Wednesday, August 30, 2006

No more expensive Bibles (for me)

hcsbSeveral months ago I was given an inexpensive hardcover copy of a new translation of the Bible that I've been carrying and using (I've actually fallen in love with the translation, but had not bit the bullet to purchase the more specialized model I wanted) for personal and group Bible reading/study.

Then, the other day as we were about to begin our Connect Group time I was introduced to a young man, we'll call him Joshua for the sake of this post, who had a biblical name. I asked Joshua if he had ever read the stories about his namesake and he indicated he had, but it had been a while.

Later, as we were leaving he asked if I would pray for him because he was going away for a while. As I assured him of my intent to help him carry his burden while away, I realized where he was going he'd have a significant amount of unoccupied time on his hands. With that in mind I encouraged Joshua to re-read the stories in the Bible about the person whose name he shared. He looked at me kind of funny.

In that quiet moment it seemed as if God said to me loud and clear that Joshua did not have a Bible and to offer mine. In repsonse I asked and he hesitated. I wondered if maybe he had some childhood Bible which he found difficult to read or if he no longer knew where one he had before was MIA now. Without another thought, I pulled from the Bible in my hand the scrap pages with notes and annoucement scratched on them and handed to Joshua a very easy to read and accurate translation encouraging him to enjoy it as my gift to him.

Now, I'm pretty certain that if I had already purchased the more specialized model I'd been thinking about getting I would have either found another available Bible for him or perhaps even gone ahead and given him the more specialized copy knowing I could get another. But there was a realization of the barrier that would have existed in my mind if in my hand had been that $50 Bible rather than that inexpensive hardbound copy. It was so amazing to be in a position to not think another thought about it and pull my personal stuff from the one in my hand and present it to him.

So, today I went to a local bookstore and got another copy of the same Bible I gave away. Identical. Funny, I could almost buy 10 of those for what the one specialized version cost. Now this one is poised waiting on a divine appointment to pass it on to someone who needs an easy to read and accurate copy of God's word.

How about you? Are you carrying a copy of God's word you could give away without a second thought... or are you carrying a heavy investment from which you would struggle to climb out?

Monday, August 28, 2006

Mankind, humankind... either way, God created one race of humans

So, the pastor at the church we attend just finished an interesting series... The Untouchables. He touched on three difficult issues before believers that really shouldn't be that difficult. The first week he led us down the path of examining our views on race.
Having grown up in a military family, as a kid I lived on the east coast and the west coast, then in my church ministry years areas in between the coasts. I thought I had a pretty good handle on the race thing. Then, while telling a story to a group in Colorado before moving to the Nashville area I shocked myself when I realized I had referred to one of the characters in the story by indicating he was a (insert race here) man but neglected to indicate the race of the other man when referring to him (a Caucasian person). WHAM! It hit me... I discovered in that moment, though I thought I had made pretty good progress, I had indicated a prejudice when the attitude of my heart poured out of my mouth. It wasn't a racial slur or even anything derogatory toward a particular race. It was just the simple reality that for no reason other than the fact this character was not Caucasian I used his race to identify him in a story without identifying the race of the other character.
I had another one of those ah-ha moments during this series. Since the day in Colorado mentioned above I've been doing very well. As a matter of fact just days before the message at our church I had been telling someone standing on my front porch about a young man who lived across the street on the corner and was able to successfully describe who he was without saying the (insert race here) kid on the corner. Sounds simple, but try it yourself. Then the morning of the racism message it hit me... clearer than the day in Coloraod. As I was reading around passages the pastor was reading and referring to it hit me that when God created Adam and Eve He created one race. Period. Races were created by man. We truly are one very big family... all from the same original family tree. Thank you God for that revelation. We are ALL family.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Hearing? Doing!

So I'm into Mark now. Whew! Matthew's pretty long one chapter a day. Today I read in Mark 2 about the paraplegic man brought to Jesus by his friends. I highly recommend reading familiar stories again. Each time, what God is doing in and around your life adds to your understanding.

Today, I was reminded of the importance of acting on what you hear. Several years ago, God began working on me about how much hearing without doing there was going on in my life (and in today's world). I'm sure it's gone on for centuries, but there is so much great "teaching" at our fingertips today. We "hear" as much as we want to and often if we choose. But I was shocked as I thought about the little difference it seems to make in people's lives.

In the story I read today, Jesus told the paraplegic man to "Get up. Pick up your stretcher and go home." (Mark 2) What if, like we so often do, this man had sat through some great teaching and shook Jesus' hand as he was carried out agreeing with others that "That was a great message Rabbi" and not really thought about it again. Where would he have been? Probably still laying on his mat carried around by his friends.

I'm more convinced than ever that everytime we hear from God (and we hear from Him in lots of ways) we must consider how to adjust our lives to come in line with what we've learned. Even if rather than a 180 degree turn we only make an adjustment of less than one degree. Nothing to adjust? Hard to believe!

Think back to the last time you conciously set out to adjust your life to bring it in line with something God had taught you. Should be easy... chances are it's not. Now, think back to the last "teaching" you remember. What captured your attention? How could you take one step toward gaining ground in that area of your life? What's one way you could make a minor adjustment today in an attempt to adjust your life in line with recent teaching from God's word?

It really is simple! If you heard it... then go do it!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Some apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers but...

... everyone is commanded to be discipling. This should be really simple for every believer to understand. But we have so lost this simple truth.
And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, [growing] into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.
* The bracketed text was added by the translators for clarity.
Ephesians 4:11-13

The Ephesians 4:11-13 passage pretty clearly states that God provided some individuals for the task of training all believers for ministry. But what ministry? Coming to a church building and participating in programs? For years the Great Commission has been considered Christ's marching orders for believers.
Go, therefore, and* make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you.
* Lit and instruct, or and disciple (as a verb)
Matthew 28:19-20a

So the marching orders for believers includes the responsibility to, as we are going [read as you go about your day to day life], teach other believers to observe everything Christ commanded. Problem is we have translated that into serving donuts, shaking hands at the door, passing an offering plate, mowing the lawn, or dozens of other similar tasks to keep an organization going... an organization to which most believers have abdicated their Christ-commanded responsibility to be teaching everything Christ commanded (discipling). An abdication based on Ephesians 4:11-13 claiming not everyone is called to be a teacher. But, the teachers and other individuals of Ephesians 4:11-13 are those who teach or train the disciplers to disciple; they train or equip the believers for the work of ministry to which Christ commissioned believers.

The "as your are going" aspect of our commision from Christ indicates this is something we are doing as we live life and throughout our life as a believer. Who discipled you? Not who were your preacher/pastors, the leaders of your Bible studies, or your Sunday School teachers, but who spent one on one time with you for the purpose of intentionally training you to observe everything Christ commanded and for the purpose of equipping you to pass on that training to your own disciples? To whom are you passing on your own training so they will be equipped to pass on to their own disiples everything Christ commanded?
And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.
2 Timothy 2:2

I've recently rediscovered the importance of this simple truth. I'm grateful for those who commited to me what they had heard from someone else. These individuals had a major impact on who I am today in Christ. I've come face to face with the simple formula I lost for many years of looking past the individuals and focusing on the multitude.

I'm back on track with a commitment to entrust to faithful people what I heard so they will be equipped to teach others also. How about you? Who's investing in you? Maybe you should find someone. Into whom are you investing what you've learned? Maybe you should ask God to bring a disciple your way. Then you will be fulfilling the comission of your Savior.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Jesus never lost sight of the individual for the multitude

So, in my continued reading through Matthew another revelation jumped out at me.
When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. (Matthew 5:1-2)

Time after time we see multitudes gathering around Jesus. Often, Jesus seemed to be seeking ways to get away from the crowds (climbing a mountain, getting into a boat, slipping away to pray in private). And although Jesus always made accomodation for the multitude (teaching on the mountain, feeding the five thousand, etc.) He never lost His focus on the individual (Nicodemus, woman at the well, the demon possessed man, the one leper who returned - or, and maybe most important Peter, James, John and the other 9 apostles).

The stories He told the crowd were typically the subject of discussion for the smaller more intimate group soon thereafter. Could it be He was relating the broader concept about His Father's Kingdom to the crowd because it was actually the kingdom topic He already intended to train His apostles about later?

I wish we had more record of the discussions Jesus had with the individual apostles. There's no way we have the entire record of the conversations He had over His three year public ministry. What did Jesus and Peter talk about that's not recorded? When Jesus and the apostles were walking from Judea to Galilee what did He and John talk about? Sitting under a tree on the way to Jerusalem, what did Jesus say to Judas?

I'm confident much of what is recorded in the New Testament by those who encountered Jesus one on one was not only inspired by the Holy Spirit, but was also the result of conversations the writers had while hanging out with Jesus for three years. Jesus' life and death on the cross had eternal impact for all of the human race. But, as far as His teaching throughout the generations it was not so much Jesus' time with the multitude that has shaken the world for generations as it was the impact He had on the twelve and even three individuals within the smaller circle.

Having been a Bible study leader for years, this has challenged me to consider where my focus is placed. What about you... reflecting on your own experience has your focus been more on the multitude or the individuals? (More on this and me tomorrow!)

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The new 80/20

Julie, my wife, and I attended a motorcycle safety class recently. I came to what Henry Blackaby would call a crisis of belief when I discovered the course would require a Friday evening, entire Saturday, and, bum bum-bum... most of a Sunday. Suddenly I was confronted with some guilt-think: "Can I go hang out with people other than the church on Sunday? Is that okay?"

Having worked full time in churches for 12 years and being engaged in ministry-related work for 22 years I've regularly come face to face with the idea of the 80/20 principle. In the context of the church we typically applied it to leadership and stewardship. You understand the concept: 20 percent of the people provide 80 percent of the volunteer-force, or 20 percent of the people give 80 percent of the budget.

I overcame my guilt-think and we participated in the motorcycle safety course. It was awesome hanging out with a group of folks who had a goal to learn to ride a two-wheeled vehicle for the first time or wanted to be more safe while operating their bikes. That weekend, an amazing thing happened. On Sunday morning as I was on the driving range and later that afternoon in the classroom it occurred to me (read: "God spoke to me" here) that I was hanging out in a room with some folks who, no matter how appealing a church made its activities, would likely not come even check out a church.

This set me to considering a whole new angle on the 80/20 principle. While I'll openly acknowledge that the scale would slide some from organization to organization, I'll just call it the 80/20 knowing it could be 95/5 or 60/40 in some cases. In those moments and since, reflecting on my own life I realized my time was so tied up in good things at church and in ministry I spent little time engaging with people outside my church in the community or my even my own neighborhood.

As part of His final instructions before ascending to be with His Father, Jesus told his apostles "Go and make disciples". It's been said that the phrase could be rendered "make disciples as you are going" or something like "as you do life make disciples".

It seems churches invest 80 percent of themselves in stuff just to keep thmselves going and 20 percent to engage the people outside their churches. What if those tables were reversed? Assuming 100 percent of a believer's time is focused on the Kingdom, what would it be like if the collective believers in the world focused only 20 percent of their "as you are going" time on sustaining the collective itself and 80 percent of their energies engaging the world as a disciplemaker during their day to day life.

Friday, August 18, 2006

HDJD? (How did Jesus decide?)

Months ago someone in my Connect Group (a group we lead who fellowship around God's Word) was recounting an experience where he was weighing if God was nudging him to help a homeless person sitting at a street corner holding a sign requesting help. This young man asked the question, "How do I know when I'm supposed to help and who?".

You've probably seen a movie or TV show that follows that standard story line where some individual wakes up from a bonk on the head and can hear the thoughts of everyone around him. While novel at first, it becomes deafening and tortuous.

Stopped at a street corner seeing a homeless person with a sign, we don't hear the cries from the life of the person in the car next to us who is at the end of his rope and near the point of taking his own life. Or the car behind us who has had hearing trouble from birth. Or the person passing us in the other lane who is wondering how to find their teen daughter who just ran away from home.

At that very moment God began teaching me something brand new. God revealed to me that as His son walked and taught among the crowds he not only saw the multitude, but he KNEW every single person in the crowds. Jesus knew each person and their life at any given moment. Imagine that same standard story plot except rather than just hearing the thoughts of every person around you at any given moment, KNOWING the complete persons... their life (remember the woman at the well?). How deafening could that be for a mere human?
QUESTION: How did Jesus, who didn't just see a written sign in the hands of someone asking for help, but who 'heard' the lives of a multitude crying out around him, know when to stop and meet the specific needs of specific individuals?

ANSWER: He was always in tune with His Father and did only that which He saw His Father doing.
So Jesus explained himself at length. “I'm telling you this straight. The Son can't independently do a thing, only what he sees the Father doing. What the Father does, the Son does." John 5:19

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Single-focused consideration of Kingdom record

I realized recently that copies of the New Testament (the whole Bible for that matter) are really inexpensive these days. With that in mind, my wife Julie and I decided we were going to start intentionally re-reading through the entire New Testament, a new copy each time, with specific focus, highlighting and noting only passages speaking to a specific topic in each copy. And we intend to swap translations from time to time to keep a fresh perspective.

In our first trek down a singular-focused re-reading we are watching specifically for passages that appear to speak to the global Church, the local Body of Christ (church), and synagogues or meeting places. It's already been interesting as we discover how many fliters we unknowingly apply as we explore and encounter Scripture.
It's already been awesome. I started this new category just for posting insights from our readings.