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Monday, October 16, 2017

Ent war

This poem was inspired by the sight of this great fallen tree.
Silently fallen, the great oak tree,
Old age witness of secrets past,
Lying rootless in the grass.

Branches, the old panoply,
Caught in the wind like tangled hair,
Dragged its giant body down.

No rustling of leaves,
Nor bending in the breeze.
Centurion of time, a guard no more.

O shepherds of the trees
Where art thou, gentle guides,
To lead the feeble herd?

The enemy wields the air
Against the dawn of time,
Scheming onslaughts, mercy-free.
The trees in our local park at this time of year

As ents of old went to their doom,
Wake up and fight for all things green!
Let black sights move thee to obey
To sound the horn, “arise, assail!”

For truth foretold and endless day,
Dawn breaking through the darkest night.
For verdant pastures, trickling streams,
From death's dark vale to jubilee!

For worth eternal, endless glee,
Purest laughter after rain,
Lips proclaiming through the pain
The words that set all free.

Deep roots stretching toward true life,
Strong in the tossing winds of change.
Life sap flowing through the veins,
A German artist secretly transforms tree stumps into "mini-ents"
Growing upward to the light.

For such there is no holding back,
No slinking silence in the ranks.
This war condones no cowardice,
The orbs of which are limitless.

March on, ye shepherds of the trees!
Haste your duty to enfold
Saplings yearning to be free,
Courage waning, lean on thee.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Leading like Jesus

Image result for photo leadershipI know! This title sounds almost blasphemous! But honestly, I sometimes feel like we are getting more and more of our leadership paradigms from a business world and model than from Jesus whom we proclaim. Our reality, as missionaries, is that we are called to a ministry, not a business, to a vocation, not a paycheck. There are no career ladders to climb, other than the way down the rungs of service.

Sometimes it’s tempting to adopt a business model in missions because it simplifies things, it’s easier to cut our losses, distance ourselves from the pain and it is so much more politically correct. For followers of Jesus who are called to be leaders, here are some observations on the topic of leadership. You may say, “yeah, well that was Jesus, for crying out loud! That’s not me…” And sure, we cannot know the depths of people’s hearts or cause a storm to be still at the sound of our voice. But Paul is not bashful to call us to be imitators of Christ. His Spirit lives in us and therefore, we will be amazed at how He is able to work in and through us. But it does presuppose leading His way, not ours and the results will be in His hands, not ours. So how DID Jesus lead?

 1.      He bore much responsibility

There is a sense of weightiness about Jesus’ leadership. His task was the greatest any human was ever sent to do. Accepting that was a big part of Jesus’ service to us. His disciples never really understood the gravitas of his mission, even up to the very end of his life. They napped through his greatest moment of need in the Garden of Gethsemane. This can be true for us too. There is a loneliness to leadership but unlike Jesus, we do not have to bear the weight of the world on our shoulders. We are part of his body and can find rest and reprieve there. We need to find people with whom we can share burdens.

2.      He needed time to pray and fellowship with the Father

No comment! Well, allow me just one: If Jesus, the Son of Man, needed to spend many hours in prayer talking to the Father, how much more do we? In modern terms, he balanced being alone with God and ministry to people.

3.      He invested in a few disciples

Jesus taught the masses but invested in the leadership training of a few. He spent much time, sharing life with 12 men, going deep in his teaching and applying it to them specifically. They learned by watching him do. Jesus, the Word of God through whom all things were made, chose 12 men to fulfill his task. What? Such a small plan for influence? More is not always better…as Jesus demonstrated, but multiplication was the key.

4.      He delegated

Jesus sent out various groupings of disciples to do what he did. He did not go with them or oversee them closely but let them make their own experiences and mistakes. He empowered flawed people with his task. He was all about building his church through weaklings in order to show God’s power and glory. Can we release control, believing that the message is more powerful than the messenger? It’s not about us, but about the message of the Gospel.

5.      He met physical as well as spiritual needs

Jesus was not an academic in his ivory tower, nor a preacher that spent most of his time at his desk. He led by going out and meeting people’s needs (physical, emotional, spiritual), sometimes all at once, sometimes one need at a time. He always prioritized what was ultimate, without ignoring what was immediate.

6.      He knew how to party

He delighted in the world he created by going to places where people were gathered to celebrate. He led by living a full life of joy! He was present at weddings and dinner parties, enjoying good wine and making friends and good company out of sinners.

7.      He knew how to receive the service of others

Jesus led by allowing others to serve him. Whether a woman washing his hair with her tears, Martha serving him food, people laying their cloaks down before him or the women with him at the cross, he received their humble acts of service freely. Do we allow others to help and serve us?

8.      He was not above touching the broken

Jesus broke all social norms and touched the untouchables, leading by example and courage. Leadership is not about maintaining the status quo, rather humbly realigning outward realities with God’s heart, wherever possible. If something structural or cultural is in the way of God’s mission, it needs to go. And, as a leader, if God has given you the position to do it, you should! There are no casts or holy cows, only God’s holy will!

9.      He spoke truth

A lot of Jesus’ leadership involved speaking the truth both in public and private settings. He was not afraid of confrontation and could get angry about the right things. He rebuked sin and spoke harshly to hypocrites. This is an aspect of leadership we sometimes shy away from for fear of being controversial. But peace is not always the best state to pursue if God’s honor is not being defended.

10.   He knew how to apply God’s Word to every human heart

With Jesus, there is no cookie-cutter approach to people. He led by challenging every individual in a different way, according to the situation and context. This is true wisdom! To know how God’s word uniquely applies to every heart. We should strive to grow in our knowledge of God’s Word and theology and seek opportunities to help others apply it to their diverse situations.

11.   He made people hungry and thirsty for more of God

Jesus’ leadership had a more-ish effect of people. This is what he also commanded us to do: to have our speech seasoned with salt. We are to make people thirsty for God. But warning: good leadership will sometimes make others feel uncomfortable because salt stings where there are open wounds. Sometimes our words will even be the flavor of death to those who are perishing.

12.   He lived on a mission

Jesus had a sole purpose and everything he did funneled into that purpose. It was no less than God’s plan of redemption for the world. This makes a good leader sometimes sound redundant. Don’t you ever talk about anything else than God’s kingdom or saving the lost? There may be specific things God is calling us to pursue. “For such a time as this” may be a phrase to ponder for yourself and your leadership. What is God calling me to do here and now?

13.   He did not defend himself

Jesus led by silence. He was silent in front of his accusers, bearing rejection and shame because he knew God was his ultimate defender. He was both strong and weak. This is probably one of the hardest things for us to do. We are tempted to protect our own reputations, our territories, our spheres of influence. Can we let those go for the sake of Christ’s kingdom? Hmmm…Preach to the choir!

14.   He understood his suffering as part of God’s plan

Jesus led with an eternal perspective on the here and now, especially when it involved suffering. Submission to God and drinking the cup of God’s wrath was the only way to his exaltation. Jesus has seen the result of his suffering and is satisfied. Can we trust that the sufferings we take on for Christ’s sake will bear fruit, even if we can’t see it yet? A good leader needs to be able to live it and point others to the hope of this truth as well.

15.   He forgave others even though they were unwilling to repent

Jesus led in forgiveness. The most powerful moment of his servant leadership is the scene on the cross when Jesus forgives his assassins. There will be many moments in the life of a leader when someone unjustly opposes or publicly “crucifies” you. It will take nothing short of Jesus in you to respond in the way Jesus did. We are so weak and often so unable to respond like this. Because we are not perfect like Jesus, we will need to lead by repenting of our failures to others and in willingness to forgive even those who are not yet willing to repent.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Christ Will Build His Church~ Guest Post by David Stoddard

Europe is the new “dark continent.” Africa now sends more missionaries to Europe than Europe sends to Africa. The health reports of the European church aren’t terribly encouraging. Churches are closing and are being converted into mosques, museums, bars, and book depositories. In most European countries, less than 5 percent of the population attend any church. In France, the number of practicing Muslims is growing rapidly. In England, more than 70 percent have no intention of stepping into a church—ever. In Berlin, the city where we live, 95 percent of church plants fail. Recently, I was asked two questions at a missions conference in the United States. First, what does it mean that Europe is post-Christian? Second, what hope does the church have in such an environment? The second question disturbed me. What hope does the church have? The question reflects an attitude of resignation in regard to what God is doing in Europe. I sometimes see this attitude on home ministry assignment. “Why should we support missionaries to Europe?” we are asked. “It’s expensive. We can get a better bang for our buck elsewhere. Besides, they already had their chance. God isn’t working there anymore.”

The Power of the Gospel
We miss the power of the gospel when we place problems before promises. In Matthew 16:18, Jesus promises Peter, “On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Christ is building His church. Every other religion in the world proclaims a message of acceptance, inclusion, and hope based on human works and striving. But Christianity is radically different. Eternal acceptance into a relationship with the Creator and the expansion of His kingdom are both based on Jesus’ works. That’s why Martin Luther wrote:
Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing; were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing: Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He; Lord Sabaoth, His name, from age to age the same, And He must win the battle.
Just a few verses later, Peter forgets the promise of the gospel and sees only problems. Jesus declares that the battle will be won through His death. “You can’t die. That doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t fit our plan,” a befuddled Peter thinks. He forgets the promise that victory comes through the death of Christ on the cross, not in spite of it. Christ’s death is not only the foundation of the church, it is also the means to expand it. Christ is building His church in Europe. Salvation comes through suffering and sacrifice. It was true of Jesus and will be true of His church.

Problems as Platforms
We miss the opportunities for gospel proclamation when we fail to see problems as platforms for ministry.
In Acts 16, Paul and Silas are unjustly thrown into a Roman jail. They are flogged, beaten, and humiliated. At midnight, Paul and Silas begin to sing. The skeptical onlookers don’t have categories for what they are witnessing. The Spirit comes and turns the Philippian jail into a spectacle of His power. Doors fly open, chains drop loose, a violent earthquake shakes the ground, and the jailer and his family come to faith. An arena of darkness and persecution becomes a platform for the proclamation of the gospel.
Europe is definitely hostile and post-Christian. But that’s not all. It’s also postscience, postmodern, postindustrial, postcolonial, postpolitical, postmaterialist, postcapitalist, and postsecular. There is a general cynicism toward everything and hope in nothing. As more people migrate to Europe, Europeans are becoming aware that highly educated and wealthy people can be deeply spiritual and happy. That undermines the secular humanist belief that the more educated one is, the less religious one will be. Young people are looking for new answers, new paradigms, and new hope.
There are a number of crises trending in Europe that are tremendous opportunities for the church. Unemployment in Spain and Greece is as high as it was in the United States during the Great Depression. Churches are responding by creating job centers. Human trafficking hits all major cities in Europe. Church members are walking red-light districts, serving those caught in trafficking webs, and opening people’s eyes to the prevalence of the problem. There are now more majority-world students studying in Europe than in the United States, and many more would love to come. Churches are creating international student ministries. More than four million people immigrate to one of the twenty-seven European Union countries per year. Many bring Christ with them. The problematic refugee situation is climaxing. Secular governments are so overwhelmed that they are open to receiving help from Christian organizations. These crises are a wide-open door for Christians to live missionally, to sing in the midst of darkness, and to serve in the face of injustice.
What hope does the church in Europe have? The promise that Christ Himself is building His church and using the gospel displayed in the lives of those who live sacrificially. It is true that nominal Christianity is in decline. That’s no big loss. However, Christ is raising up a generation of missionally minded church planters who see Europe’s problems as the church’s opportunities.

Original post at Ligonier Ministries

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Empty Grave Clothes~Guest Post by Peter Jones

As you can imagine, I have thought long and hard about Easter, since it is a central element of my faith. Indeed the Apostle Paul says that if the resurrection did not occur, we have all believed in vain. In May, Rebecca and I will be making a long-awaited visit to Israel. As I anticipate this trip, the historical force of this event keeps hitting me. It is the major reason I believe the message of Christianity-for two reasons:

1. It deals with my sense of guilt. Today is Good Friday so Rebecca and I naturally read Matthew 27, the account of the death of Jesus. The injustice of his execution screams from every verse. And yet, there is a good side to Friday. The sinless Jesus, in spite of all the human evil around him, carried my sins as he died a guiltless sacrifice. There is no other religion that offers anything like this incredible offer of moral relief. The Gospel does not take human evil lightly, but it deals with it satisfactorily by offering an acceptable, sinless substitute in my place. When we are in Israel, I intend to find Golgotha and to reflect on this historical event as I stand in that unique location.

2. The second reason is the historicity of the resurrection. I do not know if they have preserved the Garden Tomb as is, or if it has become a church building, but I want to go there as well, because, as I said, the resurrection is the major historical reason why I believe in the Gospel. Here the Christian faith makes an historical claim that could be falsified-but never has been. The problem in trying to falsify it is the empty tomb. According to Matthew 17:64, the Jewish authorities "ordered the tomb to be made secure until the third day, lest his disciples go and steal him away and tell the people, 'He has risen from the dead,' and the last fraud will be worse than the first." I guess the first fraud was Jesus claiming to be the Son of God; the last would be his rising from the dead. They realized the two "frauds" went together, and if they were true, the implications were enormous.

The empty tomb and the missing body is a major problem. If indeed, the disciples stole the body, then most of them experienced horrendous deaths for the sake of a fraud. But not one of them said, at the crucial moment of torture or martyrdom, "We were only kidding!" On the other hand, if the Jews or the Romans took the body, all they needed to do was produce it to end this bothersome new sect. So how do you explain the empty tomb?

But for me, the real problem is not the empty tomb but the empty grave clothes. According to the Gospel of John, Simon Peter looked into the tomb and "saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus' head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen" (Jn. 20:6-7 NIV). In other words, just like the burial of Lazarus, the grave clothes, made up of linen strips wound around the body and a head scarf around the head, now lay separated, the strips keeping the shape of the body and the scarf keeping the circular shape of head. Though the body of Lazarus had to be "unbound" (John 11:44), the body of Jesus passed through the grave clothes, leaving them undisturbed. Thieves could not have taken the body and left the grave clothes in such a condition. Nor could the disciples. No, the disciples actually observed something incredible. What they saw is comparable to those big Christmas decorative figures that people inflate at night, with lights in them, but in the morning they are all lying flat on the ground, with the air gone out of them. This is the inexplicable mystery of the resurrection. No one took the body. It left on its own, passing through the unmoved grave clothes, in the power of a "resurrection body."

As I am now in what one might call the "last six holes" of my life, it is this fact of the resurrection of Jesus that gives me the courage to "finish the round." It is my great source of optimism in the face of death-the death that comes to all of us. Just once, in a cave in Jerusalem, death did not have the last word. "He is risen," says the Gospel. "He is risen indeed," responds the believer.

I trust you can all respond that way this Easter.

Used with permission by
Peter Jones
Executive Director of truthXchange