so much that he was thinking that he had kept himself pure and honest for nothing. Asaph is also speaking to us off to the side in much the same way a character in a Shakespearian play speaks to the audience in an “aside” without the main characters hearing his thoughts. He is sharing his doubts with us about whether or not God is really good.
There is a good reason Asaph is whispering to us and not to everyone else. He knew, and feared greatly, that if he were to share his doubts openly he would betray the next generation, the generation of his children. This was not an option; it was simply unthinkable and drove Asaph back into the presence of God. There his mind cleared, he perceived the haze of deception and understood the truth again.
Let’s pause for a moment and dig a little deeper into the man and not just his surroundings. Like many of us, Asaph knew the word of God and declared that God was good, but circumstances had almost convinced him that God was not good.
Have you ever thought about why a bad doctor’s report or a bad financial statement sends instant chills down our spines, but it takes time and discipline for God’s word and prayer to sink deeper into our souls to the point where we actually feel peace? Why is the negative instinctive and that which is good not? Asaph experienced this paradox, and so do we.
It is clear that something other than just circumstances caused this man to doubt God, to believe that He is not good. To find the reason we must dig deeper into the past to the beginning to find the first time the truth was exchanged for a lie, The Beginning. We will eventually come back to Asaph to seal this journey for us with a truth so deep yet simple that it changes the orientation of our souls.
Some signs we believe God is not good
- We are negative about the future saying, “Things are going from bad to worse.” This betrays our children’s future when we say this. Rev 11:15
- We are constantly afraid of failure or abandonment. Deut 31:6; Jer 29:11
- We take more stock in what people say about us than what God says about us. Prov 29:25
- We say, “I guess that is my lot in life.” This is fatalism, which means that God is either not in control or He does not care about us. Rom 8:28
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Imagine for a moment that all the mental, emotional and spiritual anguish in life could be stopped with only one simple truth, one simple thought. Our enemy and the fallen world around us wage constant war on our souls, and it seems that once we put out one fire another flares up nearby. We feel that we need to be spiritual giants simply to tread water in this life-battle.
Can there be such a simple truth dwelling in us such that none of these fires ever gets started? Or let me turn the question around; is there also one lie, one simple lie that lets all the battles in the door? I want to explore this question in my next series so that we understand “The One Truth” and “The One Lie” that can determine the very outcome of our lives.
On September 11, 2001 I was in the Ukrainian Dept. of Religious Affairs (RA) defending my right to stay in the country against very vocal adversaries who wanted to kick me out or even worse. At the table were city officials, the director of RA, my two adversaries who were almost foaming at the mouth – literally - one other leader from our church and me. I might mention here that RA is under what we used to call the KGB. Well, I was nervous and weak because I had been fasting for a good outcome, but I was not afraid. I used to be afraid, and this was not the first time I had been summoned to this office. The first time was a few years earlier when I had learned “The One Truth”.
At the same time we began our hearing that fateful day several men were also walking through the metal detector of Boston’s Logan Airport carrying small box cutters. That one little event, passing through that detector without being detected, changed the world as we know it. Just think what would be different if we had known where these men would board their planes and what they were planning to do. It would not have taken that much to stop them. War would have been averted, NYC would still have those two towers and thousands would still be alive. I actually know several women in our Lviv, Ukraine church who could have stopped these men.
In the same way if we knew without a doubt what door, what one door, the enemy of our souls was going to enter to wreak havoc in our lives we could also easily stop him. I am neither guru nor sage, but I believe once you find the One Truth, “The” truth, your life will fundamentally change.
Now, don’t get mad at me here because I purposely intend to keep you hanging until my next post to get the answer. At first, you may be disappointed with the answer, but hopefully you will follow the One Truth as deep as it will take you.
Monday, March 12, 2007
During worship and communion I was struck, not simply by the number of people that were there, but by the fact that Jesus had suffered, died and paid for the sins of every single person there. The enormity of His sacrifice began to overtake my mind and emotions, and then something even deeper struck my soul… I will get back to this shortly.
One of my favorite movies of last year was The Guardian which portrayed an aging yet successful US coastguard rescuer. After a rescue tragedy he changed gears and began to teach students at the elite Coast Guard rescue school. Well, as usual the young trainees were always trying to break their teacher’s, Ben’s, records, and they were always wondering, “How many saves does this guy have, 200-300?”
One guy in particular, Jake, was always dogging his teacher about his records until the day they were actually doing real life-or-death rescues together in Alaska. Here is how the dialog went:
Jake Fischer: What's your number?
Ben Randall: [On his "number"] It's 22.
Jake Fischer: Well that's not... bad... It's not 200 but...
Ben Randall: 22 is the number of people that I've lost. It's the only number that I've kept track of.
This is the deeper thing that struck me at our meeting. Yes, Jesus had saved each and every one of those people in that coliseum. It was wonderful to see, and of course I know that there were visitors there as well. Yet, the group that I was counting, the saved, was eclipsed by the group that I was not counting, the lost. The movie analogy that I used is not perfect in that Ben had saved more than he had lost, but if we had reached 90% of the lost in this world I would hope to still focus on those not yet reached. Until that day let’s not be satisfied. To my friends in Manila just keep doing what you are doing.
"For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." Luke 19:10
Friday, March 9, 2007
The drama would usually begin like this. You would see the appraiser walk from table to table and then walk back by a certain table a second and third time for a glance at a certain item. When this happened the owner would get nervous thinking, “he must see something valuable.” After all, they had all seen the show before, which is like American Idol for your attic or basement.
I remember once the expert stopped to talk with a woman who had an old-looking table that wasn’t particularly attractive. He looked at the top, but he would always look underneath to see if there was a stamp indicating the name of the craftsman who made it. Once he was satisfied with his observations he would start to ask questions: “How long have you owned this? Do you know the history of this table? What do you use it for? What do you think it is worth?” The routine was always the same.
The woman answered that the table had been in her family several generations, but she did not know the origin. She said she actually had it stored in her basement with paint cans stacked on top. The appraiser shook his head in disbelief and began to tell her the history of the piece. He knew from the stamp underneath that it was made by a famous early-American craftsman. He also related that it was the missing piece of a famous priceless collection to which the woman’s eyes grew bigger. “So, how much do you think it is worth now?” he asked. The woman shyly replied, “Several thousand dollars?”
“Well” said the appraiser with a pause in his voice, “I think that at auction it would get at least $200,000.” The woman’s mouth hung open, and she could not close it for a short while. “Will you sell it?” he asked to which she quickly replied, “Absolutely not!” “What will you do with it then?” he continued.
“One thing is for sure”, she exclaimed, “I will certainly never stack paint cans on it again, and it goes straight to the dining room where it will be the showpiece!” When this woman found out the identity of her table’s craftsman – this was what gave it the value – and then it’s hidden value her whole mindset changed.
As people we often live in the basement with junk in our hearts and waste stacked on top of us. Once we know who our Maker really is and the cost that was paid to redeem us our whole mindset changes. This is the truth that Jesus spoke of when He said:
“…and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.
1 Cor 6:20
And, what was the price?
"…Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.
The cost was exceedingly high, and to go on with life as usual after this revelation shows that we really don’t understand the gospel.
What should change when we get our true appraisal from God?
- We will have a positive motivation to turn from sin.
- We will want to know our Maker more.
- We will no longer believe the “other appraiser”, our adversary, the spiritual pawn shop owner.
- We will become traveling appraisers who eagerly desire to tell others their true worth.
Monday, March 5, 2007
As a young believer, I used many types of what I would call “explosive evangelism”. This usually meant something like preaching on the street corner while holding a 10 foot wooden cross that we had fabricated the night before. Lots of yelling in King James English and trying to be Elijah or John the Baptist usually went along with this. A lot of people stopped eating for a moment as they gazed through restaurant windows, probably thinking someone was making a movie, pledging for a fraternity or we had lost a bet. There was one backslidden Christian who turned white when he saw us, most likely thinking that God had come to collect what was due, but we saw no other fruit except that we were pretty bold for Jesus. I guess it was also useful in helping me to start this blog.
The problem with using creative methods or just being obnoxious is that we often try to use external force or power to produce an internal transformation. We can end up competing with the world to out-entertain people; however, creative methods can be effective bridges of communication depending on the culture or people group. Still, the method should never become the message.
When we understand what needs to happen before a person can be saved, we can better tailor our methods to enhance that process.
- A person needs to understand their spiritual condition, and this is all about the Holy Spirit working in their hearts when we are “witnesses”.
- A person needs to come to a revelation that Jesus – as he is revealed in the Bible – is the only solution for their condition. This requires us to be effective communicators of the truth of God’s Word, but the revelation of Jesus ultimately comes from the Father. (Matt 16:17)
- Once we have done our part, which includes praying for that person, we need to trust that God actually knows how to do His part.
Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?
We are not the Holy Spirit and no amount of external pressure, arguments or special effects will move on a person’s heart like Him. Knowing our simple role of being witnesses and sharers of this hope will take the stress out of witnessing and make it the adventure that it should be.
(When my wife read this she exclaimed, “I married a man who preached on the street with a giant cross?!”)
Thursday, March 1, 2007
This movie was an extreme example of isolation, and I have never been in a church that was that isolated; however, I have heard some bizarre comments:
- “Why are we involved in missions when we don’t reach our own?” The person who said this didn’t want to reach their own either.
- “We want to have many congregations reaching every area of the city, but I don’t understand this focus on outreach?” This is my favorite quote.
- “That city is saturated with churches. Why are you going there?” That city was at best 5% Christian but had several famous mega-churches.
In the Philippines there is a unique kind of community, a village, that is the exact opposite of the community in the movie “The Village”. I speak of the fishing village. Here are some simple characteristics:
- The main goal is to live and to catch fish.
- This village is a community built directly beside a body of water or even sometimes on bamboo stilts over the water. Why? Well… because that is where the fish are.
I think that you get the point. The church should not be an isolated group in a building. It should be community reaching community from within community. This is the Christianity that we all long to see, and I sincerely hope to reproduce it everywhere I go. To my friends in the Philippines … Thanks.
I have organized several large-scale outreaches in Ukraine, and in one we saw 3000 decisions in two weeks. We knew none of these people before the outreach, and even with organized follow-up we only saw about 10 people added to the churches involved. Even large ministries will tell you that follow-up is the most problematic aspect of large crusades. Our intentions were always good, but the nets simply broke. Most of our growth has always been through one-to-one encounters.
I started this series talking about an “itch” that I had when I first heard about the way the church was growing in Manila, and now the itch has been scratched and satisfied. The net is not the super evangelist or the crusade. The net is community: individuals, families and social groups that already exist in the world’s community that are saved, trained and ministering in community where the lost live. When we tap into the potential of our members then true net fishing occurs, and fruitfulness is multiplied.
In many western countries individualism has eroded the fabric of community to such an extent that people no longer know their own neighbors. This erosion weakens the very net that facilitates reaching society from within. It makes us strangers to the world even before we become Christians, and when we do finally come to the Lord the church can unwittingly estrange us even more from the lost around us. The most expedient solution to this erosion has been to rely on professional ministers to do 80% of the work that all the members should be doing, but this produces a further atrophy in our God-given ability and desire to share our faith. We simply lose by default.
When Steve first invited me to Manila I asked him what I would be doing to which he replied, “The same thing everyone else does.” This was a bit of a jolt to a full-time missionary like myself, but it was the medicine that I had to take before the itch would leave. Desiring titles or the position as “the man of God” will never advance God’s kingdom, and it may even hinder it as we make ourselves the roadblock that younger growing leaders can never get past. Over the years God has removed much of this mindset from me, and every honest pastor must admit that it is an issue in a world where performance and success are exalted.
As a full-time missionary I am at best a leader (to Jesus, not myself), an equipper, which I love to do, and the rest a follower of Jesus and fisher of men. Matt 4:19 The kingdom is best advanced by ordinary, equipped Christians following Christ in community. This is the essence of what we call “discipleship”.
The highlight of this week for me was taking my friend, Marcus, through our One-2-One booklet over sushi at Teriyaki Boy. He is already a Christian, but I was mentoring him to better reach those whom he meets every day. I am convinced that he will bear much fruit, more than me because he lives and works in community. The examples here of ordinary people bearing extraordinary fruit are too numerable to mention! You need to see it just once…in your own church...in your own life.
Saturday, February 24, 2007
In the movie “Troy” there was a great, ill-fated battle to take the city by the Greeks, and when that failed they came upon an ingenious plan, “What if they invite us in?” Well, of course this is nonsense unless you become a friend or an attractive gift. You know the rest of the story as the enemy hid in the wooden horse that was welcomed as a gift in the city.
How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news of good things!"
Now let’s look at this verse. Are our feet really welcome when we share the gospel, or are we seen as a nuisance, or worse, an adversary? I have seen countless methods of evangelism by Christians and even cults that are basically annoying mainly because what they were sharing was not even understandable, much less relevant for the moment. I have also seen an air of superiority and condescension which my friends and I call “the rebuke spirit”.
For example, at work John says, “I am really having trouble with the wife.” or “The #@**/! kids are driving me crazy.” Too often we reply, “If you simply came to church, tithed and gave your life to Jesus things would change.” Well, this is like speaking Chinese to present-day people (unless you are Chinese, then it is like speaking Urdu, etc.) We are also giving the impression that our lives became perfect when we did those things.
On the other hand we could say, “My wife and I also had problems as well as unruly kids, and we got it worked out.” This is something your friend can understand; you had problems and got it worked out. This is welcomed news, and John might let you in the gate to say more. Unlike the Greeks in the horse we really do want to help.
This is the use of testimony, your personal eyewitness account. Your friend’s problem is the “ripple in the water” that we should look for as we are fishing for men. The gospel starts to make sense to him over time, and as he begins to understand the roots of his problems - no God in his temporal life - he will begin to understand the value of our Jesus. In the midst of his personal crisis he will say, “I am so glad to see you! What do I do now?”
Your feet have just become beautiful.
…but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence. 1 Peter 3:15