Monday, September 19, 2016

Keeping the main thing the main thing

One of the biggest problems we face in life is keeping focused on the most important thing.  Whether it's in our personal lives, business or church, the temptation to drift from your purpose is always a concern.  We see it in politics when candidates drift from the important issues and sports when players get distracted  and hurt their teams by getting unsportsmanlike penalties.  When we lose our focus, we seldom accomplish our goal.

One of my favorite verses is Hebrews 12:1-3 which speaks to the importance of maintaining focus "fixing our eyes on Jesus" and removing anything that distracts from that purpose, "throw off everything that hinders” or anything that keeps us from living the life God intended us to live. This is so important that there is a crowd of heroes of the faith cheering you on, to not be distracted and bound by the world's temptations and sin, to keep focused on the main thing.

For churches, keeping focused on the main thing is extremely difficult also. The 21st century church in America has drifted a long way from what the early church focused on which was to make disciples who make disciples. Now the church has become many things to all of us and the pastor's dilemma is that we get into so many well meaning activities that the main purpose gets put on the back burner for a season or sometimes gets neglected altogether.

I recently met with a staff member of a church who was hired to oversee several ministries of the church including missions. He was frustrated because there seemed to be no direction for any of the ministries. Many voices expressed a variety of opinions about what they should be doing and there was no limit on what "ministries" the church offered. The general rule was the more we provide, the more people we will reach.

Lost in all of the activities was the original purpose; to reproduce disciples. It's as if the church itself was ADHD. The staff, lay leaders and volunteers would jump from one emphasis to the next, juggling countless number of jobs but failing to do well the one thing that the church was created to do; multiply disciples.

When contemplating any ministry, shouldn't we begin by asking the question, will this help us accomplish our main purpose?  If so, then what is the best way we can do this to reproduce followers of Jesus?

Even in the ministry of missions, the purpose can get lost. We can do a lot of great things, supporting all kinds of beneficial missions from social support to missionaries on the field. We can send mission teams all over the world to work with all types of programs and churches. We can pat ourselves on the back, for all of our efforts but we often don't slow down enough to evaluate our missions, ministries and programs and whether they are accomplishing our goal of multiplying disciples.

When we view and filter ministry from that perspective, then a lot changes.  We don't do ministry because that's the way our denomination has always done it. We don't do ministry because so and so wants it. We don't do ministry because it puts butts in the seats. We do ministry to multiply disciples. Some ministries, even good things, may need to be tweaked or eliminated. Some long term, traditional acivities may need to be put on the shelf. This probably means some member’s pet ministry may have to be sacrificed.

These are difficult decisions and can be painful but Hebrews 12 conveys just how critical it is.  The whole spiritual world is rooting, cheering, encouraging you to not be distracted and keep your eye on, your focus on the main thing: Jesus.

More on keeping your focus click here

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

When death surrounds you, what do you do?

“In the United States people die from sickness or old age. Here people die by murder. If someone here actually makes it to old age, it’s – it’s…really surprising...”

This quote came from Darwin, the Honduran husband of Jennifer Zilly, the young missionary working in Honduras. Darwin receives a phone call to learn that his brother had been murdered, shot to death when he complained that his cows had been stolen.  Darwin goes to be with his family in their time of grief only to learn that his mother has died of a heart attack when she learned her son was murdered.

In her latest post on their blog, Jennifer sheds light on how dreadfully dangerous life can be in Honduras.
"If we were to sit down with our kids and make a collective family list of all the murders that have skimmed close to our lives – all the family members, neighbors and local townspeople who have been murdered – we would need many sheets of paper."

How do you deal with life in the midst of such heartache of relatives and neighbors being murdered? How do you grieve and how do you deal with the fear of death so near?  Jennifer relies on her faith and focuses on her job as a missionary.

Read the entire post here.

This is real life in a third world country. We complain about our first world issues, which are incredibly insignificant compared to the life and problems many missionaries encounter.

Reading Jennifer's blog, we are given a real example of what life is like when there is little to no police protection. Those who complain about the police in our country and those who actually propose we don't need the police, have no clue what every day life is like without law and order.

I've seen it in many of the countries that I've visited. When there is an absence of local police, there is always a gang or entity that steps in to fill the void, using threats and their corrupt power to control the people.  And even here in the States in isolated areas where there is no respect for the police, there is an abnormal amount of crime and death.

Thank God that we have a country that values law and order. We don't have a perfect system and we certainly can improve on many aspects but our system is the best the world has to offer.  We have much to be thankful for.

I'm also grateful for the many Christians like Jennifer who sacrifice what they have to serve God in third world countries.  They are putting their lives on the line every day to bring real hope to people in cultures that provide no hope.  Pray for Jennifer and Darwin as they walk through this difficult time, that Jesus would guide and protect them so that they might complete the work that God has called them to do.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Living the abundant life: 7 great things about your identity

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One of our most critical needs as humans relates to our identity.  Our identity defines who we are as a person.  Humans by nature seek to define themselves either by the people with whom they associate or by the things they aquire or accomplish.
So for most, their identity is derived from either their job, their wealth status, their family or heritage, their lifestyle or a combination of these. And yet, an identity based on any of these creates a variety of problems.  So many of our problems in the world come from racial tension, comparison, greed, power and control, much of which comes from the need to be someone. 
However Christians have an alternative.  We can choose to identify with Jesus Christ and live from our true identity instead of trying to create our own.  When we better understand who we are in relation to our creator, and live from that reality, the more fulfilling and abundant our lives will be. Here are 7 wonderful truths about humans:

1. We are tri-dimensional. We are body, soul spirit, similar to the trinity. One of the differences between man and animals is that we have a spirit. Animals are two-dimensional beings, humans 3 dimensional. 
2. We exist eternally. Many verses tell us that we are eternal beings and we have the opportunity to spend eternity with God.  John 3:16, Psalm 139 
3. We are moral beings. We all have a built-in sense of what is right and wrong and the ability to make choices. Genesis 1
4. We are designed to have a relationship with God: We are loved. 1 John 3, Romans 3:20
5. We are accountable to God. We will answer to him because God created us in his image. 2 Corinthians 5:10
6. We are created unique. Your DNA is unique to humans and a part is unique to only you.  Ephesians 2:10
7. Because you are made in His image, you are infinitely valuable. Genesis 1:27

As 2 Cor. 3:16 says as followers of Christ, we reflect God.  When I identify with Jesus, a part of His glory shines from me.  I don't have to aquire things to define me. I don't have to join this group or identify with this sexual orientation, or gain power or prominence to be somebody.  When Jesus was tempted by Satan with these things, Jesus refused because he knew who he was, whose he was and knew his purpose. 

I don't have to hide behind a persona that pleases others and helps me get the things and accolades the world tells me I need. I can be as honest and authentic as I can be, trying to be myself and being ok with who God created me to be. I can share my struggles and successes equally to lift up and encourage others. I am free to be me, knowing that God is working in me, growing me to become more like him, and one day I will be complete in Him.  Living from an identity in Christ changes everything!  

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Ephesians 2:8-10 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by w...