Friday, December 17, 2004

Ruth, Ramon, and other folks who are looking for help...

Today has been a living reminder to me that discipleship is about people - first and foremost - and only afterwards about schedules, sermons and paperwork. I started my day by visiting some elderly ladies at a nursing home. They were sitting in the lobby, as usual, watching the day unfold outside the large glass front of their world. When I arrived they were ready to talk, and we spent about 40 minutes talking about everything under the sun. I was particularly struck by "Miss Ruth" who is 91 years old and quite a pistol. She was fussing that "Arthur" was really giving her a hard time today. I laughed out loud when it occurred to me that "Arthur" was the pet name she gave to the crippling arthritis that she lives with daily. How I wished that I could wave my arms and make her arthritis disappear. By the time I left them, however, I understood that I gave "Miss Ruth" and the others something more important that relief from arthritis, I gave them time and concern. They reminded me to bring Dima to see them next week, and I promised I would. Now they are anticipating the time they will spend with us next week...

When I got to the office following that visit, I was hoping to "lock myself in" and get the demanding work done that is sitting on my desk. Just when I got settled in and ready to work, I was paged to the main office. There I met Ramon, who speaks little English, although he understands it pretty well. With a great deal of "Span-glish" he explained that his car was broken down and he needed help getting it fixed. I went out and looked around at the car, and after several minutes discovered the problem - a broken hose on the radiator system. So we went to a parts house and got some parts to fix the hose, and replace his thermostat. On the way back he explained to me that even though he does not know anyone in Panama City, he knew that he get the help he needed at the church. Even now he is in the parking lot finishing the work on his car (I helped for a while, but he soon realized that preachers are not much help past getting the necessary parts!), and I am so thankful that Ramon had enough good experience with God's people somewhere that he knew to come to us for help.

My work will get done, despite the interruptions, but it occurs to me that it is quite possibly the "interruptions" that were my real work today anyway. What do you think? Are you looking for God's interruptions in your life? That is the cutting edge of ministry in the name of Jesus!

In Over Your Head

I was reading a book this week called The Dream Giver by Bruce Wilkinson. As I was reading along I stumbled upon this wonderful story. Enjoy...

I was eating lunch with a friend who has a PhD in leadership development. I asked him, "Based on all your research and experience, what would you say is the most important secret to developing world-class leaders?"
He put down his fork. "Well, it's not a course, a lecture, or a book," he said. He picked up his fork and started eating again.
His answer intrigued me. I asked him to explain.
"The single best way to develop leaders," he said, "is to take people out of their safe environment and away from the people they know, and throw them into a new arena they know little about. Way over their head, preferably. In fact, the more demanding their challenges, the more pressure and risk they face, the more likely a dynamic leader will emerge."

This is exactly what Jesus did when he walked by people and said, "Come follow me!" Those who stayed never developed, those who followed almost always did. There is something about following Jesus that makes it impossible to stay where you are, doing what you are doing, and still manage to follow him to the point of him transforming your life into what he has planned for you. Think about that... then let go of the comfortable and jump in over your head!

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

An Interesting Quote

Yesterday I read this, and I thought you might appreciate it, too...

"There's plenty wrong with everybody's ecclesiastical tradition. But at least we all have the Bible and the apostolic witness, so there's plenty right about us. As far as I'm concerned, nobody has to "convert" from one ecclesiastical tradition to another. We don't have to "move on," we just have to listen... the gospel is always weird enough to break right through anything our particular traditions may have gotten wrong. The truth that makes us free is always ticking away like a time bomb in the basement of everybody's church. And that truth isn't a bunch of ideas. It's Jesus. Sooner or later, if we just sit still and listen, he will blow the lid off any prison we've built."
- Robert Farrar Capon

Pray that the time bomb goes off soon in all our divided Christian traditions... Jesus prayed, "I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." Maybe it's time to recognize the unity we already have in Jesus Christ and begin acting as a faithful witness in the world...

Friday, December 10, 2004

Left-Handed and Right-Handed Power

My associate, Adam, and I are working on a series of lessons on the Incarnation of Jesus for presentation to our church family. We were reading from Robert Farrar Capon's book on the parables of Jesus and found a great discussion concerning how God uses power. It struck us with such force that we decided to build an entire lesson around the concept.

Basically right-handed power is the use of sufficient force necessary to get the desired result. It is helpful in many situations in life, therefore everyone uses right-handed power. But right-handed power is particularly ineffective in one area - anytime you care more about the relationship than about specific results, right-handed power can be more harmful than helpful. That is the time you need to use left-handed power, which is the willingness to give others the freedom to get with your program - or not! This is the power which God most often uses, giving us freedom and asking us to make wise choices. But if we don't, he does not come down hard on us, but continues to give us freedom and space. Although Paul said, "the love of Christ compels us..." that compulsion is completly free.

Capon cites the idea of right-handed and left-handed power as an idea he gleaned from Martin Luther. I have not done the research to verify that, but I am thankful that Capon turned me on to this idea, for I need to remember how God uses his power in my life, and then I need to make sure that I am willing to use left-handed power in my relationships - even when it leads to the cross. That is the highest example of using left-handed power - and living to tell about it!

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Fitting into the Story

Sunday, November 7, I was worshipping with my church family in Gorlovka, Ukraine. It was the first time I had worshiped with them in over three months. What a joy it was to see everyone. My spirit soared to sing in Russian. Then in the middle of one of the songs I noticed a line I had not paid close attention to before. Loosely translated it said, "You died, and I resurrected!" Wow, what a powerful statement of the gospel.

When it was time to speak to the church I used that line as my jumping off point - then led a group discussion about what binds Christians together all over the world. It is not our doctrine, for we are hopelessly divided over many substantive issues that may never be settled. It is not our worship styles, for they seem to be moving us further apart rather than closer together. It is not our sense of mission, for we cannot seem to even come up with a coherent definition of our common mission. But there is something that binds all Christians together in all times and places. "What is it?" you might ask. It is simply this... We exist because Jesus rescued us. We live through Jesus' death.

Now our purpose is clear, we need to fit into the story of what God is doing in the world. Read the Scriptures - it is one long story of how God works in the world through his people. And although the canon of Scripture is closed, the work of God continues still. God's story continues and all who call themselves Christians must pay close attention to that story and their place in it. "You died, and I resurrected!" It is a great place to start fitting into the story of God. Go find other resurrected people and watch what they are doing. Go find people who don't know Jesus and show them the life Jesus has given you. Refuse to just sit in a church building going through rituals that have nothing to do with spiritual life or resurrection. If you are resurrected, then live!

Saturday, August 21, 2004

Lexi Payne with President George W. Bush in Panama City, Florida. Posted by Hello

Kenny and Lora Payne with Patricia Schubert Barnes Posted by Hello

Friday, August 13, 2004

I sat by a....

I live and work about half the year in Gorlovka, Ukraine. One of the groups I am part of is a group of elderly ladies (babushka's) who meet on Wednesday mornings for Bible study and fellowship. In late July we had a visiting babushka at our class, and she sat by me. About seven years ago she lived in my building, but then she was forced to move away, so she sold her apartment. Then in July she showed up again in our neighborhood. Turns out she had been in prison for seven years for killing a man who lived with her. She came back to her old home to visit some neighbors, and to clarify a story she heard. She had been told that there was now a church meeting in her old neighborhood, and that many of her old neighbors were part of it. After finding out that this was true, she asked about attending the babushka class. We told her she was welcome, of course.
Our lesson was "David and Goliath." I was a little nervous about teaching a story where God approved of one man killing another! But she did not dismiss her sin by claiming that she simply killed a giant in her way. She is attending class still because she told of coming to faith in Jesus Christ while she was in prison. She wanted to keep her faith growing by being part of a church family that would encourage her.
Would you have been nervous to sit by a murderer in a Bible class? Maybe that is a little too close for comfort. But if you think about it, some of your favorite Bible characters were murderers. Moses was. David, too. Most of the judges were, as well as a lot of the kings. Paul says, that the church in Corinth was full of people who were murderers - along with other sins. BUT they were changed, they were washed, they were made righteous through their faith in Jesus Christ.
Again, we do not get to choose the other disciples that Jesus calls. But we can celebrate for them and with them!

Calling Levi

When Jesus walked by Levi the tax collector and invited him to follow, what did the other disciples do? Can you see Peter turning up his nose and generating reasons why Jesus was wrong for inviting a tax collector to follow him? Can you imagine Andrew wondering if the people he introduced to Jesus are going to be angry with him now because Jesus reached out to someone who was outside their comfort zone? I think it was only because these guys were so new at walking with Jesus that they didn't have the courage or the ability to object to Jesus calling Levi.
I once worked for a church where the leaders told me that I was reaching the "wrong kind of kids." I was reaching out to any kids who would come to activities. They wanted me to reach out to kids from respectable families whose parents would attend church services with them. I can only imagine how these leaders would have reacted to Jesus calling Levi if they had been there.
One truth about following Jesus is that he calls all kinds of people, and those who are following do not get to choose who those people will be. This is either the worst imaginable news, or the greatest opportunity - it all depends on if you are thinking like Jesus or just thinking about yourself.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

We're Going Forward...

Jesus calls us to follow him. That is at once an exciting and an intimidating invitation. It is exciting because if we follow Jesus we know that we will be involved in life changing ministry, touching people with the love of God. It is intimidating because Jesus rarely stands still, usually just long enough to rest a little and recharge for the coming journey. While Jesus called those who were weary to come find rest in himself, he also strengthened them for the continuous journey that is Christian faith. Jesus is still working in the world, still moving around touching lives and healing souls. As disciples, we're going forward, step by step with Jesus! Are you following?