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?.

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?”

Church Sent

10 07 2020

“Thank you for organizing this block party,” our neighbor exclaimed. “You’ve brought us out of our homes. We’re starting to get to know our long-time neighbors.”

So said a man down our street following our 4th of July party. We observed physical distancing, etc., and had 80-100 folks turn out for two live bands, barbecue hot dogs and burgers (individually served), and a lot of getting acquainted.

I have heard reports of others from our church reaching across the street to befriend neighbors. One family made pizza fixings for those nearby and invited them all to bake them and come outside to enjoy the feast.

Others are inviting friends to gather and watch our church services together on YouTube.

I talked with a woman the other day and we agreed that one change many of us could make would be to switch some of our activities from the back yard to the front, or from our apartment deck or balcony to the common area nearby.

Two days prior to our block party, Aimee and I walked over to the apartments near us and invited families (many from the Middle East) to join us. Three families came. (When I apologized in advance for the noisy fireworks, he replied, “Oh that’s nothing. Back home, when we celebrate, we fire machine guns into the air!”)

Rightly, we long for the days when we can gather freely to worship. But let’s not miss the opportunity to shift some of our focus to ministering where God has placed us.

You might be tempted to think Aimee and I do outreach because we are missionaries. I surely don’t question the fact that our life experiences have taught us to stretch our comfort zone and look for opportunities to help others. But I like to think we have grown in this way because ultimately we are just normal people who want to obey Jesus and share Him.

International travel may not ever be the same. Mission trips have been cancelled by the thousands. But millions of families from foreign lands got on airplanes over the last few years and now live near you. Perhaps they cannot leave, or maybe they will soon be asked to depart. Who knows if God has placed them in your city for this season so that they might encounter the love of Jesus through loving Christians?

Showing kindness to strangers is core to our faith. We are often surrounded by new neighbors who have never known a true believer nor heard of God’s love in sending His Son. Isn’t it obvious that God wants us to cross the street in His name? Are we held back by fear or busyness?

These days the Church cannot gather normally. What if we won’t be able to return to normal for a year or more? Will we look back and wish we had made the most of this opportunity to befriend others around us?

The Church is not merely scattered. We have been sent into our extended families and neighborhoods.

welcome neighbor sign

Do you know how I began doing this when I moved into my neighborhood two years ago? By smiling and waving to virtually all my neighbors as they walked or drove by. I mowed my front lawn and pulled weeds to be a visible presence as much as to tend my yard.

When Aimee and I got married, we just continued doing these things. Intentionally we posted this welcoming sign in our front yard. Now, when we learn a neighbor’s name, we write it down in order to hopefully address them personally next time. We’re slowly building trust.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a lifestyle, not a program.

Consider this:

What hesitations emerge inside you when you think of being “sent” to the people around you?

What possibilities stir inside you when you picture yourself crossing over and building new relationships?

Walking in the Armor of God

11 06 2020

These days there is an upsurge of interest and effort for justice, especially on behalf of African-Americans. Social media, protest marches, and charitable initiatives are focused on bringing change in society — much needed change. I support efforts to bring greater fairness and opportunity to all.

But what if the impossible happened? What if every American had equal income and opportunity? What if there were no urban poor or chronic poverty? Would we then have the just and peaceful society all long for? I don’t think so. 

All the equal opportunity initiatives imaginable would not rid society of prejudice and clinging to privilege. Why? Because our propensity for sin and selfishness would still reside within our nature.

Where must we do the work that can bring real change?

In our Ephesian study, we’ve seen that our real enemy is not other people but the evil forces which inflame wickedness. We’ve looked at each of the elements of the armor of God. All seven elements bring in the good kingdom of Jesus and maintain His ultimate authority over the kingdom of evil.

The armor of God tells us what He is like.
He sends us out to promote truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, the Word of God. Ours is a God who wants the best for the world and all who dwell on it.

What would the armor of Satan look like and what kind of world are his soldiers fighting to create? Falsehood, wickedness, violence, shame, eternal lostness, and lies.

How vital that we put on the whole armor of God to withstand this destructive strategy of the evil one! 

But how do we actually walk out this amazing armor teaching?
With all the imagery about shields, kingdom, swords, principalities, and so on, how do we actually suit up in Jesus’ victory and engage in His battle?

Is this something best left to expert practitioners in spiritual warfare prayer — who gather in a room with someone oppressed by evil and exorcise the demons? I don’t think so. Paul’s epistle seems to teach the armor of God as knowledge needed by common believers.

I believe it is perfectly okay and helpful to begin each day by putting on the armor of God in prayer. For example, “Lord, I want to put on truth like a belt today. As I go through the day, help me to speak only true words. Help me recognize falsehood and reject it.”

That’s a great way to pray through all the elements of the armor, But there is a lot more to living this out. 

Deeds, Words, Thoughts, Heart, God

Let’s start with actions and work back to where actions ultimately come from. Proceeding backwards…

5. Finally, DEEDS.  Just do it. That is, act out the elements of the armor. Go through your day and tell the truth. Do righteous, holy things. Bring peace. Have faith. Rejoice in your salvation. Study and share God’s Word. Live obediently to all Jesus commanded.

4. Before deeds, watch your WORDS.  Your good deeds can be hijacked by evil words. So speak as God would want you to speak. Zip your lip unless the words are pure, right, and honorable.

3. Before that, direct your THOUGHTS.  Your words follow your thoughts. If you don’t think it, you likely won’t say it. In prayer as a lifestyle, renew your mind. Wicked, lustful thoughts will become strangers to us.

2. Before that, stir your HEART.  The mind won’t be renewed in holiness unless the heart longs for our holy God. Your prayer life can take you into yearning for God. As your longing and love for God increases, your heart will change. Your desire for worldly things will decrease. The rulers of this world will be forced to let go of you.

1. First and foremost, acknowledge GOD as your source.  You and I are unable to truly desire God ourselves. We can only long for Him in response to His love for us. No one seeks God. We’re too self-centered. So we must begin with openness to believe that God is, and receive whatever love He shows us. It all starts with God.

Clearly, putting on the armor of God is not an optional accessory for a few believers. Rather, it is the essential Christian life portrayed in a way that reveals the wicked forces which want us all to fail.

Let’s pursue a lifestyle of prayer which proceeds from God, heart, thoughts, words, to deeds.Walking in the armor starts with the heart that incessantly prays,

“Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

“Lord, I know you are here. I believe You see me. Draw me near to Your side and give me deeper longing for You.”

Three Imperatives in the Selection of Godly Leaders

20 03 2018

A Christian community can admirably follow a course of prayerful decision-making only to abort God’s direction in a faithless choice in the final hour.

A latent agenda of a power faction, seeds of doubt, or the desire by a leader to control the outcome – these are among the ways a community can be deprived of God’s appointed leadership, even after prolonged, submissive prayer.

The first congregation resisted this temptation. Peter stood up among the 120, who had been committed to prayer, and said they needed to replace the vacancy created by the death of Judas (Acts 1:15-20). Their example shows us three imperatives in selecting godly leaders: Calling, Message, Unity.

  1. The CALLING to sacrifice must be clear.

Other than places where the church is persecuted, leadership has become a desirable occupation. You should see what some churches use to lure the talented one: the salary, the staff, vacation time, further studies, conferences, attendance numbers, housing package, retirement plan. And you should see the line-up to snag these lucrative positions! Oh, its big business.

Peter said to the congregation, as he looked over at the few men who had followed Jesus and said:

“one of these must become a witness (Greek, martur) with us of His resurrection” (Acts 1:22)

Do you want to handle your congregation the way God handled His first church plant? Make sure all your leaders know they are called to sacrificial witness.

  1. The MESSAGE of the gospel must be declared.

The resurrection of Christ was the hope and joy of this mid-sized congregation. But down the stairs from the upper room and into the raucous streets of Jerusalem, the resurrection was hogwash after a downpour.

We must not miss the fact that God’s leaders are called to deliver the very message that is foolishness to the world – the sacrificial death on the CROSS, the BURIAL of His corpse, and the bodily RESURRECTION of Christ to live forever and save the lost.

I grieve what I see and read today, where preachers and writers are reframing the foolish message into a more palatable blend. Yes, justice, compassion, formation, healing, are all aspects of the good news. They can also inoculate from having to give the tawdry facts of sin, judgment, forgiveness, and the cross.

Teachers, we are responsible for what we give. Let us not get creative with the message entrusted to us. Resist the drift! Faithfully tell the old, old story with the fervor of a pardoned criminal.

  1. The UNITY of the people must be guarded.

I recently heard of a church where the pastor of over 30 years has announced his retirement at some time in the near future (Alert: Fuzzy timeline). He says he is going to work with the elders to secure a good replacement (Alert: Controlling). And he does not want an interim pastor but instead wants to guide the new pastor for some time to ensure a minimal loss of attenders (Alert: Naïve).

Sir, I ask you. Whose church is it? Why can you not trust your congregation? And should they mess things up (which they well might) why can you not trust the Head of the church, working with the Holy Spirit, to pull them through stronger in faith?

I note that when the first church of Jerusalem pulled through their leader selection process, the day of Pentecost arrived and “they were all with one accord in one place” (Acts 2:1).

No selection of godly leaders should ever have an ungodly effect on the congregation. And no casting of lots should ever result in the casting of insults.

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