Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What If We Treated The Bible Like We Do Our Cell Phones?

One of my leaders passed this along to me, and I thought it sufficiently convicting to pass along:

I wonder what would happen if we treated our Bibles like we treat our cell phone.

What if we carried it around in our purses or pockets?

What if we flipped through it several times a day?

What if we turned back to go get it if we forgot it?

What if we used it to receive messages from the text?

What if we treated it like we couldn't live without it?

What if we gave it to friends and family as gifts?

What if we used it when we traveled?

What if we used it in case of emergency?

What if we lost it -- how hard would we look for it?

Oh, and one more thing. Unlike our cell phone, we don't have to worry about our Bible being disconnected because Jesus already paid the bill.

Monday, November 17, 2008


What is a minister? It's not just a pastor, or a reverend, or a missionary. It is one who ministers to others in Christ's name. And as today reminded me, ministers come in all shapes and sizes.

This afternoon I was sitting alone in the church, doing a bit of paperwork, when I heard a knock on our door. A guy pokes his head in and says that he was traveling by and wanted to know if he could go into our sanctuary and pray for a bit.

Sure, why not, I reply -- it's what it's there for, right?

So he goes into the sanctuary, I return to work. A few minutes later, I hear music floating down the hall.

Correction: I hear music BOOMING down the hall.

I tiptoe to the sanctuary doors and look in -- this guy, Richard was his name, is at our piano just belting out gospel songs at the top of his lungs. He had a medley of about 20 songs that he was doing from memory (no sheet music!), just sitting alone, playing and singing.

Well, work can wait -- I went in and had a seat and just listened to him for ten minutes or so. He was quite good, and the old gospel hymns came alive under his care. After he was done we talked a bit. He told me that "this is what he did" -- he went around to different churches to pray over them (through song, I suppose), that souls would come to salvation in that church. He'd pray, then move on to the next church, and the next one after that.

His ministry wasn't a public one, even though what he did would've been very entertaining and edifying for others to hear. His was private, a "behind the scenes" one-man effort to cover the Lord's churches with prayer. I felt touched when hearing him and considering this, and knew I was blessed to encounter a true minister of Christ in the middle of this workday.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

What's The Point?

It never fails -- every Christmas season, some group or individual gets a huge boost of news by attacking the religious context of the holiday. Trying to take the "Christ" out of Christmas, and soforth. I usually find it amusing, as if protesters started an effort to remove any mention of me come May 31st each year, but keep the rest of the birthday intact. To do it for its own sake.

When you remove God from the equation of life, what you're left with is a mobius loop of doing things for their own sake, with things giving themselves meaning. The American Humanist Association's started an ad campaign with the slogan of "Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake." which illustrates this point perfectly. Who needs God? We can be "good" without God, right? Just do it for its own sake!

Not to be smarmy or anything, but this is a campaign designed by someone who has a third grade understanding of how the world works. I should be good, just because? Why? Because it's good? If I'm not deriving my morality from God, then what do I have to fall back on -- the government's sense of morality? The popular majority? My own relative sense of right and wrong?

Humanism is a loose philosophy that essentially says that we as people have the ability to better ourselves -- and that we don't need religion or God to aid us in that. We can rationally deduce what is "good" and what is "bad" by observing the world, then choosing "good" to better the world for ourselves and those around us. An example of humanism that I'm pretty familiar with is the core of Star Trek, which Gene Roddenberry designed to be a universe where mankind has bettered itself through humanist actions, where religion is passé, and where all anyone needs to do is to go forth and preach the good news of how awesome people are so that not-as-good people can wake up and start being good for goodness' sake.

If humanism asks me to view things rationally, then fine, I will: this is an incredibly silly philosophy because it is not backed up by the world historically. People just are not good for goodness' sake, ever. We are not "basically good" at our core -- we are selfish, sinful and hostile to our neighbors. We're out for ourselves. If you can look at me and say, with a straight face, that we as human society have evolved to a better sense of morality on our own, then I'll applaud your optimism and ignorance of the sheer amount of killing and evil that's happened in the 20th century versus anything back in the "dark days" a thousand, two thousand, three thousand years ago.

This ad campaign isn't a call for Christians to be riled up to anger over an attack at the core of truth -- after all, that's been going on since the dawn of time. But it is a call for us to shore up our beliefs and not bend when someone approaches us with a humanist argument -- that we do not need God to be good. Once you buy into that, you've thrown aside the whole of the Bible; God's message to His children is that we are simply incapable of being good through our own ability. We need God's grace to save us, we need His forgiveness to wash us clean, and we need His strength to help us overcome temptation and sinful influences in order to be made more and more Christlike in our daily lives.

Humanists hate verses like Romans 3:23, because they claim that God is beating us down, making us feel guilty, making us feel inadequate. But it is the truth that "all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God" -- and it is equally true that this verse is smack-dab in the middle of a passage wherein God demonstrates how much He loves us despite this failing, and how He's provided a way for our salvation and redemption.

The point to my life isn't that I'm doing things just for the sake of them. That's empty and without purpose. Instead, my faith and life in God gives me supreme context and purpose for all I do -- when I do good, it is for His glory and kingdom, and when I do bad, it is because I am a sinner who is still being sanctified.

Why believe in God? Because I do good for His sake, not my own.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Persecution Comes Home

Last week in youth group, we talked about how the Christian church is being persecuted worldwide -- but the hard thing to imagine is what, if any, persecution could hit us here at home. After all, we live in a land where freedom of worship is guaranteed in the First Amendment. And yet, we can't deny that the church is an easy target for liberal Hollywood, for scorn levied by the press, for insults and shunning by friends and family, and even physical attacks.

This past Sunday, a church up in Lansing, MI -- coincidentally named Mount Hope -- found themselves facing persecution in the form of an orchestrated riot/protest by a pro-homosexuality/pro-anarchy group called Bash Back. Believers found their church swarmed by people seeking to defile their place of worship with shouting, vandalism, pulling the fire alarm and even performing sinful acts on the altar (source article). Some believe this to be one of many responses to Proposition 8 in California, where the voters overturned the State Supreme Court and banned homosexual marriage.

It might be surprising to us that even our churches aren't safe from persecution, even though we read stories of extremists burning down church buildings, gunmen entering sanctuaries or leaders of the church doing despicable acts. Yet across the world, in many countries, this would probably be considered a mild form of persecution to Christians who have rebuilt their churches dozens of times after crowds raze them to the ground, or families who lose a member to prison or worse.

To stand firm in what you believe makes you a prime target -- for Satan and for the world. We are not called to be timid, apologetic worshipers, but men and women of God who follow the scriptures and stand for what they say, even when that is not popular or welcomed. We place ourselves in the line of suffering the moment we follow Jesus. Jesus even told us, in John 15:18-20, that we are to be persecuted because we are not of this world, because the world hates Jesus and us by association.

And, as Jesus told us, we were "called out of the world". It is imperative that we always remember that just because we are saved does not mean that we are more worthy of righteousness or deserving of salvation than anyone else -- we are sinners, plain and simple. When we face persecution, we face our former selves who rage against God, yet are in deep need of His love and transforming grace.

I'm encouraged by how this Mount Hope church responded to the invasion. Stunned and mortified (and I imagine their children were terrified), none of the believers fought back. Instead, the churchgoers regrouped after the event to pray for the Bash Backers. They did as Jesus told us to do: to pray for our enemies and to love them.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ministry Preparation (Mark 1:9-13)

Last weekend, we took our youth group to downtown Detroit to hand out clothing to a sizable homeless population in a not-so-nice area. We had to start very, very early in the morning -- who wakes up at 5:30am on a Saturday? -- because we were asked by this ecumenical ministry team to visit with them at their church prior to going downtown. It actually required us to drive in the opposite direction to where we would eventually be, and then stand there for a half hour while the team leader taught us about the ministry and what we would do. It was hard to wait -- we fidgeted, eager to get downtown and actually do some good. Yet this pre-ministry portion was crucial to focusing our attention on what was important, to teach us what we needed to know, and to prepare our hearts.

Being the impatient, impulsive people that we are, ministry preparation is often an agonizing task. We are project-oriented -- get us there, so we can work on the project and get it done -- but that's not the way God wants us to minister. God wants us to have a right heart first, before our hands and feet take action, and likewise, he wanted Jesus to have this too. As Jesus sets the example for us, so we too should enter into a period of reflection and preparation before digging into the "meat" of ministry.

Here we witness Jesus' two major steps of ministry preparation. First, he is baptized by John to "fulfill righteousness" (Matt. 3:15) even though he was spiritually pure. He shows us that not even Christ himself is above the Law of God. This symbolic baptism served to induct him into the priesthood dating back to Melchizedek (Heb. 6:20). We also see the Trinity in full force: Jesus being baptized, God the Father pronouncing "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.", and the Holy Spirit descending on him "like a dove".

The Spirit "immediately" sends Jesus into the desert to be tried and tempted. If Jesus was one of us, he would probably balk at this command. Why waste well over a month of valuable ministry time? Why not get started right away, if he was pure and righteous in God's sight?

Mark's account of Jesus' pre-ministry temptation is much, much shorter than Matthew 4:1-11 or Luke 4:1-13, but it doesn't mean we should skip by it so blithely. Four key facts are given:
  1. Jesus was in the desert for 40 days -- 40 days is a symbolic number that reoccurs throughout the Bible, and it is an awful long time to be in the harsh, arid, rugged deserts of lower Judea.
  2. Jesus was tempted by Satan -- Matthew and Luke detail these temptations, but Mark simply lets us know that Jesus was not free from attacks and temptations by Satan. It would not be the last time Satan would tempt Christ, but having it occur at the start of his ministry would entail Jesus to lead by example, not just by words. He had been tested and proven.
  3. Jesus was with the wild animals -- The desert is both dangerous and lonely. A common theme in Jesus' ministry was his retreat from the world to be in quiet solitude with the Father. I can't imagine praying for forty days and being away from civilization for that long, but it must have focused Jesus' attention and heart to the place it needed to be.
  4. Angels attended Jesus -- Even in his hardships, God provided angelic comfort for Jesus. God does not remove hardship from our life, but He also doesn't forsake us or desert us; He provides us with comfort and necessities.
I don't spend nearly enough time praying in preparation for the actual time I spend in ministry each week, nor am I always grateful when God puts me through hardships to make me into a better minister. However, if Jesus submitted to God through baptism, temptation and solitude, how can any of us say that we know how to get ready to minister better than Jesus himself? I am determined to spend more time before church and youth groups in prayer and not just busy preparations.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Acts of the Apostles

I've been really getting back into listening to my Bible Experience CDs in the car -- I simply cannot recommend these enough! It's not the best translation of the Bible (TNIV) but it's serviceable, and the production values on it are just stellar. You have professional voice actors, music, and sound effects to help take us away from monotone Bible readings to something that is truly lifelike and emotional.

We have to remember that the Bible was originally transmitted through oral tradition, and most Christians through history have experienced the Bible by listening to it. I'm not making a case for one method -- reading or listening to the Bible -- to be superior to the other, but instead that Christians should do both. Hearing the Word lets your mind conjure up the images and act on the imagination in a way that reading does not quite accomplish. Plus, when you hear it, you are not hearing your own predictable voice reading the Word, but someone else's, which has the effect of making you pay more attention.

Right now I'm listening through the book of Acts -- a very lengthy book, and quite underutilized in churches today, other than the occasional Pentecost sermon. Hearing it all the way through is a tremendous window into the early growth of the Christian church, and you just feel the palpable excitement of the believers as they witness miracles, experience growth, and form a community that spreads across the world. It's inspiring how many stories of apostles and disciples making a stand for their faith, even in the face of persecution and death.

I've also come away with the realization that the Jewish religious leaders didn't just give up the ghost after Jesus was resurrected, but continued to fight against the tide of Christ and his followers, especially Paul (who they surely saw as a traitor to their cause). Paul's own persecution eerily parallels Jesus' in some ways -- the crowds wanting to kill him, his trials before the Roman and religious authorities, his flogging, and his message of the gospel that he was able to share to the people.

A prof told me that none of us will ever be half the Christian man that Paul was, and Paul considered himself not even worthy to be considered in the same league as Jesus. But each, in our own way, are placed in the right spots for God's work, and that is a privilege that we cannot deny.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Laugh and the World Laughs With You, Cry and You Cry Alone

Last night and today, millions across the country and world are rejoicing and celebrating the election of a new President to the USA. Last night and today, millions more feel a heavy weight on their heart, unease in their mind, and a lack of hope for the future. I do not buy into Obama's vague message of change or hope, because he is an unproven entity who's historic ascendancy to the White House is more due to his celebrity status and what he is not, than what he is. It worries me greatly that my child will be born into a country under a liberal yoke, and I wonder with trepidation what changes we will witness in the next four years.

But, as I have had to remind myself numerous times today, even this is not outside of God's control, will or plan. And so I turn to the Bible to see what it commands of me in relation to a President I did not vote for and do not agree with. 2 Timothy 2:1-4 relays to us a plain command:

I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

I have to remember that the kings and those in authority at the time of Jesus and the apostles and Paul were not the most morally upright, principled, peaceful group of leaders. Within that decade, the Roman Emperor would be actively persecuting Christians and often killing them. Yet here Paul shows us that the first and foremost duty of every Christian citizen is not to vote, but to pray. Pray for kings and all those in authority -- including leaders who we do not agree with or like or who may even be trying to hurt us. We pray that God will work through these fallible leaders to bring about peace and freedom, because nothing is outside of the scope of God's power. But most of all we pray because it pleases God and it refocuses our attention away from politics and anger, and towards the righteous King of heaven who cares little about who is Democrat or Republican, but who is brought into the fold of Jesus Christ.

So today I pray for Obama, for the leaders in Congress, the Senate, the Supreme Court, and all the way down to our local authorities. I pray for wisdom, for temperance, for peace to be their unending desire, and for our country's Christians to flourish in their faith under their rule and continue to witness to others for our Lord's namesake.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Silesian Angel

From Johann Scheffler (1624-77):

God must be born within you.

Were Christ to be born a thousand times in Bethlehem,
And yet not be born in you, you will remain lost.

External things do not help.

The cross of Golgotha cannot save you from sin,
Unless that cross is raised within you.

Raise yourself from the dead!

It does not help you that Christ is risen
If you remain bound to sin and death.