Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Luke 2:1-16, New Living Translation

The Birth of Jesus

At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.) All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant.

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.

The Shepherds and Angels

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished, but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.

May the Lord be pleased with you and your loved ones, and bless you with peace this Christmas!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Week in Review: Hanamkonda, India - November 2009

Debbie, Ali and I were three of 15 North Americans who traveled to Hanamkonda, India in November 2009 on an evangelism and church planting trip. Our trip leaders, Mike and Mary Wagner, were kind enough to assemble a few photos and video from our team members. It's a nice overview of our week of ministry:

If you can't see or play the video on this page, just click here. We'll post more updates with additional stories soon.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Built on the Rock

On our second day in the field, our team visited Banda Meedi thanda. "Banda Meedi" means "built on the rock." We immediately thought of the story Jesus told in Matthew 7:24-27 and Luke 6:46-49. As we prayed and walked through this thanda, we observed that it really was built on bedrock!

Our team of three North Americans and five Indian nationals proclaimed the Gospel after prayer-walking. We began by singing two Banjara songs and doing a simple dance. More than 100 people gathered to listen!

Hank began by introducing himself, Debbie and Ali - in Banjara, with our Banjara names - and explaining that we had come from America. (The rest was all spoken through one of our marvelous interpreters.) After the Gospel presentation, many Banjara people had questions. The first was, "We didn't know there were Banjara people in America!"

Several people responded to the Gospel. One was a man named Venghket, pictured here (seated), with Pastor Samson and Harria Niak (Hank). After listening intently to the creation story and Good News of eternal life in Jesus, he began a spirited conversation with one of our Indian pastors. After Venghket prayed to receive the gift of eternal life, his face instantly showed the joy of the Lord! He told us through our translator that he felt like dancing! Hank asked why he felt that way. Venghket's response? "I have peace now that I have trusted in Jesus, the One True God. I didn't have peace before."

We are so thankful to have seen many Banjara people receive the peace of Christ. Our team returned to Banda Meedi thanda several times during the week, and the Holy Spirit of the Living God did amazing things! More on that next time...

"Not to us, O LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory,
because of your love and faithfulness." ~Psalms 115:1

India Mission Report 23 Nov 2009

We have returned home with hearts full of India! The journey back was more than 30 hours of bus and plane rides, and we were all exhausted when we arrived home Sunday night. We weren't able to update from the field, so we'll provide a few photos and stories in the coming days.

We began our adventure in the thandas on Monday, November 16. Hank, Debbie and Ali were paired with three Indian pastors and two translatators. We had six such teams (two or three North Americans with nationals) going out each day. As we drove two hours out into the thandas, we talked, sang and prayed together. On our first day, our national partners decided to give us Banjara names: Ali is "Walli Bai," which means "Beautiful Little Sister." Debbie's name, "Dwalli Bai," means "Pure, Fair-skinned Sister." Hank became "Harria Niak," meaning "green and growing," as in Psalm 1:3 - planted by streams of living water. "Niak" is the Banjara title for a respected leader. More next time on our names...

We presented the Gospel in Suria thanda (village of sunlight), but no one responded immediately. Our team decided to take a lunch break, and sat under a mango tree in a nearby farmer's field. As we ate, we noticed two young men watching us from a distance. When we finished, they approached us, and said they wanted to know more about Jesus, the One True God.

Ali presented the Gospel to them using an EvangeCube (see the photo above), and both professed their faith in Jesus! They were the first of many new believers in Suria thanda. The young man on the right introduced us to his brother (a Muslim) and his parents the next day. All three of them also trusted Jesus for their eternal salvation after hearing the story of the One True God.

In his grace, the Lord allowed us to share the Good News with thousands of Banjara people during the week - many of whom had never even heard the name "Jesus" before. Hundreds are now our brothers and sisters in Christ, rejoicing in new life!

"Not to us, O LORD, not to us but to your name be the glory,
because of your love and faithfulness." ~Psalms 115:1

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Is your cause worthy of support?

Defenders of Wildlife has stooped to a truly sleazy tactic here. No, I won't link to their site. You can GoodSearch it yourself, if you like.

Regardless of your political affiliations or sympathies, this is a great example of the most cynical efforts ever used to motivate prospective donors. This isn’t philanthropy. It’s personal attack with a dose of loopy celebrity, garnished with innuendo. People who respond to this capaign aren’t doing so for altruistic reasons. They’re being manipulated by what would appear to be truth-stretching, or perhaps even an outright lie.

No serious nonprofit should ever resort to using a disgusting attack ad like this to raise money. Either your mission/cause is worthy of philanthropic support for positive reasons, or it isn't.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Not feeling called to global missions?

I first read this about a year ago. Outside of scripture, I have never seen a more compelling, powerful call to Jesus followers:

"Not called!" did you say? "Not heard the call," I think you should say.
Put your ear down to the Bible, and hear him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin. Put your ear down to the burdened, agonized heart of humanity, and listen to its pitiful wail for help. Go stand by the gates of hell, and hear the damned entreat you to go to their father's house and bid their brothers and sisters, and servants and masters not to come there. And then look Christ in the face, whose mercy you have professed to obey, and tell him whether you will join heart and soul and body and circumstances in the march to publish his mercy to the world.
- William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army
That's worth some contemplation, isn't it? If you profess to be a Biblical Christian, I hope you'll decide now to step into the front lines of global evangelism and church planting.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

So You Wanna Be A Rock Star

If he were alive today, Keith Green would probably write a blog. And you and I would read it anytime we needed a big dose of Holy Spirit conviction.

I live in Franklin, Tennessee, center of the universe for Christian music. Visit here and you may well see a famous country music singer or musician dining in the restaurant with you. Sometimes a famous movie star. But contemporary Christian music artists - both the famous and the wannabes - are everywhere.

Read this, written years ago by Keith Green:

For as long as he could remember, Keith Green's greatest dream was to be a musical success. After be gave his life to Jesus, however, he felt the need to surrender those dreams and aspirations by laying down his music...perhaps never to perform publicly again. Ironically, when sometime later he felt God release him to pick up his music again, he soon had a recording contract and his first album soared straight to the top of the Contemporary Christian Music charts.

The following message was birthed out of Keith's encounters with those who approached him, usually after a concert, to ask how they too could "make it big" in Christian music.

Today, so many people ask me if I can tell them how they can start or enter into a music ministry. At concerts I get countless questions about this, and I also get lots of letters and even some long-distance phone calls from many people who feel they are only "called" into the music "ministry." One day I began to ask myself why so few have ever asked me how to become a missionary, or even a local street preacher, or how to disciple a new believer. It seems everyone would prefer the "bright lights" of what they think a music ministry would be, rather than the mud and obscurity of the mission field, or the streets of the ghetto, or even the true spiritual sweetness of just being a nobody whom the Lord uses mightily in small "everyday" ways.

Are You Willing?
My answer to their question is almost always the same. "Are you willing to never play music again? Are you willing to be a nothing? Are you willing to go anywhere and do anything for Christ? Are you willing to stay right where you are and let the Lord do great things through you, though no one may seem to notice at all?" They all seem to answer each of these questions with a quick "yes!" But I really doubt if they know what their answer entails.

Star Struck
My dearest family in Jesus...why are we so star struck? Why do we idolize Christian singers and speakers? We go from glorifying musicians in the world, to glorifying Christian musicians. It's all idolatry! Can't you see that? It's true that there are many men and women of God who are greatly anointed to call down the Spirit of God on His people and the unsaved. But Satan is getting a great victory as we seem to worship these ministers on tapes and records, and clamor to get their autographs in churches and concert halls from coast to coast.

Can't you see that you are hurting these ministers? They try desperately to tell you that they don't deserve to be praised, and because of this you squeal with delight and praise them all the more. You're smothering them, making it almost impossible for them to see that it's really Jesus. They keep telling themselves that, but you keep telling them it's really them, crushing their humility and grieving the Spirit that is trying to keep their eyes on Jesus.

Ultimately, what we idolize we ourselves desire to become, sometimes with our whole heart. So a lot of people who want to become just like their favorite Gospel singer or minister, seek after it with the same fervor that the Lord demands we seek after Him! And again, we insult the Spirit of Grace and try to make a place for ourselves, rather than a place for Jesus.

A Thankless Job
How come no one idolizes or praises the missionaries who give up everything and live in poverty, endangering their lives and families with every danger that the "American dream" has almost completely eliminated? How come no one lifts up and exalts the ghetto and prison ministers who can never take up an offering, because if they did they would either laugh or cry at what they'd receive?

How come?
Because (1) we're taught from very early on that comfort is our goal and security… and (2) that we should always seek for a lot of people to like us. Who lives less comfortably and has had less friends and supporters than the selfless missionaries who have suffered untimely, premature deaths trying to conquer souls and nations for the whole glory of God? Do you really believe we're living in the very last times? Then why do you spend more money on Gospel records and concerts than you give to organizations that feed the poor, or to missionaries out in the field?

There are ministries all over the world where "penniless" people are being saved and transformed. They are broken people who have promise and qualities, but just need someone to bring them God's light during the times when their lives seem so completely hopeless. I repent of ever having recorded one single song, and ever having performed one concert, if my music, and more importantly, my life has not provoked you into Godly jealousy (Romans 11:11) or to sell out more completely to Jesus!

Quit trying to make "gods" out of music ministers, and quit desiring to become like them. The Lord commands you, "Deny yourself take up your cross daily, and follow me" (Luke 9:23). My piano is not my cross, it is my tool. I'd never play it again if God would show me a more effective tool in my life for proclaiming His Gospel. [God gives us each our own unique tools. But we may never use them if we become more interested in someone else's. Seek God, ask Him for His plan for ministry (true, God glorifying ministry) in your life.]

To finish, let me say that the only music minister to whom the Lord will say, "Well done, thy good and faithful servant," is the one whose life proves what their lyrics are saying, and to whom music is the least important part of their life. Glorifying the only worthy One has to be a minister's most important goal!

Let's all repent of the idolatry in our hearts and our desires for a comfortable, rewarding life when, really, the Bible tells us we are just passing through as strangers and pilgrims in this world (Hebrews 11:13), for our reward is in heaven. Let's not forget that our due service to the Lord is "... not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake"(Phil. 1:29).

Amen. Let us die graciously together and endure to the end like brave soldiers who give their lives, without hesitation, for our noble and glorious King of Light.

Many of the people I've met "in the business" have a solid relationship with God, and have the whole "show business" thing in perspective. But as an industry, Christian music could do better. More importantly, so could those of us who are "fans" of Christian music.

Want to read the original post? Visit Keith Green online.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Living like Jesus

When we lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan a number of years ago, we attended Calvary Church. Our pastor was Dr. Ed Dobson, who was a wonderfully gifted preacher. Dr. Dobson officiated at a dedication service for our oldest daughter, Mary Alisa, and twins Christy and Chase.

Since retiring from the pastorate, Ed has done two really amazing things. First, he served as general editor of The Knowing Jesus Study Bible. If you aren't familiar with this work, it's a marvelously insightful edition of the scriptures with informative and interesting notes throughout. Second, Ed read the book The Year of Living Biblically, and determined that he would do exactly that.

You probably know the story of Jesus well enough already to realize what a radical choice this really was.

There are obvious differences, of course, between living in 21st century America and first century Palestine. Jesus walked everywhere he went; we drive cars and fly in airplanes. We watch too much television, which wasn't invented in Jesus' time. Although we think we couldn't live without one, Jesus did not own an iPod.

Committing to read and re-read the four Gospels for a year (as Ed did) might be unusual, but that is still far from radical. But would you or I be willing to eat like Jesus? Most of us would have to give up our favorite foods 0n a kosher diet. If you're a male, like me, would you grow a beard like Jesus almost certainly had? Would we observe the Jewish Sabbath, as described in the Old Testament scriptures? Jesus did, and so did Ed, for an entire year.

But beyond the surface issues of outward appearance, would living like Jesus for a year change us? Would we have the nerve to go into a bar and strike up conversations by talking about God? Would we take the exercise seriously enough to actually reconsider how we vote in an election? Would we find the discipline and resolve to obey the commands of Jesus? Could we love our neighbors, or remember the poor, or bless those who curse us, or turn the other cheek?

Maybe the beginning of a new year is a good opportunity for self-proclaimed Christ-followers to consider if we really are living like Jesus. Not whether or not we use electricity or have a cell phone, but how well we are listening to - and applying - the teachings of Jesus in our daily lives.

Kosher diet or not, that's good food for thought. Now chew on this:

Thursday, January 8, 2009

I'm from the government, and I'm here to help you

It's astonishing, but some people are willing to cede control of just about everything to the Federal government.

Martin Kearns cites a nameless foundation staffer who suggests that the Obama administration should use the coercive power of the Internal Revenue Service to force U.S. foundations to spend ten percent of their assets in each of the next three years. Most are currently granting about five percent annually. The Chronicle of Philanthropy recaps Kearns' proposal and invites your comments.

There are several problems with this kind of panicky, reactive policy:
  1. Honoring donor intent. In many cases, donors have given assets to foundations with the express intent of preserving the corpus and spending only a portion of the earnings, thereby assuring giving ability in perpetuity. Spending ten percent of asset value annually, even for a limited period of time, would violate the donor's wishes.
  2. Ownership of the money. Claiming a need to further supplement the Federal government's apparently limitless "economic stimulus" resources, this anonymous person glibly suggests that a great deal of cash is lying unused in foundation safe deposit boxes. Foundations hold these funds in trust, with specific instructions on how to invest and grant the money. These assets do not belong to U.S. taxpayers, nor do Federal bureaucrats have any right to control how or when the money is spent.
  3. Federal control. Where in the United States Constitution does it say that the Federal government is the ultimate arbiter of all things philanthropic? (Hint: The correct answer is "Nowhere.") Donors and the foundations they create/support, with rare exceptions, make a huge difference in the betterment of our society. It's laughable to suggest stronger Federal involvement in the charitable sector. The government can barely manage to provide me with a driver's license and fill potholes. Even those functions could probably be done more efficiently by private, for-profit businesses.
The government should leave donors and foundations alone. Every American citizen has the right to use philanthropy for the common good - without Federal interference.

For his/her own good, I hope this nameless foundation officer remains anonymous and enrolls quickly in a Principles of Philanthropy and Development course.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Most of us know more than we do

The New Year holiday is not a thrilling occasion for me.

I'm no more excited about watching drunk people sing and celebrate the descent of a huge, round, gaudy disco ball in New York City than I am about driving with them on the highway. I was a lot happier to be out of the car after a ten-hour New Year's Eve drive than I was about the beginning of 2009.

I'm not big on New Years resolutions, either. But here's one I'm taking seriously: Do more of what I already know.

Here are three examples:
  1. Because I believe in God, I read the Bible and pray, in order to get to know him better. This sounds like bragging, but it isn't intended that way: I know a lot about the Bible and what it says about life. The point is, I could practice a lot more of that.
  2. One of my important roles in life is being the head of my family. I'm a husband and father of four great kids. I know a lot about how to be a good husband, and I'm guilty of not doing very much of it. Same goes for being a dad. I'm a son, too, and I'm fortunate that my parents are both still living. I am commanded to give them honor. I intend to do better this year with my wife, children and parents.
  3. In my career, I am a development professional. I have more than 20 years of mostly-successful experience in public relations and fundraising. I earned an undergraduate degree in organizational design, and studied philanthropy and development at the master's level. All of that means I'm supposed to know a little something about relationship building and attracting philanthropic funding for a non-profit organization. I love my work, and I'm tremendously fortunate to be connected with a terrific bunch of people at e3 Partners Ministry. This year, I'll be even more intentional about putting my experience and learning into motion.
There are some other areas of my life where this concept applies, but those are just for me.

How about you? Are you doing as much as you know?