evangelism

True Worship Practice

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Peanut

My daughter got a hamster for her birthday this year.  This hamster is probably the most well-loved hamster that has ever lived.  She talks to him, sings to him and reads here Bible to him.  If hamsters could know Jesus, Peanut would be a follower of Jesus by now.   Often we will be just sitting in the other room and she will say “I am going to go sing to peanut” and off she goes.  She will sing “Jesus loves me, this I know” over and over again to Peanut.   Anyone who comes to the house has to see Peanut.  Everyone she sees has to hear about Peanut.  She is glad we moved to a place that has a pet store so she could get a hamster.  Her hamster is loved!

There is something refreshing about hearing my 4 year old daughter talk to her hamster about Jesus.  This is just a natural way she loves him.  I think it is an important link to make for us ‘older’ people.   Psalm 76:1 says that in Judah God is known; that His name was great.  The reason?  Because God was there and His people worshiped Him.  Worship naturally leads other people to God.   My daughter is learning to make Jesus known; she is practicing what it means to make His name great!  That is such a treasure for me to have her being able to articulate that.

Worship is more than just Sunday mornings.  Worship is all day and worship is everyday.  And it seems to me that the more we practice this, the more natural it becomes to just praise God in every circumstance.

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A Resurrection to Celebrate All Year

05_08_10---Cross-at-Sunset_webThe many people heading to church this weekend proves that the resurrection is still an important part of our ethos, whether admitted to or not.  Would tradition alone drive so many people to attend church only a couple of times a year?  Would it make any sense to go sing some songs about a risen Lord, if you did not believe in Him?  This is a tension I feel every year because I do not understand how anyone can live under the gracious hand of God and not feel some emotion toward Him more than twice a year.  When did church become something to watch and critique rather than a chance to worship the Lord with others, declaring His worth together?  That is a discussion for another time because today is Easter Sunday- a.k.a. Resurrection Sunday.  Regardless of the reasons for the spike in church attendance, it is an opportunity to point as many people as possible to Jesus Christ!  He is the hope of the world.

So, let’s boldly proclaim Christ this Easter Sunday because He has saved us!  This is not a message made for only one day a year, but rather for every day of our life.  Our life should worship God and shine light on the person of Jesus Christ.

Every Sunday we gather and remember this: “He arose!  He arose!  Hallelujah, Christ arose!”   This resurrection changed everything and we have nothing to complain about.

Sharing the Abundance

New Lego set

All I ever hear about these days are the different Lego sets that my boys would like to buy.  There is a never-ending supply of sets they like, but there is an ending supply of money they have to spend.  This presents a healthy tension in them as they determine which ones they would like to buy now and which ones they would like to save up for later on.  In their minds you can never have enough Lego sets.   The word that comes to mind here is ‘abundance.’  They have an abundance of Lego sets now, but they would like more.  There is a desire for additional sets, even though they could play with the ones they have and be completely satisfied with them.

I love the picture of abundance because it indicates an overflow of something.  It highlights a place of blessing.

“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” – John 10:10

This past week I heard two stories in the news of people who were missing and then turned up dead.  This is the way of the world, the way of the thief.  It is not the way of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd.  This stands as the antithesis to what the culture is all about.  Sure we say we are about life, but unless we have one who provides eternal life, the end result is still death.  This life is completely different because it is overflowing with the Spirit of God.  It stands to affirm life.  It stands to provide life.  We want more of it, don’t we?

abundance

This discussion came up in a recent class with some teenagers.  I ask them if there was any difference between them and their friends because of this abundant life.  The answer I got was: “no.”  So, I pressed on.  I went on to explain that this abundant life is really defined as different or strange.  It stands as a stark contrast to what is all around us.  I was then quickly informed that if that is the case, they don’t want it.

But, wait!  This is what we do want, isn’t it?  We want to live.  We want to have purpose.  We want to find out that the path we are on actually leads to life, not death, right?  Yet, the pressure to conform to the culture around them is so compelling that it is hard to stand out.  Teenagers who stand up for Jesus in their schools today are being pushed around to the point that they are often willing to just sit down and be quiet.  This is not what Jesus has in mind here.

When Jesus compared himself to the bad shepherds of Israel, He was not telling them that so that they could just survive.  He was telling them that so that they would thrive.  He wanted those who followed Him and to know that they need not be afraid.  He wanted them to understand that this life, while different and outrageous to the world, is actually the place where significance is found.  That means that the people we all come in contact with each day need to know the truth.

There has been much said about showing people your faith by your actions.  I would not disagree with that, since it was Jesus’ own words in Matthew 5.  I would say that this is not all of it, though.  Our words need to back up our actions.  The message we have about eternal life is not something to keep quiet about.  With so much death all around us I think more and more people want to hear something hopeful.   We want more life and since we have an abundance of it in Jesus Christ, I think it is time to share it, don’t you?

A small step of faith can lead to a large work of God.

This morning something is going on in your community that many people don’t even realize.   It is an event known as See You at The Pole.  Every year students gather at their school flag poles to seek God together in prayer for their friends, schools, and the nation.  It started in 1990 as somewhat of a local event to now an international event.  God uses these small steps of faith to stir hearts.

Most people would agree, even if they aren’t Christians, that today’s schools have a lot of challenges in them.  Things are constantly changing and not always for the better.   There is such pressure to conform to a set image and it makes people who follow Jesus get mocked.  Yet, simple steps of people seeking God can make a profound impact on the culture of a school.

When I was in high school we started a daily prayer group as a result of a yearly See You at the Pole gathering.  We would pray for a minute between the first bell and the bell that would signal the start of class.  We often took verbal abuse for that and sometimes even had things thrown at us.  We never made a huge show of it because we genuinely wanted God to work in our school.  He did more than we could have imagined.

There was one person specifically who nearly lost his life in an accident.  After some time in a coma he looked at life a little differently.  That year he decided to trust in Jesus Christ.  As a result some of his friends now noticed and began to ask questions about this change.  The Spirit of God was at work among us.  At the same time we had a Bible study one day before school, one after school a different day and a morning prayer time one day a week.  This was all student initiated and student led just like See You at the Pole.

So, today as you drive around a local school, take a moment to pray for the Christian students there.  It is not an easy place to live out your faith, but it is also a place where some amazing work of God can take place.  We pray it does!

Free to be a Christian only at approved times?

John 3:16 & "think about what's true"

I am wondering about some of the rationale surrounding keeping any religious expression out of the schools.  If my son, who is in second grade, decided he wanted to take Valentine’s Day cards with a Bible verse on them, would that not be just as acceptable as any other card?  I ask this question because of the story from the Sheboygan Press (Sheboygan, WI) describing an incident in an elementary school there where a 2nd grader was told he could not distribute his Valentine’s Day treat because it had John 3:16 on it.   (Source – Sheboygan Press)

I understand I am biased, but even so this doesn’t make sense.  In fact, the district itself even admits it has no written policy on this.  It made the decision, according to the article, because of two reasons: 1) “The kids were expecting a Valentine and were not in position to accept or decline the message.” 2) Allowing this would open the door for other groups to distribute their messages. “If somebody wanted to put anti-Semitism in there people would be outraged by that.”   – (Quotes of the Assistant District Superintendent from the article)

Why is it that every time something like this comes up, it seems like the same reasons are cited.  The notion that this is on the same level as some hate group is not a very rational argument.  Of course schools are not going to allow people to distribute hate filled messages.  A commenter on this article said, “what if porn was being distributed. You would be upset about that.”  Seriously?  That’s the argument?  There is a certain level of decorum and respect that needs to be maintained.  I think that goes without saying.  But look, John 3:16 says that God loved the world so much that He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to offer eternal life.  It is a fitting Valentine’s Day message and certainly not hateful.  The ultimate show of love came when Jesus died for the sins of mankind.

But, let’s just say that someone in the school is not a Christian.  My guess is they would eat the candy and throw the note away without another thought of it.  My son came home with all kinds of Valentines the other day.  Are they all things I would agree with?  Well, not really.  Some of the messages are rather bizarre.  But, he eats the candy and throws them away without even worrying about it.

What is religious freedom if not the ability to practice your religion freely?  The schools have gotten so sensitive to this stuff that they are actually limiting the free expression of religion.  Being a Christian is not something that people should just shut off the moment that they enter some sort of government-run building.  It is who we are.  The Declaration of Independence even states that we are endowed with certain unalienable rights by our Creator.  It is woven through the fabric of our country, a thought many people have forgotten about.  But, ironically the schools teach evolution as fact without a choice to accept it or not.  If this argument that the administrator was making was legitimate, then we could say that students are in a position to receive instruction and they instead receive a biased view of how the world was created.  Where is the uproar about that?

I know that some people will say that I would not be ok with my kid coming home with other religious messages.  Truthfully, I would not have an issue with it if it meant that Christians could have a voice as well.  When my son comes home with any sort of issue that is against what we affirm and teach from Scripture, we talk about it.  If he brought home something from another religion, we would use it as a teaching moment. It certainly would not make me get up in arms.  It is ok to hear different views.

The other part of this story that is interesting is the way it was handled.  Here you have a 2nd grader who is completely confused as to why he can’t hand out his Valentines. In fact, the school confiscated them as if they were drug paraphernalia.  They are bottles of candy with a rolled up note in them!  Even funnier, a sibling of this boy at a different area school (charter) was allowed to hand them out without any incident.

School administrators need to lighten up with this stuff.  Their job is not to protect kids from learning that Jesus loves them.   Follow the law, sure, but don’t overstep the freedom of speech.  There is no way this is against the law because the school did not promote any religion here.

I applaud the boldness of the family for being willing to share what they believe.  People will not agree, but the least we can do is honor the freedom we all deserve under the Constitution.

I would be glad to hear your thoughts on this, provided they are respectful.  What do you think?  Am I overreacting?  Is the school overreacting?  Where is the line? 

Story Source — The Sheboygan Press

Confusing the World

Radical muslims in Nigeria are out confusing the world in the name of religion again.   Most recently, they did this by attacking Christians as they celebrated Christmas.  This is tragic because there were people killed, but it is also tragic for the message it sends. As I write this, there are reports that the violence in Nigeria is getting even worse.

I read this with interest because of the implications it has on the spread of the Gospel, especially with teenagers. I have been trying and will continue to try to get our High School students to be a light to their peers at school.  This has become increasingly difficult with all of the ‘tolerance’ taught in schools.  As soon as one of them lets anyone know they are a Christian, they are branded as “one of them.”  This makes them uncomfortable and often unwilling to make that known. Then things like this happen and, even though it is a hateful crime committed against Christians, Christians are still labeled as the intolerant ones.   The world views these acts of violence as if they were started by Christians.  But, where do we see Christians attacking other religious celebrations with bombs?  I have never seen it happen.

For years this has been getting worse with the assault on anything to do with Jesus Christ, but the acceptance of everything else.   A local school group wanted to have a Bible study before school and they went through all the procedures to make that happen.  They received ridiculous comments claiming that they couldn’t do it because tax payer money paid for the lights to be on.  Alright, but what about any other club?  No one is worried about any other club out there, no matter what it is.  This double standard is a troubling trend, but no one really says anything about it.

Recently the discussion in our student leadership team has been about the number of Christians in the public school.  I asked them the number of people they thought were Christians in their school.  They couldn’t really come up with an answer.

This brings up two questions:

1-  If there are a lot of Christians in the school, why aren’t they known?  Why aren’t they talking to each other and encouraging each other to be a light to their friends?  Where is the unity that comes from knowing there are other believers there?

2-  If there are very few Christians in the school, does that bother anyone?  It is possible that there are very few Christians in the school system.  Does this mean that the Christian teenagers should just hide and try not to offend anyone?

I think that rather than just walking around concerned that sharing Jesus might be offensive, we all should be engaged in sharing that truth with people.  If we really believe it, then we believe it is true for them also, right?

But, as long as there is violence around religions, there will also be confusion.  People can’t seem to separate some of these groups of people from the actual teachings of that religion.  Anytime there is any sort of attack like this, immediately the atheist groups let us know how much better the world would be without religion.   But, we can say all we want without anything we say actually correcting their thinking.  We can actually make a difference, though, if our actions actually show the world that we are serious about loving others like Jesus.

Will the world look at you and I and glorify God,  or will they just see another person claiming to know Jesus but living the opposite?

We must not be ashamed to proclaim Christ to others through our lives and through our words.  No, it is not popular, but it is needed to help people see that the message of Christ, is not a message of violence, but a message of hope, love, life and forgiveness.

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Also, please pray for the persecuted church worldwide.  They need our support!  For more information you can visit the Voice of the Martyrs. 

Freedom of Religion is for Christians too

I read an article yesterday about how The Freedom From Religion Foundation is trying to get a nativity scene taken down from a display outside of a courthouse in some town in Texas.   Why?  Because it has the baby Jesus in it.  Well, what did they expect it to have in it?  That is what a nativity scene has always been about.    They state that it is offensive and should have a sign with it that says,

“At this season of the winter solstice may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.”

There are a few things here that just don’t make sense to me.

1-  In an effort to encourage free speech, they have actually stifled it.  Why are they getting bent out of shape for a decoration that celebrates a holiday that the majority of Americans celebrate in one way or another? This is not a public mandate to worship Jesus, it is a representation of a holiday that is being recognized.  The word Christmas has Christ in it for a reason.

2- Their claim that “reason” must prevail sets them up as smart and the rest of us believers as fools.  It is offensive to assume that those who don’t adhere to this atheist mindset are not reasonable.  To say there is only the natural world is, well, narrow minded and should maybe come with a disclaimer also.

3- No one is stopping their winter solstice party.  If they want to have a celebration of the solstice, then go for it.  Having a nativity scene on public land is not going to inhibit that celebration.  No one will post a sign on their solstice decorations stating that worshipping something other than a living God is a waste of time and superstitious, even though it is.

As a youth pastor these things are consistently coming up in schools.  Every year I hear from many students about how attacked they feel among their friends and teachers when they share their faith. Christian students have faced ridicule and sometimes fear of punishment for their positions that they have taken in class or in papers on various topics.  The claim is that “you can’t say that here.”   This, naturally, makes it that much harder for them to actually speak up for what they believe in. The irony here is that they are being belittled and mocked by the people in the schools that are supposed to be encouraging tolerance and acceptance of all.  Where is the tolerance for Christians?

This is not a surprise to us, after all Jesus warned us about this.

“All men will have you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” – Mark 13:13

What does surprise me is the hyperactive desire to keep people from being offended.  Atheist groups don’t have any special privileges in their disbelief, otherwise that would be an established religion.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. –  First Amendment of the Bill of Rights

Students are allowed to pray, read their Bible and talk about their faith in school. This is something I encouraged and pray they do more of.   A nativity scene on a courthouse lawn does not make a law establishing religion.  Saying “Merry Christmas” or calling a Christmas tree a Christmas tree are acceptable things to do.  If someone gets offended by the name of Jesus, that is their right.  It is, however, our right as followers of Jesus to make Him known.  In fact, it is our privilege!

“I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10