Nearly Shipwrecked! Thoughts for the New Year…

As the year wound down last week, I was talking with someone about the ministry and sufferings of the Apostle Paul. My Quiet Time Schedule for the year included the closing pages of Acts and the shipwreck off Malta. Our discussions reminded me of an experience I had on the North Sea while participating in a foreign studies program in Denmark.

Nearly Shipwrecked

As part of our orientation, our group of American students from all over the USA was taken to see the town of Helsingborg and Kronborg Castle (the setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet). Returning on the ferry to Denmark from Sweden, we were presented with a marvelous Smorgasbord, spread out on several tables that almost spread through width of the room. Unfortunately, our ferry hit extremely stormy seas. The boat was swaying in heavy waves. Scared students kept a grip on their plates or drinking glasses. Thankfully, the tables were anchored in place. Even the crew looked nervous. Finishing my meal quickly, I was going around from table to table meeting new students and getting to know others better, swaying bow-legged in that way that sailors use to keep from tipping over in similar circumstances. I had just gotten to one side of the room and knelt down to talk with one of my new classmates. From this perch, I was able to see the whole disaster…

Suddenly, the ship tipped nearly perpendicular and everything was swept off the tables and every chair was tipped throwing screaming passengers in heaps across the room. I was braced against a table that turned out to be on the high side of the tilt. Everything fell away from me and rolled to the other side of the room.

Immediately the storm stopped. The big wave that almost tipped us must have been driven by the squall line at the edge of the storm. I ended up being the only person who was not covered in one’s dinner or drenched from the beverages on each table. I proceeded then to go through the crowd, reassuring my fellow students that the storm had passed and we were OK. I helped people to their feet and got them away from the broken glass amid the slippery food debris.

Insights from the Storm

In this world, we are living in the storm. Sometimes the waves are calmer than other times. Sometimes we feel our whole world is lifted up and tipped sideways with everything crashing around us. Like my situation above, we need to kneel and grip firmly the only thing firmly anchored in this world: the Solid Rock, Jesus. If we do this, then we will be able to minister to those who, though survivors, are shaken by the storms. Know this, we truly have been anchored to Jesus beyond the storm: We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and steadfast. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus our forerunner has entered on our behalf. (Hebrews 6:19-20a) The chain of this anchor starts on our end and snakes out of time and our shaky circumstances into eternity and the throne room of heaven. That end is shackled to our Lord Jesus, secure and immovable.

I don’t know what 2017 holds for us. But I do know Who holds us. Our security is not meant to help us sleep at night (though it sure can!), but it is meant to give us a secure platform for caring for others — within our families and school and without. May you fulfill that mission with the Spirit’s ever present help!

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Something to Celebrate, Something to Mourn?

Last week was the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Some celebrate this and others gnash their teeth over this. My heart goes out to women who have been affected by choosing abortion. The effects of this choice last years, decades and even a lifetime. I know of a 77 y.o. woman who struggled with this on her deathbed. I also deeply grieve the 55 million children killed through this sin.

People justify this with terms like “reproductive health.” What deception! This is not about protecting reproductive health. All too often the woman’s ability to reproduce is severely damaged due to abortion. There is nothing healthy about this procedure.

Another justification is that a woman has a right to her own body. But medical science is clear — the unborn baby is not her body. It has separate DNA and often separate blood type, etc. This is a separate human being temporarily finding shelter and nutrition in the mother’s womb.

Presently, a mother’s womb is the most dangerous place for a baby. More babies are killed in the womb than in car accidents, home fires, accidental poisonings, shootings, etc. combined. The daily toll is like 150 Sandy Hook shootings — 3,000/day.

The term pro-choice bugs me as well. What about the choices of the unborn baby? Let’s call it what it is — pro-death, pro-baby killing, or pro-abortion at least. As far as the free choice of the mother — too many of these women are under extreme pressure if not faced with force and threats to abort their babies.

Satan, the deceiver, is a master at PR — putting the positive spin on sin. Let’s break free of this terminology that makes abominations seem reasonable or acceptable. Let’s awaken from this slumber that makes committing violence to the defenseless seem like a human right.

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To my conservative friends, brothers and sisters,

(I don’t want to engage in a debate, just offer some of my opinions for your consideration…)

There is no end of analysis that has been going on, so why do I feel compelled to add my voice to the fray? From various folks I have heard some pretty strong feelings of dismay, disgust, anger, and fear (just to name a few reactions) over the outcome of Tuesday’s election and some very hostile feelings toward those who voted to re-elect President Obama. Many of the reactions have been based on a presumption of why people voted for him and not Romney. Since I am very concerned for the spread of God’s Kingdom, our witness for Jesus Christ and the cause of Christ’s love in a sinful world, I wanted to speak to some of the issues people have shared with me.
Don’t presume that those who voted for Obama can all be lumped in one camp. The presumption of many is that our country has now shifted from a country of Makers to a country of Takers. While this probably sums up a good proportion of people who voted for the Democrat party, there are other reasons why good people ended up voting against the Republican candidate:
  • Fear regarding the economy and a desire to make sure that the safety net will continue to be there if they lose their present job.
  • Unwillingness to put a Mormon in the White House.
  • Naively, they perceived the slight improvement in job numbers as a possibility that the economy is indeed finally turning around. Therefore, they do not want to change parties and jeopardize this improvement.
  • They bought the lies about the Republican party policies being intended to benefit the rich and not the rest of the country. And the portrayal of the Democratic party as the one that has compassion on the poor.
  • They failed to understand the immorality of the redistribution of wealth — taking money from those who have worked hard all of their lives to get where they got to give it to people unwilling to work hard and take the same risks. We have totally lost an understanding of the Protestant Work Ethic and the creation of wealth through hard work and creativity.
  • Bought the propaganda that homosexuality is a civil rights issue: homosexuals are made that way and should not be discriminated against. Same sex marriage is only fair.
  • Ignorance — it is amazing how many people are clueless about such issues as Benghazi, Fast and Furious, the presidential misuse of executive orders to legalize things like the Dream Act by presidential fiat, etc. In this category would go the abject failure of the Press functioning as the Watchdog, regardless of who is president.
You add up a couple of percentage points here and there with these motives as their personal tipping point and add that to those who want the government to continue to grow and give to them, and you have a majority. I do not believe that a majority of the country are takers or moochers as some call them. Others, a significant amount in key states, voted to legalize their immorality in such areas as legalizing marijuana or legitimizing same-sex marriage. Those people could be expected to vote Democratic, since that party’s platform supports these issues.
In addition, 3 million fewer Republicans voted in this election than voted for McCain! If they had shown up and voted for Romney, he would have won the popular vote and maybe the Electoral College. Where were they and why did they not vote? I heard numerous callers call in to the talk shows and say that they refused to vote for Romney because they would no longer vote for a Moderate Republican no matter who the other candidate was. Doesn’t that raise your hackles?!

Finally, millions of American suffer from what I call the “teenage boy syndrome.” despite the evidence to the contrary, these people believe that nothing bad can happen to them no matter how risky their behavior is. Somehow debt will never have to be repaid, immorality will not have consequences, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will never go bankrupt, and someone will bail us out when things get really bad.
Many are dismayed because the outcome of this election will further increase the speed of our nation’s decline morally. I have some very important things for us to think about. (By the way, this has been a big concern of mine also, and I vote as I do in hopes that legal and governmental things might help keep our country on track.) Look around us, marriage has not been considered sacred by millions of heterosexuals, millions of evangelicals and born again Christians for a long, long time. The issue here is not laws, but the Lordship of Christ. This is true in the area of abortion, pot smoking, compassion for the poor, etc.
Our country’s moral future will depend, not on government, but on true deep revival. As each person comes to Christ for real, this person becomes a new creation and begins to live in submission to God’s will and good design. That’s what has happened to me and millions of others. I did not need an act of congress to change my behavior. I did not need a party platform to teach me to work hard instead of to party hearty. God’s Spirit convicted me and enabled me to become a different person.
Our hope for the future lies in God and in His church. A friend reminded me of Jeremiah’s words as he contemplated all the suffering he had experienced in his years of prophetic ministry up to and during the calamitous destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of most of the Jewish people to Babylon.  He said in Lamentations 3:21-26,

 

21 But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:
22  The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
His mercies never come to an end;
23  they are new every morning;
great is Your faithfulness.
24  “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in Him.”
25  The LORD is good to those who wait for Him,
to the soul who seeks Him.
26  It is good that one should wait quietly
for the salvation of the LORD.

I also benefited from this blog he sent me, thought I would not choose to use such strong language:

How I Absorbed Three Punches and Got Up Anyway

I hope some of the things I have shared are helpful. I learned long ago not to try to judge the motives of others. My own motives are so often mixed that I cannot pretend to judge those of others. Let us not assume we know the motives of the just over 50% who voted for Barak Obama. Let’s also not despair of hope. Our hope is in the Lord. As the blog above shares — hardship purifies the church and is often a catalyst for revival.

God’s best, Christopher

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We Hear What We Want to Hear — Clarify, Clarify, Clarify

I felt pretty foolish sitting in an elder meeting, dressed as a first century Roman Judge. I was in full stage make up, including shadowing and graying that made me look 30 years older than I was.

The debate swirled around me hot and heavy and I was being accused of deliberately circumventing the will of the church board in order to carry out my own agenda. For a youth pastor, that was about as bad a charge I might face short of moral failure. How did I get myself into this spot?

I thought back to the board meeting in question… We had a heated discussion there as well over fundraising in the church and selling tickets for the newly written Easter play. It was a different kind of play — a courtroom drama with comedy mixed in — not a cantata in any way shape or form. Our desire was to get an unconventional audience, hopefully with a healthy mix of skeptics.

I argued that unchurched people felt more comfortable buying a ticket to a play. It was what they were accustomed to doing. They were suspicious of anything that the church offered for free. This way they could come in, watch the play, and not be indebted to the church in any way. Besides, I said, it would be nice to cover some of our expenses.

That lit the fuse. Here we go fundraising for the church and youth ministry again. We did not want to be like some of the other churches in the community who always had their hand out to raise money for their ministries. Some even did Casino Nights! Is that where this was headed? We were not to be like them. Rather, we need to trust the Lord to meet our needs as He always had.

So we argued back and forth. Not the whole board mind you. Just two of us. Me versus another board member, who was a good friend as well. The others tried to interject and ask questions, trying to get to the heart of the issue. Finally, believing that he saw the heart of the issue, one brother offered a compromise. No funds would be raised to support the church, the youth group or any other aspect of our ministry. Rather, the attendees could gain admission by giving a donation to the local food pantry. Would that be acceptable?

The two of us agreed. That should work. People would not come in for nothing , wondering what the church was up to. And we were not failing to trust God by raising funds for the church.

But here I sat weeks later, dragged out of a dress rehearsal three days before opening night. Some thought the play should be cancelled and others felt that there had not been anything done wrong. What was the crux of this crisis? I had issued tickets to be sold, all proceeds received would be donated to the food pantry.

I thought the core issue was to whom the money would go. My opponent thought the core issue was that no tickets would be sold, but people would bring donations of canned goods and the like the night of the performance. We had walked out of the meeting with two entirely different pictures of what the board had approved and how their action would be implemented. Back and forth it went until one of the elders had the wisdom to ask — “What did the minutes actually say?”

The phone call was made to the board secretary and everyone waited breathlessly for the answer… When the minutes were read back to us over the speakerphone, it was clear that the final wording of the motion was open-ended and allowed each of us to walk away thinking that we had “gotten our way”, so to speak.

The elders thanked the secretary and then turned to us. They could see how we had gotten the impressions we had. It was clear that I was not thumbing my nose at the will of the board. And the production was cleared to go forward, apologies were made on all sides, and we prayed that God’s Spirit would work through the play.

What did I learn from that? It is not enough to think that one had won a point. Some may be tempted to hastily move on with the apparent win. But after the passage of a motion, always stop to clarify, “OK, so how will this be carried out?” or “Who is expected to take care of this now?” or “Let me be sure I got this right, does this mean that we can go forward with ____________?” If it’s still not clear to the group what was decided, then write it out and get confirmation for the course of action to be taken.

Otherwise, you will have ten people in attendance walking away with up to ten different ideas of what took place. And the damage to relationships and trust can be significant when someone is convinced you pulled a fast one. In ministry, this is damage that is not easily healed. It is better to lose the issue for now, than to be distrusted forever.

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CSI: Jerusalem — New Easter Play!

New Easter play highlights evidence for a literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. This play can be done with very modest sets and costumes. Only nine characters are need: 5 men and 4 women.

Synopsis: Two CSI techs are arguing over Christianity and its credibility. The skeptic is getting ready to leave for a party dressed in a Biblical costume, carrying her equipment bag. The Christian tech, working on some tests, argues that the resurrection is irrefutable evidence for Christianity. It is proof that Jesus is God and there is no other explanation for the empty tomb other than Jesus is God and He rose from the dead. The other tech shoots back that if there had been a proper CSI team on site, they would have been able to find a natural explanation for the disappearance of the body. This tech boasts that all you would have needed was one CSI and the problem would have been solved. Suddenly, an explosion or short circuit of some equipment they’re working on happens. When the smoke clears, the skeptic finds herself alone in a remote place. She has somehow been transported back in time to Easter morning. She gets her opportunity to physically examine the empty tomb and interview witnesses. What she learns does not confirm her different theories about natural explanations for the empty tomb. She is forced to acknowledge the resurrection as historical and scientific fact. Somehow her cell phone works and she is able to communicate with the Christian tech over the centuries and throughout the course of her investigation.

CSI Jerusalem Script

Though there is no charge to use these scripts, they are copyrighted material. I simply ask that you request permission:

  1. To use the drama in your location
  2. To make the copies needed for your cast only
  3. And that you acknowledge the source of the drama in your publicity and program material.
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Lessons from Esther: Becoming Somebody’s Hero

Mordecai sent this answer back to Queen Esther: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house that you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows but that you have come to a royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14 NIV)

Last week we looked at various pretty obvious heroes that inspire us—like Captain “Sully” Sullenberger, the US Airways pilot who successfully crash-landed his plane in the Hudson River or Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector to receive the US Medal of Honor for the risks he took as a young medic to save lives during the battle for Okinawa.

But the truth of the matter is that few of us have such huge opportunities to put our lives on the line in order to save others. How could the rest of us, solidly rooted in ordinary life, become a hero? How can we who seldom are faced with life and death situations rescue others?

In the above passage, Mordecai told his young cousin that she may have been put in her royal position “for such a time as this.” He challenged her to understand that she might have been divinely placed in the right place at the right time to rescue her people – the Jews.

Though we may not face life-threatening situations, we may also be placed in the right place at the right time. We may not be aware of it. The next conversation you have with someone might be a life changer without you realizing it. A friend of mine recently got a card from a young man named John. This card strongly thanked him for helping him keep his faith in God at a critical time when he was a high school student.

The friend who helped John had heard that the student was going through a crisis of faith. He offered to get together to listen to the student’s questions. After listening, he suggested a couple of books to read that dealt with these doubts head on. Two such books were The Case for Christ and The Case for Faith, both by Lee Strobel, a former atheist journalist.

My friend only met with this student perhaps three times at most. But he showed no shock at the student’s doubts. He didn’t attack John’s thinking as foolish or scold the student for not having faith. He affirmed God’s invitation, “Come now, let us reason together…” Isaiah 1:18. This gave the student a lot of room to explore these questions and find out that there were solid answer to help back up the Christian faith.

John’s thank you note was written on the back of a newsletter from his recent summer missionary trip. Not only did he keep his faith, but he was now in a position to share it with others. Who knows how many lives were touched by my friend’s willingness to step up “for such a time as this”?

Another woman friend I know had a similar note from a young woman who thanked her for convincing her not to abort her baby and told her about her beautiful seven-year-old boy and the joy he was in her life. The young woman had showed up on my friend’s doorstep one evening. It was clear that she was upset, so my friend invited her in for coffee and conversation.

The woman had just found out she was pregnant and didn’t know what to do. She had gotten pregnant on a one night stand and her date had offered her the money to abort the baby. Having been raised in a church, she just didn’t feel right about that but she felt trapped. She was a first-year teacher back in the day when single pregnant teachers were a scandal.

My friend didn’t know exactly what to say. She was pretty overwhelmed at the young woman’s dilemma. But she put her arm around this young woman and told her, “I believe that God will honor you if you protect life rather than kill it.”

They discussed what practical steps to take in the days ahead if the young lady chose life. And my friend provided her with support and encouragement as she went through this tough time in her life. Surprisingly (almost miraculously), the school board gave her a maternity leave and she continued teaching in that district as a single mom for many years.

Both of my friends were surprised to learn that they were viewed as life savers. Each had simply responded to the situation with a sympathetic ear, a kind word, advice from the Bible and the belief that God would help these young people if they turned to Him. By doing these simple things, they became heroes and helped change the direction of somebody else’s life.

Do you realize that you might be the hero that someone needs today? God may have you at a certain place or in a certain relationship “for such a time as this.” Your thoughtfulness toward others, your acceptance and grace can pave the way for someone to open up about his/her need. It is amazing how many people are at a crossroad in life, wondering which way to go. May I encourage you to step up in the situation and say these simple words, “You seem upset, is there any way I can be of help? Would you like to talk about it?”

This hardly seems heroic in the standard way we picture this word. But when you help someone follow God, these words can change the eternal destiny of a fellow human being who is well loved by God.

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Lessons from Esther: What Makes a Hero?

Mordecai sent this answer back to Queen Esther: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house that you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows but that you have come to a royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14 NIV)

Whom do you think of when you think of a hero? Recently many people will think of Captain “Sully” Sullenberger, the US Airways pilot who successfully crash-landed his plane in the Hudson River saving the lives of all 155 people aboard. Others think of the 9/11 First Responders who helped rescue hundreds of people by bravely rushing into the burning Twin Towers, many losing their lives when the buildings collapsed. The Coast Guard men and women who saved hundreds of lives in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina by snatching them off the roofs of houses come to the mind of others.

People often put Mordecai and Esther on a pedestal, even calling them heroes for saving the Jewish people. But what makes a hero? Heroes can fall into several categories. There’s the Accidental Hero: that person who happens to be in the right place at the right time and just acts reflexively, like a person who snatches a pedestrian back out of the path of a fast-moving vehicle.

Then you have your Reluctant Hero: that person who would prefer to keep a low profile and stay uninvolved but then steps up when no one else will act, like a person in a bank robbery/hostage situation who finally steps up and overpowers one of the hostage takers.

But the true heroes that we love to recognize are the Intentional Heroes: those people who plan to risk their lives every day, laying their lives on the line to save others. This would include the men and women of our police and fire departments, search and rescue teams, soldiers, etc.

One such hero was Desmond Doss, the first conscientious objector to receive the US Medal of Honor for the risks he took as a young medic to save lives during the battle for Okinawa. He was the company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet high. As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar and machinegun fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back. Pfc. Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying them one by one to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands.

Following this, Doss ignored heavy rifle and mortar fire to rescue men more than 200 yards in front of the American line. Two days later he treated four men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly defended cave, advancing through a shower of grenades to within 8 yards of enemy forces in a cave’s mouth, where he dressed his comrades’ wounds before making four separate trips under fire to evacuate them to safety. Later that day, when an American was severely wounded by fire from a cave, PFC. Doss crawled to him where he had fallen 25 feet from the enemy position, rendered aid, and carried him 100 yards to safety while continually exposed to enemy fire.

What drove Doss to risk his life in the face of death raining down all around him? He refused to kill, or carry a weapon into combat, because of his personal beliefs as a Seventh-day Adventist. Because of his faith in the Lord Jesus, he patterned his life after the teachings of his Savior who said, “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13 NIV) In signing up to be a non-combatant medic, Doss committed himself to place his life on the line regularly for the sake of his fellow soldiers.

In contrast, Mordecai and Esther are in a crisis due in part to Mordecai’s own actions. Due to his resentment toward Haman, a descendant of hated enemies of the Jews, Mordecai refused to bow down before Haman. Enraged, Haman decided to wipe out, not only Mordecai, but all of the Jewish people. He convinced King Xerxes to allow him to declare an edict authorizing genocide. This forced Mordecai to some desperate action to reverse this edict.

Mordecai mourned so loudly outside of the palace, that he attracted the attention of his young cousin, Queen Esther. When her appeals for him to stop the mourning failed, she finally learned of Haman’s dastardly plot. However, she claimed helplessness since she had not been in contact with her husband the king in over 30 days and any attempt to see him unsummoned could be punishable by death.

This prompted Mordecai’s response above. He pointed out that she might be in the right place at the right time to save her people. Finally, Esther bent to her older cousin’s repeated pleas. She became a Reluctant Hero. She agreed to risk her life for the sake of her people. In so doing, she becomes an Old Testament picture of what Jesus would do centuries later.

However, Jesus is clearly an Intentional Hero. He set aside His glory as God and deliberately humbled Himself to become human in order to be able to take God’s punishment upon Himself and set us free. Normally, the Intentional Hero is risking one’s life, that is, he/she takes a chance that puts one’s life in danger with the hopes that one’s efforts will not cost one’s life. Usually, reasonable risks are taken and it is the rare case that one dies in the process.

But Jesus knew that he was not risking his life, but giving His life. We learn in the Bible that, “This is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10 NIV) Giving His life was the plan from the beginning.

Often times someone is another person’s Personal Hero. In other words, one person risks one’s life to save one other person, like the case of the person who snatches another out of the path of a moving vehicle. In the case of Jesus, He is the Universal Hero. His action in laying His life down on the cross saves all who believe on Him. Thus He is the Savior of all humankind.

When Desmond Doss saved someone out of the line of fire, that soldier had to place himself into Doss’ care and trust him as he removed them to safety. In the same way, we are to place ourselves into the hands of Jesus and trust Him to carry us safely home. We need to rest in the arms of our Hero.

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