Tuesday, December 13, 2011

How Shall a King Come?

We are in the time of Advent in the church calendar. Advent is when we look expectantly to the coming of the Lord. Since his first coming believers have been expecting his return. During this season we long to experience Christ in a new way in our lives. One of the ways we can experience Christ’s presence is by helping and caring for the vulnerable.
In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says I was in need and you took care of me and the people said when have we seen you in need and he says when you have helped just one of these you have helped me.
45 "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'
Matthew 25:45 (NIV)
 Who are the “these” in Matthew 25:31-46? Who are the hungry and the thirsty (think homeless and kids), the stranger (think immigrant or alien) and those without clothes (think homeless) the sick (think shut-ins, hospital patients, or nursing homes), or prisoners? These are the vulnerable the ones we are called to care for. In the Old Testament they were referred to as immigrants, poor, widows and orphans.
9 "This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.
10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.'
Zechariah 7:9-10 (NIV)
This Zechariah is one of many passages (Psalm 146:7-9, Deuteronomy 10:17-19; 27:19, Proverbs 31:8, Jeremiah 22:3; 22:16) that give us specific instructions of how to show our love for others. These instructions include care for the needy, the poor, immigrants, orphans and the widows.

To be more specific Micah speaks to this
8 He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.
Micah 6:8 (NIV)
The Hebrew word we translate mercy is hesedh and means God’s unconditional grace and compassion. (BTW grace means God giving to us that which we don’t deserve as compared to mercy, which is when God withholds from us what we do deserve.) The Hebrew word for justly or justice is mishpat and means to treat people equitably. 

I guess you could think of it this way mishpat is the attitude behind the action. It means more than punishing wrongdoers it means giving people their rights. It really is worship in it’s second emphasis (loving others as much as you love yourself). Scripture deals with four categories of vulnerable or needy people: poor, immigrants, widows and orphans. Today I would includes the elderly in this mix. Since women tend to outlive men this would include widows and so many of today’s elderly would be considered poor, hence my inclusion of them in this list.

9 "This is what the LORD Almighty says: 'Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another.
10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.'
Zechariah 7:9-10 (NIV)
Tim Keller in his book Generous Justice speaks of two forms of justice found in the Old Testament. The first is mishpat or “rectifying justice.” The second is tzadeqah, which refers to our day-to-day relationships with all that we come in contact with in family and society as a whole. This form of justice is referred to as “primary justice.”

It would seem that if each of us practiced tzadeqah or primary justice there would be no need for rectifying justice.

12 because I rescued the poor who cried for help, and the fatherless who had none to assist him.
13 The man who was dying blessed me; I made the widow's heart sing.
14 I put on righteousness (tzadeqah) as my clothing; justice (mishpat) was my robe and my turban.
15 I was eyes to the blind and feet to the lame.
16 I was a father to the needy; I took up the case of the stranger.
17 I broke the fangs of the wicked and snatched the victims from their teeth.
Job 29:12-17 (NIV)
See also Job 31:13-28

In scripture, gifts to the poor are called “acts of righteousness”

1 "Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
2 "So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.
Matthew 6:1-2 (NIV)
So I guess we could postulate that not being a generous giver would not be miserly or stingy but rather unrighteous and as such sin!
Reading Ezekiel 18:5, 7-8a seems to teach the same thing. By not living openhandedly with the material possessions that have been entrusted into our care we are living unjustly and in reality robbers of God’s possessions.
18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.
19 And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.
Deuteronomy 10:18-19 (NIV)

6 "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-- when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Isaiah 58:6-7 (NIV)
The Isaiah passage is one of my favorite in understanding that fasting which is considered one of the ways that we worship God includes more than simply depriving ourselves of sustenance. It means action!
So during this season of Advent when we are longing for Christ to visit us let’s not forget that perhaps Christ is already visiting us in the form of those in need. How are we doing with caring for Him?

Excuse me while I go serve some of my fellow men in need. Who knows maybe if I look real close I’ll see the face of Christ shining through them

Have a great Advent season

Pastor Val

Monday, November 21, 2011

Loyal Opposition

Yesterday I learned that a person who had caused me no small amount of grief at a previous ministry was experiencing the same grief from some of his former cronies. My initial reaction was vindication and a certain amount of glee to see someone get what they so richly deserved… yeah I know I’m human!

My second thought was “Wait this person is a believer and I shouldn’t be rejoicing over his suffering I should be praying for him.”

For most of our country’s history, members of the opposing party in congress were referred to as members of the loyal opposition. When new congressional members came into office and referred to the opposition as the enemy they were gently corrected by elder congressmen that the members of other party were the opposition not the enemy. Just because someone didn’t agree with you didn’t mean that they were not trying to do the right thing or make him or her an enemy.

That trend seems to have changed in recent years. Congressmen from all parties routinely cast the opposition as villains out to destroy democracy, kill babies or older people, or in the very least the USA. Unfortunately this tendency has leached over into the church, where political agendas have often taken over the driver seat. And we no longer give the opposition the benefit of the doubt about their agenda. They are the enemy!

We have come to believe that if they aren’t with us then they are the enemy and must be destroyed (or at the very least driven out of the church). Now let me be the first to say that the Bible seems to indicate that in addition to those who follow Christ and those who don’t, there is another way of classifying people. Scripture teaches us that there wise, foolish, and evil (or wicked) people. These three classifications are clearly seen in numerous passages found in the book of Proverbs. Here are just a few:

Wisdom comes from God A wise man is a righteous man.

Proverbs 1:5 (NIV)
5 let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance--

Proverbs 1:7 (NIV)
7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

Proverbs 2:6 (NIV)
6 For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.

Proverbs 4:6 (NIV)
6 Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you.

Proverbs 9:9 (NIV)
9 Instruct a wise man and he will be wiser still; teach a righteous man and he will add to his learning.

Foolish people won’t listen to reason

Proverbs 1:22 (NIV)
22 "How long will you simple ones love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge?

Proverbs 10:8 (NIV)
8 The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin.

Proverbs 12:15 (NIV)
15 The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.

Proverbs 14:9 (NIV)
9 Fools mock at making amends for sin, but goodwill is found among the upright.

Proverbs 14:16 (NIV)
16 A wise man fears the LORD and shuns evil, but a fool is hotheaded and reckless.

Proverbs 23:9 (NIV)
9 Do not speak to a fool, for he will scorn the wisdom of your words. 

Evil is the absence of righteousness and bent on doing harm

Proverbs 2:14 (NIV)
14 who delight in doing wrong and rejoice in the perverseness of evil,

Proverbs 4:16 (NIV)
16 For they cannot sleep till they do evil; they are robbed of slumber till they make someone fall.

Proverbs 6:14 (NIV)
14 who plots evil with deceit in his heart-- he always stirs up dissension.

Proverbs 10:29 (NIV)
29 The way of the LORD is a refuge for the righteous, but it is the ruin of those who do evil.

Proverbs 16:6 (NIV)
6 Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for; through the fear of the LORD a man avoids evil.

So when a man sees the error of his way and goes about making amends that man is wise. When his former friends attack him for doing the right thing they have to fall into one of the remaining two categories. I’ll let God decide which category they belong in.

As for those who try to follow Christ and his way God says to rejoice when we suffer for doing right! (Matthew 5:10; 1 Peter 2:10 & 3:17)

In the mean time, I’m praying for this man and rejoicing that he is a wise person!

Still learning wisdom

Pastor Val

My thanks to Media Dagger for their brilliant cartoon!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Serving an Awesome God

This is my second trip to India and hopefully it won't be my last!

There is much that those of us in the USA can learn from this land. People value things differently here. The materialism that we battle in America is not an issue in a land of poverty. I was watching an Indian political talk show in the airport last Saturday and they were discussing the economic plight of this country. One of the hosts stated that out of the 88 poorest countries of the world India ranked 67th. Only 11 other countries were in worse economic shape than India and this is a country that competes with China of having the largest population in the world.

Like last time being here helps me realize what is and is not important.

I had the privilege to teach the MTS classes this past week. We studied Nehemiah and how he applied Biblical leadership to the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, helped bring about spiritual renewal for his country and dealt with economic inequity all wile facing down major political opposition both from within and from without.

It was so exciting to watch their faces as we took the lessons of Nehemiah and applied them to their current spiritual, political, and economic situation. As the light came on in their eyes they seemed to begin to understand how they could address issues both in and out of their pulpit.

We had had about 30 students (20 men and 10 women who were studying the Bible together. An additional unexpected experience were more then 10 pastors who attended these sessions. Some had traveled over 150 k to attend. The icing on the cake was the fact that two of these pastors had been students of mine last year. It was exciting to see how God had been blessing their ministry!

We finished the study of Nehemiah and they asked me to continue to teach. I had been asking God what I should do if I finished early and he had laid on my heart to teach Galatians.

It had been over a year since I had taught this great book but at the prompting of the Lord I launched into the study.

I'm always amazed at how God orchestrates things like this. I was teaching on some of the different Gospels that the Galatians were chasing after. I mentioned the concept of "Dualism" and how it emphasized spiritual things and downplayed the physical. This launched us into a hot topic that the local pastors were currently dealing with. It seems that a local pastor had taken a second wife, now having two wives at the same time. When this pastor was challenged he told his critics that he preaching a spiritual Gospel and didn't have to worry about the physical since it wasn't important.

We were able to discuss this and look at the Scriptures and determine what God had to say about this very relevant subject.

I know I shouldn't be taken by surprise when decided to show up like this and orchestrate events and people so that there are these God Moments, but I still am excited to witness them much less be allowed to participate in them.

Who is like our God?

Serving an awesome God!

Pastor Val

Friday, September 30, 2011

When God leads, God Provides!

I am always amazed at how God takes care of his children, who live by faith. I really shouldn’t be surprised but almost every time it happens I am.

This week I am returning to India to train pastors. The trip expenses are a bit much for me in my current financial condition.

When God laid it upon my heart to help train pastors half way around the world I knew I would need help from Christian friends and family to raise the funds necessary. It was a learning experience to realize that I needed community to accomplish the task that God was asking me to do. And I think that it was a learning experience for the community to pray the dangerous prayer, “Lord, what would you have me do?” and then obey whatever he tells you to do, even if the answer was not to help financially but to simply pray for the ministry.

Last year God brought in 30% more then I needed to fund the trip. And God was obeyed and honored by all who participated in the experience.

It has been my experience that when we first exercise our faith muscle God often builds our confidence by answering quickly and abundantly. But muscle is built by stretching it and then relaxing it. Now God always knows just how much to stretch our faith without giving us a faith Charlie-horse.

The first trip stretched me and this year again I felt God’s leading to return to India. So I asked my extended community to again pray the dangerous prayer and obey God’s leading. Last year the funds came in rather quickly but this year the funds come in much more slowly.

With less then two weeks before the trip I was still short 20% of the amount I needed to cover the trip’s expenses. I was beginning to look at how I was going to cover the shortfall. I knew that God wanted me to go and I knew that God would provide but I didn’t know how it was going to happen or when.

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that “When God leads, God provides!” A couple of nights ago I got a text from a friend who told me that he wanted to support my mission but had been late getting the funds off to the mission organization. And since he was late in getting the funds sent  he wanted me to know how much he was sending so I could plan accordingly.

Well the amount he felt God lay on his heart to supply was the 20% shortfall I needed!


At this rate, God will wait until the day I go to fully fund my next trip!

Once again I’m reminded that “When God leads, God provides!”

Getting ready to pack

Pastor Val

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Biting My Tongue

A couple of weeks ago I had a profound occurrence. It was one of those experiences that rocks your world! This revelation came from the Holy Spirit through a conversation with my wife. Yep! My wife often has profound comments but this one really set me back on my heels.

I have to share a bit of the background for you to appreciate my experience. I had just come back from a Bible study that I have been participating in. This study meets very early (which is not a good thing from my point of view) and it is open to anyone who would like to join us. Now this is a great thing having many different traditions attending because it leads to some lively discussions. It also leads quite often to my biting my tongue when some people share things that are theologically questionable (at least from my perspective).

I had come home from the study and was fussing about some doctrinal issues and comments that had been said during our meeting. I had chosen to not immediately comment on some things that I knew were questionable at best. I wanted the people to feel open to express themselves and then I tried to navigate the rapids that had been created by their comments. While my desire was to come down hard on some comments I realized that the people who were sharing these comments were seeking answers and were vocalizing their thoughts and were expressing where they were in their spiritual journey. My desire was to knock some heads together and “straighten out their thinking” but my job was to gently help guide them through their journey not to correct each and every statement they made (2 Timothy 2:25).

I was home expressing my frustration to my wife on some of the people’s lack of progress in their spiritual journey. She looked at me and said, “If you are frustrated with them just think how frustrated God is with us with our lack progress!”

I have to tell you she took the wind right out of my sails!

I stood there and tried to imagine the frustration that I must cause God with my own lack of progress at times. Even in spite of my best efforts I seem to constantly fall short of where I want to be on my journey. And yet God is patiently encouraging me as I stumble on my way often making ridiculous statements that must cause him to wince. I look back at some of my past thoughts and comments and wonder how many times He’s had to bite his tongue at some of my outrageous comments.

His patience is beyond my imagination and certainly beyond my ability but it is a goal for each of us as we nurture fellow believers. We must gently speak the truth in love and encourage them when their progress slower then we would like.

I’m thankful for God’s patience with us

Treating my bruised & bloody tongue

Pastor Val

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Keys to the Kingdom

When I was younger I saw everything as pure black and white with very little gray. As I’ve matured in my spiritual walk I have come to realize that yes there are doctrinal issues that we must take a firm and unshakable stand on, but there are other things that are more culturally driven or even spiritually unclear questions. These questions are what I want to address in this paper: things like contemporary or traditional music, liturgical or non-liturgical style services, the proper role of women in the church, gifts of the spirit and many more that I could mentioned.

How do we address these issues? How do we resolve them to the general satisfaction of the individual independent local church or denominational group?

I believe that before the Lord’s death he gave us the tools to deal with these issues. Further I believe that the book of Acts gives us a prime example of how to deal with these divisive issues. I call it the Keys of the Kingdom.

In Matthew 16 Simon Peter has declared that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God. The passage continues with Jesus blessing Peter and made reference to Peter being “a stone” but the truth that Peter has proclaimed is “a boulder” upon which Jesus will build his church. Then I believe Jesus said one of the most puzzling yet profound things he ever said to the twelve (and not just to Peter):

19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
Matthew 16:19 (NIV)
To understand this verse we must remember a number of things. Matthew who records this saying is writing to Jewish believers. As such he is showing that Jesus is not only the greatest Rabbi to ever have lived but also Jesus is the promised Messiah and the very Son of God.

 Rabbis had a way of teaching and they often spoke in “Rabbiese” much like many Christians today speak “Christianese” If you lived in the culture of the time you will understand what Jesus is saying. But being almost 2000 years removed and living in a western culture vs. a Hebraic eastern culture we miss the significance of the message. 

When a student (disciple) was ready to graduate from his training under his teacher (rabbi or master) he would be granted permission to carry on his teacher’s work. If he encountered a situation that the teacher had not specifically covered he was given permission to make decisions based upon his understanding of training for the teacher and his followers. He was given the “keys to the kingdom.”

Now this played out in the early church with what is known as the first Jerusalem council in the 15th chapter of the book of Acts (the history book of the early church). Paul and his fellow missionaries had shared the good news with Jews and gentiles alike. This influx of gentile believers of Jesus Christ into the church had caused concern for the more traditional Jewish believers. Did these non-Jewish believers need to convert to Judaism (with all of it’s rituals and rules) or not.

Both sides presented their concerns and positions to the leadership of the church that included not only the apostles that were in Jerusalem but also the church leaders (specifically James) of the mother church. Following the discussion and after seeking God’s direction through prayer James made his judgment. Gentile did not have to become Jews to be considered full followers of Christ. The leadership of the church had practiced Matthew 16:19 and the Lord blessed their decision with a great influx of gentile believers in the years to come.

So how does all of this apply to some of the more the cultural questions you have asked me to address? My answer is that some answers need to be made based on carefully seeking God’s will for our local church. Not every church will come to the same conclusion and that is fine in not essential doctrines. Each church (and leader for that matter) will stand before God to give an account for what they decided. There will be occasions when these decisions will be right for one group but not another. And that is okay. Paul and Barnabas agreed to disagree regarding taking John Mark on a missionary journey and they separated ways. The net result was that the gospel reached more people because they multiplied their efforts. Neither was right or wrong. Furthermore what might be right at one point in our journey might change with the passing of time. Later in life Paul commented on how helpful John Mark had become to him in the ministry after previously rejecting him for that second mission.

In conclusion while I have opinions and preferences on cultural issues I am more desirous to partner with the spiritual leadership of the church to seek God’s leading and do His will regarding these and other non-essential issues. Our concern should always be what does the Lord want and not what do we want. After all we have all been taught to say “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven!”

Now if I can just find those keys…

Pastor Val

Saturday, August 13, 2011

I’m Willing

I just came back from attending the 2011 Global Leadership Summit. It was two days of nonstop learning this year. Often there is a session or two that are less than stellar but this year it seemed like I came away with handfuls from every session.

One specific session dealt with leading under difficult situations. We heard the stories of two modern leaders who lead under remarkably difficult conditions. Their unique stories were more reminiscent to the martyrs of bygone eras not experiences of the 21st century.

The final message of this session was taken from Jeremiah, a book out of the Old Testament section of the Bible. It really was an overview of the ministry life of this ancient prophet who was chosen by God to speak to the nation of Judah of coming judgment if they failed to return to God.

On a scale of one to ten with one being the lowest possible results of a lifetime of ministry Jeremiah’s would have to be pegged at a minus 3 at the best. But through it all and even after a chapter or two of complaints Jeremiah comes to the conclusion that in spite of the difficulties and dangers serving God is better then any alternative.

During one point in the message a large piece of pottery was shattered on stage to remind us of the brokenness of all of us and yet God can still use us in our brokenness. At the beginning of the day each of us was given a broken piece of pottery. After the session we were asked to consider writing a message on it indicating our willingness to serve regardless of what our called to do and then to date it.

My message read “I’m willing! 8-12-11”

Now I have to say that I have said this to God for the past year to year and a half but God’s answer has been wait…not yet. Apparently I had (more likely still have) lessons to learn before I’m properly prepared for what God has next for me.

BTW waiting is not one of my strong suits but the thing about learning patience is that it takes time. It’s kind of like on the job training!

I have to be honest when I came home I put the piece of pottery on the counter and never bothered to tell my wife or anyone else about it. I had some errands to take care of this morning and didn’t get back home until mid afternoon when I finally checked my email prior to doing some finishing work on my message for tomorrow.

Sitting in my inbox was an email from a church I had sent my resume to eleven months ago. Five months ago I had received a communication from them inquiring if I was still available and interested in this church. A month ago I had sent them an email checking with them to see where they were in their process and had heard from them that I was still being considered.

For those of you who have not had the pleasure of hunting for a job or ministry lately I have to tell you that you can usually tell by thickness of the letter or whether an email has an attachment if you are still being considered. Thin letters or emails without attachments usually mean that you are no longer being considered for the job/ministry. But thick letters or emails with attachments usually mean that you are still being considered and td you have a questionnaire to fill out.

I’m sure that you are wondering about the email I received this afternoon… It contained an attachment and I’ve been asked to fill out a questionnaire.

Now I’m not saying that my wait is over or the church that contacted me is the one that God has for me but it is kind of exciting to realize that God heard my prayer and wanted to encourage me during my patience experience.

Just clay in the Potter’s hand

Pastor Val

Friday, July 15, 2011

Knowing God’s Will ... for Others

Have you ever had someone other than God play Holy Spirit in your life?

If you have, you know the sense of frustration in dealing with these “well meaning people.” It has always amazed me how the Lord always seems to tell them what He wants me to do but fails to reveal His will to me. When Paul writes in his letter to Timothy he says  “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” 1 Timothy 2:5 (NIV). Too often these “well-meaning people” substitute their name in place of Jesus.
Now I’m not talking about the clear will of God, like God’s desire that no one should perish but all come to the saving knowledge of God. Nor am I referring to things like the 10 commandments. What I am referring to are areas in our lives where we need to determine God’s will for our lives.

Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. Suppose you felt God’s call to the mission field, a field where you had originally been born into and spent the first 20 years of your life. After years of preparation and raising support you arrive on the field. You have spent four years of successful ministry there and have seen substantial fruit and now you travel back to the states for a furlough.

While you are back here in the USA you meet with the missions committee of your sending church and there are new people at the helm of the missions committee (or board). They review what your ministry and decide that they feel the Lord is calling you to another portion of the country where they speak the same language but the dialect and customs are different.

Let’s throw one more wrinkle into the mix. Let’s suppose that you are a native of the province where you have been serving and you understand the people who you are ministering to. The Lord hasn’t bothered to clue you into this change in His will but you are assured by this leader of your home church that this is God’s will for you and unless you change your ministry location they will cease funding you.

Or what if you are the pastor of a church and a person of prominence tells you that the direction that you believe God is leading the church is wrong?

Is this any different then the non-follower of Jesus who tells you that the decision or direction you believe God is leading you is wrong?

Do these people speak for God? Why has God chosen to speak to them but He has never bothered to clue you in?

What would you do? Where would you turn? Who would you believe? 

We rely on the one true mediator between God and man – Jesus. We spend time in dialog with Him. Notice I said dialog and not monologue! Way too often we are way to fearful of what man thinks and we’re too willing to obey man rather than God!

Are you willing to follow the revealed will of God for your life? The will that he promises to reveal to you and not another? Even if it means loss of position or funds or even prestige?

Follow God regardless of the outcome (at least form a human perspective). Do it for His glory so that his Kingdom is advanced!

29 Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than men!
41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.
Acts 5:29, 41 (NIV)
What great example for us! 

May we also be willing to follow God’s leading regardless if man agrees or not!

Pastor Val

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Missions for the 21st Century

Missions are being done differently in the 21st Century! With the glocalization of the world it is becoming easier for the average layperson to become more actively involved in missions. Many evangelical churches are changing their entire strategies to meet this brave new world.

What I mean by this is that each church or person can look at the gifts that they have and the talents that they have in the local bodies and seek ways of using these unique skill sets and gifts to meet local needs as well as globally. For example a teacher can help local at risk kids learn and perhaps help develop current teaching techniques for schools overseas. Another example would be for farmers to help farmers in drought stricken areas use better methods of irrigating crops to raise more food. Even a biologist could help engineer seeds that might be more drought resistant. All of these would be ways of seeking to fulfill Jesus charge in Matthew 25:34-40

Matthew 25:40 (NIV)
40 "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Of course we must never loose sight of our calling in Matthew 28: 18-20.

Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)
18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."

We are commanded to make disciples (which is a life-long process, by the way) and to do so in all the world.

So our goal should be to do this locally, regionally, by country and throughout the entire world. Act 1:8

We need to be intentional in our approach to missions. I believe that this starts with prayer on our part and listening to and following God’s voice and leading. It means realizing that in some instances we need to make use of our resources and give them to local people on the ground who can more effectively reach their local communities.

I have been helping a local ministry in India prepare and train pastors to go back to their local communities to plant churches. It support for a local pastor in a village is approximately $1000 a month and in a city the cost rises to approximately $2000-2500. Compare that to an American missionary in India where we would have to support them to the tune of $4000-7000 a month.

In other instances we need to continue to send people to the foreign field some in long term instances and other times in short term capacities. Sometimes as support for local leaders, other times to raise up local leaders to carry on the ministry. For example China is said to have had only a few believers prior to the expulsion of foreign missionaries but a generation later this number had grown to tens of million or even a hundred million believers because of faithful local leadership.

All of these examples and more have their place in our missions’ philosophy. We need to effectively use God’s resources to extend His Kingdom both here and abroad for the express purpose of bringing Glory to Him!

How’s your serve?

Pastor Val

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Rest Area Ahead!

I have been thinking about waiting on the Lord and what it means to wait. So often I grow impatient for the fruition of the plan that God vision that God has given me and confirmed for me, especially over the last few years.

I remember Moses who was impatient to be about the task God laid on his heart to be an advocate for his people Israel. Many of you remember the story how he took matters into his own hands and in the process of trying to do the right thing ended up becoming a killer and had to flee the courts of Egypt to save his life. He spent forty years in the palace of the Pharaoh only to spend the next forty years of his life tending sheep in the wilderness. It was only after eighty years had passed that God deemed him ready to lead the nation of Israel out of captivity and begin their journey to the promise land. He led his people for the next forty years of his life. It is interesting to note that a full two thirds of his life was in preparation for the last third of his life.

Then I turned my attention to David and how he waited fifteen years after he was anointed to be the next king of Israel before he sat upon the throne of his tribal family Judah. It took another seven years before he would rule a united kingdom of all twelve of the tribes of Israel.

I have to admit that I feel a little anxious thinking that I might be taking longer then Moses or even David to learn my lessons for the next phase of my ministry. Do you ever feel that way? Anxious for the next thing? Perhaps we are wishing our lives away.

I would encourage you to learn to rest in the Lord while you wait. Yeah I know easier said then done. I’m still struggling with this. Perhaps the problem is that I’m struggling! But I am reminded that God offers everyone of his followers a Sabbath Rest. His rest comes with a heaping helping of His shalom. (We often translate this word into the English word – peace. But it is so much more than that it is a fullness and contentment of the soul that leads to the Sabbath rest that the writer of Hebrews speaks about.)

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God – Hebrew 4:9

I desperately want to enter into that rest today. To allow cares and worries to fall away and rest in the arms of God safe, secure and at rest being content at what He has for me and for all who seek to find rest unto their souls!

Heading to the next Rest Area

Pastor Val

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Out of Left Field

Have you ever noticed how often God answers our prayers in the most unusual way?

Recently I’ve had a number of experiences where I cried out to God for someone in need, in need of help for myself, or even encouragement during an extremely difficult time. He has answered my requests just not the way I expected him to. For those of us who are Christ followers, if we were honest, we would have to admit that more times then not – no make that most of the time God never answers our prayers the way we think he should.

While musing on this fact I started calling it God’s left field answers!

Now the phrase "out of left field" is popular vernacular (first attested in 1961) meaning "wildly unrelated to the subject being discussed", and "out in left field" means "a little crazy". One theory involves the "Death Valley" in Yankee Stadium circa 1923–1988. During this time period, the shape of the outfield in Yankee Stadium roughly approximated an oval, with the "long" portion pointing to left-center. A left-fielder would thus typically be stationed further back from the action than the center or right fielders, as he would have a greater amount of ground to cover. Hence, "out in left field" meant one was furthest from the action taking place at home-plate, and the most likely to draw erroneous, fanciful conclusions about that action. Another, likely apocryphal, theory is that this refers to the popularity of seats in right field at Yankee Stadium while Babe Ruth was playing that position; buying a seat in left field would have been "stupid". Another theory is that this arose at Chicago's second West Side Park, home of the Chicago Cubs from 1893 to 1915. After the Cubs moved to what is now Wrigley Field, the West Side Park property eventually became the home of the University of Illinois College of Medicine. The U of I built its Neuropsychiatric Institute building in what had been left field. A fourth theory is derived directly from the experience of players. A runner attempting to score from third base will have ones's [sic] back to left field, thus a throw to the plate "out of left field" can arrive seemingly out of nowhere as a surprise to the runner. (My thanks to Wikipedia.org)

When I pray I often imagine how I think God should answer my prayers. In fact I find that I often try to plan out all of God’s actions for him. After all I think I’m a fairly intelligent guy and I can’t imagine why or how God could come up with a better solution to the problem then I’ve envisioned. Then God answer my prayer and it rarely happens how I planned it all out!

I’m once again reminded of God’s greatness and his complete otherness to me, and the rest of humanity. I need his gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) reminder of the lack of a vacancy in the Trinity. That his plan is better by far then ours could ever be.

Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV)

8 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD.
9 "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

So Lord please keep answering my prayers out of left field

Pastor Val

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Reconnecting to Your Network

This past week I’ve had nothing but computer problems on not one but three different computers! One was a simple fix of renewing my antivirus software. But the website wouldn’t recognize me so I couldn’t login for a couple of days until I could get logged into my account and pay for the renewal.

The second computer caught a bug that stopped me from being able to connect to the internet except for a website that wanted to sell me a fix to my problem that they had caused by their Trojan virus. That took a couple of days to fix with the help of another computer and downloading a free fix that worked when the computer ran in the safe mode. Now in all fairness it could have been fixed sooner but I’m not an expert so it takes me a while to think through everything and come up with an action plan.

My last computer problem was the death of my backup battery for the cmos in the third computer. Now replacing a battery isn’t a big deal but upon reconnecting the computer to all the wires and cords I discovered that I was no longer able to find my intra-net at the office. So for the last few days I’ve been able to use the computer and surf the World Wide Web but I’ve been unable to get to any files on the server or use any printers other than the one directly connected to my computer.

First I tried to fix the problem myself being the great computer guru I am (see my comment above) and after failing miserably I eventually called my friend and computer expert. “Together” we discussed my dilemma over the phone and he tried to help me. There were a number of small but necessary changes that we made to the operating system hoping to get the computer reconnected to the intra net but to no avail. Finally he suggested that I try refreshing my modem and router to see if that might solve the problem.

It DID! I was ecstatic and my friend was able to get rid of my annoying phone call.

Sometimes we forget that we need to refresh our connection with God and with community in general. Have you been feeling disconnected lately, perhaps your battery needs to be replaced, or maybe you have been infected with a virus?

If your battery is low your operating system won’t work and life will not boot up. If you have caught a virus your life will be infected and your life won’t run smoothly and often things just won’t work right. You will need to run a Biblical scan of your life and scrub it clean. Finally if you have had a problem with your life and you are trying to access your heavenly server, don’t forget to reboot your entire system so that you will be able to reconnect with God.

Scanning my life with the Word

Pastor Val

Monday, May 2, 2011

Royal Wedding

This weekend over 3 billion people witnessed (estimate based on yahoo news) the wedding of Price William and Kate Middleton. Almost 2000 guests witnessed the exchanging of vows in Westminster Chapel. What I found interesting was the choice of who was invited to the event and who was excluded. While many high profile people were invited a number of important political people were excluded including President and Mrs. Obama, the president of France and two former prime ministers of Great Britain. Additionally the Syrian ambassador was uninvited to the royal wedding due to Syrian government using lethal force against pro-democracy protesters.

Jesus talks about a wedding banquet and continued to teach on the subject of who is invited and who is ultimately excluded from the banquet in the third book of the New Testament entitled

the Gospel of Luke. You can read the story in Luke 14:15-24. It tells of a banquet where people are invited but are too busy to attend. So the banquet giver invites anyone and everyone who will accept his invitation to come and attend the feast.

The wedding banquet motif is further enhanced with another story Jesus told found in the first

book of the New Testament, Matt 22:1-10. In this story the king throws a party for the wedding of his son but the guests not only don’t want to come they absolutely refuse to come, mistreat the king’s servants and some are even killed. So the king invites anyone and everyone (other than the original invitees) to come and celebrate the wedding. It appears that he goes so far as to even provide garments for some of the less fortunate guests to wear to the banquet.

Both of these stories help to describe the coming Kingdom of God and the wedding feast that will one day take place. There is coming a royal wedding the likes of which will blow away the pomp and circumstance of William & Kate’s.

Bible calls this the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Rev 19:5-9. The church is the bride and Christ the bridegroom. I’m looking forward to day when the bridegroom comes to take his bride to the party!

The celebration will be epic!

Pastor Val

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Who do you relate to in the Easter story?

Each person in the story reacts to the story in a different way and we often relate to one or more of these people and the way they respond to the circumstances they faced 2000 years ago. The cast is large and the responses are varied.

The disciples as usual don’t represent a single unified front to the situation. Nine of them when push came to shove simply melted away in fear and concern for themselves rather for their teacher and his teachings.

The youngest disciple had connections and was able to get into the court to follow the events as they unfolded. Ultimately he was there at the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ; the only one of his 12 apostles who remained true to the end of his master’s earthly life.

The leader of the disciples tried to defend Jesus but had poor defensive skills and ended up denying out of fear for his own life, not just once but three times before he realized what he had done and fled in disgrace

One chose to betray his leader. Perhaps he became disillusioned by the Jesus because he expected a different kind of leader then Jesus ended up being. Many people were looking for someone who would answer all of their political problems and Jesus didn’t fit into any know political party of his time. Some looked of a military leader who would solve their problems by force but Jesus spoke and taught spiritual peace. Perhaps Judas was just an opportunist and got a better offer from the priests.

The priests were enemies of Jesus for he threatened not only their political power but just as important they spiritual authority. While these alone were reason enough to cause their hatred of Jesus it was the fact that he challenged their very core religious beliefs and understanding of who they were (the chosen people of God) pushed them over the edge.

Mayhap it is the crowd who you relate to. Crowds are unique and can take on characteristics all their own. People in a crowd will do and say things that they will never dream of doing individually. It has been pointed out that the crowd in Jerusalem was rather fickle; first by trying to declare him King and a week later being swayed to demand his death by crucifixion. They accept the guilt of innocent blood not only on themselves but also their descendants.

For political expediency Pilate tries to placate the popular political agenda. And he believes that he can wash his hands of innocent blood, as though by wishing it so he can free himself of his responsibility and guilt.

Now the Roman soldiers were considered the best soldiers in the world. They also were skilled practitioners of torture. For them crucifixion was a normal punishment for anyone who rebelled against Rome. As for the beating of Jesus, well first century punishments were brutal. After all these men were “just obeying orders” even if it was an unfair verdict and false justice.

The Centurion was a man who followed his orders and yet in the end recognized who Jesus was and proclaimed him the Son of God.

The thieves on the cross also reacted to Jesus that day. One thief rejected him and cursed him while on the cross. The other recognized who Jesus was and chose to believe in him and his kingdom. That very day the repentant thief experienced the Kingdom in the presence of the King.

The women at the cross followed their King all the way to his death. Faithful from the start until the end these women not only believed in Jesus and his message they supported this itinerant teacher regardless of his popularity and poverty.

A final person in this drama is that of Jesus, himself. He experienced betrayal at the hand of a close friend, forsaken by his closest friends. He didn’t like his immediate future but chose to be obedient even though it meant separation from His Father, death. He chose to die for your sins, failures and mistakes as well as mine even when we were enemies in rebellion to him and His Father. He chose to express His love in the most incredible way by dying in our stead.

So who are you like? What person best portrays your personal response to Jesus this Easter? Unfortunately I find that at times I find a mixture of all of these characters in my response to Jesus and his death.

But thank God, He raised Jesus on the third day! And by trusting in him and his finished work we are raised with him!

He is risen – He is risen indeed!

Happy Easter!

Pastor Val

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Correctly Handling the Word of Truth

I was disappointed today by a favorite author. I have enjoyed this man’s writing and teaching for years. Perhaps I identified with him because he has challenged the old guard in some of their outdated ideas of what constitutes appropriate Christian behavior. Perhaps because he brought a fresh understanding to Scripture passages.

But to day I found a glaring flaw in his writing and I have to say that it pointed out several important truths that I have learned over the years. The most important is that all leaders are flawed and are sinners. As such they all have weaknesses and sins that they struggle with. Being tempted to ignore these flaws has been the ruin of many leaders and their flocks.

As a leader of God’s flock we are commanded to correctly explain God’s word to those who have been entrusted in our care. Woe to the pastor who wrongly teaches their flock incorrectly.

It is tempting to interpret passages through the lenses of our own pet system or our hobby horse. But our job is to correctly handle the Word of Truth.

15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15 (NIV)

This means that we can’t take verses out of context, neither can we chose to misrepresent the original language words to suit to “prove” a point. We need to carefully look at the text and correctly exegete the passage. At times this will mean that we will have to change our views on a particular subject rather then do harm to the text or the context.

I’ve had to do that over the years – change my views on a particular subject (or even two). You see that is correctly handling the Bible. It’s called being conformed to His image and transformed by the renewing of our minds. To put it more simply it is living in obedience.

I’m sure that you are wondering what I was reading and what did I find wrong with it. Well let’s just say that isn’t the issue of this blog. There have been plenty of people banging on this guy over his book, some for good reasons and some for wrong reasons.

The more important issue is that we need to be careful with choosing teachers who are honest with the Word of God and for those of us who teach we must be honest with our flock, with ourselves, our study and our God.

With fear and trembling

Pastor Val

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Who’s Your Donkey?

We have all heard of how easy misunderstanding can happen in cross cultural events. Sometimes gestures can mean one thing in one country and entirely different in another (sometimes very embarrassing differences!)

This past fall I got to experience a new culture as I traveled to India to teach in a pastor’s training school. I got to experience what I can best be describe as the “Indian head wobble.” Now in America a head wobble means either uncertainty or a response of “so-so” but in India it means OK, yes or I understand.

While I had heard of it prior to the trip I experienced it first hand while going through a variety of security check points. Imagine my uncertainty as an Indian solider looked over my visa and passport and gave me a non verbal response of a “wobble.” I stood petrified like a Medusian statue uncertain if I should move to the next line or not.

During the class session imagine my concerns when asking if they understood a concept and received dozens of “wobbles!”

Now imagine my further chagrin when following a Q&A session I learned that I had blown off a question because I misunderstood the significance of the implications in the Indian culture!

I was asked the meaning of the donkey in the triumphal entry story in Luke and had answered that sometimes a donkey was just a donkey. (How Freudian of me!) You see in India animals are held in different esteem then in the United States. During a break my translator explained some of the significance to me and I insisted that at the beginning of the next session I apology to the class and ask my translator & good friend Naveem (pictured with me) to address the question.

You see even thought the caste situation in India is changing many people groups still feel the effects of being considered inferior. The donkey was a beast of burden that needed to be released and brought to Jesus. In India there are many people who are considered little more than beasts of burden that need to be released by someone and brought to Jesus. These believers were being challenged to seek out those who were still in bondage to the old ways and release them from their burdens and bring them to Jesus.

That day in class Naveem asked them “who is your donkey?” Who is it that Jesus needs you to go and in Jesus’ name release from their bondage and bring them to Jesus?

This Palm Sunday that’s my question to each of us – “Who’s your donkey?”

Have a great and awesome Triumphal Sunday!

Pastor Val

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Love Wins: But Does The Book?

There has been a hue and cry over a new book by Rob Bell – Love Wins. In the book it appears that Rob takes an almost universalistic approach to the issues of evil, punishment and Hell (a theological position that holds that ultimately everyone goes to heaven and that hell is empty). The book has climbed to third on the Amazon best selling list this week largely due to the uproar among evangelicals.

I have stayed away from the controversy until now because I have not read the book and unlike a number of leading theologically reformed pastors I don’t think I should address a book that I haven’t read. BTW it appears that at least part of the problem is that Rob is perhaps more of an Arminian then a Calvinist in his views.

What I can address is the swirl of issues that are related to the book that includes marketing, pastoring, the emerging church and theology.

First regarding marketing I can’t think of a better way to generate sales then to create controversy. Regardless of claims of innocence to this charge Rob Bell is a very smart guy. There is no way that he couldn’t know that the press releases; excerpts of the book and video clips to say nothing of the subject would cause controversy. My hat is off to his publisher for a great marketing campaign! Rob will be making a lot of money from the book sales!

But this brings me to my second concern, pastoring. As a pastor we are supposed to keep an eye on the unity of the body and care for the body. I don’t see a lot of that (from either side) in this fiasco. Part of this is due to the third issue I have the emerging church and their use of deconstructionism in Bible study. I have no problem with this as a way of getting to the truth but I think we need to arrive at the truth from time to time. And not just ask questions or create controversy a la Brian McLaren.

I sat in unbelief watching a youtube video of Rob Bell being interviewed on MSNBC and had to shake my head over Rob’s lack of concrete answers, but not surprised at his approach. A number of years ago I had the opportunity of being at a symposium where McLaren was speaking and where a Q&A session was set up after his talk. The discussion was lively and the natives were riled up but McLaren never actually engaged them or answered any of their questions. After the meeting I commented to people around me that getting Brian to take a position was like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall! It appears that Rob Bell is cut from the same cloth, as are many emerging church leaders.

I applaud the questions; in fact I have had many of the same ones myself. But sometimes that answers are available. It’s just that we often don’t like the answers! Yes, some questions are unknowable or are paradoxes or even conundrums. We shouldn’t ignore these subjects. God wants us to wrestle with them and from time to time we even find answers or at least partial answers.

And this brings me to my final issue, theology. A scholar once defined theology as establishing the extremes and searching for the middle. What constitutes orthodoxy vs. heterodoxy over the centuries has caused great debate. Defining who Jesus is and what he is made up of (two distinct natures both God and human) took centuries and several ecclesiastical councils to come to a majority decision on.

Reformed theology or Calvinism did not evolve until the 16th Century and Arminianism was a response to the excesses of Calvinism (although many of the theological thoughts had been a part of orthodox Christianity from the 1st Century).

Even the idea of Universalism has roots in the church back to the Middle Ages. The idea of the ability to escape hell was known as purgatory in the Roman Catholic Church. As an evangelical I reject this teaching but I still believe that many Roman Catholics will be in Heaven with me if their faith is in the finished work of Christ (I just believe that they will go directly to heaven).

Is theology important? Absolutely! And with this controversy we are witnessing some of the reasons why! Your theology gives you a grid work for answering life’s questions and for understanding how to approach God. Does God allow us to question him? You bet ya! Just read the book of Psalms or even the book of Job. God is fine with our questions but just remember that He might have some questions for you, too!

Is this an issue that needs to be debated and discussed? I think it is appropriate, but to carry on a “discussion” via social media or even traditional media is childish. Further the topic is too large and too important to be chopped up into sound bites.

I look forward to reading Rob Bell’s book but I’m not sure that I will discover any answers in it. He seems to be long on questions but woefully short on answers. Answers are to be found in Christ and in His Word. Allowing the Bible to interpret the Bible is always a great place to start!

Pastor Val