Five for Friday

Another great week. A few of these links have been out for awhile, but they’re guaranteed to make you think, give you hope, and probably make you a little mad as well. Have a great weekend!

Couple Sues in “Wrongful Birth” Lawsuit – read only if you have a strong stomach. I feel so sorry for this precious child.

Why I am Grammar Obsessed – Is it importent to write good when u right emails and stuff?

Prominent Atheist Converts to Christianity – If she can convert, there’s hope for everyone.

What is Biblical Justice? – Great article describing biblical justice. May this define us as Christians.

Rural Ministry is Not Second Rate – with so many stories highlighting big churches in large cities, here’s a shout out to the little guys.

Top Seven Excuses NOT to Give Money to the Church

Last night at The Conversation (our mid-week adult Bible study), we talked about giving. Always fun when the preacher talks about money. We didn’t pass around the KFC buckets, but we were close. I gave a list of seven excuses Christians use not to give. I thought I’d pass them along. Please let me know if I’ve missed any.

1. “I can’t afford to give.” Always a go to excuse. Most of us feel like we’re not in the best financial shape to give. If we had more money we’d give. Sounds plausible. It’s best, however, to avoid giving this excuse after pulling up in your new leased vehicle, with Krispy Kreme crumbs still on your pants leg and a McAllister’s Sweet Tea in the cup holder. Kinda destroys your argument.

2. “I give as God leads.” This one’s great because it’s spiritual. I mean, who would want to go against God’s leading? Everyone assumes, of course, that since you’re spiritual enough to give when God leads, that means that God leads in all of your financial decisions, including the latest round of golf or pedicure. He must have led you to that as well, right?

3. “I don’t trust churches.” This one hurts because churches can do a horrible job throwing good money after bad programs. And we’ve all seen too many televangelists heading off to jail. But just because there are a few that abuse the system, that doesn’t mean the whole system is messed up. Airplanes crash, but you still get on them. You just make sure to get on a good one that’s been checked out and safe. Find a solid church and invest there. You’ll be glad you did.

4. “I’m waiting until I have some money saved up.” This is a decent excuse because it makes it sound like you want to. You’re just waiting to give a big amount and surprise God all at once. This excuse would have a little more credence if you didn’t have $8000 in credit card bills from all the things you didn’t save up for.

5. “Giving is a spiritual gift, and I have a different gift.” You’ve got a know a little Bible to be able to pull this one off. Yes, Romans 12:8 lists giving as a spiritual gift. Not all have it, but that doesn’t let the rest of us off the hook. Some have the gift of evangelism, but we’re all supposed to share. Some just do so as their life’s passion. So, if your gift isn’t giving, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give. That just means you can get away with keeping 90% of your income.

6. “I’ll give when I have more to give.” Some feel like their tithe isn’t worth anything. If you only make $100 a week, what can the church buy with $10? Another set of pot holders for the covered dish fellowship at the end of the month? Unfortunately, giving is never really about the money. It’s about the heart. In the New Testament, Jesus praised the widow not because she gave a lot, but she gave all she had. I don’t care if you make $2 a week. Throw that $0.20 in the plate with pride.

7. “My money is mine and I can do whatever I want with it.” This is a standard last ditch effort for those desperately trying to cling to God’s money. Here’s the brutal truth: “your” money is not your money. It’s God’s money. Everything belongs to him. To help you appreciate the fact that everything is God’s, take a breath. No really, breathe. What just happened, God allowed it to happen. Your breath, your life, your money, is ultimately God’s. It’s all his anyways, so don’t try and fight him over it.

QUESTION: Any other good excuses I should add to the list?

The Great Mandate

BIG Idea: Tell your story.

Have you ever wondered what we’re really here to do? Christians, I mean. After we make that fateful decision, while we’re sitting around waiting for heaven, what are we supposed to do here on earth? Just attend church a bunch of times and rack up extra Jesus points? Live it up here on earth while we still can, throwing the occasional “please forgive me” up to heaven? Plug KLove into our ears and drown out the sound of the rest of the world dying? More potlucks, maybe that’s it.

Our mandate is found on a dusty hillside 2000 years ago, where a band of misfits gathered together. They were by no means the best and brightest of the day: illiterate fisherman, social outcasts, former prostitutes. And yet this rag tag group would soon change the world. Their lives started ordinary enough. Some were raised in the monotonous family business of fishing. You got up, you fished, you went to bed. That was life. Some fell victim to the darker side of life early and couldn’t find a way to break out. Others wandered through life, searching for meaning. And then one day they encountered a remarkable man named Jesus of Nazareth.

He changed their existence. He redirected the purpose and passion of their lives, and then he was crucified. When all hope was lost, Jesus proved his power over death and rose from the grave. Truly he was the Son of God. Now risen and victorious, Jesus gathered with his small group of followers and gave them a simple command that changed the course of human history. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8

This one sentence changed everything. It would soon topple the greatest empire on the earth. It would direct the course of history for entire continents. And 2000 years later, we would still be implementing this edict. The key this mandate is the word “witnesses.” Christ wants his followers to be witnesses to what they saw, taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. But what does it mean to be a “witness”? How does that translate for a 21st century American Christian today?

Simple. Tell your story. That’s what Christ was telling his followers. Tell the story of what you saw, what you experienced, and what I’ve done in your life. Tell your story to everyone you meet. Take this story to the furthest reaches of the planet. But above all, tell your story.

That’s it. That’s the Great Mandate we’ve received. No commendations for consecutive VBS’s in attendance or number of beautiful Easter dresses. Just a command to tell your story.

So, are you?

QUESTION: What does it mean to tell your story in your everyday world?

Tyndale: The Man Who Gave God an English Voice, by David Teems

William Tyndale is one of the more underrated men in Christian history. Most folks don’t know his name or what he did, but if you speak English, he contributed more to your language than almost any other person, including Shakespeare (who helped the English language flourish on the foundation built by Tyndale).

Tyndale was an Englishman in the 1500s, exiled from his homeland and hunted down for his heretical views. England at the time was in the midst of incredible upheaval. The Catholic Church, which had exercised an iron-fisted rule over the whole of Europe, was beginning to see its authority erode with the effects of the Renaissance and the beginning of Martin Luther’s Reformation. Catholicism reacted to change as you would expect anyone in power for a millennia to react: violent persecution and unequivocal oppression.

The England Tyndale grew up in did not have the Scripture in their own language. English was considered a rough and backward language, far inferior to Latin. Many church officials serving in England would serve out their careers in England, never uttering a word of English. Lost in all of this was the common man, the Englishman who knew only English and could not read the Latin Bible. He had to trust in the Latin priest’s interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. By keeping the Bible out of the hands of the masses, the church exerted an incredible method of control over the population.

William Tyndale was the man who changed all that. As he grew in his knowledge of the Scriptures, he became appalled by the growing inconsistency between the teaching of the church and the truth of the Scripture. His simple yet profound conviction was this: the common man should be able to read God’s Word for himself, in his own language.

For this dangerous and radical idea, Tyndale was forced to flee his homeland and publish the first English translation of the Bible while in exile. The author describes beautifully what Tyndale accomplished, “Tyndale, for the first time in English history, gives God room to be God, and give the Englishman room to imagine God in ways that have been denied him – and with a new English that fuses glory with simplicity” (60).

In today’s age, a new translation of the Bible is nothing to get too concerned with. But in the death throes of medieval Europe, withholding the Scriptures from the people was one of the few remaining mechanisms of control that the Catholic Church retained. So it protected that right to the very death. More than just the translation, Tyndale’s views of God were what proved to be his death sentence.

The author writes, “Tyndale would not ultimately burn for the translation, which was an offense, certainly, but as a heretic whose ideas were too contaminated for him to live. Tyndale’s main injury to God was that he did not think like a Catholic” (238). By challenging the church’s unquestioned authority on all things spiritual, Tyndale condemned himself to death. The church hunted Tyndale relentlessly until he was betrayed and found, given a sham trial and ultimately burned at the stake.

Yet by the time of his death, it was too late. The damage had been done. The Bible for the first time was in the hands of everyday Englishmen, and there would be no going back. The church’s corrupt stranglehold on the people was irrevocably broken.

LESSONS LEARNED

The church has a horrific past of abusing religion for its own selfish ends. I’ve studied much on the history of the church, especially in the Middle Ages. What I read shames me as a Christian. Corrupt and violent men used the vestiges of the church as a medium to control people and enrich themselves. It’s no wonder why Europe has such a skeptical view of the church today. Its track record is horrible.

One man’s courage can change the course of a nation. Tyndale gave validity and a voice to the English language. He helped destroy the corrupt stranglehold the church had on the people. His determination to see the Scripture in the language of the people changed the trajectory for an entire nation. If you don’t think one man can make a difference, look no further than William Tyndale.

Leadership has a price. Tyndale paid a heavy price for his devotion to his cause. He was exiled from his homeland. He was constantly on the run. He did without many of the simple pleasures that we take for granted. After being betrayed, he was imprisoned and ultimately burned at the stake for his beliefs. Knowing all that would happen, Tyndale still embraced the cost as small compared to the good that he would accomplish. He truly was a saint living for another world.

We stand on the shoulders of giants. Tyndale’s impact on Christianity has lasted long after his death. Because he lived not for himself but for others and future generations, we still speak his name. He is a spiritual giant. I am able to preach and teach the word of God in English because of the brave actions of a man who lived 500 years ago.

QUESTION: What are you doing that will survive long after you’ve died?

How Your Marriage Can Survive Your Kids

It never happens intentionally. You marry your spouse because they’re the only one for you. It will be you and her against the world. You and him, together forever. There’s lots of romance, quiet strolls together, weekends spent exploring the world.

And it’s just the two of you . . . until there are three, or four, or five. Kids. Kids are the joyful fruit of a marriage, but they can quickly erode the marriage if you’re not careful. Funny thing about kids, they’ll suck up every waking moment of your day, if you let them. They want to be held, coddled, loved, changed, walked, soothed. They’ll climb in bed with you in the middle of the night. They’ll want you to do everything with them. They’re not intentionally trying to drive you crazy. They’re just being kids.

If you’re married with kids, you know the tension. You know the difficulty of trying to be intimate with your spouse when you’ve got a two-year-old sleeping in between you. You know the frustration of having a rare quiet moment with your spouse interrupted by a screaming child. You know the feeling of exhaustion after a full day at work and home, giving yourself to your job and your kids, leaving nothing for your spouse. What started as a relationship of love can unintentionally erode into a loveless partnership of necessity as you try and raise kids together. Instead of thriving as a couple, you’re trying to simply survive. Your spouse becomes your roommate.

If there was an easy way out of this scenario, someone would have written a book on it and sold a million copies by now. There’s no magical solution, but here are a few things you can do:

  1. Pray with your spouse everyday. For your marriage to survive your kids, you’ll need the power of God like never before. Ask him for it. Constantly. Praying with your spouse everyday will do wonders for your marriage. Try it.
  2. Prioritize your marriage over your kids. As harsh as this might sound, your kids need a strong marriage to look up to. Studies have continuously shown that kids raised in households with a strong marriage tend to do better in life than those that don’t. If you love your kids and want them to succeed, don’t focus on them primarily. Don’t sacrifice your marriage on the altar of your kids.
  3. Don’t let your kids dictate your day. Sure, kids will take up a good portion of your dayess m, but don’t let them set the schedule. If you do, they’ll get you for every waking moment. Someone has to set a schedule for your family. Don’t let it be your kids.
  4. Date your spouse. Just because you won their heart once doesn’t mean your work is over. However you have to do it, date your spouse. Don’t take their affection for granted. Date them. Date them regularly. Don’t feel bad about dumping the kids off on a babysitter. They’ll be fine. For you and your spouse to make it, you need to date each other, regularly.

For those that go to Mt Vernon Church, this coming Friday we’re having an event designed to help marriages. Called Table for Two, it’s an opportunity for parents to drop their kids off at the church and go on a date with each other. It sounds simple, but if you have kids, you know how rare it is. Date your spouse, and your marriage can survive your kids.

Five for Friday

Sorry for the late post! Here are five great links to read this weekend.

1. Christian Principles for Voting – How your faith should affect the ballot box.

2. 17 Reminders for Leaders – Great post for all leaders.

3. Seven Common Comments Non-Christians Make About Christians – Fascinating research. Read it!

4. A Question That Changes Everything – You’ll have to read to find out!

5. Dwight Schrute Calls Out Facebook Statuses – A little bonus for all The Office fans out there.

The Day My Worldview Was Destroyed

My worldview was destroyed in May 1997. It was my first overseas mission trip, and I was ready to win the world for Christ. Our little band of poorly trained missionaries flew to St. Petersburg, Russia, having no idea what we were getting ourselves into. I distinctly remember the carefully structured worldview I’d built for myself being destroyed within a few miles of the Russian airport.

Growing up in America, I was raised with the thought that God looked like me, talked like me, and acted like me. If Jesus was alive today, he’d probably be an American, living in California (where I grew up). My worldview was small because I had never encountered people not like me. That is, until I descended into the labyrinth of the Russian subway system.

After departing the Russian airport, our team carted our luggage through the streets and descended into the seventh circle of hell. St. Petersburg’s subway system was built during World War II, so the subways were built several hundred feet underground to double as raid shelters. Thus our journey down the rickety escalator was a slow descent into darkness itself.

The subway station was damp, clammy, and shrouded in dim light. It was as if despair itself was seeping out of the walls. With hundreds of people waiting, the station was as quiet as a mausoleum. When our subway came, our team instinctively thought we’d have to wait for the next one, as there were simply too many people to cram into one subway car. We were wrong.

Carried along by a mass of what seemed like silent drones, we were pushed into the subway against our will. When we crossed the threshold of the car itself, we walked into a tangible wall of human stench. With a full car, no ventilation, and a cultural bias against deodorant, the pungent smell of human odor was literally suffocating. Before we knew it, the doors closed behind us, and the silence was deafening. No one spoke. No one made eye contact. Literally pressed against seven other human bodies, I’d never before felt more isolated.

In that instant, when I’d never felt so “other,” the Holy Spirit whispered to me in a voice that shot at me like a cannon, “Jesus died for them . . . too.” I couldn’t comprehend it. I couldn’t make it work. The Jesus I knew: the fair haired, American loving Jesus had nothing in common with these people. And yet I knew that Christ came to die for them as well.

In that instant, my worldview shattered into a thousand shards, never to be completely restored. My God was too small. My Jesus was too comfortable. If I really wanted to discover the true Jesus of the Bible, then I needed to discover him on his terms, not my own.

If you’ve never been overseas on a mission trip, do whatever you have to do to go on one. It will destroy your worldview; it will be the best thing that ever happened to you.

QUESTION: Have you ever had a similar experience on an overseas mission trip?

The Greater Story

BIG Idea: We have a part to play in the greater story of history.

Do our lives really impact the greater narrative of history? Are mission trips anything more than glorified ‘spiritual vacations’? Do we have any part to play in the end of the world? These three unique yet connected questions came together for me several years ago in a Bible verse that changed the way I lived my life.

Last November, I did a sermon series where I walked the church through five life verses that shaped and formed me. If you look at the last few Wednesday posts, you’ll see them. Of all my life verses, this one is dominant. This one shaped not only a season of my life but the whole trajectory of my destiny.

The verse is towards the end of Matthew when Jesus is prophesying about the end of the world: “And this gospel will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Matthew 24:14 This single verse changed the way I looked at the world. Many of the prophesies about the end of the world concern cataclysmic events outside of our control. This verse is not. This verse is a simple statement that Christians have a job to do (testify to the gospel of Jesus in all nations). When that job is done, the world will end. Here’s how it changed me:

  • What I did mattered. No longer was I a passive watcher in the events of history. My actions could literally help bring about the end of the world. It empowered me with a sense of purpose.
  • I had ‘skin’ in the game. My obedience or disobedience had an impact on the end of history. As a missions professor told me once, “Your generation is alive today because of the disobedience of the previous generation of believers.”
  • I tapped into the greater story of history. Suddenly, my life was more than simply getting a paycheck and watching the dates on a calendar fly by. I could do something with my life that mattered.

This verse drove me overseas for two years as a missionary. As much as I wanted to stay, God made it clear to me that he wanted me to minister in the U.S. So here I am, serving in Mississippi and loving it. Yet at the same time, my heart and vision will always be towards the ends of the earth. The reason I minister in Mississippi is to inspire and mobilize hundreds of Christians to do their part to see the name of Christ preached to all nations and help bring about the end of the world.

What is your life about?

QUESTION: Have you ever had a missions experience that gave you a bigger view of God’s purpose in the world?

Image courtesy of: www.freedigitalphotos.net

Presidential Courage, by Michael Beschloss

Presidential Courage is a book I first read a few years ago but wanted to reread to be able to post a review. Michael Beschloss takes several of our most famous presidents and walks us through some of their most difficult circumstances. In the midst of those circumstances Beschloss highlights their bravery and perseverance to make difficult decisions that were often unpopular at the time.

An added bonus for a history buff is the fact that Presidential Courage takes us to moments that we might not first think of. Sometimes it’s the more obscure moments in presidential history that require the most bravery. For instance, Beschloss spends the first several chapters dealing with George Washington. Most readers remember him as the leader of the Revolutionary Army or perhaps our first president. This book looks at one of his most controversial decisions, something that most people have forgotten about over the years: the signing of Jay’s Treaty. This controversial treaty gave up some of the hard earned rights that America had won in the War of Independence in exchange for continued peace wit Britain. American citizens railed against the affront to national honor, but President Washington knew that America was unfit to fight another war with Great Britain. By signing an unpopular treaty and risking his legacy, he gave America years of peace and stability that it desperately needed. When America did battle with Britain again in 1812, she was ready.

Beschloss continues with a gripping narrative style, walking readers through critical moments in presidential history, many of which modern Americans have forgotten about. He writes about John Adam’s successful negotiations with France that kept America out of a war with her. For Andrew Jackson, it wasn’t his famous victory over Great Britain in the War of 1812, but his battle against the corrupt National Bank of the United States that Beschloss walks the reader through. There are many points in Abraham Lincoln’s life that could have been written about. Beschloss chose the dark days surrounding his reelection bid, when the fate of the Civil War hung in the balance.

Moving up to the 20th century, Beschloss tells a riveting account of FDR’s reelection in 1940 against the backdrop of the opening months of World War II, a story usually lost in his more famous exploits in the Great Depression and the war itself.  When dealing with Truman, Beschloss chooses not to walk through the decision to drop the atomic bomb, but his critical decision to officially recognize the new Jewish state of Israel, ensuring its survival. The author finishes walking the reader through Kennedy and Civil Rights, and Reagan and the Cold War.

While people may argue that other moments in presidential history should have been included, every situation included did require an incredible amount of presidential courage. In each of the situations, the president waded into a political minefield and took a strong (and sometimes very unpopular) stand. Knowing that their decision might cost them a reelection or a legacy, each of these presidents seemed to transcend the petty politics of the moment and made the right decision for America and her future. In many ways, this strength of character is why our most famous presidents are in fact our most famous presidents.

LESSONS LEARNED

1. In a difficult or complex situation, it’s impossible to know all the variables and how things are going to turn out with certainty. With the hindsight of history, we can look back and know that these presidents made the right decision. But by walking through their decision in the moment, we quickly realize that these men made the best decision they could with the information they had, not knowing how it was going to turn out. That in itself requires tremendous bravery.

2. Many times the right decision to make is not the popular decision to make. In each of the situations Beschloss wrote about, these presidents went against popular sentiment to make what they thought was the right decision. True leaders don’t simply bow to popular sentiment and allow themselves to be swept away by it. Rather, true leaders know it is their responsibility to shape and mold popular sentiment by the force of their will for the common good.

3. America has attained its vaulted status in world history because of the quality of its presidents. If you look at the history of any nation, its success or failure ultimately rests on the shoulders of its leaders, whether they are presidents, king, or dictators. By electing men of character to its highest position, America has become the nation that it is today.

4. We should expect more out of our leaders today. When you look at the hyper-partisan politics that dominate the politic landscape today, it makes one yearn for someone with the character of Washington or Lincoln or Roosevelt to rise up and transcend petty politics. As Beschloss states in his preface, “Recalling how some of our Presidents past struggled to make vital decisions that ultimately proved to be both wise and courageous should inspire us always to expect more.”

For those with even a cursory interest in American history or presidential politics, this book is a must read. Even at 329 pages, it’s a quick and fascinating read. May the presidents of our future live up to the standards of the greatest presidents of our past.

QUESTION: What courageous decisions made by presidents of yesterday inspire you today?

Why Do People Get Married Anymore? (Part 2)

In last week’s blog, we talked about five different reasons people got married in the past:

  1. Protection
  2. Procreation
  3. Companionship
  4. Tradition
  5. Economic advantage

With advancements in society and culture, many of those reasons aren’t as necessary anymore. So, has society progressed beyond marriage? With the alarmingly high rate of divorce today, is this a sign that we no longer need marriage? As a twelve-year-old asked her divorced mother, “Why do people get married anymore?”

The short answer is this: Marriage is still God’s plan. God created it. He instituted it. He gave it to us for a reason. If you think you know more about life than the One who created it, then you might think marriage is irrelevant. Marriages today aren’t failing because we have moved beyond it. Marriages today are failing because we’re not operating our marriages God’s way.

Here’s why people should still get married today:

  • We’re still dependent creatures. As much as we might like to celebrate our own independence and self-reliance, we were created to be dependent. That’s why we pause three times a day to eat a meal and stop for eight hours a night to sleep. They’re constant reminders that we’re dependent creatures. We need other people. Marriage is a beautiful picture of how we’re dependent on others for our success. Marriage itself is a snapshot of our ultimate dependence on God.
  • We still crave community. We’re by nature drawn to other people. It’s how we’re hardwired. We want to live in relationship with others. We’re naturally drawn to other people because we’re relational. We want someone to share our life with. We don’t want to go through the majority of our lives alone. God created us to be in community with him. Marriage is a living picture of what our relationship with God is supposed to be like.
  • We still crave intimacy. Beyond community, we naturally crave intimacy (relationally, emotionally, and physically) with another individual. It’s not enough for us to simply have acquaintances. We desire to know and be known at the deepest level. That desire was instilled in us by our Creator. The proper framework that can offer intimacy while protecting our vulnerability is the framework of marriage. The intimacy of marriage is a picture of the intimacy God wants to have with each one of us.
  • We still want the best for our kids. More than just what the Bible says, studies have continually shown that children raised in two parent homes generally do better in life than children raised in single parent homes. There’s a synergy that happens between mom and dad that’s critical for our children’s development. If not for our sake, for our children’s sake, marriage is still the best option.

Marriage is still God’s plan because we’re still made in God’s image. It doesn’t mean that marriage becomes easy. A decision to get married in today’s society is a leap of faith. It’s trusting that God’s way is best, even though the megaphone of contemporary culture is screaming the exact opposite. Marriage is designed to drive you to depend on God. You have to depend on God to make it (which explains the high number of failed marriages today).

Just because marriage is hard doesn’t make it something to be avoided. Raising kids is hard, but I embrace that willingly, knowing that the joy of seeing a child grow up successfully far outweighs the hardships endured along the way. It’s the same with marriage. The joy of being in a successful marriage far outweighs the hardships you endure getting there.

So go out there, get married, work hard at it, depend on God, and stay married. The reward will be worth it in the end.

QUESTION: What other reasons would you give why people should still get married today?

Image courtesy of: www.freedigitalphotos.net