Nov 30, 2010

Where is the Pain? What is In Our Hands?

How can our churches make a difference in our communities?

In order to be a church that is impacting the neighborhoods we are in, we need to ask two questions: Where is the pain? What is in our hands? When these two things come together, ministry happens.

Where is the pain?

There is pain all around. People all around us are hurting and in need. Where are the people in our neighborhoods hurting? Where are our church people hurting?

Unless the church is able to discern and identify where our people and the people in our community are hurting and discern tangible ways to bring healing, it won't matter what our churches say. Words are meaningless and powerless until our words and deeds begin alleviating the pain people are going experiencing.

The second question that we must ask is "What is in our hands?"

What tools and resources has God given the church so that we can begin working towards healing? I believe God has given to every church the very resources she will need to bring healing to those who are hurting.

So leaders, what is in our hands? What tools, what resources do we already possess that we can start allocating towards the pain that our community is experiencing?

When what is in our hands is used to alleviate the suffering in our communities, the gospel can make all the difference in the world.

Nov 28, 2010

Make a Difference. Love Others. Love God.

Three principles to live by: Make a difference. Love others. Love God.

Make a difference. Life is way too short and precious to live aimlessly. Don’t just count the days; make your days count. Because Jesus is in you, wherever you are, it ought to be a better place after you’ve been there because Jesus was there. So go ahead, get off your rear ends and serve, give, make a difference.

Love others.  Live your life in such a way that the people around you know that they are loved. Life can be incredibly hard. Life really hurts sometimes. And if we are alone in those times, life is all but impossible to bear. That's why we have each other. That's why God gave the gift of people. Live your life in such a way that the loved ones around us know without a shadow of doubt that they are loved.

Love God. Living a life that's making a difference and loving people doesn't just happen. These things happen because God is the source and the genesis of living life with purpose. So every time we call someone to see how they're doing, every time we volunteer, every time we write a note or email of encouragement, it's not just people we are serving. In all these things, what what we're really doing is loving on Jesus and serving our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ through serving others.

Make a difference. 

Love others.

Love God.

Nov 26, 2010

Creatures of Habit

We are creatures of habit. 

Until recently, I was in the habit of blogging on a fairly regular basis. The blogging habit was supported by reading other blogs and books on a regular basis. It was the habit and the discipline of reading that generated the ideas for new blogs.

But in the last couple of weeks, I have not been blogging much lately. At first it was because I was in Russia and the internet connection was so spotty there that I couldn't blog. But I have been home now for over a week and I still haven't been blogging as regularly as I normally do. So what's the deal?

We are creatures of habit.

It's amazing how when you're doing something regularly, there is a rhythm and pace to the creativity and writing. But when I was taken out of the habit and the discipline of writing and reading regularly, I found it harder and harder to get back to writing.

I think there's a lesson in there about habits. Be very careful of the habits we get ourselves into. 
  • If those habits are good and character forming, keep at it because it's the regularity of that practice and habit that produces the consistency and the fruit. 
  • At the same time, if the habits are bad and life destroying, the regularity of such habits will destroy us and our lives. And the regularity of such bad habits give the habits that much more power. The sooner we are able to say "No" to sinful and negative habits the better off we will be.
  • And the more we are able to to say "No", the regularity of the denial of those habits become habit forming.
We are creatures of habit. How are you doing with your habits?

Nov 23, 2010

Pastor Roman - Get a Bible. Read it. And then Do What It Says

Roman was riding on the Moscow Subway after the collapse of the Soviet Union when he was handed a gospel tract. He started reading the tract and the truth about Jesus pierced his heart. Before he realized what was happening, he was praying the prayer at the back of the tract and received Jesus Christ into his heart as Lord and Savior.

What he discovered about Jesus was so wonderful, he gave the gospel tract to one of his friends who read it, prayed the prayer in the back and received Jesus into his life.

He passed the gospel tract to another who received Jesus into her life and who passed the tract to another.

After five of them accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, they all came to Roman and said, "You gave us the tract, you're our pastor. What should we do now?"

That's how Roman became a pastor. The call literally came to him!

So what would these newly converted Christians do?

Roman knew this much - They should get a Bible. They should read the Bible. And then they should do their best to do what the Bible says.

I love that!

That's what Christians do.

That's how Pastor Roman's church was started.

And they continue to do today what they did from day one - Get a Bible. Read the Bible. And then do what the Bible says.

So simple, and yet we in America have made following Jesus so complicated.

What a great reminder and encouragement from our Russian Christian sisters and brothers.

Church - Go get a Bible. Read it. And then do what the Bible says!

Nov 20, 2010

...That Your Sins May Be Wiped Out...

"Repent then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord" - Acts 3:19.

...that your sins may be wiped out...

I don't know about you, but when it comes to some sins in my life, the thought of my sins not only being forgiven but being wiped out puts a huge smile on my face.

There are some sins so filled with shame, regret, and pain, I need them to not only be forgiven, I need them to be wipe out.  I don't want anything to do with them anymore. I want them removed from me as far as possible.

And that's exactly what God promises us in Jesus Christ.


The result of having our sins wiped out is times of refreshing. Just the sound of that makes me happy.

The way to experience these times of refreshing is 1) repent, and 2) turn to God. There are two things necessary:

  • First is to repent by confessing and acknowledging our sin(s) before God. We need to admit our failures and sins before God.
  • Second, we need to turn to God. Turning to God is not only a directional change, but it means a stoppage of sin. Whatever sin we are confessing to God, we must be willing to stop whatever it is we are confessing.
And when we do those two things, God promises to wipe away our sins and give us times of refreshing.

Ready for some good times?

Nov 17, 2010

Was Life Better Under the Communists or Is Life Better Now in Russia?

Just returned from Russia.

Had an amazing seven days with amazing people.

This was my seventh time in Russia and one of the things I always ask the Russians I meet is the question, "Was life better for you during the Soviet days or today?"

To my surprise almost everyone I meet tell me that life was better under the Soviet days.

To a westerner and an American who values freedom this answer is shocking.

One would think everyone would say that life is better now.

I mean just look around...

  • No more lines waiting for food
  • There are dozens of different types of breads, milk, cheese, fruits, etc. to choose from where as before there were limited selections
  • People are free to travel as they please
  • There are signs of development everywhere - new buildings, new cars, new shopping centers
  • There is religious freedom
So how can Russian Christians say that life was better under the communists? They most likely wouldn't even be Christians under communist Russia.

One of the things that is difficult to understand is the disparity between the tiny percentage of the rich in Russia and the rest of the country. The rich in Russia are rich beyond measure. But the rich represent just a tiny portion of the population. There is a growing middle class, but even the middle class represents a small portion of the population. Most of the people are poor. And the disparity between the rich, the middle class, and the poor are so vast. 

Most of the Russians are having difficulty making ends meet. Sure, there are way more choices in the food and goods available but only if you have the money. 

In the communist days, people had to wait in line for limited selections of bread and milk, but they all had bread and milk.

Today, there are dozens of breads and cheeses available and there are no lines...but only if you have the money. And most Russians are struggling to make the ends meet.

Things are improving. I have been going to Russia for about ten years now. I can see improvements and change every time I go. I just pray that change is happening quickly enough.

Nov 7, 2010

Moscow Here I Come!

Passport - check

Laptop - check

Ipad - check

Bible - check

All packed and ready to go to Russia.

I will be lecturing at the Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Moscow Russia. I am teaching on what it means for Christ-followers to proclaim that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through Christ in a pluralistic and secular world that both the Russian church and the church in America finds herself in.

I do not think I will have regular internet access while at the seminary. If there is internet access, I will be posting updates from Moscow.

In the past, the internet access was spotty at best. If that is the case, I will begin updating once I return from Moscow on Nov. 16.

Nov 6, 2010

Christians and Technology: Part 3 - Boundaries

There's not a single person who gets up in the morning and says to themselves, "Let's see how royally I can mess up my life, my marriage, my children, my Christian witness today by having an affair..."

Yet we have heard too many stories of a pastor or a Christian man/woman who no one ever thought ever would, who did.

Unfortunately, this is nothing new.

When King David should have been leading his army to war, found himself chilling at his palace at the wrong time and saw Bathsheba bathing in her home.

Had David been where he should have been, lusting doesn't happen, adultery doesn't happen, murder doesn't happen, and the cover up never happens.

And that's true for us as well. When we are "where" we should be, "when" we should be, with "who" we should be, doing "what" we're supposed to be doing most bad things never happen.

Divorce lawyers say Facebook is involved in 1 out of 5 divorces today.

While Facebook, Twitter, texting can be great tools to connect people with friends, it's also been used to rekindle old flames and maintain inappropriate relationships.

So how should Christians use technology differently because Jesus is Lord? The word for today is: appropriate boundaries.

If we ever find ourselves needing to hide something, that's a sure sign of bad things to come.

So as a general rule of thumb, every Christian should have at least two sets of people who have access to our social networks on the internet: our spouses (or someone who is close enough to tell us what we need to hear) and at least one accountability partner.

It's not that we are going to snoop around on our spouse's or friend's Facebook or Twitter account. It's just that knowing that they have full access and that they get our Facebook and Twitter updates provides a layer of protection for all of us. And we all need that.

Facebook, Twitter, Blogging, texts can all be wonderful tools. But just like anything else, we need appropriate boundaries of "who", "what", "when", and "where" of social networks.

Appropriate Christ-honoring boundaries.

So, with that, tweet and Facebook away!

Nov 5, 2010

Christians and Technology: Part 2 - Attention and Presence

We are never going back to a day without the internet, Facebook, Twitter, texts, smartphones, Ipads, etc. Technology is here to stay. F

The question is, "Should Christians use technology differently than others because Jesus is Lord?"

There is no doubt that technology can be used as a tool to improve life and community. Facebook, Twitter, and blogging is allowing conversations and interaction with people that simply wasn't possible even a decade ago. 

When San Francisco Presbytery was debating the ordination of Lisa Larges, hundreds of presbyterians from all over the country were able to, not only follow along, but participate with one another in the actual debate in real time through Twitter. 

While technology is opening up new frontiers in communication and in building community, we have also seen technology used poorly. Technology can disrupt and harm community.

How should Christians use technology differently because Jesus is Lord?

One of the general rules of thumb we can apply to how Christians use technology is the rule of presence. Whenever Jesus was with people, he was fully present to them. Jesus gave him undivided attention to the people in his presence. 

  • Even when there were hundreds of people crowding around him, Jesus knew that there was one woman who had been bleeding for 12 years who desperately needed healing. 
  • Even though the crowds never saw Zacchaeus on the sycamore tree, Jesus knew he was there and gave Zacchaeus his undivided attention.
Jesus always seemed to know the people who were seeking him out. And whenever Jesus was in the presence of people, they received a 100% of him.

Being fully our complete attention.

The rule of thumb in how Christians ought to use technology is that we ought to be fully present with the people in our presence. This means that when we are with our children, spouses, friends, coworkers, etc. we give them our full attention by putting away our smartphones, ipads, laptops, and other gadgets and be fully present with the people in front of us. 

We can always find time to tweet, update our Facebook, email, or text at a later time. 

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a story that said that attention was the single greatest commodity in our world. 

As Christians,  our interaction with people ought to be different as we make ourselves fully present to the people around us. 

Nov 4, 2010

Christians and Technology: Part 1

We've all been there before...

You're in a meeting with a people around a table where there's an animated discussion taking place and someone's phone rings. Nothing strange about that. That happens all the time.

Everyone knows what's supposed to happen next. The person is supposed to find his/her phone, turn off the ringer and then turn off the phone, and apologize for interrupting the meeting while everyone else digs through their pockets/purses/briefcases/backpacks and turns off their phones.

However, this time, the person doesn't turn off the ringer. They don't turn off the phone. They answer the phone and then starts to have a conversation on the phone while the meeting's still going on, while people are still trying to talk to one another and have meaningful conversation.

We all know that this is rude. We would never do such a thing.

Although we would never talk on the phone in a meeting, or in worship service, etc. most of us think nothing of tweeting, facebooking, and texting during meetings, worship, over conversations, etc.

I was recently in a meeting where we covenanted with one another to turn off our electronics so that we could fully be present for one another in the room. I have to confess that it was hard for me. I typically have my smartphone, ipad, and laptop all running facebook and twitter while my phone is constantly receiving texts and emails.

What does this saying about our understanding of community? About presence? About attention.

How should Christians use technology differently because Jesus is Lord?

Even if Jesus were walking the planet earth in the year 2010, I don't think Jesus would have been messing around with his blackberry or iphone while he was talking with the Samaritan woman at the well. Wherever Jesus was, he was fully present with the people there. And presence is one of the most important gifts we can give to each other in community.

What is the proper Christian ethic for twitter, facebook, and texting in community?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

I will post my thoughts on this tomorrow.