Mission Trip

Our group just returned from our mission trip to New York City. The trip was both challenging and overwhelming. It also afforded the opportunity to relationally and conversationally share the love and grace of Christ. There was a fairly heavy weight that hung over the trip, considering we were in New York over the weekend of 9/11, and it certainly did not help that a now infamous pastor from Florida was acting very foolishly and irresponsibly in regards to cultural relations. However, we never once felt threatened or alarmed, and thankfully did not hear of any security threats.

Our goal for the trip was to build and further relationships within a community of West African people, many of whom are Muslim. The trip was organized around the goal of introducing people to the hope and grace we find in Christ, while authentically and genuinely investing in their lives and respecting and learning about their culture. We also had the opportunity to meet, pray with, and encourage several Christ followers from Ghana. Through the myriad of conversations and encounters, I learned probably more than I can share but a few things in particular stand out.

The first is in regards to humility. On the trip, one major element is showing respect to the culture we visit with. This can be accomplished in many ways, and one of these ways is to wear an article of African style clothing. African clothing is beautiful and also very comfortable, but I’ve never worn clothing similar, and it is a tad out of my usual style. I felt a bit awkward in it, and I probably stood out a bit. Let’s be honest, it’s not every day you see an Irish looking dude in traditional African garb. I could only wish I looked as regal and elegant as the West Africans do. But the point is not to be comfortable. The point is to show a willingness to embrace something different than your normal habits, to show that the Gospel is not defined by Western or American culture, but it is for all people all over the world. Stepping into that humility reminds one that the point of sharing Christ is not fitting people into your system and norms, but it is respecting the diversity of God’s creativity and expressing a humility stemming from the fact that you are as dependent upon God’s love as anyone else in the world. Also, it was only right to be humble, as the vast majority of people we met would outdo us in hospitality any day of the week.

The second major thing impressed upon me was the power of the Gospel. People need to hear about hope. People need to hear about God’s creative power, and His willingness to personally invest in the redemption of the people who broke and break His creative desire. The truth of the matter is that most people, regardless of where they are from or what system of faith they live within, recognize that the world is not as it should be, and even they themselves fall short of the ideal that a perfect God would hold for His people. So, the idea that God initiates grace, and then the change of heart happens is a relieving idea, especially to a person who feels burdened to prove to God that they are worthy of Him and good enough to pass judgment. Actually, many people within the Christian church feel the weight of this pressure, and it is reflected in a pitiful self-righteousness that reflects a judgmental “your problems are worse than mine” attitude. This kind of mindset lends itself to exclusivity and shallow theological thinking. The good news of the Gospel is that God initiates the freedom of grace, and a life of righteousness is a life of thankfulness and reflection of what God has already done. It’s not a pressurized point system. This is good news to most, because you and I and anyone else couldn’t possibly be good enough to measure up to the glory of God. This goes along with the humility section above.

Thirdly, the importance of follow up and building authentic relationships was evident. It takes a certain amount of arrogance to think one can swing through a different culture, convert a bunch of people, and then jet off never to return and feeling like the job is done. The scripture from 2 Corinthians 2.17 bounced around in my brain over the course of the trip:

For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the
sight of God we speak in Christ.

To authentically share the love of Christ and not be a peddler means an effort to truly know people and their backgrounds and burdens. A person peddling something uses the same technique with the same lines and kitschy catch phrases with no regard to the uniqueness of who passes by. They want the conversation to be short, shallow, and sanitized, and once the sell has been pitched, there is no need for further relationship or investment. Obviously, not all conversations lead to long relationships, but in representing Christ Jesus, one needs to be always open to that possibly and hopeful for a chance to live along side of people.

Humanism is a term often rejected by Christ followers. It’s seen as something synonymous with secularism and absolute relativism. But really, separated from the baggage of other philosophies, humanism merely refers to an outlook desiring to support the well being and advances of the human
population. God is the ultimate practitioner of humanism. God revealed Himself in Christ, who took on life as a person and showed God’s glory to us. He did this for the benefit and redemption of the world which struggles and suffers in brokenness and death. To truly share this God is to truly share the Gospel with the actual person in mind. To truly share the Gospel is to have care and concern for people, which is different from peddling.

Thank you for your prayers in regards to our trip. It was a blessing to spend a few days sharing life with the wonderful people in New York from Senegal, Ivory Coast, Togo, Ghana, Guinea, and many other places. We hope to return.

Simon Peter

Yesterday I listened to a devotion about the Apostle Peter. It drew my thoughts toward the drastic change in Peter’s life as told through Scripture. If one reads Luke and Acts together (as they were
both written by Luke and best read together), it is clear that Peter makes a gigantic character change between Luke 22.54-62 and Acts 2. In the Luke section, Peter cowardly denies knowing Jesus at all.
A servant girl recognizes Peter as one of Jesus’ followers and calls him out as he sits amongst a group of people in a courtyard after Jesus’ arrest. Peter says to her, “Woman, I do not know him.” Jesus
had predicted Peter’s denial, but Peter said it would never be, and it turns out that Peter utterly and completely fails to come through. He surely had a “can’t even look in the mirror” moment. The scene ends with Peter running out to weep bitterly over his failure.

The Peter we encounter in Acts 2 is a different man, however. This Peter tells it like it is. He is bold, courageous, fearless, outspoken, and driven, all in regards to his faith that Jesus is Lord. He comes across as literally unstoppable. In fact, Luke tells us in the early part of Acts, that people recognize God’s work through Peter to the point where they are just trying to get his shadow to fall on them when he walks by. Peter goes from weeping bitterly after denying his Lord to casting a holy and powerful shadow. Not only this, in terms of courage, he preaches publicly about Jesus even in the face of strict religious and political opposition, and this opposition had the power to imprison him, beat him, and even put him to death.

At some level, we all experience changes in our lives. For instance, I started jogging recently and it’s given me some extra energy. I’ve been drinking slightly less coffee, and I’ve felt less anxious. Some
changes are brought about by embarrassing errors. We can probably all relate to making a mistake either at work or interpersonally and vowing to think more before we talk, be kinder, more thorough,
etc. That reflects a change. Maybe a change comes from a random inspiration and resolution. Your life may become slightly more effective and intriguing by vowing to travel more, read more, or begin a new
hobby.

But I was reflecting on Peter and his change, and it goes well beyond a slight personal awakening. His shift is more than an “increase your effectiveness plan.” He didn’t get boldness of leadership, courage
of faith, and undying conviction just from hitting the treadmill or having his sleep apnea treated. His change is bigger than that. The cause of Peter’s magnificent change is his encounter with the risen Lord.

In the story of Acts, we see Peter as the Apostle Peter. In the early church, one of the qualifications for being an apostle was an experience and actual encounter with Jesus after his resurrection. Peter certainly had lived such experiences. My guess would be that after talking, listening, and eating with the resurrected Jesus, Peter surely gained a new perspective on death. Peter had tangibly seen that God could and would conquer the most frightening and disconcerting thing we know. So Peter before Jesus’ resurrection was gripped and bound by fear, specifically the fear of death and things that lead to death. After he experiences the resurrected Jesus, he is fearless in the full confidence of God’s sovereignty and power.

Most all of us are fearful of death and things that direct our thoughts towards death. We fear death with good reason. It is unknown territory and causes us grief and much sadness. Death brings with it loss and separation. And the fear of death also keeps us from being haphazard with the gift of life. But it also can subconsciously hold us back from being courageous, bold, and adventurous. In many ways, I envy Peter and the apostles. Peter has the advantage of actually seeing the power of the resurrection with his own eyes. Honestly, that would make boldness a bit easier. But Peter truly matches his experience in Christ with sincere life change and fully confident faith. And we are blessed to have the testimony of the eyewitness and the early church. We have the experience of the comfort of the Holy Spirit, and we have the guidance and strengthening of prayer. So, if you claim that the faith is true, it is your challenge to live increasingly confident in God’s total and ultimate victory. This does not come easy, and we are all probably in different places on the fearlessness scale; however, growing in the Spirit means trusting more and more in God and growing more and more in the courage of faith. I love the story of Peter. It reminds us that courage and strength is best found in the grace of God.

In a Hurry

I don’t know when I started going everywhere in a hurry, but hurrying had recently become my
mode of operations. It’s possible that it began from a daily battle with traffic. Traffic just totally
freaks me out. For some reason if I’m riding shotgun, traffic doesn’t get to me, but if I’m behind
the wheel, I feel this pressure like there’s something I can do about it: I should have chosen
a different route. Would it be too ridiculous to hop up on the shoulder and take the next exit?
How come the lane I’m in is always the slowest? Those are just a few of the examples of how
my brain works in traffic. So, somehow this had crept into my everyday life. On a peaceful
Saturday morning, driving to Starbucks, I find myself going all ‘Jeff Gordon’ down Cooper Street.
When I have an errand to run, it can’t just be a nice, easy drive there; I feel like I’m on the clock.
There’s a gas station that I stop at in a highly trafficked area. I get all anxious and impatient
trying to get back out on the road after pumping gas, and just to keep from having to wait, I’ll fly
out of there like “a bat out of Shell.” Get it? Sorry.

So, this random, constant pressure was starting to get to me, and I finally had an epiphany. It’s
time to take it easy. It’s time to start cruising. All the anxiety was not good for my health or my
personality. Thus, I’ve adopted a new and mellow driving attitude. It involves not looking at
the clock as much. It involves no tailgating, no yellow lights, and no speeding (ok, moderate
speeding still happens occasionally- let’s not be ridiculous).

It seems like this is a metaphor for the way life can weigh in on you. The weight of mortality
and the fragileness of life makes you feel like you are racing the clock. It may be subconscious,
but you feel the need to get as much in as you can in the time you’ve been allotted. So, you’re
always pushing, rarely focusing, always thinking ahead. In my old driving state of mind, I could
have driven past the funniest billboard or the nicest building and wouldn’t have noticed. In life,
when you live it like an anxious driver, it is inevitable that many of the joys and mysteries are
going to be missed. And a simple, small attitude adjustment actually makes a huge difference.

Psalm 102 is a brilliant expression of this anxiety(1).  The psalmist is pouring out his heart, railing
against life’s fleeting nature. He is expressing his angst over the mortality he cannot reverse.

“For my days pass away like smoke, and my bones burn like a furnace.”
“My days are like an evening shadow; I wither away like grass.”

But in the midst of his ranting, he is reminded that God, at times, moves slow. He is reminded
that God’s timing is very different from ours because God’s perspective is very different from
ours. He bluntly remembers that God is eternal and does not answer to the limits of the clock.

“But you, O Lord, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generations.”

“Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands.”

“They will perish, but you will remain.”

The psalmist crashes head-on into a realization of God’s glory and power. And while the
Psalmist knows his days are limited, he takes comfort not in his own wisdom, his own speed, his
own strength; He takes comfort in this God who is forever. A God who responds in his own time
but still intimately cares.

“That he looked down from his holy height; from heaven the Lord looked at the earth, to set free
those who were doomed to die, that they may declare in Zion the name of the Lord…”

So there is little you can do about the unwinding hands of the clock. The tendency is to rail
against it, living life in a stressful hurry: Cutting people off, mowing them down, hovering too
close. But our strength and security is in God, and our comfort is in his eternal glory (2).

“But you are the same, and your years have no end. The children of our servants shall dwell
secure.”

1 all verses are quoted from Psalm 102, English Standard Version

2Jesus teaches this perspective in his words on anxiety, Matthew 6.25-34

Car Radio

I fully acknowledge that I write and talk a lot about music. Music is vital to me. Since I was
a kid, I’ve been really passionate about it, and I listen as much as possible. In the car, at the
house, and in the office I often have music playing. So, it would then follow that much of my
writing centers on aspects of music. But I promise the next blog will have nothing to do with
music. Chances are it will be about food- one of my other passions.

But I digress. In the car this morning, I was flipping around on the radio. On my car radio’s
face, I have six pre-programmable options. I’ll cycle through them and get really frustrated
because it seems like when one station is on commercial, they all are. There’s nothing worse
than radio commercials, and I’m so used to DVR television, I feel like I should be able to fast
forward through the ads. But I can’t and so I work the pre-program buttons like a 1950’s
switchboard operator until I catch a decent song.

Even in that frustration though, here’s the thing that makes the radio great: I happened to hit
the #1 station button just as one of my favorite songs that I hadn’t heard or thought about in a
long time came on. It was a total surprise and kind of made my morning better. Now, I know
that in ten years, we’ll probably have microchips in our heads that play any song into our brain
immediately after we think it. Hypothetically, if you’re a Hanson fan, as most of you probably
are- then you could hear “Mmm-bop” anytime you wanted. But the radio is great because it
catches you off guard. I’m not in total control of the radio, and in some ways I’m at the mercy of
the DJ. And that’s why it’s exciting to hear a song on the radio that you love, even if you own it
on mp3 or CD. And every now and then, you get completely caught off guard in a very pleasant
way. In some ways, there’s spontaneity with the radio, and spontaneity can sometimes be hard
to find these days.

Lately, I’ve been rooting down in the first part of the books of Acts. One of the more attention
grabbing accounts is when the Holy Spirit moves amongst the Apostles.

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a might rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. (Acts 2.1-2, ESV)

The apostles were together, and suddenly and spontaneously, the Holy Spirit moved and
worked and empowered them. One of the main the ideas here is that the promise Jesus has
made in regards to the work of the Spirit, recorded in Acts 1.8 and also recorded by John in his
gospel (chapters 14 and 16) is fulfilled for the earliest believers forming the early church. This
is not the first time the Scriptures record the work of the Spirit, of course. For instance, when
Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist the Spirit is very present. Also, immediately after that, it is
the Spirit that leads Jesus into the wilderness. And here, in Acts 2, the Spirit is working again.
True Christian faith teaches that the Holy Spirit exists as a ‘person’ of the eternal Godhead
(‘person’ is used as an expression of distinct personality or presence). Christ followers are
monotheistic, affirming one God, but God is also three distinct ‘persons’ in that oneness- Father,
Son, and Holy Spirit. So, God has always existed as one, yet also always existed in community.
I know, very much an enigma, but wonderfully beautiful.

In the Acts passage, the Spirit is described as a rushing wind. This is familiar language as
one of the biblical Greek words for Spirit is a synonym for wind which beautifully captures the
spontaneity and the uncontainable power of the Holy Spirit. Yet, the Holy Spirit is not just
simply like wind- it is a personality of the Trinity. For instance, in the aforementioned promise by
Jesus in John 14 and 16; the Holy Spirit is described by the Greek word, paraclete. This word
means comforter, helper, or advocate. This is vitally important in our understanding of the Holy
Spirit.

For example, someone recently tried to explain to me that the Holy Spirit was not part of the
Godhead (another term for Trinity) but was just God showing his energy. He stated that the
Spirit was not in and of itself anything. He said, “It’s like electricity- you can see it, but it is not a
personality of any sort.” My response to him referenced back to Jesus’ description of it being an
Advocate and Counselor. I replied, “If I’m in a courtroom, in the midst of a trial, I need an active,
working Advocate and Helper. I’m not going to be comforted by the fact that the lights in the
courtroom are on.”

The beauty of the Holy Spirit is that it works to our aid and our help. It so often reveals its true
presence and work when we need it most. It feels like the spontaneous and unpredictable wind.
It may often surprise you and catch you off guard. But the Spirit, with its distinctness and specific
personality within the oneness of God, works just at the perfect time to comfort you in sadness,
advocate for you in trials of faith, and help you in times of anxiety and anguish. It’s a blessing to
be surprised and caught off guard by a Helper when we need it most.

Acts 2

 
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