Friday, March 18, 2005

Don't mess with Dallas

this is an audio post - click to play


this is an audio post - click to play

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Kerak Castle

Talk about walls. Try getting through this one at Kerak, a Crusader castle in Jordan.

Outside the Walls

Sign broken, come inside for message.

Recently, while driving past a local church, I read the preceding message on their sign. "Hmm, clever," I thought. But as I kept driving and thinking, I began to question their method of outreach to the community.

Are people really going to come in just because the church boasts a sign with a witty saying? With cars whizzing by at an average of about 60mph, the sign has a maximum of about ten seconds to capture the drivers' attention and thought. In this short window of opportunity, is this the impression we really want to leave? That the saving message of the gospel must be heard inside the walls of the church?

Granted, there is no harm in a little invitation to the service, but I fear that the mentality exhibited on the sign has become an ideology within the body today. Many times, when we say "outreach" or "evangelism," what we really mean is bringing someone into the sanctuary, plopping them on a pew next to us, and pummeling them with music, teaching, prayer, and exposing them to all the "feel-good" amenities that our churches offer today.

I don't know how many of us realize this, but most of the people being won to Christ throughout the world aren't responding to the gospel while listening to a church congregation mumble a rendition of the 1st, 3rd, 5th verses of "Just as I am" toward the end of the service. No, people are being saved in the rainforests and the deserts, in the mountains and in the valleys, in the frozen tundra and in tropical regions, any many other places God is moving throughout the four corners of the earth. God is making straight paths in the wilderness, raining down his love on barren lands, sowing seed for a great harvest.

Along with all this, he is preparing the way for his people to move outside the walls of our church buildings that have confined us for much too long. He is calling us to realize how we have misunderstood the task of the body of Christ. In the New Testament, the church is the body of Christ, a house of living stones being built into a glorious temple with Christ as its cornerstone (see 1 Peter 2). It is comprised of believers who spur one another on with the common goal of the kingdom's advancement.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not suggesting that all unbelievers should be shut out of the church. Nor am I saying that we should not proclaim the gospel within the confines of our church buildings. But I am suggesting that the primary function of the church is to edify Christians and to prepare them for ministry, much of which should take place outside its walls. The central idea has always been to win souls to Christ as we go and after their conversion, to bring them into the church for discipleship.

Paul didn't wait idly for the world to come to him. He went out to preach the freedom of the gospel and to "make disciples of all nations" (Mt. 28:19). During the time of the early church, God didn't "add to their number daily" so that unbelievers would be exposed to the gospel (see Acts). Those being added were the fruits of the apostles' faithful preaching outside the church. When they went out, God brought the harvest in!

For the sake of Jesus' name, we must realize that God's work does not stop at the doors to the sanctuary. Contrary to the way we've lived for so long, we must understand that going outside beginning of ministry. Only then will our joyous lives--not our signs--be the advertisements that draw people not into a building, but into an adventurous and loving relationship with their Creator.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Freedom Fighting

I have come to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty for the captives and the recovery of sight for the blind, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor. I have come that they may have life and have it to the full. (Luke 4:18-19, John 10:10)

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2 Corinthians 3:17)

In today's increasingly postmodern culture, Christian evangelists are characterized as bigots bent on brainwashing the entire world with "their version" of the truth. While Christians are asked to "understand" and "tolerate" other cultures, they are denied this same tolerance toward their own practices, one of which is to share the message of the gospel with the world.

Persecution of Christian servants is rampant throughout the world today, especially in closed countries like communist China, where the meaning and intent of the gospel are completely misconstrued. Repressive governments fear that political unrest and a disturbed social order will follow from the advance of the gospel.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Byproducts of the gospel (and the teaching of scripture) are respect for the government, the promotion of general welfare, and a sense of community and obedience. Why would any government oppose such an ideology? Because they have branded Christianity as the flagship for the western thought process they so vehemently oppose.

While in college, I have been confronted by many of these biases. I have caught myself (in the flesh) wondering whether my motives for worldwide evangelism are pure. Am I doing this so that I can feel good about myself through adherence to my faith? Do I simply want to promote western ideology? Is this just a vacation paid for by the faithful gifts of God's people? Thankfully, in response to these questions, the Holy Spirit floods my heart with a resounding "NO!"

As far as presenting a message that some don't understand, we're not alone. Isaiah was called to be a prophet to an "ever-hearing, never understanding" people. Jesus quoted that very same passage in regards to the Jewish population that would not recognize him as the promised messiah. He knew that many would misunderstand his message, but to him, the benefits of releasing captives from their spiritual prison would outweigh the sting of his opponents physical and rhetorical assaults.

This is the charge to which we are called: to proclaim freedom to a people that doesn't know it's in bondage and to fight for liberation even when those in prison are clinging to their ball and chain for comfort.

Paul preached in synagogues, reasoning with Jew and Gentile alike, proclaiming Christ's resurrection. No matter what they did to him, he loved them enough to proclaim abundant life to them.

Whether we go across the street or around the world, we have Jesus' word that persecution will follow the gospel. But we should never resent any suffering that befalls us. We should never see harsh treatment endured for the gospel negatively. We should never hold fallen individuals responsible for behaviors that stem from their bondage to the evil one.

Remember how you were set free when you wanted nothing to do with God or his holiness, and use this memory as a springboard for freedom fighting. We can empathize with the oppressed, for we were once of their fold. But now we have been brought into a new sheep pen, one where the shepherd cares for us. We must see all people, even those who attack us, as debtors who need the same grace that we have received.

The Spirit of the Lord indwells us, and where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. Wherever we go, the freedom of the kingdom of God is present. Once we follow Jesus' example and live in this reality, there will be no stopping the kingdom's--and freedom's--advance.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Standing strong in Wadi Rum

Burying Jesus

He was with the rich in his death, but he didn't enjoy their company for too long.

I've often wondered what it would have been like to be present at the crucifixion. Those closest to Jesus scattered, failing to understand what was going on. Would I have gotten it? Could I have grasped how this seed, planted in ground in death, would soon sprout to produce life beyond measure?

In my New Testament class today, we discussed Jesus' death and burial. This time period, the interim between the death and resurrection of the Lord, is the most spiritually empty epoch in the earth's history.

It's no small wonder then that two seekers of God's kingdom were afraid to reveal their affinity for the Lord. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimethea, members of the Jewish governing body and the wealthy aristocracy respectively, "feared the Jews" and so became secret disciples of Jesus. They must have cared for the gentle rabbi. Their respect led them to pursue a proper burial for him, a rarity for executed criminals. But as I was reading John 19:38-42, I noticed that, while well intentioned, their brand of faith produced some deathly effects. The fear of man puts--and leaves--Jesus in the grave.

The burial of Jesus is the last we hear from Nicodemus and Joseph in the gospels. We'd like to believe that after the resurrection, they turned from their fear and followed Jesus, forfeiting the riches of this world and their social standing for the everlasting glory of Christ. There's no way we can be sure.

But we can learn a lesson from them. No matter how much you respect Jesus internally, being ashamed of him before men will bury the resurrection power within. We must confess with our mouths that he is Lord, or we will never fully taste his salvation and power. The apostles never backed down from a challenge to proclaim the name of Jesus. In fact, they rejoiced because they "were counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the name." So it should be with us.

The church today has buried Jesus beneath the sands of fear and timidity. We have become "secret disciples." Our inability to speak out has sealed the stone at the tomb's entrance. Only when we come out of our shells will we release the light of the kingdom of God into the dark world around us.

Are we to become ardent political advocates, protesting at every public event, frantically calling down the wrath of God on the world around us? By no means! But we should make the most of every opportunity we have to preach Christ resurrected, taking hold of the spiritual power and influence that comes from the unashamed proclamation of his Word.

Still Standing

Sometimes I wonder where the line is between fighting my own battles and relinquishing control. In some instances, I'm told to "Stand firm," in others to "Stand still." Which is it Lord? Both?

Spiritual warfare is a reality for any believer. Regardless of what you thought you were signing on for when you accepted Christ, you have been thrown in the thick of a raging battle. We have a real enemy who has developed devious schemes not only to derail us from the track that God set out for us, but to completely and utterly destroy us. Every warrior must gird himself not with the physical armor of this world, but spiritual armor that God has forged for us. But once we have donned our armor, what do we then do?

This question has tortured me throughout the past few years as I have struggled to practically apply in my heart what I know in my head about spiritual warfare. Yes, I know there is a battle and that my survival depends on my ability to fend off spiritual assaults. Yes, I know the stakes are high. Yes, I know that the outcome of each skirmish is a step toward or away from my desired destination. But how and with whose strength do I wage war? As my enemies charge, do I wait for the Lord to crush them with hailstones from above, or do I have an active role in the fight?

I have searched the scriptures for the answer, and Ephesians 6 best represents the overwhelming message of the scriptures: "Be strong in the Lord and in HIS mighty power" and later, "Stand firm." The word "stand" emerges four times in this the most popular biblical passage on spiritual warfare. Even in the Old Testament, when the Israelites were told that "the Lord will fight for you," standing firm was a prerequisite to the Lord's deliverance (see Ex. 14, 2 Chr. 20).

So why is God so preoccupied with our standing? He certainly doesn't need our approval or help. He has all power at his fingertips, so why doesn't he just crush every adversary before it becomes a problem? The answer is that he wants to teach us how to be a warrior. He wants to lead us into the dominion he created us for. And most of all, he wants to teach us to trust his strength.

The book of 2 Samuel 23 lists the many exploits of David's mighty men, the 10th century BC's version of the special forces. One of these stories encapsulates the lesson of standing in the Lord's strength. Take a look:

11) When the Philistines banded together at a place where there was a field full of lentils, Israel's troops fled from them, 12) but Shammah took his stand in the middle of the field. He defended it and struck down the Philistines, and THE LORD brought about a great victory that day.

Shammah was one man, but he knew he was fighting with a strength greater than the entire Philistine army--God's spirit. He could have fled like the rest of the army, but Israel's progress toward the Lord's purposes would have taken a massive step backward. He had strength enough to stand, and God took care of the rest.

May we be a people that, when all others flee, can be found still standing, waiting in eager expectation for the Lord's victory to be revealed.