Monday, March 31, 2008

Singin' in the Rain...

It's POURING outside right now...we are so blessed to be receiving rain!

Ok, I can't do this...screw those 15 years! (see previous post)

jk. jk.

"Sanka, you dead, mon?"..."Ya, mon."

According to Deathclock's "highly scientific" calculations, I will die on September 26, 2057, less than a month before my 73rd birthday. I found this to be less than favorable, so I decided to change my disposition from "normal" to "optimistic." With this single variable changed, Deathclock generously granted me 15 more years, my new "deathdate" being September 22, 2072 (apparently September is not a good month for me!). 

15 more years for being optimistic! I now have a new outlook on life. The cup is no longer half empty, but half full! Cloudy days are no longer gloomy, but an opportunity for the blessing of rain! The dark and cold winters are no longer depressing, but they simply provide an opportunity to enjoy the light and warmth of spring that much more! (If this is all it takes to gain 15 more years, I'm game!)

And I owe this whole new perspective on life to Deathclock.  If you want a new lease on life, check it out here!

*Link love to Seth for showing me this website.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Walk as Jesus Did...

This morning as I was reading through 1 John, I came to this passage:

"But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did." (1 John 2:5-6).

A pretty simple, yet incredibly difficult teaching, isn't it?

Last night I was hanging out with my buddy Justin at a Starbucks in Granger, and Justin got a call from one of his friends who wanted to hang out. I knew the kid as well, and my first response was, Oh great.... You see, this particular friend is just about as different as it gets from Justin or me. He does not love God. He hates his parents with a passion (always a hot topic of conversation when we're with him). He struggles with deep insecurities and depression. He's a 20-year-old practicing homosexual, currently in a relationship with a 42-year-old man. And that's just the start of the demonic strongholds in his life...

So here I was just chillin' at Starbucks with my best friend, entirely immersed in my own comfort zone...and I found myself not wanting to step outside of it. How often does that happen? Too much...

Well, like I said, I didn't exactly want to hang out with this guy, but yet somewhere in the back of my head I knew that Jesus would be jumping at the opportunity to hang out with someone who needed him so much. For as Jesus says in Mark 2:17, It is not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.

This particular conversation with Justin's friend began like so many that I had witnessed before. This guy began sharing all about the horror that is his life. It made me uncomfortable enough to realize one thing: I spend WAY too much time with Christians! I'm so used to conversations that are centered around the Church, God, and Scripture. This conversation was far from that.

But yet somehow in the midst of this conversation (a mostly one-sided conversation as Justin and I sat and listened), things actually took a natural shift to allow Justin and I to speak truth into this young man's life. He recently got a tattoo on his back, and part of the tattoo was a verse from Proverbs! Kinda crazy, I know. So that opened up a huge conversation about Scripture and Truth. This kid began to share about how he thought that we were all born "neutral" (in a spiritual sense). Because of this friend's interest in Scripture and in our thoughts on "good vs. evil," Justin and I were able to share with him about the fall and about how we are born in sin. Justin shared clearly with his friend about how the only way to be free from this sin nature is through a relationship with Jesus. It was pretty cool. I was so proud of Justin for the way he clearly presented Truth in a loving way to his friend.

So this morning when I read: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did, I think I had a pretty good visual of what this looks like. We are to walk in obedience to God, and we are to be the hands and feet of Jesus on this earth.

So what about you? Are you being a doctor to the sick? Are you learning to walk as Jesus did?

God wants to use YOU!!!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Introspection on Israel: Part VI

Day 3: Touring the Land
Herodian, Bethlehem, Palestinian Wall, Jerusalem Scale Model

Our first stop took us to Herodian, an ancient palace and watch tower built by Herod the Great (see Matt. 2) in the 1st Century A.D. Here are some pics of what we saw.

Approaching Herodian, which from a distance just looks like any other mountain.

Some of the excavations.

Some of the interior courts of the palace.

When we reached the summit, Dann shared the story from Matt. 2 of the Magi coming to meet Jesus. From where we stood, we could see Jerusalem (where the Magi met with Herod), Bethlehem (where Jesus was born), Mary and Joseph's (probable) escape route to Egypt, as well as the Magi's (probable) "other route" back to their country, avoiding Herod in Jerusalem. All in all, it was a pretty neat picture, to say the least.

More of the palace excavations.

The watch tower at Herodian. When armies came to attack from the South, a torch was lit on this tower to warn Jerusalem to prepare for battle.

From Herodian, we went into Bethlehem. An interesting fact that I learned on the trip was that Bethlehem is actually controlled by Palestine. This means that no Israelis are allowed to enter into Bethlehem. In fact, our own tour guide, Sergio, an Israeli citizen, had to be let off the bus before we crossed over into the Palestinian territory. Here are a few more pics of what we saw...

The wall separating Palestinian and Israeli territory. Sort of Berlin-esque, if you will.

The wall was covered with hate-filled graffiti.

Let this sink in for a second...yikes.

Lunch at Bethlehem Bible College.

One of the professors at the college, a Palestinian, shares the struggles of living in the middle of such turmoil and oppression. He shared of his own journey of learning first-hand how to "love his enemies."

Our final stop on the tour that day was to the Jerusalem Scale Model. This was a model of what Jerusalem would have looked like in Jesus' day, in the 1st Century A.D. Check it out...

The full model.

The Second Temple. This is the site where Abraham went to sacrifice his son, Isaac. This is where Jesus would have overturned the tables of the money changers. Much of this Temple can be attributed to Herod the Great, a master builder. This Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. by the Romans. Today, this is the site of the Muslim-controlled Dome of the Rock.

Terry looking really smart (because he is!) as he explains something to Robert.

Doing my best T-Money impression!

A great day, and a lot to let sink in! The highlight of the day was probably the Jerusalem Scale Model because for the rest of the week it helped give me a better picture of where I was in Jerusalem and how things might have looked in Jesus' day. 

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Introspection on Israel: Part V

Day 3: Morning Session
My Religion Meets the Master

In the morning session on day 3, South African Mark Tittley, a big voice in the global youth ministry discussion, shared a powerful message with us about Jesus' response to religion. You can listen to this message here. For those who won't take the time to listen, the following are some of the key thoughts I gleaned from him, as well as a few thoughts of my own:

1. Jesus confronts our beliefs.
-Jesus was constantly challenging the beliefs of the people, especially his disciples. Consider the "antitheses" passage in Matt. 5:21-48 in which Jesus continually says, "You have heard that it was said...but I tell you...." Jesus saw through the disciples' faulty belief systems and cut to the heart of the issue. This is still true for us today (if we are willing to listen).

2. Jesus confronts the world around us.
-Jesus' teaching was always in direct opposition to the predominant culture in his day.

3. Jesus confronts the world we live in today.
-This includes the "religious cultures" we find ourselves in.
-We reflect our religious culture and the broader culture in which we live.
-Jesus introduced a "Kingdom of God" that was at odds with both of these cultures.

Mark's concluding message was that we have created a false dichotomy as Evangelical Christians in saying that we choose "relationship" over "religion." Was it not God who created the Jewish religion in the first place? It is not religion and relationship, then, that are diametrically opposed to one another but rather true religion and false religion. True religion has at the very root of it a relationship. False religion has its root in "the law of sin and death" (Rom. 8:2).

Sometimes we buy into this false religion...Jesus confronts this even today.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What is Reality?

This past Sunday night, I was blessed with the opportunity to speak to our high school students. Fresh off my trip to Israel, I felt like God had a specific Word for these students about His Kingdom. Contrary to everything I have been taught about homiletics, I didn't take a single note or outline with me that night. I felt like God was writing a message on my heart and that I needed to do everything I could to get my thoughts out of the way so that God could literally speak through me. Pulling a stunt like that would have been a guaranteed "F" in my Effective Teaching in Youth Ministry class in college, but luckily there was no prof. there to grade me (and only one Bethel student who came that night to evaluate our ministry! ha!).

Interestingly enough, I was not nervous going into my message, like I usually am. One thing that I've noticed God has been doing in my life since Israel has been empowering me and giving me courage to be the man that He has called me to be. I really feel like a different person.

So Sunday night I got up in front of the youth, not with my own prepared message, but with a Word from the Lord. God's message for us that night was centered around one question: WHAT IS REALITY? I suppose I'm not surprised that this was what God had for us...I mean, isn't that what Jesus was all about? He spoke about His Kingdom more than any other topic. He warned the people that the Kingdom was at hand. He called them to something bigger than themselves, to something more real than the lives they were so caught up in.

This is what God has been laying on my heart, and this is what I passionately want to impart on my students--that there is something better than the lives we are living. That when we live our lives for ourselves, when we get caught up in our fleshly desires, when our eyes are focused on ourselves, we fall drastically short of the lives God has called us to live. This kind of life is terribly unfulfilling! Yet I believe God has placed inside each one of us a "Big Dream," a vision of who we can be in God's Kingdom and how we can use the passions He has placed inside of us to literally bring the Kingdom of God to earth. It's never too early to begin catching a vision of that "Big Dream" and to begin to take intentional steps toward that dream. One thing is for sure, though--we won't come closer to joining in God's Kingdom by living self-seeking lives or cutting corners in the area of our core character. We live in a culture that says "Do whatever you can to get ahead, to get an edge." The reality is, however, that there are no shortcuts to the Kingdom of God. Living in the Kingdom is an everyday commitment and sacrifice. 

I believe God wants to raise up a new generation of leaders, but His invitation is to come and die in this life, and enter into a more real way of in the Kingdom. I believe we can experience this life NOW!

Are you willing to come and die?

Are you ready for a touch of reality?

God is calling us to battle...are you ready?

Book Review: unChristian

What a new Generation Really Thinks About Christianity...and Why it Matters.

This recent publication was written in conjunction with both the Barna Group and the Fermi Project, major players in the Christian marketing and research fields. In this book, David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, and Gabe Lyons, founder and president of the Fermi Project, present their findings on thousands of hours of interviews and research on the perceptions of Christianity found in America today. The result of their study is somewhat depressing, to say the least.

As outsiders (non-Christians) were asked to define Christianity, the top three responses were antihomosexual (91%), judgmental (87%), and hypocritical (85%). One thing stands out immediately from these overwhelming responses: CHRISTIANS ARE MORE KNOWN FOR WHAT WE ARE AGAINST THAN WHAT WE ARE FOR!!! We are quick to voice our opinions against things like homosexuality, and at the same time slow to voice our opinions about (and show by the way we live) key truths like the love of Christ. This is depressing on two fronts: First, it just flat out stinks that this is the way Christianity is perceived by those outside of the faith. Second, and probably more importantly, this perception is depressing because I actually agree with it! I mean, if I were an outsider looking into the Church today, I would probably have these same opinions. As one who has grown up on the inside, I want to believe that people can change, and I want to believe that things are better than they are, but this book was like a swift dropkick in the face that said, "We've got BIG PROBLEMS in the Church today!"

Just in case you were wondering, after the "big three" perceptions of Christianity, these top off the list: old-fashioned (78%), too involved in politics (75%), out of touch with reality (72%), insensitive to others (70%), boring (68%), not accepting of other faiths (64%), and confusing (61%). Yikes...

Of these, the one that really stuck out to me was out of touch with reality. As Christians, we have gotten really good at taking the complexities that life throws our way and boiling them down into simple Christian cliches like "Let Go, Let God!" and "Just Believe!" Like I've said before, life is messy, and sometimes our bumper sticker theologies just don't quite cut it in answering the deeper questions of life. Outsiders can see right through our cheesy cliches, and quite frankly they make us seem highly nonintellectual because they refuse to address the depth of life.

Ok, so back to the book...

The first two chapters set up this pandemic problem facing the Church in America (and presumably other places in the world as well). Chapters 3-8, then address some of these issues in depth. At the end of each chapter, some major leaders in the Church today weigh in on the issues presented. This was a nice addition to the book and certainly provided some insightful teaching from people who have been in the trenches of ministry for quite some time. 

Chapter 4 entitled "Get Saved!" addresses the feeling outsiders have that Christians do not desire real and meaningful relationships with them, but rather view them as "projects" that need to be "worked on" until they accept the Christian's dogmatic faith. That just sucks...but it really that far from the truth?

Like I said, the book was semi-depressing. I didn't really enjoy reading it in the moment, but in the end I was glad I read it. Chapter 9 entitled "From unChristian to Christian" approached some solutions to this obvious problem facing the Church's relevance, voice, and future in the world today, the most notable solution being, in essence: MAYBE IT"S TIME THAT WE START LIVING AND TREATING PEOPLE THE WAY CHRIST DID!!! Brilliant. The book concludes with some encouraging words from today's Church leaders about their vision and hope for the future of the Church in America.

Overall, I thought Kinnaman and Lyons did an exceptional job with their research, and it was clear that their hearts were to help, encourage and improve the Church, rather than to tear it down. 

I give the book a B+, merely because it hurt to read at times and failed to give me any warm fuzzies at any point in my reading (highly subjectional and ridiculous, I know!!!).

Monday, March 17, 2008

Introspection on Israel: Part IV

Day 2: Opening Session
Saturday evening was the opening session of the GYI Conference, which took place at our hotel, the Hyatt Regency in Jerusalem. We opened the session with a time of worship, and I must say I caught a glimpse of the Kingdom of Heaven the minute our group of 250 people from 56 different countries around the world began to unite our hearts in worship of our Creator. It was a powerful experience, and it set the tone for the rest of the week as God began to move in my heart and mind in that moment.

Dann Spader, former president and founder of Son Life Ministries and current president of Global Youth Initiative was the speaker that night. His message was simple, yet profound and powerful. He began with this question: "What is it going to see a movement of God among the youth of the globe?" This, I soon learned, would be the entire focus of the conference--to spark disciple-making movements all around the world. Exciting stuff.

Dann pointed us toward what he saw as three imperatives for such movements to begin:

1. An increased commitment to "walk as Jesus walked."

I'll never forget this quote: "Jesus did not come to reach the world but to raise up disciples to reach the world."

2. A growing coalition of passionate leaders who:
-pray with focus
-encourage each other
-tell stories of what God is doing

3. A willingness to step out in GREAT FAITH

Dann identified five kinds of faith: no faith (Mark 4:40), broken faith (Malachi 2), little faith (Matt. 9:29), growing faith (1 Pt. 1:7), and great faith (Luke 7:9). He shared his own desire for God to commend him someday for displaying this kind of great faith, and he also shared passionately that it will take great faith if we are to ever see movements of God among the youth of the globe.

Finally, Dann shared with us what he called the GRAND IMPERATIVE...


Amen, brother. A-men.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Introspection on Israel: Part III

Day 2: The Old City
The morning and afternoon of the second day was free time to just travel around Jerusalem. Robert, Adrienne, and I decided to go check out the Old City, which is within the original ancient walls of Jerusalem in Jesus' day. Here are some of the highlights...

This is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Pretty much anywhere something important in Jesus' life is believed to have occurred, the Catholics have come along and built a huge church. This is where many Catholics believe Jesus was crucified.

Inside the church, this is where it is believed that Jesus' body was laid and prepared for burial. The Catholics come here and kiss the rock. They also often wipe the rock with a cloth because they believe the rock contains healing power which can be transferred into their cloth. Hmmm...not sure I'm buying that one...

Some interesting veggies in the marketplace. Can't say that I tried the pink cauliflower.

Walking through the marketplace.

We found these mangy cats, which Adrienne couldn't help but play with. In unrelated news, she later contracted 30 life-threatening diseases known only to be carried by Jerusalem street cats.

In the words of John Mayer, "I wanna run through the halls of my high school, I wanna scream at the top of my lungs!"

We snuck into this school ground and got this sweet view of the Dome of the Rock.

Some of the churches along the Via Dolorosa (Way of Suffering).

My first camel experience...with the only camel in Jerusalem! More from him later...

I hope you're enjoying the pics, but stay tuned because coming soon I will begin sharing some of the incredible things we learned during our conference...

Introspection on Israel: Part II

Day 1: Touring the Land
We arrived at the conference a day early for the pre-conference tour that involved the Israel/Jordan border, Mt. Arbel, Galilee, Capernaum, and Nazareth.  We all know that a picture is worth a thousand words, so instead of writing thousands of words here are a few shots of what we saw...

Looking into the land of Israel from the highway separating Israel and Jordan. It's no wonder the Israelites didn't want to conquer this land...I mean, where's all the milk and honey?!

Standing on Mt. Arbel, with Upper Galilee down below.

Robert, Adrienne, Me, and Terry on Mt. Arbel, with the Sea of Galilee in the background.

Looking out across the Sea of Galilee during a boat ride...contemplating all the miracles that took place here, including Jesus and Peter walking on water (Matt. 14:22-33) and Jesus calming the storm (Matt. 8:23-27).

The temple in Capernaum where Jesus began his ministry, reading the Messianic prophecy from Isaiah 61.

The Apostle Peter's house in Capernaum, converted to a church in the latter part of the 1st century A.D.

Becoming friends with a donkey in Nazareth. Also, the site of the quote of the day..."That's a really nice donkey"...spoken by none other than myself.

Good times...a great day. The highlight of the day was definitely the view from the top of Mt. Arbel. From there, we could see the setting for nearly 2/3 of Jesus' entire ministry. Incredible...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Introspection on Israel: Part I

I've been back from the Promised Land for about a day and a half now.  My apologies to those of you who were looking forward to hearing updates while I was gone...the internet wasn't as accessible as I originally anticipated.  However, be prepared for a barrage of posts in the days to come, as there is much to share about the life change that I experienced in the past week.

Before I get to the specifics of what was so life-changing about this trip, I'll just start this post series by explaining a little bit of what this trip was all about.  I went with my two Youth Ministry profs. from Bethel, Dr. Terence "T-Money" Linhart and (soon-to-be-Dr.) Robert Brandt, two of the coolest guys on the planet, and also a fellow Youth Min. student from Bethel, Adrienne "Adri-Anne" Searer, a pretty cool cat herself.  We were heading into the trip one man down, as my best buddy Justin "Preppie" Romine had to leave our team at the last minute because of an emergency appendectomy.  

I digress...

The conference was put on by an organization called Global Youth Initiative (GYI).  Their mission is "equipping young leaders for movements of multiplication."  This conference, then, was a gathering of over 250 youth leaders from 56 countries around the globe coming together under this common mission and purpose.  I can now certainly say that it is something special to experience such a unity among leaders from different countries and organizations all around the world.  One of GYI's main goals is to connect like-minded organizations and leaders who follow Christ's model for starting disciple-making movements so that they might work together as one team in the Kingdom of God. Sounds pretty awesome, huh?

Besides having two general sessions a day in which we learned more about issues relating to multiplying disciples, we also spent several hours each day touring the sights of the Holy Land. The combination of learning about Christ's model for ministry and then bringing to life the actual physical places in which Jesus' ministry took place was somewhat overwhelming and truly life-changing. I think I will be processing all that I saw and experienced for many months and maybe years to come.

So hold onto your hats as I take you through the transformational journey that began in my heart and life just a week ago...

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Off to the Motherland!!!

More like the Holy Land, I guess...

That's right, I leave tomorrow morning for the (not so) peaceful nation of Israel. I'll try to keep this baby updated with some pics and stories from the trip, depending on what kind of internet access I have over there. I'd appreciate your prayers while I'm gone.

More to come...