Tag Archives: Jesus

The Immortal Hamster

I’ve been back from Ethiopia now for nearly a month. I’ve thought about a lot of things in that time, from the things I’ve seen and the people I’ve met, to the vision I have for what God is doing. It’s very exciting, but also upon returning, I can’t help but feel as if I’ve come back to an American church that is fast asleep. The bible says that “my people perish for lack of knowledge.” Well, without knowledge, you can’t move on to wisdom. And without wisdom, there is no vision. Without vision, we have no purpose. Without purpose, we start chasing all kinds of crazy things, and the church gives up the gospel in exchange for prostituting itself to the world in the hope of finding “cultural relevance.” The bride of Christ is searching the street corners, looking for someone to tell her she’s beautiful.

I often teach a class on missions and poverty alleviation, and one of the questions we open with is, “Why did Jesus come to Earth?” The two most common answers I get are, “So my sins could be forgiven,” and “so I can go to Heaven.” Though both answers are technically correct, they are both tertiary reasons and completely egocentric.

In Luke 4, Jesus himself states why he came. “So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,

Because He has anointed Me

To preach the gospel to the poor;

He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,

To proclaim liberty to the captives

And recovery of sight to the blind,

To set at liberty those who are oppressed;

To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all who were in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus came to restore what was lost, and to put us back into relationship with God. He set in motion a restoration of relationship between God and creation. It wasn’t just so we could be saved from Hell but continue to do what we were already doing. It states right in the beginning of Genesis that men and women were created in God’s image. That being the case, we ought to imitate Christ as he imitates God the Father. If we accept Jesus’ sacrifice without accepting this second part, we have reduced ourselves to God’s immortal pet, his hamster, if you will, existing for God’s amusement but with no purpose, born only to consume.

I believe that this is why the American church is largely devoid of men. Men are designed and built to serve a larger purpose, to take hold of a challenge and to serve a greater purpose than themselves. But if we accept a Christianity that says “I’m saved now. Just sit in the pew on Sunday and listen to a watered down message of meek and mild Jesus,” a great injustice has been done. Do we need to be reminded that Jesus drove the money changers out of the temple with a whip….twice?

Jesus gave us a lot of instructions, most of which we aren’t following. Sure, we follow the ones about keeping ourselves pure…..sometimes, but what about all those ones about going out like sheep among wolves? What about all those instructions about feeding the poor, standing up for the widow, the orphan, and the alien? What about blessing those who curse us, or showing love to our enemies, or were those instructions for somebody else? What about dying to self?

I have to ask these things, because if we say we’re going to be Christ followers, then certainly we should take a cue from Jesus, who “made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” (Philippians 2)

God is looking for men and women of purpose. The Church has got to wake up.

“Awake, you who sleep,

Arise from the dead,

And Christ will give you light.” (Ephesians 5:14)

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Leaving the Devil Worshippers Back Home

I’ve decided to broach a touchy subject tonight that I’ve sat on for a while. When I write a blog, I often have a concept down, but there’s some part of it missing. That’s what happened with this post, until today.

As I prepare to go back to Africa, a lot of things go through my head. How do I prepare, physically, financially, and especially spiritually? This is also a continual thought as people approach me who want to be involved on the going side of missions.

I am always looking for people who will be involved not only with serving locally, but people willing and suitable to go and do the difficult work of traveling to remote places in Africa or Asia, with all of the discomfort and unknown factors that come with that.

Now God can and will use all kinds of people. I think of how incredibly naive I was when I first got involved with missions, and it’s proof positive that God will take someone with few skills who is willing and use them. God can take willing people and give them skills, but it’s harder to take skilled people and use them if they’re not willing. What I’m saying in a long-winded way is that I try not to look at someone and say, “I won’t take them. God won’t use them.”

However, there is one type of person I greatly hesitate to take overseas with me for Christian ministry and that is devil worshippers. At this point you’re probably saying to yourself, “what on earth is this guy going on about? Why would that even be an option?”

Well, there are far more devil worshippers in the church than is readily apparent, and I’m going to explain. A friend of mine said once, “Complaining is the devil’s worship music.” Let that sink in, because it’s completely true. There are people in the church that you can tell when they’re complaining because their mouth is open. A person with a complaining spirit sows all kind of discord around them and invites evil into their own lives. They cause division within a ministry group and make being a witness extremely difficult. They split churches and cause effective outreaches to cease.

There is a direct tie between true worship and effective ministry. There is also a direct tie between gratefulness, thankfulness, and an effective witness. In many instances in the bible, miracles and great acts of God are immediately preceded by worship, especially in times where that worship was under difficult circumstances and trials. I think of Paul and Silas in prison, in chains and having been beaten. They began to worship, the earthquake came, and their chains fell off. As a result, the jailer and his whole family were saved.

What does worship do? It takes our focus off of ourselves and places it squarely on God, where it belongs. Therefore there is also a direct tie between worship and humility. Worship says, “less of me, and more of You.” It is in this state that we are able to act and pray most effectively. As the scripture says, “if you ask for anything in my name, it will be done.” But that’s where people often go wrong. They pray, “in Jesus name” at the end of their prayer as if it’s some magic talisman and expect it to be done as if that’s what Jesus was talking about. No, we pray and act in Jesus name when our will lines up with his. How does that happen? When we seek his will by knowing the written Word, and by worshipping, which in effect says, “Lord, let me put myself aside. Show me your will.”

It is at this point, when we have put ourselves aside, when we are humbled, and we have a heart of gratitude, that our testimony is effective. Consider the words from the book of Revelation, speaking of the end of the devil. “Then I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down. 11 And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.”

Now contrast that with a complaining spirit, that continually says, “I have been wronged. No one defers to me. Someone owes me. I demand my pound of flesh.” All focus in this case is on me, not God. There is no gratitude, and no seeking anyone’s will but my own. Everything that has ever gone wrong was always someone else’s fault. Despite the fact that many complainers constantly engage in self-effacement, they are not humble, because humility is not about thinking less of yourself. Rather it’s about thinking of yourself less. You can’t do that when you’re complaining. I would go so far as to say, no one was ever saved from their old life because someone was complaining.

When ever I will be heading to the mission field, I go through a time of self-assessment. These are not just thoughts for “them”, whoever “them” is. These thoughts are especially for me. So to succinctly sum up what I’m talking about today, I’m finishing with the words from Philippians 2, which says the following.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,

did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;

rather, he made himself nothing

by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,

being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,

he humbled himself

by becoming obedient to death—

even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place

and gave him the name that is above every name,

that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,

in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,

to the glory of God the Father.

Do Everything Without Grumbling

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.

Lazarus Didn’t Get Hit By A Pie Truck. (or Weekend At Lazarus’s

It’s been about six months since I’ve written. During that time, there have been a lot of distractions and tragedies, including the death of the man who’s been my father for the past 32 years. I’m sure I’ll write about that at some point, but in the meantime, I’m starting to write things down that have been on my mind for a long time. This is in preparation for going back to Ethiopia after a hiatus of a year.

Many people know the story of Lazarus. For those who don’t, he was a friend of Jesus. He was also either a friend or relative of Mary and Martha, who played a prominent role in the gospels. Mary and Martha called for Jesus when Lazarus became ill, but Jesus did not return for several days. In the meantime, Lazarus died. Jesus eventually came back, but in that time Lazarus had already been buried. All of this can be found in the book of John chapter 11. The end of the story goes like this,

” Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”

And as abruptly as that, the story ends. It’s a great story. I mean, Jesus raises someone from the dead. What more do you want, except maybe, what happened to Lazarus after that? I’ve never heard anyone ask that question before.

I can tell you what didn’t happen to Lazarus. He didn’t walk out of the tomb and get hit and killed by a pie truck. What on earth do I mean by that, you might ask?

What I mean by that is twofold. First of all, if you get raised from the dead, clearly God has a purpose for you. You don’t walk out of the tomb, everyone says “great trick”, and you die. You have some task that God has for you to accomplish.

The second thing is that whether he wanted to or not, no one would ever look at Lazarus the same again. No matter who he was or became, or what he accomplished, Lazarus would be known as the man who was raised from the dead.

There’s a 1980’s comedy film called Weekend At Bernie’s in which two people are invited to their boss’s vacation home for the weekend only to discover him dead. They are determined to have fun anyway, so they spend the whole weekend having fun but convincing everyone that their boss Bernie is still alive.

What does that have to do with Lazarus? Well, the only place where I can find Lazarus mentioned again is in the next chapter, John 12.

“Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.

Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.”

My point is this. Once Lazarus was raised from the dead, his very presence, just the fact that he was alive, proverbially shouted from the rooftops that Jesus was the savior and was God. People came just to see if Lazarus was in fact alive, or if perhaps was just propped up in the corner Bernie style. People were curious if it was possible, if in fact the dead could be raised.

Which comes to us. If we have been saved in Christ, then we too have been raised from the dead. The old man has been killed and we are now alive in Christ. And if that is true, then we have been given a purpose, that is to say, we should live for what we were saved for. Furthermore, we should ask ourselves if the life we live is truly a life in which, by the hand of God we’ve been made alive, or are we just a body propped up in the corner trying badly to convince others that we are in fact alive? For me, I want to be so alive that the forces of evil plot to kill me all over again.

In about a month, I go back to Ethiopia for the first time in a year. Each time I have to raise my own funds. I pay for a significant portion of it myself, but I still need to raise additional funds to fill in the shortfall. Some, like myself, are blessed to be able to go. Some can not, but all can play a role in one way or another. If my work is important to you please consider both praying for our team and giving financially. I’ve included a link here with a synopsis of my trip as well as a link to give. Thanks so much to those who have been a part of the sending team in the past in whatever role you’ve played, and to those who will in the future. https://petrosnetwork.managedmissions.com/MyTrip/johnwollwerth1

The Settlers, Part Two.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about settlers, and I implied that there would be a second part. Well, after more thinking on the subject, here is the second part.

The word “settlers” has a couple of possible meanings. It could mean someone who follows in the footsteps of the pioneers and sets up camp when everything is safe. This was the angle I took in the first part if this blog. But there’s another possible meaning to the word settlers, that being the name given to people who settle for second best, or third best, or settle for the worst for that matter.

I wish I could say it wasn’t true, but when I look around myself, and when I look inward, I see an awful lot of settling, an awful lot of “that’ll do.”

Before we were saved, the enemy used tactics like lust, greed, hate, envy, and lots of other seemingly obvious ways to tempt us. After Jesus saved us, we (hopefully) stopped falling for those things so easily, though we will still often struggle. So the enemy changed his tactics to a more subtle line of offense, that being to get us involved in all sorts of good things, so long as those good things were not the best things that God had planned for us. This allows us to feel good about ourselves while still being disobedient. It allows us to continue to put ourselves first, and our faith atrophies like an unused muscle because we ignored the call to the best things God had for us.

Before someone starts thinking that I’m suggesting something that is too hard, I want to point out one truth that has been proven to me over and over again. God almost always wants better for us than we want for ourselves. Our recurring problem is that we’re unable to see it, because being Americans we associate blessings with money and power and things. Well I would go so far to say that the person that God chooses to give nothing but material wealth is truly cursed beyond all men.

God is not looking for our good, he’s looking for our best. He’s not looking for sacrifice, he’s looking for obedience. God is not looking for perfection, otherwise he wouldn’t have chosen us to do his work. Rather he’s looking for excellence, and a willing heart. God is looking for people that see that even though we live in temporary bodies, we are eternal beings, and our decisions should reflect that fact. He is looking for people who are not willing to settle for second best.

I don’t know what God has called any one person to except myself. What I do know is that it’s a question I have to continually ask, because each time I take a step, the decision about the next step is brand new. Each man and woman needs to ask that question, and then have the faith to take that next step.

I’d like to finish with some verses from Hebrews 11, which sums up what I’m talking about. The chapter is talking about many people who lived by faith, and it’s summed up with the following verses.

Hebrews 11:13-16. “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.”

Just as the people spoken of in these verses had the opportunity to turn back, so we have the opportunity to do the same. But just as they were pilgrims and strangers on this earth, so are we, whether we recognize it or not. We have eternity written in our bones, and we were built for far more excellent things.

Making excellence from imperfect things.

Bringing about excellence from imperfect things.

The Snake Woman And The Blind Man

A couple of years ago, I was in Juba, South Sudan. I heard of a recent ‘event’ that had happened in the city. The story was, that there was near panic in part of Juba, because a woman had reportedly turned into a snake. How this was supposed to have happened and why, I don’t know, but the fact was there that in addition to the panic, there were apparently a large number of people that came out to see the snake woman. Ridiculous we would say. To add to it, we’d probably go on to say that it was simple-minded people believing in superstition, if we were to speak out loud what was going on within our heads before we remembered it’s not politically correct to pass judgement on what anyone believes.

Now let me tell you another story. The same year, there was a semi-homeless man that I would run into frequently as I’d walk my dog in my hometown. I would occasionally speak to him, and got to know him a little. One day, I saw that he had a patch over one of his eyes. I asked him what had happened. He said that his retina had detached, and his doctor told him he was losing his vision. I asked him if I could pray for him, and he agreed. I prayed that God would restore his vision to him and heal his eye, and we both went on our way. About a week later, I saw him again, and he was no longer wearing the patch on his eye and could see out of it.  I asked him about his eye, and his response was, “My doctor says he misdiagnosed it.”

One culture believes in all things spiritual, the other believes in nothing spiritual. While faith is the evidence of things unseen, what do you call it when you see something with your own eyes and still manage to rationalize it away? We in the supposedly Christian west write off all things spiritual as superstition or the figments of simple minds.  The fact is, that in my experience, it’s only in the caucasian west that we manage to convince ourselves that all things spiritual are such figments of a desperate imagination.

Go to Africa, and you’ll find that even the educated believe not only that God is able, but that he WILL intercede if we pray and act on the authority given to us in the Holy Spirit. Most of the book of Acts, and a good bit of 1st Corinthians deals with the subject of spiritual gifts. Jesus says in the gospel of John, “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”

“Greater things than these” are the words used. So as Christians, do we believe this, and if not, why not?  I’ve seen things that would blow the minds of such deniers. We don’t believe, because we don’t want to believe. We would have to live differently. We would have to take God at his word on a lot of things we currently ignore. I hear the question a lot, “How do you know which religion is correct?”  When an entire Muslim family in Ethiopia is instantly and miraculously healed, they know what is correct.

When a doctor tells a man he is going to lose his vision, the doctor has to be pretty sure about his diagnosis. When I see a man’s vision restored anyway, I know what’s correct.

If we profess to be Christians, it seems to me that there is the choice to take the whole package or nothing at all. Why would we want to follow Christ if what he said was a lie?  There’s any number of liars I’m free to follow, and most of them don’t require such things as abasing the human nature and pride, or putting others before yourself, or any of the other myriad of unpalatable things Christians are called to do but rarely do. In fact, most of them tell you to follow your heart and do what feels good. The book of Proverbs speaks directly to this and says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.” On the other side of things, if everything Jesus said is true, then why WOULDN’T we want to follow him? Yes, it requires a lot of you, but it’s so much better a way than the half-hearted, half-believing version of following that the church generally does now in America. Jesus says in Matthew 10, “As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”  That is the version of following Christ that I want.

A woman who received her sight back after two years of blindness while I was in Ethiopia.
A woman who received her sight back after two years of blindness while I was in Ethiopia.

I’m Twelve Years Old, And I’m Going To Die.

I’ve put off writing this article for some time now. I thought about writing it last week in Ethiopia, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Now I think it’s time.

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When I was 13 years old, my father died after a six month illness. Thirteen years after that, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. She fought that battle for six years, during which time I saw her deteriorate until she died as well. I found myself a young man with both parents dead. So though Loss and I are not on good terms, we have shared a table together on occasion. The problem with watching both your parents die at a young age is that it can take a mental and spiritual tole on you. During the time my mother was sick, and after she died, I began to wake up at night with this awful dread that I was going to die too. It was a fear I couldn’t shake.

Fast forward to last week. The most heart-breaking thing for me in Ethiopia was one boy who was about twelve years old. He came into the clinic because of some medical issues. He had a goiter, and his thyroid problem had caused another autoimmune issue that was attacking the pigment in his skin, leaving him with white patches. This boy had also lost his father about a month before.  The boy came in because he didn’t know what kind of illness he had, but he was sure it was serious. I watched as this boy quietly wept in the chair. He was certain he was going to die like his father did. The doctors told him through the translator that he had nothing wrong that was going to kill him, but it took a while for it to sink in.  This boy utterly broke my heart, because I knew exactly what he was going though. How terrible to be twelve years old and thinking you’re going to die. Though there were bigger tragedies of the week, this one hit me the hardest.

Eight years ago, I was still praying that God would release me from this fear. Finally He did. At a seemingly random time as I was driving, in an almost audible voice, God told me that I am on this earth by His grace and for his purpose, and I’ll be here as long as He wants me to be. At that point I was delivered from all that fear of death I had been dealing with, and it hasn’t come back.

It was this revelation that has allowed me to be involved with the missions I’m involved with. If I was still dealing with fear of death, I never would have been able to go to South Sudan. If I never went to South Sudan, I never would have gotten involved with missions in Kenya or Ethiopia. But God’s grace is sufficient. I still deal with fear of other things, but I won’t give them validity by naming them. When the day comes that I find myself willing to give them up to God, those will leave as well.

Matthew 10:39 says, “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.” This isn’t some trite irony that just sounds good because of its dualism. There is a profound truth in this. The day I gave up control of this situation to God was the day I found my life. After all, you can’t be afraid to lose something you’ve already given up. I hesitated to write this blog because of how I might come across, but I think it’s important that people read this, because I know there are a lot of people going through the same thing that I did. There is life, and there is hope. You just have to give up your fears to God, because He is the one in control.

And Please Give Me a Million Dollars and Huge Pectoral Muscles.

In the early 90’s cartoon, Ren and Stimpy, the cat and the dog are saying their prayers before bed.  As a very early aside, finding spiritual lessons in Ren and Stimpy proves that God can speak to you through virtually anything if you’re listening. Anyway, Stimpy prays first, “and please bless Grandma, and Grandpa”. After this, we hear Ren praying “and please give me a million dollars, and huge pectoral muscles.” Ridiculous?  More true to life I’d say.

Though the roles were reversed in the characters between the before mentioned cat and dog, there is a book called “Cat and Dog Theology”, by Bob Sjogren and Gerald Robison. No it’s nothing to do with actual cats and dogs or pet spiritism. The basic gist of the teaching is this;

A dog looks at his master and says to himself, “He feeds me, takes care of me, plays with me, grooms me, and spends time with me. Wow! You’re amazing! You must be God.”  The cat, on the other hand, looks at his “owner” and says, “He feeds me, takes care of me, plays with me, grooms me, and spends time with me.  Wow! I must be God!”  It sounds ridiculous until we realize that the second version is frequently our own theology. Though I find that the simple concept lying at the heart of cat and dog theology is spot on, the lessons themselves get a bit drawn out and overreaching. As King Arthur said to Sir Bedevere in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, “Tell me again how one may utilize sheep’s bladders to prevent earthquakes.”  When you only know sheep’s bladders, you try to make them apply to everything. I found this with cat and dog theology. However, there were some fantastic points made, and so I still recommend either reading the book or listening to the lessons.

Cat people (people who think like cats, as opposed to people who like cats) read the Bible as if it’s a self-help book. Cat people don’t so much run toward God as run away from Hell. Cat people pray for blessing for the sake of their own blessing. They think that the Bible is written about us, and not about God. Cat theologians think that the Bible is written to bring glory to us. Cat people go to church for a social gospel. They go because it’s the proper social thing to do. They listen to sermons about what God can do for them, about how God wants to bless you.  While this last statement is true, half of it is missing. God blesses us so that we will pass on his glory to others, not so that we can accumulate those blessings in a stagnant cesspool of self-glorification.

Dog people, on the other hand, read the Bible and recognize that the book is about God, and that we are His servants, not the other way around. It is about less of us, and more of God. Dog people pray that God would use them to bless others. They run toward God because they love Him. They don’t run away from Hell, because they don’t fear it. They trust their God so much that they don’t need to fear Hell. Consequently they are effective missionaries. They pray that the lost would be saved. They believe in the great commission, which requires by design that we put ourselves aside to go to the uttermost parts of the earth and preach the gospel, facing hardship and possible persecution and even death because they know that no matter what happens, God will take care of them, whether it be in this life or the next.

Hebrews 11 sums up very well what it is that our faith is about.

“32 And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: 33 who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. 35 Women received their dead raised to life again.

Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. 36 Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted,[f] were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— 38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.”

They usually don’t preach the second part of these verses in church.  Sawn in two? Really?  Look in Iraq right now. The persecuted in Mosul are showing us what real Christianity is about. They would give up everything, whether it’s all their possessions to flee so as not to have to deny their God, or life itself as they are killed, and yes, sawn in two for not giving up their faith.

So I have to ask?  “What is wrong with the American church.”  What has brought us so far as to think that faith is about us? I listened recently to a sickening sermon by Keith Moore as he went on for an hour about how Jesus died so that we can be rich. How can someone read the scripture and so utterly miss the point? He actually says that Jesus would wear a Rolex if he were here in the flesh today. I read a news article a while back about how people who live according to this doctrine were now heavily in debt, because when the recession came, they didn’t want to look like they weren’t being blessed, and consequently had a crisis of faith when the recession hit. They went into debt to appear as if they were still blessed. They could have avoided the guilt had they realized that following Christ has nothing to do with having money, and has everything to do with following with a willing heart no matter what the external circumstances.

Let’s see what Luke 10 says. “After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also,[a] and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. Then He said to them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road. But whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on it; if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you. And heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.”

He does not say, “Accumulate riches to the point that when you go out, you will not lack for anything.”  He only says to obey, and leaves us to trust God. Trust is easier when we take the focus off of ourselves and place it where it belongs- on God. Missions is not part of what the church does. Missions is the whole reason the church exists. It’s time we started living like it.

Does God love them any less because they're not wearing a Rolex?
Does God love them any less because they’re not wearing a Rolex?

Drowning Jesus

Faith and missions are two things that have been on my mind a lot lately, and particularly the way they interact with each other. I grew up in churches that had no fire, no power, no influence, and consequently made no difference. I no longer have time or patience for that kind of theology. We were taught as children that Jesus did miracles, and the disciples after Him did miracles and healings and all of the incredible moves of the Spirit of God that are talked about in the book of acts, but that after the disciples died, these things died with them. You can’t back that belief up anywhere in the scriptures, but we were taught it nonetheless. Why were we taught it?  Well I’ll get to that later.

In the book of Matthew is the following story. It takes place just after Jesus had preached to the multitudes and fed them all with five loaves of bread and two fish.

“22 Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away. 23 And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there. 24 But the boat was now in the middle of the sea,[a] tossed by the waves, for the wind was contrary.

25 Now in the fourth watch of the night Jesus went to them, walking on the sea. 26 And when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were troubled, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out for fear.

27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.”

28 And Peter answered Him and said, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.”

29 So He said, “Come.” And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. 30 But when Peter saw that the wind was boisterous,[b] he was afraid; Then Jesus began to sink under the waves………………….  Ok, if you haven’t figured it out yet, I changed that last bit. Here’s how it actually goes.

“30 But when he saw that the wind was boisterous,[b] he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!”

31 And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

So my alternate ending to this story is as ridiculous as what I was taught as a child, and what many are taught now. The fact is that my lack of faith doesn’t limit God in any way, it only limits what God will do through ME. Think about that. Hebrews 13:8 says, “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” If we don’t believe this is true, we may as well throw the rest of the scripture out too. The world is not interested in a castrated, ineffective, impotent, watered-down, powerless, gospel, because that is no gospel at all. I’m not interested in it either. There is a lost world out there, and if you don’t believe that, I challenge you to get out and travel to a country that the name ends either in ia or stan.

We are not told the stories in the gospels and Acts to look back wistfully and say, “gosh, wouldn’t that be nice?” We are told these things as a reference for what we are expected to do today.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,[a]
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;”

So why aren’t we taught that today?  Why are we taught that God doesn’t do this anymore?   It’s born out of fear. If I choose to believe that Jesus still expects us to pray for the sick, to set the captives free, to go to the uttermost parts of the earth, to heal the brokenhearted, to give sight to the blind, (both literally and figuratively), to cast out demons, and even to raise the dead; if I believe these things then there is going to be a whole lot more required of me than just showing up on Sunday morning and putting in my hour. I might have to go and pray for that unsavory person on the street if the Spirit of God moves me to do it. It might require me to trust God to do what He said he would do. It might require me to go to a place where there is no Starbucks, or air conditioning, or paved roads, or even an assurance of safety. So if I go with the doctrine that God doesn’t do these things anymore, what I’m telling God is, “I would do these things, but you don’t do these things anymore.  It’s not me, it’s you.” Then we can be content with our “faith” that requires nothing of us. It’s as ridiculous as getting out of the boat to walk to Jesus, but when we see the waves and start to doubt, expecting Jesus to be the one who sinks instead of us. Think about it.

Missionaries pray for a sick woman in South Sudan.
Missionaries pray for a sick woman in South Sudan.

A Season of Change

To everything there is a season,
A time for every purpose under heaven:

2 A time to be born,
And a time to die;
A time to plant,
And a time to pluck what is planted;
3 A time to kill,
And a time to heal;
A time to break down,
And a time to build up;
4 A time to weep,
And a time to laugh;
A time to mourn,
And a time to dance;
5 A time to cast away stones,
And a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace,
And a time to refrain from embracing;
6 A time to gain,
And a time to lose;
A time to keep,
And a time to throw away;
7 A time to tear,
And a time to sew;
A time to keep silence,
And a time to speak;
8 A time to love,
And a time to hate;
A time of war,
And a time of peace.

path to unknown destination

For all of you who thought the Byrds made that up, it’s actually Ecclesiastes chapter 3.  It’s a season of change for a lot of people right now. For my South Sudanese brothers and sisters, it’s a season of change right now. The town of Bor as it was before is essentially gone. Our friends are scattered between Juba to the bush to refugee camps in Uganda. A peace accord has been signed, but the fighting goes on.

For myself as well, change has happened. One chapter in my life has ended, but another has begun.  Let’s be honest, we all hate change, or at least being in the midst of it. We hate change not because things don’t need to change, but because we don’t know what that change will bring.

There are spiritual forces that bring change into our lives. Some want to bring evil, some good. If you don’t think this is the case, start looking more closely into what happens around you. As C.S. Lewis put it, “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”  

Well, I’ve recently gone through a time where the spirits of darkness attempted to do me harm, and it was a very difficult time. But God has other plans, and where the enemy thought he could do me harm, God used it as a way to bring me out of the comfort of what I am doing to move me to new plans He has for me. Without discomfort, I’m almost certain I would not have moved.  Consequently, I can no more be angry with anyone who caused me harm than I can be with God for blessing and using me for His purpose, because they were used as a tool in God’s hand. The example is Christ, who even while He was dying on the cross, forgave those who had wronged him. What His enemies intended for evil, God used for the good of the whole world.

So change happens when it needs to happen. Difficulty comes when we are comfortable doing what we are doing, to help us move to what God has  for us.  There is nothing wrong of course with doing good, but sometimes it keeps us from doing what is best. So with that, I accept with gladness the change that is coming, because it’s in God’s hands.

For my South Sudanese brothers and sisters, change has come, and on a much larger scale than my own. I don’t know what the future holds for them, but I do know this; “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28.  It does not mean anything will be easy, just that things will work out for good.

I don’t know when or if I will see them again, but God’s will be done.

Cut The Baby In Half

I haven’t written for a while. I’ve been waiting to hear some definitive news that anything has changed in South Sudan. I wish I had good news to report, other than the fact that there have been some miraculous stories of escape and rescue, including a boat that appeared out of nowhere to rescue a family that was about to be overrun by Nuer rebels.

There is talk of resolution at the peace talks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Salva Kiir’s government has been negotiating a peace deal with Riek Machar’s rebels. The thing I have to ask is; “for what?” The damage is done. Thousands are dead. The “good” news came yesterday that the town of Bor, where our friends are, has been retaken again by SPLA (South Sudanese government) forces. At this point I’m not sure how many times Bor has changed hands.

I put the word “good” news in parenthesis, because at this point, what is there to go back to?  South Sudan’s leaders need to take a hard look in the mirror.

A friend of a friend in South Sudan brought up a very poignant allegory. It’s the story of the two women that came before Solomon with a baby, each claiming to be the mother.  1 Kings 3:16-27“16 Now two women who were harlots came to the king, and stood before him. 17 And one woman said, “O my lord, this woman and I dwell in the same house; and I gave birth while shewas in the house. 18 Then it happened, the third day after I had given birth, that this woman also gave birth. And we were together; no one was with us in the house, except the two of us in the house. 19 And this woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on him. 20 So she arose in the middle of the night and took my son from my side, while your maidservant slept, and laid him in her bosom, and laid her dead child in my bosom. 21 And when I rose in the morning to nurse my son, there he was, dead. But when I had examined him in the morning, indeed, he was not my son whom I had borne.”

22 Then the other woman said, “No! But the living one is my son, and the dead one is your son.”

And the first woman said, “No! But the dead one is your son, and the living one is my son.”

Thus they spoke before the king.

23 And the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son, who lives, and your son is the dead one’s; and the other says, ‘No! But your son is the dead one, and my son is the living one.’” 24 Then the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So they brought a sword before the king. 25 And the king said, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to one, and half to the other.”

26 Then the woman whose son was living spoke to the king, for she yearned with compassion for her son; and she said, “O my lord, give her the living child, and by no means kill him!”

But the other said, “Let him be neither mine nor yours, but divide him.

27 So the king answered and said, “Give the first woman the living child, and by no means kill him; she is his mother.”

28 And all Israel heard of the judgment which the king had rendered; and they feared the king, for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him to administer justice.”

What the leaders of South Sudan have essentially done is decide to cut the baby in half.  Rather than let your enemy win for the good of the country, they’ve decided that no one should win. When self comes before brother or family or nation, that nation cannot stand. I understand that it’s a hard thing to do, but old hostilities need to be left behind, no matter how deep they run. It’s only by the grace of God that South Sudan will stand, because it’s going to take a level of forgiveness that only God can give to heal the wounds that exist. And shame on those that have exploited old tensions for their own gain. In the end they will lose too, because they will not have a nation to rule. And when that happens, South Sudan will again fall under the rule of someone who is not only not Dinka, and not Nuer, but also not even South Sudanese.

The following is a before and after picture of the market in Bor. The first picture was taken in November, last time I was there. The second picture was taken in the last few days.

sudan-2804

borburned