Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Love One Another

This past week I was hospitalized with what turned out to be viral meningitis.  It was a very painful 4 days that I was in there.  I had a constant headache and backache that kept me in bed.  Add to that the spinal tap I had and you can imagine that my stay was not the most pleasant.

But during my stay I was incredibly humbled by the response of my church family.  I had a million text messages, cards, meals, Facebook messages and I even got a Dallas Cowboy snuggie (I’m a huge fan)!  I had people call and stop by just to see that we were ok and everything was taken care of.  My wife and I were overwhelmed by the outpouring of love through God’s people.

But what does that have to do with your teenager?  Everything.  Some of the main complaints of the church are that it is irrelevant, cold, and that it’s full of hypocrites or fakes.  And that may be true of some churches in America today but it’s not true of all of us.  There are many churches today doing amazing things to help save people from disease, starvation, slavery, and to bring them to a point of empowerment.  These people have been freed from Satan’s grip and are now able to care for themselves and their families.  There are many churches today that live out the community seen in Acts.  Believers that lived together in harmony, taking care of one another’s needs, followers that could not bear to see another human in chains and did whatever they could to help, disciples that lived the words of Christ to such an extreme that they laid down their very lives for those in this spiritual family.  

That is the Bride of Christ and the example we should be living out.  That is the church that Generation Y desperately needs to experience.  

In John 13 we see Jesus washing his disciples’ feet.  The King of kings lowering himself to the lowest position, a job so low that the master of the house would not allow a Jewish servant to perform, but would make a gentile slave do.  When Jesus is done he talks about the betrayal that is about to occur and predicts Peter’s denial.  In that prediction he says something so profound it should cause us to stop in our tracks and examine everything we do as followers.  He says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

Did you hear that?  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples…IF you love one another!  Is this how we are known today?  Is this the first thing that pops into someone’s mind when they hear the term “Christian”?  Is this what the church does?  There are many who live this out daily, but the sad truth is that more than not, this is not the typical church experience.  

I’ve grown up in the church and been a part of two crippling church splits.  I’ve seen brothers and sisters in Christ argue and yell at each other.  Tempers flared and accusation thrown, I’ve see Christianity get very ugly.  And because of the fact that many others have shared that experience, millennials have walked away from the church.

My prayer for your church, for my church, for the American church is that we start loving one another.  I pray that we would no longer allow Satan to sidetrack us and that we start loving people the way Christ called us to.  I pray that what God did through them (the early church), He would do through us.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Counting the Cost

They called them back and warned them that they were on no account ever again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John spoke right back, "Whether it's right in God's eyes to listen to you rather than to God, you decide. As for us, there's no question—we can't keep quiet about what we've seen and heard."
Acts 4:18-20

Peter and John had been arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin (the ruling body of that culture).  They had been required to give testimony as to why they had healed a crippled man.  There were no questions about how it happened but just why.  Under what name have you done this?  Their response did them no favors.

At the very utterance of Jesus the Sanhedrin (which means “The Gathering”) went into an uproar.  They hated Jesus and had conspired to have him murdered.  They thought the problem was over and now His followers were showing up with His teachings and doing miracles.  They had to silence this before they lost all control and power.  So they told them to shut up.  They told Peter and John they could no longer speak the name of Christ.  To do so would bring a punishment of death.

This is where it gets interesting.  What do Peter and John do?  What would you do?  You may think it’s an outlandish question but it’s a question you face every day of your life.  And the answers are lived out minute by minute.

The real question that is being asked of Peter and John and ultimately to us as well is this, “Will you disobey what you know to be right, what God is asking of you for creature comforts?”  “Will you go against God’s word so that you can feel happy?”

And let’s be real honest; most of us choose our own happiness over the things of God.  Don’t believe me?  Then how is it that the divorce rate in the church is the same of those outside the church?  How is it that there are 1.75 billion people living in extreme poverty today?  How can it be that 2 million children are exploited in the global sex trade industry every year?  How is it possible that 14.1 million children have been orphaned by the AIDS epidemic in Africa?  How is it thinkable that every 5 minutes almost 90 children die of sicknesses such as diarrhea, malaria, and measles?

I’m just as guilty as the person standing next to me.  When I see that poor child on the TV screen I feel a twinge of horror and sadness in my gut but then forget as my fingers rapidly click the remote.  Oh, I’m good at placating my feelings by wearing TOMS shoes and buying fair trade coffee but if I get right down to it, my greed overwhelms the Holy Spirit in my life quite often.

The amazing thing here is not necessarily solving all the world’s problems by ourselves, no.  The amazing thing is that God uses us individually to do a global job.  But we have to play our small part.  Each of us has a part to play in the telling of God’s story of redemption to a broken world.  And if we don’t participate in the telling of that story- it doesn’t get told right.

Think about it this way; if Peter and John had decided to choose the easy way, to stop preaching in Jesus name and chose an easy life, would you be reading this right now?  Would you have a faith that pushes you outside your comfort zone?  Would you be trying to pass on that faith to your family and children?  Would there even be a faith to pass on?

When faced with the question of whether it is right do what we want to do or what God needs us to do is something we all face every day.  Peter and John knew what Christ was asking of them.  They knew His words and had counted the cost.  Peter and John were carrying their cross daily and understood that being a disciple/follower of Jesus meant sacrifice.  And because they were willing to sacrifice, we sit here today discussing these questions and ideas.  And because they did sacrifice you and I had the opportunity to know Christ on an intimate level.

I wonder if my answer to that question will have the same impact.


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Ten Years Ago

Ten years ago this past Sunday my wife and I were sitting in a doctors’ office waiting to hear if our world was really being turned upside down.  She came back in the room and said, “Congratulations!  You’re going to be parents!”  

We love our daughter very much but at the time we were not trying or even thinking about having kids.  We were 22 and 23 years old.  We were just barely able to take care of ourselves and hadn’t been married very long at all.  So when we found out we were pregnant, it wasn’t the happy moment we thought it would be.  

There was crying, but the tears indicated fear instead of joy.  My wife cried so hard I asked the doctor to give us some privacy.  We held each other and wondered how we would move on from this point.  We decided to take a breather, go get some lunch, and gain some perspective on what just happened.

As we drove to grab a bite to eat, everything started to look as if it were on waves.  It was at that point that something gripped my chest and started squeezing the air out of my lungs.  My heart decided to join in the fun and began to pound as if it were trying to escape!  I pulled over and almost fell out of the car.  I put head between my knees and tried not to pass out.

Once we finally made it to lunch, we were able to calm down and realize what a blessing this would be.  

That was September 4, 2001.

One week later I was standing in a room of 4th and 5th grade students teaching a Bible class at Tri-County Christian School in Macon, MO.  My cell phone started buzzing.  I just let it go because I was teaching.  I checked the message during the morning recess and heard some garbled voice talking about planes and buildings.  I couldn’t quite make it out.

It was September 11, 2001

After class I went into my office and heard on the radio horrified voices describe what was indescribable.  Two commercial flights had crashed into the World Trade Center.  I didn’t totally understand what was taking place until I left work and turned on my television at home.  The images I saw immediately sickened my stomach.

I raced to the phone to call my wife.  When I was able to finally talk to her, relief flooded me.  I didn’t know if this was an isolated incident or if we were under attack as country or something much worse.  I just needed to hear her voice.

My cell then started ringing and ringing, it was my mom calling to make sure we were safe.  She cried the moment I said “Hello”.  I could hear the terror in her voice as we talked.  I let her know we were all ok and that I had talked to my wife.

I can remember the panic in the streets.  People flooded the grocery stores and gas stations.  I got in line to get gas because everyone else did.  I was worried that it might be awhile before we could get gas again.  I ran into a store and grabbed a bunch of water and non-perishable food items.  I didn’t know what was going on.

I still remember the first conversation my wife and I had after she got home.  It started like this,
“What kind of world are we bringing our child into?” 

We had no way of answering this question.  How do you begin to process something this horrendous when it comes to your kids?  We were totally lost.

The joy that we had begun to experience had now been shattered and morphed into complete horror.  The poor people that died on the planes, in the Towers, in the Pentagon and on that barren field crushed our hearts.  The anger that we felt at the men who planned and executed something so evil burned and morphed into hatred.  Our words were dripping with revenge and retaliation.  Our thoughts turned black and cold to those responsible for these atrocious acts.

I think back to this time in our country's history and I am very conflicted.  I do feel shame now for that initial response.  The path my heart took did not reflect the love of Christ, the sacrifice of the cross or the Spirit that dwelled within me.  My heart took a very human path and that response tried to crush my Spirit.  Over the years, my response has changed.

As I’ve grown closer to Christ and seen the depravity that exists in my own heart I’ve come to realize that His love reaches out for the ones I hate, the ones I won’t see or think about.  If the love of Christ is not for them, it’s not for anyone.  If the sacrifice of the cross doesn’t extend to those blind men who piloted those planes, then it cannot pardon my sin.  If the Spirit that dwells in me is not allowed to guide my thoughts and actions then essentially I call Christ a liar.  My heart’s desire was not the love Christ calls me to.  My heart’s desire was to a morbid sense of satisfaction found in revenge.

Mathew 5:3 says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Jesus stands up and tells this large gathering that if you’re down and out, if you’re at the end of your rope, if you have no one that loves you, if you are rejected and loathed, if you are the lowest of the low then My kingdom is for you!  

Think about that.  If His kingdom isn’t for them, it can’t be for you!  His kingdom is for the men who killed 3000+ on that morning.  His kingdom is for the men and women that continue to murder and cause chaos around the world.  His kingdom is for them because if it’s not, then it’s not for anyone.

So as all the TV programs and news article focus around the events of that great and terrible morning, we have found answers for those questions that we asked ten years ago.  And because of them we will teach our daughter a different way.  We will show her the heart of Jesus for these men.  We will pray for His love to conquer their fear, we will ask for His light to expose their darkness, and we will pray that we may be bearers of His good news to those that are without.


Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What would happen?

Peter and John stood in front of a group of men they knew could kill them with one word and told them too bad.  Peter and John told them they couldn't help talking about what they'd seen and heard.  Peter and John told them they wouldn't shut up, not even if they died because of it.

In student ministry I deal with families from all walks and backgrounds.  I serve families that couldn't care less that we're here, families that thrive because we are here, and everywhere in between.  And I'm seeing something that truly breaks my heart.

I see a disintegration taking place in the family unit.

Parents making choices based on feelings and happiness, teens flat out ignoring what Jesus calls them to, churches that are flat and lifeless, and a gospel that is so watered down it can hardly be recognized as the "Good News".

I see in my own life a resistance to do things that are uncomfortable.  Would I be willing to give up my lifestyle if Christ called me to Haiti or Africa or downtown St. Louis?  Would I be willing to give up my social standing if Christ called me to a neighbor's house?

In the passage paraphrase above found in Acts 4:19-20 I see people, families willing to give up everything for His sake.  And what Acts 4:19-20 really gets to is this:  Am I really going to go against God's word for personal comfort?  Am I willing to do what He asks even (especially) when it gets hard?  Will we do the hard things when and where He needs us to?  Individually?  As a local body?

But I also see people living this out daily.  I see and know people that have given up everything to serve and love the lowest of the low.  I see the costs of living this way and how God blesses and lifts up those who follow His path.

I see how local churches are thinking outside the box and doing things differently, without agendas.  I see an entire generation of young people thirsting and hungering for righteousness.  And these break my hearts as well.

What would happen if His bride, all of it, acted like His bride?  What would happen if we tore down walls that we've built up in the name of Jesus and were of one heart and mind?  What would happen if we decided that our brothers well being was more important than our cable? 

What would happen?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Family Crisis pt. 2

I sat there in shock at what I had just heard.  Our two closest friends had just come to our house (several years ago) and told us that their marriage was in shambles and that the husband had been caught in an affair.

I remember my wife getting up and walking away in tears.  I sat there numbed by the words just hanging in the air.  I don't remember thinking much.  I remember anger and then love for my friends.  They were in so much turmoil, so much agony it was etched on their faces.  I could do nothing but hug and love them.

But what I remember most is something that she said while talking to just my wife and I.  She looked at us with tear reddened eyes and said, "He is my husband and I am not divorcing him."  I looked at my wife stunned at the staggering strength coming from her.  The decision that was made that night still leaves an impression on me to this day.

In the weeks, months and years that followed that conversation there were ups and downs.  I remember seeing the husband at the lowest point in his life and watching the wife right there loving him.  She was literally Jesus in those moments, Jesus kneeling before Judas, wet feet in His hands, serving far beyond human understanding.  I can recall seeing him begin to awaken from his slumber and really appreciate his wife for the first time.  And the way she reacted was perfect- "I love you but you have a lot of making up to do".  And he did.

Starting from scratch they courted once again, counseling took place, and the Holy Spirit grabbed two broken hearts and began the healing process.

I just spoke with the husband and he told me of the marriage they have now.  He talked of the amazing love they share and how Christ is working in them to serve the other.  He spoke of how their story encourages other couples going through rough times and how his wife is a hero of the faith worthy of being mentioned in Hebrews 11.

What looked like an impossible situation has turned out to be one of the great love stories.  All starting with one woman who refused to go back on her vows of marriage.  She would not relent in her love and in that became a picture of Christ's love for us.  By not listening to conventional wisdom she showed her husband what agape love looks like and in turn allowed him to see what he must do as well.

When followers begin to live His word in their lives, strange things will happen.  Old wounds will heal, walls will be torn down, dying love will be rekindled, and broken marriages will be made whole.  The witness to the outside world would show the reality of Christ's love and in turn create environments where people can be forever changed.

So for everyone struggling in marriage, for everyone who feels like all is lost- look at my good friends.  See what can and does happen when two people lay everything at the feet of a loving Creator.