Friday, May 27, 2011
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Generally, I would say that I would agree with the five fundamentals of the inspiration of Scripture, the virgin birth, the diety of Christ, that Christ died on the cross for my sins and rose again on the third day, and will return in the last days to judge the living and the dead. I think most Christians do believe these things. I do not see this as that much different from the Apostle's Creed which says,
I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:
Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;
He descended into hell.
The third day He arose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy catholic church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting.
Monday, May 23, 2011
THE BOOK THAT MADE YOUR WORLD
By Vishal Mangalwadi
Published by Thomas Nelson
Reviewed by Clint Walker
Vishal Mangalwadi is an up and coming apologist for the Christian faith. He is also a strong advocate of classical Western Civilization. THE BOOK THAT MADE YOUR WORLD allows him to tell the story of both.
Specifically, Mangalwadi tells the story of the influence of the Bible on the best parts of Western Civilization. Whether he is discussing science, art, or literature, THE BOOK THAT MADE YOUR WORLD aims to teach his readers that much of what we have come to appreciate about our modern lives and culture has its roots in Scripture.
The timing of this book is impeccable. It is written in English. This year is the 400th anniversary of the first mass-produced English Bible, namely the King James Version of Scripture.
THE BOOK THAT MADE YOUR WORLD is written as both a celebration and a warning. Mangalwadi celebrates what God has done through Christian people to make this world the way it is. On the other hand, he warns his readers that if Western Civilization continues to lose its way by rejecting the power and authority of Scripture, that it will find increasing hardship ahead.
I had mixed feelings about this book. I agreed with much of his discussion of how Christianity influenced culture. I found it a helpful and instructional narrative, and an encouragement to do the same kinds of things today. I struggled, though, with the author’s wedding of Western Civilization with Christianity. Christianity has offered much to build our world in the West. But making Christianity synonymous with Western culture as often as Mangalwadi seems to do (though he doesn’t do it all the time) concerns me. From the book of Acts, we find that the gospel is transcultural, and adaptable to a variety of different societies and cultures. The yoking Western Civilization and Christianity to closely can have the unwanted effect of making the church much like the “Judiazers” of the first century that tried to compel Christian believers to become culturally Jewish in order to be saved. This kind of cultural imperialism would be tragic.
Nevertheless, I think this book is a wonderful resource, and should be on every pastor’s shelf.
*This book was given to me by Thomas Nelson in exchange for an honest review
A PEOPLE TALL AND SMOOTH: STORIES OF ESCAPE FROM SUDAN TO ISRAEL
By Judith Galblum Pex
Published by Cladach Publishing
Reviewed by Clint Walker
Eilat is a resort city on the southernmost tip of Israel. It is on the border of both Jordan and Egypt, and on the coast of the Red Sea. One day in this sleepy little city a number of tall, black homeless people walked into town with little to no resources and a big story to tell.
A PEOPLE TALL AND SMOOTH is a story about these refugees, and a husband and wife who ran the hostel that several of these folks came to live at. The refugees were refugees from religious persecution in the Sudan. They trekked several miles on foot to escape ethnic persecution, and to find a place where they could exercise their Christian faith without fear of punishment.
Will the refugees find a safe place to live and worship in Eliat? Will the town be able to adapt to this strange new presence? A PEOPLE TALL AND SMOOTH tells this story. By the end you will be endeared to both the owners of the hostel, and their intriguing, courageous new friends seeking safety and freedom.
Saturday, May 21, 2011
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
By Glenn Packiam
Published by David C. Cook
Reviewed by Clint Walker
Lucky is a smart, well-written little book. In it, Glenn Packiam writes a brief, easy to read reflection on the benedictions in Jesus' Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6. He uses the word "lucky" as a synonym for the more traditional "blessed" that shows up in many more formal translations.
The benedictions in Luke 6: 17-26 are counterintuitive and countercultural. In other words, most people do not look gratefully upon situations that put us in material need, make us lonely and mistreated, or make us cry. In Lucky, the author explains how each of these situations can be used by God to build up his kingdom.
Throughout each chapter the author makes the Biblical story come alive through his descriptions of what is happening in Scripture. Furthermore, Packiam often finds more contemporary descriptions to illustrate what is happening in each Scripture passage. Each chapter ends with some discussion questions, which would also make it an excellent book for a small group study.
Lucky is a fun read. And many of us could learn a lot from what Packiam says in this fine book. It is worth grabbing and reading.
*Thanks to the Amazon Vine Program for providing me this book in exchange for an honest review
I am not always a fan of "scripts" in my life, but when it comes to my quiet times I enjoy using prayer books to guide my time of prayer. This year I have experimented with several different prayer books, and I wanted to share about each of them with you.
Common Prayer by Shane Claibourne et all----This is a stellar resource that is jammed full of good stuff. Although there is some resourcing, it appears that much of this prayer book has been created by the authors, which is impressive.
What I don't like about the book is that the Scriptures are just referenced, with the expectation that you will go from praying through the prayer book to reading your Bible and back. This seems very inefficient.
It is also challenging for personal devotions because it is written to facilitate a group of people sharing in prayer.
Neverthless, it is smart, creative, well-researched, and has touched my heart several times.
Seeking God's Face by Phillip A. Reinders
I love this prayer book. And I should, because it is the most expensive of all of them that I own.
It is centered on the liturgical year, which is wonderful in my opinion. It is also brief and simple in layout, which makes it much easier for me to get wuicker use out of it. And as shallow as it seems, I love the faux-leather cover. It feels good in my hands while I pray, and it makes it feel like it is a set-apart time when I use it.
It is by far the shortest resource of my prayer books, and has the least other resources available.
The Divine Hours by Phyllis Tickle--
The Divine Hours is the gold standard of 21st century prayer books. It is affordable, fairly easy to use, and well-resourced. I love it.
Yet, I have a few struggles with it. The suggested usage of the material seems impossibly frequent for me to keep up with. Also, the "closest Sunday to _____" makes me wonder if the closest Sunday for the week makes me wonder if it is referring to the Sunday for the week previous or the week after.
Nevertheless, Phyllis Tickle does a great job with this.
What other prayer books have you used. Why do you like them and what struggles do you have with them.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Ripped from the headlines, this book is a gripping novel from the beginning. The book centers around a defense attorney named Alexander Madison, and a muslim cleric who is accused of killing his wife in an "honor killing".
Alexander Madison is a combination pastor/lawyer, and is an interesting character from the beginning of the novel. He is often challenged and conflicted, with various aspects of his life and character tugging at him from all sides. His grandmother is a vital part of his life and a wise woman with depths of love given in her advice...unsolicited or not. His "partner" Shannon is a stable rock in his life whether he realizes it or not. (He realizes it in the end).
The setting is believable and a good fit for this novel. There are many Muslim Mosques in the Eastern United States.
There were many twists and turns in the novel with great ruse as I was drawn into the story and unable to put the book down. Having my own theories about "who done it", I was wrong a few times, but pleased at the outcome of the novel. The novel holds many secrets, and shares them a little bit at a time with the reader. In the end I was surprised, and perhaps even shocked at what was discovered about the Imam's wife's death. I think others will be as well.
I would recommend this novel as a really good read. It has many twists and turns, intriguing dialog and a little romance...:) Randy Singer is an up and coming Christian writer, and I look forward to reading more of what he has to offer.
This book was given by Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for an honest review
This book was reviewed by guest blogger, Shari Fox.
Thank you Shari!
Monday, May 16, 2011
By Kevin Belmonte
Reviewed by Clint Walker
With Defiant Joy, Kevin Belmonte has written an intriguing biography of G.K. Chesterton. On one hand, the book is written in an easily accessible manner. On the other hand, the book is heavily footnoted, with about 30 pages of references in the back of the book, along with a couple of other appendices. The result is an excellent primer in the life and study of G.K. Chesterton that is both an intriguing, easy-to-read biography, and a springboard for further study about Chesterton’s life and work.
Chesterton’s life and work in the literary world spanned a broad spectrum of interests and genres. This makes him, in many ways, more interesting to readers. We live in an age of specialists. Chesterton was a renaissance man, and he was studied and accomplished in many different disciplines. As one reads about his wide-ranging influence in theology, literary criticism, philosophy, and fiction writing, one wonders just how someone becomes as smart as Chesterton, and knows so many things about so many things.
If you want to be encouraged, inspired, and challenged, read this fine book. I am glad I picked it up!
I have been slowly been making my way through Got Style by Jeffrey Johnson. Similarly to the "Contagious Christian" model from Willow Creek, he focuses on differing evangelism styles based upon personalities.
An analytical style seeks to lead people to Christ by reasoning with them. Insightfully, Johnson says this, "the assertive personality tends to operate under the assumption that the gospel...without debate, the analytical personality...believes that because the gospel is true,it should be questioned, tested,and debated" (p. 42).
This style has both its strengths and weaknesses. An analytical person can have a hard time not understand how other people don't reason themselves to faith the way that they did. They can often come across as cold-hearted and insensitive. They tend to underestimate the emotional reasons people do the things that they do. And all of these weaknesses can hinder their evangelistic effort.
But analyticals also have a way of explaining faith in Christ in a way that seems intelligent and reasonable. With the many objections people have to faith based on its percieved irrationality and incoherence, analyticals can calmly and rationally refute these claims.
Analyticals have a way of commending and explaining the Christian faith that makes sense. They are often good disciplers as well.
Johnson commends well-known conservative Christian leaders in apologetics as resources for analytical evangelists. I think that these resources are helpful, but hardly exhaustive for strong analytical thinkers. Many analytical thinkers are like Paul in Acts 17, and able to exegete culture and speak God's truth in a way that makes sense within that cultural context. Also, there are more ways to intellectually embrace the faith than a rigidly foundational philosophy.
Like all of the other styles, the anayltical style is important to the body, and needs to be supported and encouraged within the Christian community.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
MISREPRESENTED, MISTREATED, & MISUNDERSTOOD
1 Now it happened in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of the Jews and of the Greeks believed. 2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren. 3 Therefore they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands.
4 But the multitude of the city was divided: part sided with the Jews, and part with the apostles. 5 And when a violent attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to abuse and stone them, 6 they became aware of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding region. 7 And they were preaching the gospel there.
8 And in Lystra a certain man without strength in his feet was sitting, a cripple from his mother's womb, who had never walked. 9
This man heard Paul speaking. Paul, observing him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, 10 said with a loud voice, "Stand up straight on your feet!" And he leaped and walked. 11 Now when the people saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language, "The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!" 12 And Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 Then the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of their city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, intending to sacrifice with the multitudes.
14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes and ran in among the multitude, crying out 15 and saying, "Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men with the same nature as you, and preach to you that you should turn from these useless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and all things that are in them, 16 who in bygone generations allowed all nations to walk in their own ways. 17 Nevertheless He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, gave us rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness." 18 And with these sayings they could scarcely restrain the multitudes from sacrificing to them.
19 Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there; and having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. 20 However, when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up and went into the city. And the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe.
21 And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God." 23 So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed. 24 And after they had passed through Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia. 25 Now when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. 26 From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had completed.
27 Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 So they stayed there a long time with the disciples.
I vaguely remember my first two sermons, though I really work hard to repress them. My first sermon I ever preached was at Ebenezer United Methodist Church at Lyons, KS. It was the spring of 1994, and I was a junior in college. The pastor of the church was a part-time associate pastor at First United Methodist in Lyons, and also the pastor of Ebenezer church. I worked for her staffing the children's ministry for their Wednesday night program, and for some reason she decided to give me a shot in preaching my first sermon.
Ebenezer was one of these churches that really was out in the middle of nowhere. You headed two or three miles north of town, turned down a couple of roads, and pulled up to this church in the middle of fields of milo and wheat. It would be like having to find a sanctuary for a church out at Keith Doak's house when you had never really been off Hwy 50 and Main Street when visiting Fowler.
I remember having some corny jokes about being from Alaska to start the sermon that went well, and a lot of handwritten notes. And I had this dollar store paper, no lines, like you would buy for children to color on. The sermon was on I Kings 19. Elijah and the still, small voice.
I survived the whole experience. I had a friend that went with me to support me. Actually an ex-girlfriend that had broken up with me a little bit earlier that spring. She told me it was good. I shudder to think about how awful that first message was 17 years ago.
The second sermon I preached was at my home church, which was First Baptist Church of Sterling, KS. It was a cozy church of about 40 in a town of about 2000 with a part-time pastor. At that church I decided to preach on Hebrews 11. I was so excited about it. And I had this wonderful little church of seniors and a few young families who had adopted me and spoiled me like crazy. I think I could have had drool running down my face and stuttered through the whole thing and they would have been supportive.
The pastor of the church called me back to greet people at the entryway as they left the church. Everybody found something specific to encourage me about. I was on cloud 9. Then one of the little old ladies trickled out. It was not one of the women in the church I was close to.
She said, "I have to tell you," she said, "that message changed my life!"
My chest puffed out, "It did? How is that?"
She said, "After hearing that message on taking a leap of faith for the Lord. I am going to join the Kansas militia party and do as much as I can to financially support them."
My jaw hit the floor. "That wasn't what I really intended…uhhh…what I was really trying to say was…"
This was at the time when the Branch Davidian compound had just been burned down in Waco as the ATF was performing police actions against this dangerous cult. It was the time when all the hubbub about the freemen was just getting started in Montana. And she said she was going to join the militia.
"As they say…the Lord works in mysterious ways…this message made everything clear for me," she said. Then she quickly stepped into her car parked in front of the church, and that was last I remember seeing her.
About a year later a member of the Kansas Militia made quite a name for himself. His name was Timothy McViegh. He and a friend rigged up a u-haul with a bomb, took that u-haul down to Oklahoma City, and decimated a federal building. Between 150 and 200 people were killed. More injured. It was the most deadly terrorist attack on US soil before 9/11. And a year before that, my sermon, designed to spur people on to deeper commitment to their church and their faith, led one woman to join this organization.
So, when I hear about Paul and Barnabas in Acts 14 I am strangely comforted. Because it seems that in one sense, God is blessing them in their ministry journey. And, at the same time, they are constantly misunderstood, misrepresented, and mistreated by those around them.
You have a rather simple, crude map on the front of your bulletin of this journey they are on. We have discussed a little bit of the journey. In Acts 14 we read about Paul and Barnabas' ministry in Iconium. There they go to the synagogue first, and begin to win a number of people to the Way of Jesus. But as their ministry begin to bear fruit, the encounter opposition. Some folks began twisting their words and starting rumors against them. They continue to contend for the truth. Then an alliance of Greek and Jewish leaders look to assassinate Paul and Barnabas. So they are forced to head down the road.
The next city their ministry takes them to is the community of Lystra. Paul and Barnabas begin to preach and teach there, and they receive a favorable response. At one point as they are teaching they see a man longing for healing, and through the power of the Holy Spirit they heal him. He had been crippled from birth, and now he is jumping up and walking. But this work of compassion and grace has unintended consequences.
You see, according to Greek mythology recorded by Ovid, there was a time when Zeus and Hermes came to visit the valley that Lystra was in disguised as average folks. And they spent some days there, but nobody was hospitable to them. Except for one elderly couple. So, Zeus and Hermes took this elderly couple to the top of a peak overlooking the whole valley, and then they flooded the whole valley and killed everyone in it. They then gave all the land to the old folks that welcomed them and cared for them.
So when Paul and Barnabas healed this crippled man, began to talk about Jesus being God in human form, they quickly began to think that Paul and Barnabas were actually Zeus and Hermes visiting them again. And they became anxious. They thought that Barnabas, being older, was Zeus. And Paul, being the speaker of the group, was Hermes, the messenger of the gods. They started bringing garlands to put on them, and they began to prepare to sacrifice animals to them in worship of Zeus and Hermes
As you can imagine, this is not good news to Paul and Barnabas, who were trying to lead people to Jesus. So these people are scurrying around, attempting to worship Paul and Barnabas. Paul and Barnabas are trying to keep them from completely missing the point. They tear their clothes, which is a sign of grief, and begin to tell people more about God.
Paul and Barnabas begin telling the people about the God of the Bible. They tell them that God is the one who made heaven and earth, the oceans and everything in them. Paul and Barnabas insist that they are just men. That God is the one that blesses them with rain, and food in their seasons, and the food they eat, and that gives them joy in their hearts. And that the God who showed himself through all of these things now wants them to know the good news that Jesus brings. They tell people this long enough that they barely keep them from sacrificing to them that day.
They were misunderstood. Paul and Barnabas were completely misunderstood. And it wasn't their fault. The people lived in a fear mentality, and they just reacted when they saw a miracle of God. Paul and Barnabas were simply misunderstood. The people of God are always misunderstood.
Soon after the people who wanted him dead in Iconium make their way to Lystra. They convince the people of Lystra to try and kill Paul and Barnabas. They end up stoning Paul, and leave him for dead. Paul gets up a few hours later, after they assumed he died, and he goes back into town and continues to minister.
They were mistreated. The people of God are always mistreated.
The Bible says that after a little more ministry they go back through all the cities where they had ministered before. Cities where they were misrepresented, mistreated, and misunderstood. And they build up the church in those towns, and they set up leadership, and then they slowly make their way home.
And as they encouraged the believers, they told them, "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God."
Which is a real bummer! Who wants to hear that? I know I do not.
But it is what the Bible says.
Follow Jesus. If you do, you will see miracles happen. You will be blessed beyond imagination. Your life will matter. Your life with have focus, and purpose, and meaning. You will find eternal life through Jesus. And you will live a faithful, true, beautiful life here on earth.
Follow Jesus, and you will also be misunderstood, mistreated, and misrepresented. You will face tribulation and hardship.
These things are two sides of the same coin. The Christian life is a life of blessing. Jesus can fill that hole in your heart that nothing else could fill. You follow Jesus with all your heart, and you will all of the sudden find your life being fuller, more powerful, deeper than you ever thought it could have. Before you were just kind of surviving, trying to make it day to day. Now, with Jesus you will begin to feel like you are really living.
But that kind of life threatens and confuses people. All of the sudden there begins to be something different about your life, your attitude, your likes and dislikes, your priorities as you grow closer to Jesus. And people will begin to wonder about you. They might even worry about you.
This is because the way of blessing and truth is always misunderstood and misrepresented. That is why Jesus called it the narrow way.
In the world of ministerial leadership there is an author named Edwin Friedman. The book that he wrote right before he died is called A Failure of Nerve. In it he sees church congregations functioning like large families. And he says in these families there are challenges to leading them. One of the things that he points out is that a leader should expect tribulation and sabotage. The ability of the leader to lead will depend on the leader's ability to withstand sabotage and attacks on their leadership. If you are truly leading, he says, you will experience this. And if you are always seeking to please everyone, and caving to sabotage and attacks, than you will never help your congregation get stronger and grow. But if you have the nerve to accept dissent, not take it personally, weather the storm, see it as part of the process and continue to press on through the pain and discomfort, you will find yourself leading a happier and healthier congregation.
Let me share how you can expand this to apply to your life. You have a choice. Cave to having a life of making everyone happy. And find that you have really never done much meaningful. And you never really find you. You are just a slave to everyone else's expectations.
Or, expect hardship and tribulation as part of the journey, have the courage to face it and push through it, see God work in the midst of it, and then began to see the results of the kingdom life on the other side of the hard stuff.
Too often we want to sell Jesus like a shady businessman sells home appliances on a late-night infomercial. You know the guys that try and convince you to buy their little contraption your life will be so much better. And then the keep saying, "but wait, there's more". But they don't inform you on the full price. So you pay twice as much as the product costs in shipping and handling. Pretty soon you are broke with some juicer than you used once, but it was not really all that easy to use or clean, so its sits in storage in your basement somewhere.
As Christians we can be guilty of selling people on Jesus by trying to convince them that if they accept Christ that they will never experience hard times again, that all of the sudden all of their problems will be solved without much effort. That somehow Jesus will make everything easy.
We can tell that God is telling us the truth in the book of Acts. You accept Jesus you will have eternal life. You will have a new family and a new community. You will have a life that is fuller, richer, and more meaningful than you could ever imagine. When you follow Jesus, you find something that is truly worth living for, and truly worth dying for.
But Luke is honest enough to say this. Anything true, and anything worth doing is going to have hardship and challenges. So you need to be strong and courageous, and embrace those challenges as opportunities for growth and blessing. Don't be afraid when hard times come, thinking they somehow prove your faith wrong. Your faith will be proved as you face those hard times with the strength of Christ holding you up, building you up, giving you strength, and helping you overcome.
Being misunderstood, mistreated, and misrepresented is a badge of honor. It is not a sign of failure.
So if your faith is causing people to ask questions, to make up stories about you, or wonder why you are a little different, good for you! Keep it up. Don't give up. You are not failing in your faith. You may be right where God wants you!
My concern, though, is that many of us may not be misunderstood, mistreated, misrepresented, or look strange at all. My concern for many of you, and the church around the world, is that many of us are not committed to following Christ in such a way that we look any different than anyone else in the world.
My friends, coming to church is not going to make you a follower of Jesus anymore than walking into a garage is going to make you a car. You can show up here every Sunday, and die and go straight to hell for eternity because you haven't given your life to Christ.
There are many of us, I believe, that give lip service to being a Christian, but it doesn't make its way into our everyday lives.
Tell me, how much time to do spend serving others compared to how much time you spend watching television?
Tell me, how much money do spend on entertainment in comparison to how much money you give to the church or to charity?
Tell me, how much time do you spend in prayer and Bible study compared to how much time you spend text messaging and surfing the internet?
Tell me, do you tell the truth even when it costs you?
If you were put on trial for being a believer in Jesus, would there be enough evidence to convict you? Would your neighbors be able to look at your life, and say the way you live is anything resembling what Jesus would be like.
Over a hundred years ago, a man wrote a book about a pastor and a small congregation in the fictional small town of Raymond. The book was called, "In His Steps".
The story begins as the pastor has a person come to his door, as a homeless person, seeking assistance on a Friday night. The pastor listens to his plea, curtly dismisses him, and shuts the door in his face. The man shows up on Sunday, comes to the front of the church during the closing hymn, and politely and matter of factly confronts the church for their lack of compassion, and the community as a whole. As he finishes speaking he collapses in the church. He dies a few days later.
This shakes his church to the core. The next week, the pastor challenges his congregation. He asks them for the next year to not do anything without asking, "What would Jesus do?" The rest of the book documents the blessings and hardships of this difficult commitment.
Today, I have the same challenge to you. Only I am asking you, from now until the end of the month, would you have the courage to do your best not to do anything without first asking, "What would Jesus do?" Would you be willing to face the hardships and challenges that presents? You might look different. You might be misunderstood. Truth be told though, I don't think you'll be the same.
Thursday, May 12, 2011
LONG STORY SHORT
By Marty Machowski
New Growth Press
Reviewed by Clint Walker
Family devotions are often lauded by Christian leaders. Yet, anyone who has tried to establish a family altar knows how difficult they can be to carry out. For those longing to have meaningful family devotion times Long Story Short is a helpful resource. For many, it will make your family devotions a time that your children look forward to instead of dread.
Marty Machowski, the author of Long Story Short, is an experienced family minister and children’s minister. It is obvious that he loves children, and loves the Lord. This resource has 78 weeks worth of family devotions. It will take participants from Genesis through the book of Nehemiah. Each day has a time to review from the day before, a Scripture to read, a few questions to discuss, and something to pray about. Every once in a while the book encourages the children to draw the parents out about what they are like. The book is thorough. Very few children will get through this study without knowing Scripture in a deeper way, and learning how to apply passages in the Scripture to their everyday lives.
Perhaps one of the best resources of this book is found in the introductory remarks. There Marty Muchowski coaches his readers on how to do these family devotions, and the family altar in general, based on the developmental level of one’s children. For instance, he shares how the use of Long Story Short and family devotions will look different for preschoolers than for grade school children (p. 3).
As I read through this book, I loved the concept of this resource, and the quantity of material. I was disappointed, however, by the lack of active learning. I wanted a few more devotions with little learning activities and games that the whole family could enjoy, and then reflect upon. Currently, these activities are used once a week. I would have like to have seen this principle used every day.
I also wondered how the kids would ask their parents what the lesson instructed them to ask without permission to copy this resource. I also thought Long Story Short would have been a better resource if the publishers had found a way to punch holes in the book so that it could be put in a three ring binder as it gets frequent use. Right now, after using the book for over a year for the course of study, I think the book will be falling apart.
Nevertheless, even with these small criticisms, I believe that Long Story Short is a rare find. There are very few guides for family devotions that are this thorough and this good. Anyone wishing to try to establish a family altar needs to have this book on their shelf.
A NEW KIND OF BIG
By Chip Sweeney
Reviewed by Clint Walker
A New Kind of Big is a book about the journey of one rather innovative church, and how their philosophy and model of ministry could be a blueprint for other churches that want to increase their impact in their community and world. Perimeter church is located in the Atlanta area, and the church realized that they needed to have a more tangible impact on their community. Through a process of discernment, they came to the conclusion that needed to partner and network with people and organizations that could best serve their community and world. A New Kind of Big does an excellent job of telling the Perimeter story, and sharing enough of the organizing principles of how they built their community outreach ministry that others could follow their example.
Chip Sweeney is the author of A New Kind of Big. He is a person that is passionate about being the hands and feet of Jesus outside of the four walls of the church. And after years of mission-driven youth ministry, he became the director of Perimeter Church’s Community Transformation Ministry. Instead of seeking to start hundreds of small outreach ministries, the church discerned it was best to join God in what he was already doing around them. So as the church sought to have an impact in specific neighborhoods and communities, they sought to partner with people who were already equipped to do the ministry. In some cases, this meant being more intentional in leveraging relationships they already had. In other cases, this meant forging new relationships with leaders where they were seeking to have an impact. The impact on the church and the community through the Community Transformation Ministry has been nothing short of amazing.
The book has much to commend. It advocates for networking and partnership in a church’s ministry and community outreach. In an age where so many churches are out to build a bigger and better church than the congregation across town, this attitude is refreshing to hear. It gives a model for a church to transition from an “attractional’ model to a “missional” model. It gets the church focused on building the kingdom of God where the spirit is moving. It offers a decentralized model of community outreach instead of the pyramid scheme of power and control that most churches use.
Yet, I find some things about the book unrealistic. A New Kind of Big implies in the subtitle and throughout the book that they are offering a model for all churches to have an impact regardless of size. While I believe that networking and partnerships are important for churches regardless of size, I don’t believe it would be easy for many small churches to replicate what this book advises in a way that looks similar to Perimeter.
All in all, this was an exciting book. I hope many people read it, and dream about what God could do through their churches if they didn’t have to have their ministry centered around their building and programs, and did not care who got the credit for their church’s ministry and impact.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
I lost three pounds this week. Not awfully exciting, but at least it is fairly consistent! That makes 67 pounds total.
I would really like to have lost 83 pounds by the end of May, but I am running out of time to get there. At least I can see that 83 pounds just around the corner!
It has been an interesting this journey. In addition to trying to lose weight, we have also been working to be more disciplined financially. Since we started this ministry in Fowler, we have paid off both of our cars, we have paid off all of our student loans, we have paid off Jennifer's collections debt, Jennifer's ring, and one of my credit cards. We have one of my credit cards left to pay off and we will be debt free.
Unfortunately, it looks like we might need to buy a car. That will set us back a little bit in our journey to be debt free, but I am still hoping we can find a way to pay off the card by the middle of next year.
This year has been interesting because it feels like we are doing the "discipline" thing all at once. Combine that with a new baby, a decrease in financial resources, and this last 6 months feels like a whirlwhind of change. At times it seems easy to try and talk myself in to "giving myself a break", but I know if I do that too much the structure of discipline that has been built for me may begin to crumble.
Sunday, May 08, 2011
I was in sixth grade, and we had just begun to check out the newest Baptist church in town. At that point the church was moving from renting the little league clubhouse to renting the Seventh Day Adventist church building on Sunday. The church was Mountain View Baptist Church. It was started by a music leader and a pastor who felt led by God to come start a church in Ashland, Oregon.
Well, my sister and I each had friends that attended that little church, and we were having fun. So when the people of the church invited us to stay for the potluck, we begged mom to stay. Mom said we could go play in the park next to the church, but we were not going to stay, because we had not brought anything to the potluck. Well, all of the begging and pleading eventually wore her down. And, when she finally relented, one of the deacons of the church thanked her for being “subservient and submissive”.
We ended up staying in that church for a couple of years, and as we went we became indoctrinated into the theology of the church there at Mountain View. A theology that taught many good things, and a few things that after much prayer and study I have come to completely disagree with. One of the things that I have come to most strongly disagree with is the treatment of women evidenced by the statement to my mother that Sunday afternoon.
Couldn’t the person have said something like, “Thank you for staying and letting us serve you, we really feel honored” or “We appreciate your willingness to join us at the potluck, we will be sure to pray for the meal so you don’t get botulism from the potato salad that has been sitting in the sun for who knows how long”?
Who are they to say it is good for a woman to be submissive and subservient to every other adult male in the congregation? Who are they to treat women as “less than”?
Sadly, the truth is that there have been a lot of things said and taught by Christian people that have twisted Scripture. People have used the Bible to justify all sorts of injustice, and they have done so without God’s permission or consent. Just 150 years ago, churchmen misquoted Scripture passages in order to justify slavery. Throughout this century, church leaders pulled a couple of passages out of context to argue against interracial marriage, ignoring the fact that when Moses’ sister judged Moses for having a wife of a different nationality and darker skin tone, Moses’ sister was struck by God with leprosy for a season as judgment for her bigotry.
And the truth is that a lot of churches have demeaned and devalued women, treated them as second class citizens. They have told them that they are to be seen and not heard, and taught that men, because of their gender, are more like God than women. Many have excluded women from offering valuable input and exercising their God-given gifts for God’s glory and the benefit of the church and the world. They have told women to be submissive and subservient at all times, to fade into the background, and to dutifully obey what they are told.
I cannot do that. I cannot do that because I do not believe that this view of Scripture and the world is true to the Bible and the witness of Jesus. And to where this man spoke dishonor and judgment to my mother because of her gender, and I want to speak honor and blessing to all of my sisters this morning.
For those of you that are women and are listening this morning:
• God created you in his image.
• God did not create you as second class citizens
• God made you equal with men in the church
• God made you with gifts to offer his church and the world
• God allows and expects you to exercise your gifts for God’s glory
• Your church appreciates your wisdom, your insights, your gifts, and your
contributions to the body of Christ and seeks to honor those gifts today and
Our Scripture this morning is this:
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:28)
This passage is interesting. It is interesting because it announces that God, through Christ, is restoring things as they should be, as he created them to be. Through Christ work on the cross, our relationships with Christ are transformed. But Christ creates the church to transform not only our relationships with God, but to transform our relationships with one another through the power of his Holy Spirit.
To get the full-scope of what is going on here, especially in relation to women, we need to go back to the Genesis, and take a look at the broad scope of biblical history through the Old Testament, and then see what God is doing through the power of Jesus in the New Testament. For the sake of brevity, you are going to get the highlights of this story. However, if you want to understand this more in-depth, I would be glad to do that some time as well.
Genesis 1 begins with a big picture view of creation. Like one of those movies that begins in its introduction somewhere in outer space, and slowly gets closer and closer to earth, and then to a specific place on earth, it slowly focuses in on one place, The Garden of Eden. In Genesis 1:27 the Scripture says this, “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
This says that from the beginning God created man and woman equally in God’s image. Men are not more like God than women. Women are not inferior creation. They are two halves of the whole of humanity that God has created. And it is good, the Scripture says.
Genesis 2 focuses in more in the Garden of Eden. The Garden of Eden is teeming with creation. And the crown of God’s creation is humanity. Adam, the first human, is the only one of his species, and he is alone. After Adam names the animals and searches creation for a suitable companion, he is still lonely. And so God puts him into a deep sleep, removes a part of him to create a woman named Eve. When he awakens he sees this woman and cries out in joy. He likes her. He likes her A LOT.
By Genesis 3 we see that Adam and Eve choose not to trust God, to disobey Him, and thus to sin. And this sin has consequences. Part of these consequences of sin quickly becomes that instead of living in loving partnership, there is tension between Adam and Eve. And men come to dominate over women (Gen 3:16).
As the Bible goes on, it does not sugar coat or hide what happened. Women were often mistreated at the hands of men as you read Scripture. Read the story of Jepthah in the book of Judges for example. Or read about David’s daughter Tamar, and how she was really neglected and forgotten. You will be horrified at the way some men treated women, especially in the Old Testament.
The Old Testament also gives witness to God working to protect and honor women. It shows God working through Mariam and Sarah, Rachel and Leah, the judge Deborah and the prophetess Hilda. Queen Esther saved the Hebrew people through her courage and wisdom. Ruth gives us a model of faithfulness in the face of extraordinary circumstances. The law continues to tell about God’s special care for women, especially the most vulnerable women in society. It makes sure to mention the widow and orphan are to be provided for. It seeks to make divorce rare.
In Proverbs 31 we read about the virtuous woman. We see a woman who cares for her family. We also see a working woman who owns her own business. The Bible always gives us smart, strong, bold women as role models.
By the time we get to the prophets we read Joel longing for the kingdom of love that the Messiah would bring. God says that after Jesus comes, the church will be a place where, “I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions.” (2:28).
Did you hear it? Sons and daughters will prophecy! What does that mean? It means that men and women will proclaim God’s word to God’s people.
By this point, women are not allowed into many places to worship. To worship! But God points his people toward a future when women will not only be a part of worship, but helping to guide and lead it. Wow!
We look at the life of Jesus, and we see how he honored women. He allowed Mary to sit at his feet and learn with the other disciples. He spoke to the woman at the well and changed her life. He offered grace to the woman caught in adultery. He scolded powerful religious men when they began to divorce their older wives and leave them penniless while they chased after newer younger wives.
He used forgotten women as examples of what it means to be a holy person. People like a widow who gave everything she had. Women like the persistent widow who modeled endurance in prayer.
And when Jesus died and rose again, the first witnesses of the resurrection were the women. The first people to proclaim the empty tomb were women. Jesus did not allow this to happen by accident.
And by the time we get to the early church in the New Testament we see, on the day of Pentecost, that Peter proclaims that the prophecy of Joel is coming true right in front of them. The women are again proclaiming the good news of Jesus alongside the men.
And then we get to the apostle Paul and the book of Galatians. A book where Paul teaches the Galatian believers that way of Jesus is not a way of legalism. Specifically the Galatian people were trying to make people go back to Hebrew tradition and ritual practices, namely circumcision.
And by chapter 3, Paul takes on the mix of tradition and bigotry that is trying to make every convert culturally Jewish before they could become Christian. And he says,
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal 3:28)
Now what Paul says here is not just something Paul says, it was a slogan of the early church. And it was written in response to a Hebrew prayer that Jewish men had begun to pray a few hundred years before. On a daily basis. What was that prayer?
I thank you God that I am not a Gentile, I am not a slave, and I am not a woman.
You see, what God is doing through Christ is reversing the curse from that first sin. He is creating a community, a church, where men and women are co-laborers in Christ. The result of sin was that women were treated poorly by men. Across societies. The result of the resurrection is that women are honored for their uniqueness, and treated as equals and partners in Christ.
So in the book of Acts you see Priscilla preaching and teaching alongside her husband Acquilla. You see Junia honored alongside the other men at the end of Romans as “working hard in the Lord”. You see Paul giving instructions on women prophesying in the church. And you even see the women leaders in the church in Phillipians arguing with one another, and each of them having significant people under their influence.
You also see women serving in the background in the early church. Women like the much beloved Dorcas in the book of Acts, who is using her gifts in sewing and creating articles of clothing to clothe the poor and the forgotten.
And so, today, we want to honor our women. All of you. There are some of you who have dedicated your life to being at home as stay at home moms, and caring for children and grandchildren, raising them up with strong character and to be strong in the faith. Doing millions of little things we took and take for granted a lot of the time. We thank God for your dedication, you commitment, your years of unappreciated labor. We thank God for you.
There are others of you mothers who have paying jobs and help or helped financially support your family. You found a way to juggle it all. You made a way to be great parents, hard workers, and leaders in our community. You were mom and teacher, mom and postal worker, mom and nurse, mom and factory worker, mom and secretary, mom and truck driver, and so many other things. We thank God for you as well.
We thank God for the gifted, beautiful, strong women you are. Just as you are. Others may not appreciate a strong and courageous woman. We do. We are thankful that we had mothers as strong and courageous like you, because it takes a courageous and tough woman to raise men and women like us. It was your words that have guided us through life, we are glad you were not silent.
As husbands we have you to beside us. And we are glad you have the discernment to know when to support us even when you have your doubts, and know when to speak your mind and challenge us when we need that too. Your wisdom and strength makes us wiser and smarter. Thank you.
As a church we are thankful for the many of you who have given your lives to this church. We appreciate your days and hours of unnoticed labor. We also appreciate your courage to lead us in Sunday School, to keep track of our finances, and to lead us in worship with your gifts.
Women, today, we want to say you are a blessing to us. You are blessing because you have given your time, effort, skills, and love to your family and this church. Yes. But more that, you are a blessing just by being the wonderful person God-created you to be.
Thursday, May 05, 2011
90 DAYS OF GOD'S GOODNESS
By Randy Alcorn
Published by Multnomah Books
Reviewer Clint Walker
Are you the kind of person that sees the glass as half-empty instead of half-full? Are you often discouraged because you life is not all you hoped it would be? Are you discouraged and desiring a way to find hope and encouragement? If any of these questions describe you than you need to grab Randy Alcorn's 90 DAYS OF GOODNESS.
90 DAYS OF GOODNESS is a tour de force in seeing God's grace in the middle of discouragement, disability, loss, and heartache. It is, as the title suggests, a three month devotional. Each chapter is two to three pages long, and offers encouragement to those in trying circumstances. Alcorn's theology is firmly Reformed, and well-researched. It is easy to tell that this topic is near and dear to his heart. 90 DAYS OF GOODNESS is full of contemporary historical examples of people who overcame significant setbacks, and who in turn discovered joy and blessing in their life's journey in the midst of their circumstances.
This book is sure to be a blessing to a heavy heart, and an encouragement to all who read it.
Wednesday, May 04, 2011
THE COMPLETE VISUAL BIBLE
By Stephen M. Miller
Reviewed by Clint Walker
Some of us are visual learners. For those of us that are, The Complete Visual Bible is a godsend in helping us to better understand what Scripture is saying.
The Complete Visual Bible is a unique resource. It is organized in chapters titled after the books of the Bible. Each chapter has a summary of that book, with highlights of the text explained. In addition to this, there are several high quality drawings, maps, photographs, pieces of art, and diagrams to illustrate elements of the story that are the most interesting.
For instance, I have recently completed a study on the life of David. I wanted to see what The Complete Visual Bible had to say about David and Goliath. What I discovered was an illustration of the battle, a picture of a slingshot from that period, a picture of a Philistine casket, and a rock with Goliath’s name etched on it in his hometown dating to 900 B.C. (p. 112). These would be fun to show to a class if I were to teach on the subject, but also is enlightening for me as I seek to picture in my mind what is happening in Scripture.
The Complete Visual Bible is helpful for people who are studying God’s Word from many different walks of life. For someone who is a layperson just getting to understand the Bible, this will help make those difficult to follow passages a bit easier to understand. For a person who is used to studying the Bible more in depth, this will be a unique resource that helps them go a little deeper in understanding what the world looked like during Bible times. For a teacher in a church, this book will provide countless pictures that help their students visualize the Bible narrative. Finally, the way the book is organized (by Bible book) will help the reader easily locate the resources they need and companion the book with the Bible text.
Sunday, May 01, 2011
Last Friday Jennifer got her paycheck deposited in the bank. We also recieved our state income tax return. This allowed us to pay off another debt!
Bye bye CHASE. I will not miss you!
This brings Jennifer and I to the point where we now have only one current debt--my credit card from American Express.
I went to weigh myself in a day early today. We had to do a little grocery shopping, and I am wanting to run errands tomorrow in Pueblo.
I lost two pounds. Last week I lost one. This brings my weight loss up to 64 pounds total. I am frustrated because I am not losing big chunks of weight, but happy I am continuing in the right direction. I keep hoping for that big week to magically come along like it has before. I guess I might have to be more committed to make that happen.
This is especially true considering last week. We had a couple waves of company, which meant eating out in places I would not normally eat, and having more unhealthy food in the house. All in all I think I managed the situation well. I also had the added benefit of eating earlier in the evening, due to family visiting from more eastern time zone.
Sent Out: Acts 13: 1-12; 42-52
1 Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, "Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3 Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.
4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5 And when they arrived in Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. They also had John as their assistant.
6 Now when they had gone through the island[a] to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar-Jesus, 7 who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man called for Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. 9 Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10 and said, "O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord? 11 And now, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time."
And immediately a dark mist fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had been done, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord.
42 So when the Jews went out of the synagogue,a] the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. 43 Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.
44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God. 45 But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul. 46 Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us:
' I have set you as a light to the Gentiles,
That you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.'"[ b]
48 Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.
49 And the word of the Lord was being spread throughout all the region. 50 But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. 51 But they shook off the dust from their feet against them, and came to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
Last week, we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. Once Jesus rose from the dead, it was very clear that the world would never be the same.
For a while his disciples gathered in Jerusalem. Then, around the holiday of Pentecost, the followers of Jesus began to go out and share the good news of Jesus with people under the power of the Holy Spirit. Off and on for the last 9 months, we have looked at how this church began to develop. As we have looked at the first church, we have at times found cautionary passages that have shown us pitfalls to avoid as God's church. At other times, we have studied the early church and found a model for how we are called to be. Most of all, though, we have been able to learn from how God was working among those first believers, and begin to think about how he might work among us as well.
Now as we return to Acts 13, we come to a significant point in the book of Acts.
What has happened in the church is that they have begun to be persecuted. Many Christians grabbed their family heirlooms and a few changes of clothes and ran to new places to live, work, and live out their faith. This had the unexpected benefit of expanding the church to other cities. One of the cities that began to be filled with refugee Christians and new Christian converts was the city of Antioch, in what is modern day Turkey, but was then called Syria.
The Christians in Antioch were bold and courageous. They were also often mocked and persecuted. The Bible says that the church in Antioch was the first place where believers in Jesus were first called Christians. They were called "Christians" by people outside of the faith actually, and it wasn't a compliment. People were saying, "They are trying to be like little Jesus', or to put it in more contemporary terms 'they were trying to be Jesus' mini-me!"
Even though the term was an insult, it was also a backhanded compliment. The people around the church in Antioch could see that there was something different about these believers in "THE WAY". They were changed by Jesus. They talked about Jesus. They claimed to have a relationship with Jesus. They asked for other people to surrender their lives to Christ. They urged people to love like Christ. They constantly spoke of the good news of Christ. The people in Antioch could see that the people inside the church were different. And that is something that came out in their insult. They were acting like Christ and talking like Christ. Even their enemies noticed.
Acts 13 says that the leaders of the church in Antioch had gathered together and were praying. Among the leadership was Barnabas, who had been with the church from the beginning, and was most likely the de facto leader of the Antioch church. Barnabas was from Cyprus. Also on the leadership board was a black man named Simon, most likely from the Ethiopian region. Lucius was from Cyrene, which is modern day Libya. A man who had been raised in the King Herod's court, and was maybe his brother, named Manean was also a member of the leadership group. Also there was Saul, who was raised in Tarsus, and schooled in Israel under the most respected Bible scholar of the day.
The leadership board began to sense that God was leading them to send out missionaries. They sensed that God was leading Barnabas and Paul for this work, and after more prayer, the church set apart these two men for this ministry, laid hands on them, and sent them out. The church in Antioch was the first place that the church sent out missionaries.
In case you are not following along in your bulletin, the church in Antioch was the first place people started calling believers Christians (point 1), and it was also the first church to send out missionaries (point 2).
I believe these two facts are intimately connected. That is because a church that is living like Jesus is going to be a church that is sending out, and going out into the middle of their communities on a mission to teach, serve, preach, and reach people. It is in our DNA. The church, when it is healthy, whether we are sending people across town to serve their neighbor, or across the world to reach out to the third world, is always sending out its people on a mission in the world. A church that is worthy of the name "Christian" are the ones that are sending out and going out into the world.
This sending out of the early church is nothing like the world we send missionaries into today. I have been on several outings called mission trips here in the United States and in Mexico. All these were life-changing, noble ventures. When we went we left behind our families for 10 days or so. We slept on floors. We went without showers. We served people in need. We shared the gospel with people, especially with children. We sensed the presence of God working among us. I saw lives changed, both with the teens that often went as missionaries, and among the people we served. But we also visited an amusement park on the way home, and we had a good meal and warm bed to look forward to when we got home.
Even missionaries sent out by our churches for permanent placement around the world have a different experience than missionaries in days gone by. They are able to fly home every few years. They often have internet access and access to a phone. They have cars, and boats with motors.
When a missionary went out in the ancient world, it was not always a given that they would make it back home. Travel was dangerous. Christians were persecuted. They didn't necessarily have the luxury of having someone to call to set up their trip, or know that they people were not going to run them out of town or try and kill them when they arrived.
Being sent out was dangerous. It took courage. One prominent person that went with Paul and Barnabas on their mission decided to head home halfway through their missionary adventure it was so scary. The early Christians went out on mission because the Spirit led them to. They went out on mission as well because they were following the example of Jesus.
Jesus was always talking to people he wasn't supposed to, telling stories about people who went out of their way and outside of their plans to help a person in need like the Good Samaritan, and demonstrating His love for the hurting, lost, and spiritual seekers in real, direct and tangible ways.
The church of Jesus, when it is faithful, is always a church SENT OUT. It is always EXTERNALLY FOCUSED when it is doing God's will, and not consumer-driven.
I do not see most of America's churches having this spirit of sending out. Of going into all the world. Of being externally focused. Much of our church culture in the US has been co-opted by our dominant culture. We come to church wanting a consumer experience. We try to find a place where we can "get something out of it". Where we "get our needs met" and where we feel comfortable. We ask "what did I get out of it". We whine when we are uncomfortable.
We treat our church experiences like a dining experience at a Subway restaurant. When I go to Subway my order goes something like this: I want whole wheat bread, I want an Oven Roasted Chicken Breast, toast it but not too much, pepper jack cheese not American or cheddar, no lettuce or spinach, but I would like onions, green peppers (but not the big chunks there), banana peppers (not too much), jalepenos (but just a few spread out across the sandwich), no oil and vinegar, spicy mustard not honey mustard, just a little salt and pepper.
And in America, we can approach our church we can have the same attitude. I want a small church, but I don't want it to be too small. I want a variety of songs, but not songs that are too hard to sing. I want a good sermon, but not one that has the worship service go over an hour. I want a biblical message, but not one that offends me. I want programs for my family. I want to have friends at church. I want people to be clean, but I don't want to have to dress up too much. I want a church with a bunch of people I can relate to. You know what I mean.
But the truth is, the church is not just a filling station. The church is a filling station and a MISSION CENTER. It is a place where people are equipped to love one another, and to go out in love to a world that is hopeless, helpless, and heartless, and bring that world the hope, help and heart of Jesus Christ through word and deed. The church is called to be EXTERNALLY FOCUSED not CONSUMER DRIVEN. God did not make the church to be a building people come into, God made the church to be a community that is SENT OUT into the world.
In Acts 13 we begin to see what happens when people obey God and are going out and sending out people into the world. We see a life and a ministry of unexpected blessings and challenges.
The missionary team led by Paul and Barnabus go to Cyprus. As they get there they go from one end of the island to another. Eventually the governor of the island asks to speak with them. As they are about to get this opportunity, a Hebrew sorcerer seeks to oppose the ministry of Barnabus and Paul. Paul confronts the man for his opposition to the gospel. Then he makes the man blind. The governor of the island then becomes a believer in Jesus.
We quickly see that when we are sent out some unexpected things happen.
First, we have unexpected opportunities to make an impact in other people's lives.
We also face unexpected opposition.
In the face of this opposition the disciples receive unexpected power and strength to carry out the mission that God has given them to do.
As Paul and Barnabas go on, they move into Asia Minor. As they begin to preach and teach there, they find unexpected grace and blessings with the receptiveness of non-Jewish people.
As this happens, they again find unexpected opposition, as their fellow Jews become envious of their message.
As the missionaries study the word, and they are led by the Spirit, they confront the Hebrew people with their responsibility to be people who are sent out as a light to the Gentiles. This begins a pivot in Paul's ministry, which will be more and more focused on Gentile believers. The new church discovered an unexpected ministry field.
The Bible says the missionaries experience unexpected success in that ministry to the Gentiles.
Finally, the missionaries, even as they are opposed so much that they must move their ministry to a new place find unexpected joy in serving the Lord and loving other people into faith in Christ.
Which is quite amazing isn't it. As the believers were being expelled from the region, and forced to move forward on their journey and go to a new place, they are FILLED WITH JOY. How can that be? Don't they have a lot to be discouraged about?
Of course they have things to be discouraged about. But that is not the point.
The point is, as we begin to have our heart softened toward those who are outside the church and who need the love, grace, and truth that Jesus offers, what we find is that God is doing a work on our heart.
As we seek to bless others, we find that God blesses us.
As we seek to focus our efforts on reaching out to others, we find a very real sense that God is reaching out to us in a way that we cannot experience in any other way that being a church and a person that is sending out, going out, and being externally focused instead of being consumer- driven.
Many of us have experienced this as we have went out into the community to serve our neighbors, or when we have had the opportunity to share our faith with someone who does not yet know Jesus. When we step out to care for others, we find God taking care of us.
It is how God's kingdom works. It is how Jesus blesses us. As we live our lives on mission for God and others, God makes it his mission to take care of us in ways we never dared to hope for or imagine.
First Baptist Church, do not become weary in doing good. Hold on to your mission. Hold on to your priorities. Continue to take steps to take the focus off of us and ours, and to look out into a world that is longing to here the good news that Jesus has conquered sin and death, and offers victory to all those who will trust in Him.
So today we come to the Lord's Table. And I want to challenge you to approach the table a little differently this morning. Instead of focusing on your relationship with Jesus, I want you to bring someone else on your heart to the Lord's Table. Perhaps pick someone in this room. Or someone you would like to see come to Christ. You choose. And as we come to this table, think about God's love for them. As we take the bread and the cup, remember that God died for THEM and YOU. Pray for them. Put yourself in their shoes. Know that Jesus died for us, not just me. Get the focus off of just you. You will be surprised what God might say to you.
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