Grace in a Head-butt

I come from the school of “gentle evangelism.” Don’t confront… at least too strongly. Listen and talk from a compassionate position. Always remember: the Holy Spirit is a gentleman, right? I wonder if you asked Paul this. Didn’t he get knocked off his feet? Or was it his horse… I forget.

When I shared the Good News with a room full of addicts and two nuns, I was gentle as was the rest of our team who were invited to have desert with them at their halfway house. When I visited a friend in the hospital because of knife wounds from a boyfriend, I was firm… You need Jesus as your Lord and Protector, and you need to distance yourself from your boyfriend!

Which brings up a question. What do we refuse to embrace in others? God embraces all we are in each of us. A pastor friend told me he loves us “warts and all.” Sometimes, I wish all he saw was a little wart. And sometimes, I wish all we had to embrace in others was a blemish or two.

Jude verse 23 says the Good News we share will at times be a “snatching from the fires of hell” itself. A “snatching” from imminent incineration, but gently… well, this seems a contradiction.

A friend of mine just returned to a life of drugs and left his wife and walked away from his church and walk as a disciple. How do I respond? Do I tell him that, like a “patio bug light,” he’s flying into the zap? Do I show grace in a “welcome home” or do I head-butt him?

I’m really leaning toward a head-butt.

As a gentleman
Rick

Advertisements

Not business, but personal

I’ve heard the “it’s full of contradictions” comment on occasion when dialoging about the Bible. Here’s one that turns up occasionally. Why do Matthew have two ladies at the tomb after the resurrection and John only has Mary Magdalene?

A couple of simple insights clear this one up. The Jewish culture called for two or more witnesses to validate a truth. Mary, Salome, and probably a few other women were there. OK, so the truth is validates (of course, they are women, so some of the most strict would discount the testimony anyway – it was Jesus, and Christianity that return the worth to women’s importance.)

And, for John, the story is about the personal touch. He writes as the “disciple whom Jesus loved.” Relationship is the thread of insight throughout his story from chapter one — remember that Jesus (the Word) was with God in the beginning (emphasis “with”) and came to earth to dwell among people (emphasis “among”) — to chapter 25 when Jesus recast the call to “follow” and do life with and in Him. Mary Magdalene, for John, got the nod in his account because Jesus had done so much in her life, to forgive and restore.

So, when we are about the business of sharing the Great News, it’s not business, it’s personal.

The Greatest Act of Worship

Have you even wondered how the beauty of goodness and the ugly of evil can exist in such close proximity? Just inside the entrance to the Sistine Chapel, covering the wall is Michaelangelo’s “Judgement Day” fresco. He depicts heaven, Jesus enthroned, worship and redemption graphically juxtaposed with hell’s fires, anguish, hopelessness and evil. The light of heaven is above; the darkness of hell is below. And pulling toward the dark those who long for good are the demons of hell. He had insight!

I see this juxtaposition of goodness and evil every day around me (and unfortunately, the battle of this inside me, too.) In Matthew 26 you can read about the greatest act of evil happening right alongside the greatest act of worship.

The Pharisees plot Jesus’ death. They do so in a politically correct way, of course, by trying to avoid Passover — a sort of Jesus-gate collusion.

While they look for a breakthrough to this “Nazarene problem, Jesus experiences the greatest act of worship possible. He is with his disciples dining at the house of a man he likely healed of leprosy, and “the woman” brings the alabaster jar in and breaks and pours out this expensive gift in adoration onto his feet.

The writer of this account uses two key “transition words” that indicate these two events were happening side-by-side – different locations, down the street from each other, but at the same time. How revealing!

When I break open and pour out what I am before the Lord, the fragrance is sweet – not because of the good I have done or am, but because of the good He has poured in. And when this happens, the aroma can overwhelm the place I’m in and draw others to the Source of this perfume. No matter the evil “down the street” or the pull the enemy has to tempt us toward the darkness, the fragrance of God’s grace and the goodness through a life poured out for Him is greater!

As you and I seek the Father, live by the Spirit, and pursue the Son’s command to follow Him and build disciples of all nations, keep pouring out the good He has poured into you.

Broken and splashed – Rick

Looking for God

It was 1986, and it was another Sunday morning. My role at the church I serve in San Antonio was as pastor of discipleship and evangelism. We had begun a Hispanic church on half of our campus, and had recently begun a small group program in homes around the neighborhoods. And God was showing up in the homes in refreshing ways. One of our “nights of worship” with all the small groups together lasted long into the evening (long, especially for Baptists on a Friday night.)

The Sunday morning in question had been a better-than-normal crowd. The message was good for the moment, but I can’t remember it. The worship was very normal (and very forgettable) for a Baptist church with a choir loft and organ. The invitation was short; the results escape me. What was memorable happened as I was gathering my Bible and notebook together at the end of the service. In fact, I will never forget the words nor the look on the faces of the young Latino couple who found me at the front of the church.

“I have heard we can find God here.” The couple looked really out-of-place among the stained glass and maple woodwork. And at the same time, they looked like perfect candidates for the altar we were standing beside. The sunlight magnified the dust particles in the hazy air of the empty sanctuary these two had invaded, with hopes of finding God.

I said, “Yes, I can help you find God right here.” We prayed.

Skip forward to tonight. My pastor at the Beach led a membership class tonight for about a dozen people. I was there because I help with small groups and disciple-making. He talked about values, the history of our church, and told stories of how God has been working and how He has led us to this point.

Then he shared what kind of church he envisions us becoming. The top of his list didn’t include large numbers, huge buildings, a publishing house or film department (that seems the rage lately.)

He looked out the front door to the streets, the beach, the road to the local schools, the bars, the strip clubs, restaurants, malls, and the hideouts for the street people who live here. “I want the people who don’t know God to know that, if they can just get to our church, if they can just get here, they will find people who will love them, and they’ll find the love of God.”

He was the prophet tonight. There are people who come looking for God. The word is out. Hope…help…healing… wholeness…the love of God is here. God wants the place where church meets to be a place that people who may not look like they belong in church can look for God. Like the latino couple, they can risk the question, “Can I find God here?”

“…so he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15:20)

The Creation Question

Last week, a guest speaker came to our little Fratelli church in Torre Pellice. He is from Torino and maintains a prison ministry. Following a time of genuinely intimate worship, Guido (not his real name) stood and moved the pulpit to the side of the projector screen. And for a solid hour and ten minutes, railed the church for leaving behind the seven-day creation as central to faith and salvation.

During this time, various groups, schools, nations, and individuals were implicated, each culpable for saying, writing, or doing something that somehow contradicted the belief in a God-created world. Europe,the U.S., universities, seminaries (including my alma mater, Southwestern Baptist Seminary), scientist (no surprises there he could find a “non-Creationist”), and even Obama (who I can’t remember ever weighing in on the subject.)

Remember that all this is in Italian, including the Powerpoint slides. And, like many Italian evangelical speakers, Guido spoke rapidly at first and improved his speed as the hour waned. Like most preachers, he brought a lot to the table to distribute.

All this sets up the fact that I have taken up the challenge to read cover-to-cover through the Bible again. I’ve done this before, but it’s been a while. And today starts with Genesis 1-2.

Though I can’t imagine “the searching world” giving much time over coffee discussing Obama’s opinion of creation, or whether or not a seven-day creation is a necessary “pre-faith” condition to salvation. I can imagine someone asking questions.

I can guess that, if the guy who works on my Plymouth diesel van stumbled into a discussion on Genesis 1-2, he might ask, “How can this be? How can I believe a story such as this in a day of science and reason?”

My honest comment is: “Wow, I certainly can relate to your dilemma and your questions!” (And maybe, “Did you check the hose for a leak on the other side, too?”)

There is really an incredible cache of information that just doesn’t get shared in those first two chapters. Admittedly, what gets shared raises a lot of questions

My honest answer: Is it harder to imagine God creating the world from nothing or nothing creating the world from nothing. I lean strongly in God’s direction.

And does the absence of details mean the rest is false, or that the perspective of the account is written for people of another generation, or that the order of creation (light and dark before sun and moon, man before woman, etc.) may not suit everyone’s preferences, cause a little consternation?

Well, yes it does… cause consternation, that is. But a relationship to God is much more solid a foundation for life, marriage, friendships, ethics, and faith… than a relationship with nothingness.

God says faith “knows” the universe was made by Him (it’s in the Bible.) It doesn’t require someone who seeks Him to have all the nuances of the Creation story figured out. It doesn’t insist that one trusts in what Christ accomplished for sin-payment by his passionate sacrifice at his execution plus the correct position on the seven-day creation — and then you will be saved.

Perhaps a part of faith is believing that God the Holy Spirit can use His Book and His guidance to bring seekers to Him, create a people of faith who love Christ Jesus supremely and serve and carry the burdens of one another unreservedly… and help each believer unravel the story of how we got here.

Please believe me when I say that the Creation account is supremely important to our faith and our understanding of a God who loves us. But for the guy who fixes my Plymouth diesel each month, the big topic is: How did God show this love for me, and how can he get in on it!

On the journey — Rick

Real Treasures

So we’re driving back from Dallas and another long Sunday in the Inner City (really, we capitalized these words, as in Inner City Baptist Church) and Erwin begins explaining a message he had been working on. Yes, we had been in ministry activity all day long — Erwin is a little intense when it comes to Scripture.

“We give God our worst,” was the core truth of the message.  Wait a minute — we strive for excellence, we give Him our best when we serve Him. We love Him with the best we have. At least, that seemed to be the message I had gotten in church, and now in seminary, all my life.

But the principle that we give God our worst stuck in my mind. I didn’t agree with it, and I still wrestle with it since God is worthy of our best.

My relationship with God is an exchange. He give me His treasure and I give Him mine. His treasure is an eternity in friendship with Him, a relationship through His Son Jesus.

But what have I treasured. Wrongs done to me. Sinful habits. Envious thoughts. Places my heart and mind have lingered around, and at times jumped into full-on.  My treasures are the worst part of me because they are worth more than the greatest treasure God has given. I have placed great value on the very things that deflate the value I place on God’s mercy and favor.

My treasures are tangible. I can see them, touch them, befriend them, and place high worth to them. But they are so temporary, and really gone within seconds of the value I had place on them. Nothing left but the bad memory, the hurt friendship, the guilt.

Hosea said of Israel, “They are mud-spattered from head to toe with the residue of sin.” One writer has said that God has given us access to all He has created. We have access to His gifts, to use for His glory and to enjoy. He created it, we benefit from it.

And we give Him back the one thing that is solely ours through our creative powers alone — our sin. Everything else we do, live for, create, give purpose to, is a gift from the Great Giver. Except the sin we created by our own purpose.

The Great News is, He invites us to exchange gifts. We give Him the sin we created; He gives us mercy, favor, relationship, unfailing love. He gives us His best.

We give Him our worst.

Exchange gifts with the Great Giver when you pray today.

It’s the season!

Rick

Street-level Missions

What’s the best thing for short-term missions leaders to do after four days of training, planning, and meetings?

Go on a mission trip, of course!

Twenty-five Global Challenge leaders from Europe and the Mediterranean region plunged into the middle of what has been called the largest daily open-air market in Europe to share Christ with Italians, and immigrants from the Balkans, North Africa, and the Middle East.

Porta Palazzo’s market fills nearly a square kilometer of piazzas and side streets with furniture, clothes, fish, vegetables, flowers, home appliances, shoes, cheese, jewelry, pirated movies… and most importantly, thousands of immigrants.

The team set up a market tent each day with several tables filled with Bibles, booklets, DVDs addressing faith in Christ, as well as boxes of winter clothes. Hundreds of internationals and Italians received Bibles and a chance to hear about the Good News of Christ personally from a team member.

Jill McAfee, a worship leader from the USA described, “Some people from our team would stay at the tent and talk to people who came by.  Others went out to talk to people.  One group came with me to different locations where we just sang and worshipped.  It was very cool.”

“I enjoyed watching people on our team, who normally wouldn’t be able to share freely, having the chance to share openly about Jesus.  It was beautiful. The atmosphere was different…freer even.” McAfee explained.

The outreaches were organized by OM-Italy and local churches and the team was joined by META (an Italian evangelism organization) and members from several evangelical churches in Turin.

Language barriers can be a problem at times on short-term trips, but this team came prepared with skills in French, Arabic, Italian and several other languages.

Tim Barlett, a Global Challenge leader in the Balkans, said, “One of the greatest thing was to have so many varieties of languages ready and available to talk with the people who visited the booth.”

For six days, the market is set up for normal trade and it closes down Sunday. However, the sidewalk fills with a different kind of market for Sunday as Arabic music fills the air and various items are displayed on sheets of cloth or cardboard.

The Sunday vendors, mostly men, visited the outreach tent and openly discussed the claims of Christ with the team members.

One employee from a Turin museum argued by declaring aloud to the team, “Convince me! Convince me!” Team member and Italian Field Leader Eliseo Guadagno recalls “I just kept coming back to the Cross and to his personal need for forgiveness in Christ.”

Not long after this discussion, one Italian man asked Guadagno, “Who won?” Short-term missions leaders would say that, after the tent was packed and the few Bibles and booklets remaining were boxed and loaded into the van: “Christ, and His Kingdom won.”

One Person’s Perspective on the Outreach to Porta Palazzo

Below is a report from someone who is serving in the Middle East living the Christian life among friends and serving the culture in Arabic. To hear her tell the story in person was moving!

AM I IN ITALY OR NORTH AFRICA? – Italy
One OMer recalls her experience reaching out to people in a crowded Italian market:

“We were dropped off at the market place, and I stood in amazement at the great number of North Africans there. We were still busy unpacking the books when one Gospel of Luke was already picked up! I smiled and greeted people in Arabic. They would stop and turn back, surprised, and then would take almost anything I offered them. We had good talks with some people; others just wanted the books and DVD’s. Others were not interested at all. It was an emotional time because people were so open to hear and know more. Many walked away with a Gospel of Luke!

“Torino is truly a mixture of immigrants. At times I was sad to see how desperate people were for drugs, and yet we were right there so eager to offer them eternal hope. Later, we walked around in groups to intercede for these people in the biggest market in Europe.”

Please pray that OM Italy is able to reach Italians and immigrants with God’s love. Pray that those who received the literature would read it and desire to learn more about Jesus.

Praying for the City

Who wouldn’t agree that we need to pray… a lot… when we are faced with the insurmountable. But, “we need to pray” can become a phrase we say to segue to “the real work” of evangelism, servant-hood, social help, etc. Or it can at time sound tired, and almost empty, as if it’s the best we can do since the situation is, after all, insurmountable!

OM-Italy is convinced that the real work of ministry alongside churches, of servant-hood, of redemptive social help, and especially of declaring the Great News about Jesus, begins and ends with prayer.

“Our goal is to pray in preparation for ministry and outreach, pray throughout the campaign, and pray for the results after we pack up the tent, fold up the boxes, or put away the face-paint. We want to surround the ministry of the Gospel with prayer,” said Rick Harrell, discipleship leader for OM-Italy.

A recent cool Monday night, Rick and members of the OM-Italy team drove into the center of Turin to the Piazza della Repubblica to pray. In two weeks a team from all over Europe will join a dozen evangelical churches in an outreach campaign in the center of this busy piazza.

The area, locally called Porta Palazzo, is filled with high rise buildings of flats that surround the piazza and line nearby streets and alleys. The dense population is split among Chinese Buddhists, Moslem’s from various countries of Northern Africa, and a modest mix of various other nationalities, including Italians. Christ’s name is heard infrequently on the streets of Porta Palazzo.

Market day, everyday in Porta Palazzo, Turin, Italy

This night, however, the name of Jesus was heard, praised, and lifted up as the team moved from one corner to the next worshiping and interceding for the city, the churches, and the outreach campaign.

The format was simple with just a few words, or tags, to guide the prayer time.

Praise, to remember that God is Lord of this City. He is worthy of worship even in places other gods are honored. He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and highest praise is due Him.

People, to remember that there are people groups, or “ethnos” clusters, that live here and need Christ. And more specifically, there are families, students, marriages, seniors, children, singles, widows, businessmen and women, all on the edge of eternity – and Christ left heaven to rescue them.

Pictures, to remember that God speaks to us and reminds us visually of what He has done, how He works, and what He delights in and longs for in this city. An image or metaphor brought to mind can be a catalyst for faith and prayer when we intercede (the Bible is full of these pictures, by the way.)

Promises, to recall that He has assured us that He will move on behalf of His children, and that He is active working in hearts and lives, even in the inner city of Torino.

Powers and principalities, to remind us that the enemy has designs and influential activity in the center city, that we need God’s Spiritual Armor to advance His kingdom, and that we can take the city for Christ.

The Italian word, inondazione, describes the growing prayer strategy of OM-Italy. “We want to flood the city with prayer before, during, and after the outreaches. Already, we see a coalition of churches who are reaching into Porta Palazzo multiple times this year. We want to see the churches and pastors join us in the streets and piazzas as we all intercede for the city”

OM-Italy invites you to join them in praying for Italy, for Turin, for Porta Palazzo, and for the outreaches planned on November 11 through 13.

Fire Proof Day Seven – Show & Tell

Day Seven – Show & Tell


Meanwhile keep the fire on the Altar burning; it must not go out. Replenish the wood for the fire every morning, arrange the Whole-Burnt-Offering on it, and burn the fat of the Peace-Offering on top of it all. Keep the fire burning on the Altar continuously. It must not go out. Leviticus 6:12-13

Fire was an ever-present part of the life of the people of God. The temple fire especially was important, as sacrifices of various kinds were burned at the altars. Also, when a battle was won, the gold and silver from the plunder had to pass through these fires to be shown acceptable and clean. Remember that a community’s fire during these days also held a central place that the people rallied around and depended on.

Twice in these verses, God tells His people to never let the fire go out. The temple fire was always to be tended and cleaned, refueled by the different priests, and stoked to full flame each day.
For us today, the fires of sacrifice have already been satisfied. We don’t have to burn “whole-burnt-offerings” or “peace offerings” over and over day after day – Jesus gave Himself completely to save us completely and He has made peace between us and the Father in heaven. There is another fire that we need to maintain and fan to full flame and never allow to go out. It is the fire of disciple- making, and each day we are responsible for passing along the flame of God’s Good News to the next generation of Jesus followers.
Can you see how important your life is in passing along this flame? You and I may keep busy in the work of ministry but, if we don’t pour our lives into others we will not accomplish His most important command – make disciples of all nations.
What was Paul’s practical response (read Philippians 4:9)? Who is the young man or woman you meet with to show and tell him or her how to walk with Jesus?

All For Him – Rick

« Older entries Newer entries »