Saturday, August 30, 2014

Building True Community

So I want to climb on my soap box for a minute.  Our culture is full of imaginary community.  There are people who come together for something like a school function, neighborhood meeting, church gathering, social organization and have fake community and then leave and never connect again.  We have all these groups together, and people are the loneliest now that they have ever been.  People are lonely, pastors are lonely, my wife and I are lonely.  We go to a big church, are involved in our jobs, our kid's school and in different activities.  We are busy and we are lonely.  We go to church, we go to work, we go all these places, but to really connect with people is hard.  The reason is, we have fake community.

My wife and I have decided we want to make a concerted effort to have people over and too connect.  It's hard, and my schedule is horrible.  We attend small group and try to connect with folks there.  We have friends, some even good friends, but without "schedules activities" I am not sure how well those friendships hold up.  We have been at churches with good friends and when we went separate ways, the friendships failed.  Miss those scheduled meetings, and the community falls apart.

What happened to effort being put into community?  What happened to making room in your life for other people?  I stink at it, but I'm trying.  Are you trying to make room in your life for real community?  Are you planning to connect with others, to call or text or visit people for real community?  Are you reaching out for a purpose?  I need to do better, because I'm lonely.  Are you?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Review of NIV Streams in the Desert Devotional Bible.

I recently looked at the NIV Streams in the Desert Devotional Bible. I will be honest, I wish I had this years ago. Streams in the Desert is a popular devotion that have been used by many people. I love when you combined devotional material in scripture and encourage people to look at both. I find it’s a great help, and encourages me to dig deeper after reading the devotion. The NIV is not my favorite translation, but it’s a popular and readable version.

All things considered I would recommend this bible to people, especially those going through dark or hard times. This material is encouraging and helpful to those who are struggling and hurting. It is a great selection of devotions mixed with some poetry to encourage and help those who are asking “why”. It pairs scripture and words of wisdom together to help answer the hard questions of trials and struggles.

The Bible has some cool features, it looks good and it has a subject index which is helpful. It’s easy to read, the devotions are easy to find and are dated by year. I would recommend this Bible for people who are in a dark time, or to have as a resource. Give it a look, see if it’s for you.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Bus Stop Ministry by guest blogger Noah Hill

My name is Noah Hill.  I am in the process of launching a ministry called Bus Stop Blessings, and I have a challenge for you all today.  But before I reveal this challenge, I want to tell you a story:

He is a short man, stocky of build, with grizzled hair and a beard that hasn't seen a razor in months.  His face and arms are darkened with dirt, his clothing ragged. He walks slowly, eyes down, an empty foam cup gripped in one grubby hand.
Then he looks up, and his face breaks into a wide grin.

I don't know this man's name, but I have spoken with him many times.  He insists on being called Hobo, claiming that there's nobody around to remember his old name, his old life before his homelessness. 

Hobo tells me about his day.  He slept in a nearby alley the night before, despite the rare thunderstorm that had swept across the usually arid city.  He woke up early as always, and scavenged for something to eat.  He was lucky that morning; a patron at the burger joint across the street had thrown away half a bag of food that wasn't to their liking, and it was one of the best meals he'd had in days.  I ask him if he has any prospects for the day.  He tells me that the little general store across the street is having a sale, and if he holds an advertising sign outside for them they'll give him a few dollars at the end of the day.  He's hoping they'll give him enough to buy something to eat and a bottle of whisky.

We talk about my week.  I tell him about my doctor appointments, and about how my wife is working overtime.  I tell him about the new church I'm attending, and the wonderful ways that God is working in my life.  I share some scripture with him that I've been reading.  I ask him if he'd like to come to church on Sunday.
This makes him a little uncomfortable.  He insists that people don't really want someone like him in their church.  He tells me about being run off from a church he tried to go to a couple years ago.  I commiserate with him, and let him know that if he decides to come he will definitely be welcome.

We pray together.  We pray for our health, for his safety, that he can find places to get out of the hot sun, and that God will provide for his needs.  We pray that God will release him from his addiction, and that he will come to know Christ and be overwhelmed with blessings in his life.
As my bus pulls up to the curb, he turns and trots back across the street.  His head is held a little higher, his step seems to have a little more energy.  As I climb onto the bus, he turns and gives me a final wave before entering the store.

Hobo is one of many people that I've had the blessing to come to know while taking the buses here in Phoenix.  God has routinely placed Hobo, and others like him, in my path and given me opportunity to directly share the gospel and provide for their needs.
I feel a personal bond with the homeless.  I have been homeless myself.  I spent several months living in the Gospel mission at one point shortly after leaving high school, several years before I knew Christ.  After I was saved, I spent a period homeless again, living in the Mission, and then in the back of my truck.  The difference was like night and day.

As a non-Christian, every day was a struggle.  I had little support from my family.  I spent my days trying to find a way to eat, sometimes begging all day, sometimes doing odd jobs for a couple dollars.  I was looked down upon, cursed at, chased off.  I was humiliated, told daily that I was homeless because I was worthless.  I was told that I just needed to "get off my butt and find a job," by people who have no concept of how hard job hunting is when you have no phone, no address, and spend 8 hours a day trying to come up with a single meal.  I was told that I was homeless because I was a sinner.  People would angrily tell me that if I just accepted God that my life would magically transform, then they left without telling me what that meant, leaving me resentful and more determined to avoid God at all costs.

As a Christian, when I was homeless, I had the support of my church family.  People cared for my needs.  Someone brought me a camp stove, a mattress for my truck bed.  Someone brought me extra blankets and pillows.  People put gas in my truck, knowing that my part time job didn't provide much income.  When I found a friend with a spare room, the church deacons met and decided they would pay rent to my friend for several months to ensure that I would have a roof over my head.  People came around me, surrounded me with love, prayed for me daily.  I was blessed beyond belief. 

So the purpose of Bus Stop Blessings is twofold:  to meet the needs of those living in despondency, and to change the way that we as Christians approach those same.  I want to bring that same compassion to those who are non-believers that I felt as a homeless Christian, to build relationships with them, to be able to directly share the gospel and to also be a living example of a new creation, to be a light to the world that leaves people yearning for Christ.

My challenge for you today is this:  When you see someone in need, someone living in the streets, someone without a relationship with Christ, I want you to stop what you are doing and pray, not for them first, but for yourself.  Pray that you would be able to look at them with the same compassion that Christ showed for those in need, for the sick, the poor, the homeless.  Pray that you can let go of any judgments you may have.  Pray that you can look at them and see the face of a brother or sister, that you would react the same to their need as you would if you found out someone from your congregation were in their position.

When we can reach the point where we are able to feel that unreserved compassion, we can approach our homeless ministry in a new way, with a new love, a new purpose, and an entirely intentional process.  I hope that you would like to be a part of the way Christ is using me in this ministry, and that you would prayerfully seek His will and respond to that as you are called.  Thank you for taking the time to learn more about this ministry, and God Bless.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The Danger of McScripture. Guest Blogger Bod Pederson

The Danger of McScripture

My wife and I recently watched a movie entitled “Supersize Me”, in which the subject of the film used himself as a guinea pig in an experiment to uncover the effects of McDonald’s food on the human body. His approach was to eat nothing but McDonald's food, three meals per day, every day for one month. The result was not only unhealthy and debilitating, but potentially fatal because it actually damaged his internal organs. Sound extreme? Well, what if we are doing the same to the body of Christ with a fast food diet of what I have come to call McScripture?

Good Old Fashioned Home Cooking
There was once a time when meals involved a great deal of work and preparation. Food was often grown or raised at home, and made from scratch with whole ingredients rich in nutrients, and tailored for our health by God Himself. Conditions such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and obesity we nearly nonexistent. An added benefit of dinner time was the richness of relationships enjoyed around the dinner table. In the same fashion, the food once dished out to the flock was (and still is in some churches) painstakingly prepared by stewards of the Word to grow the body of Christ by feeding it nutrient rich food. These men would labor long hours over the text, working through faithful exegesis from the original languages, and then searching the scriptures for connections into the bigger picture that God has revealed about Himself. They would cook up side dishes from the historical and cultural contexts, and for desert they would show us how Christ is displayed in every part of the scriptures. They would then, agendas laid aside, don the server's apron and serve God's children a meal made with love, having let the the Word and Spirit of God speak first into their hearts, and through their gifts and labors to their hearers.

Feeding the Flock Fast Food
Modern life (or should I say post-modern life) has pretty much spelled the end of family meals as many of us remember them. Driven by a relentless race for success and fulfillment, and coupled with an abundance of cheap, calorie rich and nutrient poor, fast and convenient food supply, we have become a society of mostly weak, sickly, overweight, and unhealthy consumers searching for the next quick fix to satisfy our ever increasing cravings. The result has been a barrage of artificial medical fixes to combat the flood of disease brought about by our poor diet. It has created a drain on our economy due to medical expenses and lost productivity. But it might serve as a reflection of American evangelicalism, and of the American church in the last two centuries. What I mean is this: at some point there was a fundamental shift from a spiritual diet that was home cooked to a fast food spiritual diet. Now we spend much of our time and energy trying to deal with the disease and chronic conditions that it has introduced into the Body.

What is Spiritual Fast Food?
Spiritual fast food (McScripture) is quite simply the quick and easy handling of biblical texts. Quick and easy to prepare (not to mention cheap), convenient to consume and digest, empty calories that satisfy immediate hunger, but severely lacking the nutrients that satisfy a body's need to be truly fed. Biblical lessons are all too often mass produced for mass consumption in mass media. Instead of being the product of hard study and honest exegesis to bring forth the inherent truth of the text, truth now comes ready to go and prepackaged in traditional understanding. I was shocked the first time that I heard texts , like Matthew 18, that are taken for granted by many, properly unpacked to reveal the actual meaning, instead of the meaning they had come to have. Instead of slow cooking the whole text in the context of the original language, the passage and the book, the Eastern understanding of a first century Greek or Jewish reader, and the whole of God's revelation of Himself, we toss it into the microwave and enter 3:16 so that we only have to punch in one number. We deep fry it in the natural understanding of a 21st Century, western, English speaking mind so that it comes out golden brown and delicious.

A Fast Food Culture
All of us have grabbed a bite to eat on the go. After all we have so much to do, so much to get. McScripture provides a twofold benefit to both the producer and the consumer. It saves both time and resources. For the man in the pulpit or the Christian writer it means no more laboring to become proficient in Greek and Hebrew; just point your cursor with the mouse and out pops the definition of the original word! No need to worry about things like meanings brought forth through parsing, morphology and grammar, its McScripture! No more are truths and ideas vetted by a thorough searching of Holy Writ, just find a few single verses that seem to mean what you want to say, then write your book and get invited to speak at conferences! No more tediously supporting your views with the greater truths of the Bible, because you would lose people and go over their heads anyway, right? It also meets the needs of the modern Christian consumer quite nicely as well. Need to get home for the football game? Just pull up to the window and say “I'll have a God's All About Me Value Meal”. You know, the one with the ten minute gospel sammich and the greasy grace on the side and a nice decision to wash it all down with. It even has a relationship with Jesus toy surprise inside! Quick, easy, and cheap. Then run off to live your life because after all, God just wants to stay out of the way of our hapiness, doesnt He?

A Fast Demise
I have to apologize for my sarcastic tone; I only adopt it to make a point about a serious condition. As a member of the SBC, I follow the news of its decline with increasing frustration and sadness as the leaders ask one another what to do while cramming cheeseburgers and fries in our mouths. They tell us that their methods just need some tweaking as they baptize unregenerate people, and then begin movements to disciple them. I admit that I am not characterizing a complicated situation completely accurately or fairly. I do not claim to have all the answers. I only seek to maybe offer al little insight into one facet of the picture. We desperately need to rely again on the Word of God. We need to let it speak to us again instead of using it to make our points for us. We need gifted men to devote their lives, minds, and resources to rightly bringing forth the riches of its truth instead of building huge churches and striving for celebrity. We need the Spirit of God to teach us again instead of popular Christian Gurus with the latest Church Growth Methods. We need to turn aside from corporate business models and psychological fixes thinly disguised as discipleship. We need to rediscover who Christ is, instead of who we have reinvented Him as. We need to recover the glorious Gospel of the Scripture which glorifies God and lays bare the depraved hearts of men. We need to stop loving our own wills, and worship Him as He is revealed to our hearts and minds by the Bible. For us to regain our health and vigor as a church, simply adding a few healthy elements to our fast food diet is not enough. We need a total, radical change of our eating and cooking habits to bring a radical change of our body. Maybe it's time for another Reformation. Maybe we should just return to the old one. Bon Apetite brothers and sisters!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Celebrate Recovery Bible, Should We Use It?

So I checked out the Celebrate Recovery Bible.  I have seen the Recovery Bible which focuses on the 12 steps.  This one is thanks to our friends at Saddleback, articles and devotions by John Baker and a foreword by Pastor Rick.  I assumed this was a 12 step program, but I was surprised to see that Celebrate Recovery is in fact eight principles instead of 12 steps.  They are based on the beatitudes, and while similar to 12 step, they are slightly different.

I'm not going to rehash everything in the principles, but instead ask the question, is this helpful?  Is this an improvement over 12 steps?  I would say no, it's not better but it appears to be on par.  I like this program and it covers the most important aspects that is covered by 12 step, you need God (He is the higher power, I don't care what AA calls it).

If you have read anything from Saddleback, you know that Pastor Rick and friends love acrostics and there are plenty in here.  If they help you remember things, this is the plan for you.  If you are or have been in the Military, you'll love it, cause no one loves acrostics more than the US Armed Forces. . . except maybe Saddleback.

This Bible is from our friends at Zondervan, so of course it's NIV.  NIV is not my favorite but many like it.  There have been some negative reviews of the new NIV, but I don't want to rehash those.  Be aware it's NIV, but that doesn't change the resources in it, which are still good.  In the end, pairing recovery with the Word of God is powerful and important.  I would use this resource to work with someone in recovery.  Whether you like 12 step or something different, this program gives the same flavor in fewer courses.  Give it a look and you may find something helpful.  I would recommend it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Reality of Suicide

The top news that everyone is talking about right now is the death of Robin Williams.  Williams suffered with depression and in the end took his own life.  There are multiple opinions on suicide, but as someone who struggles with depression, I want to share mine with you today.  Those of us who suffer from depression, suicide is a thought and temptation that seems to come at random, during hopeless times.  There is a feeling that there is nothing that can be done to escape the torment of depression except to die.  It's part of the sickness, it's part of the reality of depression.  There seems to come a desire to end the despair of life, and for Williams, that desire was so strong he took his own life.

I am fortunate, my depression has been managed that I haven't hit that point.  Depression causes isolation and isolation makes suicide all the more obtainable.  I have never been truly isolated, so my depression has never taken me to that point.  I will admit I have thought about it, and times I have prayed that God would take me home.  Committing suicide has never been a real option for me, but for many who struggle with depression, it's a reality.  Those will depression will tend to drift towards isolation, if you want to save them, save them from isolation.  Companionship could be the thing that saves their life.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

What Does A Miracle Look Like?

To start let me say I'm not a cessationist. I believe in miracles and God doing amazing things. I have been praying lately that God would show me a miracle. I want to see God do something supernatural firsthand.  I have been praying to see fire from heaven, bushes burning, sick healed and dead raised. I have been looking for the big miracles, but I have had to stop my thinking about miracles as my short list.

I have been thinking about the miracles God is already doing in my life. First, I consider who I am in Christ as opposed to who I would be if I was apart from Christ.  The change in who I am, my personality and character traits in a miracle. I would not be kind,  hopeful, loving or patient without God. I would be bitter,  jaded and angry.

I saw a rainbow as I drove to work today, and considered the work of God's hands.  The fact that light can be refracted and break into colors of the rainbow through moisture can be explained by science, but it's only how. It doesn't even begin to touch why, that God put it there for us.  Can I call that a miracle? Is all I see in creation the miracle I seek? I have to say yes.

I still want to see an amazing supernatural work of God. I am still praying for a mighty work. I ask God to physically heal, to show His wonders and display His power. If He does, I will praise Him. If He doesn't, I will still praise Him for all He does for me. I will give Him glory for creator and sustainer.  There are so many blessings in my life, my amazing wife and awesome kids.  The times God had provided and sustained us. I could never deserve the blessings I have, and I know that is a miracle.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Are You Redeeming the Time?

Ever felt like you were on the shelf?  Like you have gifts and talents and skills and you were not in a position to use them?  I have been in that position for a couple of years, so the question that keeps turning over and over is, how do I redeem the time?  Paul tells us to make the best use of the time in Ephesians 5:16, so how do we make the best use of our time when we are on the shelf?

1.  Learn.  You should always be a student of God and His Word.  Read His Word, read good books, read commentary and do devotions and attend Bible Study.  Prepare yourself for whatever may come in the future by learning all the things God will teach you.  Be a student.

2.  Pray.  When you are on the shelf, you should have some extra time.  Use that extra time to bulk up the prayer life.  Spend time praying and listening.  Develop a good habit of prayer during your time of exile or prison or being set aside.

3.  Give.  This doesn't always mean money, give time or talents or resources.  Spend time giving back.  Support something or someone, a missionary or a mission agency.  Take what you have and invest it in the kingdom.

4.  Invest in somebody.  As you are learning and growing, pass on what you have learned to someone.  Have some friends that you can share what God is teaching you.  Try writing a blog, it works for me.  Invest what you have in someone who needs it.

Before long, you will find yourself back where God is using you.  God has a purpose for your time in exile, and when you look back you will see His hand at work. Keep your head up and be ready for the blessings that He will send your way.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

You and The Other

In history,  people have often defined themselves by who they are not.   They have created a group that they reject and persecute.   The Jews were kicked out of England and killed by Hitler,  the blacks were slaves and then treated as lower class citizens.   Native Americans have been marginalized and the list goes on.   Humans finding groups to segregate,  separate,  and hate.   Much of this is a process of self-definition, we are not who we hate.

The Church as a whole has been pretty bad about this.   Protestants and Catholics have done things just to spite the other side.   Protestants have made doctrines to make it clear they are not Catholic.   The charismatic movement and the subsequent traditional movement created a wide gap between Pentecostal and Baptists.   We have striped hard to define ourselves,  but often we have demonized others in the process.

The worst offense is how we have demonized those outside the church.   We have judged them on a standard that we cannot even meet.   We have not given them grace and we have not considered the fact the Holy Spirit isn't at work in their lives.   Non-Christians don't act like Christians,  because they are not Christians.   They are lost and they need help and they need Jesus.   We can't give them hope and condemnation at the same time.   Yes,  they need to know they are guilty of sin and stand before a just and holy God who judges sin.   They don't need you to make a list and tell them exactly why you are better,  which in the end is basically what is happening.   Let's stop defining ourselves by other people, and begin to define ourselves by who we are in Christ.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Deal With The Atheist In Your Life

Atheists, those who don't believe in God and often think you are crazy because you do.  They are growing in number and even getting organized these days, thanks to guys like Dawkins.  They look up too Hawkings and read parts of Neitche and often feel intellectually superior to the red neck, back woods Bible thumpin Christian.  They claim there is no proof of God, then dismiss every evidence that exists and say there is no evidence.  Much of their argument is circular and based on belittlement and simply mocking what Christians hold most dear.  Ah the Atheist, how do we deal with these individuals in our lives?

First, you have to love them.  Love them in spite of their venomous hatred, because love covers a multitude of sin.  Love them without condition, without excuse and without limit.  Something happened in the life of the Atheist to cause them to become an Atheist.  Sometimes they deny it, sometimes they claim it's simply intellectualism, but the fact remains that no one is born an Atheist.  People are born essentially deists, believing in the supernatural.  Something comes along to cause them to lack belief (if they do actually lack belief).

Two, realize they have doubts.  They won't admit they have doubts, but they wouldn't fight so hard if they didn't have a doubt someplace deep inside.  Inside of everyone exists a shadow of doubt in what they believe, the Atheist is no different.  There is a struggle deep inside that maybe there is a God.  The fact they have put themselves at odds with God causes them great distress, so they fight hard to eradicate every mention of Him.  Their goal is to eradicate belief, hoping this will cause their doubt to go away.  They won't admit this, not while they are still Atheists.

Lastly, share your faith, share your testimony and share why you love God.  You can't change them, but they can't change you either.  God can change them, God can change you.  Tell them how God has changed you, tell them you have evidence and it's in your life.  Do this with love and respect, after all they are still in the image of God.  Pray for them, love them and share what Christ has done for you.  That is the best way to deal with your Atheist.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Why I Like Dave Miller

Do you know The David Miller of Sioux City?  He has made history in his lime green suit, was 2nd vice pres and leads the way on SBC Voices.  More than that, he is a pastor, father, husband and a pretty good guy.  Now this blog isn't just to suck up to Dave Miller, but I want to use Dave Miller as an example of what is good in the Southern Baptist Convention.  You see, I've been a life long Southern Baptist, and I have been able to do some amazing things.  I've been a Semester Missionary, a Mission Serve Corps Missionary, taught at National Collegiate Week twice, and served in several churches.  I have had opportunity as a young man in the SBC.  Now, as I'm slightly older I have the opportunity to write for SBC Voices, which has been a huge blessing and honor.

Now Dave and I don't always see eye to eye, and I don't agree with him on everything.  I highly respect him, he is a great pastor and a good friend.  He serves God with his whole heart and will admit to the places he's made mistakes.  He is a solid SBC Pastor, and I think there are many out there like Dave, who serve God and love God and work hard.  Thanks Dave for all you do, and for the support you give me.