Monday, February 22, 2016

Lead or get out of the way

 ABSS 2016 pictures
This past week I was privileged once again to be able to attend the Advanced Bible Study Series (ABSS) in Gem√ľnden, Germany. This is a mid-week and weekend session of Bible studies with various teachers and leaders from around Europe and the world. It is not only a great time to ‘feast’ on good spiritual food (with some good challenges), but is also a wonderful time to see old friends and make new friends from around Europe.
The lessons this year seemed to be centered around leadership. How do we become leaders – which processes do we face along the way and how can we be aware of them? What is leadership exactly? What does it look like? How do we respond to modern idolatry, taking a stand and being an example? We listened to Craig Young, Patrick Boyns, Doyle Key and Jim McGuiggan.
One of the things that stuck with me was the idea that God is a giver. He so enjoys giving to all and especially to His children. And in His giving, He is wanting to save everyone – all the world. Of course we know this as Christians. But it is so good to be reminded again.
And He so wants to reach the world with His wonderful love and grace that if we do not - if we are standing in the way not allowing ourselves to be used – then we are blocking Him, keeping Him from doing that which He will do. And He will do it (bring His grace) even if we have to be moved out of the way so that He can reach others.
I do not want to be in the way – I want to be part of this wonderful, gracious, giving God’s plans to bless the world each and every day and into eternity. And He can use even me! And you. Join me in following Jesus as he brings grace to those around us.

Here are some pictures from the part of the week I was present (I went home on Friday, but some stayed through the weekend).

Monday, February 15, 2016

Come closer

Drawing from Kees de Kort
There is a children’s song about Zacheus – a very small man. He wanted to see Jesus, so he climbed in a tree. But Jesus wasn’t content with Zacheus just seeing him. Jesus stopped and invited himself to dinner with Zacheus – at Zacheus’ home. (You can find this wonderful story in Luke 19).
Another time (look at Luke 8), a sick woman hoped simply to touch the edge of Jesus garment. But Jesus was not content to leave it at that. He took the time to stop and let her know that she was healed of much more than just her bleeding.
This reminds me of what has been happening recently in our life. We have been meeting with a group of teens who are very interested in what the Bible has to say for their lives. They have been to camp and some youth weekends, but now we have been taking the time to meet Jesus in the gospels. We meet every other week, if that works out. Sometimes it is a month between studies. Their father is not a believer.
At the beginning of every study we spend time talking to one another about what is happening in our lives. We also spend a little time talking with the father, who then leaves while we read and discuss what we learn about Jesus.
One evening, he stayed a little longer, fixing something in the corner of the living room. Another time he came walking through several times during our conversations.
Recently, after we had had a longer break between studies because of all the holidays, we were just catching up with everyone and he stayed seated, taking part in the discussion. During the discussion about our lives, he brought up his own struggle with faith and we talked about why one would believe, what we can prove and why we would believe what we do. It was an enervating discussion.
The next time we got together to ‘meet Jesus’ the father, with a bit of a harrumph, decided that he might as well sit in (he played it off as if his wife ‘made’ him do it). As with all of our meetings around scripture, we were all able to discuss what we saw in the text, what we learn about Jesus and what that might mean for our lives. We leave the struggle up to each person individually. He took part with verve.

This father has slowly but surely come closer and closer to Jesus. That is simply what happens when Jesus is around. Jesus is not content to just have you watch from afar – he wants to get to know you as well. It is exciting to see what He can do with His word and as He is living in us. We continue to pray for this father – and the teens – that we will not only meet Jesus, but will also give our lives in following Him.

Monday, February 08, 2016

In the world, but not of the world

I have been reading through Revelation again recently. One of the people I have a regular talk with, an avowed atheist, wanted to look at it with me. But that is a different story. What struck me was the very applicability of the whole message to our world today.
It was years ago, when the church in Laos was being persecuted, that I first realized that the message in Revelation was indeed something for us today. In Western society persecution of Christians doesn’t really happen (making life slightly miserable does not count as persecution). But that doesn’t mean it is not happening.
And as I have been reading it struck me that Christianity is made to survive in all situations. Of course. It is God’s handiwork, so of course it will survive. But seriously, it can survive all situations. It may not be pleasant or easy or look nice, but God will be with His children at all times and in all places.
This means that the political system has much less influence than we sometimes think. Christianity was born under Roman occupation with Jewish persecution as an everyday reality. It spread throughout this Roman political system, but went on throughout history , through many different situations.
Where governments accept the truths of Christianity, the country or area is blessed (and this may be better for Christians in that country). But in every system there will be abuses, unrighteousness and evil. It is up to Christians to continue showing in life and language what is truly best – the goodness and grace of God in Jesus Christ.
When Jesus speaks to the seven churches, he emphasizes their need for faithfulness to Him, in all things and at all times, until the end. That is how we will influence this world for good! I pray that we (Christians everywhere) are asking ourselves if we are doing that – in whatever political system we find ourselves. Who is most important in your life? Will a political party bring what I really want? And if so... does my heart really belong to Him?

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5

Monday, February 01, 2016

To Be Holy – Doing good

It hasn’t really been that long that people can watch an uplifting video online. Now of course we not only can watch cats do all sorts of things, we are flooded with video’s that constantly warn in the title that we will need all the tissues in the world if we watch.
It’s interesting that people want to know that there is good – and they want to see it - even if they cannot settle on what ‘good’ is. Somehow we all understand that we should be ‘good’ people and we say things like, “He was a good man.” But why? Why should I be good? And what is ‘good’?
This is the very question that we should ask. If I can decide what ‘good’ is – and so may you – then ‘good’ will continue to change. It will never be the same for anyone. Even if we say that ‘society’ decides what ‘good’ is, we are basically saying that each person determines it – they just all get together about it for a little while.
But is that good? If it is, then why are people upset about what others did in the past? Why would we be upset about how people kept slaves or fought wars or conquered peoples? If those people at that time decided that these actions were ‘good’, and the idea of ‘good’ is determined by society at the time – then there’s no problem, right?
And yet we all seem to know that there IS a problem. This is because we feel that there is a standard of ‘good’. There are basic ideas which are ‘good’ and other ideas which are ‘bad’ (or evil). Of course it only bothers us when someone does something to me that I do not like.
But ‘good’ isn’t about me. That is the whole problem. I do good, because it is good – whether it is ‘good’ (beneficial) for me or not. In fact, good is more about the other than about me. It is centered in, focused on, built upon God. God says, “Be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15-16) When I want to know what is ‘good’, I look at Jesus’ example and teaching.
So, why worry about making sure that things are correct with my taxes, or worry about that small bit of cheating? Yes, of course I will never cheat on my wife when we get married, but if we know we are going to get married very soon, why would it be ‘not good’ (wrong) to give ourselves physically to one another now? Yes, I know that stealing is not ‘good’, but these little bits from my company – nobody will notice and it is not really stealing.
It’s not really lying. It’s not really being disobedient. It’s not really .... Holiness helps us to understand what ‘good’ is. God is holy. He is good (the very definition). I do good (or try) because He has re-made me, because I am being made holy. And the beautiful thing about this is – it really is possible!

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  Romans 12:2