The Right Purpose Of Power

We’re living in a time when we’re all thinking about power and, most recently, the misuse of power. We’re seeing power abused in politics, business, systemic oppression, #metoo stories, and pastoral leadership. Here’s a very thoughtful quote for all of us who have been given some form of power by God, that He’s asked us to steward in the best way possible.

“Power is a gift—the gift of a Giver who is the supreme model of power used to bless and serve. Power is not given to benefit those who hold it. It is given for the flourishing of individuals, peoples, and the cosmos itself. Power’s right use is especially important for the flourishing of the vulnerable, the members of the human family who most need others to use power well to survive and thrive: the young, the aged, the sick, and the dispossessed. Power is not the opposite of servanthood. Rather, servanthood, ensuring the flourishing of others, is the very purpose of power.” – Andy Crouch “It’s Time To Talk About Power”

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What Is That?

This morning I’m waking up to a strange brightness on the horizon. There’s this bright, brilliant light casting beams of yellow and orange over my back fence. I’m also looking up at a sky I haven’t seen in two months. The sky isn’t grey but this strange, yet lovely, color of light blue. What is happening? We’ve had the longest two months of grey, drizzle, downpours and storms in our part of the world that any of us can remember in quite some time. They grey skies and drizzle have been going for so long that it’s strange to see the sun this morning. It is kinda weird but I’ll tell you one thing – it’s nice to see the sun! I guess don’t realize how much I take for granted how frequently I get my needed vitamin D from California sun exposure. I guess when things get taken away, you start to realize how wonderful, how blessed, and how necessary those things are in your life. As George Harrison once sang, “Here comes the sun . . . And I say – It’s alright!”

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Ashes

Today is Ash Wednesday, the day Christians enter into the season of Lent. It’s a day when many of us enter into thoughtful introspection about the reality of our condition (called sin) which prompted God’s final solution through the death, burial and resurrection of His Son Jesus. It’s also a time many of enter into a time of fasting as we await the celebration of Christ’s resurrection on Easter. Why do we fast, be it from food, technology, or certain activities?

Here’s a great explanation by NT Wright: “We need to take time and make the effort to bring our lives into line with the new reality. We do not fast because we commemorate some great national disaster. We fast because, as those already caught up in Jesus’ kingdom-project, in God’s new world, we need to be sure that we are saying a firm goodbye to everything in us that still clings to the old.”

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God Is Moving

I just got back from speaking at a men’s retreat this past weekend. Obviously I go into these times of ministry praying that God would use me to help others, but this weekend I don’t know who was encouraged more – the men I spoke to, or me. I think I was the one who was more encouraged because literally every man, who spent a little time with me, told me amazing stories of redemption, stories that were living examples of Jesus power to completely transform lives! When you hear stories of men putting needles in their veins, beating their wife while their kids watched, and then after meeting Christ become a pastor on the streets of a large city, with the son who watched your dark side serving by your side to reach homeless teens – you find yourself amazed. When you hear about how God can meet a man in prison and turn his life from meth addiction, and hear about meeting Christ in lock down, and hear about men’s hopes and dreams to serve Jesus – you find yourself marveling at the power of God. When you hear all of these stories coming out of different churches, in different communities all throughout Northern California, you walk away with a renewed awareness of the fact that God is moving powerfully in people’s lives. Sure God’s work may not be working on the scale I’d like but I cannot say He is not at work!

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Why Me Lord?

For a long time in my life I’ve asked the question, “Why me Lord?” when things weren’t going my way. An unexpected car repair, illness, and conflicts all tended to lead me into a head space of whining out loud to God, “Why me Lord?’ But in the last few years I’ve been trying to reframe the question and ask it in a different way in a different context. These days when I get a nice tax refund, I can pay an unexpected bill, I enjoy good health, and the love of my family with whom I enjoy that good health,  I’ve stared asking “Why me Lord?” In this way I’m learning to stop complaining so much, and learning deeper levels of gratitude by recognizing the many ways God continues to prove Himself so good towards me. Who am I to enjoy the health God has given me thus far? Why do I, of all people, get to experience the amazing wife God has brought into my life? How is it that God made it possible to give me three amazing kids, the home I live in, the church I get to serve and the long list of blessings God has given me? Who am I to be given eternal and abundant life, and my eternity is secure, when I haven’t in any way earned such grace? Try it today. Instead of asking “Why me?” as a complaint, ask “Why me?” as an act of praise.

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Senioritis

It’s funny how low my motivation has become in writing this blog. Once I made the decision to get out of the blog-space at the end of April, almost as quickly I began to feel the drag of doing it. It’s funny how this thing that was once a joy became a chore so quickly. But the fact is – “not feeling it” doesn’t mean the thing I’m doing isn’t full of meaning. Emotions go up and down but the meaning of our work doesn’t change. Even a half-hearted honest blog confession, like this, can be the thing that produces a smile in someone, or the feeling that they’re not alone in the rat race of life. So, though I don’t write this morning with great passion, I still write because the process of writing shapes me, and my writing is always put out there with a sense of hope that it might help someone beyond me. Happy Monday!

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Church Health And Missional Patience

I just read this insightful interview about the nature of the church’s mission in post-christian North America. This Christianity Today interview is with Pastor Colin Smith and there are two issues he addressed I absolutely agree with in my own experience.

Church Size vs. Church Health:

Question: It’s hard to deny that we are living in challenging times culturally. The church’s influence is fading, and we are struggling to find answers to some hard questions. What’s your take on the health of the church today, especially as it relates to our witness?

Colin’s Answer: Church health is not the same as church size. I come from the U.K., where secularism has made deeper inroads into the culture than here in the U.S. Church attendance has dropped dramatically but, in my opinion, church health in the U.K. is better than it was 20 years ago.

One reason for this is that as nominal Christians abandon the faith and leave the church, those who remain realize their dependence on God in new ways. When numbers go down, spiritual temperature can go up, and I have seen new resilience, new cooperation, new faith and new venture in many U.K. churches.

If that happens here in the U.S., we may be in a better position than before and, like Gideon’s army, more useful to the Lord than when our numbers were larger.

A Patient View On Our Mission:

Question: What does evangelism look like today, and how can we begin to develop a passion for showing and sharing the love of Jesus on a daily basis?

Colin’s Answer: The first priority is always that a person becomes one of Christ’s sheep. Evangelism today needs to begin further back. For much of the 20th century, Christians were able to assume a basic understanding of who God is, what sin is, and why we need a Savior.

When people rebelled, they usually had some knowledge of the God they were rejecting, and when they chose not to believe, it was the God of the Bible they chose not to believe in. So when Christians shared the gospel we could assume a basic understanding its categories. But today, many of the people we are called to reach do not understand the basic categories of the gospel—hence the need to begin further back. 

Some years ago, I met Tony Howarth, a pioneer missionary, sent by his church in the U.K. to an unreached people group in northern Thailand. He described the long process of gaining the trust of the tribe he served, and then of learning to read and write their language.

When I asked him where he began in sharing the gospel with these people, he said, “We tell them the Bible story.”

This answer made immediate sense to me. The Bible begins with God introducing himself, and the Old Testament builds a framework for understanding who we are, why we need saving, and what a Savior would need to accomplish.

God has given us all that we need for explaining the Gospel to any person, at any time, in any culture, and I am convinced that we need to rediscover the longstanding practice of pioneer missionaries, and learn how to evangelize by sharing the storyline of the Bible.

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