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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Reciprocal Missiology: What it means to be a missionary, living in community, and engaging in reciprocal relationships.

             I knew that God had brought us to Northwood Church for a purpose.  I didn’t know at the time what that purpose was, but God was moving in our lives and through this Church.  There was a connectedness that I had never felt before amongst a body of believers.  The many different things going on in the Church encouraged me.  It wasn’t chaotic, everyone was harmoniously engaged in their work, using the unique skills that God had gifted them with.  It flowed and moved like a machine with many different parts, all working together to achieve the same goal; to expand God’s kingdom and fulfill the great commission.

            The first time I attended a Church planter’s training, I was introduced to the idea of domains.  I immediately understood what they were talking about when they taught us about the domains of society.  I am a social worker and the idea of domains is interchangeable with Social Systems Theory.  Social Systems Theory is ingrained in every social worker.  It is the foundation on which all social work theories are applied.  It is the holistic approach to addressing issues within a society.  Social Systems Theory is defined as “Any entity comprised of individuals who have functionally interdependent relationships with one another” (Dale, Smith, Norlin, Chess, 2009).  This is not new information.  This is as old as 1st Corinthians 12.  Social workers actually borrowed the definition of Social Systems Theory from the Bible.  Let’s apply some words in the definition to the context of Church.  “Any entity (the Church) comprised of individuals (all believers), who have functionally interdependent (Body of Christ/Unity/Reciprocity) relationships (fellowship) with one another (supportive scriptures: in Acts 2:42-47, 1st Corinthians 12:12-31, and John 14:16-31).

            For several years American society has practiced linear thinking and has taken a compartmentalized approach to problem solving.  We have neatly boxed ideas and have exported our culture all over the world.  It is only recently, over the past 40 years, that the west has begun to place emphasis on holistic, comprehensive, functional views of society.  Relationships are reciprocal, not linear.  This is the way the father intended it.  It was Jesus’ prayer that all believers be one just as he is one with the father (John 17:21).  In order for many to be “one” the relationship has to be reciprocal.  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1st Corinthians 12:26).  If you were to stub your toe your whole body would respond.  You would bend at the waist, the hands would reach to comfort your toe, your mouth would expel a few words, your mind would begin to analyze what went wrong, and your heart rate would increase.  This is a reciprocal relationship.  The same is with the body of Christ.  However, linear relationships are one way.  If you were to stub your toe, your toe would be in pain, but the rest of your body would not respond.  You wouldn’t blink, you wouldn’t scream, you wouldn’t notice.  The linear approach is mechanical, not organic.

            So, if the body of Christ is comprised of individuals, who have interdependent relationships with one another, why do we fragment and compartmentalize missionaries and evangelist into a small group of people, while the rest of the body of believers is set aside?  How is this reciprocal?  I believe that there is a more effective way to fulfill the great commission.

            Systems theory has roots that date back to the 1920’s.  Systems have always existed, but have not always been considered or analyzed.  Many schools of thought played into the development of systems theory, such as functionalism, organicism, order paradigm, and so on.  This school of thought was not adopted by social workers until the late 1970’s.  About this time medicine was taking a more holistic approach, as well as business, marketing, psychology, and sociology (some further along than others).  These domains in society were utilizing systems theory in their strategies to accomplish their goals.  What were American Church’s doing in the 1970’s?  We were taking the backseat and following the same old paradigm of missions as we had since the 1950’s.  As the collective society began to understand individuals, societies, and the environment, we learned to take a more pragmatic approach to understanding human behavior and solving societal issues.  The American Church, however, is just now beginning to grasp this concept. 

Actually, the concept of reciprocal relationship can be found in Genesis 1:26, “Let us make humankind in your image, after our likeness, so they may rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over cattle, and over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move on the earth”.  We have owned this concept since Christ walked the earth.  We were living in community with God, and no one had need for anything.  This is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit living in reciprocal relationship.

            The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are interdependent and whole.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God.  The Word was with God in the beginning.  All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created.  In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind.  And the light shines on in the darkness, but the darkness has not mastered it” (John 1:1-5).

            We understand that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one and in reciprocal community, but what does the scripture say about the followers of Jesus Christ?

“All the believers were together and had everything in common.  They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.  Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” Acts 2:44-47

“And the Lord added to their number daily to those who were being saved”.  Meditate on that verse for a moment.  Think about what is being said.  I read it as this:

All the individuals that make up the body of Christ were living interdependent, reciprocal relationships with one another.  They met each other’s needs by giving up and selling their earthly possessions to provide for ANYONE who had need.  Every day they continued to live in interdependent, reciprocal relationships, meeting in temple courts.  They shared food and ate together in each other’s homes, with gladness and sincerity, praising God and enjoying the favor of ALL the people.  And the Lord added to their number daily to those who were being saved.

            I bolded a few words to place emphasis on how I read this scripture.  They were all living in their community.  They weren’t sent out to the far reaches of the world (in this particular passage).  They were in their own community.  They met each other’s needs and provided for ANYONE who had need.  They were serving those who were not yet a part of the body of Christ.  They continued meeting in the temple courts.  You have to understand that the Church, as explained in the book of Acts, was the people of God, not a building.  However, they were returning to the temple courts.  Think about that.  They have found a new way of life, a new covenant, and their worship of Jesus was incongruous to those who remained in the Judeo context of worship and faith.  Yet they were still fellowshipping in the context of their community, with non-believers.  What?  You may be thinking, “How do you figure that”?  If they were in the temple courts, they were certainly sharing community with non-believers.  Those worshipers in the temple courts were not all followers of Jesus Christ. 

They shared food and ate together in each other’s homes, with gladness and sincerity, praising God and enjoying the favor of ALL (inclusive; everyone) the people.  And the Lord added to their number daily to those who were being saved”. 

            How were they enjoying the favor of ALL the people?  Because they were living in community, meeting the needs of others, sharing their lives with those who worship differently than themselves, and praising God openly.  What did the Lord do?  He added to their number daily to those who were being saved.  They were expanding God’s kingdom.  They were fulfilling the great commission.  They were practicing reciprocal evangelism and reciprocal missiology.  They were not practicing linear evangelism and linear missiology.  They weren’t separating a group of believers and sending them away to the outer edges of the earth, while everyone else punched a clock and kept to themselves.  They were in community!
            Let me be very clear.  I understand that the point I’m driving may offend traditional ways of evangelism and missions.  That is not my heart and not my purpose.  In the book of Acts, the scripture is clear that there were those that were sent out to outer most edges of the earth.  Jesus even said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).  Church planting is fundamental in achieving the great commission.  However, when you have arrived to the place where God has called you, a reciprocal and holistic approach to evangelism and missions will sustain your Church.  This means that when you arrive to that community, whose traditions, culture, food, ways of life, are different than your culture, don’t think linear.  Don’t go there with Chris Tomlin worship tunes and teach them to worship according to your traditions and way of life.  Build community with them and understand their customs, don’t be afraid to eat their foods, and dance to their music.  “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law” (1st Corinthians 9:20).

Be bold like Paul!  Step out and take a chance.  You can’t preserve your culture and kingdom, because it’s God’s kingdom and God’s culture that is coming.  The reciprocal, interdependent community is inevitable.  Enjoy life and fellowship with your community.  Do it with gladness and sincerity, and I believe God will add to your number daily. 


Friday, October 26, 2012

Recent Traumatic Events In My Life

I just woke up and can't go back to sleep.  Last night was very traumatic.  For those that don't know I worked 22 hours yesterday.  I can't give details, but what I saw makes me really question if we, as a society, are doing enough to protect our children. 

I do the best job I can to protect the children I serve, but sometimes, things are taken out my control, and I am left to trust God.  It should be me trusting God first, but I admit I am only human and a stubborn human at best.

I sometimes wonder if what I am doing makes an impact on the children I serve.  I question at the end of the day if I had done my job with excellence.  I question if I have served God in a way that God should be served.  I question if I had honored him with the gifts he has given me and honored him for the privilege I have to step into the lives of families and take part in making what is broken whole again.

I woke up a little numb this morning.  I couldn't sleep, so I made my way into the living room.  I noticed the mail sitting on a chair and I saw a letter with my name on it.  Out of curiosity I picked it up, opened it, and pulled out the card.  The card was from my family at NorthWood Church.  It was filled with prayers and encouragement.  One of them wrote, "Do what God has called you to do, keep doing it, don't stop!"  These words particularly, mean a lot to me because they were written by a friend I share leadership with.  More than that, I really needed to hear it.  I have no intention of stopping what I am doing, but it's encouraging to hear these words and have the support I have. 

It's more encouraging to know that God knows our needs and he knows the best time to fulfill those needs.  I worship a God who loves his children.  I worship a God who, when I was a child, protected me in such an amazing way.  When CPS didn't come, he was faithful to send a Christ-filled woman to our home and tell us about the love of Jesus.  This love of Jesus changed my family, and it set the course for my destiny.  This love that God has given me, I want in every way possible, to give it to others.

Thank you for your prayers and support.  Together, we are making a difference in the world, one child at a time.  Let's press on and not give up, because God will supply all of our needs.

"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up." -Galatians 6:9

Monday, February 20, 2012

“I’m losing it!”

A brief history:

It’s important that you understand where I have been to understand what “losing it” means to me.  I have always been obese.  From the time my grandparents started raising me until now, I have had an obesity problem.  I have lost weight before when I played football in middle school, but it quickly came back in the summer.  I lost weight in high school.  I was at a healthy weight and doing right, but that didn’t last.  I quickly gained back the weight.  After I graduated I averaged at 250 pounds, but my weight soon soared dangerously.  When I was 22 I was 320 pounds!  I’m 5 feet 8 inches, so I was incredibly obese.  I remember going with a friend to the hospital to visit someone from our Church.  She had a fear of elevators, so we had to take the stairs.  I was completely embarrassed when we finally made it to the top.  I was out of breath and it was only a few floors.  I decided that I had enough, so I started lifting weights.  I got back down to 250 pounds and was eventually bench pressing the 320 pounds that I used to be.  I met my wife during that time and I stopped working out.

The past 6 years of my life have been working full-time and going to college to get my degree in Social Work.  Jodi and I moved to Fort Worth to be closer to her family and so I could finish my education at UTA.  A year after we moved here I was admitted into the hospital and diagnosed with diverticulitis.  Basically, my intestines looked like Swiss cheese and my doctor said that I would have to loose weight or die young.  It scared me, probably more than anything I had every experienced.  What would happen to Jodi and Joseph?  What about God’s promise to change my family tree?  After that incident I went to the gym every chance I had.  I eventually lost about 25 pounds and was running a 5k in 30 minutes.  I was well on my way to becoming healthy.  The only problem was, my wife wasn’t really on board with exercising and maintaining this lifestyle with me.  The Holidays came and I slowly started putting back on what I had lost.  I ballooned all the way to 275 pounds!  I thought, “My God!  Will I ever be healthy?”

Then the change started happening:

Last January Jodi and I had a serious talk about what we wanted our family to become.  We set three goals: draw closer to God, tithe faithfully every month (give also), and maintain healthy eating and exercise.  These goals didn’t come from us, they came from God.  We were all in!  We began tithing and dedicating ourselves to God’s service.  I was beginning my internship, so I was working 40+ hours a week and doing between 25-35 hours of interning every week from January until August.  Jodi was finishing up her Master’s degree in education.  We had almost everything in order.  But, we seriously couldn’t fit in a lot of exercise like we wanted.  So, we did what we could do.  We went to the gym when we had time.  We ate decently, but still not the way God wanted us to. 

Jodi began training with Laurie Graves.  Jodi started to develop a love for exercise.  In December we both walked and received degrees from UTA.  We agreed that we would make it through the Holidays and begin what God had laid on our hearts about fitness.  The month of January we worked out and ate as healthy as we knew how.  We both lost 10 pounds each!  We were so excited!  God was fulfilling what he had laid on our hearts to do!  Jodi really wanted to hire Laurie to train her, but we really couldn’t afford it.  Then at Church they announced that in February we were having a weight lose competition while doing a series on “Losing it.”  Jodi and I approached Laurie and it was decided that we would be on her team.  It was more than what I had expected God to do.  It was funny because God laid on our heart a year ago to endeavor this journey.  Shortly after we received and accepted that word in our heart, Jodi had met Laurie and started training with her.  It was all falling together like a puzzle.  I checked the mail the week we were chosen to be on Laurie’s team.  It was our giving statement from Northwood.  I got misty eyed when I opened the envelope and discovered that we had tithed each month faithfully starting in February a year ago.  Not JANUARY, but FEBRUARY!  God showed us that we were in perfect timing with his plan!  God had put some things on our hearts and he was following through with what he said he would do!  God is faithful!

So now what?

Laurie told me that she thought I would lose 25 pounds this month.  I was so excited because it took me an entire month to lose 10 pounds and I would meet that goal in two weeks.  Little did I know that God would have me lose 22 pounds in only two weeks!

Jodi and I have grown much closer throughout the “losing it” series.  We are dedicated to do everything together.  We have worked on meal plans together, we have shopped for groceries and I have given input, and yes…….I now help wash the dishes!  Jodi and I are excited about the direction God is taking us.  I can’t wait until the series is over and we are on our own living our new life together!  If I lose at least 5 pounds this week and lose 3 pounds a week thereafter, I will reach my goal weight of 175 by my 33rd birthday (July 4th)!

What I am losing:
1.     My excuses
2.     My doubt
3.     My past failures
4.     My poor health
5.     All the things that bind me from being who God created me to be!

I would personally like to thank Northwood Church for this series.  It has changed my life and allowed God to use the Church to fulfill what he had laid on our hearts.  I would also like to thank Laurie Graves.  Without your prayer, encouragement, and support, we would have never been able to do what we have done.  God has used you in a mighty way.  I would like to thank our team Brad and Dawn Zieger.  God has blessed us with awesome friends.  Thank you for your encouragement and for taking this journey with us.  You both are mighty and amazing people!  Last, but not least I would like to thank Team Fender.  You guys are amazing!  You have really given us hard competition.  Thank you for your prayers, encouragement, and support.  Thanks Bob for being sensitive to the Holy Spirit and preaching this series.  It’s transformed us and brought us closer to Christ.  Thank you!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Vietnam Child Abuse Prevention Program

Everyone who knows me knows that I have a heart for abused children.  I have been working with abused children for almost ten years.  Going to Vietnam to help children in that country means so much to me.  We are very fortunate to have the resources we have to address child abuse in America. 

If you have always wanted to go to another country and help others, but couldn't because of time or other obligations, you have an opportunity to give, so that other children can have an opportunity for a future.  Please help me, so that I can go to Vietnam and assess their needs.  I will be going with an experienced group of clinicians, child advocates, and social workers.  We want to start a Child Abuse Prevention Program in Vietnam. 

Your donation is not going to a random charity that you know nothing about.  Your donation goes to support the expenses necessary for my travel and basic needs.  You will receive a formal letter addressing what has been laid on my heart.  You will receive a report of my trip and you will be informed of future trips to Vietnam.  You will receive a formal "Thank You" letter for your contribution.

Thank you for taking the time to hear me out.  I love all of you and I appreciate your prayers and support.



Friday, November 11, 2011

Ten Years Ago I Made a Decision.

Ten years ago I made a decision that was so radical that if you would have told me then that I would have accomplished all that I have had today, I would have either laughed in your face or cursed you for putting such lunacy into my head.  If you had told me at that time that in ten years, I would be:

1.     Ten years clean (sober)
2.     Was a committed husband and father
3.     Be graduating with honors from the school of social work
4.     8 years invested in working with abused children
5.     Was a submitted follower of Jesus Christ
6.     Changed the lives of many people
7.     Knew American Sign Language
8.     Was friends with people of other faiths
9.     Loved others
10. Loved myself

I would have had serious doubts about your sanity.

            Ten years ago from this month I stood in a Church, at my friend, Dan Rowan’s funeral, and committed myself to follow Jesus Christ.  There were some previous events that led to my decision and though many of my friends sat there thinking that I had an emotional moment and would quickly recant my bold statement, I can tell you that ten years later I am still standing for my faith in Jesus Christ.

            A year before I stood in that Church I was at my grandmother’s funeral, sobbing in a pew.  I was listening to her testimony about how she had come to faith in Jesus Christ.  She said that if she had known she had cancer before she started going to Church, she would have never went, because she would had felt as if she was doing it out of pity.  She said that God knew her heart and it was no coincidence that she came to faith in Jesus Christ before she found out she had cancer.  But, these words at that present moment didn’t mean much to me.  Life as I knew it had ended.  The woman that raised me, who was my mother in every way, had gone to be with her Lord.  I was listening to her testimony and a thought had crept into my mind, “What if she was meant to die?”  It was disturbing to think that her death was meant to happen.  I shook off the thought, but it had continued to haunt me.

            The summer before I made my decision to follow Christ I was invited to Church.  I really “didn’t belong” in Church, but I couldn’t resist the invitation from my friend.  I had always wanted to be with her and I thought this was my opportunity.  We dated, but God eventually broke that off, which was hurtful, but it led me further into his arms.  I remember that it was a very small Church and the congregation consisted of mostly elderly people.  I had long hair, smelled like smoke, and had a permanently fixed “I don’t care” expression on my face.  But, when those elderly ladies hugged me, something inside was stirred and I was quickly taken back to those precious moments I had with my grandmother.  They loved me regardless of what I looked (or smelled) like.  I was going to Church all summer in 2001.  I hadn’t made a verbal “commitment” to follow Christ, but I was consistently going to Church.  Heck, I was still doing all the things I was doing before I came to Church, but I kept coming.

            I remember that summer hearing, what I thought were trumpets.  It happened at weird times.  I remember one time running to the window in a panic to see if Jesus had come back and if it was too late for me.  I was seriously fearful, because I knew I was living wrong and I was not right with God.  I remember having dreams about Heaven and about Hell.  I was disturbed by those dreams, but I continued my filthy living.

            On September 11, 2001 I was walking to class (for music) and the students in the foyer were talking; they sounded very panicked.  I discovered the horrible truth about the terrorist attacks.  The professors told us to go home and be with our families.  I went home and coped with the problem, the same way I had coped with many problems.  I won’t say here, but I didn’t have a very good method for coping with anything.  I was freaked out and concerned about the future.  It shook me to question, “what if I had died that today?”

            In November a friend of mine was killed as he was walking along the I-35 frontage road.  He was tripping on mushrooms and decided to go take a walk, in only his underwear.  Someone had spotted him and called the police, but the police arrived too late to arrest him.  It was foggy and a car had missed the exit and hit my friend.  He was killed instantly.  I remember I had just arrived to work the next day and another friend had told me he had died.  I couldn’t believe it.

            At his funeral I made my decision to follow Jesus Christ.  It really wasn’t because of my friend’s death, but it was because of all the previous events leading up to this point.  I remember the preacher saying that at any moment God can call us home and it will be then that we are judged.  I had enough.  I couldn’t stand the death, the life I was living, and the sin in my life.  He said if you accept Christ this day as your Lord and savior to stand up.  I was scared for many reasons.  One reason was because I was surrounded by all my friends (and drug buddies), many who were atheist, agnostic, pagan, or uncommitted Christians living a life of sin.  I was worried that I would be shunned, ridiculed, hated, and disowned.  But, at that moment in my life I didn’t care.  Now, those fears I had about my friends disowning me didn’t happen.  I was still doing what I had always done, but I made a statement.  It wasn’t until I started living the way God had called me to live that my friends started treating me differently.

            Shortly after the funeral we went to a Sevendust concert.  Sevendust is a hardrock band and the fact that they were in Waco doing a show was iconic.  Waco didn’t really have headlining hardrock bands come through, so we had to go.  We stood very close to the stage. Lajon Witherspoon, the lead singer of band, was wearing a shirt that had Jesus wearing the crown of thorns.  He pointed to the shirt and said, “Yeah Waco!  You know what I’m talking about?”  I was floored!  This man was making a statement of his faith.  I was so shocked that he openly said he was a believer in Jesus Christ.  After they finished their set, I went around the side of the coliseum with a friend and we waited for some of the band members to come out.  We actually met the drummer, Morgan Rose, and he chatted with us and brought us backstage.  We stood around for a minute and had the band meet us outside after the show.  We were all hanging out and the one of my friends pulled out a joint (marijuana cigarette).  Lajon was smoking with us and we thought we were rockstars.  Lajon said that they were going to a local bar after the show and he would let us in with him so we could hang out some more.  I thought to myself about him being a Christian and smoking marijuana and somehow that conflicted with me.  When we arrived at the bar we saw him and he let us come back with him and the band.  We were hanging out and the limo driver was buying us all booze.  We were getting lit.  I remember sitting at the table and I asked Lajon, “Did you mean it when you said that you are a Christian?”  He said, “Yes.”  I wasn’t even questioning his drinking and smoking, but I was excited and I wanted to know more about his faith.  I started asking him how he became a Christian and other questions.  He paused and had a look of remorse and regret on his face.  He said he would rather not talk about it.  I was puzzled.  He was convicted as I was about the things we were doing, but both of us were still just living sinful lives.  It got me thinking about the choices I was making and how others see me as a follower of Christ.  I was thinking that maybe I should give up partying and other things.

            A very short time later we had a benefit show for my friend’s family.  After the show we were all hanging out at the sheds where the bands practice.  We were partying, smoking, drinking and talking.  My friends were talking about Dan being in heaven and that they must have very large guitars and heavy metal must be really heavy in heaven.  We were trying to see Dan in a better place and cope with him being gone.  There was a lot of talk about what happens when we die.  Some people just walked away and joined other circles of conversation.  I remember at that very moment my conviction about Lajon, our behavior, and our profession of being Christians.  I made my decision right there in front of all my friends that I was going to stop doing drugs.  My friends were really nice about it and said that was cool.  The “stuff” was being passed around (stuff as my friend’s grandma would say) and I remember taking it and passing it to the girl sitting to my right.  I didn’t really know her and I think it may have been my first time meeting her.  She said, “No thanks, I don’t do that.”  I laughed at her and I said, “What are you religious?”  She reached for her neck and pulled out a cross that was hidden behind her shirt and said, “Yes, I am a Christian.”  I was amazed!  I told her what God had been doing in my life and my conviction to stop partying and giving my life to God completely.  God really used that situation to stir in me a passion to understand him more.  These were crazy “coincidences” and I needed to know why it was happening to me.

            A few months later I had been sober since that time and I stopped hanging around my friends as much.  I was going to Church every chance I got.  When I would hang around my friends, I couldn’t help but talk about the love of Jesus Christ.  Some people would really get into the conversation, but others would get annoyed.  I started getting told to stop talking about Jesus because I am ruining everyone’s high.  I told them that I couldn’t help it.  It just comes out of me.  Eventually I started back sliding a little.  I would say dirty jokes and curse.  I remember a good friend of mine looking at me like I just slapped him and said, “Dude, what’s up with all that Jesus talk and now your telling dirty jokes and cursing?”  I thought about what he had said to me.  I remember spending time with the Lord after that and I came across this verse:  “He said to another man, “Follow me.”  But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”  Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”- Luke 9:59-60.  I though it was harsh for the Lord to say that.  I asked him, “Why did you say that to him?”  Jesus told me, “I not only said it to him, but I am saying it to you now.”  He explained, “Your friends are dead and their weight is pulling you down to the grave.  Let them worry about themselves and follow me.”  I knew that if I was going to follow Jesus I was going to have to lay everything down.  So, I made the decision to stop hanging around my old friends.  I had to follow Jesus.  Everything in me was saying, “Go!”  My friends didn’t understand.  It hurt them very much, but I knew what I was doing and the life I was choosing.  Living the old life was causing me horrible pain and hurt.  Christ gave me freedom and his love is unrivaled!

My best friend at the time said that I was going to Church, leaving my friends, and “following God” because of my girlfriend.  All I have to say about that now is, “It’s been ten years, she’s gone and Jesus is still here.”  Jesus will always be here.  I have no intentions on leaving my Lord.  I am captivated by his glory.  It’s amazing!  I am often alone and I think about where I was and where I am.  I can’t help but get emotional about it.  God has worked miracles!  I can’t deny what he has done!  He’s simply amazing and he knows me intimately.  I want to know him more intimately!

It’s been ten years.  I wonder what the next ten years will bring!

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” –Philippians 4:13

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Building Bridges with Fellow Texans and my thoughts.

I woke up at 12:30 am tonight and it’s 1:30.  I cannot sleep.  I have been having dreams of speaking Arabic, visiting Mosques, and sharing my faith with my Muslim friends.  In my dreams I am constantly opposed by people who are angry because of what I am doing.  They say that I am compromising my faith and that I am not being “Christian.”  In my dream I ignore them because my heart is overwhelmed with love for my friends.  And the sadness that accompanies my love is for those who claim to know Christ, but refuse to share him with those they consider enemies.

Friday morning I was returning to my office from Denton and I was listening to the Mark Davis show on 820 AM WBAP.  I caught the last portion of the topic.  They were discussing our Church, Northwood.  They were talking about the “Building Bridges with Fellow Texans” event that we are having this Sunday.  I have always enjoyed Mark Davis’ show because he seems to be a conservative with logic and reason.  A lot of conservative talk radio that is available has a disdain for people of other cultures and faiths, particularly Muslims.  Mark was discussing the event and from what I heard, he thought the event was good and that it was a good idea for Christians and Muslims to get to know one another.  A caller came on and was belligerent, to say the very least.  He was making vague and broad claims that Churches today are compromising their integrity and faith by inviting people of other faiths into their places of worship.  Mark caught him and pointed out his vague generalizations, and asked for specific evidence that this is happening.  Mark pointed out that if we are claiming Jesus is the way and then later backing down from that message, the he would understand the problem, but he didn’t think that was the case.  The caller went on and he continued to say that we shouldn’t be doing this.

What I heard on the radio may be a contributing factor to why I am awake tonight, but this was not the first time that people have expressed their opposition to Northwood inviting Muslims to the Church.  I have had personal encounters with people who are opposed to the idea of Muslims coming to the Church.  It’s really shocking to me that these same individuals are supportive of missions and say they want to see Muslims come to Christ, but refuse to go to a Mosque or make friends with Muslims.  They have lofty ideas that Muslims need to be reached on the other side of the world, but can’t see the forest from the trees.  We are surrounded by Muslims in Tarrant County.  Some Christians want to ignore them when they pass by them in the mall (sometimes it’s obvious to notice Muslims, other times it’s not).  They want to pretend that they are foreigners and are visiting the United States.  The truth is that many of the Muslims they pass by in public places are second, third, and some fourth generation Americans.  Some Christians feel that Muslims, living in this country, is an attack on their own culture and religion.  It’s funny to me that Muslims and Christians share life all around the world, except here.  We believe that we are preserving “our Christian heritage”, but forget that “the earth is the Lords and the fullness therof” (Psalm 24:1).

If western evangelism of Muslims had a mission statement, it would be this: “Serve to convert.”  The methodology in which this would happen would be: Berate the other faith, point out their faults, demonize their beliefs, and then offer them the alternative of Christianity.  We have brought Christ to Muslims like we bring business proposals to competing markets.  “The other company’s product is not that great.  It has a lot of malfunctions.  The other company is bad business.  But, you can fix all that right now if you purchase our product.”  It really breaks my heart that we have placed Jesus Christ in a box, labeled him, and shipped him overseas.

The new mission statement of evangelism is this: “We do not serve to convert, but we serve because we are converted.”  Our methodology is simple: share our lives openly with others, without hidden agenda’s, without walls, and live Christ to the fullest.  If we do this we don’t have to worry about what we will say, or the seven points on evangelism, or some other theologically marketed punch line.  Christ will radiate in our conversations.  The more naturally we love people and share our lives with them, the more adamant our desire will be to reach them.

Say you had a son and he had decided, for whatever reason, to leave your household and travel far away.  You longed for your son to return and you cried several thousands of tears and begged God that he would return your son to you.  You would stay awake many nights wondering if he was ok and if he would ever return.  Being your friend, I understood your hurt and your pain.  Being your friend, I had prayed with you and listened to you express these concerns.  Now let’s also say that I happen to be in that far away place and I saw your son.  What kind of friend would I be if I said nothing?  What kind of friend would I be if I didn’t try to reconcile your son to you?

The Church of America today has become the prodigal son’s brother.  Though it was our responsibility to reconcile the father to the son, we have done nothing to reconcile the situation, yet instead, grumbled and complained about our “rights” as sons.  We have hurt the father even more by causing him further disgrace because of our feelings of entitlement.  When Jesus told that story he was referring to the Pharisees as the prodigal’s brother.  Today, we have become the thing we have despised.  We have become indignant, lovers of self, self-righteous, spoiled children of God.  God’s house is open for anyone who wishes to enter.  If you have a problem with that, please take it up with the man of the house.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The day after "Good Friday"

About 2,000 years ago this was a sad and hopeless day for the disciples of Jesus.  I could only imagine the mourning, pain, and guilt they felt.  I couldn't imagine a more hopeless group of people clinging on to his last few words.  Having seen him murdered the day before was awful, but not having his presence at all was devastating.  The day after good Friday, I believe, was the darkest and most utterly painful day in mankind's history.  But, what a glorious day to wake up to the following morning! 

Walking up to the tomb, with spices and ointments to complete their embalming process, must have been cumbersome.  But, it was astonishing to see the angel and hear him say, "Why do you look for the living among the dead.  He is not here; he is risen!"  From the account of Luke, the angel reminded them what Jesus had told them before his crucifixion.  Jesus told them that he must be handed into sinners hands to be crucified, but on the third day be raised again.  Then the Bible says, "Then they remembered his words." -Luke 24:1-8.  I can't even fathom the joy and amazement they felt after being told this.

After the resurrection of Jesus, the Bible states that Jesus visited the disciples and rebuked them for their lack of faith.  Then Jesus gave them the "Great Commission," telling them to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the father, the son, and of the Holy Spirit"- Matthew 28:16 and Mark 9:16-19.

I read the story about the two walking on the road to Emmaus.  It gives me chills reading it.  The two were downcast and disheartened.  Jesus appeared to them, but they didn't know it was him.  Not only did they not recognize him, they thought he was a visitor traveling into Jerusalem and were still astonished that he had not heard the news.  They told Jesus about the death of a great prophet, whom they expected to redeem Israel.  I think about the sorrow these two men felt as they walked on that road.  I think about the heartache that burdened them and weighed down their every thought.  They were at a point in time where it seemed as though all hope was lost.  They were devastated, crushed, and ruined. 

Jesus pointed out their slow belief (or their lack of understanding/perceiving) in the prophets' words.  Then Jesus started from the beginning and explained all the scriptures concerning him, from Moses and all the prophets.  Jesus continued walking as though (pretending) he were traveling farther.  The two men urged him strongly to stay with them.  They saw that the day was almost over and were concerned about his well-being.  At the table Jesus broke the bread and gave it to them.  The Bible says that they then recognized him and suddenly Jesus had vanished.  Then they said to themselves, "Were not our hearts still burning while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?"  Then they got up, immediately, without delay and went to Jerusalem!  It amazes me that they were concerned for the safety of someone they thought to be a stranger and urged Jesus to stay with them, but didn't even consider their own safety as they left immediately to tell the others that he was indeed alive! 

They found the disciples, among others, gathered together and exclaimed, "It is true!  The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon!"  While they were still talking about what happened on the road to Emmaus, Jesus appeared and said, "Peace be with you."  They were troubled in their hearts and had doubts.  Jesus pointed this out and told them to look at his hands and feet!  He told them to TOUCH!  He wanted them to believe!  But, they couldn't believe because of their joy and amazement.  Jesus then asked for something to eat.  They gave him a broiled fish.  He ate it in their presence, I believe, as a further demonstration that he was indeed alive.  Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures!  Then he explains to them that he will be returning to the father and he commands them to stay in the city until they have been clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:13-52).

The day after "Good Friday" was full of hopelessness.  But, Easter morning was filled with amazement, hope, and joy!  If they hadn't experienced such sorrow the day before Easter, how would they have responded that third day?  The scriptures concerning this story literally excites me to tears!  The joy I have in knowing that Christ suffered for me; that Christ put those closest to him, in devastating sorrow for me, brings me to tears!  Even the joy I feel can't compare to the joy they felt on that marvelous day!  Easter is an amazing time of year and the Easter story is full of hope and joy!

Some of us are living our lives in the "Day after Good Friday."  Some people have no hope and are devastated!  Some have been stripped of their joy and peace.  Some are looking at the tomb of despair, thinking that their hope, joy, and everything they live for will never resurrect.  Some people are stuck in that moment of time, that day of sorrow.  I have good news.  Easter has come.  My wife just said that Easter is her birthday (although she and I both know her birth certificate says December 21st).  It made me think.  It doesn't matter if you read this blog six months from now.  Your Easter is the moment you realize Christ is risen.  You can have the joy that many others have experienced.  Easter isn't an event that happens once a year at your local Church.  Easter isn't getting on your finest clothing and gathering your children to attend Sunday service.  Easter is realizing that Christ IS RISEN!  Easter can happen now!

Thank you Lord for your patience with us in our slow mindedness.  Thank you for coming into our difficult moments and revealing yourself.  You are present in all our sorrows and you are our comfort and hope.  Thank you that you put out your hands and feet for your disciples to touch and believe!  How much more do you want us, who live in this present moment, to believe?!  You are amazing and no language ever used by men will ever be able to convey the Easter story, nor your present glory!  Your glory exceeds all existence!  You are amazing and beautiful!  I am yours!  Please do with me as you wish!