Tag Archives: spirituality

Principles are weird…are you weird?

jetskiSometimes it’s hard to do the right thing, even if we have resolved to live our lives on principle. We will always be tempted to fall back into a habit of self-preservation and the seeking of our own self-interests. However, there’s another factor that will make it difficult to live consistently on principle.

Living on principle is weird.

It is unusual to find someone committed to living on principle. When you do, they stand out. They spend a huge amount of time doing things apart from their own self-interest; they don’t simply volunteer one or two Sundays a month at church, they are consistently and regularly volunteering hours whenever and wherever there is a need, while also being active in other community activities and outreaches. They don’t look at their time as something they sparingly donate, they are focused on making a significant impact on the world around them.

Looking around, you will see lots of people spending their money on lavish vacations, recreational activities, bigger and better vehicles, and other things that make life a little more comfortable. Often times, people who live on principle seem short on cash. They live below their means because their spending is tied to their principles. This doesn’t mean they don’t go on vacation, upgrade vehicles, or have other comforts, but they could have much more than they do if they didn’t spend so much money supporting their church and other worthwhile missions and causes. It isn’t an issue of tithing 10%; that is simply a minimum. Jesus highlights that we are called to more than the minimum; we are called to live generously.

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
Luke 21:1-4, ESV

Living on principle means putting those valued ideals of yourself and your own comforts. For some, that may mean donations yearly in the tens of thousands of dollars. For others, that may “simply” mean hundreds or thousands of dollars. It means we are willing to sacrifice some things that would be really nice for something bigger than us.

I remember when my youth pastor, Tim Hunter, challenged us to give 10% of whatever we money received as junior high and high school students. He said, “Right now, you are sacrificing a meal out or a case of soda, but if you can’t do that now how will you be able to sacrifice a jet ski or a new car when you tithe as an adult?” Living on principle means the mission is more important than the money.

As a ministry director for a new nonprofit, it’s fair to say that funds are not plentiful in my household. However, we were what I would call “comfortable” in our finances when I was a youth pastor and my wife worked for a law firm. We owned a modest home, had decent vehicles, and I even eventually saved enough money to buy my Harley Davidson motorcycle. However, that purchase came after a year of saving extra money after our tithe, our other bills, and additional giving to groups and missions like our support for a missionary friend in southeast Asia and our giving to a Christian summer camp that we are passionate about. Anything we purchase beyond essentials (true essentials, like food and clothing, NOT “essentials” like cable TV and gym memberships) was weighed against doing what we could do to support the advancement of the gospel in and through the various groups we worked with.

If by some fluke a “normal” person notices that you are living on principle and not for our personal interests, it will grab their attention. While they will talk about going to the cabin every weekend and the new snowmobile they bought to replace the “old one” that they bought last year, you talk about volunteering at the food distribution over the weekend or at the local youth drop in center. In addition, even though they know you make enough money to afford new things, they will notice that you don’t buy new toys every year. They may eventually work up the gumption to ask, “What’s different about you?” And when you give them the answer, their response will be simple.

You’re weird.

And they’re right.

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Change, principles, and other boring stuff that can dramatically alter your life

bowieI’ve been involved in church leadership now for almost 14 years (that seems like forever). I have now worked as a volunteer in a church, as part-time staff, as full time staff, as paid temporary staff, and as a supported ministry worker. I have been asked to give advice to churches I do not regularly attend, and I been asked to not give advice to churches that I do regularly attend. I have also spent years working with ministries that seek to supplement and support in-house church ministries. I have been part of growing and vibrant ministries, ministries that have struggled and declined, and ministries that have switched from one to the other and back again.

When you work with any organization, and I think especially with churches and ministries in the last 10+ years, you experience change. It is inevitable. Either your ministry is changing and adjusting to different demographics, attitudes and cultural climates around you in order to better reach the people God is putting in your path or you begin to experience declines in attendance and engagement with your ministry. Sometimes you enact those changes along the way and you find that you do not experience the results you are hoping for, which leads to further changes. It is a difficult, confusing, turbulent cycle that tests our patience, resolve, and even our faith.

With change comes uncertainty and conflict. Again, these things are unavoidable. I remember major conflicts that took place when I started my full-time ministry and all of the twists and turns that took place over my first three years as a youth pastor. People were upset and extremely frustrated because of change, because of lack of change, and most importantly because of a lack of assurance over what the future would bring – and this was true of people from both sides of the conflict.

I was forced to navigate these waters as a 21 year old church leader, and for over a decade now I have continued not to just dip my toe in these waters of change and conflict but to dive in head first. I was not ready back when I was too young and inexperienced to deal with what I was thrown into and I am not ready now, as a 32 year old church leader that now has experience but still not enough to deal with what is coming my way.

Why do I do it? Some would say it’s because I like to argue (not completely untrue), but, truth be told, I am weary of the battles that feel like they have been continuous and unrelenting for too many years now. I continue to fight, to accept and work through conflict, and to seek difficult and painful changes for one reason: principles.

I believe God has called all of His followers to something extraordinary. I believe we are called to change the world, not just in subtle ways through our everyday lives but also I big, dramatic ways like what can happen when likeminded believers work together towards a God-sent vision for a group or a community. I believe He has called us to do difficult things because nothing that is worth doing is easy. I am willing to endure the deep pain that conflict with fellow church members, many of whom I truly have considered family, brings to my heart because I know that “weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” (Psalm 30:5, ESV)

There has been a single principle that I have lived my life by. In some ways it is far too simplified, but it has worked for me. I’m not entirely sure where it came from (the Sunday School answer would probably be “God”), but I think it might be from my answer to the question, “What is the meaning of life?”

The answer is not 42.

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
Ecclesiastes 12:13

This is a simple answer by a wise man as a culmination of 12 chapters of a book laying out a methodical process to find the meaning of life and what was learned along the way. The principle I live my life by is simply this: “do the right thing.”

So, in any situation, the question becomes, “what is the right thing?” That’s the part that isn’t so simple. I will say this; the answer is never easy, convenient or comfortable. This has required that I get rid of any notion I had of living life my own way. It has meant that I would take on the role of servant to nearly everyone who has asked something of me. I have sacrificed money, time, energy, and personal desires for what at times feels like no reward at all. It has forced me to put relationships that I value at risk, it has caused me to sacrifice a comfortable job for the instability of something new, and it has brought me pain, sleepless nights, and heartache.

And it has totally been worth it, because it has put me in the place God has wanted me and it has caused me to do what I have been created to do. There is nothing better than that.

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My Response To Critics: Hey guys, I’m a false teacher!

Anti BartSo I think this is my final comments on the past conflicts we have seen in our push towards unity among Christians in my community.

Unless it isn’t.

So anyways, this lesson comes to us from a letter to the editor responding to my “Unite around the Bible” article that was published by the local newspaper. Here is some of what the letter writer says:

There are many sad things going on in this world and one of them happens to be so called “Christian” churches manipulating scripture to satisfy their own self worth and greed.
They then try to hide this manipulation by promoting a fake sense of “unity” to fool the public into a false belief that their disagreement with scripture isn’t harming them and all these other denominations really agree with their point of view…

So if you want true “Christian Unity” don’t follow the false teachings of the fake unity around us today, but ground your beliefs in the only true source God uses to obtain real “Christian Unity” – the Bible.

Anthony Scheff, “Unite around the Bible,” in Readers’ View, Fairmont Sentinel, Thursday, October 6, 2014, pg 6

As I have stated previously, we have not sought to water down God’s word or to ignore aspects of scripture, we have pushed to work together towards what God has called us to while not letting those disagreements on secondary issues prevent us from accomplishing the tasks to which He has called us. To claim that what we are doing is “manipulating scripture” is laughable. To think that the push is about making ourselves feel good or lining our pockets is absurd – for the Unity Station fair outreach I contributed hundreds of hours of work, and thousands of dollars were committed to the project, with income from donations covering well below 10% of the expenses.

As the writer of this letter continues, he echoes the criticisms of the local pastor who claims that any short of full agreement with their interpretation of scripture is acceptance of “false doctrine,” which this letter writer equates with being “‘united’ in belief with Satan.”

While some of the rhetoric in this letter goes massively overboard, it is representative of something I have seen more and more in recent years. In any (reasonable) collection of believers and Christ followers there will come disagreements over the scriptures. That is as true among a collection of believers in a church who have agreed to a statement of faith from that church or denomination as it is in an ecumenical collection of believers that crosses denominational and faith-tradition lines. However, more and more I am hearing claims that someone else is believes “unbiblical” or “false” teachings and beliefs.

Just because we don’t agree with someone doesn’t make them a false teacher or heretic!

Church tradition has laid out what we call orthodoxy. Orthodoxy can be defined as a standard of belief that has been carried by those faithful to the one true God throughout history. We do not stand as believers today on our own; we are supported by the faithful around us in our churches and communities as well as around the world, and we are supported by the billions of faithful followers of Christ who have come before us over the two millennia since Christ walked among us. Sometimes opposing viewpoints can both claim orthodoxy: for example, Calvinism and Arminianism both can show support for their respective beliefs from throughout Christian history.

Now to make the claim that any disagreement with one particular set of theological beliefs ignores the breadth of viewpoints from throughout history, as well as the breadth of viewpoints within the lifespan of individual teachers and leaders from history. With careful study you can see how Luther, Calvin, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and nearly any other great teacher from history developed their beliefs over the course of their lives. They did not jump into ministry at 18 years old with a fully developed set of beliefs and a full understanding of the scriptures; God walked these great men through the process of sanctification, teaching them, guiding them and growing them just as he does with each of us today.

Last week I posted an extended quote by Jerome, the translator of the Vulgate. Jerome was passionate about God’s Word, so much so that his life work was to bring a translation to the church that would be the most useful and as accurate possible. Here is a quote from Jerome:

Do not take offence on account of the simplicity of Holy Scripture or the unsophistication of its words, for these are due either to translation faults or have some deeper purpose. For Scripture offers itself in such a way that an uneducated congregation can more easily learn from it, some benefit there, and both the learned and the unlearned can discover different meanings in the same sentence. I am not so arrogant nor so forward as to claim that I know this, which would be like wanting to pick on earth the fruits of trees whose roots are in heaven.

-Jerome (342-420 AD)

“The Christian Theology Reader,” ed. Alister E. McGrath, Blackwell Publishing: 2007, pg 88.

Jerome, one of the greatest pure Bible scholars in history, was so impressed at the depth found in the Bible that he claimed it would be arrogance to claim to have full knowledge of God’s Word, even though an uneducated, average, every-day church goer can pick up a Bible and have an insight that would completely blow away long-time pastors and scholars alike.

So my closing encouragement is this: don’t take the Bible for granted. Be reminded of the incredible gift it is, and humbly acknowledge that part of that gift is our lack of understanding and opportunity to seek truth together, knowing that God is passionate about opening His truth up to those who seek after him.

The Lord has said: “ask, and it shall be given; knock, and it shall be opened; seek, and you will find” (Matthew 7:7). So let us study here on earth that knowledge which will continue with us in heaven.
-Jerome

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My Respone To Critics: Unity and getting over yourself

Lets hug it out 2Unity seems like a good idea, right? Most people I’ve talked to, including some who do not regularly attend church, think the idea of churches working together to share God’ love to those who need it is a good thing. For most it is, as my mother would say, a “No Duh!” kind of thing.

Not so for everyone. The following excerpt was published in the Fairmont Sentinel on Oct 24th in response to our push for greater unity in the Christian community and our Unity Station outreach at the county fair;

Laudable intention. Wrong approach. An outward display of unity is pointless, even harmful, if there isn’t true unity based upon the Word of God. Christians end up settling for a “least common denominator” faith: We all believe that the Bible is true and Jesus has provided a way for us to be forgiven. Every other doctrine in Scripture is discarded as “secondary.”

…We’re more willing to settle for a façade of unity than to actually confront and correct false teaching on the basis of Scripture alone.

-Peter Hagen, “Can we achieve unity in the Christian church?” Fairmont Sentinel, Friday, Oct 24, 2014, pg 6

I don’t disagree with the concept of unity being based on the Word of God. In fact, as we have communicated our vision for unity it has been based on the truth of Scripture and the need for saving faith. We have in no way “discarded” other theological beliefs, but we have stated that those beliefs are secondary because without saving faith in Jesus Christ as Lord they are irrelevant; you can be the strongest believer the episcopal form of church government or consubstantiation in the world, but if you do not believe you are a sinner whose only hope for salvation lies in the person and work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, then those beliefs are about as useful as a cardboard box in a hurricane. I believe that all followers of Christ should have some theological viewpoints on these and a multitude of other positions, but as I wrote previously, these things are not “essentials.”

Somehow, when I read the words this pastor wrote in October and received several phone calls from concerned friends and ministry partners, I didn’t think this pastor and I were on the same page. A month later in a follow-up article, the pastor continued his thoughts;

I contend that Scripture is clear. God’s Word means what it says and says what it means…

The problem is with unbelief, which sets God’s Word aside in favor of some other authority.

This problem is compounded by arrogance and condescension, masquerading as pity upon the poor soul who would dare assert that God’s Word is clear (and that, on the basis of that Word, a doctrine could be declared to be “false”).

-Peter Hagen, “Christian unity is good, but how do we attain it?” Fairmont Sentinel, Friday, Nov 14, 2014, pg 6

Again, on the surface I agree with much of this statement, but the pastor’s statement that humility regarding our ability to fully comprehend God and His truth is actually “arrogance and condescension” is, to me, massively narrow-minded. The example this pastor uses regarding how “God’s Word is clear” is the creation account in Genesis 1. He encourages readers to survey local churches and ask, “Does your church teach a literal creation – seven regular days of 24 hours each?” Any other belief, in this pastor’s opinion, is nothing less than a rejection of God’s Word for the acceptance of man’s misguided wisdom.

This point struck home for me. On the specific issue of creation I have in the past shared his viewpoint. I remember a conversation I once had with one of my students, a highly intelligent and well-studied high school girl, over creation. She and her family would be described as “old-earth creationists,” clearly believing that God created everything, but that it was not necessarily in a 168-hour window of time around 7,000 years ago. The statement I made to this student at that time was this; “I’m not sure someone who doesn’t believe in a young-earth creation view really believes the Bible is true.”

I now look back at that conversation with regret (and I later apologized to that family), because I now believe that viewpoint was misguided and arrogant.

For what it’s worth, I am still a young-earth creationist – I do believe that the world was created in a 168-hour window of time around 7,000-10,000 years ago. The thing is, I don’t really care all that much if someone agrees with me on those specific points. My reasons for saying this are the following:

  • I believe that all truth is God’s truth-not just Scripture, but truth found in nature and the world around us. Everything that is true, good and right is intentionally put in place by the Creator. Anything that is evil is a corruption of God’s good, true creation.
  • Our understanding of truth is open to some interpretation. I have extensively studied evolutionary theory for years, and I do not believe it is scientifically irresponsible to hold a young-earth creation view. I can read the Bible and come up with the belief that professing believers should be baptized, others can read the same words and believe that children should be baptized. This isn’t one side or the other refusing to submit to the truth of scripture, it is simply a difference in reading and understanding truth that God is communicating. God is bigger than us, and He is a bit smarter than us. His truth as communicated to us stretches us because it’s more than we can deal with on our own. As Augustine said,

If you understand it, it isn’t God.

  • We must approach the search for truth and understanding with humility, acknowledging that some of God’s truth is beyond our ability to comprehend and must be opened to us through the work of the Holy Spirit. We must “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12, ESV). God has begun a good work in us, and we are called to spend our lives humbly pursuing His truth wherever and however He reveals it.
  • On the issue of creation, I believe that there is sufficient evidence to acknowledge that it is very possible that there are other models of creation that are not only possible from a scientific perspective but also from a biblical viewpoint. For example, each day in Genesis 1 is not transitioned with “the next day,” leaving open the possibility of time gaps between days. It says “there was evening and morning,” but the sun and moon were not created until the fourth day, so what requires that the first 3 days be viewed as 24 hour periods of time, a standard humanity has built from the movements of the sun and the moon? The list of examples could continue, but my point is this: even if I believe in a young-earth view, I can humbly acknowledge that I may be wrong and, more importantly, I can acknowledge that this belief does not directly impact the truth of the Bible as a whole or the gospel specifically.

As God has grown me and taught me more about His truth, He has been required to repeatedly pound into my skull my need to acknowledge that I don’t know everything and I will never know everything. I look back at where God has brought me, from a narrow-minded perspective on the Bible that looked at any and every disagreement as a hill to die on, to a place where I am willing to humbly continue to pursue and defend truth while acknowledging that not every difference is worth arguing over, and I am thankful for the lessons God has taught me. 10 years ago I was one of the last people in the world that anyone would expect to be pushing for unity and solidarity across personal and denominational lines, but I can rejoice that God has and continues to refine me and use me. As Paul wrote,

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

-2 Corinthians 12:10

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You can’t spell ‘Unity’ without ‘U’…and some other stuff

U = YOUIt is now over 9 months since I began my push towards a more unified community of faith in and around Martin County, MN. The early months were spent in preparation and vision-casting among some trusted ministry leaders. That push was followed by a concerted effort to spread the word, especially focused on our county fair outreach, as well as messages sent to individuals and churches. Like most of what my organization, The Gathering, has done, this was something new and different, so the ball began rolling very slowly while people got their minds around what we were trying to do. Doing something different and new often garners reactions like that: people are slow to respond to something they are not used to or do not fully understand. However, I often find myself quoting Charles Spurgeon and Craig Groeschel in those situations:

If we can’t get sinners to Jesus by ordinary methods, we must use extraordinary ones.
-Charles Spurgeon

To reach people that no one is reaching, we have to do things that no one is doing.
-Craig Groeschel

To put it another way: the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If we want different results, we have to do things differently.

That was the goal: do something different, something that showed that our faith community was not simply a collection of churches competing for attendance and tithe dollars, because if that is the perception in the young adult community of churches then we have exactly 0% chance of reaching them. I was realistic in my promotion of this idea; if we were to achieve a level of success in this area we would be accomplishing something that very few (if any) communities have accomplished. However, I believe that we are capable of accomplishing great things because God has empowered us to do great things in His name.

But what would this look like? What shape would unity in a local community take given the breadth of established churches from a variety of differing denominations, each with its own congregational personality and set of distinctions? Here are some of my ideas:

First, I do not think this would become a movement that would seek to dissolve all of our independent churches to become one uber-church serving the entire area. I think we have individual churches for some good and practical reasons, and I see no reason to change that. By having smaller churches comprised of people that work well together and are in full agreement on a variety of theological beliefs, it allows for better discipleship and growth as well as a better structure for ministry and support that starts from and grows out of deep and meaningful relationships.

Second, I think we do have the potential to come together more often for deeper and more connected worship of our God; not just the God of the Lutherans or Methodists, but the God of all Bible-believing Christ followers. It’s true that we can worship by ourselves, but worship in a group can (and should) take that worship to another level when we gather together in a community of believers. Those who have experienced worship on an even larger scale, maybe at a festival or conference, can attest to an even deeper worship experience when an even larger and more diverse group of believers gathers for worship and praise. Worship can be powerful, and the experience of God’s people coming together can not only move believers but it can impact others and draw them towards God. I hope and pray that we can come together as a community in Martin County and as communities of faith around the country and world for the sake of God’s glory.

Third, I believe that God has created us not to simply wander aimlessly through life, but to live life for a purpose. We were created to do His good work, and I believe that when we work together to do God’s work we can accomplish exponentially more. My small group, working together, can accomplish more than any of us individually could accomplish alone; my church can accomplish more than its collection of small groups or Sunday school classes could accomplish alone. And, I believe, a collection of churches working together can accomplish more than the same group of churches could accomplish working alone. We have the hungry to feed, the hurting to comfort, and the lost people to lead towards the Good News of Christ. If we come together, we can do so much more than we are doing now.

Finally, I believe that those beliefs that unites us are greater than those that divide us. There is a Latin phrase that bears this idea:

In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas

Translated, the phrase means this:

In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity

This is the essence of the unity I have been pressing for. The essentials we have taken a stand for are the inerrancy and authority of the Bible, the work of the God/Man Jesus Christ, and the need for salvation for all of humanity. In other debates, whether they center on baptism, worship style, format of the Lord’s Supper, etc, there is no a need to quarrel or disassociate over the difference. Some of these things are important, but they are not essential to our faith – we are all believers and followers of God regardless of what our specific beliefs on these subjects are if we have followed the Bible’s guidance for salvation;

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
-Romans 10:9 (ESV)

But in all our interactions and discussions, we have charity, love and graciousness, with a view of the big picture of what God has called us to, both individually and as a group.

This doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges or conflicts. We are bound to have struggles. We will come under attack from the Evil One, who most certainly does not want us to accomplish greater things for God and would be most happy to have us settle in to a comfortable, status-quo “faith” that does not seek to challenge ourselves or others. We will have divisions and rifts that will arise based on disagreements, differences in personalities and ideas, and varying beliefs. The road towards unity is one that is long, treacherous and largely uncharted, but I hope we continue to walk down it together, for the Glory of God.

For further reading, check out this excellent article by Dr. Mark E. Ross; “In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity”

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Rewind: HOPEless

In 2011, my wife Charmaine and I spent over two weeks in Thailand, meeting with refugees and pastors, learning more about the Karen people group and about international missions work with our friend Joanna, a missionary that we support. We came back in the middle of July and, 4 days later, I took a group of teenagers to Colorado for a summer missions trip. We worked with a local church that does outreach to several local apartment complexes, including a couple of locations that are filled with very low-income residents. Then, about a week after we got back from that trip, I had the honor and privilege of officiating the wedding of a former student. It was an exciting and absolutely exhausting month.

Throughout my two trips, God kept bringing the idea of hope into my mind. The history of the Karen people is very interesting, and several times in my trip it was paralleled with the history of Israel in the Old Testament. The Karen people were evangelized early in the nineteenth century by Adoniram Judson – a small people group called by God surrounded by nations that served other Gods. The Karen people were tempted to stray from God. Eventually, as was described by Karen pastors in Thailand, they strayed from the path God had called them down and God judged them, exiling them from their homes. But, like Israel, God has not done this simply for the sake of punishment or out of anger; I believe he has done this out of love and a desire to have these people reconciled to Him. It is my prayer and my belief, sparked by the prayers of the Karen pastors and leaders that I met in Thailand, that the Karen will again one day be reestablished in their homes in Burma and that they will be a shining light for the one true God in a region where they are surrounded by Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. The biggest struggle for the Karen leaders, as well as the biggest difference between the Karen who are showing signs of life and those that have given up, is hope. Pastors like Henry, Weelapong, and Edward (I’m changing some names for their protection) show a great deal of excitement and anticipation for what God is going to do, and they desperately pray for His will to be done. Many others, however, have given up; and who can blame them. They have been driven from their homes (some several times) by a government that hates them because of their race. They have seen friends and family members killed. They trekked through jungles barefooted, avoiding poisonous snakes and spiders and dangerous animals. They live in terrible conditions in refugee camps in a foreign land, run by foreigners that are teaching them ideas that do not mesh with their heritage. Where could anyone find hope in the midst of that?

These are homes of refugees behind barb wire; there are tens of thousands of refugees living in Mae La, making it the largest camp in Thailand.

While working with the students in Colorado, there was one apartment complex in particular that we struggled with, a place called Green Gables. Not only was Green Gables the largest of the locations that our group worked at, it was the worst off. The kids that live here spend very little time at home during the day, and the parent (almost none of the families have 2 parents) is typically happy to not have to deal with the kids. Problems that we typically expect from inner-city teens, like drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, and extreme attitude problems, start here around ages 7 or 8. Few kids here reach the 8th grade. When the sun goes down, almost everyone makes their way indoors because they know it isn’t safe to be outside there in the dark. Where can you find hope in that?

…look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
-2 Cor 4:18 (ESV)

The truth is, an honest assessment of any life can lead us to struggle to find hope, apart from the one thing in the universe that can give us a future worth living for – Christ. Those pastors in Thailand look not at what is currently happening or what seems likely but at what God can and will do, and they have hope. They know what God has promised for those who follow Him. In Colorado, we were told of a group of girls from Green Gables that had found hope in the Lord. They were entering High School with great grades and with optimism for what was in store for their future. They were looking past the struggles in their lives, their families, and their community to see that God has a plan for them.

God is doing amazing things, and the future is only going to fill us even more with awe and wonder at God’s amazing power. God told His people through the prophet Habakkuk;

Look among the nations, and see;
wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
that you would not believe if told. (1:5)

God said this leading into the judgment of Assyrian and the exile of Judah at the hands of the Babylonians. God was showing His people that justice would come, even when it meant judgment against Israel. God’s plan is good and, in the end, works to bring Him the glory He deserves. He will fulfill all the promises He has made, and we can live knowing that He is in control, even when life seems out of control. Justice will come, and God is going to do absolutely astounding things right before our eyes. So, despite what we see in our culture, in our economic situation, in the political situations around the world, or in our own homes, we can have hope that God is in control and that He has a plan for each of us, ultimately ending in an eternal rest with Him in glory!

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“Crazy Love” – Francis Chan

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I grew up believing in God without having a clue what He is like. I called myself a Christian, was pretty involved in church, and tried to stay away from all the things that “good Christians” avoid-drinking, drugs, sex, swearing. Christianity was simple: fight your desires in order to please God. Whenever I failed (which was often), I’d walk around feeling guilty and distant from God. In hindsight, I don’t think my church’s teachings were incorrect, just incomplete. My view of God was narrow and small.

If you’ve never heard of Francis Chan or his story as a believer and pastor, I’d encourage you to look it up. He is a solid, traditional Christian pastor who is unwilling to settle for comfortable, traditional Christianity. For me Chan is one of the best pictures of a man of God seeking to do God’s will regardless of the consequences. This has meant starting churches, leaving ministry settings that are comfortable and well established, and being willing to step out in a direction that leads to a lot of unknowns with very few guarantees. I have been able to relate well to what Chan has done recently, and he has been an inspiration and example for my personal life.

Chan’s basic idea in Crazy Love is that we underestimate and under-appreciate God’s love for us. This is a message I have heard at various times from various teachers and authors, but Chan approaches it in a different way. Instead of focusing and rehashing “God loves you” over and over again for 170 pages, he clearly, personally and passionately lays out God’s overwhelming love and care for His people as He has displayed it through scripture. Chan then immediately builds off of that, pushing us to see how that powerful love should affect us.

The world needs Christians who don’t tolerate the complacency of their own lives.

Too often Christians talk a good game about God’s love and how we want to follow Him, but our lives don’t show it. We speak of having faith in God, following His guidance for our lives, and loving others, but then we react to situations in ways that are the least disruptive for our own lives as possible. We let our comfort, our desires, and our control get in the way of truly loving God and living a faith driven life for Him.

One of the biggest challenges I have felt from Chan’s teachings is in my relationship to others. I’m more of an introverted guy who likes to stick with a couple of people I’m comfortable with. I enjoy going deep in my study of the Bible and of faith-I love digging into biblical history and systematic theology. But Chan challenged me on a lot of how I went about that. I could say that relationships with others were important as much as I wanted, but if I didn’t live in a way that showed that other people were important to me, it wasn’t an honest statement. I could talk about personal discipleship and all of the Bible study I’ve done over a couple of decades of being a believer, but if I didn’t take Christ’s commands to love my neighbors as myself it was worthless. If I was not letting the powerful love of God flow out from me to others, I was not having the impact on my world that God intended for me.

Chan shared one of the most powerful stories I have ever heard. He talks about a gang member who, through Chan’s church, accepts Christ and turns away from the gang. He becomes an active member of the church initially, but after a few months his attendance drops off. Chan contacts him and asks him what is happening, and the answer is amazing. The man explains that in a gang, they are family and they act like a family, being a central part of each others lives and spending significant time with each other. The church said they were a family, but the reality was that they got together for a couple of hours every week then mostly avoided each other the rest of the time. How is that for love? Crazy Love continues to challenge me to stop living life by default, in a way that is standard and comfortable, and live like I truly believe in what the Bible teaches. There are few books I encourage believers to read ahead of this one, and I hope that others take up the call to live honest, passionate lives for God.

I wrote this book because much of our talk doesn’t match our lives. We say things like, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,’ and ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart.’ Then we live and plan like we don’t believe God even exists. We try to set our lives up so everything will be fine even if God doesn’t come through. But true faith means holding nothing back. It means putting every hope in God’s fidelity to His promises.

A friend of mine once said that Christians are like manure: spread them out and they help everything grow better, but keep them in one big pile and they stink horribly. Which are you? The kind that reeks, around which people walk a wide swath? Or the kind that trusts God enough to let Him spread you out-whether that means going outside your normal group of Christian friends, increasing your material giving, or using your time to serve others?

“Crazy Love” by Francis Chan, with Danae Yankoski

ISBN# 1434768511

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