Living in Hope

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV).

This is an often quoted text within the Christian subculture. When people quote this, it seems that life is going well, or at least there is hope that life will go well soon. When we examine the context of this verse, things are not going well for the people of God. They are in exile. And it will be quite sometime before anything will change for them. God tells His people settle in this exile from Jerusalem for the long haul. It will be about seventy years before things change. The elders who receive this letter are too old to ever see it fulfilled in their life time.

On the world stage we find Christians being targeted for death. We saw this last week in the news when Al-Shabaab targeted Christians for death at a Kenyan university. In America, we are getting mixed messages from our media. On one hand last week, the popular Christian group, Hillsong UNITED, performed on NBC Today Show. Yet, on the other hand Christians in America seem to be increasingly living in exile in our own country. An example of this is found in John S. Dickerson’s, The Great Evangelical Recession:

In 2011, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported that in a formal survey, American sociologists said they would be “less likely to hire” a job candidate who is evangelical. Of the sociologists interviewed, 39.1 percent overtly said they would discriminate against a job candidate who is evangelical.

It seems that Christianity is out of step with the prevailing culture. Today the prevailing culture is demanding that Christians keep their religious views more and more private. Your religious opinions can stay in your church buildings. But, do not bring the Lordship of Jesus Christ to have any influence over your life once the Sunday morning closing song has been sung.

How do you and I live in hope when life is hard and hard for a long time? How can we keep from going into despair? If we look to the surrounding verses, we find some action steps we can take to strengthen our hope:

  1. Continue to live even when life is hard (Jeremiah 29:5-6)
  2. Seek and pray for the welfare of the culture around you (Jeremiah 29:7)
  3. Be careful to whom you listen to as secular people try to shape your worldview (Jeremiah 29:8)
  4. Seek the Lord Jesus with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13)

When you do this you will be able to cope with the hardships of life (including living in exile) and with death because of the hope you have in Jesus Christ. Because the eternal life is ours, we can life with hope and courage!

“Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3).

Reasonable Doubt: The Resurrection

Throughout my life, I have to admit I’ve had my doubts about God. Sometimes, I wondered if God even exists. Are we all alone in this universe? Is there a creator out there who made this place or are the atheistic scientists correct that everything could be explained by the big bang theory, not the television show with Sheldon and Leonard. It is the theory that the beginning of the universe was self-started with a big bang.

My sophomore year in Bible College, Dr. Gary Hall was explaining the reasonableness of a Creator God. He went through his proofs and I said, “That doesn’t hold a much water when you think of it.”
At other times I doubted if God cared. It seemed like everything in my life was going upside down and sideways and not in any good way. I doubted God loved me. Often I’ve doubted if God was able to use me.

These kinds of doubts are common to most of us. But, the heartbeat of Christianity is found in THE Garden. Not the Garden of Eden, but in an empty tomb in a garden near Jerusalem. In that garden is the heartbeat of the Christian message, “He is Risen.” These three words literally mean: “to wake up from the dead.” The heart of the Christian faith is not moral teaching. The heart of the Christian faith is not certain philosophy. The heart of the Christian faith is a historical event.

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul, a man who once persecuted the Christians then became one, wrote that the most the gospel can be summarized as this: Jesus died for our sins according to the scripture, was buried, and on the third day raise from the dead and he was seen by people. BUT, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins… 19 If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied”— 1 Corinthians 15:17 & 19 (ESV).

So, “He is risen” is a big deal. The most famous doubter in the church is nicknamed Doubting Thomas. Let’s read his story from John 20:24–29 in NIV:

Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!”
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; 29 blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

See what happens to Thomas. He moves from honest doubts to total trust. And you can move from honest doubts to total trust. Jesus says there is something a bit better than seeing and then believing. It is believing without seeing. When our faith is faith without sight does not mean that it is faith without reason. It is faith that is shaped by reason but requires much more than just reason; it is a relationship.

What Jesus is saying here is this, “it is possible to move beyond reasonable doubt – without having to see with our own eyes or touch with our own hands.”

There are many reasons to believe in “He is Risen,” let me give you the top four.
1. “He is Risen” because Jesus predicted his death and resurrection (Mark 8:31).
2. “He is Risen” because The Tomb was Empty (Luke 24:3).
3. “He is Risen” was seen by over 500 witnesses (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
4. “He is Risen” transformed the Disciples from cowards to courageous witness. (Acts 4:13)

You may continue to wrestle with the idea that Jesus rose from the dead. Could I suggest that you read a book called: A Case for Christ?

On my key ring there is only one key that fits the front door at my home and there is only one key that will open up the door to Heaven for you and me. That is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. What does that personal relationship look like? See what Thomas says in verse 28, “Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” That defines the new relationship with Jesus. He is my Lord, the One who rules me, and my God, the One I worship.

You can listen to the complete message: A Reasonable Doubt: The Resurrection

Humility Before God

Humility before God begins with obedience to God.

“[Jesus] humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” Phil 2:8

Believing in the God of the Impossible

At Mustard Seed Christian Church, Sunday was a big day. With 89 people in the building that safely holds about 60, it was time to do something. The leaderaship team met today with hearts to dream about what could be and how to get into a space to grow. In a metro area with a population of 17 million people with less than 1% Christian something must to be done for all those who are facing a Christless eternity. Jay Greer, the lead pastor, laid out a plan. Step one: find a new larger temporary subway accessible location by February 28th. This would save the ministry a full month’s rent. The team dreamt of space that would allow the church to expand to over 1000 people but would be flexible enough to not feel like an empty cavern before it gets full. Sounds impossible? Not for a God who majors in the impossible.

With a lead on a facility closer to a major subway hub and pleanty of space to grow, Seth and Jay have found a great spot. There are options with this rental space that can be adapted for a growing congregation. Tomorrow a sound test will be done to make sure that the music would not disturb other renters. Please pray that the sound will not travel from one floor to the next. It is great to see God answer the prayers of a church who is on mission to reach lost people and grow disciples in the 10/40 window.

Worshipping the God Who Invites Risk Takers

My first evening in Japan, Seth and I ate at McDonald’s. It tasted pretty good after many meals of rice and vegetables. I experienced a train ride and subway ride as I connected with Seth. One I arrived at their small three story house, Megan and Asher greeted me. It was fun.

This morning we traveled to the church building where Mustard Seed Christian Church meet. We arrived with the team preparing the building for worship and fellowship. The staff swept, set up chairs, completed video, and cleaned off scuff marks off the wall. The space is small but appears to be maximized. A Japanese chef is preparing a healthy meal for those who will be staying afterwards.

The spirit of the place is that “we are on a mission with God.” The team is on this adventure together.

With patience the lead pastor, Jay Greer, enlists the help of his son, Rowen, with various tasks.it was a gentle demonstration that we are in this as a family. The band practices under the leadership of Matt with his wife managing the artwork, sound, and pro-presenter.

Andy from the sister church started 5 years ago preached the message. He called those who are exploring Jesus to take the risk of following Jesus. We will never be able to enjoy the rewards of following Jesus without taking a risk.

Seth is an amazing young man who loves Jesus and so desperately wants the Japanese to come to a saving relationship with Jesus Christ and to see them grow up into Him. He gave his day to significant spiritual conversations. Megan also invested in connections with various people while keeping her eye and attention on 2 years old Asher and baby Pheobe.

88 people showed up today for the worship service. The building could hold only about 60 comfortably. Mustard Seed is looking for a new place to worship and do ministry. Please pray for God to supply a larger and affordable an accessible space.

Access to the Internet: So post

From 2015-02-16 Grateful for the Day

Some days are just hard to sum up. Today is such a day. It began easliy enough with breakfast with a couple of my coworkers. We laughed and shared our cold meal that we have gotten use to as if it has simply become our normal routine.

We went to Lisu Christan Church (as it says on the sign) where Tom Moen began teaching hitting it out of the park with teachings on integrity and passing the baton of leadership to the next generation. After lunch, I taught a lesson on preparing a preaching calendar. I was going along with my North American assumptions on preaching, laying out a year of preaching, and showing how I did it for 2014. I then asked if there were any comments or questions. Timothy, one of the wise experienced pastors, asked how many times do you preach in a week? I said, “I preach the same sermon twice.” Then he asked, “How does this work if you have to prepare 5 sermons each week?” That just blew me away. His people gather to worship God and learn from His Word Thursday night, Saturday night, Sunday Morning, Sunday at noon, and Sunday evening. I asked, “Are these the same people?” He said, “Yes.” Amazing!

After the classes were completed and things were rapping up, I was invited into a conversation about coming back to teach Community Health Evangelism and a Leadership Conferences up to twice a year. Is this just a good idea or a God idea? I don’t know but I am searching for God’s will.

Before dinner an elderly pastor of 88 years old, the man who preaches 5 different sermons a week, and the new young college president shared their passion for reaching southeast Asia for Christ. Earlier today day, Simon shared with me about what it would take to start more churches.

We finished off the day with dinner in a small Myanmar diner and topped it off with some ice cream.

Grateful for the day!

A Good Day

One of the first converts from animism to Christianity among the Lisu

One of the first converts from animism to Christianity among the Lisu

Today I preached in a thatch building to a room full of children, women, and men. The enthusiasm of worship was inspiring even though i did not know a word sung, yet I am sure Jesus was honored. The church was started by a man many years ago who was brought to Christ through the Morris family. The Pastor is 88 years old who appears frail until he prayed for his congregation.

He reminded his congregation that those of them over 50 years old that they are Christians because God sent foreigners to us.So, he always welcomes foreigners to come and share with them. And we were welcomed!

Christian fellowship crosses boundaries of age and culture. Children sang songs including Lisu hymns from memory. It was simply beautiful.

After lunch, we opened a medical clinic and served over 90 patients in about 3 and a half hours.

Thankful for the day!

Sitting in the Presence Champions

Joel, 1st Generation Christ Follower from Putao

Joel, 1st Generation Christ Follower from Putao

The man was aged through the years and the miles yet had joy. Life had not been easy for this first generation Christian. He had seen his tribe relocated out of China to the Hidden Valley. His life has past the autumn and had moved into the early days of winter. But, the Light of Jesus shined through his glossed over eyes from cataracts and his smile missing all but a few teeth. Joel wore the life of a man who had ran the race and only had a few miles left to the finish-line but he was finishing well.

Today, I taught lessons not from experience of miles traveled with Christ but like that I feel like a novice. I spoke of humility of where one thinks of herself with sober judgment (Romans 12:3) and consider others better than yourselves (Philippians 2:3). I spoke of embracing the vision that God gives us for our lives to make disciples of all nations and fulfill our part where we are (Matthew 28:18-20). Finally, I shared about facing opposition within the church family (which I have had some experience) and facing oppression from outside the church family (which I have almost none). I seemed more like a consultant with 15 lessons and an airplane ticket to escape the reality of those who are running their race with endurance in the middle of trying days.

WhenI looked at this man and the elderly women of the Lisu tribe who embraced Christ and faced the struggles and cost of following our Lord, I knew I was sitting in the presence of champions who ran the race that was set before them because they fixed they eyes on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-4). Soon they will receive the goal of their faith, the salvation of their souls (1 Peter 1:9). May I learn to run with such grace and endurance.