Courage to Ask for the Tough

I’ve always liked Caleb in the Old Testament.  In the language of my people, he was a “character.”

He was courageous enough to stand with Joshua and against the ten cowardly spies to say “God is with us, let’s go to the Promised Land.”  He was validated by God and allowed to enter the Promised land, even though he had to wander in the desert for 40 years because of someone else’s bad choice.

After the big pieces of the land are conquered, its time for everyone to claim there spot.  Caleb goes to Joshua, his old companion, and he asks for a tough place, where the enemy is still active and has not yet been conquered.

You have to love this guy.  He is 85, but he isn’t ready to hang it up.  Give me Hebron, he said.  Give me the place where the sons of the giants live.  God is with me.  Give me the tough place.

Have  you built enough trust in God to ask for the tough place, knowing that He will be with you?  Will you claim the promise of God that it is possible to drive out the enemy?

Something you may not know about Caleb – his son-in law, Othniel, became the first leader of Israel after the conquest, when they needed someone to remind them to follow the Lord.  Judges 3 tells us that the Spirit of the LORD was upon him, and he conquered a tough enemy.

I wonder where he learned that from?

Maybe when you fight the tough battle, you set a legacy others will follow.

What Jesus Would Say to Donald and Hillary…

Imagine Jesus sitting down with Donald and Hillary.

First, I can imagine that Donald would be quiet.  I can imagine Hillary would be humble.  Jesus sitting down to talk to you makes you realize you are not as important or as qualified as you think you are.

I can imagine Jesus smiling at both of them.  He might start by saying “I want you to know I love you.  I know both of you are imperfect and have sinned.  Some of your sins are well known.  I know the secret sins of your soul.  I know the lies you tell to yourself.   I know the lies you believe because other people tell them to you.

“Your sins don’t frighten me.  I died for your sins.  I rose again so you both could be changed.  Your soul is more important to me than this election.  I want both of you to consider, what would it profit you to gain the whole world, to gain all the power, prestige, and validation of the presidency, and lose your soul?  I tell you the truth, it will not be worth it.  Not for you, and not for this country.

“Now both of you claim to be my followers.  So let’s be clear what I expect:  I expect my followers to love each other.  I said this, remember?  John wrote it down: ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have love you.’  I am serious about this.  So stop with the name-calling and the lies.  Love each other.  Want good for each other and do good for each other.”

At this point, shocked looks appear on the faces of Donald and Hillary.  Love each other?  Doesn’t Jesus understand how the game of politics is played?

Jesus sees their skeptical glances at each other.  Undaunted, he resumes his teaching: “Now, let me get real specific.  I blessed you both.  Donald, you started with a fortune, and you made more.  Don’t forget who gave you that opportunity.  I’d like you to praise me a bit more, give me credit.  I blessed you for a reason.  The reason I blessed you wasn’t so you could brag about it.  Hillary, I gave you a great intellect and drive.  You’ve done a lot with it.  But remember to give me credit.  All I gave you is grace; you’ve done nothing to deserve it, you aren’t entitled to it.  Both of you need to learn to love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with me.”

Donald can’t stand it anymore.  He blurts out, “Jesus, I can’t do that!  I’ll lose the election!”  Hillary, before she can stop herself, nods in agreement.  Jesus has finally brought them to agree on something – the way of Jesus won’t win an election.

Jesus grins at both of them, and says, “Whoever said winning an election was the point of this?  For my followers, the only thing that matters is that they follow me.”

Maybe this isn’t really about a conversation with Jesus, Donald and Hillary.  Maybe this is Jesus’ conversation with you.

 

Race and Jesus…

I had a taste of being judged by the color of my skin.  Just a small one.

I was a summer missionary in Mexico.  My partner, Tom Nash, and I were catching on a bus to take us from one mission outpost to another.  We boarded, and scanned for empty seats.  The only pair of empty seats was in the back of the bus.  Conversational buzz was replaced by energized whispers.

As we made our way down the crowded aisle, it seemed like every pair of eyes stared with the unspoken message, “Who are you and what are you doing on our bus?”  We obviously stood out, our skin and our hair being much lighter than the rest of the travelers.

We were still making our way down the aisle, when the bus lurched forward. My momentum disturbed, I almost fell into a woman’s lap.  Forgetting I was in a country where English was not the first language, I quickly said, “I’m sorry,” only to be met with a puzzled look.

We finally sat down on the back row of the bus, squeezing in with six other men on a bench built for five.  There was no open hostility, but there were no smiles or friendly expressions.  We were more than outsiders; we were “other.”

The man next to me shifted to position his back toward me, and spoke to his neighbor.  “Norteamericanos,” he said.  I was majoring in Spanish, but my classroom knowledge wasn’t required for me to hear the contempt in his voice.  I was walled out, shut out.  This man did not know me.  He did not know why I was in his country nor why I was in his space. He was judging me based on my race, on the color of my skin.  He already decided who I was, and what place I held in his esteem.

The next fifteen minutes passed in uncomfortable silence. The whole rattling bus seemed enveloped by a blanket of silence.  Mercifully, we reached our stop, again making our way back down the crowded aisle.  I’m sure it was my imagination, but as the bus doors closed behind us, the voices on the bus resumed an animated chatter.

That day, I was racially profiled.  I was not a person, I was a category.  This happens everyday.  Neurons race through our brains, pulling together memories and words, and we assess people before we blink our eyes twice.  I do this.  You do this.

In our country, police officers have to make snap judgments about life and death.  They don’t always get it right.  Old threats, old fears whip through the brain.  A trigger is pulled and innocent people die.

In our country, people with certain skin tones live with a fear that others do not know.  It is the fear that simply because of a thought in someone else’s brain (a thought that could be incorrect), they could lose their lives.  That kind of fear, over time, will cause you to react, even to overreact.

All of us – all of us – need a rewiring of our brains, our memories, our fears.  This requires more than therapy; this requires God changing our broken brains, our broken souls.

This is why we are told to meditate on scripture, on the words of Jesus.  We let his words, his thoughts, absorb our words, our thoughts.

So let me leave you with three sentences from Jesus:

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“Love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you.”

Jesus really does have the answer.

Perry Noble, New Spring, and Grace…

It’s a little know fact that preachers can be the worst gossips and slanderers.  I think this rises out of our own insecurities.  We feel threatened when someone else pastors a church that is bigger, or growing faster, or seems to be more blessed than ours.

So I have to start this post by confessing I have said unkind things about Perry Noble in the past.  Most of the time, I was jumping on a bandwagon when other pastors were being critical, and I didn’t want to be left out.  That doesn’t make it right.  It was sin every time I did it.  It hurt the cause of Christ, and the work of the Kingdom.

About a year ago, God convicted me of my behavior.  I had forgotten to follow Jesus.  I had forgotten the story  in Luke 9, when Jesus said, “Whoever is not against me is for me.”  Perry and I are on the same team.  My jealousy, not his conduct, caused my sin.  I asked for forgiveness, and I stopped my snipping.

When the news broke over the weekend about Perry leaving New Spring because he had messed up, my heart did not leap.  My heart was broken.  My brother in Christ, my co-laborer (who I have never met), had stumbled like we all do.

I can’t imagine the pressures Perry dealt with.  To preach to such a large congregation, to break new ground, and to have a big hairy audacious vision meant he was a convenient target.  Imagine not being able to go anywhere without being recognized.  Imagine everyone having an opinion about you before they ever meet you.  Imagine the responsibility of leading such a large organization.

Obviously Perry didn’t handle it all well.  I get that.  I deal with pressure on a smaller scale and I don’t handle all that well sometimes.

Here are the things I hope we will all do:

  1. Pray for Perry.  He has done a good work for God.  Pray for God to give him strength and for God to bathe him in love and grace.
  2. Pray for Perry’s family, for his wife and daughter.  Their pain is unique; pray for God to be good and gracious to them.
  3. Pray for healing in this family.
  4. Pray for the work of New Spring, that people will continue to come to know Jesus and follow him.  Pray for clarity for any who confused Jesus and Perry (hey, it happens).
  5. Pray for your pastor.  If that’s me, please pray for me.  I don’t deal with pressure the way I should.  Pray that I will be healthy and stay rooted in Jesus.  Pray for pastors you know.  This is not easy work.  Maybe we don’t talk about how hard it is because we don’t want to sound like whiners, but leading Jesus’ flock can suck your soul dry.  Pray for pastors to be refreshed by the Spirit.
  6. Pray for you to be filled with grace toward all who stumble, including yourself.

Your Impact Is More Than You Can See…

 

In 1912, medical missionary Dr. William Leslie went to live and minister to tribal people in a remote corner of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. After 17 years he returned to the U.S. a discouraged man, believing he failed to make an impact for Christ. He died nine years after his return.

But in 2010 a team led by Eric Ramsey with Tom Cox World Ministries made a surprising discovery. They found a network of reproducing churches hidden like glittering diamonds in the dense jungle across the Kwilu River from Vanga, where Dr. Leslie was stationed.

Based on his previous research, Ramsey thought the Yansi in this remote area might have some exposure to the name of Jesus, but no real understanding of who he is. They were unprepared for their remarkable find. “When we got in there, we found a network of reproducing churches throughout the jungle,” Ramsey reports. “Each village had its own gospel choir, although they wouldn’t call it that,” he notes. “They wrote their own songs and would have sing-offs from village to village.” They found a church in each of the eight villages they visited scattered across 34 miles. They also found a 1000-seat stone “cathedral” that often got so crowded in the 1980s—with many walking miles to attend—that a church planting movement began in the surrounding villages.

Apparently, Dr. Leslie traveled throughout this remote region, teaching the Bible and promoting literacy. He also started the first organized educational system in these villages, Ramsey learned. For seventeen years, Ramsey fought tropical illnesses, charging buffaloes, armies of ants, and leopard-infested jungles to bring the gospel into a remote area. He died feeling like he had failed, but instead his faithfulness and courage left a powerful legacy of vital churches.   (Adapted from Mark Ellis, “Missionary died thinking he was a failure; 84 years later thriving churches found hidden in the jungle,” GodReports blog (5-19-14).

You may not live to see your impact, but you will have one.  Will your impact be one that lasts?  Will your impact be something people thank God for?

Another way to ask this:  Are you okay with doing what God tells you to do and leaving the results with Him?

A Kingdom Greater Than Our Country…

 

When Secretary of State during the Reagan administration, George Shultz kept a large globe in his office. When newly appointed ambassadors had an interview with him and when ambassadors returning from their posts for their first visit with him were leaving his office, Shultz would test them. He would say, “You have to go over the globe and prove to me that you can identify your country.” They would go over, spin the globe, and put their finger on the country to which sent–unerringly.

When Shultz’s old friend and former Senate majority leader Mike Mansfield was appointed ambassador to Japan, even he was put to the test. This time, however, Ambassador Mansfield spun the globe and put his hand on the United States. He said: “That’s my country.”

On June 27, 1993, Shultz related this to Brian Lamb on C-Span’s “Booknotes.” Said the secretary: “I’ve told that story, subsequently, to all the ambassadors going out. ‘Never forget you’re over there in that country, but your country is the United States. You’re there to represent us. Take care of our interests and never forget it, and you’re representing the best country in the world.’ ”

As we approach July 4th, remember we may live in the greatest country in the world, but those of us who follow Jesus are citizens of a Kingdom that never ends.  We have been made into ambassadors for our King, to tell people that a different way of living exists.  All our fears and all that would destroy us has been destroyed by our King.

Here’s the funny thing:  we’ve never been to our Kingdom, to our true home.  That’s where faith comes in.  Blind faith is not required, for there are signs of the Kingdom coming all around us.  But faith is living out the sure hope that our King is preparing for us the greatest Kingdom of all.

Never forget, we are here in this country, at this point in time, to represent our King, to take care of His interests, to serve His Kingdom.

Celebrate the Fourth, but serve our Savior and King.

Ask the Pastor

This Sunday and Monday is Ask the Pastor.  We take pre-submitted questions and questions texted in and answer them during the message time.  It’s completely unscripted and I love it!  It is actually a form of teaching that was prominent in Jesus’ day, a form of rabbinical dialogue.

Among the most memorable questions ever:

  • If you could have any super power, what would you choose?
  • What is your favorite book of the Bible?
  • Will you ever leave Alice Drive?
  • Explain pre-destination.
  • When is Jesus coming back?
  • Are you losing weight?
  • I’m gay.  What does Jesus want to say to me?

So don’t miss this Sunday/Monday.  No telling what will come up!