Missional

Why Does God Love Us

“Why does God love us?”  This simple question was a part of reading discussion from Kyle Idleman’s book, Gods at War.  In all our rebellion, sinfulness, and apathy why does God love us?   We killed his prophets, crucified His Son, and deny his existence.   We choose promiscuity over holiness, selfishness over serving, and idol worship over worship in Spirit and Truth.   We are disobedient.  Basically we will choose anything and anyone but God, so why does He love us? 

 

Despite all our rebellion and rejection, God pursues us relentlessly and at all costs.  The question, why does God love us?, for some reason focuses us on our character as if there is something in ourselves worthy of God’s love.   The real focus of that question is answered in the character of God – I John 4:16b God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.  Love is the character of God.  Love is who God is at the core so much so that God is love.   God’s pursuit of us is not based on how loveable we are – Thank goodness.   God’s pursuit of us is based on how loving God is. 

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Conservative vs. Evangelical

My question of over the past few months is, “what does it mean to be EVANGELICAL?” I believe words like conservative and orthodox are used as synonyms, but really they are complementary words. We use evangelical and conservative interchangeably just as progressive and liberal.
As an evangelical I have a traditional historical view of the Bible and that my theology is “conservative.” I’m not sure you can describe yourself as evangelical and not be conservative, but I’m sure you can be conservative and not be evangelical. Conservative means you hold to certain fundamental and orthodox views. Evangelical means you place priority on sharing Jesus as Savior and Lord as a decisive activity in your life that flows through all other life activities. Therefore evangelical activity is actions and words intent on sharing Jesus as the crucified and resurrected Christ and Lord.

I chose the verb sharing intentionally for two reasons.
1. The action of sharing requires that one give something of his/her-self; truth and experience of Jesus, His life, death and resurrection. Truth is the Biblical account of God the Father sending, God the Son to reconcile the world through His death on the cross and resurrection in the power of God the Holy Spirit. Experience is the evidence that faith in Jesus is both transformational and relevant.
2. Sharing requires a moment of decision or acceptance from the receiving person. Everywhere Jesus went He confronted people with a decisive moment to believe in Him or not, to follow Him or not. This is the heart of evangelical activity – to bring people face to face with Jesus in a decisive moment.

The conservative and the evangelical might be in the same boat. They may believe the same things and attend the same church. The difference is that the conservative is painting the name on the back of the boat and making sure the boat is comfortable, and the evangelical is fishing from the boat. The conservative is compassionate about what he or she believes the evangelical is compassionate about making sure everybody has an opportunity to believe in Jesus.

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NOS or Re-Runs

NOS for car enthusiasts is a reference to Nitrous Oxide an explosive fuel to give a race car an instant jolt of power. NOS is also the name of one of those high powered energy drinks and you get the connection. In the world of bike restoration it has an entirely different meaning. NOS means New Old Stock, which of course is vintage parts that have never been used. It also means they are still in their original packaging. So I’m giving some NOS today – the following are 3 blog post I wrote a few years ago and have since shut the blog down. I don’t think they were ever read by anyone, but if you read them they are not NOS for you. They are re-runs.

Like Anything Else
Biblical History relates a powerful reality about the human heart, The heart can turn anything into an idol. The Israelites turned the Law into idol. Ancient people turn God’s glorious creation and creatures into idols. Today we turn money, children, and entertainment into idols. The heart is so intent on this that even salvation itself can be turned into and idol as we cherish our ticket to heaven instead of the Savior who suffered and died.
The missional church understands this, like anything else the missional work of the church can become an idol. We can lose sight of the intimate relationship God desires to have with us and make the Christian life about the work we do instead of the Savior we serve. The safeguard to this is remembering that God is on mission in Jesus Christ and in the Power of His Spirit. Our goal is God. To seek God in the communities we live in, because God is already there. The invitation is not to go on mission, but that we are invited to join God who is on mission. God is the means to the end. Our missional activities are simply tools to draw near to God.

Transformation Into a Missional Heart
In Luke 14:16-24 Jesus is telling a parable about the Messianic Feast. He begins with an invitation by a hospitable host who wants to throw a great banquet. The RSVP’s are sent out and returned, “yes we will be there.” At the right time the servant is sent out to tell the guests that the band is fired up, the food is ready, the celebration is about to commence. One by one the guest give insulting and lame excuses why they cannot come. Hearing the servant’s report and the insulting excuses the host turns his anger into grace and invites the outcasts, the marginalized, and in-firmed.
The servant sees his master’s grace and experiences the joy of those who accept the gracious invitation. The servant sees his master’s heart and the servant’s heart is transformed. He returns to the master transformed and fully engaged in the master’s vision, “Master what you have commanded is done and there’s still room!” The servant is then sent out into the countryside and to the crossroads and back roads to make sure the banquet is full. When the servant says, “and there’s still more room,” he exposes his transformed heart. He gets it and wants to be a part of the master’s gracious invitation.
How much more of an experience of grace than the death and resurrection of Jesus do we need to have our hearts transformed. God has changed his anger into grace. The invitation to God’s banquet is for all people. We the church are the servant sent into all the world to make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey all that Christ Jesus has commanded. The missional heart is born out experiencing God’s grace in Jesus and a yearning to be a part of God’s mission in the world.

Missional Goal

Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But, the Marines don’t have that problem. ~ President Ronald Reagan, 1985
Do we as Christians have the wondering problem? Are our programs effective? Is our worship inspiring? Are we drawing enough people? Are we making an impact? For the missional Christian these questions are the wrong questions to ask and they will always leave us wondering. Where is God at work in this place at this time? What is God doing in my neighborhood? How is God drawing the people around me to Him? Those are the questions to ask.
The reason the marines don’t have that problem is because they are using all their gifts, resources, and courage to carry out their orders either as a guardian of liberty or a protector of peace. The church is ordered to GO INTO ALL THE WORLD AND MAKE DISCIPLES AND TO BE CHRIST’S WITNESSES IN JERUSALEM, JUDEA, SAMARIA, AND TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH. But instead we see our calling is to get as many people as we can in the pews and in our programs and we will always wonder. If we will go make disciples and are witnesses of Christ Jesus using our gifts, resources, and courage we will not have that problem.

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The Johari Window

johari

A few weeks ago I was introduced to the Johari Window, a psychological relational tool.  I guess I should say re-introduced, because I found a worksheet on the Johari Window in my seminary folder.    As you can see from the picture above the window has 4 panes.  The top left pane represents what everybody knows about you and you know as well.  The bottom left pane is what you know about yourself but choose not to reveal to others.  The top right pane is what others perceive of you that you don’t know about yourself.  The bottom right pane is your subconscious; nobody knows what’s in the pane, but it still has a bearing on our relationships.

The objective of the Johari Window is to decrease the amount of unknown material that is having an adverse affect on your relationships.   I took a look at this tool from a spiritual filter and have applied its insights to the church (congregationally and individually).   A congregation might think it is friendly but visitors might think it is cold; there is a relational disconnect.   An individual might think that they have a wonderful relationship with Jesus, but his/her co-workers might not even know he/she is a Christian; there is a relational disconnect.   The panes are connected.  What is in one of the panes has an affect on all the panes.   If a person is secretly looking at porn (Hidden Pane) it will have an affect on the Open and Blind and Unknown panes.   If people perceive you as untrustworthy (Blind Pane) whether it is true or not there is an affect on the other panes.

Thinking spiritually not psychologically, for us as the church the goal or directive is for things we do in private to be congruent with the things we do in public.  This is first and foremost about character.   Character is who you are when nobody is looking or in the Johari Window it is what we find in the Hidden Pane.   Secondarily it is about what people perceive is your character; the Blind Pane.   There are some things that are always going to be going to be disconnected; thus the need for both the panes.   The truly important things, Faith, Hope, and Love, are areas we don’t want there to be a disconnect in any of the panes.   Congruency translates to authenticity.   Authenticity in turn minimizes the disconnect between what is true and what is perceived.   In other words, “we are practicing what we preach.”

Authenticity is the crux.   Do our prayer and devotional lives, our confessions, our worship, our closed door and parking lot meetings, our unspoken rules, our Monday-Saturday behavior, our tithes and offerings, our inner thoughts, and our alone time resonate and shadow the mind of Christ – “Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
 by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2)?

The test of authenticity is to ask those difficult questions;

–       Do the people in my circle of influence know that I am a Christian?

–       Is my behavior in church the same as my behavior on Friday night?

–       Do people really know that I love Jesus and my faith is solely in Jesus?

–       Do I think life is about me or do I truly live life glorifying God?

–       Do I study the Bible or do I just have a Bible?

–       Am I trusting God with everything including my finances?

–       Are people seeing in my life love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control?

–       Am I confessing my secret sins and repenting?

–       When controversy arises or circumstances demand you take a stand do people know immediately what side you will be on?

–       Are you a peacemaker?

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HOPE

We recently started an outreach at the church to minister to children with special needs and their families.  The program is called HOPE.  It is on the first Saturday of every month from 10am-2pm and involves music, crafts, playtime, and education time.  The program has grown from 2 to 8 kids with tremendous potential for more.  The children are cared for in a safe environment with lots of volunteers.  The parents get some time on a Saturday to take care of themselves, run errands, rest, or whatever, hopefully free of worry for the safety of their child.  We as a church saw a need and decided to build a relationship to share that need.  This was our 4th month and I was simply blown away by what God is doing. 

Smiles and laughter were abundant.  The kids were so comfortable being there.  The volunteers were engaged.  It was a place where everybody knows your name. We talked about a week of HOPE in the summer and the talk went from talk to planning to – I believe a reality.  While I was tired at 2pm, I was full of hope for HOPE.   Only God can do those sorts of things.   Every time I work with children with special needs I wonder who really is receiving the ministry. 

The HOPE kids have a wide range of special needs.  The most prominent one is autism.  I have to confess kids with autism can be a handful.  They live in a real world of their own and are very selective about who can be a part of that world.  Everyone else is simply a piece of furniture.  It is amazing to watch the interaction, acceptance, and fellowship we have received from all the HOPE kids and I don’t know if the volunteers really know how blessed they are to get hugs, high-5’s, smiles, and waves from these special children, once again only God. 

Where in your life can you identify a need, build a relationship to share in that need, and join God in the sorts of things that only God can do?  That’s the place you make time to be.  That’s the place you find resources to invest.  That’s the place where you will be a blessing and be blessed.  That’s the place you will meet God.

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Francis Chan – The Big Red Tractor

http://player.vimeo.com/video/7152556?title=0&byline=0&portrait=0&color=ffffff

The Big Red Tractor – Francis Chan from Jacob Lewis on Vimeo.

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Christmas Everyday!!!

First of all I want to give credit where credit is due – this idea came from Jerry a friend and church member.   He was leading a Bible Study and began by asking, “How much time we had created last month for shopping, Christmas parties, and Christmas festivities.”  The answer, “a lot!”  In our so called busy schedules we found time, no we made time to take part in the holiday frivolities.    Not just some time, but a lot of time.  Then he told a story about a Christmas present.

Jerry’s son, Nick has been married for a little over six months.  Jerry thinking he was going to get to sleep in on Christmas morning was woken up by his 25ish year old son early.  Nick was excited about a gift he had bought his new bride and could not wait any longer for her to open it.   The present was a digital camera.  Nick new everything about this camera and had gone to great lengths to research and purchase this camera.  Jerry described the scene with joy and then flipped it around on us asking, asking us about the gift of Christ and our drive to present others with the gift of Christ.  The silence that followed witnessed to the clarity of the illustrations.

We can and will make time for the things we want to do.  We can create time out of thin air during the Holidays.  Where is this creative spirit the rest of the year when God asks us to teach Sunday school, go to a Bible study, or participate in a ministry?  Time is the great equalizer; everybody has the same amount – 24 hours a day or 1440 minutes a day or 86,400 seconds a day.  That does not change during the holiday season and there is no time altering continuum that mystically appears.     In fact, as a minister the Christmas season is extremely busy for me, but I create time to do the things I want.   That time creating spirit matched with priorities and loyalties can really result in Kingdom impact if we would practice it all year long.

It was the gift illustration that hit home.  We call it evangelism, but really it is participating with God as he offers His gift of Jesus.  I’m right there with Nick getting up early to see the joy on my family’s faces as they open their gifts.   How much more joy is there in our Father’s offering of Jesus?   Luke 15:7 – I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.  We are invited to participate in that joy!  It could be Christmas morning every day if we get up anticipating and participating with our Father as He offers His gift of salvation – Jesus.

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Follow Him

Right before Jesus celebrates the Passover with his disciples, Luke tells a rather bland story of how Peter and John are sent to prepare the Passover meal.  Luke 22 – 8 Jesus sent Peter and John ahead and said, “Go and prepare the Passover meal, so we can eat it together.”  9 “Where do you want us to prepare it?” they asked him.  10 He replied, “As soon as you enter Jerusalem, a man carrying a pitcher of water will meet you. Follow him.

Mark also tells this story in his Gospel as does Matthew.  Matthew simply says “a certain man” where Mark and Luke describe a man carrying a water pitcher.   We could just glaze over this and go right to the Lord’ Supper.  But, why a dude carrying a water pitcher?  In my mind I went that is rather vague Jesus.  Everybody has got to have water and since there is no indoor plumbing, everybody had to go get water.  In ancient times women carried the water not men.  The vagueness turns to uniqueness. 

I begin to wonder about this guy.  Is he the prototype of chivalry?  Is he widower without children?  Is he an outcast?  Whatever he is, he is so counter-culture that he stands out in the droves of people who have descended upon Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.   He is as Matthew says, “a certain man.”   “A certain man” commissioned by Jesus for a task. 

Our culture is oblivious to God’s ways if not defiant.  I wonder, “Does my faith/faithfulness stand out in the crowd?”  Can Jesus commission me for a special task that others may follow me?  Can I be “the certain man (person)” that Jesus commands others, “follow him?”  Do I just blend in with the culture?

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Our Watch

In the world of the ancient church, the followers of Christ would get news via word of mouth or letter.  The news at that point was more history than news.  Even so in Philippians 4 we discover that the church in Philippi responded with a gift to help the Apostle Paul in his sufferings and in I & II Corinthians Paul speaks of gifts that the church sent to help the poor in Jerusalem.  The early church responded to suffering even when the news may have been weeks, months, or years old.  How much more are we accountable in our globally connected world? 

Prayer chains are instantaneous with cell phones, email, facebook, and tweets.  Money can be sent instantaneous too.  Air and car travel are also quite convenient.   News travels almost instantaneously too over TV and the internet.   We can hear of travesties and suffering seconds after they happen.   My teenage daughters hear things before I have a chance to sit down and tell them.  How much more accountable are we to God’s commands to take care of the poor, the widow, the orphan, the guy in the ditch, and human? 

Our watch comes with high accountability, but it also comes with the greatest opportunities.  We can help stop human trafficking with simply making more people aware that it is going on in our world.  We can sponsor an overseas child and connect with that child via internet.  We can have partnerships with churches anywhere in the world.  We can respond to news of suffering instantly.   We can also be present anywhere and at any time.  The early church did not have these resources.  Our watch does!

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Who Is My Lazarus?

Luke 16 holds the parable of the “Rich Man and Lazarus,” which is a pretty troubling parable to say the least.  A rich man walks by a poor man every day and ignores the poor man’s suffering.  Both men die. The poor man is comforted and at peace in heaven.  The rich man is tormented in hell.   The rich man asks to be comforted by the poor man, the request is impossible.  The rich man then begs for his family to be warned, but told they have the Law and the Prophets, the Word, and even if someone rises from the dead to tell them they will not listen.    

This is a tough parable.  I resonate with the rich guy.  He had his business to run.  He had power lunches to do, deals to see through, and board meeting to attend.  He’s an elder on the session and tithes to his local church.  He and his wife throw extravagant parties to fund raise for World Vision and he is on the board for the local soup kitchen ministry.  The rich guy has four kids to put through college and wife who needs doting upon.  The guy doesn’t have time for the beggar he passes every day.   This is one of those parables about good intentions paving the road to Hell. 

No matter how good your intensions are and how much good you are doing, what condition is your heart in if every day you walk by a guy who is suffering so greatly and so helpless that dogs are licking his sores?   How cold is your heart that you won’t stop and help a guy like that?  Where is my heart?   So cold that Jesus rising from that dead has had no transformation in my life?  So apathetic that Jesus rising from the dead has not convinced me that loving my neighbor is loving God?  Who is my Lazarus?

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