Friday, October 24, 2008

Simple Christian Investment Strategies

No, I have not rediscovered some long-lost mineral mentioned in the Apocrypha that will extend your life to 120 years if you eat a bowl of it every day. Such things make it onto certain Christian TV programs as the newest thing that the church needs to buy. Within a month they go the way of the dodo and the latest exercise equipment that collects dust in our basements and garages. I never cease to be amazed at what some people will fall for.

Concerning Christian investments I am not talking about a business either, but it may involve some money. In a time where the bottom is falling out of investments there are some people who actually invest in things long-term, and when there is instability in the market they just wait for things to return to normal.

In God’s economy investment usually means something long-term. The resources that we invest are simple: time, people and materials. The things that we invest into are visions, projects and last but not least, people.

Investing in God’s people is probably the best and safest possible investment, and let’s take a look at why. First of all this is where God places His investment. He gave up His best possession, His only Son, to save people, so they must have tremendous value despite the fact that they are prone to self-destruction and are often
relegated to the basements of society.

God not only purchased these people, but He then invested His very Spirit into their lives. It is often hard to see why He did this because His Spirit is always in a tug-of-war with their stubbornness and self-will.

Now hold on Wall Street or Church Street because God is resolute in His investment strategy. He is not subject to change with the wind like these two aforementioned streets. God has an enormous arsenal of resources at His disposal. He can do miracles beyond comprehension – not to mention that man is one miracle and the earth that we stand on is another – to accomplish His goals. Alas, He forgoes this so that His investments, you and I, can get the word out instead. He does this even though we are not always the best promotional ads for His kingdom.

So why is investing in people the best Christian investment strategy? Because at the end of the day it has the greatest return because all the other bells and whistles, steroidal church growth methods, gimmicks, etc fail to realize what God’s goal actually is.

The goal is people, and investing in people so that they can in-turn become investors in people is the best way to reach people. It works this way because people respond better to people than they do to anything else. This is how God made us, and He made us this way so we could respond personally to Him.

As a husband, father, missionary-pastor and sometimes mentor I can attest that there is no substitute to investing personally into the lives of others. When we all do this using God’s values and goals the return is nothing less than a changed world. Any other investment will eventually become a dodo.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal. Matt 6:19-20

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

By the way, I know I overuse that last verse, but as long as the church underutilizes it I will keep harping on the same thing.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Preparing to Speak

Just recently I passed a milestone in my ability to speak Russian. There are still days when I can barely ask for directions in the morning because that part of my brain still hasn’t felt the coffee, and I still can’t say “barber shop” (par–ik–ma-kher) to save my life. But I can now preach – some would call it stammering - in Russian rather freely without a translator. However, for a safety net there are usually a few bilingual friends on the front row just to throw me a few hints along the way when I stumble with a word.

I also noticed that I sometimes actually preach better than I speak. This was odd at first, but I soon figured out the simple reason why. I can prepare my topic ahead of time, I can craft my message and pray about it to make sure it is from God and I can test it with select friends to make sure it is relevant and understandable. This all helps me to be a better communicator for God and also lessens the chance that I will make an absolute fool of myself. However, in everyday conversation I often do make a fool of myself using the wrong word or just creating some kind of Slavic-inspired sound that causes people to squint their ears in confusion.

Now imagine that everyone had to go through a preparation process before they actually said anything to anyone. You have to make sure that that what you say is from God and that it is not stupid of offensive. You have to make sure that you actually know what you are talking about, and you have to make sure that those who hear you will understand what you are talking about.

One of the problems with this world and even in the church is that people just don’t prepare to say the oftentimes offensive and ignorant things that they say. Their words just spill out their mouths as they are jostled to and fro by the trials and circumstances of life, and very often what spills out is quite unsavory. Since opinion is less dense than truth it usually floats to the top and is the first thing to spill over and be heard.

As Christians we need to stay filled with God’s word so that when we are bumped only good things spill out. We also need friends on the front row of our lives who will lovingly correct us when we are just not making any sense. Lastly, we simply need to be prepared in our hearts to speak in season and out so that our words can change circumstances and not be a byproduct of those circumstances.

Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. Eccl 5:2

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Strength & Honor

As the soldier-general, farmer Maximus Decimus Marilius, prepares for battle in the epic movie Gladiator he walks among his troops looking them in the eye and says, “Strength and honor!” In this tense moment he is communicating that he is one of them, and they have the same value as he.

Honor begins with words and is culminated in deed as the leader states and shows his appreciation for those whom he is leading. This principle is seen in the military, in business and in everyday leadership situations.

Unfortunately, some leaders create an environment where they believe that those whom they lead exist to honor the leader. The result of this is a loss of confidence among the team, a lack of spirit in what they do and a frustration with not being fulfilled in their field of work.

However, leaders who honor their team find that it strengthens the team not only to excel but to at times achieve greatness amid trying circumstances. One of the greatest ways that honor produces strength is when it places a value on the person that the person did not think possible. Jesus did this when He told His disciples that they would do greater things than He when the Holy Spirit came upon them, and today we can see the same result when a seasoned leader looks in the eye of a young person and says, “I am convinced that you can surpass me, and I want to invest in your life to see it happen.”

Maximus came from a common background which meant that he was not born with his abilities. They had to be developed. Leaders who had to learn how to lead are usually better at encouraging young leaders. I know that I have had times of utter discouragement as a missionary when I felt invisible and insignificant, but in the midst of that feeling several leaders whom I greatly respected singled me out – they often did this in a public setting – and they bestowed great honor upon me for what I was doing. At this moment I felt like adrenaline was pumped in my soul, and I could then run another hundred miles or take any country. We can’t live on moments such as these, but we do need such moments to set our compass straight and show us the value and abilities that we really do have in God’s eyes.

In the movie, The Kingdom of Heaven, Orlando Bloom’s character is a knight from simple beginnings. When the battle was on the edge of disaster he was told by a religious man that the battle could not be won without knights, but all the knights had perished. At this he turned and knighted all the slaves and knaves who were at his side much to the dismay of the religious man. Can knighting a man make him fight better? You try it. Honor someone, and see if it makes a difference.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Two Kinds of Fire

“ I am going to burn you up!” This was the vocabulary of my youth when I was in some form of disobedience or a general nuisance to my parents. They did the best they could trying to make sure I made it through life unscathed by its dangers. “Burning me up” meant that there was an actual or perceived threat to apply friction to my gluteus maximus (my butt) as a deterrent to bad behavior. This method has been used for many millennia, and it still works today.

However, my oldest daughter, Abbi, grew up on the mission field far, far away from the language of my southern heritage, and one day I told the tender child in the heat of frustration that, “I am going to burn you up!” Well this really caught her attention, and I knew from the look of terror on her face that she thought that I was threatening to set her on fire or something. I quickly diffused the situation, and to this day Abbi knows that nothing her dad says will set off the smoke detector.

Speaking of fire one must admit that it is a very powerful symbol. It can describe heat, a personality or a great message that you heard at church last Sunday. Fire is also a strong motivation for us to proceed quickly in the opposite direction of where the fire is located.

There are several kinds of fire referred to in the Bible, and I would like to focus on two of them. The first kind is the fire of power and zeal bestowed upon us by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gives us power to be witnesses, and this was so tangible with the first church that tongues of fire were seen over them when God first filled them with the Holy Spirit. God desires that this kind of fire should describe the perpetual state of readiness of all believers to boldly and lovingly share the hope that is within them.

The second fire is judgment or discipline. It could be the hell of the ultimate judgment or the trying situations that we find ourselves in when we disobey God like Jonah did. (vid
pt 1 & pt 2) As a young boy I heard the preacher talk about both fires, and both fires are still needed in every pulpit.

The preacher should have one of two goals when he preaches.

First is to see that all have the fire of the Holy Spirit over their heads. This means we are faithful and powerful witnesses.

Second is that if the first goal fails the preacher needs to light a spiritual fire under our chairs so that we are motivated one way or another to move forward. This worked with Jonah several millennia ago, and it still works today.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Lord of the Harvest

In a recent post “Here I Am, Send Me” I talked about the spiritual process necessary to inspire men and women to want to join God in His mission for this world. That mission is commonly called The Great Commission, and the word “commission” already gives us a hint as to how it all gets going. The Great Commissioner is the starting point, and He is Jesus, the Lord of the harvest.

However, I still find myself leaning on human understanding as to how I can motivate people to go – actually for me it is to “come” to Ukraine. I can use multimedia and tourism methods that show how beautiful Ukraine is, but the novelty will wear off once someone has ridden enough times with 50 people in a bus that was built for 25. Winter here will also send you packing unless something other than adventure is the motivation.

Ukraine is not unique in this aspect because all who seek to increase the number of missionaries on the field are in the same proverbial boat – seemingly without a net I might add. How can we better motivate people? To that question I have discovered a truth that is so simple it is often drowned out by the background noise of human missionary activity.

And He was saying to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Luke 10:2

First and foremost the harvest is presided over by Jesus. He is not only Lord of our lives, but He is Lord over the harvest. This implies that this realm called the harvest is His work place, and He governs everything from the finances, sowers, reapers and fishermen to the wheat & fish (people) who are brought into His kingdom.

Second is that He is more aware of the need than we are. He loves the lost more than we do, and He does not rest in His labor while there are nations that are still outside the saving grace of His kingdom.

Third is that He asks us to ask Him to send more workers. This is very odd indeed from my point of view. It is one of the few times in scripture where God tells us in detail what is needed, and then tells us to ask Him for it. I believe that another reason He confines the sending of new leaders to the simple process of our asking Him is that He wants to keep missions as a work of grace that glorifies Him and not the talents and abilities of men. In this context anyone can be a missionary, not just talented people!

Finally, there is a peaceful rest in this one verse for all Christians who love God and the harvest. Our responsibility is before God and not before ever-demanding man who too often only wants results at any cost. We need to simply ask Him in faith for workers and go on our way faithfully preaching the gospel and equipping those who have heeded the call to serve. It is God’s responsibility to do the commissioning and sending.
Ps 127:1,2

I preached a message based on my post “Here I Am, Send Me” last week at a conference in Novodnistrovsk, Ukraine. One young woman – the daughter of one of the pastors – came up to me afterwards and said she wanted to join our church planting team. She said that God warmed her heart as I was sharing. Another young youth leader also wants to join me in about a year. I did not know these people, but God did. He knows many more, so let’s join together and ask Him for the very thing that He wants us to ask Him. We can’t go wrong in this.