Archive for January, 2010

How would you answer that question? What criteria do you have for measuring success? For some, success is measured by their income. For others it is measured by the size of their office or home or car. One popular measure of success today is simply that you are famous. I am reminded of a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean. British officer to Captain Jack Sparrow, “You are possibly the worst pirate I’ve ever heard of” To which Sparrow responds, “Yes, but you have heard of me”.

Within Christian circles we know that the measures of success that are found in the secular world are not our measures. it is easy to say that having lots of possessions, popularity, or power are not the answer. Yet in churches we often still measure success in concrete, numerical terms. Successful churches are the ones growing the fastest or with the biggest budgets or the most popular. Maybe in some of our better moments we say that success is found in the number of baptisms, or people in a Sunday School Class or on short-term mission trips. In families we might say that is it having your children all believing in Jesus and a healthy marriage. While those things get closer to what success for Christians and ministries needs to look like, they still fall short. And in some ways because they are close yet so far away, they are perhaps more dangerous because they make us think we are successful in the right way.

If you watch little kids playing soccer for the first time it looks more like a giant amoeba moving up and down the field chasing a ball than it looks like soccer. On one occasion the ball ended up in the net, more by accident than by any intent. It was the first goal scored. Parents on the sideline screamed and clapped and cheered. From the reaction it was obvious that the children playing the game were stunned. The coach saw recognition dawn on the faces of his players. Putting the ball in the net is what the game is all about. The coach had assumed that they understood that. The kids had missed that point. They saw success as running up and down the field, kicking the ball around. Although that is part of the game it is not the whole deal. Success is putting the ball in the net.

Going to Bible classes, having people come to church, meeting budget and all the other things we associate with ministry are certainly part of the deal. Having your children believe in and follow Jesus is certainly a part of what it means to be a successful parent. But they are not, “putting the ball in the net”. Those are more like the running up and down the field part of the game. Jesus gave us what success looks like. He said “going into all the world, make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you, an I will be with you to the end of the age” Matthew 28:19-20. Success is living a life that shows other people what it means to follow Jesus. It is an ongoing thing. He literally said, “as you go”, meaning that as you go through life, live out the truth in radical ways so others follow too.

This is not a new concept with Jesus. In Deuteronomy 6 it says that we are to speak of the truth of God, as we walk along the road, as we rise up and lay down, as we eat, we are to tell it to our children in all these cases and even as we enter and exit our homes. In other words, you pass on the faith to your kids by being a living demonstration of what it means to follow God.

All of that is well as good and certainly many would say that they are doing just that. Many churches would say that they have programs that are accomplishing all this through evangelism and discipleship. But this is often just more, “kicking the ball up and down the field”. There is one more passage that we need to focus on that ultimately defines success for the Christian. In 2 Timothy 2:2 Paul says this to Timothy; “And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others”. It was at a conference in India that I was confronted with the power of this verse like never before. As I spoke with Christians who were having incredible impact among Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists I heard this verse over and over again. What they said was that you are not successful unless your ministry goes to the fourth generation. You are the first, those you train are second, then there are those who they pass it on to who in turn pass it on to others.

Far too much of what we do as Christians is a “one-off” dead-end. Preachers give the message to a congregation and we think we have scored. Parents see their children confess faith in Christ and they shout, “GOAL”. The real test of success is not that my kids all have faith in Jesus. The real test is have a demonstrated a faith that they then pass on to others who pass on to others? The test is not did the message impact the congregation and inspire them. The test is, are they taking it to others who are passing it on to others?

The kind of four generation success that real discipleship produces requires investing your life in people everyday. It is as you are going. It is not a program. It is a passion. It pours out of you and into others and it overflows from them to the next generation and beyond. Christians in India are reaching hundreds of thousands of the most resistant people on the planet. They are doing it to the fourth generation because they have marked that as real success.

At some point the attention of the world will move away from Haiti. It will happen for any number of reasons and probably a combination of them all; disaster fatigue on our parts, some new item will hit the news and replace Haiti, the drama of rescues will subside, the slow work of rebuilding is just not compelling news, or simply we want to get back to our own lives. However, the pain of the people there, the work needed to restore lives, and the opportunity to show the love of Christ will continue for years, maybe decades, to come. With estimates of 200,000 dead this approaches one hundred times as many dead as 9/11 or Katrina. The physical devastation makes Katrina and Hurricane Andrew look manageable.

So how does the Body of Christ respond once the media attention has died and the initial disaster relief is over? Let’s consider what a provocative Christian response would be and make a decision now to do just that. In order to help Haiti in a positive way it will be important that rebuilding happens in cooperation with local Haitians. The world could come in and rebuild everything and leave Haiti with all new infrastructure but no sense of self-worth as a people or ownership of their lives. We would simply be continuing what has become a “welfare-dependent state” that is forced to look to the rest of the world for its sustenance. What needs to happen is for Christians to connect with other Christians in Haiti and come along side them, working together to rebuild their country and their lives in ways that allow them to own the process and the results. We need to go as servants not as the answer people who will solve all the problems.

So where do we start? First we need to look to those groups who are already connected in Haiti that are helping Haitian Churches impact their communities. Through those groups we can come alongside our brothers and sisters who live there, know the community, know the needs, and will carry on the work of Christ when no foreigners are around. We need to help those locals be seen as the ones doing the real work and we are serving them. Groups like Churches Helping Churches, New Missions, and IsleGo are already doing this. They are helping local Haitian Churches make an impact for Jesus. The best thing we can do is commit to help them do that.

Second, we need to have followers of Jesus from all over the world connect to organizations like this and then go to Haiti. They don’t need you there today. There are plenty of first responders and other trained disaster relief people getting there. In fact there is a backlog of people trying to get on the island. But what about four or five months from now? Would you be willing to forgo your plans for a two-week summer vacation and instead go to Haiti for two weeks and serve? Would you be willing to commit to that for the summer of 2010, 2011, and even 2012? That is provocative. That is Christ-like serving.

Third, would you be willing to ask others, even people who are not following Christ to join you on such a mission? Yes even those who do not follow Jesus can be used by Jesus for his glory. Not only that, but Jesus has a way of bringing people into a relationship with himself by first getting them to server others in just such situations. I saw a family of four go on a trip to rebuild homes in Mississippi with a dozen other Christ-followers. On that trip the entire family came to Christ because of the love they saw demonstrated and because Jesus used that trip to break down their walls.

This is certainly one of the greatest disasters in the Western Hemisphere in some time. But it is also one of the greatest opportunities we have had to demonstrate what it means to “Love Jesus With All Our Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength and to Love Our Neighbor as Ourselves”. That is what being a Provocative Christian is all about.

Pat Robertson is quoted as saying that the earthquake in Haiti is God’s punishment for a deal that nation made with the Devil in 1804. Robertson claims that the pact was made so that the Haitian people would be able to defeat the French who held them in slavery. CNN article on Robertson Normally I would not deal with this subject and disagree so openly with another Christian. However in this case, there is a theology behind such an outrageous statement that must be addressed. The statement is that God is punishing an entire nation for an evil committed 200 years ago. Without even dealing with whether or not such a pact was ever made we need to deal with the theology of punishment that Robertson seems to buy into so often. Remember he also said that Katrina was God’s punishment on New Orleans for its sins and that Virginia Beach was saved from a hurricane because he prayed for it to go elsewhere. (I wonder how the people who live in the towns where that hurricane eventually struck feel about that prayer) The net result being that God spared Virginia Beach because of the prayers of the righteous and destroyed Haiti and New Orleans because of the sins of the wicked.

At first glance it is easy for many to buy into a theology of destruction and mass punishment from God. You can point to Sodom and Gomorrah as an example. But here is the difference. Prior to the destruction of those wicked places, God had a conversation with Abraham. The result of the conversation was that there were less than five people in those two towns who were not guilty of grievous sin and God insured the safety of those people. He was not going to destroy the just with the unjust when he punished someone for their sins.

During Jesus’ day there were a great many people who held to the theology of destruction as punishment that Robertson pronounces so often. The idea was simple. If something bad happened to you it was because you were a bad person and had done something to deserve it. Jesus shot down that theology as strongly as possible. In Luke 13 he deals with this issue:

1Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

People had the idea that the Galileans who Pilate killed and the people who had a building fall on them must have deserved it because they were very bad people. Jesus says that they were no worse than anyone else. They were no more guilty than anyone else in Jerusalem. The implication being that all of us are guilty of sin and all of us, not just Haitians, or people from New Orleans, have sinned and could face the consequences. Earthquakes happen because we live in a world that is spiritually fallen. Tragedies strike because of sin, but it is most often the general condition of sin and not some specific national or group sin that brings the hurricane or tornado. A tower fell on a bunch of people in Jerusalem because in a sinful world, towers do that sort of thing from time to time. They don’t fall only on “bad” people. When they fall on people, “good” people and “bad” people can all get killed. But of course we need to remember that because of sin we are all “bad” people. That was Jesus’ point. Those people were no worse than anyone else who did not have a tower fall on them.

In a passage in Matthew 5 designed to help us learn how to respond to our enemies Jesus says this: 43“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. God causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust and the sun to rise on them as well. What Jesus is saying is that God makes good things happen to everyone, even your enemy, so love them and care for them as God does. The flip side is that God also allows tragedy to strike the just and the unjust. Why is another question for another time. But the point being, everyone faces good times and hard times in life and when those times are faced by a massive group of people it has little to deal with specific sins or 200-year-old deals with the Devil. It has to do with a world that is fallen in general.

We live in a fallen world. Earthquakes happen in such a world. Buildings collapse on people in such a world. Our response is not to be one of smug self-righteousness that says “those people deserved the earthquake” or “those people deserved to have the tower fall on them”. Rather, our response is to love such people as we would want to be loved. So if you lived in Haiti how would you want to be loved? You could have someone say, “Too bad, your ancestors brought this on you with a deal with the devil” or you could have someone pray for you, provide shelter, food, medicine, and Christ-like love for you. I think it is clear what Jesus would do.

As one final thought, I wonder, which of those two people will you listen to when they say you need to surrender your life to follow Jesus?

1) The world says: “If you want to be great, you need to climb to the top of the ladder so others will serve you.”

Christianity says: “The greatest among you will be your servant” Matthew 23:11

2) The world says: “Suffering is to be avoided at all costs”

Christianity says: “Rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” 1st Peter 4:13

3) The world says: “Get as many toys as you can in life”

Christianity says: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul” Matthew 16:26

4) The world says: “Look our for number one”

Christianity says: “Carry each others burdens and thus fulfill the law of Christ” Galatians 6:2

5) The world says: “Never let anyone take advantage of you”

Christianity says: “If someone wants to sue you to take your tunic, give him you coat as well” Matthew 5:40

6) The world says: “Never let anyone disrespect you”

Christianity says: “If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” Matthew 5:39

7) The world says: “Be the master of your own destiny”

Christianity says: “Father if you are willing take this cup from my, yet not my will, but yours be done oh Lord” Luke 22:42

8) The world says: “Hold on to this life as long as you can”

Christianity says: “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and the Gospel will save it” Mark 8:35

9) The world says: “Don’t get mad, get even”

Christianity says: “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother? Up to 7 times? Jesus answered, ‘I tell you not seven times, but seventy times seven’ Matthew 18: 21&22

10) The world says: “God helps those who help themselves”

Christianity says: “For it is by grace that you have been saved – through faith, and this is not of yourselves. It is the gift of God so that no one can boast” Ephesians 2:8 & 9

There is a television program called “The Biggest Loser”. The premise of the show is a group of extremely overweight people compete to see which one of them will loose the most weight over the course of several weeks. It may be the only time in western culture in which the winner is actually the one who lost the most. Yet even in this show the winner is really the one who did better than everyone else in reaching the goal. The folks who did not “win” because they had not “lost” enough weight are still considered “losers”.

We only cheer for the winner. No one wants to be on the losing end. In the open to the movie “Patton”, George C. Scott is playing World War 2 General George S. Patton and he is giving a speech that is pure “Patton”. A line in that speech says “Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser. Americans play to win all the time. I wouldn’t give a hoot in Hell for a man who lost and laughed.” I suspect that what is true for Americans in Patton’s speech is true for people around the world. Just look at how people react to things like the Olympics or better yet, The World Cup. We go crazy for winners and are embarrassed by losers.

So how crazy and provocative is it that the Bible encourages us to be on the losing end of things? In his first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul was dealing with a situation in the church in which fellow Christians were taking one another to court and filing law suits against each other. Paul was outraged by this. How in the world was it possible that people who were supposed to be family in Christ were unable to be reconciled and allowed issues of money to divide the body? He puts it this way: The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 8Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers.” 1 Corinthians 6:7

What Paul is saying is that the unity of the Body of Christ as well as our witness to the world, is far more important that any monetary victory or any emotional victory that we might achieve by taking another Christian to court. It would be far better to be cheated out of something that you rightfully deserve than to ask the secular court to settle a dispute between two Christians. It would be better for you to be cheated out of something than for Christ to be cheated out of the glory that He is due. Whenever Christians are unwilling to reconcile, whenever we are unwilling to suffer wrong for the sake of Jesus, then we are the cheaters. We have cheated Jesus out of His glory and honor. We have defiled His name for our own benefit. That is scandalous in the eyes of Paul. It would be far better for us to be seen by the world as being a big loser, then for Jesus to be discredited.

That is a hard pill for us to swallow. The reason being is that our pride gets in the way. We become overly concerned about our reputation and forget about the reputation of Jesus. I have been in the position of having to decide to be a loser for the sake of Jesus. Years ago I was on the staff of a church where I eventually became the pastor. While I was on staff the vast majority of the congregation, over 95%, decided that they needed to leave the denomination they were connected to and align with another group. The decision was based on some serious theological differences. The group that voted to change was certain that they had every legal right to keep the building and property of the church. The 5% who disagreed filed a lawsuit to keep the building for themselves. In obedience to 1 Corinthians 6:7, we handed over the keys of the building and walked away from a church building that was only 10 years old. It was a very difficult decision for many people. But it is one that had to be made if we were going to be faithful to God’s Word. The short version of the rest of the story is that God honored that decision and made it possible for that church to eventually purchase 12 acres in a better location and see the ministry grow from under 200 people to over 700 in just a few years.

Not every case of being a loser for Jesus will result in such tangible blessings from God. But that is not the point. The reason for being willing to be wronged for Jesus is so that His name is not defiled for the sake of our pride.