Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Have We Made it Too Easy?

"Just say this prayer. That's all there is to it." This is the common message offered to lost people to help them accept Christ. That is the beginning, but is it really "all there is to it?"

Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the
kingdom of God!" - Mark 10:23 (NIV)

It is hard for the rich man. Is he the only one for which this thing of Christianity is difficult?

I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance
that are ours in Jesus, was on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the
testimony of Jesus. - REV 1:9 (NIV)

John, the Apostle and writer of the book of Revlation, considered himself and those to whom he directed the Revelation as "companions in the suffering, kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus." If we are companions in suffering, it doesn't sound easy to me.

As a matter of fact, the Apostle Paul said that in order to truly know Christ - to reach that goal - he welcomed being a part of the "Fellowship of His suffering". (Phil. 3:10) Many of us want to know the "Power of His resurrection," without sharing in His suffering, but Paul knew that a genuine understanding of Christ would have to include suffering as He did for the sake of the salvation of others.

3 He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken
by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was
crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his
wounds we are healed. - Isaiah 53:3-5

To know Christ is to suffer for others; to suffer for Him; to suffer with the same joy with which we receive His blessings, because it is all a part of being a diciple of Jesus.

He came to give us life to the full - a life of meaning; of purpose. He did not come to give us an easy way out. We are supposed to die to ourselves the moment we receive Him, and daily thereafter.

This is not easy...but it is worth it 100 times over!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

The Leadership Strategy of Jesus

After attending a recent major leadership conference, my mind is swimming with thoughts, questions and new ideas. I keep looking at how Jesus began such an amazing organization as the New Testament Church. Obviously, the church is more than an organization, yet it must be organized to truly be effective and to please God.

So, how did Jesus start this thing and make it so strong that it has lasted through persecution, apathy and many wrong turns? From the very beginning of the church is Acts 2, Christ has been the head of the church, through easy, pleasant times, as well as embarrassing, hurtful and heart-breaking times. It has endured because He is the ultimate leader.

1. Jesus had a hand-picked team of "leaders-in-training". He obviously knew each one before he called them (See the calling of Nathaniel); something we cannot do. This does show us, though, that even though Christ doesn't play favorites, He did concentrate His greatest efforts on equipping those He knew were right for the job.

2. His trainees had only a minor understanding. They had been taught the same things that every other Jewish boy had been taught about the Messiah, how He would come, and the setting up of His Kingdom. Their belief that Jesus was this Messiah caused them to change their views on some very personal and deeply held scriptural beliefs. In other words, they were teachable.

3. He patiently taught and set the example for them to follow. He wasn't always directing His teaching at them, but they were with Him whenever He was teaching. They listened to what He said to others. They watched how He treated others. They made notes for later discussions as He went about His ministry. At first, you don't see them doing much that was useful. They were merely observing, questioning and learning.

4. Jesus took them aside for debriefing after the public teachings. When they got together after the crowds were gone, the trainees pulled out their notes and asked their questions. Jesus was sometimes amazed that they didn't understand these basic teachings and actions, but He patiently walked them through even when He felt the meaning was quite obvious. He drove home the point with them to be sure they understood.

5. Jesus challenged their faith. Without always saying what He was doing, Jesus would test His disciples' faith. He would walk on water and see if anyone wanted to join Him. He allowed storms to nearly sink them, then He would calm them with a word. He would ask them to feed thousands with food enough for only one. Pushing them like this caused their faith in Him to grow and strengthen for what was still to come.

6. He began to involve the trainees in small jobs. Find some food. Have the people sit down. Pick up the left-overs. Each of these jobs required some faith. Can you imagine asking people for food to feed thousands? How about telling them to sit down when you know full well that you only have enough food for one child? Leftovers?! One step out to look for left-overs may have taken more faith than you or I have ever practiced.

7. He chose three on which to give double the attention. Peter, James and John, seem to have been especially on the ball. Maybe it was their personalities, maybe it was their chemistry, or something Jesus knew that we don't - something made these guys stand out enough to bring them a little further with Jesus that the rest.

8. Jesus sent 72 of them with very specific instructions to go and do what they had learned so far. They went in teams of two; wise for safety, courage and accountability. They did exactly what Jesus told them to do; necessary to accomplish their mission. They were able to perform miracles in Jesus' Name; a reward for obedience and faithfulness.

9. He debriefed and refocussed them. They were so excited about what they were able to do that Jesus had to remind them that the real blessing was who they now are...that their names are written in the Lamb's Book of Life. That amazing truth had to be refreshed in their minds to get them back on track with their mission. Stop and celebrate the victories, then move on toward the prize.

10. He prepared them for His departure. At the Last Supper, Jesus was giving some final instructions as well as explaining what was about to happen. He wanted them to know He was preparing to leave, and that they had learned what they were going to learn from Him. In some ways, Jesus was kicking the baby birds out of the nest so that they could see it was time for them to fly on their own...yet not completely on their own; He would always be there for them.

11. He left them for a while to see how they fared. When Jesus died on the cross, the trainees found themselves without a leader for the first time. They didn't do very well at filling in the gaps Jesus left when He died and was buried.

12. Jesus came back and encouraged them, refocussed them and commissioned them. It was time for the trainees to stand on all that they had learned. It had to be enough to get a movement to not only survive, but to expand and thrive. The church did so for the first 100 years at an amazing pace, and it is still here today!

Take each of these first sentences and make them command statements instead of descriptive points. This is the leadership strategy Jesus implemeted. I think He did pretty good. How about you?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Necessity of Creation

The Bible begins with an amazing claim:

"In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the earth." - Gen. 1:1

Is it just a poetic view of a majorly complex moment or series of events that the writer of Genesis states because of his simplistic understanding of God? Did the universe really form itself in some extended period of time based on an explosion and gasses, and hardening, and waiting, and growing, and evolving, and experimenting, and survival of the fittest? Or did God just say "Let there be,..." and there was?

Is it even important that we hold any belief in this matter as Christians, or is this just some silly cause with which people with nothing better to do consume themselves?

Let's look at the claims of scripture about creation, and how central it is to our faith.

Man was created in God's image (Gen. 1:27). The value of mankind, of each life as a reflection of the Creator, rests on this truth. We are not mere animals. We are the image of God, Himself!

God was grieved that He had created man when He sent the flood (Gen. 6:7) His right to destroy what He had created defends His continued holiness through this flood. Otherwise, He was just a murderer, and necessarily unholy.

All of Psalm 148 is about creation praising its Creator. This is merely a poem if there is no Creator, and the statements made therein are not necessarily true. At what point is scripture allowed to lie and still be a "Holy Word"?

ISA 40:28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
ISA 40:29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
ISA 40:30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
ISA 40:31 but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.

If part of this scripture is untrue, all of it is. God cannot give you rest. He cannot renew the weary. And hope in Him is futile.

Revelation 4:11 tells us that the 24 elders fall to the ground and lay their crowns before God saying that He is worthy to receive glory, honor and power because He has created all things. Had He not created all things, He would not be worthy of honor and glory and power.

And Romans 1 tells us that wicked men surpress the truth of God for a lie; that truth which has been shown through what has been made (Rom. 1:20) so that men are without excuse. In other words, it is wickedness in men that would cause us to try to prove that creation is nothing more than an accident of "Nature". God has revealed Himself through what He has created, period. He exists. Creation is His evidence that He is there, and that He is God.

This is why so many work so hard to prove that everything just happened by nature: If we can take away the testimony of God, Himself, we rid the world of the very evidence that God exists. The theory of evolution is much less a scientific effort than it is a spiritual quest. To excuse all the sinful acts that the world loves so much, mankind is pouring its best efforts into "proving" that there is no God.

And if there is no creation, there is no "New Creation" as spoken of in 2 Corinthians 5:17. We are still the same lost, wasted, sinful beings we have always been, and our faith is futile.

But God did create everything in the beginning, and He continues to control all of His creation. This truth is solid, and cannot be compromised.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Creation vs. Evolution

Why does the scientific community deny the possibility of a Creator? Is it because they believe this is a less scientific explanation than evolution? If so, does that mean they believe the theory of evolution is truly more scientific? Or is there something else at work in the effort to deny Creation? If so, what would it be?

These questions are at the core of the debate. When believers can intelligently answer them and not get overly emotional, we can carry on helpful and effective conversations with those who think the evolution theory is the intelligent thing to believe.

The next few posts on this site will be aimed at answering these questions effectively to keep a strong argument going for the truth of Creation. Watch for it.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Decentralizing = Deconstructing?

The trend today seems to be moving away from a centralized "church" to a scattered smattering of lone ranger Christians trying to change their world by themselves. This trend is emphasized in a positive light in George Barna's book, Revolution.

But is it a positive thing? In an interview with Willow Creek's Magazine, "Willow" (vol. 13, Iss. 1), Barna asserts "...the role of the church is to help people honor Jesus Christ. It is meant to support each person's efforts to be Christ-like." ("Willow" vol. 13, Iss. 1, p.35) He continues to say that, "...expecting that person to be committed to that congregation leads to problems."

Is the church a bunch of individuals doing his or her best to honor Jesus Christ, or is the church one body connected by one Spirit with specific commands for organization and practice? If this trend continues, where are the individual Christ-like "Revolutionaries" going to join together for worship and encouragement? Are we more effective individually or collectively? What about unity of the believers? How will that be accomplished?

I am not advocating that the current practices of the church are flawless, nor do I think we are limited to stay within our own church walls. The heart for the lost is the heart of Christ. But Jesus was different than us in that He was calling followers for Himself. In this truth, we should consider ourselves more like the church in Acts than being "Christ-like", because we are not calling followers for ourselves, but building the church that was begun in the book of Acts.

1. It was a church united. (Acts 2:42)
2. It was a church with a mission. (Acts 1:8)
3. It was a church that was effective and powerful. (Acts 2:43,47)
4. It was a church that prayed together, daily. (Acts 3:1)
5. It was a church that took care of each other. (Acts 4:32)
6. It was a church that had accountability. (Acts 5:1-11)
7. It was a church that was organized. (Acts 6:1-6)
8. It was a church that was centralized. (Acts 8:14;Acts 14:4)

Decentralizing the church is a dangerous trend. The organized church may fail once in a while, and will always have flaws because of the human condition. But it is exactly that flawed condition that demands we be answerable and connected with each other in organized, centralized and accountable fashion. Decentralizing and the church is deconstructing the church. How dare we destroy the body of Christ in this way?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Intentionally Reflecting Jesus

I have heard people say that we are like the moon and God is like the sun in that He gives off light and we reflect that light. We are not light in ourselves, we just reflect Him.

For argument's sake, though, let me take this analogy to task. What does the moon do to reflect the light of the sun? Nothing! It just floats in space while the sun does all the burning.

Too many Christians have taken on this aspect of this particular analogy. They let God do all the work and assume that somehow His light will just shine through us.

"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." - Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV)

I know that for some this seems to contradict not letting your right hand know what your left hand is doing (Matt. 6:3), but that command was specifically about giving to the needy.

This command is more about how you live. Intentionally doing things that will bring honor to God, and show the world what matters to Him. You don't accidentally do these things. You have to look for ways to do this; pray for opportunities, then make the most of them.

What has your faith caused you to do that rips you out of your comfort zone and ignites the light you are to be in this dark world? What have you done to intentionally bring glory to God? How have you "loved your neighbor as you love yourself" in action?

Friday, January 13, 2006

Personal Info

Rachel and I attended my 20th high school reunion in the Summer of 2005. What a surreal experience that was! I have put on a few...hundred...pounds since I saw these friends last, but it was a lot of fun! I wouldn't have missed it for anything! It was also the first time I have been back to Alaska since I graduated, and the scenery I used to take for granted was more beautiful than I had remembered. I'm going to try to add some scenery pics from the trip, if I can ... Posted by Picasa

How political should we become?

Have we become more of a political "special interest group" than a world-changing "new creation" of God? How far should we go in the inerest of trying to force a sinful world to behave with Christian values? How much time is spent trying to make people act right than we are trying to spread the good news of Jesus Christ? Is it effective in our witness to get angry at sinful behavior in a sinful society, or should we focus on showing love to the sinners who are bound by their sins? Most importantly, among believers, is it worth causing division in the body of Christ by arguing over which political party is right? Are either of the political parties right?

These are questions the church is going to have to deal with intentionally over the coming years, or we are destined to forget what we are and where our citizenship truly is. Yes, I believe America has been blessed by God, but it isn't because of our written codes or political practices. It is because the people putting those written codes into practice believed in God and desired to please Him. In the past, our leadership has operated with a genuine respect for God, from their hearts. Forcing people who don't genuinely hold God in the highest honor to act like they do is a huge mistake, because the outward actions fool only men, not God. God sent us into the world to change people, not governments. When the people are truly changed, they will elect government leaders who truly honor God, and His blessing will remain on us. The immorality that is running so rampant in America is connected directly to the rejection of God by the people. If the church is doing its job of reaching the lost and making disciples, it will be reflected in the leadership we elect.

So church, are we going to be a political party or the hands and feet of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world? How should we then invest our time and efforts - Fighting the lost or saving the lost?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Opening Day!

This is the first post on my new blog site. I've called it "The Scope" because I plan to cover a scope of things about the Christian life, what is happening in the "Christian World", and scriptural truths that apply to current events. I plan to write often, especially hoping to have something new here every Thursday. For today, just establishing this site is my accomplishment. For the coming days, I will be attempting to make this site known to the people of Croswell Wesleyan Church, our community and my family. At the end of each post there is an opportunity to respond. I would love to hear your views on every post. For this post, you can use the response option to let me know you've found me.

As I learn more about this stuff, I am sure things will keep changing and improving. Please be patient with me as I learn.