Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Assumptions and facts: Get them in the correct order

It is easy to draw assumptions and even easier to draw bad assumptions based on either a lack of facts or selective facts. It is human nature to make assumptions quickly about people or situations. Mature individuals, however are circumspect, think grey and get the relevant facts before drawing any conclusions.

Think about this: How often have you heard something and drawn negative conclusions about an individual or organization without knowing the full story? Why is it that we are far more likely to draw a negative rather than a positive conclusion? And how often have you been wrong when you heard "the rest of the story?"

Good counselors know this and when one party comes in to complain about the other they resist the temptation to believe everything they hear as the full story. It is rarely the full story and without all the facts, impossible to know.

I like to practice the art of thinking grey, keeping an open mind, when I am given one sided facts. If it matters to me I will make the necessary inquiry to ascertain their veracity which is usually a personal conversation with someone. If it does not matter or pertain to me I simply recognize that I don't know the full details and don't desire or need to know them.

Correct assumptions come from knowing the facts first. Incorrect assumptions come from getting facts and assumptions in the wrong order. Resist the temptation as incomplete or wrong facts will lead to the wrong conclusion.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A spam filter for the mind

Our minds are bombarded daily by thousands of messages, many of which are at direct odds with the truth and purity of God. And they matter because unfiltered crud corrodes our thinking, dulls our conscience and small bits at a time can replace truth with error. No matter how good our theology or precise our doctrine, unless we are vigilant with what and how we process all of those messages we are at risk. 

Paul makes this point in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 when he writes, "The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."

Obviously the divine power has to do with the Holy Spirit within us which has the power to demolish strongholds (of the enemy). This includes strongholds in our own lives whatever they may be that set themselves up against the truth of God. But that takes vigilance and Paul's next statement speaks to that: "and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."

Think about this. Our days are made up of a series of thoughts, messages, ideas, temptations, attitudes - all that moves through our brains. Paul says that he pays attention to the information traveling through his mind in order to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ, or to synthesize it in light of what God has to say.

We are not at the mercy of the messages that come our way. The Holy Spirit will help us if we ask to be aware of those messages and where they differ from the truth of God or the holiness of God. We have the ability to take every thought captive if we live with an awareness of the Holy Spirit and choose to think critically.  

Monday, July 21, 2014

Five current dangers to global missions

It is ironic that in the very day when it is possible to reach more people more quickly with the Gospel that there are significant dangers to the mission enterprise, especially from the Western world. These dangers may well significantly decrease the Western church's influence globally, a position that they have led for many years.

What are these dangers?

First, it is increasingly hard for many missionaries to raise their support. Missions is not cheap nor should we expect it to be. There is a cost associated with sending people globally to share the good news. Ironically, the costs are really no different than many of our domestic ministry efforts but our focus is so much on what serves us (our local church) that we are less likely to support ministry efforts further away and for which we get no direct benefit. 

Ironically, as many churches have reduced support for global missions, many of their parishioners have increased their support for missions at the expense of the general budgets because of their view of misplaced priorities.  Having said that it is also true that many congregations need to balance their overseas missions with local mission efforts. Acts 1:8 talks about Jerusalem (our city), Judea (our greater area), Samaria (the people nearby who are not like us) and the uttermost parts of the earth. Missions is walking across the street as well as crossing an ocean.

Second, many evangelicals don't really believe that lost people are truly lost and will spend eternity in hell. We have not done a good job of teaching the eternal realities of a relationship with God and the consequences of the lack of that eternal relationship. Scriptures are clear: People who don't know Jesus spend eternity without him and the name for that awful place is hell. Unless we are compelled to be God's ambassadors as Paul was (2 Corinthians 5:11-21) we will not value the mission enterprise highly.

Third, many churches have redefined missions in terms of humanitarian work rather than meeting the needs of the heart as well. Clean water, orphan care, poverty alleviation and concerns for sex trafficking are very important issues but solving these will not solve the eternal issue that Jesus came to solve which is a relationship with the living God who gives life and abundant life. 

All of our ministry should be holistic as Jesus's ministry was - he cared about the whole person. But he never cared about the whole person at the expense of hearts that needed forgiveness and wholeness. Often, compassion ministries will open the door for hearts to hear the good news but the first without the second is not missions.

Fourth, many ask if missions is simply not relevant in our day since there are many believers around the world. Let's just send money to national missionaries and let them do the rest. Reread the Great Commission in Matthew 28. It was a command to go to all the nations and make disciples until the end of the age. That is, until Christ returns. The job of missionaries is changing - from being primarily doers to being primarily equippers and partners with nationals globally but the need to go has not changed. Nor has the Great Commission been modified. 

Fifth, the world is increasingly seen as dangerous. So was the world in Paul's day at least in its response to the Gospel and those who bore the good news. The world has always been hostile to the Gospel. I am currently reading a history of Congo and the price that missionaries paid even in the past two centuries in that country. Yet much of the country knows Jesus because of those who were willing to live with the privations of life there and who were willing to risk their lives as well. If we only took the Gospel to places where the State Department has no travel warnings it would be a small number of countries indeed. Jesus gave his life for us. Are we willing to take risks for Him?

I am not pessimistic about missions at least in many quarters. Our own agency has the highest numbers of missionaries it has ever had for which I rejoice. At the same time I am aware that without vigilance our traditionally high value on missions can wane and that would be a great tragedy. 



Extreme greed for wealth or material gain

Whenever I used a word like this at our dinner table as my kids grew up they would say, "Dad, that is a big word." And it is a big word. In fact, it is one of the 7 deadly sins of the Catholic church.

Given the number of email notices I receive every day of lotteries I have won, inheritances I am named in and special deals where I can share in millions of profits I have to assume that there is a ready audience that is moved by avarice. (To my IT guru, Jason - how come this stuff gets through my spam filter?)

Those in Christian ministry are not immune to avarice. In fact, we often rub shoulders with those who may have much more than we do (ironically, no matter what our station in life there is always someone who has much more than we do so we might as well get over it). Entitlement is easy to nurture. After all we work hard, we have sacrificed much (our thinking), and we deserve (whatever it is).

Avarice is based on two false premises. The first is that life is about me. Why would I have greed for wealth or material gain except that I feel that life is somehow about me? The second is that material wealth is a source of happiness - the opposite of what we preach and intellectually know to be true. The wealthiest Christ followers I rub shoulders with know all too well that life is not about them which is why they are extremely generous with their wealth. They also know that wealth does not equal happiness. They have wealth but their happiness and joy comes from Jesus alone. Wealth cannot address any of the ultimate questions or challenges of life. In fact, the burden of wealth can create its own challenges.

The Apostle Paul ministered to people of wealth and influence as well as those who were poor and on the margins of society. He writes to the Philippians that "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength (Philippians 4:11-13)."

Notice that Paul twice uses the verb "learned." Eliminating avarice and becoming content is something that is not normal to our lives. It is the work of the Holy Spirit and it is a learned behavior. If Paul had to learn this we do as well.

Life is about Jesus and He is the ultimate provider. Don't allow avarice to cloud your happiness.

Friday, July 18, 2014

As you get older, what are you getting better at?

What are you really and truly good at? And as you get older are you getting better at what you are truly good at?

This is a matter of focus. Where we shine is a sign of how God make and wired us (Ephesians 2:10). So finding ways to focus on those areas makes all the sense in the world.

I write a blog, and books, because God made me to write among a few other things. The more I do it the better I become (on most days). If I ignored it, or allowed other things to crowd it out it would not develop as it could.

Generally we shine at two or three things. And we feel God's smile when we do those things. We know we are in our lane and we are filled and satisfied. Knowing those things and finding ways to use those gifts allows us to hone them and grow them.

What are you truly good at? Are you taking the time to develop those gifts or does the busyness of life crowd them out? Getting better at what God made us for is part of the stewardship of our lives.

And it is satisfying to our soul. It is how God made us.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The loss of hospitality and deep relationships

We are in the process of looking for a flat/condo after living in our small twin home for 28  years. Using a nifty program I get regular updates for all condos for sale in the Twin Cities. Not having been in the housing market for a long time, I am noticing the wonderful kitchens, updated bathrooms, and all the improvements that have been made in the past three decades.

But one thing stands out in a huge way. The living room areas are small and designed in a way that allows for a couch and a few chairs that in almost every instance face a wall with fireplace and television. 

Now granted, these flats - the ones I am looking at are not large, they are 1,300 to 2,000 square feet. But, looking at the living room space it is clear that they are not meant for entertaining or having friends over, nor for individuals to be talking to one another but for sitting and watching TV. In other words, little hospitality or conversation (even with spouses) but TV time. In many ways it is a metaphor for our age. Now I also understand that places like Starbucks or the local coffee shop may be the new place for gathering with friends, but still something is lost when people are not let into our own space - our home.

I am not a television prude and I love fireplaces. But I am committed to relationships and hospitality, both deeply Christian values and it sparked a question in my mind about whether we as a culture are losing those values. How we use our spaces says something about how we live and what we value. Many of the flats I have looked are also in the city where unfortunately life is more anonymous though it need not be. 

Our life with Jesus is a relationship. Our life with others is a relationship. Influence and friendships come from relationship. The deepest and most meaningful things in life all stem from relationship. In the busyness of life today, many are too consumed with their own stuff for relationships. But life is about relationships.

The ministry machine: do you run your organization or does it run you?

Has the industrial age changed our ministries in ways that are problematic? Read this intriguing article from Holy Soup. It is worth thinking about.