Needed: Christian Homes

10 09 2020

I was in a prayer meeting this morning and one of the brothers prayed, “Thank you God for my wife. Thank you that we have a Christian home.”

The simplicity of that prayer struck me. A Christian home is actually a remarkable gift, one to treasure and nurture.

I do not speak of a “house,” but a home. A Christian home, whether married or single, with children or not, exists where a home has been made for Christ.

Taking a cue from communal cultures, a Christian home is multi-generational, embracing our elderly and young alike. It can include siblings and “in-laws.” Not every member in the extended family will necessarily be a devoted follower of Christ, but together the family journeys in seeking to figure out faith and finances, politics and ethics, work and school.

Every Christian home is unique and ever-changing. There may be seasons of doubt, unemployment, loss, addiction, illness, or death. There may be loneliness, infertility, mental illness, unwanted singleness, violence, sexual shame, miscarriage, or incarceration. There may be abortion, Alzheimer’s, bankruptcy, infidelity, or divorce.

Yet the Christian home can weather these firestorms, defying defeat. Joy can emerge through sorrow, and hope out of despair. Love can cover all forms of waywardness.

Ours is a time of testing for the Christian home. Will we hold on to the love of Jesus to help us weather the storm? Will we shine in the darkness?

One characteristic we must regain is hospitality. More than opening the door of our residence, hospitality is the opening of our hearts to love the one in need.

Sometimes we need to host a neighbor or workmate. Sometimes the one in need is our adult child, our parent or in-law, or sibling or uncle.

To the degree you have a Christian home, join me in gratitude today. Where your home is a struggle, welcome Christ into difficult relationships. Christ in you can bind your home together, and Christ in our homes can preserve the fabric of society.

To reflect on:
How are you making a home for Christ?.





Nation, Tribe, or Kingdom?

31 08 2020

There are at least three voices beckoning you today.

 

Your nation wants your heart.

“We are inside. They are outside. Let’s stay together, take care of each other, protect our interests.

Keep them out. Buy our own goods.

They intend harm; take us down; steal our stuff; influence our votes.

Nation first.

 

Your tribe wants your heart.

“All who are “us” are not of us. Some weirdos got in here, too bad.

But we know what’s right, you and me. Gotta stick together. Gotta stick it to them.

Color, creed, party, issue, our guy. Come on you know what we have to do.

The survival of our nation depends on us doing our part; getting it right, and fast.

Tribe first.

 

Your Kingdom wants your heart.

Trouble is, the voice is only a whisper when compared.

It cares about nation. It can embrace tribe. But of a different kind, the kind that gets hated.

“The kingdom of God is near, in your heart. Seek first the kingdom of God.

What we forgot:  It takes a revolution to keep …

Kingdom first.





When God Suggests the Unthinkable

28 08 2020

As Covid-19 has worn on longer than any of us expected, many strongly desire to regather with our church families. That is good and right. But I believe God would want us to consider new directions in our lifestyle.

We are surrounded by people who are lonely and frustrated.  What if this time of frustration actually turned out to be an opportunity we otherwise would have missed?

Come with me into the world of the book of Acts (10-11), and consider Peter’s amazing year. In the previous few years, incredible change had invaded his world. As if the three years of following Jesus were not crazy enough, the years since Jesus rose from the dead were equally wild.

Just weeks after Jesus ascended to heaven, Peter’s congregation of 120 believers was rocked by an incredible day when the Holy Spirit brought unprecedented signs — sound of howling wind!  flames over each person!  speaking in languages never before learned!  And Peter tried to explain that this was fulfillment of prophecy. And 3,000 believed!

New leadership had to be appointed so as to replace Judas. Peter and John were imprisoned for proclaiming Christ. Along came Saul, persecuting the church and driving believers out of Jerusalem. There was a conflict in the church over the feeding of widows — one ethnic group feeling slighted by the other.

Suddenly word comes that the persecutor, Saul, has been dramatically converted and is now following Christ. Can this guy be trusted?

Peter’s ministry is going well. He even raises a young girl named Dorcas from death itself! The church is growing and at peace.

And then, WHAM!  Peter’s world capsizes.

He is the honored guest of a tanner named Simon. Up on the rooftop, awaiting lunch, Peter falls into a deep sleep and has a trance-like dream. He sees a sheet descending from heaven holding all sorts of food — including some forbidden for Jews. Then a confusing voice from God, “kill and eat.” Three times Peter rejects this heretical command. But finally he realizes that God is turning his traditions on their head. God has an unthinkable plan in mind.

I write about this incident in Biblical history because we also live in a time of immense change. And I believe Jesus is calling His church to new directions.
Peter went on to cross old barriers — by entering the home of a Gentile and sharing the good news. Peter was changed, and this became a turning point in the development of the church.

What principles can we take away from this incident?

1. Maintain a lifestyle of listening to God’s promptings.  Peter heard the voice of God and, even though it was confusing, continued to listen for truth.

2. Stay open and responsive to new directions.  After two messengers came and invited Peter to the home of Cornelius, Peter could have resisted. But he took the first step that changed history.  Our new journeys often begin with a small initial step in a new direction.

3. Be intentional in crossing over to those who you normally would not know. Peter put himself in an uncomfortable place. You may have neighbors whom you have rarely talked to. Some may be of a different ethnicity than you. It will take intentionality to get acquainted with them.

4. Remember that God is preparing people to be receptive. It was God that brought Cornelius and Peter together. We can trust God to be opening people to be receptive to our friendship.

A final word:  As we befriend others for Jesus’ sake, focus on being a genuine friend. Consider the life and needs of the other person. Don’t make them a project — a person to be converted. Let God do His work. You and I just get to be conveyors of the unconditional love the Jesus brings.





All aboard for Tarshish!

26 08 2020

Some days are sloppy. Like yesterday.

I tried to concentrate on some Bible reflection and came to the end of the book of Jonah. He was operating under the “great commission” of his era which promised that Abram’s lineage would be blessed so as to be a blessing to every other nation (Genesis 12:1-4).

But Jonah could not imagine God really wanting to bless the Ninevites — those ruthless, godless barbarians, with their arrogant kings and imperialistic intentions. There was no way Jonah was going to go out of his way to show mercy to people who didn’t deserve or desire it. So he boarded a ship bound for Tarshish.

We don’t know exactly where Tarshish was, but we know precisely what it represented: “away from the presence of the Lord” (Jonah 1:3).

Tarshish is any place other than where God calls you to go.

Skip to the end of the Jonah chronicle. Clearly, Jonah’s direction was changed by a great fish, but even after a great revival in Nineveh, the prophet’s heart had not changed.

Even after Nineveh repented, Jonah “re-pouted.” He told God: This is why I fled to Tarshish, “for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness” (Jonah 4:2).

If you are like me, there are some people more deserving of punishment than mercy. Like Jonah, we have a hard time thinking kindly of them.

Do you recall how God responded to Jonah? “Is it right for you to be angry?”

Sure is, said Jonah, “it is right for me to be angry, even to death” (4:9).

To which God replied, “should I not pity Nineveh?”

In other words, God has the right to show mercy to whomever He chooses, whether we like it or not.

Like Jonah, I lack mercy. I sometimes feel it my right to be angry at what some people do and say. I can’t understand how God puts up with their thinking!


Yesterday, while I was pondering this story, I got a video call from my friend who lives in the Middle East with his family. He works with a Christian ministry in a Muslim country. He and the local director had visited the Minister of Culture and Youth to request permission to distribute Christian literature in a refugee camp. My friend was really excited to meet cabinet officers. The press and photographers were on hand to document the occasion for the newspapers. I rejoiced with my friend over their successful day.

Then I said to him: “This is crazy, and a bit convicting. I can walk down my street and give Christian literature to anyone I meet. I can make friends with someone from the Muslim country you live in, and can actually read the Bible with them. And I don’t need approval from a cabinet minister to do so.”

Then last night Aimee and I took a stroll around our neighborhood as we occasionally do. We took two encouragement cards to neighbors going through hard times. Then we walked over to the apartments nearby where people from several nations live. We stopped and talked to some kids. Said hello to a cluster of women wearing burkas. But none of the adults we’ve met before were outdoors. So we returned home, having left behind a few smiles, waves, and our presence.


This reflection doesn’t really have a clear theme. But I understand Jonah’s urge to flee to Tarshish. I identify with the desire to stay on the couch rather than cross over to the other neighborhood.

And I see that God pays attention even on sloppy days.





The Prophet Who Turned

17 08 2020

In his day, his words were the voice of God to the entire nation. At times he wrote with the crude fury of a Steinbeck. Then he might wake up a la Tennyson and spread sunshine over the people.

His life became a frequent object lesson for the nation, for he heard crazy commands from God to illustrate the message. He must have spent sleepless nights in fitful prayer, hearing the murmurings of God.

The voices toggled between vengeance and comfort. God seemed ever disappointed with His people, chiding them for their disobedience and fakery, only to relent and invite them back to His mercy and a cup of tea.

For a long time, God’s voice had been unforgiving. The words poured out disappointment on one group after another. Parchments became dispatches of judgment which divided the people and sent the nation into despair. Brother distanced himself from brother, father from son. No one seemed to listen for the voice of God anymore.

Then the worst happened. No one was prepared for their world to be turned on its head. The prophet would never forget the year his life changed…

In the year that King Uzziah died.

It was a horrible year (like 2020 AD). King Uzziah had reigned many years and strengthened the nation. But he grew arrogant and “transgressed the LORD his God by entering the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar” (2 Chron. 26:16). As judgment on usurping the function of the priests, Uzziah was struck with leprosy, and lived in isolation till his ignominious death.

The prophet Isaiah had been angry for months. Just read chapters one through five of his collection. He saw Jerusalem as a whore, all perfumed and bejeweled. Princes were thieves, bribing for gain and neglecting the fatherless. The nation was a vineyard that held great promise but, come harvest time, bore inedible grapes.

In this bog of loss and disappointment, God pauses His words for the people. Instead, a searing hot spear pierces the heart of the prophet himself. He envisions a throne room with worshipping angels in glorious regalia, calling to each other in words which depict a world Isaiah had rarely imagined.

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of Hosts. The whole earth is full of His glory” (Isa. 6:3)

Glory? How did these heavenly spirits see the earth with greater clarity than he? Why had he never known of such a King?

His anger at others turned inward. He saw his own hubris. His judgmental words by which he castigated others reverberated back to his own soul, and he cried,
“Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips. For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (6:5).

As I tell the story of this prophet, I must pause and be honest. Do we not also live among people of unclean lips? Many of our leaders and even our fellow Christians are speaking self-righteous words which divide. Truth suffers a lack of love. Love leaves truth behind. When did we lose sight of the King?

In the vision, an angel brings a burning coal from the altar. Touching it to Isaiah’s month, the seraphim consoles, “Behold this has touched your lips; Your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged” (6:7).

Words can only turn sweet if the heart is first changed.

Now the prophet hears a conversation within the Tri-une God, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us” (6:8)?

Can’t’ I just sit here in my house and enjoy feeling clean? Can’t I distract myself, and protect myself from the messiness out there?

Once in a while, a messenger wakes up to realize that he or she is not just an activist for a cause or group, but an ambassador for a King.

They, with Isaiah, say, “Here am I! Send me.”

A school of prophets is forming today. They too are undone by their own self-righteousness. Their hearts are being cleansed and their lips beginning to represent their King, Jesus.

And it may be that some people will listen to them. But not many. Like Isaiah, these new prophets will encounter deaf ears and dull eyes. Why? Because people always get what they asked for. Their treasure always follows their heart.
Often the prophet must watch the city fall into ruin, must grieve the failing homes, must lament the oppressed lands.

They must look for the new remnant to rise from the heap, for God is ever willing to start over.

“Who will go for us?”