Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Forgetting God in Scripture

Search Amazon.com for forgotten god francis chan
Have you ever been upset about something but couldn't identify exactly why you were upset? What does it feel like when you finally realize why? For me, it means dealing with only one emotion instead of two. I can say that I have recently identified something that has bothered me for years.

While in college, I would run into people with various theological viewpoints. I can remember very brilliant men and women arguing about some important and not so important topics of faith. Some debates were heated, some were seasoned with respect. I would often observe or take part in debates, sometimes leaving at peace and other times leaving frustrated. Interestingly, it wasn't just the mood of the debates that left me unsettled. I could hear someone support a belief I had and still be unsettled. I could also hear someone disagree with me and of course be unsettled. I couldn't put my finger on what bothered me till now.

I have been listening to Forgotten God by Francis Chan. The book is about our neglect of the Holy Spirit. The book points out how the Holy Spirit came the empower us to spread the gospel. He is the source of power for the Great Commission. Shamefully, the contemporary Church has misrepresented Him and quenched him, often seeking to do ministry by our own strength.

In the book, Chan talks about how we read our own opinions into Scripture. He talks about how a face value reading of the New Testament would cause a new believer to expect much more from the Holy Spirit than we give Him credit for. An honest approach to the New Testament would leave us all depending more, hoping for more, seeing more. This includes Holy Spirit action in witnessing, worshiping, and even miraculous events (Does this make you nervous?).

I think Chan is right. In fact, I think the problem is cyclical. We have ignored the Holy Spirit's role in illuminating the Word of God to us as we read. The result is that we have downplayed His role in everything. We ignore him as we read about His work, and thus interpret the Word of God through our own lenses instead of His. This is tragic.

I would imagine that right now, everyone reading this is saying, "Yeah, Dan. Stick it to those [insert theological viewpoint of your choice here]." However, I think the problem finds its way into every position. The truth is, I have charismatic friends who ignore Scriptural teaching about order in worship services (1 Corinthians 14:26-40). I have even more non-charismatic friends who ignore teachings about the Holy Spirit's role in miraculous gifts (1 Corinthians 14:1-25).

Do you ever wonder how many things in Scripture we bend to fit our own interpretations? Can you really tell me that a face value reading of Scripture gives us the idea that the miraculous gifts have ceased when the New Testament is full of the miraculous action of God? Can you tell me that a face value reading of Scripture gives you the idea that God is not in control of the future (Open Theism) when He clearly gives and fulfills prophecy again and again? Can you really tell me that a face value reading of Scripture leaves everything to fate when God consistently hears and responds to the prayers of His people? Do you ever wonder if we try to hard to explain our own positions instead of just trusting the revelation of Scripture for what it is? I do.

I know now what always bothered me about those debates in college. It was the way someone could debate so well, the way some of us could argue a point using Scripture when we know the verses we were using really weren't saying what we were making them say. Shame on us for bending the Truth of God. I would like to see a revolution of honesty. I want to read Scripture and let it speak truth as the Holy Spirit illuminates. Imagine what the Holy Spirit could do if we just trusted the Word of God.

What about the Bible have we tried to re-interpret to fit our practices or our beliefs?
What are you going to do to change that?

I'm really asking. Give me your thoughts.

Friday, June 25, 2010


Today we visited some Mayan ruins and spent some time with our El Salvadorian hosts. It was a good day of reflections and "thank you." It has been a nice way to relax and praise God for the work he did this week. A lot of great things happened:

  • A house was built for a family.

  • The gospel was preached.

  • Friends were made with brothers and sisters in Christ.

  • A young man was able to recieve needed surgery.

  • Another boy was given much needed new crutches.

  • Scores of people were able to recieve medical assistance.

  • I miraculously avoided migraines, despite the heat.

  • Many grew in Christlikeness.

  • God was glorified.

We are getting ready for a party to celebrate the week with the people from Iglesia Gran Comision (the church). Right now, I´m just ready to get on the plane and fly back into the arms of my wife. Call me what you want, but I don´t do well away from my wife. This week, the hardest thing for me hasn´t been whether or not God would provide, but how I would make it without my wife and son. The truth is, it was very difficult for me. I missed my family all week. However, God sustained me in unique ways. My brothers and sisters in Christ lifted me up on more than one occasion, little notes my wife had left in my suitcase for me lifted my spirits. Even an old voice mail from Christy on my phone helped me feel close to her.

In this strange place, far from the person who makes me feel safe and at home I was forced to cling to my Savior. He reminded me that He is the one who sustains me, that He is the one who keeps me safe and at home, that He is God no matter where I am. Tomorrow I´m going home, and I can´t wait. However, I´m going home different. I´m going home more dependant on my King. I put myself in a position where I had to rely more deeply on the Spirit, and He came through. I can´t wait to see what He will do when I depend on Him more at home.

When was the last time you put yourself in a position where you couldn´t make it without the Holy Spirit?

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Like Bringing a Knife to a Gunfight

So, while we were unloading 100 lb. bags of concrete, two Jehovah´s Witnesses walked by us. They were white Americans with white shirts, black ties, dress pants, and name tags. Keep in mind, this is in one of the poorest neighborhoods around.

We were covered in mud, laboring alongside our El Salvadorian brothers in Christ as well as some pre-Christian El Salvadorians. For a moment, I became very angry with the Jehovah´s Witnesses. I was thinking, "You are showing up in a tie, telling the poorest people in the world that they need to do good works to know God. Are you kidding me?!"

What I wanted to do: Say, ¨"Jesus Christ is God and He came to this earth as a servant. What the heck are you doing?" (Since this is a Christian blog, I have edited out some of the words in my thoughts.)

What I did do: I didn´t know what to say, so we watched them walk by and heard them say "How´s it going?"

I was upset about the whole thing. I was so excited to be taking the gospel to another country. It upset me that someone else was there teaching a corrupted version. Later I asked out translator (Claudia) if they were effective. She said that the Jehovah´s Witnesses and Mormons target poverty-stricken areas, becasue the people are excited to see North Americans. They let them in quickly and then visit their churches to see if they are recieved with love. Claudia says, they visit all kinds of churches until they see the real love of Christ. She teared up a bit as she told us how this happens in their churches.

The Jehovah´s Witnesses have nothing on a God who steps down into our existence and humbles himself as a servant. I don´t think they get that. Maybe that´s why they were in ties and we wore work gloves. Its "like bringing a knife to a gun fight."

I think I like a Jesus who gets Hands dirty a lot better than one who shows up to a home-building in a tie. The love of Christ prevails!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Universal Language

The love of Christ is universally understood. Today we visited one of the neighborhoods near Church of the Great Commission. Being a group of gingos (americans) we turned a lot of heads. People were eager to hear anything we had to say, so we told thelm why we were there (the love of Christ) and intived them to a fiesta at the church. We were able to pray with a woman who´s family was shovelling silt out of her house. When we drove in last night, we were met with torrential rain. The homes near the church that had just been flooded earlier this year were flooded again. Love is translating very well here.

At the fiesta, I was able to hit a ballon around with a small child here. Balloons and gringos were everywhere. Apearantly, that´s all you need around here for a serious party. This place was rockin.

Today is my first Fathers Day, and I´m away from my son. I had a little bit of a hard time today, but was able to wake up to a card with my son´s voice recorded on it. On this Father´s Day away from my family, I am comforted by the fact that the people of El Salvador and I share the same heavenly Father. Language remains a barrier, but some things are understood very well. Praise God for greatness that goes beyond our human borders.

Pray for me. I´m giving my first sermon through a translator in about an hour and 45 minutes. I can´t tell jokes or talk fast becasue of the translation, which means all the things that if this sermon is going to be good, it will have to be totally becasue of the Holy Spirit. Pray He shows up as I preach about preparing for Him to show up in Acts 1.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Leavin' on a Jet Plane

It is 11:13pm, and I just finished packing for my first international mission trip. I am torn between two very distinct emotions. I am excited about this trip, the experiences I will have and the ministry I will get to be a part of. However, I hate being away from my family, not just dislike...hate. I miss my wife and son during regular work days. I can't imagine what it is going to be like when I am half a continent away. Right now, the missing my family emotion is stronger than my excitement about going.

Tomorrow, my wife will drop me off and I will get on a plane with a team of people from Open Door to fly to El Salvador. She doesn't know this, but I'm planning on hugging her and singing "Leavin' on a Jet Plane." The truth is we will probably both cry.

I know I'm only going to be gone for a week, and I'm not headed into persecution or any great danger. Leaving my family for a few days is, compared to the first century apostles, a small price to pay in order to help further the gospel. However, it still hurts. God is made strong in our weakness, and we depend on Him in our trials. I'm going to need Him this week.

By the way I appreciate your prayers in these areas:
  • Gospel preached, heard and lived.
  • Safety for the team and our families.
  • Dependence on God.
  • Details we don't even know about that He has under control.
  • Preaching--I'm giving my first international Sermon Sunday night.
Note: Pray wildly, expecting God to do more than we imagine.

What are you believing God to do while we are in El Salvador?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Work Glove Sermon

(Upper: This is a picture we took of one of the streets near us that has been washed out. Many of the streets have some degree of erosion. Lower:This is not a picture we took. We haven´t uploaded all the pictures yet. However, this looks a lot like the homes we are working near.)

So, the sermon Sunday night went well. There is something about speaking to a group of people through a translator that forces you to remove jokes and fancy words (they don´t translate). The only thing that is left to make something interesting in the sermon is the Holy Spirit. Praise God! He showed up Sunday night. I spoke from Acts 1 about the need for the Holy Spirit to empower us to fulfill the Great Commission. Our El Salvadorian brothers and sisters in Christ understoond well. My translator, Ricky became a fellow teacher, not just a translator. It was a great experience! God is advancing His Kingdom in El Salvador!

Continuing the theme of Holy Spirit ministry, we have been working very hard. We helped dig out a hillside for a house we are building. Many of the people here live in homes with dirt floors. We hope to provide a home for this family through some good old fashioned hard work. The work isn´t easy. We are in mud. It sticks to the shovels and makes for very hard work. I am experiencing the strenghtening of the Holy Spirit in new ways. The temeprature is hot, which usually causes me to have migraines. Not this week. I haven´t had any problems! In fact, we have all been feeling very well. God has His hands on us. Keep praying that he keeps protecting and using us!

I´m starting to think that the reason He brought me here was to show me that He is as faithful and powerful in El Salvador as He is in Elyria, OH. Praise God!

I have a few things for you to pray for.

  • Continued strengthening as we work and minister.

  • Continued sustenance of our families at home.

  • Protection and health

  • Continued advancement of the Gospel

  • God would be glorified as much as possible.

Thank you for your support! What questions do you have about El Salvador (can´t find question mark on this spanish computer).

Saturday, June 5, 2010

ABBA, Alice Cooper, and Authenticity

For a while, I've been thinking that there is something missing from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I hadn't been able to put my finger on it until recently. Every time I went I was dazzled by the artifacts in the museum: Neil Peart's drum kit, Alice Cooper's fake severed head, the statues from Pink Floyd's Division Bell Album, etc. I am reasonably certain that my own rock n roll ability raised significantly just by being in their presence.

But something (someone) is missing. It wasn't until recently that I had a closer look at the list of inductees and realized who isn't there. There is no Alice Cooper in the Hall, no Thin Lizzy, no Don MacLean, no Allman Brothers, the list goes on. Many of the greats are missing.

Guess who is there: ABBA. Let me say that again for my fellow rock and roll purists who's minds fundamentally cannot accept this cosmic foul. The Swedish pop vocal group (Not a band) ABBA is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Alice Cooper isn't! That's like inducting Robin into the Superhero Hall of Fame without ever inducting Superman. Seriously, this is a problem!
I feel so lied to, so betrayed. It was as if all the rock artifacts were just there to fool me. The Rock Hall became a bit like a Celine Dion fan wearing a Rolling Stones t-shirt he bought from Target. (The print on the T-shirt may seem rock n roll, but its just not the real thing.) The drum sets and guitars were only on display to trick me, to make me think I was in a Hall of Fame for rock and roll when I was really in the Popular Music Hall of Fame (not a bad place, just not what's on the sign).

Here's the thing. I actually like ABBA. Its not rock, but I can enjoy a little "Mama Mia" now and then. I wouldn't mind going to a hall of fame appropriate for groups like ABBA. I just don't want to go to a Hall of Fame for rock n roll only to find that's not what it really is.

On a recent episode of VH1 Classic's "That Metal Show," Alice Cooper made an appearance and addressed the Hall of Fame issue. Alice (or "Vince" as he is known off stage) showed up sans makeup. No snakes, no special effects, just regular Vince. The guy known for the character he portrays sat down just to hang out with a few fans. During the course of the show, the hosts shared their frustration with the Rock Hall that Alice had not been inducted. Given the opportunity to vent frustration, Alice graciously shared that it was up to the Rock Hall authorities and he was ok with their decision.

Many of you may not know that Alice Cooper is a faithful Christ-follower. It was interesting how simple and gentle he came across. He didn't get indignant, didn't curse. He didn't even speak ill. He just graciously deflected the comments, and tried to focus attention on other things.

His manner was so unassuming that the hosts of the show eventually started asking for advice from the seasoned rocker. Amazed that Cooper had stayed faithful to his wife for 30 years, the hosts asked for wisdom on marital faithfulness. Alice gave credit to his Christ-like upbringing and talked about the importance of taking his wife on dates. No rock and roll tricks, no gimmick, just a regular guy talking about life and how following Christ fits in. That's authenticity, and I've noticed that it always gets an ear.

I think we sometimes try to hard to get attention as Christians. We try to look or act a certain way. Then, when we get passed over or maligned, we cry "foul" and share our frustration with the direction of the culture. We have nearly made a science of getting media attention for what we are against.

I'll be honest. At times (especially in college) I've tried to be a rock star. I can remember dressing and acting differently than normal in order to seem important or artistic. In my mind, I thought that if I could seem like something larger than life, people would want to hear what I had to say about Christ. I think my intentions were good, but it all seems very foolish now.

Jesus never tried to be a rock star. There was nothing about His appearance that would have attracted people (Isaiah 53:1-3). He never argued about what he deserved. He spent most of His time ministering to average people with real problems and real pain. Jesus didn't have slick hair and shiny clothes or a publicist. He was a "regular guy"...and yet he was God.

Strange that even the people who have the ability to wow the crowds have the most impact with simplicity.

Do you think Jesus drew more followers with His miracles or with his love?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Old Soldiers

This is an old post from about 5 years ago when I was with Cleveland Youth for Christ. Some things here were of value, and I believe it is worth sharing again. Memorial Day is past, but some things are worth keeping in mind longer than one day.

Have you ever talked to an old soldier at the end of his life? My brother once interviewed our great Uncle Guy for an elementary school history paper. It's amazing the things that came out of his mouth. Uncle Guy served in Africa during the Second World War. His 82nd Airborne Company liberated a concentration camp there. He told the story as if it happened yesterday. He spoke of the struggle and the quiet pride that came with bringing freedom to the oppressed. He was a real hero.

Today was a rough day for me. We had some rough ministry issues to deal with at the office today. People are tired. We've all been in this fight too long with too little support. I keep seeing more people in need, more people causing need, more evil, and more oppression. Today I visited several Cleveland City Schools to get ready for an outreach project we will be doing there. As I exited one of the buildings, I watched a 5 year old child with hatred in his eyes try to start a fight with a preteen twice his size. All this kid new was anger. All he had to hold on to was pride. When I was five, I had no enemies. I thought fighting was something Chuck Norris and the A-Team did when evil ninjas were present. This kid should be watching cartoons and eating Jell-O, but instead, he's in a territorial fight for survival. My heart sank to my feet to see the desolation these kids live in.

It doesn't end there. I keep seeing the effects of sin ruin lives in my family, my friends, and my community. Days like this the fight just seems too great. Days like this I just want to hunker down and pray for God to just take us home. I feel like one of those soldiers who is just tired of fighting, but just can't see the end of the war coming any time soon.

I needed the advice of an old soldier. I needed a season veteran to remind me that this was all worth it, that the fight won't last forever, but that even if it did, it would still be worth it. Sometimes a war movie brings some encouragement in times like these. So, when I got home, I decided to put in Band of Brothers. No sooner has the opening credits passed when the phone rang. I picked it up to find my grandfather at the other end. I wish you knew my granddad. He's been ministering to people for the last 50 years, usually in volunteer and part-time positions. He's got true grit. Back in the 60s, he was standing up to church leaders who wouldn't allow African Americans to marry in the church. He used to do bus ministry, picking up kids from bad situations and taking them to church for help. A few years ago, one of the kids from his bus ministry testified at a dinner about how my granddad had radically influenced the direction of his life through that bus ministry. That kid is a respected pastor now. My grandfather has been a pastor, a mentor, a father, and a friend to countless people over the years. He has fought the good fight no matter what the cost, and sometimes the cost has been great. He has never been a rich man. He has sacrificed and humbled himself for the cause of God's Kingdom.

I didn't tell him about my day. I just listened. He wasn't on the phone to tell me stories. He just wanted to say "Hello" and remind me that he loves me and is proud me. His words were steady and slow. Seasoned wisdom is always better when it flows slow and smooth. Without knowing anything about my day or the battles I've been fighting, he tells me about how blessed he is, how happy he is to see his grandchildren (all of them) serving God in some way. Not many men can boast that at the end of their lives. He's reaping the harvest of his life now. He fought the good fight for decades. He stood when no one else would stand. He fought for the underdog even when it meant great personal loss. He obeyed God when it cost him money and friendships. He loved people. He's a real hero.

You would think that 50 years of service would be enough. Surely a man like this who has worked so hard would be justified in sitting at home and resting for the remainder of his days on this earth. Not this soldier. Just a few years ago, he started volunteering at a church reaching starving and neglected teens in rural West Virginia. I don't think he plans on ever really retiring. His plan is to fight to the end.He'll go out fighting. He's not looking for his rest in this life,because he's looking forward to a reward in the next. Twenty minutes on the phone with my grandpa is enough to keep me motivated for months. I don't care how tough my days get. I don't care how hard the fight is. I have a duty to give everything I have to the Kingdom of God. I want to be able to look back on my life and know that I did everything in my power to advance His Kingdom to the world. A great day of celebration is coming.

Here's my challenge for this week: go find a hero in the faith. Go talk to an old pastor or a church elder who has been serving God effectively for a very long time. Just spend some time with them. Don't ask for a bunch of stories and a motivational speech. Just talk with them and see where the conversation goes. Chances are, you'll leave inspired.
Who is one of your heroes of the faith and why?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Reprised by Joy

Recently I visited my family in my home town to find both it and them changed. The heroes of my life who held me up for so long are growing weak and breaking down. Grandpa (mom's dad) soldiers on though Parkinson's disease has all but immobilized him. He moves with a slow steady shuffle and struggles just to stand. Grandma (mom's mom) died several years ago. The things that he once looked forward to are now in his past. He looks now to the future of his grandchildren and great grandchildern rather than to his own. You can see it. He often looks at us with a knowing smile as if to say he's ready to go, glad to be leaving this place in good hands.

Memaw (Dad's mom) suffers from memory loss, and we all grieve as she loses the parts of herself that we still have, memories of her and her strength. It is strange to think now that in some ways we remember her better than she remembers herself. Perhaps that's how it is meant to be. I'm working harder to remember her now that she forgets.

Pepaw (Dad's dad) cares for her in a way we never would have seen had she never gotten sick. I wonder also if that's the way it was meant to be. The depth of his love for her would have remained unknown even to him without being tested. Now we all know. I'm glad for that.

As I see things change I have a strange grief. It is as if I can't bear the loss of how things once were. At the same time the thought of going back to that time would mean losing something now. I feel this strange ache in my chest for something I can't explain. It's like nostalgia but something different. I'm hungry for some shadow of the past cast by something great in the future...or perhaps outside time altogether. It is a hopeful hurt, a hunger that nothing in this world can fulfill.

C.S. Lewis calls this ache "joy". I think he is right to call it that. It is that momentary longing for something beyond this world, a longing that itself is greater than any other fulfillment in this world. According to Lewis, desire is evidence that the object of desire exists. In other words, if there is in me a longing for something that nothing in this world desires, then my heart must be longing for something outside of this world.

My heart comes back to this "Joy" again and again. It is the thing that makes this world seem like mere shadow, that makes the next one seem like the real thing. It often shows up in inexplicable heartaches that last for days. Though, at times I have felt it with great intensity, coming out of nowhere for a brief moment. I believe it is God working in my heart to make sure I love the next world more than I love this one. After all, that's my real home.

Maybe its the change in season, maybe its the nostalgic trip, maybe its the fact that I just buried one of my friends and heroes to day. This joy is calling me out of comfort, beckoning me to look more for the things of heaven than for the things of this earth. Its calling me to love God more, to love people more, to celebrate reconciliation and redemption.

Strange to think the things I want from this world aren't really of this world.

What are some things that make you long for heaven?