Thursday, February 27, 2014

Wild-Eyed and Squint-Eyed

My favorite book in the Bible is the book of Acts. I don't know how anyone could possibly make any sense out of the epistles--that build upon the Jesus' teaching--without a solid grasp of the book of Acts that connects them. But if I were to pick one particular chapter of the Scriptures as my favorite, I believe it would be Luke 15, which tells the story of the Prodigal Son. I can't make sense of the gospel or Christianity without it.

As clear as the sun on a cloudless Georgia day, I have seen the struggle of others and myself as we vacillate like we are spiritually bi-polar, from being like the wild-eyed Prodigal, or being like the squint-eyed Elder brother. Yes, I have clearly seen it in myself and others...

After finishing my rounds today I returned home, scanned through my bookshelf, and picked up The Prodigal God, by Tim Keller. In 2010, the book was given to me, along with a beautiful personal note, as a gift by my friend Charles Mitchell. Once I started reading I kept reading it through to the last page.

Perhaps, like me, you have read the story of the prodigal many, many, times. Perhaps, like me, God has met you there in the story, yet, you feel like there is more to the story than meets the eye. Let me leave you with this quote from Keller's book, and an encouragement to read it.

… I believe… that if the teachings of Jesus is likened to a lake, this famous Parable of the Prodigal Son would be one of the clearest spots where we can see all the way to the bottom. Many excellent studies have been written on this Biblical text over the last sever years, but the foundation for my understanding of it was a sermon I first heard preach over thirty years ago by Dr. Edmund P. Clowney. Listening to that sermon changed the way I understood Christianity. Over the years I have often returned to teach and counsel from the parable. I have seen more people encouraged, enlightened, and helped by this passage, when I explained the true meaning of it, than by another text. 
~ Tim Keller


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Amazon

Hi-lighted are some of the villages we will be serving
A few weeks ago a friend asked me if I would join him and others in an on-going mission work on the Amazon River in Peru. Since 2007, Rick, Royce, and a number of teams from around the U.S. have assisted Peruvians as they share the gospel among their people and establish churches in the Amazon basin. In May, we will be floating down a stretch of that four-thousand mile long river, that begins as streams flowing from the Andes mountains, and carries 25% of the world's fresh water to the ocean. Like a giant anaconda, it twists and turns its way through Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. During the rainy season it can swell to one hundred and twenty miles in width. Schools of flesh eating Piranha patrol its murky waters.

Along the Napo River, that arcs in an imperfect, undulating half-moon along the western side of the Amazon, we will pitch tents and sleep. During the day we will provide basic biblical training for the indigenous pastors who labor there. Not one ounce of desire is in the lot of us to press them into the Western mold of "doing" church and ministry. God's work will arise out of the "good hearts" of Peru's native soil. Our desire, at the Peruvians request, is to help them gain a workable and applicable understanding of sharing the gospel and building up the saints and advancing the Kingdom. All the pastors we will work with are bi-vocational. None of them have had any kind of formal training whatsoever.

Thank God, the gospel is not bound to one culture or people group. Needless to say, I am absolutely thrilled with this opportunity, and greatly humbled by the responsibility that such a privilege as this is mine. According to the Revelation, one day, hosts of people from every kindred, tribe, and tongue will stand before God, redeemed by the grace of God found in Christ Jesus. Until that day, I want to be hands-on involved toward that end.

To whom much is given--much is required.




Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Getting To The Point

It happens every time. Whenever I teach or preach, or even engage in a conversation about the eternal for more than five minutes, my mind/spirit continues to turn-over such conversations for hours. That's not a complaint--it's a praise.

Tonight is no exception. Our community/bible study ended around eight-thirty, but the talking points and responses of those within our community continue to speak hours later as I sit in the silence of our den. Twenty of us are exploring what it means to "love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength. The honesty, transparency, and urgency of our adventure reveals that we are loving each other as ourselves--we are getting the point of the Greatest of the Commandments. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

I Am Awake…So is God

Indeed, he [God] who watches over you will not slumber or sleep. ~ Psalm 121:4

I am extremely tired, feel like I need to sleep, but I can't. Yet, I know God is awake with me. No miracles, voices, or epiphanies. Just a secure awareness that as I feebly and sporadically turn my thoughts toward him, his thoughts are perfectly and graciously turned toward me. He is watching over me...

Friday, February 21, 2014

Dark night-Bright Light

You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is required. The stars neither require it nor demand it. ~ Annie Dillard

I am the light of the world. ~ Jesus

We can not look on the full light of God's glory. At the present it is dimmed--like looking through a stained glass window. But neither can we see the light at all without first looking into our darkness. We have to make the choice to face it. Coming to grips with the darkness that is within us is necessary if we are going to see the Light.

 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

How Could We...

Most of us wait to do something wrong until no one is watching, and we wait to do something right until someone is watching. That's not human nature. That is our sin nature. It's our unsanctified desire for self-glorification. This will seem counter intuitive, but you don't really care for people until you don't care what they think. Until you've been crucified to their opinion of you, you can't really help them the way you should. You have to die to them.  ~ Mark Batterson

Most us live with a sense that there is much in our lives to improve and we set about to do so. That is a good thing. But like the ad campaign of a slick politician we can also try to leak carefully crafted images of ourselves to friends, families, and Facebook that are not who we really are.

Until our full redemption takes place, we will all battle our neediness of others applaud. That's a given. But we can grandstand in such a way as to convince onlookers we are someone we are not. Drivenness, toward self-glorification, is a terrible cross to bear. An unrelenting reverse-crucifixion that never succumbs to death. Never experiences resurrection into a genuine life. Thank God it's not the cross we are called to carry. The sooner we make the decision to remove the hands and feet of our impaled souls from that cross--the cross of self-glorification--the better.

Can we really help anyone else when pretending to be someone else? Can we possibly adopt God's agenda when we are drafting our own? Can we singularly live for an audience of One while fawning for the approval of many?









Sunday, February 16, 2014

Peter...

Peter is from Beijing, China. Population twenty-five million. He is an only child, and extremely bright sixteen year old. His Chinese family name is Lu. He is staying with Sandy and me here at The Shire in Cataula, GA. Population approximately five-thousand. Peter's English is above average and he loves our country. Being the go-getter he is, Peter is already telling me of his plans to attend a U.S. university, get a solid career underway, and buy a house--just like ours.

Last night, the three of us watched the movie Gravity. Peter was extremely pleased and impressed that the Chinese space station was woven into the story plot. This morning, he attended church for only the second time in his young life. Until his arrival in our country he had only been to a Buddhist temple. I was the speaker and he was attentive to the message. The folks of Oakland Baptist Church gave Peter a warm welcome and made it a point to introduce themselves.

God showed up, too. A dear lady came forward during the invitation and asked to be anointed with oil and prayed over. She has been battling cancer for ten years. Peter witnessed a community of Believers gather around a warrior princess and share the grief and burden of a bad report from her latest diagnosis.

After the service we went to a little hole-in-the-wall southern diner. One of the church members saw us there and picked up the tab. Humbling.

This afternoon, we enjoyed a stunning Georgia winter day outdoors doing yard work. Peter asked if we could build a fire in the pit and he did a great job of layering the kindling and preparing everything for ignition. I gave him the honors. In no time, he had a leaping, dancing blaze that cracked and consumed much of the debris we collected off the lawn that wind, ice, and snow had stripped from the sprawling oaks, sweet gums, and pine trees. It was also a joy to watch him roam the perimeter of the pond and property with his head tilted back, gazing awestruck at the cloudless blue skies, and the unfiltered sun that warmed our skin and allowed us to wear short-sleeved shirts. Later this week, we will get him on the four-wheeler… he can't wait!

All-in-all, Peter is an outstanding young man with only one major character flaw… He likes to watch Downton Abbey. 

As he and Sandy watch and giggle at the dialogue… I write.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Crossing Cultures

When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He ask is disciples, saying, "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am? So they said, Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others John the Baptist, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." ~ Matthew 16: 13-14

My Chinese Brother, Liu Sen
Translation app gaffs!

Jesus and his disciples are twenty-five to thirty miles away from their homeland whose social fabric was  heavily influenced by Judaism. Fact is, Caesarea Philippi was an extremely pagan region. Jesus and the boys had crossed into a culture very different from home. It is in this setting that Jesus asked his disciples who the people of this culture reported him to be. Word, rumor, and impressions had arrived ahead of them that cast Jesus with the persona of some of Israel's most prolific, big personality, prophets. Jesus was much more than a wild man prophet like John the Baptist, a wonder working prophet like Elijah, or a weeping prophet like Jeremiah.

Over the past few years I have had the privilege of sharing time and space in many different cultures. To some degree--before I had been immersed among those people groups--I had preconceived ideas as to who they were and what they were like. Often, like the inhabitants of Caesarea Philippi in regards to their perception of who Jesus was, my perspectives had been shaped by a mixture of inaccurate as well as incomplete information. Upon entering each others world, getting to know each other personally, laughing together, striving to communicate, and living life together, we have come to see one another very differently. Exposure has radically changed presuppositions in both directions.

Jesus followed up his first question with a second one. Speaking directly to his disciples he asked: "But who do you say that I am?" Would it help us if we asked ourselves how our opinions of Christ were formed?