Saturday, June 28, 2008

Putting Out Fires (Part 2)

Who among you fears the LORD and obeys his servant? If you are walking in darkness without a ray of light, trust in the Lord and rely on your God. But watch out, you who live in your own light and warm yourselves by your own fires. This is the reward you will receive from me: You will soon fall down in great torment. Isaiah 50:10-11

I can't get enough backpacking or sleeping under a canopy of stars. There are beautiful places I return to often. When I break camp it is important to leave no trace behind. Yet, every time I return to one of my favorite haunts there is evidence of my last stay -- the blackened circle of earth from past campfires.

One of the last places Sandy and I pitched our tent we got deluged. We were at Whiskey Still (isn't that a cool name) when the heavens opened. Peering through the screened flap of our tent and torrential sheets of rain, we watched a churning stream of water come out of nowhere and carry away our kindling, firewood, and anything else that would burn or float! After a couple hours, the dark, brooding skies gave way to the brightness of the sun. 

In the end our story is always the same -- in this journey we need God to show up -- our fires of comfort are easily extinguished.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Putting Out Fires

Who among you fears the LORD and obeys his servant? If you are walking in darkness without a ray of light, trust in the Lord and rely on your God. But watch out, you who live in your own light and warm yourselves by your own fires. This is the reward you will receive from me: You will soon fall down in great torment. Isaiah 50:10-11

Isaiah, the prophet, speaks of times when the Faithful walk in pitch darkness. There is not even the dimmest ray of light to insure the next step is a safe one. Candidly and soberly, the prophet speaks to circumstances that require complete trust in the sovereignty of the LORD, and reliance on the character of God. Truly, blind faith.

Then comes the admonition: Watch out, he says. These are the moments when in the blackness of the journey we are tempted to light our own torches and build our own fires. . . always a bad choice response.

As difficult as it is to comprehend, our best response is to live in that darkness, and resist the temptation to depend on torches of our own making.
Fearing the spiritual darkness and chill, we can set out to surround ourself with some impressive fires.

Here is the good part . . . God in his grace rewards those efforts . . . with torment!

Mercifully, we come to a point when we run out of fuel for our pitiful little fires. It is a tough but wonderful moment. Torment becomes our ally, and we stop, and we put out our fires, and we sit quietly in the darkness, and we wait for God to ignite a fire, and shine his light.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Now I Get It!

The disciples came up and asked [Jesus] "Why do you tell stories?" He replied, "You've been given insight into God's kingdom. You know how it works . . . Study this story of the farmer planting seed, it is the basis for understanding all my parables. Mark 4:10-11;

Jesus was a story teller, and for those who were hungry to learn, yet struggling with his teachings about the kingdom, he crafted simple parables that unpacked profound truths. He loved it when a listener's quizzical expression morphed into that bright eyed look that said, Oh! Now I get it!

Jesus' story about the farmer planting seed was pivotal. He said it would be foundational in understanding the mysteries his kingdom. Also, the story was intended to be a resource for constant encouragement. Farmers knew the discouragement of faithfully and abundantly planting seed that never germinated. Every farmer witnessed the drying, shriveling, and dieing of a sprout that never set its roots. Every tiller of the ground saw times when the only green thing that survived and thrived were despised weeds. Healthy plants that held much promise sometimes yielded no harvest.

Christ's story was meant to be insightful and powerful, and to bring discovery and relief to all of us who down through the centuries plant the good seed of God's word. Robert Louis Stevenson's quote captures the essence of Christ's intent . . .

Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.


Oh! Now I get it!



Thursday, June 19, 2008

Facebook

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you . . . Numbers 6:24

I joined FaceBook . . . pretty cool . . . don't know how to do much with it . . . I did do the "Where I have been" thing . . . says I have been to 17% of the countries in the world . . . reminded me that I have been to extraordinary places . . . seen amazing things . . . met incredible people . . . the LORD has blessed me and kept me; the LORD has made his face to shine upon me and been gracious to me . . .

In the near future we will be in . . . Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, and many other major cities in the Big Country . . .

Sign-up for ZGbriefs to read about the situation in China

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Adventure of Inconsistency!

"I being in the way the Lord led me . . ." Genesis 24:27

"There was never a more inconsistent Being on this earth than Our Lord, but He was never inconsistent to His Father." Oswald Chambers.

At first glance that statement sounds "inconsistent." Yet, the more we look at it the more consistency we find in it. The person responding to their desires by placing them before God will wrestle with the inconsistency of their desires. Also, if you are in an environment where the prevailing desires are "Eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die," you may feel ill-at-ease and sense that you are not in step with the world around you. Those same people may try to convince you that you are inconsistent.

If you are truly seeking an abandonment of your desires to embrace God's, the way your life is presently organized will go through a time of increasing fragmentation and inconsistency. How could it not? You are adjusting to the consistency of a Spirit controlled walk; you may recognize a lot of inconsistency in your consistency as God opens your eyes to the order He intended. Life may seem consistently inconsistent. But, like Jesus, it matters not if we are the most inconsistent person in our world, as long as we are consistent to the will of our heavenly Father. Let me finish Chamber's thought perhaps that will help,

"The one consistency of the saint is not to a principle, but to the Divine life. It is the Divine life which continually makes more and more discoveries about the Divine mind."

Sometimes the faith life is an Adventure in Inconsistency!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Reposted (2006)

Unseen Face Seen By The Unseen Face

When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:16


I just read a friend's blog -- a very good blog about communication. She wrote about how we communicate through our expressions and body language. Jesus' words above came to mind.

Jesus spoke of two men doing the exact same thing -- fasting. One man tried to put on a face to impress the faces that looked on. He contorted his expressions in such a way that seemed to say, "See my face; I am fasting! See my face; I am suffering! See my face; I am pious!" Reading between the lines, it appears he was quite convincing. Jesus' words imply that he got his "full reward." Onlookers were impressed with his piety.

The other man was also fasting, but he put on a face just like those around him. He wasn't trying to stand out; he was trying to blend in. Nobody knew that this man has quietly and privately depriving his craving for food, to respond to a deep spiritual craving to communicate with the Father. No need to read between the lines -- Jesus words are clear. The unseen face was seen and rewarded by the Unseen Face.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Reposted (from 2005)

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Good News Is Old News

Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God—the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy scriptures . . . Romans 1:1-2

Paul wanted the believers to know the most important thing about the gospel message: the gospel is God’s message, not man’s. The word "gospel" was not a new word to first century believers.

John MacArthur tells us, “The word “gospel” comes from the Greek word “euangelion . . .” Euangelion was a common term used in the cult of emperor worship that was common in Paul’s day. Many of the caesars claimed deity for themselves and demanded worship from every person in the empire, free or slave, rich or poor, renowned or unknown. Favorable events relating to the emperor were proclaimed to the citizens as “good news.” The town herald would stand in the village square and shout, “Good news! The emperor’s wife has given birth to a son,” or “Good news! The new emperor has ascended to the throne.”

The "good news" message Paul proclaimed, he credited as "The gospel of God," because it originated with God. A little later on Paul added, "[It is] the Gospel of Christ.” Paul was emphasizing that the good news centered on Christ -- a message Paul was not ashamed of(Romans 1:16). Paul also said, "It is my gospel” because God gave it to him (Romans 16:25-26).

At the basis of every believer's life is the gospel -- the gospel of God. Remember, it started with God. He initiated it; He brought the message to us. The Gospel focuses on Christ -- not us. John Piper said it well, ". . . when it [the gospel] is in some measure about me, it is not about my being made much of by God, but about God mercifully enabling me to enjoy making much of him forever."

I would add, sharing the gospel is making much of Him.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Reposted (from 2005)

Thursday, July 14, 2005

From My JournaI -- I Know What They Mean!

Tears, idle tears. I know not what they mean.
Tears from the depth of some Divine despair
Rise in the heart, and gather in the eyes,
In looking on the happy Autumn fields,
And thinking of the days that are no more. -- Tennyson

I recounted my ways and you answered me . . . Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll, are they not in your record . . . I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to you . . ." Psalm 119:26; 56:8; 119:59

Lord, this verse from Tennyson caught my eye. I read it shortly after reading in the Psalms. Like Tennyson, a "Divine despair" often bubbles to the surface, events from "days that are no more." My own failures and pain inflicted by others reveal themselves through tears.

You sent me on a search; I have recounted my ways. On Your scroll each of my laments are recorded. What relief -- if You wrote them down, then You were there! At each line on the ledger, I stop -- and turn my steps to You.

Now tears flow from a different source -- I know what they mean! You promise forgiveness, redemption, and a slate wiped clean!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Ledges In Me

Below is the first post I wrote for Enjoying the Adventure. I often wonder if a reader may sometimes be thinking, Bill, you don't sound like you're enjoying the Adventure. Ironically, it is the difficulties of the journey that lead to its unspeakable enjoyment. Adventures mean unpredictable events. That is why we are drawn to Adventure. That is why we share, read books, and watch movies of Adventure. We yearn for Adventure. We want our life to matter. We want to leave a trail others can follow . . .

We have a cabin in Maine on a river. Up-river, to the north, the Penobscot splits and slides around an island. The lesser water flows around the back side and is shallow; at times you can wade from the mainland to the island. The bigger water flows between our cabin and the island. Millions of gallons of water swing around the head of the island and are forced into a bottle-neck. Sometimes the water comes through violently, but always in a hurry. The year-round rushing water and the ice that leaves every spring are indiscriminate. All that can be moved is. Every year the banks and shore line change. Some trees are viciously scarred; others are whisked away or left leaning into the water. Sand bars come and go. Rocks are tumbled downstream for hundreds of feet. New fishing holes emerge and others disappear. Every summer we cannot wait to see how the view from our cabin will change. Every year it does -- except for one thing: The ledges remain.

For hundreds of years Indians sorted their catch from nets on those ledges. Log drivers stopped to catch their breath, have a smoke, or share a tale. Countless families and romantics have dragged their canoes over the hydro-polished stone to stop and fish, have a picnic, or bask in the sun as the water rumbled by. The Indian's and log driver's way of life is but a memory, captured in old diaries and faded pictures. Generations have come and gone. The ledges remain.

Life around us changes and so must we, but I want to have some ledges in me. I want to have some sturdy places inside that remain constant when all else is changing: I want to click off many, many more anniversaries with the woman I fell in love with and married. I want to continue to dream with her about far away places and adventures together. I want to take time to listen to my kids (they are young adults) share their lives -- the good and the painful. I want to affirm my belief in them, always! I want to remain committed to the way of life God has provided for me through a simple act of faith. I want that life to be attractive to others who are searching for the purpose for which they are created. I want to be authentic -- there are enough posers.

So much that surrounds the ledges is more beautiful for a time: soaring pines, the Indian Paintbrush that grows on the banks, the eagles that screech and glide over the water. The beauty of the ledges is not their color -- a drab grey. The beauty of the ledges is not their symmetry -- they are mostly flat and smooth. What is their beauty? The ledges remain.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Alice In Wonderland

The human spirit can endure a sick body, but who can bear a crushed spirit? ~ King Solomon

Alice in Wonderland (Sung by Susan Ashton)

When Alice has an answer it's a common rationality

She measures her phrases, tipping the scales of reality

But does she know that it's cold to sing songs to troubled heart

Tho' her aim is sincere she's missing the mark.

CHORUS

She paints her world in yellow and green, covering over the grays

'Cause life's demands are hard to understand

So Alice stays in her wonderland.

I said, Alice look around you, people are falling to pieces
Yea, even the faithful, the ones who still believe in Jesus

But that doesn't mean they've fallen from grace

But in her landscape, their heartache is so out of place.


A crushed spirit—who can bear it?

God, in the timing of His choice, goes after our deeply buried brokenness. Much of what happens in life: breaking, crushing, and its impact, cannot be thought through, or fixed through a process of reasoning. The ways of God, and the complexity and mystery of the human soul, are beyond our comprehension.

Often our rational lines of thinking, and the conclusions we draw from them, are completely out of touch with reality. Something in us demands that the events of our life, or the lives of others, fit neatly into categories of black or white, rational or irrational, fixed or unfixed, and good or bad. At the root of this is the misguided belief that we fully understand the relationship that exists between God and every individual.

Doing so, we miss the mark.

Rationality tells us that the troubled soul need only look at the sunny side of life. Weigh all your experiences on the scales of reason and rationality, and it will be obvious, the good times outweigh the bad. Cheer up! What's your problem?

We do not realize how cold it can be to sing songs to a broken heart. Though our aim is sincere it misses the mark.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Muhammad Ali

Actually it was Ali on one side and Muhammad on the other.

On Wednesday night before the evening service an Iraqi immigrant walked up to us, and in broken English asked if we were having a church service that night. Ali was a congenial fellow with a genuine smile, and a disarming personality. Then he handed Mike his immigrant visa, and hurried off to a soup kitchen on another block. I asked Mike why he gave us his passport. I was told that he just wanted us to be assured that he would return.

When he returned, he pulled a laminated card from his wallet. It had watermarks on both sides -- on one side was the face of Muhammad -- on the other was his own. He proceeded to tell us that even though he was still Muslim, a missionary had been helping him study Christianity, and he was giving consideration to the message of the "prophet" Jesus (did I tell you his visa was long expired).

Ali was focused and attentive as I brought the message that evening. Being in Thessaloniki, I decided to teach from 1 Thessalonians; the major theme was, Things may be going better than it appears.

Knowing that I was going to be the speaker, I was looking for the significance of this man's arrival. One thing I can say with confidence -- When an Iraqi Muslim begins searching the claims of Christ -- Things may be going better than it appears.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Apostolic Cradle

We traveled by bus from Bulgaria to Thessaloniki, Greece. The countryside that separates the two locations is beautiful. Mountain ranges protrude like a spine that connected the two countries; many of them were still blanketed in snow, and shined brilliantly as the sun turned them into ice cold, crystal streams that cascaded downward leaving jagged scars on the descending slopes. Finally, after 4-5 hours of driving we got a glimpse of the Mediterranean Sea.

Thessaloniki is a place where buildings are compressed together, motorists are zigging and zagging, and all the noises of a big city are present and accounted for. Yet, everyone on the team commented that they would like to have an extended stay in this city by the sea. Demographically, the city is a series of tightly knit neighborhoods; each of them having their own pharmacy, hardware store, and market, etc. Think of them as little villages. Locals know in an instant if you are from the outside.

Evangelical churches are not warmly welcomed -- especially when an outsider is trying to get it established. Greece has been invaded countless times over the centuries, and in the DNA of its people is the resolve that "Greece is for Greeks -- not tourists" Trying to advance the kingdom using the traditional models developed in the West will not work in Greece. To reach Greeks multiple, smaller, culturally relevant, neighborhood communities of faith must be developed. Sounds rather biblical -- does it not? The New Testament speaks of places like Corinth, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosse, and Thessalonica (now Thessaloniki), where churches emerged locally as the gospel spread like a virus.

Mike and Maria are the missionaries we support in Thessaloniki; Mike is an American, and Maria is a Greek. Sometimes you just show-up, right? Other times you show-up at just the right time -- we showed up at just the right time. Due to many of the uniquenesses I mentioned earlier, the Longs have their hands full. There's is not an easy mission. God will have to engineer the strategy to reach this spiritually needy part of Europe. As of late the Evil one has unloaded on them. Mike was hit by an automobile and badly injured, the city government wilted against political pressure brought to bare by a tyrannical neighbor who forced "building code" violations be corrected in the their meeting place (which required gutting out one of their buildings -- that was our job, and it was immense). A host of other ills and obstacles, both physical and spiritual, have come against them.

This may sound like a worn out Christian cliche, but pray for them. Pray that God would give them wisdom, recovery, stamina, and some fiercely supportive ministry partners. Pray that they will find households of peace where churches can take launch and take root. Pray that Christ's kingdom will advance in the cradle of the apostolic movement.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Persevering

The bus was had barely come to a stop, and Evan had already hopped out to join a group of black haired, dark skinned children playing a Gypsy version of duck-duck-goose. It was instant friendship, validated by the little ones squealing with laughter as they boldly raced and chased the lanky American clockwise and then counterclockwise around the circle. Before long Evan's brother, sister, and other team members joined the fun. They looked like giants; it was Gulliver and the Lilliputians. Before long nearly all of our team pitched in and showed them how to play our national pastime -- baseball (with a whiffle ball, and a big, red, plastic bat). A dozen or more intriguing eyes lit up. Some being deep, sparkling, brilliantly blue; others a haunting, stormy, shades of green.

Nicolai is the pastor of the Gypsy church. He took us around the densely populated, tumbled down village, strewn with every kind of discarded material imaginable. None of the roads were paved, and every visible electric wire -- snarled and running every which-way -- was an OSHA nightmare. Traveling along one of the potholed streets we came to a house that had been turned into a business of sorts. Nicolai told us that the church started there. It was an underground church forbidden by the communists. He said that 3 elderly Gypsy ladies started the church and eventually coaxed several young boys to join them -- they soon received Christ as their Savior. The church grew, persevered, and outlasted the communists.

One of our team members asked if any of those boys (they would be adults now) had persevered, were still in the neighborhood, and still following Christ. Pastor Nicolai responded, I am one of those boys.

Underground Church

Bulgaria was under communist control until shortly after the Berlin wall came tumbling down. Until then, the evangelical church in Bulgaria had to operate underground. Pavel, whom I mentioned in the last post, was a pastor during that time and had oversight of a number of these "illegal" churches. As a key leader he paid a price. Not only was he thrown into prison, but he and his wife had to send their daughter off to be raised by friends. They had to -- the communists would have abducted her and used her as leverage to silence Pavel.

Pavel's great grandfather was led to Christ by a missionary known as Dr. Long. Pavel's father was also saved and became a pastor. Pavel hopes to see his son assume the leadership of his church -- age is becoming a factor. Missionary Long died many, many years ago, yet he still has a voice and influence on the spiritual present and future of Bulgaria. As the apostle Paul said, The one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.

Does a legacy like that cause you to wonder how Dr. Long had to battle the urge to give up as time-after-time the seed of the Word he cast fell on bad soil?

According to the testimony of the believers who live in Bulgaria, the soil there is once again becoming like stone, and the church is weak -- the petrification and decline began when communism fell, and following Christ no longer came with a cost.

I was asked to pray that Bulgaria would once again be brought to her knees . . .