Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Read through the Bible

Tomorrow the page turns and a new year begins. Happy New Year!

I want to invite you to read through the entire bible—from Genesis to Revelation—in 2014! How about that for a hefty challenge?

Someone has observed that there are three stages of Bible reading that many students of the Bible pass through. The first is the “cod-liver” oil stage where they treat the reading of the Bible like taking medicine. Although it tastes terrible, they swallow it anyway because they know it is good for them. The second phase has been called the “shredded-wheat biscuit” stage, dry but nourishing. And the third is the “peaches-and-cream” category, where reading and studying the Bible is eagerly anticipated and sincerely enjoyed.”

Speaking from experience,  I have been through all three stages. I just finished reading through the bible on December 28th and I did experience the “peaches-and-cream” stage.

Why should you read through all of Scripture?  God did not give us a comic book. But precisely because the Bible is so challenging, it's satisfying. God treats us like adults.

Why read through the bible? Let’s face it, there’s much about our culture that leaves us feeling deeply trivialized: our indulgence with video games; mind numbing TV; addictions to Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.

Instead of engaging in social media, engage Scripture. Scripture gets us reading and thinking and studying and discussing and going deeper than we've ever gone before, deeper than we've ever dreamed of going.

So let me suggest three methods for getting through Scripture in 2014:
1. Use a bible reading guide. Click here for many fine reading guides from Ligonier Ministries.
2. For the last four years I use a reading plan called Youversion. You will need to sign up. But the advantage is you can access your reading plan from your phone or computer.
3. Read the old fashioned way. Simply pick up your bible and read it 20 minutes per day.
Thank God for the Bible. Difficult to read, but not impossible. If you decide to accept the challenge for 2014, let me know.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Tomato Effect

In reading through the book, Healthy Congregations, I came across an interesting phenomenon called the tomato effect that I want to share with you. This is what the author says:

Even if evidence steers us in the face that something is needed or effective, we may reject it. If it does not fit our ideas or if we do not want to change course, we can deny, neglect, or trivialize the evidence. Information always has an emotional side to it. The phenomenon has been called "tomato effect."

The tomato was discovered by the Europeans in the New World. Explorers brought it to Spain and from there it spread quickly to Italy and France. The Italians called it pomodoro; the French ascribe aphrodisiac properties to the tomato, pomme d'amour. By the end of the 16th century, the tomato had become a regular ingredient in European meals.

Strangely, the South American fruit transformed European cuisine but had minimal acceptance in North America. Belonging to the nightshade family of plants, some of which are poisonous, the tomato was not grown in North America. Cultivating tomatoes was cultivating death. Despite the fact the Italians and French were harvesting and in and ingesting tomatoes in larger and larger quantities, the belief persisted that tomatoes induced death.

Harvard business professor Theodore Levitt wrote a classic article on the tomato effect he focused on the demise of the railroad industry in America. At the turn-of-the-century, railroads did not cease growing because people and freight no longer needed transportation. According to Levitt, the railroads declined because they believed they were in the railroad business, not the transportation business. Alternative means of transportation developed. Railroads stayed mired in their narrow view. They confused means-railroad with ends-transportation.

In contrast to the story of the railroads is the genius of the Stanley Tool  Company. They train their sales people not to sell electric drills but to sell holes. Stanley is in the  hole business. They keep a purpose, a goal, or an end in view. The means are simply ways to get there, not the ends in themselves.

How many congregations believe they are in the we exist for ourselves business rather than the we are in business to the community, even the world business? How many congregations confuse the way we have done things for decades with the larger apostolic purposes? How many congregations mistake the means for the ends? Something to think about! (Healthy Congregations by Peter L. Steinke)

Friday, September 27, 2013

An inspiring quote

The Scottish preacher Alexander MacLaren (1826-1910) once observed: 

No unwelcome tasks become any the less unwelcome by putting them off till tomorrow. It is only when they are behind us and done, that we begin to find that there is a sweetness to be tasted afterwards, and that the remembrance of unwelcome duties unhesitatingly done is welcome and pleasant. Accomplished, they are full of blessing, and there is a smile on their faces as they leave us. Undone, they stand threatening and disturbing our tranquility, and hindering our communion with God. If there be lying before you any bit of work from which you shrink, go straight up to it, and do it at once. The only way to get rid of it is to do it.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Habit Forming

Some of you may remember the very popular book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by
Stephen Covey.

Habit number seven is called Sharpen the Saw. This final habit deals with continuous improvement in both the personal and interpersonal spheres of influence.

Covey writes, balance and renew your resources, energy, and health to create a sustainable, long-term, effective lifestyle. It primarily emphasizes exercise for physical renewal, prayer (meditation,fasting etc.) and good reading for mental renewal. It also mentions service to society for spiritual renewal.
In my trek through the bible this year I read about Ezra’s habits. For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the Lord, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel. Ezra 7:6

Notice the makeup of his habits...he set his heart (commitment), he studied God’s word (strong devotional life), he did what God’s word encouraged of him (obedience) and he taught others (service).

Commitment, a strong devotional life, obedience to God and service to others; these are life building habits that make for an effective and dynamic life with God.

The sum total of our life is predicated on habits. “Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny”

Saturday, September 21, 2013

A song for revival

Back in the late 70's, early 80's, I heard this song and it touched me in a deep way. Keith Green, in my estimation, was one of the greatest Christian song writers in this country. Sadly, his life was cut short, by the will of God. I have included the words at the end. Friends, if your relationship with Jesus is cold, please listen and allow the Lord to renew you with the wine of his love!

My Eyes Are Dry -music by Keith Green

My eyes are dry, my faith is old,
My heart is hard, my prayers are cold,
And I know how I ought to be,
Alive to you, and dead to me.
Oh what can be done, for an old heart like mine,
Soften it up, with oil and wine.
The oil is You, Your Spirit of love,
Please wash me anew, in the wine of Your blood.
My eyes are dry, my faith is old,
My heart is hard, my prayers are cold,
And I know how I ought to be,
Alive to you, and dead to me.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Pride and Humility

God has some striking things to say about pride and humility throughout the Scriptures. He says he is opposed to the proud and far from the proud, and he says the poor in spirit will be blessed. Antony of Egypt frames the issue in an unexpected way. How does this quote strike you? Does it ring true?
“I saw all the devil’s traps set upon the earth, and I groaned and said: ‘Who do you think can pass through them?’ And I heard a voice saying: ‘Humility.’”
—Antony of Egypt

Thursday, May 23, 2013

How strong are you?

A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls. (Proverbs 25:28 ESV)

Today's Scripture is an example of common sense wisdom. In this saying, lack of control over emotions is said to leave a person defenseless and unprotected. The Revised Standard reverses the Hebrew order of lines in this verse.

The person without self-control: This line is literally “a man who has no restraint over his ruach or his spirit.” Ruach is also used in Proverbs 14:29, where RSV and Today's English Version translate it “temper.” In this verse TEV has “anger.” We may translate this line, for example, “A person who cannot control his anger.…” In some languages this is expressed, for example, “If you cannot make your hot liver cool off …” or “If a person can’t hold his hot insides.…” Is like a city broken into and left without walls: Broken into gives a picture of an attacking army making a breach or opening in the wall or defenses of a city.

As a result, that part of the city is left without a protecting wall. the Common English Version translates “Losing self-control leaves you as helpless as a city without a wall.” In areas where a walled city is unknown, we may say, for example, “… as a city with nothing to protect it.”

I love the description of Jesus before Pilate: And the chief priests accused him of many things. And Pilate again asked him, "Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you." But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate was amazed. (Mark 15:3-5 ESV)

I know I have a long way to go. How about you?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

How to behave when God speaks

When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes. 2 Kings 22:11

Words are powerful. Think about the time you heard someone say to you, "I love you!"
Or the time when someone said belittling, scornful, and hate-filled words to you. How did those words make you feel?

Someone said that a word is like a living organism, capable of growing, changing, spreading, and influencing the world in many ways, directly and indirectly through others. 

Today's short text is graphic. A powerful king, undoubtedly surrounded by guards, personal assistants, wealth and seclusion is unable to shield himself from the searching, probing, and powerful word of God. 

What did he hear? He heard God's displeasure over the callous sins of his nation and he heard God's plan to punish his nation. 

He tore his expensive robe out of sorrow, fear, and as an act of repentance. Like a search light, God's word exposed the hidden and public sins of the king and the people of Judah.

Personal and national revival started because of the power of God's word (Read 2 Kings 22-23 for details).

In churches throughout North America, God's word is opened and read week after week. How should we behave when we hear the word of God in church this weekend or in our personal time with God?

Revere: Do I give more attention to the words of a famous athlete or entertainer? Do I remind myself that I am in the presence of Almighty God? 

Prepare: Am I distracted? Have I weaned my soul from all the people places and things that divide my attention? Do I sit humbly and openly, asking God to speak to me?

Repair: What is broken in my life? What sin do I need to repent of? What is misaligned in my life and displeasing to God?

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable (Hebrews 4:12-13 NLT).

Why are we so unresponsive to God's word?

Monday, April 8, 2013

The answer to religious multi-tasking

They worshiped the Lord but also served their own gods (2 Kings 17:33).

The problem
Dual allegiance. Torn between two lovers. Spiritual adultery. Syncretism. Serving two masters. These are some of the phrases that come to mind when I read this verse.

This is an untenable, unworkable situation. Jesus said, No one can serve two masters, either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other (Matthew 6:24).

By the way, this is the source of many problems in marriage. The man or the woman is unable to live with deep commitment for the other.

This is why young adults fail to launch their lives: they have many options but through fear, or confusion cannot make the hard decision for a certain path in life.

The solution
So what is to be done? Make a choice. Decide.

In the words of Elijah: Stop faltering between two opinions. If God is God serve him and if baal is God then follow him (I Kings 18:21). But no room here for religious multitasking or chic inter-faith religious dabbling.

The Hebrew word for opinion speaks of branches or forks in a tree limb or a road.

The words "falter" or "waver" mean "to limp, to halt, to hop, to dance, or to leap."

So the question quite literally is something like this: How long will you keep dancing on one foot and then on the other while trying to straddle a widening branch or to take both forks of a road at the same time? You can't do it. It is yet again one of those moments of truth in the Bible where indecision is not only challenged but condemned.

So a choice must be made. And the only choice available is this: be careful to do what the LORD your God has commanded you; do not turn aside to the right or to the left (Deuteronomy 5:32).

Example of Jesus
Over two thousand years ago Christ demonstrated for all the power of a single choice. He prayed, not my will, but your will be done (Luke 22:42).

He went to the cross, willingly gave up his life in love for a lost world. Only through the power of Christ’s righteous life do we ever have the hope of praying like Jesus, Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).

Yesterday was Sunday. Both services were well attended. On the one hand this is great. But what kind of worshipers are we on Monday through Saturday?

Do we still worship God. Or is it God plus...?

Any responses to this?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

The party goes on.

Here are five post-resurrection practices for those who follow Jesus.

Last Sunday’s worship services felt like a big party, a celebration.  We had great attendance, uplifting music, and what felt like a family reunion with people we hadn’t seen in awhile.
But is the party over? Easter Sunday is gone and so we go back to business as usual until Easter Sunday, 2014? I hope not.

Post –resurrection accounts in the gospels, show Jesus appearing in various places and at odd times, with small and large groups of people. Jesus didn’t want his followers to have a letdown.

Luke puts it this way, after his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over the course of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).

Paul, to the Corinthian Church: Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me (I Corinthians 15: 6-8).

First century and twenty first century disciples face the temptation of going back to business as usual. Now that Easter is past we are tempted to go back and fish, surf the internet, make money, live with fear, hate and anger; think about number one, huddle in rooms and reminisce about the past and attend church next on Christmas Eve.

But the resurrection of Jesus is a game changer. A shift. A new reality. The party does not stop. We are a resurrection people. The first day of every week is an opportunity to renew ourselves in the presence of our living, reigning Lord Jesus Christ.

Here are a few ways to refresh ourselves in Christ:
Prayer: Jesus is alive so we live with a new dimension of spiritual strength and courage.
Reconciliation: Jesus is alive. We deal with our conflicts with deeper levels of love, patience and hope.
Jesus First: Christ reigns. He is king. What he wants for our lives is more important than what we want. He tells us what to do and we obey.
Mission: As resurrection people we have kingdom work to do. Heal the sick, feed the poor, share the gospel with lost people, and actively engage the powers of darkness.
Worship: Through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, Christ is with us on Sundays but through every moment of every day. Worship is more than what we do at 9am and 11:15. I am worshiping Christ as I write these words at 5:00am in my study!
The same joy that filled us up last weekend is available this weekend. With delight and desire, come celebrate the Lord’s Supper this Sunday. Jesus is alive!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Generosity according to Stephen King

Stephen King is the author of 49 suspense and horror novels that have sold over 350 million copies. Some of his novels have been made into blockbuster movies like The Shining, Fire Starter, and Shawshank Redemption.

He’s a raging Boston Red Sox fan, so the Red Sox always appear somewhere in his novels.

Do you know he’s a guitar player in a mediocre rock ‘n roll band made up of other famous authors? 

Do you know that he’s a recovering alcoholic?

Do you know that he almost lost his life a few years ago? He was walking along a country road in Maine, and a van hit him and knocked him into a ditch. His legs were so crushed the doctors considered amputating them. But he managed to pull through. Did you know that he’s an outspoken advocate of generosity? This caught my attention, and I couldn’t believe it: Stephen King, the horror novelist, advocates generosity?

I came across it reading excerpts from a speech he gave to the graduates of Vassar College. It was a commencement address shortly after his accident and recovery. He said,
I found out what “you can’t take it with you” means. I found out while I was lying in the ditch at the side of a country road covered with mud and blood and with the tibia of my right leg poking out the side of my jeans, like a branch of a tree taken down in a thunderstorm. I had a Master Card in my wallet, but when you’re lying in a ditch with broken glass in your hair no one accepts Mastercard.
We all know that life is ephemeral, but on that particular day and in the months that followed, I got a painful but extremely valuable look at life’s simple backstage truths.
We come in naked and broke. We may be dressed up when we go out, but we’re just as broke. Warren Buffett is going to go out broke. Bill Gates is going out broke. Tom Hanks is going out broke. Steve King, broke, not a crying dime. All the money you earn, all the stocks you buy, all the mutual funds you trade, all of that is mostly smoke and mirrors. So I want you to consider making your life one long gift to others. And why not? All you have is on loan anyway. All that lasts is what you pass on. We have the power to help, the power to change. And why should we refuse? Because we’re going to take it with us? Oh, please.
Right now we have the power to do great good for others. So I ask you to begin giving and to continue as you began. I think you’ll find in the end that you got far more than you ever had and did more good than you ever dreamed.

Friday, February 22, 2013

What happened to sin?

“To admit to being no more and no less than an ordinary sinner is not comforting, it does not shine with the glamour of despondency; above all, it does nothing to foster my self-esteem.  It is easiest to reject the whole concept as negative and old-fashioned.

I am a sinner, and the Presbyterian Church offers me a weekly chance to come clean, and to pray, along with others, what is termed a prayer of confession.  But pastors can be so reluctant to use the word ‘sin’ that in church we end up confessing nothing except our highly developed capacity for denial.  

One week, for example, the confession began, ‘Our communication with Jesus tends to be too infrequent to experience the transformation in our lives You want us to have,’ which seems less a prayer than a memo from one professional to another.  At times, I picture God as a wily writing teacher who leans across a table and says, not at all gently, ‘Could you possibly be troubled to say what you mean?’  It would be refreshing to answer, simply, ‘I have sinned.’

Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith (New York: Riverhead Books, 1998, p.165) 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

What to look for in a church

Beauty and the Beast. This is how I would describe this section of Christine Pohl’s book: Living into Community.The church is magnificent when the people of God live life the way God intends; but how ugly we become when God's people are deformed by unchristian ways of behaving. If I were church shopping (something I do not advocate) I would look for these behaviors to help me find a church home. 
4 godly practices 
In families, communities, and congregations that are vibrant and sturdy, we notice certain patterns in relationships. We see folks making and keeping promises, living and speaking truthfully, expressing gratitude, and offering hospitality. Some aspect of each of these practices is evident in almost every group of people whose connections or interactions with one another are more than temporary.
Strengthening these practices won't necessarily mark us as unusual or exemplary. Unless circumstances make a particular practice very costly to us, these practices are the ordinary, taken-for-granted dynamics of good relationships. We don't usually make a big deal over keeping a promise or telling the truth unless there's a problem associated with it.
In general, practices are most powerful when they are not noticed, when they are simply an expression of who we are and what we do, a way of being in the world and relating to one another that seems "natural." But, for a variety of reasons, we can no longer assume that these practices are affirmed consistently in the wider society, nor can we assume that Christians always recognize their importance.
Each of the practices is important to the biblical story and to expectations about the ways in which the people of God should live. Each is also at the heart of God's character and activity: we worship a God who is faithful and true, gracious and welcoming. Theologians and philosophers have often written about the importance of promise-keeping, truth-telling, gratitude, and hospitality, though rarely in terms of their roles in sustaining community.
The glue that binds 
These four practices do not address every aspect of community life, but they do hold together and intersect in surprising ways. If we consider one particular practice, the necessity of other practices becomes apparent very quickly. When communities offer hospitality to strangers, they soon discover the importance of truthfulness, gratitude, and fidelity. Speaking truthfully is difficult and often risky in the absence of commitment or fidelity to one another. Gratitude without truthfulness looks a lot like a manipulative form of flattery.
Practices that harm community
Certain attitudes and actions shatter community life rather than sustain it, and make life together unhappy and sometimes dangerous. When we engage in betrayal, deception, grumbling, envy, or exclusion, we violate connections between us. While we might describe these as practices, they are better understood as deformations of one of the four practices. For example, betrayal depends on and perverts a larger commitment to promising, just as deception and lying are parasitic on some notion of truthfulness.
In addition to the damage they do to relationships, these deformations also affect our capacity to engage in other practices well. Small deceptions and habitual grumbling make the practice of hospitality troublesome for hosts and guests. Even something as ordinary as complaining can become a way of life that eats away at the bonds that hold a community together. Deformations threaten to undermine every practice and every community.
Christine D. Pohl. Living into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us

Monday, February 18, 2013

Why I believe in the church and why you should too

The best testimony to the truth of the gospel is the quality of our life together. Jesus risked his reputation and the credibility of his story by tying them to how his followers live and care for one another in community (John 17:20-23).
If we could cut through our complacency or despair, we might be shocked at what is really at stake here. The character of our shared life - as congregations, communities, and families - has the power to draw people to the kingdom or to push them away. How we live together is the most persuasive sermon we'll ever get to preach.
The beauty of loving communities does not replace the importance of the verbal proclamation of the gospel, but Jesus explicitly linked the truth of his life and message to our life together. The Word who became flesh and lived among us - full of grace and truth - expects that our relationships with one another will also be characterized by grace and truth. And so, for two thousand years, Jesus' followers have been forming communities built and sustained by love, though often also fractured by sin and corruption.
The desire to be part of communities that are vibrant, caring, and faithful keeps us working at the task of building and repairing congregations. When folks enjoy being together, share celebrations, and walk through hard times with grace and love, the beauty of their shared life is deeply compelling. Human beings were made for living in community, and it is in community that we flourish and become most fully human.
Unfortunately, experiences of moral failure, group meltdowns, personal pettiness, and partisan harshness in congregations and communities make us wonder if our efforts in building community are worth the trouble. We often invest great hope in our Christian communities, and when there are serious ruptures, it feels as if part of the kingdom has been trampled.
How is it that people who want closer relationships and deeper experiences of shared life sometimes find themselves in terribly difficult situations - sorting out betrayals, broken commitments, and creeping cynicism?[i]

[i]Christine D. Pohl. Living into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us

Sunday, February 17, 2013

We all need this!

The word "courage" has somewhat of an identity crisis today. Some think of courage as the absence of fear. Actually, courage is persevering in spite of fear. Some of the most courageous men and women have prevailed in spite of weakness, sickness, and persecution. 

After two millennia, the beautiful Jewish woman Esther is still remembered for courageously stepping forward to preserve the Jewish nation. When alerted to Haman's evil plan to annihilate the Jews, Esther asked her cousin Mordecai to mobilize the prayer team as she endangered her life to approach the king without his summons. In Esther's moment of crisis, she wisely spent three days in prayer and fasting--before making her request to the king (Esther 4: 13-16).
If you're experiencing a situation where you need courage to make a decision, don't rush ahead. The more crucial the decision or project, the more critical the groundwork. Make preparation through prayer, asking others to support you. It is then that God will reinforce your courage and give you strength to proceed.
Cowardice asks the question: "Is it safe?" Consensus asks the question: "Is it popular?" Courage asks the question: "Is it right?" Rod Rogers

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Thomas à Kempis and fasting

Jesus has many who love his kingdom in heaven, but few who bear his cross. He has many who desire comfort, but few who desire suffering. He finds many to share his feast, but few his fasting. All desire to rejoice with him, but few are willing to suffer for his sake. Many follow Jesus to the breaking of bread, but few to the drinking of the cup of his passion. Many admire his miracles, but few follow him in the humiliation of the cross.
Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

Friday, February 15, 2013

Unoticed by others but known by God

The following story reminds me of a beautiful text from Hebrews 6:10: For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do.

There’s a well‐known story of a missionary couple who after decades of faithful service overseas, were returning back to the States.

They happened to be on the same ship to New York as President Theodore Roosevelt, who was returning from a big game hunt in Africa. As the ship pulled into the dock, huge crowds, the press, and a brass band were gathered to welcome him home. 

The old missionary couple, health broken and spent in their service for Christ, walked off the ship and through the crowd, unmet and unknown. As they walked, a tear trickled down the husband’s cheek.

“What’s wrong?” his wife asked.

“My whole life I’ve given to serving Christ. We’ve spent ourselves for Jesus and nobody is here to greet us on our return home. 

His dear wife thought for a minute and said softly, "That's because we're not home yet, dear."[1]

[1] From sermon Fasting as Missions by Dr. Michael Oh

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Coca-Cola for every person in the world

Several years ago, CocaCola shared their wellpublicized goal to place "a Coke in the hand of every person on the earth by the year 2000." It created quite a bit of stir.

Their most recent business plan has the goal of having a cold Coke within one mile of every person on earth by the year 2020.”

These are quite bold and ambitious plans – but I’d say don’t count them out.

 Coca Cola has changed the world in many ways. They are a more globally recognized product and icon than I dare say Christianity.

The yearly revenue is $29 billion; they have $43 billion in assets. They have more than 90,000 employees around the world.

So is the church then a small little kid who should be intimidated by this big bully drinking a coke?

 No the church is the big bully that is intimidated by the little kid drinking a coke.

American Evangelical Christians earn more than $2.5 trillion per year. Almost 100 times more than Cocacola.

US Evangelical’s hold upwards of $5 trillion in assets and that’s NOT including the value of their homes!

80% of the world’s evangelical wealth is in North America!!!

Oh GOD help us to be good stewards of such WEALTH!!![1]


[1] From sermon: Fasting as Missions by Dr. Michael Oh

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Shaped by love

Shane Claiborne, who spent a summer in the slums of Calcutta with Mother Teresa, wrote the following about one of his experiences there:

People often ask me what Mother Teresa was like. Sometimes it's like they wonder if she glowed in the dark or had a halo. She was short, wrinkled, and precious, maybe even a little ornery—like a beautiful, wise old granny. But there is one thing I will never forget—her feet. Her feet were deformed. Each morning in Mass, I would stare at them. I wondered if she had contracted leprosy. But I wasn't going to ask, of course. "Hey Mother, what's wrong with your feet?"

One day a sister said to us, "Have you noticed her feet?" We nodded, curious. She said: "Her feet are deformed because we get just enough donated shoes for everyone, and Mother does not want anyone to get stuck with the worst pair, so she digs through and finds them. And years of doing that have deformed her feet." Years of loving her neighbor as herself deformed her feet.

This is the kind of fasting that creates the divine longing for justice, where our feet become deformed by a love that places our neighbors above ourselves.

Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution (Zondervan, 2006), p.167-168;

Friday, February 8, 2013

The integrity gap in the American Church

Reading this quote highlights the gap faced by the church in America between what is desired and professed and what is finally done!
Most Christians belong to churches that teach tithing—the giving of 10 percent of one’s income. Most American Christians also profess to want to see the gospel preached in the world, the hungry fed, the church strengthened, and the poor raised to enjoy lives of dignity and hope—all tasks that normally require money.
And yet, despite all of this, American Christians give away relatively little money to religious and other purposes. A sizeable number of Christians give no money, literally nothing. Most of the rest of American Christians give little sums of money. Only a small percent of American Christians give money generously, in proportion to what their churches call them to give. All of the evidence, we will see, points to the same conclusion: when it comes to sharing their money, most contemporary American Christians are remarkably ungenerous.
Smith, Christian; Snell, Patricia; Emerson, Michael O (2008-09-29). Passing the Plate:Why American Christians Don't Give Away More Money. Oxford University Press.

Why do you think the church is so ungenerous?


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Taking Families for Prison Visits

Have you ever wondered about ways to put your faith into action--action that makes a difference in the world? Well, I am happy to share the following story written by Sonia Evanstad, a longtime member of First Pres. and committed follower of Jesus. Her story of Prison Ministry gives us a way to put our faith into action. Be sure to take action when you reach the end of her note
Since the mid '90s our Prison Ministry has been transporting families to visit loved ones in prison. In the beginning, church members picked up family members and drove them to the prisons and then back home.
Today we use the church bus. Prison Ministry bus drivers are licensed as commercial drivers as are all members who drive the church bus. Our ministry is a collaboration with Lutheran Social Services of Illinois  (LSSI) which maintains a ministry with women in prison and their families.
As prison policy changes, so does our mission. For a number of years we went every other month to the Federal prison at Pekin (and in the off months to the Illinois prison at Dwight). Then women at Pekin were moved to two prisons downstate, well out of range for a day's journey. We now are going once a month to Dwight; but those trips are likely numbered. The state plans to close that facility and may move women incarcerated there to the prison at Lincoln. Though this is farther away than Dwight, Prison Ministry hopes to continue serving families by taking them to Lincoln.
You may wonder what a trip on the church bus to one of the prisons is like. Ahead of time LSSI informs families of the availability of the First Pres bus to take them to visit their relatives. LSSI then provides us with of list of family members we will take. On the day of the trip, someone from the agency is available by phone to check should a family not show up or, occasionally, to OK our taking a family that shows up but is not on the list. 
We take donuts and children's books and a volunteer distributes these and good cheer to all passengers. The trip begins in the church lot. We head via the Edens/Kennedy/Dan Ryan expressways to the shopping center at 87th St. and the Dan Ryan, where we meet the families. After loading, we head for whichever prison is scheduled. We drop off the families, making certain it is possible for them to see their relatives that day (and, occasionally, it is not). Then we do two things while the families visit: find a spot for lunch and head for the local library—a great place to nap, browse, knit, and read. After the visiting time, we pickup families and head back to 87th and the Dan Ryan where we drop folks off and head back to Evanston.
In all, it's a tender experience. Through the years bus drivers and volunteers have become acquainted with regular riders and have been privileged to celebrate with them their last trip to visit a loved one soon to be released. Our knitting group celebrated one such occasion, presenting the woman with a prayer shawl, sending her love from all of us at First Pres. 
The next trip is to Dwight on March 23. It's an opportunity to act in remembrance of the words of Our Lord—do this to the least of mine and you do this also to me. If you think God might be calling you to this ministry, contact Peter Steffen atpeter.steffen@aon.com or (312) 961-4176.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

3 ways to deal with unethical leadership

And the men of David said to him, "Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, "Behold, I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it shall seem good to you." Then David arose and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul's robe. And afterward David's heart struck him, because he had cut off a corner of Saul's robe. He said to his men, "The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord's anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord's anointed."I Samuel 24:1-6

This is one of the more counter-cultural scenes in Scripture. Saul is doing everything in his power to destroy David.

For David, King Saul represents the ultimate enemy and he literally runs for his life in order to survive. One day, David catches Saul in a vulnerable state. Saul enters the very cave where David and his renegade band of soldiers are hiding.

The men encourage David to seize the moment; kill Saul; do to him exactly what he is trying to do you. Kill him and be done with him and your life will be better.

David, being one hundred percent human, succumbs to their kill or be killed advice. He sneaks up on his enemy, but instead of killing him, pulls out his knife and cuts away a portion of his clothing. David would later use this as evidence that even though he had King Saul in his hand, he did not kill him.

Strangely, David takes no pleasure in what he did. He had violated an unwritten code of conduct regarding honoring and respecting leadership.

Deep in his heart David knew he had done wrong. Saul was not a good leader. He was deeply unethical, insecure, petty, emotionally immature, and for the most part ineffective, all that's true, but David knew that Saul was still God's appointed leader; and this alone demands respect for God’s leader. Respect for the person, respect for his office and by respecting Saul, David was honoring God.

Notice what he said, God forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord's anointed.

I don't know the challenges you are facing at work, in your home or in your church. But one thing is certain: in all walks of life we will face good leaders and we will encounter bad leaders.

Working with good, compassionate, visionary, and highly ethical leadership is a joy. That’s easy!

But what about working with people who lack decency, who are out to get you and undermine your work? What about those leaders who make your life and work conditions a living hell? What do you do?

First, I sympathize with you. Working in such conditions is never easy. But the last thing you want is for your attitude and behavior to be shaped by those who hate you.

Jesus said the most counter-cultural thing ever:
"You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy." But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” Matthew 5:43-45

So what do you do when faced with an unethical leader? Here are some godly possibilities:

1. Protect your heart. Don't allow the behavior of this person to transform you and squeeze you into their mold or ways of behaving. Don't allow this person to push your buttons. As Jesus said, let love and compassion push your buttons. The Croatian theologian, Miroslav Volf had this to say: 
To triumph fully, evil needs two victories, not one. The first victory happens when an evil deed is perpetrated; the second victory, when evil is returned. After the first victory, evil would die if the second victory did not infuse it with new life.
 2. Show respect. While you may not respect the person, you are called by the Lord to respect their authority and their position. So if you are given an assignment, the fact that the leader is unethical does not give you the right to ignore their leadership, undermine or otherwise devalue their authority in your life. I know, this is hard. But with Christ, who knew how to submit even to his enemies, all things are possible.

3. Pray for this person. One of the most subversive acts in the face of evil is to actually pray for the evil person. Instead of returning blow for blow, or an eye for an eye, as David's companions urged him, you are granted through the power of prayer and the Spirit, the ability to walk in love even toward this unethical person.

In the end, God will be glorified and the power of the resurrected Christ to supplant evil in the world will be seen.

What other advice would you offer when living and working with unethical people?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

What makes a great church?

That’s a question all Christians should ask themselves. Not just pastors, not just worship leaders, not just the most gifted volunteers, but every Christian. And we need to be asking this question because God has some specific ideas about what it means to be a great church.

Many of us think we go to a great church. After all, nobody ever sets out on a spiritual journey to find the most mediocre, lukewarm church around. No, when most us of describe a great church, a successful church, what we are really talking about is a church that meets our needs.

The church has preaching that makes us feel good or challenges us just a little, but not too much. The music is pleasing to us, meaning the church has drums or doesn’t have drums (depending on which we prefer). The church has a program or two that is right up our alley and makes us feel as if we have a place to serve.

And there is nothing wrong with good preaching, good music, and well-run programs. But these things do not define a successful church. We are on dangerous ground when we seek to define a successful church. We are on dangerous ground when we seek to define the worth of a church by how it meets our felt needs. Instead, we have to start defining success of a church based on God’s criteria.

Then we don’t run the risk of spending every Sunday for the rest of our lives completely missing the heart of God. A great church, a healthy church, is one in which Jesus Christ is found in word and deed. The emphasis here is on the word “and.” A healthy church isn’t just a preaching church. A successful church isn’t simply a hub for social justice. A God-honoring, gospel-loving church is one where the Word of God is the primary motivator for doing the work of God. From: For the City: Proclaiming and Living Out the Gospel.  Zondervan

What do you think? What makes a great church? Share your thoughts!