Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Days of Joseph

I have often pondered the life of Joseph. I have heard many characterizations of him in books, sermons, and on blogs. He, like Shakespeare's Hamlet, is not so well defined in the words of the text that we can't see him in a range of different characterizations. In some respects he is a little bit "universalized" like Paul's thorn in the flesh. There is not quite enough information to say exactly what he was like, therefore the application of the principals surrounding his life are also a little bit universal.

That said, here is what I love about the Joseph story. He had a promise from God. He believed it, he endured all types of hardship to get there, he showed character, and when he got there, he was a humble, but anointed servant. We all probably relate to Joseph's life in some way. Personally, I see where I haven't always believed the promises I have received; I haven't endured the betrayal well, and the character, yikes! There have also been those times when I was entrusted with a little, and I really didn't do too much with it.... and the other time when I thought I was such a big deal for Jesus.

This is my take on Joseph. I think of Joseph as a very gifted and very misunderstood (by his family anyway) individual, always standing back hoping for his turn to be who God had made him. His gift is like a race car at the starting line, just waiting for the moment to effuse that which God has spoken to him, yet the track is filled with obstacles making a good run nearly impossible. When he interprets the dreams in jail, he is finally just exactly who God made him. He has nothing else to lose, and so Joseph goes for it, but he has also been broken. With nothing to gain, he simply serves God with his prophetic gift. I think that God wants us all to be like that-- just available to serve Him. Just to be who we are, letting God provide the rewards, regardless of the circumstances. A person with nothing left to prove.

In the end (because that is where God is taking us, to the end!), Joseph didn't shrink back, he took his lumps, and became spiritually broken in such a way, that the pure essence of the Lord was able to pour out of him in service to the Egyptians, and the Jews. God was able to take the hardships; that which was meant for evil, and bring him through.

I confess, I have been thinking about some of my own hardships and Joseph is a reminder that God will bring me though to the destiny that he has for me. And you too.

Here are a few lessons from the story of Joseph. Thanks to Xenos Christian Fellowship for the inspiration.

He did not give into despair (Romans 8:31-37).

He did not complain about his circumstances (Colossians 3:23,24).

Instead of compromising morally to get ahead, he obeyed God. (1 Peter 4:19).

He gave credit to God at every crucial point (Genesis 39:2,3; 40:8; 41:16).

He did not become bitter toward his offenders, he extended forgiveness to them. (Genesis 50:19-21)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Isn't It Time? - The Gospel of Philosophy

I firmly believe that the church needs to do two things in the Kingdom. The first is connecting people to Jesus and other is connecting people to each other. The real question is how is business?

Connecting people to Jesus is a very important task. I recently was at a growing church-- they have doubled in size in the last six or eight months. Wow! What are they doing right? Honestly, I am not sure. It appears to me to be another "Christian Ghetto." You know, a bunch of disgruntled Christians who go to another church because they are not connecting with Jesus and/or other people at the past church (or two or three).

I have a friend that thinks it is time for a whole new church model. Me, I think we need to look at the core issues, and fix those. Once that is done, a living breathing church will always result.

John the Apostle wrote to the churches in the book of Revelation, as did Paul in all of his epistles. Each writer basically said these are the principals of doing it right, and here is what you are doing wrong. These were guys that saw Jesus doing it!

1 Corinthians says, we are a body made of many parts, and they should be present in the church in this way, and here is how to use those parts effectively. John wrote to churches that had lost their passion for Jesus, and others that had grown lukewarm. Some of that blazing fire settling down to glowing embers is good. But we also need to fan the flames of passion and love for Jesus and each other. What are we afraid of, God acting in some unusual supernatural way?

In the book of Acts (a description of an age we are still in today) people lived in a communal arrangement because: it was safer, God was very powerfully at work, and they were people of relationship and power. That's right, relationship and power. It should be at the core of all that the church does. How far off are we? Well, most of us probably don't know someone that was martyred for Christ. And that same type of person, the kind that would lay down their life for us, where are they in the church? You see, salvation is so incredible that we should be looking forward to Heaven more then we do whatever is going on here on earth. What restrains us? The love of Christ and those that need it.

We need people that will lay down their lives, not just show up and over achieve in the house of God. It has to be people that are led by the Spirit. How do we make disciples that are led by the Spirit? We play a little worship for them and give our best sermon once a week and get them to a small group on Thursday. Done. Right? That format is crazy. You might be thinking, if we can just get people to pray, show up on Sunday and read the word, we're good. Honestly, that kind of thinking is the problem. We can't do a bunch of religious acts and expect to connect to God. We need His Spirit, we needs His gifting and anointing and we need desperately to hear His voice in our lives, and for the future of the church.

We have to connect with Jesus, we need to be in His presence. Just because the word says He'll be there doesn't mean that He will automatically manifest His presence. The manifest presence of God (not the abiding presence) is essential in getting to know Him. If He doesn't show up, we're not going to get anything out our religious acts. Nothing happens apart from the presence of God. We can't know what he wants us to do unless we hear His voice. We can try, like the rich man, to obey all the commandments, but He'll never have our hearts that way. And worst of all, we won't see what the Father is doing, never mind do it!

I have been in ministry on and off for about 11 years. The thing that I find the most difficult is to NOT do that which I am good at, but to let His grace and power flow through me doing the very things that only He can. Being and effective Christian does not take talent, it takes knowing Him and learning to let His spirit manifest Him, though us.

To have an impact on those that do not know Christ we need to be Jesus for them... well at least until He can be. Without power and wisdom from Heaven we can't do anything except engage in some intellectual philosophy which is not God either. I am not saying we don't need to think, but that we need to hear God and do it. We need His word living in us, not in the dry pages of a book.
So here it is again.

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." Amen. -Matthew 28:18-20

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
—Mark 16:15-18


A gospel without power is no gospel at all, it's simply a philosophy.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Prayer for Cancer

I had a fun story about our weekend trip to the New England Aquarium this weekend. But, I got news that one of the young woman that I have been praying for, finally passed away from cancer. I will get to the fun stuff in the next day or so, but this was more important.

We have been funded to put together a web site that connects cancer patients with someone that will pray for them every day. The domain name has been purchased and I am working out the hosting issues. My vision is simple, no one that wants to have ongoing prayer for their cancer, or that of a loved one, should go without it. It can be the highest quality treatment some folks will ever receive.

If you'd like to be involved, here are four ways that you can help.
-1 Pray for this little ministry, and make your self available to pray for others. I believe the more prayer we have behind it, the more effective it will be for those that suffer from cancer.
-2 Once we are up and running, spread the word. It's free prayer by Christians for anyone that desires it.
-3 We don't have an easy way to donate, but if you want to, I can get you our PO Box. But right now we need PRAYER!
-4 Pray for me and my family, for wisdom and protection. No God idea goes unchallenged (I have been doing this for many years.)

HERE are some posts that you may want to read that I have written about God, and His interaction with folks that I have known with cancer.

Here is the new site: http://www.prayerforcancer.com/

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Who Needs Jesus? Part II - Goodnight Moon

Sure, just look around you, the world is a mess, and people in it are sick, hurt, lonely and lost. But they are usually an arms length or more away. The insanity is on TV 24/7, and one doesn't need to look far for someone that is really hurting. But you know, that could be you too. You could be the one that is in a tough place. It can be depressing to think about the pain that surrounds us.

I ponder some thoughts from books I have read, and one Christian author saw depravity and immorality as the perfect opportunity to share Jesus. At the time, I thought, I am trying to insulate myself from all that. I don't want to see any pain, any hurt, any evil... nope not me. How immature could I have been? Turning a blind eye to the suffering of folks in my town... the ones that I know from work, met in the store, or saw at night school. Even the odd Christian who had a hard time engaging in church. I was more concerned about me, and what was comfortable for David.

Somewhere in the dark night of the soul, Jesus really met my needs, healed some things in me and set me free. In gratitude for that I decided to reach out to another human being. In the early 80's, I would do anything to help a fellow alcoholic get to an AA meeting. One house was filled with hung-over drunks and there were guns just about everywhere. I was scared, but we talked one of them into coming to a meeting. I became sort of religious about helping certain types of folks engage with God and look for hope.

Yesterday, my wife and I received our first foster child. We spent about 10 weeks in training for this day. The phone rang at about 1 PM, and we decided to do it. JT (not his real initials) was on our doorstep at 4. We didn't know what to expect. We had training for handling the sexually abused, fire starting, poop smearing, controlling, manipulating, frightened, hurt, sick and angry children. In walks a little boy; wide eyed and inquisitive, followed by two social workers, one carrying a small suitcase with everything that he owns. A few toys, his "kiki" blanket a change of clothes; minus socks and one bedtime book. His eyes meet my 5-years-old's and they begin to talk in kid-code. Within minutes they are at play in the living room while we are briefed on the situation in the dining room.

At dinner the kids sit across from us. JT started to copy everything my daughter said.

"Daddy's a cupcake." she said.

He looked at me, "Daddy's a cupcake." he said. He looked to Charlotte for permission to laugh and they broke up. He made faces and smiled. They had quite a bit of silly talk that left us all laughing.

While I was sitting at my computer, a little face looks into the the office. "Can I sit in your lap?"

"Of course," I said as reached out to pick up our little visitor. JT showed me a couple of his minature cars and a plastic Thomas the Train. He just sat there beaming as he passionately chattered about his toys.

More playing, a movie and baths led to bed time. His mom had been able to get us a copy of his favorite book, Goodnight Moon. We were to read it to him, once in a regular voice, and the second time in a soft voice.

At 1:20 this morning he woke up crying for his mother. But she wasn't able to come for him. She's not coming, not for awhile.

I lay in bed praying, what else could I do? My wife sat next to the crib gently rubbing his head as he cried. She was crying too-- and I am sure praying.

"Goodnight moon."

"Yes, goodnight moon."

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Who Needs Jesus?

As we entered Main St. Pizza from the cool rainy parking lot, there was the smell of burning cigarettes mingled with baking pizza. The three TV's displayed Jeopardy as a waitress motioned to us to sit anywhere. On one wall was a picture of a Mediterranean villa, on another a painting depicting Virginia wildlife and near the kitchen entrance was a Thomas Kinkade painting - you know, the one of the glowing house. In the far corner was a couple of older woman chatting and drinking some sort of red wine. Near by was a young couple who appeared to be on a date. At the table nearest the bar two men chugged bottled beer, smoked cigarettes and wolfed down a large pizza.

Our waitress came to take our drink and she spoke with a foreign accent. My 5-year-old responding to the conversation, uttered the Spanish word for hot, "caliente" The waitress laughed and said that she understood. I asked her where she was from. "Russia" she replied. "I speak four more languages," she added.

As we waited for our order, a family came in with three small children in tow. It was obvious that the young boy was in some sort of trouble as the father tried to manage him discreetly with all the tell-tale body language. Had we not been in the car for twelve hours, we might have sought out a nicer environment to have a much needed meal.

My wife described it as a time warp. And I admit, it was a bit strange-- the very bizarre collection of paintings and photos on the walls along with the collection of "normal" folks in a setting that seemed out of the 70's. We couldn't remember the last time we were in a public building where smoking was allowed. We laughed, as the only smoking we see is in the parking at church.

I guess what was interesting to me, was that these were all part of God's beloved creation. It is doubtful that our church would plan a mission trip to the Greek pizza joint just off the interstate highway in rural Virginia. I wondered if I might be there for a reason as I sat eating my cheeseburger sub. The night was uneventful.

I had better luck talking about Jesus at Chic-fil-a's in Pawley's Island, SC. I spoke to the woman at the register while my family used the rest rooms. What it's like to live in the Bible belt I asked? She told me how she was a Pentecostal, but she didn't seem all that excited about it. On the way home, there was the couple we met at breakfast that was from a Baptist church in Maine; way out of the Bible belt. I had to ask them about that as they seemed a little uncomfortable talking about their religion.

As I sit and ponder the people that I met along the way from Boston to Myrtle Beach and back, I am a bit confused. I saw people that are living their lives and not thinking about eternity; some are even Christians. I am not certain why, except to say that there was the evidence of religion, but the evidence of Jesus the living God seemed faint. I guess I feel like that Thomas Kinkade paining-- the only evidence of a spiritual realm out of place in the world where folks ignore the depth of their hearts.

I think, I have more thinking to to do.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Cancer Prayer Update

For those that have been following the cancer posts, I will receive a check for the "prayer for cancer" web site project. I am counting on you for prayer support.

www.prayerforcancer.com

Why am I doing this? Well, both my folks died of cancer and I have walked through a year of healing with another close friend. Honestly, eventually, it touches every one's sphere of family and friends.

Yesterday, I attended a memorial for the 31-year-old, the son of a friend of mine from the worship team. Lung cancer took his young life. He did have prayer support from his church, but what if he didn't'? How would he have known the Lord's grace throughout it all? As I watched the videos of him saying his wedding vows, and making jokes while on a ventilator, I am certain this is an important endeavour.

Today I am spreading the story of a prodigal, one who came back to His Father when things got tough. I saw the impact of Kenneth's life and faith on his pals from collage and colleague's from work during the service. They knew, in the end, he was serious about Jesus. He leaves his wife and family pondering the sovereign hand of God, as they await an eternal reunion in Heaven.

For me, having the head of grief stricken father on my shoulder as I embraced his sorrow... as he remembered his son's last words to me, is a place where I can plug into that which I see the Father doing. As Christans, we don't have to be special, just available.

I am taking a week off to relax a little and be with my family. I'll look forward to your comments when I return.
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