Thursday, May 29, 2008

Gossip Part 2: Appeasement, Correction or Rebuke?

Most gossip can be stopped by preemptive positive comments. We can’t anticipate what others will say, but if we are in a group we can sometimes sense the direction conversations might lead. Gossip – our untamed tongues - is a part of our old baggage that God is still working on, and for most it is an occasional lapse that we regret.

However, for some it is a very bad habit that is based in bitterness, insecurity or it is the only way they can make themselves look good - by lowering others. The gossiper often fishes for a response to see if others will volley. You know the guy. He makes a joke or a verbal slight, then looks around for approval and then he ventures further out on thin ice. Each time he goes through this routine he gets more and more comfortable with the wagging of his tongue. It just flaps in the wind.

Sooner or later the tongue will start a great fire, so as Christians it would serve us all if we did some fire prevention. The first rule is: Don’t volley! Just don’t answer. Don’t smile. Don’t laugh. This is kind of hard when everyone else is laughing.

I am from North Carolina where everyone is very polite. We just ignore stupidity and let people make an ass of themselves. Then we talk later about how they made an ass of themselves. However, appeasing the bigmouth violates community. It weakens our discernment and strengthens the root of evil because evil gets more comfortable and brazen with practice. As a young Christian and leader my common response to gossips was, “Hmm, that’s interesting.” I just did not like confrontation.

The best and easiest way to stop gossip is to inoculate the situation. For example, a new acquaintance who has a loose tongue says, “Did you hear about what ______ did?” We can say, “I know him. He helped me in the past. Is he ok?” This immediately lessens what this guy is willing to say at the risk of offending you.

Sometimes, we have to be a little more direct in a group when the snowball gets rolling. “Listen, I know this seems important, but I know this guy and his family. It might be appropriate to discuss this issue, but it is not here and not in this fashion.” If we do this humbly we will only gain respect and set a standard.

Some people still don’t get it, so we have to take them to the side. “Friend, I don’t know if someone has offended you, but what you are saying is really hurtful. Can we talk about this? Maybe I can help?”

Some have crossed the line so many times that they are brazen in their public tongue wagging. I have encountered this only a few times in 15 years of pastoring. Someone, usually a guest with an axe to grind, tries to dominate a meeting with bitterness and accusation. First I would say, “Sir, this is not the appropriate place for this. We can talk elsewhere.”

If they don’t heed this then I say, “We care for you, and you are welcome but what you are doing is not welcome. Let God touch your heart and heal you.”

Finally, I might have to say. “Sorry, you have to leave. No discussion.” This was done to maintain order and protect the fellowship. I have only done it twice.

Appeasement is a cancer, but constant gentle correction as well as setting positive standards will stop the snowball before it gets too big.

So also the tongue is a small part of the body, and yet it boasts of great things. See how great a forest is set aflame by such a small fire! James 3:5

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ice "Fishing for Men"

When I began a series on “Fishing for Men” a year ago I was in the warm tropical climate of the Philippines. There were many examples of fishing all around including net fishing, a fishing village on the water and even fishing with explosives. On a side note, some interesting Google search results have led people to this site “Simple Truths” and to the post “Fishing with Explosives”, namely people googling for “simple explosives”. Therefore, I feel a responsibility to tell all you would-be terrorists out there to “find a new line of work!”

Back to fishing. The one example of fishing that you will never find in the tropics is ice fishing, but you can find it in Ukraine. I see people every day setting up chairs, drilling holes in the ice – not so thick ice I might add – and defying all barriers just to get a fish or two. I liken this to the must stubborn types of evangelism. It is not fishing/outreach season, the fish are lethargic, the climate is not welcoming, the ground is cold and as hard as concrete and the catch is small. Nonetheless, the fisherman goes out.

Church planting or simple outreach is sometimes like this. It takes stubbornness, patience and resilience. Some countries are like the frozen lake. They are cold both spiritually and physically. They are even deadly like real ice fishing. They can swallow the missionary without a trace. Nonetheless, we are called to go. He calls us to go. Jesus does so because He did so Himself. He came to the coldest place, the hardest ground, uninvited and unwelcomed. The place was not just geographical. It was our own hearts.

I have friends in far-away places doing things for God that might never be heard of. They are heroes. They are not more gifted as you might think. Neither are they less gifted. They are just stubborn. Most of all they are obedient. In an age of grandiose strategies for what is popularly called “
planting churches” these people have the heartbeat of the Lord. They will not take “no” for an answer. Neither are they dissuaded by rejection from those whom they seek nor are they disheartened by those who should encourage them but don’t. Well, I might be wrong about the discouragement.

In order to fully obey the commandment that Jesus gave to disciple the nations we must have the same stubbornness, patience and resilience as the ice fisherman. It is not a sport. It is the heartbeat of God.

Monday, May 26, 2008

How to Get People Lost

No, I am not doctrinally dyslexic, and yes, we do need to get people lost…before they can be saved that is. It was a common method among 19th century evangelists to do “preliminary legal work” with the listeners before they presented the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ. This basically meant that they had to prove to people in a religious society that they were legally under judgment before they would recognize their true need for salvation.

Jesus did the same thing as He preached not only the letter of the law, but the heart of the law. The biggest crowd on the receiving end of this aspect of His message was the religious Pharisees who were the supposed keepers of the law. Jesus backed them into a corner where the only way out was repentance. However, Jesus did not have to be as intense with the reprobates of society: tax gatherers, prostitutes, drunkards, etc. Different standard? No. The reason was that they often knew that they were lost, and Jesus was a welcomed guest with the gospel of grace.

Jesus and the early American evangelists had one thing to help them that we do not often have today, and that thing is an acceptance of moral absolutes. The basis of these absolutes was the Word of God, which was even accepted by the worst among the lost. However, on the mission field and in post-Christian societies we have to rebuild the idea of absolutes before we can even begin to get to the salvation message. Otherwise it would be like rushing into a room, throwing a life preserver to a group of people and saying, “hold on to this for your life.” We would be perceived as idiots, but the value of that life preserver would become priceless if they saw a tsunami approaching through the window. Life boats on the Titanic were not valued that much either until the ship was going down.

Telling someone that their ship is going down is not fun, and it definitely will not make you popular. People like their ships, and they will defend their ships. Like Jesus with the Pharisees we have to even attack their ships, and some people will attack back.

There are many shortcuts for getting people into the “church”, but there is no shortcut to getting people into heaven. You have to get them lost to get them saved, no exceptions. I salute all my friends who are very creative in getting people in a post-modern culture quite lost and then getting them very saved. It is not easy when there are no accepted absolutes.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

The First Foreign Missionary

I was preaching in Lviv recently when I remembered an example of missions that I had not thought of for 40 years. What jarred the deep archives of my brain is a mystery, but the example was apt as we were expounding Isaiah 54 where God was telling Israel to enlarge their tents. Of course, we were using this example for evangelism.

As a child our family still gathered around the TV for shows like “
Ed Sullivan”, “Jack Benny” and “Truth or Consequences”. It was a golden age of low technology, but clever, family-oriented humor. On this particular evening the host of “Truth or Consequences”, Bob Barker, invited a “random” person from the audience to try her luck at winning an all expenses paid trip to any place on the planet that she chose. Let me add here that the host and the woman’s family had planned this all in advance. She was not randomly chosen, and neither was her destination.

In order to win the trip the woman only needed to throw a dart at a giant world map, and wherever the dart landed she could go. Did I mention that she would be blindfolded? They rolled out the giant map, she threw her dart – it never hit the map but landed on the floor – and to her amazement when she took off the blindfold the dart was stuck on North America. Well, there goes the trip to Europe. She still might get to New York.

Another map was rolled out, and it was a detailed map of North America. I will let you know now that this woman was from a small, unglamorous town in northern California. The woman repeated the dart throw again while managing to this time hit the map, and once again when she removed the blindfold she was surprised to see the dart stuck in California. She still had hope that she might get another trip to Hollywood, but her countenance was dropping.

The next map to roll out was of course…California. The process was repeated, and when the blindfold was removed the dart was right in the middle of Smallville, California, her hometown. Meanwhile, the audience was having a corporate hernia holding in the laughter because they too were actors in this ruse. Our sad subject was now using all the inner strength that she had to display thankfulness that she had won a trip to her own hometown, but the joke was soon revealed, and she was given a real trip to Europe with her husband. The ending was good.

So, what in the world does this have to do with the church and the first foreign missionary? Glad you asked! First, let me reveal to you who the first foreign missionary was/is. He is the Holy Spirit. Despite whether or not you are Baptist or Charismatic you have to agree that the very first utterance of the Holy Spirit through the church in
Acts 2 was to proclaim the mighty acts of God in all the languages of the foreigners in Jerusalem. God wanted the nations to hear the gospel from the first divine breath of the creation of the church. Next, God had to practically drive the church out of Jerusalem so that they would go to the nations. Nonetheless, they still stayed within their comfort zone, and they only finally realized what God wanted to do when God gave both Peter and the gentile centurion, Cornelius, direct visions to meet each other. It was only complete when the Holy Spirit made the same proclamations through the mouth of Cornelius.

In the modern church, God is like the woman throwing the dart hoping to get us to reach the nations. However, the church being the host of the show continues to move the dart closer to home with the sad result that we can no longer recognize the nations that God has brought to us. Isaiah is used by God to exhort the people of Israel to broaden their influence, and he is actually talking about doing so on the level of the individual.

We need to open our eyes and to be aware that God has called us to reap a mighty harvest, but we cannot do so unless we aim for the nations. In the end, we should stop repositioning the dart.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Administrative Note

I will be copying a few posts from my Multiply site to this site. No one really reads that other site anyway. Actually, I am not sure if anyone reads this site.

You Are Planting a What?

There is a phrase that often perplexes me even though I know what it means, church plant or planting a church. To the religiously minded person a church plant could be one of a variety of ferns or memorial wreaths at the front of a church “sanctuary” and near the “altar”. I am not sure of the purpose of these plants other than to reverse global warming or to provide a hedge to separate the clergy from the laity. Still, they look nice sometimes.

However, “planting a church” brings in even more confusion to the uninitiated. The first absurd image that comes to mind is of a missionary planting little steeples in the ground. If it were only that simply! Don’t we wish that we could go to the local Christian book store and buy a church planting kit? Just add water. I was driving in the States once, and one of my daughters commented on the number of lakes that we saw along the way. I told her that there were so many because there was a sale on lake kits at Wal-Mart. The instructions simply said, “Just add water.” The kit included a shovel. They love and hate my jokes.

So then, how does one “plant a church?” I must admit that there is a lot of pressure on pastors and missionaries to produce the outward product of a dynamic Sunday morning meeting, but this is a sad goal if that is our goal. Our job is to reach the lost and make disciples who can in-turn do the same. These people then reach every aspect of their community so that dramatic changes are seen in families and in nations. The culmination of all this is what we call a healthy church, the fruit of obedience to the Great Commission. This healthy church also happens to meet together a few times during the week.

So many pastors are stressed about keeping up the Sunday morning appearance. It takes so much emotional and physical fuel, and it leaves us somewhat empty, just another job. Let me say something bold yet simple here, we are not called to build churches.
Christ builds His church. We are involved in planting and watering but God causes the increase.

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.
Psalm 127:1,2

Excuse me while I go water our new plant, Kiyevicus Cultivaticus Evangicus. It should bloom soon, but a few more gardeners would be helpful.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Gossip: I’m Glad They Don’t Talk About Me

Wow, I am such a fortunate guy. Let me explain. I have noticed a trend over the years that whenever I am with other people they never speak badly about me. However, they do sometimes speak badly of others, but I can dismiss this because they don’t talk about me.

Well, I need to give these people a little more credit. They don’t always speak badly of others, but they do sometimes reveal a lot of details about the lives of others, their failures, their marriage problems, their inadequacies and shortcomings especially in the area of ministry. It is so tempting to join in the conversation because it makes one feel accepted when people invite you in the confidence “of others”.

I am also glad people don’t talk about me because I feel inadequate at times, I am not the perfect husband and dad, and I have shared my inadequacies with my friends. I have made a few dumb mistakes in ministry and in life, and sometimes I just did not know how to do what I was doing. The average guy.

Then there are a few leaders whom I know that don’t talk about anyone. They are tight lipped, and you can’t pry their mouths open with a crowbar. One of them is my pastor, Mike. I can’t get any news out of the guy, and I am quite sure no one can get any “negative” news about me from him. Thanks Mike!

I know another leader like Mike, but he would want to remain nameless. He praises everyone in public – and in private. When he talks about people’s accomplishments he embellishes them to make the people look really good. He has done this to me, and I felt awkward because I know the failures that have accompanied the accomplishments. This guy just didn’t feel the need to mention the failures and shortcomings. However, he did mention his own shortcomings on the mission field which made me feel a lot better about my clumsy journey. He has helped many in the same way.

No, I am not stupid, just being constructively sarcastic. I know that if my closest friends would talk about their closest friends in front of me then my life might be too juicy to pass up when I am not around. Don’t worry; I am not paranoid about people talking about me right now. Really, all is quiet on the Eastern Front. It is just a point that has to be made. I have run my mouth at times, and was convicted later. No one is really innocent in this.

We reap what we sow, so I am without excuse if my name goes through the ringer. I can contribute to an overall atmosphere that will eventually turn on me also or lift me up. I find that I must prepare my heart when getting around crowds and even leaders. I tell myself, “Mike, don’t talk so much. You WILL be tempted to gossip especially under the guise of ministry. Just shut your mouth.” I also try to preemptively praise others so that any attempt to gossip by others will have to go through an awkward barrier. It is a discipline.

When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise. Prov 10:19

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Eph 4:29

He who conceals a transgression seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates intimate friends. Prov 17:9

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Christian Victory & The Battle at Kruger

No, Kruger is not a city occupied by the Philistines in the Old Testament. It is a national park in South Africa where some tourists took a very rare video of a pride of lions attacking a baby water buffalo. As you can see in the video the attack begins like many you have seen on Animal Planet. A large buffalo tries to ward off the lions, but the buffalo’s calf follows too closely. The lions capitalize on the situation by chasing the young calf into the water. While in the water the lions get in a tug-of-war with a crocodile, and the calf is the rope but the lions wrench it from the mouth of the crock.

Then things change, and they change unexpected and drastically. You can watch
this video which has finally caught the attention of National Geographic because it was a viral hit on Youtube.

The calf is rescued by an extraordinary display of courage from the herd, and the lions experience something that they never experienced before, defeat of the predator by the prey. The irony of nature is that the buffalo has superior strength and superior numbers, but in its mind it is the prey and the lion is the predator.

As Christians we often develop a victim-prey mentality that determines the outcome of any given battle before it starts. This is ironic considering the strength of the God whom we serve and the resources that He has bestowed upon us for spiritual battle.

Our adversary also has the ability to sniff out the weak among us – it is often us – and he isolates that person while the flock grazes in ignorance. It does not take much effort to rescue the weak, just a phone call, a visit and some encouraging prayer.

Also, the best defense is often an offence, and as soon as Christians know their identity, calling and power the sooner victories will follow. We also need to take care of the weak and young among us.

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart. Eccl 4:9-12

Monday, May 12, 2008

Atheism: Camping at God’s Grave

Concerning belief in God there is a broad spectrum of positions ranging from devotion, to acknowledgement, to ignorance and finally direct opposition. I have met many people in my life all holding different positions. Many religious people are indifferent, and most who call themselves atheists or agnostics are only stating a shallow opinion on the subject.

However, standing at opposite ends of the spectrum are two camps that look at each other in total disbelief and fascination. The committed atheist wonders at the life committed to the unseen deity, but the believer must also wonder about the commitment of the atheist. I checked Google today and there were 15 million hits for the phrase “There is no God”.

Motive & motivation are always a factor in belief or unbelief, and I marvel at the determination of the atheist to prove that something does not exist. He even becomes angry at that thing that does not exist to the point that he seems to be camping out at the grave of God, always digging a hole to prove that it is empty. He can’t seem to tear himself away from digging much like a dachshund my wife once had growing up. He was obsessed with turning over large rocks in the back yard to see what was under them. After he turned over the rock he would proceed to do it again and again until we stopped him.

The committed atheist often becomes one at a young age before having devoted a lot of study to the subject. There is usually some event that has shattered his view of God. It could be the failing of a leader, a misrepresentation of some biblical truth by a charlatan or an unexplained loss. Personal failings are often projected onto God with illogical results. “I am mad at God about myself, so I will keep him in exile. I will maintain his nonexistence.” Simple revenge. All evidence after this is seen through these glasses as objectivity is lost and the radical is born.

You would think that once the idea of God has been eliminated that the person’s anger and moral crisis would disappear; however, for the committed atheist it often intensifies. I see a similar thing in people who have unresolved issues with a loved one who has passed away. In their hearts they are still arguing with that person to the point that they feel anger when they visit their grave. Some atheists are in a worse situation because they are angry with what they believe is an empty grave.

One aspect of radical Atheism’s continued fight with the nonexistent god is what it considers to be “the problem of evil”. While claiming that evil exists – an assumption that requires an absolute morality - they claim that a benevolent god whose existence defines good & evil does not exist because evil exists. Once again, their hearts reveal that they are waging a personal debate - based on God - with a personal God…who can’t exist. A non-existing god is kept in place as the
whipping boy for humanity's failures, and the radical atheist can scarce live without him.

There are a great many arguments on each side of this great debate, and I have encountered many of them. I am one who has committed his life to knowing a personal God, but I do not understand a life committed to proving God does not exist. If God does not exist then our existence is short. Why waste time debating unless the questions of the soul concerning God are not really answered? Why not “eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die” as Solomon said?

Life is indeed short. All sides agree. Eternity is long. Atheists do not agree on this, but in private they wish for a good eternity when they reach their later days. The irony of it all is that God did have a grave. He became like us, lived like us, died like us and inhabited a grave for a few days. The grave could not hold Him though. It will not hold us either from entering one of two eternities.
Pascal wagered that closing the door on God is not wise, and even though it is an old wager it is still a good one.

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. Heb 11:6

… the men said to them, "Why do you seek the living One among the dead? He is not here, but He has risen! Luke 24:5,6

Monday, May 5, 2008

Consider This: God in the Circle?

That was the argument. A young freshman who just finished his first philosophy class made his presentation. You know the class. It is the one where the professor asks the question, “Can God make a rock so big He can't move it?” For the young aspiring atheist this seemed to be the lynchpin he needed to disprove God.

On this day young
Huxley - this is what I like to call him - had another proposition, much more advanced. He began by drawing two circles on the board. One circle was empty, and the other had another circle in it. “Consider this”, he said. “Consider two possible universes, one with god and one without…” The argument goes on an on using basic set theory to somehow show there is no God.

However, young Huxley had way overstepped his intelligence, and so had his teacher. In response, my proposition to him was: Let’s not consider two possible universes, but let’s just attempt to consider one, the one that we are in.

Wow, a circle! I am sure the guys in genetics, atomic physics, astrophysics, cosmology, math, biology, etc would really appreciate this answer. I wish that I had used it on all my physics and math exams. However, if I had done so my professors would have also written a circle on my paper, better known as a ZERO.

While my classmate drew his circle and said, “Consider a universe” he had only considered a “circle”. While this circle was being drawn the best minds in every other faculty on campus were stretching the limits of human understanding just trying to “consider” their own portion of the universe. It is a daunting task.

Just consider the world around us, its beauty, its complexity, its wonder. Consider yourself, your emotions, imagination and even consider the fact that you can in-fact “consider” anything at all. I do not attempt here to prove that there is a God. I only ask seekers of knowledge to consider ALL that is before them, if they can.

There are many professional “considerers” in the world of academia who stand in awe of what they have studied. Some believe there is something or someone behind it all. Some have come to know a personal God, but some have not. Yet, they have all obeyed the biblical commandment to truly consider. May they all come to ultimate truth.

There are others who draw circles around God, draw circles around truth, hide behind constitutional amendments and ultimately refuse to consider anything that would cause awe or shake their world views. My question to the young atheist is this: Can you prove to me that you have the ability to even consider the present universe in its entirety? Have you really done the work? Have you even seen all the data? If not, can you make the conclusions that you do? Wiser men than us have wearied themselves trying to wrap finite minds around infinite things. Some circles are just not big enough.

“It is an accursed evil to a man to become so absorbed in any subject as I am in mine”
“I am weary of my work. It is a very odd thing that I have no sensation that I overwork my brain; but facts compel me to conclude that my brain was never formed for thinking.” Charles Darwin

…and I set my mind to seek and explore by wisdom concerning all that has been done under heaven It is a grievous task which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with. Solomon, Eccl 1:13