Watch Aaron in the film Holy Wars

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The search for full moon eyes

By Dan Sidey

I came upon this poem recently:

With That Moon Language

Admit something:

Everyone you see, you say to them,

"Love me."

Of course you do not do this out loud; Otherwise,

Someone would call the cops.

Still though, think about this,

This great pull in us to connect.

Why not become the one

Who lives with a full moon in each eye

That is always saying

With that sweet moon

Language

What every other eye in this world

Is dying to

Hear.

-Hafez

I resonate so deeply with this poem. I am one of those who is walking around everywhere looking for Full Moon Eyes. Before I was a Christian it seemed the only ones who noticed were the cops! But thank God that changed. My journey into finding Full Moon Eyes began early in life when I was in college in Portland, Oregon. It was a very tumultuous time for me. I was navigating the labyrinth of dating, longing to experience new life and throw off my noose of self-addiction. This is when Herb Heofer became a professor at Concordia, where I was attending. Herb was very different then the others. There seemed to be an insatiable desire for adventure and excellence about him. He and his wife, Carol, were leading a trip to China. Atarah and I thought it would be a great way to get our feet wet in missions. It was on that trip we began to learn that Herb and Carol's greatest quality is their love.

After going to China, Herb and Carol began to invite us to their house for meals. They would listen deeply to us, laugh with us, grieve with us and offer little bits of advice at just the right moments. They bestowed love on us in a way we had never experienced before. After each meal with them, Atarah and I would say our goodbyes then sit in the car outside their house and have a conversation that went something like this:

"Wow...did that really just happen?"

"I think so."

"Did you enjoy that as much as I did?" "I did."

"Do you think it will happen again?"

We've had this conversation innumerable times over the years while in the Hoefer's driveway, always ending in "Do you think it will happen again?" At some point we realized that this question wasn't really about the Hoefers. It became for us a question about divine acceptance and the enfolding arms of God's Family. We were becoming insiders into a Kingdom we didn't even know existed.

When you look out the windows of our house, you see the bleak wall of a youth center. When we first moved here there was a little ivy on it. Last year we had to tear the ivy down, because it was tearing the gutter off the center, growing into their ceiling and popping up in the middle of the kids play area inside. None of us noticed the ivy until it was demanding a response. There came a day God's love through the Hoefers demanded a response of us. "Will you let my arms reach out through you also?"

Today my family lives in Mills. It's the section of Klamath Falls that people typically avoid, because of the run down houses, rough looking individuals walking to and fro, and the typically darker skin of folks in a very white town.

One of the first children we got to know in Mills is Mary. After spending less than a few hours with us she joyously exclaimed "I think I want to come here every day!" We couldn't help thinking "What have we gotten ourselves into?!" But Mary has grown to be one of the children so special and beautiful to us that she can come even on the days that are reserved just for our family. Last week for Valentines day we decided to celebrate the true spirit of St. Valentine and threw a feast inviting a few children. Mary was one of these and when it was over she jubilantly expressed "I wish we could freeze this moment!" Mary is searching for Full Moon Eyes and I'm deeply humbled that our searching has brought us together to be God's Family.

My son, Chris, is in first grade. When we first met Anna, one of Chris' classmates, she was very quiet and her hair was in her face veiling her search for Full Moon Eyes. I learned her name and soon she wanted a hug every morning before school. She began talking about wanting to come to our house like other children have. The chance came before school and she came over just for a moment. It was a cold snowy day so we ate cookies and drank hot chocolate. Later in the classroom she proclaimed, as heartily as one of those at God's banqueting table, "Chris, I came to your house today!!"

I've learned about the value of God's acceptance from my neighbors, the Markfords, also. In their house of three bed rooms, lived thirteen people. A friend was having problems with domestic violence so the Markfords opened their home to this family of four. Atarah and I couldn't help but ask "What does this mean for us who have far more room then they do?"

I'm seeing the signs of something I've never thought imaginable. God's Family is forming in our midst. Like our ivy its tearing and scraping at the walls of this place, popping up in our dining area, spreading into our neighbors' yards. How could we have missed it? Jesus is in our midst... and he has Full Moon Eyes.

Monday, February 27, 2012

On Jihad and the burning of holy books

By Carl Medearis

You could only imagine how many times in a week (or day) I get asked questions like “Do you think we should bomb Iran?” Or… “Do you think Iran is going to get nuclear weapons and then will bomb Israel?” Or… “Why do the Muslims get so angry when we accidentally burn their Qur’an and yet they seem to feel free to burn our Bible?”

I remember being in southern Iraq a few years ago and the bus boy at the hotel where we were staying looked at me with large brown innocent eyes and asked “Sir, why do the Americans hate us?”

Actually in 30 years I can’t count the times when an Arab Muslim has asked similar questions. “Why do you want to take over the world?” They ask. Or… “I don’t understand why America doesn’t care about Palestinians who are being killed?” And… “Do all Americans love their family the way you do? Because I have never heard of such nice Americans before.”

Funny how this works. Lack of understanding usually goes both ways. And misunderstanding between potential enemies is dangerous. When we don’t personally know someone we can easily fall into fear. And fear leads to all things bad.

I remember early on during our Lebanon years a family saying to Chris and I that they could never become Christians because they LOVED their family. That meant, that what they thought of Americans/Christians (which they see as the same thing) are only people who don’t love each other. Who get divorced. Who send their kids off to colleges far away when they turn 18 (like we’ve done). And they – being good God fearing family oriented Muslims – could never do that.

So back to the questions. Why do they seem to hate us? Want to kill us? Bomb Israel?

To continue reading this entry, click here!

Friday, February 24, 2012

A father's blessing

I thought I'd share with you a blessing I pray over my children every night before they go to bed. It's a combination of four passages of Scripture (Numbers 6:24-26, 3rd John 2, Psalms 91:10,16, II Thessalonians 3:3)

May the Lord bless you. May the Lord keep you. May the Lord cause his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift up his countenance towards you and give you peace. May you prosper in all things and be in good health, even as your soul prospers. No evil shall befall you. Neither shall any plague come near your dwelling. With long life he shall satisfy you and show you his salvation. The Lord shall establish your hearts and guard you from the evil one.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

An Israeli response to the Arab Peace Initiative

When it comes to proposals to end the Israel/Palestine conflict, the Arab Peace Initiative is most comprehensive one that comes to mind, yet a lot of American Christians believe that any peace initiative proposed by Arabs is simply a trick to weaken Israel's defenses, so that they can slaughter them later! Well, it turns out there's a group of highly influential Israelis starting to take the API seriously, and they've responded with a peace plan of their own. I have my friend Carl Medearis to thank for bringing this to my attention.

I'm sharing this for two reasons:

1. It's a very good summary of the most problematic issues of the conflict, and proposes reasonable solutions.

2. It shows that the extremely hawkish position of Netanyahu and the Likkud party (which many mistakenly presume is the Israeli perspective) is not the only Israeli perspective out there.-----Aaron

In light of the continuing political stalemate over the past years, and especially in view of the current dramatic events that are taking place in the area, and their effect on the State of Israel, its security and its international status, we call upon the government of Israel to make a courageous decision and take the initiative, the purpose of which is to advance a regional peace agreement in the Middle East, to strengthen the security of Israel in the tumultuous region and its problematic international standing.

We call upon the government to present a framework for the conclusion of the Israel-Arab conflict, as a comprehensive response to the 2002 Arab peace initiative. Israel must decide on its future from a position of strength and not to be dragged along by events.

We present the public and its elected representatives with our proposal for an Israel Peace Initiative, which has been developed over the past years with the aid of Israeli experts, based on the known solutions to all the basic problems in the area (for example, the Clinton parameters, the proposals put forth Barak at Camp David, the Olmert and Livni understandings in the framework of the Annapolis process, the talks with Syria from the time of Rabin, Netanyahu, Barak till Olmert). We have a strong basis to believe that the initiative will be accepted favorably by the Arab capitals and the Palestinian leadership.

We hope that brave leaders will be found in Israel, in the area and in the international community who will translate the Arab and Israeli vision for peace into reality, instead of waiting for vain magic to take place.

Following are the main principles of our proposal:

Israel will accept the Arab initiative of 2002 as a basis for negotiations for peace agreements in the area, and will present her ideas on the points of dispute.

Israel will announce that her strategic aim is to reach a permanent agreement with the Palestinian Authority, as well as permanent peace agreements with Syria and Lebanon that will put an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict on the basis of the following principles:

1. A solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict through “two states for two peoples”, which shall form two nation states – one for the Jewish people and one for the Palestinian people (including the implementation of the Declaration of Independence from 1948 regarding the equality of Arab citizens in Israel).

2.The establishment of a Palestinian state on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip on the basis of the 1967 lines, and territory swaps on a 1:1basis, in limited scope.

3.The Palestinian state will be demilitarized with control over its internal security, side by side with strict security measures on its borders.

4.Jerusalem will be the capital of both peoples, whereas the Jewish neighborhoods, the Western Wall and the Jewish Quarter will be under Israeli sovereignty and the temple mount shall remain under a special no-sovereignty regime (“G-d sovereignty”) with special arrangements. Israeli Jerusalem will be acknowledged as the capital of Israel.

5. An agreed upon solution regarding the problem of the refugees on the basis of financial compensation and their return to Palestinian territory only (with symbolic and agreed upon exceptions).

6. An agreement with Syria that is based on the gradual withdrawal to the 1967 borders (similar to the model in Sinai), a 1:1 exchange of territories and broad security measures on the border.

7. A peace agreement with Lebanon based on the UN decision 1701 and on significant security measures on the border.

8. A commitment by Syria, Lebanon and Palestine to prevent terror and to discontinue cooperation with hostile entities and states.

9. The establishment of regional security arrangements between Israel, Arab states and the international community.

10. The building of regional economic development in order to ensure prosperity and stability among all the people of the area.

11. The advancement of normal relations between Israel and the Arab world and Islamic countries will take place alongside progress in the negotiations, coupled with mutual commitment towards peace education and the prevention of incitement.

The Advantages of the Initiative

1. The uniqueness of the initiative is that it provides an answer to the Arab initiative, with a wide perspective of the future of the area and not only regarding the topics of the conflict but from a strategic political, security and economic perspective.

2.Israel demonstrates that she is ready for far-reaching concessions only if the recompense will be the conclusion of the conflict and the end to all claims alongside significant security measures.

3. The actual announcement of the Israeli initiative will open channels to both new and old Arab leaders, will break the circle of isolation and international de-legitimization and will prevent international pressure and forced solutions.

4.Israel is sending an important message to the Arab public in general and to its youth in particular, that she is a true partner for peace, democracy and economic prosperity in the area.

5.It is possible to translate the initiative to progress in each channel simultaneously and without pre-conditions.

6.It is possible to use the initiative as a framework for a permanent agreement or an agreed-upon political horizon in the context of interim agreements.

Okay, so I lied. There's a third reason why I wanted to share this with you, so that I can say this:

Don't buy into the lie that Jews and Arabs are destined to fight each other until Jesus comes back! That is a self-fulfilling, self-defeating gross misreading of the Scriptures...that makes a mockery of the life and teachings of the Prince of Peace!

Glad I got that off my chest.

To read the full text of the Israeli Peace Initiative, click here!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Bible is not a public policy manual!

By Aaron D. Taylor

My pastor and I have a friendly tiff going on. He says that Jesus was strictly a-political; therefore Christians should abstain from politics completely. I say that Jesus challenged violent, poverty-inducing, socio-political structures throughout his life and ministry; therefore Christians have a duty to advocate for peace and to speak out for the poor and the oppressed. Both of us are hardheaded, and neither of us cedes much in our debates, but we always walk away as friends, because at the end of the day there’s a key component to the discussion that we both agree on: The Bible is not a public policy manual!

I realize that might feel like an outrageous statement to some. After all, the first five books of the Bible are commonly referred to as the “Books of the Law.” These books contain legal codes that governed the every-day life of the ancient children of Israel, ranging from personal hygiene to how to prosecute thieves and murderers. Furthermore, the Hebrew prophets railed against the kings of their day for making “unjust laws” and “oppressive decrees” (Isaiah 10:1), implying that there is such a thing as an unjust law—and woe to the legislators who write them!

Over and over the Scriptures reveal a God who cares deeply about the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the alien, yet strangely the man who Christians believe embodies the will of God in action (Jesus) refused to take sides in the bitter partisan divisions of His day. Jesus welcomed both zealots and tax collectors as members of his inner circle. And when two brothers asked Jesus to solve an inheritance dispute, He responded by saying, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” (Luke 12:14). If Jesus intended his followers to establish themselves as the moral guardians of society, He had a funny way of showing it.

The pattern continues with the Apostle Paul. The indisputable case for followers of Jesus not involving themselves in judging those outside the Church comes from a passage in I Corinthians 5:12-13, where Paul says, “ What business is it of mine to judge those outside the Church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.” Paul clearly established a demarcation between Christians judging matters within the community of believers (allowed) and matters outside the community of believers (not allowed). At the very least, this suggests that Christians who think they can impose what they perceive as “Biblical values” on secular society are—more often than not— wrong. There’s simply no way to translate the Bible into concrete public policy, at least not without a considerable degree of ambiguity.

For example, most of my conservative friends are convinced that they have a Biblical mandate to outlaw abortion and gay marriage, even though abortion is only mentioned once in Scripture, and the reference is—oddly—the Prophet Jeremiah cursing the man at his mother’s side for not aborting him! (Jeremiah 20:14-18)…and gay marriage was hardly an issue on the radar in Biblical times. The Laws of Leviticus prescribe a massive redistribution of wealth every 50 years by canceling people’s debts and restoring property to original owners, yet many Christians are convinced—right or wrong— that justice for the poor is a matter of individual charity alone, and that anyone who suggests otherwise is duped by the devil. And while we’re talking about what’s Biblical and what’s not Biblical, why isn’t anyone suggesting that America as a nation love its enemies and turn the other cheek?

Come to think of it, maybe my pastor is right for refusing to use the power of the pulpit to trumpet a political agenda. I live in San Juan County, New Mexico, a place where the average evangelical pastor is about 20 degrees to the right of Rush Limbaugh, yet at Sunrise Christian Church; I’ve never heard a sermon that could be misconstrued as a cleverly disguised political endorsement—and the congregation is better off for it.

Because my pastor refuses to drag the church into the bitter divides of the culture war, there exists a wide diversity of political and theological persuasions within the congregation. People can walk into church and feel genuinely welcomed as they are, without having to conform to some mind-numbing group think. As a member of the worship team, I look out into the congregation every Sunday and see people with vastly different political, cultural, and theological beliefs, all worshiping God. It’s refreshing!

Pastor David, even though I tease you with my Talking Tom app, telling you that neutrality always benefits the oppressor and never the oppressed, the reality is I’m glad that you’ve created an atmosphere at the church where nothing is more important than Jesus Christ and him crucified. As you know, my wife and I and our two boys are moving to Albuquerque this year. Thank you for being there when we needed it the most.

We’re really going to miss you.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Bible story of the week: Mark 1:38-45

I'm adding a new feature to Deep Thoughts called "Bible story of the week." Hopefully, I'll be able to post one a week. I've asked my good friend Regina Manley to do the first one. Notice the words in bold. Those are the questions Regina would like for you to reflect/comment on----Aaron

By Regina Manley

Near the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, he tells his disciples that he wants to visit the villages of Galilee and preach the Gospel stating, “That is why I have come.” (See Mark 1:38). After preaching in some synagogues and casting out demons, a leper meets Jesus along the way. The leper kneels right at Jesus’ feet begging for healing saying, “If you are willing, you can make me clean!” Jesus not only heals the man, but first he does the unthinkable. The next verse says, “Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and TOUCHED THE MAN. ‘I am willing!’ he said. ‘Be clean.’” The leper is immediately healed.

Then comes the another surprise, verses 43 and 44: “Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning; ‘See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”

This man had other plans, though, verse 45: “Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.”

Jesus’ compassionate touch breaks centuries of “proper Jewish protocol” toward lepers who, as outcasts were commanded to wear torn clothing and shout “Unclean!” lest anyone be made unclean by actually touching them. Are followers of Jesus still shocking the world today with out- of- the- box responses of love? I’d love to hear your first-hand (or second-hand ;-) accounts.

And what do you think about that STRONG warning NOT TO TELL anyone but the priest? Wouldn’t that be hard not to tell anyone? Why do you think it was so important to Jesus that the priest should be the first to hear about this miracle?

In the end, the leper, who was isolated from society, had the freedom to go anywhere, whereas Jesus was limited to the “lonely places.” Have you experienced Jesus trading places with you? If so, let’s find ways to step up to his example of radical love.

Monday, February 20, 2012

What I wish I knew in Junior High

By Aaron D. Taylor

I saw “Harrison Ford” a couple of weeks ago at Starbucks. We sat across from each other for about three hours. I kept sneaking peaks at the guy. I even posted a status update on my Face Book saying, “I’m sitting across from a guy at Starbucks that looks like Harrison Ford, what do I do?” One person said I should tell the guy that Jesus loves him. Another said I should go up to the guy and say, “Excuse me sir, but has anyone ever told you that you look like Harrison Ford?” And then there’s my cousin Derek who suggested that I do my best Chew Bacca impression. I’m pretty sure the guy wasn’t Harrison Ford, but it must be nice to be able to say I get that a lot, when you look like a guy that gets paid millions of dollars for not looking dorky!

Not that I know what that feels like.

Allow me to share with you a list of characters I’ve been told that I look like. I got all of these when I was in elementary, junior high, and high school.

Screech

Mr. Bean

Ernie

Boy George

The elf that wants to be a dentist on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Imagine being a 12 –year- old boy and all of your classmates agree that you look like the nerd on Saved by the Bell. Not exactly a confidence booster when it comes time to ask a girl if she wants to—as I remember the phrase—“go out with you.” But that was me. Scrawny. Brainy. Goofy. Religious. Socially-awkward. I sucked at sports, but could sing and act, which were gifts that no adolescent male wanted back then. These were the days before High School Musical, American Idol, and Justin Beiber. Go figure.

I used to lay awake at night thinking about suicide.

You might be thinking that a kid like me must have been a prime target for bullies, but I wasn’t. While it’s true that I got made fun of from time to time; because of my faith and personal convictions, I was also well- respected. Though I felt like an oddball in my private Christian school, I had plenty of friends at church and in my neighborhood. The problem wasn’t a lack of friends or a lack of confidence or ambition. Outwardly I had all of those things. The problem was that I was deeply uncomfortable with what many perceived as my lack of boyishness, and because I felt I didn’t measure up to what society said a boy should be, whenever anybody made a comment about my looks, lack of athletic abilities, or—frankly—girlishness—it cut deep.

If only I knew back then what I know now.

When I was in junior high I wanted to be either the next Billy Graham, a major league baseball player, or a movie star. Neither of those thing happened, but I do have a beautiful wife and two small children, and I’ve been able to travel the world and do all kinds of interesting things (like driving through the Sahara desert in the middle of the night dodging donkeys).

Lately I’ve taken up Zumba, a class where a bunch of people get together twice a week to shake their booties and burn calories. There are a couple of other guys in the class, and we all look ridiculous. Neither of us can dance, and one of the guys has a significant potbelly, but guess what? Nobody cares. In my Zumba class there are people of all shapes, colors, sizes, and degrees of attractiveness, but at the end of the class, we all want to get home to our spouses and children, even the not-so-“attractive” ones.

I wish I would have known in junior high that most of the kids that made me feel awkward would one day grow up and become parents, and that as parents they would try to teach their children to be kind and respectful to others, and that if they didn’t, they would be the oddballs. In junior high, peer pressure is largely negative, but when you grow up, it turns positive. That’s what growing up is about.

For example, if somebody in Zumba class were to make fun of me or the guy with the potbelly, everyone would disapprove, not just the courageous ones. In junior high, an “unattractive” girl might get made fun of for being unattractive, but rest assured, when that same “unattractive” girl grows up, if she ends up with a guy that puts her down for being plump or homely, nobody’s going to take his side. The overwhelming consensus will be that the guy’s a douche bag. I wish I knew that back then.

If my 33-year old self could send a message back to my 11-yeard old self it would be this:

You. Are. Okay.

Hang in there.

It gets better.

Are miracles real?

I first saw Craig S. Keener in 1999 at a debate on women in ministry at Dallas Theological Seminary. Keener argued the Biblical egalitarianism perspective, which denies pre-ordained male domination/female submission roles and argues that women can serve in leadership roles in the life of the Church. I have Keener's IVP Bible Background Commentary (which even his opponent at the debate acknowledged as the best Bible background commentary out there) and I've also read Keener's book And Marries Another: Divorce and Remarriage in the New Testament, which explores the issue of divorce and remarriage from a New Testament standpoint. I was delighted to see Keener on the Huffington Post arguing for the credibility of miracles in the name of Jesus

.

Enjoy!

----Aaron

By Craig S. Keener

Many people today are familiar with miracle stories in the Bible -- the parting of a sea, water turned to wine, and, most frequently in the New Testament, healings, even of blindness, leprosy, and the reversal of recent death.

Yet it is not just people in the first century who have believed in miracles. Various polls peg U.S. belief in miracles at roughly 80 percent. One survey suggested that 73 percent of U.S. physicians believe in miracles, and 55 percent claim to have personally witnessed treatment results they consider miraculous.

Even more striking than the number of people who believe in miracles is the number who claim to have witnessed or experienced them. For example, a 2006 Pew Forum survey studied charismatic and Pentecostal Christians in 10 countries. From these 10 countries alone, the number of charismatic Christians who claim to have witnessed or experienced divine healing comes out to roughly 200 million people. This estimate was not, however, the most surprising finding of the survey. The same survey showed that more than one-third of Christians in these same countries who do not claim to be charismatic or Pentecostal report witnessing or experiencing divine healing.

And the reports in these countries appear to be merely the tip of the iceberg. The survey did not include China, where one report from the China Christian Council over a decade ago attributed roughly half of all new Christian conversions to "faith healing experiences." Another report from a different source in China suggested an even higher figure. Clearly many people around the world experience what they consider miracles, sometimes in life-changing ways.

What are we to make of such claims? At the very least, they testify that many people around the world today are experiencing cures in a context of deep religious faith. Numerous medical studies have shown that faith and faith communities provide a coping resource that often facilitates better health outcomes. A number of these global reports, however, exceed even our best current expectations for what "faith" can produce. In September 2010, Southern Medical Journal published an article showing that some people in Mozambique, tested before and after prayer, experienced significant recovery of hearing or eyesight. The Medical Bureau at Lourdes has long examined evidence for extraordinary recoveries.

Most stunning to me on a personal level were sincere eyewitness claims from people that I or my wife have long known and trusted, including everything from cures of blindness to restoration from apparent death. Sometimes the witnesses include doctors. In one case, the eyewitness was my mother-in-law, who reported that my sister-in-law was not breathing for three hours. During prayer, without available medical resources, my sister-in-law revived, and had fully recovered, without brain damage, by the next day. Similar reports, again sometimes from people I know or have interviewed personally, appear widely in Africa, Asia, Latin America and sometimes even North America. Many of these reports come from highly educated professionals.

That reports of extraordinary experiences are widespread is undeniable, but observers explain these experiences in various ways. Some reports stem from fraud or misdiagnosis, but vast numbers of cases cannot be explained this way. Some explanations may overlap; for example, most religious believers would allow that God can work through psychological causes. Some would not define such cures as miracles, however. The influential 18th-century philosopher David Hume, for example, defined miracles as "violations" of nature. Yet, this often-disputed definition cannot cover even many of the biblical miracles (for example, the Bible says that God used a strong wind to part the sea). Others define miracles simply as extraordinary divine action.

However miracles are defined, Hume's argument against them, which provides the traditional basis for skepticism about them, is now problematic. Hume questioned the possibility of having adequate testimony to affirm miracles, since virtually uniform human experience ruled them out. Today, however, when hundreds of millions of people from diverse cultures claim to have experienced miracles, it seems hardly courteous to presuppose a "uniform" human experience on the subject. If any of these experiences constituted a genuine miracle, Hume's argument against miracles, which in some circles has hardened into an uncontested consensus, would fail. Whatever one thinks about miracles, the long-held argument against them needs to be rethought.

While not everyone will agree regarding the causes of healing experiences, everyone must agree that they often do not happen. Sickness and injustice remain in the world. In the Gospels, miracles did not replace the kingdom that Jesus announced. Nevertheless, they were signs of hope to promise and invite us to work for a better future. This focus suggests the writers' conviction that God cares about people and about their suffering, and welcomes us to care about these also.

Source: Huffington Post

Friday, February 17, 2012

African Bullfrog Ant Crusher

Note to self: Do not watch this while sitting down in a crowded room at Starbucks with head phones plugged into the computer.

It'll be embarrassing.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Does a person have to be a Christian to follow Jesus?

This article got me thinking about how God meets us where we are. Agree or disagree, the author gives us something to think about. Note: The author's title for this article is: Jesus Plus Nothing--Anyone Anywhere can Begin to Follow Jesus

---Aaron

By Tim Timmons

One of the top takeaways from my new book JESUS PLUS NOTHING stirs up so much emotional response. In other words, there is more heat than light at first. It’s tough enough to separate Jesus from Christian ownership. Now, this insight sounds even more foreign and out of bounds from what we’ve been taught. No matter how much evidence is offered or how many people are produced from non-Christian cultures who are followers of Jesus, it’s still stifling to the brain.

A little over a year ago about 60 of us participated in the Montana Awakening. We were spread all over the state, sharing the message of Jesus. I was teamed up with a Muslim friend of mine who loves Jesus and has been faithfully following Jesus for years. My friend is more articulate and genuine in his relationship with Jesus than most Christians I’ve known for years. On our first night in Montana, we were scheduled to speak along with a couple of others from Germany. I began, setting the stage for my Muslim friend’s testimony of how he had come to follow Jesus. Then he would speak and I closed out our session. Well-meaning Christians bombarded us afterward, vehemently and angrily arguing with my friend and me that it is impossible for a Muslim to be a true follower of Jesus. It was just unthinkable!

The same attitude is found among the early disciples in Luke 9, where John says to Jesus, “Master, we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.” You see how it works? It’s unthinkable that anyone who is not one of us-one of our group-could possibly have a right connection with Jesus. In John 10 Jesus tries to instruct His disciples that He has other disciples who do not belong to His disciples’ same denomination. He says, “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.” Whoever Jesus is talking about, these other sheep are not from the same religious and cultural persuasion as His disciples. In the final book of the New Testament-Revelation-there is reference to “A great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne” of Jesus. (Revelation 7) NOTE the common theme of these passages. There is no reference to any certain religious group, but it’s clear that God is calling people from every nation, every tribe and every language group.

So, how is it possible for a non-Christian-a Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Jew or agnostic-to come to the point of being a follower of Jesus and have a genuine saving relationship with Jesus? I’ve observed it in three stages. First-a person is drawn to Jesus because of His miracles, His teachings. At this stage a person is fascinated with the most amazing man, Jesus. He’s a great teacher and a great example. Second-after following Jesus for a period of time, a person begins to embrace Jesus’ principles and teachings. The principles begin to make more and more sense, so the person who has merely been fascinated with Jesus now begins to take Jesus seriously. Third-after continuing to follow Jesus and embrace His teachings and principles, this is when Jesus begins to transform a person’s life. If an internal change or conversion is going to take place, then it will happen at this level of progression.

This progression is perfectly illustrated in Jesus’ encounter with Peter at Caesarea Philippi. Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers by saying, “You are God’s Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus strokes Peter for giving such a good answer, but says, “Flesh and blood didn’t reveal that to you.” Only the Father could reveal this kind of thing to Peter. Only God can change a person’s heart. No amount of teachings or belief systems can do this. Here’s the way I see it. You don’t have to believe Jesus is the Son of God to begin to follow Jesus. The disciples didn’t! In fact, they weren’t even genuine “believers”, until later. It took them over three years of following Jesus daily for God, the Father, to change their hearts and minds of faith. When a person begins to follow Jesus, he is set up perfectly to have his heart totally converted-transformed by God Himself. We’ve seen this happen in every major culture of the world. They first are attracted to Jesus as a great teacher or example and later Jesus apprehends their hearts. One more thing. You don’t have to be a Christian to be a follower of Jesus either. Here’s the point! Anyone anywhere can begin to follow Jesus.

Source: http://www.carlmedearis.com/blog/2012/01/jesus-plus-nothing/

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Muslims in America and Beyond: How Would Christ Have Us See Them?

By Adam Maarschalk (September 12, 2010) (Used with permission)

By now, all are likely aware of the planned Koran burning by pastor Terry Jones which was supposed to take place yesterday. An international media frenzy took place as the news spread that this pastor in Gainesville, Florida had declared September 11th to be “International Burn a Koran Day.” More than a hundred Korans were to go up in flames at the hands of his roughly 50 church members. In the end, this event did not take place. Refreshingly, before President Obama and other political leaders spoke up in opposition to Jones’ idea, large and influential organizations such as the National Association of Evangelicals had already done so.

In Jones’ own words, he wanted to make a public statement that radical Islam is dangerous and that Sharia Law is not welcome in America. Jones is now known much more for who and what he opposes than the truth he says he wants to promote. Jones decries those Christians who will not take a bold stand “on issues.” He justified the burning of the Koran by appealing to the story recorded in Acts 19:18-19 of new followers of Christ burning occultic books by which they themselves had once been bound. (It should be noted in Jones’ case that his followers would be burning books belonging to a religion they had never had anything to do with.) Another justification involved appealing to some of Jesus’ radical acts and statements concerning the Pharisees and the Jewish leaders. (Again, it should be noted that in Jones’ case he was not so much taking on false teachers who claim to hold to the truth of the Bible, but rather those belonging to another religion altogether.)

In the end, it also appears that one of Jones’ motives for this whole drama was related to another recent hot-button issue: the proposed community center containing a mosque which is to be built about two blocks away from Ground Zero (the site of the World Trade Center collapse in 2001). The news the last 2-3 days has been saturated with stories about Jones’ attempt to engage a Florida-based imam to help in negotiating a deal with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf in New York City to have the project moved to a different location. No such deal appears to be going forward, and even as Jones has at least temporarily abandoned his plan, others, including the infamous Rev. Fred Phelps, have picked it up.

In a way, I’m glad that these two issues (Terry Jones’ aborted plan, as well as the proposed community center in New York) have become so public, and especially that they have been so vigorously discussed in various Christian circles. It’s all been so very revealing. As I’ve paid attention to discussions by professing Christians on Facebook, in the comments sections under various online articles, etc. I’ve seen everything from “we are called to love Muslims just as much as we love everyone else” to “Muslims are the enemy and they need to be sent back to the countries where they came from before this country is destroyed from the inside out.” Amidst the calls to live out the gospel of Jesus Christ among Muslims, which I’m grateful for, there has also been an incredible amount of fear-mongering, anger, and nationalistic pride coming from those who claim to be followers of the Prince of Peace. An example of this can be seen in the 138 comments left so far under J. Lee Grady’s editorial in Charisma Magazine titled “Just Say No to Anti-Muslim Bigotry.

While I’m glad that these sentiments are being revealed so plainly so that the Church in America might see this darkness (and by that I mean these ungodly attitudes toward Muslims) and hopefully repent, the downside is that all of this is playing out very publicly before the eyes of a watching world. If one peruses the comments left under secular articles online, one will soon find out the reputation that Christians have gained in the eyes of those we ought to be reaching with the message of the gospel. It’s not good, and very little blame should go to Terry Jones. The marriage of the church in America to the US political machine was long established before Terry Jones made headlines in Afghanistan.

A PERSONAL STORY

I’d like to share a recent personal experience in which I came face-to-face with some of the ungodly attitudes I’ve just mentioned. On July 4th of this year I was back in my hometown in Ohio for a one-week visit. That morning I attended a Sunday School class at the Pentecostal church where I grew up and where my parents still attend. My favorite feature of that class is its interactive and participatory style. The topic of the class that day was “Focusing on Christ,” and that indeed happened for a while, but then things took a definitive turn.

One class member (“P”) took a discussion and somehow switched the topic to Muslims and the events of September 11, 2001. In response, the leader of the class obliged him by asking the whole class, “As believers, what should our response be to what happened on 9/11?” I listened in shock as “P” immediately made an appeal to a passage in the book of Joshua where the Israelites were commanded to destroy man, woman, and child, “sparing none” from among the Canaanites. “Yes,” remarked his wife, “just like the book of Psalms talks about dashing the Babylonian children against the rocks.” It became clear that “P” and his wife were indeed using these examples in reference to the ideal response of believers to the worldwide Muslim population.

My sister-in-law, “C,” who was in the class, began to cry as she asked them what she should say to a certain 12-year old boy in the church. This boy was born into a Muslim family. He became a follower of Christ early this year, and within a few months his father also became a believer. His mother remains a Muslim at this time. “C” asked “P” and his wife if she should tell this boy that his mother deserves to die because she happens to be a Muslim. “P” responded by saying (I’m paraphrasing), “All I know is that when we have people saying that they’re going to kill us because we’re Americans or because we’re Christians, we need to get them before they get us. We need to take them out before they can take us out.”

One couple brought up the point that not all Muslims are terrorists, and that many simply wish to live a peaceful life. The response of “P” was this: “I know, but we don’t really have a way of knowing who is a terrorist and who is not. Their religion is not peaceful, and if you read their holy book you’ll know what they’re told to do to Christians like us.”

At some point I jumped in and emphasized that Muslims are no more and no less lost and in need of salvation through Jesus than are Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and anyone else who is outside of Christ. I added that if some Muslims have declared themselves to be our enemies, then we have the clear words of Jesus as for how we are to relate to them: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven’” (Matthew 5:43-45).

Another man, “S,” spoke up and said that Muslims have declared themselves to be enemies to Israel, and that we need to take out Israel’s enemies before they can take her out, because that’s what the Bible tells us to do. Exasperated at this point, I turned to “S” and said, “No, it doesn’t! Please tell us right now where the Bible says any such thing.” Instead of acknowledging my question, though, he told me that the Muslims in Malaysia were trying to kill my brother at that very time. Well, “S” had things quite a bit mixed up. “First,” I clarified, “none of my brothers have ever been to Malaysia. Second, I’m Adam, and I did live in Malaysia for nearly six years, but I’ve been back in the US for the last three years. Third, as far as I know, no one ever tried to kill me while I lived there. Fourth, even if they had, it only serves to illustrate that they need Jesus.”

As the discussion continued on with no one recanting their views, I finally decided to bring up something I had been holding in for some time. I related an encounter that I had with a church staff member about five years ago. At the time the pastor and an associate pastor were up in arms with a gas station owner across the street who was violating an obscure Ohio law about not selling alcohol within 500 feet of a church. This man was denounced from the pulpit numerous times, with remarks even made that “as a Muslim he ought to know better than to sell alcohol.” One day that summer (this was during a month-long visit I had made to Ohio from Malaysia) I was at the church on a weekday and one of the staff members brought up this situation in a conversation with me. She was quite belligerent about this man and his “awful misdeeds,” saying he needed to be brought down in court, taught a lesson he would never forget, uprooted from the neighborhood, etc. After listening in disbelief for a little while, I calmly asked this staff person if anyone from the church had taken the time to walk across the street, build a relationship with this man, and share the love of Jesus with him. “But he… but he…” was the only response I got, so I asked the question again, only to get nowhere. Quite clearly, there was something much deeper with some of the leaders at this church than the simple fact that alcohol was being sold by this man. The more I listened, it had everything to do with him being a Muslim.

CONCLUSION

Much of the church in America has become so infatuated with political involvement that we’ve taken on a lot of the stances, fears, sentiments, and viewpoints of those who have only the things of this world to live for. This is perhaps nowhere more evident than when it comes to Muslims who live in this nation. We often regard them with fear or keep them an arms-length away (in reality, much further away than that). We would like to see them leave this country so that we can preserve our precious “way of life,” but we fail to see that God has brought them here so that they might have a much greater chance of hearing the saving message of the gospel than they would if they were back in their native lands. May God forgive us for squandering such an open door!

Thank God, though, for the good works that are being done by believers regarding the Muslims whom God has placed around us. I know of some great ministries right here in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and Saint Paul), where we have some 100,000 Somalian refugees, to identify just one cluster of Muslims. Likewise, I’m encouraged by what I see in this brief video recently featured on NBC Nightly News:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/39087645#39087645

Please take just over two minutes to watch the video in the link above. I know that some may recoil because Muslim prayers are being conducted in a church building, but the Church is not about buildings anyway. Those who follow Christ are the temple of the Lord, according to the New Testament. I hope that more efforts like this, and even those which may perhaps be more clearly gospel-centered than this one, will spring up around this country, replacing the all-too-common fear and bigotry that has become such a plague among us. May the Lord be honored by many Muslims, and non-Muslims as well, coming to know Him in ever-increasing numbers, all for His glory.

Adam Maarschalk currently lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. From 2001-2007 he lived in Malaysia, where he taught English, learned the Malay language, helped facilitate village homestays for foreigners, and experienced some incredible hospitality. He enjoys writing, and is keenly interested in eschatology and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, especially where it is impacted by what is known as Christian Zionism.

Monday, February 13, 2012

God in the Ghetto

By Dan Sidey

When my family moved to Klamath Falls, Oregon and I became a stay-at-home dad,I had little idea what it meant to be confined. I went from the spacious world of having a respected job as a counselor to counselors in Riverside, California to the stark contrast of simply caring for my one-year-old in small town America. On top of this, we moved into a shady neighborhood known for its drug problems and safety issues. Little did I know how dark darkness could feel when we came to this little corner of the world.

Soon it began to dawn on me that my life was no longer my own. I had no intimate local friends, my wife was training as a doctor and had very little time to share in child-rearing , and in small towns like this stay-at-home dads are often an affront to nature! My only friends were my son, the lady who ran the church nursery, and an agnostic Palestinian who owned the coffee shop in our "ghetto." Despite their love for me, I began to understand what it meant to hate a place. In my solitary world, I believed God had left me for better pastures.

About two years into the experience I had a stunning vision from God. I saw myself as a worm busily eating a leaf, minding my own business. While eating, a butterfly alighted on my leaf and its beauty left me utterly broken. With tears in my eyes I began to hope in a different way of living. I knew I may never become a butterfly, but I decided it didn’t matter. I had to live like one.

Very shortly after this, God began to speak to me through the birds. I watched transfixed as they flew over my head in a communal dance. With prophetic force they said, “Dan, Fly! Just as we are flying you can too! Will you trust?” Then God started romancing me through sunsets. They were each so beautiful. I was often forced to pull off on the side of the road for fear of getting in an accident. They were all I could see. “Dan, this is a gift just for you. You’ll never see it again. Do you understand I love you?” God spoke like this for months on end! It came to an abrupt end with the birth of my second son. Clearly I heard God say “Mills...this neighborhood I've put you in...is holy ground. Will you trust without seeing?”

Klamath Falls often considers Mills little more than a liability. Mills is marked by its innumerable stories of abandonment, highly overworked and underpaid people, and often simmering racial tension. With them I feel the temptation to ask “What is this neighborhood offering me?” The day I began to truly open my heart to the children and families here, I was (and still am) deeply wrought by their pain and brokenness. I feel crushed under the weight of the poverty I see in their homes and hearts. The darkness seems much deeper than I imagined. My wife and I can’t help but ask what value stability could ever have here.

Yet, when the school day ends and children from the neighborhood come into our house, my family finds itself in the company of people we love and spend our days thinking of, conspiring in behalf of and praying for. In the evening, I walk these little ones home and I’m invited into their homes so warmly. There may be suffering, but there is great love also in these homes. Sometimes I’m enjoying life with my friends so much the only thing calling me home is my children’s bedtime. I’m pleased with the portion I’m receiving in this little corner of the world.

God’s confines became my saving grace. My family is beginning to see the borders around us as a chance to know the details of a world often feared. We also experience the world of being valued and loved. As I walk my children home to prepare for bed, I mull over John Perkin’s words, “When I look around my community...I see God's creation."

Friday, February 10, 2012

Jesus forbids sectarianism!

By Aaron D. Taylor

The term evangelical Christian and I share a love/hate relationship.

On the one hand, I believe in the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection and desire to share the implications of this news with others. The problem is that for most people in America, the term evangelical Christian is loaded with political undertones, so unless I’m in a situation where calling myself an evangelical Christian gives me greater influence to work towards peace and justice in the political sphere, I usually drop the evangelical part, except when I’m in Muslim countries where the word Christian means “people that drink, party, and fornicate.”

I’ve also tried calling myself a “follower of Jesus”, but most of the time I’m not very good at following Jesus, so now I’m thinking I should just say, “My name is Aaron Taylor….And I’m a guy trying to follow Jesus.”

How’s that for a business card?

As a guy trying to follow Jesus, the four gospels are like earth, wind, fire, and water. My spiritual life would be non-existent without them.

I’d have a hard time choosing a favorite between Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but if I absolutely had to choose; I’d choose Luke. Had it not been for Luke, terms like the “good Samaritan” and the “prodigal son” would have never made it into popular culture.

In Luke are also found the two- to- three verse stories that often get over looked. Stories such as this one:

“Now John answered and said, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not forbid him, for he who is not against us is on our side.” (Luke 9:49-50)

It would be easy to look at this story and condemn John for his narrow-mindedness, but let’s look at things from John’s perspective. Jesus had already handpicked his 12 disciples at this point, and this guy wasn’t one of them.

Who does this guy think he is, casting out demons in Jesus name without bothering to get his permission first? I mean, didn’t Jesus make it clear that his organization had a chain of command that people had to go through to get to him?

In John’s mind, the power structure that Jesus had ordained looked something like this:

Jesus

The 12 Apostles

Everyone else

Excuse me Mr. Demon-caster-outer, but if you want to be in Jesus’ in crowd, you have to go through us. We’re the true followers of Jesus. So either move aside, or join our group. Those are your two options. You’re either with us or against us….Because Jesus is one of us.

Except that Jesus isn’t.

Fast-forward a couple thousand years and my how things have not changed! We still have thousands of groups claiming that they’re the true followers of Jesus.

Growing up charismatic, I knew that the Baptists weren’t as spiritual as we were because they didn’t speak in tongues, just like the Baptists knew that most Catholics probably aren’t saved because they’ve never prayed the “sinner’s prayer.”

Some groups believe that a Christian can serve in the military; others believe that Jesus categorically rejects violence in every circumstance. Some Christians are gay-affirming; others are … well, obviously not.

With all the different groups out there claiming to follow Jesus, how do we know which ones Jesus would claim as his own?

Is it possible that Jesus would claim both liturgical Christians and free-wheeling holy roller Christians?

What about liberal Christians and conservative Christians? Is the tent that Jesus pitches big enough to include people like Dorothy Day and Jerry Falwell?

I’m 33 years old, and I’ve been following Jesus — or should I say trying to follow Jesus — for as long as I can remember. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned after all these years, it’s that as soon as I think that my friends and I have a corner on Jesus, Jesus reminds me that He’s bigger than any organization, doctrine, or philosophical system that I can wrap my brain around.

The more that I follow Jesus, the bigger my world should get.

I think that’s what Jesus was trying to tell John. Jesus is fine with his followers gathering together into groups of like-minded believers helping each other along in their spiritual journeys. That’s necessary and good. The problem is when groups of people claim Jesus as their exclusive possession, as if any one group has a monopoly on Jesus. That’s called sectarianism, and Jesus explicitly forbids it.

If I can’t see Jesus at work in the lives of people that don’t look, talk, or think the way that I do, then I’m the one with the problem, not Jesus. I don’t own Jesus.

The question is: Does Jesus own me?

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Disposable

By David LeMonnier

In 2001 I attended a church which lost its pastor. The pastor had an affair and, according to the less than credible grape vine, he had even brought a gun into the church office at one point. It was a surreal turn of events in the church. He was an excellent speaker, a hard worker & an encouraging man. I looked up to him as a spiritual parent. Our church which was 1,200 people and growing, which had just bought some land to build a new facility, soon dwindled down to nothing. I went to college & now I don’t know anyone from that time who still attends. I can’t say we saw it coming, but lately I wonder if all the warning signs were in front of us. After all, my story is the typical story for so many churches. The pastor is a success and then he falls, and with him soon follows the church.

Now, we all know the typical answers to this typical story. The pastor needs to guard himself. He needs to take the necessary precautions. Churches should be more careful of who they hire. Churches shouldn’t be built around a man, but Jesus. But now I am a pastor. I have been a pastor of a church that fell apart and a church now that is growing. And despite all the things my pastor did wrong, I cannot help but feel sympathy for him and wonder whether everything was his fault?

In our American society we value rugged individualism, which in my life has meant we criticize everyone who is successful and let everyone who fails burn. The only unity we experience is when we have a common enemy, not when we’re for a common cause. We experience this “unity” in politics. So long as a man is against our enemy, he is useful to our party. The moment he strays from the path we expect from him, he is out like yesterday’s news.

In the church pastors experience this same “unity.” A pastor is only good to us so long as he does not fail, does not compromise and does not disagree with the majority of his congregation. The moment he does any and all of these things (and all pastors can and will) he and his family are without financial support and a church. Never mind the fact the pastor has to accept this behavior from the congregation. The congregation gets a different standard. The pastor has to “suck it up and deal with it” while the church member can live without such accountability. The member can quit “paying the preacher” or even go to another church where the pastor (at that time) “agrees more with them.” The pastor is a commodity one picks out of luxury, not a brother.

The pastor cannot share his weaknesses with the church, at least not any major ones. The church allows for simple sins in a pastor like “working too much” or gossiping. But if a pastor struggles with pornography or anger or divorce he is without a job. I am sure many church members are glad their companies don’t treat them as they treat their ministers.

Church members expect their ministers to listen to “their” concerns. By “their” concerns I mean the sins of the people they don’t like. “The pastor needs to know Mike sinned.” “The pastor needs to know about Betty’s bad attitude.” But the pastor is not allowed to voice his concerns for the spiritual well-being of those who complain to him. He is to be seen, but not heard.

All of what I mentioned is a part of the job for pastors. No one should go into the ministry without expecting to encounter these problems. If you aren’t willing to minister in spite of these things then you aren’t ready to serve. The enemy is as much in the body of Christ as outside of it. Pastors also must take the necessary precautions to avoid temptation and strive to develop their personal character. We are not masters of our trade but students of THE Master. At the same time, though, is it any wonder less people are going into the ministry and staying in the ministry? After all, with work like this who would want to? The church under pays, under values and under “loves” those who serve it.

And with this considered, I wonder whether pastors who fail are really to blame? Granted everyone is responsible for their sins. The devil can’t make us do anything; he can only use the footholds we provide him. We will all be judged for what we’ve done and each be punished for what we’re responsible for. But have we considered who we’re responsible for? Obviously the pastor is responsible for the flock, but who is responsible for the pastor? Might it be a reason so many in church leadership fail is because the church forgets its responsibility to him, not the other way around?

Perhaps the pastor does not share his sin because there is no one safe to confide in and in turn his sin consumes him to the point he can no longer lead. Maybe he is afraid to speak the truth because his family is held financially hostage by the church and those threatening to leave. Maybe he is depressed having put so much thought and prayer into his words and having them fall on deaf ears. Maybe he is depressed because he puts so much work into people only to be forgotten on the anniversary of his arrival, birthday or Pastor Appreciation Month. Or maybe he is tired and stressed from trying to satisfy his family and church expectations feeling obligated to God to take care of them both. Maybe he is afraid to ask for help because he has been taught through experience there is no help for him?

Are pastors struggling because they’re alone, never considering anyone a friend out of fear of rejection? Are pastors having affairs because they have no companionship or because they want to have control over something in their life? Are they quitting the ministry because of the guilt they feel for neglecting their family or because of the guilt they feel for falling short of what is expected of them in churches?

Perhaps the most important question we should consider is what are we going to do about it? Will we make the church safe for pastors? Will we be aware of their spiritual health and heal their wounds? Will we be united to our pastors as a family of Christ? Or will we remain disposable?

P.S. I read this article to my wife and she is concerned about who will read this. But should an article like this cause her anxiety or hope? It is up to the church to decide.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Extreme Makeover--Deep Thoughts edition!

Bonsoir mes amis!

As you may have noticed, I'm changing the format for Deep Thoughts. After careful consideration, I've decided to make Deep Thoughts a one-stop blog for anyone trying to follow Jesus, but feel like they kind of suck at it (ME!!!!!!) I'll be covering a host of topics from miracles to Biblical counseling to inter-faith dialogue to Biblical peace-making to....whatever I want.

I'll still write my faith and culture commentaries, but I'll also be asking some really cool people to write stuff too. So, one day you might read about a blind guy getting healed in Indonesia, the next day you might read about me trying to stop a war with Iran. That's the kind of range we're talking about here. Eccentric...I know, but after spending my entire life trying to fit in to a certain mold, I've finally come to peace with the fact that I'm an oddball. So why not carve a space for my oddity into the blogosphere?

Healing and Forgiveness after Genocide

By PJ Meduri

The country of Rwanda is a small nation located in East Africa. A beautiful nation, known as “The land of a thousand hills” experienced a very dark moment in 1994. In April of that year, a very tragic genocide began which lasted roughly 4 months and resulted in more than 1 million deaths.

Now in 2012 as I prepare for my sixth trip to Rwanda, I’ve seen and heard firsthand how people have found healing, forgiveness, and reconciliation through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

On my first visit to Rwanda I visited a prison and was amazed at what I saw as I was escorted inside. At the front of the prison courtyard was platform were two bands were leading their fellow inmates in singing songs to Jesus Christ. It was inspiring to see the incredible joy on the faces of these men as a result of following Jesus. I couldn’t help but wonder about their role in the genocide, but that only served to increase my amazement at the depth, power, love and mercy of Jesus Christ, who offers all people everywhere the opportunity to find peace with God. It reminded me of my favorite words from Jesus, “All those who come to me, I will never drive away.” And, through Jesus, people in Rwanda are not only experiencing reconciliation with God, but in many cases reconciliation with one another.

The prison visit was amazing, but there is one person I met my first time in Rwanda, whom I will never forget. He survived the genocide as a small boy and in an e-mail he sent to me over two years ago, summed up some of his feelings. “…JESUS is my only real shelter and refuge and my relief in this lonely life.” He then shared something else he’s learned over the many years of healing since 1994. “When you dwell on the past you can lose the future, but when you remember the past just as something that happened and left you with a lesson, you can inevitably save the future.”

Jesus said He is “the resurrection and the life”, something that is very evident in the rebuilding of Rwanda. This “new life” was summarized quite eloquently by a Rwandan Pastor who shared the following with me, as I prepared to leave for home at the conclusion of my visit to this country in 2010.

As he stood up, he looked at me and said, “Tell people in America it’s safe to come to Rwanda” Then as he reached his right hand toward the ground he slowly began raising his hand upward, and finished his statement…. “God has reached into the pit, and lifted Rwanda up, and made her a nation of peace.”

This same God who’s at work in Rwanda is the same One who can reach into any nation and any life. with his amazing love and grace.

PJ Meduri

Director

Taking The Field Ministries

www.takingthefield.org

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Want to Change Lives?

By Bob Kellemen

During the early days of television two shows dominated the airwaves. One aired on Tuesday nights and the other on Sunday evenings. Initially the more popular show was The Texaco Star Theatre hosted by Milton Berle. It was designed originally along the lines of the old-fashion vaudeville variety hour with a host highlighting half-a-dozen guests each week.

However, little by little, Milton Berle became the star. As the format changed, the accent gradually focused increasingly on Berle. There were fewer guest acts as Berle began to dominate each show. In just eight years, the show ran out of steam. No one person is talented enough to carry any show, or any ministry, for more than a short time.

The other show, The Ed Sullivan Show, experienced a very different fate. If any show in the history of television could be called an institution, it would be The Ed Sullivan Show. Every Sunday night for more than two decades this show brought an incredible variety of entertainers into homes. Sullivan’s show continued as a major hit for fifteen years longer than Berle’s show.

Unlike Berle, Sullivan never wavered from his original format. He was the host who called other people to center stage. Numerous performers made their television debut on his show: Walt Disney, the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Bob Hope, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, and hundreds more. Though Ed Sullivan died soon after the last run of his show, his legacy outlives him.

Are You Like Milton Berle or Ed Sullivan?

God calls Christian leaders to be like Ed Sullivan, not like Milton Berle. If we’re like Berle, and the spotlight increasingly focuses on us and our individual ministry, then biblically we’re missing God’s mark as equippers. If we fail to focus on equipping, then we selfishly treat God’s people like children who have never grown up spiritually.

God wants us to be like Ed Sullivan—a host who calls others to center stage by equipping them to fulfill their calling. When we focus on equipping, we leave an other-centered legacy of loving leaders.

God’s Grand Vision for His Church: Ephesians 4:11-16

In Ephesians 4:11-16, the Apostle Paul highlights the Bible’s most powerful, focused vision statement for the Church. This passage offers God’s ministry description for church leaders.

Most pastoral search committees would be thrilled to read a candidate’s résumé that demonstrated the ability to preach, counsel, and administrate. Most seminaries would be delighted if graduate exit interviews indicated that pastoral ministry students perceived that their seminary training equipped them for preaching, counseling, and administrating. Being equipped to do the work of the ministry seems to be everyone’s ideal goal for church leaders.

Everyone but Christ.

Christ’s pastoral ministry description demands the ability to equip others to do the work of the ministry. If seminaries followed Christ’s vision for pastoral ministry, they would focus on training trainers. If pastoral search committees desired in a pastor what Christ desires, they would throw out every résumé that failed to emphasize experience in and passion for equipping the saints.

The Pastoral Ministry Mindset Shift That Changes Everything: Every Pastor an Equipper of Equippers

You would think that we would listen to the Head of the Church. Instead, we listen to modern church culture that screams, “The pastor is the preacher, care-giver, and CEO!”

It’s time to listen again to the Head of the Church.

“It was he who gave some to be … pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service…” (Ephesians 4:11-12a).

Christ’s grand plan for His Church is for pastors/teachers to focus on equipping every member to do the work of the ministry.

Paul launches verse 12 with a tiny Greek word (pros) translated by an even smaller English word (“to”) with giant meaning: with the conscious purpose of, in order for, for the sake of, with a view to. The word indicates the future aim and ultimate goal of a current action. That is, by definition, a vision statement—Christ’s grand vision statement for every pastor/teacher.

The Résumé of Pastors

What is the future view, the future vision to which Christ sovereignly gave His Church pastors and teachers? Paul says it succinctly: “To prepare God’s people for works of service.” These eight words must be every church leader’s reason for existence.

One central word—“prepare”—must capture every leader’s passion for ministry. “Prepare” comes from the word for artist, craftsman.

Local church leader—your special craft, your opus is people, equipped people, disciple-makers. Your spiritual craft or gift is to help others to scout out their spiritual gift, identify that area of ministry, and empower them to use that gift.

In Paul’s day, people commonly used “prepare” in the context of conditioning an athlete. Local church leader—you are a spiritual conditioning coach. Your job is not to play all the positions on the team, but to coach every player on the team, to strengthen their spiritual condition so they are able to do works of service.

This fits perfectly with how Paul uses the word prepare—to train someone so they are fully fit and mature enough to complete their calling. The leader’s calling is to help God’s people to fulfill their calling.

Passing the Baton of Ministry

These weren’t just words for Paul.

• He made making disciple-makers his personal ministry description—Colossians 1:28-29.

• He made equipping equippers his personal ministry practice—Acts 20:13-38.

• Christ’s grand vision so captured Paul’s ministry mindset that at the end of his life he passed onto Timothy the vision of equipping equippers of equippers—2 Timothy 2:2. The baton of equipping passed from Christ’s hands, to Paul’s hands, to Timothy’s hands, to the hands of reliable disciple-makers who passed it on yet again.

Let’s not drop the baton. Let’s keep Christ’s grand vision alive and moving into the future by being Ed Sullivan-like pastors.

Join the Conversation

What can you do to be more and more the “Ed Sullivan” Christian leader?

Note: This post was developed from material in Dr. Kellemen’s book, Equipping Counselors for Your Church http://bit.ly/EC4YC4E.

Bio

Bob Kellemen, Th.M., Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the Biblical Counseling Coalition, the Executive Director of the Center for Church Equipping, the Founder and CEO of RPM Ministries, and the Chairman of the MA in Christian Counseling and Discipleship department at Capital Bible Seminary. Bob has pastored three churches and is the author of six books, including Equipping Counselors for Your Church.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Miracle in Indonesia


By Paul Metcalf


Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, "Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it." Genesis 28:16


My wife, Rachel, and I were half way around the world in the city of Surabaya, Indonesia when a routine miracle became the catalyst that would forever change my life. This was my fourth trip to Indonesia and had previously made two trips to India. Throughout each trip, I saw first hand the power of God released resulting in thousands of people becoming born again, the demon possessed delivered, many healings including blindness, deafness, and muteness. Even on the trip to Surabaya in 2008, I prayed for a pregnant woman whose baby had been declared dead in the womb. After praying, the baby began to move around. Yet with what happened on this particular day, life as I had known it, would never be the same. As Rachel and I were praying for those who were sick, an elderly man came forward for prayer. When he approached us, it was obvious that this man was blind in one of his eyes and there was a milky looking substance that covered it. We were no strangers to praying for these types of sickness. So we prayed the first time and nothing happened. We decided to pray again and his condition was no better. I, however, felt an urgency to pray one last time and, when I moved my hand, his eye that was milky was now perfectly clear. I told the interpreter to have him cover the eye that was good and follow me. Without any hesitation he started following me with no problem whatsoever. He went on his way home and I knew his life was never going to be the same again.

We finally arrived home early on a Friday morning and my Dad had come to the airport to pick us up. I remember as we were getting close to our home, the Holy Spirit began speaking to me about the man who had been healed. He told me that his life became a living testimony of the power of God. In other words, his life became evidence that pointed to a greater reality. For the next few days, I constantly thought over that event. I didn’t realize it at the time but that one healing became an invitation to enter into a place I knew very little about: that place is the Kingdom of God.

I was reading the book of Genesis Chapter 28 about Jacob becoming sleepy and laying his head upon a rock and falling asleep. As Jacob slept he had a dream of a ladder going into the heavens and the angels of God begin to ascend and descend upon it. Jacob is awakened from his dream and says, “Surely the Lord is in this place and I didn’t know it”. Immediately when I read those words the Holy Spirit spoke to me and said “Paul you are disconnected from My Kingdom.” I had no clue what that meant, but I was determined to find out. Since that time, which began in April of 2009, I have been on an amazing journey of discovering the Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God in its simplest term means the King’s domain. It is the rule and reign of God. When Jesus was asked by His disciples how to pray He taught them to pray “Our Father who is in Heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:9-10)

There are two things I want to point out. The first is our Father. The Kingdom of God is all about relationship and, more importantly, relating to God not as the distant other or the unseen presence but as He truly is: our Father. Secondly, He said on earth as in Heaven. The desire of God is that Heaven would invade earth.

When Jacob awoke from his dream, He said, “this in none other than the house of God and this is the gate of Heaven and he named the place Bethel.” Bethel means “house of God”.

Today you and I are the house of God according to 1 Corinthians 3:16. Notice though that not only was Bethel the house of God it, is also the gate of Heaven. So as believers we are not only the temple of the Holy Spirit, our life is also the gateway that releases Heaven upon the earth, which is exactly what Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “On earth as in Heaven.” You carry the kingdom wherever you go and because you carry the kingdom wherever you go, people can have a life- changing encounter with the power of God. Since the time this all started, we have seen several people healed of broken bones and other sickness in places such as Walmart, Outback Steak House, Best Buy and many other locations. About a month into discovering the Kingdom, the Holy Spirit spoke something to me that I want to leave with you. He said to me “You are not waiting on the kingdom; the kingdom is waiting on you.”

Paul Metcalf
Grace and Mercy Ministries
www.paulmetcalf.net

Friday, February 03, 2012

Can pro-gay and anti-gay Christians work together against gay bullying?


By Ben DeVan

In light of several high profile cases of gay related bullying, this essay may disgruntle almost everyone who reads it.

First, it may anger bullies who want sympathizers or "boys will be boys / girls will be girls" dismissers of bullying among religious believers who see homosexuality as against God's intent, having harmful physical / mental health risks, and symptomizing "societal decay."

Second, it may irk anti-homosexuality religious believers, a number of who may inwardly -- even to their own horror -- sympathize with bullies, even if they would never engage in bullying themselves, or who view bullying as collateral damage in a societal struggle of sexual virtue vs. vice.

Third, it may upset pro-homosexuality religious and/or gay activists who, like some of their conservative counterparts, see concessions or cooperation across these particular lines as unacceptable appeasement, betrayal, or compromise in a zero sum game where anything less than worldwide celebration (or condemnation), and not mere tolerance or acceptance of homosexuality, is complicity with evil or holding hands with haters.

To my gay activist and pro-homosexuality religious friends: don't too quickly dismiss potential allies from the other side. When mostly Christian and Muslim affiliated Uganda began considering harsh sanctions against various homosexual acts, some of the most vocal American opponents were public figures and organizations associated with "anti-gay" politics: Charles Colson, Rick Warren, and Exodus International, to name just a few.

Rick and Kay Warren are also active in the worldwide battle against AIDS, a disease often associated with homosexuality and causing massive suffering to its homosexual and heterosexual victims. In his 1988 20 Hot Potatoes Christians are Afraid to Touch, progressive Evangelical Tony Campolo shared that Evangelicals as early as the 1980s organized benefit concerts with thousands in attendance donating proceeds to fight AIDS. Likewise, one of my (once self-described) fundamentalist friends raises awareness of gay human rights issues in Iran. He says, “I don’t think homosexuality is good, but I don’t believe in beheading or imprisoning gays for homosexual acts. We should protect people persecuted for any reason, including their sexuality.” Finally, a college administrator friend who is also a Southern Baptist received a report about a faculty member who told a student that s/he "hate(s) homosexuals." My friend responded swiftly and professionally. I cannot give details, but the situation resolved in a conciliatory manner that would please readers of multiple political persuasions.

I can already imagine the comments section bristling with objections that anti-homosexuality religious believers, simply by holding or expressing beliefs that homosexuality is harmful or wrong, disregard or contribute to a milieu that allows for, even encourages bullying of gays. Point taken. I can see this as sometimes but not always true, in that opposing homosexuality can translate into irritation, which can conceive hatred, which may give birth to violence or discrimination against homosexuals. To be fair, there is sometimes violence and discrimination against people who oppose homosexuality or admit to anything less than an enthusiastic endorsement of it. But pretending that political and religious agreement are essential to civility or to standing against bullying denies human capacity for nuance.

St. Augustine may have originated the phrase, "love the sinner, hate the sin," as the most notorious variation of this mindset, advising, "love for persons and a hatred for their vices." This is echoed, Yale University's Miroslav Volf believes, by the Qur'an Surah Al Imran 3:30 which talks about a person's soul as distinct or wishing to be made distant from some of its actions. The United Methodist Church refuses to approve homosexual practice, but at the same time, it holds up gays as people of "sacred worth" beloved by God, and opposes many forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation. Whether one sees homosexuality as a vice, virtue, or as value-neutral, these examples allow for at least the possibility of nuance from an anti-homosexuality perspective.

I don't know Tony Campolo's most recent position on homosexuality, but when I attended a Baptist Student Union (BSU) conference at the University of Georgia a number of years ago, Campolo responded to those who called him "soft" on homosexuality, "I am not soft on homosexuality, but I am very soft on homosexuals!" The response from the audience of several thousand mostly baptist college students? Thunderous applause.

To objectors who say that one cannot love or stand common cause with another person without endorsing all or a perceived core of that person's feelings, beliefs, opinions, actions, sexual preference / orientation, or self-identity, I reply that most people, including readers of this essay, do so on a regular basis at least sometimes at work, in family, and in friendships. Can any reader not think of instances where they disagreed (even strongly) with another person's acts, mindset, even core self-identity, yet still interacted civilly, loved dearly, or demonstrated active care for that colleague, brother, sister, mother, father, friend?

To my anti-homosexuality, as well as my pro-homosexuality, friends: In my recent essay, Tea with Hezbollah, I mentioned Jesus' "Parable of the Good Samaritan" as a partial paradigm for relations between Christians and Muslims. Might it also apply to religious believers relating with gays, particularly gays who are the victims of bullying?

Samaritans for Jesus' Jewish audience were not just ethnically distinct, they represented corrupt religion and bad theology (cf. Luke 9 and 17; John 4 and 8). The Zondervan NIV Study Bible notes, "the person Jesus commended was neither the religious leader nor the lay associate, but a hated foreigner. Jews viewed Samaritans as half-breeds, both physically and spiritually. Samaritans and Jews practiced open hostility, but Jesus asserted that love knows no … boundaries." That the "heretical" Samaritan gets doctrine wrong but ethics right makes his role as hero all the more shocking to Jesus' hearers.

To anti-homosexuality religious believers: Let's grant for the sake of argument that you discern the "right doctrine" about homosexuality. I wonder whether pro-homosexuality religious and gay activists are not sometimes better at fulfilling Jesus' ethic in standing up for homosexuals? Given the choice, do you think "right doctrine" or "right action" is more pleasing to Jesus? Do you "love the sinner" as much or more than you "hate the sin?"

When I share the Good Samaritan with students, I ask who Jesus would designate the wounded victim, Priest, Levite, and Samaritan if he were speaking to early 21st-century audiences. Might Jesus say, "An Evangelical pastor and a Biblical (or Qur'anic) inerrancy professor passed by the bullied homosexual, but a lesbian activist took pity." Or alternately, would Jesus say, "a lesbian activist and a gay senator passed by, but a Wahhabi Muslim or fundamentalist Christian took pity on the victim?"

Whether we are gay, straight, conservative, liberal, nonreligious or religious, we are human beings who can learn from the best of our exemplars in opposing bullying in any form, including bullying against gays. If we cannot agree on other things, even on the neutrality, goodness, or dysfunctional nature of homosexuality; I say with John Wesley (who himself quoted Jehu in 2 Kings 2:15), let's stand together against bullying, "If your heart is as my heart, then take my hand." Will you also take each others' hands?


Benjamin B. DeVan has taught religion, philosophy, and African American literature at North Carolina Central University, Peace College, and a January term mini-course at MIT titled, "Religion: Bringing the World Together, or Tearing the World Apart?" He completed his MA in Counseling at Asbury Theological Seminary, his MDiv at Duke University, a ThM at Harvard in World Religions with a thesis on evangelical Christians and Islam, and is now a doctoral candidate at a historic British university writing a dissertation on the New Atheism.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Incarnational Churches: Seeking the Peace of the City--Rick Love

I thought I'd share something from my good friend Rick Love at Peace Catalyst.

My friend Pastor Jay Pathak was talking to the mayor of Arvada and wanted to know his vision for the city. After sharing a number of things, the mayor confessed, “I guess I want people to be good neighbors.” Jay assured the mayor that he could help with that one! Since then, Jay has mobilized and worked with more than fifty other churches in Colorado to encourage people to “rediscover the art of neighboring.” They are now taking the love commandment seriously by pursuing relationships with their neighbors.



Jay’s church, the Mile High Vineyard, is one of many churches following Jesus into the marketplace and into the neighborhoods of their city. They illustrate one of the most profound and important things God is doing in the world today: calling his church to be incarnational (also described as “missional”). So what is an incarnational church?



The easiest way to understand what I mean by "incarnational church" is to compare two approaches: the incarnational approach and the attractional approach. In the attractional method, the goal is to attract attendees. Churches want to get people to attend service on Sunday. By contrast, the incarnational church focuses on incarnating the gospel at work and with neighbors from Monday through Saturday. The attractional church’s primary emphasis is “come,” whereas the incarnational church’s primary emphasis is “go!” The attractional church focuses on buildings and professional clergy, while the incarnational church focuses on laity serving in the marketplace.



A wise reader will discern two things about what I just wrote. First, in order to make my point, I exaggerated. I made my comparison of the two approaches too black and white. Second, both approaches are good, and we need both. The reality is that every church is both attractional and incarnational at some level. But I see an imbalance in the church. We are really good at the attractional approach, but not so good at the incarnational. In this blog I want to address the importance of being incarnational.


To continue reading this entry: click here!