Thursday, April 14, 2011

You Did Good Today, Uncle (part 4)

Keith had never been to a Ugandan funeral before. So when he, his wife, and two small children showed up to the family home of a young woman who had just delivered a nearly full-term stillborn baby, they did not know what to expect. But like all good missionaries, they quickly fell into the Ugandan routine for such occasions.

Everything went in a very Ugandan way until the older women—only the older women—took the tiny lifeless body into the backyard to bury it. It was only at that moment that my friend started to ask questions.

He learned that in this village only the older women touch and are exposed to a dead baby, because they believe that evil spirits have killed the baby in the womb. To Keith’s horror, he was told that the mother of this precious little one, a woman who happens to be a believer, had not even held her baby and would not (nor would any man or woman of childbearing age) be a part of the baby’s burial.

It was at this point that my friend moved into action. He went to the mother and asked her if she wanted to be a part of her baby’s funeral. She said that she did. And when Keith asked her if she was afraid of evil spirits, she responded that as a follower of Jesus she trusted Him to keep her from all evil.

With this, Keith, the mother, and the rest of the guests, young and old, men and women, went into the backyard. Keith took the shovel from the old woman who was digging the grave and began to dig. As he dug, he shared his faith in Jesus as the Lord of the living and the dead. He did not fear the evil spirits because his Lord was their Lord too.

Later that night, one of Keith’s Ugandan brothers in Christ had these words for him: “You did good today, Uncle. Today you were Ugandan when you were supposed to be Ugandan. You sat like a Ugandan. You ate like a Ugandan. You talked like a Ugandan. But when it was time to be like Jesus, you were like Jesus. When you needed to be like Jesus, you were like Jesus. You did good today, Uncle.”

This is my prayer for you today. I pray that you will know when it is time to be “Ugandan,” and when it is time be Jesus.

Monday, April 11, 2011

You Did Good Today, Uncle (part 3)

I think what Paul was trying to tell us in 1 Corinthians 9 has do with being for the purpose of becoming. The issue is not that he acted like a Jew when with Jews; it is that he functioned in a way that gave him the greatest degree of acceptance for the sake of the good news of Jesus.

The issue was not primarily Paul’s behavior as slave or free, Jew or Gentile, but the purpose to which he lived as he did so. His desire was to remove any amoral inhibitor that might prevent men and women from coming to know Jesus.

Paul was telling us that when he was with slaves, he acted like a slave so that all slaves would see that the gospel was for them just as much as it was for the free.

Paul fit in until his allegiance to Christ made him stand out. When with the weak, he lived like one who was weak so that the truly weak could see how they might find life in Jesus.

How far would Paul go? How far should we go? Should we be willing to do anything short of sinning in order to share the life-changing message of Jesus with someone? I know some who would say yes, and I know some who would say no. What do you think? What do you think Paul was thinking?

Friday, April 8, 2011

You Did Good Today, Uncle (part 2)

“To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law . . . so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law . . . so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:20-22).

What does it look like when you become someone in order to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ to those who desperately need to hear and experience it?

One of the dangers we can fall into is thinking that the verbalization of the propositions about Jesus are the sum total of the good news He came to deliver.

When we fall into this trap, we reduce the message of Christ to its lowest common denominator and thus morph the epic redemptive story of God’s unfailing love expressed in Christ into a mathematical equation.

Is it possible that what Paul was trying to tell us in 1 Corinthians 9 is that when we present the gospel of Jesus to those we encounter, it’s incumbent upon us to contextualize the news and ourselves so that those who need to understand and engage the truth can do so?

What does this mean? How can we present the message of Christ with integrity in our context? I think we need to develop the cultural intelligence to know what is temporal and what is eternal. What can change, and what must stay the same?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

You Did Good Today, Uncle (part 1)

What happens when someone encounters the deep truths of God’s Word and refuses to be changed? What would it look like if all of us who call Jesus Lord would be impacted to the point of action when we encountered God’s deep truths? I think it would start a revolution that could shake the planet if we could just figure out when to be what to whom.
“Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 NIV).
How can someone who is a slave be free? Is it possible that a person only begins to grasp the true measure of his or her freedom when he or she chooses to lay it down for the sake of another?

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” – Nelson Mandela

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Power: Who Wants It and Who Has It (part 2)

While it might seem obvious to us that the sons of Zebedee asked for the wrong thing from Jesus in Mark 10, discerning why their request was wrong might demand a little contemplation.
Last time we observed that James and John’s question was wrong, but what was really so wrong with it? All they were asking for was to sit at the right and the left hand of Jesus. What is the harm in that?
Well, the harm is that the underlying motivation for such a request betrays a profound misunderstanding of who Jesus was (and is) and what he had come to do.
When James and John requested to sit at the right and left of Jesus they were requesting for themselves places of influence and power. Jesus’ response to them in verse 42 gives us a hint as to why they would make such a request. They were still looking toward Jesus’ “glory” through earthly eyes, like a Gentile would.
He tells them, in no uncertain terms, that this kind of power-hungry ambition is antithetical to His kingdom values. It stands in stark opposition not only to who Jesus is but also who and what he is calling them to be, servants. (vv 43-45)
So here are some questions. How do I lead as a servant and how do I serve as a leader? How do I endure and shepherd God’s people in the midst of fending off referential power struggles from within the church?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Power: Who Wants It and Who Has It

Mark 10:35-52 shows us two encounters with Jesus. Each encounter had a request and in each encounter Jesus asked the same question of those who came to Him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

How would you like for Jesus to ask you that question?

Dennis – “Hey, Jesus!”
Jesus – “Hey, Dennis!” (Jesus and I are always very excited to see and talk with one another)
Dennis – “Jesus, could you do me a favor?”
Jesus – “What do you want me to do for you?”

What do you think I should ask for? What would you ask for? What would you like for Him to do for you? A new car, a new kidney, a cancer-free check up, a better job, a different president, more money, a more equitable tax structure, a better spouse what would you want?

I wonder if I would ask the right question or if I would fall into the same trap that ensnared Jesus' disciples in Mark 10? That’s right; there is a right and a wrong answer to this one.

In this chapter there are two encounters. James and John get it wrong but the son of Timaeus gets it right. But what was so right about the one and wrong about the other? Take a look at Mark 10:35-52 and see what you come up with and then we can talk about it in a couple of days.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Belief and Perception?

Several years ago my daughter and I were at a park around the corner from our house. It was a beautiful day. Geese were swimming in the lake, the sun was shining, there the hint of spring in the lightly blowing wind, Makayla was swinging and I was pushing.

In those few moments of relaxation and peace my mind began to wonder. I allowed my senses to take in all that I could see, fell, touch, smell, and hear. A squeaky swing, a baking dog, the warmth of the sun on my face, the cool of the wind on my neck, my little girl’s giggle; In this moment I became overwhelmed by God’s love and presence.

“God, why don’t people believe in you?” I prayed. “Why can’t they see You? You are so evident in Your creation! How can people doubt You when creation screams so loudly for Your existence?”

I just didn’t get it. All the information is the same. Isn’t it? We have the same observable repeatable scientific data to consider. Don't we? We are all capable of having similar life experiences. Aren't we? We are all confronted with the same paradoxes of life which do not seem to have clear and easy answers. Why is it that some people look at the world around them and see compelling evidence for God while others look at the same world around them and see compelling evidence for denying the existence of God or a god?

How can two people, or two groups of people, experience the same “evidence” and come to opposing conclusions?

Is it possible that the answer to this question lies within our a priori assumption(s) rather than with the “evidence” we observe? Is it possible that our starting point of faith determines the subsequent point of perception?