Monday, August 17, 2015

Apathy and Evil

"Apathy and evil. The two work hand in hand...evil wills it. Apathy allows it. Evil hates the innocent and the defenseless most of all. Apathy doesn't care as long as it's not personally inconvenienced."
-Jack Thoene

"If anyone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need and refuses to help--how can God's love be in that person? Dear children, let us stop just saying we love each other; let us really show it by our actions." 1 John 3:17-18

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Lies and Truth

The world we live in is full of lies and deception. The world tells me if I cannot agree with you then I must hate you. The world tells me it's "us" versus "them." The world tells me my self-worth is about how I look and how much I earn. The world tells me happiness is found in success, comfort, and ease.

The truth about me, however, is that God made me and God loves me. The truth about my neighbor is that God made them and loves them. Each person has worth because God created them. The truth is that we can have conviction and compassion at the same time. We can disagree with one another and still love each other. This is hard, but it is possible. The truth is that happiness is found in relationships...our relationship with God and our relationships with one another.

"Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think." Romans 12:2

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Possibility of Failure

More and more research reveals the decline in church membership in the United States. American culture in the past reinforced (for the most part) a Christian worldview. There was prayer in school. Most people attended church because it was the culturally accepted thing to do on Sundays. Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights were typically set apart for people to attend church functions.

None of this is true today. We do not have prayer in school. Attending church is not the culturally accepted thing to do. Homework, work hours, and sports events are now common on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings. We do indeed live in a post-Christian society. The church has been increasingly marginalized from mainstream culture. This is not new information or even shocking at this point.

However, it seems most Christians are really struggling with this new reality. They see this information as completely bad news. And yes, some of it is bad, but there is much good that can come from living in a post-Christian society. The church for a long time relied on the culture to do its job. The church could expect to grow based on population rate. We didn't really have to evangelize because we could expect people to attend church because their parents did. We didn't have to disciple our own children because the schools and culture did it for us.

The church cannot rely on the culture anymore. We must once again do the hard work of being witnesses for Christ: sharing our faith, loving our neighbor, serving the least of these. We must be willing to take risks and face the possibility of failure. Maintaining the status quo will no longer work. We will have to learn, grow, and step out of our comfort zones. This won't be easy. The church in America has been spoiled. In some cases we've gotten lazy. We'll need to have faith. We'll need to pray more. I may be young and naive, but I think this could be really good for the church.    

Thursday, May 14, 2015

True Blessing -lessons from Kenya

A few weeks ago I went to Kenya on a mission trip with Project 82. We visited and played with some of the kids in their orphanages. We held training conferences for Kenyan pastors and we even sneaked in a mini-safari. The trip was amazing and my mind is still trying to process all that I learned. My heart was simultaneously broken and warmed at the orphanages. Seeing such precious children without families is hard. Seeing such amazing people take care of these children was incredible. In countries like Kenya you see a lot of poverty and suffering. Yet, you also see resiliency and joy. Behind the hardship lies great spiritual strength. Meeting with the Kenyan pastors and seeing their hunger for God's Word was an incredible site. There is no paid time off in Kenya and most of the pastors have other jobs. Thus, most of the ministers gave up a day's wage to be at the conference. Many walked miles to get there. Their example has challenged  me and my own desire to learn. 
This trip also clarified my own calling in life to...

Seek God's Presence
Preach the Gospel
Serve the least of these
Be a voice for the voiceless

Obviously my life includes numerous other elements. Having a calling does not mean I stop changing diapers and washing dishes (although it would be great if it did). But I'm beginning to realize that God is pulling my heart into different places. He is giving me opportunities to serve in ways that stretch me. This can be hard at times, but I pray for more. I see a reoccurring theme in my own life: my greatest joys come through service and sacrifice. Whenever I live for something bigger than myself, I gain a greater intimacy with Christ. My self-centered prayers are slowly becoming externally focused. Instead of asking God to bless me, I'm beginning to ask him to do something with me. I desire being used by God more than I desire my own needs being met. 

I think sometimes we desire God's blessings more than we desire his presence. We desire his gifts more than we desire his glory. We fail to realize our true blessing is knowing God and being used by God. We fail to realize our true blessing is found in blessing others. I tend to forget these truths...Kenya was a great reminder. 

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Necessary Suffering

There are many reasons why people don't pray. Some people don't pray because they don't believe. Others may not pray due to busyness or lack of discipline. However, a few people are timid to pray because “I’m afraid of what God will ask me to do.” And in all reality, that is a very good reason not to pray. At the very least, this reason implies that they know the power of prayer. It's interesting that whenever angels appear in scripture, the first thing they say is “fear not.” They say “fear not,” but we are afraid, and we have every right to be. To be used and changed by God is a scary thing.

I wonder sometimes if one of the reasons many (American) Christians struggle to grow spiritually is because we do not expect to suffer. In fact, we do everything we can to avoid it. Most of us are willing to long as it doesn't interfere too much with my schedule. Most of us are willing to help long as it doesn't require me to sacrifice. Most of us are willing to long as it doesn't affect my current life style. We seem to assume that we should not have to bear any heavy burdens. We seem to assume we have no cross to carry. We are quick to conclude that God would never want us to struggle or suffer for the sake of others. 

A few disclaimers before we move on: (1) I struggle with this "comfort" mentality as much as anyone. (2) I am not advocating that we work ourselves to death. (3) I am not saying we should seek out pain and suffering for the sake of being spiritual.

With that said, I rarely see God call someone to a life of comfort and ease in the Bible. I'm still looking (because I really want to find it), but it's not there. God's call typically requires people to leave their comfort zone and it usually includes trials of some sort. The early church did not seek out pain and persecution. However, their view of suffering was much different than ours. They rejoiced when they suffered for the cause of Christ. They even counted suffering as a privilege! I know...weird, right? 

But maybe they understood something we don't. Maybe really loving others requires sacrifice and struggle. Maybe really serving God requires surrender and faith. Maybe suffering brings us closer to Christ in ways that are not possible otherwise.

Don't get me wrong: it is not a sin to own a couch or to go on a vacation. However, in our culture we need to be careful that comfort and ease do not become our main priorities. We need to be careful that self-indulgence does not become our god. We need to be careful to heed God's call even if it requires suffering...because it probably will. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Three (Kind-of-Different) Ways to Have a Healthy Marriage

My wife and I have been married 8 years (almost 9) and so by no means am I a marriage guru. I do not work for Focus on the Family and I am not a professional counselor. With that said, in reflecting on some things that have helped our marriage I realized some surprising helps. Of course the core stuff that you always hear about are essential: good communication, resolving conflict in a healthy manner, quality time, never demeaning and abusing one another. All the things I'm about to mention will not help much if you're not doing these basics. But here are three kind-of-different ways to have a healthy marriage.

1. Travel Together

I am a firm believer that "getting away" periodically is essential. It's very easy for life (and a relationship) to get stuck in a rut. Traveling is a simple way to break the daily routine. Some people have more money than others, but just about anyone can find simple ways to get a change of scenery. You can travel with your kids, but I do think one couple trip per year is vital.

* Side Note--As a a pastor, I spend a lot of time with the elderly in hospitals and nursing homes. One thing they have taught me over and over again is to not waste my mobility. Do not wait until it's too late to travel and see day you will not have that ability.

2. Support Each Other

This may seem kind of obvious and not so different, but I rarely see true support in most marriages. By "support" I do not mean tolerate, endure, or just get by. I mean being intentional in encouraging and complimenting one another. I mean being there for one another and sacrificing to help your spouse achieve their goals. Stay away from manipulation and competition with your spouse. Instead, "take delight in honoring one another."

3. Live for Something Big

As a couple, pursue a lifestyle that helps those in need. Live for something bigger than your own relationship. I think Jesus would like this and it's a great example for your own kids. Mission trips, adoption, and foster care has brought us closer in a variety of ways. Of course, we do not serve in order to have a healthy marriage; but looking back it has had that affect. The scriptures are correct: "It is more blessed to give, than to receive."

* Side Note--Please do not read this and think I have the perfect marriage. We have faults and weaknesses like any other couple. We are a work-in-progress, but I love this journey together.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Avoiding Spiritual Blind Spots

Religious extremism and violence is something that has plagued humanity all throughout history. All religions (and all worldviews for that matter) have been used throughout history to justify some pretty heinous actions. Christians are not immune to spiritual blind spots. Christians have used the Bible to justify crusades, slavery, and segregation.

Of course, there were Christians against each of these injustices, but there were many who defended these actions. It's easy for us to look back and say, "what were they thinking?" However, what blind spots are hindering us that we may not see right now? And how can we avoid these blind spots (as best we can)? Here's the start of a list that may help. Of course this list is not exhaustive and I do not have the space to fully explain each, but this is a start. Let me know what you think.

1. Your beliefs should produce a deeper love for God and others.

As Christians, if our faith is making us more angry or bitter or mean, we may want to question who we're really following. The fruits of the spirit are "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control."

2. Your beliefs should be consistent with the main themes of scripture. (love, mercy, redemption, holiness) 

No doctrine should be based on a single passage of scripture. Less clear passages should be interpreted by clearer passages. The Old Testament should be interpreted in light of the New. As Christians, our faith should include the major themes like grace, redemption, and holiness because they permeate throughout the whole Bible.

3. Your beliefs should be consistent with the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. He is our final and complete revelation of God.

Jesus is the complete and full picture of God (see Hebrews 1). Thus, our theology should begin and end (and default) to Jesus. Love this quote...

"The historic Christine doctrine of the divinity of Christ does not simply mean that Jesus is like God. It is far more radical than that. It means God is like Jesus. In other words, the doctrines of the incarnation and deity of Christ are meant to tell us that we cannot start with a predetermined, set-in-stone idea of God derived from the rest of the Bible (or philosophy) and then extend that to Jesus. Jesus is not intended merely to fit into those predetermined categories; he is intended to explode them, transform them, alter them forever, and bring us to a new evolutionary level in our understanding of God. An old definition of God does not define Jesus-the experience of God in Jesus requires a brand-new definition or understanding of God." –Elton Trueblood 

4.Your beliefs should NOT major on the minors and minor on the majors. 

The Pharisees had the habit of doing this and it seemed to bug Jesus (see Matthew 23). This doesn't mean the "minors" are unimportant...just don't miss the "majors" in the process. Stuff like justice, mercy, and faith.

5. Your beliefs should NOT force the Bible to answer questions it wasn't asking and your beliefs should NOT confuse Biblical truth with cultural preferences. 

Do not look for Bible verses to prove your predetermined belief. This is called proof-texting and it always leads to trouble. If we're not careful, we can "make" the Bible say (or justify) anything we want. Also, we often confuse being a Christian for being republican (conservative) or democrat (liberal) or traditional or hippy. This will quickly skew our ability to understand and apply scripture. I'm not saying we should be apolitical, but never let it be your first allegiance.

6. Your beliefs should have conviction but always open to deeper understanding.

The Pharisees are a classic example of individuals who held so strongly to their beliefs that they were not open to a new understanding of how God's kingdom works. They missed the messiah standing right in front of them. Often are own cultural bias and fears can keep us from learning and growing.

7. Your beliefs should produce a deeper love for God and others.

I know this is number one as well. I'm being redundant on purpose. As followers of Christ, our faith should always lead to love for God and love for others. These are the two most important commands. If we miss this, we miss everything.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Orphan Care-How We Can Help

Why We Care for the Orphan?

Our calling is clear:

“Learn to do good! Seek justice! Help the oppressed! Defend the orphan! Fight for the rights of widows!” Isaiah 1:17

“Pure and lasting religion in the sight of God our Father means that we must care for orphans and widows in their troubles, and refuse to let the world corrupt us.” James 1:27

The need is great:

There are an estimated 153 million orphaned and vulnerable children around the world. Here in the United States there are nearly 400,000 children in the foster care system.

How Our Church Helps:

1. United Methodist Children’s Home-our church assists with any needs our group home may have and promotes adoption and foster care training through our United Methodist Children’s home. Our church is also used for training classes as needed. Our senior pastor is also on their advocacy board and we take up a special offering for this ministry annually on Christmas Eve.

2. Project 82 Kenya-the mission of Project 82 is to be the evidence of God’s grace and perfect love to orphans in Kenya. They protect, shelter, clothe, feed, educate, disciple and support the precious children of Kenya in an environment of family and community. We partner with this ministry through child sponsorship, special donations, and an annual short-term mission trip to Kenya.

3. Belarus Mission-each year a team from our church travels to Belarus to assist with a variety of projects including home repair, Bible School, and orphan care.

4.Child Sponsorship through World Vision and/or Project 82 Kenya-we promote individuals sponsoring children through organizations like World Vision and Project 82 Kenya. These ministries assist children and families by tackling the root causes of poverty.

5. Operation Christmas Child-each year we pack and collect gift boxes that will be distributed to orphans and other vulnerable children around the world.

6. Imagine No Malaria-unlike many other diseases that are awaiting a cure, malaria was eliminated in the U.S. in the 1950s. However, in Sub-Saharan Africa, malaria continues to kill a person every 60 seconds causing many children to become orphans. But there is hope! In 2007, the World Health Organization estimated there were more than 1,000,000 malaria related fatalities. By 2012, the number had been reduced to 627,000. While that is still a staggering number, a nearly 50% increase in life is worth celebrating! Thanks to the efforts of The United Methodist Church and our partners, we are on our way to beating malaria for good. Our church will highlight this ministry during the season of Lent and take up a special offering to support it.

7. Orphan Sunday-each year we celebrate Orphan Sunday in order to raise awareness and gain greater participation for each of our ministries.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Undefeated Love

“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels can’t, and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away. Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39

The whole story of scripture is the story of how God can’t be kept out. When we sin and mess up our lives, we find that God doesn't go off and leave us—instead, he enters into our trouble and saves us. The good news of the gospel is that God is for us. God is present. God is with us…

despite our past mistakes…
despite our sins…
despite our selfishness and pride.

God continues to love us regardless of who we are and what we've done. God continues to show up regardless of how often we ignore him. From Advent to Easter, the story of Jesus should teach us that God’s love cannot be defeated. His love is greater than sin, greater than hate, and yes, greater than death.