Spiritual fathers & mothers… Monday musings…

Not long ago, I had a conversation with a friend about my age (40+ish. The closer I get to 50, the more 40 seems like another lifetime ago. But I digress.)

My friend, (like me) had been in ‘the Church’ for more than 20 years. And after those many years of active, vibrant church-life, he felt like the Church really had nothing else to offer him. After all, “I’ve been there, done that, learned that, heard that, lived that… And I feel like I’m at the spot in my life/maturity where there’s nothing else in it for me. Nothing else really to learn…” That wasn’t the 1st time I’d had the conversation, & most likely, it won’t be the last. While I think I understand, in theory, what my friend was saying, I think he could be missing something incredibly important: the opportunity to be a spiritual father/father in the faith to upcoming generations of Christ-followers. Here’s what I mean.


Looking back on my life inside (& outside) of the Church, I can point to a handful of men & women, some who couldn’t have been more than 5 years older than me, who invested themselves in my life, people who helped shape me into the man I am today. This (non-comprehensive) list includes:

  • my Sunday school teachers
  • a large number people who attended some incarnation of our family’s small group Bible study over the course of 15 years & took the time to include me in their discussions (Bible & other kids), played catch with me, & generally acted like it was totally normal for an adult to have a pre-teen/teen kid hang out
  • sports team coaches/assistants
  • youth leaders & pastors
  • camp cabin leaders
  • small group leaders who hosted a Bible study group (& fed me & my friends)
  • the list goes on…

In real life, we go through transitions… at one point, we were all completely dependent on others for our care, food, shelter, diaper changing, etc… & gradually, we all go (& grow) through various stages of dependence to become, for better or worse, independent. We get married, have our own families, & then repeat the cycle, except this time with us being mostly on the giving vs. receiving of the care. When we’re dealing with our kids, it’s not like we come to a spot where we think, “You know, I am not really getting anything out of this whole parent thing. Shouldn’t there be something more in it for me…? I’m out.” 

In the Church life, we go through transitions as well… hopefully reaching a point in our Christian development where we are able to give back & pour our lives into others who are still in the early stages of growth & maturity. In essence, we get to give back as spiritual fathers/mothers, without regard for exactly what’s in it for us, or knowing HOW we are going to get something out of it. We get to join with the very Body (the Church) that brought us to the point where we were grown/mostly grown up, mature, not ‘needing’ anything from others. This joining with the mission of the Church can be called a lot of things, discipleship, mentoring, etc… To me, the terminology isn’t what’s important. What matters is that we adopt & ascribe to the Kingdom of God values more than we adopt & ascribe to our American culture of consumerism (a ‘what’s in it for me’ faith.)


I’ve had many, many conversations with young people (translation: people younger than me) who say they don’t have a role model, a mentor, a coach, a spiritual father/mother to give input in their lives. And, they don’t really know how to go about getting one. Which, in my opinion, is one of the reasons why we who have been around the block a few times, who have grown & matured in our relationship with God, have the responsibility to take the initiative & get involved in the lives of others. I’m not saying we start out by introducing ourselves as their new spiritual father/mother, (c’mon: that’s weird.) I’m saying we just do it – in a small group, as a coach in rec-league sports, inviting people over for dinner – & not worry about what title we get/don’t get from them. Call it paying it forward or being on the Giver Team, it is an integral part of the lifecycle of the Christian faith, & we have the privilege of being able to play a role in the lives of others.

And the best part, we DO get something out of that.

 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak & remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ Acts 20:35 English Standard Version


NOTE: I intentionally avoided (or attempted to) the definition of what the Church could/should look like. To me, those are delivery systems, (not the main thing) & the point I am trying to make is, whatever the Church delivery system you’re a part of, take the time to invest in (disciple) others. Someone. Somewhere. Somehow. It makes an eternal difference.

What’s your story?

When it comes to sharing with others about the message of the Gospel (Good News,) many of us can feel intimidated & inadequate. It’s almost as though the task of talking to others about Jesus effectively requires something MORE than we are or we have.

More education. More knowledge. More experience. More answers. MORE. I mean, what happens if we start talking to someone & they ask us a question about our faith, the Bible, etc. that we don’t know how to answer? :)

A couple weeks ago, my supervisor reminded me that sharing the Gospel doesn’t require communicating a theological masterpiece, massive amounts of memorized Scripture, or a certified-spiritual-gifts-test-result-qualifying-you-as-an-evangelist.

He simply asked, “What’s your story? What has Christ done in your life? Why did you choose to put your faith & trust in Him? That’s what your friends & family need to hear. Share your STORY.”

Revelation 12:11 tells us that we, believers in Christ, will overcome the devil through the blood of the Lamb (Christ’s sacrifice on the cross which paid the penalty for our sins,) & through the word of our testimony (our story, what Christ has done, is doing in our lives.) We each have a  GREAT story, & the more we rehearse it, remember it, & tell it, we give glory to God, point to Jesus as the Savior, & we share the Good News.

I like to take the cue from a blind man who Jesus healed – the religious leaders were hounding him with a barrage of questions about WHO healed him, HOW He had done it, & WHETHER this Jesus was a good guy or not. The man said, “Well, I don’t really know much, except that I was blind, & now I can see.”  (See more on this in John 9.)

Beautiful answer.

Jesus Is Alive!

The women, Mary Magdalene, Mary Jesus’ mother, Joanna, & a group of their friends went to Christ’s tomb to wrap His body in spices & precious ointments. As a preparation for final burial. Because they didn’t want the stench of a decomposing body drifting beyond the rock that sealed the tomb, & perhaps, horror of horrors, attracting scavenging animals. They’d wanted to do the preparation of the body right after the crucifixion, but they ran out of time due to the oncoming, God-mandated Sabbath time of rest that seemed to serve as a lurking 24-hour period of anything BUT as they waited, patiently & obediently before gathering themselves at the crack of dawn on Sunday.

Something wasn’t right. There was the tomb, & there was the rock that was supposed to be covering its entrance. Only it wasn’t. It has been neatly, yet forcibly removed from its location so that now it was more of a decoration than an impenetrable blockage. What could this mean? They didn’t have to wait long for an answer.

Two men in the whitest, most dazzling clothes ever appeared to them, declaring, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? Jesus is not dead. He is ALIVE!” The women ran back in to Jerusalem & shared what they had seen & heard, & over the next days/weeks, Jesus appeared, in the flesh, to more than 500 of His followers, challenging His disciples to take the good news message of repentance & forgiveness of sins in the Name of Jesus to all the people of the the world. And the world has never been the same.

thinking on one of Christ’s promises, & other musings…

What would you say, what testimony would you share, what message would you bring if your life was on the line?

Paul’s was.

The trouble and opposition that had followed Paul from place to place on his missionary journeys came to a head upon his arrival in Jerusalem. It was assumed, wrongly, that Paul had taken a Gentile into the temple. Chaos ensued. Paul was attacked, beaten, and the crowds tried to tear him to pieces. Fortunately, Roman soldiers stepped in and saved his life – for the time being – and gave him an opportunity to speak. And speak he did:

• To a hostile crowd that wanted to kill him, and saw this as a prime opportunity to do so.
• To a Roman tribunal that trying to figure out WHO Paul the rabble-rouser was.
• To the Sanhedrin (Jewish religious council), which was looking, to build a legal case against him so he could be put to death.

How did he do it?

Paul was living in the grace of the promise that Christ gave His disciples:

And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say. Luke 12:11,12 ESV

The Holy Spirit will teach you what to say.

Christ’s promise.

You’ve filled your heart and mind with God’s Word. You’ve looked to put into practice and obey the LORD in every area of life. If (& when) you’re put on the spot, even hot, hot spots, don’t worry. Because the Holy Spirit was given to indwell us for just such moments, and fills not only our mouth with words, but our heart with courage and boldness.

So don’t worry. Don’t be anxious. Instead, give thanks that what we say at that moment of crisis (or in the grocery line) is something that WILL BE given to us at the appropriate time by the One who will never leave, forsake, or abandon us.

feed the hungry bird, & other musings on a Friday…

I’m amazed at how God can use the most mundane of life activities to bring people together. The Apostle Paul left Athens and headed to the booming metropolis (and wide-open mission field,) of Corinth. Left with the question of how he would support his gospel spreading and church planting campaign, Paul fell back on the trade he knew, tent making. And it just so happened that two members of the local ‘tent-making guild’ were Aquila and Priscilla, a couple of refugees from Rome that had fled to Corinth at the order of Emperor Claudius because they were… Christians. And, just like that, Paul had a team.

Paul’s followed his pattern of testifying to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ, His promised Anointed One. Here at Corinth, the message was soundly rejected, complete with threats of violence against Paul by the Jews. With the non-Jewish Corinthian audience, however, the response is drastically different. They believed. In large numbers, people in a city famous for sexual immorality and wild living flocked to the gospel of grace and the message of justification by faith.

Even though the Jews continued to threaten Paul, he knew that unlike Philippi, Berea, and Thessalonica, he was to stick around Corinth for a while. The LORD Himself confirmed this, saying something to the effect of “Keep it up. You won’t be hurt. I’ve got lots of people here, and you’ve got lots to preach, teach, and train.”

I often think about how the Apostle Paul wrestled through the dichotomy of the two responses to the gospel at Corinth, where one group soundly rejected and strongly opposed the Good News, and the other joyfully embraced and applied it. I think that this contradiction was at the forefront of his mind as he wrote letters back to Corinth:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God… Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 1Cor 1:18, 22-25 ESV

One way I like to think about this is that my role in sharing the gospel and investing in discipleship is “looking for the hungry bird.” What I mean is this: when the mama bird comes back to her nest after a morning of worm digging and bug grubbing, the baby bird that gets to eat is the hungry one, the one with the open beak! In the same way, I want to be looking for the “hungry birds,” those people that eagerly hear and respond to the Good News. This doesn’t mean ignoring others, but rather is a picture of looking for where God is actively at work, and then intentionally partnering with the work He’s already done in preparing the ‘soil’ of their hearts.

I pray that we would have eyes to see the hungry birds in our lives today.

Who shut the door? musings from Acts 16…

Acts 16:6-10 They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

The call to spread the gospel and to make disciples is at the core of what it means to live out the life of the Christ-follower. So it seems ironic in this passage that it was the Holy Spirit, the very Spirit Who empowers us to be witnesses, that told the missionary team, “No, don’t do that here,” and not just one time, but twice.

Every time I read this it catches me a bit off guard; Paul, Silas, and Timothy want to preach the gospel, but the Spirit of Jesus shuts the door. When I think of ministry frustrations and difficulties, the first thing that comes to mind is the opposition of our enemy, and I want to pray (and have prayed) for God to make a way for the gospel to be heard and to take root.

Reading that the Spirit of God sometimes says “No,” causes me to examine my own heart and life, and even to wonder if some of my own “banging on closed doors” was due to functioning on my own agenda, versus the agenda that the LORD is working from.

The rest of Acts 16 reveals that the LORD knew what He was doing by telling the team “No” to Asia and Bithynia; He instead opened a significant door in the city of Philippi, and with signs and wonders, and a well-timed earthquake, used the missionary team to bring about a great, city-changing salvation that shook the spiritual (and physical) world to its core.

I’m reminded that Jesus said He only did what He saw His Father in heaven doing (John 5:19 et al), and that some of the greatest miracles in the book of Acts (Peter and John heal the lame man in Acts 3,) happened specifically as a result of something that Jesus DIDN’T do for whatever reason.

I want to submit my agenda to the LORD, and exchange my good ideas and opportunities for the ones that God would put in front of me. God’s timing matters; His Spirit is at work, and I want to be led by the Spirit of Jesus so I can partner with His God ideas.

Thoughts on Acts 15…

Acts 15:10,11 Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”

Acts 15 tells of a crisis in the church… the number of believers in Christ was growing daily, & not just among Jews anymore. Now, even the Gentiles were coming to Christ! So what’s the crisis?

Certain groups among the Jewish believers couldn’t imagine God calling and saving people that weren’t circumcised. After all, circumcision was VERY significant for the Jew, as it marked the establishment of their covenant identity with God. Circumcision marked them in most intimate way as a separate, distinct, people who belonged to the LORD.

I thank God for Paul, Barnabas and the Jerusalem council; when confronted with the pressing question, “What are we going to do about this?” they reminded their Christian brothers that the gospel being preached is one of grace and justification through faith. I imagine their debate with those that were demanding circumcision, wondering out loud what other hoops to jump through could have arisen if Paul and the others had given in. Dietary restrictions? Hair and beards? Rejection of one’s culture of origin to embrace the Jewish culture?

Here we are 2000+ later, mostly Gentiles reading this, wondering what the big deal was… in hindsight its easy to point out the Old Testament scriptures where God calls for the “inner circumcision,” a circumcision of the heart. It’s silly, because we know that we’d never put stumbling blocks in front of new believers, and for sure would never add to the gospel… Would we?

Hmmm. I remember as a kid seeing people different than my family and me coming to church. I know now that they were ‘hippies” – identified by their bare feet, old Levis, t-shirts, and mostly unkempt hair and beards. They really stood out…

I remember it was a big deal when they came to Christ, gave their testimonies of deliverance and expressed earnest desire for freedom from drugs, immorality, and their desire to be clean, whole, and experience real love. I remember the discussions that took place where church leaders wrestled with the influx of new people, and wondered how we could help disciple them… One suggestion rings in my ears:

“What they really need is some different clothes and a haircut. They need to know that they’re the temple of the Holy Spirit.”

Ouch.

We do it too. Makes me wonder… are we adding to the “Main Thing” of the gospel? Are there “Louie-isms” that are being elevated to “gotta do’s”?

LORD, remind us that we are saved by Your grace, just as our brothers and sisters around the world are.

a night in the forest… or Deutschland Travels, Spring 2010, Day #4

Jan picked me up in the early afternoon, & we made our way into the city center of Mainz. After parking & walking for a bit, we decided that it would be a good time for lunch: pizza. There was a place that Jan especially likes, run by an Italian family, that we made our way to – after reading through the menu, I decided I’d get the pizza called, “Der Teufel” (the devil,) which came with pepperoni, red (hot chili) peppers, & pepperoncini. Amazing.

We spent the better part of the afternoon catching up on the happenings in the churches that Jan oversees – especially those that we’d be spending time with over the next days. It was an absolutely beautiful day, with a temperature of about 75, with the slightest of breezes. I enjoyed it even more when I heard that it was snowing & hailing at home. Goodness. It’s April… practically May. This picture is a banner I saw while walking through the narrow streets of Old Mainz. Green Day is coming to Mainz. It is a small world.

No visit to an authentic Italian restaurant is complete without gelato . I chose chocolate & vanilla, covered with chocolate sauce & Schlagsahne (whipped cream,) for brother Ben.


The time came to make our way to Taunusstein, a small town about 30 minutes by car from Mainz. Whenever I ask people to tell me about Taunusstein, they always say, “It’s in the forest.” I can see why. Getting there is like driving Highway 28 from Spooner Summit to North Shore Lake Tahoe; beautiful scenery, fresh mountain air, & trees as far as the eye can see, with the occasional break in the woods that allows glimpses into the valley below. Very nice.

Taunusstein is a town of about 25,000 people – & while it has Catholic & State (Lutheran) churches, there has been no Freikirche (free-church, non-state church of independent or denominational status) there. Ever. (In comparison, Mainz has 7, & Reno alone has at least 250 free-churches.)

About 3 years ago, Jan & the enChristo church decided to partner with some of the people that had been traveling the 30 minutes to their church to see a bible study started, & hopefully, eventually, a church planted.

There’s been a good response in Taunusstein; a good group of people with a wide variety of church backgrounds have begun attending, many of whom have been praying for a free-church to come to their town for years. There’s also been some stops & restarts in the process, & a lot of things to work through, most notably the difficulties that inevitably arise with a group that each comes with their own idea of what this particular free-church could look like. Hearing some of their stories on how they’re attempting to keep Jesus Christ & the cross front & center give me a new appreciation for the need for the Church to focus on the essentials… referencing the Augustine attributed statement:

“In essentials, unity; in doubtful matters, liberty; in all things, charity.”


We met first with the appointed leader of the church plant, Curt Staab. He graciously welcomed us into his home & ushered us onto the back patio that his family shares with the other tenants of the ranch style/condo-type housing block. He’d prepared dinner himself, an authentic Bavarian feast: white sausage, kraut-salad, & fresh baked pretzel bread.

Curt & his wife Claudia have been a part of the church plant team since the beginning, & have served as assistants, then leaders of the plant which is still sponsored by & overseen by enChristo & the Foursquare Germany leadership. Curt is a practicing medical doctor in his “day job” & is a humble, dedicated, & faithful man giving his all to see people come to know Jesus & grow in him.


Over dinner, I received my assignment for the night: I’d be addressing a home cell group of about 12-20 people, using the book of Acts as my template, talking through the beginnings of the church, tying it in to what the people in Taunnustein are doing, & also referencing some of my own experiences from church life. Sweet.

I scratched a few notes on a pad, & we drove to the home where the group would be meeting; imagine my surprise, a couple from the Frankfurt area that I’ve known for several years, Speedy & Fema Rakus, happened to be there with their 2 sons. Speedy is in his residency, & recently relocated to Taunusstein… & in turn, joined the church plant. I thanked God for the friendly (& familiar) faces.

We began with a DVD message from my supervisor, Ron (the DVD I showed in church last week.) I was so thankful to have an ice-breaker – an introduction & personal blessing specifically recorded for these meetings we are in, as well as an explanation of what it means to be Foursquare, addressing at the very heart level fleshing out love, acceptance, & forgiveness. It was very well received, & the room noticeably brightened.

Jan was serving as my translator, & I tried to get my brain working on multiple levels – what I was talking about, & also how I was communicating it – aiming to keep it in complete sentences & thoughts for ease of “idea to idea” translation. The main scripture used was Acts 2:42-48 – where in the aftermath of the first church growth ‘explosion’ of 120 – 3000+ people, the apostles, in response to the leading of the Holy Spirit, found a way, a flexible though functional structure to make sure each believer was in a place to receive discipleship. As I talked, I was reminded of the great need we have to be in relationship; for the opportunity to be face to face with others on a regular basis in a group small enough to allow intimate & intentional discipleship to take place. I shot up a quick prayer for Hillside & mentally noted to keep praying for the continued development of ‘life giving small missional communities’ (small groups if you want to use a cliche) in our church family.


The time flew by, & illustrations & promptings readily came to mind – we laughed a lot. I’m thankful that some of the things I’ve learned the hard way were able to be used as an example that others might not have to go down the same route I did.

At the end of the talk, there was time for questions… the questions came, haltingly at first. On topics like elders. Leadership. Church structure & church government. Distinctions between elders & leaders (Germans are very, very precise & exact in their definitions.) Differences between the US & German Foursquare structure, bylaws, & government. Prayer.

We prayed together, said our heartfelt goodbyes, & Jan & I slipped out to make the drive back to my host home. Both of us were tired from the long day (& night) & also from sitting & walking in the warm sun for most of the afternoon. Briefly, we talked about our next days agenda, a visit to a town called Bingen, where we’d be spending time with an independent church that is in year 2 of a 3 year process to be adopted as a member church of Foursquare Germany.


Had the good fortune to make it home around midnight, just in time for my schedule & theBean’s to overlap long enough to Skype. Goodness, she has blue eyes. Sigh.


Woke to the sound of my alarm, the 1st time I’d not woken up before it. (In honor of Brintus, I used the Darth Vader music from Star Wars. Starts my day with a smile. Yo B! Thinking of ya!) Staggered to the bathroom to shower & then to the kitchen (with all the appropriate steps in between,) to find that my hosts had laid the table with everything necessary to start the day great. Again! A carafe full of steaming coffee. Mueslix (2 kinds.) Yoghurt. 3 kinds of juice. Dark German bread. Brötchen (little bread rolls.) Ahh. I feel so blessed. Wolfram & Heidi – thank you so much for your hospitality.

On her way out to travel, Heidi came to say goodbye – I’m going to be in another home about 30 minutes away this evening to facilitate my early Friday morning meeting in Gau Algesheim. She said, “Thank you for the opportunity to be a part of what you’re doing. You staying with us allowed me & my husband to be a part of what our church (enChristo) is doing. We’re often so busy with travel & work that we can’t be involved as much as we’d like. Hosting you gave us a chance to be a part of the blessing that you are giving to Germany.”

What an incredible perspective – to be thankful for hosting me? Recognizing that they were getting to partner in the declaration of the gospel Good News. It was a very cool moment that makes me all weepy.

I love my life, & am grateful for the chance meetings that are sign posts declaring God’s goodness, blessing, & care to me & mine.

Walking through Philippians, thinking about life…

Our church family is currently going through through the book of Philippians… which for me means I get to spend time doing a few of my favorite things: lots of reading, researching, studying, & listening. In all of it, I’m finding myself really intrigued, captivated even, by the unfolding theme & message of Philippians.

The context of the letter is that it’s author, Paul, is writing to a church in a place called Philippi, a church that he helped to start. (Check THIS out for some background on it.)

The letter is sent to the Philippians while he’s in prison – in Rome, awaiting trial for his unswerving commitment to the declaration of the good news that people can have relationship with God & forgiveness of sins through the death & resurrection of Christ Jesus – he was specially commsioned to take this message to the Gentiles, something that really fired up some of the Jewish religious leaders… so much so that Paul was forced to defend himself in a Roman court of law.

One of the things that ‘gets’ me is that even though he’s in prison, it doesn’t seem to phase him. As a matter of fact, the main theme that keeps popping up throughout Philippians is Joy. And Rejoicing. And being joyful.

Huh?


Prison seems like a worst-case scenario to me; the kind of circumstance that would naturally lead one to use all their energy, effort, & focus to try to get OUT. Instead, Paul writes that he is rejoicing at his circumstances… because being in prison served to have the good news/gospel message advanced throughout the whole imperial guard, & to all the other prisoners.

Further, other Christ-followers were able to observe his clear, consistent, & faithful example in the face of suffering, shame, & the unknown… & from it were encouraged to tell of this good news, to speak God’s Word, without fear.

That’s why Paul rejoices. The gospel is being lived & declared, even in prison.


I’m confronted by my own fears… wondering at my own life-circumstances. What would I be focusing on if I were in Paul’s shoes? (Sandals?) Makes me think of the difficulties & messes I’ve been in, where the only thing on my mind was crying out for God’s help & deliverance… and it seemed that my only declarations centered around the theme, “GET ME OUT OF HERE!”

Paul reminds me that even in the middle of a bad situation (& prison is BAD,) God is still at work in my life. He’s never left me, never abandoned me. Even more, He’s right there with me in the middle of my trouble. And somehow, someway, He can & does manage to turn the situation for His glory. Somehow Paul sees that; & its not that he doesn’t want out of prison, (he does!) he just wants God’s purposes & plans in, through, & around his life more.