Friday, November 12, 2010

Prayer Helps

Having a fresh approach to prayer is helpful from time to time. Use these short videos from Operation World to guide you as you pray for the nations. The videos are a great resource to use in a small group setting as well. Here is the link to over 60 videos:

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Intercultural Teaching in Uganda

I just found out I'll be going to Uganda in August. I'll be part of a team that will be teaching the Bible and missions practices to national pastors from a variety of African countries. These pastors have proven themselves faithful in the midst of much persecution. They have shepherded their flocks as best they could. I've been told that most African pastors get their theological training from TBN on cable tv. This is scary.

In a country torn by war and poverty these pastors are taught that they can rise above the suffering if only they have enough faith. They are encouraged to collect 'seed money' from church members who can't even afford to feed their families. They are promised that God will heal them and bring them wealth if only they give their 'seed money' in faith.

This teaching is unbiblical and very harmful to the churches. The gospel is being sold rather than freely offered. False teachers and false prophets abound.

In the midst of this are pastors who want to be faithful to the scriptures. They want training and tools to discern these false teachings. Many have been persecuted for standing up for the truth of the scriptures. It is to these pastors we will be going.

This will be a humbling experience because I have not suffered like they have. But we are brothers in Christ and have a lot to learn from each other. I know the trip will not be easy. It might be dangerous. Please be praying for me and the team I'll be going with. I'll post updates as I get them.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Riding the Bandwagon: How Coffee can Help our Preaching

I do love my coffee. From the beginning, recoiling after my first taste of espresso in 2000 up to today, enjoying the subtleties of a well-crafted latte - yes, I enjoy coffee in whatever form it may come in. At least to a point.

That's why I was so surprised while perusing the coffee aisle at the local grocery store yesterday. You know the aisle I'm talking about, the one whose aroma beckons you to come all the way from the meat cooler. As usual I was lured over to aisle 6, only this time to actually make a purchase. I scanned the shelf for my usual favorite when all of a sudden - BAM! I was struck. I staggered backward. My eyes went cross.

Right there among the giants of the coffee industry was one little white bag with that oh so familiar logo. A logo which, much like the aroma of the coffee aisle conjures up memories as well.

White Castle.

Yes, White Castle. Folks, we have another one that has jumped on the bandwagon. First it was Starbucks. Not to be outdone, Dunkin Donuts came on the scene. Hey, maybe - I like donunts, donuts go well with coffee. Maybe a donut manufacturer can produce a good coffee (not so much). Then came McDonalds. Their coffee actually isn't that bad.

But now, White Castle. Wow. Nothing hits the spot after a gut wrenching wrestling match with a 30-pack of sliders like a hot cup of White Castle joe. And now you too can enjoy this same experience at home with your very own bag of White Castle brew.

Tell me where to buy the shock absorbers that are supporting the coffee bandwagon. Who's gonna jump on next? Quikie Lube Full Service Oil Change Whole Bean Coffee?

You know, it's not just the coffee industry that jumps on board, trying to make a buck and getting in on the market while it's hot. We Christians do it too. How many versions of the so and so study Bible are out there? There's the Every Man's Battle for teenagers, kids, infants, twins, married men, divorced men, mid-life crisis men, and on and on. How different can the message really be? Same message, different packaging.

Some of the methods we use to 'preach the gospel' are just about as slippery and greasy as a White Castle meal - and the after effects are just as bad. We have the annual revival. True revival, historically has been brought on by God. Looking at the two awakenings in U.S. history in the mid-1700s and early 1800s we find churches with pastors who were faithfully preaching the gospel, doing evangelism, and discipling believers. Nothing changed expect that the Holy Spirit began to move in a greater way, calling hundreds more to Christ than previously.

Then some people began to discover that certain appeals to the emotions resulted in a greater number of professors of faith. Before long, 'revival' was more like a circus. Rather than being brought on by God, it rolled into town on a wagon driven by a man. Many of those who fell under emotional conviction and made a profession of faith were never heard from again. It was out of this scene that the 'alter call' or 'walking the aisle' came to be.

The thinking was that if someone was willing to walk the aisle or come forward they must be under conviction of sin. They must be converted. So appeals began to be made during the alter call or 'invitation.' More hymns were sang, more people were urged to come forward. And more did.

This 'alter call' or 'invitation' or 'walking the aisle' became a bandwagon. It seemed to work. So everyone jumped on. This style of preaching did not exist before 1800. Today I have seen extreme emotional appeal occur during a church service, someone comes forward, and the person is immediately given full assurance of their being saved. 'Brother, once saved, always saved. Ten-thousand angels are rejoicing for you in Heaven right now. Welcome to the family.' And then the person is never discipled. They fall back into their sinful lifestyle. It seems that the enemy has come and plucked away the seed of faith. Yet their name is on the member list and their number reported to the local convention who keeps track of these kinds of things.

Yet this style of preaching goes on. And to be honest, it leaves as bad a taste in my mouth as the bitterest coffee.

Don't jump on the bandwagon, using the latest method guaranteed to get results. And don't mask you doing just that with the veneer of faithful preaching and just 'letting the Holy Spirit work.' Rather, be original. Be like the Apostle Paul. Teach what he taught.

Titus 3:4-7 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

I am saying call people to repentance. Urge them to trust Jesus. But do it through a faithful teaching of the Scriptures. Include verse 5 (he saved us not because of our works) but don't leave out verse 8 (that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works).

I have seen at various times at 'revivals' smoke machines, magicians, comedians, Hosea the Prophet, dramas, letters from Hell, yelling, and countless verses of Just as I Am during the invitation. Be careful pastors. Be careful not to inadvertently jump on the bandwagon. Be faithful to teach all the scriptures. And live them out by discipling those who receive Christ. Don't abandon them after the alter call. If you do, you can be most assured that the Evil One will not abandon them.

Please, invest in your people and let the aroma of Christ be rich and full, robust. Don't settle for White Castle ministry.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Sky is Falling

Based on a devotional by Sojourn Church.

Jeremiah 10:2 "Learn not the ways of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations are dismayed at them, for the customs of the peoples are vanity."  Israel was in constant danger of being swept into the thinking and practices of society around her.  These peoples watched the sky and the earth.  When they saw the 'signs in the sky' they immediately made an idol and worshipped it in hopes that things would go their way.  God says these customs are worthless.

Christians can all too easily go this same path however.  People that should know better are 'watching the sky.'  They see that the 'wrong' leader has been elected, the economy fails, a swine flu pandemic is sweeping the world - they see these things as signs the end is near... and they panic.  Why do people panic because of these observations?  Because these very things have become their idols.  If people value safety, money, and health more than Jesus they will erupt in panic when these securities are threatened.  We want to make the most money and avoid the most pain and sickness.  We've given away our hope in God and received despair in return.

The things of the earth (money, government, pain and sickness), these things are passing away.  They cannot rule our lives.  They cannot be our gods.  When those things fall apart we as Christians must not fall apart because if there is to be any hope in this world, we cannot be running around like headless Chicken Littles telling the watching world that God isn't real and He offers no hope.

What does God say?  He says, "There is none like me, I am great and my name is great in might.  Who would be foolish enough not to trust me for I am the King of the nations.  Among all the nations, all the wise ones in all their kingdoms, there is none like me."  That's what God says.  In these dark times ( which are really a walk in the park compared to what most peoples on earth have been dealing with for the last 2000 years) we need to be the church proclaiming the light of Christ, proclaiming that there is a God over these things who is great in might and power.  Turning from your sin and lust for money and power and believing in Jesus and being reconciled to God - this offers real hope, eternal hope in the face of present fear.  This reconciliation to the very God you have hated and warred against is only made possible because while you were still rebelling against God he placed your punishment on his son Jesus who died in your place so that you might be made right with him in faith.  Will you turn to him?

Christians, be reminded of what should hold the ultimate place in your life, take heart, and offer hope to those around you.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Whatchu talkin bout, Willis??

Do you know any idioms? I'm not talking about those folks next door that are always annoying you... Likely, you know dozens of idioms and don't even realize it. Idioms, according to my unofficial definition, are local cultural phrases (often used in code to keep the outsiders at bay....). What are some idioms you know?

Break a leg
He's a few fries short of a Happy Meal
Listen to your heart
I smell a rat
Pulling my leg
Cat's got your tongue?
I feel like a million dollars
Jumping the gun
Kick the bucket
Keel over
That car is a lemon

These common phrases mark our everyday speech. You know you're one of the locals if you understand what someone is really saying. These phrases are unique to the local culture however. Idioms are some of the toughest phrases to translate into another language. I remember doing some Greek translation and coming across some of the idioms used in the New Testament. Boy was I confused! Imagine though being from a different culture and coming to the U.S. and people start telling you to break a leg and just play it smooth. You'd think these people were out of their minds!

The thing is that if you don't know the local language, phrases, and idioms you'll always be somewhat of an outsider. Think about that. Knowing the idioms are like knowing the inside jokes. Someone on the outside just doesn't get it and there is a distance there. One issue with language training is that you may only learn the language of the classroom and not the real world. You'll never learn the idioms of the culture unless you 'stick your neck out' and live among the people!

If you ever become a missionary or just want to learn another language, do all you can to learn the idioms too. And learn them well so you aren't using them like an ill-timed joke that leaves everyone staring. I think that language learning is one part of the missionary life that can be neglected. With all the other responsibilities what does it matter that the language is spoken exactly as the locals do? Can't I get by without putting in all the extra work? Well, if you have ever sat through a 50 minute well intentioned sermon by someone whose first language was not English and their mastery of English wasn't that good....well, it will encourage you to learn the language the best you can if you ever go overseas! You don't want to put the people you are trying to reach through a near fingernails on the chalkboard experience every time you teach them because you haven't taken the time to master their language.

People will listen more closely and the gospel will seem less foreign if you can speak like a local and even use the local phrases and idioms. The writers of the New Testament did this. They used the local terms for coins, wages, places, and so forth. They worked hard to understand the cultures where they lived. They were following in the footsteps of their Master. Jesus used the local language. He dressed like the locals. He was the Incarnation - the God Man. Jesus didn't seem overly foreign to everyone He met. His message was the pure gospel which never changes. In the same way we need to bring the pure seed of the gospel to the cultures we reach and not bring our culture in addition to the gospel. But we need language to do this. Jesus brought the message of reconcilliation between a holy God and sinful man, in fact He was God but He looked, talked, and smelled just like a local - and we should too.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

How churches are like wet parking lots...

I have some exciting news! The discipleship manual I have written was finally printed and I am able to hold it in my hand! I'm excited about his manual for several reasons:

1. It is much more in depth than most courses I have seen before. Rather than a fill in the blank style, it is interactive and challenging.

2. This course covers a broad range of topics. I sat down and thought about what areas a Christian needs to know to begin the walk on solid ground. For example, the course contains teaching on how Christians grow - an area often overlooked or assumed by many courses.

3. The course has several sections on biblical interpretation. In addition to providing the how-to, I have provided several examples and walk the reader through the process.

4. The course is written to help the teacher make disciples who are disciplemakers themselves. Many courses offer a transfer of information but this is not discipleship. Discipleship is a transformation of character.

5. The course will have a DVD set to go along with the manual. Some people are not easily able to read information and then teach it. My hope is that after reading through the lesson, the teacher can watch the session on DVD and then feel equipped to teach it. Classes I have taken that include a DVD accompanyment have been very helpful.

Discipleship is lacking in so many of our churches. Many people do not feel adequate to teach others so nothing ever gets going. I hope this course will begin to change that. Churches that neglect discipleship and only focus on making converts are said to be like a parking lot after a rain. The lot looks wide and deep but as soon as the sun comes out, it dries up. When the heat of trial comes on our flocks, the root withers and their spiritual lives dry up. Discipleship is essential to having a healthy church.

Do you need a premade package to disciple someone? Absolutely not! I feel though, that at least to begin, it is good to have some kind of guide to help you. After laying a solid foundation, the discipler can go in depth into individual areas later on. I have taught this course to the first found of students in my church. It went very well and they are excited to begin teaching others. Little by little great changes can be made through faithful teaching. One more step to fulfilling the Great Commission.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Blogs: The Drive-Thru Book

Do you read? I suppose you do because you are reading this blog right now. How about books? It seems that many Brazillians aren't reading anymore. A 2000 survey indicated hat 25% of Brazillians over 15 years of age were functionally illiterate - meaning they can read a road sign but cannot read for comprehension ("A Nation of Non-readers", The Economist, Mar 16, 2006). Another survey reports that the average Brazillian spends 5.2 hours a week in a book.

5.2 hours a week...that actually seems like a lot of time, at least when I think of many Americans I know. How many Americans come home from work and spend an hour a night reading a book? Don't most Americans spend about 5.2 hours a night watching TV? Anyway, back to the question - Do you read?

I just got off the phone with a good friend who is a professor at a community college in Ohio. I was mentioning this blog to him and he told me that part of the requirments for his students are to be fulfilled by creating and updating a blog. Just a few years ago the word 'blog' didn't even exist! Now blogs are used for classroom work in our schools! We truly are an evolving society. So, we read blogs but not books. Studies are beginning to show a shift away from reading for comprehension in America. Just like what is happening in Brazil. Our young people can surely read, but how long until we have a high percentage of functionally illiterate people?

The previously cited article indicates that in Brazil people just don't want to read. Like any skill, the less one practices the rustier one becomes. What can we do about this? We accomodate those who don't like to read with short internet articles, podcasts, blogs, and the like. We are becoming conditioned to get our info in short bites. A story that takes dozens of pages to properly develop, such as most novels, is no longer worth one's time. The blog has become the drive-thru book.

We probably aren't on a runaway train just yet. But it is leaving the station and picking up speed. Even prestigeuous schools like Harvard are moving away from textbooks and using more oral communication techniques like case studies. Role playing is a good way to teach so it is no surprise top notch acedemic institutions are moving the direction their students have already went.

I'm interested to see what becomes of our country in the next few decades. What place will books have in 25 years? Will they fall victim to termites as our libraries rot away as has already happened with the National Library of Brazil? Will the blog continue to be the new book?