Archive for November, 2010

I know that this week is all about being thankful. I know that the Bible is clear that we are to give thanks in all things. I wrote a blog on that very topic sometime back. Give Thanks in All Things. In spite of that I have to admit that I am having second thoughts about all this thanksgiving spirit. Maybe I am just getting more contrary or maybe there really is something to be said here. The point is, it seems that much of our “thanksgiving” runs shallow and is extremely self-centered. Most of the time, our giving thanks stops short of making a real impact.

Here is my point. My recent trip to India got me thinking a great deal about the words of Jesus in Luke 12:48 “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” What has continued to run through my mind is the realization that I and almost every follower of Christ in America, have been given immeasurably more than Christians in almost every other place on the planet. So it has me wondering, What will you require of me Lord, in light of all I have been given and for which I am thankful?

All around America on Thanksgiving Day, people will stop and give thanks for the many blessings in their life. Followers of Christ will be thankful for the freedom they have to worship, their home, jobs, food, family, the list goes on. Once we are done giving thanks for all these we will dig into the turkey and mashed potatoes then fall into a turkey induced stupor in front of a football game. At least that is usually my routine. When that happens we fall woefully short of what God has for us. We need to ask a question on the heels of all our thanksgiving. The question is simple. Jesus, what do you want me to do with all I have been given in order to bring you glory and lead others into a relationship with you?

You see we have not been given all our blessings just so we can have a wonderful life. We have not been showered with good stuff just so we can be comfortable. We have been given all the blessings we are so thankful for in order to use those things to make a difference in the lives of others. So here is the deal. When you run through the litany of things that you thank God for, don’t stop there. Continue the conversation with Him and ask, what do you want me to do with this? How can I use all this for the advancement of your Kingdom. That is how we can truly say thank you to God for all His good gifts in our lives.

In the fall of 2008 the Indian state of Orissa was rocked by a shocking wave of violence. Tens of thousands of Hindus went on a month-long rampage against local Christians. By the time the violence ended more than 60 pastors were killed, mostly beaten to death by mobs, and 100 churches or church related buildings were burned. I have just returned from doing 3 days of basic ministry training for 130 pastors and other leaders in Orissa. It was the most difficult trip I have ever taken. Not because of the forty hours of travel to get there, or the large furry rodents running at my feet as we ate in the hotel restaurant to go with the two others the kitchen staff had just killed and swept out the door. It wasn’t because of the garbage and filth that lined the streets and choked every lake, pond or canal. It wasn’t the smell of raw sewage flowing in the gutters or stepping in one of the countless cow patties left by the animals that roamed freely, everywhere. It wasn’t even the concern for my safety that my hosts had after a gang of men tried to disrupt our training. (From that point on I was not allowed to be on the street and was never alone expect when I got back to my hotel room.) All of that I expect as part of the deal. I have traveled enough to know that’s how it is and that someplace has to be the worst yet. You simply have to learn how to roll with that.

What made this so difficult was seeing the video tape from the news station that showed people being beat to death because of their faith, seeing the homes and churches that were burned, talking to pastors who hid in the woods for a month while people brought them food. Seeing all that and then seeing that these Christians continues to press ahead, longing for ways to reach out and serve the very neighbors who attacked them and then comparing it to our own situations in the west, THAT is what made it so difficult and painful. No matter how hard I tried I just couldn’t, and still can’t, shake the words of Jesus out of my head, “to whom much is given is much required”.

You see, even though these pastors have theological degrees and are well-educated in doctrine, church administration, preaching and the like, they have received no training in basic disciple-making, community outreach, the pastors family life, or multiplication through church planting. The training we did was the only known training conference for pastors EVER in this area. The average evangelical church member in the USA or England or South Africa has tons more training and resources in basic ministry than these pastors of churches in India. On top of that a single pastor there typically oversees 6 or 7 churches at the same time. They have nothing. Yet they press ahead in the face of life threatening opposition, seeking to learn how to love and serve their neighbor, their enemy. They are doing more with nothing than most in the west are doing with everything.

When I finished a session on The Good Samaritan and told them you do “What You Can, With What You Have, Where You Are”, a number of them said that they felt guilt and shame because they had no idea that ministry was supposed to be about reaching out to those God puts in your path, those who are clearly in need. They had a time of repentance right there.

The typical reaction when hearing about this is for western Christians to express how grateful they are for the blessings God has given us, our freedom, resources, safety, etc. But as we are prone to do, such sentiments, while a good start, fall woefully short of what is really needed. What we  need to do is ask, “God, what do you require of me in light of all my freedom, blessings and resources”. Again I say, “to whom much is given is much required”. It simply will not do to stop with a recognition of our good fortune. We must go the next step and ask how that fortune is to be used by God so that others will come to know and love Him. In Orissa, Christians are asking that question in spite of the fact that the answer could lead to their death. How much more should we be asking that question ourselves?

Matthew 5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
I have wondered why this is my least favorite of the Beatitudes that Jesus spoke. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it has a lot to do with the fact that of the group this is the one that I a clearly do not exemplify in my own life. The simple truth is, the more I look into my heart of hearts the further from God I realize that I am. I keep getting reminded of the somewhat creepy sounding statement from the old radio show, The Shadow. “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.” You see the issue is, the more I get to know Jesus, the more I see the evil that lurks in my heart. Not only does the Shadow know, but I know and there is no psychological trick of denial that is strong enough or effective enough to cover over that fact and hide that truth.
The closer I get to Jesus the more I realize I am a despicable, sinful, self-centered, egotistical, covetous person. At this point you are all supposed to say, “oh no Dan, you’re wonderful, awesome, and godly, don’t be so hard on yourself, we love you”. Thanks. I appreciate the gesture but that is exactly how our world tries to deal with the sinfulness of our hearts and it just doesn’t cut it. Denying that one has cancer will not get rid of the cancer. A correct diagnosis and surgery can. Denying the sin in my heart will not make my heart pure anymore than painting over the X-ray of the tumor will make it go away.
Now here is the huge irony in all of this. It rests in the statement “the closer I get to Jesus the more I realize how sinful I am”.  As the sin in our life gets dealt with and we grow to be more like Jesus, our heart is getting more pure. As a result we see who God is with greater clarity than ever. BUT, we also see the sin that remains with that same clarity. I may have been able to effectively deal with a mouth that swore like a drunken trucker before I came to Jesus. But as I get closer to Him I realize that sins of the heart like envy, or jealousy are harder to deal with. And as long as I don’t to something too overt to let that sin out, nobody else knows about. I look good on the outside, but the inside is not what it should be.
So what’s the answer? I found it in a 4th century book by St. Augustine titled, “Confessions”. In it I saw a man who learned to be honest about the sin in His heart. He exposed it to the light of truth. And just like a vampire from a Hollywood science fiction movie, it looses all power and crumbles to dust when exposed to the light. Sadly, Christians have learned to paint over and hide their heartfelt sins. We have learned not to expose them and make them known because we so quickly get rejected by other Christians who are threatened by the possibility have having to expose their own sin.
Jesus has a very different approach. It is called confession, repentance, and forgiveness. He deals with our sin and urges us to move on and get even closer to Him. But I want to warn you. When you do that you will find out even more of the things that lurk in your heart. A further part of the irony here is that the closer you get to God, the more you realize that you are farther from Him than you thought. As you see the glory and holiness of God more clearly, because your heartfelt sins are being dealt with, the more you see that you are not nearly as close to Him as you hoped. You are more sinful than you knew, and he is more holy than you ever imagined. But there is hope. Jesus makes a promise in this verse that if you continue to pursue a pure heart and are honest with Him about your sin, the day will come when you will stand before Him, face to face. You will be welcomed into His eternal kingdom. As Paul says, “now we see as if dimly in a mirror, but then we will see face to face.”

Hey Folks,

I need some people to be praying for me over the next two weeks. On Saturday I head to India to train pastors who overseer about 600 churches. They are all from the district or state of Orissa in eastern India. Over a three day period I will do 15 hours of training for them. Some of you might be thinking that the name Orissa rings a bell. Well two years ago there was some major violence between Christians and Hindus in Orissa. Several people were killed and numerous churches where burned. I am including a link about it from the BBC. I am not at all concerned about my safety but want prayer for the conference and for these pastors. They are living and serving in a difficult situation, yet they still have a desire to serve the people around them and make a difference in their communities. Pray that I am able to give them the skills, ideas, and encouragement they need to truly disciple their congregations and plant more churches.

This trip is also very strategic for another reason. At Northland we have a goal to see at least one evangelical church providing live, interactive, web streaming of their worship services, in the twenty largest languages in the world. Five of the top twenty languages are in India. So I will also be looking to see if there are not two or three possible partner churches represented in this group.

Finally, if you can pray for this trip and event it would be a huge encouragement to know that. Would you click on the poll below in the appropriate place? Feel free to leave a comment as well. I will try to update you all from India.

With you in His Great Adventure,

Dan