Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Waiting for Change

Change can take a long time. I was at the check-out counter buying something I probably did not need when the guy in front of me used cash to pay for his purchase. I guess he had not seen the VISA commercial that teaches us that cash slows things down (see commercial below). I had to wait for what seemed like a long time for the person to stop and give the person their change. Change can take a long time. I'm really not talking about the kind of change that requires money. I'm have been thinking a bit about how long it seems to take for people (me) to change. Most of us really do not like change (unless it is our idea). As much as we might often fight change, change is inevitable.  As I look in the mirror, I can see lots of gray hair near my temples, and what are those deep lines on my face?  Could they be 'wrinkles'?  They were not there 20 years ago.  As I look out my back window, the grass in my yard is changing.  I just mowed it on Monday and although it is only Wednesday, it is looking a little long.  If I were to open my Quicken check book, I would see all too quickly that much of money has changed hands.  My children are adults now, I have grandchildren, I used to live in Long Beach, Ca. and now I live in Peoria, Az...and on and on and on.  Change happens, but it still is often hard to cope with.  
I think change is most painful when I want things to change.  It is not so bad that things change, but when I want them to change or when change is being forced upon me, that is when change can be painful or at least, very slo o o o o  o  o  w.  There are many friends in my life across the country with whom I am praying for change in their lives.  Some wrestle with various dark thoughts, others are handcuffed because of some experience they have had and can't or won't move through, others are good at putting up roadblocks to healthy change that will enhance who they are as a person.  Some of my friends are just not ready to even admit that change needs to happen.  As I look at my friends, pray for my friends and trust that God will move through my friends I must admit that at time, I get weary from the waiting.  I feel like the Psalmist who cry's out, "How long, O God will you wait?"  I get tired of loving and loving and loving that seems to be met with resistance.  Do you have friends like mine?
So, what to do?  What I have learned is to keep waiting.  In my waiting, I find that God is actually 'changing me'!  I begin to learn, little by little, that God is truly involved in the change process in my friends life.  I find out that God surely wants my friends (and me) to change and become more like Him.  And not only that, but that He IS working in their lives (Phil 2:13) albeit sometimes at a painfully slow pace - at least to my standards. I have found that people need to know that it is safe for them to change without being abandoned, made fun of or whipped into shape for trying to follow the leading of Jesus.  We ought to be patient with people as they change.  We should pray much for the process they are going through.   We should love them in strong ways never condoning sinful choices but always lovingly pointing to the cross of Jesus.  and we should have a deep hope and faith that God is on the move, even if we can not detect His movement.  If we would love each other like that, how different would our world be?  How different would our church be?  How different would I be?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Seventeen Years is a Long Time

Have you ever waited seventeen (17) years for anything? In our 'you can have it your way' world we often get out of sorts when things are not our way or if we don't get them right away. Our cultures 'have it your way' concept has been embeded in our commercials (and in this blog :-). Just look at this Burger King commercial from 1976. For most us, we somehow feel like we deserve whatever we want the way we want it and when we want it. In many of our drive through fast food stores, we find not one, but two windows to serve us. One takes your money and the second window hands you your order all in the name of getting you what you want fast. Basically, we are spoiled! We have lost the discipline of persistence. Persistence has become a pesky word to many in the West. But persistence is exactly what Jesus prescribes for us in prayer. Jesus often is on the opposite end of cultural thinking: "The first shall be last" vs. "He who dies with the most toys wins", "If you want to be great you must be the servant of all" vs. "Do whatever you have to do to get on top", "If you want to save your life, you have to lose it" vs. "Save yourself", and on and on and on. Jesus' Kingdom is upside down and inside out and so it is with prayer as well. I know that many times I am so indoctrinated with our cultural concepts that I begin demanding God to move or in someway answer my prayers NOW (yelling intended)! I usually find silence for the answer. At other times I find myself praying for 'a while' only to let the ideas, desires or requests fade off into the forgotten places of my mind. At times, God doesn't seem much interested in my requests. But that is never true. Yeah sure I feel that way but it is never true. So what is true about prayer and the pesky concept of persistence? Let's see... "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock and it shall be open to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened." Matthew 7:7-8 You may already know that the Ask, Seek and Knock ideas would be more accurately stated like this, "Ask and keep on asking...Seek and keep on seeking...Knock and keep on knocking." That spells persistence! Through persistence, God is developing in us strength, dependence on Him and the character of sticking to things that really matter. In another passage Jesus has these words about prayer, "Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart..." Luke 18:1 Jesus again hits us with the idea being persistent. We are to be in prayer at all times and we are not to give up...PERSISTENCE. So get persistent in your prayers. Write them down, journal your requests and answers and pray, pray, pray until something happens. Jesus promises that if we ask and keep asking, it will be given to us (the answer that is). If we seek and keep seeking, we will find what we need. If we knock and keep knocking doors will be open that we are to walk through but we must be persistent. Many prayers may not be answered because we have not been persistent. I prayed for a particular issue for seventeen years and then God answered it. Seventeen years is a long time, but the answer was so worth the wait. If you ask me, I'll tell you that story sometime.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

But I Don't Know What to Say!

Most every follower of Jesus that I rub shoulders with want to see people come into relationship with Jesus Christ. In my last entry, I shared that although most believers befriend people who are not yet believers (a good thing) they still need to begin spiritual conversations with their friends if they are going to find people of peace and see what God does in their lives (Matthew 10:1-20).
When I share with my friends that they need to be 'inquiring' about their friends spiritual journeys or thoughts and that they should begin spiritual conversations, the number one reason that I am told why they do not 'inquire' is that they think that they do not know what to say. The next most popular reason I hear about in my informal survey is a concern about saying the wrong thing. My quick answer to that reason is that to say nothing is the only 'wrong thing' that can be said - or this case, not said.
I certainly do understand that folks have fear about sharing their faith (Jesus understood this too by the way). I do not want to go into too much detail on this because hopefully you'll be able to read my thoughts in detail when the book I'm working gets published (Probably some time in late 2009), but for now, let me give you a quick overview of the truth that the Word of God gives us regarding sharing our faith. Let me begin by dispelling one very strong myth in the Western world that I think reinforces our fear instead of relieving it. The myth is that you have to "...earn the right to be heard." I have been reading many contemporary books on Evangelism and most of them state this truth in one way or another. No where in Scripture does anyone ever teach that you have to befriend someone for a period of time so that you can 'earn' the right to share truth with them. Jesus often gives us a much different example. Jesus did not befriend the blind man in John 9 yet at the end of the story he seems to be worshiping Jesus. Jesus doesn't befriend the demoniac in Mark 5, in fact, by Jesus healing this guy Jesus makes some enemies (not very befriending) and when the demoniac wants to be with Jesus (to be his friend), Jesus tells him 'no'. That is just two examples of Jesus not 'earning' the right to be heard and yet sharing truth with his non-friends and in these cases in very direct fashion. The teaching that we must earn the right to be heard before sharing Jesus is a lie and I believe it stifles people in their witnessing. Because many folks have believed that they need to earn the right to be heard, the begin to ask if they have invested enough into this person in order to share Jesus? Have I earned the right to share Jesus with them? What if I haven't earned the right and they get mad? If I have to earn the right to share Jesus and if I haven't actually earned it yet and I share Jesus with my friend, they might walk away from me and I'll be hurt." So let me be clear... "YOU DO NOT HAVE TO EARN THE RIGHT TO SHARE JESUS WITH ANYONE!" In fact I would say this; Everyone has the God given right to hear the gospel. Besides, Paul teaches us that the power of God to salvation is not with the person sharing, it is with the truth of the Gospel itself (Romans 1:16). Ok, enough of that, let me give you a brief overview of what the Bible does teach us about freedom in sharing our faith - remember, this is a brief overview and not an in depth teaching. 1. Jesus knew you would be fearful to share His truth and that you would worry about not saying the right thing or having the best way to present it. Because Jesus knew this, here is the summary of what He taught in the Gospels. Jesus taught that whenever we are in an opportunity to share the Gospel at very moment He will give you the right words in the right fashion to meet the exact need of the person you are sharing. How cool is that. Too cool to be true you might say. Well here is the Scripture to back it up. I do expect you to look up these verses (I have hot linked them for you) and to study them because if you do, you will be set free forever in regards to sharing Jesus with boldness, confidence and success...every time. Matthew 10:16-20; Mark 13:9-11; Luke 12:11-12; Luke 21:12-15 ...and there are plenty more. 2. When you share the truth of Christ with folks, you can have complete and total confidence. Paul teaches us that every believer is a competent minister of the New Covenant (2 Cor. 3:6). That is a dynamic piece of truth. God considers you as competent to minister (deliver) the truth of what Jesus has done for us (the New Covenant) with those who need to hear about it. 3. Every time you open your mouth and talk about Jesus, the power of God pours out of your words. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit will come and live in every true follower of Jesus and one of the major purposes for this living inside of us is to give us power to be His witnesses in all the world (Acts 1:8). So in very short order we have learned that whenever you share your faith that you have the right words at the right time for whom ever you are sharing. You have the confidence that God knows that you are competent when you share His New Covenant and you have the power of God flowing through you as you tell the truth about Jesus. Remember that when you share it is not about you, it is all about Him. You do not determine if you are successful, Jesus has already determined that you will accomplish His purpose in the life of the person you are sharing with every time and that makes you 100% successful. "For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ for IT is the power of the God to salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." Romans 1:16 I hope this has benefited you in some way. Please respond with questions, comments or clarifications if you are so inclined. Jesus certainly has taken the fear of inquiring away (Matt. 10:11-12).

Blind Spot

As I talk with men and women across the USA, I find most of them deeply desiring to be discipling folks so that churches will emerge out of their efforts. I believe this is one of the better ways to begin new works for the Kingdom of God - inviting people to follow Jesus and walk with them as they learn to become dependent on Christ. This seems to start new Christians with the understanding that they are able to connect with Jesus themselves through prayer, Bible reading and study, worship and sharing their new found faith with their friends. So the folks across the USA that I have been talking with have this desire to see people come to Jesus and to see them emerge into healthy, strong and reproductive churches. But there is a huge problem that almost everyone of them is faced with. Most seem to not be able to find 'people of peace' or others who may be interested in discovering spiritual truth about Jesus. When I press deeper through conversation and questions, I begin to find out that they are missing a huge step in the process. I'm wondering if my experience of seeing many with the same blind spot that you too might have this same desire (to make disciples) and the same blind spot that my friends have. Now all of these people have been infected with the 10:2b virus, which is simply setting your phone to go off at 10:02 a.m. or p.m. or both, and then praying what Jesus told us to pray in Luke 10:2b. Jesus said "The harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest." We certainly all know of the problem. Not too many folks are coming to know Jesus in our country these days and it bothers us. These men and women are praying daily for the harvest to realized and for God to send out workers and raise up more workers for the fields that are so white. But they are not seeing this happen. What is their blind spot? These friends of mine not only have this grand desire to see people come to know Jesus and churches emerge, but they are actually hanging out with people who are not yet connected to Jesus. Some are joining bowling leagues, others are drinking way more coffee than they should at their local coffee pub, some are involved in the local PTA and others are soccer parents attending every practice, game and photo shoot but the harvest is not yet being realized. The blindspot can be found in Matthew 10:11-12. Here is what those verses says; "And whatever city or village you enter, inquire who is worthy in it and stay at his house until you leave that city. As you enter the house, give it your greeting." Matt. 10:11-12 Did you catch the blind spot that my friends currently have? My friends are 'entering the villages' and cities around them. They are hanging out with people who need Jesus. They are even 'staying' with their new friends, in some cases for years. My friends are even giving their greeting and love to the folks they are hanging out with. But yet there is a blind spot and it is a single word. The word is 'inquire'. My friends are not inquiring with spiritual questions, conversations or comments. It is like they are just waiting for heaven to open and angels to descend upon their not yet Jesus loving friends with fireworks etc. My friends are waiting for them to talk first or something. Jesus, however, puts the initiation upon you and I. We must be inquiring with spiritual emphasis. When we do this, we'll find out who is interested in pursuing a conversation and who is not. My friend, Neil Cole, says that when you speak about Jesus (when you turn on the light), you'll quickly notice who are the moths and who are the cockroaches. The moths will flutter to the light. They are interested in knowing and seeing more. The cockroaches on the other hand, run from the light. They love darkness. I've been telling my friends that their desire to see people come to know Jesus is spot on. Now they need to open their mouths (turn on the light). Some are still working on that part so next week I'll blog some notes about the truth that the Scriptures teach us regarding sharing our faith. I think you'll be amazed, encouraged and free to share more often. By the way, when you share more often (cast more seeds), you'll end up seeing people respond to the light (you'll find the moths). Remember, it takes an abundant amount of sowing seed for their to be an abundant harvest (2 Cor. 9:6). I hope this was helpful to you. Please comment or ask questions is you are so inclined!