Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Are you more mature than an 8 year old? I'm not

I came across this article about a shark attack in NC and had to read it, as I do any time I see anything having to do with sharks. And since Shark Week will begin this Sunday I found it even more apropos. 

A little girl is attacked by a shark and deals with blood loss on the beach. But as she's laying there, completely aware that she will need medical attention, she remembers something equally important, probably passed down to her by her parents: 

"She said, 'Dad, can we say a prayer?'" Jordan Mangum told the station. "We said a prayer for her on the beach. Her faith and stoicism was a marvel to us."

How cool is that? As parents, as pastors, as mentors, if we can get across one thing when tragedy strikes, this would be it: pray.

Even though it would be foolish not to go to the emergency room, it would be likewise foolish not to pray. Emergency medicine, like any sort of medicine, is no sure thing. I've watched enough Shark Week's to know that shark attack victims do die on the beach, on the way to, or even in the hospital. The doctor alone is not enough. We're ultimately in God's hands, so it's foolish not to pray and thus  neglect either of these "life-lines."

Of course as I write this I feel convicted about foolishly not praying with (of course I prayed for) my dear friend who blew out his knee in a softball collision with 2nd base. With folks crowding around, and some pretending to actually know what they were doing when they clearly didn't, I foolishly let them do their "work" and carry him off the field. I did end up praying briefly with him while on the bench, but my heart was more tuned in to getting him to the doctor.
I'm definitely not more mature at some levels then this lovely 8 year old. Faith like a child is a beautiful thing.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What's a communist government to do?

This is a continuation of the last post, attempting to deal with the question: Should the Chinese government do all that it can to regulate the Church? I mean, does the state have/should have a legitimate fear of these house churches?

I think you could answer the question, both yes and no.

Yes-The government "should" have a legitimate fear with what's going on. When the apostle Paul writes that Jesus is Lord, he is saying that Cesar is not Lord. There is an order of allegiance. Jesus becomes our ultimate King and we are called to obey Him rather than any man when those two commands intersect (though I think those two intersect probably less frequently than we like to admit here in the States). So if a communist state demands total allegiance, no matter what, then I guess that could/should create cause for concern.

In addition, because Christians have an ultimate allegiance to their Savior Jesus, they may have to abstain or speak up against certain practices of the state. For instance, if the state recommends an abortion to reduce over-population, then I could see the state having some legitimate concern. Early Christians made others look bad, and even an official named Pliny the Younger complained about them taking care of THEIR poor as well as those inside the church. So a healthy church can make the government look heartless, if not foolish.

No-Jesus also demands our ultimate allegiance, even more so than allegiance to family: suburbanites have a very hard time with this. But just as honoring Jesus before our families is actually the best for our families (they don't become idols that way), so is honoring Jesus even before the government. When it comes to honoring the government officials (Rom 13, I Peter 2:13-14,17) , we really don't get a vote. It's a command. So in that sense, the government should do everything to stay out of the way of the church. Healthy Christians make good citizens.

I Peter even challenges Christians not to repay evil with evil, particularly at the government level. Ideally the government will then take notice and recognize the folly of their hatred for the church.

1 Peter 2:15 For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people

When the government is wrong, it seems Christians are to prove the government wrong by their good deeds and obedience as opposed to revolt. So again, no, they shouldn't stop the church's from flourishing.
In the end, should our neighborhoods, communities, and governments be "better off" with healthy reproducing churches? From my vantage point, yes, and I guess it probably depends upon what "better off" looks like. But ultimately I think the government reaction to the gospel will mirror the individual non-believer's response to the gospel. They will have reason to love us if we love them in such a way as we're called to. Yet they will have reason to hate us, because they first hated Jesus for his "arrogant" claim that only He can save.

The best answers often involve a little yes and no.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Role of Examples and Sticking it to the Man

I came across this video and article regarding the Chinese church and government crackdown the other day and just had a chance to watch it today (office internet precludes any video's b/c it take about as long as a heat wave to move). We have no idea what it is like to worship under the religious limitations of a place like China. Now we don't need to feel guilt for that; we don't live in China. Yet, without feeling guilty, we can still can learn from our brothers and sisters in the faith, just as Paul claimed the Thessalonians provided a great example for others as they heard about such faith.

"I Thess 1:6 And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, 7 so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. 8 For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything."

Here are some of my takes after seeing this short video from CNN.

1.) Examples are great. I believe we need examples. I need to see what it looks like for folks to radically live out their faith because they are enamored with their Savior, loving Him more than their lives, so much so that they don't shrink back even at death. I need to see what Jesus could do in me if I believed the gospel more than I do now. But it is a precious love of their Savior (or more theologically accurate an understanding of their Savior's precious love for them), not them trying be tougher, more radical, or follow an example better than the apathetic world around them which creates extreme faith. Simply put, because of Jesus' love for them, they will conquer even the government. Much like my favorite line in Gladiator, "Today I saw a slave become more powerful than the Emperor of Rome." Or you could also go with Revelation 12:11, "And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death." Examples are great as long as they don't collapse to the lowest common denominator: Be Bold like the Chinese.
2.) Inside of most of us, I think, there is a tendency to want to defy the government and, "stick it to The Man." There is a residue of our sinful flesh which desires autonomous freedom. But there is also part of our the redeemed heart which wants to obey its new master, friend, savior Jesus, even more than the government. And that part is from the Spirit. 

Sometimes I think we like the verse in Acts "We must obey God rather than men," because it excites us to be free from government authority. It excites me to have this freedom, on this rare occasion, to stick it to the man. Of course getting beat up and tortured seem a lot less exciting. Now the time may come-though I tend to doubt it-when the government will intervene and regulate worship on a widespread manner. But we're not there yet. So we probably shouldn't live as though we're allowed to stick it to the man by griping and disrespecting leaders whom we should be praying for (I admit I do very little of the latter) with God's blessing. And I would do well, and probably others, to recognize our longing for such a time may be more centered around "sticking it to the man" than really loving and honoring Jesus more than Caesar.

3.) Should the Chinese government be concerned about these unregulated churches? Is there really a threat to communism? Are these churches really subversive? In other words, from a pragmatic point of view, SHOULD the Chinese government do all it can to stop the spread of the gospel? It makes it easier for me to be gracious toward an opponent if I can understand his/her worldview and how the gospel or my actions would be perceived by him/her. If they have a logical point, like not letting us do a bible club at a government subsidized apartment complex, I get that. I'm less frustrated by that. Anyhow, I'll try to deal with this one tomorrow....

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Why I say "God bless you"

A Seinfeld episode once centered around, or at least focused on the expression, "God bless you." George said, "God bless you" to a sneezing women without giving the proper time for her husband to say it. With the relationship severely strained, the discussion then turned to the expression itself and whether or not it was necessary at all. In fact Jerry argued we should replace it with, "You're sooooo good looking!"

In all seriousness though, is this expression important for today? Should we replace it with something else like 'you're so good-looking?'

In regards to the "God bless you" of sneezing, there are several different legends as to how it originated. But the consensus seems to be that this expression served to protect the sneezer against a surprise soul attack from Satan and his goons. 

I don't believe a sneeze is anything more than a sneeze, and I just say "God bless you," because it shows a little bit of love to the sneezer. It shows that I acknowledge their sneeze, and I guess it could serve as a prayer to get better (though I've given this less thought).

But I have begun to give some more thought of my prevalent use of the phrase "God bless you" when concluding a phone conversation or finishing up with a cashier at Walmart. If someone asks me what I mean by that, I ought to know what I mean, or else I probably should stop saying it.

So while I can answer for no one other than myself, here is what I mean (at least what I think I mean) when I say the expression "God bless you."

To non-Christians: I pray briefly in that moment that God would grant or bless them with a good day. I want it to "rain on his/her crops" (remember while rain is a curse today, it was the quintessential blessing in the O.T.) But ultimately, whether a good day or bad day (often God uses bad days), I'm hoping that God would reveal Himself as Savior and Lord for the first time. That they would see past the blessing to the Bless-or.

To Christians: I basically am praying for the same thing. A good and enjoyable day, and a deeper knowledge/fear/love of God than yesterday.

So why do it? I'm not advocating you do it, but want to explain why I do it. In the book of Ruth, particularly in chapter 2, we see several very short "God bless you" type prayers. 

4 And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, "The LORD be with you!" And they answered, "The LORD bless you." 5 Then Boaz said to his young man who was in charge of the reapers, "Whose young woman is this?"

12 The LORD repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!" 

 20 And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, "May he be blessed by the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!" Naomi also said to her, "The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers."

Do these little prayers "make a difference?" In the book of Ruth, each time a blessing is experienced, it is experienced in direct connection with these short spoken prayers. The blessing is a result of the prayer or a derivative of the prayer "God bless you." Now we should also realize that in the book of Ruth, often times the one praying "God bless you," actually becomes the answer to his/her own prayer. 

In another words, when Boaz says "the Lord repay you," he becomes the repayment: he marries and takes care of Ruth. So if we're saying, "God bless you," we need to be mindful and willing to enter into someone's story of redemption. We may be the bringer of God's blessing  to them.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Reggie Bush and public apologies

Last week I saw an interesting interview with current Saints (at least as long as he doesn't demand the 12 million dollars owed him this year) running back Reggie Bush. The interviewer reminded Reggie of his fateful tweet after New Orleans drafted Alabama running back Mark Ingram in the first round of this year's draft: "Its been fun New Orleans."

Of course a bit later, he posted something more "diplomatic," according to Pat Yasinkas:
“Congrats to Mark Ingram on being selected to New Orleans. He will be a great addition to the Saints backfield just as he was in Alabama.’’ 

The second tweet no doubt (in my mind) came after his agent informed him of the stupidity of his first tweet. At least, that's the scenario I presume. Usually with agent motivated apologies, they reveal about as much remorse as one coming from a sociopath. 

But in this interview, you could really tell that Bush owned up to his mistake. He even berated himself for ignoring the NFL's yearly social media reminder to pause before you press "send." Its no wonder if these public or internet apologies are real or simply diplomatic. Yet is it possible that they could eventually lead to real heartfelt sorrow? Sometimes? Whether this response was motivated by an agent or fear of actually losing his job, I think it is possible even publicly "forced" apologies can result in real repentance down the road.
Here are a few quick takes:

1.) In a similar way, I think that corporate confession during worship, even though you're not "feeling it" at the time, can end up leading to real confession some time after the church service ends. I don't know how often it does, but I'm eager to start paying attention to how it affects me personally during the week.

2.) It is nice to see someone admit, "I was just dumb. It was my fault." Few things gain respect more than someone admitting his mistakes. Now if/when he owns up to his mistakes with the USC disaster....

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Merlowe Joe Maddon's 30 minute rule

The last two nights I had both a rare privilege and frustration: watching the Tampa Bay Rays on TV. Unfortunately when the Rays are on TV, it is because they are playing either the Red Sox or Yankees. On back-to-back nights they lost by one run to both. 

One of the announcers, Rick Sutcliffe, commented on whether or not losing 1-0 to the Red Sox in 16 innings the night before would have a tangible adverse affect on the Rays playing the Yankees the next night. He believed the frustrating loss wouldn't hurt the Rays, citing manager Joe Maddon's "30 minute rule."
The 30 minute rule means that the team can/should reflect on the bitterness for the loss for only 30 minutes. After that, they cannot dwell on it anymore. It's in the past, and they have to play another game the next day (more often than not with 162 game season).

I'm not sure that there is a minimum time limit we should mourn for the bitterness of our sin. The sacrifices of God are a broken and contrite Spirit, and that obviously involves being bothered by our general and particular sins. However, particularly in regard to our particular sins (but the general as well), we should be reminded that we must not remain in such a mournful state for too long. Christ has already forgiven sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God (I Peter 3:18).

But there has to be a maximum time limit on mourning our sins or else we will walk around like Eoyore, forgetting the victory which Jesus has secured. Repentance must lead to rejoicing (or it isn't repentance) because God's mercies, and our experience of them, are new every morning (Lam 3:22-23). A good reminder to us all, especially when we experience the consequences of our sin.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Some bear reflections

This past weekend the lads from Redeemer hiked a mile and a half into the Cranberry River for camping/fishing trip. While the water remained lower than we would have liked, and the fish scarcer than advertised, all had a great time bonding as we braved the outdoors. My crew of folks came in on Friday around noon, just missing the Thursday night-Friday morning bear run-in's.

Apparently the bear came in on Thursday evening and then back the next morning to climb the apple tree to gorge on some delectable little treats. Bummed that he never returned to the same spot, my friend and I made our way up to another fishing hole. He stopped and my impatience set in. I immediately headed on to try and nab a trout on a dry fly. Unfortunately for me, just 40 feet away from the same path he and I were walking on, just literally 5 minutes later, Mr. Bear came back. 

He stared at my buddy, and then continued on his trek of the woods. 5 minutes and I would have seen my bear. Complete bummer.

I accepted the results of my impatience and returned to fishing, catching my first trout on a fly in 9 years. On an indescribable high from such an experience, my thoughts eventually turned to my trip back to the campsite.
Here are a few reflections:

1.) Why walk alone? When I was walking to the fishing hole with my buddy, I thought of fish to be caught and the hope that the bear would come back in the evening when our group could watch him at a safe distance. Yet we still walked the trail as dusk approached. After my trout at 8:45 pm, I didn't walk back, I ran. Why? Because I was alone. I wasn't scared while I was with Jason-even though he is faster than me should we have been chased. Just having someone there made all the difference. When I was alone, even those 3 hotdogs and being out of shape didn't slow my fearful flight back. Why do we (and I) as Christians, prefer to do life alone sometimes? Why run, when we can walk and enjoy our journey with our brothers and sisters in the faith?

2.) Terms. I mentioned to everyone that I wanted to see that bear, but on my own terms. Someone asked what are your terms? When he is at a safe distance, up in a tree, while I'm on the ground, surrounded by friends, several of whom have loaded guns. I didn't get my wish. He didn't appear to me on my terms. But he did appear to a number of others who did not express such demands. After all, they were "his" woods (at least more so than ours).

Sometimes I think we put demands and terms upon God, and then are surprised when he doesn't show up. We don't experience Him the way others may because our terms usually imply what we can get out of Him: a better feeling, family, spouse, or house. God sets the terms of which we come to Him. We come to Him through His Son in repentance and faith. Consequently we experience and grow in Him the same way, through repentance and faith in His Son, repenting of our "terms."

3.) Safety? I asked the waitress at a local diner when was the last time someone had been attacked by a bear? Sandy, the 70 year old waitress knew of no such incident in the area. I had 60 pounds, by estimation, on this particular bear. Even though I might be able to bench press more than him, he would certainly take me down without too much effort (these bears weren't de-clawed like housecats). A bear is not safe, but apparently in these woods, he is good. Reminded me of Aslan in the Narnia series. Yes God is not safe, but He is good. He is not safe because He will call out and crush our idols, but He is good because that is the best thing for us.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Some takes on C.J.

A week or so ago I received Don't Waste Your Sports by C.J. Meheney. This little booklet, expands on his sermon "Don't Waste Your Sports," he delivered several years ago, challenging folks to consider how to truly honor God with sports. I've already discussed and linked to this sermon here.

Then sometime last week, I noticed C.J. Meheney was taking a leave of absence from his position on the board of Sovereign Grace Ministries. He writes on his blog:

Over the last few years some former pastors and leaders in Sovereign Grace have made charges against me and informed me about offenses they have with me as well as other leaders in Sovereign Grace. These charges are serious and they have been very grieving to read. These charges are not related to any immorality or financial impropriety, but this doesn’t minimize their serious nature, which include various expressions of pride, unentreatability, deceit, sinful judgment, and hypocrisy.

Here are a few of my takes on C.J.'s leave of absence:

1.) Most of my appreciation of C.J.'s ministry began upon reading The Cross Centered life. This book reminds the Christian that we never outgrow and always need the cross for our justification as well as our sanctification. If you read his entire blog entry, you'll gain a sense (at least from what he's written) that he is owning his sin and seeking reconciliation. If this is true and genuine-and he's given no reason for me to doubt that it is-this is the result of a cross centered life. If the cross has indeed taken away all condemnation of all our sins, we need not be ashamed of our struggles. We can even fearlessly let people in on them. 

John Piper took a leave of absence from Bethlehem Baptist Church. You can read about that here.  I personally connected with Meheney's freedom in Christ to be a little more specific than Piper (though I don't question him for lack of specifics, I'm just noting the differences and which one I more connected with-I respect both men immensely). Freedom to confess your sins to others is evidence of God's grace at work.

2.) As I understand the polity and leadership of Sovereign Grace Ministries, it seems a bit weighted to the side of one individual: C.J. Meheney. I cannot escape my Presbyterian bias here. But I must say this. While presbytery often causes much frustration to me at times, it does seem to me the best system of accountability in leadership (not just most biblical) because it limits the power of ONE individual. If Tim Keller stepped out of ministry in the PCA I would be bummed. But since he is but an influential member in our denomination, not the leader on a board, the show would go on more smoothly.

3.) Regardless of what happens with CJ, and even if he didn't repent but went apostate instead, his past work shouldn't be thrown away but upheld and read. I think Paul would have agreed with this. He reminds the Galatians that even if an angel or he or his fellow ministers preached a different gospel, then let them be accursed. So in other words, if Paul or some other Christian evangelist changed the message, don't throw out what he has already preached to them. If Paul or another pastor proved to be a charlatan, still hold on to the gospel. The gospel message is centered on Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, not the character or even the perseverance of the messenger. Messengers may come and go. They may persevere or walk away from the faith. But the message they preached, provided it is grounded in the gospel and applied to life, shouldn't be ignored because of their personal sin or failure to apply what they wrote. 

All of above paragraph is simply didactic, and not prognostication. C.J. may have been running the race in "clean air," ahead of everyone else. But now he'll be back with the pack, and I think this time will be good for him. I'm looking forward to hear what God teaches him during this leave of absence.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Round table on how to disgaree

Matt Chandler, Tim Keller, Micheal Horton have set down for a series of conversations on different topics. In this clip, Keller leads the discussion on "how to disagree" with others. Its about a 13 minute clip and worth it to hear folks with differing philosophies of ministry, but still within the wider Reformed camp, agree on how we can disagree with one another.

Chandler hit a home run with his concern of people attacking 5 minute you tube clips of a 50 minute sermon, completely ignoring the entire body of work. I actually heard someone bash Keller, even calling his presentation of the gospel "a joke," because of a you tube clip someone sent him. Unfortunately the hermeneutic he uses to study the bible (context, big picture) wasn't applied to that short clip.

One take-away from this video, for all folks who find themselves theologically/philosophically differing with their brothers and sisters in Christ: make sure what YOU think your opponent is saying IS IN FACT what they are saying. That is one way to love those with whom you differ.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Sabal Point Kids Club

For several months, I had planned on having a bible club (craft, game, puppets, food, gospel presentation) at a local government subsidized apartment complex called Sable Point. Then two weeks ago I went with another leader to put up some fliers and found that corporate had taken over because some folks had resigned (or that's what they told me...). The man in charge was not a fan of a "bible club" and asked us to change it to "spiritual club" (sounded too much like an Oprah book club for kids to me) so we secularized the title to "Kids Club." And then we were told not to bring "religion" into it. However, upon his departure that afternoon, he seemed to indicate that he didn't want to know what was going on. So with this vague-and open to interpretation-interaction, we continued on as planned. The remaining management didn't care about our "Kids Club" and told me "good luck!"

As it turned out we had about 15-20 kids each day on Wed-Friday, many of them un-churched, bored, and some hungrier than others. After registering them, gathering them together to sing songs like "Father Abraham" to a "Sargent Peppers" sounding electric guitar, we shared the story of Creation, Fall, and Redemption through puppets and follow up gospel presentation. In between we did crafts like the gospel bracelets and gave them the opportunity to make laminated place mats which described themselves with pictures and included the theme verse James 2:23 "Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness and he was called God's friend." Finally we fed them pizza, ice cream and hotdogs at the end of the clubs.

Since most of the Kids Club involved youth leadership, with adults there to facilitate, I would say it was a success. Giving youth opportunities to lead is as much part of the discipleship process as youth group or Sunday school. And on the last day, kids were asking, "When are you coming back?" The good thing is that we should have plenty of chance for follow-up with tutoring and showing movies. What seemed like a disaster with a last minute change in management proved to be nothing but a speed bump causing us to cry out to the Lord in prayer. He answered with much more than a "yes," but with a "Yes and I'll be there with ya'll." 

Tiring few days, but certainly exciting to be involved in what hopes to become a long term partnership. 

Friday, July 8, 2011

Should I go to church, or better yet, shouldn't I want to?

Here's a brief video on why the individual Christian will naturally desire to be part of a local church. This lad, author of Am I Really a Christian, remarks that the question of whether or not I should go to and join a church is really kind of a weird question. He poses a follow-up question: "That's kind of like a wife saying, 'Do I really have to live with my husband?'" In the end, when we don't desire to be part of a local community and use the spiritual gifts-which are given to bless not ourselves but the local church-we should probably surmise there is something wrong with us. More than something wrong with every church in your area or surrounding area. Check out this video, as it will only take you two and a half minutes.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Serbian Hospitality vs. Suburbia Hospitality

This is a continuation of yesterday's post regarding some take home, and "free" (not intended by the author) applications from the book The Forgotten 500.  I was amazed by the tenacity of these airmen to tell their story and to honor and clear the name of Draza Mihailovich, who was purported by the American and British government to be a Nazi collaborator. Unfortunately British communist moles ceased the opportunity to convince the Allies that the communist partisan Josip Tito was their true ally. In addition, Mihailovich actually cared that Germany would kill 100 civilians for every German soldier who died. So his fight against the Nazi's had to take the form of sabotage instead of straight up guerilla warfare. But it was his concern for not only the welfare of his people, but of the foreign Americans whom he considered allies (even though their country didn't see things the same way) which I found so amazing.
These small Serbian country villages housed more than 500 Americans. They providing for them even though they themselves had very little. Plum brandy, goat cheese, and very little else proved enough to sustain these needy fellows during the slavic stay. The Serbian hospitality to our countrymen knew no bounds. These laid back country denied food for themselves so others could eat and even offered up their straw beds to instead sleep in barns.

Other times their hospitality could and did actually get many a villager killed. There is one account where the Nazi's threatened to kill an entire village of 200 people if Mihailovich's forces didn't give up their American airmen. While the Americans begged to be turned in to spare these innocent-not to mention folks who had been so good to them as well-civilians, Mihailovich refused. The Germans made good on their promise and killed the 200 as they said they would. 

If found housing an American, the Germans had no trouble in meting out quick retribution. Yet these Serbians saw no issue in showing hospitality to those whom they considered their Allies (even though Allies would soon not return kindness for kindness).

This Serbian hospitality toward Americans (obviously things got nasty later on with their own countrymen) knew no bounds. Today if we're running low on food or funds or time to clean, we Americans won't open our doors. I like hospitality that costs me very little, but I was challenged with the scope of my hospitality. Sometimes it costs. Sometimes it sets us back financially. But I wonder if biblical hospitality looks more Serbian than Suburbian? 

I wouldn't host anyone who could get me killed, and yet that is exactly the kind of hospitality received by many in my Grandfather's generation. Busyness, or the fact that we had a hard week or season of life can often preclude us from opening our homes nowadays. We've come a long way, but I think a long way in the wrong direction.

We don't usually host based upon others needs, but instead invite others who can "bring something to the table" (metaphorically speaking). I was amazed and convicted by these Serbians and their gospel centered hospitality. These Serbs can still teach us a thing or two, pointing us toward the hospitable One, who gave up the comfort of heavens in order to invite us to His home.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The evangelism of The Forgotten 500

This week I finished reading The Forgotten 500, a book about "the greatest rescue mission" of WW II. More than 500 downed airman who bailed out over the former Yugoslavia were eventually picked up over a period of months. These lads actually had to make a rudimentary airstrip with their bare hands and a few tools, while working at night, praying the Germans didn't discover their operation. The "odds," if you will (and I guess I won't, or at least shouldn't), were definitely stacked against them. Not one soldier or pilot was lost in this operation. Truly a miracle.

Yet it was a miracle that wasn't told. And its a shame. Due to the fragile state of post war relations, and the mistakes of the Americans and British backing the communist partisans, the story went largely and intentionally untold and proclaimed. You could feel the sadness of these soldiers not being able to tell their story. After all, what good is good news if you can't share it?

Still these soldiers fought to tell the story and clear the name of the Serbian general Draza Mihailovich. Despite governmental interference and often times, attempts to keep them quiet, they would not take no for an answer. They could not protect the one whom they owed their freedom from post-war assassination by the communists, but they would see to it that people knew the truth about their savior. Mihailovich saw that these men were provided for and would not give them up to the Germans no matter what retribution occurred. The truth about him must be told.

These fallen airmen truly provide us a great example of evangelism. There will always be opposition, sometimes governmental interference, and situations which seem to seem like closed doors. But these men were bound by the truth and the need to honor their savior. Their gratitude knew no bounds. It had nothing to do with guilt. It had everything to do with a perpetually thankful heart and the honor of someone who would not let the enemy pry them out of his hands.

Thankfulness and the glory of our Savior are probably the best evangelistic motivators, and certainly what sustained them in all of their frustrating "evangelistic" efforts. When others are putting up relational barriers, that sense of "I'm doing this for them because they need Jesus," will often lead (at least in my experience) to anger at those who do truly need Jesus. But when everything is grounded in Christ, including our motivation for sharing the gospel, we become less angry and more patient with those who seem disinterested or hostile in discussing spiritual matters. Paradoxically, we then become more compelled to share, but freer to relax and thus elude unnecessary frustration.

Even if you're not a WWII buff, this well written book includes life stories of many of the soldiers and how they providentially collided to in order to provide such a rescue. Worth the read.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Don't get back on the mower: Letting youth lead

The other day I saw a 5th grader trying to help out with some yard work by hopping on the riding lawn mower (of which I have extreme lawn mower envy, still....). My wife and I thought, or maybe spoke out loud, "Wow, this is a big step for his great grandmother." She runs a tight ship when it comes to her yard. It always looks great, and what would you expect for someone who has a lawn service, spends hours each week tending to it, and mows or has it mowed twice a week?

But after about 5 minutes, the young lad lost his spot on the riding mower. She was back up on the rider, re-mowing the same exact area he had been mowing. 

I felt a little sad for this 5th grader, because she completely de-legitimated him. Without saying a word she said, "Your help isn't good enough." Instead of letting this lad mow, and then afterwards thanking him, but also pointing out a spot or two which he missed, she just removed him. She took away from him the opportunity to serve. To serve imperfectly. She couldn't let him fail and have a few blades of grass be longer than their neighboring blades for a few days. Excellence. It had to be done with excellence.

My sadness for this 5th grader soon evaporated like a small puddle in August. But what hit me is that this kind of behavior so often happens to youth in the church. For instance, I think we can often demand perfection (a perfection or excellence that we're unable to attain anyway), and so we rarely give youth opportunities to lead and serve. To lead/serve and fail. To lead, fail, and learn, and then lead or serve better the next time. 

Sometimes the church as a whole is reticent to offer youth leadership opportunities and quick to take them away when things don't run as smoothly as we'd like. 

Yet recently I've been encouraged with Redeemer as folks have begun to get off the riding mowers and letting others take the reins. I've heard folks say, "I'm happy to continue or to step aside and let someone new take over." This is happening with adults as well as with youth.

The most recent opportunity I'm excited about is our Bible Club outreach to a local apartment complex. Unfortunately management changed LAST week, causing some consternation, confusion, and a little bit of panic, so the event is now called "Kids Club." Yet its slated to go on as scheduled and the youth are going to be leading it, with only parents facilitating it. Now it could possibly run smoother (only possibly though) with adults running it, but it would de-legitimate them and stunt their growth in leadership if this opportunity were taken away. 

Youth often do want to serve, but I wonder how many leadership opportunities we adults afford them. While its easier to get on the riding mower and do it ourselves, who will mow when we get too old or die? Youth are now growing up and not coming back to the church in the same way they used to. It's not a get married, have kids, and THEN come back to the church thing de facto. Many don't come back now.

Giving them experience in leadership now prepares them for greater levels of leadership in the future. But such leadership opportunities might also stop them from leaving in the first place. In the end, we might even find out they can do a better job.