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Archive for the ‘World’ Category

In the beginning…

20 Sep

beginningThe Bible starts out with this phrase.

In the beginning…

God introduces the work of creation.  How we got here.  Why we got here.  Who put us here.  How did He do it?  The first book of the Bible, Genesis, assumes and highlights the existence, eternal nature, and sovereign power of God.

And then later on… like thousands of years later on… a Jewish man named John writes a biography about God’s Son Jesus Christ… starting with the same three words.

In the beginning…

And we’re not talking about the start of a new season.  We’re not tracing the history of some internet startup company or tracing your family tree or cracking chapter one of world history class.

We’re talking about THE Beginning.  First things.  The origins of mankind.

Way way back, farther than any other “way backs” we can think of or even begin to explain.

As John continues, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning” (John 1:1).

With this “Word,” John is talking about Jesus.  God’s Son was there in the “way back” beginning – existing eternally with God well before arriving in a Bethlehem manger.  Jesus always was, always is.  So, when we begin to read the Gospel of John, we’re reading about Jesus Christ and God’s plan from the very beginning.

Needless to say, anyone who was with God from the beginning is worth watching, following, and trusting!

Needless to say, John’s story is a book worth reading.  Read it with me!

Our church begins an extended walk through the Gospel of John, starting Sunday with a series entitled “This Changes Everything.”  It’s a journey that originated in God’s mind and heart before the creation of the world, but is now revealed to us as we pursue a growing relationship with Jesus Christ.  It’s a plan to reveal God’s unconditional and perfect love through Jesus Christ for all who would believe and trust in Him.

And so we start the story where John starts it…

In the beginning…

 

 
 

Where are you going, Periscope?

16 Sep

socialmediaYes, Periscope, I really like you.

I’ve only known you for two months, but I like you.

You’ve helped me connect – if only for a few moments – with people from all over the world.  New Zealand, Australia, Brooklyn, and Cleveland.

You’re free, easy to use, and helpful for “real-time” interactions, thoughts, conversations, and experiments.

You’ve helped me learn, all over again, the value of listening to others before speaking.

You’ve helped me practice and test out ideas, sermons, questions, and approaches to ministry.  You’ve allowed me a forum to speak a language that I think I’ll always love – the language of sports.  You’ve helped me capture moments that may seem routine and boring and learn to celebrate the personalities and interactions of others.

But you’ve also made me concerned.  Perhaps the power to make every person a broadcasting network isn’t always a good thing.  Perhaps the instant access to great conversation is also a venue to destructive personalities as well.  Perhaps the freedom to broadcast our lives would only serve to feed our addictions to attention, approval, celebrity, and control.

I don’t know where you’re going, Periscope, but you’ve got my attention.

Less than six months on the market, and you’ve got 14 million users.  You’re just getting started, and the “early adopters” are getting in line, but what’s next?

Where is this train going?

 
 

How to Get Promoted!

14 Sep

FAW_LOGOGod cares more about your job than you do.  He knows the job description and how well you’re doing.  He sees the work environment and knows the challenges you face each day.

What the Bible says about hard work, interactions with your boss or co-workers, and your attitude – it’s not just spiritual, it’s practical!

In the first century, a church leader named Titus was urged to teach and encourage people in all jobs and in all walks of life.  Even slaves were to hear God’s guidance and contribute to God’s mission to build the church.  Listen to these words:

Teach slaves to be subject to their masters in everything, to try to please them, not to talk back to them, and not to steal from them, but to show that they can be fully trusted, so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.” – Titus 2:9-10

Did you catch that last phrase, giving the reason for all these directions about life as a slave?  God uses all of us – even the slaves – to “make the teaching about God our Savior attractive.”

In other words, God promotes SLAVES to become His EXAMPLES.

God promotes the LEAST to become the GREATEST.

The incredible good news of the Gospel would be on display in how each slave responded to his master, earned his or her trust, and lived a life of humble, genuine faith in the context of first-century slavery.

When I read these verses, my heart leaps at the opportunity to help others be “attracted” to the life-changing news about Jesus Christ.  Do you want to get promoted at work, or do you want God to hire you as His ambassador and influencer no matter what your profession?

If so, then keep these things in mind, straight out of Titus 2….

(1) Respect and obey your earthly supervisors.  #humility

(2) Become part of the solution at work instead of part of the problem.  #excellence

(3) Do not speak disrespectfully about or toward others.  #self-control

(4) Do not steal or cheat your boss or your company.  #integrity

(5) Earn the trust of those you work with.  #faithfulness

If you put these principles into practice each day, you’ll become a great co-worker, teammate, employee, and boss!  Even more, just like the “rags-to-riches” slaves in the Bible, you’ll be promoted to the eternally-rewarding role of making God’s teaching attractive to those around you!

 
 

Digital Invasion: Amazon

30 Sep

4005738_origIt’s one of the largest rivers in the world.

It covers much of South America.

It’s legendary for tropical and mysterious jungle-dominated terrain.

For centuries, the Amazon River has been a source of life and health for countless species.

However… in just a few quick years, this incredible creation has fallen to #2 on the list of “world’s most famous and influential Amazons.”

The Amazon River is NOT what anyone thinks of when we say the name.

These days, Amazon.com is one of the most dominant, popular places for buying and selling ANYTHING from ANYWHERE at ANYTIME.

Want to save money at Christmas time?  Go to Amazon.com.

Want to avoid the “hustle and bustle” of Black Friday?  Click to Amazon.com.

Need a last-minute birthday gift shipped directly to your loved ones?  You guessed it.  Amazon has us covered.

Not sure what you should buy as you head back to school?  They seem to know what you need over there at Amazon.

As much as anything about the digital world, Amazon has helped millions of people develop TRUST in online buying and selling.  Our family buys a lot of products – groceries, books, gifts, toys, and household cleaning supplies – all through Amazon.com.  We’ve turned to Amazon often for convenience, and we can purchase from our computer or cell phone at a moment’s notice.  As a result, one of our favorite Christmas or Birthday gifts has become the all-too-powerful Amazon Gift Card.Amazon-Gift-Card

Yes, Amazon has been a huge player in the Digital World, bringing us into an age where we can buy, spend, and order anything we want.  Has Amazon (and the instant gratification of shopping online) also brought some negative side-effects?  Is it far too easy to spend money by clicking and without thinking?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Just like anything with technology, I think it’s important for us to know WHY we are using something and HOW it works.  What insights or practices have helped you get the most out of Amazon?  Has Amazon presented any challenges to your financial life or your family budget?

 
 

Let God Handle Your Fears

04 Nov

This very week, kids of all ages practiced “trick or treat” and braved “inclement” weather in the quest for good times and free candy.  As usual, some of the Halloween décor and costumes were chosen to provoke or celebrate fear.

On a personal level, fear is much more than a costume or dark night.  In everyday life, each one of us deals with fear in some form.  So I’ll ask…

What are you afraid of?

If you’ve had a bad medical report, you may wrestle with fears about ongoing pain or how quickly your body is falling apart.

If you’re struggling financially, there’s the stress about providing for your family, “making ends meet” and how you’ll pay the bills.

If you have children, you deal with a very unique and personal set of fears regarding their health, their choices, and their character.

If you watch the news, you may experience conflicting fears about next week’s election or Superstorm Sandy or political unrest in the Middle East.

If you’re pursuing a new career path, starting your own business, or trying to win someone else’s love, the fear of failure can be a driving or crippling force inside.

If you’re in an abusive relationship… fear is always there.

If I continue listing fears, I’d eventually get to something locked deep inside you.  You may be afraid to admit that you’re afraid of something, and that’s common too.

Fear is part of our human condition.  The question is not about whether we will feel fear – we will!  The ultimate issue centers around how we handle our fears.

Jesus said it so clearly – “in this world, you will have trouble” (John 16:33).  Yes, it is a world of trouble.  Life is going to be hard.  It is tempting to fear the worst or to be overcome by fears at any stage of life.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  A healthy relationship with God is the clear and powerful remedy for our fears.  Not even the worst-case scenario – your eventual death – is beyond God’s invitation to fearless living!

Throughout the Bible, we find everyday people – just like you and me – who make the decision to trust God in the midst of their fears.  To admit them and name them in prayer.  To invite God’s help, healing, power, comfort, courage, and wisdom.

Look at the writer of the Psalms, and how he makes a conscious choice to trust God…

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You (God) are with me” (Psalm 23:4).

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears” (Psalm 34:4).

The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?” (Psalm 27:1)

They (people who love God) will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are stedfast, trusting in the Lord” (Psalm 112:7).

What are you afraid of?  How are you coping with or addressing your fears?

When you think the sky is falling, look to God – maker of the sky and everything else!  Start reading the Bible again, and you’ll find that God gives you hope and direction in all things.  Psalms and John are great places to start reading!

When dark nights of the soul tempt you to fear the worst – that’s when you need God the most!  Start talking or writing your prayers out in a journal to God.  Share your fears with a trusted friend or two – perhaps they are facing the same fear!

When rainy days and sad music convince you that you’re the victim of some evil and destructive scheme… remember that, indeed, we will have trouble in this life.  God never promised that this would be easy and that we’d never long for a different life.

Instead of rainy-day music, get some God music on your playlist.  Feed your heart and mind with truth and the reality of God’s presence – He’s always with you!  He invites us to seek Him and spend time with Him and be filled with His Spirit!  And His Spirit is not a “spirit of fear,” but a “Spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).

After reminding his fear-struck friends the plain truth that we all face trouble in this world, he said the words we must cling to in the face of all fears…

Take heart, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

 

Democrat, Republican, or Alien?

05 Oct

(copied from today’s Delaware Gazette – Pastors Perspective Column)

Nothing makes our society’s collective blood pressure rise like a presidential election.  The televised debates are already being critiqued and rehashed in our living rooms, board rooms, and chat rooms.

As a Christian and a Pastor, I am grateful that our ultimate realities are never won or lost at election polls, but rather, at the Cross.

If a Christian is by definition a believer and follower of Jesus Christ…

If a Christian is someone who trusts in the Sovereignty of God…

If a Christian trusts God with his or her future – this life and the next…

…then a Christian would want to honor Jesus in thoughts, words, and actions during an election year.

Jesus clearly calls us to follow Him and share His “Good News” in our world.  He gives a crystal-clear charge to be his “witnesses” to the very ends of the earth (Acts 1:6-8).  He reminds us to be prepared to talk about the hope we have in Jesus Christ – and to do it with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15)!

Though it was written during the reign of the Empire-building, blood-thirsty Romans, the New Testament pays little attention to government or politics.

Not once does the Apostle Paul write, “I’ve had it up to here with our Emperor and his violent ways.  We must speak up against political injustices of our time!”  Not once did the disciple, John, pray, “Lord, please take Roman rulers away and give us a leader who will make our society better!”

Not once.   Why?   Here are a few possibilities…

Because followers of Jesus should view current issues in light of God’s eternal plan.  Do we really need to fear or fight about the temporary future when our God is forever “for us” no matter what happens?

Because followers of Jesus should not be easily worried or provoked to anger.  If you’re filled with worry, remember that Jesus promised that our world would experience trouble.  If you’re quickly angered, please take a deep breath and thank Jesus for overcoming the world.  No matter who wins the election, God is still ultimately in charge.

Because followers of Jesus should remember that we are not “of this world.”  Can you imagine an election season where Christ-followers are easy to talk with, and not easily baited into heated arguments or Facebook battles?  What if others could see your humble and quiet confidence in God, no matter what is going on in the world?

I read somewhere that Christians are to be “in the world but not of the world.”  I heard that followers of Jesus are actually a “chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God” – regardless of where they live or how much they like their earthly government.

Let me affirm that we should all be informed about the issues and seek God’s wisdom in how and when to voice our opinions.  By all means, get involved in ways that reflect your Christian values and help work toward solutions that benefit society.  Tread carefully, though, because even the best intentions to help in this intense and volatile area of politics can result in divisiveness, name-calling, and unchristian behavior.

We must remember our true “home.”  Peter writes, “I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.  Live such good lives among the unbelievers that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us” (1 Peter 2:11-12).

God is looking for Aliens and Strangers – people who recognize that their home and hope are in Him, and not in this world.  Their lives reflect His goodness, His authority, His hope!

As Christians, let’s trust God and not lose our cool over the presidency.

Let’s pray for our country and for our leaders, regardless of whom God allows to lead.

Let’s act with the love of Jesus and treat people with respect, dignity, and compassion regardless of disagreements.  “For God so loved the world…” – and this includes Democrats and Republicans!

Let’s evaluate our own “personal rights” and “freedoms” in light of the One who surrendered His own rights and was nailed to a Cross – for us!

Let’s thank God for our country and the countless blessings He has allowed us to experience.

Let’s become God’s “aliens and strangers” – embracing the higher calling to follow Jesus and lead others to Him.

A million years from now, nobody will remember this election.  But everyone will kneel and worship a true King.  And may Jesus Christ, the perfect Leader, be honored by actions, words, and thoughts that demonstrate that He alone is our Hope!

 

Back to El Salvador – April 24-May 1, 2012

21 Feb

Wilson is one of the young adult leaders in our partner church in El Salvador!

Last April’s visit to El Salvador made an impression on me that I didn’t expect.  I wasn’t sure what to expect, actually!  With our church’s “Hand in Hand” schools in Africa, I experienced a world of emotions and observations about the impact of physical and spiritual poverty on our world.

Too often, my North American eyes are insulated from the kind of suffering that people are facing today.  The Central African Republic has a powerful grip on my heart, and I thank God that our church has been able to partner with Project Hope & Charite’ for several years there.

With the new “Church-to-Church” partnership in El Salvador, we hope to connect many more of our people with this kind of experience, this kind of friendship, and this kind of compassionate work of God.  In Eastern El Salvador, our partner church faces challenges regarding economic hardship, gangs and drugs, and even extreme weather.  Just a few months ago, thousands of people were literally chased out of their homes due to many days of flooding rain.

In April, our church will send twelve people on a missions and discovery trip to El Salvador.  I couldn’t be more thrilled with the team God is putting together here.  Led by Dave and Esther Pacheco, our team also includes RC & Deana Arsenau, Jordan Emmons, Shelly Ward, Jami Hinson, Fred Durant, Kim Mengerink, Billie Lang, Derek Hunt, and um, me.   If you’re interested in following the partnership we’re building with the Church of God, Springs of Eternal Life in El Salvador, check out our blog – grace2es.wordpress.com!

 

Hang Up the Lights!

13 Dec

 Yesterday, our family spent some time outdoors in cold central Ohio.  We put the final touches on some yard work and went for a walk.

Finally, we put Christmas lights up over the front of our house.  Lights on the garage.  Lights on the bushes.  Lights on the window.  Lights around the bricks surrounding the bushes.

I had a great time “bonding” with our son, Luke, who “helped” me stretch out the lights and plug them in.  We didn’t mind the cold, you see, we were putting up the lights – a tested-by-time Christmas tradition.

One day later, I’ve got four random thoughts about our moment together, hanging up the lights…

(1) The Light – the deepest meaning behind Christmas lights is that Jesus Christ was (and is) the “Light of the World” as He claimed to be in John 8:12-20.  Remember that our world can be a dark place… where wars continue and criminals go free and money equals power.

(2) The Cold – our bad.  We waited until 12/11 to put our lights up.  It was cold out.  Still, the lights must shine.  In our neighborhood, in December, no matter the temperature.

(3) The Trash – we found several entire strings of lights that didn’t work at all.  Good for nothing.  Our Julie (age 3) had fun yelling, “THEY ARE TRASH!!  YOU ARE TRASH, lights!”

(4) The Family – it was great to be together, doing a project, getting ready for Christmas.  I’m reading a book about Parenting that has repeatedly challenged me to enjoy and create moments like this.  Kids won’t always want to help Dad and Mom with projects in the front yard, will they?

We still have more lights to hang up, maybe today.  Hopefully again, a traditional Christmas “task” will mean so much more to me, to my family, and to our neighborhood.

 
 

Bury your frog

16 Sep

A few months ago, our family bought two African dwarf frogs.  Fresh water dwelling, easy-to-care-for frogs.

We named the first one Susan… and our female frog is twice the size of the male frog, which is normal.

We named the second one “El Sapo,” which is Spanish for “the frog.”

Well, the other night, “El Sapo” floated to the bottom of the tank, lifeless.  We tried to revive him.  Susan tried to confront him.

She really did.

That’s right, our female frog sat beside her “once-living” friend and put her froggy arms around him.  It was surreal.  There’s a part of death where we experience the pain and emptiness of love that is lost.

Our kids grieved.  Allie, our 7-year-old, cried for what seemed like an eternity.

A few days later, we held a burial moment for “El Sapo” in the backyard.  It was our family’s way of saying goodbye and giving thanks for a good pet.  There’s a part of death where we need to be together, to acknowledge the realities, and to get some closure.

At some point, owning these frogs is a chance to teach skills for life, emotion, and grief to our kids in the context of faith, hope, and love.

So we buried our frog.

And in a few weeks, we’ll get another frog.  There’s a part of death where eventually, with the help of God and others, our wounded heart moves on and learns to open up and love all over again.

 
 

To Russia, with love!

15 Sep

My first real overseas trip was a short-term missions team to Russia and Ukraine.

Simply unforgettable, so why not blog about it?

Yeah, I know it was 19.5 years ago.  1992.  Right after the fall of Communism.  Russia was very open and interested in America’s culture and faith and resources.

So I joined a team at The Chapel called “Operation Doulos.”  We planned and prayed.  We learned some basic Russian.  I watched Rocky IV again.  LOL.  We did some basic training on serving and helping in cross-cultural settings.  We raised support for the costs of the trip.

For about 8 days or so, my friends and I were in Russia and Ukraine.

I’ll never forget our first day, passing out hundreds of Bibles in Red Square.  For a country that once (and sometimes still) opposed Christianity, it was crazy to see literally hundreds of people asking for Bibles or literature from America.

I’ll never forget our last day, saying emotional goodbyes to wonderful families and believers we met in Ukraine, who opened up their homes, churches, and lives to us in so many ways.

I’ll never forget Ginnadey Medvedev, the father in my host home, who was a retired communist soldier now serving as a full-time deacon at his church while running a small business.

I’ll never forget Tom and Marcia Bennardo, Tony and Dolores Kijanko, and Dave and Guida Sweitzer.  The amazing adult leaders who carried the burden of coaching, encouraging, and protecting us on that remarkable journey.

So here’s to Russia – a blast from the past when we didn’t have blogs or even the Internet.

And if you get the chance to travel to a faraway place as part of a team that wants to encourage others and make a difference somewhere else in the world, don’t you dare pass that up!