Archive for October, 2005

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Judy

My mother-in-law, Judy, committeed suicide last night. If you are reading this, I ask you to pray for my wife and her family. They were all very close.

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” – Romans 10:14-15

Evangelism is a dirty word. It is a dirty word because the world had decided that proselytizing is wrong. The world has decided that what ever people believe is completely okay and no one should attempt to show them an alternative way. However, Evangelism is also a dirty word because of the church. The church has taught its people to be forceful and belligerent with their faith. The church has taught people that we are in charge of converting people to Christianity. The truth is the world is wrong and the church is wrong.

The world is wrong because if there is truth than everyone needs to be given the opportunity to hear this truth and judge it for themselves. The world is wrong because all belief are not equal. If all religions are equal why does the world condemn the sexism that has existed in religions throughout the ages? If all religions are equal why do we condemn human sacrifice, cannibalism and others “archaic” practices?

The church is wrong because Jesus did not tell us to get in people faces and be belligerent. Jesus always presented his truth with love. He did not beat the woman at the well or slap demons out of people (yes, this means hitting people up side the head or slapping some sense into people is not Biblical, sorry.) While Jesus did show anger in the clearing of the money changers from the temple, I don’t think this was meant to be an act of evangelism. The truth is Christ-followers are called to love people and live their faith. This will cause opportunities to arise to share who you are in Christ and why you follow him. The job of “convicting unto righteousness” belongs to the Holy Spirit, not us.

Dear Jesus,

Help us to be people of peace, love and mercy, not conquest. Help us to open door and create bridges of faith by loving people. Help us to live our lives in such a way as people desire to have what we have. Let our fruit be are first witness and our words follow them. Thank you Lord for your love. Amen.

Slaves – Romans 6-8

19 I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. 20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. 21 What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! 22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 6:19-23

We are going to serve sinfulness or God. That is our only choice. We like to think that we can serve neither. That we can live a perfectly good life without God. We like to think that we can completely control our destiny and that we will not be slaves to sin if we chose to ignore God. However, the truth is we are going to either be slaves to God or to sin. Our very nature requires that we follow one or the other. Just think about it. Even when we chose to follow God and therefore become slaves to God, we still cannot get completely away from sin. We still make mistakes, we still lie, we still cheat, we still hold grudges and cause harm. Just think how much sin must have a hold of us when we are not slaves to God. The real issue is we do get to chose. We can chose to be a slave to God and he will help us to stay aways from the hideous control of sin, or we can chose to ignore God and we will serve sin.

Dear Jesus,

I chose to serve you. Even as I place myself as your slave, you give me freedom. Even as I submit to you, you give me an abundant life. Even as I give up everything to you, you give me meaning and purpose. Help me to continuously submit to you each day so I can truly be free. I love you Lord Jesus. Amen.

Evotional

The following entry is an evotional that comes weekly from National Community Church (www. theaterchurch.com) in Washington D.C. You can sign up to receive it yourself at the following link:

Sign-up for National Community Church’s evotional.

Here is the latest. This one really spoke to me, so I though I would post it here.

The Wild Goose Chase
10.20.05
Pastor Mark Batterson

This evotional kicks off a new series titled The Wild Goose Chase. To subscribe to the Theaterchurch.com podcast visit http://www.theaterchurch.com. For additional thoughts on The Wild Goose Chase visit my blog @ http://www.evotional.com.

Let me tell you where the title comes from. The Celtic Christians had a great name for the Holy Spirit. It sounds a little sacrilegious at first earshot, but I’ve learned to love this name. The Celtic Christians called the Holy Spirit the Wild Goose.

I don’t know about you, but when I look at my life I can’t think of a better description of what it’s like being led by the Holy Spirit than a wild goose chase.

On one level, God is predictable. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is loving and gracious and powerful. You can take it to the bank. But God is also predictably unpredictable. I love the way Oswald Chambers said it: “To be certain of God is to be uncertain in all our ways, you never know what a day may bring forth.”

Jesus said it this way in John 3:8: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

In other words, if you are Spirit led you will experience high levels of unpredictability.

And that can cause high levels of angst or high levels of excitement.

Hold that thought.

I daresay that everybody reading this evotional has something in common: you drove your parents crazy when you were a kid. And here’s how you did it. You sat in the backseat of your family car and you asked one question over and over again. And you all know the question because you asked it so many times: when are we going to get there?

I think that question reveals something about human nature.

We want to know exactly where we’re going and we want to know exactly when we’ll get there. That’s a nice way of saying we’re control freaks.

We want a complete itinerary with everything mapped out.

The problem with that is this: as long as the Holy Spirit is in the driver’s seat and you’re in the backseat you’ll never know exactly where you’re going or when you’ll get there.

I used to hate that. But I’ve learned to love it.

You know what I think? I think the greatest moments in life are unscripted. They are unrehearsed and unplanned and unpredictable. And that’s precisely what makes them unforgettable.

Let me put it in theatrical terms.

I think part of us wants God to take us to a three Act play with a clearly defined plot that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. But the Holy Spirit takes us to the Improv instead. We want the entire script up front, but that would undermine our dependence upon the Holy Spirit.

Let me cut to the chase. We’ve got to learn to enjoy the unplanned, unscripted, unpredictable moments in life. That’s part and parcel of chasing the Wild Goose. It’s improvisation.

Unscripted Moments

Last week our team was in Atlanta for the Catalyst Conference. Ask me what I remember most and it’s not the things we pre-planned. It was the unscripted moments. It was the improv.

Someone on our team offered Lora $20 if she’d run through a fountain that was outside the Mall of Georgia. You don’t want to double dog dare my wife. She got soaking wet. But she got $20 which she immediately used to buy dry clothes. It was improv.

I remember 9,000 people blowing up whoopee cushions and sitting on them. I never thought that I’d get into the Guinness Book of World Records at the Catalyst conference. There was a Guinness rep at the event to verify the world record. It was improv.

Those of you who know me know that I’m an impulsive goofball. And proud of it! We went to Chick-Fil-A for a breakfast sandwich when we arrived in Atlanta and after I paid for my order I got three pennies in change. I walked back to the table where our team was seated and I threw them onto the floor and across the restaurant. Everybody gave me a weird look and I said, “It’s for the kids.” There is nothing I loved more than finding change when I was a kid. Made my day! So every time I got change that day I threw it on the ground and said, “It’s for the kids.” It was improv.

Here’s what I’m getting at. Part of us wants to know exactly where we’re going and exactly when we’ll get there. But that would be boring! But we’ve got to learn to enjoy the unscripted things that happen. It’s part of chasing the Wild Goose Chase.

Delays and Detours

Over the next three weeks I want to look at three stories from the book of Acts. If I was asked to sub-title the book of Acts I’d probably sub-title it The Wild Goose Chase. There is no way you could have scripted the things that happened. You couldn’t Mapquest the missionary journeys. You couldn’t schedule the divine appointments on your Palm Pilot. You couldn’t predict the miracles that happen.

Here is my take on the book of Acts.

Acts 1 begins with twelve dysfunctional disciples. And Acts 28 ends with the gospel spreading to the entire ancient world. In between are a bunch of wild goose chases. I want to look at three of those wild goose chases the next three weeks. The first one is in Acts 17.

Acts 17 begins with Paul preaching in Thessalonica. A mob forms and Paul escapes in the middle of the night. He goes to Berea and starts preaching. But that mob from Thessalonica tracks Paul down and finds him in Berea. Acts 17:14 says, “The believers acted at once, sending Paul on to the coast, while Silas and Timothy remained behind.”

If I’m Paul I’m probably complaining about my circumstances. I’m getting kicked out of every city I go to! And I’m probably a little drained physically and emotionally. Lynch mobs usually have that effect.

Paul could have laid low. After all, he was short staffed. He could have licked his wounds or thrown a pity party. But Paul always has his spiritual radar on. Acts 17:16 says, “While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the city.” And Paul decided to do something about it. “He went to the synagogue to debate with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and he spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there.”

I won’t read the rest of the chapter, but Paul ends up sharing his faith with some of the greatest philosophical minds in the ancient world in a place called the Aeropagus. One member of the council, Dionysius, became a believer. And a woman named Damaris put her faith in Christ.

Now let me make an observation: Athens wasn’t on Paul’s itinerary.

Put yourself in Paul’s shoes. Paul could have seen Athens as a detour or a delay! He could have complained about his circumstances. But he didn’t see it as a detour or a delay. He saw it for what it was: a divine appointment.

Here’s the big idea: what you think is a detour or delay may be the very thing that gets you where God wants you to go!

When I look back on my life, I genuinely thank God for the detours and delays. DC was a detour! We had planned on spending the rest of our lives in Chicago. We tried to plant a church in Chicago, but it didn’t happen. Our plans were delayed. It was frustrating. It was embarrassing. But thank God for detours and delays!

Flight Delay

Now let me go back to one little phrase in Acts 17:16: “While Paul was waiting.”

Most of us would have been complaining under our breath. I can’t believe God let me get kicked out of Berea. But Paul redeems the time.

You only have two options when you find yourself in circumstances you don’t want to be in. You can complain about the circumstances. Or you can make the most of those circumstances.

Two weeks ago our team flew back from the Catalyst Conference. To be perfectly honest, I was exhausted. I wanted to get home. I wanted to see my kids and sleep in my own bed. Unfortunately, the entire airport was experiencing weather delays. At first, I was frustrated. I wanted to have a bad attitude about it. But then someone on our team pulled out a barrel of monkeys. I’m not sure how to describe it, but you try to string a bunch of plastic monkeys together and pick them up. We had a blast playing with monkeys!

And then someone on our team thought we should provide some flight delay entertainment. So we decided to dust off our Napoleon Dynamite routine and turn Gate 10 into a dance floor.

The quality is pretty poor, but we captured some of it on a video phone. Here’s a link: http://blog.theaterchurch.com/2005/10/flight-delay-entertainment.html.

Believe it or not, we actually got a nice round of applause from Gate 10. But the kicker was a girl who came up to us and told us she attends NCC. We were sort of hoping we wouldn’t see anybody who knows us! She was actually on the phone with another NCCer when we started dancing. She said, “You won’t believe this. Pastor Mark and the NCC staff are dancing in the middle of the Atlanta airport.”

Here’s my point. We were literally delayed. And we could have grumbled and complained about those circumstances. But we decided to make the most of those circumstances. And it turned into one of the highlights!

George Bernhard Shaw said, “People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want and if they can’t find them, make them.”

Maybe you feel like your flight has been delayed? Your friends are getting married or getting promotions and you’re stuck at Gate 10. You want to be back in Berea, but you find yourself in Athens.

Maybe you feel like your dreams have been delayed or detoured.

What you think of as a delay or detour may be exactly what it takes to get you where God wants you to go!

Most of wait while we’re waiting! Paul saved cities! Paul did more while he was waiting than most of us do while we’re doing!

Why? He redeemed the time! He turned a detour into a divine appointment. He turned a delay into a divine appointment.

God is in the business of strategically positioning us in the right place at the right time. Here’s the catch. Sometimes the right place at the right time seems like the wrong place at the wrong time.

But what seems like a delay or detour may be the very thing that gets you where God wants you to go!

Chase the Wild Goose.

Blessed – Romans 4-5

1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? 2 If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. 3 What does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”

4 Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. 5 However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. 6 David says the same thing when he speaks of the blessedness of the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works:

7 “Blessed are they
whose transgressions are forgiven,
whose sins are covered.
8 Blessed is the man
whose sin the Lord will never count against him.”
– Romans 4:1-8

A few nights ago, I was watching the movie Constantine. In this movie there is a man named John Constatine who drives demons out of people. You would think he is on God’s side, but you find out later that he is not very friendly to God, because John is condemned to hell. It turns out that when John was younger he committeed suicide and was actually dead for two minutes. He somehow came back, but was forever condemned because of this sin. He spent the rest of his days trying to get into God’s good graces by earning his way back into heaven.

Of course, we don’t expect Hollywood to necessarily get it right when it comes to the Word of God. In this case they instead went with the worldly idea that we earn our way into paradise with our good works and generally being a good person. I have to say that I am glad that being a good person is not a requirement to get into heaven. If it was, I am not quite sure I would be going. Instead, Jesus covers are transgression and forgives our sins. That is the reason I know I am right with God.

Dear Jesus,

Thank you for humbling yourself and coming to earth. Thank you for teaching us what it truly means to follow God. Thank you for sacrificing yourself so my sins can be forgiven. Help me to serve you and love you with everything that I am. Amen.

21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. 29 Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law. – Romans 3:21-31

I love Paul’s words in Romans 3:21-31 because I believe he is giving us the true understanding of the relationship between the law and our faith. The arguement has been around for ages that we are completely free from the law. The other side of the arguement has also been around that certain parts of the law still apply. Finally, a third arguement has been made by a few that the law still completely applies and that we need to follow it to the letter. Paul, however, would say these are all wrong. The letter of the law is gone because it has been written on our hearts. Our faith upholds the law in that we are living the intent of the law throught it. No, we are no longer following the dietary laws, but our faith sets us apart from the world just as the dietary laws were to set the Jews apart. No we no longer follow the sacrificial system, but our faith and God’s mercy allows us the serve as living sacrifices each and every day. No, we no longer set aside Saturday as our day of worship (at least most of us don’t) and require that no work of any kind be done on it, but we still take time each week (hopefully multiple times each week), to spend time with God in prayer, study, and worship. We also set aside time to come together as the body of Christ regardless if it is a Saturday, Sunday or some other day of the week. You see a law written on your hearts is not about specific, but about a way of life. Jesus summed it us best when he said,

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” 37 Jesus replied: ” ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:36-39

Dear Jesus,

Jesus, we can look at you as the giver of the law, the giver of grace and the giver of mercy. In the end you are our source of faith. Help me to live a life that say I love you and I love people. You made it clear that if those two come from our heart, we will be serving you. I love you Jesus. Amen.

1 In those days Israel had no king. – Judges 19:1

25 In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit. – Judges 21:25

It is interesting that Judges 19 begins with the words, “In those days Israel has no king” and Judges 21 ends with, “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” In between these two verses we are told a story of the inhabitants of one of the towns of Israel committing a horrible crime that led to war between the tribe of Benjamin and the other eleven tribes. What really strikes me is the idea of what a king really means in this passage. My first thought is that they are talking about an earthly king. However, if you read on in the books of I and II Kings you soon realize that many of the kings of Israel and later Judah were just as evil as the Benjaminites. It is true that when Godly kings were in power, Israel tended to follow God, but this never lasted. We also know that God made it clear in a few parts of scripture that he did not want the people of Israel to have an earthly king. So my question is this. Do these verses really talk more about the idea that Israel was not following God as their king? Is it really talking about that they had forgotten the moral direction God had provided to them? I don’t know if I really have an answer for these questions, but I do think this gives us enough pause to look at our own lives and see if we are part of the crowd in which “everyone did as he saw fit.”

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for providing us with direction and guidance. Thank you for loving us so much that you forgive us when we don’t place you as king of our lives. Help me to look at you as who you really are – The King of kings and the Lord of lords. I love you Lord. Amen.

1 As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.

2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?

3 My tears have been my food
day and night,
while men say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”

4 These things I remember
as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go with the multitude,
leading the procession to the house of God,
with shouts of joy and thanksgiving
among the festive throng.

5 Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and 6 my God.
My soul is downcast within me;
therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.

7 Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.

8 By day the LORD directs his love,
at night his song is with me—
a prayer to the God of my life.

9 I say to God my Rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?”

10 My bones suffer mortal agony
as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”

11 Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

All too often lately, I feel like the writer of this Psalm. The second line says, “When can I go and meet with God?” My intellect tells me that I can meet with God at any time, but my heart tells me that it will not happen. I feel like I am living in former days when my relationship with God was strong and clear. Now I feel like it is foggy and shrouded. I have lived my life always moving toward a goal I believed God set for me. Now I am not actually sure where I am going. It is as if everything I knew to be true has been proven false and everything I thought I was leaving behind is following me. For the first time in a long time I don’t have a sense of direction. I am calling out to God and I fear he may not be listening, even though I know with everything I am that he hears me. I wonder if I am not listening to him. If that is true, then I need a lesson in listening because I just don’t know how. I know my soul literally pants for God. I am just not hearing an answer.

Dear Heavenly Father,

I don’t even know the words to pray. I only know I need you today, tomorrow and forever. Forgive me if I have failed to listen to you. Open my ears and let me hear. Calm my spirit so I man rest in you. Right now I am only holding onto your love. Amen.

Two Dreams…

This morning I had two dreams that I remember vividly. Like most people, this is unusual for me. Normally, I do not remember any of the dreams I have. Let me recount them below.

In the first dream I was talking with the leadership of a non-profit that did what I would call, “least of these” ministry. They helped the down and out, the homeless, the destitute and the addicted. However, they also helped those who were experiencing temporary problems (or hopefully temporary problems) such as job loss, financial difficulty due to medical bills and other similar situations. In the dream, the nonprofit run a online message board to provide emotional and other types of support to those experiencing these temporary problems. At some point in the past I had posted to these message board notes of support and encouragement to some of the people in need. Someone at the nonprofit noticed and appreciated my post, so they asked me if I would become a volunteer moderator of the message board. They told me it was there hope that these boards could provide the kind of moral support that was just as necessary as financial support for those who were facing a short-term problem. They also hoped by showing the love of Christ in a tangible way they could be a positive influence on the spiritual journey of those using the message board.

At this point, I woke up feeling completely rested and awake. I looked over at my clock and thought it said it was 5:28 AM. As I normally get up at 5:30, I thought I would just lay there for a couple of minutes until my alarm went off. After what seemed like an unusually long two minutes, I look again and realized it was now 3:32 AM. Believing that this had to be wrong, I went into my office and looked at the time on the computer. It verified that it was now 3:34 AM. Being a person who believes that sleep is one of God’s greatest gifts to humankind, I decided to go back to sleep for the next two hours.

Next I had a dream about another ministry. Only this time it was an “evangelistic” ministry. Somehow they also knew about me, but I do not know how in the dream. The contact me and ask me if I will help them set-up a message board system for thier ministry. It seems they have had some internet based communications with a couple of lesbians and they say, “We are hoping we can convert them.”

At this point my alarms goes of at the real 5:30 AM. When I wake up I distinctly remember the person from the second ministry telling me they want to convert them. It really stuck in my head and bothered me. What I am about to say has nothing to do with your belief about homosexuality or what you believe the scriptures say about homosexuality. It has to do with how we present the Gospel message. The first group desired to be a positive influence on peoples spiritual journey. The intrinsically understood that our job is to help people along and it is the job of the Holy Spirit to do the rest. The second group had more of a conquest attitude. It reminds me of the tactics used in the Crusades and we all know how effective that was in converting muslims.

I am not absolutely sure what God was trying to tell me through these dreams. I have not used the tactics of the second organization for many years, but I at least feel like he was saying I am on the right path.