Saturday, October 18, 2008

Evangelism in Spain

In our recent trip to Spain, part mission scouting and part vacation, Barbara and I got a chance to see what people say is the future of the U.S, at least spiritually. It is not a pretty picture. Spain is similar to much of Europe in that it is has moved away from religion into a secular belief system, post modern agnostic. The beautiful cathedrals in Spain are mostly museums filled with a lot more tourists than worshippers. The older generations still cling to their Catholic faith, but middle aged Spaniards seemed to have broken free of the chains of legalism and religion for the younger generation doesn’t even register on the map.

Visiting the churches from the small Iglesias to the mammoth Cathedrals, you get a mixed feeling of awe and revulsion. There is a sense of the admiration of the incredible devotion that the people had that motivated them to build such magnificent buildings. But as you look at the incredible opulent religious adornments you can’t help but ask yourself why people would spend so much not just on one church but several in every town. Lavish furniture, golden altars, untold dollars spent on magnificent paintings, adornments that in today’s dollars would add up to the billions. You can almost feel the religious bondage as you visit the churches. Adding this to the ugly church history, you begin to understand why when people were given the choice of religious freedom they began to run from the church.

I asked one of our missionaries who hosted us this question. Who do you think is better off today in a practical sense, those who place their faith in the religion of works and penitence or those who have freed themselves from religion totally to a humanistic faith? Neither choice is good. Unfortunately that seems to be the picture of religion in Spain today and much of Europe.

Our job is to present another option, a religion based on grace and the love of Jesus Christ. The alternative is a faith that frees one from the bondage of legalism and works and gives one a reasonable faith and hope for the future. The task is an uphill battle for sure. But you would have to believe that people of Europe and Spain would soon begin to seek something of real substance, not tarot cards, palm reading and superstition of the past religions.

Can it be done? Perhaps not in our life time but we must begin to get the message to the younger generation in Europe. That is the challenge, just how do we do that. The new missions’ strategy is trying to do it through relationships. It is not a quick fix option, but one that will need time, involving Christians from all over the world and the help of the Holy Spirit.

Pictured is an interesting vessel called a monstrance used in the Roman Catholic church to display the Eucharistic. These are very large elaborately adorned vessels made of gold which in today's time would certainly cost millions designed to hold a wafer (believed to be the body of Christ).

Monday, June 23, 2008

When Culture and Christ Conflict

How do you help change something in a culture that has persisted for hundreds of years? I’m reminded of the saying, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. Perhaps changing anything in a third world country will take time.
We spent several days with a group of 45 Kenyan pastors and wives during our trip to Africa this past month and I believe we took a few bites of the elephant of the Kenyan culture.
You see even though most Kenyans call themselves Christians they still hold to some cultural practices that run counter to the values of a follower of Christ.
The Kenyan Christian’s faith is very conservative and leans to be very legalistic. There is a very hierarchical system of leadership with the pastor doing most of the ministering. The most obvious difference is the way the men treat the women in their culture. It is considered demeaning for a man to walk side by side with his wife. The men sit on one side of the church with the women on the other side. In one church in which I preached, the children sat in the middle with rows separating the men from the children and the children from the women. There is little love or respect in marriages where a Christian pastor could easily have more than one wife. It is culturally acceptable to beat your wife. Women are relegated to child bearing and doing most of the work.
During our time with the pastors we emphasized the need for the church to change and for men and women to be involved in ministry, using their spiritual gifts. In the small discussion groups we were able to share and talk about what the Bible says about love and respect between husband and wife. We used Ephesians 5 as we shared about the men’s responsibility to love the wife as Christ loved the church and what needed to change in their culture for the men to love their wives. The men were actually very open and honest about how their culture teaches the males to look down upon women. For instance the pastors explained that a man in their culture would never say he is sorry or ask for forgiveness from his wife because it would lower him to her level. We pointed to scripture and the words of Jesus to point out that Jesus requires us to lower ourselves by asking for forgiveness and forgiving others when we are wrong. We were able to share that when culture conflicts with the moral standards of Jesus and the Bible, a choice must be made. A true believer yields to scripture and does not conform to the world’s view. By the end of the conference we sensed a real desire from many of the men to change their ways. The younger men seemed to be more willing to make the change but there were some older pastors who accepted the need to change.
It was ironic that Jeff preached the same message Sunday but only as it applies to our culture in the U.S. Our conflicts may not seem as obvious as the Kenyan’s. But they are there just the same. We can point fingers at how ungodly the Kenyan Christians may be with their views on women but we have our issues also. Let us all seek to follow the way of Christ when we are given the choice between the morality of the Bible and that of the world.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Sharing The Shack

I am sometimes afraid of being over bearing which is why I must come across as easy going and laid back most of the time. So this past week I’ve been encouraging others to read the book The Shack with some reservation. Why? I don’t know because this book has really made an impact on me spiritually. I can’t remember a book that has moved me so. I haven’t told everybody just the closest of friends and associates and those that I know will listen and perhaps heed my advice. One of those was Tiffany Crawford a Christian counselor who attends Grace Point. She uses our offices after hours to council and does a wonderful job. She had asked to use my office this week and I playfully agreed only if she read the book The Shack. She so promised and I wondered whether she would even remember the title.
But she did and she actually finished it in one day. I just received her email thanking me for suggesting the book. Her email said the book changed her life forever.
In her blog Tiffany wrote it better than what I could…This book is intriguing...and filled with God's love and patience-- His wonder and honor. It will teach you the truth of who God is---the truth of the Word he's shared with us for so many years. You will be free from religion and rules--from responsibility and expectation--you will learn to rest in Him, love Him and find joy in Him.
It is amazing how God can use people and the words they write to encourage, inspire, and bring healing and His love. And it can be passed on by just a few words of encouragement to buy and read a simple book. In this instance “The Shack”.
I feel ashamed that I have not told more people about the book, that I have chosen only a few when everyone I know should have been told. But it is the same with God’s love. Why do I choose to share with a so few? Why not tell everyone!
As Tiffany proclaimed in her blog, and I whole heartedly agree… Buy the book--read it, pass it on...make everyone you know read it...and then read it again... I will read it at least 1000 more times.... Next time, I will read it slowly--but I couldn't put it down this time...I just wanted to know more about God...

Monday, February 18, 2008

Creating Margin

In yesterday's message, we saw a great video clip, God's pies, about stewardship of our lives, money and talents. We all struggle in today's culture with time, money and spiritual management.I am intrigued by the reality shows where the professionals come in and show the person a whole different way of living, dressing or disciplining their children. They usually throw out the unnecessary stuff. There is always this resistance at first but in the end you can see the freedom and excitement about a new way of living.How would you feel if an expert came in and helped you give away all the extra stuff in your house you don't need? Would you be willing to have a professional come in and open your eyes to see what you needed to remove or change in your life? In your wallet? In your time management? In your spiritual life?As a believer, Jesus demands that we transform, that we change the way we live and sometimes it takes someone from outside to show us that there is a better way, to show us a new perspective. That is what Jesus was trying to tell the Jews of his day. They were enslaved by their own culture and they didn't even know it.I remember a time when I was attending a conference in San Diego. We had some time to go to the beach so I rented a boogie board and headed out to catch a wave. I was out past the first wave for about 15 minutes when the life guard came swimming out to me. He shouted, “do you know what you are doing?” I didn’t know what to say. I grew up in California and I thought I knew what I was doing. I was just floating waiting for a wave. He said I was in a rip tide and he was there to help me get back in. So, I grabbed on and he pulled me to safety. I didn’t even know I was in trouble. That is so true with a lot of us concerning our life styles. We just float along with the world and if you let it , it will take you to a very dangerous place without you even realizing it. We end up in severe debt, or marital problems, or spiritual bankruptcy. If we are not willing to allow an outsider to come in and tell us if we are in trouble and make the changes they recommend, then we may end up in serious trouble.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Our bucket list

Barbara and I saw the movie “The Bucket List” the other night, and found it to be a fairly uplifting tale of two men with terminal cancer resolved to doing all the things they had not done but really wanted to do. Jack Nicholson plays his ornery self absorbed usual character and Morgan Freeman is the voice of virtue and faith. Yet the actual “bucket list” of “to dos” with the exception for one small sacrificing act is a list of self-serving thrills.
The movie does cause one to contemplate what our own bucket list would be. I found myself realizing that I have already done most of the things I would want to put on my list. Because of missions, I’ve been to places and shared the Gospel with people of all types. I have been blessed to be able to live out my calling and experience incredible things for Christ.
And I also thought about how different that list would be written by a follower of Christ as opposed to one who has no faith or one with nominal faith. If we are living out our calling, as we Christians should, then shouldn’t we complete our “bucket list” long before we reach the end of our lives. We should not have to rush out in the last few months to fulfill our lives.
I love Grace Point because we are so encouraged to fulfill our life calling every day. We all have been given such a great opportunity to invest in the lives of others. That should be on all of our “bucket lists”. We are given opportunities to go places all over the world and experience God’s wonders, His people and His kingdom. How much greater it is to travel to places, live, serve, worship together and get to know the indigenous peoples of the world than just sightseeing. And we have so rich a community of believers and life groups in which to build lasting relationships.
A great line in the movie by Morgan Freeman’s character…“Even now I cannot understand the measure of a life, but I can tell you this. I know that when he died, his eyes were closed and his heart was open”.
I pray you are fulfilling your bucket list all along life’s journey and that you don’t have to wait until the end of your life for you to experience a life with a heart wide open.

How to choose the right path

“This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and ...